Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cozy meal for the whole family

We were really lucky to get a nice white Christmas here in Portland, Maine. Just like in a favorite Christmas movie it started snowing right as we were getting out of bed on a Christmas morning and it was snowing all day long. It just felt magical and so perfect! That's why no matter how much I love California, I don't think I could live there, because I'd be missing too much such perfect cozy snowy days. The snow has been on the ground ever since Christmas day, but today we got a beautiful additional white layer. It started snowing as we were having a nice ( and educational) family time in our local library. We looked out of a window and saw huge snowflakes peacefully coming down. It is my favorite kind of snow. Immediately I wanted to go home and make some cozy meal, which is what we did.

One of the coziest meals for me is a beef stew. I know there are a million recipes for beef stew on the Internet, books, etc, but I like to think mine is special and most importantly very kid-friendly. It's special because it has a little secret ingredient (apple cider) and kid-friendly because it's so simple and hmmm...what's the word... clean maybe (?), because it doesn't have many spices and the rich delicious flavor comes from just a few ingredients that go in it; so very easy on little bellies. Another reason why it's a special meaningful meal for us is because a beef stew, funnily enough, is one of the [three] dishes that MJ cooks wonderfully! He was the one who really taught me to cook it. A few years ago when we first moved to Portland and I started working and he was looking for a job at the time, I loved coming home to an amazing smelling apartment. It smelled of the beef stew that MJ had been cooking for hours. Now every time I cook it, it reminds me of that time.

Also it's important to mention that Allie has been a bit sick over the last few days and hasn't been eating well, and this beef stew tonight was the first thing she's eaten so much of over the last few days. She really, really enjoyed it.

Well, let me finally get to the recipe here.

Apple cider beef stew with garlic rye croutons


For the stew:

1 lb beef, cut up in pieces (I get the kind "for stewing" for this dish, it's all cut up and ready to go)
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced. Plus 1 clove for serving.
4-5 potatoes, cut up in bite sized pieces
1 C apple cider
2 C beef broth
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

For garlic rye croutons

Rye or marble rye bread (3-4 slices is enough to serve 3 people)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and left whole
salt to taste
olive oil for drizzling

Start by heating up some olive oil in a Dutch oven. When it's very hot, brown up the seasoned (salt+pepper) meat and then transfer it onto a plate lined with a paper towel to get rid of the grease.

Once the meat is out, add a bit more olive oil to the Dutch oven and add in the celery, onions and carrots. Add some salt and cook for about 10 minutes while you peel and chop the potatoes.

The veggie juices will pick up some of the great "brownness" that the beef created, but to finish off deglazing, use apple cider.

Scrape the bottom and the sides of the pan to pick up all the drippings and then add in the potatoes and cooked meat back into the pan. Now, I know a lot of recipes instruct to add the potatoes a lot later into the cooking process, but I like too add them right here, because then they get sooo soft and tender and just fall apart in your plate and almost create this nice potato-ey sauce. Delicious!

Add in the chopped garlic and some bay leaf.

Pour in the beef broth. I used about 2 Cups, but keep pouring until the veggies and meat are barely covered in liquid. You may need to add a bit more than I used.

Stir everything together to combine, cover up with a lid. 

Bring to boil and then reduce the temperature to low and simmer for 1,5 hrs. In the meantime, make yourself a nice glass of eggnog with some spiced rum and a bit of nutmeg and enjoy it.

When it's done, adjust the seasoning and serve alongside garlic rye croutons.

To make the croutons (so easy!):

Toast in a toaster or under the broiler sliced rye bread and as soon as it's out, rub (liberally) both sides of bread slices with a clove of garlic. Cut it in the pieces of the size that you like, sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with some olive oil.

Just a word of advice, this is one of those dishes that takes forever to cool down and every time we eat it, it tastes so great that we cannot wait to let it cool and keep burning our mouths. Every time! So a reminder for myself and suggestion for you: serve it at least 5 minutes before you sit down to eat. Garnish with some parsley if you like and definitely add just a tiny bit of fresh minced garlic.

 Enjoy on a cool winter night with your loved ones.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baby vegetable purees

To continue the topic of making baby food and seeing how popular my post on making baby fruit purees was, I wanted to share  few recipes on making baby vegetable purees. The idea is the same as with the fruit and the cooking/storing/freezing techniques are too, it's just different sets of ingredients. You can find more information on why I've decided to start making my own baby food in my post here.

To make any of the below vegetable purees you will need:
  • a regular pan with a lid;
  • if you'd rather steam the fruit instead of boiling (more health benefits when steaming), use a steamer basket inside of a pan. I've done  both ways;
  • blender or a food processor;
  • food storage containers;
  • obviously, ingredients;
  • and if you do freeze the leftovers, which I recommend, ice cube trays and freezer bags.

When you first start feeding your baby veggies, you shouldn't use veggie combinations right away, that's too much for a little belly. Start with just 1 pureed vegetable and a few weeks later once you know that your baby reacted well to certain vegetables, you can start mixing them up.

Here were some of Allie's favorites, some dishes are pure veggies and some are combination of fruit and vegetables.

Butternut squash puree 
All-time favorite! Peel and chop a whole butternut squash. You can either roast it at 400° for about an hour or boil or steam it in some water for 30-40 minutes, depending on how large your pieces are. Transfer the cooked squash in a blender, process until smooth. You can also add some cinnamon or nutmeg to it at the end.

Pumpkin puree
Tastes very similar to butternut squash and the cooking way is exactly the same.

Sweet potato puree
Tastes very similar to butternut squash and the cooking way is exactly the same.

Carrot and pea puree
Carrots and peas is a classic combination. The puree of the two veggies combined tastes nice and sweet and Allie loved it. Cook even parts of peas and carrots. Feel free to use frozen peas. Cook peeled and sliced carrots for about 8 minutes until soft. Add the peas and cook for another 3 minutes. Process in a  blender until smooth.

Carrot and ginger puree
This one has a very... hmm...interesting taste. Let's say it's an acquired taste, but if you can get your baby to eat ginger, I know this would make a least our pediatrician very proud! It took Allie a few tries before she started eating it and she would never have much, but even a bit of ginger goes a long way. Put peeled and cut up carrots (1 lb) and peeled and  minced fresh ginger (1 tsp)  in boiling water. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

Avocado puree
This one is the easiest as it doesn't require any cooking. Just mash up an avocado and add just a bit of lemon juice to stop it from browning. Allie's gone through periods of liking and and disliking it, but I hope you baby likes it, it's so good for you!

Edamame and apple puree
You'll need about 2 apples for 1/2 lbs of edamame. Put edamame (frozen is ok) and chopped up apple in some boiling water. Cook for 3 minutes. Drain most f the water and process in a blender till smooth.

Spinach and apple puree
Put 2 cut up apples and 2 cups of spinach in boiling water. Cook for 3 minutes. Drain most of the water and process in a  blender until smooth. If you find that this puree is a bit too spinach-y, you can cook it in apple juice instead of the water to give it a bit more sweetness.

It's all about experimenting and you can come up with other combinations: regular mashed potatoes; potatoes with carrots, sweet potatoes and apple, peas and apples... 

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to get your toddler to do something…

Clearly, we can make our kids (well, at least, small kids) to do anything we need them to do, but the challenge is to get them to do anything voluntarily. I recently had an “a-ha moment” that I wanted to share.  After having that special moment and trying out the trick, I actually realized that it was pretty obvious and it was just one of those things that you couldn’t believe you hadn’t thought of sooner… But anyway, in case anyone hasn’t gotten there yet, sharing my story…
The other night, Allie and I were taking a bath together.  We do that a lot: it’s more fun, it’s a great bonding time, an opportunity for me to do a bath in a more relaxing way rather than breaking my back trying to clean Allie from outside of the tub, it’s a nice experience all around. I love taking baths myself, so the bath routine is something that I am looking forward to, it doesn’t feel like a chore at all. Allie loves to play with her little containers in the tub and “make me tea, coffee or juice in them”.  Once in a while she’ll ask for “kuzi” and then I’ll turn the Jacuzzi jets on and she‘ll get her toes tickled by them. It’s very fun. Lots of laughs and songs and games.  Anyway, to get back to my story, we were taking a bath the other night and I had this “boo-boo” (speaking in Allie’s terms) on my knee that I noticed and started to look at and pick on.  Allie took an interest and helped me pick it for a minute and then got back to her business of “making coffee”(which means pouring water from one container to the other until I guess it reaches a certain consistency?). I continued with the boo-boo… Picking and cleaning… I must’ve been doing it for a few minutes at least. When I finally looked up, I saw Allie sitting and picking on her non-existing boo-boo on her knee. That was so cute! She was copying what I was doing. This is when I realized that to get her to do anything, I’ll do it myself without really looking at her (so she doesn’t figure out that’s a trick) and looking really interested and into doing whatever I am doing.
My project #1 was to get her to brush her hair. Now, this is kind of embarrassing, but we almost never brush Allie’s hair. She really doesn’t like it and she doesn’t have much hair anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal and I’ve always figured if she doesn’t like it so much, why torture her?  Un-brushed hair hasn’t really made anyone unhappy yet.  But deep in my heart I always want to brush it… So lately what I do is I start brushing her hair and if she resists (I should say “when”, not “if”, because she always resists), I stop and get to brushing my own hair with Allie’s hairbrush. I don’t look at her, but I act over-excitedly about brushing. Most of the time, she then starts reaching for a brush too and I let her have it. She’s also been letting me brush her hair, which I almost want to make our official family holiday – the day when Allie’s hair started to look brushed and nice. Very exciting!
Since then, I’ve been using this little technique to get Allie to do certain things that she doesn’t want to do sometimes and more often than not it works!
I hope this works for you, too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

20 gift ideas for a toddler girl

Since it's a holiday season and many of us are busy with holiday shopping and even busier with trying to come up with gift ideas, I thought I'd share some gift ideas that a toddler girl would be happy to receive. This is the list I would be looking for in my pre-baby era, when I had no idea what's appropriate for what age. I am still not a great consultant in what's appropriate and fun for what age if you ask me about a 6 year old, or a 9 year old, but I know my stuff when it comes to the ages that I've been through with Allie (which is age 1 and age 2, so yeah lots of experience). Below is the list (of toys mostly) that Allie either has and LOVES or some items that I know she would love. Hopefully this would be a good little guide for someone who's trying to get a gift for a toddler girl of about 2 years of age.

  • A tea set 
  • An easel with accessories (brushes, pencils, markers, chalks, paints...)
  • Legos (a starter set with quite big shapes)
  • Pretend doctor's kit
  • Cut-able fruit and veggies set
  • A doll with long hair that she can brush
  • A baby doll
  • Accessories for a baby doll (bottles, feeding items, bib, etc)
  • A color book with favorite characters (for Allie it's Elmo and Minnie Mouse)
  • A new cozy and soft blanket
  • Cardboard books are always great
  • Etch a scatch
  • A little pet (doggie for examle) with a string that she can "walk"
  • Baby stroller (HUGE hit!)
  • Baby doll bed/crib/pack-and-play
  • Jewelry (not the Tiffany kind of course... Allie loves little bracelets and fun necklaces)
  • Toy piano
  • Fun set of dishes (plate, bowl, spoon, fork, cup)
  • Puzzles
  • Set of small animals

Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to plan a toddler’s birthday party

Allie turned 2 last week and MJ and I were considering whether we should have a birthday party for her or just a small gathering of the 3 of us plus our dog.  December is a busy month so having a gathering of 3 plus dog with some cupcake definitely sounded attractive, especially since Allie is not yet old enough to be mad or upset about it, so we could definitely get away with it. But then we thought that December will be busy every year and we shouldn’t fall into the habit of not celebrating Allie’s birthday just because we are too busy buying Christmas presents and getting ready for all the other holidays coming up. So we’ve decided to throw Allie a small birthday party and this was the list of things to think about and decisions to make. I'll say right away that we had a pretty modest party, so this may be useful if you plan on somthing similar.
We’ve looked into renting a space and I did an extensive google search in our area to see what was available. Things didn’t look so good, because it was either too late (we had started thinking about the party about 3 weeks before it happened), too expensive or too inconvenient time wise (with the nap schedule of most toddlers this age). So the decision was easy enough to make: party at home.
The decision to have a party at home automatically brought up another issue: whom we were going to invite. We would’ve loved to invite out child-less friends who know and love Allie and it was also very important to have kids over so Allie could play with them. Friends with kids plus friends without kids added up into a pretty major company that our small house would not be too comfortable for, therefore we made a decision to invite only kids (and their parents, of course).  We ended up inviting 9 kids, not really knowing if they’d be accompanied by just one or both parents.  That number seemed reasonable, as it almost never happens that everyone ends up showing up, so we expected about 20, maybe 25 guests in total.  We ended up having 15 guests in total. Perfect!
Nice paper invitations sent by mail are great. But we just went with a free and quick Facebook invite. So easy! You just create an event on Facebook and invite whomever you want. You indicate the details you want on the invite: time, length, RSVP option, etc. It worked great and made it easy to track our guest count.
Time and length
Time of the party was easiest of all to decide. The options were either before or after nap, and we went with the after nap option, since that way we had the entire morning to get ready. From what I hear most 2 year olds have a pretty similar nap schedule), so 2:30 pm seemed like the perfect time.  For length, all the sources I found online had similar suggestions, that an hour – hour and a half is an appropriate length of the party for toddlers.  We weren’t exactly going to kick people out after a certain time, we just figured that as long as kids were having fun, we’d be happy. But it was funny that an hour and a half was exactly how long it ended up lasting.  The Internet was right! :)
My first impulse was to order pizza and be done. But my Russian soul  could not make a piece with that. I’ve decided that I’m going to cook. But the food had to satisfy a few criteria:
-kids need to like it
-adults need to like it
-it needs to be easy and quick and inexpensive to cook
-it can be eaten without any silverware and even without sitting down
-while eaten by kids “on-the-go” around our house, it shouldn’t be messy to eat and has little chance to be dropped
I was so lucky that my mom visited the week of Allie’s birthday party! She helped me with all the cooking, so not only cooking became less stressful, but we also had so much fun hanging out in the kitchen together for the entire morning!
Here is what we ended up having:
-Veggie platter with a White Bean Dip. Cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, celery and carrots and the bean dip could not have been easier to make: in the food processor I threw 2 cans of cannelloni beans, the herbs that I had on hand (chives, parsley, dill and some mint), a bit of lemon zest, a clove of grated garlic and some olive oil; processed it all for a minute. Done! Delicious and healthy for kids.
-Pigs in a blanket. That was my new discovery. I am going to make them for every single occasion from now on. So easy and so popular! You just buy those teeny little hot dog, wrap them into strips of store bough crescent rolls dough and bake for 10-15 minutes. You can serve them with some fancy store-bough mustard  but I actually whipped up a batch of homemade ketchup.
-Little pizzas cut into bite size pieces. That was also super easy. I bought pre-baked crusts and just slathered some tomato sauce on them,  added some mozzarella on top and pepperoni on 50% of my pizzas. So I ended up with 2 kinds of pizzas: cheese and pepperoni.  I put them in the oven when the guests started to arrive, so I had hot pizza in just a few minutes.  Just remember to cut them into small pieces for the kids.
-Crepes with different filling were the star of the show. My mom was completely in charge of that and all the compliments go to her. Thank you mama! It took her a while to bake all the crepes before the filling went in, but if you want to have them as your “star”, you can just buy crepes and only take care of the filling at home (of course, they won’t be as good as my mom’s, but still… good alternative). For filling my mom did three fillings: one was cut up boiled eggs, second was sauteed mushrooms and third was herbed cream cheese. Wrap the filling in the crepe and then slice it into bite size pieces.
-Cupcakes. Of course you have to have some kind of cake for a birthday party. I made carrot cupcakes, so everyone had their individual cake and the fact that they had carrots in them somehow made it better for kids in my head. There are million of recipes for carrot cupcakes, I made this one by Martha Stewart. Delicious!
For drinks we had:
-juice boxes for kids
-red and white wine for adults
-Warm apple cider with spices going in a slow cooker and a bottle of spice rum next to it. Alcohol free for kids and with some rum for adults.
Remember to have on the table:
-Sippy cups for kids
-Paper plates
-plastic forks
unfortunately I only remembered about needing to take pictures at the end... But this is a little piece.

There are some really cool activities that I found on the internet, and I think next year Allie and her friends will be ready for them, but at 2, here is what we did: 

  • We had a kid’s radio playing on Pandora in case anyone felt like dancing and Allie did dance for a little bit, but a dance party that I had in mind didn’t really happen (perhaps too young?). 
  • We also placed a bunch of white paper and crayons all around the party areas, so a couple kids colored and drew. 
  • We put out the toys that would be fun to play: bowling with stuffed toys; a little Melissa and Doug house with people, a few balls, a few balloons. Kids seemed to have a lot of fun with those.
I considered playdough, but I am glad I changed my mind. I think the cleanup would’ve been a lot longer and harder.


Balloons worked great! They also doubled as entertainment, kids loved playing with them. I also bought this gorgeous Happy Birthday sign, but I am yet to find where I put it, needless to say it never got hung up  on time for the party. We also got party hats and blowers, they were fun and festive to have around.

Party favors

Girls got bracelets and boys got soccer or baseball or basketball balls. Thank you Target!

I'd say Allie's 2nd Birthday party was a great success: she had fun and got great presents and MJ and I enjoyed having fun friends over and loved seeing kids play together.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New routine: teeth brushing

Well, not actually new at all for Allie at this point, but just a couple words for those who are about to enter the teeth brushing days. Our dentist told us right away that we need to start brushing Allie's teeth as soon as she starts eating solids, so we started pretty early, at about 5 or 6 months. At first it wasn't brushing in the sense that most people understand it, but rather cleaning Allie's gums. We would just take a washcloth and wipe Allie's gums. She wasn't a big fan of that at first, but like with everything, once we started doing it every night, it became a routine and Allie didn't mind it all. She actually started liking it, as I imagine it felt good to her gums when she started teething.

When she got her first couple teeth, we switched to an actual tooth brush. A baby tooth brush, of course. That was a novelty to Allie and she didn't have any problems adjusting to it, especially when we started using those toddlers' toothpastes that don't contain any fluoride and taste great. And yes, a lot of times, she would just chew on the brush and enjoy the taste of the tooth paste instead of brushing, but I think it was ok, since it was just important to get her used to the feeling of a toothbrush in her mouth (my dentist did not agree. She said that was not cool to just let her chew on it). Anyway, little by little she is learning how to brush and I have to say she does it really well now. She has almost a full mouth of teeth and brushing her teeth is an essential part of her bath time routine.

With this very long introduction, what I really wanted to write about is a small challenge we once faced. Once upon a time Allie has decided she no longer wants to brush her teeth. She didn't let me or MJ do it and she refused to do anything with that toothbrush. That behavior was going on for about a week and I tried to brush through tears and screaming, but this, of course, was neither very productive, not enjoyable for anybody. 

So one night when we were fighting about brushing her teeth, I had Allie open her mouth and said "Oh my god, you have a fly in there!" (Now, if anyone is curious, this fly thing wasn't really a product of my imagination or creativity. When I was little and went to a dentist, I remember him telling me at the end of the appointment that he got a fly out of my tooth. That was pretty scarring and I actually thought this was true until I was 20 or so). So I guess with this whole teeth drama we were going through with Allie, the "fun" memory of a fly in my tooth came flushing. As soon as Allie heard about the fly in her mouth, she immediately got all curious and still and let me get it out (aka brush her teeth). Same thing happened the following night and the night after that.... 

For the last month or so Allie brushes her teeth without any protesting because that's how she gets a fly out of there and when she's done I do some final "fly removal" and we end up with brushed teeth every night. Clearly, that little trick worked for us, and I hope this inspires some ideas with your little ones if you face a similar problem :).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Potato Broccoli soup

Now that the outside thermometer doesn't show anything over 40 degrees, it's a perfect time for the soup season. Today was no exception. It was freezing and windy outside, so noone was interested in taking a walk. We all settled inside the house, each one busy with different activities: MJ reading a new book, Allie playing with her toys that she hadn't seen for about a week, while visiting her Grandma (Mor-Mor) for Thanksgiving, Druzhok, as always, was preoccupied  with taking a nap on his favorite couch pillow and I had nothing else to do but make some soup. 

I have recently discovered a beef broth for myself and have been using it a lot instead of chicken stock. I think it has so much more flavor and gives the old familiar dishes a new twist. Today was another occasion to try it in an old favorite. In this Potato Broccoli Soup I used even parts of chicken and beef stock, but certainly you can substitute 100% chicken stock, if you prefer.

Potato Broccoli Soup

1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 lbs broccoli, broken into florets
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used red potatoes)
2 C chicken broth
2 C beef broth
Salt and Pepper to taste

Greek yogurt and paprika for garnishing

Start with sauteing onion, celery and carrots in some olive oil.

Once the veggies are soft (after about 5-7) minutes, add in the garlic

Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring not to let the garlic burn. 

Add in potatoes and broccoli and both stocks. You may want to add more or less liquid than what I did, depending on the soup consistency you like. I usually aim for the liquid coming almost to the top of the veggies. The veggies don't have to be submerged, they will still cook through. 

Stir and cover with a lid. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 12-15 minutes until broccoli and potatoes are cooked through. You may want to adjust the seasoning with some salt, if you use low sodium broth. I used regular broths and didn't have to add much salt.

Once the veggies are cooked, blend into puree with an immersion blender, or in a regular one. Check for the seasonings again.

Serve with some Greek yogurt and sweet paprika.

Stay warm out there!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Travelling without your baby

This one is the opposite to the post I wrote about a month ago about travelling WITH your toddler. Turns out travelling without her or him is even harder! Who would've thought...

Although the original plan was to write this post while being in a cozy hotel room with pajamas on and a nice hot cup of tea and unwrapped chocolate beside me,  I’m actually typing this while sitting on a train headed from Budapest to a small town in Slovakia, doing some travelling for work.
I was thinking about how the whole concept of travelling changed for me after I had Allie. Beforehand travelling, any kind of it, was just fun and now I am like a nervous nelly anywhere I am without her.  Especially the plane… Ever since I’ve had Allie, I developed this awful fear of flying. And not that I’ve ever loved flying particularly, but it’s just gotten so much worse!  All I can think about when on the plane is Allie and how if something happens to me she won’t have her mom. That thought just terrifies me… But I know I shouldn’t even think like that and put these thoughts out in the universe. I should think positively and objectively, that the chances are nothing will happen to me on the plane. But it’s actually not just planes. In the pre-Allie era I would have never even thought of that, but now whenever I am in a car with a stranger driver (for example taxi, and especially abroad), I always fasten my seat belt in the rear seat.
But plane or taxi are eventually done and I am still left with this sense of missing Allie and MJ terribly. It’s so hard to say goodbye and luckily MJ understands that I am going away for a bit, I don’t know if Allie does. What is she thinking in her little head when I say goodbye to her and get on a bus and she sees me leave? Although it’s probably not as heartbreaking for her as I think, especially that now when she’s almost 2, I think she starts to understand that I leave temporarily and will be back soon. But I guess it’s mostly just me missing her so badly. So here are my ways to make myself feel better about being away and just comforting  thoughts to think and things to do:
  • It is a great chance for Allie and MJ to bond and have a nice quality father-daughter time.
  • Let's face it, it’s kind of a nice break from cooking, diaper changes, and lack of sleep for me (although not so much lack of sleep on work trips though).
  • Thinking of and shopping for gifts for Allie is somehow comforting.
  • (a weird one) while at a hotel, having cartoons on the background on TV. That’s especially weird, because Allie doesn’t watch cartoons yet, but still it makes me think of her and picture her beside me.
  • Picturing the moment of how we are going to see each other and how fun it will be.
  • Try not to look at moms with strollers on the street or babies eating at restaurants.
  • Skype with Allie and MJ. When she was younger, our Skype sessions would just turn into her getting upset about not being able to hug me, but this trip especially she seems to wise and knowing about my stuff! I am so proud of her, she sees me and chats away and giggles J.
  • No shopping at kid clothes shops. Just gets me depressed that everyone has their kids with them and I don’t.
  • Pretend that the extra pillow on your hotel bed is your baby and cuddle away J

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Daddy Patties

Intrigued by a weird title of this post? :)

This is just a name MJ came up with for a new recipe that was born at our house last night. I don't have any pictures, unfortunately,  because this was not intended to be anything special or great, but it turned out to be so delicious that MJ decided we need to come up with a name for this dish and to write down the recipe so it's never forgotten.

Here is the short story that led up for the creation. I was driving home from work and was thinking about dinner. I knew I had chicken breasts defrosting, but it was Thursday, approaching the end of the week and we ran out of everything else (kind of early this week). Chicken breasts really don't have much flavor to them, so you need to really add something GOOD to them.Like it would be good to make some kind of chicken and mushroom ragout and serve it over pasta. Or marinate those chicken breats in some lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and herbs and bake or grill it. But there was no marinating at that point and almost no veggies. So I haven't thought of anything in the car.

When we arrived home, I got right on the start line of my dinner cooking marathon that needed to be completed in 40 minutes, so I just starting grabbing all kinds of random stuff out of the fridge and then seeing what I ended up with I decided to throw it all in the food processor, which is one of my favorite things ever created, and make some kind of chicken patties. Result? Amazing! MJ said that was one of the best things he's ever eaten and Allie FINALLY had some meat hidden in those patties after being on a meat eating strike for about a week.

Here we go

Happy Daddy Patties 

(which is a  name that MJ came up with, because of how happy those patties made him... You can probably tell how much thought was put into that heartfelt name..)

3 medium chicken breasts
2 medium carrots
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 C green peas (I had them in the freezer, so I just defrosted them quickly in hot water)
3 slices of bacon (that's optional. I honestly thought that  it would be better without bacon after I tasted the final result and MJ thought that bacon totally made it. Allie didn't say anything, but seemed to have agreed with both of us... Add the bacon if you like the smoky flavor)
1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
2 C panko bread crumbs, placed on a flat plate
Olive oil for frying

Place all the ingredients listed above up to bacon (including bacon) into a food processor. I roughly chop everything beforehand to help the processor out a little. Process for about a minute, stopping, if necessary, and stirring the ingredients up to make sure everyone gets the "blade contact". Transfer the mixture into a bowl, add in the egg, cheese, salt and pepper. 

Heat up some olive oil in a non-stick pan. Form the meat mixture into small patties, roll them in the panko bread crumbs and place in the heated pan. Cook on a medium-high heat about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a clean dish. Depending on how large your frying pan is and how big your patties, you may have to do it in portions like I did. When you're done, return all of your patties in the same pan, add a bit of water (about 1/4 C) cover with a lid and "steam" for about 6-8 minutes to just make sure everything cooks through.  

Needless to say what a great healthy combination of lean meat and veggies they provide, which is especially important for kids who let's face it will not necessarily eat meat AND veggies that you serve them. This is 2 in 1!

I hope you'll like it as much as we did.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Baby fruit purees

When Allie first started eating solids, we almost never fed her any store-bought purees (unless we were travelling, that was the only exception). Once she passed the stage of baby rice cereal and mashed banana, I started making a lot of homemade meals for her. Preparing your own baby food has many benefits, among which are:

  • it's so much cheaper than buying it;
  • it's healthier, because the food is always fresh and doesn't have any preservatives in it;
  • you can create your own combinations of ingredients and come up with kinds that don't even exist in a store.

Despite what many busy moms think, it is so easy and quick to make baby food. I mean yeah, it's an extra step and it's going to take a bit more time than opening a store-bought jar, but again, see the benefits above... Plus, the best part is that you can make a large portion of a puree, freeze it in ice-cubes tray and then move your "fruit cubes" to ziplock freezer bags. They will store that way for weeks in a freezer! And next time you want to add something yummy into your baby's oatmeal or rice cereal, just defrost a cube of apple prune puree, stir the mixture into the prepared oatmeal and breakfast is ready!

In this post I am going to focus on fruit combinations and give you a few examples of fruit variations you can make to provide your baby with vitamins and nutrients that are necessary for his/her little growing body.All these recipes can be made for a baby of 12 months and older, but I also gave them to Allie when she was even younger. 

To make any of the below fruit purees you will need:

  • a regular pan with a lid;
  • if you'd rather steam the fruit instead of boiling (more health benefits when steaming), use a steamer basket inside of a pan. I've done  both ways;
  • blender or a food processor;
  • food storage containers;
  • obviously, ingredients;
  • and if you do freeze the leftovers, which I recommend, ice cube trays and freezer bags.

If you go down the road of making your own baby food, it's a great idea to have on hand a few ingredients that you can keep in the pantry without a fear of them spoiling. My favorites are various dried fruit like apricots, prunes, figs, dates and of course, raisins.

When you first start feeding your baby fruit, you shouldn't use fruit combinations right away, that's too much for a little belly. Start with just 1 pureed fruit and a few weeks later once you know that your baby reacted well to certain fruit, you can start mixing them up.

Here are a few ideas for fun and tasty combinations:

Strawberry and fig puree
basic fruit puree preparation:
Place 1 lb of strawberries without stems and 5-7 dried figs in a pan filled with some cold water (it doesn't really matter how much water you use. If you use a lot - you're boiling  if you use a little - then you are steaming. I usually would just have the fruit covered by water). Bring to a boil and simmer with a lid on for about 5 minutes. "Fish" the fruit out with a slotted spoon right into blender and add tiny bit of cooking water. Add more water to achieve the desired consistency. Puree util smooth.

Apple prune puree
Use 4 peeled cored apples and about 10 dried prunes. Follow the same directions as above, but cook a bit longer, about 8 minutes. Puree until smooth.

Peach and apricot puree
Use 4 pitted peaches and 10 dried apricots. Cook in water for about 8 minutes. Puree.

Banana strawberry puree
Cook a pound of stemmed sliced strawberries for about 4 minutes. Add in 2 peeled sliced bananas and cook for another minute. Transfer in a blender and puree.

Pear raisin puree
Cook 4 peeled cored pears and 1/4 cup raisins for 6-7 minutes. Puree.

Those were just a few examples, but it's so fun to experiment and mix up different flavors and combinations: pears and dried apricots; figs and apples; peaches and strawberries; apples and strawberries... 

I hope you have fun cooking and your baby enjoys his or her yummy homemade meals from this youngest age.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shopping with a toddler

I have to say that shopping is one of my favorite activities to do with Allie. Grocery shopping that is. If it's any other kind of shopping, like Christmas shopping or clothes shopping, we typically do it all together as a family and usually treat it as a fun walk. We go shopping to Freeport, a small town near us in Maine with an outdoor outlet Mall. This is really the only kind of mall that I enjoy. For holidays it's always festively decorated and just has a very fun atmosphere. Like the other week there was a Pumpkin Festival that we attended. The entire Freeport downtown was decorated with carved pumpkins. I had never seen so many carved pumpkins in my life. It was beautiful and very fall-y and Halloween-y and I can only imagine how beautiful it must've looked when it got dark with a lit candle in every single pumpkin. 

But for a mom-daughter bonding activity, there is something special about grocery shopping.Allie has been going with me since she was very little. I was using a shopping cart cover, which by the way as great of an invention as a nursing cover. You can certainly use a regular blanker, but it won't cover all the parts, which you really want covered and not touched by your baby. Allie used to love sitting in a cart as I push it around. She was looking around, smiling at people and genuinely enjoying herself.

As she is getting older, our shopping trips become more and more fun. I don't even go shopping without her anymore. When we go, we try to get this fancy shopping cart that looks like a car where Allie loves to sit and play with the stirring wheel. She loves to say "Hi" to people and shows them what she's buying. It's really very cute. 

It's also a great educational opportunity. As I place items into a cart, I tell Allie what it is before I do, so learns new words. Also we count together, if say I get potatoes, I count them with her as I place them one by one into a bag.

And last but not least, let's not forget that Allie is entering the age where she can actually help. After we do our produce shopping and enter the aisle portion of the store I "park" the cart and Allie goes into the aisle with me to get what we need. Then I hand her the items and she runs them back to the cart. It's great, because I don't need to push the huge cart around everywhere, and it's so good for Allie to feel (and be!) helpful and understand that she has her own tasks. This is one of her own tasks.

Can't wait for Saturday to do some shopping with Allie!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

End baby's crying with 7 S's

One of my wonderful colleagues is expecting a baby any day now. I thought of her when reading the most recent issue of "Parents" and wanted to write this for her and all new parents. It's not a secret that  a crying baby can be one of the most stressful things about early parenthood. Lots of books, articles and opinions have been written about it, suggesting different methods of dealing with the crying. 

Well, this is one of them. One Santa Monica pediatrician, Dr.Harvey Karp, developed the "5 S's system" to calm a crying baby. I've read a lot of baby books over the last 2 years, but somehow I'd never come across this information until this week. Sorry if it's a repeat for anyone, but I hope many of you will find this useful. Having been through the crying baby stage, this "5 S's" system seems genius and definitely works. Maybe for some babies all 5 S's need to be "recruited". For some just 2. And maybe you'll find my 2 additional S's helpful. 

  1. Swaddling. Wrap her arms snugly down against her sides, but leave her legs loose and flexed so that her hips have room to move.
  2. Side/stomach. It's easiest to calm a crying baby when he's lying on his side or stomach.
  3. Shushing. Start out as loud as your baby's cry. The womb has a constant rumbling, one that's louder than a vacuum cleaner. Womb-like sounds help babies sleep longer, even during teething and growth spurts. You can't shush for 24/7, but you can use a white-noise machine, fan in the summer or humidifier in winter, they all make nice shushing sounds. 
  4. Swinging. A slow and smooth motion keeps babies calm. But to put the brakes on explosive, "colicky" crying, your movements should be fast, tiny (about an inch), and jiggly - though not anything that feels aggressive or like shaking. If you get frustrated from all the crying, put your little one down and take a break. Never shake your baby.
  5. Sucking. For many babies, nursing or using a pacifier is the key to gliding into profound tranquility.

I thought of a couple additional "S's" that I found helpful too. 

  • Singing. Your baby loves to hear your voice and eventually familiar melody. It's comforting and calming. I've been singing the same lullaby to Allie ever since she was born and she still asks for it every night. Now I have to be more creative with it though and replace every other word of the song with either different animals, all of our relatives, or names of Allie's friends.  
  • Smiling. And when I say smiling, I don't necessarily mean that no matter how exhausted you are, you need to smile. I mean it in a way that your mood needs to be smiling, if I can say so. Somehow babies just seem to feel your mood, well at least Allie has always been that way. If I am stressed out, she will not calm down until I do. So if I am not in the best of the spirits, I breathe deeply, relax and try to smile in my mind and think of all the good things. I swear that helps.

I hope your baby sleeps well tonight!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Raising a bilingual child. Part II

The other day I was trying to translate a couple Russian expressions for someone and that got me thinking about Allie again and how in the world I would ever teach her certain things and expressions in Russian and, more importantly, how I would explain them to her. Both expressions I was translating for my friend are used when someone asks you a question that you don't want to answer. The literal translation for the first one is:
"If you know too much, you'll age too soon"
and the second one is even better:
"Curious Barbara got her nose ripped off at the market" (I know...)

There are a lot more... Lots about work, or how to get out of doing work, for example
"Work is not a wolf and won't escape into the woods"

Those will be the things hard to teach, or explain. But it's ok, I just need t get the basics down at least and teach Allie to express herself in Russian, as well as she can in English.

At almost 2 years old she knows a lot of words in English and she can say certain sentences. She knows how to say many words in Russian (while she understands everything I say in Russian), but doesn't talk in Russian sentences. It's funny when she starts mixing the two languages. When I pick her up from the daycare, she says "Mama, пойдём home" (let's go home). Or when the kids in our neighborhood were trick-or-treating the other day she was saying "I want more детки" (I want more kids).

But no language mixes happen when she feels frustrated... Like the other day she was climbing up the small hill that our house is sitting on and slipped and fell and went "Oh maaaaan!" :) This is when I thought I need to teach her to say some word of frustration in Russian, but it's kind of weird to teach negative words...

A particular challenge when trying to teach Russian is that Russian language is a real difficult language. Most words are longer and harder to pronounce than in English. I remember when Allie learnt to say "dog", which was one of her first words, I was teaching her a Russian version, which is "sabaka". So I kept repeating "sabaka' whenever we would see a dog, and Allie would stay strongly committed to "dog". And then MJ made a good point "If she has a choice between saying "dog" and "sabaka", which one do you think she's going to think is easier?" That's true and "sabaka" is not even the best example. And what makes it even worse is that when you talk to a child in Russian (or I guess not only in Russian, I wonder if this is really about all languages), you instinctively use the cute little versions of all words (like in English you would say "doggy" instead of "dog" while talking to a child). So when you do that in Russian, you make most words twice as long as they were before becoming cute...  So this is how "a doll" becomes "kukla" which with the cute ending becomes "kukalka" and how "a box" becomes "karobka which for the babies turns into "karobachka" and so on. 

So in addition to some tips that I mentioned last time when talking about raising a bilingual child, here are a few more I thought of (sorry for not providing any references, these are really just  bits and pieces from much read, heard and witnessed personally).

  • I mentioned reading books in Russian before. But the older Allie gets, the more interactive our Russian reading sessions become. I ask her questions about a book that we're reading "Who is this?", "What color is it?", "What does it say?" You can talk about characters, colors, shapes, sizes and so on. These dialogues are probably one of the best teaching techniques. 
  • I find that counting really works, too. We count everything: duckies in the tub during the bath time, blueberries she eats for dessert, cars driving by that we see out of our window... She can count to ten now and is motivated to learn what she is counting. So it's especially good to count new things.
  • Music. I already mentioned music, but also signing is great. Songs rhyme and rhymes are easier to remember, so it's easier to remember the words if they come from a song. Having Russian music on the background is a good idea and recently I've discovered Tune In app, so we listen to the Russian radio stations for kids. They have songs, stories, kids' talk shows.
  • Clearly, the best way to raise Allie bilingual is to expose her to playing with Russian-speaking kids, but like I said before it's not easily done in our area. But here is the progress made in this regard: my friend told me about a daycare/ inside playground in the neighboring town that is owned by a Russian lady. While the daycare is by no means for the Russian kids only, I was told that they have quite a few Russian families there. So the owner offered to organize some Russian playdate groups during weekends, maybe once or twice per month. They would host them right at the daycare, since they are opened on weekends anyway. I was so excited to hear that and now have very high hopes for this... I'll keep you posted on this. Right now I am jut waiting to hear what was the response that she got.
Still no TV for Allie, so I cannot use Russian cartoons yet as a teaching help...But in the future some time the cartoon bullet will be added.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Allie's second Halloween today. She was a monkey this year and participated in the celebrations more actively than last year. She even got to trick-or-treat at my work the other day where we had a big party for the kids.

We did not go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood tonight though. Next year. But tonight Allie and I hung out by our front door, greeted  our local little ghosts and monsters and Allie loved giving out the candy. It was fun! minus a couple real scary masks that kind of ruined the experience a little for Allie.

Needless to say, Allie cannot have candy, but for a special sweet Halloween treat I made her some yummy and kind of healthy cookies (that also have been acting like breakfast for me and MJ for the last couple days). The recipe came from my #1 favorite cookbook from Better Homes and Gardens and it is a recipe for "Peanut-butter oatmeal rounds" that I made just a couple adjustments to by decreasing the amount of sugar and replacing some white flour with wheat flour and made these great

Whole-wheat Peanut-Butter Oatmeal rounds

3/4 C softened  butter
1/2 C Peanut butter
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole-wheat flour
2 C quick or rolled oats
If you like, you can add a cup of raisins, dried cranberries, peanuts or chocolate chips. I didn't add anything this time.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl beat both butters with an electric mixer. Add sugar, baking soda and baking powder. Mix well. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in the flour and then oats.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto a baking sheet. Bake about 10-12 minutes until edges are light brown. 

Transfer to a wire rack to cool down. Nice little treat to enjoy with some tea or milk.

Happy Halloween! :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Delicata squash

This is just a quick check-in to share my  discovery in the Food world. I have just discovered a Delicata squash this fall and this may be my new favorite kind of squash. How had I never noticed it before? It's soooo good! It's sweet, buttery and so easy and quick to prepare. Such a nice easy side dish for your dinner. Just cut it lengthwise in half, scrub out the seeds (discard or toast and eat, like you would with pumpkin seeds), slice each half into thin half-moon shapes. All you need for seasoning is salt, pepper and olive oil. Bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes. Delicious! And if you're looking to add more fiber into your diet, delicata squash is a great source. Most importantly, Allie loves the cute curly servings of it!

Try it if you haven't yet.

Fun from a clay bucket

I love cozy days at home like we had this past Sunday. After we had a nice big weekend kind of breakfast, we all settled in the living room for a morning of relaxation. MJ and our dog Druzhok were taking a 3-hour-long naps as it was raining outside and Allie and I played together. Eventually she got distracted enough with her toys, and I had a chance to read a new issue of "Parents" magazine while sipping a nice cup of coffee. Allie came over once in a while to join me in looking at a new page and she would point out the objects she knows and then she would get back to her own games, which was just perfect enough for me to relax and have a nice bonding time with Allie at the same time. What keeps her occupied for looong periods of time these days is her big Clay Bucket, that I mentioned already as a great entertainment we brought on a  long plane ride recently. This $5 bucket of clay just keeps on giving!


There is so much Allie can do with it! So not only it keeps her entertained, but also develops her imagination and creativity and I am sure the activity of rolling different shapes is a good little exercise for her little hands,although for now I have to help her with making clay balls. But she loves to cut them in half with the plastic toy knife that came with the set (well,  I am the one calling it "cutting in half", I bet for Allie it is "sculpting shapes").

Then there is always a classic: rolling out the clay  strips with a roller and cutting out the shapes with special ornamental cutters.

You can also use combinations of clay balls and the strips that came in a set and pretend to be an architect and build structures.

So many fun activities with just one toy. It always keeps Allie busy and entertained. When the fun of playing with the clay wore off the other day, we added to the game her toy pots and pans and she was "making a soup" out of the clay shapes she'd made earlier. That lasted another hour. She was really into the idea of "cooking soup" out of it, so much in fact that she asked me to sing about soup that night. In place of her friends' names that we usually sing in our songs, she had me sing "mama soup", "dada soup" and "Sasha soup".

Hope your little ones have as much fun playing with clay or playdough as Allie does.

Hope you are safe during the hurricane this week!