Max’s Star Week

Max’s kindergarten class has a “Star of the Week” where one student is showcased throughout the week. The weekend before their week, a big poster is brought home with them. They fill out their favorite color, food, and the like. They color in boxes explaining what they want to be when they grow up (Max: a doctor), what they would wish for if they could have any wish (Max: all the K’nexs in the world), and a photo of their family. On Monday, they bring their poster and show it to the class.

On Tuesday, they read their favorite book to the class (Max: a random you-can-read Transformer book that yes, we have read a bazillion times, but this is really your favorite book, buddy? Ok.)

And on Wednesday, the teacher reads the class a letter from the child’s parents. The letter is suppose to share how they are special. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to write. Not because Max isn’t special to me. But it is going to be shared with his class. It’s a difficult audience to cater to. I don’t want to embarrass him. But I also don’t want his letter to be boring and unauthentic.

I finished the letter Tuesday night-naturally right before the deadline. And I wanted to remember it so that in later years, I can look back to when my Maxie was a little boy.

So here is our letter to Maxie: (note–this is going to be read to him on December 14th-the day before his birthday)

Our little Maxie:
Tomorrow you will be six! It feels surreal that six years ago, it was the coldest day of the year, and you showed up, on your due date, almost being born in the car because you couldn’t wait any longer. 

And for six years, you have filled our family with love, silliness, a love of Legos and K’nexs, licks, dances, cuddles, and more happiness that we could ever capture into words. There are so many ways to describe you.  Forever a mama’s boy.  A Lego Master. A Cub Scout. The most task-oriented helper. A hard worker. Tenaciously determined. But ultimately there is one word that truly encompasses Max Cremona: Fearless.

You have always been fearless.  Being the little brother to a brother who is only a year older tends to foster a desire to push yourself.  If your brother jumped off the couch, you wouldn’t just jump off the couch.  You’d jump off the sofa table that stood a foot higher.  No heights could scare you. No food was too squishy or mushy to try.  There isn’t a challenge you won’t take on.

And this past year, you’ve learned to leverage your fearlessness with your unrelenting perseverance.  Over the summer, we spent a weekend at the Cub Scout Camp.  The second day of camp was filled with activities.  We got to go swimming, learn how to identify tree berries, practice archery and shooting, ride a horse, and how to read a map.  You did a wonderful job mastering each skill.

But then we reached the rock climbing wall rotation.  The wall looked more like a large skyscraper tower, but instead of walls of windows, there were walls of items to climb upon.  One side had wooden planks and blocks strewed all the way up to the top, several stories above the ground.  Another side was littered with rocks you could grab onto to pull yourself up to the top.  It was huge.

I was excited for you to climb, but I was also nervous. You were the youngest kid at camp by a year. And the rock climbing wall was not made with 5-year-olds in mind.  I worried your arms and leg span wouldn’t be able to reach all the rocks.  But this fear did not even enter your mind.

You took one look at the massive rock climbing wall, and your eyes widened. “Wait, do I get to climb that?” you said. 

“Yes!” I said, “Of course!”  A huge grin grew across your face. You couldn’t wait to try. 

The instructor secured a helmet on your head and tied a harness around your waist.  You mounted onto the wall, and it appeared all your days of climbing on furniture and trees paid off–you were a natural. You made your way half way up without much fuss.  But then you looked down, saw how high you were, and hesitated to grab the next board.  You stayed up there for a moment, and I could tell you were not certain if you wanted to keep going higher.  Then, you asked to come down.  You ballayed down the wall, looking a bit disappointed in yourself. 

“I want to try again. I know I can get to the top!” you said.  Once it was your turn again, you quickly climbed your way back to where you stopped last time–the halfway point.  You paused and looked down. I held my breath, knowing you had to be a bit nervous with how high you were (because wow, you were high up!).  And then your hand reached for the next board and you pushed yourself up.  And then the next board.  And the next one. Everyone on the ground cheered for you. Before we knew it, you were at the top!  The youngest kid at camp just made it to the top of the highest rock climbing wall!

The smile on your face when you ran over to me once you came back down is one of the happiest I’ve ever seen. Of course, I smothered you in kisses and hugs–the pride that our Maxie climbed all the way to the top and reached his goal radiated everywhere.  And then you went on to climb to the top 5 more times.  You made a goal and not only did you reach it, you crushed it! 

And that is you in a nutshell.  A guy who doesn’t let fear stand in his way.  Who climbs all the way to the top even if it is a little scary.  And who still lets his mom cover him in kisses and hugs. 

We love you Maxie and cannot wait to see what the next year brings.

  xoxo Mom and Dad

My fearless boy
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Tomato Basil Bisque

The fall weather is well under swing. But honestly, I don’t need sweater weather to justify making a soup. Soup is a staple around here because it is so gosh dang easy to make on a week day. It counts as an entire meal when all you really did was a make main dish. And with three kids, a full time job, and a husband who thinks he’s done the dishes when he actually only washed 3/4 of the dirty dishes, soup wins.


  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes (28 ounce sizes)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream (can sub for half/half if need be)
  • handful of croutons per bowl


  1. Grab your big old soup pot and melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add in the carrots and onions and cook until the onions get see-through (about 5ish minutes).
  2. Add in tomatoes, bay leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper, and broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce down to a simmer (classic soup makin’ move).
  3. Cook uncovered for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the carrots are soft, toss in the basil and grab your immersion blender.
  4. Blend until the soup is smooth and no large chunks remain. Be careful not to blend those bay leaves. You can take them out if you want. But if so, put them back in once you are done blending. Because someone needs those leaves to find their way to their bowls so they get good luck.
  5. Add in the cream and stir.
  6. Ladle into a bowl and top with croutons. If you got a bay leaf in your bowl, you get good luck!
  7. Enjoy!

Slightly modified from: The Modern Proper

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Red Lentil Sweet Potato Soup

I have a handful of recipes that I am confident they will wow. The recipe that I have a solid grasp on how to make and what to modify to cater to whoever is joining us for dinner. This is one of those meals. When you make it, this is what will happen. Your guest will devour the meal. But after a first couple of spoonfuls, they will look at you and remark, “what is that spice? This is so good, but I cannot place these flavors.”

At this point, you have a couple options. Make them guess (they will probably say curry and you will laugh and shake your head). Say you’ll never tell. Or reveal it is cinnamon, ginger, and cumin. And that this combination smells and tastes heavenly.

But the point is, this is a great soup. It’s easy to make. It’ll impress whoever is at your dinner table. But most importantly, it’s gosh dang delicious.


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, coined
  • 3 celery ribs, sliced
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 dashes cinnamon
  • 2 dashes ginger
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 2 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 6-7 cups of vegetable broth (can sub out for water)
  • 1 cup white wine (but can sub with more broth or water)
  • 1 cup kale, long shredded (can sub in spinach)
  • lime juice (optional)
  • cilantro (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Add olive oil to large pot and heat on medium heat. Toss in onions. Once the onions start to get soft, add in carrots and celery. Add in sweet potatoes and continue to stir periodically.
  2. As vegetables get soft, add in garlic. Once garlic starts to get fragrant, mix in cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and bay leaves. Add in lentils, dates, and liquid (broth/wine/water).
  3. Bring to boil. Then reduce heat to slow, bring to a simmer, and cover.
  4. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. Once the lentils are cooked, add in kale. Stir until cooked.
  5. Remove from heat and pour into bowls. In each bowl, top with cilantro. Squeeze a bit of lime juice into your bowl. Top with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes if desired.
  6. Enjoy!

Source: Daphne Oz

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Cheesy Broccoli Toast

Like so many other Americans, I spent the day before 4th of July going to the grocery store to stock up on must-haves for grilling out tomorrow. Because there certainly isn’t going to be a holiday where I plan ahead and buy everything we need earlier than the day before 😉

Somehow I came home with a loaf of bread, English muffins, a French baguette, a ciabatta loaf, and a huge, round crusty sourdough. Apparently, carbs will be making a big appearance in our meals the next following weeks.

With that in mind, I tried out this new broccoli toast because I am determined to make sure none of this bread gets moldy before we get a chance to eat it. It was the biggest hit with everyone! Added bonus is it is such a straight forward recipe so it can easily be a weekday dinner. And we typically we have all the ingredients in our fridge. This will be going in our “make again” list.

Before the blanket of cheese


  • 1 head of broccoli
  • 1 glug of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • sliced white bread
  • butter
  • provolone cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cut broccoli into medium size pieces. Peel the steams so the harder skin is removed.
  2. Place 1 inch of water into a deeper pan with a dash of salt. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add broccoli into the pan and place lid on. Let broccoli steam for 2 minutes.
  3. Drain broccoli and remove from the pan. Take paper towels to dry out the water from the broccoli as much as possible. Then cut the broccoli into smaller pieces.
  4. Ensure that the pan is dried. Then add the olive oil and heat. Toss in garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant. Add in the broccoli and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 3 minutes to well mix.
  5. Place broccoli mixture into a bowl. Combine in Parmesan cheese. Put aside.
  6. Line the bread on a greased baking pan. Butter one side of the bread. Place the oven onto boil. Then place bread into the oven to toast. Once lightly toasted, flip so the other side begins to toast. Once both sides are lightly toasted, remove from over.
  7. Add the broccoli mixture on each piece of toast. Layer a piece of provolone cheese on top. Put back into the oven on boil and cook until the cheese is melted-about 4 minutes.
  8. Enjoy!!

Very slightly modified from Smitten Kitchen

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Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boat

It was one of those nights where we had a half pound of ground beef and spaghetti squash that needed to be used. And I was in a mood. I didn’t want to follow a recipe too closely or make anything complicated. But I also wanted our meal to taste good. And I don’t typically cook spaghetti squash so I didn’t have an index of past meals to work off of. So I made this. By pretending I was going to make lasagna. Only with spaghetti squash instead of noodles. And soft goat cheese instead of ricotta. And not really layered. So very loosely based on lasagna. But it was so so good.


  • Spaghetti squash
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 slice uncooked bacon, diced
  • 1/4 red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 glug of white/red wine (either works)
  • 1 glug of olive oil
  • 2 leaves fresh basil, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon parsley
  • 2 tablespoons soft goat cheese (like this)
  • 1/4 shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Handful of Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half. Spoon out the seeds. Cover the entire squash (both sides) with olive oil. Sprinkle inside with salt and pepper to taste. Place in oven, inside down, for 30-35 minutes. It should be done when you stab the skin and the knife goes in easily. But don’t get too stab happy because we need the shell intact to use as a bowl later.
  2. While squash is cooking, make the sauce. Brown ground beef until it is almost done but not completely done. Drain the excess fat. Then cut the uncooked bacon into the pan with the ground beef. I use a kitchen knife and cut the bacon into the pan.
  3. While bacon is cooking, add in diced red pepper, onions, and garlic. Add in tomato sauce, a glug of olive oil, a glug of wine, rosemary, and parsley. Toss in salt and pepper to taste. Simmer.
  4. Remove spaghetti squash from oven once cooked. Take a fork and pull the squash from the shell without destroying the shell, as you will be putting everything back into it.
  5. Place squash into a medium size bowl. Mix in goat cheese and shredded cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Spoon squash back into each shell. Top with sauce and sprinkle cheese.
  7. Place back into the oven and cook for 10 additional minutes.
  8. Enjoy!

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Orzo Pasta Salad

Every morning, I let Pancake out our back patio door so she can go to the bathroom, chase the turkeys, and otherwise run around the pastures before she decides to make her way back to the house. The last couple of mornings I have followed Pancake out the door, stood on the patio, and soaked up the morning sun. Guys, it is starting to smell like summer.

Summer in Minnesota is a thing. After months and months of snows (sometimes even creeping into May), once the weather starts to hit the mid 60’s, it is as if all Minnesotans collectively sigh a deep breath of relief. Winter is behind us. We open our windows. We plan meet ups around happy hours for patio bars/restaurants. Lake parks are filled with people running, biking, laying, playing. It is hard to imagine not seeing the sidewalks, parks, and downtowns not packed with people enjoying our Minnesota summer to the fullest. All plans seem to revolve around being outside as much as possible. If the sun is up, we are outside.

And with summer comes summer cookouts. I have never been one for consistent meal planning. Whatever is in the fridge, I will toss together. But in the summer, my lack of meal planning becomes even more narrow, and I happily delegate a portion my cooking duties. Now, the extent of my meal planning is, “what should Matt grill out for us tonight?” I am just in charge of the side dishes.

This is a fabulous side dish. Hand to God, every time I make this side dish for guests, someone asks me for the recipe. And every time I say, yeah, I should really write it up and put it on my blog so it is easier to share. Well guests, I finally have!


  • Box of Orzo
  • Can of Corn, drained (feel free to sub out-I only add it about half the time)
  • 1-2 cups black olives, sliced
  • 1 red/orange/yello bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2/3 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 package of pearl fresh mozzarella (or get a big ball and cut into cubes)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 handfuls of cilantro, shredded


  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 6 Tablespoon lime juice
  • 5 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar


  1. Cook orzo per box instructions. Yah know, boil water. Add salt so it’s as salty as the dead sea. Toss in the orzo. Take out when soft to taste. Let the orzo cool (or run cold water over it-that may be a not chef like. but I don’t always have the time or patience to wait)
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Whisk til well mixed.
  3. Combine all ingredients for main dish in a large bowl. Only add the orzo once it is cooled (or you’ll get gooey cheese). Mix well so that the olive oil is mixed throughout.
  4. Toss in the dressing and serve immediately.
  5. Enjoy!

Source: My friend Rachel

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White Bean Soup

Simple ingredients always seem to make the best meal. Just let the natural flavors of the real food stand out on its own. That is why I love this soup. The list of ingredients is minimal. There is not much to do it. But the soup has so much flavor and texture. And you are not stuck to the same taste palate. You can top the soup with so many different options to mix it up, all while staying true to the base flavor. This is my new favorite soup.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar

Optional Toppings

  • Pesto, a spoonful per bowl (very much recommend!)
  • Croutons
  • French’s fried onions
  • Parmesan cheese


  1. Heat olive oil to medium size pot. Add in onions and garlic and cook until soft.
  2. Add in beans and broth. Take an immersion blender to blend until beans are chopped up. Add in red pepper flakes and red wine vinegar. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover and let cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring periodically.
  3. Ladle into bowl. Top with optional toppings and add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Enjoy!

Source: Cup of Jo

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Balsamic Roasted Veggie, White Bean, Pesto Pasta

This is my favorite way to use up all those veggies in the fridge that need to be eaten before its too late. Because stir fry gets old. And just like stir fry, this recipe is so flexible. Add whatever veggies you have. Use whatever beans you have. Use whatever kind of pasta you have.

I have been trying to increase our family’s rotation of meat-free meals, as JR is still a vegetarian (on most days–he cannot say no to bacon). So I have been making more an effort to buy more variety of vegetables. And I really want the kids to have more than just one veggie a week. So I find myself leaving the store with about 5 different kinds of veggies, if not more. But, the boys and Eloise only eat so much. When you have a head of broccoli and cauliflower, it can be tough to eat everything before it starts to turn.

This is a great recipe to get all those vegetables into the mix. The pesto balsamic mix really elevates the dish and is a unique way to change up spaghetti and sauce.


  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup broccoli, cut
  • 1 cup cauliflower, cut
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 zucchini, cut into coins
  • 1yellow squash,  cut into coins
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 red onion, large slices
  • 1 package pasta, rotini is my fave for this
  • 1/2-1/3 cup pesto
  • 1 can cannelloni beans, drained (15 oz can)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat over to 425 degrees
  2. Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic, basil, parsley, rosemary, oregano, salt, and olive oil into a small bowl.
  • Place all veggies into a large bowl and mix sauce over veggies until it is well-mixed. Spread veggies over baking pan and roast for 30 minutes (or until soft).
  • While veggies roast, cook pasta.
  • Once veggies are cooled, combine pasta, veggies, beans, and cheese. Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar on top.
  • Enjoy!

Source: Skinny Taste

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Buffalo Chicken Soup

This soup is the absolute best. It is so easy to make. Most people have the ingredients they need on hand in the fridge or pantry already (or you can sub out fairly easily). And it is a fresh take on soups because that Frank’s Red Hot brings the soup to an entirely different level. I love it.

I modified this recipe from an Instagramer that Matt and I met in Italy. We were eating at the same restaurant and had some small talk about posting on Instagram. She was very kind and expressed how she was on her way to being an influencer. And I was a jerk. There is no way to reframe this encounter to make me look good. I was dismissive about her being an influencer for literally no good reason. Which is additionally shitty given my husband is a freaking influencer. And ever since, I look back on that encounter and feel so shameful about how I acted. I was a jerk.

But jokes on me. The next day I realized I was so insensitive and followed her and saw that her posts were legit. I felt so stupid, and I sincerely think about it at least once a month. I am sure my terrible self rolled off her back and she probably has no memory of it. And she has blown up as an influencer. She has some seriously awesome content. Her photos are creative. Her podcast is genuinely helpful for people wanting to get into content creating. She is killing it. What a good, freaking example of not letting the haters get to you!

So yeah, me being a shitty person is how I found this recipe. Be better than me and support someone’s dream from the outset. Not after you feel terrible the next day when you realize you were an absolute ass. But if you are like me, and you realize you were a jerk to someone, support the hell out of them. They deserve it.


  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 4 stalks celery, sliced
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 16 oz chicken broth
  • 1/4-1/2 cup French’s Red Hot
  • 1 can Northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1 packet Ranch dressing package
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
guys, i promise to take better photos next time. It tastes a bazillion times better than this photo. so so so much better.


  1. Toss ground chicken into large pot and cook until browned. Add dashes salt and pepper and garlic.
  2. Add in remaining ingredients, except for cream cheese. Bring to boil.
  3. Once boiling, add cream cheese. Cut cream cheese into 1 inch cubes, as they melt easier.
  4. Stir until cream cheese is melted.
  5. Cook on simmer/low heat for about hour.
  6. Enjoy!

Modified from: Josie Bullard

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Teriyaki Chicken Kabobs

Ok, how is the summer already coming to an end? With the pandemic still roaring through the states, it just doesn’t feel like summer has started yet. There has been no movies in the park. No summer concerts. Didn’t go see fireworks because the city didn’t have them. No block parties. None of the typical summer activities.

That is not to say we didn’t make a great summer out of what we did have. We were able to sneak away to a cabin in Wisconsin. We have had weekends exploring the woods and parks (just staying away from the playground equipment). Movie nights with popcorn were had. It was a good summer, considering.

We didn’t get to have many cookouts with friends and family, which was a bummer. But we had a couple socially distanced dinners outside on the patio–eating home cooked food, drinking good wine, and pretending just for the evening that our world isn’t completely upside down.

What hasn’t changed is what I serve when we have a cookout at our place. This summer, and all the others, whenever we have people over for a cookout, this is my go-to grilling recipe. So much so, that this is the recipe I made the day JR was born since we had a cookout to celebrate JR on his birthday (birth center births mean you go home same day you give birth).

And I have been meaning to put this recipe up on the blog, but every time I make it, before I can remember to take a photo of the finished product, it’s already in our bellies. It’s that good.


Teriyaki Sauce

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 Tablespoon sesame seed oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon honey


  • 1-2 pounds of chicken, cut into cubes
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut into chunks
  • 1 red pepper, cut into chunks
  • 1 orange pepper, cut into chunks
  • 1 red onion, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 pineapple (fresh), cut into chunks


  1. To make the sauce, just toss all the ingredients in a small pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat so it is simmering. Stir until the sauce is thickened. Feel free to add a bit more cornstarch. Once to a thickened texture (not as thick as honey but not as thin as water), remove from heat. I recommend dividing out into two bowls–one for dipping later and one for basting.
  2. Make your skewers. If you have metal skewers, great. If not, use wood and soak the wood skewers for a bit before using (although if you don’t, I have never found it to be a deal breaker).
  3. For the skewers, we put all meat on some and then divide the rest throughout (because we have some vegetarians in our house). Baste with the sauce and then grill. Baste periodically as it cooks.
  4. Enjoy!

Modified from Lauren’s Latest

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