Monthly Archives: February 2012

Butternut Squash, Chicken, & Asparagus Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that you think is really difficult to make until you actually do. Sure, it can be time consuming, and you do have to stir it constantly, but I definitely wouldn’t call it difficult. Once I got the hang of making risotto, I started making every variation you can imagine with whatever I had on hand. The other day, I happened to have squash, chicken and asparagus on hand, so voilà!

I had roasted a chicken and the squash the day before, so they were both ready and waiting for me when I got home from work, which was a big time saver. You could also use the rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or just quickly sauté a couple of chicken breasts before preparing the rest of the dish. I prefer roasting the squash in the oven because it allows it to caramelize, but I’ve also microwaved it in a pinch (about 8 minutes or so for a full squash).

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Butternut Squash, Chicken, and Asparagus Risotto

1.5 cups uncooked arborio rice

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp minced garlic

4.5 cups chicken or vegetable broth

10-12 stalks of asparagus, trimmed

Half of a medium butternut squash

2 cups of shredded, cooked chicken

2 tsp thyme

2 tsp rosemary

1 tsp sage

salt and pepper (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 400°. Place squash on a cookie sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until it is fork-tender. Allow the squash to cool and then remove the skin, cut the squash into cubes, and set aside. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the asparagus and toss until cooked through. Remove the asparagus, allow to cool slightly, and then cut into 1-inch pieces.

In a medium saucepan, heat the broth over low heat. Put the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil into the sauté pan you used for the asparagus over medium heat and add the garlic. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes. Ladle in 1 cup of the broth and stir constantly until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the rest of the broth 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until the liquid in the pan has been absorbed before adding more. Be sure to stir constantly while the rice is cooking. When you are almost out of broth, add the thyme, rosemary, sage, salt, and pepper and continue cooking until you have added all of the broth. Add the squash, asparagus and chicken and stir to fully incorporate.

This is a great one-dish meal, and it makes enough for 2 adults and a toddler with leftovers for lunch the next day!


Norovirus. . . Fun Times

Today has just been a bundle of fun. Everything started out perfectly normal—that is, until I got a call from daycare at 9 a.m. informing me that Olivia had spit up (something she hasn’t done in months). It wasn’t bad and she wasn’t running a fever, so they decided to let her nap and see how she was afterward. Apparently, the situation deteriorated rapidly because, before long, I got a second call asking me to come pick her up, as she had just blown grits all over the place. By the time I made it there, she was wrapped in nothing but a towel, having thrown up all over herself. It was the most pitiful sight I have ever seen. This is the first time she has ever had a stomach bug and, man, when she does something, she really does it! She went straight for the norovirus, of cruise ship fame, and there’s a major outbreak of it in Fairfax County. Olivia was the second casualty of this virus at daycare just this morning. So since many of my readers are in the DC metro area (and even those who aren’t, this is good info to have), here’s my PSA for the day!

Noroviruses are a group of highly contagious stomach bugs that spread rapidly from person to person through contaminated food and drink, contaminated surfaces, and direct contact. Symptoms often develop suddenly and generally last 1-2 days. Symptoms include:

Vomiting
Diarrhea
Stomach cramps
Nausea
Headache
Low-grade fever
Chills
Muscle aches
Fatigue

Children in school or daycare are extremely susceptible to the virus. Most often, symptoms don’t arise until 24-48 hours after exposure (though they can occur as soon as 12 hours following exposure), which means children are likely to spread the virus without displaying any symptoms. By the time the symptoms start, it’s usually too late. Because small children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths, this is a difficult virus to contain in a daycare setting.

The most dangerous aspect of the norovirus is that it can cause severe dehydration, especially in young children. Make sure to give your child plenty of fluids, such as Pedialyte. My daughter also likes the Pedialyte Freezer Pops, which are great right now, since she’s cutting a few new teeth. For her upset tummy, I have been giving her Nabisco’s Premium Saltine Minis—they are the perfect size for her little hands.

If you or your little one is unfortunate enough to come down with this nasty bug, be sure to wash your hands obsessively and try to disinfect as many surfaces as you can. I’ve also been using the sanitary setting on our washing machine for her clothes, bedding and anything else that ends up in the line of fire. And when all else fails, Netflix has about a year’s worth of the Backyardigans at your disposal!

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/gastro/norovirus.htm


Top 10 Not-So-Perky Parts of Pregnancy

I was looking back through the archives of my family blog that I started to chronicle my pregnancy and my daughter’s milestones for our families and came across this post that I wrote in July 2010, when I was 8 months pregnant. It made me laugh out loud to remember some of the things I was experiencing at this point, especially No. 10 (I could have sworn my water broke at one point only to realize I’d just sneezed a little too enthusiastically).

I figured I’d share it to give my fellow mamas a laugh and provide a moment of solidarity to my pregnant followers. I was right about No. 1 by the way, that definitely didn’t get better when the baby came, at least not for many, many months!

Top 10 Not-So-Perky Parts of Pregnancy

10. A sneeze is no longer just a sneeze. It now involves a mad dash to the bathroom and a quick prayer that you haven’t horrifically embarrassed yourself in front of all of your coworkers (or the other customers at the grocery store, or the people trying to eat at the table next to you. . .)

9. One word: HEARTBURN. I had never experienced this before my pregnancy, and I now fully understand why people complain about it so much.

8. Having nothing to wear. Oh, I have maternity clothes. But now half of those pants don’t even fit. It’s a humbling experience when your maternity jeans are too small.

7. Body parts sticking out of my abdomen. I always heard people say “You can even see an actual foot poking out, it’s so cool!” However, “cool” is not the word I would have chosen. I think “painful” is a more apt description. I am certain this little gal thinks she’s going to make her appearance through my belly button.

6. And that’s another thing- my innie is now an outie (and has been since about month 5). It shows through my shirts! People have said to me “Oh look at your belly button, it’s so cute!” Again, not the adjective I would have chosen.

5. Sciatica, bruised tailbone (from falling down the stairs-ouch!), muscle pain, OH MY! There isn’t a massage long enough to cure all of my back ailments.

4. Bathroom (ahem) issues. . . too much, too little, bad timing, you name it. . . I can’t wait until everything works properly again!

3. Can’t. Breathe. I get winded walking from the mailbox to the house, let alone trying to walk a crazy beagle for 30 minutes in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity. Thankfully, the hubby has taken pity and relieved me of my dog walking duties.

2. Medium rare steak, cold deli sandwiches, sushi, ice cold Pacifico. . .all the lovely things that are currently off limits. Forget yucky hospital food. When this baby girl is born, I want a cold turkey sub, Diet Dr. Pepper, and a side of spicy tuna rolls!

1. No sleep. What with the aching hips, copious bathroom breaks and constant tossing and turning, I’m averaging 2 hour stretches between interruptions. I think it’s God’s way of preparing new mothers because, unlike everything else on this list, this ailment will not go away along with the pregnancy. But at least then I’ll be getting up for a much better and cuter reason than having to pee!

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Finn’s Classic Cottontail Nursery

Note:  When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was obsessed with designing her nursery, and I looked everywhere for inspiration. But I didn’t want to only look at over-the-top designer nurseries that were both unrealistic and out of reach. I wanted to see real nurseries, put together by real people on a real budget.

In an effort to pay it forward to other mamas, I will occasionally spotlight nurseries and children’s rooms that I think are inspiring. I will try to include as much detail and shopping information as possible so that, if you like something, you can actually make it happen. If you think your nursery/room would be worth featuring, shoot me an e-mail (amber@mom-machine.com) and let me know!

My friend, Shannon, has really good taste and her house always looks so put together, so it’s no surprise that her son’s nursery is just, well, perfect.  “I wanted a classic, vintage nursery that was personalized [for him]. . . Finn is such a classic Irish name and I wanted a nursery that spoke to that,” Shannon explained. She was inspired by the Kate Greenway vintage nursery rhyme pictures that now hang above the dresser. “For some reason, the boy in the two pictures looked like a ‘Finn’ to me,” she said. Shannon chose classic, traditional furniture and added vintage and sentimental touches throughout, including her own baby shoes and a handmade banner from a friend, to complete the room.

Nursery Details:

Pictures above dresser: Kate Greenaway vintage nursery rhyme pictures from art.com, custom framed at Michael’s
Paint colors:  Bottom Accessible BeigeTop Honest Blue, both by Sherwin Williams
Bedding: Carousel Designs Little Bunny Cottontail Toile Crib Sheet
Curtains: Specially made using the Cottontail Blue Toile fabric from Carousel Designs
Recliner: Best Chairs TRYP Recliner
Changing table and crib: Ragazzi Pompei Collection in Espresso
Picture frames on wall: From Pomella and Rose Furnishings in Bel Air, MD
Vintage toys: From Pomella and Rose Furnishings in Bel Air, MD,  originally from Germany
Vintage jack in the box: From Tiny Toes, a baby boutique in Bel Air, MD
Books: Anthropologie (sadly, no longer available)
Shoes: Vintage, Shannon’s baby shoes
Floor lamp: Pottery Barn Kids (model no longer available)
Lamp on dresser: Carousel Designs (model no longer available)
Side table: From Pottery Barn Kids in Espresso
Toys sign above closet: Madison Belle
Blanket on chair: Blanket Lady
Wall monogram:  Three Hip Chicks

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Top 15 Wealthiest Counties: Apparently, DC’s ‘Burbs are the 1 Percent

I came across this headline on msn.com today:

The Richest Counties in America
Life is pretty cushy in the nation’s wealthiest locales, which have a median income around double the national average. Find out where the 1 percent lives.

I was curious, so I clicked on it, expecting to see counties around Los Angeles, Manhattan, San Francisco, etc. So imagine my surprise when 10 of the 15 counties on the list were in Maryland and Virginia, nearly all of them in the Washington, DC metro area. I happen to live in the second-wealthiest county in the United States, Fairfax County, VA. My county has the second highest median home price ($507,800) for an owner-occupied home and the second highest median household income.

Apparently, this means we are the 1 percent, which is news to me. Last time I checked, I don’t live in a mansion or drive a crazy expensive, luxury car.  I work full-time and commute 45 minutes to an hour each way, fighting traffic and rushing home to spend a precious hour and a half with my daughter before she goes to sleep. I don’t have a live-in nanny that does all of our laundry and has lunches prepared for the next day. I don’t have a housekeeper, unless of course I can count myself. Living in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States does afford me privileges (low unemployment rate, good salary, great county resources, amazing schools) and I love living here, but it by no means is a one-way ticket into the 1 percent. If only it were that simple.

I am sure people across the country will read this article and think we are all living the high life over here, but I don’t know many people who are jetting off on amazing vacations every other week or “lunching” at their leisure. Sure, there are people in the 1 percent who live here, but I would venture a guess that there are just as many in the 1 percent in Beverly Hills or the Upper East Side. Most of us are doing what countless other families across the country are trying to do—hold onto our jobs, make smart financial decisions, and provide for our families as best we can.

 


Everything Butt Art

My 7-year-old cousin recently got this art book as a gift from her grandmother, and I found it too hilarious not to share. Everything Butt Art teaches step-by-step drawing where all of the pictures start with a butt shape—haha genius! I am all for anything that encourages the arts and creativity, and what kid doesn’t want an excuse to draw butts all day?!

With four different themed art books (each under $10) and two more on the way, as well as a free iPad app, Everything Butt Art has plenty to keep your little artist engaged (and probably giggling)!


DVF for GapKids!

Diane von Furstenberg has partnered with GapKids to design a collection for girls that will debut in stores and online on March 15th! The patterns and pieces are so adorable, classic DVF with a playful twist—I only wish they were for mamas too!

To catch a sneak peek of the collection, go here and click on “Get a Sneak Peek Now!” Even though I’m not entirely sure what it has to do with the clothes, I love the line in the video, “. . .to empower a little girl is to empower the woman she will become.” Looks like I will be  empowering my little one at GapKids in mid-March!


Baby Registry: 10 Items You Think You Need But Don’t

Creating my baby registry was one of the most overwhelming experiences in the whole baby process for me. There is so much to consider. You’re not just picking out the pretty china pattern or the cool coffee maker, like you did when you registered for your wedding. You have to think about what you might really need, safety ratings, brands, prices, the list goes on.

Armed with my Baby Bargains book and a spreadsheet I compiled after polling my mama friends, I thought I was prepared. Oh how wrong I was. Even after all the prep work I did, I still had to curate my registry online for several weeks after registering in the store. And still I registered for stuff we never ended up using.

From my experience, here are 10 things that you don’t need to add to your baby registry (save the money for diapers, you’ll definitely need those!):

1. Nasal Aspirator– Your hospital will give you one that, I promise you, works a thousand times better than the dinky ones that come in those kits.

Summer Infant Head Support

2. Car Seat Head Support– Most infant car seats come with plenty of padding. Once our daughter was in her car seat (a Graco SnugRide 35), there wasn’t enough room for the head support thing.

3. Baby Rearview Mirror– Since babies have to stay rear-facing now until the age of 2, the only thing you’re going to see in an extra rearview mirror is the back of the car seat. If you want a mirror, I’d recommend getting one that attaches to the seat in front of your baby so, when they’re a little bigger, they can see themselves and you can see them in the reflection from your car’s rearview mirror.

4. Baby Food Maker and Trays– If you have a food processor and some plain old ice cube trays, you can make your own baby food just fine. If you have the room in your kitchen to store another appliance, go for it, but it’s not a necessity.

Sperry Topsider Infant Girls

5. Newborn Shoes– For the most part, your baby is going to be in one-piece outfits with footies, so he won’t need shoes. This was a bummer for me because we had so many cute shoes (hello baby Sperry Topsiders!), but my daughter spent her first 12 weeks in a Pavlik Harness for hip dysplasia, which meant absolutely no shoes or pants! Even healthy babies, though, usually wear the one-piece footie things in the beginning.

6. A Swing, a Jumperoo, a Walker, a Bouncer, AND a Lounger– Chances are, your baby is going to have a preference for where she wants to hang out. Many babies never take to swings, and some are just as happy on the floor or propped up on a Boppy as they would be on a newborn lounger. Unless you have one heck of a storage area or a dedicated playroom, I’d pick just a couple of these to start with. For us, the bouncer was a Godsend when our daughter came down with croup (she had to sleep in it all night), and the Jumperoo provided her endless entertainment in our kitchen while we cooked.

7. Tons of Sippy Cups– It’s ok to add a couple, but don’t go overboard. If your baby is like mine, he might jump over sippy cups altogether and go straight to straw cups. Then you’ll be stuck with a boat load of sippy cups, like me, and still have to go buy the other kind.

Skip Hop Pronto Changing Station

8. Portable Baby Changing Station– Unless you plan on forgoing a diaper bag altogether, I would leave this off your registry. Most diaper bags come with ample pockets and storage areas as well as a waterproof changing pad.

9. Sleep Positioner– The FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have both released statements warning of the suffocation risks that sleep positioners pose. They aren’t necessary and they aren’t safe, so better to just avoid them altogether.

10. Wipe Warmer– Bottom line is that it’s just not necessary. Your baby wipes shouldn’t be that cold if your house is a normal temperature, and it’s not like you’re going to lug a wipe warmer around everywhere you go.

Mamas, anything else you would add to the list?

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I took today off work so that little O and I could spend the day together and join our friends in a Valentine’s Day playdate. We rarely get to do this sort of thing, so we’re really excited! I volunteered to bring a dessert, so I thought what better than red velvet cupcakes?! (Though I may regret this depending on how messy things get!) I made mini cupcakes for the little ones and large cupcakes for the mamas.

My original plan was to just pipe on some frosting and throw on a few Valentine’s Day sprinkles, but that plan went down the tube when I saw the chaos that was the Valentine’s Day aisle at Target last night. {Holy craziness! Why people wait to buy their kids’ valentines until the night before is beyond me, but judging by the remnants, I don’t recommend it.} There wasn’t a single solitary sprinkle left. So. . . I moved on to plan B. My friend Stacy had told me about a quick icing trick for cupcakes that produced a smooth surface for decorating, so I figured I would give it a try.

Using store-bought or homemade cream cheese frosting (or whatever kind you want), microwave it in 10 second intervals in a microwave-safe, shallow bowl until the frosting is smooth and liquidy (not sure if that’s a word, but I can’t think of a better description). Hold on to the bottom of each cupcake and dip the top, making sure to coat the edges, in the frosting. Turn the cupcake as you lift it out of the frosting to keep it from dripping everywhere. The top will set as a smooth surface, similar to Royal Icing. Then you can use decorating gel, candies, piped frosting, etc. to decorate the cupcakes.

I don’t think these turned out too bad for my first attempt! Granted, I’m not showing you the 4 or so cupcakes that are in my frig right now because they look too heinous to share. Word to the wise, don’t try to get too artistic using decorating gel or you could end up with a cupcake that looks like you tried to draw one of those little Quiznos rat things from the old commercials—and this is seriously the first thing that came to my mind when I looked down at said cupcake!


Valentine’s Day Crafts for Kids

My friend Stephanie is probably one of the craftiest people I know (in a creative way, not a devious way!). She whipped up this adorable felt heart garland one weekend to decorate her cube at work and since the tops of our work spaces are glass and I sit directly across from her, I get to benefit from it as well.

 

 

 

 

 

It made me think what a fun activity this would be to do with the little one—when she’s a little older and can sit still for more than 28 seconds, of course! But if your little one(s) are static enough to tackle this project now, you can find the  tutorial here. Here are some other fun Valentine’s Day crafts I have pulled together to do with your kids.

Teach Mama, another DC blogger, had her children create a love tree, which is not only sweet but allows for lots of practice with fine motor skills. I love this idea and can’t wait to make one with my daughter when she’s a bit older!

Via TeachMama.com

For easy valentines, get paint color strips from your local hardware store in varying shades of red and pink, and use rubber stamps to spell out messages like “XOX” and “I♥U” in black ink. Honestly, I think this idea is more for my designer friends than for my daughter, but it was too cute not to include!

Via Country Living

For Valentine’s Day crafts that my one-year-old and I can do together now,  heart stamps seem to be the way to go. You just need some paint, paper and a little creativity.  Rust & Sunshine used a toilet paper roll to create a perfect heart stamp for her artsy toddler, and Homemade Serenity helped her kids get creative with a celery heart to make rosy valentines!

Via Homemade Serenity

Via Rust & Sunshine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you come across or done other fun Valentine’s Day craft projects with your kids? Please share—I would love some other ideas!