Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Come on, Spring!

Thank you for all of the nice messages you sent after my post about my grandma's passing.  It meant so much to read them and I'm glad so many friends related to it.  We're all doing fine, but miss her terribly.  

My mom and I pay a lot of attention to signs and intuition, and it's interesting to me that every day since my grandpa died last year, I have seen at least one bright red male cardinal, his favorite bird.  I don't remember seeing many female cardinals, maybe that's just because they're not as noticeable as the males.  However, since grandma passed, it never fails that I now see female cardinals along with the males. 

We're more than ready for spring weather here in Nashville, especially after the last few gloomy, rainy, snowy days!  Jason and I promised Sophie a trip to see the "purple ooh-ooh aah-aah" (Monkey Joe's) on Sunday afternoon since the weather was rainy and cold, and she had the time of her life!!  This kid is totally fearless (except for her fear of the blow-up monkeys at Monkey Joe's) and has such a zest for life.  It's impossible to watch her without smiling.  We took this video of her 9,999,999th trip down the slide and couldn't stop laughing - she looks like one of those old cartoon characters whose legs are moving too fast for her body as she runs away. 

I've been cooking a lot the last couple of weeks and have been on a roll with some great, healthy pancake, waffle and muffin recipes.  Bananas and unsweetened applesauce are two of our pantry staples for those recipes and I can usually find very ripe bananas on clearance at our local grocery store - perfect for baking or chopping and freezing for smoothies.  Here's one of our favorite muffin recipes:

Photo courtesy of chiquitabananas.com
I made a few modifications to this recipe, using whole wheat flour, egg substitute, and 1/4 cup of raisins and 1/4 cup of chocolate chips.  Also, I never keep buttermilk on hand, but it's easy to make it at home by mixing 1 cup of milk plus 1 T of vinegar and letting it sit for at least five minutes before adding it to the wet ingredients.  I also omitted the topping for the muffins, simply because I didn't want to make it!  We didn't miss it at all and the muffins didn't last long around our house.  

Here's hoping spring finds all of us sooner than later!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Saying Goodbye

My grandma, Ruby Marcella Essenpreis
After a few really good months in Nashville, my grandma had a setback last month when she was admitted to a local hospital with a myriad of issues, from Influenza A to edema to an infection in her arm that caused intense swelling.  She seemed to be recovering from her ailments and we were making plans to move her from the hospital to skilled care when the call came in the middle of the night last week that she took a turn for the worse and we needed to get to the hospital to say our goodbyes.  My mom and I were able to spend her last hours with her, telling her about our most treasured memories, praying with her, holding her hands and just making sure she wasn't alone. 

There is a line in the song "Big Yellow Taxi" about not knowing what you've got until it's gone, but I've lost a lot of people dear to me already and with those kinds of losses you learn to appreciate what you have while you have it.  I was unbelievably fortunate to have grandparents who truly loved having grandchildren.  I can't think of a single time in my life when they weren't there for me when I needed them and I hope they thought the same of me.   

Thanksgiving 2009 -karaoke night with my grandparents was priceless!

When my dad suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident in the early 1980s when he was my age and I was Sophie's age, my grandparents didn't hesitate to whisk me away to stay with them for weeks on end or to shuffle me back and forth from their home outside St. Louis to my childhood home in Galesburg, Illinois, all so my mom could face what the situation demanded.  I loved spending days at their plumbing and heating business, playing with the plumbing parts (and creating an inventory nightmare, I'm sure) or with the old-fashioned cash register or walking down the street with grandma to the German deli down the street.

As I got older, there were outings with grandma to a ladies' clothing store in St. Louis called Cunningham's, where she would buy beautiful clothes and I got in trouble for trying on the expensive hats.  Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, we went on marathon shopping trips.  Grandma was always so stylish and classy and she's still my inspiration for the way I dress.  

Beautiful Grandma
There were countless trips across the country in their motor home, trips to Disney World and to visit family in California and New York.  They were there for every milestone in my life from birthdays to graduations to holidays.  There were lots of little things they did for me that I didn't know until much later that they were responsible for because they didn't need the recognition for them.  When my dad died in 1998, they were there for us then, too.  As the years went by, Jason and I loved making weekend trips to visit them and some of our favorite memories were taking them to a Cardinals game on opening day at the new Busch Stadium, Grant's Farm, Missouri Botanical Garden, and just the random weekends we would spend with them, talking, playing cards and enjoying being together.  What a wonderful gift to be able to look back at your life and know you were loved and supported by your grandparents every step of the way.  

Typical goofy family photo at my baby shower in Moline
When I found out I was expecting a girl, there was no question that her middle name would be Marcella, after grandma.  She was already suffering the effects of dementia by that point, but she was so excited to hear she had a namesake and I'll never forget the first time she held Sophie. She always loved seeing her and pictures of her.   

It was really an honor for me to be with her last week when she passed.  I'll never forget that I was holding her hand and talking to her about that first time she held Sophie when she finally found peace. 

This week I found a card tucked away in a drawer at work that I've had for several years, a thank you she sent me for running in the Race for the Cure in her honor (she was a 20+ year breast cancer survivor) with a $5 bill tucked inside.  The $5 bill is still in the card because I could never spend it.  It's too precious.  This was typical of her - she was always sending cards with funny little notes.  This one said:

"Dear Heather,
Your mother told me that you ran in the Race for the Cure for me. Thank you very much.  I know that you are a very busy lady. I will be seeing you maybe in December. Heather, anytime you want to come see Grandpa and Grandma we will be looking for you. Thanks again. 
Love, Grandma oo and Grandpa xx"
I know I will be seeing you again, Grandma, and even though my heart hurts because I miss you, I'm happy you're at peace. xxoo


Friday, March 1, 2013

Soup Season

I will be so sad when soup season is over this year.  I know the time is coming but, as I say that, Nashville is predicted to have an inch or so of snow in the next couple of days so maybe we have a little longer! 

Soups have been a saving grace in our house for the past few months because they're generally easy, provide lots of leftovers and are relatively healthy.  I love making a huge pot of soup on Sunday afternoon, knowing that it means I don't have to cook at least one other night during the week.    

We have a roster of a few favorites, like a spinach bisque recipe to mimic the soup at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, The Landmark, in my hometown of Galesburg.  Although the original recipe contains chicken base, we modified it to a vegetarian version that tastes almost as good.  We're always looking for new favorites to add to the list and this corn chowder was easy (especially for me as all I contributed was buying the ingredients; my mom did the cooking!) and tasty.  

Slow Cooker Corn Chowder 
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

3 (15 ounce) cans cream-style corn 
3 (15.25 ounce) cans whole-kernel corn 
1 (16 ounce) package frozen diced hash brown potatoes 
2 tablespoons butter 
1 16 ounce package frozen mirepoix vegetables
2 red peppers, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped  

2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped  
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups low fat milk 
  1. Pour cream-style corn and whole-kernel corn in a slow cooker set to Low; add hash browns and stir.
  2. Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat; cook and stir all vegetables and peppers in the melted butter until all vegetables are tender, about 10  minutes. Stir vegetable mixture into slow cooker; top with half-and-half and milk.
  3. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Healthy muffins are another staple in our house, not just for Sophie but for all of us.  Jason is a Vitamix smoothie chef extraordinaire, whipping up nutritious and delicious smoothies with frozen fruit, kale, spinach, almond milk and other treats almost every day.  Sometimes we need a little more substance and muffins usually do the trick.  

We made these coconut sunbutter muffins, adapted from Daily Garnish, on Sunday to last us through the week. Turns out, my pantry was not stocked like I thought it was, and I was out of coconut.  I added a small handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips instead and the substitution seemed to work.  We're not gluten-free, so I also modified the recipe to replace the various GF flours with whole wheat flour.  They were really good!

The muffins turn green as they cool down because of the chemical reaction between baking soda and sunbutter, and that made for an interesting conversation with Sophie.  

Photo courtesy of Daily Garnish

My grandmother is still in the hospital and has had a lot of ups and downs this week.  She may not be able to move back to her memory care facility because of some setbacks, but it's still up in the air whether she can build back some of those things in a short-term skilled care setting or if it's time for her to move to a long-term care facility.  Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers these past two weeks for her. 

If there are two people in the world who always make me smile, they're Sophie and Jason.  I have the best little family and I love them so.  Last weekend, we took Sophie to Radnor Lake to walk the Lake Trail, and she had the best time spotting chipmunks, squirrels, turkey, birds, ducks and more.  Every stage of her life has been fun and crazy, but I think two is my favorite so far.  She is hilarious and charming and maddening sometimes, and there's no one I would rather spend time with. 

Radnor Lake
I hope you have a great weekend with the ones you love!