Finally, Spring!

Sunday afternoon was the first time in SIX LONG MONTHS that we were able to take the boys outside to play.

Without winter jackets, gloves and hats, that is.

This last winter, playfully coined “Chiberia”, was the third snowiest winter since they started recording that kind of stuff.

The kids were in heaven. Everyone was running around with a huge grin on their faces. Even Jack forgot that he found playgrounds too young for him…DSC_0330 DSC_0342 DSC_0374 DSC_0363 DSC_0361 DSC_0326 DSC_0356

Pin It


This weekend, after reading an article in Chicago Parent about how kid friendly Mario Batali’s new food emporium Eataly, we decided to go check it out. DSC_0299

On a Saturday.

For Lunch.

Our first mistake was reading an article and thinking, hey it says kid friendly, that must apply to us. When articles say ‘kid friendly’, they mean people with one or two kids. Or maybe three older kids. Not four kids, and especially not when 3 of them are not even school aged.

We were the only people in there with that many kids, no matter what the age.

And Adam almost had a heart attack having to push the double stroller through throngs of people while I yelled at Jack to stay with us and simultaneously tried to keep ol’ octopus hand AKA Ben from grabbing everything off the shelves. I was also holding 5 winter jackets. Which actually helped cushion the snub I did over and over again – elbowing people out of the way so I could keep track of my kids.

We stopped for pizza at the La Pizza and La Pasta restaurant. For two pizzas and a plate of salami it was $60 bucks. Seemed pricey for what we got, but cheap compared to what else we purchased.DSC_0302

There was a waitress who wanted Ben to move his chair in so she could walk behind it. I tried my hardest not to smirk when she attempted to sit him down and push him in.

“Oh this is going to be bad,” I thought.

It ended with the chair pushed in and Ben on the floor next to it kicking and screaming. At least he was flailing out of the walk way she so desperately wanted to establish.

She sort of looked over and said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you had FOUR boys.” Yes, four boys, that’s the problem, lady!

I will say the pizza was very good. You might be able to see the gold, wood burning stoves in the background. We took the kids to get a better look and they really did just have a bunch of wood burning in there, cooking the pizza. It was very thin and gooey, just the way I like it.

We had read in the ‘kid friendly’ magazine article that they had a nutella bar. Nutella Bar! What could be more kid friendly than that? But by the time we made it downstairs we realized we needed to get it to go. There was no way to wait for a table, then find 2 high chairs from who knows where and also find somewhere to squirrel away the stroller.

DSC_0307We ordered 4 cookies called Bacio di Dama con Nutella. The description is ‘Literally “Lady’s Kiss”, hazelnut cookies sandwiched together with Nutella’. Adam gave me $20 and it rang up for MORE than that!

I know Nutella is expensive, which is why I will only buy it at Costco in huge containers, but just to give you some reference, if you want a simple slice of bread with nutella is $2.80.

Ugh. Freaking out about prices makes me feel like such an old person. Have I gotten so old that I’m wrong about scoffing at these prices?

Sometimes I forget that I live in a big city. I can drive to most places and find free parking. The kids still have plenty of places to run, climb and play. But today felt very big city. The hoards of people, the valet parking, the ostentatious rows and rows of food for sale.

I realize there are very few places in this big country where they could have the pork and cheese display that I posted at the top of this blog and make it profitable. And in some ways I’m proud that we are have it right in our backyard.

I guess it’s nice to know that we have it at our fingertips, but also nice to know we could completely avoid it as well. At least until the kids get a little older…

Pin It

A Week of No Food Dyes

It’s been 7 days since we quit food dyes and I’ll bet everyone is wondering if it had the wondrous results I had read about online. Remember this list of behavioral problems from Die, Food Dye!?

1. Hyperactivity.
2. Lack of attention.
3. Sleep problems.
4. Mood swings.
5. Violence/Aggression.
6. Lack of impulse control.
7. The Ickies.
8. Bed-wetting.
9. Skin ailments.
10. Breathing problems.
11. Compulsiveness.
12. Not consistent.

I was mostly concerned with 3, 4, 5,6, 9, and 12 for Ben.

For 3 – Sleep problems, I will have to say this is the single biggest change I’ve noticed. Adam and I had a week of great sleep that I’m hoping is due to food dye and not a fluke. The twins, who often wake up crying at 5:30am slept until almost 7am every day. Even though the older boys still wake up to go potty, I did not once here Ben waking up with night terrors.

For 4 – Mood swings. Ben had a hissy fit because he said he never got his snack when I picked him up from the gym daycare. The staff assured me he did. He was wailing on the floor until I dragged him out of there kicking and screaming.

5 – Violence/Aggression. Ben was taken to the office one day for hitting a staff member at the gym.

6 – Lack of impulse control. And he didn’t manage to keep his hands to himself any more this week than another week.

9 – Skin ailments. He still has two weird red bumps on his legs that could be eczema. They haven’t faded or gotten smaller.

12. – Not consistent. Well, perhaps he had less tantrums but they didn’t stop by any stretch. All the kids still had them. I felt perhaps Sam seemed a bit more even keel this week but the twins are still at the age where they can’t express themselves or can’t always have their way and it makes them throw fits. I think that’s just normal behavior for that age. So I’m not too concerned about it.

I asked Adam if he saw any difference with Ben and he said no.

Then he told me that the toothpaste Jack and Ben use has 2 different kinds of food dyes in them. Which made me flip out. He was still getting exposed to it EVERY DAY?!

We agreed to try it one more week with new toothpaste, though I must say at this point I am not hopeful. Unfortunately I think Ben’s issues will only be solved with hard work and/or time. I doubt there are any quick fixes.

Pin It

More Homemade Goodies

In an effort to replace all the food dyes and unnatural preservatives, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen making fresh desserts, snacks, and breakfasts.      

The last thing I wanted when I cleared the cupboards was for everyone in the house to think there was nothing to eat anymore. I hoped they would find that more nutritious and less processed is just as good and sometimes even better.

I’ve actually found a few things that are easy to make, cheaper than store bought stuff, healthier and contain no artificial anything. I also had some disasters.

This journey has taught me that there is something very gratifying about knowing all the ingredients in your food.

For Breakfast, to replace the store bought granola bars, I made Ina Garten’s Granola Bars.DSC_0204

I switched up the add ons, I skipped the apricots and cranberries and added chocolate and peanut butter chips. Everyone but Jack ate them like crazy. Not just for breakfast, they were begging for them for snacks as well. So much cheaper, tastier and healthier than store bought!

I also found a replacement for the Nutragrain fruit bars, Whole Grain Fruit Filled Bars.DSC_0253

They were sooo good. Everyone ate them. And, like the granola bars, I could use them for snacks in the afternoon as well. With 6 people, if you spend the time and effort cooking it, it does NOT get wasted!

Finally I tried a twist on a quesadilla that I saw on Pinterest, with peanut butter, sliced banana and chocolate chips. You can see the recipe in detail here from Budget Bytes.DSC_0278

This one didn’t go over as well, maybe because the ancient grains tortilla I used was kind of hard. Sam opened his and licked out the contents, and that was the best of all the kids efforts.

Desserts are one area I am lazy about, but I’ve been working away, trying to replace all those dyed frozen treats and artificially preserved shelf cookies.

I made Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for Chia Seed pudding. Jack liked it enough to ask for seconds.DSC_0191

I added some blueberries to mine as well since I had them, but also thought it would be nice with some orange segments or raspberries.

I had a disaster trying to make my own recipe for gluten free cookies.DSC_0196

Guess what, people? Coconut Flour and Almond flour don’t rise, no matter how much baking powder you put in. They have no gluten in them. I still ate it all, it tasted great if you ignored the look.

And I invested in a Zoku Pop Mold. We whizzed Noosa strawberry rhubarb yogurt together with a bunch of strawberries, a few dates and a dash of agave nectar. All but Sam loved them. I had them eat them in the tub and it was, for once, a super easy clean up. Jack and Ben love the endless possibilities. The next pop was Jack concoction of lemon yogurt, strawberries and raspberries. Then Ben picked a pop – frozen homemade lemonade. DSC_0216

I also tried a few things from my new China Study Cookbook like Vegan cookies and Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars.DSC_0209

The cookies were tasty, but because they lacked butter they were kind of muffiny, instead of the crispness I am used to in a cookie. The kids didn’t complain, though. They excitedly ate those whole grain cookies for dessert without noticing the change in texture at all.

The peanut butter chocolate bars were a huge hit…DSC_0289

I also had lots of new store bought options around. Because even when you up your cooking game, you still need some lazy back ups just in case. Jolly Llama pops, Kozy Shack puddings, dye free milk chocolate sunflower kernels, dark chocolate covered goji berries made for much healthier treats!


Stay tuned, as this food adventure is not over yet. Next week I’m trying black bean fudgesicles!

Pin It

Fresh Picks (Mar 12)


This week we received shallots, fingerling potatoes, a leek, an english cucumber, red pepper, carrots and broccoli.

There were a lot of repeats from my box two weeks ago, but I guess it’s hard to get abundance and variety in the dead of winter.

I used the carrots first. I like to chop them up real small with an attachment that came with my immersion blender and hide them in bolognese sauce. O also added some of the shallots to this. I paired it with a recipe that my friend Pam sent me, Spinach Souffle. She swore all her kids ate it, even the one that refuses anything green. I didn’t have as much luck. Ben, Adam and I were the only takers. I guess 1/2 of the family isn’t a bad go, and as an added bonus, Sam now knows how to say “souffle”.


Next I used up the rest of the carrots in a healthed up version of carrot cake that I blogged about before. I included the recipe here. The kids ate it for dessert for 3 nights before it was all gone. I was secretly pleased at all the nutrition that I snuck into that dessert.DSC_0159

Since it’s so cold here, I couldn’t resist making a leek, broccoli and potato soup. I chopped up some turkey bacon bits and cheese shreds for the garnish. It came out perfect – the potatoes were rich enough that there was no need for dairy to make it creamy.


Broccoli, Potato and Leek Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Easy and nutritious soup. Great for cold weather. No cream necessary!
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 leek
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 broccoli stalk, chopped roughly with stalk included
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded cheese of your choice (I used mexican, but cheddar would be great too)
  • Turkey Bacon
  1. Saute leeks and garlic in olive oil about 5 minutes until softened
  2. Add potatoes, broccoli, and chicken broth
  3. Bring to a boil then simmer uncovered for 20 minutes
  4. In the meantime, fry up the turkey bacon, let cool and chop into bits
  5. After 20 minutes, blend soup with an immersion blender
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste
  7. Top with cheese and turkey bacon

That left the red pepper and cucumber. Which I was tempted to just chop up and dip in hummus, but in the end I needed the red pepper for grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup.

Finally I used the cucumber in a Jamie Oliver recipe I saw on TV. He simply used a peeler to cut the cucumber into ribbons, then added soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, grated fresh ginger, sesame oil and a squirt of lime.

Pin It

More on Sensory Processing Disorder & Food Dyes

It’s been two weeks since Ben started his therapy.

Some of you may be surprised to see me blogging about this again. I was surprised people’s reaction to my previous blog. My family, for the most part, thought it was unbloggable material. Some cited that fact that Ben probably wouldn’t want to have this information out in the public later in life. Others felt it was a family problem that should be kept just to family.

Personally, I respectfully disagree. Well, maybe Ben will be angry about my blogging later in life, but honestly, anyone who knows Ben knows that there is no way this disorder can be kept a secret. And I feel doing so would be a disservice to him. The more people who know, the easier it will be for them to help and interact with him. And maybe, just maybe I can help some other mother who is out there at her wits end wondering what the hell is wrong with her child.

I think part of the resistance I felt from family members is due to the fact that Sensory Processing Disorder is a relatively new discovery. (I had never heard of it before we started this journey with Ben.) I don’t think my family members fully grasped what this meant.

They were surprised to learn it is something that is recognized by the medical community. That therapy is supported under insurance (partially!). That it is a disorder “on the spectrum” just like ADHD or autism.

I’ve been talking to my friend Jennie, an occupation therapist who first tipped me off that perhaps Ben’s problems were sensory.

Let me tell you what Jennie explained to me. Because now I understand it all so much better. We are ALL on the spectrum. Some of us are just outlying more than others.

She asked me how the sessions were going. I said I felt bad because it’s like utopia in there, that Ben is so happy for the attention and as soon as we leave I’m yelling at him to stop running in the street or some other thing. I also said that I never knew how much anxiety Ben suffered from. That I didn’t notice it in every day life. I mean, I figured his opposition to transition stemmed from his anxiety but in therapy it’s very apparent.

Jennie explained that sensory processing disorder basically means that a part of his brain is either underdeveloped or developing wrong. That part of the brain is called the vestibular system and it is responsible for maintaining balance, posture, and the body’s orientation in space.

She explained that the reason I’m observing so much anxiety during OT is that it is the therapist’s job to exercise the vestibular muscle (kind of like how a physical therapist exercises muscles to strengthen them) in order to help fix it. She has to push this system to the limit, causing anxiety, then bring him back to normal again.

She had a lot of helpful suggestions for me, but the most unusual one was to cut out all food dyes from our diet.

She explained there was a definite link between food dyes and behavioral problems.

I thought I was a fairly healthy eater, but I did a check of my kitchen and found ALL THESE PRODUCTS with food dyes (or other banned substances like BHT, a preservative known to cause cancer) in them…DSC_0187

Pickles? And Nutra Grain bars?

I completely freaked out and started crying when I saw that all the gum we buy at the store has food dye. Ben’s behavior is getting worse and worse every month. In the past year, because of his sensory disorder and need to put everything in his mouth (yesterday he didn’t have gum and he was licking the hand railing outside Jack’s school), we’ve let him chew lots and lots of gum every day. Would he change when I eliminate these things?

And after I had a complete freak out about those products, I found even more…DSC_0188

Yeah, even Motrin!

Other countries governments have banned these substances from their food!

I’m imposing a dye free zone in the Calisoff household for the next week. Other people on the internet say it only takes a few days to see the difference, so I’m excited to start right away.

I’ve sourced a dye free gum to help Ben and stuffed anything I thought Adam would be upset about losing in the closet so I wouldn’t accidentally grab it and give it to the kids.

Here is a list I got from Die, food Dye! with possible side effects of food dyes…

1. Hyperactivity: Can’t stop moving, runs most of the time, constant movement of hands and feet.
2. Lack of attention: Cannot focus either at home or school – without affecting all areas of life all the time (not ADD).
3. Sleep problems: Has a hard time settling down for sleep, or has sleep disturbances throughout the night.
4. Mood swings: Unexplained emotional problems, hours-long tantrums, inconsolable crying, paranoia, and meltdowns over tiny things or schedule changes.
5. Violence/Aggression: Biting, spitting, growling, hitting, kicking, and uncharacteristic mean talk.
6. Lack of impulse control: Increase in risky behaviors, excessive talking at inappropriate times, loud talking, disruptive, interrupts people a lot, hard to transition from one activity to another, does not adjust behavior in response to discipline.
7. The Ickies: Headaches, stomach aches, and vomiting.
8. Bed-wetting: This includes daytime wetting, well past the age of toilet training.
9. Skin ailments: Eczema and hives. Her daughter had eczema and cradle cap before they eliminated dyes.
10. Breathing problems: Some kids require an inhaler due to dye-induced asthma.
11. Compulsiveness: Pulls out hair, eyelashes or eyebrows, picks at skin, repeats certain actions numerous times.
12. Not consistent: This is the single most important clue to watch for. Can you give your kid sugary treats without problems some days, but then other times, they freak out? Their clue was their daughter’s hyperactivity after eating sugar-free pudding that they later discovered had red dye.

Ben does not display all of them, but I’d definitely give a nod to 3, 4, 5,6, 9, and 12. Let’s just see how they change in a week’s time. Stay tuned!

Pin It

Zucchini Brownies

Yep, I did it again. Another successful vegetable hidden in the food. Not just any food but dessert!

I used a recipe from Texanerin. The only changes I made were to keep the skin on the zucchini and to up the cooking time. DSC_0178

My brownies came out cake like, and the ones in her picture looked a lot more gooey. Not sure if my changes were the reason. Either way all the kids gobbled them up!

Zucchini Brownies
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Brownies made with shredded zucchini and 100% whole grain!
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup coconut sugar or unrefined or granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup (125 grams) whole spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup (45 grams) Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (about 300 – 320 grams) grated zucchini
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips + ½ cup mini chocolate chips to sprinkle on top
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C) and line an 8"x8" pan with parchment paper or spray with baking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, vanilla, sugar, and apple sauce.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder (sifted if lumpy!), baking soda and salt.
  4. Add the dry mix to the wet, gently stir until combined. Be sure not to over mix!
  5. Then fold in the zucchini and 1 cup regular size chocolate chips.
  6. Pour the batter into the pan and even the surface with a spatula.
  7. Sprinkle ½ cup mini chocolate chips on top.
  8. Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle doesn't come out gooey. It might still be sticky - just not have raw batter on it.
  9. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days at room temperature or up to one week in the refrigerator. I recommend storing them in the refrigerator right from the beginning due to their high moisture content.


Pin It

Healthier Carrot Cake Bars

As usual, I’m trying to push my kids to eat more vegetables any way I can!

While trying to find new creative ways to use up my Fresh Picks order, I saw this recipe online. The cook who wrote it called it a healthed up carrot cake bar, but I morphed it into something even healthier!

Then I slathered it with frosting because I figured it was worth feeding all that sugar to my kids to get them to eat all the other stuff in the bar. It backfired a bit when Sam decided to just lick the frosting and throw the bar on the ground, but at least Jack and Ben ate it all!


Five whole carrots! No white carbs! Greek Yogurt! Walnuts! Cinnamon! Coconut Oil! So many things that are good for you hidden under frosting, cleverly disguised as dessert.

They turned out absolutely delicious and I think I’ll eventually use the recipe to make muffins in the morning. Honestly they are so good you don’t even need the frosting!

Veggies for dessert? I think I’m onto something here…

Adapted from: Iowa Girl Eats

Carrot Cake Bars
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
A Healthier Version of Carrot Cake
  • 1 cup whole spelt flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup (6oz) Pineapple Chobani Greek Yogurt
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, warmed
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups peeled and shredded carrots (about 5 medium carrots)
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  • For the cream cheese frosting:
  • ½ cup butter, at room temperature
  • 8oz ⅓-less fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9×13″ pan with nonstick spray.
  3. Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
  4. In an electric mixer, mix sugar, Greek yogurt, and coconut oil until combined. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in batches, mixing until just combined before adding the next batch.
  6. Fold in shredded carrots, coconut and walnuts.
  7. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan then bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick or fork inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool completely then frost with cream cheese frosting. Store leftover bars in the fridge.
  9. For the cream cheese frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream butter, cream cheese, and vanilla together until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar.
  10. Spread over cooled carrot cake bars then slice and serve.



Pin It

Family Bonds

IMG_5805When the twins were first born, in my mind I grouped the kids together in two sets of two – ‘older’ and ‘twins’. Jack and Ben did stuff together, so did the twins.

But as the twins get bigger, it’s becoming very clear that there are more than one kind of pairing going on.

Physically Aaron’s long, lean body resembles Jack’s at this age, while Sam’s stocky, solid frame looks more like Ben’s.

But as far as personality goes, they are switched again.

All the kids are capable of playing well together (not that they always do!), but more often than not Jack gravitates to Sam and Ben to Aaron.

The pairing of “older” vs “twins” is very real and still exists most of the time in the house.  Jack and Ben often go off to watch Netflix on the iPad or build legos together while Sam and Aaron wreck the basement or watch Sesame Street.

DSC_1023But I’m surprised how often Jack and Sam play while Aaron and Ben stick together.

Personality wise, Jack and Sam both play well together with each other and with others. They seem more social, more athletic, and curious.

DSC_0121Ben and Aaron, on the other hand, are more independent, like a rougher sort of play, and in general are more cuddly, ticklish and sensory.


When the twins were first born, Adam brought Jack and Ben to the hospital to meet them. Jack said he would take care of Sam, since Sam was the first born and Ben chose Aaron for the same reason. But I never realized just how true that statement would turn out to be!DSC_0145

Pin It

Healthy Changes

Is it just my age and station in life or are we learning an incredible amount about health these days?

Sometimes I think I’m just obsessed with it because I now buy all the food for 6 people, so I have to be careful what I put in all these unsuspecting bodies.

When I think about how my eating habits alone have changed in the 10 years I have been living in Chicago, it’s shocking.

And lately it seems like I just can’t keep up with the new food studies and trends fast enough!

I’m well aware I’m more impressionable than the average person, which probably just exasperates the problem.

My sister sent me the The China Study and after reading it I went vegan. Then she sent me The Omnivores Dilemma and I started eating meat again, but only organic or grass fed stuff.

I no longer cook anything with just white flour. When I first started this food journey, I would cut it in half with whole wheat flour, but now I’ve branched out to spelt flour, almond meal, flax, bran and oatmeal.

And I keep trying to find new ways to cook healthier, to find new ways to make veggies interesting.

I try to keep up with the latest superfoods too, though we seem to be discovering new ones every day. Chia Seeds, acai, quinoa, kale, greek yogurt. All things that were unheard of 10 years ago are now staples of our daily diet.

Even the stuff we haven’t stopped eating has changed. I refuse to pop microwave popcorn anymore, instead I use the stove top. It’s just as quick and you don’t use artificial flavors or chemicals. Food Babe describes why microwave popcorn is so bad in detail. But just when I upgraded us with stove top popcorn, my friend and fellow blogger, Becca, explained to me that it’s not enough to cook it on the stove top, it’s one of those products that also needs to be organic.

I added it to my organic list, along with milk and eggs. My friend Jennie explained that milk and eggs are a must on the organic list a long time ago. I also thought I was on top of my game, buying the right things for our growing family, but today her husband Nathan posted on facebook it may not be! That buying organic milk is not enough, it needed to come from a certain kind of cow.

Last week I discovered coconut oil. Another superfood that was completely off my radar. Now I’m cooking my organic popcorn on the stove top with it. Wellness Mama will give you a whole list of uses for this miracle product. I even tried oil pulling and bulletproof coffee.

Not sure about the oil pulling, but the bulletproof coffee was a real winner. I think I’m hooked.

And if all this new food data isn’t making my head spin, lately I’ve been worried about the household products we use as well. Becca suggested I run everything through Skin Deep, a website that rates personal care products. I’m rethinking my moisturizers, face cleaner, and make-up for a start. It’s an intimidating project,  but once you open your eyes to something it’s tough to close them again.

Anyway, I’m just starting the research on this, so if you have any suggestions or useful tips I would be grateful. And if I find out anything life saving or even just interesting, I’ll pass it along to you as well.

Pin It