Boston Day Trip · kid-friendly · News · Tips and Tricks · Travel

August Day Trips from Boston!

It’s definitely late August now. Georgia has had her birthday party, my Florida squad has left town after their annual visit, and the fall calendar of meetings is already filling up at work (big, heavy sigh). I’ll share more photos of G’s party at the Stone Zoo soon, but here’s a sneak peek plus a couple snaps from some day trips that we have been taking while warm weather is still around us here in Boston. There’s nothing like summer in New England!  

We made trips to the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Gary’s Best Hot Dogs, Bedford Farms Ice Cream, the waterfront and shops in Newburyport, and a fun new restaurant called City Streets where they put cooked pasta on top of tossed salad — what?!? Sounds crazy, tastes really good.


Order like a native with the works: mustard, relish, onions and celery salt. Junk food overload not required but encouraged.img_8312Awesome waterfront dining in Newburyport at the Black Cow, where I sampled an amazing veggie burger, fries and cole slaw alongside a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio.We rolled up on the night of a gigantic classic car show, complete with propped hoods and blaring 50’s music. It was awesome!img_8234img_8236

This past weekend, we had the rare treat of Mark being off both Saturday and Sunday, so we decided to take a trip to Revere Beach, home of the famous international sand-sculpting festival, which takes place every July. We love this beach because, at 9 a.m. on a weekend morning, you can have the place to yourself, and there’s parking right on the parkway along the shore. On Sundays, the parking is free and pretty easy, especially if you arrive early! Georgia was over the moon that Mom and Dad were off work at the same time, which hasn’t happened probably since we flew to Florida as a family this past winter. She kept Mark busy building sand castles and wading with me in the low tide for hours, and we made it home in time for lunch and a nap. Sometimes I can’t believe we are lucky enough to live within 15 minutes of the subwayhiking, and the ocean.

I feel like we’ve done our best to make the most of our summer before Georgia starts preschool in early September. Where did my baby go?? In preparation for going to the “big kids school” after Labor Day, we all decided it was time to give up the pacificer, which G has used for naps and long car rides since she was less than a year old. Last Sunday morning, we set the binkies out on her window sill, and after church we came home to find that the “Binky Fairy” — whose arrival we’d been discussing together for months — had swapped her binks for a big girl preschool backpack and lunch bag, some sticker books, some fruit snacks and a couple new stuffed animals to cuddle. She even left Binky Fairy Dust! So far, it’s been over a week and she’s made barely a passing comment about wanting them, so I am ready to call it a success.

I also wanted to share that we lost a dear family member this past week — Georgia’s Great Granddad, who lived a long, full life and passed peacefully just a few weeks after turning 94. He was very special to both Mark and G, who always wanted to be held by her Great Granddad and lovingly referred to him as “my friend.” Here are a couple of my favorite photos of them together, from the year she was born and again this past winter. He will be so very missed.

I’ll be back after the services ~ hope you all have a very restful week ahead.

News · Tips and Tricks

Digest It: Food News for Fall

OK, so pumpkin stuff is everywhere, the temperatures are dipping below 60, Mr. Autumn Man is popping up on the Onion, and blah blah blah. Over in my house, we are in denial. Just say no to boots and tights! And people with jackets? Don’t even get me started!! Here’s where my brain’s at:


In that vein, I’m going deeper into denial by fixating on very summery recipes, food trends and news tidbits these days. A few things I’m finding helpful in pretending winter isn’t coming:

Shape Magazine’s Annual snack awards. So helpful in evaluating junk vs. worthwhile tidbits for in-between-mealtime eating. The best part is that they are categorized according to what you’re craving, from crunchy to creamy and sweet to savory. (Is anybody else craving ice cream with pretzels after reading that?) Some of my favorites from the list are Wholly Gaucamole’s travel packs, Blue Diamond’s Sriracha Almonds, Chobani’s Salted Caramel Crunch yogurt and Whole Foods Tropical Greens popsicles. Doesn’t that say summer? Or at least vacation?

thekitchn.com

In a tropical vein, I am always looking for a good mock Orange Julius recipe. Darn it if I don’t love those things, junk that they are! It’s like I’m right back at the mall doing back-to-school shopping in 1992. Find the recipe here.

nytimes.com

And this is super summer-y, but have you ever found yourself with so much extra cucumber from your garden that you can’t possibly hope to find a new way to eat it? Enter the trend over-taking New York, the “Smashed Cucumber Salad.” I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but it’s supposed to be a game-changer.

I’ve always loved House Beautiful Magazine, and this piece really hit home. I have the smallest refrigerator of all time — smaller even than my college apartments — and am always, ALWAYS looking for tips to make better use of it. I can’t even fit a gallon of milk on the top shelf, that’s how tiny it is! This list is pretty good, in particular this binder clip tip below. Great for freezing a bunch of those warm-weather fruits that just won’t taste the same when they’re out of season come winter.

Last but not least, if you live in Massachusetts, I have two fun things for you to consider! 

The first is a Pop-Up “Urban Apple Orchard” at the Ritz Carlton in Boston, starting this weekend and continuing at the hotel every weekend up to Halloween. They will be serving caramel apples, spiced cider, mini pastries and locally-picked apples by the full and half dozen, with proceeds benefiting The Food Project. Georgia and I agree: plentiful apples, and more specifically going apple picking, is one of the only worthwhile things about the weather turning colder. Also, making apple crisp, which is on our agenda for next month for sure.

And last but not least, if you’ve ever wanted a vanity or charity plate for your car but no cause really spoke to you, or you simply never got around to it, here’s your chance to get in at the first stage of a new licence plate supporting local food! Visit mafoodplate.org to find out more about how and when you can be among the first to sign up for a “Choose Fresh and Local” license plate. I’m going to do it, but first I have to replace the regular plate that got lost in a snow dune last winter. Which I’ve been meaning to do all summer.

And the other exciting thing I have on the calendar for mid-Fall is the Halloween Trick-or-Treat event at Stone Zoo, or “Boo at the Zoo” if you like! Let’s just say animals will be looking festive and so will Georgia.

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From what I understand there will also be a haunted maze (possibly too scary for a toddler; we’ll see), crafts, ‘ghoulish’ games and, of course, a costume contest. Probably we don’t have a chance there — we are going less creative this year as Minnie Mouse, which is Georgia’s favorite! And joking aside, giving animals items like pumpkins is more than a prop, it’s an enrichment tool for their development and well-being. You can learn more about that here.

Have a great weekend everyone and let me know what you’re doing to pretend summer is still here get in the mood for Fall!

News

You guys! Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’ comes to Massachusetts THIS WEEKEND

You know I’ll be watching, since I re-arrange my schedule around this show all the time. (Yes, I know what a DVR is, and yes, we do have one).

This is going to be our first weekend home together, just the three of us, in months. I am so looking forward to that!! 

Holidays · News

Halloween Pics & Food News

Well. Georgia loved Halloween! Her whole family came over except for my in-laws, who were out of town, and we took her out for trick-or-treating for the second time in her life. The first time, she slept through it in daddy’s arms! This time, she was walking on her own, and she loved meeting all our neighbors! We’ve gone from having zero kids in the neighborhood to families with young children in every other house in the space of three years, which is awesome. I loved seeing all the costumes, the decorated houses, and chatting with some of our older neighbors who we don’t get to see very often. All in all, a feel-good Friday night, and we even navigated Daylight Saving Time unscathed.

Georgia also helped me decorate the house before our visitors arrived! We kept it simple by ordering pizza and wings for the whole crew. Her monogrammed “winged bat” treat bag is from Pottery Barn Kids, and her ladybug costume is Carter’s from Macy’s in Boston.

You better believe I stocked up on clearance candy this weekend for my office!

So what else is new?

Well, I was extremely excited to read about a new Swedish study that shows (in mainstream medicine, anyway) what homeopaths and complementary & alternative health practitioners — not to mention the rest of the world — have known for years: that milk is really not that good for you.

It’s no secret that sales of cow’s milk alternatives like rice, soy, almond, coconut and hemp milk have taken off in recent years, and with good reason: many boast impressive health claims and taste great too. Apparently, the dairy industry has taken notice, and is launching a major ad campaign to reinforce the notion that milk “does a body good.” Of course, it’s easy for me to say avoid milk, because I straight-up hate the taste of it and always have, and I’m lactose intolerant like 80% of humanity. So I understand that true milk lovers will have a harder time accepting that a big industry has lied to them their whole lives, and that milk contributes to higher mortality among populations that drink it most — and that bone health is excellent in populations that don’t drink it at all.

That said, you DO have to do your research when it comes to milk substitutes. It’s not as simple as chugging a bunch of soy or almond milk, and none of those options should be given to babies or toddlers outside a doctor’s supervision. Time ran a decent comparison of some popular non-dairy drinks earlier this year, and Self has a good slideshow that takes you through the options for replacing conventional cow’s milk, including organic milk, which is what we give Georgia every day.

Speaking of dairy alternatives, check out this amazing-looking Vegan Strawberry Orange Julius (whose flavors I’ve celebrated before!)

What else caught my eye lately:

Apparently you should always preheat your baking sheet

Did you know you can still use ingredients that have “gone bad?”

The stark differences between what the rich & poor feed their babies

Even more reasons to love eggs (except when you’re newly pregnant)

A list of the top nutritional powerhouse fruits & veggies you should be eating

This genius idea for remaking school fundraisers that rely on junk food

And, OK, fine ~ I’ll share a couple vegan recipes. This comes from Chloe Coscarelli’s new book on Italian vegan cooking (it IS possible and it’s not very hard). I love how accessible and filling her recipes are. You don’t feel you’re making a sacrifice.

Chloe’s Bow ties in garlic cream sauce and vegan lasagna

Have a wonderful week, everyone.

Oh, and if you haven’t already, get out there and vote!

 

News

Join me @ the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival Oct 25-26!

BostonVegFoodFest2014

 Who’s going??? Ping me if you are! 

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

Food news you can use

Hey everyone! We’ve been busy with Mark’s show opening (check out his cool writeup in the Boston Globe last weekend) and as a result I’ve been eating pretty lame lately. One of my favorite things to do when I’m dining solo after baby’s bedtime is to whip up a fried egg over Trader Joe’s frozen tikka masala or palak paneer. As with any frozen entree, you have to watch the sodium, but they are great vegetarian options for those no-effort nights. I particularly love serving their soft Tandoori Naan Bread alongside, and boy does Georgia love nibbling on Naan as a snack! It’s a great size and consistency for babies to grab.

Has 4 p.m. got you hunting for something non-work-related to read? Here’s a roundup of some fun tidbits from the world of food. Have a great week!

Sarasota becomes 1st school district in FL to do “Meatless Monday”

A list of the best and worst pumpkin ales

Will you sign this pledge to end factory farming?

This recipe looks perfect for teaching kids to help cook

Taking the stress out of weekday breakfasts

Wondering why your cookies didn’t turn out right? Consult this FAQ

Easy toddler recipes: a printable guide! (with this sample menu)

Have you heard about men who drink breast milk for the “health benefits?”(seriously!)

…and then there’s this lady who makes jewelry out of it.

Last but not least, this roundup of the best new baby products from last month’s ABC Kids Expo in Vegas.

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My favorites are the Silly Skin Straw Tops, which turn any cup into a sippy cup; the Chicco Lulla Go basinnet; the new Aden & Anais toddler bedding sets that have a layer at the end so kids can’t kick off their sheets; the Puj Filla Cups for toddlers that attach to your fridge; and the new Britax Click Tight convertible car seats that use your seatbelt (not the LATCH system) to make moving form car to car simpler. (As I mentioned in my last post, we pre-ordered this immediately because we have three sets of grandparents, occasional sitters, taxis and flights to Florida to contend with). There were also some cool updates from Baby Jogger, Orbit, UppaBaby, Bumbleride and others, but I refuse to contribute to the culture of stroller-as-status-symbol in this country…if you are buying a new Bugaboo because it now comes in camo, you need something better to do with your time and money! ($1300 on that one, to be exact). I did drool over Balmoral bringing its line of totally old-fashioned, impractical and gorgeous prams to the US from across the pond, though. Now when Georgia meets her future husband Prince George she can do it in the proper style of buggy! 🙂

Baby & Toddler · News

Prepping for fall, naturally

Fall has hit New England with a bang! Suddenly there’s a snap in the air, and the leaves are starting to turn. You know what that means: time to go apple picking, bake some pies and crisp, rake the last of the leaves, store the patio furniture for the winter, and give the house one last scrubbing before it’s too cold to leave the windows open.

In our house, we’ve been prepping the car for winter (oil change, snow wipers, check hoses & fluids), storing our summer clothes with the last of our vacations behind us, buying Georgia a winter wardrobe in her new size, and insulating some key sections of our house that always let in the cold, such as eaves and overhangs that jut away from our foundation. I always talk about how important it is to use natural cleaning products from reputable, environmentally-conscious companies such as Honest, Norwex and Babyganics, but do you know what we’ve discovered that many people probably never even consider when renovating or deep-cleaning their homes? The surprising prevalence of asbestos in everyday life.

We ran into this when we started to do a “simple” renovation to our bathroom in preparation for Georgia’s arrival last year, a project that started with re-tiling our tub and ended with us having to take the entire side of our 100-year-old house down in a hail storm of lead paint, black mold and rotten wood. Being pregnant at the time, I knew we had to take precautions to make sure I and the baby weren’t exposed to any toxic substances used when our house was built in 1920. We had professionals taking those things into consideration, so I knew we were safe. But I didn’t realize until very recently that you also have to keep guard against things like lead and asbestos in everyday products — and that asbestos is still the top cause of occupational cancer (Mesothelioma) in the United States, more than 30 years after its peak use in construction of schools, houses and municipal buildings.

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Courtesy Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

In recognition of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which is today, I’d like to share the story of Heather Von St. James, a survivor of Mesothelioma. Her story is alarming and inspiring, and as a natural mama this seemed important to share. It’s also close to my heart, because my grandfather died of mesothelioma after a lifetime working in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Eight years ago, at the very young age of 36, Heather gave birth to her daughter, Lily. Three months later, she was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure — only she had never worked with asbestos. She was given just 15 months to live, but she beat the odds.

Even more shocking?

  • Asbestos is still found in many schools, homes, and industrial buildings
  • It is still used in building materials and consumer products manufactured in the developing world
  • On average, 30 million pounds are still being used in the US today
  • Only a few asbestos-containing materials are currently banned by the EPA

mesothelioma facts

Were you inspired by Heather’s story, too? Then share it, educate yourself about the dangers of first- and second-hand exposure to asbestos, and spread the word that there is hope for those diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Visit Heather’s website to learn more and share.

By being smart about the toxic substances we’re all still at risk of being exposed to in everyday life, we can help keep our families safe. I hope you’ll join me in supporting this worthy cause.

Baby & Toddler · News

Catching up from vacation!

Hi everyone! We had an extremely restful week in Myrtle Beach (book-ended by a couple harrowing flying experiences, but that’s a tale for another day). I’m trying to get caught up at work these days, and trying to STAY caught up with my now-toddler, who is crazy! 

She’s definitely in the middle of a growth spurt and I am struggling to keep her from eating us out of house and home. New favorites for her include a hummus sandwich on two bagel thins, kiwi, papaya, jicama, macaroni & cheese, and grits. She also learned how to bite into crackers and take a small piece to chew, which opened up a whole new category of food for us! The hardest part about feeding her these days is the fact that she only wants what WE are having, even if her own favorites are sitting right there in front of her. This has caused me to realize that I eat way more chocolate chip cookies, mini snickers and sour cream & onion chips than I was ready to admit before Georgia took notice.

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I’m also struggling to get over the fact that summer is over, and that I have to rein in my diet after going whole hog with that tasty Southern cuisine. 

I bought up the last couple bottles of lemonade and limeade at Trader Joe’s this weekend so that I can hang on to that taste of summer for as long as possible. I like to combine them with seltzer to cut the sweetness and calories (a few of my top combinations below):

It’s still nice enough out in Boston for me to walk Georgia home from daycare, which will be great once Mark starts rehearsals for his next show on Monday. Being a one-car household as we are, my feet are my vehicle when he’s rehearsing and tech-ing!

I’ll be sharing photos of our trip very soon. In the meantime, check out this awesome video that Daddy and Georgia made right before we went away. It kind of went viral last week when ABC in New York picked it up 🙂

Until next time, read all about the science behind the most delicious cookies, and why the world’s most Michelin-starred chef has decided to reopen his Paris restaurant with a nearly meat-free menu. Plus, have you seen Cookie Monster’s famous sugar cookie recipe (with illustrated directions?) It’s adorable.

Baby & Toddler · News · Pregnancy

Why don’t doctors talk to pregnant women about toxic chemicals?

I recently read something that I think most mamas would find disturbing.

Boston Globe via iStock

Acoording to the Boston Globe, reducing pregnant women’s exposure to environmental toxins was recently deemed ‘critical’ by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to prevent birth defects and other fetal health problems. But a recent survey of more than 2,500 physician members of that group found that fewer than one in five ask pregnant patients about any exposure they have had to unsafe levels of toxic chemicals.

“It’s not surprising that they’re avoiding these discussions,” said Dr. Alan Woolf, director of the pediatric environmental health center at Boston Children’s Hospital, who was not involved with the study. “Very few doctors feel comfortable in their knowledge of this issue to discuss it.”

A 2011 study found that pregnant women are exposed to at least 43 chemicals known to affect fetal development including pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), and phthalates that interfere with hormones.

For this reason, ACOG recommended last year that its physicians “identify specific types of exposure that may be harmful to a developing fetus” during the first prenatal visit. Doctors should be asking about workplace exposures — such as chemicals used in a lab or factory — and whether a patient lives in an older home, which could contain harmful lead paint, or has undertaken do-it-yourself home renovation that involves toxic agents. (And a Huffington Post story about this study pointed out that many women are at increased risk for exposure during pregnancy precisely because it’s a time when many families move or undertake renovation projects to prepare for baby’s arrival.

Yet half of the obstetricians-gynecologists surveyed in the new study said they rarely take this kind of environmental health history.

“Doctors told us they have so many more pressing issues to talk about,” said study leader Naomi Stotland, an associate professor of obstetrics-gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. “Their patients may be cigarette smokers, drink alcohol, or eat fast food every day, which they need to deal with first.”

But those who serve highly educated populations often find themselves flummoxed by questions from pregnant patients about which cosmetics, cleaners, and sunscreens to use.

You can read the rest of the article here. In it, doctors went on to say that they don’t want to “stress their patients out” by mentioning environmental exposure issues, and that there are other concerns they’d rather focus on — such as getting more women to eat the “good” kinds of fish that are free of mercury. But some of the things that should be no-brainers during pregnancy, like avoiding aerosol room fresheners or antibacterial soaps and products containing triclosan, just aren’t on most women’s radars.

Here’s a helpful guide to avoiding environmental toxins at home. You can also visit the Environmental Working Group website for more resources.

On one hand, I can see the doctor’s point of view on this. Americans do seem to be riddled with so much extra anxiety around pregnancy and childbirth, and to be seen as adding to that — especially when so many patients deal with poor working conditions, food choices and home lives that are beyond their control — must be stressful for OBs. But I think lots of people aren’t worried about the issue of environmental toxins because they assume the government is protecting us from harmful ingredients, when the reality is quite the opposite. As consumers and as parents we have to be so careful about what we bring into our homes and bodies, and our income level shouldn’t preclude us from being empowered to make educated choices. It sounds to me like the doctors in this study who suggested enhanced training to equip OBGYN’s to discuss toxic exposure are right on the money.

How about you — did your doctor ever discuss this with you? What do you do to avoid contaminants in your food, cleaning products, home life or workplace?
Baby & Toddler · Holidays · News

Summer Food Fun

It finally feels like summer around here! Only took until June. Given the short warm season in New England, we are already making the most of it. Mark, in addition to his stage work, spends most of his daytime hours working as a costumed historic character offering guided tours of Boston’s Freedom Trail. I’d never taken one of his tours, so a couple weeks ago we rounded up some friends and went! Georgia seemed confused at first and didn’t really recognize him, but as soon as he took off his hat, she was ecstatic and insisted on being picked up 🙂

Last week we also went to the Scooper Bowl, an ice cream fundraiser for The Jimmy Fund, which my dad has been taking my brother and I to for probably 20 years. At some point we pulled Mark into the tradition, and last year I ate half my weight in ice cream because I was 7 months pregnant. So naturally this year we had to take Georgia! She gave ice cream a try (chocolate) but was not a fan. I can’t say I was that upset; I don’t really like to give her anything with sugar. I’m sure she’ll take to it eventually, if she’s anything like me! But she enjoyed being out on City Hall Plaza and boogie-ing to the music in her stroller while people watching. That kid just loves being in the city. And she gives my dad a captive new audience for his West End stories (“they tore down our whole neighborhood”) which is an inevitable rite of passage for anyone who accompanies him into town.

It’s almost time for Mark’s first Father’s Day. What are we doing to celebrate? Well, his birthday is just a few days later, so I’m rolling everything into one super celebration, kind of like what he did with my birthday and Mother’s Day. His show opens the same weekend (today, actually!) so he won’t exactly be around much to celebrate, but we will do the best we can to make him feel special. I’m going to make him cupcakes (maybe these?) with vanilla frosting, his favorite. He is literally a plain vanilla kind of guy when it comes to cupcakes.

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A rare Saturday morning off for daddy to snuggle his Georgia.

Speaking of dads…..did you know the number of stay-at-home dads nationwide has doubled over the last 25 years? I read that last week and was surprised! Mark isn’t home with Georgia full time, but as a dad who cares for her at least one full day every week, he definitely gets a lot of odd comments and looks when they’re out running errands together. He counts himself lucky to be able to have that one-on-one time with her. After all, they are best buds.

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We are taking my dad up to Woodman’s, “the inventor of the fried clam,” in Essex this weekend. That’s another tradition that we haven’t deviated from in years for Father’s Day. We go to Bearskin Neck in nearby Rockport, and then we load up with  fried seafood. What can I say, my dad likes his predictable routines! Speaking personally, this is pretty much the one time every year I allow myself a big ol’ plate of fried food, so it’s a noteworthy occasion in my book, too. I’m not sure what we’ll be able to have Georgia try, but whatever it is, we’ll take pictures! And if you’re ever visiting New England, Woodman’s really is the only place to go for a good fried clam plate or a buttery hot boiled lobster.

Dad in Rockport. Happy Father's Day! Photo by Brenton Mantone.
Dad in Rockport sporting his trademark corny sense of humor. Happy Father’s Day, everyone! (Photo by my brother, the talented Brenton Mantone)