Five things you could gift to new moms

I initially intended to have this post coincide with Mother’s Day, in the spirit of giving gifts to moms, but it appears as though my own gift of “taking the day off” has caught up to me and now it’s Tuesday.  Tuesnight actually.

I titled the post “new moms”, and by that, I mean, first-time moms or any mom who has just had a newborn.  When we had each of our kids, those first few weeks with a newborn were the most exhausting as we adjusted, then readjusted (times three) to having a newborn in the house.  People stopped in to visit and drop off gifts of all kinds.  When it was our first baby, clothes, books, baby items were the typical gifts, but as each new little human joined our family, the gifts became less about stuff and more about service, which I fully appreciated, in my newfound quest to live a more minimalist life.

These five gift ideas are, in my opinion, the most helpful to new moms (and even dads too!).

1) Time

The gift of time can be offered in many ways.  Twenty minutes so Mom can take a shower.  Taking the older kids to the park for half an hour so they can have some special attention.  Holding the baby for ten minutes so Mom don’t have to.  Holding the baby for an hour so Mom can take a nap.  Time is the easiest gift to give because you know how much you can afford to give and you can give it whenever it’s convenient.

2) Meals/Food

As I mentioned earlier, those first few weeks with a newborn are exhausting.  Making meals is not high on the priority list.  There are so many creative ways to give the gift of food, even if you’re not a cook, yourself.  Meal subscription services (they deliver all the pre-measured ingredients and you follow a simple recipe to cook the meal), homemade meals that can be eaten right away or frozen for later (I’m still drooling over Sarah’s tomato soup that she made with fresh tomatoes from her garden!), gift cards for restaurants that deliver, and even grocery delivery.  Anything that can avoid having to go grocery shopping with a newborn in the dead of winter in Winnipeg, I am huge fan of. I recently gifted a friend a subscription to a Pop of the Month Club from Pop Cart, because they’re her favorite. Even if your food gift is for treats, that’s never a bad thing! Moms need treats too!

3) Dates

This one ties in with both food and time, but dates are hard to come by for new parents, usually because they’re too tired to put in the effort to get dressed and leave the house but also because they need to find a babysitter.  Sometimes it’s nice to just get out of the house, even if it’s only for an hour.  I remember the day we found out we were having number four, we asked a family member to come by, so we could walk to a nearby restaurant.  With three toddlers running around, it was impossible to process what had just happened and we needed a time-out and some fresh air!

4) Cleaning

This one is a touchy one.  It’s not for everyone.  One year, for my birthday, my parents gave me the gift of one full house cleaning.  They came over, I think they even brought some of their own supplies.  They spent the day here, it was glorious.  Seriously one of my favorite gifts ever.  Their house is spotless so why wouldn’t I want them to clean my house?  I say it’s a touchy one, because some people don’t want their parents (or in-laws) to clean their house.  Some people don’t want strangers to clean their houses either.  When we had our second baby, a friend called me to ask if she could send her house-cleaner over to clean for us.  She asked if I thought it was weird.  While I had never thought of the idea of gifting cleaning services, I did not think it was weird at all.  We were getting ready to sell our house, and I had a one month old, a 19-month-old and a partner who worked all day.  On top of the fact that we were also looking for a new house.  How was I a) going to find the time to clean the house b) going to maintain the cleanliness for entire time it was on the market?

Solution: We got the house-cleaner to come, then we moved out until the house sold.  Again, cleaning services. Amazing.  Can you tell I hate cleaning but love a clean house?

5) Alone-time

Going to the bathroom alone is a luxury nobody realized until they saw their toddler’s fingers squirming their way under the bathroom door.  Showering sans baby crying in the bathroom.  Going grocery shopping alone.  Making supper without someone asking  for a snack.  These are a few of my favorite things.  Even if you only have 10 minutes, let the mother drive herself to Starbucks to pick up a coffee and come right back.  Sometimes a quick coffee break is enough to recharge the batteries.

As you can see, gifts for new moms don’t have to be all about “stuff”.

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” 
-Marthe Troly-Curtin

Stop buying salad dressing (Five salad dressings you should make from scratch)

Salads are one of my favorite things to prepare and to eat.  They’re quick, simple and the combinations are endless.  Making your own dressing is as easy as shaking all the ingredients up in a jar.  In addition to being inexpensive to make, they’re free of preservatives and random ingredients that you can’t even say.  Most of the ingredients in these dressings are on my list of 55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times so you can whip up more than one dressing last minute without having to run to the store.

For lunches when I’m working, I like to use kale and quinoa as my base.  The kale can be washed ahead of time and will last all week.  The quinoa can also be cooked and portioned in advance.  Just by changing up a few veggies and the dressing, I can have a different salad every day. My two current favorites are:

Kale + quinoa + grape tomatoes + black olives + bocconcini + honey balsamic

Kale + quinoa + carrots + red pepper + edamame + almonds + sesame soy

I want to draw extra special attention to the Caesar vinaigrette.  It was born from my dislike of creamy dressings and mayo.   Last weekend, a friend came over for dinner and brought a salad.  She texted me and asked “Is it okay if I bring Caesar salad? Will you eat that? It’s creamy.”   Clearly, she knows me well, although I will eat creamy Caesar salad now and then.

IMG_0951
Use a whole piece of naan, fill with whole romaine leaves, chicken, bacon, parm and dressing and make a copy-cat Wendy’s wrap if you’re feeling nostalgic!

It’s just that, ever since I invented this Caesar vinaigrette, I prefer it. My partner also prefers it. My kids even like it!  Inspired by traditional Caesar dressing recipes containing raw egg whipped up with a few other ingredients, (why does that sound so gross?) this still creamy-ish dressing does not contain egg or mayo.  The trick to the creaminess is to whip it up in the blender to emulsify the oil and other ingredients.   We use this for supper usually, in a simple chicken Caesar salad, with grilled chicken, bacon bits and parm.  Also, does anybody remember waaaay back in 2000 when Wendy’s had pitas?  This dressing was partially invented in mourning of those delicious chicken pitas with Caesar vinaigrette.

Other salads we like to have for dinner are honey mustard chicken Cobb and chicken/avocado taco salad.  See the breakdown of ingredients below.

Cobb: Arugula + tomatoes + hard boiled eggs + shredded cheddar + chicken + avocado + honey mustard dressing

Taco: Romaine + black beans + corn + red pepper + avocado + shredded cheddar + chicken + tortilla chips + chili lime dressing.

Side note: Remember those burrito bowls I posted on Instagram this week?  Basically, the same stuff.  Swap the lettuce for rice and use spices instead of dressing.  Boom. Ingredient efficiency at its best.

What’s also great about these two salads is that there is protein in the eggs, beans and avocado so you could forego the chicken in either salad if you’re short on time or you want to make it a meatless meal.

I’m curious to see how you use these dressings.   Use the hashtag #tblsalads on Instagram to share your salad!

5 salad dressings infographic

 

Five things you could make for supper every week

Part two of two of my meal prep series.

So last week I showed you Five things to consider when meal planning. That’s usually my starting point before getting down to figuring out what exactly we’re going to eat all week.  I like to use a magnetic dry-erase weekly calendar that I just stick on the fridge, so I can quickly glance at it and remember what’s up for the week.

I’m going go day-by-day for this post, so you can get an idea of how I proceeded and roughly how much time it took me to do everything.  In the spirit of being a good educator, I’ll also jot everything into a table, for all you visual learners.  I don’t ever do that in real life, mostly because meal planning is supposed to save you time, not consume your time.

To start, I only plan five meals and I only plan weekdays.  I do this because I like to leave room on the weekend for impromptu guests, BBQing if the weather is nice or dinner out if that’s an option.  Also, I know I’ll be restocking the groceries on Friday or Saturday so I like to empty the fridge by Friday and start fresh for the following week.

Now, on to the five things you could make for dinner every week.  To make sure we have some variety, I usually start by picking five different categories and choose a recipe from each category.  Here are my go-to categories:

  • Tacos/Something in a tortilla
  • Pasta
  • Soup
  • Big salad
  • Stir-fry/Rice bowl

Other categories you could choose from: pizza, meat & veg, casserole, slow cooker.  Think of your go-to recipes and choose five categories that are suitable for your family.

I also try to make sure that at least one or two meals per week are meatless.

Once I have my categories, I check the fridge to see what produce needs to be used up and check the freezer for things we already have.  I make my grocery list while I’m doing this.  If I have produce that will spoil quickly, I try to use those things earlier in the week and save the freezer and pantry-based meals for later in the week.

These are my strategies.  They may not work for you.  That’s okay.  There are tons of meal planning strategies out there and not all of them will work for you.  I actually enjoy cooking, so I don’t consider making dinner a chore.  For me, making dinner is 30 minutes of mostly uninterrupted time alone in the kitchen on most days, so I prefer to make something fresh than to pull a pre-made bag out of the freezer and toss it in the slow cooker, to take advantage of some “free” me-time.  I do, however, like to pre-make some things and give myself shortcuts, because let’s face it, nobody in this house is leaving me alone for more than 30 minutes.  Ever.

This is what we ate last week:

Monday: Chicken caesars

Tuesday: Beef tacos

Wednesday: Burrito bowls

Thursday: Mac & cheese

Friday: Leftovers

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Meal (Calendar) Chicken Caesar salad & naan Beef tacos Burrito bowls Mac and Cheese

 

*Raw veggies

Leftovers

 

What we have

(Fridge)

Lettuce

Bacon bits

*Lemon juice

*Worcestershire sauce

Butter

*Cheese

Lettuce

*Banana peppers

Hot sauce/salsa

Peppers

Avocado

Cheese

Hot sauce

Milk

Butter

*Cheese

Veggies

Leftovers

 

(Freezer) Chicken

Naan

Taco beef
(Pantry) Croutons

*Olive oil

*White vinegar

*Balsamic vinegar

*Garlic

 

 

Taco shells and tortillas Rice

Corn

Beans

Spices

Tortilla chips

*Macaroni

*Flour

*Paprika

Dry mustard

*Onion powder

*Garlic powder

*Dill

*Corn flakes

What we need

(Grocery list)

Tomatoes

**I always put out raw veggies or a salad if I know the kids won`t eat what I made, or for a quick side.*Starred items are all on my 55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times list.

As far as prepping goes, whenever I have a good chunk of time to prep, I do as much ahead of time as I can.  Some veggies, for example, peppers and cucumbers, get slimy if sliced too far in advance, so I like to do those no more than a day before.  And I wouldn’t dare stink up my fridge with pre-chopped onions, so I save that for right when I need them.

I decide which meals we’re going to have on which day based mostly on how much hands-on prep time I need versus have.  If all four kids are home, I’ll opt for something that I’ve prepared ahead of time, or something I can just throw in the oven.  I usually do a soup in the slow cooker on Mondays because…Monday.

Here is an example of my planning “play by play” so you can see how I executed the meal plan and roughly how long it took.

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
What’s going on? -Soccer 6:00

 

-Soccer 6:00 -Soccer 6:00 Soccer 6:00

-School orientation 6-8

*Babysitter

-Swim 5:30

 

Hands-on prep required -Chop raw veggies for the week

-Cook chicken for tomorrow (while cooking chicken for tonight)

 

-Wash and chop lettuce (for tonight and tomorrow)

-Make dressing

-Warm naan

 

*Buy groceries

-Chop tomatoes

-Heat up meat and shells

 

For Wednesday

-Cook rice

-Chop peppers

-Rinse and drain corn and beans

-Heat burrito bowl ingredients, season, assemble.

-Make mac & cheese ahead of time.

No prep required. No prep required.

Reheat only.

Hands-off cooking time Bake in oven 35 mins
 Hands-on cooking time Veggies 10 mins

Chicken 30 mins (divided by two since it’s for two meals, so 15 mins)

Lettuce 10/2 = 5 mins

Dressing 5 mins

Naan 5 mins

 

Tomatoes 5 mins

Meat 5 mins

Shells 5 mins

Rice and veggie prep: 10 mins

Burrito bowls 10 mins

Mac n cheese 20 mins

Notes TOTAL TIME 25 mins TOTAL TIME 15 mins

 

*We needed diapers so I took advantage and got tomatoes for tomorrow.  Since I only needed tomatoes, I probably would’ve just used salsa and skipped the grocery trip if we didn’t need anything else.

TOTAL TIME 25 mins

*Meatless

Impromptu guests: We had two extra people over for dinner so all I had to do to accommodate that was take an extra bag of meat out of the freezer.

 

I always buy a bulk package of meat and cook and portion it as soon as I get home.

TOTAL TIME 30 mins

*Meatless

TOTAL TIME 35 mins (but you’re not actually doing anything, so I’d call that free time!)

*Meatless

 

Things to notice:

1) I barely needed any groceries.  Most of the meals used ingredients we already had on hand.

2) Including prepping, the hands-on time was under 30 minutes each day (but I also got two days sans prep!)

3) On Thursday, I chose mac & cheese (there are always leftovers), in case our babysitters haven’t had dinner.

If you have kids and they’re anything like my kids, you know that between 4:00 and 5:00 kids are tired, whiny and grinding you for snacks every five minutes.  That’s mostly why I like supper to happen quickly.

If you don’t have kids, you’re probably tired from your long day at work and would rather do what I used to do before I had kids, which was sit down, have a drink and eat popcorn for supper.  Meal-prep is for everyone!

Mac & Cheese, Evolved

Move over KD, there’s a new mac & cheese in town!  I love KD, don’t get me wrong.  My aunt makes the best KD, if following instructions on a box “the best” is even a thing.  As a kid, my grandma used to make baked mac & cheese with tomato sauce and cheese.  My favorite part was the crispy, burnt-ish cheese on the edge pieces.  Another delicious mac & cheese that I had the pleasure of enjoying was a breadcrumb topped lobster mac & cheese somewhere in Vegas, made with tiny ditali pasta.  So good.

When I first set out to create my own version, my main requirements were, lots of flavor and a crispy topping.  I loved the idea of using a non-traditional pasta shape like ditali, so I used that in my original version and served it in individual dishes, as opposed to a large 9×13 pan like my grandma used.  People loved this version.  I gave this recipe out a lot (even though people probably received a slightly different version each time, because I never wrote it down).  As time went on, I started getting lazy and would just use any pasta shape, with any cheese we had on hand and any crumb-like topping.  In my laziness, I aborted the individual dishes (because who needs more dishes?) and switched to the 9×13 pan.  Regardless of the shape, pasta tastes like pasta.  The main differences between the original version and this evolved version are the cheeses and the crispy topping.  The original version uses breadcrumbs and panko, while the evolved version uses Corn Flakes.  Both versions are delicious, but I’ll let you try them and be the judge for yourself.

Ingredients:

2 cups macaroni, cooked

½ cup real bacon bits

Shredded Mozzarella and/or Cheddar for sprinkling on top

Sauce:

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. flour

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. dry mustard

Salt & pepper to taste

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded Bothwell Extra Old Maple Smoked Cheddar

1 cup shredded Mozzarella and/or Cheddar

Topping:

3-4 cups crushed Corn Flakes

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. dill

¼ cup melted butter

It’s a good idea to have everything measured out before you start.

First, cook the macaroni to slightly less than al dente.  (The macaroni should still be quite firm.  It will continue to cook as it absorbs the sauce and bakes in the oven.)  While it’s cooking, mix all the ingredients for the topping, making sure the butter coats all the Corn Flakes, and set aside.

Strain the macaroni and pour directly into the 9×13 pan.  Sprinkle the macaroni with the bacon bits.  In the same pot that you used for the macaroni, melt the butter and quickly whisk in the flour and spices to absorb all the butter.  Add the milk, whisking constantly until the flour mixture is incorporated.  Bring to a boil, still whisking constantly, then turn off the heat.  Add the cheeses and whisk until melted and combined.

Pour the sauce over the macaroni and bacon and stir to coat all the macaroni.  Sprinkle with cheese, then add the Corn Flake topping and spread it out evenly.

At this point, you can either bake it right away, or put it in the fridge for later.  I don’t recommend freezing this or making it more than a day ahead of time, because it tends to lose its creaminess, the longer it sits in the fridge.  When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 350ºF and bake for one hour.

Done and done.

If you want to try the original version, you just have to swap out a few ingredients (see below) and follow the same instructions.

1) Omit the bacon bits and replace with 2 cups broccoli (Toss the broccoli in the pasta water, just before the noodles are done, for maybe a minute or two.  The broccoli will finish cooking when it bakes in the oven)

2) Replace the Bothwell Extra Old Maple Smoked Cheddar with Kraft Four Cheese Italiano blend.

3) Omit the smoked paprika and dry mustard.

4) Replace the Corn Flakes with one cup breadcrumbs and one cup Panko.

Which one do you prefer? Team breadcrumb or team Corn Flake?