Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mommy and Me Pamper Day

Yesterday, Ava and I went to my hair salon for some pampering! We both got manicures and she got a haircut. The best part is that we went on a Monday morning so we had the whole place to ourselves.
Our manicures! Ava loves hers!
Getting her hair washed. She loved the animal drape.

Hair is done and styled and she's getting her mani.
On the way to the salon, told her that we'd be with Rhonda and Danielle and she practiced saying their names. She got her haircut by Rhonda, the salon owner that does my hair. She asked to grow her hair longer so Rhonda just cleaned up her hair to give it some style. We're growing our her bangs too, which is a long process. Her hair is growing in thicker rather than longer it seems.

The girls at the salon enjoyed having Ava there. She acted like a little lady, sitting tall in her chair for her haircut.

She asked Rhonda is she would get a prize at the end, just like her doctor's appointments. That cracked us up. Sure enough, Rhonda gave her a little bag with lots of fun stuff in it like a ball, swim goggles, play money, a play ring, and little nail polishes. She was so excited and even carried it around like a purse.

Just before we left, she found the candy dish in the waiting area. She served us each a peppermint on a silver coaster like a plate. The girls loved that too!

Ava was so excited that when Aaron got home, she showed him her new manicure right away. And she showed her girlfriends at school this morning when I dropped her off. She loved it!

Having a daughter who's so feminine is really fun. I wonder if this phase is temporary, but I'll enjoy it while it's here. Maybe we'll make it a tradition to go around Christmas time to the salon together. That was fun!
Showing off our nails!
This might be a fun annual tradition!

She asked for a "prize" like at the doctor's office.

Loving her fish-globe ball.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Breakfast with Santa

Ava was so excited to have breakfast with Santa this year. She's more excited about Santa and Christmas in general than ever before! We went to the Breakfast with Santa at the YMCA and it was really fun! They set up crafts for kids to make ornaments and a balloon artist.

Ava made a special envelope for Santa and she put a picture inside. She gave Santa the special envelope before she took her picture with him. When he asked he what she wanted for Christmas she said "princesses." Of course! She's a bit princess obsessed this year!

We met a friendly family of three that morning. Ava had fun with their 5-year old son. They played together in the climbing area while us moms waited for the balloon artist.

The event was better than we expected. We'll definitely do it again next year. It beats the Mall Santa any day!

Breakfast before seeing Santa

Holding her ornament and ice princess wand.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Country Jog

Amish Farms

This morning, I took a jog in the country side. We're up at my in-laws' lake house in Northern Indiana. They live in Amish country. It's really slow paced and relaxed here. As I shared before, I restarted my fitness routine in June. I've been back to spin classes at the gym and working out about 4-5 days a week. I feel really good and not feeling sore after exercising.

A few weeks ago when we were at the lake, I ran about 45 minutes. Today, I set out for a goal for an hour. I use my heart monitor and watch my heart rate closely. Instead of speed or distance, I look at my heart rate and listen to my body. In spin classes, I do lots of interval training and have already seen my aerobic endurance improve. My lungs feel clear when I exercise and I'm not seeing any asthma issues.

Today, I ran on a straight, dirt road along the Amish farms. I ran for an hour and turned around at the 30 minute mark. The sun wasn't very direct in the first half, but it was starting to get really hot towards the end. 

I enjoyed the quiet scenery, despite the farm smells. I didn't see any cars, just an Amish man crossing the road to get his mail. I passed two horses and one blinked at me sweetly to I took their picture.

Beautiful horses
At the halfway point where I turned around, I saw a sign in the corn field that said no spray organic. That made me happy!
Organic corn

When I got back to the house, I felt good. But then I looked in the mirror and I was bright red from the heat! I drank a lot of water to cool off.

I ran close to 4 miles in an hour and burned 735 calories. I don't run for distance. I just stay in tuned with my body and how I feel. I religiously watch my heart monitor to take a break if it starts getting too high. I will do a recovery period and let my heart rate come down about 20 beats per minute after walking a minute or so. It was nice to be alone away from the family to decompress.

Friday, August 9, 2013

State Fair Visit

Bravely petting the calf.

We've been in Indy 4 years now and every August we visit the State Fair. It's been a  different experience each year. Our first year, I was in my early pregnancy with Ava. And now it marks a summer tradition with her as she grows bigger. We like to go on a weekday evening and stay for dinner so we can see the animals without the weekend crowds. 

This year Ava was very brave with petting the animals. She really enjoyed petting the ponies, baby goats, and the baby cows. Her school had their own Fair where they made crafts like quilt and fruits and veggie art projects. They learned all about farms and had their school Fair on the same day that the State Fair kicked off. She really loved it! Here's a look back two years ago when she was afraid of petting the baby calves. And last year at age 2, Ava fed the goats for the first time.

Seeing the babies in the Cattle Barn

First year of the Fair rides.

The Dad's Lounge next to the Lactation Station
Feeding carrots to the goats.
We went through the animal barns when we first arrived. Ava especially loved the sow and her piglets. They were sleeping and then woke up to nurse when we walked up. We hit all the animals first, and then she asked to do some rides. She was just a bit too small to do the rides by herself so we went with her. Aaron rode the air balloons with her and I did a sea ship ride with her. Then she played a game throwing darts to pop a balloon on a wall. Three year olds throwing darts is a bit scary! She picked out a soft toy rose as her prize and carried it the rest of the evening.

Then we walked to get some dinner. Aaron and I got pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches which weren't too unhealthy. But, we did splurge and shared some french fries. After the short dinner break, we continued to the Future Farmers of America barn that has the baby animals and playground area. It's like a petting area for the kids to feed the goats. She had fun feeding the goats carrot shavings.

We stopped in Pioneer Village and saw more horses and ponies. There was a long line for the pony ride so maybe we'll do that next year.

Lemon Shake Up
By the end of the evening, we walked the entire loop! It was starting to rain, but we managed to stop for our favorite Fair treat for dessert. We shared an elephant ear. Ava really loved it.

Ava and I are heading back to the Fair next Friday with Aaron's mom. I'm volunteering at the Lactation Station with a girlfriend next Friday morning and Ava will get to visit the Fair again with Grandma. I volunteer at the Lactation Station every year. It's a nice spot for nursing mamas to stop to breastfeed in comfortable rocking chairs near fans. Usually with the sweltering August humidity, it's nice for mother's to have some fans to cool off.

Ava is excited about going back next week.We really like this fun summer tradition!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Healthy Budget Friendly School Lunch: Apple Sandwich

Step 1: Find a round apple
In this installment of the healthy budget friendly school lunches, I wanted to try apple sandwiches. I saw this idea awhile back and I think it's a great convenient and pretty way to eat an apple. I cut the apple with a star shape cookie cutter and filled it with natural creamy Kroger peanut butter. Then, eat it like a sandwich. If your school is nut-free, try sunflower seed butter. It has a similar consistency as peanut butter and the taste is also nutty.

Ava's favorite snack these days is a vegan Maple Oat Brown Sugar muffin. I bake a batch and freeze them. You can pull them out from the freezer and they will be defrosted by lunch or in our case afternoon snack. Ava has an egg allergy and I like this recipe because there's no egg and it uses coconut oil. I made them for a play date and the moms and kids loved them! I use silicon muffin cups to pack them in the lunch container. Kids love the different colors.

Step 2: Slice horizontally in the middle.
Step 3: Cut out the middle with a small cookie cutter shape. Fill with peanut or other nut butter and stack.

To round out the lunch, I added vanilla organic yogurt in a separate container. A budget friendly tip is to buy yogurt in large tubs instead of the small cups. It's cheaper to buy the larger container and then you can fill small reusable containers for snacks or lunch on the go. Another tip is to buy plain yogurt and flavor the yogurt with a homemade berry sauce or pure maple syrup. I don't like to buy flavored yogurts because of the artificial ingredients so I usually read the labels and stick with something simple.

You may also include the extra apple pieces in a reusable lunch bag in case your child would like more apples. You might notice that I don't include veggies. That's a hard one for us. Ava won't eat veggies except for a few forms. I usually can get her to eat spinach in homemade fruit and yogurt smoothies and we pile in the veggies in our spaghetti and meatballs. She will eat spinach or swiss chard even in lasagna and homemade pizza. I try to fit in veggies wherever I can, even if it's just a small taste with dinner. When is comes to packed school lunches, I try to give my daughter foods that she will eat because we've established that she likes them at home. It wouldn't work for us to experiment with foods that she won't eat while she's away because she will do just go without.

Muffin, apple-peanut butter sandwich, and yogurt

Have your kids picked out a fun lunch box? Ava picked this lunch box out and she carries it with pride to school on the days we pack her lunch. Some kids are sensitive to packing lunches and eating different things than their friends. Sometimes Ava's friends make comments in the morning asking why she's eating different pancakes for example. I tell them that the pancakes aren't good for her body and they would make her sick. Her teachers tell me that for the most part, she eats her own food when I provide it without a second thought which I'm glad to hear. I believe starting her out at this early age with eating healthy foods will carry forward to her adult life, which is why I make it a priority to provide it. Plus, it's really rewarding to know that she's eating nutritious foods as her body is growing. Also check out the Kroger "Trade-Worthy School Lunches" Pinboard for more ideas from moms.

By the way...Ava really liked the star-shaped apple sandwich. She thought it was really cool!

All packed up!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Healthy Budget Friendly School Lunch Ideas: Make Your Own Trail Mix

I started packing lunches and snacks for Ava's preschool when we discovered her egg allergy earlier this year. I also bring her a lunch on the days that she won't eat the hot lunch. I'd rather pack her a lunch than her just eating only the fruit. Healthy and budget friendly really do go together! When you cook your own meals you're saving money and you can focus on healthy ingredients for your family. I always prepare a packed lunch for our entire family. I spent about 30 minutes in the morning packing lunches for our family.

Kroger grocery stores have a fun healthy, budget friendly school lunch campaign right now. So I thought I'd join the fun. We have a Kroger just a few minutes from our house and I've been impressed with the store brand products such as cereal, peanut butter, and milk. We read the labels closely to buy healthier food options. For example, the Kroger natural creamy peanut butter is just peanuts and salt. I focus my shopping in the organic produce and natural food sections. I like the Key Ring app to store my store cards and you can access coupons in your mobile app. It's a great way to get the deals in the store without clipping the coupons.
Pretty and healthy lunch!

One of my favorite packable snacks is make-your-own trail mix. It makes a great addition to a lunch too! Depending on your mood or seasons, you can customize it with anything. I like sesame sticks because they add a salty, but healthy flair along with nuts. Yesterday, I couldn't resist these organic grapes at our local Kroger. They are delicious. I added nitrate-free ham roll-ups. Ava likes it when I roll up her ham or turkey lunch meat. And she especially loves when I cut her cheese slices into shapes.

 Healthy Lunch 1:  
  • Organic grapes 
  • Make your own Trail Mix (Kroger honey nut blitz cereal, roasted almonds, and cheddar sesame sticks)
  • Nitrate free ham lunch meat roll-up
  • Cheese stars
  • Wheat crackers in the Wexy bag
Diggin in!
I made this lunch with smaller portions because I was making it as Ava's afternoon snack. I like the concept of a "nibble tray" so this works well as a snack for young ones too.  Here's a picture after she discovered her snack when she woke from her nap. She was excited and named all of the items. Fun shapes, colors and textures are great for kids lunches to keep the interested in the food.

Watch the blog for some other healthy and budget friendly school lunch ideas.

Giveaway! I'm going to give away a $25 Kroger gift card to one of my lucky readers this week after the posts. To win you can comment on the blog or Facebook, share, or repin to enter the drawing. Add your own healthy lunch ideas to the comments! I'll do a random drawing for the winner after all the posts are up. Keep reading...

Coconut Oil: Beyond Baking

Trader Joe's is now selling coconut oil and using it instead of butter in their cooking demo stations. Within the "crunchy" mommy circles, coconut oil has been such a hot topic. Using coconut oil for more than baking and for skin is something I keep hearing more and more about.

I started up on the coconut oil train after reading about it on Dr. Mercola's blog several years ago. I bought a tub from Whole Foods and used it primarily for baking or high temp cooking. I use coconut oil for making muffins or stir fry dishes. Ava's favorite right now is a vegan recipe with coconut oil, egg-free Maple Brown Sugar Oat Muffins. I make a batch and keep them in the freezer afternoon snacks at school.

Then I discovered homemade deodorant last year! The deodorant is a mix of coconut oil, arrowroot powder, and baking soda and it really eliminates stinky pits! Coconut oil is solid until about 76 degrees. It works well for deodorant because of the solid paste. And the antibacterial properties help eliminate any funky smells.

Coconut oil is also great for diaper rashes on baby's bottoms. If you're cloth diapering, you need to be careful about using traditional diaper rash creams because they cause the cloth to not absorb as much. I remember one of my daughter's care givers slathering diaper cream innocently and then it clung to our cloth diaper like crazy. You can use a diaper liner if you use a barrier cream, or simply use a small amount of coconut oil on the baby's bottom to heal her skin.

This week, Ava had I have had nasty colds and instead of using petroleum-based Vaseline on our noses and face, I used coconut oil. It's so soothing! I have noticed it's much more healing than any other lotion that I've used on a sensitive skin during a cold. And believe me, we have used loads of tissues on our noses this week.

I keep a very small container in the bathroom of coconut oil so it's convenient for skin applications and it won't be contaminated in our larger jar.

I really like the Nutiva brand (available at Whole Foods and Amazon). I also recently bought a giant 54oz tub from Costco that was about $15. A great value!

Have you tried coconut oil either in cooking or on your skin? What do you think?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Back in the Fitness Game Again

In the past few months, I've been slowly ramping up my fitness program. Having a young child, mixed with work travel and working full-time pretty much wiped out my old 4-5 day a week exercise routine. I started working out at lunches at my company's gym and then the weather started warming up so walking outside was much more appealing. In March, I started to gently wean Ava from nursing in a respectful way. It was a slow process that just wrapped up a few weeks ago. I need to blog about her weaning story in the future. It's still very fresh and emotional for me. By not breastfeeding as much, I started to see my metabolism slow down and now my body is transitioning to a new state again. Back in the old days of exclusive nursing (before solids), I was likely burning 500-800 calories that brought me back to pre-pregnancy weight pretty quickly. But I wasn't getting enough physical exercise that's healthy for my heart and body.

In May, my work travel started to slow down and with the prospect of having a more predictable work schedule I started stepping up my fitness routine. I added more frequent workouts during the week and I started run-walk intervals. I noticed my hip was sore after running, but that has gone away now.

Then about a month ago, I joined the YMCA. I've heard great things about it from my friends in town. I was so excited to get back to cycle class again. I was really into cycle back in Chicago. Check out my interview with my cycle instructor, which is awesome even 4 years later. I bought a new heart monitor because for the life of me, I couldn't find my old one. I love training with my heart monitor. Back when I was doing conditioning, my asthma symptoms were much more mild.

I look at my calendar week-by-week and look at when I carve out some time for me to workout. Now that Ava is older, leaving her at home with Aaron is easier. In the early months, I napped on the weekends with her to catch up because of the night wakings during the work week. I've talked to many of my working mom friends to ask them how they get their workouts in to their schedule to get some ideas. Some work it out with their partners to workout at night, others do the early morning, and also after their children are sleeping at night. I couldn't justify leaving Ava after a long work day separation since the evenings were our only time together. Since Ava goes to sleep later than many kids, I'm pretty much worthless after she's asleep. I've found that it works best for us if I get up at the crack of dawn to do a cycle class at 5:15am or at lunch. So I look at my week ahead and literally try to fit exercise into the mix.

Next week will be tough. I have a big work week, traveling on a day trip to Chicago on Thursday, and then we're off to a family reunion Friday - Sunday. So I worked out at the gym before lunch and came home to Aaron and Ava napping. And then I'll go to two 5:15am cycle classes at the gym. And no doubt the following week will be different.

So while I'm really careful about the foods that we eat at home, I know that fitness was a big gap. I'm feeling better and I know that in time, the results will be seen. I'm motivated by how my body is less sore and my heart rate isn't so high from jogging or intense parts of the cycle class.

Since this is my first time adjusting back to a post-nursing body, I'm really curious how my body will change over the next few months. I've heard from other moms that after they weaned their babies, they shed some more weight that held on or they gained more energy.

I've also gone back to tracking my calories using an iPhone app. So little by little, I'm hoping that it will all make a difference. I'm motivated and ready to make it happen!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Who Am I?

I can't even tell you how many times this week alone a kid or teacher called me "Ava's Mom" as if it were my actual name. I answer to it without hesitation just like if they called me Amanda. After Ava was first born, I wrote a post called "I'm Ava Mom" about kids and grown-ups calling me that instead of my name. It was only a few months ago that Ava wondered about my actual name.

When I was a little girl my family called me Mandi. Now only a few people call me Mandi. After graduating college, I built a professional identity as Amanda Volarvich. Then 7 1/2 years ago, Aaron and I got married and changed my identity to Amanda Berkey. The Volarvich name showed up surprisingly in January when we signed our mortgage refinance paperwork. I couldn't believe after all this time, I signed my name as Amanda Volarvich.
The day I became a Berkey.
Then Ava was born in March 2010. Hearing myself referred to as a mother was surreal. Now, Ava prefers to call me mama or mom. And in sweet moments, she calls us Baby Mama and Baby Daddy. And then if we have another child, I'm sure it will be so cool to hear his/her friends call me by their name too.

First family photo in March 2010.
Here I am 36-years old, and I remember those days in my 20's when I identified with being a feminist focusing my power on advancing a career and being independent. Then after marrying Aaron, we merged our independent lives and identities into a unit. We had to become more reliant on one another. We've adopted a mix of traditional roles in the context of a modern family. I still feel like a feminist, but now inside of marriage and motherhood. I handle the cooking, cleaning (ok, outsourced a bit!), and the bulk of child care duties. That's not because he's unwilling, but naturally with mothering/breastfeeding in Ava's first years she wanted me. Aaron handles all the outdoors work, which is a lot since we have a lot of land for city-standards. But, we adopted these roles by our personal interests. I love to cook and he loves to be outdoors. Now with being a mother, I want to do meaningful and challenging work but not at the expense of my family. So that means, I've put the brakes on surging to higher levels for now while we have a young family.

It makes me look forward to more transformations in the future when Ava grows up or even my 40th birthday, which is not too distant in the future. I want to live my life to honor those important milestones and transitions in life to shape me into the person that I have become. It makes me appreciate my age and where I am in my life. I don't want to hide my age because it's a marker for what I've been through, the good and the bad and in between!

Ava is an energetic and empathetic 3-year old.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer is here!

Excited at the ice cream shop
Today is the summer solstice and the days have been so long. It's even more noticeable in Indiana where we're on the westernmost area on the Eastern timezone. It's not completely dark until about 10pm. Ava has been staying up later and later. The days of winter hibernation are long over and now we're in summer mode: going to bed later and waking up earlier with the extra light.

Tonight we made our pizza on the grill instead of using the oven on a hot day. Last summer we changed our Friday night pizza tradition to the grill, but since today was the first day we had to remember how we did it. This time we made it on a metal pizza pan on the grill and it worked out great! It takes longer than the oven, but Ava had a TJ's peach pop after school so she was fine to wait longer for her dinner. I make a whole wheat dough for our pizza and top it with cheese, fresh spinach, pepperoni, and olives.

A couple weeks ago, we took an impromtu Sunday afternoon trip to a local ice cream shop after Ava's nap. Ava got a chocolate ice cream cone and it was so huge that Aaron had to help her eat it! She was excited because her cone had chocolate and sprinkles!

Her favorite flavor is chocolate!
The ice cream shop is on the Monon Trail and we walked a bit afterwards. Then we saw lots of geese and ducks on the canal. We stopped into a local heath food store that sells corn for ducks. That can't be good. But it's probably better than feeding them bread. Ava felt brave enough to carefully drop the kernals to feed the ducks, but the geese were more interested. One of the geese was especially friendly and walked right up to us. I was shocked! We saved the rest of the duck food for another trip.

Ava just wrapped up her soccer season at school today. She asked to do gymnastics instead of soccer. Last month, she went to her friend's birthday party at a gymnastics place. She had a blast, especially loved jumping on the trampoline. I signed her up for some classes in July to try out to see if she will like it. She has also asked for ballet classes and thankfully we can do that on-site at her preschool so that may be in the near future too. We're excited that she is able try some new activities. 
Feeding geese

I'm amazed by how fast she's growing up - emotionally and physically! She must have been going through a growth spurt because we're starting to put away the 3T outfits for 4T, especially in shirts and dresses. She is tall and skinny so the 3T bottoms fit better. I'm amazed by how much she is developing friendships and recognizing social cues. Her emotional development is top of mind right now and we talk about every detail of her day. She tells me about her friends and who hurt her feelings or made her laugh. I believe that the openness of our relationship now will help in those awkward teen years.

Our garden isn't booming like we had hoped, sadly. When we scoped out the garden spot in early spring, the sun was in a different spot and there were no leaves on the trees. Our garden doesn't get much direct sunlight especially now that the trees have filled in so much. Aaron is thinking about cutting some tree limbs directly above our garden. We have some cucumbers and a few green tomatoes developing, but the peppers and cauliflower have been eaten by slugs. We finally have kept the deer away with the netting, but the garden has been attacked by a mole and slugs. We also suspect our new topsoil is packed down to much. Next year, we'll have compost to mix in and we'll aerate the soil to see if that improves it. We keep learning each year. I hope one day we'll have the garden that we've been dreaming about to provide vegetables through the summer. I really want to make salsa with all our veggies.

We're really looking forward to some lake weekends up north to visit Aaron's family. We're heading up on a long weekend around the 4th of July and then have plenty of lake time in the next few months. Ava is really excited to go swimming in the lake and see her family and friends. We were up a couple weeks ago and the lake water was still very cold. No doubt we'll be swimming on the 4th! We're excited that summer is finally here!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Whole Grain Egg-Free Pancakes + Freezer Tips

After we discovered Ava's egg allergy, I started experimenting with egg-free cooking and baking. I found a recipe for whole grain pancakes and have adapted it for her allergy and it's fantastic! I made a double batch last weekend for breakfast and to freeze. On Thursdays, Ava's school serves pancakes for breakfast. Aaron liked them too! I keep egg-free muffins, pancakes, waffles, and french toast to bring to Ava's school so she can participate in the meals without causing an allergic reaction. Since she sees her friends eating pancakes too, it's nice that she has some that are tasty and egg-free.

So far, I've made these pancakes with cooked millet or oats. We like them both ways. I cook the whole grain on the stove ahead of time and set them aside for making the pancakes when we're ready.

Step 1: (Make-ahead) cook whole grain - I like to use old fashion oats or millet. Store in the refrigerator or puree and store until ready to make pancakes.

Puree the whole grain (millet)
Step 2: (Make-ahead) Puree whole grain 1 cup + 1/2 cup water. Blend to desired consistency (you don't have to do this step, but the texture might be off for kids if you don't). Store in the refrigerator.

Step 3: Make batter and cook pancakes on the griddle. Serve and save the rest for freezing. Let pancakes cool completely and store between wax paper in labeled freezer bags.

Step 4: Reheat. Remove frozen individual pancake. Put on a microwave safe plate. I usually set this out about 30-45 minutes before we leave the house. I microwave the pancake for about 45 seconds on 70% and put int a container to bring to Ava's school. Ava likes to eat the pancakes cold, biting it like a sandwich. Very easy!

Whole Grain Egg-Free Pancakes
Makes 6 small pancakes

  • 1 cup cooked whole grain (millet, oats, quinoa) + 1/4 cup water, pureed in blender
  • 3/4 cup flour (1/2 cup whole wheat 1/4 cup all purpose)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt 
  • Egg Replacer (equivalent of 1 egg) - can buy at Kroger, Whole Foods, or Amazon
  • 1 tbs butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup milk (buttermilk, regular, almond/soy milk)
  • 2 tbs maple syrup

Egg Replacer is mixed
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together pureed grain, flour, baking powder, and salt. In another medium bowl, whisk together prepared Egg Replacer, butter, milk, and syrup until smooth. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and whisk to combine.
  2. Lightly coat a large nonstick skillet or griddle with butter and heat over medium-high. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into skillet. Cook until bubbles appear on top, 2 minutes.
  3. Flip cakes and cook until golden brown on underside, 2 minutes. Wipe skillet clean and repeat with more melted butter and remaining batter (reduce heat to medium if overbrowning). Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit or preserves if desired.
Pancakes are cooking!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fava Bean Pesto Pasta with Chicken

All packed up for lunches!
We got fava beans in our produce bin a couple weeks ago and I had no clue how to prepare them. So I did some initial research. GreenBean Delivery shared a recipe on their blog for a Spring pasta with fava beans, which sounded great. Other options were making them into falafel, purees for side dishes, and soups. I parboiled the shelled beans I cooked them too long which made them mushy. That means I had to puree the beans. I found a recipe for Fava Bean Pesto from Cat Cora on The Food Network and decided to give it a try. I had lots of basil at home, which make it easy to make with what I had on-hand. Ava really likes spaghetti so I was hoping she would like it too. It turned out great and Aaron told me that he really liked it!

I made a few modifications to the Fava Bean Pesto recipe. Instead of using it on bread as a sandwich, I used it as a sauce for spaghetti pasta. We ended up with an easy, healthy, and affordable meal! 
  • Add pesto to 1/2 pound of spaghetti (reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water)
  • Omitted mint and added extra basil
  • Used 1/2 cup of olive oil instead of 1 cup 
  • Didn't add in Parmesan cheese to the pesto (instead topped some on the finished pasta). This helped lighten the pasta without compromising flavor.
I served it with broiled, seasoned chicken and steamed green beans. We cooked two chicken breasts and sliced them into strips after they were cooked. Since fava beans are rich in protein and fiber you don't need much additional meat. The entire meal stretched to 5 meals. So I packed up the three portions for lunches!

To make all this happen on a busy weeknight. I used these make-ahead steps.
  • Step 1: Shell fava beans and parboil. Let cool and it will be easier to remove from additional covering on the bean. I did this on the weekend.
  • Step 2 - Night before: If using frozen chicken defrost two breasts in the refrigerator or in cold water. Process the pesto sauce. It will be thick. 
  • Step 3: Cook spaghetti and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water to thin out pesto. Grill or broil chicken breasts. Stir in prepared fava bean pesto sauce to cooked pasta, adding reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time until you have your desired consistency. Slice chicken breasts. Serve with grilled or steamed veggies or a green salad. 
Enjoy! I will definitely make this again!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Garden Week 2

Garden Week 2
Can you see the deer?
On Mother's Day, we planted our garden, a new tradition that we started last year. Except this year's garden is a much better attempt than ever before! We've come a long way from the small container garden we had on our Chicago condo balcony! Aaron built a raised bed and we filled it with rich top soil earlier in the month. We grew many plants from seed and then last weekend picked up some starter plants too. Last weekend, we put the seedlings and starters in the new bed. I have big plans for our garden yields including salsa, pepper sauces, homemade stocks with amazing herbs, and lots of salads!

What's Growing in the Berkey Garden? 

From seed: a variety of 12 kitchen herbs, spinach, zucchini, cucumber, carrots, and romaine lettuce. Our cucumber plants was damaged by the recent storms so I started another two more to be safe. The romaine lettuce was obliterated from the heavy rain storms too. I started more seeds today, but we may need to get some starter plants. Our beets haven't even sprouted. The carrots are tiny, but are doing really well in the garden. Aaron shielded them with a bit of straw. My basil sprouted, but it's not looking good so we'll see what happens. The sage looks great.

From starter plants: strawberries, mint, rosemary, several varieties of peppers (Jalapeno, Poblano, and Bell), 2 varieties of tomatoes (early girl and roma), butternut squash, green beans, and cauliflower. The green beans are already climbing on the trellis.

We have deer that live in our woods. They walk right up to our front porch or anywhere that we have succulent plants. Here's a picture of one that I scared off from the front porch when it was getting close to the lilies. Aaron put netting around the entire raised bed so it's about 5 feet high. The deer are supposed to be held off because they don't like the netting on their face. I hope it works! Last year, they ate our garden like a big salad bowl! On top of last year's drought, we had barely any yield. But this year, I'm excited for food we'll be able to grow.

Compost is piling up!

We're composting now too. We have a large compost bin with yard clippings, coffee grounds, used tea leaves, droopy fresh cut flowers, rinsed and crushed egg shells, and all the cuttings leftover from cooking. The bugs are going to town! We have a compost container under the kitchen sink and I take it out to the compost bin about every 4-5 days. It's covered so it doesn't smell. We're using biodegradable compost bags for our container under the sink, but they are for commercial composting so I'm not throwing those in our bin.

This weekend, I'm going to do some weeding. I'll keep you all updated!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

May Freezer Meal: Italian Beef, Giardiniera, Oven Fries, and Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Pies

Flash freeze the mini pies in 2 muffin tins
Our freezer meal exchange in May was awesome as usual! I hosted this time and we had a Friday night pitch-in instead of our normal Saturday afternoon meet-up because we were leaving to visit our family in Illinois that weekend. We usually meet on the 1st weekend of the month so that helps keep us on track for planning purposes.

The way it works is that each participating family makes 5 meals for the swap and then we bring them in coolers to exchange, packed and already frozen. We give a brief overview of the meal and how to tweak it if needed and prepare it. We share our recipes and cooking instructions in our private Facebook group. The meals we prepare are healthy and if it contains meat, it is locally sourced and natural. Most of us make 6 meals and so we can keep one for our own family. That leaves you with 6 prepared meals from the freezer for an entire month, which is awesome!

May Freezer Meal Exchange Menus:
  • Erin - Frozen Breakfast Burritos (microwave from freezer), Guacamole, and banana bread
  • Sarah - Broccoli and Chicken casserole, bread slices, and Chocolate Chip Bars
  • Katie - Vegetarian Cheese Pasta, Baked Peas with Water Chesnuts, and Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
  • Ann - Marinated Chicken for Grilling, Peas and Corn with Thyme Butter, and Smores Bars
  • Rachel - Mini Meatloaves, Herb Roasted Carrot and Potatoes, and Strawberry muffins
  • Amanda - Italian Beef Sandwiches, Homemade Giardiniera, Oven Fries, and Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Pies
We had 6 families participate so that means everyone goes home with 5 different meals, plus the one that they made at home. The day after the swap, we had that long drive to Megan and Todd's house so I heated the breakfast burritos and they were delicious.
Amazing Meals for May

Italian Beef stores well inside the tins and a gallon Zip Loc to protect.

If you're going to make my meal, here's the additional details.
  • Italian Beef (from Cooking Light) - I bought 6 pounds of rump roast and cooked them in 2 large slow cookers. It made enough for 7 meals. I shredded the beef with and placed them in the tins with reserved cooking liquid to store in the tins. I bought loaves of bread from Costco and wrapped them for the freezer.
  • Homemade Giardiniera - was easy and so good! After living in Chicago, I love this spicy veggie condiment. You can store it for 2-3 weeks in the fridge in a glass mason jar. I saved small glass pimento jars from another meal and used that to share with the families for the exchange. It makes enough for a quart jar.
  • Oven Fries: These came out a bit crispy, which Aaron loved. But you may want to cut back on the cooking time when you're reheating.
  • Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Pies (from the Pioneer Woman): I used the Trader Joe's cookies instead of Oreos and their House Whip instead of Cool Whip to avoid the hydrogenated oils in both. This recipe makes 24 muffin tin sized pies. See picture above. To make into minis, spray muffin tins and bake the crust. Then spread the filling in each muffin. Flash freeze for 1-2 hours. Use a knife to gently pop out and freeze flat in a quart ziploc bag. To defrost, place in a ramekin because they will be messy.
Reheating instructions:
  •  Heat oven to 450 degrees. You can reheat the beef from the freezer directly or set it in the fridge overnight. Place the oven fries in the oven for 25-30 (cut back from 30-35) minutes at 450 degrees and place beef tin along side it. Place frozen bread in the last 10 minutes.
  • Slice bread to make sandwiches and serve with giardiniera.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Allergy Mystery Solved

Having a Tea Party with the Bear Family
Over a month ago, we took Ava for her first chiropractic appointment to a doctor that specializes in pediatrics and very trusted here in our area. In the first few minutes of the exam she told us that Ava has swollen lymph nodes, which is likely due to food sensitivity or allergy. The chiropractor suggested that we remove cows milk from her diet since that's usually the culprit. One of the reasons we took her to the chiropractor was because of snoring and irregular breathing. I told her we hadn't introduced it to her until she was 2-years old because of Aaron's sensitivity to cows milk. Since cows milk tends to increase mucus we thought it would help that symptom as well.

I bought goat's milk cheese and yogurt and started to use coconut milk products too. Ava enjoys a fruit and yogurt smoothie, but I replaced cows milk yogurt with either goat's or coconut milk yogurt. That month, I packed many lunches since there's so much cheese and dairy on the menu at her school. On our family pizza night, I had to make her a personal size pizza with goat's milk and vegan cheese, but she didn't like it as much. I even made a dairy free lasagna with a mix of tofu and garlic as a replacement for ricotta cheese. It was fabulous by the way!

After about a month of not eating cows milk, including her beloved Brown Cow Vanilla Yogurt, Ava still had swollen lymph nodes. The good news is that the combination of chiropractic treatment and elimination of cows milk have significantly improved her snoring and her breathing was regular when she slept at night. Ava's pediatrician ordered a blood test for food and environmental allergies because of the allergies on both sides of our families.

We got the blood test results last week and it turns out she has a moderate allergy to eggs. We were thrilled to learn that she's not allergic to anything else, including cows milk. It is disappointing because Ava loves scrambled eggs and egg breakfast burritos. I went through the school menu with the cook at her school and our new game plan targets replacements for the breakfast items. I made egg-free pancakes, french toast, pancakes, and muffins for her to take to school and it worked out great! The pancakes were delicious! I pureed cooked millet and made them with almond milk and Egg Replacer. I stocked the leftovers in our freezer and plan to make ahead and restock as needed for Ava's school breakfasts.
School lunch: hummus, pita chips, orange slices and smoke almonds.

I packed lunch for her yesterday because they had breakfast for lunch. She loved her packed lunch. It's very interesting that even at her age the 3 and 4-year old children ask me why she's eating something different. But Ava proudly brings her food in a new Princess lunch box! I got some ideas from Lisa of the blog 100 Days of Real Food and got some school lunch supplies from her recommendation list.

We decided to not go overboard on Ava's dairy in take since we saw an improvement and it can't hurt to do less of dairy, given Aaron's sensitivity. She was so happy at Whole Foods last weekend when I told her we could buy her favorite yogurt! We also bought the local, low-temp pasteurization and grass fed cows milk from our Green Bean Delivery, which is supposed to be better for sensitivities.

I think we're in a good place. And I'm thankful that we discovered this early in life and the transition is going well! I'll post some recipes on the blog when we find some that become our favorites!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Berkey's are Food Composting and Gardening!

This is our 3rd Spring in our house. The first one was when Ava was born and Aaron was a maniac cleaning up the yard since for so many years no one lived on this property. Our house is newly built on a plot land from the 50's. Last year, we tried to garden, but the drought and inadequate deer protection gave us a piddly harvest. This year is our first attempt at a real garden.

Aaron built a large garden bed in the side of the backyard and we filled it with loads and loads of top soil! A couple weeks ago, I planted some seeds and they've sprouted in our sun room.

Aaron bought some deer fencing that will protect our garden up to 5 feet high. Those suckers even eat our pine trees so we're not taking any chances. We love living with the deer n our yard because they're beautiful, but they eat everything except daffodils. Apparently the fence is really irritating to their face if they try to eat the leaves near it.

We're growing carrots, cucumbers, beets, spinach, lettuce and a ton of culinary herbs. And in May we'll get starter plants for tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalapenos. I'm planning to can salsa for the winter months.

I'm excited that we're finally food composting, which will help our garden next year. Since we're on a septic system, I never put food scraps down the drain anyway. Now we collect food scraps and coffee grounds in a biodegradable bag inside a large plastic container under the sink. When I'm cooking, I put it on the counter and use it for food waste like Rachel Ray's Garbage Bowl idea. Aaron bought a large compost bin for the backyard, which now sits by our brush pile far away from the house. We'll throw yard clippings, leaves, straw and the food waste in the bin. Aaron says the worms and bugs will find their way to compost. I found this do's and don'ts sheet on composting that was really informative!

I'll post updates as the garden flourishes!