Monday, June 29, 2015

Random Happy - Gift a Redbox Movie Night

Gifts are definitely one of my love languages!  Not in that I'm a great gift giver at birthdays or Christmas...I love giving people little surprises just because!  I try to bring C's daycare teachers little treats every few weeks to show our appreciation for them, mostly as a fun surprise on Friday.




He has 4 teachers that care for him on a daily basis, so I have to keep it to something small in order to be able to do it regularly.  I love popcorn and a movie, but now that movies are $12-15, a gift card to a movie theater would be too pricey for a random treat.  Did you know that you can purchase promo codes to Redbox that are good for a free night's rental?  A free Redbox would make my Friday!

The promo codes have to be purchased in multiples of 5.  As of June 2015, a bundle of 5 DVD rental codes is $7.50, a bundle of 5 Blu-Ray rental codes is $10, and a bundle of 5 game rental codes is $15.  I went with the Blu-Ray codes, since a lot of people have Blu-Ray players; the Blu-Ray codes are still good on DVDs too since those are less expensive.  You can purchase Redbox codes here and they'll send the codes right to your email.

I made a little card to write the promo code on.  You can download it in PDF format, if you want, and just write in the promo code in the blank.



Click here to download

I packaged mine up in a colorful paper bag with a bag of M&M's and some popcorn from a specialty popcorn store nearby.  These mini bags of popcorn are only $1.25 and the popcorn is DELICIOUS!  If you're local to DFW, I got them from Popcorn Shack.

You could substitute a bag of microwave popcorn if you prefer.




The colorful paper lunch sacks were $0.33 at Walmart, and I downloaded the printable "thank you" tags from this blog.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Favorites: Vail Edition

I'm linking up with MomfessionalsGrace and Love, and A Little Bit of Everything to share my Friday favorites!



We just came back from a 5-day trip to Beaver Creek/Vail and it was AMAZING.  We rode the Vail gondola up the mountain, hiked, got a massage, and ate delicious food.
Via

  Luckily, some of our best friends are regulars in Beaver Creek/Vail so we got recommendations from the pros.  Going to Vail soon?  Here are my favorites:


This was, hands down, the best meal of our entire trip.  It is a MUST DO (but make sure to make a reservation! This place is popular!)  You MUST MUST MUST get the pimiento cheese appetizer.  Gross, you say?  I normally don't like pimiento cheese either.  Except this is MELTED, served in a little mason jar, and topped with BACON JAM.  So it's basically queso with bacon on top, and you spread it on delicious grilled sourdough bread.  I want to go back right now and order nothing but about 3 orders of this.  This picture does not do it justice:


Everything else we had was good, too. 




We might have eaten here 3 out of the 4 mornings, because why mess with something good?  Everything on their breakfast menu is delicious.  We had the breakfast sandwich, whole wheat pancakes, maple bacon donut, chocolate croissant, and cinnamon roll....and ALL of it was amazing.  Bacon on a donut?!  Come on, that's awesome:



3. Minturn Market


Minturn is a little town near Vail that has a great market on Saturday mornings.  There were droves of people going to the market but there was plenty of parking and it didn't feel too crowded.  Super cute stuff!


We bought several things, which brings me to #4:




These folks make some ridiculously good-smelling soy candles.  We may or may not have bought SEVEN.  Our absolute favorite is the patchouli + lavender + citrus (I think we got 4 of those) but I also loved the lemongrass + rosemary, the lavender + lemon + cedar + mint, and the honey + tobacco (which sounds gross but smells great).  It looks like they sell them online which is good because when these 7 run out, I'm sure I'll want more! And the folks selling them were so, so nice and had even made their own bags out of old newspaper and twine for us to carry our purchase in.


5.  EOS Lip Balm
No, this isn't unique to Vail, but I discovered this lip balm while in Vail since my lips were chapped and it is amazing.  I have seen these little balls near checkout counters for years now but never bought one....I love the sweet mint one!

Monday, June 15, 2015

From the Kitchen: Pioneer Woman French Toast Casserole

This post combines two of my favorites - the Pioneer Woman and brunch!  I've made this French toast casserole for brunch many times, including last weekend when we had our neighbors over.  It's great for groups because it's easy to make in large quantities, and even better because it can be prepped in advance and assembled and baked in the morning.  The streusel crumb topping is cinnamon-y and crunchy, the French toast is soft and thick....topped with syrup and served with fruit (and maybe a mimosa...), this recipe is everything I love about brunch.  Definitely a crowd pleaser!





French Toast Casserole

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Yield: 10-12 servings
Cook time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

1 loaf thick, chewy bread*
8 eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract


Topping:

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed.

*French, ciabatta, or sourdough bread are good options.  You canNOT use normal sandwich bread for this - the texture won't be right.  When I have leftover French bread that is just going to go stale (or even if it's already stale - it doesn't matter), I'll tear it into bite-size chunks and put it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer to save for this recipe!  Or, if you spot a loaf of day-old French bread on Manager's Special at the grocery store, it's perfect for this!

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13" Pyrex dish with cooking spray.  Tear the loaf of bread into bite-size chunks and spread evenly in the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla.  Pour evenly over the bread, ensuring that all of the bread chunks are wet (press lightly with your hands to soak up the egg mixture if necessary).

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and cold cubed butter using a pastry cutter until the butter crumbly - the size of peas.  Spread the topping over the top of the bread mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and serve with syrup or powdered sugar.

To prepare in advance:

Tear the bread into chunks and place in the greased Pyrex dish; cover.  Make the egg mixture and store in a Tupperware container in the refrigerator.  Make the crumb topping and store in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware container in the refrigerator.  When you are ready to make the casserole, simply pour the egg mixture over the bread, then top with the crumb topping, and pop it in the oven!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

From the Kitchen: Hearty Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes (Baby-Friendly)

C LOVES pancakes and has since he was about 8 months old (when he started eating finger foods and not just purees).  I make them as healthy as possible (no sugar in the pancakes - when I'm making them for baby, that is - and no syrup with them), so they are very plain, but he doesn't know what he's missing and loves them anyway :)  These turn out super thick and fluffy, and have protein (from the Greek yogurt) and whole grain (whole wheat flour and oatmeal)!

I like to make them in huge batches and then freeze them; since Blair gets C ready in the mornings on the days I work (since I leave for work before C wakes up), he defrosts a couple of pancakes in the microwave for an easy breakfast for baby, along with some fresh fruit.  I like that this makes for a quick and easy breakfast without having to resort to store-bought frozen pancakes or waffles, which often have sugar and other stuff in them that I don't want C to be eating.  This way, I know exactly what is going into them!

This recipe makes 36 pancakes as written.  I normally double this recipe when freezing them.  If you're just making them for breakfast (or dinner!) and don't want this many, you should be able to divide all the ingredients by 3 to end up with a more reasonable 12 pancakes.


Hearty Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes
Yield: 36 pancakes

Ingredients:

3 cups whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat)
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs
3 cups milk
6 tablespoons packed brown sugar (if desired....I omit this when making them for baby)
1 6- or 7-ounce container (or approx. 3/4 cup) plain Greek yogurt (I used Fage)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (optional)

Directions:

Add all ingredients except blueberries (if using) to a large mixing bowl and stir with a metal whisk until just combined and no lumps remain.  If using, gently fold blueberries into the batter.  

Heat a griddle to 350 degrees (for standalone griddles) or medium heat (stovetop) and spray with cooking spray.  Drop approximately 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot griddle (my griddle can fit 8 at a time).  When the edges begin to appear dry, flip and cook on the other side until the pancake is cooked through.


If freezing, cool the pancakes on a wire baking rack.  Place small squares of wax paper between the pancakes and freeze in 2 stacks in a gallon-size Ziploc bag (see above).  To defrost frozen pancakes, microwave for about 15 seconds on each side (do not overwarm or they will become hard and tough!)


    

Monday, June 8, 2015

From the Kitchen: 2-Ingredient Creamy Salsa Verde Dip

I love dips that you can make on 5 minutes' notice with things that are easy to keep on hand, and everyone wants the recipe after.  I made this and spicy black bean dip when I was co-hosting the neighborhood moms' bunco group this month and they were both a hit - and SO easy (this one is only 2 ingredients!!)  This dip resembles a queso (if you're from Texas, that will mean something to you) that is slightly sweet with a small kick from the salsa verde.




2-Ingredient Creamy Salsa Verde Dip

Ingredients:

1 8-ounce block cream cheese (I use the "1/3 less fat" neufchatel cheese so I can pretend this is healthy)
1 cup jarred salsa verde (I used the La Costena brand - found in the "international" aisle at the grocery store with the Mexican ingredients)

Directions:

Put the cream cheese and salsa verde in a microwave-safe bowl.  Cover and microwave in 1-minute increments, stirring after each minute until well blended and the cream cheese is fully melted (this usually takes 3 minutes in my microwave).  Yep.....that's it.  

Serve with tortilla chips and act like it was a lot more effort than it was.  This is good both warm or at room temperature.  If you're feeling fancy, add a can of corn :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

From the Kitchen: Spicy Black Bean Dip

This spicy black bean dip is great with tortilla chips for an appetizer at a party....we are addicted!  And it is SO EASY.  Like, embarrassingly easy when people ask you how to make it (which they often do)!  And, I almost always have the ingredients on hand, so it's simple to whip it up on short notice!




Spicy Black Bean Dip


Ingredients:

1 can black beans
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice (lime juice works too)
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 jalapeno, including seeds (you can remove them if you want a milder dip)
1/4 bunch cilantro

Directions:

Throw everything in a blender and blend away.  That's pretty much it :)  I don't even chop the jalapeno or remove the cilantro leaves from the stems...I just throw it all in and blend it up.  I use my Vitamix which is super powerful and blends it easily; if you're using a normal blender, you may have to blend it for a while to get the super-smooth texture (which is key - the dip is much less appetizing when it's chunky from the bean skins not being fully blended).  The color of the dip is not that exciting, so I normally garnish it with some cilantro leaves or some piped sour cream drizzled on top.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Baby 101 Series: Introducing a (Straw) Sippy Cup

We recently introduced a straw sippy cup to our 9-month-old.  I think the traditional spout-style sippy cup might be easier for babies to learn to drink from, but we wanted to skip the spout cup and start directly with the straw cup for several reasons.  One, I like that the straw can be covered when not in use, which seems more sanitary than a sippy cup where the spout would be exposed to whatever else I have in my diaper bag.  Two, I wanted C to learn to drink from a straw so that if we're at a restaurant, on a trip, at a friend's house, etc. and forget the sippy cup, he can get by with a normal cup with lid and straw.  Three, I didn't want C to get used to tipping a cup up to drink from it (like you would with a traditional spout sippy cup) since this can make it harder (read: messier) for them to learn to drink from a normal cup later on. Finally, I've read that using a straw cup helps their oral development and the muscles they'll use for speech.  I have no idea whether or not this is true, but it seemed like another positive of the straw cup over the sippy cup.

Using a straw cup can be a steeper learning curve than a sippy cup, so babies may not be ready for a straw cup until around 9 months (this was the case for us), while some babies transition to a sippy cup a month or two earlier. However, since babies shouldn't consume ANY water before 6 months of age, and only limited amounts of water until 1 year (2-6 ounces a day), waiting until 9 months to introduce a straw cup isn't a big deal.  Their primary source of hydration (and nutrition) continues to be breastmilk and/or formula until they reach 12 months; the introduction of a straw/sippy cup with water is really more for practice with drinking from a cup and the routine of drinking with meals than it is for hydration.

 
Right now, we are using the Playtex Training Time Straw Trainer Cup (6 ounce).  This version comes with removable plastic handles that make the cup easier for baby to hold; they come off when you've outgrown the need for handles, or you can also switch to the Playtex Anytime Straw Cups (9 ounce), when your toddler is ready for a larger volume and a cup without handles.  We bought both versions at Babies R Us while they were on sale for buy 1, get 1 50% off.  These straw cups are dishwasher safe and have a cover that goes over the straw portion when not in use.  If you read a million Amazon reviews (like I did), don't worry about the reviews which talk about the straw that doesn't reach the bottom of the cup -- that must have been an older version of this product, because the straws in our cups reach all the way to the bottom.  Are they "leak proof"?  If you hold the cup upside down, it doesn't leak; however, when C SHAKES it upside down, water comes out....but I think that's probably likely of any sippy cup (they're leak proof, not shake-proof).  We also have to make sure that the lid is securely "clicked" on, because otherwise water will pour out of it!  On the whole, though, no complaints -- lots of friends have gone through multiple brands of sippy cups trying to find the "right" one, and I feel no urge to try another brand, if that's any kind of testimonial for this cup.
 
When we first introduced the straw cup to C, I had (unreasonable) hopes that he would instantly figure it out.  NOPE.  It took some Googling about how to each your baby to drink from a straw cup to figure it out.  Here's what worked for us.  I should also mention that we did all of this with room temperature or slightly cool water - not cold water.  Since he's used to warm milk, it just seemed like one more hurdle to get used to drinking something cold (not to mention that he ended up soaked the first few times we tried it, which would have been startling if the water was ice cold!)
 

1.  Teach them that water comes from a straw

Via
Stick a normal straw in a glass of water, put your finger over the top of the straw, and, with the straw over/in your baby's mouth, release your finger so that the water falls in their mouth.  This will help them to associate that liquid comes from a straw, and that a straw is for drinking.  Repeat this a few times.
 

2.  Teach them that they need to suck the straw

Via
Cut a normal straw very short - about 4".  The shorter the straw, the easier it is to suck liquid up; a long straw is longer for them to have to suck the liquid and they may give up before the water makes it to their mouth.  A fast-food straw is good for this, since they are usually a little bit wider than the drinking straws you buy in a box at Target.  Pour some water in a cup (it helps if the cup is short), insert the straw, and put the other end of the straw in baby's mouth.  Make sure to get a good amount of the straw in their mouth (more of the straw than if you were drinking from it) - at least 1/2", maybe closer to 1".  Since they're used to drinking from a bottle nipple, they are used to feeling it on their tongue and the roof of their mouth to trigger their sucking reflex.  Once you get enough in their mouth (but not so much that they gag), they will probably try to suck from it.  If they don't, gently help them close their lips around the straw.  You may need to go back to step 1 to remind them that water comes from a straw.  If they still don't get sucking from a straw, they're probably not quite ready for the straw cup; we tried a few times over a period of a week or two before C got the hang of it.  Be prepared for them to be soaking wet - once they successfully suck, they will overflow their mouth with water, since they're used to how hard they have to suck from a bottle and a straw flows much more easily than a bottle nipple!
 

3.  Introduce the straw cup

Once they can drink from a straw, let them go to town with the straw cup!  The leak-proof feature of the straw cup makes it much more difficult to suck from than the normal straw (I tried it myself to get a feel for it), so they will not figure out how to drink from the straw cup until they can drink successfully from a normal straw that doesn't have the leak-proof flow restriction.  You may need to help hold the cup and direct the straw to their lips for the first few days/weeks; eventually, they will figure out how to hold the cup by the handles and even reach for it on their own.  Don't be discouraged if they successfully drink from it one day and forget how the next day; we had to cycle through steps 1 and 2 a couple of times if we went a few days between use of the straw cup, but it was a quick refresher and he was good to go!  

Start introducing the straw cup at mealtimes (we never fill it more than half full, so about 3 ounces of water, and he rarely drinks half of it); just leave it on their high chair tray within reach so that they can reach for it if they want it.  You can offer the cup to them or hold it to their lips a couple of times if they don't reach for it, but don't force it - they don't really need the water and they'll reach for it on their own when they're ready.  C was about 9.5 months and overnight he just started reaching for his cup during meals and drinking from it on his own.  After a few days of this, we started sending the straw cup to daycare for him to have during breakfast and lunch there (we use the Inchbug rubber band labels from his bottles to label the straw cup, too). 
 
A few other thoughts: babies do not need juice (other than very small/infrequent quantities for constipation, etc.)  Even when C is a toddler, we plan to treat fruit juice like Kool-aid or soda in our home -- we will allow it occasionally for treats (birthday parties, etc.) but not as an everyday beverage.  Juice, although healthier than Kool-aid or soda, is still full of (natural) sugar without any of the other benefits of eating the whole fruit (fiber, etc.)  It is also not good for their teeth to sip on juice all day.  Stick to water and you won't have to deal with breaking the juice habit! 
 
Similarly, we do not allow the bottle or straw cup in the crib.  Right now, bottles and the straw cup are only offered at mealtimes; as he gets older, we will allow him to have water in the straw cup whenever he wants it.  After he is a year old, we will begin offering milk in the straw cup and transition off the bottle, but we still will not let him have it in the crib -- again, it's not good for their teeth to sip on any drink besides water for an extended period of time, especially at night after we've brushed his teeth.
Lastly, a tip for cleaning -- this set of OXO sippy cup brush tools is amazing for the clean freak like me!  While the parts of the Playtex cup are all dishwasher-safe, we don't currently own enough of them for how often (or not) we run the dishwasher, so we usually end up handwashing them.  The long, skinny brush is perfect for cleaning the inside of the straw!