This Week’s Menu

Prepping the filling for Summer Veggie Penne Bake

After dropping the ball entirely last week in the menu department (and scrambling to throw something together on a nightly basis), I decided to be on the top of my game heading into this week. I hit up the farmer’s market and got some gorgeous produce. Fresh kale (for our smoothies), tomatoes, green beans, corn, green peppers, eggplants plus I still have some squash and zucchini from our friends. This, my friends, is my favorite thing about summer. Our menu for this week is centered around all that glorious produce. Here’s what’s on tap this week:

Monday: Mexican bar (fajitas, burritos, or tacos)
Tuesday: Summer veggies penne bake (recipe will be posted this week)
Wednesday: Grilled chicken and veggies (zucchini, eggplants, onions)
Thursday: Fasolakia (Greek green beans and potatoes)
Friday: Build your own pizza

For lunch this week, I’m going with my go-to 3 things to keep it easy:

Tuna salad
Egg salad
3-bean salad

One thing I did differently this past week (which resulted in a 1.5 lb. weight loss!) was that I started adding smoothies to my morning routine instead of just after dinner. Every day this week, I made one large smoothie and drank half of it around 8am and the other half around noon. I had my coffee and a Greek yogurt with honey in between and bumped back my lunch time until 1:30 or 2pm. This way, I wasn’t starving heading into dinner so I ate a smaller portion. Oh and I increased the size of my dinner salad as well. The smoothies I’ve been making for breakfast are generally as follows:

Parker sucking down The Hulk

1 large handful spinach
1 kale leaf
1 handful of frozen strawberries
1 handful of frozen blueberries
1 banana
1 Tbs. flax seed
12 oz. soy milk (or almond milk)

Trust me, as long as your smoothie is thoroughly blended (I let mine go for about 60 seconds), you won’t even taste the spinach or kale. It tastes good, it’s filling and it really works towards balancing the Ph in your system (I’ll talk more about this later in the month).

Our “dessert” smoothie, aptly named The Hulk, has been spinach, kale, mangoes, pineapple, banana, a whole orange and enough OJ to blend it smoothly.

Now for the best news – everything is already prepped for pretty much the entire week! The summer veggies penne bake is already assembled in a casserole dish and just waiting to be popped in the oven. The green peppers, onions and flank steak are already sliced into strips for the fajitas and the taco meat is already made. As a bonus, I froze half of the taco meat so that I’ll have it ready to go for another week since beef burritos are one of Parker’s favorite foods. The green beans are cleaned and prepped and for grilled chicken and veggies night, everything is washed and ready to slap on the grill.

I can’t tell you how great it feels heading into the week with everything ready to go. This prep will allow me to make sure that I have time to get in my workouts! I’m going to optimistically set my weight loss goal for the 30 day challenge to 5 lbs. I’m not sure if I can make it, but I’m definitely going to give it my best shot.

Zucchini Angel Hair Pancake

One thing that we’ve become much more attuned to since moving to a rural area is knowing which vegetables are in season. That’s attributed to two things: (1) our weekly trek to the farmer’s market, and (2) having friends with gardens. Even though we didn’t plant anything other than herbs this year, I have zucchini coming out of my ears thanks to our friends’ generosity. Since zucchini don’t keep longer than a week once picked, I got to work looking for a recipe that both boys would eat.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Cooking Light recipes have never failed me and as luck would have it, their issues tend to coincide with what’s in season. So, I perused the latest issue, found exactly what I was looking for and got to work. Here’s what you need for this Zucchini Angel Hair Pancake or as I told Parker, “Medusa’s Hair on a Plate.” Hey, whatever works, right?

3 cups shredded zucchini (I grated mine)
8 oz. angel hair pasta, cooked (I used about 6 oz.)
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. diced onions (they called for shallots, but I didn’t have any)
1 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (I’m sure dried would be fine)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs, beaten (I only used 1 egg)
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Marinara sauce

After you grate your zucchini, squeeze all the liquid out and dry it between paper towels to get rid of the excess moisture. Put the zucchini in a large bowl and add in the rest of the ingredients.

Get your marinara sauce simmering on the stove just to heat it up.

In a medium sized skillet, heat either 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Add in 1/3 of the zucchini mixture to the skillet, making sure to spread it evenly across the pan. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Carefully flip the pancake and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Serve with a healthy serving of marinara sauce and enjoy! I made 2 pancakes last night for dinner and I have enough to make one last one for lunch today. I’ll let you know how the mixture did sitting for one day.

Are. You. Ready?!?

Alright everyone, August 1 is almost here, which means that we’re about to embark on our first 30 Day Challenge. The purpose of these challenges is to do something that’s fun, good for you and to do it with others who are making the choice to improve their lives. The first challenge sounds simple in theory, but it’s going to take a firm commitment on all of our parts to make it to the end.

August Challenge: 30 Days of Exercise

I thought this was a good one to help us all get used to the idea of committing to something for 30 days straight. The beauty of this is that exercise can take so many forms. The goal should be to get in at least 25-30 minutes of movement, but that can be done in one chunk or broken up into three 10 minute workouts during the day. Also, please don’t be intimidated or put off by the word “workout.” If it gets your heart rate up, it counts!

Here are some ideas to help get you started and to give you some variety:

    • Walking
    • Dancing
    • Jump roping
    • Running
    • Elliptical
    • Yoga
    • Cycling
    • Swimming
    • Any workout DVDs
    • Med Ball 200 or 400

I’ll be posting various workouts of all skill levels throughout the month on Daily Cynema’s Facebook page (which just launched today) and you’ll be able to do almost all of them at home. With that said, here are just some friendly reminders:

1. Start out slowly. If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised (or if you aren’t used to exercising daily), please start out slowly. Otherwise, you may end up with an injury, feeling defeated or just plain burned out. The key here is to make exercise and fitness part of your daily life, kind of like brushing your teeth.

2. Build in rest days. Walking is great for both exercise AND recovery. If you wake up feeling sore, make your next day’s exercise a long walk to help loosen those muscles. Or, walk for the first 10 days and slowly build up to lifting weights or jumping rope.

3. Have fun. Chasing your kids at the park or going for an evening bike ride is a great form of exercise. Whether you’re running 10 miles or playing a pick-up game of soccer with your 4 year old, make sure that it’s something that you enjoy doing.

4. Stay hydrated. Man, it is hot this summer! Regardless of what your daily exercise looks like, bump up your water intake. It’s good for you and it’s a great way to cool your system down.

5. Remind yourself why you are making this commitment. Whether it’s to feel better about yourself, to improve your health, to keep up with your kids or simply to maintain your current level of fitness, the WHY is a very important component in reaching your goals.

6. Check in often! Whether you are looking for support or just want to share your progress, let’s all connect on the Daily Cynema Facebook page to keep each other motivated throughout the month. If you need a boost to help get yourself moving, just think of how amazing you’re going to feel come August 31st when you’ve reached your goal.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready to rumble and knock the last of this baby weight out of the park!

Lasagna, Two Ways

For years, I had been making a spinach lasagna the way that my mother used to. It was a recipe staple around here and I thought that we were set for life in the lasagna department. And then, a dear friend of ours brought us a frozen tray of her lasagna to eat after Lexi’s birth. When we got around to eating it, the Irishman and I looked at each other and we had a shared moment of veggie lasagna bliss, at which point he said to me, “Please learn how to make this. And add meat. Thank you.” I was happy to oblige him.

As an aside, let me clarify that he doesn’t make these requests because he thinks that women should be in the kitchen and all that other nonsense. It’s much simpler (and less insulting) than that. Frankly, he isn’t allowed in my kitchen when I’m home and if he does cook something, I need all evidence of his presence completely erased. I mean, it’s not an actual house rule (like don’t put your shoes on the couch and never eat the last Girl Scout cookie), but whenever he goes into the kitchen, I hover like a mother hen. The kitchen is my sacred place. It’s my happy place. Does this sound militant? Yes. Does it work for us? Yes. Now that I’ve confirmed my wackiness, let’s get back to the lasagna.

So, I found out that the difference between her lasagna and mine wasn’t necessarily in the specific ingredients, but in the fact that she used whole slices of mozzarella while I had been using the grated stuff. Seriously, that one switch made such a big difference. But, I figured that while I was at it, I might as well tweak the whole recipe to suit our tastes, so here is the Daily Cynema’s lasagna, take two. One last point, I’m going to give you two different ingredient lists – one is for meat lasagna and one is for veggie. The assembly steps are the same for both.

Ingredients for meat lasagna:  
3/4 lb. ground beef or turkey
3/4 lb. bulk sausage
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jumbo container pasta sauce (like Ragu)
1 large container ricotta cheese
1 package sliced mozzarella
1 egg
1 tsp. of each oregano, parsely, salt and pepper
parmesan cheese
9 lasagna noodles

Ingredients for vegetarian lasagna:  
2 cups diced veggies (squash, zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms)
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jumbo container pasta sauce (like Ragu)
1 large container ricotta cheese
1 package sliced mozzarella
1 egg
1 tsp. of each oregano, parsely, salt and pepper
parmesan cheese
9 lasagna noodles

(Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.) For the meat lasagna filling, go ahead and brown your meat. When it’s almost cooked all the way through, add in the onions and garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so. For the veggie lasagna filling, saute all of the vegetables together in a bit of olive oil for about 10 minutes or until they are soft. For both fillings, you’re going to add in the pasta sauce to either the veggies or the meat and let it simmer for about 20 minutes or so.

While the sauce is simmering, we’re going to boil the lasagna noodles. Once the water comes up to a boil, cook the noodles for about 7 minutes so that they are still very al dente.

While you’re waiting for the sauce and the noodles to cook, go ahead and mix together 1 beaten egg, 1 container ricotta cheese and your seasonings (parsley, oregano, salt, pepper).

Then it’s time to assemble the lasagna! Here’s the order of layering.

    1. A small amount of the sauce mixture
    2. three lasagna noodles
    3. 1/2 the ricotta mixture
    4. sliced of mozzarella cheese
    5. 1/3 the remaining sauce mixture
    6. three lasagna noodles
    7. 1/2 ricotta mixture
    8. slices of mozzarella cheese
    9. 1/3 sauce mixture
    10. Final three lasagna noodles
    11. Remaining sauce mixture

Once the lasagna is assembled, you can top it with some shredded mozzarella (if you have it on hand) and some grated Parmesan cheese. Bake it for 45 minutes (covered for the first 30 minutes) or until all the cheese is melted throughout. Then, allow it to set for 10-15 minutes so that it somewhat holds together when you serve it. Trust me, this one is definitely worth the wait.

PS – I wish I had a picture to show you, but I made it last weekend when we had company and there was none left. I’ll add in a photo as soon as I make it again, which will be very soon!

Odds and Ends

Do you ever feel like something big is about to happen, but you don’t know what it is? It’s a sense of building anticipation and it almost feels like the jitters I used to get before a big race back in my swimming days. The night before the race, I would always feel a preternatural calm as if every cell in my being was conserving energy. And then, on the morning of the race, a slow burn would build in my body until the moment that I would burst off of the blocks with an explosion of energy that was the physical equivalent of screaming on the top of my lungs.

I’m not sure what’s coming, but I know it’s going to be good. I feel like a kid in the weeks before Christmas. Waiting. Anticipating. Savoring that feeling of good will. When I find out what “it” is, I’ll be sure to let you know, but at the moment, I’m scrambling to regain my focus for the week. Alas, I have no menu for you today. That’s partly due to my scatterbrained-ness and partly due to the fact that I’m driving into Asheville tomorrow to do my shopping at my favorite organic market. Once I get home, I’ll build my menu around the goodies that I find.

I’m also getting organized with the series of 30 Day Challenges that we’re going to do. I’m thinking we should start in August. Which is next Monday (!!). I keep waffling between whether I want to start with a food challenge or an exercise challenge, and I think that exercise is winning. To get our feet wet, I thought that we could start off with a general one like the “30 Days of Exercise” challenge. Then, we’ll move on to more structured/disciplined things. I’m loving this idea and it will feel good to take control and make changes towards well-being.

While I ponder these organizational issues for the next week, here are some sweet shots of Lexi, who decided to play coy for most of the impromptu photo shoot.

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See what I mean? Still, look at her perfectly round little head.

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I have to say that I’m really enjoying her current butterball state since Parker was (from the day on his birth) built like a string bean.

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Oh look! She finally looked at the camera….

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aaaand there’s my smile. I had to work for it (it’s a good thing that this camera doesn’t have audio), but any amount of me looking silly is worth it when I get one of those sweet, toothless smiles.

Barbecue Meatballs

My husband is obsessed with this recipe, which we got from his grandmother. He’s taken a large crockpot full of them twice to work functions in the last month and until two days ago, I hadn’t gotten around to tasting the barbecue sauce. To put it bluntly, it rocked my socks off. So, I scrambled to get permission to share it and now I lovingly give it to all of you. Happy day!

Sauce Ingredients:
1.5 cups ketchup
1 cup water
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons mustard
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 drops of Tabasco sauce
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped onions
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Combine all of the ingredients together in a large saucepan. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 hours. You can add either frozen or fresh meatballs, but if they’re fresh, saute them in a separate pan first since the frozen ones are generally fully cooked. I usually add the meatballs in during the last hour of the cooking process. I generally refrigerate the sautepan overnight and then transfer the meatballs (and all of the sauce) to a crockpot the next morning so that the Irishman could take it to work and keep the meatballs warm all day long. Needless to say, he didn’t have any left to bring home.

How Parenting Made A Liar Out Of Me

Before you have kids, knowing how you’ll parent is kind of like knowing what you’d do if you came upon a bear in the woods. Hypothetically, you’d like to think that you know how you’ll react (play dead), but when confronted with the reality of the situation, only time will tell what you really end up doing (scream and run like hell…in both situations). As I think about the last 5 years of our parenting journey, these are just a few of the ways that parenting made a total liar out of me.

1. “My kid is going to learn to nap where ever we are and if that happens to be home, (s)he better get used to the regular noise level of the house.” This was the absolute first time I had to eat my words. Parker was such a horrible sleeper that if I had to dance the Macarena while wearing a tutu to get him to sleep, I would have gladly done it. On National TV. Thankfully, he was fine sleeping while out and about (in a car seat, stroller, etc…), but at home, all the conditions had to be just right in order for him to get some shut eye. Lexi is the same way. I go directly to “ninja stealth mode” the second she falls asleep so that I can maximize nap time. It’s the only way that I’d get anything done around here.

2. “I would never leash my child. Seriously, can’t people control their kids without treating them like dogs?” Man, oh man, did I judge people who used those
leash backpacks on their kids. They looked so demeaning and unnatural that my pre-parent instinct was to label parents who used them as either lazy (not wanting to chase after their kids) or paranoid. That was, of course, until we took Parker to Paris when he was 2-years-old. Someone had bought the monkey-leash-backpack thing for us as a gift and I took it with us to use as a backpack. And then Parker almost got flatted by a Parisian cab because he decided to start playing this new game called “Let’s wait until mommy relaxes to try and break her grip and run straight into the street near the Notre Dame cathedral.” Two hours (and a massive parental heart attack) later, the backpack WITH the adjoining leash were out in full effect. I have to admit, I was definitely embarrassed to be using the thing and my face burned in shame when a playground full of Parisian middle schoolers pointed and laughed at Parker (I had to seriously refrain from giving them the finger), but my son was safe. At the end of the day, judgment doesn’t matter, but his safety does.

3. “My child will eat whatever s(he) is served. End of story.” It goes without saying that food has become our biggest battle with Parker. While we have finally gotten firm with him in the last year (he must try something at least once and no desserts or treats without finishing dinner first), he is the typical chicken nugget/mac and cheese/plain spaghetti eating kid. Again, this is an embarrassment to me because I am quite an adventurous eater and pride myself on trying new and exotic recipes. To be honest with you, I don’t even know how this one happened. Well, that’s not necessarily true. I mean, I know HOW it happened (we made him something different to eat than what we were eating). What I meant was that I don’t really know why we started this. The first year of Parker’s life is such a sleep-deprived blur to me that I can’t for the life of me remember the dynamics of when he started eating solids. I can tell you that I’ll be vigilant with Lexi to at least start her on the right track in the food department. With that said, I can’t promise that I won’t eat my words on this one a second time.

4. “My kids will not watch television for the first two years and after that, all screens will only be available in very limited doses.” I will say that Parker did not watch TV for about the first year. But then on one fateful day, I was flipping through channels and passed by Curious George on PBS. For the 5 seconds that Curious George was on the television, Parker sat stock still, staring at the little monkey. As any parents of a new walker knows, chasing after a newly-minted toddler is relentless. So, you can imagine my surprise (and secret glee) over the fact that my child could be entertained for even a precious 15 minutes while I cooked/folded laundry/sat still. Now, there is a secret to the “screens to entertain my child” equation. Screen time really does need to be allowed in small doses or it loses it’s appeal. If we’re going on a long car trip, we’ll buy a new DVD or two to help keep Parker quiet and now that we have an iPad, he’s allowed to play with it for 30 minutes on weekdays and 1 hour on the weekends (unless we’re at the doctor’s office, on a long car ride, etc…). The rest of the time, it’s up to us to play good old fashioned games like Memory and Yatzee or to head outdoors to run or bike (which Parker prefers anyways). Still, it’s nice to have the TV and iPad as a backup for when we need a bit of help in the entertainment department.

5. “I’m not going to bribe my children. I expect them to listen to me.” If I had a dollar for each time I heard myself offer up a bribe in exchange for Parker to eat/sleep/sit quietly, my fortune would rival that of Bill Gates. Bribes come in the form of dessert, special trips and toys. I sometimes like to lie to myself and say that this is a form of positive reinforcement, but let’s be real here. It’s a bribe, pure and simple. The fact of the matter is that parents need to use whatever tools are in their arsenal to keep from going insane.

So there you have it, proof of my childless self-righteousness turned humble parent of two. What’s more is that I’m sure this list will be 43 pages long by the time that the kids are grown and out of the house. Are any of these good parenting practices? Probably not. I’m sure that the experts would say that I’m compromising my authority and instilling bad habits. With that said, in my experience, parenting doesn’t happen in a clinical setting. It happens in the real world, which (in our case) more closely resembles the main tent of a large and unruly circus.

So tell me, has parenting made a liar out of you too? Please say yes and keep me company in my mommy guilt!