A Squared

Monday, July 25, 2016

Month Three of Motherhood: My 10 Favorite Items

It's hard to believe that it's here already, but Hannah is 3 months old (!!!) and I'm back at work (:-/). It's been an adjustment to say the least, but Hannah is at our home all day with a sweet nanny and another baby girl from the neighborhood so it's about the best any new mom can hope for from a childcare situation-- short of winning the lottery and being able to stay home and work when and where I please.

It's also hard to believe how much she's changed in just 13 weeks of life. [Most nights] she sleeps like a champ, she smiles and giggles and "talks" up a storm, and she recognizes Alex and me (and now Clery too), which has been so fun for us. With these big changes in Hannah and in our day-to-day routines, I thought it was about time to check in and share some of my favorite products with you again. I got great feedback from you guys on my favorite newborn and new mom items previously, so today I'm sharing 10 of the things I have found to be the most useful as the new mom of a 3-month old.





SkipHop PlaySpots Foam Floor Tiles - We spend a lot of time on the floor these days. Hannah loves kicking around and is coming to terms with the necessary evil that is tummy time. These tiles are perfect for making our hardwood floors baby-friendly and this parent-friendly color scheme and pattern is such an upgrade from the brightly colored alphabet tiles you'll typically find.
Little Remedies Little Tummys Gas Relief Drops - We are really lucky that Hannah is a generally good baby-- and good sleeper. That all changes when this poor thing has gas though. She can cry for hours trying to relieve her bloated little tummy. TMI, I know, but these gas drops are a lifesaver! They seem to calm her almost immediately. Every new parent should have a bottle in their medicine cabinet.
My Baby by Homedics SoundSpa On-the-Go - We took Hannah to my parents' place in Michigan over the 4th of July holiday and it was her first overnight away from home. The first few nights were tough, but having this little travel noise machine with us was super helpful in drowning out the noise of the busy house and making bedtime feel a little more familiar.
Melissa & Doug Soft Books - Hannah is finally taking interest in toys so I have picked up a few new ones for her recently. These soft books are a new favorite in our house. She loves the different noises and textures and these Melissa & Doug books are especially great because they have words and short stories that she'll actually pay attention to when we read them to her. 
Dr. Brown's Bottles - Now that Hannah is with a nanny during the days, she's taking bottles for a good chunk of the day. We have tried a few but these are by far the best. They are specially designed to help control how quickly she drinks (which helps with the aforementioned gas and with spit up) and these little 4-oz. guys are the perfect size for her right now.
Burt's Bees Baby Shortalls 2-Pack - I proclaimed my love for Burt's Bees Baby organic cotton products in one of my previous baby roundup posts and I still love them. These little rompers are perfect for summer play-- casual, soft, and breathable.
Bamboobies - At my baby shower, I received a few boxes of disposable nursing pads so I figured I was set for the long haul. Wrong! Especially in those first weeks, you will blow through those boxes in no time. And that gets wasteful and expensive quickly. These soft bamboo pads are washable and reusable (better for the environment and your wallet), plus they look smoother under a shirt too. Tip: Use the disposable pads for the first few weeks until you get used to nursing as the bamboo fabric sticks to chapped skin. Once your body gets acclimated to nursing, start using the Bamboobies and don't look back.
Fisher-Price Deluxe Auto Rock & Play - I already sang the praises of the Rock & Play in my last product roundup, but after those rough few nights away from home that I mentioned I am giving this product more kudos. Hannah's restless first few days in the Pack and Play had me ready to pack up and head home early. In a desperate attempt to keep us (or really, Hannah) there my parents generously bought the deluxe Rock & Play (which can rock on its own and includes a white noise feature) for their house. And she slept for a five hour stretch that night... Seriously, it was a miracle.
aden by aden + anais swaddle blankets - These swaddle blankets are so great for summer babies. The bamboo muslin material is super soft and lightweight, so they're still comfortable but also not sweltering when you're wrapping up a baby on a 90+ degree day. I especially like this set because the neutral color scheme makes it a perfect gift for any baby!
Medela Quick-Clean Mirco-Steam Sterilizing Bags - One of these bags came with my breast pump set, but I have quickly come to rely on them for more than just sterilizing my pump parts. These bags are great for sterilizing bottles and pacifiers and are a real life saver when traveling. Just wash the items, pop them in the bag with some water, and microwave for a few minutes. It's really easy and super convenient if you're at a hotel, grandma's house, or even for moms (like me) who have to pump at the office.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Cinnamon Peanut Butter Snack Bars + A Degustabox GIVEAWAY

I love discovering new products for foodies-- and I especially love when I have the opportunity to try a bunch of new to me foods at one time. And with a monthly delivery from Degustabox, you can too!

via

Degustabox is a subscription service aimed at introducing its subscribers to new and diverse food products every month. It only costs $19.99/month (including shipping) and each box arrives with 10-15 products typically worth over well over the $19.99 subscription fee. So not only is it a fun concept and a great way to discover new foods, it's also a really good value. They're based in Barcelona and have already been delighting subscribers every month in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the UK. They just launched in the United States in June and I had the privilege of receiving my very own Degustabox!

I love receiving surprises in my mailbox, so I was really pumped to open my Degustabox when it arrived. It just came a few days ago, so I haven't been able to sample every product yet but there's some really good stuff here! Included in this month's box:
  • Topo Chico Mineral Water in Original and Twisted Lime flavors - Perfect for enjoying on a sunny afternoon on my deck.
  • Haribo USA Sour Gold Bears - Alex claimed these for himself as soon as he saw them. I managed to sneak one before he finished them off. They're nice and tart without that awful blistering-your-tongue feeling you get from other sour gummy candies.
  • Wise Popcorn in Sea Salt and Cinnabon flavors
  • Briannas Italian Vinaigrette
  • Jif Cinnamon flavored peanut butter spread - scroll down for a yummy recipe using this product!
  • Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Sauce & Marinade - I used this sauce to make a super easy and delicious dinner. Add half a bottle of Veri Veri Teriyaki and a 1-lb. pork tenderloin to your slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. Serve with additional sauce (to taste) and sauteed veggies (I used snow peas and bell peppers) over rice. So so good!
  • Orchard Valley Roasted Salted Cashews and Cranberry Almond Cashew Trail Mix
  • Vita Coco Coconut Oil - scroll down for a yummy recipe using this product!
  • HONEES Honey Cough Drops
  • Elmhurst Harvest Real Walnut Milk - Some boxes will receive pistachio or almond milk instead.

A pretty nice haul, right? There are a lot of box subscription services out there these days, but this is definitely one of the most fun if you're a food lover like me. So If you'd like to give Degustabox a try for yourself, you're in luck because I have TWO exciting deals to share with you! The first is a GIVEAWAY! Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win one free Degustabox. And if you're interested in signing up for a subscription, use code URA6M when you sign up to receive 50% off the first box in your membership-- that's just $9.99 instead of the standard $19.99!

a Rafflecopter giveaway






And for a little taste of how I've used some of the ingredients included in my Degustabox, I'm sharing a recipe with you today too! These cinnamon peanut butter snack bars are a little healthier than cookies, but definitely more decadent than a granola bar so they're perfect for enjoying as a snack at any time of the day. I froze a few so that I can pack them up and take them to work with me.


These bars aren't super sugary (which is exactly what I was going for), but get great flavor and a touch of sweetness from a combination of Jif Cinnamon peanut butter spread, brown sugar, and honey. They're chewy, filling, and actually pack some whole grains with the additions of old fashioned oats and whole wheat flour to the dry ingredients. And one of my favorite tricks for upping the healthy factor in a baked good (without ruining it) is to swap out half the butter for coconut oil. It doesn't add any coconut flavor, but still adds that richness you want from butter along with tons of health benefits.


The end result is a dense and chewy bar with a sweet and nutty cinnamon peanut butter flavor studded with a few mini chocolate chips because-- let's face it-- chocolate makes everything better!


Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup Vita Coco coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup Jif Cinnamon peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour (or use cooking spray made for baking-- it has flour in it) a 9 in. x 13 in. baking dish.

Place butter and coconut oil in a large glass mixing bowl and microwave on medium low until completely melted. Add peanut butter, brown sugar and honey to the melted butter and coconut oil while still warm and stir well until smooth and fully combined. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

In a separate medium mixing bowl, whisk together flours, oats, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Once the peanut butter mixture has cooled, beat in the eggs and vanilla until fully incorporate. Add the dry mixture in gradually (I find that adding it in 3 or 4 parts works well), mixing until combined before adding more of the dry ingredients. A very smooth almost dough-like batter will be formed. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter to the prepared baking dish and use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly. Bake until golden and just brown around the edges, about 25-28 minutes. You'll want to insert a toothpick to test the center.

Remove from the oven and let the bars cool slightly. Carefully invert onto a metal rack and allow to cool completely. Slice into squares and serve.



Editor's Note: A complimentary Degustabox was provided to me in order to faciliate this post. As always, all opinions expressed herein are my own.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Farro & Beet Salad with Sage Pesto

In a week I am officially re-entering the workforce. And I have some seriously mixed feelings about. While I'm really looking forward to a return to routine, adult conversation, and a reason to blow dry my hair, it still feels a little too soon. In the beginning, 12 weeks sounded like an eternity-- and to be fair, it's more than several of my girlfriends have been able to take off with their newborns. But now that we are almost there, I still feel like we're winging this whole scheduling thing and that my baby girl could still use a just a few more weeks with me to iron it all out. Here's hoping that our nanny can work her magic and get this baby on a schedule that does not include a bunch of mini naps followed by one long one that last through dinnertime. We take what we can get, am I right?


Anyway... I'm also looking forward to getting myself back on an appropriate eating regimen again. I really thrive on organization and schedules-- mentally, physically, and emotionally-- so being at home all day at the mercy of my baby's schedule and my pantry at my disposal has not done me any favors when it comes to fitting back into my pre-baby clothes. So, I decided to give myself a little headstart this week and made a huge batch of farro and turned it into a healthy and filling salad that was ready for me to eat all week long.


Farro is a wholesome whole grain that I absolutely love cooking with (check out my other farro recipes here). It's a great basis for a salad and it's nutty flavor works really nicely with the toasted walnuts and hearty beets in this salad. And beets and goat cheese are a tried and true flavor combination, so the addition of goat cheese here was a no brainer. The really unique flavor factor in this salad is the dressing. I used a little vinegar and fresh lemon juice to thin out some homemade sage and walnut pesto for a bright and herbaceous kick of flavor in this salad. Homemade pesto is super easy to make, freezes well, and is a great way to use up your fresh herbs at the end of the growing season. I also like to add some greens to the mix, which bulk up the salad and make it even healthier and heartier. In this salad, I like an arugula and spinach mix because it adds just the right amount of peppery flavor.


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked farro
  • 3 cups arugula & baby spinach mix
  • 1 cup cooked beets, cut into 1/2-inch dice *I like these Melissa's Steamed Baby Beets. They're available in my grocer's produce department and ready to eat, so all you have to do is dice them up.
  • 3/4 cup walnut halves & pieces, toasted
  • 1/4 cup prepared sage & walnut pesto *See my recipe here
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

Add farro, arugula & spinach, beets and walnuts to a large bowl. Toss gently to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together pesto, lemon juice, and vinegar. Pour over the farro mixture and stir to fully incorporate.

Top with crumbled goat cheese and enjoy.





Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Shortcut Mexican Chicken Rice Bowls

I don't know about you, but after a long holiday weekend even a short week feels a little overwhelming. That feeling is definitely the sign of a good weekend with a focus on fun, family, and friends and less on chores, errands, and whatever else you do to prepare for the start of the work week. During weeks like this my dinner focus is definitely on meals that are quick and easy to prepare-- and a few shortcuts don't hurt either!


These Mexican chicken rice bowls are an easy and delicious weeknight dinner that comes together quickly with the help of a few shortcut ingredients. I'm not typically a fan of pre-made taco seasonings and sauces, but chef Rick Bayless's Frontera brand is a different story. These sauce pouches are full of real Mexican-inspired flavor and make dinner a breeze. I love the bold roasted tomato flavor of the New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce paired with chicken and a combination of sweet and spicy peppers. The second shortcut here is Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Brown Ready Rice, which is one of the easiest ways to get a whole grain on your plate. Top with your favorite taco toppings-- I added a bit of shredded cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, and avocado-- and you've got dinner!

Ingredients:
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil, divided
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 package Frontera New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce 
  • 2 cups prepared brown rice *I used Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Brown Ready Rice
  • 1/3 cup shredded Mexican cheese
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved 
  • 1/2 avocado, mashed 
  • 2 Tbs. sour cream

Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and pepper slices and saute for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the vegetables are softened and begin to brown, remove  from the pan.

Add the rest of the oil to the hot pan, swirl, and add the chicken. Cook the chicken, stirring occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, about 5-6 minutes. 

Reduce heat to medium low. Add the cooked onions, peppers, and the Frontera New Mexico Taco Skillet Sauce to the chicken and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to warm for another three minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare the bowls by adding hot brown rice to two shallow bowls. Top with chicken and pepper mixture*. Divide the cheese, tomatoes, avocado, and sour cream over the top of each bowl and serve.

*There will be enough chicken and peppers here for an additional 1 or 2 bowls.

 
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