Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hey guys, I have some exciting news - Spur of the moment GIVEAWAY!

I was approached by the lovely folks over at Conscious Box to do a giveaway!!
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I'm actually really excited about this one because I keep hearing and reading about these monthly subscription services and I've been curious to try one and see what all the fuss is about! It seems like a cool idea to get a box of goodies to try every month. The treats you'll find in Conscious Box are all natural and eco-friendly, which as you all know, is something I'm pretty passionate about. Plus they offer vegan and gluten free options! For some reason, even though I think it's an amazing idea, I was scared to commit to a subscription until now. If you feel the same way, then this giveaway is for you!! 
The winner will be picked at random to receive a totally free THREE month subscription to ConsciousBox!!! That's three whole months of free stuff delivered right to your doorstep- a $59 value! They are also offering a 25% discount on any subscription just for FirstComesBaby readers! Just use the code LOVELIFE at the checkout. The giveaway starts now and ends next Thursday at midnight, and it's super easy to earn entries, including a Twitter entry which you can earn daily! Get started below: 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 15, 2013

Potty Training Madness Continues... Oh, and, p.s. I'm even more famous!

So, with the exception of two days when Aurora was sick, I haven't changed a dirty diaper in weeks! She still needs to figure out peeing on the potty. However, number two goes in the potty every time and that's the one that matters the most to me. We'll keep working to get it down completely, but I'm pretty happy so far!
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Aurora's potty chart... because I'm a nerd. 
Oh, and I was featured on yet another site this month! This time over at Mommy HotSpot! How flattering!! If you want to read the full article it's on their page, HERE'S THE LINK!
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Angela's super amazing gluten-free, vegan and PORTABLE homemade protein bars - 7 ingredients, NO refrigeration!!

IMG_1290So, I'm happy to announce that my great homemade protein bar experiment was a success!! This little guy is from my first batch... ten days later with no refrigeration! I've wanted to do a homemade protein bar for awhile now since most of the better tasting ones aren't gluten free and the list of ingredients on some of them is horrifying! My biggest beefs with all the recipes I had previously found were:

- They needed to be baked to death.
- They had a list of ingredients just as long and strange as the store bought kind.
OR (and this was the worst and most prevalent one)
- They needed to be kept in the refrigerator.

I'm sorry... but isn't the whole point of these to be quick, easy and portable? It seems pretty silly to make the effort if you need to keep them in the refrigerator all the time to keep them from becoming a sticky mess, doesn't it?
Needless to say, I decided it was time to throw my hat into the ring and figure out a better way to do these. Mine have only seven ingredients plus they are gluten free and vegan. The best part? TEN days after making a batch, they are solid, not sticky and still delicious with ZERO refrigeration!!
Here's day ten up close and personal:
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Ok, I'll stop gloating now and divulge all of my delicious protein bar wizardry. Here you go, friends: 
Angela's super amazing no-bake, gluten-free, vegan and PORTABLE homemade protein bars

I have to warn you, the grocery list may be a little pricey for your first batch (protein powder is crazy expensive) BUT the good part is, you're only using a small amount for every batch of ten, so it still works out cheaper than the store-bought in the end. If you have trouble finding some things, I cannot recommend Vitacost enough. That site has saved my life since I decided to go gluten free, I place an order at least once a month. They aren't paying me to say that, I swear!! Buuut, if you decide to check them out and use this link, there's a nice little ten dollar credit for your first $30 order (and a matching one for me). I'll provide product links as well so you can see the nutritional information and prices, but those links won't give you the $10 credit. If you decide to make these, please please come back and tell me what you think! You can be my honorary long distance taste-testers. Feel free to ask questions and/or give me suggestions as well. I'm pretty excited about these just the way they are, but I'm always looking to improve!
Here's what you'll need: 
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note: coconut oil is only for the optional melted chocolate that I'll talk about later
1 and 1/2 cups - Gluten free Crispy Rice Cereal, like Koala Crisp (I used chocolate, because it's delicious)
1/2 cup - Peanuts or other nuts
1/2 cup - Quick or Rolled Oats
2 servings - Protein Powder (I use THIS ONE because it's agave-free, dairy-free and the price is great)
1/4 cup - Nut Butter of your choice (I went with peanut because I had it on hand)
1/4 cup - Brown Rice Syrup
3 tbsp -1/4 cup Add-ins like Mini Chocolate Chips (I used these awesome dairy free ones)
  • You could also use chopped dried fruit, seeds or extra nuts - anything shelf stable will do. Aim for just shy of 1/4 cup for proper yield
- Wax paper for wrapping. (Parchment could work too, but they may not hold up as well during the week)

Prep time - 20 minutes, Inactive (drying) time - about 1 hour.
Yield: 10 bars

I like to buy whole nuts and chop them myself, it's easy and cheaper, plus they don't get stale as fast. You could buy pre-chopped ones if you wanted to save a little time. Otherwise, whiz them in the food processor for a few seconds or put them in a bag and hit them with a rolling pin... whatever works. For these, you don't want to go too crazy, the nuts are there to add texture so a few big pieces are fine... mine looked like this:
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Throw the nuts with all the other dry ingredients in a bowl and then mix your nut butter and brown rice syrup together. If you're a crazy person, like I am, you'll mix them right in the measuring cup...
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Now here's where the trade off for no baking and no refrigerating comes in. These are kind of a pain to mix. You need to work the nut butter and syrup all the way through the dry mix. It takes awhile and there's a lot of smooshing and bowl scraping involved. I promise, it's worth it. You want the mixture to start making little evenly distributed clumps, sort of like a dry pie crust mix with no big lumps. It should look like this:
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Now you're going to add a tiny bit of water, 1 tbsp at a time, but no more than 4tbsp. You just want to moisten the mixture enough to hold together, too much water and they won't form bars. You'll know you're at the right consistency when there's no more dry protein powder hanging out at the bottom of the bowl and the mixture starts to stick to the spoon a little bit. It will look like oatmeal cookie dough at this point:
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Now the fun part! Working with small handfuls form the mix into bars, really squeeze the mixture together, so they don't fall apart when they dry. Mine are about the same width as my middle and ring finger and a little longer because I just eyeballed it using that as a guide. They don't have to be perfect, or even in bar form, just make sure that they are compact. I got 10 bars with a tiny bit extra to sample... Lay them on a piece of wax paper or parchment and let them sit out so the outside dries up a little bit. I gave mine about an hour...
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When the tops are dry to the touch,  you can wrap the bars up in squares of wax paper and toss them in an airtight container or baggie. Mine lasted a full ten days with no refrigeration, in fact they probably could have gone a bit longer because the one I ate on the tenth day (that little guy in the first picture) still tasted perfect. Now, if it's really warm or humid where you are, you may want to store them in the fridge just to be safe. But they should travel perfectly well during the day once you take them out.

Speaking of the one in the first picture, you probably noticed the chocolate drizzle... I did that as an experiment to see if they would hold up. They definitely did! I just melted some extra chocolate chips and a tiny bit of coconut oil (to smooth and temper it) then drizzled away. I did the hour of drying (uncovered) in the refrigerator to set the chocolate, but then I took them out and held them at room temperature for the full ten days and they were totally fine. These wouldn't hold in really warm temperatures though, obviously. Chocolate + heat = big gooey mess.

With the ingredients listed above, (same brand of protein powder, peanuts, peanut butter and 3 tbsp mini chocolate chips- *no extra melted chocolate*) these have 212 calories, 10g of fat, 22g carbs and 10g of protien! They come in really close to the Nature's Valley gluten free protein bars that I love- but these have less than 1/3 the ingredients and I know how to pronounce them all! If you sub chocolate chips out, you could adjust the carb and fat content a little. However, I have a severe peanut butter & chocolate addiction, so these hit the spot for me as is...

Again, if you try these out... and you should, right away... please come back and tell me what you think!

Thank god for tax returns.

I got my tax refund last week and it couldn't have come fast enough. This was my first year getting to claim a school credit and that made a huge difference. If you don't know what the school credit is, About.com has more info here: about taxes. Anyway, it really came in handy and I got to pay off my notoriously huge winter heating bills. I live in a pretty old and very drafty apartment, so my bills get out of control between November and March. It's always a huge relief when I'm able to get them all taken care of.

I used to get my taxes done professionally when I worked three jobs and then I did them myself when I only worked one. Now that I'm self-employed, with a business and a baby PLUS going to school, I needed help again. I couldn't afford to go have them prepared though so I used TurboTax this year. It's kind of a perfect combination of doing them yourself and having them done. They have tax guides to help you understand and decide which irs forms you might need. Then they lead you through all the possible deductions and credits. Once you have everything filled out, they can even e-file for you. Federal filing is free for most people, and there's a small fee for state filing. Even though I didn't qualify for free filing, it still cost me about 1/3 of what it costs to have them prepared! If you haven't tried online tax software I definitely recommend trying it!!

Friday, March 8, 2013

If you have a boy, you may thank me for this later.

Ok, so in case you guys don't know, I'm a little bit of a nerd. I'm obsessed with cartoons and sci-fi and things from the 80's. So, needless to say when I found out there was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles website, I fell into an internet wormhole for about an hour. Instead of working on school work, like I should have, I was reading about a possible TMNT movie and looking through a huge list of random fun facts. 
Apparently I was in denial that the show still existed, or rather had been brought back. I only thought of it as the old one that was around when I was younger. I guess they've done well though, since they're going into a third season. It sort of makes me wish I had a little boy. Then again, who am I kidding? I'm totally going to try and get Aurora hooked. Anyway, if you have a little boy or you're a nerd who's obsessed with the 80's like me, you can check out the website and get more information here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Say hello to my new hobby: Canning!

This was my first batch: fresh chipotle salsa and marinated mushrooms. I'm hooked already!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Aurora has the hair of a Texas beauty queen today.

I've had to keep Aurora's hair in a half ponytail these days because it was getting so tangled all the time. The ponytail seems to do the trick because the top and sides tangle easier than the back. Today we did a big long brushing session though while Aurora watched TV. I wanted to make sure every last hidden snarl was out. But because it had been up in a ponytail so long, she ended up with even more volume than usual....

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Out. Of. Control.

I wish this had been an option when I enrolled in school!!

As most of you know already, I'm in school full time (online) getting my Bachelor's degree in Hospitality Management. It took me forEVER to decide what to major in and even longer to pick a school. Once I figured all of that out, I had a slight panic attack when I thought about how long it'd been since I was last in school (hint: Class of  '97). I consider myself to be pretty intelligent, but I worried that wouldn't be enough. Was I prepared to jump back into student life?
My personal solution was to spend about 40 hours on various free tutoring sites. I watched lectures and did practice work and took a million practice tests to brush up on some skills. In truth, I probably overdid it. I drove myself nuts preparing to enter college. Well, I just stumbled upon something that might have been a lifesaver for me, if I'd known about it earlier. Were you guys aware that there are programs specifically developed to help you prepare for things like college admissions? I knew about SAT prep, but this was entirely new to me! Veritas Prep is a good example of a test preparation and admissions counseling program. They offer prep courses for both GMAT and SAT. They also have college and mba admission counseling. I'm still undecided about continuing on to a Master's program when I finish school, but if I do I'm definitely going to look into these programs. I think they could save me a ton of time, frustration and needless worry. If anyone here is thinking about school, you may want to check them out too!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Today I may have invented something amazing....

480406_10151349976407685_1450099838_nThese, my dear friends, are what I hope will turn out to be homemade gluten free protein bars that are actually portable. This is my test run. These babies are going to be eaten over the next ten days to see whether or not they will keep without being refrigerated. I know this seems like it would be an obvious requirement. However, trust me, after sifting though literally fifty or more that needed to be kept in the refrigerator, apparently it's easier said than done. I think the main issue is that homemade bars aren't loaded with preservatives. In fact, these are only seven ingredients!!! This is definitely a good thing, but there are a lot of things to consider if you want to avoid the chemicals. Obviously, spoilage is a big concern. I've managed to deal with that by using only shelf-stable ingredients. If nothing in them needs refrigeration, then the bars themselves shouldn't (hopefully). Another less obvious issue is texture. Many of the recipes I read required refrigeration otherwise the bars would become big gloopy messes. I think I may have solved that issue also by substituting elbow grease for liquids. These are never a sloppy mess to begin with so it stands to reason that they won't magically become that way over the next several days, only time will tell. Wish us luck! I did the nutrition info on SparkPeople and they come pretty darn close to the $4.00/box Natures Valley bars that I've been inhaling, only these are cheaper and much better for you. Also, seven ingredients vs. 20+. I think that's a win-win. If they survive the ten day test, I'll be posting a step by step with the recipe! Stay tuned, and cross your fingers!!

Protein Bars recipe

UPDATE: THEY SURVIVED!!! RECIPE HERE.

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