kid-friendly · Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Maple-Dijon Pork Chops with Chunky Apple Topping

This dish has become a fall tradition in our house. Every October we plan a date to go apple picking as a family, usually the first weekend Mark gets off after closing his first show of the season; then, with our bounty overflowing, we get started making apple crisp and this delicious dinner that tops succulent brined pork chops with a maple-dijon glaze and a chunky apple cider sauce. It’s something we all look forward to when the air turns chilly! I made this for the first time this year just last night, and I’m looking forward to baking a sweet apple crisp this weekend, too. I can’t wait to share that with you!

These pictures are actually from the last time I made a large quantity of this for a dinner party a couple years ago (hence the Johnny’s Foodmaster packaging, for a store that doesn’t exist anymore in the Boston area!) Also pictured are some garlic-chive mashed potatoes (click here for my basic mashed potato recipe) and my balsamic roasted green beans, which is my go-to way of baking green beans in the oven so the whole family will eat them. Although there are lots of steps pictured, I actually managed this just fine on a weeknight yesterday. I threw the chops into a freezer-size bag to brine them before work with some poultry seasoning (sage, thyme and rosemary) — see brining instructions below — and then when I got home, I just set the water on to boil for the potatoes, tossed the green beans into the oven to cook, set up the apple topping on a back burner, and cooked the pork chops in the last 7 minutes while I mashed the cooked potatoes. It wasn’t hard at all!!

HOW TO BRINE

Brining, or submerging meat in salt water for tenderizing and flavor, can be done overnight or during the workday so your meat is ready to be cooked when you get home in the evening. As I wrote about in this post for Citrus Pork, brining is a simple technique that does a great job of preventing dense cuts of meat (like pork chops!) from drying out while cooking. Yesterday I just threw the chops into a double-bagged freezer Ziploc with enough water to cover them, and eyeballed the salt and herbs. In general, you want to aim for a ratio of 1 TBSP of salt for every 1 CUP of water; as long as you make sure to cover the meat completely with water and rinse them off well when you are done brining, it’s pretty hard to mess this up. You also want to use flavorings such as onions, herbs, or aromatics like ginger, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, sugar or garlic in your brining bag. If you are hoping to brine a holiday bird, like a large turkey, or a roast, definitely make sure you give it overnight to soak. Want a more in depth guide by cut of meat? This article is a good place to start.

Recipe: Maple Dijon Pork Chops with Chunky Apple Topping

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 apples, cored and chopped
  • 1 CUP apple cider
  • 3 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3-4 pork chops (or more for a crowd)
  • If brining: salt, water & herbs (I used a fresh poultry seasoning mix from the grocery store)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 TBSP Dijon or spicy brown mustard (I used the latter)
  • olive oil for the pan

DIRECTIONS

If you are making the green beans and/or mashed potatoes, set those up to boil and bake in the oven first, then turn your attention to making the apple sauce and finally to cooking the pork chops in a frying pan. If you boil the water then prep all your other ingredients, your potatoes will be done cooking around the same time as your apple topping and your green beans, meaning you can set those aside in a warm place and cook the chops while mashing the potatoes.

If you’ve brined the pork chops, make sure to rinse them well and discard any seasonings that brined with them.

To make the apple topping, cook the apples in a medium sauce pan with the cider and brown sugar and cinnamon over medium/high heat until tender, about 15 minutes, then set aside.

(I’ve listed out the step-by-step for both the green bean side and the potatoes below).

To make the pork chops, heat some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the chops, seasoning with a little pepper. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Then, stir the maple syrup and mustard into the pan, tossing to coat.

Top the pork chops with the chunky apple sauce and serve alongside the mashed potatoes and green beans or sides of your choice. And enjoy!

Here’s a quick recap of the green bean recipe if you don’t want to click over to my full post about it. I bought a pre-rinsed bag of cut green beans (16 oz) and added half of a sliced onion in a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and add in a bunch of whole garlic cloves — I usually do between 6 and 10, peeled of course. Roast in the oven at 350F until browned pretty well, about 30 minutes; you want the onions to be starting to caramelize. You can also do 400F for 20 minutes, but I was timing it to be ready alongside the pork chops and potatoes here. Set aside and while still warm add a few drops of balsamic to the finished beans, tossing to coat (a little goes a long way). Serve warm.

For the mashed potato recipe you see here, I used half a bag of red potatoes (~1 pound) plus 1 stick of butter, about a half cup of milk (any kind; I used almond) and a hefty dollop of sour cream (a bit of cream cheese would also work), adding a generous sprinkling of salt to taste. I boil the potatoes, chopped in half, until fork-tender, then drain them, add them back into the stockpot and mash them by hand (skin still on) with all the ingredients mentioned above. So creamy and delicious!

I hope you enjoy this one. Stay tuned for a recap of our apple picking trip, some pictures from my recent travel to Detroit (where the food scene is bustling if you know where to look), and that apple crisp recipe I mentioned. The best part of fall is definitely the food if you ask me!

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.

Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Last-Minute Father’s Day Gift Ideas

We had a little makeover here on the blog — hope you like it 🙂 Leave me some feedback in the comments below!

I’m all done with Mark’s Father’s Day gifts, and because his birthday is the day before, we are going to have a cookout at our house to celebrate this weekend. Also, we are going to a wedding on Father’s Day! Crap, I just realized that means I need to find a fancy dress for Georgia (and me) to wear. She’s also starting preschool the next week (eek! how did that happen so soon??) so I REALLY need to exercise my plan-ahead mom muscle.

If you’re still looking for gift ideas, and the dad in your life neither golfs, wears a tie every day or likes to BBQ already has all the grilling tools under the sun, here are a few ideas even picky fellows like Mark — collector of musical theater cast albums, books about the American Revolution, and ridiculously expensive PC games — would enjoy.

plants

Clockwise from top left: Klean Kanteen stainless cups // Banana Republic Performance Stretch Crew // Smartphone Instant Photo Lab // Hot/cold insulated howler with vacuum-seal lid // steampunk cuff links // Hamilton: The Revolution

I’m forever teasing Mark about the time he lost my really expensive (and amazing) hot/cold thermos from Japan. Gift one with some of his favorite tea or coffee! Same goes for stainless steel drinking cups, which are reusable, odorless, unbreakable and easily washable by hand. Pair with a favorite beverage, and you’re all set. These performance stretch t-shirts are literally all Mark wears, and he (like most of us) is obsessed with the stories behind the making of Hamilton. These cuff links and smart phone photo lab are just a little bit unexpected and fun.

If you’re local, the Boston Public Market also has tons of gift ideas from their vendors, plus a complimentary gift-wrapping station at the market all week, while supplies last. Check out some of their gift ideas, things you can do for Dad to celebrate this weekend, and special deals available now through Sunday:

  • Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery: BBQ themed cupcakes, plus 30% off hot dog burgers and buns, 6/15-6/19.
  • Massachusetts Wine Shop: Hosts an “On the house wine tasting” with Dad on Father’s Day Sunday.
  • Peterman’s Boards and Bowls: Handsome, hand-crafted wood bowls, great for a healthy appetite! 20% off 15″ and larger wooden bowls, 6/15 – 6/19.
  • Red’s Best: For every $50 gift card purchased, receive $5 bonus bucks free.
  • Wolf Meadow Farm: Cheese Basket for Dad including scamorza, caciotta and surprise 3rd cheese, plus wine jelly & spreader: $35 with mention of Father’s Day promotion, available through 6/19.
  • Red Apple Farm Presents Apple Butter Glazed Pork Chops (in the KITCHEN; Friday, June 17, 1:30-2:30pm): Learn how to make pork chops glazed with Red Apple Farm’s apple butter and you’ve got a special meal planned for Father’s Day.
  • Father’s Day BBQ Bites (in the KITCHEN, 11am-4pm): On Sunday, enjoy activities for families and children of all ages, including crafting a gift for dad and hands-on gardening, cooking and baking activities, such as how to make BBQ sauce. $25.

Have a Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

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Tips and Tricks

Taming a Sweet Tooth

Work is crazy these days, and I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in the number of people dropping by my office to dip into the candy bowl I keep on my desk as a result! I have an assertive sweet tooth myself, and am always battling to keep my sugar intake in check, especially during times of stress. As a mom, it seems like I’m always reading articles about how much sugar sneaks into our food and feeling as though I always have to be on guard, reading labels, and watching my family’s intake of junk food. Added sugar shows up in salad dressings, ketchup, many breads, spaghetti sauce, granola bars, cereal, canned fruit, and of course in candy, cookies and juices. My personal downfall has always been candy and sweet drinks, in particular lemonade (ok fine, and white wine!) and I’m sorry to say I passed this right along to my kid! Nothing is too sweet for her, but we try to limit her to one small organic juice box per day, with water as her only other drink. To keep my own snacking in check, I try to make sure I stay hydrated with seltzer or filtered water with lemon or lime in it, and I surround our whole family with healthy, filling snacks, like pre-packaged, roasted nuts, hummus with veggies and pretzels, string cheese, green smoothies, overnight oats, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit.

blueberries

When that snack-y sweet tooth strikes, I try to keep myself away from the candy dish by adding fruit, granola, or honey to Greek yogurt. Or, I pick up one of my new favorite indulgent snacks: Chobani flips, which pair low-fat Greek yogurt with a little sidecar of treats, such as coconut, granola, dried fruit, nuts and dark chocolate, and you can flip the entire thing in or add just a little hint of decadence.


They recently shared this fun flow chart to help you find your own flavor soulmate. Mine came up Sweet n’ Sweet, no matter where I started at the top! (My favorite guilty pleasure, by the way, is hands down tacos. And I like to put fried fish, shredded purple cabbage and diced avocado in them, drizzled with lime juice!) Boy, have they got me pegged.

What’s your flavor match?

chobani_flowchart_x2Chobani_myflavor_card_sweet

I personally can’t wait for the weekend to arrive. We are heading up to Rockport tomorrow after swim class, and then Sunday we are having a mommy-Georgia day in while daddy works. I hope you are all having a great Friday — here’s to powering through the afternoon slump together! 🙂

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Tips and Tricks

The New Dirty Dozen & Clean 15

If you don’t already shop with this list of the most important produce items to buy organic, now you no longer have an excuse! In honor of Earth Day, here’s a handy dandy printable from the Environmental Working Group, just released last week. You can click the link below the image to download your own PDF to print and cut along the dotted line for your wallet, or just pin this picture for later 🙂  

EWG_DirtyDozen_Clean15_2016
Click here to download the printable

The biggest news this year is probably the fact that strawberries skyrocketed to the top of the list, displacing apples as the #1 most pesticide-contaminated fresh produce item even after being rinsed in the field and washed again before eating.

I don’t know about you, but my family eats A LOT of strawberries, and buying these organic is a priority for us. The cost difference is usually $1 or $2 per 1-pound container, shopping at Target, Aldi or Trader Joe’s. And don’t forget that Costco has a large and impressive selection of organic produce, pantry, dairy and frozen items, if you have enough mouths to feed and enough storage to accommodate their package sizes (which we do, even with just a 1,100 sq. ft. house and a 20-year-old refrigerator. It might be more doable than you think!)

I’m also relieved to see that some items — namely avocado, mangoes and onions — are solidly on the clean 15 list, because those can get pricey when you buy organic, and there may not be a reason to. Studies have shown that the nutrition in organic- and non-organic foods is the same, so the real reason to invest in organic produce is to avoid pesticides, many of which can disrupt hormones and cause cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, and neurological problems.

red strawberries organic

Beyond following this list, the best way to avoid pesticide exposure is to buy in-season produce from local vendors such as the farmer’s market or a farm share/subscription box, especially those that are certified organic.

  • Looking for a Boston-area farmer’s market? Click here for an interactive map. You can sort by organic, you-pick, geographic location, you name it!
  • Don’t forget the Boston Public Market is open 7 days a week starting July 18! The new hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Here’s a vendor list.

***

If you aren’t familiar with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they are worth getting to know.  In addition to their produce guide, I rely on their Skin Deep cosmetic grading database and their annual sunscreen guide when I’m out in stores. Now, they’ve released an app that consolidates those consumer resources so you can simply scan items as you shop to evaluate their ingredients and effectiveness. I’ve already downloaded it! And that’s saying a lot, because I have 8,000 Georgia photos on my phone, so nobody gets new real estate without REALLY being worth it. 😉 

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Have a wonderful weekend and happy (non-toxic) shopping!!

Tips and Tricks · Uncategorized

Monday Musings

OK fine, it’s Wednesday! But I wrote this on Monday, which is a holiday in Massachusetts. I think it has something to do with Redcoats running ~26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston in search of brunch on their day off.

In all seriousness, Marathon Monday is second only to Christmas in my world when it comes to excitement and anticipation. (I can even overlook that confounding apostrophe after the “s” in Patriots’ Day for long enough to enjoy myself). We’ve taken Georgia to watch the Marathon since she was in utero, but this year was the first time in her life that it wasn’t freezing out and when she could really enjoy it and cheer for the runners. She kept offering them her snacks — “runners, do you need some Pirate Booty?” — and skipping alongside them, asking for high-fives. And she got a few, too! It was an awesome day, the sun was shining, and Mark had the day off to boot. That’s all I need.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, including ways to stop having so much trouble digesting food so that I can cook and eat normally again, a.k.a. the basis of this blog. I want to thank you all for your kind words after my last post! It helps to know others struggle with mystery tummy ailments, too. I’ll be sharing a longer post about some of the ways I’m trying to get my stomach back on track, but in the meantime, here’s what I’m contemplating, doing and buying these days.

What I’m coveting

Every year when it gets warm, I start to want an everyday (non-road) bike again. I can’t wait to see the new Ikea City Bike which is only available in Europe so far, and I’m highly intrigued by the relaunch of Columbia Bicycles.

What I’m hoping to cook when I’m back in sorts

This Creamy Lemon Pasta from the New York Times.

What I’m listening to

The “Quiet” podcast about being — and parenting — an introvert (that would be me, obviously, not Georgia).

What I’m streaming

Kimmie Schmidt (meh so far) and Cooked (next on my list are these food documentary ideas).

How I’m relaxing

With this essential oil & this diffuser

How I’m moving

This after-work Zumba class and these 10-minute workouts at home (which are killer!)

What I’m gifting myself for my birthday

I’m turning 34 Saturday (eek!) and I have a tradition of treating myself. I always pick out one fun new makeup item and one new book, I always schedule a Stitch Fix to arrive the week of my birthday. And, I always get a mani or a pedi. Those are my favorite things to do for myself, and the older I get the more I’ve found that celebrating myself is the best way to feel special! Ever since we got married, Mark renews my New Yorker subscription for my birthday, since that’s what I read on the train every day. I made the mistake of mentioning that I’d love to seriously upgrade our on-its-last-legs blender soon, and as a result I’ve spent the last week reminding him that we can’t afford to spend over a week’s worth of daycare tuition on a Vitamix, much as I’d love to! Though I’m flattered he wants to spoil me :/. And I’ll probably repay him by dragging him for Mexican food on my birthday, too. Poor guy!!

Have a great week everyone and enjoy the wicked warm weather we’re supposed to get in Boston tomorrow 🙂 Summer is around the bend! xoxo

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.

sp_elephants3
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!

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

A #MakersMonday Gift Guide

Makers Monday is today, November 30, 2015. Launched by Shinola two years ago, it’s an effort to prompt holiday shoppers to buy local and buy American on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The concept has evolved into a massive, crowd-sourced guide to well-crafted, artisanal products, curated yearlong on social media. It’s an idea I can get behind! So I’m sharing my favorite local and/or American-made products today, in time for some Cyber Monday shopping. Many of these are made by friends or friends of friends! I hope you enjoy the ideas.

Boston-based knitwear designer The Third Piece

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If you’ve noticed turban-style hats and headbands on all the cool kids this year, chances are the two Boston-based designers from the3rdpiece.com were behind it.  They employ artists from throughout New England, and if there’s a crafter on your holiday shopping list, they also sell kits to make their designs yourself, at ridiculously reasonable prices. And their children’s accessory line will have you and your mini-me styling together in no time.

Use code HOLIDAY to save 20% at the3rdpiece.com.

Craftswoman & designer Michelle Liebmann 

Leather goods, textiles and jewelry: these are the categories on the navigation bar of Michelle Liebmann’s website, but it doesn’t convey the wide variety of handmade items she offers at michelleliebmann.com — from hand-poured soy candles in flavors like hot cider and red cedar to hand-dyed scarves, repurposed watches and framed linens. She’s a fellow foodie and New Englander, and her food & travel blog and etsy shop are worth a visit, too.

unisex baby bloomers from Billie Blooms

OK, OK — this isn’t Boston or even New England made. But they are a shout-out to my Florida family, because they’re made down in Miami as a city- and heat-friendly pants option for tots birth to age two! Who can resist these?? At $28 for 100% cotton, made-in-the-USA bloomers, I dare you not to pinch the heck out of your baby’s thighs in glee over scoring these. Available at billieblooms.com.

Knife rolls, chef aprons & leather goods from Weft & Warp

“Made for cooks by a cook” says seamster and leatherworker Erik Desjarlais of the goods for sale at his Portland, Maine-based e-tail shop weftandwarpmaine.com. After retiring from the kitchen himself five years ago, he started hand-crafting knife rolls, aprons and waxed canvas bags that the pros now rely on. Got a home chef, handyman (or woman) or anyone else who would appreciate timeless, rugged stuff like this? Here’s your last stop.

Crane & Lion yoga and lifestyle wear

Designed in Boston, Crane & Lion is a brand I first saw on the yoga teacher who comes to my office to teach an in-house class after work once a week. The colors and fit are really stunning, and I love that all their pieces can go from workout to street with ease. It’s so impressive that this business is only a year old and killin’ it, while also giving back 5% of profits to three Boston service organizations.

Use code CYBERSWEAT40 for free shipping and 40% off through tomorrow at craneandlion.com.

Hand-dipped truffles from chocolatier Dean’s Sweets

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Portland, Maine based confectioner Dean Bingham is a former architect who brings an artist’s eye and attention to detail to his chocolate creations. I’ve purchased his bacon-covered chocolates for Mark as a stocking stuffer, and sent boxes to friends and family for Easter and Christmas. With flavors like chocolate stout, lemon apricot Chevre, Moxie soda and his own special “boozy mix,” there’s something for everyone, and all of it is 100% handmade and nut free. Order online at deanssweets.com.

Handmade ceramics by Elizabeth Benotti

I recently met Elizabeth at a local artisans marketplace, and seriously could have bought everything in her display. Her entire aesthetic is so calming and stylish, and I loved hearing about her process of slipcasting, handbuilding, wheelthrowing, drawing and painting each unique item. A Massachusetts native, she currently resides and keeps a studio in New Hampshire.

Use code JELLOQUEEN just through today, Nov. 30, to save 20% at elizabethbenotti.com.

Hand-painted porcelain + bead jewelry by Rapt Stonewear

A beautiful collaboration between two designers (who happen to be my colleagues!) based in Boston, Rapt Stonewear marries the work of ceramicist Jenn Erickson and jewelry & knitwear designer Jessie Partridge. Combining painted porcelain with colorful hand-wrapped cord, these designs are both bold and different, delicate and clean. In other words, perfect for any stylish and creative person on your shopping list.

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A few more artists and creators that I’d like to quickly highlight: Rhode Island-based BABS fine handmade handbags, featuring leather and felt in unexpected colors and combinations; Hemlock Springs Soaps, out of New Hampshire, with scents and textures that are simply intoxicating; Albertine Press from my former home of Somerville, with stunning city-themed letterpress designs inspired by world travel; Cheeky Monkey Home accessories, of Belmont, MA; and hand-folded origami fabric gift boxes crafted by Berline Chao of The Perfect Box.

I hope you visit these and more this holiday season! Check out the web deals I’ve highlighted above, since most expire today or tomorrow; and if you are looking for more in-person opportunities to buy local and meet the crafters and designers behind these products, find an upcoming show below. 

cheekymonkeyhome via etsy

UPCOMING LOCAL BOSTON-AREA FAIRS

Looking to support Boston-based artisans and businesses by buying local beyond #MakersMonday? Here are a few excellent shows to check out.

Swedish Yuletide @ the Cyclorama — Dec. 5

South Boston Holiday Market  Dec. 6

CraftBoston @ the Hynes — Dec. 11-13

SoWa Holiday Market — Dec. 12 & 13

Salem Holiday Market — Dec. 19 & 20

Beauty & Fashion · Tips and Tricks

My Winter Skin Saviors

The patch of time between summer and the holidays can wreak havoc on hair, skin and nails. The days of sunscreen, swimming pools, salt air and getting a tan are far behind you, and the deep dehydrating cold of winter has set in in full force. If you’re anything like me, your hair and complexion do NOT like this transition, and protest loudly (or should I say visibly) with itchiness, dry spots, flakes, dullness and fly-aways as soon as the heat comes on and the coats come out. I found this twice as challenging immediately post-partum, because it felt like I was working with a different set of skin and hair than I had before Georgia came along! Now, two years out, I’ve accepted the “new reality” and have a system that works for me.

In my experience, it’s a combination of what you put INTO and ONTO your body that makes a real difference. And finding time to exercise — even for 15 minutes — makes a discernible impact on your overall health and ability to cope with changing seasons. Sometimes that just means walking home from the T or doing a quick yoga video in the morning before work.

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walking the mile home from daycare: totally counts as exercise when pushing this lady uphill!

So, how do I stay somewhat energetic, organized, and (fingers crossed) professional-looking without breaking the bank up here in chilly old Boston? There are a few things I can’t do without. My tips:

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Don’t leave the bathroom post-shower without slathering on a rich, hydrating body cream. I always used to skip this step and then wondered why my entire body felt so itchy and uncomfortable! If your skin is really driving you nuts, try an in-shower body oil wash like this, too. I’ve become a big fan of Bath & Body Works lotion for scented body lotion, and the Body Shop’s body butters are my favorite natural-ingredient option. Their Vitamin E mist also does wonders to refresh dry, fatigued facial skin throughout the day.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Allow me to introduce you to my new best friend: this flavor-infusing water bottle by UncommonGoods. I’m always tossing limes, lemons, basil, berries, you name it into my water at home, but until recently I hadn’t found a good way to take these healthy flavored waters on the go. I get bored really easily with plain old water, and yet I know how important it is to stay hydrated in the dry winter months, so I really want to find ways to overcome that hurdle. This week I tried adding apples to my water and it was delicious! I love that this bottle seals tight, won’t spill in my purse on the train, is easy to clean, and looks chic enough on my desk at work that three people asked me where I’d gotten it. It’s definitely on my gift-giving list for this year, and if you are looking for more gift ideas, they have great handcrafted presents for men and women, as well as lots of personalized gift options. You can feel good knowing they incorporate recycled and up-cycled materials into about a third of their products, and that most are made in the USA by artists and designers.


  Taking a mental break from work for a little photo-book designing with Artifact Uprising. Bottle c/o Uncommon Goods.

Wanting to step up my water intake with meals, too, I’ve also started keeping a pitcher of tap water in our fridge, purified with charcoal, which reduces chlorine and balances PH while mineralizing your water for up to six months. In addition to prompting me to drink more water with meals at home, it’s helped me kick another bad habit: buying huge packages of bottled water out of pure laziness.

charcoal filter c/o Uncommon Goods.

Beyond just hydrating and moisturizing your system, it’s important to think of what you eat in winter as fortifying yourself from the inside out. Sure, there are lots of parties and holiday gatherings this time of year, and plenty of reasons to celebrate. But if you start overdoing it on wine, candy and dessert almost every day, you won’t be fueling yourself with the right energy to make it through the season. I’ve learned the hard way that too much wine every day after work actually disturbs your sleep and saps your energy, making you tired (and tired-looking!) in the morning. Same goes for sweets! When the clocks “fell back” and it started getting darker earlier, I noticed a more pronounced sugar craving around 3:30 or 4 every day. I indulged that sweet tooth until I realized it was making me crash (hard) during Georgia’s bedtime every evening, and as an added bonus (ha) it was making me break out, too.  I stopped the sugar binges and put a halt to the breakouts and cycle of fatigue almost immediately. And once you empower your body to rest more deeply when you sleep, you can work on making sure you go to bed and wake up at a consistent time every day, which is easy to do if you don’t have kids, work, or a spouse that wants to chat right when you were hoping to go to bed 🙂

In all seriousness, I wouldn’t make it through the holidays each year if I didn’t get enough sleep, and the only way I can do that just happens to have the added benefit of helping your hair and skin recover from harsh winter winds and temps…and that is showering every other day.

How can you get away with showering every other day? Two words: dry shampoo. I’ve found that using a higher-quality shampoo and conditioner to begin with helps extend my blowouts to two days, and the dry shampoo gives me just the extra bit of freshness I need to feel polished enough for work. Since Georgia goes to daycare every other day, I make those days my “no shower/dry shampoo” mornings, unless I have a big meeting or presentation requiring a bit more effort. This routine, while not as doable in the summer, gives my skin’s natural oils time to replenish and heal my nails, hair and body head to toe. In the summer, I take the blow-drying break my hair really needs to stay healthy over the long term. Investing in a high-end hair dryer can also help, since it will reduce overall drying time. I also recommend spraying hair with a lightweight conditioning detangler for added moisture year- round, and my personal favorite (which I share with Georgia) is from the Honest Company.

When all else fails and the heat is cranking at home and at work, I bring out the big guns: my humidifier! We love the Crane drop shape model, but any brand is fine as long as you make sure to buy cool-mist only, especially if it’s for a baby or toddler’s room. This alone has helped us to soothe Georgia’s dry, raspy nighttime cough, which seems to resurface every winter.

Last but not least, I have a Friday night ritual that helps save my winter-ravaged skin: making a food-based facial mask! Here are three recipes using ingredients you probably already have hanging around the house:

  • Option #1: mash 1/2 cup avocado with 1/2 a ripe banana until smooth. Spread the mask on your face for up to 15 minutes and rinse with warm water for a soft, creamy treatment! This mask is hydrating and soothing, and bananas in particular will help reduce breakouts and reduce past discolorations.
  • Option #2: Combine 1/2 cup oats, 1 banana, 1 TBSP coconut oil, and 1 TBSP honey. Blend in a food processor and slather on your face for a rich, restorative mask in the dead of winter. See a how-to here! It’s inexpensive, unclogs pores and fights bacteria, and the coconut oil is especially good at de-gunking.
  • Option #3: Plain old honey. Works great by itself! This you can even do twice a week if you like.

Turmeric also works to lighten and brighten skin, so you could add that to either of these masks as well. Refrigerating any of these masks is a great refreshing option, too! Follow them up with a nice hydrating moisturizer and go to bed for some skin-saving rest. I have two favorite nighttime winter moisturizers: one from Clinique and another from RoC with retinol for sensitive skin.

Georgia shows us how it’s done. Just don’t stay up all night watching Netflix!! 

I hope this inspires you to care for your sensitive skin in winter. Thanks for Uncommon Goods for partnering with us to create this post! Have a safe, happy Thanksgiving.