Anyone can buy a box of heart-shaped chocolates, but only YOU can give your valentine something made by your own two hands. Treat your sweetheart, bestie, or spouse to something uniquely you with one of the following handy dandy projects.
I love all of these, but I'm going to put in an extra vote for Banana Pudding Ice Cream. If you ask me, there's nothing more romantic than a pint of gourmet dessert.
Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MyWayToVeg #CollectiveBias
Looking for a way to stand out in the lunchroom crowd? I've been seeing a lot of blog posts lately featuring bento bags, cute little lunch sacks that tie shut from the top. Bento bags are Japanese in origin, inspired by the fascinating art of Furoshiki. Similar projects are used to wrap gifts and to hold or transport things in and around the home - in the most beautiful way possible!
This blog post has been compensated by Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. All opinions are mine alone. #LaVaquitaCheese #CollectiveBias #Ad
All hail the mighty casserole. She comes in many forms - often smothered in cheese and packed with flavorful layers. They are made to please a crowd, feed a small army, and reheat with ease. My personal favorites usually involve vegetables while my husband prefers casseroles that focus on pasta.
Vegetable lasagna puts together the best of both worlds, and like casseroles in general, the concept of vegetable lasagna has been reinvented over and over again. For this recipe, I decided to combine savory roasted eggplant and red bell peppers with crumbled queso fresco in a roasted tomato sauce. Replacing traditional ricotta cheese with queso fresco gives this casserole a firm, hearty texture.
I used La VaquitaⓇ Queso Fresco, a local Texas brand in this recipe. La Vaquita® was founded by Maria Castro in 1971. Castro began making the cheese from her Houston home shortly after immigrating from Mexico.
Using a traditional recipe she learned from her grandmother, Castro began making batches of cheese to share with friends and neighbors in Houston. Over 40 years later, La Vaquita® authentic Mexican cheeses and cremas are an important part of Texas' food identity!
Like ricotta or feta cheeses, queso fresco does not melt when heated, but remains firm and crumbly. The mild flavor and delicate crumbly texture of queso fresco is perfect for stuffing casseroles. La Vaquita® Queso Fresco has the classic mellow flavor I expect in a great queso fresco. For a sharper flavor, try using La Vaquita® Queso Fresco Salvadoreno instead.
Included are steps and ingredients for making a fresh tomato sauce using roasted garlic and tomato. To simplify this lasagna recipe, just omit the tomato, onion, and garlic, and skip steps 2 to 4. You are welcome to use a 16-ounce jar of marinara sauce instead.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna with Queso Fresco
A delicious layered casserole stuffed with crumbled queso fresco, savory roasted vegetables and fresh tomato sauce.
- 1 16-ounce package lasagna noodles,
- 5 pounds roma tomatoes
- 1 medium sized onion
- 1 bulb garlic
- 1 large eggplant
- 4 small red bell peppers
- ½ cup frozen spinach
- 4 tablespoons minced fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup olive oil, divided
- 16 ounces La Vaquita® Queso Fresco crumbling cheese
- 16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- salt and pepper, as needed
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a generous pinch of salt to the water, then cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions. Do not overcook. Al dente noodles work best in lasagna. When the noodles have finished cooking, drain them quickly and rinse with cold water to cease cooking.
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Slice the top ⅓ of the garlic bulb off, exposing bulbs. Brush the exposed bulbs with oil and place in small oven-proof bowl or crock. Set aside.
- Cut tomatoes into quarters and remove seeds. Peel and chop onion. Combine tomato and onion in a large bowl, season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss together. Spread mixture onto baking sheet. Roast tomatoes, onions, and garlic bulb for 15 minutes. Remove garlic from oven, then set oven to broiler and broil for 10 minutes. Pop garlic cloves from peel when cool enough to handle.
- When tomato mixture has cooled enough to be handled safely transfer them to a blender. Add peeled garlic cloves, tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon salt. 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and puree until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced basil.
- Set oven back to 450°F. Peel eggplant and cut into ¼ inch slices. Spread slices out on baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush slices with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Line a second baking sheet with parchment. Toss whole peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and place on baking sheet. Roast peppers and eggplant for 20 - 30 minutes or until eggplant is tender and peppers have developed brown or black spots.
- Fill a large bowl or pot with water and ice. Drop roasted peppers into ice bath and allow them to cool for several minutes. Use your finger to peel the skin, stems, and seeds from the peppers. Reserve the peeled flesh in a small bowl and discard the rest. Chop the roasted flesh into strips.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the bottom of a 3-quart casserole dish with olive oil, then place 3 lasagna noodles into the dish. Top with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Place the eggplant slices down to create the next layer, followed by about ½ of the La Vaquita® Queso Fresco.
- Place 3 more noodles down, and another layer of sauce followed by about ½ the shredded mozzarella, and ¾ roasted peppers.
- Place 3 more noodles down, and another layer of sauce followed by the second ½ of the La Vaquita® Queso Fresco and the frozen spinach.
- Place 3 more noodles down, and add one last layer of sauce followed by the remaining mozzarella cheese and red peppers. Sprinkle remaining basil over the top.
- Bake finished casserole for 45 minutes. Switch oven to broiler and broil for 5 minutes to brown cheese. Let lasagna stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
I shopped for this recipe at my local Fiesta. Fiesta carries a great selection of La Vaquita® products including quesos and cremas. You can check them out on Facebook as well. Make sure to look for Ibotta offers for a good deal.
Disclosure:This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Levana. The opinions and text are all mine.
Sleep when they sleep. These words are spoken no less than ten thousand time to every expecting parent, and it truly is great advice. Except for that part where you still need to shower, work, cook, take care of the house, and you know, get on with life. That's where the art of working through nap time comes in.
I never know exactly how long I'll have while the little one snoozes, so I make it a point to pack every moment of his sweet sweet slumber to the gills. I treat nap time sort of like bonus time. I might use it to catch up on work, catch a much needed shower, grab a bite to eat, prep our evening meal, or even sneak in a quick craft project.
...And sometimes I spend his nap on the couch binge watching trashy tv shows.
Anyway, however you choose to make use of those precious napping hours, having a great baby monitor is key. Being able to check on your little pumpkin without actually opening the bedroom door allows you to go about your nap time tasks with your mind at ease.
I was given the Willow™ 5” HD Touchscreen PTZ Video Baby Monitor to check out in advance of this blog post and I can honestly say that I was impressed. The camera has a high definition camera with pan, tilt zoom, and night vision - perfect for babies or toddlers that move around a lot as they sleep. The camera is extremely quiet too, so you don't have to worry about its motor waking your little one if you do choose to adjust the camera angle.
It's also incredibly helpful when checking on toddlers who are out of the crib. Since we moved C into a twin bed (mostly for mama's comfort, to tell you the truth) he's had the freedom to get up and get into pretty much anything and everything. Being able to swivel the camera around the room (and zoom!) lets me see what he's up to. If he's quietly reading books, I can snag an extra ten minutes of mama time before going to get him. If he's scaling the walls, I can intervene right away. It's pretty flipping awesome.
Besides being great for simply watching little ones, the Willow also comes with a ton of really cool extras like built-in feeding and nap timers, a temperature sensor, Talk to Baby™ or Parent Two-Way Communication, and the ability to play nature sounds and lullabies. The monitor uses a 5" touch screen, making it super easy to set up, operate, and customize features.
The 500 foot transmission range and 12-hour battery life of the monitor is also a big plus for busy parents. It gives you the freedom to move all over the house while staying in range. Not having to worry about plugging the monitor in as you go about your nap time tasks makes a world of difference. I can tote my monitor from the kitchen as I formulate recipes, out to the sun room to take photos, and then up to my office to work on a blog post - all without having to plug or unplug anything.
My inner tech geek loves that the Willow uses small private networks to transmit monitor data - discouraging potential hackers. Levana is a pioneer in high-tech monitors and puts a huge emphasis on safety, which is obviously a huge concern for parents.
I put together this cute little video to share a peek into how we make the most of nap time at our house. C loved starring in the mini-film, of course, and has asked me to play "his movie" no less than one million times since we finished it!
Click here for the easy-to share, short-form version
What would you like to do more of during nap time? Enter to win your very own Levana Willow Baby Monitor and make it happen! This giveaway runs until December 5. Good luck!
To find out more about Levana and their wonderful range of baby safety products, visit MyLevana.com. You can also follow Levana on Facebook, where the company shares adorable goodies, like the video below.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Levana. The opinions and text are all mine.
Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #RestAndRenew #CollectiveBias
It's no secret that children are adept at exhausting their parents. It sometimes feels like my husband and I spend every waking moment either at work or chasing our squealing toddler. There isn't much downtime for either of us, and it's been a long time since we've had the luxury of sleeping late or even through the night without interruption. Still, as most parents would tell you, we wouldn't trade our life with C for all the feather beds and R.E.M. on Earth. While the last two years have easily been the most tiring of our lives, they have also been the most rewarding
Still, there are days when I wonder if I might just fall asleep standing up. On those extra sleepy days my son is almost guaranteed to be overflowing with energy. Perhaps it's the universe's way of keeping the family's qì in balance - or maybe it's fate's idea of a cruel joke. Cosmic justifications aside, an over-tired parent and an abundantly engergetic child can be a recipe for trouble. Those are the days when I need to take some extra steps to help muster enough pep to get through the day.
Over the past two years I've developed a few tricks for re-energizing my mind and body. These healthy practices can be a boon on any day, but I find them to be especially useful on the days where I'm feeling a little sleepy.
Morning Walk - What better way to put a positive spin on an early wake-up than going for a morning walk? Exercising at the day's start can help boost energy levels all day long. This is a great example of making the most of a crumby situation - like having your kid jump on your head at 4:00am. If you're up anyway, you may as well do something to help yourself feel better about it. (Chocolate chip pancakes don't hurt either.)
Sneak in a Shower - I am going to go out on a limb and assume that I'm not the only parent who counts a shower as a luxury. Depending on your childcare situation and schedule, an unscheduled shower can be a tricky thing to pull off. But if you can manage it, a healthy spray of water can be just the thing to wake you up. If a real shower isn't in the cards, try just splashing your face with water or even dousing your head in the sink.
Power Nap - An even less likely option than showering for some parents, but again, if you can make it happen, bravo! A short nap, even as brief as 15-20 minutes can do wonders for your overall feeling of wellness. Try and sneak in a snooze while your little one naps, or grab a quick sleep break when your partner or sitter arrives.
Power Snacks - Try snacking on foods packed with energy-boosting vitamins and minerals, like B12, magnesium and potassium. Some great examples of healthy power snacks are almonds, dark chocolate, berries, peanut butter and bananas. Fresh fruit and power greens always make me feel a little better too.
Eat Lunch Outside - A little boost of Vitamin D can help to improve your mood, while the burst of sunlight and fresh air will help remind your body that it is, indeed, awake! If you have your kiddo in tow, this doubles as a way to get some of their excess energy out. Let them play hard while you soak up some rays.
Hydrate - Drinking plenty of fluids is key to good health in general, but is specifically useful for feeling awake and energetic. Being even mildly dehydrated can leave you feeling fatigued, so chug those liquids all day long. Adding a squirt of lemon to your water can add electrolyte benefit too!
Early to Bed, Early to Rise - Strangely enough, I often have a hard time falling asleep on the days I am most tired. This can be really frustrating, and can prolong the torture of exhaustion. I've learned to be pro-active when it comes to recovering from sleepless nights by heading straight to bed after putting my son to sleep. An added bonus to getting to bed early is being able to wake up before my son the next morning. Having some precious alone time when I first wake up is a real treat, and helps make me feel more together all day long.
Dance Party - Nothing gets your blood flowing like good old fashioned exercise. When you feel like you're really hitting a wall try turning up the music and dancing like you've got your own music video. Your kid will love it, and you'll definitely be more awake after a song or two.
In addition to energy-boosting strategies like these, finding a nutritional supplement that works well for you can be a big help. I took Maca Powder for the first time last year while I was trying to conceive. I had learned about the supplement while researching fertility diets, and found that this natural root vegetable, cultivated in the Andes mountains of Peru, has been traditionally used for both food and nutritional purposes. Traditional used for Maca Powder include promoting energy, balancing hormones, aiding sexual function, and the relief of PMS and menopause symptoms.*
I was asked to try out youtheory® Maca Powder previous to writing this post. Having tried several brands of Maca Powder over the past year I could immediately tell that youtheory® Maca Powder was superior in quality to the varieties that I had tried in the past. I found the aroma and flavor of this Maca Powder to be quite mild and easy to blend with everyday foods like smoothies or yogurt. It works especially well in anything with a nutty or spicy flavor. My personal favorite way to enjoy youtheory® Maca Powder is to stir it into pumpkin flavored yogurt.
So what makes youtheory® Maca Powder a great supplement for tired parents? Maca is regarded as a “superfood" and is an "adaptogenic botanical”, meaning that it helps the body adapt to stress and supports normal functions throughout the body. It's considered safe for long-term use, and it can benefit both men and women by helping to encourage healthy hormone levels.*
Nothing messes with my mood and energy level like having my hormones swing out of whack, so I pretty much LOVE Maca Powder. Since this supplement is also used to support reproductive health*, I'm crossing my fingers that making Maca Powder a part of my daily routine will help my body get in better shape for baby-making. We're currently trying to conceive without the use of prescription drugs or treatments. (Mostly because we can't afford that path financially, but also due to the fact that my toddler is still not ready to wean. Ugh.) Cross your fingers for us!
And while you are doing something nice for me, do yourself a favor and think about how you're going to give yourself a little extra energy every day. Will you pledge to take power naps, make morning walks your new healthy habit, or maybe try adding a supplement like youtheory® Maca Powder to your meal plan? Let me know what you're planning to try (and how it works out for you) in the comments below!
Want to learn more about the benefits of youtheory® products and see how others are using them? Check out RestandRenew.com for more info. You can also follow youtheory® on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Look for youtheory® Maca Powder and other Maca Powder products on Costco.com, and FYI - you don't need to be a Costco member in order to shop on their website!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the American Heart Association
It sometimes surprises people to find out that I didn't really learn to cook until my mid-twenties. When I was 25, I could boil spaghetti, but that was pretty much it - despite having worked in restaurants since I was sixteen.
It wasn't until Scott Bobleo (my then boyfriend and now husband) ran into a health problem that I opened a cookbook in earnest and started really learning about food.
I shared this story in detail on The American Heart Association's blog. Visit the AHA blog to find out how breaking up with salt ended up changing the course of my entire life.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for Mighty Nest and Amazon. Shopping through these links helps support Mary Makes Good at no cost to you. Thanks!
Making small changes to the products you use in your home is one way to make a daily impact on the environment and often your budget. Of course, not every re-usable product works as well as it's mass produced disposable counterpart. We've tried out a whole lot of gear over the years, and at this point we don't use a whole lot of dispoable products in our everyday lives. There are still some things we have not been able to replace effectively, like garbage bags or freezer food storage bags, but on the whole I feel like we do a pretty good job of keeping things sustainable around here.
I'm fairly thrifty by nature, so when we decide to purchase re-usable products for our home I need to know that I'm making a sound investment. I know that a lot of you feel the same way, and that blindly buying trendy products isn't the best way to save resources in the long run. After all, what good is a re-usable water bottle if it ends up in the land fill?
My number one piece of advice for buying re-usable products is to invest in products that are either extremely simple or extremely durable. That doesn't always mean going for the most expensive product. For example, mason jars are fairly cheap, built to last, and can serve a huge variety of purposes around the house.
A few months ago I signed up for Mighty Fix, a monthly subscription service from Mighty Nest that delivers a new re-usable product for you to try every month. The subscription is super affordable at just $10 a month, and often delivers a product that retails for well over the price of the subscription. I've found this to be a pretty awesome deal. For example, last week I received Bee's Wrap. I have been curious about the product, but too nervous to spend the money on trying it out. The month before I received three wool dryer balls - one of my favorite home products and definitely worth more than 10 bucks.
Deal Alert: If you'd like to give Mighty Fix a try, use one of the following links to to get a discount on your first month's subscription and the chance to choose the first product you'll receive:
- Try the MightyFix for only $3 with promo code DRYERFIX2016 and get 3 Dryer Balls as your first mont
- Try the MightyFix for only $3 and get 2 sheets of Bee's Wrap for your first month with promo code BEESFIX2016
- Try the MightyFix for only $5 and get an exclusive Lifefactory Water bottle as your first month with promo code BOTTLEFIX2016
When it comes to stocking my house with eco-friendly and re-usable products, there are a few key factors that I always keep in mind.
Now that we've covered my expectations for a great re-usable product, let's get down to business. The following gadgets, gizmos, and gear are my very favorite things to use in place of disposable products.
Stuff for the Home
Dryer Balls - These little balls of felted wool are pure magic. They replace the need for fabric softener or dryer sheets, and are completely natural. You can even scent them with a drop or two of essential oil before starting the dryer to give your laundry a happy, healthy aroma.
Microfiber Dust Cloths - Paper towels are stupid expensive, and they don't even work all that well. Do yourself a favor and buy a set of 2 - 4 microfiber cleaning cloths the next time you run out of paper towel. They work even better than paper and are as good as new after a quick trip through the laundry.
Dish Towels - Same deal. Get yourself a big old pile of inexpensive dish towels and use them to dry spills on the floor, clean up messy counter tops, even dry dishes now and then. You really, really don't need paper towels (or at least not so many). I promise.
Newspaper Seedling Potter - If you like to garden, this little gadget is a great buy. It helps you fold old newspaper (and junk mail flyers) into seedling pots! The paper dissolves shortly after being planted so you don't even have to worry about popping the little cuties out of their shell when it's time to put them in the ground.
Paper Shopping Bags - We keep a stash of paper shopping bags handy for collecting recyclables in our home. When collection day comes we can empty the bags into our bin and toss them along with the rest if they've become slimy or stinky. They also make great scrap paper for craft projects, food photos, and even baking paper in a pinch.
Stuff for the Kitchen
Bee's Wrap - I just started using this stuff and am in love! I tried making my own once upon a time and was less than impressed with the result. These folks have somehow cracked the code though, and developed a great alternative to plastic wrap for everyday use.
Deal Alert: Try the MightyFix for only $3 and get 2 sheets of Bee's Wrap for your first month with promo code BEESFIX2016
Silicone Bowl Covers - Another awesome alternative to plastic wrap, these silicone covers suction down to fit a variety of bowl sizes. It doesn't help much if you are trying to cover a square casserole, but if you have an abundance of round serving and prep bowls these are pretty cool. They do feel a bit spendy - but you may find that you don't need all that many in your stash to replace occasional plastic wrap usage.
Glass Food Storage Containers - Hands down, the best investment I have made in my kitchen. For some reason, even the nicest plastic food storage containers I buy eventually crack apart or disappear. I'm pretty sure there is a special spot in the Bermuda Triangle just for Gladware. I purchased two sets of Pyrex food storage containers two years ago and am yet to lose a single piece. (Knock on wood.) That was definitely money well spent.
Grocery Bags - Here in Austin we have a ban on plastic shopping bags so re-usable totes are pretty essential. Even before that law passed we had a good-sized stash going. I feel like I'm showered with re-usable totes pretty regularly, but there are only a handful that I actually cherish. My sturdy canvas totes are the cream of my grocery bag crop and are never-ever lent out or left behind like their shoddy polyester brethren. I also keep a tiny folded shopping bag in my purse on the regular. That helps save me in those dippy times that I inevitably forget to bring one of my million totes to the store.
Snack Bags - While I don't use these little bags as much as I expected to, they do come in handy whenever I need to collect goldfish crackers or stash a sandwich in something more portable (and less breakable)
Snack / Lunch Containers - While I definitely prefer glass to plastic when it comes to food storage, I am not quite ready to trust my toddler with a glass lunch box. Stainless steel boxes have caught my eye, but I am yet to come to terms with spending that much on a lunch box. For now, my little C packs his PB&J in small Sistema containers.
Silicone Baking Mats - Another superhero in my kitchen, my Silpat mats have been put through their paces. While my Mom guards her Silpats from savory endeavors (hers are just used for baking sweets) I use mine for just about everything. After about six years of vigorous use they are a little grimy, and they have a slice here and there, but overall are going strong. These will replace aluminum foil over your pans while cooking savory foods and can also replace parchment paper for most baked goods. And if you buy a good brand, they will last a very very long time.
Cloth Napkins - Not only will you be saving trees from becoming tissue paper, you will get to feel fancy at every meal! Cloth napkins are a simple addition that will make any kitchen feel just a bit more cozy and environmentally conscious. If the price of cloth napkins seems ridiculous or intimidating, try building your stash at thrift stores or even making your own!
Mason Jars, Lids, and Adapters - Mason jars are an essential (even if hopelessly trendy) part of a sustainable kitchen. They can be used as food storage, drink cups, vessels for homemade bath and body products, and of course, pickling and preserving. Their versatility is increased with the help of re-usable plastic lids, drink adapters, and some helpful DIY mason jar hacks.
Cloth Diapers - Cloth Diapering is probably the biggest opportunity for new parents to save money. Investing in a high quality set of cloth diapers may feel expensive while making the initial purchase, but it can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run. Plus, you'll be keeping a small mountain of plastic from ending up in the landfill. Thanks to the COHI Cloth Network you can do even more for greater good while investing in cloth diapers. COHI helps mamas and babies in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Read their story here - and have some tissues handy.
Cloth Baby Wipes - Another big money saver and something that is really not very inconvenient if you are already cloth diapering. You can make your own cloth baby wipes very easily, or buy them in bundles to use again and again.
Milk Freezer Trays - Plastic pouches can be a big saver for freezing expressed breastmilk, but they are not always a necessity. Re-usable ice cube trays allow you to freeze the milk and then save the cubes in any container you like. This method may not, however, be preferable if you are donating to a milk bank or trying to keep track of a high volume of milk, keep your frozen milk separated by pump, etc. There are definitely times when the little disposable baggies can be the better choice.
Re-usable Food Pouches - I don't know if it is all little children, or just mine, but kids love food in pouches. I love being able to hand him something he can enjoy without a lot of mess, but I really don't love the idea of throwing away pouch after pouch. The waste factor really bugs me. Luckily, there are tons of options for reusable pouches. I have tried a few different kinds, and while I would prefer to love the pouches made from silicone, they don't go over as well with my son (or with my patience) as the plastic types.
I shared a tasty recipe for slow cooked apple butter on Sofab Foods. This super simple recipe infuses classic apple pie spices into one of my very favorite homemade preserves. Visit Sofab Food for the recipe!