Thursday, June 30, 2011

(Hidden) Raspberry Devil's Food Cupcakes - A recipe for cheaters

Rule No. 1 about making treats for school or daycare. Waiting until the last minute typically does not work, unless you're running through the checkout line.

I had great intentions about my daughter's cupcakes for daycare today. Planned a baking night for last night. Talked it up with my girl, down to how we'd decorate. And then reality hit: Later dinner than originally planned, stopped to chat with friends along our walk, need to scrub stinky cow smell off my kids (they went to a dairy farm for a field trip), and meltdowns thereafter.

The end result? Me waking up at the unholy time of 5:30 a.m. to crank out some cupcakes.

And it was with the best of intentions. I was prepared with my box mix and frosting picked out at the supermarket (I cave when it comes to daycare treats; the boxes are more tangible to my girl than a bunch of cocoa powder and powdered sugar!). I grab the eggs, the cake mix, and search for the vegetable oil.

And search. And search.

And we're out.

At this point I have two choices: Make a frantic run to the store, losing another half-hour, or run with it.

I ran. After all, you can always sub out applesauce, right?

Except I had no plain applesauce. I had blueberry pomegrante and raspberry acai. Not for the faint of heart! I reason that with enough frosting, no child will care, and I grab the raspberry acai, which in the container has a powerful flavor. (There's no "hint" of raspberry there.). I mix one 1/2-cup container raspberry applesauce with the cake mix, 3 eggs and 1 1/3 c. water and baked according to directions. Turned out beautiful. No strong raspberry taste to it.

I think we can celebrate after all!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cloth pull-up connundrum

Cloth diapers were officially retired in my home a year ago. We were down to naptime/nighttime accidents, and I thought, surely it won't be long now.

super undies review
As the cloth diapers were outgrown, they weren't replaced with larger sizes. But the reality is no two children are alike, and my first child's potty training successes weren't perfectly replicated in her brother.

A few weeks ago, I conceded defeat. Not that I think my child won't get through bedwetting, but that he will do it on his own time. And after loads of loads of morning washing of bedding and PJs, I figured something had to be done. I could continue to invest in overnight pullups, with modest success, or I could try a new tactic.

Cloth diapers worked well with my wetter, wasn't there a "big boy" option?

The reality is, while the web world may be abuzz about cloth diapers, there isn't much of a peep when it comes to its older pull-up cousin. It's like we don't discuss the challenges of bedwetting, even among preschoolers who may still be in daytime pull-up land. While you can find a few "potty-training" cloth pull-up options, cloth pull-ups are typically larger versions of cloth diapers in look and functionality (side snaps, etc.) And as we're keen to prove we can keep up with the 10 year olds on the block, that just wasn't going to cut it. Nevermind that the closest thing to a nighttime cloth pull-up option was just layering in more bulky inserts into a cloth diaper, creating extra bulk, an issue as we approach summer.

Yes, we're in a cloth pull-up connundrum. I searched off and on for a few weeks for any cloth overnight pull-up on the internet. Most options were on small mom vendors and most cloth pull-ups were designed for day (or non-heavy bedwetter) use, but I was able to finally find few overnight cloth pull-up choices to check out. (Happy Heinys and Super Undies were on the short list.)

After researching options on a few mom sites, I settled on a purchase of some overnight Super Undies. (Truthfully the deciding factor was after contacting the business and finding out they had some returned items, which saved us on our purchase.) And the other day, a box was waiting at our front door. Addressed to the little guy, who's always wanting the brown truck to deliver a box to him. We opened it up, and looked at the picture of the cool "big kid" who was in pull ups and a "super" cape and talked about his new cloth pull-ups. While he didn't get why the kid wanted to wear his cape, he proudly put the overnight pull-ups on that night, talking about his "Batman" pull-ups. (Whatever works.) And he slept soundly, really soundly that night, a far improvement from the accident-prone evening the night before from a disposable product sample that failed.

Was the cost of cloth pull-ups worth it? Time will tell. While overnight cloth pull-ups did cost more than my cloth diapers, they weren't considerably higher than the price of the all-in-ones I bought before. Given that you can easily spend $30 a month on overnight pull-ups/diaper solutions for preschoolers if you're not catching sales or couponing, I figure I'll make up the difference quickly. And if it saves me from a few loads of laundry or extra bags of trash. all the better!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great gourds

Grabbed a few fun snaps at the farmers market we visited in Memphis. These are just plain fun!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Birthday blues

I'll admit to having had a lot of anxiety this week over birthdays. Namely, my daughter and a neighbor's. And I feel at times like a big party pooper.

It all started innocently enough. My neighbor, a good friend of ours, innocently brought up the idea of a joint birthday celebration. It's summer, many of his friends' sisters play with my children, and it kind of made sense. We'd split the food, have a relatively relaxing evening and God willing, the weather would cooperate and the kids could go outside.

And then reality hit. My idea of "friends and family" and hers weren't exactly the same. The world is her friend, and I prefer smaller get-togethers of a few closer friends. Add in that only one of my daughter's school friends could attend, and I was starting to have major anxiety. The last thing I want is for my daughter to feel left out on "her" day.

A coworker suggested I just buy her more little presents from the dollar store to make her feel like she has something to open. I disagree. No matter how much or how little we have in life, I want to emphasize quality, and appreciation, not quantity.

Instead, she and I talked about how great this was going to be that she'd have a few special friends, and we adults started planning age-neutral games that we could do outside. The fact my daughter wanted a "beach" theme opened the doors to creative outlets for their energy. My sitter even chipped in with a limbo pole that had been bought with great intentions years ago. At least it was getting used.

The treats for guests? A combination of found items - leis and inflatable beach balls, leftover from a months-ago community event and destined for the trash when our co-workers finally got motivated to clean the storeroom. I encouraged my co-hostess friend to pick up water guns, which would at least get used by the neighbor kids in our July heat, instead of a bag of crappy little rings and such, and I hope we can come up with some creative non-plastic baggie packaging.

Twenty-four hours ago, I admit I was anxious, losing sleep about whether my daughter would enjoy her big day. Today, with a little planning, a little creativity, and realizing I have the best daughter ever (who wanted to invite a pal for her baby brother!) I think we'll be just fine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oatmeal cookie peach cobbler

An oatmeal cookie peach cobbler was mentioned a while back on one of the myriad of travel-food shows my husband likes to watch. And after I was blessed with $18 worth of Carolina peaches from our stop at the Nashville Farmers Market, I had to come up with something to enjoy it!

Since I couldn't find anything similar to an oatmeal cookie peach cobbler in any of our cookbooks (and our PC was down), this was a take on the peach cobbler and oatmeal cookie dough recipes found in a cookbook. Worked out great, and I'm going to argue that there's a weak possibility of it being a healthier version of this summertime treat!

Oatmeal Cookie Peach Cobbler
1/2 c. wheat flour
1 1/2 c. oats (regular)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup packed plus loose (not packed) 1/3 c. brown sugar
5 c. sliced fresh peaches
4 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. water

Preheat oven to 400.

In medium saucepan combine 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and water. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add peaches. Heat through.

In bowl, mix flour, oats, butter and remaining brown sugar until crumbly.

Pour peaches into 8x8 pan. Add oatmeal mixture on top.

Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Harvesting Hermie

We made a suprising discovery when I came back from our trip.

Upon checking our garden for peas to harvest, we found a friend or two. Nestled on our carrot leaves were two caterpillars.

"It's Hermie! It's HEERRRMIEEEE!" screeched my 3 year old. "Sissy, it's HERRRMRIIIEEE!!!"

Luckily the kids had gotten bug boxes for Easter, which meant my food containers weren't at stake this season. So we rustled up some carrot leaves, gathered the two caterpillars and brought them inside.

Those poor things are lucky to be alive.

In the last few days, they've been dropped. Bounced around by the kids at day care. Nearly starved to death as some of the leaves withered when we forgot to take the box home.

Still this morning, after replacing with fresh carrot leaves, I checked on the caterpillars a bit later. The larger of the two had managed to move the door and escape to the box's handle.

Maybe we should rename our Hermie Houdini.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Staycation or not: Finding age-appropriate activities that won't break the bank

Recently we had the challenge of planning a trip to visit my sister and her family, nine hours away. That is, nine hours of uninterrupted driving. Factor in a family, and you know it's a much longer journey than that.

Planning that kind of road trip poses unique challenges. What are good things for the kids to do to burn off energy? What is age-appropriate? What will let them have some fun without breaking the bank?

Here's what worked for me:

  • Local chamber/state travel websites. Often they included agritourism information, so if we wanted to stop at a u-pick stand or farm along the way, we could. (A great way to work in a snack or meal too, without having to hit fast food or make another peanut butter sandwich.)

  • Scout council websites. We were able to find several age-appropriate activities by checking out the scout council websites that covered our travel route, and searching for her age group. Ideas ranged from museums to horseback riding. I felt it was far more efficient than the tourism websites.

  • State/national park sites. I contacted one national park site by email to clarify about a program's approrpiateness, and I received a response within a few hours. They were extremely helpful, and enjoying our national and state parks, no matter how obscure, is a great reminder of God's creation!

  • Local parenting blogs. Often they have tips about great options (often free) and resources in the area (great parks, etc.)

  • On the road, don't overlook rest stops, which have green spaces. Bring along a ball or something to work off some energy.

What works for you with travel planning?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Strawberries and Pecans

I got this recipe from a vendor who sells pecan oil for cooking at a farmers market in Memphis this weekend.

Yes, we are probably the only people who travel, visit farmers markets and bring home food. But being the foodies we are, I figured it was an interesting treat. (And we needed oil anyway.) The recipe she gave me though might be the bigger treat. Will need to track down some asparagus and berries this week to find out!

Roasted asparagus salad with strawberries and pecans
4-6 slices hickory smoked turkey bacon
1/4 c. plus 1 1/5 tbsp. pecan oil, divided
1 tbsp. orange marmalade
2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
30 asparagus spears, tough ends removed
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. strawberries, sliced
6 tbsp. crumbled goat cheese with peppercorns
1 c. chopped pecans
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon from skillet and drain on paper towels. Drain bacon grease from skillet. Do not wipe skillet out.

Add 1/4 cup pecan oil and marmalade to skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until marmalade is melted, loosening brown bits from bottom of skilet while stirring. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread asparagus in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle asparagus with remaining pecan oil, tossing gently to coat. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake until asparagus is barely tender 5-10 minutes. Divide asparagus among plates. Stir strawberries and pecans into marmalade mixture, tossing to coat. Spoon strawberry mixture evenly over asparagus. Top evenly with bacon, feta cheese and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves up to 6.

Travels through Tennessee: Green with Envy

This weekend we were fortunate to visit our sister's family in Memphis. Meeting our niece was the good news.

The bad news? 101 degrees plus humidity.

The high temps - you worked up a sweat walking at 7 a.m. - meant our excursions were largely limited to indoors activities. Except one.

My sister, who possibly knows us too well, asked us if the kids would want to go to the farmers market.

That's like asking other kids if they'd like to play their Wii.

So Saturday morning we got to check out their "bigger" farmers market (as opposed to the "one vendor" one). My sister apologized for the 20-minute drive in advance.

The "inconvenience" was so worth it. This market spanned buildings. Rows and rows of plants, dozens of herb varieties (I contained myself and only bought a Kentucky spirament, and not the banana and strawberry mints too.)

My son stood amazed by the shelling machines and couldn't contain himself with the excitement over the produce. I bribed him with a box of okra, which we won't get in Indiana for about another month. I sighed over the boxes of blueberries, blackberries and peaches, which we won't see until later in the summer here. And frankly, I'm jealous of any farmers markets that sell seafood!

On our way home, we planned a stop at the Nashville Farmers Market, a good halfway point to run the kids around and get them a snack. The Nashville Market, an easy drive from I-65, reminded me a lot of Kansas City's City Market. Even on a Monday afternoon, the main building was filled with large baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables. We splurged, stocking up on a basket of peaches and some broccoli and cauliflower. Coupled with what has cropped up in my garden the last few days, I'm covered until Saturday's market at home.

Tonight we're dining on cornmeal-fried okra and homemade oatmeal peach cobbler. If only my husband had picked chicken up from the store, we'd have the trifecta of Southern food!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Farmers Market Update

Today at the Green Phone Booth, we're checking in to see how our local markets are going. It's late spring here, and I feel like spring didn't happen. First it was wet - really wet - and unseasonally cool, not we're unseasonally hot. It feels like we jumped straight to summer.

We're still in plant mode at our local market. I was tempted to buy lettuce, one of the few actual foods available, but as my husband is working during most family meals the next few days, I worry that we won't use it all up. (Plus I'm cleaning out the last of my freezer.)

My best finds this week?

  • Heirloom tomatoes and peppers for $1

  • Garlic scape (5/$1 for those who don't grow garlic)

  • Herb plants for $2.25 (The great thing is I know this vendor will have them much of the summer, so as I pull out my peas, I can always replace them with herbs.)

But I'm ready for things to actually start growing so we can enjoy our summer harvest!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The no-so-active activist me

I have my mom hat. My employee hat. My wife hat. My faith hat. My friend hat. My blogger hat. And in my mess, I probably have a few more. Do I still have room on my shelf for the activist hat?

Time is always a premium in my life. My mom schedule keeps me hopping for two hours before I walk out the door until nearly 9:30 or 10 each night, and by then,our bedtime battles leave us worn out. My husband's work schedules and our budget mean I don't have leeway for sitters to attend events or volunteer outside the home without helpers. Does that make me no longer an activist?

I'm certainly not alone. Today at the Green Phone Booth, Abbie shared her concerns about how motherwood and work often took priority over being an environmental activist.

The truth is, while I may no longer be a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club or out on a visible level, I am an environmental activist. It's just that my audience is much smaller. But much more influential.

My pint-size audience knows we recycle and reuse and whenever possible buy resale. My pint-size audience loves to enjoy nature, to hike, to check out bugs and birds. My pint-size audience reads books from the library about nature and soaks them up like a sponge.

My audience of two may be small, but they will grow. And so will their influence. And I'm OK with that.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good dirty fun

(Or how we turned Camp Mom upside down)

This week was filled with great intentions. A week without daycare meant a much-deserved and even more-delayed week off with my children. Considering the last time I took more than few days off work was maternity leave with my 3 1/2 year old, even a week at home felt like a treat.

I had great intentions. Accumulated a stack of activity ideas, with themes even (not type A or anything), planned for play dates and managed to draft a menu for the week.

Only that sometimes life doesn't go as planned. A crazy campout, two sick family members, delayed playdates and obscenely hot (90-degree) weather for this time of year meant that the best plans were put to rest. As in, sometimes, you just rest.

And other days you make up for it.

We've dug in our garden. Weeded, dug up my Thai beans that were sprouting (thanks...), hunted down bugs and worms for our bug boxes.

We've maxed out our library card and have cranked out summer reading program points reading about insects, volcanoes (go figure), dinosaurs and fiction.

We've made pathetic attempts at recreating another blogger's ladybug cookies (note to self, next time just use your grandmother's sugar cookie recipe rather than an unknown as the cookie base), made yogurt parfaits using leftovers from the camping trip, sneaked marshmallows and stayed up too late.

We've played at the state park, spending hours at the playground, picking daisies (despite mommy's admonitions), watched the horses and coated ourselves in dirt in the process.

Sometime, our summer fun might include a trip or 10 to our pool, a visit to the zoo, a weekend to grandma's or other traditional fun. But for now, we'll settle for our uneventful, but good, dirty fun.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Baked Honey Blueberry French Toast

My husband bought me a copy of Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day a few months back, and I'll admit that until recently it sat on my shelf. I think I was disuaded by the more complicated recipes and ingredients.

But before our camping trip, I decided to get creative and make whole-wheat hot dog buns. They were surprisingly easy to make, though in my first attempt I made them far too wide for hot dogs. (My uncle Larry's brats, perhaps, would have worked, though.)

The kids loved the recipe, and I caught them sneaking buns from the oventop that next morning. But as far as use as a hot dog bun, it was a fail, knocking off the proportion of suspicious meat, ketchup and bread.

Back home, and facing the luxury of time off this week, we recast these whole-grain buns as baked french toast this morning. I tossed it with some leftover blueberries from the freezer and some wildflower honey. The verdict? The kids loved the dish and asked for seconds.

Baked Honey Blueberry French Toast
1 batch whole-wheat bread or hot dog buns (about 1 lb. bread if store-bought)
3 c. blueberries
6 eggs
1/2 c. milk
local honey

Chop bread into about 1-inch squares. Mix milk and eggs; toss with bread and spread in greased 9x12 pan. Sprinkle cinnamon liberally across the top. Add blueberries. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Drizzle honey on top when serving.