Dinner every night: Cutting back on carbs

This week was all about cutting back on pasta, pasta, pasta, pasta, and potatoes. I’ve gotten into a bit of a rut lately and giving myself the challenge of finding other fun sides was really exciting this week. I experimented with quinoa, mashed cauliflower, and did make one night of light pasta with olive oil, fresh pepper, and lots and lots of garlic. Sure, I didn’t eliminate carbohydrates altogether, but it’s a start, right?

We also worked on watching our portions and not heading back for seconds. I often make extra so the tot and I have something for lunch the next day (or for double-duty another night as dinner), so before serving I popped leftovers in the fridge making them  unappealing for more munching.

There were a few winners – and a couple of losers. The yogurt marinated rice crispy coated chicken tenders were really tasty – as well as the hot roasted butternut squash quinoa salad. I really wanted the mashed cauliflower to be phenomenal, but the hubs and I both agreed the texture was spot on, but the flavor a bit cabbage-y.

What did you make for dinner this week? Leave a comment with a recipe or link!

I’ll be sharing our favorite recipe of the week tomorrow….

*top left – basa fish tacos, top right – hot roasted butternut squash salad with half a rib-eye, middle left – yogurt marinated rice crispy coated chicken tenders with garlic spinach pasta, middle left – pulled turkey thighs over carrot couscous, bottom left – chuck roast with peas over mashed cauliflower, middle bottom – chicken/turkey sausage with caramelized onions over polenta, right bottom – the wine of the week: Bannus

Homemade self-drying play dough

Since my parents have left I’ve had to get back to doing all that stuff I used to, like putting away the dishes, doing my own laundry, and playing with the tot. Needless to say this week kicked me hard in the tushi and I was in need of some serious help keeping things together – including my daughter from having a complete and utter boredom breakdown.

In the gift-opening panacea that was the holidays blended with the tot’s birthday, we got several small containers of play dough, which were played with for hours and hours while Gamma was here. The thing is, all that play dough blended together into an unappealing looking green blob – and left this chemical-ick smell on our hands.

Blech.

So the other day we tossed together some of our own handmade play dough – with a spin. Instead of going through all that work to heat and stir and cook, I simplified things by adding hot liquid to the flour and salt. And, to combat that wallpaper paste smell of flour and water, we added some fresh grated lemon zest and juice to the hot water.

What’s really fun about this play dough is you can add food coloring and some scented oil to make things different. We tossed in a few drops of lemon food coloring to add to the already yellow tinged dough. Once your child gets tired of squishing with the play dough, the finished creations can be left to air dry, or baked in the oven on low heat for about an hour, creating a nice, hard little sculpture they can paint or put on display for everyone to admire.

We used a few cookie cutter to make fun shapes, which we then put together into a mobile….

Ingredients

4 c flour

1 c salt

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 1/2 to 2 c hot water

Zest of one lemon plus its juice (optional)

Food coloring (optional)

Scented oil (optional)

Directions

Measure and add the flour and salt to a big mixing bowl.

Bring the water to a boil along with the zest and juice from the lemon.

Add the hot water to the flour and salt mixture, along with the vegetable oil (along with the food coloring and scented oil), and give a good stir. If things feel too stiff, add a bit more water. Or, if things are too watery, add a bit more flour.

Dump the dough onto a work surface and knead until everything is nice and smooth without being sticky.

It’s that simple!

*To bake finished items, place in a 250 F oven for an hour.

Fine art for kids: Parents.com

I’m so excited to share that Parents.com picked up some of my fine art for kids activities! This was a really exciting project for me – and something that is really near and dear. With my background as an art teacher, creating, and getting creative, with kids is something really important to me and one of my big goals is to share that with others. Sure, sometimes my projects are a bit out there or might take you out of your comfort zone (like getting over your fear of glitter). But, hey, that’s what art is all about.

Even if you don’t think you are “crafty” you might find exploring art – and getting messy – with your kids is really fun. The first thing is to realize just making the effort to attempt creativity is the most exciting and important step. Embrace that fear of finger painting with a two-year-old, offer markers to your toddler, and wield that hot glue gun with no fear! Your kids won’t have a clue you’re shaking in your boots worrying your rug will be speckled with red paint or one of those markers might wander off…

They’ll just remember having a great time while making art with you.

Head on over to Parents.com to see what we put together – I know you’ll find something you and your kids will love creating!

Before getting started, here are a couple of tips for making arts and crafts time a happy time:

Determine your boundaries: Pick an art corner in your house and make it clear that area is where mess can be made. Finding a spot near a sink is beneficial for those really crazy moments – or if things go a bit haywire. If your home is carpeted, invest in a cheapy carpet to put under your craft table to protect your floors. Heck, if you’ve got hardwood floors, it’s also a good idea! I’ve picked up several rugs from the local re-sale shop that have had wonderful lives as craft rugs. Kids go through different stages of art development, and some can be a bit messier than others.

Prepare: Before starting a project, prep your materials just like you do before making a meal. Have your paper and art materials out and within reach so they can be offered, and removed, while creating with your child. I’ve got a toddler and find this is a serious part of doing fun and messy projects. As soon as she is finished with the paintbrushes, I whisk them away and offer her something else. This ensures those forgotten brushes don’t get rediscovered and end up being used to paint the drapes. Once the project is finished, have a spot for the artwork to dry or rest out of reach.

Enjoy: Sure, I know you’re going to want to take a couple of pictures of all the fun you’re having while getting creative, but put the camera/phone down and give your child some undivided attention. Art is important and this is a great learning opportunity and chance to really chat with your child. Quiz her on colors she’s using, shapes she’s making, how her day went, her hopes and dreams….

We all get caught up with stuff around us (SOCIAL MEDIA), but quality time with your child is so important.

Share: Once your art project is finished, proudly display it in your home. Not only is kid art cool art, it also shows your child how much you value her creation, boosting her self-confidence. Art is an essential part of emotional development and when your child feels she can safety and comfortably express herself through her art, she’ll feel better about herself, boosting her self-esteem, and aiding in her cognitive and creative development.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to Parents.com with your child and pick a masterpiece to recreate!

 

Get it Guide: Kicking some butt


 

There’s no denying the holiday season added extra jiggle to my already gelatinous middle.  As it is I’ve barely got enough time in the day to get the basics done, which means putting aside a few moments to work out hardly ever happens. And stepping on the scale is out of the question. So when my latest Get it Guide Guru post was to try out some new fitness DVD’s to ring in the New Year, I was ready.

ME

I describe my fitness level as: okay.  I’ve got several pounds hanging around that wouldn’t be missed.

I exercise: 20 minutes 3 times a week (sometimes). Hey, I’ve got a toddler – that’s a work out.

My usual reaction to fitness DVD’s is: Boring.

Keep on reading, or head on over to Shine, to see which fitness DVD’s I checked out – and if I’m still using any of them….

Continue reading

Dinner every night

The other day I posted a pic of our dinner before we ate on Facebook and got so many remarks I joked around later with the husband that I should post a picture of our dinner every night along with a very brief recipe. Then, if I really like the creation, I’ll share with a full blown recipe and photo shoot on my blog. Along with having this spot for sharing, I also put up randomness on Tumblr and figured that would be the perfect spot for this experiment. I’ll also share on Facebook and Twitter every once in awhile too.

I can’t guarantee the pictures are always going to be amazing or the creations totally delish – but they will all be homemade. Yes, I might use a bit of a boxed or canned here and there, but, for the most part, these dishes will be cooked up in my kitchen with fresh and healthy ingredients that you can re-create.

Think of it as inspiration for making your own homemade dinners every night.

And if I eat out or or order in, I’ll share the goods too.

So head on over to Tumblr to check out what we had last night!

 

 

It’s been a bit crazy

These last couple of weeks have been nutso. My parents have been staying with us (and we delayed Christmas by almost a week), the tot turned 3, I totally bombed in this Food Network competition, the husband hired a life coach, and I tried to maintain some sort of work ethic during the whole thing. We even had a date night.

Things went fairly well….

I guess.

There’s so much to do in the Bay Area, but when you’ve got a toddler, things get pretty limited. Sure, the idea of hitting North Beach sounds fab, but trying to navigate those itty-bitty sidewalks with a mega stroller (and an ornery tot) isn’t really that fun. So we kept things pretty simple and did stuff close to home that made us all happy. Here are the highlights…

Fun and simple memory games for kids

My tot is all about wanting everything now and not remembering that a simple “thank you” goes a long way. Her brain is working a mile a minute and full of egocentric thought – and being polite isn’t important. Remembering to toss out a “please” or “thanks” is pretty rare, and I’m a bit tired of all that prompting.

Memory is a compilation of items that make up the ongoing experience of life. Although it’s a concept, and not a single tangible part of the brain, memory is an actual brain-wide process. Encouraging each individual memory helps the entire process work together, aiding kids in remembering the capitol of Peru and how to tie her shoes – or to simply say thank you.

There’s nothing wrong with having some fun while learning and honing memory skills. Sure, you can get out a few board games and get bored or mix things up with some inventive ways to use stuff around the house while spending some quality memory building time together.

What’s Missing? – Ages 4+

Take advantage of a child’s love of small items by creating a game utilizing a blanket and the power of her brain. Training the short-term memory to work longer than 20 to 30 seconds helps encourage a child’s brain to make strong memories, which can be accomplished through a fun memory activity.

-Have the child select five to seven small objects she would like to use for playing the game, such as miniature cars, plastic animals, or colored blocks.

-Take a moment to describe each item discussing its color, shape, and special characteristics. Explain to her that she will be playing a game with the items where one at a time, an object will go missing. Talking through an activity encourages the child’s left and right brain to work together, creating complete learning.

-Help position the objects in an arrangement on the floor or a table so they are close together. Once again, have her describe each object and its characteristics helping to form her memory of each item. Repeating aides in memory.

-Cover everything with a blanket and remove an item by hiding it in the palm of your hand and then placing it behind your back without allowing your child to see which item has been removed.

-Take away the blanket and ask your child what item is missing. If she has problems remembering, prompt her with descriptive words she used to describe the object, such as its color or shape.

-Continue removing items and playing until no items are left. Once all the objects have gone missing, ask if she can recall each item that was used to play the memory building game.

Rhyme it Up – ages 7+

Young adults are busy with schoolwork and hanging out with friends. Helping memory skills with a mnemonics memory activity gives an edge when it comes to getting homework done so there is more time to socialize – and will keep parents happy with the resulting good grades.

-Have your child select a collection of items or facts she would like to work on memorizing, such as social studies facts for an upcoming test.

-Using story telling as a memory booster is a fun and entertaining way to train the brain. To remember information, it needs to be committed to long-term memory with connections that make the facts easier to recall.

-Discuss with your child what mnemonics are and how they benefit memory skills. Mnemonics can be any type of rhyme, story, song, or chant to help remember items. For example, just about everyone knows, “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

-Help your child organize the information she would like to use for creating a fun story mnemonic. Once she’s ready, she can write out the story using key words from her facts, making sure to connect each sentence so her story is easy to remember. Remember, the sillier the better!

-Now she can share the funny mnemonic story with others, strengthening her memory skills and testing others on their retention abilities.

-After sharing her story, she can test listeners by seeing how much of the silly mnemonic they can repeat back without help. Your child can aide listeners by giving them prompts as needed.

-See who can remember the most of the silly mnemonic out of your child’s friends and family and offer a prize to the memory game winner.

Total Recall – 11+

Tweens and teens have lots of pressures including excelling in school along with after school sports and activities, other responsibilities such as jobs, and socializing with friends. Help everyone keep on track with a memory boosting game that also offers the opportunity to spend some quality time together too.

-Select several images from magazines to use for the memory activity, such as pictures of people sitting in a restaurant, images of different types of landscapes, or advertisements.

-Everyone has a different type of learning, and using that to tap into memory is extremely beneficial. Your teenager can experiment with her learning style by playing a memory game using the magazine pictures and determining which way encourages the best memory retention.

-Using a timer, provide your teen with a magazine pictures and set the timer for 3 minutes. The goal is to see how many random things she can memorize about the picture and then recall later. Encourage your child to work silently, tapping into her concrete learning style.

-Once the time is up, she can pass over the picture to be quizzed. Ask her various questions such as how many people are in the picture, what color clothes individuals are wearing, animals in the image, and so on.

-Keep track of all her correct answers and the ones that she misses.

-Now she can do the process again but with a different picture. This time, she can describe the image out loud instigating her active learning. Does this help or hinder her memory retention?

-Compare and contrast her skills from previous picture and if she had better results while memorizing silently or while talking.

-Other ideas would be for her to act out the image, write out words for prompts, or create a rhyme for the picture to help remember information within the 3 minutes for each picture.

-See which way of learning provides the best results for the memory retention game and offer a reward for all her hard work – like heading out for some well-deserved ice cream.

Playing memory games are a fun way to train the brain and also boost retention skills. Keeping the memory strong ensures those special memories will be around for many years to come, along with all those important facts and dates.

 

 

 

Choco-nana cupcakes (with yogurt cream cheese frosting)

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind over here. We delayed Christmas until my parents arrived late last week, the husband and I went out on a pre-New Year’s date, and now it’s the tot’s birthday.

I’m about ready to crawl into a quiet corner and hibernate.

When deciding what to do for our big tot on her b-day, I wanted to keep things pretty tame, you know, because we’ve been opening presents for what seems like days and days and days.

I figured we’d make a special meal – and a special treat. She’s in love with chocolate and bananas, so I combined the two into something really tasty.

Choco-nana cupcakes.

These are really simple and actually not so bad for you – especially if you eat them just as is without the additional frosting. There’s less sugar in them and no butter, but you’d never know. Using a really big and not-yet-brown banana creates big happy chunks of nanners in every bite.

What you need

3/4 c unsweetened Dutch process cocoa

1/2 c sugar

1 1/4 c flour

2 t baking powder

1/4 t baking soda

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of salt

1 t vanilla

1 tbsp honey

1/4 c vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 c milk

1 c big chunks of chopped banana

How to make them

Start by cranking your oven to 350 F and then get out a muffin tin. You can line with little liners or lightly grease with a wiping of oil. Now you can begin dumping all the dry ingredients in a big mixing bowl (cocoa, flour, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, sugar, salt) and give things a good stir.

Measure and add the milk, honey, vanilla, and oil and lightly mix. Go ahead and toss in those two eggs too.

Chop up a big banana and add it to the mix. If you’ve got smaller bananas, you might need two. Seriously – it’s that simple.

Gently stir things up and then spoon into muffin tins. You should have enough batter to make 12 good-sized muffins.

Toss those choco-nana muffins in the oven for 17-20 minutes or until the tops are cracked and firm to the touch.

Once things are cool, top with yogurt cream cheese frosting or a dusting of powdered sugar – or eat plain!

YUM

*Yogurt cream cheese frosting

4 ounces room temperature cream cheese

1/3 c plain (or vanilla) yogurt (strained for an hour)

1/2 c powdered sugar

1 t vanilla

After you toss your cupcakes into the oven, line a strainer with a sheet of paper towel and then plop on your yogurt. Let it strain for an hour or so – or longer if you feel like it. Then gently press the yogurt to release as much liquid as possible.

Whip the yogurt with the room temperature cream cheese, vanilla, and powdered sugar using a hand mixer and spoon into a heavy duty zip top plastic bag and smoosh to one corner.

Snip the corner of the plastic bag with a scissors and then squeeze the frosting out in swirls onto those nicely cooled choco-nana cupcakes.