Mommy’s Super Powers

When I was a little girl, I remember thinking that being tucked into my mom’s side of the bed must be the safest place in the whole world. Even if she wasn’t still in the bed, there was something magical about it – as if she left her mommy super powers there for me to soak up when I was sick or scared.

Holding my babies.

I’ve been reminded of this frequently over the last couple of weeks as Parker battled through a horrible (and terrifying) case of croup and then again two nights ago as a rare (and very loud) thunderstorm shook the house. In both instances, Parker made a bee-line for my side of the bed and as soon as he was tucked in safely against me, he said, “I knew that you would make it better.”

Honestly, I think that this is the biggest gift of motherhood. The fact that my mere presence is associated with safety, love and calming energies is something that I never anticipated. I know that sometimes my husband struggles with this when he’s the first to arrive on the “scene” to comfort Parker, but gets snubbed as soon as my arms are available. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that in our house, daddy super powers are more in the realm of building blocks and playing games. There’s just something about cuddling with mommy that does the trick faster than any medicine or bandage.

As we’re getting ready to welcome this new little person home and I battle the slightly terrifying feelings of the unknown, I keep reminding myself that she and I are already well acquainted. I have, after all, been holding her closely for the last 38 weeks.

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Spring has Sprung!

Over the weekend, Parker and I went on a “flower hunt” around our property. Both armed with cameras, we trudged around the yard (okay, I was trudging with my 9 month pregnant bulk, Parker was frolicking) looking for all of the different varieties of flowers that have bloomed. These photographic journeys are something that Parker and I do a lot together. We’ll drive to a random location, I’ll hand him a camera and the only goal is to take pictures of whatever captures his attention. We’ll then compare photos to see if we found the same things interesting. I love that he’s embracing photography and it’s a trip to see how incredibly proud he is of his pictures. Taking pictures is also a great way to document our day and to make the Irishman feel like he was with us during our various photo expeditions. Anyways, here is our pictorial depiction of spring:

(My pictures with a Nikon D90 and a 50mm 1.8D lens)

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(Parker’s Pictures with a Cannon PowerShot SD600 Digital Elph)

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I can’t wait to see what pictures Parker takes at the hospital in a couple of weeks when we welcome his baby sister! It will be awesome to have him document that day from his perspective.

Dreamland

Is there anything more peaceful than a sleeping child? I’m always amazed that this little person, who has so much energy and life while awake, can be so incredibly still in his sleep. While we are well beyond the point of regular naps (he dropped those like a bad habit a year ago), every so often, he will go and lay down to catch a little snooze. With quiet time at a premium these days, those stolen hours of peace in the middle of the day are more precious to me than gold.

Making Kataifi – My Favorite Greek Pastry

Kataifi is by far my favorite Greek pastry. It has a similar taste to Baklava, but uses a dough that is the consistency of angel hair instead of the traditional phyllo. The method I’m going to show you here with regard to assembling the dessert is technically cheating. I’ll explain how in just one second, but first, here is the what the dough looks like.

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My mother is my personal distributor of the kataifi dough, but you can buy it at a specialty market if you don’t have the Greek mother hook up. As you can see, the dough comes in about a 3 inch wide strip and is a large bundle of thin strands.

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If we were going to make this the traditional way, we would spread out the kataifi dough into one long strip and start separating out small bundles of dough that would work with individually. Doing it that way is an incredibly amount of work and while the presentation is lovely, the resulting flavor is no different than what I’m going to show you below. So, without further ado, here’s what you’ll need:

2 sticks of butter, melted
3 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 package of Kataifi phyllo
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves

Simple Syrup:
2.5 cups sugar
3 cups water
2 Tbs. honey
squeeze of lemon

We’re going to begin by making the simple syrup. Go ahead and add the sugar and water to a saucepan, bring it to a rolling simmer and let it cook for 15 minutes. Once 15 minutes have passed, mix in the 2 Tbs. of honey and the squeeze of lemon juice and set the simple syrup aside while we assemble and cook the kataifi.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the chopped nuts, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and set aside. Then go ahead and butter a glass dish.

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Next, spread out 1/4 of the kataifi phyllo on the bottom of the dish and drizzle it liberally with butter.

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Spoon 1/3 of the nut mixture over the kataifi phyllo.

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Repeat this process two more times by adding the next 1/4 of the Kataifi phyllo, drizzle it liberally again with butter and then add another 1/3 of the nut mixture. Finally, add the last 1/4 of the kataifi dough and drizzle the rest of the butter over the top. It will seem like a lot of butter, but go ahead and add it all.

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We’re going to bake the kataifi in a 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Once you’ve taken it out of the oven, go ahead and spoon the fully cooled simple syrup over the top and let it sit until the kataifi cools completely. Then, take a very sharp knife and cut individual sized portions and get ready to fall in love with this dessert.

Oh and pretend that there’s a picture of the finished dessert here. I completely forgot to take one as I devoured the pan over the next 4 days.

Heading up the River of Denial…Without a Paddle

Last night, as we were settling onto the couch to watch a movie together after Parker was tucked in for the night, I looked at my husband and said, “You realize that we are woefully under-prepared to bring home a baby right now, don’t you?” His eloquent response was, “Yup.”

For some unfathomable reason, we just haven’t gotten around to doing the necessary physical and (emotional) preparations for the baby. There is no hospital bag packed, the car seat and bassinet are still uninstalled and in storage and if this baby shows up before April 5th (when my mother-in-law is getting into town), we really don’t have a defined plan of action with regard to having someone watch Parker if we need to head to the hospital.

Considering that I will be 37 weeks in a matter of days, this is not good! While I was lying awake last night for my usual bout of pregnancy insomnia, I was trying to figure out why someone like me (usually a neurotic, obsessive planning freak of nature) could be cutting it so close for something so important and I came up with a couple of reasons. First off, I still have so much to do before my due date, that it feels much farther away than 3.5 weeks. Secondly, I’m just not nearly as uncomfortable with this baby as I was with Parker at this time. Comparing the two pregnancies, I’m about 20 lbs. lighter right now than I was on my delivery date and it looks like overall, this baby girl is just smaller in size. Compared to the the exploding cantaloupe feeling that I had with Parker, I feel about 7 months pregnant instead of almost full term, so it seems kind of surreal that she could be here at any point from here onwards.

If I’m being honest, I’m probably also kind of sad that our days as a family of three are numbered. While I know that once she’s here, it will feel like she’s always been here, as of right now, I am hoarding each day I get to spend with my boys. I know that things will change forever in just a matter of weeks and I guess I’m just not ready to mentally commit to that switch just yet. So in a weird way, it feels like if I’m not physically ready for her, she’ll take a little longer to get here. I feel so incredibly blessed that we were able to get pregnant easily and successfully, but at the same time, a part of me is feeling loyalty to Parker. I’m not sure if that sounds weird and I’m sure that I’ll feel incredibly silly for voicing that the second that this sweet girl is in our arms, but there it is.

Now, I better get moving because (knowing Murphy’s Law) she’ll be here within the week!

Loukoumades

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My first memory of eating loukoumades was at the annual Greek Festival where my mom was in charge of the loukoumades booth annually. She would spend 3 very long days making batter and serving up this scrumptious dessert to the masses from sun up to sun down. As you can imagine, she had no desire to make them at home in the interim, so they became a treat that we ate once a year at the festival. In case you are wondering what they are, loukoumades are light, fried dough balls that are drizzled with honey, nuts and a touch of cinnamon. They are, in essence, the Greek version of a beignet, but they’re much lighter in density because they do not contain eggs or milk.

(Fast forward to last month) I was lamenting to my mom that I would give almost anything for a large bowl of loukoumades when she casually said, “No problem, I’ll show you how to make them when we come up in a couple of weeks.” What? WHAT?!? I could have been making these delicious, airy bites of fried dough all along and I didn’t even know it?!? I assumed that it was such a cumbersome process that the only way to make them was in huge batches, so I never bothered asking before. Talk about feeling deceived. Luckily, I’m quick to forgive such a gross injustice and the second day my parents were in town, I was armed and ready with my camera and a notepad.

Here are the ingredients:
1 packet of yeast
2 cups of pretty warm, but not hot water (110 degrees)
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vinegar
about 3 cups of flour

Now, are you ready to find out how ridiculously easy it is to make these? First, you put the yeast and water into a large bowl and you stir to dissolve it. Then, go ahead and add in the rest of the ingredients. Add in enough flour so that the batter is no thicker than pancake batter.

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Cover the batter and put it in a warm, draft-free place to let it rise for one hour. When it’s done, it will have increased in size and have little air bubbles on the surface.

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Next, heat up some vegetable oil in a medium to large saucepan. You want to work in small batches because these fry up in no time flat. You know your oil is hot enough when you drop in a pinch of bread and it sizzles right away. Once the oil is up to temperature, go ahead a drop in spoonfuls of batter, making sure not to crowd the pan.

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The dough will instantly start to puff up and the bottom will turn a nice, golden brown. When it does, go ahead and turn them over.

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Once they are golden all over, use a slotted spoon to lift them out of the oil and and place them on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain the excess oil. Keep going until you’ve used all of the batter. Once you’re done, serve them up in a bowl and drizzle them with honey. You can also add a sprinkle of walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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Then, dig in an be amazed at how such basic ingredients can create something so heavenly. The best part of the loukoumades is the light, airy texture.

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Having a bowl (or three) of these brings me right back to those evenings spent as a kid at the Greek festival with music playing in the background and dancers putting on hourly performances. It wasn’t quite the same as being in Greece, but it was a great way to celebrate our culture with others who were appreciative. Now please, go and make these. It is definitely worth it.

Gearing Up For A Race. Want To Join Me?

The last time I laced up my running shoes, I was 5 months pregnant. I think I made it a mile before I admitted that the discomfort definitely outweighed the gains. With great reluctance, I got home from that run and moved my running shoes to the back of the closet where they would remain for the next 5-6 months.

The decision to stop running was a hard one for me to make because I know how hard it is to start over. After all, I only began my running journey 3 years ago, so the agony of “building a base” and getting to the point where 5 miles was “easy” is still very fresh in my brain. I was hoping to keep my conditioning as long as possible, but alas, there came a point when I needed to just let it go.

Which brings me to right now. Although I still have one month left in this pregnancy and one month of recovery afterwards, I just picked my first post-baby race – a half-marathon that will take place on September 17th. Presuming that I will be back up and running (literally) by June 1st, that will give me 3.5 months (or about 16 weeks) to train. I’m already anticipating how difficult the first 4 weeks will be, but I also know that I’ve been through it before and come out on the other side. In other words, I’m confidant that I’ll be able to pull it off.

So, here comes the part where I invite you to join me. I don’t mean joining me in the race itself (unless you want to come to North Carolina), but I mean in starting, or continuing, a running journey. Have you wanted to train for a race – be it a 5K, 10K or half – but you just haven’t picked a training plan? Or have you been training okay, but have yet to pick a race to sign up for? I think that now is as good a time as any to make the decision to commit and in the words of Nike, let’s “Just Do It!”

Beginning on June 1st, I’m going to add a regular feature to the Dailycynema where I’ll share with you my weekly training plans and meal plans. I’ll also, naturally, be sharing the daily pain, struggle and success that goes along with building my running base again after a 1/2 year hiatus. So, take a bit of time to think it over, but come June 1st, let’s get started on reaching our goals together.

Remember – the golden rule here is “No excuses.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way and one way or another, we’ll get it done together. So get excited! Oh and get some Advil, we’ll probably need it.