Pesto White Beans with Grilled Zucchini

We spent Sunday afternoon decluttering our basement. We’ve lived in our house for over 8 years now and have accumulated   s o   m u c h   s t u f f.   My closet is full of buckets and buckets of clothes I’ve been keeping just in case they fit again, in case I need it for a costume, in case it comes into style.  I am certain Matt has every spare screw that ever came with any kit.  After a couple hours of tossing items in either the donate or garage piles, we called it quits and headed back upstairs to where the clutter is a bit more manageable.

The fall cleaning inspired me to clean out the pantry.  In the back as a lone can of white beans tucked away–likely bought for chili that I never ended up making.  There were two zucchinis on their last legs and a jar of unopened pesto from who knows when.  And that is how this pesto white beans with grilled zucchini came to life.

We ate it as a meal, but it would be a great appetizer or side dish.  It’s a fun interplay between heavy foods (beans and cheese) with lighter foods (pesto and zucchini).  Toast some crusty bread and layer the bean/zucch/cheese mixture on top.  It would be the perfect dish to bring to a late fall cookout or to eat in front of a fire.  It’s got just the right level of flare without feeling pretentious. Which is what I am always looking for in a meal 🙂

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Citrus Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

Today was one of those days where I saw my reflection in the mirror, and I thought, “ugh, I am that chubby girl.”  And that’s because I am.  No, I am not fishing for compliments.  It’s true.  I am chubby.  Yes, I did recently have a baby, but this chubbiness cannot be blamed on Eloise.  It’s because I’ve been eating subpar and not working out as much I’d like.  See, before we went to Texas, I was kicking ass.  I was eating healthy. Working out.  Drinking all the water.  And then vacation happen.  And then I got back and I was busy. Work. Babies. House. Errands.  Yeah, I know.  You can make all the excuses you want.  Clearly I wasn’t making my health a priority.

But her rolls are just so delicious.

Ok, well that is the great thing about priorities.  They can change.  So healthy eating is back on the docket.  I spent the weekend digging into new recipes to try.  To revitalize my motivation to eat healthy, work out, get my spirit back into the better myself vibe. It was time to get out of my funk.

Because I have three little eyes watching me.  Taking notes.  Learning from my habits and internalizing them and possibly even making these habits their own.  So if not for myself, then for them.

sure, it’s hard to work out when you have these two adorable boys who always jump on you. guys, this is the life.

And that is how this beet salad came to life.  I am not about to just eat rabbit food.  That is not going to get me excited about eating healthy.  But of course, healthy eating doesn’t have to be bland.  I just had to remind myself of that. So I went outside the typical “green” salad and landed on beets. There is something about beets that make me feel like I am being healthy and trendy at the same time.  This recipe is unbelievably easy, with no dressing because the ingredients themselves have more than enough flavors.

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Mediterranean Chicken Rice Bowl

Serious question: how do you parents get your kids to bed? It is 10:30 and the boys are still wide awake.  They’ve been laying in the dark for the past twoish hours.  But that doesn’t matter.  They are still rolling around, giggling, not closing their eyes.  Matt is currently being held hostage in the bedroom, sitting in the rocking chair waiting for the boys to finally fall asleep.  It doesn’t seem to matter what bedroom routine we have.  The boy are impervious to our tricks.

Ok, but beyond typically bedtime, I just haven’t been my normal self in the kitchen.  Guys, I’ve been in a funk lately.  No researching of new recipes.  No wandering around the grocery store looking for new food to incorporate into a recipe.  Not looking forward to trying new dishes. Not really sure why.  But then last week, I texted Matt before I left the office to put some rice on (because I refuse to cook my own rice).  I stopped at Trader Joe’s, walked around the store, and picked up chicken and tzatziki sauce. I didn’t have any particular recipe in mind.  But for the first time in a while, I was in the mood to experiment.

And I came up with this.  It isn’t anything too crazy or fancy.  But the boys eat it.  Matt really liked it. It was exactly what my soul needed. Perhaps this recipe will rejuvenate your meal rotation as well.

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Chicken Noodle Soup with Homemade Broth

I spent this spring on maternity leave.  Which meant I had all day to prep for dinner.  And for the first couple of weeks, I had sincere plans to make elaborate meals, fancy desserts, and snacks.  But then I didn’t. Because I have three kids. So sure, I may have had the time to tackle a multiple step recipe but yeah, I have three kids.  I have no hands. I am constantly breastfeeding.  Someone needs a glass of water or milk.  Someone is screaming that a toy is no longer in his grasp. While I may have all day to cook, life is anything but simple.  Dinner recipes need to be as uncomplicated as possible.

That’s where soup comes in.  The idea of tossing all the ingredients into a pot, letting it simmer (maybe checking on it periodically to stir, but maybe not)–yeah, I can handle that and breastfeed a baby while wiping a toddler’s butt (yeah, that happened. Sorry, Ellie!)

a substantially more relaxing nursing session.

And when making soup, why not stick with a classic: chicken noodle.  I am all for making as much of your recipe from scratch when you can–especially when it’s not super complicated.  Making your own chicken broth is stupid easy.  Literally, you throw full chicken in a pot of hot water. Leave the chicken in hot water.  Come back later and take out the chicken.  And wah lah, you have chicken broth.  Even with three young children, this is manageable.

So anytime we get a rotisserie chicken, there’s a good chance homemade chicken noodle soup is on the horizon.  Here’s some unsolicited advice that you do the same.

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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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