Friday, May 31, 2013

Foodie Penpals - May 2013 #foodiepenpals

[This post contains affiliate links.]
This month I received a box of goodies from Nicole at Fruit 'N' Fitness. She found us a bunch of yummy foods at Trader Joe's!

Sweet Sesame Seaweed Snack - Z looooooves seaweed! These are slightly sweetened too, in little crumbles. Easy for Baby to eat that way. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that before!
Coconut Chips - I love these. Love. These. It's hard to not just nom down the whole bag in one go. But they have so little sugar (and are sweetened with coconut milk anyway!) that I wouldn't feel guilty, even if I had!
Chia Seeds - Love these! I sprinkle them on my salads and toss them in smoothies. I could probably even start throwing them in with the girls' rice. Hmmm...
Red Split Lentils - I love tossing lentils into my soups and curries. Nice easy protein, and kids love 'em! I've heard of making a nut-butter alternative with lentils, as well as veggie burgers and such. I need to start getting more creative...
LARABAR Cherry Pie flavor - What? A quick and easy grab-and-go tummy filler? Pshaw. Like I ever leave the house without breakfast or something...
Sunflower Seeds - Seriously? GET OUT OF MY HEAD! I had JUST used the last of my previous bag of these in that day's salad!

What a great haul! All of these are the same as or similar to things that I buy and love (and was running low on!) Huzzah!

My Foodie Penpal package went out to Hindy at Confident Cook, Hesitant Baker. Love the name! Sounds like me... except for the confident cook thing...I'm more of a "confident stewp cook."

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.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Out to Lunch! Mama and Baby Lunch Date

Monday, 4/22/13 - Baby E and I were off to stock up on supplies for our Earth Day activi-tea (tea-hee!) and so I made sure we had lunches with us, since we'd either need to eat in the Wal-Mart parking lot or at preschool, waiting for Z to get out.

[This post contains affiliate links.]

Baby E's Lunch
Plum Kids Shredz, GF PBJ, cheese, organic tomatoes and strawberries, leftover mish-mash (not shown: dressing)
I won the Plum Kids Organics Fruit and Veggie Shredz (Rooty Blues flavor here) along with an assortment of their snacks and pouches in a Plum Organics giveaway. These were actually left over from Z's afternoon preschool snack.

Just for fun, I cut some cheese with a flower veggie cutter. She's starting to appreciate when I put a little effort into making her lunch fancy too. Darn it.

The leftover mish-mash is an assortment of stuff from the salad bar at the natural market we'd gone to the day before. It has quinoa, edamame, peas, hard-boiled egg, carrot shreds, and some balsamic marinated tofu cubes.

Mama's Lunch Baby's Second Lunch
Organic tomatoes, sweet peppers and green beans, organic hummus; organic salad mix
with red lettuce, cabbage, green and purple broccoli, radicchio, strawberries, carrots, and
 red, golden and Chioggia beets. (Not shown: hemp hearts, sunflower seeds, raspberry vinaigrette)
My standard salad-y lunch with sides, made fancy with some flower veggie cutters.

My naughty little snarfer had a perfectly good lunch of her own, but decided she wanted MINE as well! She ate most of my hummus and gnawed on all my veggies. You can see her eating MY lunch below, along the right column of photos. (I had my good camera with me, so took advantage of the great light to get some nice shots of my wee one!)
She also licked much of my salad. Wench!
*Please note that we were parked and eating our lunches together in the back seat (you can see the corner of my lunch in one of the shots above.)

...I didn't let her eat unattended in the back seat while I drove... until after.

Tools of the Trade

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

CuteZCute Hello Kitty

Reusable cloth Hello Kitty napkin from Red Poppy Crafts on etsy.

Thursday, 4/4/13 - I used the CuteZCute cutter to make a quick and easy Hello Kitty lunch for my big girl! See? You don't need any special, often-overpriced, licensed tools to make this iconic character!

[This post contains affiliate links.]

Hello CuteZKitty
GF Udi's PBJ sandwich, organic sharp white and mild orange cheddar, GF Van's crackers,
organic blood orange, organic carrots and pea with organic Ranch 
After cutting some Udi's Gluten-Free multi-grain bread, I used PB to "glue" on some India Tree Naturals chocolate vermicelli sprinkles and Trader Joe's dye-free chocolate-covered sunflower seeds to make a face. And a carrot flower for the bow over the ear. DONE! Crazy easy. It took longer to find and arrange the whisker sprinkles than it did to put the rest of the lunch together!

I put a Hello Kitty cupcake topper ring in with the blood orange (which she didn't end up eating. Baby had it at lunch time, since Z was home sick and didn't have much of an appetite.)

The cheese flowers (cut with a flower veggie cutter) went into a Hello Kitty silicone bento cup (I got mine on eBay,) and I used the same cutter on some organic carrot coins that went in with some carrot sticks and a Mini Dipper with organic Ranch dressing.

Tools of the Trade
      Japanese Bento Carrot Vegetable Cutter with Case small  Red Poppy Napkins

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Day - Giving the Gift of Lunch!

Teacher Appreciation or end of year gift - Lunch in a reusable lunchbox!
[This post contains affiliate links.]
For Teacher Appreciation last year, our drop-off preschool had each class take care of a meal for all 6 teachers at the school, so they'd get fed breakfast and lunch all week. Our class was assigned lunch, and I had an epiphany - I could pack them in EasyLunchboxes and they could keep the boxes as a gift! So I stupidly volunteered, and made them lunches and fruit bouquets. Other parents pitched in with ingredients, money, and one even made the dessert for me to add in (from my recipe - it's in the Cooking With Trader Joe's Easy Lunch Boxes Cookbook. You're welcome.)
They were a huge hit, and it didn't feel right leaving out our two teachers at the co-op preschool, especially as it was our second year with Teacher Suzanne. So I made completely different lunches for them the following week (there was a field trip that first week, so we decided to bump it.)

This year, I had three preschools to account for, with Little Z at the same drop-off one in the afternoon (6 teachers total,) as well as her ECE preschool class through the school district in the morning (3 teachers,) and Baby's class at the co-op preschool (2 teachers.) Eleven lunches, coming right up!

The Prep
Teacher Appreciation Lunches - assembly-line style!
Teacher Appreciation Day was on a Tuesday, which happened to be the day our class was in charge of meals for the teachers at the PM school, so I decided I'd do the AM teachers at the same time. Baby's class is only on Wednesdays, so I got to put off those two lunches until the next day.

Since 6 of the 11 teachers had gotten EasyLunchbox lunches last year, I wanted to introduce them to the new Mini Dippers containers and Brights lids. So I stocked up on Amazon (free shipping! Woop!) Before tax, one EasyLunchbox and one Mini Dipper comes out to around $4.50 per teacher. (Amazon has offices in WA, so I get to pay sales tax on everything I buy from them. Yay.) Much less than a $10 Starbucks card, and they feel at least 10 times more appreciated!* The only down-side is that it wasn't really a surprise, as I had to check for any dietary restrictions, plus I didn't want anyone bringing their own lunch those days!

*results may vary

Prep: I did as much as I could over the weekend and the day(s) before, and Hubby helped out by taking a day off work so I could get stuff done. I had to buy groceries and supplies (gluten-free tortillas, uncured ham, veggies to fill out what I had from my organic farm share, cheap silicone muffin cups and bento picks for them to keep, etc) roast the radishes and then make my Pink Dip, and bake the muffins. Plus wash and cut the veggies and berries. And all the regular daily stuff, like pack lunches, and feed and ferry the girls around.

I spent most of the night before prepping the veggies and cutting the veggie shapes. It takes a little extra time to punch your way through those pesky root vegetables, then carefully pushing it out, one protrusion at a time, then clearing out the tiny eye-holes with toothpicks or spaghetti noddles! Plus a few spares, just in case.
And then, just to be annoying, all my golden beet shapes blackened overnight (which is common after you've cut golden beet. It's still okay to eat, just unsightly.) So I got to re-do all of those in addition to the actual assembly and dipper-filling. Which meant that I was running so late that I got them delivered to the PM school in time only by cutting in front of the line of cars picking up their morning class. Then I had to race off to pick up Z and deliver the lunches to her AM school.

Assembly: I don't have a lot of counter space, so my "assembly line" was more of an "assembly tower." Chop carrot sticks, divide them into boxes. Chop sweet peppers, divide them into boxes. Fill Mini Dippers, put them in boxes. Etc.

I chose hummus over guacamole as the dip, since guacamole in my lunches tends to start turning brown by lunch time, no matter what brand I use. Sadly, one package did not turn out to be enough, so for the first day, the 6 teachers at Z's PM preschool got Sabra hummus, and the 3 at the AM school got some thawed Wholly Guacamole from my last few packets in the freezer. For Baby's teachers, since I had to re-stock, Z picked out Sabra guacamole instead of more hummus. (The teachers thought it was home-made, and enjoyed the chunkiness! Scooore!)
This was pretty much the easiest part, as I just had to line up all the open Mini Dippers and plop stuff in. It was harder remembering which boxes got which!

The Pitcher: I sent a shared drink for the 6 teachers at Z's PM class, but the other teachers had to fend for themselves! I got the idea from a post at MOMables on making "Aguas Frescas," a refreshing low-calorie/low-sugar drink just by adding sliced fruit to water. I had bought an inexpensive pitcher to send it in, since mine is ugly. I just filled it with water and chilled overnight, then added ice cubes and sliced strawberries that morning. I crushed the berries a little as I dropped them in, to help release the juices. Hopefully it tasted okay. I didn't sample it, and ended up using all my berries, so I'm not sure if there were enough in there.

Little "Helper": Baby's two teachers each got an EasyLunchboxes cooler bag as well, since I'll be stuck with them for a few more years because being a co-op school, they have a closer bond with the parents (ie: me!) Plus buying just 2 bags was cheaper than 3 or 6! Ha!
E now recognizes that her lunches come out of these bags, and she likes to "help" carry them, so she insisted on dragging these the 6-feet to the top of the stairs for me. While banging them into absolutely everything possible along the way.

The Details
Cutters can turn simple lunches into WOW!
Last year, the drop-off preschool had requested "light" meals, meaning not too filling, but also not too diet-busting either. So I did a simple salad which I was pleased with, and some pizza-inspired roll-ups, which I was kind of disappointed in. My salads need two mini containers; one for dressing and one to keep seeds and raisins and such dry, and I didn't want to spring for TWO Mini Dippers, plus then they take up half of the large compartment. So instead of salad this year, I opted for veggies with dip. And since I had a whole bunch of new freakishly expensive intricate vegetable cutters, I gave each lunch a different feature, to keep it fun. (Plus when Hubby saw the charges on the card, and found out what they were for, he said I had better use them a ton. Challenge accepted!)
Here are an assortment of the lunches I made, featuring my dragon veggie cutterphoenix vegetable cutter3-D bear cutterflower cutter, and fish veggie cutter. I can't find the mini dragon cutter anywhere online now. And there are a few links at the bottom of the post for finding the mouse.

The ones with chopped mini sweet peppers all went to the PM preschool, and the ones with a single whole mini sweet pepper each went to the other schools. The Wednesday teachers got cucumber slices as well, and I made theirs the same, so only one is shown below.

The Lunches
Healthy packed lunches for Teacher Appreciation or end-of-year gifts!
Large compartment: Mini Dipper with hummus or guacamole; mixed veggies (different assortments of carrots, broccoli, purple broccoli, grape tomatoes, golden and Chioggia beets, mini sweet peppers, green beans, and cucumber, depending on how much I had and when I remembered it was in the veggie drawer!) and a gluten-free rhubarb muffin. (Recipe might come eventually. I'm lazy like that.)

Medium compartment: Gluten-free tortilla wraps with uncured ham, red lettuce, and Pink Dip (extra garlicky!)

Small compartment: Organic strawberries (and kiwi balls, for the Wednesday teachers. I had forgotten they were in the fridge until Tuesday night!)

Tools of the Trade
I got the mouse and fish from Sugarcraft, but TopFoodService has the largest assortment I've found online. (Don't even click that link unless you have a nice chunk of money burning a hole in your pocket. It's hard not just clicking every single one into my cart!) I've also found a few options here, here, here, and here. You can also try searching eBay for "vegetable cutter" or just "cutter" and the shape you want, but be warned: you'll have to troll through a lot of fluff.