Slow Cooker Carolina Pulled Beef

I use to think it was difficult to cook a meal after working a 12ish hour day (ohhh attorney hours).  And then I had a baby.  Now I understand a new level of tired.   Given that JR wants to be constantly held from the second I get home until he gets laid down for bed, this makes cooking nearly impossible.  I have not mastered how to cut veggies and hold a one-year-old.

So yeah, you could say I am into slow cooker meals.  This pulled beef recipe does not disappoint.  There is minimal prep (a little rubdown required so you will need to put your baby down) and if you are lazy like me, you can make your significant other shred the beef.  But even if you shred the beef yourself, the extra work is completely worth the effort.  There is this great spicy but subtle sweet taste that makes the flavor right on the mark. Plus this is a great variation from the typical tomato-based bbq.

I made the beef last week, and Matt had three sandwiches in one sitting.  In fact, the beef was so tasty that I forgot to take pictures of the final meal.  But at least I was able to hold my preggo-self back before devouring the beef for lunch today. I am happy to report that the leftovers hold their own–makes some excellent lunches.

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How we made it through the first months with a newborn.

The post could be summed up by saying, “Everyone has their own preferences. All babies are different.  This whole child rearing thing is just a whole trial and error game. And this is what worked for us.”

Aden + Anais Blankets: It is no secret that I am am a blanket addict.  We own no less than 20 blankets (mostly the silky soft muslin variety), which sounds ridiculous given these blankets can be quite pricey.  But I was able to find them at TJ Maxx/HomeGoods/Marshalls for around half the price and we got several sets as gifts, so I didn’t end up spending a small fortune on blankets (but God knows I would).

But regardless of the price, these blankets are worth it–they are easily our most used item. We use them for everything–cuddles, burp rag, cleaning up spit up, swaddling (well, we didn’t swaddle but we “mermaid-ed” him with them).  And JR is definitely a blanket baby.  He walks around with a blanket constantly and he uses it to comfort himself whenever he is upset (new use: bunching it up and biting it as a way to relieve teething pain).  Cannot imagine having a baby without these blankets.

blankets

blanket
buying more blankets cuz I have no willpower.

Boppy Lounger: The essential ingredient for a table baby. Matt and I would place the boppy on the table and drop JR in it while we ate dinner. Gosh, dinner time was so much simpler back then (now JR tries to escape from his high chair and tosses his food on the floor to Pancake).  That boppy followed us to room to room.  It was the perfect place to stash a baby when you have to pee and you don’t want to put him on the bathroom floor. Or when you are cooking a meal.  And it is far easier to move a boppy than an entire swing.

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fashion by daddy.
fashion by daddy.

Gummy Bear Red NightLight: JR was not the best sleeper for the first 10 months of his life, and he was a total piglet when it came to breastfeeding.  I cannot remember one night over my maternity leave where we didn’t spend the majority of the night nursing. In the beginning, we relied on the hall light so I could see in the middle of the night.  But it was too bright, and it was hard to fall back asleep (and when you only have 20-30 minutes to get some sleep before the baby wants to nurse again, you wanna fall asleep as fast as possible). This light was the perfect solution.  It stays on for an hour, is red light (which apparently is the light you want in the middle of the night) and doubles as a toy for the baby. Plus, no need to buy the charger (which comes separately) because your charger from your breast pump works with it.

mamaRoo Swing: This swing is certainly in vogue.  It seems like everyone has one.  And apparently we also drank the Kool-Aid because we loved ours.  The swing has 5 different swing settings, which is great because if JR wasn’t going for one type of swing, we could switch it up and try another.  It also has four different white noise sounds which helped encourage JR to nap somewhere that wasn’t on me.

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Bassinet: Ok, I did design our bassinet myself (as in, I found a picture on Pinterest that I loved and told Matt, make this) but I cannot imagine how we would have survived the first couple of months without a bassinet. Having JR sleeping next to me was a huge comfort.  I would weave my hand through the bars, rest it on JR’s chest, know that he was breathing, and be able to get some decent sleep.

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So yeah, these items made navigating the first couple months of parenthood so much easier. Sure, our changing table, diapers, and wipes were pretty important but hey, those aren’t as glamorous and fun 😉

Hopefully, this baby registry must have is helpful.  Of course, this is just what worked for us.  We aren’t baby experts (yet) so this list certainly isn’t gospel.  And feel free to let me know what baby must haves I missed 🙂

xo.

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We made a baby boy.

first family photo taken 5 hours after JR was born.

And I am completely obsessed with him.

Christmas 2016
Christmas 2016

In late 2014, we got a huge surprise–I was pregnant.  We weren’t exactly trying to get pregnant, but we also weren’t trying not to, just playing our own version of Russian roulette which turned out to be successful a bit faster than we anticipated.  Of course, Matt was over the moon.  He had wanted to be a baby daddy since forever and the news that it finally was a reality was the perfect news.  I was a little scared of the unknown but excited to have a baby to kiss and cuddle with.

Lucky for me, I had a generally easy pregnancy.  I slowly got fatter and fatter around my belly, but no morning sickness, no food aversion, no cravings.  Instead, my feet swelled.  By 7 months, my shoes no longer could fit and when I wore high-heels for work, I looked like Miss Piggie.  Nothing like fat feet to make your whole body look unbelievably more large and prego.  Even though my swollen feet looked painful, typically they weren’t too uncomfortable, beyond feeling tight. Plus, Matt massaged them every night 😉

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8 months pregnant.
You can’t tell, but my shoe strings are straining from my fat fat feet!

We decided not to find out the sex of the baby until Toastie (our womb name for JR) was born.  For us, it was a no brainer.  The sex of your baby is one of the most genuine surprises in your life, and we didn’t want to ruin the surprise until Toastie was ready to fall out.  The anticipation of finding out what Toastie was wasn’t too difficult….until Toastie decided to be late.  12 days late (with labor starting at 11 days late). Those days were easily the hardest part of my pregnancy.

The due date was July 12th.  Sure, it is common knowledge that calculating due dates is not an exact science.  And I am certain I said that catch phrase over and over again once the calendar said July 1st (mostly to my boss, who was starting to come to terms with the reality that I would be out of the office for two months).  Still, when July 12th came and went, we were disappointed.  Every day after July 12th, I would wake up a bit disheartened that I was getting ready for work instead of getting ready for labor.  (for some reason, I was convinced that I would go into labor in the middle of the night–I didn’t).

8 days late stress test
8 days late stress test

We tried everything to induce labor. Sex, walking, running, spicy food, acupuncture (three times).  Nothing worked (we didn’t try the castor oil–I just couldn’t bring myself to risk it).  Every day I would run 2 miles.  But this baby was stubborn. He had his own agenda.  But then it was Thursday, July 23rd.

I woke up on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 6:00 a.m. and it felt like I had peed myself.  I was quite certain it was my water breaking, but the entire area wasn’t saturated, so I started to doubt myself and wondered if maybe I just sweated an ungodly amount over the night (pregnancy can be gross).

Sure, this baby was already 11 days past the due date.  But after 11 days, and thinking everything was “a sign that labor was around the corner” and then feeling disappointed when I was still pregnant, I was starting to feel like I was going to die pregnant. Plus, weren’t contractions suppose to come with my water breaking? I felt just like I had every other day of pregnancy—completely fine. I needed a second opinion.

I woke Matt up and told him what happened.  He smiled, “we are going to have a baby today!” And he was right (ok, well he was born on the 24th but close enough).  After only 5 and half hours of labor,  I caught my baby as he floated up from the water towards me like a torpedo.  We are so blessed.  I had the birthing experience I wanted–a non-medicated, water birth–and a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

first family photo taken 5 hours after JR was born.

Since we gave birth at a birth center, we were discharged 5 hours after JR was born.  I know, this sounds shocking to most people (and even I was hesitant about it) but it was natural and organic.

Dressed and ready to go home
Dressed and ready to go home

Matthew Anthony Jr. (who we lovingly call JR) was born July 24, 2015 at 2:43 a.m. at 7 lbs 6 oz and 20 inches.  And our life has become better for it.

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And then two and a half years later…

Wow, its been over two years since I last posted.  To be honest, my sabbatical from blogging was unintentional.  It started with my laptop breaking.  Not sure what happened, but it no longer turned on.  Matt said it would cost too much to fix it so it sat in the tv stand for the past couple of years, collecting dust while I was essentially computer-less. And then I forgot the password to sign into my blog account.  So my attempts to sign into my blog on Matt’s desktop was unsuccessful.  But then on December, 2015 (two years from my last post!), my work gave me a glorious, gold MacBook.  It took way too many guesses, but I finally cracked my password (but to be honest, I have once again forgotten it-thank God it is saved to my new computer). Remembering how to navigate wordpress…still not up to par yet.  Ugh, technology is hard.

Gosh, my life has completely transformed.  Most notably, I became a mom.

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JR // 6 weeks old

And I would post more, but for some reason, pictures won’t upload into wordpress.  Seriously, wordpress is anything but user-friendly. After fighting with it for over an hour, I’m throwing my hands up. You win, wordpress.  I’ll be back to struggle with you tomorrow.

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Best Bloody Mary

can never have too many toppings.

Two years ago, it was brunch time.  Matt and I decided to venture outside the Northeast and went to Edina for eggs and bloodies. It was just ok.  Our bloodies were just glorified V8s with a mini pickle.  I left disappointed and thirsty.  After living within a mile from a bar with the Helen of Troy of bloodies for four years, I had yet to find a replacement since I moved to the Twin Cities.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying.  My google history was riddled with “best Bloody Marys in Minneapolis.” And I dragged Matt to try every single one of the proclaimed  best bloodies.  Each one fell short.

bloodies.“Seriously, how hard is it to find the best Bloody Mary in Minneapolis!” I complained on our drive home from brunch. “I’m starting to think the Twin Cities just doesn’t have one.”

And that’s how this blog started. “Why don’t you rate all the bloodies we’ve tried on a blog so other people in the cities can rely on your expertise,” Matt suggested.

spicesThis blog has now transformed from rating bloodies into my outlet to learn to cook.  Nevertheless, my original idea behind this blog hasn’t completely been lost. And as it turns out,  I sleep next to the mixologist who has created the world’s best bloody–Matt.  It took several years of trial and error, but we finally have perfected what we believe to be the greatest bloody recipe.  And it would be a sin not to share that recipe with the world.

celebrated Matt's birthday with a brunch themed party complete with a bloody mary bar.
celebrated Matt’s birthday with a brunch themed party complete with a bloody mary bar.
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Tomato Pie

It’s been a while.  Again.  Still been making new recipes.  Still forgetting to take pictures.  I’ve been lazy.

But there is something I have been spending my time taking pictures of.  Surprise! There is a new addition to our family.  Three weeks ago, a little French bulldog moved into our house.  Her name is Pancake.

Pancake helping Matt in the workshop.
Pancake helping Matt in the workshop.

It’s been an adventure.  Neither of us have owned or trained a dog before so we enrolled into a puppy class.  Pancake is becoming proficient at playing fetch, and she’s great at sitting, but now that she has learned that sitting equals treats, walking on a leash has become more difficult.  She will walk a few steps, sit, and wait for a treat.  It’s only been three weeks so hopefully she will get the hang of it soon.

Pancake loves stacking lumber.
Pancake loves stacking lumber.

Our kitchen also has experienced a new milestone.  I finally made something using yeast! I’ve been saying for months that I wanted to learn how to make dough, but every time the opportunity arose, I opted for Pillsbury’s.

tomatopie

This lazy streak has come to an end! Matt is an avid woodworker (the best if you ask me!) and he subscribes to every woodworking show, blog, youtube channel.  One of the woodworkers he follows had a post about making a pizza peel with a recipe for tomato pie which included a homemade crust.  Matt took it as a sign that it was time for me to finally learn to work with yeast.  Clever guy 🙂

tomato pie

I love this tomato pie recipe because of the simplicity of it.  While I love a pizza piled with toppings, sometimes you crave the bare necessities.  Plus, you make this pizza up-side-down.  The cheese is the first topping with the sauce on top.  This unique structure and simple ingredients enhances the flavor of the pizza.  It was the perfect recipe for me to start my journey working with yeast.  And we’ve now made this pizza over 10 times.  I’d say it’s a keeper!  And I now consider myself a “yeast expert.”  Well, as long as it involves this recipe…

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Goat Cheese Guacamole

Remember when I disappeared for a couple months.  Well, I kept cooking but stopped taking pictures.  In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not big on the staging portion of the photography part of this whole blogging thing.  Eh. Instragram is about as good as it gets for me.

Instead of learning how to take killer photographs, I’ve been getting the most out of summer now that Minnesota weather is finally cooperative.  Exhibit A: dancing on the boat on the way from dinner.

dancing on the boat on our way home from dinner

And I’ve had my fair share of meals made for me.

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It’s been great.  How can you not love Minnesota summers! With the fresh herbs growing in our garden, guacamole has been my go-to side dish.  While I LOVE guac, I wanted to mix it up.  After seeing a guacamole with goat cheese on a menu at a local restaurant, I had to try to recreate it.

goat cheese guacamole

This guacamole is far richer than traditional guacamole.  The kind of guacamole you’d have at a fancy restaurant.  A fun twist.  The goat cheese makes it much thicker and not really cheesy.  I really loved it, but I personally prefer traditional guac.  Matt likes them both the same.  Try it for yourself and let me know which you prefer!

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Italian Sausage Stuffed Eggplant

Italian Sausage Stuffed Eggplant

When it comes to holidays, I love the ones that aren’t hyper commercialized. So yes, that means I LOVE April Fools Day.  Playing tricks on people is something I live for.  And no, I do not need a holiday for that.  But when our nation decides to celebrate it–yeah, sure. I’m in.

My co-worker Amber and I spent our April Fools Day playing tricks on our co-workers.  Sure, it was fun switching our boss’s diet coke for lemon juice and creamer.  But it only made my thirst for mayhem stronger.  I needed more.

So, this year I decide that Matt would be the perfect target for a fake cake.  I told Matt that I made him his favorite cake–a black forest cake.

black forest cake...or is it....
black forest cake…or is it….

But in reality, I took a balloon–blew it up and covered it with homemade icing.  Matt was psyched that I made him a cake out of the blue.  I gave him a knife and asked him to cut us both a piece of cake.  And then….bam!  The “cake” exploded in his face and icing went everywhere.  It was awesome.  I laughed hysterically, and Matt looked at me and said, “So, there is no cake?” And that was the best part.  He was all excited for cake.  And there none. Bahahaa.

 

my victim. bahahah
my victim. bahahah

All and all, it was a good April Fools Day.  Messing with our co-workers with Amber was fun.  Messing with Matt only made the day better. And really, what is was was a reminder that there is no need to take life so seriously.  Sure, I definitely get stressed.  I have mini-panic attacks at work over nothing.  I freak out over little things.  But at the end of the day, I need to remind myself that I need to just laugh it all off.  And that’s why I love April Fools Day.

Besides making an exploding cake, I made this delicious eggplant dish! I watched this Italian tv show with my father-in-law and memorized the ingredients as well as I could.  This recipe is easy to make and delicious to eat.  Try it.  You will thank me.

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Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup

Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup

Remember picture day back in high school?  It was such a big ordeal.  Picking out the perfect outfit, applying gobs of makeup, and finding a hair-style that’s just right.  Yes, very similar to Goldilock’s adventure.  Unfortunately for me, every year my pictures turned out the same.  Eyes mid-blink.  Uncomfortable smile. Messy hair.

pop can bangs. yes, i was that stylish.
pop can bangs. yes, i was that stylish.

Today, we had picture day at work.  Well, kinda.  See, our firm hired two new employees who needed photos for our website.  Since the photographer was already going to be around taking their pictures, I thought, “hey, this is a great opportunity for me to get a better picture.” Maybe I can just sneak in and get a new pic.  [no worries. I got the thumbs up from our marketing coordinator].

Spicy Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup

Why did I need a new picture you ask?  Yeah–I’m not the most photographic of individuals.  It wasn’t my best work.  Meaning I’m that girl who has been complaining about her work picture ever since it was taken.

Today was the third time I’ve had my picture professionally taken for work.  Move over, Beyonce.  There’s a new diva running this town.  But, channeling my inner celebrity paid off.  I got to look at my new work pictures, and while I won’t be auditioning for America’s Next Top Model anytime soon, I no longer looked frazzled.

Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup

Photographing soup has always been a bit of a challenge for me.  If it isn’t full of chunky ingredients, a creamy soup looks bland.  What I should do is buy some cute, unique bowls from Goodwill to jazz it up.  But its so easy to get lazy when it comes laying out colorful and eye-catching backdrops for my website.  Thankfully, this recipe is full of delicious chunky ingredients, so my fiestaware bowls sufficed.  This spicy soup was delicious, easy to make, and can be ready in twenty minutes.  The perfect meal after a long day of work! 

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Chocolate Cherry Marshmallow Crunch Bars

Chocolate Cherry Marshmallow Crunch Bars

I had my first kiss when I was 14.  It was on the second day of a bike tour in a high school gym.  He asked if he could kiss me and then proceeded to count down from three.  I held my breath, and we kissed.

chocolate cherry marshmallow crunch

My first kiss when my husband was far less innocent.  After too many tequila shots and a full night of dancing, Matt and I finally kissed.  We had been friends for a year at that point.  And in the first month of our friendship, Matt came over for Chinese and tv.  Apparently, Matt considered that a date, and I considered it just two friends hanging out.  One year later, the timing was finally right.  And thanks to tequila and daylight savings time, Matt and I were finally on the same page.  Six years later, we are still together.

Chocolate Cherry Marshmallow

This recipe was another first.  I’ve never made anything with Rice Krispies.  I know.  That’s insane.  Rice Krispie treats are a baking staple.  You’d think that sometime I would have made this.  But between having a sister who kicks my ass at all things baking and having no desire to learn to bake, I never made anything with Rice Krispies.  Matt loves cherries and marshmallows.  When I saw this recipe, I realized it was time to try something new.  No tequila required.

Chocolate Cherry Marshmallow Crunch Bar

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