Christmas · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Looking Forward to 2018

Happy New Year! Hope you are feeling happy and healthy in 2018 so far.

This past weekend marked Little Christmas, or Epiphany, which we all know is the day the three wise men came to tell your spouse it’s time to put away the Christmas decorations. And while that’s sad, there’s an aspect of refreshing that goes along with it, especially if you use the occasion to tidy up the house a bit and find permanent homes for all the toys and gifts of Christmas morning. I’m excited to use my (scant) free time on these extremely hibernation-worthy days playing new games and puzzles with G, reading, or knitting, instead of shopping and wrapping Christmas gifts and doing all those other holiday-related tasks that eat into every waking moment in December.

As I was just telling a couple of friends, I’m not big on resolutions — Fall really feels like the “fresh start” time of year for me, whereas as January just feels like a slog from the holidays to our next vacation (ideally in a warm place).

Mark and I do take a quick financial assessment after Christmas and before tax season every year — like most self-employed people and artists in general, that’s when we find out what we made this year and what jobs were worthwhile — and that seems to bring about a little conversation on goals, even if, the older we get, the more boring those conversations get. (Are we saving enough for retirement? College? Can we afford to redo the kitchen this year? Well, we really shouldn’t consider that until we have an updated will … and so on).

Estate planning and other adult-ing tasks aside, I try to keep my goals for each year pretty small and specific. Over-reaching is a recipe for disaster for me. Maybe January gives some people the push they needed to lose 20 pounds, run their first marathon or eliminate sugar, but I do better in smaller increments. Such as:

Use my slow cooker more. I have a couple of really great slow cooker recipes, like this Chicken Curry and this Brown Sugar Kielbasa, which is easily the most popular recipe on my blog, year after year. But I know I could be doing so much more with it, if I only researched some additional family-friendly recipes. I’d love to come home to a nice, hot dinner instead of getting desperate and ordering subs and salad at 6:30 again. Which leads me directly to…

…Eat out less. I just lost five pounds and Mark is in the midst of bulking up for a role right as we speak, but if anything, getting in better shape has made us realize how badly we ate before. When you don’t plan ahead, we’ve learned, takeout is the result. It’s so much more fun to order pizza, sushi or Thai every once in a while as a treat than to fall back on it out of necessity. One thing we’ve discussed doing this year to facilitate better meal prep is to finally invest in a chest freezer for our basement. That way, we could take advantage of batch cooking and freezing, not to mention the good deals at Costco we currently have to pass up because of space. I may also bite the bullet and get an Instant Pot, two years late to the trend as usual. (Worth it?? Let me know!)

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Go to the library more. File under the same “money saving” tab as my first two goals, but really, I’m just embarrassed at how little we use this amazing resource. Somehow, even after starting in my first job as a library page at 14 and working as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble straight through college, I ended up barely going to the library as a 30-something with a small child, which is basically the library’s key demographic. We live in a city with a gorgeous public library and art gallery situated in a historic building right downtown, and while their kids programming isn’t convenient for working parents, they offer tons of other great resources, from audio books to wi-fi, a writer’s group, museum passes and links to the amazing Boston Public Library network. We’ve already been working the library into our weekend routine again, and we are loving it. One great tip I picked up recently: if you are frustrated at not seeing the newest kids books on display in the children’s room, it’s probably because other savvy borrowers reserved them ahead of time online. Do this, and be an insider! The best books almost never make it out on the floor.

Closely related goal: read more books. Partly this is just a logistical challenge of working full time as a parent, but if I’m being honest, a huge piece of why I don’t read more is needing to put down my dang phone before I spend the evening mindlessly scrolling. I’ve always been an avid reader, and this is one part of parenthood that I find difficult. Pre-Georgia, I averaged a book a week, AND I read the whole New Yorker! OK, fine, it was always a week behind, but these days it’s more like a month behind. We read a ton with G, and she’s so lucky to own lots of her own books. But I’d like to do more quiet reading by myself, too. I’m not holding my breath on this goal, but if it keeps me off my phone a bit more, I’ll at least try.

Be a yes mom. I don’t exactly have trouble saying “yes” to things that I also want, like ice cream or watching movies in pajamas on a snowy day. Where I struggle is with overriding my instincts to tell G I don’t need help cracking eggs for breakfast, stirring cheese sauce for baked macaroni, carrying grocery bags from the car, or even using the dustpan to clean up spilled coffee grounds. (Do those things sound realistic? They all happened during the blizzard in our house). Sure, it may be easier for me to do it myself, but a) kids are born helpers and b) how else are they going to learn these skills? It goes beyond chores, too. I don’t want to wake up one day with a kid who prefers screen time to playing outdoors after years of me telling her to watch TV so I could get one more task done around the house on the weekend instead of walking to the park. Life is for playing in the sandbox, glopping through mud, splashing in puddles, reading every sign you pass out loud and sucking up the mess that play-doh, gingerbread houses and glitter make. (Except don’t buy glitter, it’s a pox on our pipes and waterways.)

{{Severely boring alert}} Do laundry every day so it doesn’t pile up. This should be simple and I don’t know why it manages to elude us. A few ways I’m trying to tackle it: instead of waiting for a full load of workout clothes, delicates and other hang-dry items to be ready all at once — and then putting off doing it because I dread handling wet clothes in the freezing basement, and then taking forever to fold them once dry because the drying rack has become a looming monstrosity with OTHER STUFF piled on top of it — I’m tossing those into my regular laundry and hanging them one or two at a time on the extra towel rack in our bathroom, right over the radiator where they dry overnight and can be worn immediately. This is already preventing arguments over why all of my bras are clean but none of Mark’s gym gear got washed, and vice versa. Secondly, I am buying a Dryel kit for the work attire that can handle it, and sending the rest to the cleaners. Getting over the cost of dry cleaning, and admitting that maybe I do need to say ‘yes’ when they offer to pick up and drop off my clothes for a small fee, is part of being a working adult that I’m grudgingly accepting. Finally, I’m trying to do a better job of putting things away as soon as they are folded, not letting them hang on the bed or my dresser or (cringe) putting folded piles back into the bucket. Watching us all get dressed out of a laundry basket full of clothes we folded but just couldn’t quite put away is embarrassing. So far, 10 days into the new year, laundry is already running more smoothly in our house. I’ll let go of wondering why I can’t be that person who effortlessly does twelve loads of laundry in one day without it interfering with the rest of her life, and start enjoying fewer morning eye-rolls about socks and underwear. (I did warn you this topic was boring).

Under the very easy category, I have a couple things I’d like to get done around the house: replace our tired old living room area rug and flattened, frayed couch pillows; style the top of our piano so it looks more deliberate, as opposed to a dumping ground for sheet music/the last books we read/expired union membership cards/mystery charging cords; replace the junky old dresser drawers in our guest room and de-clutter the bookcase next to it; and go through the boxes of junk in our basement that we moved from the old apartment six years ago and haven’t needed ever since. Again, we’d really love to totally redo our entire kitchen, but in the meantime I’ve got my eye on some lower-hanging fruit to freshen up the place and help us relax, like storing fancy stemware elsewhere to free up more cabinet space, and shopping our pantry before buying new ingredients to see if we can make room by cooking creatively using what we already have on hand.

Georgia’s list of resolutions this year includes turning five, visiting her Nani in Florida, taking a road trip to see her cousins in Ohio again, and eating M&Ms every day (all but one of which will definitely be happening!) Stay tuned to see what else we get up to in 2018. What are YOU working on this year??

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Christmas · dessert · Holidays · kid-friendly

Our Christmas 2017 Menu

Everyone in my house was thrilled to see a dusting of snow on the ground this morning, the last work day ( for 9-to-5-ers at least; Mark is working all weekend) before Christmas! We’ve sent our greeting cards, bought our presents, (mostly) wrapped them, watched the obligatory preschool Christmas pageant, and now all there is to do is get ready to eat.

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We celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then I’m thrilled Mark and I are both taking a week of stay-cation until New Year’s Day. It is so hard to get time off together! Up next for him this winter is playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, so he’s been on a bit of a fitness spike lately, getting in shape for that…and growing his hair. It’s like I’m dating my 90’s boyfriend (which, as you know, was still him!) all over again.

All we have planned for vacay is to eat leftovers, take G to the movies (Coco? Ferdinand? BOTH?) and relax. OK, and reorganize our toys to make room for the new stuff. But back to the menu for Christmas: here’s what we are eating this weekend.

OUR CHRISTMAS MENU

We have a lighter crowd this year, just seven of us, so the dinner is a teensy bit pared down.

  • Swedish meatballs with gravy & lingonberry jam
  • Buttery mashed potatoes (here’s how I make them a day ahead)
  • Spiral ham & applesauce (& mustard of course!)
  • Broccoli casserole
  • Sweet corn
  • dinner rolls

For dessert this year, we are having Christmas cookies & pumpkin pie with whipped cream and ice cream! Like the rest of the world, I’m now obsessed with Halo Top ice cream, so I picked up a pint of their low-sugar, high-protein cookies n’ cream flavor, and I am dying to try their oatmeal cookie (!!!) and s’more options… but both were all sold out near me. Last year, we made this amazing sticky toffee pudding that was SO easy and liked by everyone. You can probably make it with ingredients you already have on hand right now, just by picking up a package of dates!

For appetizers, we always put out a nice cheese plate with crackers and sliced apples, plus our New Englandy favorite, Cape Cod chips and onion dip, and probably shrimp cocktail. Mark always makes his favorite Sausage Bites, and we serve it all with lots of beer, wine, apple cider and egg nog!

This year, we are also starting a new tradition of Christmas Eve books. Have you heard of this? In Iceland, families get to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s meant to be a new book. Then you spend the evening relaxing and reading! While we probably won’t do much relaxing with a hyperactive four-year-old who is VERY concerned about Santa reaching us without a proper chimney, it sounded like an awesome thing to start doing. I also bought me and G Christmas jammies for the first time this year, but we have already been too eager to start wearing those this week, so we won’t be opening those on Christmas Eve like I know lots of families do! The ones we got at Old Navy are all sold out, but I love their pajamas all year round and Georgia has already asked for a pair for Valentine’s Day. That is, adorably, one of her favorite holidays.

From our household to yours, have a blessed, relaxing and cheer-filled Christmas. See you in the New Year!

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Christmas · Holidays · Recipes · Uncategorized

Turkey Noodle Casserole

You guys, we had the best Thanksgiving. We spent it just the three of us for the first time ever, and decided to serve at our city’s “Don’t Be Alone on Thanksgiving” dinner, which provides turkey with all the fixings (plus dessert!) to nearly 1,000 members of the community in person and through meal deliveries. While in past years we’ve roasted and dropped off a turkey before the meal, we’ve never actually volunteered in person. I’m just so proud of how helpful and cheerful Georgia was. She helped us pass out meals, talk to the guests, refill drinks, bring around dessert, and clean up. When we got home we had our own little dinner and it was simply lovely.

The only downside to not having a big meal, of course, is the lack of leftovers. In the past when we’ve come home from a big family Thanksgiving with lots of extra turkey, gravy, vegetables and cranberry sauce, I’ve made it all into a really simple casserole — nothing complicated — which turned out to be the perfect way to use up those random leftovers. It’s not too fancy, but it repurposes almost all of your extra meat and sides into a comfort-food casserole that’s sure to remind you of cold winter nights as a kid. Nobody feels like cooking the weekend after Thanksgiving anyway, so being able to dump everything into a big baking dish and feed your whole family in half an hour is just so satisfying. Here’s what I did.

I’ve heard that cream-of-soup casseroles and hot dish recipes are suddenly en vogue, and I am OK making them again non-ironically.

Health food? Not so much! Throwback tasty? All the time.

Leftover Turkey Casserole

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup*
  • Grated cheddar cheese, to taste
  • 2 cups total leftover veggies, such as green beans and corn
  • 1 cup milk (any kind; I always use unsweetened almond)
  • 2 cups leftover turkey
  • 2 TBSP dry breadcrumbs OR smashed potato chips, if you have extra from a chip n’ dip appetizer!
  • 1 TBSP butter, melted
  • 1/2 a package egg noodles (6 oz.), cooked and drained

*Instead of 2 cans, I subbed for one can about a cup of leftover onion dip we had lying around from appetizers.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400F and cook and drain the noodles al dente (a little undercooked so they don’t turn to mush in the casserole).

Add the soup, milk, veggies, turkey, cooked noodles and grated cheese into a good-sized casserole dish. Stir the melted butter and breadcrumbs (or leftover chips, which is what I used) together in a separate bowl.

Bake the turkey-veggie-soup mixture at 400F for half an hour, or until hot and bubbling. Remove from the oven and stir; top with the bread crumbs or chips, and bake for 5 more minutes until the topping is golden brown.

Enjoy warm! I love it with a side of leftover cranberry 🙂

You could also substitute another meat in this dish, such as leftover chicken, tuna, or even ground beef. And, of course, you could use those french fried onions on top instead of chips or bread crumbs; a healthier option still would be Panko. Overall, this is a very forgiving recipe where quantities are just estimates and you can generally use whatever you have around and it’ll still come out great.

Thanks to Campbells for inspiring this post.

Minted extended their Black Friday sale on holiday cards! You don’t want to miss out on this deal. I ordered ours last night!

Christmas · Holidays · Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Let’s Get Ready for Thanksgiving!

Attention holiday shoppers — it’s almost Christmas! We just have to get through that binge-eating traffic nightmare and then it’s on to unmitigated holiday cheer!

Well, that’s how I feel about Thanksgiving anyway.

I’m basically on Christmas countdown as soon as Halloween night is over every year, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like my share of Turkey Day food and festivities. Each year, my claim to fame is this Ginger-Orange Cranberry Sauce, which is so easy to make and really pushes your side dish game to another level. You can scale the “kick” up or down depending on your family’s taste, and it doubles (or halves) very well too.  cranberry sauce

What’s even better than having this Thanksgiving Day? The fact that you can make a really satisfying warm dip out of the leftovers for lounging and snacking all weekend! The dip doubles as a sandwich spread, too, so make sure you pick up some cream cheese and red pepper jelly to make it while you’re doing your other grocery shopping!

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I spend the day after Thanksgiving in pajamas, designing and ordering our Christmas card on Minted and photo gifts for the family on Shutterfly and Mixbook, noshing on leftovers and filling my virtual shopping bags with deals for Cyber Monday. This year, I’ve got some major purchasing to do at the Apple Store, American Girl  website and Ikea kids section, and I assume there will be a few irresistible items for myself at Nordstrom, Lands’ End and Old Navy, too.

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Here’s a sneak peek of our holiday card photos, courtesy of TDM Photography, our go-to photographer for family photos. I’m so thrilled with how they turned out, and I can’t wait to get my hands dirty designing the perfect card for friends and family this week! I love Minted for their unique designs, their support of independent artists, and the fact that they let you keep an online address book of all your contacts, and will address your holiday cards for FREE, in a style that matches your card design. How easy is that, working mamas??

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Mixbook has become my preferred design site for creating beautiful, high-quality photo books. Their pages and bindings are top notch, the photo resolution is consistently high and the colors true, and the materials stand up to lots of handling without warping or fading. This Cyber Monday, enjoy 55% off!

Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Sticky Toffee Pudding

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“Sticky Toffee Pudding” is kind of an odd name for what’s essentially a simple, sweet cake made of pureed dates, butter, sugar and flour, and topped with a delectable butterscotch-y sauce that you can drizzle or coat (I choose the latter). This is adapted from the Sunday Suppers Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen, and while it’s definitely resonant of Christmas and cold, snowy holidays, I find that it’s just right for a New England spring celebration, too, when it’s typically so raw and chilly. Make it for Easter Sunday in the still-snowy northern states, or just for yourself on a quiet, rainy afternoon. You won’t regret it.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

(Sweet Date Cake)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 heaping cups of pitted dates (about 12 oz.)
  • 2 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 TBSP brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the sauce:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup plus 2 TBSP brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

To serve: homemade or store-bought whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream.

DIRECTIONS

Boil your water and rough-chop the dates, placing them in a heat-safe bowl. Pour the water over the top of the dates, stir in the baking soda, and set aside (covered) for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9×13 baking pan (I used glass) then set aside.

Blend the dates and water in a blender or food processor until smooth. In another large bowl, mix together the butter and sugars; next, whisk in the eggs, then the salt. Stir in the flour, then finally, add the date puree.

Pour the batter into the buttered baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean.

You can serve as is, which we did on Christmas, or let cool for at least 15 minutes and flip onto a cooling rack then plate it for serving. I made the cake Christmas morning, let it sit out while I made the rest of supper and we opened presents, and then quickly crafted the sauce right before we served dessert.

To make the sauce, combine the butter, cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk until it thickens, about 7-10 minutes.

This is delicious at room temperature or warmed up, and it’s sweet without being cloyingly so. You can serve the sauce alongside for your guests to pour over the cake themselves, or you can coat the entire cake in the sauce and serve all together. I did it this way; I thought the sauce was the most scrumptious part and couldn’t imagine wanting anything less than to eat it as a luxurious topping on every single slice. This also makes it easier to transport!

As I said in my last post, dates are simply delicious and good for you, and while no dessert quite qualifies as health food, this one is certainly a bit unexpected and innovative. Best of luck trying it out! And happy weekend, even if you live in one of the sorry locales getting snow today and tomorrow like I do. Before you go, check out the new branding I am considering, and leave me a comment with your thoughts below! xoxo

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Christmas · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: Cooks & Kitchens

Still looking for some inspiration for the food-loving friends and family on your shopping list? Fret not, there’s still eight days to get Amazon Prime shipping to your doorstep by Christmas, and I’ve got tons of great ideas lined up for you.

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Clockwise from top left: Hedley & Bennett American-Made Apron // Geo Porcelain Travel Mug // Epica Immersion Blender // Instant Pot Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker // Tea For One by CB2 // Splatter Enamelware Kitchen Utensils // Milk Street Magazine & Cooking School // Counter-Top Bacon Grease Keeper

A good apron is a must have, and these are the go-to brand for serious cooks right now. Made in the USA in several colors and extra durable, they will last a lifetime. I also can never seem to own enough stylish vessels for coffee and tea at home and on the go, so these are my picks for nice looking drinkware this winter! If you haven’t yet tried the Instant Pot, it’s like a slow cooker minus the “slow” and can be a very strategic gift for a new parent or someone who just got a promotion and is crunched for time! Ditto for the new Milk Street Magazine by Christopher Kimball, formerly of America’s Test Kitchen. He’s branched out on his own with a new venture meant to rethink home cooking; the new magazine is all about simple ingredients and fresh takes on familiar classics, with a blend of culinary science thrown in, and I’m already hooked. If you’re near Boston, there’s also the option of getting a gift card to their new cooking school in Downtown Crossing. An immersion blender is the workforce of any kitchen, making soups, sauces and stews a breeze, as well as an inexpensive yet thoughtful present. And who wouldn’t love a better way to save bacon grease instead of wasting it? Finally, these speckled spoons are sure to be a hit as a host/hostess gift at your New Year’s Eve celebration. So get gifting!

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If you’re looking to make more of an investment, no avid chef would turn down an opportunity to own a Vitamix blender (here’s the one I have, available in black or red), a versatile Le Creuset enameled cast iron Dutch oven or frying pan, or a Nespresso Coffee and Espresso Maker (with milk frother!) which seems to be one of this year’s hot gifts for home cooks. There also seem to be VERY good deals on KitchenAid stand mixers this holiday season, and I personally think you can’t go wrong there!

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Happy Shopping! I hope you’ve been less naughty than nice this year, or Georgia will tell Santa to skip your chimney come Christmas Eve … and she’s got an in with the big guy 😉

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

Happy Cyber Monday! I’m pretty much done with my holiday shopping already, so today is more like Treat YoSelf Monday in my book — I’ve got my eye on a Beauty Blender and a new work bag that is way not in the budget this year (especially since we just had to buy a new car last month). Hard to resist when the sales are this good. I hope you all had a restful, relaxing Thanksgiving. We sure did! Eating out, while not something I’d want to do every year, was extremely stress-free, and I loved not having to wash a million dishes at the end of the night. The place we went was excellent, and it was so nice getting to talk, sip a cocktail, then enjoy a movie back at home while lounging on the couch together. I did a little Black Friday shopping from the comfort of my bed before I even got up the next morning, and then spent the weekend getting our Christmas decorations out! I’ll be sharing a 2016 gift guide later this week, but for now please enjoy this easy-peasy version of vegetarian stuffed shells that is comforting, savory, and just the right thing to throw together in those frazzled weeks between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah/Christmas when your brain just doesn’t have the capacity to cook anything complicated. Adding a salad to this — even a pre-made, store-bought salad — or some simple roasted veggies would complete the meal nutritionally and make your taste buds happy.

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package pasta shells (the jumbo kind with 24 shells per container)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh sage
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the garlic cream sauce

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream (or half n’ half)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 35o and spray (or butter) a 9×13 glass baking dish.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, not mushy or overdone. Drain well and transfer to a paper towel laid out on the counter to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, ricotta, parmesan, egg, sage and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the cream sauce, melt butter in a skillet over medium and add the garlic, then cook, stirring, until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Whisk in the flour gradually until lightly browned, about a minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring continuously, until well mixed. Stir in the light cream and cheese until thickened, another couple of minutes. If the mixture is too thick, add more milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread some of the cream sauce into the bottom of the buttered baking dish, enough to coat the bottom. Stuff the cooled shells with the pumpkin-ricotta mixture and nestle into the baking dish, then drizzle the remaining cream sauce over the top. Garnish with some sage if desired.

Bake 25 or until lightly browned and bubbling. Serve warm.

Adapted from Damn Delicious.

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Ready to start shopping and don’t want to miss the best sales today?

Check out my previous guides: Gifts for Toddlers (especially awesome for two and three year olds), Gifts for Babies (great for infants through 18 months), Gifts for the Guys, and eco-friendly gift ideas for that brand new baby in your life (like my special little niece!) Last but not least, in honor of #MakersMonday (which is today), here’s a post featuring Locally-Made Gifts.  

If you’re in Boston, don’t forget to swing by the grand opening of Eataly tomorrow. I’ll be there, ready to stock up on Lavazza, Fig Burrata, imported Olive Oil and Brunello. I might actually explode from excitement while shopping! Ping me if you want to meet up or plan to be there yourself. Doors open at 4 p.m. in the Prudential, off Boylston.

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another sneak peak from our holiday photos. Have a great week 🙂

Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes · Tips and Tricks

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!

http://www.edibleboston.com

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.

http://www.georgehowellcoffee.com/boston-public-market/

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.

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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.

Baby & Toddler · Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Tips and Tricks

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!

Christmas · Holidays · minted · shutterfly

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