Monday, August 30, 2010

Cold in a Heat Wave

I'm returning to the world of blogging after a week full of polishing my mommy skills. What was I doing that was so much more important than posting meal plans and useful tips? Suffering through a cold with my sweet baby. Baby Josey was sick for the first time since she came home from the hospital, and so was I. Josey was much worse off than I, but when your baby is sick, it makes taking care of yourself ten times more difficult. So what did I learn during this week? Plenty.

1. You can't wear yourself out while taking care of a sick baby. The baby needs attention, so it may be necessary to call in back up. Grandmothers are excellent at this. My mom graciously watched and cared for Josey while I slept so I'd be in good shape to take the night shift. If I hadn't gotten those naps, I wouldn't have been a good caregiver.

2. Humidifiers help with runny roses. When you're sick, the humidity should be above 40% to get some relief. But if you have asthma (like I do), it can aggravate it.

3. A waterless plug-in vaporizer is a wonder. It gets rid of sniffles without the need for messy vapor rub or a dangerous steaming vaporizer.

4. Drink, drink, drink! Josey and I had plenty of apple juice to help thin out the gunk in our noses.It made such a huge difference.

5. Even when they're sick, babies make the best cuddle buddies. Josey clung to me like never  before because she knew I was giving my all to help her feel better, and that made me feel better.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crock Pot Chicken and Vegetables

I like to keep dinner simple. Even when I’m not teaching during the summer, I’m always busy around the house, especially now that we have Miss Josey. I also don’t like to heat up the kitchen during the summer. Using the oven is often off limits, and even using the stove top can be overwhelming when it’s 102 degrees outside. But Hubby does like a hot meal after a long day at work, so I like to rely on my Crock Pot. I can make a complete meal with minimal effort, and it’s hot and ready when Michael walks in the door.
During the summer, I also rely on fresh vegetables from my parents’ garden. Right now there is squash and peppers abounding, so I use it for one of our favorites, chicken and vegetables. I use a pretty consistent recipe, although you can always substitute bell peppers or zucchini, or just add them for extra flavor! Here is tonight’s version:

5 small to medium yellow squash
4 potatoes (I used organic Yukon Gold)
7 peppers
1 onion
1.5 lbs chicken (I used chicken breast tenders)
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
Simply chop the squash, potatoes, and chicken into approximately 1” pieces and the onion and peppers into ½” pieces. Add as much or as little seasoning as you like. Mix it all up in the Crock Pot, and cook on low for 7 hours. I like to keep my seasoning simple, but this would be great with herbs like parsley and thyme, or if you want to kick it up a little, add chili powder. A full 5.5 quart crock will feed approximately 4-6 people.
What do you like to cook in the Crock Pot in the summer?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday Meal Plan August 16-22

The hardest part of meal planning for me is actually writing out the meal plan. Once it’s there, I can follow it pretty easily because I know what ingredients to set out for the next day’s dinner. There are times when I do swap days because some days I run out of time and need something quick and easy, but the great thing about using the meal plan is that I already have some choices planned, and I don’t have to search.

This week is a bit chaotic because I’ve started back to school teaching composition classes. Therefore, everything is pretty quick and easy.

Pumpkin Spice Bread

Roast beef sandwiches
Tuna sandwiches
Fresh fruit

Monday – Denise's Black Beans with brown rice
Tuesday – Pasta with marinara sauce, Authentic Italian Meatballs, and sweet peas
Wednesday – Crockpot chicken with yellow squash, potatoes, green peppers, and onions
Thursday – Pork sirloin, spinach, and baked sweet potatoes
Friday – BLT’s on homemade bread
Saturday – Eat out at Cici’s in Sherman
Sunday – Southwestern turkey burgers with sweet potato fries

I also plan to make a batch of  Chocolate Chip Whole Wheat Cookies. I have modified the recipe to use 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup bread flour, 2 cups of oats and 2 cups of chocolate chips. They are amazing! And oatmeal is great for breastfeeding mommies as it helps to increase milk production!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Discovery of Cloth Diapers

Josey in her favorite pink cloth diaper.
To help keep me motivated to be a good stay at home mom, I read blogs by other stay at home moms. It’s nice to feel a sense of camaraderie even if I don’t really know these people. At least they know my struggles: a teething baby, a red shirt washed with the whites, burned cookies, and oil stains on a new polo shirt. Ok, so they aren’t major struggles, but when you put enough together in one day, it does get overwhelming.
One blog I read almost religiously is The Happy Housewife. Happy has 7 children, including a 1 year old. When she started blogging about the new babe’s cloth diapers, I had just discovered I was pregnant, and I was researching what was best for babies. I was intrigued by the new-fangled, fashionable pieces. The mom loved them, the baby loved them, they saved the environment, and they saved money over time. All of this sounded great. The only drawback was that they don’t always fit a newborn, so I decided to wait to purchase them until after my baby was born. The start up costs for cloth diapering can be a little overwhelming even though the overall cost of 2 years is much, much less than buying disposables, but I didn't want to spend the money before I needed the diapers. But I did intend to purchase them when Josey was big enough.
Then came life.
We had a lot of struggles when Josey was born. I was in labor 31 hours and still had to have an emergency c-section. She had to be kept in the hospital for a week, including a stint in the NICU at Baylor. I’ve had severe complications with my back. She suffered from milk protein allergies. Sometimes just making it through a day was more than we could handle. So in all this chaos, we used disposable diapers and forgot about cloth.
One day while placing my order on, I checked out the cloth diapers again. They had great reviews. So I started researching reasons why I should cloth diaper. I already knew they were money savers and eco-friendly, but I wanted to know if there were any benefits for the baby. That is what convinced me.
Disposable diapers have long been linked to increased likelihood for asthma because they off-gas chemicals. Since I knew Josey would have an increased risk for asthma since I’ve suffered from it, I didn’t want to fuel the fire. Disposables also increase the risk of diaper rash and they increase the need for diaper rash cream. This is where I was really convinced.
 At 4 months, Josey was a diagnosed with a problem (I won’t say where, but it’s covered by a diaper, so I’m sure you get the point). It was likely caused by a hormonal disruption.  It could be corrected, but we had to use a rather painful cream, and there was a chance it would come back. I started checking into the chemicals used in her diaper rash creams, using the Skin Deep database as one of my sources. And sure enough, several of the ingredients listed in her diaper rash creams were classified as “hormonal disruptors.” I was mortified. I had been trying to help my precious baby with toxic creams that were the cause of her problem. That was the last straw. I immediately ordered a dozen cloth diapers.
Josey has been wearing her cloth diapers for 3 weeks now, sans diaper cream, and she’s had no diaper rash and no sign of any reoccurring problem. Her skin is gorgeous, she’s happy, and I’ve prevented 50 gallons of trash from being taken to the landfill. We just ordered another 7 cloth diapers so I don’t have to wash as frequently, but even the washing isn’t that bad. After a couple times, it becomes habit, and you don’t even notice it. 
BumGenius 4.0 with hook and loop taps are as easy as disposable diapers.

I know cloth diapers aren’t an option for everyone, but if I can help others understand them, I would love to help. Leave me your questions or comments!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Meal-Plan Featured Meatloaf

I come from a meatloaf loving family. It was the first food my parents ate together after they got married, and it was at the center of many family dinners. I know many people find it unappealing, but honestly, I can’t see how it’s much different from a hamburger, at least in terms of the basic components. After all, both contain ground meat, some sort of grain, and vegetables.

Since I got married almost 5 years ago, I’ve been working on developing the perfect meatloaf recipe (perfect at least to my meat-and-potatoes loving husband). I’ve even tested out versions of the recipe on my dad, the meatloaf connoisseur (it is his favorite food). After successes and failures, I’ve modified it to one my family loves. Here it is:

1 lb. ground pork
1 can Rotel
1 egg
½ c. chopped bell pepper
½ c. diced onion
1 c. bread crumbs
Dash of pepper
Dash of salt
Dash of garlic powder

Just combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. I do it by hand to ensure it is thoroughly mixed, but if that is too hands-on for you, a spoon works well also. It cooks best when divided into two loaves in a 9x13 Pyrex dish. It bakes for about 1 hour (give or take 15 minutes depending on the weather) at 375 degrees.

The bread crumbs may need to be adjusted up or down depending on how lean the meat is and what size the egg is. It also depends on the coarseness of the bread crumbs (I used crumbs from stale homemade bread that I’ve thrown in the food processor).

An area of contention is the chopping and dicing of the bell pepper and onion. Countless times I have heard my dad say “It needs more bell pepper,” but no matter how much Mom or I added, it didn’t seem to make a difference. The answer is not how much bell pepper is added but how large it is cut. The more finely it is diced, the more masked the flavor becomes. I like to cut mine in 1/3” pieces so I can see it and taste it, but that is always up to the chef.

The sauce should be spread over the meatloaf after it’s browned in the oven for about 20 minutes. I like my sauce a little sweet, so it consists of 1/2 c. ketchup, 1 T. mustard, and ¼ c. brown sugar.

While I always love mashed potatoes with my meatloaf, I can’t have them now because I put milk in them, and I’m on a dairy free diet while I’m breastfeeding. This time we substituted potato wedges. Just slice a wash potato (organic if you plan to eat the skin!), rub with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Spread the wedges out on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven with the meatloaf for about 30 minutes.

I’m always looking for new dinner ideas, so tell me, what’s your favorite side dish with your meatloaf?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Re-Attempting Meal Planning

Before Josey was born, I was pretty organized when it came to dinner. I would plan my meals 1-2 weeks in advance, check the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator for ingredients, and pick up whatever else I needed. However, since my bouncing baby girl arrived, I’ve been a failure at meal planning. More than I’d like to admit, I’ve had to ask my husband to bring home burgers or tacos, usually on the nights I teach piano lessons. But now I’m trying to go back to being more organized, especially since we’re trying to live a more natural/organic lifestyle.

Writing out a meal plan saves time and money. If you know what you’re going to prepare, you can easily defrost your meat and prep your veggies in advance. You also don’t have to run to the store every day for those missing ingredients. It also helps you see what food you’ll be eating so you don’t have similar items scheduled too close together. This will help keep your menus fresh and exciting. Every week I try to rotate in a new recipe, and I’m working on a creating a master list of menus so I don’t have to search my brain every time Monday rolls around.

This week’s menu plan is:
Monday – Season hamburger patties; Corn, okra, and tomato stew; and brown rice
Tuesday – Chicken enchilada chili
Wednesday – Pork meatloaf, potato wedges, and peas
Thursday – Beef rump roast with carrots and onions, and noodles
Friday – Chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and broccoli
Saturday – Once a week treat to eat out
Sunday – Grilled steaks and pork chops, grilled corn, and baked potatoes

I admit that I flinched at the chicken nuggets and mac and cheese since they really aren’t natural, organic, or healthy, but we do have them on hand, and they don’t need to go to waste.

I never plan breakfast or lunch. We usually have homemade bread or cereal for breakfast, and sometimes Michael eats the previous night’s dinner leftovers. For lunch, Michael packs leftovers or eats with his co-workers and I eat a sandwich or go out with my mom.
The meatloaf recipe will hopefully follow in a couple days. It is a family favorite.