Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Birthday Season is Behind Us

We have been in birthday mode for about two months, and it is now finished. Our first daughter is feeling some withdrawal, but the adult members of the family are relieved. It's funny how birthdays seem to come in batches. For us it is the end of June/beginning of July. Baby girl has a birthday, seven days later is the toddler's birthday and then five days later is my husband's birthday. So yes, three birthdays in 12 days. Now under normal circumstances this might result in a whirlwind of celebrations that last about 2 weeks, and that would be a lot of cake and parties, but this year it was a whirlwind of planning, parties, cake and balloons that lasted about two months.

We really included the toddler in all aspects of preparations for her Rainbow Dance Party. The planning probably lasted about a month, and that's pretty much all she talked about for the month of May. We had the party at the end of May before we left for a summer in Upstate NY. Then we spent June hearing about her "real birthday" was coming and that she would be turning 3! (We created a bit of a birthday monster.) The baby turned 1 while we were on our VA trip, and we had a party for both girls with that part of the family. We celebrated the toddler's actual birthday with just our little immediate family, and then again two days later with Mimi and Grampie. Then it was two parties on the 4th of July and then a party for my husband. Whew, that was a lot of cake. We now have to get back on track with our eating. The toddler has started requesting cake with every meal, and we don't want that to be the new normal.

In our girls' minds, it is not a birthday without balloons. So we decorated NY house too. The owner had the branches already mounted, so it made it easy to hang the balloons.

The rainbow hand-kites from the birthday party helped us create a balloon chandelier.

Of course, the front porch needed some balloons too.

At this point I guess I'll also officially have to change my daughters' names. The baby is now officially a toddler now that she's one and has been walking since 9.5 months, and the toddler I guess is a preschooler now that she is three.

This has been our favorite cake to make for birthdays (besides the rainbow 6 layer cake - which was an all time crowd pleaser). It's simple, vegan/egg-free, and very easy for kids to help make.

Usually we have served the cake unfrosted with a dollop of whipped cream and strawberries. Our preschooler wanted "frosting" this time, so we went ahead and spread the whipped cream on the cake and did a giant outline of her first initial in sprinkles. Dada went all out and added ice cream to the mix too.

A good friend shared this recipe with me, and we have made it for every birthday since. Mollie Katzen, of The Moosewood Cookbook fame, has a kids' cookbook called, Honest Pretzels. In it there is a recipe for a great Made-In-The-Pan Chocolate Cake. We like to serve it with whipped cream and strawberries. This time around we frosted it with whipped cream.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Vegetarian Paleo Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Shortly after we felt like we were settling in at "NY house" as our toddler calls it, we had to make a trek down to VA for a family wedding. After we saw how long it took to get acclimated in our NY rental, we flirted with the idea of canceling last minute. But it was our chance to see a part of the family we hadn't seen since our move to AZ, so we decided to brave it. We were gone for 5 days, and now we were glad we made the trip. The kids survived the 8 hour drive each way and sleeping in 3 different places, and it was great to get caught up with family. We like to think that we are helping make them more resilient and flexible, but we've yet to see the proof.

We were gone just long enough to make us eat up the food in the fridge before we left. The last night before the trip we found ourselves with lots of leftover spaghetti squash and I thought spaghetti alla carbonara sounded good. We only had one egg and no bacon, but we made it work. Vegetarian Paleo Spaghetti Alla Carbonara was born.

Our recipe was a bit skimpy on the eggs and the mushrooms, but it was all we had. I decided to write the recipe the way we ate it because it is always nice to know that you can stretch some sparse rations into a decent meal.

Vegetarian Paleo Spaghetti Alla Carbonara with a side of broccoli and salad.
Vegetarian Paleo Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

1 large spaghetti squash
2 T coconut oil
2 C mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
3/4 C coconut milk
1 T herbes de Provence
Parmesan Cheese (if you eat dairy)-optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Bake spaghetti squash until it just gives when squeezed (about 45 minutes to an hour). Immediately cut in half to help it stop cooking. Remove the seeds. Scrape the squash out with a fork to create the noodles.

Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet and add the mushrooms. Cook until tender. Add the garlic and the spaghetti squash and heat through. Add the egg, coconut milk and herbes. Stir continuously for the egg and coconut milk to evenly coat the squash. Cook for 2 minutes. Serve and eat immediately. Great topped with some Parmesan cheese (if you eat dairy). Enjoy.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Living with Someone Else's Things

We have been in our summer rental in upstate NY for a couple of weeks now, and it has been interesting to live among other people's things. In the beginning, it was mostly about child proofing to protect the owners' treasures from our children's curious little fingers (and the baby's mouth). But with that task mostly behind us, we can really start to see how our life style and preferences influence our stuff. Especially in the kitchen. I noticed today while putting away dishes and pots and pans, that there are two muffin tins, four mini muffin tins, two round cake pans, two square cake pans and two bread pans. Clearly someone does a lot of baking. I don't have that much baking gear because I try to avoid sweets, and just make the occasional paleo muffins or birthday cake (not paleo).

We do a fair bit of cooking and we cook in large quantities, so we have big pots and pans at home. A big frying pan perfect for frying 5-6 eggs at a time, a large slow cooker perfect for preparing whole chickens, good sized roasts and big batches of broth, and a big dutch oven. We don't have any of those resources here, and it is interesting to see how we tend to cook smaller batches of things as a result. Several times we've barely had enough food to fill everyone up at dinner time - never mind enough leftovers for lunch the next day (always my goal). Luckily small pans don't get in the way of deconstructed dinner. We can easily cook all the components separately and combine them at the end.

Here is one of our latest examples: Spinach Salad and Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce

The baby's dinner. We haven't introduced tomatoes yet, so I pulled out the ground beef and pork sausage before combining it with the sauce. She loves the spaghetti squash because it is fun to eat, and we had her try the chopped raw spinach. She didn't eat much of it, but we work to keep exposing her to a variety of vegetable tastes and textures.

The  toddler's dinner. She has just recently started enjoying salad more, but she requests hers "Plain with no dressing" every night. She seems to think I will forget. And we keep her sauce on the side so she can chose whether she is going to mix it that night.

Mama and Dada's dinner. We like dressing on our salad, and I like lots of red sauce too.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


A good friend of mine went to law school in Minneapolis, and I went to visit her several times while she was there. I was living in upstate NY at the time so the snow and cold weren't toooo shocking to me. As two young women who grew up in Arizona, we were experiencing real snow and winter for the first time in our 20s, and we were always on the phone with each other comparing the weather. We came to the conclusion that Minnesota is colder, but upstate NY is snowier.

Anyways, on my visits I always enjoyed seeing that strong Scandinavian heritage peeking through in the modern day. Garrison Keillor is only exaggerating a little bit when he tells those Lake Wobegon stories. So much of the country feels the same. When you get off an airplane in so many cities, it's hard to tell where you have landed. In Minneapolis, it was fun to hear about a "hot dish" a "parking ramp" and I especially loved the word, "oofta." I'm not a Minnesotan, but I believe it roughly translates to "uggh."

This is all background for one morning last week. The baby woke me up at 5:00 AM and just wouldn't go back to sleep. I decided we might as well head down stairs and get our morning started. With each step, the temperature dropped colder and colder. I was so cold when I got into the kitchen, I exclaimed, "Oofta, we need to do something to warm up this house." (Which was funny because I hadn't thought about my Minneapolis visits for a great while - I guess the cold took me back.) It was in the 40s outside, and not much warmer inside because we had left the kitchen window open (in our defense - it had been hot only the day before). I decided to turn on the oven. With my foggy brain I just thought of turning on the oven to use as a heat source, but then quickly decided that would be a waste of gas, so decided to throw in a couple sweet potatoes. After we warmed up a bit, I decided to put the baby in her high chair and roll it into the kitchen. I dug around in the fridge to realize that we were low on our breakfast staples - we had one egg, no yogurt, no milk, no bacon. Things weren't looking too good. Luckily I found some leftovers to start feeding baby girl, and I started cooking. I still wasn't warm all the way through, so I started by making some soup. I had broth and leftover chicken added some zucchini, onions and carrots.  While it was cooking, I prepped vegetables for lunch and dinner, and felt I had gotten a lot done by the time our toddler and my husband got up to start their day.

The results were an unconventional breakfast, but great for warming you up whatever the time of day.... or season. Sometimes simple is the best.

Chicken, zucchini and carrot soup with freshly baked sweet potato and butter and hot tea.

Chicken, Zucchini and Carrot Soup

1 T butter
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
1 Quart Chicken Broth
2 C chicken, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t thyme

Melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the onion and carrots and cook until the onions begin to soften. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until the zucchini is tender. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Franks and Beans

My husband and I aren't really baked beans fans. You know the ones that are sweet and taste vaguely of BBQ sauce. If we go to a party and someone is pushing them because the beans are their pride and joy and it is Aunt So and So's recipe, we take the obligatory spoonful and eat them. But we don't go out of our way to eat baked beans. Still some type of bean dish is nice with summer BBQ, and just a protein and some greens for dinner often leaves you feeling hungry a little while after you leave the table.

The solution is City Share Beans. My husband came up with this combo a while back, and we are always pleased with the results.

Ciry Share beans topped with a local German style hot dog with a side of broccoli and sauerkraut.

City Share Beans
2 C White Navy Beans,  cooked - or 1 can
2 C Pigeon Peas, cooked - or 1 can
1 T Herbes de Provence
1 Onion, chopped
2  cloves of garlic, chopped
1 C Chicken Stock

Combine all of the ingredients in a pan and cook until the onion is tender. About 20 minutes over medium high heat.

Also works well with chick peas, kidney beans, or any of your favorite beans.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Preparing Young Children for Travel

I think travel is hard on most of us. I love to travel and see new things, try new foods, meet new people, etc. Even though I love it, it can be hard. Planes get delayed, there are long lines for the junky airport food , and once you get to your destination you have to adjust to different sleeping arrangements, changes to the normal schedule, and more.

Last year we went to VT for a niece's wedding when the baby was 6 weeks old and the toddler had just turned two. I didn't really talk about the trip before hand because I thought the toddler wouldn't understand. So we basically just got up and said we are going on a trip today. Ha, that didn't work well. I was worried about the actual travel with two small children - the plane, the airport and the second plane trip. But we were prepared with snacks, presents, activities and videos for back-up, and that was a breeze. The hard part was the ten days in VT. The toddler was SO homesick. She kept saying she wanted to go home, she wanted to eat lunch at her house, she wanted to sleep in her crib, she wanted to play with her toys. She didn't eat or sleep well the whole time, and so it was a hard trip for us all. (When the kids aren't happy, no one is happy.)

Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southwest_Airlines

With this in mind, we tried to really plan ahead for preparing our toddler for our big summer adventure. I think most two and three year olds like their routine and are leery of change, but our daughter might be worse than many. I asked around for advice from friends and  preschool teachers and compiled this list of suggestions.

Tips for Preparing Young Children For Travel (2-3 years old)

1. Start reading books about travel and visiting new places in advance.

I went through a couple of "best travel books for kids" lists, and then requested a bunch of them through our public library. Here are a few titles that were repeat reads at our house: Knuffle Bunny Free, Toot and Puddle, Dodsworth in Paris, Dodsworth in New York, The Big Trip, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, and If You Decide to Go to the Moon. They expose kids to preparing for a trip, different modes of transportation, and how things might be different at your destination.

2. Start discussing our specific trip about 7-10 days before the trip. (Or as far in advance as you are willing to discuss, "Do we go on our trip today?")

Our daughter at age 2 going on 3 still has very little concept of time. Everything in the past is "yesterday," and everything in the future is "later." (I guess we should work on that? ;) So this was a big question for me. We told her about the big trip about 10 days in advance, and that was plenty of time for her to mull it over and get excited about going on a plane. Ten days happened to be right after her birthday party, so it was perfect. We got to focus on the party and then shift our attention to the trip.

3. When you do start talking about the trip, try discussing it at bath time and other times when your child is in a good mood.

4. Create a photo book/social story book describing the process of what, where and when we will be going and who we will see.

I didn't get around to making a book, but we did look at lots of photos of family we would see and places we would visit. She was also curious about what our plane would look like, so we googled images of Southwest planes too. I think that was all really helpful.

5. Bring lots of comfort items from home - as many as we can comfortably pack. Including books, blankets, stuffed animals, toys and decorations.

This has been indispensable. Bring all the blankies, babies, animals, CDs, cups, etc. that your kids are used to using. Last year on our trip to VT we were still.in our before kids mindset of packing only what could fit in two backpacks, and we knew my sister-in-law had pulled out a whole Little People village. We thought because they had toys, blankets, dishes, etc, that we would just bring clothes and diapers. What a mistake! Things have been so much easier this year with some comforts from home.

6. Maintain a regular schedule for eating and sleeping up until departure.

Eating good healthy meals up until the trip can help start your adventure with your best, healthiest and most energetic selves. 

My husband and I both vote for Number 5 - Comfort items from home as the most important.

Stay tuned for up-coming posts on tips for the day of travel and settling in at your destination.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hitting Our Stride

Ahh, yesterday we finally all were functioning a bit better. The kids and grown-ups seemed less cranky. We felt like we got stuff done. The husband was able to work for the first time here. Was the sixth day in the summer rental a magical turning point? Was it the two nights of going to bed at 7:00 PM (for the kids - the grown ups have been staying up too late)? Was it the second round of rearranging the toys and main living area? Or, was it the delicious mushroom bacon scramble that got us all of to a great start? I'm going with all of the above.

The baby even had scrambled eggs for the second day in a row without reaction. This is a very exciting development because she had two instances of throwing up after egg yolk when she was younger, and I was very concerned that she was going to be allergic to eggs. Victories all around!

This simple, flavorful dish is company worthy. We usually have it for breakfast, but add a side of vegetables or a salad and it's a great meal anytime of day. I even like to have some leftover vegetables with breakfast - it makes me feel like I'm getting a head start on my veggie intake for the day.

Mushroom Bacon Scramble with a side of broccoli.

Mushroom Bacon Scramble (serves 2)
2 strips of bacon
4-6 mushrooms, sliced
4 eggs, beaten

Cook the strips of bacon over medium heat until just crispy. Remove to a cutting board. Add the sliced mushroom into the bacon grease and cook until tender and brown. Chop bacon. Pour off any excess remaining bacon fat. Add the eggs and cooked bacon into the pan and stir. Continue to stir and cook until no longer runny, but still moist. Serve right away.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...