Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Swiper, No Swiping!

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Tuesday, 2/26/13 - As you can see, I was minding my own business eating my lunch, when along came a snitchery toddler! Like a little chip-and-guacamole-dipping ninja, she came out of nowhere! This is why I prefer to make them stay strapped in their car seats while they eat!

Mama's Lunch: GF tortilla chips, organic carrot and kohlrabi scraps, mandarin orange, organic green beans, hard-boiled egg, Wholly Guacamole

Baby's Lunch
Organic corn, organic blueberries, GF "Monkey Balls" cereal, organic banana, Colby Jack cheese, GF bread w/PB
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That little thief had a perfectly good lunch of her own! I even included some lightly sweetened "monkey balls" cereal (Envirokidz Organic Gorilla Munch cereal... I really need to start deciding what I want to call stuff before I let the preschooler give it a name...) AND I cut her cheese into little bear heads, just like I do for her Big Sis!! Well, okay. Maybe just left over from the day before. But whatever.

I should have suspected some thievery. She checked out everyone else's lunch first, before starting on her own. Then she used her Jedi mind powers to get me to unstrap her so she could swipe my guacamole!

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Foodie Penpals - April 2013 #foodiepenpals

This month's Foodie Penpal package was fun, since it took me outside my foodie "comfort zone" with some spicier options! But not TOO spicy! Woop!

Wegman's Jamaican Jerk garnishing sauce - I haven't gotten up the nerve to try this one yet... I'm not a creative enough cook to "spoon over favorite dishes!" I don't really HAVE any favorite dishes... Just doable ones! You think I could crock-pot something with it somehow...? Hubby and Baby love the spicy dishes, and I'm willing to give it a go...

Home-made bread-and-butter pickles - We are huge pickle fans here! Especially ones made without the fake colors! Woop! There's not a huge selection of different cuts of pickles without the dyes, so we haven't had any of the julienned coin ones. Just spears and the long sliced ones, which are kind of a pain to cut for to fit on the smaller gluten-free bread. These will be PERFECT!

Bellino Tomato and Artichoke Bruschetta - I'm just waiting for the local gluten-free bakery to have another French baguette available on our weekly foray. Yum!

Sukhi's Home Chef Collection Tandoori Marinade - I was going to use this with some tofu and rice last weekend, but I didn't read the instructions in time. Needs to marinate overnight. So I'm saving it for next weekend, when Unka Seesee comes for dinner again. Ooo! I have a gluten-free naan recipe to try... I looooove garlic naan!

Brothers-All-Natural strawberry and Fuji apple Crisps - My girls love these! The freeze-dried fruits are easy for Baby to eat, since they essentially dissolve in her mouth. And Z loves the texture and crunch. And I like being able to get them to shut their yaps toss a bag into the back seat when they need a snack.

Silicone muffin cups - Um, hello! Can't ever have enough of THESE! Especially now that there are 3 of us needing dividers or colorful space-fillers in our lunches each day! Hubby doesn't seem to understand the need to keep on top of these. There is a HUGE backlog of dirty muffin cups! So my solution is to just get more...

Pop-up water bottle - this will be perfect for all the outdoor summer concerts that the nearby Parks Departments run each year! The carabiner clip will let me hook it right on to our lunch bag!

Mini Chia Pet-type kit - this was PERFECT, since Z's preschool was doing a gardening unit. She is looking forward to the "hair" growing long enough to give a hair cut!

I sent my foodie package to Briana from Strictly Speaking. And she sent a super-sweet thank you card! Awww! Now I feel like a big jerk never sending thank yous to MY penpals...

The Lean Green Bean

Here’s a detailed explanation of the Foodie Penpals program:
-On the 5th of the month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treatsThe spending limit is $15The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!
-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you can choose to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.

Monday, April 29, 2013

MOMables Monday - Simple Grilled Cheese

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Even though this grilled cheese is "leftover" from lunch the day before, with MOMables sometimes you plan ahead like that! Little Z doesn't mind "soggy" grilled cheese, so I don't have to worry about keeping it crisp, and can prep it in advance. (But MOMables has a stay-crispy tip in the menu plan!)
Right now you can get 30% off your first three months, and/or 25% off the 8-week gluten (and nut)-free menu! (I did both - I got the gluten-free menu plan, plus I subscribe to the regular service. Love it!)
Organic strawberries, GF grilled cheese sandwich, Ranch, organic apples; organic spinach, purple broccoli, and carrot
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I've discovered a little trick to make older strawberries look more appealing. When the outsides are starting to look dry and unattractive, if I cut them up and display them with the inside cuts facing out, they look fresh and ripe and yummy! So that's what I did here in the green silicone divider cup. It can also help fill space, depending how I arrange them, and make her "treat" look like a larger volume. Adding a few music note picks gives her a fun way to eat the cut berries without getting juice on her fingers, and then she won't examine them more thoroughly to discover my cunning deception!

I usually only include one serving of fruit, but I tucked a few apple slices under the Lunchbox Love note, mostly because I only had a few and they needed to get used before they went bad.

I love my new 3-D bunny cutter - these things are ingenious! Other than having to be fairly precise with how thickly you cut your veggie, and needing something large enough for the body piece of the cutter set, these are a very easy way to make a simple lunch fun! Plus it might distract her from the spinach and purple broccoli, veggies that she normally only eats under specific circumstances.
She'll eat spinach right off our plant in the back yard, but not loose leaves unless she picked them personally. And even then it's iffy. And she will eat broccoli, but doesn't really like it. Purple broccoli is new. So I made sure to include some organic Ranch dressing in the little pink sauce container to dip these iffy foods.

She ended up eating everything but the very edges of the crusts. She even picked out the cheese from between the uneaten edges.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Earth Day Garden "Par-Tea!" with Bigelow Tea

I am a member of the Collective Bias (R) Social Fabric (R) Community. This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias (R) and Bigelow Tea. All opinions are my own.

#CBias #SocialFabric #AmericasTea bigelow tea walmart
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After getting suckered into buying a bunch of fiddly little toys at WalMart (how a non-talking 16-month-old managed to manipulate me into buying Princess toys for her and her older sister, I'll never know,) Baby and I picked out some Bigelow Tea flavors; one for each of us! I love that Bigelow has a line of organic flavors, and that they are a green company - they are constantly looking for and implementing ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste from manufacturing and office activities!

For example, Bigelow Tea's three manufacturing facilities are "Zero Waste" facilities. To get that status, they need to divert 90% or more of their waste from going to landfills - which they exceed by diverting 92-100% of their solid wastes! They are also big proponents of "sustainabili-tea," and strive for ways to conserve energy and preserve and protect the land. And it's hard not to love a company that's still run by the founding family - third generation, company president Cynthia Bigelow. They even still make founder Ruth Campbell Bigelow's very first flavor blend, "Constant Comment," and the exact recipe blend is a closely guarded secret - Cynthia's parents still mix it themselves!
Bigelow Tea has also joined the Ethical Tea Partnership, which includes companies that share a commitment to sustainable sourcing, and helps tea producers in areas like fair treatment of workers and environmental management.

Their attitude of "sustainabili-tea" goes into their end-product as well - 85% of their packaging is biodegradable or recyclable! Our garbage service lets us put compostable items in with our yard waste, so anything biodegradable like greasy pizza boxes, cardboard milk cartons (not TetraPak - you need to rinse and recycle those with paper and aluminum,) used paper towels, food waste - and Bigelow Tea's biodegradable tea bags - we collect in a paper sack each week to add to our yard waste collection bin for composting!

#CBias #SocialFabric #AmericasTea bigelow tea

EARTH Day = HeR TEA Day!
For the most part, bagged teas are "safe" for us, as they're naturally gluten-free. Bigelow Tea has even made it easy to be sure, by posting a list of all their gluten-free selections! But for any teas with fruity or unusual tea flavors, be sure to check for artificial flavors and colors (in this case, their raspberry, peach and vanilla have artificial flavors.) Most of them were totally fine, and the organic ones will all be safe. Except my WalMart didn't carry that line. *Boohoo*

I had wanted to try Earl Grey ("Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." Yes. I'm a total Star Trek nerd...) but I wasn't sure what "bergamot" tasted like, so I played it safe and chose a regular black tea blend for myself. Z loves cinnamon, so that was an easy choice, until I later discovered that it was caffeinated. Doh! And peppermint tea for all of us, quite frankly, since we all love mint! Plus it smells nice. And can actually help me stave off a migraine,* if I catch it early enough!

*Yup! Sniffing mint not only energizes your brain for a natural caffeine-free boost, but it is also a vasoconstrictor, so it helps shrink back down those swollen blood vessels causing all the pain! So I try and keep minty things around me at all times. Foil-lined tea packets are especially good, as they are easy to transport, and stay fresh and minty-smelling longer. And unlike mint candies, my daughter doesn't gobble them all up the second my back is turned. Plus I can save the tea bag and brew it to drink after! It is surprisingly easy and inexpensive to get a cup of hot water at a coffee or fast food drive-through in a pinch.

Earth Day Garden "Par-Tea"
We had a beautiful, warm, and sunny Earth Day, which is totally unlike the weather we normally see! We decided to have an outdoor tea party to celebrate the burning ball of brightness in the sky. Z had highly-sweetened Bigelow Cinnamon Stick tea (I decided to let her have it, despite the caffeine because she had been soooo excited when she read the flavor on the box. Maybe pushing her to learn to read wasn't the smartest plan after all...) I had my Bigelow English Teatime (also highly sweetened. I like to joke that I like tea-flavored sugar!) And Baby got some herbal Bigelow Peppermint tea with a few ice cubes to cool it down (no caffeine. Just mint. And delicious without any sweeteners at all! Although I would still add some to mine... When the girls weren't looking...)
Both girls know that Mama drinks a lot of tea, so they feel so grown up and privileged when I allow them to drink tea too, no matter what flavors we're choosing. What they don't realize is that I'm steering them towards the low- or non-caffeinated varieties. Ha!

I have several fancy china teacups and matching saucers found cheaply at thrift stores that we use for fun stuff like this. They aren't family heirlooms, or even part of a set, so I can relax and let everyone have fun and feel like a grown-up, instead of twitching at every clink of cup on saucer! Trusting my (older) daughter with these (supervised) from a fairly early age has taught her how to be careful and respectful of things, without the tension and stress of worrying about an irreplaceable item. If you're so nervous about something breaking, they'll be nervous too, which usually ends in a mishap. And by trusting her with these, it shows that I have confidence in her ability to treat them well, which in turn makes her feel good about herself, and raises her own confidence. We haven't broken one yet!
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Baby got a plastic sippy though. She can't be trusted!

But I'm not satisfied with just the ability to compost the tea and bags... I like to "re-use" them first! I've always been stingy with my tea bags, and tend to double brew each one. (On days I drink a lot, I even save the bags and combine them for a third steeping!)

There are many useful ways to re-use tea leaves around the home, so we've been trying a few of them before returning the leaves to the soil. Some easy ones (and I'm all about easy!) are to toss some bags into the toilet tank to release the scent every time you flush. Or put several used bags into your hot bath water. It not only makes the whole room smell nice, but the tea-bath can actually help your skin too! The antioxidants in green tea are especially good, and I've heard that caffeine can be beneficial as well.
#CBias #SocialFabric #AmericasTea bigelow tea reuse recycle reduce waste
Or dry out the used leaves and use them like potpourri, either in the house or your car! I read that they can be left to deodorize the fridge, garbage cans, and cat litter; or sprinkled onto wooden cutting boards and carpets for a bit before being vacuumed up... but I don't have enough tea leaves saved up yet to try those. Damp tea bags (or brewed tea in a spray bottle) are said to be great window and mirror cleaners, but I'm too lazy to clean.

If you use tea bags as eye compresses though, be sure you only use organic ones. No one needs a dose of pesticides in their eyes!

Even if you don't enjoy drinking a second-brewed tea bag, did you know that tea can be good for your plants? Roses and ferns like the acidity of the tannins. Black and Oolong teas contain the most tannins, then green, red, and white teas (the bitterer the tea, the more tannins it contains!) Herbal teas may or may not contain tannins (cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, thyme, tarragon, and cumin all do.) So go ahead and brew up some more tea... then feed it to your plants! When you're done, you can even open up the bag and sprinkle the used leaves onto the soil!

Planting Par-Tea
For Earth Day, instead of planting a tree or something, we planted organic sugar snap pea starts. Might as well plant something useful. Plus I have a black thumb, but I've had two years of decent luck growing peas. But only when Z helped plant them. So after our little outdoor tea party, we transplanted some farm-bought organic plant starts into our large pot (we have a container garden. I can't be trusted with a real one!)
#CBias #SocialFabric #AmericasTea bigelow tea reduce recycle reuse
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I'd been saving the tea bags re-used in the bath, and we sprinkled the leaves from the non-tannin ones around the plants, then went ahead and buried the empty biodegradable tea bags as well. In hindsight, we should have added them to the dirt first, then the bags could have gone under the plants, and the leaves would have been mixed better with the dirt as we dug holes and piled dirt around. Oh well. I have a whole year to save up used tea bags... so I can forget and do it backwards again next year! Ha!

Little Z had picked out a mini rose plant thing at a store, and in less than a week the flowers had all dried up and most had snapped off. So since we had been saving our tea bags anyway, we attempted a revival, and watered it with our second-brewed black tea bags, then put the used leaves onto the dirt. I made way more tea than the little pots could handle, so we saved the rest to use over several days.
#CBias #SocialFabric #AmericasTea bigelow tea reduce recycle reuse tea bags
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It's too soon to tell whether this is going to help her poor little plant, but since I was involved, I'm sure it will somehow end up leading to a slow agonizing planty death. *sigh*

#CBias #SocialFabric #AmericasTea bigelow tea walmart
You can check out my fun Walmart shopping trip with Baby on Google+! 

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Leftovers to Lunch - Taco Night!

scoops corn chips dip vegetarian school work bento easy simple quick ideas
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Since I hate handling raw meat, I've gone mostly vegetarian in my cooking, so I had several meatless products I had bought to try, including tempeh and meatless crumbles. I decided to give them a whirl one night when Unka Seesee was coming over to visit.
Since the tempeh had wheat in it, and we had just gone gluten-free, I cooked up the meatless crumbles in a frying pan for the girls and myself, with only the lightest dash of taco seasoning. And to use up the tempeh, I cooked it with a bunch of the taco seasoning for Hubby and Unka Seesee. I chopped up and put out various bowls of different taco fixins, as well as gluten-free corn taco shells and gluten-free soft rice tortillas.
Hubby and Unka Seesee polished off all the tempeh, and both avowed carnivores were surprised that they enjoyed it! But there were plenty of crumbles left. So into the lunches it went!

Little Z's Leftover Taco Scoopers
easylunchboxes bento work school dip scoops vegetarian lunch easy simple quick ideas
Organic strawberries and sugar snap peas, corn chip scoops, leftover cheese shreds;
leftover meatless crumbles with rice, quinoa, and olives
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Z hadn't really enjoyed her soft taco tortilla, so instead of packing another DIY soft taco for her, I mixed up some meatless crumbles with a brown rice and quinoa mix I cook up once a week to keep on hand. To sweeten the pot, so to speak, I chopped up some olives and mixed them in too. She loves olives.

Instead of a tortilla or taco shell, I packed some gluten-free corn chip scoops from Trader Joe's for her to fill with the crumble mix and cheese shreds. Yum!

(I packed a small spoon in there too, but it wasn't very attractive in the photos!)

Mama's Leftover Taco Salad
scoops chips dip lunch bento easylunchboxes vegetarian work school easy simple quick
TJ's Coconut chips, corn chip scoops; lettuce and cabbage mix with
leftover cheese shreds, refried beans, tomatoes, and meatless crumbles; hemp hearts
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There were no leftover lettuce shreds, so I used some of my weekly-prepped salad base of pre-chopped lettuce and cabbage. In fact, I had to dip into that for the last few tacos for Unka Seesee the night before too!
I just plopped on a large spoonful of refried beans, a bunch of crumbles, the last of the chopped tomatoes, and some cheese shreds. And added some hemp hearts as an afterthought. They have a nice flavor and texture, and certainly wouldn't detract from the overall idea.

While I had packed myself a fork, I also included some corn chips. I scooped salad mixture onto them and ate them until they ran out. They were really good!

Baby's Random Leftover Jumble
Organic cherry tomatoes, cheese shreds, organic apples,
leftover potatoes, leftover meatless crumbles with rice and quinoa
I tossed this together as an afterthought for Baby E, and didn't bother making it attractive or separating out the different foods. She had loved my roasted seasoned potatoes (roasted potato chunks with Lowry's Seasoning Salt. Easy peasy!) so I gave her the last of those too. I heated up the potatoes and crumbles mixture before adding the rest, so she had a warm lunch.

***So for those of you who are gluten-free vegetarian experts, you will see my egregious mistake... Turns out regular meatless crumbles aren't wheat-free. I could have SWORN I'd checked the label first. Z hadn't liked her crumble mix, so I stopped giving any to her, but Baby and I ate it little by little throughout the week. For a while I doubted the effectiveness of our gluten-free diet. Maybe it wasn't the gluten. Since I KNEW we weren't getting exposed, but both Baby and I were experiencing our previous digestive issues. Ha ha. No. I just chalked it up as a mystery (maybe cross-contamination somewhere? She and I share a lot of foods both at restaurants and at home...)
It wasn't until weeks later when I went to re-stock it that I checked the label on a whim. Doh!

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