A date night trick

A date night trick | RISING*SHINING

When Chris and I have a date night planned I find the time leading up to the date night a tiny bit stressful. We're trying to get the house tidy, prep the boys' dinner, get pajamas out, and get ready ourselves. On top of that the boys started getting clingy and emotional when we would leave them with a babysitter. A crying child is not the ideal way to start a fun and relaxing date night.

Enter: the snack pack. Based on the logic that a little treat can go a long way with toddlers and preschoolers, we started putting together little cups of fun snacks for babysitter nights. I randomly put two snack cups together one night before a babysitter came and we must have had cookies or graham crackers on hand, which we don't normally buy. I told the boys that I had "snack packs" for them but only when we were leaving the house. Instead of crying children we were able to leave our babysitter with delighted and engaged children. It was amazing. Now when we tell the boys we're having a babysitter they ask, "Do we get a snack pack?" Yes you do.

A snack pack doesn't have to be overly indulgent or unhealthy. The two key components are to have variety (at least three different kinds of snacks) and novelty. A few things the boys have found in their snack packs include a fruit leather bar, a granola bar, goldfish crackers, graham crackers, a few chocolate chips, peanut butter Puffins cereal, or small cookies (like the Trader Joe's dark chocolate mint stars in the photo above - one of my seasonal favorites!).

They always did great with a babysitter even when there were tearful goodbyes but they would seem to dread the evening. Now they are excited to have a babysitter and we love having a happy transition while we leave the house. Hooray date night!

Freezer breakfast burritos

Freezer breakfast burritos | RISING*SHINING Freezer breakfast burritos | RISING*SHINING

When Cedric was tiny and new and up all night I would get up in the morning and be far from ready to be awake. But Chris would hand me hot coffee and I would remember that I had a stash of freezer breakfast burritos and I would feel like I could make it.

Recently I remembered the glory of freezer breakfast burritos when Chris was preparing to go out of town and Sarah gave me some sage advice to "be sure you eat!" And so I assembled the ingredients and spent a surprisingly short amount of time in the kitchen making and wrapping half a dozen burritos. While Chris was away I would shower the night before and then be up with our early bird.

The morning with young children is constant transitions. You don't realize how many transitions until you have a small person fighting and negotiating every single one. But in the midst of all the negotiations and looking wistfully at the garage door - the finish line - that seemed so far away I would throw a frozen burrito in my lunch bag and imagine eating it in the quiet of my office. 

I usually vary my breakfast burrito recipe whenever I make it depending on what I have in the fridge and freezer. It's a great way to use up veggies or leftover quinoa or rice. A batch of frozen burritos is my new go-to recipe to deliver to parents with a new baby. 

Freezer breakfast burritos
makes ~10 burritos 

12 eggs
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup cooked chopped spinach (from frozen), with excess water squeezed out
grated cheese
roasted potatoes with peppers and onions (from frozen, heated up*)
10 flour tortillas

If planning to freeze burritos prepare 10 squares of tin foil in a stack. Or you can plan to make these for a crowd and eat right away!

Crack eggs and mix well with cooked quinoa. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Pour eggs into hot skillet along with cooked spinach and scramble. When eggs are done remove from heat and set aside, sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Wrap stack of tortillas in a clean dish towel and sprinkle generously with water. Place wrapped tortillas in the microwave and microwave for two bouts of 30 seconds. 

Prepare your burrito assembly area with the tortillas, eggs and potatoes close by. Lay a tortilla on the top of your foil stack and scoop about 1/3 of a cup of the eggs onto the tortilla towards one side. This is an important tip for getting a great burrito fold: don't put the ingredients in the middle, put them to one side!

After the eggs, scoop some potatoes onto the eggs. Fold the tortilla edge over the eggs and roll the burrito over one time, keeping a tight roll. Next, fold in both sides of the tortilla and then keep on rolling until the end, trying to keep everything tucked in. You'll find that you can't load up the burrito too much or you'll compromise a good burrito roll. It takes practice but you'll get there! Also, even ugly burritos taste delicious.

If you are freezing the burritos, place the rolled burrito at one corner of the tin foil and roll long ways across the square of tin foil, mimicking the burrito rolling technique of one roll over, then tuck in the sides and complete the roll. Put burritos in the freezer, high five to your future self!

To prepare a frozen burrito: remove tin foil and wrap in a clean dish cloth. Sprinkle dish cloth with water and microwave ~2.5 minutes. Then, if you have time, put the burrito into the over or toasted oven directly on the rack. Bake at ~350 degrees for a couple minutes, just to give the outside of the burrito a little crispiness.


*Each time I've made these I first cook the potatoes in a skillet. But then I realized that I refreeze them in the burrito within 30 minutes so maybe you should just use these frozen if you are planning to freeze the burritos. Haven't tested this out yet myself, though!


Making good on a promise

The best chocolate ice box pie - perfect for summer potlucks | RISING*SHINING

A year ago I brought my favorite chocolate ice box pie to my friend Becky's Fourth of July party (it's her favorite holiday, which I love about her). It was a patriotic hometown affair where chocolate pie was right at home and I promised her the recipe and I do believe I've been teasing you, lovely readers, with it as well. Well, I'm here to finally make good on that promise! 

I have this recipe handwritten on a folded sheet of lined paper in my recipe binder and it is boldly titled Kelsey's Favorite Chocolate Ice Box Pie. I know that I made this pie for the first time after moving to Arizona and I have a vague memory of making it for the first time in this house, which we bought eight years ago. I'm not sure how discerning I was in my declaration of this being my favorite chocolate ice box pie - I can't say for certain that I've made other recipes. But this one is darn good and so I guess I just knew a favorite upon first meeting. 

Cookie and cake desserts are almost always, in my opinion, improved with a scoop of ice cream and I like the way a cream pie sort of replicates the dessert + ice cream combo. While this pie is quickly earning a repeat appearance at the Fourth of July (you know I know a good tradition) I also think of it around Thanksgiving and usually make it then. So it inspires patriotic and thankful thoughts; you really can't go wrong with chocolate ice box pie.

(I found a plugin that will let me share recipes that you can (hopefully!) easily print!)

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Kelsey's Favorite Chocolate Ice Box Pie
adapted from Southern Living
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup + one handful (for garnish) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pre-baked pie crust, homemade or store bought (I used Trader Joe's pie crust, from frozen)
In a bowl, whisk together corn starch and water and then add sweetened condensed milk, eggs and vanilla. Whisk to combine and set aside. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it gently bubbles around the edges, taking care not to let it boil. Add the chocolate chips to the milk and whisk until melted. Add the sweetened condensed milk mixture to the milk and chocolate and whisk. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for one minute, whisking vigorously and frequently to keep any lumps at bay. Remove pan from heat and spoon mixture into prepared pie crust. Allow to cool until you can cover the pie without inducing copious condensation and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Before serving, combine heavy cream and powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on the pie evenly and sprinkle with roughly chopped chocolate chips.

P.S. The light in my bathroom is the best for food photography:

The best chocolate ice box pie - perfect for summer potlucks | RISING*SHINING

The state of dinner affairs

State of dinner affairs | RISING*SHINING

Have I told you about my dinner dream? Not the slumbering kind of dream but the wistful daydream sort of dream. Here it is:

Around 4:30 or 5 pm I make my way into the kitchen. The boys play independently or might even want to help and we make a work station for them at the learning tower. I pull down my recipe binder and flip to a recipe, perhaps an familiar one or something new. I gather ingredients from the pantry and fridge and pour myself a small glass of white wine (nothing too sweet) or open a beer. 

If one of the boys is being my sous chef I turn on music or if I'm cooking alone I turn on a podcast. I spend the next half hour or so chopping, mixing and cooking. The boys set the table with cloth napkins and silverware. I might even have time to whip up a quick dessert as a treat for the family. While dinner simmers or cooks I have time to tidy the kitchen or perhaps to even sit for a minute and read or be with the boys. When dinner is ready I call in the boys and Chris from outside or from their corners of the house. We fill four plates with the same dish and settle into our seats. As we eat we talk about our days or what we're reading lately or interested in and what adventures are coming up. 

That's about where my daydream fades. I love living in this daydream. Cooking from recipes! Eating the same thing! Sitting civilly at the table!

To anyone without small children these might seem like such mundane things that are everyday occurrences. But in our current situation, with two full time working parents and a one-year old and three-year old, they would be monumental achievements. 

The current state of dinner affairs for Team Wharton is this:

We get home by about 5:40 pm from work and daycare. There is usually a request to play outside, which we try to accommodate. One parent is on outside duty and the other is on dinner and lunch processing duty. Because we aim to have the boys in bed by 7 we have to be finished with dinner by about 6:30. So, working backwards, that leaves about 15 or 20 minutes for dinner prep on week nights. So we have to hit the kitchen running and there isn't time for cooking from recipes. Our go-tos are quesadilla varieties, homemade mac and cheese with tuna and peas, grilled cheese and frozen veggies or quick roasted veggies, homemade pizza and quiche.

We usually eat dinner gathered around the kitchen island with Chris and me standing and multi-tasking, Dashiell in his learning tower and Cedric in his high chair. It often feels like a circus with Cedric trying to communicate that he does or does not like something and is impatient for us to figure it out. Cedric is rejecting a lot of food recently and hasn't taken to many vegetables and I feel that I always have a simmering worry about the boys' vegetable consumption.

Dash will get in and out of his tower and might decide he wants something different and we try to navigate his request. We usually offer dinner with cereal as an alternative but sometimes we don't want to have the battle and he does get to have the yogurt he wanted. Real talk.

At the same time we might be trying to finish processing lunch dishes from our packed lunches and preparing lunches for the next day. Some component of dinner always ends up on the floor flung by Cedric. Sometimes Chris and I split a beer but rarely even finish our half beer amidst attending to diner duties. It all feels very far away from my relaxing dinner day dream.

But I'm trying to remember that this, like everything, is a phase. With our youngest under 18 months there is sure to be a lot of rejected and thrown food. And we do fit in as many vegetables as possible - frozen chopped spinach especially is easy to put in quesadillas and smoothies. When I look at Dash's table manners and the range of his palette I'm reminded that we will get there and that it probably isn't that far away - and how I will enjoy that glass of wine when we do!

Choose your own adventure work day salad

Favorite lunch salad | RISING*SHINING

I am a fierce believer in packing a lunch and lately I've been toting giant salads to work. Mornings go infinitely more smoothly when we prep the night before so this weekday salad is made ahead of time and patiently waits until lunchtime the next day.

I used to find that I enjoyed eating hearty salads when I went out to eat but could never recreate such enticing salads at home. And then I figured out the magic salad formula! There are several components but flexibility within each to use what you love or have on hand. It's a choose your own adventure salad!

Here's what I throw together:

+ crunchy lettuce. Weedy, wilty lettuce need not apply. Don't even think about it, field mix.

+ two or more chopped veggies. I love red bell peppers, edamame, carrots, celery and cucumber to name a few.

+ cheese. Feta has my heart.

+ a grain. Barley is my favorite followed by farro and quinoa. I love the 10-minute barley, farro and bulgur from Trader Joe's.

+ nuts. Toasted pistachios are my jam right now. I've also been swayed by rosemary and thyme maple toffee sunflower seeds.

+ optional extra protein. Sometimes I add a chopped hard-boiled egg or some chickpeas.

+ great dressing. Always plentiful, never low fat. Lately I reach for Trader Joe's Romano Parmesan Caesar, but I also love to make my own mustard vinaigrette with a one to one ratio of red wine vinegar to olive oil and a hearty squeeze of brown mustard.

My salad assembly goes like this:

In the bottom of a large lunch container I pour 1 - 2 tablespoons of dressing and add a spoonful of artichoke bruschetta topping (a recent addition). Then a layer of cooked grain is added, followed by feta, frozen edamame (they thaw by lunch time!) and any other veggies. Next I pile in chopped romaine and, finally, sprinkle on some nuts. I used to bring a separate small jar with my dressing but I've found that secreting the dressing at the bottom of the salad prevents sogginess and saves me a container.

When lunch time rolls around I just shake my salad container with abandon to mix everything with the dressing and lunch is served.