Category Archives: Food

Cleanse Recipes + What now?

I’m guessing that most of you have heard of a little something called Whole30? If not, all you need to do is a tiny little Google search, and you’ll immediately have SCADS of detailed summaries, explanations, and recipes at your eyeball-tips (weird mental image). In other words, it’s kind of a big deal right  now.

Basically, it’s an eating plan that involves consuming only “clean” foods, with an emphasis on unprocessed ingredients and avoiding wheat, gluten, dairy, and sugar for 30 days (if you’re a Whole30 aficionado, and this explanation sounds too simplistic, I apologize; I’m hardly an expert).

But even with all of that info readily available, I’ve always balked at trying it, simply because the mere thought of attempting to conjure something creative and clean and yummy every single day on top of all the usual stuff I have on my–ahem–plate was a little overwhelming. And conversely, assuming a total lack of creativity, the thought of eating scrambled eggs and salad for a whole month made me want to take a nosedive into the nearest gallon of Rocky Road.

So, when I decided to try even a 10 day cleanse, my #1 apprehension was not that I wouldn’t be able to cut it going cold turkey with no sugar (I’ve done it before and was fine) but that I would get bored and frustrated and feel deprived.

Turns out, I was waaaaay off on that one.

I mean, sure, within the first 24 hours, I felt pretty much like, “Duuuuuuh. Okay, I’ve eaten about 3 dozen eggs. Now what?”

But after that, everything started to feel a bit more organic (even if it wasn’t actually; more on that in a second), and it started to feel almost like a fun game to come up with different delicious combos of easy, healthy foods that I had on hand.

So, what did I eat? Well, lots of this.cleanse food

My main staples for this cleanse were: eggs, ground turkey, chicken, black beans, corn, strawberries, apples, bananas, salad greens, kale, quinoa, avocados, tomatoes, onions, steel cut oats, raw almonds, and peanut or almond butter.

Almost every single meal I ate had one or more of these elements in it. But the combinations are pretty much endless, so other than one sad Sunday lunch when I felt like anything BUT a salad with hummus and rotisserie chicken, every meal felt like a great big party in my mouth. And because I made sure to keep things flavorful and fresh, I never even missed my normal sprinkling of cheese or croutons or side of crusty bread.

My husband didn’t participate, strictly speaking, but if there was extra of what I was having, he always ate it, and loved every bit of it. He literally spoke the words, “Man, you always make good stuff, but you’re hitting it out of the PARK ever since you started this cleanse!” So, if you’re worried about doing this and how it will affect the rest of your family…I wouldn’t.

The particular cleanse that I participated in was supposed to focus on foods with a very low glycemic index, so technically, bananas, sweet potatoes, corn, and several other fine-for-you but naturally sweet/starchy things weren’t allowed.

However, I made a conscious choice to deviate from the plan in cases when it would have been more difficult to find a replacement food rather than just eat the good thing that was already in my kitchen.

Which brings me to another point: I didn’t go out of my way to be super hardcore about this cleanse.

My black beans came from a can. I didn’t make my own taco seasoning. I used a tablespoon of white flour in my sweet potato and zucchini latkes. My peanut butter was organic but only because it was the only kind I could find without added sugar. I ate a cookie–gasp!– one night when we had company.

I wanted to be true to the challenge, but mostly, I wanted to focus on making better choices. Because the truth is that I didn’t eat so very terribly before. I just knew I could make improvements. And this cleanse definitely represented that.

So, for all who have asked for exact, detailed, cleanse guidelines, I actually am not allowed to share them with you because it was created by an ItWorks! distributor and would require several of their supplementary products to be followed to the letter. I, myself, only had a few of them at my disposal and certainly did not adhere strictly to that aspect of the plan. (If you’re serious about doing this particular cleanse, including the ItWorks resources, you can shoot me an email at blogabbie{at}gmail{dot}com, and I can get you more info). I’m sure I would have gotten even better results with the supplements, but I was okay with just seeing what the clean eating produced.

If you’re interested in doing what I did, well, then avoid sugar, processed foods (this means: cereal, fast food, canned soups, TV dinners, chips, etc. etc. etc.) dairy, gluten, and simple carbs (white rice, bread, traditional oatmeal, etc.), and load up on veggies, meat, fruit, and water, and you’ll just about have it.

More specifically, here are some of my favorite recipes that I used.

My Black Bean Salsa

My Taco Soup

My Chicken Tortilla Soup

Apple Pie Steel Cut Oatmeal

Mandy’s Restaurant Style Salsa

Whole30 Chicken Lettuce Wraps (I used soy sauce and minced chicken breast because I’m not a huge fan of ground chicken)

Zucchini and Sweet Potato Latkes (Oh. my. word. HEAVEN)

Paleo Banana Pancakes

Cilantro Lime Quinoa (recipe below)

Saute 1 small onion + 2 cloves of garlic + 1 cup of quinoa in a TBS of olive oil for several minutes over medium heat (don’t burn the garlic). Add 1 can of low sodium chicken broth, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid has cooked off. Add juice of half a lime, and a large handful of chopped cilantro.

Stir to combine and serve warm. SOOOOOOOO GOOOD.

(One of my favorite meals was a Chipotle style bowl with this cilantro lime quinoa as its base, plus black bean salsa, chicken, tomatoes, and guacamole. My mouth is watering just thinking about it).

Guacamole (recipe below)

2 mashed avocados

Juice of half a lime

Generous sprinkle of salt

Smaller sprinkles of garlic powder, cayenne, and cumin (sorry about the fuzzy quantity descriptions; I always just do it to taste)

1/2 small onion, chopped

1 Roma tomato, chopped

1 small handful of cilantro, minced

Stir it all together and go to town!

My snacks consisted of:

Sugar snap peas, cucumbers, celery, and any other kind of crunchy, fresh veggie I could come up with

Apples with almond or peanut butter (no sugar added)

Smoothies (I used unsweetened almond milk + frozen fruit + 1 banana + kale + chia seeds, and it was divine!)

Dried fruit (apricots, cherries, apples, etc.)

Raw almonds

Fresh fruit

Oh, and in case you need more inspiration, I’ve started a clean eating Pinterest board.

…………………………………………………………………………………………

As far as how I felt, I was surprised at how full/satisfied I was pretty much all the time. I kept loose mental calculations of my caloric intake most days, and sometimes, it added up to less than my normal numbers, even with all of the avocado and nuts. But I rarely felt hungry, which is a huge deal for a girl who’s been in the throes of pregnancy + nursing induced “hanger” for almost 10 years.

Obviously, the fact that I wasn’t eating empty calories made a huge difference.

I didn’t notice any decrease in my milk supply, mostly due, I’m sure, to all the protein + good fats + water that I was consuming.

And apparently, this Texas girl has a high tolerance for gassy foods, and so do her children because I never noticed any particular digestive issues for either me or Theo, even after days of beans and onions and salad and garlic and broccoli even.

So…what now?

Well, mostly, I’m going to continue with more of the same. My goal is to eat 90% clean. A great example of that would be yesterday, which consisted of: eggs with veggies, homemade salsa, and avocado for breakfast, dried fruit + almonds for snacks, taco soup, guacamole and (literally) 4 corn chips for lunch, and then Chick-fil-a for dinner. I got a salad, but I didn’t take the cheese off, and I used a tiny drizzle of the packaged salad dressing. I even had a bite of one of the twin’s sandwich and a spoonful of her ice cream when she didn’t finish it all. And I’m totally fine with that.

Again, the goal is not absolute strict adherence, but…better. I’m going to actually start using the dehydrator my husband got me for Mother’s Day (a year ago) and making my own granola and bread. But I plan to move slowly at a sure and steady pace towards cleaner eating, rather than attempting to dive in all at once, which is a surefire way for me to fail.

So, what about you guys? Is this something that you’ve always wanted to try? What do you feel like are your biggest hang-ups to getting started?

Any questions for me that I didn’t answer? I’m no expert, but I’ll certainly do my best to answer anything you ask.

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10 Day Cleanse BEFORE + AFTER Results

I told y’all two weeks ago that I was embarking on a 10 day clean-eating “skinny cleanse” (the girl who came up with it called it that, not me) and that I would keep you updated. Well, if you followed along on Instagram (@misformama), then you probably got more than your fill of my daily meal updates (think: LOTS of colorful plates of yumminess), but, now that it’s over, I wanted to do an official results blog post.

Honestly, I pretty much don’t weigh myself anymore. I haven’t for several years now. In fact, the only two times I have weighed myself in the past year before this cleanse were at 27 weeks pregnant with Theo and then a couple of times postpartum.

However, with a definite change in my eating habits, I was curious to know how my body would respond, so I did weigh and measure before and then immediately after the cleanse.

And here’s what I discovered:

Over the course of 10 days of eating almost exclusively proteins + fruits + veggies + good fats and drinking only water, I lost 5 pounds and 9 inches from my upper arms, thighs, and waist.

To say that I was pleased with those numbers is quite the understatement, but it wasn’t until I saw the before and after pictures that I really understood the full extent of what a mere 10 days could do to my body composition.

{In all three of the pics below, the BEFORE is on the left, and the AFTER is on the right. The only editing I did was to lighten them because they were taken in a dark gym locker-room}

cleanse

cleanse1

cleanse3I was honestly surprised that 5 pounds made that much of a difference. I could definitely feel it in the way my clothes were fitting, so I knew it wasn’t water weight, but seeing that last pic with the difference in my–ahem–caboose really made me excited for the progress I’d made on losing my last 10-12ish pounds of baby weight. I think the loss that surprised me the most was 1 1/4″ off of each bicep, but looking at the second pic, I can definitely see where it came from.

I didn’t take any before and after pics of this because I didn’t anticipate it, but I could tell a difference in my skin as well. It looked more even, with fewer of the tiny, ever-present red splotches that make BB cream so necessary to smooth everything out.

If you’re curious about exactly what I ate and how it made me feel, never fear. I’ll be sharing all of those gory details (with recipes!) tomorrow.

But the short version is: I felt great on the cleanse. I never experienced any withdrawals. I had very few cravings. I ate some of the best food I’ve had in months. And my milk supply was great, thanks to lots of good fats and an average of 90 ounces of water a day.

I actually went on a girls’ weekend with my friend, Lindsay (who did the cleanse with me), and some other girls last weekend, and ate “normal” for 2 days. And, while, I enjoyed the treats (Fro-yo! Icees! Fried rice! Pizza), I definitely noticed that I felt more sluggish and bloated after meals in which I indulged.

Which is why I’m back on the clean-eating wagon, with some modifications to allow for occasional treats, some dairy, and some carbs that weren’t allowed for the 10 days.

In fact, I’m off to make my eggs with veggies now. :)

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Now I’ve done it…

I’m not a big fan of fad diets or anything too drastic in the food department. I realize that it works well for other people, but I’m more of an “everything in moderation” type.

But here’s the deal: right after I have a baby, I tend to be a leeeeetle too easy on myself, food-wise. In the first 3 weeks after, I allow myself whatever my heart desires. And usually my heart desires lots of pizza and chocolate.

Ahem.

Fast-forward to 3 1/2 months post-partum, and, while I’m definitely not indulging like I was in those first few weeks after Theo was born, I’m still eating more junk than my body is really terribly happy with at the moment. In addition to the 10ish pounds that are still hanging around on this here body of mine, I can definitely tell that my 32-year-old self is just not handling my daily dose of “a little something sweet” as well as the 29-year-old version of me.

Sigh.

Because my problem is not portion control. I mean, sure, I can overeat, but I’m much more likely to struggle with sugar than anything else.

So, when my friend Lindsay (you met her here) told me she was doing a “skinny cleanse,” I was intrigued. And when she told me what it was–10 days of “clean” eating in combo with various It Works supplements to help aid in the detoxing of the yucky stuff my system has been absorbing over the past several months–I was sold.

Now, before you get worried that I’m doing a “cleanse” while nursing, let me assure you that there’s lots of eating going on.

The emphasis is on good fats, lean proteins, and lots of veggies and fruit. I’ll be guzzling water, and, while I’ll use a few of the It Works supplements (most notably their “Greens,” which are great for adding in lots of nutrients that I’m not naturally getting from my food), my focus is on the dietary aspects of the cleanse.

I’m cutting out: dairy, sugar, simple carbs, processed foods, and anything to drink other than water. And it’s only for 10 days. I will, of course, be monitoring my milk supply and adjust as necessary if I feel like it’s being affected.

But, seriously, y’all?

This was my breakfast this morning.

skinny cleanse

That would be farm-fresh eggs (my mama has chickens) scrambled with onions and tomatoes and topped with homemade salsa and avocado (with a side of strawberries and bananas, obviously). It. was. DELICIOUS.

Honestly, it was the best breakfast I’ve had in a while.

So, yeah. Not too sad about this clean eating business. One meal in, at least. ;)

skinny cleanse1

Mmmmmmm. I’m already looking forward to a repeat tomorrow.

So, what about you guys? Have you ever done a cleanse? Or a Whole 30? Or maybe you’re a clean eater 24/7? (You rock). I’m interested to see how this goes. I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. Don’t forget to get your name in the hat for our Rockin’ Baby sling giveaway! It ends tonight!

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It’s Fri-YAY! Let’s eat some carrot cake…

So, I had a #Mamalifehack all lined up to show you today, but after a week without Shaun here (not a bad week at all…just, you know, a WEEK), I thought that perhaps the best Mama-tip I could share today might be this one.

cake

And that would be…when you’ve had “a week,” allow yourself a slice of THEE best carrot cake you will ever taste.

{I know it looks like chocolate cake, but it isn’t; that’s just what happens when you take your pictures with the last slivers of the day’s light}

I have posted about it at least twice before (and every single time I’ve made it for any event, people have asked for the recipe). But I made it again yesterday as a bribe reward for the kids being suuuuper helpful with chores (oh, and because…cake), and it was so amazingly moist and melt-in-your-mouth-yummy that I just had to share again. I did.

A couple of tips:

1. Pay NO mind whatsoever to the bake time. I have no idea why it suggests 35 minutes for a three layer cake, but mine took 20 on the dot (and I’d say my oven cooks pretty accurately), and if I’d cooked it a couple of minutes longer, it would have been too dry.

2. If you like nuts at all, DO add some chopped up pecans to the batter. OH. MY. It adds so much depth to the flavor and texture.

3. This recipe calls for 1 cup and 1/2 of vegetable oil (!!!), so I like to make it a teeeensy bit healthier by turning 1/2 a cup of that into apple sauce. It makes everything even moister without adding unnecessary oil. (I’ve done it with a cup of apple sauce too, and it was still great).

4. If you don’t have an awesome cream cheese icing recipe, you can try mine (which is more of a “recipe” than a recipe, if you know what I’m sayin’):

  • 8 oz. (FULL FAT) cream cheese (slightly softened)
  • 1/2 stick of butter (slightly softened)
  • 2-3 tbs. of milk
  • 32 oz. of good quality powdered sugar (I don’t care about name brand stuff, but, trust me, in this case, it makes a difference)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Whip your softened cream cheese + butter until creamy, then add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until it begins to take on a frosting texture. When it gets too thick to spread, add the milk + vanilla. Keep adding powdered sugar until you have thick, creamy frosting that holds its shape but still spreads easily. It may not take the entire 32 oz. bag, but it’s better to err on the side of too much rather than too little powdered sugar because runny cream cheese frosting is just a bummer.

So, there you have it. Something to put even more YAY in your Friday. I’m off to have a piece of cake for breakfast. (I tell myself this is because I’m teaching BODYCOMBAT later, but let’s be real: I would have eaten it anyway).

Okay, so spill: what do you do to make “a week” better?

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Mama Life Hacks: Easy Chick-Fil-A Knock-off Breakfast Sandwich

Most Tuesday nights, you can find us in the (torturously long) Chick-Fil-A drive-thru line. (Side note: did you know that “tortUous” is a word? It means “windy,” “twisty,” or “complicated/confusing.” I just learned that today).

It’s our favorite family fast food restaurant (pretty much our only one, actually) (say that five times fast, by the way), and Tuesday nights are kids eat free nights (one kids’ meal for every adult meal ordered), which means that we can feed our entire family for $20.

Our tab is usually a bit higher than that, though, because I almost always order an extra sandwich or two to bring home.

Shaun likes his sandwiches best cold for breakfast (such a sweet, handsome weirdo, my husband), but one morning, I got a brilliant idea to make “his” sandwich stretch a bit further so that everybody could enjoy some Chick-Fil-A yumminess for breakfast without a) another trip into town and b) the expense of buying individual sandwiches.

It was such a big hit that it’s fast become our Wednesday morning breakfast routine.

Here’s what I do:

First, I scramble about a dozen eggs in my usual way (a good splash of milk, generous salt and pepper).

Then I chop up the chicken from a Chick-Fil-A sandwich into tiny chunks and toss it into the eggs fresh off the stove (the hot eggs warm the chicken through in no time).

chicken eggs

I’ll serve them to my kids in bowls (everyone except Simon absolutely LOVES them; not sure what his problem is since he like scrambled eggs and Chick-Fil-A chicken separately). But for me and Shaun, I’ll toast the bun from the sandwich + whatever bread we have at home with a little cheddar, and then pile them up with what we have now dubbed, “Chicken Eggs.” (We’re creative geniuses. Next thing you know, we’ll be naming a baby, “Girl,” or, better yet, “Human”).

Paired with a little Chick-Fil-A sauce (and I do mean a little…that stuff is a heart attack in a tiny plastic pouch), the result is two ridiculously delicious breakfast sandwiches + enough eggs to feed the rest of the family (usually with leftovers) for about $6.

Of course, when you just so happened to have gone to Sam’s the day before and, moreover, just so happened to have let your kids talk you into bringing home a giant box of even more giant croissants…

Well, let’s just say that breakfast this morning was especially decadent.

breakfast sandwich

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes, just something small like an especially yummy, restaurant-style breakfast (and the knowledge that I did it on the cheap) is enough to start my morning off on a really good note and keep it rolling all day long.

What about you guys? Any fun restaurant hacks to share?

Or any other little tip or trick to make Mama-life a little easier (cheaper!) and more manageable?

I’m all ears!

P.S. Don’t forget to tag your tips in social media with #mamalifehacks so I can feature YOU!

P.P.S. Have you entered our fun Younique giveaway yet? Entries close TONIGHT!

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Fancy That {Valentine’s Food}

I had a reader ask me in response to Monday’s post for some suggestions for stay-home-and-cook fancy meals, so I thought it might be fun to scout out a few options and then share them with you guys.

I did a little poking around Pinterest (I may not be good at it, but–newsflash–it’s really useful! Who knew!) and this is what I came up with:

1.

Beef Stifado

stifado

{via}

Okay, truth be told, I didn’t need Pinterest for this (except to nab that gorgeous picture) because Shaun and I experienced the realdeal Greek version on our trip to Santorini last summer. This is one of those dishes that is so tender and flavorful that it’s universally appealing. Unless you’re a vegetarian. In which case, you have my sincerest condolences.

And truth be told (again), this dish isn’t really so very fancy or hard to make (although, you’ll want to start early since it needs to cook a while; in fact, if you want to cook ahead and only cook sides on the evening of, it tastes even better on the second day). But it’s still a little more involved and exotic than your average Tuesday night dinner (because who wants to make Turkey meatloaf–again–for Valentine’s Day?).

There are pretty much a bazillion different versions of this floating around the internets, so feel free to browse the ingredients and see which one sounds the most up your alley, but I would definitely go with one that has reviews rather than setting yourself up for the now ubiquitous #pinterestfail.

I made one I found when we were feeling a bit nostalgic after we got home from Greece, and it was delish, but I didn’t save it (told you I’m bad at Pinterest), so, apologies for being no help in the specific recipe department.

2.

Wildfire Crusted Filets

To make up for my lack of specific direction above, let me point you to two very detailed recipes for crusted filet–namely this one with a parmesan crust and this one with a kicky horseradish crust (my husband’s fave).

Parmesan-Crusted-Filet-Mignon-1

We’re kind of enamored with these steaks that are knock-offs of the filet medallions that a Chicago-area restaurant called Wildfire serves (that link goes to my Chi-town blog recap, not the restaurant website).  They’re our go-to special dinner choice, even though I’m not even a red meat kinda girl. (not that you would know it from my suggestions so far).

But–truth be told (man, I like that phrase today)–we love the buttery, crispy gorgeousness you put on top as much as the steaks, so we usually cut the meat in half horizontally, so that it’s only an inch thick or so (total money saver, too, since these bad boys are pricey). I realize this is practically sacrilege to a true steak-lover (believe me, the “&%$#??!” look I got from the bright-eyed, eager meat manager at Super 1 that one time he offered to custom cut my steaks, and I asked for thin ones, was enough to assure me that we.are.weird. As if I didn’t already know #sixkids #duh).

I’m pretty sure if you’re a thick (aka not-weird-like-us) steak lover, though, these would still turn out juuuuuuust fine.

3.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

And now, meandering back into the world I live in pretty much every day, let’s talk chicken.

Pretty much the antithesis of fancy, right?

Unless you stuff it. This is one of the few times when being full of it is a good thing.

But…full of what?

stuffed-chicken-breast-recipes-roundup

Um…whatever you can dream up pretty much. This is the internet at its finest, folks. I am sharing a compilation that someone else came up with to share yet more people’s ideas. It’s called meta-sharing, y’all. And it’s awesome.

I’m already planning on giving several of these versions a go, but not on Valentine’s Day.

Why?

Because this year, we’re going French and making…

4.

Crepes

????

Seriously, Abbie, you’re making breakfast for dinner on V-day? Tres lame, no?

NO.

crepe

That’s an actual picture of an actual crepe that I actually ate in an actual Parisian creperie. And it was actually as amazing as it looks. (Side note: there’s warm, gooey, fresh apple filling inside *drool*).

Call us optimistic fools, but we’re going to attempt to make authentic French crepes–both of the savory and the dessert variety–for Valentine’s.

And if you’re wondering why the big bad bolding of the word “authentic,” it’s because my experiences with crepes before Paris had heretofore been limited to sad, rubbery, limp, imitations of the real thing.

I didn’t think I liked crepes. And then Paris happened, and I discovered that I didn’t like crepes at all.

I adored them. Like… you-want-my-firstborn-okay-here-he-is-now-give-me-the-plate obsessed.

(There is probably more than one reason why I still have an, ahem, healthy chunk of baby-weight change to lose, but I’m going with that trip to Paris and crepes as being way up there at the top of the list).

I sincerely doubt our beginner attempts will even reach the same stratosphere as the ones we ate at that tiny creperie in Montmartre.

But I’m still looking forward to giving it the old college try. I haven’t landed on the perfect recipe yet, but if they actually turn out decent, I’ll be sure to share.

What about you guys? If you’re the cook-at-home types, do you have a go-to “fancy” meal for special occasions?

What about crepes? Ever had any that produced a chorus of angels singing?

 

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That time we lost $50 worth of cookies…

Do y’all remember when Shaun took me to New York City for my birthday? I remember. It was amazing.

There was one less than amazing moment, though.

On our last morning there–indeed, in our last few minutes in the Big Apple–we managed to collectively lose our minds, 50 dollars, and some mighty tasty cookies…all in one fell swoop.

We had gotten up early and hustled to Levain bakery, where we proceeded to part with 50 hard-earned greenbacks to buy a dozen (only a dozen) of their famed chocolate chip cookies to take home as a special treat for our kids and the kind people who were watching them (my parents). Y’all know we’re frugal sorts. But every now and then, we like to splurge, especially on gifts. And, even though it was a little painful to spend that much money on cookies, we told ourselves it was worth it. After all, our chances of returning any time in the next decade (optimistically) were slim to none. And these are really big, really good cookies (okay, I’m done justifying now).

After the bakery, we hightailed it down to Rockefeller center, and I power-walked through Anthropologie, Free People, and J. Crew…just to say I’d been there.

Afterwards, I ducked into the Lego store while Shaun waited outside with our bags (we were those weirdos lugging our roller bags along the walkway through the Saturday morning crowds…Tourists).

After finding (and paying way too much for…how can plastic cost so much??) the perfect Lego set to take home for the boys, I hurried out the door, grabbed my bag, and we proceeded to annoy people with our, “Excuse us,” “Sorry,” “Coming through,” routine for about a block or so until I was suddenly overwhelmed by that sickening we’re-missing-something feeling. I took rapid stock of our various shopping bags and demanded, “WHERE are the cookies??”

Shaun just stared at me, startled.

“The cookies!” I repeated. The ridiculously expensive, can’t-believe-we-actually-bought-them cookies!!!

“I thought you had them,” he said.

“No! (pretty sure I sounded a little screechy) I set them down by you when I went inside the Lego store.”

“I never saw them,” he said. And then, he dropped his bags in a heap beside me and sprinted (or as close to it as you can get on congested Manhattan sidewalks) back the way we’d come.

It had been maaaaaaaybe five minutes since we left the Lego store. But by the time Shaun fought his way back…

The bag–containing half a Benjamin Franklin’s worth of cookie deliciousness–was gone.

levain

Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that little episode of brain-deadness practically since it happened (repression at its best, people) until I spotted this copycat recipe.

levain1

This is Shaun’s birthday week (he turns the big 3-5 on Saturday), and I knew the instant I saw the recipe that this was my big chance to at least partially redeem our bag of stolen cookies. (Side note: I sure do hope that it was someone who really needed them–as much as anyone can need a cookie, anyway).

levain2

ANYhoo, I whipped up a batch the night before last as a surprise for Shaun, and even though I managed to over-bake them slightly (despite the recipe-writer’s repeated warnings to TAKE THEM OUT EARLY…heed it, folks), they were still delicious and took a little bit of the sting out of the “batch that got away.” (I used Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips instead of dark).

I highly recommend that you give them a shot.

levain3

P.S. See my lovely painted nails? I used taking this picture as an excuse to paint them for the first time in forever. And then, when Della asked if I would paint hers, I promised her I would as soon as I finished this post. I gave her and the twins a piece of cookie to occupy them, then sat down on the couch to finish typing all of this. All was well until I heard the an ominous CLINK in the kitchen and looked up to see Della holding the top/brush of the nail polish bottle, with the bottle nowhere in sight. Yup, you guessed it. That “clink” was the sound of the glass bottle hitting the floor. A floor that is now spattered from one end to the other with the same lovely shade of deep, dark orange-red you see on my fingers.

So, I guess this post sort of has a theme: Moments that Make You Want to Put Your head Through a Wall.

Anybody want to cheer me up with a, “Oh man! Did I just do that??!” story of your own? I’ll be ever-so-grateful to come back and read them at naptime…assuming I’m not still scrubbing nail polish off of tile floors.

P.P.S. Speaking of recipes, I recently tried out these banana pancakes (twice), and these cheesecake bars. And they were both ah-mazing! You know, in case you needed any help breaking your New Year’s resolutions.

 

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“No Bake Makery” Fun

I’m not really a cookbook kind of girl. It’s not that I have anything against them. But I do tend to make the same 20 meals for our family over and over in a varied rotation. And when I want to make something specific, I pretty much always look it up on the trusty internets.

Why?

Because REVIEWS! You can find out how people liked the recipe, what they did to make it better (my faves are the ones who gush about how great the recipe is and then list no fewer than 7 fundamentally recipe-altering things that they did to “tweak it just a little.” Dude, you didn’t even follow the recipe. How would you know if it’s any good or not?).

But if I run across a fun-looking cookbook on sale, I go for it. And since I’m a sucker for cute packaging, if it looks good on the outside and has pretty pictures throughout, I’m all the more likely to take the plunge. (Shallow, much?)

Such was the case when I spotted this adorableness in the clearance section of–weirdly enough–Urbanoutfitters.com.

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See? Cute cover. Even cuter tagline: “More than 80 bite-sized treats made with lovin’, not oven.”

I did a little poking around (see above reference to my love of reviews) and discovered that 1) the price on UO was really good [it has since sold out...sorry!] and 2) No Bake Makery had great reviews on Amazon.

So, I ordered it on a whim after way too much deliberation, and I’m so glad I did!

Not only is the cover pretty, but the inside is chock full of more gorgeous shots of creative recipes like these:nomake

{These “Pecamel Fudgey Bars” are on my holiday hit-list}nomake2

See the little paragraphs at the top of each page? The author (who started out as a blogger) writes short little introductions to each recipe that are, by turns, informative, funny, and sweet. She has a great writing voice, so if you get this book, make sure you don’t just skip over the intros!nomake3-001 nomake6

The best part of all is that the recipes are really fun (if somewhat time-consuming on the first go-round) to make, and they’re perfect for getting kids involved, since there’s no oven, and most of the steps simply require smearing gooey stuff on other already made, slightly less gooey stuff.

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My boys (and even Della!) had fun getting in on the action.boys dipping2

{Give a couple of little boys jars of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, and fingers will be licked, messes will be made, and maybe, just maybe, something edible will emerge).

No Bake Makery is actually what inspired me to put some effort out for the twins’ 2nd birthday party. The boys and I ended up making two separate recipes from the book–”Minty” and “Fluffy Cracker Cookies”–and then using the no bake theme as an inspiration for the rest of our homemade treats (which included blue-dipped pretzels and caramel corn).

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As a side note, if you’ve never done much with chocolate-dipped desserts (not that every recipe in the book involves them, but many do), there’s a bit of a learning curve. (Code for: you might have to redo some of your treats, and it might take a while).

I’ve done a bit of dipping before, but I must confess that Cristina (the author) does give you some tips at the beginning of the book for dipping techniques that…I didn’t read. Whoops!

Ultimately, though, the recipes were clear and easy to follow/execute, and the results were ridiculously cute.

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(These are the “Minty” balls attached to paper straws with a little melting chocolate; they contain [off-brand] thin mints, Andes mint crumbles, AND York Peppermint Patties!!!!!!)

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{My doubled-dipped “Fluffy Cookie Crackers” weren’t as perfect as hers, but they made for good eatin’!}

Of course, there’s nothing much more disappointing than biting into something that looks delicious only to immediately be on the hunt for a napkin to spit it out in.

Definitely not the case here. Both treats we made were super yummy and big hits with everyone at the party.

I plan on revisiting No Bake Makery when the holiday treat season rolls around (I’m thinking that several of the recipes will freeze well so I could get started even sooner if I end up with just tons of free time and motivation in the next several weeks. Yeah. That seems likely).

So, what about you guys? Are you cookbook junkies? Total recipe free spirits? Or somewhere in between? I would LOVE to hear any suggestions for must-have cookbooks. I’m certainly not averse to them. But I don’t tend to seek them out unless they come highly recommended.

Any great ideas for make-ahead/freeze recipes for the holidays? I love the idea of homemade treats as additions to gifts, but I know if it comes down to the wire, they just won’t get made, so I would love to be able to spread them out over the next several months.

 

 

 

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The Perfect Patio Snack: Black Bean Salsa (Recipe)

We’ve had the most incredible summer in terms of weather here in E. Texas. I’ve only been blogging for a little over three years, but during that time span, we’ve experienced both the worst and the best summers of my lifetime. Two years ago, it was the worst, with 100 straight days of 100+ temps (you would get in your car, and the thermostat would read: 117, and the skin on your thighs would fry against the leather seats). Things start to run together, but I think that was the same summer that we had a severe drought, complete with wildfires (or it could have been the year before; either way, it was a rough couple of summers).

But this year. Oh THIS year has been (relatively) cool and rainy (apparently, it rained practically every day we were in Europe in June). But other than the rain, the most brutal aspect of our summers has been noticeably reduced. And that would be the humidity. Typically, within five minutes of stepping outside from May to–oh, you know–November, you’re sweating. Profusely. No matter what you’re wearing.

But this summer has been surprisingly dry. We’ve only broken 100 degrees a handful of times, and let me tell you, 91 and mild humidity feels like the Swiss Alps compared to 103 with 386% humidity!

In fact, yesterday morning, it was in the 60′s, and some friends of mine had a good laugh at church as we noticed that we had all busted out the scarves, even though it was barely cool enough to warrant jeans.

So, why the weather rundown?

Well, it’s been so nice that we’ve been eating outside on our patio every chance we get (when normally, we would stay huddled around our kitchen table, on which the air conditioning vents conveniently blast).

Last night was no exception, and dinner was so yummy that it just felt selfish not to share the best part, so I thought I’d show you today how I make a super delish, super healthy, super easy black bean salsa that goes great with all things Tex Mex and beyond.

To get started, you’ll need:

  • 2 cans of black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can of corn (drained and rinsed)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup purple onion, chopped (you could also substitute scallions or any other kind of onion)
  • 1-2 avocados, roughly chopped
  • 1 large lime
  • 1 handful of cilantro (I usually just shred mine with my fingers, but you could chop it)IMG_4628

Pretty bowls are optional, but I’ve been slowly collecting all of these specimens on super-clearance or from Ross, and I couldn’t resist the chance to line them all up for a picture.

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Apparently, they made everything look so especially appealing that our cat, Scout, had trouble keeping his nose out it.

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{Literally}

After everything is chopped up, dump it all together in a bowl…

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…and add the seasonings and “dressing” which basically consist of:

  • 1 – 1 1/2 tbs of olive oil (depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes, you may need more or less moisture)
  • 2 tsp of red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • the juice of one lime

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Give everything a good stir, add a bowl of tortilla chips, and–TADA!–you’ve got the perfect accompaniment to pretty much any casual dinner.

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I serve this at parties and family gatherings a lot, and it always gets gobbled up before any other dips.

We ate ours last night with brisket tacos.

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{I like it so much, I had it on the side and on top of my taco; also, did anybody else spot the floating piece of corn?)

I hope my kids remember these patio dinners with as much fondness as I know I will ten years from now (when, hopefully, they’ll still be going on).

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Talking with her hands…such a girl.IMG_4681

{This would be Nola trying to mesmerize me with her baby blues, all while looking innocent and stealing my phone}

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This kid has been losing teeth (literally) right and left. Pretty sure, he’s not going to have any left to chomp his tacos soon. IMG_4686

{Evy knows how to work those blue eyes too; all the better with a little hair swoop}

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And as much as Simon pretends to hate it when people comment on his dimples, I’m pretty sure he’s fully aware that they’re his secret weapon.

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Shaun absolutely loves it when his girls snuggle with him, so I don’t think he was too sad when Nola heard gunshots (we live in the country; this is normal), and made a beeline for him, wailing, “Daaaaaadddy!”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what my boys’ latest obsession is and in case you had begun to believe that all things at our dinner table were either ridiculously cute or pretty to look at, here’s what was staring me in the face for practically the entire meal:

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I know, right?

Appetizing in the extreme. (Better yet, they’re in my kitchen right now, and Simon and Ezra informed me this morning that a grasshopper and a stick bug have gone AWOL. To which, I replied: “Better them than the spiders; now put another layer of plastic on that jar!!!“).

And just so I don’t leave you with a jar full of your bugs as your last image…

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Do you have a version of this black bean salsa recipe? I can’t remember where I first had it, but I’ve encountered lots of different variations (sometimes, I hear it called Texas Caviar) over the years. This is just the version that our family loves best, but I’d love to hear what you do differently if you make it too.

What kind of summer weather did you have? I feel like I’ve been spoiled for life, and when it goes back to being ultra-sticky and sweltering next year, I’m not even going to know what to do with myself.

Is your house a glorified bug zoo too? It’s gotten so bad around here that I don’t even blink when I find some sort of critter hopping across my kitchen table. Ugh.

 

 

 

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Easy Vegetarian (or not) Enchiladas

A few weeks back, when I was at the pool with my friend, Lindsay, and our 8 children, I mentioned how hungry I was. The morning had been hectic. I had just taught two fitness classes, and in all of the packing of the goggles and the sunscreen and the swim diapers plus the rush to get me and 5 kids out the door on time, I had forgotten to eat.

As you can imagine, between the forgetting to eat + the two hours of exercise + the whole pregnant thing, I was fast transitioning from hungry to ravenous.

As I sat poolside, I was shoveling in grapes and pretzel thins by the double fistful, but here’s the thing: when I get to a certain level of hunger, nothing but an honest-to-goodness meal will do. Snacks help, but they’re more of a band-aid than a full-on cure.

Maybe I was sounding hangrier than I thought or mentioning how hungry I was every two seconds, but whatever the reason, Lindsay pulled out a tupperware container of homemade vegetarian enchiladas and proceeded to insist that I eat them.

After some very weak resistance, I gave in and inhaled half of her lunch.

And I’m so glad I did! The enchiladas were delicious and healthy, and I knew I wanted to replicate them at home.

I gave it my best shot last week, and while my version turned a little different and quite likely a lot inferior to their inspiration, they were still a huge hit with my family, so I thought I’d share.

INGREDIENTS (the following will make two panfuls):

1-2 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 1/2 cups uncooked rice (I used Basmati)

2 cans of black beans, undrained

4 oz. of cream cheese

12-16 corn tortillas

3 cans chicken broth

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp seasoned salt

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup salsa (your choice of heat)

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 1/2 – 2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese

1 lb taco meat (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Roughly chop the onion and saute in 1 tbsp of olive oil until translucent. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl. If you want, add the rest of the olive oil, then briefly saute diced garlic cloves, making sure not to be brown them (they get bitter). Add 1 1/2 cups of rice and continuing sauteing 3-4 minutes on low-medium heat, makings sure not to burn the rice or garlic. Add two cans of chicken broth + 1/2 tsp cumin, chili powder, and seasoned salt and 1/4 tsp of garlic powder (granulated garlic). Simmer on low heat until the liquid has cooked off, and your rice is soft but not mushy. Remove rice from pan to a bowl and stir in most of your 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (reserve a little for sprinkling on top the finished enchiladas).

Set rice aside and add two cans of undrained black beans to the pan. Add the chopped, cooked onion back in, and the rest of the spices and remaining can of chicken broth. Add in 4 oz of cream cheese. Cook 5-10 minutes on low-medium heat until flavors have melded, cheese has melted, and some of the liquid has cooked off (the beans should still be a soupy consistency).

Note: I didn’t write down exact amounts of seasonings as I went, so these are approximations and should be considered baseline amounts. I would encourage you to taste your beans and rice as you go to see if they need more flavor.

At this point, you’ll have this…

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And you’ll be ready to start rolling your enchiladas.

Inside each tortilla, layer a heaping spoonful of rice, beans, and grated cheddar cheese. Roll up and place seam down inside a greased baking dish.

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You should have rice and beans leftover after making 12-16 enchiladas. Mix the two together and spoon the remaining rice/bean mixture over the top of your rolled up tortillas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese + cilantro.

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Mix together the can of diced tomatoes + 1/2 cup of salsa (I used medium heat), then spoon this mixture over the top of the enchiladas.

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At which point, you’ll have this:

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{MMmmmm…mouth. watering. yum}

Cover pans with aluminum foil and cook at 375°F for 25 minutes or until the cheese has melted and everything is completely cooked through.

Serve with fresh sliced avocado, sour cream, or any other yummy garnish you’d like to try (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend gummy bears).       IMG_4003

P.S. I had some leftover taco meat that I needed to use, so I added that to the filling in the second pan of enchiladas, which made the hubby and the boys happy (I liked the veggie version better).

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And there you have it–an easy, quick, filling, healthy, and cheap family meal (that tastes even better as leftovers!).

Happy Monday! I’m off to make meatloaf (recipe coming soon :) ).

Do you get hangry too? I am continually amazed at how much my hunger affects my ability to cope with little annoyances. Seriously, if I am super-hungry, do. not. talk. to. me. I might eat you.

Any fast, yummy recipes you’ve discovered latelyThis one will definitely be making an appearance in the regular monthly rotation (especially considering that my firstborn who dislikes beans and rice, scarfed them down) 

 

 

 

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