These are a few of my favorite things (meal helper edition)

There is no doubt in my mind that if I had a cooking show, it would be very Sandra Lee-esque and involve tips and tricks to make homemade meals easier! Don’t get me wrong, I love to make elaborate home cooked meals but it isn’t always practical (especially when you hate doing dishes).

SO this one’s for you Sandra Lee. (Whatever happened to that show anyway?)

I see meal helpers all of the time at the grocery store but am usually leery of them. If you suffer from the same problem, let me help you! I’ve provided my personal reviews of some of my favorite products!

The only way to function is the plan ahead!
The only way to function is the plan ahead!

As you can see from my menu plan, I’ve used a couple of these just this week! With a new baby in the house, I’m all about making it easy but still delicious!

Lee Kum Kee Lettuce Wrap Sauce
Lee Kum Kee Lettuce Wrap Sauce

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, here’s my secret to quick, easy and delicious lettuce wraps! The recipe calls for ground pork or chicken, but I personally use ground turkey. I always have it on hand (I just stock up when it is on sale and throw it in the freezer). You add fresh chopped carrots, green onions, peanuts and water chestnuts and it literally takes less than 15 minutes. The real challenge is dissecting a head of lettuce to make those little cups. I can’t speak from experience but I would liken it to brain surgery. To make life easy you can buy bib lettuce or use romaine leaves.

Dole Asian Slaw Blend
Dole Asian Slaw Blend

Usually when I make lettuce wraps, I like to make an asian slaw on the side. But I use a lot of help here. This blend is fancier than your typical slaw mix and so delicious. I throw it together with sliced bell peppers, crispy rice noodles, and whatever sesame ginger dressing I have on hand. Take this to any party or potluck and it will disappear!

Kroger Pulled Pork Carnitas
Kroger Pulled Pork Carnitas

These caught my attention because I am drawn to pretty things. Kudos on the packaging, Kroger, because you hooked me. Further kudos because you delivered a good product. All you do is boil the bag to heat the carnitas then shred it, and serve on flour or corn tortillas. I have fun with these by changing up the toppings. Cotija cheese and pickled onions, Pico or whatever sounds good! It is fun to experiment and it really dresses up this store-bought product.

Campbells Slow Cooker Sweet Korean BBQ
Campbell’s Slow Cooker Sweet Korean BBQ

I just recently discovered this product and I am in love. I have tried a few of the Campbell’s Skillet Sauces but this is my favorite by far. You just covered a 2-3 pound chuck roast and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours in the crock pot. When it is ready you can shred it and put it back in the sauce. Sooo good! I make sticky rice on the side (with my trusty rice cooker) and usually sauté up some veggies with a little ginger and soy sauce to make a full meal.

I hope you have the chance to try out some of these short cuts. Trust me. They will not disappoint, and it is no doubt healthier than picking up takeout (again).

Happy Thursday!

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The Realistic Way to Lose the Baby Weight (especially after your second kid)

And so it begins.

We’ve heard it all.

People who lose all of their baby weight in the first couple weeks (thank you breastfeeding) or the people who abide by the old adage that “It took 9 months to put it on, give it 9 months to come off.” Ideally, I’d like to fall somewhere in between. 

With my first pregnancy I started out in pretty good shape and gained 34 lbs over the course of 9 months. I immediately lost 27 lbs (in the first couple weeks) and was mostly back in my pre-pregnancy jeans by about 3 weeks. But the scale didn’t move in the right direction after that. I sat at 7 lbs above my pre-pregnancy weight for a few months before slowly gaining 16 lbs (yes, 16!) back by the time Elena was one. Yuck. 

I worked really hard to get back down to my pre-pregnancy weight and finally did it (by losing 23 lbs) a few months before my daughter turned two. Then guess what? I stopped working, gained a few pounds back and got pregnant with sweet Baby Camille. 

Did I make the right food choices? Doubtful. Did I make time to work out? Not really. 

So today I am vowing to take a bit of responsibility for my actions and make being healthy a priority. Because part of being realistic is not focusing on the number on the scale, but on my health! And thanks to the internet, and my lovely blog, I’ve got at least a little bit of motivation and accountability.

To be honest, I am 8 weeks postpartum and after gaining 24 lbs this pregnancy I am really only seven pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight, but boy it doesn’t look like it! Part of this whole accountability thing is to post pictures. I took some this morning, and I apologize for the crappy selfies but I don’t think I need professional before shots, let’s save those for after! I have definitely looked better, but this is a good place to start! 

Before Photos
Before Photos

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So how do you realistically lose the baby weight, especially after your second kid?

1. Make it a priority. This probably seems like a no brainer but most people don’t have time to workout, they make time. Whether you are working, or at home, it isn’t always easy to find the time to workout. In between taking care of Elena and Camille, keeping the house clean and organized, cooking, blogging and trying to make my Etsy shop actually make money, I could argue that I don’t “have” time. But I can always make time. Even if it means packing up the girls and talking a walk, or involving them in my workout somehow. I know when I was working after having Elena, I hated the idea of taking time away from her to workout when I had already been gone all day, so involving your kids is a great compromise. I don’t really recommend sacrificing sleep to workout if baby isn’t allowing you enough sleep, but more power to the early risers who get it done before baby wakes up!

2. Rely on the support of others a bit. I sometimes feel bad asking my husband to watch the girls after he has been working all day, but I know that he is more than willing to do it so I can get a workout in on those days I just didn’t find time. 

3. Keep healthy snacks readily available. This is a big one for me. I am exclusively breastfeeding Camille (as I did for a year with Elena) so I am constantly hungry! Exercising makes me even hungrier and if I don’t have something easy and healthy to grab and eat, I am prone to snack on whatever I can find. Chopping up fresh fruits and veggies and having them ready to go in the fridge, stocking up on greek yogurt and almonds and avoiding our pantry full of Tim and Elena’s snacks at all cost really help. 

4. Babywearing. Seriously though, if Camille is fussy it is easy to convince myself I should just sit on my butt and watch TV while I hold her but that doesn’t really help anyone! If I strap her into my Moby or the LilleBaby I will soon have (yay!) I can clean house, prep meals, etc., all of which keep me active and help me avoid bored snacking. There are also lots of exercises you can do while babywearing, so you get more bang for your workout buck, so to speak. 

5. Understand it won’t happen overnight. If you’re anything like me, your body likes to hold on to a bit of weight while you are breastfeeding. AND finding the balance between losing weight and maintaining your milk supply is not an easy one. If you focus on eating the right foods (think protein and calcium rich foods) and drinking LOTS of water, you can be successful (at least I hope for my sake!). 

6. Keep track. When you are already tracking feedings, wet diapers and sleep, it is hard to track your food intake and calories spent all in your head too. Take advantage of apps like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt to help keep you accountable. 

Really, this is all common sense, but it is so easy to get caught up in the idea that you should pop out a baby and immediately fit back in your skinny jeans. IF you happen to be one of those people, I’m really jealous and hope you don’t take this opportunity to brag about it in the comments. 

Wish me luck. I will be sure to keep you all posted!

Happy Tuesday :) 

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Getting Back in the Swing.

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SO….it’s been awhile!

It is almost embarrassing how long it has been since I have posted. I’m sorry for neglecting you, blog! In the roughly 10 months since I posted, life has gotten both happier and more hectic!

Why? You might ask. We had a baby! Elena has a new little sister, little miss Camille Grey. A whole new inspiration for my blog has joined the family and we could not be happier.

6 lbs 6 oz and 19.5 inches of beauty.
6 lbs 6 oz and 19.5 inches of perfection.

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The little lady will be 8 weeks old on Tuesday and I suddenly find myself motivated to organize, craft, create (for my Etsy shop) cook and most importantly, BLOG again! Baby Cam is a kick-ass sleeper and all around sweet baby (for now) so I’m going to take advantage while it lasts.

I’m working on my lineup of features, topics and projects and hope to not disappoint.

You just might have to join me on my journey to drop the baby weight too. Woo!

It feels good to be back. Let’s do this.

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the perfect sugar cookie cutouts. everytime.

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It is a dreary day in Kansas today. Elena and I took a two mile walk around and to the park this morning and I am still chilled to the bone.

So as I am sitting here drinking copious amounts of coffee and tea, I am thinking about the sugar cookies I made for a recent bake sale that I just have to share.

I don’t know about you, but I have never been good at sugar cookie cutouts. They always come out looking like blobs. Not cool when you are trying to impress a crowd.

But guess what, I figured out a secret. Are you ready to pin this tip so you never forget it?

Take your favorite sugar cookie recipe, and cut out the baking powder. This leavening agent makes your cookies spread. As long as your cookies have egg in them, they will still be a great consistency and texture, they just won’t spread in the oven!

Ah ha moment, am I right?

I’m going to include my favorite recipe for you, that I found here on Sweetopia. I think the biggest trick in this recipe is the amount of butter. You wind up with cookies more like shortbread than anything else, and boy are they delicious!

The dough is REALLY sticky so letting it chill is a must, and rolling out between two sheets of parchment paper is a good idea.

Sugar Cookie Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2  1/2 cups unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean (or 3 tsp vanilla)
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Instructions:

1. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer on low to medium speed.  (Use the paddle attachment).  Mix until thoroughly incorporated – for about one minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula and mix again for a few seconds more.

Over mixing the butter and sugar in this step will cause too much air to be incorporated into the dough.  If you’d like a light and fluffy cookie, that’s ideal, however the dough will spread more during baking; not ideal if you’d like the cookie to hold its shape.

2. Add eggs slowly and mix.  Scrape down the bowl with your spatula at least once and mix again.

3. Cut open your vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out.  Add to mixing bowl.  Alternatively, add liquid vanilla extract.  Stir briefly.

4. Sift your dry ingredients together.  (Flour and salt).

5. Add all of the flour mixture to the bowl.  Place a large tea towel or two small tea towels between the edge of the bowl and the electric mixer so that the flour won’t escape.  Mix on low speed for 30 seconds.  Remove the tea towels and observe the dough mixing; when it clumps around the paddle attachment it’s ready.  It’s also important at this stage not to over mix the dough (the glutens in the flour develop and the dough can become tough).

6. Roll the dough out between 2 large pieces of parchment paper.  Place on a baking sheet and into the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.

7. Roll out the dough further if you need to, and cut out cookie shapes.  Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Re-roll scraps and repeat.

8. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again.  They will then hold their shape better when baked.

9. Preheat your oven to 350°F or 176°C.

10. Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown.  The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie.

11. Let cookies cool to room temperature and decorate!

I decorated my cookies with a basic royal icing recipe I found from my go-to, Martha Stewart.

But I have another quick trick for you I found as well. I have squeeze bottles and icing bags but the best tool I found for simple cookie outlining and filling was an infant medicine syringe. Seriously.

How cool is that?
How cool is that?

Here’s a few shots of the finished products. A big hit at the bake sale I made them for (all proceeds benefitted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society).

Can’t wait to get started on cookies for Christmas!

Best,

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The sick kid chronicles

I have developed a more profound respect for doctors, nurses, PA’s etc. this week. How you can do your job and laugh it off when a total stranger pukes, pees, bleeds or pees on you is pretty outstanding. If I didn’t love my daughter SO much, not sure I could handle the amount of times I’ve been puked on and peed on this week.

Elena has always been a healthy child. A random fever or ear infection here or there but she made it nearly 2 1/2 years before she threw up for the first time on Monday night. I know we are so lucky that she has been so healthy. I’d love to take credit but I’m pretty sure we’re just lucky. Super lucky.

The kiddo has strep throat. Her fever topped out at 104.4 yesterday and this morning she managed to projectile vomit water/ibuprofen all over my face. That’s right, my face. Because when you have a sick kid, even if they are quiet in their own bed, you still worry about their fever, so you crawl right in with them.

But guess what, my kiddo is sick and her comfort matters more than the fact that I threw my hair soaked in her puke in a pony tail and didn’t manage to shower until six hours later when my mother-in-law popped in to help out for a bit.

That, my friends, is love.

I also managed to catch another puking episode exclusively on and down my shirt. I’ll be honest, I was pretty proud of all of my maneuvering which kept both Elena and the couch dry, but otherwise soaked the entire front of my shirt (and bra).

I could regale you with more tales of the bodily functions that haven’t gone quite right since her fever started Monday afternoon, but I’ll spare you.

I could also catch up on posts and share some recipes or projects I’ve worked on recently but instead I think I’ll share with you my top five favorite things about getting to take care of my sick, sick girl.

  1. She is the most polite sick kid ever. Yes she is usually polite otherwise, but the amount of “pleases” and “Thank yous” and “I love yous” that have come out of her mouth in the last 48 hours have got to be breaking some record.
  2. She wants to snuggle. Anyone with a toddler knows that they don’t sit still. I’ve gotten more cuddles with her in the last two days than I have in the last two months, maybe more. I do love snuggles.
  3. I feel needed. There is something about being the one to care for your child and let them puke on you or ease their fever down that just makes you feel like you’re exactly where you need to be, right?
  4. “Mommy knows best” trumps all else. No matter who agrees or disagrees, at the end of the day, I know everything I’m doing is 100% for Elena. A great feeling.
  5. Because someday, either when she’s a teenager or a mother of a sick kid herself, I will get to tell her all of the “embarrassing” things she did when she was sick and either she’ll be mortified or she’ll appreciate the heck out of me.

SO this one’s for you, Elena. Love you to the moon and back sweet baby girl.

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Garden Recipe: Caprese Chicken

Hellloooo friends!

I wish I could go back and tell employed Caroline that not working (but watching my 2-year-old) would not give me the amount of free time I thought I might get. Because boy was I wrong. If anything, I manage to find less time to devote to my blog and wonderful readers.

I love spending this time with my daughter, but when it comes to getting “work” done, I think in most cases, an adult boss might be a bit more rational to answer to than a 2-year-old. Just a hunch, but she is a joy nonetheless.

Making a vow today to work on my frequency but we have been BUSY lately. Garage sale, vacation, etc. Don’t worry, I’ve still spent lots of time in the kitchen and being creative, just have yet to sit down and write ‘em up!

I know it is officially Fall (YAY!) but there is still plenty of fresh basil and tomatoes to harvest from my garden. That’s the inspiration for today’s post.

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I was at the grocery store and couldn’t resist some beautiful fresh mozzarella and knew I had the rest of the ingredients on hand (fresh basil, heirloom tomatoes and good balsamic vinegar are always around when the weather is warm).

My favorite part of this recipe is the balsamic reduction. It gives your vinegar a slightly sweeter taste but also some staying power instead of turning your dish into a soupy mess!

Super important note here people, start with a good balsamic dressing. A better one tends to be a bit thicker (unlike cheap ones that are watery). It doesn’t have to be expensive, you just want it to taste good.

My favorite. $5 to $7 at the local grocery store.
My favorite. $5 to $7 at the local grocery store.

Using a small stainless-steel sauce pan, all you do is pour roughly double the amount of vinegar that you desire for your dish right in. Place the pan over medium high heat and bring the vinegar to a slow boil. You are looking for small bubbles on just the edge of your vinegar to boil, so turn the heat down if it is too high.

Let the vinegar simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After about 15 minutes, dip a spoon into the mixture, checking to see if it coats the spoon. It should reach a syrupy consistency. Just watch carefully. Nobody wants the smell of burnt vinegar taking over their kitchen! (YUCK!)

Keep in mind, as it cools it will thicken a bit, so don’t reduce it too far or it will never come out.

I just made mine, set it aside to cool, and went on with the recipe.

Caroline’s Caprese Chicken

Yield: 4 servings

ingredients:

4 skinless chicken breasts (I used tenderloins, which work just as well, just cut your tomatoes and mozzarella in half)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2-3 Large tomatoes, sliced
10 large basil leaves, finely chopped
8 oz fresh fresh mozzarella, sliced in 1/2 inch thick slices
Balsamic Vinegar (roughly 1/2 a coup for marinade and another cup for the reduction)

directions:

I like to marinate the chicken with just a little vinegar, oil, garlic, salt and pepper and set aside while I prep the other ingredients. Once the tomatoes, cheese and basil are prepped, it is time to get that chicken in your pan (or on the grill).

Hubs was not willing to man the grill so I just sautéed my chicken in a skillet. Set your temperature to medium high and adding the olive oil to the pan.  Add your chicken, cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes. Flip over your chicken (it should have a beautiful brown, caramelized crust on it from the vinegar) and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked thoroughly (or has reached an internal temp of 165°F). I am crazy about chicken so I always use a thermometer.

Once the chicken is ready, transfer it to a serving plate, top each chicken breast with a slice (or 2) of mozzarella, a slice of tomato and a basil leaf.  Drizzle with your balsamic reduction and you have a delicious, fresh and healthy meal.

Enjoy!

I promise to wow you with more frequent (and creative and witty as ever) posts soon. Getting back into the swing of things after a garage sale and trip to Vegas!

Best,

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Fall is in the air.

Okay, so Fall isn’t really in the air. It is 91 degrees here in Kansas but I just can’t help myself.

Once Halloween Candy replaces the school supplies at the grocery store, I am ready to decorate. I switch out my flowery, summer candles with fall scents like spiced pumpkin, and apple cinnamon, and sort through the numerous storage tubs in my basement to find my fall decorations!

I’ll be honest, I think last year is the first time I’ve ever decorated for Fall (thank you Pinterest for that) so my collection is still a little sorry.

However, since I’m currently enjoying a life of leisure (ha, is that possible with a two-year-old?) and not employed, I’ve had my eye on a few DIY projects to spruce up! I know there are lists out there of the “Top 30 DIY Fall Ideas” but who has time for that?

Hehe. I assume many of you have happy but hectic lives, like me, so just a few FAB ideas will be just what you need! Enjoy!

Fall DIY decor

First, this great but simple wreath from Shanty 2 Chic is inexpensive, easy to make, and beautiful. I think it would be great to hang on the door or over a mirror. Per the comments, tacky glue is a better idea than hot glue if you live in a climate that gets cold at all in the fall. Includes a tutorial.

Wreath Tutorial from Shanty 2 Chic
Wreath Tutorial from Shanty 2 Chic

Next, a simple pine cone garland from Twig and Thistle that is simple but chic. I am already thinking ahead to Christmas decorations and I know that pinecones will carry right through until the new year! Doesn’t get much cheaper either. You can purchase scented pine cones from just about anywhere, or turn it into an activity (like I will with Elena). Tutorial included.

Tutorial from Twig and Thistle
Tutorial from Twig and Thistle

Third, faux mercury glass pumpkins! I have some small ceramic pumpkins I bought at Dollar Tree last year that I am not crazy about. Excited to try this tutorial from Thistlewood Farms to dress them up a bit.

Tutorial from Thistlewood Farms
Tutorial from Thistlewood Farms

Fourth isn’t really a tutorial I am planning to follow, just an idea from Less Than Perfect Life of Bliss that I am hoping to incorporate myself. My penmanship leaves a lot to be desired, so I think I’ll be turning to photoshop and maybe offer a free printable! Stay tuned!

Image from Less Than Perfect Life of Bliss
Image from Less Than Perfect Life of Bliss

And last but definitely not least is this AMAZING wreath from Williams Floral. Again, not a tutorial, just a link to their Etsy shop but I saw this wreath and fell in love. It is pretty over the top, but maybe that’s why I like it! All the mixed media just makes me giddy. AND based on all of the tutorials out there for burlap and mesh wreaths, I think I can figure out how to recreate it (maybe with some help from my mom)!

Image from Williams Floral
Image from Williams Floral

I’ll be sure to share with you my final projects (success or otherwise) and would love to hear from you too!

Best,

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