Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

It was pure torture to wait long enough to take a picture of this cupcake before biting into it!  Pumpkin cupcakes are one of our favorite fall treats.  The cream cheese frosting on top is amazing.  I'm actually not a big fan of pumpkin pie or fall spiced treats, but this only has cinnamon in it and tastes light and cakey.  I even baked my own pumpkins for the first time ever and used the puree for these!

Pumpkin Cupcakes (makes 24)

1 cup oil (I used olive oil.  You could probably try melted butter or coconut oil as well.)
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin
4 eggs
Cream together.

2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
Add to creamed mixture and stir well.  Scoop into 24 full muffin cups and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Frost when cool.

8 oz cream cheese
1 stick butter (let both soften)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Mix well and frost cupcakes.

I usually make the frosting and store it in the refrigerator, frosting the cupcakes as we are ready to eat them.  These can also be made into pumpkin bars by pouring the batter into a large baking pan and cooking it that way - sort of like a large sheet cake.  Yum!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Recipe Book

My recipe book has evolved over the years.  It started out as a box.  There were index cards crammed in there of all shapes and sizes.  Cards that people gave me and recipes I wanted to try, along with of course our family favorites.  Meal planning was difficult: picture dozens of cards scattered all over my table.  Then there were all of the recipes I was printing off the internet that just weren't index card size.

I moved up to a three ring binder and page protectors.  With different categories (breads, dinners, soups, etc), I would slip recipes in the page protectors under the correct section.  That too soon became overcrowded, so I set out to get things under control.

One weekend I typed all of my recipes into the computer.  I selected only recipes that we had tried and I knew my family enjoyed.  I typed each recipe in the same format, in a way that is easy for me to read and follow as I am cooking.  (Like this recipe where I list ingredients and instructions for those ingredients, and under that more ingredients and instructions for those, instead of all the ingredients at the top.)  I got the idea from the book Simply In Season, and love having my recipes typed that way.

I still have categories (breads, breakfasts, side dishes, soups and sandwiches, dinners, and desserts).  Recipes that I want to try go in a pocket in the front.  If we try them and like them, I type them into the recipe book and print out that page to add.  Sometimes I will try recipes a couple times or tweak them a bit before I type them in.  I've also gone through and purged my book of "junky recipes" a couple times.  The recipes in my book are healthy foods that I feel good about serving my family.  

I love having my recipes all neatly typed up!  My book is simple to use.  Meal planning is much easier when I can flip through our tried and true favorites and then select one or two new recipes from the front pocket.  Having everything on the computer allows me to easily print off a recipe for a friend or email it.  I also plan to print off copies of our family recipe book for all of my children when they are old enough.  Its fun to add to my book and watch it grow - that finally perfected salsa recipe, the whole wheat crackers that turned out well, and so on.

What does your recipe book look like?  Does it need an overhaul?

linked to Kitchen Tip Tuesday

Friday, November 18, 2011

Homemade Sauerkraut

We love homemade sauerkraut!  Its crunchy and pickly and sooo good for you, plus its easy to do.  The kids helped me make a batch last night (hence the dark photos...).

Slice a whole organic cabbage and put it in a large bowl.  Sprinkle 1 Tbs salt over top and mix well.  Find some kids to help you mash and pound the cabbage.  (We used a meat tenderizer tool.)

After a while the cabbage and salt will start to produce a bit of juice.  Pack the cabbage tightly into one or two canning jars.  I used a fairly large cabbage this time and got one large jar and one small one.  You do want to cram it in there as tightly as possible, packing it down as you go.

Press the cabbage down firmly enough that the juice rises and covers the top.  If you need to, you can add a bit of filtered water with a pinch of salt stirred in.  (I never have though.)  Cover your jars loosely and leave them on the counter for 3 days.  I check mine again the next morning and press it all down, being sure the liquid is still covering the top.

After three days, close the lids tightly and store in the refrigerator.  Leave your sauerkraut alone for 1-3 months to allow the flavor to develop.  Serving a bit of sauerkraut along with your meals is a great way to add some healthy bacteria to your diet.  Yum!  This is also a huge money saver - a small jar of raw sauerkraut is $10 at the health food store, but cabbage is fairly inexpensive.  Try it and let me know how it goes!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Christmas Shopping?

Is anyone else Christmas shopping yet?  I'm actually almost done buying for my girls.  I love finding deals and planning out their lists.  Although they may come up with a few things that they want, for the most part I do the list making.  Thankfully we do not watch television, so they are oblivious as to what the hot toy of the season is.  With one, almost two little readers in the house, I am going to have to post this via a secret link.  I'll add more to that list if I think of anything else, but that's about it.  I'd love to hear what's on your children's Christmas list too!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Toxic Toys: Fisher-Price Little People

Fisher Price Little People scare me.  We used to have a ton of them and they are adorable.  However, they are made with a soft plastic (PVC?) which could contain phthalates, or other nasty chemicals.  Mattel, the parent company to Fisher Price does not have a great track record as far as safety goes.  They've had numerous recalls for lead paint and more.

I called Fisher-Price and asked them about what Little People are made of.  They were very vague and could not tell me anything other than the fact that Little People could contain PVC.  I asked several questions and could not get any more information than that.  If you look at the Healthy Toys test results, all Little People soft plastic parts test high for Chlorine, indicating PVC.  PVC is one of the worst types of plastic out there.  After rereading this article, I became convinced that Little People had to go.

Now, this was extremely hard to do.  When I was pregnant with Lucy, we bought the entire set of Little People castle and add on figures just because we thought it was so cute and wanted her to have it.  I had collected Little People from garage sales and had asked for them for Christmas.  We had Noah's ark, the barn, castle, birthday set, van, playground, and more.  Lucy and Julia spent hours playing with their Little People.  I felt bad getting rid of them, and I didn't do it right away.  It took me quite a while to come to this decision.

I started by trying to keep them away from Esther and out of her mouth.  When that didn't work, I told the girls that we had to put them in the basement because they weren't safe for Esther to play with.  I searched high and low for a replacement that I thought would be safe and just as fun for them.  We had some wooden toy dolls and animals, but the girls weren't as impressed with those.  After researching their safety, I was debating between adding some Lego Duplo sets to our collection, or getting some Playmobil 123.  We ended up buying Esther a big Duplo zoo set for her birthday last year, and right after that found a Playmobil 123 set at a garage sale.

Both Duplo and Playmobil are made of sturdy ABS plastic.  I still do not let them go in a baby's mouth, but I feel much better about my children handling and playing with these.  Both the Duplos and the Playmobil 123 have had many hours of use.  After a while, the girls agreed to let me sell the Little People on Craigslist so that they could buy more Playmobil and Duplo sets.  Esther has a big tub of Playmobil 123 that she calls "pay-mo" and gets out at least once a day.  She is getting a couple more sets for Christmas and her birthday.

Our toys are not all completely toxin free, but this was one that had bothered me for quite some time and I just had to do something about.  Especially because Little People so often find their way into a child's mouth, and because they are so toxic, and because they are meant for younger children to play with, they had to go.  We do have other toys that I am not thrilled about, and honestly, we do still have the Little People Thanksgiving and Christmas sets.  I bring those out seasonally and keep them up high on a table where Esther cannot reach them.  I would love to replace those too if I found something suitable.

With the holiday season coming up, are you keeping toy safety in mind?  I have a couple of reviews and giveaways from some great toy companies coming up, so stay tuned!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Easy Dinner Idea: Pepper Chicken and Quinoa

This recipe is extremely easy.  It doesn't take much time to throw together and yet is still completely healthy.

Slice an onion and 2-3 red, orange, or yellow peppers and place them in the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  (Slice the onions thinly so they cook through.)

Cut 2-3 thawed chicken breasts in half and lay over the onion and peppers.  Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is done.

Top with slices of mozzarella cheese and broil for a minute or two just to brown the cheese.

I usually serve this with quinoa, which is also fast and easy.  Once I get the chicken in the oven, I have just enough time to get the quinoa cooking and have it all ready at about the same time.

Saute in a bit of oil or butter:
1/2 cup chopped onion
minced garlic clove

1 cup quinoa (Rinse well unless the package says it is already rinsed.)
2 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
1 small carrot, grated (optional)

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.  Quinoa much more forgiving than rice; it doesn't get sticky or gooey and has a great flavor.  Quinoa is high in protein, calcium, and more.  If you've never tried it, go for it!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Diaper Bag Deal

I've been looking at diaper bags, as I'll need a bigger one once I'm carrying cloth diapers and odds and ends for four children on a daily basis.  I ended up finding a great deal on a Land's End bag tonight and wanted to share.  Using the code given here, I got 25% off and free shipping, making this diaper bag only $15.89!  Its not technically a diaper bag, but I think it will work nicely.  I have a huge one that I got for Christmas once; it is well made and a very sturdy canvas.  I debated getting a bright pink one, but that color was twice as much.  I really like the brown and think it will work well.  Snag one quick if you're interested, I'm not sure how long the deal lasts.  (I'm not an affiliate, just sharing the deal.)  :)

Sorry, you'll have to squint to see the picture, this is the only size I can get to load!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Favorite Baby Things

Continuing the baby theme this week, here are some of my absolute favorite things for baby (and mom).  While there are plenty of baby things that we do not need or use, I do enjoy having quality items that are well made and make life easier.  In no particular order:

- floppy seat - I remember debating for a long time about buying this because of the high price.  It is totally worth it!  We keep our floppy seat in the car and use it almost every time we go in to the grocery store, and when eating out too.  I'm not a huge germaphobe, but this is a must have!  (I've seen other cart covers that do not cover the whole cart area, this one does.)

- washable breast pads - I have tried and leaked through plenty of reusable nursing pads.  These are awesome, even for those early days, and do not leak at all.  I have several pairs and would never use anything else.  They are also much softer than paper disposable pads.

- Earth Mama Angel Baby - These are must haves: natural stretch oil, mama bottom balm, new mama bottom spray, and natural nipple butter (sooo much softer than lanolin!).  Their hand to toe body wash is very nice as well.  All of their products are rated 0 in the Skin Deep database, which is awesome.

- aden + anais swaddling blankets - Once you've used one of these, other receiving blankets seem like a joke in comparison.  These are lightweight, huge, and very multipurpose.  I recommend having several so that you don't run out before laundry day.  (Again, a bit of a high price tag, but definitely worth it.)

Bravado body silk nursing bra - I've tried plenty of nursing bras and these are hands down my favorite.  I wear them all the time and they are very comfortable and well made.

- Mommy Necklace - Total must have!  A nursing necklace is awesome for keeping baby focused on nursing and for stopping little pinching fiddling hands.  Mommy Necklaces are well made and come in plenty of different designs.

- cloth diapers - This could be a whole separate post, but we really like using cloth diapers.  My favorite are the BumGenius One Size snap pocket diapers.

- soft shoes - I keep my kids in bare feet for as long as possible.  Robeez are great for beginning walkers, or even just for keeping socks on in the cold winter months.  I've tried other brands, but Robeez seem to work best for us.

- baby carriers - Having a baby carrier in general is a must have, especially with older children to care for.  My favorites are a ring sling for the newborn stage, and then I use an Ergo and a homemade mei tai once they are a bit older.

- burp cloths - I made some by taking a cotton prefold and sewing a layer of flannel down the middle (a real one, not a cheapy one from the store).  These are the best burp cloths ever, so absorbent and cute!  There is a picture of one here.

Hmm, that's all I can think of for now.  What are your favorite baby items?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Does A Baby Not Need?

In my "Baby Needs" post yesterday I mentioned that there are many baby products that for various reasons we don't use.  Of course, this list, like my other one, is highly subjective.  Don't feel bad if you do use all or even some of the things on this list.  In a consumer driven world filled with baby registry lists and advertisements for all sorts of things, its just a good challenge to think about what you don't need and how to live simply.  I'm sure your list would be different.

- crib, bumpers, sheets, crib mattress, co sleeper, snuggle nest, pack n play: Our babies sleep with us until about age two when they move up to a toddler bed.  We simply add a bed rail to our bed and clear away any blankets and pillows from the baby.  I love sleeping next to my babies, and its certainly handy for those night time feedings!

- disposables: diapers, breast pads, diaper genie and liners: Using cloth diapers and washable breast pads saves us from having to buy numerous disposable products.  I do find that disposable wipes come in handy, but I'm planning to experiment with making my own.

- bottles, formula, bottle liners, bottle brushes, bottle warmers, pump: Breastfeeding has been extremely challenging for me in the beginning, but I'm thankful that with some good help and perseverance we've succeeded.  I keep my babies with me all the time, so I do not even have to worry about pumping and all that goes along with that either.

- changing table, changing pad, changing pad cover: If I had plenty of space in my home I suppose I wouldn't mind having a changing table.  As it is, we are in a small two bedroom house with soon to be four kids.  We gave away our changing table in favor of just using a mat on the floor or bed.  It works perfectly and I don't have to worry about the baby falling off of anything.

- play gym, toys, toys, and more toys: I have a simple basket filled with a few mostly safe toys that I've collected over time.  We purposely choose things that do not have flashing lights and music.  In fact, a simple blanket on the floor works better than a play gym with plastic toys hanging in baby's face.  There are three big sisters around here who will happily keep baby entertained!

- baby food, baby food mills, blenders, and packaged baby snacks: I do make a bit of baby food, but usually just mashing up whatever is on our plates works best.  I've tried baby food mills, but really, a fork works.

I often talk myself out of buying something by reading reviews on the product.  I also think about what toxins I might be bringing into my home or exposing my baby to if I purchase the product.  What type of plastic is it made of?  Where is it made?  Does it really work like I think it will?  How sturdy is it?  Is there a more natural choice?  Many times we are better off with less.

What about you?  Are there common baby things do you find yourself not needing?

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Does A 4th Baby Need?

As you might already know, I'm an obsessive list maker.  I always have a notebook handy with several lists going at once: grocery lists, Christmas gift ideas, blog post ideas, things on my to do list, crafts to make, and so on.  Of course I've had my "Baby Shopping" list going for quite some time now, and I'm sure I will still add to it.

There are plenty of baby gadgets that we've had over the years and have gotten rid of.  Our house is small and our path of natural living and attachment parenting has led us toward less stuff.  Maybe I'll write that post later; "Things Baby Doesn't Need".  Of course needs and wants are all individual, so everyone's list would be a little different.  I am also a big believer in purchasing quality items that will last, as well as researching the heck out of everything I purchase.

- car seat: I had a Graco infant seat that all three girls used, but it is expired now.  Looking at safety ratings along with toxicity ratings, I think we'll get a Chicco Keyfit 30 in Cubes or Limonata.

- swing: I just bought this one on Craigslist: Bright Starts Cotton Tale Portable Swing  We've had various swings in the past and got rid of them because they were too big or some other reason.  I really liked having a small portable swing for Esther, and this one looks plush and cozy.  I will probably get rid of the bouncy seat that we have and just use this.

- rocking chair: I am still searching Craigslist for a good rocking recliner or glider.  Ours is terribly loud and would never soothe a baby to sleep!  We do have an exercise ball that is great for bouncing a baby to sleep on.

- sling: I am thinking of getting this sling.  I've tried many different carriers and a ring sling is my favorite for newborns.  The one I currently have is too long for me and has very heavy rings on it.  With having three other little ones to chase, I figure a good sling is pretty important!

- Bravado bra: This one is my favorite style.  I want the pink ice color, just because.  :)

- Undercover Mama: and I need a pink one of these.

- diaper bag: I'm drooling over these, especially the Madi bag.  My current diaper bag is a bit too small for four kids and baby in cloth diapers, so I'll need something bigger like this.

- nursing pillow:  A Boppy did not work for me at all.  I just came across this pillow though and it looks interesting.  I'd love to try it out.

- bath seat:  We didn't use a baby bath tub at all for Esther.  I'm sure we could get by without one again, but it was rather hard to hang on to her and took both Ross and I to give her a bath.  This bath seat looks like its a good size (not too big), and is made of "safe" plastic in the USA.  The price isn't bad either.

- growth chart:  Once we know baby's gender (after the birth!), we will get one of these growth charts.  The girls each have their own.  I sometimes forget to use them, but they are cute and will make fun keepsakes for the kids.

If we have a boy, we'll need clothes! and a soft plushy blanket (not pink!).

Ok, so these aren't really needs, aside from the car seat.  This list also doesn't include the things that we already have and love (my washable breast pads, aden + anais swaddling blankets, Earth Mama Angel Baby stuff...).  But that's another list.... maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shirley's Prepackaged Crafts (review and giveaway!)

My girls love craft projects!  Even Esther (age 1) will sit and color for a good portion of school time every morning.  I sometimes find it hard to come up with enough to keep them busy.  When I came across Shirley's Prepackaged Crafts, I knew we had to try it out.  We were sent a kit to review, and have another to give away.  :)

A kit from Shirley's Prepackaged Crafts includes craft materials (aside from scissors, crayons, etc) for 12 preschool age projects, mailed right to your home.  These are absolutely perfect for Julia to do while I am helping Lucy with her schoolwork.  Our kit focused on the color red and the shape trapezoid, both of which appeared in various projects.  Julia worked on coloring, cutting, gluing, and more.  She was proud of her creations and enjoyed showing them off.  I liked that the kit includes a list of books to read relating to the themes, as well as some snack ideas.  The crafts were very relevant to the month/ season, and fun to do.

While we received two kits, Lucy (age 6) chose not to do some of the projects because they were too simple for her.  These were right on Julia's level (age 4), and challenged her but kept her interested.  Having some sample activities posted on the website would have been helpful in determining the age and skill level appropriate for the kits.  I would also like to see a greater discount for families ordering multiple kits.  The papers are not intended to be copied, and the kit does contain some consumable items (a brad fastener, swatch of fabric, popsicle stick, etc).  They are definitely worthwhile, but pricey if you bought several of each.  Right now Esther is too young for one anyway.  :)

I am looking forward to ordering a few more of these for Julia.  It was so nice to have a box of ready to go crafts on hand.  Instead of spending time searching the internet, printing things out, and gathering supplies, I could focus on my day and feel prepared for those crafty moments whenever they struck!  Not only were we creating fun projects, but I felt good about the shape/ color/ cutting lessons involved as well.

Are you interested?  If you'd like to order a kit, use the code (one little word) for $2 off your first order.  Keep in mind that each kit needs to be ordered by the 15th of the previous month (ie order December before November 15th) and is no longer available after that point.

Shirley is giving away a January box to one of you!  To enter, leave a comment letting me know you've done one of the following (one comment for each entry, with a total of three possible):
- follow my blog or email subscribe
- like Shirley's Prepackaged Crafts on Facebook
- tell me your favorite easy holiday craft!

The giveaway will close on November 19th at midnight and the winner will be contacted by email.  Happy crafting!

*Giveaway closed.  Congrats Erika!*