The Baby Sprinkle

I have this certain group of awesome ladies that let me hang out with them sometimes. They are really great for many reasons, but my favorite is that they make up all sorts of excuses to throw a party. Seriously, we will sit around together, dreaming up new reasons for a party. Our pinterest profiles are always at the ready on our phones and tablets for our next board. Only the best get to make the board first though, you have to be really quick with this group. Maybe you have a group of friends like this, and maybe you don’t. If you don’t, you can join ours, just give us a reason, just a little bits enough, to throw you your initiation party. We will make it simple, I promise.

The truth is we love to throw parties, make beautiful things, and make people happy. It’s our thing. We are more creative together than apart and that makes it so much more fun. At least for me. So I wanted to share with you our latest…The Sprinkle.

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Boo Baskets

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Halloween “Boo”ing.

We were introduced to this tradition when the kids were really young. And we LOVE it. We make up some cute little baskets of goodies to share with our friends and neighbors and then…

Drop it. Knock. RUN.

We used to get caught all the time, but now, we are able to make the get away without anyone seeing us. Usually. Unless someone falls down (which does happen). Or one of the smalls has a change of heart and starts to go back to the door. So many things can go wrong when five little kids are trying to be sneaky! It really is difficult for us to pull this off. But we are getting better.

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And sometimes I think the kids hope to get caught!

But half of the fun is in putting the cute little packages together. We usually buy some treats and a cute container. Then we type the letter and stick it in. This is the one we have been using for a few years now:

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There used to be some rules that went with it about putting the sheet on your door so people knew you had already been boo’ed and then boo’ing two or more people in the next week. blah blah blah..

But we scrapped all that. Who doesn’t want to be boo’ed more than once? And it isn’t a chain letter. Spread it if you want and don’t if this isn’t your year! We don’t need any more pressure as moms, do we?

For some fun inspiration, here are some ideas for boo baskets that we are considering this year:

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Witch Hallloween Party

I think this last one is my favorite, I’m just not sure I will be able to pull it off. Some years it is just so much easier to go through the dollar isle at Target and pick up a simple little container, throw some candy in it and voila.

So if this is your type of thing and it totally energizes you to do it, then by all means pass it on! Either way, I hope you are all boo’ed this year!

School lunches

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I know I should pack the kids lunch boxes the night before, because everyone says I should. But I don’t want their food to get even more soggy than it’s already going to be. So I pack them in the mornings.

This makes for a hectic morning, but I guess I have decided it’s worth, which means I make 5 healthy lunches on the days the preschoolers stay for lunch.

Some days I try to get fancy, but since I have chosen to make the lunches in the morning I often have to resort to some quick things I can just throw in and since the preschool doesn’t allow peanuts anywhere in the facility, I’m having to get creative. I thought I would share some of my go to’s with you for quick fix meals. I will do another post on some great recipes I have for “fancy” lunches at another time.

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Meal #1
Hummus with carrot, celery and cucumber sticks, crackers or pita slices and a side of fruit.

 

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Meal #2
Cheese sticks with sweet pepper slices, fruit and homemade granola bars.

 

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Meal #3
Cream cheese bagels with fruit.

 

Here are a few good resources for lunch box lunches:

http://thelivelykitchen.com/category/school-lunches/

http://wendolonia.com/blog/2012/08/03/the-week-in-bentos-july-30-august-3-2012/

www.thefresh20.com

 

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

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Our CSA has been sending zucchini after zucchini after zucchini to us. Unfortunately, my kids don’t like it – not even sautéed. So, I needed to find ways to use this up and get it in them. I found that adding chocolate and sugar to it worked!

So, here is a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread that we are using every week right now. I even took some down to the new neighbors. I hope they liked it!

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Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:

3 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

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Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two 9×5 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt, mix well. In separate bowl, combine sugar and eggs, beat until well blended. Add oil and vanilla; beat until combined. Stir in zucchini. Add flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Spoon evenly into loaf pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pans and cool.

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This is the kind of treat you want to sit down and share with a friend on the porch.
Let’s all give it a try this week.

Garden Update

This is the first summer I have attempted a vegetable garden. I have envied many, many gardens over the years and thought I didn’t have the space for one. Then I heard about square foot gardening and realized I could have a garden in as little as 4 square feet. I may not be able to feed my family on it, but we could learn a little and eat a little.

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You may remember this picture taken right after I planted the cucumbers and green peppers in May.

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And this is what it looks like today.

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We are harvesting cucumbers everyday now and I think we will get about 15-20 out of it by the end of the season. They are crisp, juicy and sweet!

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The green peppers are on their way. We have 3 that should be ready soon and it’s hard to tell how many more we will end up with since their season is just starting.

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For years I have been growing basil in a little pot. This year it isn’t doing as well as it has in the past. I just moved it to a sunnier spot to see if that will help. But there is plenty for my tomato basil mozzarella sandwiches. And the other day I made basic boxed tortellini, drizzled it with olive oil and threw chopped tomatoes and fresh basil strips on top. Oh, yummy!

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Finally, the mint is doing nicely. Again, not as well as in past years, so I moved it as well, but plenty for us. I love mint on green beans (oddly enough it is a very tasty combo). I throw some salt and lime juice with minced mint onto blanched green beans for a quick snack or dinner side.

But the one thing that is new this year is mint tea. I actually had to look up a recipe for this because I just wasn’t sure. But yes, it is just this easy: pick 7-10 leaves, put them with 2 cups of water in the microwave for 5-7 minutes. Then stir for 3 minutes and strain the leaves out. I add a touch of raw sugar and love it. Honestly, it isn’t any better than the tea bags you buy in the store, but the fact that I grew it and just plucked it from my garden puts it over the edge.

I hope you are enjoying your garden this summer! Share some of your favorite quick recipes with us!

Energy Bites Recipe

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One of our favorite snacks right now are these energy bites. We first tasted them at our gym where the kids and I eat lunch periodically. Everyone was talking about them, so we tried them. And Yummy!

After we had them several times I went online to see if I could find a recipe for them, and I found plenty! But none of them tasted as good as the ones we ate at the gym. So I asked the ladies in the deli for their recipe and they were more than happy to share it with me. In fact they even wrote it down for me on a scrap piece of paper that I have taped to the inside of my cabinet right next to my dressing recipes for quick reference.

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Energy Bites

1 Cup oats

1/2 Cup peanut butter (I use natural peanut butter)

1/2 Cup ground flaxseed

1/2 Cup chocolate chips (I use the mini ones if I have them)

1/3 Cup honey

1 Tablespoon chia seed

2/3 Cup toasted coconut

1 Teaspoon vanilla extract

Drop all of the ingredients into a bowl and stir. Then roll a spoonful size amount into balls and refrigerate.

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Enjoy!

 

Anyone Can Have a Vegetable Garden – Even Me

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Years ago I visited a friend’s parents who lived in Michigan. The mom was so sweet and hospitable, kind and generous. And she had a fabulous garden. I fell in love with her garden as much as her that weekend. When we arrived she summoned the dad to go grab some green beans from the garden “real quick”. He was back in less than 5 with a bag full of gorgeous green beans. I was in awe. Growing up in the south things like that didn’t happen. The harsh sun would have burnt them to a crisp long before they could produce something. She threw these delightful beans in a frying pan with some oil and salt. That was it. Oil and salt – 3 minutes. Then on a plate and in front of us in seconds. There they sat, a beautiful bright green color, crisp, yet warm and so, so tasty. The best green beans I have ever had. Ever.

That day I realized there was a different way to eat vegetables. They didn’t have to come out of a can all salt soaked and dark green, almost brown. They could be fresh and crisp and good in minutes.

I wanted a vegetable garden.

But I lived in Dallas where the sun scorches everything it can and not much grows except hot peppers. Oh, plus I lived in a condo with a 4×4 plot of garden in front. Not much hope for me.

But since that day I have had a desire to have a garden of my own where I could grow things and eat them. Sounds so simple. But to date, I have not lived in a place where I had enough yard to plant a garden.

Or so I thought. Until I went to a MOPS meeting this spring and our speaker told us about “square foot gardening”. A guy named Mel Bartholomew popularized the phrase square foot gardening in a book and a PBS television series in the 1980’s. This method is particularly well suited for areas with poor soil, beginning gardeners, children and small spaces. This is for me!

Here is a basic overview of what we did to build our garden using this method:

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Here’s what you will need: peat moss, vermiculite, potting soil, ground cloth or weed barrier, 4 1×8 boards cut the same length, nails, hammer, scissors, staple gun, string.

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1. Build your garden box.

You will need: 4 – 1″x8″ boards cut the same length. I had to use 2×8″ because my store didn’t have 1×8″ boards. And I used 2′ long boards but you can make yours bigger. Also, a piece of ground cloth to cover the bottom of your garden.

Nail the 4 boards together in the corners. I also used L-brackets to make it stronger. After that, staple the ground cloth on to cover the bottom. Then take some string and mark off 1 square foot sections by tacking the string to the side of your box in 1 foot increments. If you do this on both sides you should end up with a nice grid.

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2. Mix your soil.

The soil mixture should be 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost or potting soil. I poured it into the bed and mixed it up in there. The soil should last for about 3 years and there is no need to fertilize anything, it contains all the plants need. So, “just add water”.

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3. Plant

You can get crazy and germinate your seeds inside if you want. I went to the nursery and purchased baby plants to use instead. Once you know what you want to plant you can look it up online or get a book on square foot gardening that will tell you how many to plant in a 1 square foot section. For instance if you want a tomato plant, you can get one in a square foot area but other things you can get 16. So you just have to look that up.

I was surprised at how much you can get in this tiny garden. I will keep you updated throughout the summer on how well we are doing here! This is my first attempt, so let’s not have high expectations, ok?

If you are interested in trying this method yourself, here are some other resources on square foot gardening:

Books
All New Square Foot Gardening: Growing More in Less Space   by Mel Bartholomew
Cubed Foot Gardening:Raising Vegetables in Raised, Intensive Beds   by Christopher O. Bird

Online
http://timssquarefootgarden.com
Garden Web: Square-foot gardening forum http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/sqfoot
www.squarefootgardening.com

 

 

 

Farmers Markets and CSAs, Oh Yeah!

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Wednesday is the best day of the week in summer. Our local farmer’s market is open and my CSA share is delivered to my door! Oh yeah!

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA allows city residents to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. When you become a member of a CSA, you’re purchasing a “share” of vegetables from a regional farmer.

I have been a member of a CSA for the past 3 years. With mine, I know in advance what is coming each week and I can even swap out things we don’t eat. The hard part is meal planning around it. And I’m not good at meal planning anyway which makes it that much more difficult. So I have to admit I am still learning how to use all of it and not waste any.

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Last year, toward the end of the season, I started using Wednesday as a basic meal night where I grilled some chicken or fish and then used whatever veggies I had received that day to create a super fresh meal. It ended up being one of the best meals of the week. Usually I follow a meal plan from The Fresh 20 that I discussed before in Can Your Family Eat Healthy, Easily? But I found that while they use what is in season each week, it doesn’t always line up with what I receive. So I started buying basic meat each week to use on Wednesdays for my own creation. That worked well for me at the end of last season, so I am sticking with it this year.

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This past Wednesday, I also took the kids to the farmer’s market after school to get some bread, a treat, and my knives sharpened. Seriously, I am so happy that I have sharp knives today. You forget how nice it is to work with a really sharp knife.

That night we had grilled chicken, asparagus, a very crisp salad and fresh bread. It was really good.

You can ask the husband, but I am not known for my cooking abilities. The first meal I made for him was embarrassing. It looked something (or exactly) like frozen chicken breasts and frozen veggies from a bad dumped in a pyrex dish with foil over top and thrown in the oven for 30 minutes. Seriously, no seasonings, not even salt or pepper.

Rachel Ray taught me how to use the stove and The Fresh 20 has turned me into a decent cook.

But this past Wednesday night was all me (with the help of my CSA and local farmer’s market). And the hubby and kids all said it was good.

I was so proud. Oh, and thankful for summer Wednesdays!

Can Your Family Eat Healthy, Easily?

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Right after I had my first child I became much more concerned about what we ate as a family. I wanted to eat tasty, but healthy food. The first task was to learn to cook well. I was 30, but I didn’t know how to cook well, just ask my husband. So I started watching Rachel Ray who taught me everything I know about cooking. Not necessarily healthy, but she taught me cooking techniques that I use every day.

Fast forward 5 years and I have three kids now eating real food, not baby food, and another one on the way. I need to step it up another notch. I kept reading lots of stuff about picky eaters in my parenting magazines. From everything I had read I was sure I didn’t want one of those and I needed to figure out how to stop that from happening – fast. I was afraid I would end up like those other parents cooking 3 meals per night. One mac and cheese, one chicken nuggets and one hot dog, please. I didn’t have time for that and it scared me half to death that I would end up eating the same thing just because I didn’t have the energy to make a fourth, healthier option.

So I set out to read everything I could about how to avoid the picky eater trap. From everything I have ever read, and experienced myself, I surmised it is best to consistently offer a variety of healthy foods to your children and not cave in with macaroni and cheese on the stove in case they don’t eat the family dinner. Basically, you eat what is served for dinner or, hopefully, you will like breakfast better. After my pediatrician promised me they wouldn’t starve themselves I was willing to try this.

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So I gathered my cookbooks, magazines, and recipe websites and set out to do some meal planning.

I even invited a friend to join me. We would plan our meals together each week at the gym while our kids were in the play area. (Don’t worry, we worked out too.) We made these fancy meal planning worksheets and grocery list sheets. We would get 5 recipes pulled together, write our grocery lists and call it done. It took us roughly 1 hour per week to meal plan. It’s kind of a lot of time.

But it worked. We were eating lots of new things and I always had an answer for “what’s for dinner.” I was feeling good. However, I was worried I lacked the knowledge I needed to make the healthiest choices and I didn’t really have the time to sort through all the articles on the latest food research to understand it myself.

Then number 4 came, and then number 5. That hour each week became more and more precious.

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One day a few moms of 4 or more were sitting together having tea and talking about the challenges we face. Meal planning was top of the list. And one mom said she was using a service called The Fresh 20. It delivered, to her email, 5 healthy recipes each week with the grocery list.

WHAT? Then it got better – they used only 20 ingredients each week, mostly fresh food from the outside of the store (produce and meat) and very little from the (inside) processed foods area. So I tried it. Now, two years later we eat well and I have a much better understanding of what healthy looks like.

And it was easy for me!

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I needed a lot of help in the kitchen. My skills were lacking at the beginning but the desire was there. Rachel Ray taught me techniques and the Fresh Twenty took me to the next level. I hope someday I can do this on my own, but for now, this is what works for me.

In my discovery phase I found all sorts of tools and resources for meal planning. Here are a few to check out:

http://www.recipies.com
I keep all of my personal recipes on here so I can access them anywhere I go. The rating system is awesome and the comments on recipes have helped me many times.

http://www.epicurious.com
Search by ingredient, in case you want to get rid of something in your pantry or the CSA is bringing you too much of something.

http://www.foodnetwork.com
Follow your favorite celebrity chefs and use some of their recipes.

http://www.thefresh20.com
You have to subscribe, but they also have a blog that gives great tips and info.

Chris Johnson, On Target Living
Author, speaker and health guru. I have heard him 2 times and his stuff is really good.
https://ontargetliving.com/tools/
Free health assessment, videos, app, worksheets and blog. Make sure to check out the “Brand Favorite’s For Kids” worksheet. Very helpful.