Monthly Archives: May 2013

Family Vacations on a Budget

With a new baby on the way, my brother’s wedding coming up this fall, and my husband’s limited vacation time (which we want to conserve for after the baby is here), we decided that it would be best for us to do “Family Vacation Lite” this year. So I started looking into ideas for a short three- to four-day vacation that won’t break the bank. I found some really great options, so I thought I’d share my findings in case anyone else was trying to plan a quick family vacation this summer.

Since we’re in the Washington, DC area, most of what I found that will work for us is on the East Coast. But since I know not everyone lives on or near the right coast, I’ve included some of the other ideas as well.

Washington, DC
While it’s not much of a vacation for us, living here, DC is really a great spot if you’re trying not to spend a ton during vacation. There are so many free museums, inspiring memorials and monuments, great cheap eats, farmers markets, and inexpensive entertainment options—like $15 tickets to Nationals games—that your family won’t get bored and you won’t go broke!

Yellowstone National Park
Between Old Faithful and the beautiful views, Yellowstone is a great vacation spot for outdoorsy types. In fact, national parks in general fit this bill. Many of them have inexpensive cabins, campsites, and inns on the property, so you’re only steps away from hiking trails, fishing, waterfalls, and more.

Sedona, AZ
If you’re in Sedona, you have to go to Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon. The rocks have been worn smooth and are covered in soft slippery algae that it makes for some awesome natural water slides. Yes, it sounds a little strange, but trust me—it’s so fun! I went when I was younger and LOVED it. Plus, Sedona is just two hours from the Grand Canyon, so you can easily make a day trip out of it.

Ocean City, MD
We have gone to the Maryland and/or Delaware beaches nearly every summer since moving to DC. While we love Rehoboth Beach, there are more inexpensive hotel and resort options in the more commercial Ocean City. The best part about a beach vacation is that it doesn’t cost a penny to build sand castles and ride the waves. And after you’ve left the beach, there are lots of restaurant options for every type of family and budget, as well as miniature golf and the boardwalk.

Williamsburg, VA
I grew up in Hampton Roads (just down I-64 from Williamsburg), so I’ve spent a ton of time in this colonial town. Jamestowne, the first English settlement, is a must-see, and children 15 and under get in for free. Step back in time as you stroll through the Revolutionary City and learn what life was like in Colonial America. If you can swing it, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA—always a hit with kids—are just up the road.

Have you planned a great family vacation on a budget? Share the details!


Quick & Healthy Meal: Hummus Veggie Flatbreads

These hummus veggie flatbreads are one of our favorite quick and easy weeknight dinners. My family loves these because they are so delicious. The fact that they are full of healthy veggies and protein-packed hummus is just the icing on the cake. I usually serve these with couscous, which cooks in under 10 minutes. The entire meal, start to finish, can be done in around 15 minutes. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Hummus Veggie Flatbreads

What you need:
Naan (or other type of flatbread)
Fresh sliced portabella mushrooms
Green pepper, thin sliced
Tomato, diced
Avocado, diced
Arugula
Store-bought hummus
Sliced cheese (I’ve used cheddar, pepperjack, and muenster- all good in this recipe)

1. Preheat your oven to 350°. Place one flatbread per person on a cookie sheet and spread with a generous spoonful (or two!) of hummus.

2. Top each with 4-6 slices of green pepper, around 5 or 6 mushrooms, and a sprinkling of tomato—you don’t want to go too heavy on the veggies because you’ll be adding arugula and avocado as well and you want to be able to fold them in half.

3. Place one to two slices of cheese, depending on the size of your flatbread, on each one (I usually break up the cheese to spread it over all of the veggies). Pop the flatbreads in the oven for around 6 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

4. Place one flatbread on each plate and top with some of the avocado and arugula. Fold in half and dig in!


Strategies for a Stress-Free Vacation

Today we have a guest post from travel expert Kendra Thornton! Kendra is a travel advocate, TV spokesperson, PR businesswoman, wife, and mama of three. Follow Kendra on Twitter @KendraThornton. I’ll let her introduce herself in her own words:  “I am a long time travel expert who has been packing my bags and traveling the world since I was 3 months old! I’ve found my utmost desire in life is right here in my own home. I have taken my excitement for travel and brought it to you with some of my favorite travel tips and tricks. Enjoy!”

Whether it is an amusing anecdote about getting to a vacation destination or the memories of a favorite sunset, family vacations are worth the time and cost.  However, a vacation with small children can be exhausting, unless you have prepared yourself with tips and tricks to help your vacation run smoothly and keep you relaxed.

1. When you are planning a vacation, try to choose your hotel based on your family’s needs.  A hotel with a small fridge can be a godsend for families with tired and cranky children.  You are able to store snacks and healthy drinks to help ward off the temper tantrums. Whether it be hiking in state parks or visiting a unique museum, a family friendly resort may be an option for you.  My family’s trip to Hawaii was spent at a family friendly resort that offered a plethora of activities for adults and children and was still ranked as a top Honolulu hotel.  Another benefit to family friendly lodging?  The amenities that appeal to children, such as an onsite playground, pool or kids club.  In addition to keeping children happy on vacation, it will also allow them to burn off energy so they fall asleep faster at night.

2. When traveling with toddlers, it’s especially important to stick to a routine.  While you may want to stay out longer at a tourist attraction, naptime and snack time are essential to children of this age group.  When on vacation, you tend to get more exercise walking than at home, and this additional exercise means that children, as well as adults, need time to rest.  Giving family members this relaxation time will make their trip more enjoyable.   

3. When you are packing for the vacation, don’t forget to bring a few essentials that will make your trip easier on you.  Zip lock bags in a variety of sizes, baby wipes, a first aid kit (with blister band aids), and your child’s favorite sippy cup will make the trip run smoothly.  Of these listed supplies, zip lock bags can be used to store dirty or wet clothes and treasures the children pick up on their adventures.  If you go to a beach or water park, slip your camera and phone inside one of the bags to prevent it from water or sand damage. You may find other items to bring as well that will help your family on the vacation.

4. If your vacation includes a long car or plane ride, you may want to think about occupying that time with technology.  Tablets can be loaded with apps that are appropriate to your children’s ages, and they can pass the travel time learning and playing with these apps. If you are worried about children breaking the iPad, there are videos on the Internet on how to child-proof it.

5. It can be difficult enough to spot your luggage at the airport when you are by yourself, but with children, it becomes a monumental task.  Tie a ribbon to your luggage to help you quickly identify the luggage and get you out of the airport and on the way to your hotel.

By implementing these tips into your next family vacation, you can help create lasting memories for your family of your stress-free and fun family vacation.


Lemon Herb Grilled Chicken

This lemon herb rub from Cooking Light is always a classic. I have used this rub recipe before to make brick chicken, where you butterfly a whole chicken and use bricks wrapped in foil to press it down to the grill for a crisp skin. This time, I tried to make things a little easier on myself by using leg quarters instead. The herb rub works well in both scenarios.

Lemon Herb Grilled Chicken

1 (5 lb) roasting chicken or leg quarters
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper

 

1. Prepare your chicken:

If using a whole chicken, remove and discard giblets and neck. Rinse chicken with cold water, and pat dry. Trim excess fat. Place chicken, breast side down, on a cutting surface. Cut chicken in half lengthwise along backbone (do not cut through breastbone). Turn chicken over. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat.

If using leg quarters, rinse chicken with cold water, and pat dry. Trim excess fat. Using your fingers, loosen the skin from the meat.

2. Combine parsley, thyme, juice, salt, and pepper; rub mixture under loosened skin and over chicken. Gently press skin to secure. Place chicken in a large zip-top plastic bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes.

3. Preheat grill to medium heat.

4. Place chicken, skin side up, on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 30 minutes (for leg quarters) to 55 minutes (for a whole chicken) or until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh registers 180°. Remove chicken from grill; cover and let stand 10 minutes. Remove and discard the skin.


Toys to Help Teach ABCs

With 33% of 4th grade public school students reading at or below the “Basic” level, it’s never too early to start working with your little one on letters and learning the alphabet.* Of course, there’s always the old standby ABCs song—which is a great way for your child to learn the alphabet—but  how else can you expose your child to letters in a fun and engaging way? Here are nine toys that we recommend to help your little one not only learn the alphabet but also start to visually identify letters and their correlating sounds.

Tag Junior Interactive Letter Factory Flash Cards, $10.99

LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet, $15.88

Melissa & Doug Alphabet Art Puzzle, $14.99

Fun with ABC’s Magnetic Letters, $5.34

Munchkin Bath Letters and Numbers, $6.99

The Learning Journey Match It! Alphabet Memory, $9.99

Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss, $6.04

Melissa & Doug ABC Blocks, $13.19

LeapFrog Lettersaurus, $19.99

*Reading is Fundamental Literacy Facts and Stats http://www.rif.org/us/about/literacy-facts-and-stats.htm

Spring 2013 Nail Color Trends

I’m not one to spend the time giving myself a crazy manicure à la Zooey Deschanel. I think they’re awesome—I just don’t have that kind of time on my hands. But I do like to try out the newest color trends. I’ve been scouring the web looking for the hottest nail color trends for spring. Here are my fav five:

Lime Green

L’Oreal Colour Riche Nail New Money, $5.99


Shiny Metallics

OPI The World Is Not Enough, $8


Lavender

Butter London Molly Coddled, $15


Aqua

Essie Go Overboard, $8


Milky White

NARS Versailles Champagne Gold, $19


All-Natural Coconut Bars

Olivia and I first had these coconut bars at her “best friend’s” birthday party. (Yes, she has a best friend- two actually, and she will tell anyone who will listen that “Addy and Bridget are my best friends.”)

Addy’s mom made these coconut bars for dessert, and I was in heaven! They remind me of the Neapolitan-colored coconut ice candy I used to eat as a kid, only these are all-natural and a lot healthier. Each bar is around 100 calories.

Coconut Bars
From Chocolate-Covered Katie 

Makes 12-14 bars

2 cups shredded coconut (unsweetened)
½ cup agave or pure maple syrup
4 tbsp virgin coconut oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Pour into a small casserole dish (I used an 8×8 inch) and refrigerate for an hour before cutting. If you are in a hurry, you can also put them in the freezer for 15 minutes to set before cutting. Bars can be stored in the fridge or freezer for a couple of weeks.


Planning the Perfect Babymoon

The other day I was watching a new special on E! called Blinging Up Baby, all about how ridiculous celebs can be when in comes to their offspring. One of the segments was about over-the-top  babymoons and while I’m not likely to drop the celeb standard $17,000 a night, I do like the idea of a little getaway before baby arrives.

My husband and I have been talking about going somewhere for a long weekend for a while, but now that the clock is really ticking, we have kicked our planning into gear. So I have been researching babymoon ideas that aren’t crazy expensive and are doable for a long weekend. Here are my top five picks:

1. New York, New York
New York City is a great option for city lovers.  There are amazing museums, excellent and diverse food options, theatre, shopping, and no shortage of luxury hotels to choose from. And a bonus if you go see a show: expectant moms get access to a special bathroom during intermission in many theatres, so no waiting in line!

2. Miami, Florida
Sure, Miami is known for its nightlife (which moms-to-be obviously cannot partake in), but it also has stunning beaches, fabulous restaurants, and some of the best shopping in the world. Soak up some sun on South Beach with a virgin daquiri and just relax!

3. Stowe, Vermont
A seemingly random selection, but this town, and specifically the Topnotch Resort and Spa, kept showing up in my research as a sought after spot for moms-to-be. With beautiful views and maternity spa treatments, it doesn’t take long to figure out why it makes so many travel lists.

4. Scottsdale, Arizona
Another spot that kept cropping up in my research, Scottsdale is home to some of the country’s best spa resorts.  The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa has a “Bundle of Joy” package for expectant mamas and they even have a 24-hour “cravings chef”!

5. Amelia Island, Florida
I had never heard of Amelia Island before looking up babymoon ideas, but this destination appeared on several of the lists I came across. Off the coast of Florida, just a stone’s throw away from Georgia, this island has beautiful beaches and ample southern hospitality. Both the Ritz Carlton-Amelia Island and the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge came highly recommended through my research.

So what about you—did you go on a babymoon? Share your suggestions!


Spring Vegetable Pasta with a Lemon Cream Sauce

Since this little human I am growing has left me utterly exhausted recently, I haven’t been doing much adventurous cooking or trying many new recipes. Now that I’m in my second trimester, both my energy and my cooking are making a comeback.

I recently tried this Spring Vegetable Penne from the most recent issue of Cooking Light and LOVED it. The lemon cream sauce is both comforting and bright at the same time, and the veggies are perfect in it.  The only thing I might do differently next time is grill the asparagus for some extra flavor (and just because I can, since it’s finally nice out).

Spring Vegetable Pasta with a Lemon Cream Sauce

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
1 (4 oz) package presliced mushrooms
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
½ cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
½ cup half-and-half
¾ cup frozen green peas
3 tbsp shaved Parmesan cheese, divided
½ tsp grated lemon rind
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 oz uncooked penne (I used vegetable pasta, hence the reddish color)
1 pound (1 in) diagonally cut asparagus

 

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add thyme and garlic; sauté 1 minute.

2. Sprinkle mushroom mixture evenly with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

3. Stir in broth and half-and-half; cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Add peas, 2 tablespoons cheese, rind, and next 3 ingredients (through pepper); cook 1 minute or until peas are thoroughly heated.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. During the last 3 minutes of cooking, add asparagus to pot; drain.

5. Add pasta mixture to mushroom mixture; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon cheese.

 


Jalapeño Pimento Cheese

I grew up eating pimento cheese sandwiches (on white bread, no crust, cut into quarter triangles … naturally). They were a staple at every wedding my grandmother catered, and because I loved being her sous chef, I got to sample them—a lot.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that pimento cheese is a distinctly Southern snack and that I’ve never actually made it. I don’t have my grandmother’s recipe (which I intend to get from my dad ASAP), so I looked up a half dozen recipes before trying out this concoction. The recipe I followed most closely was this one, which is based on my fav store-bought pimento cheese, Palmetto.

While I think it turned out delicious, I would probably cut back on the cream cheese just a bit next time because I thought it was just a tad overpowering, so that’s how I have written the recipe below. Also, the jalapeño can be increased or decreased depending on how much heat you like.

Jalapeño Pimento Cheese

6 oz low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
2 tbsp diced pimentos
1 roasted jalapeño, seeded and diced
1½ tbsp grated vidalia onion
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.