Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas 2012

Ava told us she asked Santa for Baby Dolls and Princesses.
Engrossed with her new Leap Pad on the long drive.
We spent a long weekend at the Lake visiting Aaron's parents and siblings over Christmas. We were excited for Christmas because of the break from work and time with family and friends. Aaron's sister, Jessica, and her husband, Nick, were in town from Portland and we spent time with my other sister-in-law Megan and her family from Chicago. Ava and her cousin, Colin, have so much fun together! I wish I had snapped a picture of my 10-month old niece, Grace, who was having fun keeping up with the preschoolers.

It was stressful finishing all the shopping, Christmas cards, and packing for the trip! I had Friday off from work to get everything done while Aaron worked late to finish up his work for quarter. We exchanged a couple presents on Friday night after he got home. Ava opened up a present from us, which was peel-able Velcro play food for her kitchen. She also opened up the gift from Grandma Anna and Bernard, which was a Leap Pad! She was so excited to have her own "pad." After she went to sleep, I configured it on the computer to get it ready for the drive up to the Lake.

As soon as we arrived on Saturday morning to the Lake, she looked around the house pointing out the Christmas decorations that Grandma and Paga put up since our Thanksgiving visit. She loved the nativity scene. Soon enough the house filled up with family. Ava was so happy to see Colin and Gracie! I made turkey and bean chili for dinner, then finally Jess and Nick showed up after a nightmare travel experience from the West Coast. Nick's luggage was stuck at O'Hare and he didn't get it until late Sunday night.

She went right for the nativity scene.
Story time with her Daddy and cousin, Colin.
Playing with her new princess castle!
 On Sunday, we relaxed and had a big dinner with Colin's Gingerich grandparents, Grandma Berkey, Aaron's Berkey aunt and uncle and cousin, and his best friend, Zac and his family. Todd and Megan made beef sliders and garlic mashed potatoes for dinner. It was delicious! Zac's son, Colt, gave Ava her Christmas present - a princess castle. She loves it! It has a princess and a "daddy" in the set too. Ava gave Colt his Christmas gift and we got lucky because he loves match games.

On Christmas Eve morning, we opened all our presents from under the tree. Grandma and Papa Berkey got Ava a pink tricycle, more play food, a kitty music keyboard and more princess things! She got a special delivery from Santa filled with princess dress-up stuff, a baby doll diaper bag, and a set of princess balls. We ate a lasagna dinner and then headed out for Christmas Eve service at church. Ava loved the music! Grandma took her to the front row and she really enjoyed listening to the music. After church, we got home around 9pm. I was thankful that Ava had an extra long and later afternoon nap. She had plenty of energy for the Bollinger-Berkey Christmas Eve get together after church. We gathered at the Lake and had a great time. After the kids went to bed, we played a game and stayed up way too late!

Since Megan and Todd had to leave on Christmas morning to his parents house, we did all of our celebrations on Christmas Eve. So we slept in a bit and relaxed all morning with Nick and Jess. We drove home and arrived late afternoon. We had such an awesome Christmas! I hope you did too!
Playing piano together.

Colin, Ava and Colt.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holidays 2012

We are so excited for Christmas this year! The holidays are so much fun! Ava is now well into her 2nd year so she's so excited about Christmas...and not for the presents. She is excited to see her cousins and family at the Lake! She had so much fun playing with her cousins, Colin (3) and Gracie (9 months). And Aaron's sister and her husband will be coming home for Christmas from Portland. Ava and I visited them earlier this year in February, which seems like ages ago now.

New Year's is special to me and Aaron because it's the day that we met! And this year it will be 9 years since that evening! Aaron and I don't go out anymore since Ava was born to celebrate New Year's and that night that we met, but we usually have champagne at home.

Happy Holidays from Aaron, Amanda, Ava and Bena!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Favorite Cranberry Sauce

Simmering goodness!
Here we are at another Thanksgiving. The years go by so quickly! I found this recipe for Basic Cranberry Sauce in my Cooking Light magazine several years ago and I've made it every year. I'm making another batch for our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow as the cranberries are popping. It smells like orange and mulling spices. The sauce is so fresh, tart, but sweetened from the brown sugar and honey. It simmers with orange juice, cinnamon stick, and allspice.

I'm always amazed how the natural properties of the cranberries thicken the sauce as it cools on the stove top.

I think it's best when you make it the day before your meal so it will be chilled for the feast. I always make a double batch to go with the leftovers.

When I was a kid, I loved to eat cranberry jelly from the can. My grandparents would slice it on a plate along side the turkey. But now as an adult, I love whole berry cranberry sauce and nothing is better than fresh.

Cranberries are so good for you! They are so high in nutrients that science research has touted that they protect against a number of things such as heart disease, urinary tract infections, even preventing plaque on your teeth! So grab a bag or two in the produce aisle and try this recipe.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Freezer Meal: Sweet Potato Quesadillas & Black Bean-Corn-Edamame Salad with Red Velvet Cream Cheese Brownies

Quesadillas were perfect directly from the freezer!

Defrost and Mix.

I made this freezer meal for my September exchange and meant to post this recipe ages ago. Better late than never! I try to use seasonal produce because I'm making my meals in bulk and I want to buy top quality ingredients locally as much as possible. This meal is especially easy for the Summer since you don't have to use the oven to heat anything up, but it's great during any season. The quesadillas can be cooked directly from the freezer on an iron skillet. It was so easy!

Freezer Meal Menu:
The recipe that I based this from used corn and since the salads had corn, I decided to use sweet potatoes and sweet peppers since I had so many peppers this time of year from my produce delivery. I diced the sweet potatoes very small the same size as sweet potatoes and cooked them on a skillet in olive oil with no seasoning, just a bit of salt. I used the Chile and Onion Trader Joe's tortillas. You have to be very careful with tortillas that you buy if you're shopping in traditional grocery stores because of the funky ingredients so I always buy ours at Trader Joe's. I made 30 quesadillas on a large non-stick griddle. I made the salsa verde with roasted tomatillos, onion, and jalapenos seasoned with lime, honey, cumin and salt. To cook quesadillas, warm them on both sides in an iron skillet. Cut in wedges and top with salsa and sour cream.

Homemade Tomatillo Salsa packs with the quesadillas.

On Labor Day weekend, I had trouble finding fresh corn in Indiana since it was a bit late in the season. But I found an Amish produce stand where I picked up two dozen ears of corn by my in-laws lake house. I used one dozen for the freezer meal salads and the other dozen was for us to keep for the winter. I cut the corn off the cobs, then cooked the kernels in boiling water. You can also use frozen corn for this recipe since you're going to put it right back in the freezer if you make this in the off-season.

I cooked dried black beans in the slow cooker, which is my favorite method. Check out my post. If you use a 14oz can of black beans for each salad, make sure you rinse and drain it first. I always cook my own beans because you end up opening up way too many cans. Plus, it's more eco-friendly and budget conscious if you cook your own dried beans. You will need 1 1/2 cups for each batch for the recipe below.

These were very rich so I made two batches for the 6 meals so people would have a small sweet after dinner. I used a nice quality dark chocolate from Trader Joe's for the brownies. They were amazing!

I hope you enjoy these freezer meal posts. I really enjoy freezer cooking and our monthly exchanges. I usually set aside a couple weekends a month to make my meals on the weeks that we're home. Sometimes I have help from Ava and other times Aaron will entertain her outside while I'm cooking. Then we average a freezer meal per week, which we reserve for a Monday or Tuesday night.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Two-Year Old Art

"Look at my sparkly purple guitar, Mama"
A few weeks ago, we went through a big purge of all the art projects from Ava's daycare. Every week we bring home a tall stack of artifacts of Ava's world.

I filled up an entire laundry basket with the art projects and sorted through all of it. We saved some for us as a keepsake and others for her grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Others went to the recycling bin.

Saving my favorites to digital before the recycling!
I also found some old papers from when Ava was 18-months that reported about her day at school. I laughed when I saw her meals. One day she had 6-oz of breast milk in her sippy cup, a muffin for a snack, a taste of ketchup, bun and fruit for lunch. It reminded me of the days that Ava hardly ate any food. She was a late bloomer for eating solid foods. But now, she's eating so much and growing tall!

I'm always amazed by all the textures, colors, mediums that the art projects explore. They do seasonal art with dry leaves in the Fall or paint with balls or cookie cutters.

Now in her two-year old classroom, they do art with lots of glitter, scissors, glue sticks, crepe paper, paper plates, paints, and cutouts. The hat Ava is wearing in this photo says "Hooray for Me." That week, she proudly wore that hat when I arrived to pick her up.

It makes me feel good that she enjoys this time in her life. Art to her is playing with soapy water while exploring red apples and spatulas. Even though we purged the art, we know that the experience is not lost. She enjoyed the process of making the art and her parents enjoy looking at all the fun things she has done!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Freezer Meal: Turkey Tomato Mac Casserole, Ginger Carrots, and Lemon Pound Cake

I've been trying to post this for a month! I finally finished the instructions!

For my August Freezer meal exchange, I couldn't think of anything to make so I decided to make a casserole that I throw together for my family. I made 7 casseroles this month so I could have an extra for our family and to give away to some friends who just had babies. The concept of freezer cooking is pretty new to me and we're loving the convenience of having a weeknight meal from the freezer. We started up a new freezer meal exchange group in February and have been going strong ever since!

We usually have to add a fresh green salad or cut up some fruit to serve on the side, but most of preparation is just reheating, grilling, or putting something in the oven. We defrost the meals in the extra fridge in the garage for about 24 hours. Some meals you can go right from the freezer to the oven or reheat on the stove top.

On Sundays, I pull out the meal for Monday and place the packages in a 9x13 casserole dish to catch any liquids that may spill out from defrosting. I usually prepare a freezer meal on a Monday evening and use the leftovers for lunch the next day.

My August Menu:
Tomato Turkey Macaroni Casserole
Ginger Carrots
Lemon Pound Cake

Tomato Turkey Macaroni Casserole

  • 3/4 pound ground turkey (mix of light and dark meat)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried macaroni noodles
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cooked corn
  • 1/4 diced bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Seasoning - salt, pepper, paprika, oregano
Preparation for Freezing:
  • Cook macaroni noodles. Drain and set aside.
  • Saute onions and garlic with ground turkey. Then add corn and bell pepper. Season with salt, pepper, dried oregano, and smoked paprika. Add tomato sauce.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine noodles, turkey-veggie mixture and 1 cup of shredded cheese.
  • Line an 8x8 square baking dish with foil. Coat with cooking spray. Fill with casserole and add shredded cheese to the top. 
  • Cover dish with foil and place in the freezer for about 45 minutes.
  • Remove top layer of foil. Flip the casserole dish upside down gently on the counter. Then use the foil to cover the square casserole. 
  • Place packaged casserole in a gallon freezer plastic bag in the freezer.
Reheating Instructions:
  • Defrost in the fridge overnight. 
  • Gently take off the foil from the top of the package. Then slowly remove the bottom layer and place into a greased 8x8 casserole baking dish.
  • Cook for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven until bubbly.

Sweet Ginger Carrots 

Dump ingredients in a freezer pint plastic bag. Defrost in the refrigerator 24 hours. Then put contents in a sauce pan until carrots are tender. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. My friend, Windi's husband says these carrots taste like dessert!
  • 1 lb peeled, sliced carrots
  • 1 tsp ground fresh ginger
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
Lemon Pound Cake:
Defrost and enjoy!

I found the Lemon Pound Cake recipe on Pinterest that made 6 mini loaves of pound cake in a single batch. This is convenient since we prepare 5 complete meals and I usually make 6 so I have an extra meal for my own family. I got a mini loaf pan that makes 4 at once. Then with the rest of the batter, I used my mini muffin tin to make 6 minis for each family (12-total). I have a bit extra batter to bake a ramekin dish size mini cake. The entire recipe was a perfect amount and the lemon pound cake was delicious.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Introducing Breastfeeding USA

You might remember in February, I announced that I became accredited as a La Leche League Leader. After a year of reading and education about breastfeeding, I started to lead support meetings, answer questions via email and phone, and respond to questions in our private Facebook group. At the same time, my co-leaders: Ali and Sara started to pursue a new breastfeeding organization, Breastfeeding USA. So we closed our LLL chapter and opened up Indy Breastfeeding Moms, a chapter of Breastfeeding USA. During this process, I resigned as a LLL leader and started the accreditation process of becoming a Breastfeeding Counselor with Breastfeeding USA. It's been a crazy transition process! Since our group of leaders are an all-in-one unit, it was easier for me to dedicate my time going through the course. And since I had less than 2-years of experience as a LLL leader, I'm going through a comprehensive course and I should be complete in the beginning of the year. It really feels like a college course! I'm enjoying it though! I'm reading about the science of lactation in my first module of training.

Since Breastfeeding USA is a new organization, they went through a branding exercise. That's been fun to watch it with my marketing brain. They just did a big fundraising drive, which ended up exceeding their goal of raising money for the organization. I made a donation and received this really cool tote bag as a thank you gift! I wore it today for the first time. Aaron took the picture for me and then Ava wanted a picture too!

Ava and I are heading to Cincinnati on a day trip next Saturday for a tri-state Breastfeeding USA meeting with other BCs and BC applicants from Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. We'll spend the day planning the future of our local groups, which supports pregnant and nursing mothers through their journey of breastfeeding.

So now, I'm doing lots of reading and continuing to learn about all aspects of breastfeeding and supporting mothers. It's very rewarding! I benefited from the help of experienced breastfeeding mothers when I first gave birth to Ava and now I feel like it's my turn to give back! I'm still on the journey!

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Budding Chef

Whisking salad dressing.

Excited to help!

Little hands
I'm sure you're not surprised that Ava has taken an interest in cooking with me in the kitchen. Since she was about 18-months old, she has been standing on the step-stool helping with stirring, measuring, and learning cooking basics. Last night, Ava and I went to our garden to get fresh parsley for my tomato and cucumber salad. For salad dressing, I gave her a mixing bowl and a kid-sized whisk and she whisked like a pro! She asked to smell the vinegar and olive oil. I could tell she really liked the nutty smell of the olive oil.

I cook and bake with Ava as my sous chef. She really likes to whisk eggs too. She knows to put in salt and pepper in the eggs. It's really fun to have her in the kitchen.

I got her some kid-sized kitchen equipment and the set included an apron. She loves to put it on when she's on the stool. Ava really likes making Mommy and Daddy's salads. She likes to tear the lettuce and place the ingredients carefully on the salad like shredded carrots, cheese, and small spoonfuls of pumpkin seeds.

Play kitchen
Ava's grandparents got her a play kitchen for her 2nd birthday and she really loves it! We keep it in the basement and since then we also got her a Melissa and Doug wooden pizza set. Since we made pizza nights our Friday night family tradition, Ava loves to make pizza in her own kitchen. She puts a slice covered in toppings in a bowl and tell us that it's hot and advises us to let it cool off. Then we pretend to eat it. It's really fun!

I'm so excited that Ava is learning to enjoy cooking so much. She feels empowered helping me in the kitchen and I'm amazed by how much I get done with her participating. At meals, she'll proudly say "I made that, Daddy," which really warms my heart!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

State Fair Visit 2012

Class quilt (Ava is bottom left)
Since moving to Indy, we've made a family tradition to go to the Indiana State Fair. Ava's preschool did a Fair recently with the kids and each classroom submitted crafts. Ava's class made a bell pepper plant, quilt with class pictures, and an elephant. They kids played in a bounce house and had fun with games. Ava had so much fun!
Bell Pepper

Then this past Monday, Aaron and I took off of work a little early to spend the evening at the State Fair. Since last year, Ava seemed to enjoy the animals more since she felt braver than before.

She pet the newborn calves.

Last year, Ava wouldn't go near the baby calves, but this year with some encouragement she pet them. Here's my post from year's visit. They were so small, about the size of Bena! They were curled up and sleeping in the hay. Ava was excited to watch piglets nursing with their mommy. We dropped in a horse and cart show where the horses were decorated.
Sleepy calf.

We shared Fair foods like a butter ear of corn, fried cheese, breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, and a cinnamon-sugar drenched elephant ear for dessert.

This year, Ava enjoyed the horses much more! Last year they scared her up close. We stopped in the horticulture center and Ava looked at the flowers and vegetables.

She loved this!
Feeding baby goats slices of carrot.

We stopped at the Lactation Station where I've volunteered in years past. We ran into Fernanda who has been working the Lactation Stations for several years. She loves seeing Ava and was surprised by how much she's grown in the last year. We didn't go in to nurse, but we did stop for a family picture!

It was starting to sprinkle and look stormy so we hurried back to the car after visiting the Future Farmers of America area. They have more baby animals and a playground.

We had such a fun evening! Since it was a Monday night, the Fair wasn't crowded. Although next year, I think we'll go back on a $2 Tuesday to take advantage of the savings and they do sample portions of food.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Big Girl, 2 Going on 5

"I never get to go in this cabinet, don't make me close the door"

Happy girl

First time pushing the kid's cart at Trader Joe's
Ava is getting more independent each day. It's so fun to see how much she can do by herself now like put on her shoes, take off her clothes, or brush her hair. I'm amazed by how much she can carry while going up or down the stairs! Whenever we go around the house, she wants to bring her toys with her. She'll say "stroller coming?" Or mostly "stroller coming, mama" in a very determined voice. This morning she carried a big box with her crayons up the stairs by herself. The conversations that we have are so different than just a few months ago. Sometimes when she's looking for a specific toy she'll say "baby doll, where go?" Then I'll tell her that it's in her bedroom and she'll go upstairs to get her.

A couple weeks ago, we shopped at Trader Joe's, which is her favorite store! She saw a couple kids pushing the kids carts and asked me if she could use it too. We shopped through the store and she enjoyed picking out things at her level and things on our list. On our shopping trips,  Ava searches for the green monkey hidden in the store. She asks to give the plush monkey a hug and then she gets a treat from the bowl. The workers stock it with suckers, fresh fruit, and cereal bars. She loves to pick a cereal bar to snack on in the store!
Little girl pig tails

The morning we shopped, I asked her to pick from the different dresses to wear. She also likes to pick out her shoes. And I put pigtails in her hair then she picked out the yellow flower barrette for her hair. I like to offer her a couple of choices to empower her to make decisions. Aaron gives her less choices, but his parenting style is more "go with the flow" so that works too.

I'm also amazed by how much Ava understands about how the world works. Tonight, she noticed the sun was setting and she knew that meant that the moon would come out since it was turning into nighttime. We talk about things all the time as she's trying to figure it all out.

My mother-in-law reminded us last weekend that the parenting you do at age 2 is going to pay off when our children turn into teenagers. I loved hearing that because my greatest fear in parenting wasn't babyhood, it was the teen years! I think it's because of how my brothers were in their teen years. I want Ava to be a confident lady! But for right now, I'm going to love mothering a two-year old!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Day Trip Mama

Hooray for Nursing Room! Then I realized it was a bathroom too.

My coworkers think it's hilarious, but I'm known for my day trips for work travel. I get up very early and head to a city to meet with clients and then head home that night. The longest I've flown for the day is Phoenix and it was about 21 hours away from home! I had to transfer in Memphis on the way out, but I got home on a direct flight.

I love day trips because it's easier on my family being a mother to a young kiddo. My work requires me to travel and when I do, I try for a day trip. I just had my first overnight trip away from Ava since she was born, only a few weeks ago for a work event in Toronto. I'm really glad that I waited until Ava was old enough to understand that I was leaving. When you're a mother it's so darn hard on the kids when you're away. Aaron told me that Ava missed me so much. My day trips have forced Aaron to to creatively figure a different bedtime routine without nursing. They've developed their own routine for when I'm gone. And some nights, he'll take her to dinner out at a restaurant and send me a picture of their special bonding time. It's really sweet!

I believe that a mother and baby should be together as much as possible in these early formative years. Research also shows that a baby needs their mother present as much as possible. In fact, the trusted bond with a mother and baby, results in a more independent child and adult. Our nursing relationship has always reinforced this belief.

When I travel for long day trips or my overnight, I have to bring my breast pump and creatively find places to pump in airports, hotels, client's offices and search for places to freeze my cooler bags and store my milk. The TSA requires cooler packs to be frozen so I'm always looking for places to store my packs in a freezer. When I've been at my client's offices or hotels, people have been really accommodating to me. Airports are the worst for a nursing mother who needs a place to pump. Apart from the Indy airport, no other airports that I've been in have a dedicated lactation room that isn't in a bathroom. The Indy airport is new and they took the time to put in two mother's room (inside and outside of security) for mothers to nurse or pump. But since it's my home airport, I've only used it once.

With day trips, I spend my time on the ground in a city looking from a window of a cab or building. But I enjoy it!
The Toronto and Dallas airports call their family bathrooms "nursing rooms." I took the picture above of a sign that was outside of the room. It shows the international breastfeeding symbol on the front. I waited for over 10 minutes for the room, then a guy struts out after "doing his business." I was really disappointed to learn it was also a bathroom. I told him that I had to pump milk in there and showed him the sign. He was clueless!

A few TSA agents have tried to bully me into putting my expressed milk through the x-ray machines. Most of the times, that's a rare occasion and the agents are really nice. If you ask for alternative screening, they will open the bottle of milk and wave a paper over the opening, then place the paper in a machine or just use a paper on the outside of the bottles and bag. I've tried to find information if it's safe to put breastmilk in the x-ray machine and found very little about it. So, I go on the safer side.

I travel with a heavy pump and gear all over airports and cabs while hauling my work computer. I'm happy to do it because it protects my nursing relationship.

A month ago, I got an email to our La Leche League group from a mother traveling to Indy for work who decided it was easier to donate her milk locally, than to carry it home to her baby. I met her just before she went to the airport and picked up her milk in a cooler. That night, I met up with two families who gratefully received the donation. I was happy to see that loving act from one family to others for babies in need.

In my breastfeeding support group, we have lots of moms that ask how they can travel while maintaining their breastfeeding relationship. My suggestion is try to see if you can (1) travel with your nursling or (2) minimize your travel away. For my first trip, I traveled with my mother-in-law and she was the "Granny Nanny" while I was working. It was awesome. Then, I traveled with Ava and found childcare by asking a client or using a personal connection when we arrived. That worked  for trip home to the Bay Area, Portland, and even Chicago just last week. Here's my blog post on toddler travel tips when we went to San Francisco last summer. If you travel without your nursling, minimizing your time away is key. That means a day trip or prioritizing the days that you must attend the events. The truth is that it's really hard to be away from your baby and kids. Aaron has to leave work earlier to do daycare pick-up and then we have to prep for when I'm gone. I make sure the cloth diapers are clean and Ava's bag is packed for daycare.

Pumping on the road can be a challenge, but you can do it! I can't tell you how many times, I've had to pump in a public restroom out in the open. I use a Simple Wishes pumping bra and a Bravado nursing tank so I have very little skin exposed. The bustier covers my breasts and my tank covers my midsection. It's really uncomfortable when you're hand expressing when there are small children and people gawking at you. I know other moms have pumped using a nursing cover even on a plane or at a gate. I'm not that brave, I guess. 

Finding places to pump at hotels and offices isn't bad. You can usually ask for an empty office or if you have a colleague who has a hotel room, you can pump in there. I have pumped in server rooms at offices. That works! Hotels usually give you a refrigerator when you ask for them and they are usually free of charge for storing milk. When I was in Toronto, I had to give up my hotel room at noon. I asked my coworker if I could pump in her room since she was busy at the conference. She got a second key for me to access her room and I asked the hotel staff to bring the refrigerator from my room to hers. I really needed the freezer for my cooler packs for the TSA rules.

Bring your pump and cooler bag on your carry-on bag. I store my flanges in a Ziploc bag in the cooler. If you're gone multiple days and coming home with a lot of milk, try to store them in a larger cooler bag with large bottles to store it something sturdy. When I traveled overnight, I brought a bottle brush and dish wash liquid to clean the pump parts and bottles at the hotel.

The bottom line is that you have to be creative, use your resources, and be upfront with people to set expectations while you're traveling that you'll need to pump since you're away from your baby. It may take more planning ahead, but you can make it work! I'd love to hear other tips and advice from moms that have done it before!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Grilled Pizza

Homemade Pizza and Caesar Salad our Friday night tradition!

We started a family tradition just before Ava was born to make homemade pizza on Friday night. I have perfected our favorite pizza using a whole wheat crust recipe that I make in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I usually make the pizza crust on Thursday night before bed and let the dough rise overnight. Then in the morning, I'll split the dough and wrap them in plastic wrap and store the dough balls in the refrigerator. We use a Pampered Chef pizza stone in the oven for the nights that we bake the pizza in the oven. We love it!

This summer has been unbelievably hot! It's been regularly 90 and even 100 degrees and we just can't justify using the oven for much these days. We are doing lots of cooking on our new grill and crockpot with these hot temperatures. Last summer, we went to the Pierce's house for dinner and they made a delcious grilled pizza. They were inspired by our pizza making tradition too! They made a BBQ chicken pizza on the grill and it was so tasty and didn't require heating an oven.

So last weekend, we tried grilled pizza after consulting with Shawn and his technique. Well, it got pretty charred because we tried to put the toppings on the crust after it flipped, while on the grill. Maybe we should have asked him for an in-person cooking class! I made two smaller pizzas and they both got pretty burned on the bottom. But this inspired Aaron to think of another way to grill it. Last night, I'm happy to report that we've perfected our method for cooking the pizza on the grill! It was delicious and not burned. The way we cooked it was similar to the oven, in fact, with the par-baking of the crust before you put the toppings on it.
Shape your pizza into a large rectangle so it fits easily on the grill or cookie sheet or serving platter to transfer easily.

Grilled Pizza:
Make ahead Whole wheat pizza crust - recipe makes 2 large pizzas or six 8-inch pizzas.
Non-stick cooking spray
Pizza sauce, toppings, and cheese

Thanks to Aaron for figuring this out!

  • Preheat grill.
  • Shape pizza crust into smaller rounds or one large rectangle with half the dough from the recipe above.
  • Get toppings ready. 
  • Par-baking: Spray crust with non-stick cooking spray and place on the grill. Close the lid and then grill for about 3 minutes.
  • Turn off the grill. Take the crust off the grill and bring inside or off the heat. On the opposite side that you grilled, add sauce, toppings and cheese. TIP: If you use a rectangular shape, you can place the pizza crust on a cookie sheet to transfer.
  • After the toppings are on the pizza, place it on the grill with indirect heat (other burner) for about 7 minutes. Then put the direct flame on low to cook for another 5 minutes or so. 
  • When the pizza is done, cut and serve immediately. 
We enjoy our homemade pizza with tomato sauce and fresh spinach, pepperoni (sparingly), and olives. 

I'm so excited to have grilled pizza this summer!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mother's Day Garden Planting

 What better way to spend Mother's Day than starting a new garden! Aaron surprised me on Mother's Day with a trip to a nursery to pick out shrubs and an herb and veggie garden. Back in our condo in Chicago, Aaron and I lived across the street from a garden center. We were inspired by the urban gardening and had a potted garden for herbs. After several years, we tried lettuce and bell peppers. Now with a yard, I'm excited for our first in-ground garden! We have a deer population and living on their trail presents challenges with our bulb plants. They feast on our lilies and tulips. Aaron fortified our garden with a tall wire fence to keep the deer away.

While at the nursery that Sunday morning, Ava had so much fun when she discovered their stock of outdoor toys. We got her a garden toy set, which she loves! She had so much fun using her tools and especially shoveling dirt right into her garden tool bag! Kids are supposed to get dirty from playing in the yard so I thought it was fun to see her dig in, literally!

We planted a small garden with tomatoes (sugar baby yellow and full size red), bell peppers, jalapenos, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, parsley, and mint.

Aaron also planted some bushes that attract butterflies for under our pine trees near our bird feeder. Last summer he built the retaining wall and we put pine mulch to accent the fallen pine needles. It looks really good! He also picked out a lilac bush that will bloom again later in the season. I've been wanting a lilac in our yard since we moved in. They're so fragrant.

Ava enjoyed helping us plant with her garden set. She liked to dig the dirt with her shovel and started to put it in her bag. She loves the outdoors! It was a very special day!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Freezer Meals: Vietmanese Bahn Mi and Pho with Lemon "Donut" Dessert

Bahn Mi with Five-spice chicken thighs and pickled radish and carrot and vegetarian pho

Here's my latest freezer meal for our exchange tonight! I found all the recipes on Pinterest and they turned out great! I grew in East San Jose in a densely populated Vietnamese area. I love pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, and recently became a fan of Banh Mi sandwiches. The other families in my freezer meals groups are fairly adventurous so I thought it would be fun to bring in some Asian flavors. And it was a funny coincidence that another mom decided to make an Asian dinner.

For our freezer meals group, we make enough for ourselves and then trade about 4-5 entire meals with the other families. If we get more families involved we'll still max out at trading 5 meals, but we'll have more variety and can pick and choose which meals we want to bring home. It averages that we have 1 freezer meal per week for the month. I really like the deadline of the exchange to keep me on track with cooking for the next month. Here's my menu and how I made it freezer-friendly!

May's Menu:
Banh Mi Sandwich (on baguette) with Five Spice Chicken Thighs and pickled carrot and radish. 
  • Serve the sandwich with mayo, lime wedges, strips of jalapeno, chicken and fresh cilantro. I marinated the chicken, then froze it. The families will grill or broil the chicken. The pickled carrots and radish are very sweet, but smell terrible. Don't let the scent throw you. 
Vegetarian Pho soup
  •  Broth is frozen in ice cubes. Defrost directly in a saucepan on low, then turn up heat to bring to a boil. Add dry rice noodles. Warm thawed tofu and veggie packet and add to bowl with noodles. If you need more broth add vegetable or chicken broth and season with soy sauce or our favorite Bragg Liquid Aminos (a lower salt alternative).
Mini Lemon Muffin Donuts:
  • Thaw and serve
Freezer meal all packed up and ready to go!

Freezing instructions:

This month, I wasn't sure how to freeze this meal because of the broth. Liquid is so hard to freeze and defrost in ziploc bags without a big mess, so I had the brainstorm to freeze the broth in ice cube trays. I used the ice cube trays with tops that I bought for when I was making Ava's baby food. Then, I popped the broth cubes in a quart size freezer bag.

Freeze the tofu and veggies in one bag and the marinated chicken thighs in another.

Don't freeze the pickled veggies. Store them in a mason jar with the brine, which will keep in the fridge for up to 4-weeks. The limes and jalapenos are sturdy enough to keep in the fridge for a few weeks or you can buy more. I didn't supply the cilantro, but you need that to be fresh.

I didn't freeze the rice noodles for the pho, but those can be stored in the pantry.

I'd love to hear your ideas on freezer meals you're thinking of making!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Family Vacation in the Mountains

Last weekend, we took our first family vacation to the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We had a great time! We took a long weekend from Thursday to Sunday evening.

From Indy, the drive is around 7 hours, but we had to stop several times for Ava to stretch her legs. I've shared before about our challenges on long car rides with Ava because she doesn't sleep much in the car. Both directions, she slept about an hour of the 7! I'm thankful that I was prepared with toys, activities, snacks, books, and DVDs for our car ride. A couple weeks ago, I pinned this blog post about activities while traveling with young kids in the car. There are some great ideas. We have a book with felt pieces that you can create your own scene, which really entertained Ava. I brought her portable chalkboard with magnetic alphabet and numbers, which did wonders. But it was Dora that saved us most of the time. Just to tell you how much Dora the Explorer we watched, Aaron and I had the songs stuck in our heads when we got back. I packed lots of her favorite snacks. Ava is starting to love peanut butter sandwiches now, which is a good for car rides.
Ava wanted to swim in the fountain.

A break during our stroll.
When we first arrived, we settled in to our rental cabin in the mountains. We had to drive about 15-20 minutes outside of downtown Gatlinburg. It was secluded and very peaceful. We picked that cabin because it was dog friendly. The only downside is that since it wasn't easy to head back to town, we decided to go out once a day instead of back and forth. We decided to grab dinner out at the Smoky Mountain Brewery where Ava devoured spaghetti with meat sauce. We were pleased since she's so picky these days. She had fun watching the other kids who dined with their families near us. On the way back to the cabin, we stopped by the grocery store to stock up on food for the weekend.

The next day, we decided to relax at the cabin to decompress for most of the day. Since we had a full kitchen we were able to make our breakfast and lunches there. After Ava's afternoon nap, we made our way downtown and walked through the shops. We stopped for donuts and sat on a bench by the water fountain in a shopping area. The three of us had fun walking together. Then when Ava got tired, we decided to call it a day and head back. On the way back we scoped out a local barbecue joint on the part of town by where the locals shop.  She stalked birds and wanted to hug them. Ava was sad when the birds flew away when she got too close.

From our driving tour

We went back to the cabin and Ava crashed out very early after dinner. She enjoyed our vacation so much that she barely took naps during the day. Instead of her usual 2+ hour nap, she slept less than an hour because she didn't want to miss anything. Then she crashed out very early at night. Having a house with a kitchen was nice traveling with a toddler so didn't have to leave the house much.

The next day, we took a driving tour of the Smoky Mountain Park in a path that is well known for the amazing water falls along the way. The water runs briskly and the sound is so calming. In fact, Ava fell asleep in the car and napped most of the time. She finally woke up towards the end so she got to see the last bit.

Relaxed by the soothing waterfalls. 
Aaron found a hiking trail for us that led to a beautiful waterfall. He told me that the Ramsey Cascade Trail is 4-miles, then we realized when we arrived at the park that it's 4 miles each way! I tried very hard not to be a nay-sayer when I saw on the park's website that the trail is estimated to take 5-7 hours to hike. I was worried since I only packed enough food/diapers for a 2-3 hour hike. Aaron told me that he was going to carry Ava and I would carry the back pack with our gear. Since we started out after 2pm, I thought it would be after dark before we got back if we went on the entire hike. We have a Boba soft structured carrier that goes on the front or back and has foot holds for Ava. It's such a great carrier to share between moms and dads because it adjusts easily. She loved riding on Daddy's back. She asked to get down a bit and we helped her walk, but the tree roots were a bit tricky. Ava started to get fussy and Aaron realized that we should head back. We ended up walking about 5 of the 8-miles. The trail was challenging and steep, but at least it wasn't too hot.

Taking a break with Mommy out of the Boba.
At the trail head.

Bena loved the woods.

On our last night in Gatlinburg after the hike, we stopped to pick up a pizza for dinner to take back to the cabin. It was relaxing. We enjoyed the hot tub a couple nights. The moon was full and bright both nights! I got a little freaked the last night because Aaron thought he saw something in the woods below us. A bear left a paw print on our garbage container the first night so I was worried it was a bear. We enjoyed dessert and good beer together, relaxing. It was amazing to be there last weekend. The only sad part was that we felt it was one day too short with the long drive. 
On Sunday morning, Aaron let me sleep in and he took Ava downstairs and started cooking breakfast. I got downstairs and it was such a treat to be served breakfast! We left the cabin after packing up. The drive home wasn't too bad. We're not the sure where we'll go on our next vacation, but this Summer we have a couple family reunion weekends so it probably won't be until next year sometime.
The moss-covered rocks were gorgeous!