Sunday, March 31, 2013

Winter Is Coming.

The weather may be gorgeous and sunny where I am, but in Westeros Winter has come.

Tonight is the premiere of Game of Thrones season 3 on HBO, the first new episode in nearly 10 months! My fabulous friends in the Edible Geekery group have put together a blog-hop in anticipation of the new episode.

I think my favorite character from the series is Arya Stark. The girl takes a hit and keeps going. I don't want to give away too much, but I will say that this girl is made of steel. I can't say she is exactly a good person, but she is tough as nails. The TV show moved the ages of all of the Stark children up a couple of years, but in the book Arya is roughly the same age as my Bean - 9, going on 10.

My Game of Thrones inspired meal is all about Arya Stark. "Valar morghulis" is a Valyrian phrase with some significance in the book series. It means "all men must die" and is commonly answered with "Valar dohaeris" - "all men must serve". 

For Arya, this phrase means little and less, but it opens doors for her which were otherwise closed (both literally and figuratively).

The Stark sigil is the direwolf, an oversized wolf from the North. I cut the direwolf head out of nori and rested it atop a bed of white rice.

The letters are cut from dill havarti cheese and Arya's shadow is a toasted corn tortilla, settled on black bean chili.

A clip from the episode 'Valar Morghulis' (season 2, episode 10):

Now, click the button to go through to Robot Squirrel and the Monkeys to follow the hop for more tributes to Game of Thrones:

Tune in tonight for the new episode, 'Valar Dohaeris', and if you get a chance be sure to read the books. They are very well written and rich in detail.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Leftovers Lunches

Simple lunches using leftovers:

Preschool lunch for Beaker: leftover grilled Italian sausage with a sliced up cheese stick, strawberries and halved green grapes, Pirate's Booty, and fruit gummies.

This bento box has a shallow inset layer, in which Beaker had some bits of cucumber for his snack.

For Bean:

Leftover grilled Italian sausage with a sliced cheese stick, Annie's Organic cheddar bunnies, strawberries and grapes, cucumbers, and Girl Scout cookies (Savannah Smiles).

And for the Dude, leftover rice fried up with egg, soy sauce, a handful of veggies, and some BBQ pork bits, pressed into triangle rice molds.

He also has leftover sliced grilled chicken, sliced BBQ pork, mango and watermelon chunks, and Girl Scout cookies (Dulce de Leche).

The fried rice balls are easy to make, take only a few minutes, and are great for lunch. I just put the rice in a pan, toss in a handful of frozen veggies and sometimes a bit of diced meat, and break an egg over the top, stirring constantly as it heats through. Before it's done I pour a little bit of soy sauce over and mix it in. Then scoop the whole thing into rice molds and let cool slightly. The Dude loves them and they travel pretty well.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Gluten-Free Cheesy Pasta Bake

One way we celebrate birthdays here is by letting the special birthday star choose what is for dinner on their birthday night. Even if it is cake and ice cream, or finger foods like we had for Princess' birthday this year, we all eat whatever they choose for dinner. Bean's birthday was earlier this week, and she chose her favorite meal for dinner: Baked Penne. "It's like a cross between two of my very favorites, lasagna and spaghetti with grilled Italian sausage!"

Cue momentary panic on my part. Baked Penne involves a lot of pasta and a lot of garlic, two things which Beaker can't eat! But I gave Bean a big smile and promised to make her chosen dish for dinner. I would find a way to make it Beaker safe. I was up for that challenge!

My usual recipe includes penne pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and extra garlic. For Beaker, these foods will make him sick, so I had to find an alternative. Do you realize that nearly every commercial spaghetti sauce has garlic? And most are also made with soybean oil, another food ingredient Beaker can't eat. So I knew I would be making my own. And no garlic in an Italian dish?! Whoever heard of such a thing?

Well, I did it! And it turned out *FANTASTIC*! Everyone said it was delicious. My mom is visiting and she said she couldn't tell the difference between the regular recipe and the Beaker-safe version. And neither could I! The Dude said he liked the new recipe even better than the old. He isn't as big of a garlic fan as I am, so the garlic-free version was a big hit with him. And Bean? She was completely thrilled to have her favorite dish and know her little brother could eat it, too.

Beaker said it was "ah-wishus!"

Finding a soy-free, garlic-free salad dressing was a challenge, too. Beaker is a huge fan of ranch, but all of the commercial ranch dressings that I have found contain garlic and often soybean oil, too. I finally found a Beaker-safe honey mustard, but he isn't a big fan. I'm sure I'll find an alternative he likes soon!

And finally, the recipe!

Gluten-Free, Garlic-Free Cheesy Pasta Bake


1 bag gluten-free pasta (we used brown rice pasta from Trader Joe's)
1 small tub ricotta cheese
1 pack GF Italian sausage links
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, separated
1 large can crushed plain tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1) Grill sausages and set aside to cool.
2) Cook pasta according to package instructions. Be careful not to overcook! Rice pasta gets mushy when it is overcooked.
3) While the pasta is cooking, slice the sausage links into coins.
4) Drain pasta and toss in sausages. Add crushed tomatoes, herbs, and ricotta cheese, mixing until well blended. Mix in one cup of mozzarella cheese.
5) Pour into baking dish and top with the other cup of mozzarella. Bake at 375* for 35 minutes or until the top is bubbly and lightly browning.

I served it with a garlic seasoning on the side, for those who wanted some, but it was just as good without. And completely safe for my little Beaker! It is free of gluten, soy, garlic, nuts, fish, and eggs.

Even my garlic loving goofy Princess thought it was delicious!

It packs great for lunch, too! Especially in our Easy Lunchboxes, which are microwave safe and have never stained on us, even with hot tomato sauce.

Since the Dude has a microwave at work, I packed up the leftover pasta bake for his lunch, including a small bit of garden salad and a plum on the side.

The Dude said it reheated great, tasting just as good the next day as it did fresh out of the oven for dinner. The recipe is pretty versatile, too. So if you aren't sensitive to garlic, toss some in there. It's also really good with onions and peppers, but all but one of my kids dislike them.

If you make it, drop a comment to let me know how it turned out! I'm always interested in hearing new suggestions for things to try out.

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Happy Birthday, Bean!

On Monday my sweet awesome Bean turned ten years old!

When I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday, her only request was "I want to go to the mall with you." Shopping with my sweet girl? I am totally on board with that!

To surprise her, I went one better than that. I took her on an overnight trip to Seattle.

She got to see her grandparents and her aunt and uncle, and go shopping at some great places. I took her and her Nana to Southcenter Mall for some fun and fab shopping. We bought new bento gear at Daiso Japan, TARDIS socks and Doctor Who bracelets at Hot Topic, and birthday tiaras at Claire's. Then we had dinner together at Cheesecake Factory. Bean and I had never been there before, but we will definitely have to go again some time. My salad was a work of art, so beautifully presented and absolutely delicious!

On Sunday, her Papa introduced us to the light rail system. We took the light rail to the last station and from there walked a couple of blocks over to West Lake Center. Papa treated us to lunch at a little vendor outside ~ Bean thought the begging pigeons were funny, and she got to climb on a neat new playground-art structure. Yes, those trees really are blue! Bean loved that.

After lunch we took the monorail to the Pacific Science Center. We have been there several times before, but this was the first time Bean had been without her siblings. It was a nice change for her to get to spend as much time as she wanted at each exhibit which interested her, instead of having to go with what everyone else wanted to do. We even were able to sit in on a planetarium presentation on gravity and black holes.

After PacSci, we took the monorail back to West Lake Center.

From there we walked up a few blocks, to the iconic Seattle landmark - Pike's Place Market.

Bean hasn't been since she was very small, and she LOVED it there. So many things to look at, so many little shops and vendors to stop at and wander through. She bought herself a Doctor Who keychain and helped me find little gifts for each of her siblings, too. She loved being able to see Puget Sound, and all of the amazing handmade items for sale. She said the fish market "smells like fish!" and the flower vendors "are so beautiful!"

It was a wonderful weekend, and I can't wait to do it again someday soon. Bean is an amazing girl. I am so lucky to be her mom!

On Monday I packed her a special birthday lunch, and took cupcakes and punch to her school. Apparently she forgot to tell her teacher I would be coming, so it was almost like a surprise party. Lots of fun, for all of us!

For her special birthday lunch I packed a pair of panda CuteZCute sandwiches wearing party hats. Bean also has grapes and watermelon, cookies and cheese crackers, and alphabet crackers with the first letter of her name.

To make these cute fruit balloons, I used these picks from ATFS with a green grape and a watermelon ball.

HelloPanda! chocolate filled biscuits and Cheddar Rocket crackers are some of Bean's favorite crunchy sides.

Panda sandwiches are super easy and adorable with the CuteZCute sandwich cutter. And Easy Lunchboxes make packing lunches simple and convenient.

Ten years old! My Bean is getting so grown up. 10 is a lot of candles on a little cupcake! She is such a lovely girl and we are so very lucky to be her parents. Bean is always the first to jump in and help when things need to be done. She is sweet and thoughtful, kind and polite. She does great in school and loves to read. She just finished the entire Harry Potter series last week and is starting the Percy Jackson series now. She also likes Babysitter's Club books, Nancy Drew, and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. She is fun and smart and pretty. She loves arts and crafts too, and is great with animals. All around, she is just a fantastic kid.

Happy happy birthday, sweet girl! 

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Allergy Friendly Lunches

This is Beaker:

Beaker is 3 1/2 years old and has struggled with eczema and asthma ever since he was brand new. For a long time we tried elimination diet after elimination diet, but never had consistent improvement. He had scratch testing done for allergies, but the results were inconclusive. Finally, we turned to alternative medicine and took him to see a Naturopathic doctor. His test results came back a little over a week ago and now we finally know what he is reacting to! 

It turns out that Beaker is allergic to wheat, rye, barley, spelt ~ basically, he is reacting to gluten. He is also allergic to soy, hazelnuts, and garlic. We have spent the last ten days eliminating these from his diet completely and already we have seen a great improvement in his health. He hasn't needed his inhaler even a single time since the first day of allergy-safe eating. He has only had a single flare-up of eczema, the day after he grabbed a regular cookie and stuffed it in his mouth before I could get it from him. The dark circles under his eyes are disappearing, he is sleeping better, he doesn't snore as much, and he never complains of being itchy at bedtime anymore. It is wonderful to see how much better he feels now that his body isn't fighting things that are toxic to him anymore!

Of course, there is a learning curve involved, for all of us. When the results came back that he was reacting to soy and gluten, the Dude and I had a knee-jerk reaction of "but what will we feed him?!" And we realized fast that the entire house would have to be cleared of all foods that aren't Beaker safe, as the big kids are prone to leaving things down unattended, and it's also hard for Beaker to see them eating foods that he loves and not being able to have some himself.  We are working on getting all of the stuff that he can't eat out of the house now, so for the next week or two the big kids will have lunches that are a little more heavy on crackers and other snacks than they usually might have. And after it's all out of the house, everything we bring into our home will be nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and garlic-free.

It has actually been a lot easier than we anticipated. There have been several tantrums and moments where Beaker would melt down into tears, crying "It doesn't habe gwu-en, it doesn't habe soy, it IS safe!" and that has been hard. But as we phase all of the stuff that he can't have out of the house, those moments are becoming rare and Beaker is adjusting fast. He is already learning to ask "Does it habe soy? Does it habe gar-wic? Does it habe gwu-en?" before eating anything. And the way he says 'maltodextrin' is adorable. As he gets older, this will be easier and easier for him. When he learns how to read he will be able to read labels for himself, to keep himself safe and healthy. Finding things Beaker can eat is a whole lot easier than we thought it would be. After all, most fruits and vegetables are find for him, and he loves them already.

Cooking has been much easier than I thought it would be, for sure. Finding alternatives for our normal recipes has been a cinch. We are so fortunate to live in an area with a lot of shopping options. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods carry quite a few safe packaged foods that are Beaker-safe, and we already are used to cooking from whole foods, so that hasn't been a major change. I have even been able to make a baked pasta dish which was completely Beaker-safe! 

I was a little worried about preschool, but luckily those worries have turned out to be unnecessary. Beaker attends preschool two days per week, for 4-5 hours each day. He is there for lunch and for afternoon snack, and sometimes for morning snack, if we drop him off early. I was a little worried about him being there with all of that food! But it has been smooth and easy. I took in a bag full of Beaker-safe shelf-stable snacks, like Pirate's Booty and a package of EnjoyLife chocolate chip cookies for special occasions. This way the preschool always has snacks on hand for him. I also pack his lunch for him, and pack a small snack each day, too. Finding things which he likes to pack for him to take has been much easier than we thought, for sure. It is no more difficult than feeding him at home. And he is thrilled that he gets to take his Thomas the Tank Engine lunchboxes to school.

We are approaching Beaker's food allergies with a positive attitude, and it has made all of the difference in the world. We are so happy to have him feeling good and healthy that any changes we have to make to keep him that was are totally worth it! Giving up garlic has been the toughest part, because I LOVE garlic. And finding packaged foods that are free of *all* of his allergens is pretty tough. A lot of gluten-free items are made with soy or nuts, and many things which don't have those are flavored with garlic. We have to be completely nut-free, as most nuts are processed together, leading to cross contamination from hazelnuts, which Beaker can't have. We mostly don't eat nuts anyway, since the middle school where Brick and G-man go to school (and where Bean will be next year) is nut-free. We have read that a lot of people who are allergic to soy do not react to soybean oil or soy lecithin, but we won't know if Beaker is one of them until he has gone a few weeks with them completely out of his system, so that we can trial them and see if he reacts.

Our sweet Beaker is feeling so much better!

Some of the lunches I have made for Beaker over the last week - all completely gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, and garlic-free:

In this lunch he has organic turkey breast from Trader Joe's with special Beaker-safe cereal (Fruit-Os!), a cut cheese stick, carrots cut into bits, and a fruit face with an EnjoyLife double chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

His fruity face is blueberries with raspberry eyes and a quartered grape mouth.

This is one of his packed lunches for preschool.

He has apple chunks and a hard-boiled egg car. He also has some dehydrated peas from Trader Joe's, a few rolls of organic turkey and a bit of cut string cheese, and blueberries. The chicky egg holds all natural fruit and vegetable juice gummies for a little sweet dessert. This one is gluten, nut, soy, garlic, and dairy free.

For another day, he took a Thomas the Tank Engine lunch:

The sandwich is organic turkey and cheese made with Udi's allergy safe bread. The train tracks on top are strips cut from organic fruit leather. He also has apple slices, and in the Thomas 'egg' he has a few fruit-and-veggie juice gummies.

He also has Beaker-safe popcorn (we are discovering that a lot of the prepackaged popcorns are made with soybean oil and/or cross contaminated with wheat, soy, and nuts, but Trader Joe's carries a few that are safe), and watermelon balls with blueberries.

On another day we packed a small snack for running errands:

Fruit-and-veggie juice gummies (I promise, he does not eat them every day, though it definitely looks that way from these pics!) with apple slices, pieces of string cheese, and dehydrated peas.

If you're looking for other ideas for fun and delicious allergy safe lunches, here are some great links to check out!

Creative Food is peanut and tree nut free:
And Bentos on the Bayou is peanut and tree nut free, too:
Keeley McGuire has many posts which are allergy friendly, including nut-free, gluten-free, egg-free, and more:
iPackLunch features gluten-free lunches every Friday:
Biting the Hand That Feeds You has a lot of allergy safe lunches, too:
Wendolonia has many dairy-free lunch posts:
Beneficial Bento has great gluten-free ideas:
Mommy Says has great gluten-free ideas, too:
Bentorific is vegan (so meat, dairy, and egg free) and occasionally gluten-free:
MommaSays is also gluten-free and allergy friendly:

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring is Here!

The weather is going back and forth between sunshine and rain faster than a drunk yo-yo on speed, but we are loving the move toward Spring anyway! The trees are starting to sprout new leaf buds. The daffodils and tulips are poking their pretty heads up out of the ground. The birds are returning from their flight south and twittering in the trees again.

The first day of Spring coincided with a special Pajama Day at the girls' school, so I packed these breakfast-y, Spring-y lunches for them.

For Bean, a Spring Butterfly:

She has an Eggo waffle butterfly with fruit leather antennae, a hard-boiled egg, a little cup of maple syrup for dipping the waffle, and a butterfly silicone cup of Sunbursts. She also has yogurt with sprinkles and a cup of watermelons and blueberries.

Cutting the Eggo Butterfly was super fast and easy!

First I toasted two waffles and allowed them to cool slightly. Then I stacked the two waffles, one on top of the other. I cut the stack in four, lengthwise. The rounded parts became the wings and two of the straight parts became the body. The other straight strips I cut into smaller parts to make the wing accents. Simple and quick!

For Princess, an Eggo waffle Easter egg. The Eggo Easter egg was made by toasting two waffles, then cutting them using an egg shaped cookie cutter. I cut the accents out of fruit leather. Princess also has a peeled mandarin orange, a little mayo cup full of maple syrup, a ducky duck egg, yogurt with sprinkles, and blueberries with watermelon. 

The ducky was made by hard-boiling a duck egg (generously provided by our duck hens) and soaking it in yellow food dye for a few minutes. I rinsed the egg after it had soaked in the dye, then used a carrot to make the feet and beak. The eyes are two small sprinkles.

A happy chick is splashing in her yogurt, and the watermelon flowers were easy to cut using a small cookie cutter!

On the same day G-man had an appointment, so I packed up a lunch for him, myself, and for Beaker.

G-man has an Angry Birds Eggo lunch. The egg Eggo is made using the same method as the Easter egg Eggo for Princess. He also has Angry Birds Honey Grahams graham crackers, apple slices, watermelon balls, and a blueberry granola bar for a snack.

For my lunch, I packed some leftover Italian pasta salad made with Easter themed pasta, chunks of peeled kiwi, apple slices, and Crunchmaster multigrain crackers with Laughing Cow cheese.

It was delicious! Especially the kiwi ~ yum!

Beaker's lunch from that day will be shown in a separate post.

The Dude's lunch was more of a snacky tray.

I rolled deli sliced roast beef around strips of havarti and topped them with grape tomatoes. He also has Laughing Cow cheese with Club crackers, a few raspberry shortbread cookies and chocolate covered espresso beans (in the small dish with lid) for dessert, green grapes stuffed with garlic and blue cheese, and kiwi slices with blueberries.

Pretty tasty and easy to make, my favorite!

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