Monday, August 30, 2010

Cookies for Breakfast

Yes, I am the best mom, EVER!

With school starting this week, everyone is wondering what to pack for the kids' lunches. No one is talking Sugar Smack about breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

I have figured out a way to get my kids to eat more than the usual nibble at breakfast time. I give them cookies. Not just any old Oreos or Chips Ahoy, my dears. I actually bake them cookies for breakfast. Now before you think I have gone over to the dark side where kids are eating Toaster Strudels, Pop Tarts, or licorice (yes, I do think they all belong in the same category whether you want to believe it or not), I have found the answer to every parent's breakfast dilemma. The Breakfast Cookie.

You see, I have one son who likes cereal but not with milk. I see him muddling through the bowl like it's agony. It's just so dry and blah. He won't eat eggs but he loves pancakes. He eats a yogurt every single morning of his life, without fail. The rest of breakfast can be tricky, especially on school mornings when the time crunch hits and I'm screaming, EAT YOUR BREAKFAST OR YOU'LL MISS THE BUS!!!
They say "necessity is the mother of invention" and I do believe it must have been a mother who invented the Breakfast Cookie! She surely had a child like mine.
There are many recipes out there and I'm sure if you just Google it, you'll find one you like. The one I made today is from Disney's Magic Kitchen Cookbook. I followed it, mostly to the letter but I thought a few changes would make them slightly healthier. The recipe below includes the changes I've made.
Bring these along when your child has a sports activity and needs a little healthy snack to keep him going or even pack one in the lunch box. And since no one I know has time to bake on a school morning, make these on the weekend and freeze for later.
Non-stick cooking spray
1 Smart Balance stick softened (Smart Balance is a great butter blend. Works great in baking, sub it for butter)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups Total Raisin Bran or Original Total
2 TBS ground flax seed meal (optional)
1/4 cup chocolate chips....or more (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, beat the Smart Balance for 30 seconds with electric mixer. Add brown sugar and baking soda. Beat until mixed. Add the eggs, beating until mixed. Add the flour and ground flax seed meal (if using) until the mixture no longer looks dry and resembles cookie dough. Use a wooden spoon to mix in the cereal and chocolate chips if using. (This will mash the cereal a bit automatically in case you thought the flakes are too big.)

For each cookie, pack the mixture into a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Spoon out the mixture with a rubber spatula onto the prepared cookie sheet. Press the mound of dough and flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining dough, placing the cookies 3 inches apart.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit on the cookie sheet for 1 minute longer.

Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool.
Makes 12 cookies.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rodney King and Mommy Dearest Offer Advice for the Mother Hood

Two of my favorite quotes as they relate to The Mother Hood:

"Can't we all just get along" (Rodney King)

"Why must everything be a contest?" (Mommy Dearest to her 7 yr old Christina)

It seems motherhood has become a competitive sport. Everywhere. Blogs, Tweets, Facebook, the playground, the grocery store, anywhere is game for the sport. According to one recent study, cyberbullying moms are especially running rampant and are dominating the blogosphere. After all, it's much safer to type a comment than it is to go face to face with a mother. And it's cowardly. But a lot of women are doing it. And someone, somewhere is reading this and judging me, to which I say, "pflggtthhh". And PS. I just read a posting from a popular mom blogger who actually stopped blogging because she couldn't stand the constant ridicule from other moms about her life. Ouch.

I actually hesitated in writing about this topic for fear of being judged by my fellow sisters/mothers. Trust me, this blog is more about questions, than answers. So judge all you want.

But why judge at all? Who are we competing with and why? Are we so insecure with ourselves and our choices that we feel vindicated when we judge others? Do we judge and gossip because that is what women "do"? Or are we just so bored with our lives that we have nothing else to discuss?

Did our mothers and grandmothers behave this way? Did they whisper behind each other's backs, "Did you hear Eunice saw Mabel in Woolworth's buying three housecoats? How dare she spend that kind of money on herself!" And, "I think Rose just got one of those new machines that dries your clothes. I guess she'll be too good for us now. Hmpfh!"

I'll admit, today's moms are faced with challenges and choices our fore mothers weren't. Should we work or stay home after the kids are born. Or maybe we just don't have a choice in the matter. We do what we have to or need to given our circumstances. Some moms who work full-time wish they could stay home. Some moms who stay home, wish they could work. I personally think the best gig is working part time and enjoying the best of both worlds. Our nanas were content staying home with the kids.....or were they? The point is, we really are damned if we do and damned if we don't. Someone will have a judgment about our decisions. Breast or bottle, disposable or cloth diapers, paper or plastic. In the end, no one gets an award for being Super Mom but I do believe if you are the best mom you can be, then the rewards will speak for themselves when you are long gone.

Would men behave this way if they were able to bear children? I really don't think so. Instead, they'd be bragging about who has the biggest belly bump and bra cup size and who hurled the most in the first trimester. And cut to the delivery room, "Hey man, did you SEE the size of that placenta?"

Obviously, I don't have any answers and I have a twisted view of pregnant men.

Perhaps this blog might make The Mother Hood a nicer place to play and share together like we're always teaching our kids.

Why must everything be a contest? Can't we all just get along?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shrimp Pesto Pasta

Whenever I see my parents, instead of "Hello" from my dad, it's "You need basil or parsley? How about some tomatoes?" He's always ready to share his bounty with the world....that's the nice thing about people who have vegetable gardens! How can I say no? These ingredients are an Italian cook's dream come true and before you know it, they will be a distant memory. So enjoy them now!
I made this recipe on a whim for company one night and they loved it, deeming it "blogworthy". Photo credits to my number one fan and blogtographer, Mark Sylvestre.
Hope you all enjoy this delightful dish!
Shrimp Pesto Pasta
To make the pesto:

1 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/4 cup pignoli (pine) nuts, or you may try sliced almonds or walnuts, whatever you're nuts about is fine with me!
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
approx 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs roughly chopped calamata olives (optional, but I think they are what separates this from your ordinary pesto)

In a food processor or blender, pulse the basil, parsley, nuts, garlic, salt & pepper until finely chopped. While it's still running, add the olives (if using) and slowly add enough oil to make a thick and smooth consistency, approx 2/3 cup. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese.
The pesto will keep well in the fridge for 2 days.

The pasta portion of the show includes:

1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 lb rotini whole wheat pasta
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1/3 cup sliced calamata olives
1 lb frozen pre-cooked shrimp, thawed according to package directions
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (goat cheese might also work well here)
  1. In a large serving bowl, add the sun dried tomatoes, slightly drained and sliced olives. Set aside.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions or until al dente and drain. While the pasta is cooking, in a separate skillet or stove top grill pan, spray lightly with cooking spray and turn heat to medium. Add the grape tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, tossing occasionally. The goal is to get a little carmelization/slight browning on the tomatoes. You want them to hold up and not turn to mush. Transfer the tomatoes to the serving bowl with olives & sun dried tomatoes.
  3. With the heat still on the pan, spray a little more cooking spray or a drizzle of olive oil. Add the thawed shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then transfer to the serving bowl with the other ingredients.
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl and toss with the pesto, making sure to incorporate the pesto well into the pasta. Add salt and pepper if needed. After it's cooled slightly, toss in the feta or goat cheese and serve, warm or room temp.
Variation: Omit the shrimp and use grilled chicken breast strips or leftover rotisserie chicken.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Share it Forward

Being the Frugalista that I am, I always try to think of innovative ways to save money. Sure there are coupons, consignment stores and plain old "going without". But have you thought of forming an alliance with your friends, family, and/or neighbors to maximize the virtual goldmine of supplies/tools they all have sitting around, begging to be used? I have! ( One statistic states we don't use 70% of what we have in our homes. )

It started out very innocently when I wanted to borrow a friend's mandolin so I could make homemade potato chips (Yes, I am crazy!). My friend said that they never use it and we could "timeshare" it. I was going to buy one but it was a bit pricey and not really a "necessity". Then the same friends went on vacation and we asked to borrow their rug cleaner. (You're thinking, "these people sure take advantage of their friends!" Don't worry, we feed and water them regularly). We usually leave carpet cleaning to the professionals but this time I didn't feel like wasting the money. So we used our friends' cleaning machine and the rugs came out GREAT!

Savings= $150

So I started thinking about taking sharing to a whole new level. What if we all shared our toys in a more organized and streamlined fashion without spending a penny!?

Here are some great ideas to get you started:

Girls Night IN!

Pick a house, any house and gather all your gal pals. Have some snacks and beverages. This too can be pot lucked.

Your mission, if you chose to accept it is to bring to the table items you:
a. Are not that fond of but someone else might like
b. No longer use
c. Don't care if you ever see again

The idea is to swap, trade, or borrow each other's items. You can work these details out with your friends, whether the goal is for all to borrow, timeshare, or keep; you decide!
Chose a theme for the night. Pick one or a combo of any listed below and run with it:
  • Unopened/unexpired makeup
  • clothing
  • DVDs
  • books
  • costume jewelry
  • shoes/accessories/pocketbooks
  • small housewares/kitchen gadgets (I know I have a few too many!).

This is a great way to connect with your friends, have a lot of laughs, and get some good stuff FREE. It's like a yard sale only way more fun and no annoying hagglers. ("Can I have that coffee table for a quarter?")

What NOT to Share:

  • opened or used makeup
  • cars
  • expensive jewelry
  • husbands/children (have you seen what happens on Wife Swap?)
  • anything you can't bear to say goodbye to

Baby's Day Out!

Gather your mom friends and their kids. Let the kids run amok while you swap the following:

  • baby/kids clothing
  • Halloween costumes/seasonal items
  • snow boots/snow suits/winter coats/hats/mittens
  • toys/games/books/music/DVDs/videos

Bring your own bags and prepare to shop til you or the kids drop, whichever comes first!

Guys Night OUT

OK, I don't mean at the local strip club. I mean, the backyard where they can show off their tools. Many jobs in our house are done by us (read, my husband), as long as he has the correct equipment and know-how, he makes a valiant effort to save us money and tackles many jobs on his own. However, he doesn't always have the right stuff for the job. He takes numerous trips to Lowe's and Home Depot and has invested in some good tools, including a power washer (a great investment!). However, even being a "Do it Yourselfer" can also come with a price tag. So now is the time to beg and borrow from your friends. Devise a plan, formal or not, to swap tools as needed.

If you have a group of 4-5 friends, you are guaranteed to meet every one's home improvement needs by swapping any of the following:

Lawnmowers, weed whackers, drills, saws, power washers, ladders, leftover paint/stain, shovels, snow blowers. The list is endless. And the plus side to all of the sharing is it keeps you connected to your neighbors instead of that awkward wave from the driveway in your jammies. We're talking some serious bonding now!

Word to the wise. Set clear expectations and boundaries from the beginning. Make sure everyone knows how to use the equipment and provide manuals whenever necessary.

I hope you use these ideas and if you think of some new ones, please post a comment below. Time to make the potato chips!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eat a Pickle....Cut the Fat?

Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles
My sister in-law Kim's grandmother always said this. We don't know how true it is but I personally feel better after eating anything pickled, knowing that I might be burning some body fat in the process. Truth is, though, I will eat anything pickled: cukes, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, green tomatoes, the list goes on.

My dad's garden is suddenly overflowing with the green stuff and my mother is dubiously sauteing it, grilling it, and frying it. I think it's time to move on to something new! After all, zucchini is one of those "vanilla" vegetables. It doesn't taste bad, per se. It just needs a little zest to make it more appetizing. One way to perk them up is to pickle them!

I found a recipe in Cooking Light Magazine and thought I'd share my own adaptation of it. Their recipe calls for mustard seed and I've substituted pickling spices instead. I find the pickling spices are more flavorful. I also changed the amount of hot pepper flakes.

Here's what you'll need:

4 cups 1/8 inch zucchini slices
1 cup sliced sweet onion
3 thinly sliced cloves garlic
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp pickling spices (found these at Job Lot for .88)
3/4 tsp kosher salt

Combine the zucchini, onion, and garlic in a glass bowl (or a 9x13 shallow glass baking dish works well too). Bring the vinegar, sugar, spices and salt to a boil. Pour over the zucchini mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

These taste just like pickled cukes and have a nice crunch to them without all the high sodium in the store bought pickles. I am guessing that if you like to preserve in jars, you can try this recipe in canning jars as well.

Eat a pickle, cut the fat!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Popping Panzanella Salad

If you've never tried Panzanella Salad, now is the time! With all the in season ripe tomatoes, here is a chance to use them up. Panzanella Salad is like a Bruschetta in a Bowl and my version will definitely awaken your taste buds!

5 cups of cubed day old crusty bread. I used Trader Joe's Ciabbata bread.
4 Roma or plum tomatoes, cubed
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 tin of anchovies in oil, drained and chopped
1 cup pitted calamata olives chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves sliced
1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped
1/2 cup chopped pepperoncini peppers
1/2 cup to 1 cup feta cheese cubed

1 lemon juiced
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano

In a large bowl, place the bread cubes, tomatoes, anchovies, pepperoncini peppers, olives, basil, parsley. Toss.

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and pour over bread salad. Toss. Add the feta cheese. Let it set for 30 minutes and serve at room temperature.

Transform it to a Grinder in a Bowl! Add chopped cucumbers, celery, bell peppers, roasted peppers or chopped salami Major YUM!

You can also use different tomatoes, like a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes. Whatever you have from the garden will work. They're all good and juicy so bring 'em on!
Side note: I ate this the next day and it was still great and not mushy like I thought it might be. Enjoy!

Becky's Original Israeli Couscous

This is a great versatile side dish and a huge crowd pleaser! Enjoy it for your next barbecue or as a fancy side for chicken or fish. The great thing about this salad is that you can swap out different ingredients. See the variations listed at the end.
There is a little debate about how much sugar should be used. You can vary it from 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on your sweet tooth.

Picture courtesy of Deana Gunn from Cooking With All Things Trader Joes. For more on my interview with Deana:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup sugar

1 box Trader Joe's Israeli Couscous (found in the pasta/rice aisle
1/3 cup unsalted dry toasted sliced almonds
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
2 oz feta cheese crumbled

1.) Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2.) Follow cooking instructions on the Israeli Couscous box. Add cooked couscous to the bowl containing the dressing. Toss with the dressing and let it cool (about 20-30 minutes), stirring occasionally. The couscous will absorb the dressing as it cools.

3.) Add the almonds, cranberries, and basil. Toss the feta cheese in lightly. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Serves 4

If you don't have Israeli couscous, substitute 1 1/2 cups of dried orzo or TJ's Harvest Grains. Cook until al dente, drain and then add to the dressing.

If you don't have fresh basil, substitute fresh parsley, mint or a combination of both. If you don't like almonds, substitute toasted pignoli nuts.