Saturday, June 27, 2009

Our Favorite Recipe for Nick's Birthday

Happy Birthday, Sweetie!

The dinner I made to celebrate Nick's 30th birthday was so good that I just have to pass it on. It may not be "light" but was fun for a special occasion. I found this recipe in the Gazette on 1/7/09 in their "Take 5" column, submitted by Lynn Blase. It would be pretty difficult to make something that's not delicious with these 5 ingredients.

I even took a picture of all the ingredients like a fancy foodie blogger :)

I use Saag brand chicken sausage for this dish; they have a few varieties, and I believe the one I normally choose is Asiago-fennel flavored or something like that (they were out this time so I used plain chicken sausage). I also used penne pasta, because that's what I had, and gorgonzola cheese.

Apple-Sausage Rigatoni

Yield: 4 Servings

6 ounces dry rigatoni (about 2 cups)
12 ounces cooked smoked sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Golden Delicious apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola, feta or blue cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
2. While pasta is cooking, cook sausage in skillet until lightly browned. Add apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are lightly golden, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in cooked pasta, whipping cream and cheese. Heat through.

Also, I don't typically like broccoli, but this roasted broccoli was soooo amazing! I found the recipe on The Amateur Gourmet and simplified it a bit (I guess that means that I'm even worse than amateur when it comes to cooking). Basically, I tossed the broccoli florets with olive oil, salt, pepper, and sliced garlic and roasted it at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes. I added some lemon juice after it was done. Even Nick gave his approval; pretty impressive for something green!

I made a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert, and Baby gobbled down her little piece in about two seconds and started frantically signing for "more" when her mouth was still as full of cake as it could possibly be. I didn't get a picture of today's cake but here is one from a wedding we attended a couple weeks ago, just for fun!

With Grandma, eyeing that cake. Isn't it cute how they had individual wedding cakes at each table?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Baby Sign Language

We love baby sign language! Baby has already mastered a few words. For a reference of how these signs are supposed to look, check out this website. I actually used a couple books from the library, which show the signs slightly differently, but you can get the basic idea for most of our signs. Of course, Baby has taken the liberty to update some of them as she sees fit. The important thing is that she is consistent, so I can understand what she's trying to say.

"Milk" (squeezing fingers like you are milking a cow) with much prompting to get her to do it on camera :)

(These aren't the greatest videos in the world. She's somewhat cranky and seems to be combining multiple signs in an attempt to form the sentence "Stop filming me, mommy!").

It's amazing how much babies this age can understand; they just have a hard time expressing themselves. Baby's spoken vocabulary includes Kitty, Doggy, Mama, Daddoo, and her newest addition, RaffRaff (translation: giraffe). It took several months of me signing as I spoke to her before she began to do it herself. At first, she would answer my questions with a sign (as shown in these videos). For example, "would you like more bread?" was answered with either the sign for "more" or "done".

"More" (touching fingertips together) is also used to say "I'm hungry".

Recently, I've noticed her producing signs on her own without prompting. A few weeks ago, she was playing her favorite game of slamming the bathroom door shut. Over and over again. Finally, I got tired of standing there and opening it every two seconds, so I said something like "Mommy doesn't want to play this anymore". She caught the word "more" and did her sign. Another time, we were at the church nursery (Nick and I are now nursery leaders, so we can bring our 14 month old into the class for 18 month olds) and someone said "We're all done with singing time". Baby then did the sign for done!

"Done" (extending arms at side, palms up) is always preceeded by a hearty fling of her sippy cup to the floor.

Within the last couple of months, she has become much better about producing signs when I simply ask her what she needs, or even without any prompting at all. One day, I just could not figure out what she wanted. I offered her food and drink, did a quick diaper smell-check, tried to read her a book and play with toys, and nothing seemed to satisfy her. Finally, she did the sign for "change", so to confirm what that meant, I took her to the changing table even though I thought her diaper was dry. Baby was right!

Her favorite seems to be "nap". Lately, it seems that she considers her crib a special, peaceful place. Sometimes, she will be fussy for no apparent reason and will ask for a nap. She plays in her crib with her bunny and pacifier for about 10 minutes and it sweetens her right up.

A very modified "nap". You know how when you express "sleep", you put your palms together and touch the back of one hand against your cheek? I started doing that with just one hand because it seemed that I was always holding her in the other whenever it was about to be naptime. She modified that to put her palm against her chin for some reason.

Every once in a while, when Baby is really fussy, she will become a bit overwhelmed and go through her entire repertoire of signs at once.
me: What's wrong, Baby?
baby: More Done Milk Nap Change! More Done Milk Nap Change!

You can't really tell from this picture, but she had just completed the sign for "change". Her version involves clutching her wrist with one hand while the other fist rotates in a circle. This is another modified one!

Now we're working on some more specific signs, including book, bear (which we're using for her "lovey", a bunny), and different varieties of food and drink. Don't worry, using baby sign language does not delay their normal speech development; it actually enhances it. I like to think that communicating through signs reduces her frustration, since I can respond to what she needs quickly. I'm so proud of my smart little girl!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reading Baby

Baby has always loved books. She'll often refuse half a dozen toys before deciding on a nice board book to skim instead. I think it's really cute when she holds the book up properly and turns the pages one at a time. Sure, sometimes the book is upside down, but at least she looks like she knows what she's doing.

Yesterday, she decided that it would be fun to take all of the books off her bookshelf. Now, it's my understanding that your typical 13 month old takes great pleasure in causing destruction. Baby, on the other hand, tends to be more laid back; she took each book off the shelf, one by one, and read it cover to cover before moving on to the next book.

She definitely prefers grown-up books if she can get her hands on one. Whenever I read aloud to her from some novel I am reading, I always give her a beat up old paperback to play with because a board book just will not do.

This is a never-before-caught-on-camera "Squish-n-Squint". Weirdest baby ever. For some reason, several months ago she started squishing her cheek into her shoulder, causing one eye to unintentionally squint. It's become a form of greeting now, where she will do separate squish-n-squints for Nick and I just to say hello.

To my mommy friends: The library has a baby summer reading program this year, did you know that? You read aloud to your infant or toddler for 15 minutes each day and complete one activity, such as naming Baby's body parts or singing a song (stuff you do all the time anyway). Each week, Baby can earn a little prize like a picture frame or board book. Also, if you've never been to Baby Time on Monday mornings, check it out! It's for babies under one and a great way to meet other moms (if you get there early, that is -- they limit each class to ten moms and babies, and spots fill up fast!).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Three Springs Mom 'n Pop Restaurants

I had intended to do little restaurant reviews with this blog, showcasing local establishments because it seems that every single restaurant in my neighborhood is a huge, boring chain. I keep visiting my old favorites without a camera, so that is why I haven't done any posts about restaurants yet, because who wants to read about delicious food without pictures to drool over? Hopefully, you do! I'll highlight a few in case my Springs readers need to get out of a restaurant rut.

3739 Bloomington St. Colorado Springs, CO 80922 (in the Target shopping center)

Please visit this place, OK? I really, really want them to stay in business. When I think of Thai food, I think of the Thai Pepper in Fort Collins where Nick and I went for one of our first dates and many times after. Nothing has been able to live up to that place until we stopped by Arharn during their opening week. Check out these pictures of their cute, modern decor. Their crab cheese wontons are superb, and I ordered the Chicken Satay the first few times we went. I finally broke that addiction and tried the Massaman (yellow) Curry because I love the combination of potatoes, peanuts, and curry. Nick has ordered the Pineapple Curry and Noodles with Yellow Curry, both delicious as well. The Homemade Coconut Ice Cream is creamier, more flavorful, and less sweet than typical American ice cream. The owner, Pong, is very friendly and happy to explain everything on the menu; you can tell that running this restaurant is her dream come true.

Oh, did I mention the prices? Ridiculously inexpensive. I'm talking entrees for $6.50. It's cheaper than Chick-fil-A, please go there!

4037 Tutt Blvd, Colorado Springs, CO 80922 (across the street from Joann Fabrics on Tutt)

Nick's parents lived in Germany for several years for his father's career, and we visited them in 2005 only to discover that German food is possibly the best food in the world. Seriously. Schnitzel Fritz just opened recently, so we took Nick's family there this weekend to check it out. I ordered the Jaegerschnitzel, a thinly-pounded and breaded pork, pan-fried, with mushroom gravy for $6.99. Perfection. It came with a traditional fried potato side dish (the name has escaped me), and Nick couldn't resist the apfelstrudel with not-too-sweet vanilla sauce for dessert.

Baby was being her typical "restaurant baby" self, spilling water, chucking food, and hollaring to her heart's content, so Nick's sister Elise walked her around for a bit. An older gentleman came up and asked her if "he" was a little German boy. Not wanting to engage in a lengthy explanation about how girls can also wear green onesies (with pink flowers, I might add), Elise played along. The gentleman commented that "he" will surely grow up to have a baritone voice.

4820 Flintridge Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80918 (just North of Flintridge and Academy)
Thanks, Mary, for the suggestion!

The most important thing I can say about Taste of India is this: go for lunch. They have an incredible daily lunch buffet for $7.95; you can sample most menu items without attempting to pronounce the names first. If you decide to go for dinner instead, visit their website for a $1 off coupon. Of course, the best part of any Indian restaurant is the Naan and the Mango Custard, and we probably should have paid the buffet price for Baby too because she ate her fair share of both. Nick and my dad love the Butter Chicken, which is "marinated in ginger, garlic, yogurt, spices, cooked with fresh tomatoes, butter, and cream". I always love their fried vegetable pakoras and dal turka (creamed lentils). We wondered if the owners' entire extended family eats there every day for lunch, as we always see the same large group having the best time.

My Baritone Baby.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hiking at Aiken Canyon Preserve

We have had the best timing this year for the hikes we have chosen.  Yesterday, a friend and I both loaded up our backpacks with babies and headed south to the Aiken Canyon Preserve for their 4-mile loop.  While researching the hike just now, I discovered that one of the beautiful wildflowers we came across, the Campanula rotundifolia (or Bluebell Bellflower...redundant but descriptive), is only in bloom from late May through early June (not pictured, sorry).  We were surprised to see a ton of cactus and yucca in the lower elevations as well.

This 1600-acre Nature Conservancy is located 15 miles south of Colorado Springs on highway CO-115.  Just turn right on Turkey Creek Ranch Road and the trailhead is almost immediately on your right.   (Thank you, Gazette, for the directions).  I've been through this neighborhood before, so if you feel like drooling over some beautiful McMansions, go for a drive after your hike.  The trailhead contains large, colorful signs depicting the animals and vegetation you could expect to see, and the entire trail is well-maintained.  We even found tiny signs stuck into the ground identifying specific wildflowers.

Because the Conservancy is located just south of Garden of the Gods, you come across beautiful red rock formations throughout the hike.  Take a left the first time the trail splits to slowly head up to a saddle (about 500 feet elevation gain), followed by an open meadow of flowers.  Here, you'll find another division in the trail; head left for a 1.5 mile dead-end trip up to a cabin and a stream, or right to complete the 4 mile loop you began.  It had started sprinkling at this point, so we stuck to the loop.  
We came across a sign listing the wildlife that we could encounter, including bears, mountain lions, bobcats, rattlesnakes, and wild turkeys.  I consider us fortunate that we didn't spot a single living creature, although Baby exclaimed "Kitty!" at one point (well, her pronounciation is more like "Tee!", but I recognized the voice from when she chases the wildlife at home).  I'm glad we didn't come across any big kitties on this hike, although a wild turkey may have been fun!
Baby likes to play with my ponytail as we walk.  I think she has hair envy.  All-in-all, this was another gorgeous Colorado Springs hike and a fun day with Baby!