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 ūüôā

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 ūüėČ

 

 

 

 

 

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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā 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 blocks,¬†Lego &¬†Little 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 Ducklings,¬†Golden Book’s The Night Before Christmas, and The Snowman.¬†We are also buying Princess Potty to help with toilet training this holiday break ūüôā

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!