Category Archives: Lifestyle

See Sister Make Panzanella

Faithful readers will remember that last November I went to Forza Win(ter) – a family style Italian dining experience courtesy of Forza Win. Well, I had the pleasure of another Forza Win dinner last week. It was a delight (as the Forza experiences always are!). The company was grand, the food was delicious, the drinks were tasty, the after dinner music was utterly enjoyable.

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Perhaps more than anything, though, I was delighted that this feast featured panzanella. At my first Forza Win experience (CUTS, last summer), they served an INCREDIBLE, crazy addictive panzanella. The copious amounts I ingested undoubtedly played a large part in the painfully overfull feeling I had at the end of the night. But seriously, it was SO GOOD. So when it showed up on our table again last week, I was a very happy girl.

Given that I fell in love with the panzanella at CUTS last summer, it’s strange that up to this point I had never attempted it at home. Having it again last week prompted me to do just that. On Saturday evening, Louise and I had Danny and Marie-Laure (of the long walk fame) over for dinner, which seemed the perfect opportunity to try my hand at panzanella.

For those who may not be familiar… panzanella is a Tuscan-style bread salad. Recipes differ, but it always features tomatoes and chunks of crusty bread in a tangy, vinegary dressing. Forza’s version is ALL about the tomatoes, though many recipes include peppers (sometimes roasted, sometimes not). Since I was trying to emulate the crack-like addictive qualities of Forza’s recipe, I skipped the peppers and focused on finding fresh tomatoes. Fortunately, on Saturday mornings there is a small little farmers’ market in the square outside our flat. This week there were tomatoes in every color of the rainbow for sale – yippee! [This good news was reported by Louise, who passed through the square and bought some AMAZING fresh butter, which she brought home. That butter was basically the best thing that’s happened to me in months.]

I took myself down to the square and bought a load of tomatoes in various colors and sizes. Yay!

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Aren’t they puuurty??

Besides the tomatoes, the essential ingredient is obviously the bread. Some recipes said to just use stale bread, but the best part of the Forza version is that the bread is damp with the dressing but still slightly crunchy. If you were to use just stale bread, I think it would get too soggy. So I took my cue from the recipes that suggested cutting the bread into chunks and toasting it up in the oven, crouton-style. I tossed the pieces with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper and toasted them in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes.

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I didn’t strictly follow any one recipe, but I drew a lot from the Guardian’s Felicity Cloake and from Jamie Oliver’s version. I kind of played it all by ear, given that I was using all tomatoes and no peppers. The details that follow here, then, are vaguely what I did. Given the rustic nature of panzanella, I think it’s appropriate to just kind of feel your way through it.

Ingredients
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Loads of fresh tomatoes
1 loaf of bread (ciabatta, sourdough, country loaf, whatever)
5(ish) tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon capers (optional)
4 anchovies, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh basil (I actually forgot this, but it’s definitely a good addition)

Felicity Cloake suggests soaking the onions in lightly salted cold water for an hour before using, in order to get more of a sweet flavor without the intense onion-ness. I did this, but I didn’t feel like it really got rid of the strong flavor. In fact, I thought the onion was too strong in the final product. The onions in Forza’s version are really thin, soft, and mellow. I don’t know if they cook them slightly before using or what, but that’s what I’d like to achieve in any of my future panzanella attempts.

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Soaking the onions (and toasting the bread) was really the only time consuming step in the whole process. Otherwise it’s pretty quick and simple.

Chop the tomatoes into chunks (I left some of the smaller ones whole), and set in a colander over a bowl, so some of the juice can drain out.

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Again, aren’t they so so pretty!?

Put the bread into a bowl and toss with the vinegar to moisten (I used white wine vinegar because that’s what I had, but I think red wine vinegar would work just as well – probably even better). Drain the onions and add them and the capers (drained of any excess liquid) to the bread. Give the tomatoes a toss and apply a little pressure to drain out any excess juice, then dump the tomatoes in the bread bowl.

Add the garlic and chopped anchovies to the tomato juice. Whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste (if you’ve toasted the bread with salt/pepper already, then go light with it here). Pour the dressing over the bread and tomatoes and give it a good toss.

Leave it to sit for 15 minutes or so before serving, so that all the flavors can meld and the bread has time to soak up the liquid. Don’t leave it for too long, though, because you don’t want soggy, mushy bread. For the same reason, it won’t keep overnight. In other words, eat it all up the same day you make it.

Voila!

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I won’t pretend it was as good as Forza’s, but I was pretty pleased with this first attempt. Next time, I’ll go lighter on the onions and perhaps a little bolder with the dressing. I’m gonna be chasing that Forza panzanella dream until I nail it!

What about you? Have you ever made panzanella? Do you have a favorite recipe? Have you ever attempted to recreate a restaurant recipe at home?

See Sister Take a Long Walk

This past Saturday, I walked along the south coast of England for roughly 10 miles. If you know me at all, you’re probably thinking, “That really doesn’t sound like something you would do… Did you suffer a recent blow to the head?”

Don’t worry, I’m fine. Yes, it’s true: I am not a huge nature enthusiast or exercise enthusiast or waking-up-early-on-the-weekend enthusiast. But it’s always good to break out of one’s comfort zone and do something different, right? Right. So on Saturday, I found myself walking the coastal/cliff route from Seaford to Eastbourne. It was absolutely delightful and a perfect way to revel in the longest day of the year, particularly as the weather was amazingly gorgeous. It was a truly sunny, warm (sometimes even hot!) day, the type of day that is sadly rather rare during the British Summer, so it was fortuitous that I was already committed to an outdoor activity and could therefore take full advantage of said sunshine.

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More or less our starting point.

While the weather was undoubtedly fantastic, the walk was made truly lovely by the company. It was organized by Danny, a friend who moved to South Africa last year. He’s been back in London for the month of June, working and doing some wedding planning with his fiancée, Marie-Laure. He and Marie-Laure contacted a bunch of friends last month to float the idea of this day trip. In the end, Louise and I were the only ones who tagged along, and I am so glad we did. It was a great time to catch up with Danny and hear about life in South Africa, while also getting to know Marie-Laure, whom I had only met briefly before. And she is super duper cool! Well done, Danny!

The walk was marked 9 out of 10 for intensity/difficulty, but at the end we all felt that while there were lots of ups an downs, the intensity was a little exaggerated. The picture below gives an idea of the route. The hills along this section of the coast are known as the Seven Sisters (for the seven little peaks). While those seven hills mean lots of ascending and descending, most of the inclines are relatively gentle, so it’s not too strenuous.

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Before we got going on the Seven Sisters, we passed through Cuckmere Haven, where the Cuckmere River meets the English Channel.

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The first and highest of the Seven Sisters looms above us.

I also just learned per The Internets that Cuckmere Haven was used in Atonement as the idyllic spot that Robbie and Cecilia dream of escaping to after the war, which OMG OF COURSE IT IS! Why did I not recognize it!? We walked RIGHT BY these cottages.

And now I’m super depressed because [spoiler alert!] oh my goodness gracious, that book/movie is so heartbreakingly, beautifully, shockingly sad. Also, I totally get why a couple with seriously upsetting romantic/life problems in war time would dream of living there.

Anyhoo, apparently if we had passed through Cuckmere Haven at high tide, we would have had to walk pretty far inland to get around the river and up onto the Seven Sisters route. Fortunately it was low tide, so we just took off our shoes and waded through the shallows. Which was actually kind of treacherous and painful given the slimy hair-like algae and rocks situation, but don’t worry, we all made it through without incident!

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The day was really just lots of walking and chatting and soaking up the sun. We paused for a picnic lunch on one of the peaks. We moseyed along, marveling at the large number of old people in Southern England and snorting in derision at the dorks playing with their drone-like model airplanes.

At Birling Gap, the others all took a dip in the sea while I chose to simply lounge in the sun topping up my tan. The cold-ish water and rocky beach didn’t really appeal to me especially since it wasn’t blazing hot, just pleasantly warm. I did enjoy watching the others try to navigate the slippery painful rocks on their way in and out, though.

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Danny goes for balancing with flailing arms; Marie-Laure opts for crawling.

We lazed about on the beach for a while, chatting and people-watching. Notable sites: the man with his children’s life-size faces tattooed on his back and the couple taking some really awkwardly posed wedding photos.

After our break at the beach, we only had about four more miles to cover.

We paused to take in the view near one modernish lighthouse…

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…before descending towards another very picturesque, quintessential lighthouse.

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Finally, at about 5:30/6:00pm, we reached the beaches of Eastbourne.

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After the others took another quick dip in the sea, we wandered up into town to find some well-earned fish and chips for dinner. We were definitely feeling weary by this point, but it was a happy, sense-of-accomplishment kind of weariness. After dinner, we hopped on a train back to London and that was that!

It was a really really great day. Good company, gorgeous weather – who could ask for anything more?

See Sisters Blog Again!

Hey everyone! Are you still there? So yeah, I guess we took an extended break there, huh? Didn’t plan on that. However, with adjusting to the new baby and no sleep and the end of my son’s school year and the end of my husband’s school year and again, a lack of good sleep, I just let blogging fall by the wayside. Which left Susanna writing far more than her fair share (thanks Zuni!) and then ultimately stopping her posting so she could focus on work and travel.

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But school is out for the Summer, Mac is now sleeping through the night, and Zuni has returned from her fabulous vacation. So we’re baaaaaaaaack! Yesterday we had a long chat about what sort of pace we can maintain without getting burned out on writing/posting. Makes sense that if we want to have experiences to write about, we need to have time to go have said experiences, right? So from here on out, the posts will be coming three times a week (as opposed to 5-6 per week in the past). We’ve been up to some fun stuff and we’ve got more adventures planned this Summer so stay tuned!

See Sister Learn From A Kidney Infection

So I know this blog has been a lot more Susanna-full since I had Mac. And while I know I needed time ‘off’ post-baby, I had not intended for Zuni to have to bear the load for so long. But just as I was really getting back into the swing of things about three weeks ago, I got a kidney infection.

It started with a fever of over 104 degrees. I also had back pain and uncontrollable chills/ shaking. The doc gave me an antibiotic but it “wasn’t the ideal choice for a kidney infections” because I am breastfeeding and it would have been bad for Mac.

Turns out it wasn’t really effective for me at all but it took a week to figure that out and get things under control. Meanwhile, every time I’d stop taking ibuprofen, my temp would skyrocket and I’d be in pain. And while the infection was taking it’s toll on my body, I was on bed rest. This was all so very very no bueno.

Finally I got the right antibiotic and I got to get out of bed! Freedom! And even though it was wretched, through this ordeal I learned a few things…

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1) My husband is awesome. Okay so I already knew that one. Would I have married a dud?! But he went above and beyond the call of duty taking care of the kids, cleaning the house, cooking, doing laundry, etc. And he even skipped a few classes so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed when there was no one else to help. That’s not really something you do when you are getting your doctorate! I could feel his stress level rising as I know he had lots of school work to get done but he never rushed me to get better to alleviate his over-full schedule. Thank you hubby!

2)There are a lot of other people who really love me. Whenever you have a baby people are always so tangibly helpful that it’s easy to see/ feel how you are loved. Having just experienced this, it was amazing to see them all rise up and help me again!

Both my parents and my in-laws and even a friend took the girls for playdates and overnights so I could focus on resting. The other moms in our carpool covered me again. My kids were sweet and tried to play quietly and not bug me too much when I needed to rest. Families from church brought us meals. I even had an introverted friend offer to come over and chat because she knew that as an extrovert I would be going out of my mind (which I was).

Most importantly, my friend Lauren’s husband is a physician and when I couldn’t get the answers I needed from my doctor, he chatted with me on the phone to alleviate my fears. It was incredibly comforting to have a knowledgable resource to reach out to. He was the one who helped me get the correct antibiotic and I am so incredibly grateful!

Maybe if this was my bedroom the white would have been more soothing...

Maybe if this was my bedroom the white would have been more soothing…

3. I really need to paint the walls in my bedroom. Okay so I already knew this one too. But after sitting in my bed for a week looking at my white sheets and white duvet cover and our white wardrobe and my white desk and the windows with white curtains, I realized how horrible it is that I have never painted the walls to offer some much needed contrast. Must happen soon.

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4. I am so glad I set the 35 Before 35 goal of reading through the Bible in 6 months. This gave me an excellent activity to do while stuck in bed. And I was so encouraged by the Psalms I read. God is great and so is his word!

I have a disposable one of these that I keep refilling and refilling and refilling...

I have a disposable one of these that I keep refilling and refilling and refilling…

5. Water is my new BFF. The one thing I was told by every single doctor/ nurse/ family member/ whoever I spoke to was to drink a ton of fluids. So I did. It was most water that I drank and man did it do me right! I am hoping to keep up this drinking habit.

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6. Mac is awesome. Although at times it was literally painful to care for him while caring for myself, I have to say, I enjoyed having my littlest little there to hang out with me. Because I couldn’t do much of anything else, I got the chance to observe him and note his little quirks. Like the fact that he doesn’t like to eat as much as my other babies. He cannot nurse and then lay down for bed – he must burp or he spits up. He has funny pointy-ish ears. He hates having a wet diaper just as much as a dirty one. And he’s totally adorable. Without my life screeching to a halt, it would have taken me a lot longer to realize some of these things.

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7. I actually like doing housework. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Perhaps I should say I like my role of homemaker and I want to be able to do it. Being stuck in bed was extra miserable because I could see the chores piling up. I felt horribly guilty and frustrated knowing that my jobs were having to be done by someone else. And for perhaps the first time in my life, I wanted to do them. I’m sure I’ll get quite the chuckle over this when I read it again on a crazy work-filled day, but I am so happy to be back doing the things that I am called (yes, I believe that running this home is my calling) to do. Tedious and mundane as housework and mothering little ones can be, I like to be the one taking care of our home and our kids. It’s good to be back in my stay-at-home-mom role again.

Along with this, I can say it gave me a glimpse into the world of the chronically ill. I know several people whose lives are filled with pain or fatigue that prevents them from doing what they want to do. Where I only had to suffer for a week and a half, they never get the chance to recover and go back to being normal. How awful that must be. I’m not sure how I can reach out and help them, but having this experience made me anxious to do something. I am certainly praying for them more than I did before.

So there you have it. The lemonade I made from the lemons of a kidney infection. Hmmm… That sounded better in my head.

See Sister Drink 100 Martinis

Okay, so I didn’t actually drink 100 martinis. If I had, you would have just cause to use this blog post as part of a necessary intervention. But last Wednesday I did go to a special evening that featured 100 different martini recipes: the Sipsmith 100 Martini Bar. Don’t worry, I only tried two.

Hosted by Sipsmith Gin in the private upstairs Apartment at Kettner’s (a London restaurant/bar, established in 1867), the evening was all about showcasing Sipsmith Gin and the classic gin martini. So yes, it was definitely a promotional event for Sipsmith*, but it was also a fun evening out!

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It was a little weird that I went along to this at all, actually, as I am really not into martinis or mixed drinks in general. I’m much more a beer or wine kinda gal – liquors just not really my thing, save for a G&T or margarita here and there. But Louise and a couple of friends were going, so I said why not? It was billed as something of an event, so I was intrigued.

So what made it more than just a bar with an extensive martini list? The experience, obvs!

First, the environment was retro and cool. The dark paneled walls; mismatched, crowded seating; leafy ferns; dim candlelight; and bright, semi-circular, Art Deco-style bar gave the whole place a private library meets speakeasy kind of feel.

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This picture really does NOT do it justice.

While the ambience was very early 20th century, the ordering process was very early 21st century. We were handed an iPad, from which we placed our orders. We could choose via an “I’m Feeling Lucky” option, which would randomly bring up three martinis that we could choose between, or via a short questionnaire that asked us personality-type questions and then would spit out three suggestions based on our answers. You could always start over if you weren’t happy with the choices. Once we had made our choice, we made it official by entering our names.

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I went with the quiz option. The questions were of the really leading variety, like the kind you get in teen magazine quizzes. You know the kind I mean…the ones where the answers clearly point to specific “types” like the popular girl, the sporty girl, the smart girl? So if you answer “What’s your favorite thing to do on your own?” with “Read a book”, and “What do you look for in a guy?” with “Intelligence”, you’ll end up with a result that tells you to join the debate team or to go for quiet, aloof guy – he’s misunderstood! he has hidden depths! you’ll have intellectually stimulating conversations! – or something equally pigeon-holed.

Aaaaaaanyways, my leading questions led me to choose a martini called the Millionaire. What does that say about me? I’m a gold digger? Guilty.

Once everyone had chosen, the iPad was collected and we waited patiently for our drinks. Patience was required as it took quite awhile for them to arrive. But when they did arrive, that’s when the real fun began! See, they didn’t come to our table already made. No, no, no. The drink makers (bartenders? mixologists? cocktail dudes?) wheeled a little trolley over to our table with all the necessary ingredients and made our drinks right in front of us! While teaching us things (education!) like the history of the drink and the different types of gin/vermouth/whathaveyou that they were using.

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My drink didn’t actually come from the trolley above (but note the ice in the glasses to keep them chilled!), as mine was neither shaken nor stirred as one might expect. Rather, all the alcohol for mine was poured straight into the glass. I listened closely and memorized the recipe for the Millionaire, which was not hard as it boils down to three ingredients::

40ml gin
40ml vermouth
champagne floater

Here you can see the dude finishing it off with the floater:

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And that’s it, people. No garnish; no fancy cocktail-making flair; no nothing. Just alcohol. And it’s purposefully layered so that as you drink it the flavor changes. I was skeptical about this whole layering thing. Surely it would all just mix together once it was in the glass, right? Wrong! As I sipped and progressed through the glass, the flavor definitely changed. Very interesting.

I also learned during the making of mine that vermouth is a fortified wine, so – much like any wine – it will go off after awhile. Obviously, this doesn’t happen as quickly as regular wine, but it shouldn’t be kept in your liquor cabinet for forever. Apparently, it will last for about a month without any ill effects, and then it will start to slowly go off. So there’s a tip for ya.

Everyone else’s martini had more visual interest than mine. They were all fun colors and had some sort of garnish. I didn’t really listen to any of their recipes, though, so I can’t tell you much about them. I do know that Lou’s was called the Suffragette (which just makes me want to break into song), but that’s about all I know.

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We sat and sipped and chatted and had a grand old time. As we all liked our first choices pretty well, we decided to go for a second round. Mistake. Our second choices were just NOT as good.

I went for the Princeton, partially because “Hey! My dad went to Princeton!”, but also because it sounded good. It had port, and I was intrigued by how the sweetness of port would taste with gin. The answer is: really not great. And SUPER SUPER SUPER strong. It was literally just gin and port with a little twist of orange peel that basically did nothing. It tasted like paint thinner. I couldn’t finish it.

Generally, we were all dissatisfied with our second choices. Oh well. The first ones were good, and overall, it still made for an out-of-the-ordinary (in a good way) Wednesday night.

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This is the Princeton. Steer clear.

 

*And this is definitely just a post about my experience, not an affiliate post.

See Sister Resist Labels

What I wanted to write about today is the labels we give our children. Problem child. Terrible two. Golden boy. Genius. Drama queen.

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I’ve been thinking about this a lot as my older daughter, Louisa, just turned four last month. Lately this girl has been a continual delight. She’s really matured and we don’t have anywhere close to the amount of drama we had with her this time last year. She helps me care for her two younger siblings. She helps with chores. She loves all things creative and girly and brings a lot of beauty to the world around her. And she does (most of) it with a smile on her face.

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The thing is, I keep having to remind myself that she is a delight. Because in my head I’ve labeled her as the Drama Queen. And even though that is decidedly not the case anymore, I can’t seem to shake that title deep in my subconscious.

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You see, when Lou was born she was strongly bothered by dairy in my breast milk. She spent the first month and a half of her life screaming in pain and crying and just being miserable. When we realized what was happening, I cut out dairy completely from my diet and a lot of her unpleasantness went away. But, even when her tummy didn’t hurt anymore, she had been trained to cry a LOT to get her point across and her first year of life was really a challenge. She became our little “drama queen.”

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This was an especially easy label to run with because it contrasted with her older brother, Rock. He had been called “perfect” and “golden boy” and “genius” right from birth. They were fine labels at that time because he was both exceptionally chill and exceptionally smart. So we bemoaned the fact that we were never gonna have it as good as we had it with just Rock and settled into life with our “difficult girl” and “perfect boy.” Of course we didn’t call them that and we always saw good and bad in both of our kids but somewhere deep in my brain those qualities became fixed. And the labels I used not only shaped the way I saw my kids but it effected the way others saw them. Family and friends listened to my complaining about my “Drama Mama” and responded to her in kind. Even now folks are quick to make comments about how she is so melodramatic – even when she’s not being melodramatic. They read that into situations where it’s just not there.

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Similarly, we and they attribute good attitudes to Rock when he is being anything but! That’s the funny part, lately Rock has been a moody, challenging boy. There is nothing “golden boy” about his whining over having to practice cello or complaining that we “never do anything fun.” He pulled an epic dramatic fit this past weekend that in hindsight I can see we should have handled completely differently. I am embarrassed to admit we probably would have handled it much more severely if it had come from his one of his siblings. I’m not trying to come out and say we should never label our children. The terms I’ve used above have been 100% accurate for our children at one time or another. But children change. A lot. If you’ve ever been a parent you know that the second you try and adapt your schedule to match theirs that’s when they change their routine! That is the nature of these little beasts.

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My challenge to you is to change your labels as your children change. Don’t be like me and get yourself caught in a labeling rut. Continually hit that reset button in your brain. Evaluate your child each day and take the time to truly see them for who they are that day/week/month/year. Feel free to vent your frustrations (away from the ears of your children!) to your friends and family but share the good parts about your kids too. If you aren’t on their side who will be?

I think if parents would take the time to reset their minds more regularly, we’d see that some of these labels we give are just temporary phases. The drama queens can become delightful young ladies, the fussy babies can become sweet toddlers and yes, even the perfect baby boy can become a moody first grader.

See Sister’s Nail Polish Party

Someone in our house just turned FOUR!

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And I knew I was gonna have a baby just before this birthday so I decided months ago to start talking her into a very low-key party. I suggested having a few friends over to paint their nails together. Short. Sweet. Simple.

Lou has been a chronic nail-biter for the past year or so, so I was also motivated to help her break the habit and grow some long gorgeous nails before her birthday. Well, that goal didn’t happen but we still went ahead with the nail polish party plan.

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A month before a Mac was born I also came up with the idea to make hand cookies the girls could decorate with candy buttons for nails. I found a hand cookie cutter on Amazon, and so we had a nail-painting and cookie-hand-decorating party to look forward to. Still pretty simple and sweet.

Three days before her party (aka the night before her actual birthday) I went to Target to purchase her gift. Yep, didn’t have our act together on that one. In addition to picking up her birthday treasures I found nail stickers and two crafts that were nails/ hand oriented!

And bam! While no longer short and simple, Louisa’s 4th birthday party was suddenly spectacular!

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When the girls arrived they each adorned a page from the Melissa & Doug’s Jewelry and Nails sticker pad. Some (above) were simple…

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Others went all out! Is that a necklace in her hair, Gigi?

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When they finished those, we started the nail painting. I didn’t see the need for having Anna at our polish station but the birthday girl said she was key birthday decor.

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Aunt Sarah gifted Lou the base coat and top coat for the non-toxic kid-friendly ***Piggy Paint nail polish that we love.

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Thankfully we had enough mommies and grandmas to help with all the application.

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While girls were waiting for their turn to have their nails embellished, they got to decorate a fancy bracelet. No pics of that part (I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off painting Lou’s nails at that point!) but you can see Lindsay’s pink one on her wrist above.

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Look at the packaging and trust me, they were cute. Thank you to Melissa & Doug*** for inventing the most perfectly appropriate crafts for this day!

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I did make one fatal mistake. We decorated the hand cookies (made ahead of time by my mom- thank you, Juju!) before we ate lunch. See my sample above? Well, the girls weren’t quite as sparing in their decorations.

Showing your age on your fingers is the new black.

Showing your age on your fingers is the new black.

Thus some of the girls got a huge sugar rush before their healthy meal (see Georgia’s hands on the left above). Whoops. Not that I heard any complaints from them.

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After some free play and present opening…

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We sang Happy Birthday to the beautiful birthday girl. Appreciate her shirt with nail polish bottles – found that (a size too big but whatevs) at Crazy 8 the week before her party.

And it was all done. Seriously, my easiest at-home birthday party prep yet (again thank you to Juju for making the cookies!). Everyone had a blast and what started out simple ended up spectacular! I may need to recreate this one for Gigi in a few years.

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***Not an affiliate post! I just genuinely love Melissa & Doug and Piggy Paint!

See Sister Watch Bad TV

Lately, I find myself watching a lot of bad television.

And by “bad”, I don’t mean like “naughty” or “wrong”. I don’t even mean poor quality or stupid content. Nor do I mean guilty pleasures, like The Vampire Diaries, which I will defend as a legitimately great show until the day I die. It is seriously so great and so much better than a teen vampire drama has any right to be so just shut up and don’t judge me. Ahem.

No, by “bad”, I mean the cheesy, predictable, average shows that make up a very large portion of the TV landscape. The kind of shows where you see the plot developments coming a mile away; where each episode follows a repeated formula to the point that you could pause an episode, write down what you think will come next, start the show again and see it all play out exactly as you predicted. The type of shows where you could miss three episodes in a row and not really miss anything.

So basically, detective shows, mystery dramas, mildly amusing sitcoms, odd couple romantic dramedies. Think Murder, She Wrote (which I was watching one evening last week when Louise came home, and she could hardly hide her disdain), Miss Marple, and most recently and most problematic, Castle.

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Well, so what? Nothing wrong with a little light-hearted, mindless TV, right? Right! I don’t feel ashamed of watching the odd Miss Marple here and there. Or keeping up with a police or legal procedural on a weekly basis. It’s the equivalent of easy-listening radio or comfort food: non-brain-taxing and soothingly familiar.

Yeah, I probably shouldn’t sit down on a weeknight and get sucked into the drama playing out in suspiciously dangerous Cabot Cove, but darnit, Jessica Fletcher is just so clever (and stylish (credit to my cousin Nell for finding that blog))! And yes, I don’t need to watch the second half of that Poirot I just stumbled across, but it reminds me of watching PBS dramas with my mom after church on Sunday evenings.

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So the occasional episode is fine. But the problem is we live in the age of Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Instant Video and endless other means of watching TV and movies in just a few clicks, without commercial interruption, episode after episode after episode. Not to mention the endless re-runs that show on TNT, TBS, etc. in the States. [I don’t have the same volume of channels to contend with in London, so there aren’t quite as many re-runs going at once, but I can still find a random repeat on any given night. See above re: weeknight Murder, She Wrote viewing.] All of which gets to the heart of my current problem: Castle.

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I can hear the protestations and huffs of offense coming from fans of the show as we speak (namely, my Mom and Rachel), and let me be clear: I am not saying that Castle is a wretched TV show. If it were, I would not find myself in my current quandary. But I think we can all admit that it is not high art. It’s formulaic, repetitive, fluffy. All of which would be okay if I were just watching it occasionally.

See, I never watched it when I was living in the States. The most I had ever seen were a few snippets or half an episode while at home over Christmas or something. In fact, I’m pretty sure I made fun of my mom this past Christmas for having a few too many episodes saved on DVR. But then I found it on Amazon Instant Video one evening when I wanted some easy-watching entertainment (we won’t get into the fact that I’d been meaning to cancel my subscription to Lovefilm Instant for ages and then it changed from Lovefilm to Amazon Instant with more selection and I was sucked back in!). So I watched a couple episodes. Big mistake. Addiction ensued. I have blitzed through basically all of seasons 1-5 over the past 5-6 weeks.

But I should have known this would happen. It’s happened before.

I’ve done this deep dive, obsessive watching before. I did it when I accidentally watched an episode of Bones once and then decided I needed to go back and watch from the start and watched the previous four seasons at a crazy rapid pace and then kept up with it for awhile and then got tired of it and seemingly woke from a fugue state and realized that it was really not worth the time and energy I was giving it. I did it right before I moved to London when I discovered they were showing re-runs of The Wonder Years on some random cable channel at like 4pm every day and I started DVRing the back-to-back episodes every day until I had watched through the whole series.

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Although, really – who doesn’t love Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper? A romance for the ages.

But as I reached season five (good grief, five seasons!) of Castle, I realized my obsessive consumption of this cheesy show had deeper roots. Castle and all those other male/female odd couple detective procedurals are but a pale shadow of the first cheesy procedural romantic dramedy I discovered and loved: Remington Steele. For those of you who have not had the pleasure and delight of watching this wonderful 1980’s gem, allow me to enlighten you on the premise…

Laura Holt is a tough private investigator who can’t get any respect or clients because she’s a woman, so she creates a fictional male superior: Remington Steele. With a man’s name on the door, business starts booming (we won’t get into the gender issues here)! Then, lo and behold, along comes a con artist, played by a youthful, dashing, pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan, who discovers her secret and assumes Remington Steele’s identity (*gasp* twist!). Laura must play along or risk exposure. Hijinks – both romantic and otherwise – ensue. Bonus: Doris Roberts plays their flighty assistant, Mildred.

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It is the greatest. It is so cheesy, so 80’s, so predictable, so wonderful. While I am too young to have watched it when it originally aired, I discovered a re-run one day after school when I was about 14 and became instantly obsessed. When I discovered it on DVD years later, I eagerly bought all four seasons plus the three TV movies that made up the final fifth “season”.

When I had this epiphany last night, I was almost embarrassed that I hadn’t recognized the similarities from the start. The parallels between Remington and Castle (both the shows and the characters) were glaringly obvious. Castle is so blatantly indebted to the Remington formula: a beautiful, practical, intelligent female sleuth reluctantly tolerates the presence of a handsome, charming, bumbling-yet-simultaneously-capable male partner; together they solve crimes and avoid their feelings. And that’s just the main premise; there are all sorts of smaller details that connect the two shows.

This realization opened my eyes and made me understand why I’ve been powering through Castle at an alarming rate. I had to! I couldn’t resist! It appeals to my nostalgic love for a long gone cheese-tastic detective drama! A show that I discovered in the blush of adolescence. A show that I embraced without irony. A show that requires no deep thought or analysis after viewing, but provides simple, easy enjoyment. Castle is my modern day Remington!

I set out to write this post thinking it would be a guilty kind of confession; that I would have to own up in shame to my cheesy tastes and obsessive watching habits. But as I’ve thought about it and written this post, I’ve come to the opposite conclusion. This is not a guilty confession, this is a proud confession. I will be completely honest with you, dear readers! I will not hide the embarrassing parts of myself! I present myself to you as a lover of cheesy odd couple romantic detective shows, and I am not ashamed! So there! Judge me if you must, but I’ll never change. Once a Remington Steele fan, always a Remington Steele fan.

See Sister Refine Recipes

You may have gathered from some of my previous posts, but I like food. I like to cook. I love to bake. And I really enjoy trying new recipes/types of foods. As I mentioned in my croissants post, whenever I attempt something new in the kitchen, I tend to do a LOT of reading/research on the subject. I check several different websites; I print off two or three recipes; I read cookbooks. Then I try to synthesize all of that into one recipe. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Even if I follow a recipe faithfully, I usually think of a thing or two I might tweak if I make it again. If it’s a recipe I’ve printed from a website or email, sometimes I’ll make a note on the paper and file it away for later. I have a binder specifically for this purpose, where I keep recipes I’ve printed, used and liked.

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More often, though, I don’t make any notes. I always assume that I will just remember the next time I use the recipe. This is rarely the case. I might have a vague recollection of doing something differently, but no record and therefore, I’m basically back at square one.

My practice of fusing recipes, scribbling notes (or not) and shoving bits of paper away for later use was developed when I started a pie baking blog a few years ago. I won’t get into all the reasons WHY I decided to start my sweet-dessert-American-style pie baking project (for that, go read the History and Why Pie? posts), but suffice it to say, my pie recipes tended to result in a jumble of scrawled ingredients, methods and ideas.

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The “pie” section of my recipe binder has a decidedly more Beautiful Mind vibe than the rest of my recipes.

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, I’m trying to get better about making notes when I try a new recipe. I did a good job of this with some lemon curd I made last summer. I synthesized a couple of recipes and changed some amounts (since the recipe called for meyer lemons and I only had regular ones). The result was absolutely deeeelicious, if I do say so myself. I made a point of noting the alterations and I am so glad I did. I made it again recently and it was just as awesome as the original batch. I know if I hadn’t made the notes, I would never have remembered what I did.

My desire to keep better records also comes with a renewed zeal for pie. I had cooled on my passion project over the past year. I wasn’t really baking many pies; and the ones I did bake, I couldn’t be bothered to photograph or blog about. But Bethany gave me a great pie cookbook for my birthday (The Southern Pie Book, Jan Moon). Flipping through the recipes made me revisit my other pie cookbooks, which started me brainstorming about new recipes to attempt.

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My renewed interest has also prompted me to keep a better record of the recipes I try and any notes/tweaks/changes/thoughts I have about them once I’ve baked and tasted them. So I invested in a little journal that I am going to use for all my pie attempts, thoughts and reviews.

The goal is to record each recipe I’ve tried, any important things to remember for the next time, any changes or variations I might want to try for the future, etc. etc. For example, I made a Sweet Potato Pie with Marshmallow Meringue a couple weeks ago (I think it might be the one featured on the cover of the above book). The recipe makes SO MUCH filling and I used a slightly smaller pie plate than usual, so I had enough extra filling for nearly a whole other pie. I made a note to remember to use a full size 9-inch pie plate when I make the recipe in the future. If I don’t have one, I’ll know I need to reduce the amounts.

Hopefully making notes like this will help me to build my pie catalogue and perfect each recipe instead of reverting to square one every time I bake one of these wonderful desserts.

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And if I have the space, I’m even drawing pictures of the finished product. What? It’s an artistic outlet!

How do you organize your recipes? Do you have any recipes that you’ve altered over the years to achieve the perfect version?

See Sister’s Baby!

If you haven’t noticed, Susanna’s been doing all the posting around these parts. Why?

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Because I had a baby!!!! Specifically, I had a gorgeous baby boy named Macpherson Paul Fix at 6:53 pm on February 26th. You can call him Mac.

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He’s got Louisa’s coloring and hairline, Rock and Fix’s friendly nose, and Gigi’s totally chill personality. Don’t tell anyone (they might stop bringing us meals) but he even sleeps well at night! We will definitely be keeping him!

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We couldn’t be more enamored with this little guy – even Gigi was excited to hold baby Mac and gives him lots of sweet kisses. I was worried about how she’d respond to being displaced as the baby of the family so it is a wonderful answer to prayer to have her adore her baby bro. She has also come to his defense and informed me several times that “Mac no want milk, he wants Puh-dee Charms.” Hmmm… perhaps I used the “the baby wants Lucky Charms” line a bit too much in my last days of pregnancy.

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The only problem we’ve discovered is that everyone keeps slipping and calling him Mickey. If there was gonna be a next time (I’m 99.999999999999% sure this will be our last child), I’d plan on picking an in utero nickname that is very different from what we plan to name the child.

Speaking of names, I’ll be back soon with a post all about the names we gave our children and the reasoning/meanings behind them. In the meantime, I leave you with another pic of his royal cuteness.

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p.s. You may have noticed I am wearing a new hospital gown – I’ll also share more on that in a coming post!