Friday, December 2, 2011

Holding my son's hand makes me cry

His perfect hand makes me cry.  Or is it the fact that he wants to hold my hand that makes me cry?  I think it is the latter. I sit between both of my kid when we eat. Zuzu, my daughter, to my right and Aidan to my left. Every once in awhile Aidan wants to hold my left hand while he eats. He says,"hold Hands mommy." It never fails to affect me. It is a moment like this when I can actually feel my heart inside my chest. His hand is so perfect, so small, so soft, so perfect, did I mention it is perfect.  There are so few things that are perfect -- I am not one of these people who believe in perfection.  I usually would say that perfection doesn't exist and the pursuit of it is self-defeating. I love being a mommy. I am not saying that staying at home with my babies is perfect all the time because it is challenging to work a full day with not even as much as a solo potty break.  But it is that moment he grabs my hand that makes the challenging moments melt away and my life feels perfect.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pipe Cleaner Spiders

It has been raining for days now, and I am feeling the change of seasons the way all stay at home moms (or I should say stay at home parent) feel it.  No longer having the option to go outside and play is painful -- it is painful for the kids and painful for the parent. I have been trying to think of things to do inside.  I feel out of practice.  During the summer, we play outside so much that I am out of practice creating inside activities.  This craft is an easy one to start the indoor season off with -- I remember making pipe cleaner spiders when I was little.  Talk about easy craft for toddlers. I am sure you made these, and if you didn't you are never too old to give them a try. Here they are ---- 

All you need is:

black and orange pom poms (I like getting the bigger size)
black pipe cleaners
googly eyes
glue kids can use

hot glue gun (this is for you to use when the kid glue doesn't quite work; you can make some quick glue fixes)

Take 4 pipe cleaners and twist the 4 of them together in the center.  Then glue the pom pom on where you have twisted the pipe cleaners (this is where the hot glue works better than regular glue).  Now it is time to glue the googly eyes. Lastly, bend the spider legs.  Fun easy project -- and my son loves playing with them by moving them around the house.

Happy Halloween

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The perfect time for soup (Lentil Soup, That is)

When you are a soup person, there is no bad time for soup.  Unless you don't have air conditioning -- then summer can be a no-soup-zone. But if you have air, you can even find soup days in the middle of the summer.  So there might not be a bad time for soup, but there still is a perfect time for soup.  And today is a perfect soup day in Chicago.  A few days ago was the first day of Autumn, it was 59 degrees, it was cloudy and misty outside all day.  If you cannot hear the day yelling make soup today Mommy, you must be taking a nap.  And then good for you.  Today is a lentil soup day at my house. Lentil soup is comforting, healthy, and tasty.
Lentil Soup  

You have to start with the magnificent trio -- I would use the term Holy Trinity of Cooking, but it is a bit offensive, but true.  Onions, carrots, and celery.

1 medium onion
2 carrots
2 celery

salt/ pepper
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1   32 oz box of chicken stock (low sodium)

8 cups of water
2 bay leaves
3 - 4 medium potatoes
1   16 oz bag of lentils (wash and sift through them looking for rocks or foreign debris)
3 chicken bullion cubes
1 ham shank or hock (I prefer the shank. You can cut meat off of it and put it in your soup in the end.)
          * If you don't want to use meat, don't. It will still be tasty without it.
small piece of cheese rind (my secret ingredient)

          * Again you don't need this, but I love adding it to my soups.  It adds a saltiness to the background.
4 handfulls of pasta (I use digitali, but any short pasta will do.)

Chop the first three ingredients up, place them in a stock pot with some olive oil over medium heat. Salt and pepper them to help draw out the water. When the magnificent trio become softened (about 3 - 5 minutes), add two minced garlic cloves for about 1 minute until the flavors meld together. Then add chicken stock, water. bay leaves, cubed potatoes, washed lentils, 3 chicken bullion, ham, and cheese rind. Let simmer for a couple of hours.  If you want noodles add them in at the end.  Take the shank out and cube up into desired size for soup.  Lastly, drop pasta in soup and let boil for the amount of time stated on package.  Then shut soup off so to not over cook the pasta.  Serve and enjoy the warmth.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

T-Rex or Firetruck Birthday Cake

Both of my kids have summer birthdays.  My son turned three this summer.  I asked my son to pick a theme for his third birthday party -- he said,  "T-Rex driving a wee-wee party."

A translation is needed at this point.  I often have to translate Aidan speak to English for people.  As many moms have to translate for their children. 

A wee-wee is not what you might think it is -- it is the sound a firetruck makes -- weeweeweewee.  Hence he calls firetrucks wee-wees -- makes sense doesn't it -- almost a convincing argument to change the name of firetrucks to wee-wees.

Anyway back to the theme dilemma.  I told him to pick ONE theme either T-Rex or firetrucks.  He is obsessed with both.  He said, "I want a T-Rex driving a wee-wee party." I let it go- we had all summer to figure it out.  And during the weeks leading up to his party every once in awhile I would ask him about his upcoming party, and he would always say --- T-Rex driving a wee-wee party.  I looked online, and if it is sold.... it is sold online,  they don't make party plates with that particular theme.  Shocking right?  Then I came up with a reason we couldn't have the party --- a reason even a three year could understand.  I simply told him a T-Rex is too big to drive a wee-wee.  He calmly went over to one of his many firetrucks and took one of his many T-Rex toys and placed the small T-Rex in the firetruck's cab and said,"T-Rex driving a wee-wee."  I couldn't fight him anymore.  It was clear what his expectations were for this party.  It was going to be a T-Rex driving a wee-wee "firetruck" party. I made the firetruck and placed small T-Rex statues on the cake.  It was as close as I could get to his three year old request.

T-Rex and firetruck cookies were given to guests as their take home treat.

I also had a small play date birthday party for him with a few of his friends.  The birthday cake I made for  him for that day was a T-Rex. I cannot wait to hear what he wants next year.  You have to love how kids think.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Butterfly Birthday Cake and Ladybug Appetizers and other Yummy Treats

My baby girl just turned one. Since she is too young to pick out her own theme for the party, I selected a garden theme. Butterflies and ladybugs we the insects of the day. I had fun researching cute bug ideas. I decided on two kids of ladybug cheese and crackers for appetizers.

This is a Ritz cracker with some garlic cream cheese spread I made.  But you could easily use a store bought spread.  Cherry tomatoes halved and then quartered (to make lady bug wings).  Use half of a black olive for the head and two small cuttings of chives for the antennas. Use gel food coloring to die a small amount of the cheese spread black.  Place black cheese spread into a sealed plastic baggie (making a pipping bag) and place tiny spots on the lady bug wings.  To die for cute.

These were simple too.  Ritz crackers, a piece of pepperoni, a round piece of cheese cut in half, and half of a black olive for the head. Cutting the cheese was the hardest part.  I use Mini BabyBell cheese.  And I cut each wheel in thirds.

This is the butterfly birthday cake I made.  The butterfly on top of the sheet cake is made out of a 9 inch round cake pan.  The butterflies body is made out of yellow M&Ms.  Licorice was perfect for the antennas.

These butterfly cupcake were easy to make.  I used pretzels for wings,  an M&M for a head, black licorice for antennas, and the body was pipped in using pink frosting. A cute yummy treat.

This was her smash cake.  She didn't do much smashing.  She didn't like getting messy. But she loved eating it.

Lastly, each guest was given two cookies to take home and eat --
one butterfly and one flower.

 Overall, it was a fun party to plan.  I know my daughter will not remember this party.  But that is besides the point.  It was a wonderful celebration of her fabulous first year of firsts.   I enjoy having my family and friends over and sharing with them the food I created in honor of my daughter.   It is one of the best ways I know how to show my love --- my love for the little girl I was honoring (my daughter) and the guests I invited.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sneak a Zucchini on your Friend's Porch Day

August 8th is Sneak a Zucchini on your Friend's Porch Day.  I know I am late to be writing about this.  I have no excuse except for life is full, and I am better off for it.  Don't beat yourself up if you missed it this year -- or if you didn't realize that this holiday existed. I just recently found out about it myself. Since the zucchini is one of our Earth's most prolific plants, it only makes sense that gardeners have to figure out something to do with this surplus of zucchini beside zucchini bread.  Too bad zucchini didn't grow everywhere in the world -- talk about putting a food dent in many nations' hunger problems.  And I am not trying to take the world's hunger issue lightly -- it is a genuine wish that the more prolific crops could grow in any climate.

But that being said, by the time August rolls around a lot gardeners have a lot of zucchinis.  When this  August 8th holiday is upon us next year ...  think about leaving a zucchini on your neighbor's porch. Maybe if you have time, you could cook something delicious made from zucchinis..... OR you could make a zucchini person with your child and leave that on your neighbor's porch.

My three year old and I made two zucchini people, Mr. and Mrs. Squash and left them with a little note on our dear friend's porch.  It was tons of fun to make.

Here are some pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Squash 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

They say we need to eat more fish.... (Salmon and Beans)

I am not a big fish eater -- but they say we should eat more fish.... the people in charge say this.  So I try to eat more fish.  This is an easy fish recipe.  The best parts of this recipe are it is easy, fast -- you can put it together literally 20 minutes before you eat, and it is very healthy -- beans and fish -- the foods we should eat more of.

I usually use salmon because of its high omega-3 fatty acids and high vitamin D content. But you can use any fish. 

Salmon and Beans

2 medium sized leeks
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
2 cans of Cannellini beans
salmon (2-4 pieces)
salt / pepper to taste

serve over rice

Start making your rice -- that is the longest part of this meal.  In a medium sized pan with a lid, saute leeks (only use the white part - toss out the greens) in olive oil and lightly salt and pepper. After about 3 -4 minutes add the garlic for about 1 minute.  Then place salmon in the pan.  Drain both cans of beans and place them in the pan. Put olive oil and salt and pepper over entire dish and cover.  Let salmon cook for five to seven minutes on one side then flip and cook for another five minutes. It is done! -- Yes, it is that easy and fast.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Making Baby Food

I made all my son's and my daughter's baby food.  I gave Aidan store bought peaches and apples once.  He wouldn't eat it.  I guess you just get used to what you get used to.  Madeleine has never tried purchased jar baby food.  Not because I'm one of those moms who cannot trust the baby food out on the market -- I know there are all sorts of natural organic choices.  But I just wanted to make it.  I loved making it for him. All kinds of veggies and fruits.  I also made chicken soup and lentil soup for some protein choices.  Now I have to say that I tasted all the food I have made, and I know that my chicken soup puree is better than the ridiculous excuse for chicken puree in the stores.

Making their baby food gives me a sense of accomplishment and pride.  My son is almost three and to this day I still make, store, and freeze extra applesauce, chicken soup, and lentil soup for him.  We usually have family dinners, but when my husband and I go out for dinner or don't feel like eating at 5:30 these frozen meals help me feed the kids when I am not sure what to give him for dinner. I can always defrost 7 cubes of homemade chicken soup.

Here is a picture of what the cubes look like in the freezer bags.  I have bags upon bags in my freezer. I will miss having these cubes for a quick meal for the kids. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Get-well-soon-and-I-love-you-in-a-bowl-soup AKA Chicken Soup

It is a cold damp spring day -- it is perfect weather for chicken soup.  But when you are a soup person, any day is a good day for soup. My husband and I -- and now our 2 year old son -- we are soup people.  I make a lot of soups.  I used to think I wasn't too good at making chicken soup.  I mean my husband liked it -- and my son LOVES it.  He will eat bowl after bowl of it; it is the only way he will eat chicken.  But overall, I thought my other soups were just better.  And I guess I didn't give much attention to my chicken soup -- but I've received some rave reviews lately -- so I guess my recipe is worth sharing..

Recently my girlfriend Casey's little girl was quite sick (very sad -- but she is all better now), so there wasn't much cooking going on in their house -- there is no time for that when your baby is really sick.  Their time and energy was going into helping her get better.  So I thought I would make Casey and her family some chicken soup.  The only reason I chose chicken soup (even though I thought it wasn't my best) is you always hear about the healing properties of the classic chicken soup.  I don't know if it is the boiled chicken or the idea of the chicken soup that makes you feel better.  But who am I to challenge this time held belief in this healing elixir - chicken soup.  So I made it.  To my surprise, they loved it.  I mean they LOVED IT!  It turns out they are soup people too.They were more than kind with the compliments.  So their attention to my ordinary chicken soup made me revisit my impression of this soup and take the time to document how I make this soup.  And it appears that my ordinary chicken soup is not so ordinary after all -- they think it is special -- they felt the love -- and in the end that is all that is important -- isn't it?

Hence I thought I would share the recipe.

Get-well-soon-I-love-you-in-a-bowl-soup AKA Chicken Soup

4 carrots (2 chopped tiny and 2 made into chunks)
1 onion
2 celery stacks
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
1 box (4 cups) organic chicken stock
10 cups water
3 medium potatoes or 4 small potatoes
2 breasts of chicken (chicken on the bone adds flavor, but it is ok to use boneless and skinless)
1 or  2 bay leaves
 8 chicken bullion cubes
half pound digitali pasta
salt and pepper to taste

* Mommy hint -- If you have a chunk of cheese rind, toss that in too -- it puts a nice salty flavor in the background of your soup. But it is not necessary.

Start by chopping two carrots, celery, and onion -- all should be chopped up fine.  Put in a stock pot with olive oil on the bottom add some salt and pepper to help the veggies sweat. Cook until soften and onion is translucent.  Add two cloves of garlic, stir, and wait a minute for flavors to come together.  Pour in a box of chicken stock and ten cups of cold water.  Cube up the pealed potatoes and other two carrots into bit size pieces - add to pot. Lastly, add in two chicken breasts, bay leaf, and eight chicken bullion -- and cheese rind if you have one. Simmer on low with cover off for one hour and a half. After chicken is cooked, take chicken out of pot and shred it using two forks.  Keep chicken out of pot while you boil noodles.  I use about a half a pound of digitali (it is my family's favorite for chicken soup).  Once noodles are done, take soup off flame and add chicken back in.  At this point, taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  It is ready to serve.  Enjoy the healing bowl of love!

* Mommy hint -- If you use too much pasta, it sucks up the liquid after it sits in the pot for awhile.  Sometimes it sucks up the liquid after you put the leftovers in the frig.  You can add a bit of water or some chicken stock to bring it back to life.

*My closing Mommy thought - If you have a friend who is sick or the friend has a sick person in the family she is nursing back to health, there is nothing that says I am thinking about you and care about your struggles like a pot of chicken soup.  No matter how you make it and what ingredients you use, love is always felt -- it is the most important healing property of the soup.

P.S. Bring it to their house in the same pot you cooked it -- it screams homemade, and I love you -- more than Tupperware does.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Monkey Cake and Train Cake

I love the idea of making birthday cakes for my kids. 
As a mom, we all create traditions for our family.  Some of those traditions come from our childhood homes and the traditions that were started way before we had kids. And some traditions we develop on our own. It is traditions that create a sense of home and family and safety in our children's lives.  I don't think it matters what those traditions are, but I think it is essential that traditions exist.  It gives kids something to look forward to --- something to come home to when they are all grown.  One of my traditions is the birthday cake.

Now, I know I have only had two birthday parties so far.  My son is 2 1/2, and my daughter is 8 months.  They both have summer birthdays.  So this summer I will be creating my son's 3rd cake and my daughter's first cake.  So I don't claim to have a lot of experience in this area, but I am excited about the concept of creating birthday cakes for my children.  My heart is definitely willing; even though my experience is saying buying cakes is much easier.

My son's first birthday party had a monkey theme.  Here are the cakes. This cake hinged on my flimsy
art skills.  I drew the monkey on the cake by pipping small stars. I based the monkey face on a small rug (I bought from Bed Bath and Beyond) in my son's bathroom bath.

My son's 2nd birthday party had a train theme.  Here is that cake.  The train cake was tons of fun to make.  And Aidan, my son, loved eating it. I filled the train cars with pretzels (log car), M&Ms (because they are colorful and cute), animal crackers (zoo car), and crushed Oreos (coal car).

I have not come up with the theme for his 3rd birthday yet -- or my daughter's theme for her first birthday. Let me know if you have any ideas.  Remember I have very little artist ability, but I make up for the lack of ability with a wiliness to try anything.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Crock Pot Chicken Chili

My neighbor Kristy doesn't love cooking.  She likes it --- and she loves the idea of cooking for her family.  She knows I love cooking, so she asked me to give her some ideas for good family dinners.  Now let me start off by saying that her crew isn't the easiest to cook for -- they have some food -- shall I say dislikes.  They don't like eating vegetables.  And Kristy is endlessly trying to get veggies in their tummies.  They are a meat and potato family. But I told her that the vegetables and beans can always be hidden in the meal. Last week she asked me to come by and cook dinner with her.  I thought I would show her an easy chicken chili recipe.  This recipe has a bit of sweetness to it because of the marmalade, and it can have as much heat as you can take. 

What is great about this recipe is it is easy and when I say easy, it is EASY.  This is a great meal to go to when your day has been too crazy to even make yourself and peanut butter sandwich. There is nothing better than smelling a crock pot dish coming together.  The end result is warm and fills your belly.  The crock pot allows the flavors to become fully married, and oh the best part -- only one pan to clean up after dinner.

Chicken Chili -- (with Mommy hints)

2 -3 chicken breasts
1-2 Tablespoons of taco seasoning (Mommy hint -- use your favorite kind -- if you want more heat use 2 Tablespoons -- my  favorite is La Preferita)
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup of salsa (Mommy hint -- use your favorite -- my favorite is Newman's Own all natural medium salsaIf you want the chili to be spicier -- use a hot salsa)
1/2 cup orange marmalade (Mommy hint --  if you don't like orange marmalade don't worry - you don't taste the orange - all you taste is the sweetness in the background My husband hates orange anything -- and when I tried to make it with another preserve for him, he didn't like it as much -- the marmalade is the best of the different fruits that I have tried.  But take a chance and change it up with any fruit you want)
1 can black beans (Mommy hint -- my neighbor's husband doesn't like beans, so we pureed the beans.  We were able to keep the nutrients and fiber and hide the scary beans from Mike)

Brown cubed chicken in a saute pan with olive oil, taco seasoning, and garlic. Once browned place chicken mixture in crock pot.  Then deglaze pan (Mommy hint -- get all the flavorful brown bits off the bottom of the pan) with salsa and marmalade. Once deglazed, place mixture in crock pot with chicken. Cook on low for 2 - 3 hours.  Mommy hint -- don't put beans in until last half hour before serving. 

I like to serve this over noodles. Use a short fat noodle.

Mommy hint -- If you don't want to use the crock pot, and you want to go from refrigerator to stove to table quicker, you can.  Do this whole process in one pot.  Cook on low for 45 minutes and serve. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Soft and Fluffy Pancakes

I have been playing with different pancake recipes for years now.  I try a recipe and tweak and tweak
it.  Then I try another -- but I have finally found the perfect combination of ingredients and tweaking.  These pancakes turn out fluffy and tasty every time.  It is not worth my time or calories to make any other pancakes -- this pancake recipe has been perfected.  I hope you try them and you enjoy them as much as my family and I do.

Mommy Tips-----
I think there are a few key steps that make this recipe.  First it is important to warm the milk slightly.  The milk shouldn't be hot, but it cannot be cold from the refrigerator.  If it is cold, when the milk and the melted butter touch each other, the butter will start to reform and form crystals.  When the milk is slightly warm, the wet mixture remains smooth and silky.  The next key to this recipe is the egg white.  You really have to beat them until they form beautiful peaks.  If you are saying, "I have never beaten egg whites right -- I don't know how to."  You are not giving yourself a chance.  You just have never beaten egg white long enough.  Trust me -- I used to feel this way about egg whites --- UNTIL -- I did it long enough.  You will know when you have beaten them long enough, because once you create those beautiful stiff peaks, you will never forget how to do it.  The last key is the mixing -- don't over mix the wet and the dry ingredients.  And ever so gently mix the egg whites into the batter.  You must maintain the fluffy aspect of the egg whites.  This is why the pancakes are so fluffy.  These little steps make all the difference.  You will never make pancakes from a mix again.

Make it homemade; you are worth it.

Soft and Fluffy Pancakes
* 1 cup flour
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 2 egg yolks
* 3/4 cups skim milk, more or less (warm 30 seconds in micro)
* 4 tablespoons butter, melted
* 2 egg whites
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon or a bit more vanilla

Directions: Place first three dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, salt,baking powder)mix together. In another bowl, mix the yolks, milk(with the chill taken off it), melted butter, and vanilla together until smooth. Next, make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the mixed wet ingredients all at once. Stir until just combined. DON'T OVER MIX. Beat the egg whites until light and fluffy. Add the sugar toward the end of the beating process. Fold the egg whites gently into the batter with a spatula.  Pour onto a buttered grill, cook your pancakes, and enjoy.

Slowly incorporate egg whites into the batter.
Here are the pancakes moments before my family ate them for breakfast.