Music - First Instrument Exposures

You don't need to sign up for music classes to expose your child to the wonderful world of instruments, rhythms and melodies!

Pretend Play - Snack Stand

Pretend play is essential for young children! Props like this snack stand are easy to make and can fit a variety of play themes.

Early Language and Literacy Development - Listening and Speaking

Think beyond the alphabet to develop early language and literacy skills; sharing books are having family conversations are powerful tools!

Recipe - Mama Bear's Chili

Let's get cooking! A warm bowl of chili will make everyone's bellies happy this fall!

DIY Toys - Pizza Playset

We love making our own toys like this pizza playset. It saves a lot of money and we can make exactly what we want and nothing more!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Dinner - Chocolate, Chocolate and More Chocolate!

We never get too into the Valentine's Day spirit but a meal featuring chocolate is almost too much to resist! So we decided to have a chocolate-inspired Valentine's family dinner with Little C's aunt and uncle.

Both recipes are courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis of Food Network:
Salad with Raspberry-Chocolate Vinaigrette - the only change that I made was using baby romaine lettuce rather than a wedge of iceberg
Chocolate Fettuccine with Peas & Pancetta

Last year we actually homemade ravioli made with chocolate pasta but it was such a difficult, tedious process hand-rolling the pasta dough! This year, we borrowed my sister-in-law's Kitchenaid Stand Mixer and the pasta roller attachments. Oh my goodness did it make things easier!

 Papa Bear is such a happy pasta maker (that's because he's not using every last ounce of muscle to roll the dough flat!)

"I sing a song of pasta fresca, cappellini, fettuccine...."
(excerpt from Mangia, Mangia by Amy Wilson Sanger)

I didn't take photos, but we finished our meal with chocolate cupcakes baked by Papa Bear and Little C, chocolate covered strawberries and my sister-in-law's Chocolate Hazelnut cake!

Mini Biscuit Pizzas

When Little C was just over a year, she was interested in eating pizza but she didn't have enough teeth to bite through and chew the crust very easily. So I began searching for alternatives. Tortillas and english muffins were also too chewy. However, it was my mom actually who discovered the solution: biscuits! Biscuits are soft and flaky and easy to bite and chew for little teeth. Just roll them out flat and they're the perfect size to make mini personal pizzas...especially heart-shaped ones for Valentine's Day!

First you spread some sauce!

Then sprinkle on some cheese...
Add whatever toppings you prefer and bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and cooked through and toppings are hot and bubbly!

Enjoy with your favorite little ones!

 We use Pillsbury Grands biscuits 'cause it's quick and convenient. But if you'd like to make your own biscuit dough, don't let me stop you! And feel free to share your favorite homemade biscuit recipe in the comments section.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Paneer Tikka Masala

Paneer Tikka Masala
Yield: 6 servings
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2" fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 8 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 10oz frozen cauliflower, thawed
  • 1 cup peas
  • 12oz paneer (purchase or make your own using Aarti Sequeira's recipe)
  • 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream
  • Cooked rice and/or naan, for serving
  1.  Add olive oil and butter to a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the garlic and ginger. Saute until softened and lightly browned. 
  2. Add tomato paste and cook about 3 minutes, until the tomato has darkened. Add garam masala and paprika and saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add tomatoes, salt and water. Bring to a boil then simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. 
  4. Pour the sauce into a blender, or use an immersion blender, and process until smooth. Pour back into the skillet and bring back to a boil. Add cauliflower, turn heat down and simmer 10 more minutes.
  5. Add paneer and peas to sauce and cook a few minutes longer to warm everything through. Serve over rice or with naan.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Our Disney Vacation - Magic Kingdom

I don't think I need to tell you what Magic Kingdom is, it's the most magical place on earth :-) Costumed characters, princesses, rides, parades, shows...there's something for everyone! Like I mentioned earlier, there is no "off-season" for Magic Kingdom. I've never been in the middle of the summer or around the holidays, which are supposed to be peak crowd times, but even at the end of January the park is full, but manageable. However, there are rides you will not want to wait on line for without fast passes. From what we saw, these seem to be the most popular attractions with the longest wait times:
  • Princess meet & greets - I probably don't have to tell you this, but Elsa and Anna have the longest wait. And when we set up our fast passes about a month in advance, there were already none available for those 2! 
  • Peter Pan - I was surprised by this since it's an older ride, but I think the shortest wait time we saw all day was 75 minutes.
  • All roller coasters, especially the Seven Dwarfs' Mine Train.
These rides either had surprisingly short or manageable (about 30 min or less) wait times:
  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (seats 4 per carpet)
  • It's a Small World (seats 3 per row)
  • Prince Charming Regal Carousel - this cannot be fast passed, but the line never becomes unmanageable. We went on 3 or 4 times!
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle - cute interactive Princess meet; children can participate in telling the story of how Belle met the Beast by pretending to be various characters and Dads (or grown men who just want to meet Belle ;-) ) can be suits of armor!
  • Mad Tea Party (seats 4-5, maybe even 6, depending on size)
  • Under the Sea - ride in a clam shell through the story of The Little Mermaid (seats 3-4)
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant (seats 2-3)
  • The Barnstormer - a roller coaster for beginners. It definitely goes full speed, but the drops aren't steep and the ride is very short (seats 2 per row)
  • Check the schedule before you go if there's a parade you don't want to miss; everything may not necessarily run every day. I know the Electrical Parade only ran Tuesday and Friday the week we went so we scheduled around that.
  • People line the streets early for these dance parties and parades so if you want a good spot plan to camp out at least a half hour ahead of time I'd say.
  • Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party - we caught this at 12:30 in front of Cinderella's Castle. It was very cute, lots of characters dancing
  • Festival of Fantasy Parade - 3pm; lots of princesses plus the awesome Maleficent dragon

  •  Main Street Electrical Parade - 7pm; it's a classic! I remember watching this parade when I was little

For more information, visit Disney's official Magic Kingdom site.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chicken Enchilada Quiche

Chicken Enchilada Quiche
Yield: 6-8 servings
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust, softened -or- 1 homemade pie crust
  • 1/2 cup refried beans (opt'l)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup half & half or milk
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded chicken (or shredded turkey or cooked ground meat)
  • 1 1/2 cups broken tortilla chips
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 4.5oz can chopped green chiles
  • 1/2 cup corn (opt'l)
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Sour cream and salsa, for serving
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place pie crust in 9 or 9 1/2-inch pie pan.
  2. (Opt'l) Spread refried beans onto pie crust.
  3. In medium bowl, beat eggs until blended. Whisk in half and half. Stir in chicken, chips, cheeses, salsa, green chiles, salt and pepper. Pour into crust.
  4. Bake 55-65 minutes or until crust is golden and knife inserted into center of quiche comes out clean. 
  5. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with sour cream and salsa.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Our Disney Vacation - Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom, in a nutshell, is a fancy elaborate zoo. There are a decent amount of rides - the Expedition Everest coaster and a small carnival area - but if rides are what you really want this park is probably not for you. Little C loves animals so I knew we had to visit some kind of zoo while on vacation and if you're gonna do it, might as well go all the way!

The park has 4 main sections of animals: Discovery Island, Asia, Africa and Rafiki's Planet Watch. What's cool about the park is the animal pens are incorporated in a way that makes it not feel like a traditional zoo; there aren't large signs pointing to the animals making it really obvious they're there. There are also plenty of trees and bamboo plants to keep you in the shade and tuck the animals in a little better.
Rafiki's Planet Watch features monkeys and a petting zoo while Asia, Africa and Discovery Island have trails that lead you past most of the animals in the area. My favorite part (and I think Daddy's and Little C's) were the 2 bird areas in the Africa and Asia areas. At the beginning you pick up a bird guide card (about the size of a placemat) and use it to help you identify the various species you spot. The thing about this area is, the birds are free to fly and roam as they please (there is netting above and doorways at either end so the birds stay in their areas). So don't be surprised to find birds diving right past you!

The one thing you HAVE to do if you visit Animal Kingdom is take the Kilimanjaro Safari. It's about a 20 minute ride through Disney's own African savanna. It is so well made you honestly feel like you're just driving through a natural habitat where all the animals can roam freely wherever they wish. There are no super obvious dividers to keep the lions away from the zebras or anything like that. Add that to the fact that you may run into animals hanging out right beside your safari jeep - so close you could seriously almost touch them - and you can see why this is my don't miss experience. This was Little C's favorite part of the park too, aka the bumpy ride!

Giraffe's happily munching away while we ride.
Is that a rhino at the side of the road? Of course it is!

You could just pretend you were in Africa! ...if it weren't for the lack of blistering heat :-)

It's Tough to be a Bug: 4D show based on "A Bug's Life." It was cute and the wait wasn't long even without a fast pass. However, Little C was no a fan. She didn't want to wear the 3D glasses (not surprising) and got very freaked out when it became dark and loud.
Festival of the Lion King: Awesome show! There's a little audience participation mixed with your favorite Lion King songs, enormous elephant and giraffes and some Cirque-style tricks and performers.
Finding Nemo - The Musical: Unfortunately we didn't make it to this show, Little C fell asleep for a bit after lunch! If anyone's seen it I welcome comments!

Recommended fast passes:
1. Kilimanjaro Safari Ride
2. The Festival of the Lion King
3. Expedition Everest if you're into roller coasters/ a character meet & greet if your kids are into that

For more information, visit Disney's official Animal Kingdom page.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Our Disney Vacation - Tips

We've been wanting to take a Disney vacation since Little C was born. The time had finally come! My husband's never been and I haven't been to Disney parks in a loong time - as teenagers we were more interested in thrill-ride-type parks like Universal Studios. As we discovered, there is so much to learn about visiting Disney! My parents have a rental near Orlando so unfortunately I don't have any information about Disney resorts to share with you. But what I can give you are some highlights and tips about Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.

Tip 1: Children under 3 are free! With the price of tickets just under $100 a piece, that's a good thing to keep in mind!

Tip 2: Bring a camera ;-) And make sure your memory card is empty and your batteries are charged (and bring extra batteries or a charger!)

Tip 3: Bring water bottles and snacks to avoid spending a fortune on park food. 

Tip 4: Don't expect "off-season" crowds. I'm sure the parks are much busier during peak vacation times but Disney is THE destination for many vacationers, especially international travelers, so even in January it is busy. However, parks like Universal Studios and Legoland will be much less crowded.

Tip 5: If you want to get to the parks right at opening, plan for at least 10 minutes between parking and entering the park at Animal Kingdom and 20 minutes for Magic Kingdom (you have to take a monorail or ferry from the parking area/main gate to the actual park).

Tip 6: Whichever parks you visit, when you purchase your tickets you'll be able to schedule 3 fast passes per ticket per day. When you set up your fast passes, you'll be able to choose a time window for each ride/show/character meet - you then show up in that time window and get to wait on a much shorter line. Obviously, if everyone wants to go together, you have to schedule the same fast past on each ticket. But if you have siblings, maybe dad goes with one on this ride while mom takes the other somewhere else... you get the idea. After you've done your 3 fast passes, you can schedule more (one at a time) at kiosks around the park.

Most of all, don't forget to smile and have fun! :-) Stay tuned for more specific park information.