Category Archives: Critiques & Reviews

Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce

Trust me on this one, friends. Forget ricotta. Forget cottage cheese even. The best creamy layer for lasagna is a good Béchamel sauce.

Please don’t be frightened by its Frenchy name. It’s quite easy to make, really. Just some butter, flour, and milk, with some garlic and a dash of nutmeg.

I came across a recipe for Lasagna Bolognese from Smitten Kitchen which sounded divine but more than what I wanted to accomplish. But the Béchamel sauce. That’s what intrigued me. I’ve never loved the ricotta texture in lasagna, but the cottage cheese substitute wasn’t the final answer for me either. I knew I had to give this white sauce a go.

In love. That’s the best way to put it. We’ve made this dish three times in the last month and a half. That can’t be good but I don’t care.

I’ve modified the original lasagna recipe here, but not the sauce. I’ll be honest, it’s not the cheapest version of lasagna around, with the heavy dose of shredded parmesan and all that wonderful whole milk. But I regret nothing.

Some day I may try making my own noodles and slaving for hours over a meat sauce, like the original recipe suggests. But for now, I’ll stick to the rich, creamy goodness of this Béchamel sauce with tomato basil and spinach thrown in for good measure.

Lasagna with Spinach and Béchamel Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 lb. package of lasagna noodles, UNCOOKED
28 oz jar of tomato sauce (I use Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil)
10 oz package baby spinach
4 cups Béchamel Sauce (see recipe below*)
1 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On the bottom of a 9×13 pan, spread about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce (to prevent pasta from sticking) and place a single layer of noodles on top. Pour 1 cup tomato sauce over the noodles, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle a generous handful of spinach leaves over the sauce. Spoon 1/2 cup béchamel over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the layer with 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Repeat this process 3 more times: pasta + 1 cup tomato sauce + handful of spinach + 1/2 cup béchamel + 1/3 cup parmesan. You should have 5 layers of pasta total.

On the final layer of noodles, spread 1/4 cup béchamel, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake lasagna for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly all over and browned on top. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

*Béchamel Sauce {Smitten Kitchen}
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, warmed (I microwave it in a glass measuring cup for 2 minutes)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 clove minced garlic
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir it into the butter with a whisk until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Slowly pour in some of the milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to pour small amounts of the milk in until the mixture has become more of a thick sauce or batter then you can start adding the milk in larger amounts. Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

“I Got a Nikon Camera…”

“I love to take a photograph.”

That’s the Paul Simon song that I’ve had in my head ever since we purchased this little beauty (an early Christmas present):

The Nikon D5100. I’m in love. Now you will see random, meaningless pictures show up on blog posts just because I’m practicing. Like this one:

It’s the handle of the orange tree planter we inherited from friends that just moved to Utah. (Thanks again, Nicole and Ryan! We miss you guys.)

Needless to say, I have much to learn about this camera. But I can’t wait to get started.

“Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away…”

{Hopefully, the song is sufficiently stuck in your head now, too.}

P.S. A special shout out of thanks to Mary Karlee for babysitting at the last minute so we could go buy this new toy and go see a movie at the theater!

Cruel Shoes

Perhaps you saw my outfit from Jackie’s wedding? I needed something to give my black and white ensemble some pizazz. I love shoes, so naturally I turned to adding color to my feet. I found some red heels that seemed perfect. Peep toe, shiny, and overall eye-catching.

There was only one problem with them: they were THE CRUEL SHOES.

Anna knew She had to have a new pair of shoes today, and Carlo had helped her try on every pair in the store. Carlo spoke wearily, “Well, that’s it. That’s every pair of shoes in the place.”

“Oh, you must have one more pair….”

“No, not one more… . Well, we have the cruel shoes, but no one would want to try…

“Yes, let me see the cruel shoes!”

“No, you don’t understand, you see, the cruel shoes are…’

“Get them!”

Carlo disappeared into the back room for a moment, and then reappeared carrying an ordinary shoebox. He took off the lid and re-moved a hideous pair of black and white pumps. But this was not an ordinary pair of black and white pumps; both were left feet, one had a right angle turn with separate compartments that pointed the toes in impossible directions. The other shoe was six inches long and was curved inward like a rocking chair with a vise and razor blades to hold the foot in place.

Carlo spoke hesitantly, “… Now you see… they’ re not fit for humans…”

“Put them on me.”

“But… ”

“Put them on me!”

Carlo knew all arguments were useless. He knelt down before her and forced the feet into the shoes.

The screams were incredible.

Anna crawled over to the mirror and held her bloody feet up where she could see.

“I like them.”

She paid Carlo and crawled out of the store into the street.

Later that day, Carlo was overheard saying to a new customer, “Well, that’s it. That’s every pair of shoes in the place. Unless, of course, you’d like to try the cruel shoes.”

And they were that painful. Almost. Considering, only 20 minutes into the event, I was wincing with every step I took, the top of the “peep toe” area was cutting into my right big toe leaving a visible mark, and I took them off as soon as I was seated from walking Maddie the Flower Girl down the aisle, I’d call that more than uncomfortable.

Colin joked that my feet might just be in the cruel shoes and I believe he’s right. Now every time I put them on I have Steve Martin’s reading of his story in my head.

But fashion before function, right? They did look great!

So, aside from the pain factor, the fact that they have a burnt cigarette mixed with BBQ smell from the cheap patent leather that forces me to store them in the garage, and the clumsy way I feel walking in such tall heels, I love these shoes!

The End of Harry Potter

Back in 2003, I was determined to avoid the Harry Potter craze at all costs. I’m not one for trendy things and reading a juvenile fiction series hardly seemed a reason to break my rule. Then our friends, Zeke and Maggie, went for broke. They decided to give to us books 1-4 in the series, in all their hard-bound glory, to help me see the error of my ways. (They had recently married and each had a set.) They assured us that if we just gave it a try we would be hooked. We graciously accepted the gift (thanks again!) and reluctantly agreed to read.

They were absolutely right in predicting our addiction.

Reading Harry Potter became one of the greatest activities we’d enjoy together. We read each one out loud to one another at the park, on the couch, in the car (on long trips), becoming completely engrossed in the saga. When books 5-7 came out, we pre-ordered our copies and stayed up late finishing chapters. We were captivated by this incredible story.

Our love for the movies was never quite as strong, but as the last few entered the theater we became increasingly more excited to see them, especially for the special effects. Yes, I love to imagine the scenes myself, but if someone is going to put it to life on the silver screen with the latest CGI magic (pun intended) then I’m all for it.

Which is why when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 came out this summer in 3D IMAX we just had to make a date to see it in the theater.

But we’re not fanatical. It’s not like we’re not first-in-line, midnight showing junkies or anything, mostly because we’re old and have too many children that wake us up early. We at least waited until the week after it opened. But we did see it on a Thursday afternoon. A 3PM showing, to be exact, so Colin had to leave work early. A showing where the next youngest moviegoer in the theater was approximately 60 years old. There were only roughly 10 people in the theater. It was not your tween’s movie viewing experience. I thought conditions were perfect.

Say what you will about the deviations from the book (always one of my biggest complaints when you’ve experienced both print and film) I thought the show was excellent. And I cried. With my hokey 3D glasses on I wiped some big tears.

When it was over, we walked next door to Panera Bread and dined on sandwiches and fresh-baked cookies as we tried to process the visual/audio/emotional overload we’d just experienced. Epic.

But this fine date could not have been possible without the truly amazing babysitting efforts of Julianna, Super Mama Extraordinaire. She not only watched our four but also had her three with her, too. Seven kids for nearly 4 hours all by herself. What a woman. (Jules, you know I owe you so cash in any time!)

And now, with this last movie, we’ve reached the end of an era in pop culture. Goodbye, Harry! We’ll catch you again sometime on DVD. Or better yet, in the books as we read them all over again, this time with our children.

Strawberry Season

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We are fortunate enough to live in strawberry country, which pretty much means that we can enjoy the fruit year round. And I do. I buy a half flat once a week and devour the contents almost by myself.

But now it is strawberry season. The most glorious time of the year for strawberry lovers like yours truly. Right now they are at the peak of perfection. Brilliant red, and juicy, and sweet. Absolutely divine.

I heart this fruit. I’m so grateful it exists on the earth.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

Disclaimer: This is one of about 5 recipes I intend to share over the course of this month. I just can’t get enough pumpkin this time of year…

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We made these for breakfast this morning and oh my! The only way they could have been improved is perhaps with a topping of maple whipped cream, or something. We just used butter and regular syrup. And you could probably get away with only 1/4 tsp. of nutmeg. But otherwise, they’re perfect.

I cannot wait to make them again.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

1 C. whole wheat flour
1/2 C. cake flour*
1 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 C. buttermilk
1 C. canned pumpkin puree
2 eggs
2 T. oil
1 t. vanilla
2 T. dark brown sugar

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the first eight ingredients (whole wheat flour through nutmeg). In a separate bowl, whisk together the last six ingredients (buttermilk through brown sugar).

2. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and blend together with a wooden spoon until just combined. Lumps are ok, just make sure all the flour on the bottom of the bowl is mixed in. If batter seems too thick to pour, you can gently stir in a little more buttermilk.

3. Drop pancakes by ladleful onto a medium-hot griddle. Pancakes are ready to turn when the edges start to look a little dry and you can see small bubbles forming on the surface.

*I used all-purpose flour and they turned out fine.

I love pumpkin goodies.

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What are some of your favorite pumpkin recipes?

PT

Remember my neck pain and adventures in chiropractic treatment? And remember how I closed the door on that issue and considered myself cured? Well…

Six months after I saw the chiropractor for the last time, I began to have neck soreness again. That was after I threw out my lower back in October doing something as simple as slightly twisting my upper body. I must confess that I was doing nothing to maintain my spinal alignment or physical fitness; that is, I had completely blown off any and all exercises. In fact, I don’t even think that I was remembering good posture at that point. I knew that things were heading downhill fast when I started getting all-day headaches and I frequently felt a little dizzy. Not good.

Thank heavens for Julianna, my trusted athletic trainer and sports medicine guru. She almost always has the answer when it comes to how to treat a muscle/bone/you-name-it physical ailment. I came crying to her about my neck woes and she suggested physical therapy that incorporated manual therapy. Though I’d tried PT years ago without success, she assured me that finding the right therapist, who practiced such techniques and focused on helping patients make lifestyle adjustments, would make a difference.

She was right. After only a few months, I feel so much better. Rehabilitation didn’t come without additional pain, though. Serious, butt-kicking, stifle-the-screams pain. Manual therapy is not your typical “feel good” massage. He was digging into muscles that were sore and had been sore for ages and manipulating them until they could move better. Owwwwwwww! I did weights and other strengthening exercises that pushed me but also made me feel like I was in control of my body. He showed me how to sit, stand, work at the computer, and otherwise carry my head and shoulders so that those muscles wouldn’t freeze up and become aggravated.

If you get nothing else from this post, remember this: prevention and awareness can make all the difference:

  • Prevention — I said this before, but I don’t think I really stressed the weight of its importance well enough: SIT UP! Put your shoulders back and keep your head in alignment with your spine. Do not let your head lean forward, especially while at the computer. Stretch your neck muscles regularly and exercise well. This website had some helpful ideas for stretching. Take breaks from your activities, even if you are maintaining correct ergonomic positions.
  • Awareness — Realize when you are feeling those first signs of muscle discomfort or fatigue and then move positions. Stretch, move your head, do something different and then come back to your activity with correct posture.

I’m not cured. I still have work to do, most of it being remembering proper posture. But as I continue to exercise, get physically fit overall (another post to come), and stretch, stretch, and stretch again those problematic muscles, I know that my neck will keep improving.

Oh, and I do think that chiropractic can make a difference in pain, it just didn’t work out to be the best solution for me. Or at least that particular chiropractor didn’t…

Pitfire Pizza

With dear friends and family gathered together for such a special event as Maddie’s sealing, we had to celebrate afterward with some good eats. I trust my friend Sarah’s opinion of food completely, especially when it comes to pizza, so when I asked her for a recommendation, she suggested Pitfire Pizza. It was 2 minutes away from the temple, had a good variety, and would accommodate noisy children. I was sold.

Oh my! This was fantastic. Great pizza, great panini (thanks to those who let me sample), and phenomenal freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (thanks Billy and Ingrid for the splurge!). We’re talking chocolate grated and mixed into the dough in addition to the overflow of chocolate chips. Sarah said she knew of an even better pizza joint, but that seems hard to believe. I think we’ve found ourselves a new must-visit restaurant for when we attend the temple. This and Diddy Riese.

Friends and Family, thank you for sharing a wonderful event with us. We sincerely missed those of you who tried but couldn’t come. We felt you there in spirit.

P.S. We are finally over our illnesses. Thank goodness!

Christian Rock Concert

On our way to Colin’s (paternal) family reunion at Lake Wenatchee, we were able to meet up with some friends from college and our days in Seattle 7th Ward. We hadn’t seen them in six years so it was a blast to catch up with them and see all of their kids (who they didn’t have back then) running around with our kids.

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The idea was to meet at Centennial Park in Wenatchee for a picnic and a free outdoor concert. A great summer activity! No one realized that the theme for the night was “Christian Rock.” I knew something was askew when the first song belted out, “The Lord is my shepherd!” with a decent amount of guitar distortion. Suddenly, our group felt a tad out of place.

Now I don’t mean to offend those of you who may be fans of this genre. It’s just that I feel a little uncomfortable when you start mixing the life of the Savior with a rockin’ drum beat. Somehow, when the bandleader describes a moving passage from Luke 2 about the Garden of Gethsemane and then follows it with a sweet electric guitar riff something just doesn’t settle right.

Case in point: the second band to perform was obviously a bunch of talented musicians that knew how to work a crowd. The kids in the audience were already up in front forming their own quasi mosh pit. Even our Warren firmly planted himself front and center and was almost entranced as they sang, “I talk to Jesus.” The band took it upon themselves to utilize the vitality of the youth to further entertain.

“OK, we want all the kids up front to face the audience and show them how to sing this next song!” they summoned from the stage. They proceeded to teach the kids a handy series of movements, not unlike good, old “YMCA,” that coincided with the words, “Oh (hands over head in an “O” shape) my (point to self) soul (touch the bottom of your shoe)…”

Without even a look back, Warren opted out.

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Now, normally, I would encourage him to give it a try since he tends to avoid doing whatever fun activity every other kid is doing. I felt pretty good about letting him be a casual observer for this one.

But we had a great time! It was so nice to catch up with old friends, even if we had to shout over the Hallelujahs.

Gorditos

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One of our favorite restaurants in the Emerald City is Gorditos. “Healthy” Mexican eating, they proudly tout, though it’s home to “The Grande” burrito, whose consumption by one individual is anything but healthful. Oh but they are delicious. Without a doubt, this is one stop we must make before leaving Seattle.

We took Tami, Joe, and their kids here for a goodbye dinner as well as a thanks for watching Ren and Maddie during the game.

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The kids waited patiently, as did the grownups, for the food to be served.

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The dads took care of the ordering, babies in hand. What men!

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“Cesar” was the handy marker used to designate our order. No boring, old ordinary numbers used here.

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One “Grande Burrito,” shown to scale, fed two comfortably. Colin and I always share, each one starting at one end until we both reach the middle. So disgustingly Lady-and-the-Tramp-cute, no?

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And I can’t show her face but I can show her shoes (thanks, Christy!):

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Thanks to the car upgrade we made back in April of this year, we could fit all 5 kids and two adults inside. A picture of Americana.

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And if that burrito wasn’t enough to kill us off we made this when we got home:

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Death by chocolate, or in other words, Lava Cakes from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook. Scrumpdiddleumptious!

Remind me again why we live so far from you guys…