Summer on the Horizon

With just one week left until my work obligations cease and desist, at least until August, the excitement of summer is definitely on the horizon. If the little moments of happiness sprinkled in on the weekends and after school can predict the future, then the boys and I have a great summer in store for us. Today marks Liam’s last day of kindergarten. I still cannot believe how much he’s grown academically, socially, and not to mention physically. But today instead of looking backwards, I am looking forwards to the simplicities that come with the summer.

ADIOS ALARMS…

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One of the simple pleasures of summer is bidding adieu to setting an alarm clock. Granted my children are both set with internal alarms that often have them rising before the sunrise most days however I look forward to letting their internal clocks set the tone for our days rather than a blaring alarm.

SNOW CONES! YES, PLEASE.

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Houston summers are hot and humid no matter how early in the morning you rise to avoid the heat. Hydration and sunscreen are both key to a safe summer of fun in the sun. What better way to cool off than with an ice cold, refreshing treat like a snow cone. Our favorite local spot is Bahama Bucks. They have a great rewards program to help you earn free snow cones and the boys absolutely love this indulgence. This Mama Bear is pretty keen on them too, especially their Birthday Cake flavor with sprinkles.

QUALITY TIME

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During the school year, authentic quality time is often limited to the weekends when free time is readily at our disposal. Summer, on the other hand, offers bountiful opportunities for time well spent together. Unfortunately Sean’s schedule doesn’t ease up in the summer, but we’ll try to weave in some spontaneous moments together when we can.

SPLASH PADS

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In the Texas heat, water, in any form, is your greatest chance of beating the heat. In our neighborhood a wealth of splash pads offer some solace from the heat in a fun and extremely kid friendly way. There will be lots of splash pad play dates this summer. I’ll be one of the many Mama Bears splashing alongside my children as a refuge from the grueling heat wave that sweeps across our Texas summers.

SUMMER SILLINESS

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Summer is the perfect time for silliness in all its forms- silly smiles, sounds, traditions, etc. This morning we kicked off the almost official first day of summer vacation with an impromptu breakfast at Shipley’s Donuts to commemorate National Donut Day. Cake sprinkles, chocolate icing, and free donuts had my little Golden Bear offering up his best silly smile.

For those of you also lucky enough to have a summer break, may your days be filled with sunshine, smiles, and snow cones. Bask in the little moments and enjoy the slower pace of summer with your water babies!

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A Comfort Food Concoction

Most Saturday mornings, the boys and I venture out to our neighborhood H-E-B for my weekly grocery run. Oftentimes, Liam is still in his pajamas and the boys enjoy breakfast in the shopping cart as I peruse the aisles stocking up on the essentials and the more wildcard items that end up on my weekend menu. The two of them indulge in fresh donuts with sprinkles or flaky blueberry muffins sprinkled with sugar. The trip probably takes longer than it should as I pause at almost every aisle to break off a piece of the muffin and hand it to Atticus. There are a lot of, “Oooo’s and mmmmm’s!” Two of Atticus’s most favorite phrases when enjoying good food. The easy exchange and back and forth banter between the three of us, makes the weekly grocery trip something I look forward to. The ease and simplicity of it makes grocery shopping seem like anything but a chore.

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This particular weekend, I was inspired by a sale on sausage at H-E-B. At two for $5, I added a pound of Italian and sage sausage to my cart. As I continued to shop, I happened upon their frozen Central Market demi baguettes. I usually like to keep these on hand for when I need them in a pinch to accompany a fresh pasta dish or pot of soup. This weekend, however, they became the brainchild for dinner. I consulted Pinterest for some ideas and found the perfect recipe for all of the ingredients I had on hand. With the help of yellowblissroad.com, I adapted the homemade Italian sausage meatballs to create a comfort food concoction that proved to be an ideal marriage of savory, spicy, and flavorful in each and every bite.

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So without further ado, I present to you marina meatball subs paired with Italian roasted potatoes. Buon appetito!

MEATBALL SUBS

Ingredients:

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  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 Italian style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a skillet on medium high heat, sauté the onions until translucent. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Set aside and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan cheese, and onions. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as you mix all of the ingredients together. Be mindful that over mixing can lead to tough meatballs.

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Divide the meat mixture into 24 equal sized meatballs and place on the foil lined baking sheet.

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Bake for about 20 minutes. A good indicator that they are ready is when they no longer look pink.

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I made these on a Sunday afternoon and then added them to a pot with jarred tomato and basil to reheat them for dinner. I used demi baguettes as the base for my meatballs subs, but ciabatta bread would also be a great option. Spoon the meatballs and sauce onto your bread and top with grated mozzarella cheese.

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ITALIAN ROASTED POTATOES

Baby potatoes would be better suited for this dish, but I already had fresh Russet potatoes on hand so I opted for those instead. I sliced them all about the same size so that they would could more evenly. If you used baby potatoes, it would be best to cut them in half. This recipe was adapted from rasamalaysia.com. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound potatoes, cut evenly
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 to 3 dashes of paprika depending on your preference for heat
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean and rinse the potatoes before cutting.

In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes begin to get crispy. Continue stirring to allow them to brown. Push the potatoes to one side and sauté the garlic. Then add the Italian seasoning, salt, and paprika. Combine well. Turn off the burner and sprinkle the grated cheese atop the potatoes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the butter cubes to the top of the dish upon removal from the oven and allow the butter to melt into the crevices. Serve immediately for the best flavor outcome!

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A League of Their Own

Last week while we were in Las Vegas, my parents left fresh Brussel sprouts and asparagus in our fridge. After a four day weekend away, this week was perpetually a game of catch up. Every day when I opened the bottom shelf for blueberries for the boys, these fresh veggies looked up at me wondering the fate of their existence. This morning after my weekly run to the grocery store, I knew I needed to do something with these vegetables before they spoiled.

Roasted vegetables have been a go to of mine for quite some time. They can be great with scrambled eggs and cheese tucked into a tortilla for a great soft taco option. They are a wonderful side paired with macaroni and pork chops. Paired or as a stand alone, roasted vegetables rarely disappoint.

Traditionally I use olive oil and sea salt when I roast veggies. With fresh bacon from my grocery run, I decided to shake things up and let the veggies swim in the natural salt and fat of thick cut bacon. The end result was a cacophony of flavors that lingered on the tongue long after the last bite. Rest assured, roasting your vegetables with bacon puts them in a flavor league all of their own!

Let me just say the simplicity of this dish makes it an easy midday meal with minimal effort. It would be delicious with sweet or Russet potatoes, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini too. Follow the same method regardless of the vegetables you have on hand. The more the merrier especially when it comes to color and texture. The most important thing is chopping everything to about the same size so that it cooks evenly in the oven.

INGREDIENTS

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  • Brussel sprouts, stems cut & halved
  • carrots, peeled & halved
  • 1 medium sweet onion, peeled & sliced
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, ends cut
  • 1 garlic, whole
  • 4 slices of thick cut bacon
  • sea salt

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a cookie sheet, place the bacon evenly on the bottom and then layer with chopped vegetables. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

Cook for 15 minutes. Then toss the vegetables and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Tossing the vegetables ensures that the veggies cook evenly. Allow the vegetables to brown and crisp slightly before removing them. Oftentimes after 30 minutes in the oven, I simply turn the oven off and leave the vegetables in a little longer to reach the perfect level of browned edges.

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Serve over basmati rice and enjoy!

WEEKLY MEAL PREP

Use the leftover rice and vegetables for quick and fuss free lunches. My leftovers are prepped and stored in Tupperware for the week.

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Souper Bowl Sunday

An important part of healthy eating is meal prep. Having healthy options readily at your disposal to avoid reaching for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s or the bag of nacho cheese Doritos. It requires forward planning and fresh, quality ingredients, but with a little practice it can evolve into a healthy habit.

Since our ten day green smoothie cleanse, I started making a pot of homemade soup every Sunday afternoon. The prep side of things is undoubtedly the most labor intensive part of cooking. Let’s be honest, peeling, chopping, mincing, and dicing takes time. But fresh ingredients are key to any delicious soup. To save time and be more efficient, canned and frozen vegetables can also take some of the work out of meal prep. Today’s soup, however, required a lot of knife handling as all of the vegetable ingredients were fresh.

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The greater Houston area has experienced an unseasonably cold winter, which has created the ideal type of weather for savory soups and crusty breads. Yesterday afternoon a cold front blew in that dropped today’s temperatures into the high 30s; weather conditions perfectly suited to make today a souper bowl Sunday.

So without further ado, I give you one of my all time favorite soups, chicken coconut curry. Enjoy this soup over jasmine rice and top with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce. It could very easily be made vegetarian by substituting the chicken for tofu and swapping the chicken broth for vegetable broth.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium white potatoes, halved and chopped
  • 3 to 4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 1 1/2 cartons of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cans of coconut milk (I typically use lite)
  • 4 to 5 tbsp of red curry paste (Adjust to your liking)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS:

In a large soup pot on medium low heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil for ten minutes until softened. Add the garlic and sauté the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Next add the carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, chicken broth, and curry paste. Allow to simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours until the potatoes and carrots are soft.

Because I usually make my soup while Atticus is napping, I turned off the heat and let the soup rest until about 45 minutes before I was ready to serve dinner. I added the chicken, coconut milk, lime juice, and cilantro and turned the heat back on to low to medium low. It truly depends on your range setting. The goal at this point is to allow all of the ingredients to simmer but never allow the coconut milk to boil. You’ll have to monitor it to determine the best setting on your stove.

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Serve over jasmine rice and enjoy. This soup hits all of the key flavor notes, spicy with the curry, sweet with the coconut milk, and the vegetables all compliment each other perfectly. Cilantro always adds that extra level of flavor too. This soup reheats well making it an ideal option for lunch during the week and at least one leftover meal for dinner during the week. It’s exotic flavors offer a great change of pace to more traditional soups like chicken noodle. Even Liam gave it his seal of approval- a smile and an empty bowl.

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Some of the other highlights of our weekend included Liam wrapping up his first basketball season with his final game on Saturday, Sunday morning shenanigans before breakfast, and catching up with family over ridiculously amazing fried chicken donut sandwiches. All in all, it was a great weekend!

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Good morning, Sunshine!

Mornings aren’t for everyone, but I’ve always embraced them wholeheartedly. Before children, I was up before the sunrise and out the door logging in my daily miles. Since children, I’m up bright and early with the boys toting them to school during the week or playing with the boys pushing cars or trains around in the early morning hours on the weekend.

There is nothing better than starting the day with a cup of coffee and a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise. Mornings are a fresh start to a new day, and the morning sunshine offers us an opportunity at a brand new beginning. A critical part of every morning routine should include breakfast. Something hearty, wholesome, fresh, and delicious. During the week when I’m pressed for time, it takes a little more thought and preparation, but starting my day off with a healthy breakfast makes all the difference in the world.

Below are three ideal go-to recipes you can easily pre-make and pre-pack for easy, on-the-go breakfast options. Only one of the recipes requires an oven and two can be prepped and stored for an entire week of ways to break fast!

MASON JAR GRAB & GO CEREAL

For my vegans and vegetarians, this first recipe is the easiest to prep and enjoy. I originally discovered it from a cycling friend of mine who recommended the book, The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn. This former professional triathlete and firefighter based in Austin developed a vegan diet specifically designed for endurance athletes. Naturally it was a read that was right up my alley. I’ve modified the recipe slightly but the hearty oats and other grain cereals make this breakfast an ideal way to get a wholesome breakfast that staves off hunger easily until lunch.

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Ingredients:

  • Almond milk
  • 1/4 c old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 c whole wheat shredded wheat
  • 1/4 c Uncle Sam’s cereal
  • 1/4 c grape-nuts
  • 1 tbs sliced almonds
  • fresh fruit

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In a mason jar, add all of the dry ingredients and store in the pantry until the morning of. On your way out the door, top with fresh fruit and milk. Cover with a lid, and you’re ready to jet out the door.

Some of my favorites fruit options include blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, and sliced bananas. Unsweetened or light vanilla almond milk are a great way to add a little sweetness to your cereal. Soy or cow’s milk are also great substitutes.

Allow the cereal to soak for a few minutes so the oats and shredded wheat can soften slightly. Enjoy the wholesome yumminess!

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Green smoothies are another great grab and go breakfast that are also vegetarian friendly. Nothing is easier to consume on your commute to work, and you get a great jumpstart on your daily fruit and vegetable intake.

GOOD MORNING GREEN SMOOTHIE

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Ingredients:

  • 3 handfuls of greens
  • 2 c water
  • 1 apple, cored & quartered
  • 1 handful of grapes
  • 1 c frozen strawberries
  • 1 c frozen mango
  • 2 tbs ground flaxseed
  • 2 packets stevia

In a blender pitcher, add the water and greens and cover and store in the fridge overnight. Core and cut the apple and place the apple and grapes in a Ziploc bag. Store in the fridge overnight. Measure the frozen strawberries and mangoes, and store in a Ziploc in the freezer overnight. Plug in the base of the blender and have it ready to go for tomorrow’s smoothie too. Pre-measure the ground flaxseed, and store in an airtight container next to the blender for easy access. Also leave the two packets of stevia out so you don’t have to do much more than throw everything in, blend, and pour.

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The morning of, blend the water and greens until juiced. Spinach, kale, spring mix, or a blend all work well. Next add the apples and grapes and liquify. Add half of the frozen fruit, blend, and then repeat with the remaining frozen items. Add the flaxseed and stevia and mix until well blended. Pour, sip, and enjoy!

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ANYTIME BREAKFAST CASSEROLE

This recipe is a Mama Bear exclusive developed with minimal effort thanks to always having key kitchen staples on hand. It would also be delicious with sautéed mushrooms and grated cheese. This one does require more cooking and prep than the other too, but it provides ample leftovers that can also double as leftovers to enjoy as a midweek lunch option or on a busy weeknight for dinner.

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Ingredients:

  • 5 slices of bread, cubed
  • 16 oz ground sausage
  • 3/4 sweet onion, sliced
  • 3 to 4 large handfuls of spinach
  • 1 fire roasted red pepper, jarred and diced
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish by lightly spraying it with cooking spray. Cube the bread and layer across the Pyrex evenly. I typically use some kind of a grainy bread like 12 grain or wheatberry. The sky’s the limit though, so use what you love or what you already have on hand.

In a bowl, add the eggs and milk and whisk until well blended. Pour over the bread and allow to soak while you prepare the other ingredients.

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In a skillet on medium high heat, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the ground sausage and cook until brown. Slowly add the spinach (about a handful at at time) and mix continuously until wilted. Add the red bell pepper and stir until everything is evenly distributed. Pour into a colander to drain. Then drop the sausage mixture evenly over the bread and eggs.

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Bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes until the eggs are fluffy and cooked through. Cut evenly and store in Tupperware containers in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave for an instant breakfast packed with color and protein.

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I hope these easy breakfast recipes make your mornings beautiful and delicious. They might even inspire you so much that your belting out, “It’s a beautiful morning!” as you head off to work to take on your day. Arguably breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You don’t have any excuses after reading this blog post to skip out and slight yourself!