Friday, February 28, 2014

Great Books for (Almost!) One Year Olds

Jesse and I both love to read and we're just delighted that Baby Will enjoys it as much as we do.  Most of the reading is done in the nursery reading nook (though we do keep some books downstairs as well) as Will likes a few stories before and after naps and especially before bed.  I love love love snuggling up with him in our cozy glider and reading together (who would have thought having a baby would make me such a softy??).  But I mean, just look at those little hands...

He's gotten to the point where he's old enough to recognize and grab for his favorite books.  I thought I'd share a few with you if you're looking for some baby-tested literature for the little readers in your life.

I'll open with the current hands-down favorite, "Tails" by Matthew Van Fleet.  It's got all sorts of tabs to pull, textures to feel, and flaps to open.  Will used to just enjoy watching and listening to us read it to him but now he opens the flaps himself and grabs at the various animal tails.  He smiles and giggles at the "swishing" tails and the "stinky" skunk.  It's cute enough that reading it five times a day isn't brutal.

Here are two more that Will loves - "Moo, Baa, La La La!" by Sandra Boynton and "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale" by Mo Willems.  Pretty much any Sandra Boynton book is a hit around here but Will has special love for "Moo Baa" (as we call it around here).  We even keep an extra copy downstairs for when he needs wacky animal sounds on the go.  "Knuffle Bunny" is a real book (ie not a board book) with a slightly more complicated story, but Will loves looking at the pictures and sits patiently through the whole thing.  Speaking of story, this is definitely one of the better storylines in baby books - it's one of my favorites as well.  I especially like that it takes place in Park Slope, the neighborhood in Brooklyn that I grew up in.

This next book is a little short on plot, but it has a BUILT IN PUPPET that Will leans in to kiss every time I turn the page (be still, my heart).  "In My Den" and it's sister book "In My Ocean" by Sara Gillingham and Lorena Siminovich are big hits with Will.

"The Wide-Mouthed Frog" is a new favorite of Will's.  It's a pop-up book (which means he is extra grabby) but he loves watching the illustrations come off the page.

There's also one more book he loves called "Little Blue Truck Leads the Way" but I can't find it anywhere (Mom, any ideas?).  He likes it so much that I sometimes bring it room to room with us.  It's probably under a pile of laundry or a Basset Hound or something.  Anyway, sweet little pictures and story.  Four thumbs up from Will & his mother.

Will is starting to enjoy books that are longer and longer, so we'll soon be moving into some of the more "grown up baby" books we have - I'll share those once they become part of the daily reads (as well as our bedtime books).

Any great books that I'm missing?  Let us know what you think we should add to the library!  Happy Friday from Baby Will the reader!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Poutine Fest

Charlie and I are out of control.  At least twice a week, we take the Chicago foodie scene by storm and do something utterly ridiculous.  On Saturday we had dinner at David Burke's Steakhouse and then rounded the weekend out with Chicago's Poutine Fest.  Yes...POUTINE FEST.  I just woke up from a four hour quick nap because I basically ate myself into a coma.  I'll take you on our tour of our Poutine Fest adventure.  

This is Sunday Dinner's Poutine, made with Schmaltz Gravy, Dill Sour Cream, Homemade Pickles, Cheese Curds, and Ranch Chicken Skin Chips. This was my absolute favorite  It was the first one I had all day and the only one I went back in for seconds. The fact I had seconds is just shameful considering I tried several others and washed it down with three beers.  

So I'm a huge fan of The Gage.  The brought it with Duck Confit, Pickled Red Onion, Wisconsin Cheese Curds, Jalapenos, and Smoke Box Gravy. What I liked about theirs was that they mixed everything together in a skillet before serving so the curds melted down a bit.

This was The Big Cheese's pirogi poutine.  What a cool idea, right?  Charlie really like this one. They also had the best/most fun staff.

The was Troquet Chicago's Duck Confit Poutine with Duck Cognac Gravy.  Giddy up.

The Green Door holds a special place in my heart.  It's one of those neighborhood bars you can go grab a bite and a few beers and call it a day.  It's also one of the oldest bars in Chicago.  They created an awesome Poutine - Chicago Style with Italian Beef, Sausage Gravy, Curds, and Spicy Giardiniera.

Here was Le Bouchon's french bistro twist on Poutine - Duck Confit, Escargot, and Red Wine Gravy. This was a little too busy for me.  I would have preferred if they either did an escargot and garlic butter poutine, or just went with the duck flavor profile.  Otherwise, it was really good.

Barrel House Flat had a super unique take with curried pigs head veloute, masala chicharones, and pickled banana peppers.  Loved trying something a little different.

This was soooooo good.  Really.  It was outrageous.  Haymarket Brewing, went cheese curds out with a Braised Beef, Beef Gravy, and Pickled Jalapenos and Red Onions.  YUM to the NOM.

I LOVED the creativity of The Brixton.  This was their version of "breakfast poutine" - complete with biscuits, hot sauce, crispy chicken skin, curds, and white sausage gravy.  RI DIC U LOUS.

Here was Atlas Beer Company's Duck Confit Poutine with Duck Cognac Gravy.  YUMMYYY.  So rich and delish.

Well I can officially say I've had my fill of least until next year. 

Stay Hungry! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Half-Bathroom Progress (& a Wonky Wall)

I last blogged about our half bathroom here after we covered up the popcorn ceilings with beadboard and painted the whole thing a nice dark blue.  Besides touching up the paint on the walls and ceiling, we were also waiting for the frame store to be finished with some art for us.  We've had these "star maps" since 2009 when Jesse bought them for me in Brooklyn.  We were short on wall space in our small NYC apartment and hadn't found the perfect place for them in our house.  Turns out the "perfect place" was our small guest bathroom (or so we thought), so we took them off to get framed.  Fast forward to a few weeks later:

I love them!  I love how they look with the blue!  I love how Jesse and I managed to get them straight and evenly spaced!  I love that this bathroom is almost done!  But wait...

We didn't notice when painting (or before) that part of the wall is all bowed out.  It sticks out so much that one of the four frames does not lay flat against it.

I'm not sure it translates in photographs but it's so noticeable we had to take the four frames down.

We're brainstorming for other art solutions in there that won't show off our wall's bump and also... we're looking into what to DO about our wall's bump.  Off to find somebody to (hopefully) reassure us that our house isn't falling in around us... stay homey!

Monday, February 17, 2014

St. Patty's Day Appetizers

OOOO St. Patty's Day.  Just my favorite day in the entire world.  Besides Saturdays.  I really love Saturdays.  I know it's not for another month or so but if you're anything like me (never admit that) then you are already planning and thinking about some St Patty's Day appetizer ideas.

Check out these Potato Skins with Bacon, Cheddar, and Shallots from The Comfort of Cooking.  Looks AMAZING.  Love this little pop of green from the green onions.

Obviously Closet Cooking, one of my favorite food bloggers, comes out with something as ridiculous as Guinness Braised Onion and White Cheddar Quiche.

This is a favorite in our household.  In fact, I often make this little appetizer o' lurve year round.  Check it. Cheesy Corned Beef Bread.

Corned Beef Reuben Sliders from A Southern Soul.  I'm just ticked off I never thought of these on my own.  GOODNESS they look so good.  I will 1,000 percent be making these next month.

I've been dying to make a cheddar beer dip and why not with Guinness?!  Check out The Curvy Carrots Guinness Beer Cheddar Dip.  NOM.

What are your favorite St. Patty's Day appetizers?  

Stay hungry! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Giveaway: Pint Size Productions

*Giveaway Closed!  Congrats to our winner, Mary!*

Happy Valentine's Day, sweet HH readers!  Today we have a giveaway from Pint Size Productions, the great company I used to make the "Book of Love" for Baby Will a few weeks ago.  They read my review and are generously offering a free 16-page custom board book (and shipping in the US) to a lucky reader!  LOVE.

Will's Custom Book

I think these are an awesome gift for kids or new parents and will definitely be making more in the future.  I've seen people make these with colors, animals, far away relatives... the possibilities are endless!

So go check out Pint Size Productions page...

...and to win, leave us a comment about who you would make a custom book for!

For an extra entry, "Like" Hardly Housewives on Facebook and leave a comment (or comment that you already do).

For an extra extra entry, "Like" Pint Size Productions on Facebook and leave a comment (or comment that you already do).

We will draw a winner using in ONE WEEK so check back here for the winner!

Good luck!

Caitlin & Jaisa


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day Desserts

Okay, so it's no secret that I don't like baking.  I think I mention it like every other post.  I feel badly for Charlie sometimes.  Because if I do happen to make something or we do happen to order dessert after dinner, he really enjoys it.  I'm lazy, though, and baking requires thought and effort so too bad for him.  Happy Valentine's Day, sweetie!!!

Luckily, the world wide web has some amazing Valentine's Day dessert ideas so I thought I'd do a little research for you guys since I got nothin'.

1.  Blackberry Jam Bars from Bake-a-holic look simply amazing.  I'm thinking for Valentine's Day, you swap about the blackberry jam for either raspberry or strawberry preserves to make them extra Valentine Day dessert-ish.

2.  Red Velvet Cream Pies for Two from Living Better Together just look so cute.  I can't even handle it.

3.  Mini Red Velvet Cheesecakes from Sally's Baking Addiction look SO DELICIOUS.  What an awesome idea.

4.  Red Velvet Gooey Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Averie Cooks.  Whew that's a mouthful.  I just wish it was a mouthful of this dessert and not words.

5.  Red Velvel Molten Chocolate Cake from Half Baked Harvest.  What a SWEET idea.  I wish I had thought of it.  My mouth just drooled....a lot.  I just love how special and festive this Valentine's Day Dessert is.  So special!

Okay folks!  That's what I'v got.  What sweets are you going to make for your sweetie this year?

Stay hungry!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Valentine's Day Popcorn

This is probably the only Valentine's Day thing I'll make this year.  I'm seeing all sorts of stuff on Pinterest.  Handmade Valentine's Day wreaths, pencil toppers, heart crayons, and Rainbow Loom bracelets. "Ain't nobody got time for that," if you will.  Here's a quickie V-Day project - I made it this in less than twenty minutes this morning while Will was playing with his busy box and Jesse was watching the Olympics.  Then I ate some for breakfast.

This simple Valentine's Day popcorn just takes a few ingredients...

1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup m&ms
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
red sugar sprinkles
a pinch of salt

...and of course you can be flexible with the treats you add to the popcorn.  This would be tasty with all sorts of sweet things on top.

First I popped the popcorn kernels on the stove by heating up the coconut oil in a pot, testing a kernel or two, and then popping the rest once the oil was hot enough (shaking the whole time to avoid burning).  Once the popcorn was done, I spread it out in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and got to work melting the white chocolate in the microwave.  No photo of the process here because it all had to be done quickly - as soon as the white chocolate was melty and drippy, I drizzled it over the popcorn and while it was still melted, shook out some red sugar sprinkles and m&ms onto the popcorn.  Finally, I put just a tiny bit of salt across the popcorn since I love all things salty and sweet.

In the time it took to clean the popcorn pot and the chocolate bowl, everything was cooled down enough to stick into small bags (then quickly dispensed to neighbors and grandparents so I wouldn't eat it all).

Have a sweet Monday! 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How I Came to be at Howard Stern's Birthday Bash

If you saw my Instagram last Friday night, then you probably saw me humble brag casually mention how I was having the time of my life at Howard Stern's 60th birthday party.

Much to the bewilderment of my parents and the amusement of Jesse, I'm a real Howard enthusiast.  Stern fans like to say how long they've been listening.  It hasn't been 30 years in my case, but in 7th grade I started listening to Howard for the first time.  I had art first period and my teacher let us listen to KROQ every morning.  Fast forward 15 years - I started driving long distances for work with Sirius in my new car.  Howard once again became part of my daily routine.

Right before Christmas, Sirius sent emails to subscribers offering tickets to Howard's much-hyped "Birthday Bash" on a first-come, first-served basis.  I signed up, crossed my fingers, and was shocked a few weeks later with confirmation for a pair of tickets.  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

It was the most incredible night.  I've seen lots of pictures since Friday of the red carpet, but here are some (blurry) shots of a fabulous evening.  There were tables on the first floor of the Hammerstein Ballroom, but our free seats were up with the hoi polloi.  We were seated with a bunch of ticket winners and lower level Sirius employees up on the balcony, sequestered away from Tracy Morgan, Heidi Klum, Katie Couric, and the crazy list of other people there.  The only celebrities I was rubbing elbows with were Howard's Wack Packers.  I'll take it. 

Musical acts included The Black Keys, John Mayer, Adam Levine, Dave Grohl, John Fogerty, Steven Tyler, & more.  Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, and Joan Rivers (among others) did some comedy/roasting.  Lena Dunham came out to celebrate Howard (apparently forgiving him for saying she looks like Jonah Hill)...

Jesse and I (and the rest of the crowd) were excited to see Bryan Cranston come onstage.  He did his best Walter White AND his best JD Harmeyer.

There was an open bar throughout the night along with oysters, tacos, bacon tater tots, calamari, and sliders.  At the end of the evening, we all got to sing "Happy Birthday" and head home by 10:30 (luckily, Howard and I are on the same page about early bedtime).  It was a really amazing night and I want to do it all over again!  Happy birthday, Howard!

PS - You know how sometimes I say "This has got to be the randomest Hardly Housewives post"?  I think that this one seriously has to take the cake.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chicken Parm Grilled Cheese

Well that Super Bowl sucked.  I mean, you basically lost me when the Pat's lost a couple of weekends ago, but still.  So boring.  I was doing that thing I normally do when Charlie is watching sports where I just look at the TV but I'm not actually watching.  Like Charlie could literally ask me, "What just happened?" and I wouldn't have the faintest idea.  I don't even know what I think about.  It's a talent really.  I look like I'm paying attention but my mind is eyeballs deep in something delicious tasting. 

Anyway, this weekend was a big pig out weekend.  I'm feeling quite rotund actually.  I'm not sure why I decided to kick off my weekend with a Chicken Parm Grilled Cheese when I was well aware I was going to be feasting on delicious Super Bowl delights, but...YOLO.  (Mom, YOLO means You Only Live Once.  Call me later, K?) 

The Jewel by our condo makes the most amazing chicken fingers.  They are just ridiculously good.  Isn't that crazy?  It's funny to me the random stuff we find that I can't live without.  It's sort of become a Saturday tradition (when we don't go to Eataly).  Charlie and I go to the grocery store, pull up our cart to the hot food counter, and order a pound of chicken fingers and then snack on them while we're shopping for less fattening foods.    I got inspired and decided to whip the extra chick fings into a grilled cheese.

It's so easy.  You just combine fluffy white bread, provolone, chicken fingers and a few spoonfuls of your favorite marinara sauce.  DEE LIGHT FULL.  I know this sounds like a regular chicken parm sub, but it's totes not.  When you grill the bread in lots of butter something amazing happens.  It's light, crispy, but tangy and cheesy all at the same time.  You just have to try it.

Here's the recipe...

Chicken Parm Grilled Cheese

4 Slices of White Bread 
4 Chicken Fingers, Roughly Chopped 
1/2 Cup of Rao's Marinara, Divided (Rao's in my favorite, but use whatever) 
8 Slices of Provolone Cheese 

Heat butter over a skillet on medium heat.  Be generous.  Add two slices of  bread.  Add two slices of cheese to each piece of bread and cover, letting the cheese melt a bit.  Add chicken fingers and a half the sauce.  Assemble sandwich and continue to cook until bread is golden brown and crispy on each side.  If cheese doesn't melt easily, add a couple drops of water to the hot pan and cover, letting the steam melt the cheese.  Repeat to make the second sandwich and enjoy.

Stay hungry!