Conversations with Augie

My son, Augie, will be 5 years old in a week.  To give you a glimpse at his personality, here’s a conversation I had with him this week:

About to leave to take Augie to school, I’m wearing my workout gear.

Augie: “Where are you going?”
Me: “To take you to school.”
Augie: “Are we RUNNING there?”
Me: “No, I’m going to work out when I get home.  I’m more out of shape than you can believe.”

Augie: “I can believe it.”

Is he a charmer or what?

Oof.

I used to work out regularly.  I would go through periods of stopping and starting, but I was pretty active.  Then I had kids.  My fitness routine got up-ended, but I tried various methods to work around it. 

After the birth of my middle child, I got back into a great routine.  I dropped weight, slimmed down and felt great.  Then I got pregnant again.

My third child is 9 months this week and today was the first day I did any form of activity in about 18 months.  Pathetic, but at least it’s a start.

My dear friend, Denise, and I have very similar goals, namely to get in shape and drop weight so we can be healthy and just plain feel better.  So today Denise and I went on an 8-mile bike ride.  This was a tad ambitious for us, as we acknowledged around mile 2.  I tend to think of the Midwest as flat, flat, flat, but by God, someone went and put a few hills in on the bike trail.  There was much sputtering, sweating and cursing to be had.  But we made it!  It’s a start!

We have committed to making a bike ride a regular thing and I hope we stick to it.

The pathetic thing?  I have a very nice treadmill in my basement that I haven’t been on in a year and a half.  I simply MUST get back into a routine.  I find it’s so much harder to set a routine with three kids age 4 and under, but I know it can be done.  I just have to figure out how.

On the Road

It is Day 8 of our trip out East to visit my husband’s family (and our mutual friends) in the Philadelphia area.  The trip has gone fairly well so far, considering our kids (4, 2 and 8 months) had to endure a looooong car ride from Chicago.  Of course our son, who is 4 (and good at it), asked every 3 minutes, “How many minutes until we get there?” “How many miles to go?” “Are we still in Indiana?” (pause) “Now are we still in Indiana?”  Of course, he has no concept of minutes OR miles, but that didn’t deter him.

We stop halfway in Cleveland for the night and quickly learned that we need a hotel that has suites.  Otherwise we’re putting the kids to bed at 7 and we have to go to bed, too.  We learned that lesson quickly after traveling for the first time with our son when he was an infant.  So far the most accommodating hotels we’ve found for this purpose have been through Marriott, specifically the TownePlace Suites and Residence Inns.

My husband grew up near Philadelphia and I grew up near Chicago.  We met in Washington, DC, where we lived for a few years before following jobs to Charlottesville, Virginia and up to Philly.  We lived in Pennsylvania together for 10 years before moving back (well, back for me) to the Midwest.  So this trip will always be a regular part of our future vacation plans.  Someday, when the kids are older and can tolerate longer periods in the car, we hope to be able to drive straight through.  But for now, we’ll stop and try to make the overnight in Cleveland as fun as possible for the little ones (having a pool at the hotel helps).

Tonight the hubby and I will go on a date (alone!) to celebrate 15 years of wedded bliss.  We’re going to try a much-recommended restaurant in Philly – Talula’s Garden.  I cannot wait.

IMG_0530_2

Ouch.

While chopping herbs for my daughter’s baptism party, I sliced part of my finger.  Be ye not so foolish!  If you are exhausted, distracted and your in-laws are on a plane about to land in your town, let someone ELSE chop the herbs.stitched finger

Lasagna Bolognese

Lasagna BologneseThere are few cookbook authors who never fail me, including Ina Garten and Tyler Florence.  Yesterday I made Tyler Florence’s Lasagna Bolognese.  A few weeks ago I made his Tagliatelle Bolognese and had plenty of sauce leftover, so I froze it.  Having it already made (because it’s a little time-consuming) helped making the lasagna go a lot faster.  I thought it turned out fantastic.  Here’s the recipe, adapted from Tyler Florence’s “Dinner at My Place”:

Ingredients:

Bolognese:

  •     2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit
  •     1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, finely chopped
  •     1 medium onion, finely chopped
  •     2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  •     2 carrots, finely chopped
  •     5 garlic cloves, minced
  •     2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  •     2 bay leaves
  •     2 sprigs rosemary
  •     1-1/2 pounds ground pork
  •     1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  •     2 cups milk
  •     1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  •     2 cups dry red wine
  •     Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •     1/2-cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bechamel:

  •  2 cups whole milk
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2-cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound buffalo mozzerella, torn into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley)
  • Lasagna noodles* (1 box, cooked; or 1 box non-cook noodles) (*Of course, Tyler Florence suggests making your own lasagna noodles, but I don’t have that kind of time or interest)

Directions:

For the Bolognese:

  1. Reconstitute the mushrooms in boiling water for 20 minutes until tender, drain and coarsely chop.
  2. Purée the mushrooms, pancetta, onion, celery stalks, carrots, garlic, together in a blender.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed pot add olive oil, bay leaves, herbs and cook gently until fragrant, remove herbs, then add vegetable puree and continue to cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Raise the heat a bit and add the ground pork and beef; brown until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up the clumps with a wooden spoon.
  5. Add the milk and simmer until the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes.
  6. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Slowly simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring now and then, until the sauce is very thick. Taste again for salt and pepper.

To make the Bechamel:

  1. Set a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add milk, garlic, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer to infuse milk with herb flavors.
  2. Set a large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add butter and melt, then sprinkle in flour while you stir with a wooden spoon.  Once all of the flour has been combined with the butter, grab a whisk and gradually pour in the herb-infused milk, passing it through a sieve as you go to strain out the aromatics.
  3. As the sauce thickens, continue to whisk over low heat, then add nutmeg.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly.

To assemble lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Coat the bottom of a 9x13x3-inch pan with a thin layer of Bechamel.  Top with a layer of lasagna noodles, trimming noodles to fit as necessary.
  2. Top the noodle layer with a layer each of Bechamel, Bolognese, and mozzarella pieces.  Continue with the layers of lasagna noodles, Bechamel, Bolognese and mozzarella pieces until you have three complete layers, finishing with mozzarella.
  3. Shower the top of the lasagna with Parmesan and parsley.
  4. Bake, uncovered, on a tray (to catch the drippings) in the center of the preheated oven for 1 hour.  (If the top starts to brown, tent with foil).
  5. Let the lasagna stand for 15 to 20 minutes before cutting.

Serves: 8-10

Welcome!

Hi there.  And welcome to my blog.  My name is Jennifer and I live in a suburb of Chicago.  I grew up fifteen minutes from where I live now, but spent 16 years on the East Coast, working in public relations and as a management consultant.  I met my wonderful husband out east, married him and lived in his home state (Pennsylvania) for 10 years before dragging him back to my home state.   I am home full-time with my three little ones (and two cats).

Adjusting to life without a focus on career was a tough one to make.  I had been working since I was 14 years old.  After doing some freelance consulting and writing I turned my attention toward a longtime love — design.

When we lived in Pennsylvania, my husband and I bought a small 1939 Colonial house in need of serious updating.  Over the course of eight years, we renovated each and every room and completely changed the landscaping around the house.  It was a labor of love and a bit tough to leave for our move west.  But we enjoyed the creative process of renovating the home together.

Last fall we bought our home here in Illinois and I look forward to redesigning and decorating each and every room and updating the landscape outside.  It will take time and will be done on a tight budget.

I believe that great design can make your life better, happier.  And bad design (and clutter) can drag you down mentally and emotionally.  While clutter can be (very) hard to avoid with small people living in your home, it is always worth trying to keep it at a minimum.  Less clutter = less stress.

As I continue to post, I’ll tell you more about me, my ideas, my interests and take you along on this little journey of mine.

Thanks for visiting!