Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Balsamic Glazed Chicken and Peach Kebabs

Summer most kindly gave us one final, beautiful batch of peaches.

Oh good gracious was I excited.

Obviously, the first thing I did was eat about 9 of them.  Then I decided to play in the kitchen a bit.

From the garden, I gathered some basil and a few zavory peppers.

These little beauties were a surprising find from our local nursery.  They grow abundantly and easily.  One medium-sized plant yields hundreds of 2" long, stunning red fruits with a gentle heat and a fresh, "botanical" flavor.  Last year, our zavories were a little more sweet.  This year, they're a bit more spicy.  We love them.

Sorry.  Tangent.

I chopped up the zavories and some basil.  I added red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, honey, and some olive oil.  I added some white wine, too, because it was sitting there on the counter mocking me and needed to be used.

I threw some cut-up chicken in there for a nice long bath while we took the kids to the park (but not before setting some aside for the peaches).

Upon returning, we skewered the chicken and some cut up peaches.  I brushed the peaches with the reserved marinade and put everything on the grill.

My lawd.

Pile that all on a plate, drizzle with a bit more balsamic and sprinkle with julienned basil.  We also added lemon basil cous cous, a crisp salad, and red wine.  The red wine is important.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Homeschool Week 2: All About Apples

This week, we focused on the letter A and apples!

We read some wonderful apple themed books, including...

The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall

The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons

Apple Picking Time by Michele B Slawson

and Up, Up, Up!  It's Apple Picking Time by Jody Fickes Shapiro.

We made a paint and thumbprint apple craft from a paper plate.

We also identified capital and lower case A.  Toodles used a bingo marker to dot the capital A's and drew a circle around the lowercase a's.

Our other art project was apple printing on a lowercase "a."  This page will go into a binder where we will have one artistic representation for each letter as we learn it.

Our tot trays this week were...

An "apple picking game."  (Disclaimer: yes, a lot of my stuff is hand-drawn.  I'm channeling my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Actually, I just don't have a working PC at the moment to make these things all fancy-like, so I draw them myself.  It turns out, I'm not spectacular with technology.  I blame my mother.  And someday, my children will blame me).

So, the apple picking game.

We have these super cool little sugar tongs from Sur La Table.  They are the perfect size for Toodles' hands and, um, $2.95.  We placed red, yellow and green pom pom "apples" on the tree.  Then, we rolled a number cube, and practiced "picking" that number of apples from the tree.  Toodles transferred them from the tree to the grid below using the sugar tongs.  This game was a HUGE hit.  He absolutely loved transferring.

Our second tot tray was a set of sequencing cards.  Again, these were hand made.  I even pressed the ink from wild berries.  Ok, not really.
Toodles sequenced pictures of an apple being eaten...

and of an apple tree growing.

Our third tot tray was our rice bin.  Toodles found letters in the rice, then placed them into the appropriate letter frame.

Our fourth tot tray, as always, was Toodles' book bag filled with apple-themed books.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

MSPI-Friendly Breakfast Quesadilla

I thought summer was over.  And then I strolled into my Trader Joe's and found this:

4 lbs of peaches for $5.99.  Um, yes please.
I'll take two.

This might be our last glimpse of summer produce (and it's most welcome as, for some reason, it is eleventy billion degrees out this week).  I decided to make myself a breakfast quesadilla.

Now, this is where most people would start scrambling eggs, chopping onions, and frying bacon.  That's just not how I roll.  We don't even keep eggs in the house, so there's that.

Instead, I melted a little coconut oil in a pan.  I thinly sliced one of those delicious, ripe peaches and added it to the pan.  I sprinkled in some cinnamon, a little nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.

Then I added chopped pecans, because, obviously.

A tiny drizzle of honey completed this goodness and I cooked it until the peaches were soft and, basically, falling apart.

You could stop here.  This would be tasty on its own.  It would be great on some coconut milk yogurt, on a waffle or some vegan french toast.  I didn't stop there.  I gave the pan a quick wipe and melted a little more coconut oil.  Then I grabbed a soy-free whole grain tortilla (I like Wegman's brand, but Whole Foods also has a good one) and wiggled it around the pan for a second.  As it started to become just a little bit crispy, I spooned in the peaches and folded it over.
Add some coffee (coffee is the most important meal of the day) and, voila.  Breakfast.

Sadly for me, Toodles stole most of it.  But I managed to eat enough to know that it was delicious.  

Peach Quesadilla

2 T coconut oil, divided
1 large peach, thinly sliced
1 t ground cinnamon
a pinch ground nutmeg
a pinch kosher salt
1 T honey
chopped pecans and shredded coconut as desired
1 dairy-free soy-free whole grain tortilla

1.  Melt 1 T coconut oil over medium-low heat.  Add peaches, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt to the pan and cook, stirring gently, 1-2 minutes or until peaches are soft and gooey.  Remove from heat and stir in honey.  Add pecans or coconut if desired.  Set aside.
Quickly wipe any sugar out of pan and return to medium heat.  Melt remaining coconut oil in pan.  Lay tortilla in pan and heat until it begins to bubble and crisp.  Spoon peaches onto one side of tortilla and fold over.  Plate and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dairy Free Enchiladas, Two Ways

I know I said I’m on an MSPI diet.
This, right here?  Not MSPI friendly.
But so good.

Before the dairy-free days, I made some pretty wicked enchiladas.  They were legendary.  And then….I had to stop cooking with cheese. No cheese. None.

The hubs was a little worried.  He does love the enchiladas so.

Never fear.

First, you'll need some tofu. Take the brick-o-curd out of the packaging, dump the funky water into the sink, and wrap that sucker up in a couple of tea towels. Place it on a plate, and stick something heavy on top.

I used a (slightly dirty) cast iron skillet (sorrynotsorry).

Let it hang out like that for a couple of hours.  You can put it in the fridge.  Or not.
I'm an overachiever, so I took it out of the towel, wrapped it in a clean towel, and let it dry even longer in the fridge.
Then, use your fingers to crumble it into the bowl of your food processor.  Add a little salt, pepper and cayenne pepper for fun.  Blend it up until the tofu looks like ricotta cheese.

Now, pour in some enchilada sauce (I make my own.  I'll share the recipe.  The canned stuff has an absurd amount of sodium and, usually, some MSG.  Seriously, just make up a bunch of this stuff and put it in your freezer.  Or, if you're so inclined, can it.  Ours never lasts that long).  Blend the tofu and sauce up until it's a nice and pretty red color.

Yeah, like that.
Now you need a 9"x13" baking dish.  Brush some olive oil  in the bottom and up the sides to keep your enchiladas from sticking.  Then set out 8 tortillas.  I started with just two to show you what I'm doing here, but I normally line all 8 up, folded into little boats, and fill-em-roll-em assembly-line style.
Spread some of the tofu mixture into each tortilla.  This will become delightfully gooey and creamy, just like cheese (but without the, you know, cheese).  Once you've put all of the tofu into the tortillas, rinse the food processor bowl because you're going to need that later.

Now add your filling.

I keep these two fillings in my freezer.  Make up a big batch on a rainy day, fill some freezer bags, and you're all set for several nights of easy dinners.
The vegan:
sweet potato
black beans
chopped green chiles
shredded carrot
shredded zucchini
bell pepper

The not-so-vegan:
roasted chicken thighs
diced tomatoes
black beans
shredded carrot
bell pepper

At this point, I fill 4 of the tortillas with the vegan mixture, and 4 with the not-so-vegan.  Then, roll the tortillas up and place them in the baking dish with the seam side down.

Douse those puppies in more enchilada sauce.  We like 'em saucy.
If you look closely at the left side of the photo, you can see where I stuck a black bean on top to mark which side is vegan.

Now, throw those in your oven for a good hour.  I cover mine with foil to keep them super saucy.  You'll know they are ready to eat when you open your oven door and hear sizzling, but an instant-read probe thermometer is always a good bet.  Let the enchiladas rest for ten minutes before serving, or else you'll make a mess of your beautiful little preciouses.

Remember that food processor?  Throw an avocado or two in there (pitted and scooped out of the peel, of course).
Add some garlic powder, sea salt, and a ton of lime juice.  By all means, throw in a handful of cilantro too, stems and all, if you have it.  Pulse until it is no longer clumpy.  Then turn the processor on and let it run for about 15 seconds.  This will give you a nice fluffy, airy guacamole.  Although, chunky is good, too.

Serve the enchiladas with the guac and some tortilla chips.  

Dairy Free Enchiladas, Two Ways:

8 whole wheat tortillas
1-14 oz package extra firm tofu, pressed to remove excess moisture
3-6 cups enchilada sauce, depending on how wet you like your enchiladas
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 t kosher salt, divided
1/4 t black pepper
Vegan enchilada filling (recipe below)
Not-So-Vegan enchilada filling (recipe below)
flesh of 2 avocado, pitted
juice of 1 lime
1 t garlic powder

Preheat oven to 375*.

Lightly oil a 9"x13" baking dish.  Lay 8 tortillas in the baking dish and set aside.
In the food processor bowl, combine tofu, cayenne pepper, 1/2 t kosher salt, and black pepper.  Add 1/2 c enchilada sauce and pulse to combine.
Spread about 1/8 c of the tofu mixture into each tortilla.
Add 1/2 c vegan enchilada filling to 4 of the tortillas.  Roll up and place in baking dish with seam side down.
Add 1/2 c not-so-vegan filling to 4 of the tortillas.  Roll up and place in baking dish with seam side down.
Cover with remaining enchilada sauce, or as much as desired.
Bake 50-60 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Allow enchiladas to rest 10 minutes before serving.

To make guacamole, combine avocado flesh, remaining 1/2 t kosher salt, lime juice and garlic powder in food processor.  Pulse until smooth.  Process on full speed until fluffy.
Serve with enchiladas and tortilla chips.

Vegan enchilada filling:

1 T olive oil
1 c peeled and finely chopped sweet potatoes (I run mine through the food processor)
1 1/2 c or 1-14.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chopped green chiles
1/2 c finely shredded carrot
1/2 c finely shredded zucchini
1/2 c finely chopped bell pepper
1/2 of one small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 c enchilada sauce, commercial or home made

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat.  Add remaining ingredients and sweat until tender.  Stir in enchilada sauce.

Not-So-Vegan Enchilada Filling:

2 T olive oil, plus additional oil for oiling pans
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 T ground cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained or 1 1/2 c diced tomatoes
1 1/2 c or 1-14.5 os can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c corn
1 jalapeno, minced
1/2 c finely shredded carrot
1/2 c finely chopped bell pepper
1/2 of one small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 c enchilada sauce, commercial or homemade

Preheat oven to 400*
grease a 9"x13" baking dish and lay the chicken thighs in the dish in a single layer.  Gently rub the olive oil into each chicken thigh.
In a small bowl, combine cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper and massage into the chicken thighs.
Bake 30 minutes or until an instant-read probe thermometer reads 165*.
Cool chicken slightly, then shred.  Place shredded chicken in a large bowl.  Add tomatoes, black beans and corn.  Set aside.
Lightly oil a sautee pan with additional olive oil and set over medium-low heat.  Sweat jalapeno, carrot, bell pepper, onion and garlic until tender.  Add to chicken mixture.
Stir in enchilada sauce.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce:

This is actually an adaptation of an Emeril Lagasse recipe.  I did not create this, I just tweaked it a tiny bit.

6 T olive oil
2 T AP flour
scant 1/4 c chipotle chili powder
12 oz tomato paste
1 c lager
5 c chicken stock (homemade is great, and guaranteed to be soy and MSG-free)
2 T dried oregano

Heat olive oil in a pan over low heat.  Whisk in flour and cook 30 seconds, whisking continuously.  Keep whisking, and sprinkle in chili powder.  Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for 15 seconds.  Stir in tomato paste and lager.  Continue to cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.  Stir in chicken stock and oregano.  Bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to low.  Simmer gently for 15 minutes to allow sauce to thicken.  For best results, store in the fridge overnight before using to allow the dried spices to rehydrate.  I like to make a big batch and stick some in my freezer.
I really utilize my freezer, can you tell?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homeschool Week 1: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

This week was a sort of introductory week to our new preschool schedule.  We've done "Tot School" since Toodles was about 18 months old, but our preschool is more involved and a bit more structured.

We didn't focus on a specific letter this week, we treated this more as a review week for all of the letters.

Toodles was thrilled to discover that big preschool kids get a Daily Learning Notebook.  I've chosen to use the free printable notebook from Confessions of a Homeschooler.  This saves me a lot of time engineering my own notebook pages.  Toodles loves tracing the letters and coloring in a square on the 100 Day countdown grid.

We took  a moment each day this week to name each of the shapes in our notebook, and to trace the number one with our fingers.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is one of Toodles' favorite books.  I knew that he would be thrilled to spend an entire week talking about it.  Each day we read the story, and he enjoyed retelling it with magnet letters on his magnet board.  His favorite part was when they all fall down, and he could swipe the letters from the magnet board onto the floor.

We also put a couple of lines from the story in our poetry pocket chart and practiced reading it.  This provided a great opportunity for practicing one-to-one correspondence, tracking, and differentiating words.  I wrote each word of "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, will there be enough room?  Here comes ____ up the coconut tree!" on an index card, and we enjoyed putting in various letter cards and reading it over and over again.  It only took Toodles two or three times of reading it with my help to learn that "enough" and "coconut," were each a single word.  He did great, and he was so excited to show Daddy his poem!

For our Tot Trays/Centers we used a puzzle, a game, and some artwork.

The first tray was simply an alphabet puzzle we had on hand.  

The second tray was a "Counting Coconuts" game.  I made a coconut tree and several coconuts from construction paper.  Toodles was to roll a number cube (I have these amazing foam ones that don't make noise when they land!!), then place that many coconuts on the tree.  He absolutely loved this game and wanted to play it again and again.

Our final tray was an art project for each day.  On Tuesday, Toodles colored a picture of a coconut tree.  On Wednesday, we found the letters in his name in a magazine and glued them onto the trunk of a coconut tree.  On Thursday, we made a coconut tree from construction paper and a recycled cardboard tube.

We discovered that we could retell the story by having magnet letters "climb" the tree and drop down through the top of the tube.  After a few letters did this, the tree would topple over and the letters would spill out just like in the story!  Toodles had a ball with this!

On Friday, our plan was to make lemon and coconut bread but that had to be postponed because.....we ran out of coconut.
We eat a lot of coconut.

All in all, week one was a success, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom  remains a family favorite.  I plan to revisit this one in a couple of months as a springboard for learning about the moon ("Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, look!  There's a full moon!")

Friday, September 6, 2013


Toodles has suffered from severe seasonal allergies for as long as I can remember.  His first full spring (when he was ~10 months-13 months old) he already exhibited some allergy-type symptoms.  By the age of 18 months his symptoms had escalated and we knew it was definitely allergies (the medical community will try to tell you that children can not have allergies before the age of 2.  I disagree, only because I observed it in my child first-hand).  Any time the pollen count ventures outside the "low" range, his eyes swell, his nose runs, he develops a cough and itchy ears, and his skin becomes irritated.  We've used every OTC oral medication safe for his age, as well as Nasonex and Nasacort.

In May 2013, he was diagnosed with egg and dairy allergies.  We took him for testing when we noticed that he had a skin rash and allergy shiners that would not go away.  He would wake up each morning with clear skin.  After breakfast, there would be a rash on his face and down his trunk.  The rash would become progressively worse as the day went on, spreading to his limbs, but would be gone by the next morning.  A simple skin test revealed a dairy allergy (which I suspected) and an egg allergy (which I did not).   One week after eliminating all dairy, both obvious and hidden, the rash disappeared and has not come back.

(I'd like to note here that Toodles showed symptoms of a dairy allergy way way way back when he was exclusively breastfed.  I took him to the pediatrician to discuss this with them, and was completely brushed off.  I was told that dairy allergies are quite rare in EBF infants and that his symptoms were nothing to be concerned with).

Squish developed eczema at only a few weeks old.  I assumed that it was just that--eczema, without necessarily having an underlying cause.  However, he had a couple of other "red flag" symptoms.  He clearly had symptoms of mild silent reflux.  Also, I'll spare you the details, but let's just say his stools were not "normal."  After struggling for the first year of Toodles' life trying desperately to help him sleep and wondering why he was so irritable and wakeful, I was not taking any chances with Squish's happy, easygoing disposition.  I eliminated dairy from my own diet.  This was not difficult, as we already kept dairy items out of the house for Toodles' sake.  Removing dairy from my system helped clear up the eczema, but it still wasn't gone.  The hubs and I decided that, before introducing solid foods to Squish, we should determine what, exactly, might be causing the symptoms.  His skin test, however, showed nothing.  In typical Squish fashion, he sat still and smiled through the test (his brother had wailed as if he were having his fingernails removed), and his skin showed no response to the scratches.  Nothing.  This was great news, but was also confusing.

After discussing the results with his pediatrician, she suggested that he might have MSPI.  She offered us the name of a pediatric GI and we made the decision to simply keep dairy out of our entire family's diet, and to limit soy.

Wow, I'm sure that was boring to read.  My apologies for the novel, but I wanted to put the background info out there in case anyone wants more info or is struggling with allergies in their own family.  I've done a good bit of research on this stuff, so feel free to holler if I can help in any way.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Toodles and Squish and Mummy and Daddy

I named this blog after my children.  Toodles is currently 3y4m old.  Squish is 7 months.  I'll talk about our preschool/tot school "homeschool," our journey with allergies, parenthood, living "green" and whatever else comes up.

Toodles is my spirited, observant, affectionate, stubborn preschooler.  He knows what he wants, and he will find a way to get it.  He is shy at times, and he never reveals a skill without completely perfecting it in private (the best example of this is the time he counted 1-7 out of the blue, after weeks of refusing to practice counting with us).  He has quite the little temper on him, but also knows how to use his stubbornness for good.  He has never been rambunctious, and he's not what some would call "ALL BOY."  He genuinely thinks he is a very short 30 year old--this is both a blessing and a curse.  The kid makes a mean pie crust, but I would really prefer that he not play with the food processor unsupervised.  He loves blanket forts, puzzles and One Direction.  Toodles suffers from seasonal allergies, and is allergic to eggs and dairy (more on that later).

Squish is spunky, joyful, and brave.  He goes-with-the-flow but is adventurous.  He is far more likely than his older brother to be the first one out on the playground trying something new or exploring a trail into the woods.  He loves his big brother, avocado, and sensory balls.  He plays hard and sleeps well.  Squish has MSPI (milk soy protein intolerance).  Because he is breast-fed, this means that I avoid dairy and soy in my own diet.

I'm a stay-at-home-mom, previously kindergarten teacher.  I love books, coffee and wine, though not always in that order--depends on who has or has not napped that day ;-)  My husband and I are working hard to raise down-to-earth, intelligent, motivated and generous kids in the Washington, DC area.  We're a little crunchy, but they won't let us call ourselves "totally crunchy" because we vaccinate.  On schedule.  No exceptions.

Thanks for joining me!  I hope you'll keep reading!