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Monday, April 26, 2010

Cochinita Pibil and Flan Napolitano

We had a wonderful time with friends on Saturday night.  This was our second get-together with these 3 couples where we had a themed dinner.  The first was Cajun Night and the food was absolutely incredible.  We hosted Mexican night this weekend and it was so much fun.  As I was busy cooking and socializing I neglected to take any pictures at the party itself.  Bad hostess/blogger.

I made some side dishes and Palomas (a margarita cousin and the best drink ever), but my main offerings were the main dish Cochinita Pibil and Flan for dessert.  The recipes are below.  Both are super easy.  If you try them out - please let me know!

Cochinita Pibil
I did not have an after photo so I pulled this one from the web.
Cochinita pibil is very popular in the Yucatan region of Mexico.  It's slow-roasted pork served with corn tortillas.  I recently learned to cook it at my Cooking Club.  It's delicious!

You need 3 ingredients that may not be found in your normal grocery store.  If you have a Hispanic store, they'll have these items.  If you can't find Bitter Orange juice, you can substitute regular orange juice with lime juice.  The 3 ingredients below are traditional though.

3 lbs pork loin, cut into large cubes
2 tsp salt
1 cup bitter orange juice (or 1/2 c orange juice and 1/2 c lime juice)
1 bottle Achiote (8.45 oz)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
5 peppercorns
6 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tsp piqin powder (usually found by the fruits in major grocery stores)
1 tsp cinnamon

Cut the pork into large cubes and place in a slow cooker.  Rub with salt. 

In a blender mix the remaining ingredients.  Pour over the pork and cook on low or medium for several hours.  The lower the temp and the longer you can cook it, the better.  It will be more tender.

After you've cooked it thoroughly remove the large pieces and on a cutting board remove any fat and shred the pork.  Place the shredded pork back in the sauce until ready to serve.  Keep over low heat.

You serve the pork on warmed corn tortillas.  Its' traditional to serve with habanero sauce (just buy a bottle of it at the grocery store - it's green and very hot) and red onions.  My friend in Cooking Club made a delicious red onion sauce.  I'm not an onion eater, but the sauce with a couple of dashes of habanero really completes the meal.

Red Onion Sauce
Slice 1 red onion and add 3/4 cup orange juice.  In a blender, puree with 1 tsp of salt.  Let sit out for 2 hours before serving.  It will be pink and frothy and delicious.


Again, I forgot to take an "after" so here's one from the web.  I guess we were too busy eating!

Mexican dinner would not be complete without this wonderful dessert.  Strangely enough - I had never made flan until just recently.  Which is odd because I cook Mexican quite often.  I can't even remember what I served for dessert before.  EVERYONE loves flan.  I'm so glad I have learned how to make it (from another Mexican friend).  It's delicious and very easy.

Flan should be made the day before if you can.  If not, make it in the morning and serve it that night.

3 eggs
1 14oz can evaporated milk
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp vanilla
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c sugar

Over medium heat, melt the sugar.  Just make sure it doesn't burn.  If you think you cooked it too high and it smells burned, start over.  It will ruin the flavor of the flan.  It's pretty easy to get the consistency you're looking for if you keep an eye on it and stir it regularly.

Once it's melted, pour it into a deep dish.  Put the dish into a roasting pan and pour water in about 1/3 of the way up.

In a blender, blend the remaining ingredients until well mixed.  Pour over the caramelized sugar.

Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 1.5 hours at 350 degrees.  My friend then turns off the oven after 1.5 hours and leaves it in the oven for another hour or two before putting it in the refrigerator.  I don't know if this step is necessary, but I always follow it and the flan turns out perfect every time.

Refrigerate the flan overnight or all day.  When you're ready to serve it, take a knife and go all the way around the edge of the flan and then invert onto a plate.  Slice and serve.  Perfect every time I've tried it.  Again, enjoy!  And if you try out the recipe, please let me know.  I'd love to hear how it turned out!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Aspergers on TV

Two of my current favorite tv shows are dealing with traits that I see in our youngest son each day.  And they're doing it in a thoughtful and sometimes lighthearted way that makes me very, very happy.

When Brennan was diagnosed with a form of autism at age 3 we got our hands on a lot of materials on the subject.  It was an emotional and difficult time for us as a family and honestly, the books we were reading didn't help - they focused primarily on the more debilitating forms of autism.  I have since come to the conclusion that a lot of children have autistic tendencies (usually very mild) and all children with autism are different. 

We feel fortunate that Brennan was diagnosed early and that we found good people to help us learn what to do.  There is no cure for autism and Brennan's form, which is not manifested in any physical symptoms, is something he'll be learning to manage the rest of his life.  Thankfully, in the last 5 years, we have come a LONG way.  Brennan is an awesome kid - anyone who knows him thinks so.  Frustrating at times but entirely manageable.  We are blessed and we know it.

But back to TV.  While the show doesn't come right out and say it, I'm pretty sure Dr. Sheldon Cooper from "The Big Bang Theory" has Aspergers.  His complete confidence in his own abilities and his disdain for anything that he views as trivial are HILARIOUS - the writing and Jim Parson's acting are terrific.
(Brennan would love this DNA t-shirt)

I get a little freaked out sometimes because Sheldon and Brennan have the same "things" - science and math primarily.  More than once Brennan will be on a topic one day (Isaac Newton for example) and then that week's episode will have Sheldon citing Newton a couple of times.  Sheldon also does well with scripts like "when someone comes into the house, greet them and ask how they are".  Brennan does very well with scripts too but it's hilarious because they both are only going through the motions because they have to at times - especially because many times they simply are not that interested, but they know it's the right thing to do.
Fortunately for us Brennan is not nearly as impatient with others as Sheldon is and Brennan doesn't have a contempt for those not as smart as he is (thank goodness or I would be in trouble). 

My other show that is dealing outright with Aspergers is "Parenthood".  It's a new show (I loved the Ron Howard movie that it is based on) and I am simply fascinated with how one of the families in the show parallels our lives.  That family is on the left in the photo below.
Their young son Max has Aspergers and they are just learning how to deal with it.  The child who plays the son either has Aspergers in real life or is the best child actor I've ever seen.  Everything he does rings true to me.  His facial expressions, the words he says, his body language.  He's so much like Brennan.

The dad's looking for how to fix this, the mom's dealing with confidence issues in not being able to reach her son and is worried all the time, and the big sister is the son's best friend.  Wow - this is familiar.  In last week's episode Max's aunt comes over to the house and he doesn't look up.  The mom says, "Aunt so-n-so is here, say hello" and Max launches into a lecture of the differences in bugs he's reading about without a greeting or a change in facial expressions.  This is almost EXACTLY the same scenario when I first suspected there was something going on with Brennan.

Brennan was 2 years old and my friends came over and were so excited to see him and were talking to him and down on his level and he never looked up from what he was playing with.  It was as if he couldn't hear them, but he could.  They just weren't as interesting as his puzzle (or this tv boy with his bug book). 

One scene broke my heart a week ago.  The new therapist was asking the parents about Max.  She asked if he enjoyed play dates, if he had any friends.  The mom's eyes welled up with tears and shes said, "No, Max doesn't have any friends."  The dad looked at the mom and it was just heartbreaking - and again, very real.

It's eery the parallels from our life and this family on the tv show.  Even the dad dealing with a possum a few episodes ago.  "Why don't you just call and exterminator?"  "No, it's personal."  I won't go into it but THAT IS DAVID and an issue we've been dealing with.

But if you've ever seen the show, you'll know what I mean when I say that I would rather have an 8 year old with manageable Aspergers than a teenage daughter.  Thankfully the parallels are limited to the one aspect of the show!

I am thrilled to see shows featuring autism and Aspergers in such a real way.  The most recent research reveals that 1 in 110 children will be diagnosed with autism.  It was 1 in 150 just 5 years ago.  The more people that understand what it is, the more patience people will have with those kids who are managing it the best they can.  And their parents too.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reflections on Simplifying My Life

My last day of work was March 12th.  It's been a wonderful 5 weeks that has gone by very, very quickly.  Sometimes it feels like months and months since I've worked.  I think that is evidence that I've transitioned pretty easily.

We decided to make this change for our family primarily to slow down and enjoy our lives a little more.  It was a decision made with a lot of thoughtfulness and one that I checked back with David on several times before announcing it to my manager back in November.  I loved work and our company has been really good to us over the last 17 years (David) and 15 years (me).  I definitely wasn't leaving a bad situation.

I think it has been a great decision for us.  It's nice to be able to feel semi-caught up at the end of the day.  I feel like I am spending my time on the right things and not squandering this opportunity.  At the same time, I don't achieve all I have in mind each and every day.  Many days I leave most things un-crossed-off.  But at the end of the day, I feel like I spent time where it counts.

No one has asked me anything ridiculous like "what are you doing with your time".  My time is my own, but it also belongs to those I love.  I spend 3 days/week at the boys' school, I am working out regularly, coffee with friends, getting errands done so we don't spend our weekend doing them, and taking care of the house.  It easily fills up the 6 hours that the boys are at school each day. 

I LOVE having dinner as a family each night and having time to shop for and try out new recipes.  We're on a quest to teach the boys how not to be picky eaters.  It's been a huge success so far - they're happily eating fruits and vegetables they weren't willing to eat before.

There have been a few weekend days when we have had NOTHING that we had to do - errands, housework, etc.  Just activities with friends.  That has been a huge change - weekends were always catch up time.

I know that I am very fortunate to be able to take time off to focus on the family and myself and not worry about work all the time.  It's not permanent and while I have this chance, I plan not to take it for granted.

Simplicity really is sweet.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monet's Table and 15 of 52

Last night I attended a really fun fundraiser for our church's preschool.  Friends who own Bistro 310 planned a special event to raise funds for the preschool scholarship program.

The dinner was based on Claude Monet's cooking journals.  He was a master chef and entertainer for his good friends Cezanne, Degas, and others.  Imagine lunch with these guys!  Their meals together were at 11:30 so they could spend the afternoon painting in the best sunlight.

The tables set up for the dinner last night.

Beautiful marble slab with appetizers and cocktails.

Pretty spring centerpieces.

Lovely music while we mingled.

Nicole was my date.  We had a great time together.

Chef Jeff kicked off the evening by demonstrating proper technique for a beurre sauce.

Our recipe cards let us know what we were in store for (see full menu below).

The preschool has a youth violin program.  3 former and current students performed for us.  They were incredible.

Robin and me.  Robin planned the program and it was a huge success!

First Presbyterian's preschool program means a lot to our family.  Brennan was invited to the program as a 4 year old with special needs.  Up until that point preschool had not been very successful.  But I had my first glimpse that our youngest may be able to attend a mainstream school one day and thrive.  Without the 4 year olds class at FPC, Brennan would not have had a successful Kindergarten year.  We owe a lot to the preschool.  FPC is now our church home and I am very happy to support the preschool - even if an amazing meal isn't involved!

Monet's Table Menu
Leek and Potato Soup
Pike in White Butter Sauce (beurre sauce)
Mussels with Fresh Herbs
Charlotte Lyses's Stuffed White Onions
Broiled Steak with Mustard and Bernaise
Potato Pie
Glazed Carrots
Green Cake
Apple Doughnuts
Banana Ice Cream

52 Weeks is a year long challenge for YOU to be in a picture once a week for 52 weeks. We are always the ones behind the camera, this is YOUR chance to get out in front and be in the pictures with your family. Your family will really enjoy having you in the picture. Now go take a picture!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Time!

I love our neighborhood, especially in the spring.  Here are a few photos from our neck of the woods today.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mamaw's Coconut Cake

My grandmother is known for her coconut cake.  She makes them all the time for church, family reunions, friends, holidays, etc.  I decided to make her recipe for Easter and it was delicious!

In addition to being a big hit, it was simple to make and only took 5 ingredients.

1 yellow cake mix
16 oz. sour cream (I used light)
2 cups sugar (could easily be cut back)
14 oz. shredded coconut
1 cup heavy cream

Make the cake according to the packaged directions.

Once cooled, slice the cakes in half so that you have 4 layers.

Mix the sour cream and sugar.  Put a little on the cake plate to anchor it.  Then beginning layering the cake.  Between each layer add the sour cream/sugar mixture and sprinkle with coconut.

Once all 4 layers are in place, whip the heavy cream and add to the remaining sour cream/sugar mixture and add the coconut.

Frost the cake and refrigerate. At first it seemed like the frosting was sort of making a mess of the cake.

But once it chilled I was able to go back over the frosting so that it looked more cake like!

I garnished it with strawberries and it was really wonderful.

According to my grandmother, it's better to make the cake a day or so ahead of time.  It's great served chilled.

If you make it, let me know how it turns out!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter 2010 and 14 of 52

We had a wonderful Easter yesterday!

After church we had our traditional Easter lunch and Egg Hunt with our friends. 

The food was delicious, including my grandmother's famous Coconut Cake (I'll post the recipe later).

After lunch the kids hunted 450+ eggs.

These are the master egg hiders.

Mike giving some clues about the location of the Grand Prize egg.
We are thankful for the true meaning of Easter, good friends, good food, blooming trees, and sunshine.

52 Weeks is a year long challenge for YOU to be in a picture once a week for 52 weeks. We are always the ones behind the camera, this is YOUR chance to get out in front and be in the pictures with your family. Your family will really enjoy having you in the picture. Now go take a picture!