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I try to limit the time I spend heating up my kitchen during the warmer months, instead opting for using the grill or choosing recipes that use little or no-cook methods when possible. Salads are often a great alternative and adding protein to them make them filling and an excellent entree choice. While chicken, lean meat and fish are always options, I’m looking for ways to reduce the amount of meat my family consumes.

 

I happened to recently come across a recipe in my Southern Living magazine for a Rice and Beans Salad, which I modified to my taste, adding more veggies and I came up with what turned out to be a real winner. It’s very “Tex-Mex-like” in flavor, simple to prepare, filling and quite budget-friendly. Here’s the best part–everyone likes it! I’ll share with you my version of this salad, but I encourage you to tweak to your liking. For example, if you like bell pepper add it. Maybe add some red onion or raw mushrooms and if you don’t like tomato substitue with something like chopped celery. Basically, anything (healthy) goes. The beans provide the protein, plus they also add fiber. I used garbanzo beans, black beans and black-eyed peas, but feel free to select your favorites. Enjoy!

 

Rice and Beans Salad with Texas Vinaigrette

 

For the Salad:
Shredded lettuce (Romaine, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce)
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 avocado, diced
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
2 cups prepared brown rice
1/2 cup reduced fat Mexican blend shredded cheese
1/2 cup salsa (optional)
4 teaspoons reduced fat sour cream (optional)

 

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste

 

After whisking together the vinaigrette ingredients, combine the beans and 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and let simmer while you assemble the salads on individual plates. Place shredded lettuce on half the plate, 1/2 cup of brown rice, 1/4 cup of diced tomatoes and 1/4 of the chopped avocado. Ladle 1/4 of the beans onto the center of the plate and put 1 teaspoon of sour cream and 1/8 cup of salsa if you choose. Sprinkle with the reduced fat Mexican blend shredded cheese and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Serves 4.

 

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It is with a heavy heart that I write this week’s blog. Last week, we learned that one of my teens’ classmates took her own life. Of course the big question is “Why?” and there is never a good answer. Our school community held a prayer service for the students and their families and has made counselors available, but something like this has an impact on everyone regardless. It also makes parents take a look at our own kids and wonder what steps we can take to make sure such a needless tragedy never happens to them.

 

In the few (thankfully!) instances of teen suicide that I’ve been close to, it seems that there have been subtle changes in the weeks or months prior to the tragedy and from the things I’ve read and heard this seems to be the case frequently. I know I go to great lengths to keep both my kids healthy and safe so I’ve decided to share a few things I feel are important to look for during these particularly rough years:

 
  • Regular “touch base” discussions. Aside from keeping the lines of communication open, I try to have regular discussions with my kids where I have meaningful conversations about what’s going on with them, especially if I see specific things like mood or attitude changes. This doesn’t mean a lecture, just a casual discussion to find out how they are, if anything is going on or if they need help with anything. More times than not I have discovered that something was going on (mostly minor teen stuff) and they were able to sort it out with me.
  • Time away from the “screen.” Teens are so connected today they are almost always in front of some kind of screen–the computer, the TV, the phone, etc. This means they are also not doing anything physical. If you have a teen who only does this, he is isolating himself from real socializing, not to mention physical activity and that’s simply not healthy in my opinion. Getting some fresh air and moving around does wonders for both the body and mind. You might even want to buddy up with your teen if this is a problem and go running, play tennis or some other activity with him (you could even use this time to do your “touch base discussion!”).
  • Limit the junk. No, eating too much sugar isn’t going to make your teen suicidal, but studies show that teens who do have a bad diet tend be more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those who eat healthy. We also know that overweight teens are more likely to be bullied and that foods high in fat and calories tend to pack on the pounds. Teens are less likely to gain weight by being active and eating a healthy diet so try to make healthier foods available at home.
  • Don’t trivialize their problems. This can be hard because as adults we deal with real problems every day (paying bills, health issues, etc.), but to a teenager that break-up or that fight with their “BFF” is a big deal. And sometimes they really are going through major issues like bullying or depression, for which they may need to see a doctor. When one of my kids is really upset about one of the usual teen dramas I tell them this: “Everything is passive.” I remind them that what seems huge today will soon pass and they will move on to something else. Of course they don’t always believe me, but after the dust has settled I remind them of how they had been feeling and how much better they are feeling weeks later (I want them to remember this for the next drama!).
 

I’m no expert–just a mom with a few ideas that I’m sharing with you. Maybe you have some good tips you’d like to share, if so I’d encourage you to do so by using the comment section below. I think the most important thing is to be engaged in your teen’s life. These years, as we all remember too well, are tough ones and it’s important for us to be there in case they want to give up.

 

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If you planted summer squash back in the spring, you’re probably trying to figure out what to do with all of it right about now. My guess is you’ve already supplied your friends and family with an abundance and you’ve got several loaves of zucchini bread in the freezer.

 

Years ago, when I was a teen, I recall my mom finding a recipe via a box of Bisquick and I believe it was called “Going Like Hotcakes.” It was basically for zucchini pancakes, similar to potato pancakes or “latkes.” From the first time she made them they were an instant hit in our house. Lighter than a potato pancake, but just as savory, they’ve remained a family favorite over the years. What’s also great is that it calls for grated zucchini, making this recipe ideal for those mammoth “baseball bat” zucchinis that seem to appear overnight–you know, the ones that hide under the plant leaves and suddenly show themselves when they’re big enough to look like a weapon.

 

This recipes was actually one of the first veggie sides that I tried out on my kids after moving in with them 8 years ago. Since they hadn’t eaten many veggies up to that point I needed to ease them into heathier foods with things that would taste really good so they wouldn’t even realize they were eating veggies. They loved these zucchini pancakes and had no idea squash was even in them! Of course I told them and made it a point to show them vegetables aren’t “bad” like they thought. We were off to a good start! I hope your family enjoys these flavorful pancakes as much as I have the past 30+ years and you are able to add one more way to use up your bounty of zucchini.

 

Zucchini Pancakes

 

1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
3/4 cup Bisquick
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste

 

Mix all ingredients together and add 1-2 tablespoons to a lightly coated pan (I use canola oil) that’s been preheated. Cook until browned on one side and carefully turn. Brown the opposite side until cooked all the way through. Drain each pancake on a paper towel and keep covered to keep warm while you’re cooking the remaining pancakes. You can serve with a little reduced fat sour cream if you choose.

 

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This week, I welcome Brianna Shales of Stemilt Growers.  Stemilt Growers is known for their apples, pears and, during the summer months, their delicious cherries.  I’ve enjoyed these tasty gems and they are really extraordinary!  Brianna has agreed to share some helpful ways to enjoy sweet cherries during the season with us.  Enjoy, and be sure to pick some up at your supermarket this week!

 

Summer is always a favorite in the produce aisle thanks to the abundance of fresh and in season fruits and veggies.  I work for Stemilt Growers, a leading, family-owned fruit company based in Wenatchee, WA.  Here, summer means cherry season and that always equals a busy and exciting time.  It takes a lot of effort to harvest, pack, and deliver delicate cherries to grocery stores for you to enjoy, but it’s a labor of love that we look forward to every year.

 

When I started at Stemilt five years ago, I was a bit naive when it came to cherries.  I knew from my childhood that they tasted great right out of the bowl (they were always featured that way at our family’s 4th of July potlucks), but I never thought beyond the bowl for other ways to enjoy sweet cherries.  My how that has changed!  I now think of different ways to enjoy cherries daily when they are in season and look forward to experimenting with cherries at home.  Luckily, I have two willing participants–my husband who grew up around cherry orchards and my toddler, who upon tasting his first cherry, promptly starting signing for “more.”

 

Without further ado, I present to you my list of 5 ways for enjoying sweet cherries this summer.  Some are personal favorites, while others go with tips or interesting health facts about cherries.  All end with a great result–enjoying one of the best gifts Mother Nature delivers each summer–cherries!

 
  1. To Start the Day:  Add a cup of pitted and sliced fresh Stemilt cherries to your morning cereal or oatmeal.  The sweet flavor of cherries takes the bland out of a hearty, whole grain breakfast, while at the same time giving you fiber and antioxidant boost.
  2. In a Green Smoothie:  My latest food obsession is making green smoothies.  Busy mornings led me into the horrible habit of not eating breakfast, and we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  To combat this and get extra servings of fruits and veggies, I started making smoothies for the whole family to enjoy.  But not just any smoothie–a green smoothie!  For parents of picky eaters, green smoothies are a great way to “hide” the good stuff we all want our kids to eat.  Blend up your choice of fruits, greens, and liquid, and you have a perfect breakfast to sip on the go.  My favorite green smoothie blend right now combines cherries, blueberries, banana, strawberries, and kale with ice, almond milk, and plain yogurt/kefir.  It’s so good!
  3. As a Healthy Snack:  To me, one of the best things about sweet cherries is that they are the perfect out-of-hand snack to satisfy a sweet craving.  One of my go-to snacks during the summer is a handful of sweet cherries and raw almonds.  The two foods go great together, are incredibly filling, and fuel the body with fiber, protein, and much more.
  4. In a Delicious Dessert:  I couldn’t talk about the uses for cherries without mentioning dessert.  There are so many delicious summertime desserts that feature cherries–from classic pies to unique versions of upside-down cake.  Browse these cherry recipes to find a dessert that appeals to you.
  5. To Aid in a Good Night’s Sleep:  Cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps regulate the body’s internal clock.  Research suggests that consuming melatonin 30 minutes before going to bed can help improve sleep, especially when altering a schedule through shift work or traveling.  Consider eating cherries before bed during your next business trip to help adjust to the new time zone and sleep soundly.
 

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This week, I welcome a blog post from Melissa’s Produce on Hatch Chile Peppers.  The folks at Melissa’s Produce were gracious enough to provide us with some background about the origins of the Hatch Chile and ideas for using it in your recipes.  Enjoy the following story about “Big Jim.”

 

Developed in the late-60′s and early 70′s by Dr. Nakayama, as a result of a breeding program at the New Mexico State University, a chile was being developed with the intent to supply the need for fresh chiles in the canned and processing industry.  But, this unnamed chile was too “beefy.”  There was simply too much chile, which in turn, created more waste than the processing facilities would want to deal with.  Thus, it was left to die …or so they thought.

 

About a decade later, a man named Jim Lytle would pick up where Dr. Nakayama left off.  Being a true farmer, Jim took this chile under his wings and started to plant and harvest the chile for several years.  Around 1987, the last year of Jim’s life, this chile was approved by the New Mexico Crop Improvement Association and named in honor of the late Jim Lytle.  And the “Big Jim” was born!

 

To this day, the Big Jim variety chile is the most popular Southwestern chile being grown.  It falls under the category of a “New Mexico Chile” and is accompanied by the New Mexico 6, Sandia, and Lumbre (meaning Fire in Spanish).  These chiles are named after the original growing area in Hatch, New Mexico.  Chefs say that the intense sunlight and cool nights in this valley result in a uniquely flavored chile.  The valley, which stretches along the Rio Grande’s southern-most bend before crossing into Texas and Mexico, is covered with row after row of green, leafy Hatch chile plants for most of the summer.  These chiles have a meaty flesh and mild-medium heat.

 

In all of New Mexico, no other chile is prized more than this variety which grows in the Mesilla Valley, just north of Las Cruces.  This chile’s uniqe flavor make it ideal for use in Chile Con Queso, Chile Rellenos, and Chile Verde.  But, don’t stop there–try roasting and using them in salads, soups, stews, dips and sandwiches.

 

Here are some facts about Hatch chiles:

  • One fresh medium-sized green chile pod has as much Vitamin C as six oranges.
  • One teaspoon of dried red chile powder has the daily requirements of Vitamin A.
  • Hot chile peppers burn calories by triggering a termodynamic burn in the body, which speeds up the metabolism.
  • Teas and lozenges are made with chile peppers for treatment of sore throat.
  • Capsaicinoids, the chemical that make chile peppers hot, are used in muscle patches for sore and aching muscles.
 

Resources:
Hatch Chile Cookbook
More about Hatch Chiles
How to roast Hatch Chiles

 

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