Sweet Potato Tots and Cinnamon Dipping Sauce

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Almost three years ago, our family took a trip to Savannah, Georgia to meet up with dear friends. I was about 8 weeks pregnant with Lexi and in the throes of morning sickness. We spent a lot of time in restaurants, which means that I spent a lot of time hiding my face in my shoulder trying to block out the smells of food. In fact, about the only thing I ate that whole weekend was sweet potato fries with a vanilla-cinnamon dipping sauce. It was delicious.

I’ve bought sweet potato fries often since then (the Alexia brand is my favorite), but I was at a loss on where to begin making the dipping sauce. Until yesterday. My darling cousin, Kim, posted a picture of Alexia sweet potato tots with a sweet dipping sauce on Facebook and I knew I needed the recipe stat.

Kim said that she made a simple combo of marshmallow fluff and cinnamon (with just a pinch of sugar) for the dipping sauce. I swung by the store on the way home today to pick up the marshmallow fluff and set out to make it for myself.

Now, marshmallow fluff is not something that I normally eat, but with only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons and 6 ingredients (corn syrup, sugar, water, egg whites, xanthan gum and salt), it wasn’t nearly as lethal as I was envisioning when I was on my way to pick it up from the store. Mind you, I wasn’t to be deterred, but I’m happy that it wasn’t the kryptonite that I thought.

I wanted the consistency to be a bit thinner than straight marshmallow fluff, so I heated up the fluff in a ramekin for 10 seconds and added a splash of half and half. I also added a healthy amount of cinnamon (maybe a 1/2 teaspoon) and then I whisked it for a good 60 seconds. At first, it’s going to look like the fluff and the milk won’t incorporate, but just keep whisking. I promise it will!

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The best part is that after the dip returns to room temperature, it will thicken up slightly and turn into a delicious, creamy dip. This dip is so insanely delicious that I plan on serving the sweet potato tots and dip to the kids for dessert from now on. Enjoy!

Family Weddings

This past weekend, my big brother got married to a fabulous woman. Frankly, I couldn’t be happier about it. They’re lovely together and I’m glad that my whole clan made it down for the festivities. Parker was already in Florida for his annual “Stay with my grandparents at their beach condo” summer vacation, so the Irishman and I drove down with Lexi over two days before reuniting with Parker in Orlando.

I was mildly terrified of the drive. I mean, this is a child who can freak out between here and the grocery store that is just four miles away, so I wasn’t sure how terrible 20+ hours of driving over 4 days would be. Truth be told, she did amazingly well. I went armed with Play Doh, markers, coloring books, snacks and a portable DVD player that I borrowed from a friend (since I can’t seem to find ours in the disaster that is our basement). My car is trashed, but we got there and back with our sanity in check.

Once we got to Orlando, we met up with Parker right away. We were so happy to see each other. He said, “I had a great time, but I sure did miss you!” We missed him, too. Like crazy. You know, every family member adds a certain resonance of presence to the house and when someone is missing from the equation, the house just feels difference. The added quiet is nice for a day or two, but after that, things just feel off. I’m happy to have both kids back under one roof.

Shortly after we arrived in Orlando, we headed to the church for the rehearsal. Parker was the ring bearer, Lexi was a flower girl and I was doing a reading of Corinthians in both Greek and English. I stressed about the reading big time because some of our Greek family was going to be there and I didn’t want to screw up the¬†pronunciation of anything so I pretty much spend all of Friday (both before and after the rehearsal) practicing the reading over and over again. Have I mentioned how much I hate being the center of attention? Big time nerves.

After the church rehearsal (where thankfully I didn’t have to do the entire reading), we headed to a very cool venue for the rehearsal dinner. There was both a large wedding party and a number of out of town guests, so the rehearsal dinner was about 60 guests strong. Here are some pictures from the party.

Dean and Marissa’s rehearsal dinner cake was such a representation of who they are and what they like. So cool, right?

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The cozy venue where everyone got to chat and catch up.

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Cutting the cake and practicing for the big day that followed. No surprise that Parker was the first one in line for cake. Ha!

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We left the rehearsal dinner at about 9pm (waaay past Lexi’s bed time) and after helping her through her inevitable meltdown, we all tucked in for the night and surprisingly, both kids slept very well considering we were in a hotel and Lexi was in a Pack and Play.

The wedding day itself was a tricky time table to manage. With a 3pm start time, we had to get Lexi down for an early nap so that she was well-rested for the big day. We headed out with some friends around 10am to a nearby lake (Hi Liv!). There was a one-mile loop around the lake and we encouraged the kids to walk the whole loop to tire them out. The lake was teeming with fish, ducks and turtles. The kids had a great time checking out the wildlife.

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And then we started to walk. It was a hot day (well, a hot day for our mountain kids) so we stopped at every covered tent area. Parker was over hot and tired and I think that he’s nearing the age where his patience with my photo-taking is waning. This is not an amused face.

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Lexi, on the other hand, still loves the camera. And you know what? The camera loves her, too. Such a serious face for such a little girl.

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Believe it or not, our plan worked. Lexi fell asleep on the way home from the lake, while she was napping in the Pack and Play, Parker and the Irishman took a shower, got dressed and snuck out to get lunch. She woke up with just enough time to eat and get ready and we arrived at the church at 2:45pm. With only 15 minutes to spare, we were trying to keep the kids quiet in the atrium while waiting for the bridal party to arrive. I was so stressed out about the reading that I didn’t have the presence of mind to take any pictures of the children. There were, thankfully, two professional photographers there, so I will share some lovely shots of my munchkins when those pictures are released.

My reading was very early in the ceremony and it went fairly well (I counted three errors, but there were probably like 36) and then I could turn my attention to the ceremony where my big brother tied the knot. My new sister-in-law was drop dead gorgeous. Her dress was perfection and they looked stunning. Really.

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The reception was an amazing party. Lexi had a babysitter upstairs and Parker stole the show with his break dancing. Who knew that all dancing at home would pay off in a public venue? It was a great night and Lexi hung in there until just after 9pm.

The next day was our marathon driving day. We let the kids sleep in until 8am, so we didn’t hit the road until about 9:30 or so. We probably stopped a total of 5 times over the next 11 hours and amazingly, the kids endured with no tears and no freak outs. I still can’t believe it. Even so, driving for that long with children is exhausting and I’m glad that we don’t have to do it again soon. It is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Well, that was our trip in a nutshell. I can’t wait to see the official wedding photos – I’ll be sure to share them when they’re out! Weddings – so fun.

 

Chopped Salad To Die For

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Back in February, I went to my friend Kristin’s house for a girls night. She served us gals a bunch of delicious things, but none of them was as notable as this chopped salad. I literally paused after my first bite to exclaim, “Holy crap – what is in this? It’s delicious!” After that, I scarfed down the rest of the salad (and got a second helping) in record time.

She sent me the link to the recipe originally found on cookitallergyfree.com (you can find that original recipe here), but I’ve since modified it to suit my tastes. In fact, that’s the best thing about this salad – add in what you like, leave out what you don’t and I’d bet my favorite hat that it’s delicious. The secret is in the homemade dressing, which is the real gem of this recipe.

Dressing:

1 cup buttermilk*
1 cup mayo (I use Vegannaise)
1/2 cup prepared pesto sauce (I use the jarred one from the pasta isle)
2 Tbs. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

*I never have buttermilk on hand, so I just add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for 5 minutes. Presto – you have buttermilk!

Now, just add all of the dressing ingredients together in a mixing bowl and whisk together until combined. I mix mine together in a large glass measuring cup that has a rubber lid (I think it’s made by Anchor and I got it from WalMart). I like the easy pour spout of the measuring cup and the lid is helpful because you can stir it, pour it and cover it for next time. I know this dressing lasts for at least 5 days because that’s how many days in a row I ate it when I first got the recipe.

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Okay, now for my preferred salad ingredients.

Salad Ingredients:

Mixed lettuces (usually whatever is at the Farmers Market)
Diced tomatoes
Diced carrots
Diced onions
Diced baby bella mushrooms
Chopped broccoli
Sunflower seed kernels
Chopped walnuts
Chopped dried cherries
Roasted corn*
Chopped smoked salmon (for me) or diced chicken (for the Irishman)

*I only add the roasted corn if I’m feeling fancy. To roast it, I just buy the organic frozen corn kernels, put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast them for 30 minutes in a 300 degree over. They need to cool completely for the salad, so you can make them ahead of time easily.

Okay, the key to this salad is that the chopped lettuce (which you should chop pretty finely) is only about 1/6 the volume of the total salad. For most traditional salads, the lettuce is the main event and the sides just briefly make an appearance. For this chopped salad, every ingredient gets equal billing.

The original recipe’s website has an awesome presentation where everything is lined up beautifully. I’d probably take the time to do that if I wanted the WOW factor, but since I’m mostly just serving this for myself, I just throw all of the ingredients in a bowl, drizzle a healthy amount of the dressing on top, toss it really well so that everything is coated and call it a day.

For me, the best thing about a chopped salad is that every single bite has dressing on it. I mean, don’t you just hate when the top of your salad is saturated with dressing, yet the sad little lettuce leaves on the bottom of your bowl are bereft of any dressing love? Why did it take me over 3 decades to figure out the beauty of a chopped salad?

The important thing is that I now know and I’ll never go back to whole lettuce leaf salads. ¬†If you’re looking at this and thinking, “That looks great, but I don’t have the time to chop all those ingredients up every single time I want this salad!” Have no fear – here’s what you do.

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1. Chop all of your lettuce finely and put it in an extra large mason jar (or other airtight salad04storage container).

2. Chop your veggies (I usually do everything but the tomatoes, which can be runny) finely and put them in a separate container. *Hint – I layer the veggies as I chop them so that when I shake the mason jar, they distribute easily.

3. Combine your dry ingredients (nuts, sunflower seeds, dried cherries) and put them in a third container.

When you’re ready to assemble your salad, just shake out some lettuce, some veggies and some of your dry mix. Chop up your tomato and your protein (smoked salmon or cooked chicken), throw it in there and add in as much of the dressing that you want. With everything thing pre-chopped you can eat this every day of the week with virtually zero additional prep time.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!