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, 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:

Please note the change, as our old link will not work anymore.

If you were a subscriber via email, a reader, rss feed, etc, please unsubscribe and then subscribe again so that the new link will work and new posts will be imported for you to read. If you keep your old subscription, you will not receive the new posts, as it will be associated with the old link. I'm sorry to cause so much confusion, and hopefully you will all go through the steps to continue reading about Our Growing Family!!


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!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Homemade Strawberry Jam

During strawberry season this spring, it seemed anytime I thought of the words "strawberry jam" together, that song "Strawberry Wine" by Deana Carter started going in my head... That's a blast from the past, huh? Anyway, homemade strawberry jam is sooooo easy. Make it once and you'll wonder why you didn't realize before how easy it was. You'll also be sold on how stinking delicious it is and will swear to never buy store-bought again. Maybe not, but that's pretty much been the case for us! Last year I made a bunch but didn't know how much we would need to get us through the year. We barely made it and had to buy a small jar or two. Ours was much better, though. This year, I tried to do the same (but didn't write down how much I made last year, so I had to guess again...), but then we had a TON of rain during the season, which ended it and left us without quite as much as I wanted. *Sigh* And where is that rain now...?

Anyway, strawberry season is over here, but it is still in season in many other areas, so if you want to make some... Go for it!! Here's how we do it.

First, go get some strawberries! Get a bunch. From a local farm (that doesn't use pesticides) where you pick them yourself. That way will get you the best strawberries. And it's fun. :) If you're around the Triangle, our favorite is Phillips Farm. Here are pictures from our picking trips. We made plenty.

2011 April ~ Strawberry season!

Then run to the store to get some pectin. We tried out a couple brands but didn't get to try out a third one that looked promising. Strawberry season ended abruptly due to too much rain. I'll let you know what we thought of the two we tried.

Pectin #1 SureJell

Smash the berries. Don't puree. You want some chunks.

Add sugar. Does it look like a lot of sugar? Well, that's because it is. (There is a low/no sugar variety, but we haven't tried that one.) Basically, this one uses more sugar than berries... 2 cups crushed fruit + 4 cups sugar.

Boil some water with the pectin. This only means cooking for a minute or so, but there is some cooking involved...  

Mix that in with the fruit/sugar and pour into your jars. Sit overnight to set the jam before freezing. 

Pectin #2 Ball

This one uses twice the berries and less than half the sugar. You can see the difference in the amount of sugar if you compare this picture to the one above... 4 cups of berries + 1 1/2 cups sugar.

No cooking at all. Just combine ingredients and stir!

And there you go!

I did a blind taste-test with Ryan to determine which jam he preferred...the one with more sugar or less. He chose the one with less. He didn't know it was the one with less sugar, but he said he thought the other was sweeter and good..but this one had more of a strawberry taste. It does use more berries, but when you pick them from a farm yourself...that doesn't mean much more cost at all! So, that was fine by us. Of course, we didn't know the season was going to end early, so we ended up with a little less than we wanted. The Ball pectin also makes a jam that is slightly softer than the other, but it's not a huge difference and not one that bothers us.

I did have some Pomona's Pectin to try. This is more natural, has no preservatives, and you can adjust the amount of sugar (or honey, etc) that you use. But we didn't get to try it out in the end. You would think we had enough berries, as much as we DID pick, but...we didn't.

Here are some other details, in case you're interested.
  • Pectin costs...  SureJell: $3.37 for a 2-pack / Ball Pectin: $2.32 for a 2-pack (less sugar AND cheaper!) Unfortunately, I didn't write down how many boxes of pectin we used, but each packet of pectin gives between 3 and 3 1/2 pints of jam. 
  • I also had to use jars for freezing, of course. They will run about $8 or so for a case of 12 wide mouth pint-sized jars or about $6 for a case of 12 8-oz jelly jars. I already had most of these but did buy another case of the pint-sized jars. I ended up freezing 21 pints of jam... You can use other containers, of course, but if you go with glass, make sure it's freezer safe first.
  • Strawberries from a nearby farm $1.50 per pound. We bought 81.56 pounds of berries, totaling $135.99. (We did buy 15lbs from another farm that had a few berries left after our favorite had run out, and they charge a bit more.) 
This gave us 21 pints of jam and 40 cups of frozen berries (2 cups per bag, 20 bags).

I was totally going to try to figure out how much it cost me to make the jam versus buying, but...it was getting too complicated. Trying to figure out the cost of the sugar and berries (when I measured per cup and bought per pound) and...blah, blah. It's probably cheaper to make it, esp since we buy organic strawberry jam; either way, it does taste better, and it's nice to have a big stash in your freezer whenever you run out.

If you're wondering how in the world we use so much jam over the year... Well, no we don't eat that many pb&j sandwiches or that much toast and jam. We use a bit of the jam in plain, homemade yogurt instead of buying flavored (way less sugar that way, too!). Every now and then when I need a decent lunch right now and don't have something made up, Aiden loves peanut or sunflower butter in a bowl with a bit of jam and then eaten with crackers. It's great as an ice cream topping, as well.

We've also made some blueberry jam (not sure if I'm going to be crazy about that one) and mango jam, when there was an awesome deal on champagne mangos at Whole Foods. Love those things! I only made half a batch of each of those, about three half-pints.

These are frosty because I took them out of the freezer for the picture... In order: Champagne Mango, Strawberry, and Blueberry jams

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kale Chips

So, you may have heard some of the buzz about kale chips... There seem to be posts just about everywhere, and here's another one!

These things are super easy to make, they don't taste half bad, and they're way more than super healthy for you. Even if you don't think you would like them, it certainly wouldn't hurt to try them. And actually...if you don't care for them the first time, try them again. I did *not* like them the first time we made them, but after someone mentioned them a few months after that, I decided to try it again. And hey - I'm a big fan now!

Kale chips fresh out of the oven. YUM.
If you look around online, you'll find a lot of similar recipes, and the cooking times and temps will vary. You really just have to find what works with your oven and your tastes. Here's what we do...

Kale Chips
adapted from 100 Days of Real Food

1/2 - 1 bunch of kale (organic - kale is one of the dirty dozen!)
1 Tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp sugar
(Honestly, I don't really measure. Except the sugar. I try to make sure I don't use much more than 1/2 tsp with a big bunch of kale!)

And yes, there is sugar. It's a very small amount, but it makes them taste so good! You can leave it out and add a bit more salt instead. After they're done, you can add some Parmesan cheese. Or toss in some garlic powder with the salt. Try some other spices you like. You can make it however you like. I love it with the sugar. My dear hubby does not. He doesn't really care for them in general, but he likes the sugar version least and likes them more with the Parmesan.

I got the idea for using a bit of sugar from this roasted broccoli recipe. This stuff is also addicting. There are never any leftovers because I eat them ALL. Love it. The sugar caramelizes a bit as the food cooks in the oven. And just like she says about the broccoli and sugar...if you really feel that this tiny bit of sugar is going to ruin all the goodness you're getting from the veggies, well...yeah, I feel for you. We don't eat a lot of sugar around here, so a bit here and there will not cross out the wonderful benefits from eating things like broccoli or kale! (PS, we don't use bleached white sugar, though. Blech.)

Rinse and dry the kale leaves. Then, remove the leaves from each stalk. It's easy to do quickly. Hold your thumb and finger pinched at the base of the leaves, and then slide up the stalk, taking off the leaves. Pull apart into smaller pieces. Toss in a large bowl, drizzle over olive oil, and sprinkle on the salt and sugar, if using. Toss it all around, and then "massage" each leaf to make sure it is covered with the oil. Place leaves on parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure not to put them so close they are touching each other. Roast on 375 for five minutes, turn over each leaf, and then bake another five minutes.

I've seen some people state to cook for up to 20 minutes. The thing is, it all depends on your oven, etc. There's a fine line between having these babies done and burning them. It really takes a matter of seconds to cross that line. Seriously, the other day I took not quite 15-20 seconds after the timer went off before pulling out the chips - they weren't quite burnt but they were starting to get there! So, watch closely the first couple times and you'll find what works. You do want them to turn brown-ish, just not burnt.

Then sit back and enjoy! They do have a very different texture and will basically fall apart in your mouth. It's kind of odd at first. Not bad, just different. Lots of folks say they're like chips. Sorry, but I disagree. They're nothing like potato chips or veggie chips - texture and crunch is totally different. But I still like them. I can eat an entire bowl in no time at all, and I'm suddenly wondering why I didn't make a triple batch...

Here's a cute video that shows some visuals, if you're interested. (Stay tuned at the end for outtakes!)

Is that girl not adorable?! I love how her mama is teaching her to eat so well! And what a neat way to do it - by eating a rainbow every day. They also have a website Today I Ate A Rainbow! Or visit their facebook page here and "like" their page.

And yes, after you mix them all up and get them on the baking sheet, rinse your hands just enough to get the seasonings off. Or, if you just used salt or sugar to season, rub that into your hands before rinsing off. It's a wonderful sugar scrub! (I make my own sugar scrub, and that's about all it is...sugar and oil.) Then take advantage of the olive oil still on your hands and rub it in. Great moisturizer! ;)

Now, I will be honest... Not everyone in this house loves these things. Camden doesn't like them. Ryan says he doesn't but will eat a few. (I've told him he will learn to like them. I have my ways.) Aiden...well, he says he likes them and he will eat one or two tiny pieces. He doesn't like big pieces - has to do with the texture and how they will crumble in your hands if you squeeze them. He eats more each time I make them, it seems. He never says "blech" or acts like they're awful, so that's a sign that he likes them but is getting used to them, which is enough to make me happy. And honestly, I don't mind having most of them to myself! The other day I offered some to the little toddler I watch. While she ate small pieces, she was singing one of our lunchtime songs: "Yummy, yummy, yummy in my tummy, tummy, tummy." I'd say she liked them.

  • Little ones can make quite a mess if they pinch the "chips." They'll have tiny fragments of kale on their hands and face. (I think this is part of what makes Aiden hesitant. He likes to be clean.)
  • Don't go anywhere after eating these before checking your teeth. Don't assume that before you're on the way to a birthday party, your husband will warn you that there are bits of kale in your teeth. (Thank goodness for mirrors in the car, huh?!)
  • These can become addictive. Very.
Have you made them? Let me know what you think or if you have a different way of making them!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Camden!

 Camden turned 12 on June 28th...

My big, beautiful baby boy. This was taken by a family member while I was still in recovery, before even I got to hold him.
Just for fun... That's where that 11lb baby boy was hiding!

12 years ago, my biggest dream was made reality. I became a mother. The two of us have been through so very much together. My life would not be what it is today without him. Every single day, I am thankful that God trusted me to care for this little guy that is all too quickly becoming a young man.

He's always had those big, beautiful eyes...
My precious baby, who hasn't been a baby for quite a while now.

Here are pics from his birthday party. Lucky kid had a party that lasted nearly two days...

Camden's Birthday

We had a cookout Friday night, where he invited his three closest friends and their families. Boys were invited for a sleepover, and then we swam all day Saturday. It was a lot of fun! One of my favorite parts was when Camden opened his gift from me and Ryan. We couldn't give him the actual gift because it's a destination and won't take place until September, so we gave him a note with the information. After quickly reading it, his response was, "I don't get it..." It took him a few minutes, but he figured it out and was very, very excited.

Camden and Ryan are going to a Packer's game in September!

My baby boy today, at his birthday party.

It blows my mind how quickly children grow up.