organicglory

simple nibbles of natural goodness

Food Travels through Newport

You guys. You GUYS. For time first time in 2.5 years — yes, that’s right, years — I spent an overnight away from my baby and ate in restaurants without interruption, talked to my husband without someone yelling “mama! dada! I wanna show you something!” two seconds after we start chatting, and woke up whenever I felt like it. Which, you know, turned out to still be 7:30 a.m., because I haven’t done it any other way for 30 months. But the point is I got away, pretended to be an adult with a life, and had a blast! And boy, did we eat well. Allow me to share with  you our itinerary in beautiful Newport, R.I., which is only a 90-minute drive south of Boston. I can’t believe we were walking around in almost 60-degree weather just last weekend and today it’s a sloppy snow mess out there!

 I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but one goal Mark and I have for 2016 and beyond is to date each other again. I know, it sounds corny — but it’s so critical. When life gets busy with work, volunteer commitments, church, blogging, exercise, and (the best part!) little children, it’s easy to push quality time and relaxation to the back burner. But this leads to bad moods and burnout! So, we have resolved to fit in more date nights and mini vacations amid all our regularly-scheduled business trips and family visits. I already feel rejuvenated, and less stressed about my upcoming work trip to the West Coast. Because I’m not going into it frazzled and burning the candle at both ends, I’m hoping to come out of it the same way.

WHERE WE ATE

With a shout-out to my intern Hannah, who grew up in Newport and basically wrote our culinary itinerary for the weekend, here are the top-notch places we went for lunch, dinner and brunch. I’m not exaggerating when I say we ate better than almost anywhere else I’ve been in recent memory — every single meal was a home run.

MISSION

All the burgers and dogs are ground and cased in house, and the only other thing on the menu is falafel. They also serve local beer, wine, prosecco and soda (and, oddly, boxed water) and seating is group style, though we managed to grab a corner of a bench to ourselves in the back. Seemed very kid-friendly from the clientele we saw at lunchtime, with the rest of the crowd evenly split between hipsters and Naval types from the nearby officer training command. Service was fast and our food was insane. We could have just kept eating until we exploded, but tourism awaited! Not up for burgers or dogs? Boru Noodle Bar, right next door, has an awesome ramen-inspired menu.

      left to right, a Chicago dog, fries, and a bacon cheeseburger.

SALVATION CAFE

For dinner, we had an amazing meal in the Broadway area at a place called Salvation Cafe. I think reservations are usually recommended, but on a cold January night we were able to show up at 6:30 and get a pretty cozy corner table in the back with cushions and our own miniature fireplace! At the risk of repeating myself, everything we had here set a new bar in terms of quality and flavor. Mark had the bolognese (beef, veal + pork ragout, fresh wagon wheel pasta, scallions + tomatoes, Narragansett Creamery ricotta), I had the teriyaki salmon with lemon-coconut rice, pickled ginger and crispy spinach c(almost like kale chips — amazing!), and then we tried a few of their special cocktails and desserts, which change seasonally. It was hands-down the best salmon I’ve ever had! Mark said the same about his pasta (and I stupidly offered to try to recreate it at home!)

There are several other fun spots within walking distance, too, including Hope (great local music), Pour Judgment and The Fastnet Pub (an Irish bar). In the mood to caffeinate or relax with a warm drink? Check out Empire Tea and Coffee, which features free wi-fi, a delicious dirty chai, and a lite-brite table (!) for big and little kids to enjoy. Perfect place to curl up and read the newspaper in the afternoon.

CORNER CAFE

OK. When I say this is the best brunch I’ve ever had, I’m being deadly serious. Mark and I have made an art form out of eating brunch wherever we’ve lived and we have been to a LOT of fabulous places over the years. This just took the top spot for us! Well worth the 40-minute wait, Corner Cafe is BYOB and has some creative menu options, like my blackberry/blue cheese/diced turkey omelette topped with powdered sugar:

Plus, we got the best seat in the house, and everyone was giving us serious side eye because of it.

Other highly-recommended restaurants which we didn’t get to try: Revolving Door, which has rotating guest chefs and famously-fab mixed drinks; Fifth Element for live jazz; and Perro Salado, for Mexican (in a Colonial-era tavern!)

We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Viking, located in the center of everything, and loved it.

The Mansions

Obviously, the reason most people come to Newport is to see The Breakers and other famous Gilded Age estates. Only three are open in the winter, but that’s just the right amount for a weekend away! We saw The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms (our favorite), and then made it to Ocean Drive just in time for sunset over Brenton Point. We’ve already agreed to go back this summer and see more of the mansions, do the Servant Life Tour that we missed, and take Georgia along the famous Cliff Walk.

   


Marble House.
  The Breakers.

The inside of these homes is almost impossible to adequately capture on camera. I loved seeing the mosaics, the kitchens full of copper pots and dozens of specialty chef’s items, and the grounds laid out with walking paths, statues, carriage houses and stables.



Marble House.

There’s lots more to do in Newport, too. The area is home to several wineries that offer tours, there is abundant shopping in different parts of town, and we didn’t even get to visit any of the waterfront. We also had hoped to find time to visit their art museum, historic Touro SynagogueRedwood Library & Athenaeum, nearby Sachuest Point wildlife refuge and Norman Point Bird SanctuaryAnd, of course, if you are looking for a much fancier meal than we had, the place to try is Tallulah

Stay safe in this weather and let me know if I missed any of your favorite Newport hot spots! Enjoy Superbowl Sunday ~ I’ll be blogging about a freezer meal workshop I’m doing this weekend, and heading to Portland, Ore. on Wednesday. Happy Friday!

One-pan Chicken & Roasted Vegetables 

Talk about easy! With a small kitchen, a picky toddler and scant dinner-prep time every day after work, I need all the quick & healthy recipes I can get my hands on. This one is so simple and so tasty, and it made just enough for our family of 3. You could EASILY stretch this into two pans in order to feed more people if your family is larger than ours. I used pre-breaded and frozen cutlets from Omaha Steaks, but I’ll include the step-by-step to preparing fresh chicken, too. For the veggies, I grabbed a steam-ready bag of pre-trimmed green beans and one container of cherry tomatoes, and those went straight into the pan (after washing, of course). Roasting veggies make them sweet and bright and both Mark and Georgia gobbled them up when I made this last week. Enjoy!

 

One-Pan Roasted Chicken & Veggies

INGREDIENTS

  • About a dozen boneless chicken cutlets*
  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1 cup fresh grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • olive oil, salt & pepper to taste

*For pre-breaded like I used, no further work is required. If you are breading your own, then purchase enough for your family — probably 1.5 pounds will do — and slice into smaller strips if necessary, as pictured below. Combine 1/2 C breadcrumbs (Italian seasoning flavor; or, add dried basil, oregano and thyme to your plain mix), 1/4 cup grated parmesan (fresh or store bought), plus a dash of salt and pepper, then working one cutlet at a time dredge in olive oil then coat in the breadcrumb mixture before placing onto your baking sheet. If you have extra, sprinkle the leftover breadcrumb and cheese mixture on them before cooking.

DIRECTIONS

Pre-heat oven to 400. If you are using pre-breaded chicken, simply add it onto one side of the pan. I like to cover my pans with tinfoil for easy clean-up; drizzle with olive oil and spread around with fingers or a spatula, then add the chicken.

If you are breading the chicken yourself, see instructions above under ingredients.

Next, add the green beans, top with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Roast in the oven for 25 minutes, shaking halfway through. Add the halved tomatoes during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Serve warm.

This recipe was inspired by something I saw on Cooking Classy. Love their fresh and easy food ideas!

Mark and I are heading to Newport, R.I. for a couple days. I’ll report back soon on what we ate! And in two weeks, I’m traveling to Portlane, Ore., so I can’t WAIT to get my food and drink on out there. I’ll need something to console myself when I can’t be with my baby, after all!

  Have a great weekend, everyone.

Pulled Chicken Chili

It’s the Playoffs! Time for Chili. I’ve got my vegetarian chili recipe, my slow cooker version, even my extra spicy (and vegan!) version. But something was missing. Something sweet, and not based on beef. (Or a beef substitute). So I whipped up this chicken-based chili last weekend, throwing in baked beans, kidney beans, mustard, garlic, and barbecue sauce…and it’s tangy, sweet, and just right for football.

Pulled Chicken Chili

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 lb. pulled chicken (I pre-bought mine from Trader Joe’s, which sells pulled chicken in a one-pound refrigerated package, but you can make pulled chicken at home by slow-cooking any boneless/skinless cuts you like over low for about 4 hours, then shredding with a fork).
  • chili powder or cumin (your preference based on taste/heat)
  • 1 16 oz. can kidney beans (I got the kind from Bush’s that says it comes in a mild chili sauce, but any kind will do!)
  • 1 16 oz. can baked beans, any style or brand
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 TBSP brown mustard
  • 1 TBSP barbecue sauce (add more to taste)

DIRECTIONS

Add the olive oil to a large stock pot (I used my Le Creuset) and heat over medium. Add the chicken and brown over medium-high (aim for medium if using cast iron like I did, since it heats up so fast).

Add the onion and the garlic and cook about 5 minutes or until fragrant. Add seasonings (I used cumin and some pepper), all the beans and the water, and bring to a simmer.

Add the mustard and barbecue sauce. Let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm! I grated some cheddar cheese into it and crumbled tortilla chips on top before plating. Yum!!


Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! East Coasters, stay warm and dry in this storm.

Coconut Kale & Sweet Potato Casserole

Well, I guess the nasty weather has officially arrived. The Southern temps were fun while they lasted! (Although 70 degrees on Christmas just felt wrong). Now that we’ve had to turn the heat back on and bundle up for commuting again, it feels like it’s time to start making casseroles again. Especially all that holiday cooking…who wants to do anything fussy now? This vegetarian dish is hearty, nutritious and as spicy as you want it to be (or not). A few inexpensive ingredients will feed you for days and warm you from the inside out. As a bonus, you can make tea from the leftover ginger peels, and that’s great for healthy digestion (and for kicking the common cold, if you toss in some honey, lemon and bourbon ;) ). Cuddle up for some home cooking and, as Georgia likes to say, “get cozy.”

Coconut Kale & Sweet Potato Casserole

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 Ounces Egg Noodles
  • 1¾ Cups Light Coconut Milk
  • 1 Bunch Kale
  • 1 Pound Sweet Potatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 1-Inch Piece of Fresh Ginger
  • ⅓ C Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • ¼ C Panko Breadcrumbs
  • If you want it spicier, add some red pepper flakes or chilli powder. Totally optional.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Heat two large pots of water to boiling on high. Peel and medium-dice the sweet potatoes. Peel and mince the ginger. Remove and discard the kale stems and rough-chop the leaves.

Add the sweet potatoes to the first pot of boiling water. Cook 7 to 9 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain thoroughly and place in a large bowl.

While the sweet potatoes cook, add the noodles to the second pot of boiling water. Cook 5 to 6 minutes, or until just shy of al dente. Drain thoroughly and transfer to the bowl of cooked sweet potatoes. Rinse and wipe out the pot.

In the pot used to cook the noodles, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the ginger and cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until slightly softened and fragrant. Add the flour and spices, if using; cook, whisking frequently, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until toasted and fragrant. Slowly add the coconut milk (shaking the can before opening) and ¾ cup of water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, whisking frequently, 3 to 5 minutes, or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir the kale into the pot of béchamel sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, 1 to 2 minutes, or until the kale has wilted. Turn off the heat. Add the cooked sweet potatoes and noodles; stir until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the finished filling to a baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and cheese. Stir in enough olive oil to moisten the mixture; season with salt and pepper to taste. Evenly top the filling with the breadcrumb-cheese mixture. Place the baking dish on a sheet pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until bubbly and browned on top. Remove from the oven and let stand for at least 2 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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This recipe is modified from my Blue Apron delivery subscription. I love when they have budget-friendly, easily-replicable recipes for our family to add to our repertoire! I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. The first time I made it as part of my Blue Apron delivery, it came out rather spicy, so I toned it down a LOT the next time I made it. I’m really happy with the non-spicy version and will likely make it that way from here on out. I hope you like it! It reheats for lunches and leftovers so well.

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Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to a healthy, fulfilling 2016.

Tiny Prints - Birth Announcements and More

2015 in review

Wow, that was fast. Where did 2015 go?? Suddenly I have a two-year-old baby, an eight-year-old marriage, a seven-year-old cat…and a four-year-old blog! I’m no less amazed that people continue to read year after year than I am about not running out of recipe ideas (it could still happen!) I feel more and more grateful every year that goes by, and for every new reader that visits and stays. I guess we should keep this thing going?

I know this year held many highlights for me personally, from helping you brave winter to adding a quirky but delicious idea to my never-ending roster of pizza recipes. I tried Blue Apron and shared the year’s odd food trends, from smashed cucumber salad to organic drive-thru food and the government recommending we eat less meat (?!) and brought you along on our travels to Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Sarasota. I had guest posts from Mark, my brother’s girlfriend Michelle, and fun partnerships with Nuts.com, Organic Gemini, Uncommon Goods and Chobani.

I had a few new favorites this year: Chicken Piccata for Two, Creamy Boursin Shells and Peas, Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Pie, and our New & Improved Spaghetti Carbonara (spoiler: it’s richer). I love improving on tried-and-true favorites and sharing them with you!

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What’s next for this year? More family-friendly weeknight recipes, more tips for making cooking easier for busy working professionals, fun and interesting food news, and hopefully a cleaner design, too. I’d love to hear what YOU want to see more of! Leave a comment below to let me know!

Click here to read my full 2015 annual report from WordPress.

 ** Happy New Year from Georgia! **

Renew & Re-org Sale

Merry Christmas (+leftover ideas!)

To quote Georgia, “SANTA IS COMING!!” We started getting ready for the big day at our house by watching Christmas movies all day, finishing our wrapping, going to church at night, having dinner as a family and then making some of the food we’ll have tomorrow when relatives join us to celebrate.

Georgia_Christmas

We are sticking to the same menu we’ve had for the past few years, except that we are making turkey instead of spiral ham, and (sniffle) we’re omitting anything Italian like stuffed shells or lasagna. My mom is making the turkey, stuffing and gravy, with applesauce on the side, and then I’ll be making Corn Casserole, Swedish Meatballs with cream sauce and Lingonberry on the side (thanks Ikea!), and my in-laws are bringing potatoes. My brother and his girlfriend are making Stuffed Mushrooms and a salad, as well as apple pie cookies with vanilla ice cream. Finally, I’m making a Peppermint Ice Cream freezer cake (recipe coming shortly), and Mark is making his go-to appetizer, Pillsbury Crescent Sausage Rolls. I’m sure we’ll have lots of other snacks around, too.

SAUSAGE CRESCENT BITES

I’m pretty ready to relax with my family after going through two rounds of toddler illness recently, from that barking cough every kid seems to have caught, to the (blessedly brief) stomach bug that hit us last weekend. Better last week than on Christmas Day, I guess!

While prepping for our holiday cooking, I decided to throw together  a savory dip using leftover ingredients and a couple pantry staples this afternoon, and it came out great so I wanted to share. It’s perfect for the day after Christmas,  a New Year’s Eve party, or just relaxing on New Year’s Day. 

CARAMELIZED ONION DIP

Ingredients

  • 2 onions, sliced thin
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1 container plain Greek yogurt such as Chobani (~7 oz.)
  • A little less than 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Directions

In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium then add the onions and brown sugar and cook until caramelized. Reserve about 1/4 cup.

In a blender, combine the applesauce, yogurt and the rest of the onions and mix until smooth. Add the minced garlic and give one last pulse. Taste, and add more garlic if you feel it’s needed.

Serve warm or cold with chips, crudités or French fries, adding the reserved onion on top for guests to mix in as they dip. I also added a little bit of salt upon taste-tasting.

  


True confession: I dropped the applesauce in the measuring cup onto the floor as I was trying to carry it to the blender, so this was made with the kind of applesauce you find in toddler snack pouches (organic still, of course ;) ). It made me think, though, that you could make this dip with lots of different types of leftover fruit sauces, chutneys or relish. Pump up the garlic if you like, too!

From my house to yours, I hope you have a wonderful, restful, peaceful, and relaxing holiday. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night! 

Thanks to Chobani for partnering with us to inspire this post. Find more fun recipe ideas featuring Chobani Greek Yogurt here!

Last-Minute Foodie Gifts!

Don’t panic! Food gifts are perfect for anyone on your list, because lots of people love to cook and bake and everyone else likes to eat :) These sites are all offering shipping in time for Christmas or you can find most of these items in store. There’s still one day left for free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime, which makes a great gift itself, and the Fire TV stick is perfect for any friend or relative, especially at just $39. Last tip: the Bose Soundlink Bluetooth Speaker we love is on sale for $99 right now, on Amazon and at Nordstrom. I’ve never seen it that low before! This is a good gift for anyone on your list. Now on to the food ideas. There’s little time to spare!

A subscription to Edible Boston (or wherever your local ‘Edible’ edition covers) is a great idea for anybody who likes local food or just eating out and trying new restaurants and foodie shops. If you’re Boston local, pick one up at the Public Market (above the MBTA’s Haymarket Station, or park for cheap with validation at the adjacent garage) and wrap it up nicely with a note saying you’ve gifted the recipient with an annual subscription. Better yet, put together a box of goodies from the market, tuck this in there too, and you’ve got an impressive package.

Some great Public Market vendors include Taza Chocolate, Q’s Nuts, Boston Honey Company, Union Square Donuts, and George Howell Coffee.

We always seem to argue of what calendar to get for our kitchen at home every year. Not this time! Paper Source has such delightful designs, they made it easy for us to choose. Find them in stores or online at papersource.com.

Something that even a proud Keurig owner would enjoy receiving is a good-quality French Press, if they love coffee. It works with regular and decaf and any coffee shop (like George Howell, above!) will grind beans for you to go with this. The nice thing about a French Press is that it works with the same ground beans as drip pots, so you don’t have to make any extra effort (or need electricity!) to use them. Le Creuset’s French Press is beautiful and comes in an array of colors, like all of their products. And you know it will last a lifetime.

Le Creuset French Press // amazon.com

Make Jacques’ signature cookies at home! There’s nothing like fresh cookies out of the oven, especially these. All you need to add is butter and eggs.

Cookie Mix by mrchocolate.com

Who doesn’t need an extra pair of measuring spoons in their life? I know mine are always being stolen by a certain 33-inch-tall mischief maker, leaving me looking for extras every time I bake. Enter these fun furry guys by World Market!

critter measuring spoons // worldmarket.com

You read about my favorite water infuser in this post about hydrating your skin and body for winter. Well, that’s not all Uncommon Goods has that’s gift-worthy: I picked up this tea infuser as well as these mess-free toaster bags for grilled cheese sandwiches recently, and can think of a few folks on my list who’d love to have them this holiday season.

http://www.uncommongoods.com

This one isn’t strictly a food, but it is food-based…and it smells yummy. Might nicely round out a food themed food, no? I personally love bubble baths and would enjoy receiving something like this, which I’d look forward to using after a busy day.

Avocado Bubble Bath // Ferris Wheels & Carousels

These two are just too cute. By Jonathan Adler, elephant salt and pepper shakers will bring the right touch of whimsy to your kitchen and dinner table. And how adorable is the packaging?? I’m a sucker for a pretty box.

sp_elephants3

JonathanAdler.com

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I have a passion for smoothies and strong feels about the best vessels from which to drink them. In this post, I can explain why I love my favorite so much. It’s cheap, it doesn’t leak, it’s easy to clean…why not get one for your favorite smoothie freak this holiday season? There are dozens of colors to pick from, and I’ve even got Georgia using the toddler version; it is hands-down our favorite sippy cup.

If you’re really stuck to your mason jars for drinking, then I highly recommend this lid for taking it on the go. Keeping the glass jar from breaking if you’re clumsy is up to you!

re-cap mason jar lids, various colors // amazon

Awesome Cookbooks that make great gifts

You already love her yoga videos, now check out her simple recipes like this Blueberry Pie Smoothie.

These gals are in their 70s, hail from the town next door (well, two towns over — sorry for skipping you, Revere!) and their dessert recipes made them James Beard Award finalists. Pretty impressive! Their newest book has only been out since October, so it’s a good one to add to the collection of any avid baker or home cook.

Awesome Books about Food & Cooking

As a young bookworm reading in her grandfather’s butcher shop, Cara Nicoletti saw how books and food bring people to life. Now a butcher, cook, and writer, she serves up stories and recipes inspired by beloved books and food in her life.

For the food system activist in your life, this is an exhaustive and indispensable tome for any budding advocate.

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent 20 hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years, and was named a best book of the year by HuffPo, GQ, Slate and more in 2012.

More a memoir of Fuchsia Dunlop’s time in China, emphasizing her culinary experiences and endeavors, than a cookbook or strict food writing, this is an engaging read about cross-cultural cooking and eating.

Food Books for Littles

Ok, so we don’t all have the room to raise even chickens or goats in our back yards (or we may not be allowed to by our local government!) Nevertheless this book teaches kids so much about caring for animals and where their food comes from.

Want to make your own food gifts? Check out Food Gift Love by Maggie Battista.

One of my favorite food gifts to give are these super easy pretzel kisses. You can make them using any style of Hershey’s kisses — hugs, peppermint, milk chocolate, etc. — and either square or regular pretzel shapes. They are so easy! Just pop a Christmas color M&M on top and you’ve got a festive treat for everyone this holiday with a minimal time investment.

courtesy//cookingclassy.com

Are there foodie gift ideas I missed?? If so, share them in the comments, and go get shopping or cooking! I’ll be back Christmas Eve with a quick idea for how you can use up your holiday meal leftovers in a tasty “letdown day” snack or low-key New Year’s Eve appetizer. Most importantly….

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM ME, MARK & GEORGIA!

Still looking for a way to give back this holiday season? Visit TinyPrints.com to save 60% off Herringbone Throw Blankets using the code GIVEWARMTH at checkout, and for each one you buy, they’ll donate one to a Baby2Baby family in need. Feel good, do good.

Toddler Gift Guide

Who better to make this gift guide than a bona fide two-year-old? Presented by Miss Georgia Vivien herself, I give you this year’s shopping list for toddlers, specifically those between 16 and 28 months. Need ideas for the younger babes? Visit last year’s Baby & Toddler Gift Guide, and don’t miss my Eco-Friendly Shopping List for little ones, too! I can tell you unequivocally that every single thing listed on both those pages remain in heavy rotation in our house. In fact, we had to hide some of the infant toys (Sophie the Giraffe, I’m looking at you!) because Georgia wouldn’t give them up. Thanks to Amazon Prime, most if not all of these gifts can be in your house by Christmas Eve — or even sooner, like Monday, if you order today. God speed!

A shopping cart: useful for toting play food and stuffed animal friends both indoors and out!

A shopping cart: useful to tote play food & stuffed animals, indoors & out!

Georgia, in addition to being spoiled rotten by her dad, is the only grandchild on my side of the family, which is a sprawling crew even before you add my in-laws…so she definitely cleans up on birthdays and Christmas. While it’s great to have a summer birthday to balance out this time of year, we still try very hard to squirrel away most of her presents in order to space out “new” things all year long. She also gets to play with many different toys at both daycare and the church nursery every week, so we’ve created a running Amazon list to share ideas of which toys she doesn’t have in either of those places that she might like at home. She gets lots of arts and crafts time at school and has a gigantic play kitchen as well as Play Doh at church, so while those are awesome gift ideas for any two-year-old, we are trying to get her some different things to have on her days home with us. So far, the system has worked pretty well. But we’ll see how it goes this year, as she’s newly aware of “Santa” and how many gifts await her under the tree!

Since she loves Play-Doh so much, I am putting a few smaller containers into her stocking this year, and I also picked up this fun kit for making different shapes and textures with it. Looks like so much fun for a rainy or snowy day!

I’ll also preface this list by saying that there are items both boys and girls seem to universally enjoy — the aforementioned play kitchens, toy strollers, and train sets come to mind — but there are definitely things some kids gravitate toward more than others. Georgia, for example, does not love coloring books, but lots of kids can sit and do crafty things for ages; meanwhile, she can spend hours with blocksLegoLittle People sets, making up buildings and imaginary story lines. Same goes for dress-up clothes. It’s so cute to see how their personalities emerge through play at this age! While she makes great use of her leftover Halloween costume and a set of fairy wings my mom got her, I’m definitely going to invest in more dress-up outfits for this year. And I may wait for Lincoln Logs to go on sale so I can grab some of those, too.

What Santa is Bringing This Year

Mark got Georgia a talking Lambie doll at Costco, because she would spend so long chatting to it while grocery shopping that we pretty much had to take it home. That, the Mickey & Minnie Birthday Train Duplo Set, the Ikea easel I mentioned last year, and two Anna and Elsa stuffed dolls from the Disney store have rounded out Georgia’s pile under the tree this year from Mom/Dad/Santa. I believe she’s getting Veggie Tales and an American Girl Doll play cradle for her Bitty Baby from her grandparents. She will not, however, be getting this $430 princess house despite informing us that “We buy it, for Christmas!”

I read about this interactive toy in a magazine last month, and two days later a certain Nani in Florida had already shipped it north for Christmas. But who came blame her?? Doc McStuffins is a preschool crowd-pleaser, and this talking checkup center looks totally fun. Plus it’s exactly the missing decor element my living room needed.

I’ll admit this one frightens me a little bit, but there’s no denying it: if given the opportunity, she would bounce, on something, all.day.LONG. What started as a phase has turned into a daily struggle to get her to quit jumping constantly on the couch or bed, and we finally channeled it into a weekly visit to our local “Skyzone,” which (thankfully) has toddler time every Monday and Wednesday morning. Even so, we are probably going to end up buying this to save our furniture. Hopefully it’ll last until we can get her into a proper gymnastics class!!

We are definitely in a puzzle phase! Georgia got several for her birthday, including some wooden jigsaw puzzles, some floor puzzles and a few adorable matching games. She has really grown to love this Very Hungry Caterpillar counting puzzle, both because it has brightly colored, large pieces and because it becomes an adventure to stretch it in one long line across our floor. Plus, she loves identifying the foods she knows on each piece, and she’s really into learning her numbers these days, so this helps her practice counting!

Also in regular rotation in our house is this play purse by Kidoozie, featuring a toy phone (“I check my email, see what’s going ON”), keys, compact, lipstick, debit card, and unbreakable mirror. She has endless fun pretending to be, well, ME, looping it over her arm the same way I carry my bag (ugh) and taking the phone everywhere with her (the shame). This is a great one for bringing in the car.

Another awesome toy for travel is this LeapFrog Touch Magic Bus, which is lightweight and flatter than a storybook, and just the right size to play with in a carseat. It counts, sings and helps children learn letters and numbers, and isn’t so loud that you’d go crazy hearing it.

Melissa & Doug also make these awesome “Water Wow” coloring books that use special paper and a refillable water pen (really more like a paint brush). They are the perfect size for small hands to hold on their own in the car or on a plane, and the refillable water pen lasts forever without having to be refilled, which is handy when you can’t stop that often. There are several scenes in the book on thick, sturdy, spiral-bound paper, with vibrant colors that appear when wet then dry for reuse a few minutes later. Georgia loves hers at home AND on the go!

Melissa & Doug makes really great toys across the board, and we also love their cutting food kit to practice knife skills. Another great toy of theirs that we have are these fridge magnets, which come in a variety of themes. Great for occupying little ones safely while you cook, especially if you’re home alone with them a lot like I am! And, speaking of food, if you — like us — felt frustrated by the dominance of junk food in toy sets, check out these great sets by Learning Resources:

They have kits for each meal of the day with real food and healthy options, not Hamburger Helper and Macaroni and Cheese like some play food I’ve seen! Plus, they come with these adorable baskets, which Georgia loves carrying and which help us to keep our house tidy. She also adores this Leap Frog toy oven, which she received as a birthday gift and hasn’t stopped playing with for a day. Paired with the tea set she got when she was one, she just loves cooking and serving us “dinner!”

The other thing she is loving these days is musical instruments. She gets to play with a ukulele and tambourine at school, and every time we are in a toy store, she gravitates toward play instruments. Since she loves her toy keyboard so much, we are thinking of getting her either this guitar or even a toddler drum set!

Books we Love

Georgia, like her parents, has enjoyed reading since day one. While I’ve been meaning to do a comprehensive post on all of her favorite books, for now, here are the ones she’s loving for story time before nap and bed.

Quick as a Cricket has beautiful illustrations and is a quick, simple read.

Ten Little Babies has an appealing rhyme and lots of little details to search for in each picture. Nice and compact for travel or for leaving in the crib!

Hugaroo has adorable animals on every page which Georgia loved to find over and over, and is a sweet story about the many different kinds of hugs you can get!

I am a Bunny is a classic for a reason. It takes you from summer to winter, just in time for toddlers learning about weather and seasons at school.

You’ll be reciting If You Give a Moose a Muffin in your sleep, I promise! Sames goes for its companion, If You Give a Mouse A Cookie, another hit in our house.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge is perfect for explaining that small can be mighty!

I don’t know if it’s the mischief in the story or the cute illustrations, but Georgia has loved Harry the Dirty Dog since before she could possibly understand the story. It’s very endearing.

We bought this when Georgia was an infant because WE liked it, but she has really taken to it. We ended up getting her more in this Baby Lit series, and she loves them all! Vibrant pictures and simple text with counting means they can follow along easily.

Ferdinand is one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, with a beautiful message about non-violence and tranquility.

Others that make great gifts: The Napping House, Big Red Barn,  The Story About Ping, Make Way for DucklingsGolden Book’s The Night Before Christmas, and The Snowman. We are also buying Princess Potty to help with toilet training this holiday break :)

For bedtime

Georgia hasn’t transitioned to a toddler bed yet, but we are getting ready. When we do, I’m already plotting to buy these sheets from aden + anais, maker of those super-soft swaddling blankets that everyone loves (for good reason) when they have a newborn. What I like about this set, aside from the adorable colors, is the fact that it includes a thin transitional pillow ergonomically designed for toddlers’ heads and necks, as well as a top sheet and blanket that attach to the bottom sheet near the feet, which is designed to prevent you getting a 2 a.m. call to come fix kicked-off covers! I can vouch for the quality of their linens since we already use them in her crib.

Around 18 months, I decided to buy Georgia what I call her “glow worm,” even though it’s blatantly a sea horse, because I fondly remember them from childhood. We inadvertently got one that was sewn together wrong, so the eyes don’t line up, but she is REALLY attached to it so I never swapped it for a less cock-eyed version. On the rare occasions when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she just touches the belly and it lights up and soothes her back to sleep with music. It has also helped us to transition to many a strange bed while traveling! She calls it “my horsey” and you can buy it in either blue or pink.

Outdoor Toys

We don’t have a very big yard, so we held off on getting a climbing structure or play house, though I know Georgia has loved exploring them at school and the local tot lot. We did just fine in our 1/10-acre yard (seriously) and three-season porch with a few key toys that are easy to store in the garage for the winter, with help from a strategically-placed tent on the sunny end of the driveway where we do sidewalk chalk. We may not have a large yard, but we feel pretty lucky to have any grass at all, since most houses on our block have no driveway and the kids play in the street. Grilling and eating outside, watering the plants, kicking a ball around and chasing one another with squirt guns were all the ingredients we needed for summer fun in our city-sized back yard this year!

 

When Mark started bringing Georgia outside to garden with him last spring, she was so much more into it than we expected, so we immediately ordered her this garden set from Amazon. She loves it!! What I like about it is the fact that you can store the scoop and trowel in the watering can, and that the rope handle makes it easy to carry for little hands. In fact we are ordering her this matching indoor gardening set for next year so she can keep on practicing her planting skills.

Another thing we are hoping to get G this year is a toy workbench for our back yard and porch, which she can enjoy during the upcoming spring and summer. It’ll go great with the tool set she already has!

Her other fave outdoor toys this year included this sandbox, which comes in a variety of animal shapes (and can be left out for the winter, as long as it’s covered with a tarp weighted down by bricks), as well as and this awesome water table. I even know some parents have moved their water table indoors for the winter and put beans or rice in it to make a sensory table, which sounds really fun.

Last but not least, we loved this basketball hoop for our porch and this play side at daycare. We never got Georgia any toy cars like this because they have so many at daycare, but we did purchase an indoor-outdoor picnic table for next year, and we also put away a balance bike for her third birthday in 2016. Also on next year’s list: a Micro Kickboard for scooting around!

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Did I miss anything that your kids love?? If so, let me know! And good luck shopping!! Just one week to go …

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This post contains some affiliate links, which means that your purchase helps to support my blog through small commissions offered by each merchant. Everything in this post is something that Georgia already owns and that we purchased with our own money, never offered to us under a promotional agreement — and you never pay more by clicking on any of the links shared here. I humbly appreciate your support of Organic Glory, and hope you enjoy these holiday gift ideas!

My most popular Fall posts

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas and Hanukkah coming right around the corner, I thought I’d do a quick post highlighting both my go-to holiday recipes, as well as a roundup of my most popular Fall recipes. Some of them might surprise you! Before I dive in, though, here are a few photos from our Thanksgiving in New Bedford. It was a lovely day with grandparents and cousins, and we were so fortunate to have warm weather, too. Because it was so nice out, Georgia and I went to visit Zoo Lights in Stoneham the next day. I highly recommend it if you’re Boston local!

And here are my top winter holiday recipes.

This year, we are actually making turkey again for Christmas, because my brother gets one free from his company! So, while we’ve done ham in the past, this time around we are trying a new menu. I’m also planning to make swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, and my mom, my brother, and his girlfriend are going to bring lots of sides. They are always such a huge help!

I finally got my holiday cards ordered from Minted this week, and I can’t wait to start sending them off to friends and family! It’s one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. If you’ve been waiting to make yours, today is the day — their Cyber Monday 20% off deal ends at Noon Pacific Time! Shutterfly and TinyPrints also have great deals (up top 50% off!) going on right now.

Here is a low-res sneak peak of our card:

Minted_2015_Holiday_Card

photographs // TDM Photography

My most popular Fall recipes

So I always knew that my Brown Sugar Kielbasa recipe for the slow cooker was a hit on Superbowl Sunday, but apparently you all like making it every game day, because it’s been my most popular post — by a margin of at least 500 views — every single DAY this year! I guess you really can’t go wrong with this one, and I make it all the time myself. So I’m right there with you all!

brown_sugar_kielbasa1
Next up: My step by step guide to making pumpkin bread from scratch, using fresh pumpkin puree. Talk about an oldie but goodie! I don’t really have time anymore for a labor of love like that one, from cutting, roasting and scooping fresh pumpkin, to toasting the seeds and making pumpkin bread on TOP of it all, much less in one afternoon. But it sure did turn out amazing.

This next one is tried and true: Shepherd’s Pie with Corn. It looks like the “corn” is the critical ingredient everyone’s interested in, if Google Analytics are to be believed. That combo of fresh and creamed corn really does make the dish in my opinion! Check it out for yourself. I made two of these last weekend because we had so many potatoes left over from Thanksgiving!

Here’s another one that surprises me with its popularity because it’s nothing ground-breaking, and yet I understand its appeal. This doesn’t require any time-consuming cheese grating (or, for that matter, purchasing of any unusual cheese varieties) and it turns out a family-friendly, filling, warm dinner that’s guaranteed to leave you with lots of leftovers. It’s from a book designed for novice cooks, and that’s because it is very foolproof. If you haven’t yet, give these Baked Egg Noodles with Cheese a try.

Another popular post, I assume because it’s great for both watching the game and having a party (as well as for appetizers on Thanksgiving or Christmas!) is this Vegan Spinach-Artichoke Dip. The dairy in the full-fat version is just too rich for me, so I’ve relied on this healthier and more climate-friendly version for a while now. I realize that sounded preachy! But I think small swaps matter when trying to decrease your carbon footprint and eat better, and eliminating some meat and dairy is one of the most impactful things you can do.

There are a couple other trends that I get a kick out of every fall. The first: there’s always an uptick in the number of visits to my smoothie recipes, as well as this Kale Salad with Avocado and Lemon, right after Thanksgiving. People are also clicking through and buying my most-recommended smoothie container from Amazon, and I think these all point to people wanting to eat a little bit healthier right after an indulgent holiday! I’ve had a lot of salad this week myself.

Another trend I’ve noticed is a big jump in the number of people reading my posts on Beating Morning Sickness and tips for Prenatal Workouts. And no wonder! I found out I was pregnant with Georgia this time three years ago, and the morning sickness kicked in not long after. Everyone else who’s having a Summer 2016 baby is in that boat right now, so I guess it’s no surprise those posts do so well this time every year. If you are one of these people, don’t miss my post on buying maternity clothing and equipping your life for newborn gear without wasting money. (I’d hold off on jumping to the “tips on pumping” post until later, though, because I don’t want to be the one to drop the knowledge on you that breastfeeding can be super hard. Get through labor first).

must haves

I’ll have more info soon about how to roast a turkey (based on my one and only experience doing so) as well as how I made a delicious gravy from the pan drippings. Looking for ideas for using up extra turkey, stuffing, cranberry and more? Check out this leftover turkey casserole and keep it handy for next year. I made it this year and it was really yummy!

Happy shopping and cooking everyone :)

XOXOXO

A #MakersMonday Gift Guide

Makers Monday is today, November 30, 2015. Launched by Shinola two years ago, it’s an effort to prompt holiday shoppers to buy local and buy American on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The concept has evolved into a massive, crowd-sourced guide to well-crafted, artisanal products, curated yearlong on social media. It’s an idea I can get behind! So I’m sharing my favorite local and/or American-made products today, in time for some Cyber Monday shopping. Many of these are made by friends or friends of friends! I hope you enjoy the ideas.

Boston-based knitwear designer The Third Piece

If you’ve noticed turban-style hats and headbands on all the cool kids this year, chances are the two Boston-based designers from the3rdpiece.com were behind it.  They employ artists from throughout New England, and if there’s a crafter on your holiday shopping list, they also sell kits to make their designs yourself, at ridiculously reasonable prices. And their children’s accessory line will have you and your mini-me styling together in no time.

Use code HOLIDAY to save 20% at the3rdpiece.com.

Craftswoman & designer Michelle Liebmann 

Leather goods, textiles and jewelry: these are the categories on the navigation bar of Michelle Liebmann’s website, but it doesn’t convey the wide variety of handmade items she offers at michelleliebmann.com — from hand-poured soy candles in flavors like hot cider and red cedar to hand-dyed scarves, repurposed watches and framed linens. She’s a fellow foodie and New Englander, and her food & travel blog and etsy shop are worth a visit, too.

unisex baby bloomers from Billie Blooms

OK, OK — this isn’t Boston or even New England made. But they are a shout-out to my Florida family, because they’re made down in Miami as a city- and heat-friendly pants option for tots birth to age two! Who can resist these?? At $28 for 100% cotton, made-in-the-USA bloomers, I dare you not to pinch the heck out of your baby’s thighs in glee over scoring these. Available at billieblooms.com.

Knife rolls, chef aprons & leather goods from Weft & Warp

“Made for cooks by a cook” says seamster and leatherworker Erik Desjarlais of the goods for sale at his Portland, Maine-based e-tail shop weftandwarpmaine.com. After retiring from the kitchen himself five years ago, he started hand-crafting knife rolls, aprons and waxed canvas bags that the pros now rely on. Got a home chef, handyman (or woman) or anyone else who would appreciate timeless, rugged stuff like this? Here’s your last stop.

Crane & Lion yoga and lifestyle wear

Designed in Boston, Crane & Lion is a brand I first saw on the yoga teacher who comes to my office to teach an in-house class after work once a week. The colors and fit are really stunning, and I love that all their pieces can go from workout to street with ease. It’s so impressive that this business is only a year old and killin’ it, while also giving back 5% of profits to three Boston service organizations.

Use code CYBERSWEAT40 for free shipping and 40% off through tomorrow at craneandlion.com.

Hand-dipped truffles from chocolatier Dean’s Sweets

Dean's_Sweets_chocolate

Portland, Maine based confectioner Dean Bingham is a former architect who brings an artist’s eye and attention to detail to his chocolate creations. I’ve purchased his bacon-covered chocolates for Mark as a stocking stuffer, and sent boxes to friends and family for Easter and Christmas. With flavors like chocolate stout, lemon apricot Chevre, Moxie soda and his own special “boozy mix,” there’s something for everyone, and all of it is 100% handmade and nut free. Order online at deanssweets.com.

Handmade ceramics by Elizabeth Benotti

I recently met Elizabeth at a local artisans marketplace, and seriously could have bought everything in her display. Her entire aesthetic is so calming and stylish, and I loved hearing about her process of slipcasting, handbuilding, wheelthrowing, drawing and painting each unique item. A Massachusetts native, she currently resides and keeps a studio in New Hampshire.

Use code JELLOQUEEN just through today, Nov. 30, to save 20% at elizabethbenotti.com.

Hand-painted porcelain + bead jewelry by Rapt Stonewear

A beautiful collaboration between two designers (who happen to be my colleagues!) based in Boston, Rapt Stonewear marries the work of ceramicist Jenn Erickson and jewelry & knitwear designer Jessie Partridge. Combining painted porcelain with colorful hand-wrapped cord, these designs are both bold and different, delicate and clean. In other words, perfect for any stylish and creative person on your shopping list.

babsetc.com

A few more artists and creators that I’d like to quickly highlight: Rhode Island-based BABS fine handmade handbags, featuring leather and felt in unexpected colors and combinations; Hemlock Springs Soaps, out of New Hampshire, with scents and textures that are simply intoxicating; Albertine Press from my former home of Somerville, with stunning city-themed letterpress designs inspired by world travel; Cheeky Monkey Home accessories, of Belmont, MA; and hand-folded origami fabric gift boxes crafted by Berline Chao of The Perfect Box.

I hope you visit these and more this holiday season! Check out the web deals I’ve highlighted above, since most expire today or tomorrow; and if you are looking for more in-person opportunities to buy local and meet the crafters and designers behind these products, find an upcoming show below. 

cheekymonkeyhome via etsy

UPCOMING LOCAL BOSTON-AREA FAIRS

Looking to support Boston-based artisans and businesses by buying local beyond #MakersMonday? Here are a few excellent shows to check out.

Swedish Yuletide @ the Cyclorama — Dec. 5

South Boston Holiday Market  Dec. 6

CraftBoston @ the Hynes — Dec. 11-13

SoWa Holiday Market — Dec. 12 & 13

Salem Holiday Market — Dec. 19 & 20

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