Stuffed Cabbage Roll Soup

You guys, I am 7 months pregnant with my third baby.  How are we already only two(ish) months away from becoming a family of five?!?!  We are anything but prepared.  Our house only has two bedrooms so we haven’t had to put together a nursery since JR was born.  Poor Maxie never got his own room (his crib is in our room, and JR and Max share a closet and dresser). So while we don’t have to worry about designing a nursery, it also means we have no where to put the baby’s clothes or diapers or really anything.  Hence why we still need to prepare for Toastie Three’s arrival.

thirty weeks pregnant

But the lack of preparation has no correlation to my level of anticipation for the baby’s arrival.  I am really looking forward to having an infant again.  Sure, there is less sleep, and I can only imagine that having three babies v. two babies will have it’s own challenges.   But my maternity leaves have always been so much fun.

I have heard multiple mothers say they found maternity leave to be isolating and lonely.  Typically, her husband has no more than a week or two of time off after the baby is born.  Once the father goes back to work, it is just the mom and the baby alone for a huge chunk of the day.  Sometimes the mom has no time to grab a shower or a solid meal since there is no one to help watch the baby and so many babies won’t sleep unless they are being held.  I am lucky to have had quite the opposite experience.  Since Matt works at home, we spend so much time together as a family. We eat every meal together.  Our day starts with Matt making us pancakes for breakfast (because who wants to lose baby weight).  While Matt will head to the basement or workshop after breakfast, he joins us for lunch and frequently stops up to say hi throughout the day.  I’ve never gone a day without showering, brushing my teeth, or putting on make-up because Matt is happy to take a break throughout the day to help out when needed. And by 6:00 p.m., we are all sitting down together for dinner.  Both maternity leaves were so rejuvenating, and I am really looking forward to soaking up the extra family time while we adjust to a family of five.

Still, knowing we will soon have three kids sounds more than just a little overwhelming.  And while I know I have Matt to help throughout the day, he does have to work and we have to respect working hours.  Ideally, I want to be able to cook dinner and watch the three kids while Matt works.  So I’ve been trying to find easy recipes that do not require too many steps.  Finding meals that can be made in one pot is even better.  Less dishes sounds lovely (for Matt–he is the dish washer in the family).

This soup will likely make a reappearance once the baby arrives.  Beyond chopping up vegetables, it consists of just dumping everything into one pot and letting it cook.  Also, I love love love cooked cabbage, and the boys always finish their bowls whenever I make it. So it’s a win win.

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Eggplant Parmesan

Every Saturday morning, JR jumps into our bed and says, “How big is the baby?”  (Ok, he’s usually already in our bed since he has a new habit of sneaking into our bed in the middle of the night and laying at the end by Pancake so we don’t feel him in the bed right away and move him back).  After surcoming to the reality that I won’t be getting any more sleep, I pull up the two baby apps on my phone, and JR gets excited to see how the baby is now the size of some various fruit or vegetable.  He looks at the picture of the food, scrolls to see the baby in 3D, and talks about how the baby eats with the placenta.

Then one day I was at the grocery store, and I saw a pomegranate.  I was 17 weeks pregnant, and since we spent our morning gushing over the baby app, I remembered that the baby was the size of a pomegranate.  So I tossed it in my cart and brought it home to show the boys so they’d have a better idea of how big the baby currently was.  The boys carried it around for a while.  And then we ate it.

From then on, we started incorporating the “what size is the baby” food into our meal rotation.  We’ve had mangos, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, pomegranates, and bananas.

And at 28 weeks, the baby was the size of an eggplant.  So we decided to eat an eggplant.

I had made eggplant parmesan many times.  Each time, I find a new recipe.  Each time, the meal is ok.  Until this time.  This time I finally found the perfect eggplant recipe!  Instead of using breadcrumbs or Panko, I used Corn Flakes.  This was a game changer.  Each eggplant slice was just crispy enough.  And since we had a block of leftover Parmesan cheese from Christmas, I shredded it instead of using pre-shredded cheese from a bag.  This was a good idea.  The cheese didn’t weigh down the eggplant or make it too soggy.  Instead it added a dash of salty, sweet element that mixed well with the dollop of sauce.

The meal was a success.  JR ate everything on his plate plus some.   Matt and Max were into it.  Now next time I make eggplant parmesan, it won’t start by me googing a new recipe.  I’ll make this one.

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Korean Beef

You guys, picking a boy name is hard.  Just as we did with our first two, we don’t know if Toastie Three is a boy or a girl.  So we need to be prepared if we are having a third boy (no need to brainstorm a girl name–we’ve had that one in the chamber since pregnancy number one).

Naming JR and Max was easy.  Matt had always wanted a junior.  I wasn’t a huge fan of my husband and son sharing a name, but it was so important to Matt that it was impossible to say no.  We compromised that we would call him JR (for Junior), and the issue of naming our first born was as simple as that.

With naming Max, I was reading JR the storybook Where the Wild Things Are.  The little boy in the book is named Max, and it fit. There was no back and forth on whether there was a “better” name out there.  Max was it.

And now we need to find our third perfect boy name.  I think we have it.  But that is just it.  There was no uncertainty with JR’s or Maxie’s name.  So maybe we haven’t found it just quite yet.

But the one thing Matt doesn’t wavering on is his favorite, last-minute meal.  Whenever Matt and I have no clue on what to make, Matt suggests this Korean beef meal.  It is unbelievably simple but fancier than just tossing together spaghetti (another go-to at our place when we are out of meal ideas).

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Tater Tot Hot Dish

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  It’ll be our seventh Thanksgiving in our house.  The house Matt bought when he was 23, right before we got married.  I remember when we moved in, the plan was that we’d live in the house for five years and then find our forever home.  Or at least a house that was nicer.

It may not look like much. But it’s ours. [also pictured: most adorable 3-year-old]
As I sit here, pregnant with our third child, preparing to host our seventh Thanksgiving, we are no closer to moving than we were when we first moved in.  There are no prospective houses on the market, and there hasn’t been a truly viable house for us since we started seriously looking over year and a half ago.  But the fact remains: our house is too small.  We need a new home.  Max doesn’t have a room so his crib has always been squeezed into our bedroom.  This third baby won’t have a room or even its own crib.  It’ll share a bedroom with its brother, mom, and dad, until we figure out a way for Max and JR to share a bed so that the baby can have Max’s crib.  We have only a quarter of an acre of land that currently houses a monstrous sawmill.  Possibly the largest, handmade sawmill ever to be built to date.  And it is sitting in our driveway.  The amount of wood and slabs on our land is enviable to any woodworker.  The basement is cluttered with piles of drying wood that the boys are now masters of maneuvering around. Our house is more than a little crammed.

But there is a coziness to a small home.  No matter where you are in the house, you can hear children laughing (or crying because toddlers).  I can easily cook dinner in the kitchen while actively watching the boys play in the tv room.  On weekends, Matt and I cuddle in bed while the boys bounce around the house and we can always hear where they are. And when there’s an argument, you can only avoid the person for so long.  There just isn’t enough space to hide out.  So much has happened in our small, little home that could not be duplicated in this huge, Victorian dream home I am looking for.

The sense of home is such a strong, innate feeling.  And while there are aspects of our home that I am honestly ashamed of, it’s our home.  And that is enough.  It is enough.

Certain meals evoke that same sense of home.  If you live in Minnesota, tater tot hot dish is likely that meal.  This is the authentic, Minnesota meal.  When it is cold outside and you need comfort food, you eat tater tot hot dish.  It’s the meal you bring to neighbors and friends when a loved one has passed or a new baby has arrived.  It’s the meal grandmothers make for the big family get togethers.  It’s the meal you make when it’s been a long week and you just want something that is easy and tastes so gosh darn good.  It is not entirely healthy.  It’s certainly not pretty looking.  But it is reliable. It’s safe.  It’s so so delicious.  It’s the quintessential Minnesota meal that reminds you of the safety of home.

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Panzanella Salad

Last weekend was my sister-in-law’s wedding.  I first met Matt’s sister Nicole when she was a high schooler.  She was this perky, outgoing girl who immediately made you feel at ease. It was as if you had known her your whole life.  Because that is quintessentially Nicole.  She lives her life with her heart on her sleeve. Sharing intimate stories.  Gushing love.  Always being completely honest.  So if something is on her mind, she’ll let you know.  She’s always all in or all out.  It’s something I’ve always admired about her.

and then the little frog turned into Ben 😉

She was the first sibling of Matt’s and mine to get married.  So the wedding weekend was a bit surreal.  How can she be getting married? She is the little sister.  But she looked beautiful.  The wedding was beautiful.  The family time was beautiful.  There’s nothing like a wedding to make you feel grateful for family.

Matt with his little sister.

Matt and I were in the wedding party so we got to walk down the aisle together, which was pretty fun.  The two of us hadn’t been in a wedding party together since our own wedding.  Not having to worry about anything except being where we are suppose to was a great change in pace.  Our little boys were in the wedding too.  They wore little dress pants with suspenders and bow ties. And they were too adorable. Despite complete breakdowns and tantrums at the rehearsal dinner, both boys walked perfectly down the aisle and were quiet the entire wedding ceremony (and we are Catholic so we are talking an hour and a half mass).  After the mass, the boys went off with my parents while Matt and I jumped on the party bus for photos.

Matt insisted on finding his own bouquet and snagged a lovely bundle of sticks.

Of course, the wedding was a full on traditional Italian wedding.  Guests were greeted at the reception by a table of shots.  Each guest is to take a shots to toast the new couple for good luck.  Traditionally, those shots are taken with the bridal party, but I have no idea how those Italians do that and don’t get completely bombed.  Here, there were bartenders that just handed them out so we didn’t have to worry about spending the entire reception slurring our words (because I swear, I smell liquor and suddenly I am completely incapable of articulating a clear sentence).  Our meal included antipasto, a pasta plate followed by a meat plate.  The late night snack was a nacho bar (oh man, for Matt’s and my second wedding, we are totally stealing this).  The dessert table was full of almond cookies, biscottis, and canolis. Yeah, in case it isn’t obvious, food is an important piece of the celebration.

And a panzanella salad is one of my favorite Italian salads.  It is one of the few salads that Matt loves because a good quarter of the salad is garlic, butter toasted bread.  He calls it “the bread salad” and its one of the few salads where Matt gets seconds.  The combination of the toasted bread with cucumbers and tomatoes tastes like summer.  It’s a quick and easy recipe with just simple, real ingredients.  Real Italian cooking at its finest. So for your next celebration, if you want to toss in a little Italian tradition, try adding this bread salad.

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Sausage and Mushroom Sweet Potato Gnocchi

I had never been to a Trader Joe’s until I found this recipe.  I had this idea that Trader Joe’s was this super crunchy, ultra expensive grocery store.  But then I stumbled upon this recipe that seemed like the perfect weekday meal (ie: one that takes 40 minutes or less from fridge to the table). Ok, so turns out that my perception of Trader Joe’s wasn’t exactly on mark.  There is more than just granola and organic yogurt.

This truly is a great meal.  There isn’t more than a couple of ingredients–all which are very easy to prepare.  You toss everything together and bam, you got yourself a fancy meal.

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Lemon and Garlic Whole Chicken

It’s no secret that I am a working mom.  It is something I am deeply proud of.  I love being a lawyer, just as I love being a mom.  But most nights, I do not get home until 7:00.  If I start making a full dinner from scratch once I get home, we typically don’t sit down to eat until after 8:00.  As much I’d love to tell you that I pre-plan our weekday meals, that would be a lie.  There are weeks where I am great.  There are lots of weeks where I am not.

I am not a fan of take-out or even eating out in general.  It’s expensive.  It’s not as healthy.  And I usually end up feeling disappointed for overindulging or because of the quality of the food for the price.  Plus two little boys in a restaurant can be exhausting. We try to avoid it whenever possible.

So on nights when we haven’t planned dinner, our go-to meal is a rotisserie chicken.  The boys love it.  It’s not ridiculously overpriced. It’s not wholly unhealthy. But like most things, I’d prefer to make it myself than buy a premade meal.  Of course, there is no way I’d have time to roast a whole chicken on a weekday.  But I still wanted to try out a homemade version.  So last weekend, Maxie and I picked up a raw chicken and decided to make our own rotisserie chicken of sorts.

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Lox Bagels

There are two types of people in this world.  Those who wake up and don’t need to eat breakfast.  And those who need to eat breakfast immediately.  Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me knows that I am in the second camp.  Most mornings I wake up starving.  Sometimes my stomach is actually growling when I wake.  Seriously.  Breakfast is my favorite meal, and I do not understand those people who can go until lunch before eating (husband, I am talking about you).

Weekends breakfasts are a favorite in our house.  Most mornings, we have a large homemade breakfast.  When Matt cooks, that means pancakes.  But when I am in charge, it means lox bagels.

i want to eat you.
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Moroccan Chicken with Chickpeas

Ok, so yesterday I came to a realization.  I’m chubby.  I might even be fat.  Ugh, fat.  It hurts writing that.  As if putting it down in words somehow materializes something that otherwise would not exist.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works.  My body is squishy regardless if I acknowledge it on this blog.

Now for someone who has seen me since I’ve pushed out my babies, this shouldn’t be news.  If anything, confusing on how I have gone for over a year since the birth of my youngest son and I am only now just realizing that I am a chubby girl.  But honestly, for the last year I am lived completely oblivious to this reality.  My lack of awareness of my own body size is the result of many factors.  But really, it can be boiled down to one single truth.

I suffer from a high self-esteem.  Much like my mother, I live my life with complete confidence in myself.  For the majority of my life, I have been blindly self-assured of who I am as an individual, appearance and all.  And frankly, it has served me well.  As a whole, I am almost always happy with my life because I am largely confident in my life choices.  I’ve gotten job offers, made friends, found stylish clothes that fit.  When I was single, I never had an issue getting a date.  Overall, if I really wanted it, I would will it to happen.

So after having my baby boys, sure, many of my clothes still didn’t fit.  But that didn’t mean I was chubby.  My hips have shifted.  Or I am not that far off from where I was (oh I am).  Because in my head, I wasn’t overweight (oh I am).  I was in complete denial.

This isn’t the first time my body imagine has not matched reality.  When I went to college, as a quintessential overachiever, I gained 30 pounds.

Yet, I remained as confident as ever.  I went through three full years of undergrad before I actually realized that I was chubby and needed to rethink my habits. I won’t forget the day it hit me.  I was sitting in a class, talking to a girl who lived in my dorm who was friends with my roommate.  She was telling me a story about someone.  Or trying to see if I knew someone.  That part of the story has faded.  But the rest of our conversation, I can close my eyes and find myself sitting in that classroom.  There were no desks, and the plastic chairs made a giant circle outlining the room.  It was right before class as we made what I had amounted to nothing more than small talk.  She began describing this girl she was talking about to me.

“She is a little bit of a bigger girl. You know, like you.”

Those words stung.  In that moment, I wanted to cry and run out of the classroom.   I replayed her words over and over in my head on my walk back to my room after class.  I had to get them out of my head.  So I joined Weight Watchers. lost the weight, and got myself down to 128 pounds.  I was fit, healthy, and happy.

This time, she hasn’t been around to bring me back to reality.  So I am not sure what happened to snap me out of it.  But yesterday, I realized that maybe I was a bit farther away from my pre-baby weight than I’d like, and I need to kick it into gear if I want to feel confident in my skin by summer (and more importantly, my Italian vacation with my husband).

So I am embarking on the 8 week total body challenge on the Strive with Megan app.  It includes a daily 22-28 minute workout and a meal plan.  It’ll be tough.  Mostly because Matt loves snacking and I love to be part of the party 😉 But I’ve done it before.  So it’ll happen again.

We tried one of the meals from the 8 week meal plan, and it was delicious! I tweaked it a bit to make it our own, including adding rice because otherwise Matt would have claimed there was just not enough food.  It was simple to make, and the ingredients are mostly items that you would find in your kitchen on any day.  Matt put this on his: make again list.

[ps: I don’t plan to share other variations of the meals from the Strive app but I encourage you to get the app yourself!]

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Eye of Round Roast Beef

It feels unbelievable but we are already nearing the end of my maternity leave. Next Thursday, I will put on a pencil skirt and blazer and head into the office for the first time in the year 2017.  While I cherish my time off, it will be nice to get into a routine and begin navigating life as a working mom of two.

Knowing that my time with my little babies will be severely reduced, I do not want spend what time I have at home cooking complicated recipes.  Sure, I do enjoy cooking, and there will be nights where I will look forward to tedious chopping and whisking.  But most nights, I want to be able to cuddle my babies until I put them down for bed.

This means that I will need to rely more on the help of others in order to get dinner on the table.  And no, I am not talking about ordering take-out, Matt 🙂 So when I stumbled upon this roast beef recipe, I knew it would be making the rounds once I return to work.

What I love most about this roast is how little prep work there is.  I can rub the meat before I head off to work, drop it in the dutch oven, and simply ask Matt or our nanny to toss it in the oven 2 hours before dinner.  And they basically just have to turn on the oven, turn down the heat of the oven (or turn it off) and that’s it.

And that rub, wow! Matt and I both gushed over how flavorful it was.  I liked it so much I have incorporated it into other recipes.  The tartness of the mustard with the saltiness of the spices is a perfect combination that compliments beef so well.  And while I love that this recipe calls for a cheaper cut of beef,  the rub can be used on a nicer cut as well.

We paired our beef with some green beans and sweet potatoes and had a full, well-rounded meal without too much hassle. Both Matt and JR had seconds, which officially places this dish in the “make again” category. Something that will be manageable even during the work week.

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