Friday, November 30, 2012

Grub It Up: Slow Cooked Pork Carnitas - Two Ways

In an effort to eat semi-healthily this holiday season (well, at least for the few days in between the weeks spent celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years), mom has been firing up the slow cooker a lot lately. It's easy, it makes a ton of food, and, um, it's easy. At first I was upset because I thought mom was literally up "cooking all night" and she wouldn't let me stay up and help. I help get everything in the pot, but I was under the impression that "letting it cook overnight" meant mom was up having fun without me all night. Once mom explained that if she was going to be up all night doing anything, it wasn't going to be cooking, I got back on board with this whole slow cooker thing.

It's rare that we will all eat the same thing, but we all LOVED these pork carnitas, which are relatively healthy and easily adaptable. Mom and dad ate them more traditionally -- in a tortilla -- and Cam and I worked them into brinner, a meal we request pretty much every night. Mom adapted this SkinnyTaste recipe and it turned out super yummy.

Here's the dealio for our tweaked version, which makes 8, 1/2 cup servings:

Carnitas Ingredients
- 2.5 lb pork shoulder blade roast, lean, all fat removed
- 6 cloves garlic, cut into sliver
- cumin
- dry adobo seasoning
- garlic powder
- 3/4 cup 99% fat free chicken broth
- 2 bay leaves

Carnitas Directions 
Season pork with salt and pepper. In a medium saute pan on medium-hight heat, brown pork on all sides for about 10 minutes -- this is an important step - it really makes the roast retain the flavor in the slow cooker. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Using a sharp knife, insert blade into pork, cutting small holes and insert garlic slivers. Season pork generously with cumin, adobo and garlic powder all over.

Pour chicken broth in the slow cooker, add bay leaves. Place pork in cooker and cover. Cook low for 8 hours. After 8 hours, shred pork using two forks and combine well with the juices that accumulated at the bottom. Remove bay leaves and add salt and/or cumin if needed. Let it cooker for another 15-30 minutes.

Like it spicy? SkinnyTaste's recipe called for 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce to go into the cooker. Mom was afraid of making it too spicy for us, so she left that out. Although she added plenty of chipotle Tabasco sauce to the adult carnitas.

Tortilla Option
Mom scooped 1/2 cup of the carnitas into a warmed whole wheat tortilla and added a few squirts of lime juice and a healthy dose of chipotle Tabasco. She topped each with 1/2 ounce of goat cheese and 1/4 of an avocado (it's the good fat, right?).

Kidfriendly Brinner Option
Mom served our carnitas with goat cheese scrambled eggs, avocado, and some fruit. We loved it -- just enough flavor without too much spice, which is good, because we have a tupperware full of it in the 'fridge.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Go Shorty, It's Your Birthday: Fall Festival Birthday Party

Well, seeing as fall is just about over, we told mom that we'd let her post the fall festival birthday party she recently styled for one of our buddies. I like to say that I was very involved in the planning process, although most of my suggestions were in the form of blowing pumpkins up, so I can't say that mom adopted all of them. Lucky for us, we were also invited to the party. So we got to partake in all the festival goodness. For a few weeks after, I was requesting a fall festival birthday party of my own (I did get to wear my pirate costume after all), but I've now moved on to asking for a "busytown, science, harry potter, ninja, post office party." And I'm quite clear that I want all of those covered in one single party. Get on it, mom. Until then, enjoy some of the great pictures from our friend Amelia's second birthday party!

Amelia's parents, Liz and Dan, have an annual Halloween party and Amelia's birthday is October 30th, so she wanted to combined the two, but not have a traditional Halloween theme. Mom and Liz came up with the idea of a fall festival with a vintage carnival feel to it (and requested guests don costumes still). Vicky from luvalexa designed a really great invitation and party package that served as the starting point for the rest of the decorations.  Mom lined the envelopes for the invitation from the party pack and included color-coordinating carnival tickets in each. 

The party was at Amelia's home, which has a great open staircase that we decorated with tissue paper fans and stars (from Luna Bazaar) and handmade poms. Liz made a supercute photo booth backdrop and ordered fun props. A vintage-type finger pointed guests upstairs to the main party area and, as you walked up, the hanging decoration came into view. 

The focal point was the dessert table mom and Liz put together, which featured: a candy bar of colored-coordinating candy, cotton candy on striped straws, baked apple cider donoughts, inside-out caramel apples, and a beautiful (and really yummy) pumpkin patch cake Liz MADE with another friend -- it was amazing. We topped the table with a burlap runner and decorated the mantle with a banner from the party pack hung on purple baker's twine, hanging fans and a lovely wooden "A" made by Route 17 West Weddings. We used apple bushels and crates throughout to help present the food. 

We set up the savory food, including homemade chili, pigs in a blanket and meatballs, in the adjacent dining room. Mom made a pumpkin centerpiece by printing images from the party pack onto inkjet sticker paper and putting those on some pumpkins. A burlap table runner and custom "confetti" also topped the food table. Dan made some delicious kettle corn that we served in popcorn boxes mom made from the party pack. 

The weather was great and we utilized their back deck to set up carnival games (pumpkin bowling and pumpkin cornhole) for the kids (and big kids, too). We kept the party favor simple and seasonal with mini pumpkins topped with a cute thank you tag.

Great party! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Keep It Local: Christmas at Mt. Vernon

Christmas at Mount Vernon starts the day after Thanksgiving, which was fitting this year given that temps dropped dramatically after Turkey Day. Having missed the celebration last year (although we did get to see the Christmas camel his last day there), we made sure to get out there early. Highlights include seasonal decorations (including themed Christmas trees), the recently presidentially-pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys, the Christmas camel! (Aladdin is visiting this year), and a rare tour of the mansion's third floor (where Martha moved after George's death).  Oh, and I behaved the entire tour because I was waiting to hit up the chocolate making demonstration at the end. Not a bad bribe.

For the first two weeks of December (on Saturdays and Sundays only), Mount Vernon is offering candlelit tours, which includes music, dancing and holiday treats. Don't forget -- the estate is open 365 days a year, including Christmas and New Years. So when you're looking for somewhere to escape and burn off some holiday energy, head up to George's old digs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Home Entertainment: Thanksgiving Tablecloth and Giving Thanks

We somehow ended up hosting Thanksgiving this year at our house, which is actually always fine with mom because she never actually cooks anything. I was born just about a month before Thanksgiving and mom and dad didn't want to travel. So they had everyone to our house and had a newborn excuse to have the meal catered. Mom has clung to that excuse and even took it a step further this year -- the turkey will arrive fully cooked.

So, to balance our laziness in cooking, we thought we'd work a bit on holiday decorations. Both Cami and I brought home a huge bounty of school-made decorations, which we rounded out by putting together a pretty fabulous (if I do say so myself) "tablecloth." First, mom covered our dining room table with kraft butcher paper. Then I traced the outline of a plate at each place. Cami and I worked together on the seating assignments (on which we miraculously agreed) and I wrote each person's name at their place. As Cam and I vigorously do-a-dotted the paper and stamped leaves on it (by using the do-a-dot markers as "stamp pads"), mom wrote down what we claimed to be grateful about for each person at their place. We threw in a few extra thanks for other family members, but don't worry if you don't see your name on the list below. We're grateful for you, we just have very limited attention spans for comprehending the vague idea of gratefulness.

Here are our thankful lists -- Happy Turkey Day tomorrow!

- Uncle Steve - tackling (daddy has promised us a family football game of epic proportions and directions that we can tackle Uncle Steve)
- Nona - for coming from New Jersey
- Grandpa D-Rock - sending us cards
- Aunt Veronica - tackling with me and Uncle Steve (apparently Auntie V can also be tackled)
- Daddy - laying down with me
- Mom - making this wonderful dinner (ha!, says mom)
- Cami - for coming right to her dentist appointment when I call her (she didn't even have a cavity either)
- Doggy - giving him toys
- Grammie B - going with her on vacation
- Grandpa B - letting us fish with him
- Aunt Carrie - talking with me on the phone
- Cousin Jackie - seeing him for a couple of days
- Cousin Graham - being just born
- Dr. Uncle Mark - helping me when I was sick

Uncle Steve - tackle (Cam is ready to play, yo)
Nona - talking to Nona
Grandpa D-Rock - talking to D-Rock
Aunt Veronica - tackle
Daddy - tackle 
Mom - tackle (we all better watch out)
Kane- tackle
- Doggy - tackle
Grammie B - cooking with her
Grandpa B - playing
Aunt Carrie - playing
Cousin Jackie - talking
Cousin Graham - talking
Dr. Uncle Mark - playing

Monday, November 19, 2012

In Home Entertainment: Holiday Mail for Heroes

We posted last year on the holiday cards we put together for the Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes program, which program we discovered right before the collection deadline. We got it together much earlier this year and last week logged some serious time decorating holiday cards thanking veterans and members of the military. I'm really into writing, addressing and sending letters all on my own and this was a perfect way to let me do that while supporting a good cause. I wrote "Thank You" on every single card myself (I also wanted to know how to write "please fight well," but mom thought that particular sentiment might best be left for another card). Cam focused on adding stickers. And mom wrote our family name at the end. 

We have so much to be thankful for and with the upcoming holiday this week, we thought it would be good to remind others of this really simple and fun way to spread the thanks. Click on the link above for the specific details, but in short, the Red Cross will accept cards postmarked by December 7th and deliver them to military installations, veterans hospitals and other locations.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

In Home Entertainment: Gingerbread Playdough

We're usually chomping at the bit to get into the holiday spirit, but this year, it's just taken us a little while to start coming around. Mom is finally starting to catch the festive bug, but she didn't really want to make the gingerbread men cookies we were begging her to make (probably because she usually ends up eating all of them). Playdough to the rescue! We searched online a bit and found a few recipes that looked good and went for it. It smelled DELISH and mom let us roll it out when it was still nice and warm, which was super fun. We used holiday cookie cutters to cut out our "cookies" and sequins to decorate them. Kane had a whole "gingerbread cookie factory" going -- he asked mom to save them and we pretended to eat them over the next few days, which we both thought was just hilarious.

Here's the deal -- you'll need:

- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup salt
- 4 tsp. cream of tartar
- 2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 4 tsp. ground ginger
- 2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 cups water
- some baby oil or glycerine to make it nice and squishy

In a medium saucepan stir together dry ingredients. Next mix in the water and oil and stir until a thick batter is formed. Cook the mixture over low/medium heat until a thick dough forms. Turn out onto a countertop or parchment paper and knead until smooth. Add in baby oil/glycerine as you knead. Makes about 4 cups of delicious smelling dough.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Keep It Local: Mt. Vernon Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center

We spend a lot of time at Mt. Vernon, but most of that time is spent running around outside and a walk through the mansion now and again (see our previous posts here). But by the time we are set to go, we've usually completely exhausted ourselves and mom and dad are trying to make a quick exit. A few weeks ago (actually, it's probably months ago by now), mom took the two of us to have a picnic lunch on George's lawn. Somehow we made it all the way there and started having lunch without ever seeing one of the numerous signs warning visitors that no outside food is allowed. Needless to say, our lunch was cut short (we still finished our cupcakes, don't worry). So we had some extra time on our hands and mom decided we'd finally check out the education center we always truck past on our way out. We headed straight to the "kids room" there.

It's pretty awesome. We actually had the whole room to ourselves and were doted on by the two docents. I spent a little bit of time playing with the dollhouse version of Mt. Vernon, but was soon taken with all of the American Girl dolls and their accessories. Kane logged some serious time with the lincoln logs and waged wars with the battle figurines. We colored and read stories. We even worked in a some dress-up time. I'm guessing we'll be spending more time there now that the weather is starting to get cold. And, it's close to the cafeteria, where we'll be eating our lunch from now on.