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Dear Joshua

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Dear Joshua,

Today you are 18 weeks, 3 days old. You have changed so much in your short life already, I can’t believe it.  You’ve more than doubled your birth weight and grown over 6 inches. You’ve gone from crying through diaper changes, to grunting and snorting through them (oh I miss those snorts!), to smiling through them (which is a pretty good trade-off, even if you don’t do the snorts any more).  My still baby has turned into a wriggling delight, making diaper changes challenging, and bedtime hilarious.  You push up and back with your heels while I change your diaper, then curl your knees upward toward your chest and bite your hands, making a little “ach” sound. As soon as I get the diaper back in place under your bottom, you push backward again and repeat the process.  When I put you to bed for the night, you do the same curling inward thing, pulling your hands up inside the swaddle toward your mouth, even though your swaddle prevents you reaching it.  Then you give me your biggest smile and start wriggling and kicking inside your swaddle.  I have to leave you to kick yourself to sleep, because as long as I stand over you, you are kicking and wriggling and smiling.  I always want to laugh, but I resist to avoid rousing you any more than you already are, so that you can fall asleep as quickly as you always do.

“What’s with all the flashing lights?” With Grandpa Miller

Though for naps, you aren’t nearly as cheerful or obliging.  You almost always cry when it’s time for a nap, and while I’ve become pretty good at soothing you, it’s still nerve-frazzling and heartbreaking to hear that cry for any length of time.  I sometimes have to give up on getting you to take your naps, especially the afternoon naps, and let you skip them, but always pay for it later.  On those days, you are so tired by bedtime that you have a complete meltdown and soothing you takes a long time and I have to pull out all the tricks I’ve learned that help to calm you down. What works better than anything else is holding you sideways, your chest to my chest, and bouncing you up and down while rocking side to side or front to back, and then popping a pacifier in your mouth as soon as you settle enough to take it. The pacifier isn’t always needed, but can help if you’re extra inconsolable.  You do this cute thing with your mouth every time when you finally settle down. Your eyes drift closed, slowly open, close again, and you pucker your lips and stick your tongue behind them, stick it out a little bit, and then boom.  You’re out.

In the last couple weeks you’ve changed more quickly & dramatically than at any other time.  You are suddenly so much more interested in the world around you, and in the toys I present you with, reaching for them, hitting them, shaking them, biting and sucking on them.  I accidentally deleted the video of you first showing interest in a toy, but thankfully uploaded it to Facebook first, so you can watch yourself playing with the giraffe toy from Grandma Miller that hangs over your changing table here (click “HD” at the bottom of the video to show a more clear version).

Your talking Tow Mater toy from Grandma Miller kept you happy with tummy time a lot longer than Mama ever could:

And here you are enjoying your ball rattle from Great Aunt Dorothy for the first time:

Even better, you’ve finally started to roll over, and I got my first giggles out of you this week!  We visited your Daddy’s family and Grandma Miller got the best giggles out of you by far!  She made you giggle, which  made us giggle, which made you giggle, and it just went on and on.  I was too caught up in the joy of it to think about taking a video, but hopefully I’ll catch that soon.  I want to capture the sound of your giggle before your voice changes again.  Already your cry is so much deeper than a couple months ago, when everyone used to think you were a cat meowing when you cried.

Carson holds his baby cousin while Auntie Joan eagerly awaits her turn (again). :)

Great Aunt Lois gets a turn. You’re still not used to Mom’s new camera! (My old one finally bit the dust after taking many videos of you :) )

Thanks to you, I haven’t written a Thankful Thursday in months.  Because they would all be about you and since I talk about you more than anything else now, I’m afraid my blog would be just way too redundant to gush about our little blessing every Thursday.  Maybe some day I will move beyond my gratitude for you and remember there are other things to be thankful for, but for now I don’t need or want to.  I’m sure you know by now how much we wanted you and how much we love you, and you’re probably sick of hearing it, but it will always be true.  Last week you were dazzling us with your usual morning cheer (you are crazy happy in the mornings, and it makes us a little less grumpy to be faced with such such huge smiles when we’re just wanting a little more sleep), and I told your Dad that we’re so lucky.  He said, “I know.  I knew that when we found out he had a brain on the sonogram.”  You know Dad. :)  Hopefully by the time you read this our standards for what impresses us will have grown a little, and you have been inspired by our expectations to do more than just exist.  Which is all we really require of you right now.  Your mere existence is heaven.

Love, Mom

Chicken and Dumpling Casserole

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Chicken & Dumpling Casserole | veronicascornucopia.com

Although the first day of spring has come and gone, it’s been chilly and blustery here in Kansas, so I thought I’d share this warm and delicious casserole for everyone that’s still eagerly awaiting spring before it’s hot and sweltering and nobody wants to bake a casserole. This is pure comfort food and perfect to warm the soul on a chilly day.  It’s very quick and simple to make, which is good if you have a baby that has decided that if you aren’t holding him or playing with him or taking him on a stroller ride, he isn’t happy, because you won’t have to listen to him scream for very long  before dinner is in the oven. ;)

Chicken and Dumpling Casserole

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3 – 4 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite sized pieces (use rotisserie chicken if desired)
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken broth
1 (10.75 oz) can cream of chicken soup

Preheat oven to 400F. Place butter in 9″ X 13″ baking dish and place in oven while it’s preheating. Once butter is melted, you can remove the pan to continue with the recipe, or let it cook a little to brown it and add an extra dimension of flavor. Be sure to watch it if you decide to let it brown because it can go from nutty to burnt pretty quickly.

Remove pan from the oven and sprinkle prepared chicken over the top of the butter. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, flour, baking powder and salt. Pour over the chicken, but do not stir. In same bowl, after scraping out as much flour mixture as possible, whisk together chicken broth and cream of chicken soup. Pour that over top of casserole; do not stir.

Bake uncovered for 35 – 45 minutes. When done, the top will be beautifully browned and bubbly around the edges.

Yield: about 6 servings

Veronica’s notes: I boiled a whole chicken for this recipe. It was about 5 lbs and I covered it with water in a stock pot and added a teaspoon of salt, boiling for an hour or two. I forgot to set the timer so I really don’t know how long I boiled it because I was so busy with the baby- lol. If you make it this way, it’s very economical, and you automatically make your own broth to use in the recipe.

Recipe source: The Better Baker

A budding musician?

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Joshua may not be able to play the guitar or form words well enough to sing yet (not that he doesn’t try though, and it’s too cute!), but I think he’s doing pretty good with his musician impressions. I think he waits until he’s in the right outfit to break them out, too.

Here are the videos from the past month. I’ve been trying to keep them shorter so they’re easier to watch.

If you don’t like hearing babies cry, you might want to skip the first 45 seconds of this one, but the ending is so cute you have to see it. :)

Tennessee Banana-Black Walnut Cake with Caramel Frosting

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We celebrated Father’s Day early this year!  OK, truth be told, I made this cake for Father’s Day five years ago.  This is probably the longest it’s ever taken me to blog a recipe, but with the Black Walnut Banana Bread recipe I shared earlier this week, I figured it was about time.

You know a cake is good when you can still remember the flavor five years after you ate it.  This cake is what turned me onto using black walnuts in banana bread – the pairing is ever so perfect.  And the caramel frosting just puts it over the top!  Enjoy it for Father’s Day, or Mother’s Day, or just because you really need this cake in your life. Because you do.

Tennessee Banana-Black Walnut Cake with Caramel Frosting

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

Cake:
1/2 cup (3 1/4 oz) solid vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 large overripe bananas
1/4 cup (2 oz) buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (8 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (4 oz) chopped black walnuts

Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup (7 1/2 oz) packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more as necessary
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 (16 oz) box confectioner’s sugar
2 cups (8 oz) finely chopped black walnuts, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

For the cake: In a medium bowl, stir together flour and baking soda; set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream together shortening and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in mashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add flour mixture, mix until just combined. Stir in black walnuts.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool in pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare frosting. Melt butter in saucepan. Add brown sugar and cream. Cook over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.

Using a handheld electric mixer, beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. If frosting is too thick, add 1 tablespoon heavy cream at a time until consistency is right. Sandwich 2 layers of cake with icing. Ice the outside of the cake. Surround sides of cake with crushed black walnuts.

*Cook’s note: DO NOT substitute English walnuts for black walnuts.

Black Walnut Banana Bread

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Well look at that, I wrapped a slice just for you! ;)

If you’ve never tasted the magic that happens when you combine banana and black walnuts, you need to try it, starting with this bread! Black walnuts used to be the only nut I used in my banana bread and I have no idea what happened but for some reason, I just stopped and totally forgot about them.  Maybe because they are harder to find, I moved on to using pecans, my overall favorite nut for baking, and didn’t remember the superior black walnut until my Mom gave me a bag from the Nifty Nuthouse recently.  I seriously wasted about three years on black walnut-less banana bread before she reminded me of the wondermosity that is the black walnut.

There is something really special about black walnuts in combination with banana. I also like to use them in banana cake- both in it and on top of the icing.  Just so good.  I can’t describe the flavor but there’s a little something extra to them that the regular walnuts don’t have.  I want to say they have a sulfuric  quality but I’m not sure that’s exactly right.  You’ll have to tell me how you would describe them because I’m at a loss.

I made this particular recipe very simple in order to showcase the banana and black walnut flavors without muddying the waters with butter or vanilla or cinnamon or  bourbon, et al.  I’m really partial to using oil in quick breads and cake because, in my opinion, it makes a superior crumb that butter just can not compete with, except in flavor, of course.  When the butter flavor isn’t necessary, I happily use oil.  I’ve made this bread both ways, and we both prefer the oil version – much more moist, tender, and almost silky.  The butter version is good, but not as good.  It’s also heavier and more dense.  I really recommend trying it this way before you scoff at the lack of butter.  You won’t believe how good it is!

Black Walnut Banana Bread

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 ½ cups (14 oz) mashed overripe banana
½ cup (3 1/2 oz) vegetable oil
½ cup (2 ¼ oz) black walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a large 9×5 loaf pan with oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the banana and oil and whisk until completely incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the wet mixture into the dry, then use the spatula to stir until somewhat blended. Add the black walnuts and stir until everything is just combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 70 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Invert onto your hot pad-covered hand and then invert again onto a cooling rack to cool as long as you can stand it. Wrap up to seal in moisture if it doesn’t get eaten in one sitting. :)

Just had to share this cautionary photo of my thumbs after I’d tried to harvest my own black walnuts since they grow abundantly in the neighborhoods around here. It took me two hours to fill maybe a single teaspoon with tiny little nut shards (it’s so hard to get through the shell!) and my thumb nails broke through the latex gloves I was wearing while I was working on them and my thumbs were stained like this for weeks. I highly recommend paying for them – the free nuts are just not worth the effort!

We had a coupon

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I kind of hate coupons.  Coupons lead me buy things I normally wouldn’t buy, so although it seems like I’m saving money, I’m really just spending money I wouldn’t have spent if I didn’t have the coupon.  In the case of a photo coupon I printed out for Portrait Innovations, which was the opposite situation in that I did want to buy pictures and it was a very good deal, I was led to buy so many pictures, I have no idea what I’m going to do with them all and now we are broke.  But unlike when I use a coupon to buy a huge bag of chocolate, this was so worth it. :)  Enjoy the cause of our poverty.

Joshua’s been working on his Elvis lip since he was just a few weeks old.  He also just started to sing with us at church (and I kid you not, his coos were on key), so we may have a future “King” on our hands. ;)

“I don’t always wear hats, but when I do, women find me irresistible.”

“Your story’s all full of holes, Louis, and soon you will be too.”

“How you doin’?”

If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear he was a shameless flirt! ;)

Love his goofy grin.

Angel baby pose. :)

And just for fun, here’s one of the ultra-horrible ones.

Priceless. :)

Notes on Joshua: he was 14 weeks in these photos, now 15 weeks. Where does the time go?! He has his four month shots next Monday. Not looking forward to that. :( He is smiling more and more and I am waiting for giggles. He does little chuckles but I want full out laughter. I really suck at tummy time and pretty much only do it by putting him on his tummy on my chest while I’m leaning back on the couch because he fusses the least that way, but somehow he’s gaining strength in his neck and is able to hold his head up for quite a while despite my suckage.  I think he’ll be able to keep it up when the doc tests it next week (it’s cute, he holds him up over his head like a flying baby to see if he can keep his head up. He almost made it last month but dropped it after a few seconds). He’ll also get his bilirubin tested and I’m sure it’s normal by now, or it better be! Also, he hasn’t peed on me during a diaper change in at least a month – yay! :)  Also, it looks like his newborn eye color has turned to blue which took me by surprise as most everyone agreed his dark color looked like it would turn to brown. Yay for blue eyes like Daddy!  (And lashes like Momma’s) My little stud muffin. :)

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

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Looky what I did! I kind of feel like a rock star, having made my first batch of cookies post-baby, and not even the bar kind. The kind you actually form the dough into individual balls before baking.  I still haven’t recovered the sleep I lost over them since devoting this kind of time to baking requires staying up at night while the baby is sleeping, but they were oh so worth it.  And who am I kidding, I do that every night anyway! :)

Mel worked hard to perfect her recipe, and the cookies are truly wonderful.  Soft and chewy, which is my favorite cookie texture, with the crunch of macadamia nuts and the complimentary sweetness of white chocolate.  Cookie perfection.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces white chocolate chips
1 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup toasted coconut (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar with a handheld mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) until the mixture is well-combined. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy and light in color, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the salt and baking soda until incorporated, then stir in the flour until just combined; a few streaks of flour are OK. Add the white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts and mix until combined and no streaks of flour remain.

Roll tablespoon (or slightly larger) size balls of dough and place on silpat or parchment lined baking sheets, 1 to 2 inches apart. Bake for 9-11 minutes and remove from pan to cool on wire racks. Repeat with remaining dough.

*Veronica’s Notes: if using unsalted butter, increase salt in the recipe to 1 1/4 teaspoons.  If your macadamia nuts are roasted and salted like mine, you might want to reduce the amount of salt. I omitted it completely since both my butter and nuts were salted. I added toasted coconut to half the batch (unphotographed because they were gone by the time I broke the camera out), and although they weren’t the classic white chocolate macadamia nut cookie, they were even better in their own class. I like both versions so I recommend you try half and half!

Recipe source: slightly tweaked from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

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