E Starts 3rd Grade

We sent E off to his first day of 3rd grade today!  He had mixed feelings about going back to school (mostly concerns about how it would impact his computer game time, ha).

But fortunately he came home from school happy about seeing his friends and excited about his class.  We’ve had a great summer but to be honest I’m really looking forward to getting into our school year groove.  Our schedule feels like an advance level of Tetris and I kind of wish I could skip ahead to the end of September when I have everything fit into place.

The most exciting aspect of this year is that Mimi is starting kindergarten. *gulp*  It starts next Monday and both her and I have COMPLICATED FEELINGS.

Compared with the thought of sending Mimi off, today with E was pretty low-key.  He’s been at his school since kindergarten and we all love it.

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I’m looking forward to a great year with our smart, quirky, funny, enthusiastic third-grader 🙂

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Princess Party

For the past few years Mimi has attended an annual princess party at our local rec center.  I’m not in love with the mania that is princess culture, but she loves it and we try to balance things out by talking about how being strong, kind, smart, funny, etc… is more important that having fancy clothes.

But I still realize that it’s nice to dress up in fancy clothes once in a while.

Mimi’s little best friend ES went to the party with her. I had found these Cinderella dresses online at the Disney store on super-duper clearance so the girls could be twins.

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Delicate flowers, through and through ;)
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They have beauty school students come do hair and makeup for the attendees. Mimi loved it.

The party was very well-run.  They had stations set up around the gym with different Disney trademark-offending characters at each station handing out different prices (balloons, tiaras, stickers, etc…) and posing for pictures.  Each attendee also got a little autograph book and Mimi was driven about getting every characters’ autograph.  When she finally got every page signed she left out this huge sigh and smiled.

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So many Cinderellas
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Mimi with Ariel
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With Lilo from “Lilo and Stitch”

She had a great time but by the time we got home we were both done.  And then as we got out of the car her balloon escaped and flew away, tragedy!

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But then Mimi rallied liked the trooper she was.

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OIT: Milk Graduation!

We’ve had an exciting weekend–last Thursday E graduated from milk OIT which means he can now freely eat dairy!  At graduation E drank 300 ml of whole milk (with strawberry syrup in it, natch) with no problem. It’s truly amazing and our whole family feels so grateful.

We love Dr. Olsen. He always takes time to talk with E about whatever he wants to discuss which is usually computer games ;)
We love Dr. Olsen. He always takes time to talk with E about whatever he wants to discuss which is usually computer games ;)

After our appointment we went straight to dinner at The Pie.  They make great pizza and before it was the only pizza place we could go as a family because they would put Daiya non-dairy cheese on a pizza for E.

But on Thursday, E had his first piece of real pizza with cow cheese and cheese sticks AND an ice cream sundae for dessert 🙂

And he was fine!  Watching him eat all that dairy was AMAZING, almost like I was watching a magic trick and having trouble believing my eyes.

First bite of real cheese pizza!
First bite of real cheese pizza!
First bite of real ice cream and whipped cream!
First bite of real ice cream and whipped cream!  Mimi was almost as excited as E was.

We’ve been going a little crazy since Thursday crossing off things off of E’s dairy wishlist.  He went to Taco Bell for the first time, got the free soft-serve ice cream at Dickies (which both kids have been talking about for months), ate buttered popcorn at the movies, and ate enchiladas with real cheese.

First visit to Taco Bell! He loved the nacho cheese.
First visit to Taco Bell! He loved the nacho cheese.
Free-not-very-good soft serve never tasted so good!
Free-average-tasting soft serve never tasted so good!

It’s such a trip to see him eat things with dairy.  I keep taking pictures.

E’s still allergic to eggs, peanuts, nuts and shrimp but at graduation we got some good news which which I’ll fill you in on later.

If you are interested in Oral Immunotherapy for food allergies I  recommend our doctor, Rocky Mountain Allergy Asthma and Immunology without reservation.  And this Facebook group, OIT 101, was helpful in answering a lot of my questions.  If you have questions about our personal experience I’d love to hear from you in the comments or in email.

Also, let me know if you have any dairy suggestions of things for him to try!  I’m going grocery shopping today and am getting real cream cheese for bagels, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Cozy Shack pudding, and whatever else dairy catches my eye.  I’m giving us a week to go a little nuts and then we’re going to find our new (creamy, dairy-licous) normal.

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Girls’ Camp at Zion National Park

I’m still trying to figure out where June went!  E went to two weeks of a coding camp to learn how to use Scratch, a programing language invented for kids; I took Mimi to the annual princess party at our rec center; and I went to Zion National Park with our church girls group.

It was HOT (upper nineties) so our hike up The Narrows was a lot of fun.  The water was pleasantly cool and it was fun to pick our way along the river bed.  In some places the water was up to my hips!  We just had about a hour to hike up and back, but I’d love to come back with N and the kids and spent a few hours going further up the river.

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The girls had a great time swimming in the river.  I really enjoyed spending time with them.  I just got called to work with them at church a few months ago so it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know them better individually.  After spending a few days away from normal life tromping around in nature (and in the heat!) with them I’m happy to say I’m now rock-solid on all of their names 😉

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Hiking the Timp Cave Trail

I’ve been trying to improve my health lately.  My teacher for the women’s weightlifting class I’m in (which is really fun BTW) told us about a program for hiking the Timpanogos Cave trail.  Since it’s the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service there’s a program where if you hike the trail up to the cave 100 times from May-beginning of Sept you get a free jacket.

I’m a sucker for big ideas and for about a week I was SO PUMPED to earn that jacket!  But then I counted the days I had to hike and it was something like 115 at the time which meant I would have to go at least 6 days a week  or do it twice a day which just wasn’t going to happen :/

I don’t have time for that!  It takes me 2 hours to drive from my house to the trail, hike up and down, and then drive home.  Most of the people whom I see hiking it multiple times are older (and probably don’t have little kids at home).  So my friend Amy decided we would get ourselves our own reward when we hiked it 50 times 😉

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It’s a pretty good hike: 1.5 miles up gaining about 1,100 ft.  At times it’s really steep.  I keep waiting for it to get noticeably easier but I just hiked it for the 13th time this morning and it’s still really hard in places.  But I’ve shaved a few minutes off my time up so that’s good.

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I normally leave the house at 6am so I’m back by 8 for N to leave for work, but last Friday my friend Amy and I took our kids with us around lunch time and went on the cave tour.  It was fun but afterwards I was wiped out.  Turns out it takes a lot of energy to cajole a whining 8-year-old up a mountain.  It took us an hour and a half to get up to the cave when it normally takes about 43 min, ha!

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I was looking forward to sleeping in this summer, but I have to get up even earlier than normal when I go hiking.  But I love it!–I definitely love it more on the way down than on the way up–but I feel so invigorated and ready for anything.  It usually wears off around 2pm when all I want to do is crawl in bed for a quick nap, but it’s nice while it lasts 😉

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Mimi’s Gymnastics Show

After E’s final soccer game of the season on Saturday we booked it from the field over to our town’s rec center for Mimi’s gymnastics exhibition.  Her exhibition was scheduled for the same time as E’s soccer game but I was able to have her attend at a different time so we could make it to both.  Last year we had a similar soccer/gymnastics scheduling conflict and I bungled the dates and we missed her exhibition and she was so disappointed and I felt like the worst mother.  She has since forgotten about it but I don’t know if I will  :/

Anyway, this year’s exhibition was ADORABLE.  The kids were between 3 and 5 and they were so darn cute.  N’s parents came with us and we all cheered for Mimi together.

20160521_0058  20160521_006420160521_0034_BWMimi was so excited to get her shiny participation medal and have everyone cheer for her.  She was grinning from ear to ear and in the car on the way home she kept exclaiming, “I’m so happy!  I’m so happy!”

My heart swelled with contentment.  It was a lovely moment.  The kids started bickering and it passed but it was nice while it lasted 😉

E’s Last Soccer Game

Saturday was a very sports-themed day. First we took E to his last soccer game of the season and then Mimi had a gymnastics exhibit.

It has been rainy and windy all morning but thankfully it cleared up when the game started. E was on a 2nd grade team through our city rec league and enjoyed it. His best friend from the neighborhood was on his team as well which was fun for him. They had a wonderful (and very patient!) coach.

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Watching from the sidelines waiting to get put in the game.
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Medals and juiceboxes for everyone!

Cancun: Taco Tour

Things have been busy around here.  School ends really early in UT and E finishes next Friday (!)  Our schedule has been crammed with end-of-year stuff along with soccer games and gymnastics.

Before I moved on to other things I wanted to do one more post about our trip in April to Mexico in April.  We went on a taco tour in Cancun which was one of my favorite things from the trip.

I found the Taco Tour on TripAdvisor.  It seemed fun, it was only $15 a person for the tour plus a little extra for the tacos and tips, and the reviews were good.  So I submitted our info on the website and waited to hear back from them.

Merak, the tour guide, emailed me back within 48 hours to confirm and gave me his cell number if we needed to reach him and we (N, me, and 3 friends from N’s company) were set to meet him the following evening in front of a grocery store in Cancun.

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Merak demonstrating how not to eat a taco (with your pinky in the air–you want to use it to hold stuff in)

Merak was a great tour guide–friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and passionate about Mexican food and tacos.  We set off on foot from the supermarket and arrived at our first stop for tacos al pastor.

Merak told us that al pastor was invented when Arabic immigrants came to Mexico and brought shawarma with them.  Locals adopted the method of cooking meat on a spit but incorporated local flavors and used pork instead of lamb and al pastor was born.

Merak recommended only ordering tacos al pastor if we were at a restaurant and saw their al pastor on a spit.  N0 spit–don’t chance it! He also said that tacos al pastor normally come with chopped onion, cilantro, and pineapple.  Our tacos were SO good (pictured at the top of this post)  I liked the pineapple.

After that we set off walking to our next stop.  We walked through town and saw locals out enjoying the evening. At one point before we walked down an alley Merak pulled us aside and said that they were remodeling the building on the side so the alley was especially dark right now but not to worry, he wasn’t leading us into an ambush and we we weren’t going to get mugged.  And we didn’t, the end.

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Men playing chess in a park. The chairs and tables were made out of painted tires.
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Hipster food trucks. Merak said they are just starting to appear in Cancun and haven’t really caught on yet.

The next place was a taco cart in another (better-lit) alley.

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Merak giving us his recommendations.

This taco cart was across the street from a modern, upscale restaurant which is where Merak said a lot of taxi drivers would take you if you said you wanted good tacos.  He also said that the driver would usually give you a card for a free margarita and then when you redeemed it he would get a kickback because the card had his referral number on the back.

As we walked past the restaurant he told us to look inside and see how many Mexicans were eating there.  There were only a few (mostly eating with tourists) but we went across the street and the tables by this taco cart were PACKED.

20160411_0090Merak listed his favorite tacos from this stand: chorizo, steak, and tripa (tripe).  As soon as he said the tripe taco was good I knew what I was having!  It was crispy and a little smokey like bacon and really good.

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Various tacos.
Various tacos.  I think those are the tripe tacos in front.

The next place we went was a seafood restaurant.  Merak said because the Cancun is only about 40 years old and developed as a tourist area there isn’t a fishing industry.  People realized they could make more money using boats to take tourist snorkeling and whatnot rather than fishing for a living–you can take tourists out to look at the same fish day after day but if you catch them to eat then that’s it.

Merak said that people also know that the tourists expect to be able to eat seafood in Cancun–so most restaurants bring it in frozen.  Just a few places get it fresh like the one he took us to.

When Merak described this as a "big jalepeno popper with shrimp" I knew what I was ordering. It was DELICIOUS.
When Merak described this as a “big jalepeno popper with shrimp” I knew what I was ordering. It was DELICIOUS.

We finished our tour by walking through town to a big town square.  There was a big thatched roof called a palapa over a stage where a singer was entertaining a crowd.  Merak said that people gather every night to hang out as families and enjoy the cooler temps.

Balloons for sale
Balloon seller
The couple is letting their little girl ride in a car they are driving by remote control.
The couple is letting their little girl ride in a car they are driving by remote control.  People rent them for 20-minute sessions.
Dessert!
Dessert!
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I love street food vendors.

Merak told us which vendors to avoid (he had eaten at one of them and gotten sick the week before) and which to consider for dessert.  Everyone ended up getting ice cream at this stall he recommended.  It was all made fresh and there were several local flavors that Merak tried to explain…”it’s a green fruit about this big…the inside is salmon-colored and it tastes kind of a melon but not as sweet.”  The vendor was happy to give everyone lots of samples and everyone ended up with something they liked.

Papaya ice cream with this spicy salty stuff on it. Really good!
Papaya ice cream with this spicy salty stuff on it. Really good!

It was such a fun experience.  Merak was a fantastic guide and such good company.  I felt privileged to be able to eat such delicious food and to learn more about locals lives and eat in Cancun.  Everyone in our group was so happy afterward and agreed that we would have paid more than $15 USD for the experience.  Merak said he knew he could charge more but that he didn’t want to, that he felt blessed to get to eat good food and share his love of Mexican food with tourists.

If you go to Cancun, please try to go on Merak’s taco tour!  You won’t regret it.

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Thanks for the memories, Merak!

And no, I didn’t get food poisoning.  Even from that tripe taco 😉

Cancun: Cooking with Felipe

After we finished shopping for produce and chicharrón (fried pig skin) at Mercado 23 with Felipe, we went to his restaurant to cook our 3-course lunch with him.  I was impressed with his restaurant.  While small (it’s in a converted apartment) it was bright and modern and the kitchen was well-organized and impeccably clean.

The first thing Felipe did was make a drink by blending the chaya leaves he had bought at the market and mixing it with sugar water.  The resulting punch was a bright vivid green, herbaceous, and very refreshing.

Then we got started on our guacamole appetizer.

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Our first course, guacamole with chicharrónes (I took the picture before Felipe added fried crickets which were as crunchy as you might expect).

Felipe told us about a traditional snack he would have with his family when they went to the market when he was a kid: they would buy ripe avocados, roll them around to mash the insides, slice them in half, and then use chicharrónes (fried pig skin) to scoop out the avocado.  Delicious!

Next we worked on the pork dish.  We cut a pork loin into thirds and then marinated it in oil, garlic, salt, and Mexican oregano. We put the scraps from the loin into a pan with oil and I browned them on the stove to make a base for the sauce.

Me browning pork scraps for the sauce
Working on the creme brûlée so it can simmer while we work cook the pork

Then Felipe put a plancha (a traditional griddle) on the stove to toast ingredients for the pippin mole sauce.

Toasting torillas, onions, and dried peppers on the plancha.
Toasting torillas, onions, and dried ancho peppers on the plancha.
Felipe toasting pepitas on the plancha--once they warmed up a few popped right off the stove!
Felipe toasting pepitas (pumpkin seeds)–once they started popping a few jumped right off the stove

Then Felipe put all the sauce ingredients into his fancy Thermomix and it blended everything up.

We browned the pieces of pork loin on the stove and then Felipe put them in the oven to finish.  And then he plated it up and N and I ate what was probably the best pork dish I’ve ever had.  The pork was so tender and juicy and the pipian sauce was bursting with flavor.  The powder on top was ground toasted tortillas which added a nutty flavor.

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In between working on the other dishes we had also been working on a rosemary creme brûlée for dessert.  It seemed like a normal creme brûlée receive but we added rosemary and scraped half of a vanilla bean into the egg yolk/cream mixture.  After simmering it on the stove Felipe strained it twice before pouring it into small mason jars (which are apparently beloved in restaurants worldwide).

N and I working on the rosemary creme brûlée
N and I working on the rosemary creme brûlée

After the little pots of cream mixture were finished simmering in their water bath on the stove we used a torch to carmelize sugar on top.  And then Felipe picked up pieces of rosemary with tweezers, lit them on fire and then blew them out, and then held the smoking rosemary inside the mason jar, shutting the lid to trap the smoke inside.   So when we opened the mason jars you got this whiff of smokey rosemary before you started eating.  It was SO GOOD!

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Our rosemary creme brûlée–there’s rosemary smoke inside that lid! ;)

I love creme brûlée in general and this was the best I’ve ever had.  It was so creamy and smooth without any air bubbles because Felipe had strained it twice and the rosemary added this slight herby savory note so the sweetness was even more noticeable in contrast.  Yum.

We had a great time cooking with Felipe.  It was fun to see a professional chef at work.  I noted how he was always cleaning and tidying as he worked and am trying to pick up the habit myself at home.

Our Spanish isn’t very good and while his English was a little better it felt a little awkward at first since it was just N and me, Felipe, and a guide. But as time went on it became easier and easier to understand each other. Funny how that happens 🙂

Selfie with Felipe
Selfie with Felipe

Felipe told us about how he met his wife when he was the chef at a prominent vineyard in Mexico and she was a sommelier there.  About how he learned to love food from his grandmother and how the name of his restaurant Lu’um means “earth” in Mayan and about how he hopes to share his love of creative food with people through his restaurant.  After a few hours together we swapping pictures of our families on our phones and listening to one of N’s K-pop mixes through the speakers in the kitchen.

It was warm in the kitchen and while it didn’t seem to bother N or anyone else I got hot and sweaty (as I am prone to be–it’s my curse to bear) and Felipe kept aiming the air conditioner at me and pouring me more and more cold chaya to drink which was super refreshing.

My only regrets about the experience were that we didn’t get the recipes written down and I’m already getting fuzzy on the pipian mole ingredients, and that it was our last day in Mexico so we didn’t have time to come back to Lu’um for dinner.  Felipe does a 6-course tasting dinner that sounded fantastic and we would have loved to tried it.  It is now one of my biggest reasons for wanting to go back to Cancun 😉

You can follow Felipe’s restaurant Lu’um on Instagram and Facebook.  If you’re going to Cancun and love food I wholeheartedly recommend eating at his restaurant or the market tour/cooking class we did.  It was one of the highlights of our whole trip.