December 5, 2013

(Even Healthier) Chicken Soup with Rice Recipe & Song

photoSometimes when we go on car trips, I stop by the library and pick up some books on tape and DVDs.  This past summer, as we were on our way to Mt. St. Helens, we were lucky enough to hear this song sung by Carole King based on the book by Maurice Sendak.  We stopped at a random Mom and Pop place in the mountains for lunch, and what do you know, the soup of the day was…that’s right, Chicken Soup with Rice!  That was enough to seal the deal with my kids.  They love this soup!

Although this soup is not necessarily unhealthy, I couldn’t resist trying to come up with a healthier version.  I have tried it a few times now, and my kids do not detect the added nutrition.  Instead of making a roux from flour and butter, I puree 2 cans of white beans.  And instead of white rice, we use a healthier grain.  We have tried brown jasmine rice, brown basmati rice, and even millet.  All of them have worked for us.  Without further delay, here is the recipe.  And by all means, you must listen to the song.  It is a treasure!

(Even Healthier) Chicken Soup with Rice

1.5 cups dry brown rice or other whole grain
2 chicken breasts (or equivalent canned or precooked chicken)
1-2 T olive oil
1 onion
4 carrots
3 celery ribs
2 cartons low sodium chicken broth (8 cups)
2 cans low sodium white beans
salt and pepper to taste

Start by getting the rice cooking.  Then start boiling the chicken breasts.  As those two things are cooking, dice an onion.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet or pot.  Add the onion and start cooking it.  As it cooks, peel and chop the carrots and add them to the onions.  Slice the celery and add that to the mixture.  As the vegetables cook, drain the two cans of white beans and puree them in a blender with some of the chicken broth.  Add the bean puree and the remaining chicken broth to the onions, carrots, and celery.  As they simmer together, shred the chicken and then add it.  Lastly, add the cooked rice and salt and pepper to taste.  I don’t serve this soup with bread or crackers, because my kids will eat it on its own.  And I want their tummies to be filled up with the nutritious stuff.

May 24, 2013

The Most Effective Parenting Technique for Young Children (Hint: It’s not Time-Outs)…

IMG_0759Meet “Quackers,” a common guest in our bathroom for the past year-and-a-half.  He visits almost every night to chat with my 5-year-old daughter as she goes to the bathroom.  Yes, maybe I am the one doing the talking for him, but it is definitely Quackers who is telling me what to say.  If he is lucky, my daughter will feed him a pretend Oreo as she sits down to go to the bathroom.  This is Quacker’s favorite treat.

Why, you may ask, do we talk to our shower curtain every night?  Well, I’ll tell you. My daughter (then age 4) would hold off going to the bathroom as long as she could.  One day, to entice her to come and give it a try, I started to pretend that Quackers (whom she later named) was talking to her and wanted her to come visit him.  Sadly, he could only talk once she was on the potty.

I’ll give you another example and introduce you to Cordelia.  This same daughter has to have a monthly contact placed on her eye by a technician.  We moved and our new technician had a difficult time actually getting the contact in her eye.  For two months in a row it took three individual hour-long sessions to finally successfully get the contact in her eye.

When the third month came along, the technician and I devised a plan where the contact was held in a taco shape that would open and close to act as a mouth to ‘talk’ to my daughter. We quickly decided on the name “Cordelia the Contact,” and the two just really hit it off.  Cordelia pleaded to please be allowed in my daughter’s eye, where she would have great fun.  My daughter decided to hold her eye open just a moment longer, and the contact went in her eye.  It took only three tries as opposed to three full hour appointments.

Utilize your children’s imagination.  This is a magical time.  Not only does it motivate your children, they enjoy playing make-believe with you.  You might feel silly, but give it a try.  Anything will do.  Most of the time when I use this technique, I grasp at my limited creativity and come up with something that is utterly ridiculous.  But it still works.  And you know what?  I always come away feeling really good inside. For explanation’s sake, let me provide one more example.

Let’s say your son needs to clean up his toys.  You can act startled and say, “Do you hear that?!?  A toy-eating dinosaur is coming.  Oh no!  I heard another foot-step!  Hurry, I’ll help you.  We can’t let him eat your toys!”  Notice that I said “I’ll help you.”  That is key.  The reason this technique works is because you are doing it with your child.

Our Quacker visists are less frequent now, but just this past weekend while visiting her Grandpa my daughter noticed a duck-shaped soap dispenser in his bathroom and said, “Look, Quackers came with us,” and had a nice conversation with him.

Your children love you and love to spend time with you.  Your children also love make-believe.  Why not utilize this to help you with your parenting needs? Don’t miss out on this magical time of your children’s lives.

March 28, 2013

Fingerprint Blossoms

IMG_0621The blossoms are out and spring is in the air!  I am reminded of a craft I did with my girls last year during their spring break.  I just brought these pictures out with our Easter decorations and I thought I’d share. This was a really simple craft.  I only drew the trunk of the tree (as you can see, I am no artist), and the girls drew the rest with their own fingers in the style they wanted.  I bought the frames from a craft store for around $3.  I turned around the cardboard inserts that came with them and used the blank sides.  We just used the Crayola washable paint.  I’m realizing that having seasonal art in the house makes any season that much more special.  As the years go by and their little fingers grow, that simple art will become a treasure.  Only one year has passed, but I’m already seeing how this can happen.

March 19, 2013

The Science Behind Making the Most Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was a teenager, I attempted to make cookies and misread the amount of baking soda.  I thought it said ‘1 cup’ instead of ‘1 teaspoon’.  When I came to the realization that the cookies were inedible, I decided I was no good at baking and didn’t really give it another chance for about a decade.  IMG_2966Now fast forward those 10 years to when I tried a bite of my friend Kelly’s chocolate chip cookies.  They were amazing, and she generously invited me over to make them with her.  That kind gesture gave me the confidence I needed to give baking another shot.

Fast forward another decade and I have made her recipe many times over the years.  Sometimes it is amazing and sometimes it is flat and the texture seems off.  I always wondered what I was doing wrong. My chance to determine just that came by way of my girl’s school extravaganza project looking at the science behind making chocolate chip cookies. I had so many “ah-ha” moments helping them with this project I thought it was worth sharing.

Let’s examine what the ingredients do first (these concepts can be applied to any recipe), then I’ll share the recipe my family loves.

The Ingredients

Butter gives a buttery taste, helps the flavor of the cookie linger in your mouth, helps the cookie rise to make it light and soft, and it helps bind the dough together. Make sure to soften the butter by taking it out of the fridge one hour before baking.  Do not skip this step because doing this makes a big difference. Melting the butter in the microwave will lead to flat cookies.  

Sugar makes cookies sweet, adds moisture, improves texture, and helps preserve the cookie. White sugar makes your cookie crisper; brown sugar has more moisture and makes your cookie chewier.  Many recipes call for half of each.

Creaming the Butter & Sugar is so important to the baking process. The sugar rubs against the butter making air bubbles that the baking soda will find to help the cookie rise.  If the air bubbles are not there the baking soda will not be able to make the cookie rise. Beat the butter and sugar together for up to three minutes.  The color will actually become lighter, and the creamed mixture will become fluffy.

Vanilla does not give your cookies a vanilla taste.  It is actually a flavor enhancer. Using imitation vanilla when making cookies is totally acceptable and sometimes even preferred by taste testers.  It is when you are making cold items like frostings that pure vanilla extract is best.

Flour provides structure and allows the cookies to stay together.  Mix your flour (and other dry ingredients) in with a wooden spoon rather than a mixer, and be sure not to overmix. If you use a mixer more of those air bubbles created in the creaming process will be flattened than by using a wooden spoon.

Baking Soda helps the cookie rise. It also helps the cookie brown and gives it a chewy texture. It plays a very important role so I would not deviate from your recipe.

Salt enhances the flavor of the cookie. Most recipes call for 1 teaspoon, but that is just a bit too much.  So I just eyeball about 2/3 teaspoon and I find that tastes perfect.

Chocolate Chips make the cookie delicious.  I like to add about 85% of the bag.  The entire bag seems to be a bit too much.  But I think this is a preference issue, so play around with it.

Baking the Cookies comes down to preference. Most think that the cookies should look cooked before you take them out of the oven, which is only true if you want crisp, hard cookies.  But if you like soft and chewy cookies, take them out after 8-9 minutes. (I usually do 9 minutes.) They will not look totally cooked, but they will taste amazing after they have fully cooled. Let them cool on the sheet for 3-5 minutes.  Transfer them to a cooling rack that has been covered with tin foil.  The cookies will be fragile, and the tin foil will keep them from falling through the cooling rack.

Recipe for the Most Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

 Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Cream the following with a mixer until you see a color and texture change to creamy white (3 min):

2 sticks of butter, softened by taking them out of the fridge 1 hour before baking

2/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup white sugar

Once color and texture change has been achieved, add 1 teaspoon vanilla, mix

Add 1 egg (at room temperature, take out the same time as the butter), mix

Separately Mix:

2 cups of flour (can add up to ¼ cup more)

1 teaspoon baking soda

2/3 teaspoon salt

Add to butter mixture, stirring with spoon; do not use mixer. Try not to overmix.

Add 1 package or 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or less), gently fold into the dough.

Bake 8-9 minutes. They will not look done, but take them out and let them cool for 3-5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack (covered with tin foil). Delicious!

March 16, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day Fruit Rainbow

IMG_3100Well I finally joined Pinterest and just in time.  I found this cute St. Patrick’s Day Fruit Rainbow idea (you can see the original picture here).

We gave it a try today.  My girl’s were able to do everything themselves except cut the mango.  They even had the cute idea of making the pot of gold from black play dough.  Once we finally gave the go ahead to start eating, it vanished so fast I thought the leprechauns took it! Pair this with Irish Soda Bread and you are set for a fun St. Patrick’s Day.

March 16, 2013

Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day

When my daughter was three, she attended this awesome preschool co-op in Seattle.  For Saint Patrick’s Day (on my day to help), we made Irish Soda Bread.  I had never tried soda bread before.  After trying it warm from the oven I thought I have got to make this again for Saint Patrick’s Day.  Two years later and I’m finally doing it.  What makes this recipe so special is the mix of two ingredients I had no idea I liked – caraway seeds and currants.  I’ll be making this again year after year as well as the St. Patrick’s Day Fruit Rainbow.Soda Bread

3 cups sifted unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter ( ½ stick), softened at room temperature

¾ cup currants

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Thoroughly mix together sifted flour, soda, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in soft butter, working it in with your fingers until it is evenly distributed and the texture is a bit like corn meal. Stir in currants and caraway seeds. Beat egg, buttermilk, and honey together in a small bowl. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients, stirring briefly only to moisten evenly.  Do not overmix.

Turn onto lightly floured board and briefly kneed just to form smooth dough.  (You may have to press a bit to get it to feel ‘smooth’ and distribute the moisture.) Shape into a high, round ball. Place on buttered baking sheet. Slash vertically and horizontally about 4 inches long and ½ inch deep. (Don’t go too deep.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45-55 minutes.  Cool for about 20 minutes before slicing.

The Greyston Bakery Cookbook

February 13, 2013

Love Note Journals

This morning my friend and her older daughter (in the “tweens”) noticed the love note journals I have with my two daughters.  I explained we just write each other notes back and forth.  YesThe daughter said, “That’s cool!” And her Mom replied with, “Should we start to do that?”  That’s when I realized this idea might be worth sharing.  I’ve been doing this with my girls for a few years now, and this is what you do:

* Buy a hard-bound spiral notebook.  Our first journal was flimsy and didn’t last very long.

* Every few days, weeks, months or whenever, write your child a note.  It helps to end your note with a question.  Be sure to date your note because it is fun to look back on.

* Place the journal open to the latest entry in a place your child will find it.  Make sure there is a pen nearby.  I find that I usually think to write a note late at night before I go to bed and leave it waiting on the breakfast table.

Enjoy the sweet notes from your babies.  It really is the simple things in life.

February 13, 2013

Homemade Play Dough

IMG_2291One of the best party favors my girls ever came home with from a birthday party was homemade play dough. It was bright yellow with glitter in keeping with the space theme of the birthday party. The colors were very fun, but what really impressed me was the texture. It was awesome to play with. It didn’t come apart, it did not smell, and my girls absolutely loved it. When I asked my friend how she made it she gave me the recipe, and I realized that you can indeed make your own play dough. I always double the recipe:

1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
2 T cream of tartar
2 t food coloring
1 T vegetable oil
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook and stir over low/medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until play dough starts to form a ball and is no longer sticky. Don’t worry if mixture looks lumpy. Cool slightly, then knead several times until smooth. Store in an air tight container or Ziploc.

February 8, 2013

Rice Krispie Apples

Today is my daughter’s V.I.P day in kindergarten, and she gets to bring any treats she wants to class (without peanuts, of course). She has been looking forward to this day all year.  I was thinking we could make pink rice crispy treats since they had no peanuts, and they would celebrate uIMG_2760pcoming Valentine’s day.  We searched together online for recipes and I came across this very cute and creative recipe. First things first, I’m not going to tell you this was easy or even fun to make.  It can better be described as sticky, messy, and I think I need to say sticky one more time.  But I will tell you it was a total hit with my daughter.  And even though they really look nothing like the original picture, she thought they were pretty great.

This is a once or twice a year kind of treat (because I think I am going to use this recipe to make pumpkins with orange Jell-O for my other daughter’s birthday in October).  And I’ve got to say, they are pretty darn tasty.  Adding Jell-O to Rice Krispie treats is nothing short of a revelation.

Here is the recipe with the changes I made:

– ½ stick of butter (4 Tablespoons)

– 1 bag of large marshmallows

Put the above in a large microwave-safe bowl and warm for 2 minutes.  Stir, and if it still needs more melting time, put it in a little longer (mine only needed 2 minutes).

– Stir in one small package of Jell-O (I used Cherry )

– Add a few drops of food coloring if you want to make a specific color, like a darker red

– Once you have the desired color, pour in approximately ¾ of a bag of Rice Krispie cereal.  Add a bit at a time and stir until it is the consistency you want.  The less sticky the mixture is, the easier it will be to make the balls.

– Roll out some parchment paper.

– Spray your hands with Pam or oil spray.

– Roll the mixture into balls a bit larger than golf balls.  This is the incredibly sticky part.  You may have to wash your hands a few times in between and put on some more spray.  I was able to make about 32 balls.

– Squash the balls down a bit and use your thumb to create space for the stem.

–  Use unwrapped Tootsie Rolls for the stem. I cut green licorice to look like a leaf, but you could use frosting, green air heads, green fruit roll-ups, or whatever you want. I kind of put them together in the hole and pushed the Krispie mix around them.

– Let the apples sit for a few minutes to harden.

I know we like to trick our kids with real fruit and call it “dessert,” but this time they will actully believe you!

September 19, 2012

Lessons from a Nesting Mom: Organizing Your Pictures, Memories, and Home

This is my third pregnancy, and my third time experiencing nesting.  “Nesting” is the term coined to describe that intense need most pregnant woman have to put everything in order before their baby arrives.  For some reason, this third time around was by far my most intense nesting experience.  This time my nesting period lasted a good 3 months, and I hardly came up for air.  Yes I was pregnant and growing a baby, but I would gladly sacrifice hours and hours of sleep to get through those bathroom cupboards, or to go through my girls’ clothes to make enough room for fall clothes at 3:00 a.m. (because that is when I happened to wake up).

Before deciding to stay home with my children, I was a process and strategy consultant.  I can’t shake the habit of analyzing processes to figure out the best way to do something.  Throughout this nesting period I realized there were some things I was doing right and things I was doing wrong.  I want to divide these “lessons learned” into three parts–organizing your pictures, memories, and home.

Part 1: Organizing Your Pictures

* Download all of your pictures at the same time. This includes not just your camera, but your phone (and your husband’s, for that matter).

* Store your pictures under the year, and then the month of that year (with a number before the month).  Organizing your pictures like this will make it much easier if you go back and make a photo book, try and locate a specific picture, or try to remember when something happened.  When you are assigning the month file a name,  start with the month’s number, for example ‘1 – January 2012’, or ‘2 – February 2012’.  That way the files will visually be in order when you click on that particular year, because months’ names are not in alphabetical order, but by using a number they will be in order.

* Go through all the downloaded pictures and only keep the best. Digital cameras are a blessing, but we typically take four pictures of the same thing.  Figure out the best shot, and delete the other three.

* Back up your pictures. This can be to your hard drive, your online photo system, or whatever you use, just be sure to back them up.  If saving to an online system, use an informative title with the year, month, and description, like ‘2012 September Starting School’.

* Delete the pictures off your camera and phone and start anew. That way, you won’t keep downloading the same pictures again and agian.

Simple, right?  We all know that it is not.  But taking these extra steps when you download your pictures will save you hours and hours of time in the future.  I know my ‘photo -nesting’ would have been over a lot sooner if I would have followed these ideas.

Part 2: Recording Memories & Quotes

You know when your kids say something cute and you don’t want to forget it?  Or what about when your Mom gives you great advice, or if you go on a trip and learn some awesome facts on a tour?  How do you remember all these things?  After 8 years, I think I have fine-tuned my system.

* Write them down in a non-perfect way in a place that takes seconds to locate.  A phrase or something with enough words that will remind you of that situation will do.  Most of these great quotes happen when you are in the middle of something, and you need a system that will only take a few seconds.  You could use a scrap piece of paper on the fridge, your calendar, your notepad on your phone, or a combination of a few places.

* Record the memories in a Word document every few weeks or months. Pull out your memory notes, and write out a complete description.  Recording these memories really does not take very long, and it is an enjoyable thing to relive those happy moments of the past.

* Don’t be overly verbose with descriptions of your memories. Usually just a few lines will do.  You have a long life to live, and you will be much more likely to review your past with your children and yourself if your description reads quickly rather than if it is a novel.  What you do with your memories is up to you.  I like to add them to my annual family photo book, so that my photos and memories are together for the year.

* Save the Word document under the “Pictures” file for that year. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that a Word document can be saved in the Pictures section of your computer.  Why not keep your memories with the pictures of the same time period of life?  Also, if you are constantly backing up your pictures, your memories will be backed up as well.

* A side note about organizing artwork: Besides organizing my photos and recording memories, I went through my girls’ artwork from the last year.  While doing this, it became apparent to me that this is one pile that should sit a few months before you go through it, or you will keep everything.  The only thing you should do with the artwork before taping it up or setting it in that pile is date it (in the corner or on the back) and add a note if applicable, like how they described the drawing, or rewriting what they wrote because it is not quite legible. Then about 3 times a year, I go through their art and keep about 15% of their work…and let me tell you it is still plenty.  Make sure your children do not see their art in the recycling bin–time to be sneaky.

How to organize that artwork once you have gone through it is up to you.  Some like to file it, some scan it or take pictures.  I like to put it in a binder in page protectors so my girls can look through it periodically.

Part 3: Organizing Your Home

My family lives in a space with less than 1300 square feet, so keeping it organized is somewhat of a necessity.  And with my neurotic ways (which I am sure you have picked up on in Parts 1 and 2), you can probably imagine that it needs to stay clean or I am not going to be able to enjoy life.  Here are a few lessons learned when organizing my home:

*Organize your cupboards and drawers in a way that is easily maintained. If you have to place something behind or under something else, it will not get put away.  I have two drawers in my girls’ bathroom where you literally can do a sweeping motion with your hand into the drawer to keep the counter clean.  The only way to do this is to have less in your cupboards, which leads to my next point…

* Throw lots and lots of things away (or recycle, or give them to Goodwill).  If you have not used it or your kids have not played with it in a year, it is time to get rid of it.  When going through your clothes, ask yourself, “Do I look forward to wearing this particular piece of clothing?” Better to have a wardrobe with 5 shirts you love, instead of 20 you kind of like.  Also, have a Goodwill bag ready to go, so that you have a consistent place to put these items whenever you come by them.

* When getting rid of things, you will always come to regret 2 to 3 items.  Expect this. However, the cleanliness you will experience in your day-to-day life will far outweigh the feeling of, “Darn, I should have held on to that” or the cost of the extra storage space you paid for.

I know this goes without saying, but these are just my opinions and you should do what works for you.  But hopefully you might find a few ideas to make your life easier in my lessons learned during this fierce nesting period. Because after all, you can’t get pregnant every time you want to get your life in order.