Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Summer Lunch

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 First, a confession. I like McDonalds.  It usually makes my stomach hurt, and I never want to think about what is in it or how bad it is for me and for so many more aspects of the world, but every once in a while, there is nothing like their fake burgers with plastic-y cheese.

The other day, we were in a bit of a time crunch and, given our impending trip, had nothing in the house that could be turned into lunch in a matter of minutes.  I went through the drive-thru (it is literally right down the street) at McDonalds.  I paid entirely too much for two adult meals and a happy meal, but there lunch was.

V. loves french fries, but when it came to the nuggets, she would not eat them.  The only "nuggets" she has known are homemade or Perdue, and she absolutely would not eat the McDonalds meal.  (So I ate them.)

*I just realized that my child has, more than once, helped her to the chicken chunks in our puppy's store-bought kibble.  What does that tell you about nuggets. Now I wish I hadn't eaten them...*

People are constantly complimenting V. on her pallet, how she eats - and loves - all food.  She'll happily eat everything from artichokes to zucchini with enthusiasm.  (Except McDonalds and canned black olives.)  But it isn't that she is a "good eater," it is that we started her eating a variety of things at a young age and haven't really given her the choice.

Husby and I believe whole-heartedly in Baby Led Weaning (in the British way, not the American "stop nursing" way) and we are starting to dole out smaller sized portions so that when V. asks for seconds, we can state "Finish your *insert whatever wasn't the absolute favorite of the dish* and you can have more *whatever it is she is after*."

And you know, it works for us.  I understand it doesn't work for everyone, but it is only first-world countries that boil and steam the vitamins out of whatever would have been healthy, puree whatever is left, and pass it off as good for baby.  We avoid feeding our children the very things we eat for fear of them being too spicy, too mature, or allergy-causing.  I'm not advocating feeding your 6-month old a chunk of sashimi dipped in raw honey, topped with wasabi, but babies can have spice and strawberries.  (In fact, recent studies suggest that by holding off you may be doing even more harm.)

That all being said, back to what this is really about.  My kid enjoying what is arguably one of the more delicious delicacies of summer.  She won't eat a hunk of mystery meat, but she will eat Caprese salad.

I didn't always enjoy raw tomatoes, but we don't let our food preferences shape our child's, so I've been eating more as they are around for her.

Then we got these fresh from a local farm (along with the cheese) and oh my.  We split three between us.  They were divine.

And could there be a lunch easier to make?  I did reduce the balsamic while slicing and dicing the rest.  I also use the olive oil and basil I would put on V.'s to make a little pesto.  Leaves are still difficult for her to chew.

A slight sprinkle of salt and some fresh pepper, and we're in the business.

Do not be fooled.  This was bite two or three.  By bite five, it was just too delicious to be slowed down by a fork.

Fortunately, there was more.  This time.  The next time she asked, it was gone, and she cried.  I may have cried a little, too.

I now know that my "issue" with raw tomatoes is not one of dislike.  I love tomatoes now.  But that is because we are eating local-fresh, organic, grown under the sun tomatoes.  If you ever believed hot-houses or grown in a galaxy far, far away were equal to local, natural foods, buy a beefsteak tomato at the grocery store and a tomato at your next farmer's market.  I promise, you'll change your mind.  It does cost more, but open your windows, ride your bike, or don't leave the shower water running so you can have a steamy bathroom.  You'll save money on your utilities to buy delicious tomatoes and the environment will thank you as well.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hot town! Summer in the city!

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Okay, so we aren't in the city.  We're actually between two cities.  But today was HOT.  I was being stubborn about turning on the A/C until the downstairs temperature reached 90F (externally, 96F but the "real feel" was 106F), and Hubby was coming home soon.  How did we, the Momma, Toddler, Dog, and Cat stay cool for most of the day?

There was a bunch of this:

 And a good deal of this:
The feet crossed lounge is her thing.
We have pictures of her doing this every few months, starting at her 19w ultrasound.
Back to this:

And once everyone was asleep, I made them a treat.  So between nap and (more) pool, there was this:

Ever heard of Frosty Paws?  They are "ice cream" treats for dogs.
The toddler is almost as obsessed with giving the dog ice cubes as the dog is with eating ice cubes.
Toddler also loves popsicles.  We have about a million different popsicle molds.
So, I took the idea of a puppy-and-toddler-friendly treat to a no-bake, summertime level.

I give you PTF "ice cream" treat!
(I couldn't come up with better.  Sorry.)

Many of the Frosty Paws homemade recipes called for yogurt.  I don't have yogurt in the house, it isn't great for dogs, and I don't want yogurt when it is this hot out, even if it is frozen.

3 ripe bananas
3 TBS peanut butter
1 TBS honey

doggy treats (optional)

First, smash the bananas.
Then, mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

Fill your popsicle molds.  I used silicone cupcake forms for the doggy treats.  They were perfect.
(I made more doggy treats than baby popsicles.  In fact, I only made one popsicle for the tot. She has frozen watermelon wedges taking up mega space in the freezer right now.)

I also pressed one of Puppy's favorite kinds of treats into the top.   Because Martha would.

 Then freeze!  That's it.

These were rather popular.

If you aren't giving them to a doggy, add in a little cocoa powder.  My friend (and an amazing mom) makes her kids no-sugar popsicles by smashing bananas with a bit of cocoa powder, and they are fantastic.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Quiche, Two Ways

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I love quiche.  I was under the impression that Hubsy does not love quiche, so I haven't made one in a very long time.  (Note: I was wrong.  He does not like onion-dominated quiche, but likes quiche in general.)

I had a delicious quiche a few weeks ago (at Starbucks!  Of all places!) and have been craving quiche ever since.  Today was going to be The Day I Made Quiche.  (Originally it was yesterday, but as any mom of a toddler knows, you don't plan to start something like quiche at 4pm.  It will either get made at midnight, or not at all.)

Quiche isn't difficult.  At all.

Here is how I used to make my quiche:

Night before:

Make a crust.  This is easy as pie, particularly if you have a food processor.
1.5 cups flour, 1 stick of cold butter, 1/4 tsp salt, a little pepper (it is a quiche) and 1/4 c. cold cold water.
Mix the flour, salt and pepper.  Cut up the butter and throw it all (except the water) into the food processor and blend, adding water slowly, until a ball forms.  Wrap that up and put it in the refrigerator.
Wash the processor, and do whatever with the rest of my evening.

Next day:
Roll out and lightly bake the crust.
Toss together quiche fillings. Fill the crust and bake while eating leftover crust bits with jam.
Take the quiche out and let it rest for a few hours.

Eat some delicious quiche.

Here is my new reality - how I make my quiche with a toddler.

Night before:
I can't find my keys, I don't know what I went upstairs for, and these blocks need to be picked up for the 45th time today.

Next morning:
5am: I haven't come to terms with being awake so early, but I'm going to get this quiche made.  Take the spinach out of the freezer.
10am: Right, I'm making quiche for lunch.  Start The Hunt.  Toddler has realized that she reaches the measuring cup drawer if she stands on her toes.  Most of my measuring tools are missing.  All except for the 1/3 cup, which is not useful at all.  Check the obvious places: under couch, in drawers, in the dishwasher, recycling, bath tub, diaper pail, dog bowl, dog bed... nothing.  Finally find the 1/4 cup in the "sensory bin" tub and do all measuring with this.
Now we need to find the parts to the food processor.  I have a vague memory of screeching and gingerly taking the blade away from the baby two mornings ago when she discovered the cabinate and somehow unbaby-proofed the lock box the blades are stored in.  Search all high places and drawers.  No luck.  Find a dough blade (dough blade?) and use that.  Only it won't go on the stick in the middle.  Make it fit!  Regrets are for later, right?  After-quiche later.
Okay.  The dough gets made and into the refrigerator.  It needs to be refrigerated for at least an hour. 45 minutes ought to do it.  Start to make tea.  Get caught up in cleaning the living room and locating other missing kitchen utensils, and forget tea.  And that I'm making quiche.

11:45 -
Roll out the dough.  Fairly easy.
Make the filling.  The spinach is defrosted, nearly six hours later.  Squeeze the spinach fairly well, then toss in a whole can of artichoke hearts that I've minced, since my toddler can't eat the leaves unless they are teensy.  Cheese?  Dump it in.  Pour in some milk and some egg whites (and a few whole eggs... we're healthy now, but we like delicious, too) and pour it into the shell (not as baked as it should be, but close enough).
Share the crust and jam.  Yell at the dog for snatching crust from the baby and give very sad baby your crust while putting the dog in her crate.

Bake the quiche.  Try to explain to the 16-month-old that it needs to set.  (Ha!)  Try and convince her that the banana you cut up is just as good as the quiche, you swear!

20 minutes later - cool enough.  We're eating this thing.  Having not set, it is runny, but it is still delicious.

All that said, I prefer my crazy quiche over my calm quiche.  Because sharing quiche with your kid is infinitely better than the former.
And I can serve it on the fun Ikea kiddo plates!

Sensory bin: soap flakes Oh, yes.

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I've seen this all over the internet: put a bar of Ivory soap (it must be Ivory*!) into the microwave and it bubbles into a fantastic mountain of soap.

I am here to tell you that it is all true: the soap does bubble into a fantastic mountain, the mountain comes out dry, and it is all terribly fun to watch.  Plus, the clean-up is minimal.

You start with a bar of Ivory soap.

I love the smell of Ivory soap. Since it floats, it is the soap we used in the lake.  To me, it smells like part of summer.  I thought I'd let my child experience one of the smells of my childhood summer.

I could have stopped her, but I knew this wouldn't go far.
Actions and consequences lesson in 3... 2...1...

There it is.

She's just discovered this week that she can use her teeth this way.
I'm so proud!

After your kid is done making observations about the bar of soap, set the microwave timer for 2-3 minutes.  This small bar took about 2 minutes with frequent stopping.
A great question to ask here is "What do you predict will happen to the bar of soap if we heat it in the microwave?"

For about 20 seconds, the answer is nothing.


Kablam!  Soap cloud!  Let the kids oooh and ahh over it while it gets gigantic.  Then stop the microwave and ask them how they think it will feel.  (It looks like it should feel like bubble bath.  V. called it "bubbles" the whole time we were doing this.)

 Guess what?!  It is dry!  And fluffy!  And brittle!

I pulled the "cloud" off the chunk of soap every time it filled the microwave.  I put the cloud into a bowl, and kept microwaving the chunk.  (Careful!  The chunk will be hot.)

It took about 2 minutes on the timer, and with all the stopping and playing, about 6 minutes.

Then we played with the cloud.

Guess what, Mom?  It tastes the same.

Make more observations.  Then make soap flakes.

It is so much fun to crunch up!

Now I have a bar's worth of soap flakes.  I'm going to put it in a bin tomorrow and add some water.  Once she has her fun, I'll make homemade handsoap.  (And if that works, I'm going to try it with Dr. Bronner's Fancypants Soap next!)

*Ivory soap is whipped with air.  That is why it floats.  It is also why it "bubbles" out - the air pockets inside get hot and expand.  If you are doing this with kids old enough to compare and contrast, try other air-filled, porous things, like marshmallows or Peeps!

Sensory bin: Homemade "gak"

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I'm going to start off with two disclaimers: 
1 - this is not the Nickelodeon Gak you remember destroying your parents' house with in the early 90's.  It is still fun, and less messy.
2 - this recipe contains Borax.  If you are worried about using borax, read this site and make an informed decision.  That said, the amount used in this recipe is very little, and most of it gets poured off.

Now, on to the fun.

You will need:

4 oz of white glue (think Elmer's - I'm sure non-Elmer's would work, too.)
1/4 c. water
1 tsp Borax (available in detergent aisles.  You'll get a giant box.  Use it in your laundry.)

Pour the glue into a medium bowl.  If you want to add in food coloring, add it to the glue now.  
In a small bowl, dissolve the borax in the water.  
Pour the water over the glue slowly, stirring constantly.  You may not add all the water. 

Here is where it gets really fun.  You can control the consistency of your gak.  Squeeze the glue-pile-becoming-gak to make sure you get it all mixed.  If you like the consistency, stop adding water and remove what you have from the bowl.  If you want it more rubbery and firm, keep pouring and kneeding it in the water.  I, being more impatient than my child, poured all the water out at once, then lifted the mass out of the bowl.  It oozed everywhere (there was a glue bubble inside the mass) and I had to scrape it up into the bowl again.  Using a little of the bowl water, I cleaned up the rest (more like turning it into rubber) and tried the experiment again the way the instructions said to.  Following directions 101.

Now, if you want to get really science-y with your kids, pour the glue (or have them squirt it!) into the water after making a "control" batch.  Compare the results.  (I'm not going to tell you what happens!  But it is cool.)

Bunny also likes gak.

It bounces!
If you make yours very rubbery, it makes an amazing bouncy ball.  V. also enjoyed practicing using her toddler knife on the gak, and cutting shapes with cookie cutters.  It is also fun to flatten and snap apart.  

Sadly, due to all the bouncing, our gak got funky.  We'll be making more of this soon!  It is very fun, and if you don't chuck it into every corner of the dog's cage, it will keep indefinitely.  

PS - the ball you see above is one batch.  Plan accordingly, because it was difficult enough for the two of us to share!  If you have more than one child, you're going to want to plan a batch for each.  And maybe one for yourself.

The App Post, Summer 2012

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One of my pet peeves are all the articles, blogs, and threads that tell you what your child MUST be doing, MUST be learning, MUST be playing with right that second, or you are quite simply a failure in the parenting realm.  I mean, if your baby is seven months old and hasn't mastered the 32 signs that 57-year-old childless man working at Wendy's said they must know by now, your kid will never get into college.  Shame on you.

Sometimes reading those articles is worth the headache from all the eye-rolling, as it may inspire a new sign or find an app that will keep my kid from emptying out the drawers at the doctors' office. (Next time, doctors, don't stick her in the GYN room.  That one is on you.)

I'm not going to claim to have The Best Apps EVER! but I will tell you what helps our kid get smarter, gives her a chance to interact meaningfully with technology (because bashing my Canon on the ground is not what I had in mind, meaningful or otherwise) and occupies her for more than 23 seconds.  If you have a child between 1 and 4 years old, you know this is practically a lifetime.

First, set the mood.

Cost: free
This is similar to Pandora, but improved, particularly when you are feeling indecisive or just need music fast.  It is fun to use, gives helpful suggestions, and has several playlists for children.  There's even a playlist of children songs that won't drive parents crazy, as they don't sound like Raffi on repeat.  I haven't tried the sleep timer, but it is there if you like to fall asleep to music.  Just know that if you choose "candlelight dinner" you may get an odd mix of Michael Bolton, Air Supply, and Disney love songs.

Now, on to the kid.

Bookish Apps

Nighty Night 
Cost: $2.99
Some day, when I win the lottery, I will buy my kid all the fancy Montessorium apps.  For right now, I get similar apps for free when I can, in hopes that by time we really make use of letter tracing and basic addition, I'll be buying a better version of what is available now.  That being said, Nighty Night is worth more than 299 hard-earned pennies.  A narrated bedtime story that takes place on a farm, it is the responsibility of the child to put all the animals to bed.  At first, V. would watch me turn off the light switches or pet the animals so they danced or brayed.  But now she does it on her own, much to her delight.  She builds a nest between the ottoman and couch (using the blanket her uncle brought from Ecuador - it was for the family, but try and tell her that...) and goes to work diligently putting all the animals to bed.

Good night, dear dog.

Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime
Cost: $0.99
I was fortunate enough to get this when it was featured on freeappaday.com before I even had V., and I had just as much fun with it then as she does now.  Popular nursery rhymes (now with the option of narration!) come alive.  Each screen has some sort of interaction that goes along with the rhyme: You destroy the brick wall until Humpty cracks open, drop the cleaver on the mice's tails, or spin the cow over the moon.  The illustrations are collage-style, and the app as a whole is very beautiful.

Alphabet, Words, and Early Writing

Cost: $3.99
Once again, this was a freeappaday find, and V.'s first real app.  I found it when she was about 2 months old, and she still uses it today.  Silhouettes of common items/animals are flashed across the screen while a narrator says their name.  This would have lost V.'s interest many months ago if it weren't for the plethora of languages available.  She loves to see pictures she knows the English for and hear labels in foreign languages.

Alphabet Zoo
Cost: Free
This is an odd app.  It will likely make you crazy, but is decent in terms of educational value and toddler-useability.  
A line of letters stretches across the bottom of the screen.  Toddler selects a letter and it appears in the center of the screen, and the narrator says the letter's name.  Then, the one downfall to this app - when you touch the letter, it gives the phonetic sound for that letter.  It will do this twice, which makes me ask why couldn't they add more than one letter sound?  Eight letters in our alphabet make more than one sound, and they are important to know.  Once you get past the limited letter sounds, an animal appears.  This is the part that will make you crazy: the animal also makes noise... only it is the narrator making the noise they believe that animal should make.  Ever heard a mid-40's man's impersonation of an anteater?  It is amusing the first few times.  Then you hear it the 73rd time in under 80 seconds and it isn't so funny.  But V. loves it and can control this app completely on her own, so it wins points.  Besides, she is picking up on some animal and letter names, so I just have to love to hate this app.  I did, after all, download it.

Cost: Free
I like this app, and it will last us many years.  Right now we use it as an early writing activity, tracing the letters together, but letter tracing is just one of four activities.  (I haven't tried the other three.)  The letter tracing gives the child a dotted line to follow within the bubble letter, and insists on following the "proper" direction.  Once the letter has been successfully traced, it is placed on a "chalkboard" background that continues to collect letters, so kids can see their progress.
I also like that it is an iPhone app as well.  For emergencies.

Just For Fun

Cost: Free
We have downloaded two of these apps - one with shapes and colors, one with body parts.  Neither are terribly entertaining, and they possess little challenge, so V. is easily bored with them.  Still, the shapes one has a musical keyboard she likes to jam on, and the body parts is good if you sit there and ask her where her nose, eyes, knees... are along with the puppy.

Cost: Free
This is an app for your cat.  Or your toddler.  I wanted to see if it would entertain the cat, and got a 2-for-1 deal.  They play with this app together.  A little fish appears on the screen and swims away from your touch.  When you do catch the fish, another faster fish appears.  That's it.  And when it is on, that is 2 less beings tangled in my legs while I cook.

Cost: free
Remember when computers became more than just a green screen, and when you had finished your assignment, your teacher would let you play with Kidpaint?  (Kidpaint is now an app, I just learned.)  And you would make THE BEST picture of zombie unicorns battling dinosaurs in space?  It is that, all over.  My child has yet to turn out any awesome space adventures, but we've only had this app for a few months.  Also, she has no concept of space, zombies, unicorns, and a minimal understanding of dinosaurs.  We'll get there.  In the meantime, she'll enjoy hitting all the buttons to get different colors, stamps, shapes, and textures.
(And when she's asleep, I'll recreate the epic pictures of my youth.)

Cost: Free
I just discovered this last night.  I won't tell you that my husband and I laid in bed playing with this app for a good few minutes when we should have been sleeping.  (You try and resist the fireworks!)  There are many fireworks apps, but this one is free and awesome.  V. got up bright and early to try this out before I wrote this post, to see if it would make the cut or not.  I made those breakfast cups, fed the dog, and took the dog out twice while she sat on the couch drinking her Kefir and making the iPad explode with color.

I'd love to know your toddler's favorite app.  We have a 14 hour (minimum) car ride coming up in a few weeks, and I know that when hour 12 hits I'll be searching for any app to keep her sane for a little longer.  

(More on my Crazy Car Trip Prep later.  I thought it would be rough a rough trip with a nursing, eating 6-month old.  It was a dream.  Let's hope for a repeat, now that she is a year older, has an opinion and an attitude.)

Breakfast Egg Cups

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It's me!  Yes, I'm still around, and I haven't given up on the whole blogging thing yet.
(I will admit, I keep a much more personal blog that gets updated near daily, but it isn't in the least educational and not likely entertaining unless you know me.)


I had big plans for today.  It is a rainy summer day after a beautiful stretch of sunny, hot days.  We've been in the pool, we've been to the zoo, we've been to family parties, picnics, and BBQs.  My plan for today was to stay in loungewear and make a quiche.  Change the sensory bin.  Work on my ASL coloring book for V., and do nothing major.

I haven't given up on my dream just yet.

But today started at 4am for me, and just as I was getting sleepy, 5:30am for someone else.  Hello, daybreak.

I needed a plan for breakfast and I wasn't in the mood for all the same stand-bys.  That is when I remembered Egg Cups.

Made in a regular muffin tin, these are a great addition to any brunch or breakfast buffet.  I've made them for breakfast buffets at the schools I worked in, and if I can turn out 48 of these puppies in under 20 minutes before I've had my coffee, you know they are a win.

Made in an oversized tin, one is a great breakfast for most.  (Hubby eats two, I eat one overfilled one, and the baby eats one smaller one, and two are left over for his next breakfast.  Family math.)

The idea is simple.  You have a carb, meat, egg, veggie, and cheese in one compact muffin round.

Grab your oversized muffin tin.  Grease it lightly.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Decide if you are a toast person, or just a bread person.  If you are a toast person, you'll need to make your toast/English muffin separately.  If not, put some bread in the bottom of each pan.  I cut rounds out of whole grain bread using a juice cup, and tore up the scraps to press into the bottom of some cups.  (The rounds look neater, but the scraps were tastier, in my opinion.) We've also put crushed tortillas in the bottom with one large piece poking up.  Breakfast nachos.

On top of the bread, add your veggie.  In my experience, the best are salsa, peppers (the pre-sliced frozen ones work great), artichoke hearts, or chopped spinach, well drained.  You won't be cooking this for long, so whatever you are using should be room-temp and ready to eat.  Steam veggies in the microwave if need be.
*If you did not use bread (because you are going to toast it) use your meat to line the pan.*

Next, pick a breakfast meat.  Either cut up some sausage links, tear up some ham, shred some leftover turkey or chicken, lightly fry some bacon and fit it in, cut up some leftover steak, use leftover tofu, or skip the meat. You can use deli meat if you like.  I'm all about repurposing leftovers.

Add some cheese to each cup.

Scramble one egg per muffin and pour into the cup, or crack an egg into each well, if you like sunny-side-up eggs.  (These don't make as "travel-friendly" of a breakfast, but are delicious.)

Lastly, sprinkle a little more cheese over the top.

Bake in the oven until the eggs are cooked, about 12 minutes.  (How cold your veggies and meat are will impact the time.  Watch them all carefully towards the end.

If you are going for toast, pop the toast in while these are cooking.

Some ideas:

Benedict 1: English muffin, toasted, with thin-sliced ham (lining the pan), spinach and sauteed onions, minced garlic, and a sunny-side up egg.

Benedict 2: English muffin, toasted, with lox, spinach, capers, and a sunny-side up egg.

Huevos Rancheros: Tortilla with ham or sausage, peppers, scrambled eggs with monterey jack cheese, topped with some tobasco and served with salsa.

Greek: pita bread with spinach, artichoke hearts, feta, and scrambled eggs.

Classic: Whole grain toast with bacon, potatoes (leftover roasted potatoes are awesome for this, and you only need one or two for the whole pan), and scrambled eggs.  Some ketchup, and Hubby is a happy man.

Hash: For leftover boiled dinner.  Use butter to grease the pan and heat the pan in the oven while you chop up some corned beef and, separately, the leftover veggies (cabbage, potatoes, carrots... yum...).  Add the corned beef to the hot tin, packing it down, then the veggies, and topped with a sunny-side-up egg.  Likewise, you could line the pan with a cabbage leaf for a prettier presentation and easier removal. Serve on a toasted English muffin.