Fully Loaded Veggie and Chicken Hotdish

Gah, I am in love with my maternity leave! Every morning, around 7:15, I am woken up by JR and Max very loudly demanding breakfast or that I hold them.  They roll around in our bed, driving Matt insane (as he wants to keep sleeping). Many times, I am nursing Ellie so I lay in bed feeding her while Matt makes the boys oatmeal.  Eventually, we make our way out of bed. We slowly get ready for the day.  I wash my face, brush my teeth, put in contacts.  There is no rush. We have no deadlines.

Eloise and I spend our mornings checking emails, listening to podcasts, drinking coffee, watching the boys play.  Our afternoons are spent grocery shopping, taking short walks, running errands. And of course, lots and lots of nursing, burping, changing diapers, cleaning off spit up.

Some days are more stressful than others.  Taking care of a newborn and two toddlers is not always easy.  Max and JR are still learning the nuances of sharing.  Maxwell still nurses at night (but he would love to nurse all day). But without having work on my plate and knowing that my workless days will come to an end, the toddler tantrums are easier to stomach. After all, I get to spend my days with my children.  These little people I created with the person I love the most.  These little people who love me so much.  These little people who have so assignments or deadlines for me to accomplish anything.

And each afternoon, instead of fretting on whether I have had a productive morning full of billable hours, I get to start planning what home cooked meal I’ll be making my family that night.  Gone are the days of planning a meal around the fact that I get home from work at 7:00 p.m. No recipe is off limits.  If our pantry is missing an ingredient, I can go to the grocery store.  If the recipe takes several hours, that’s ok.  I can start cooking early.

The slow, mostly relaxing days bring me so much comfort.

Minnesotans express love with warm casseroles we call hot dishes.  So this meal reminds me of family.  It is full of hearty veggies and cheese that remind you of a dinner you ate sitting at your grandmother’s kitchen table with your siblings. Or a meal you’d share with friends in the church basement at a pot luck.

Typically hot dishes call for canned soups, which are full of salt and aren’t that healthy.  But this hot dish subs the typical cream of mushroom condensed soup for Greek yogurt, eggs, and milk.  Honestly, you can’t taste the difference but your waist line will.  All over, this is a great hot dish.

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Avocado Chicken Salad

When I am pregnant, I never get too worried about my weight gain.  I don’t eat too terribly.  I don’t eat as if I am eating for two.  I work out 5 days a week.  I try to stay active.  Each time, I gained 45 pounds.  Sure, this technically is more than what is recommended (35 lbs is the top) but I see no reason to lose sleep over the weight gain.  I feel healthy.

Of course, now starts the hard part: losing the baby weight.  For me, the first 15 lbs drops off right after the baby is born.  Another 10 falls away shortly thereafter thanks to breastfeeding.  But those last 20 lbs don’t leave without a fight.  And honestly, after JR’s and Max’s births, I didn’t lose all 20 lbs before I got pregnant again.  This time I am hoping it will be different.  And not only because it is likely that we won’t have a fourth baby (never say never because who knows).

One week postpartum
three weeks postpartum. no considerable change from week one.

I’ve read that getting back into shape is 20% working out and 80% diet.  No idea how accurate that is but it feels right. I have always been great about working out and relatively crappy about keeping a clean diet.  It’s not that I don’t eat healthy.  It is just that every day I also eat something arguably too sugary, processed, or salty.  Right before I wrote this, I shoved three gummy worms and three pieces of chocolate into my mouth.  Despite the fact that I ate healthy the rest of the day. I ruined my healthy day in less than three minutes.  Clearly, I need to strengthen my willpower. So, what should I be eating instead of my children’s treats for going potty on the potty?

My new go-to lunch meal has been this avocado chicken salad.  I’ve made this salad twice since Eloise was born, and she is only three weeks old. It is a heartier salad than most so I stay full longer.  You can easily add more ingredients to the salad or keep it simple. The salad does call for bacon, which you can sub for turkey bacon, use just a strip or two, or get rid of all together, depending on how healthy you want to be.

So now starts my journey into losing the 20 lbs. Cross your fingers and toes for me.  My sweet tooth will not be kind to me. I need all the help I can get.

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Spinach Applesauce

I swear, my toddlers either eat everything in sight or they live on air. There is no middle ground.  So on the days they eat, I try to load them up with as many vegetables as I can.  We’ve been lucky.  The boys generally like vegetables.  Broccoli is one of their favorite foods. They usually like trying new foods and don’t have fits about texture or taste.  Still, we have our days.  The boys only want to eat donuts and cereal (they are their mother’s sons).  No matter what healthy food we offer, they claim they aren’t hungry.  Sometimes we need to be a bit more clever with getting vegetables in the boys’ diet.

Earlier this week was one of those days.  Since we have a new baby, people have been stopping by to spend time with Eloise.  Along with the people come treats: donuts, cookies, birthday cake and pie. Thanks to the sugar snacks, the boys started to refuse to eat dinner. If the food wasn’t 90% sugar, the boys weren’t interested.

Typically, if the boys refuse to eat dinner, I don’t care.  If they are hungry, they will eat what we prepared.  We don’t offer alternative meals.  Either they eat what is on the plate or they don’t eat at all.  I never clear their plates from the dinner table until both boys are sleep in bed so it is easy to direct the boys back to the table if they ask for food.

But this time, the reason the boys weren’t eating wasn’t because they weren’t hungry.  They were full of sugar and no nutritional food.  I was determined to get something healthy in them.

I recalled seeing a post on Instagram that would be perfect solution.  If we put down a bowl of applesauce in front of them, there’s a good chance they’ll ask for seconds. So I used that to my advantage. I tossed a handful of spinach in the applesauce and blended until it was smooth(ish).  The plain applesauce immediately was way more fun.  It was green.  It was a little more chunky (because I didn’t pull out the nice food processor).  It was something new and different.  The boys devoured the applesauce and got a full serving of spinach.  An easy way to get more veggies in their diets without any fight.

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Stuffed Cabbage Roll Soup

You guys, I am 7 months pregnant with my third baby.  How are we already only two(ish) months away from becoming a family of five?!?!  We are anything but prepared.  Our house only has two bedrooms so we haven’t had to put together a nursery since JR was born.  Poor Maxie never got his own room (his crib is in our room, and JR and Max share a closet and dresser). So while we don’t have to worry about designing a nursery, it also means we have no where to put the baby’s clothes or diapers or really anything.  Hence why we still need to prepare for Toastie Three’s arrival.

thirty weeks pregnant

But the lack of preparation has no correlation to my level of anticipation for the baby’s arrival.  I am really looking forward to having an infant again.  Sure, there is less sleep, and I can only imagine that having three babies v. two babies will have it’s own challenges.   But my maternity leaves have always been so much fun.

I have heard multiple mothers say they found maternity leave to be isolating and lonely.  Typically, her husband has no more than a week or two of time off after the baby is born.  Once the father goes back to work, it is just the mom and the baby alone for a huge chunk of the day.  Sometimes the mom has no time to grab a shower or a solid meal since there is no one to help watch the baby and so many babies won’t sleep unless they are being held.  I am lucky to have had quite the opposite experience.  Since Matt works at home, we spend so much time together as a family. We eat every meal together.  Our day starts with Matt making us pancakes for breakfast (because who wants to lose baby weight).  While Matt will head to the basement or workshop after breakfast, he joins us for lunch and frequently stops up to say hi throughout the day.  I’ve never gone a day without showering, brushing my teeth, or putting on make-up because Matt is happy to take a break throughout the day to help out when needed. And by 6:00 p.m., we are all sitting down together for dinner.  Both maternity leaves were so rejuvenating, and I am really looking forward to soaking up the extra family time while we adjust to a family of five.

Still, knowing we will soon have three kids sounds more than just a little overwhelming.  And while I know I have Matt to help throughout the day, he does have to work and we have to respect working hours.  Ideally, I want to be able to cook dinner and watch the three kids while Matt works.  So I’ve been trying to find easy recipes that do not require too many steps.  Finding meals that can be made in one pot is even better.  Less dishes sounds lovely (for Matt–he is the dish washer in the family).

This soup will likely make a reappearance once the baby arrives.  Beyond chopping up vegetables, it consists of just dumping everything into one pot and letting it cook.  Also, I love love love cooked cabbage, and the boys always finish their bowls whenever I make it. So it’s a win win.

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Eggplant Parmesan

Every Saturday morning, JR jumps into our bed and says, “How big is the baby?”  (Ok, he’s usually already in our bed since he has a new habit of sneaking into our bed in the middle of the night and laying at the end by Pancake so we don’t feel him in the bed right away and move him back).  After surcoming to the reality that I won’t be getting any more sleep, I pull up the two baby apps on my phone, and JR gets excited to see how the baby is now the size of some various fruit or vegetable.  He looks at the picture of the food, scrolls to see the baby in 3D, and talks about how the baby eats with the placenta.

Then one day I was at the grocery store, and I saw a pomegranate.  I was 17 weeks pregnant, and since we spent our morning gushing over the baby app, I remembered that the baby was the size of a pomegranate.  So I tossed it in my cart and brought it home to show the boys so they’d have a better idea of how big the baby currently was.  The boys carried it around for a while.  And then we ate it.

From then on, we started incorporating the “what size is the baby” food into our meal rotation.  We’ve had mangos, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, pomegranates, and bananas.

And at 28 weeks, the baby was the size of an eggplant.  So we decided to eat an eggplant.

I had made eggplant parmesan many times.  Each time, I find a new recipe.  Each time, the meal is ok.  Until this time.  This time I finally found the perfect eggplant recipe!  Instead of using breadcrumbs or Panko, I used Corn Flakes.  This was a game changer.  Each eggplant slice was just crispy enough.  And since we had a block of leftover Parmesan cheese from Christmas, I shredded it instead of using pre-shredded cheese from a bag.  This was a good idea.  The cheese didn’t weigh down the eggplant or make it too soggy.  Instead it added a dash of salty, sweet element that mixed well with the dollop of sauce.

The meal was a success.  JR ate everything on his plate plus some.   Matt and Max were into it.  Now next time I make eggplant parmesan, it won’t start by me googing a new recipe.  I’ll make this one.

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Korean Beef

You guys, picking a boy name is hard.  Just as we did with our first two, we don’t know if Toastie Three is a boy or a girl.  So we need to be prepared if we are having a third boy (no need to brainstorm a girl name–we’ve had that one in the chamber since pregnancy number one).

Naming JR and Max was easy.  Matt had always wanted a junior.  I wasn’t a huge fan of my husband and son sharing a name, but it was so important to Matt that it was impossible to say no.  We compromised that we would call him JR (for Junior), and the issue of naming our first born was as simple as that.

With naming Max, I was reading JR the storybook Where the Wild Things Are.  The little boy in the book is named Max, and it fit. There was no back and forth on whether there was a “better” name out there.  Max was it.

And now we need to find our third perfect boy name.  I think we have it.  But that is just it.  There was no uncertainty with JR’s or Maxie’s name.  So maybe we haven’t found it just quite yet.

But the one thing Matt doesn’t wavering on is his favorite, last-minute meal.  Whenever Matt and I have no clue on what to make, Matt suggests this Korean beef meal.  It is unbelievably simple but fancier than just tossing together spaghetti (another go-to at our place when we are out of meal ideas).

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Tater Tot Hot Dish

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  It’ll be our seventh Thanksgiving in our house.  The house Matt bought when he was 23, right before we got married.  I remember when we moved in, the plan was that we’d live in the house for five years and then find our forever home.  Or at least a house that was nicer.

It may not look like much. But it’s ours. [also pictured: most adorable 3-year-old]
As I sit here, pregnant with our third child, preparing to host our seventh Thanksgiving, we are no closer to moving than we were when we first moved in.  There are no prospective houses on the market, and there hasn’t been a truly viable house for us since we started seriously looking over year and a half ago.  But the fact remains: our house is too small.  We need a new home.  Max doesn’t have a room so his crib has always been squeezed into our bedroom.  This third baby won’t have a room or even its own crib.  It’ll share a bedroom with its brother, mom, and dad, until we figure out a way for Max and JR to share a bed so that the baby can have Max’s crib.  We have only a quarter of an acre of land that currently houses a monstrous sawmill.  Possibly the largest, handmade sawmill ever to be built to date.  And it is sitting in our driveway.  The amount of wood and slabs on our land is enviable to any woodworker.  The basement is cluttered with piles of drying wood that the boys are now masters of maneuvering around. Our house is more than a little crammed.

But there is a coziness to a small home.  No matter where you are in the house, you can hear children laughing (or crying because toddlers).  I can easily cook dinner in the kitchen while actively watching the boys play in the tv room.  On weekends, Matt and I cuddle in bed while the boys bounce around the house and we can always hear where they are. And when there’s an argument, you can only avoid the person for so long.  There just isn’t enough space to hide out.  So much has happened in our small, little home that could not be duplicated in this huge, Victorian dream home I am looking for.

The sense of home is such a strong, innate feeling.  And while there are aspects of our home that I am honestly ashamed of, it’s our home.  And that is enough.  It is enough.

Certain meals evoke that same sense of home.  If you live in Minnesota, tater tot hot dish is likely that meal.  This is the authentic, Minnesota meal.  When it is cold outside and you need comfort food, you eat tater tot hot dish.  It’s the meal you bring to neighbors and friends when a loved one has passed or a new baby has arrived.  It’s the meal grandmothers make for the big family get togethers.  It’s the meal you make when it’s been a long week and you just want something that is easy and tastes so gosh darn good.  It is not entirely healthy.  It’s certainly not pretty looking.  But it is reliable. It’s safe.  It’s so so delicious.  It’s the quintessential Minnesota meal that reminds you of the safety of home.

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Panzanella Salad

Last weekend was my sister-in-law’s wedding.  I first met Matt’s sister Nicole when she was a high schooler.  She was this perky, outgoing girl who immediately made you feel at ease. It was as if you had known her your whole life.  Because that is quintessentially Nicole.  She lives her life with her heart on her sleeve. Sharing intimate stories.  Gushing love.  Always being completely honest.  So if something is on her mind, she’ll let you know.  She’s always all in or all out.  It’s something I’ve always admired about her.

and then the little frog turned into Ben 😉

She was the first sibling of Matt’s and mine to get married.  So the wedding weekend was a bit surreal.  How can she be getting married? She is the little sister.  But she looked beautiful.  The wedding was beautiful.  The family time was beautiful.  There’s nothing like a wedding to make you feel grateful for family.

Matt with his little sister.

Matt and I were in the wedding party so we got to walk down the aisle together, which was pretty fun.  The two of us hadn’t been in a wedding party together since our own wedding.  Not having to worry about anything except being where we are suppose to was a great change in pace.  Our little boys were in the wedding too.  They wore little dress pants with suspenders and bow ties. And they were too adorable. Despite complete breakdowns and tantrums at the rehearsal dinner, both boys walked perfectly down the aisle and were quiet the entire wedding ceremony (and we are Catholic so we are talking an hour and a half mass).  After the mass, the boys went off with my parents while Matt and I jumped on the party bus for photos.

Matt insisted on finding his own bouquet and snagged a lovely bundle of sticks.

Of course, the wedding was a full on traditional Italian wedding.  Guests were greeted at the reception by a table of shots.  Each guest is to take a shots to toast the new couple for good luck.  Traditionally, those shots are taken with the bridal party, but I have no idea how those Italians do that and don’t get completely bombed.  Here, there were bartenders that just handed them out so we didn’t have to worry about spending the entire reception slurring our words (because I swear, I smell liquor and suddenly I am completely incapable of articulating a clear sentence).  Our meal included antipasto, a pasta plate followed by a meat plate.  The late night snack was a nacho bar (oh man, for Matt’s and my second wedding, we are totally stealing this).  The dessert table was full of almond cookies, biscottis, and canolis. Yeah, in case it isn’t obvious, food is an important piece of the celebration.

And a panzanella salad is one of my favorite Italian salads.  It is one of the few salads that Matt loves because a good quarter of the salad is garlic, butter toasted bread.  He calls it “the bread salad” and its one of the few salads where Matt gets seconds.  The combination of the toasted bread with cucumbers and tomatoes tastes like summer.  It’s a quick and easy recipe with just simple, real ingredients.  Real Italian cooking at its finest. So for your next celebration, if you want to toss in a little Italian tradition, try adding this bread salad.

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Sausage and Mushroom Sweet Potato Gnocchi

I had never been to a Trader Joe’s until I found this recipe.  I had this idea that Trader Joe’s was this super crunchy, ultra expensive grocery store.  But then I stumbled upon this recipe that seemed like the perfect weekday meal (ie: one that takes 40 minutes or less from fridge to the table). Ok, so turns out that my perception of Trader Joe’s wasn’t exactly on mark.  There is more than just granola and organic yogurt.

This truly is a great meal.  There isn’t more than a couple of ingredients–all which are very easy to prepare.  You toss everything together and bam, you got yourself a fancy meal.

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Lemon and Garlic Whole Chicken

It’s no secret that I am a working mom.  It is something I am deeply proud of.  I love being a lawyer, just as I love being a mom.  But most nights, I do not get home until 7:00.  If I start making a full dinner from scratch once I get home, we typically don’t sit down to eat until after 8:00.  As much I’d love to tell you that I pre-plan our weekday meals, that would be a lie.  There are weeks where I am great.  There are lots of weeks where I am not.

I am not a fan of take-out or even eating out in general.  It’s expensive.  It’s not as healthy.  And I usually end up feeling disappointed for overindulging or because of the quality of the food for the price.  Plus two little boys in a restaurant can be exhausting. We try to avoid it whenever possible.

So on nights when we haven’t planned dinner, our go-to meal is a rotisserie chicken.  The boys love it.  It’s not ridiculously overpriced. It’s not wholly unhealthy. But like most things, I’d prefer to make it myself than buy a premade meal.  Of course, there is no way I’d have time to roast a whole chicken on a weekday.  But I still wanted to try out a homemade version.  So last weekend, Maxie and I picked up a raw chicken and decided to make our own rotisserie chicken of sorts.

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