Monday, April 25, 2011

You're Go....

The other night we put the girls down for bed, and lo and behold...neither of us were completely and utterly exhausted. Miracle of all miracles, right? Usually we are ready to crawl into bed right after we say, "and chances are, if you give him some milk, he's gonna want a cookie to go with it...." (that's the last line from one of the girls' favorite bedtime books). In fact, there are many times when we have fallen asleep while doing the bedtime routine...sad, but true. Don't judge.  ;)

So, here we are...coffee brewed, it's 9pm and we're awake and wanting to have some, ahem....platonic hang time. Good, clean fun, you know?  We didn't want to pop in a movie because we had just endured a rainy weekend and the DVD player is just plain tired. Instead we opted for a game and conversation. Sequence is usually our go-to game. It's fun and challenging, and we both know it well enough that there's not a "you're a newbie so I'm gonna dominate you" vibe going on. But tonight, as I was pulling out the Sequence game, the marbles from another game, Abalone, fell out of the box. I picked them up and suggested we play since it's already out anyway.

I had played this game about a gazillion times when my parents took me to Argentina to visit my grandfather and cousins for a month when I was 15. My cousins, Nicolas, Carolla, and Mercedes (yes, car names) were all very fun and welcoming, and while we had plenty of great conversation getting to know each other, this game served as both a "we don't have to think about how to translate what we want to say" break for all of us and a fun opportunity to compete with each other. My parents went out and bought it as soon as we returned stateside.

Brandon didn't know how to play, so the first game was a learning curve for him. And yes, I dominated him. Complete domination. The game is pretty simple. You have to move your marbles to be able to push the other guys' marbles off. First one to 6 wins. There's more rules than that, but if you want to know, you're on your own to Google it. Just take my word for it. Loads. of. fun.

But here's the thing. Brandon isn't like any other opponent I've ever had. He never has been, and when I say that I mean that he is super annoyingly slow when taking his turn. When my aforementioned Argentine grandfather who pretty much plays cards 24/7 with a bunch of old retired guys came for a visit to the States and visited our home, my entire family played a lot of cards. A lot. We didn't have kids yet, so really...hundreds of card games. And my poor grandfather...when it would get to be Brandon's turn, he would hold his tongue after a few minutes passed. We all would. Brandon would sit, and internally examine every possible outcome for every possible move he could make. And it would take forever.

After a couple games, Brandon started winning. A lot. And that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. My grandfather would stand no more for allowing Brandon so much time to strategize. He started saying comments in all seven languages he knows to try to get Brandon to go faster. My mom chimed in. I gave him the, 'you better move or we may be out of the inheritance' look. My dad just laid his cards down and went to bed, his statement sure. But it didn't work. Brandon knew that it was getting to everyone and started using that as his strategy to beat us all.

Needless to say, Brandon's tactics of stalling are still in full force. By the end of the second game, this gal was so frustrated that I pretty much threw it so we could stop playing.

Pathetic, I know.

Do any of you know someone like Brandon who takes forever to take his/her turn at a game? Maybe you do it yourself?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Low Country Boil: Noun or Verb?

Before I married Brandon, I spent a few years living in Mt. Pleasant, SC...right outside Charleston. There are too many great things that I can say about Low Country living to list here, but one of my favorites was the cuisine. Oh, food...glorious food. There are some wonderful restaurants in the Upstate, but every time we make it back to the Low Country for a vacay, I'm almost as excited about what we will eat as to who we will see or what we will do (or not do as we just relax on the beach, hallelujah!)
 The other day the weather was beautiful, the kids were playing in the yard, and we had some friends coming over for dinner. I thought to myself, "Self, how can you make something easy and delicious to impress your friends and fill your bellies for not a big wad of cash?" And then I answered, "Self, you need to do a Low Country Boil!"

What's a Low Country Boil, you ask? 
There are two different ways to answer that question.

1) Low Country Boil (n): a region-specific dish that starts with a stock made from vegetables and perhaps shrimp shells, invariably with heaps of the chef’s favorite seafood season blend (like Old Bay). Subject to the usual variations, the gist of the boil will include crabs, shrimp or both, some kind of sausage, a good deal of corn, and aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices. 

2) Low Country Boil (v):  a fun way to feed a crowd in a no-fuss manner! This dish is great for an outdoor party where you can line a picnic table with newspapers, throw the boil on the table, and tell everyone to dig in!

I know your mouth is watering right now cause mine is, too. So to help you alleviate that ailment, here is the recipe. It's for 4 people, but making a bigger batch is super easy.
  • 1.5 lbs new potatoes
  • 1 16 oz. package turkey sausage (andouille or kielbasa works too)
  • 3 ears fresh corn, husked removed and cut into smaller, hand-held portions
  • 2 lbs medium to large shrimp, deveined and peeled
  • A buncha (that's a technical term) Old Bay Seasoning or crab boil seasoning
  • 4 lemons, quartered
  • Melted Butter, Texas Pete, more Old Bay, and crusty bread (for sopping up the good stuff).
Bring the potatoes, sausage, corn, lemons, and Old Bay Crab Boil packet to a boil and keep on a rolling boil for 25-30 minutes or until the potatoes and corn are tender (longer the larger the batch). Bring the boil to a very low simmer and add the shrimp and cook for the last 5 minutes or until they are pink. Once the shrimp are pink, remove from heat and drain the water.

I usually drain most of the water (saving a bowlful for sopping), line a table with newspapers, throw the pot out on the table and tell everyone to dig in while I go back for a roll of paper towels and the sweet tea pitcher.  So good, so easy, and relatively cheap when using in season ingredients.

So, noun or verb? It doesn't matter. I like to mix the two definitions for my own personal dinner planning with friends! I may not live in the Low Country anymore, but I sure like to cook like I do!

What about you? Are you a big fan of the Low Country Boil? Or maybe you've never even tried it (you're missing out if you fit in that category). Would you consider using it for a big group gathering, or would you rather save it for an smaller, more casual family setting? What other Low Country cuisine dishes can you not go without?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Allie's Two!

My baby is not a baby anymore. Sniff, sniff. How did this happen? One day she's all squished and squirmy and has no control of her own body, and then she's...well, she's this:
Beautiful and silly and very mischievous at times. A big girl indeed. 

These last few months have been nothing if not crazy in terms of schedule and house keeping responsibilities. Most of that is because we are getting ready to move to Charlotte and start a new campus of our church there, so we're trying to sell this house and find a new one. Lots of travel, lots of cleaning. And Allie isn't exactly great a the tidiness thing yet. 

So when we began thinking of Allie's birthday, inviting 10 little kids to our house for cake, ice cream, juice and various sugary and staining items, didn't sound so fun or helpful to the "let's-keep-this-house-spic-and-span-for-prospective-buyers" cause. We decided that two is the perfect age to do something a little lower key. 

One is a big birthday, if not for the kid, but for the parents. It's a time to step back and say, "I kept this kid alive a whole year." There's great social pressure to do a 1 year old birthday party, a smash cake, the whole nine yards. 

The three year old birthday is a pretty big one, we've found, because the kid actually has an opinion of what she wants. Ella was slightly completely obsessed with Dora the Explorer when her third birthday came around. And so the theme of her birthday was really a no-brainer. She cared about who came (and who didn't) and still remembers most of the day.

But two? Well, two is what I've affectionately named "the year of the breather" because a two year old rarely has a specific list of birthday party guests, themes, and menus that she desires. And, a two year old will probably not remember her birthday party (or lack thereof). Granted, this term, "the year of the breather" is only appropriate when put in the birthday party context.  Certainly it does not belong within any other conversation revolving around a two year old. 

And that being said, I thought about what our two year old likes the most. And I came up with Family, Fun, and Food. Not necessarily in that order all the time. In fact, as I mentioned in this post, Allie likes eating more than most people 16x their age (me, at 32--yes, I just revealed my age, gasp)! And since we are trying to get the girls excited about moving to a new city soon, we decided that celebrating her birthday in Charlotte would be really fun. So we invited John-John, Pepper, Channing and Mama Nissi and Papa John to meet us at Monkey Joe's, and indoor bounce park, in a part of the city near where we are thinking of planting the church and living. (Pappy was out of town and couldn't make it, but he was invited, of course.)
Everyone had a lot of fun (including the adults). But maybe no one more than the birthday girl. Bouncing is her thing.
After we bounced ourselves silly, Brandon and I had the opportunity to take the family to two possible church locations that we are considering. It was great to get their feedback, and by the end of the tour, we were all pretty set that one is going to be better suited for RWOC Charlotte than the other.

Next we went to a local restaurant, but there was a long wait. No problem. We Berrys are resourceful. We transformed John and Pepper's Subaru into Party Central, brought out the gifts and cupcakes (who doesn't like to eat dessert first?) and kept everyone entertained as we sang "Happy Birthday", laughed and talked in the beautiful weather until the dinner bell rang buzzer buzzed calling us inside to dinner.

 Allie received some fun new toys, books and clothes, though she was painstakingly slow to open each one. At some point Big Sister couldn't take the suspense any more and had to "help" Allie tear into them a little faster.

So my baby is growing up. She's doing two-year-old things like tantrums and potty training. She's talking in full sentences now and loves to carry on conversations with anyone or no one at all. And I'm enjoying every minute of it. What a sweet blessing Allie is in our lives. We are so thankful to the Lord that He has entrusted her to us. 

Happy Birthday, Allie!