Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Little Puppy

The only word she has consistently said has been dog.  This is her new word.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DIY Heated Neck/Back/Chest Pillow

I'm in such a DIY mood!  I am sick, and pretty miserable.  I don't really get sick often... almost never.  I remember when I was in high school I got a cold (or flu, or whatever people get from mass exposure to other sick people).  I thought I was dying.  I was this close to giving away my possessions and saying goodbye to loved ones.  It was unbelievable to me that most people went through this every year, if not every season.

I get sick about once a year now, sometimes every other year.  I was a teacher for almost five years, and that ensures you get sick.  Now I spend at least 5 days a week with several toddlers and their parents.  I might as well get used to this stuff.

Anyway, my neck is sore and I used to have this great heated neck pillow thing that I would put in the microwave and then lay on my neck.  It was the kind of thing that you get at some girly shoppe (yes, a shoppe with an extra p and an e) for more than it would cost to make ten of your own.  I made one of my own because the good old gift one has disappeared.

There are many tutorials for this online, and if I had an ounce of energy I would have at least fired up the sewing machine, but this is bare bones simple for anyone else who might be sick and in need of a quick fix.

What you need:
1 old sock, the longer the better
about 2 cups of rice (I used the small bag of rice that my husband used to dry his cellphone in after our daughter put it in the toilet.  He put it BACK IN THE CUPBOARD like it hadn't been used to leach toilet water, so this was a good use for it instead of a revenge dinner for him.)
1 rubber band
optional: tea bag of chamomile, dried lavender, etc. (I used a bag of Tension Tamer by Celestial Seasonings).

Put rice and contents of tea bag in sock, secure open end of sock with rubber band.  Microwave for about 1- 1.5 minutes and you have a nice warm neck pillow.  The tea bag helps offer some calming aromatherapy to the mix.  Sure, you might feel dirty using microwave aromatherapy, but when you are sick you make exceptions.

DIY Snack Carrier

Today I was looking everywhere for Violet's Muchkin snack catcher.  I love how easy it is to hand off some o's cereal, berries, or peas in this device and let her feed herself.  But today I am sick and tired and not interested in going on the hunt that will likely lead to the back yard because the dogs also love this clever little catcher.  We have lost many to dog destruction, and keep buying more.  While they are affordable, I just didn't want to go buy anymore today, so I made my own.  Mine doesn't have handles, so Violet had to sit on the floor to enjoy her snacks, or hold it with her arm, but that wasn't a problem.

To make this, I used an old margarine container and my kitchen scissors.  And thin plastic container with a lid would work, and it would probably be nice to have different shapes and sizes for different purposes.

I like the way the curved slits on the Munchkin Snack Catcher fit together better than those I've seen with straight across slits, so I imitated that shape and cut my own slits with a similar curve.
Once I had added the o's cereal, I passed it off to Violet for some product testing.  She discovered that this larger container could fit both her hands, and like she does with her Munchkin Snack Catcher, she promptly pulled out a handful for the dog before feeding herself.
She didn't take off the lid though, so it served it's purpose well.  I have some grapes and blueberries in the refrigerator, and tomorrow it will go to good use because I can give her berries that way without ending up with purple feet from the mess of giving her an open container (which I did this morning- call me Smurfette).

High Calorie/High Protein "Cookies" for Toddlers

I was hiking with a group from my parenting meetup, and I mentioned one of the snacks I give Violet to help pack on the calories.  As a vegan, I do often find myself making a very conscious effort to get lots of healthy fats into my girl.  Protein isn't as much a concern of mine because Violet loves beans and hummus and drinks both soymilk and breastmilk regularly, but it is a concern of many parents both veg and omni alike as kids go through picky stages.

I am happy to share some ideas for snacks that Violet likes, but I'd love to hear back from my readers to know what kinds of foods their children avoid.  When we went vegan, we had to learn to eat in new and diverse ways.  As a result, our diet has so much variety that I don't really notice Violet being picky yet.  She could be avoiding certain things, as she throws many meals almost completely on the floor, but since he have few repeats it's not obvious to me.  Anyway, my point is that if there are things your child doesn't like, I might have some suggestions of things that have similar nutrients or qualities.

One of Violet's favorite snacks right now is "cookies."  Basically it's a raw vegan cookie, the quotes are just because I don't add sugar or bake it.  I take quick oats (although I'm sure it would be healthier for me to use rolled oats or other grains- spelt in particular has a nice flavor and is higher in protein), walnuts/almonds/pecans/whatever nuts I have on hand, and dates and blend in the food processor until it's fairly fine and a bit sticky.  For extra protein and fat I add flax meal or whole raw sesame seeds (sesame seeds are a really good source of calcium as well).  I sometimes add a little cinnamon, cardamom, or other spice to give it some nice flavor.  Lately we've been going without spice.  Finally, to get a smooth consistency, I blend in some coconut oil.  The perportions are different every time and I really just add a little of this and that until it's a gooey consistency.  I scoop it out with my little cookie scoop and put it in tupperware in the fridge.  These become "cookies" full of protein, vitamins, and healthy fats.  It's sweet from the dates and seems like a treat to my little darling.  I joke that these are my insurance on those days when it doesn't seem like she's eating anything because I know she's getting a good protein and calorie boost even if she won't eat the other food I try to give her.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Meat Free Mom: The Class/Tutorial!

Obviously, with my blog and all, cooking healthy food for my family is my passion.  I have offered to do a class/tutorial for some of the parents in my parenting group.  I'm realy excited to share compassionate, healthy recipes that should please the parents and kids.

I'm looking for ideas though, because I'll be teaching people who aren't vegan, and I want to know what the common parent is looking for.  I am thinking I'd like to do something with quinoa, probably a simple pilaf.  I'm going to make Violet's "cookies," which I just need to add a picture for and I'll post that as well.  I want to have some one pot meals that appeal to the parent on the go or with limited prep and cleanup time.  I'd also like to have something that children can help with.  That sounds crazy, but just last weekend I let Violet mix the dry ingredients for our Sunday waffles (yeah, we have waffles every Sunday).  She can also press the button on the blender or shake a jar of dressing.  Getting kids and parents in the kitchen together means not having to worry about the kids distracting you while you cook.  

So here's your chance readers, tell me what kinds of foods you wish you knew how to make.  What dish takes you a long time, and you'd like a quicker version?  What meals do your kids love?  What veggie have you never cooked but always been curious about?  I want some inspiration!  I'll share all the recipes on here that I share with my group, so there's an incentive to put in your requests.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vegan Smores Brownies aka I Love Dandies

I hosted a vegan cookie swap last weekend to kick off the holiday season early and start getting ideas for what to bake for friends and family gifts.  I wanted to do something unique for the exchange, and I recently discovered that my local natural foods store has Dandies vegan marshmallows.  I had only had Dandies once before, and they were well beyond dandy.  Oh sweet mother of all that is campfirey and delicious...  

You see, conventional marshmallows are made with ground up animal bones, which doesn't sound like candy for anyone, but especially not vegans.  I'm not really sure who's idea is was to make candy out of ground up bones, but it certainly wasn't a sweet kid sitting by a campfire, and it wasn't the kick ass creators of Dandies, Chicago Soy Dairy.  Dandies taste like a real candy, fluffy, sweet, no guilt ridden aftertaste, and just a hint of magic.  I say magic because I've tried to make my own vegan marshmallows twice to such hideous failure I don't even want to go into it.  I'll just say that if you plan on making your own vegan marshmallows, get a candy thermometer.  

So since I had some Dandies (I bought three bags as soon as I saw them- I was so overcome with excitement), I decided to make a 'smores brownie.  I have a favorite brownie recipe that I used quite often while pregnant, and I have a favorite vegan graham cracker, Health Valley.  I made a simple graham cracker crust, added marshmallows, topped with brownie mix, added more marshmallows, and then topped with graham cracker bits.  

Another excellent feature I discovered with the Dandies is that they puff up and brown just like the marshmallows of my childhood.  When the brownies were done, they not only had the components of the classic smore, but the browned and crisp-on-top marshmallows had been baked to really taste like roasted treats!  These were the favorite of almost every guest at the cookie swap (she says modestly).  

The other cookie I made was the pumpkin whoopie pies from Vegan Yum Yum with a double batch of filling to make them extra decadent.  

Here is a picture of the leftovers from the party:

Not a single type of cookie was repeated and there were no duds in the bunch!  I would call this swap a success!

Recipe Sources:
Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar
Viva Vegan
Vegan Yum Yum

ERGO Changed My Life

I can't believe I finally caved and spent over $100 on a carrier for a baby!  Everyone in my meetup group has one and they all sing it's praises, so I obviously decided to make my own.  Har har.  That was funny.  It was really cute and more of a Mai Tai style.  The thing is, the Ergo can't be replicated.  I even tried out a knock off made by Infantino, who may be maligned for their slings recently, but whose frame backpack I adore.  Alas, nothing would cure my thirst for the Ergo.

When I went to try them on, I should have known it was meant to be.  I tossed Violet on my back and she just sat there, perched on my back, while I figured out the straps.  I thought I was going to have to pick the sales woman's jaw off the floor.  She said, "She's helping you."  I guess most babies don't take to being tossed on their mother's backs like mine does.  She knew we were in for something special.

Within a half hour of purchasing my lovely cranberry organic cotton Ergo, I was walking through the dog park with my lovely on my back.  The cool thing about the Ergo is that when my toddling toddler wanted to get down and play with the dogs, I just unsnapped the chest snap and put her down to play.  I could comfortably continue to wear the carrier strapped around my waist, and as soon as the little legs got tired I tossed her back in the saddle.  We go to the dog park every day, and we had been having quite the conundrum of her not wanting to ride in her backpack the whole time, and not being able to do a full loop on foot (at least not at a pace that works with only 12 hours of daylight).

After we left the dog park, we headed home.  Home is where many things go to be destroyed by the dogs during fits of separation anxiety and other angst of unknown origins.  I quickly put a hook up in the kitchen and hung up the Ergo away from sharp teeth and prying claws.  No sooner was a hot pan a-poppin' with oil that Violet wanted to be held and would not accept no for an answer.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy, and no one handed cooking or oil splatter burns required.  I grabbed the Ergo off the hook and wore my little lady while I cooked.  It was at that moment that I realized my life had changed.

It's been about a month now, and I use the Ergo no less than three times a day.  I use it for hikes, chores around the house, and unloading the groceries from the car (that's right, I can strap the baby to my back and unload the car in ONE TRIP).  Violet doesn't even cry half the time when she wants to be held, she just goes over to where the Ergo hangs and points at it.  Yesterday she actually fell asleep while I wore her on my back, and I was able to unclip her and lay her on the couch where she continued to sleep for another half hour.

And speaking of sleeping, since we moved up to a big girl car seat, there's no more grabbing the bucket seat and letting her finish a car nap in the grocery cart.  With the Ergo, I just strap it on my front and I can transfer her without waking her and just let her sleep through a shopping trip.  She did that just today to my delight.  I was able to peruse the vitamin isles and find what I needed without a single bottle being thrown off the shelf.  That's a treat.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this great product because it really has changed my life and I wish I had gotten it sooner.  Even though I waited a year though, I still think it was worth every penny.

For more information, visit the Ergo website.  If you are lucky enough to get next year's calendar, I'm in the December picture.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to Make a Fleece Overcoat for Babywearing

I have been looking over some friends' great jackets that go over baby while baby is in a carrier (quite frankly, everyone I know wears an Ergo, so let's just say Ergo).  One friend has a jacket that is a fleece layer that she can wear when it's chilly but not dead-of-winter-in-Alaska, then there's a waterproof cover she can wear over it.  It has slits in the front and back for baby's head to pop out.

I'm cheap, and a bit crafty (I own scissors), so I decided to raid my closet and see what I could come up with.  First, I considered cutting into a very nice, very warm jacket that my husband got me for Christmas a few years ago.  Luckily, I wasn't drunk, so I didn't have my scissors handy.  Next, I started looking at all my husband's fleece jackets.  They aren't super-warm, but they sure do the job.  If you had a tiny warm body pressed to your back, they would be even warmer...  Again, I thought better of mangling one of his jackets also.  Then, in the back of my closet, I found a fleece jacket that I haven't warn in years, and that I got for free when I taught at a middle school.  It's really big because that's the only size they had left when I made it to the office to pick up my free jacket.  Perfect.  A large sweater/jacket fits over a baby and me quite easily.  Hmmmm...

So I put on the sweater, then the Ergo, then the baby.  Once the baby was secure, I asked my husband (who was just happy I wasn't eyeing his favorite jackets with scissors in my hands anymore) to pinch the fabric right at the base of the baby's neck.  He held on while I took off the jacket and I cut a slit about 7 inches long where he had held.  I didn't worry about slits in front, because if I'm wearing my daughter in front I can just wear a zip front jacket and not zip it all the way... Not rocket science here, but somehow I have now saved hundreds of dollars and spent ZERO dollars.  If you count the cost of the scissors you are ridiculous.

We tried it out on a very crisp day when we went hiking in Glen Alps in light snow.  I was sweating like an animal that sweats a lot (most people say pig, but pigs don't sweat- that's why they hang out in the mud).  The baby was so cozy she slept for the entire hike, including some serious scrambling up a mountain when I was literally on all fours at points.

Hands and feet were tucked in snug as a bug in a rug.