Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Chicken Parmesan Casserole + 30 Days of Dinner!!

This month's feature certainly isn't the most gourmet nor does it look particularly pleasing. BUT Cami basically cooked the entire dish herself with some very slight oven help from me. Kane is interested in cooking, but Cam really throws herself into every small detail. She's careful and methodical. She pays attention to kitchen safety. She doesn't mind prep or cleanup work (actually, she loves it) and takes her time to do things right. So I have started to give her more responsibility when she wants it, including using the stove/oven and sharper knives (all with supervision). So she's really been able to cook entire meals herself. And even though I prefer my alone time in the kitchen, I've loved spending this time with her. So, I'm featuring her first big meal this month—it also happens to be really tasty.

We were on vacation for 10 of these 30 days, but instead of leaving out vacation time, I included it for reality's sake and because, for some reason, people love to see what we eat on vacation. Happy almost end of summer!!

Chicken Parmesan Casserole
(from Emily Bites)

- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 1 1/2 cups reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 2 oz parmesan cheese
- 3.5 oz garlic croutons, roughly crushed, leaving some larger pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9 X 13 baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Spread the cubed pieces of chicken across the bottom of the baking dish in a single layer. Sprinkle the minced garlic, red pepper flakes and basil evenly over the chicken. Spread the sauce evenly across the top. On top of the sauce layer, sprinkle 3/4 cup of the mozzarella and one ounce of the parmesan evenly across the dish. Sprinkle the crushed croutons across the top and follow with the remaining cheese.
3. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

*          *          *

Day 1 (M) -- Blackened Fish Tacos with Avocado Cream
Day 2 (T) -- dinner out
Day 3 (W) -- Cheesy Taco Skillet (with ground turkey); Grilled Corn and Avocado Salsa (Weight Watchers)
Day 4 (Th) -- Greek Chicken Sausage Sandwiches (Weight Watchers); sweet potato fries
Day 5 (F) -- Crispy Panko Chicken Breasts; green salad
Day 6 (Sat) -- grilled steak and salad
Day 7 (Sun) -- dinner out

Day 8 (M) -- Honey Dijon Salmon (Weight Watchers); brown rice; roasted cauliflower
Day 9 (T) -- dinner out
Day 10 (W) -- Fajita Turkey Burgers; sweet potato fries
Day 11 (Th) -- Boudin Bakery: Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl
Day 12 (F) -- Presidio Social Club: East West Chicken Noodle Soup + Kale Salad (I really still didn't feel good!)
Day 13 (Sat) -- Statebird Provisions: we ate all kinds of delicious dim-sum style dishes
Day 14 (Sun) -- Solbar: Sicilian Halibut Crudo + Niman Ranch Prime New York Pavé

Day 15 (M) -- picnic dinner from Rush Creek Lodge general store
Day 16 (T) -- poolside BBQ at lodge
Day 17 (W) -- Majestic Yosemite Lodge: Caesar Salad + Capellini Pomodoro
Day 18 (Th) -- Sushi Ran 
Day 19 (F) -- Del Popolo
Day 20 (Sat) -- Mission Chinese Food (Kung Pao Pastrami was deeelish!)
Day 21 (Sun) -- airport subs!

Day 22 (M) -- Smoked Salmon Pizza with Whipped Goat Cheese, Capers, and Tomato (Plated); green salad
Day 23 (T) -- Carne Asada Tacos with Pico de Gallo, Avocado, and Lime Crema (Plated); corn on the cob
Day 24 (W) -- Chicken Parmesan Casserole
Day 25 (Th) -- Hobo Pack Chicken Fajitas; black beans; rice
Day 26 (F) -- Braised Pork in Lazy Cherry Ancho Mole (this was PHENOMENAL); Blistered Shishito Peppers
Day 27 (Sat) -- dinner out
Day 28 (Sun) -- dinner out

Day 29 (M) -- Blackened Salmon Sandwich with Kale-Fennel Slaw and RĂ©moulade (Plated)
Day 30 (T) -- Pan-Seared Chicken with Asparagus, Tomato Jam, and Butter Lettuce Salad (Plated)


Monday, August 28, 2017

California Day 2: San Francisco -- California Academy of Sciences + de Young Museum

Every family vacation, the kids seem to come up with one or two annoying and never-ending games or activities. In Italy, it was rocks, paper, scissors and virtual hangman. Last year in Scotland and Ireland, they added staring contests and photo bombing. On our California trip, they chose to bombard us with random Presidential trivia questions (Kane is obsessed and brought three books with him on the trip—did you know that Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca!?) and their total inability to take a normal outdoor photo because they "could not look into the sun."

Between the latter and my continuing allergy/sinus issues (I finally got my dr. to call in a prescription for me the next morning and things cleared up quickly!), I just didn't get a lot of photos on our second day. Now had they brought sunglasses as I suggested, we could have avoided ridiculous photos like the one above. But what fun would that be?! Plus, I just might make that our holiday card because it's hysterical. Nevertheless, we managed to have a great second day.

We didn't want to do a big, sit-down breakfast so we walked to nearby Fillmore Bakeshop for great coffee and delicious quiche for the kiddos. After meeting up with Uncle Steve, we headed over to Golden Gate Park for some museum time. I somehow totally overlooked the fact that the enormous music festival Badlands was going on in the park that weekend, but we stuck close to the museums and didn't have a problem. It also meant though that we didn't get to explore a ton of the park itself (including missing out on the buffalo), but again, we'll just have to go back!

Our first stop was the fabulous California Academy of Sciences (included in our CityPASS), which is an aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium all in one. It's all topped off by an amazing living roof too. We wandered around the aquarium first and took in a diver show for a while. The kids loved the hands-on area where they got to explore local sea life too. But, we were  all still adjusting a little bit to the time change and everyone was a little cranky and hungry. So we did a quick trip through the rainforest and decided to skip the planetarium this trip. I had a feeling some chips and guac would set everyone straight, so we took a quick walk to Nopalito for lunch. It was deeeelish. Food (plus a few margs for the adults who were not battling a sinus infection) helped immensely!

The de Young Museum was on my agenda for the afternoon and we walked back through a bit of the park to get there. Our CityPASS gave us general admission, but I really wanted to see The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll. So we shelled out a little extra for that. Street signs outside the museum set up some nice parallels between important issues of the 1960s and current times. And the kids played while we waited for Aunt Leslie to meet us.

We went straight to the special exhibit and had a hilarious time trying to explain all the psychedelic art to the kids. I finally stopped beating around the bush and explained what psychedelic drugs were and how they played a role in everything they were seeing. It was a pretty funny conversation. They didn't quite get that part of it, but they did seem to understand what people were protesting about. Sadly, while we've made great strides in some things, others haven't changed all that much.

Cam loved the fashion and was into the art. Kane was a little creeped out, I think. I was all in to see the rest of the museum, but I was losing everyone else. They wanted outside, they wanted to rest, they wanted to chill. So we parted ways for a bit and went back to the hotel. A little down time plus some showers got everyone back on track and we headed over to the Presidio Social Club for dinner with Steve and Leslie. Presidio is actually a National Park (we didn't have our National Park Passports with us and I was kicking myself! I made sure to carry them with us everywhere for the rest of the trip) and a former military post. Presidio has a bunch of hiking trails and scenic overlooks (Crissy Field has amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge), but we were really there to eat. The Social Club was once part of the military barracks and has been converted into a super cute and delicious restaurant.

After dinner we strolled through the Marina district and through the Palace of Fine Arts, which is an amazing place to visit during the daytime but was beautiful lit up in the evening as well. Everyone was tired and we had hiking planned for the next day, so we called it a night!

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Friday Five!!

It's been a fast week back from vacation -- lots of catching up on sleep, laundry, and down time. The kids still have another week off from school, but none of us feel much like getting out and about. I'll take a week (or two) of lazy ....

Making -- we've been keeping activities real simple this week. If the kids can do it themselves, they can do it. Watercolors is still a fave late afternoon activity for them and OOLY is our go-to brand for gorgeous colors.

Reading -- I'm loving this book about a geobiologist. I tried to read it to the kids, but couldn't get them to stay interested. I might try again because I think Cam would love it. But they did both love A Wrinkle in Time, so we're on to the next in the series: A Wind in the Door.

Cooking -- if there is anything I like about coming back from vacation, it's getting back in the kitchen! I love to dine out, but it gets old quickly. We are really trying to cut down on red meat, so I tried a bunch of new chicken and fish recipes this week. An easy fave was Food and Wine's Hobo Pack Chicken Fajitas. It's not life changing or anything, but it is so easy, quick, and the kids can basically make it themselves with some help on the grill.

Playing -- while the kids seem incapable of playing any game for more than several minutes without arguing (that's if they even can agree on how to set it up), they busted out an old fave this week and almost made it through an entire game. Cheers for Catan Jr.!

Wanting -- all I want right now is to detox from vacation eating and drinking. I literally ordered a new case of Dirty Lemon from the airplane home. It's not a cleanse and you won't lose a bunch of weight, but it does make you feel better. I like to do the Detox followed by one or two weeks of the Skin + Hair.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

California Day 1: San Francisco -- the Color Factory, Embarcadero, and Fisherman's Wharf

We just arrived home from an amazing, super-fun 10-day trip to California—we did pretty much an even split of time between San Francisco and Yosemite. I find planning vacations almost as much fun as going on them. Well, not really. But I do love researching, coordinating, organizing, and refining travel plans (and I always do a Pinterest board for each trip as a starting point to gather ideas). I generally start by putting together several lists: must-dos, if we have time activities, backup plans, and dining/drinking for neighborhoods around all three (arguably the most important list). But I had the hardest time picking and choosing for this trip! And it didn’t get much better when we arrived as I kept spotting more and more things I wanted to do. All of which is a long way of saying we’ll have to go back (and we will because my brother-in-law Steve is getting married next spring in Calistoga!).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Easy Summer Art Activities

We're headed into that home stretch of summer: August. Sometimes I feel like the season is dragging,  but this year I feel like it's been going way too fast! Nevertheless, when August hits I always find myself in need of a few good, simple art projects that the kids can handle on their own. Head over to the OOLY blog to catch a few of our favorites! 

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Friday Five!!

Whew! August came real fast. We are in vacation prep mode this week and, for some reason, the kids have been totally focused on starting to get ready for back-to-school too. But we've still got lots on our Summer Bucket List to tackle, so onward!

Cooking -- I don't really think that these Greek Chicken Sausage Sandwiches count as cooking, but they were so easy and also such a crowd pleaser that I am definitely working them into our regular rotation.

Making -- my seasonal purging efforts have continued which means I actually made accessible and organized space for all our yarn supplies. Cam's been making pom poms again and I love it. We have a few different kinds of pom pom makers, but these are our favorites.

Playing -- I broke out a bunch of board games this week to keep math practice fun. I forgot how much I LOVE Clue (we have the version that has a second side with a Boardwalk setting)! Incan Gold continues to be a favorite as well.

Reading -- we have all been obsessed with I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives. It definitely brings up some really mature issues and I have edited a little bit as I read, but it's been a really great vehicle for conversations with the kids about issues such as poverty and privilege. And the fact that it's a true story just adds layers of both incredulity and credibility that I don't think a work of fiction about the same would have. I highly, highly recommend.

Wanting -- when we moved I got rid of my old non-stick pots and pans and went stainless steel. I love them, but I hate making scrambled eggs in them. I just can't do it without ending up with a filthy pan that's hard to clean. I'm in need of at least one non-stick and I have my eyes on this one.