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." 

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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... 

Food and Body Shaming. At Home and At Large.

I've recently read a bunch of articles on the topic of talking about healthy eating and the impact that has on kids. In my own home, we have a set of food values that we try to adhere to, and I do my best to talk about why those values are important to us. Whether it's for allergic, religious or other lifestyle reasons, people everywhere have food preferences and avoidances. My kids notice that other homes have different food rules, so I've been sure to discuss the importance respecting others. I think having an allergic mom and a kosher grandmother has been helpful for them to understand that people eat differently for a variety of reasons. 

Along these lines, I really enjoyed the four tips for instilling healthy habits in this article, by Sally Kuzemchak, aka Real Mom Nutrition. But here's the thing: it's a battle out there. Much as I try to keep our discussions about food focused on the positive, and emphasize that there are different rules in different homes and be aware of mixed messages, my kids live in the world with others who don't abide by those rules. 

is this lunch too big? too small? 

is this lunch too big? too small? 

My eldest, soon to be 9, has come home from school telling me that another child made her feel bad because her lunch was too small. On another occasion, there were comments that her lunch was too big. She's been asked why she gets vegetables in her lunch (the vegetables came back uneaten that day, and for several days after that). She's been asked why her desserts aren't bigger. And why she gets chocolate but not Cheetos. Then yesterday, I got an email from her teacher that a child in her class called her fat. She happens not to be even remotely fat, but that's not the point, is it? It's a disheartening reality that though we can do our best at home (which, mind you, is not easy), there's another battle out there that we have to prepare our children to address. 

Lunch at school is a social thing. I am proud to empower my kids to have a voice in their lunch so that they feel confident about what they're eating. But I feel sad when I hear about food shaming on either side of the aisle (too "healthy" or too "junky"). And body shaming? It makes me want to cry. At home, we say that being healthy isn't about what your body looks like. I like to tell my kids that in broad terms, good health comes from four things:
1. getting enough sleep
2. staying hydrated
3. eating a variety of foods 
4. being active

Luckily, my daughter didn't seem too bothered by the substance of this child's comment. She was more annoyed that he was badgering her throughout math class and concerned that she hadn't heard the teacher. It was a good opportunity to discuss both the hurtful impact that words can have and on the flip side, the concept of "sticks and stones."  But I wonder if I've addressed it properly. And how often to address it. The battle continues. It's imperative to be mindful of what happens both at home, and at large. 

So I wonder: what tips do you have to deal with food and body shaming? How have you responded when your children presented issues like this? 

How We Eat on Vacation

We just returned from a Disney Cruise. Wow, I felt incredibly fortunate to get out of the bitter cold, which I'm pretty sure was turning my skin a disgusting shade of hollow grey. The kids were beyond excited to see what Disney had in store for them. Even my 8 year old. These days, when I think about Disney, just the princesses come to mind. But that couldn't have been farther from the truth. There were live shows, dance parties, cooking classes and many more activities that were interesting, relevant and fun for people of all ages (from morning till midnight!). 

But I digress. We tend to eat very healthfully at home. There's a saying in my house that there are four big things that help a person stay healthy and strong: sleep, water, good food and exercise. To that end, I'm not the mom that lets my kids stay up very late, I'm always armed with water or seltzer, I encourage my kids to do something active as an extracurricular activity and we regularly eat simply prepared, good food. On vacation, living up to that is much, much harder. 

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Here are three things we do about eating on vacation: 

1. Ease up on restrictions.  When confronting the breakfast buffet - with chocolate glazed donuts, giant cookies masquerading as scones and vibrantly colored sugared cereals - I took it in stride and let them eat what they wanted. It was hard, but I felt encouraged to see my kids eating fruit with all of their meals and tried to focus on that. My 8 year old has a salty tooth. Her lunches were accompanied by fries almost every day. Her younger brother and sister, always eager to do whatever she does, followed suit. This would never happen at home, but what happens on vacation stays on vacation. 

2. Set limits on quantities. Much as I tried, I couldn't let it all go. While I saw that it would be too much of an uphill battle to prevent them from trying and eating foods that we normally wouldn't eat on vacation, I did set limits on the quantities. For example, there was unlimited access to the ice cream machine at all hours of the day, but my kids were told they couldn't have it more than once per day. 

3. Pack good snacks. I brought snacks from home for our flight to and from Miami. In addition to fresh fruit (bananas and oranges, which are perfect little travelers), I packed Somersault Snacks, 18 Rabbits JR organic granola bars, Peeled Snacks dried mango and dried apple, packaged applesauce, and Super Seed crackers. Sure, it took up room in our carry on bag, but it was well worth it. 

The kids have definitely asked for more sweets than usual in the last two days since we've been home, but I feel confident that we'll be back into our usual routine in no time. 

Do you have a vacation food strategy?