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

Georgia’s Favorites: Books for Age 3

As anyone with a three-year-old can tell you, preschoolers love to read the same books over…and over…and over…FOREVER. In the last year, Georgia has definitely switched preferences from reading a stack of board books every night to wanting to pick one longer story book from a pile we keep in our bedroom, and sometimes we have to stealthily sneak a new option in there to prevent us from going crazy!

Here are the ones she goes back to you over and over. What books do your little ones love? (Give us some new ideas…please! Haha).

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Clockwise, from top left: The Berenstain Bears, “No Girls Allowed” // Chris Van Dusen, “The Circus Ship” // Tomie de Paola, “Strega Nona” // Laura Numeroff, “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” // David Litchfield, “The Bear and the Piano.”

No Girls Allowed

The love of Berenstain Bears is strong in our house. This is just one of the greatest hits as far as Georgia is concerned; she also asks regularly for The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, Too Much TV, Go To School (which adorably features kindergartners still doing crafts and napping!) and both the Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor (she loves the part where the doctor pinches Papa’s belly fat!) and Visit the Dentistwhich came in handy last week when we took G for her first big-girl cleaning! No Girls Allowed is a great for beginning conversations about inclusion, friendships, and empowerment of young women.

The Circus Ship

Georgia likes the circus and animals so much that we got this as a present for her 2nd birthday and it is STILL going strong. I first took her to see the circus in Boston when she was 20 months old, fully expecting her to wiggle and squirm and ask to leave early, and instead she sat there enthralled, cheering and clapping at all the right moments and asking when we could come back again. She got so obsessed that we had a circus party for her birthday that year, and this book — about a group of shipwrecked circles animals who cause mayhem on a tiny Maine island when they wash ashore — gives us just enough circus flavor to get by without the real thing.

Strega Nona

It was through reading Strego Nona that Georgia first learned she was a little bit Italian, and it blew her mind! Strega Nona is a classic and for good reason: it features magic, pasta, a lovable sidekick in the bumbling Big Anthony, and a “spaghetti belly” at the end that Georgia always tell us looks like a baby bump. (tell me about it). Equally adored as a bedtime story is Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons, which has a few funny twists and a great lesson about hard work and patience.

If You Give a Moose a Muffin

This is second in a series of “If you give…!” books that toddlers love and I can totally see why. It all started with “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” which we also have, but for some reason this sequel featuring a silly moose who causes mayhem when you invite him in for a muffin is the one that captured Georgia’s heart. We got “Mouse” and “Moose” together as a birthday gift, and I’ve turned right around and given the pair to other kids, too, because they are such a hit in our house. See also “If You Give a Cat a Cupcake,” which we love because the kitty looks like our Tasha, and “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.”

The Bear and the Piano

This is charming, sweet, and so poignant that if you don’t tear up a little the first time you read it, there might be something wrong with you. A beautifully illustrated story about a Bear who finds a piano in the forest then becomes famous “in the big city” for his playing, this touches on friendship, loyalty, loneliness and the wonders of going away — and coming back home. We bought this for Georgia for Christmas just after inheriting her great-grandparents’ piano, so it definitely has special meaning for her as she’s learning how to play and sees her Dad going off to work in New York City now and again.

Our local library has a massive used book sale every fall, and we go early and stock up on all the children’s books we can find. With two full-time working parents and weekends jam-packed with errands, swim lessons, church, laundry and cleaning/yard work, trips to the library are few and far between for us! But we love that we can pick up a whole year’s worth of new books for 50 cents each by planning ahead for the used book sale, which in turn directly benefits the public library. Here are a few more that we picked up at this year’s book sale and are really enjoying:

Caps for Sale

The Snowy Day

Blueberries for Sal

The Story of Ferdinand

Harry the Dirty Dog

A Chair for My Mother

The Story About Ping

We’ve been reading to Georgia every night since she was first born, even when she couldn’t react or probably even see much in the book. It’s helped us to have a predictable bedtime routine ever since, though that’s not to say she doesn’t try shenanigans all.the.time. She does, however, love reading — and, as a bookworm married to another bookworm, that totally warms my heart. 

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Shop Small+Local for Mother’s Day

If there’s one thing I have total respect for, it’s moms who own their own business. Working as a mama brings its own challenges, but running your own shop? That has to be unbelievably hard. We already have one self-employed parent in our family, and I see first hand the pressure that goes into lining up the next client or job, hustling 24/7 to stay trained and educated on the latest in your field, networking with others, and somehow carving out time for self care. This Mother’s Day, why not support a local, woman-owned business while purchasing for gifts for your loved ones? Here’s a list of some of my New England area favorites. Happy shopping!

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Artisan Jewelry by Amy Vander Els of Amesbury, MA @ amyvanderels.com

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Honey infused with spices & herbs by Ariel’s Honey of Vermont @ arielshoney.com

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Minimalist sterling silver jewelry by Boston’s Ashley Procopio on Etsy.

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Creative gourmet spreads by “Wozz! Kitchen Creations” of Bethlehem, New Hampshire, @ wozzkitchencreations.com.

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Wrapped, knitted & woven wire jewelry from Massachusetts-based artisan Jennifer Yogel, @ localcolorjewelry.com.

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Adorable custom tea towels perfect for pairing with any food- or beverage-based gift, by Medfield (MA) based Lucy Two Shoesetsy.com/shop/lucytwoshoes.

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Fresh flowers, tea blends, spices and hand-blended herbs by Amy at Soluna Garden Farm of Winchester (MA), solunagardenfarm.com. They also offer CSA shares, which I got my mom one year. It can be a really amazing gift for someone trying to kick-start a wellness journey, or anyone coming out of illness or treatment for a major health setback whose body is in need of extra nourishment.

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Are you convenient to Boston? The Public Market has your back for last-minute, thoughtful gift ideas. Starting tomorrow through Sunday (May 11-14), they have a complimentary gift-wrapping station and plenty of specials for moms, including:

  • Make breakfast in bed with Chestnut Farms, offering bacon & eggs for $15
  • Finesse Pastries is baking delicious strawberry cakes called Poemes
  • Mother’s Day gift baskets are available at Red Apple Farm
  • Get a free $10 gift card for every $50 Red’s Best gift card purchased
  • Buy one package bacon or sausage @ Stillman Quality Meats, get half priced eggs
  • Find the perfect bouquet or flower arrangement at Stow Greenhouses
  • Try Sweet Lydia’s gift boxes and Mini S’mores Bouquets

On Mother’s Day itself, The Massachusetts Wine Shop is offering a free wine tasting for mom, and all moms who stop by the Soluna Garden Farm’s newly-expanded stall will get a free flower!

The market’s KITCHEN is also offering several classes this weekend that would be perfect quality-time gifts for you and mom.

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Have a wonderful weekend no matter what you do. XOXO

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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Holidays · Recipes

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

I still have memories of the fresh-baked bread a neighbor used to make when I was a kid. That smell wafting over the summer air when we were outside playing … mmm, I can just about taste it.  If, like me, you’ve always aspired to be the kind of person who makes homemade bread, but you lack the time, skills, fresh yeast or patience to mind rising and kneading strategies, then have I got the recipe for YOU. And just in time for St. Patty’s Day! Classic Irish Beer Bread is so simple, lends itself well to customization, and — most importantly — is delicious. With a soft buttery crust and chewy, warm center, it’s just begging to be dipped into soup or served alongside a hearty stew. This will make you feel like a master bread baker in no time.

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So the cool thing about beer bread is that the carbonation actually helps to leaven the bread, because the same yeast that makes bread rise makes beer alcoholic. Most of the alcohol will bake off while this bread is in the oven, and you’ll be left with a fluffy loaf seasoned with whatever type and flavor of beer you’ve chosen. If you use a nice IPA, as I did here, you’ll get a fantastic hoppy bite at the end. If you choose something more malty or mild, you’ll get that flavor coming through in the final product, too.

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The most mouth-watering part of this bread is the melted butter you drizzle on top before baking. Try adding more or less than what I call for, to see how you like it.

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 oz. (1.5 Cups) beer (can substitute non-alcoholic beer, soft drink or sparkling fruit juice, such as sparkling pear or apple cider).
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 TSP sugar
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted

You can substitute another sweetener, such as honey, in place of sugar if you prefer. It will change the taste of the bread, but that’s what’s fun about this recipe! It’s endlessly personalize-able.


DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 350F and lightly butter a glass (or metal) loaf pan, or use non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder) and pour in the beer you’ve selected. Mix until just combined, taking care not to overdo it.

Pour the mixture into your loaf pan and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake for 45-50 minutes if using a metal pan, and 50-55 for a glass pan, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for 5 minutes then remove to a plate. Serve warm or cool.

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The baking powder makes for a fluffier, less dense bread, but you can omit if necessary or if you don’t have any on hand. All you really need for successful beer bread is beer, sugar and flour. From there, it’s all about tailoring to your taste.

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There are so many ways to make this your own. A few ideas:

  • Instead of beer, use a cup of water and a 1/2 cup of salsa. Add in a dash of chili powder and a half cup of sharp cheddar cheese and bake as usual.
  • Add some mustard to the bread mix before baking, or serve the finished bread with a good grainy mustard.
  • Pick a blueberry beer and fold in fresh or frozen berries of your choice.
  • Use sparkling apple cider instead of beer, and add in a palm full of chopped nuts (such as pecans or walnuts), a half cup of chopped apple and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Try the special flavors of a micro brew or go light with a wheat beer; conversely, try a stout like Guinness and see how drastically it changes the tone and texture.

IMG_0078I hope you try this and enjoy it. Let me know how it comes out! And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, when everyone gets to be Irish. 🍀

 

 

dessert · Holidays · Recipes

Cinnamon Roll Apple Cake

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I’ve never been a big Valentine’s Day person, and Mark definitely isn’t into it. We went through the motions while we were dating, and I famously mailed him almost $100 worth of candy when we were in college and seeing each other long distance — only to discover he really doesn’t have a sweet tooth! Let’s just say I didn’t have much extra money back then, and nowadays it seems silly to buy gifts so soon after Christmas when what we really crave is more quality time together (and to stay on track with our college savings / home improvement goals!)  So, now we focus on having a festive time with Georgia, and my crafty side loves making valentines for her classmates and baking up some special treats for us to share as a family. I first made this dessert for a family party Thanksgiving weekend, and it travels well and feeds kids and adults alike. It’s very friendly for toddler/preschool aged assistants to help you with, too! Tiara not required but helpful.

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Cinnamon Apple Roll Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 packs of cinnamon roll dough with icing
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 granny smith apples, diced
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • Optional: Vanilla ice cream, for serving

DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 375.

Cut the cinnamon roll dough into three even strips, then cut those strips into three pieces, making nine total per cinnamon roll. Set aside the icing.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Set aside.

In a pan over medium heat, combine the butter, apples, and brown sugar, cooking until the sugar starts to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the cinnamon roll dough pieces evenly in a 9×9 baking tray. Pour the egg mixture on top, followed by the apples. Drizzle the reserved icing on top.

Bake for 25–30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with ice cream!

Our whole family has been battling the flu for a couple weeks now, and BOY am I sick of being sick. I haven’t been able to taste or smell anything for days and my head is so congested that my ears have been ringing non-stop. Is anyone else facing this where you live?? I can’t for the life of me figure out where we picked this up (maybe the plane?) but it just won’t go away, and it’s excruciating to write about food when I have no appetite or taste buds! In any case, I hope all of you are healthier than us, and staying warm if you’re in the path of today’s Nor’Easter. It’s just picking up where we live and definitely looks like a day to cuddle up on the couch with a movie and some treats. Happy Snow Day and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

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Books · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: Cookbooks

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

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Best of the New Cookbooks, clockwise from top left:

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

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

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

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The Silver Spoon and the Silver Spoon For Children

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

Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

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

Vegan with a Vengeance

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

The Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld

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

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime

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

The Moosewood Cookbook

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

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

 

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 😉