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

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?

Easy Alfredo Sauce

This sauce is super simple to prepare and cooks up super fast. Perfect weeknight comfort food. 

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You’ll notice when I post recipes that my directions are very general.  That is because I’m assuming that you have some basic cooking skills, but also to give you some wiggle room to play with your food.  I rarely follow a recipe exactly as it’s written.  I usually just check the list of ingredients and take it from there.  If you were to ask three people to prepare scrambled eggs, you might end up with three different end results.  Some people like their eggs a little wet and slimy (not me!), some like them just done, and some like them well-done.  Bottom line, prepare your food the way you want to eat it, and use ingredients that you like! Why wouldn’t you?

This sauce is great on its own over pasta, but I usually add mushrooms, broccoli, chicken or even a little bacon.  Basically whatever we have on hand in the fridge.  You could also add roasted red peppers, or some canned diced tomatoes to make it a creamy rosé sauce.  Anything goes!

The other great things about this sauce are that it’s inexpensive and most of the ingredients, you probably have on hand already.   If you missed it, check my list of 55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times to see what I try to always keep in the house.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cream cheese (Go for full-fat cream cheese here. The light cream cheese will separate in your sauce and it’s just gross!)

1 1/4 cup milk

2 large cloves of garlic

3 Tbsp. parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper (I like a lot of pepper in this! Add more when serving.)

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Basically all you have to do is blend everything together in the blender until combined.  Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce the heat to low until you’re ready to serve.  The sauce will thicken as it cools, so even if it seems a little thin, it will coat your pasta nicely as it cools down.

I like to serve it with linguine (this sauce will be enough for a 500 gram package) and top it with extra parm and lots of fresh parsley for serving.

 

Five things to consider when meal planning

Part one of two of my meal planning series.

So, we decided that taking the girls to swimming in the spring was a good idea, because it was awful in the winter.  Wet hair, 50 below, snowsuits, tiny changeroom full of moms trying to dress wet babies on benches.  No thanks.  We knew the girls wanted to play soccer and we somehow thought that we’d only have a week or two of overlapping activities.  We also thought that the girls might end up on the same team.  Wrong, wrong, wrong! Now we have SIX weeks of overlap, the girls are on different teams and play different nights!  This means, that every single weekday for the next six weeks, we are going to be hustlin’ to get home from school/work, eat supper, get to an activity and get back home for bedtime.

I usually do my meal planning and groceries on Friday and do some prepping on Sunday.  During the week, I have some time here and there to prep meals but now that there is an activity every single night, I’m going to have to up my game on the meal plan.

I don’t go overboard on the meal planning (or at least I don’t think I do) but here are some things I like to consider.

5 things to consider when meal planning

1) Time

How much time do you have this week to prep in advance? I like to do most of my prep on Sundays, but I do have time here and there during the day to accomplish a few small tasks.  One strategy I like to use is to prep once for two meals.  For example, tonight I’m going to cook chicken for tonight and tomorrow’s supper.

The other time consideration you should think of is how much hands-on time you have to actually make your meals each day.  If you’re running out to an activity shortly after getting home from work, consider making something that you can mostly prep ahead of time.

2) Stock

What’s in your fridge, freezer and pantry that needs to be used up?  I always start there to avoid food waste and unnecessary grocery shops.  I always make my grocery list while I’m taking stock of what we have.  I go meal by meal and add whatever we don’t have on the list.

In case you missed my post on 55 Ingredients to have on hand at all times, check it out to see what I stock in my pantry.

3) Activities

Are you going to be eating before or after the activity?  Who is going to be home for supper?  This one kind of ties in with time.  For example, if you’re planning on eating before heading out, you may have more prep time to throw something together.  If you’re eating when you get home, then maybe you want to consider having a healthy, substantial snack before the activity.  Also, consider a lighter supper that cooks up quickly, in case you’ve run out of energy by the time your activities are done, or you need to get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour.

4) Leftovers

I never include breakfast and lunches in my meal plan.  We usually do cereal, eggs or toast for breakfast and for lunches, we do leftovers.  Whenever I make soup for dinner, I freeze the leftovers so that we always have something on hand for a last-minute lunch.  Otherwise, lunches in our house are usually dinner leftovers.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of leftovers, but I do like to ensure we have enough for one or two of us to have leftovers the next day, and only the next day.  Another reason I consider leftovers when I’m meal planning is for the kids.  I don’t make something different if they don’t want to eat what is on the menu, however, I can pretty much guess what they will sample versus actually eat for a meal.  For those days, I try to make sure I alternate making things I know they like with things they don’t, so they can eat leftovers.

5) Guests

Typically, we have people over for dinner on weekends, but every now and then, we will have family over to babysit the kids during the day or in the evening, so I like to make sure we have enough on hand to feed them if they’d like to stay for dinner.  Impromptu dinner guests are all a part of being too busy livin’, and we love that!

I’ll do a part-two on this topic next week, with recipes that you can try to work into your own meal plan.  Until then, hopefully some of these considerations will help make your family meal planning a bit easier.

Welcome to Too Busy Livin’!

Welcome to Too Busy Livin’!

Remember that time, back in 2017, when I said I was going to start a blog? Well, I started writing a few posts, took a few photos, brainstormed some ideas, then all of a sudden, I was a working mother of three kids under the age of three.  Now, here I am, a stay-at-home mom of four kids under the age of five, just one year later, thinking that NOW is the right time to launch this project.

If there is anything I’ve learned from my experiences as a parent and a teacher, it’s that there never is a right time to do anything, unless you choose to make it the right time.  There are always excuses and other things that need to be done, but right now, for me, trying a new hobby is top priority.  On mat leave number one, I taught myself how to knit.  On mat leave number two, I learned how to make bagels and bread.  On mat leave number three, it was pickling and canning.  This year, on mat leave number four, I’m bringing it all together with Too Busy Livin’.

Since becoming a parent, I’ve taken a new approach to my hobbies now that there are tiny humans in the mix.  These new ways to enjoy my old hobbies as well as my life experiences as a mom, teacher, picky-eater turned foodie, and type A personality are the inspiration for everything you’ll find at Too Busy Livin’.

To be too busy livin’ is to be winging it.  Just as I wrote that, I thought to myself. “What am I even saying? I don’t wing it. I am type A.  I need a plan.  And a list.  And another list to organize my plan and my list.”  If you know me, you know that I am SUCH a planner, but I’ve finally accepted that nothing ever goes according to plan.  Being a natural planner has allowed me to be prepared for most situations when others get out of hand.  Join me as I embrace the crazy and attempt to document my new role as a mom of four kids under five, just trying to navigate life.