Thursday, March 31, 2011

Green Cleaning Products

Reading Superbaby by Dr. Jenn Berman made me want to switch out the conventional cleaning products I use for more environmentally-friendly products. Bottom line: cleaning products leave behind residues on surfaces... surfaces that come in direct contact with our babies and their little mouth-stuffing hands. Have you ever inhaled any of that stuff? Of course you have. It's hard not to. If it makes my lungs feel yucky and gives me a headache, I can only imagine the effect it has on my little ones.

My problem with the green products? The smell. They smell... um, organic, if you know what I mean. Any personal favorites that smell pleasant?

And, yes, I know I could be making my own out of vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, etc. That's over my line. If it's within your line, I commend you, but can. not. do. it.
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Infant Cereal Mix-Ins: Cozy Peach

Nutrition guides recommend feeding fortified infant cereal well into toddlerhood, but for the toddler foodie whose palette has expanded beyond baby mush, cereal can seemboring . Solution: cereal mix-ins. My cereal mix-ins are simple additions to jazz up your little one's cereal that can be stored in your freezer and/or use pantry staples you almost surely already have on hand. Idea #1: Cozy Peach Cereal Mix-In.

You'll need:

2 Bags frozen peaches
1/4 c water
Ice cube trays
Vanilla extract
Milk or non-dairy milk (I use almond)
Infant Cereal (We do best with oatmeal)

The Do-Ahead Part:
Boil the peaches and water for about fifteen minutes, or until peaches have softened. Mash with a potato masher and spoon into ice cube trays (makes about 14 cubes). When the peaches have frozen, pop them out of the trays, and store the cubes in a freezer bag.

At Breakfast:
1. Place one peach cube per child into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds, or until peaches can be broken up and stirred.
2. Add an appropriate amount of infant cereal (We use about 1/3 c per child).
3. Stir in enough milk to achieve desired consistency.
4. Add a couple of drops of vanilla extract.
5. Microwave for approximately 45 seconds, or until cereal is pleasantly warm.

Mmmm. Don't cooked peaches always make you think of cobbler?
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

April Challenge

I'm a planner. Hoo boy, am I a planner. It's a great quality to have in so many aspects of life, but when it comes to living in the moment, not so much.

With the move back home at the end of the summer starting to seem more real thanks to the warmer weather, I'm starting to get some big time planning itchies. Going for a walk around our neighborhood here has my head swimming with ideas about fencing in the backyard, making changes to the landscaping, rearranging the furniture. A trip to the Biopark has me thinking about how I can do a home recreation of a vertical succulent garden. Advertisements for children's activities here have me wondering how to find something similar back home.

All of this probably makes me sound eager to leave, and it's true that I'm looking forward to being closer to family, to seeing all of the friends I miss, and to not dealing with apartment-ness anymore. But I love it here! The weather is fantastic, the landscape is beyond beautiful, and activities for families abound. This month I'm going to focus on enjoying where I am right now.

My mantra: Be here now.

It isn't just a locale-type "here" that I mean, either. I want to be more present with my children - exactly as they are at exactly the age they are. It's fun to think about the vacations we'll take together as they grow, the things I'll teach them, the fun we'll have together. But you know what? Today is pretty great, too, and it deserves 99% of my attention.

Now about the diet transition for those who are curious - it's going really, really well. I ate some chile rellanos with cheese, and I've done some baking with eggs, but the babies and I are almost entirely there. With regard to the diet, this month I'm going to work on coming up with a list of meal staples. That seems to be the next key to being successful. I still don't miss meat, and thanks to Daiya, I'm cool with no cheese. Easy peesy.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cheese (Style)

A couple of weeks ago I bought a package of Daiya, a dairy and soy-free cheese substitute, to try out in a new recipe. I'm committed to the diet change, but *woof* - fake cheese... I was scared. Consequently, the Daiya and the other recipe ingredients stayed in the fridge for a while. But then the night came where I was out of options. There was no cash in the house for delivery, nary a freezer meal to thaw, and no I had to actually cook with the fake cheese. (Dun dun dun!!!)

And you know what? It was pretty dang good. It melted like cheese, it tasted like cheese, it even smelled like cheese. There's a subtle difference, but my husband ate it up and still has no clue it wasn't real cheese. (That was the real test, as far as I was concerned.)

Then I started thinking about all of my mom friends whose breastfeeding babies have dairy and/or soy sensitivities/allergies. This product is perfect!

Did any of you know about this stuff?
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Finger Foods By Aisle: The Middle

I've pretty much covered the perimeter of the grocery store already, so in this installment of the Finger Foods By Aisle series, I'm tackling the aisles in the middle. There may be one more post in this series, but I'm close to wrapping it up. Here are the top ten middle-of-the-store finger foods on my mind:

  • Nut butters (for spreading on crackers or making sandwiches)
  • Raisins
  • Dried cranberries
  • Animal crackers (possibly the junkiest/sweetest food on any of my lists)
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Freeze-dried strawberries
  • Freeze-dried mangoes
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Snapea crisps (a chip-like snack made from peas)
  • Baked beans
As for the baked beans, I don't advocate eating canned foods all that often due to the BPA that leaches out of the lining of cans, but when you're fresh out of time, sometimes compromises have to be made.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spinach As Finger Food

Spinach Thingies (shown cut into quarters)
 This recipe is based on Dr. Praeger's Spinach Littles, of which we're big fans. No fun shapes, but the toddler-friendly texture and flavor are similar. Any fun ideas on what to call these?

16 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and excess moisture squeezed out
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp canola oil
4 medium potatoes
1 red onion, cut into chunks
2 egg whites*
1 Tbsp arrowroot**
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp salt

1. Peel and slice potatoes into small chunks. Boil potatoes until tender.
2. In the meantime, place onion in food processor and pulse for a few seconds. Add spinach and pulse again for a few seconds.
3. Whip potatoes until smooth in a stand mixer or with hand mixer.
4. Make a slurry by mixing the arrowroot and water in a small bowl. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. In a saucepan, heat the canola oil and garlic until the garlic "speaks" (makes sizzling sound). Add the spinach/onion mixture. Then add the whipped potatoes.
6. Be sure that the bottom of the saucepan is covered with the mixture and add the egg whites (You want to avoid cooking the eggs on the bottom of the pot) and the arrowroot slurry. Stir until combined and remove from heat.
7. When the mixture has cooled enough to be handled, create patties (each about the amount that would fill an ice cream scoop) and arrange on a cookie sheet covered with cooking oil spray.
8. Bake the patties for 10 minutes (this will help the arrowroot to set).
9. To freeze, tuck the patties into aluminum foil pockets (to prevent the patties from sticking together). When they have cooled completely, place the foil pockets into a freezer bag and freeze.

On serving day, place the patties on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking oil spray and broil on each side for approximately 5 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning.

*For a vegan version, use egg replacer. I'll update when I've made the recipe again with an egg replacer.
**Arrowroot will likely be in the baking aisle of your grocery store.

Here's Linus enjoying his spinach after the plate idea was abandoned:

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Mommy's Lunch

This is my very most favorite eat-in lunch. It's so easy to throw together, takes about 3 or 4 minutes to assemble (including the side of fruit), and it's super nutritious - perfect for moms!

The Sandwich:
Whole Wheat Bread
Your Favorite Hummus (I use Trader Joe's Cilantro-Jalapeno version)
Leafy Lettuce
English Cucumber Slices (length-wise for less fall-aparty-ness)
Sliced Tomato
Sliced Avocado
Dijon Mustard (If you're a mustard fan - it's also good without)

Slice up some fruit, and there you go. Ready in the time it takes to heat up a Lean Cuisine - and waaaay tastier, too!
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Finger Foods By Aisle: The Freezer Section

Did you get a little excited when you saw the word freezer in the post title? The convenience of the freezer is one of my mommy obsessions, so it's with great enthusiasm that I bring you the next installment of Finger Foods By Aisle.

If you're just getting started with this post series, the idea is that I'm making lists of all of the minimal/no preparation finger foods just waiting to be picked up at your favorite grocery store. It would please me so to see any of your favorites that I didn't include in the comments section.

One thing - I didn't list things like fish sticks or chicken nuggets since we're laying off the meat these days. If you'd like share your favorites, though, please feel welcome!

Lima Beans
Mixed Vegetables
Green Beans
Sweet Potato Fries
Cubed Butternut Squash
Dr. Praeger's Broccoli Littles
Dr. Praeger's Spinach Littles
HappyBaby VeggieTots

**For all freezer veggies, my cooking method is putting them in a microwave-safe bowl with some water and cooking for about 1:30 on high. Butternut squash and sweet potatoes are exceptions. I throw them on a cooking oil-coated piece of aluminum foil (easy clean-up) and bake.

I recently posted a recipe for Curried Vegetable Pancakes that can be stored in the freezer. That recipe came out first try - I only had to make a couple of tweaks to the draft I sketched out beforehand as I cooked. I've been trying to recreate Spinach Littles... that one isn't coming quite as easily. I've got some ideas about what's going wrong, and when I get it perfected, I'll post it. Why not just buy the Dr. Praeger's? Well, Dr. P doesn't use organic spinach, which is important since spinach is on the EW's Dirty Dozen list (most contaminated fruits and veggies). Also, like most prepared foods, it's much cheaper to just make it from scratch yourself.
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

March Challenge... or February...

... or January reflection??? When was the last time I wrote one of these posts?

Anyway, an update on the vegan/vegetarian thing.

Starting on the day we flew back home, I declared myself and the babies vegetarian. It's been about a month now, and I've missed eating meat exactly zero times. I'll admit that pre-switch, I was afraid I would miss cheeseburgers, which I came to love so very much when I was pregnant. As fate would have it, though, my hubby brought me a veggie burger from Ruby Tuesdays, and... wow... just wow. It was really, really good. I've also since discovered the Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burgers, which are soy-free, ridiculously easy to prepare, and yummy.

Complete veganism? Hasn't happened... yet. It's still my ultimate goal. Which brings me to my March Challenge. This month I'm going to eliminate all animal protein from our breakfast meal. Considering that I've already made the switch from cow's milk to almond milk in cereal, this shouldn't be too difficult. It does mean eliminating yogurt for the babies, though, which is one of their favorite foods. But let's be real - they probably dig it so much because of the added sugar. Have you tasted that stuff? It's like cake batter.

I picked up a copy of Veganist, and it's helping me remember why I started this whole switcheroo in the first place. If you're curious at all about Veganism, it's a great read.

Edited to correct the spelling of February in the title. *Blush*
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Snapshots of Cute Stuff 3/5/11

I haven't been taking as many pictures as I should. There are flash and light meter issues with the DSLR, and I have zero patience with point and shoots. Seriously, the shutter delay thing - AAAAAAARGH! Nevertheless, here are a few of the shots I HAVE been taking on our adventures.

Twin check - you back there?

 Veda loves saying "Bwaaaaaaaaah!" and patting her mouth.

This is the face of someone who knows he's painfully handsome.

File Under: How I Do Stuff. This is how we go for a walk. Two babies in the jogging stroller and the small dog attached by leash to a Mommy Hook on the stroller. It's how we roll. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Stairs are a big attraction these days. Here we are playing in the toddler room of a local museum.

Why have I not gotten an agent for these kids? (*cough* Lindsay Lohan) Anyway, here we are at a koi pond. I demonstrated feeding the fish bread. And yet, when I gave them bread to throw, Veda and Linus ate the bread. Eh, I guess it was time for a snack,

 Mr. Linus wants to be closer.

This has been Snapshots of Cute Stuff.
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Read. This. Book.

MotherStyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths by Janet Penley

If we're being really honest, and I try my very best to be, we all have secret shames about ourselves as mothers - things that make us feel inadequate and guilty. Likewise, we all have things that we feel we're great at, and doing those things makes us feel on top of our game.

You've probably taken the Meyers-Brigg Assessment at some point. It's the one that gives you the result with the four letters (E or I, N or S, T or F, and J or P). All in all, there are sixteen personality types, and knowing which one yours is can help you capitalize on your parenting strengths and make peace with, even develop strategies to bridge your weaknesses.

What do I mean? I'm an INFJ. This means I'm Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging. What I perceive to be one of my greatest strengths as a parent is my drive to seek out information, to find the "best" way to do things, to have a vision of where we're going. This is thanks to my Intuitiveness. Then again, my flakiness? That's also part of being Intuitive. Another (confessional) example? My great shame as a mother is a function of my Introvertedness. I feel a lot of guilt about not being able to always be "on" for my little guys. Being the excited, bouncy, big-smiling playtime mom of young children is exhausting for me, and I'm envious of moms who seem to have endless energy for toddler play. But my Introvertedness also lends itself to the relaxed, comfortable demeanor I will admit to getting compliments on. As much as I feel guilty about not being the other kind of mother, I know that my serene presence will be a gift to my children in other ways. MotherStyles wisely suggests strategies to bridge my shortcomings. For example, Penley suggests enrolling in Mommy and Me-type classes both to provide my babies with a type of stimulation I'm not gifted at providing and to give myself a break.

I promise that if you read this book through, you'll be rewarded with numerous "Aha!" moments, and you'll probably also be more understanding of your spouse/partner after you learn more about why he/she does the things he/she does. Maybe best of all, you'll be a little more kind to yourself when you're evaluating the job you're doing as a mommy.

Bottom line: Yes, this is a parenting book that's about the parent. But taking a realistic appraisal of who you are and what you bring to the table of motherhood is well worth the time.
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