Saturday, May 23, 2015

Watermelon and Waves

A few days ago a friend from San Jose, Shauna, posted a photo of her three girls with watermelon slices in front of this darling sign at the Trader Joe's in San Jose.  Clara and Rose are obsessed with watermelon - seriously, I have to cut them off every time because they will just eat it until they are sick - so on Friday morning when I woke up itching to go somewhere for the day I made a snap decision to pack the car and head to the south bay for the morning for the sole purpose of a watermelon themed photo shoot.  (For the record, our local Trader Joe's doesn't have a cute watermelon sign set out anywhere - I had checked earlier in the week after seeing Shauna's picture.)

I sliced up a watermelon that I had on hand into big semi-circles and got the girls and myself ready.  Clara picked her own outfit and while my initial thought was to put her in something that looked a little more put together than the mismatched leggings and shorts she paired with her favorite "turquoise" shirt, we just went with it because it is just so...her.  And I try really hard not to overlay too much "me" on "her" when I can help it, you know what I mean?  I think about things like this.  And I just put an old shirt of Clara's on Rose that already has stains on it that I can't get out because I knew that juice was just going to be dripping all over the place and I didn't want to worry about ruining any newer outfits.

Honestly, all I really expected of the morning were some cute, summery photos of my girls enjoying one of their favorite treats.  But we got so much more than that.  The sign is just in front of the store in the parking lot but we got there early in the morning before it was very busy so there wasn't much traffic or anything.  After taking their pictures, I just sat on the steps next to the girls, supplying them with additional slices while we enjoyed the slow, time-honored tradition of just "sittin'-on-the-curb-watching-the-clouds-go-by". 

We stayed for probably half an hour.  Rose talked on and on in her own language that is getting closer and closer to some real sounds each day and filled her soliloquy with gestures and grunts and pointing her finger to draw my attention to birds or other things that caught her interest.  Clara and I played the color game (where we identify every color of car in sight), I Spy, and I taught her how to see shapes in clouds.  I don't do enough of this slow, simple stuff and I sat there resolving to change that about our lives. 

The girls were so happy and there enthusiasm for the day was infectious.  Person after person smiled and waved and talked to us on their way about their days running errands.  Cars slowed down so the people inside could wave and the girls would wave right back like we were watching a parade just for us.  I was told by more than one person that seeing my girls enjoying their watermelon in this way had made someone's day.  A Trader Joe's employee came out and noticed us and asked to take our picture so she could show it to their "sign team" to see how much we loved the sign and were taking advantage of it. 

By the time we ran out of watermelon the girls were a sticky mess but I had come prepared with plenty of water and wet wipes to wash them off.  And their tummies and my soul were full.  I hope this is a memory that stays with Clara as she is growing up.  She's getting to the age where that might start to happen - things we say and do together might actually stick with her to adulthood - and I think about that too.

Luckily, before leaving Dublin I had texted my friend and visiting teaching companion of 3 years, Lisa, to see what they were doing and if they had any time to hang out.  She came up to see us with her boys just a few weeks ago (Blake is just two months older than Clara so they have grown up together and Miles is just a few months older than Rose) but I miss her and they recently redid their backyard and wanted to see that too.  Lisa is the kind of friend who I knew wouldn't mind me inviting myself over last-minute and she wrote right back to say that they actually had some stuff going on in the morning but that her husband's college roommate was in town and so they were going to the beach around lunchtime if we wanted to join.  I won't say I am always down for a beach day, but given the right circumstances I definitely try to make them happen and circumstances were perfect so I had packed a beach bag and brought that with us. 
We hung out at Lisa's for a bit while Miles finished a nap and Lisa even fed us the most delicious lunch of leftover salmon that she had made the night before (I got the recipe - it has cinnamon in the marinade and it blew my mind).  It cracked me up that we had dressed identically - dark jeans rolled up into capri-length with red and white layered tops - but for the record it was Lisa who thought to take this picture.  We also discussed their future kitchen remodel. 
We went to Sunset beach, which I had never been to before.  It is a little further south - past Manresa - but SO worth the extra drive.  It's my new favorite northern California beach, hands down.  There is a big sand dune between the parking lot and the ocean and it was covered in gorgeous wildflowers that were in full bloom.  And I liked how you couldn't see any cars once you were on the beach itself because they were hidden behind the dune.  I also liked how Clara is big enough to help me carry beach toys from the car to the beach.

The beach itself is a long stretch of clean, white sand stretching in both directions with a very gentle slope to the water.  The kids immediately set about digging in the sand.  Clara had the foresight to ask to bring seashells from home that we had used as decorations for her party, which was a great idea because there were no shells on this beach for finding really.

Lisa will deny it, but she is one of my most glamorous friends. 

Rose scooped up a cupful of sand within 30 seconds and dumped it over herself and then took a swig from it.  There was sand everywhere, but in a way, it was nice that she just got it over with since it was inevitable and saved me all the reprimands to not put sand in her mouth because she learned that lesson on her own (at least for the day). 

Of course, Rose didn't get enough watermelon in the morning so she begged some off of Lisa when we busted out the food.  Between the juice from the fruit, her running nose from teething, and the sand, Rose was a MESS.  But at least it was a happy mess. 

Eventually everybody braved their way down to the surf.  The day was on the cool side with the stiff breeze that is always blowing off the ocean but when the sun broke through we were all warm enough.  But the water was freezing.  The kids had a blast running away from the waves.  Even when Clara, and then Rose, stumbled into the wet sand and got soaked they were still having fun.  But that's when we called it a day because I didn't want them getting too cold and we needed to head home anyway so we didn't get stuck in Memorial Day traffic.

I showered the girls off at the beach showers since they were both coated in a layer of wet send and they squealed and giggled and played bare nekkid while I held a towel up for them, then dressed them in warm, dry clothes in the back of the minivan (which is awesome for that sort of thing).  Rose was asleep in her carseat within about 90 seconds of pulling out of the parking lot and slept almost the entire way home.  This definitely goes on my list of "days I would choose to live over and over again" and I am already making plans to go back to Sunset beach this summer on a day when Paul can come to and we can stay and make use of the firepits to have a cookout. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Clara's 4th Birthday

Clara turned four years old on Tuesday.  FOUR.  And she could not have been more pleased about it.  She woke up to find an Ariel mylar balloon hovering in her room in keeping with birthday balloons tradition and told me a story about how "the mermaids" swam into her room to leave the balloon for her.  The she spotted the pile of presents waiting for her to open and got right to work opening one of them (a L'il Woodzeez dollhouse from Grandma Cece and Grandpa Russ) and played with that for a while as I got breakfast ready for her (toasted coconut pancakes from Trader Joe's - the first pancake mix I have ever found that I actually truly love - with apricot jam and scrambled eggs).

After breakfast things went downhill for a bit as too much birthday excitement led Clara to a Leslie Gore approach ("It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to....") but after a pep talk, hug, and some time to calm down things went much better after that.  We spent time doing things Clara loves - mostly taking quilts into the backyard for picnics, playing toys together, watching "Wild Kratts" on PBS, and letting Clara change clothes as much as she wanted (I think she went through 5 or 6 outfit changes.  In the afternoon I took the girls to an apartment complex that our friends live at so I could try to take a few 4-year-old pictures of Clara because they have a lovely pond area filled with lilypads and surrounded by weeping willows.  I brought bread along to feed to the ducks even though there are signs that say not to and Clara had great fun doing that.

The day before her birthday I asked Clara what her very favorite food was to eat for dinner so that I could plan her birthday meal.  She answered "um, cake?".  So I tried again and gave her probably 20 examples of foods I know she likes - salmon with vegetables, tacos, pizza, chicken, pasta, burritos, etc. - because I didn't want to influence her choice.  She thought for a few seconds after I asked her again and then said "Mom, we don't have to do all of this.  We don't have to go to the movies or go inside or anything like that but could we do sush-shee?"  I cannot get over her pronunciation with the short "u" sound and even though I corrected her she keeps calling it sush-shee and it makes me smile every time.  A couple months ago Paul took Clara on a daddy-daughter date to go to the movies and they got sushi as part of it.  And apparently that is what she was craving so sushi it was.  We went to Amakara and got a Shrimp Tempura roll and a some other roll with mango, cilantro, and tempura shrimp, a plate of grilled salmon with rice and salad, and an appetizer of grilled edamame.  We pounded that edamame - it was so amazingly, incredibly delicious and Paul and I couldn't keep up with shelling the edamame for the girls. 

After dinner it was back home to open the rest of her birthday presents - a build-a-flower-garden set, a fishing pole, a new apron, and a purple bow & arrow set and a geometric pattern block puzzle set from Grandma and Grandpa Nash.  It was a very happy birthday indeed.

This picture with Paul cracks me up.  She sure loves her dad.  That is the fishing pole she is holding, even though it kind of looks like a shotgun at first glance.

I made a little collage of past birthday pictures of Clara and posted it on Instagram with the following:  "I cannot begin to express the love I have for this little gal.  She wants snuggles every night, requests books all day long asks for sushi (she pronounces is suh-shee) for her birthday dinner, is obsessed with mermaids, gymnastics, and the PBS show Wild Kratts, loves her family, would eat rainbow sherbet ever day if she could, tells me "I love you" when she can tell my patience is running thin, thinks her daddy is the greatest man ever, still figuring out this big sister role but loves playing with Rose, is learning to be a good helper by making her bed and setting the table, enjoys riding her scooter down the hill when we go onwalks, and generally is just a fun-loving, bright, spirited little girl.  We are so lucky she is part of our family."

We had Clara's birthday party on Saturday before her birthday.  We went with a mermaid theme for our mermaid obsessed little girl.  We decorated with crepe paper seaweed streaming up the walls, a couple of fishing nets strung about, and seashells everywhere (homegoods for the win on that one).  Paul created a mermaid for the wall by tracing Clara while she was lying down and then painting her shape into a mermaid.  We did part of it as a family home evening activity the week before her party.


Each little girl at the party got her very own mermaid skirt and each boy was offered a pirate eye patch and earring (although none of them wore them for more than a minute).  From left to right: Daxton, Liesel, Maddie, Clara, Molly, Lydia, Hudson and Logan (Charlie was back in Clara's room playing but he came too). 

The first activity was being entertained by the floating shark that Paul found online.  It's a mylar balloon with a small motor that controls a tailfin making it so you can steer him and send him diving around the room.  It was actually super creepy and awesome and we have been having loads of fun with it ever since.  The other night after the party and after the girls had gone to bed, I snuck back to our room and sent the shark floating out of the dark hallway in stealth mode just as Paul was heading back for bed and it totally made him squeal. 

The skirts are less impressive than they look.  It took me about 10 minutes to make each one and because they require so little fabric and I got it all on sale they came out to about $2.50 per skirt, which isn't terrible for the only party favor other than little dollar prizes for the games.  I don't have pictures of most of the rest of the party but after playing with the shark we played "Mermaid, Mermaid, Shark" (aka duck, duck, goose) and then musical chairs, which went over surprisingly better than I expected for almost 4 year olds.  A few of them really figured it out and were strategic about it so after a couple of rounds we had the previous winners sit out and the ones who weren't catching on quite as quickly played a round themselves where each time one of them got out they got to choose a prize from the prize bag so everybody went home with something.  The prizes were things like sparkly bracelets or small packs of crayons in mermaid colors (have you seen those?  Crayola has a bunch of theme crayon assortments like "pirate" or "circus" or "mermaid".  Clara digs those small 8 packs of crayons way more than her box of 64 colors.).

Clara has been requesting cherry cupcakes for her birthday ever since October when she saw my Black Forest Cherry Cake.  I wasn't quite sure what she really wanted and found some recipes that only made about a dozen cupcakes each so I tried a couple different approaches.  One was an almond cupcake with fresh cherry frosting.  It was okay although the frosting weeped from the cherry juice.  I preferred the black forest cherry cupcakes with the cherry filling and sweet whipped cream topping.  Normally I would prefer regular frosting to whipped cream but the chocolate cupcake base was so decadent that the lighter whipped cream option just tasted perfect with it.  And there was cherry pie filling inside, which made them even yummier. 

In keeping with the mermaid theme, I served seaweed (which my girls LOVE and will stuff in their mouths by the fistful) and crab cakes (more for the adults but both Clara and Rose ate one), along with lots and lots of fruit, fruit dip, and chips and guacamole.

After eating Clara got to open her gifts from her friends.  She received so many sweet and thoughtful gifts including two new mermaids, one of which can go in the bathtub with her.  She also got sticker books, a look-and-find toy, and a new soccer ball and game.  We are lucky to have so many kind and generous friends.

We also gave Clara her main birthday present from us after the guests left: a new big girl purple bike with training wheels.  We wanted her to have the weekend to play with it with Paul and around but unfortunately things have been cool and even a little drizzly since so she hasn't had a chance to practice more yet.

We love our big 4 year old Clara-girl so much. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

That time I auditioned for a reality cooking show...

So, this was me last September going to a live casting call for the show Masterchef, which premieres tonight.  The short story is that I not only made it through that first round but through multiple subsequent rounds until I found myself flying to LA in January to spend almost a week with 99 other hopeful contestants.

I never really imagined auditioning for a reality cooking show.  I mean, I like to bake and cook, but I have no training or anything like that.  But while I was walking through our local farmer's market with the girls one day late last August, I was approached by a casting recruiter who told me about the open casting call in San Francisco in a couple of weeks and asked me whether I had heard of the show and would I be interested.  I was wearing Rose in the baby carrier at the time and Clara was in the stroller, but I was intrigued enough to stand and talk for a few minutes while the agent took down my name and contact info and then asked me questions about what kind of food I like to cook, how I learned to cook, how often I cook, and what my sort of life story is (stay-at-home adoptive mom, former lawyer, Mormon), etc. and then took a picture of me.  Honestly I went home laughing about the experience but thinking that the likelihood of me actually making a dish and going in to the city to try out were slim.

Until I got a phone call a few days before the casting call from a producer in LA who said they had read the preliminary info the casting recruiter had sent them and asking whether I was still considering going to the audition and if so, letting me know I would be on their VIP list and could go straight to the head of the line and essentially walk right in with my dish.  I had imagined waiting in a line for hours with hundreds of other people and that hadn't sounded like much fun to me, but the thought of having a front-of-the-line pass was enough for me to think seriously about it, come up with a dish, and head out on Bart Saturday morning while Paul took the girls on a daddy-daughter date. 

So that's how I found myself at the front of a snaking conga line of homecooks from all walks of life with my signature dish of Spicy Honey Chicken, coconut jasmine rice, arugala salad with citrus-cumin dressing, and mango avocado salsa in a bag just waiting to be plated for judging and critique.  20 of us went in at a time and were given 5 minutes to plate our signature dishes before a professional chef (not one of the celebrity ones from the show) came and tasted each part of what we had made.  One of the funnest parts about the day was seeing what all these other people had made and hearing their stories and getting to know them.  The lady next to me told me that she had made her dish 20 times over the previous month so she could have everything down perfectly.  It was a shrimp tempura bon mi sandwich or something like that.  Another guy explained his dish made with pork's ear something or other.  One girl had a bunch of leftover panna cotta with berries that she let us all taste and it was wonderful. 

Then things got crazy.  I advanced to the next round, and then the next, then the next, then the next.  Each time I thought that there was no way I was moving on.  But just before Christmas I learned I had made the final cut and was invited to audition in LA in January with the other "top 100 homecooks in America" for a spot on the show.  A couple of very generous family members in the area said they could watch the girls during the days while I was gone and Paul would be home with them for the weekend so I went. 

I can't talk about what that experience was like other than to say that it was basically awesome and nerve wracking and I had fun and met such an interesting and diverse group of people brought together by a shared love of food and cooking.  We were told that 40,000 other hopefuls had auditioned that season for one of our spots and getting to know the other 99 who made it to LA was so much fun. I can't wait to watch the ones who made it through that final cut (I didn't) tonight when the show premieres. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

Paul and the girls gave me such a great mother's day this year.  On Saturday morning Paul took the girls to Orchard Supply to do a mother' day craft (painting pots and planting flowers) while I got a mani-pedi and got my brows waxed at the mall.  Then later that day we went out to dinner.  On Sunday the girls wore the new dresses that I made for them and we played croquet in the backyard with the croquet set that Paul and the girls gave me.  And then Paul made ribs, scallops, and green beans for dinner.  It was such a lovely weekend and I felt very special.
These are just a few pictures that I already posted on instagram, but I thought I would include them here too.  I have done quite a bit of sewing between quilts, crafts, and Halloween costumes, but I have never actually made regular clothes.  I got the urge to change that a few weeks back when I saw the cutest dress pattern for the girls.  Then I happened to go to Joann's the day that their patterns were all on sale for $1 and I picked up a couple of different patterns for myself.  I'm very happy with how the girls' dresses turned out despite some mistakes and imperfections.  Somehow either my measurements (most likely) or the pattern was off on my dress so I made it way bigger than I needed.  I tried taking it in but could only fix it so much.  It looks so-so but really I would kind of like to try again with different fabric and make some changes for a better result.  But all-in-all I'm pretty proud of how all three dresses turned out.

Rose fell asleep in Paul's arms in the foyer of the church during Sunday School.  This is how I found them after I finished teaching.

That is butter being grated onto the ribs.  Then they get drizzled in honey and brown sugar, wrapped in foil and set back in the smoker to finish.  They are beyond amazing.  Insanely bad for you, but SOOOOO good.

And just for fun, here is a comparison picture from last year with the girls.  Rose was so tiny!  I miss the look of the bangs but man I just cannot handle maintaining them.