Monthly Archives: March 2011

Searching for spring!

Yesterday The Munchkin & I braved the chill to enjoy a beautiful, clear day. We have a tradition of finding rocks to take home to Daddy on our morning walks.

Today, though, we also found all the signs of the coming spring –

The buds just forming on the trees:

The grass returning to life:

And my favorite sign of spring of all:

Growing up in Southern California, I never got to enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s been 8 winters since I left home, & it still amazes me watching the world thaw out & become beautiful & vibrant again!

Take your kid out on a springtime scavenger hunt! Even if you’ve seen dozens of springs, she hasn’t. Odds are, her excitement will be contagious!

works for me wednesday at we are that family

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Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup. (Quick! Make this before the weather gets too nice!)

I woke up on the third day of spring to this:

Snow, sleet, hail, rain, & thunder. Definitely a soup day.

This recipe is another one from Williams-Sonoma’s The New Slow Cooker, & I was able to use extra chicken I had in the freezer from the Herbed Chicken Thighs I made awhile back. This came together so easily! I made a half recipe & still had some left over after the 3 of us ate our fill (& My Husband The Hungry went back for seconds!), but I’m posting the 6-serving full recipe from the cookbook for you.

  • 1 can (15 oz.) crushed tomatoes (I used diced & it worked fine)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 to 2 jalapeno chilies, seeded & chopped
  • 5 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 lbs. skinless, bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
  • 3 limes
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • pepper
  • 15 oz. corn, frozen & thawed, or fresh (about 5 ears)
  • 2 small avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, & diced
  • cilantro
  • tortilla chips
  1. Combine tomatoes, onion to taste, garlic, jalapeno to taste, & 1 cup stock in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Pour into slow cooker.
  2. Add chicken, remaining stock, the juice of one of the limes (I just did a generous squeeze of bottled juice), vinegar, cumin, bay leaves, salt, & some pepper.
  3. Cover; cook on low 5 hours. The chicken will be very tender.
  4. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker, remove the bones & any excess fat, & shred the meat. Skim off the fat from the liquid & remove the bay leaves. Add the chicken back into the slow cooker.
  5. Add the corn; cook on low 15 minutes (if using fresh corn, cook 30 minutes).
  6. Ladle the soup into bowls; garnish with avocado chunks, cilantro, & chips. Cut the remaining limes into wedges & serve with the soup.

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The Munchkin’s colorful birthday.

For The Munchkin’s first birthday last June, I designed a color-wheel-inspired party around the rainbow cupcakes I posted yesterday.

A color theme is pretty much the easiest theme you can go with: there are no limitations on activities, & you don’t have to worry about logos or anything. I got everything at the Target Dollar Spot, Hobby Lobby, & Dollar Tree, so it was a really low-cost party too!

We started with a simple, graphic invitation to convey the paint theme. My mother-in-law had the great idea for a paint can card with a slit for a paintbrush to fit into. We’re not Photoshop masters, so it could look more professional, but it was creative & fun to make! We printed the images onto card stock, then cut out a double sheet in the paint can shape. I made a slit with an X-acto knife & glued the two paint can pieces together, just around the edges. The party details were hidden until you pulled the paintbrush out! (Click on the image to see the details better.)

Now to the most important part (to me, anyway): the food. The party was in the afternoon, so we didn’t need to serve a real meal; we had fresh fruit & other snacks arranged into a color wheel: red=watermelon, orange=carrots with ranch dip, yellow=pineapple, green=grapes, blue=blue corn tortilla chips with salsa, purple=grapes.

The drinks were brightly colored Kool-Aid in colorful pitchers. I made a “happy birthday” banner on a friend’s Cricut out of primary-colored cardstock & festive scrapbook paper, with colorful ribbon tied between each letter. To hold utensils, I took old empty soup cans & relabeled them “Birthday Girl Brand Paint.”

We covered each table in a different colored plastic tablecloth & put streamers & balloons wherever my help crew (aka: my husband & brother) felt like it. We also found coordinating paper plates, napkins, cupcake papers, & cupcake toppers with colorful polka dots at Hobby Lobby, but you could easily use solids in different colors.

Here’s the dessert table:

Also on the dessert table: the super easy, super cheap favors I made. Interested? I’ll continue. I baked my special chocolate chip cookies, but with M&Ms instead of chocolate chips. (I even picked out most of the brown ones, but you don’t have to be as weird as me.) Then I put them in small cellophane bags from Hobby Lobby & sealed them with regular old Inkjet labels that I printed with “Thanks for making my 1st birthday party more colorful! Love, [The Munchkin]“.

The kids kept busy with a number of different activities around the backyard. They enjoyed putting on “smocks” we made out of old t-shirts & fingerpainting pictures for a memory book for The Munchkin. We hung their works of art on a clothesline to dry, so they added to the decor.

The kids also colored pages out of a Sesame Street coloring book I got at Dollar Tree with crayons & markers. To hold the coloring stuff, I tied rainbow ribbon around old empty mason jars.

My mother-in-law found some great bath toys & butterfly nets in bright colors at the Target Dollar Spot, so we let the kids “fish” in a splash pool. Even though it wasn’t strictly related to painting, it was colorful & a big hit for that hot summer day! I also found small containers of bubbles in primary colors for the kids to play with & take home. Again, not painting-related, but fun!

The Munchkin loved her birthday cupcake, & it looked really pretty when it was smashed!

Finally, I just have to add this because it makes me laugh & hopefully will make you laugh too. From My Husband The Nerd:

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Rainbow cupcakes for a colorful birthday party.

Sometimes you get so excited about something that you make an entire party out of it. For The Munchkin’s first birthday party, it was this rainbow cake tutorial I saw on Hostess with the Mostess before she was even born. I’d forgotten about it, & then I was nursing in the middle of the night when The Munchkin was like 6 or 7 months old when it hit me.

I built her entire color wheel birthday party around these cupcakes. How can you not when you see these colors?

After my unfortunate luck with Elmo, I made sure to use a higher-quality white cake mix & made the whole-egg recipe for the batter. That way the batter would still be white enough to dye, but the cupcakes wouldn’t be so crumbly & insubstantial. I made two boxes for 48 cupcakes, & measured the batter into 6 equal parts. Then I lined the muffin tins with cute colorful polka-dot cupcake papers we got at Hobby Lobby (we also got coordinating plates, napkins, & cupcake toppers there) & proceeded to spoon each color into each paper, starting with the purple, a teaspoon at a time. 6 colors times 48 cupcakes equaled THREE HOURS of work. But they sure looked cool when they came out!

We just spread white buttercream on the top & sprinkled them with rainbow jimmies. Now that I have my Wilton D3 tip, I’ll be able to make my cupcakes prettier in the future! But this worked just fine, & didn’t detract from the toppers.

…or the surprise inside!

Tomorrow I’ll post the full details of the color wheel party, but until then, here’s how we displayed them:

Get excited! See you tomorrow!

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Elmo’s reconstructive surgery. (Or, how to turn a bear cake into an Elmo cake.)

The Munchkin is 21 months today. I can’t even believe it! Time’s going fast, so I’ve started thinking about what to do for her birthday party (in 3 months… yes, I am that mom… I may or may not have had her whole 1st birthday planned out a full 5 months in advance…). The only problem is, while I have a couple themes in mind, it’s hard to plan specifics without knowing where we’ll be living or if we’ll even know anyone to invite! So I started looking back at last year, & thought I’d post what I did for her first birthday party. (This is the perfect opportunity to play with this nifty “1960s” effect from Picnik… You know, since it’s in the past… ? … Just go with me here.)

For her actual birthday, I wanted to make my then-Elmo-obsessed Munchkin an Elmo cake. But we were staying with my inlaws at the time while My Husband The Studious studied for the Bar, & they just had a bear cake pan. I accepted the challenge.

My big mistake was using a white cake mix (I wanted to save my energy for the actual decorating part). It was too light to hold its shape. My other molded cake pan efforts have been with scratch yellow, spice, or even pumpkin cake recipes, & they’ve held together much better. The cake also stuck to the board I was cooling it on; scraping Elmo-to-be off of the board entailed major surgery (read: lots of frosting). So do yourself a favor: please make a scratch recipe, or at least use the whole-egg white cake variation on the white cake mix box or a yellow cake mix.

Once I got my patient safely out of Code Blue, I proceeded to saw the ears off the sides of his head & attach them to the top. This would become the eyes. Then I crumb-coated like crazy while I mixed the colors for the icing. When you need colors this vivid, gel food coloring is a MUST. Liquid won’t cut it. I wound up going through like 3 tubes of the kind you buy in the grocery store to get the red; it made the frosting a little on the crunchy side, so next time I need something this red I’m going with Wilton’s no-taste red because it’s more concentrated. But with red I’ve found you always need twice as much as you think you do anyway. I used black gel because it was easier than mixing up black icing (see previous sentence).

I should have done the borders before filling with the star tip, but I was in a rush to see how it looked, so I didn’t plan out as well as I should have.

Regardless of my errors & lack of foresight, & the fact that it used to be a bear, The Munchkin was ecstatic when she saw it the next morning, & she enjoyed mashing him up & eating him that night. Let’s just say all that red food coloring made her next few diapers look really interesting…

Tomorrow & Friday I’ll be posting about her colorful birthday party the following weekend! Come back & check it out!

works for me wednesday at we are that family

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Skinny banana bread.

I recently overcame the denial brought on by 15 months of nursing & came to the realization — only 6 months late — that I actually do need to watch what I’m eating. There are only so many ways to explain away the tightness of one’s jeans… “They just came out of the dryer; they’ll stretch back out.” (Putting them on again 2 mornings later…) “Crap.”

So I’ve been cutting calories, limiting treats, & finding ways to lighten up or “healthify” foods that I enjoy. I also went out & bought my first-ever bag of whole-wheat flour. Gasp! I know.

I had some bananas mottling on the counter (you may have seen them in the background of pictures of my daughter giddily sloshing Rice Krispies from here to Shanghai — that was for you, Karen!), so I decided my “maiden” whole-wheat substitution recipe would be Skinny Banana Bread from Paper Crafts Gourmet, a cookbook with accompanying craft projects (parties, cards, wrapping ideas, etc.) that my aunt-in-law (is that a thing?) & neighbor found at our local A.C. Moore for 5 bucks. Bargain!

It’s almost entirely fat-free, but thanks to the heartiness of the whole wheat it tastes substantial & fills you up! It’s also moist, & yes, tasty! Though mine would’ve been more flavorful if I’d had all 3 bananas they called for; I only had 2 1/3.

  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg (in banana bread? I was a little skeptical too, but it totally worked, & it made my house smell amazing while it was baking!)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup applesauce (1/3 cup if you have large bananas)
  • 1/3 cup walnuts (optional — I used them for the added protein)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Mix dry ingredients & wet ingredients in separate bowls.
  3. Combine, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in nuts, if desired.
  4. Pour into prepared pan & bake 55 minutes or until knife comes out clean.

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The Rice Krispies Incident.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Today I learned that when you’re a parent, memories are often made when you’re trying to make something else. In this case, Rice Krispies Treats. To be specific, Jimmer-Fredette-jersey-frosted Rice Krispies Treats for last night’s win over Wofford. (What? You didn’t have that in your bracket? For shame, for shame.) Only they never got frosted. Or eaten, for that matter. We were too busy cleaning up & laughing hysterically.

The scene: One sunny afternoon, The Munchkin & I set out to recreate one of those nostalgic black-&-white Rice Krispies commercials. Minus two marshmallows, of course…

Wonder where those went…

As we measure the Rice Krispies into a bowl, The Munchkin discovers how fun they are to play with. (Sorry, Kellogg — we had to go with the generic brand this time. Get my husband a job for after graduation & I’ll gladly buy your name brand until I die.)

I realized this wasn’t going to work as swimmingly as those commercials had led me to believe, so while I stirred the melting marshmallows, My Husband The Resourceful* got her drumming on an overturned cookie sheet with some chopsticks. But apparently that wasn’t as fun as the Rice Krispies in the bowl were. So she emptied about a third of the box of cereal onto the cookie sheet. Now this was a good time!

My Husband The Hilarious* & I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to tell her this was a bad idea. I’m sure that taking pictures of all this wasn’t helping to reinforce tidy behavior either.

So then My Husband The Brilliant* decided to sweep the cereal onto the cookie sheet & let her play with it on the floor. I figured there’d be a bit of sloshing over the sides, but nothing we couldn’t handle. What we didn’t expect was for her to do the exact same thing that she did with the cereal box & wind up sitting in the middle of the pile of Rice Krispies, happily spreading them all over the floor.

After much Munchkin wrangling on my part & sweeping & vacuuming on My Husband The Tidy’s*, & after much laughing all around, we concluded that the memories made in the kitchen are ultimately more important than whatever recipe we’re making. Sure, I could have distracted The Munchkin with something else & had those Rice Krispies Treats beautifully made, frosted, & blog-phot0-ready in no time. But then we would have all missed out on this great experience. Although we hope this never happens again (we’re still finding errant Rice Krispies here & there) this little adventure was far more fun (& lower-calorie!) than Rice Krispies Treats could ever be. Even Jimmer ones. Which I’m going to frost today anyway, I’ve decided. The end.

*I’ve been contemplating blog nicknames for my husband for weeks now, & after many hilarious but unproductive brainstorming sessions I’ve concluded that he wears too many hats for just one, so I’m testing out these Norse-esque titles… What do you think? Too much?

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! (Or, how do I get my kid to sit still?)

The Munchkin & I want to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Wait, let me get her to stop fiddling with the necklaces.

Look at the camera!

Now she’s looking at the camera… Dare I try to get her to smile? Or maybe even sit up?

Wait! Put the hat back on!

I don’t know why I bother… Happy St. Patrick’s Day anyway!

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My latest culinary triumph: bone-in chicken.

First thing’s first. How do you like the new layout? I think it’s much cleaner, & easier to find what you’re looking for.

Second: have you filled out your bracket yet? The tournament starts tomorrow! Go Cougs!

Now for the juicy stuff. And I do mean that literally. I have a confession to make: bone-in chicken intimidates me. I’ve roasted 3 Thanksgiving turkeys, but never in my life had I roasted a chicken or made anything that didn’t use my old standby: boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Those other recipes just seemed to take so much more effort & worrying! Not to mention my beef (ha!) with paying per pound for bone when I buy meat & poultry.

Well, all that changed last Thursday, thanks to Williams-Sonoma’s The New Slow Cooker cookbook. Seriously, every single recipe in here looks amazing, & everything I’ve made so far tastes amazing. One of the great things about this cookbook is that each recipe gives you a way to “Add Freshness With…” so you don’t get that heavy, Crock-Pot taste. I could definitely see myself using this cookbook into the summer (especially since we can’t grill in our apartment complex!) to keep the oven off & the apartment cool.

Herbed Chicken with Zesty Potato Salad

This recipe looks involved, so I’m going to give you the bottom line first so you know it’s totally worth the effort & extra ingredients.

The verdict: Husband loved it. I loved it. The Munchkin didn’t like the dressing on the potatoes, so I had to rinse them off for her. She did eat the chicken with some bribing & bargaining — considering the fact that she’s apparently a teenager now & has all but declared vegetarianism, I consider that a win. While it did take more planning & a little more prep time than most of the other dishes I make, the prep work was spread throughout the day, so the before-dinner rush never happened! It was fabulous! This is definitely the perfect stay-at-home-mom recipe. I think I’ll even make the potato salad by itself because the dressing was so delicious!

I made only a half recipe, which made 4 chicken thighs & more than enough potato salad, but I’m posting the full recipe from the cookbook. I also subbed some of the ingredients (dried herbs for fresh, broth for white wine, etc.) to include more of what I had on hand, so I’m posting how I made it, with the cookbook’s recommendations in parentheses.

  • 3 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 heaping tsp. dried thyme (2 sprigs fresh)
  • 1 heaping tsp. dried oregano (2 sprigs fresh)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth (1/3 cup dry white wine, 1/3 cup broth)
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar (white wine vinegar)
  1. Pat thighs dry & season generously on both sides with salt & pepper.
  2. Warm the oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin side down, and sear until golden brown, about 4 minutes. (You may need to work in batches to avoid overcrowding, but with the size of my pan & only making 4 thighs, I didn’t need to.) Don’t turn them over.
  3. Remove to a plate covered in paper towels to drain excess oil, then transfer to the bottom of your slow cooker.
  4. Add onion, garlic, & herbs to the same pan & saute on medium-high a few minutes, until onions just start to color. Pour in the broth (& wine if you’re using it) & vinegar, & deglaze the pan by using your wooden spoon to scrape any of the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add in 1/2 tsp. salt & a generous amount of pepper, & stir. Then pour over the chicken.
  6. Cover & cook on low for 4 hours. The chicken will be tender & falling off the bone.

For the potato salad:

  • 20 small red potatoes, quartered
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 Tbsp. dried oregano (1 Tbsp. fresh — this is the one time I really wish I did have fresh; it would have made it!)
  • 3-4 fl. oz. Shallot Vinaigrette, below

For the Shallot Vinaigrette:

  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. red wine viegar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • a few generous shakes (or grinds, if you’re lucky enough) pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  1. About 10-15 minutes before serving the chicken, place the potatoes in a large saucepan in enough salted water to cover, & bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, until just tender, 8 minutes (or less — mine were a little too tender).
  2. While they’re boiling, whisk together all of the Shallot Vinaigrette ingredients except the oil. Whisk in the oil until emulsified. It smells as amazing as it looks!
  3. Drain potatoes & transfer to a serving bowl. Toss with some of the Shallot Vinaigrette while still hot, until lightly coated. (Taste to check; you can always add more if it’s not enough, but, as tasty as it is, too much might overwhelm the herbs on the chicken.) Let cool slightly (you could choose now to halve your cherry tomatoes), then add your cherry tomatoes & fresh oregano, & toss to coat.
  4. Plate your chicken thighs. Remove & discard the bay leaves & fresh herb sprigs, if you used them. (The cookbook says to let the braising liquid stand with the slow cooker on “off,” & skim the fat. I didn’t do this & we lived through it.) Drizzle thighs with some of the braising liquid, & mound the salad on top of or next to the chicken.
  5. Enjoy right away!

So there you go! I have triumphed over the bone-in chicken thigh with the help of my slow cooker.

Is there anything you love but have been too intimidated to make? What is it?

works for me wednesday at we are that family

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Back to St. Patty’s Day: Magic Zucchini Coins.

I hope everyone enjoyed Pi Day yesterday! Momo posted the most delicious-looking peanut butter pie I’ve ever seen, & apparently the people at WordPress agreed, because they featured it on Freshly Pressed. So thanks, WordPress! & thanks, Momo! (I should have her post more often!)

So now what do I post, after a day like that?

The best answer I could come up with was: what I was going to post today anyway.

These Magic Zucchini Coins (the more often I type “zucchini,” the more wrong it looks to me…), which I got from the Sesame Street cookbook, are perfect for St. Patrick’s Day! They’re green, they turn golden in the oven, & they’re coins! Now all we need is a rainbow to put them under. (Dang, shoulda thought of that when I was setting up the shot…) They’re also quick, easy, & perfect for little kitchen helpers!

  1. Slice some small zucchini or yellow summer squash (or a combo) into 1/4-inch-thick slices. A half a zucchini was enough for The Munchkin & me because she’s not wild about the stuff. If the zucchini (looks wronger & wronger…) is ripe enough & your kitchen helper is old enough, the Sesame Street cookbook recommends letting them slice it with a plastic knife.
  2. Boil or steam until just tender, 3-5 minutes. (We boiled to save dishes, but steaming will preserve more nutrients.) Drain & set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat your broiler (on “high,” if yours has more than one setting).
  4. Arrange zucchini in a single layer on a foil-covered baking sheet. Sprinkle with a dash of salt & a generous amount of parmesan cheese. (Kitchen helpers will love assisting with this too!)
  5. Broil a couple minutes until the parmesan turns golden-brown.
  6. Remove the “coins” from the foil & admire the modern art you just created:
  7. Then let your little leprechaun devour this healthy veggie side with his shamrock pizza or rainbow wraps!

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