Sunday, April 29, 2012

What Ava is Up to These Days

Life with a 2-year old is exhausting but so much fun! Parents everywhere understand what I mean. Let's just use the example of changing her clothes. I take off a shirt and Ava will run away. Then I grab her and we try to put her clean clothes on, then repeat. She runs away squealing say "Going to get you." She wants to be chased!

Before I became a mother, I heard parents say that they stay fit by "chasing after their kids." Woh! Now, I get it. Not only are you chasing them, but you're carrying them sometimes kicking and screaming. I swear it's a workout! Ava is now up to 26 pounds. Her seemingly insatiable appetite is now evident by how much she's growing. At her birth she was 21 inches and she maintains her taller stature, but she's been pretty lean since her 1st birthday. We try to maximize her calorie intake by offering her nut butters and hummus. She loves both! I offered her some hummus and pita chips this afternoon when she woke up from a nap. After 3 servings later, I put the container away and she said "bye bye, hummus. Love you." It was hysterical. I think it's so funny when she says bye bye to inanimate objects like her baby stroller or some other fun toy.

We're spending lots of time outside these days. Aaron got a ton of top soil and mulch for the yard a few weeks ago. We (mostly Aaron) have been slowly putting it around the yard. Aaron is brilliant with home projects! He amazes me! We have a rocky area from a pool that a previous homeowner covered up. We're trying to fill the bare spots in with soil to grow grass. Ava loves to be outside! She watches us and likes to help. Today Aaron was digging to make a spot for the base of a new play set we inherited from a friend! She picked up another shovel to help Daddy. I wish I got a picture of that!

When I pick her up from daycare, she tells me about her day. I ask her if she has fun and she usually responds "Yes" with enthusiasm. She tell us about her friends and about her activities. Her care givers leave us little stories about her day, which is so nice! Here's a previous post from some daycare stories. Ava is in the midst of transitioning to the 2-year classroom at daycare. She will have big changes in her day with language arts and she will walk to the cafe for lunch with her class.

Ava got a play kitchen from "ma-ga" and "pa-ga" (her name for her Berkey grandparents). If you ask her what she's making she usually says she's cooking pizza. She likes to pretend to pour water and will offer you some apple juice in the cup. We pretend to drink it.

I recently got her a Baby Stella doll. She loves it! Last weekend, it was new so she wouldn't do anything without her baby. She likes to take the clothes and diaper on and off. Ava especially likes to put the baby's paci in her mouth. It has a magnet underneath the material so you can put the paci in front of the mouth and it holds. Ava likes to nurse her baby doll, pat her to sleep and take her for stroller rides. When we move around the house to different levels, she asks "baby comin?" She loves to take her toys up and down the stairs with her. Even the key ring or rock. It's really funny how she brings the toys around with her.
The last few months when I pick Ava up from daycare, she takes off running. Then on Friday, it took us forever to get out of there because she found an open door to this giant playroom where there are a ton of fun toys like this play kitchen and shopping cart. There are ride on cars. She was glued. I thought if I put her sunglasses on her she would be interested in going back to the car. 
Ava is really interested in the ABC's and "writing." She asks for paper and pen to write and asks me to write her name. She likes the paper with the lines. She makes marks both tiny and large. She loves to count! When she counts to 10 she often forgets 6. Her favorite number is 2. When she sees 2 of anything she exclaims "2!"
Our bedtime routine is pretty smooth. Usually Ava falls asleep from exhaustion because she's so busy. We get her in her pajamas, brush her teeth and she drinks some water. Then we read a book and she nurses to sleep. Here's a picture in a rare moment of my hair up. Ava gets really upset when my hair is up, especially when she's nursing. She says "Mommy hair down." So funny. She likes to play with my hair. It's really sweet. Our favorite PJs are a long sleeve onesie and some Baby Legs (leg warmers). She is so warm in that and it looks cozy. She likes her feet bare when she sleeps. Ava is like her Daddy and runs warm.

I wish I could write all the fun things that she's saying right now. Ava is such a great communicator. We talk about the size of things (big, little), temperature (hot, warm, cold), bye bye and home, transportation (cars, trucks, airplanes), relationships (mama, daddy, grandparents, siblings). We talk about everything. She understands the difference between "eat" and "eating." It's fun to see her conjugate her verbs now. At mealtimes she'll say "no like it" or "I like it" and won't touch what she doesn't like. Her favorite foods are spinach-ricotta lasagna, homemade pizza, fish, hummus, steel cut oats (mixed with dates), scrambled eggs, peanut butter toast, fruit and yogurt smoothies, homemade muffins, yogurt, granola and soy milk, naan bread, homemade healthy cookies, and quesadillas. I made her some quick, homemade chicken nuggets out of the chicken breast we were eating last night for dinner. She sang a song about chicken and couldn't get enough. We're having so much fun!

Homemade, All-Natural Deodorant

It was very easy to mix with a spoon in this small bowl.
We recently had an interesting thread discussion in my La Leche League Facebook group about using deodorant without aluminum, which can be especially harmful for women since it's linked to cancer. When I was pregnant, I was diligent about using all natural deodorant, but then I got lazy. Most of the ones that I tried had to be reapplied very often. If you use a traditional commercial deodorant, it's also combined with an antiperspirant to reduce sweating. I had best success when I applied a crystal stick (antiperspirant) first, and then the natural deodorant. One of the moms shared a "recipe" to make your own deodorant. In fact, she's been making it for several years for herself, husband and even her family members. So, I decided to give it a try!

I mixed this batch of deodorant this afternoon. It has three major ingredients: equal parts baking soda, arrowroot starch, and coconut oil. I've started to use coconut oil for more than just cooking. Because of it's in a solid state and contains antibacterial and healing properties, you can use it on a baby's bum to fight diaper rash or on a cut or scrape.

Store the deodorant in a wide, small glass jar that will be easy to put your hand into to apply. The blog post that I found has a tutorial for putting your homemade deodorant in your commercial container.

Baking soda can irritate your skin if you use a lot of it so it's recommended to use a thin layer. I'm going to experiment with using the crystal stick first and then applying a very thin layer of the deodorant to see how it works for me.

Since Aaron is going to try it as well, I decided to add a neutral scent using Tea Tree Oil. We have that oil on hand because we use it on our dog as a natural mosquito repellant. It smells fantastic!

After my shower tonight, I applied the deodorant mix and it rubs into your skin very easily. I'll let you know how we like it!

Here's the link to the original post with the recipe and tutorial. I also posted it to my Pinterest "For the Home" board. Have you tried your own deodorant?

UPDATE: May 6, 2012
I don't think I can ever go back to commercial deodorant! I LOVE this stuff. It rubs into your skin so well without the annoying white flakes from commercial deodorant. It works for both me and Aaron and no funky body odor to report! Aaron was skeptical, but he was really impressed. We went on a hike and I sweat like crazy, but I wasn't smelly at all! That never would have happened with my old Secret. The one thing to watch in the warmer weather is the coconut oil will melt to liquid at 76 degrees. So you can put in the refrigerator and then bring it to room temperature before you apply it. Coming out of the fridge it's rock hard. You should try it!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Freezer Meal: Sweet Potato-Chickpea Curry & Naan Bread

Last Sunday, Ava and I went to our third freezer meals exchange group. We take turns hosting the big swap. We trade family meals that we'll use for the next month. We trade 4 complete meals, but we plan to have more people in the group so we can have 5 meals to trade and people can have their pick for variety. One of the moms couldn't make it this month, but three of us met up tonight to swap meals. I'm really happy to have these meals in the freezer because we average one freezer meal per week. It's so convenient! The advantage that I found with the group is that we keep ourselves on track with the bulk cooking and then trade for a variety of different meals. We started the group in January and held our first meet-up in February an original four La Leche League moms. Since we're like-minded moms (eco-friendly, health-conscious) we started out with the guidelines to use as much local, organic ingredients as possible. Our meat choices must be local and natural too. We cook a family meal and provide an entree, side dish, and dessert. If your dish requires items from a pantry, then you need to provide it. We include the instructions for reheating and finishing the meal. When we started I bought some cheap casserole dishes to use for freezing. Anna told us how to package with freezing our meals into standard dishes and bags in the freezer to minimize space and eliminate the need for passing around dishes. I stocked up on plastic freezer bags, wraps, and foils and away we went.

We've discovered that it's helpful to spread out the cooking in multiple days. Yes, it requires some planning! I select my meal for the next month on the day we meet so I can spend the entire month planning. I consider the month ahead and plan the weekends when we're home to cook. It's working really well! I usually make an extra family portion for our dinner either cooking it fresh or adding to the freezer stash.

This month, I made a Chickpea-Sweet Potato, Cauliflower Curry with homemade curry paste with homemade Naan Bread, from my Simply in Season cookbook.I always cook dried chickpeas for the curry in the slow cooker. I provided a cup of Jasmine rice for every meal and a set of cookies for dessert (either Thumbprints or Sesame Sunflower Seed Refrigerator cookies).

I normally make the chickpea curry using a pre-made sauce from Trader Joe's. Since I was making such a large batch of curry I wanted to spread it out over 2 cooking days and make the curry paste from my favorite cookbook, Feeding the Whole Family. I spread it out in multiple steps: shopping for ingredients, cooking dried chickpeas in the slow cooker, cooking curry and naan bread batches in 2 different weekends, and baking cookies over 2 different weeks. It worked out very well! I used the time to make enough for our meal and then freeze the rest. This made it really easy to do the bulk cooking.

This version of the curry was made with: crushed tomatoes, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, coconut milk, cooked in coconut oil and seasoned with a generous portion of curry paste and sea salt. It was delicious served over the Jasmine rice. I finally nailed the Naan bread recipe, too! Aaron and Ava love it. You can reheat the naan in an iron skillet.

Next month, I'm going to make a Vietmanese meal with chicken Bahn Mi sandwiches and vegetarian pho. I'm going to pickle some veggies for sandwich. I'll reuse the small 4oz jars that I got from the pimentos that I bought for my March meal, Chicken Spaghetti casserole.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Make-Ahead: Homemade Curry Paste

I'm meeting this afternoon with the other moms in my freezer meals exchange. We're going to trade our freezer meals. This month, I made a Chickpea-Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry and used a homemade curry paste. Usually, I buy the sauce from Trader Joe's as a base (check out my recipe here). But since I was cooking at giant batch for 6 meals. I decided to make to try a recipe in my favorite Feeding the Whole Family cookbook. The paste is fantastic and not too spicy for the kids. If you want to add some kick, I suggest doing so in the dish that you're cooking directly or when you serve the meal offer hot sauce on the table.

I had fun making the paste. I used my coffee grinder that I converted to spice mill. Ava had fun helping me pour the whole spices in the grinder. The house was very fragrant when it was cooking. I used a generous amount of curry paste (about 1/4 cup) to make a double batch of curry. I didn't use any additional seasoning except salt and it had a really flavor.

Storage: Put the paste in mason jars and they will keep in the refrigerator for many months.

Homemade Curry Paste
A flavoring in soups, beans, curry stews, and vegetable dishes.
Makes 2 cups

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound onions finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup whole cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tbs whole mustard seeds (about 1 oz)
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cardamom 
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup turmeric
  • 2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 cup peeled, finely chopped ginger
  •  Heat oil in a 2-quart pot. Add onions and sauce until very soft. 
  • While onions are cooking, grind the following whole spices to a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder: cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, peppercorns, and mustard. Add to onions. Add the remaining spices and fresh ginger to the onion mixture; let cook about 5 minutes while stirring. Store in a sealed jar(s) in a refrigerator, where it will keep for several months.
If I make this again, I think I'll puree the entire paste since the onions are still fairly large. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Fun!

Ava was excited to see the duck on the top of the box.
She was shaking with excitement when she saw her presents.
 Easter weekend was so fun! On Friday afternoon, Ava got a package from my mom with Easter goodies. She was so excited when she saw her hot pink box in the kitchen when we got home from daycare that afternoon! Grandma Anna sent her a bunny and an adorable bunny themed plate and cup. She immediately put the plate and cup on the table and said "comin" because she wanted to bring that to "Pa-ga's house."

This is what happens in Daddy's car when we're waiting for him to get our dinner.
Ava knows where to put the key in the ignition to start the car. She said "Pa-Ga's house" as if she was driving there herself!

We drove up to Lake Oliver to visit my in-laws as soon as Aaron got home from work on Friday night. The drive to Northern Indiana is usually stressful, especially on Friday nights the closer we get towards Ava's bedtime so we were thankful to leave earlier. She rarely sleeps in the car. We have a DVD player and I pack her snacks and toys to play with, but it doesn't always work. If she sees me or or hears my voice, she can get antsy to get out of her car seat. It's a 2 1/2 drive and sometimes we have to stop so Aaron will get gas and then Ava can nurse. We stopped to grab a quick dinner and gas up. Aaron went inside the restaurant to order our dinner while Ava and I stayed in the car because of course she wanted to nurse! She nursed for a bit then then I sat her in the drivers seat next to me. She grabbed the car key and started to put it in the ignition. I watched her closely and was surprised that she knew what to do. When we leave I always start the car with her in my arms and then put her in her car seat. This girl watches everything!

Watching a boat go by on the Lake. "Where go?"
We arrived at the Lake around bedtime, but she was too excited to go to bed. She finally was at Pa-Ga's house! In fact, Ava was so excited to be there that she had trouble falling asleep that night.

Saturday morning, we relaxed late into the morning in our PJs. We had breakfast burritos and Aaron got ready to play golf with his best friend, Zac. Ava had so much fun playing with Zac's 4-year old son, Colt! Michele and I ran into town to a Mexican grocery store to pick up my favorite childhood treat, pan dulce (sweet bread). I also found some hibiscus tea. We left Ava with Pa-Ga who walked with her to the channel and she helped him clean the outside of the house. According to Grandpa, Ava asked every couple minutes "Mama home?" He was a good sport!
Ava's Easter basket - lavender nail polish, sheep book, stamps, stickers, a toy chick, bunny, Dora Band-Aids, and purple matchbox cars.

 When Daddy got home after golfing, we started the Egg Hunt! Grandpa hid the eggs while Grandma took her on a walk to distract her so she wouldn't see what was happening.  It was a bit brisk, but beautiful. As soon as I called them over, Ava spotted her first egg! She opened it and was so excited. I filled the eggs with her favorite snacks, stickers, a couple matchbox cars because she loves her cousin's so much. She shoved the snacks in her mouth so fast so she could go onto the next egg. She had a blast! Then Ava got to see her Easter basket. I had so much fun picking it out and she enjoyed it!

Great Grandma Berkey and our family friends, Sue and her mom, Grandma Mary Jane, came over for Easter dinner. Great Grandma had an Easter bunny for Ava and some yellow Peeps. We sat inside and Aaron's mom pulled out her dulcimer. She watched Grandma play it and then grabbed the pick and started playing it! I realized that it was Ava after a few moments. She was great! Ava is really interested in music.

We took a pontoon boat ride on the Lake before dinner. It was relaxing! Ava got a little scared when we started to speed up and some water got in front where she was standing so she quickly hopped in my lap. Then she nursed and it was so peaceful that we almost fell asleep. Everyone enjoyed it, including Bena who sat by Grandpa as he drove the boat.

Ava didn't sleep much yesterday in the afternoon and she went to bed around 9pm. She was having too much fun playing with Colt who came back over with his parents. We had a lazy morning together at the house while Aaron's parents were at church. I washed Bena because she rolled in deer poop and smelled so foul. Ava watched in amazement as Bena got a shower! We had a quick lunch and then got on the road.

When we got home, we relaxed together outside in the yard, enjoying the sunshine. I made a snack to share: celery with peanut butter, raisins, and pretzels made into "butterflies." I planned ahead to use a freezer meal (Chicken Spaghetti, garlic bread, and maple-ginger carrots) so with the extra time, I prepped a split pea soup that I'll make in the slow cooker tomorrow while we're at work.

I had a nice late chat with my mother-in-law last night who reminded me that I should live in the moment to enjoy it all! With my crazy schedule, instead of doing something productive I thought I should just relax sometimes and go with the flow. I took her advice this afternoon when I sat outside relaxing with Ava and Aaron instead of doing something else inside. It was awesome! The weekend was so busy and fun, Ava crashed out after her bath quickly to catch up on all her lost sleep. And now it's my turn to head to bed!

We had beautiful weather for an Egg Hunt!

Excited to look for more eggs.

This big egg had 2 matchbox cars.

So excited to find the eggs!
She literally watched Ma-Ga for a couple minutes, grabbed the pick and started playing. Amazing!