Celebrate: Last Year's Cars Birthday Bash

May 15, 2018

We’re starting to get ideas together for our oldest babe’s 4th birthday party in mid-June. 4th birthday?! How is this possible?!

This year Jack is about all things SEA CREATURES. At this point, I honestly feel like I’m 20,000 leagues under the sea on a daily basis and I can name more deep sea creatures than I would have guessed possible if you asked me at age 25. You can check out the “Celebrate” board on my Pinterest page (@sweetlouiseandco) to see some ideas I’m kicking around for the bash. But for now, I wanted to start with a little trip down memory lane to showcase how we’ve celebrated over the past few years.

Last Summer, Jack turned 3 and was into Disney’s Cars in a major way (sidenote, it took becoming a momma to understand how fast and hard toddlers hold onto their obsession of the moment. Like me with the wedge sneaker trend in 2013). It was perfect timing because Cars 3 was released in theaters last summer too! Kyle and I took the opportunity to take Jack to his first movie. It was such a fun memory to make, just the three of us, and one that he still talks about. He was so excited for his own little bucket of popcorn and getting his picture taken with his hero, Lightening McQueen, outside of the theater.

When it came to his celebration afterwards I knew it needed to be Cars themed, but wanted to go with something other than the racecar party motif. I took inspiration from the series and went with a retro diner/Route 66 theme instead- a nod to Radiator Springs if you’re a Disney fan! I love that the color palette was a little softer, but still boyish and there was a fun desert vibe perfect for Summer. It made food selection a breeze too. Sliders, french fries, classic cola and root beer floats made up a fun, yet simple menu.

I truly love making birthday cakes for my babies (hopefully it’s something special for them to look back on as they grow up, too!) and this one was no exception. A sprinkle cake with classic vanilla buttercream and simple toppers was perfect for my best little buddy’s big day. Looking forward to sharing some other ideas as we barrel toward age 4!

Celebrate: Mint Juleps for Derby Day

May 05, 2018

It’s Derby Day! And I couldn’t be more excited! Ok, so I don’t have an actual vested interest in the Kentucky Derby, but every year my husband and I make it a point to tune in to this exciting event in sports and make a few good spirited bets with each other. This year the kids are getting in on the fun too. We helped each of them pick a horse (all our picks are posted on the fridge) and if anyone wins, they will get to pick a special prize on our next trip to the store.

I love events like this (any reason to celebrate!) and since this is the first year in 4 years that I’m not pregnant in the month of May, I am NOT letting the chance to sip on a mint julep pass me by. We are mixing up two versions of the derby staple- a classic Mint Julep for Kyle and a Strawberry Mint Julep for me. Both versions start with the same easy steps. Here’s how it’s done:

We made a quick simple syrup bringing ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of water to a boil after which we reduced to a simmer for about 3 minutes (until all the sugar is dissolved). Let this mixture cool completely before using. You only need about 2 tsp. of the simple syrup for each cocktail, but you can store the rest in the refrigerator for future use!

Strawberry Mint Julep:
-2 tsp. simple syrup
-crushed ice
-a handful of mint leaves
-about 3 large strawberries, quartered
-one 1 ½ oz. shot of your favorite bourbon (or a little more if you’re feeling lucky!)

Place the simple syrup in a glass. For this version, you’ll muddle the strawberries with the simple syrup until the strawberries look pureed. Throw in your mint leaves (6-8 should do the trick) and muddle again. Add the bourbon. Fill the glass about halfway with crushed ice and stir to combine. Garnish with a few more strawberries and a sprig of mint, sip and enjoy!

Classic Mint Julep:
-2 tsp. simple syrup
-crushed ice
-a handful of mint leaves
-one 1 ½ oz. shot of your favorite bourbon

Place the simple syrup in a glass. Throw in your mint leaves and muddle gently. Add the bourbon. Fill the glass about halfway with crushed ice and stir to combine. You could also throw everything into a shaker to make this version even quicker. Garnish with a mint sprig and serve.

These are such a fun and festive hot weather drink that turn the day into a little special occasion. I love the pretty and feminine twist the strawberries add to this cocktail too. So tell me, have you ever gone to the Kentucky Derby? How are you celebrating this year? Let me know in the comments below!

Motherhood Musings: Embracing A New Season

May 04, 2018

May 2018 marks my third official month as a Momma of 4 kids under the age of four years old and my fifth official month as a stay-a-home Mom. What’s funny is that I think it’s safe to say most people reading this would think the first part of that statement is crazier, but for me that isn’t the case. I joked with my husband since November that staying home was going to be a harder transition for me than bringing our fourth baby into the mix. And when Max was born all angelic and smiling and easy, he proved it to be true! Becoming a stay-at-home Mom was a huge shift for me.

The reason had so much to do with how working and providing for my family had become an intrinsic part of who I was; I felt like it was one of the biggest parts of my identity. When we started talking about the idea of me staying home once baby #4 was here (it just made a lot more sense financially than childcare for 4 children) I was surprised by the level of guilt I started feeling. Not even guilt about me being the one to stay with the kids. My husband and I weighed all options and he was just as supportive of the idea of staying home himself and me being the one to continue working. We operate as a good team, turns out. I was feeling guilty about the idea of walking away from a career that was going well for me. And walking away in a time where women are making such great strides toward equality in the workplace, where our voices are starting to be heard amongst a lot of other noise out there. I was more afraid of losing a piece of my identity than thinking about all that I could gain.

I really started weighing the pros and cons in this highly personal decision. I was using my degree in a career that I (mostly) loved. One that provided me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, let me be creative on a daily basis and included lots of travel. That was all great...until it wasn’t. Once we started our family, some of the shine faded from my job. I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that while I was working someone else was raising my kids. I was gaining success because the hours were getting longer and the travel more regular, but somehow my babies didn’t stop growing while I was checking e-mails and checking into hotels.

I still hesitated. I was more worried that there was a chance that I might not actually like staying home (just as much as staying home is frowned upon in some circles, being honest about the fact that you LIKE working is frowned upon in others. You can’t please everyone!). I was afraid I might not be good at it. Or that I might not feel like myself anymore if I was “Just Mom.” That was hard to admit to myself.

Once I took the risk, like so many other things in life, it was clear that TAKING the risk was the hardest part. The payoff was almost instant. I didn’t feel less like myself and I didn’t miss work nearly as much as I thought I would. Most days I realize I've never felt more connected to my family. Some days I spend a lot of time reminding myself the theme from PJ Masks WILL eventually get out of my head and that the potty training years will come to an end like all things. It’s easier than I thought to pause and think about what I’ve gained and how grateful I am that we are in a position that my new normal is possible.

I think for me I’m constantly learning that change can be good; it’s ok to be different than you were at age 16 or 25...because being ok with change means being ok with growth. I’m ok with letting my priorities change with a new season of life. I have a supportive partner who makes sure I find time to be more than “Just Mom.” Although many days right now, “Just Mom” is just fine with me.

Weeknight Meals: Loaded Sweet Potato

May 02, 2018

So, if you're anything like me, weeknight dinners are borderline lame. Between work, keeping 4 kids alive/happy and maintaining a house that is baseline respectable (aka I need to be able to just walk into the basement without sending up an S.O.S. to my 3 year old to pull me out of the laundry piles. Wait, how was my laundry like this before 4 kids too?), I just don't have it in me to pull out all the stops on a weeknight meal.

ENTER THE LOADED SWEET POTATO. What a gem. This thing packs all the nutrients my potato loving bootay NEEDS, but doesn't skimp on flavor (give me a meal without any flavor and I will just skip to the wine, thanks). It's quick to make and can easily be a meal for one or many depending on your needs. You can change up the toppings quite a bit based on what you have to use up in your fridge or pantry and this can be a vegan, vegetarian or meat lovers meal depending on what toppings you choose. Thanks for the versatility, you big, beautiful spud.

Personally, I'm into the Southwestern twist and we also usually have a couple vegetarian meals each week to keep things a little healthier, so that's what you'll see in the recipe listed below. I've been seeing Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos all over menus at my favorite restaurants, so I put a little spin on that for dinner tonight. You can steam the potatoes in the microwave or bake them in the oven if microwaves freak you out. You might prefer to cook the potatoes to just al dente because, if you're anything like me, you think that mushy sweet potatoes are best reserved for those in the 4-12 month old age range. It's like a choose your own adventure, but with dinner! Enjoy!

-Sweet Potatoes (1 per customer)
-Black Beans (you can soak your own if you have time; I just rinsed and drained one 15 oz. can)
-1/2 large White Onion (for this recipe, I like the onions raw to add texture that crunches, BUT you could also saute them with the black beans if raw onions aren't your thing)
-1/2 tsp. Cumin
-1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
-1/4 tsp. Paprika
-1/2 tsp. Chili Powder
-Salt & Pepper (as needed, to taste)
-about 1/4 cup water or broth (I used chicken broth, veggie would be fine too)
-Queso Fresco (or Cotija or Queso Blanco)
-Fresh Lime (to garnish)
-Chopped Cilantro (to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prick the washed potatoes all over with a fork and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 45-60 minutes depending on how large the potatoes are. While the potatoes are in the oven, toss the black beans and all spices in a saute pan over medium heat making sure the beans are evenly coated in spice. Add enough water or broth to coat the beans and simmer for about 5 minutes until the mixture is heated through and the liquid is mostly absorbed. When the sweet potatoes are done, top with the black bean mixture, diced white onion, a sprinkle of queso fresco, chopped cilantro and a quick twist of fresh lime. Serve immediately. End the weeknight blues.