Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Can't Believe It's Almost Been 5 Years

The month of May is fast approaching and it is going to be a busy one in our house. We have two very special birthdays to celebrate this year- our youngest daughter's
1st Birthday and our middle daughter's 5th Birthday. There will be a lot of planning and two big parties- and A LOT of celebrating. While both days are very important, and both will be emotional for different reasons, our middle daughter's will be the most emotional because she almost didn't come home from the hospital when she was born.

Why am I including this on my recipe blog? For several reasons: I will be posting food and planning blogs from these parties; this will also mark the 5th year anniversary of my lactose intolerance since it was the birth of this child that started it; and I think it's important to get know who the person is behind the blog, and this is a big part of who we are.

Samantha's Story:
Samantha was born by planned c-section on May 31st, 2006. It was planned for 2 reasons- it was a repeat since our first daughter was an emergent c-section, and also because Sam was breach and was unable to turn so a VBAC was not an option. She was born 10 days before her due date, and all was supposed to be completely normal and uneventful. We got to the hospital at 5am for an 11am procedure. I remember being so absolutely uncomfortable because of her position- her feet were down and her head was resting on my lungs. Breathing had been an issue for several weeks. The surgery went so smoothly- at least on my end. I didn't feel any pain, I was calm this time (My first c-section was so scary!), and we were even joking with the doctor while he was doing his thing. When they took her out though, our world turned upside down in the matter of a second. She wasn't breathing. She didn't cry. They finally got her to start making small, grunting cries, but I knew something was wrong. When they cleaned up and brought her to me, she was gagging on mucous and struggling to breathe. They whisked her away to the NICU to assess her before I ever got to hold her. I didn't know then I would have to wait two full weeks before I would hold my new daughter.
The doctors had no idea what the problem was- was it merconium aspiration, a hole in her heart, pneumonia?... they tested for everything except what it was- Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn. Click this link for information on PPHN We weren't allowed to hold her, or touch her, or talk to her. Any sort of stimulation at all and she would desat and start having problems. As her mother, they did let me put my hand on her hand very lightly, but I was not to move it. I couldn't talk to her to tell her it would be ok, or that we were there. All we could do was sit next to her silently.

The first time I got to see Samantha after her birth

She was taken to Children's Hospital of the Kings Daughters on June 3rd, and they immediately sent her to MVC in Richmond that same day for the possibility of needing ECMO to help her breathe. It was a very emotional, nightmarish, horrible few days not knowing if our daughter was going to live or die. At CHKD I was told to say goodbye to her in case she didn't survive the trip to Richmond. The nurses told me to kiss her head and tell her that I loved her- that was the hardest thing I have ever had to do so far in my life. That is a feeling I will never forget for the rest of my life.
I will always credit MCV for saving our little girl's life. Somehow, by some miracle, she survived the trip and she avoided ECMO. That night we sat by the phone in our hotel room (we weren't allowed to stay in the NICU that night and I was still recovering from surgery and needed sleep). Every time it rang we panicked, thinking that was THE call. But that call never came. Morning came, we got to the NICU bright and early and there was our baby girl, hooked up to 3 different ventilators, monitors, IV's, but no ECMO machine. We still weren't allowed to touch her or talk to her but we could sit with her. And we did for hours, not talking just sitting. And praying. And crying. I did a lot of crying. After several days, with Sam slowly getting better, my husband and the nurses sent me home with my parents for a good night's sleep. We had been staying at the Ronald MacDonald House and then the Hospitality House, but there hadn't been much sleeping. I was still healing from surgery and the lack of sleep and excessive movement were taking their toll on me. I remember at one point the nurses asking who the woman was in the pictures in Sam's isolet. They were pictures of me, but I was so tired and so worn down emotionally and physically that I no longer resembled myself. That's when they sent me home. Sam had "turned the corner" as they doctor always said we were waiting for, and they were weaning her off the nitric oxide, hoping to turn it off that night. Plus, we had a two year old daughter at home that needed her Mommy too. Thankfully my parents took Cat for us for that time and sheltered her from what was going on as best they could.
David spent the night in the NICU that night, waiting for them to turn off the nitric oxide and texting me a picture of the moment they did it.

Sam's last night on the Nitric Oxide. Her pink bear was holding up the breathing tubes.

I went back the next day, better rested, armed with supplies to get us through- snacks, reading materials, toiletries, comforts from home. We spent another 3 weeks in Richmond with Sam, as she slowly but surely healed and overcame her PPHN.

The first time we got to hold her.

Hello there Samantha!

This could be a much longer story- so much happened in that month that Samantha was in the NICU, but I don't want to write a novel. I will say that the nurses at MCV were angels- everyone that took care of Sam treated her as though she was their own. Everyone was pulling for this little girl to make it and go home. At one point she was the sickest baby in the NICU, since most of the babies in there were preemies who just needed to grow some before they went home. At the end of Sam's stay, one nurse-Lynn- snuck Sam out of the NICU II ( the step down unit) and brought her to the nursing room so Catherine could finally meet her little sister. That was a great moment for our little family.
That was 5 years ago. In that time this little girl has not only overcome and survived PPHN, she has also overcome her mild Cerebral Palsy, which is a direct result of a oxygen deprivation those first couple days of her life.

Sammie at age 2 learning how to walk

Our Sam is now a happy, healthy, (almost) 5 year old, who loves to sing, dance, run, play with her friends, and beat us all at Wii Bowling. Everyday she proves to us that when someone says " Sam will never..." That means Sam definitely WILL!

I have heard that someone made the comment when I was pregnant with our 3rd daughter "Why would anyone have another child after having one like THAT". My answer: Because THAT child is a miracle. THAT child is a blessing, a gift, and a reminder that life is beautiful and fragile. THAT child has a heart full of love and kindness. That's why we had another, because our youngest daughter will have THAT child as a role model and as a big sister. And I am sad for those that will judge Sam based on her mild disability, and never get to know the absolute wonderful person we all know she is going to become.

This year Sam's party is going to be at Build-A-Bear. It's so fitting for her since we've called her "Sammie Bear" since her days in the NICU. She had 3 bears in her isolet- one from Nana and Papa, one from a friend, and one from us. Her big sister also painted watercolor Care Bears pictures to decorate her space in the NICU- one is framed and still stays on her dresser. So a Bear party is perfect. After the kids all get their bears, we will come back to our house for a tea party with the bears. I am still working on the menu for that, but Sam wants cute finger sandwiches, strawberry lemonade, and cake. One made by Mommy, and it has to have flowers on it, or so I've been told.

Our Samantha - always the performer!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bridal Shower Cake

My good friend Carmen is getting married in June (I'm honored to be one of her Bridesmaids), and tomorrow is her much anticipated Bridal Shower. I spent the better part of today making the cake and 2 dozen cupcakes for the event. I thought I would share some of the pictures with you. The cake is made from scratch using this recipe (Minus the frosting) and it's a triple decker cake.

I wish the lighting was a lot better in my dining room- hopefully tomorrow I will be able to get better pictures in the daylight.

One of the 3 trays of cupcakes to go with the cake

I have always wanted to be able to decorate cakes, and this is the most elaborate cake I've done so far. Huge thanks to my Mom for icing the cake with the vanilla icing so I could finish putting together a few extra flowers and the leaves.
And a Huge thanks to my husband for lending a hand with everything today.

Now back to the kitchen to finish up the last of the pepperoni rolls for tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dark Chocolate and Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

Two of my favorite things together are dark chocolate and cherries. One of my kids' and husband's favorite treats is oatmeal cookies. So I thought I should put the two together and get the perfect treat for our family. While the littlest one napped this afternoon my two biggest girls and I did just that! And the results were delicious!

3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup non-dairy margarine softened ( I used Earth Balance)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
3/4 cup dried cherries

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.In a mixing bowl with electric mixer combine sugar, brown sugar, and butter and mix well.

3. Add egg and vanilla extract and continue to mix on medium speed.

4. By hand mix in oatmeal, cherries, and chocolate so that it is mixed well.

5. Loosely form dough into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. I use parchment paper to prevent sticking.

6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly golden.

7. Let cool on sheet for 2-3 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.


2 Quick and Easy Chicken Dinners

Since I haven't posted a recipe or meal idea in a few days, I thought I would give you 2 at once today to make up for it. One thing I always have on hand in my freezer is chicken. I usually have boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs, and a couple of whole chickens as well. There is so much you can do with chicken- bake, grill ( inside or outside), saute, add to pasta, make into salad, put it in a soup... the list is endless. I mentioned before that the past week has been hectic and I needed quick, easy (but HEALTHY) meals for my family. Here are two meals I kind of threw together on two separate nights. Both take very little time and prep, make for minimal cleanup (I'm all for that since "A good cook is a clean cook"- Thanks Mom!) And I used what I had on hand- no extra trips to the store.

#1:Easy Italian Chicken- In our house we love chicken with tomatoes. It's so easy, and the kids love it. (Kid friendly is a must in this house!) It's a basic comfort food for us. And it only takes one pot to make this meal. It does need to simmer until the chicken is cooked through- but once the sauces are added you can put the lid on and let it cook until you are ready to eat.

Serves 4, takes about 3o minutes of active cooking, 1 hour till done- can cook as long as you need it to.

1-2 tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (I buy HarvestLand from BJ's)
Green Pepper- sliced
Onion- sliced
Dried Garlic
Bertolli Olive Oil and Garlic sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can plain sauce (if needed)
Freshly Ground Salt and Pepper to taste

I always wash my chicken first. Meanwhile heat the oil in the pot. Add chicken to the heated oil. Sprinkle with the dried garlic, salt, and pepper.
Let chicken brown on both sides.

While the chicken is browning, I sliced my veggies. For this I kept them bigger so the 4 year old could pick them out- she is not a fan of peppers and onions.

Once the chicken is browned slightly, add the peppers and onions to the pot. Let cook until the onions soften a bit, making sure to move them around and turn the chicken ( so it doesn't burn).

Add your sauces and spices. There are no measurements for the spices because I use my palm to measure, or I just eyeball it. I add about a Tablespoon of each I would guess. You can add more or less to your taste.

Let simmer for about an hour

I served this over Angel Hair pasta- you could use any sort of pasta you have on hand, or rice.

*If you would like you can top with a dairy free cheese like Daiya or Veggie Shreds.

#2: Chicken Garden Saute
Last night we had the girls' music lessons at 5, and I wanted to go for a jog at the same time. We got home at about 6:15. Before I left I put the chicken out to defrost so it would be ready to cook when I got home.
I had this meal in mind all day and couldn't wait to try it- I sauteed chicken with peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach, shredded carrots, and tomatoes. I used chipotle chili powder and smoked paprika as the seasonings to give it a slight smokey flavor. It had just a little bit of spice- not enough to bother the kids.

Total cooking time was about 35 minutes. We got home at 6:15 and I was loading the dishwasher by 7:15.

4 Boneless skinless Chicken Breasts- sliced
1 Green Pepper- sliced
1 Red Onion- halved then sliced
4 baby portabello mushrooms- sliced
Handful or two shredded carrots
2 Roma tomatoes- quartered then sliced
Handful or two fresh baby spinach
1/2 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Tablespoon Chipotle Chili Powder
Shake or two of Garlic Salt (or you can use garlic power to omit the sodium)

Wash chicken (Of course! ) and slice it into whatever size chunks you like.
Spray large saute pan with cooking spray of your choice- make sure it's covered well.
Heat pan, add chicken. At this point I also added the veggies that took a while to cook- the pepper, onion, carrots.

Add the smoked paprika, chili powder, and garlic at this point as well. Cover and let cook for a few minutes on medium heat.
Once the chicken starts to cook through, add the mushrooms. Stir well and cover. Keep the heat on medium.
**I have a flat top electric stove so you may need to adjust your heat settings to accommodate the type of range you have**
When the chicken is completely cooked through, add the tomatoes and cook for another couple minutes, until the tomatoes soften.
Just before you are ready to take the pan off the heat, stir in the spinach. It will cook down very quickly- takes about 2-3 minutes.

I served this with Trader Joe's Quinoa Duo and organic steamed broccoli. The girls cleaned their plates!

It also made great leftovers- I heated it up and used it in a wrap for lunch today.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What I've Been Up To...

I haven't posted a new recipe in a few days because life around here got a little hectic. We had our master bathroom all but completely demolished and redone last week and during that process also had a plumbing repair done in the other bathroom. Picture it- 3 adults (we currently have a friend staying with us) and 3 little ones with ONE SINK in the whole house! And that sink was in my kitchen so cooking large meals was not really something I wanted to do. Luckily that was all taken care of quickly and I am happy to report that all our sinks are again functioning- thank goodness!

This has nothing to do with cooking except that it kept me out of the kitchen, but here's a sneak peak of my bathroom remodel:

Yes this is gross. No matter how much I scrubbed at that mildew it would not stay away. I think it was older than I am!

Much much better! Still need the glass shower door and to paint. But the tile looks Awesome (At least we think so!)

Along with that, we decided to plant a raised bed garden, some potted herbs, and some flowers. We have a huge yard, but so many trees and a lot of shade.
I have grown veggies before in a different house, but at this house the yard has always been a problem. On top of the shade issue, we have moles that are extremely destructive. So to combat them we did a raised bed garden, McWee Style. We were going to just use large container pots but my wonderful hubby got the idea to build a bed on legs. So we did. We'll see if it works, but we're excited to at least try. And we put it in the sunniest spot in the yard.
Here are a few pictures of the process:

Getting Started!

Putting the sides together:

The hubby even let me have a turn with the drill:

All framed up:

The bottom:

I didn't take pictures of the support system underneath but there are 2x4's holding the wire in place.

The finished product:

We planted Strawberries, Red, Orange, and Yellow Peppers ( we'll get green from our CSA), asparagus, cherry tomatoes, crookneck squash, and Beef Eater tomatoes. We'll see what happens!

We also planted some herbs:

Thyme, Cilantro,Dill, Chive

Small Container of Oregano and Rosemary:

My favorite- Basil!

I still need to do a pot with Jalapenos and Banana peppers. And I want to plant some mint as well. But they were out of those at the garden center we went to.

How are we going to water all of this? With a rain barrell of course! We are going to get our barrell this week and I already have the perfect place for it! I'll post those pics when we build it.
We are also composting now too:-)

I can't wait to use some of our homegrown veggies and herbs in my recipes! I have a feeling this is going to be a tastey summer!

So that's some of what has kept me out of the kitchen the past few days. I do have a new super simple chicken recipe I will post ASAP. And lots of new recipes to try and post soon too!

Until then... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Green Monster Smoothie

I have a new friend who has been a very good influence on me in a very short time. There is so much I can and will learn from her and her husband about being eco friendly and more green around our house, and she is helping me get back into jogging. She and her husband have a website you should definitely check out if you are interested in being more eco-friendly ( and really, we all should be, don't you think?)-

During one of our chats she mentioned that I should try this healthy smoothie that is great as a snack or a recovery drink after a workout. It's called the Green Monster Smoothie. I have to admit, I was a bit skepitcal at first. It has spinach and peanut butter in it- not two food items I would ever think to combine! But I thought I would give it a try, and it's easily becoming part of my daily meal routine.

You'll need:
A handful of organic spinach
1 Tablespoon peanut butter
1 Tablespoon Flaxseed Meal
1/2 cup vanilla soy (or almond) milk
1 Banana
A handful of ice

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Like Steph says, it's not an exact science. She adds more peanut butter if she adds a lot of spinach, I cut down on the peanut butter and add more soymilk.

I shared this morning's smoothie with my oldest daughter- she loved it!

After my workouts I will add some dairy free soy protein powder to make it more of a recovery drink.

You'll see in my picture that I used my food processor- that is because I no longer own a blender. I used to own 2, but one broke and the other got lost in a move. I think it's time to get a new one:-)

This recipe came from Stephanie Shaw at
She got it from Check out this woman's site for more Green Monster Smoothie recipes!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

From My Kids to Yours...

**This isn't a recipe- just passing on a cute idea for a fun kids' lunch treat**

Last night my husband and I had to run by Trader Joe's for a few things and I picked up some of their fruity flakes snacks for the kids as a treat. While at the check out the super nice cashier (they are always so very pleasant and helpful there- I love it!) told us that for a treat for his grand kids he uses the fruity flakes snacks in peanut butter sandwiches instead of jelly. I thought that was such a cute idea for the kids so I just had to try it. And of course my girls loved it and told me I had to post this on the blog. So this is for all the Mommies of kids who love Peanut Butter Sandwiches:-)

From my kids to yours...

All you need is:

Apple Raspberry Fruity Flakes, Natures Own Whole Wheat (or Honey Wheat) bread, your favorite peanut butter, and I added flax seed meal too.

And all you do is:
If using flax seed meal mix it into the peanut butter in a separate dish.

Make a basic peanut butter sandwich and line the fruity flakes on top of the peanut butter.

I served it with banana spears.

It's simple but something different for them on a rainy day. This won't be an everyday meal, of course, but it makes for a nice treat once in a while.

If you make it for your little ones, let me know what they think!

Happy cooking!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quick and Easy Dinner for Two

Dinner tonight was supposed to be Brinner (Breakfast for dinner) but there was an unexpected change of plans. We are redoing one of our bathrooms and we had to run out to buy a few things for the remodel that are needed tomorrow. So instead of brinner, we fed the girls and ran out to do our shopping. On the way home we had to stop by Trader Joe's for a few things and decided to pick up something for dinner. But since it's Friday during Lent that means no meat. So no meat, no dairy- hmmm... So we decided on portobello burgers and wraps. Burger for the hubby, wrap for me. We had some Trader Joe's roasted potatoes as side. Whole meal took about 30 minutes to make.

2 Portobello mushroom caps ( Or more if you are making for more than two)
Balsamic vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Wipe the top of the mushrooms with a wet paper towel. Scrape the gills off as well- they can be bitter.
Place mushrooms in baking dish. Sprinkle Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar over the mushrooms- make sure you flip the mushrooms and get the bottoms too.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake uncovered for about 15 minutes or until softened.

I made My Hubby a burger with lettuce, tomato, spicy peppers, and BBQ sauce.

I made myself a wrap with lettuce, spinach, tomato, and mayo mixed with Nando's Hot Peri Peri sauce.

So good, so easy, and perfect for a busy night!