Noni’s meatballs and marinara sauce + Evie is 8 months old!

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Hello everyone!

So, I really cannot explain it. I have no excuse. Why I have not taken more time to learn some real Italian cooking from Noni next door is beyond me. I think I know one reason: that time that I had a job. But NOW- nap time is the perfect time to learn a few secrets from our very own neighborhood Noni.

Noni lives next door with her daughter’s family (best.neighbors.ever). I have feasted on many a pasta dish and meatball next door, and every time, I say to myself “I need this recipe”. In fact, Noni even showed up at our door a few weeks ago with a baked ziti and meatballs dish intended for my parents while they were staying with Evie. Unfortunately for them, they had just left, and I don’t think Noni had even blinked an eye before I had snatched the pasta dish out of her hands and my mouth started watering. DE-lish.

I needed details.

So she came over today during Evie’s nap time, and together, we made some meatballs. She also gave me the secrets behind her amazing marinara sauce which I promptly prepared as soon as she walked out the door.

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A few tips that either I knew and didn’t understand or didn’t know at all!

1) The reason you leave the eggs out to reach room temperature is so that the whites will completely separate from the shell. Otherwise, they stick and it’s tricky to get them out.

2) When forming the meatballs, continue to add water to your hands so they don’t stick.

3) Sprinkle salt on your baking sheet instead of adding more oil or cooking spray. Keeps the meatballs from sticking, seasons the meat, and eliminates excess fat.

4) Crushed tomatoes are not the same thing as diced tomatoes (probably should have known that, but never really stopped to think about it).

5) Gluten free? No problemo! Replace the bread crumbs in the recipe with an extra egg to bind the meat together.

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Meatballs:

1 lb lean ground beef (I used 85/15 dry aged ground beef)

1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko)

1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 egg

1/4 cup of water (she measured this out using the egg shells, which I thought was clever)

salt/pepper (roughly 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper)

1 tsp garlic powder

Preheat your oven to 325F. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, and using your hands, mix well together. Make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed. I took about 1/4 cup of the mixture and made meatballs. You can make more or less, depending on how large you want them. I churned out 9 meatballs and baked them for 25 minutes until they were nicely browned on the outside. Flip them as soon as they come out of the oven.

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Marinara Sauce:

1 32 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp basil

1 bay leaf

1 tsp sugar

salt/pepper

olive oil

 

In a large saucepan, heat up the olive oil on high. Add the onion/garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and allow it to simmer until most liquid has cooked off. No more than 2 hours, says Noni! Serve with the meatballs and some delicious pasta!

Meanwhile, Evie is 8 months old. Here is what she’s been up to lately: crawling(!), going from laying down to sitting position, eating whole peas by herself, screeching at all dogs and small children that look like dogs, trying to eat my camera.

Swinging is her favorite.

Swinging is her favorite.

 

We got to see the Budweiser Clydesdales. Evie didn't care. She only saw dogs.

We got to see the Budweiser Clydesdales. Evie didn’t care. She only saw dogs.

 

 

Tickle attack.

Tickle attack.

 

YOU WILL GIVE ME THAT CAMERA!

YOU WILL GIVE ME THAT CAMERA!

 

What happens if I jump off the couch? (She didn't..)

What happens if I jump off the couch? (She didn’t..)

 

Contemplating her next swift move where she will once and for all, take my camera.

Contemplating her next swift move where she will once and for all, take my camera.

 

 

 

 

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Swiss Chard Wraps + Evie goes to the beach

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Hi everyone!

Evie and I just returned from her first trip to the beach! We were invited down to Ponte Vedra with some sweet teacher friends who completely made the trip not only worth it, but much more manageable. Evie loved having girl time, and against my (well, all of our) wishes, she also enjoyed staying up all night and partying until the wee hours of the morning. She was even polite enough to make sure I saw the sunrise! Needless to say, we both loved the company, the change of scenery, and now we are happy to be home once again.

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Sunrise over the Atlantic!

Sunrise over the Atlantic!

A few highlights from the trip.

The beach and the weather were beautiful! We enjoyed some long walks, outdoor lunch, and listening to her real life sound machine!

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My friends planned and prepared dinner each night while I bathed and fed Evie and attempted to get her ready for bed. (Again, she usually lasted a good 2 hours before making another appearance.) But what a TREAT it is to have someone make you dinner. I just go through the motions each day and don’t even realize how much effort goes into planning and preparing a meal.

Another friend passed down her UV tent to Evie and she LOVED her cabana. She happily enjoyed the breeze, the ocean sounds and her toys. And the best part: she loved all the dogs walking by. We had to go and greet each one individually!

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A funny planning detail: we each happened to bring our own sweetener preference for morning coffee. This was hilarious to me because we tend to be a pretty flexible bunch, but apparently, no one was willing to be flexible on the preparation of their morning coffee. Haha!

Before heading to the beach, I got to try Juicy Jenny’s for the first time with a friend in Atlanta. Yes, they do serve juices, but for lunch, they have a $15 all you can fit on your plate/in your to-go box buffet. It’s all gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan, so you need to be in the mood for veggies!

One thing I enjoyed (amongst many) were these swiss chard wraps. The ones I am including here were inspired by theirs. I chose to fill mine with hummus, tomato and avocado and it went perfectly with some rice crackers and butternut squash soup. Easy and healthy lunch, especially as the warmer weather finally approaches.

Swiss Chard Wraps:

1 swiss chard leaf, washed and dried

2 Tbsp hummus

tomato

avocado

salt

I decided to cut my leaf in half and removed the rib, which can be especially chewy. I put a Tbsp of hummus at the end of one leaf, topped it with wedges of tomato and avocado, a little salt, and wrapped it up. Yes, it does have the tendency to come shooting out the back when you take a big bite, but it is so good! Hope you enjoy!

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We’re back!: Dubai and Delhi

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Hi everyone! Ryan and I returned a few days ago from an amazing week of travel primarily to Delhi with a quick stop in Dubai along the way. This was a major accomplishment of a trip for me for the following admittedly lame reasons: 1) I have a fear of flying- not because I think we’re going to crash, but because I’m claustrophobic. Being stuck in a tube in the air for 14-16 hours: AHHH! I can’t think about it. 2) I am not an adventurous eater. 3) Had to leave the babe for a week. She was definitely in good hands, but still- not easy.

The purpose of our travels was a “work” trip for Ryan and I was invited along. Thankfully, all of the logistics were very well taken care of and all we had to do was show up. I was especially appreciative of that benefit since we were traveling to a completely unfamiliar part of the world.

First stop: Dubai.

Dubai is really an incredible city. The oldest building dates back to 1977, so to think that a city has essentially been built up/created over the past 40-ish years is truly amazing. The architecture is very contemporary, the design of the city is well planned (although they still had some traffic jams, don’t worry), and in 10 years, it will look completely different.

A few highlights:

Burj Al Arab: A luxury hotel designed to look like a sailboat. We did not have the chance to go inside, but enjoyed taking some pics from  the Palm Islands and Jumeirah beach outside the hotel. If you look carefully, you can see a disc protruding from the top of the hotel: that’s a tennis court!

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Burj Khalifa: the tallest building in the world. As Ryan pointed out, just look at the buildings next to it which are still 30-40 story buildings. They are miniature!

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Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque: an unbelievable mosque located outside Abu Dhabi, about 1 hour drive from Dubai.

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Palm Islands: these are man-made islands housing mostly hotels. Our driver told us that the land was for lease only because they expect the islands to sink in the next 80 years. Who knows….Meanwhile, they are building another set known as “The World”. It literally will look like a map of the world.

The Atlantis Hotel located on the "Palm".

The Atlantis Hotel located on the “Palm”.

After spending a packed day in Dubai we headed to the airport for our 11pm flight to Delhi. *Note, this means that I am about to go on night 3 of no sleep….*

The Delhi airport is extremely impressive. Very pristine, calm, organized and open. Then, I set foot outside the door and the chaos and bustle of the city was apparent: even at 4am! We headed to our hotel and spent the day resting for the adventures in the week ahead.

Tuesday, we ventured to the Taj Mahal for the day. We took a 3.5 hr train ride to Agra which was one of the more eye-opening experiences of the trip. All along the way, we passed through impoverished areas full of make-shift huts covered in tarp and piles and piles of trash. I expected to eventually get to a more “rural” and deserted part of the country, but every bit of it had people to watch. I had been prepared to see the poverty and poor living conditions, but I was not prepared for the piles of trash that I would find throughout the week not only in the poor areas but also, throughout the city. I was also not prepared for the number of men I would observe relieving themselves (#1 and #2) along the path to Agra AND in the city. I’ve definitely seen men peeing in corners before, but it was usually at 2am, near a bar, when I was 22. It is also amazing that after 1 day, it was no longer shocking.

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This woman is carrying cow dung which will be formed into patties, dried, and used for fuel to heat their homes.

This woman is carrying cow dung which will be formed into patties, dried, and used for fuel to heat their homes.

While the trip was a long one, seeing the Taj Mahal met every expectation. I had prepared myself for it to be less than what I had imagined: either surrounded by ugly buildings or crowded with people trying to sell you things (they were there, but outside the Taj Mahal). It is truly pristine- the glistening white marble looked newly polished. It stands out with the clear blue sky behind it and the perfectly manicured lawns and gardens surrounding it. It is also perfectly symmetrical! I could have spent hours there. What a magical experience.

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The next day, we toured New Delhi. We got to see the Parliament buildings, the India Gate, the house where Gandhi spent his last 144 days prior to being assasinated in his own gardens, and Humayun’s tomb (inspired the building of the Taj Mahal). As we drove around town, it was interesting to see the remains of the British influence when it was in power and how Delhi has evolved since then. I’m not sure if the lines dividing lanes were leftover from British rule or not (that’s a joke..), but they are definitely ignored for the most part with people driving all over the place whenever they want. Don’t worry though, they constantly honk to let you know they are there, even though that’s obvious because not once did I experience driving without cars on every side of our bus. It was a symphony of horns every time we stepped anywhere near a road.

Gandhi's Bedroom

Gandhi’s Bedroom

 

India Gate

India Gate

 

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb

 

Thursday, we toured Old Delhi. It was truly an experience for the senses. The chaotic sounds of traffic between the honking, motorcycles, and cars. The sights consisted of a mixture of people, vehicles, rickshaws, cows, dust, shops, and incredible architecture. And the smells: that spice market- oh my goodness!! They attempted to warn us about the red pepper, but it literally burned the nose and throat to the point where I did my best to discretely cover my face with my jacket. Meanwhile, I loved seeing the beautiful colors: the spices, robes in the mosque, inside the Sikh Temple. Here are a few highlight photos.

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 Overall, what an incredible culture to experience. My narrow and limited perspective of India reminded me of the colors and flavors of their culture, the wealth and the poverty, the new and the old, the architecture, the religion.  So thankful that we had the chance to do this trip together and what was surely stepping outside of the comfort of my daily routine.

Now- where is my recipe you wonder? Well, as much as I enjoyed the food in India, I discovered that my natural distaste for spicy food might be my digestive system’s way of telling me that apparently, it doesn’t do spicy food. Five days of extremely excruciating heartburn later, I am enjoying some bland cooking along with lots of raw fruits and veggies! See ya next week with something more “adventurous”.

Fountain show outside the Burj Khalifa.

Fountain show outside the Burj Khalifa.

Aquarium located INSIDE the mall.

Aquarium located INSIDE the mall.

View from the Burj Khalifa

View from the Burj Khalifa

Taken from the tower outside a mosque in New Delhi.

Taken from the tower outside a mosque in Old Delhi.

View of New Delhi

View of Delhi

 

Henna

Henna

Gold ATM

Gold ATMSunset over Dubai

 

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GF Coconut Chocolate Macaroon Torte + Snowpocalypse part 2

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Phew! We did it! We survived Snowpocalypse round 2! Wednesday was rough. I do love being a stay at home mom, but I do not actually stay at HOME all day. So being stuck inside with a restless baby (who has diaper rash just for fun) was not my idea of a snow day. Don’t worry- I had a large adult beverage last night to celebrate my survival. And we were able to get out and about today to see our neighbors. Evie was especially thankful to see someone else’s face besides mine.

I LOVE your face.

“I LOVE your face.”

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“That is now the one millionth time I’ve seen that toy and I still don’t care.”

I do love the snow though. I took a few pics this morning while my morning coffee was brewing of the fresh snow and it is just so peaceful. Isn’t it also crazy how pictures never do the snow justice? I guess you cannot capture the absolute silence that accompanies a fresh snow in the morning. It’s heavenly. Then Evie woke up. Game over.

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So how did I entertain myself?

Well, I did NOT make this cake. I made it last weekend and I’m sharing it now. I did make other things though, but they were not blog-worthy.

I also did a lot of googling. Do you want to know what I discovered?

- Gisele Bundchen has a TWIN! Yes. Blew my mind. So does Ashton Kutcher apparently.

- Dominique Moceanu (former gymnast, one of the Magnificent Seven during 1996 olympics) has a sister who happens to have been born without legs!

- Oksana Baiul (1994 Gold Medalist Figure Skating) apparently peaked in 1994. Life has been nothing but downhill ever since. I guess that’s what happens when you win olympic gold medals in your teens. Thank God I didn’t do that. ;)

- Natalie Merchant has an album of children’s music. Now I can stop playing the Music Class CD nonstop.

SO, on to the recipe. Stolen from Smitten Kitchen, and inspired by one of my fellow Atlanta chefs (again, a much better chef than I am!). Doesn’t exactly get “presentation” points, but no one complains when they see whipped cream and chocolate.

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Coconut Chocolate Macaroon Torte: (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Macaroons
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (granulated sugar
6 egg whites
1 cup unsweetened coconut (I’m sure sweetened is fine if you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pint heavy whipping cream

Chocolate 
6 ounces chocolate chips
1/4 cup water

2-4 oz chocolate chips chopped for topping (or chopped chocolate bar)

First, you will place the egg whites in a mixer and beat until they form foamy peaks. At that point, stir in the sugar and coconut. You can use the mixer to incorporate the sugar if you want, but just don’t do it too early otherwise it will ruin the egg whites. Heat the oven to 325F. Grease 4 sheets of parchment paper and create a pizza-like round of the egg white mixture. You can trace your circle to make them the same size. I skipped that part, but in retrospect, it makes sense to keep them the same size for layering. Bake for 20-25 minutes. It’s ok if the center comes out a little softer than the edges- as long as it is still dry to the touch (doesn’t stick to your finger). Let these cool completely before layering.

Use a double boiler to melt the chocolate and water. Stir well and spread THINLY over the macaroon layers. Let this set before whipping your whipped cream and layering. Finish off by spreading the remaining whipped cream over the top and along the sides. Top with the chopped chocolate! Mine looked really ugly. Sorry- homemade!!

Evie Lately:

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Oreo Truffles + Snowpocalypse

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Hello everyone!

I’m not sure if you heard- we had some snow in Atlanta last week. I definitely reaped the benefits of being a stay at home mom by managing to avoid the roadways (save a not very quick trip to drop off Ryan at the MARTA for his flight). I was prepared to moan and complain about my 30 minute commute to the MARTA, but quickly shut my trap as I heard about more highway horror stories. Instead, I took some cute pics of Evie in her first snow.

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We also entertained ourselves by doing some modeling sessions:

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I was inspired to make these oreo truffles after a friend gifted them to us last Christmas. I had forgotten about them, but they are divine and pretty easy to make. Doesn’t involve any baking, although you will quickly learn to appreciate any “hand dipped” chocolates, because it’s impossible in my amateur opinion to do it neatly.

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Oreo Truffles:

36 Oreo cookies (one package)

8 oz cream cheese (one package)

12 oz chocolate chips

mini muffin foils

First, you need to crush the oreos. The hub proudly took care of this part by placing the oreos in a large ziploc and using a rolling pin to smash them to smitherines. Reserve a few tablespoons of the crumbs to garnish the truffles with when you’re finished. Then, place the crumbs and the cream cheese in a bowl and use a mixer to combine them thoroughly. Roll the “dough” into little balls and dip in melted chocolate (I used a double boiler to melt the chocolate). The easiest way to “dip” them is to plop them in the chocolate and roll them around with a spoon before removing them. I placed them directly in the muffin wrappers, but you could also just put them on a baking sheet and then move them to the muffin tins once they’ve set- would be prettier I bet. Freeze for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Blondies + First Trip Without Baby

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Hey everyone!

I am so pleased to say that I can finally join the rest of my social media friends and post updates about SNOW! We have not had much (any?) in Atlanta this Winter until today. So beautiful and peaceful! Sipping my cup of tea, watching last night’s Bachelor, and writing this blog post.

The hub and I just returned from a weekend in Mexico. Granted, it was a work trip for him, but not for me! I took showers whenever I wanted to in peace, didn’t unload the dishwasher, change a diaper, wash a bottle, or carry 18 bags through the airport. I even checked my bag to enjoy the luxury of having pretty much nothing else to carry while traveling. I missed my little chickpea terribly, but I managed. I suppose the photos below will speak for themselves ;) (Note that Ryan was in “meetings” during all of the pictures taken below with my fellow work spouse buddy.)

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Evie stayed with my parents who were gracious enough to head our way for the weekend. When I left, she could barely sit up for 5 seconds, and when I returned, she could basically sit up all by herself! They change so quickly! And she LOVES Leo these days. She reaches out her little hand every time he waltzes by in an attempt to grab a stray lip flap or ear.

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Meanwhile, I’ve been making these blondies. They are super easy to prepare and bake, which is why I lik

e them! Made a batch last night in a grand total of about 10 minutes prep time and 25 minutes baking time. And the white chocolate….oh the white chocolate. So good.

 

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Blondies

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

12 Tbsp butter, melted

2 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

6 oz white chocolate

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate

 

First, cream together the sugar and melted butter in a mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Finally, add the dry ingredients, end with the chocolate pieces. Spread evenly in a rectangular greased baking dish and bake at 350F for 22-25 minutes. They should look cracked on the top and light brown around the edges. The middle might not look done, but let it sit! Enjoy!

 

 

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Flying with a baby

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So, you twisted my arm. I am by no means an expert whatsoever, but I guess the fact that Evie has a few skymiles under her belt at this point makes me a survivor and therefore, qualified to share what little I DO know about air travel with an infant.

First of all, I thought this post was really helpful when I traveled alone with Evie, so I’ll let it speak for itself: How to Fly Alone with an Infant

Beyond that, I’ll share a few tips that had been shared with me and proved to be quite helpful, traveling alone OR with the hub!

1) Strategically choose your departure time: We all know that will ultimately not be in your control when it comes to air travel, but hey- at least you tried. I do not enjoy the 10am flight (especially alone) because it just makes for a really hectic early morning. Getting Evie up, fed, dressed, getting all the last minute supplies packed up, locking up the house, dropping off the dog, parking the car, not to mention rush hour. Yeah…the noon flight was much better.

2) Get an infant carrier. I love using the Baby k’tan because Evie likes it (most important!) and also, it’s easy to pack. I have an Ergo as well, but it is just much bulkier so I don’t prefer it when I’m already taking the entire house + the kitchen sink in my suitcase. You can walk through security with the baby in the carrier which makes for a much calmer baby and one less thing to unpack/repack.

3) Wear comfy slip on shoes: this is no time to be fashionable people. If you’re getting through security alone, you do not need to spend time/valuable back strength pulling on boots or tying shoes.

4) Your carry-on days are over. Be prepared to check luggage. If you are concerned about the cost over time, consider an airline credit card- they often let you check for free! Rather than bringing along diapers/wipes/formula, get Amazon to send you a supply to your destination. And if bringing your pump, use that as your diaper bag. The less luggage, the better!

5) Bring a light blanket! You can use it to cover yourself on the flight. That way if baby gets any bright ideas with which to pass the time, at least your outfit is spared! I also love to use this while we wait to board. Spread it out on the floor and let the baby get some wiggle time in before they’re confined in your arms for a few hours. Finally, I don’t bring my hooter hider and just use the blanket to cover up if breastfeeding mid-flight.

6) Changing a baby on the plane when there is no changing table: the options aren’t great. It’s the toilet seat or your lap. This is another time when the lap blanket might come in handy!

7) Feed during departure and landing, and throw your feeding schedule out the window. Supposedly feeding the baby during pressure changes will help their ears pop and result in a happier baby. However, when Evie is starving and screaming while passengers load the plane, I have chosen to feed her then and bypass the take-off meal for the well-being of those around me. And she was fine. Ultimately, you don’t want to subject other passengers to a screaming baby in order to keep to your schedule!

8) Get a car seat bag: if you are bringing your car seat and checking it curb side, it will get covered in dirt and filth during the journey under the plane. I know that if you’re flying Delta, you can buy a bag at check-in for $5 (or just look really sad and pathetic and they might give you one for free- what we did). You can also buy them online if you’re a frequent flyer.

9) A few other items you might want to invest in if you’re traveling:

Bath sponge: You can purchase it at your destination and since it’s so cheap, you don’t need to feel bad if it doesn’t make it’s way back home.

Formula dispenser: saves you the space and hassle of measuring out powder formula.

Hanna Andersson pj’s: very cute, easy to get on/off for quick airplane bathroom changes, and comfy travel outfit for baby.

Infant Airplane Seat: I haven’t used this, but it looks awesome- especially if you have a long flight with a small baby.

10) Make sure you bring:

- plenty of supplies for the journey (diapers/formula). Again, if your flight gets delayed/cancelled, you don’t want to run out of these!

- meds/thermometer for baby

- noise machine app on your phone ( don’t pack your noise machine! I know it’s tempting!)

Please comment if you have more tips!!! xoxo

 

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Breakfast Casserole + Evie’s First Christmas

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Hey everyone!

Phew- we survived the holidays. Never before have I felt like my goal going into Christmas/New Year’s would be to survive, but this year, it definitely was….and I did…but not by much!

We decided to see both families over Christmas this year which meant going to Virginia (Ryan’s family) and then California (my brother, so subsequently, my whole family went west). While it doesn’t sound all that daunting when you think about it, there is something about not being in your own house when you have a baby that becomes exhausting and stressful. I did not anticipate that, but looking back, I’m still glad we made our travels. And we are definitely never doing that again :)

First, we did our best to pack the things we needed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you are gone for 1 night or 2 weeks: you still need the same things. So 4 checked bags, 4 carry-ons, 2 gate checks + 1 cooler later, we were on our flights.

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While Evie clearly had no clue that it was Christmas, we still had fun dressing her up in her Christmas jammies.

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The day after Christmas, we flew from D.C. –> Atlanta –> San Francisco: 13 hours of total travel. For the most part, Evie was a champ, but in order to keep her that way, I did quite a bit of bouncing by the bathrooms as we crossed over the country. Fortunately, the flight attendants could not have been sweeter and the other passengers didn’t seem to mind that I was hovering over them as long as Evie was calm.

Evie loved her first trip to California. A few highlights:

The Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay. Fire pits and a beautiful view! Plus great beaches for beach jumping!

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Sausalito and Muir Woods:

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Monte Bello Open Space Preserve for some beautiful “hiking”:

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And now we are back, and I could not have been happier to sleep in my own bed, take a shower, and cook my own meals in the kitchen. We had a blast, but there’s nothing like home.

So, while I intended this recipe to be one that you could have whipped out to dazzle the family with on Christmas morning, that just didn’t happen. Instead, you can whip it out and dazzle the family this weekend instead. Shared with me by a sweet friend in Atlanta who is a far better cook than I will ever be! Super yummy, easy to make ahead, and we even had the leftovers for lunch the next day.

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Breakfast Casserole: (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Ham and Cheese Strata)

1 loaf potato bread, chopped into cubes

10 eggs

2 1/2 cups 1% milk

1 Tbsp dijon mustard

3 cups cooked ham, cubed

8 oz shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1 Tbsp butter

salt/pepper to taste

 

First, grease a large baking dish with the butter. Fill the dish with half of the bread, ham, cheese and scallions. Layer with the remaining bread, ham, cheese and scallions. Beat the eggs, milk, and dijon together and pour over the bread/ham/cheese mixture. Ideally, let this soak overnight or at least for 1-2 hours before baking in the oven for 55min-1 hr at 350F. Enjoy!

 

 

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Fluffy Christmas Sugar Cookies + What to get your teachers for Christmas

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Hey everyone!! Sorry for the hiatus last week. I went to VA to see the grandparents with Evie, and let mom do all the cooking for me. It was glorious.

So- is everyone done with their holiday shopping? I am absolutely not, nor have I really even started. And mark my words that ALL of my shopping will be done online. Not unlike past Christmas seasons, but especially this year since carting Evie around a germ-infested mall is not on my to do list.

One question you may be asking yourself is what to get for your child’s teacher? As a former teacher, I can now politely answer that question for you, so I will.

Where I used to teach, a policy was put into place where families were asked to reconsider giving teachers a material item for Christmas and instead, to make a donation to a charity in their name. I definitely appreciated the sentiment behind this policy, especially because I either threw away the trinkets I received (I am not a clutter person…if I haven’t used something in the past 2 weeks, I give it away) or squirreled away the baked goods so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat them. One year, I actually received a cheese ball from a student that he proudly announced he made himself right before he wiped his nose on his sleeve. Again, I truly appreciated the sentiment but I was not about to risk my health eating this child’s homemade cheeseball. I risked enough as it was showing up to school every day during flu season.

The problem was that maybe 1-2 families actually made donations, but many of them stopped recognizing their teachers over the holidays, and that was sad to me. Considering all that teachers do for their students, I thought it was nice to be recognized at the end of the calendar year, but I do have a solution to this.

My favorite “Christmas” presents were by far a handwritten card from my students. Asking your child to sit down and write a note to their teacher does a world of good. First, we teachers feel appreciated, and a handwritten note is a much more explicit form of appreciation than a candle. Second, it is a great exercise for students to take the time and reflect on the many things their teachers do for them. I’m sure everyone has a teacher here or there that is not their favorite, but at the end of the day, they are all keeping your children safe and well, and there is something to be said for that. Especially as we approach December 14, marking one year since the horrific Sandy Hook shooting.

And if you must buy something, everyone loves a Starbucks gift card ;)

So back to baking. I took advantage of nap times as much as possible earlier this week and found this delicious sugar cookie recipe on one of my favorite cooking blogs, Two Peas and Their Pod. Around here, one of our favorite baked goods from the grocery store are these airy sugar cookies with a delicious (usually holiday related) icing. Every year, I love to make sugar cookies, but I often end up with a crunchy tasteless vehicle for icing, so I was pretty pleased to discover this recipe. Key ingredient: sour cream. Doesn’t exactly mimic the store-bought, but you can’t have store-bought cookies at Christmas time, can you? Enjoy!

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Fluffy Christmas Sugar Cookies

6 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

3 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

 

Buttercream frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

6 Tbsp heavy cream (I used half n half)

1 tsp vanilla

pinch of salt

 

For the cookie dough, first cream together the butter and sugar in a mixer. Then add the eggs in one at a time, followed by the vanilla and sour cream. Meanwhile, combine your dry ingredients, and slowly add them to the mixture (without flinging flour all over your kitchen like I did). You will have a sticky dough. Divide the dough into two balls, flatten them out, wrap them in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Then, roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut out your shapes. Bake at 425F for about 7 minutes. Cool completely before icing.

For the icing, cream together the butter, cream, vanilla and salt. Slowly add in the confectioner’s sugar and mix well. Add food coloring if you want to!

 

Here are some outtakes from Evie’s Christmas card photo shoot. Child photography is NOT easy!!

The classic stick your tongue out- just like her dad.

The classic stick your tongue out- just like her dad.

 

Head is too heavy...can't stay up...rolling over.....out of the photo.

Head is too heavy…can’t stay up…rolling over…..out of the photo.

 

I never blink, but if I do, it's when my mom is trying to take a picture.

I never blink, but if I do, it’s when my mom is trying to take a picture.

 

 

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The BEST Apple Pie Ever + This and That

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Since I’ve been home with Evie, lots of people have asked me in one way or another…”So…what do you do all day?” Anyone who is a mom would understand and anyone who isn’t can imagine, keeping another human alive (and a dog for that matter) is no small task. I work pretty much nonstop from 7am – 7pm, and technically, I’m still “on call” overnight ;) “What about nap time?” you wonder. Well, at the moment, nap time is no guarantee. It lasts anywhere between 45 min – 2 hrs, so I try not to get into any project lest I become very disappointed when a crying baby interrupts my task. I will share a few of the things I’ve been doing (or enjoying) in all of my “free time” lately since you are so curious. Besides this amazing apple pie of course, which I will get to shortly.

Reading Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest to Perfection (which you should too if you were as fired up as I was about Sheryl Sandberg) and just finished They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky. Onto The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way next. You might think it’s a parenting book, but it’s actually been highly recommended by lots of my educator friends.

Loving my sweaters from C.Wonder, and they have great sales!

Staying in shape at home with online Barre3 workouts. $15/month is cheaper than the gym! And the first few workouts literally kicked my butt. I couldn’t sit for 2 days.

Daydreaming about a new house using this awesome new (at least to me!) website, Redfin.

Planning a trip to Yosemite with hub and babe after Christmas. Hope the government doesn’t shut down!

Going to Music Class with Evie and listening to the overly happy and gets stuck in your head CD from class every time we drive somewhere.

Just tracked down a used Stokke high chair.

Trying to find a holiday party dress. Here are a few of my faves: This one, this one, and this one. But then I do have that black and white one in my closet…decisions, decisions…

Made these adorable pom pom flowers out of tissue paper for a friend’s baby shower. It was super easy!

A few of my favorite shows: Homeland, Parenthood, Modern Family, Mindy Project, Scandal, Ellen, Masters of Sex (sounds kinky, but did you know this is based on true facts!?)

 

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The BEST Apple Pie Ever: (adapted from The Best Recipe)

2 prepared frozen pie crusts (that you can roll out yourself) later

6 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced in 1/4 inch slices

3 Gala apples, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced in 1/4 inch slices

2 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp orange juice

3/4 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp sugar separated

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg white

Heat the oven to 500F. Next, peel and slice the apples and place them in a large bowl. Add the orange juice and toss. Then combine the flour, sugar (except for 2 Tbsp), cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and mix well. Toss with the apples. Meanwhile grease a 9″ pie pan and very carefully, spread one of the thawed pie crusts evenly across the pan. I am no pro at doing this beautifully, so I’m not going to offer you any advice here. Refrigerate the dough lined pie pan for about 10 minutes before pouring in the apple mixture. Make a “mound” of apples, concentrating more towards the center. Then place the other pie crust on top of the apple mound, making 4 slits in the top. Fold the excess dough along the edges under itself so it does not hang off the side of the pan. Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle on the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar. Put the pie in the freezer for a few minutes before placing it in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 425F and bake for 25 minutes. Lower it again to 375F and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes until it is bubbling. Cool completely and serve with whipped cream or ice cream! And by the way, yes this counts as breakfast :)

The Latest from Evie:

Watching tv a little too intently.

Watching tv a little too intently.

 

Snuggling with Dad.

Snuggling with Dad.

 

Dr. said she could try using the bouncy chair. Gonna go ahead and say we need a little more time...

Dr. said she could try using the bouncy chair. Gonna go ahead and say we need a little more time…

 

 

Trying to keep Evie from the cold by zipping her in my fleece.

Trying to keep Evie from the cold by zipping her in my fleece.

 

 

 

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