Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sun Baked M&Ms - A Super Easy Craft and Recipe!

It’s the last few days of summer vacation, so we’re squeezing in lots of fun before school is in full swing, along with a more structured schedule.

This super easy recipe / craft activity was inspired by the famous Lisa Kudrow. I saw her on a talk show segment long ago sharing her go to recipe, Baked M&Ms. I laughed like crazy and knew that someday I would make these with the kiddos. Since then I’ve become a bit of a health nut, but when we got a big bag of M&Ms in a basket we won at a charity event, I knew making Baked M&Ms would be a fun once in a while treat we could all enjoy.

It’s a super hot week, so to make it extra fun and kid friendly (no microwave or toaster oven needed) we baked the M&Ms using the hot sun. I first set this activity up as a craft at the kitchen table with a bowl of M&Ms and plates for the kids to make their own designs.

We made a couple M&M flowers.

This design started out as a cool star that I thought looked like a fun firework, but when my son realized he was going to eat this creation all the M&Ms got pushed to the center and an outer ring of M&Ms was added changing the design into what he now calls a big sun. It’s funny how fast kids figure things out, in this case: Bigger Design = More M&Ms to Eat!

When everyone was happy with their unique M&M creations, we moved the plates outside to bake in the hot sun.

We left our M&Ms bake in the sun for about 30 minutes in the late afternoon. My son even checked “the oven” by looking out the window to see how they were baking. And we didn’t have any trouble getting a volunteer taste tester to determine if the M&Ms were sufficiently melty. After running outside to taste test one, my son gave a big thumbs up. Sure enough when I went outside to verify they were ready, you could see small hairline cracks on the M&Ms which means they are indeed melted to ooey gooey perfection. With the hard candy coating, they didn’t even create a mess.
See the small hairline cracks, Sun Baked M&Ms are ready to eat!
We all enjoyed a fun Sun Baked M&M picnic outside on the grass. My son loved Sun Baked M&Ms so much he asked if we could make Daddy a batch that would be ready when he gets home from work.

If you don’t have a beautiful sunshiny day, simply dump M&Ms into a bowl and microwave or put M&Ms on a baking sheet and stick in the toaster oven to melt, as Lisa Kudrow recommends. I don’t have exact baking times as we haven’t tried these alternate methods, but I’m sure they won’t take long before you can enjoy!

Our Summer CSA Experience - Week of May 22, 2014

What’s in the box this week? May 22, 2014

This week's USDA Certified Organic Share includes:
- Lettuce Heads - 2
- Scallions - bunch
- Radishes - bunch
- Kale - bunch
- Basil- 4" pot

Price is $15.00

What to do with all the fresh produce?
Fresh salads are the best! Even the kids are starting to eat lettuce, which they would never eat before.

We used the scallions to make Eggs Columbian, a recipe Ina Garten featured on her food network show.  It’s a breakfast burrito recipe, but we eat it on a plate without a burrito shell…so simple and so good!

I was never a fan of radishes, but I’m starting to like them on salads. Especially straight from the farm when they’re fresh, crisp, and spicy. My husband worked in the catering area of a convention center for his first job and actually filled entire rubbermaid plastic totes with hand cut radish roses to garnish salads. Maybe next year I’ll share a radish rose tutorial as he has lots of experience. :)

We selected a bunch of kale with purple stalks.  The kale was used in green smoothies. The kids love these and they’re an easy way to eat your greens. If you ever have too much kale, just wash it, remove the stems, and freeze it for smoothies.

We used the basil to make caprese salad and to top minestrone soup, pizza, and spaghetti.

Can’t wait to see what’s available next!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Summer CSA Experience - First Mini Share of 2014 (April 24)

I wanted to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to buy fresh local produce ever since I first learned about them a couple years ago. For so many reasons, mainly travel and busy summer schedules, we never signed up because many weeks we wouldn't be able to pick up or use a produce box. When I found a local certified organic farm offering pay-as-you-go CSA shares, we signed up for their email list.

I love that their produce is all non GMO and certified organic!

What's in the box this week?  April 24, 2014
A Mini Share that includes:
  - Bag of Spinach
  - Bag of Baby Bok Coy
  - 2 Potted Herbs of your Choice
Potted herb selection includes over 15 varieties:  parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, lavender, cilantro, dill, catnip, fennel, spearmint, peppermint, tarragon, oregano, chives and more.  Choose any 2.

Price: $15

Additional potted herbs are available for $3 each. We bought 3 additional potted herbs.

To Buy or Not To Buy
Sure you can probably get a big box of organic spinach for less at Costco or Sam's Club, but it isn't grown locally or picked fresh the morning it's purchased. I enjoy gardening, but with two young kids I do what I can and don't have the variety of produce that is available from our local CSA. For example, I've never grown baby bok choy and it is not a veggie available at our grocery stores.

First Impressions
I knew we could buy the organic veggies available in this mini share (other than the baby Bok Choy) at a reasonable price elsewhere, so I decided to buy this mini share primarily to learn the process of picking up a CSA share and to see if our family liked it at a small cost (this mini share was less expensive than a regular full share that will be available as more produce is in season). I also was excited to try fresh organic baby bok choy as it's super healthy and I'm always up for a new food adventure.

The pick up process was super simple. The produce was beautiful, fresh, and delicious.
First Mini Share of the Season!  Spinach, Baby Bok Choy, Potted Herbs - Dill, Parsley, Cilantro, Rosemary, Lavender

What to do with all the fresh produce?
The spinach was used in several green smoothies, so tasty the whole family loves them. Our 1 year old especially enjoys these, in fact it's one food she doesn't want to share! Love watching kids enjoy eating their greens!

I had never made baby bok choy before, so I found a new recipe to try Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy with Garlic. It was so good, everyone in the family enjoyed it. I cut it into small pieces for my five year old and told him there were soft bites and crunchy bites. He decided to eat it in a pattern of soft, crunchy, soft, crunchy, and declared he liked both. Next time I would sauté up some additional veggies for this side dish, but I was happy everyone liked a new veggie!

The organic potted herbs will be used whenever I can throw in some extra color and flavor. We already added fresh parsley to salmon cakes and I would like to use some to top a frittata. I would like to try to make some homemade pickles with the dill or maybe a few Greek dishes. The cilantro I gave to my mom for helping watch the kids while my husband was on business travel. I like to grow my own cilantro from seed. I love to toss a sprig of rosemary into a pot of beans for added flavor and would love to try making homemade focaccia bread one day with rosemary and sea salt. The lavender description said you could actually strip the leaves and skewer meat or veggies onto the stalk for grilling. I've never grown lavender before, so that one will be new for me. The basil was beautiful and fragrant, but it's super easy to start by seed. I just sprinkle seeds in a container filled with potting soil.

Would we buy another CSA share?
Absolutely! We used our fresh produce from our mini share so quickly, we can't wait for the larger full shares and more healthy food adventures.

We found our local CSA using the Local Harvest website, www.localharvest.org/csa.

I'll post the rest of the CSA shares we purchase and how our family of four plans to use all the fresh organic produce.

This article is getting posted late, but I still plan to post photos of our summer CSA experience. Our CSA veggies have been a highlight of our summer. The kids love picking up and trying new veggies from the farm each week. Have you tried a CSA? Do you plant a garden or edible landscaping?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

FREE Birthday Gift from Zoes Kitchen

If you like Zoes Kitchen restaurant, sign up for zmail also known as Zoe-Mail where you'll receive special offers, promotions, and the latest news.

When I signed up, I received a coupon for a FREE 1/2 pint of chicken salad (offer expires 14 days after date sent) via email after signing up.

About a week before my birthday, Zoes Kitchen emailed me a free gift - A FREE ENTREE with the purchase of a Second Entree (offer expires 21 days after date sent)!  I think that is a pretty great birthday freebie.

I've never tried their chicken salad, but we are big fans of their fresh Greek Salad and the Chicken Kabob and Steak Kabob entrees.  Braised White Beans with fresh rosemary is our favorite side.  The hummus is also delicious and instead of eating it with pitas, I like to top it on the Greek Salad, yum!

Tip:  We also use their app, where they often give out free goodies (coupons for freebies)!

We stumbled upon Zoes Kitchen Restaurant, while out shopping and it became a fast favorite!  We love their fresh Mediterranean dishes and with kids their fast casual approach to dining works well for us.

Have you ever tried Zoe's Kitchen restaurant?  If so, let me know if you have a favorite menu item that's different than ours.  I always like to find new favorites!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Creative Baby Proofing - Securing Kitchen Drawers

I love using magnetic baby locks for our kitchen and bathroom cabinets and drawers. They are more expensive than traditional safety door latches, but they have been worth the extra expense as they don’t allow pinched baby fingers or noisily banging cabinet doors open and shut. Their best feature is that they can be switched on and off, so when our son outgrew this stage I was able to turn them off for a few years until our daughter was born and we again needed extensive baby proofing. My husband likes that they don’t need to be uninstalled when children outgrow the baby stage. In fact, they are also useful if you have guests visiting with little ones. Unfortunately we didn’t discover magnetic door latches right away with our first child, so they aren’t installed on every kitchen drawer and cabinet in our home. Since our daughter is a little explorer, she quickly figured out which drawers were not locked. As we found out the hard way, she can make quick work of emptying their contents all over the kitchen floor! Until we install another pack of magnetic door locks, we needed a quick baby proofing solution. I initially thought a yard stick would do the trick, but we didn’t have one of those on hand so my husband creatively grabbed a few of our son’s Discovery Kids building sticks from the playroom.

What was once used to build a fort, igloo, or rocket ship is now a creative way to keep our baby from getting into the kitchen drawers! It has worked great for several weeks.  I’m moving up the installation of more magnetic baby locks on the to do list, because it’s only a matter of time before our baby figures out how to work around this temporary baby proofing fix.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Pitfalls of Dining Outdoors

Outdoor dining isn't all it's cracked up to be! A gigantic bumblebee took residence on the back of my husband's sleeve, my son's lunch accidentally got bumped splattering all over the patio much to his dismay, and the grand finale was this lovely splat on my iPhone!
Another save for the old otterbox! Thank goodness that bird poop didn't land on my head or our food. Hope your day was less eventful! :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Countdown to the End of School Craft - Paper Chain

I can hardly believe my son will be graduating PreSchool very soon. So we can all easily visualize how many days are left before he's out of school for summer, we made a simple countdown to the end of school craft, a paper chain.

This project incorporates lots of skill builders, like measuring and marking with a ruler, cutting and writing practice, calendar skills, and building a paper chain.

First, we pulled out two sheets of construction paper. My son picked green and blue. They don't need to be new sheets of paper, our sheets had already been used for drawing and painting projects.

Next we used a ruler and measured two inch strips that we marked with a pencil. Each sheet of construction paper makes 6 strips. My son used his scissors to cut the strips and then arranged them on a pile in a pattern of green - blue - green - blue until all the strips were organized.
We used our school calendar to count how many days are left until the end of school. He wrote the month and day on each strip of paper for each day we are counting down. On the last day of school I added a note, "Last Day of School! HELLO SUMMER!"
We used the strips of paper to make a paper chain with tape and hung it in our kitchen for a visual reminder of how few days we have left of school this year. This was a fun craft to create, but my favorite part is watching my son excitedly remove a link from the paper chain each day, read the date, and count how many days are left of PreSchool.