Holiday Hosting Recipes and Tips

We recently threw our 5th (should have been 7th) Annual Fakesgiving. The tradition started back in 2009 when I was faced with hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. I decided that having a friend version would be a fun way to do a test-run of recipes and practice hosting a large group for a sit-down dinner.


After that first year (or maybe it was after the second?), we switched it up and made it more of a cocktail party, with Thanksgiving-themed appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. We have missed two years along the way, once because Nolan had a stomach bug and once because Will was born. Kids…

I quickly learned that anything you can make ahead, or at the very least prep ahead, is key to enjoying yourself during a party. The catch is, the hours and days leading up to the party are totally consumed by preparation. For this year’s Fakesgiving I did everything ahead of time, and with the exception of making cocktails and taking a few things out of the oven, I ate and drank and chatted the whole party. But…not including the grocery shopping, I spent two ENTIRE days, cooking and prepping. I didn’t take any shortcuts in most cases, so I’ll indicate below where you could save time by doing that.

Here are a few recipes I used. They would be great year-round but they’re especially good for fall and winter parties.

Baguette with Goat Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey – adapted from Epicurious

1 baguette, sliced into half-inch slices (about 36)

6-8 ounces of goat cheese, (remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before using)

1/2 cup of chopped walnuts

honey, for drizzling

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Cover a large baking sheet with foil. Spread goat cheese on each bread slice and line up on baking sheet. (NOTE: Don’t be skimpy with the goat cheese here.When these cook in the oven, the cheese loses some of its strong flavor and it melts into the bread a bit.)   Sprinkle the walnuts and a little salt and pepper over all the slices and then bake for about five minute until everything is warmed and the walnuts have started to toast.

Remove from the oven and generously drizzle the honey over each piece. Serve immediately.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: Cut the baguette the day before and store the bread in a ziploc bag, Chop the walnuts and store in a tightly closed bag or container. This dish was probably the only one I made that required any right-before-the-party steps.

Spinach, Bacon, and Onion Dip – Martha Stewart

Over the years, I’ve made a few different hot and cold spinach dips.  I think this might be my new favorite. It was gone very quickly, so I think in the future I would double the recipe and just use a larger dish. I followed the recipe exactly and wouldn’t change a thing! I served it with pita chips, which I made the mistake of making myself. While they’re tasty, it’s a step I would probably skip next time.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I prepared the dip early in the day (up to the oven step) and stored it in the fridge. I removed it from the fridge about an hour before I cooked it so it could come to room temperature and then followed the cooking instructions.Because it was probably still a little cold, I baked it for a few extra minutes before turning on the broiler.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms – Barefoot Contessa

Let me preface this recipe by saying I don’t like mushrooms and I’m not crazy about sausage. That being said, I think these are ridiculously good. The recipe calls for 16 extra-large white mushrooms and I purchased 24. Apparently they weren’t as large as they should have been, because I increased the amounts by 1.5x and I had so much filling left over. A  party guest took the rest home to enjoy. With the exception of leaving out the marsala wine (I think it’s disgusting) and lining the pan with foil (easy clean up!), I follow the recipe exactly.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I made the filling the day before and stuffed the mushrooms a few hours before baking them. Again, remove everything from the fridge around an hour before cooking so it can warm up a bit.

Apple Thyme Martini – Adapted from The Stripe

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 10.33.25 AM

Makes 2 cocktails

4 ounces vodka

4 ounces apple juice or apple cider

2 Tablespoons thyme simple syrup*

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake for 20-30 seconds and serve.

*Simple syrup is the best way to sweeten up a drink. It can be flavored in so many ways! This thyme simple syrup is perfect for a fall drink. Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and boil for two minutes. Add a few sprigs of thyme and boil an additional 2-3 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

I hope you can use some of these recipes at your holiday gatherings this year. I have a few more up my sleeve that I’ll try to share before Thanksgiving!





A Year with Will

It all started when I thought I peed my pants. It turned out to be my water breaking and a few hours later, Will was here. I’ve written about his birth story and Design Mom was kind enough to share it on her site. Now, we’ve had a full year with him and it has been nothing short of joyful.

IMG_3906This kid. What can I say? He loves EVERYTHING. If I had to make a list of his favorite things (aside from his family members), I would probably narrow it down to:

  1. closing doors
  2. touching the toilet
  3. putting things in the garbage
  4. eating leaves
  5. playing with (tormenting) Baxter

IMG_3930After a cranky first month or two, he has been a total dream. I’ve done things I said I’d never do like co-sleep, take selfies with him, and neglect to document any of his milestones (#secondchildproblems), but all in all, it has been a great year.

IMG_3898 One of his most remarkable qualities is how well he entertains himself. This time around we invested in a baby jail. It is multi-colored plastic and pretty much takes over our entire living room, but it’s worth it. There are times he plays by himself for over an hour in there.


Even though the month leading up to his birth was marked by moving, unpacking, finishing renovations, and starting Nolan in a new school, his birth and my time in the hospital was actually really peaceful.
IMG_4256It was totally wild weather with torrential, hurricane-like rain as we drove to the hospital, and then unseasonably freezing temperatures during my stay and release. It was in the 20s when we headed home!


I was lucky that I didn’t share a room for most of my time in the hospital. I have vivid memories of being alone with Will in the early morning, looking out the window at the beautiful treetops of Huntington Bay.  I can’t say enough how lovely everyone at Huntington Hospital was.
IMG_4471The hospital food? Not lovely.  Matt kindly brought me lots of my local favorites and now every time I eat those foods, I fondly think of Will’s birth. Not to make my son’s birthday sound like a Yelp review, but get yourself a Sausalito sandwich from Sapsuckers, a cappuccino from Southdown Coffee, and a chocolate croissant from Fiorello Dolce. You won’t regret it. IMG_4518

So back to Will. Smiley doesn’t begin to describe how joyful he is. Snuggly, affectionate, giggly, and so loving. Everything Nolan does makes him laugh. If he’s cranky or crying, Nolan can make a silly face and all is forgotten. If that fails, we bring him over to Baxter and Will happily “pets” him while Baxter looks at me pleadingly. IMG_4594

Seriously, couldn’t you just cuddle that all day?? I know I could! Because I have! IMG_4608

So cheers to our little one. And to another year ahead filled with his laughs and smiles. Cue the onslaught of happy baby pictures (and one crying picture)!
IMG_4644 IMG_4841 IMG_4870 IMG_4872 IMG_4913 IMG_4977 IMG_5077 IMG_5174 IMG_5328 IMG_5332 IMG_5495 IMG_5530 IMG_5635 IMG_5646 IMG_6031 IMG_6081 IMG_6086 IMG_6247 IMG_6251

Do iPads belong in a library?

How much screen time kids get is among the top hot-button issues in the parenting and education worlds. I have thoughts about screen time (so many thoughts!) but I’ll save those for another post. Today, I’m really curious to know your thoughts about computers and iPads in libraries, specifically in the children’s section.

We are fortunate to live down the block from a wonderful library. The children’s section is large with two huge wooden trains that the kids can climb in and play on; there is a spacious area with blocks and other quiet toys, and obviously there are tons of books. There is also a large bank of computers, which recently was replaced mostly with iPads mounted to the table. The iPads are equipped with different children’s games and apps. When Nolan was younger and would ask to play on the computers or iPads, my standard response was, “That’s not what we come to the library for.” That seemed to satisfy him and he would happily play with something else and look for books. Now that’s he’s four and a half…it’s not enough.

My stock answer isn’t cutting it anymore because he doesn’t use one at home either. I know I’m fighting off the inevitable, but we have thus far kept iPads and computers out of the mix for him. It’s not that I think they’re evil, but I know what’s coming down the pike. Schools are being outfitted with iPads and Chromebooks, and many districts have one-to-one programs where the kids are in front a screen most of the day. I wish I were exaggerating.

Yesterday we visited the library and as I poked around in the Thanksgiving section, I could hear him a few aisles away talking to another child and chatting with a librarian. Then it was quiet for a minute or two and I headed over to find him. Where was he? Furiously tapping away on an iPad, trying to figure out a Cat in the Hat game. I let him play for a minute or two and then said, “Ok, let’s go now.” Fast forward a few minutes and several persistent directives later and he is now whining while angrily stomping behind me and has lost the privilege of going to the movie section to pick out a DVD. He would not pry himself away from that damn iPad.

So my question is this, why are there iPads and computers in the children’s section? In a culture where screens are EVERYWHERE, isn’t the library a place we can go to avoid them?  I would love to know your thoughts on this! Do you think libraries are just keeping up with the times and trying to bring kids in? Should libraries be screen free? Is playing a game on an iPad the same as playing with blocks? Please leave a comment below!

Image Credit

The “Logic” of Baby Sleep

Unless you’re one of the lucky elite whose children started sleeping for twelve uninterrupted hours practically at birth, you have probably felt the maniacal desperation of wanting your kids to please. just. sleep. (If you are one of those lucky elite, you should probably maintain your distance from me, for your own safety.)

In the confused early moments of the morning, I find myself trying to assign logical reasons for why the baby didn’t sleep well that night. When I put my theories down on paper (computer screen?) ,I see that they sound like the musings of a lunatic, but that aptly describes most parents of young children; therefore, I present, Reasons My Kid Didn’t Sleep:

  1. The room was warm.
  2. The room was cold.
  3. He had socks on.
  4. He had no socks on.
  5. He had one sock on.
  6. I fed him a big dinner.
  7. He barely ate dinner.
  8. The white noise machine was a little loud.
  9. The white noise machine was too quiet.
  10. The nightlight was too bright.
  11. The room was too dark.
  12. He had only one pacifier in the crib.
  13. He had half a dozen pacifiers in the crib.
  14. He had a blanket on.
  15. He didn’t have a blanket on.
  16. I put him to bed.
  17. My husband put him to bed.
  18. A grandparent put him to bed.
  19. A babysitter he has never met put him to bed.
  20. A hobo off the street put him to bed.

The sad truth is I HAVE HAD ALL THESE THOUGHTS (okay, not #20). On the flip side, after a great night of sleep, I also search for a reason. Now I present, Reasons My Kid Slept Well:

  1. See above list

Tell me I’m not alone here, and that there are crazy reasons you make up??



The Bad Habit of Good Job

When I started teaching English ten years ago (how did that happen??), I noticed that kids seemed different than when I was in high school. Considering that I was 23 when I started teaching, I had only been out of high school for five years. I was perplexed, What do you mean you didn’t do your homework again? What did you think was going to happen when you cut class? If you came to extra help even once a week, your grades would improve – just show up! After a while I realized, yes, kids were maybe a little different, but really I was being exposed to a different type of student. From a young age, I loved school and learning; I took mostly AP and Honors classes in high school and that skewed my picture of the average teenager. Even though there were probably tons of kids cutting class, not doing homework, or totally flaking, I didn’t see them.

Fast forward through those ten years of teaching, and I started to notice two habits among all ranges of kids, from the ones struggling to pass, to the AP students. First, a constant need to check in and seek approval. I often give kids time to write in class and nearly every student would ask at least once during the period, “Can you read this and tell me if it’s ok?” On the one hand, it’s commendable that the kids want to do well. They want to know that they’re on the right track and accomplishing the task at hand. On the other hand, hearing, “Is this good?” twenty or thirty times over the course of a period is enough to make your head spin. The reality is maybe it’s not good, but you need to keep going anyway and if it stinks, you’ll have to spend time revising and improving.

The other habit is an inability to progress to the next step, or sometimes to even get started. Everyone encounters writer’s block sometimes, but what I’m referring to is more systemic. “Ok, I did what you said. Now what do I do?” Often the answer is on the board, in their notes, or on a worksheet.  When it’s not, it’s because I want them to figure it out. For a long time, I chalked this up to laziness. And I hear this sentiment all the time, “Kids today are lazy; they don’t want to work.” Are some kids lazy? Sure, but so are plenty of adults. It’s less about laziness and more about an inability to think for themselves. Or in some cases, maybe it’s an impatience. Raised in an era of instant everything, they don’t have the patience to think.

What do I think is the culprit behind all this? It’s Mommy and Me art.

Ok so it’s actually something I observed at Mommy and Me art. A few months ago I signed Nolan up for an art class (I use that term loosely) at a local kids’ art studio. Nolan LOVES sports and spends a ton of time being active, and I thought this would be a nice change of pace.  Each class starts with some time for the kids to play, then the teacher reads a story and demonstrates the project they will work on. Then the kids go to their easels and get cracking. The first project involved sticking colored strips of tape to their papers and then painting.


If you were a fly on the wall, here is what you would have heard:

Good job!

Let’s fix this tape.

Good job!

Why don’t you put the tape here?

Good job! 


Put some yellow at the top.

Good job!

Put the tape like this.

Good job!

Paint the blue on the bottom.

Good job!

Fill in this spot here.


Aaaaaaaaand therein lies our problem. Fast forward ten years and put those kids in ninth grade and what do you get? Is this good? Can you check this? Now what do I do? What should I do next? I don’t know what to do.

I am confident that us moms were not trying to make museum-worthy masterpieces or get their kids into Parsons. Although I’m probably sounding ultra-judgmental at this point, I really don’t mean to be. I think as parents we sometimes can’t help ourselves. I don’t know if we’re bored, or uncomfortable with silence, or afraid our little ones are going to feel sad, but we can’t shut up. I catch myself doing it all the time and have to make a conscious effort to zip it sometimes.

There has been a lot of buzz in recent years over the “right” way to praise kids. Much of that buzz stems from Po Bronson’s 2007 New York Magazine article, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids.” A few years later, the essay became the first chapter of the book NurtureShock (which is a really interesting and fast read!). The school of thought behind most of the writing about this is that instead of empty praise (Good job! Great!) or praising the end result (I’m so proud you got an A!), it’s more effective to praise the process or actual task (I’m so proud of how hard you studied! You shared so nicely!).  While I agree with them 100%, I think for a lot of parents and caregivers, it’s not just the words they’re using, it’s the frequency. I’m not exaggerating when I say I must have heard “Good job” 40 times during that one-hour art class.

So how about we stop talking so much? I’m not saying withhold all praise, but is getting your cereal out of the cabinet really worthy of a compliment? A year after being potty-trained, is every pee deserving of celebratory clapping? I want my kids to follow instructions not because I’m always going to praise them for it, but because it feels good to do the right thing or accomplish a task.  And most importantly, let your kids paint their own pictures.

More Chats with a Four-Year-Old

A while back, I shared some of the darling nuggets Nolan has said recently. Well, the list continues…


He doesn’t quite understand the concept of secrets just yet. (See also: he hides in plain sight during hide and go seek.)

Me: How was school today?

Nolan: Not good…

Me: Why? What happened??

Nolan: Well, I can’t tell you.

Me: What can’t you tell me?

Nolan: Well, I can’t tell you that I had to go sit at the table because I was playing too rough with Ethan.

Nolan: Guess where I’m going with Daddy?!?!

Me: I don’t know, where?

Nolan: I’ll give you a hint! (Now shout-whispering in my ear) THE HOCKEY RINK!!!

On this day, Nolan demonstrated why the money spent on a kids’ art class is money well-spent:

Me: What was your favorite part of art class today?

Nolan: When I ate my granola bar.

One day in art the kids used Q-tips to trace designs in their paintings.

Me: Tell Daddy about what you did today in art.

Nolan: I used ear wax to make designs!

While eating a burger, he shows that nutrition is of paramount importance to him:

Nolan: Well I’m not liking this part. (He points to the burger.) I’m just liking the ketchup, the cheese, and the bread.

Nolan: Miss Michelle doesn’t eat meat.

Me: Oh, is she a vegetarian?

Nolan: No! She’s a teacher!

Me (pointing to some guacamole): Do you want to try some of this?

Nolan: No thank you. I don’t eat broccamole.

Even at the ripe old age of four, he sometimes has trouble keeping different body parts straight.

Nolan: Why do I have this nipple on my leg?

Me: Um, excuse me?

Nolan: This nipple, here, on my leg.

Me: The word for that is freckle.



Am I the only one who is bothered?

While standing in line at Barnes and Noble the other day, I glanced around and noticed Jessica Alba, looking stunning as usual, on the cover of a magazine. Then I noticed that it wasn’t the usual Allure or Cosmopolitan, but Forbes.

Highlighting “America’s Richest Self-Made Women,” the magazine chose Alba, who founded the Honest Company, for its cover. So while I hate to go on the same old tired, clichéd, feminist rant, the cover bothers me. Jessica Alba is beautiful, in fact I think she might still be my husband’s favorite celebrity girl (his freebie, if you will). But with the article focusing on her accomplishments as a businesswoman, why is her cleavage front and center? I’m not saying we should put a paper bag over her head and hide her body in a burka, but I have yet to see a man on the cover of Forbes with his shirt off, or mostly unbuttoned, or “sexed up” at all.

To check my theory, I did a Google Image search of Forbes covers and here is what I saw:

Screen shot 2015-06-20 at 11.38.18 AMIt’s a lot of men in suits. I scrolled for a while and found another woman on the cover.

I kept looking and found a handful of covers with women in suits, but … yeah I’m annoyed.

Jessica Alba’s company is focused on safe products for our children and families, and that magazine cover says something pretty different. Does it bother you? Am I overreacting and being a prude?