Thursday, March 31, 2011

Homemade "Fire Truck House"

When shipments arrive from Dove Chocolate Discoveries, I'm left with these tall, white boxes after I unpack everything. I wanted to make a house of some sort out of them. The boys and I decided to make garages for their favorite trucks.
Brant painted his red and called it his "fire truck house." It was an easy project to do and kept them occupied for about 15-20 minutes. We cut out some windows...I thought he did a great job!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

celery root - DON'T JUDGE!

Celery Root is the ugly duckling of vegetables but it has amazing flavor and crunch. Try it and it will soon be a staple on your shopping list.
The flavor is an intense celery stalk but undertones of parsley. Its strong flavor pairs well with carrots, granny smith apples, beets, etc.
I like to add celery stalks to my soups and stews but they get so mushy when its time to eat the dish. Celery root, also called celeriac, has the stamina to withstand slow cooking methods and the ability to keep that refreshing celery flavor.
I treat it like a potato. When buying one, I look for celeriac that are small but feel heavy. I avoid those that have roots or soft spots. Just like I would a potato, I peel the thin, bumpy skin off and throw it in some water to avoid discoloration from the air.
If you are a mashed potato junky like me (but try to find ways to cut back on them), cut up and boil your potatoes and celery root together. Mash them up, throw in some fresh garlic and serve them at dinner. It's a great addition to your mashed potatoes for a few reasons: it will reduce the amount of potatoes you consume, add flavor and add nutrients to your meal. Celery root has a good amount of vitamin C and potassium in it. On the down side it is a little high in sodium (80-95g per 1 cup cooked).
This by FAR is my favorite celery root recipe. It's by Guy Fieri of the Food Network.

Celery Root Remoulade Slaw
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 medium celery root,  peeled and quartered (about 2 pounds)
In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, Dijon, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, parsley and salt and pepper, taste. Using the grater attachment on the food processor or a box grater, grate the celery root. Work quickly so that the root doesn't turn brown. Transfer to a medium bowl, add pour the dressing over the celery root. Toss to combine and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes before serving. I think this tastes better the longer it marinates inthe dressing. I always make this a day before serving. Guy pairs this slaw with crab burgers but it would go well with any seafood dish.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mom or superhero?

Mason and Brant are in a "superhero" phase that began full-force two days ago.
A superhero is defined as possessing "extraordinary or superhuman powers" and dedicated to protecting the public. Hmm well I'm very dedicated to protecting my kids - maybe I fit the superhero description?

My superhuman power: My ability to keep running even when I'm totally out of fuel.
My costume: pjs and an apron. Yes I wear an apron to literally protect me from slimy, cold, sticky hands. I know... its far from spandex.
Special weapon: No, not Thor's hammer but baby wipes. Helps me fight the evil dirt/germ monster on an hourly basis.
Weakness: Kryptonite was Superman's - mine is the sound of chewing. If someone chews loudly I easily turn Hulk-like.
Secret specialized automobile: My minivan - it's definitely my Batmobile. Although voice activation would be nice. "Quite Screaming kids."
Secret identity: I do feel like when I'm doing a chocolate tasting, a fundraiser or an event that I have a costume Clark Kent dressing up in a suit. I have make up on, my hair is done, I have my "nice clothes" on without tiny finger prints on them (hopefully), I'm wearing a shoe or boot on that has some kind of heel, I have jewelry on, etc. People who talk to me have no clue that I'm most likely humming one of Elmos songs in my head. Or I'm trying to concentrate on putting a complete sentence together. I talk so basic at home to the kids. "Do you want a snack?" "Talk nice, please." It's difficult for me to transition to adult words and sentences. In fact by the time I feel I'm getting good at it is when its time for me to pack up and leave.

But who am I kidding? My kids are the real superheros here. They have "saved" me countless times - continously bring out strength in me I never knew I possessed. When I feel low and think, "gosh all I am is a maid, (or a cook, or a referee, etc.) around here." They unknowingly do something to remind me how important it is to have love and to love in this life. This reminder rescues me from taking a stroll down that degrading, untrue path. I'm picking up toys not because I'm a "maid" but because I don't want someone to trip and get hurt. Cleaning? An act of love? Never thought I would feel that way but I do. They save my soul from becoming cold and bitter by bringing pure joy into it - just by them being themselves.

Favorite fresh fennel salad recipe

The fennel season is nearly ending - it runs fall through the spring. I highly recommend trying fennel if you have not already; it's awesome in a salad. Very refreshing - sweet and has a slight licorice taste. I'm not a fan of licorice and never thought I would like fresh fennel as much as I do.
Don't feel intimidated by the looks of it. Just wash it and start slicing up the bulb - the entire bulb is edible (should not have brown spots). Throw it in salads, soups, stews, relishes, slaws, etc. Sprinkle some S&P over it and roast it or grill it. The feathery "fronds" can be used as a garnish or in salad dressings, gravies, etc.

If anyone has ever tried Gripe Water with their newborn may have noticed the licorice scent it has. That is because it contains fennel extract. Fennel has been known to help flatulence - from the young to the old. It also been known to help increase production and secretion of milk in lactating mothers. Yogi makes an organic women's nursing tea and the second ingredient listed is organic fennel seed.

Below is my FAVORITE fennel salad. It's full of flavor and easy to make.
Chicken Salad with Orange and Fennel (from Cuisine at Home):
  • 1/2c mayo (I only use a couple of tablespoons)
  • 1/4c Greek yogurt or plain yogurt (I increase to make up for the mayo I omitted)
  • 2 Tbsp orange juice
  • Zest of half of orange (highly recommend doing this!)
  • 4 cups diced cooked chicken (I just buy a whole roasted chicken at the store it tastes amazing and cuts down my prep time)
  • 1cup halved red grapes
  • 3/4 c diced fennel bulb
  • 1/4c slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fennel fronds
Whisk mayo, yogurt, orange juice and zest in a bowl. Stir in chicken, grapes, fennel, almonds, fronds and S&P to taste.
Eat with a croissant or on a bed of greens.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Infuse, infuse, infuse!

When I'm cooking, I try to infuse as much as possible. It helps enhance the flavor of anything you are cooking.
Here are some examples:
  • Infuse your oil. Heat your pan up and then pour whatever oil you are using into the pan. If I'm making pancakes or french toast I add a little vegetable oil and then infuse it with butter. It gives it that diner taste. The vegetable oil helps protect the butter from burning. If I'm searing steak i would get the oil hot and infuse it with a fresh herb or garlic (careful not to burn though, burnt garlic is awful).
  • Infuse your cooking water. When I boil noodles, rice, coucous, etc. I infuse the water with something that is in the dish - whole peppercorns, fresh herbs, half an onion (whole), whole cloves of garlic, half a lemon (whole with rind), etc.
  • Infuse your powered sugar. Make vanilla powered sugar by sticking a vanilla bean inside the bag/container. It's great for homemade frosting.
  • Infuse your high-proof alcohol. Make your own vanilla extract with vodka, rum or bourbon (80 proof). You need three vanilla beans per 1 cup. Store the mason jar in a dark place and in two months you have vanilla extract! 
  • Infuse your whipping cream. Pour a cup of whipping cream (or however much you need) into a tightly sealed container. Add whole coffee beans, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 24 hours. When you are ready to whip your cream, pour whipping cream through a strainer. Beat cream on high speed in a cool, stainless steel bowl - add a little vanilla and powered sugar and you will have amazing, homemade coffee-infused whip cream. YUM!
  • Infuse your breakfast syrup - real, fake, organic...whatever! Pour some in a small pan and add fresh blueberries, strawberries, pecans, almonds, apples, cinnamon sticks - possibilities are endless! Make sure its on very low heat. It doesn't take long for the syrup to heat up.
  • Infuse your simple syrup. When I get any citrus on sale I juice them and make limeade, etc. I usually take the rinds and use them to enhance my simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar). In the summer time when I have loads of fresh herbs from my garden, I will also add herbs along with the rinds. I have made limeade with mint simple syrup and lemonade with rosemary or basil simple syrup. I have also made grapefruit juice with cinnamon syrup (cinnamon stick) and orangeade with lavendar syrup. It's refreshing and subtle.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Opposite land and binoculars

Ever feel like you are living in Opposite Land? It felt like that today.
  • My house is supposed to be clean and its dirty.
  • Right now, it's 9:35pm and everyone is supposed to be sleeping but I can hear the older boys are up.
  • I was supposed to incorporate more healthy foods into my diet but I ate junk food.
  • Right now I'm laying down typing and I should be standing up, cleaning.
  • What was supposed to be in, was out. (I gave Jaxon a pain reliever for his teeth. He was so mad that I gave it to him he literally spit it across the room.)
  • I would ask the boys to talk quietly and they would scream.
On a better note, we made binoculars out of toilet paper rolls today. Emtpy paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls are something I'm so quick to recycle than stash somewhere for future projects. But I actually remembered this week.
I used masking tape to connect the rolls instead of a stapler or glue because its easier to adjust once on their face. The boys decorated the rolls with stickers and quickly jumped on the couch to play "boat." They used the binoculars to look for sharks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lovin this Mom thing

I had one of those moments today where you are just loving life - who you are with, where you are at, etc. In that moment anything that was hanging over your head is no longer, the knot in your stomach has untied.
It was a random moment with Brant and Mason. I was cooking french toast and they were both standing on a chair next to the stove watching me cook and helping me dip the bread in the batter. I had Modest Mouse playing and we were all dancing. Brant gets this look when he is really feeling the music - eyes are slightly squinted and his little lips come together. The stuff they say and do while we dance cracks me up. "Look mommy my butt is dancing." "Mommy you hear a drum?" They have no walls up. Right now its cool to hang out with me in the kitchen and show me their dance moves. What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wood floor and plastic toy solution

So many of us have wood floors now throughout our house. For me there are WAY more pros and than cons. But an obstacle I came across when Brant, now 4, was 8 months old was he would try to hang onto a toy to help himself up and the toy would slide. Of course he would fall or get frustrated. I bought a "Thick Grip Shelf Liner" from Target for my cabinets and had some to spare. I started putting it under these toys and it helped keep them more stable.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Daily Planner

I saw this Daily Planner from One Step Ahead and went crazy over it. My mom of course remembered and bought it for Brant last year for his birthday. I think its a great item.

  • Opportunity to talk to Brant and Mason about the days of the week, weather, month, seasons, etc. My favorite part is the "feeling" category. One time Mason was really mad and hit Brant. I took them both up to the chart and I held up the "mad" face. I said, Mason are you mad? He said, "YES!" We talked about why he was mad and how its ok to feel mad but you cannot break the rules while you are mad. "It's ok to feel mad but it's not ok to hit Brant because you feel mad. Now that you hit Brant, he is now sad (I take out the "sad" face)." Brant chimed in, "yeah and Brant wants to feel happy (takes out "happy" face)." It lightens up the mood which makes it easier for all of us to talk about how they are feeling and what happened, etc. During these talks I also refer to the list of rules that is written out and hung in our kitchen. I think knowing what is expected of them helps everyone stay on track.
  • It's interactive. I'll say, "Go look out the window and tell me if the sun is out." Or we see/hear rain and the puddles the rain is making. While we are looking at the rainy weather we usually always see an animal running in the rain, bathing in the rain or drinking the rain water. We talk about how everything is wet, how the clouds are gray, or how everyone takes a bath, etc.
  • I like the size of it
  • There are a row of numbers on the bottom. It helps them strengthen counting skills.
  • It's tough keeping track of the pieces.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fun in the Sun

The boys and I haven't been doing any "lessons" this week. Just getting outside as soon as possible to enjoy the good weather and fresh air. Everyone has been getting reaquainted with the "outside" toys, we went to the zoo - just thoroughly enjoying the sun. It's been AWESOME!!!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


My mom is quite the gardener and grows seedlings every year. I mean she has these special lamps, she talks gibberish to them, the whole bit.
This year she brought a tray of seedlings to grow at my house and of course we got the boys involved. We talk about how much the plants have grown, how they smell, what they will grow into, etc. I'm amazed at what topics have come up just from us taking care of these seedlings - its been great. They love to water them too. We are going to obviously use these seedlings to plant a garden this year, which I'm excited about.  Possibilities are endless as far how the boys will help me tend to the garden and what lessons they will learn.
This of course goes along great with our "bug" theme this week.

On a different note, Joy actually used a handful of seedlings this year as placecards for her cocktail party. She beautifully painted small pots then stuck a flag in the pot that had the person's name written on it. I thought it was a great idea. It was a seasonal gift and brought color to the table.
The boys were very excited to "share" their seedlings with aunt Joy-Joy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gettin Buggy With It

On Friday my husband recorded A bug's Life for the kiddos. My boys are all excited about it and want to watch it every day. It's a cute movie but there are a couple of scenes where "stupid" and "shut up" are said. Whenever those scenes come up, the boys and I address how talking like that is against our rules, how we don't talk like that to people, etc.

Here are some other ways that I have embraced watching A Bug's Life.
1. We got out a few of their favorite bug books and identified which bugs are both in the movie and in the book. We also read bug books at bedtime.
2. The boys and I play "grasshopper chases the ants" up and down our hallway.
3. We visited the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum today. Aunt Ja-Joy has a membership so we just had to pay $9 for my mom. I found street parking so I didn't have to pay for parking either - I was pretty happy. It was our second time there and of course had a blast. We went straight for the Istock Family Look-In Animal Lab. We talked about which bugs were in our books and in the "bug movie." The boys were very excited to see the stick bugs and the tarantula. We caught the tail end of a worm workshop this volunteer was hosting (PERFECT for our bug week) and she was so great. She let them dig, with a small shovel, into this tub of compost to look for worms. Brant was so excited when he found one. Thankfully the woman was a pro with kids because Jaxon snatched it so quickly and almost ate it. The woman saved the worm and saved me from throwing up. Phew!
She held the worm and let the boys gently pet it. The volunteer asked good questions such as, "how did the worm feel when you touched it? Was it kinda slippery?" The woman also gave all three boys pictures of a worm for them to color.
We also ran into a volunteer that let the boys pick out binoculars and look out this huge window. They saw geese, a rabbit, birds - the boys were thrilled. They felt like true adventurers with those binoculars!
We went into the Butterfly Haven, which is Brant and Mason's favorite section. During the fall, Jaxon was terrified of the dried, dead leaves. He would run away screaming if the leaves blew in the wind toward him, especially if they scraped the concrete and made a bunch of noise. I wasn't sure how he was going to do in the butterfly room but he didn't seem to mind when the butterflies flew near him.
4. Tomorrow we are going to color our worm pictures and do a bug craft project of some sort.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Toddlers N Toothpicks

A cheap, easy way to make food fun and interactive is to use toothpicks.
I have used any and all - the umbrella kind, the sandwich kind, seasonal, you name it we have tried it in the Maley household.
I found bamboo forks in my baking cupboard and gathered Brant, 4, and Mason, 3, around the table. Before we eat fruit or juice it I always make sure I have one of the boys identify the fruit and the other tell me what color it is. Today I had grapes, strawberries and raspberries.

I told them we were going to stack our fruit onto a stick. The boys were really excited about this and actually pretended they were putting "marshmellows" on a stick to roast over a "campfire." Brant could fit three or four pieces of fruit on a stick at time and he ate about 4 sticks worth. Both boys enjoyed the process of it all: picking the fruit out by themselves and seeing how many pieces of fruit they could stack at a time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Growth from a surprising toy

Getting my kids to eat anything that isn't yogurt, fruit or PB &J is a struggle. When they were infants I made all kinds of baby food from scratch and they ate every bite. I often worry about their nutritional balance.
I have been trying different things over the past year: talking and reading about the food groups, they help me pick out produce at the store that we are going to "juice", we color pictures of fruits or veggies, etc.
Lately I have been talking about how big and strong they will be if they eat vegetables, drink "ice water", eat fruits, etc.
My mom took them to the dollar store and bought them a sting ray that grows when it sits in water for like 96 hours or something.
I thought it was gross. It was slimey - all I could think about was keeping it away from Jaxon's mouth.
Well on Monday I forgot to drain the tub and that sting ray sat in tub water all night. The next morning when I saw the filled tub, I drained it and left to make breakfast. Mason came screaming out of the bathroom. He was so excited that I could barely understand him.
I followed him to the tub and saw this HUGE sting ray. The boys were beyond THRILLED.
So I took the opportunity to say that the reason the sting ray grew so much was because he drank water. I said, "if you guys keep drinking water, eating fruits and veggies you will grow every day just like that sting ray did. One day you will be big just like daddy."
Brant was amazed. He said, "WHAT?!" As if I had been holding out on some big secret. I couldn't believe the look on his face.
I said, "yeah. How do you think daddy got so big and tall? He ate his snacks!"
Seeing your child make a connection to something first hand was so rewarding. I had no idea that all I had to do was buy this toy for a buck. And if I knew it was going to help them connect eating food with growth I probably would have planned it better like had half eaten broccoli stems sitting by the sting ray.
The next morning Mason had two carrots for breakfast and a big glass of ice water so he could "grow big muscles like daddy."
From this experience we started a growth chart in their doorway. They are always pleased to see that they are growing into big boys every day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Manicotti/stuffed shells recipe

I made my grandma's spagetti meat sauce and had maybe 2 cups left over. I bought manicotti and it turned out so amazing! It was insanely easy to do too. I had to share it!

  • Set the oven to 350.
  • I boiled the manicotti for a few minutes, just softened them up a bit.
  • In a bowl I mixed (with an electric mixer on low) the following: fresh basil and parsley (about 1/4c each, chopped), 1/2c mozzarella cheese, 2 TBL parmesan cheese, 2 TBL softened cream cheese, 1 egg, 1 small container of ricotta cheese and S&P to taste. I put the blended ingredients into a ziplock bag, snipped a corner and began piping the filling into the manicotti.
  • I topped the stuffed manicotti with whatever sauce I had left over (about 2c), 1 c of mozzarella cheese and about 3 TBL of parmesan cheese.
  • I cooked it for about 30-40 minutes.

Most manicotti recipes call for meat in the filling but my sauce was already so meaty with ground beef and Italian sausage...this dish reminded my tastebuds of lasagne. You take a bite and it's layered: meat sauce, noodle, filling and noodle.
Other recipes also state that sauce should be on the bottom of the pan when you place your filled noodles in it and then topped with more sauce. I didn't have sauce on the bottom, just a little noodle water. My plan was to further cook the stuffed noodles by steaming them with the meat sauce on top. It worked - not sure how nothing was burned but it was awesome!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

You are 34 when...

As I tried to come to terms with the fact that I was offically 34, I took notice of the things I did on my birthday morning that clearly confirmed my age. The list below occurred over the course of maybe 90 minutes.
Here's to 34! *clank* Cheers!!

1. Blasted my minivan
2. Considered writing a complaint letter to Card Party Outlet for asking me what my phone number was as a line of customers stood behind me (can't they use a zipcode like everyone else?)
3. I was on "I'm-a-mom-without-kids" time; I went to four different stores in an hour
4. I laughed out loud in the store when I saw a set of napkins that read, "Enough of the damn juiceboxes mommy needs a cocktail!"
5. I laughed out loud in a store by myself
6. I took pictures of these napkins that were cracking me up