On your marks… Get set… GO!

Does anybody else feel like they are in a race the moment Halloween decorations are put away and Thanksgiving recipes and Christmas lights appear.

How should we cook the turkey this year? Traditional cranberry sauce or a chutney? Apple pie, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, ice cream, or all of the above? Should we try caroling this year? A real tree or artificial? White lights or colored? Twinkling or still? A fun family getaway or gifts?

The questions are endless but unfortunately our time spent in this season meant for family and togetherness is not.  This holiday I’m going to try my hardest to not sweat the small stuff. I will appreciate my own quirky, simple decorations instead of feeling insecure over the perfect works of crafty art I see online. I will pick quality time with my family and friends over stressing and planning. Instead of busyness I will do my best to fill our holiday season with the important things; family movie nights, hot chocolate, cozy socks, flannel sheets and enjoying warm buttered cinnamon raisin bread by a crackling fire.

Last week was a doozy! It all started when my husband and two older boys decided it was time to start clearing our property. We own about 6 acres in Newcastle and we’re hoping (fingers and toes crossed) to start building sometime after Christmas. Being the semi-city folk that we are, my boys started hacking away at our property without concern of running into snakes, bobcats, or poison oak. Thankfully they didn’t come face to face with any rattlesnakes or bobcats, but they did run into plenty of poison oak. Two miserable weeks, 1 shot, several bottles of calamine lotion, and a few prescriptions of prednisone later, they are finally on the mend. My husband is a pretty tough cookie, but even he lost sleep over the insane itchiness poison oak bestows.

Thankfully our week ended on a good and exciting note. A few months ago I quietly decided to enter a local pageant (the Miss Auburn Pageant). After weeks of rehearsal and agonizing over my onstage question, I was crowned Ms. Auburn!  The best part of that day wasn’t the crowing or successfully walking across stage without tripping. It was when Jude (my second oldest son) told me how proud he was of me. It was a moment that I will remember and cherish forever.

Needless to say we were exhausted come Sunday. So how does a mother thank her family for dressing up and sitting still for hours when all they want to do is take an oatmeal bath and catch up on Modern Family? With a big pot of comforting ham and potato soup, that’s how! Creamy, full of rosemary and salty ham, this soup was the perfect way to sooth my boys itchy arms and celebrate mom’s unexpected victory!

I consider myself to be a fairly responsible person.

I take my vitamins in the morning, I floss my teeth every night, and I try my hardest to tell my immediate family that I love them everyday.

But sometimes I need to remind myself that I am also adventurous! So when the chance to jump off a cliff into a warm ocean presents itself, I’ll take it. I’ll quickly think twice, say a little prayer, and then…. Geronimo!!

I also need to remind myself that I am fun. When the opportunity to push my way through a crowd of festival goers to better experience all of the confetti and music Girl Talk has to offer, I’ll take it! I might get a little nauseous among the sea of people, and I might feel a little out of place elbow to elbow with a bunch of 20 year olds, but I won’t let that won’t stop me from dancing!

Most of all I need to remind myself that it’s ok to be a little irresponsible every now and then. It’s ok if I decided to stay up past my 10:00pm bed time and it’s ok if I want to hit the snooze button in the morning and skip the gym. It’s ok if I want to have dessert for lunch and it’s definitely ok if I want to have nachos for dinner! Chips, cheese, sour cream, ahhhh irresponsibility taste delicious! Add some roasted butternut squash, chicken, and black beans and you’ll have yourself a well rounded meal. Just don’t let your irresponsible side know!

Have you ever had an idea that was too ridiculous for words, but for some reason you just couldn’t keep quiet about it?

You know, like that one time when you wanted to run a marathon, start a business, get married, have a baby, write a book. It’s not like you asked for this crazy idea to pop into your head (or maybe you did). It just kind-of happened. You simply woke up one morning and there it was, handing you a cup of coffee and wondering when you were going to have the guts to get up and get started. I currently have a silly/fun idea brewing and while I am not ready to totally let the cat out of the bag, I’m having a hard time keeping a lid on it. I will tell you that it involves food, kids, and writing. A few of my favorite things!

Before I say too much let me tell you about this Italian mac and cheese! It’s a great idea just waiting to be served for dinner! It’s full of penne, parmesan and Italian sausage. A few more of my favorite things! Like most good ideas, this recipe has a shelf life so don’t wait too long to get started on this mac and cheese. Or that new idea, new job, or new adventure!

I have no problem throwing together simple, nutritious, and delicious meals for my family almost every night of the week. If someone is unhappy (and somebody usually is) with the menu that evening, I offer whatever they would like out of the fruit bowl for dinner instead. My favorite saying when it comes to meal time, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” This also works, sometimes.

Need help putting together a tasty, beautiful, and seasonal menu for a dinner party? I’m your girl! Just give me an hour with a few of my favorite food magazines, food blogs, a pencil, and a note pad. Mapping out party cocktails to mouthwatering mains, along with a shopping and cooking schedule is probably one of my favorite things to do! Can you say type “A”?

Just had a baby? I’ll be at your door with an overflowing dish of comfort food, garlic bread, and a bottle of champaign! Works every time.

Figuring out what to bring to a potluck, this whole situation stumps me every time!! Questions like: Are there any food allergies I need to be aware of? Is there a theme? What is everybody else bringing?, end up clouding my food judgment. I’ll wind up over thinking it and bringing something that is way too complicated, (table side bananas foster, anyone?). Or overwhelming myself and wind up bringing something a little too simple. Everybody likes steamed white rice, right?!

Then I made these roasted parmesan potatoes and my potluck woes were over! These potatoes are great for a crowd, quick to throw together, easily identifiable among a table full of mysterious casseroles, and of course they are topped with cheese! Make sure to save a bit of these golden, crispy potatoes for yourself before they hit the buffet line. Chances are they’ll be the first thing to go, unless they’re sitting next to a Jello salad of course. Who can resist Jello studded with fruit and mini marshmallows?!

One would assume that my daily life would be calmer and quieter the moment my boys are back in school. On some levels this is true; fewer arguments between my 5 and 13 year old to break up, and less messes to clean up through out the day. The reality is my schedule only gets crazier!

Between drop offs, pick ups, homework, projects, soccer, volleyball and volunteering in the class room, most of my free time is spent folding laundry, stocking up on juice boxes, or trying to fit in a quick phone call with my mom in the pick up line before my van is filled with chit-chatty boys.

Despite all of this chaos (that I love!) having dinner on the table is still a priority for me. During these busy days dinner happens one of three ways: I’ll put together a quick pasta dish in the afternoon and reheat it when we are ready to eat that evening, I’ll have Ryan bring home take out, or I’ll throw something into my crockpot in the morning. Out of the three, crockpot dinner nights are our favorite!

These slightly spicy, smoky chipotle chicken tacos have been in heavy rotation around here since school has started. These simple tacos are delicious with a few fun toppings, and go well with an end-of-a-crazy-day beer or glass of wine!

This summer has been the best summer ever.

Keep in mind I say that after every summer break, but I’m serious this time! It was perfect.

Perfect summers do not necessarily include big fancy tropical getaways or tons of scheduled activities. While all of that stuff is pretty great, my idea of a perfect summer includes lots of frozen yogurt, weekend bbq’s with friends, and a few fun road trips. Allowing yourself to relax and slow down makes these simple summer pleasures that much more memorable and enjoyable.

Before we jump head first into the next busy school/soccer/holiday season, we decided to take our boys on one last getaway to San Francisco. While I’m a country girl at heart, I always enjoy the busyness of the city for a few days. We ate, we rode a street car, we stayed up late, we shopped. More importantly we were together and that is always my favorite part of any trip we take. I am always thankful for these fun getaways together, but nothing beats a deliciously slow, popsicle filled summer day!

It’s taken almost the whole summer, but I think the boys and I have finally figured out this whole summer schedule thing. Going from a very early, very strict schedule to no schedule what-so-ever threw us for a loop this year!

Our older boys want to stay up late, sleep in late and they are slow to wake when they do finally roll out of bed. Our younger boys are asleep by 9:00, awake before 8:00 am and hop out of bed with a spring in their step! I like waking up around 7:00 and after a cup of coffee I start tackling my to-do list that accompanies each day. The task of structuring our very different schedules and wants into a balanced, fun summer vacation hasn’t been easy! Chores and errands are done in the morning so the bulk of our day can be spent enjoying the sun, our pool or time with friends. TV and video games are limited to the mornings and simple late afternoon outings to grab a slurpie or frozen yogurt has helped to keep us all on the same page.

Being flexible with our meal times has also helped our day run smoother. Because the younger boys only want a small bite in the morning, and the big boys sleep right through breakfast, brunch has been our best friend! Everybody is hungry (and awake) by 10:30 and these creamy breakfast enchiladas full of scrambled eggs, black beans and spinach have satisfied groggy teenagers and grumpy 5 year olds alike!

As of last week the Vanni household officially consists of 2 parents, 1 bulldog, 1 grey floppy eared bunny, 3 sweet boys, and 1 awesome teenager.

That’s right, our oldest boy just turned 13 and to be honest with you it’s still a little hard to believe. While some days felt longer than others, 13 years of motherhood has flown by. As a family we have experienced and learned a lot in this amount of time. I expect the next 13 years will be just as educating, if not more than the last!

Since becoming parents to a teenager Ryan and I have felt the desire up the ante in his life lessons department. Instead of bombarding our teen with a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, we’ve learned that the best way to teach him (and the rest of our boys) is by showing him instead of telling him. While some of his lessons will inevitably be harder to teach than others, the incredibly important lesson of healthy eating has been a fun one for us teach. After watching Gaven master the toaster oven and the microwave, I thought it was time for him to learn how to use the stove top and oven. This simple frittata utilizes both and it also happens to be one of his favorite dishes to eat!

Teaching our teenage boy how to cook and eat well, check! Guiding our teenager and helping him uncover the man he was born to be, that life lesson might take just a bit longer!

Ryan (my husband) is originally from Arcata, California. When he was about three years old his parents decided to leave their sleepy, redwood nestled home for a brighter, faster life in Sacramento. This move broke a lot of hearts, including Ryan’s grandparents. In order to keep precious family ties together, Ryan’s parents made it a priority to visit the Vanni’s (Ryan’s grandparents) as often as they could. Fast forward 30 years and you’ll find that these annual Vanni family trips to Arcata are still happening! Except now my husband is in the driver’s seat and our four boys are in the back excited to see their great-grandparents.

I love that my husband’s fond childhood memories of visiting his grandparents are now also a part of our boys history. These trips are always full of catching up, funny stories, old family photos as well as new family snap shots. Of course we all come together to share a big family breakfast with pancakes, hash browns, and a couple sides of bacon. Then there are the dinners complete with at least two helpings of veal parmesan, tiramisu, and a few glasses of red wine here and there. We all get a little misty eyed when it’s time to say goodbye and we promise to not let too much time pass before our next visit. Ryan and I always drive away thankful for his grandparents and for the time spent together.

After these weekends full of family and eating out we are usually ready to get back to our normal, everyday eating habits. On our way home from our most recent trip we stopped at a cute road side restaurant/resort called The Grass House where I stumbled upon this clean and delicious quinoa salad. Paired with a tall glass of lemon water, it was exactly what I was craving after devouring a plate full of pasta bolognese the night before!