Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fun in the pool

MJ and I signed Allie up for swim lessons for this fall. We were so excited about it! Even more excited when we realized how hard it actually is to get signed up for swimming. Apparently there was a lottery and those who won the lottery got to register for their preferable time slot and everyone else got what was left. We did not participate in the lottery. We just thought you call the pool, find out the classes schedule and show up. Nope! Doesn't work like that. I accidentally found out from a friend that it's a big deal to register for the swim lessons and if I am interested I had to hurry up. So I called the pool immediately, from work on Monday morning , was told that all the time slots were taken, but two of them were not yet paid for, so if I make it there right now and pay, I get one of them. I called MJ at work, since his job is closer than mine is to the pool and luckily he was able to drive to the pool, pay and register. Phew! We are in!

Today was the first time we went. It was so fun! All the mommies and daddies had the kids in their arms and the instructor had us walk around in a circle, adding new  moves for the kids, signing songs, laughing and having fun! At first Allie wasn't sure about this whole thing, but then as she was getting more used to the (slightly cold) water in the pool, she was just loving it! She was kicking her feet and trying to swim and screaming "I swimming!", it was precious!

If you've ever thought about joining the pool with your child, I definitely strongly recommend it! First of all, it's a real cool new way of bonding with your son or daughter. It also gives your child confidence. And most importantly it's a great way to start learning how to swim. At the age of 2 with all the kids that we've seen today, there wasn't a whole lot of swimming going on, but noone was afraid of the water, everyone had so much fun and even the parents got to exercise with all the water moves we had to do!

I am really excited for this new Saturday morning activity this Fall!

Hope everyone is having a great weekend :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Silky corn bisque

Today I am going to share a recipe for a Corn bisque. I came across this recipe in a Russian cooking magazine and tweaked it a bit, it came out really delicious! Tasted kind of like a really sweet, creamy polenta. Great for kids because of the sweet taste. Allie loved dipping bread slices in there and eating it that way. 

Corn bisque

4 slices of bacon
1 shallot
2 1/2 C corn kernels  (5 corn ears)
2 medium sized red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 C water
3 C milk
salt and pepper

Start by cooking the bacon. I usually bake it at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Lay it out on a foil covered baking sheet to make the clean up easy.

While the bacon is cooking, start preparing your corn. It's easier to take the kernels off if you do it in a bowl to catch them and on a stable surface such as another bowl flipped upside down, like this:

Put the kernels aside.
In a soup pan, heat up some olive oil and add the chopped shallot. Saute for about 5 minutes. Then add in cubed potatoes.

And then right away add the corn

Season with some paprika (I actually happen to have the real stuff from Hungary that my colleague was very kind to bring me as a gift)

Stir everything together and cook for about 2 minutes. 
Then add in the water and let it cook for 7-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. In the meantime, transfer the bacon onto the plate lined with the paper towels to absorb the extra fat.

Once the veggies are cooked, add in the milk (I used 2%), stir everything well and turn off the heat for now.

Puree everything together with an immersion blender or in a  regular blender.

Cover with the lid and reheat just until it's hot. Crumble some bacon on top. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
It can be served hot or at a room temperature.

Enjoy :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How to be happier?

Since I’ve started talking about books, let me continue this topic in this post and write about one more book. Unlike the depressing (but useful!) book I recommended yesterday, this one is very uplifting. This book is definitely one of my favorites of all times! It's on my nightstand, even though I finished it a while ago. I am not moving it from my bedside any time soon. It’s a great book to read for a little motivation when you’re lacking it, or just for some positive and happy thoughts.

The book is “The Happiness project” by Gretchen Rubin and it is exactly what it sounds like. It’s kind of a “tutorial” how to make yourself happy. If you are already happy, it is still great to read, because it will make you even happier! Who doesn't want to be happy (er)?! While I consider myself a very happy person, I was very excited when I heard about this book from my colleague. We actually read this book for a little spontaneous book club that got formed because a few more people at work heard of this book and were interested in reading it together. That is the first time I’ve ever participated in a book club and what a great book to start with! Of course, the ladies who are in our club all just happened to be perfect members of the “happiness club”, they are all very upbeat, kind, and happy to begin with, this is what made this book club so special and fun.

In this book, Gretchen explores what she can do about her life to be happier. The project is symbolically and literally broken down in 12 parts (12 months): one significant task and focus for each month. She doesn’t suggest that you do the same things she did, but rather just motivates you to find your own areas that need improvement and work on them. But for me she was so relatable, that I felt like I needed to do those exact same things that she did. And I tried to. And I will continue. I found this book very interesting as a mother and a wife. Gretchen is a mother and a wife too and I found a lot of her advice just genius! What’s genius about it is that it’s super simple.

I have to mention that this book inspired me to write this blog. Like I said I found Gretchen's "happiness activities" very relatable and really liked what she did. One of her things was starting  a Happiness project blog that is actually a website now and is very, very popular! She obviously was very busy when she started her blog but she felt it was important to make the time for herself and just do something that is only for her, not for her kids, not for her husband, not for her work, just for her.So I thought there is no way I am busier than her, so if she found the time to do it, I bet I can do too! I am glad I did. I had thought about starting a blog often in the past, but could never commit to something like that because of the time constraint . But now I found that once you get going, it's a part of your day (oh well, most days anyway) and it doesn't feel like a burden at all. It is nice to find the time to do something that brings you joy and relaxes you.

I keep the book by my bedside because I want to reread it, or at least reread certain pieces. She has so many great suggestions and when you read them, you think ‘Of course! This is great! I am going to do it this weekend!”, but then with all the other things going on, you just forget. So I want to reread and take notes this time.

I hope I got you intrigued. Really, this book is just fantastic. I keep telling everyone I know about it. It’s so positive and happy and motivating! It's just one of those books that make you feel cozy and warm.

Check it out, you won't regret it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Some thoughts on parenting and the book every Dad should read.

We learn new things every day. For example, last night I learnt that it’s not a good idea to snack on too much pineapple before bed. And then I learnt that it’s a horrible idea to brush my teeth right after snacking on pineapple. My mouth was on fire! Not a pleasant feeling. Will not do that again.

But that was an unintentional kind of learning. What I am trying to learn intentionally is how to be a good parent. I want to be the kind of mom that my mom has been to me and my sister. My mom is my best friend and she and I never really went through any kinds of difficult periods that are described in many parenting books, like teenage years, for example. I’ve always told her everything and not because I was forced to, but because I’ve just always wanted to share good and bad with my mom. She always knows exactly the right thing to say. I hope when Allie grows up, she will feel the same way about me and will share things with me and will see her friend in me. That’s my goal.

When Allie presents me with a new kind of behavior that I don’t know how to deal with, I think of my mom. What would she do? Luckily, there are hardly any behaviors so far that can be difficult, mostly throwing a fit once in a while or something similar. What would my mom do? She would stay calm. So I try to stay calm. Allie feels the energy and usually calms down. Even when she was a baby and once in a while would be hard to console, my mom taught me a trick: you take very deep breaths and breathe out very slowly while holding Allie. And you do it until she calms down. I swear it works every time! It usually takes no more than 5-10 breaths until she starts to calm down. I am sure things are going to get more complicated than throwing a fit when Allie gets older, but fortunately I have a great mentor! :)

To help myself become a great parent and just for general education I like to read various books on parenting. At all times I have some kind of a parenting book on my night stand. I usually have at least one fiction book that I am reading, but also have another 2-3 other ones on my stand in case I am in a non-fiction kind of mood. I have a parenting book, maybe a cook book, some new magazine and something random. An additional benefit to this is that I almost never have to dust it, because the night stand is covered with books and there is no room for the dust to land anywhere :) (That was obviously not a good kind parenting… Allie should never see this sentence about not dusting).

MJ on the other hand almost never reads parenting books. Unless Allie is sick, then he digs into our baby health encyclopedias. I guess it’s just not in men’s nature to read parenting books. And despite that, MJ is the best father I could ever wish for Allie. He is just great at being a dad, he is very funny, fun, I can never make Allie laugh as much as he does. He also teaches her to be tough, where this is not something I can do. When she gets a “boo-boo” he gets Allie to say ‘I am tough!” and she does, and that makes the boo-boo go away, where what I do is kiss the booboo. Both ways are fine, of course, whatever works for the boo-boo, but it’s probably good to teach her different ways to deal with things right from this age. MJ is the one who recognizes when Allie is ready for some new “big girl” stuff. For example, he is the one who taught her to pour milk for herself and right now he is working on teaching her to wash her hands like a big girl. Just the other day he brought a step stool by the sink and had Allie use it to wash her hands. Now, if that was me, I probably wouldn’t even realize she was ready for that until she is 5! He knew she was ready. And she really was, she loves washing her hands like a big girl and does really well! He just instinctively knows that.

A few weeks ago however I discovered a special parenting book for dads that MJ read and found very, very useful. So I am writing here to share this excellent read for dads! One day my coworker came over to me and told me about this book and how every father must read it. He had just become a father a couple months ago, so he really appreciated the book. The book is called “Strong Fathers, strong daughters” written by Dr.Meg Meeker.

This is the way the book is described on its website “Eating disorders. Failure in school. STDs. Unwed pregnancy. Drug and alcohol abuse. This toxic culture surrounds young girls—our daughters. But teen health expert Meg Meeker has the answer: fathers.” 

The book talks about a father’s role in a girl’s development. It talks how important it is for every father to react appropriately to his daughter’s behaviors, how to address them and basically how to raise “a good girl” with proper values and morals. I am reading the book, as well and I think it’s useful for mothers to read it. It’s very different from the other books on parenting that I’ve read. Dr.Meeker describes lots of real life examples in this book, where she analyzes a particular girl’s problem or a disorder and what might’ve caused it and what could’ve been done differently about the situation and how you can make it better now. There are lots of examples that are shocking and seem like they are very far away from your life and your kids, but those things happen to someone’s daughters and how do you ensure that they won’t happen to yours? It’s hard to protect little girls from watching inappropriate programming on TV screaming about the looks and being skinny as most important things in life, whether it’s at your house or her friend’s, or even if you can she will go to school and hear things there and her developing mind may not know how to process that information properly. So Dr. Meeker makes it very clear what parents can expect and how to deal with it. Really, really good book, I think every father should read it.

On that note, I am saying good night and I am off to continue reading…

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A perfect Sunday breakfast

Or I should say "A perfect Sunday breakfast that will last for a few days", because I am making a Banana bread. A healthier version of a traditional banana bread. The recipe below is a combination of a few different recipes, that I think I got the best from. It has flax seeds in it, which are a great healthy addition because of their Omega 3 acids and dietary fiber. Banana bread is an excellent way of sneaking in a power food like flax seeds in your child's diet. This banana bread also has mostly whole wheat flour, which we all know is way healthier than super processed white flour. I also added raw sugar instead of regular sugar. The recipe below makes 2 loaves which means that you have an easy breakfast for the entire family for a few days: just pop a slice of the bread in the toaster and then spread some soft butter on top. Delicious!

Flax seed whole-wheat banana bread

1 Tbsp flax seed powder
2 Cups whole-wheat flour
1 Cup all purpose flour
1 Cup raw sugar
1/2 Cup light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 very ripe bananas 
2/3 C vegetable oil
4 eggs

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare and grease 2 loaf pans. Set aside.

Start with the flax seeds. Make sure they are fresh and smell pleasant. If the flax seed goes bad, it will have a slightly "fishy" smell. These are good 

We need to turn them into powder. You can use a spice grinder or a food processor for this purpose, but I just throw the seeds in the ziplock bag and use a meat hammer  to crush them. I only crush them partially and leave some whole for a little extra texture.

Pour the flax seed powder in a large bowl.

In the same bowl, add the remaining dry ingredients.
Both flours

Both sugars

Add in the baking soda, baking powder and salt

Mix all together

In a separate bowl break in the eggs

Pour in the vegetable oil

Mix together

Now we are going to use our VERY ripe bananas. Quite frankly, I actually HAD to make a banana bread this morning, because these bananas were on their way out. I had to use them, because I hate throwing food away.

In the third bowl, peel the bananas and  mash them with a fork.

Add the mashed bananas into your eggs and oil mixture and mix together.

And now we are ready to complete the marriage of all the ingredients.

Now I am adding the cinnamon and nutmeg only because I forgot to add in the beginning.  You're supposed to add  these spices along with the dried ingredients, but I didn't think the taste changed in any way because of what I'd done.

And mix everything again

Separate the dough evenly between the two earlier prepared loaf pans.

Put the pans into the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes.
Check if they are cooked by inserting a wooden toothpick and making sure it comes out clean. Once the banana bread is cooked, transfer it to the cooling rack and let cool.

Enjoy with some butter spread on your bread and some milk!

Wishing everybody a great week! :)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The quality time

I love weekends for all the quality time I get to spend with my family. No work, no daycare, no rushing anywhere, just pure relaxing, going to fun places and doing fun things.

Yesterday I learnt something new about parenting. I was reading a Russian magazine and I came across a very interesting article that addressed specifically some of the most common problems that parents brought up. One of the issues it talked about was what to do if a child gets tired too quickly and as a results gets very upset and becomes very hard to console. Luckily, Allie doesn't have this problem, but it was useful to read the solutions and one of them really caught my attention.  It talked about how important it is to switch  a child's activities from passive to active. The activities were being compared to breathing: you breath in and then you breath out, you cannot breath in or breathe out twice in a row. Same with a child's activities: it's best to do something "passive" together, like reading, and then switch to something more "active" like playing with a ball, and then again "turn it down" a bit and get to playdough, for example. That way the activities are well balanced, and a child doesn't get tired, because of the breaks he/she gets in between. It doesn't mean that the down activities have to be boring. If they are boring, a child won't want to have anything to do with them and then the whole plan fails. It's important that the down activities are enjoyable, as well, like reading or just cuddling together.

So today I tried to follow that scheme and be mindful of what Allie does and what I should switch her to next. I was actually happy to witness that apparently she has known that rule all along. She was very good about doing a switch for herself when she felt like it. She played with her toys, nicely and quietly in her little toy corner, then she requested some music by saying "Mote!" (translation: remote, and by that she means music).Then we did a little Skype session with  Allie's Babushka and Auntie. Soon after it was time to try  and use the potty, which ended up being equal to an entire reading session (by the way, nothing else productive happened on the potty). Then we went grocery shopping, which in Allie's head I think equals to going to a circus, she really has a lot of fun in a store by saying "Hi" to everyone, running around and generally checking stuff out.

After a nice nap, my husband MJ, Allie, our little chihuahua/miniature pincher named Druzhok and I went on a nice adventure. MJ had our dog on a leash and ran with him and I roller bladed and pushed Allie's stroller. We've done these rollerblading/running afternoons a few times this summer and they are really fun! We live in a beautiful area of Maine, so there is no lack of beautiful views. Today when we arrived to the park where we usually go, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of a cruise ship that was in town.

The view was actually pretty amazing in every direction you looked.

And I was very proud of myself to have taken a very cool picture of a duck who was getting ready to fly away.

We met a men who was fishing with his son, and he was very tolerant and kept answering the question that Allie asked him about 80 times "You doing?" He kept answering very enthusiastically "Fishing!" 

Then Allie enjoyed doing some quick yoga in the park :)

Perfect day for a fun family activity!

Hope everyone is having a fun weekend! :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hooray for fish!

Back to the topic of Allie being a picky eater once in a while. Sometimes I find it really hard to get her to eat fish. She usually does well with canned tuna (as long as it's a "Tuna sandwich", see the older post here), but canned tuna is not the best kind of seafood you can eat. We've tried salmon several times; roasted, grilled, broiled, but nope, won't eat it. To get her to eat 2-3 bites I would quote a book "Hooray for fish", one of our favorites, and would slowly "swim" the fork with a piece of fish on it into Allie's mouth while saying "Hooray for fish... Twirly-burly-twisty-twirly...Upside-down round and round...How many friend, how many fish, splush-splash-splish" .This was me quoting the book totally wrong, but whatever, it keeps Allie distracted for a coupe bites, until she realizes that she is eating fish. And then it's over. Sh tells me "Mama, stop it!" How can I force her to eat after this "mama, stop it" request?! 

So I am excited to report that I've found a way for Allie to eat fish. Let me rephrase it, enjoy fish. And the way is fishcakes! She likes her fish sticks too, but fish cakes would be the option #1 for her and for me (for me, because you can sneak in some veggies in there too). 

Yesterday I realized that I had some fish left from making the fish sticks the other day and decided to make some for dinner for all of us. I had 3 small fillets of tilapia left. Then I figured that 3 fillets for 3 people, one of whom will have run 15 miles right before dinner (hint: not me and not Allie) will just be pushing it, so I thought fish cakes would be a perfect solution to use a little fish that was left. 3 small fillets produced 7 small fish cakes. 

Yummy fish cakes

3 fillets of flaky white fish (tilapia, haddock, halibut or really any white flaky fish will do)
Mustard seed, coriander seed, bayleaf (crushed of whole), whole black peppercorns, a pinch of each
1/2 whole lemon
couple strings of parsley
1 celery stalk, very finely chopped
1-2 green onion stalks, both white bases and green parts
1 clove of garlic, put through a garlic press, of finely shredded
1 Tbsp mayo
1/2 Cup panko
1 egg
Olive oil for frying

Start by preparing your poaching liquid for the fish.Poaching is a great technique to use for baby cooking because it keeps the fish moist and adds the flavor without adding any fat. Put about a cup of water in a sauteing pan that has a lid. You want the fish to be just covered with the water. Alternatively, you can add less water and have the fish steamed, instead of poached, which is actually what I ended up doing. Both are very healthy cooking techniques. Add the mustard seed, coriander seed, bayleaf (1 if using a whole leaf or a pinch of using crushed), black peppercorns, lemon, parsley strings and a bit of salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to keep the liquid simmer and add in your fish fillets.

Cover with the lid and let cook for about 7 minutes. It may take a bit longer depending on the fillets' size.

In the meantime, prepare the rest of your ingredients in a bowl. Start with some garlic, I use my zester for garlic, but garlic press is even better if you have one.

Chop the celery and scallions and add them both into the bowl with the garlic.

Add in the chopped parsley

By this time your fish should be fully cooked. Transfer the fillets into the bowl, being careful about leaving all the spices (those whole peppercorns and mustard and coriander) in the pan. Start flaking the fish with 2 forks.

Mix the flaked fish with the remaining ingredients in the bowl

Add in an egg

A little mayo

and some Panko

And mix it well together. Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Now it's time to form the cakes and send them off on their way to the frying pan with some heated up olive oil on. Teflon covered pans are great for this. No sticking.

They will take about 4-5 minutes to cook on one side. Once they're nice and brown, flip them on the other side and give them another 3-4 minutes.

Transfer cooked cakes to a dish lined with some paper towels to drain the extra oil.

You can serve them with your favorite fish dipping sauce, such as tartar or whatever you like to serve with your fish. I personally like some balsamic vinegar on the side for a little extra flavor. I think everything is better with balsamic vinegar. Allie loved these fishcakes and I'll be making them again soon!

Hooray for fish cakes! :)