The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Yearly Archives for 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto

I’d never made an actual risotto before I attempted this recipe a month or so ago. In fact, I’d never even eaten much less prepared butternut squash before. But, I mean really, how could it be bad? Butter? Yum! Nuts? Yum!! Squash? Yum!!! And please, all of the risottos I’ve had were about the richest and fabulous things I’ve ever eaten.

Despite all of this evidence pointing to it being a potentially successful meal, I have to admit I was a little nervous to actually attempt it. People always say risottos are delicate and difficult to create correctly. And really, according to the name, it always seemed to me that single malt scotch should be delicious, like malted milk shakes and butterscotch candy, but I’ve tasted a $200 glass of scotch and it does NOT taste like that. More like rubbing alcohol. So really, who even knows if this butternut squash would live up to the promise of its name?

Regardless of my worries I trudged on. I peeled and chopped the squash as was directed and roasted it on a cookie sheet.

And to my delight, it absolutely lived up to its name! In fact, Jonas (my 2 year old) ate it like candy right off the cookie sheet straight from the oven. He loved it.

I then moved on to the actual risotto part of the recipe. In general, I try to stick with the rule that the first time I use a recipe, I follow it exactly, with no substitutions. This time, however, I decided to take a risk and switch out the pancetta for Italian sausage, which I browned before I began the risotto and set it aside to add when I put in the butternut squash. I also omitted the saffron, just because I didn’t have any and hadn’t worked with it before.

Cooking the rice and cheese was actually much easier and more soothing than I expected. It was time consuming, but relaxing; just a stir and a pour here and there for about 45 minutes.

After the rice was sufficiently cooked I mixed in the sausage and the butternut squash and voila! I absolutely loved it and ate the leftovers for days. The ungrateful, bland-paletted children, however, were another story. Can’t please everyone, I suppose. Someday they will love their mother’s gourmet cuisine, right?

What's Good For the Goose and Gander is Good for the Goslings

Of late I’ve become a huge proponent of date night. Until recently, I leaned toward the parenting contingent that believes the kids are the main priority and getting a sitter so Mom and Dad can go out on a Saturday night is shirking your responsibilities and a waste of money in addition.

I’ve done some relationship thinking, reading and reevaluating lately and the conclusions I’ve come to are these:

1. Marriage is work, like a garden. Regardless of the viability of the seed you’ve planted and the proposed beauty of the flower, if you don’t water it and give it sun, it will die.

2. Children benefit from having a cohesive parenting system. If it is possible to have the family intact and parenting from the same place, this is the ideal situation.

3. Therefore it’s important to make my marriage a priority. It’s not selfish to spend time alone with my husband, it’s imperative. Like on the airplane, when the cabin loses pressure, the adult needs to secure his breathing mask first, and then the child flying with him. If he can’t breathe and loses consciousness, neither will get oxygen. So in order to give my children the true family support system they need, I must take time alone with my husband to connect and enjoy each other.

So my husband and I have had several (maybe even many!) date nights this summer. We’ve done random and exciting things and reconnected with who we are as a couple minus the kiddos. And let me tell you, I love a good date night.

Here are some of the itineraries we’ve followed. I’m always looking for a fun date please leave suggestions in the comments!

1. Take your husband to work – Dinner at The Barrio Cafe in downtown Phoenix and then I took Jason to see a condo that is listed in a high rise in Phoenix. We took in the nighttime view from the rooftop patio.

2. Almost free art in Scottsdale – Sketching at Free Thursdays at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art for an hour and then we headed to the Sauce Restaurant on the waterfront near Fashion Square and took advantage of their summer special ($20 – pizza, salad, 2 glasses of wine).

3. ASU movie + sushi – Jason being the design/art/tech geek he is took me to see Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight at ASU in the Life Sciences building (it’s a bio-pic about the designer who, among many other things, created the I Heart NY logo) and then dinner at our favorite sushi joint, Blue Wasabi.

4. Bowling with buddies – Date night doesn’t always have to be just the two of us, in our opinion. The latest venture was as Bruswick XL in Gilbert for bowling and bar food. The food was actually edible and I hate bowling, but we made it fun with an extra game where everyone had to use the super light kiddie ball. It made for surprising results (including the time when one guy threw it so hard the ball bounced into and out of the gutter to take the spare). Jason said it felt like high school again.

Bountiful Basket, Co-op Produce – Reviewed

A facebook friend posted a link this week to a produce co-op site that she was thinking of trying out. Because I’ve been working hard lately at cooking for the family (versus eating takeout) and cutting grocery costs, I found the concept interesting.

Apparently the basic idea behind this particular co-op (and I understand that there are other interpretations of this general concept) is that produce is purchased in bulk by what’s currently in season and if you choose to purchase, you have to follow the rule my five year old has so much trouble with at kindergarten: That’s what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

It was $18 to purchase one ‘basket’ of produce and it had to be ordered and paid for online between Tuesday at noon and Wednesday at 10pm. My kids eat a ton of bananas, apples, grapes, melon and the like, and that is the sort of stuff I could vaguely make out in the picture of the basket on the website. I figured for $18 it couldn’t be a total disaster even if it was mostly radishes and rainbow chard.

This morning at 7:05 (the website said we had to be there at 7:15 AM, but I just tend to generally run a little early) we pulled into the parking lot of the Gene Autry Sports center, about 4 miles from our house to pick up our food. The operation consisted of about 10 ladies and 6 rows with blue and white baskets filled with produce. We got in line and showed our printed off receipt to a woman with a clipboard, who pointed us over to one of the rows.

We were then instructed to empty two baskets of food (one filled with fruit, one with veggies) into the box we brought from home (a medium-sized storage container). Here’s what we went home with:

6 peaches
6 apples (fuji)
5 tomatoes
2 butternut squashes
1.5 bunches of bananas
1 large bag of green grapes
1 cantaloupe
1 lb of strawberries
1 cauliflower
1 large bunch of romaine lettuce
1 small bag of carrots
3 small bok choy

I was a little weirded out by the bok choy, just because I’ve never used it, but once I voiced this on twitter, I was immediately pointed to three recipes that contain bok choy that all look excellent. Other than that, I was thrilled with the amount and quality of food we received for $18. We went right home and cut up the melon and some of the peaches and strawberries for breakfast and washed and froze the grapes for snacks. I’m going to make roasted butternut squash with flank steak and bok choy for dinner this week.

Besides the money we saved on the produce, I also like that it is seasonal, and that it forces me to try things I might not otherwise. Cooking for a family of five on a regular basis can get a little monotonous and this is a fun way to mix it up a little.

I will do it again. Maybe this isn’t something that would work for a single person or a very small family, but I think it’s just the right amount for my boys.

It's 78 Degrees Here and I Couldn't Be Happier

Just a little photo-log from the San Diego vacay, thus far. Highlights (and lowlights) as of the first 36 hours:

1. BEST BEACH HOUSE EVER. We’ve been coming the last couple of years and this one has just an amazing rooftop patio. Unparalleled.

2. The poor Merrills’ car AC died in Yuma. It was 118. They rode the rest of the way in swimsuits with the windows down and arrived dehydrated and happy for cooler temps. What troopers.

3. We have free passes to both the San Diego Zoo and Legoland!! Woo!

4. The weather is just spectacular. Amazing. A- Maze- ing.

Sausage and Peppers Sammies

And just for good measure:

A horseshoe of sausage (seriously, what do you call that? I have no clue), cut in half and sliced
A red bell pepper, sliced
A green bell pepper, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Garlic salt
Jar of marinara sauce
French rolls
Butter
Provlone cheese

Sauté peppers, onions, sausage in olive oil till soft and brown. Butter rolls and broil till bread is brown (how’s that for alliterative cooking?). Heat marinara sauce over stove. Spoon peppers and sausage mixture over bread, top with marinara and then two slices of provolone cheese. Put finished sammies back under broiler until cheese is melted. Close and slice in half.

These were my favorite meal in the last two weeks, at least. Loved it. And Jonas (who is almost two and allergic to dairy, eggs and nuts) ate the sausage, peppers, onions and marinara mixture from a bowl like it was going out of style. But of course the two big boys were not at all into it. Sigh. They will love my cooking someday, right?

Ginger Beef and Carrots

Dug it, forgot to take a pic, passing it on:

Ingredients:

1.5 pounds stew beef, cubed
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup sliced green onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can of beef broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced gingerroot
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
Package of frozen snap peas
Jasmine rice

Toss beef, carrots, green onions, garlic, beef broth, soy sauce, and gingerroot in the crockpot on low in the morning. When you get home from work, mix the cornstarch and water in a bowl and pour into crockpot. Turn the crockpot up to high and add snap peas. Put the jasmine rice on the stove to cook for 20 minutes. When it’s done serve crockpot stew over rice.

I added salt to my portion. It was super easy, quick and delicious, though!

A Note on Notes

So I was cleaning my office today (let’s just start this out with a small confession: I have not been accused of being ‘organized’ any time recently) and going through paperwork to decide what to keep and what to pitch and found this:

This was a sheet of paper that I took notes on during a phone call with a client. Just one phone call. Just one client.

I picked this sheet of notes up and had to sit in wonder a little bit about what a psycologist who didn’t know me would say about my mental health.

And then I realized that this sheet of notes kind of represents my life right now. My dad tells me on a regular basis that if I just put into place my systems (Quicken!) and get things organized, everything will run more smoothly.

Yet, I have to admit that this circular and chaotic set of notes mirrors my way of thinking. Jason (the supportive, webmaster, husband and father man in my life) and I regularly disagree about how to get things done because his thought process goes from A….. to B, and mine goes from A….. around to G, M, C, Z and then back around to B.

So I guess it make sense that my notes and my life are a little bit crazy. I have this feeling that if I forced myself to take straight notes that made sense to everyone I wouldn’t be who I am.

Rooftop Patios – My New Love

I took out two sets of buyers yesterday (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) to look at urban Phoenix properties. I’m really starting to like these condos and lofts. Some are incredibly cleverly put together.

My two sets of clients were in very different price ranges, and with both, we visited a very diverse set of listings, so in general, I got a pretty comprehensive tour of urban life in Phoenix.

We saw one bedroom lofts in the $400K price range (gorgeous and modern) and a 2 bed/2 bath for $109K. One spacious condo had an entire wall of windows next to the master bathroom shower, which only had a frosted glass wall through to the living room (my clients were not thrilled about this and the idea of their grandchildren visiting them there).

My favorite part of these properties is the rooftop patios. I actually think I could really get into the idea of living in a high-rise condo (if I didn’t have kids) if I knew that I could head up to the rooftop at night and look at the lights over the city; or even take a swim in the pool that looks out over the city in the afternoon. What an amazing luxury.

I took a few videos of rooftops we visited yesterday. Bear with me on the sound, it was super windy and I was obviously without a script. I also really need to work on panning more slowly. A twitter buddy (@tdhurst) pointed this out to me on one of my other video attempts and I obviously did not take that critique into account when I was doing these. I will remember for next time.

Houses are Like People – No One's Perfect

Now that buyers have started to get the message that now really is a fabulous time to buy (tax credits, low prices and low interest rates, oh my!), we’ve begun to encounter a new problem with getting people into homes.

There is still so much inventory out there (about 10 times as many houses on the market in metro-Phoenix right now as when I started in the business four years ago) that buyers are a little overwhelmed about how to start.

With so many houses on the market to choose from, and new houses coming on the market that fit the criteria they are looking for every day, buyers have gotten a little paralyzed by the idea that the ‘perfect’ house is out there.

I’m here to tell you now: No house is perfect. It’s the honest truth. Every house will have a flaw, whether it is a little bit farther than you want to drive, a tad more expensive than you wanted to spend, with an outrageous HOA, or without that fifth bedroom you always wanted, something about it will be less than ideal, I promise.

Case in point:

I have a client who I’ve been showing property to for about 6 months. We’d seen probably 250 houses. We’d made offers on 10ish that had not worked out for various reasons. We finally found THE HOUSE. A house in the neighborhood they really wanted to be in. A house priced how they needed it to be priced. A house with the same layout as one we had previously made an offer on (and not gotten) but in better condition, with new paint and carpet and on a cul-de-sac. It was plumbed for a gas stove like the husband wanted, and backed to a golf course. It was PERFECT.

We made a decent offer on this house and actually had our offer accepted. The home inspector pronounced it in nearly perfect condition and the termite inspector left me a voicemail that if I ran across another like it, he might be interested personally. Everything was going as smooth as ice.

Then the week before we were set to close escrow, the husband drove by the house and stopped to talk to one of the neighbors…. who mentioned the ‘scorpion problem’ in the neighborhood. And, you know, that’s when all hell broke loose.

The husband (on my suggestion) took a black light over to the house that night after dark to the back yard to attempt to dispel this rumor about scorpions that the neighbor was peddling. Instead, he found 12 (that’s right, TWELVE) scorpions on the walls of the block fence and sides of the house.

SIGH.

(Sorry, just needed a moment.)

Don’t worry, folks, we went back the next night and I let him in to the house with the black light. We didn’t find any scorpions inside the house. So the buyers are still buying (set to close tomorrow) and are going to have the house professionally sealed the day after close of escrow (the husband has been out to the house every night since killing every scorpion he finds in the back yard).

But the point is: No house is perfect. Each house is beautifully different and flawed, just like people.

Speaking of which, no scorpions in our new, fabulous, newly build house (WITH a fifth bedroom), but it IS a bit on the far side AND we found a field mouse in the garage today. SIGH.

Foreclosure Fears

This post is in response to the person who visited my website today using the search term “terrified to call mortgage company about my foreclosure.”

My heart goes out to this googler. Not only is she losing a home, but she is additionally paralyzed by fear (and probably guilt) over the situation and unable to act. There are way too many people in this situation right now. And unfortunately, avoidance is only making things worse.

So if this is ringing true to your life, here is my advice:

CALL YOUR MORTGAGE COMPANY IMMEDIATELY. They don’t want to take your house. In this economy, not only will it not make them any money, but it will cost them big bucks to get it turned around and back on the market. Mortgage companies don’t want to own houses. They will do anything they can to keep you in yours.

Try to keep in mind that although this is possibly a humiliating and unthinkable event for you, nothing you have to tell the bank will be something they haven’t heard before. You aren’t alone and the representative you speak to will be unlikely to admonish or scold you. The rep won’t be happy, but he most likely won’t mock you either.

Take the tactic that you want to work with the bank to make this have the best outcome for both of you. What do you need to get through the rough period? A deferment of payment for a few months until you find a new job? A reduced interest rate to lower your payments? An extended loan period to lower your payments?

Let them know what you are doing to make things better. Are you job searching daily? Cutting back on non-necessity spending? Convey all of this information to the bank to let them know you’re doing your part in all of this.

I’m not saying the bank will make this easy. You need to be diligent with paperwork they will request and you may have to call back several times (I took a class a few weeks back where the instructor told us that banks train their representatives to say no to any request three times). Don’t be deterred.

You have options in this situation, but it’s important to get out in front of it. Don’t let your fear drag you down further. Man up and call.