Tuesday, May 21, 2013
A few weeks ago I took Lilly to a children's museum near my parents' house that has an elaborate water activity center for toddlers. Sprayers, waterfalls, scoops and watermills kept her entertained for nearly an hour. Sixty. Whole. Minutes.
It was immediately determined that we needed to replicate the setup at home as best we could. At first, I considered purchasing a prefab water activity table. There are plenty on the market ranging in price from $25 to nearly $100. Some have elaborate sprinklers built in and all sorts of accessories. Very cool but the sturdy ones were pricey and they all took up so much room.
We only have a one car garage and our basement is partially finished so storage space is precious. I cringed at the idea of buying yet another hulking, garish plastic toy to step over.
So then I mulled a DIY option. There are plenty of Pinterest suggestions for building custom tables and boxes. Again that seemed a bit too permanent (and complicated).
sensory box this past winter) between two patio chairs, positioning the chair seats to act like table legs at each end of the box. then I filled the storage tub half full of water and added some small cups, a silicone funnel, a water mill and a few other sand toys I found at target for a few dollars each.
The result: a VERY happy, highly entertained toddler. She'll literally stand here splashing happily for over 30 min or longer. Sometimes I play along, other times I can weed the flower beds nearby or take a phone call (always while fully supervising of course).
When we're done playing I dump the water, dry the toys and toss them in the box and seal it with the lid. It slides easily into a small spot in our crawl space until next time.
Best five bucks I've spent so far this summer!
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Saturday, May 11, 2013
So, here's the rest of the story, for those of you wondering what was so upsetting that it necessitated the baking of donuts:
I am supposed to be 9 weeks pregnant. But when we went for the 8 week ultrasound, the baby had no vital signs. For anyone keeping track, this is our second loss this year. The first was very early so, although it was difficult news, we put it behind us quickly. This time, everything was looking great and I'd been feeling great. So getting this news after 8 weeks of excitement...its been pretty devastating.
What's worse, my body hasn't gotten the message that I'm no longer pregnant. Its the most infuriating feeling. The only way I can describe it is that its like someone (God I guess?) handed me the most beautiful, gorgeous balloon tied to a very delicate ribbon. I was so overjoyed to have that balloon that I focused on it completely. So completely that I didn't even realize that it was slipping through my fingers until I noticed the balloon drifting back towards the Heavens, leaving me watching helplessly, my fingers still clinging desperately to the ghost of the ribbon in my hand.
A little melodramatic I suppose, but its the only metaphor I can come up with. I suppose its a hard topic to discuss. In fact, I know that a lot of people who experience these things choose not to discuss about them. Everyone grieves in different ways and I'm definitely an outward griever. I'm certainly not looking for anyone's pity (in fact, I'd rather just move on in a positive way after this), but I do think its important to talk about it if it might help someone else in a similar situation or at least remove some of the taboo associated with miscarriages.
The Silver Lining:
Anyway, besides the obvious heartache and disappointment, we're all healthy and well. We're looking forward to putting this behind us and enjoying the summer. My little Lillian has been so amazing this week -- even more amazing than usual. The little gears in her toddler brain must have picked up on something being amiss because she's been showering Momma with lots of extra hugs and love. And of course JiT has been amazing too.
At this point we're trying to keep busy and focus on happier thoughts and positive vibes heading into summer. I think we'll take a break from the baby business for awhile and just enjoy the blessings we have.
In the meantime, wishing each of you a Happy Mother's Day...whether you are a mom, you have a mom or you hope to be a mom, its a special day for us all.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
I apologize for speaking in riddles... I hope to talk about the situation in more detail in the future but for now the news is still a bit too raw for me to put into words.
And so I bake. In this case I baked donuts. Tiny, bite sized sweet little treats. Lillian kept saying "I need too many donuts," which is Lilly-speak for yum.
Donut pans seem to be a newer novelty, at least to me. I just bought one on Amazon and hope to get lots of use out of it. I was pleasantly surprised that even without frying, my tiny donuts tasted convincingly donutty.
Eventually I'd love to play around with ingredients to try to make a nutritious donut but for now we went with something sweet, cake-like and comforting. Nutrition for the soul I suppose. And sometimes that's all we need.
These take nothing to whip up (except a donut pan, though I suspect they'd also make tasty mini muffins). Coated with glaze and sprinkles these would be a welcome Mothers Day treat.
Bite Sized Baked Donuts
Makes about 3 dozen mini donuts
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup low fat milk
2 eggs beaten
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoons hit water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and grease a non-stick mini donut pan (or up to three pans if you have them).
Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until evenly mixed. Add milk, eggs, butter and vanilla and stir until just evenly mixed.
Spoon batter into donut pan filling each well to no more than 1/2 full. Bake donuts for 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile combine confectioners sugar, water and vanilla to create glaze. Set aside.
Remove from oven and let the donuts cool in pan for one minute before transferring to wax paper. When donuts are cool enough to touch, dip the top of each one in glaze and top with sprinkles.
Bake remaining donut batter in pan until no batter remains. Store baked, glazed donuts in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Food can be the very same. Especially on weeknights. Especially if you're feeding a family. Make it simple. Make it nutritious. Make it delicious and make it easy. We subscribe to those rules more and more lately. That and the "if it ain't broke..." adage.
This recipe is definitely simple and perfect and easy, despite its slightly fancified sounding name. Linguine al Pomodoro translates quite simply to Linguine with Tomato Sauce. Yep.
But what a sauce it is! Bright, fresh tomato flavor infused with tons of fresh basil and just enough butter and cheese to give it a rich, velvety, dare I say unctuous, texture. It is so, sooooo good. Especially served alongside Easy Panko & Parmesan Crusted Chicken.
The recipe that inspired my version was featured on the cover of Bon Appetit in May of 2011 and initially I followed their version to a tee. But, because JiT and Lillian request this one often and because I
What are some favorites from your weeknight recipe arsenal?
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup frozen diced onions (or 1 medium onion, diced)
4 cloves garlic, crushed (or you can use an equivalent amount of the pre-crushed variety)
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 28 ounce can peeled tomotoes (I prefer Dell Alpe brand), pureed in a blender or, pour off the liquid and use a stick blender to puree directly in the can
4 large bunches fresh basil, tied together with kitchen twine (you'll need at least one of those little plastic containers sold in supermarket produce section)
12 ounces linguine pasta
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
2 additional fresh basil leaves, sliced chiffonade
salt & pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add crushed red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute more. Increase heat to medium and add tomato puree and cook, stirring occasionally until sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Add fresh basil bunch, cover and let sauce rest and basil steep for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions, cooking until just SHY OF al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water before draining pasta.
Return sauce to medium heat, remove and discard the basil bunch, squeezing any sauce clinging to the leaves back into the pan. Add pasta to the sauce and bring to a boil, stirring continuously until pasta reaches al dente (about 2 minutes). Add butter and cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is velvety and clings to the pasta. If needed add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to reach proper consistency.
Serve immediately with additional basil and cheese as garnish.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Imagine that one day you get bored or irritated with your child. So, you put her in the car and dump her at an orphanage. Its a scary, lonely place and she is terrified. Imagine that she has just 72 hours to HOPE for new parents to come and adopt her. If no one comes, your child will be killed. She will die a painful, slow, terrifying death. Now change the scenario from your child to your pet. Does that make it easier for you to fathom? For your pet's sake, I seriously hope not.
Typically, I use this blog as a positive, happy diversion but yesterday I read a post written by a woman who works at an animal shelter and it disturbed me so deeply that I had nightmares. An issue that has affected me that strongly seems to warrant attention and this is the only soapbox that I have so bear with me.
In her post, this woman explained that she hates her job. She described in graphic, awful detail the living (and killing) conditions found in many animal shelters in the US. I wept as I read her descriptions. The most disturbing part of all is her description of the callousness and ignorance of the humans that leave their pets at the shelter. In many cases the "reasons" given for abandoning their once-beloved animal are unsettlingly minor: "He's tearing up my yard," "She got bigger than we expected," "We don't have enough time for him." So, they leave their pet. Terrified. Alone. In deplorable conditions. They sentence them to almost certain death. Because the dog was "too big."
This is not a post about adopting from shelters -- although thats a wonderful thing to do and there are some great, humane shelters and rescues in Chicago (we support this one and this one both). In truth, we got Zoey from a responsible, home breeder. We've talked about adding a second dog to our family at some point and when we do, we plan to adopt from a shelter or rescue, but that's not my point.
My point today is how we treat our pets. Dog, cat, bird or guinea pig, they should all be treated with unconditional love, compassion and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Each of them is a creature capable of love and feeling. They provide untold companionship and loyalty and deserve the same from us in return.
In our family, the line between human child and animal is extremely grey. When Lilly was born everyone warned us that Zoey would become less important to us. Far from it. She is a member of our family just as Lillian is. Each of them receives the unconditional love, attention and affection they deserve. Zoey's emotional and financial needs are just as important as any other member of our family. We've taken her to classes to learn proper behavior. She goes to daycare for socialization. If Zoey needs medical attention, she gets it just as I would. Just as my daughter Lillian would. If we decide to add to our family again, whether the next member is human or animal, they will be treated the very same way.
Don't get me wrong, my dog isn't perfect. There are days when she does things that get on my nerves. But then again so does my daughter. Neither could ever do anything that would warrant me scooping her up without warning and dumping her at an institution where misery is guaranteed and death is likely.
Some might consider this view extreme but I see it as necessary. To commit to anything less is irresponsible and, potentially, inhumane. After all, that cute puppy or kitten in the pet store window will eventually get old. She might get cranky. She might become incontinent. She might get cancer. What will you do with her then? You, the person who she trusts and loves more than anyone on earth. Will you care for her? Pet her? Provide her with kindness and compassion? Or will you abandon her to die terrified and alone?
If you aren't willing to do whatever it takes to provide love and care for a family member -- and that's what a pet should be -- then you probably shouldn't get a pet. If you already have a pet and you disagree with me, I beg you to read the post, open your heart and change your mindset.
Pets are not disposable. Lets stop treating them that way.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
I started with the basic oatmeal cookie recipe on the Quaker box but decided to make a bar cookie. As usual, I made some tweaks to the recipe to make them a touch more nutritious, but they're still really sweet and satisfying. One of the first changes I made was to swap out some of the butter for Greek Yogurt (I used Fage 2% fat plain). I've never tried this before but I really like the results, at least for a bar cookie. They came out with chewy, not-quite-cake-like texture on the inside but still had some crispiness at the edges.
I also replaced some of the flour with unsweetened, flake coconut. The coconut offers a touch more fiber than standard white flour and also adds interesting texture and flavor. Finally, I threw in a combo of chopped walnuts, dried cranberries and yogurt covered raisins (because I had them in the pantry).
The combination of the dried fruit, nuts, coconut and oats makes for a wonderfully chewy snack. This recipe makes a nice, deep bars in a 13 x 9" pan. Even after giving a half-dozen to a neighbor (JiT borrowed his ladder to clean the gutters last week), we still have plenty left for snacks this week.
Lilly loved them and I do too. Hopefully we'll still have enough left later this week when the weather clears up. These seem like a great treat to take along to the park. After all, just because I baked them during cruddy weather doesn't mean we need cruddy weather to eat them!
Makes about 2 dozen bars
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup Greek Yogurt (I used 2% fat)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened flake coconut
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup dried cranberries plus 1/4 cup yogurt covered raisins (or 1/2 cup of one or the other)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat butter, yogurt and sugars in a mixing bowl until fluffy and smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and continue beating until the mixture is fluffy.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, coconut, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and oats and whisk until evenly mixed. Add dry ingredients into butter mixture and beat until just combined. Fold in dried cranberries, raisins and chopped walnuts just until evenly distributed.
Spread mixture evenly into an ungreased 13 x 9" non-stick baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden and firm. Remove from oven and allow pan to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into bars. Move bars to wire rack to cool completely. Bars can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.