An Artist Blooming

Since Elly had her 1st birthday and officially became a toddler, I have had an intense desire to introduce her to the world of drawing and coloring.

My first attempt didn’t go well due to her intense desire to jam everything in her mouth, despite buying markers designed especially for her age. After such a failure, the crayons were hastily packed away. I try to be a lax mom, but the thought of Elly crapping a rainbow of colors made me nervous and a bit sick to my stomach.

Last week, I finally had the privilege of mailing Elly original artworks to her grandparents. What changed? I tried letting Elly draw with the humble pencil. For the first five minutes, it was a perfect match. Elly held the pencil between her thumb and middle finger, like she had been doing it all her life. Then, she proceeded to flip through her notebook and draw on the pages as inspiration hit her. I was thrilled and quickly ran to get the camera.

After those first five minutes were up, things started to go downhill quickly. Elly chewed the eraser off and spat it out. When she turned the pencil around and bit off the lead tip, I called the drawing session to a close.

Certain that surely somebody designed pencils for kids, I searched online for a fatter pencil that didn’t have a tasty eraser on the back end. Leave it to Crayola to have exactly what I wanted: Write Start colored pencils.

After ten minutes of drawing, Elly still tries to eat the pencils, but she hasn’t managed to snap the lead tip off like she did with the narrow #2 pencil nor is there an eraser to eat. Plus, she loves the designs on each pencil. I think her favorite is the apple pencil, which of course is the red pencil.

Using up Buttermilk in Cookies

Article first published as Using up Buttermilk in Cookies on Blogcritics.

After making waffles last weekend, I still had 1/4 of a bottle of buttermilk leftover. Unable to dump such goodness down the drain, I rummaged through my recipe book to find a way to use it up.

There were the usual recipes for buttermilk: biscuits, scones, and pancakes. Yet, I wanted something different and something sweet. Then, I found it: buttermilk sugar cookies.

The recipe I used is here on Maggie’s Madcap Life blog. The only changes I made were to sprinkle coarse sugar on top, to use parchment paper and to use a cookie scoop. These are changes that I would make to almost any cookie recipe. Coarse sugar lends a cookie a touch of crunchiness. Parchment paper makes for easier clean up. Cookie scoops are ingenious.

Really. I don’t know how I lived for so many years without one. They cut in half the time it used to take me scoop the cookie dough up with 1 spoon and then scrape it onto a cookie sheet with a 2nd spoon. If you don’t have one, trust me; you need one.

The cookies came out moist, puffy, cake-like, crunchy on top, and sweet but not too sweet.

They are the perfect quick-to-make sugar cookie to have with a cup of tea or coffee. Your kids should love them too. My almost-18-month-old had a blast helping me make them and she loves to help her Daddy and I eat them.

However, they are nothing like Christmas sugar cookies. If Christmas cookies are what you want, don’t skimp on the work. Don’t try to bake drop style cookies and expect them to taste like the cookies that must be refrigerated, rolled, cut out, rolled again, baked, iced and decorated. It’s not fair. This recipe is good but it can’t produce a miracle.

In Need of a Goat

5 years ago when I researched how to remove poison ivy without chemicals, I came across 2 recommendations.

1. Dig up the entire root system
2. Buy a goat

Since the poison ivy was wound tightly around a section of the hedges, the odds of me being able to locate the entire root system in amidst the roots to the hedges were slim at best. So, option 1 was out.

Option 2 was ruled out because of our location. The Borough of Pottstown does not allow its residents to keep a goat as a pet. It’s for the best. Not only would a goat eat the poison ivy, it would eat everything else in sight. Perhaps the only shrub a goat would steer clear of is my Firethorn bush; the 4-inch-long thorns are wicked.

Thus, 5 years ago, I bought the strongest chemical I could find and sprayed the heck out of it. Yes, I lost a section of the hedges, but I killed the poison ivy. I had won.

This year, I had broken out in a rash on my arms and feet several times from poison ivy. I assumed it was because my neighbor had the ivy intertwined among his prized raspberry bushes.

It wasn’t until my neighbor pointed out a small weed underneath my pin oak tree, labeling it as poisonous, that I realized the problem was right in my backyard. Not only was it in my backyard, but it was infested in the very area we like to sit and relax in: underneath the pin oak tree.

I bought Round Up for poison ivy from Lowes and sprayed any plant that had leaves of 3. I probably sprayed over 20 plants. I wasn’t quick enough though. Poor Elly broke out in a rash on Saturday. Thankfully, it was only on her ankles.

Despite spraying with chemicals, the poison ivy still thrives. Maybe I could borrow a goat and corral him to the area underneath my pin oak tree.

Toy Envy

Last Saturday, we attended a birthday party for Penny, who was turning 2. Elly had a wonderful time being around so many kids her age, yammering to anybody who would listen, and playing with Penny’s toys. She particularly liked Penny’s toy laptop and her water table.

Although Elly still has an “out of sight – out of mind” mentality at her age, her Mommy does not. Heck, I was just as amazed as Elly was with Penny’s water table. I had to buy one!

As soon as it arrived, I put it together, threw Elly into her new bathing suit, and invited our neighbor Irene over. Both Elly and Irene had a great time playing with the water table.

Even Jake approved; it’s the perfect height for lapping up a drink of water.

Homestyle Asparagus and Bacon

Article first published as Homestyle Asparagus and Bacon on Blogcritics.

When trying out a recipe I found in one of my cookbooks or online, rarely does my version look as pretty as the accompanying picture. Case in point:

I found a recipe for asparagus wrapped in prosciutto on Cooking Creation blog. Her picture of the asparagus looked like this.

Mine came out looking like this.

In my defense, there are a few reasons my version looks uglier.

1. The heat index was over 100 on the day I tried this recipe out. Dan vetoed standing in front of a hot grill. I was equally opposed to standing anywhere near a pot of boiling water. I steamed my asparagus in the microwave. In order to fit the asparagus into a microwave-proof dish, I first had to cut it up.

2. Not having prosciutto on hand, I used bacon. Obviously I had to cook the bacon first, but I wasn’t about to saute it over a hot stove (see reason #1). I threw the bacon in a 375 degree oven and then went and sat under the AC in the living room. Well, the bacon cooked a bit longer than it should have, so I ended up with crumbled bacon rather than lovely strips.

3. Homestyle cooking is all about comfort. Let the restaurants serve fancy dishes that look more like a work of art than something you would eat. I’ll stick with my dishes than can be eaten in shorts, t-shirt and no shoes.

My hat goes off to Cooking Creation, asparagus and bacon are a wonderful combination of sweet and salty. In a word, it was delicious. Even Dan who isn’t a fan of vegetables, cleared his plate.

Since my version is quite different from the original, allow me to share it with you:

1 bunch of asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
5 strips of cooked bacon, crumbled
2 tablespoons of water
salt and pepper to taste

Place the asparagus into a casserole dish. Pour the water and bacon overtop. Cover the dish and place in the microwave. Cook for 3 minutes. Stir. Cook for 3 minutes more or until tender. Season to taste.

Elly and I Hate Being Idle

We thought it was a phase that she would grow out of. More accurately, we were hoping it was a phase that would only last a month or two. Elly is almost a year and a half old and she still hates riding in the car for longer than 20 minutes.

On Saturday, we drove to a friend’s house to celebrate their daughter’s 2nd birthday. Elly fussed on the way there after quickly growingbored of her musical frogger and other toys I had packed. Once there, she had a great time running around and playing with the other children. Most children would sleep after such an outing, but not Elly. I can count on one hand how many times she has fallen asleep in the car. Rather than sleep, she strained against the straps to her car seat desperately trying to get out.

I know how she feels.

I hate sitting still with nothing to keep my hands busy. Thankfully, I can knit, which is exactly what I did. I cast on for the hexagon afghan.

Once Elly is old enough, I’ll teach her to knit. With a little luck, it will make her enjoy car rides more.

Hiding Indoors from the Heat

Last week it was too hot to play in the garden. After biking to the local splash park for two days in a row, I needed a break. So, on Friday we stayed home. It seemed like the perfect excuse to try out a craft idea I found on BabyCenter’s website: finger painting.

2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp and 1 tsp water
food coloring

Mix the water and flour together using a fork or mini whisk. If necessary add additional water, a teaspoon at a time, until you reach a good consistency for painting. Dye the flour-paint in your child’s favorite colors via food coloring.

Expect a mess.

I draped our dining room table with an outdoor plastic tablecloth. Then, I taped waxed paper to the cloth. I strapped Elly into her booster seat. To save her outfit, I hunted down Dan’s old apron. Finally, I stepped back and let the magic happen.

When she stopped painting on the wax paper and started painting the arms of the chair, I called a stop to the festivities.

Later in the day, Dan and I discussed setting up a craft area for Elly in the basement so that our dining room set might survive her youth.

Chocolate in my Homemade Bread

Article first published as Chocolate in my Homemade Bread on Blogcritics.

Never in my life have I eaten babka. So naturally I never had a desire to bake babka bread. Not until I stumbled upon Smitten Kitchen’s blog post about it that is. Her description sounded devine. How could something that called for over 2 pounds of chocolate be bad?

Of course, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Repeat after me: recipes are recommendations.

I made a few changes to the filling portion. The original recipe recommended using semi-sweet chocolate along with a cup of sugar. Semi-sweet chocolate is just too sweet for my taste even without adding more sugar. I prefer bittersweet. So, that’s what I used: 3 packages of bittersweet chocolate chips, ground up in the food processor. I ommitted the sugar altogether. I also increased the butter in the filling to 1 cup or 2 sticks partly because Elly mashed the stick of butter making it impossible to cut in half equally (it’s amazing how high she can reach now!) and partly because I love butter.

Here’s my version of the filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 packages of bittersweet chocolate chips (11 oz), chopped finely in a food processor
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Stir together until smooth.Then, taste it. If you think it’s too bitter, add some sugar or don’t use bittersweet chocolate. You’re the one who has to eat it. I already have my bread and I’ve eaten it too.

Though we tried to eat it for breakfast, it quickly became a dessert bread. 2 pounds of chocolate really IS a lot of chocolate. That’s not a complaint. I couldn’t be more pleased with my babka.

Outgrowing Diapers and Pull-Ups

Our little girl, whom I affectionately call Elly Belly, is not very little at all. She flew off the growth charts in weight at 3 months old when I was exclusively breastfeeding her. She remains an inch off the charts to this day. Her height isn’t far behind in the 95 percentile.

Having spent time searching the internet for answers on what to do when your child outgrows size 6 diapers and what to do when your child is gearing up to outgrow size 4t-5t in pull-ups, I thought it might be of some help to parents with chubby children if I compiled my findings here.

First and foremost, ignore the critics. The only person you need to listen to is your pediatrician. Odds are there is nothing wrong with your child.

A word about the diaper sizes:
Being a first time mom, I thought the weight range listed on the diapers were time-tested and accurate. Perhaps they are if you have a normal size child. If you have an Elly-sized child, take the weight recommendations with a grain of salt. Elly outgrew all the diaper sizes long before she reached the upper weight limit listed on the boxes.

So what does come after size 6 in diapers?
You have a few options:
1. Pampers does carry a size 7. We opted not to use them due to the overwhelming smell of baby powder.
2. You can switch over to pull-ups. I would recommend the Huggies training pants because they can tear open at the sides, which is a nice feature when your child is still having her bowel movements in diapers.
3. You can switch over to cloth diapers. I found Green Mountain Diapers to be a great resource when deciding which supplies to buy. Keep in mind that you need that same grain of salt for weight recommendations. Elly outgrew the cloth diaper covers listed up to 35 lbs when she tipped the scales at 30 lbs.

Now at 17 months, Elly is wearing pull-ups sized 4t-5t when out on the town with Daddy or when gardening with Mommy.

It’s the largest size carried by Pampers and Huggies. So what comes after pull-ups?
Again there are a few options.
1. In disposables, the next tier contains youth diapers, such as Attends Briefs.
2. Disposables offer another option: nighttime diapers. Pampers offers Underjams, diapers designed for children who haven’t mastered potty training at night. These go up to 65 lbs compared to 50 lbs with the pull-ups. But, who says they can only be used at night? Go ahead and use them during the day.
3. You can switch to cloth diapers. You’ll have a limited selection, since most AIO and pocket diapers will be too small or won’t allow room for growth. Elly is currently wearing toddler-sized pre-fold diapers with Bummis XL diaper covers. Both should continue to fit her in the coming months. However, we’ll have to switch to a different design when it’s time for potty training. I have my sights set on Happy Heinys Training Pants. They have a wide selection of sizes.
4. Switch to cloth, but use underwear. Mumtaz Soakers on Etsy offers both lined underwear, which is really for the child who is currently potty training, and nighttime waterproof underwear, which can be used during the day for the child who isn’t ready for potty training.

Of course, you could always hope that your child becomes potty trained before she outgrows the pull-ups. Unfortunately, our Elly has shown no signs of being ready for this step.

Keeping Elly Busy

On Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, Elly and I take Jake for a walk.

On Tuesdays, we play in the garden until about 9am. Then, we pack up and head to the playground and the Splash Park.

On Thursdays, we visit the Farmer’s Market where we pick up a week’s worth of fruits and veggies along with lunch for the day.

During the week, we visit our neighbors.

Though I do a pretty good job of keeping her busy, I often wish Elly, who is a social butterfly, had more occasions to meet other kids her age. Often when I take her to the playground, nobody is there.

Where do the other Moms in town take their kids?

I haven’t tried the mall. Maybe they are all at the mall. Pity it’s such a long bike ride away.