Tuesday, May 31, 2011

{ Left-overs - What Do You Do With Yours? }

As a kid I always wondered why my dad called dinner "muscgo" when we would eat leftovers, but as I grew and my ears became more fine tuned to what people were actually saying I realized that we weren't having "muscgo" but rather "must-go" for dinner. Is that how you do it? Let the left-overs build up in the fridge until one night everyone in the family has to eat what must-go? That's how we did it and I did not like leftovers. (In all fairness kids have a different perspective than their parents so it's highly possible that my parents did it different than how I now remember it.)

For the first couple years of our marriage, Kyle and I threw out a lot of left-overs because we didn't really like them (we didn't eat a lot of great meals) and as students we didn't really have a way to heat them up for lunch on campus (besides, reheating chicken can be dicey if you aren't careful and chicken breasts were pretty much the staple for our first years of marriage). To be honest, I don't know when the switch really happened but now left-overs are the preferred lunch and they offer a night off from cooking every now and again, like tonight!

Lemon-Oregano Chicken, Roasted Potatoes and Mustard Green Beans a dinner from the Six O'clock Scramble

The picture above is our dinner from tonight. I didn't make it grocery shopping today after the long weekend, not to mention we're all tired so we took the night off and heated up some left-overs. We had frozen two meals like this in quart sized freezer bags and they came out looking just as tasty as the first time we ate them. Also, with little "cook" time and not much clean up we were able to fit in a family walk before bath and bed for Tabi at 7pm.

Here's how we store our leftovers: when dinner is finished we create two lunches in two food storage containers, one for mom and one for dad - Lean Cuisine doesn't have anything on us. If there are more than two lunches worth of leftovers we freeze them in a freezer bag labeled with what it is and how many servings there are. Lately, I've been freezing individual meals in quart size freezer bags so that we can eat them for lunch or dinner; in the past I would freeze two or more servings in a gallon size bag but then we would have to eat them for dinner.

One reason a person may not like left-overs is because they aren't reheating them right, I know from experience. If you overheat chicken or fish when you reheat it, forget about it. It's garbage at that point. Reheat it at a low heat or eat it cold over some salad greens- a left-over refashion if you will. And okay, so not everything tastes as good the second time around. It's true, some things do reheat better than others but for the most part as long as it was good the first time around it's going to be decent the second time too. And for things that you really don't like reheated, refashion them into a cold meal. Left-over taco meat, make a taco salad. Left over salmon, serve it over some greens, add feta (feta makes it "mo betta", and that's official) and nuts or croutons and you're ready to go.

So what do you do with your left-overs? Any tips or ideas you can share to help us not have to throw away excess food?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

{ Nuggets of the Week }

On the recommendation of a wise and trusted momma friend, I'm reading Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours by Dr. Kevin Leman. I'm only on chapter 5 or 6 but here are two nuggets that I've gotten and begun using this week:

1) Don't give them an audience. When your kid is throwing a tantrum, that's fine. Let them have the right to throw that tantrum, but don't allow them to have an audience. Remove them to their room or another isolated location. When they don't have an audience, their tantrum doesn't have any power to influence anyone and no longer serves a purpose for them. I don't like hauling Phoebe all the way upstairs every time she does this so we've been using the laundry room and it works well- amazingly so.

2) Respect their choices enough to let them suffer the consequences. This one is really hard for me. When Phoebe says she's done eating I have to respect that. I can't try to cajole her into eating more or trying this or that, which I have until a day or two ago. I have to say okay and let her hunger be the consequence. If I want her to believe me when I say there will be no more food if she doesn't eat what's in front of her (this is an issue at every eating time for us whether she chooses the food or not as is the case at dinner), I have to stand firm and be consistent to my word with my action. An example of respecting choices with Tabi is bedtime. She's almost 15 months old and perfectly capable of keeping her pacifier in her crib; in fact, she's made a game of throwing it out so that we'll come and give it to her again (we've put up to three in her bed at one time). So now when she chooses to toss her pacifier I have respect her choice to do so and let her suffer the consequence: no pacifier to help her fall asleep.

It's not easy letting my babies suffer the consequences of their choices, but we've tried a lot of things and this makes the most sense to us and actually seems to work. This may seem a little harsh to some of you; but as Dr. Leman points out, where is a safer place than home for your children to fail? Therefore, we let our children make choices and learn from the consequences at home where they are loved irregardless.

Learning to parent sure is difficult. Do your kids give you a run for your money? What works for you?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

{ Simple Ways to Dress Up Your Dinner : Veggies }

Are you stuck in a rut having the same thing for dinner week after week? Here are a few quick and easy ways to "dress up" your dinner with some hopefully new to you ideas for preparing your veggies.

Side Salads: For the longest time a side salad for us was greens, carrots, cherry tomatoes and if we had energy or time to chop we'd maybe add some cucumbers, etc. But here is a much quicker, easier variation; a delicious side salad dress up:

Ingredients

Salad Greens (bagged or chop a head of lettuce)
Fruit (apples, pears, berries or oranges)
Nuts (walnuts or pecans)
Cheese (feta or blue cheese)
Vinaigrette (my favorite is Breanna's Blush Vinaigrette, it has a strawberry on the front. UPDATE: here is a link to my new favorite Honey Garlic Vinaigrette; it's just as tasty as Brianna's, easy to make and much cheaper.)

1) If you're having apple or pear, slice it. Here's a super easy way to do it:
Cut around the core. If you're using the whole apple, you'll be left with a square.
Lay the flat part against the cutting surface and slice.

2) Now throw your salad greens in a large serving bowl, individual bowls, or an individual plate as pictured below.

3) Sprinkle cheese and nuts over the greens (for a family salad you only need about 2 tbsp each of cheese and nuts).

4) Place the fruit on top.

5) Drizzle with dressing and serve!



(From the ingredient picture to the finished product, I spent only 4 minutes - including taking the pictures.)

Veggies: We used to just steam or microwave all of our veggies unless we had a specific recipe to do something else. Here are a couple of quick prep "dress ups" for your veggies:

-Roasting 
You can really roast about anything even broccoli and cauliflower, those were new to me.


1) Before you start dinner preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get the vegetables roasting while you're cooking because they will take 25-30 minutes.


2) Prep veggies (trim asparagus / green beans, cut broccoli / cauliflower , etc.) and wash.


3) Toss veggies with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper (any other spices you'd like).


4)  Roast for 25-30 minutes


Cauliflower Poppers : cauliflower, olive oil, salt, chili powder and cumin. (The Six O'clock Scramble)
Sautéing
We've recently started eating things like carrots for dinner, we didn't do that in the past. Here are a few ideas:

Sweet Veggies:
Peel and slice carrots / yams / sweet potatoes. Saute with maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Greens:
Clean any greens (chard, beet greens, kohlrabi greens, spinach) wilt or sauté in 1 tsp olive oil. Serve with balsamic vinegar. You can also mix this up by throwing in some Craisins or golden raisins while sautéing.

Grilling
Prep pretty much any veggie from broccoli to potatoes, wrap them in foil and grill. When cooked, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix your grilled veggies up by also tossing them with some cheese (parmesan or feta) or some citrus (squeeze in some lemon or lime, use lemon pepper seasoning instead of salt and pepper).

Raw
Whoever said raw veggies and dip were just for parties, lunch and kids. Cut up some carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc. and serve with (or without) a dip. Ranch is an old favorite, but you can mix it up with hummus or peanut butter too.

Fruit


Image taken from 21st Century Collaborative - Fruits of Labor


Fruit isn't  just for breakfast, lunch or snacks it's also a great accompaniment/dessert for dinner.

Serve a melon or other fruit with vanilla yogurt or honey to dip it in.

Make smoothies. Blend 1 banana, 1 c berries, 1 c yogurt and 1 c orange juice and you should have a family sized smoothie to go with dinner. If it's too tart, sweeten it with a touch of honey.

Or throw together a simple fruit salad. Chop up whatever fruit you have and toss it together with 1 tbsp of orange juice to blend the flavors.


I hope that these are some new ways to change things up at dinner time and make eating your "veggies" more fun. What are some easy and tasty ways that you serve veggies or fruit at dinner time?




(I've gathered a lot of the basics of these simple ideas for dressing up dinner from The Six O'clock Scramble, an online meal planning service that I've been using since January. Aviva, the author, makes a five meal plan each week and attaches the recipes and grocery list, we've loved the variety and I've loved not spending an hour or two meal planning and making a grocery list each week. There are lots of other great features to the site and subscription, but I'll let you check those out yourself. Should you choose to subscribe to SOS, please put Jessica Winter down as your referral because I get a free month added to my subscription when you do.)


Frugal Fridays – Save Money With Frugal Tips And Recipes!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

{ Non-stick, No Good? }


For years now I've heard on the news or read in various sources about the dangers of non-stick pans. Today I'm going to give you a brief summary of an article from Good Housekeeping that compiles evidence and tests to let us know whether non-stick is or isn't safe. So here we go.

The article I'm using for this post is: "Nervous About Non-stick?" from Good Housekeeping by Amanda Schaffer. Click the link to be directed to the article. The article cites Robert L. Wolke, Phd as saying about non-stick pans, "They're safe... as long as they aren't overheated." Overheating would be bringing the pan to any heat over 500 degrees fahrenheit. At over 500 degrees the non-stick coating begins to break down, releasing toxic particles and fumes. So what does that mean? 500 degrees sounds pretty hot. Do I actually get my pans that hot?

To answer that question Good Housekeeping did some tests with non-stick pans in their test kitchen. Their testing showed that pans do easily reach heats higher than 500 degrees fahrenheit. In particular, these high heats are reached when preheating with oil and when cooking steaks and hamburgers the pans. (Please see the article for details of their testing.) The steak was cooked in a cheap lightweight non-stick pan and reached 656 degrees! At 660 degrees non-stick pans release toxic fumes that can lead to "Teflon fever", the fumes will only make you sick but they can kill a pet bird - sounds safe to me! The article however does not mention how common this is, but is it really something that you even want to worry about? Further, as of the writing of this article there was no research on the long term effects of overheating your pans on a regular basis and the affects that it may have on you and your family.

On the other hand, the article does say that the fear of your non-stick flaking off into food isn't really anything to fear. The flakes are small enough to pass through your body without being absorbed.

In the end, Good Housekeeping concluded that non-stick pans can be used safely, however you should take precautions when using them. If you have or choose to purchase non-stick pans please see page three of the article for Good Housekeeping's tips on how to use non-stick safely.

As for me, I don't want to worry about any of this. So when we started replacing pans a few years back we decided to search for non non-stick options and here's what we've ended up with:

A couple of cast iron skillets and a griddle. Cast iron is heavy and takes some minor maintenance. It's a cheap replacement option and works great if you're willing to take care of it. If you want cast iron without the maintenance you can get porcelain coated cast iron. We have a porcelain coated cast iron dutch oven from World Market, I'm not crazy about how it cleans. It was relatively cheap so that may be the problem. We love our skillets and griddle though and they are a super affordable replacement option, 12" skillets are under $20.


Stainless steel, aluminum core cookware is what we decided to purchase for our "set"- you know the sauce pans, stockpot, etc. We found this article, "Stainless Steel Cookware: We Have a Winner," and it helped us to make a decision on which pans to buy. It talks about what makes a good stainless steel pan. (If you go through this link and surf around the site you can find out about all kinds of cookware to help you decide which is the best fit for you and your family.) We are enjoying our stainless steel pans. They feel nice to cook with, they heat up fast and they clean easily. Here's what we got:

Cuisinart MCP-12 MultiClad Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set

(We got this set for $230 from Amazon! Wait until Amazon has it in stock to purchase if you want a steal of a deal on this set and get their free super saver shipping to boot!)

Any hoo! Sorry to bore you, but I promised a part two about non-stick in my BPA post so here we are. If you weren't aware of the dangers of non-stick I hope that this gives you a source to learn how to use it more safely. And if you're in the market for new pans, I hope that I've given you some new non-stick ideas.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 23, 2011

{ Ideas for Simple Handmade Kid Gifts }



I'm kind of on a kick where I want to try to make my gifts for a little bit, I'm tired of Toys R Us. Here are some of the kid gift ideas that I'm itching to try:

Alphabet Rock Magnets. This fun and simple gift idea is from I am Momma - Hear Me Roar. Click on the link for the full tutorial on how to make your own alphabet rock magnets.
Black Apple Dolls. My girlfriend Paige made two of these for us, one for each girl. It was a great gift that my girls love, I can't wait to try making one myself. Emily Martin is the creator of these dolls. She sells them on Etsy and she has a blog called Inside a Black Apple (I haven't read it). Here is a link to a tutorial and pattern for making your own Black Apple Dolls courtesy of Martha Stewart.
Magnetic Fishing Game. This particular picture is of a magnetic fishing game you can purchase on Etsy from Butterfly Cove for $30. All of the handmade magnetic fishing games that I saw on Etsy were selling for $25-$30. I'm thinking that I can make the same for a lot less using thrifted sweaters or scrap material for the fish, washers, stuffing, a magnet, some string or rope and a dowel. My girlfriend Kate made something similar and I'm excited to try it for a little buddy's birthday gift.


Collage and jewelry making kits are a fun idea too. Read Sharilyn's blog Lovely Design to see how she put these fun little gifts together; it doesn't take much skill, just piecing together a few items and then packaging them in a unique way. When done in bulk, it sounds like these fun little kits are quite affordable to give as gifts, to have around as special treat activities for your own kids or to have as play date activities.
The Hobo Sack by Dana over at Made will make the perfect bag for your alphabet rocks, fish and fishing pole or to throw a couple collage and jewelry making kits into. Check out her tutorial here, it looks pretty simple and super cute.

I hope that these ideas have got you excited to make some fun kids gifts too. When I actually get around to doing any of these, I'll blog it for you to see.

Happy Monday! Only four more days 'til the weekend again.

Friday, May 20, 2011

{ Reusable Produce Bags and the Co-Op - Who Knew? }

Now that you've finally got the hang of actually remembering to bring your reusable grocery bags to the grocery store, let's get crazy and add reusable produce bags. What? You've never heard of them? Neither had I until I recently read a local Oly blog about how to shop at the Co-Op (Queen Bee Coupons: How to shop (and save) at food co-ops – great local, organic deals). Queen Bee recommendeds bringing reusable containers for bulk items and reusable produce bags. Maybe that's why they always look at me funny when I go in there, I don't have the reusable produce bags! But really, I did quit going there because I felt judged while shopping - I guess I'm not quite granola enough; it must have been my Whole Foods shopping bags. Who knows? In any case, I'm getting ready to go back and try Co-Opping again.

In preparation for returning to the Co-Op I purchased my reusable produce bags, check. I found the set pictured below at Target for five bucks in the kitchen section. I haven't been to the Co-Op yet, but I have used them at the Farmers' Market and the normal big box grocery store. Reusable produce bags are just like reusable grocery bags in that they hold more than plastic, are more stable and are easier to use; I love these things. Just another silly little thing that is good for the planet, but that I also enjoy using - they make me happy.



If you need another use to justify purchasing reusable produce bags, they seem like they'd be good "lingerie bags" for washing your delicates or baby socks in the washing machine.

So now all I need to be ready to return to the Co-Op is reusable containers. I want to by ten-ish pounds of flour at a time. Any recommendations on containers? Should I worry about it being BPA free, I mean does it matter? I don't want to buy a bunch of organic flour only for my storage container to leach chemicals into it. Please share any ideas or recommendations with me.

One final thought. I really do think I know why they looked at me funny after reading Queen Bee's blog. You're supposed to pick up a mini-clipboard, paper and pencil at the entry and write down all the upc codes of what you're buying because the volunteer workers don't know them. Didn't do that. Whoops. Who knew that shopping at the Oly Co-Op was so complicated? PCC did not prepare me for our grassroots co-op.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

{ Spring Cleaning }

It must have been mothers who came up with the idea of "spring cleaning". I say this because the only way that I can get any cleaning done, without everything being pulled out right behind me and at least one little girl hanging on to my legs crying, is to throw the kids out in the backyard to play, which it has to be warm to do. Thus, my house was clean at the end of yesterday and today. All of this cleaning got me to thinking, which is never good because it's usually a random series of thoughts that only I can follow, so let's see if I can streamline my thoughts for writing purposes.


A while back, my girlfriend Kate wrote about little things that make cleaning a little more enjoyable on her blog Safe to Land. She mentioned several things, but one in particular met my dish hand need. She mentioned that she enjoyed putting lotion on her hands and then washing the dishes with gloves on. Kate said that it, "may sound weird but it’s really nice, you put on gloves like normal and then the heat from the water softens your hands while you wash!" I thought that this idea was genius for my dry dish hands.


Now, when I was cleaning Phoebe's chair after a dinner of macaroni and cheese last night, I found myself happily cleaning. Odd. Happily cleaning? Does the adverb happy ever really go with the verb cleaning? - Stay with me, I'm about to connect the thoughts. - This "happy cleaning" made me think of Kate's blog and how we all have our little things that can make cleaning more enjoyable. I was using mine to clean the chair. What is it you may be wondering that makes this grumpy worker a happy worker, well it's my homemade all-purpose antibacterial surface spray. Silly I know, but whenever I use it I feel good, enjoy cleaning and typically get into a cleaning groove.


Now there are definitely simpler anti-bacterial surface sprays you can make, but mine is special because it smells so good. For a short period of time, we were blessed to have a cleaning lady and Kyle loved the way the house smelled when he'd come home after she had cleaned. So one day I asked her what she used, she said she made all of her cleaning supplies and what we were smelling was the seasonal essential oil that she added to her solutions (she also told me she gets large quantities from the Oly Co-op if you're interested), in this case the oil was lavender. This got me to thinking that I should make some of my own cleaning solution, but it had to smell like lavender so that the house would smell good when I cleaned- there needs to be some evidence of my efforts since two little rugrats pull everything out behind me as quick as I put it away. 


As always my search began with Google, this time it ended here: Elizabethobsesses.blogspot.com.


Ingredients


Antibacterial Lavender Surface Cleaner
2 Cups of warm water in a measuring cup
2 teaspoons of Dr. 
Bronner's liquid Lavender castile soap 
1 teaspoon vinegar 
2 teaspoons rubbing alcohol 
8-10 drops of lavender essential oil - optional
Mix well, add to your favorite spray bottle.

Final solution, this is a double recipe

[You can find Dr.Bronner's at Fred Meyers ($14.99) in the natural section, Target ($9.99, but less variety of scents) I believe I saw it in the natural beauty section and Trader Joe's ($9.99, but they only have peppermint) on the cleaning aisle. We also use our Dr.Bronner's mixed with water to clean the floors. For the record, this bottle will literally last you FOREVER; we bought our bottle last fall and we've only used maybe a quarter cup.]

I keep two bottles of this cleaning spray. One upstairs with the rubbing alcohol and one downstairs without rubbing alcohol. I keep the one downstairs without rubbing alcohol because it was removing all of the decal stickers off of my stove and toaster. The rubbing alcohol is only to make the solution dry faster, so the solution still cleans without it. 

I use this cleaner for everything. I don't quite know why it makes me happy, but it does so I wanted to share it with you. It's all safe household ingredients so I don't have to worry about Tabi crawling through it after I clean a spot on the floor or Phoebe spraying it. It's super easy to make, so see if it doesn't make you happy too.

Do you have any little tips or items that make cleaning more enjoyable for you?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

{ Making Bread - My Maiden Voyage }

Normally Kyle makes our bread, but tonight he had a meeting and I grocery shopped yesterday; therefore, I decided to take my maiden voyage on bread making (it's easier than throwing two little ones into the car and getting in and out of the car and the store, right?). 

Kyle has played with his recipe to make it what he wants, so it isn't written in any one place. This left me to find my own recipe. I wanted to make a 100% whole wheat loaf so I used this recipe from King Arthur Flour: Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread: King Arthur Flour combined with some methods from my Williams and Sonoma Bread book's "Whole Wheat Bread" recipe, which is only about 50% whole wheat and I also slightly modified the ingredients.

Here is how I did it:

Ingredients:

1 to 1 1/4 c lukewarm water (amount depends on the temperature and humidity of your home - moister, less water; drier, more water. I went for a touch more than a cup.)
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/4 c honey ( or you can use maple syrup or light molasses)
3 to 3 1/2 c 100% whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/4 c dried buttermilk (or dried milk; but if you have it, my theory is that all baked goods taste better with buttermilk.)
1 1/4 tsp salt

1) Measure warm water from tap into small mixing bowl and sprinkle in yeast and a small pinch of brown sugar. Mix until the yeast is dissolved and let sit for about 10 minutes while you complete steps two and three.
2) In the large stand mixer bowl combine the vegetable oil, honey, buttermilk and salt. Using the paddle attachment, mix these ingredients together.
3) Then add in about a cup of the flour, stir that in as well.
4) Now stir in the yeast mixture.
5) Add flour to the mixture until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl (it'll be obvious when this starts to happen). At this point remove the paddle attachment and replace it with the dough hook. Continue to add flour slowly, as slow as a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is smooth but sticky to the touch. 

(I only used 3ish cups of flour to get to this point even though the original recipe called for 3 1/2 c; so keep your eye on the texture, not only the amount of flour that the recipe recommends. I say this because I am usually a dumper, just pour in what the recipe says and it should taste good.)

6) Now remove your dow from the mixing bowl, form it into a loose "ball" and place it in a large greased bowl.


7) For ultimate "rising climate", if you will, Kyle and I use the following technique: fill another large glass   bowl or baking pan with hot water from the tap. (Kyle has melted at least two plastic bowls, when he accidentally preheated the oven before removing the water bowl. I highly recommend a glass bowl or container for this reason.) Place the water filled bowl on the bottom rack of the oven and your bowl with the dough, covered with a towel, on the top rack. Close the oven to create a warm and moist environment. Let the dough raise for 1 to 2 hours. When it is obviously puffy, not necessarily doubled in size as some recipes recommend, it's done with this portion of the rising. (I let mine go for one and a half hours, it may have been done at one hour though- who knows I was out playing in the sun with the girls.)

8) On an oiled surface, punch the air out of the dough (one punch ought to do it, no need to go crazy) and then form it into a loaf shape. Place the dough into a greased 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 bread pan. Cover loosely (I didn't) with greased plastic wrap. Now return the bread to the oven to rise for another one to two more hours. The dough will be done rising when the center of the loaf has crowned one inch above the pan. Take the dough and water out of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. [Mine raised for another hour (while I played some more) and then I set it on the back burner, the one that gets the warmest when the oven is on, while the oven preheats (while I made dinner).]

The dough ready for it's second round of raising.

Notice that it starts below the lip of the pan.

After rising, the dough has now crowned roughly one inch, in the center,  above the pan lip. 

9) Once the oven is preheated, remove the plastic wrap and bake the bread for 35-40 minutes. At about 20 minutes, add a loose foil tent to avoid the crust getting too crunchy. (I cooked mine for 37 minutes since I don't have an automatic thermometer to tell me if the center is 190 degrees fahrenheit.)

10) Remove the bread from the oven and then dump it out of the pan onto a cooling rack to cool. (If your bread doesn't dump with a couple of good shakes, loosen it with a butter knife and try again - this is what I had to do.) For a soft flavorful crust, rub a stick of butter over the crust. Yum.

And now you have bread!




As always, when written out the process looks daunting. But even on my first run at it, the hands on portion of making the bread only took about thirty minutes. So if you are going to be around the house while the bread is rising anyway, it really doesn't put you out to make bread. Also, I would argue that it was easier to make bread than run to the store with two kids aged 3 and 1; it took longer, but it was easier, more enjoyable and very tasty.

I hope you enjoy making some bread of your own! We sure did.



UPDATE: I'm finding that this bread is delicious but like the other predominately whole wheat recipes we've made, it's a bit crumbly. I'll keep you updated on my bread making endeavors as I search for a solution... it may be using bread or all purpose flour with the whole wheat, we'll see.

Monday, May 16, 2011

{ Homemade Breakfast Bars - Take ? }




Phoebe eats very few things, so what she does eat needs to pack a punch and be low in added sugar. I mean, who wants a kid with a constantly empty stomach eating sugar laden foods? With that in mind I read the labels of every "kid" food I buy. A favorite in our house is Kashi Breakfast bars and they pack 8g of sugar per bar. What does this mean exactly? I don't know. I do know that the Kashi Granola bars have more like 5g per bar and Cheerios have 1g of sugar per serving (correct me if I'm wrong, I'm remembering these off the top of my head; yes, as Kyle often likes to point out I have a plethora of "useless" information locked away in my noggin). In any case, my goal is always to keep the sugar per serving to less than 10g, but I still don't know what this means or why I randomly chose that amount.

What I do know is that I want to save our family's sugar consumption for yummy desserts and treats and not waste it on things that don't really have to have so much sugar added to taste good. In case you're wondering why I am so concerned about "sugar consumption", read this article "Is Sugar Toxic?". Obviously I haven't taken sugar out of my diet, but I find that this article is a good reminder to keep all things in moderation and to try to substitute less refined sugars for sugar (white and brown) and/or high fructose corn syrup.

So in trying to keep unnecessary sugar out of our food, I've started to make more things and buy less prepackaged foods: granola, yogurt, bread (Kyle makes this) and most baked goods (this is more of a waistline issue, if we want it enough to bake it... so the thinking goes; at least it doesn't also have a bunch of additives). But back to breakfast bars, 8g of sugar per bar almost daily just feels like a lot. Whether it actually is or isn't, I really don't know; I'm not a nutritionist.

Moreover, when I bake I just use less refined sugars with different molecular structures, meaning they're metabolized differently, so I don't know if I'm really making a difference or not; but hey, I'm trying. So here's the deal on "healthy substitutions" as I like to call them:

APPLESAUCE and HONEY can replace sugar on a one to one ratio (1 c applesauce or 1 c honey for 1 c sugar)

AVOCADOS can replace butter at a one to one ratio as well

Besides these basic substitutions, I also like to play with the flour by doing whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. This messes with the gluten content though and can affect your end product, so proceed with caution.

When I attempt to make breakfast bars, this isn't my first attempt, I start with the "Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies" recipe on the lid of all Quaker Oats cans, an idea I got from my mother in law, and then I alter it from there. So what follows is a variation from the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies recipe:

Ingredients:

1 c butter (or avocado - the avocado will affect color and texture, but you can't taste it; in today's creation since it was for the girls not me, I used butter.)
1 c honey
1/2 c applesauce
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 c oats
1 c raisins

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Cream butter and apple sauce.
3) Mix in eggs, vanilla and honey.
4) Combine flours, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix into butter/egg mixture.
5) Stir in oats and raisins.
6) Now you should have a nice goopy paste like mixture. Poor final mixture into a 9x13 ungreased baking pan.
7) Bake 30-35 minutes.
8) Cool. (I didn't let mine cool all the way and the first hot bars were just crumbs but after they cooled, I was able to cut bars.)

My out of focus, but adorable baking assistants.


Our finished product, a breakfast bar.

After the bars cooled, I cut them and placed them into two large freezer bags before putting them in the freezer. The plan is to take them out one at a time and warm them up for snacks or let them thaw in sandwich bags if we need an on the go snack (assuming that the preliminary at home eatings aren't too crumbly).

So this was today's experiment. Feel free to try my experiment or venture out and try your own. If nothing else, I hope that today's post encourages you to try substituting and experimenting with your recipes to make them more healthy for your munchkins.

If you find an awesome answer to the homemade breakfast bar, please share!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

{ Brunch - A Great Time to Get Together }

This morning's treat by the Backholms: Crabcakes


Before having kids dinner was the assumed time to get together with friends. All day to clean, prep, live life and then hang out with friends for food and drinks. But since kids have entered the picture it's not quite that easy, at least not for us.

Phoebe our oldest has always been an "early to bed" kind of girl. When she was younger, messing with her schedule meant sure disaster. Luckily since she went to bed at 6pm, until little sis came into the picture, we were able to have friends over after she went to bed, put her down while they were here or put her to bed and then leave her with a sitter. Now that she's getting older, and often times when we get together with our friends it's a whole family event with other kids, we can't just shuttle her off to bed at 7:30pm, her current bedtime. Instead, she plays with the other kids until the damage control becomes overwhelming for all the parents of the tired toddlers/preschoolers involved, then a movie is put on to hopefully pacify them - if they can sit still. It works well enough and she enjoys herself, but I'm often left feeling like no one gets to see and enjoy the real Phoebe in all of her well rested wonder (this involves more impulse control and the ability to sit still, crucial details in the life of a toddler).

In steps brunch! Well really it's usually breakfast or lunch, I've only actually done brunch once. For kids who get bewitched in the twilight hours as mine do, meeting with friends at these earlier hours is great. Our girls are better able to engage and play with the other kids and less parental intervention is necessary. If your kid(s) are on a one nap schedule it's a cinch to schedule, if they're on a two nap schedule you can easily shorten the morning nap and be home for their more needed afternoon nap (deeper sleep is achieved in the afternoon nap, the morning nap has more REM or light sleep - Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child - 3rd Edition, Marc Weissbluth, M.D., 2003). We love getting together with friends early in the day because we still get nap time and after the girls go to bed to do what we want or need to do, plus we have fun with friends - it's a triple win!

Additionally, what wonderful morning confections you get to share! Who doesn't have a favorite breakfast item that they love to share when company comes to stay. Now you don't have to have overnight guests to cook those delicious cinnamon rolls - or any other excuse that you normally have to wait for to indulge in them. Instead of wine, drink fine coffee and if you want to spice it up make Mimosas or Bloody Maries. We've had quiche, Monte Christos, crab cakes and frittata paired with fruit and/or pastries, breakfast meats (a great excuse to splurge on some organic Oakland Bay Berkshire bacon from the Olympia Farmers' Market), potatoes... the options and combinations are endless and the fare literally untouched by previous get togethers (you know how you have to think of something yummy that you make well, but you don't want to serve the same thing twice).

Crabcakes


It's not that we don't do dinner with friends anymore, because we do. It's just that having the brunch option is a nice way to mix it up with friends and not have to stretch your young children out of their normal routines as often because you can only do that so many times a week before there is no routine. So here's my vote for eating brunch with friends.


Ideas to help you get started:


Here are a few brunch drinks and menus from Sunset Magazine:
A fun "Mimosa Make Over" by Sunset Magazine


Garden Fresh Bloody Mary by Sunset on MyRecipes.com
Here is a fancy Do-Ahead Brunch menu by Sunset Magazine.


Friday, May 13, 2011

{ Mmmm... Banana Bread, You Know You Want Some }



So I'm going to KISS it tonight, Keep It Simple Sammy. That's what I say every night; but really, I am trying.

Today was a home day. Instead of getting "dressed" (you know: make-up, hair and clothes) and/or running any big errands, I baked, had some friends over and did a little laundry. I called it a baking day but I really only got two things baked: a big batch of granola and banana bread. At least we had fun with our friends Kate, Ellie and Jude.

Now to the topic at hand, the banana bread that I made today.  You know that it's your go to thing to bake when you've got three overripe bananas on your counter begging to be used or tossed and I know that you're hoping I have a killer recipe to share. Unfortunately, my Mom's recipe has been far surpassed by the one I'm about to recommend: The Williams-Sonoma Banana Nut Bread. The recipe is from the Williams-Sonoma Bread book and I highly recommend this book for more than it's banana bread.

Williams-Sonoma Bread

We haven't made anything from the Bread book that isn't bakery delicious. Okay, in all honesty this is the second time that we've had this banana bread but it's the first time I've actually baked it. Kyle has baked, and I've enjoyed, the cranberry orange scones (several times), focaccia (several times as well), blueberry muffins, corn bread, dinner rolls and banana bread. (Can you tell who does the lion's share of baking around here? I'm a lucky lady.)

Two notes on this recommendation: One, if you don't have a stand mixer this probably isn't the best book to buy as most of the recipes use a stand mixer. And two, you'll want to purchase some powdered buttermilk to keep around so that you don't have to go out and buy fresh buttermilk every time you want to bake something scrumptious. Since we quit using box mixes, I've decided that pretty much everything sweetly delicious is better if it a) has a fancy flour (cake, bread, pastry, etc.) or b) has buttermilk in it. This banana bread recipe falls under category b.

I'm not sure of any copyright infringement stuff, yes stuff is the technical term, so I'm not going to post the recipe here. But lucky you, my friend Jeanette found the online version for us; just press here to be taken to the recipe. I'm also going to recommend the whole book, it's only ten bucks and shipping is free if you're a Barnes & Noble member. I wouldn't want you to miss out on all the other delicious recipes.

Now I'm off to observe KCWC. I'm going to try to turn this fitted sheet that I ruined,


into a cute pair of pants for Tabi using Dana's Kid Pants Tutorial. Should be easy enough, right?!? Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

{ My First Solo Sewing Project - Yay Me! }

For those of you who don't know, Kyle bought me a sewing machine and three sewing classes at JoAnn Fabrics this past Christmas. Since I had those to classes, I have made a whole two projects; well really 1.9. The first class was just informational to get familiar with my machine, stitch types and sewing terms. The second I sewed, with teacher guidance, my very first item: pajama pants. Finally, for the third class I got to sew a shirt for myself, I'm still trying to fix the neck ruffle on this and that is why I say that I've sewn 1.9 projects with teacher guidance.

Now you're probably wondering why a husband would buy his wife a sewing machine and sewing lessons for Christmas. Isn't that kind of akin to giving a woman a vacuum? Only if your wife hasn't been reading blogs online and continually saying, "I wish I could sew."

In fact, my two newest hobbies, sewing and blogging, were inspired by the many talented and crafty momma bloggers there are out there; especially Dana of Made.  I aspire to be as cool as she seems to be, via blog, some day. Therefore, it is only appropriate that my first solo sewing project came from her Market Skirt and Gathered Pocket Tutorials.

Here's how my market skirt with gathered pockets turned out:


My somewhat willing model. 




If you haven't been over to Dana's blog Made yet, you'd better head on over to get inspired. If you don't sew you'll want to (I spent months reading over her tutorials thinking, "That seems easy enough, I'm sure I could do that," before I actually got my sewing machine). If you do sew your "things to sew" list just got longer, you'll love her ideas.

Thanks for reading and I hope that you all had a happy Tuesday!

Monday, May 9, 2011

{ Take the Stink Out of Any Diaper Pail or Trash Can }



Let's see if I can keep this simple, who am I kidding? It's me writing here. So here's the back story on me and my diaper pail system:

When I had my first daughter Phoebe, I chose to go with the Diaper Champ for my diaper pail. I chose this one because I didn't want to have to buy the special cartridges that the Diaper Genie requires. Had I been happy to solely use disposable diapers, as many are, my Diaper Champ would have worked great. However, at about six months old I started using gDiapers with Phoebe and the disposable inserts as well as lone wipes would get stuck in the disposal shoot; therefore, I would have to manually pop the pail open for each diaper change, annoying.

gDiapers
Finally, I just bought a five dollar garbage can with a lid from Target and that worked great unless it was summer and hot, then it would get odor-ific. I only tossed pee diapers, as the poo ones had to be flushed using the gDiaper system, so the stink was yucky but not disgusting. As a solution we just tossed the diapers more frequently. More recently my pail started to stink again and it wasn't hot, it was my cloth diapers. Previously I used a garbage bag and I didn't have many odor problems, but now that I use a diaper pail liner as part of my cloth diapering system instead and I have begun to have more issues.

So what does one do when she has a problem to solve in this modern day? Google it. You won't believe how simple the solutions I found for "homemade diaper pail deodorizer recipe" were: baking soda and/or essential oil. What I chose to do, and what works in my pail, is this: I poor enough baking soda at the bottom of my pail to cover the bottom. When it clumps, change it out for fresh baking soda. Also, I throw in a piece of cloth with a few drops of tea tree oil on it just for good measure. While the baking soda works stand alone for me, I did not like the results I had using only the tea tree oil. If you're looking for something a little fancier, here are a few links: Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District (weird, huh? They have a recipe that is similar to the method I shared above.), Ezine @rticles (this one makes little deodorizer disks, I might have to try it! I also saw it mentioned on another site that homemade deodorizer disks can be a good baby shower gift.), and eHow home (this one has homemade deodorizers for more general uses plus diaper pails).

Isn't it amazing how simple deodorizing can be? It's really a mystery to me why we as a culture buy into the hype of all the junk we "have to" purchase (I'll talk about easy, eco-friendly and money saving ways to clean your home another time.) All of the chemicals (cleaning and deodorizing) and fancy pails we buy aren't even necessary, they're a choice. If you are a parent to be or someone who is dissatisfied with your current diaper disposal system, I'm telling you from experience that you don't have to spend thirty plus dollars on a diaper pail. A five dollar lidded garbage can and some baking soda will do the trick! I'm sure that you have something to do with the $25 you didn't spend getting the fancy diaper dumpster.

Back to the point, if you've got a stinky garbage can or diaper pail the answer to your problem is as close as your pantry. Ladies, because I doubt any man is reading this, deodorize away.

Baking soda, you rock.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

{ BPA & Non-stick: How to get them out of your house}

How to get rid of BPA & Non-stick products in your home: easy! Just throw them away and quit buying more. If only it really were that simple.

Let's start with BPA, bisphenol a. It seems like it's everywhere in our lives these days and I'm doing my best to get it out of our house. It's in the aluminum and tin can linings for soda and food, it's in food storage containers, it's in water bottles... So I quit buying my beloved La Croix sparkling water in aluminum cans, but I'm having trouble getting rid of canned foods altogether. We use canned broth, tomatoes and beans - but we use a lot of these. I'm going to learn how to can beans from a friend soon and when I do I'll share that with you, but canning tomatoes and broth too... I don't think that it will happen.

As for the water bottles, we replaced sippy cups and old Nalgeen water bottles with Klean Kanteens for everyone in the family. So far Kyle has lost his, we washed Phoebe's in the dishwasher on accident so it started leaking, and Phoebe lost Tabi's so we're down to just mine now and these things aren't cheap to replace. We also have a stainless steel water bottle that Phoebe uses from Old Navy, but the lid just doesn't work as well as the Klean Kanteen sports lid; this makes me hesitant to purchase more inexpensive stainless steel water bottles.

As for the food storage, let's talk. I've been looking into getting glass food storage for a while now, but it isn't cheap and there aren't any great box sets that would meet all of our family needs. Finally, after looking online and at my local Macy's and Target I decided that I'd just bite the bullet and go with the Pyrex glass storage. I picked up a few single pieces and a box set to meet our needs, I probably spent about $65 total. (Note: Kyle takes these to work and we use them in the home, I do not have kids using them that may lose them so I am anticipating them lasting a long time.) Here is an example of what I purchased:
I actually really like these and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them. They're easy to clean and I just all around enjoy them. (It's weird, I know, that I get pleasure out of odd things like this.) I picked mine up at our local Target. I started with a few single items and after taking most of my plastic storage out of the house, I finished with a $30 box set. I purchased my glassware over a month or two to spread out the cost.

If you are in the market for some glass storage, I highly recommend that you head over to Costco quickly. Today I saw box sets, good box sets - not a bunch of unusable weird sizes, of Rubbermaid Glass storage for $30 at Costco. I can't find it on their website, so I think that you have to see if your local Costco has it , but trust me this is a good deal. Here is what the Rubbermaid glass storage looks like:

They also toot having a special interlocking lid that makes storing them easy and tidy. Another good place to find kitchen stuff is Amazon (that is where I got the above images), so check there too if you're on the hunt for glass storage. Typically as long as you spend over $25 you can get free shipping.

Now you're probably wondering why we've gone through all of this trouble to get plastics and other BPA laden products out of our home. Well, without writing a research paper, here are just a few of the negative side effects that have been linked to BPA: it mimics estrogen in the body and in lab animals it's been shown to "cause nuerological and developmental defects". The prior statements are loaded with a lot of different conditions encompassed by these larger umbrella statements, for example some developmental defects are: genital defects and abnormal mammary gland development (remember these are high level tests on lab animals, but if it's doing this to animals do we really want to mess with ourselves and our kids? Plus there are lots of newer human findings that are being reported lately). There are other negative side effects from BPA that are known and being discovered, feel free to do some online research to find out more; look for reputable scientific and journalistic sources, not blogs like this.

One of the major causes of BPA leaching is heat. If you have and use plastic storage, please don't heat it in the microwave or put boiling water in them as this increases the amount of chemicals released from the plastic into your food exponentially. As you can imagine, the studies have shown that the littlest ones in our families are the most affected.

Alright, I'm going to step off of my soap box for now and leave Non-stick pans for a Part II of this series - you know you're excited. Mostly I wanted to let you know about the glass ware at Costco, because I'm secretly a little jealous of anyone who gets it - I wish my Pyrex had interlocking lids too.


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