Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Just Pin It!

I have a new guilty pleasure...Pinterest! Even though I have been a user/member since April, I have just recently started logging some serious time there. Due to it's recent popularity amongst my Facebook friends, I have plenty of people and boards to follow to keep me busy for hours now. ;)

I originally started using Pinterest as an easy place to "bookmark" great designs/sites I had stumbled upon or products that I wanted to try. It was a convenient place to keep everything all together and organized without creating sticky notes all over my desktop! ;) Since then, I have discovered so many great finds there in such a short time. From new recipes to home decor to fun activities for the kids, Pinterest has become a great place for sharing good finds.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to try some of the recipes that I had pinned. The first, you can find here. Somehow, the pic and link for this one goes to a completely different recipe, but I decided to follow the recipe that was described under the pin for Crockpot Italian Chicken, because it looked much easier. That is always a plus with two kiddos competing for my time these days!

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 packet Zesty Italian dressing seasoning
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese (softened)
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1 package pasta of your choice (I used whole wheat rotini)
Combine all of the ingredients except the pasta in your crockpot. Cook on low for 4 hours. If the sauce is too thick, add a little milk. Serve over the pasta.

When I made the recipe, I used just 2 chicken breasts, but they were each 1/2 pound, so that was enough chicken for our small family. I didn't bother softening the cream cheese first and just added it straight from the refrigerator. I started the recipe on low as it said to, but after a couple hours the chicken was still looking pretty raw, so I bumped the heat up to high and cooked it on high for an hour or so before turning it back to low for the last hour.

The chicken ended up nice and tender and shredded into pieces quite easily. The sauce was pretty thick, and looking back, I probably should have went ahead and added some milk to thin it out. The flavor of this recipe wasn't bad, but it was a very heavy dish. As I was eating it, I was thinking it might have been even better if it had been placed under the broiler for a bit after it had finished cooking in the crockpot to brown up a bit. Overall, it wasn't bad. I liked the idea of using the Italian seasoning packet for flavor. Because it was such a heavy dish, I think when making it again I would maybe substitute some chicken broth for one of the cans of soup or else add some milk at the end to thin it. This one is worth giving a try if it sounds good to you! :)

The next recipe I tried was for Cookie Dough Dip from "Chocolate-Covered Katie," a healthy dessert blogger. You can find the pin for it here. The kicker is that this is a healthy recipe that is supposed to taste like cookie dough. That should have been my first red flag, haha! Here is the recipe, if you are so inclined to try it...

  • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas (1 can, drained)
  • 1/8 tsp plus 1/16 tsp salt
  • tiny bit over 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup nut butter (or you can substitute oil - this is what I did)
  • up to 1/4 cup milk of choice (start with 1 Tbsp and add more as needed)
  • sweetener (I used 2/3 cup light brown sugar - she offers other alternatives to this)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp oats (or flaxmeal) - you can omit these, but also omit the milk if you do

Add all of the ingredients, except for the chocolate chips, to a food processor, and blend until very smooth. Then mix in the chocolate chips.

I blended the crap out of those ingredients, but in the end, the texture was still too off for me (not smooth enough) to really enjoy this dip. Honestly, the flavor wasn't bad. Hubby couldn't even distinguish that the secret ingredient was chickpeas when tasting it! Perhaps if I had omitted the oats, it would have helped with the texture? I am really weird about textures. For example, I don't mind cooked veggies, but I hate them raw because they are too crunchy for me. I love the flavor of coconut, but hate it raw because of the texture. This dip actually kind of had that raw coconut texture. I think that is what ruined it for me. So, this recipe may be something worth giving a try if you can a) blend it smoother than I did, or b) don't mind the texture of it! :)

Ethan didn't seem to mind the texture as he eagerly gobbled it up, so maybe it is a recipe I will keep! ;)

Update: So, the bowl of dip was still sitting in my fridge last night, but before throwing it out, I decided to make one last ditch attempt to save it. I heated the oven to 350 degrees and just threw the whole bowl in there to bake. The dip was about an inch thick in the bowl (see above picture - that was the glass bowl I baked it in). I started out baking for just 20 minutes, but kept adding and adding time until it finally set-up some. I probably ended up baking for at least 45 minutes, but probably closer to an hour. Sorry, I last track of how many times I kept adding time. The result - a deep-dish cookie of sorts. And it was actually really good! After baking it, the texture did not seem to be much of an issue for me and amazingly, it tasted very similar to a kind of gooey chocolate chip cookie! I really could not even tell, at that point, that there were chickpeas in my dessert. For real. Now that, my friends, is an awesome dessert! :)

The next recipe I tried was for Three-Cheese Pasta Bake. It was described as a mix between mac 'n cheese, fettuccine Alfredo and lasagna. You can find the pin for it here. If you love cheese like I do, then this recipe is made for you! :)

  • 1 (16-ounce) package ziti (I used rigatoni because it was the closest thing I could find to ziti in a whole wheat version)
  • 2 (10-ounce) containers refrigerated Alfredo sauce (I used Walmart's Marketplace brand)
  • 1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
  • 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I used 1/8 cup dried parsley instead)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Prepare the pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pot. Stir together Alfredo sauce and sour cream; toss with pasta until evenly coated. Spoon half of mixture into a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Stir together the ricotta cheese and next 3 ingredients; spread evenly over pasta mixture in baking dish. Spoon remaining pasta mixture evenly over ricotta cheese layer; sprinkle evenly  with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Um, yum! Yes, I do love sometimes dream about cheese (especially when I am preggo), but I am sure I don't want to know how many calories or how much fat is in this recipe. It is probably better not knowing and just enjoying this dish. ;) Given that it is from Southern Living, it is most definitely not a healthy recipe. It would probably make Chocolate-Covered Katie cringe a bit. Oops! hehe

So, I felt slightly better about the fact that I chose to use whole wheat pasta at least. ;) I cooked mine al dente, 2 minutes under the suggested time because I hate mushy pasta. Knowing I would be baking it too, I didn't want it to end up too soft. I also decided to add chicken to give it a bit more nutritional value. I used one package of pre-cooked grilled, seasoned chicken strips. Next time, I will probably use two packages since it makes such a big batch. The chicken worked perfectly. I also decided to go ahead and use the entire bag (2 cups) of mozzarella cheese on top. I figured what the heck at that point! And just in case we weren't getting enough cheese in the meal, I threw in some three-cheese foccacia on the side too. haha! Though my waistline won't thank me for this one, this meal was delicious! This recipe yielded so much food too, that hubby and I both have generously-portioned leftovers for the next two days! Awesome. I'm not big on leftovers most of the time, but this meal was still very good reheated. :)

The original pinner's description was a little off from how I would describe it. I wouldn't really compare it to mac 'n cheese. It's more of a mix between fettuccine Alfredo, lasagna and manicotti. The ricotta cheese mixture would make a great manicotti stuffing too, I think. Either way, it is a deliciously cheesy dish that I guarantee you will enjoy! I know several friends were interested in trying this recipe, so please let me know what you think when you do!

I have so many more Pinterest recipe finds to try soon. I will try to blog about all of them in case you are also interested in them. If you have any favorites that you have tried or would like me to try, please let me know!! :)

Happy pinning, friends!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Apple Pancake Rings

I love apples and I love pancakes. There are so many tasty ways to eat both of them. Thanks to Pinterest, we now have a way to enjoy them at the same time...apple pancake rings! Yuuuummm...Such a simple idea! Why didn't I think of it sooner?

We love making pancakes for breakfast on the weekends and I love experimenting with new variations on the traditional pancake to give us lots of variety (see another favorite here, the pumpkin pancake). So, when I saw this pin the other day on Pinterest, I had to try this method! While I didn't use their recipe for the pancake mix (I really love the basic recipe I use), I used the idea. :)

  • 2 cups Bisquick (I use the Heart Healthy version)
  • 1-1/4 cup skim or low-fat milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (or 3 or 4 if you like sweet pancakes like me)
  • Cinnamon, to taste
  • 2-3 medium apples (I used organic gala - my favorite!)
  • Butter or non-stick butter spray
Peel your apples. Slice them about 1/8" thick. Take the core out of each slice. Or I guess you could core it, then slice it if you want to do it that way. ;)

Preheat your skillet or griddle. Prepare your pancake batter by mixing together the Bisquick, milk, egg, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon. I just eyed the cinnamon until it looked like a good amount in the batter. It was probably around 1-2 tsp if I was to guess.

Prepare your skillet or griddle with butter, or non-stick butter spray. Despite Paula Deen's recent announcement about having diabetes (hmm, big shocker there!), I still used butter in my skillet. Yum. It gives nice crisp edges on the pancakes. :) Next, dip an apple slice in the batter, then place it in the skillet. Repeat until the skillet is full. Next time I make them, to add to the cinnamon flavor, I will first sprinkle the slices with cinnamon before dipping them in the batter.

When bubbles start to appear on the surface of the batter, flip the pancake ring to cook on the opposite side too.

Using the three apples I had, I ended up making three batches of 7 rings each, for a total of 21 apple pancake rings. I ended up with some leftover batter, so I made a few regular pancakes too. Also, so that we could all enjoy them together, I kept the finished rings in the oven (set to 250 degrees) until all of the batches were done. For the finished product, they are good served plain or with syrup. I think they would be super tasty with a caramel sauce on top, so I will probably try preparing one of those next time to accompany them.

Because I decided to also feed Noah with those three apples, I had a few less rings than I normally would have and Noah scored some homemade applesauce! :)

I honestly can't believe I have never made applesauce before now. So simple and the flavor possibilities are endless! Hip hip hooray (as Ethan would say) for apples and a yummy Saturday morning breakfast! :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Noah's Six-Month Check-Up

Once again, another month has passed, and it was time to take Noah to the doctor again for another well-check appointment. Since we now live in Tennessee, we had to locate a new doctor for the boys. After much online research, I had narrowed it down to two practices that a) were covered under our new insurance and b) appeared to offer lots of physicians and good hours. After checking out pics of the doctors and reading their bios, I came up with a short list. I'm not sure that is the best way to pick one, but it normally works fairly well for me. How do you choose new doctors? I am planning to get involved with a local MOMS club here where we live now, and after speaking with one of their members who uses one of the practices I liked, I chose to heed her advice and finally decided on Dr. Paul Bischoff at FirstChoice Pediatrics. I love that their office offers evening and Saturday appointments, something that none of the offices in Georgia that we went to offered. Since I set up his appointment as a late morning one today, Josh was able to meet us there on his way home from work. Yay! We were both very impressed with Dr. Bischoff and with the office as well. So far, it appears to be leaps and bounds ahead of any office we patronized in Georgia. It had nice, clean exam rooms and a great well-child waiting area. They use electronic records (no more lost charts for us!), which included using MacBook Air laptops for the intake process (a super plus for an Apple addict like myself). Even more cool, they have a lactation consultant on staff. While I haven't needed one this time around, it is comforting to know she is there if I do and that they strongly promote breastfeeding. :) We were so happy with our decision that Ethan will also begin seeing Dr. Bischoff in March for his three-year check. Such a relief after going through so many doctors/offices in LaGrange!

Now on to his stats. He weighed in this month at 17 lbs, 1 oz (down to the 25th to 50th percentile), which means he gained 11 ounces. He grew 1/2-inch to measure up at 27 inches (75th percentile). That puts him at the 25th to 50th percentile for height-to-weight ratio. His head circumference was 44.25 cm (50th to 75th percentile). So even though his cute chunky thighs remain, he is beginning to thin out some. Noah did great at his appointment today. He is a perfectly healthy and happy boy. He had three vaccination shots (Hepatitis B, pneumacoccal conjugate, Haemophilus Influenzae Tybe b (Hib), polio and DTaP), one oral vaccine (rotavirus) and the flu shot to get today. So he got two shots in each of his little legs. Fortunately they had two nurses do them simultaneously to quicken the process. Despite all that, the tough little guy only cried for 5 seconds until I was able to scoop him up into my arms again. Even the nurses were impressed by his calm reaction to it all. I credit putting up with Ethan's antics making for one tough little cookie. ;) Soon after the appointment he was fast asleep for a long nap. He did get cranky later in the day with a bit of a low-grade fever, but after a dose of Tylenol appeared to be doing well again at bedtime.

Below is the pic of Noah at six months, wearing the 12-month onesie. He is getting even more hair on that head, but it's still super light, as are his eyebrows. They still look non-existant. :( As you can see in the pic, he is still hanging on to those gorgeous, bright blue eyes too. I'm not so secretly hoping they stay that way! As Ethan will tell you, Daddy, "Big Boy" and Daisy have brown eyes and Mommy and Noah have blue eyes. :)

Noah was starting to sleep better at night after we hit the 5-month mark and even managed to give me his best stretch to date - 11 hours and 40 minutes at the end of December! Wow! Normally I was happy to get 4- to 6-hour stretches from him, but he occasionally would do up to 8 or 9 hours too. Then we moved. And he became mobile. And he started getting really, really interested in our food. I think it was a combination of all of these factors that led to the decline in his better sleep patterns. He started waking every one to two hours at night again! Ugh. Not my idea of a fun time. After a few nights of that I was at my wit's end, so despite my hesitations about letting him cry it out in an apartment with neighbors above us, I let him do it. Ah, relief. After under 5 minutes of crying, he was back to sleep the first time and it has been the same any other time I have let him be instead of rushing in to feed him. While we still haven't gotten back to where we were, it's better. If he wakes up in under 3 to 4 hours, he has to put himself back to sleep. If it's over that, I go ahead and feed him. I'll probably try to start stretching that out even more soon, because I don't really think he is that hungry at night, especially since we have started giving him more solid food now! He is still taking a morning nap of around 30 minutes to an hour and an afternoon nap of around one to three hours. Occasionally he takes an early evening nap of 30 minutes or so if his afternoon nap was a short one. Despite awaking as often as he does at night, I am lucky he still sleeps a total of 11 to 13 hours, going to bed between 8 and 9 pm and waking up for the day around 8 or 9 am.

Just shy of 6 months (and due to his newfound poor sleeping habits), we started giving him rice cereal again, but this time on a daily basis, instead of just every so often. He is not a big fan of it though unless I make it with breastmilk. He refuses to eat it if I make it with formula, even if I use a little white grape juice in place of 1/2 of the water! Sigh. I can't say that I really blame him because formula tastes quite disgusting if you ask me. It's the same story with oatmeal. So, I haven't really been giving either to him this week. Instead he has been eating just fruits and veggies. Unlike with Ethan, I am preparing Noah's fruits and veggies myself, instead of buying pre-made jars/packages of baby food at the store. I think it will save money and be better for him in the long run.

New foods tried this month:
  • Oatmeal cereal
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
The introduction of all of these foods went well. Oatmeal was about the same as rice cereal for him. Not too bad, but not a super fan like Ethan always was. Sweet potatoes and bananas were huge hits though! These are easy ones to make at home. The one night for dinner we all had baked sweet potatoes, so Noah had some too! Poor guy didn't get the butter and brown sugar on his though. ;) Another night, to save time, I used my new Baby Brezza machine to steam and puree them. It is a great machine to use! All you need to do is peel and dice the food item you want to use. Then you put it all in the container, set the timer and it begins the steaming process. Once it is done, it automatically purees it for you, unless you don't want to, in which you just choose the steam only option. I love how easy the clean-up is by only using one bowl for everything vs separate containers for steaming and pureeing. Awesome. For the bananas, I simply use a food mill (I have the BabySteps Food Mill with carrying case) to mash them up easily into a consistency that he can handle. Next up will probably be carrots, applesauce, squash, pears, peas and beans.

New accomplishments this month:
  • Getting up on his hands and knees
  • "Scootching"/inching/crawling all over the room
  • Sitting up by himself
  • Sleeping on his tummy
  • Pulling himself up from his belly to a standing position using only my hands (he does all the work, I just help him balance)
The crawling thing happened so quickly! One day (between Christmas and New Year's Day) he figured out how to get up on to his hands and knees, and just a few days later he was inching his way all over the place! Yikes! I know Ethan was also young when he started doing this, but I don't remember him figuring it out quite that quickly. I think he is slightly more motivated by the promise of playing with his big brother once he is big enough! ;) He is getting better at balancing because he can easily sit-up by himself now. I think his larger bottom helps assist with this one. hehe. Also like his big brother, he is a tummy sleeper. When I lay him down in his crib on his back, he immediately rolls over to his tummy to sleep. He remains that way all night, only rolling back over when he wakes up. He is also able to pull himself up to standing on my hands already, so I fear it won't be long before he is pulling up on the couches and cruising around the room!! Why are my children mobile at such an early age??

Here is a pic of Ethan at 6 months with Noah's pic. Ethan is definitely the more ornery of the two, a trait he has carried with him to this day. Even though I think they both resemble me more than Josh, others have said they think Ethan looks more like his Daddy and Noah looks more like me. I am starting to see that. Though Ethan still has my crinkled up, smile eyes, he definitely resembles his Daddy otherwise, especially when he is being ornery! ;)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Carpe Diem? Carpe a couple of Kairoses instead!

I have been wanting to write a post about this topic for quite awhile now, so when I came across a link to this post by Glennon Melton (<---- click here) on one of my Facebook friend's walls, I knew I had to share it with fellow parents! There is no way I can come close to articulating my thoughts as well as she did, so I'll mostly let her words speak for me. :) This is definitely one of my deeper posts, but one that I feel I need to write for myself and others who find themselves in this same situation.

Since adding another child to the mix here, I have definitely had my share of days when I felt that just making it to bedtime was all I could handle. I was certainly not seizing the day, merely surviving it. I started to wonder if this was normal. Shouldn't I be ecstatic about the opportunity to stay at home with my two amazing little boys? Wasn't I living the American dream?? Maybe so, but I definitely didn't feel like it. I started to feel guilty and question my decision to be a SAHM. Fortunately, through a little discussion with other fellow moms, I realized that this isn't unusual and I wasn't alone. Whew.

When I read this article this morning, I was again filled with hope that there are lots of other moms out there feeling the same way as me. Maybe I am normal after all? While I don't always enjoy every second of every day, I enjoy the overall ride. I am happy with our choice to become parents and our choice for me to raise our children instead of working outside of the home. While I may not enjoy those moments when Ethan is screaming for food or attention, while Noah has just knocked over Daisy's bowl of food for the millionth time and Daisy has just puked on the floor because she didn't eat that day...once everything is taken care of, I am happy that we are all still happy and healthy overall. We have once again survived the day. It's so easy to forget the good moments...when Ethan helps me entertain Noah or tells me he loves me, when Noah flashes me a huge grin as I walk into his room to get him in the morning and when Daisy cuddles up to snuggle with me for a nap. I need to remember these moments. So instead of seizing the day and every second of it, I will continue to savor those wonderful moments that make me glad that I became a mom! As Glennon said so eloquently, I will "carpe a couple of Kairoses a day."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From "Georgia on My Mind" to "Rocky Top Tennessee!"

It's official. We are all now residents of the state of Tennessee. We have the drivers' licenses and vehicle plates to prove it (mainly because there is no property tax on vehicles in TN, so that will save us a bundle this year!). Kind of crazy that at just shy of 6 years old, Daisy has lived with us in four states in her short life now (Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee). She is actually moving back to her roots as she was born here in Tennessee before we bought her from the breeder in Kentucky back in 2006.

The move was a "fun" time. The movers (a local company from here in TN) arrived on Monday, January 2nd to start packing us up. Unfortunately, by the time they arrived that afternoon, they only managed to drop the trailer, take a quick look around, then call it a day. Wow. After promising to arrive the next day by 8 am to begin, we sat around waiting on them until almost 9 am. Go figure. We quickly learned that Ray and Junior (aka Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Duh, or Stinky and Smokey) were not exactly pillars of efficiency. Because of our unique situation (moving into an apartment and sending over half of our belongings to storage), we had to watch them pretty closely, instructing them what items were to come with us and what items needed to be stored. I guess because we were there hovering, they felt the need to chat with us. While this would normally not be a problem, it was in this case because they struggled to simultaneously pack and talk. Sigh. They appeared to be moving slower than molasses in January and we started to worry by late Wednesday that they were never going to finish. They assured us we would be good to go on Friday, but we doubted them. After yet another delay (this time an entire 4 hours) on Thursday afternoon when their rig experienced mechanical problems when they went out for lunch, we were becoming quite skeptical. So, Josh talked to their boss and fortunately, they brought in two local temp guys from LaGrange on Friday to help them finish packing, then load the truck. Though it was nearly 6 pm before they finished that day, they did it! It definitely wouldn't have happened without the temps who managed to load all of our furniture themselves that day.

We spent one last night at a local hotel in LaGrange, then bid our Georgia home farewell on Saturday before making the trek up to our apartment in Tennessee. Below is one final family pic in front of our beloved home. :'( We sold it at the end of December to Josh's company as part of his relocation package. We are thankful to not have to worry about trying to sell it any longer in this poor economy, which frees us to be able to put an offer in on a house here when we find one that we like. We're hoping to be able to do that soon. Thus far it has proved to be an impossible task as we have looked at over 100 houses with no luck. Sigh.

With none of our belongings being delivered until Sunday, we got a hotel room up here for a couple nights. They decided not to mess around on Sunday and sent six guys to unload everything that morning. Finally! They finished by 2 pm and we began unpacking all the boxes. Surprisingly, less than a week later, we are almost done! Just a couple more with odds and ends to finish up and we will be completely settled in. It's definitely an adjustment moving into an apartment that is less than half as big as the house you previously owned, but we're making it work. If only the kitchen and master bedroom were a tad bigger, then I really wouldn't mind staying here for an extended period. It is a nice complex that has a fitness room (I'm hoping to start using that soon!), a fantastic pool (hopefully it warms up early so we can use it before we move out!) and is super close to tons of shopping and restaurants. Score!

Moving with two small children is not something that I would ever recommend unless you like pure insanity. I do not. It was definitely easier the first time we did it, even at 9 months pregnant! At that point I didn't have to worry about nap schedules, feeding a toddler without access to my kitchen and nursing a baby round the clock. I must give a huge shout out to my mother for being there to help me with the kids during the whole ordeal. Without her, I really don't think I would have survived. I still haven't figured out how people make big moves like this by themselves without movers. I definitely would never be able to do that. Movers are a must! Below is Noah with his buddy for the week, Grandma Frank!

We were welcomed to Tennessee by experiencing our first snowfall the first week we lived here. Awesome. Unfortunately, we had become used to the warmer climate of western Georgia and we haven't been thrilled with the frigid temps we have been experiencing so far here. We had to buy a space heater for poor Noah's arctic room! :( Ethan enjoyed playing in the snow with Daddy on Friday afternoon and I'm sure he'll look forward to more snowfalls this winter. Here are the boys sitting on the slide of a little play area that is located less than 30 steps from our front door! Convenient!

Here's Daddy and his kiddos enjoying the snow. That is our apartment behind them on the left.

Me and the kiddos. We are getting much use out of those winter coats and accessories I bought for them this year. :)

Sweet baby Noah trying to stay warm. Look at that cute little pink nose! The snowfall hit just one day shy of him turning six months old.

Ethan loves it!

I think Noah preferred being inside and watching his big brother play from there. ;)

We are really enjoying being reunited again as a family. Especially awesome is the fact that Josh has Friday afternoons off, so we get to enjoy extended weekends every week with lots of quality family time now. It doesn't get any better than that! :)