Sunday, June 29, 2014

Living with Someone Else's Things

We have been in our summer rental in upstate NY for a couple of weeks now, and it has been interesting to live among other people's things. In the beginning, it was mostly about child proofing to protect the owners' treasures from our children's curious little fingers (and the baby's mouth). But with that task mostly behind us, we can really start to see how our life style and preferences influence our stuff. Especially in the kitchen. I noticed today while putting away dishes and pots and pans, that there are two muffin tins, four mini muffin tins, two round cake pans, two square cake pans and two bread pans. Clearly someone does a lot of baking. I don't have that much baking gear because I try to avoid sweets, and just make the occasional paleo muffins or birthday cake (not paleo).

We do a fair bit of cooking and we cook in large quantities, so we have big pots and pans at home. A big frying pan perfect for frying 5-6 eggs at a time, a large slow cooker perfect for preparing whole chickens, good sized roasts and big batches of broth, and a big dutch oven. We don't have any of those resources here, and it is interesting to see how we tend to cook smaller batches of things as a result. Several times we've barely had enough food to fill everyone up at dinner time - never mind enough leftovers for lunch the next day (always my goal). Luckily small pans don't get in the way of deconstructed dinner. We can easily cook all the components separately and combine them at the end.

Here is one of our latest examples: Spinach Salad and Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce

The baby's dinner. We haven't introduced tomatoes yet, so I pulled out the ground beef and pork sausage before combining it with the sauce. She loves the spaghetti squash because it is fun to eat, and we had her try the chopped raw spinach. She didn't eat much of it, but we work to keep exposing her to a variety of vegetable tastes and textures.

The  toddler's dinner. She has just recently started enjoying salad more, but she requests hers "Plain with no dressing" every night. She seems to think I will forget. And we keep her sauce on the side so she can chose whether she is going to mix it that night.

Mama and Dada's dinner. We like dressing on our salad, and I like lots of red sauce too.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


A good friend of mine went to law school in Minneapolis, and I went to visit her several times while she was there. I was living in upstate NY at the time so the snow and cold weren't toooo shocking to me. As two young women who grew up in Arizona, we were experiencing real snow and winter for the first time in our 20s, and we were always on the phone with each other comparing the weather. We came to the conclusion that Minnesota is colder, but upstate NY is snowier.

Anyways, on my visits I always enjoyed seeing that strong Scandinavian heritage peeking through in the modern day. Garrison Keillor is only exaggerating a little bit when he tells those Lake Wobegon stories. So much of the country feels the same. When you get off an airplane in so many cities, it's hard to tell where you have landed. In Minneapolis, it was fun to hear about a "hot dish" a "parking ramp" and I especially loved the word, "oofta." I'm not a Minnesotan, but I believe it roughly translates to "uggh."

This is all background for one morning last week. The baby woke me up at 5:00 AM and just wouldn't go back to sleep. I decided we might as well head down stairs and get our morning started. With each step, the temperature dropped colder and colder. I was so cold when I got into the kitchen, I exclaimed, "Oofta, we need to do something to warm up this house." (Which was funny because I hadn't thought about my Minneapolis visits for a great while - I guess the cold took me back.) It was in the 40s outside, and not much warmer inside because we had left the kitchen window open (in our defense - it had been hot only the day before). I decided to turn on the oven. With my foggy brain I just thought of turning on the oven to use as a heat source, but then quickly decided that would be a waste of gas, so decided to throw in a couple sweet potatoes. After we warmed up a bit, I decided to put the baby in her high chair and roll it into the kitchen. I dug around in the fridge to realize that we were low on our breakfast staples - we had one egg, no yogurt, no milk, no bacon. Things weren't looking too good. Luckily I found some leftovers to start feeding baby girl, and I started cooking. I still wasn't warm all the way through, so I started by making some soup. I had broth and leftover chicken added some zucchini, onions and carrots.  While it was cooking, I prepped vegetables for lunch and dinner, and felt I had gotten a lot done by the time our toddler and my husband got up to start their day.

The results were an unconventional breakfast, but great for warming you up whatever the time of day.... or season. Sometimes simple is the best.

Chicken, zucchini and carrot soup with freshly baked sweet potato and butter and hot tea.

Chicken, Zucchini and Carrot Soup

1 T butter
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
1 Quart Chicken Broth
2 C chicken, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t thyme

Melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the onion and carrots and cook until the onions begin to soften. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until the zucchini is tender. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Franks and Beans

My husband and I aren't really baked beans fans. You know the ones that are sweet and taste vaguely of BBQ sauce. If we go to a party and someone is pushing them because the beans are their pride and joy and it is Aunt So and So's recipe, we take the obligatory spoonful and eat them. But we don't go out of our way to eat baked beans. Still some type of bean dish is nice with summer BBQ, and just a protein and some greens for dinner often leaves you feeling hungry a little while after you leave the table.

The solution is City Share Beans. My husband came up with this combo a while back, and we are always pleased with the results.

Ciry Share beans topped with a local German style hot dog with a side of broccoli and sauerkraut.

City Share Beans
2 C White Navy Beans,  cooked - or 1 can
2 C Pigeon Peas, cooked - or 1 can
1 T Herbes de Provence
1 Onion, chopped
2  cloves of garlic, chopped
1 C Chicken Stock

Combine all of the ingredients in a pan and cook until the onion is tender. About 20 minutes over medium high heat.

Also works well with chick peas, kidney beans, or any of your favorite beans.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Preparing Young Children for Travel

I think travel is hard on most of us. I love to travel and see new things, try new foods, meet new people, etc. Even though I love it, it can be hard. Planes get delayed, there are long lines for the junky airport food, and once you get to your destination you have to adjust to different sleeping arrangements, changes to the normal schedule, and more.

Last year we went to Vermont for a niece's wedding when the baby was 6 weeks old and the toddler had just turned two. I didn't really talk about the trip before hand because I thought the toddler wouldn't understand. So we basically just got up and said we are going on a trip today. Ha, that didn't work well. I was worried about the actual travel with two small children - the plane, the airport and the second plane trip. But we were prepared with snacks, presents, activities and videos for back-up, and that was a breeze. The hard part was the ten days in Vermont. The toddler was SO homesick. She kept saying she wanted to go home, she wanted to eat lunch at her house, she wanted to sleep in her crib, she wanted to play with her toys. She didn't eat or sleep well the whole time, and so it was a hard trip for us all. (When the kids aren't happy, no one is happy.)

Image courtesy of:

With this in mind, we tried to really plan ahead for preparing our toddler for our big summer adventure. I think most two and three year olds like their routine and are leery of change, but our daughter might be worse than many. I asked around for advice from friends and  preschool teachers and compiled this list of suggestions.

Tips for Preparing Young Children For Travel (2-3 years old)

1. Start reading books about travel and visiting new places in advance.

I went through a couple of "best travel books for kids" lists, and then requested a bunch of them through our public library. Here are a few titles that were repeat reads at our house: Knuffle Bunny Free, Toot and Puddle, Dodsworth in Paris, Dodsworth in New York, The Big Trip, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, and If You Decide to Go to the Moon. They expose kids to preparing for a trip, different modes of transportation, and how things might be different at your destination.

2. Start discussing our specific trip about 7-10 days before the trip. (Or as far in advance as you are willing to discuss, "Do we go on our trip today?")

Our daughter at age 2 going on 3 still has very little concept of time. Everything in the past is "yesterday," and everything in the future is "later." (I guess we should work on that? ;) So this was a big question for me. We told her about the big trip about 10 days in advance, and that was plenty of time for her to mull it over and get excited about going on a plane. Ten days happened to be right after her birthday party, so it was perfect. We got to focus on the party and then shift our attention to the trip.

3. When you do start talking about the trip, try discussing it at bath time and other times when your child is in a good mood.

4. Create a photo book/social story book describing the process of what, where and when we will be going and who we will see.

I didn't get around to making a book, but we did look at lots of photos of family we would see and places we would visit. She was also curious about what our plane would look like, so we googled images of Southwest planes too. I think that was all really helpful.

5. Bring lots of comfort items from home - as many as we can comfortably pack. Including books, blankets, stuffed animals, toys and decorations.

This has been indispensable. Bring all the blankies, babies, animals, CDs, cups, etc. that your kids are used to using. Last year on our trip to Vermont we were still in our before kids mindset of packing only what could fit in two backpacks, and we knew my sister-in-law had pulled out a whole Little People village. We thought because they had toys, blankets, dishes, etc, that we would just bring clothes and diapers. What a mistake! Things have been so much easier this year with some comforts from home.

6. Maintain a regular schedule for eating and sleeping up until departure.

Eating good healthy meals up until the trip can help start your adventure with your best, healthiest and most energetic selves. 

My husband and I both vote for Number 5 - Comfort items from home as the most important.

Stay tuned for up-coming posts on tips for the day of travel and settling in at your destination.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hitting Our Stride

Ahh, yesterday we finally all were functioning a bit better. The kids and grown-ups seemed less cranky. We felt like we got stuff done. The husband was able to work for the first time here. Was the sixth day in the summer rental a magical turning point? Was it the two nights of going to bed at 7:00 PM (for the kids - the grown ups have been staying up too late)? Was it the second round of rearranging the toys and main living area? Or, was it the delicious mushroom bacon scramble that got us all of to a great start? I'm going with all of the above.

The baby even had scrambled eggs for the second day in a row without reaction. This is a very exciting development because she had two instances of throwing up after egg yolk when she was younger, and I was very concerned that she was going to be allergic to eggs. Victories all around!

This simple, flavorful dish is company worthy. We usually have it for breakfast, but add a side of vegetables or a salad and it's a great meal anytime of day. I even like to have some leftover vegetables with breakfast - it makes me feel like I'm getting a head start on my veggie intake for the day.

Mushroom Bacon Scramble with a side of broccoli.

Mushroom Bacon Scramble (serves 2)
2 strips of bacon
4-6 mushrooms, sliced
4 eggs, beaten

Cook the strips of bacon over medium heat until just crispy. Remove to a cutting board. Add the sliced mushroom into the bacon grease and cook until tender and brown. Chop bacon. Pour off any excess remaining bacon fat. Add the eggs and cooked bacon into the pan and stir. Continue to stir and cook until no longer runny, but still moist. Serve right away.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Baked Pork Chops

Our first few days in upstate NY were a bit rough. The kids ended up going to bed around 10:00 PM the first few nights (right on time for their 7:00 Phoenix bed times, but still too late). This made them sleep late in the mornings and threw off eating and nap schedules.  On top of our scheduling issues, the house was chaotic. The New York house is much smaller than our Phoenix house and harder to navigate with two small kids. There is a very narrow and steep staircase with gates on either end, and the only bathroom is upstairs. I wasn't too worried about this when we rented the place, but our toddler is still potty training and we've regressed on that front. I'm starting to think there is nothing worse than two small children not eating and sleeping well in a new, strange location. This was exacerbated by visits with lots of family the kids haven't seen in a year. Whew! So glad we are becoming more adjusted by the day.

This period of transition has made us crave some comfort food. The other night we decided to bake some pork chops from the farmers market visit. These were some beautiful thick center cut pork chops. We were pleased to have picked up some Sauerkraut with cauliflower from Damin Farms. This last week I picked up the most basic variety of sauerkraut hoping that the entire family would enjoy it, but this next week I think I'll go for a spicy version for Mama and Dada.

Slices of baked pork chops served with cabbage and cauliflower sauerkraut and sides of carrots and garlicky greens (an early summer staple).

Baked Pork Chops inspired by The Kitchn
2 large thick cut pork chops
3 T sea salt
3 cups water
sea salt
7 seed mix (optional)
Spring onions and garlic

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix the salt and water until the salt dissolves. Add the pork chops and let sit 30 minutes to 4 hours. Place an oven proof skillet in the oven to heat. Once it is hot, remove and add the chops and sprinkle with salt and seed mix (optional). Add the onions and garlic to the pan. Return to the oven an cook for 15 minutes. Flip the chops and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Cook for an additional 20 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Writing to you from Upstate NY

We arrived in upstate NY late Wednesday night, and we got to our rental house Thursday around lunch time.  There are lots of knickknacks, antiques, treasures, and art pieces very low to the ground that are quite intriguing to an 11 month old. Our first order of business was to baby proof one room. That is mostly done, but we are still working to find nooks and crannies to fit all of the stuff we brought with us.

Yesterday we took a break from the child proofing and unpacking to visit the Oneida County Public Market. It was so cold!! I thought maybe we were just wimpy because we were fresh off a plane from Phoenix, AZ, but my sister-in-law visiting from VT also thought it was cold.  It's a great market with 30-35 vendors with lots of choices for meat and vegetables. The vegetable farmers were mostly selling greens because it is so early in the growing season here. It really drove home that we crossed the country and ended up somewhere in a totally different climate. It was 108 the day before we left Phoenix, and yesterday in Utica it was in the 50s. Phoenix is just wrapping up their Spring growing season, and then a new growing season will start in the fall after the worst of the high temps are over (two short growing seasons each year). Around here corn plants are only 4-6 inches tall and the only vegetables that are available are various greens, baby carrots, and baby radishes.

Last night we needed a nice hot dinner to help warm us up, and chose to roast a chicken with herbes de provence and served it with garlicky greens. What a change from the salads we were eating on a regular basis in the Phoenix heat.
Roasted Chicken seasoned with sea salt and herbes de provence. It's a perfect comforting meal for a cold early summer night.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chorizo, Kale and White Bean Soup

Chorizo, Kale and White Bean Soup for the grown-ups.

Deconstructed Soup for the toddler. Chorizo, white beans and kale served on a leftover
birthday party plate to make it extra special. The broth is served separately in a mug.
The countdown continues, we are leaving Phoenix for our summer adventure in only 2 days. In preparation for packing up our kitchen in addition to ourselves, we are trying to eat as many freezer, fridge and pantry foods as possible. This recipe was a winner. Broth and beef chorizo from our freezer, kale from the fridge and beans from the pantry. Plus, it's tasty and satisfying.

One of the blogs I love is Dinner: A love Story, and she has a great strategy for feeding young kids. Deconstruct the dish by either cooking the components separately or serving them separately. For example, this soup my husband and I ate as a combined dish. The toddler said she didn't want soup for dinner, so I dished it up as separate entities. I try not to make different meals for each members of the family, but serving it differently to each person I can handle.

*start the recipe the night before*

Chorizo, Kale and White Bean Soup
1 lb White Beans
1 T vinegar
2 Qt. Chicken Broth
1 Large Bunch Kale, ripped into pieces with stem removed
1 lb Beef or Pork Chorizo
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Soak beans for 12-24 hours in a large pot of water with the vinegar. Drain and rinse beans. Combine beans and broth in a stock pot. Cook until tender - approximately 2 -4 hours. Add kale and cook until tender - about 15 minutes. In a separate pan, brown the chorizo and add to the soup. Dish up and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese if desired.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mama's Oatmeal

Mama's Oatmeal is full of lots of delicious goodies and a great way to start the day.
For my second pregnancy, we chose to go to a birth center for my prenatal care and the birth. It was a great team of two midwives, an OB-GYN and birth assistants. I loved the leisurely appointments that really focused on taking care of the whole person and the whole family. If you live in the Phoenix area, I highly recommend checking out Blossom Birth Center

In the binder of articles and resources from Blossom, there was a great recipe for Mama's oatmeal. It became a family favorite, and I made it at least a few times each week while I was pregnant. Over time we tweaked and perfected until we landed on our current recipe. We hadn't had it for a while, and decided to make it yesterday morning as part of our cleaning out the pantry, fridge and freezer effort. What a delicious and nostalgic treat. When I started making this, our toddler wasn't eating nuts yet, and she would ask for "hini, hini, hini" for tahini. Amazing that she's now able to clearly discuss "all the delicious goodies" in her oatmeal, and to list the ingredients one-by-one including "tahini'.

*start the recipe the night before*

Mama's Oatmeal - City Share Style (2-3 servings)
1 C Steel Cut Oats
1 T Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
2 C Whole Milk
Pinch of Pink Salt
Dash of Vanilla
Small handful of dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries or prunes)- optional
1 T Black Strap Molasses
2 T Butter

Soak the oats in water with the apple cider vinegar over night. In the morning, pour the oats into a fine mesh strainer. Rinse with water. Return the oats to the pot, add the milk. Bring to a simmer and add the salt, vanilla, dried fruit, black strap molasses and butter. Continue to cook until the oats are tender - about 15 minutes. Dish up into bowls. Add a small handful of pecans and 1 teaspoon of tahini to each bowl. Top with extra whole milk until it reaches the desired consistency.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rainbow Dance Party

We decided to throw the girls a birthday party last weekend because we will be in NY state for their real birthdays at the end of June. We wanted a chance for us all to celebrate them turning 1 and 3 with friends here in Phoenix.

Our toddler chose the theme of a Rainbow Dance party, and over the last month or so we had a lot of fun plotting decorations, food and fun.  Here are a few photos of our celebration:

W set the Rainbow Dance Party mood by hanging balloons from the ceiling in the playroom.

We decided to make the party from 10:30-12:30 to catch everyone in their best moods. We served bacon and cheddar quiche, Kale and Gruyere quiche, bagels with the works (a nod to NYC), fruits and veggies. The toddler and I had lots of fun picking out a rainbow of fruit. We had nectarines for orange, but they didn't ripen in time to make it on the platter.

Blue and purple veggies can be hard to find. Wanted to get purple cabbage and carrots, but we struck out the day we went shopping. No worries - the boiled beets were perfect for the babies at the party.

The toddler was reading the NY Times magazine and saw a rainbow cake. She was sold. She said, "That's the cake I need for my party." We normally try to keep things pretty healthy, but for a birthday party we decided to loosen the rules. My husband and I had fun making the cake. IT WAS A HUGE HIT. Lots of recipes say to use gel coloring. I couldn't find any easily, so we just used regular food coloring and slightly reduced the liquid . About 45 drops per layer, and we were really pleased with the results.

So many times at birthday parties, the children are sent home with little tchotchkes. I was racked my brain for something that would fit our theme, and be a fun dance tool. Landed on rainbow hand kites. Sometimes they are on wooden rings, but I chose to put them on hair bands so that the kids could hold them or wear them on their wrists. This photo doesn't really do it justice. The ribbons are 20 inches long (once folded in half) so they look great flowing and twirling around.

Last but not least the girls needed clothes worthy of a Rainbow Dance Party. The baby has some rainbow striped pants, so she was all set, but I wanted something special for the toddler. Searched on Pinterest and decided to make a no-sew skirt. Super easy! I literally didn't sew it because I just used safety pins on the waistband to keep it adjustable. Ripped the strips of fabric. Once I decided on the length and size, I finished the rest of the skirt in one hour of TV watching.

 We were so pleased with how the day turned out. My biggest worry was that the girls would get overwhelmed with all the guests, but they both had a great time. I think the toddler was pleased to see her ideas come to fruition.

What about you? Any party successes? disasters?

Monday, June 2, 2014

We're back

Our last blogging effort was derailed by a stomach flu that hit the whole family. Hard. It was our first time with both parents sick at the same time. Whoa was it tough. The toddler watched a lot of TV and the baby spent large chunks of time in the swing. We were in basic survival mode. That was November, then there was Christmas... and somehow it is already June. Time really does fly by with two small children underfoot (currently 11 months and 2 and 11 months).

We are getting ready to embark on a big adventure, so I want to get back into blogging to help document this exciting time. We currently live in Phoenix, AZ which get REALLY hot during the summer. There is talk about how it is a dry heat, but a sauna has dry heat too, and I don't want to live in a sauna. We have managed to arrange 2 1/2 months away in upstate NY this summer near family and cooler weather (hopefully). I have idyllic images in my head of practically living outside, swimming, picnicking, chasing fireflies, etc. If the summer lives up to half my expectations, it will be a great time.

We leave in eight days, but we are just getting down to serious preparation now. We have had a few other things going on. While we are away, we will have a bathroom and kitchen completely redone, so we have been busy picking out all the details before we go. We had family come visit. Plus, we threw a big birthday party for both the girls because we will be away for their real birthdays.

More on the birthday party and the renovations in upcoming posts. Looking forward to rejoining blogland.
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