Wednesday, July 29, 2015

five favorite easy dinners

Look at this! I'm fulfilling a promise I made a commenter, and linking up with Dwija AND Jenna!! So multitasking. Much efficient. Yes.

These aren't strictly "one pot" recipes except one, because they generally involve rice or pasta cooked in a separate pot. But they're all easy and uncomplicated and delicious. (A couple of them have long-ish ingredient lists, but that's mostly just spices.) If you have littles, or if your dinnertime is just hectic, I highly recommend cutting up veggies and meat beforehand and storing them in ziplock bags or tupperware in the fridge until you're ready to use them. I don't know why the pre-dinner hour is always so stressful, but it is, and anything to reduce that stress gets a big thumbs-up from me.

1. Kielbasa and Peppers

I don't have a picture of this because A- it came from a cookbook with no pictures (something called Speedy Suppers that I got as a gift long ago) and B- it barely qualifies as a recipe anyway. You can adjust all proportions to your liking. It's delicious and super easy. But basically, here it is:

- a few tablespoons olive oil
- pre-cooked kielbasa, sliced into rounds (the recipe calls for 2lbs; my family of 2 adults & 2 littles use 1lb)
- bell peppers, sliced into strips (it looks pretty to use multiple colored ones, the recipe calls for 3 but 2 peppers is plenty for us)
- yellow onion, halved and sliced

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add kielbasa and saute for a couple minutes, then add vegetables. Cook until kielbasa is golden brown and vegetables are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Serve over rice.

2. One-Pot Cajun Chicken Alfredo

Adapted slightly from Note that if you already have (or prefer to purchase) a Cajun seasoning mix, you can use 4 tsp of that in place of all the dried spices (including the salt) in the recipe.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size chunks
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried minced onion (or 1/2 tsp onion powder)
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
10 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 16oz box fettuccini pasta
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or large high-sided skillet. Add the chicken, salt, and all the spices. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 1 additional minute, stirring often.

Add the broth and milk. Break the pasta in half and add it to the pot. Cover and bring to a rapid, rolling boil, stirring occasionally. (Make sure your milk doesn't boil over!)

Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the pasta simmer, covered, for 12-16 minutes. Stir every 2-3 minutes to prevent sticking. Cook until there is about 1 inch of liquid in the bottom of the pot.

Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

3. Chicken & Vegetable Stir-Fry with Noodles

Adapted slightly from Feel free to use the whole box of noodles if you prefer, and whatever vegetables you have on hand.

1/2 pound (1/2 a box) whole wheat spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite size pieces
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon BBQ sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper (additional)
1-2 cups carrots, cut into half-moon slices
1-2 cups zucchini, cut into half-moon slices
1 cup peas (I leave these out because my husband doesn't like them, but I'm sure they'd be delicious)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to instructions MINUS 2 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook until chicken is done, then remove chicken with a slotted spoon.

Using the chicken pan (including all the drippings and brown bits) add about 1/4 cup of water and 
sauté carrots first. Stir, being sure to scrape all the bits off the bottom. After 3-4 minutes, add ginger, soy sauce, honey, BBQ sauce, and pepper. Add zucchini and cook for 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan plus peas. Add drained pasta and stir. Serve. 

4. Cincinnati Chili

Okay guys, this is a real Ohio specialty. Cincinnati chili isn't really chili at all; it's a meat sauce to serve over pasta (or you can use it as a topping on hot dogs). It's different, but delicious. Don't be weirded out by the cinnamon and allspice. It's Mediterranean-spiced, so don't expect it to taste Italian like spaghetti sauce or Mexican like chili. It's a thing all its own. It's good, trust me. And you can make it a day ahead of time, thus minimizing the pre-dinner witching hour mayhem. 

2 lbs ground meat
1 quart (4 cups) water 
1 tsp cinnamon
2 T chili powder
1.5 tsp allspice
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 T salt
3 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1 large onion, diced
6 oz tomato paste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic
½ tsp apple cider vinegar

(Best if made 1 day in advance.)

Combine all in large pot.  Bring to boil, then simmer 1 hour.  Remove from heat, let cool a bit, and place in fridge.  The next day, skim the fat off before reheating.

Serve over spaghetti and top with shredded cheddar cheese.

5. Best Italian Sausage Soup (for the slow cooker)

Adapted slightly from The only thing that makes this not a "dump and go" slow cooker recipe is that you want to brown the sausage/onions/garlic beforehand to make them super delicious. Serve it with crusty bread if you want to be fancy. My family can't get enough of this soup.

1 pound sweet Italian sausage
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 (16 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 1/4 cups dry red wine
5 cups beef broth
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 zucchini, sliced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or about 2-3 tsp dried)
1 (16 oz) package short pasta (to add later)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook sausage over medium heat until brown. If desired, remove sausage with a slotted spoon to drain fat (reserving 3 tablespoons). 

Cook garlic and onion in reserved fat for 2-3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, wine, broth, basil, and oregano. Transfer to a slow cooker, and stir in sausage (if you removed it), zucchini, bell pepper, and parsley.

Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours-- or honestly, as long as you want. It's soup. The longer the better. But at least 4 hours.

Soon before you're ready to eat, boil the pasta until al dente, drain the water, and add the pasta to the slow cooker. Stir together and simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Monday, July 27, 2015

answer me this: coffee, fro-yo, and goal-setting

So I've missed a bunch of these, but today I'm linking up with Catholic All Year (who's still hosting this linkup, incredibly, like an hour after having a baby) for Answer Me This!

1. What's your favorite grocery store splurge?

Good coffee. I mean, I don't buy the super-fanciest stuff, but I buy whole-bean coffee and we grind it at home. We love coffee.

2. How's your penmanship?

It's okay. It's not beautiful, but it's decipherable. Which automatically makes it way, way better than most other doctors' penmanship.

3. Do you have a "Summer Bucket List?"

Nope. For one thing, I have all little kids (my oldest is 4), so summer isn't a particularly special/different time of year yet. For another thing, we currently live on Guam, which is the Land of Endless Summer... it's mid-80s and humid year-round. And for a THIRD thing, I'm not big into setting myself lists of "requirements" that aren't actually requirements.

Okay. That last one is a lie. I'm an INTJ; I looooove making goals for myself that I NEED TO DO, that no one else actually thinks I need to do. But only if it's my own idea, or if I think it's a good idea independently. I hate doing things just because someone else thinks I should do it.

(Found this on Pinterest. Source page gone. Sorry.)

4. What's the best thing on the radio right now?

Hm. Honestly, I don't really listen to the radio. I'm kind of a Spotify + podcasts sort of girl.

5. Ice cream or frozen yogurt?

Well, I find this to be an entirely different sort of question than say, "Coke or Pepsi?" "Milk chocolate or dark chocolate?" or "Twizzlers or Red Vines?" (For the record: Coke, dark chocolate, and Twizzlers. Definitely.) This is more like, "Strawberries or watermelon?" I don't know. They're different, and both delicious. 

Now the caveat here is that we're talking about, like, tart yogurty frozen yogurt from a frozen yogurt shop. If we're talking about "frozen yogurt" from the grocery store, aka "fake ice cream," then I'm going to have to go with ice cream. 100%.

6. Have you had that baby NOW? (Again, you can skip this one if you want.)

Yup, and he's 3 months old today!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ladybug birthday party

Just a month and a half late, no biggie!

We celebrated Josie's 2nd birthday party with a ladybug party. I'm apparently turning into one of those Pinterest party moms, and you know what? I LIKE IT.

My name is Emily, and I am a Pinterest party mom. (Hi, Emily!)

So if you're curious, here was my Pinterest inspiration board for the party.

We invited folks (via Facebook) with this little banner, made on PicMonkey:

The decor:

This was "pin the spot on the ladybug." It was perfect for toddlers because you can stick the spot anywhere. It was mostly just fun getting them dizzy first.

 The food:

licorice bites and white chocolate popcorn with red sprinkles
I admit, I kind of squealed at the cuteness while making these

There was homemade pizza for dinner:

And there were ladybug Rice Krispie treats:

We had a pull-piñata, to which everyone contributed candy (instead of bringing gifts):

The cake was a round chocolate cake with red frosting, and Oreos for the ladybug spots:

The girls had a lot of fun with their friends... and even the adults wore the ladybug antennae headbands.

And at the end of the party we walked to the playground at the end of the street.

It was just how I like my toddler/preschooler birthday parties... adorable and fun, but pretty low-key and unstructured overall. (One of our 3-year-old guests proclaimed it "the best party ever," which I take as the very great compliment that it is... though it may have been related to the copious amounts of candy that were present. I make no apologies.)

If you'd like, check out some birthday party posts of the past:

Monday, July 20, 2015

what's the deal with developmental milestones?

I've heard a bit of hating on the concept of developmental milestones lately. Many parents seem sort of derisive and indignant about the idea, insisting that "each child is an individual," "they all develop at their own pace," and "the doctor is just trying to scare you." Well, the first two are true, but I doubt the third one is (unless your doctor is a terrible person, and that's a whole other issue).

I think people misunderstand what developmental milestones are and what they aren't.

They aren't hard-and-fast deadlines that every child must reach at the exact age specified OR ELSE. For instance, rolling over is a "four month milestone." But some babies roll over at 3 months, and some at 6 months. That's generally okay. It's an estimate, an average.

They aren't a judgement on your child or your parenting. If your doctor expresses concern that your 15-month-old doesn't say any words yet, they're not saying that your child is dumb, or that you're a bad parent. They're not even saying-- and this is key-- that anything is necessarily wrong at all... which leads to my next point.

Developmental milestones aren't meant to be taken in isolation. If an 8-month-old baby isn't sitting up yet (typically a "six month milestone"), but everything else is totally fine-- he's babbling, putting things in his mouth, grabbing toys, scooting across the floor-- it's probably no big deal. It's just something to keep watching for and encouraging. But if he's not doing any of those things yet? That could be a sign that something's wrong.

And that leads to what developmental milestones actually are.

Developmental milestones are a group of guidelines, meant to be taken as a group, illustrating the rate at which the average child develops. The AVERAGE child-- which means that kids may hit some milestones earlier and some later. The milestones are meant to give parents and doctors and other caregivers an overall picture about how a child is doing in several areas of development (usually categorized as fine motor, gross motor, communication, problem solving, and personal/social).

So why do we need these specific milestone markers that stress parents out, if the individual markers don't matter and they're just meant to give an overall picture? Several reasons:

  •    Parents may not realize their child is behind in a certain area, especially if they don't have a lot of prior experience with kids, because their child is their "normal."
  •    Doctors only see the child briefly, intermittently, and under strange and sometimes scary (to the child) circumstances, so they're unlikely to really see the whole child as he/she is.
  •    Studies have demonstrated over and over that kids who do have true delays are identified much earlier when objective milestone questionnaires/evaluations are used, rather than the parent/teacher/doctor/etc relying on their general impression.

It's also important to note that even if a child does have a true delay in some area, it doesn't necessarily mean there is some terrible scary underlying problem that will make their life super difficult. They would probably be fine eventually anyway. My oldest daughter, Faith, had speech delay as a toddler; at 17 months old she really didn't say any words at all. She didn't have any other delays. We got speech therapy through Early Intervention and by the time she was 2, her speech was normal for her age. Would it have normalized if we didn't get therapy? Probably, yeah-- though it probably would've happened later (and it was frustrating to her to be unable to communicate well). But we also know that, on average, outcomes are better if kids get treatment for whatever delay they have earlier rather than later. There's no benefit to waiting.

"Missing" a true delay, on the other hand, can be downright harmful. So if doctors express concern about a certain milestone, they're not trying to scare you. It's just one piece of evidence that they don't want to miss, because while one piece may not mean anything, enough pieces of evidence put together can. Imagine one of those old-fashioned balance scales, with one side being "concerning," and the other side "not concerning." If you have thirty pebbles in the "not concerning" side and move one to the "concerning" side... well, who cares. But if you move ten to the "concerning" side, well then the scale starts to tilt. And if you paid no attention to each individual pebble, you would never realize they were adding up.

I also see a lot of fear when it comes to diagnoses like developmental delay-- not just among parents, but among doctors too. Everyone is so hesitant to "label" a child with a diagnosis, and would prefer to just call him/her a "late bloomer" and "keep an eye on things." But what everyone forgets is that the label doesn't change the child. Whether or not Faith was given the diagnosis of "speech delay," she still wasn't talking. What the label does do is make the child eligible for services that can help. Even if the diagnosis is later found to be inaccurate, the only concrete thing that has changed is that the child was given the opportunity to have occupational therapy or classroom modifications or whatever. (Maybe parents are worried that the "label" will cause others to treat their child differently... but here's the kicker:  you don't have to tell anyone if you don't want to.)

So basically:

1- If you're concerned, don't let your doctor blow you off. (Really.)
2- If your doctor is concerned, don't blow him/her off either. It can't hurt to look into it.
3- Even if everything turns out to be fine-- and in most cases it will!-- it doesn't mean either one of you was wrong to be concerned.