Books · Boston Day Trip · Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly

Six great Earth Day books

It’s Earth Day this Sunday, and don’t you wish it actually felt like spring in New England so we could get in the proper Earth Day spirit?

Alas, it’s cold and windy here, and it actually snowed yesterday. So we are going to celebrate Earth Day in a cozier fashion, all curled up at home with a few of our favorite Earth-themed books.

Last weekend, Georgia and I had a great library haul after the first day of soccer. We picked up a couple of these books, and the others we are lucky enough to own. You can order the Usborne books on Amazon (without Prime) or via their website, unless of course you have a friend who sells Usborne books.

All the Water in the World This has gorgeous illustrations and an engaging, unusual tone as it teaches children all about where water comes from … and where does it go? Georgia loves how the narrator calls her “honey” on a few pages! It’s simple enough to learn something meaningful while enjoying the beautiful painted pictures.

Above and Below This is one of my favorite Usborne books. All their offerings are top quality, but this one has such a great feature: it offers a split-page layout that gives readers a behind the scenes look at each wildlife illustration. Depicting eight of the world’s habitats, from the rainforest to the deep sea, children learn about the diverse ecosystems of our planet, from plants to animals and everything in between.

Thank you, Earth This is a classic for a good reason! Amazing photographs explore the beauty and complexity of the world all around us, with whimsical verses about nature, science, and the workings of our magnificent environment. It’s engaging for multiple age levels and is simply beautiful to look through.

The Bee Book Filled with great information about how honey bees work, and what human beekeepers do to care for them, this book gives a digestible and gradual exploration of why bees are so important to our environment. While many children know bees can sting, I find they almost always understand, too, that they they are incredibly hard workers in the world of the outdoors. This book shows through beautiful pictures and simple words just how brilliant bees are, and how their hard work helps put food on all the tables of people across the Earth.

How Do Flowers Grow? Boy do we love flap books! This is no exception. With adorable illustrated pictures that appeal to preschoolers and enough interesting facts to fascinate older readers, this is a book that can be enjoyed together or independently for elementary aged children. I love buying books like this before Georgia is quite ready for them, because we can page through them together so she understands a few things, and then it’s nice to see her happily look it over on her own, too. She immediately connected the information in the book to her preschool lessons about how plants grow, and always tells us she can’t wait to get started on our family garden after reading this.

The Curious Garden When we first started picking out books at the library last weekend, Georgia was SO thrilled to see this one in our pile because it’s her favorite for story time at school. And it warms my little urban-planning heart! It shows a young child exploring a gray, smoggy city devoid of any greenery. One day, he discovered some fledgling plants on an old train trestle, and he starts nurturing a garden by himself, little by little — until one day the whole city is vibrant again. What a difference it makes to take care of our Earth and all her living things! And to think that children can make a difference in doing this, too — maybe even better than grown-ups.

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If you’re in town this weekend, there’s an Earth Day Agricultural festival Sunday at the Boston Public Market, and the Freedom Trail Foundation just expanded their tour schedule for the season! What’s Earth-friendlier than walking?? If lounging is more your speed, the Swan Boats have also just opened up for the year in the Public Garden, and Eataly  is offering a “tasting by sustainable producers” event as part of their Earth Day at Eataly lineup in Back Bay. Come enjoy a car-free, green day in the city!

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This post contains affiliate links.

Blue Apron · Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly · Recipes

Summer Squash Enchiladas

With gardens getting ready and fresh, homegrown produce just over the horizon, I’m teeing up some warm-weather recipes perfect for using up the bounty of squash, eggplant, greens, peppers and basil we’ll all have handy soon. This one originally came to me via Blue Apron (read more about my thoughts on the service right here) and I’ve enjoyed making it many times over since.

We no longer subscribe to the service, but for a while there it REALLY helped us get out of our takeout rut after having a newborn. Cooking was the one thing I couldn’t handle amid scarce sleep, pumping, packing daycare bags, washing bottles and (of course) playing with my new baby, and I could always count on Blue Apron to drop fixings for three meals off on my porch every week. It was one less thing to worry about, but eventually we got our groove back and started meal planning and grocery shopping (sans meltdown) again.

I did end up with some real keepers from the Blue Apron recipe archive. A few of my favorites: this Tomato Zucchini Quiche, this Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Pie, this Sirloin Steak with Smashed Purple Potatoes & Green Beans, these healthy Salmon Burgers with Potato Salad & Tossed Arugula, and (mmmmmm) this Chicken Piccata for Two, perfect for date night at home.

The key to this recipe’s unique flavor comes from the Tomatillos, or “Mexican husk tomatoes,” which are the sweet-tart ingredient that gives salsa verde its flavor. Cultivated since pre-Columbian times, they are elemental to modern Mexican cuisine and also played an important role in Mayan and Aztec culture.

They’ll stay fresh in your refrigerator with husks on for a couple of weeks, or you can remove the husks and seal them in plastic bags to keep even longer. They’re easy to find in any grocery store.

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Summer Squash Enchiladas

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 Corn Tortillas
  • ½ Cup Jasmine Rice
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 Poblano Pepper
  • 1 Yellow Summer Squash
  • ½ Pound Tomatillos
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro
  • ½ Cup Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Cotija Cheese+
  • 1 Tablespoon Mexican Spice Blend*

+Cotija is a dry, Mexican grating cheese, similar to Parmesan. A good substitute is Feta.

*Mexican Spice Blend is equal parts garlic powder, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin and dried oregano. You can also buy pre-mixed Mexican Seasoning from a supermarket brand such as McCormick. Carne Asada Seasoning is also a good substitute, and you can find a version by McCormick or Wildtree for a certified organic, unprocessed option.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 475°F. In a small pot, combine the rice, a big pinch of salt and 1 cup of water and heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from heat and fluff the cooked rice with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl.

While the rice cooks, wash and dry the fresh produce. Remove and discard any tomatillo husks and dice small, then peel and mince the garlic. Using a zester, zest the lime peel then cut the lime into quarters. Dice the squash. Roughly chop the cilantro leaves and stems. Stack the tortillas on a plate; cover with a damp paper towel (or heat up in the microwave, then cover with a paper towel). Remove and discard the stem, ribs and seeds of the poblano, then small dice, immediately washing your hands and work surface.

In a pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the tomatillos and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes or until fragrant. Add 2 tablespoons of water; cook, occasionally smashing the tomatillos with a spoon, for about 10 minutes or until soft. Remove from the heat then stir in half the sour cream and the juice of 2 lime wedges. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While the salsa verde cooks, in a medium pan, heat 2 TBSP of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the squash, poblano and spice blend and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes or until browned and softened. Transfer to the bowl of cooked rice.

Add the lime zest, half the cilantro, half the cheese and remaining sour cream into the bowl of cooked rice and vegetables and stir to combine. Place the tortillas on a clean, dry work surface. Spread about ⅓ cup of the filling into the bottom of a baking dish. Divide the remaining filling between the tortillas; tightly roll up each tortilla around the filling. Carefully transfer the rolled tortillas to the baking dish in a single layer, seam sides down. (**A good tip here: mist the tortillas with water to keep them soft and pliant and prevent them from cracking in the pan. As you can see, this happened to me on the day I photographed these, but the trick has worked for me every time since**).

Evenly top the assembled enchiladas with the salsa verde and remaining cheese. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned and heated through. Remove from the oven and let stand for at least 2 minutes. Garnish with the remaining cilantro. Serve with the remaining lime wedges on the side. Enjoy!

If you’re ever looking for a recipe like this on a menu, they’d be called “enchiladas suizas,” which technically means “Swiss enchiladas” — so named, supposedly, for the Swiss immigrants to Mexico who brought their love of dairy to the new country’s cuisine, resulting in a range of recipes with European influence. Blue Apron filled this version of enchiladas suizas with squash, poblano pepper, and jasmine rice, topping them with a “salsa verde,” or tomatillo sauce with a dash of sour cream.

This dish pairs very nicely with a fruity, crisp rosé … perfect for summer!

Want to make this dish even more hefty? Add in some beans for a vegetarian option, or some poached shredded chicken.

If, like us, you’ve just planted your garden and can’t wait to start cooking with the fruits of your labors, pin this recipe to save for later! I have a long list of dinners I’m dying to try, and Pinterest is the only thing that keeps me organized 🙂 You can see my own recipes, plus the ones I’ve saved from other bloggers and am dying to try, on my profile.

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I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and Mother’s Day for all the moms out there. It was crappy weather in New England, but I had an amazing relaxing weekend with my babies. We took a drive up to Plum Island and grabbed dinner at a diner on route 1, and had a nice low-key lunch with my mom on Sunday, after which Gramma helped us pick out a big girl bed for G! We think we’ve decided on the one we want, and she is so excited to move out of her toddler bed as soon as we can order the new twin. (We are also excited for her to hopefully stop waking us up at midnight to fix her too-small blankets). On Thursday, Georgia’s school had all the parents in for an adorable Mother’s Day pageant with songs and poems, followed by treats in each child’s classroom. They all looked soooo proud of all the gifts they had made, including a miniature cake baked and decorated by each child to share with their mum that morning. It was just lovely and I never, ever want her to grow up from this sweet age.


Are you local? Don’t forget the Boston Public Market @ Dewey Square Plaza opens for the season tomorrow, right on the Greenway across from South Station! Check out a list of vendors here. They’ll have a farmer’s market plus prepared foods for lunch and dinner every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 to 6:30, now through November 21.

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Have a wonderful week everyone!

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

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.

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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

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 🙂  

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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

Last-Minute Foodie Gifts!

Don’t panic! Food gifts are perfect for anyone on your list, because lots of people love to cook and bake and everyone else likes to eat 🙂 These sites are all offering shipping in time for Christmas or you can find most of these items in store. There’s still one day left for free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime, which makes a great gift itself, and the Fire TV stick is perfect for any friend or relative, especially at just $39. Last tip: the Bose Soundlink Bluetooth Speaker we love is on sale for $99 right now, on Amazon and at Nordstrom. I’ve never seen it that low before! This is a good gift for anyone on your list. Now on to the food ideas. There’s little time to spare!

http://www.edibleboston.com

A subscription to Edible Boston (or wherever your local ‘Edible’ edition covers) is a great idea for anybody who likes local food or just eating out and trying new restaurants and foodie shops. If you’re Boston local, pick one up at the Public Market (above the MBTA’s Haymarket Station, or park for cheap with validation at the adjacent garage) and wrap it up nicely with a note saying you’ve gifted the recipient with an annual subscription. Better yet, put together a box of goodies from the market, tuck this in there too, and you’ve got an impressive package.

Some great Public Market vendors include Taza Chocolate, Q’s Nuts, Boston Honey Company, Union Square Donuts, and George Howell Coffee.

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

We always seem to argue of what calendar to get for our kitchen at home every year. Not this time! Paper Source has such delightful designs, they made it easy for us to choose. Find them in stores or online at papersource.com.

Something that even a proud Keurig owner would enjoy receiving is a good-quality French Press, if they love coffee. It works with regular and decaf and any coffee shop (like George Howell, above!) will grind beans for you to go with this. The nice thing about a French Press is that it works with the same ground beans as drip pots, so you don’t have to make any extra effort (or need electricity!) to use them. Le Creuset’s French Press is beautiful and comes in an array of colors, like all of their products. And you know it will last a lifetime.

Le Creuset French Press // amazon.com

Make Jacques’ signature cookies at home! There’s nothing like fresh cookies out of the oven, especially these. All you need to add is butter and eggs.

Cookie Mix by mrchocolate.com

Who doesn’t need an extra pair of measuring spoons in their life? I know mine are always being stolen by a certain 33-inch-tall mischief maker, leaving me looking for extras every time I bake. Enter these fun furry guys by World Market!

critter measuring spoons // worldmarket.com

You read about my favorite water infuser in this post about hydrating your skin and body for winter. Well, that’s not all Uncommon Goods has that’s gift-worthy: I picked up this tea infuser as well as these mess-free toaster bags for grilled cheese sandwiches recently, and can think of a few folks on my list who’d love to have them this holiday season.

http://www.uncommongoods.com

This one isn’t strictly a food, but it is food-based…and it smells yummy. Might nicely round out a food themed food, no? I personally love bubble baths and would enjoy receiving something like this, which I’d look forward to using after a busy day.

Avocado Bubble Bath // Ferris Wheels & Carousels

These two are just too cute. By Jonathan Adler, elephant salt and pepper shakers will bring the right touch of whimsy to your kitchen and dinner table. And how adorable is the packaging?? I’m a sucker for a pretty box.

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JonathanAdler.com

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I have a passion for smoothies and strong feels about the best vessels from which to drink them. In this post, I can explain why I love my favorite so much. It’s cheap, it doesn’t leak, it’s easy to clean…why not get one for your favorite smoothie freak this holiday season? There are dozens of colors to pick from, and I’ve even got Georgia using the toddler version; it is hands-down our favorite sippy cup.

If you’re really stuck to your mason jars for drinking, then I highly recommend this lid for taking it on the go. Keeping the glass jar from breaking if you’re clumsy is up to you!

re-cap mason jar lids, various colors // amazon

Awesome Cookbooks that make great gifts

You already love her yoga videos, now check out her simple recipes like this Blueberry Pie Smoothie.

These gals are in their 70s, hail from the town next door (well, two towns over — sorry for skipping you, Revere!) and their dessert recipes made them James Beard Award finalists. Pretty impressive! Their newest book has only been out since October, so it’s a good one to add to the collection of any avid baker or home cook.

Awesome Books about Food & Cooking

As a young bookworm reading in her grandfather’s butcher shop, Cara Nicoletti saw how books and food bring people to life. Now a butcher, cook, and writer, she serves up stories and recipes inspired by beloved books and food in her life.

For the food system activist in your life, this is an exhaustive and indispensable tome for any budding advocate.

Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent 20 hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years, and was named a best book of the year by HuffPo, GQ, Slate and more in 2012.

More a memoir of Fuchsia Dunlop’s time in China, emphasizing her culinary experiences and endeavors, than a cookbook or strict food writing, this is an engaging read about cross-cultural cooking and eating.

Food Books for Littles

Ok, so we don’t all have the room to raise even chickens or goats in our back yards (or we may not be allowed to by our local government!) Nevertheless this book teaches kids so much about caring for animals and where their food comes from.

Want to make your own food gifts? Check out Food Gift Love by Maggie Battista.

One of my favorite food gifts to give are these super easy pretzel kisses. You can make them using any style of Hershey’s kisses — hugs, peppermint, milk chocolate, etc. — and either square or regular pretzel shapes. They are so easy! Just pop a Christmas color M&M on top and you’ve got a festive treat for everyone this holiday with a minimal time investment.

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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.