The two toned booties

The newest addition to Ella's Toes are these delightful two toned booties, still with the same stay on design! I am having loads of fun finding new fabrics and designs to try out. There are so many options I am usually overwhelmed at the fabric store!

 I have edited the pattern a little, shortening the ankle wrap and adding a medium interfacing in the soles to help keep shape.

Be sure to check back soon as I am toying with the idea of making slippers for us grown up gals. These booties are simply too fun to be just for our little ones!

Hot Coco-Cocoa and Forbidden Rice Pudding

For all you women out there who have found yourself with a baby who is allergic to dairy protein (or anyone with a dairy allergy): This post is for you! Eleanor was sensitive to dairy protein (as far as I could tell) and displayed quite a bright red dotty rash for a month or so until I cut all dairy out of my diet. And so for the last 8 months I have been avoiding all things dairy, and finding lots of substitutes (although I still really miss cheese). One of the dairy-no-nos that I've really missed is hot chocolate. So I set out to make a really good cup of hot cocoa, without the milk. In general, I try to avoid soy since too much can be a bad thing for a woman's body, so that substitute was out. A lot of the other milk substitutes seemed...well...not very creamy. Except for coconut milk....which also blended wonderfully with chocolate! And so Hot Coco-Cocoa was born.

Now, the trick to making a really rich and creamy tasting hot cocoa is using real coconut cream, the thick creamy layer on top of a separated can of real, unsweetened coconut milk. Just a tablespoon or two gives this drink a much fuller flavor. Other than that, I just did a little modifying of the recipe on the side of the Hershey's Cocoa Powder box.

 Here's the recipe with my changes (1 serving):

1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
1-2 Tbsp Hershey's Cocoa (but 2 tablespoons seemed way to chocolatey to me!)
Dash of salt
1 cup "Silk Pure Coconut" (or other coconut milk dairy substitute like "So Delicious Coconut Milk")
1-2 Tbsp coconut cream (depending on your creaminess craving)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the coconut milk, coconut cream, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Heat until steaming. Add marshmallows if desired!

 Forbidden Rice Pudding (or black rice pudding)
Although the name suggests you should never eat it, this pudding is another great dairy free and healthy recipe! Forbidden rice, or black rice, has an interesting history in ancient China as being exclusively for the emperor (and whom he chose to share it with). Check out it's history Here! With more antioxidants per serving than blueberries and an intriguing dark color, it makes a unique and healthy dessert!

Here's the recipe (makes about 8 servings):

1 cup black rice
3 cups water
dash of salt
1/2 cup brown sugar (I think this is a little too sweet, so you might start with less)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 tsp vanilla or to taste

Bring the rice, water, and salt to a boil. Turn to low and simmer covered for 45 minutes. The rice will have absorbed a lot of the water but it will still be somewhat soupy.

Add about 3/4 of the can of coconut milk, the brown sugar, and vanilla, stirring well. Bring back to a boil, then turn to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, uncovered, or until the pudding has thickened to your liking.

The recipe tells you to cool to room temperature before serving but I like it warm! Drizzle individual portions with the remaining coconut milk. Delicious!

Meal Planning

The most time, mind, and energy consuming task in Mommy Life has got to be meal prep. It seems like life is all about providing food for your husband, your babies, your ravenous older kids, and yourself, morning, noon and night, while making sure you eat good food, resist the bad (but oh so delicious) food, and don't go broke buying the food! You spend hours shopping for the food, transporting the food, storing the food, and throwing away the moldy food. So, with all this food business, there is a definite need for a food plan! And before you say, "I don't have TIME to meal plan" let me tell you how I do it and how it definitely saves time and spares you that sickening I-Have-No-Idea-What-To-Make-For-Dinner moment that comes around at 4:15 every day.

If you are going to have a meal plan, you need a way to plan it. Using Google's calendar makes things pretty simple and organized. I came across this idea from Simple Mom's blog. She gives some great ideas and details in her post which you can read here if you want specifics on setting up a Google calendar for meal planning.

So, this is how I plan my meals: 
First I use an online application called springpad (found here), which allows you to "spring" items you find online into personalized folders. I created a Recipes folder into which goes any recipe I find on, or any other website, blog, or recipe site I browse. I also put in recipe titles from my personal collection with helpful information like essential ingredients and where the recipe is located (recipe binder, cookbook title, page number, etc.).  Then, when it comes time to plan my meals, I simply refer to the Recipes folder and pick out the recipes I want to make. Each meal becomes an "event" in my google calendar. I paste the recipe's web address (or location of recipe) into the description box along with any other necessary information. Then I set the meal to repeat every 2 weeks.

Repeating the recipe twice in a month is one of the Simple Mom's suggestions, and it is GREAT advice. This means that you only have to meal plan for two weeks of meals, once a month. Now that doesn't sound too bad, does it? After you are finished with that month, simply continue with the meal plan by selecting the new date for a new meal and just change the title of the event. When you save the event, Google Calendar will ask you if you want to change just that event, all following events, or all events. Select: All Following Events. This will keep your previous weeks of meal plans while changing the following weeks to your new meal plan. If you are feeling really on top of it, go back to the previous month and set the repeat to once a year (Only do this AFTER you have created a new meal plan for the next month or you will have to recreate events for your new meal plan instead of editing the repeats). Then, after a year of meal planning you won't have to do it any more! Assuming you still like the food you were eating a year ago :)

That's It! Meal planning accomplished. But wait...there's more!

This also helps with grocery shopping. Simply go through your meal plan for the next two weeks, comparing the recipes' ingredients to your current inventory of food. List the stuff you need to get and then go shopping for the next two weeks of meals. I have a pretty small family right now, so I can handle two weeks of food in our fridge and extra freezer, but this may not work for larger families and there are definitely some foods that won't last for two weeks. So this isn't a guarantee that you won't have to make a second trip to the grocery store, but the bulk of your shopping will be done!

Tips For Making This Work:
- Remember to defrost and do early prep. A delicious plan for roast chicken with steamed carrots and mashed potatoes doesn't help when your chicken is frozen solid an hour before dinner time. I try to put frozen items into the fridge for tomorrow's dinner while I am making tonight's dinner.
- Don't use too many new recipes. New recipes take extra thought and concentration. You will not want to stick to your plan if 5 nights out of the week you have to learn something new for dinner.
- Consider your schedule. If you have busy Tuesdays, be sure to plan something simple but tasty for Tuesday dinners. If you are having company, make sure your dinners (and/or lunches and breakfasts) are suitable and feasible! On Grocery Shopping Day, plan something that you can make with fresh meat since it will get used right away.
- Stick to the plan. You can rearrange meals but try not to skip them all together. This means that the food you bought will either not get used or you will end up using something you intended for another meal.
- Double the recipe. If you are making something that can be frozen (like soups, pot roasts, or casseroles), double it. Then the next time that meal comes around, all your have to do is defrost and reheat it. It doesn't get much easier than that!