Saturday, January 7, 2017

Senior Dog Cookies

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Our sweet dog Princess hasn't been herself lately so I took her to the vet. It feels like overnight she went from our wiggly, barely-contained puppy to a lethargic, old girl.
She was diagnosed with arthritis and we did a week of NSAIDs to see how she felt. She bounced back to her old self almost immediately, but now that the week of medication has ended she's being a poky little Princess again. 

We've put her on Cosequin, but the loading dose takes a few weeks to kick in so we won't see much improvement from there.  So in an effort to do everything I can to help her before we decide she needs NSAIDs for the rest of her life, I found some common ingredients that dogs really like and help joint pain and created a cookie. 

Princess is not a "cookie" dog. She is much more motivated by a ball than any amount of food, so I knew I would have my work cut out for me to make this cookie both healthy and in her eyes, edible. The recipe came together really quickly and easily in my food processor and is full of things I keep in my pantry.  


I started with pumpkin, because I know it's good for dogs and had a can that was open already and needed to be used up. Then added eggs, because eggs are good for cookies. Rolled oats, flax and chia seeds are all listed as ingredients good for senior dogs. At this point, the whole concoction smelled okay but I knew she wouldn't go near it without a little meat flavor. Better than Bouillon is always in my fridge and while it made the cookies smell disgusting to me, Princess came running because she smelled chicken. 
The texture didn't feel right to me - like it wasn't something that would hold it's shape. Once I had all of these ingredients pulsed together and doughy, I added a handful of plain cheerios and pulsed a few more times. Those gave the cookies a little more firmness to help hold their shape, and added some crunchies, which I thought Princess would appreciate. 
From there I scooped them out and baked at 350º for 25 min. This produced a somewhat dry, but still soft and chewy cookie. I let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container in the fridge.

She loves getting them every morning with her meds and I love giving them to her, knowing they're full of all the best things for her!! 

Senior Dog Cookies
1C pumpkin puree 
2 eggs
1C rolled oats
1/2C ground flax
2T chia seeds
2T Better than Bouillon 
1/2C Cheerios (plain) 

Combine all but Cheerios in a good process until mostly smooth. Add Cheerios and pulse a few times, leaving crunchy bits. Scoop and bake at 350* for 25 min. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the fridge. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Meal Planning Made Easy

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I am an avid meal planner. To be honest, I'm a planner in general. I've finally found a method to keep a personal planner - which is a different post, someday - and it's helping me keep meal plans on point.
Meal planning helps us stay on budget, but only when I cook with what we've acquired. If my meal plan for a week includes a bunch of weird ingredients or proteins that I don't keep on hand, the grocery budget is obliterated. I follow a few simple steps and plan our meals on Wednesday, then do the shopping on Thursdays. I've found that shopping late in the week inspires more home cooking on the weekend, which makes it easier to say no to going out to eat. 

I've recently started planning all of our breakfasts and lunches a week in advance, as well. Snacks get planned the night before, depending on what the boys have been favoring lately. Planning all of these things may seem overwhelming, but I find that a rhythm happens pretty quickly and all this planning keeps me reaching for different flavors. I hate getting in flavor ruts. For a few weeks, every breakfast involved syrup. Seriously.

Calendar
The first step in planning is to review the calendar. Do we have a family dinner one night? Mark it off as one less dinner to prep. Is Hubs teaching a guitar lesson one night? Plan on eating leftovers. Once I have an idea on what the week looks like, I can easily plan what styles to cook on each day. Knowing on Monday we will be eating leftovers, Saturday or Sunday I plan to cook a large meal that offers plenty of leftovers.
We use our phone calendars (synced) for every appointment, playdate and school function. Hubs and I each get a notification when a new event is added, so unless I'm seriously spacing out, things don't come as a surprise on the calendar.

School days I plan for lunches that are really fast to get on the table, because my preschooler comes home starving and it's dangerously close to nap time for the little one. Same goes for breakfasts those mornings; one of the quick, old staples has to do. Nothing wrong with that!

Knowing LW has music class one afternoon a week leaves one night to have a quick meal like quesadillas or breakfast leftovers for dinner (pancakes, waffles, etc.) - which winds back to, "Which morning before this will I have time to make waffles?" or which dinner a previous evening will produce leftovers that we can plan to eat for dinner that night. I know, it seems like so much thought...but it's WORTH IT! Because we never have that sinking, "What's for dinner?" feeling!!

I keep a pretty hefty stash of leftover soups in the freezer, as well. I freeze them in deli containers and it's a lifesaver for nights that dinner from scratch just can.not. happen. 

Rotation
I keep meals on a loose rotation, based on things I keep on hand. I try to rotate through these main dishes: Pasta, salad, tacos, soup, pizza, quick meals and our classic faves. 

Does that seem really boring? This is where I get creative. "Tacos" does not always mean ground beef, taco seasoning and hard shells in our house. It can mean shrimp and avocado, barbacoa beef, pork carnitas or chicken tacos. Possibilities are kind of endless with tacos. 

"Soup" is the most open term in the world, because pretty much any veggies that need to be eaten can be dumped in the super pot with some home made stock, a protein (sausage? chicken? whatever!) and rice, beans or noodles. LOOK! Now it's soup! This Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup is a staple I make every few weeks. It's soooo comforting and delicious (wait, everything from Damn Delicious is). 
"Pasta"is another really broad term. That can be a million different things I find on Pinterest or some of our easy staples for a busy night like ravioli and a jar of sauce with garlic bread. 

"Pizza" I try to keep variable as well. We aren't huge frozen pizza eaters, but naan pizzas are quick and easy, plus the boys love them. Change up the crust by making them on tortillas or english muffins. If there is more time allowed, I can make the dough and sauce from scratch using up some garden veggies which is the most cost-effective way. Budgets rejoice! 

A salad loaded with chicken and veggies is really satisfying and can be interpreted to fit into nearly any cuisine we're craving. We love southwest salad with chicken, this Asian Noodle Salad and this Caprese Avocado Salad.

As I mentioned, some nights need to have quick meals and we don't always have leftovers to fall back on. That's when breakfast for dinner, quesadillas, ramen noodles, hot dogs or chicken nuggets save us. Not every night can be healthy and made from scratch, and I accept that. Everything in moderation.

Of course, it feels always good to cook an old staple. Some of our faves that don't fit into other categories listed above are Smothered Pork Chops, sloppy joes, lettuce wraps and Mississippi roast.

#Promomtip: Put new things in meals my kids understand. When the boys ask what's for dinner, I can say "Tacos" and they get excited. They know what tacos are, they understand the flavor profile, and I can introduce lots of new ingredients. Put it in a taco and they generally try it, at least. Or on a pizza. Or with pasta. Or whatever. I totally play to my strengths with that move.

Pantry
Once I have the calendar marked up and an idea on what style dishes I want to make, I take a peek through my pantry and freezer for what needs to get eaten. If I am out of chicken tenders but I have chuck, I plan a dish that uses chuck. If we have a lot of frozen fruit that could be used up, I plan on making smoothies for some of our breakfasts or snacks that week. If I find a package of rice noodles that begs to be the highlight, I plan a stir fry. 

Technology plays a big part of our organization with the pantry/grocery shopping, too. Hubs and I share lists on Wunderlist. We add pantry staple ingredients to the list as they run out (milk, eggs, bread, etc). Items with a star are Hubs responsibility - they are for Costco. Items without a star are for me to shop for at Aldi.
When I know the meals I want to make and have a handle on what my pantry can offer that week, I create the shopping list. A lot of the items every week are the same (milk, etc) but produce I try to purchase local and seasonal, when I can. Aldi has stickers on every item that is locally grown. Which, in January in the NW suburbs of Chicago is just potatoes...but in the summer and fall it offers several fun options!

The List
Once I have all the meals sketched and scribbled on notepaper, I put them in the Reminders app on my phone. This way, I always have them with me. If I'm out and about and my stomach drops because I think I forgot to defrost something for dinner (happens constantly), I can flip the app open and see what I had planned on making that night.

Flexibility
A huge part of this is flexibility. I plan what feels like every second of every day because it comforts me. Most days, I don't touch 1/3 of the plan. I don't care! I just like having a plan to start with. If the kids don't nap or something goes awry, I have to be flexible and make it work. We NEED to eat, and my goal is always to feed us from our pantry.

Most mornings I have completely different plans for breakfast than LW does, but we balance each other out. Eventually all of the food gets eaten, just on different days than I had planned. Which I am totally cool with. I don't care when it gets eaten, I just don't want it wasted.
Have any tips or questions? Reach me out to me on Facebook or Instagram. Our daily life can be found @sparklesandcrafts and our meals are on @whatifeedmykid

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

World's Best Pumpkin Cake

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Pumpkin Cake......Cream Cheese Frosting.....

Honestly, you can't go wrong with that combo but this recipe is the. freaking. best. My mom made it for us growing up. Every fall we would beg for "pumpkin bars". They're basically what dreams are made of.

I've modified my recipe slightly to cut out a little oil – I subbed apple sauce. I had some homemade apple sauce on hand, so what's better than that?



So here we go.


Pumpkin Cake 
4 eggs
1 2/3 C granulated sugar
1/2 C canola oil
1/2 C apple sauce
1 16oz can pumpkin
2 C AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp nutmeg

In a large mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, oil, apple sauce and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and nutmeg.
Add in pumpkin mixture and mix thoroughly.
Spread batter into ungreased 15x10 half sheet pan. Bake at 350º for 25-30 min. Cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese
1 C butter
2 tsp vanilla
3 3/4 C powdered sugar

Cream together cream cheese and butter. Stir in vanilla extract. Add powdered sugar slowly and stir until smooth. Spread onto cooled pumpkin cake.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Buckets

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There are tons of articles out there to let you know how many things you are screwing up. As if you aren't doing it enough to yourself, every news feed is full of articles from "experts" claiming they have a "solution". And you buy it! We all buy it because any solution seems better than what we have - which at many times feels a lot like failure.

My three year old goes to preschool and the philosophy on campus is to "be a bucket filler, not a bucket dipper."

When I break it down I realize a big thing: I surround myself with bucket fillers. I am blessed with a pretty bitchin' network of mom friends who drag me up from my lowest depths of motherhood woes and give me what feels like wings to soar into the next milestone in motherhood.

It feels like I am always headed out to spend time with some friend. We're going on a nature walk, to a library play date, on a stroll to the park, to a delicious dinner as a girls night out, a date to just sit on the driveway and do nothing but watch our children ride circles on their bikes. Every time I leave one of these gatherings I feel it. The heart swell. A full bucket.

I've found my people. I have found the diamonds in the rough. The world of motherhood can be cold, unjust, cruel and downright filthy. But I, my friends, have found the diamonds. They not only shine, but they help me shine. I leave these gatherings and play dates feeling like a better mom. A better person. I happier woman. A person...a beautiful person.

We may not be polished to perfection but we freaking shine.

I blog because I aim to inspire. I want more moms to feel like they're doing it right. And if they aren't, I hope they see that they can do it right. Because if I can, anyone can. Really.

I get mad. I get really stinking mad. I melt into a puddle of tears and sea salt caramels on my couch while defeatedly tossing my oldest an iPhone and hoping the day turns around. Motherhood is messy. But surrounding myself with friends who are buckets full to the brim with awesome helps. When my bucket is low, they spill a little of their overflow in so I can feel better.

Tonight, tomorrow, next week...fill a bucket. It feels so damn good. Sometimes we don't need an article to tell us how to fix ourselves. We just need a metaphorical shoulder to cry on via text message. And respond to us with "You are a great mom".

Love you all....buckets <3 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Preschool: The Beginning

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My three year old started preschool this week.

All summer long we coached him and worked him up to this grand event. Every good thing he did we praised and reminded him how proud his teachers will be when he does said thing in class (listening, picking up toys, being polite, etc.).

Turns out preparing him wasn't the same as preparing myself.

The morning was here. I nervously and excitedly made breakfast. I tried to pass it off (more to myself than anyone) that it was just a normal day. I did all I could to calmly pass the time until drop off.

Finally the time came and I loaded my precious bundle of big boy into the car and drove to school.

Then I pulled in. And. I. Sobbed.

My son had no idea that emotion was washing over me like a tsunami. I didn't see it coming. I thought I had talked myself into being the cool mom. I truly believed I could get through this like it was just another Tuesday.

Turns out I'm really good at lying to myself. 

I had to pull it together. I plastered on a toothy grin and swiped away the sob that had taken my breath away.

I had to "fake it till you make it" and I suspect the room full of moms I sat amongst were doing the same. We all sat with our bouncing toddlers as the pastor prayed for our children as periodic sniffles swept over the room. This was it. Our kids were in school. No more beach days. No more popsicles for lunch. No more laying in bed until nine.

On day two my son was reluctant to enter the room. After day one he told me he would only go "one more time". Well...even one more time seemed like too many, I guess. The teacher had to scoop him up and coax him with her suave toddler-ruling ways that today was going to be a good day.

When it came time to pick him up from day two I had knots in my stomach. I was terrified the teachers were going to tell me he was naughty all day. I worried like crazy thinking she would tell me things like: He didn't listen. He needed time out. Your kid is the bad kid. Your kid is the one who gets in trouble. **

"Every class has one" I told myself. "It's okay. He's sweet and kind at home and he is loving. You know he is capable of great things."

And when I picked him up, he was smiling. He ran excitedly to the door and the teacher looked at me and smiled. "He had a great day!" she exclaimed. And it took all I had not to succumb to tears again. She took my breath away with one simple line.

My stomach had been a bag of butterflies for the whole two and a half hours he was away from me. Hearing he had a great day blindsided me and the whole way to the car I said "I'm SO proud of you. I am SOO PROUD of you!!" again and again while choking back happy tears.

I had always heard it's emotional to send your little ones to school but this is a different level of feelings.

Two days down. Nineteen years of sending him to school to go.

**Realistically I knew no teacher would say these things but I couldn't help myself from thinking them anyway. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

My Kitchen Essentials

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Sometimes I pretend like we are downsizing and have to live in a tiny house. It keeps me from buying extra gadgets and doo-dads we don't need and it keeps me more organized (something I ALWAYS need).

When it comes to kitchen gear, I am blessed to have a wide variety of just about everything we could need but truthfully, only a small portion of it gets used regularly. Here are some of my "can't live without and would keep them if we moved into a tiny house" items. (NOTE: all Amazon links are aff links)

Pineapple Slicer
This is a gadget I just bought two weeks ago. Friends had been telling me for years that it was something worth having and I just couldn't stand behind buying something that only had one job. Well, I finally spent $4 at ALDI and bought it. It's totally life-changing. For all the times I wasted times and wasted fruit on pineapple, I am sorry. My friends were right. This thing is WORTH it. I cannot link to Aldi's version but above is a link to one similar on Amazon. 

8" Chef's Knife

We watch America's Test Kitchen pretty religiously and they always have the best reviews on products. If I could only own one knife, it would be this Victorinox chef's knife. It's large enough to cut up a watermelon without a wrestling match, durable and easy to maneuver for minced garlic or chopping peanuts. Plus, great to handle for all of my regular cutting, chopping, slicing and dicing. 

Stackable Melamine Mixing Bowls

In my imaginary tiny house, obviously I would need to maximize all space for storage. Stackable mixing bowls are a must in any kitchen. My personal favorites are from Williams Sonoma and have a rubber bottom which helps them to grip the counters when I'm stirring or using an electric mixer. In said imaginary house I would probably get the kind of bowls that nest with all measuring cups and spoons, but the link above is my personal fave that I own. My original set came with four bowls. I have dropped one of them and shattered it, but the remaining three have been with me for five years now and are still going strong.

10" Skillet

This is something I just got at Costco a few weeks ago. I'd been in the market for new frying pans for a little while and though I had planned on getting these per ATK's review, the price of these GreenPans at Costco was too good to pass up. I am a huge Le Creuset fan, so I knew I would love cooking on ceramic. These pans do not disappoint (so far). They're truly non-stick, I can cook an egg without any fat added to the pan and they come clean very easily. If I could only take one with me, the 10" is the keeper for sure. They're on sale through the end of the month at Costco so if you are also in the market for some new pans, snatch them up! $32!!!!

Dutch Oven

As I mentioned above, I'm a big Le Creuset fan. Their products are as beautiful as they are hard working. I snagged a 5.5 qt dutch oven at the outlet mall for $75 six years ago for Hubs as a birthday gift and it's been the best gift I've ever given him...for myself :) It's the perfect size for a batch of soup or chowder and cooks so consistently every time. I just LOVE this pot. 

VitaMix Blender
I never would have guessed I could love a blender so much...but I really do. It seems excessive to spend so much on something I really only use to make smoothies. I know it can do so many other things, but I truly love it for how it blends leafy greens. It's really important to me to have green smoothies and this is the ONLY blender (I've tried MANY) that truly liquifies the greens while consistently blending all of the other ingredients I add (chia seeds, frozen fruits, ice, etc). In my opinion there are no other blenders on the market. Only VitaMix. 

Toaster Oven

Obviously space is an issue in my pretend tiny house, but in truth, I use this oven more than my standard sized double oven. It perfectly toasts every muffin and piece of bread, it makes every slice of pizza perfectly crispy, it's never ruined a pan of brownies and it is large enough to roast a small chicken. Actually, I've made perfect chicken in this toaster oven *every. single. time* I have tried. Can't say that for my big ovens! Not to mention, it keeps my house from getting too hot in the summer when I need to roast or bake something. This thing is ABSOLUTELY worth it. 

Tervis Cups
If you know me IRL, you know I don't go anywhere without my Tervis. A 24oz tumbler with a lid and a hard plastic straw might as well be my calling card. They are durable as heck, keep beverages hot or cold for impressive lengths of time and they are guaranteed for life. A younger me thought drinking out of "plastic cups" was tacky, but real-life, had two kids and been around the block me knows...plastic cups are excellent. Having glassware is nice for parties but we use Tervis for all day-to-day and outdoor entertaining. Plus they come in tons of cute designs so you can play with them and have fun. My boys even use the small tumblers with lids and straws as sippy cups. 

Super Pot
There is no link here because they haven't been made in decades, but the Oster Super Pot is my slow cooker and it's magnificent. Now the non-stick coating is chipping and it's wearing out around every edge so I know its days are extremely numbered, but it's given us a damn good run. This pot gets hot enough to brown meat so all soups, stews, braised dishes and chowders can be done completely in one pot. Plus, it's ENORMOUS. There's a reason they named it the Super Pot. Why it's no longer manufactured, I don't know. I plan to get this "multi cooker" by Cuisinart as the Super Pots replacement unless I can find something similar by Breville that gets great reviews. I saw this Cuisinart on demo at Crate and Barrel a few years ago and it did the job well but I love Breville products since having their toaster oven.


Pressure Cooker


We owned this for probably a year or more before I took it out of the box. In honesty, it intimidated me. That's all. However now I can't imagine my kitchen without this - the whole set. I use the smaller pot with pressure lid to braise meats and make stews in record time. Last week for the first time I used it to make brown rice - which usually takes an hour - in 25 minutes. HELLO!!! Amazing. The 8qt pot is my stock pot. I make all of our stock and I wouldn't have the patience to do it with anything but a pressure cooker. If you're looking for a great wedding gift for a kitchen enthusiast, this 5 piece set is the perfect thing. 

In retrospect, these things absolutely would not all fit in a tiny house. Good thing we are staying put here!!

What are your kitchen essentials? 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Best Time of My Life

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I have a "thing" with TV series that take place in high school and college. I didn't particularly love that time of my life, mainly because I thought academia was a bore and did all I needed to do to get my A's and B's and get out of there. In the least possible creepy way, by then I just wanted to be in love, get married and become a mom.

I get sucked into these shows that take place in "real" colleges (currently – Gilmore Girls). Since I went to a commuter college, all of these different college experiences seem really enchanting to me. I watch them and think, "Man, if I went to that type of school, it would have been the best time of my life." or "If I was in Glee Club, it would have been the best time of my life". I tend to get a little sad thinking I missed out on something when really, I was just interested in different things at those times of my life.

This morning I started thinking, what was the best time of my life? I let my mind wander a little and WHAM. No-brainer. Between when I was 9-16 years old was the best time of my life.

Every time I hear 90's music (especially Norah Jones and Sarah McLaughlin) I am instantly taken back to the most incredible and defining years of my life. I didn't need to wait for college to have life-changing experiences and meet the friends I would carry with me the rest of my life. I rode horses in a barn full of like-minded, completely insane girls supervised by a bunch of ladies who were not our mothers. Or worse (better?), supervised by a seventeen year old boy for a short time.


We took riding seriously and the care for our horses even more so, but the times we weren't in the saddle we spent together, being idiots. As much as fraternity brothers use alcohol to bond, we had passion for horses and anything that involved them. Friendly competition broke out frequently but generally speaking we spent hours upon hours obsessing over the same thing, with few responsibilities beyond learning how to stay safe and take care of ourselves. So many microwavable meals were consumed. So many. We were essentially college students for 3 or 4 hours a day at age 12.

I'm not sad when I look back and think the "best" time of my life was almost twenty years ago. I'm partially relieved that it's already happened and extremely thankful that I have so many photos and songs to bring me right back to that incredible time in my life.

Mostly, I'm excited. My boys haven't hit their stride yet. They still have their whole lives to build and the "best" for them hasn't happened yet. At this point, every adventure we take is the "best" time for them. Every single day is better than the day they had before.

I can't wait to experience their "best" as a bystander. Watching the world through their eyes just took a new meaning for me. Every day is the collective best day of our lives. I love it.