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This time of year begs for warm, comforting, hearty dishes that come together quickly.  Who has time to spend in the kitchen when there’s two feet of snow to shovel?  The beauty of minestrone soup is that it’s never the same twice and doesn’t get boring, at least not in our house.  The basic formula does not vary- beans, vegetables, broth.  The specifics, however, tend to change as the wind blows.

Minestrone Revisited

Using the Year of Slow Cooking recipe as my guide, I vary what will go in the soup each time.  Kids can help prep the vegetables, even choosing which to add, and help measure and pour the ingredients.  Even if you put the soup together after your kids have already left for school, they can chop the night before to make your morning smoother.  My kids love peeling and slicing carrots, and who can say no to that?

I love zucchini in minestrone, but it’s not something I tend to have in the refrigerator in the dead of March.  So we did without, and that was fine.  This particular time around, we were shortly post-snowstorm, and I was dipping into the bottom of the crisper and back of the pantry to make dinner happen.  I used red kidney beans, chickpea (garbanzo) beans, a large can of diced tomatoes, lots and lots of chopped carrots and celery, some diced garlic, and dried onion flakes.  Unlike the original recipe, I use chicken broth rather than beef, and canned beans instead of dried.  An hour before serving, I added frozen, thawed green beans, and five minutes before serving, a few cups of fresh baby spinach.  I find the fresh spinach is so much better in the soup that frozen, as called for in the original recipe.  In an effort to keep the carbs lower, we skipped the pasta, but did serve the soup with crusty bread and Parmesan cheese.

We enjoyed the soup after a chilly day outside, and had enough leftover for two days of lunch.  It provides an awesome way to get a ton of vegetables and lean protein.  Naturally gluten and dairy free, vegetarian, and low in fat, it makes the perfect meal.  Everyone feels genuinely happy to see this soup for dinner, which is a nice compliment to the recipe. While the temps are still low, make your family a warm and healthy dinner that comes together quickly, and spend your time making memories instead.  Share your favorite wintertime recipes with our readers, below.

DIY let It Go Dough

Today we experienced the craziest snowstorm in our children’s lives! They watched out of the window for almost an hour with stunned looks on their faces as the snow fell. “Wow. Look at all that snow!” That hour gave me a little time to prep some fun things to do since we are now home-bound during the blizzard of 2017!

Last year I shared with you our favorite DIY Play Dough recipe. It is super simple to make and we make it smell great and get some really cool colors with Kool Aide. Well, this year we have discovered that our kids cannot tolerate artificial food coloring. Even though they aren’t eating the play dough (that I am aware of) the dye can still get in through the skin.

I see all of these amazing recipes for colorful play dough and we just can’t create them at home, and the all natural food dyes you buy in the store are very expensive. Making our own dyes is an option, but it is too time consuming. I still can’t get some of the beautiful pastel colors from making dyes at home. So, I had to find some way to make our newest batch of play dough fun and pretty.

The Recipe (as found on Hello Giggles):

1 Cup Flour

½ Cup Salt

3 TBSP Cream of Tartar

1 TBSP Oil (canola, coconut or sunflower)

10-20 Drops Essential Oil

½ Cup Boiling Water

Add all dry ingredients to the bowl, add all oil ingredients and then add hot water and mix until solid.

If we skip the food coloring the dough doesn’t look so special. But I thought I’d mix a batch anyway so we have something fun to play with. Maybe I’ll add a little essential oil to jazz it up. At least if it doesn’t smell like homemade dough made from flour it won’t be so bland.

EO Dough 3

After I mixed it up in the bowl it sat there boring and blah. Until one of my daughters said to me, “Wow it’s white just like Elsa’s hair.” BINGO!! We have a winner!

EO Dough 2

I decided to add in my favorite essential oil blend called “stress less” to help us let it go, let it go (ha! My friends who love puns will enjoy that one). Then my girl remembered we have some, “frosty blue glitter like Elsa’s dress.” And of course we dumped in as much as we could! My girls are ALL-IN when it comes to glitter.

There ya go! Dye free and sparkly play dough that keeps the kids feeling stress free! Store it in a zip lock bag, or air tight container. Now if only cleaning up all this snow was as easy and stress free.

EO Dough 1

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

My favorite recipes are the ones that can easily be gluten free (or not) will little modification.  I find these types of meals more accessible and well-liked.  A friend just recently found out she has Celiac Disease and became gluten free. Chatting with her about favorite cookbooks, resources, and meal ideas got me nostalgic for those early days when the impossible-seeming transition loomed ahead.  Even though it’s been years for us, it’s still fun to discover something new.  She shared this recipe after trying it out with approving results, so I decided to make it for my family.  Hearing we were making Chinese food, my older daughter asked to make lo mein, and my younger one wanted to make her famous honey carrots.  Who can turn down kids who want to help in the kitchen?

Chinese Food Night

The blogger designed her honey chicken recipe as gluten free (cornstarch rather than flour, and gluten-free soy sauce) but it tasted no different than regular Chinese food, and would appeal to anyone who enjoys this type of dish.  My husband was home to clean and cube the chicken (my least favorite part). Meanwhile, my older daughter prepared the glaze for the chicken, and then worked on lo mein.  Our favorite lo mein recipe comes from the original Gluten Free on a Shoestring cookbook.  For both of the dishes above, we substitute coconut aminos for half of the soy sauce, since it has less sodium and we try to consume minimal soy.  Finally, my little one worked on the honey carrots, which come from her favorite kids’ cookbook.  Other than my helping cut the carrots into coins using a sharp knife, this is one she was able to do independently. They come out well, and she’s always pleased to have made the dish herself.

This dinner took a bit of time to prepare. None of it is particularly hard, but the chicken has to be browned and sauteed in its glaze, the lo mein sauce needs to cook down, and carrots have to be steamed. Fortunately, all four of us were in the kitchen and working together. Everything tasted great, so it was worth the wait.  More importantly, there’s such value to opportunities for kids to cook along with their parents, and we had lots of fun.  Give your feedback on the honey chicken, or share your favorite family dinner ideas with our readers.

Stuck inside during this cold weather, I decided to clean out my pantry.  Noticing the boxes of lasagna leftover from Christmas (our main lasagna-eating time) I wanted to use them up but make something different.  This sat in the back of my mind until I was making my shopping list.  I suddenly felt the desire to roll up the lasagna noodles with cheese and spinach.  Lasagna is something I grew up eating, watched my grandma make, and can do from memory.  I decided to go sans recipe and see how it turned out.

Spinach Lasagna Rolls

8 lasagna noodles

8 oz. bag of baby spinach

8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese

8 oz. part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 c. pasta sauce

Lasagna Rolls

Boil lasagna noodles al dente since they will be cooked further in the oven. Rinse under cold water, and let cool to room temperature.  Get the kids involved, as rest of the steps are simple and require no tools.  Cover the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan with a layer of pasta sauce.  Working on a clean, flat surface, spread out each lasagna noodle.  Divide the ricotta cheese among the eight noodles.  Spread the ricotta cheese evenly on the entire noodle. Layer spinach leaves on top of ricotta cheese.  Sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top of spinach.  Holding firm to the end of the noodle, roll each one individually.  Spoon additional sauce onto the tops and sides of each roll.  Cover with foil, and bake for 30 min at 350, until sauce and cheesy are bubbly.  Cool slightly, and serve. Add a tossed salad and your meal is complete!

Lasagna Rolls 2

Now that cold temps and snow have finally arrived, soups, stews, and chili call like sirens from the kitchen.  I’ve shared my turkey chili recipe before, and it’s one that we always enjoy. I typically make a double batch, freeze half for the future, and all’s well.  I came across a different recipe this week that looked delicious, and decided to try it.  My family was surprised when they heard what I was making, “Chicken chili?  Why chicken?”  Yet afterwards, we were all glad I tried something new.

Southwest Chicken Chili

Crockpot cooking offers a great opportunity for kids to help with meal preparation. Especially in a recipe as simple as this one, ingredients are measured, poured, and mixed. Kids can help with every step, and other than using a can opener, there’s nothing sharp or tricky involved.  As always, the beauty of slow cooking becomes evident when you return home from a busy day to find dinner waiting, without the mess of last minute prep.

Creamy Chicken Chili

The biggest difference between this recipe and the one I usually make (other than the chicken) was the addition of the ranch powder and cream cheese.  We make our own ranch powder and keep a jar of it in the refrigerator (using this great recipe), and it worked beautifully.  The only change I made to the chili was to use salsa in place of the diced tomatoes, and I omitted the chili powder as a result.  I used two frozen chicken breasts, and cooked it on low for eight hours.  We ate it with shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some crumbled tortilla chips, and it was delicious.  Really, really good. I will most definitely make this again.

Share your favorite crockpot recipe with our readers, especially ones suitable for kids in the kitchen.  Keep warm! Snow’s on its way.

If you’re frugal like I am, you’re always looking for ways to cut costs on household bills. We want to feed our families good, healthful meals, but organic food can be costly. Starting a garden is a great way to save money, but not everyone has the space. Fortunately, you can grow many vegetables indoors. Better yet, you can regrow them from organic veggies you already bought. Regrowing vegetables is incredibly easy and a wonderful project to undertake with your children.

In this video, I’ll show you some celery, scallions and romaine lettuce I’m regrowing. Here’s how:

  1. Slice off the vegetable base.
  2. Place the base in water in a transparent container where it will get sunlight. Don’t submerge it.
  3. Change the water at least every other day.
  4. After you see significant root growth in about 3-4 weeks, transfer to soil in a pot.

Good luck growing your indoor garden!

Somehow, we always end up with too many over-ripe bananas. In the summer, they’re easy to toss into smoothies, yet this time of year, they pile up. Eventually, I peel and store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, but who needs 100 bananas in the freezer?

I’m a recent Instagram convert (don’t ask what took me so long, but now I love it) and discovered the videos on there.  The time lapse videos, to be exact.  In one minute or less, you can learn how to glam up your eyeshadow, upcycle random household stuff into crafts, and cook.  I scrolled across a video that started with two bananas, and had to learn more. Forty-three seconds later, I was copying down the recipe and excited to try it out.

Banana Oat Muffins

Banana Oat Muffins

These muffins came together so quickly (my daughter did most of it herself) and we had fun deciding what toppings to try out.  We settled on blueberries, chocolate chips, and diced apple.  The recipe yielded 18 muffins rather than the dozen shown in the video, so we made six of each kind.  Since oats are used instead of flour, these muffins can easily be made gluten free by using gluten free oats.  With a short ingredient list and no need for even a butter knife, this recipe can be made entirely by kids.  Leftovers warmed up nicely in the toaster oven, making them perfect for a busy school morning.

Now that I’ve discovered the wonder that is time-lapse cooking, I’m excited to see what is out there.  It’s fascinating to watch new dishes come together right before your eyes, and copying down the ingredients as they flash across the screen offers a fun challenge.  What are your favorite video recipes?  Share with our readers, below.

top-5-fun-activities-of-2016-fromthe-whatever-mom

Happy 2017 Everybody!

As the new year begins I like to take a look back at what worked for us during the previous year. I always wonder if there are any traditions, or fun activities we’d do again. I like to look over the photos we took on our adventures through the year and relive the fun. I also take a look over my blog posts to see where in the Hudson Valley we’ve been and what activities we’ve enjoyed the most.

My kids and I have really enjoyed our travels in the Hudson Valley and beyond. There are so many great places to see and fun things to do in our gorgeous valley. But it can been a challenge to find fun things to do when the weather keeps us inside. Somehow we always find something fun! So I gathered up my top five posts for indoor activities we enjoyed in 2016.

TOP 5 INDOOR ACTIVITIES

SENSORY PLAY– Sensory activities are always a hit for us. We discovered water beads in 2015, but have been playing with them ever since. We keep them stored in a mason jar and the kids have to wash their hands before use. We get quite a few uses out of them before we throw them away and start with a fresh set.
water-bead-scoops

COOKINGDIY Play Dough kind of counts as a cooking activity. There is no stove required, but there is measuring, mixing and pouring involved. All necessary skills for life and in the end the quiet time is so worth the mayhem of cooking with kids.play-dough-boxes2

 

BAKING– this can be stressful with kids because it can get messy and chaotic. Take a little help from the store and buy already made dough. Then the rest of the time the kids can play with the dough and make some fun DIY fossil cookiesdino-prints

 

FAMILY FUN– starting a weekly family game night is a fun way to connect with each other and unwind with some laughs. In February we decided to  Start A Family Game Night. It has been a great way to forget about the stress of the week and a makes a great kick off to the weekend!

family-game-night

 

CRAFTS– of course we always include craft projects. The biggest hit this year was our Paper Hand Puppets. It was such a creative, fun way for the kids to use their imagination. Not only did they create each puppet on their own, but those puppets became characters in their play time.

puppet-friends

These are just a handful of the fun activities we do each week at home. Now that my kids are a little older I am hoping to do some more art themed projects. I hope 2017 brings all of us some new creativity and inspiration.

If you are like me you might like to plan fun visits ahead of time. So, next week I am sharing a review of our top favorite things to do and places to go in the Hudson Valley.

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

 

 

It’s no secret that I love a) my crockpot and b) soup.  Combine a + b and I’m one happy mama.  With the busy holiday season and cold days, coming home to a warm, healthy meal that was prepped in the morning is a gift in and of itself.  I was looking to make something different the other day, and had frozen chicken breasts and a bag of potatoes that I wanted to use.  I couldn’t think of anything offhand, so I did some Googling.  The search resulted in a plethora of options, so I read through them until I found one that looked good.  Hearty potatoes, chicken, carrots and celery, some turkey bacon to add flavor-depth… yum. Thanks to a well-stocked pantry, I was able to make a decent meal without a trip to the store.  This recipe also had a few steps that could easily be assisted by my kids, which is always a bonus.

20161215_091740

Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken Potato Soup

I followed the recipe almost exactly.  (Anyone who knows me just fell over in shock). There wasn’t anything I needed to omit or modify in order to make it gluten-free, which is awesome.  I used turkey bacon, which I had in the freezer but thawed really quickly by running the edge of the package under warm water in order to separate four slices. After these were crisped in a frying pan, I put the remaining ingredients into the crockpot.  I don’t always like crockpot recipes that require pre-cooking some ingredients as that kind of defeats the purpose, but for certain ingredients, like bacon, I get it. The chicken breasts were frozen (not shredded like shown in the recipe photo), but I knew that’d be fine since ultimately it would break up in the liquid.  Most soup recipes cook all day on low, so I was surprised to see this one call for cooking on high.  Since my crockpot is newer and cooks quickly, I was able to cook it for six hours rather than a whole day, and it was fully cooked.  My kids helped peel and slice the potatoes, carrots, and celery, so I count that as cooking with kids.

After about four hours of cooking on high,  I could tell the chicken breasts had softened up.  I gently shredded them with two meat forks, so that they would absorb the broth. After two more hours, the liquid was bubbly.  I tested the potatoes and carrots, which were fork-tender and ready to eat.  In order to give the soup some depth and creaminess, I ran the immersion blender through it just a little.  I made sure to break up the chunks of chicken and some of the vegetables, but left it very chunky. The soup was extremely hot due to being cooked on high, so it required scooping into bowls for a good cooling period before it was ready to serve.  The recipe photo showed shredded cheese on top, but it didn’t appear to need it, so I skipped it.  I could put cheese on most anything, so that says a lot about the flavor of the soup.  With the diced turkey bacon, it had a richness that seemed complete on its own.

This was a big hit.  My husband can be really picky about soup (he prefers dinner on a plate, not in a bowl) but the turkey bacon seemed to sway him into concluding that the soup was enough to be “dinner.”  My kids loved it, as it wasn’t too spicy and contained nothing that needed to be eaten around (like zucchini, whose presence always offends them when it’s in soup).  It made a wonderful amount- plenty for dinner with enough left over for another night.  That’s always a huge bonus, as another dinner that can just be heated and eaten makes me really happy.  I guess it doesn’t take much to win me over.

Overall, A+.  Easy to make without any fussy ingredients, unique soup (no beans or pasta, as so many tend to have), healthy, gluten-free without any substitutions, and one simple enough for the kids to help prep.  I’m looking forward to eating it again tonight.  My husband would like to add that “pork bacon would bring out a whole different flavor.” I don’t eat or cook with pork, though, so he’ll have to make it himself if he’d like to test that out. Share your favorite soup recipes with our readers below, or your feedback on this one. Happy (almost) Holidays!

Another busy time of year is here again.  That hectic time leading up to the holidays that can overwhelm even the most organized, Zen parent.  School parties, work parties, family parties.  Shopping, decorating, wrapping.  Helping the less fortunate by participating in clothing, gift, or food drives.  All of this, on top of the regular daily responsibilities of being a parent and an adult.  About now, I find myself craving ease in the kitchen, as well as something comforting, but healthy.  I have a love affair with my crockpot, as do so many busy parents.  This baby allows me to make dinner in the morning when I’m cozy in my pajamas, and feed my family at night when I’m frazzled and tired from a busy day.

Chicken and Rice Soup

Chicken and Rice ranks among my favorite soups.  My family loves it, it tastes pure and simple, and it’s super-duper easy to make. In fact, it offers yet another opportunity for kids to help with chopping and measuring.  This recipe from crockpot goddess Stephanie O’Dea is an oldie but a goodie, and customizable as your own.  She encourages any vegetable combination that tickles your fancy.  I typically stick to the very traditional chicken soup veggies (carrots and celery) but this time I also had three zucchinis needing to be used, so in they went.  My kids aren’t zucchini fans (unless it’s inside of bread) so they ate around it, but gobbled up the rest.  It made enough for dinner and two days of lunches, which rocked!

20161117_105105

I make a few changes to the recipe.  I skip pureeing the vegetables, leaving them in chunks since we enjoy them as they are.  I cook the rice separately, scoop it into individual bowls before serving, and store leftovers separately, so that the rice doesn’t get mushy.  Rather than cooked chicken, I put in two raw chicken breasts (often frozen) and shred them before serving.  After 8-10 hours of cooking, the chicken is perfectly tender and shreds easily, as I find that precooked chicken gets rubbery.

No matter how you make this simple soup, I can almost promise your family will enjoy it. Naturally gluten-free, filled with your favorite veggies, warm and relaxing, delicious… the list goes on and on!  Give it a go, share your results with our readers, below, and keep warm.  Chicken and rice soup is perfect for a chilly Fall day.  Before you know it, you’ll be baking holiday cookies!

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