Quick, Easy Pasta for Busy Weeknights (and Egg Experiments too!)

Between spring fever, family birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day and the end of the school year, it's a wonder that anything gets done. Apologies for the silence of late, but we've been knee deep in egg-related science experiments, end of year activities and preparations for the busy Back to School season for LaLa Lunchbox and LaLa Breakfast. In the midst of everything, I've discovered a super easy, really fast dinner that has made our crammed days much easier: Pasta with Boursin and Peas! Here's my favorite part: once the kids tasted it, they immediately requested it for their lunches. And boom! Just like that, the ten minutes it took to put this dish together saved me big time on lunch as well. 

Lunch featuring pasta with Boursin and peas

As an aside, did you know that if you put eggs in vinegar, the acid breaks down the egg shell? 

eggs-periments

Did you also know that if you place a hard boiled egg in toothpaste for 24 hours, remove it and place the egg in vinegar for 48 hours, the part that was submerged in toothpaste will not decay? Pretty cool – and also a really cool way to show the importance of brushing teeth! 

Anyway, back to the pasta. I've made this once a week for the last four weeks and two of my kids have been wolfing it down for dinner and lunch (my third child can't have dairy). Remember Boursin? I remember slathering it on crackers as a kid and absolutely loving it's creamy, salty, garlicky flavor. Okay fine, I admit it: I used to eat Boursin with a spoon. Didn't you?! I hadn't even thought about Boursin for decades but when I came across the concept on Pinterest, I tried it immediately and the kids went nuts. 

pasta with boursin

Here's how we did it: cook one pound of pasta (whole wheat or white) and when it's finished and still hot, add 4 ounces of this (use the remainder for crackers, naturally!): 

Boursin for pasta

Add peas to that (I used 6 ounces of frozen peas that I quickly steamed) plus fresh pepper and some lemon zest and bam! Dinner is done. Lunch is too, if you've got leftovers. Hat tip to Joanna Goddard for finding this deliciousness and Danielle Oron for creating it! 

Here's the full recipe (slightly modified from the original):
1 lb pasta - I used penne but anything will suffice
4 oz of Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs
6 oz frozen peas, steamed
fresh ground pepper to taste
zest of 1/2 lemon 

Cook the pasta as directed on the package. Drain the pasta and while still hot, add the Boursin and stir so that the cheese gets all creamy and delicious. Add the steamed peas. I included 2 TB of the water from the steamed peas so that the pasta had better moisture. Add the lemon zest and mix thoroughly. 
 

I removed the peas one night and had them on the side instead. 

I removed the peas one night and had them on the side instead. 

Pile into the Kitchen for Mother's Day!

There's a sweet collection of Winnie the Pooh stories that my 2 year old is obsessed with these days. The pages have been torn and taped in places from those moments that her excitement got the better of her. One of the stories is about a scavenger hunt, and ends with Christopher Robin telling Pooh and the crew that friends working together is the greatest thing in the whole world. I thought of that story over and over this Mother's Day. 

My husband had a Mother's Day plan. He and the kids would get up early and make me a fabulous breakfast (not in bed – I have a thing about food in bedrooms). How do I know about this plan? Because my kids can't keep a secret! Well, my 9 year old can. But her brother and sister spilled the beans. They created a menu using LaLa Breakfast on the iPad and each person claimed a role in the making of a delicious Mother's Day breakfast.

LaLa Mothers Day 2015

Most important first step? Coffee. My husband took charge of that one. The kids created a Mother's Day Breakfast Sandwich that they knew I'd love – the SAT sandwich: Applegate Sausage, Avocado and Tomato with fruit on the side. My husband, armed with the camera, sat back and watched the collaboration magic. My littlest one washed berries: 

washing berries for Mother's Day

My middle guy chopped bananas:

LaLa Mothers Day bananas

My 9 year old stole the show. I'm so impressed to see how motivated she is in the kitchen these days. She's eager to prepare foods and has been careful to watch, listen and learn new techniques. She toasted bread, sliced avocado and tomato, and even prepared the sausages all by herself and brought their sandwich vision to life. 

LaLa Mothers Day avocado
friends working together

The Greatest Gift in the Whole World! The sandwich was delicious, of course. But as I sat in my bedroom – under strict orders not to come out until they gave the green light – I remembered that I'm celebrating my 10th Mother's Day this year. Tenth! And my big family is finally getting to a place where we're able to pile into the kitchen and work together as a team. It's an absolute thrill to see a spark of independence in all three of my kids. And sure, it sounded hectic in the kitchen at times (I sat quietly playing Words with Friends and drinking coffee) but look what came out of it! The SAT is a perfect sandwich, and this savory breakfast with a hint of sweet was a delicious way to kick off Mother's Day. Awesome teamwork! 

LaLa Mothers Day 2015 SAT

Apparently parts of it had to be made a couple of times: 

LaLa Mothers Day 2015 avocado toast
LaLa Mothers Day ipad

I'm grateful at my soul's core for the opportunity to be a mom to my three kids. Thanks to them I feel hope, courage and tenderness in ways that I hadn't previously even comprehended. I'll be celebrating later today with my phenomenal mom, without whom none of this would have happened. 

Three cheers to moms everywhere and to the folks who love them and make their lives richer! And best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy Mother's Day! 

My son was busy drawing a heart for me on the iPad and didn't want to be part of this photo. 

My son was busy drawing a heart for me on the iPad and didn't want to be part of this photo. 

Apple Coffee Cake

Coffee cake is one of the greatest desserts out there. Truth be told, I love most things with a crumb top (who doesn't love the combination of brown sugar, butter, flour and oats?) but this particular recipe is wonderful because it doesn't require any fancy gadgets and it's simple enough for my almost 9 year old to make entirely on her own. I've made this recipe four times in the last week; I've given away one, frozen one and helped to eat two. 

I handed over the recipe card, took out the ingredients and let my daughter do the rest. This is a three-part recipe: cake batter, crumb top and apple slicing. First, she measured the dry ingredients for the cake. 

coffee cake dry ingredients

Next, she made the crumb top and set it aside, chastising me occasionally for nibbling.

crumb top for apple coffee cake

Next, she added the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mixed until a nice batter formed. We softened the butter in the microwave so that all was needed to make the magic happen was a spoon. 

mixing the cake batter

When the batter was mixed completely, she poured half into a ceramic dish lined with parchment paper (easy cleanup!). 

slicing apples for coffee cake

My daughter sliced one apple, placed the slices in a layer on top of the batter and sprinkled with cinnamon. 

apple coffee cake

She poured the rest of the batter on top and spread it around and topped with the delicious crumb top. 

apple coffee cake
happy cook!

She baked it in the oven and the house smelled fantastic! The hardest part was waiting to eat it. I love bringing my kids into the kitchen and it's been delightful watching how skills and capabilities change over time. Once upon a time, she was only able to participate in cooking alongside an adult. Now there are dishes she can make entirely on her own! Added bonus: she rinsed all of the dishes, placed them all in the dishwasher and wiped the countertops. 

A whole new world is opening up in my kitchen and boy am I excited! 

Apple Coffee Cake
Crumb top:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
dash of salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup rolled oats

Cake:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
 1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon plus more for dusting the apples
5 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk (we used unsweetened soy milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 apple, peeled and sliced (preferably granny smith)

Line a ceramic dish with parchment paper (ours is oval, about 8x13). Preheat the oven to 375. In a small bowl, combine all of the crumb top ingredients. Mix them together with your hands, so that the butter is evenly distributed and there's no clumps of flour. We softened the butter in the microwave to make this very easy. Set aside. 
Next, add the flour, baking soda and salt to a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, butter, egg, milk and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix completely. Pour half of the batter into the baking dish. Spread the apples on top in an even layer. Dust the top of the apples with cinnamon. Add the rest of the batter and spread evenly. Finally, add the crumb top. Bake in the oven at 375 for 25 minutes and reduce the heat to 350. Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Enjoy! 

Teething. Again.

2 year old at playground

This weekend was glorious! Goodbye winter coats, hello short-sleeves! My crew headed to Central Park and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to Mother Nature after the winter we've endured. My kids climbed trees, marveled at the cherry blossoms and played their little hearts out at the playground. 

But last night was a rough one. Out of nowhere, my littlest one, now 2.5 years old, got the runny nose/congestion/cold that comes with teething. Her third 2 year old molar poked it's way out of the gum yesterday and with that came the slew of teething-related agony all over again.

My other two kids were early teethers and both had all four 2 year old molars by the time their second birthdays rolled around. Teeth used to pop out two at a time, like weeds and then poof! the teeth would be fully grown in after what felt like thirty seconds. Not this one. Her teeth take their sweet time in every way. After we get through this, we have one more molar to endure. 

My teething strategy is twofold: deal with the crunchy cravings and soothe the cold. I'll be making my own croutons for my gal to gnaw on, and though I didn't have all of the ingredients for a classic chicken soup, I threw together what I had in my kitchen this morning for a spring-like chicken soup. In fact, my 2 year old budding chef, who loves soup, threw it all together in the pot, with the exception of the raw chicken, and declared it "Carina Soup." 

IMG_1699.JPG

Delicious! I had the veggies already prepped in my fridge, which meant I was able to throw this together in under 5 minutes. The rest of the time is completely hands-off. Boy do I love that. What are your go-to recipes for kids when they're under the weather? 

Spring Chicken Soup (aka Carina Soup) 
3 chicken thighs
4 carrots, peeled
1 cup sugar snap peas
2 scallions
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1 cube bouillon (*note: I normally avoid bouillon because I've heard bad things about yeast extract and it's relation to MSG. That said, I do keep some in my house. The bouillon that I used in this recipe is vegan and does contain yeast extract as the third ingredient. I used it because I wanted to hasten the flavor so that my daughter could enjoy this soup today for lunch. I didn't add any salt.) 

Method
Place all ingredients into a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for at least an hour. 

Enjoy! 

Curried Chicken with Bulgur and Spinach

Curried Chicken with Bulgur and Spinach

I met my babysitter Wendy almost 3 years ago. I was pregnant with my third child and after a bit of bad luck in the caregiver department, I was a little nervous about finding someone who would be confident, competent, responsible and kind with my brood. It's impossible for anyone to really *know* if a relationship is a good match ahead of time, so, like many parenting-related things, I took a chance and followed my gut. 

Here's the bottom line: Wendy makes my family incredibly happy. She's phenomenal and generous with all three of my kids, pays attention to and respects who they are as people. I'm grateful that she's part of our life. 

So what's this have to do with curry? Well, Wendy makes a Curried Duck that's out of this world. She brought some for me to try and I was immediately hooked. I shared some with my husband who wondered which restaurant it came from. Wendy can make Curried Duck with her eyes closed at this point, so when I finally asked for a recipe, she gave me a list of ingredients (without quantities) and let me in on her two secrets: remove the garlic from oil and burn the curry in advance to release the full flavor and avoid a sour stomach. I've been diligently testing recipes for my own version and am finally satisfied. Woo hoo! This is a one-pot meal that's hearty and full of flavor - Wendy loves it too! 

Three cheers to Wendy: superstar caregiver and dinner muse! 

Curried Chicken with Bulgur and Spinach

Ingredients:
Curry mixture (recipe below)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, sliced
4 chicken thighs
1 cup bulgur wheat
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 1/2 cups water
3 oz spinach
1/4 cup coconut milk (optional) 

Curry mixture:
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (crush with hands)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried shallot
1 teaspoon olive oil
 

Method:
Mix all curry ingredients into a paste and set aside in a small bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pot and add the garlic slivers. When they turn brown after a few minutes, remove the garlic. 

Add the curry paste and leave in the pot until the paste gets dark and the fragrance fills your kitchen (about 4-5 minutes).  

Add the chicken parts, skin side down and sauté in the curry mixture for 3-4 minutes, turning frequently until evenly coated. 

Add the bulgur wheat, lemon juice and water and stir. Bring to a boil and simmer with cover until the bulgur is cooked, approximately 25 minutes. (The bulgur cooks more quickly than this, but the chicken needs the extra few minutes.)

Add the spinach and cook on low for an additional 7-10 minutes and combine into the chicken and bulgur. 

Enjoy! 

Want other one-bowl dinner ideas? Check these out: 
Buddha Bowl
Veal Stew with Carrots and Cinnamon
 

Avocado Chocolate Cookies

Okay, I know. It sounds weird. But when I came across the photo of these Avocado Chocolate Cookies on Pinterest, they looked so good, I just had to see for myself. Plus, I had all of the ingredients in my house, so it was an easy experiment. And when I showed the photo to my sweet-toothed son, he was game to make these with me. I mean, look at these things! 

avocado chocolate cookies

I made one substitution in the original recipe (granulated sugar for coconut sugar) and added three ingredients (baking powder, salt and cinnamon). Our recipe noted below. 

ingredients for avocado chocolate cookies

First we cracked an egg and added it to our mixing bowl. Next we used about 3/4 of a large avocado and mashed it. 

avocado and egg for cookies

Next, we added sugar and cocoa. This batter is looking good! 

cocoa and sugar added

Finally, we added baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and then the chocolate chips.  

"Mama, can I taste it?" 

"Mama, can I taste it?" 

We spooned the batter onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet and baked at 350 for 9 minutes. 

avocado chocolate cookie batter

Wow. These things! Gooey. Rich. Satisfying! A keeper, for sure. 

avocado chocolate cookies

Here's the recipe: 

Avocado Chocolate Cookies (adapted from the Fit Ninja)

1 extra large egg
3/4 very ripe avocado, mashed
1/2 cup sugar (I used raw sugar. The original recipe called for coconut sugar)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the egg and mashed avocado and mix until the lumps are mostly gone (be careful not to overbeat). Add sugar and cocoa powder and mix well. Add baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and stir until you have a nice batter. Add the chocolate chips and mix one final time. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon the batter onto the baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. This recipe makes about 24-30 cookies. Keep in the refrigerator. Enjoy! 

Managing the LaLa Lunchbox Food Library for Weekly Grocery Shopping

manage library LaLa Lunchbox

We began the LaLa Lunchbox journey almost 4 years ago. My daughter started going to school for the full day, and thus needed a packed lunch from home. The system that evolved into LaLa Lunchbox was simply a way for me to stay on top of healthy, delicious lunches for my then 4 year old daughter. It was on paper and lived on our fridge

The rest is history. I've said it before, my life-threatening allergies have helped to shape me and have influenced my willingness to try new foods (in general, I'm game for everything that I'm not allergic to). They have also made a huge impact on my parenting decisions when it comes to food and my business decisions with LaLa Lunchbox. So when it came time to build LaLa Lunchbox (and LaLa Breakfast), it was critical that the Food Libraries be customizable to accommodate every eating lifestyle. In my own home, because of my allergies, my kids' LaLa Lunchbox and LaLa Breakfast Food Libraries don't show them options that include fish or nuts. My kids eat plenty of sunflower seed butter as a delicious substitute, and while my two older kids absolutely LOVE peanut butter and almond butter, they know that it's only eaten outside of our home. Beyond that, the only other changes that I usually make to our Food Library are for seasonal reasons. For example, we can't get plums or peaches now so I've dimmed out that option until warmer weather is upon us again.

Manage Items on LaLa Lunchbox

Here's how it works: the kids plan their meals for the week ahead of time. My husband or I shop from the grocery list that those choices generate. Straightforward. My kids eat their lunches enthusiastically, and the lack of food waste makes me incredibly happy. Plus, as is the case with so many things sibling related, when one sibling sees what the other has chosen, he or she wants that too. So I find that while I'm allowing my kids to choose their foods, there's loads of overlap which is pleasantly convenient. 

But! And I'm a little embarrassed to admit this after having used this app for so long - I recently began dimming out food items that I don't have in my kitchen AFTER grocery shopping. I narrow the playing field before the players step up to the bat. The fruits with the little blue check mark next to them are the only ones I bought from the grocery store Saturday (this image doesn't show the full available Library but you get the point). So here's the good news: if my kids can't get around to planning their meals for the week before I need to get up and go to the grocery, it's still all good. And those little red X marks? Those can be checked back to blue at ANY time. 

Convenient. Simple. Straightforward. Good for kids and parents. 
If you're looking for some lunchbox inspiration, check out our School Lunch Gallery. It's divided into the following four categories to make browsing easier: Lunches with Dairy, Lunches with Egg, Lunches with Meat, Lunches with Nut Butter and Vegetarian Lunches. Click back and forth to view each category by holding your mouse over the word "School Lunch" at the top of the page. And be sure to follow us on Instagram for daily school lunch postings. 

Why Do You Take Photos?

My computer has been running really slowly lately. I know it's time to delete files that I don't need to make some room but it's such a daunting task. A lot of memory is used by photos. I have almost 50,000 photos in my library. No kidding. There are absolutely hundreds, if not thousands, that can be deleted in an instant, and there are undoubtedly accidental duplicates that can be deleted too. But sifting through the entire collection to find them? Ugh. Despite the uphill battle that this presents, I've started the process and it has taken me on a delightful memory voyage. 

In the summer of 2007, my oldest child was 1. We took a family vacation that summer to Cape Cod and we returned to find our computer had malfunctioned and all of my photos were gone. We sent it to some expert but the files were lost forever. They included my wedding, my honeymoon, photos of my daughter's first year, and everything else that had preceded those life changing events. Heartbreak doesn't come close to describing how this felt. I was able to get many (low resolution) photos back because I had uploaded them to a gallery site to share with family. It wasn't everything, but I felt fortunate nonetheless. 

Often I am asked why I take so many photos. I've read plenty of articles about how taking photos prevents you from living in the moment. I wholeheartedly disagree. I take photos to make the moments last longer. Looking back at old photos that I've taken immediately transports me into the moment that I wanted to capture. In an instant, I can remember how my daughter screamed with delight after picking these "lello flowahs" and presented me with the bouquet. I remember how carefully I tried to shield my son's chicken leg from the sand that blew in the wind on the beach that day. These are the tiny, real-life moments of parenthood that I savor. I felt them deeply when I took the photos and I'm so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to live them again when I look at the photos. 

I take photos because doing so provides me with a soul-hugging sense of joy. I plan to continue doing it, at the same pace - and hope that our backup system protects them sufficiently. It helps me see how far we've come as a family and as individuals and it helps me make sense of the things that are constant in my children and our lives and the things that have changed over time. So I'll be buried in iPhoto for a while...