Our family is growing in many ways... Growing in numbers, knowledge, parenting skills, growing in love, in our faith, growing our culinary skills (if you can call it that), growing without gluten (some of us), growing green...........

Sunday, December 4, 2011

CranApple Smoothie

It's the season for cranberries, apples, and...well, it's always the season for smoothies around here! And they all go together wonderfully, of course! The kids really like this one, and we never have leftovers, even when making a large amount.

I know not everyone is a big fan of cranberries, especially raw cranberries. They're quite tart. Add all the sugar it might take you to like them, and you've kind of taken out some of the health factor there! Cranberries are so good for you! They contain fiber, vitamin C, phytonutrients (that may help fight several types of cancer) and are a great source of antioxidants. Something interesting about cranberries, from 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life...cranberries have antiadhesion properties. These properties help prevent certain bacteria from sticking to cells in our bodies; this is how consuming cranberries helps with fighting UTIs, as well as other things. Make you want to go out and eat some? With this smoothie, you probably won't even need a sweetener, as the apples, bananas, and blueberries add plenty of natural sweetness. If you do, though, a little squirt of agave or honey should do the trick.

Try it out and see what you think!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

(Healthy) Hot Chocolate!

It's that time of year again... It's getting colder outside. Christmas is in the air. The kids go playing outside and then come in freezing (well, not quite freezing here just yet, but we've had some fairly cold days!) and want something warm to drink. Something like hot chocolate, of course!

If you love hot chocolate but maybe don't love all the sugar that goes into it, then read on! If you're happy with your sugar-laden hot cocoa, I still encourage you to try this because it tastes just as good, if not better. No kidding! Hot chocolate does not need to be unhealthy, and this way..it's not!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tulle Wreath

I made this wreath a couple months ago to have a fall wreath that could work for both Halloween and Thanksgiving. I meant to post about it a while back, but...you know how it goes. And hey - there's still a day before Thanksgiving, and it takes almost no time at all to make this one! Or just use different colors to make it fit any time of year. It really is easy. And cheap.

Here's what you need...
Something round - I used an embroidery hoop.
Ribbon for hanging.
Glass of wine. 

Ok, that last one isn't necessary, but it's not a bad addition.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My little baby is THREE

And this happened three months ago. I'm just getting around to posting about it. Mom of the year over here, folks! Or maybe I could just say I've been so busy being a great mom I had no time to write a blog post about his birthday. Hmm... ;)

We decided last Christmas what Aiden's birthday theme would be. And then crossed our fingers and hoped he would like it by the time August rolled around! We found some super-fabulous deals on Thomas the Train collections (thanks to my friend over at Western Wake Wallet Savers - great site for you local folks to check out!). Aiden's Christmas was already taken care of, so we got a bunch of train sets to put aside for his birthday.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Snack time! Apple Nachos

I saw something about apple nachos on pinterest recently,and it caught my attention. I'm glad I clicked to learn more because I first thought it looked like they were drizzled with caramel. Sure, that might be yummy (though I'm not a big caramel fan, myself), but it's not the healthiest thing ever. I almost passed right over the pin and moved on. But then I realized, nope..it was peanut butter. The whole snack was pretty darn healthy. And I knew I had to try them. But I had to tweak them to make them allergy-friendly for our home. The hubby has some tree nut allergies and is also allergic to peanuts, so out went the peanut butter and sliced almonds. Apples are in season big-time in North Carolina right now, so we've been buying a half of a bushel at a time from the Farmer's Market and eating lots of apples. So, a new way to eat them for a snack really appealed to me. Not that we tire of just plain apples. We can, and do, eat them every day! But new is nice sometimes.

So, this is our version (based on this one). Hope you try it and like it! You can easily change things up and make it your own. Feel free to share how you make it, too!

Apple Nachos
2-3 apples, depending on size, sliced thin (thin enough for little kids to easily eat after toppings are on them, not super thin)
3-4 Tbsp Sunflower Butter
Small handful of chopped pecans
Small handful of chopped walnuts
Small handful of dark chocolate chips and/or raisins
Unsweetened shredded coconut

Slice the apples and place them around a big plate, overlapping some, if needed. If you want, you can spritz them with some lemon juice to keep them from turning, but we didn't do this.

Melt the sunbutter until thin enough to drizzle over the apple slices.

Side note: I first tried this on the stove. Even though I used low heat, it still did not work and resulted in sunbutter that had to be tossed. Maybe this works fine with regular peanut butter, but it didn't work for me with the sunbutter. I could have attempted using the microwave to melt it, but I was left with just enough for the snack at this point and didn't want to chance ruining it all. So, I used the double boiler method, just as if you were melting chocolate. That worked well enough! It did take a few minutes, but it was very worth it in the end! (Updated to add...tried the microwave. That didn't work, either. So far, double boiler is the best way I've found to thin the sunbutter.)

Once sunbutter (or whatever nut butter you choose) is melted and thin enough, drizzle over the apple slices. I just took the whisk and did a little at a time. It didn't drizzle perfectly, but it worked well enough! Leave a little bit of the sunbutter for the very top layer.

Sprinkle on pecans, walnuts, chocolate/raisins, and coconut. Drizzle remaining sunbutter on top of everything. Serve!

We used dark chocolate chips on one half and raisins on the other half. I actually (surprisingly) preferred the raisins! Aiden didn't seem to care which he got. So, I'll probably stick to raisins next time. Camden, the 12-yr-old, wasn't thrilled with the snack but kept coming back for more here and there. He isn't a huge fan of sunbutter, but he liked the rest. I didn't love sunbutter when we first started using it, but I've gotten so used to it now, I kind of prefer it to peanut butter. If you've never tried it, it's a great nut-free alternative.

Raisins side...

Dark chocolate chips side

We ate this while having some family time with a redbox movie (Rio - very cute!). The snack did not last long, even though I made a huge plate full of it! One other thing I loved was that it is not nearly as messy as it looks! Everything really sticks to the nut butter pretty well! It was a big hit, and we will definitely be serving this up again.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Green Cleaning: Microwave and Garbage Disposal

We use green cleaners for just about everything in our house. Actually, I can't think of a cleaner we use that isn't "green," but by now we make most of those cleaners. I have a tab along the top of the blog that includes all of our green cleaning recipes, but I haven't really posted about them much. So, I thought I would do that, going through each one here and there, giving some tips on how we make and use them.

Since I just used this one the other day, I thought I would start with it... Green cleaner for your microwave and garbage disposal. Now, using a garbage disposal is not so green in the first place. It uses a lot of energy, for one thing. We don't use ours much, but inevitably things get dropped down there or plates with a tiny bit of food get rinsed off in the sink with the disposal instead of the other side, etc. Regardless, it needs to be cleaned from time to time! Some would also say that using a microwave may not be the greenest or safest thing. We make a lot of food in large batches so we'll have leftovers, among other things. So, our microwave does get used often, and therefore needs to be cleaned often.

The good thing is, cleaning these two items in a green way is beyond easy! And it helps to do them at the same time because they involve the same items.

Let's start with the microwave!
First, take the peels from an orange (or other citrus fruit...grapefruit, limes, lemons, etc.). 
Put them in a deep microwave safe bowl.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Easiest Meal Ever? Close, at least! *Salsa Chicken*

If you're looking for a super easy slow-cooker meal that is healthy, delicious, kid-friendly, inexpensive...this is a great one! This has quickly become one of our favorite meals. I got the original recipe from my friend, Leigh Ann, and have adjusted a little based on how I usually cook. You can use canned items, but we try to avoid them when we can and use either fresh or frozen in place of them. We cook dried beans and freeze in jars that would give us a can's worth at a time. We do use a jarred salsa, but you can use whatever you like. It's one thing I haven't tried making myself yet. ;)

This is supposed to be called Salsa Chicken, but after I somehow kept getting the words reversed and got tired of my 12-year-old correcting me, I decided it would be called Chicken Salsa in our home. I don't know why I never get it right, so we just made the backwards way right. Now I can correct that kid when he says it "wrong," right? Right. I'll use the "correct" name for you, though. We've also made this with turkey leftover from Thanksgiving before. Came out just as yummy!

Salsa Chicken

Only five ingredients!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Green Polka Dot Box (And how to get a FREE membership!)

I just wanted to let you all know about something I recently found out about that I think some of you might be interested in. I'm pretty excited about it myself! I know some folks live in areas where health food stores are hard to come by (or are simply nonexistent), making your food choices limited if you're searching for certain foods that convential chains might not typically carry. Some of you might be interested even if you are near good health food stores because the prices can be high for some of the foods you want/need to purchase. I've got great news for all of you! :)

There is a new "membership discount" store that is opening up in just a week or so, and if you get in now, you can actually get a one-year membership for free this year. Think Sams Club, Costco, BJ's (whatever is in your area)...except that the focus of this store is organic, whole foods! It's called Green Polka Dot Box. As far as I know, this is the first store like this. I've even been wondering when something like this would get going and am surprised it's taken so long, but...at least it's starting now. This is actually just one store at the moment, located in Utah, but you will be able to order online, as well, with good shipping prices (and free for orders over $150). I know when we go to BJ's we can TOO easily spend over $100 at a time, since you're buying in bulk (even with the discount prices). Same would go for here, I'm sure - buying in bulk you can easily spend that much a couple times a year but come away with some really good savings.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

FREE Project: Dry-Erase "Board"

Who likes free stuff? Um, yeah. I do, too. This project is pretty cute, easy, and functional, and odds are you might already have everything needed to make it.

Have any frames that you're not using? I do. But I happened to find the one I used for this at Goodwill. I think it would have cost maybe $1.50. But my mama was with me and she had cash, while I didn't, so she bought it for me. (Thanks, mom!) So, this wasn't necessarily free, I guess. But even at $1.50...it's pretty close.

I love the little owl in the corner. Adds some character and makes it a
bit friendlier, since to-do lists aren't usually all that fun in the first place...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hutch Transformation

In case you're wondering (I'm sure you all are, right!?) why the lack in posts lately... We've been a bit busy.

Turning this...
Into this...

Before I decided to paint, I made one small change that started it all... 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Overnight Steel-Cut Oats

I know a lot of folks out there like oatmeal. I am not one of them. For me, it's totally a texture issue. I like other things with oats in them, but oatmeal not-so-much. That is...until I started eating steel-cut oats. What a difference! The taste is still there, but they're a bit chewier and nuttier than rolled oats. It's not the same as the other mushy oatmeal that I don't like. I still can't eat it every single day, but I do like to have it on occasion, especially when it gets colder outside and we all want a nice warm breakfast in the morning. And the boys really like it!

The only thing is, steel cut oats can take a while. Half an hour or so. I know I certainly don't have that kind of cooking time in the morning! For a while I would just cook it at night and then put it in the fridge to reheat in the morning, but then I learned about making *overnight* steel-cut oats. It's the best of both worlds...you get the good kind of oatmeal (in my opinion) and it doesn't take forever to make. Plus...steel-cut oats are actually better for you than regular oats. They are much less processed and have more dietary fiber. (And if you eat gluten-free, you can just use gluten-free oats.)

This recipe makes quite a bit, which we happen to like because we can all eat it for breakfast one weekend morning and then use leftovers for some of us for breakfast during the week. You can easily halve it or change the amounts to make the amount you want.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Yogurt

I just posted on how we make our own homemade yogurt, and since it's almost fall, we've been making some "Pumpkin Pie" Yogurt that the boys are in love with... I made some for my 12-year-old the other morning at breakfast. He literally licked the bowl clean. Then, the second he got home from school, he asked me to make more for his snack. And I caught him using his fingers to get every single last bit out of that bowl, too! The other day at lunchtime, I gave some to the little girl I watch, and I even saw her eat it all and then bring the bowl to her mouth to try to pour any that was left into her mouth. So, yeah, it's a bit of a hit over here...

I tried to measure everything the other day so I could actually say how much I used because I was just dumping stuff in before that. This is great with regular yogurt, but it's even better with greek yogurt because it's a bit thicker, especially with the added ingredients. If you want to try it, here it is...

Homemade Yogurt

I've been making our yogurt for a while now. I started mostly because I didn't want to buy sugar-filled yogurt when Aiden was starting to eat it as a baby. We got a yogurt maker and were set. The yogurt was good, easy, we knew what was in it, and we flavored it ourselves. I had heard about making yogurt without a yogurt maker, and not too long ago, I finally tried it. I was kind of getting tired of using those little jars to make yogurt, for one thing. And it took up space on the counter, which is already so small. Anyway, after looking up some recipes online, I went for it. And it worked! I've tried several ways, many of which work just fine. If you want to make yogurt at home, I recommend it. It's really very easy; you'll just have to find which method works best for you!

Why make your own yogurt? Any flavored yogurt out there will also be loaded with sweeteners, for one thing - and way more than you need (and probably way more than you want, once you really take the time to look at the label). There are usually preservatives and other things that are unnecessary. Even organic yogurt (and especially those yogurts made for babies and kids!) will have stuff in there that you probably don't want. Plus, organic yogurt is expensive - making your own organic yogurt is a lot less costly. Yogurt you make requires only a couple ingredients. Milk and some kind of starter. Yes, that's it. We do buy freeze-dried yogurt starter for some batches. I'll make yogurt with that, and then the next round or two is made with leftover yogurt that hasn't been flavored. Below I'll show you how I make yogurt for my family. The recipe I use is based on a post from Passionate Homemaking (great blog - check it out!).

So, here's how to do it all...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Product Review & Giveaway: Today I Ate A Rainbow!

Have you heard of this company yet?? They're pretty awesome. I can't remember how I stumbled upon the website, but I'm really glad I did! I'm pretty sure it was through a facebook page that mentioned their kale chip video... Anyway, I'm kind of hooked!

I posted a few days ago on how we get our kids eating more fruits and vegetables. Well, Today I Ate A Rainbow! is just one more way to help out - and a really fun and interactive one at that!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Eat Your Veggies!!"

Ever said that to your child? Your spouse? ...Yourself? I thought I would post some of the ways we get folks around here to eat fruits and veggies. And I would love to hear your tips for success, as well. Or your struggles. Both, perhaps. I know we have a mix, depending on the day!

Here are some tips that many of us might have already heard. The last one is our newest and most successful... We have to keep stocked up on many of these veggies now because they just get eaten so quickly! What a great problem to have, huh? Most of my tips are for veggies, but if it's fruit you have a hard time with, the same methods would apply. We happen to have fruit-lovers in this house, so we don't have a problem in that area. My kids are fairly very good eaters, but there is always room for improvement. And even with good eaters, there are still complaints when certain foods get put on their plates...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cold-Brewing Coffee

Again, I have a new way of making coffee... (If you remember, I recently cut out sugar and posted about going through that. Yay!) I had heard about cold-brewing a couple times, especially through reuseit.com, since they sell stuff for that and promote it. But I hadn't seriously thought about trying it out. Then a friend posted Pioneer Woman's way of making cold coffee. Again, still didn't think about it seriously.

And then Aiden's birthday came around again. (Yes, another post I haven't gotten to, yet... August is a busy, busy month.) Whenever we have a crowd over, we serve a cold coffee drink that is always a big hit. But we don't have a coffee pot. We only have a filter-thingee that makes one cup. One. Last year, we borrowed a pot from a neighbor to make enough coffee for the party, but I once was told, "If you have to borrow it twice, you should buy it." So, I didn't want to do that again. But we also didn't want to buy a coffee pot to use just a couple times a year.

Then I remembered the post on cold-brewing. I actually read it, realized how easy it was, and went for it.

And it was more than easy. I will be doing this from now on.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Need a Flower

When we have boo-boos in this house, kisses sometimes work. But more often, what is requested is a flower. Not just any flower, though.

Have you ever seen these?

Those little novelty "ice cubes" that you can find randomly here and there in stores, especially during the summertime. They're plastic and filled with who-knows-what. You pop them in the freezer and then use them in your drinks instead of ice. The draw is they don't melt or water down the drink. And they're cute and festive.

We don't use them for our drinks, though. Like I said, who knows what is in them. And they're made of plastic, so I'd rather them not be in what I'm drinking.

But they are *perfect* for little boo-boos!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Strawberry Soup!

There are so many reasons I love making strawberry soup. For one, the boys both *love* it. It's super healthy. It's super easy with just a few ingredients and a blender. It's the perfect thing to make for lunch when it's suddenly lunchtime and you realize...whoops, nothing is planned and everyone is hungry NOW. That's the kind of meal I love.

I found this recipe in a magazine... You never know how those kind of recipes will turn out, especially when you're the kind of person who loves things that come with lots of reviews (I would be that kind of person). You don't get reviews when you make something from a magazine. BUT this did not disappoint! And I found a way to make it even better - spinach! (Yes, really. Get excited!) So, here's the recipe with at least one review (mine), if that counts for much. ;)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Green Smoothie Base and Blender Cleaning Tip

Such a beautiful green smoothie!
I put up a post on green smoothies last week - why they're good for you, a few recipes, some links, etc. I aim to continue to post other recipes as we make them (those that are good, at least!). I'll have a "green smoothie" label so you can find all posts related to them via that label.

Today we had one of our favorite smoothies. I posted about this on my new facebook page last week (if you haven't already "liked" it, what are you waiting for? wink, wink!) and got a few good responses. It's a really good recipe for beginners because it is mild, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, and you really can't tell there are any greens in it. It's a great base to start with and add to as you figure out what you like. Some neighbors stopped by earlier today when I happened to be making smoothies for snack time. The little girl, who isn't a berry fan, had a sip of smoothie...asked for more...and told her mom that if she made them like this, she would drink it. She was also very surprised that it had both kale and spinach in it!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Ideal Comfort Food

This is comfort food to the max for me, which is kind of surprising because I have such a sweet tooth...and this is not a sweet dish, quite the opposite, in fact.

My mom used to make this dish when I was younger. I don't remember loving it or hating it. I just remember that it was served here and there, that I think it was usually served with green beans (not my favorite veggie, but when I think about this dish, it seems to need to be paired with green beans because I remember it that way), and I would put ketchup over both the beans and the dish. So, I guess it probably wasn't my favorite thing at the time. I would use ketchup with the green beans, since I didn't care for them all that much, and maybe that's why I put ketchup over the dish, as well? I don't know.

What I do know is that I love this dish now. To me, it screams comfort. Maybe it has to do with the memories of my mom making it or that it's a warm, soft dish. Whatever it is, I love everything about it, and it makes me feel so good. And I love that it happens to be good for me! The lentils, the beef...some great sources of protein and iron. It's very low-fat. Simple ingredients. And cheap to make, as well. There's not much I don't like about this recipe.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Green Smoothies

I've been making the family green smoothies for a while now, at least a year. We were instantly sold when we started because...well, they taste just like regular smoothies! I get lots of questions about how I make them, lots of requests for my "recipes." Well, I'll give it a go...but I'll warn you... I don't really follow an actual recipe. And once you get started you'll see why.

And because of this, hopefully this post won't be all over the place and will make some sort of sense!

Why are green smoothies important? For one, who doesn't like a good smoothie?! Secondly, how many of you consume a lot of greens on a daily basis? Greens are so nutritionally dense, but most of us do not eat them daily or even often. They're packed with all sorts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, fiber, phytonutrients...just such an incredible amount of goodness!! And if you don't eat them because you don't like them... Or if you only eat them on occasion in a salad here and there, which isn't as much as you should be getting... Green smoothies are the perfect way to get the goods and enjoy your food!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Asserting His Independence

Maybe that's what this is all about, I don't know. I do know that yesterday, this kid had us all wondering what was going through his head... The high was 102, and he INSISTED on wearing a sweater. All day.

I posted about this on facebook and some asked if we kept it cold inside. Um, no. Our thermostat stays at 78 during the day. That might sound hot, but we also have ceiling fans running nonstop and room-darkening shades. We keep them closed upstairs, so it doesn't get hot up there at all. And downstairs stays fairly cool. Well, my hot-natured husband doesn't think it's COOL, but he also doesn't turn the thermostat down, so it must not be too bad.

Not really in the mood for pictures. And ignore the post-nap messy hair. And the fact that the sweater is dirty. I thought telling him at naptime that it had to go in the laundry would work. But as soon as he woke up, he insisted that it wasn't too dirty and got it right out of the basket. *Sigh*

But if it wasn't enough to wear that sweater all day inside, he also insisted on wearing it when we did go outside. We weren't out long, and we were in the shade for part of the time, BUT it was still HOT! And he did run around a lot and did not stay on the shaded porch.

Proof that he made me let him play outside with this thing on. He did have on shorts and sandals. But that sweater... And he also insisted on having it zipped ALL the way up!

Around 5, when it was still sweltering, we went to Camden's school for open house. It's too close to justify driving, so we walked. Aiden was in the stroller and still kept that sweater on! I laughed wondering what all those parents and teachers would think of us...showing up with a toddler in a sweater when it was over 100 degrees outside. But he never once asked to take it off.

We never tried to convince him to take it off, either. When going outside, I would ask (ok, more than a few times), "Are you sure you want it on? Are you too hot?" etc, etc. He never budged. He wanted to wear it to bed, but Ryan did say no to that, which surprised me. This morning, upon waking, he asked about wearing it. We said ok, but he later forgot. He did say, though, "I love that sweater!!"

He said he wanted a picture with his "angry face" Haha!

What's on our plate... Baby Meatballs and Fruit Kebabs

We had this for dinner the other night, and I just thought I would share. I can't link to the recipe. It came from my KIWI magazine, but they don't have it online, so I'm going to post it here. (Side note - I just became a Mom Ambassador via KIWI mag. So excited! Local mamas can look forward to trying out goodies soon, I hope!) We all think it's pretty yummy. Well, all but Aiden. He enjoyed helping to make it, but he doesn't like meat on its own, so...him not liking it doesn't really say anything about how it tastes.

Baby Meatballs
2 small shallots, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled
8 fresh small mint leaves (we happen to have two plants on our porch, but you could leave this out, and it would be fine)
1 pound ground chicken (tastes good with ground turkey, too)
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 cups chicken stock

We also added some spinach that needed to be eaten. Great way to add in some extra greens! You can always throw in some spinach, kale, or other greens to things like this. I would have added a bit more than what we did, but I was just using up the little bit we had left, so I only used a small handful - since that's all we had.

You can easily vary the spices and other add-ins to make this yours. I've only made it a couple times so far, so I haven't messed with it much. And it's just so darn easy!
  • In small food processor, blend shallots, garlic, and mint (and greens, if adding!)
  • Mix together the shallot paste, chicken, and spices.
  • Moisten palms with water and roll mixture into about 35 small balls, about half the size of a golf ball. OR you can do what I do...use a *small* ice cream scoop. This is cleaner, faster, and you get the same size each time. The first time I made these, I used the scoop but still used my hands to smooth the balls. This time, I did not. Just scooped and added to the broth. They don't come out perfectly rounded, but...who cares about that? I don't.
  • In a deep, wide pan, bring the stock to a boil. Add meatballs to the broth; cook for 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook for about 8 minutes. Remove and cut open one meatball to check for doneness. When cooked through, remove meatballs with slotted spoon. Serve with marinara sauce or other dip. 

Camden liked this with marinara. Ryan and I use another dip, suggested in the magazine. It's really fancy. Use equal parts ketchup and vegenaise (or mayo). See? Fancy. Camden's not a big ketchup or mayo fan, so he didn't like that. Aiden didn't even try it. What's up with that whole "if they help cook it, they're more likely to try/like it"?? That doesn't really work for him. He helped make this entire meal, yet he wouldn't try the sauces and finally tried one tiny bite of a meatball (and spit it right out - I think it's a texture thing with him and meat). He was all talk while cooking, but it did not spill over into the eating part.

We served this with fruit kebabs and peas. I'm not sure why, but I like serving the baby meatballs with other round foods. Just for fun.

The magazine suggests using honeydew, strawberries, grapes, and mozzarella balls on the kebabs with a dip on the side (or poured over the kebabs). We made ours with cantaloupe, grapes, and mozzarella. Honeydew was over $6 for one at the store - no thanks! The sauce...I'm not sure why I made it. I should have known better. We like fruit AS IS, and none of us cared for the fruit with the sauce. We all tried it and then went back to eating the kebabs plain. I won't bother making it again...

But if you are a sauce person and want to try it, here's the recipe. We just used the oj, honey, soy sauce, and olive oil... But you can make it how you want!

1/3 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp peeled gingerroot, minced (optional)
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Combine ingredients in jar. Close lid and shake. (Great job for the little ones!) Chill for an hour to let flavors meld. Serve with fruit kebabs!

First time making this dish...

And our second time... We'll be keeping this in our meal rotation. It's super yummy! And very versatile, too!

As you can see, the meatballs in the first picture are smoother because I took the time to smooth them out with my hands after using my scoop. I did not in the second. They taste just the same, it was faster to make, and my hands didn't have to get all messy! The bottom ones have more color due to the added spinach - could have used more if I hadn't run out! Our fancy dip is shown in the top bowl, leftover marinara from making lasagna in the bottom bowl.

Aiden helped with all parts of making this dinner, of course. That kid will not let you do one single thing in the kitchen without helping! He brings over the chair himself and just insists on helping, no matter what you are doing. He begs to help cook, he begs to help wash the dishes. And trust me, we are not about to tell him no!! Why would we do that? Sure, it takes longer sometimes. And sometimes (well, often) it means the mess is bigger. But no way are we going to deny his wish to help. One day he won't want to do it, and we would rather encourage his help while he likes it! One morning...he even helped me make my coffee. That's how desperate he was to help! And of course, I let him.

He'll be cooking our dinners before we know it, right?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Address!

Our blog address has changed, in order to remove our names from it. You can now find the blog at:

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Sunday, July 24, 2011


I mentioned in my blueberry post that my awesome hubby volunteered (well, actually suggested and then followed through) to get extra cherries for me and a new cherry pitter. Whole Foods was having one of their one-day sales, which I love. They'll put one item on sale for a wonderful price just for that one day. We've gotten whole chickens, grass-fed beef, organic blueberries, and lots of other items on sale this way. It's a great way to stock up, and I always get plenty to freeze for later! If you haven't signed up for their newsletters, you should so you'll know about their one-day sales. They happen maybe once a month? You can also find out about them on their facebook page (here's the main store one and our local store's page). This time, it was organic cherries.

Cherries is another item we try to only get organic. It's not one of the dirty dozen, but it does fall at #16 this year. (I have seen them included in the dirty dozen many other times, though. The list changes slightly each year.) Click here to find the list, and then click "full list" to go to...the full list (not just the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen). But they are pretty pricey, so it's a special treat for us when we can get our hands on a bunch.

AND....I LOVE cherries. I really do. It used to be just tart cherries. Growing up, there were two huge cherry trees in our back yard. I have very fond memories of climbing the trees to collect all those juicy, tart cherries. I would go as high as I possibly could to get as many as I could reach; I was such a tomboy and miss all that running around, climbing trees, getting dirty! Thinking back on it all makes me so happy. And sad that I don't have that yard now. We had the cherry trees and a humongous strawberry patch - I mean, it was huge! (Not to mention the rest of Mom's incredibly huge garden, but that didn't excite me at the time.) ;) What I wouldn't do now to have it ALL in my own backyard... Anyway. Back to the cherries. When I was pregnant with Aiden, I could hardly eat anything because I have hyperemesis gravidarum (meaning: SEVERE all-day sickness - it's actually a disorder, not just getting sick every now and then). So, anything I *could* eat and keep down, I did. For some reason, strawberries and cherries were on that short list. Off-season, Ryan would often be headed to Whole Foods for organic strawberries, so I could eat them every day. Since I was pregnant, we started trying to stick to organic, especially with the dirty dozen list. Can we say expensive?? Bless his heart. Then in the summer, it was cherries. And organic cherries are even more expensive. I didn't get them every day, but I got them when I could. Before this, I didn't like the sweet cherries as well (but that's what was available!), but they grew on me, and I loved them in no time. They're probably one of my favorite summer fruits. So, when they had a one-day sale on organic cherries, I was there, baby.

I bought about almost 7 pounds of cherries when I went. After we got home, Aiden and I could not stop eating these things. He must have gotten his love for them in the womb, seeing as I ate so much when I was pregnant. Haha! (Ryan does not share our love for cherries.) I told Ryan I already regretted not getting more cherries because they were incredibly good! But I was trying to stick to our food budget, so I hadn't bought more...but oh, how I wished I had! That wonderful man I married offered to stop by on his way home, even though it was definitely not on the way, and get some more. He showed up with about 8 more pounds. And he found a pitter on-line, then went and bought it in the store the next day.

I really love this man.

The last couple years, when we have bought some cherries, I've commented that I wonder if we should invest in a pitter. I can eat them fine without one, but I have to pit Aiden's cherries, obviously. But we never really bought enough to make it worth it, and it didn't seem necessary. This year, that child couldn't stop eating them, and I intended on freezing a LOT, which meant a lot of pitting. I'm so glad he bought the pitter! It turns out to be a really nice one, too, so if you're in the market... We recommend this one. I thought based on the picture that it might be kind of cheap, but it really is not. And it works so well. There's even a video on the website showing how it works. It does exactly what it says it does - too easy! A purchase I definitely do not regret. Every time I used it, I couldn't help but thinking, "I love this thing!" No kidding.

Pitted cherries ready for the freezer. The only mess is from cutting them in half, and, as you can see...it's hardly a mess.
These have already been pitted. See how nice they still look! Also, notice all the pits. It took me a few minutes to pit that many cherries. This thing is awesome.
No fancy recipes for cherries, folks. Most fruits, honesty, we prefer to eat just as nature intended...on their own, not messed up with anything else. That really is our favorite way. The cherries we didn't freeze, we just ate. And ate. The ones we froze will most likely be used in smoothies. Maybe some muffins or scones. Or Aiden really likes to eat them frozen. He really does. You should see what he does to the frozen blueberries when I get out a bag to add to smoothies. I've never seen someone eat frozen fruit the way this kid does!

I will add, though...a little bit of homemade vanilla ice cream, some cut up cherries, and a bit of hot chocolate sauce on top. Oh, you cannot resist that. Or I can't, at least. So delicious. If you ever go to Goodberry's around here, I highly recommend getting it with tart cherries mixed in (and then more tart cherries on top!), with or without the hot fudge. It's really equally good, either way. And now I seriously want some. It really is a good thing we don't live just down the street from them anymore... Being able to walk there in a few short minutes was nice but dangerous. *Sigh*

These are waiting to be devoured. They won't have to wait long. At all. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

28 Days

They say it takes 28 days to make/break a habit. Today marks 28 days exactly that I have been drinking my coffee sans sugar. And I just have to toot my own horn a bit.

While that may not sound like a very big deal to many of you out there, it's a pretty big deal for me. While it's always kind of annoyed me when people say it (because these types of sayings just annoy me in general), I have to admit, I'm one of those people that someone will see me making my coffee and say, "So, you like some coffee with your sugar, huh?"

For the longest time now, I could get by with just two spoonfuls of sugar (sometimes those spoonfuls were more FULL than others...), but I still know how bad it is for me to be taking in all that extra, unnecessary sugar every day, even if I stick to one cup a day. I was trying to gradually cut back on the sugar, but, um...that just doesn't work with me. I'm sure it might work for some, but add just a little bit less sugar than the day before, and I can tell big time. There's no fooling this girl! I don't do artificial sweeteners. That stuff is worse for you than regular sugar! I've tried agave and stevia...no thanks; those didn't work. And I'm not going to put honey in my coffee, even if it is delicious with tea. I was running out of options...

I finally got up the nerve to just go sugarLESS. As in sugar-FREE. It was not an easy decision. Seriously. I don't drink coffee because I need that caffeine each morning. I drink it because I like the TASTE of it. So, I clearly have to think it tastes good, or else it's just not worth it. (And I didn't want to give up my coffee just to give up the sugar.) In case you don't know me well enough - because if you know me, you know this - I have such a sweet tooth! But. I. Did. It. One morning I decided that was the day. I made my coffee. And skipped the sugar.

That was 28 days ago. The past few mornings I've noticed that I haven't been noticing the lack of sugar. Hopefully that made sense... I drink my coffee, enjoyed it, was a bit sad when I realized I just drank the last drip out of the cup, and then realized....I didn't even notice there was no sugar! That's pretty awesome.

I have had a little help, I guess. One friend suggested trying some cinnamon in my coffee. I'm not a huge cinnamon person, but I figured it didn't hurt, and it wasn't that bad. The only problem was cinnamon doesn't dissolve, which she had mentioned, so you had to stir it every now and then, and cinnamon stayed on the top while you were drinking it and then in the bottom of the cup when the coffee was gone. Then another friend said she knew someone who drank it with cinnamon, but they added it before brewing. Aha! I use a one-cup filter...the kind that sits on top of the cup with the coffee grounds in it, and you pour in the hot water...and it drips the coffee right into your cup. Simple, and it works perfectly for me. So, after I put in my grounds, I give the cinnamon a little shake. Just a shake, not much. You get the flavor without the mess. It makes the coffee a little less bitter but doesn't make it really taste like cinnamon. It's actually pretty darn good. You should try it sometime!

I have noticed I like coffee from some other places less because it's stronger or more bitter than what I have at home (and typically would mean I add more sugar...), so I end up taking my own coffee more often. That's not so bad anyway. It's fixed just how I like it that way.

I do think I feel a bit better without that extra sugar. Maybe not as sluggish some mornings (or afternoons...because sometimes that's when I get around to actually drinking my coffee!). And I *know* that stuff is bad for me. I don't mind having a little sugar here and there on certain foods, etc. But knowing that I was consuming so much every day via that cup of coffee was a little unsettling. I can enjoy the coffee that much more now, knowing that I'm not harming my body with extra sugar that I really don't need. A little coffee is good for you. Cinnamon is good for you.

So, there it is. I now drink my coffee black. Yay for me. :)

I told Ryan he's next, but I don't think he's biting...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blueberry Season!

I love summer. I think one of the main reasons I love it so much is all of the fresh produce that is suddenly available...all the fruits and veggies you can find at the Farmer's Market and local Pick-Your-Own farms. And yeah, the grocery store, too. I told Ryan the other day, I think the way to my heart is fresh, organic produce. After buying some cherries and wishing I had more, he bought some on the way home and even found (and purchased the next day) a cherry pitter that pits four cherries at once. I was beyond thrilled. Yes, it's definitely the way to this girl's heart...

I'm finally getting him on board with picking our own fruits from some of the local farms, too. Not that he loves doing it, but he's getting better at enjoying it. His biggest complaint is the heat, of course. And then there's the fact that it's "work." And then I have to mess up the kitchen washing the fruit, flash-freezing it in batches, and getting it into containers to freeze, etc, etc. But he's seen the payoff from the last couple years, especially with how cheap it is, so he's much more on board than he was when he first started this tradition I have...

I already wrote a post about what we do with all of our strawberries from the spring. In the summer..it's time for blueberries! We found a couple not-so-nearby places that have pesticide-free blueberries, the closest being about 25 minutes. Blueberries take longer to pick, being so small and on bushes. And with it being smack in the middle of summer, it gets hot, so we go as early as possible! I've discovered it's good to have two parents around when taking a toddler, mostly due to the time issue, the more open fields, and the fact that it's a bit more tedious than strawberry picking. Those berries are much smaller, so it takes longer to get enough! But oh man is it worth it! Fresh blueberries you've picked yourself are just so much better than store-bought (or even those from the Farmer's Market - they're just that much fresher!). Even after freezing and thawing, they're still yummy to just pop in your mouth. And you can't beat the price when you compare picking your own to buying them at the market or the store (esp if you're getting organic - and keep in mind, blueberries is on the Dirty Dozen list, so we get organic).

I freeze most of the berries to use throughout the year. We go through a LOT of frozen blueberries...for muffins, to toss into oatmeal or things like that, in smoothies (we make lots of smoothies!), etc. Aiden loves to eat them frozen when he gets the chance. I also like to make blueberry sauce. It's delicious over ice cream, pancakes and waffles, or in yogurt. And here is the recipe.... Actually, two. One is a sweeter version, and the other uses honey instead of sugar (and much less). Both are good, but I will be honest in that I prefer the first. Yes, it has more sugar, but I easily use less of it because it is sweeter.

Blueberry Sauce
From Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics
Makes 2 cups.
This recipe is for the whole 2 cups, but I always halve this recipe. And it still makes more than enough - and lasts us quite a while! A little goes a long way.

3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (or as we do, store-bought, because really...)
2/3 cup sugar (you can use a bit less)
1 Tbsp cornstarch
4 half-pints fresh blueberries (why doesn't she just say 2 pints??)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (I never ever remember the lemon ingredients...)

Combine the orange juice, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the mixture is translucent and thickened, stir in the blueberries and simmer for 4-5 minutes, just until a few berries have burst but most are still whole. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice and cool.

And the recipe with less sugar...

Blueberry Syrup
From cleaneatingmag.com
Makes 1/2 cup

3/4 cup fresh blueberries
2 Tbsp raw honey
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp arrowroot powder

In a small saucepan, bring blueberries, honey, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp water to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small dish, combine arrowroot powder with 1 Tbsp water to form a slurry. Whisk or stir arrowroot mixture into blueberry mixture until incorporated. Simmer for 1 minute or until just thickened, carefully mashing blueberries with a fork to extract juice. Remove from heat and cool. 

Obviously the second one is a bit healthier for you, with less sugar. And really, both are good. When I use some to flavor Aiden's yogurt, I can use a very small amount (very) of the sauce made with sugar, but I need to use a larger amount to get a good flavor when using the honey-based version - and he doesn't need it to be very sweet, either..I just need more to get the blueberry flavor coming through well. Regardless, both are great! Try one, try both and see which you prefer. Or if you know you want the "clean" one, just make it and you won't know any better! ;)

Here are some pictures to get you motivated...

Homemade ice cream with homemade blueberry sauce. Hard to resist!

He didn't even try to resist. ;) In fact, he didn't think he would like it because he's used to plain ice cream. Once he got over the fact that it was on his ice cream anyway and he tried it, he was sold!

On top of gluten-free pancakes (finally found some that taste amazing - you would never guess they were gluten-free...from King Arthur Flour!)

Takes barely any sauce to give the yogurt a great flavor!

Of course, as mentioned above, we don't just serve blueberries via the sauce around here. That's just a special treat here and there. And honestly, our favorite way to eat them...is by the handful. Plain. There's not much better than ripe fruit on its own.

One more picture... While blueberry picking, Camden was playing with a roly-poly, and Aiden was quite interested!

And for more blueberry fun... Here are pictures from our blueberry picking trips this year.
Blueberry Picking

What is your favorite way to eat blueberries??

Monday, July 18, 2011

Toddlers with Strep and Our Go-To "Sick Kid" Drink

So...that sick toddler. I wanted to go into that a little bit more. Not because it was a huge deal that he had strep. It was a surprise to us that he got it, but he did ok. What was a big deal is how easily it could have been overlooked. When a toddler has strep, they normally will not have the typical symptoms. If you're looking for a child who can't barely swallow and is acting miserable like most of us when we have strep, well, you're looking for the wrong things.

Aiden first started showing signs of being sick on Tuesday. He was fine all day, playing like normal even through dinnertime. Suddenly, though, I noticed he felt warm. He still didn't act sick, but he did have a low-grade fever that eventually went up to 102 by the time he was going to bed. By that time, even though he acted fine, Ryan and I both noticed that Aiden had "that look." You know the one little kids have when they might be about to throw up (or at least our kid). His eyes looked heavy and glossed over a bit. He didn't really look sick, but we both could see it coming... Shortly after getting him to bed and right before Ryan and I started a part of a project we wouldn't have been able to simply walk away from, I heard a tiny noise. Wanting to make sure it wasn't a kid throwing up, I ran up the stairs with Ryan at my heels. Sure enough... Yep. Poor kid kept saying, "Uh-oh... Oh no!" because he noticed the mess from what he just did. He thought he had done something wrong, which just about broke our hearts and had us assuring him over and over it was ok. (And without being graphic...let's just say that blueberries earlier in the day do not make for fun vomit. Like it's ever fun, but this is just worse. If only we could know ahead of time so we would watch what we fed them...)

So, Aiden got sick a couple times, but by morning, he was over it. His fever was down to near 100 and was back to normal by lunchtime. And he was running around like nothing had ever happened. Easy to assume he just had picked up some virus. We were at a couple birthday parties over the weekend, so it made sense. Let's move on, right?

Over the next couple days, Aiden was acting just fine. The only problem was that he was waking up some after going to sleep and throughout the night. He would sometimes ask to be held, which is not like him, or would just cry out for a moment or so but not let us know what was wrong. He woke up from naps early and would be whiny because he was still tired. This, my friends, was his MAIN symptom. He wasn't eating wonderfully, but toddlers go through that. Nothing new. He would eat more at some times during the day and less at others. I think twice he casually mentioned, as he ate something, that his "mouth hurt"...but then he would go on eating and that was that. Once this was while eating salsa, so that made sense. When he said it while eating blueberries, it made me wonder. Thanks to a friend reminding me that toddlers can have strep without seeming like it, I was already thinking it could be possible. When the fever went away quickly, I almost dropped it, but when he wasn't sleeping well...I was suspicious. Ryan thought I was crazy.

But I was also right.

Friday found us at an urgent care getting a strep test. And we had Aiden's first antibiotics in hand by the time we arrived home, a few hours later. The hardest thing from all of this has been getting that child to take the medicine. We've had to hold him down together a number of times to get the pink stuff in his mouth, and sometimes he'll drink it on his own to avoid that traumatic experience. (We don't enjoy doing it, but...he does have to take the medicine.)

So... In case you're wondering, toddlers can definitely get strep and you can definitely miss it if you aren't sure what to look for. You can easily google the symptoms for toddlers. Basically, toddlers will usually experience fever, maybe vomiting, and sleep interruption. They might not eat or drink as well as usual because their throat could be a little sore, but a sore throat is not going to be the main problem, and it won't be as bad as it would be with an older child or adult. So, they might keep eating and drinking like normal or close to it (but those of us with toddlers know they sometimes don't eat well just because they are toddlers, too!). We could see a bit of red and a blister in Aiden's throat, but...it's not easy getting a peek into a toddler's throat. If you can, go for it, though. Most websites do say it's not common for children under 3 to get strep. Maybe so, but that doesn't mean they can't get it.

One website mentioned not to run to the dr at the first sign of a sore throat and to wait a day or two to see how the child is acting/feeling. Even my own husband thought nothing was wrong because of how normal Aiden was acting, other than not sleeping very well. I just knew there was more to it, though. Even if things don't seem too off, follow your instincts. And know what to look for, as well. If I had been looking for typical symptoms and hadn't already known how different strep shows up in toddlers, this would have been missed. And while Aiden seemed fine, not treating strep can lead to other complications, which is why you want to know what symptoms to look for. There are *many* websites with information if you do a simple google search. Here is just one.

And...a little product review here. When Aiden is sick with some virus, especially when he's throwing up, we have one thing we always reach for to try to get into his system. Well, two, I guess. One is a probiotic, if we feel he needs it (such as now while he's on antibiotics). We use a powder version for Aiden and sprinkle it into a food or drink we know he will finish. But the other is this...

Ultima Replenisher is a natural "sports drink" with electrolytes. Think Gatorade or Pedialyte. But this comes with no added sugar, no artificial colors or flavors, and it has extra good stuff in it. (It's also gluten free and vegan.) We found some at Whole Foods, but I'm sure you can get it many other places. We've only tried the kids version in one flavor (shown above). Both of the boys like the flavor, and we try to get Aiden to sip on it when he can't keep anything down. We don't drink a lot of juice in our house, so it's nice because he thinks of it as a bit of a treat... It comes in powder form and lasts quite a while, too. I know when Camden has been playing hard or Aiden is sick, we don't want to pump them full of extra sugar, and we try to avoid artificial ingredients when possible, so this is a great alternative to those other drinks. We don't use it often, but I like having it in the pantry for when we do need a little more than just water. 

Even when the kid is sick, he still acts silly! This is the morning after he was sick, when we thought he was on his way to getting over a virus. He's working on his second cup (or the beginning of it).

"Happy Anniversary, Babe. Guess who's sick?"

That was pretty much our Friday summed up. Ryan and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary in style...with a sick toddler. A toddler with strep throat, actually. Out went our plans for dinner that night, plans to meet up with several friends at a nearby lake the next morning, etc, etc...

We did get to go out Saturday evening, though. We went to Outback because they have a good gluten-free menu and a great gluten-free dessert...and because we like Outback. ;) It's also toddler-friendly. I'm not seeing having Aiden somewhere like the Melting Pot for a 2-3 hour dinner. He may have used to do that really well, but he's not likely to sit still for that long at his age right now. Boy how things can change when you have little ones, huh?

Headed out to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary :)

Aiden eating some yummy ice cream at Outback. He usually doesn't eat ice cream out because of the egg issue, but we're still introducing it and thought we would try the ice cream. We didn't ask if it had egg, but the fact that he got red spots all over his chin kind of told us... He also didn't eat a whole lot. Apparently mama's homemade ice cream is preferred.

Ryan with our half-eaten dessert. No worries - that baby didn't last long
To reminisce a bit, here are a few pictures from my and Ryan's wedding reception. I love this series because it's a good example how much fun we like to have. Makes me smile every time I look back at these shots. Ryan got a little bit of icing on me when we were doing the cake thing. But...I couldn't be outdone and totally got him back.

I didn't think he would get any on me. Ryan's not that kind of guy usually, so I was kind of surprised.

"Your turn now. Come here, babe."

After this, I got even more cake and went after him again. Fun times!

You've got a little something on your face...
Love you, babe!