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Eat the Freezer

One of my favorite things about being the mom is that I get to choose every meal. If I don’t like it, we don’t have it. The problem is my family gets hungry every day, and they get cranky if I don’t feed them.

Every now and then I will have a week like this one, where I feel completely uninspired in the kitchen. Usually, I have taste for something, or feel like trying something new, and I can build an entire week of meals around that. For example, let’s say I feel like beef stew. I count on doing that one evening, and exclude other beef dishes for the rest of the week. It’s also heavy, so to balance it out I’ll make something light for one other meal: either soup or a salad-based meal. Throw in a pasta dish and a simple chicken or fish, depending on my mood, and there you have it.

But what happens when there is no center around which to build? Sometimes I ask my family what they want, but this is rarely as helpful as it sounds. My son always wants sushi, which would be great if we lived on the ocean and caught our own fish and seaweed every day. My daughter wants macaroni and cheese or hot dogs. Nothing against these choices, but I like to save convenience dinners for when we really need them.

Though I usually decide what I want then go out and buy it, frugal moms tell me I’m doing it backwards. To save money, they say, use what you have and buy only what’s on sale. So this week I decided to make myself a challenge: cook only what I already have in the freezer, fridge, and pantry. I allowed one trip to the store, but only to buy fresh produce and dairy..

Did I mention that I have two freezers?

Monday: stir-fry
I found a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a wrinkled but edible bell pepper, and a mostly used package of rice noodles. I defrosted one of the three breasts in the package, cut it into small chunks, and soaked it in 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons Chardonnay, and a pinch of salt.

While the chicken soaked, I heated a cup of oil — yes, a cup — in a large frying pan. When the oil got hot, I dropped the noodles in a little at a time. They puffed up immediately and got crunchy. I pulled them out and drained them on a cloth. The baby ate most of them right from the counter, but a few did make it to the dinner table.

After draining most of the oil, I cut up the pepper, 1/2 an onion, and one clove garlic and stir-fried them together for a few minutes. When the onions got soft, I added the chicken mixture and cooked it all together until it cooked through. Served it with rice, puffed noodles, and soy sauce on the side. Four out of five of my family loved it.

Tuesday: calzones
I found the idea online and it caught my fancy. My kids love pizza, and since Tuesdays I have a little extra time to get dinner on the table it seemed like a good night to try it.

The online recipe calls for canned bread dough, but my husband decided to make whole wheat pizza dough from scratch using our bread maker. He made enough for a single loaf of bread, which was not quite enough for five calzones, even with one of them a mini.

I shredded some mozzarella cheese that was leftover from a few weeks ago and chopped up and sautéed an onion and a few mushrooms. These, plus frozen spinach, were the filling. My husband made a quick sauce using canned tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic and spices. I let the kids pick their own fillings, then baked the calzones for 20 minutes at 400F. It was very well-received.

Wednesday: turkey burgers with guacamole
Turkey burgers are a tried and true staple in our household because they go so well with other favorites: sautéed onions, sautéed mushrooms, guacamole, BBQ sauce, and carrot sticks. The onions and mushrooms are from the same batch as Tuesday’s calzones, and the other items happened to be in the fridge. We don’t have burger buns, but we do have pita bread, some (more) rice noodles, and pasta.

I defrosted the turkey meat — I use regular turkey meat that’s 85% lean because I prefer the texture and flavor over ground turkey breast. I made patties and sprinkled them on both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then fried them in a grill pan, so the fat could drain off. I served them with the rice noodles and let the kids choose from the items above.

Thursday: leftovers/convenience
Thursday is usually leftover night and we rarely have trouble meeting the demand. It’s a great way to clean out the fridge, too. I was concerned there may not be enough this week for leftovers night, but as usual my fears were unfounded. My husband was worried, too, so he made a quick salad with white beans, chopped red onion, chopped tomato, and apple cider vinegar.

I keep an extra bag of ravioli in the freezer, just in case one of these weeks I’m right.

Friday: gnocchi
While doing my fridge inventory, I noticed a lot of russet potatoes. A lot. Why do I have so many russet potatoes? Same reason I tend to collect packages of baby carrots: their potential as a fill-in. You can pair a potato with any kind of meat or fish, and they are great in any form (baked, roasted, mashed, in soups, etc).

I made gnocchi once before and was surprised at how easy it was. Easy, but labor intensive. I use this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/gnocchi-recipe2/index.html. I learned to boil the gnocchi immediately after forming them otherwise they can get mushy and you will have to re-shape them. Not as much fun the second time around.

Anyway, it’s a good way to use those potatoes and the extra calzone sauce from Tuesday. If I can find some turkey sausage hiding in the freezer, so much the better. I plan to add a can of diced tomatoes, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese to the sauce.

5 Easy Essentials for Moms

These days, being a mom means being super-busy.  There are times when the kids take so much time and energy, we barely have enough left for ourselves.  This can translate into a wardrobe that isn’t up-to-date or doesn’t fit our current body.  Furthermore, lifestyle changes can leave us with the question, what can I wear?  Here are 5 essentials that can take you from kid-time to adult time and many places in between:
1. Jeans – Great jeans are a mom’s best friend.  They are durable, versatile, and can be dressed up or down.  Plus, when you choose jeans in a flattering cut, they can make you look thinner while remaining extremely comfortable.
2. A T-shirt – Not just any old tee, but one cut for a woman in a just-right length.  Easy to wash, easy to layer, and fitted in all the right places, they’re easy to stock up at an affordable price.
3. Blazer or Cardigan – Depending on your body shape and personality, have at least one you can throw on in a pinch to pull your look together.  The blazer or cardigan should fit exceptionally well, and choose a neutral color so it will go with nearly everything.
4. Comfortable Shoes – (But comfortable does not have to mean stodgy!)  We all have different levels of comfort, but well-made shoes are worth the investment. Good quality shoes will support your feet (vs creating bunions and pressure points) and finish off your look.  Right now there are so many styles to choose from, it’s easy for your shoes to be both chic and comfortable.
5. A Pretty Top – More than a t-shirt and less formal than a button-down, this is the top you can depend on for a last-minute family gathering, a school event, a meeting with an old friend, or even date night.  You should own at least one pretty top that makes you feel fabulous as soon as you put it on. (And by the way, no tugging, pulling, or bunching is allowed!)
And there you have it, 5 essentials that will cover you whether you’re at the park or the mall, staying home or on the road.  Coming next month: How to Shop Vintage (for Moms or for Kids).
Warmly,
Kaity Moreira
Mama Style Maven
Have style questions? Email Kaity at stylekaity@gmail.com.
Kaity is a new mom and entrepreneur, stylist, and personal shopper.  For more info, check out her website at www.StyleUpCo.com.

Perseverations

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It’s like Groundhog Day at my house. The same music and lines play over and over in the background. And over. It’s because April is Autism Awareness Month, and my son has recently had the privilege of being part of a series of Public Service Announcements for the occasion. We just received a link to the almost final product, and he is watching them for the zillionth time and laughing when the video gets to his part. He’s the rock star. You can watch one of them here.

I love seeing him so proud. We haven’t talked a lot about autism, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond to this experience. I admit I held my breath when the producer walked into the green room and asked the kids what they know about it. My kid was the first to raise his hand and gave me chills when he said “autism means you’re talented.”

It’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because there is a wide range of abilities and functionality amongst people with autism. The definition and criteria are changing, and it is becoming ever more prevalent. Current estimates are that 1 in 50 school-aged children has autism, with far more boys than girls being diagnosed. “Asperger’s syndrome” is used interchangeably with “high-functioning autism,” though recent diagnostic changes have eliminated Asperger’s as a distinct diagnosis. Anyone with an ASD diagnosis is “on the spectrum.”

ASD is a neurological disorder that causes the brain and nervous system to behave differently than in “typical” individuals. It manifests in a variety of ways including hypersensitivity to touch, sound, light and other stimulation; failure to understand common social cues such as facial expression, tone of voice, and body language; problems with coordination (dyspraxia); repeating the same words and phrases over and over (perseveration); urges to move the body repetitively and without purpose (“stimming”); erratic sleeping and eating patterns; learning disabilities; routines which are rigidly followed and other symptoms. Someone with high-functioning autism, like my kid, may seem like any other kid until you get to know him. Those with so-called classic autism may appear profoundly disabled.

Living with someone on the spectrum has its challenges, but it also makes me a more thoughtful parent and person. It’s not just from trying to explain his disability, but learning how to speak and act in a way that resonates. For example, I’ve learned not to ask him “why” (why are you crying?) but to phrase the question as what, who, or where (what made you cry?). I’ve learned that he will cringe if I touch him unexpectedly, and I warn others that he will not want them to touch him at all. As a parent, I am often surprised and sometimes annoyed at how many people cling to outdated notions about autism, and in the spirit of this month, I present my list of top Autism myths.

People with autism don’t talk
Actually, my child with autism talks. A lot. Sometimes he won’t stop talking. While some people with autism truly are nonverbal, most can and do talk. The difference between them and “typically developing children” appears in how they talk. They may speak randomly and repetitively, or talk obsessively about something. It may be that when you ask a question they respond with an unrelated statement or not at all. The answer may be memorized or have that feel because of a flat or overly exaggerated tone of voice. You can learn some amazing things by listening to what’s on their minds.

People with autism are aggressive
This one came up in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, CT. Some members of the media speculated that the perpetrator may have had Asperger’s. This may or may not be true, but Asperger’s does not cause someone to kill. It may have caused misunderstandings with others, social isolation or anger (far more likely directed inward than outward), but people with Asperger’s are also very in tune with rules and consequences. They live and breathe by rules, sometimes to the extreme, because rules are clear and direct and tell people exactly how to behave. It’s possible that Adam Lanza may have had Asperger’s, but its also irrelevant to the suffering he caused for so many.

People with autism are loners
It’s true that you often find them alone, but it’s not (usually) because they want to be. People with autism often don’t know how to approach others, or how to do so appropriately. They may be naturally shy, or have social anxiety that prevents them from trying to engage with others, or they may be outgoing and filled with ideas, but have trouble negotiating social dynamics and fail to engage socially. Sometimes they are put off by the noise created when too many people gather, so they walk away.

People with autism are stupid
Ok, need I say it? They aren’t stupid. In fact, some of the most brilliant people in history are thought to be (or were) autistic. Check out this list .

People with autism are geniuses
Not always. Just as there is a wide range of ability amongst the general population, there is a wide range in the autistic community. the difference is that the ability is much wider within the individual. My son’s pediatrician explains it this way: you know how everyone is relatively good at some things and less so at others? In people with autism, the range is much wider. I may be good at cooking, but I’m not likely to win any contests. By the same token, I’m not so great at team sports but I can get by ok. My kid with autism is off the charts in both directions.

Your child doesn’t have autism, he just needs more discipline
Kids with autism sometimes appear “wild” or out of control because of the way they experience the world. They become overstimulated very easily and because they don’t understand social cues they will not respond to “the look” and scolding only makes them more anxious. They also tend to argue with parents and caregivers because the system of authority makes no sense to them. If I can tell my son to sit still and be quiet, why can’t he tell me to do the same? He may not be able to sit still through an entire meal because his nervous system is urging him to stim, and he may not make it to the bathroom because he can’t feel it coming. An experienced therapist once told me that, when it comes to kids on the spectrum, “they would if they could, not they could if they would.”

Don’t get me wrong, there are effective ways to teach kids on the spectrum self-control, but it requires more thought and consistency than for other kids because they just won’t respond to the standard parenting techniques.

People with autism are good at math and science
People with autism tend to be extremely analytical. They have to be in order to fit in with others. This analytical ability sometimes translates to prowess in math and science. Think of Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory — a brilliant portrayal of someone on the spectrum. Sheldon shows how he uses his professional skills to get by socially and vice versa. But in real life, people with autism are good at all sorts of things. My kid thrives at chess and creativity and and admits that math is his Achille’s heel.

Judith is our Active Mama’s Munchie Maven and Yoga Maven. That means she teaches Active Mama’s Cooking Basics Chef classes, and is also our instructor for Active Mama’s Mommy Yoga with Judith.

Judith is refreshingly laid back, exceptional at what she does, and is the able mother of 3 beautiful children.

Judith comes well-accredited. She earned her Masters of Public Health and her passion is helping people find ways to make their lives healthier.

If you have questions for Judith she can be messaged through http://www.meetup.com/Active-Mamas

Pastover

Friends, it seems I’m a day late and a dollar short. I wanted to write about Passover, which is more than full of food traditions, I could not get it together before the holiday ended Tuesday night (4/2/13). Instead of starting from scratch and skipping this week’s blog, I give you the blog I should have posted last week. Though Passover is now “Past over,” I hope enjoy it.

This week is Passover and if you think cooking is tricky the rest of the year, it’s extra tricky this week. Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is the annual celebration of the Jews being liberated from slavery, wandering in the dessert for 40 years, and becoming a cohesive group. It’s also proof positive that we are obsessed with food. For eight days, we relive the journey out of Egypt by the one thing that every Jewish person reviles: restricting our diet.

Judaism is know for laws against eating pork, shellfish, and mixing meat with dairy. During the eight days of Passover, we are also forbidden from eating bread, pasta, or anything made with certain grains, yeast, or anything leavened.* Instead, we eat matzah, a flat cracker sort of thing that non-Jews claim is delicious but talk to me after eight days of the stuff.

Being a resourceful people, there are hundreds of recipes to accommodate the discriminating palettes of dessert wanderers. Here are three of my favorites:

Haroset: Haroset is a ceremonial food that is an important part of the seder meal. Its paste-like texture is meant to evoke the mortar that holds bricks together and thus symbolizes slavery. It is made with whatever fruits and nuts are available, depending on the continent. In the U.S., haroset is typically made with apples, nuts and sweet wine, but I’ve made it with dates, coconut, apricots, etc. Haroset is the one Passover food I truly can’t wait to have. We make it for the Seder (ceremony and dinner that is the staple of the holiday), we eat it all week long.

6 peeled apples, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup chopped almonds
3 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 tablespoon sweet red wine

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. For chunky haroset, chop apples and nuts by hand (instead of the food processor) and combine with other ingredients.

Matzah ball soup: A matzah ball is a Jewish dumpling, made with oil, eggs and matzah meal (ground matzah). Matzah balls are most commonly eaten in chicken soup, but can also be a great side dish to brisket.

There is much debate and mythology around matzah balls, also known as knaydl (kah-nay-dul). Each family has its own traditions and conflict can ensue when, for example, someone who likes them fluffy marries someone who likes them firm. The inevitable floaters vs. sinkers debate makes an appearance in my own household every year.

There are also traditions around making the matzah balls. Some people insist that the only way to cook matzah balls is to cover the pot tightly and — this is critical — do not open the lid until they are done. Of course, this is nonsense. Everyone knows that the only way to make good matzah balls is by dropping the raw dough into boiling water from very high up. If you have a ladder, so much the better.

1/2 cup matzah meal (finely ground matzah)
2 eggs
2 tbsp. oil or schmaltz (melted chicken fat)
A pinch of salt
2 quarts chicken broth 
A handful of baby carrots or regular carrots cut into large chunks 
1 onion, chopped
a few stalks of celery cut into large chunks (optional)

Bring the broth to a vigorous boil, then reduce the heat until the broth is just barely boiling. Add the vegetables to the broth and simmer for 30 mins or up to several hours. The longer they simmer, the more the veggies will flavor the soup.

Beat the eggs, oil and water together thoroughly. Add the matzah meal and mix until you achieve an even consistency. Let this sit for a about 15 minutes, so the matzah meal absorbs the other ingredients.

Wet your hands and make balls of about 1-2 tbsp. of the batter. Drop the balls gently into the boiling water. They will be cooked enough to eat in about 15 minutes; however, you may want to leave it simmering for 20-30 to absorb more of the chicken broth flavor and to make them fluffier. They are done when they float on top of the broth and look bloated.

Matzah brittle: OK, there’s one other food I look forward to on Passover. Matzah has just the right texture for brittle, and after a week of the stuff, it’s the only way I can get it down.

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 sheets matzah

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and lay matzah in a single layer on top. It’s ok to break it into pieces . Do not skip the parchment.

Melt butter and sugar together over medium heat and boil until it becomes caramel color. Pour over matzah, covering as much surface as possible. Bake 10-12 minutes. Let cool, then break into bite-sized pieces.

For more about Passover history, traditions and food, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover.

*The laws and interpretations are quite a bit more restrictive for some. These restrictions include corn, rice, legumes, or anything derived from these items like corn syrup.

————
Judith is our Active Mama’s Munchie Maven and Yoga Maven. That means she teaches Active Mama’s Cooking Basics Chef classes, and is also our instructor for Active Mama’s Mommy Yoga with Judith.

Judith is refreshingly laid back, exceptional at what she does, and is the able mother of 3 beautiful children.

Judith comes well-accredited. She earned her Masters of Public Health and her passion is helping people find ways to make their lives healthier.

If you have questions for Judith she can be messaged throughhttp://www.meetup.com/Active-Mamas