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still has a tremendous amount of important and interesting research, but some of its shopping resources are a little outdated.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.

capsule wardrobe – I’m intrigued

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Recently, one of my favorite bloggers Sarah James wrote a few posts about something she was implementing in her life: a capsule wardrobe. At first I thought it was some crazy expensive plan to have a company send you a new wardrobe, but then I kept reading and realized it’s a pretty genius way to simplify.

While I’ve watched enough of the Today Show to recite the common tips for organizing a wardrobe, I found that the guidelines were too easy to cheat on. Matt and I currently share a pretty small closet and we each have one dresser. That doesn’t leave a ton of room for clothes, especially when we only wear 20% of our wardrobes, according to a Wall Street Journal article. We’ve all been there, staring at a closet full of clothes lamenting, “I have nothing to wear.” As with a lot of areas in our lives, I think having more clothing choices creates MORE stress. Wouldn’t it be better to have a few pieces of clothing that you love and feel great in?

With a capsule wardrobe, you go through your clothes each season and donate/discard what you’re sure can go, pick a specified amount of items to keep in your closet or dresser, and then store the rest. Most versions of this recommend thirty-something items, including shoes and outerwear. What’s not included would be pajamas, workout clothes (what are those?), and under garments. You can make exceptions for fancy occasions. If I know I have a wedding in the fall and will be wearing a particular dress one time, I wouldn’t count that in my capsule. Sarah James’s capsule wardrobe looks like this:

She is obviously very fabulous and has great taste and isn’t toting around a drooling baby.

So this sounds pretty fun, right? Here’s my snag: my post-pregnancy, nursing mother wardrobe is not so chic. While I’ve lost my baby weight, I’m not yet fitting into my pre-baby pants. I also hate the the idea of buying new pants to fill the (hopefully brief) time until I fit into my old clothes. So that leaves me with…leggings and my favorite maternity jeans from AG. Being home with an infant means that I need clothing that’s comfortable, washable, and practical. Silk button downs are beautiful but don’t hold up so well to spit up and grabby baby hands. So I haven’t really solved this issue yet, but I’m working on it.

I started the process and cleaned out my dresser drawers. I have to say, it feels pretty great to have neat and sparsely filled drawers. Now I just have to find some clothes to put in the closet…

life around here

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It’s been an eventful eight weeks since my last post. We celebrated Thanksgiving, prepared our house for the holidays, celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas with our families, cooked up some delicious meals, and oh yeah, I had a baby.

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Will Henry was born on November 17th and his delivery was a complete 180 from Nolan’s. I hope to write up my birth story in the next few weeks before I’ve forgotten everything. Did you know Nolan’s was featured on Design Mom back in 2011?

Nolan has adjusted pretty well to being a brother. With Will being young and immobile, Nolan’s life hasn’t changed too much. We’ll see what happens when Will starts taking Nolan’s toys…

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For now, I’ve been soaking up this cute baby’s smile and cooking up a storm. I made this super fast and healthy-ish pasta for lunch today; this chicken chili was so easy and tasty, but I recommend using half the chili powder; this roast chicken is probably my favorite chicken dish of all time: juicy chicken, crunchy French bread croutons, sweet onions, yum.

 

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IMG_4334Stay warm, friends!
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This is 40 (weeks)

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Much like the Judd Apatow movie, This is 40, my pregnancy has been filled with ups and downs and plenty of big life changes. Also like the film, it’s too long.

Nolan was born at 38 weeks and while labor didn’t come as a complete surprise, it was early enough that I hadn’t been sitting around wondering, Was that a contraction? I’m peeing so much, could that be my water breaking? Is this it????

With this pregnancy, everyone told me, “You’ll probably go early.” Even my midwife warned me to be prepared. Well, fast forward to 40 weeks and here I am. Still pregnant. While the second half of October was filled with me keeping my fingers (and legs) crossed hoping I wouldn’t go into labor, now I’m so used to expecting it that I’ve almost forgotten it’s really going to happen. I kind of feel like I’ll just be pregnant forever.

These extra few weeks have added another layer to my pregnancy experience. Something new this time around is that nothing fits. Not even my maternity clothes. It’s like my maternity clothes need their own maternity clothes. The general recommendation when purchasing pregnancy clothes is that you buy them in your pre-pregnancy size. While this looks adorable at six or seven months, 40+ weeks doesn’t look cute in an XS tee-shirt. It’s like I’m a beer-bellied truck driver whose shirts don’t cover the bottom of his gut.

Worse than the shirts are the pants. With the exception of two very thin and sort of obscene pairs of maternity leggings, every pair of pants (and underwear) hurts. Anything that puts even the tiniest bit of pressure on my hips or pelvis is torture.

I have taken great enjoyment in seeing people’s faces when I answer the frequent question, “So when are you due??” The cashiers’ expressions at Home Depot and Target had a mix of horror and disbelief yesterday when I answered them, “Today.”

We prepped Nolan so much that I think he’s starting to wonder if I made this whole baby thing up. Starting a new school was tough for him, so although I’ve been home resting for the last few weeks, we have been telling him that I go to work after I drop him off in the morning. Lately I think he’s starting to doubt me. In the past week he has said things like:

Where’s your blue school bag?

What are you bringing for lunch today?

You’re wearing those pants to work? 

Now that I’ve put this in print, I’m sure I’ll go into labor tonight and wind up skipping my post-40 week testing at the doctor tomorrow. I’ll be relieved, but I will miss my coffee shelf.

coffee shelf

10 things you don’t want your contractor to say

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Things are well underway at our new house. It’s a massive construction zone and we’re very grateful we have my parents’ house to crash at until everything is completed. Because I watched an obscene amount of HGTV when I was on maternity leave with Nolan, I was prepared for the contractor and his crew to find unexpected expenses. We selected a company whose bid was really low and did so knowing that he would probably add lots of expenses along the way (“Oh you want the molding painted, too?”), and he has. In the interest of saving money, here are some of the things you DON’T want to hear:

10. “I didn’t realize there was plaster under there.”

9. When referring to existing work in the house, “The guys who did this really screwed it up.” See also: “They didn’t know what they were doing,” and “They were really lazy.”

8.  “That’s not to code.” See also: “That’s illegal.” This implies it needs to be redone. $$$$.

7. “That’s a pain in the ass to install.” This implies it takes a long time. $$$$.

6. When attempting to replace an old rusty-looking piece of baseboard heat, “There isn’t any heat going to your bathroom.” This implies you need heat (duh) and it has to be completely set up and connected.

5. “Wow, there isn’t any heat in the upstairs bathroom either. How did this lady shower in the winter with no heat??”

4. “That’s not cheap.” This implies it’s really expensive. $$$$$$$$.

3. “They had this whole thing on one circuit!” This implies you need more circuits. $$$$.

2. “You can’t just leave it like that.” This implies more work needs to be done. $$$$.

1. “That’s custom.” See also: “That’s not stock,” and “That has to be specially made.”

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the best time of year to have a baby

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Are certain times of the year better than others for having a baby? What about the best time of year to be pregnant? Having now been pregnant at two opposite times of the year, I’ve noticed some definite pros and cons to both.

After having Nolan in late April, I declared that I wanted my next baby to be born in November. Little did I know that three and a half years later, that’s exactly what would be happening. Having a spring baby last time meant I wasn’t pregnant for the hot summer (yay!), but I was losing my pregnancy weight and feeling lumpy and squishy during the summer months. Sheer, clingy tee shirts and jersey dresses were not kind to me when I was dealing with a post-pregnancy pooch. Also, who knew that you can’t use sunscreen on newborns and young infants?? With Nolan being only 2-4 months old during that first summer, we were limited with where we could go and what we could do. Sweltering hot cars weren’t a breeze to deal with either, but on the flip side, it was nice not having to worry about toting my newborn around in the snow and ice.

Being pregnant in the winter was good for cuddling up at home in comfy sweats, but winter maternity clothes aren’t very cute. All in all, I give spring a thumbs down for having a baby.

This time around, my awkward bloated first trimester was late winter/early spring so it wasn’t terrible hiding that. On second thought, all my students figured out I was pregnant weeks before I told them, so maybe I wasn’t hiding it so well…

Summer maternity clothes are much more flattering. Skirts and dresses are comfortable and help keep you cool. With the exception of a good pair of maternity jeans and black pants, I’ve stuck to buying regular bottoms with elastic waistbands.

I’ve been living in these comfy Nike shorts in a few colors. You might be surprised to know that I’m the model in that picture. No, really… [Edit: my mom thought I was serious about this picture being me. She even asked Matt if he took it. So just to be totally clear. That’s not me.]

I bought a bunch of maternity tops and dresses from Old Navy, as well as a few pull-on skirts from the regular women’s department like this one. I was pleasantly surprised by the very cute maternity dresses!

On the other hand, there are bathing suits. Because bathing suit shopping isn’t hard enough, a summer pregnancy means you struggle through that with a giant belly. My only advice there is get two-piece suits. Wrestling a one-piece bathing suit on and off every hour when you have to pee would be torture.

Weather, maternity clothing, post-pregnancy clothing, holidays … what else contributed to your liking or disliking the season you had a baby in?

an anniversary mini-break

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Last weekend Matt and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. We always try to do something special, whether it’s a short trip or even just a fancy dinner out. In the past, we’ve gone to Nantucket, had dinner at Daniel, and spent a night in Atlantic City. This year, Matt’s parents generously volunteered to keep Nolan for a sleepover at their house, and we planned a night in the city.

For somewhere that’s a 30-minute train ride away, NYC has so many things to do, places to see, restaurants to eat at, hotels to stay in… I found this one night away harder to plan than other week-long trips. To book our hotel we ended up with a good price through Travelocity’s mobile site. Believe it or not, the same exact room was $10 more expensive booked on the computer than it was on my phone. It was a special “mobile rate.” We also considered using Hotel Tonight, but in the end found that the Travelocity price was on par with or better than the deals they had.

We stayed at the Soho Grand, which was lovely. Very cool decor, lots of brushed brass and dim lights. The staff was friendly but no one looked a day over 24 and most are probably struggling actors and models. It made me feel old. And round.

The hotel kindly upgraded us to a room with a great view of the Freedom Tower, but it overlooked Canal Street and was so loud in the morning. I’d say they need to reevaluate the windows because it was way too noisy after 6am.

We got tickets to see Once through TDF (a $20 membership gets great prices on tons of shows). It’s luck of the draw with seating and you don’t find out where you’re sitting until you arrive, but once again we lucked out. We had mezzanine seats on the aisle (the pregnancy bladder gods were with me!) and paid only $40 a piece for them. Those seats regularly sell for $142! The show was wonderful and hearing the music from a live band made me like the soundtrack even more.

The rest of our 24 hours or so were pretty much focused on food because that’s my favorite part of any trip, even one that’s just across the East River. We started with delicious brunch at Schiller’s Liquor Bar on the Lower East Side.

After the show we had a snack (dinner #1) at the bar in the hotel, and ended our night with a delicious dinner at Hudson Clearwater.

 The food was definitely delicious, but I wouldn’t recommend sitting outside like we did. It was beautiful but the seats were uncomfortable and all the tables wobbled a lot on the bricks. Plus, there were some furry friends who scampered about…

Before heading back home on Monday morning, we finally visited Clinton Street Baking Company to try their famous pancakes. I love pancakes, but I’m kind of picky about them. Most of the time when I order them in restaurants, I find that the toppings and extras are all good, but the pancakes themselves are usually pretty bland and lackluster. Well, these were not bland at all. I went with the popular Maine blueberry pancakes and they were as good as I’d hoped. I would never wait hours and hours for them as is the case on most weekends, but ten minutes on a Monday? No problem.

Even though I was hauling around my big belly and couldn’t partake in the gallons of wine and cocktails that were everywhere (being pregnant in the summer is hard!), it was a very rejuvenating day away with my favorite man.

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photo (1)Marking our anniversary in a special way is important to us; what do you do to celebrate yours? Next year I have my sights set on a night away at the Maplestone Inn in New Paltz. Is it too early to plan anniversary #8 and reserve some babysitting?

Images from: Soho Grand Hotel, New York Magazine, Once the Musical, A Cup of Jo, Hudson Clearwater, and me

planning an IKEA kitchen – phase 1

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After shopping around and reading A LOT online, we settled on using IKEA cabinets in our new kitchen. While I don’t always have good luck with IKEA furniture (to be fair, some stuff has lasted years and years), I have read blog after blog with positive experiences and helpful tips.

We haven’t made any final decisions and won’t order the cabinets until we close on the house and the other necessary work is done (wall removal, demo, floor refinishing). But that’s part of the beauty of this. Unlike a lot of other kitchens that need to be ordered months in advance, ours will be delivered 1-7 days after ordering.

For a lot of people, the DIY flexibility is a big part of the appeal. You can bring home your kitchen from the store and assemble and install it yourself. But be warned…the amount of cabinets we’re ordering (for a small kitchen with very few upper cabinets) is estimated to be over 200 boxes. Probably something like this. Multiplied by four.

Matt and I are not handy people and we also don’t have weeks to sit there and assemble these. Most importantly, this is a kitchen, not a nightstand. There isn’t room for error because this furniture is the groundwork for the most important room in our house. Installation runs around $120 per cabinet. It adds a lot to the cost.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I have taken a tremendous amount of inspiration and ideas from Dana Miller’s blog House Tweaking. Just the other day she shared more helpful information about the planning and installation of her family’s kitchen and it’s definitely worth a read.

So what have I done so far? Googled, emailed, pinned, and gone to the store several times. When I honed in on what I wanted, I made a design appointment with an IKEA rep. For $199 a contractor-type person comes to the house to take the measurements and then sits with you for up to three hours to completely design the kitchen. Again, there is a free version of this. Take the measurements yourself and enter the info into the IKEA software on the website. It’s the same software the designer will use to specifically select what can fit where. While I’m pretty computer savvy, I again was thinking about the importance in getting everything exactly right. The rep I sat with answered my dozens of questions and offered a lot of helpful information about ways to reconfigure and the most logical choices for certain spots. So do I think it’s worth $200? Definitely. Another thing I really liked about him is that although he is contracted by IKEA, he doesn’t actually work for the store. He was very upfront about what items he thought I shouldn’t get from IKEA (most of the sinks and faucets).

At the end of the meeting I had a 14-page document with all the info I need for our contractor to demo and prep what he needs to, and for me to order all the pieces. Here is an example of what one of the images looks like.

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That whole storage/work area off to the right is up for debate in our house right now. I’ll get to that in another post…

Oh! One more thing, you need to have purchased, or at least selected the appliances you’ll be using. The exact measurements are necessary to plan the space properly and order the correctly sized cabinets.

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