Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

January 18, 2016

Slow cooker chicken tortilla soupWinter  to use your slow cooker, since it's perfect for making long-simmered comfort food favorites that hit the spot on a cool evening. Try out this recipe for a Mexican-style tortilla soup. The technique couldn't be easier: you just throw almost everything in the cooker and let it go all day, adding beans and corn at the end.

Everyone likes this because you can personalize your bowl with various garnishes, like avocado, cheese, sour cream, and more. Fire-roasted tomatoes and smoked paprika give this soup a delicious smoky flavor, but of course you can use the normal varieties of these ingredients, too.

Ingredients

  • 1 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 15-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

Create Your Own Heart-shaped Crayons for Valentine's Day

January 17, 2016

DIY heart shaped crayons for Valentine's Day

Creating these beautiful DIY custom crayons is a fun craft project that everyone in the family can do. This project really takes minimal effort, so it's perfect for all ages, and the results always exceed our expectations! These make a fun and pretty gift for Valentine's Day, as well as neat party favors. They even look great as decorations around the house.

If you have kids (and you probably do if you're reading this article), you most likely already have the materials for this lying around the house, in the form of broken crayons. So the first step in this project is to round up all the old crayon bits and pieces in your house. If your home is like ours, this should not be very difficult.

Get a Free Ticket to Katia and Company's "Please Be Seated" at the San Anselmo Playhouse

January 16, 2016

Please be SeatedKatia and Company is one of our favorite Marin resources for drama camps and kids' theater productions, and their shows are always a treat! This month, Katia presents Please Be Seated at the Playhouse in San Anselmo from January 20 to 24. Katia is offering Marin Mommies readers a free ticket—one per family—if you mention "Marin Mommies" at the door.

This play-within-a-play, written and directed by Katia McHaney and featuring a cast of talented local kids, follows the misadventures of a group of 5th through 8th graders who try to put on their own production of Cinderella. Featuring diva actors, a stressed-out director, and incompetent stagehands—everything that can go wrong, does!

Marin Weekend Family Fun: January 15, 16, 17 & 18

January 15, 2016
Learn all about the famous Sea Lions at PIER 39 in San Francisco this weekend. Photo: PIER 39.

Here are our picks for great events and activities for children and families this MLK weekend. Find more events for the whole week in Marin and beyond in our Family Events Calendar.

Friday, January 15

  • 26th Anniversary of the Sea Lions’ Arrival
    PIER 39's Entrance Plaza, San Francisco
    Friday–Monday, 11 am–4 pm

    Learn everything you ever wanted to know about California sea lions during the celebration of the return of these gregarious pinnipeds to PIER 39's famous K-docks! Free educational walking tours provided by naturalists from the Aquarium of the Bay. Tours begin at the top of the hour between noon and 4 pm each day. Enjoy complementary refreshments. For more info, visit their website.
  • Spaghetti Bingo
    Corte Madera Recreation Center
    Friday, 6–9 pm

    Embrace the season as we bring the beauty of a white winter inside at "Frosted Spaghetti Bingo" this Friday at the Corte Madera Community Center. Fun for the whole family! The night will include a delicious buffet-style spaghetti dinner from 6–7 pm and bingo from 7–9 pm. Cost: $20 per person, includes 3 bingo cards. Additional cards may be purchased for $1. Purchase tickets online or call (415) 927-5072. Location: 489 Tamalpais Drive, Corte Madera. For more info, visit their website.
  • Family Film Night: McFarland, USA
    Presidio Community YMCA
    Friday, 6:30 pm

    Bring your sleeping bags and camp out on the gym floor while you enjoy a fun, free movie on a big screen. Free popcorn and It's It ice creams. Sponsored by San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell. The event is indoors at the Presidio Community Y Gymnasium, 63 Funston Ave at Lincoln Blvd in the Presidio. Stay warm and cozy with BYO blankets and cushions. For more info, visit their website.
  • Penguins+Pajamas Sleepover
    California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
    Friday, 6 pm–Saturday, 8 am

    Experience your own night at the museum! Explore the exhibits after-hours and discover the deepest depths of the oceans, travel to the tops of rainforests, blast off into outer space at your own private planetarium show, and then settle in for story time after snacking on milk and cookies. When the lights go out, roll out your sleeping bag next to the California Coast tank or the Swamp window face-to-face with Claude the albino alligator. In the morning head over to the Academy Café for breakfast. Cost: $109 per person. For more info, visit their website.

Saturday, January 16

  • Marin Country Mart Farmers Market
    Marin Country Mart, Larkspur Landing
    Saturday, 9 am–2 pm

    Enjoy the best local and organic produce, flowers, pastured meats, seafood, organic cheeses, yogurt and milk, breads, baked goods, pasta, confections, olive oil, and brunch and lunch offerings! Kids can take a pony ride and visit the petting zoo (10 am–2 pm), try out some arts and crafts (9 am–2 pm) and listen to music (9:30–10:30 am). For more info, visit their website.
  • Children's China: Celebrating Culture, Character and Confucius
    Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
    Saturday–Monday, 9 am–5 pm

    The new exhibiton Children's China opens on January 16. Take a trip to China—no passport required! Participate in a traditional tea ceremony, learn Chinese character writing, care for pandas, partake in dragon parades and more! Admisson to musuem applies. They will be open on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Location: 557 McReyonlds Road, Sausalito. For more info, call (415) 339-3300 or visit their website here.
  • Family Hike: Muir Woods
    Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley
    Satuday, 9:30 am–noon

    Suddenly it’s January; did El Niño arrive in Muir Woods? Coho salmon, fetid adder’s tongue, mushrooms, and spiders, follow Ranger Lou on this woodsy expedition to find clues of the season in the forest. People of all ages and abilities welcome. Baby backpack carriers preferred over strollers. Dress in layers. Bring snack, lunch, and water. Heavy rain cancels. In case of heavy rain, call Muir Woods before leaving your house. Reservations required by calling (415) 388-2596. For more info, visit their website.
  • Whale Watching at Point Reyes Lighthouse
    Point Reyes National Seashore
    Weekends, 9:30 am–3:30 pm
    Go see the whales out at the Point Reyes Light House and Chimney Rock. Shuttle buses leave Drakes Beach every 15–20 minutes. Cost: $7 per person; children under 16 free. No cars allowed at Point Reyes Light House on weekends and holidays through late March. For more info, visit their website.
  • Free Junior Chef Classes
    Williams-Sonoma, Corte Madera
    Saturday, 10 am
    Join us for a crepe party! In this hands-on class, you can make crepes just the way you like them, with your favorite fillings and delicious toppings. Suitable for ages 5–13. Call the store to reserve your spot (415) 924-6799. Location: The Village Corte Madera. For more info, visit their website.
  • Free E-waste Recycling Event
    Marin Civic Center Parking Lot, San Rafael
    Saturday, 10 am–3 pm

    Conservation Corps North Bay is hosting a FREE E-waste Recycling event at the Marin Civic Center parking lot. Bring in your e-waste to be responsibly recycled! Location: 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. For more info, visiti their website.
  • Lego Robotics Lab
    Mill Valley Public Library
    Saturday, 10:30 am–noon

    Learn to program a Lego Mindstorms EV3 Robot to perform various challenges. Registration required. Participants must be in Grades 5–8. Click here to register. Location: 375 Throckmorton Avenue, Creekside Room, Mill Valley Public Library. For more info, visit their website.

The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

January 14, 2016

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookiesFor many years, I've been on a search for the best-ever chocolate chip cookie recipe, and I think I've found it! These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies have crisp edges and chewy centers and taste and look fantastic. The addition of oatmeal gives these cookies a nutty taste, too.

They're based on the recipe published by King Arthur Flour, who in turn got it from the Cookies for Kids' Cancer non-profit. It's King Arthur's 2015 recipe of the year—make a batch and you'll see why.

This recipes makes approximately 20 large cookies if using a 1/4 cup scoop to measure out the dough. You can use a smaller size to get more cookies, but keep in mind that baking times may vary.

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed

Family Dining in Marin: Taki Japanese Restaurant

January 12, 2016

Taki Japanese restaurant in NovatoOur go-to place for Japanese food in Marin has always been Taki restaurant in Novato's Pacheco Plaza. We've been dining there for years (even before we had kids), and it's consistently provided good food, friendly service, huge portions, and a pleasant atmosphere. It's a great family dining experience.

Taki has a rustic Japanese country inn atmosphere, with lots of woodwork and Japanese art and decor. While most of the seating is at regular tables, there's a Japanese-style tatami area for larger groups in back, where you sit on the floor, courtesy of cutouts for your legs in the raised platform. There's even an outdoor dining area in front of the restaurant, in case you happen to be there on a nice day.

The a koi pond and fountain near the entrance contribute to the serene atmosphere, and the owner sometimes lets the kids feed the brightly colored fish, who swim over to them in anticipation of a meal. The kids also enjoy watching the sushi chefs at work at the wooden sushi bar, and looking at all the Japanese decor items around the restaurant, including traditional geisha dolls, lucky cats, and darumas.

2016 Best Books for Kids from the American Library Association

January 12, 2016

Last Stop on Market StreetIt's awards season, with the Golden Globes taking place last Sunday and the Oscars coming up next month. But did you know it was awards season for kids' books, too? This week the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners of its annual youth media awards for 2016, including the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott medals for children's books.

Since 1922, the John Newbery Medal has been awarded to the author of the most distinguished American children's book by the Association for Library Service for Children (ALSC), a division of the ALA. This year, the medal goes to Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2015). In this book, a young boy name CJ rides the bus with his Nana, where he discovers music, nature, and the people around him. Find it at a local Marin library here.

The 2016 runner-up Newbery Honor Books include The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (one of our recent favorites!), and Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Classes for New & Expectant Parents at Marin General Hospital

January 11, 2016

Both my children were born at Marin General Hospital. Overall, it was a great experience—their staff is awesome and they’re a great resource for new parents. Not only were we well taken care of, but we were also able to take advantage of the wide variety of classes offered by MGH to help smooth things along for new and expectant parents. These classes are offered to the public.

Some of the classes available at Marin General include prenatal and postnatal instruction classes for expectant parents, infant care, CPR, breastfeeding help, a father class, a free mom’s support group, and help for siblings adjusting to a new brother or sister.

They also offer a childbirth and infant-care “value package” for $230 per couple. This seven-class series covers pretty much everything you need to know about bringing home a new baby, and includes topics like breastfeeding, post partum expectations and realities, care of your newborn, and home and car safety. Classes are two hours each, and the first three classes can be taken as a single one-day childbirth class. Programs take place in MGH’s convenient location at 250 Bon Air Road in Greenbrae.

Four Easy Waterfall Hikes for Families in Marin

January 11, 2016

Fairway waterfall Novato

One of the things I love most about winter and early spring in Marin is being able to hike to a beautiful waterfall, and when it rains (as it's doing things season… finally) families have many to choose from. The waterfalls in our list here all involve hikes of varying length, and all are perfect destinations for a family outdoor outing. There's something for hikers of every ability here.

All of these waterfalls are at their most spectacular after a big rainstorm like the one we had last week. This also means the trails will be pretty muddy, so make sure you put on the rain boots and dress the kiddos in something that you don't mind getting dirty. Here are four of our favorite Marin waterfall hikes, in order of difficulty (although all of them are family friendly). All but one of these hikes (Cataract Falls on Mt. Tamalpais) are on lands administered by Marin County Parks; visit their website for more info and to download printable trail maps for each preserve.

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