Thursday, May 28, 2009

To be "Mom-a-licious" or not?

I am mom-a-licious. I am not mom-a-licious every day, but I’d say I rank up there 4-5 days a week. That name makes me smile, not because I am snarky but because it reminds me that I am a mom, first and foremost these days, but I also need to stay humorous, healthy, grounded, happy and svelte. The name encapsulates that goal and is light-hearted. That said the website and business surrounding healthy motherhood is already claimed by Domenica Catelli.

When I originally started this blog, the goal was to share recipes and some neat finds/ideas with my local friends and cooking lesson clients. The blog address was free, so I snatched it up and started writing away! But in the little over two months I have been writing this blog, it has logged over 4,000 visitors and it’s clear based upon the emails you all have sent me that my audience is much broader than Fairfield County, and broader than my immediate friends.

With preschool on the horizon, I am muddling through what I want this blog to evolve into. My primary job will always be my children, and I am thankful that I have the luxury to keep it that way—at least for now! But requests for cooking lessons keep coming in, and I have a head full of ideas of things that can help make being a mom more healthy, fun and inspiring for all of us. The problem is, if I am going to grow this business I think I need to back-up and re-name it. While I love mom-a-licious, Domenica claimed it first, and it’s her name. I need to come up with a name that captures the spirit of my blog, but that I can call my own.

Hopefully my technological skills are up to snuff for this part... If you’d like to help re-name the business or give me feedback on this blog, simply click on the following survey. It should just take a couple of minutes and your feedback will be so helpful.

Here’s the fun part: If I choose your name for the blog and accompanying cooking lessons, the prize is a 2-hour cooking lesson in your home (see the fine print below…). So pour yourself a glass of wine and get those creative juices flowing!

The fine print about the re-naming contest: survey responses will be accepted until June 10, 2009 (so don't dally!); in the event that more than one person submits the same winning name I will have my oldest child randomly draw a winner (trust me, he'll be insanely excited about this honor); winner must live within a 30-minute drive of New Canaan, CT; cooking lesson is for one or two people; lesson to be scheduled on a mutually agreed upon weekend or evening during July or September, 2009; winner has the option of a 1-hour grocery shopping trip + 1-hour in-home cooking lesson OR 2-hour in-home cooking lesson; groceries not included; groceries can be purchased by me and reimbursed or a shopping list can be provided.
May the best mom win!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Easy Pizza Playdate

4 little boys + 1 day of icky weather = Make Your Own Pizza Playdate

What you’ll need:

  • Baking sheets lightly rubbed with olive oil
  • Pizza crusts (I used Trader Joe's refrigerated ones and each bag of dough made two 8” pizzas)
  • Sauce(s): we had 2 choices: marinara (“smooth”) and vodka (“chunky”)
  • Cheese(s): we put out shredded mozzarella and shredded cheddar
  • Toppings: have the toppings pre-cut and in bowls so little fingers can easily get to them…I offered up red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, salami and roasted broccoli

Unless you’re into clouds of flour, I recommend doing the rolling the dough part yourself then calling the munchkins in to do the decorating. At first half the kids just wanted cheese pizza…but then one of them got the idea of making his pizza into “a face” and that opened up a whole exciting way of using (minimal amounts of) veggies. This was a messy project, but nothing a dustbuster and some paper towels couldn’t handle! Plus each kid went home with dinner to share with their brother or sister...and my children's dinner is made. Bonus.

Chimichurri Rice with Sausage & Spinach

On the day my older son has Kindergarten soccer practice (otherwise known as: one very patient dad trying to herd cats), our whole evening routine is thrown to the wind. Normally I feed my kids around 5:00 and they’ve had their bath and stories and are in bed between 6:30-7:00, respectively. Friends balk at their early bedtime, but neither kid’s complaining (any more than they already would no matter when they had to go to bed) and there is a brief period of calm at the end of the day.

But on the days we’ve got "soccer", we don’t even get home until 6:15 or so. This means I feed my kids their supper at 4:30 then race around putting shin guards on, looking for the soccer ball…and then spend an hour trying to keep my little one off the field and out of the parking lot. Unless I really plan ahead, dinner these nights doesn't get started until well after my husband has gotten home so it's got to be quick and easy...or takeout.

Last night, after the kids were asleep I went downstairs to figure out what I could quickly whip up. I hadn’t been to the market in several days and the fruits and veggies from our CSA were pretty slim at this point in the week. Still, with a little digging around the freezer, dinner turned out great….and plentiful enough that we can both have it for lunch today.

Chimichurri Rice with Sausages & Spinach

1 pkg Trader Joe’s Chimichurri Rice (in freezer section)
1 pkg Trader Joe’s Andouille Chicken Sausage, sliced thin
1 large bag frozen spinach

In a large fry pan, sauté the chicken sausage in a little olive oil. Add the frozen spinach and sauté until warmed through. In the meantime, heat the Chimichurri Rice according to the package (I did the microwave heating). Once warmed, add to dry pan with sausage and spinach. Done!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mommy Needed a Little Pampering

I wish I could come up with some cool/adventurous story about why I am limping around this Memorial Day weekend…suffice it to say it involved carrying my little one on my hip all of my older one's “K Beach Day” and wiping out (yes, in front of everyone) while trying to make my way to the water. Who knew that a California born and bred mom could have offspring who do not want their feet to touch the sand?! Anyway, rather than throw myself a full-blown pity party I enlisted my husband to watch the kids, and booked a facial for this afternoon. I do very few things that are for me-- and me alone-- but this is one of my regular splurges. And a weekend when I am supposed to “take it easy” seems like a natural week to book another appointment, right?

The aesthetician/owner, Melissa, uses Jurlique products (or Skinceuticals if you request), so I can feel good about what’s going onto my skin…and I come out looking radiant after all that facial massage. If you feel like you need a little “me” time and want more info on Elysian Fields Facial Spa, click here. (Though keep in mind that clearly facials, and not web design, are her forte…in fact I think the prices are outdated on the website too, but at $90, her hour long facial is still worth every penny.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fruit Skewers

Yesterday was “K Beach Day”. I knew my kids wouldn’t be long for sitting and actually eating their picnic, so I tried to come up with a lunch that my kids could quickly eat if they were running around with their friends.

Fruit Skewers
Your favorite fruit, cut into chunks
Wooden skewers
Thread the fruit onto the skewer. It’s best to start and end with something like a grape, that isn’t likely to slip off.

I made this for a snack at my son’s school earlier this year and it was a big hit then too. There’s something about getting to pick up a colorful wand of fruit that just makes it so much more fun than plain fruit salad!

Yummy Homemade Frosting

We like cake in our house. I’m a push over when it comes to sweets. If one of my boys announces that it’s a stuffed animal’s birthday…we bake a cake. Usually it’s me baking and them (ok fine, all of us) doing the eating, so I was pleased that my older son wanted in on the baking action last weekend.

The Homemade Frosting (I pretty much put on every cake around here)
Cream Cheese (bricks)
Powdered Sugar
Pure Vanilla Extract
(or any other type of extract: lemon, etc.)

Let the cream cheese bricks soften a bit. Whip (I use a hand mixer) at least 2 bricks of cream cheese with a couple teaspoons of vanilla and start with half a bag of powdered sugar. Continue to add sugar until desired level of sweetness, and vanilla until desired taste. Color with food coloring, if you desire something jazzier that pure white.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sectioned Plates for Children's Meals

Friends have been asking where I get the sectioned plates for my kids' meals. Target has loads and loads of them. Simply go to and search "plastic plates" or kid's plates" and you'll have 10+ options! There's even a recycled Melamine one for those who want them to be functional and eco-friendly.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Brownies

With today’s drizzle came a massive amount of baking and a tent/fort that took over our living room. I now have (totally decadent) Cinnamon Chocolate Brownies cooling on one counter…Sweet Corn Muffins with Cranberries and Honey cooling on another…and crammed onto a third are Lemon Cupcakes and a big Lemon sheet cake that my son will decorate tomorrow after school in anticipation of a Bake Sale to benefit Horizons….oh, and my living room looks like a tornado went through it.

I risk sharing the Cinnamon Chocolate Brownie recipe; for fear that no one will buy these brownies if they know how much butter went into them. But, I am going to take that risk because they’re just too amazing not to whip up, and to share. This recipe is slightly modified from one I found on a couple years back and has become my go to brownie recipe.

Cinnamon Chocolate Brownies
(Makes one jelly roll/rimmed baking sheets worth…enough to share with several friends)

1 cup all-purpose flour
At least 4 Tablespoons cinnamon
Dash of salt

1 12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 sticks of butter (ideally at room temp)

7 eggs
2 cups of sugar
4 Tablespoons vanilla extract

1 12 oz. bag a semi-sweet chocolate chips (yes, this is a second bag)
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (ideally at room temp)
5 Tablespoons whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter & flour a jelly roll pan (large, rimmed baking sheet).

Mix flour, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl.

In a double boiler** stir the chocolate and butter until melted and smooth.

Turn the heat off and let the chocolate stand for a couple minutes while you beat the eggs/sugar/vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour mixture to the egg/sugar/vanilla one, blending well. Gradually add the chocolate mixture, whipping until combined. (You’ll be able to tell because it will go from a pretty marbled appearance to a dark, rich chocolately one.)

Pour the batter into your buttered/floured jelly roll pan. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until tester toothpick comes out almost completely clean. Cool the brownies on your countertop.

In the meantime, make the ganache. Back to the double boiler, you’ll combine the second bag of chocolate chips, the second batch of butter, and the whipping cream, stirring with a whisk until melted and smooth. Pour over brownies. Then pop the whole big baking sheet into your fridge until the ganache is set.

These brownies can be prepared 2 days ahead. In fact, I think they are better if you prepare them ahead of the day you plan to serve them. Simply cut them and layer them in a Tupperware between wax paper and store them the fridge.

** If you do not have a double boiler you can simply improvise by nesting a metal mixing bowl inside a saucepan filled with a couple inches of water. A double boiler prevents the chocolate from burning since the top pot is kept above the boiling water and heated only by steam.

And last but not least, Rainbow Dinner...

11 colors again. A great plate of choices. You get the picture by now…here’s one thing I forgot to mention though. A friends asked if I waste a lot of food when I put out so many choices? No, not at all. If something hasn’t been touched and is still fresh, it gets recycled in the next meal. Sometimes one child just isn’t in the mood for watermelon, or cucumbers, etc. But chances are if they see it a couple times they’ll venture to try it. I do not make ultimatums at dinner, saying you must each such and such. I am fortunate that they both have a pretty varied palate and neither little guy is picky. The battle I fight is keeping them in their seats! There's a lot of energy at our dinner table...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rainbow Lunch Bonanza

Green: grapes & celery (“2 greens!”)
Orange: carrots & a slice of sharp cheddar cut with a cookie cutter for added excitement…heck if it makes them eat it… (“2 oranges!”)
Red: cubes of watermelon (“1 red!”)
Pink: 1 slice of Applegate turkey rolled into a tube (“1 pink!”)
Purple: grapes (“1 purple!”)
Blue: blueberries & blackberries (“wow, 2 blues this time!”)
Brown: cup of Trader Joe’s High Fiber O’s and a side of hummus (“2 browns!”)

11 colors in this Rainbow Lunch…lots of excitement at meal time.
Time spent preparing lunch: about 2 minutes.

Rainbow Breakfast

My comment yesterday about a plate of food looking like a rainbow and my son counting the colors on his plate spurred a bunch of emails from friends. It seems that we’re all looking for ways to encourage our children to eat a variety of wholesome foods…and what child doesn’t like a contest? By suggesting your child go on a “hunt” for colors on their plate, you will be encouraged to make it more colorful, and they will (hopefully) be excited to see what’s being served. This is today’s breakfast entry and the count that ensued in our kitchen at 7am. If you're daunted by the prospect of getting ready for school morning chaos, please keep in mind that all of the fruits and veggies were prepped yesterday so making breakfast just involved scrambling eggs and toasting the muffin:

Green: grapes & chopped avocado (“2 greens!”)
Yellow: scrambled eggs & yellow peppers (“2 yellows!”)
Red: bell peppers (in the eggs) (“1 red!”)
White: onion (in the eggs) & cream cheese (“2 whites!”)
Purple: grapes (“1 purple!”)
Blue: blueberries (“1 blue!”)
Brown: whole wheat raisin English muffin (“1 brown!”)

Grand total...10 colors!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The path of least resistance... prepping ahead

This isn’t rocket science, but time and time again I am reminded that:
  • My grocery will be much less costly if I shop with a list, and
  • We will eat more fruits and vegetables if they are prepped and ready to simply grab from the fridge or fruit bowl.
I am hopeless when it comes to my first revelation. It’s not that I’m not’s just that I love food. So if I’m shopping and something looks really fresh and yummy—or quick and interesting—I tend to grab it. Then I come home with what I intended to shop for and the spontaneous purchases and well, sometimes it’s too much.

I’m not going to fight that battle. I am shopping without a list these days. I am choosing what looks fresh and is priced well. If it’s local, even better. No matter what meal I am making, I always get at least one fruit and veggie on the plate. My older child totally gets the “rainbow” concept when it comes to food and likes to count the colors on his plate.

If you spend an extra half hour when you get home from the market, washing and/or slicing your fruits and veggies…and storing them front and center… you will certainly eat them more than if they’re tucked away and need prep before you can enjoy them. This is why “value added” fruits are so appealing—you see the ripe mango or sliced pineapple and think “hmm, that looks yummy”. You can do the same in your fridge.

Right now, to give you some ideas, here’s what I have prepped and ready to go:
  • Strawberries – ½ the box is cut up and sprinkled with a little Turbinado sugar so they’re in with a little syrup for morning pancakes, the other ½ simply has the stems lopped off and are ready for a snack or to pop in a lunchbox;
  • Grapes – washed and torn into small bundles, perfect for the kids to grab as they run outside;
  • Watermelon – this is the one “value added” item I bought this week since I knew we wouldn’t plow through a whole watermelon. I cut it into chunks that I can quickly pop onto the kid’s plates at mealtime or into a lunchbox;
  • Blueberries and blackberries – washed and ready to pop onto pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, or for a snack;
  • Red and yellow peppers – washed and cut into matchsticks for lunches and snacks or quickly chopped to go in scrambled eggs or a salad;
  • Peas - steamed and ready to be inhaled by my older one and flung/catapulted across the kitchen by my little one;
  • Carrots – washed, peeled and cut into matchsticks (or buy a bag of the mini ones);
  • Celery – washed and cut into manageable pieces, ready to quickly become “ants on a log” with cream cheese or peanut butter and raisins;
  • Spinach and Romaine – from our CSA, washed and stored in a damp paper towel;
  • Cucumbers – from our CSA, washed and cut into “cucumber pennies” that the kids like to dip in hummus for snack or lunch;
  • Apples – are washed and out in the fruit bowl on the counter;
  • Bananas – are also out in the fruit bowl on the counter, within easy reach of my kids.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


You know when you feel like you’ve hit the mommy jackpot? It’s the day when the kids are happy (and behaving), your jeans fit, you’ve crossed a long list errands off your list, laundry is folded (and put away), you had a chance to make a some healthy homemade meals (which everyone ate), and you even got to peruse the headlines on the newspaper (on the day it was delivered). Oh, and somewhere in those 24 hours, you squeezed in a little “me time”, whether it was as simple as having an uninterrupted phone conversation or as lavish as booking a sitter for lunch out with a girlfriend. Yeah, well, yesterday was kind of the polar opposite for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for each and every day I get to stay home with my boys. But sometimes I get muddled in the juggling act of motherhood. So Annie, this entry is for you.

Last week, my dear friend Annie sent me an email saying how much she likes this bog but asking “how do you do it all and make it look so easy…stay so balanced”.

Fast forward to this morning when my older son gave me a handmade card. The card reads:

For those not versed in reading phonetically, I got a total of 107 points today and this is how the points broke down: 0 points for being naughty (which he defined as yelling at him), 2 points for making breakfast, 5 points for playing a game with him, and 100 points for being nice. There it is. I have been doing too much yelling. Now if that isn’t enough to make you take a step back and evaluate what you’re doing right and what is causing stress in your life, I am not sure what is?

Though I didn’t have time to actually put pen to paper until now, I was going to email Annie back and then I decided that writing an entry here might actually be more helpful/interesting to our broader group of friends who reads this blog. I mean who doesn’t have a little morbid curiosity when it comes to our fellow moms?

So, let’s tell it like it really is this week. Most days, I’d like to think that I do have it figured out and under control. I have limited my kid’s playdates and after school activities so I am not racing around like a wild woman. Cooking comes easy to me, so even if I haven’t made it to the market I can usually scrounge up 3 yummy, relatively healthy meals a day. To stay healthy, I either go to a Stroller Strides class or squeeze in a DVD workout while my little one naps. And, I have learned that it’s ok to leave the house with the breakfast dishes in the sink… But then I got the brilliant idea that since things were going along so swimmingly I could start this blog, launch private cooking classes, and train to become a Stroller Strides instructor…while maintaining my large volunteer role with The Tiny Miracles Foundation, my smaller volunteer roles at my son’s school and the raising two little cherubs without any help. And for a while, everything jelled.

Then things started to get a little more chaotic: I’d created a need to be at the computer (writing these blog entries, working out the cooking class curriculum and planning the Stroller Strides workouts) many times when I used to spend time with my children...I frequently heard myself saying “Hang on! I need to take a photo of that for the blog before you eat it!”...People send queries about the cooking classes, but the economy (understandably) holds people back…Mom-a-licious readers ask why I’m not posting more frequently…the New Canaan Rec Dept. reneged their approval for Stroller Strides to offer classes at Waveny Park, dashing—hopefully temporarily?—my goal (and lots of time and money spent training) of bringing these classes to New Canaan…and my little one started giving up his nap (poof, free time gone, just like that).

So here I am sort of back at square one feeling like the balance I had created is woefully off this week. Clearly, I am not going to make a habit of spending my precious free time writing blog entries that dwell on the imbalance of motherhood. But Annie, I have my moments. I may make it seem so carefree and easy, but that is simply because those are the times I choose to focus upon and share in the hopes that a friend (or friend of a friend) will glean an idea or inspiration from that entry. We’re all immersed in poopy diapers, too little sleep, the quandary of whether we should be using our MBAs for "real work"...we bristle when our child chooses the Richard Scarry book off the bookshelf, and most of us don’t get to connect with our husband or friends nearly enough. There’s no point in me writing about that!

I guess the point in me making this reply more public is reassurance that just like you, I find that every month or so I need to prioritize. What makes me feel “mom-a-licious”? What do I need to increase or decrease in my life to be grounded, healthy and happy... a good mom, wife, friend and role model for my kids?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cuban Picadillo

I am starting to get some serious pangs of anxiety when I realize that the lack of a nap is becoming a trend in our house. This lack of "mommy time" explains why my postings have been sporadic at best this past week. I will type fast so I can share this recipe for picadillo with you because it is so easy to prepare, and so yummy… This meal is even better on day two, once flavors have had a chance to really meld. Plus, it freezes well, so if you’re making it once you might as well make extra and enjoy a night off of cooking later this month or next! We like to serve in whole wheat wraps, but traditionally picadillo is served over steamed white rice. Either way, it is delicious.
Cuban Picadillo

Olive oil
1 lb ground turkey (or you may use beef, if you’d like)
2 onions, diced
3+ cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 peppers, diced
1 cup (or more) Amontillado (dry sherry)
Oregano (dried), about 2 teaspoons
Cumin, about 2 teaspoons
6 oz. can tomato paste
Capers with their brine, at least 2 teaspoons
½ cup raisins
½ cup slivered, roasted, unsalted almonds
½ cup Spanish olives
Bay leaf
Pepper (to taste)
Kosher Salt (to taste)
Serve with whole what wraps or steamed rice

In a large skillet, sauté the ground turkey, onions, garlic and peppers in olive oil. When the meat is just about cooked through, add the remaining ingredients: sherry, oregano, cumin, tomato paste, capers, raisins, almonds, olives and bay leaf and stir together. Wait to season with salt and pepper until the dish is cooked through and you have sampled it. The olives and the brine from the capers add quite a bit of salt to the dish!

This was a favorite of my personal chef clients. If you store in a tightly covered container it will freeze well for up to two months.

And on that note, I will go retrieve my little one from the nap-that-did-not-happen.

Mango with Fresh Mint, Cinnamon and Coconut

The title of this entry gives you the recipe for this healthy, sweet way to end dinner. But, if you want more explicit cooking instructions: chop mango into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with (unsweetened, toasted) coconut, a dash of cinnamon, and some chopped mint. Done! Not only is it pretty, but the flavors are wonderful together.

Citrus-Infused Black Beans

Simple. A great side for any Mexican/Cuban-inspired dinner!

2 oranges, juiced and zested into a saucepan
1 or 2 onions, diced
Chili powder
Cider Vinegar
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained

First I zested and juiced two large naval oranges into a saucepan. Brought that to a boil (to reduce the juice and give it a more pungent flavor). Added the diced onion as soon as it was chopped. Added a healthy shake of chili powder, coriander, cinnamon, and cumin. Let my little one squeeze some honey in for sweetness. Added a splash of cider vinegar for tang (but as it boils, this taste will mellow). Then once the liquid was reduced by about half I threw the beans in, popped a lid on top and turned the heat off to let the flavors meld. They are really delicious!

Dinner's Ready!

It was my turn to cook for my Wednesday Dinner Exchange (see March 18, 2009 posting for details on how to start your own). Last week we enjoyed an amazing Gazpacho alongside a Shrimp and Orzo Salad cooked by Christine. So yummy. For anyone who is keeping track, yes, today is Tuesday. The beauty of this swap is that we're all moms and we all have busy schedules, so the group is flexible on the day you pick to cook. Now the serving dishes are packed up and ready for my three friends to pick-up. Here is what I whipped up:

Cuban Picadillo
Citrus-Infused Black Beans
Endive salad with beets, pistachios and goat cheese + sherry vinaigrette
Fresh mango with cinnamon, toasted coconut and mint

The house smells fabulous, and I got all of the cooking done between the time the school bus came for my big one and my little one’s mommy & me gym class started. Translation if you prefer to go by a clock: about 2 hours start to finish (with a couple breaks to answer the phone, admire a block building, and check email).

Will post the recipes momentarily…just need to get the little one to nap (instead of systematically dismantling his bookshelf) so I have a couple minutes of peace to type them up for you.