Friday, May 30, 2008

Cool Frozen Treats.

Lately we have been really into utilizing our ice cream freezer. Who knows if it's pregnancy or the summer that has brought on the ice cream cravings, but either way we have been making tons of homemade ice cream! We received our ice cream maker as a wedding gift and it goes down as one of our favorites. I highly recommend the make and model we have - so easy to use and it makes YUMMY frozen treats. For this Cuisinart model, it works best if you keep the freezer barrel in the freezer. That way it's always ready for the task of cranking out the cream.

Here are a few of our favorite flavors...

Strawberry Sorbet (originally from Southern Living)
2 C. fresh strawberries
2 C. buttermilk
3/4 C. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Process strawberries in a blender or food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. (about 1 minute). Add buttermilk, sugar, and vanilla to puree; stir well until blended. Cover and chill 1 hour.
2. Pour strawberry mixture into freezer container of a 1 1/2 quart electric ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. (times may vary, but mine takes about 30-35 minutes) Store the sorbet in an air-tight container in the freezer.

Chocolate Sorbet (from epicurious)
2 1/4 C. water
1 C. sugar
3/4 C. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
pinch of salt
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (you can use about 1/2 of a 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chips for this - just don't use cheap ones. Go for Hershey's, Toll House, or Ghirardelli)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, whisk together 1 1/2 Cups of the water with the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Let it boil, continuing to whisk, for 45 seconds.

Remove from the heat and stir in the semi-sweet chocolate until it's melted, then stir in the vanilla extract and the remaining 3/4 Cup of water. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend for 15 seconds. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. If the mixture has become too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.

This sorbet may seem a bit runny after it's done in the ice cream freezer. Just put it in the freezer (in an air-tight container) for about an hour, to set. It will generally have a soft consistency and be easy to scoop and serve. This chocolate sorbet is especially yummy with a spoonful of peanut butter on the side. Like a rich and delicious peanut butter cup!

Mint Oreo Ice Cream
1 1/4 C. milk, well chilled (You can use whole, 2%, or soy)
3/4 C. granulated sugar
1 1/2 C. heavy cream, well chilled (the original recipe calls for 2 Cups, but I think it still tastes really great with a little less cream)
1 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
3/4 coarsely crushed Oreos

In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer or a whisk to combine the milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 1-2 minutes on low speed. Stir in the heavy cream and peppermint extract. Turn machine on, pour mixture into freezer bowl through ingredient spout and let mix until thickened, about 25-30 minutes. Add the Oreos during the last 5 minutes of mixing. Store in an air-tight container in the freezer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's here...finally! Chipotle has arrived in Des Moines. I know for you Texans this is a ho-hum event considering Chip is on every corner, but this is a great addition to life in Iowa. Today was the grand opening and the best part? Free food - the entire menu. It's hard to beat free food... especially at the end of the month when stretching the grocery budget becomes a task of creativity. For those of y'all in Des Moines, check it out. It's in Valley West Mall and the food's free till 7:00 p.m. today!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Today I painted my own toenails. This is quite a feat at almost 31 weeks pregnant! But, pretty toes are a matter how big my belly is! I'm also in the middle of a self-imposed 2 hour rest period this afternoon. I'm having to force myself to sit, rest, and prop up my feet for a couple of hours in the morning and in the afternoon. Otherwise I am afraid my feet might pop! In my head, I know it's impossible. But when they swell to twice their size, my mind starts to wonder just how exactly one would deal with exploding feet...At this point, I am willing to entertain any wives' tales or other tactics for reducing swelling. If any of y'all have ideas, let me know!
This is one of the Bridges of Madison County. We can't wait to explore all the covered bridges in this nearby county...such a hidden treasure in the middle of Iowa!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Warning: This is a rant

For those readers who enjoy my normally positive entries, I'm warning you that this one isn't as fuzzy. If you want to quit reading now, you won't hurt my feelings. Because this entry definitely falls into the rant category...

So, tonight I was watching the TV show Inside Edition simply because it comes on after the local news. One of the headline stories led to this rant. The title of the segment was "Living in an SUV" and was a story about a lady named Barbara - a "victim" of the mortgage crisis. Barbara Harvey is a woman who is living in her SUV in Santa Barbara, California because she was forced from the 3-bedroom home she lived in. She could no longer afford the $2,500 a month mortgage in the beachside community. In a strange twist of irony, here's what the segment said about her former job:

"Before she was forced to live in her car, Harvey was a notary, verifying home loans. However, work dried up because of the mortgage crisis. Now she earns just $8 an hour at a senior center and can't afford rent in the beachside resort community."

Now, it seems, Barbara can only be described as a "victim" of the crisis.

Here are my issues with this story:
1. Barbara is living in an S - U - V. I wonder if she ever considered she should perhaps give up her new SUV (sure looked new to me) and buy a used Honda in order to save the money she might have needed to make her mortgage payments.

2. Do you know what the median home price is in Santa Barbara, California? According to Money Magazine, it is $979,500. Compare this to $150,000 in Des Moines or $136,000 in Fort Worth. Or even $550,000 in Los Angeles. I wonder if Barbara ever considered that she could maybe no longer afford Santa Barbara? Yes, I know it stinks to think about the fact that you might have to move in order to afford to be a homeowner. Especially if it's the only place you've ever lived...and, let's be honest, Santa Barbara is a great place to live. But, it seems like if I could no longer afford to live somewhere and/or was unwilling to change my life style to something I could afford, I would move. Barbara, if you can't afford rent in the beachside community you prefer to live's time to seek out another community where you can afford the rent.

3. At the end of the segment, there is mention that Barbara is now on the waiting list for government housing. I wonder if government housing in Santa Barbara is better than owning a home you can afford in some other community. I guess it beats the $2,500 house payment!

The media is very good at labeling these people as victims. This makes me so frustrated! Call them "un-wise users of money" or "perhaps living beyond their means" or "people who didn't logically think through how they could make their mortgage payments for the long haul"...but please, don't call them VICTIMS! Perhaps they are just people who wanted more than they could afford and weren't willing to make the sacrifices it might require to pull themselves out of debt once they discovered they were in over their heads.

I often naturally think of ways these people could have avoided their situations before they got so desperate...My ideas?
- Downsize your car(s)
- Eat at home instead of eating out
- Ride a bike instead of drive
- Stop spending your free time at the mall - you don't need any more stuff
- Give up your gym membership and walk around the neighborhood instead
- Give up nights at the movie theater
- Maybe get a part time job
- (Gasp! - I know this is controversial) Maybe even move to a smaller, more affordable home

In the political arena, the House recently passed a massive homeowner rescue plan to provide cheaper, government-backed mortgages to a half million debt-ridden borrowers. President Bush has vowed to veto it - Kudos to him!! Here's the basis for his opposition to a taxpayer-supported bailout quoted from an article on ...

"Republicans argued the package reward lenders and irresponsible borrowers at the expense of homeowners and renters who made more prudent choices and are straining to cover their costs in a punishing economic climate.

"The vast majority of Americans who find themselves struggling with mortgage payments, struggling with high gas prices, struggling with high food prices are now going to assume responsibility for ill-advised financial decisions and misjudgments of other people," said Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala." (read the full article here)

You're probably picking up on my political bias here, but I do NOT think the government has a role in bailing out people who did not make wise decisions about sub-prime mortgages. That would do nothing to help them learn the serious consequences of financial irresponsibility. Besides, why should people who are financially responsible Americans be left to deal with the mess made by irresponsible lenders and unwise investors - many of whom where blinded by their own greed and the gleaming opportunity to live beyond their means?

I realize this is a difficult time financially in our country. Times are tough. But, honestly, I don't have much sympathy for the type of victim featured on Inside Edition tonight.

There are plenty of other victims in the world I'd rather see news stories on. Like people who just lost their home because of a massive earthquake or cyclone. They would probably be really excited to join Barbara in her SUV Santa Barbara.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Our First Iowa State Park.

On Saturday we enjoyed a day outside at Ledges State Park north of Des Moines. Our friends the Ramseys (native Iowans) served as our tour guides for the day. We loved the chance to picnic, throw the frisbee, and hike on the trails. We were so thrilled to be outside in perfect weather (70 degrees) in the middle of May. In Texas, it's already 95 degrees...definitely not hiking weather for pregnant ladies! So far, Spring in Iowa has proved to be quite pleasant. It may have taken a while to get here, but it is welcome to stay!
Our native tour guides, the Ramseys.

Don't be jealous of my super-cool hiking outfit.

Jason and I had a great opportunity to spend a few days in the Windy City this week. We had a few days off work, good weather, and an itch to go somewhere before Baby Belly gets too big to ride in a car for 5 hours. So, we seized the chance to take a short trip! Here are a few pics...
Lake Michigan looked a lot better than the last time we saw wasn't frozen. =) A very nice day to enjoy Lincoln Park and a walk along the water.

I know this doesn't look particularly appetizing, but my point to make is that this half of a Chicago style pizza in our doggy bag weighed almost 2 lbs! We seriously weighed it on our hotel room scale. Guess that means that the entire small pizza weighed 4 lbs. Yikes. It sure was yummy though.
Oh how we love city streets!

I wish we would have taken pictures of our evening at the Sheckler's house. I guess when you are busy enjoying friends you forget to document the time with photos. Nonetheless, we enjoyed Keri, Kevin, Sofia, and Selah. Thanks for welcoming us to Chicago!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Our very low-tech Baby Counter.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Baby's Room: Phase 1

My dad has completed the first phase of Baby's room - the all-important paint job! He came all the way from Texas to help us out with the painting. And it looks fabulous! We'll keep you posted on future phases... For now, we have a beautifully painted room and tons of crib pieces on the floor. Bring on Phase 2: Crib!
Tulip Time.
(This post is dedicated to Sheryl, my friend from Pella, who has always been proud of her hometown. She "introduced" it to me when we were roommates in Istanbul in 2000.)

Last week Jason and I ventured out to Pella, Iowa for Tulip Time. Pella is a small Dutch community about 45 minutes away from Des Moines. They are famous for their tulips in the Spring - the whole town was covered in the lovely spring flowers. We enjoyed walking all over town and the dutch fair food - potato ribbons (thinly sliced fried potatoes - yum!), poffertjes (tiny pancakes served with strawberries and whipped cream), and dutch letters (the signature Iowa cookie). Pella is a great little town and we enjoyed the chance to celebrate Spring...Here are a couple of pictures of the tulips.
I've learned my (painful) lesson.

You know how on the back of a box of Q-tips it clearly says "do not insert Q-tips into the ear canal"? Well, for as long as I can remember I have been inserting those little cotton sticks into my ear to get them clean. I simply cannot stand the thought of having excess ear wax in my ears...

However, I think I have learned my lesson and decided that perhaps I should follow the advice of the packaging (and my husband, for that matter) and NOT insert them into my ear. This week I had the most painful ear canal infection. And you know what the doctor said when I went to see him? "Infections this severe are caused by inserting things into the ear Q-tips." So after several nights of lost sleep - because it was on the left side and pregnant ladies have to sleep on the left side - and countless ear drops to relieve the pain, I have decided that I shouldn't stick Q-tips in my ear. No matter what. In fact, I think I have even subscribed to my husband's advice that because God made ear wax to be in our ears, it's probably helpful. So hopefully my little cotton-tipped lesson will benefit my readers - especially ones who are prone to insert things into their ears.


On a side note, I have a hilarious story about my 8-year-old nephew Mitchell. A couple of weeks ago, he failed his hearing test at school. When the school nurse examined his ears, she told my sister that she could only see red in there. She thought it looked swollen and he should probably be taken to the doctor to check it out. Since it was my brother-in-law, Dave's, turn for the doctor visit (when you have 4 children, mom & dad have to take turns =), he and Mitchell went to visit the pediatrician.

Once the doctor looked in Mitchell's ears, he immediately asked Mitchell if he had recently put anything in his ears. He promptly answered, "no". When the pediatrician responded, "well, it looks like something may be stuck in there and I will have to get it out. I'll be right back so I can take a closer look"...and Mitchell started to look a bit pale. As soon as the doctor left the room, he turned to Dave and said, "oh, Dad...did I tell you about the little boy at school who likes to stick things in people's ears when they aren't looking??? He's a really bad boy. He is always putting things in other people's ears." Dave asked him what kinds of things this other little boy puts in people's ears. Mitchell said he wasn't sure...all kinds of things though...Hmm... That sounds very fishy, doesn't it?

Long story short, when the doctor returned, he removed pencil top erasers (the small red ones that come standard on pencils) from BOTH of Mitchell's ears. Once the doctor asked him about the erasers, he stuck firmly to his story about the bad kid at school who puts things in people's ears when they aren't looking. He must have felt strongly that the doctor would buy his story - and fear the second grader who had the strength to stealthily put things in other kids' ears. The doctor gently scolded Mitchell and made sure he understood that he shouldn't let ANYONE put anything in his ears - EVER. And just in case he ever got the idea to put something in his own ear, well, he shouldn't do that either....