New name, new look, new web address

It was time to revamp my blog.

All new posts will be on the new site. All previous posts on this site have been moved as well.  

The new site is:

A Mindful Life – http://blog.amindfullife.us

September 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm Leave a comment

Baking with a toddler

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September 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm Leave a comment

Name Bubbles – great labels for kids school gear

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Based on a couple recommendations from parents groups I belong to, I ordered a Daycare pack of labels from Name Bubbles since my daughter just started preschool and they ask that everything she bring to school be labeled. I liked the label choices and the fact that Name Bubbles uses non-toxic, soy-based ink. We have been using them for a couple weeks now and I have to say they work really well!! I am so pleased with them that I had to blog about it in case any of you are thinking about ordering labels for your kids.

You may be thinking a permanent marker will do just fine. And you are not wrong. But I say these labels are worth getting. I think I’d go bonkers trying to write my daughter’s name on all of her clothing and school gear (lunch box, containers, milk thermos and water bottles). All these things really add up. Now I just have to stick a label on whatever needs labeling as new items are brought to school. Easy as can be.

The designs are cute, yet clear. They have many sizes and shapes to choose from plus varieties that are dishwasher safe, laundry safe, water-resistant and even super tough to go onto shoes. Yes, I have been told that kids do indeed also lose shoes. They are very durable – they really do stay on (and looking good so far) in the dishwasher and laundry. And they are so easy to use, no more markers, not even ironing…just peel and stick.

The Bitty Bubbles are really the perfect size to stick onto clothing tags. They are small, yet easy to read. The Labels for Shoes seem to work well too, though they have only been on her shoes for about 2 weeks…they have survived really well though lots of sandbox time and running around. We use the Fun Bubbles and Mini Bubbles for her lunch box, food containers and drink bottles. We haven’t ordered any Alert labels yet, but I love the concept and will probably get some since my daughter is allergic to eggs and peanuts.

My daughter thinks they are fun and helps me put them on. An added bonus, is that the stickers are easy for her to recognize as meaning the item belongs to her at school, versus having to read a name written in black marker, like many other kids have. For instance, she can easily identify her water bottle at school even if 3 other kids have the same one.

I am actually quite surprised I haven’t noticed more kids as school with pre-printed labels on their belongings since they make life just a little bit easier for the parents, teachers and kids!

If you are concerned with putting your child’s full name on everything, or you have multiple kids and want to just order one batch of labels, you can simply just put your last name on them. Or, similarly, just their first name. Really any combo you feel works best for your needs.

The only two things I can think of that would improve on these is (1) to have a way to select your own colors for each portion of a label, versus picking from a set of color schemes and (2) to be able to upload you own image if you’d like to instead of only picking from their selection. With those two additions labels could be even more unique.

BTW, I haven’t tried any other labels for this purpose so I have nothing to compare to, but these just work so well!

Name Bubbles
http://www.namebubbles.com/

September 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm Leave a comment

A better lunchbox – healthy, sustainable and fun

Who knew packing a preschooler’s lunch would involve so much thought and leg work?

My little 2.5 year old started preschool this week (wow, that was fast) which also means packed lunches.  As soon as we sent in the deposit, I started researching safe, functional and fun lunch gear. I tend to be a planner and hate waiting till the last minute. In addition, I started thinking about what I would actually pack in her lunch box. How do I make it something that she will love to eat? and be able to eat on her own? Without being there to guide who through her meal, this was a big concern. Extra challenging since like most toddlers, she has gotten a lot more picky about what she eats. We are also trying to be as organic, local and sustainable as possible – or as I like to put it… people and planet friendly. I feel that should continue with school lunches. I am determined to keep her meals healthy, enjoyable and as organic and sustainable as possible. There is no reason a packed lunch can’t nurture her body and her love for great food. No lunchables for my little one.

It is no easy task to plan and prepare packed lunches for your kids, let alone healthy, waste-free ones. While I’m not an expert and will be learning as I go, given all of the energy and thought I’m putting into this, I thought I’d share these ideas with you. Maybe you’ll pick up a tip or two or get inspired to be more creative/sustainable with your child’s lunches or even have some great tips to share with me. Either way, I welcome you to follow this journal of a preschooler’s lunchbox.

I’ll include a list of everything in her meal and a photo. I’ll also include a report on how well she ate, incase you are wondering, “Did this kid actually eat this stuff?”. If you are interested in any recipes or techniques, let me know. I’m happy to share. Nothing is too complicated. I’m also planning on another blog entry just on the gear used. I found some great items and am looking forward to sharing. They have been working out so well this week.

I should also note that my daughter is allergic to eggs and peanuts, so nothing you see will have either. And she gets a thermos with 2% Straus organic milk with her lunch each day.

Week One

Tuesday: Sofie's First Day of School (14)

    • Homemade chicken fingers – organic free range chicken, dipped in organic milk, coated in a seasoned brown rice flour and corn starch mix, then pan fried in olive oil.
    • Organic white rice balls – shaped into a heart and star with a rice mold
    • Organic broccoli – steamed
    • Organic raspberries – from our farm CSA


    Consumption: She ate everything except the broccoli.

Wednesday:  IMG_6253

    • Pan seared organic pork chop – pounded thin, sprinkled with garlic salt and then pan seared in a little olive oil. Dice up for easy eating.
    • Organic spouted whole wheat sandwiches – toasted with a light smeared of organic cream cheese. Cut into flower shapes with a cookie cutter.
    • Organic strawberries – from our farm CSA share Eating With The Seasons
    • Organic edamame – steamed
    • Organic baby carrots – steamed


    Consumption: She ate everything except for 3 carrots and the toast. We were trying new bread this week…and well, we have decided that while we like their hamburger and hot dog buns, we aren’t thrilled with the bread. So I can’t fault her for not eating it. We’ll shop for a new kind to try this weekend.
     

Thursday: IMG_6259

    • Homemade organic brown-rice coated chicken fingers
    • Organic mini-pita bread
    • Organic peaches – from our fruit CSA share with Frog Hollow Farm
    • Organic Colby Cheese – I snuck this in after I took the photo, cubed and added in the peach container


    Consumption: She ate all the tomatoes, peaches, cheese and pita. But barely touched the rest. Sofie has a nose for fresh food, somehow she tends to gobble down what I prepare fresh for her and skips anything that had been in the fridge for a couple days. She also had a bit of a meltdown over something at school,
    which didn’t help. 

Friday: Sofie's school lunch - 2010 09 10 (4)

    • Boccalone Italian sausage – grilled the night before with our dinner, then sliced and served cold with this lunch
    • Trader Joe’s Multi grain crackers
    • Organic peaches – from our fruit CSA share with Frog Hollow Farm
    • Organic edamame – steamed and very very lightly salted with sea salt
    • Organic baby carrots – steamed and very very lightly salted with sea salt


    Consumption: She ate all the peaches and edamame, half of the sausage, a few crackers and one carrot.

September 10, 2010 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

Eating out with a toddler – essential gear

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We have had a lot of fun eating out this summer! I wanted to share with you what we feel is the perfect collection of items to bring with us to help each meal go smoothly. We always have this bag packed and in the cupboard waiting, so if we think there is a chance we may eat out, I snag it and pop it into my purse. More details on each item in the bag are below, along with information on where to buy them. In addition to grabbing this meal bag I also always have her water bottle with us and some toys (a tiny notebook and a few crayons in a little baggy is a fixture in my purse!).

Essential gear for meals out with a toddler

1. Small, easy to clean bag to hold it all
I used to use a gallon zip lock bag to tote all these things around but always felt bad about it since I would have to replace it after a few uses. Pretty wasteful. Then while looking for lunch bags for my daughter for school I came across this one from Mimi the Sardine (also sold on Amazon). It is perfect for this purpose. The perfect size to pop into my purse (a largish purse – I am a mom!).  The handles make it easy to fish out when needed or hang on our stroller. There is enough room to hold everything in the picture, including the addition of a bib if you need one. I sometimes also add one or two small containers of food if we feel we may need so supplement our meal (like blueberries or cherry tomatoes). It is made from organic cotton coated with a water-based acrylic coating (not PVC) making it easy to wipe clean when needed, you can even throw it into the washing machine! My daughter also loves the design and it is a good size for her to use on her own.

2. Plastic plate with lid
Now that our daughter it 2.5 we tend to often use a small plate from whatever restaurant we’re at. But sometimes (especially depending on her mood), having our own plate that will not break and is low to the table is a lot easier. The key thing is that this one has a lid. So the plate won’t dirty the bag after a meal. It is also handy to bring home leftovers in. It looks like Sassy no long makes the plates we have for meals out, but with the boom in great eco-friendly travel food containers there are many other choices or you can stick with just using the restaurant plates,  pack a foldable placemat if your child needs something low or you’re worried they may drop the plate. I sometimes throw a small zip lock bag in should we have leftovers to bring home. I feel it is less wasteful than the packaging restaurants tend to use.

3. Kid sized silverware with container
Our daughter can use restaurant forks and spoons, but having a set her size does make it a bit easier for her to eat. And if you have a toddler you know, whatever you can do to make eating easier and fun for them…you do it! Our daughter loves knowing this is her special set and she can take them out and put them back herself. I love this set because it has a case, which means, no digging around for them on the bottom of the bag and they have a nice home to keep them away from other things in the bag once they’ve been used.  We picked up this Hello Kitty set, along with a couple others, at a couple Japanese shops in San Francisco but you can also order it online here. I also just discovered Sugarbooger products by ORE (also sold on Amazon), they make cute sets with cases too. I like them because they are cute and do not have any commercial characters on them. I just ordered a set from Amazon and will update my blog on them after they arrive and we can test them out.

4. Reusable napkin
We are trying to be as “green” as possible and are switching to reusable napkins. I found a fantastic shop on Etsy, down home amy, that makes wonderful kid sized napkins with the cutest silk screened images. They are soft, absorbent and machine washable. I really can’t say enough good things about them or the store. The owner is super nice and easy to work with. She even added our daughter’s name to a few napkins so we can use them with her school lunches…since everything she brings to school needs to be labeled. 

5. Pairing knife with cover
We often have to cut food for Sofie, and sometimes the restaurant knives will do. But there are many cases where we need something sharper (like when we cut avocado maki pieces in half) or when you’re dealing with, gasp, plasticware. One you start carrying it around you’ll find you’re using it all the time, for meals or snacks for your child, and even you. Super handy for cutting apples on the go.We found this great one at Williams Sonoma, online it is sold as a set of 3 but we bought them individually at a store. You can find similar knives many places now. The important thing is that is has a cover over the blade so it is safe swimming around in the bag and you can cover it to keep the bag clean once it has been used. Just be sure to keep it away from the little ones since they could pull the cover off.

Happy Eating!! 

Here are all the shopping links for easy reference:

In case you are wondering, I have no affiliation with any of these companies. I just wanted to share what has worked well for us!

August 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

Homemade Granola Bars (nut free!)

Since my daughter is allergic to peanuts and has recently developed a granola bar addiction I decided to try to make my own so I can control what goes in them and have a fun activity for us to do together. 

After lots of internet searching I landed on Ina Garten’s recipe since the reviews were great, it seemed simple and amazingly enough it had less fat than many others I found. I made a couple modifications right off the bat to leave out the nuts, use the dried fruit we had in the house and they turned out AMAZING! They flavor is deep and rich, extremely satisfying. They are easy to make and Sofie (29 months old) had fun making them with me. I had two pieces for breakfast this morning with my coffee…much more satisfying than any store bought bar. They also look so good you can’t help but want to eat them. The trick will be resisting eating too much at once! With a couple more tweaks, I think these will be a regular in our kitchen. They did come out a little hard this time (I decreased the cook time below) and I want to experiment with cutting back on the sugar since they were sweeter than they really need to be and I’d like to up the protein and other good stuff. See my notes below for ideas I’m mulling over. I may also try to cut down the butter…but maybe not, with no nuts and cutting out some sugar I think the 3 tablespoons can stay. I’d love to hear your variations!

 IMG_0507Taken this morning before enjoying some for breakfast (w/ my iPhone).

Homemade Nut-free Granola Bars

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, loosely packed
  • 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I actually used sea salt)
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped dried fruit (I used dried cherries and cranberries)
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips/chunks

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper. Butter the pan very well to insure the bars come out easily. A 9 by 13-inch pan works too if you don’t have an  8×12.

If your wheat germ isn’t toasted, put it on a baking sheet and throw it in the oven for about 3 mins (while it is preheating) to toast up and then set aside. Be sure to set a timer of watch them closely, they can burn easily if left in too long.

Toss the oatmeal and coconut together on a sheet pan (you can use the same one you toasted the wheat germ on, no need to wash!). I poured the oatmeal and coconut into measuring cups and Sofie would dump them onto the baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. The toasting coconut will smell amazing! Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ and cinnamon. Here is another great place for a little one to help, I mixed everything up and then let Sofie mix (really just move the spatula around on the surface) for another minute.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dried fruit and chocolate and stir well. Sofie was in charge of the measuring cup with the fruit and chocolate, slightly less went into the mixture after her snacking while I prepped the sauce but I had added extra knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Press the mixture very firmly and evenly into the pan. Using your fingers to press down on a spatula works since the mixture will still be very warm, or if you can take the heat wet fingers work best. My daughter wanted to help press so when it was basically done I let her press down with the bottom of the measuring cup we used for the oatmeal so she didn’t come in contact with anything too warm, or messy. Bake for 15 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours (or even over night) before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

Notes

We try to use organic ingredients as much as possible. This time, the only ingredient I couldn’t find an organic version of was the wheat germ. So I settled for an “all natural” one.

I originally cooked my bars for the entire 30 mins as suggested in the original recipe, which was too long. While incredibly delicious, they were quite hard. So I changed the cook time to 15 mins in this version.

They are still on the sweet side, so next time I’m going to reduce the sugar a bit and may try a combo of honey and molasses. I love honey but may mix it with agave or brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup which take longer for your body to breakdown. 

Continuing to up the nutrition and well roundness of the bars. I’m considering trying versions with flax, chia or hemp seeds and perhaps even some protein powder.  For fruit I want to try goji berries and blueberries.

If you can eat nuts and want to include them I’m sure they’d be a great addition. You can add 1 cup of sliced almonds (or any chopped nuts) and decrease the oatmeal to 2 cups and the coconut to 1 cup. My favorite nuts are almonds and pecans.

Updates
– Molasses: I tried a batch where I swapped out half the honey for molasses. While I generally love molasses, I don’t love it in this recipe. For me, the flavor was too strong and thus overwhelmed many of the other more subtle flavors that make these bars great.

Original recipe
Food Network ( I recommend you take a look at the reviews, lots of great ideas and tweaks for the recipe)

July 23, 2010 at 11:38 am Leave a comment

I heart Sweet Constructions

Sweet Constructions is now my favorite cookie company.

I first encountered Sweet Constructions one Friday afternoon while making my weekly visit to Moxsie Street Eats (each week Moxsie invites different street food vendors to their little parking lot to serve up their delicious edible creations to the local Palo Alto community – it is really fantastic!!!). On this particular Friday Sweet Constructions shared the lot with Curry Up Now and The Chai Cart.

I was in a bit of a hurry so we beelined for Sweet Constructions. I had visited their website in anticipation of Street Eats and was dying to try their goods. I got a chocolate crackle cookie and two mini cupcakes, red velvet and salted caramel latte.

After having lunch with Sofie and putting her down for her nap I was finally able to try out my treats. I had just set a cup of tea and the chocolate crackle cookie on my coffee table when I heard a beep on my computer – new email. I went to check it. A few seconds later I heard my dog licking his lips, rather too happily, and realized I had made a fatal mistake. I had left my cookie unattended in a spot all too easy for my dog to snag it. Based on it being at his level he probably thought it was a gift – one he obviously really enjoyed. I was quite saddened by the loss of the cookie, imagining what it would have tasted like. I tweeted “Got a delicious looking @sfcookies chocolate crackle @moxsie street eats…I left it unattended for a minute and my dog ate it. So so sad.” And they very kindly tweeted back “@jeanniecarriere next time we’re @moxsie introduce yourself & your dog. We’ll give u a chocolate crackle. U can eat it in front of him.”

Luckily I had the two mini cupcakes to drown my sadness in, and the salted caramel latte one was like nothing I’d ever tasted before, lots of deep layers of flavors that sneak up on you, super good. But I still really wanted a chocolate crackle, they were calling to me. After a few days I broke down and ordered some online since i wasn’t sure when I’d cross their path again. 

My delivery arrived yesterday with an unexpected extra bag of 4 crackles (!) and a note saying, “Thanks for your order! We were sorry to hear you didn’t get to taste teh crackles at Moxsie, so we added a few more crackles to your box. Just keep these away from the dog” How awesome is that? I love when people seem to really care about what they do, their customers and don’t hesitate to spread a little goodwill.  So in addition to entrancing my taste buds with their cookies, they have won my heart with a simple yet thoughtful and much appreciated gesture.

You must be wondering, how do the chocolate crackles taste? In a word – AMAZING. They are almost like mini chocolate pavlovas but with an inside more like a pillowy brownie. Despite being delivered they tasted so fresh, like a neighbor had just baked a batch and dropped them on my doorstep. You can tell the ingredients are top notch and a lot of love went into them. To die for. They are also the perfect size. If you need a treat but want to be good, you can stick with one. But if you want to take the plunge you can go in for a second and still not feel too guilty. At least that is what I’m telling myself since I ate two in a row…before lunch.

If you’re local to San Francisco you’ll find them at a handful of locations in the city, including their roving Cookie Cart which is usually on Valencia Street at 20th on Friday evenings or on the road at special events, like Moxsie Street Eats. Check out their “About” section on their website for details. Don’t despair if you’re further away since they will ship cookies directly to you and I can attest that they show up fresh tasting and ready to be devoured! I suggest you order some chocolate crackles immediately (at a minimum). I am actually about to send a sampler to my brother at his clothing and accessory store Uncle Pete’s in Boston. I expect he’ll share some with the lucky customers who happen to be shopping when it arrives 🙂

If I manage to snap a photo of a crackle before finishing them I’ll update this post with it so you can see what I mean when I say they were calling to me.

Definitely check them out!
www.sweetcontructions.com
twitter: @sfcookies

June 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm 1 comment

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