I am mentally and physically gearing up for my daughter's sleepover party on Friday. Friday the 13th, might I add.
Not that I am superstitious or anything, but I really didn't need a bad omen hanging over my head on the night I will be having 6 girls sleep over at our apartment, plus baby brother, husband and myself.
We live in a charming apartment with hard wood floors, molding and bow windows in the center of a big city, the urban slang equivalent of small. I literally had to get out a measuring tape to make sure all the mattresses would fit, wedging them in like Tetris pieces (our Christmas tree is taking up additional vital space these days).
Next came the pillow issue. We have plenty of sheets and blankets (although sleeping bags were heartily suggested on the invitation), but who has 10 pillows in a city dwelling? I mean, let's face it, every pillow you are not using to sleep on takes up an approximate $500.00 real estate value for storage. Luckily the Martha Stewart in me partially solved that problem by having decorative pillows on my bed. Off come the fancy pillow cases, on go the Ikea mice in carrot race cars.
I've done my research and if there is one thing I have learned is that you need a plan, some structure to avoid things spiralling out of control. So we will start with an organized activity, we will progress with pizza, soda and birthday cake; pop corn, potato chips and a very girlie movie will follow. Then, hopefully, a lot of whispering and giggling in bed, some sleep, a big breakfast and a 10:00am pick up.
I learned a valuable tip from another mom: having them change into their pjs shortly after they arrive, so they feel like they are getting into the mood, while you are really aiming to get them changed before the sugar high hits.
Back to the activity, I am having them decorate Christmas cookies - that I will pre-bake - around the kitchen table. Each girl gets to take home a bag of cookies she decorated, solving the party favor issue too. Bingo!
I am secretely fantasizing about baking an extra batch of cookies and setting up a decorating sweat shop so I have them ready to bring to the Christmas school bake sale the following week. Dozens of nimble fingers will do that to an overworked mom just before the holidays.
This is the plan behind the scenes: F and I will keep the little guy busy with the precious help of Lightning Mc Queen. After watching a movie in our bed, he gets to fall asleep there, a rare and special treat. Once he is deep asleep (because sleeping in his room without his beloved sister could trigger all sorts of drama) we will carry him into his bed and hopefully, although not definitely, manage to sleep ourselves.
I will let you know how it goes, and if anyone has any suggestions they are more than welcome.
In the meantime, here is a dish you can easily make without the help of child labor.
A while back I told you about a pretty common method for preparing meat here in Italy: slow-cooking it in milk. I often make pork loin this way, because it is a cut that can turn out pretty dry when roasted. Also, you get the added bonus of a delicious sauce.
2 carrots, a few stalks of celery and 1 onion for 'soffritto' (see below)
2-3 cups milk
salt, pepper to taste
The method is easy: you season the meat with salt, pepper and you preferred choice of herbs. Crushed fennel seeds work well, or a mixed herb rub or bay leaf directly in the milk. Sear the meat on all sides to lock in the juices and set aside. Next you prepare a soffritto by finely chopping carrots, celery and onion and then you fry them in olive oil until the carrots are slightly tender and the onion and celery are transluscent. This time I prepared my soffritto in the food processor so the result was almost a paste, which pleasantly tinged the milk during the cooking process as you can see below.
When the vegetables are yeilding put the meat back in the pot and then add about an inch or two of milk. Let the meat simmer, covered, for at least an hour (depending on size) on low heat, turning the meat a few times during the process. The milk will reduce and start curdling. Take out the meat and let it sit for a few minutes. In the meantime let the sauce reduce and mash the soffritto with a fork if the pieces are too big for your liking. Taste for seasoning. Thinly cut the roast and spoon the sauce over the meat.
2 red onions
6-8 cloves garlic
a handful of pinoli
aged balsamic vinegar
You can prepare this dish while the meat is cooking.
Pre-heat your oven to 220°C/440°F and line a baking sheet or pan with paper. Peel and chop 2 apples and 2 red onions into bitesize chunks. Throw in a few cloves of garlic, peel on, and a couple of branches of rosemary and a handful of pinoli. Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar (if it is very liquid use very little or the vegetables/fruit will not roast), pepper and salt. Cook in oven for about 20-30 minutes stirring a few times so the apples and onions roast evenly.