amazing mac and cheese

June 30, 2012 § 6 Comments

At our birthday luau this past weekend, I served one of my girls’ favorite recipes: macaroni and cheese from the wonderful Williams-Sonoma’s “familymeals” cookbook by Maria Helm Sinskey. A little more involved than some recipes, this takes a bit of time but is totally worth the effort. I was thinking I’d made way too much since I’d more than doubled the recipe. But being able to send extras home with friends and still have more for us made me happy. “Is it bad?” my friend Erin asked the next day, “that I had your leftover mac and cheese for breakfast this morning.” We both decided it wasn’t as we heated up more for lunch. Make this unbelievably good mac and cheese for your next gathering and share the love.

Truly Amazing Mac and Cheese

from Williams Sonoma’s “familymeals”

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
3 cups whole milk
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 bay leaf
pinch of grated nutmeg
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound macaroni noodles
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups mixed grated hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch square or similar baking dish or 4-6 individual baking dishes.

To make the sauce, in a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition until smooth. Return the pan to medium heat and whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the onion, bay leaf, and nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and cover to keep warm. You should have about 2 1/2 cups.

Bring a large post three-fourths full of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain, transfer to a bowl, and stir in the butter. Add the sauce, 1 cup of the cheese, and the cream, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the pasta into the prepared dish and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the top. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

a birthday luau

June 26, 2012 § 3 Comments

This past Sunday, my sweet Sophie turned 8, and we celebrated with a birthday luau. It had been weeks in the making and, like all my girls’ birthday parties, I had so much fun putting everything together. For this party, I covered the house with pink, yellow and orange paper lanterns and flowers and crepe paper. All the little girl guests were adorable in their leis and grass skirts; they had a blast decorating their own flip-flops and learning “The Sophisticated Hula” from a hula instructor. They dined on fruit skewers and carrot stick shots (carrots cut up and served in tiny glasses with ranch dressing), individual lemonades in pink sugar-coated bottles, cupcakes and “fish food” (goldfish and swedish fish). She and her friends had so much fun, and the party continued well into the night with an official after party for family and close friends. It was an amazing day. And the best part: my sometimes shy Sophie was completely out of her shell, laughing and living it up. Seeing her like that made me so happy.

time for play

June 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

Today was finally the last day of school for my girlies. Because of our crazy snow week in January, we had a lot of make-up days tacked on to the end of our regular school calendar. But we made it, and everyone is so excited – especially me! I have missed my girls and love that special summer time when we get to spend our days playing together. I realize how fast time is going and, though I can’t believe that they are already 10 and 8, I intend to soak up every moment I get with them.

As a little end of school/start of summer present, I gave my girls each a kendama this morning tied up with ribbon and a note that said: “Welcome to Summer, I’ve been waiting for you. Love, Mom.” If you don’t know, a kendama is a Japanese toy – a fancy cup and ball-type game – and it’s all the rage. Like yoyos and jump ropes and cat’s cradles, these kendamas make me smile and remember the joy of just being a kid. So this summer, that’s what I’m going to enjoy and celebrate: even though it’s going fast, for now, my girls are still kids, and they’ve got lots of playtime in front of them.

summer notebooks

June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like I’m not crazy busy with a million little things already: school finally wrapping up, my Sophie’s birthday luau on Sunday, dance recitals, teachers’ gifts, etc – but for some reason, once I got this latest craft idea into my head, I couldn’t let it go. So for the last couple of nights, I’ve stayed up late putting together Summer 2012 notebooks for all the kiddos in my life. I found the blank books at Ben Franklin and “Modge Podged” on some great summer-colored papers. I used the Cubicle 12×12 Take Note paper from Studio Calico, stamped with my title, for the covers. They were so simple and, once I got going, I was able to put them together quickly assembly line-style. Now they look perfect, wrapped up in baker’s twine and ready to be given away.

I always loved blank books and journals when I was a little girl and, even today, a new notebook gets me giddy – I always keep a couple in my purse for when inspiration strikes. I am happy knowing that the little ones in our life (my girls and all their friends) will have their own special books to document this summer. Life moves fast, and I don’t want them to forget a moment.

a day at the arboretum

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Father’s Day is coming up this weekend and, since I know it will be impossible to top our Mother’s Day, we’ll just have to enjoy more of the same. For my special day this year, I wanted to do one of my favorite things: spend a day having an adventure and feeling lost in the world with my family. One of the best warm weather day trips right here in our own backyard is a trip to the Washington Park Arboretum. We love to rent canoes from the University of Washington and, once you make it through the cut and past all the big boats cruising Lake Washington (which if you are not careful can result in a spill – just ask my Bella about the time Daddy almost tipped the boat), you find yourself meandering under the 520 bridge and through the canals of the arboretum. Even more than the canoeing, my girls love to park the canoe on one of the banks and play catch, eat lunch and just relax by the lake. So that’s just what we did, and this happy Mommy got to do another of my other favorite things: sit around and take pictures of this family that I love so much! I can’t wait to see where we find ourselves this weekend.

the world of harry potter

June 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

This year, when we went to Florida for Spring Break, we were so excited to spend a day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. For the last year, both of my girls have been obsessed (OBSESSED) with the Harry Potter books and all things magical. Our 10-year-old Bella has finished all the books, and at seven years old, even Sophie has read through the fifth book. Both girls were the same thing for Halloween, Hermione Granger, a first for this family. They also watch the movies, love the books on CD, and endlessly play wizard school: dressing in their Hogwarts robes, making up spells with their special-ordered wands and writing with their genuine quill and ink sets. As parents Drew and I try not to miss perfect opportunities when they present themselves to us and wanted to be sure to fully capture this moment and the girls’ Harry Potter excitement.

The Wizarding World is located inside Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure park. We stayed at one of Universal’s hotels the night before and, with our night’s reservation, got early entrance to the park – we were lined up and ready to go at 7:00 a.m. The accuracy of this place was literally amazing! As you near the entrance, you round the corner and the first thing you see is the Hogwarts Express – then the Harry Potter theme music starts and never stops. I think the most fascinating part was just wandering down the main street of Hogsmeade – we couldn’t stop staring in all the realistic shop windows. It felt like we’d stepped into the books and movies.

We waited in line for our turn in Olivanders wand shop where the girls got to let a wand choose them. The candy shop Honeydukes was awesome – there were chocolate frogs, and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans – Gramma found the perfect chocolate wand and let us know, “This wand chose me!” We had lunch at Three Broomsticks and tried pumpkin juice (not so good) and butterbeer (delicious) – we ate our way through the park. The rides were so much fun. While the dragon roller coaster was too scary for Sophie, she was very brave on the little Hippogriff mini coaster and even loved the incredibly intense Forbidden Journey ride, which had you flying through an incredible Hogwarts castle, unlike any ride I’d ever been on. I think she didn’t have time to be scared because she was too busy being mesmerized by the scenes.

I love the role that great literature and movies have played in our family and how much my girls have been enthralled with these characters during their childhood; our family has been able to share the passion in unique ways: a Wizard of Oz birthday party play for Sophie, a trip through Salzburg acting out “The Sound of Music”, and Little House on the Prairie reenactments in our backyard playhouse. These events have brought our family so much joy, and our trip to the Wizarding World was no different; I know that we’ll never forget this time in our lives we spent together in the magical world of Harry Potter.

luau invitation

June 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve been busy around here finishing up the invites for our next birthday party: a luau for Sophie’s 8th. The invitations are my favorite part of putting together a party, and this invite idea began with me trying to make mini leis using baker’s twine and some paper flowers. They were pretty, but I couldn’t quite pull the look together so I ended up stringing the flowers across the top with the twine and secured a couple more with jeweled brads at the bottom. Beautiful coordinating papers I found from the Ambrosia line by Bo Bunny tied in perfectly with the party’s Hawaiian colors.

As usual for her parties, Sophie had a definite opinion on the invitation’s design and especially the wording. After several tries, together we came up with our sweet little poem, and now she can’t stop reciting it. We are getting excited for our little sister’s big day. I’m having fun planning for the delicious food, perfect party favors and even a hula lesson. And as for the decorations, I’ve got a great idea for a new banner and a some cool arrangements with paper flowers and lanterns that I’ve seen on Pinterest – I can’t wait to see how it all comes together. The anticipation is so much fun!

cheese grits

June 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Born and raised in the heart of Florida, I’m a true southern girl and, as such, I love southern cooking. We had some friends over for dinner last night, and I was excited to make one of my favorite sides: cheese grits. In the South, grits are not simply for breakfast and, in fact, a number of our favorite upscale restaurants in Atlanta serve grits as a side item to chicken, fish, steak or pork. I served this delicious cheese grits casserole once to my supper club and laughed when our very Parisian-chic member said to me, “Carrie, what is this grit?” in her strong French accent. For those not familiar with grits, I often compare them to polenta. At our dinner party last night, we threw some flank steak on the grill, and I served it up with a mixed green salad and grits. The results were perfect. Our friends’ kiddos were a little skeptical at the start, but with the first taste I had them – they gobbled it up! This is a great recipe to add a little southern flare to your meal.

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