good week

It’s been a good week around here, and it feels good to get back to normal after last week.  It seems like every single week day brings some kind of milestone lately. This week was no exception with someone’s 15 month check-up.

365.227  15 month check up!

He was mobile as ever and all over the pediatrician’s office, but he also got super shy and buried his little face in my chest when she came in.  It’s this new behavior he does a lot lately, and it really makes him seem older.  How does he know to be shy around strangers?  It’s evidence that the baby is drifting away and the toddler is here for sure. He’s almost 25 pounds and just over 32 inches which puts his weight right in the middle and his height at the 90th percentile.   Next month also marks one whole year since we’ve visited the pediatrician for anything other than a well-visit!  There hasn’t been an antibiotic in this house at all, and I know that is part luck, but he does love his green veggies and had mama’s milk for a long time, so I know that helps us, too.  God knows we’ve passed various bugs around the house and he’s played with some sick playmates and cousins without getting anything, and I really hope this health streak continues through the cold months.

Another milestone?  Guess who finished her first ever knitting project?

365.229  first finished knit EVER

Luckily some patterns out there are super fast and hide newbie mistakes. All in all, I actually enjoyed it. A history of knitting and me:  I taught myself from a book just as I was starting graduate school eight years ago.  It probably wasn’t the best time to start something that requires patience, and I began with a scarf which took soooooooo long, so I decided I hated knitting.  I wanted to give it another try though, so this year for Christmas, I have knitting classes as a gift.  (First and foremost, it’s nice to be out of the house and on my own and learning something new.)  As it turns out, I am liking it for other reasons, too.  Sewing is abandoned lately since I have to banish myself to another room for it, but I love that I can sit next to Scott and knit away while still hanging out with my boys.  Bonus:  I think I will actually wear this cowl.  I’m excited to try some other projects soon.

On the food front, I’ve tried some new things, too.  I got a really great cookbook recently that I love.  There’s a whole chapter on breakfast-for-dinner, and it suggested pairing garlicky swiss chard with eggs and grits.  And y’all it is the perfect dinner with the husband is away and I am on my own.
<untitled> 827This is sort of a crappy photo, but I couldn’t manage to try another one and wanted to dive in.  It’s becoming a favorite of mine, and of course I add a dollop of heavy cream and a pat of butter to the grits because, I confess, I like my food as sinful as possible.

Speaking of confessions, I sort of like hamburger helper, too.  I know it’s low-brow and out-of-fashion, but for real, I do.  It’s done in one skillet, it’s inexpensive, and sometimes it just hits the spot.  When we gave up all processed foods and packaged seasonings a year ago, I really started to want some quick comfort food back in my life, and I found a few beef and noodle skillet recipes online that were so-so, and I’ve adapted it over time.

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Beef & Mushroom Noodles (“real food” Hamburger Helper)

1/2 pound ground beef (We use grass-fed ground sirloin, but you could use ground chuck or even ground turkey.)

1 large onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic (less if you are not as garlic-crazed as I am)

8 oz sliced mushrooms

3 tablespoons butter

3 cups of egg noodles

beef broth – I start with about 2 cups and add more as it needs it and the noodles are cooking.  You can add a little water as well.

Brown the ground beef until done add onions and garlic and cook until the onions are done as well.  Drain it, and set it aside.   Using the already dirty pan, (less dishes, yay!) melt butter and add flour to stir until you have a roux.  Now pour in the the beef broth and use a whisk to get rid of the lumps.  Put the beef mixture back in the pan, and add mushrooms and noodles.  Simmer until the noodles are done, and keep checking to see if you need to add more water / broth.  It usually takes about 15 minutes to finish this up.  Add salt and pepper as you want, and you’re done!

When it’s cold outside, it’s exactly what I want.  I know someone else who likes it, too.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to.  A little crafting, a little cooking, and also a lot of reading.  (Why am I so late to get on the train for Philippa Gregory?)  I hope your week has been great, and you’re staying warm.

Fun Finds

I like to share the link love when I get around to it because the internet is a wide, wide place, and it’s often bloggers who help me find what’s good out there.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted some useful things, but I’ve stumbled on some great stuff lately.

Little Sapling Toys – They have some great wooden playthings for kids, and we got Jude’s birthday gift there.  I’m so excited to give him his wooden blocks in a couple of weeks!

This creepy article about mannequins giving birth (thanks, Jenna for sharing!) leaves me a little unsettled.  I mean, on the one hand, if it truly helps obstetricians learn to assist in a variety of deliveries, all vaginal, then great.  But one of these robots yells “I want an epidural.”  Really?  Seriously?  Doctors need to understand that birth is a moment of great change for a woman – a physical change, yes.  But also a profound emotional, psychological, and spiritual one.  No mannequin can communicate that.

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I love my blogger and in-real-life friend, Messy Mom.  Her post on Loving Your Postpartum Body was exactly what I needed to hear.

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These awesome Happy Halloween Printable Tags (yay free printables!) could be a great addition to some little treat bags or a great label on a hostess gift.

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There’s a canned pumpkin shortage in case you didn’t know. I found some at Trader Joe’s this week though!  I’m totally making Martha’s Pumpkin Swirl Brownies when I get the chance.

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Last but not least, my favorite local doula agency asked women for 100 reasons to breastfeed, and the awesome list is still going.  I think we’re up to 94 now!  Check it out on Labor of Love’s Facebook Fan Page.

Easy Toddler Finger Food – Banana Wontons

Lately I am on a never-ending quest to find finger foods Jude can eat so that this kid gets a little variety along the way.  He’d be happy with Cheerios and diced fruit, but I’d like to get his taste buds used to more.  Generally speaking, we just chop up whatever is on our plates and share, but every now and then it’s nice for him to have his own thing.  Portable foods are especially helpful in restaurants when you need some entertainment for the long wait before food gets to the table.

Enter ready-made wonton wraps.

These are available in any grocery store, usually near the tofu for some reason. An entire pack is only about $3, and it includes something like 50 shells.  You purchase them refrigerated, but you can freeze any unused portion if you’d like.  I threw together some banana wontons yesterday, and I’m already brainstorming on what other goodness I could stuff in there.

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First melt some butter in a pan.  Yes, butter for my 11 month old.  He’s young, not without taste.

(If there is one lesson I learned from my Grandmother it’s that butter makes everything better.  And a little won’t hurt anyone.)

Next chop up bananas and throw them in the pan.  Stir them up till they are all mushy and use the back of a spoon to smoosh them if needed.  Add a dash of cinnamon if you want.

Next lay the wonton shells on a parchment-lined sheet. Spoon a little banana goodness on each one.

Then you fold them over, seal with a fork. And if you’re like me, don’t stress over the mess or looks of it if some squirts out.  (If you want it to look better, brush with some water to seal and shine it.)  Throw them in a 350 oven and cook until they brown a tiny bit – maybe 25 minutes?  I’m still experimenting on this.

When they are done, they look like this and taste delicious.

I might have stolen one.  Or three.

For an older toddler, they can hold it and munch from there.  For Jude, I am still in the pinching phase, but their portability is handy nonetheless.  I’m already thinking of what else I can put in these – broccoli and cheese, turkey or chicken, sweet potatoes, crushed beans or peas……Endless possibilities!


Jude loved them and they are easy, cheap, nutritious, and handy.  Win!  What’s your favorite finger food for kids or for grown-ups?

Fun Finds: Recipes Edition

[This post is linked to Saturday Stumbles at It’s Come to This.  Head over and see what everyone else discovered this week!]

I’ve mentioned earlier that I hoped to master 10 new recipes this summer.  I don’t know if “mastered” is the right word there, but I definitely made some new dishes that will be making a reappearance on our table.  I’ll warn you that I’ve mentioned some of these in earlier posts, and I’ll also warn that a lot of them come from the same source because Martha is my main recipe guru these days since I’ve started cooking only “real food” without packaged seasoning. [If you haven’t checked out Everyday Food, by the way, you totally should.]  So here they are. All tested in my kitchen and GOOD.

Butternut Squash & Sage Lasagna – Dicing 3.5 pounds of butternut squash is somewhat miserable, but it’s worth the effort.  I love recipes like this that happen in two steps. I can “build” the lasagna while Jude is taking his afternoon nap and toss it in the oven when Scott gets home.  It’s a great option for a vegetarian main dish.

Broccoli Tofu – I am so proud of my tofu endeavors!  This one is really good, and it’s a great dish to make for myself and Jude when Scott’s out of town.  I just pick the cashews out and cut it up in tiny pieces for Jude’s portion.

Magic Tofu – Aptly named.  My husband likes it.  Even though it’s tofu.  Magical indeed.

Buttercream Frosting – What?  Frosting isn’t a major food group?  I know this doesn’t qualify as a “dish,” but it’s delicious, easy, and made from real ingredients you can pronounce.  Why waste your time with store-bought icing loaded with weird junk?

Cheese Danish – Ina Garten, you NEVER fail me.  I made these for a Father’s Day family brunch and then again for a brunch with girlfriends last month.  Easy, yummy.  Yes, please!

Chicken with Olives – Yeah, I just linked to this last week.  It’s that good.  I LOVE HEAVY CREAM.  And I don’t apologize for it.  I give Pioneer Woman credit for showing me the beauty of bone-in, skin-on chicken.  It tastes so much better.  No more wimpy, square, boneless chicken breasts for me!

Browned Butter Toffee Blondies – I am embarrassed to tell you that I made these for no reason at all.  I’m even more embarassed to tell you how fast they disappeared.

Peach and Chicken-Sausage Kabobs – Food Network magazine had a tiny pull-out section in June’s issue, and it had a ton of creative grilling recipes in it. Easy: marinate quartered peaches in oil and thyme.  Layer the peaches with chicken sausage on a skewer.  Grill it.  Yum yum yum.

Toddler Carrot Sticks – Jude will not eat purees now that he has teeth, and he prefers anything that he can feed to himself.  It’s hard to avoid giving him Cheerios and bananas all day, so I make these.  He LOVES them.  You can double the recipe and freeze the dough.  I have some thawing on my counter now so that I can bake more this afternoon.  They are a perfect on-the-go snack for little ones.

Simple Orzo and Vegetables – For some reason, I am only recently discovering the joy of orzo as a great side dish. Melt butter.  Add onions and mushrooms. Add orzo to brown it up a bit.  Add frozen green peas if you’d like.  Then add the water to cook the orzo, and it’s done in no time at all.  Simple, real, delicious.

……..And the recipe I can’t wait to make to inaugurate fall in this house?  Martha’s Pumpkin Cupcakes.

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So what about you?  What’s cooking in your kitchen?  Any fun finds this week?


Freezer Adventures – Once a Month Cooking

I wish you could have seen my kitchen at about noon this Monday.  Imagine 2 crockpots simmering soup, about 12 pounds of cooked and shredded chicken piled in a huge bowl.  Cooling racks holding pancakes and muffins, an oven cooking even more muffins, tomato sauce and marsala simmering on the stove, 2 gallon-sized bags of chopped onions, over 40 total pounds of meat, and so much more…… it was ridiculous.

A quick photo I took with my phone. This doesn't include what's in the fridge or the oven or was already in my freezer.

My friend Cathy and I decided to try freezer cooking since she is due with her first baby in about 5 weeks and I’m always looking for ways to make dinnertime a little easier now that Jude is toddling a bit and I can’t take my eyes off him for a minute.  I’d read many mommy bloggers raving about Once a Month Mom, so we looked there for a menu, and we decided to settle on this one.  Yep, that’s right.  All that food is now prepared and in my freezer, and we did it all in one day!  I expect to use the chili dishes for dinner, so this means I ended up with about 20 family dinners, 14 lunches, and more than 30 breakfast servings. I admit it was a long day of cooking, and there was a moment where I thought we were crazy, but it felt so good to wake up the next morning and open my freezer door to see all of that prepared food.  When I think of freezer food, I think of boring casseroles, but Tricia at Once a Month Mom does such a great job of putting together a variety of dishes.  She’s got s lot of great soups, breakfast ideas, and great entrees that you can easily add a side dish to for a delicious dinner.

I certainly learned a few things along the way in my first attempt at freezer cooking, so here’s my advice.

  • Definitely do it with a friend. Eight hours in the kitchen is much more bearable if you have someone to laugh with and help out….especially when hour 7 arrives and you suddenly think the bucket o’ beef stew is really hilarious.
  • Don’t be afraid to adjust quantities for your needs.  It looked like such a HUGE project that I was afraid to do anything different from the suggestions.  This worked out alright, but we could have saved a little perhaps.  For instance, Cathy and I have 2 dinners each that include 4 pork chops each even though 2 pork chops in each one would suffice for our small families.  Not that this is the end of the world since we can easily have it when company is over or finish it as leftovers later, but we could have saved a little money if we’d purchased fewer pork chops to begin with.
  • Chop vegetables and do any prep work you can the evening before. While watching “Mad Men” Sunday evening, I chopped NINE POUNDS of onions and 4 pounds of carrots and peeled 40 cloves of garlic while my husband chopped six pounds of mushrooms.  It sounds terrible, I know, but it really wasn’t too bad that night, and it saved a lot of time on the big day.
  • Clear the kitchen as much as you can. I moved appliances we weren’t using (espresso machine, toaster oven, etc.) into another room so we’d have as much space as possible.  At one point crockpots were cooling in my entryway and pancakes were cooling on racks on my living room coffee table.  It was insane.
  • Be careful to follow the directions on a recipe.  You can get tired and feel rushed at the end and leave out something.  I did this with a beans and rice dish, but luckily I only left out some extra beans, so it’s okay.  (We already ate that one and it was yummy!)  It is very, very easy to get overwhelmed and careless though, so you have to pay attention.
  • If month-long menu plans look too overwhelming, maybe scale it down a bit. You could take off 1 or 2 dishes and have a little less on your plate, no pun intended.  For that matter, you could give it a small try and make only 2 or 3 dishes and see how you like it.  In my opinion, everyone could benefit from the breakfast ideas.  It’s a great way to streamline your mornings.
  • If you have children, get a babysitter for sure. This probably goes without saying, but it would be nearly impossible to do this with even the most well-behaved child around.
  • Clean out your freezer before you even think about doing this.  I know, duh.  But seriously.  It’s SO MUCH FOOD.
  • When choosing a menu, consider the season you are moving in to. Cathy is due in September, so we chose a more fall-ish menu with some soups and stews.  You would not want to eat that stuff in July, but you also wouldn’t want outdoor grilling items or something tropical in the fall or winter.  I’m so looking forward to throwing some already-assembled beef stroganoff in my slow cooker and eating it on a cooler fall evening.

In the end, we came out spending the exact same as I usually do for that number of meals, but the first time should be the most expensive too because we each shelled out about $35 for all of the Glad containers we used.  Plus, as I said before, I will adjust portion sizes on the meat when I do this again.   Overall, it was a really great experience, and I am excited to reap the rewards of my hard work in the coming weeks.  Once a Month Mom is fabulous, and she even has printable labels, so you end up with these perfect little meals.

Yay, freezer cooking!

There are many other websites that promote this idea, so you could look here, here or here for a few recipes.  I know we won’t use them every night, but it’s so nice to have that option for busy days.  With 20 dinners, I’m thinking I’ll be enjoying these for the next 2 months, so one day of sore feet and an aching back was worth it for sure.

Tofu 101

I made tofu, y’all!

Remember how I said I wanted to make a decent-tasting tofu dish?  I’ve been prying around and reading recipes, and I came across one that sounded yummy, and it did not disappoint.  Did you know tofu is a great source of protein and iron?  It’s also virtually free of saturated fat and incredibly versatile and affordable.  Why don’t people eat it more often?  Maybe because it has a bad reputation and starts out looking like this.

But I followed this awesome recipe (with a few slight changes), and I ended up with this.

I wasn’t sure how Scott would react, but he liked it!  I served it over Basmati rice, but I’d like to try cooked cabbage with it next time.  For the record, I substituted honey for the syrup and added chopped mushrooms in the browning stage.  All together DELICIOUS though.  Yay tofu!

Easter Goodness

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter.  The weather in Georgia was unusually HOT, even for here.  It was so nice to see the sun shining, though, and it made for a great Easter weekend.  Spring has arrived!

Aside from a bout of thrush that seems to be getting better for Jude and worse for me [OUCH], our Easter was perfection.  We put together Jude’s Easter basket from a variety of things we already had since God knows we don’t need anymore stuff.  While I am sure this probably seems pretty cheap to some of you, he’s six months old; he has no idea what’s going on.  Doing it for the sake of tradition, we didn’t want to purchase random stuffed animals and baby toys when we already have A LOT of things. I’ve been inspired by a number of blogs lately to simplify, simplify, simplify, and this was a good chance to do so.  I did buy some Burt’s Bees Baby Shampoo though.  There’s that.

So after pretending to be surprised and excited about the Easter Bunny while Jude looked the other way, we had lunch with Scott’s family and dinner with mine and all in all had a good day of family fun.  I made a delicious salad for our dinner get-together, and I’ll list the recipe at the bottom of this post.  It was perfect for springtime, and I’ll definitely be making it again.  The only thing yummier  than my spinach-strawberry salad?  Jude in his Easter outfit.

He's a very very serious reader.

Jude also got to hang out with his cousin, Evie, at lunch time.  He has a way of getting your attention when he wants to tell you something important.  He babbles SO MUCH already; I know when the real words start flowing, there will be no shutting him up.

Not that this can compare to that Easter cuteness, but here’s the recipe for the salad as promised.  Happy Easter and yay for spring!

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Spinach-Strawberry Salad


One large bunch of spinach (It’s on the Dirty Dozen, so always buy organic.)

One 16 oz. package of srawberries (also on the Dirty Dozen, buy organic)

Half of a red onion, thinly sliced

Walnuts

Crumbled Goat Cheese

Toss the above ingredients together in a large bowl and pour the vinaigrette over the salad.  (Homemade vinaigrette: 2 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar, 1 part red wine vinegar, teaspoon of sugar, poppy seeds if you have them on hand.)

Colorful and delicious!