Florida part 1 – Traveling

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We made it! Leading up to our trip a few things had me concerned, not the least of which was the government shutdown leaving TSA agents and air traffic controllers unpaid and forced to work. I worried about lines, lack of security, and whether or not things would continue to run smoothly the longer the shutdown dragged on. Additionally, New England was beginning to brace for a big winter snowstorm due to hit the area Saturday night. Being a holiday weekend, the best flight fares wound up being Saturday and Tuesday. We had planned to take our time getting out Saturday midday, and coming home Tuesday morning to avoid the holiday rush. If the storm came through as planned, we would be on the ground in Florida before the first snowflakes fell.

After confirming that the Boston economy parking was a covered garage (because who wants to come home to a snow covered car), we set out around 10:30 in the morning for a 2 pm flight. It’s a little over an hour from our home to the Boston airport and we wanted to allow plenty of extra time to get all three of us to the terminal, check our son’s car seat, and clear through security. Things seriously could not have worked out more perfectly getting to our gate. We were able to ditch our heavy winter coats inside the car seat bag and checked it all together at the ticket counter. Our tickets were on our phones, although it turns out our son’s ticket was not delivered electronically, so we took a short detour back to ticketing to get his printed out. We later learned this is fairly standard with a lap infant, so you’re better off stopping at the beginning and asking for printed tickets.

Getting through the TSA checkpoint was nothing short of impressive. Regardless of your politics, these were all hard working individuals that continue to show up day after day, and as of our flight out, had already missed at least one paycheck. Every last TSA agent we encountered greeted us with a smile, they were patient as we navigated our first trip with an infant, and they helped us through as best they could. When the line started to back up, in walked 4 more agents ready to open another line. I was pleased and yet so surprised at what seemed like a generally happy demeanor. Had the tables been turned, I don’t think I could have continued to arrive at work with such dedication and sunny disposition. The next time you’re at the airport thank them, I know I did.

After arriving at our gate, we tracked down lunch to eat on the plane. Not wanting to venture too far, I stuck with protein bars, yogurt, jerky, bananas, and anything else that looked both healthy and was labeled with ‘GF.’ Now was not the time to experiment with anything that could potentially not be safe for me.

Boarding was uneventful, our gate check bag for the stroller worked perfectly and we gate checked both of our suitcases as well to avoid the fuss through the airport on the other end. We were relaxed, and without clutter as we boarded the plane with just our son and his diaper bag. We were each seated in a middle seat in the same row where my husband could see the smile and hear the giggles as our son played in my seat, occasionally jabbering with the women on either side of me. We truly lucked out, as his smile kept everyone happy, and my seat mates didn’t seem to mind when he discovered the in-flight entertainment controls on the arm rests, constantly changing the channel and playing with the volume, happy that he had figured out how to push the buttons.

Upon arrival, our son received his first set of flight wings from the crew and we were met with his stroller on the jet bridge. All of our bags were waiting for us at baggage claim, and we made our way over to the rental car counter. My husband asked if there were any upgrades available, which of course there were. It’s been drilled into my head over the years to not accept any upgrade offers or insurance when you’re picking up your car. There are always hidden fees and charges that wind up costing much more than you’d planned. The upgrade, naturally, would cost us $17 more per day. Playing unintentional good cop/bad cop, my husband thought the upgrade was worth it, while I quickly calculated and said out loud that we could spend that extra $60 on doing things with my family instead while we were in town. Hearing our discussion, our rental car agent seemed to disappear not long after declining the upgrade. She’d seen our heap of baggage, stroller, and car seat, and was initially concerned we wouldn’t fit in the full size vehicle we’d requested. In the end, she told us we were her last customer of the day, and she’d gotten it approved to upgrade us to a mini van with NO extra fees or change to our rate. Here’s the catch though…I’d traded in my MINI Cooper over a year ago in anticipation for our son’s arrival and bought an SUV with a 3rd row, wanting the space for luggage on long trips visiting family. I had talked myself out of a mini van because they just weren’t that nice, and couldn’t possibly have the trunk space of an SUV. When I opened the trunk of our rental mini van, I couldn’t believe the space and the features it had built in. I actually *enjoyed* having it for a few days….the horror!

All in all it was a successful first flight for our little man, but we definitely learned some things along the way:

  • Limit the number of bags you have to carry through the airport. Checking our car seat (along with our coats, extra diapers, and food pouches) was a huge help. Let’s be honest, the car seat is big enough on its own, throw it in a backpack bag to protect it and the resulting size is just absurd. No one wants to navigate with that on their back unless it has side and rear view mirrors!
  • Gate check your luggage if you can. We had everything we needed in the diaper bag which made it easy to hand off our suitcases. If you’re flying nonstop, you have a better chance that you won’t have any issues getting it at your destination, plus you won’t have to deal with trying to hoist it into the overhead bins.
  • Bring a bottle, pacifier, pouch, or whatever your child will happily take for both the takeoff and landing. Babies don’t understand how to pop their ears back, it’ll help equalize the pressure and keep them comfortable.
  • Also make sure you have plenty of toys and books to preoccupy your child. Any flight is a long time to keep a little one happy and busy, especially since they’ll have to be glued to your lap the whole time.
  • If your child is on formula don’t bother premixing it, they’ll have to test every bottle. Oh, and also take the formula container out of your diaper bag….no one wants to watch as TSA pulls it out of the bag, accidentally spilling some of that super expensive powder in the process.
  • Buy the protective bags for your car seat and stroller. They were worth every penny for us, not only because we could throw extra things in with the car seat, but both bags kept everything protected and clean.
  • Last, but certainly not least, ask for the upgrade. As my keen negotiating husband would have you know, sometimes it pays to ask, be kind, and have a happily smiling baby along with you. You just might get that upgrade for free!

Somehow this post has carried on much longer than I originally planned, stay tuned later this week as I get into all the wonderful fun and food we had while we were there!

Preparing for takeoff

This week has been a little crazy around our home. Hubby and I are both suffering from daycare colds with fevers striking me and our son, we’re finishing up painting our living room, and gearing up for little man’s first flight. In my “pre-mom” life I was the business traveler that had everything organized, always found herself on the upgrade list, and could quickly gauge which TSA line would move the fastest. I could arrive at an airport an hour before my flight and be through security and ready to go with time to spare. I secretly cringed anytime I saw a family with small children approaching my gate. Now that I’m preparing, I have to admit that I’d never thought about everything parents have to get ready for their children, with everything laid out I’m amazed at what parents are able to pull off to travel with their families!

Thankfully, we’ll have family on the other side that’s providing a number of things that we won’t have to worry about or pack (pack and play, high chair, toys, etc.), yet I still feel like I’m going to be a sherpa upon arrival at the airport. To keep everything safe and clean upon arrival, we invested in these items for our trip (we have other trips coming up as well, otherwise I may have borrowed them locally):

I chose those two after reading a ton of reviews, and honestly getting pretty overwhelmed. I wanted something that would fit both our infant carrier for now, but could also be used for our convertible car seat in the future. If it’s not going to last us for the long term, I don’t want to spend the money on it. I’ve read that you can fill the car seat bag with other items as well (diapers, jackets, boots, etc.) to help protect the seat, and also save yourself from having to carry on too much. We’ll be taking our umbrella stroller too instead of the jogging one, we didn’t want to navigate the airport in a large stroller nor have to fold and disassemble it at the gate. I’ll let you all know how they hold up after the first flight!

For those of you that didn’t know (myself included until this past week), you’re allowed to carry on, gate check, or check the following items at the ticket counter free of charge: car seat, stroller, diaper bag. This is an FAA rule, so regardless of your airline or fare class, they can’t deny you from bringing any of those items. Here are a few resources that may be of help:

Despite everything else going on this week, I decided to try giving our son what looked like a normal meal for dinner on Monday. I bought a value pack of chicken breast tenders, cooked them in coconut oil in a frying pan, simple enough I thought, and no crazy flavors to turn him off. I paired a tender with leftover string beans, carrots, and mashed potatoes to give him some flavors he recognized.

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Little man’s first full meal

Let me tell you something….I. Picked. The. Wrong. Night. From the moment I tried to feed him, our son started handing pieces of his dinner down to our dog who obviously loved this game. I thought I could trick him into actually eating it by pureeing together the mashed potatoes and chicken. Maybe it was the texture of chicken, and that would solve our problem. A few minutes in, and still without having had any of it, over-tiredness got the best of him and screaming ensued. We’re talking crocodile tears, rubbing his eyes, arms up in the air, all around upset. It took every soothing tactic we had to calm him down and get him to bed shortly thereafter. The good news is that I now have pre-cooked chicken tenders that can be frozen and saved for future meals.

As we conquer our colds, put the living room back together, and wrap up packing we’ll be crossing our fingers that everything goes without a hitch, and that the little man has a fun first flight experience! Even if things don’t go as planned, at least we’ll get a story out of it. And to all of our fellow travelers that resemble my former self, I’m not sorry if we cramp your style. It’s taking a lot of work to get us to the airport, and we plan on enjoying ourselves just as much as you do. Stay tuned to hear how it went!

 

Dining Out…with kids!

A couple months after our son was born, we were in desperate need of a night out at a restaurant. I was craving sushi post-pregnancy, and we’d heard rave reviews from friends about a restaurant not too far from our home. I will never forget that first dining out experience. We thought we timed it well, and the little man snoozed through the beginning, waking up just as our food was about to be delivered. The restaurant was noisy, and we hoped he wouldn’t disturb anyone as we got a bottle ready. Suddenly, it seemed he was near impossible to calm down. He wasn’t loud, but I quickly turned frantic and nearly started crying at our table. We were still so new to parenting and it was all overwhelming. As my husband started to soothe our son, a woman approached us out of the blue. She sat down beside me, and told us what a wonderful job we were doing. To keep it up, keep going out, and enjoying our life. She mentioned she heard the cries and knew it must be a newborn; both a mortifying thought upon seeing how far her table was from ours, and soothing at the same time. I will never forget the kindness of that stranger, and how she made me feel in that overwhelming moment. We’ve taken our son out since then, but I’ll be honest that it isn’t frequent. As he transitioned to solids, the mess he makes and everything we need to bring discouraged us from venturing out.

Fast forward to the holidays. Our son is now 10 months old, and quite the active little man. The car seat no longer comes in with us, and he can eat small bites from the table! It was time to venture out again, this time with quite the crew. We had family and close friends in town for the new year, and decided it would be fun to eat out on the water one evening; however “evening” can be relative with a little one in your life. I’d heard good things about Surf restaurant in downtown Portsmouth, overlooking the water, and serving true New England food for our out of town guests. I called to make reservations, clearly mentioning that we were 6 adults and 3 children, no one batted an eye. Trying to coordinate the timing of dinner with bedtime, our reservations were an early 4:30pm! Oh how times have changed.

Upon our arrival, we were escorted to a long table overlooking the Piscataqua River. Even though the sun had set, you could still see how beautiful it was outside. We received smiles from wait staff and patrons alike when they saw our little boy smiling and giggling back, but the fun didn’t last long. The table next to us held an older couple, near the end of their meal. As soon as we were seated by them you could see the side eye and feel the glare pointed directly at our table. Clearly they were not pleased with our presence, even though the restaurant was clearly accommodating to families. Thankfully they were not there long, and the table turned over to what appeared to be a more friendly couple.

Our food was delicious, and everyone was enjoying themselves. That quickly changed when not one but two of the little ones got sick over dinner. Call it bad luck, a full moon, or whatever you will, we suddenly found ourselves in a mix of panic and clean-up mode. Our waiter could not have been nicer, bringing water, paper towels, and whatever else we needed. He did not miss a beat, arriving with our check not long after we asked. All in all, it was a fun night night out, but it certainly taught us some lasting lessons.

  • Early reservations are perfect with little ones, you can still enjoy a nice restaurant without impacting bed time, and clearing out just before the dinner crowd arrives.
  • Expect the unexpected. Although our son is a great eater at home, and nearly never spits up, you can’t predict what will happen in public.
  • Not only did I have to worry about what was safe for me to eat, but what my son could reach on the table, and whether or not he could get gluten near my plate. I’d never thought of it before, but now that’s obviously a concern.
  • No matter how accommodating an establishment and its staff are, there is always a chance that its patrons do not feel the same way. Don’t let that stop you from going!

Baby Food…doing the math

After making three batches of baby food the other night, I got to thinking about whether or not it was worth my time and if it actually saved money. I have an analytical brain, so naturally I had to figure it out for myself. As our son’s diet switches more to solids and less bottles we’ve been trying to introduce everything we can. He’s been a little fussy though as he teethes as well, and won’t go for every food we give him. In a bout of frustration trying to get more vegetables intake we bought pouches that were mixtures of fruit and vegetables. For every successful pouch (which he totally sucked down on his own) I wrote down the approximate ingredient measurements from the back. Thank you to whomever thought it was a good idea to include that on baby pouches 😊

In total, I made 17 pouches at 5 ounces each (my son can eat, so the bigger size works well for us). I was able to make the flavors pretty quickly by simmering the ingredients together for about 10 minutes, then putting it all in our ninja to purée, all in all it took me about an hour from start to finish. There were some up front costs to get the Kiinde Foodii kit, but we’ve been pleased with how it’s worked out so far. Here are the three flavors I made and used to price it all out:

  • Sweet potato, cranberry, and apple
  • Spinach, peas, and pears
  • Sweet potato, corn, and apple

I’ll be honest, I didn’t measure a thing. I used about 1.5 sweet potatoes in each flavor, and poured the frozen veggies and applesauce in until it looked like a good mix. The best part is, I know there are absolutely no additives or preservatives in his food, and I know I made it fresh myself 😍 without further ado…my costs:

  • Bartlett Pears (2) – $1.49
  • Cranberries – $0.99
  • Spinach (5 oz) – $3.69
  • Sweet Potatoes (3) – $1.47
  • Apple Sauce (48 oz) – $2.59
  • Frozen Corn (16 oz) – $0.99
  • Frozen Peas (16 oz) – $0.99
  • Average sales tax – $1.04

Total Cost – $13.25

Since the standard pouch is only 4 ounces, I did my calculations at that size (which would have made 21), which works out to $0.63 per regular size pouch! Considering they cost on average about $1.10 per pouch after tax, I’d say it was worth it! Now in case you were wondering, I know there are costs associated with the Kiinde pouches themselves, I thought about that too. It’s $45.99 for a 160 count box of them, so $0.29 per pouch. Our total cost came to $0.92, which wasn’t as great as I thought, but is still cheaper than buying them and like I said before at least I know exactly what he’s eating! Plus, if you’re looking at the big picture, if he’s eating about four pouches per day we’re saving close to $1 per day and over $350 in a year.

There is one way we could keep our costs down even more, we could be using reusable pouches. I’ve looked into them, but we haven’t made that jump just yet. We had a ton of the Kiinde pouches left over from the breastfeeding and pumping days so it made sense not to let them go to waste. Once we’re low on the pouches we have I’ll start testing the reusable ones. I would love to hear from other mommas what they like best!

Trying to lose that last baby weight

Our son is now eight months old, and it’s becoming painfully clear that those last pounds of weight gain seem pretty comfortable where they are. I’ve been getting back into a steady workout routine over the last couple of months, but workouts alone don’t seem to be making much progress. I’ve decided it’s time for me to take matters into my own hands and address my diet. My husband and I have done Whole30 a number of times, but I was too afraid to make such a drastic change while I was still breastfeeding. Now that our son is eating solids, I feel like it’s the right time to take another plunge.

We started this challenge on Sunday, knowing that we had dinner plans with friends on Saturday that would be our last indulgent meal for a while. In preparation, I made roasted potatoes to go with our morning eggs. It’s a simple recipe, but honestly it doesn’t disappoint and starts the day off right! I diced a mix of sweet and red potatoes, then seasoned them generously with chili powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, and onion powder. Then they’re roasted for about 40 minutes at 375. I’m sure they could stay in the oven longer, but I like to keep them from getting overcooked. Plus, we’ll throw them in the egg pan in the morning to warm them up, and that gives them the final crisp.

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Being veterans of the Whole30 plan, I also spent Saturday morning planning out our meals for the next five days and building the shopping list. The last thing you want is for hunger to hit and not have a clear plan of what is both quick and compliant. Here’s what our week looks like:

Sunday: Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai (my favorite find from our first Whole30)

Monday: Pot Roast with Balsamic Onion Gravy

Tuesday: Burrito Bowls

Wednesday: Butternut Squash Soup

Thursday: Coconut Lime Chicken

Now I know that’s not the full week and means I’m making a big assumption that we’ll have time to figure it out the rest before Friday hits. I’m really hoping we’re in good shape with leftovers by that point that it can be an easy night and we’ll reset with planning Saturday morning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in motherhood, it’s that planning your meals in advance really is important if you don’t want to get stuck ordering takeout nearly every night!

Stay tuned…I’ll definitely be sharing the rest of those recipes if they’re successful!

 

Meal Planning and Freezer Meals

It started when I was pregnant, I scoured the internet looking for easy crock-pot meals that could be frozen in advance for those frantic early days of parenthood. I took the month prior to my due date off from work (big thanks to my company being a leader in benefits for new parents), and kept myself busy preparing what I thought was a sizable stockpile of meals. We have a chest freezer in our garage, making plenty of room for everything I’d prepared. After I returned to work, it seemed like our own dinner took a back seat to feedings, bath time, bed time, our dogs needs, and anything else you can imagine that popped up. It took meeting with a new parent career coach to realize setting aside time each week to meal plan really would help our schedule. I’d known it before, but let’s be honest, baby brain is no joke. Lately, it’s been out of necessity, we’ve been without our gas cooktop for over two weeks! You don’t realize how much you use an appliance until it’s suddenly cut off. Ours had to be disconnected to make repairs on the vent fan, which turned into a much bigger undertaking to completely replace the vent. We should be on schedule to have it up and running by the weekend, but oh how I’ve missed it in the meantime. Through each of those periods, being able to prepare meals in advance has truly kept our family eating healthy and feeling good about what we’re eating.

Whatever your reasoning for doing meal prep, there are things I’ve learned along the way that I hope can help each of you. I’ve put together the lists below to pass on those recommendations. Happy meal planning!

Meal planning suggestions:

  • Set aside time each week to write out your plan for dinner each night, then put together your grocery list based off this plan. This will help keep you on track to buy only what you need, and as a bonus, will keep you organized if you use a grocery pick-up or delivery service.
  • Keep that meal plan somewhere visible, like your fridge or a whiteboard. This way, whoever is preparing the day’s meal can quickly see what you had in mind. This is especially helpful in the days and weeks after a new baby’s arrival, anyone stopping in can help you stay on track!
  • Don’t forget about breakfast! It’s easy to focus on dinner only, and leftovers can easily be reheated for lunch, but what about breakfast? If you’re a hot breakfast family like we are, you might love whipping up a batch of muffin tin eggs. We make ours by the dozen (recipe here).
  • If you’re building up a stockpile of freezer meals, for say new baby or back to school, try to make one or two a week. It won’t feel overwhelming, and your budget for groceries won’t take a major hit either. Remember that meals can safely be kept in the freezer for about 4 months (check to be sure, based on each protein), giving you plenty of time to build up your stash.

A few key suggestions for crock-pot freezer meals:

  • Put your veggies in the bottom, sauce ingredients next, and meat in last. This will keep the meat on the bottom of the crock-pot when you dump everything in, and the veggies will soak up the sauce/seasonings so nothing gets stuck in the bag.
  • Mark all bags with the preparation date, low and high recommended cook times. You might be ahead of the game and able to set your meal to low, but in my experience sometimes it was a scramble just to dump it all in with enough time to thoroughly cook the meal on high.
  • Use crock-pot liners!!! This sounds sort of lazy, but when you have an infant at home, really anything that saves on cleanup time is a life saver.
  • Know what freezer meals you have in stock, keep a list somewhere within easy access so you aren’t digging around looking for ideas at the last minute.
  • Keep an assortment of frozen vegetables on hand that can be mixed in the day of with any meat-only recipes.

Last, but most certainly not least, a few of my favorite freezer meal recipes:

A Weekend Away

Usually I only have to worry about food for myself when we go away for the weekend, but thanks to this year’s Whole30, we spent an entire day prepping food for both of us before heading out of town to visit family. I know I’ve written about traveling with freezer meals before, but I always love sharing recipes that are easy to make, and freeze/travel well. I’m sure it makes me a little selfish, but it was nice to have someone else that could only eat food brought from home for a change. I’m sure it was extra difficult for my hubby, since he doesn’t usually have to restrict himself so much.

Trying to keep things simple, we chose three meals to make in larger quantities. This ensured we had enough food for our planned three days away. We also decided we’d stop at Chipotle on our drive home, so we wouldn’t need to worry about reheating food. That meant cooking and freezing each of these so all of our meals were set!

The first thing we got cooking was Chicken Masala. Trying to minimize our efforts, we chose this since it’s a crock-pot meal and always turns out perfect.

 

 

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons curry
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala (usually in the international aisle of the grocery store)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans coconut milk, unsweetened
  • 5 large chicken breasts, boneless & skinless
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes (no sugar added)
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste (no sugar added)
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
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Best part of crock-pot recipes, getting to throw all the ingredients in and leave it alone!

After getting that going, we riced a head of cauliflower to go along with the chicken. It was only enough for two servings, but there was plenty of chicken for at least six meals!

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Finished product….Chicken Masala

Our next major task was to get the chili going. This recipe was one we found a while ago, and loved it so much that it’s now a regular in our menu.

Sweet Potato Chili

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 large can (29.5 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 small can (15 oz) fire roasted petite diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Dash oregano
  • Dash red pepper flakes
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Cooking the beef and onions before adding the remaining ingredients

In a large pot, brown the beef, onions, and garlic. Drain the fat when browned. Add remaining ingredients to pot, mixing well before bringing to a boil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. By the way, that little green thing in the pot below actually belongs there! It holds the bay leaves, so you can easily pull them out of the pot when it’s cooked.

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Simmering the pot of chili

While the chili was simmering, we started chopping up sweet and red potatoes for our usual morning side dish. Along with eggs, we start every morning with sauteed potatoes. My go-to spices are chili powder, turmeric, smoked paprika, and a little salt and pepper to taste.

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Looks tasty, right?!

Branching out to something new, our final task was to take on Stuffed Acorn Squash. This was a completely new recipe for us, and thanks to the ease of the crock-pot chicken and simmering chili, most of our efforts were focused on this.

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Acorn squash, ready to be frozen for the trip

We really lucked out with the temperatures for this trip too! Go figure, we managed to see the coldest temperatures I’ve ever seen while we were up in New York that weekend…all the way down to -20°F!!! Thankfully, that meant we could leave the cooler in the car and not worry about anything thawing too quickly. As we bounced around visiting everyone, all we had to do was bring in the cooler to start defrosting and cooking our next meal 🙂

 

Kitchen Confessions

We all have that one go-to source when it comes to the kitchen. A lot of my recipes and inspiration come from Pinterest, but there’s one source I just can’t live without! Years ago, I can’t even remember when, my mom bought my sister and I the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Seriously. I don’t often use actual recipes from the book, but the reference and cooking basics it includes are invaluable. Each section in the binder style book includes cooking references based on the section (fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, etc). I can look up whatever we’re making for dinner, and get the oven temperature and cooking time needed for just about everything! Even if I already know approximations, this gives me the comfort that I’m doing it right. I know, I know, Google is faster, but there’s something so comforting about knowing just where I can find the information.

The other night, I stumbled into the easiest recipe I never knew existed. We were making a tomato soup with chicken, but I wasn’t willing to wait the time required to slow cook the soup (recipe loosely followed from here). We’d just gone grocery shopping, and hunger was hitting hard. I quickly threw together all of the ingredients, except for the chicken, and went to my trusty cookbook to see what options I had. Flipping to the poultry section, I realized I could broil chicken breasts in a casserole dish, giving the soup plenty of time to simmer. I covered the chicken with olive oil, salt, and pepper, cooking it for a total of 30 minutes (flipping halfway through). As I took the chicken out to chop, I was surprised by how much moisture it had retained. Why had I never done this before?

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Our finished chicken tomato soup

Using this new found way to cook our chicken, I gave it another shot last night. This time, I opted for more spices to dress it up, including smoked paprika and a barbecue rub from Salt Lick BBQ in Austin, TX. For our sides, I roasted broccoli with salt and pepper, and mashed potatoes with ranch seasonings. I have to say, this is one of the most “normal” and delicious meals we’ve had since starting the whole30 this year. Take a look for yourself 🙂

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Broiled chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes

What’s your kitchen confession?

Note – we were using thicker (2 – 3 inch thick) boneless skinless chicken breast. 15 minutes per side may be too long for thinner cuts.

Super Bowl Recap

What were we thinking?! For the second year in a row, we’ve been on Whole30 during the Super Bowl. Shockingly, it’s turned out well both years. If the Steelers had been in the game (or Giants for hubby), I think all bets would have been off. Wanting to still make the day fun and full of great food, I scoured Pinterest for new ideas. Putting together the grocery list once we had our snack recipes was pretty simple, and because we weren’t buying the typical Super Bowl snacks, we had no issues buying everything the day before.

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Our Super Bowl Spread

Without further ado, here was our menu:

  • Bacon Wrapped Butternut Squash
  • Homemade Sweet Potato Chips and Guacamole
  • Bacon and Sweet Potato Jalapeño Boats
  • Buffalo Ranch Stuffed Peppers

Bacon Wrapped Butternut Squash

I can’t stress how incredible this appetizer was, and on top of that, it was easy to prepare too! The only thing that took up time was getting the squash peeled and cubed. With only a handful of ingredients (bacon, butternut squash, olive oil, chili powder, garlic powder, and salt) it was a simple yet incredibly delicious course. I will say, they flipped much easier with the bacon sealed on the bottom…so don’t take that step lightly!

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Bacon Wrapped Squash…finished and ready to devour!

Homemade Sweet Potato Chips and Guacamole

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a recipe for this one; however, I will say it’s made much easier by a couple clutch Pampered Chef tools. A couple years ago, a Pampered Chef consultant hosted a party for my Team in Training race team, with proceeds benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I stocked up on a few unique tools, and have used them more times than I can count! We make our sweet potato chips by slicing the potatoes using the Simple Slicer and baking them with the Microwave Chip Maker….seriously, that’s all it takes. The slicer has multiple thickness settings, so you can make them as thin or thick as you’d like, and the chip maker quickly turns them into the perfect crispy snack.

For the guacamole, I don’t have a recipe either…it’s just the following ingredients chopped and mixed together until you get the texture you want:

  • 2-3 avocados
  • 2 vine ripe tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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Guacamole…the chips didn’t last long enough for a picture!!

Bacon and Sweet Potato Jalapeño Boats

True confession…we found this recipe last year during our first Whole30. Turns out, it’s a HUGE hit with everyone on or off the Whole30. These have made appearances at Easter, The Walking Dead premier, New Years, and pretty much any other time that called for a great appetizer.

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A couple quick variations we’ve made along the way are only loosely scooping out the seeds (can’t help it…we like things spicy), and cooking the bacon first and setting it aside. This will keep it crispy, rather than leaving it in the pan while the sweet potato cooks. Trust me, it makes a difference!

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work in progress…see the seeds we left behind, and the bacon on the side

Buffalo Ranch Stuffed Peppers

The last recipe, and main dish for our Super Bowl Sunday, was this fun new recipe. It’s no substitute for hot wings, but was a great way to get that buffalo taste for the game. All of the recipes we picked were as simple as possible, but really packed a punch of flavor. We tried to minimize clean-up, and spread it out leading up to the game…that way we didn’t have to miss a moment!

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cooked chicken and onions to stuff the peppers

Learning all of the spices that go into a ranch flavor from this recipe was great…I’ve since been dressing up other veggies on regular week nights to have that ranch flavor while still sticking to Whole30.

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adding the cubed chicken to the buffalo sauce mixture

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finished product! seriously so great!

Hopefully we’re the only crazy people that do this to ourselves during such a big event, but if we’re not…hopefully these will help you plan for a Whole30 safe party!

Back from my hiatus

I may have been off the grid for a while, but I promise it was with good reason!  My husband and I just got home last weekend after two weeks traveling through Italy 🙂  I told you all a while ago about how nervous I was getting prepared for the trip, and how they’d be able to handle celiac disease.  Not only was I impressed with what I found online before our trip, but let me tell you, Italy did not disappoint.  I have plenty of restaurant reviews, tips, and experiences to share with you all…but for starters I thought I’d walk you all through our itinerary, and how we felt our time was best spent.

While I was in college, I had the privilege to study abroad in a little town called Paderno del Grappa.  We were nestled in the Dolomite mountains, and though we didn’t have a train station in our town, we were close enough that we were able to take some great weekend trips through Italy while we were there.  My main focus of this trip was to make sure my husband got to see everything he wanted to (this was his first trip to Italy), that we were able to meet up with his distant relatives near Rome, and to take advantage of going back to see anything and everything I may have missed out on years ago!  We knew we wanted to spend two weeks over there, so once we found our flights it was time to hammer out where we’d be staying.  Here’s the official breakdown we came up with:

  • Rome: 5 nights
  • Florence: 3 nights
  • Cinque Terre: 2 nights
  • Milan: 1 night
  • Venice: 3 nights

Initially we were so overwhelmed with everything else in our lives that we though about reaching out to a travel agent.  The more I thought about it, the sillier I felt asking someone else to figure out our accommodations…I KNOW Italy!  Having studied abroad, I knew where we’d want to stay, how we’d get from town to town, and that hotels are definitely NOT the best option out there.  We spent an entire Sunday looking through our options and tracking down the best Bed & Breakfasts, or in some cases, smaller hotels.  Here are some of the resources I leveraged to find exactly what I was looking for, and why I used them:

  • www.hostelworld.com – This site was one of my best resources studying abroad.  If you’re thinking you’re too old for hostels, don’t worry!  You can use the search tools to select exactly what you’re looking for.  For us, that was narrowed down to either hotels or a B&B with an ensuite room (meaning a private bathroom).  Depending on what else you need, there are other facilities that you can ensure the host can offer such as luggage storage, air conditioning, breakfast, internet access, etc.
  • www.venere.com – For those smaller properties that might not be listed on other sites, Venere was a great resource.  This helped us track down other B&B options that might not have been listed on Hostel World.  Definitely be aware though, once you find the place you want to stay, check to see if they have their own website or contact information.  You’ll usually get the best rates directly from the B&B or hotel, and not through a middle-man website.
  • www.tripadvisor.com – This was our final line of defense in making sure we made the best choices.  Once you think you’ve narrowed it down, check on TripAdvisor to see what people are actually saying about the place.  Read the most current reviews, as things can frequently change, and you want to be sure that anything you’re reading is as accurate as possible.

We’ll be working on getting a review posted for each of the places we stayed, and once we do I’ll be sure to post a link to it here!  For now, I hope you enjoy a few quick pictures from the trip….don’t worry, there will be plenty more 🙂

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The Roman Forum, wandering around the city after flying in, but before we could check into our room!

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome.

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Getting a tour of Frosinone, a small town outside of Rome, from relatives of my husband’s family.

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Overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and Arno River in Florence.

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The front facade of the Duomo in Florence.

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Miles and miles of vineyards in the Chianti region, stunning view from San Gimignano.

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Looking out into the street from Sforza Castle in Milan. They’re really gearing up for the 2015 World’s Fair, the buildings on either side of the picture are from entrance tents to the fair.

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Enjoying the streets of Burano after a day watching all of the talented glass makers in Murano.