Pumping Mom Kitchen Hack

Lactating — and formerly lactating — mamas, I have a hack for you! Got old pump parts lying around? Grab those retired pump flanges and put them back to work…

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as kitchen funnels! Just toss the soiled pump part in the dishwasher after usage and you’re all set!

 

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My Birth-related Trauma: After Effects

I had a traumatic vaginal birth with my first child (story here.) It left me scarred in more ways than one. 20 months later, I went on to have a jarring c-section birth with an inept anesthesiologist (story here,) followed by a second c-section that went well — for which I cried tears of joy as they sewed me up — until the epidural fell out of my back on transfer from the operating table to the gurney, meaning I had zero pain relief immediately following invasive abdominal surgery. To say I have traumatic birth memories is an understatement. But birth is natural, right? Everyone on Earth arrived by way of birth. So how can something so commonplace leave such an emotional scar? It’s not like I went to war.

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But, in a small way, I did. At least, it was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced — or hope to experience — to war. There was blood and pain and true risk of death. There were tears and little control and so much fear. It was war in the delivery room. A battle to overcome.

That said, birth isn’t actual war. It’s the bringing of life. It’s something done everywhere every day. How can some women birth over and over without issue, whereas others are tormented by the memory of just one birth? How can similar experiences manifest so differently in individuals? Truly, I don’t know. They just do.

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What does my birth-related trauma look like? Not much from the outside, honestly. I keep it well-hidden. Fortunately, 6.5 years out, my bouts are much less frequently triggered than they used to be. I used to sleepwalk every night with baby-in-peril dreams that, at best, caused me to scream in my sleep and at worst spurred me to unknowingly sob while digging holes in my pillow. Even the hint of birth in movies or TV would cause me to become faint and nauseous. I had to switch to another OB in the practice because I couldn’t bear to see the doctor’s face at the other end of an exam table.

6.5 years later, when my trauma does flare, I generally know what to expect: episodes of panicky breathing, rapidfire vivid memories on an uncontrollable loop, edginess and irritability, a clenched jaw and subsequent headache, sleep disturbances  (ex: nightmares, sleepwalking, insomnia), feelings of sadness and shame, emotional detachment, and fatigue. Sometimes the trauma sticks around for a few hours, other times for days. It’s hard to predict its schedule.

During the episodes, I welcome as much mental clutter as I can to pile on top of the birth horror reel that’s constantly spinning in the back of my mind. It is the quiet time I fear. Closing my eyes in the shower, a lull in radio programming during a drive, that period before sleep when you close your eyes and welcome rest, those are the times when my trauma tightens its grip. Every birth memory I tried to shove beneath carpool and dinner prep, homework help and playdate scheduling, social media pings and friendly texts fires through my mind like an emotional inferno  All of the things I tried to forget I am reliving.

If I do sleep, it won’t be well or for long. I will likely sit up in bed thinking I’m awake when I am really somewhere between wakefulness and slumber. I may possibly sleepwalk into the closet or jump from bed in a terrified dream state. I will wake far too early exhausted but unwilling to close my eyes again for fear of repeating the process. I just want the day to start so that I can push the memories beneath the surface, weigh them down with the everyday. Bury them with the life I love.

Then, as quickly as it arrived it is gone. My trauma after effects trail away, a mental vapor. Leaving me content once again and appreciative of my unglamorous beautiful life as a stay-at-home mom of three. The memories fade and sleep is welcome once again. Until next time.

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If you — or a loved one — suffer from birth-related trauma, know it does not make you weaker or lesser or broken. You can love your child and your life, you can be a loving and appreciative parent but still suffer from the emotional wounds. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful or unfit. You are simply a human who survived.

Get help if you need it. Talk about it. Give it voice. Know it will get better. You are a survivor. There is no shame in that. Ever.

Mama Nook: A Space for Me

Man cave, nursery, playroom, home gym, craft space, reading nook, media room, mudroom… there’s a spot in homes for just about anything. But what about a place for me?

As Mom — the driver of carpool, the wiper of noses (and butts), the planner and purchaser and cooker of meals, the calendar wrangler, the referee, the boo-boo kisser, the nightmare banisher — do I not deserve a place for myself? I share my bed, my bathroom (and Lord knows the kids’ bath toys take up more realestate in the “master” bathroom than any pampering products), and every surface with everyone. It’d be nice to have a little cranny that was just mine.

This past August, as I lamented the nearing return of school days and extracurriculars, trading the beach cooler for backpacks and sand for pavement, I knew I had to do something. I had to find a way to bring the sea home with me. But how?

Easy: daily yoga! Each beach morning I sandied my yoga mat and did seaside asanas and meditation. But at home, my yoga endeavors took place in my husband’s home office in the family room. I had already learned that seagulls are better suited to being a yoga audience than a toiling spouse. So, how to resolve this?

Move The Hubs! I talked with my less-than-enthusiastic partner about relocating his home office from the darkest end of the family room to the window-side, well-separated alcove in our oversized bedroom. He could be an entire floor away from kid chaos and natural light would do wonders for workday malaise, I mused. Ever-supportive, he agreed.

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I rearranged the family room, removed all of the clutter, and, in the sliver of space between the sofa back and the large window, I laid a yoga mat. With that swath of purple foam, I had staked my claim.

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First, just family photos and a tall houseplant populated the deep windowsill. Next, a salt lamp then a bundle of sage joined the display. Soon, I replaced old room decor that had long ago lost its luster with photos and art that spoke to my personal aspirations and our family life.

The Hubs made me a small shell-strewn tabletop waterfall to provide the water element I so missed from my beach yoga practice. I added a few more plants and a couple more tchotchkes that spoke to me, framed the heart-shaped dried leaf my middle son had proudly given me, and my space felt more complete.

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It’s my sanctuary. My sacred space. My (mostly) quiet spot. My yoga nook.

I found a place for me. Where can you make your own Mama Nook?

Where can you carve out a space — no matter how little — that is just for you? You deserve a room, a closet, corner, or even just a shelf where you can retreat in order to center yourself, fuel yourself, feel peace, be inspired, remind yourself that you matter too. Because, mama, we may make miracles happen every day, but we cannot pour from an empty cup.

Is there space for you in your life? In your home? Sure there is! Go find it. Claim it. Make it yours.

You deserve it.

 

 

Ode to my Bellybutton

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Outtie, innie, in-between,

Pierced, tattooed, scarred, and clean.

Lint-catcher, clone-teller,

Peek-a-boo shirt hider,

Even an exit for an evicted gallbladder.

Once just a scar from infancy,

Then a natural bikini accessory.

After three pregnancies, back-to-back,

My dear bellybutton is a sorry old sack.

Three times my innie sprung out: “Chicken’s done!”

With a linea negra just for fun.

Two times it deflated to its original state,

Then I got greedy with the third inflate.

Baby weight gone, I reached my weight goal,

But my bellybutton resembled a saggy butthole.

“What the hell?” I thought, “do you get wrinkle cream,”

“For a snarled bellybutton? Is that even a thing?”

Like a the neck of a t-shirt,

Old, stretched, and worn,

If I slouch so does my button, wrinkled, forlorn.

Vagina, hips, breasts, and sleep,

All anticipated losses of pregnancy.

Hair, feet, and sciatic nerves,

Reasonable offerings for babies birthed.

But a bellybutton? This I didn’t see,

Going the way of the piddle-free sneeze.

Multiple babies grown and birthed,

But, what the fuck, bellybutton? This is absurd.

Whatever. I’m a mom rocking snot-covered T’s,

Non-workout yoga pants and snack-smeared hoodies.

I have stretch marks and stray hairs and c-section scars.

Perineal war wounds and a mom glare that can mar.

My windows are covered in finger and nose prints.

I can breastfeed a baby while matching toddler sprints,

My arms are tired at the end of each day.

My heart is filled beyond words can say.

My life is beautiful and disgusting and blessed.

Oh, what the hell, bellybutton, you tried your best.

 

 

 

Gluten-free Chicken-less Noodle Casserole

Who doesn’t love a good crowd-pleasing, belly-filling, comforting casserole? Enter my gluten-free, vegan version of the childhood classic: chicken noodle casserole. Considering I found The Hubs hovering over the casserole dish scooping forkfuls of noodley goodness into his mouth during dinner clean-up, I’d call this recipe a win.

GLUTEN-FREE CHICKEN-LESS NOODLE CASSEROLE

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INGREDIENTS

Casserole Base:
1.5 box gluten-free rotini (or any style of gluten-free short cut pasta)
1Tbl Earth Balance
3 cup frozen mixed veggies

“Chicken”:
Olive oil drizzle
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves (minced)
1.5 cup oyster mushrooms (chopped)
1/4 cup water
2Tbl Better Than Bouillion No Chicken Base
1/2Tbl poultry seasoning (this one is gluten-free)
2tsp garlic powder (this one is gluten-free)

Creamy Sauce:
1/4 cup Earth Balance
2 cup gluten-free vegan creamy portabella soup 
Roughly 1 to 1 1/2 cup gluten-free flour
2 tsp Braggs Coconut Aminos
Salt and pepper to taste

Topping:
Vegan parmesan style shreds
Gluten-free panko
Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Boil the noodles according to package instructions.

Microwave the frozen veggies with Earth Balance until mostly thawed.

While the noodles cook and veggies warm, heat a drizzle of oil in a large pan.

Add the onions and mushrooms to the pan, stirring in the garlic once the onion has begun to soften.

Stir in the Better Than Bouillon, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning.

Let the mushroom mixture cook until the mushrooms are tender.

Deglaze pan with water.

Cook mushrooms until the water has evaporated.

Transfer the noodles, veggies, and mushrooms to a large casserole dish.

In the same pan that was used to cook the mushrooms, add Earth Balance and heat until melted.

Stir in the mushroom soup and aminos, then gradually whisk in the flour until a roux has formed.  (Use more or less flour depending upon how your roux thickens. Add a touch of non-dairy milk to thin if needed.)

Gently fold the roux into the casserole mixture.

Smooth the casserole flat then sprinkle parmesan style shreds and panko over top.

Spritz the topping with cooking spray.

Bake the casserole for 10 minutes then broil briefly just until the topping is golden.

Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Vegan “Tuna” Melt

Who doesn’t like a good melt sandwich? Crispy, buttery, cheesy, gooey, savory deliciousness in a sandwich. There’s nothing better. Except making it gluten-free and vegan!

GLUTEN-FREE VEGAN “TUNA” MELT SANDWICH

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Ingredients

1 can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)

1/4-1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (I like Just Mayo) depending upon your texture/creaminess preference

1.5 Tbl yellow mustard (Wegmans Yellow Mustard is gluten-free)

1 Tbl pickle juice (poured straight from pickle jar… Claussen and Vlasic are gluten-free)

2 slices of vegan cheese (I like Follow Your Heart Provolone Slices and Creamy Original Chao Slices)

2 slices of gluten-free vegan bread (I like Bloomfield Farms Gluten Free Vegan White Sandwich Bread)

Earth Balance Buttery Spread

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Stir together the chickpeas, mustard, mayo, and pickle juice in a mixing bowl.

Mash the mixture to suit your texture preferences then add salt and pepper to taste.

Plop a pat of Earth Balance into a pan over medium heat.

As the buttery spread melts, top 1 bread slice with 1 slice of vegan cheese.

Scoop a few spoonfuls of the chickpea mixture on top of the vegan cheese.

Top the chickpea mixture with the second slice of vegan cheese.

Once the Earth Balance in the pan is sizzling, gently place the open-faced sandwich into the pan (bread side down.)

While the sandwich cooks, carefully spread Earth Balance on one side of the unused bread slice.

Close the sandwich by placing the buttered bread slice naked side down on top of the sandwich.

After roughly 30 seconds, gingerly flip the sandwich to toast the other side.

Once both sides of the sandwich are golden and the cheese is soft, move the sandwich to a plate.

Enjoy!

 

16 Tips and Life Hacks for New Parents

Being a new parent is tough. How do you survive? What should you buy? What should you do? Here are 15 tried-and-true tips to new parents from this mom of three close-in-age kids.

1. Expect the first month to be sleepless. Don’t fight it. Don’t lament it. Just push through it and own it. It gets easier. Those frequent feedings and nighttime interactions are needed, not just for milk supply building and bonding (if you’re breastfeeding), but for stability. You are all your baby has ever known and now he’s in a big new world without any way of comforting himself besides you. (Plus, frequent waking helps prevent SIDS.) This hardship will end, and will soon exist simply as a hazy memory in your distant past.

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2. White baby socks only. A former coworker once advised me to only buy white baby socks because babies always lose one sock and matching tiny foot mits is mind-numbing. Being a know-nothing-know-it-all, I shunned the advice and opted for cute printed toe coverings. I paid the price. There were numerous half-loads of laundry entirely comprised of widowed baby socks. Do you know how many baby socks can fit in a standard clothes washer? A metric f’ing shit-ton, that’s how many. Just get a heap of white baby socks and simplify your life.

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3. Pop a pee pad under Peewee. In the early little-sleep, countless-diapers days, save yourself some nighttime trouble and pop an adhesive-backed absorbent incontinence pad under your infant insomniac. The pad lays flush against the fitted sheet but saves you from stripping Baby’s bed in the middle of the night due to spit-up, blow-out, or soak-through messes. Just peel off the soiled absorbent applique, toss it, and stick on a fresh sheet protector. If your breasts are leaky, consider puting one under you as well.

4. Go old school on burp cloths. Don’t waste money on pricey pretty burp cloths. Go bleachable and absorbant. Grab a few packs of flat-fold cloth diapers. Your wallet and shirts will thank me.

5. Divide to survive. Division of  labor in the home is paramount when children are involved but nighttime is the real battleground. It’s easy for one parent to be saddled with all of the duties if the other has responsibilities outside of the home. This, though, is a marriage killer. Divide duties, share in the suffering, stay together. One parent diapers, one parent feeds. No one escapes infancy unscathed. If there are older children still waking at night, one parent is charged with the elders and one with the baby. The division of labor will strengthen your partnership. Giving all responsibilities to one parent weakens the bond, and you have enough riding against you with your massive life change. You need all the unified strength you can muster.

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6. One carseat per car. If you have two cars, each child should have two car seats (an infant can use one car seat with one car seat base per vehicle.) Playing car seat hokey-pokey is an unnecessary pain in the ass that can easily be avoided. Plus, emergency situations do happen… no one needs to be installing a car seat then.

7. Babywear. Bonding, easy feeding, two free hands, protection from germs and grabby strangers, enhanced core strength, no-bra camouflage… the list of reasons why to babywear is lengthy. Go try out a few carriers via a babywearing group or borrowing from friends, and make the leap.

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8. Shit happens; size up. Size up diapers sooner rather than later. Frequent blowouts often indicate too small diapers. There’s no reason to keep using too small diapers. Many stores offer store credit, if not cash back, for unopened packs of diapers.

9. Press pause on gripe water. Food journal if your breastfed baby seems colicky. Don’t immediately jump to gripe water. There’s often a reason behind fussiness that can be addressed, a shoddy latch or mama’s food intake are two likely suspects. Anything from beans to dairy can be a possible belly bugger for baby. So opt to food journal before you dose your little one.

10. Just buy a Nose Frida. Sucking your baby’s boogers out through a tube…sounds gross. Get over it. It’s not. (You never come into contact with the suctioned snot. I promise.) It’ll actually be the one opportunity your boogery offspring won’t share mucus with you. This is a must-buy.

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11. Medicine cabinet at the ready. Besides the Nose Frida, saline drops or spray, a humidifier, and age-appropriate infant pain reliever should be on hand. Even more importantly, know your pediatrician’s recommended medication dosage for your child because kids are more likely to get sick at 2AM on a holiday weekend than at 11AM on a Tuesday.

12. No formula samples. While pregnant, you’re often sent sample cans of formula. It’s easy to think having them on hand just in case breastfeeding goes awry would be smart. It’s not. Don’t have formula on hand if you plan to breastfeed. If you were going on a life change dietary shift, would you keep your forbidden foods in the house? No because that’s self-sabotage. Breastfeeding may be “natural” but it is hard. With the first baby you’re both wholly new to the endeavor, and even with subsequent children you’re both new that that unique nursing relationship. There’s no shame in formula usage — it’s there for a reason — but if your goal is to breastfeed, don’t enter into the undertaking with your bailout shoot at the ready. If you wind up truly needing formula despite your best efforts, pharmacies exist. Don’t give yourself an out before you even started.

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13. Breastfeed without fear. While baby is in-utero, use that time to amp yourself up, prepare family and friends, do what you need to do to make sure you enter breastfeeding with a “no shame” attitude. Use a cover if you wish… or don’t. But don’t build yourself unnecessary hurdles by pumping to bottle feed in public simply because you’re skittish. Forget being a warrior goddess, be a tough mother. Breastfeed proudly and don’t get in your own way.

14. Get the help you need. PPD/PPA and postpartum PTSD are real. I can personally attest to their existence. I can also proclaim how horrid it is not getting the help you need because you’re so focused on having your shit together. You just created and birthed a human, you’re not sleeping, you create more milk and hormones than cohesive trains of thought, you upended your life and toppled your worldview… your shit is NOT together. It’s not supposed to be together. Maternity leave is not just for physical recovery and bonding but psychological healing. Get counseling if you need it. Get lactation support if you need it. Get a housekeeper if you need it. Take care of you so you can take care of everyone else.

15. Be a partner to your partner. In the chaos of new-parenthood, your romantic relationship is more likely than not to get thoroughly trampled. Make sure that’s temporary by making efforts to repair the damage. Your sex drive may be nonexistent. You may suffer some degree of sexual dysfunction. You will be tired and hormonal and tapped out and touched-out and edgy and covered in bodily fluids that are both yours and not. You may feel unattractive. You may feel sore. Whatever your state, make time for the two of you. Whether it’s crumbling onto the sofa to watch a show at the end of the day, or waking up early to have coffee together. Whatever it is, do it. Make. It. Happen. You will not regret it.

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16. Try to enjoy it. This will be a blur of spit-up, diaper blowouts, sleepy cuddles, precious coos, and endless loads of laundry, but it goes fast. So fast. And your baby is only a baby once. Some moments you appreciate that this is a one-time fleeting arrangement but, in too-short time, you will look back wistfully grappling for puzzle piece memories. Take a breath. Reframe for the positive. And breathe in the baby scent. This will all be over soon.

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How to Survive Holidays with Food Allergies

Over four years ago, I realized my dairy allergy. Adjusting to the massively food-limiting restriction was rough. One of the biggest issues: how to handle holidays.

I dropped all dairy just before Halloween 2013. Bad timing for my taste buds — as I only enjoy chocolate candy and dislike fruity treats — but appreciated by my waistline. It was a hardship that first Halloween learning to abstain from all of the fun-size goodies, but I did. I knew it’d get easier with time. And it did.

Then came Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, pies, green beans, corn, rolls, even the turkey are more likely than not to contain dairy. Around the holidays, milk/butter/cheese/cream/whey is in everything. I mourned missing out. It was a death, of sorts. I thought Thanksgiving was dead.

At first I adjusted by making and bringing some of my own dairy-free versions of traditional dishes and — my then-omnivorous self — asked for the turkey to be made dairy-free. My family kindly obliged. However, despite all loving intentions, I got inadvertently dosed with dairy that year. It was awful; a holiday meal wasn’t worth a week of suffering, especially when I had an infant and a toddler to wrangle.

A month later, Christmas came and I tried my approach again. Fail! Dosed yet again, I decided from then on not to attempt others’ contributions unless the cooks, themselves, were dairy-free.

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The next year, I made more side dishes to bring, ate beforehand, and stuck to my meal offerings. No accidental dairy dosing! I had my new holiday survival technique. This was key, now that two of my children accompanied me on the dairy-free journey.

Three years later — now a dairy-allergic, gluten-free vegan — I will absolutely maintain my tried-and-true holiday survival technique. It’s my safest route.

Is it hard not being able to eat everything? Not really, anymore. Once I shifted my focus from food to people, it made a world of difference. The day after a holiday, I won’t look back on the celebration remembering how the green beans tasted or how the squash was flavored. I’ll reflect on the people, the experience, the laughter (and eye rolls… because what’s a family gathering without that balance?) And that’s where my focus should be.

So what do I bring? This year, I will bring herbed green beans sauteed in olive oil, baked squash (delicata, butternut, and acorn) seasoned with herbs and Earth Balance, and a garlicky lentil-mushroom dish. Often, I bring dairy-free rolls and herbed carrots. Usually my belly is too full for dessert after Thanksgiving dinner, and I’m too busy wrangling my tiny trio while helping with dish clean-up to indulge, but if I did want to bring a sweet to enjoy it’d probably be this.

Looking for some gluten-free vegan holiday recipes? Try here. On the hunt for sweet recipes? Look here for some vegan dessert finds.

When it comes to food allergies, there’s no dish worth risking a reaction, no matter how delicious. It is hard at first but, like any adjustment, it gets easier. Life is about so much more than just food.

 

Product Find: Vegan Yogurt

On the hunt for a creamy dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan yogurt without the weird aftertaste or powdery mouthfeel? I found it!

Back in my dairy-eating days, I ate yogurt most mornings. Whether straight out of the small peel-and-lick-top container or scooped into a bowl with fresh berries and dry cereal, it was my go-to morning meal maker. Then, my dairy allergy hit.

Lots of product sampling later, I landed on So Delicious. Their dairy-free yogurt alternative was a good option. It was accessible, my kids loved it, and it was a passable yogurt substitute. Still, I didn’t crave it like I did dairy yogurt. Then, I found this:

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Game over. Creamy, smooth mouthfeel, no weird tangy flavor, zero powdery texture, no sugar headache, and just the slightest yummy hint of lemon and vanilla. Kite Hill’s vanilla yogurt could easily go spoon-to-spoon with Dannon vanilla yogurt.

Kite Hill, you win again.

Fudgy Gluten-free Vegan Brownies… from a box!

Want the ooey-ooey, indulgent tasting brownies without all the added fat of eggs and butter, or the gut-busting gluten? Well then, make these… STAT.

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Warm, fudgy, chocolatey brownies, is there anything better? The answer is no. No there’s not.

Being a gluten-free vegan, I thought my days of delicious, fudgy brownies were behind me. Then I came across Wegmans Double Chocolate Gluten-free Brownie Mix. I contacted Wegmans to ask if the mix was vegan, waited anxiously for a reply, and happily got the all-clear. Cue the shameless happy dance!

I ran out and bought the box mix the next day. Then contemplated how to veganize the required butter and egg additions. Flax egg and Earth Balance (or coconut oil) seemed like the logical path, but what’s the fun in that? I had some leftover baked yam and an awkward portion of unsweetened vanilla coconut yogurt staring at me from the fridge. So I put them to work. Then (im)patiently awaited the results.

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Verdict: WIN!!

So, wait no more. Bake yourself a batch and savor the deliciousness of homemade brownies (without all of the badies.)

FUDGY GLUTEN-FREE VEGAN BROWNIES (from a box)

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Fudgy Gluten-free Vegan Brownies

Ingredients:

1 box Wegmans Double Chocolate Gluten-free Brownie Mix

11/4 cup baked yam (skin removed)*

1/2 cup unsweetened dairy-free yogurt (such as So Delicious Dairy Free Yogurt Alternative)

1/3 cup water

*Drained canned yam or canned pureed pure pumpkin may be used in place of baked yam.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Using a hand mixer, beat the yam in a large bowl until the yam is smooth.

Add in the yogurt and beat until blended with the yam.

Gradually pour in the dry box mix, beating on a low setting until there is no more loose powder in the bowl.

Once the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet ingredients, increase the mixing speed, adding the water if needed to thin out the batter to reach a standard brownie batter consistency.

Mix on high for 1 minute.

Once smooth — except for the chocolate chips — transfer all of the batter to a greased, square baking pan.

Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes for extra fudgy brownies, or bake for the full 28 minutes noted on the brownie mix box for firmer brownies.

Let cool before cutting in a hashmark pattern.

Enjoy!