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    The Freshman & The First Grader

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

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    School is back in session!

    After a summer that revolved around Madeline's cross country practices & trips, and Jackson's swim lessons & playdates, we are finally back in a regular routine. I'm grateful for this time of year. Much as I miss my young companions, the return to school is good for them. Reuniting with friends, expanding their minds, growing into independant people~they're all good things. I've found that it's also pretty good for me. My time at home is much more constructive. As chairwoman to Westlake Junior's huge Fall shopping event, Gingerbread Boutique, having uninterrupted time to focus on my tasks is important. While the children are at school, I can spend a few hours working on spreadsheets, catching up with vendors and other contacts. Emails can be answered without feeling pulled in too many directions. Ultimately, I can be at home taking care of whatever needs to be handled, and there is no concern that something or someone is being neglected. School gets out, and I can dedicate the rest of the day to my children.

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    There is a feeling I get about the direction of the school year after the first day, and most of the time it's on point. For Madeline, our Freshman, it's going to be a year filled with tremendous personal growth. With a zero period class and cross country right after school, her days will be very, very long. She will have to adjust and relearn how to balance homework with her academic and athletic obligations. Some of her classes are going to be challengeing, but my heart tells me she will handle them beautifully. She has a wonderful support group in us, her friends, and excelent teachers and coaches. Never have I felt more excited about a school year in my life. It's nothing tangible, only a feeling, but something tells me 9th grade is going to be phenomenal!

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    First Grade is shaping up to be a great year as well. Jackson is off to a good start, and that is very encouraging. Our sweet boy has faced some obstacles, but each time one has popped up, with proper guidance he has overcome them. Comparing yesterday with the first day of Kindergarten was night and day. A year ago he could hardly tell me what happened during his time at school. But yesterday, over a cup of frozen yogurt, he told me all about his day from start to finish. His enthusiasm was contagious and about made my heart burst! He was so happy to see his friends. He loves his new teacher. Carrying his Ninja Turtle backpack and comparing them with his friends made him feel very cool, and having his own desk? Nothing compared. I've heard the transition from Kindergarten to 1st is a big one, and in my opionion, the teacher your child has makes all the difference. Jackson is very blessed to have one that really nurtures the individial student, and shows them how to rise to the challenges ahead. It's going to be a big year for our boy, but it's going to be a really good one as well.

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    Friends, if you can't tell, I'm very optimistic about the school year ahead. I'm very excited. But I'm also in high spirits over the very first Ole Miss football game of the season tonight! The kitchen is calling and football food needs to be made.

    Hotty Toddy, y'all!

    Cousins

    Tuesday, August 12, 2014

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    One of the highlights of our summer was a visit with our family from Mississippi. Shannon's brother, sister-in-law, and our nephews came to California at the end of July for a family vacation, and near the end, stayed with us for a few days. It was wonderful! It's been 3 years since we'd all been under one roof, so to say it was a reunion long overdue would be an understatement. It was great catching up, sharing a few of our favorite local spots to eat and visit. But if you were to ask me what made the visit especially memorable, I would have to say it was watching the cousins catch up.

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    I said it had been 3 years since our children had seen one another~we were in Tokyo at the time. But you wouldn't have known they'd been apart for so long. They picked up right where they left off and spent every waking moment with one another. For Jackson, it was a wish come true: two other boys to play with around the clock. He was on cloud nine!

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    It was good for Madeline as well. She was being pulled between her early morning cross country practices and family time, and the three boys were so busy with one another, she usually had a few hours of down time before rejoining in their shenanigans. This brings to mind the cousin pictures we were all determined to take!

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    Three years ago while while we visited Tokyo Disneyland, we had all four children stand one in front of the other for this picture:

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    Goodness were they little! At the time, their heights were perfect for a shot like this. Now, however, they're at ages and heights where they have to do a very Brady Bunch pose to accommodate all four in a picture. All three of the older kids ad to bend over for these pictures to happen. It certainly gives you an idea of how tall they are now! It's so sweet, but it's also pretty darn funny. Take a look!

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    Jackson seems to have a favorite "go-to" for all pictures these days. I just hope he doesn't pull the face during school pictures this year! That would be something else.

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    It's been almost two weeks since our family returned home to Mississippi, and we miss them very much. We experienced Jackson's first real meltdown with their departure. He didn't want his new best friends to leave. I know Madeline and Jackson are blessed to have one another; they have a very special relationship. But I think this visit with our family was important. It reminded them how lucky they are to have such wonderful family, especially in their cousins. We've been "tagged", meaning the ball is now in court to visit Mississippi in the near future. We're crossing our fingers that we can make it early next Summer. Until then, we'll look at the pictures from our fun visit and think back on the wonderful time we all had together.

    Running Free

    Monday, August 11, 2014

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    Good morning, friends. It's been well over a month, but life has been busy. Nothing too crazy, but between a terrific family visit, camps, swim lessons, and cross country, our days have been full. I'll share over the next few days. At the moment I'm nursing a little ache in my heart.

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    Madeline has gone to Mammoth Mountain to train with half of the cross country team, and I miss her. During the winter, Mammoth is a lovely ski resort town enjoyed by many a southern Californian. In the warmer months, however, it's a haven for bikers, hikers, and as I now know, long-distance runners. Over the next 5 days it will be all about high-altitude training. For those who qualified for this trip, they'll spend much of their time bonding, learning, and running.

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    How could they not enjoy their daily runs while surrounded by this beauty? Look at that view! It's gorgeous. I wish I could have chaperoned.

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    It was a pretty gloomy morning when Madeline met up with her teammates. I looked at them, noting how awake they were despite the early hour. Maybe they were excited for their trip to a place with cooler weather and new sights. Who could blame them? Mammoth looks like a magical place. I can hardly wait to hear all about it when Madeline returns!

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    We're counting down the days until Friday. Until then, we're keeping ourselves occupied with movies, playdates, and preparing for the return to school at the end of August. Enjoy your week ahead! I'll be back to share a few things very soon.

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    Recipe: S'mores Pie

    Monday, July 14, 2014

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    No food evokes thoughts of summer quite like s'mores. Sweet, crunchy, gooey...everything about the layers of graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallow make it the perfect, most delicious end to any summer meal. But what about the mess? Normally I'm okay with the strings of toasted marshmallow on my fingers mixed with melted chocolate; it's a part of the whole s'mores experience.

    Thats said, my mind was opened to new possibilities this weekend while reading through How Sweet It Is. She made the most scrumptious looking s'mores pie. The moment I had a glimpse of the toasted topping and creamy looking chocolate interior I knew it would be on our Sunday dinner menu.

    My family hasn't stopped thanking me.

    Here is what you'll need to create your own delicious taste of summer. Preheat your oven to 325. While it heats, make your crust and pie-filling. For the crust you'll need 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs and 1 1/4 sticks butter, melted. Using a 9 inch pie plate, add the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs together and press around the bottom and sides until a crust forms. Don't be surprised if the crust doesn't go all the way up the sides. Depending on the depth of your pie plate, it may simply form a shallow crust. This is fine.

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    Once your crust has been made, start on the filling. Using a recipe from Tyler Florence, in a pot on the stove I combined 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup milk over low heat. Watch it carefully, and once it begins to simmer remove from heat and add in 10 ounces of semisweet chocolate. It can be chips or a bar, chopped into small pieces. I used the Hershey's semi-sweet chips since it's a classic s'mores staple. Stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted then whisk in 2 tbsp. of sugar and 1/4 tsp. of salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat 2 eggs. Slowly add eggs to chocolate mixture while whisking, then pour the chocolate filling on top of the crust. Tyler’s directions call for the filling to be baked for 15-20 minutes, but this is crazy since mine required a full 40 minutes. It really depends on your oven, so pay attention and check every 5-10 minutes after the 20 minute mark. You're trying to make sure your chocolate mixture is no longer liquid. Jiggly is fine, so however long it takes for you, make a note so you'll know when you make this again.

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    Once the chocolate is no longer liquid, remove the tart and top with as many large marshmallows as you can fit. This is the perfect job for children since you can get silly with the amount. If they eat a few that "happen" to fall off the pie plate, that's good, too.

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    Place the pie back in the oven so the top can get that beautiful, toasted look. It smells so good and looks even better! And this makes the next part really, really hard.

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    To enjoy your s'mores pie you must let it cool, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours before cutting. My guess is you could eat it right out of the oven, but it might be too hot and the marshmallow topping would slide right off. A scoop of vanilla ice cream could certainly cut the heat, but what's the point of a s'more if the marshmallow is gone? If you're willing to be a daredevil I'd love to hear all about it.

    Finally, to serve, it's important to spray a knife with non-stick spray. And if it falls apart, just lift pieces out with a spoon. It’s just as delicious~and still messy enough~to be a good and proper s'more.

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    Enjoy!

    A Simply Delicious Platter

    Tuesday, July 1, 2014

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    Last week I got together with a few girlfriends to discuss our Fall fundraiser, Gingerbread Boutique. We met at The Stonehaus, a breathtaking enoteca that makes you feel as if you've just arrived in Italy. I'll have to tell you more about it later. It's amazing. While we were there we brianstormed, drank wine, dined on salad, and had the most wonderful formage & charcuterie board. If you follow me on Instgram you may remember the picture I posted. It was delicious, and unsurprisingly, has been on my mind ever since.

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    Friday night we were going to spend the evening at our local park listening to music, but when pink eye invaded the home, plans changed. We already had most items already on hand, and it was a great way to satisfy a craving, so I decided to put together a family-friendly fromage & charcuterie platter. I had pictures from our meeting which provided a great deal of inspiration. We would need a few different cheeses(hard, soft, earthy, tangy), meats (at least two), fruits to cut the saltiness, nuts, and grains. With cues taken from The Stonehaus and making sure to have something for everyone, here is what I created.

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    From the top going clockwise, we had one sliced anjou pear(firmness is important), a subtle, soft blue cheese, thinly sliced capicola, mini Babybels, prosciutto di parma, red grapes, salami, and the creamiest brie. Placed here and there amoungst it all, we had whole grain crackers and lightly toasted and buttered baguette slices. You'll see in some pictures that we also had two silver stands with toasted almonds and macadamia nuts as well. Why were they separate instead of on the platter with everything else? My son has allergies, and while he has never had a reaction to nuts, I like to play it safe. It can't hurt.

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    This was probably one of the easiest meals we'd had in a while. The children loved being able to decide what went on their plates, and we all enjoyed how casual it was. I highly reccommend putting a platter~or board~like this together if you're looking for an easy lunch or dinner. It's surpringly light. Even when we were finished, we were full, but no one had that heaviness that can often follow a meal.

    What I loved most about this meal, however, was the simplicity. Cheese, meat, fruit, crackers...most of us have these things already so putting together a small one doesn't require much effort. I'll definitely do this again; more than likely for a girls night in. For a more rustic feel I'll probably add a small bowl of olives, fruit spreads, and serve it on a large serving board instead of a platter.

    I like preparing food for my family, but when your child is sick or the temperatures rise, the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stove. Try making your own platter with a few of your favorites. More than likely, you'll find it simply delicious.