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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Meatloaf Medallions

Do you have a “go-to” meal when you have guests over for dinner? It use to be that once I sent out the text inviting friends over for dinner, the next thing I would do is panic.  What am I going to serve these people? It has to be something relatively easy.  After all, I have two kids, both of which would prefer to be held at all times.  This certainly complicates cooking.  So there cannot be multiple steps and a multitude of ingredients.  I need a meal that I can put together in under 10 minutes and that I can step away from without ruining it (so I can pick up a crying baby mid-cooking).

But guests are coming over.  So I don’t want the meal to look too simple and plain.  I need a meal that has the illusion of fanciness.  After several years of searching, I have finally found my go-to meal: meatloaf medallions.

Ok, yes, this is meatloaf.  At first glance, meatloaf may seem like it isn’t anything special–possibly even boring.  Something your grandmother made that you covered in ketchup.  However, meatloaf is relatively simple to make.  There isn’t a huge list of uncommon ingredients.  There are only a few steps before it is completed and ready to be served.  Mix it together and toss it in the oven so you can focus on that messy house you need to clean before guests arrived.

But this isn’t just meatloaf.  These are mini, single-serving meatloaves wrapped in bacon and topped with fried onions.  Just enough flare to spice up a typical, every day meal to make them worthy of company.

So now when we invite friends over for dinner, there is a good chance this is what we will serve.  I am happy to report that we have only received rave reviews thus far.

JR ate the whole meatloaf!
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Jambalaya

We all have our own comfort food.  Whether its mash potatoes, pasta, or fast food, sometimes you just need a meal to make our day a little better.  Jambalaya is ours.

The past week was challenging for our family.  Max has hydronephrosis.  He was diagnosed in the womb.  At our 20 week ultrasound, the technician uttered a phrase you don’t want to hear–“abnormal scan.” Ar this time, the hydronephrosis was present in both of his kidneys,  Of course, we had never heard of hydronephrosis.  Basically, it meant that Max’s kidneys weren’t developing properly.  We were told that 50% of the time, this type of hydronephrosis resolves itself.  So a second ultrasound was scheduled for my 28 weeks of pregnancy.

At our second ultrasound, there was good and bad news.  Max’s right kidney had resolved itself. It was developing just fine.  But his left kidney hadn’t.  It was twice the size of the right. It didn’t appear to be working at all.  So we went to a specialist. We were told that once Max was a month old, Max would go back for testing to determine the severity of the issue and how to resolve it.  If the left kidney was partially working, then it would be worth saving.  Otherwise, we would assess whether it would make sense to remove the kidney altogether.  For the rest of my pregnancy, there was nothing more to do.  Just wait for Max show to up.

Then right on time, our Maxwell was born, happy and wide eyed. We made the one month appointment for Max’s kidney.

Just a couple hours old.

And then last week, the one month appointment arrived. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the news we were hoping for. Max’s left kidney hasn’t improved.  It is twice the size of what it should be and does not appear to work.  Because of this, the doctor recommends surgery to remove the kidney when Max is 5 or 6 months old.   The idea of my baby being put under anesthesia makes my heart ache.  I can’t imagine handing my baby to a doctor for surgery.  It just hurts.  So when we came home from the appointment, our family needed some comfort food.  We needed to eat this jambalaya.

This recipe for jambalaya is quick and easy.  There is low prep work.  Just dice a couple of veggies, toss them in a pan, and let it simmer.  You can alter the recipe so it can be as spicy or mild as you’d like.  So when your heart is aching, you can eat a home cooked meal without too much complication.  Plus, the assortment of vegetables makes the meal relatively healthy.

So after Max’s kidney appointment we ate this jambalaya as a family.  And while it didn’t make the fact that Max has hydrondphrosis go away, it made us all feel a little bit better, even if it was just for the night.

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Fresh Salad Dressing

Well, I had another baby! On December 15, 2016, little Maxwell decided he wasn’t going to wait another second and was born.  And even though he was born on his due date, I was anything but prepared.  See, JR was 12 days late.  Yes, 12 days.  While I certainly was not rooting for another almost two week late baby, I had convinced myself that Max would not be showing up anytime near the 15th.  Perhaps sometime in the 20’s–like Christmas. But surely not on his due date.  So when my water broke at 9:40 p.m. on December 14th, I immediately panicked (our house was a complete mess. I had lost my phone. I hadn’t done laundry in weeks.) But after a mere two and a half hours of labor, Maxwell was born.  It was perfect.

little Maxwell Watson Cremona on his birthday. About 4 hours old here.

Of course, now that Max is here, I should be in the “lose the baby weight” phase. But there was Christmas.  Then New Years.  And donuts are freaking delicious.  Plus, who is going to eat all those Junior Mints?!  And while I am technically down to my pre-Max weight (note: not pre-baby), my belly is squishy.  It would be nice to be back to my law school size.  Since it’s the beginning of the year, I can jump on the “new year new you” bandwagon.  My social media has been swarmed with Whole30 posts so it is a constant reminder that I too need to be more aware of what I am eating if I want to see results.

One month postpartum

That’s where this salad comes in.  It’s healthy and quick to make.  Plus, you can toss in as many vegetables you’d like, add chicken, salmon, etc., and make the salad more filling (and more of an entree v. side dish).  But, regardless of what ingredients you put in the salad, it is truly the salad dressing that holds it all together. My friend Mel shared her dressing recipe with me, and now it is my go-to dressing.  Ok, it is the only salad dressing I use these days. It’s light but full of flavor.  And I can eat a salad and still feel healthy that it isn’t covered in a creamy, fattening dressing.

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