What to do with breasts. Specifically chicken ones.

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We eat a lot of chicken in our house. For a while, I almost always bought skin-on split chicken breasts because they’re easy to roast and use in a lot of different dishes. They are also pretty much the only chicken parts that Ina Garten’s recipes ever call for, and we know how I feel about her. (Side note: if you like Ina Garten, you need to Google Ina Garten memes – so funny)

I used to avoid buying boneless, skinless breasts unless I was making chicken cutlets. I never knew how to cook them without them being dry and boring. However, in my efforts to save a few bucks, I’ve been buying big packs of them, so I had to find some tasty ways to use them. Good news…I found some!

Caprese Chicken – I found this one on Pinterest and I love it because it has a ton of flavor and requires very little prep or chopping. I shave two or three minutes off the cooking time on the chicken and use regular mozzarella instead of buffalo because I’m strange and don’t like buffalo mozzarella.

On a whim, I bought this Balsamic Reduction glaze and it’s so good. The caprese chicken is perfectly delicious with regular balsamic vinegar, but when you can drizzle this sweet syrup on it, why wouldn’t you??

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One-Pan Chicken Burrito Bowl – Here’s another one I found on Pinterest. I loved it so much that I think I made it three times in the month after I found it. As the title indicates, you only use one pan, which makes clean up easy IF you don’t use heat that’s too high. The second time I made this I guess I left it simmering a bit too high and there was a whole layer of cooked rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. Ugh.

The other change I make to this recipe is that I swap out the can of diced tomatoes for a jar (or really three quarters of a jar) of salsa. It adds some extra flavors and with the huge variety of salsas on the market, you can really customize the recipe based on your taste.

Chicken Chili – This one comes from Dinner: A Love Story (a great place for solid recipes) and it’s another fast and easy one. When I read through the recipe for the first time, I saw four tablespoons of chili powder and thought, “whoa! That’s a lot of heat.” I like a little spice but not too much. To be safe I used two tablespoons and I thought that was plenty of heat.

I had serendipitously just bought Whole Foods Organic Fire Roasted Corn and it was PERFECT in this recipe. Obviously regular frozen corn is fine too, but the flavor from charred corn was delicious and added zero extra work. If you don’t have a Whole Foods nearby, I’m pretty sure Trader Joe’s carries a similar product.

5 Ingredient White Chicken Chili – yet another Pinterest find! It’s really more of a soup than a chili and it’s so fast and easy that I felt guilty just pouring everything in the pot and saying, “Ok, I made dinner!” The secret to this recipe is salsa verde. If you’ve never had it, it’s a very mild salsa and it’s delicious.

The base of the soup is only the salsa verde, chicken, chicken stock, cumin, and Great Northern Beans but then you can add so many delicious toppings at the end. I like cilantro, avocado, sour cream, cheddar, and broken up tortilla chips.

Do you have any go-to recipes for chicken breasts?

Get cooking!

Corners of Shame

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We moved in to our new house last October after doing extensive renovations. While I love our home and it has come a LONG way from where it was when we bought it, there are still some major projects that will need to be tackled down the road (like when we have money). There are also some small projects that I hope to accomplish in the next weeks and months, including planting some herbs and vegetables, putting together flower boxes for the front windows, doing something with our fireplace, and fixing up our corners of shame.

I call them corners of shame because they are two corners of our home, right out in the open, that are messy eyesores and not functional. Or in some ways, maybe they’re too functional.

Today I’ll address the living room corner. I could definitely use some ideas and help! The focal wall of our living area has a fireplace with three to four feet of space on either side.  Our television is mounted above it and a sound bar sits on the mantle (not my choice). To the right of the fireplace is my first corner of shame. Behold:

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IMG_4807It took a lot of willpower not to clean it up before posting pictures, but hey, this is what it looks like on any given day so I’m being honest. Let’s review what’s housed here.

  • Baxter’s crate that he goes in when we aren’t home
  • Mason jar of dog treats (because doesn’t everyone have that?)
  • Wine fridge
  • Cable box
  • Modem
  • Telephone
  • Subwoofer for the sound bar
  • Router
  • That yellow and brown piece of “art” is a tree from The Lorax that Nolan made
  • Random dirty white balloon that we use to play the occasional game of balloon volleyball
  • Behind the crate are white plastic hockey boards in need of repair for Nolan’s hockey game

I stare at this corner for much of the day and it pains me. With few exceptions, we need all these things and we need them there. But what the area has become is just a tower of ugly. In an ideal world, I want a cabinet-type piece of furniture to house the wine fridge and all our electronic mumbo jumbo; however, we still need the remote controls to work on the cable box. The fridge needs to “breathe” so the cabinet has to have some sort of open back.

There are tons of armoire-type pieces on the market, but ideally I want something no taller than the mantle, which is about four and a half feet high. I also haven’t forgotten that any piece of furniture will require a new home for Baxter’s crate, and there aren’t a lot of options.

So readers, any ideas? Help!

 

The Double-Edged Sword of Advice

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The internet is a melting pot of advice and opinions, especially when it comes to child-rearing. On any given morning you can read how offering your child choices will make him spoiled and controlling and then click to another site to learn about the importance of choices so your little one feels empowered.  (For the record, we haven’t had success giving choices or making choices for him so I need another idea!)

Being a parent for the second time has helped me feel a little more confident in my knowledge and abilities but sometimes I hear people’s advice and think, “Wow, this would really screw with a new parent’s head!”

Feed me!!!

Feed me!!!

The prime example of this is actually something I experienced in the hospital after giving birth to Will in November. First, let me say that I loved Huntington Hospital. I delivered Nolan at Winthrop and had a bad experience from start to finish (aside from getting to meet Nolan, duh). That’s one of the main reasons I switched practices and hospitals when we moved to Greenlawn. On the flip side, everyone at Huntington was kind and helpful and didn’t make me feel like I was a burden, which is exactly what I felt like at Winthrop.

Over the course of my two and a half days in the hospital, I encountered maternity nurses, maternity nursing assistants, nursery nurses, nursery nursing assistants, hospital pediatricians, and my own midwives. And this is what they had to say about feeding:

Newborn babies aren’t born that hungry. Don’t force it.

Even if he doesn’t seem hungry, wake him up and feed him if it has been more than two hours.

Feed the baby every three hours on both breasts.

Feed the baby every two hours, alternating breasts.

Nurse on demand when the baby seems hungry; don’t worry about the timing.

We don’t give out pacifiers anymore because giving one to a baby younger than one month old can cause nipple confusion and then he’ll have trouble nursing.

There’s no such thing as nipple confusion. Pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS so you can start using one right away.

Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, so if it does, your baby probably isn’t latched on properly.

Of course breastfeeding hurts in the beginning while your body adjusts.

Now, I’m someone who likes instructions. I like steps to follow. I like schedules. Thankfully, since I’ve done this once before, I could smile and nod at all this conflicting information, but it made me feel terrible for the first time mom who would be so confused!

I can’t even decide for myself what I believe in. The two baby/parenting books I like the most are Bringing Up Bebe and The Happiest Baby on the Block, which basically preach entirely opposite outlooks on parenting. Yet when I read them, they both make TOTAL sense.

And the conflicting advice doesn’t stop at nursing. It applies to how your baby sleeps, poops, plays, eats, etc. New parents need advice (I think?) and yet when it’s given it sometimes causes even more anxiety. Did you receive any conflicting or confusing advice when you had kids (or got married? or bought a house? or started a new job?). How do you muddle through it without making yourself crazy? Any tips?

Almost Four Year Olds Say the Darndest Things

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I have clear memories of car rides on the Belt Parkway with my mom, me sitting in the front seat (no airbags!), driving home to Canarsie and playing the quiet game. Do you know the quiet game? It’s the “game” to get your children to be quiet for just. one. minute. pleeeeeeease. Whoever talks first, loses. I lost a lot.

Fast forward twenty-five + years and sometimes I play that game with my own little one. Nolan talks from the moment he wakes up (around 6:30am) to the moment he gets into bed at night (at 8pm), plus all the moments after that when he climbs out of bed to tell me things.

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I try to write down some of the funny things he says, but of course I can’t keep up. For every keeper I remember to record, there are ten other bizarre things he comes up with that I’ve forgotten before dinner. Here are a few recent ones…

While getting dressed in the morning:

NOLAN: Do you want to see my tushy?

ME: I already know it what it looks like. I made it.

NOLAN: You didn’t make it! You just pooped it.


While having breakfast:

NOLAN: Mommy?

ME: Yes honey?

NOLAN: … Mommy?

ME: Yes?

NOLAN: Ummm…ummm…Mommy?

ME: What??

NOLAN: … Mommy?

ME: Oh my gosh, Nolan, what???

NOLAN: Um, the mosquitos are hibernating now.


While getting dressed in the morning…

NOLAN: These are my nipples. They’re little.

ME: Yup, they are.

NOLAN: Do you want to touch them?

ME: No thanks.

NOLAN: You have nipples on the front of your boobies.

ME: Yes. I do.

NOLAN: Can I see them?

ME: No.

NOLAN: I think you have bigger nipples than me.

At this point I didn’t know whether to explain to him that it’s generally frowned upon to talk about your mother’s nipples, or to tell him that using “me” is incorrect in that sentence, and he actually should have said, “I think you have bigger nipples than I have.” I decided to just leave it alone.


Finally, there is the occasional sweetness that makes all that talking worth it.

ME: Which do you like better, home days or school days?

NOLAN: Home days.

ME: Why?

NOLAN: Because I love you guys.

Cleaner Ways to Clean Your Hair

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Is there a dirty way to clean your hair? Actually, yes. Artificial fragrances, phthalates, and parabens abound in our haircare. These are ingredients shown to be irritants, hormone interruptors, carcinogens, etc. When I first started my efforts to reduce my exposure to harmful chemicals, the shampoo selection was slim. I probably tried five or six different brands over the past few years before settling on a few products that not only work, but are also safe. The brands that didn’t work shared a similar problem, they didn’t clean my hair. When you’re talking about a shampoo, that’s kind of important.

I should point out that I have extremely oily hair. When I compliment a friend’s hair and she says, “Thanks! I actually haven’t washed it in days!” I’m totally flabbergasted. (I think one friend in particular knows I’m talking about her here!!) I absolutely have to wash my hair every day, preferably in the morning. If I shower before I go to bed, my hair will start to look a little greasy by lunch. On multiple occasions, my mom has mistaken my greasy hair for wet hair, and that was probably about 36 hours after washing it.

All that being said, the past few years have seen a lot of new brands who are focused on making healthy products and are transparent about ingredient screening. If you’re unsure about the products you’re currently using, try searching for them in the Skin Deep section of the EWG’s website. If they’re in the database, you’ll see a score between 0 and 10 (10 being the worst). If they aren’t in the database, you can look up the individual ingredients.

Here are some of my favorites:

Beautycounter’s Clean Everyday Shampoo and Rinse Everyday Conditioner are both excellent and you absolutely can’t beat Beautycounter’s stringent ingredient screening. Because of the harsh chemicals Beautycounter leaves out, both products are great for color-treated or dry hair. The conditioner goes a long way and I will probably use 2-3 bottles of shampoo before I finish the conditioner. (FYI: I’m a consultant for Beautycounter since I love the products and mission!)

Screen shot 2015-03-02 at 7.20.33 PMWith my hair being as oily as it is, I find that I need something a little stronger if I’m washing it the night before. When that’s the case, I use Kiss My Face shampoo. I’ve tried all three varieties, and they all feel pretty much the same to me. If you’re looking for one to soak up the most oil, you should probably try the Big Body variety, but I use the Whenever more often.

Screen shot 2015-03-02 at 7.26.40 PMFinally, when I’m too rushed for conditioner or if my hair seems especially knotty (sidenote: why is my hair so knotty all of a sudden?? Ever since I had Will, the back of my hair is in a perpetual tangle), I spray on Honest Conditioning Detangler after I shower. It’s light enough that my hair doesn’t get greasy, but it’s effective for getting out knots. I imagine it would be a life saver for parents trying to comb out kids’ knots!

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Unfortunately, I can’t help you out when it comes to styling products because I don’t use any. My hair is so flat right now since I’m at the height of my “postpartum shed.” Seriously, at the end of every shower my drain has enough hair to make wigs for a family of small animals.

Do you have any safe hair products that you love? Or are there some bad ones that you simply can’t bear to get rid of?

**If you haven’t done so already, like my Beautycounter Facebook page. In addition to sharing news and info on healthy and safe products, I post promotions and deals! I’ll be raffling off a free hand cream to a Facebook fan this weekend.**

 

Being a New Mom: Second Baby Edition

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When Nolan was a baby, I read countless articles, blogs, top ten lists etc. about being a new mom. Then when I was pregnant with Will, I read all sorts of things about what you do differently the second time around. One of my favorites was this list I saw on A Cup of Jo. It’s from Jason Good’s book This is Ridiculous, This is Amazing. Some of them made me seriously laugh out loud like,

“TV Rules: First Kid: PBS/Sesame Street only. Two 23-minute shows per day.

Second Kid: Has his own Netflix account.”

Friends and family (and strangers actually) have asked, “Isn’t it so much harder with two?” And in a few ways it is. Leaving the house is a beast. It doesn’t help that in New York we’ve had a brutal winter. Wrestling Nolan and his giant jacket into his car seat is reason enough to move to Southern California; then you add packing up Will and all his stuff and hauling his heavy car seat back and forth everywhere. My back hurts just thinking about it. (And because I did it this morning when it was 10 degrees out.)

The evenings are also tough. I miss having those few quiet hours after Nolan goes to bed when Matt and I catch up on the DVR and drink some wine. Some nights we luck out and Will goes to sleep at 8ish, but most nights he’s up until closer to 9 or 10 and then I end up just going to bed at the same time because I’m exhausted!

But for the most part, I actually find it easier having two. I know this may change once Will is on the move, but I’ll enjoy this time until then. I guess since Will is here, Nolan kind of understands that I can’t do 100% of what he wants me to do and he’s more independent for it. He can keep busy “playing hockey”…

IMG_4363… or trying on my boots.

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Obviously the biggest factor in having an easier time is the experience! When you’ve done it before, you don’t worry about the same silly stuff you did the first time. I also haven’t put the same rules on myself. Through no one’s fault but my own, people’s innocent advice turned into DANGER! DANGER! WARNING! in my head. So here is my advice that I hope will calm any new mom nerves out there.

1. Hold your baby whenever you want. You’re not going to spoil your eight week old baby when you pick her up because she’s crying. If you want to let the baby sleep on your lap for two hours while you binge watch Downton Abbey, great! If you feel totally suffocated and can’t wait for her to sleep in her bassinet, that’s great too!

I was so paranoid about spoiling Nolan when he was a baby that sometimes I let him cry even when I didn’t mind holding him, but more often I held him and then felt guilty about it. Ridiculous! Women in many African countries and Eastern cultures wear their babies nearly all day for months or even years, and I haven’t heard about an epidemic of overly indulged children in Namibia.

PS This also applies to feeding your baby. Just feed him. Even if it hasn’t been the arbitrary number of hours you’ve decided he should wait.

2. Sleeping with your baby doesn’t mean your baby will never sleep on his own. When Nolan was a baby, I didn’t let him sleep in our bed under any circumstances. I remember one instance where I sort of napped next to him on the couch, and I couldn’t believe upon waking up that I hadn’t smothered him. I was actually less worried about hurting him than I was paranoid about, you guessed it, spoiling him. I figured if I let him sleep in my bed, he would never sleep on his own and in a few years I would need a king-sized bed to fit me, my husband, and my teenaged son.

Over the past year and a half we have had some battles about sleeping. We’re in a decent place now where he knows he can’t come in our bed before 7am, but there were nights where he slept on the floor of the hallway because he didn’t want to sleep in his own bed…

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Will slept on my chest for the first few weeks of his life because it’s the only way he would sleep at night. Now he’s three months old and he sleeps in his bassinet (mostly). I usually end up pulling him in around 5am so I can get another hour or two of sleep, but other than that he’s on his own and he’s fine. (Disclaimer: Obviously practice safe co-sleeping if you have your baby in your bed.)

3. Get stuff done when your baby is awake, instead of waiting until he is asleep. When I was home with Nolan, I would spend his waking hours gazing at him and wondering what the hell to do to occupy him.  Then when he was napping I would scramble to take a shower, wash dishes, do laundry, make phone calls, clean up, etc. Big mistake! Once they’re old enough to actually see what’s in front of them, babies can be occupied with watching you do all that stuff. Then when the baby naps, you can do important things like sleep, watch last night’s Tonight Show, eat food with two free hands, etc. (Disclaimer: This works about 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time your baby will not watch you contentedly and instead will cry until you pick him up. See above: Hold your baby.)

Will

I’ll stop here for now. There is more advice but this post has become so long already!

Second (third? fourth?) time parents – what do you wish you knew the first time around? Even if you’re not a second-time parent yet, are there things you’ve already decided you’ll do differently next time around? Leave a comment!

Twenty Minute Turkey Taco Salad

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Quick dinner recipes are advertised all over the place: cookbooks, blogs, magazines, and of course, Pinterest. But what I often find is that the 20 or 30-minute recipes have ingredient lists that looks like this:

   2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed

   2 onions, diced

   1 lb butternut squash, peeled, diced, and roasted

   1 cup cooked chicken breast, shredded

While those are all delicious ingredients, they require lots and lots of time.  Those types of recipes should really be called, “Lots of prep the night before, but 20 minutes to assemble before you eat it.” Or maybe something a little catchier.

This dinner is so fast because there is almost no chopping. It’s also incredibly versatile and you can change it up based on what you have in your house.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb ground turkey (I prefer dark meat because I think the light is too rubbery)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup salsa

1 can kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

romaine lettuce

tortilla chips

Topping Ideas: shredded cheddar, avocado, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, whatever you want!

Heat olive oil in large skillet and add turkey meat. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the meat until no longer pink. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add chili powder, cumin, and salt and stir well, making sure all the meat is coated with the seasoning. Add salsa, beans, and a little water (I use the can the beans came in and fill it about halfway). Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook for ten minutes.

While the meat finishes cooking, arrange the lettuce on your plates, add some tortilla chips and get your toppings ready. When the meat is done, arrange it on top of the chips and then add your toppings. You’re done!

 

cozy things for the weekend

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It looks like another crummy, cold weekend ahead…

Head to the supermarket today before it gets gross out and pick up the ingredients for some comforting winter food.

Risotto is one of my favorite meals to cook (and eat, duh) in the winter. I love anything that’s made in one pot (fewer dishes), and it usually reheats fairly well. I don’t really mind the 20 or 30 minutes spent stirring at the stove to make traditional risotto, but when Barefoot Contessa published a recipe for risotto made in the oven, I thought it must be too good to be true. It’s not. The version she makes in the oven is a basic one with parmesan and peas, but you can absolutely take your favorite risotto twist and adapt it to this one. Whether it be mushroom, butternut squash, lobster, most of these ingredients can be added in the last steps of the recipe, after it has baked. Obviously, your add-ins should be fully cooked if they need to be.

I’ll also be making Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Potato Soup for the first time this weekend. It looks soooo good and I just bought the ingredients – they were cheap!

Watching a movie is always a good activity for bad weather. I’m WAY behind on seeing the big movies of last year. One that I actually saw is The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m pretty neutral when it comes to Wes Anderson movies. I like some; I don’t care for others, but I really loved this one. It’s just a great story, it’s obviously beautiful because it’s Wes Anderson, and it’s funny and sweet. Good stuff.

Do you have a favorite cold weather recipe or cuddle-conducive movie? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

the health of our beauty products

It has been nearly five years since I undertook the important but frustrating task of finding health and beauty products that are safe. When I was pregnant with Nolan, I read the book The Complete Organic Pregnancy and it was an eye-opener about the chemicals lurking in our everyday lives. It scared the crap out of me and made me angry that there seems to be no regulation in the beauty industry. Published back in 2006, the book still has a tremendous amount of important and interesting research, but some of its shopping resources are a little outdated.

Today, more and more companies and stores are jumping on the “natural” bandwagon. I say “natural” because unfortunately it’s one of those terms that is completely unregulated and unchecked. Pretty much any beauty product can bill itself as natural, even when it’s filled with known carcinogens. This article from Women’s Health Magazine explains the meaning behind some of the terms companies throw around, like natural and organic.

Sick and tired of being in Sephora, squinting to scrutinize ingredient labels while high on perfume fumes, I did some research and found Beautycounter. The website was sleek and user-friendly, the products looked beautiful, and there was a tremendous amount of research and information available on not just their own products, but also the beauty industry as a whole. My curiosity was definitely piqued.

A few days later while watching The Today Show, my ears perked up when I heard the reporter mention this new growing company Beautycounter, and I thought, “It’s the secret! It’s destiny! I’m meant to join Beautycounter!” Being that I was six months pregnant and in the middle of two moves, I held off for a while.

Here I am five months later and I’m ready to go. I’ve always been passionate about safe beauty products and now I found a company and products that exceed my expectations. Here is some info that should shock and enrage you:

– The European Union has banned or restricted over 1300 ingredients. The United States has banned (wait for it)…11.

– Of the 10,000 chemicals used in personal care products, only about 10% have been tested. According to The New York Times, “Unlike pharmaceuticals or pesticides, industrial chemicals do not have to be tested before they are put on the market. Under the law regulating chemicals, producers are only rarely required to provide the federal government with the information necessary to assess safety.”

– While many of the toxic ingredients used have names that don’t mean much to the general public (because they’re usually twenty syllables long), some are well-known dangers like lead, formaldehyde, and petroleum.

– When we see an ingredient listed like “fragrance,” that one word covers thousands of different chemicals. Companies don’t have to list them because they’re considered trade secrets.

– Beautycounter is a certified B Corp. “B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. They are to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.” (source)

So armed with this info, what do you do? If you’re interested in products that are safe and healthy and not outrageously priced, check out Beautycounter. I’m happy to meet and show you the products over some coffee (or wine?). Here is a list of ingredients that you should avoid when shopping. Beautycounter will never use these.

You can also like my page on Facebook for updates on not just Beautycounter, but also articles and resources on healthy products and ideas for you and your family.

recipe chaos

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I have never been good at organizing recipes. Up until recently, if I wanted to find a recipe I would have to look in one of several places: an actual cookbook, a shamefully messy file folder of magazine cutouts and scraps of paper with handwritten notes, my various Pinterest boards, the Food Network website, and various other cooking blogs.  That’s not including the phone calls to family members with questions like, “Remember that thing you made for that thing? Where did that recipe come from?” It was time consuming and completely inefficient. The worst part about it is that I know I made a ton of good meals that then were never made again because I found the recipe in some far corner of the internet and then never printed or saved it. RIP creamy pasta dish I made that one time.

A few weeks ago, I decided enough is enough. I made a folder on my browser titled Recipes and then a few subfolders for different meals and types of foods. Since then, every time I make something I like, I bookmark it in that folder. I was tempted to add recipes I hadn’t tried yet, but then it was a little overwhelming. Instead, I made a separate folder to put those in since I don’t actually know if they’re reliable yet.

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 12.19.08 PMAs you can see, I edited the names of the first three recipes to make them more concise and I’ll do the same with the others when I have some free time.

If you’ve been feeling a little stagnant with your cooking, here are some places to look:

Barefoot Contessa cookbooks – At Home, Family Style, and Back to Basics are my favorites, but they are all good. Many of her recipes are also on the Food Network website.

Smitten Kitchen – I especially love her website for baking

 Martha Stewart and her more casual offshoot, Everyday Food

(I picked this image because I love Seth Meyers)

Dinner A Love Story – the cookbook and the blog are fantastic

Pioneer Woman – she seems to only make the most gluttonous food on her Food Network show, but her website has a wider variety of great recipes and ideas

What do you do, friends? Have you abandoned your cookbooks to rely solely on the internet? How do you keep track of it all? For now, I’ve organized my recipes by meal and main ingredient, but I wonder if maybe it should be more lifestyle-related. Perhaps separate them into folders like, Make Ahead, Fast Dinner, Dinner Party, or Stuff Nolan Actually Eats.

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