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!