Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Mommy Uniform

I’ve read an article or two (or twelve) on how to make getting ready in the morning easier. The one word that has really stuck in my head is “uniform.” The advice is essentially: Find something that works - a uniform - and stick with it.

My wardrobe has been slowly edited down since I began working. I used to have lots and lots of shoes, pantsuits, skirts, scarves… Then I realized that the most fashionable woman in the office wore black. Every day, head to toe. Beautifully flattering cuts, interesting black on black patterns, textures, sometimes sequins, but always black. After she and I became friends I asked her one day why she always wore black. I’m paraphrasing, but in a nutshell she just didn’t like having to think about what she was wearing. She liked that everything in her closet matched, she could choose an outfit and get dressed in under five minutes. And it didn’t matter if it was the same pair of pants as the day before, because no one notices black pants anyhow unless there’s something really flashy about them.

Black was her uniform, and I envied that ease. So I’ve come up with my own “uniform.” I can’t make myself wear all black every day, but pretty much everything in my closet matches. I can get dressed in the dark just by feel and memory. (Seriously, I did that this morning so I wouldn’t wake up the baby.)

Not bad for dressing in the dark!

My color base is black, brown, gray, blue and green. I have a few pink shirts too.

Constants: black flats or heels, black slacks
Options: button up shirts in subdued stripes, knit shirts mostly in black or neutrals and a few colorful prints, interesting blazers like denim or brown pinstripes. The button ups are all long or ¾ sleeve, the knits range from full to short sleeve.

Generally the blazers go with the knit shirts, but today I mixed it up and put the denim blazer with a green and blue striped button up. Wild, I know.

In the summer I have a couple of skirts (again, neutrals) that I wear when it’s hot. In the winter I have some heavy sweaters that I wear when it’s cold. Not much to it.

Constants: Jeans, knit shirts, cardigans, (yes, there’s overlap from work), sweatshirts, tank tops in the summer
Options: None, really. I just grab a knit shirt from the stack and wear that. Once in a great while I’ll wear a t-shirt, but knit shirts are a lot more flattering.

I keep a few fun pieces and some dressier items, but those go to the side of the closet so I don’t grab them by mistake.

Do you have a uniform?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Thoughts

Things that are making me happy right now:
  • Donuts in the break room (awesome)
  • 80’s pop on Pandora
  • My new blog layout – it’s like a cupcake threw up sprinkles all over it
  • Lunch with a friend and a quiet afternoon ahead
  • Holiday break (for me) starts tomorrow and lasts through the New Year - woot!
What’s making you happy right now?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nacho-less No More

I love nachos. I lived on nachos while I was pregnant. When we moved to San Diego for a few years I was so excited thinking that there would be nachos everywhere. I was wrong. Apparently nachos are an American version of Mexican food, also known as Tex-Mex. There is a lot of really amazing Mexican food, but no nachos. Or at least they are very hard to find because I looked pretty hard. Almost every Mexican eatery would give you a bowl of tortilla chips and salsa while you waited for your meal, but I was deprived of my shredded cheese, salsa, and bean smothered, toasty piles of goodness.

For four long years I was deprived. So I had to learn to make them on my own. And now that I have gotten the hang of it, I really like being able to tailor my nachos to my cravings. Cheddar, mozzarella, fajita style chicken, taco seasoned beef, mild salsa, medium salsa, guacamole, caramelized onions, seared peppers or corn, black olives, black beans, refried beans… You get the idea. When you go out you have to eat the nachos the way the restaurant make them – and it generally varies depending on the cook that night. So, below is my basic nachos guide, vary it as you like. My amounts are just approximate and will feed 2-3 for a snack or 1 for a meal.

2 handfuls Tortilla chips (big handfuls if you have small hands)
½ cup shredded cheese
¼ cup salsa
¼ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 Tbsp sour cream and/or guacamole for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On an oven safe plate or in a baking dish spread out half of the tortilla chips. Sprinkle with half of the toppings (not the sour cream or guacamole), layer with the rest of the tortilla chips and layer with the rest of the toppings (again, not the sour cream or guac). Cook for 5-8 minutes until the edges of the outside chips start to brown and the cheese is melted. Be careful, they burn quickly! Top with sour cream and/or guacamole.

Below is a picture of my latest nachos, made as directed above but with no sour cream or guacamole. I forgot that part, go figure.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Making Baby Food

I make most of my baby’s puree. (As long as it doesn’t have to be strained. I hate straining things.) I thought it was going to be a heavily labor intensive process, mostly based off the preconception I got from other mothers’ descriptions. Then I read a basic tutorial on making baby food in the crock pot, and had a “duh” moment – this could be so easy.

It’s really no more labor intensive than making soup. Cook vegetables until mushy, let them cool a little so they don’t explode in the blender, and then puree. I currently have two containers of cooked beets in the fridge that are waiting to be pureed and frozen. (I got partway through and then Max got sick. Really sick. EVERYWHERE. Sorry, too much info, I know.)

And storage is a snap – ice cube trays. Just fill each cube with puree, cover the tray with some plastic wrap, and freeze until hardened. Pop them out into a freezer bag, put it all back into the freezer and you’re set to go. Each cube is approximately one ounce, or two tablespoons.

Note: Getting banana puree out of ice cube trays is hard. If the bananas thaw at all (as in two minutes on the counter) then they form suction to the tray. So make sure to take just one tray of bananas out of the freezer at a time and immediately crack them into the freezer bags. Otherwise you may end up jabbing them repeatedly with a butter knife. Not that I have ever taken my frustrations out on frozen banana puree…

Beets just pulled from the freezer

Acorn squash from last month

We don’t use ice cubes in our house, so it was nice to finally have a good use for those four trays sitting in the cupboard. We used to keep a tray of ice in the freezer, but the few times we took it out for guests the ice had shrunk and turned opaque… So if you’re a guest in our house and you don’t tell us in advance that you’d like ice and your drink is not cold enough out of the fridge or tap then you’re out of luck.

Or you can grab a cube of applesauce and use that to cool your drink instead.

Below is a quick recipe for a concoction that tastes remarkably like pie filling. Max loves it, and hubby and I have been known to sneak a taste as well. If you’re not sure if your baby is old enough to eat the various ingredients check with your pediatrician.

Max’s Holiday Pie

3 cubes winter squash, pumpkin or sweet potato, thawed and warmed
2 Tbsp baby cereal (I use rice or oatmeal)
1 hardboiled egg yolk, crumbled
¼ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cloves
Apple juice, warmed

Mix all of the ingredients together, using the apple juice to thin to the desired consistency.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Batch Cooking

There are tons of articles out there on batch cooking, and for the truly ambitious there’s Once a Month Cooking. That’s right, reserving one day when you cook your butt off and totally stock your freezer and pantry for the entire month. That’s my ultimate goal, but for now I do lunches and breakfasts that will last a couple of weeks. I probably could do a full month’s worth, but for now our stand up freezer is still full of produce (read: tomatoes) from my garden this summer and I can only fit so much more.

Below I’ve outlined a batch cooking plan that I did a little over a week ago. I utilize my slow cooker so that I can multi-task and cook while I’m at work. I love that.

The Plan:
Chili, Chicken Noodle (& Rice) Soup, Shepherd’s Pie, Breakfast Sandwiches, Chicken & Rice

Day 1: Evening
- Make rice (slow cooker)
- Put frozen chicken thighs and ground turkey in the fridge to thaw
- Make chili, the refrigerator clean out way (slow cooker) and cook on low overnight I use this recipe as a base

Day 2: Morning
- Put chili into lunch sized containers and freeze
- Rinse crock pot and put in chicken thighs to cook
- Realized I put in too much liquid in the chili and it’s soup, reset the crock pot to another 8 hours of cooking on low/keep-warm with the lid propped up with a chopstick (alternately you could try adding rice to soak up some of the liquid, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to guestimate how much to put in)
Day 2: Evening
Ideally, you’d be shredding the chicken and putting the chicken noodle soup to cook overnight
- Add dry TVP to the still soupy chili until it’s the right consistency
- Put chili into lunch sized containers and freeze (can be served over the rice)
- Rinse crock pot
- Put in chicken thighs to cook 8 hours on low (overnight)
Day 3: Morning
- Remove chicken thighs, put them in the fridge to cool
- Wash pot
Day 3: Evening
- Shred chicken
- Wash pot
- Return shredded chicken to crock pot and make chicken noodle soup, cooking on high for 2.5 hours
- Dish up the chicken noodle soup over the portioned rice (adds more bulk for hungry hubbies)
- Freeze chicken noodle & rice soup
- Wash pot
Day 4: Morning
Day 4 is a Saturday, so I was able to do more in the morning than I would on a workday
- Make shepherd’s pie (slow cooker)
- Make breakfast sandwiches & freeze yeah, I still haven’t done those yet
Day 4: Afternoon
- Put shepherd’s pie into containers and freeze
- Make an interesting looking slow-cooker chicken recipe that has a sauce with remaining thighs; cook overnight if I run out of time during the day
- Layer chicken and sauce over the portioned out rice and freeze
- The soup and shepherd’s pie made so much that the freezer is now packed and I’m out of containers – which means I’m done! Woot!

The top shelf is all of the lunches I made, the bottom is mostly baby food cubes.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Free Stuff from Vistaprint!

I've gotten some items from Vistaprint, and I've been really happy with their products! Though a lot of their free offers are aimed at businesses, you could reinterpret them to be mommy friendly.

For example:
  • Business Cards = Mommy/Playdate Cards OR if you know someone with a small business you could get them some calling cards
  • I got postcards for my MIL - I filled in a text box in the return address area with her name and address, and picked a pretty design for the front and put her initial on it. It's a great alternative to note paper and envelopes
  • I also got the sticky notes for several people, I picked different designs and added their names for personalized notes
  • If you look under the "style" button, there is almost always the option "using your photos and logos" - and photo magnets, postcards, sticky notes, etc., with a photo of a grandchild/niece/nephew/child is always a great gift!
  • Also check the homepage, they often will list other free promotions. Keep in mind you still have to pay for shipping!

I want to point out that I am not affiliated with Vistaprint other than I like their products and promotions. They have not given me any merchandise or asked me to promote them in any way.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Project: Highchair


I called in to work yesterday because our road wasn’t plowed sufficiently (only one lane was plowed, and there was six inches on the rest of it, over a layer of ice). So Max and I had a snow day! He played, and slept, and ate, and I did chores and put beets in the crock pot for baby food, and I worked on a project in between all of that.

I recently acquired a few items from my local FreeCycle – an exersaucer, a highchair, a baby swing (3 speed!), and a bouncy seat. I really only wanted the exersaucer as I have the rest, but it was a take-it-all deal. I asked around and found out a friend of a friend is expecting her first baby and would like the rest. Woo!

I picked it up and, well, it was a little grungy. Not overtly dirty – more of the been through four kids worth of wear and then in storage for ten years kind of ick. Everything got a good cleaning (I even used a toothbrush), but the highchair needed a full reupholster. I was hoping to just make a few slipcovers - which I did as well - but after removing the patch job on the seat I decided a slipcover wasn’t going to cut it.

Once I removed a few screws the back came off (the seat just lifted out), and I set to work. I used the same tan vinyl that I had recovered my dining room chairs with, nice and sturdy.

The seat has a hard backing and I just wrapped it like a present using a staple gun to secure everything on the bottom. Nice and tidy, and the staples don’t show.

The back was a lot harder. Since almost all of it can be seen, it had to look pretty. First I traced the outline onto the fabric, leaving 1/2-3/4 of an inch of seam allowance, cut it out, and set that piece to the side.

I stretched a large square of fabric around the front, securing it on the back first with pins, then hand sewing with heavy thread. (see photo) I had to snip some V’s in the bend so it would stretch correctly.

Then I took the previously cut out piece, tucked the edges under, and pinned it to the back. It looks a lot like a mushroom.

Using crochet thread (like you use to tie quilts) I sewed the backing to the front in an X pattern.

The back took a few hours with all of the hand sewing, but it was worth it. It was so worth it that I’m keeping the “new” highchair and giving our current one away (also a FreeCycle find). After that much elbow grease I feel a certain attachment to this highchair. It also helps that it matches our dining set.


By the by, my son loves his exersaucer. It’s by far his favorite thing besides food.