What’s Erica Eating – week 1

Erica

I am trying a new weekly post from a great friend of mine Erica. She is a great friend, Mom and cook! We have always shared common interests from when we first met and learned to knit our first hat together! She mentioned to me the other day that she has been emailing out her weekly family meal plans to some friends and I said “get me on that list!”

Keep in mind that she does not keep kosher. I am happy to tweak any recipes of hers that are of interest to make it kosher friendly. Enjoy!

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Happy Monday Ladies!  Here it is- the moment you’ve been waiting all day for– what my family is eating this week!

Tonight- I’m making pasta with vodka sauce and chicken & mushrooms.  I just buy chicken breast and cut it into chunks.  Saute with a little olive oil, salt & pepper.  Once the chicken is pretty much cooked through I add in come sliced mushrooms and saute for another few minutes.  I buy vodka sauce from TJ’s and add that then some spices (garlic powder, onion powder, italian seasoning, etc) and let it all cook until heated through and throw it over pasta.  I’m going to steam some green beans to go with that.
Tuesday- I do a lot of Mexican on Tuesday nights and this is one of my standards- Tostados.  It’s super easy and everybody loves it!  I just buy crispy corn tortillas (they look like giant round chips) and soft flour tortillas, and serve them with yellow rice, corn, black beans, tomatoes (or salsa), cheese, avocado and steak. I just buy a small piece of flank steak that takes about 2-3 mins per side to cook.  I usually throw a little Soyaki on it to add some flavor.  It’s pretty hands on to make it, but I do the whole thing in the 20 mins. it takes to cook the rice.
Wednesday- I have moussaka in my freezer that’s getting thawed and eaten.  We belonged to a CSA last summer/fall and kept getting a ton of eggplants, so I was desperate for new eggplant recipes.  This is what I used: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/moussaka-recipe.html
I will caution you- unless you have a personal sou chef, I have no idea how you prep this is 25 mins.  It took SO long to make.  The good news was that I doubled the recipe and made a TON of it, and it’s delicious.  So, if you find yourself with a day to cook- I highly recommend this, but definitely don’t start at 5pm unless you want to eat dinner at midnight!
Thursday- As usual, it’s pizza night!
Friday- I’m making mahi mahi, Israeli cous cous and a cucumber tomato salad.  http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/ginger-soy-glazed-mahi-mahi
I haven’t tried this yet, but Jake chose mahi mahi as the fish for this week, so here it is!
That’s all we have this week since we’ll be out on Saturday night and Sunday is Mother’s Day, so I absolutely refuse to be in charge of dinner!  Hope you all have a great week and enjoy this beautiful weather!!

How to Throw a Kosher Superbowl Party

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The first step in throwing an awesome Kosher Superbowl party is asking yourself the very important question:  Meat or Dairy?  Keeping kosher means that we do not mix meat and dairy foods together.  No chicken wings and sour cream dip at our parties!  One or the other.  For me it is an easy answer.  The answer is always CHEESE PLEASE!  My husband requires peanut M&M’s while watching football (M&M’s are dairy).  So we always go all in on the dairy.  Make sure that guests that are bringing food items – know that everything should be dairy or vegetarian.

Having a kosher dairy party is easy when it comes to chips and dips – but it is harder when thinking of the main course.  Many traditional Superbowl parties will have meat chili, chicken wings or other meat as a main dish.  We need to think a bit outside the box.  You could of course order veggie pizza’s – which is an easy solution.  For the kids, I usually make a ton of cheese quesidilla’s in the oven and keep them on the table covered with tin-foil to keep warm.  I find this to be less messy then a ton of saucy pizza slices around my house.  I have also stared boiling a box of pasta for the kids to carb load.

One year we decided it would be fun for the adults to have make your own veggie subs.  We got sub rolls, different kinds of sliced cheese, lettuce, tomato, sauces, grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions, and roasted red peppers for toppings.  People seemed to really like this option – but boy was it a ton of work!  I cut and cooked all the veggies myself.  Last year we decided to bring in falafel from our local falafel store.  This was also a huge hit and much easier on me.  We got a huge tray of falafel, hummus, pitta and israeli salad (cucumber, tomato and onion salad).  I really like this option because it is vegetarian meaning we can still have our cheese and sour cream dip but the chickpeas in the falafel also give some protein that will fill people up.

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Food List

Tortilla Chips

Popcorn

Pita Chips

Crackers

Cheese Slices (we get the variety pack from costco that my kids love)

Cut up veggies

Onion Dip

Mississippi Sin Dip from Gonna Want Seconds (to make it kosher just omit the ham!)

7-layer Dip

Falafel

Pita

Hummus

Israeli Salad

Cheese Quesadilla’s

Plain pasta

Fruit Salad

Peanut M&M’s

Football Cookie Pizza

Lori’s Perfect Football Snack (Pretzel, hershey kiss, and M&M’s!)

Beer/Cider

Juice Boxes

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We also love to decorate for our big party.  In the past years Costco has carried these awesome football plates with matching napkins.  A couple of years ago I made our Superbowl table cloth.  I bought a piece of turf from Home Depot.  We cut it to fit our table then using white electrical tape we put the lines on our “field”  At the end of the party we shake it off, roll it up and store in our basement for the next year.  This is our third or fourth year using it – and it is holding up really nicely.

Finally, make sure you have lots of garbage cans or bags around the house and empty boxes for garbage and recycling.  Guests are more likely to help clean up if they know where to put things.

GO PATS!!!

Great Wolf Lodge – Massachusetts – Review and Packing List

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The three-day weekend was coming up and my family had no plans.  The week before, we made the last minute decision to check out Massachusetts newest indoor waterpark Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, MA.  I looked around online to find reviews, tips/tricks and packing lists specific to the Massachusetts Great Wolf Lodge – but I didn’t find much.  I thought I would put our immediate thoughts down and our must have packing list.

Review & Tips:

Overall my family of five had a really enjoyable time.  We had a lot of smiles, fun moments and laughter.  It was easy to get to and with the tips we learned through our first stay we would definitely go back again sometime soon.  We definitely did not get the best value for our room.  We booked less than a week in advance over a holiday weekend.  If you are looking for maximum value – go mid-week if you can, try to find deals online (they are running a 20% discount for 2 or more night stays), and book in advance.  If you want to use the water park on the day you are checking out get the late check-out, which lets you stay until 2pm, allowing you to use the park for a half day and still shower/change in your room.  You can only get it gauranteed when you are booking online, but may be able to add it during check-in.  We did not buy any of the entertainment packages online.  If you change your mind, you can buy them when you are there.  We were not sure what kind of activities we would want to do – so didn’t think it was worth it.  The water park, ropes course, bedtime story, character meetings, are all included with no additional charge.

Check-In Early

You are able to check in online by midnight the day before your arrival.  This will save time if you are checking in during the early to mid-afternoon when it is most busy.  There still will be a line to get your wrist bands, and room assignment, but it should be shorter.  We were not organized enough and forgot to check-in online.  You are allowed to check-in starting at 1pm the day of your arrival and then you can begin to use the watermark.  We arrived at 12:15 to try to figure out lunch and to see if we could check in early.  From our experience, the front desk is not strict about 1pm.  We had one family on line in front of us and were able to check in at 12:15 and begin using the water park.  I would strongly recommend getting there well before 1.  While we were checking in, staff members were making free balloon swords in the lobby – which happily kept my three boys balloon sword fighting until we were ready to hit the water park.

If you are interested in eating in the one sit-down restaurant for dinner or for the breakfast buffet now is the time to make a reservation.  My kids love buffets so we got a reservation for 7:30am for the buffet.  I would not do this again – the buffet was nothing great – review of the restaurant is below.

Water park

We put on our bathing suits at home, with warm clothes over them.  I had our pool bag packed with goggles, cover-ups, robes and crocs.  We left our other luggage in the car and were able to go enjoy the water park even though our room wasn’t ready until 4pm.  You can rent a locker if you want to secure your belongings during this time when you do not have access to your room.  The locker rental is $10.  Every guest will get a wristband that you need to enter the water park.  For adults the wristband has a chip in it that acts as your room key and will also have your credit card on it (amazing!).  You can use this credit card to buy food, gifts and even coffee and dunkin donuts.  This is great because it allows you to leave your wallet in your room and bring nothing to the water park.

We all enjoyed the water parks.  There are two separate rooms – across a hallway.  The first one we went to had three different larger water slides – 2 with tubes, 1 without.  You need to be 48″ to ride alone or 42″ with an adult.  An indoor and outdoor hot spring (my favorite!).  A lazy river that you can go in with or without a tube.  A little water ropes course.  An area for water basketball and a huge climbing structure, with smaller slides for younger kids.  The other room also had three water slides.  These were more intense for older kids, with 2 of the 3 having a 48″ minimum height requirement.  One of the water slides, you stand upright in a tube and the floor gives way under your feet!  My 9 year old loved that one.  A wave pool and a shallow pool area with little structures and two little slides.  In each area there are some seats and some tables.  Most of these seemed to be taken.  I only needed 1 or 2 chairs to put our bag and towels on.  In the first room they have a full bar and a fast-food snack area.  Their policy is that you cannot bring coolers into the water park areas or your own food.  I saw plenty of people bringing in snacks and sandwiches.  The staff did not seem to notice or to care.  I think if you are not obviously bringing in a big cooler but bringing some snacks, drinks or sandwiches in your pool bag you will be fine.  They provide towels in both rooms.  The used towels need to stay in the water park so a cover-up or robes for the kids is really useful when walking back to your room since the water park is heated to 84 degrees but the rest of the hotel isn’t.  I felt like the water park areas were clean and the lifeguards were very attentive.  There are free life vests in both rooms for kids to wear if they want to.  This was very helpful for my 4 year old.  While he can swim, it was nice to give him the extra support.  The water is VERY chlorinated.  They recommend taking breaks from the water or rinsing off in the bathroom showers if you have sensitive skin – I would also recommend against shaving your legs the day you’re going (I speak from personal experience!).

Room

We spent two hours at the water park and then my kids were tired.  I got our room assignment, got our luggage from the car and we went to our room.  The layout was perfect for us.  There was a front room with a full size bed and a pull-out couch.  Every room has a mini-fridge and microwave.  We had one bathroom and through the bathroom was another room with a queen size bed.  All the furniture is “lodge” themed with wood log beds and bedside tables.  You can get rooms with little bunk beds which follow the theme more – but none were available for our visit.  Maybe next time?

Back in our room – our one toilet was clogged!  We called the front desk and they had someone fixing it within 5 minutes.  We had some questions as to how clean our room was.  There were some towels hanging on the back of the bathroom door, a hair in the shower.  When we found a drawer full of someone else’s clothes we decided it was time to say something.  A manager came right over to take the clothes and he said he would be talking to someone about the situation immediately.  Within 10 minutes we got a call from a manager who profusely apologized, asked if we wanted housekeeping to come and fix anything and offered to give us 50% off of our room.  While we were not happy with our clogged toilet and that our room wasn’t perfectly clean – we couldn’t have been more pleased with the staff and how fast they fixed our problem.

Dinner and Breakfast Options

The line for the restaurant and even the pizza place in the arcade were long and we were not interested.  We ordered from Uno’s and while my husband was bathing the kids I took a 9 minute drive to pick up pizza’s.  Near this complex is a Boston Market, 5 Guys Burger and a frozen yogurt place.  I picked up our food and our kids ate their deep dish pizza happily while watching a free science show in the lobby.  All the adults around us were asking where we got the yummy food.  This was one of our best decisions.  When I got back – I saw one of the local pizza place delivery cars out front – so that is another option.

Our original plan was to go back to the water park after dinner so it would be less crowded.  We were all water parked out at this point and we knew we had more time to enjoy the next day.  We went into the arcade where the kids got yummy ice cream and purchased some video game tokens for the kids to play.  After they each placed 3 games each – they were done for the night.

We got up early for our breakfast buffet – which in my opinion was not worth it!  There was a fine omelet bar, cold cereal and some hot options – but nothing was great.  The coffee was actually pretty terrible.  Our waiter was very nice and attentive – but it was not worth our time, money or effort.  I decided that I needed better coffee to deal with the rest of the day – and proceeded to wait on a 20+ minute line at the dunkin donuts in the hotel.  Next time – I will get up early and head straight down to dunkin donuts for my coffee.  I will either buy a bunch of donuts and juice for my family there for breakfast – or we could keep cold cereal and milk in our room for breakfast.  I saw some smart guests with starbucks who drove a couple of minutes away for their coffee avoiding the crazy long line.  I went back to the dunkin donuts around 1 to get a coffee for our drive home and there was no line then.  In general, try to bring your food or take the few minute drive rather than wait at the hotel for mediocre food.

MagiQuest

The other big attraction at the lodge is MagiQuest.  It is “an interactive live-action, role playing game where players embark on quests and adventures in an enchanted fantasy world using real magic wands to solve the mysteries of the game.”  You can’t miss the game as you will see kids young and old running around the hotel with wands.  You walk pass the screens of the games as you go around the hotel.  We had thought that with the water park we wouldn’t play the game this trip.  With our newly discounted room we decided to give it a try.  If you are going to play the game – you should start your first day there.  When you purchase the game it is good for 4 consecutive days or for the length of your stay.  You can start and stop as you like.  It serves as a nice break from the other activities in the hotel.  Depending on the other things you want to do during your stay you can look into the packages they offer.  We decided to buy one wand for each of my three boys ($17-$23) you can also buy toppers for the wands for additional money – thankfully I convinced my kids that can be a treat for next time.  Talking to a very nice worker in the MagicQuest store – right off the main lobby – we bought one game ($13.99) for my oldest son’s wand.  The other two wands would still do some “magic” – turn the magic lamp in the store on and make the animals in the lobby wake up.  My oldest son’s wand was the one that we would do the quests with and this turned out to be another good decision – in addition to only paying for one game, the younger ones never quite realized their wands weren’t controlling the game.  Plus, if all three were controlling the game then we would have had to repeat each step three times for it to register on each wand.  You receive a pretty extensive map that helps you on your journey.  There are different 10 different quests you can do – kind of like a scavenger hunt – to collect certain powers that then you use on three different adventures.  There are MagicQuest staff members walking around that can help you when you are confused.  What kid wouldn’t love their own wand?  My three boys all loved it!  I just wished we had started the game on our first day – so we could have used it more.  You get to keep your wands and on your next visit you can just buy the game to start again.  Too bad our progress couldn’t have been saved!

We hit the water park for another 2+ hours.  I made some sandwiches in our room for lunch and I was easily able to bring them into the park.  We had the late check-out so we were able to go back to our room, wash off all the chlorine pack-up and head home.
Packing List:
Pool bag
Pool shoes
Goggles (for kids with sensitive eyes)
Robe or cover up to walk back to the room from the waterpark
Underwater camera
2 bathing suits (so you don’t have to put a wet one back on)
Sneakers (you can only do the rope course if you are wearing sneakers)
Socks
Underwear
2 changes of seasonal clothes
Pajamas
Slippers (if you want to wear to the character story time at night)
Toiletries (the bathrooms are stocked with kid friendly shampoo, conditioner and body soap)
Ziplock bags for wet clothes to bring home
Water bottles
Snacks
Bread and toppings for sandwiches
Cold Cereal
Milk
Paper plates
Paper bowls
Plastic silverware

30 Days to a Change

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In November I stumbled onto the Blogher 30-day challenge.  I had been trying to motivate to publish regularly on this blog and the challenge really got me moving.  I did 30 days of posts – but I stopped doing everything else.  I stopped updating my family blog, stalled on my youngest son’s baby book….  After November – I haven’t posted again.  I also haven’t been able to get moving with my other projects that fell by the wayside.  I don’t think my answer is posting every day.  I am going to try twice a week and go from there.

I have a long list of things I want to do on a daily-basis that I want to be part of my routine.  My brother told me that he read if you do something everyday for 30-days it becomes a habit and then easier to keep doing moving forward.  With the new year, and my kids finally back to school from school vacation – here is my list of things I am going to try to do every day for 30-days – hoping they will become a habit and then I can keep them up without as much trouble.

  1. Daily Excersie – on busy days this can be 5-10 minutes of yoga in my house
  2. Daily face lotions – last summer I went to an expensive dermatology practice and spent a ton on a face regime.
  3. Floss
  4. Update family blog
  5. Drink water
  6. 52-week declutter project – I am following this blog which has daily decluttering and organizational projects for the whole year.
  7. Food logging – I use myfitnesspal.com on my phone.  I know this is the only way to achieve my fitness goals.

FINAL DAY!!!!

With a lot of starts and stops the one thing that got me really going was NaBloPoMo.  I did it.  A whole month of blog posting.  It was a lot of work – but fun seeing what I was creating.   Moving forward I need to figure out what my schedule is.  I want to keep up the momentum!

Cookie Pizza – football edition

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I am not the best baker.  But I LOVE eating dessert and so do my boys.  I started making this cookie pizza years ago and I never stopped because it is so good.  The first time I made it look like an actual pizza.  I shaped it in a circle, topped with melted chocolate, shredded coconut and mike and ikea.  I even got a pizza box to serve it in.  Most times, I make it with the chocolate chips in the dough.  For our big football parties I shape it in the shape of a football, top with melted chocolate and then use white icing to make the laces.  I serve it by cutting it into square pieces.  Be creative – it will always be tasty!


Cookie Pizza 

1/2 c butter or margarine, softened

1/c brown sugar

1/4 c granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

1 1/4 c flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 c chocolate chips

2 T butter or margarine

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350º F. In large bowl, mix 1/2 cup butter, the brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and egg until well blended. Stir in flour and baking soda (dough will be stiff).  Add chocolate chips if not melting for the top.
  2. Pat dough in ungreased 12-inch pizza pan or into 12-inch round on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool about 30 minutes.
  3. If you did not add the chocolate chips in batter, melt chocolate chips with two tablespoons butter in a glass bowl in the microwave.  Stir every 30 seconds.
  4. Spread chocolate mixture over baked layer. Immediately top with coconut or other toppings if using. Let stand until set.

Dream Mudroom

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With three boys, I think my mudroom is my favorite and most used room in the house.  We bought our house from a rabbi who had an office in his house.  The office has direct access from the driveway and from the garage.  It is a very big room but it did not make sense for our home office.  In the four years that we have lived here, my husband and I have both bought laptops.  Our “home office” is now anywhere we bring our laptop.  Let’s be honest, this is usually my living room couch in from of the tv.  Hey, that is where I am right now!  So, this big room that we will walk through from the garage would be our mudroom.  When we moved in, (I have to find a before picture!) it was just an empty room with one closet.  For the first two years we made do with a bench and two small bookcases.  We had been planning these lockers from the beginning.  My husband and I spent countless hours on pinterest and houz.  We came up with our wish list and my husband made a drawing of our dream lockers.  We hired an amazing carpenter and they brought our vision to life.

The top cabinets we use for hats, suntan lotion, coloring books for restaurants and anything else we want hidden away but available for quick access.  The open area with the hooks we use for coats, backpacks and my purses.  The bottom drawer is for gloves, hats and the boys yarmulkes they have to wear for school everyday.  The open bottom section is for shoes.  If we had a couple of more inches to the ceiling this part would have been good bigger.  It is too short for snow boots.  I still keep a small two shelf bookcase on the right wall in the mudroom for these shoes and any other extra stuff.

Two years later I am so happy with our design.  No matter how many cabinets you have or systems you have in place, if everyone is not committed to keeping it organized and de-cluttered it will be just as messy as before.

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Cranberry Pineapple Sauce

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Happy Thanksgiving!  If you are looking for a last minute, super easy side dish – this is it.  You probably have most of these ingredients in your pantry.  This sauce is so good with the turkey.


Cranberry Sauce
2 cans whole Cranberries

1 large can drained mandarin oranges

1 large can chopped Pineapple –drained

1 c smashed walnuts

Mix in Large bowl – Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Can be made 1 or 2 days in advance

Double if desired


 

 

Packing Tips – individual packing cubes

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We are not the biggest travelers.  I have a friend who is off somewhere with her kids at least once a month.  During the summer they are gone most of the time.  My parents live in NY, so we go down there 4-6 times a year.  We also go on a few vacations.  I love vacations but I HATE packing.  I am always trying to re-think my planning, method, materials to make this horrible experience slightly easier.

I swear buy these packing cubes from Ikea.  I bought one set for each of my three boys.  Although, now that #1 is in size Large clothes, I bought a forth set since his clothes are so much bigger now!  I used a silver sharpie marker.  On the front of each bag I wrote the boys name.  Even though, I can identify every piece of clothing and who it belongs to – no one else can. On vacation, my parents, mother-in-law or husband can be in charge of getting the boys dressed and I don’t have to be involved!  I use the long bag with the zipper in the middle for socks and under ware, one bag for shirts, and one for pants.  If we are going to a fancy event I will take all three boys clothes for this event and put it in one bag so it doesn’t get confused with everyday clothes.

The cubes have definitely made traveling easier.  The packing is easy if the boys clothes in their closet are put away and organized.  Not fun!

Good luck to everyone who is traveling over this holiday season!

Healthy Pancakes

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My boys LOVE pancakes.  And I really love making it for them.  I am constantly trying to tweak recipes to make them healthier.  There is a fine line between healthy and gross.  I keep trying until the food is still yummy but healthy.  These pancakes meet both criteria and they were a huge hit with my boys.


Healthy Pancakes
 
1 cup white flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 almond meal (very fine)
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp flax meal
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs beaten
2 cups fat free milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tsp melted butter
Optional:  blueberries (fresh or frozen), chocolate chips, nuts
  1. Combine all dry ingredients
  2. Add egg and milk and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  3. Add the melted butter
  4. Heat griddle and oil with nonstick oil spray
  5. Use laddle or ice cream scoop to portion out pancakes.
  6. Add any optional ingredients.
  7. Flip when small bubbles form on top of pancake.  Depending on heat of grill 1-4 minutes
  8. Finish cooking 1-2 minutes
  9. Top with butter, syrup, or whipped cream

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