Monday, September 26, 2011

The Party

This is Lilli.

She is my little lady. She's quite a character already at just a year. Walking, babbling all the time, playing the silliest games she can make up, and forever curious and loving. 

 Last year on this day we were celebrating with champagne and trying to get some sleep between visitors. Last year on this day we were cooing over a 6#4oz baby with blue gray eyes and a lot of dark brown hair. Last year we didn't know what to expect of the year ahead of us, except that it would be busy and chaotic and probably sleepless.

All of those things came true, and so much more. She brought peace to her brothers, who now have a built in friend besides each other. She brought more mirth into our home, our garden and even our trips to the store. 

As Joe said when I asked him what else she brought to us this year, "She taught us the meaning of cute." That does not even begin to describe her. She's strong, willful, independent and a total cuddle monster at the same time. She's a papa's girl but she loves her mama to pieces too. She loves to play with her brothers. She shares cheese with the cat, and is always glad to see an airplane or a garbage truck. She's a water baby and she never wants to wear socks. There is so much to this little package, I could gush forever. But who wants to read a blog post just about how awesome someone else's baby is? Well, I can think of a few people, but really, this post is about the party.

I wanted to throw a party that would be fun and would be us. I love to entertain, and I get a lot of joy when I am able to treat the people I love to pleasant surprises. I tried to give myself permission to buy pre-made snacks, but the closest I got was using store bought puff pastry for cheese twists. I tried to make it be just our family and closest friends, but Lilli has made so many friends this year!

Lilli surprised me by being the life of the party, but not in the usual 1st birthday way of having a meltdown or being clingy. She was a 100% charming hostess, and she even shared all her new toys.  She also didn't make too much of a mess with the cake, I'm guessing because even at such a young age, she knows not to waste a good thing...

I did keep it as simple as I could. Some spiced nuts, a few types of crackers, a couple of dips and fresh veggies. A fruit salad. Some dolled up tomatoes from the garden. Pretty simple fare. 

And only 2 (ok technically 3) desserts! I did a few craft projects to doll up the house, which I cleaned in a general sense but prompted my mom to say "I've never seen it so clean!" (Not true.)

But what it really boils down to in a good party is that every one who attends leaves feeling like they did the best thing they could do that afternoon. That it was worth is to go and see the friends they saw, eat the treats they ate, and celebrate whatever it is they celebrated. I know that Lilli's party was all of those things and I could not ask for more. We celebrated a year on this Earth made better by Lilli's presence. 

"Bacon" and Sharp Cheddar Party Snacks
makes about 30

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, I used Trader Joe's
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
bacon salt

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer about 1/2 hour before you are ready to roll out the snacks. 

When the dough is pliable but not sticky soft, preheat the oven to 350ºF. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is a rectangle that's as close to 15" as you can get it, and just wider than when it started. Distribute the cheese evenly over half, and fold the naked half over. Roll again just to seal it all up and press the cheese into the dough. Using a chef's knife or a pizza cutter, cut strips about 1/2" wide. They don't have to be perfect. Take each stip and place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, twisting a couple of times and sort of pressing the ends down as you place it on the pan. After you have all of the pieces on done, sprinkle liberally with bacon salt. I used peppered flavor. It won't look like much is sticking, but that is OK. Once the salt heats up it kind of melts into the spreading dough.

After about 20 minutes in the oven, turn over each piece individually, kind of rubbing it in the salt that is on the pan. They should be starting to look brown and the cheese will be getting melty. Let them bake about another 10 minutes or so, until they look nice and brown all over.

You might want to use both sheets of dough that are in the package for this, because it will probably be hard to wait for the party to start before eating them. Fair warning.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Finally, Fall

Fall has arrived in Seattle, and I have been throwing it a welcome party for the past couple of weeks. Party games included freezing tomatoes, clearing out patches of garden to make room for winter crops, making corn salsa and taking a trip to our local state fair. 

The party also has had lots of good food served at it, including the macaroni and cheese I made tonight (with a few revisions because I very seldom follow a recipe by the letter unless it's for cookbook club), lots of different soups, and our perennial favorite, tacos with the above mentioned corn salsa. But so far the gem has been what I made last night: Pumpkin soup. 

It's been busy as usual around here. The boys started school, as well as Hebrew lessons with a new amazing tutor. It was Joe and my 2nd anniversary earlier this month, and now we are planning and prepping for Lilli's 1st birthday next week. 

Sneak peek.

In addition to this, last week Lilli came down with some sort of nasty virus. When I say nasty, I mean it. One minute she was fine, and literally the next minute she was crying inconsolably and I had no idea what to do. We've been very lucky in that she's been pretty much 100% healthy her whole first year. 

After some of her symptoms set off alarms bells in my head, I decided to take her to the Dr. that afternoon, and they performed some tests, all of which were very stressful and all of which came back totally inconclusive. It was terrifying. I was worried she was having an asthma attack, which is something I occasionally suffer from, so I'm glad I took her, but it's frustrating to be able to do so little.

She's fine now, but after doing another triathlon this past Sunday I came down with what is presumably the same virus. Now I know how she felt, and it feels awful. 

This is where the soup comes in. 

Thankfully, my appetite is intact, but Joe isn't much of a cook so I have still been in charge of meals. And, I wanted comfort food, which to me is soup. I can't find the kosher version of my favorite chicken soup anymore, and I didn't really want something out of a can. So I came up with this soup. It was super quick and easy, and I even got a little bit of inspiration from another non-cook friend who happened to mention over the phone that she had a delicious pumpkin curry recently. (Yes, people still talk on the phone.)

It won't take you long to prepare and you could make any number of substitutions. Any squash would work, as well as any sort of milk or cream. Coconut would have been excellent but I was out. You could add any vegetables you want, perhaps some kale or chard. Just be sure and eat it with warm, crusty, buttered bread.

Easy Peasy Pumpkin Soup
makes about 3 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 tsp turmeric powder
2-3 Cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper and fresh grated nutmeg to taste
Cream or half and half to finish

Heat a medium sized pot, and add the olive oil. Toss in the carrots and garlic and let soften for a minute or two. Add turmeric and stir to coat all the carrots. Continue stirring until the turmeric is fragrant, then add just enough vegetable stock to cover the carrots. Cover the pot just until the stock comes to a boil, then stir in the pumpkin puree. Add stock until it is a touch thinner than a consistency that you like, then taste for salt and pepper. Add some nutmeg and bring to a boil. Let boil with the lid off for a couple of minutes, to allow the flavors to concentrate and for the soup to thicken up that extra little bit. Turn off the heat and taste again for seasoning. Serve with the cream on the side so that each person can decide how much to add.