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Source: Recipe.com

 

Our rainy weather this weekend combined with my wanting to feed my cold lead me to Chicken Tortilla Soup for dinner tonight.  My frugal side certainly didn’t object.  I have been trying to make soup for dinner a couple of times a month in order to cut down on my grocery expense.  Using a book that I bought at the Chicago book festival a number of years ago: 1001 Delicious Soups and Stews, I have made some real winners.

Tonight’s soup was adapted from the Tortilla Soup in the book, however I completely forgot to take photos before soup bowls were empty so I have a photo from recipe.com.  I had made this soup a number of years ago for my husband, so I knew he liked it.  My daughter seems to like broth-based soups (even if she leaves all of the non-broth portions untouched) and my son has eaten every soup I’ve ever put in front of him – even somewhat spicy concoctions like the enchilada soup at Chili’s.  Well, my little guy took a few bites of his and then said (in his caveman 2 year old speak), “Soup Good Mama.”  High Praise!  Our little girl on the other hand, came to the table crying – we never did figure out why – and refused to eat anything.  I had some tangerines on the table to accompany our soup and I finally got her to stop crying by telling her she could have ONE tangerine before she tried her soup.  Success!  It might have been that she couldn’t have another tangerine until she had eaten “enough” soup.  But there were no complaints coming from her direction as she ate it.

 Tortilla Soup

Cooking Spray

3 corn tortillas, cut into strips

1 small onion, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

1 medium tomato, chopped

1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves

1/2 tsp. ground cumin — I use a bit less

1 quart chicken broth

1 can (15 1/2 oz.) pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1 can green chiles

6 oz cooked chicken, chopped or shredded

2 tsp. chopped cilantro

salt and cayenne pepper

lime wedges

avocado

 

Spray a large, hot saucepan with cooking spray and saute the onion, celery, tomato, basil and cumin until the onions are soft.  Add the chicken stock, 1 cup of water, beans, chiles and chicken.  Heat to boiling and then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer 5 minutes and then remove from heat.  Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and cayenne.

While the soup is cooking, spray a non-stick pan and heat.  Place the tortilla strips in the pan and spray the tops with cooking spray.  Fry until crispy.

To serve: place tortilla strips in the bottom of the bowl and ladle soup over the top.  Top with a squeeze of lime juice, avocado and a few more tortilla strips for garnish.

Notes:

  1. I left out the chiles and the cayenne pepper in hopes that my children would eat it.  The chiles were served on the side to be added in by the adults.  In retrospect, the soup wasn’t hot with just the chiles.  I could have left them in.  I should have put a dash of cayenne or tabasco in my serving of soup — I’m sure my cold would have appreciated it.
  2. You can use left-over chicken with almost any flavoring.  However, I cooked up two boneless, skinless chicken thighs for my soup: Before starting the soup, heat a pan with some vegetable oil.  Salt and pepper the chicken and cook a few minutes on each side.  Once the chicken is brown on both sides, pour a half cup of water into the pan and cover it.  I had chopped my onions and celery while the chicken was browning, so by this point, I was ready to start my soup.  Once the vegetables were soft and I had added my broth and beans, I pulled the chicken out of the pan and chopped it up to put in the pot.  It dirtied another pan, but it only added about 3 minutes to my total cook time. So even though I didn’t have leftovers, this was still a quick meal to make.
  3. The original recipe calls for 5 cups of chicken broth.  But I am frugal (or some might say cheap) so I use one box of chicken stock which is 4 cups and then add a cup of water.  If you have lots of chicken broth on-hand, feel free to make all 5 cups broth.

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Blue Chair Children’s Books is a gem in the crown of locally owned businesses that abound in the Southland.  In addition to their wonderful selection of books, they are known for their music merriment class and story times.  Both of which are completely free.  A few weeks ago my princess entered the Cinderella stage.  I must have read the story 3 times a day for over a week (it has now tapered down to a few times a week).  So when I saw that Blue Chair Children’s Books was having a storytime with Cinderella, I put it on my calendar.  But as I started talking to people, I heard over and over again that Blue Chair had closed.  No! How could this be? Is Macaroni Kid giving out bad information? So I found the Blue Chair website and called the phone number listed there (how is that for investigative reporting) and here is what I found:

  • Yes, Blue Chair Children’s Books has closed their Brick and Mortar store on Glendora Avenue.
  • Yes, they still hold Music Merriment twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays) and there was still a Cinderella Storytime scheduled for this past Saturday (sorry I didn’t get you all advance notice but you might still be able to get tickets to the tea party this Friday).

How can both of these statements be true?  They have transitioned to an internet bookstore.  They are renting space from Classic Coffee on a per event basis and continuing to provide Story Times and Music Merriment completely free.  Books are available for sale and a short announcement that they accept donations is made at these events but there is no pressure at all.  In addition to this and their income from their online sales, Blue Chair rents out their services for literary themed birthday parties and holds special teas (see the Cinderella Tea below).

So how did my little princess like her encounter with the glass slippered princess herself?  Well, she whispered answers to all of Cinderella’s questions before the story … listened with rapt attention as the story was being read … waited around until all of the other children had their chance to talk to Cinderella and she was the last child left … but then only stared at Cinderella while attempt at conversation was being made … refused to take her picture with Cinderella but wanted me to take one of just Cinderella … and then play-acted being Cinderella and reading HER story for the entire rest of the day and well into this week.  Nope, the Cinderella bug is not over.

Upcoming Events at Blue Chair

All Events Held at 146 N. Glendora Ave., Glendora

TEA with CINDERELLA on Friday, Nov. 30 from 3:00-4:00pm. Ages 3+ are welcome to join us for a special time with Cinderella as she leads us through a Story Time Event, Games, a Craft, French Finger Food Tea Cuisine (kid friendly) and of course, time with Cinderella! We only accept 8 children, so don’t delay! The cost is only $20 for tea with a princess. Please RSVP by calling 626.208.7502 or email us at bluechairparties@gmail.com. The tea will be located at our mini Blue Chair at 146 N. Glendora Ave., Glendora.

MUSIC MERRIMENT classes meet each Tuesday and Friday at 10:30am from December 4-21. Our theme this month will be “Christmas!” Join us for fingerplays, action songs, music ‘n motion, drumming and more! We will then take 2 weeks off and resume our regular Music Merriment classes on Tuesday, January 8! FREE [Note this is from their December Calendar -- they are also holding Music Merriment this week.]

The mini Blue Chair store will be open (9:00 – 11:00 am) after the GLENDORA CHRISTMAS PARADE on December 8th.

They are also sponsoring a visit from Santa (under the large Christmas tree in the courtyard

  • Saturday, December 8 from 4:00-7:00pm
  • Friday, December 14 from 5:00-8:00pm
  • Saturday, December 22 from 4:00-7:00pm

 

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Day Out With Thomas — Perris, CA

Source: http://www.dayoutwiththomasperriscalifornia.com/

This Saturday and Sunday (November 17th and 18th) you will find Thomas at the Orange Empire Train Museum.  Tickets are $19/$21 a person and include a 25 minute ride with a full-sized Thomas the Tank Engine.  See their website for more information.

 

Metrolink Toy Express

 

Source: Rocketeer Mom

Each year, Metrolink lights up a train with over 50,000 lights and stops in stations all along its line for a short show.  The show is free.  Just arrive at your local Metrolink station prior to your scheduled time (last year, the Claremont platform was pretty crowded a half hour ahead of the show). At each station, firefighters are collecting for their Sparks of Love Toy Drive.  The Toy Express will hit our area this weekend.  Follow this link to the full schedule.

Saturday, November 17th

San Bernadino – 5:00 pm
Rialto – 6:00 pm
Fontana – 7:15 pm
Rancho Cucamonga – 8:00 pm

 

Sunday, November 18th

Montclair – 5:00 pm
Upland – 5:45 pm
Claremont – 6:30 pm
Covina – 7:45 pm

 

One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure

Big Bird, Elmo and their friend from China, Hu Hu Zhu, take viewers on a journey of discovery to learn about the Big Dipper, the North Star, the Sun, and the Moon in the Randall Planetarium at Mt. SAC (1100 N. Grand Ave; Walnut, CA 91789).  The show is 30 minutes and is appropriate for preschool age kids. Showtimes are at 10:00 am every other Wednesday through December 19th (November 21st, December 5th, December 19th).  Cost is $3 (Ages 6 and up) or $1 (ages 2-5).

 

22nd Annual Winter Fantasy… Laguna

The 2012 Winter Fantasy will feature the fine art and craft of over 170 exhibitors four weekends November 17-December 9 (including Friday, November 23rd) on the Sawdust Art Festival grounds.

Source: No Rest for Bridget

I have never been to this festival, but I intend to this year.  I’ve heard amazing things about it.  I’m hoping to find some original hand-made gifts.  In addition to having items for sale, there are many demonstrations and you can participate in art projects for both children and adults (price is low or even free).  Santa will be on hand for a few pictures.  Speaking of pictures, I keep finding images of the festival that include snow.  I see no reference to that on the festival’s website. They do remind you to dress warmly, this is an outdoor festival.

Admission:
$6.00 Adult one-day
$5.00 Senior one-day (65+)
$3 Children (6-12)
FREE Children (5 & under)
$9.00 Season pass

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Shopping for Thanksgiving Dinner?

When I was in my early 20s and living in my first apartment I made my very first Thanksgiving dinner.  I wasn’t allowed to bring anything substantial to my family’s Thanksgiving celebration (“Sure, you can bring some rolls.  Bring the ones from Costco, they are so good.”) so I started cooking Thanksgiving dinner the Saturday before Thanksgiving and inviting my friends over.  There are certain dishes (cornbread stuffing) that I have made every year since that very first year.

Cooking this dinner has always been a several day event for me and I LOVE IT!  But, it has changed since I’ve had kids.  For three years I was either pregnant (food and I were not friends during my pregnancies) or I had infants.  I just didn’t feel on top of things those three years.  And when I feel a level of incompetence it starts to snowball for me.

Last year at this time I was finally in a better place.  Our move had provided a nice big kitchen space and I had company coming to stay with me for the holiday.  I got on top of things and made a list of all the dishes I planned to make for the big dinner and then I listed EVERY ingredient (and supplies such as cheesecloth and parchment paper) that I needed to make that dish.  In the past, I made lists just of what I needed to buy but then I would run out of, say,  butter … because everything for Thanksgiving dinner takes butter!  This way, I could calculate how much of everything I needed.  But here is the best part.  I STILL HAVE THIS LIST. I now have a single location from which I can make this year’s grocery list.  I don’t need to pull out every recipe and sort through it all again.  All Done!

As I’ve been reading blogs on the web, I’ve noticed a few helpful links that I thought I would pass on to you:

  • There is quite a bit of prep work that I can do even now, a week ahead of time.  For instance, I can make pie crust.  My go to pie crust is the one from Closet Cooking but Amy, over at MomAdvice, has put up a nice tutorial.
  • Thanksgiving is over for Canadians but one of my favorite blogs, Simple Bites, has a great list of how to prepare for Christmas (less than 6 weeks away).  She has several make ahead meal ideas on it to get her through her busy time.  Since I am having company for Thanksgiving, there are several of these I am planning borrowing, namely, her onion soup base.
  • I recently met Jyll Everman at a cooking demonstration at a friend’s house.  Jyll is a local chef/caterer but you may know her nationally as a finalist from season 7 of Food Network Star.  She has a podcast giving advice on all aspects of cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
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I had a wonderful group of women over for a Fall lunch this weekend.  It was actually cold enough that cornbread and chili was acceptable fare.  I also made Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese from Simple Bites and a warm brussel sprout salad.  But the recipe most requested from the day was my hot pepper relish that was served as an appetizer.  Here is the recipe:

Hot Pepper Relish

3 1/2 c. hot peppers, seeded and chopped

2 c. white vinegar

2 c. sugar

Carefully, seed the peppers (Use gloves if you have them).  Use a food processor to finely chop them.  If you don’t quite have 3 1/2 cups you can include some sweet bell pepper in the mix.  This recipe is very forgiving.  Let the peppers soak in the vinegar for 4 to 6 hours.  Then bring the peppers, vinegar and sugar to a full boil in a medium size pan.  Once the mixture remains at a boil even when stirred, set the timer for 1 minute.  After 1 minute, pour the mixture into a sterilized jar.  This recipe makes approximately one pint. I do not know the chemical composition well enough to know what sort of processing this needs to be shelf-stable.  I keep mine in the refrigerator.

To serve, spread a little cream cheese on a cracker and then place a small dollop of the pepper relish on top.

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Higginbotham Park is a deep, grassy park tucked into a Claremont neighborhood and a way-point for the Thompson Creek Trail.  This park offers a train themed play-structure, a sand-pit, several “bouncy” animals (seat on a spring), baby swings, rocks to climb, nature to explore and access to the Thompson Creek Trail.

A short walk west of the park along the Thompson Creek Trail, brings you to a property that has several horses and even a donkey.  This is a fun destination or a nice place to take a short break if you are walking the length of the Thompson Creek Trail with your children.  The Trail is a gentle uphill climb from Town Ave to Mills Ave in Claremont.  Higginbotham Park is slightly west of the half-way mark.  I often do this as a stroller walk, starting at Higginbotham and walking uphill to Mills before turning around and letting the kids play at the park on our return. I know several people that don’t want to start at the park or they will never get their kids going for the walk.  For them, there is a parking lot at the end of Indian Hill Blvd (across from La Puerta Sports Park).

We love this park, but there are some detractors.  The rocks are great for stable preschoolers and older who like to climb, but they can be pretty nerve-racking for parents of toddlers; there are no “big-kid” swings at this park and it can be difficult to see all parts of the play area at once.  So monitoring several children can be a challenge. Fortunately, my older child loves to push her little brother in the swing (or even push her imaginary friends that always seem to find us at this park) and it is a quiet neighborhood park, for the most part, so it is not too challenging to keep an eye on several areas at once.

Park Information: Higginbotham Park is located in Claremont on Mt. Carmel Drive.  This is a small neighborhood street between Mountain and Indian Hill, north of Baseline.  There is parking on Mr. Carmel or a parking lot at the end of Indian Hill.

 

 

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This Friday and Saturday (November 9th and 10th) is the 64th Annual Pilgrim Place Festival in Claremont.  We heard about this the morning of the first day of the festival last year and decided to go since we had nothing planned for the day.  We then went again the next day, so that the whole family could go, because I was so impressed by what I had seen.

Admission is free.  I felt that everything was extremely reasonably priced.  I don’t remember exact prices of things but I think we spent around $20 for both days.  The kicker for me, was the energy and enthusiasm the resident volunteers put forward.  Pilgrim Place is a retirement community for men and women who had worked in religious service or with nonprofit humanitarian organizations.  In essence, the residents enjoy people … and it shows.

Many events throughout the day cost nothing at all.  These include drum circles, native american storytelling, early american homecrafts (making butter) and a live performance (at 1:45) of residents doing a sing-along look at America — past, present and future.  There is a plant sale, craft fair, flea market, train ride and even a Mayflower (on wheels) ride.  In addition to the two rides, the kids enjoy face-painting, sidewalk chalk (free) and several unique crafts.  My, then 2 year old, daughter loved the Glue-In where our ticket was exchanged for a pot of glue, a piece of cardboard and access to large bins of “recycled” items that could be glued into a work of art.  She also talked about the Squiggles craft for months afterward.  With assistance, she melted crayons on an electric skillet and then transferred the wax onto paper to make a butterfly card.

Some of this may be hard to picture from a written description.  The following YouTube video is of the 2011 Pilgrim Place Festival:

Festival Information: Pilgrim Place is located at 625 Mayflower Road; Claremont, CA 91711.  In addition to street parking, there is parking at the Catholic church across Harrison.  Admission is free.  The Festival is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Friday and Saturday, November 9th and 10th.

 

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Oat Waffles

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We eat a lot of oats in this house.  It is our most used whole grain (even over brown rice).  I never gave my babies commercial baby cereal; I ground up oats and cooked them instead.  I really didn’t even do that for long.  Mixing cooked rolled oats with puréed fruit (usually store-bought, unsweetened applesauce) made it the right consistency for early eaters.  We still have oats and apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon roughly twice a a week for breakfast and one of my favorite Fall breakfast recipes is Apple Pie Steel Cut Oats from Simple Bites which is made overnight in the crock pot so it is ready for you in the morning. But our favorite way to eat oats in the morning is in these Oat Waffles.

Oat Waffles

3/4 c. rolled oats (also called old-fashioned)

3 Tbs. butter, cut into pieces

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. whole wheat flour

1 Tbs. sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 c. buttermilk

Cook the oats in a saucepan with 1 1/4 cups of water just until the water is absorbed.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted.

While the oats are cooking, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Separate from the flour mixture, combine the eggs and buttermilk.  Pour the eggs and buttermilk into the slightly cooled oatmeal and combine. Then stir the wet ingredients into the dry.

Follow the directions for your waffle maker. (I have a 2 section waffle maker and I put a quarter cup of batter on each side and let it cook for 2 minutes.)  Serve with powdered sugar, maple syrup or put a fried egg up on top.  All are delicious.

I usually make a double batch and these freeze beautifully.  I place waxed paper between the layers of waffles in a freezer bag and freeze them flat.  You can put them, frozen, in the toaster to reheat.

What else do we do with oats?

  • We make our own granola (oats, pecans, honey and some oil baked for 40 minutes. Add dried fruit after it comes out of the oven) which gets eaten with plain yogurt (also usually homemade) and maybe a touch of jam.
  • We put it in chocolate chip cookies (in no way do they taste like oatmeal cookies that have chocolate chips instead of raisins).
  • It even goes in our meatloaf.

What do you do with oats?

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One day in early October, I needed an activity that would occupy my little guy while his big sister was napping.  Unfortunately, nothing was holding his attention … the only thing he wanted to do was wake up his sister.  I have no idea why, all she would do when she woke up would be to NOT PLAY WITH HIM and she would do it bossily and loudly.  But filial love is beyond reason.  In desperation, I brought out a plastic container of beans, some measuring spoons and a few containers to fill.  He then proceeded to move the beans from one container to another for 45 minutes.  Yep, he is two and he did the same activity for 45 minutes.  I know it was this long because I decided to make a phone call while he was occupied for a few minutes and I checked the call length when I hung up … yep, 45 minutes. (Can you tell I am still in shock?)

On that first occasion with the beans, I sat right next to him (while talking on the phone) and reminded him occasionally to keep the beans on the tray.  I also prompted him to refill the main container from the smaller ones periodically in order to keep the fun going.  A few days later, he brought me the measuring spoons (out of his play kitchen) and said “beans.”  So the beans have been in active rotation for a month.  At least once a day, he and his sister get the bean divided into two buckets, on two trays and then they pull out all sorts of vessels from the play kitchen and busy themselves measuring and “cooking” with beans.

Yes, beans would spill on the floor (by accident or otherwise) but they are pretty easy to clean up.  It got to the point that I could leave the bucket of beans out on the table for the kids to play with whenever they felt like it.  They were out for almost 5 weeks, but I put them away this weekend.  (1) I was a little tired of picking up beans 3-4 times a day (2) I want the game to stay fresh and seeing how much my 3 1/2 year old enjoyed playing with them, I think they will provide pleasure in the years to come and (3) they discovered that if feels really neat to walk on the spilled beans which evenly distributes them for several yards around the play table — enough of that.

We’ll bring them back out in a few months.  Maybe the walking on beans idea will have faded (they only did it once for about 10 minutes) or maybe I’ll have to stand over them for a few play sessions to get them back on track of “cooking” with beans.  We’ll see.

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November 1st is Opening Day at Bonelli Park for our family.  While Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park is wonderful and well worth the $10 entry fee, we consider this our Winter Park.   From November 1st through the middle of April, there is no entry fee on non-holiday / non-event weekdays.

Frank G. Bonelli Park contains a reservoir (Raging Waters is uses a portion of the reservoir for its park) and so has boating, fishing and the like.  There is a swim beach in the summer, but the most our family does is walk along the water and maybe feed the ducks.  To be honest, even these activities take away from our true destination within the park — The Playgrounds.  There are so many wonderful playgrounds within the park (at least 6 on the south side of the reservoir alone) and I will do a complete post on all of them later this winter.  But yesterday, after preschool pick-up we took a picnic to the park and went to our favorite of the playgrounds.  As far as I know, there are no official names for any of these playgrounds, but our family calls this one — The Rocks Park.

See my Tinkerbell up there?  She is walking along the ropes to get to Treasure Island.  That is what I love so much about this playground.  When we go to parks with typical play structures, my kids swing for a bit, go down the slide a few times and then they start digging in the sand or asking for a snack.  But, while there are plenty of physical challenges at the Rocks Park there is also so much room for imagination to flourish.  In addition to the challenging journey to Treasure Island, there are caves to defend and towers to use for look-outs.  Fairy homes are plentiful.  As tan bark was being placed on some flat rocks, I over heard “sprinkle, sprinkle, hot, hot” meaning my little guy was busy cooking on his rock oven.  I feel quite certain that sometime in the near future I will witness a rousing game of “can’t touch the ground ’cause it’s hot lava.”

Park Information: Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park is located at 120 Via Verde; San Dimas, CA 91773.  There is a $10 entry fee per vehicle which is waved during the week from November to mid-April.  However, there is a Park and Ride just outside of the western entrance to the park where you can park and walk in.  If you are up for a good hike, you can park at Brackett Field (La Verne’s small airport) and walk in through the RV Park.  There are some serious hills that will give you a nice workout to go this way.  The Rocks Park is closest to the second parking lot that you come to once inside the park (from either the eastern or western entrance).

 

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