Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Culinary Love Affair - Wheat Germ

Okay I am obsessed OBSESSED OBSESSED with wheat germ.

My husband thinks I'm crazy.

But I LOVE it.  I add it to all the babies' purees now.  I mix it into every possible recipe I can.  I sprinkle it on salads and on diced fruits for the girls.  I sneak it into PB&J sandwiches.  I love wheat germ.

What the heck is it?  Germ? What?  Ew.

Nope, germ is short for "germination" and refers to the fact that wheat germ is like a wheat kernel embryo.  It's just where new wheat kernels sprout and is super rich in nutrients like... oh, EVERYTHING.  Nutrients such as B vitamins (folate, niacin, thiamin, and vitamin B6), Calcium, Fiber, Iron, Omega-3's, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, Protein, Selenium, Zinc and Vitamin E.  Wow.

And it's not technically a food. 

Wheat germ comes in two basic varieties: raw and toasted.  I use toasted for a few reasons: 1) it tastes better, 2) it's easier to find, and 3) it lasts a little longer.  The toasted wheat germ has a light nutty taste to it that all but disappears from notice in things like sandwiches and salads or even in meatloaf or meat balls, and it lends a little somethin'-somethin' to oatmeal or waffles or muffins or cookies.  The only real key thing is, you have to store that stuff in either the freezer or fridge so it doesn't go wonky on you.


So in addition to mixing in in with whatever breadcrumbs I might use in a recipe, such as this one, you can just add it into cookie or muffin recipes or swap out 1/2 cup of the flour in the recipe for 1/2 cup of wheat germ, for instance.  I also made breakfast for the girls the other day by mashing up a banana:
And stirring in a couple tablespoons of wheat germ to get this:
It may look gross, but it was really yummy.  It cuts down on the "snot factor" as I call it... Bananas, when mushed, are a little slimy and my kids aren't huge fans of the texture, but the wheat germ gives it some grit (insert manly chuckle here).  I tasted it and determined it was quite tasty, so I later did the same thing for myself but smeared it on a piece of bread and smushed that on top of another piece of bread that I'd coated with peanut butter and I thought I was in heaven.  Then, I tossed some mini chocolate chips into the sandwich when I realized how awesome the "banana jelly" was and essentially considered myself a genius at that point.  Now, did the wheat germ make that heavenly sandwich?  No.  Not at all.  BUT it was there and I was able to use its presence to justify eating a sandwich made with chocolate chips and not feel in the least bad about it.
Okay, so maybe to some wheat germ is a nutritional supplement.  To me, however, it is probably more of a crutch. 

Whatever.  I'm lactating.  Back off.

Anyway, so there you have it.  I *heart* wheat germ.  And I make no qualms about the fact that it goes in mac 'n cheese and into my home-made pizza crusts and into the breading on my chicken nuggets and it holds my hamburgers together so if my picky kid only takes one stinking bite of something I toiled for hours to make, at least that one bite has as much goodness as I can feasibly pack into it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Black and White Wednesday

You can find this meme here at The Long Road to China...

I really wanted to have a non-child photo to put up this week, but the three under 3 and I have been sick and the weather has been atrocious and there's been a good bit of drama drumming up around here lately (more on that soon) so I've been cooped up and too harried to grab my camera or go through older photos that have great B&W potential.  So, I played around with this shot of Addie...

I love her contemplative look and I think the light on her face is really pretty and I wasn't sure how to do the black and white version but in the end I wound up increasing the contrast and boosting the highlight and adding shading to the edges to make the toys in the fore- and background  less distracting... I wanted to play up the curve of her nose and make the dramatic lighting the focus. 

Hm... not sure I'm totally satisfied, but I gave it a shot! What do you think?

We Be Buggin'

Wanna know what I do when I'm not blogging or otherwise being the rockstar you know I am up to my arms in pint-sized bodily functions? 

I make bugs.  Well, in the summer, I catch bugs.  But since it's winter, we had to make them before we could play with them.  And I have to find things to occupy a very active not-quite-three-year-old little boys that don't involve: a) feeding banana peels to his sisters, b) playing Kick-the-Can with full cans of Budweiser, or c) me being forced to listen to obnoxious cartoons on the TV for hours at a time.  So, I turn off our TV (blessed silence!) or set it to a music channel and get creative with him.  He LOVES to do artsy stuff, so this was perfect.  And what made it better was the fact that it was multiple projects in one (well, accidentally so) as well as spanning two mornings!

I present, Egg-Carton Bugs*!

(*I don't think this is an original idea... I think I did this in elementary school way back in the day...)

Step 1: I cut an egg carton into quarters - three "sections"(?) each - and let Jack loose with (washable!) paint.  I didn't want to deal with clean-up on my dining room table, so I overturned a box I had and made that his own little work table (and the decoration there-of became the mini-project!).

Step 2: I used a screw-driver to poke holes in the painted bug bodies to make room for legs... I also, with Jack's help, determined which end was the "head" and poked two holes on top to make room for the antennae. (Caution: Don't be me and do this on your leg.  It ended poorly for my leg.)

Step 3: Turn toddler loose with glue and whatever other decorations you might have... I had some pom-pom thingies and google eyes, and pipe-cleaners for legs and antennae.

Step 4: Wait for your decorations to dry so you can attach the legs.  Though I helped him thread the pipe-cleaners through the holes for the antennae and legs, I let him pick the colors and I asked him if he wanted the antennae to "zig-zag" or "twist" or "wiggle" etc.  Then I showed him how to bend the legs at the bottom for feet and let him do the "shoes"...  (Note the lovely box-decorating!)


This was Jack admiring his work... they're pretty sturdy so they were fun to play with for a couple of days until the bugs "learned how to swim" in the sink and died.

Yay!  I love that I have a craft-loving kiddo - I have a nerdy obsession over the smell of crayons and school glue so I'm totally in my element with stuff like this. 

What crafts do you like to do? 

Friday, January 22, 2010

If Your Kid Loves Chicken Nuggets...

...Try these homemade chicken nuggets!  I did, and it was a great success!  They're still chicken nuggets... ish... but they're way better for a kid than the processed kinds.  And the best part is, I just made whole chicken breasts for Daddy and me and the nuggets for Jack and we all got to eat the same thing as a family!

(Side note: Family dinners are very important to me, and I feel like it's important for Jack to eat what everyone else is eating because I do NOT want to instill in him the idea that he can have a sandwich and I'm going to make "x" for dinner and then the girls can have whatever they want and so on... I am not a short-order cook.)

So, here are my chicken nuggets!

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (in our case, I only cut one into pieces for Jack and left the other two whole, but if you want to make nuggets for everyone, feel free)
2 cups Corn Flake crumbs (buy a box near the bread crumbs in the store, or make your own!)
1 cup wheat germ*
2 eggs, beaten
3-5 Tbsp seasoned salt, depending on taste
(*I will do a short post about wheat germ soon!)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 and prepare your set-up.  I used a technique called "dry baking" to keep the bottoms of the nuggets from getting soggy (which might be a deal-breaker for Mr. I-don't-like-mixed-textures).

Take a baking sheet and (optional:) line it with foil for easier clean-up, then place a cooling rack on top of the sheet.  It lets air circulate around the food and any drippings fall away from the nuggets and keep the bottoms fairly crispy.

Next, combine the Corn Flake crumbs, wheat germ and seasoned salt in a shallow dish.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and cut your chicken breast(s) into nugget-sized pieces.  Create an assembly line of chicken, then egg, then crumbs, then baking sheet.

Dredge the chicken through the eggs and then coat with crumbs on all sides.

I set the timer for 20 minutes and checked back.  At that point, all the nuggets were done.  So if you're just doing nuggets, the time is 20 minutes.  However, it took longer for the adult portions to cook so I left them in another 20, which gave me time to prepare the sides of frozen, steamed corn and rice pilaf and gave the nuggets ample time to cool off before I served everyone (because TextureBoy hates being served food that's hot).

It was a delicious meal! I'd love to break the Ketchup habit, but it'll never happen.  Oh well.  He ended up eating half the pile of nuggets (The other half went into his lunch for school the next day where they were not met with quite the enthusiasm I'd hoped, to be honest... However, I did taste them after he'd rejected them as leftovers and I assure you they tasted great so he was obviously just being a toddler.) and a few bites of corn and about half the pilaf!

When I took him to an occupational therapist to have him evaluated for Sensory Processing Disorder (which he does not have) the therapist did give me some suggestions about how to increase a picky-eater's diet.  He said that introducing a food over and over and over again helps, as does offering meals in sections; ideally 4 (though we do 3 usually, I'll probably start doing 4) - one section should be food you know your child will eat, one section should be something he'd be willing to try, another section should be something he'll touch and the 4th should be something he'll look at.  So in this case I knew he'd eat the chicken, I knew he'd probably try the rice and I was hoping he'd give the corn a shot.  I omitted the final section because I didn't really have any idea what to put there.  As it was, he ate some of everything!

So that's this week's first toddler food recipe - healthful, fun, and easy! It sneaks in extra nutrition in the form of wheat-germ, its more wholesome than freezer or fast-food nuggets, and it's totally toddler-approved!  Please feel free to link up here on MckLinky if you put up a blog post of your own about a tot-friendly food you've tried and loved or leave a comment here with your tips, suggestions and ideas!

MckLinky Blog Hop

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Toddler is a Picky Eater!... Let's Fix It.

Shouldn't really be the frightful admission I make it out to be, should it?  But let's face it: it stinks.  It's horrible to have a picky eater.  I feel like I failed.  I love food - all foods! - and this picky-eating nonsense is cramping my style.  And what about his health?  How can a child thrive on Cheeto's and juice boxes alone? 

It is normal.

Repeat after me: it is normal.

I guess it has a vast array of causes, this affliction we suffer... anything from the assertion of independence to the toddler's innate need for routine and sameness and aversion to change and the unexpected.  Some experts suggest that toddlers are simply too busy and curious to be bothered by the mundane act of eating.  Those same experts also claim that kids won't starve themselves.  I'm convinced the experts don't have kids and haven't seen a 3-day food strike and the resulting temper-tantrums of exhaustion and the parental fall-out when we finally cave and allow a child to gorge himself on french-fries and M&M's.  This crap is stressful and emotionally draining. 

A few things that "They" recommend regarding mealtime and our picky eaters:
- Don't turn mealtime into a battle (Um, Hubby, are you reading this?) because the last thing you want to do is create negative connotations for your child with meals... instead, keep it light and talk about positive things and remain cheerful.
- Serve simple meals and offer your kiddo small portions and a small plate.  *However, my experience is different here; my son gets insulted if we give him a "baby" plate or "baby" utensils... so I have to give him food on a "big" plate and he must use a "big" fork.
- Don't incentivize eating.
- Praise, praise, praise!

Now, when I first approached the idea of blogging about toddler foods and offering up recipes and working with you all to help our little ones get good nutrition, I was torn between whether to tackle the problem in a manner similar to Jessica Seinfeld and her Deceptively Delicious recipes that sneak nutrition into everyday foods and whether to just find new ways to present food in a "my willpower is greater than yours"-esque manner.  In the end, I chose both.  I am not entirely sure that Mrs. Seinfeld's method would help our picky eaters or just create more problems in the long run since the whole goal here (for me, at least) is to cure picky eating.  Her recipes are great, but don't do a lot to break the dependence on spaghetti, mac and cheese and hot dogs.  But, then I had to recognize that picky eating might not be a life-long and chronic condition and that it will probably resolve itself in time and I'll end up with a family of foodies in a few years so the main focus should be to get all the nutrients in the kids as I can now

So, I'm combining the two.  The way I'm going to present this whole toddler food thing is this: I'm going to pick a food or a meal that my kid likes.  Or liked.  Or finds not revolting... you get it.  And I'm going to offer up ways to a) make that food more nutritious à la Jessica Seinfeld and/or b) create something similar that is healthy - or at least healthier.  Does that make sense?  I'll have a linky thingy so you can offer up your own toddler recipes or even toddler food ideas if you want.  Share with us what your toddler DOES like... what works for you, what tricks you've got up your sleeve... We need all the help we can get!

We will conquer picky eating!  Or, at least, we will find ways to work nutrition in despite picky eating!

**DISCLAIMER:  Please use caution when introducing new foods to your child.  Consider your own child's food allergies and sensitivities and use appropriate substitutions when necessary.  Thanks!

Black and White Wednesday

I have to challenge myself to take fewer pictures.  Really - I snap photos of the kids ad nauseum and I need to dial it back.  I dump my memory card at least once a day.  Maybe I just need a bigger memory card...

Anyway, my friend Kate participates in Black and White Wednesday that started over at The Long Road to China and I decided to go read that blog - it's really good! - and play along.  Join me, if you'd like!  I don't take many black and white photos... well, okay duh, I take all color photos with my DSLR and then convert them later if I want, but I don't do much in the way of editing my photos (mostly because I don't have TONS of time) but I've started recently to play with some of the curves and levels and bust out the histogram and play with exposure and contrast.  I'm.  Addicted.  That being said, I'm going to throw two photos at you because I couldn't decide which of the two I liked the most.  Check these out!

Here's the "before":

And one of Addison...


I like B&W Wednesday!  I'm totally going to step out of my comfort zone more!  AND I recognize the need to take pictures of something other than my kids.  But let's face it... if you had such perfect subjects, wouldn't you also have a camera stuffed annoyingly in their faces... you know, when you're not kissing them?

Anyway, I'm working on some Toddler Food posts... no, I haven't forgotten, and yes, I recognize that your children are depending on me!  My own Toddler hasn't been a perfect angel lately and getting him to taste my creations and test them out has been a total and complete failure so it's taken me longer than I wanted it to.  Don't worry - I'm working on stuff!

Anyway - what do you think...?  Do we like the B&W versions of the photos or the color versions better?  Help.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Zookeeper

Do you ever wonder who is on the other side of the screen when you read a blog?  Do you wonder about the person who types the words that make you laugh or cry or roll your eyes?  Do you see the pictures of the kiddos and the house in which they live and wonder, what does Mom look like?  Who is she?  Do you ever want to know how a person got to have 3 kids, a mortgage and a blog?  Well, if you have, or you do, then this is your post.  I'm going to introduce myself... good thing it only took 100+ posts to do it... I suppose it's not all that surprising since I started this blog as a way for family and my in-real-life friends to keep up on us as we moved around the country.  I have a website for the children and it focuses entirely on them - their milestones, their struggles, their photos, their development - and on our family as we journey through life together.  The blog was originally meant to be the "Melissa" side of that - my thoughts about being a woman, a mother, a wife, a friend and doing it all so far from family.  It was supposed to be more about the adult reflections that ran as an undercurrent beneath the more saccharine stories on our baby website (which requires a user name and password to log on; if you'd like it, please feel free to leave a comment to that effect and I'll hook you up)... So, that being said, do you think I've stayed on target, or have I strayed largely from that original intent?  Regardless, if you've joined this tale later than earlier, you might want to know a little more about me.

I'm not going to go into much about early Melis... I'll tell you I had a difficult childhood and that my adolescent years weren't easy.  They weren't unhappy times, always, but I did face some issues within my family that were challenging enough to make me scoff at Meredith Grey's drama and think she's a gigantic weenie.  I grew up before I should have and had racked up a decent amount of experience-based wisdom by the time I went to college at the University of Notre Dame.  Ambitious and anxious to make my mark, I joined Air Force ROTC and took on Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry as my majorS(!).  I met an incredible man, Justin, and began dating him at the end of my first semester.  By my second semester I knew a few things: I would spend the rest of my life loving Justin.  I would not make the same mistakes my parents have made.  I was an adult. And I would only be happy if I chose happiness; life wasn't going to grant it to me.  I determined soon enough that ROTC wasn't the path for me, and I had exhausted myself with my absurd academic expectations and dialed back my ambitions a bit, switching to Political Science (oops) and History, graduated with Justin in 2005, married him 6 weeks later and we set out on our journey together.  We conceived our son a year later, and then our daughters about 2 years after that.   

So, great, boring.  I'll illustrate; it'll help.

My wedding day.

My honey and I on our honeymoon in Kauai.
Holding my son a few hours after his birth.
Our first family Christmas card photo.
With Jack at Disneyworld.
34 weeks pregnant with two amazing little girls.
Rocking some contractions and smiling about it.
Marveling at Addison during the 9 minutes in which I was a mother of only 2.
A rare moment (Halloween) in which I was holding both girls and not a single one of us was crying AND I had make-up on.  
Photographic evidence that I need a hair-cut
Trying to steal a snuggle from my son when all he wants are presents on Christmas.

Okay, so you get the drift.  That's what I've done. School, marriage, babies.

But, who am I?  Well, friends, I can't 100% answer that because it's an ever-changing response.  But I'll try to flesh out a little more of me for you.  I'm a woman who takes her role as wife and mother seriously.  My family comes above all else and I will fight - I'm a fighter - for that against any adversary.  I've been there... you know, those tough places in life we'd rather not think about.  If not myself, then I've held people's hands while they were there.  I've seen and felt sorrow and injustice and pain and desperation and I've faced those dark feelings head on, not looking away for a second, and I cherish the times that were hard for they make what is good so much brighter.  I'm Catholic.  I follow the Lord and am growing closer to Him in my faith each day, but I rarely, rarely talk about it - even with my husband.  I am deeply spiritual but nearly silently so.  I would rather lead by example.  I strive to be a good person.  I fail.  I nurse my babies no matter how hard it is and feed my family home-made food, no matter how tired I am.  I often eat Ramen when no one is looking because I'm just so tired of dealing with healthy crap.  I cry at sappy things on TV and avoid like the plague sentimental movies.  I drink straight tequilia and can funnel a beer but adore my Cabernets and Pinot Noirs.  I am petrified at the thought of losing my husband or one of my children.  Without them, I'm barely a whisp of a person.  I'm a fiscally conservative liberal who never knows who to vote for because I feel so strongly about so many issues, no one ever quite lines up with me.  I love to learn.  Everything.  Anything.  Science thrills me and I hate that I wasted college on Political Science (blech!) but know that if I hadn't, I may not have this amazing life.  This life I lead is amazing because I choose not to dwell on all the things that make it suck - like fleas, landlords, inequality, distance, stress and laundry.  I especially do not dwell on laundry.  I keep an immaculate house but only because I get annoyed when I have crusties on my feet all the time - they're gross enough as it is.  I don't take care of my feet.  I don't give a hoot about my hair.  In fact, it's been nearly 2 years since my last hair cut.  I suffer migraine headaches, am a snuggle-fiend and adore the written word.  I've published poems and flown jets, saved lives and driven backhoes.  I'm nearing the end of my life as a Navy wife who has survived deployments and, more astoundingly, the drama of life as a military spouse.  I am strong. I am weak.  I cannot sing to save my soul, so I don't try, but I could talk your ear off.  Football soothes me like classical music and a bubble bath.  I am stubborn and loyal.  I drive a minivan and don't care how uncool that makes me.  And I am daily thankful that I am as fortunate as I am.

So... That's who I am.  What about you?  Please share!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Which I Post Pictures




 Sweet son.

Sweet Addie.

Sweet Jo.



Monday, January 11, 2010

Baby Food: Chicken!

Well, it's time.  Time to get my girls going on some legitimate protein.  Obvious choice?  Chicken.  I mean, there's protein in peas and of course in breast-milk or formula and some in the cereals they eat, but let's kick this up a bit.  Let's give them meat. 

Intimidating, right?  Don't be scared - it's not much different from any other puree we've done so far.  In fact, it's easier than some (uh, anyone forget how much of a pain it was to strain those peas?  I didn't.) and serves as a great base for mixing some yummy dinners. 

Step 1: Obtain chicken.  I selected chicken thighs in part because they're absurdly cheap and mostly because a) they're dark meat and therefore more moist and flavorful than the breasts and b) they're pretty easy to work with.  I used 2 packages.  I'm a fool - my daughters are intense eating machines so I could have easily made about 9 packages and not have over-done it.

 Step 2: Arrange in a baking dish and bake, at 350 for about an hour.

They should be done all the way through - I used a meat thermometer to double check.

*Optional step: Reserve all the juices the chicken produces while cooking.  I pour it from the baking dish into a large measuring cup and let it sit on my cold counter top for awhile so the fat separates into a layer on top.  I skim it off and hang onto the leaner juice that remains to add to the puree in addition to the water I'll add because it lends a bit more flavor.

  Step 3: Remove and discard the skins and any excess fat you don't want to serve your kiddo and remove the meat from the bones.  There's no particular method here and it doesn't need to look pretty.

 Step 4: Blend.  But "blend" is not quite that simple.  You can't just put the chicken in the blender, hit "puree" and go... It takes a little more finesse.  The best way to achieve a good chicken puree is to add a couple of chunks of meat and a good 1/2 cup of that leftover juice, blend that up and slowly add more chicken, alternating chicken and liquid as you go, otherwise you're going to gum up the works and fry your blender (speaking from tragic personal experience).  I also recommend blending your chicken - if you make 2 packages of thighs like I did - in two batches.  

It looks disgusting.  No doubt about that.  And you shouldn't try this one if your child isn't huge on texture yet... it's pretty hard to get a perfectly smooth meat puree.  And it's important that I point out that a puree of chicken will freeze nicely but thaw a little roughly.  It just doesn't reconstitute into the smooth texture you put into the freezer.  It was a huge turn-off for my son, but I'd just mix it with peas and sweet potatoes or with some apple puree and he didn't even notice that his chicken was a little grainy.  My girls would eat a drumstick if I let them, so they don't care.  Just make sure you check all of your baby food for lumps before you begin feeding your child so that they don't choke on a hidden chunk.


 It doesn't smell too bad... and when they get a little older I'll "season" it with a touch of garlic and a teeny bit of black pepper and it doesn't taste bad at all!

Step 5: Freeze if desired.


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