I’m not 19 anymore, and it shows.

Well, at least physically I’m not. Sometimes it’s fun to be a goofball- minus the obnoxious, totally clueless life perspective from when I was 19. No, I’m not saying ALL 19 year olds are like this, just reflecting on so many of the dumb things I said or did 17 years ago. There are too many to list.

No dwelling on past mistakes though, let’s talk about the physical aspect of it.

Fine, I’ve had two kids… and after that second kid, it was even harder to get back into shape and lose the baby weight (I’m still technically 20 pounds heavier than pre-pregnancy weight). You know what though?

It doesn’t matter.

What MATTERS is how out of shape I FEEL.

At the age of 19, I could exercise for one hour a day and eat WHATEVER the hell I wanted. The result? A flat tummy with lines. My diet? Bagels smothered with butter, cinnamon and sugar, Capri Suns, burgers and fries, chips, Hamburger Helper (don’t judge, we didn’t know how to cook back then), soda, pizza, and anything else unhealthy you can think of. I had a metabolism on steroids.

Well, things change.

Popping in an exercise video just five years ago and getting back into really good physical condition would take less than two weeks. These days, it feels like it takes a damn year.

Oh, and the injuries. In the past year, I’ve had a sprained ankle, sprained wrist, and strained hip flexor. How? I have NO friggin’ clue. Must be age related, and getting back into those workouts while trying to nurse a minor injury makes it even more fun.

It’s like a sloth trying to do jumping jacks during a T25 workout.

Seriously.

Modified exercises? Please. You know the girl who does the modified exercises is still in amazing physical condition and it’s a cake walk for her. Speaking of cake…

I work with food.

Not diet food.

PASTRIES.

BREAD.

DESSERTS.

PASTA.

Granted, the foods I make are for the customers and I don’t eat much of them, but I’m still surrounded by some of the most succulent aromas from the incredibly talented chefs I work for. Did I mention the food is AH-MAZING?? “I think I’ll have a salad for lunch.” The day may start out with those intentions until the “not-diet-food” is staring at me from across the kitchen. Sending its fumes over to my nostrils. It’s a conspiracy. Especially when the stomach starts singing that it’s hungry and the chefs make a family meal of hot pasta, freshly made sauce, and oven roasted chicken wings. It’s just not fair.

Time to compromise. It may take longer, but the feeling of being physically fit and having more energy to do pretty much everything is worth those 25 minute workouts. Forget the pounds, I refuse to watch everyone else around me indulge in amazing food while I stand by and say, “No, I’m not allowed to eat.” Most of what I eat is healthy, but I’m not missing out on dessert and wine if it’s not necessary.

I can deal with having a muffin top if being able to move around like a kitchen ninja is fueled by those workouts.

Compromise fulfilled.

My kids are mac n’ cheese addicts.

Mac n’ cheese seems to be the “it” thing for kids. Most kids not only like it, but they go absolutely bonkers for it.

My kids fall into that category.

Before I learned how to make it from scratch, Kraft “Thick and Creamy” lived in our pantry. I could easily blame myself for their addiction, considering it’s something that was consumed on almost a daily basis while I was pregnant with both of them. And I’m not talking about a little bowl of it, I’m talking about an ENTIRE BOX.

At one time.

All 1,100 calories.

There were no leftovers.

Ever.

Did I care that I gained 40 pounds with each pregnancy? Um, no. I was providing nourishment for my babies. That processed box of heaven was giving them nutrition, and that’s the excuse I was sticking to.

After attending culinary school, I grew some cojones and started making it from scratch. Grating fresh sharp cheddar cheese and parmesan, melting it in the bechamel sauce and stirring in those freshly boiled noodles before topping it with more cheese and baking it. Holy crap… Kraft who?? You’re fired.

Once the second kid came around, I got lazy and went back to the boxed stuff for a while, just until he got older and my sanity somewhat started to come back. I won’t lie though, I will still grab the boxed stuff every now and then, just because I still think it tastes delicious.

My daughter recently started asking for it again, because that’s what she was used to before her little brother came along. She was known as the “kid who only ate hot meals” at her old school because she refused to eat cold sandwiches. So, I’d make that mac n’ cheese for her and send it in little glass microwave safe containers that the teachers would pop in the microwave for her.

Should’ve sent in a silver spoon for her to eat it with.

Either way, this stuff is da bomb, and my daughter starts squealing like a rabid monkey when I tell her we’re having it for dinner. Or, is it me who does that? I can’t tell anymore.

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Creamy Baked Mac n’ Cheese

8 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

3 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, divided

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Melt butter in a pot on medium heat and add flour, whisk until smooth and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly add milk to flour mixture, whisking constantly until smooth. Add mustard, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook on medium heat for 14-15 minutes, or until sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally. While sauce is cooking, grate cheddar cheese. Add all but 1 cup of cheddar cheese, stir. Add Parmesan cheese and stir again. Whisk constantly until sauce is smooth and cheeses are melted. Remove sauce from heat and stir in drained pasta. Pour mixture into 8×8 inch baking dish, sprinkle with leftover cheddar. Bake,  uncovered, for about 30-35 minutes. Remove dish from oven, let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

This stuff reheats and freezes very well! Great as leftovers and freezer meals!

I put my family in a diabetic coma over the holidays.

Do you find yourself in charge of making something in particular for the holidays? I’m usually in charge of desserts.

No complaints here.

Since none of these calories count, here was the opportunity to really go overboard.

My mother-in-law asked if I could make something for their annual Christmas lunch where all of us get together. Does an alligator pee in a swamp? Of course.

But, what to make? The family LOVES cheesecake, and I knew there would be over 30 people at the gathering and one cheesecake won’t cut it. So what do you do in a situation like this?

Make two cheesecakes.

And a cake.

And two types of cookies.

And another cake.

What about my side of the family for a Christmas gathering? Several people on my side are weirdly picky about what they like, so something that will easily make everyone happy is the way to do it.

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So, here’s the Christmas dessert lineup to stuff our families like Hansel and Gretel:

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Chocolate Oreo Cheesecake:  rich, chocolate cheesecake with an Oreo crust and Oreo chunks packed throughout the cheesecake, topped with chocolate ganache, fresh whipped cream and a mini Oreo cookie.

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Tiramisu Cheesecake:  coffee cheesecake with a Nilla wafer crust, ladyfingers dipped in coffee and kahlua, and a mascarpone-cream topping with sprinkled cocoa.

Boston Creme Pie:  two layers of fluffy vanilla cake filled with vanilla pastry cream, covered with chocolate ganache.

Red Velvet Cake:  two layers of moist red velvet cake smothered with cream cheese icing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:  thick, soft, and chewy chocolate chip cookies. No further explanation needed.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Cookies:  two Ritz crackers sandwiching a thick layer of creamy peanut butter, dipped in white chocolate.

We had to make sure we saved chocolate chip cookies for Santa. He’s so needy.

The only promise I can make right now is to avoid eating any more desserts…for a couple days. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

All I want for Christmas…

…is a Gift Certificate to Target.

Like, a $10,000 Gift Certificate.

And a full 8 hour day to shop by myself and spend every single penny.

If you’re wondering why Target, I’ll tell you…

BECAUSE THEY HAVE EVERYTHING. Clothes, shoes, accessories, make-up, toys, games, electronics, decorations, bedding, furniture, KITCHEN STUFF, even food. And that’s why I would need 8 hours of alone shopping time to spend $10,000.

How many times have you been in that store with the intentions of just buying ONE thing? And how many things did you end up buying?!

“I don’t even need a shopping cart for the one thing I’m getting.” Ten minutes later, you’re running back up to the front of the store to get one and fill it up because your arms can’t carry the 35 things you HAVE to buy right this second.

My mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and this was what I told her. Well, not the $10,000 part. She said, “I don’t like giving gift certificates as presents, you gotta have something to open.”

Isn’t gift giving about the person RECEIVING gifts? For some reason that’s what I thought.

I snorted and told her she was silly, then told my husband. He said, “I feel the same way, and hate giving gift certificates.” WHY?!?! Oh my gosh, the opportunity to spend a bunch of money that’s not mine AND shop by myself? WHAT BETTER GIFT IS THERE THAN THAT?! World Peace??

As a kid, my favorite presents to get were cards. Why? Because if it was coming from a relative, there was a 99.9% chance there was money inside that card. That meant I got to decide what to do with that money. Go shopping? Go to the movies? Spend it on ice cream? Who cares, money was at my disposal. That’s why I end up giving my nieces and nephews money as gifts once they reach a certain age. Kids get picky as they grow up, and I don’t want to have to worry about sticking a gift receipt in the box with the gift “just in case” they don’t like it. It’s a pain having to return something (especially if the person giving you the gift gets their feelings hurt if they find out you returned it) than to just take that precious greenery and spend it however you like. I also don’t want to be in a position where I come over and find myself looking for that gift I gave them, wondering if they’re using it. “Where’s that brass statue of a clown I gave you last Christmas?”  “Oh, uh, we’re having it preserved in a glass case to show it off. It’s at the shop right now. May take a few months.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love getting surprises of something that I like, but my parents or husband are the best ones at doing that. And Santa, of course. He knows everything. Sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake. Does anyone else find this creepy?

I’m one of those weirdos, though. I pick up on little clues that someone says they like during the year, then add it to my Amazon shopping cart to save for later. Six months after that, the person gets the item they had TOTALLY forgotten about and are genuinely surprised. Boom. Family members usually call me for gift suggestions for other family members because I’m the stalker who remembers stuff. So in other words, I’m Santa…

Merry Christmas.

Christmas calories don’t count.

It must be true, because it’s written on my Christmas apron.

Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the time of year a lot of people gain anywhere from 5-10 pounds before determining their New Year’s Resolution is to lose that 10 pounds they gained; plus some if they’re feeling motivated.

Let’s be honest here…

It’s worth it.

Every.

Single.

Pound.

Think about all the food we’re surrounded with for that 5 week period around the holidays. Does anyone REALLY want to turn down all the cakes, cookies, casseroles, gravy boats, mashed potatoes, and turkey shoved in their faces while having to deal with the entire family AND the kids being out of school? And let’s not forget the wine, that helps so many of us through the holidays too. Plus, it tastes SO good. It’s even better curled up on the couch with a blanket after the kids go to bed, enjoying the short time of silence before passing out from exhaustion. Hot chocolate has the same effect for me, too.

Even with all the chaos, it’s pure bliss.

It’s the time of year when you say “screw it” and indulge to your heart’s content. No counting calories, no worrying about what you ate, getting rolled out of your relative’s house in a wheelbarrow because you can’t walk from eating too much, and the incredibly comfortable stretchy pants. You know the kind. The pants that you don’t even have to worry about unbuttoning to use the bathroom. The ones that have room to give when you sit down on the couch to enjoy that glass of wine or cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream.

So enjoy it while it lasts before January hits and put on those stretchy-waist pants. Eat. Drink. Be Merry.

 

The Cleaning Fairy leaves Crème Brulee when she visits.

Imagine going to bed at night, sleeping 8 hours straight, and waking up to a clean house. All the clutter is gone. The counters are wiped down. The living room is straightened and vacuumed. The trash cans have been emptied. The bathrooms don’t have pee everywhere. You go to open the door to the refrigerator, and sitting on the sparkling clean shelf in the middle are ramekins filled with crème brulee, ready to be torched and eaten. The Cleaning Fairy visited during the night, just like she does every week.

WAKE UP!!!

Reality sets in. She didn’t come by and clean the house, de-clutter anything, and most certainly didn’t leave any crème brulee. Witch.

Instead, I have to do it. When the hubaroo gets off the phone with his mom and says he’d like to take the kids out for lunch and to hang out with her for a while- “Do you want to go?” HERE is the opportunity. A quiet house (well, until the 90’s booty-shakin’ music starts blasting when they leave) to really have the chance to get things done without distraction. NO, I do NOT want to go. Love the hubaroo, kids, and even the mother-in-law, but here’s the chance to wear myself out and be somewhat happy with the end result.

De-cluttering the house is a chore that most people dread doing, especially if you tend to hoard things that really have no business being in the house. Guilty!

It took reading a book that gave some true motivation to really get things in motion. Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett got me on the wagon 9 years ago after reading it for the first time. It was on. Thirteen very large trash bags later, the house looked magical. This was B.C. (Before Children), so it was a LOT easier to maintain. The years dragged on, we got more crap, had two kids, got MORE crap, and here we are…with lots of crap.

Have you ever looked around your house and wanted to throw everything in the garbage can that was out of place? Yeah, that’s where I have been for the past month or so, but haven’t had the time (or energy) to light a fire under my butt and get things going.

So, here is the opportunity to get started. Christmas is a good motivator since there will be even more crap coming in the house when the fat man in red makes his delivery. We pay him with cookies and milk.

After going at it for a few hours and plopping down on the couch, I made a phone call to check on hubaroo and kids. After asking what he wanted for dinner, he said, “How about pizza? That’ll be simple. Oh, and some crème brulee.” You know, because pizza and crème brulee go together so well, right? (insert sarcasm here)

Since ordering pizza doesn’t take much effort, the crème brulee was definitely an option.

This and a glass of wine were my rewards for de-cluttering 10% of the house. A trip to Vegas after the whole thing is done will be sufficient. Or a new Mustang.

Since hubaroo was so gracious to remove our little freeloaders from the house for a few hours, I gave in to his dessert request. The best way to describe Crème Brulee is to call it French Pudding. Easy enough to explain that to people, and they’re more likely to eat it if they’ve never experienced the gloriousness of it before. And who doesn’t want to play with a kitchen torch?

What would you want as a reward for de-cluttering the house?

Crème Brulee Recipe

1 whole egg

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon triple sec

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

extra granulated sugar (for torching)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk together the egg, yolks, and sugar in a medium size mixing bowl. Set aside. In a microwave safe container, heat the cream until hot but not boiling. Slowly pour a stream of the cream into the bowl with the egg, yolks, and sugar, constantly whisking. Whisk in the triple sec and vanilla. Pour liquid through a wire mesh strainer into another bowl with a spout.

Pour into 4 (8 oz.) shallow* ramekins. If you have smaller ramekins, you’ll have more servings. Place in a half sheet cake pan and pour hot water into pan (BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET WATER IN THE RAMEKINS, IT’LL RUIN THE CUSTARD). Very carefully place pan in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, just until the custards are set (and just a tiny bit jiggly). Remove pan from oven, use spatula to transfer ramekins to a cooling rack. When they are cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.

When torching for service, sprinkle about 1 tablespoon evenly on top of each custard. Torch the top using a kitchen torch.** Let set for about 1 minute before serving.

*Why shallow ramekins? The custard will cook more evenly in a shallow ramekin as opposed to a deeper one. The consistency will be the same throughout.

**I’ve heard some people say you can use the broiler in your oven if you don’t have a torch. It’s definitely not as effective as a kitchen torch, but is a way to improvise. Get yourself a kitchen torch though if you’d like, just keep it away from kids and pyromaniac husbands.

 

Restaurant dining with a toddler.

I’ve heard there’s a wonderfully magical solution to fix all the problems of dining out with a toddler.

Don’t do it. Wait until they’re in middle school before going out to a restaurant again.

That’s what I hear, but we’re stubborn and like to go out to eat. Maybe even enjoy a little bit of torture that goes along with it.

We pick our battles and the restaurant to decrease the chances of having an unpleasant evening out.

Restaurant is quiet?

Nope.

Restaurant has a wait?

Double nope.

Restaurant is upscale with a pricey menu of food that our kids won’t appreciate and it’ll take 20 minutes to make?

Oh hell no.

I’m one of those people that when the waitress comes up to introduce herself and get our drink order, I say, “Can we go ahead and order our food? Little guy is like a ticking time bomb with a time limit.”

Most of our restaurant criteria when it comes to figuring out where to eat with our kids is pretty simple:

Loud.

Stuff to look at.

Room to move around when the little guy gets too antsy and starts squealing, crying, gets possessed by a demon.

Easy kids’ menu with either mac ‘n cheese or grilled cheese.

Other kids making noise so all the blame can’t be put on us. “Don’t look at us, that was YOUR kid who squealed with delight as he threw his macaroni at you!”

Although I’m crazy and do love to cook, I certainly don’t want to do it EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. Mommy needs breaks. And a cocktail. Or three.

The most rewarding part of it all is when the toddler walks away from our table (don’t worry, Daddy goes with him) to explore, then sees me from across the restaurant and yells, “MOMMY!!!” and comes running back like he hasn’t seen me in three years. At that point, he can make as much noise as he wants, because the feeling Mommy gets seeing that is just pure awesomesauce. Speaking of sauce, I need some more Alfredo with my pasta, it’s not drowning in it. Please. Also need a refill on that apple martini.