Sunday, March 12, 2017

Milk, Cookies, and Cake Please! Birthday Party Time!

Our big timer is two years old now! Time really does fly ~ I never believed it when people would tell me that once you have kids, time goes by so quickly, but it is very true. It seems like just yesterday he was a wee tiny baby, and now here he is, two!

I was also excited because I felt like this was the last birthday I really could plan out on my own lol. Is that terrible? I have so many ideas for kids parties ~ but I am sure Wyatt will have his own opinion on things like theme. This time though, I had fun with a cookies and milk theme. 

When you look online, there are so many different ways to do this party, from elaborate to very simple. I went for a more simple version, I am kind of minimalist about things these days, but I am very happy with how it turned out!

 I bought a few dozen cookies, including whichever birthday cake flavored cookies were on the shelf, and had my husband put them on the cake stands provided by my stepmother. She has a million, thanks to an obsession with the Great British Bake Off. (one which I share!)

We had gone to Target the night before the party, and just picked up a few things. A few little decorative party hats, the cookies, festive birthday themed paper products, individual Horizon milks, flavored milk straws, and individual bags of Chips Ahoy, the latter two for the gift bags for the kids. I had decided I didn't want to go too crazy with the milk and cookies theme, so I did a mixture of birthday with the cookies and milk, so it was more of a birthday party that included cookies and milk than a milk and cookies themed party, but everyone seemed to be happy about it, especially the kids. And seriously if you haven't had a Birthday Cake Fudge Stripe cookie, I highly recommend them. And so does my two year old.

I let him play with that elastic for about one second, which resulted in some quickly dried tears. Better than an injury though! The treat bags all had those personalized mason cup jars, with blue and white straws, which I picked up on Etsy from the store Mason Jar Party. I just thought they were so cute, and such a good price! You get a personalized set of 10 for just $19.99, and they are even BPA free! I just loved them.

I love this photo, since the angle makes it look like the cake is ten times bigger than the boy. It was a huge cake, but not bigger than a toddler. Lol. It was seriously delicious. We ordered it from a nearby bakery, a real one, named Sorella's, and they did a fantastic job. It was chocolate chip cookie themed, with chocolate chip batter, with Bavarian creme in between each layer. It was three layers of deliciousness! Bravo Sorella's! I have to say, I contacted a few bakeries regarding a cake, and two I never heard back from one and one outright ignored me when I went into the actual bakery. Sorella's not only did a fabulous job, they also provided the friendliest service ever. They worked really hard to give us what we wanted, and they succeeded. They have a customer for life now!

Everyone had such a good time ~ the kids had a blast playing with their milk mustaches that my mother in law made for them, and just being kids in general. They came up with the craziest pretend games, imagining themselves to be unicorns, complete with a "unicorn horn" on their heads, made from what they found around the house and blue painters tape from a drawer. I love when kids play like that! The adults relaxed for the most part, munching on cookies, cake, pizza, and bread sticks. (If you are ever in Tecumseh you need to get Basil Boy's bread sticks!) Wyatt was completely tuckered out by the end of the party, having had such a good time with his family. 

Which was exactly what I had wanted for him!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bringing the Outdoors, In - OAC, Detroit

The DNR Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit was designed to bring "up north" to Detroit, and it really captures the spirit of being outside, while teaching about the natural resources and treasures that can be found in our state. We had been wanting to visit for a while, and we decided it would be a fun little excursion for our family to celebrate Wyatt's second birthday. 

As you walk through the OAC, you are introduced to all the different natural resources and landscapes that make up the state of Michigan - water, sand, forest, flora, fauna. I didn't take photos of everything, but you get to "explore" the watery world of the Great Lakes and Michigan's rivers, complete with a simulated kayaking ride and simulated fishing,  stand in a giant yurt and learn about the many camping opportunities that abound here, stand behind a giant waterfall, explore a mine (Detroit has huge salt mines), learn about the sand dunes, and duck into a beaver dam exhibit. The waterfall was a big hit with Wyatt, as was the aquarium. The waterfall was my favorite part too.

The second floor gave kids the opportunity to stand in a giant duck blind, a prop airplane, and learn about different natural resources, including maple syrup! There was also a nice display about Citizen Science, which I thought was really cool. When we were walking around there was a small school group visiting, so we couldn't get too close to some of the exhibits, but they seemed to center on hunting, which I was fine with skipping. So was Wyatt, who was just a little freaked out by the taxidermied animals ~ including Smokey.

After exploring the upstairs, we headed back down and hung out in the play area, which included a giant tree that kids could "climb" to the second floor, and a slide. It was really neat, for a bit older kid than my guy. We enjoyed hanging out around the faux campfire in the Michigan shaped Adirondack chairs though. 

The fee for entry was only $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for kids two and up, and is a great place to take kids, especially in the cold blah of winter. We left having learned a few new things, and inspired to take a possible small camping trip this summer, which I feel might turn into staying in a cabin near wilderness, rather than in a tent, but close enough for now, right? It was also a nice reminder of the natural treasures that make up Michigan. If you are ever in the area, I recommend popping in for an hour or two! We had a great time. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Maple Sugar Saturday

Growing up, I was a huge Little House on the Prairie fangirl. Not the show, but the books. (Little secret, I still reread them every year.) One of my favorite parts in Little House in the Big Woods is the Sugar Snow, when the whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, all get together and tap the trees for the sap to make maple syrup. There is snow and dancing and frivolity, and of course, fresh maple syrup served on top of fresh fallen snow. I have actually never tried that but I am sure back then it was a delicious treat. 

Our local Metropark system has maple sugaring events every year, and every year we miss them. I was bound and determined to get to one this year, and so Saturday morning, amidst snow flurries, we were over the river and through the woods to Oakwoods Metropark by the start of the program. One of our favorite interpreters was leading the event, which was cool, and when we got there, we learned we were the only people signed up for the early program. So our little family had our very own  private lesson.

Just our little badger boy enjoying the day out. 

We learned so much! A few quick facts that I thought were interesting:

  • It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. 
  • Maple trees have opposite branches, not alternating branches.
  • You can make maple syrup from Black Walnut trees, although it will be a little more bitter.
  • It actually isn't a very complicated process; in fact, it is something you can do in your own backyard if you have a maple tree.
  • A grove of maple trees is called a sugarbush. 

Unfortunately, maple syrup production is at risk right now due to the springlike weather we have been having. It needs to be cold at night but warm during the day for the sap to flow. The cold temps cause the sugar content to rise, and with these warmer days, the syrup may turn bitter in flavor. I don't know about you, but I much prefer real maple syrup to the manufactured versions. I can put up with a few more weeks of winter in order to have that delicious caramel taste of real maple syrup.

We also heard two very different Native American origin stories regarding maple syrup, as maple syrup was a staple of the Native American diet in this area. If you are interested, here is a link to the Ojibway legend of maple syrup. 

The program was about an hour long, and although we were the only ones there, Kevin did not hurry or skip any part of the program. Billy and I both found it very informative, and inspiring actually. We dream of homesteading one day, and maple syrup collection would be a fun addition to that dream. Overall, we had a great time, and ended up staying and sitting by the fire for a bit chatting. It was a nice way to start a day.

We learned so much more than I have related here, but I encourage you to check out a program if you have one near you. 

If you are in southeast Michigan, the Huron-Clinton metroparks seem to be doing a few more events. For more information on Michigan's maple syrup industry, you can check out this page.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Date Night at The Republic Tavern

It's been eons since my husband Billy and I have gone out on a proper dinner date. One where we got to encounter new foods, new sounds, a new experience and really, to spend time with each other just the two of us. 

This building is way cool, which is not depicted in this photo. Lol. The restaurant is in the Grand Army of the Republic Building in Detroit, and it looks castle-like.  Republic  is a scratch kitchen, meaning they make everything from scratch. They also locally source as much as they can, which is pretty darn awesome. Since it is locally sourced, it is also seasonal.   

The restaurant was packed, as I had anticipated. Luckily, Republic takes reservations, something I am finding that less and less restaurants do. I love reservations, especially now that I am a parent. I don't have the luxury of waiting for a table anymore. My time is limited, so when I go out to eat, I want to know I can go in and get a table. So yay Republic! 

The crowd was a little older, maybe late thirties and up, except for at the bar, which seemed to hit all age ranges. The hum of conversation was perfect - not so loud you had to shout, but not so quiet that you felt weird talking at a normal volume. 

The drink menu had a few good wines and beer listed, as well as handmade specialty cocktails. They also offered a whiskey flight, which intrigued my husband, but he settled on a draft beer instead. I ordered a glass of Biutiful Malbec, and we settled back to peruse the menu. The waitress told us that the menu was designed for us to pick and choose and share, and that the food is served family style. It is also served as it is made, and is brought out as it is done.  This wasn't a problem for us, as we weren't ordering very much, but I am curious as to how that works in a bigger group or with different food. 

We started with the Ploughman's Platter, which was amazing. Black pepper bread, pub cheese, a sharp cheddar, venison salami, pickled celery, actual pickles, and some sort of smoky tasting jam. I didn't care for the jam, it was like eating a bonfire, and I don't eat meat, but the rest was so good. I could have eaten that pub cheese all night. The pickled celery was also amazeballs. 

We skipped the Greens section of the menu and went straight to the entrees, or Pasture, as they called it.

I had the whole smoked trout, with aioli, nuts, and veggies. I knew to expect a head, since it said "whole" right in the description but I still couldn't look at it. My husband and our awesome waitress discreetly took care of it for me. I thought the trout was very good, especially with the sauce. No complaints, but I also wouldn't go wild over it. 

My husband on the other hand, did go crazy over his. He ordered the Pork Steak, which was charred, and served with herbed jam, paneer, cherries and apple. It also had bacon with it. 

I think it is safe to say that he enjoyed it. 

We had also enjoyed a few drinks each by this point, so my photos get a little worse from here! But don't worry, there is only one!

For dessert we split the lavender lemon crumble, which was seriously the best part of the meal. It was tiny but delicious, a bijou jewel on the crown of the dinner. It was shortbread crumble, lavender and honey ice cream, with lemon curd. Oy. It tasted of summer and spring all at once. 

We had such a fabulous time, and laughed like lunatics, and just in general, had a blast. We don't normally splurge on ourselves much anymore, and it was so nice to do so with my guy. Overall, I highly recommend Republic to anyone who is interested in craft dining. They bill themselves as American Rustic, and I would agree that that is their style. If you are a vegetarian, it is maybe not the best option for a night out, but would be perfect for a nightcap and dessert, maybe after visiting the Opera House which is just across the way a bit.

I love all these restaurant options in Detroit these days. We haven't been to the city for dinner for a while (try two years!), so we are behind on all the spots, but we are having fun discovering them!!  Detroit's food game is en pointe these days!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Easy-Peasy DIY Valentines Day Banner

February in Michigan can be tough. Gray, sunless, gray, cold. Did I mention gray? Michigan only had two days of sunshine in the past thirty days. So this year, I decided I was going to try to embrace February to make it a cheerier month in our household. I usually don't decorate for Valentines Day - typically I am not organized enough, and it has come and gone before I can do so! But this year, with the help of my amazing husband, we have managed to decorate in a very bijou and petite way. And that is a good start, I think! 

I have tons of ideas, I am always thinking of different projects. Unfortunately, my creative flow kind of ends there. I am all thumbs when it comes to crafting, I can't draw, etc. Luckily, Billy can make anything. Today, he lent a hand in making a sweet little Valentines Day banner for our dining room. And I love it! 

The materials were simple, and cheap. A romance novel we rescued from the recycle bin at the library, that was already falling apart, and which my husband meticulously removed the pages from, sticker paper, twine, and a printer. Ordinarily I would not support this destruction of reading material, but honestly, this book was already falling apart. Billy then cut the pages into the little banner shapes, and folded over a teeny bit of the top of the page, so that he could run a line of twine through it to hang them. He just used some tape afterward to hold it all down.  He had also printed out stickers spelling out Hugs and Kisses, using a free font that he found online, which he then just stuck onto the pages. I would link to the website of the font if he could remember where he got it from! As soon as I find out, I will add a link. 

Once this part was all put together, he strung them and hung it. 


I think it turned out pretty cute!

Due to the absence of light in our state, it was really hard to take a photo! Sorry for the poor photo quality there. 

I have a few more Valentines Day surprises in the works, and I am excited to keep working on them!

How are you celebrating this month? Anything planned? 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Coffee Talk : Scrambled Eggs

We had been running around all day, getting things done, taking care of business. After a very full day, we were done in - and Billy and I still had yet to eat dinner. We had fed the little guy earlier knowing our day was going to be nuts, but it was 8:30 pm and we still needed to eat. Neither of us felt like fast food, but we also didn't feel like making an actual dinner. As usual, we went to our fallback - scrambled eggs. Billy cracked the eggs into the frying pan, while I assembled the tortillas, warming them up. This was a place we had been before - many times, in fact. The pitch black sky outside, the slight chill in the house, the quiet as we worked side by side, making our humble dinner together.

Our son spent 6 weeks in the NICU after he was born. I would get there early in the morning, Billy would join me after work, and we would stay until the nurses told us to please go home and get some rest. Our hospital didn't allow parents to sleep near the isolettes and their children, which tore at my heart, so we needed to leave if we were going to sleep. We would get home around 9 or 9:30, and every single night for 6 weeks, Billy and I ate scrambled eggs for dinner. At the time, we were just feeding our bodies to keep going. 45 days of scrambled eggs on tortillas, with a sprinkling of cheese.

My whole self remembered this as clearly as if it were happening all over again, when we made that dinner the other night. A late dinner, working quietly together - but this time our son slept just a few feet away in his bedroom. A world of difference, this time.

It's funny how clearly a meal can bring back a memory. Proust had his madeleines. We all have our madeleines, really. Tea is another instant time machine.  Hot black tea, with a splash of milk and a tsp of sugar. Aromatic, sweet, comforting as the mug warms your hands. The sound of the kettle whistling on the stovetop, the clink of the spoon as it hits the side of the mug when I use it to stir, that in itself is like a warm blanket. This is the drink of my family. As a Scottish-Irish family, we drink a lot of tea. I am pretty sure I had my first “sip” when I was little, around 3, which was mostly milk, less tea. We are a family of tea drinkers.  My husband believes we have no feeling in our mouths, as we can start drinking it immediately, no cooling time needed. When we are blue, troubled, worried, angry, sick, celebrating, we can sit down and have a cup of tea. I remember being little, and getting sick and my mom making me tea and toast. Coming in from playing in the snow and having tea. Spending the night at my grandma’s or my aunt’s, and in the morning, splitting a pot of tea. Spilling our woes or our successes over tea. “Would you like a cup of tea?” might be the most uttered question in our family. We end holiday celebrations, usually all quietly sitting around drinking our tea, and talking. I drink tea as I read, as I relax, when I do homework. I have it with breakfast, in the evening, with dessert, with toast, or on its own. It is a constant companion, and has been my whole life. I remember one time I got into an argument with my husband before I was married, and my mother came up to us, and very sweetly said, “Let’s all go have a cup of tea”, because in our family, this is how we solve problems. With tea.

Rice pudding reminds me of steamy kitchens in the middle of winter. Coconut tarts and empire biscuits transport me to all the Christmas days of my life. And now, scrambled eggs will forever remind me of those first 45 days of my child's life, when my husband and I bedraggled, weary, worried, ate scrambled eggs together every night.

What about you? Is there something that resonates with you?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Feet in the Snow, Heart Dreaming of Gardens

I always wait for the snow in January to begin planning my garden. For years, this meant gathering my catalogs, shucking on my winter gear, and braving the snow-covered roads to meet my uncle for coffee, doughnuts, and conversation about what we were going to plant this year. He recently hung up his shovel and rake,  passed on his secrets and some gardening tools to me, and is enjoying retirement from the garden. After a lifetime of some eighty years, tilling the earth, planting the seeds, and tending the small new plants as they grow, he deserves to be able to sit back now and just let others do the dirty work. 

Last night it snowed. I woke up to a winter wonderland, the kind that dreams are born of. This time though, I have my coffee and my cats while my little son sleeps warm and snug in his bedroom. Instead of catalogs, I am armed with my Pinterest board

This year, I am whittling down my garden a tad, which seems contrary to my goal of seeing my own food chain and practicing some self-sufficiency. I am trying to however, be realistic, and grow what I need, with maybe a little extra. I don't think that this year I can start many of my own seeds. I also want to make good choices, and utilize all that I grow. I already have talks of a family and friend veggie co-op in the works to trade extra harvests and possibly even homemade food items, like canned veggies, dehydrated fruit, jams, and bread. This year, I want to be more mindful of what I am planting, and why, instead of being the kid in the candy shop who wants it all.

So this year, I am keeping it more simple. 
Herbs for sure. Potatoes, butternut squash that runs the length of our fence line and down the alley of our neighborhood, and the neighbors can keep what grows on their fences. Pumpkins. Peanuts. Kale for my little second cousins' bunnies. Sugar snap peas, because I love them. Cucumber, and a salad garden. Green beans on a trellis. A few tomato plants because no matter how hard I try I can't grow a decent tomato. Garlic and chives, because chives look so pretty and purple fluffy. Carrots grown alone, in fine dirt that allows them to grow big and strong. And flowers - lots of flowers. 

I want a bench added this year too. One where my uncle can sit, holding my son, and enjoying the warmth of the summer sun. 

If I close my eyes, I can picture it perfectly.

How about you? Any plans for gardens in your future?