Books · Boston Day Trip · Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly

Six great Earth Day books

It’s Earth Day this Sunday, and don’t you wish it actually felt like spring in New England so we could get in the proper Earth Day spirit?

Alas, it’s cold and windy here, and it actually snowed yesterday. So we are going to celebrate Earth Day in a cozier fashion, all curled up at home with a few of our favorite Earth-themed books.

Last weekend, Georgia and I had a great library haul after the first day of soccer. We picked up a couple of these books, and the others we are lucky enough to own. You can order the Usborne books on Amazon (without Prime) or via their website, unless of course you have a friend who sells Usborne books.

All the Water in the World This has gorgeous illustrations and an engaging, unusual tone as it teaches children all about where water comes from … and where does it go? Georgia loves how the narrator calls her “honey” on a few pages! It’s simple enough to learn something meaningful while enjoying the beautiful painted pictures.

Above and Below This is one of my favorite Usborne books. All their offerings are top quality, but this one has such a great feature: it offers a split-page layout that gives readers a behind the scenes look at each wildlife illustration. Depicting eight of the world’s habitats, from the rainforest to the deep sea, children learn about the diverse ecosystems of our planet, from plants to animals and everything in between.

Thank you, Earth This is a classic for a good reason! Amazing photographs explore the beauty and complexity of the world all around us, with whimsical verses about nature, science, and the workings of our magnificent environment. It’s engaging for multiple age levels and is simply beautiful to look through.

The Bee Book Filled with great information about how honey bees work, and what human beekeepers do to care for them, this book gives a digestible and gradual exploration of why bees are so important to our environment. While many children know bees can sting, I find they almost always understand, too, that they they are incredibly hard workers in the world of the outdoors. This book shows through beautiful pictures and simple words just how brilliant bees are, and how their hard work helps put food on all the tables of people across the Earth.

How Do Flowers Grow? Boy do we love flap books! This is no exception. With adorable illustrated pictures that appeal to preschoolers and enough interesting facts to fascinate older readers, this is a book that can be enjoyed together or independently for elementary aged children. I love buying books like this before Georgia is quite ready for them, because we can page through them together so she understands a few things, and then it’s nice to see her happily look it over on her own, too. She immediately connected the information in the book to her preschool lessons about how plants grow, and always tells us she can’t wait to get started on our family garden after reading this.

The Curious Garden When we first started picking out books at the library last weekend, Georgia was SO thrilled to see this one in our pile because it’s her favorite for story time at school. And it warms my little urban-planning heart! It shows a young child exploring a gray, smoggy city devoid of any greenery. One day, he discovered some fledgling plants on an old train trestle, and he starts nurturing a garden by himself, little by little — until one day the whole city is vibrant again. What a difference it makes to take care of our Earth and all her living things! And to think that children can make a difference in doing this, too — maybe even better than grown-ups.

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If you’re in town this weekend, there’s an Earth Day Agricultural festival Sunday at the Boston Public Market, and the Freedom Trail Foundation just expanded their tour schedule for the season! What’s Earth-friendlier than walking?? If lounging is more your speed, the Swan Boats have also just opened up for the year in the Public Garden, and Eataly  is offering a “tasting by sustainable producers” event as part of their Earth Day at Eataly lineup in Back Bay. Come enjoy a car-free, green day in the city!

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Books · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: Cookbooks

If there’s one thing even experienced cooks never mind receiving, it’s a new book about food. From cookbooks to travel writing, novels, and memoirs about eating, there’s always something new to whet the appetite of any foodie bookworm. Here are a few new cookbooks that I’ve got my eye on this year, plus some trusty favorites that would make great gifting for anyone on your list who is just starting out in a new home, new marriage, or with newly-acquired cooking skills. There are 3 DAYS LEFT for free two-day shipping with Amazon, so get shopping for those last-minute presents!

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Best of the New Cookbooks, clockwise from top left:

Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites: A Cookbook // Molly on the Range // The Flavor Bible // Cooking for Jeffrey // Small Victories // Damn Delicious // Thug Kitchen 101 // The Sprinkles Baking Book

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There were so many great cookbook releases this year, it’s hard to pick just one or two. All of these eight books appeal to different tastes, and all came out within the last two months, so they’re unlikely to be part of anyone’s collection yet — and all can be shipped before Christmas.

If you aren’t as concerned about getting something brand new and would rather help a budding cook or recent college grad in your family build their collection of go-to recipes, here are my selections — the tried and true, dog-eared favorites I turn to over and over, and still find something new to try.

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The Silver Spoon and the Silver Spoon For Children

This was the first cookbook my mother got me when I got out of school, and for good reason. Not only does it specialize in Italian cooking, which is what I know best, but it is indexed by ingredient, so a novice cook can flip to something like “parsnips” or “rutabaga” and figure out how to prepare it. The children’s version I received as a baby shower gift from my sister-in-law, and it’s equally wonderful — perfect for a first-time parent, or someone with a baby just starting to eat solids, or a toddler just starting to ask you if they can help in the kitchen!

Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

A classic for a reason, this is an encyclopedic look at one of the world’s best cuisines. With over 500 recipes, you will turn to it time and time again. Make a festive gift basket with this and her fascinating memoir, My Life in France, plus a nice bottle of wine.

Vegan with a Vengeance

Isa Chandra Moskowitz knows her stuff. Got a new vegan in the family, or just want to build some non-animal-protein foods into your regular rotation? This is the accessible, easy place to start, and the new 10-year-anniversary edition is even more beautifully laid out than the original. Looking for the fastest of the fast weeknight fare? Isa’s got you covered there, too, with Isa Does It, a digestible book of 30-minute meals with sumptuous photography to boot. No weird or expensive ingredients to be found in either one.

The Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld

I got this when it first came out in 2013, because — even though I’m a seasoned cook — I knew that with a new baby in our family, we’d be needing to expand our repertoire of uncomplicated meals as well as help Mark gain the skills to do some cooking while I was busy nursing. It got us through that bumpy time and is now a solid favorite that I turn to time and again to get out of a rut.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime

Made for busy families, this book is filled with supper recipes, freezer meals and other ideas that will quickly make their way onto your list of regulars. If you love her blog, this puts many of the favorites all in one place. And her writing style is such a kick, it’s like reading notes from a friend.

The Moosewood Cookbook

Timeless! A best seller since its publication in 1974, this is the most simple, delightful, hand-illustrated earthy little book of plant-based eating. Everything is comforting, no-frills and filling. If you’re looking to make more healthy, seasonal food, this is a great place to start.

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Good luck finishing up your shopping everyone! I’ll be sharing my Christmas menu soon! Need ideas now? Check out what we made last year.

 

Baby & Toddler · Books · Holidays · kid-friendly · minted · Tips and Tricks

Our Easter Menu + Baby Easter Gift Ideas!

It’s Easter (and Passover) Week, and even though the weather won’t cooperate, we are still going to assume it’s Spring and will celebrate this quintessentially Spring holiday accordingly! Mark, as always, has to work on Easter, so once again I’m preparing a pared-down menu with help from family for a nice, low-key day. Here’s what we are making! Photos of babies in bonnets to follow shortly.

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One year ago. How time flies! My lil’ bunny!

Our Easter Menu

  • Glazed Ham
  • Warm buttered rolls
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Butternut Squash
  • Cold Potato Salad
  • Applesauce
  • Honey Mustard
  • Cheesecake, Coffee & Tea

This year Easter is so early that I really refused to buy any kind of special dress, not knowing whether she’d even be able to wear it (or fit into it, since she just finished a growth spurt from 12-18 month clothes into 18-24 and even 2T). Last year, though, her Nani in Florida had sent her this gorgeous dress that we paired with a darling white Easter bonnet with patent leather crib shoes for church:

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Where does the time even go!!!

I think Georgia is still a little bit young to enjoy an Easter Egg Hunt or Easter-themed toys, but that won’t stop us from trying. I’m cajoling my brother into hiding eggs and I am fairly certain her Grammie will be showing up with some presents for our bunny!

If you need Easter gift inspiration, beyond candy, you’ve come to the right place.

the classic

something different

Hide & Squeak Eggs, $10.80 on amazon

something huggable

skip hop “hug & hide” lamb, $18, Amazon

a nightlight

$10.95, Land of Nod

a lovey

angel baby blankie, $13, amazon

a push toy

$19, amazon

a party in a box

easter egg hunt kit, $18, Land of Nod

treat bags

personalizable! pottery barn, on sale from $9.99 to $30
personalizable, via pottery barn, on sale from $9.99

munchies

a bit of seasonal decor

frameable bunny art from $22 via minted.com (in five colors)

Last but not least, one Easter craft idea for the family and three fun recipes:

Italian Easter Bread

Rice Krispy Treat Eggs

Easter Egg cake

neon dipped eggs by Joy Cho/Oh Joy! via Merrimentevents.com

Have a wonderful week everyone!

Baby & Toddler · Books · Uncategorized

Escaping Boston

I am writing this to you from — now don’t be jealous — my aunt’s kitchen table in Florida, where I’m enjoying a view overlooking the pool while eating a smoothie bowl that I made myself for breakfast. Mark and Georgia both slept late today (!) and the weather has been in the low 70s all week, so I am in a pretty good mood!

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We had a rough ride in last week because the post-Blizzard traffic in Boston is still in utter gridlock, so even though we live four miles from the airport it took us over an hour to get there. Then our flight was delayed and plagued by turbulence the whole four hours, which resulted in Georgia throwing up all over me just a little while before we landed. We were not a pretty sight upon arrival in Fort Myers!!

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Luckily we’ve really made up for that one bad travel day, which isn’t to say I haven’t spent the entire week dreading our return trip. And secretly hoping this next storm will force us to stay south even longer. Though we’ve been here countless times since my family moved to Sarasota ten years ago, it’s wonderful seeing Georgia encounter all these special places for the first time as a toddler! She came here at 7 weeks, 6 months and now 18 months, and she’s able to enjoy it a little more each time because she’s so much more mobile and aware of her surroundings.

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Yesterday, we took Georgia to Nokomis Beach, and the day before we met friends of Mark’s from college for lunch at the Daiquiri Deck on Siesta Key. They just had a baby and they live in Chicago, and we haven’t seen them since their wedding a few years ago. It was so awesome that we were all on vacation in the same place at the same time!

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I’ve been reading a really good book while I’m here: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Appealing for anyone who likes science and narrative journalism, it is fascinating but also slightly depressing because it tells the story of a poor black tobacco farmer whose cancerous cells were taken without her knowledge just before her death in 1951 and used to develop the polio vaccine, gene mapping, cloning and more; meanwhile, her descendants live without health insurance. Despite the dark topic, I definitely recommend it.

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We’ve also had some awesome meals so far. Brunch yesterday was at The Breakfast House in Venice, where we had French toast, sausage and biscuits, and a blackberry-and-Brie omelet. Later today we are going for my favorite ice cream at Nokomis Groves, where the only flavors are orange, lime, pineapple and soft serve chocolate or vanilla. I always get a citrus-vanilla swirl. Try not to be jealous, and I’ll write more later this week!

Books · DIY · Drinks & Smoothies · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Last-minute Foodie Gifts

Have you procrastinated and are just now desperately looking for something to gift that home cook or restaurant lover in your life? I’ve got you covered.

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salt cellar // anthropologie

Make something edible

Find some pretty containers, make your own gifts tags, tie them on with festive ribbon, and you’re done! If you aren’t artsy, Etsy has loads of designers whose gift tags can be personalized, purchased and downloaded for immediate printing, no waiting by mail.

Send a magazine subscription

I love Food Network Magazine, Vegetarian Times, and EveryDay with Rachael Ray. Great recipes can also be found in Real Simple and (duh) Martha Stewart. Subscribe online, print out an e-card, and package in a fun little card or bag. Better yet, include the current issue with a bow around it and a note saying a subscription is on the way.

Join a wine club

A distinguished investment that won’t soon be forgotten.

Anthropologie

This place is a hidden treasure trove of cute food gifts. Mugs aren’t the most creative thing you can give someone, but if you go that route, the ones at anthro are as unique as you could hope for. They have lots of edible things to package with their pretty serve ware and accessories. Lots of preppy, boho, and hipster finds here. I also love their decorations! They can still ship by Dec. 24, too.

marshmallows, canape plates, wine openers, cocktail mix, mugs // anthropologie

Make personalized stationery for their food gifts

Check out Minted for personalized wrapping paper, gift tags and labels for goodies from the home cook. I would love to receive something like this!

$19 for 25, minted.com
$15 for 5 sheets, minted.com

Cookbooks

On Amazon, you’ve got until Monday for free two-day shipping with Prime and still make it by Christmas.

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Use code BOOKDEAL25 to get an extra 25% off any book on Amazon through today (December 16).

Basket of goodies from Trader Joe’s

Someone did this for me one year, and I loved it. Inside were things I’d never tried from TJs, even though I go all the time. It totally inspired me to craft some new recipes! Throw in some wine or seasonal beer, snacks, a pretty dish towel or kitchen tool, and nestle in a nice basket for anyone who loves to cook. Round it out with one of the many popular Trader Joe’s cookbooks available for two-day shipping on Amazon, like this one or this one.

THEMES TO TRY

Winter Favorites: Cranberry apple butter, gingerbread cake mix, pumpkin waffle mix, winter blend coffee or peppermint tea, some holiday sweets (such as peanut brittle, salted caramels or candy-cane joe-joes), and dish towels in holiday colors.

Taste of Italy: Nice olive oil, flavored pasta (they have lemon, spinach & chive, and more), marinara or vodka sauce, Parmesan cheese, arborio rice, red pepper flakes, olives, capers, oregano. Package with a new colander, large serving bowl, pasta scoop, or cutting board.

Taste of Asia: Toasted sesame oil, rice sticks, Thai lime & chili cashews, coconut milk, red curry sauce, jasmine rice, soyaki sauce, and green tea. Include a unique tea cup and saucer, a sushi plate, pretty chopsticks, or noodle bowl.

Coffee Lover: Chocolate covered espresso beans, an assortment of coffees, dunk-able chocolate biscotti, after-dinner mints, chai or yerba mate mix. Do the same thing for a tea lover and package with a mug or a tea strainer.

reusable produce bags // facebook.com/victorybags

Finally, for new parents, it’s fast and easy to have weeks worth of meals delivered to them by organizing a mealtrain with your friends and family. This is also a great idea for anyone who is sick, new to your neighborhood, deployed, or recovering from an accident or surgery during the holidays.

And if you’re still looking for somewhere to donate toys, Boston’s Christmas in the City is taking orders to its Amazon wish list, which will distribute gifts to thousands — yes, thousands — of homeless children this weekend. Read more about last year’s event in today’s Globe and click here to donate. They continue to hand out toys after Christmas to kids of all ages who are living in shelters, motels or other unstable situations in Boston, so it’s never too late to give, and donations purchased from their Amazon wish list get delivered directly to their headquarters.

Have a wonderful week everyone and good luck finishing your shopping. 

Baby & Toddler · Books · Holidays · kid-friendly · Pregnancy · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: The Guys

I won’t spoil the surprise even though he doesn’t read the blog, but Mark is definitely getting at least one of the things below for Christmas. And the rest are things he (or my awesome brother) already own and love. Read on and get inspired for the guys in your life!

For makers and DIY enthusiasts

Make Magazine, the home of 3-D printing, robotics, woodworking, programmable LEDs, fiber crafts and canning. It’s all in there! If your guy likes to tinker, build, and code, as my little bro does, you have just finished shopping.

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A book for a new dad or papa-to-be

The Faith of a Child, by Stefan Lanfer. The author, a colleague of mine in Boston, says “if you want tips, tactics, and advice for childbirth and parenting, you’ve got dozens of choices. But, if you want real stories that actually let you picture fatherhood, The Faith of a Child is for you.” It’s artistic and lovely to read and appealing for men who are about to become first-time fathers as well as those with a bit more practice who might enjoy a book to relate to on that level.

For tall dudes who work out

We have spent years trying to find workout pants for Mark that have a long enough inseam. When you are 6’4″ tall, this can seem an impossible task. Enter LuLu Lemon, that haven of ‘athleisure’ wear for stay-at-home moms! Miraculously, their pants come extra-long as a matter of course, and they offer complimentary hemming for customers of more average heights. The only other brand we’ve found that does this is Under Armour. I guess that’s why famously tall QB Tom Brady is their pitch man! Places like Old Navy actually make tall athletic gear for men too, but only by special order and only online…and they sell out of desirable styles very quickly. Mark’s favorite for running, dance class, rehearsal and lounging is hands-down the LuLu Kung Fu pant.

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Man-pampering

This organic, all natural shave oil by Honest is sure to leave his face calm, smooth, and razor-burn-free. It smells divine and is good for ladies too (bonus!)

Mark is also a fan of this hand cream for chapped knuckles after working in the yard or doing a tour in the wind. Which reminds me: if you are looking for work gloves for your handyman, these are tops.

Wishful thinking: for men who cook

“Men” and “cooking” are not two words that typically run into one another much at my house, but if yours is different then I envy you. Mark makes one thing: this Spaghetti Carbonara, which I taught him. Somebody help!

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But these two books are supposed to be pretty awesome and I think they’d appeal to men (OR women) who are looking to bring some badassery to their kitchen repertoire.

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The crowd-pleaser

Bose wireless headphones. There’s no way you’ll find someone who wouldn’t like that. I have them, I’ve given them as gifts, and they are about a bazillion times better than beats if you ask me. Especially great, according to Mark, if you have a ginormous head! 🙂

For entertaining

For cookouts, dinner parties, holidays, you name it: a portable speaker is handy, and in the case of this new one from Bose, adorable and available in many colors. The other thing I got Mark about five years ago, which he loves? A retro-looking record player that also has a radio, CD and tape deck hidden in it. Now we actually can listen to the vinyl collection we’ve been growing for so many years, and the sound fills the house.

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And speaking of retro, vintage cocktails remain popular. If the man in your life fancies himself an at-home bartender, whet his appetite with these Moscow Mule mugs from Pottery Barn. Enclose the following recipe on a simple note card, and you’re set.

Moscow Mule Recipe

  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 2 oz vodka
  • 4 – 6 oz ginger beer

Squeeze lime juice into a Moscow Mule mug and drop in the spent shell. Add a few ice cubes, add in the vodka, and finish with the ginger beer. Voila!

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For the health freak

They may be getting a tad ubiquitous at this point, but the FitBit is a truly remarkable and effective fitness and weight loss tool. It tracks not only your activity but your food intake, calories burned, and length and quality of sleep, syncing wirelessly with your smartphone and waking you up (silently) every morning. Mark has found his to be the last bit of motivation he needed to drop about 15 pounds of weight that snuck on while I was pregnant, and he wears the thing 24/7. It’s an ever-present reminder to eat better, take the stairs, and forgo the second helping of cookies….so much so that I ended up losing a few pounds too, just by being around it!

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For the coffee lover/me

I am hoping someone gets this for myself. Once a year, Dunkin’ Donuts unveils the large coffee deal card — 10 of ’em for $14.99! Seriously, I get very little sleep and need this.

Another coffee related idea, or I should say a more serious one, would be a pour-over set. Both Hario and Chemex make popular versions. Custom-brew your cup and enjoy!

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Got any great ideas that I missed? Do tell!

If you’re still shopping for others in the family, don’t miss my guide to eco-friendly baby gifts, my list of must haves for little ones from birth through toddlerhood, and my own Christmas wish list from last year, a guide to gifts for new moms.

**Psst! If you’ve been waiting to buy any VTech toys, today is your day. They are on sale for up to 50% off on Amazon, right now!**

And if YOU are newly pregnant right now, like I was this time two years ago (SOB!), check out my maternity shopping guide and my tips for beating morning sickness (I am a straight-up expert). Later on, when it no longer feels like you need 20 hours of sleep a day, my prenatal fitness post may come in handy.

 Good luck finishing your shopping, everyone!

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Books · CSA

The vegetarian cookbook I can’t wait to buy

 I’m obsessed with Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

In it, vegetarian authority Deborah Madison is taking a new tack: admitting she now incorporates meat stock, bacon, eggs and more into her recipes, and suggesting that we do the same. This book is focused on knowing and appreciating vegetables — their origin, their botanical family, their natural food pairings — not plugging vegetarianism.

I saw a lot of myself in this book. It is geared toward flexible vegetarians and newcomers to meatless living. Though it came out last year, this cookbook was mentioned in a recent New Yorker piece about the shift toward “quasi-vegetarianism” overtaking restaurants, chefs, foodies and books (and, I suppose, magazine writers). From one-time purists forced into greater flexibility after life changes (like me), to those seeking simply to reduce their meat consumption a small fraction based on health or environmental concerns, the trend is clear: modern vegetarianism has evolved into a wide spectrum with Meatless Monday at one end and all-out veganism at the other … with ample room for customization between.

I think this is a good thing. It makes vegetarian cooking more accessible, and will go a long way toward dispelling the myths surrounding vegetarianism: that it’s expensive, that it’s for hippies or yuppies, that you have to shop at Whole Foods, that you can’t get enough protein, that you can’t safely raise children/be pregnant/exercise, that you can only eat out at special restaurants, that you’ll be Calcium deficient, that you’ll only eat beans, salads and tofu, and so on.

Vegetable Literacy inspires creativity, encourages experimentation, and is invaluable to anyone with a garden, CSA or farmer’s marketnearby. It’s as much a reference book as a cookbook, just like my other favorite, The Silver Spoon. It makes me all the more eager to pick up Deborah Madison’s update to the classic New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which was just released with 300 new recipes, bringing the grand total to 1,600 (!!) No wonder it’s considered the Bible of vegetarian cooking!

And, because I know you’re wondering, Georgia finally decided to feed herself this weekend! The food of choice was naan bread. She also drank water from a regular cup (having rejected sippy cups repeatedly, not that I’m going to stop trying) and took a few tentative steps holding onto the sofa and coffee table with just one hand (her left). She’s so big, and later today I’m going to be sending out her first birthday invitations. SOB!!!