Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Safety first, but fun is a close second

Whilst wearing her ultra-cool Antarctica t-shirt (purchased for her by the Grandparents Malahowski during their cruise to Antarctica!), Sonia decided to give her pool floatie an inspection to make sure it's sea-worthy.

Notice her deputy inspectors, Bobo Cat and Margie Cat, assisting her from a safe distance.

Looks good! Let's go have some fun, Mama!

Whee!!! (splash splash splash splash splash)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Loving summer in Chicago

The Great Sosini has been taking full advantage of summer even though rain was been overly plentiful in 2010. We play outside every chance we get! Sonia has always seemed to really love nature; I could tell as early as last July that she perked up when I would take her outside to explore the world beyond the 4 walls of our house. On Friday, Sosi and Sara had a great time at the pool:

Future dancer?

Belly hanging out of a swimsuit: cute on a baby, unacceptable for an adult.

There's something "Charlie's Angels" about this picture....

On Saturday, Andrew's law firm had their summer outing at the Brookfield Zoo. I failed to take any pictures because I was too busy having fun! Sonia really loved the butterfly garden, and she seemed to be so inspired by the little flutterers that took a few steps on her own. Even though the heat and humidity did their best to make the day uncomfortable, we still had a great time. I'd like to give a shout out to Andrew's co-worker and reader of this blog, Katie. Holla! Katie, if by some chance you get your hands on the picture that bossman's wife took of Andrew, Sosi, and me, please pass it along and I'll be eternally grateful. Thanks for planning such a fantastic summer outing-- you and the rest of the social committee always do a terrific job.

Today (on Sunday), Sonia was pretty sleepy (she took a 2 hour nap this morning, which is practically unheard of for our little goofball!) and it rained for a few hours, so we stayed in for a lot of the day. But after dinner (Andrew smoked a corned beef brisket-- Sonia loved it), the outdoors was calling, so Andrew and I took Sosinini on a wagon ride around the neighborhood. She loves her wagon!

We have a fun & busy week ahead (which includes the start of swimming lessons!!).... Hopefully, Sonia will love swimming lessons as much as I suspect she will!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Best $20 I ever spent

Sonia loves her new toys from Ikea! She wanted a tent just like Charbunkle's, and when I saw the toy abacus, my inner accountant couldn't pass it up. We were just there for lunch with JLo and Kyle, but we got much more!

As usual, Marge just has to get in on the action. Baby gear looks like cat gear to her!

Uh oh, I think I hear a bear out there. I better check it out!

Nope, it's just Da Marge!

She's totaling up the receipt from Ikea to make sure they added correctly. Yep, fun toys really are that cheap sometimes!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An update on Sonia's mobility

The Great Sosini is sooooooo close to walking! Like I posted on Saturday, she is now walking while holding onto our hands with one of her hands. Yesterday, she took a couple of steps toward me.... She was standing while holding onto the couch, and I was sitting a few feet away. Sonia turned to me, smiled, and took a couple of shaky steps that were more like a controlled fall. But she repeated this feat several times-- even for her daddy-- so I do have a witness! My baby is making good progress toward walking.

In the meantime, Sosini is still zooming around on all fours. All fours, that is, unless she's doing her Quasimodo/Igor crawl. When she wants to crawl while holding something, Sonia adopts a bit of an odd gait. Sorry the lighting in this video is so strange, but you take what you can get when you're videoing a kid who refuses to perform her tricks on command!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Economy (by Andrew)

"I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust."

--Henry David Thoreau, Walden ("Economy")

I can't believe I used to chop fresh garlic.

Over the past few years, I have spent a ton of time cooking food, researching recipes and techniques, and studying my Cooks Illustrated, Bon Appetit, Flay, Bourdain, Moonen, and Pepin. It's a great hobby. But the most valuable things I've learned have nothing to do with knife skills, wine pairings, or duck confit. No, the most important lesson I've learned is this: if I want any time at all to spend with Erin and Sonia, then I have to determine which techniques, recipe steps, and ingredients are a galactic waste of time.

Frankly, I don't cook for a living, so I have to keep a constant eye on when a recipe's extra time or difficulty level presents a diminishing return. If I can't execute a technique well, or if a rough chop will suffice instead of a brunoise or julienne, then I will always cut the corner. Here are the corners I cut and the time-savers I use:

(1) Garlic. For years, I chopped fresh garlic for use in guacamole (and other things). Why? Because Alton Brown did it in his recipe, and he must be right. Well, Mr. Brown is usually right, but he also cooks for a living so he can afford to take additional steps. But while chopping garlic seems easy, it involves several distinct steps: (A) smash garlic to remove paper; (B) chop garlic to a dice, mince or paste (the latter of which requires oil); (C) hand wash cutting board; (D) wash knife; (E) wash hands. And don't forget (F) -- buy fresh garlic! Either garlic powder or preserved minced garlic are perfectly acceptable for sauces, meats, and especially guacamole. And they involve zero steps and no cleanup.

(2) Use One Dish, If At All Possible. If Not, Use Two At Most. Most of these tips make very little difference by themselves. The garlic steps I mentioned above take probably 60 seconds, max, for several cloves. But there is a cumulative effect for all of this. For example, if you sear your meat in one dish and then braise it in another, you have doubled your cleanup time. And a searing pan is more difficult to clean. Just drain the fat after cooking meat and keep using the same pot -- that actually is a necessary step, unless you plan on making a roux from the fat. And sometimes...there's no need to sear at all. Cooks Illustrated proved that it doesn't help "hold in the flavor" and it may in fact do the opposite in some cases.

(3) Lasagna Is Always The Answer. Let's face it, meat and cheese are always the answer. There are many good lasagna recipes that don't even require the use of a kitchen knife. Don't like tomato sauce? Make a mushroom lasagna (Ina Garten's recipe is great). 90% of a lasagna's prep time is in the oven, and the other 10% is fool proof. Don't like Italian at all? Make a quiche -- once again, you're just baking something in a single baking dish, with a ton of cheese. There are tons of interesting "casseroles" out there from various cultures -- and they don't have the stigma of being 70's-era Brady Bunch Casseroles.

(4) Never Make Your Own Marinara If You're Just Going to Dump It on Barilla Pasta. Okay, we get it. Your grandma is Italian, or you went to Italy for a week, so you know Italian food more than me, blah blah blah. I'll certainly stipulate for the record that Ragu and many other sauces on the market are sugary swill-gravy. But I've made marinara before, and it just makes me angry at having to clean a sink full of dishes and chop a ton of vegetables. If (A) you weren't born in Sicily, and (B) you aren't Mario Batali, and (C) you don't plan on doing anything interesting with your pasta anyways, why don't you go buy Trader Joe's marinara sauce and chill out with a glass of wine the rest of the afternoon. If you want to feel all chef-y, dice up some onions or carrots or add a little red wine. If you really truly hate store-bought marinara, buy a jar from Francesca's. And stop being a poseur.

(5) Keep Your Station Clean! You know what the best thing about eating at a restaurant is? Not having to do any dishes. And while Erin tells me she loves my cooking, I'm certain she gets that pit-in-your-stomach feeling whenever I make an especially complex recipe with a ton of dishes. For many recipes, there is down-time built in, which can be used to keep your station clean. This seems like the opposite of economy, but really it is about the best use of time, cleanliness, and organization. It is infinitely easier and quicker to rinse a pan under hot water immediately after use than it is to scrub a cool pan that has been sitting on the counter with now-caked-on rice or sauce. Sometimes, economy is best measured for the entire family unit, over the course of the entire evening. Plus, keeping your station clean is a very classical French concept, so you will feel hip and nouveau-something-or-other while you harness your Chi.

(6) Ready, Set, Rice. I don't care if this makes me a lazy cheater, but I swear by Uncle Ben's Ready Rice. It's heated in the microwave, in the very package you bought it in, in 90 seconds flat. Seeds of Change is also a great brand (actually, better than UB's), and there are multiple varieties of pilafs, brown rice, quinoa, and basmati. Trader Joe's also has several varieties. Why use even one pan when you can use none?

(7) IQF 4 EVA. If you live in the midwestern 'burbs like me, and you don't have a fishmonger near your house, you've probably noticed a severe lack of quality fish in your supermarket. Nothing is worse than the fishy stiffs you get at the end of a Sunday afternoon at the local Jewel. There is an option for the rest of us -- individually quick-frozen fish. This means, essentially, that the fish was frozen while it was still fresh, and sealed separate from the rest of the package. Sam's and Costco both seem to carry some IQF fish varieties. In the fish hierarchy:

Fish You Caught > Fresh Fish in a Coastal, Metropolitan City Market > IQF Fish > nearly everything else

Chances are you're not getting fish in the first two classes, so you really ought to stop buying in #4. I do continue to go to Whole Foods for special occasions, but the prices are obscene for every day use, so I expressly exclude them in the hierarchy. The best thing about IQF is that it can be bought once during the weekend shopping trip and cooked much later -- thus removing the real need to purchase fish the same day you're going to cook it. I just saved you a shopping trip.

(8) Don't Fry This At Home. Look, I love fried food too. I love French Fries, and pan-fried pork cutlets, and onion rings. There are so many celebrity chef books and shows that show off fried dishes, and it is all very tempting to do at home. Just don't do it. There is no cleaning which is more difficult than cleaning and freshly oiled stove top/granite counter/hardwood floor/microwave/everything else in a 5 foot radius. If there is a cranny to be found, peanut oil will find it. When I go to restaurants, I get my fried food fix (like the Queen Mother of all fried foods, the schnitzel) and know I get my money's worth on kitchen cleanup alone.

(9) Your Pizza Dough Sucks. If aliens visited Earth, and we told them that there are half a dozen good pizza joints close to home, which will actually deliver the pizza to your door, yet we make homemade pizza anyways -- they'd think we were crazy. I love making homemade pizza, but if it ain't easy, it ain't worth it. One huge time saver is to use store-bought pizza dough (in the vegetable section at Trader Joe's) or to buy pizza dough from your local pizzeria. They make it in bulk, and they make it for a living, so they're better at it than you are.

(10) Thank You For Not Smoking. I love smoking brisket, and I love fire...but I hate tending a smoker box for 12 hours while smoking brisket, while ensuring that the temperature stays between 210 and 230 degrees the entire time. Say goodbye to your entire afternoon and evening. The reality, however, is that most of the smoke flavor is infused in the first couple hours. A quick fix is to use HEAVY smoke for two or three hours, and then throw it in the perfectly-tuned oven at 220 degrees. Want it extra moist? Wrap it in foil. You'll never win a BBQ contest this way, but let's face it -- that wasn't going to happen anyways because those guys treat smoking like a religion.

Happy Cooking!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The end of a busy week

Phwew-- Sonia and I had a busy, busy week! On Monday, she started off the week with a record 2 hour long nap; I'm sure she sensed that we had a lot of fun ahead of us and wanted to rest up. After a fun lunch (happy birthday to Maritza!), Maritza and I took Sosini and Sara to Costco. They have really cool double-wide carts there, so we strapped both girls in and watched mayhem ensue (in the form of poking, hair-pulling, hugging, kissing, and plenty of whining and goofing around). Witness:

A swim play date was rained out on Tuesday, so a few of us got together to let the kids play inside instead. But Wednesday and Thursday were so nice that we decided to take them swimming two days in a row! We took a group shot of the babies on the first day, but failed to do it the second day (darn!!).

On one of the days, Sara took her life in her own hands (Sonia's teeth are sharp!!) to feed Sosini some snacks. Maybe Sara will be a lion tamer if she decides to run away with the circus....

On Friday, we took Sonia and some of her buddies to story time, and Sonia (who hadn't slept well the night before) was so tired that during the post-story open play, all she wanted to do was sit next to me and lay her head in my lap while the other kids ran amok. We skipped a play date at Toni & Samantha's house (we are still so sad that we missed it!) so that Sonia could nap; of course, she then proceeded to take a short 1 hour 15 minute nap. We stayed home for nothing. ARGH!! Sonia salvaged the afternoon, though, by inviting Sara over to play.

To cap off the week, Sonia had a lovely morning with her babysitter while Andrew took me out to play my very first round of golf ever. I was so exhausted after 9 holes that I have absolutely no idea how anyone would ever have the stamina to play 18! While Andrew and I were gone, playing bad golf and losing balls in various lakes, marshes, and thin air, Sonia took a 1 hour 45 minute nap. WHY DON'T YOU DO THAT EVERY DAY, CUCKOO BIRD?!?!? Ohhhhhh, Sonia. Then, this evening, just before bedtime, Sonia decided to take another step closer to walking. We managed to capture it on this video:

Go, Sonia, GO!!!

Tomorrow, we're taking Andrew to the store to buy him a tie for Father's Day. No joke-- that's what he wants!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Serious reader

Books are way more fun to read when you're sitting in an inflatable ducky tub!

The ducky tub is Sonia's version of a Barcalounger.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

13 months old: a state of the baby address

The Great Sosini is another month older, another month wiser, and another month closer to figuring out how to drive herself and her friends to the mall with Mama's car and credit card! This child is such a fun shopping and dining partner.... The smiles she refuses to yield when she is suffering from stranger danger with friends and relatives are relinquished when she sees a stranger waving to her from another booth or from behind a cash register. It's so unfair. I was so sad when, in Texas, Sonia smiled maybe once when she was meeting her grandmother's friends. Then, when we got on the airplane to come home, and she flirted with the male flight attendant serving drinks. ACK!

Speaking of being social, Sonia and I continue to be very busy hanging out with friends and exploring the cool activities available to us in the western suburbs of Chicago. Sosini and her buddies all still love to give each other eye exams, drink each others' sippy cups, and steal each others' food (keeping us moms on constant "no no!" alert). I accidentally caught her in the act the other day:

Poor Sami! She was fine afterward, and I dove into the fray to stop the naughtiness. Oh, Sonia.

Sosinini (whose hair is getting thicker every day) is addicted to ascending and descending stairs, climbing in and out of things, and pushing everything that isn't nailed down while practicing her walking skills. Our kitchen chairs end up in odd places. Sara and Sonia had fun pushing the wagon around the grassy knoll the other day:

Sosi also loves to push empty strollers around-- Sami's umbrella stroller is a favorite of Sosi's!

Oh, child. You are such a cuckoo bird.

After we got home from Texas, Andrew and I decided we needed to take Sonia on a little family adventure, so we took her to Monkey Joe's yesterday. Sosini enjoyed showing off for Daddy!

I love my crazy baby!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Malahowski chicks in Texas

This past week, Sonia and I flew to the DFW area to return the visits that Andrew's parents and sister/bro-in-law/nephew paid us last month. We stayed at Ali, Daniel, & Nicholas's house, but we also got to see Grandma Jenni and Grandpa Dick. The visit was fun, but it was a bit tainted with exhaustion-- The Great Sosini had been sleeping badly for a week or so leading up to the trip, and her sleeping patterns didn't fare any better while she was away from home and out of her normal routine. We still managed to have a good time, though, and Sosi got in some good bonding time with her aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandparents.

I didn't take as many pictures as I would have liked because A) it's hard to tear myself away from the fun to grab the camera, and B) for most of the time, Ali and I were alone with the babies (Daniel was away on business for 2 of the 3 days we were there). It's much easier to take pictures when the parenting coverage is zone rather than one-on-one. Ha! Anyway, here are a few of the pictures I managed to take....

Nicholas showed Sonia all of his favorite vantage points for keeping an eye on the neighborhood kids and cats-- Ali & Daniel's house has great low windows with awesome windowsills to lean on!

Nicholas is so fast when he zooms around in his walker thingy! Sonia never did figure out how to get very far in her Mini when it still had the seat in it. When she saw that Nicholas's walker moves, Sonia decided it looked like a fun push toy, and she would push it even when Nicholas was already in it! He would get a very confused look on his face when she pushed him around.

Sonia has been perfecting her stair ascending and descending skills, and in a house with no baby gates (Nicholas hasn't shown much interest in climbing the stairs yet), Sonia was in stair heaven! We spent a lot of time playing on the stairs....

We went swimming over at Jenni & Dick's house, and Sonia went just as nutty as she did the first time. I can't wait to see this kid in swim lessons!

Thanks for the hospitality and showing us a good time, Ali, Daniel, Nicholas, Jenni, and Dick!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The best birthday present ever

Hugs from The Great Sosini!

(Don't mind the horrendous bags under my eyes; they're due to Sonia's erratic sleep patterns from cutting molars. There's no rest for the weary.)

Not everyone is always in the mood to get one of Sonia's overly exuberant hugs, though.... I think Sara just wanted a little alone time in the fishy pool!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sosi and her friends

Sonia is cultivating quite a wonderful circle of friends! Yesterday, she saw a bunch of them when we played at Spring Lake Park in Aurora and wished her buddy, Samantha, a very happy first birthday. Taking these baby group shots is always challenging-- and entertaining!

Last week, we met up with a few of her buddies to have a very bug-filled picnic lunch at Zach's tree. Doing baby group shots with the babies in their strollers worked out pretty well, actually!

Maritza took these super-cute pictures of Sara and Sosini at the park yesterday....

I love seeing Sonia interact with her friends! Granted, it takes vigilance to prevent the babies from smacking and poking each other too much, but it's fun nonetheless.


In other Sonia news:

WE ARE BOTTLE-FREE! Sonia had her last bottle well over a week ago, and she doesn't seem to miss them at all. I worry constantly about her fluid intake, though, so I'm always shoving a sippy cup at her. Luckily, she seems to have realized that when she feels thirsty, a big long slurp from her cup feels awfully good. Plus, she loves drinking out of her straw sippy cups!

Sosini is still having some sleep problems that we're 90% sure are due to cutting those pesky molars. Tooth #8 (her left bottom incisor) erupted while Niki and Peter were visiting, so hopefully her mouth will concentrate more on pushing the molars up and out.

And finally, I am ready to declare that Sonia is officially talking. She says "Mama" and "tickle tickle"-- you can tell where her priorities are! Tickling Sonia is definitely one of my great joys in life. She thought Auntie Niki was an awfully good tickler! Anyway, saying "Mama" and "tickle tickle" are, of course, slightly inconsistent, but I'm going to go ahead and write it in her baby book. Yay, Sosinini!