Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our giant t-rex

Wednesday, the 24th we had our "20" week ultrasound and doctor's visit. Mattie got off work and seeing as we did not want to know if we have a little boy or a little girl I ate as little sugar as possible in hopes for a nice calm, not flashing baby. As soon as we talked to the ultrasound tech we told her that we did not want to know the sex of the baby. She said that would be no problem. We handed her the disc to record our little baby and got ready for some quality face time. The ultrasound was a long one, there were a lot of measurements and things that needed to be checked. Mattie and I thought it was really cool to see the four chambers of the heart beating away (this is one of the big things they check). Also, the check to make sure there are three blood vessels flowing through the umbilical cord. They took measurements of the abdomen, brain, and head and as far as we could tell everything looked good. The baby weighs about 15 ounces right now.

The doctor did tell me (not to freak is totally common) that the babies placenta is a little too close to the cervix. However, this should move further up as the uterus continues to grow. This only means two things right now: 1) call if there is ANY bleeding (which I would do anyways) and 2) that I get an "extra" ultrasound next visit (yay...more time to see the baby). Other than that, it was a fairly routine visit. I will post pictures of the baby soon, but the baby was still being difficult and wouldn't give us a cute little profile shot. We think it was completely turned away from us. We do have a few things on our "homework" list from the doctor...pre-register at the hospital, find a pediatrician, make sure we get a car seat installed properly...and we added on to read up about the "Bradley" method of labor for our own benefit. So much to do before we meet this giant baby!

The reason we are referring to it as a giant baby is because the ultrasound shows the baby measuring closer to a Halloween birth rather than November 5/6/7. We are not too worried about it either way...we just need to remember to stay away from newborn sized clothing!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Right now Mattie is in the process of preparing the house for baby. We have been complaining about our nasty old carpet since we moved in. Seeing as we did not have available funds to do the floors then, we decided to wait. After much mulling and arguing we finally decided on laminate wood floors upstairs (which we still need to pick out) and stained and polished concrete downstairs. Sounds like a wonderful idea until you realize that your entire downstairs needs to be moved. So everything is currently upstairs or in the garage. We are getting the concrete done this week, then Mattie will work on putting in the laminate wood upstairs in the next couple of months. That will be easier as it can be done in chunks. I will post demolition pictures tomorrow, but in the mean time here are a couple of pictures of the "before".

I really don't like carpet in bathrooms...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Yummy, Fluffy, Buttermilk Biscuits

I have a deep fondness for buttermilk biscuits. One of my earliest cooking memories is sitting with my father on top of our counters sifting the flour for our breakfast biscuits on any given Sunday morning. I loved to watch the flour "snow" into the bowl or wax paper and I loved spending the time with my father. He still comments about me being so little that I could scoot all the way under our cabinets and sit with my back against the back splash. As my father learned how to make a softer and softer biscuit, so did I. I learned from all that my father did and now replicate THE biscuit recipe often. Sometimes I want a biscuit from Popeye's or KFC...buttery, tender, biscuits are not like this. My biscuits might be considered a little more "gourmet" and they are definitely softer. If you do not follow this method you will not have the softest possible biscuits. The choice is yours and yours alone!

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon baking soda (I lean towards the 3/4 side)
2 cups bread flour (not All-purpose, not self-rising...definitely not cake)
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt (I often measure just shy of a teaspoon)
1/3 cup oil (not olive)
2/3 cup buttermilk

Measure milk and oil in the same cup, but do not mix together. Set aside. Sift your dry ingredients not skip this part. Matt's mom thought that sifting was for mixing dry ingredients, but that is not the case. The purpose of sifting is for aerating the ingredients thus creating a lighter and fluffier product. Pour the milk and oil all at once into the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined to make a soft dough. Sometimes I need to add a touch more buttermilk, you should know if you need more buttermilk by the third or fourth stir. I tend to stir less and have a bit of extra flour at the bottom of the bowl. This ensures a softer biscuit because I have not worked the bread dough. If you overwork the bread dough you will start to develop the gluten...this makes chewy bread...which is great for baguettes...not for biscuits.

As you can see in the picture above I am delicately forming the biscuits in my hand, usually with the help of a fork. I don't usually roll and cut my biscuits (goes back to the whole gluten thing). I take a biscuit sized glob with the fork, make sure it holds together, and place it on a greased pan. I then cook the biscuits (this recipe yields about 8 biscuits) in a 475 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Begin checking these suckers at 10 minutes or want a nice golden brown color.

Now serve with eggs, sausage, gravy, jelly, whatever! These are not biscuits you can make into a sandwich...they will fall apart. I really like a good cream gravy with sausage bits in it, but do not make it that often. I prefer more "traditional" jellies like peach/apricot (they don't taste that different in jelly form) or strawberry, and sometimes some really good honey while Mattie likes "crazy" jellies like cherry, blackberry, and raspberry. Enjoy one morning! I am looking forward to one day making these biscuits with my own little one. far as sifters go I am a fan of the old "crank" style sifter, rather than the trigger/spring style sifter. It is less effort on your hand and seems much less pretentious when making something as homey as biscuits!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Half Way Mark!!!

Yay! We are officially half-way (ish) there at 20 weeks! In some ways the past 20 weeks have gone by fast and in other ways they have gone by a little slow. I have truly enjoyed most parts of pregnancy so far. As you can see the baby is expanding quite a bit, but I think the baby goes through little growth spurts. All of this "bumpage" was put on about two weeks ago and I haven't expanded any more since. Last weekend when we were at the Howards I had the future grandfather (who is a doctor) show me where my uterus was. When I lay down you can definitely feel the top of the "baby's room" just under my belly button.

A big change in the past week...this baby likes to move! For the most part the movement is still little flutters, but every once in awhile I get a big "kick" or movement of sorts. A lot of the flutters occur when I am sitting and relaxing and they actually tickle a bit. I laugh so that it feels like I am interacting with the baby a bit more.

Next week we go to the doctor and I leave Saturday for NYC. Hopefully the baby will be nice to me while I am gone for 5 days without Mattie.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Taco meat por favor!

Matt and I frequently partake in making mexican food of all sorts. We recently decided to make beef taco meat. We actually ended up with a half beef/half ground venison mixture because the venison is free and adds nice flavor and texture. First chop half of a large yellow onion for each pound of ground meat that you have (I say half of a large rather than a medium because I have not seen any medium size yellow onions for some time in my grocery store). Also chop a small green bell pepper for each pound of ground meat. Once that has sauteed/sweated (very little color on the veggies) in vegetable (actually corn or canola) oil, add your ground meat. Before anything more than the very bottom layer that is actually touching the pan gets cooked add A LOT of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and a bit of oregano. The cumin is the main ingredient. As you can see below there are a lot of spices in this pot for two pounds of meat. I stir this concoction around then let it sit, covered, on medium low heat until the meat is cooked. It should have rendered out some good juices, but if it has not add a bit of water to the pan. At this point I taste the meat and usually add more cumin and more pepper. Remember, it is easier to add more spice than it is to take away too much spice in a dish! I try to let this simmer for at least an hour, but it is always better the next day.

These are Matt's perfectly formed tacos. He requested flour tortillas that were bound to the crispy shell by a layer of refried beans so I obliged by having all that was necessary. We had the beef taco meat, beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and sour cream (which I have had an increasing fondness for in my pregnancy). He also indulged in a good Mexican beer with lime!

We also really enjoy making Mexican Rice. For this saute a small amount of onion and bell pepper (this would be really good with red, yellow, or orange bell peppers too). When they have gotten soft, add a bit of oil to the pan and saute the rice so that it can soak in some oil and get a little toasty. When it appears translucent, add your liquid...we usually use some Rotel style tomato juice, water, and chicken stock. Let that cook down, stirring occasionally to avoid stick-age. When the rice is almost done add corn, cilantro, and some of the Rotel tomatoes (get the mild unless you like it really hot, if you don't want it hot at all then go for canned diced tomatoes). Season to taste with a bit of salt or garlic powder.

The next day we put a twist on one of our favorite dinners which is mega salad. For mega salad we imagine that we are at Sweet Tomato or Souper Salad making one of their salads. For this one, due to the taco meat, we put a latin flair on it. Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, fresh corn, drained and rinsed black beans, avocado, and bell pepper were all tossed with shredded cheddar cheese, warm taco meat, and tortilla chips. For a dressing, I threw in some sour cream and salsa and tossed to coat all the veggies. It was yummy!...and delicious!!!

Mayes Family Reunion

This past Saturday we had a little family reunion for Mattie's mom's side of the family. Most of the family are the Mayes' except for Mattie and I's unit which would be the Howards. We had a really good time. The whole family was there except for Matt's sister and brother-in-law Rob and they were missed, but it was good to see everyone else there. All in all we had four generations: Grandma and Grandpa, the four kids (Ron, Gary, Deb, and John), all of their kids, the one birthed great-grandchild, and our little great-grandchild to be. It was definitely warm, but we had a shaded pavilion at Lake Murray (South Oklahoma) to try and stay fairly cool under.

Mattie and I really enjoyed teasing all of the Mayes girls, meeting the newer additions to the family in Valerie and Jamie, and spending time with people we love but may not get to see very often. Grandma and Grandpa seemed very happy with having all of their family surrounding them. Here are some pictures!

Family talk

Mattie and Grandma

Martin, Erica, and Allison playing cards...the girls had a weird obsession with hugging watermelons...

Allison and Erica...Kimi and Heather were too anti-social

Adam and Grandpa
Also, Matt's mom indulged the baby with a few really nice gifts from a store she found in Houston. Here is Matt testing one of the gifts out with his Dad's help!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In two weeks

Just a quick little note that we are really excited to have a "date" with our little one in two weeks. We will be getting a lot of face time with our t-rex because this is the big ultrasound where they do a whole bunch of measuring! We are looking forward to the quality time.

Et tu anchovy???

Ever since high school I have had a deep fondness for Caesar salad. My sister developed her fondness, nay obsession, with the salad much earlier than that. There was a trip our family took to Colorado that she ate Caesar salad and/or Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo every day we were there. My fondness for Caesar salad is different though. As you can see in the picture above the greens are not your typical creamy coated lettuce salad. My father taught me this method after watching a waiter make table side Caesar salad at a restaurant. Because my family had a bought with Salmonella once before we skip the raw egg portion of our dressing and we up the vinegar. In all fairness, I try to top the salad with boiled egg (plus Mattie likes that it means extra protein for him). I cannot give you exact measurements for the dressing, but I will try to translate the method and approximate amounts as much as possible.

First, wash and dry your romaine lettuce leaves...this (and many other dressings) will not stick to wet lettuce. If you don't have a salad spinner, now might be a great time to get one. I would also recommend that you have your croutons and shredded Parmesan ready to go. This would also be a great time to put some salad plates in the freezer if so desired.

Next, in a large bowl (I have a good, shallow metal bowl that I usually use), crush two or so cloves of garlic. Add a few sliced anchovies and mash this together until it is a thick paste. I use the back of a fork to get optimum anchovy mash-age, but sometimes you need to break it up further with a sharp knife.

Next, add a few splashes of several different vinegars. We always use a good balsamic vinegar and some red wine vinegar. If it is a special occasion we break out the Mexican vinegar that we cannot find any more and add a splash or two of that. Also squeeze half a fresh lemon into the dressing. Mix all of this together. It should be fairly thick from your anchovy/garlic paste. If you want you can throw in a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce (to make it more authentic).

Next get out a small whisk. While beating slowly, stream in a good quality Extra virgin olive oil. You need a good quality olive oil (and extra virgin at that) because this is a need the best flavor possible. The amount of olive oil is completely up to you. Matt's family can attest that I like a very tart dressing that definitely does not have much more olive oil than needed. Taste a bit and add if is easy to add more...impossible to take away.

Now add in your lettuce, Parmesan, croutons, and lots of freshly ground black pepper and toss together. I like to let this sit for a minute so the croutons can soak up any extra dressing. We often top with boiled eggs as mentioned before and if we are having this as a dinner we add chicken and sometimes fresh avocado.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Mattie and I discovered Mark's on Westheimer two summers ago when we were invited to go to dinner with some guest speakers at the Holocaust Museum. Aside from me being ecstatic about sitting with some pretty cool people, we decided that Mark's was a restaurant to be reckoned with. I went there again with McKay and Deb for our girls shopping adventure and liked it even more. Thus, when Mattie and I were trying to decided where to spend our delayed anniversary dinner (delayed on purpose to coincide with having tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof) we naturally settled on Mark's. I will only comment on our dinner last night.

The inside of Mark's (from their website) almost where we sat...

Being in my motherly state I will be unable to comment on the adult beverages. I might be able to convince Matt to write a couple sentences about his martini and his glass of wine later though!

We first ordered their tomato appetizer. It was thin sliced heirloom tomatoes topped with avocado, watercress, and a citrus vinaigrette. The concept was good, but Mattie and I both felt that the tomatoes were not at their peak for such simple presentation. If you are going to have a dish that tomatoes are the super star of...then have super star tomatoes. These had decent flavor (but not a lot of that acidic bite that one desires with a good home grown tomato), but were slightly grainy. 

The next dish brought out redeemed the tomato salad. The menu described the soup as being a seafood and mushroom bisque, but this was so much better than that. It was not a typical bisque that I would think of (not very creamy looking), it looked more like a mushroom soup met gumbo (sans rice). It was topped with chunks of shrimp and lump crab meat and thinly sliced asparagus stalk. The base was very meaty flavored, but as far as I could tell, consisted of mushrooms and a seafood stock. The velvety texture of the fresh mushrooms gave a lot to making the "mouth feel" a bit more like a bisque. Also, there was the subtle hint of red or black pepper at the end of each spoonful (which I rather like in a bisque). 

Next we shared a Caesar salad. I realized as I took my first bite that as this was a nicer place, the dressing was probably homemade, which meant it probably had raw eggs, which is a definite pregnancy "no, no". I partook anyways feeling that I have done very good for the past 18 weeks in eating what the doctor has said is ok. The salad had a homemade parmesan crisp (which I love to eat and are really easy to make) and some (in my opinion) highly salted lettuce leaves that the actual Caesar portion of the salad sat on. The romaine was chopped (which I have found to be the new "in" for salad...chopped lettuce salads are very hot...or cold...right now) and tossed with bacon, parmesan, and a very good Caesar dressing. Their dressing was not too egg-y and not too creamy. It also had a nice zing of lemon in the dressing which I rather like (especially considering that my Caesar dressing is totally rogue). 

Matt enjoyed (although we traded plates midway) one of their featured items for the evening. He had the locally raised Kobe beef (which if it is locally raised I would have to put "Kobe" in quotation marks) and Bison. The Kobe beef was seared (or so the waiter said...when it came out I think he switched the two) and the Bison was slow, oven roasted. It was served with mushroom and parmesan risotto (which by the time I got to it was not as enjoyable) and a medley of summer vegetables (which were cooked and seasoned well. Seeing as we were confused on which was which ("Kobe" or Bison) I cannot say which I  liked more. Both were cooked to a nice Medium-rare and were seasoned enough to let the meat stand out on it's own.

I ordered their pork dish for the evening. It was slices of pork tenderloin (seasoned with salt, pepper, and rosemary), a couple of "chunks" of what only could be described as pulled pork (which really left me wanting a bun, pickles, bbq sauce, and a beer), and the most amazing grilled, bone-in, three or four inch tall pork chop I have ever tasted. As far as we could tell, the pork chop could not have been seasoned with much more than salt and pepper. It might have been brined, but it was not a complex brine if it was. When asked what made the pork so good, I would have to say the simplicity of the dish. It was grilled pork that tasted like pork. It had beautiful grill marks, it was juicy throughout, and it made me do a little happy dance. There were several relishes on the plate to go with the different preparations, but I only used the apple one for the tenderloin.

I will try to convince Matt to write about the drinks later and when he does I will talk all about the raspberry tart we shared for dessert. All in all, a great meal (with a couple of "ehs") and a wonderful date night!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The gender debate continues...

So...I recently gave the kids the kids that did not exempt their final. For their bonus they answered the question "Is Mrs. Howard having a boy or a girl?". After their protests that I did not tell them and that they could get it wrong, I explained to them that there was no way of knowing until long after they had forgotten about my class so either boy or girl was correct. The results follow...

9 abstained from voting 
-(I like to think they were exercising their right to abstain rather than just being lazy)
Twin boys...1 vote
Boy Octopus...1 vote
Girl...13 votes
Boy...52 votes

So we all know what my students think...I will have to poll my Sophomores next year right before I go on maternity leave...that should be fun!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My heart!

This is a long one...

Maybe my heart is already too full of love for this little one! I have always had slight heart palpatations. There has never been a pattern as to when they come, nor have they ever shown up on an EKG. Lately I have been having them more frequently and more intensely. I mentioned this to the doctor on my last visit so she scheduled me to meet with a is how the visit went:

1:45- I show up early for my 2 p.m. appointment...I fill in paperwork, but was slightly confused by some of the information that they asked me to record...I had experienced weight gain recently (pregnancy) I fill that in as a yes or I not in the last 17 or so weeks...ect

2:30- I get called back for an EKG...they stick probes all over my chest and take two read outs while double checking some of my information...yes...I am pregnant...nothing on the EKG

2:40- The actual doctor comes in...takes one look at me and sits down at a computer...who is your doctor...Dr. Stacey Norton (not Cynthia like he wrote down) must drink a lot of caffiene...nope- one or two a must eat a lot of chocolate...nope- once or twice a must smoke...nope- besides I am must drink a lot...nope- even when I was drinking it was once or twice a week...have you had your cholesterol checked...yes, I just got my insurance bloodwork back, the good cholesterol was where it needed to be and the bad cholesterol was low...everyone in your family alive...what?, mom, siblings...yes...all in good health...yes. At this point he finally looks at me again and listens to my heart. Unable to "find" anything, he tells me he wants my thyroid checked, a heart echo done, and a 24-hour heart monitor (which I expected).

3:00- I go in for the heart echo. I went ahead and reminded them I was pregnant, partially because I wanted everyone to remember that and partially because I was secretly hoping they would sneak a peek at the little one ( I take off my shirt and get prepared for the cold gel (my OB/GYN does not have a gel warmer). I was pleasantly surprised by a warm, smooth feeling on my chest. I figured I was all good from here...they have to poke and prod with the baby ultrasound so I thought I knew what to expect. A baby ultrasound is in a relatively gooshy place...heart echo not so much. They really ram that wand into your ribs, sternum, and any other hard place they can find. To top it off they have you hold your breath so they can get certain measurements as they dig further into your chest. It was cool to see the four chambers of my heart beating away though. I also thought it was interesting to hear how the heart sounds different in different parts of your body.

3:30- I wipe all the gel off of my chest and go in for the heart monitor. Five contact points are placed and taped on my body and they send me off with a walkman style pack that I CANNOT GET WET...too bad for me that I would not have minded a shower...

3:45- I go pay (thank goodness for Mattie's great insurance) and get the form for my thyroid bloodwork.

4:00- Once in my car I call my OB's office to see if they have done a thyroid check...they have...and in fact the Cardiologist had that information a week ago...I feel so happy the Cardiologist bothered checking, but glad that I did not go get more blood drawn because I am smarter than that (and sick of having blood drawn). Have I mentioned that I love my OB and her office...they are the nicest and most competent people...I mean that completely and entirely sincerly, I have the utmost confidence in Dr. Norton delivering this and every other child that may pass through my womb.

4:10- Call the Cardiologist to tell them (as nicely as my pregnancy hormones will allow) that they have my thyroid information...oh yes...we do says the woman on the other line...

As far as what is wrong with me...who knows...after all that as far as I know I won't hear from them again until my follow up on July 6th...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Italian food in Mexico???

Mattie and I at the restraurant overlooking the marina

Two years ago Mattie and I went for a week to Nueva Vallarta which is just north of Puerto Vallarta. We had a wonderful time there and experienced some really great dining (including an awesome Cuban restaurant that I will have to write about some time). One of our wierdest, but most delicious meals was at an Italian restaurant at the resort we were staying at. It was wierd because one does not expect to find good Italian food in Puerto Vallarta. The view however was amazing because it looked over the marina so we could dream about having a yacht there one day! While at the Italian food restaurant (and I obviously cannot remember the name of said place) we had a very simple tomato and chicken pasta dish. While being one of the more simple things I had ordered on a menu, it was without a doubt one of the most delicious items I had ever had out to eat. It was clean, refreshing, and totally unpretentious. The chef (or cook...whatever) had let the tomatoes really stand out in the meal. The pasta was not trying to be anything it wasn' said I am pasta with tomatoes and me for it...and I did! Since coming back I have been trying to replicate said meal (without the marina of course).
For this dish I took fresh roma tomatoes. I like them a little firm so that they hold together better and so they have a little bite to them. However, with summer approaching, if you can get actual home grown tomatoes please use those. I wash, seed, and chop the tomatoes. In a pan heat olive oil and add garlic and diced red or yellow onion. I do not carmelize my onions for this dish, but cook them at a lower temperature until they are sweet and translucent. I then add the tomatoes and cook those on medium heat until heated through. Turn your heat down to low and add (about a turn of the pan) a good quality balsamic vinegar. Add salt, feshly ground black pepper, and tons of fresh basil. Toss with your favorite pasta (I like penne with this), some cheese (the possibilities are endless...I would recommend some grated parmesan and some chopped fresh mozzarella), and more basil. For extra flavor and nutrition, we like to chiffonade spinach to add to the pasta to let it wilt away. We top it off with sauteed or grilled chicken and serve it with salad. Enjoy!