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Every chef (moms especially) needs a go-to recipe that everyone loves, is quick and easy to make, and doesn’t require a trip to the grocery store.  In our house, that has become a garden vegetable soup that can stand in as a lunch or dinner, and range from a vegetarian dish to a balanced and hearty meal.

How to enjoy this meal

I was inspired by Weight Watcher’s zero point soup recipe from the 1990s, and designed a family friendly meal we could eat over and over.  In a medium-sized pot, stir together six cups of broth (chicken or vegetable) and four tablespoons of tomato paste.  Add vegetables, filling to just over the top of the liquid.  Vegetables are the first place where you can really customize this: add a bag of frozen mixed veggies; fresh chopped broccoli, carrots, cauliflower; green leafy veggies like spinach or kale; even onions and peppers if you want a little kick.  Stir in your seasonings: a teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano (fresh herbs if you’re lucky enough to have a garden on your sill), kosher salt and pepper to taste, and some chopped garlic and onion powder.  Cook on high until the liquids boil, then simmer on medium-low until the vegetables soften.  Finally, have fun making this dish your own, and don’t be afraid to tap into last night’s leftovers to round out the meal.  Some favorites to toss in:

  • Mini turkey meatballs
  • A few ounces of leftover grilled chicken or turkey
  • Kidney or cannellini beans
  • Last night’s cooked orzo, brown rice, or whole grain pasta
  • Whole wheat crackers, or even whole grain goldfish crackers to entice a little one
  • Parmesan or mozzarella cheese

If your child would balk at the thought of a bowl full of vegetable soup, you can get a little crafty and puree with an immersion blender, food processor, or even regular blender.  I’m fortunate that my kids will eat a bowl of vegetable soup willingly, but I know plenty that would not.  Finally, don’t hesitate to send this to school with your child in a thermos; mine love when I do so.

To find out what’s for dinner at our house, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy cooking!

All parents of children with disabilities worry about the day when they will no longer be able to care for them. While many parents have figured out ways to make life more comfortable for a child with disabilities while they are around, thinking about a time when they can no longer be personally responsible for their child’s well-being can be stressful.

Many parents believe that they can continue to care for their child with special needs by leaving money to a relative. This seems like a good idea because a relative knows the child personally and parents think they can trust them to care for their children. However, relatives are not legally bound to spend the money left to them on the child. In addition to this, the money can be taken from the appointed relative by a number of different parties, including creditors. Also, the money may be lost in a divorce settlement.

Many parents also make the mistake of leaving money to one of their children who does not have a disability, expecting this child to care for the one with special needs. However, this may be a bad idea because it also does not legally bind the child to use this money to care for the sibling with the disability. Also, doing so can pose undue stress on the sibling. If he or she already has to deal with the pain of losing parents, it may be too difficult for the sibling to deal with the added responsibility of caring for a child with special needs.

Rather than entrusting money directly to a relative or sibling, parents should consider forming a Special Needs Trust. Doing so will ensure that the child will be well taken care of and that the money devoted to this cause will not be taken by any other source and must be used for the purpose for which it was intended. Establishing a Special Needs Trust for a child with a disability is the best way to ensure the quality of his or her care in the future.

It’s not uncommon to come across a new recipe and decide it looks enticing, until taking a second look.  Despite the knowledge that whole grains are healthier than refined grains, eating more produce lowers your risk of many health problems, and less sugar is better than more, many cookbooks and magazines are filled with recipes based upon white flour, sugar, and butter.  Instead, I often slightly modify or enhance a recipe, so that we can still enjoy it, but know it’s good for us.  You don’t have to be incredibly creative and reinvent the wheel, but rather, you can round it out.

A recent day of recipe enhancing

This lovely muffin is a banana blueberry bran muffin, based on a recipe by the Barefoot Contessa.  The recipe appeared healthy until I looked closer and saw it was high in fat and refined grains.  In order to improve it, I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for half of the white flour, used frozen blueberries instead of raisins, skim milk instead of buttermilk, and omitted the nuts.  The calories were almost halved, and it now was filled with whole grains and natural fruits.  Serve it with some orange slices and some skim milk, and you’ve got a nice start to the day!

Roasted chickpeas are a healthy treat that I learned about from the Sneaky Chef.  These are so easy to make: canned chickpeas are rinsed, seasoned, and roasted on a greased baking sheet at 350 for an hour.  They make a crunchy snack, and my kids love them.  They’re great in the place of goldfish crackers, and I often toss a handful in my daughter’s lunchbox.  I sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on the chickpeas before roasting, but use a little less than recommended in the book. They can also be seasoned with onion powder, garlic, or other spices if you’re looking for a savory snack.

And finally, our dinner for that evening– a peanut butter chicken dish from Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, my favorite crock pot cookbook.  This one would be easy to make in the oven or even skillet.  It’s a great recipe, but doesn’t call for many vegetables, so that’s where I step in.  First, I add 1/2 cup of pureed butternut squash to the sauce along with 1/2 cup of chicken broth– this makes it saucy enough to serve over noodles.  Next, once I serve it, I add steamed matchstick carrots and red peppers, along with sides of broccoli and fruit salad.  My kids loved it, and it was the type of recipe that was simple to double, and then freeze half for another meal.

To find out what’s for dinner at our house, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

As a follow-up to my post from earlier in the week, I’ve been asked by a few folks to share an easy, quick pasta sauce recipe (or as it is called by my Italian family, “gravy”).  The recipe I make for a Sunday pasta dinner takes four hours from start to finish, and is one that has been passed down through my family.  I can’t share it here for fear of being disowned, but I instead will share one that I’ve started using recently when I need a faster version.  It’s a very quick, tasty, super healthy recipe that you can tailor to your family’s tastes, especially picky little ones.  Traditional pasta sauces sold in grocery stores are loaded with oils, sugars, and often high fructose corn syrup.  To get something all-natural without spending the day in the kitchen, I’ve used this one, based on a recipe that comes from Weight Watchers.  It goes quite well in Italian dishes, and you can put it together quickly and let it simmer while you boil pasta, make a salad, or assemble the rest of your meal.

A quick, healthy pasta sauce

In a medium saucepan, heat one teaspoon of olive oil on medium heat.  Add two cloves of diced garlic (about two teaspoons) and saute until brown, 1-2 minutes.  Add one (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes, stir and reduce heat to low.  Add two tablespoons each of fresh basil and oregano (or a handful of dried herbs) and simmer for at least 10 minutes, and as long as an hour. Stir often to prevent burning on the bottom.  Season to taste, using kosher salt, pepper, onion powder, or whatever is desired.

To find out what’s for dinner at our house, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

According to our new governor, our school districts have $1.5 billion in reserves and unspent federal funds that should offset his $1.5 billion education cuts. Wonder what our school superintendents and school board presidents have to say about that? 

Cuomo also suggests cutting salaries of those administrators who earn more than $150,000 in salaries and benefits.  He called them “high-priced school administrators” and says that it will affect 2,000 people running our schools.

This is a hard time for many of us and I feel that  New York has to stand on its own feet. Not the sand that is crumbling beneath our New York State Legislature.  This is a time for open debate. Not yelling but a discussion that brings results.

We visited my grandparents this evening, and while helping my grandma wash and dry the dinner dishes, we came across something that has really touched me.  It’s a simple waistline apron, handmade many, many years ago by my Italian seamstress great-grandmother.  The apron is beautiful and floral, yet practical and sturdy.  It has a single pocket on the right side, which I can’t help but envision held something magical (despite my grandparents saying it often contained my great-grandmother’s handkerchief).  My great-grandmother was a strong, independent, self-sufficient woman, known for her generosity, attention to detail, and gifts of food.  It wasn’t at all unusual for her to show up at her neighbor’s doorstep with some fresh-baked goodness to bestow upon them, and my grandfather still talks about the way his mother cooked.  I’d like to believe that some of her talents and love of food have been passed down throughout our family lineage.

In her honor, I’ve decided to share a recent dinner from our home, something very simple and very Italian.  It’s a cross between a lasagna and a rollatini, and was delicious enough to leave us looking forward to the extra tray of it waiting in the freezer.

To make this at home

Slice one large eggplant into one-inch slices, and bake at 450 in a single layer on a greased baking sheet, 10 minutes on each side.  Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup of part-skim ricotta, 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, one egg, a little salt and pepper, and a handful of parsley and basil in a bowl.  Spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray, and cover the bottom with your favorite marinara sauce.  On top of the sauce, layer as follows: half of the eggplant, ricotta mixture, three cups of raw baby spinach, more sauce, remainder of eggplant, and more sauce.  Top with two tablespoons of Parmesan and a handful (about 1/2 cup) of part-skim mozzarella.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  To make it extra authentic, use your own homemade sauce, and don’t measure any of the ingredients as you go along.  This came together quickly, my kids loved it, and I doubled the recipe and froze an extra tray of it for a future dinner.  Serve with a green salad, and mangia!

To find out what’s for dinner at our house, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

Setting an educational course for a child with unique needs can be a daunting task for parents.

Federal regulations enacted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act require schools to develop individualized education programs (IEP) for children who are classified as students with disabilities.

Parents or guardians are required to be a part of the team that drafts the child’s IEP, along with at least one special education teacher, one regular education teacher, a member of the school’s administration, and someone with advanced knowledge of understanding learning evaluation results, often times the school’s psychologist. The law requires parents to play a role in the IEP process because parents generally have in-depth knowledge of their child’s strengths and weaknesses.

Often, parents are unsure of what to expect when told that they are to be a part of their child’s education plans. Many parents do not have formal education training and have not been part of an IEP process before. There are several things that parents should understand before beginning the IEP drafting process:

Parents have rights when it comes to their child’s IEP. The law requires that school districts must make “significant” efforts to ensure that a parent attends all IEP meetings. The meeting must be scheduled in a timely manner and must take place at a location that both parties (typically, the school district and the parent) agree upon. Parents who cannot attend have the option of participating remotely. Parents have the right to be as active in the IEP drafting process as they so choose, and can request changes to the plan if they desire.

Parents should come to the meeting prepared. It is best to organize a list of questions and concerns beforehand. It is also wise to prepare to answer specific questions that the rest of the IEP team may have, such as what challenges the child has and how the family believes the child’s needs can be met. Many parents choose to obtain copies of the school’s paperwork several days in advance to review it before the meeting. It may also be beneficial to provide the school with paperwork before the meeting as well, including a list of goals and concerns.

At the meeting, it is best to phrase things in the most positive way possible. The IEP is designed with a child’s challenges in mind to help him or her succeed – success is the primary goal. Parents should try to work collaboratively with the rest of the IEP team, but should voice their concern and ask questions. While everyone in the room is ultimately trying to help the child, parents are an important part of the team. It is also important to remember that the child may act differently in educational settings than at home.

There are a few options for parents who want to learn more about the IEP process. A wide variety of IEP information is available at the U.S. Department of Education website at Parents of children who have been diagnosed with specific learning disabilities can find more information at respective organization’s websites. Law firms concentrating on special education advocacy and special needs planning are also a good resource to assist parents needing aid with the IEP process.

To read more, visit

As a Hudson Valley Parent I can personally attest to the importance of having trustworthy and reliable childcare. However, what happens when your work schedule doesn’t fall neatly into a 9 to 5 template? Thankfully, there are facilities like Hunny Bee’s Daycare to help pick up the slack.

Hunny Bee’s Daycare is run by Anne Monahan, who is just about the warmest person you could ever hope to meet. In addition to boasting a well-trained, caring, and family oriented staff, Hunny Bee’s can accommodate your ever-changing schedule with weekend and overnight care available upon request. Her kind and caring staff also offers a Pre-K curriculum which includes instruction in American Sign language.

Hunny Bee’s Daycare was established in 1994, and has been an important part of the community ever since. For more information or to make an appointment contact Anne at (845) 569-8665 or

In an effort to encourage young women to explore career opportunities in typically male-dominated fields, Dutchess Community College will host its 15th Annual “Math and Science Matter … Especially for Young Women” program on March 5. The program runs from 8am to 1pm and is open to girls in grades 5-8. The registration fee is $10.

The program offers hands-on workshops in science, technology, engineering, and math. Workshop descriptions and the registration form are available at There will be programs for parent as well.

Check-in will take place at 8am in the Dutchess Hall Lobby, followed by a welcome in the James and Betty Hall Theatre. Pre-registration is required. The program is presented with support from Hudson Valley Credit Union.


Desserts can be a real challenge for any family trying to eat healthy.  Open any cookbook and find recipes for cakes, cookies, pies, and everything sweet… recipes loaded with perhaps your day’s worth of calories, fat, or sugar.  Everything in moderation, yes; but why not take a step back and start out with a dessert that doesn’t require you to cringe as you serve it to your loved ones?

My husband’s birthday was this week, and I agonized over what to make. As I have mentioned, he is pre-diabetic, and I do my best to make sure that everything I make for my family has some nutritional benefit in addition to taste.  After much recipe sifting, I turned to a tried-and-true favorite, the Sneaky Chef.  I’ve sung her praise before as I’ve shared pictures of veggie purees, but this recipe takes it to a new level.


Check out the recipe, which my kids and I made together before school.  With some melted chocolate chips, whole grain pastry flour, and a mini-bundt pan (looks just like a muffin pan, with little holes in the center) these beauties come alive.  What initially made these famous were the purees (you’d never know it from the taste, but pureed spinach and blueberries are hidden inside) but try them for yourself and see how incredible they are.  I love them for birthdays because it’s easy to take a serving without having to “even out” the cake to make sure you didn’t (heaven forbid!) leave it crooked, and with a little sprinkle of powdered sugar, you can skip the too-sweet frosting.  I actually felt good watching my kids eating them (wheat germ! spinach! blueberries!), and didn’t feel all sugared-up after having it.  How often can you say that about dessert?

Stop by to see what we’re having for dinner. And don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook!

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