January 27, 2013

Three more weeks of simple cooking!

If you are working on your simple cooking weekly recipe planning, here are our last 3 week's recipes (again, each week includes one fish recipe and one meatless recipe. And leftovers from all meals were turned into our lunches the next day - including for the 2.5 year old!)

Week 1

I am leveraging some of the goodies from our CSA box this week: carrots, broccoli, lettuce.

Pear struessel muffins, Once a Month Mom. with blueberries instead of the chopped pear and applesauce instead of the pureed one... YUM! We put most of these in the freezer and are doling them out for special breakfasts.
Meatloaf Cupcakes w/  mashed potato 'icing', modified from Cooking Light with a side of broccoli
Shrimp 'Fried' Rice, Weelicious (140 Fast, Fresh and Easy Recipes) - very similar to their Veggie Fried Rice recipe + peeled, deveined shrimp
Turkey Spanikopita Burgers, Rachel Ray (365: No Repeats) with a side salad for mom and dad, green beans for M (he's still not into the texture of lettuce...). Also always a surprise for guests that no, they will not even notice the spinach IN the burger. It's just yummy!
Veggie Bowtie Pasta Salad, Parenting.com. Use your favorite Italian dressing and you can't go wrong. I love all the veggies mixed in, too!
Veggie-filled Sausage and Rice, modification of my mama's savory, FAST recipe :)

Would anyone use it if I included the shopping list for the week, too?

Week 2

This week we leaned heavily on a new cookbook we received from a friend: Williams Sonoma: One Pot: Food Made Fast

Chicken Stew with Dumplings
Chicken and Vegetable Curry - made with zucchini and green curry... so not really spicy. Served with brown rice that I'd made the day before while we were eating dinner
Mustard-crusted salmon & potatoes (& Caesar salad for the adults, canned peas for M). This one actually didn't go over all that well with my crowd, if I am being honest. Too strong a mustard taste.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese (from Eating Well When You're Expecting)
Mu Shu Pork Stir Fry. This didn't look like it was all going to fit in the pan... but as the cabbage wilted, I could add the rest. Surprisingly good!

Week 3

* bought a bag of spinach to add to 'beef' up the vegetable quotient of some of our recipes

Baked Shells (from the weelicious cookbook) (adding chopped spinach to the sauce). I couldn't find jumbo shells at either the grocery store or Super Target, so I just used whole wheat penne instead and sort of threw all the ingredients together (plus a few handfuls of spinach!) and baked for 20 minutes. It was still delicious! And the toddler ate every last bit of his without us doing acrobatics or bargaining.
Chicken and Kale Risotto with Pine Nuts and Bacon (using spinach instead of kale; from Start Fresh by Tyler Florence )
Taco Salad (from Eating Well When You're Expecting). Hubby said it: this is always so good. Never fails. We serve the toddler's with a side of green beans instead of on a bed of romaine.
Tomato-Ricotta Salata Spaghetti. Another regular in our rotation. We finally found our local CA grocery store is carrying ricotta salata!... and after three weeks in a row, this week they weren't. So I subbed goat cheese. Not bad.
Shrimp and Corn Chowder (& quesadillas made with whole wheat tortillas, Mexican cheese and chopped spinach; from Cooking Light) This is one of our favorite recipes to make. M loves shrimp (he's a southern boy at heart!) and the soup is SO savory!!! It's a quick and easy one to impress guests!!!


January 23, 2013

The Do's and Don'ts of Visiting a New Mom (straight from the horses' mouths!)

A new (again) mom friend of mine suggested I do a post on what NOT to do when visiting new parents. As I am expecting Baby Sister to arrive in about 4 weeks, I am gladly obliging in selfish hopes that I will benefit from doing so. This is a progressive post, so keep commenting about what I should add!!

And, If you are expecting a baby soon, share this post (passively...) on your Facebook page, or as a spam email, so your family and friends can be prepared to be the most supportive of you!!


  • Do not show up without (easy-to-heat) food. In disposable containers.
  • or, if you are staying with the new parents, do be proactive and plan to cook meals.  Tell momma and daddy as such.
  • if they have a small child already, do make meals that will be eaten by said child (i.e. avoid super-spicy foods)
  • When bringing food, do consider other items in addition to, or besides, dinner such as:
    • breakfast
    • fresh fruit and veggies, sliced and ready to be eaten for snack (edible arrangements!!)
    • dessert
    • alcohol! :)  Wheat beers are good for milk-making mommas!
  • Do bring chocolate

Mom's condition
  • Don't pat new Momma's belly and comment about it not going down yet (yes this really happened...)
  • Don't ask her if there is another one in there (yes this really happened...)
  • Do tell her she looks amazing (even if she looks like dog poo)
  • Don't come over too gussied up (because she won't be!)
  • Don't ask if she's ready for another!

  • Do be proactive - clean litter box, take trash out, fold laundry, do dishes - don't wait for the parents to ask
  • Do offer to help or watch baby for a moment while momma takes a break (like a shower!) - but give her back the moment baby gets fussy!
  • ... but don't take baby from her!
  • Do offer to wash your hands before holding baby (without being asked)!

You are not a guest
  • Remember you are not here on vacation so don't expect the new parents to take you shopping, out to eat, to the movies, or to accommodate your need to watch specific football games
  • Don't make a mess!
  • Don't express too much interest in what is happening under the nursing cover
  • Don't talk about your breastfeeding horror stories

They Need Rest
  • When visiting new baby, remember parents need to sleep when baby is sleeping so don't stay too long!
  • Don't tell her to nap when the baby naps (while so true, it gets old to hear when other stuff just needs to be done sometimes)
  • Don't ask to see (or awaken!) a sleeping baby
  • Don't drop in unannounced
  • Don't come over sick (if they, or the baby, gets sick, ain't nobody getting rest!)
  • Don't comment on how tired Mom looks
  • Don't complain about how tired YOU (the visitor) are.

January 22, 2013

To Know or Not to Know...?

"Congratulations!!! You're having a baby!! Do you know what it is?
... Are you going to find out?!"

I promise this (or some very similar variation) will be the first thing people ask when you announce that you are expecting.

Almost three years ago when we were expecting our first, we found that 90% of the people we knew having babies were finding out. But that 10% seemed kind of cool... Intriguing. My husband felt very strongly that he didn't want to know our baby's gender. He wanted to have the moment of bursting from the delivery room and announcing, "It's a--!!!"

I liked the idea, too. You may be thinking: hey, you are doing all the work of growing a tiny human, giving up alcohol and sushi and cold cuts, gaining 30(+) lbs, having morning sickness and heartburn, and/or other discomforts of pregnancy and childbirth... Shouldn't you at least get two votes... And some of the glory?

Agreed. But I got to feel tiny kicks long before my husband, and all day every day while I was away from him. And I was lavished with all the Mommy-to-be attention and baby showers. And this is our child. and, at the risk of sounding too cliche, it just didn't matter as long as we had a healthy baby.

"But I am too much of a planner," you say. "I have to know how to decorate the nursery." I AM a planner. I am an industrial engineer by profession and practice in my personal life. So I planned. I researched the best baby equipment (in gender neutral shades) and read books on how to care for babies (I highly recommend both the Miracle Blanket and The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by the way). And from a totally materialistic perspective, we scored tons more of the "real" baby equipment from our generous family and friends than our friends who "knew" and got piles if pink or blue onesies instead.

Then we rounded month 8 of our pregnancy. In this last month, you're anxious to meet this little soul, and is the most uncomfortable yet (especially if you are expecting in August, in the South). And while we were so fortunate to be blessed with a healthy pregnancy, that meant we didn't get any more ultrasounds, no more chances to look inside and change our minds and maybe start calling "it" by a proper pronoun.

Oh well, too late.

And then your due date rolls around, and don't you know, you have a beautiful baby boy who is perfect and whose name fits perfectly (regardless of how much you stressed over having to choose TWO names, or what other celebrity claimed it just days before). And already you can't remember what life was like before now...

AND THEN... Because your first child is so cool, you may choose to have a second child. And now there is another person to consider in your household vote to find out the gender or not.

Maybe you maintain that it will not matter, as long as the baby is healthy. But maybe you remember month 8 and are already weary if all the "s/he"s you type to your friends in emails. And your son is two and still doesn't totally get this idea of a sibling, but when asked which he would prefer, he answers unwaveringly with "a brother". How can we keep preparing him for this new arrival, and disruption to his world?

Hm. So your husband concedes that "last time we did it his way", so he is open this time.

The fifth month approaches and thought you are most hoping for 10 fingers and 10 toes, you are also looking forward to finding out the sex of baby number two.

So we found out. And good thing, since all three of us were pretty sure we were having a boy... And the tech informed us she is a girl. We had her check twice.

I made surprise pink-centered cookies to send to our family and share with our coworkers. It was fun!

So as the pink gear started to amass in the nursery, we agonized over a name. Of course, we had a girl name all picked out for baby #1, so that should have been a no brainer. But this go 'round I just didn't like it for her. And of course hubby and I still had very different preferences. But at least we got to call her "her" and "she". Then at month 7 we were riding in the car from one random place to another and I just blurted out, "how about ___?". Hubby said, "hey, not bad". And it stuck. So now SHE even has a name (even if only a select few know it)!!

We have been able to start training our 2.5 year old to refer to the baby by her name and its cute. Maybe its just been all the talk about the baby, and siblings classes, and maybe he's matured to the right point, but his sister even seems more real to him now that she has a name. He asked me the other night, "When will Baby Sister come out of your belly?" ... so he's putting it all together.

 I still follow up gender references with "... or so they say" because, they do get it wrong sometimes...

January 12, 2013

Amalou Skin Care Review

I am still deciding if I enjoy my subscription to Bluum yet (but that's another post). BUT a couple months ago I fell in love with two samples I received from Amalou Skin. When they ran out, and I went back to my regular cleanser it didn't hold a candle to how the Amalou made my skin feel. So I had to order my own full-size versions of their REVEAL and PRIME products.

The Amalou line is the first full service line safe for caring for maternity acne. I can't say that I have/had acne, but I can vouch that it is making my maternity skin feel great - and the folks at Amalou have assured me that I can keep using using the products after Baby Sister arrives. This is also a great choice if you have sensitive skin.

REVEAL is a lightly textured creamy cleanser. By 'lightly' I mean there were a few beads in the smaller-than-a-dime size dollup I used. And the first time I used it, I thought, really? Is this going to do anything. But somehow it does!

PRIME is a 'tonic' to be used after the cleansing step. It is not your typical astringent step, and is described as leaving more of an herbal layer behind to 'balance' your skin. I admit, my 'before' routine was a cleanser and then a thick night cream. I never actually followed the 'tonic' step of a skincare regimen very well. In this line, though, this step isn't stinging. And after a swipe of a cotton ball, there was never any dirt leftover, so I know my skin was really clean (for once).

Amalou also offers GLOW and RESTORE, their moisturizing and night time treatment options. I've not tried these yet, but still loved the effects of the first two steps combined with my thick night cream or SPF day moisturizer.

Two slight negatives I will point out:

Price - Amalou is not your drugstore skincare line. It is a little more pricey. But if you are like me, you are probably already spending a decent amount (or willing to) because really good skin is worth it.

Shipping -  At the time I ordered, the only shipping option was via UPS, and it seemed pretty expensive to be so slow. my order took a week to arrive and cost ~$15 to ship, and the items aren't bulky. When I asked Amalou about this, they said that though they'd had issues with them before, they were working to add a USPS shipping option soon. I checked back at the time of this post, and there is now a USPS option for $11 to my address.

To help with both of these, Amalous does offer promotions from time to time, so if you are interested keep following them on Facebook!


AmalouSkin will send one lucky reader their REVEAL and PRIME products!!
Leave a comment here about what you look for in a skincare routine! And of course, keep following on the JBabyThoughts Facebook page for other ways to gain entires!! Ends 1/18/13

* Congratulations Kristina V.!!!**

*Disclaimer - I was not compensated for this review, nor was I provided with any product samples for my personal use. These are my honest opinions. AmalouSkin is providing their product to the winner of this giveaway.*

January 11, 2013

This Week's Recipes!!

Another easy, healthy recipe plan for the week! Includes one fish dish and two meatless dishes! And, yes, all except the tortellini and egg salad wraps became my 2.5 year old son's lunch for school the next day (and only because there wasn't enough left over)!

For the Tortilla Soup and Enchiladas, I bought a rotisserie chicken (split between the two recipes) to save even more time. Those things are money-savers, too!! $6-8 for two meals' worth of chicken!

Kale, Gruyere, and Sour Dough Strata, FitPregnancy (I can't get enough eggs in this pregnancy!)
Creamy Tortellini with Bacon, Dream Dinners (side of red pepper strips and spaghetti squash - our first Dream Dinners taste! Look for my upcoming review)
Not Your Mama's Tuna Salad, Rachel Ray (Pesto, Roasted Red Peppers, shell pasta + tuna = yum! This week, I swapped lightly sauteed carrot slices for the grape tomatoes)
Mexican Enchiladas, Weelicious
Egg Salad Lettuce Wraps, Fit Pregnancy (got some beautiful heads of Bibb lettuce in our CSA box this week! Served with toasted slices of our leftover Sour Dough!)

I can't find links to the egg recipes from Fit Pregnancy this week, so I am reprinting them below:

(From the Dec/Jan '13 issue of FitPregnancy)

Sourdough Kale Strata

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large finely diced shallot
6 cups kale, washed, deveined, and torn into bite sized pieces (about 1 bunch)
1/4 tsp salt
10 eggs
2 cups 2% milk
1/4 tsp pepper
4 cups sourdough bread (best with stale bread) torn into bite-sized pieces
1.5 cups shredded Gruyere cheese, divided

1. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add shallots and saute 2 minutes. Add kale and salt and cook another 2 mintues. Set aside.
2. Whisk together eggs, milk and pepper in a large bowl.
3. Coat a 9x13 in baking dish with cooking spray. Add kale mixture, torn bread and 1 cup cheese, Toss together and spread evenly over pan.
4. Pour egg mixture into the dish and top with remaining cheese.
5. Cover strata with aluminum foil and let stand 20 minutes (this allows the bread to absorb the eggs mixture) or refrigerate overnight.
6. Preheat oven to 400 F. (If dish was refrigerated  let it warm up at room temperature for a bit so it won't crack in the oven.) Bake 35 minutes, then remove foil and continue baking 15 to 20 minutes until puffed and golden brown around edges. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Curry Egg Salad Wraps

6 large eggs
3 tbsp nonfat Greek yogurt
3 tbsp light mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp curry powder
Pinch salt and pepper
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 c finely chopped radishes (we used carrot instead)
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley (or dill, chives or cilantro)
8 large Bibb, Boston or butter lettuce leaves

1. Place eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. when water reaches a boil, immediately cover saucepan, remove from heat and let sit 12 minutes. Place eggs in ice water for 3 minutes to stop the cooking. When cooled, rinse under cold water to peel. Chop coarsely.
2. In a large bowl, stir together Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, curry powder, salt and pepper until combined, Add chopped eggs, celery, radishes, red onion, sunflower seeds and fresh parsley and stir until combined.
3. Divide eggs mixture evenly among lettuce leaves (about 1/4 cup each). Roll up and serve.


January 9, 2013

Dream Dinners - Make Dinner Ahead of Time

Since Baby Sister is on here way, and we live a long way from our family and most of our friends who might otherwise visit (and bring food!), I jumped on the chance to try one of these prepare-ahead-freezer-meal places with a Plum District deal to try Dream Dinners and make 3 meals that should each serve 3 people.

When I arrived, I was warmly greeted and given my own private drawer to stash my purse. I was given an apron and offered some beverages and an appetizer of Canadian Bacon Stuffed French Bread. Then they gave me the recipe cards for the meals I'd already selected beforehand and showed me the setup. Each station was devoted to 2-3 recipes. The recipes were clearly displayed, with color-coded ingredient measurements.

I made my 3 meals in under 30 minutes, and that was even more time than I really needed (mind you this was only special 9-serving deal, and a usual session requires at least 36 servings, but still.). The staff was super friendly - maybe even overly friendly. They really took their time explaining how everything worked, from the color-coded measuring utensils and recipes to the portion sizes and storage freezer. Since it wasn't busy, the associate helping me even did most of it for me (even though I'd kind of wanted to do it, and maybe even could have done it faster).

The real time saver in this process is not having to prep, or cleanup, or wash your measuring utensils between ingredients, or hunt for the right size measuring cup. Plus they have several of the main ingredients pre-packaged - in my case, chicken breasts, shrimp and rice were all in pre-portioned baggies. And... you haven't actually cooked your meal yet, just done all the up-front work.

The price is a little steep. They do have a loyalty program where the more times you come back the more you will save. However, you definitely have to consider the cost (prices may vary by location): A regular session requires you to purchase 36 servings (12 3-serving meals, or 6 6-serving meals), which on average will cost you about $200. I feel like our weekly grocery bill is $100-$120/week, and we shop at a granola/organic grocery store for our family of 2.5. We usually make 4-5 meals that make 4-6 servings each, plus our bill includes veggie sides (the Dream Dinners options are mainly meat-and-starch only) and milk and breakfast items and other snacks for the week.

BUT what you are paying for is convenience. I really have no idea if/how we will be able to cook a meal between work and bedtime with TWO kiddos (starting in February!). And by taking an hour on the weekend once or twice a month to save some time during the week could be a big help (and you can go with your girlfriends, bring your own wine, and get away from anyone referring to you as 'mommy' for a bit). The Fountain Valley location even offers a New Mom deal where for three months before and after your due date they will pre-package the meals for you and waive their normal fee for this!

They also have a freezer with prepackaged meals you can choose from while you are there (many of them on sale). In addition to my 3-meal deal, I picked up a pre-made six-serving white bean chili with cornbread for $17.

A couple other minor cons:

- You use A LOT of baggies. I am a pretty green person, and in the last 12 months we have probably used 1 box each of of gallon-sized and sandwich-sized baggies... and that's it. We use a lot of tupperware and reusable containers, so it felt a little weird to use 4 baggies (three separate baggies inside a bigger baggie) for one meal.

- Beware of the cooking time on your meals. Several on the menu take up to 90 minutes... which may defeat the purpose of eating something sometime between school and bedtime or soccer practice (we only have about a two-hour window at our house). Perhaps better for the work/stay-at-home mom or weekend meal.

I really hate to even mention anything bad about my experience because when they helped me out to the car with the meals (my delicate condition, and all), I found that my car wouldn't start. So while I was stranded the lovely ladies were kind enough to feed me Butternut Squash Ravioli while I waited on AAA. YUM! I hope all my meals are this delicious!

Now... do I try these before Baby Girl arrives, or keep them as the start of my stash? I feel like I need to evaluate if the other meals are as good as the ravioli... and if the cooking part is really easier since all the prep is done. And I think I will at least have to give this one more try so that I can really put a value on the convenience of it. If not by May (when I expect to go back to work), then soon thereafter.

January 4, 2013

Fresh Cooking for the Week - How to Simplify

Hoppin' John Soup & corn muffins
How can you work full time outside the home and still get good home-cooked meals on the table for your family most nights of the week? There are several options, but the one that works best for us is what I like to call IE Meal Planning.

IE = Industrial Engineering. This was my major in college - and grad school. The simplest way I've seen it explained is on a nerdy bumper sticker: "Engineers make things. Industrial Engineers make things better." So in case I haven't discussed this already on this blog, it kind of is my hobby to optimize everything, not just the traditional factory stuff the profession was born from. All aspects of life can benefit from the intersection of 'taking the easy way out' and 'doing it right'.

So you and I probably know at least half of the recipes our families make regularly by heart, but I still pull out the recipes for them each week, like a Kan Ban system to help me plan our meals (ok, I am boring you, right? My professors would be so proud, though!). Not only does this help me make sure I have all the ingredients I need, the instructions are still handy in case hubby needs to jump in and help out while we cook.

On Saturday or Sunday, I take requests from the family and pick 4-6 recipes for the week. I generally try to have at least one meatless day and one seafood day - and just enough servings to make dinners and lunches for all of us for most of the week (I admit I look forward to NOT cooking by Friday!). I put the pages on the cookbook holder (even for recipes out of books, I prefer to make a photocopy of the pages I'll use - just to accommodate this system. Is that OCD?). I review the recipes and add the ingredients we don't already have to the OurGroceries app (along with the stuff we need for breakfasts and snacks) and head to the store, reusable grocery bags and phone in tow.

I should interject here that 95% of our recipes are healthy, fast and tasty. Very few make the cut that take too much time or work and even those have to be earmarked for a Sunday evening when we have extra time. Fairly often a recipe for muffins or another snack will make the pile - but those have to be made on the weekends, too!

During the week, Daddy picks up from daycare (I do drop-off), so I can usually get an uninterrupted start on dinner. And most days the meal is in its final stage of cooking (or close to it) when the boys get home.

We dish out our plates, eat together, play a little, then its off to bed for the little one. After he's bathed and tucked in, we pack up the leftovers into our lunches for the next day (check that box on the To Do list!), wash dishes and still have some time to relax ourselves.

As an example, here are our recipes for this week:

Fish Sticks with Green Beans and Potatoes (from Tyler Florence's Fresh Start)
Hoppin' John Soup (adapted from this Parenting.com recipe, by swapping in a can of black eyed peas for one of the cans of white beans, and adding a cup of cooked brown rice)
One Pan Lasagna (from Tyler Florence's Fresh Start)
Cozy At Home Mac n Cheese (from What to Expect: Eating Well When You're Expecting, we use cauliflower as our veggie add-in)
Two Cheese Pesto Pizza (from Weelicious.com)
Pear Struesel Muffins (from OnceAMonthMom.com - but I'll be honest, we probably won't get to these until THIS weekend...)

(if you use MyFitnessPal, I can share the nutrition info I already input for some of the recipes below that don't provide it!)

more weekly recipes:

1 week
3 weeks' worth


January 1, 2013

2013 - Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year to my online family!

2012 was great (Our family moved across the country for a new West Coast adventure!), but 2013 has some great things going for it - and a few of them I already know about, but I am sure there are more to come!!

First, the blog will be getting a little makeover as a birthday gift from my wonderful husband. I can't wait to see what SevenThirtyThree has in store for us! Stay tuned for the results!

Also, several weeks ago I was accepted as a guest blogger for Kanga Care! If you cloth diaper you will know them for their Rumparooz pocket diapers and EcoPosh one-size fitteds (both of which we liked using with M as overnight diapers), or even their Lil Joey newborn diapers. But they also offer a lot of other green kid products, in addition to cloth diapers. As always I will need your help and valuable feedback to make sure I get the whole truth!! My first post for them will be coming up in February, re: "What about the Poop?" (a big fear of future/potential cloth diaper-ers). I'd love to know if you (moms and dads) were surprised that it was a big deal or not!

I am already reviewing (and enjoying!) three fabulous products that I can't wait to share with you all! Check out Amalou Skin care, the guide to getting YOU back after baby: One Hot Mama (by Erin Cox), and Elabloom facial oil!

But the biggest - and best - thing for our for our family in 2013 is the new Baby Sister we are expecting at the end of February! It will be an adventure juggling a toddler (a big boy, really!) and a new baby (and a job and everything else!) :) I can't wait.

Thank you all again - and let me know what else we should discuss in 2013!!