Channeling the Kitchens of the Great Midwest

July 9th, 2016

The Jensen family has just returned from an epic (EPIC) thirteen day trip to the Pacific Northwest.   We visited Seattle; Mt. Rainier,; Mt. Saint Helen’s; the Oregon Coast; Bend; the Columbia River Gorge; and bookended the trip with another visit to the Emerald City.   It was so fun and we were thrilled to be able to visit with friends & family in the vicinity.  I always get a bit of wanderlust when I see such beautiful places—but towards the end of our trip, I was excited to come home and get back into routines and the comfort of our own lovely Ann Arbor based beds.

One of the things that ends up happening when I travel is that I spend a lot of time looking at recipes on my phone; which may be the reason that Lars told me I used 50% of my data allotment in 2 days. (woops!).  Vacation is a time for eating out and not cooking; but now I can’t wait to get started on some good summer bbq recipes and lovely salads to enjoy time outside with the kids, friends, and family here in our home.

Some recipes that have caught my eye that I think I am going to try this week include:

  1. Rosemary Ranch Chicken Kabobs
  2. Grilled Rosemary Chicken Breasts with Blackberry Mustard Glaze
  3. BLT Fried Rice
  4. Lemon Chicken and Potatoes in Foil
  5. Grilled Chicken Tikka Masala

I guess I’m on a rosemary / chicken kick — but that’s what happens when your significant other has a very narrow palate for things that he will eat.

Encinitas/San Diego Summer

July 27th, 2014

As part of our summer routine–we made a quick trip out to San Diego in early July to visit Nonni and Nonno, play at the beach, and just hang out with good family and friends.  We didn’t take nearly enough photos but I’ve selected a few good’uns for posting below.

Elsa_Bjorn_DTW-SAN_2014

Sorry DL Flight 833 DTW-SAN. Elsa is 1 and likes to stand on tray tables. Its the lesser of two evils. Either stand on a tray table or scream. (OMG).

Elsa_Bjorn_Swimming_BayClub

At the Bay Club pool. Bjorn loved his little inner tube and Elsa was content just climbing up and down the first two steps of the pool.

Bjorn_Sleeping_BayClub

Naptime. Nonni & Nonno got us a room at the Bay Club so we wouldn’t have to fight traffic on the Fourth of July and could watch fireworks on the San Diego bay.

Elsa_Bjorn_Cardiff_Beach_2014

Sandcastles are hard work. Especially when you have a sister who’s mission in life is to destroy them.

Megan_Elsa_Fireworks

Elsa fell asleep while watching fireworks on San Diego Bay. Not pictured, Nonno getting pooped on by a seagull as soon as the fireworks started.

Elsa_Cardiff

Cardiff State Beach

Elsa_Nonno_CardiffBeach

Nonno & Elsa wading in the waves at Cardiff State Beach

Captain Bjorn

Captain Bjorn. The boat stayed anchored in the slip the entire time.

The Pacific was unseasonably warm (even for July!) so it was great beach weather and we headed down there frequently.   It is tough work going to the beach with two small children, let me tell you.  Bonus–both kids were generally pretty exhausted at the end of the day and Bjorn even put himself to bed.

We also made a quick trip up to Los Angeles to visit my grandparents in Glendale, some friends related to my boss at a Bowling Alley in Burbank, and also we got to meet Baby Lauren of the Geoff & Cheryl genes. (that was a busy day but so so so well worth it).  The kids were champs that day–although they were a bit of a hot mess on the ride home.  Totally warranted a stop at McDonalds for a milkshake.

Speaking of milkshakes–there’s a new In n’ Out in Encinitas (walking distance from my parents house).  We went there only two times–but it was glorious.

We’ll be back, Encinitas.

A Pause

July 27th, 2014

I cannot stop thinking about an acquaintance–not someone I knew well at all–someone on the extreme periphery in my life. We were pen pals a long while ago, she was nice and kind, we found each other on Facebook and it was so easy to continue “staying in touch” by just observing each other’s lives.

On Wednesday at work, I started seeing her tagged in a large number of posts, all indicating that she had died. Immediately I thought it was a tragic accident–she was hit by a car or perhaps she had been sick and didn’t disclose it online. As more information came out, it turned out that she had taken her own life and left behind three small children.

In my life, I have been sad and I have been depressed. It is so so hard to find your way out of the darkness and its just as easy to mask it if you don’t want others to know how you’re suffering. I just wish this beautiful girl who was always so kind and nice in her letters and whose photos all showed signs of a happy family with happy children had received the help she needed. I cannot stop thinking about her daughters and son–who are old enough to understand. Tragic and heartbreaking.

365 Days Later…..

July 26th, 2014

Elsa turned one a few weeks ago. Can you believe it? I can’t. Technically speaking, I no longer have a baby. That’s a little sad for me because I don’t think I see any more babies in our family’s future. I read something somewhere that described this feeling of familial completeness like “we just don’t feel like we’re waiting for anyone else to arrive to the party”. And, let me tell you, a party it is at the Jensen house.

Here are a couple of photos of our lovely, free-spirited, sleep-challenged one-year old.

Elsa_1

Elsa the Loud

Elsa_Cupcake_2014

Most of this cupcake ended up on the patio for the ants to eat or in Elsa’s hair. Elsa seems to be a little “blase” about it all.

Bjorn_Cupcake_2014

Bjorn was more excited about the cupcakes than Elsa.

Elsa_Bjorn_Sick

Both our kids got sick with a random summer illness. Not gonna lie–it was probably the most peaceful day in our house in the last year.

Elsa_2

Practicing stepping.

Its so hard to find time to document some of the silly or frustrating or silly + frustrating things she does now.  I’m going to attempt that here:

  • When she wants a binky or a bottle she says “mamamamamamamamamamama”
  • If you ask her “where’s the fan” she will point at pretty much anything and sometimes she will actually point at the fan.
  • Elsa LOVES going to Gretchen’s House.  It is literally the only place where she leaps out of my arms into teacher Leanna’s arms and just snuggles in for a good cuddle every morning.  They seem happy to see her, too….?  Her Gretchen’s House name is Elsa Earth.  (My two readers may remember that Bjorn is Bjorn Banjo).
  • She loves to eat black olives, quesadillas, peaches, yogurt, corn, macaroni and cheese, applesauce, cottage cheese, cheese.   Only time will tell if we get as picky an eater as our first child.
  • Her favorite toy appears to be my wallet. She will literally find my purse, and dig through it, until she can get to the blasted thing.  Then she will proceed to take everything out of it.  Going to have to find a better way to store my cash….
  • She loves Bjorn until she doesn’t.  Then she beats him.  This girl takes no slack.
  • She rocks a faux hawk when her hair dries right after getting out of the bathtub.
  • Her “best friends” to parallel play with are Kate, Minna, Rosemary, Annabelle, Van Man, and Ryan.
  • She climbs with no fear of falling.  This doesn’t always work out for her.
  • We will have to babyproof with this child.  We never had to with Bjorn.  Brave new world.  I come into the bathroom to find toilet paper rolls all pulled out and q-tips everywhere.  I’ve been gone for thirty seconds and she pretty much just goes for the glory and destroys everything.
  • We wish she would sleep through the night….
  • Bjorn calls her Woowee (Woo-Weeeeeee). We are not totally sure how this nickname came about but we think it has something to do with the fact that he used to scream “woo!  woo!  woo!” in her face when she was an infant.  Sadly (for Elsa) we all have started to call her Woowee.

I feel much better now that I’ve documented all of this.  I know that I think I’ll remember it all but I invariably won’t.  In fact, I should not be held accountable for remembering much of ANYTHING from the past five years.  Its all a blurr of craziness and fun and sleep deprivation and love.  Thank goodness for photos and blogs (when you keep up with them).

We are looking forward to more adventures and milestones to document–including our upcoming road trip to go camping in Maine with the Wayfaring Waldos.  Are we both crazy?  Simple answer:  Yes.  Camping with two five year olds and two one year olds?  That is ill advised but we are up for the challenge. I am sure that Elsa will be happy to add Henry & Grace into her arsenal of friends.  Also: Lobster rolls.

Also, another post soon about our trip to San Diego to visit Nonni and Nonno and go to the beach ad nauseum earlier this summer.

It’s Snowing!!!!! (News Alert: I live in Michigan)

January 5th, 2014

We are getting a snowstorm with much fanfare here in Ann Arbor.  It is *quite* big–but I’m also surprised at how so many people act as though the world is ending.  Apparently when a storm comes into town you go to your local supermarket and buy enough necessities to last for ~6 months.  That’s just how we roll here in the Great Lakes, Great Times state.  I won’t lie–I went to the grocery store on Saturday like the rest of the gd town–but it was only so that I could keep to my New Years resolution to menu plan more effectively.  Luckily, I have a driver who dropped me off at the front of the store and picked me up when I was all done.  His name is Lars but in these instances, I call him Jeeves.  Either way, he keeps an air of professionalism and doesn’t interact with me much.

Here are some photos of the epic snowstorm of 2014.

The Jensen Family Tackles the Snow

The Jensen Family Tackles the Snow

Megan & Elsa

Megan & Elsa

...in which we probably violate child labor laws and try to get Bjorn to (unsuccessfully) shovel the driveway.

…in which we probably violate child labor laws and try to get Bjorn to (unsuccessfully) shovel the driveway.

With the week ahead already being off kilter due to me traveling to New York on Thursday/Friday, a snow day tomorrow on our first scheduled day back into the office was the last thing we needed.  That said, here we are.  I’m taking first shift at work in the morning assuming I can get out of the driveway and then Lars will head out for the remainder of the day.  Despite the routine breakdown, there will still be meal preparation–oh, yes!  Tonight we had tortellini and salad (my go-to easiest meal ever)–but I”m legitimately cooking with leftovers in mind for the rest of the week.

…and now its time for the season premiere of Downton Abbey (after a Chargers win earlier today!).  It doesn’t get any better.

A Return to Domesticity (and Updating this Blog)

January 2nd, 2014

A couple of years ago, I blogged about “dinner for the week ahead” in an attempt to be better about meal planning for my family.  I kept it going for awhile and then it feel to the wayside.  I’d like to try this again.

Firstly–life.  The Jensens have had an eventful 2013 with the addition of our adorable little girl Elsa.  She was born on June 25th at 11:37pm in the middle of a thunderstorm.  Like Bjorn, labor was very fast–but at least we knew it was likely to be quick this time and we were able to get the epidural.   Elsa makes us laugh and brings us joy.  She makes us feel complete as a family of four.  Her New Year’s resolution is to sleep through the night.  I fully endorse this and wish her all the success in the world.  PLEASE BE SUCCESSFUL, ELSA.

A few photos….

We're doomed when she asks us for a pony.

We’re doomed when she asks us for a pony.

Bjorn in Fall

Bjorn in Fall

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

Siblings

For the amount of photos we take of these two, this is usually on par with the best we can do, which is to say, we don’t do very well

I was anxious and a little sad to return back to work at the end of a wonderful maternity leave that was filled with lovely walks to downtown Ann Arbor for coffee and companionship, baby Elsa sleeping on top of me while I read or binged on “Friday Night Lights”, and getting to know my baby girl in general.  Not having anywhere to be but with her was amazing and perfect…and a privilege, I know, but I still was bemoaning having to return to the grind.   In hindsight, I’m so glad I was able to return to work when I did.  The woman that I have directly supported for the past eight years was diagnosed only two weeks after I got back to work with a neurological condition that was invariably fatal.  We thought we had more time, but she ended up passing away quite quickly.   My thoughts on all of this are complicated and hard to process–so I don’t really want to do it in a public forum.  But know that this fall I was very sad, confused, anxious, and tired.  

I also lost an  important person in my family–my Nonni–who has mentally not been with us for awhile, but was so linked to happy memories of my childhood.  Spending a week with her over the summer every now and again. swimming for endless hours at the pool in her complex (and wearing the ugly towel dress she made me that I actually thought was pretty cool at the time), playing spite and malice, building card houses, clogging (oh yes, she took me clogging), going to cirque du soleil, spinach balls & meatball soup, sleeping in a big brass bed, drawers in the bathroom full of bright colored lipsticks, fake jewelry galore, getting lipstick all over my hair when she kissed Meredith and I’s heads whenever we came to visit her, being called “precious little lambs”….even when we were not so precious.  

My Great-Grandmother and my Nonni (R)

My Great-Grandmother and my Nonni (R)

 

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Meredith, Nonni, Me

In near all photos of Nonni, she was smiling and happy and beautiful.

In near all photos of Nonni, she was smiling and happy and beautiful.

So, maybe in a sense, I am trying to return to normalcy and routine–whatever that may be.  And that perhaps can be meal planning.  So here, in all its glory, is our meal planning for this week through Saturday and we’ll begin again on Sunday.

  • WEDNESDAY:  Mediterranean Lentils
  • THURSDAY:  Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • FRIDAY:  Leftovers
  • SATURDAY:  Breakfast Burritos for Dinner (I hate that so much breakfast food looks amazing but when does anyone have time to make breakfast burritos in the morning.  I am lucky if I get to eat a bowl of cereal!….in that same vein, watch for Huevos Rancheros to eventually make an appearance.  YES, PLEASE.)

So let’s keep with this, shall we?  I plan on updating this while watching Downton Abbey and reveling in the hour or two I get free of child-responsibilities (so long as no one is puking) every evening.

 

Thoughts on Recipes: Maternity Leave Edition

June 15th, 2013

I have been off work now for about a week and a half and have decided, at 39.5 weeks pregnant (due June 19th) that there are approximately a million recipes that I would like to try.  Getting my arse off the couch and getting to the store and actually making them in another story—but still.  I was mildly successful in the partaking of two recipes from a blog a friend at work shared with me (and I have recently become obsessed with).

Here are the two recipes that I tried:

BLT Chopped Salad with Corn & Avocado:  Can we just look at how beautiful this salad is?  For those of you who do not do bacon–I think it would be totally fine without.  Avocado and lime and corn and cherry tomatoes and queso fresco (I didn’t have feta and truth be told, love any excuse to use queso fresco on anything)….all that was missing, for me, was a corona and lime…or possibly a nice white wine.  Mmmmm.  It was so delicious.  Also, I like arugula but I’m not a big arugula by itself fan…pairing it with the butter lettuce was fantastic.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies:  This was a recipe chosen purely on the fact that I could give a big bag of pretzels to Bjorn and let him smash it up.  Also peanut butter.  And milk chocolate.  I measured out all the ingredients and prepped it for my mom and Bjorn to make the cookies…then I took a nap and when I woke up…little balls of peanut butter, chocolate, pretzel goodness.

Other recipes on my list:

  1. Caprese Shells With Mini Meatballs
  2. Crockpot Cheesesteak Pulled Chicken Sandwiches (this is more for Lars, than me…but looks super duper easy).
  3. Springtime Crockpot Minestrone  …I realize we are entering the summer months but I have just now started noticing asparagus more frequently in the stores.  Mmmm.  Asparagus.  Soup.  Noodles.

I am a little disheartened to hear that the blogger from this site will most likely be writing a cookbook.  As is the case with other bloggers come lately who do quite well in the food blog arena (I’m looking at you smitten kitchen)….their food blogs start to wane as their cookbook waxes.  Does that even make sense?  It was a moon analogy okay?!

Anyway–just thought I would share my unrealistic expectations of myself to try new recipes at this ungodly gestation stage.

 

 

…More Thoughts on Recipes. Fall Edition.

September 16th, 2012

It’s September and generally that minds a transitional changing of the guard for dinner time options (at least in places with seasons.  I understand it is 102 degrees in Encinitas right now–so this probably does not apply to my SoCal friends).

This summer consisted of a lot of random eating on the go.  We grilled chicken shish kabobs, ate lots of salad, made tacos, had hot dog parties, and took advantage of the new Ann Arbor/Pittsfield Twshp Costco for some delicious pizza. Nothing too exciting but we were busy, guys.

Now that school has started and its the light is waning in the evening, I think its time to get back on board with meal planning.  Hey–I did it for approximately three months back in January-February-March.  Maybe I can jump start it again. This was all prompted by a recipe I saw on Smitten Kitchen for Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella. I had never cooked with eggplant before, but it looked so easy.  Plus it was vegetarian–and not that we are hardcore vegetarian–but its always nice to have a non-meat recipe in circulation. The first time I tried it was kind of a beast.  I hate the first time making a recipe that has a sh*tload of ingredients and steps.  I feel like most of my time is trying to cross check everything and re-reading the instructions over and over again.   “What wait?  You want me to do what?  With a carrot?!”….okay this has taken a bad turn but you get the idea.

I was a little dubious when I pulled it out of the oven and sitting down to dinner with Lars.  But then began the questioning.

L:  So is this healthy?

M: Well…I don’t think its “unhealthy” but I wouldn’t classify it as “healthy”.

L:  Was it easy to make?

M:  Hard to tell–I can never tell how hard it is to make the first time around.

L:  I like it.  It has a nice combination of flavors.

M:  **jaw drop**

I totally figured this was going to be a “B” recipe–of which I have many according to the Lars Jensen dinner-ranking-systems.  But given the positive feedback (yes, folks, the above is positive feedback), I decided to give it another go and see if I could streamline the process a bit and learn from my mistakes previously.  The second time around it was MUCH easier, but it did take more time than I normally like to cook.  Its not a come home after dinner weeknight meal that you just whip up but its a nice weekend meal with two or three more meals to be had from the leftovers.  I especially like the lemon zest in it.

Some more fall recipes I would like to entertain for this upcoming season are:

I’m sure there are more.  There has to be.  And there will be old favorites that are always in heavy rotation (Mock chicken tortilla soup, anyone?).    Fall is a great time to cook.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

July 27th, 2012

If we are to gauge our lives and parenting capabilities by how we have influenced our children to be contributing and conscientious members of society, we must also gauge our musical tastes but what our toddler’s favorite non-child songs are.

So, it is with great regret, that I admit that Bjorn’s favorite song is “Call Me Maybe”.  We have watched the video on YouTube…and also the many parodies that the song has provided.  A personal favorite is Share it Maybe by the Cookie Monster.  In any case, a conversation between Lars and I happened wherein we realized this was a silent plea for help from Bjorn (he may not know it, yet, but it totally is!) and we are now determined to improve our music tastes in front of our impressionable little lamb.  Current songs/albums on my rotation include:

  • Scars on 45 (“Hearts on Fire” and “Give Me Something”, the two singles are fantastic melodic brit pop at its best).
  • The new Keane Album, Strangeland.  More brit pop amazingness…(I swear I’m not trying to turn Bjorn into Morrissey).
  • Rediscovering some great old Jimmy Eat World albums.  Bleed American Track 7 in particular (If you don’t, don’t); and the entire album of Futures.  I haven’t been very invested in their recent efforts but these two albums.  So good.
  • Bon Iver is continuously on repeat.  I can’t stop myself.  I need my heart to break.  Oh, Michicant!
  • …speaking of Bon Iver, there is a great cover of Skinny Love by a British artist named Birdy who also covers some other really great songs, including 1901 by Phoenix and The District Sleeps Alone Tonight by the Postal Service.

….also, I am really really  (really) excited about the new Killers album.  It has been a long four years.  I know it has been four years because I remember listening to their last album on our honeymoon in Hawaii, nearly four years ago.  That is too long, Brandon Flowers!  No more solo projects for you, please!

What are you listening to?  Do you have any recommendations to improve our repertoire?

Love from the Mitten.

Backyard Entertainings

July 16th, 2012

When it hasn’t been hotter than hell in Ann Arbor, we’ve been doing little get togethers in our lovely backyard with family and friends.  It has been a great way to enjoy good company, where out the kids from playing together, and cook for a large group.  Thus far this summer we have entertained with burgers, pesto (using basil leaves from my very own basil plant, thank you very much!), tacos, spaghetti (not really backyard food but it worked), and these amazing chicken kabobs that I found on allrecipes.com. They were so good delicious and easy–it required a little planning because we marinaded them overnight–but it was worth it.  Honey, soy sauce, garlic (that you don’t even have to dice!) and vegetable oil.  Seriously, it does not get easier.  Serve with rice and a watermelon salad.

When its too hot to even be outside (and this has happened a couple of times this summer) we look for light fare that we can whip up inside.  Recalling my need for something citrusy, I decided to try Giada’s Lemon Spaghetti Recipe.  This was good–because it had lemon–but bad because I could not figure out how to get the Parmesan not to clump up with I mixed the sauce in with the noodles.  I think I must need to have to wait a while to blend the two because there were just big clumps of Parmesan in the pasta and I think it was supposed to be a more subtle tasting.  Truly, cheese makes anything and everything better but not in clumps in my lemon pasta!