Friday, March 30, 2012

Play Time

I feel like I have been doing a lot of posts that start with "Today we went to the playground..." I hope this isn't too boring for my readers. But we've been having some beautiful spring weather. This is the best time of year for getting outside every day, before it gets too hot. And, like their mama, Jackson and Olivia are not homebodies. We like to get out of the house each morning and go do something fun. When you're two or three, that means hitting as many playgrounds as possible.

With the high cost of daycare, I'll probably be staying at home with my kids until they start elementary school. I've gone back and forth about this decision in the past. Now I feel good about it.  Am I the best person to be around my kids 24/7 in terms of providing them all the experiences and education they need? Well, maybe not, because I'm not a teacher.  Sitting down and trying to get my kids to learn things, when they'd rather be running around in the backyard spraying each other with the hose, is not my strong suit. My philosophy is that they learn from exploring their world and interacting with others. But I realize they do also need to know their ABC's. That is why Jackson started attending daycare two mornings a week. Now that his first school year is almost over, I think it's one of the best decisions we have made for him.  His teacher is amazing and he loves going to school. Even though his daycare emphasizes play, he has learned so much. While he's there, I get to spend one-on-one time with my sweet Olivia. And on the days he doesn't attend school, we cram as much excitement into our hours together as possible. Because they do go by so fast.

Today we went to a new playground that was designed for children of all abilities. For example, there are fire trucks and racecars and even swings, big enough to maneuver a wheelchair into, so kids who use wheelchairs can enjoy them, too. There are also play stations designed to appeal to children with autism and other special needs. Here's more info about the park. I just think it's a really great, inclusive thing for our city to have.

Of course, Jackson was just thrilled that they had a fire truck. There's an entire pretend village with a fire station, car dealership, and other buildings, all constructed on a kid-friendly scale.

There was a red and a blue racecar. Jackson insisted on driving the red one because, "It's like Lightning McQueen!" Ah, marketing.

I'd never seen a merry-go-round designed like this. I liked that it seemed very, um, hard to fall out of.

Olivia tired of it after a few minutes, but I think Jackson could ride a merry-go-round all day. As long as someone else is doing the pushing.

Still not tired...

I wasn't sure what to make of this odd structure. It looked like a grocery conveyor belt for children. But the kids loved it and seemed to intuitively know what to do, sliding themselves right through.

For dinner we had the Thai Crunch Salad from Peas and Thank You. I couldn't find wonton strips at my supermarket, so I used chow mein noodles, figuring they would add the necessary crunch. (Later I learned that wonton strips are not in the Asian section, where I looked, but in a special "salad fixins" display in the produce department.)

This recipe made a lot. I'd never used a napa cabbage before and I couldn't believe how giant it was. An entire head of napa plus a head of romaine lettuce means that we have generous leftovers. We all liked it, but Tony suggested doubling the amount of tofu next time since there's so much salad. Same with the almond dressing -- it's awesome, but I'm going to have to blend up another batch in order to dress the leftovers tomorrow.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mexican Food Worth Driving Six Hours For

Last weekend we traveled to Oklahoma to celebrate Olivia's second birthday with family.


She loved being the center of attention, even if she didn't really understand why.

This little purse from her Aunt Janet was her favorite. She carried it around all weekend.

Of course, there was also birthday cake. Look at her eyeing it. "Do I have to share this?"

Jackson was all too eager to help her blow out the candle.

Several of her cousins came over to celebrate with us. It was a loud, rowdy house full of kids. Just the way I like it. Feel free to call me crazy.

I couldn't help think back to her first birthday, which we spent in New York, just the four of us. We still had a good time, but I'm really grateful that this year was different because we live so much closer to our family.

This two-year-old loves her grandma. They crack each other up.

One thing that me, Tony, and his mom all have in common is that we could eat Mexican food pretty much every day. In fact, we did eat it three days in a row on this visit.

I didn't have my camera the first day, when we went to Abuelita's. It was decent, but the least awesome of the three.

Next day, we went to Pepe Delgado's, which in my opinion is the best Mexican restaurant on the planet. It's not an exaggeration to say I've eaten there hundreds of times in my life and yet I still want to catch a meal there every time I am in Oklahoma.

We started with chips and salsa. You get three kinds of salsa -- a fresh salsa, a spicier cooked salsa, and an avocado salsa.

I ordered the Plato Vegetariano, which is a pile of potatoes, green peppers, and onions, covered in tomatillo salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cilantro. I can never finish it, but I always try. This is my favorite meal of all meals, ever, seriously. I've tried to duplicate it at home but I don't know the magical spell to make it as good as Pepe's.

The next day we hit Ted's Cafe Escondido. The story with Ted's is that there used to be just one location, in Oklahoma City, and you would have to wait for at least an hour to get a table because it was so popular. But now there are a couple of other locations, so the crowds have dispersed somewhat. We went for lunch at the Norman location, and didn't have to wait at all.

So, here is something that Tex-Mex restaurants here in Austin don't do, but almost all the ones in Oklahoma do. When you sit down, they immediately bring to your table a setup of chips, salsas, queso, hot pickled vegetables, and fresh tortillas. And it is all free (as long as you order an entree and don't try to just fill up on the free stuff!)

It's pretty awesome. In Austin, you might get chips and salsa, but some places even charge for those.

I ordered the spinach enchiladas, which were covered in a sour cream-lime sauce. On the side, corn studded with jalapenos, and papas (Mexican mashed potatoes). The enchilada sauce looks heavy, but it was actually very light. These were some fantastic enchiladas.

The other thing that differentiates Oklahoma Mexican (Okla-Mex?) restaurants from the ones in Austin, is that you get free sopapillas at the end of your meal. Yes, if you still have any room in your stomach, they will bring you a little puffy cloud of fried dough, liberally sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with honey.

The perfect end to a perfect meal for our birthday girl.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pretty in Pigtails

Olivia's hair is finally long enough to style. She loves her pigtails.

I love them too. I think they make her look like a real little girl. She's definitely not a baby anymore. She will tell anyone who asks, "I TWO years old!" and proudly hold up two fingers.

Today we went to a fun park with a playscape that looks like a giant wooden castle.

Jackson was a good big brother, pushing Olivia on the tire swing.

Then he had a stint as conductor of the wooden train.  All aboard!

On our way home, we stopped at the store and picked up a few goodies. This Curry-Chipotle Salsa, made by Kala's Kuisine, is amazing. It tastes more like an Indian tomato chutney than what I think of as "salsa." I've been tearing up pieces of naan bread to dip in it.

Larabars were on sale. Yum. I don't buy them very often because they are expensive. I've heard that you can make your own. Have you tried this?

Have a lovely day!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


On a recent trip to the supermarket, I saw a toy that I thought would interest Jackson and Olivia. You may have memories of it from your own childhood. I do.

The idea is that you take these little sponge creatures and soak them in water for several hours. When you come back to check on them, they will have magically grown!

No growth yet...

Still not growing, Olivia reports...

OK, they were a bust. We left them in water for 48 hours and when we dried them off, they were still about the same size as when we started.

Oh well. The kids still thought they were fun to chase each other around with. "My lobster gonna eat your turtle, chomp chomp chomp!"

For dinner I made Cashew Carrot Ginger Soup, from Peas and Thank You. During the last few minutes of cooking, I stirred in some chopped spinach from our garden. Since this soup is full of Indian spices like curry and garam masala, I served it with some fresh naan from a nearby Indian fast food place.

We all loved it.  At least this experiment was a great success!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kiddie Acres

Today we went to check out Kiddie Acres, a tiny amusement park just for little kids.

There was a little train that we rode around the park a couple of times.

Jackson and Olivia loved the carousel.

Jackson rode a ferris wheel for the first time.

He thought it was pretty cool.

There was also a boat ride.

Olivia is a very intense boat captain. Look at that concentration.

We finished up with a little car ride.

We were done with the whole park in about 45 minutes. It's not amazing, but it will be good to keep in mind if I ever want to surprise them with a quick, fun outing.

For dinner we had the Smoky Split Pea Soup from Appetite for Reduction. A family favorite -- we all love it.

I also made pumpkin donuts, breaking in my donut pan for the first time. I used this recipe. The donuts are tasty, although I can't really taste the pumpkin. They taste more like banana bread to me, actually. I added vanilla and a pinch of salt to the glaze recipe. Oh and I also used whole wheat pastry flour in the recipe, to make them a little healthier.

When I think back, I can't remember Jackson and Olivia ever eating donuts before. I don't do Krispy Kreme! So needless to say, they were big fans. A dozen donuts disappear quickly when you have two little ones.

Do you have a donut pan? If so, what is you favorite donut recipe? I'm trying to decide what to make next.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bluebonnet Babies

I know Jackson and Olivia aren't really babies anymore, but for the sake of alliteration -- and to ease my apprehension at how fast they are growing -- here are some photos I took of my "babies" among the bluebonnets, which are popping up in fields all over Texas this week, reminding us that spring has arrived.

For lunch I served Mama Pea's Margarita Smoothie, from Peas and Thank You.  Jackson and Olivia thought the salt rim was hilarious. They would take lick of salt, look at each other, and crack up. And repeat. I was just happy they were consuming spinach, albeit in a concealed form.

For dinner, another PATY recipe -- Pad Thai. I've had many delicious and different versions of vegan pad thai (Vegan with a Vengeance has a great one). This one stands out for its nontraditional, yet tasty, inclusion of asparagus. Every spring I'm like "Asparagus is in season! I should eat some." But then I don't buy it, because I'm not sure what to use it in. Problem solved! This was so good.

Thai is one of those cuisines that I don't eat very often, but when I do, I'm like, "Why don't I eat this more often?!" Do you like Thai food?