Who’s going??? Ping me if you are!
When I do my Trader Joe’s run every few weeks, I always make a point of picking up the ingredients for this recipe because they are all pantry staples that never spoil and can pull together into a super basic meal very quickly. Pasta, sauce, and artichokes are a yummy combo, but the other night I made this and realized I had a couple other ingredients on hand that made it a little more special!
I added in Kalamata olives (refrigerated, from Trader Joe’s), sun dried tomatoes and a few sliced pepperoncini that gave it the heat equivalent of red pepper flakes, and WOW — it was like a whole other dish! I realized that next time I should save some leftover sweet sausage if I make it on the weekend and crumble that in, and I think that would make it perfection. Chicken would also be delicious in here but sadly I didn’t have any on hand! I’m definitely going to make it this way from now on. Especially since it makes great toddler leftovers, too.
BASE RECIPE — Penne with Artichokes
ADD-INS — mix and match
Ugh this was so good that I almost ate two portions the other night when I was just lounging in my PJs trying to get caught up on Scandal! <<ahem>> I mean doing laundry and putting away clothes instead of leaving them in folded piles on my husband’s dresser.
Trader Joe’s had some fun, new ingredients the last time I visited, including cold brew coffee concentrate, coconut cookies, ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil cooking spray and pomegranate vinegar. And of course, who can live without their pear cider at this time of year?? I’ll be sharing a recipe for using that cider to make some yummy apple topping for cooked pork chops in another week or two. I was so disappointed to see that they discontinued their mobile app, which featured lots of new foods just coming into stores. I guess I’ll just have to keep going in person to see what’s new and interesting.
Have a great week everyone!
The pictures for this came out terrible, but it’s a hearty soup that comes together really quickly. We picked up all the ingredients at Trader Joe’s but you could easily make this from any store with comparable products! This isn’t soup from scratch, but it is fast, creamy and satisfying, and uses up leftover prepared pesto that you may have made yourself or bought for another recipe. Plus, it’s vegetarian and filling without being bad for you.
INGREDIENTS (all Trader Joe’s)
Set a medium pot of water to boil. Boil the tortellini until they are just cooked (usually when they float to the top). Set aside.
In another large pot — I used a cast iron Le Creuset dutch oven — heat the entire package of soup over medium until simmering. Add in the whole package of frozen bell peppers and pesto, then stir in the tortellini. Once it’s all heated, it’s ready to serve!
Top with grated parmesan or pecorino and enjoy warm.
(This makes a thick soup; if you’d rather it be a bit thinner, use half to 2/3 bag of cooked tortellini instead).
The great thing about this recipe is that you can adjust it however you like. Don’t want to use frozen bell peppers? Go for frozen peas, or string beans. I threw in half a can of corn that was lying around from my Shepherd’s Pie a few days before! Love pesto? Add the whole darn jar. Not a fan? Scale it back or omit entirely. You can use any brand of creamy tomato soup, but I really like how the roasted red pepper element adds flavor here. It’s relatively healthy and will also leave you with a few tasty lunches for the week. Plus, even though I love that it’s vegetarian, you can always change that by throwing in some chicken sausage, kielbasa, ground beef or leftover rotisserie chicken. The possibilities are endless.
Dig in and enjoy!
Hey everyone! We’ve been busy with Mark’s show opening (check out his cool writeup in the Boston Globe last weekend) and as a result I’ve been eating pretty lame lately. One of my favorite things to do when I’m dining solo after baby’s bedtime is to whip up a fried egg over Trader Joe’s frozen tikka masala or palak paneer. As with any frozen entree, you have to watch the sodium, but they are great vegetarian options for those no-effort nights. I particularly love serving their soft Tandoori Naan Bread alongside, and boy does Georgia love nibbling on Naan as a snack! It’s a great size and consistency for babies to grab.
Has 4 p.m. got you hunting for something non-work-related to read? Here’s a roundup of some fun tidbits from the world of food. Have a great week!
…and then there’s this lady who makes jewelry out of it.
My favorites are the Silly Skin Straw Tops, which turn any cup into a sippy cup; the Chicco Lulla Go basinnet; the new Aden & Anais toddler bedding sets that have a layer at the end so kids can’t kick off their sheets; the Puj Filla Cups for toddlers that attach to your fridge; and the new Britax Click Tight convertible car seats that use your seatbelt (not the LATCH system) to make moving form car to car simpler. (As I mentioned in my last post, we pre-ordered this immediately because we have three sets of grandparents, occasional sitters, taxis and flights to Florida to contend with). There were also some cool updates from Baby Jogger, Orbit, UppaBaby, Bumbleride and others, but I refuse to contribute to the culture of stroller-as-status-symbol in this country…if you are buying a new Bugaboo because it now comes in camo, you need something better to do with your time and money! ($1300 on that one, to be exact). I did drool over Balmoral bringing its line of totally old-fashioned, impractical and gorgeous prams to the US from across the pond, though. Now when Georgia meets her future husband Prince George she can do it in the proper style of buggy! :)
Happy Friday everyone! And Happy Belated World Vegetarian Day, which was this week (October 1). I found this handy HuffPo article with 22 new vegetarian recipe ideas to share, and I’m definitely going to try the pumpkin mac n’ cheese and the sweet potato pizza this weekend, which is the only time I can really plan ahead and pre-cook things for the week to save time after work. We’ve been doing a great job at eating out less, and encouraged by our success I am now trying to tackle a few other areas where I waste time and money. Though we’ve saved a lot through inertia of not having to buy formula and being able to serve Georgia table food, I feel there’s always more I can do to save my sanity.
What do you do to streamline life? I’ve always been a lover of efficiency, but nothing has made me more organized and adept at shaving time off of things that used to eat up my entire day than having Georgia. To think that I used to shower and blow dry my hair every single day before work, and spend 15 or 20 minutes putting on makeup! To be honest, the post-partum body changes from having Georgia were another tool for me to simplify my life, too, because I was forced to eliminate anything that didn’t work for me and to reduce my wardrobe to the key essentials. In turn, it has allowed me to feel OK about buying things that really do work for us, even if they are a little more expensive (case in point: the convertible car seat we just bought, which was more expensive than other models but is so simple to install that I don’t know how it took someone this long to invent it. Anyone who’s wrestled one of these things into a cab or rental car will feel me on this). So how else do I, a not-so-new-but-still-frazzled mom, shave time in my daily life?
Prep the night before
I make Georgia’s food and bottles and lay out her clothes every night before bed. This means chopping fruit, bagging up crackers, cheese and yogurt, slicing meatballs or shredding rotisserie chicken and packing it all in her lunch bag. Even just taking 5 minutes to pour whole milk into her bottles and sippy cups saves you from a hectic morning. That way, when we are running out the door, I just grab leftovers or an Amy’s Frozen Organic Meal for my lunch, take her day care bag out of the fridge, and then buy a breakfast sandwich & coffee or myself on the way to the train after school drop-off. This is the one meal I routinely eat out; everybody has one. If I do make my own breakfast, it’s either a smoothie, a slice of casserole, egg muffins or an overnight yogurt and oatmeal fruit parfait.
Develop some go-to second day hairstyles
This is a biggie for me. From getting our diapers and wipes every six weeks from The Honest Company, to ordering gifts, toiletries, toys and craft supplies from our Amazon Prime membership (free 2-day shipping! Instant streaming for those nights in with a sleeping toddler!), we try to minimize our trips to any store because we have one car and zero shared days off per week. We also recently joined Costco, so that we can really stock up and not have to make extra trips to Target or the grocery store for another 12-pack of toilet paper or seltzer, and I’ve recently been considering checking out other subscription product membership services such as Fabletics, Popbasic, Stitch Fix and Dollar Shave Club (which I am dying to try; I feel like we spend so much money on razors). I even order stamps from the postal service by mail now, and I long ago switched almost entirely to shopping online for clothes (both ours and Georgia’s), especially via consignment sites like ThredUp, Kidizen and my favorite place for well-priced trendy baby duds, Old Navy and Gap. (And if you try any of the services above, I’d be tickled if you use my referral links!)
Get off social media
Seriously. If you need more convincing, read on. You can’t spend more time with your family, your hobbies and your home improvement projects until you minimize screen time. And this is coming from a blogger who manages websites and social media platforms for a living!
Minimize your beauty routine
This happened out of necessity both while I was pregnant (read: exhausted) and after Georgia came along. Of course in those first few weeks you don’t wear any makeup, good clothes or basically anything clean or flattering; about a month in, though, you start to want to venture out, and realize this can only happen if you drastically lower your standards for your appearance and/or consolidate a few aspects of your morning routine. I did this in a few key ways: eliminating steps, and buying products that do double duty.
As I already said, I started showering every other day, taking advantage of simple buns, dry shampoo and (let’s be honest) hats, and by picking up multi-tasking products like this Benefit blush that doubles as eye shadow, or this blush that doubles as a lip stain. This concealor can cover up under-eye circles and blemishes, and then I just swipe some mascara and I’m good to go. At night, I reach for a do-it-all makeup remover and cleanser that can handle tough mascara, like these Kat Von D wipes (amazing). I take my skin care routine seriously, so whenever possible, I wash with Cetaphil (can double as baby wash in a pinch!), tone with witch hazel wipes (good for you-know-what after childbirth, plus bug bites, cuts & scrapes) and moisturize with Olay Regenerist. In the shower, I share my Honest shampoo and body wash with Georgia, and we also both use the Honest conditioning detangler now that she’s got some wavy, crazy hair. Finally, if I need to polish my nails in a hurry, I’m a huge fan of this Sally Hansen insta-dri fast color (like literally dry in 30 seconds, and has a huge color selection).
A couple other quick tips: diaper rash cream can also be used to dry up a breakout; Rosebud salve can tint your lips, tamp down flyaways and frizz, and soothe your cuticles, dry elbows and paper cuts; and things like dryel and febreeze fabric freshener can really cut down on the time and expense of all those trips to the dry-cleaners.
Work out in short bursts
I wouldn’t get any exercise at all if I tried to make it to an actual yoga class twice (or being real here, even once) every week. I also suck at getting up early enough to exercise before my unpredictable child decides to start her day, which can happen any time between 6 and 7:30 a.m., so that’s out. What’s a girl to do? Well, I’ve come up with a couple creative solutions, and they all revolve around cramming shorter workouts into more days per week.
I try to grab a snack when G is eating dinner around 5:45, then it’s digested by the time she goes to bed between 6:30 and 7, and this fuels me for a quick workout after her bedtime and before my own dinner. We do a long walk every weekend together, then twice a week, we walk home one mile from her daycare. Once a week my office hosts a short yoga class in one of our conference rooms, which I don’t always make it to, but which is great to have. See if your company is willing to do the same!
Cook in bulk
This goes for big things like making stuffed shells, chili or a huge batch of risotto so there’s plenty of leftovers throughout the week, all the way down to slicing and mixing Georgia’s daycare meals on Sundays so I can grab and go in the mornings. We bought (and labelled) a ton of food containers that we can stock up on weekends and just plop into her daycare bag every other day when she goes. I also like to pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store one night, then make the leftovers into chicken salad for Mark to have for sandwiches throughout the week. Since we often eat dinner separately, he either buys his on break from work, or I make a huge pan of shepherd’s pie or spaghetti carbonara for him to take every day (and I pretend like he’s having a side salad with it, but probably it’s more like a side soda).
This week, to get Georgia more veggies in her diet, I bought a pre-cut butternut squash at Costco and then roasted and mashed it with a touch of pumpkin butter. She devoured it, and the whole thing lasted us an entire week!
Last but not least, keep baby wipes in every single corner of your house — preferably fragrance free and eco-friendly — and use them to do everything. I’ve washed my walls and baseboards, wiped down kitchen counters and the high chair, dusted the car interior, freshened up the sink and toilet, and even cleaned all my vinyl siding before Georgia’s birthday party this summer, using just baby wipes. They are also amazing post-workout when you don’t have time to shower, and I’ve grabbed them in a panic when the cat has gotten sick or walked through something gross and tracked it into the house. I honestly don’t know how I ever survived without them.
So what did I miss? I know there are some great life hacks out there waiting to be discovered and shared. I’d love to hear about them.
Special thanks to Dollar Shave Club for reaching out to us to create this post!
What a great weekend of learning, networking and inspiration I just experienced at the Alt for Everyone conference! If you’ve never been, Alt (short for Altitude Summit) is a design, social media and blogging conference held every year in Salt Lake City….and again online for those of us who can’t travel cross-country in person because of work, kids or whatever. This was my first year “attending,” and I picked up loads of great information for this blog, for my full-time job, and for work-life balance in general. As bloggers, writers and artists, it’s important to recharge with other like-minded creatives from time to time; you get to hit the refresh button while picking up loads of great business and lifestyle tips, from rethinking your branding and styling to making sure you avoid burnout and screen-time overload.
So what really rang true for me over three days of Alt for Everyone?
IT’S TIME TO QUIT FACEBOOK
Not because it’s bad for my blog–because it’s bad for my life. Letting go of the addiction (if it has become that for you, like it has for me) frees up all kinds of space to dislodge writer’s block, embrace creative hobbies, allow for “boredom brainstorms,” and enjoy your family again, instead of constantly plotting how something will look to the social media universe. Is it more important to help my baby learn to walk confidently, or capture her first steps on video so my Facebook followers share in it? I don’t want to be that person who is so busy cultivating an online persona that I’m missing out on my actual life, and nearing max capacity as I try to juggle my job, husband, daughter, house work, volunteering, hobbies, and exercise alongside blogging. I’ve been saying I’m going to cut back on Facebook for months. It’s time to actually do it.
YOUR BLOG IS A BUSINESS — TREAT IT THAT WAY!
REPEAT AFTER ME: PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE
According to Jaime Derringer of Design Milk, it can take 6 months (at least) to show a return on your investment in a particular advertising partner. Most brands are willing to wait for you to show them what your blog can do for them, and amplification of your blog posts featuring their brand — on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. — can be just as important to them as actual conversion rates. There are lots of different ad-selling arrangements out there, and it will likely take time to evaluate each one properly and find the most lucrative space and method on your blog for each.
YOU NEED TO BE USING RICH PINS
This I already knew, but had been avoiding. Rich pins are especially critical for food bloggers, because they allow recipe embedding right in your pin, meaning nobody can override you as the original source. I had been thinking about rich pins as something that would take me more time, not necessarily prevent other pinners from stealing my content without attribution. Now I’m definitely adding this to my to-do list. Read more about how to do rich pinning here!
NURTURE YOUR CREATIVITY & REAP THE BENEFITSIdeas I loved:
We’ve all heard it before: authentic content is king. Turns out, that’s because it’s true. Brands are looking for good engagement from your readers and lots of genuine content…not necessarily high page views or tons of previous sponsored posts (that can actually be a red flag, because you may appear un-discerning). For someone like me, that read as a challenge, because my page views have been skyrocketing lately but my ad revenue and my engagement have flat-lined. So now I have a very real charge for the months ahead (in addition to the redesign I was already planning!) Hand-in-hand with authenticity is the notion of consistency. Don’t leave your readers wondering when you’ll post, or why your photos and overall post format vary so widely in design. Be organized and predictable!
THERE WERE ALSO SOME VERY QUOTABLE MOMENTS.
A few of my favorites, from the webinars I took:
“Be a visual DJ”
“Boredom gives you the best ideas”
“When you don’t have butterflies, it means you are doing the same thing over and over.”
“Study your heroes” and “follow your competitors!”
“think like a marketer”
“fake it ’til you make it”
“start thinking like a window dresser” and “create an environment that people want to visit often.”
That’s it! I learned so much more, applicable to this blog, my day job and my creative life, and I am definitely feeling motivated, empowered and excited to take things to the next level in all these areas.
Special thanks to instructors Laurie Smithwick of Leap Design, Raphael Aquino-Jose of Bing, Jenner Brown of Lumineux Films, Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society, Whitney English of Whitney English, Melanie Burk of Caravan, Chris Gardner of Curbly, Rachel Faucett of Handmade Charlotte, Amy Christie of This Heart of Mine, Alison Faulkner of The Alison Show, Monique Malcolm of Antisparkle, Kelly Beall of Design Crush and Susan Brinson of House of Brinson.
Did you go? What did you learn? And if you are from Boston and you participated in #AltforEveryone, do you want to meet up for coffee and debrief/network/commiserate over our long task list?!?!
Fall has hit New England with a bang! Suddenly there’s a snap in the air, and the leaves are starting to turn. You know what that means: time to go apple picking, bake some pies and crisp, rake the last of the leaves, store the patio furniture for the winter, and give the house one last scrubbing before it’s too cold to leave the windows open.
In our house, we’ve been prepping the car for winter (oil change, snow wipers, check hoses & fluids), storing our summer clothes with the last of our vacations behind us, buying Georgia a winter wardrobe in her new size, and insulating some key sections of our house that always let in the cold, such as eaves and overhangs that jut away from our foundation. I always talk about how important it is to use natural cleaning products from reputable, environmentally-conscious companies such as Honest, Norwex and Babyganics, but do you know what we’ve discovered that many people probably never even consider when renovating or deep-cleaning their homes? The surprising prevalence of asbestos in everyday life.
We ran into this when we started to do a “simple” renovation to our bathroom in preparation for Georgia’s arrival last year, a project that started with re-tiling our tub and ended with us having to take the entire side of our 100-year-old house down in a hail storm of lead paint, black mold and rotten wood. Being pregnant at the time, I knew we had to take precautions to make sure I and the baby weren’t exposed to any toxic substances used when our house was built in 1920. We had professionals taking those things into consideration, so I knew we were safe. But I didn’t realize until very recently that you also have to keep guard against things like lead and asbestos in everyday products — and that asbestos is still the top cause of occupational cancer (Mesothelioma) in the United States, more than 30 years after its peak use in construction of schools, houses and municipal buildings.
In recognition of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which is today, I’d like to share the story of Heather Von St. James, a survivor of Mesothelioma. Her story is alarming and inspiring, and as a natural mama this seemed important to share. It’s also close to my heart, because my grandfather died of mesothelioma after a lifetime working in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Eight years ago, at the very young age of 36, Heather gave birth to her daughter, Lily. Three months later, she was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure — only she had never worked with asbestos. She was given just 15 months to live, but she beat the odds.
Even more shocking?
Were you inspired by Heather’s story, too? Then share it, educate yourself about the dangers of first- and second-hand exposure to asbestos, and spread the word that there is hope for those diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Visit Heather’s website to learn more and share.
By being smart about the toxic substances we’re all still at risk of being exposed to in everyday life, we can help keep our families safe. I hope you’ll join me in supporting this worthy cause.
Hey everyone ~ whew, what a yucky past couple of weeks this has been in our house. I thought we’d seen the worst of the back-to-school bugs, but apparently these germs weren’t quite done with us! Two weeks, two chest colds and a couple of very gross stomach bugs later, I’m back on the blog and ready to share some great fall recipe ideas and snippets from our life. This past Monday, Mark and I left Georgia with her grandmother and took a mommy-daddy day trip to Brooklyn. He was shooting an episode for the travel channel at Brooklyn Fire Proof sound stages, so I hung out for a couple hours at the attached gallery/cafe space, BFPEast. Boy, did I feel old and square killing time with the hipsters in East Williamsburg. But I had an awesome lunch and found the company pretty laid-back and friendly, especially considering how little I ate relative to how long I lingered:
I overheard two climate change activists talking about their weekend, which included bfpeast’s $5 brunch. It sounded awesome. Personally, I tried the mac n’ cheese with jalapenos on top. omgdelicious.
We did the entire trip in one day, and managed this only because we avoided Manhattan, where the UN was starting their high-level meetings. We even made it through Connecticut in time to stop for dinner at our favorite road trip break spot, Rein’s Deli. When I was pregnant and suffering big-time with “morning” sickness, Mark stopped here to get me matzoh ball soup and pickles on his way back from a job in New York. I hated having him drive alone, but I was pumped that he brought home some amazing comfort food for me and our baby-to-be!
Speaking of which, guess who walked this weekend (finally)????
Of course, she squats whenever I try to take a photo of her walking by herself, but you’ll have to take my word for it. We took her to brunch Sunday and she made the waitresses practice walking with her up and down the middle of the restaurant! She also took off on her own when we went shoe shopping at Carter’s and she spotted the Lego table in the middle of the store. The cat has the same effect…poor kitty. I don’t think she’s gotten over the idea of Georgia crawling yet, and now this?
We took G for her one-year appointment last week, and she’s right in the 50th percentile for height and weight…everything except her enormous head. Have I mentioned this yet? Her head has been tracking in the 98th percentile since she was about 5 months old, and after ruling out any dangerous reasons for it at Children’s, we just have to laugh at the way she outgrows clothes “head first” and how we have to buy her hats meant for four-year-olds. We have a gorgeous winter hat from Restoration Hardware that a relative bought us and she wore exactly once before her potato head couldn’t squeeze into it anymore. Fed up with such difficulties, and fueled by the desire to own a trendy winter hat myself, I knitted us matching slouchy hats on the car ride to and from New York:
Georgia’s hat has just a baby amount of slouch. The pattern is pretty easy — you just knit in the round in a 2×1 rib for however long you want the headband to be, then switch to seed stitch on larger needles (I used 11 and 13) until the desired size. I fit mine to my own head on the go, and then just used up the leftover yarn from one skein of Lion Brand Thick & Quick for Georgia’s hat. With no decreases (which would eliminate the slouch), you simply bind off after purling together three and then two stitches at a time and pull the yarn through the remaining loops at the top! It’s so easy. I want to go make a hundred more in different colors.
Oh! Before I forget…is anyone else “going to” Alt for Everyone this weekend? I am super excited to be joining in this year! I can’t wait to translate lots of what I learn back to this community as well as the web family I manage at my day job. If you’re going, I’d love to connect online this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’ll be the one on a sugar high from the delicious lemon candies they sent in the swag bag!
Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. In my free time (ha!) I am already shopping for Georgia’s Christmas outfit (because, you know, booking holiday photos for the Christmas card has to happen in September these days…) and my strategy this year is probably going to be stalking ThredUP and Kidizen for fancy consignment duds. The thing gets worn twice at best! Seems smart to go second hand, yes?
Have a great rest of the week, everyone!
Anyone who has kids (and relatives who watch them) knows that it’s handy to have lots of food in the house for everyone to snack on. I’ve gone from being the type of person who never kept junk food around as a way of watching my weight to buying crackers, cheese, salsa, soda, fruit juice, granola bars and cookies in bulk so the grandparents have something to nibble while babysitting! Boy do I know how that goes: you only have one hand to eat with while chasing after the baby, and the fruit bowl can only get you so full when you’re entertaining a crazy toddler.
The thing is, I love providing food and drinks that our babysitters and relatives enjoy, because they are doing us a huge favor … but it’s hard not to start snacking on the stuff yourself after a long day at work. Diet coke, wheat thins, tortilla chips and pastries suddenly have a standing place on my shopping list, taking me into aisles I never even would have entered before, and tempting both Mark and I when we are home. Lately, I’ve realized that we also seem to order takeout a lot more often than we intend to, because we get home late and then suddenly it’s Georgia’s bedtime and we are starving on the other side of it, with no energy left to cook. So, I am starting to try out recipes that come together really quickly with extremely few ingredients, ideally the kind you can keep on hand. It’s a way to avoid the pizza delivery guy and have fresher options than processed foods on hand. That’s how I came to this recipe:
I love that it has just a few ingredients, and that they are the kind of thing you can keep on hand easily. Plus, it comes together in 10 minutes. I served it with a salad and lime seltzer for lunch when my mom and brother were over, and then we finished it off with some homemade zucchini bread!
Preheat the oven per the dough or crust directions. You can also use something like Pillsbury dough and lay it out flat and square). On a pizza stone, cookie sheet or round non-stick pizza pan, assemble the flatbread by layering olive oil on the crust (or tortilla), then spread the pesto in an even layer, then top with as much cheese as you’d like, grating as you go. If you have fresh basil, add it on top, tearing off small pieces and adding to your taste. Cook until the edges of the crust are browned, or about 10 minutes. Slice into individual pieces and serve warm.
We decided to call this a “flatbread” since it’s so thin and snackable, even though you make it like a pizza. Calling it a pesto pizza didn’t seem to capture the experience of eating it, since it’s so light and uncomplicated. One of these easily fed three people the afternoon I made it.
I’ll be on vacation next week, but I will share some photos of our trip to Myrtle Beach and Charleston as soon as I’m back! I can’t believe it’s Labor Day weekend already. At least we all got over the stomach bug just in time to take our trip.