Elissa Cooks Stuff: Pho!!!

Confession: I actually made this dish a long time ago (like, the beginning of December), but I had to wait to blog because there was no way I could tell the story without revealing just how pregnant I was/am. We weren’t ready to tell people yet, so…here you go!

As we were driving home from our epic camping trip at Big Bend National Park, I was simply obsessed with the idea that the best thing in the world would be a big bowl of pho (see? Super pregnant).

Dan, on the other hand, probably just wanted more s'mores.

Dan, on the other hand, probably just wanted more s’mores.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of pho establishments easily accessible from the I-10 (at least, not where we were driving during dinner hours), and even if there were, 13 hours is a long enough drive without having to stop for a sit-down pho experience that no one else would appreciate. Besides, that stuff has so much MSG. And MSG, as we know, stands for Mucho Suckage, Guys.

So I resisted.

But the next day, the pho craving came back, stronger than ever. I couldn’t take it anymore–I had to take things into my own hands and acquire some of that sweet, Vietnamese goodness. And so, I looked up a recipe (this recipe, from the best blog ever, The Woks of Life), strapped Dan back into the car, and went on an adventure to gather pho ingredients.

I mostly followed the recipe as written, with one exception: I googled the internets all up and couldn’t figure out where to find beef knuckle bones within an hour of where I live, so I just bought a bunch of beef shank and hoped for the best. But my friends, the best is what I got. This stuff was amazing.

Charring the onions

Charring the onions

Here it is, just simmering away.

Here it is, just simmering away.

Like a responsible pregnant woman, I omitted the bean sprouts. Sigh.

Like a responsible pregnant woman, I omitted the bean sprouts. Sigh.

And now, the results:

Taste: Heavenly. Tom was making fun of me because I was sitting there talking about how I wanted to eat nothing but pho for the rest of my life. It may not have been the best pho I’ve ever had, but it was definitely respectable. Plus, I didn’t have that icky MSG-overload feeling after I ate it.

Ease of Preparation: Not going to lie, this was an involved process. Including shopping time, it probably took six or seven hours to prepare. However, it did generate something like 8 servings of pho, so that’s pretty reasonable. Still not something I’d probably do super often, but I’ve got a bunch in the freezer for a rainy day, so it’s all good.

Will Tom/Dan eat it?: HAH! Like I’m going to share.

Overall evaluation: SUCCESS! YAY PHO!

Unfortunately, after several days of pho-filled goodness, my stomach decided that pho aromatics were the most disgusting, nausea-inducing things in the entire universe—such is pregnancy life. But I still have a big tub of pho broth in my freezer. It’s waiting for me to come home, like the father waits for his prodigal son—with open, delicious-food-filled arms.

Advertisements

The 2016 GTA Year In Review

Last year it was brought to my attention that the “GTA” in my title made them think of “Grand Theft Auto.” That’s hilarious, so I’m not going to change it. Muahaha.

Anywho, here I am, late as usual, to bring my twelve fabulous readers the famous year in review post! And man, it has been a crazy-good year to review.

The Fam

This was a big year for us as a family. We bought our first house, accompanied Tom’s grandparents on an amazing, life-dream-fulfilling genealogical trip to Italy, road tripped to Corpus Christi and Big Bend National Park, and basically spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a family of three.

We also put up Christmas lights for the first time!

lights

There were definitely some hard times. We all barely survived the plague, and the other plague, and there was the time Dan got that rash and everyone was stressed and I stormed out of the house to go buy Cadbury Mini Eggs. But we made it through the hard times, and I can safely say 2016 had more good times than bad times for the fam.

The best news from this year, of course, is that we’re expecting a baby in July!

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

We’re all very excited, although Dan doesn’t really know what’s going on yet. We’ve told him there’s a baby in Mom’s tummy, and sometimes he’ll say hi to the baby. But then he’ll point to his own tummy and say “baby,” so…we’re still working on it.

The Dan

This has been a big year for Dan. He learned to walk, talk, eat foods, and basically do all the amazing thing he does.

He also met Santa.

santadan

He wasn’t thrilled.

Dan also started Nursery this year. He had a rough time at first, as most kids do, but now he loves it—especially when they bring out the bubble machine at the end!

img_20161113_111711547

One time I went to Nursery with him, and he built a barricade of trucks around me so I wouldn’t leave.

img_20161113_111706113

img_20161113_111643999

I covered most of what there is to know about Dan in my “18 Months of Dan” post, and he’s continued to develop along the same lines. He is much better at communicating now, and learns dozens of words every day. Right now we’re working on saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” He’s a real sweetheart!

img_20161125_173007683

img_20161121_100648101

The Tom

This has been an awesome year for Tom. He put his Italian skills to good use, got promoted twice, experienced his first turnaround, and was accepted into his first-choice online MBA program. Wow!

img_20170111_182655763-1

Tom continues to be an amazing dad.

Oh yeah—Tom was the scruffiest I’ve ever seen him on our camping trip in November.

img_20161202_105948792

Wut.

The Me

I didn’t really know what to put in this section. It’s not like I didn’t do anything in 2016—it’s just that I don’t have really good physical evidence of my accomplishments. Unlike in 2015, I didn’t get much crafting done, largely because once we moved I couldn’t find my crafting supplies/equipment.

I did, however, learn to cook a bunch of cool stuff: Dancakes, beef with broccoli, japchae, singapore rice noodles, moqueca, pot roast (now I’m a real white housewife!!!), pho (new “Elissa Cooks Stuff” coming soon!), and many other delicious foodums.

(I thought I took more pictures of my creations, but apparently they were all snapchat videos…)

As far as writing goes, I wrote about 71,841 original-fiction words this year. That’s not a lot by most writers’ standards, but considering everything else that happened this year, I’m pretty happy about it. I did participate in NaNoWriMo and win, and I’m still working on that project right now. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth writing post in the near future, so if you have any questions about my writing stuff, leave a comment!

To be honest, 2016 was pretty hard for me. We had a lot of fun adventures, but not a lot of downtime. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, and/or sick. I expected the whole family would get sick more once Dan started nursery, but for whatever reason, most of the plagues originate with me. 2017 hasn’t been much better so far, which is part of the reason this post is so late.

I’m starting to realize that I’m a real wimp when it comes to traveling. My body just doesn’t handle it very well, and it can take over a week to physically recover from a short weekend trip. And every time something unpleasant happens while traveling (like, say, Dan and I getting stomach flu in San Antonio, or a night of travel insomnia turning an ordinary case of delayed-onset muscle soreness into an out of control, fever-ridden, excruciatingly-painful nightmare), it just makes staying home and reading books sound that much more appealing.

This year I’m hoping for more relaxing family time at home, more crafting, more writing, and more delicious foods. As far as new year’s resolutions go, these seem pretty attainable.

Looking Forward to 2017

There’s a lot to be excited about in 2017! Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Dan’s 2nd birthday!
  • Dragonwatch in March!
  • Our 2nd baby in July!
  • Oathbringer in November!
  • More blogging!
  • The return of THESE GUYS!

img_20161114_115402673

It’s going to be a great year!

Happy mid-January to all, and may all your times be good!

18 Months of Dan!

Do you guys want to hear a funny story?

So I was going to post a cute thing about Dan when he turned one, but then we were packing and moving and traveling and I was lazy. By the time things settled down, he was, like, fifteen months old. And that’s not a cute milestone. I mean, with Dan every day is cute, but that’s beside the point.

Okay, that wasn’t funny at all.

Anyway, Dan is 18 months old as of Saturday, and we celebrated by weaning him off his pacifier and sending him off to nursery. Poor little guy. He handled both really well.

What I really wanted to say in this post (and this hasn’t changed from his birthday) is that Dan is absolutely amazing. He is so full of love for his family, his toys, his books, and so many other things. He’s learning and developing at an incredible rate, and we’re just so lucky we get to be part of it all.

So, in honor of his 18-month-ness, I thought I would share…

18 Fun Facts About Dan!

1. Dan loves books!

img_20160504_094505371

As you may remember, Dan has always enjoyed reading. Now that he can understand some of what we’re reading him (and we’ve acquired some very nice lift-the-flap books), reading has become a really exciting experience. Dan will bring me book after book after book until I have tho get up and do something else. And then he’ll whine, because what could be more important than reading Where’s Spot? or Hoppity Frog for the 85th time?

I’m not complaining, though. In fact, I’m really proud that Dan loves books so much. That means we must be doing something right!

2. Dan LOVES wheels!

Big wheels, small wheels, plastic toy wheels, rubber tires…basically, if it rotates, Dan loves it. He will point out every wheel on every car in every book we read him. He’ll sit on our front porch and point to every car or truck or lawnmower on our street. He nearly destroyed his vocal cords a month ago when he learned to say “Vroom!” If we take Dan to a museum or the zoo, he’s much more interested in pushing his own stroller around (and running after other kids’ strollers) than in looking at the attractions. We actually took the wheels off our office chair, because leaving them on would be disastrous. Dan would be playing with them all the time and one of us would inevitably crush his fingers.

 

Tractorin it up with Aunt Natalie!

Tractorin’ it up with Aunt Natalie!

3. Dan LOVES buttons!

Similarly, Dan is fascinated by buttons.

This was the best experience of Dans life.

This was the best experience of Dan’s life.

4. Dan is weirdly into rap…?

Imagine you’re on a long car ride. Dan is crying in the back seat because he’s tired and needs a nap and wants to be out of the car. You want to put on some music to calm him down. You put on some relaxing classical music, like a nice Beethoven sonata. Dan ignores it completely. You turn on some Enya—everyone likes Enya, right? Not Dan. He screams so loud you can’t hear the music.

So what do you do?

Well, you use this nonsense:

He’ll calm down instantly, and be asleep within minutes. Just don’t turn it off, or he’ll start whimpering again.

We don’t know why he likes rap so much. Tom thinks it’s the steady beat. I really don’t know where I went wrong, because this is clearly evidence of severe parenting failure, but I’ll admit it was pretty funny watching him dance to the Kreb’s cycle rap the other day (warning: mild language):

Luckily, I’ve discovered that the Undertale soundtrack is just as effective at keeping Dan calm in the car, and I’m using it and Little Einsteins as gateway drugs into instrumental/jazz/classical music appreciation. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making some breakthroughs. And in case you’re wondering, this is his favorite Undertale song:

5. Dan is very helpful!

Dan loves to help me out around the house. Once after I changed his diaper, I saw him pick the wet diaper up and put it in the trash can, so that is now his official job. He’s good at it, too. Last week he went to throw the diaper away, realized the trash can didn’t have a liner, and went looking for a different trash can. Wow!

Dan is also good at helping me put clothes into laundry baskets and put toys and books away. He also likes to help me “load the dishwasher,” which really means playing with the brightly-colored knives—so he’s not actually allowed to do this. Yet.

Here are some pictures of Dan “helping.”

img_20160919_142031428

Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

6. Dan loves to go outside!

img_20160811_094344354

img_20160914_122029349

In fact, “outside” is one of the handful of words he can say. Which brings us to number 6…

7. Dan can say words!

His vocabulary includes the words “outside,” “hi” (“Hieeeeeeeee!”), “dada,” “mama,” “shhhs” (shoes), “bah” (ball), “yeah,” “up,” “pat,” and “button.” He can also quack, moo, meow, and vroom with the best of them.

8. Dan is terrified of the garbage truck!

His room faces the street, and if we’re in there while the garbage truck is doing its thing, Dan will cling to me and stare at the window until it’s gone.

The only other thing that consistently freaks him out is when he’s holding my phone and it vibrates. He doesn’t get a lot of sympathy for this one, because he’s not supposed to touch my phone in the first place.

9. Dan is a major flirt!

img_20160718_151741754

Yeah, Dan. Flirt with the little girl AND her mom. That’ll get you places…

img_20160711_155334197

“Help me put this shoe on and my heart is yours, babe.”

img_20160523_102613558_hdr

He likes girls.

10. Dan knows some of his body parts!

Dan can correctly identify his nose, ears, head, tummy, arm, hand, leg, knee, and feet!

11. Dan is my green smoothie buddy!

12. Dan has a mild egg allergy!

We’ve had to learn to make substitutions in recipes, but that just means that raw cookie dough is 100% safe for consumption at our house!

Dan chowin down on his egg-free birthday cake

Dan chowin’ down on his egg-free birthday cake

13. Dan loves carbs!

Specifically, he loves bread. If he sees bread on the counter or on someone’s plate, he’ll beg until he gets some. I don’t want him to be internally obese like the ducks down at BYU (or externally obese, for that matter), so Dancakes continue to be useful.

IMG_20160505_091729969

14. Dan is a budding photographer!

Here are some pictures he took with my phone when I wasn’t looking (I spy a cute foot, a favorite book, moving boxes, and a tired mom):

 

img_20160413_123428235

15. Dan’s three fictional characters from that one meme are…

Yikes, that picture quality is bad. If you’re wondering, that’s Twitchy from Hoodwinked, one of the minions (Bob?) from Despicable Me, and Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb.

16. Dan has an excellent sense of style!

We don’t call him “Dapper Dan” for nothing. Here are some of his fabulous outfits:

img_20160525_150725322_hdr

17. Dan wants to be just like his dad!

And who can blame him? He’s got an awesome dad!

 

18. Dan’s kidneys are doing great!

Looking good!

Looking good!

I posted about Dan’s hydronephrosis after he was born, and I’m happy to report that his kidneys are doing just fine. The swelling on both sides has slowly but surely improved, and both kidneys are functioning properly. Woohoo!

We sure love this Dan, and are so grateful to have him in our family. Thanks for being our little guy, Dapper Dan!

Good Times in Zion!

Some of you know that right after graduation, Tom and I undertook the four-day, 37-mile Trans-Zion Trek in Zion National Park. It was a fantastic and well-timed adventure; after the good times extravaganza that was graduation, the introvert in me was ready to spend four days with no one but Tom for miles around!

This was my first backpacking trip, and Tom’s first time being in charge of one. We both learned a lot. Here is the account from my perspective.

Monday

We started out hiking (hieing?) through Kolob Canyon. As you can see, it was absolutely beautiful.

IMG_1859

IMG_1857

IMG_1863

After about seven miles, we stopped for the day. The next picture is the view from our campsite—it was pretty cool.

IMG_1869

Also, the stars were amazing.

Tuesday

The day started out much like Monday—nice weather, beautiful scenery, and optimistic hikers.

IMG_1876

IMG_1882

IMG_1888

IMG_1889

“Hey, don’t take pictures of me! And no, I will NOT take my hat off!”

Tom always looks attractive. Sigh.

Tom always looks attractive. Sigh.

We walked through this pretty, wet, cow-infested place called Hop Valley. We didn’t actually see any cows, but there was definitely…evidence, and we were warned not to drink the water in the valley under any circumstances.

Here there be cattle.

Tuesday was supposed to be our hardest day at about 14 miles, mostly uphill. After we left the cows behind, we walked through a meadow and up into a forested area.

IMG_1897

IMG_1900

The forest was pretty, but decidedly less Zion-esque. We did see some snow, however:

IMG_1903

We ran into a bit of a problem when one of the springs on the map was dry, but we found another that was unmarked, so we didn’t think much of it. Really, I wasn’t thinking much of anything at all toward the evening; I was distracting myself from the growing soreness in my feet by daydreaming about chicken wings (I was reaching the limit of my enjoyment of Peanut M&M’s, and besides—my mom’s chicken wings are darn good). I also told myself that according to the website, if we just made it through day 2, day 3 would be a short, leisurely 10-mile Elysium (keep reading to find out how hilariously wrong I was) (also, things I would never have considered leisurely a few years ago: 10-mile hikes).

We found a campsite near Wildcat Canyon, set up our tent, and huddled in our sleeping bags until it was dark enough to sleep. There I was faced with an unfortunate, first-world-problems-type choice: should I go to bed hungry, or climb out into the bitter cold to eat an energy bar? I stayed in the tent, a choice that was both very unlike me and probably unwise.

Wednesday

We woke up to find that the water in Tom’s Camelbak line had frozen (see? I told you it was cold!). Other than that, it was a very nice morning. The trail took us along the rim of the canyon, which was much more fun when it wasn’t windy.

IMG_1920

 

We were both hurting a bit, and Tom was feeling a little sick to his stomach (nothing dangerous, of course). At one point when we stopped to rest, he said, “I almost want to just finish the trip today.” It would add about 5 miles onto the lovely 10-mile day I’d been fantasizing about. I made a sound like this:

In the end, though, the decision was made for us. Around 1:00 we found another dry spring, one we’d been sort of counting on. The next one was more than a mile past our campsite and only five miles from the shuttle, and we had no idea if it would even have any water. We knew it would be a rough night without any water, and by taking a shorter route, we could probably make it to the shuttle with what we had. We decided to go for it.

We didn’t take a lot more pictures after that; we were too focused on making good time. It was crucial that we made it to the main canyon before the last shuttle left, and as we didn’t know when that would be, we were hoping to be at the trailhead by 5:00 (9 miles in about 4 hours). My pace had been slowing down a lot, so it was time to bust out my secret weapon.

Okay, confession time: when I get really fatigued while hiking, the song I play in my head to keep myself going is Call Me Maybe. This is a song I would never listen to under any normal circumstances, but the tempo is just about at my ideal hiking pace. Plus, I needed to get something else stuck in my head to drive out Fellowship! The Musical. Not that there’s anything wrong with Fellowship! (I’ll be raving about it more in my next post a future post), but after 2.5 days of “Happy Birthday Bilbo,” “One Ring,” “It’s a Hobbit Thing,” and “The Balrog Blues,” I needed a break.

As we approached the last spring, we started to see other hikers coming up from the main canyon. That was encouraging. More encouraging was the fact that the spring had barely a trickle of water (it was encouraging because it meant we were making the right decision, and that we would be in civilization that night. Chicken wings ahoy!).

Now came the hardest part of the hike: a 3000-foot descent down the canyon. It was gorgeous, and under any other circumstances, I would have taken tons of pictures. As it was, I just wanted to get to the bottom as fast as possible. Our descent made it all too clear that my hiking boots were too small. I was popping ibuprofen as frequently as Tom would let me. We were getting low on water. Carly Rae Jepsen was starting to let me down, and Tom was constantly having to stop and wait for me (telling passerby about our past few days, implicitly explaining why his wife looked like a decrepit zombie). It was not one of my finer hours. And here I thought I was in shape.

At one point a nice Indian couple out for an afternoon hike took pity on us and gave us a water bottle. Indian couple, you guys are our favorite people. We will love you forever.

We reached the end of the scenic/agonizing switchbacks and caught the shuttle (the last one left at 7:00, so we needn’t have worried), and everyone who had passed us on the way down gave us a cheer. Normally that might have been a little embarrassing, but hey—we’d just hiked 36 miles in three days! Yeah, we are pretty cool!

We didn’t get chicken wings that night, but I did get spaghetti squash enchiladas (ooh lala!) and Tom got what was apparently the best burger he had ever eaten. Overall, it was a pretty good day.

And so, we reached the end of our crazy, awesome, slightly thirsty adventure in Zion. Would I do it again? Heck yes!

But next time, I think I’ll wear size-8 boots and be sure not to listen to Fellowship! for at least a month beforehand. Now, where does one go about buying chicken wings in this town?