Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Baby Prep: Gifts for Parents That Say, "Life Isn't Over" + Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

You know what's funny about being pregnant? People can't wait to congratulate you and swoon over the bump, but then -- in the next breath -- they will remind you that your life will soon cease to exist as you know it. They'll usually smile when they tell you this {like it's suppose to soften the blow} but they'll also make sure to follow up with further admonition just to be clear.

"No, really, though. You'll never sleep again. Get used to it."

Card from 9SpotMonk

Oh ok... um, thanks?

Whether or not you are "ready" to become a parent, there are still so many things to learn that no method of preparation will truly ever suffice. You realize this when you start opening baby gifts and -- though you proudly display your achievements and degrees in expensive frames on the wall -- you find that you have no stinkin' idea how some of those things work. A scary moment, for sure. {And for goodness sake, how many tubes and pieces are part of a breast pump??}

I was so very lucky to have not one, but TWO baby showers hosted in Cole's honor. And I can say pretty confidently that we have been stocked with most of the essentials we'll need for the first few months of his life, which is a wonderful blessing!

While many of the gifts we received were items we carefully chose and placed on our registry {car seat, stroller, baby swing, etc.}, there were also a few surprises here and there that seemed to say, "Hey, I know you're about to be a mama... but I also know you're still YOU!"

So, if you're looking for fun things to gift to parents-to-be that will help remind them that life is changing but it isn't over, here's a list of some of my favorites:

This necklace is from MangoJewels on Etsy.
Baubles. When one of my friends recently had her baby shower, I decided to get a little something just for her. At a local shop, they had an artisan creating custom jewelry right in the store, so I bought her a hand-stamped pendant sporting her new little one's initials on one of the charms {hers had a silver starfish & an aqua crystal}. There are also very pretty "teething necklaces" for moms that serve both as a statement piece AND a soothing teether for baby.

From Total Wine & More
Wine. I thought it was so cute and fitting that several of my friends gave me wine as a part of my gift! The sentiments attached ranged from "For when you need to stay zen." to "Let's plan a wine date together soon!" A creative twist on this was a friend who also attached a Starbucks gift card to the bottle with a note saying, "For the mornings... and for the evenings!"

From Toys'R'Us
Breast Milk Testing Strips. Wait... what? Well, if mom's going to indulge in a glass of wine or two, she's also going to want to make sure that her breast milk isn't giving baby a taste of Pinot too early in life. These handy little strips tell you whether or not the milk expressed is safe for baby, giving mama some peace of mind if she decides to pour herself a glass.

Gift cards for date nights.  Remember that guy that you liked a whole lot before your days were consumed by diapers and feedings? It would be nice to see him again, and not just when you're passing the baby back and forth! Gift cards for date nights to the movies, restaurants or events provide a reminder and a reason to hang up the "Mom & Dad" name tags for a few hours and try on that "Mr. & Mrs." title on for size again.

Original website not available, image found on Oh So Beautiful Paper.
"Me time." Many mamas forget to take some time to decompress, mostly because it can be hard to find that time. Gift certificates for manicures, massages, salon time or even just an "I'll watch the baby and you go grocery shopping... alone" pass could mean the difference between a calm, relaxed mom and a mother on the edge! She'll be grateful and you'll be a hero.

From Project Nursery
Comfy nursing wear. Let's be real: A new mom's wardrobe is most likely going to consist of spit up-covered tops and yoga pants that fit over her {hopefully} shrinking belly. Finding comfy, convenient pieces for her to wear post-baby will make her feel like she's slipping into Balanciaga. These modal camis and nighties from Gap Body are heavenly. {I can't yet speak for the "nursing" part, but I have a few comfy sleepwear pieces that I love.}

From ClosetCat on Etsy
Friendship, Support & Humor. I know that my "girls nights" will soon be very limited, but it makes me sad when friends act like they won't see me for the next 18 years. It's nice to know that, though you may be trading in gym time for Gymboree and fancy handbags for a well-stocked diaper bag, your girls will still be there when you need something more than baby talk. So, make sure to let your friends who are parents-to-be know that you're still on for coffee dates and wine nights whenever time allows.

Food. Never underestimate the power of food. Food can also be a great gift to give to new parents who will have little time to prepare meals for themselves once they're preoccupied with another mouth to feed. A few days ago I saw this cool idea from Once a Month Meals for a "Stock the Freezer" baby shower! How cool and useful is that?

If you haven't seen Meal Train before, it's another popular way to get friends and family to sign up for bringing over prepared meals to new parents over the first few weeks of adjusting to their new family unit. Food Tidings and Take Them A Meal are two other sites that have a similar setup for organizing food gifts.

One of the sweetest things someone can do is reassure you that you're going to be just fine and remind you that this little one on the way is opening a new, exciting chapter of your life... that is indeed a gift!

It's so important for parents to remember to eat properly and fuel themselves during those long days and nights. But you know what else is important? A treat every now and then.

And this Apple Cider Caramel Sauce is just the sweet treat you'll want to give to new parents, friends, family and yourself during this fall season. It is so, so good.

With just 4 ingredients {and a watchful eye}, you can make this sweet, decadent sauce that tastes like a perfect autumn day. FOUR INGREDIENTS. There are just no excuses.

What can you use it for? To drizzle over pie or cake. Dip apple slices in. Stir into beverages. Package up & give as a gift. Eat off a spoon. It's pretty ridiculous. I have a really, really good way to use it coming to you later this week, too...

But for now, let's just focus on not eating it all so we have options. It's easier said than done.

It's not terrible with a sprinkle of sea salt, either. ;)
Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

4 cups apple cider* {I think what really made this taste amazing was the kind I used -- Trader Joe's Spiced Cider.}
1 vanilla bean, split & scraped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, cubed

1. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apple cider to a boil. Add vanilla bean seeds scraped from pod and drop in the pod itself. {You'll pull this out later.} Continue to boil until reduced by about half, about 12-15 minutes.

2. Add brown sugar and butter and stir until melted in and well incorporated. Reduce heat to medium.

3. Allow the mixture to continue to boil until the bubbling starts to slow down as the liquid becomes more thick and syrupy, about 7-10 more minutes. {You'll have to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn.} I didn't use a candy thermometer for this, but you'll want the mixture to be pourable but thickened -- it will thicken some more after it cools.

4. Carefully pour hot sauce into a heatproof container or jar and allow to cool before sealing and decorating.

Pour over everything. :)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

You know you are caught between two worlds when, while doing a Google search, you keep inadvertently swapping the word "pumpkin" for "pumping" and vice versa.

The days of simplicity and one track thinking {though, really, have I ever not multitasked?} are coming to an end soon, my friends. The evidence is clear in my big ol' bulging belly and the fact that a complete stranger yelled "Paint it orange for Halloween!" out his car window while I was crossing the street. Classy.

Belly evidence.
These are the gals that helped throw me the most perfect baby shower ever!
This week marked the end of our HypnoBirthing classes {which I've officially written a very long -  but informative! - post about and will be sharing next week}, meaning that we're one step closer to getting this show on the road. For our last class, a couple who had practiced HypnoBirthing brought in their 4 week old baby boy and shared their birthing story with us. They also gave us some tips for surviving the first few weeks of being new parents, which were greatly appreciated.

They made one thing very clear: You will have time for almost nothing. Not sleep. Not bathroom breaks. Not cooking or eating. {Whimper.} But you will become very efficient at using any spare moments that may be gifted to you for important things like naps, quick bites of sustenance and gazing at your newborn with awe.

Can't wait.

Our instructor mentioned a baby-wearing group that meets monthly in the same office where the classes were held, and how she noticed that they have become alarmingly skilled at doing things with one arm. I imagine this is one of those special adaptations that parents develop as a survival skill, along with bionic hearing and a variety of other special talents.

Naturally, that got me to thinking about recipes that could easily be made with one hand {or with very short moments of needing both}. Would you ever think about risotto being one of those things? Probably not.

Risotto is often thought of as quite fussy and labor-intensive. So, out of curiosity, I decided to make this version and see how it would turn out with very little "babysitting".

And wouldn't you know it... it worked. Quite well, in fact!

Now, there are some ways to make this even easier by taking shortcuts like buying pre-chopped onions & butternut squash, and grated cheese . {Side note: Butternut squash is one of the only convenience items I think of as a worthwhile purchase. I've nearly lost fingers too many times to count while dismantling a whole butternut squash.} But if you happen to have two hands available, it isn't even necessary because the tasks are pretty quick and simple.

Just roast some diced butternut squash, saute some onion, add rice and liquid and let it simmer. Adding the liquid in 3 separate additions helps to make the rice tender and creamy, but you really don't need to do all the stirring that is often associated with risotto. So that's good news.

The other good news is that it tastes really good. And it looks like you actually worked hard to put it together, so even new parents who only have one arm available can psych people out and make them think they've really got things under control.

Maybe my next project -- you know, after having a baby and everything -- will be to write an entire collection of recipes that can be cooked with one arm. Because I'm sure I'll have time for that.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto
Adapted from Real Simple 

1 1/2 cups chopped butternut squash
Olive oil

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine {or chicken/vegetable broth}
3 1/2 cups chicken broth, heated through in a microwave safe container with spout
1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or aged Havarti cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a sheet of foil on a baking pan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Plop butternut squash onto pan & toss with oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 20 minutes or until tender and lightly browned in spots.

Remove from oven and set aside.

2. In a deep skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until softened and translucent, about 4-6 minutes.

3. Add rice to onions and stir. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add wine {or broth} and allow to simmer until the liquid is absorbed. {This should take about 5-7 minutes.}

4. Pour in about 1/3 of the chicken broth that's been warmed. Give it a quick stir {yes, you can do this with one arm}, bring the heat down a smidge {you want a simmer, not a boil} and allow to simmer until the liquid is absorbed once again, about 7-9 minutes or so. Repeat with another 1/3 of the broth. When you add in the last 1/3, toss in your roasted butternut squash and minced sage. Stir and allow to absorb the last of the liquid. {You don't even have to watch it, which means you might even be able to sneak in a bathroom break.}

5. Before serving, add in cheese, salt & pepper to taste and stir {for the last time!}

Serve hot... and try to eat it while it's still at that temp. You deserve it! :)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A {Gluten-Free!} Pumpkin Carving Party Menu | Sponsored by McCormick

The weather is cooling down{ish}, the leaves are turning colors... it's almost time to bust out the pumpkin-carving knives and get in the fall spirit!

October is the perfect excuse for gatherings centered around autumn's fun activities like football watching and eating pumpkin everything. So, why not host a little Pumpkin Carving Party complete with a pumpkin-filled menu to get into that festive state of mind?

I got the chance to try out McCormick Gluten-Free Recipe Mix packets that make seasoning your fall favorites an easy task and couldn't help but run with the pumpkin-loving theme. First and foremost, creating a menu was in order for a fabulous fall event:

Pumpkin Carving Party Menu

Your favorite fall Soup or Stew

Taco-Spiced Cornbread Pumpkins (see below for recipe)

Cheesy Turkey-Pumpkin Chili Dip (see below for recipe)
served with tortilla chips and dippers
Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash DIY Bar
featuring McCormick Turkey Gravy & all the fixin's!

Various Pumpkin & Autumn Desserts

These Taco-Spiced Cornbread Pumpkins are not only cute, but also a flavorful accompaniment for your soups, stews and chilis during the chilly months ahead! Because the recipe uses McCormick Gluten-Free Recipe Mix and no flour, it's perfect for family and friends who avoid wheat products.

Cheesy Turkey-Pumpkin Chili Dip will really knock everyone's socks off, especially when you serve it up in a gorgeous little gourd. So on-theme! It's meaty and creamy with a spicy kick and makes an excellent snack while you carve out Jack!

Finally, extend the DIY beyond the pumpkin carving with an interactive Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash DIY Bar! Guests will love customizing a scoop of this creamy twist on mashed potatoes. Set out toppers like shredded cheese, sour cream, fresh chopped herbs and crumbled bacon... and don't forget the McCormick Gluten-Free Turkey Gravy!

Once the stage is set with all sorts of pumpkin delights, you can easily put together a simple party for all to enjoy!

1. B.Y.O.P. Ask guests to bring their own pumpkin, or provide gourds of all kinds for friends and family to choose from once they arrive. Get creative with pumpkins of all shapes & sizes!

2. Smart set up for easy clean up. Set your table {if you have an outdoor space, even better!} with newspaper, kraft paper, or something that you can easily crumple up and throw away once the carving and gutting is done. Pumpkin carving is a messy business! Make sure to set out several bowls or buckets for the gooey middles. And don't forget to save the seeds for roasted snacks you can make later!

3. Provide inspiration. Stencils, paints, stickers and even cookie cutters can be used to give fall flair to your creations. Create a buffet of fun embellishments and details {along with carving tools, of course!} that will help your guests get inspired.

4. Dig in and have fun! Keep food and drinks nearby for noshing and mingling during the party. Between using the pumpkins as a creative medium and snacking on the delightful goodies you've made, your guests will be talking about your Pumpkin Party for seasons to come!

Featured Recipes:

Taco-Spiced Cornbread Pumpkins
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons McCormick Gluten-Free Taco Seasoning Mix
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for greasing tin
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 cups plain Greek yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Liberally butter or spray your muffin tin or pumpkin-shaped mold. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together first 5 ingredients.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until smooth.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. (The batter will be pretty thick.)

5. Scoop the batter evenly into greased tin or mold. Bake until just starting to brown on top, about 9-11 minutes.*

6. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes so they are easier to handle. Carefully flip from tins or molds. If they stick, run a paring knife around the outer edge to loosen.

Serve warm with soup, stew or chili.

*Cooking time will depend on the type of tin or mold you use. It's best to check on them frequently to make sure they do not overbake. Yield will also depend on the size and shape of the baking tin.

Cheesy Turkey-Pumpkin Chili Dip

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 an onion, chopped
1/2 pound turkey meat
1/2 a packet of McCormick Gluten-Free Chili Mix
1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 cup canned pureed pumpkin
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnish

1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add chopped onion and sautee until softened, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add turkey meat to onion and break up with a wooden spoon (my favorite tool for this job is a potato masher!). Cook until no longer pink.

3. Sprinkle McCormick Gluten-Free Chili Seasoning over top and stir to coat all of mixture. Add diced tomatoes to meat and stir, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.

4. Stir in pumpkin puree. Add cream cheese and shredded cheddar and stir until the cheeses have melted into the mixture.

Serve in a hollowed out pumpkin with tortilla chips or your favorite dippers.

Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash

1 large sweet potato*, baked or boiled and mashed
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1. Beat all ingredients together with a hand mixer until smooth. Set out mash in a covered bowl to keep warm or in a slow cooker set to low.
2. Encourage guests to "embellish" their Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash with various toppings and gravy.

*This can easily be doubled or tripled for a larger crowd as well.

For Turkey Gravy:

1 (8.8 oz) Package McCormick Gluten-Free Turkey Gravy mix
1 cup water

1. Stir water gradually into Gravy Mix with whisk in small saucepan.

2. Stirring frequently, cook on medium heat until gravy comes to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3 to 4 minutes. (Gravy will thicken upon standing).

For DIY Bar:

- McCormick Turkey Gravy
- Various shredded cheeses
- Sour cream
- Finely Chopped Herbs
- Crumbled Bacon

Get rid of the gluten, but not the flavor with McCormick Gluten-Free Recipe Mixes! Visit allrecipes.com recipe collection to discover more flavorful gluten free eating and meal ideas!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of McCormick Gluten-Free Recipe Mix. The opinions and text are all mine.

Sweepstakes ends on October 27, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. ET (the "Promotion Period"). Sponsor's servers are the official time-keeping device for the Sweepstakes.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pumpkin Butter Thumbprint Cookies

You guys. My life has been changed forever.

They {finally} built a Trader Joe's within a decent distance of where I live. It opened 2 days before my birthday. I'm fairly certain they planned that out that as a gift to me. Thank you to all those who came together to make it happen.

As the sun rose last Sunday and I opened my eyes on the first day of my 33rd year on this planet, my sweet husband wished me a happy birthday. I cleared my throat and responded, "Can we get to Trader Joe's before it get's packed?"

Signs you're getting old.

Because Steve is so good to me and wouldn't dream of shattering my birthday plans, we were up, dressed and wandering the aisles of TJ's by 8:15 a.m. It was magical.

I may be over-exaggerating a tiny bit. {But not by much.} I mean, it's a grocery store, not one of the wonders of the world. {Though I warn you, do not argue this point with anyone who is a huge fan. You will lose.}

However, I can tell you that as we stood there with our mouths agape staring at a wall of reasonably priced, {organic!!!} packaged greens of every possible combination you can think of, we knew we had stumbled onto something special. I even heard Steve mumble, "Is this for real?"

It is real, my dear, and it is glorious.

Now, navigating TJ's as a "first-timer" can be a tricky feat. Because you'll want to buy all the things. I'm talking stuff you have no need for and hardly ever eat. "But it's only $1.99!", you'll rationalize.

PUT DOWN THE CHILI-LIME ROASTED ALMONDS AND WALK AWAY. No, do not stop to look at the multitude of nut butters {or cookie butter, for that matter. There is no nutritional value in cookie butter even if it's housed right next to the chia and flax peanut butter.} that are suddenly available to you. You came for almond butter, now put the almond butter in your basket and back away slowly.

Ok, so I may not have left completely unscathed. It was my first visit, and my birthday for heaven's sake, cut me some slack. I splurged on a small jar of Pumpkin Butter because it was there and fall was officially beginning that week. So, clearly it was a necessity.

{Pumpkin Butter, incidentally, has very little to do with pumpkins or butter. It's more like a very sweet jam infused with pumpkin spice-type flavors that you can spread on muffins, drizzle over ice cream or use as a pastry filling. Like apple butter, except pumpkiny.}

Then, as penance, I came home and decided to use the Pumpkin Butter in a recipe to share with you. Because I'm considerate that way and because otherwise I may have simply eaten it by the spoonful.

Is there anything that brings greater feelings of nostalgia than a thumbprint cookie?

For the cookie part of these, I used a cream cheese dough that I adapted from Allie's recipe {Baking a Moment} to make them a bit sturdier, and rolled them in toasted pecan bits for some crunch. Then, I filled the centers with TJ's autumnal Pumpkin Butter. You will not be sorry that you sacrificed some of your beloved Pumpkin Butter for these babies.

So, tell me, do you have a Trader Joe's near you? Have you found yourself doing the dance of the conflicted grocery shopper in their kitschy aisles? Go ahead, divulge what your TJ's splurges are... make me feel better! ;)

Pumpkin Butter Thumbprint Cookies
Cookie dough adapted from Baking a Moment 
Makes about 2 dozen cookies depending on size

1 stick {8 tablespoons} butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup + 2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg + about 1 tablespoon water, beaten
1/2 cup toasted pecan bits
Pumpkin Butter for filling

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract and salt until smooth. Slowly add in the flour and mix until just incorporated.

2. Scoop dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form a log shape. {This isn't absolutely necessary but it helps later on when the dough is solid to get even pieces more easily. I also divided it in 2 to make it easier.} Refrigerate for about an hour or two until the dough is mo easier to handle.

3.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking pan by lining with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Beat egg and water in a small bowl. In another bowl, place pecan bits for rolling. Set aside.

4. When ready to continue, take dough by the tablespoonful and roll into a ball. Dredge each ball in the egg & water mixture, then drop into the pecans and roll around to coat. Place onto the prepared pan. Continue until all the dough is used up.

5. Spray the rounded side of a teaspoon measure with non-stick cooking spray {I just use my Misto filled with olive oil} and, using even pressure, push down on the top of each dough ball to create an indentation. You can do this with your thumb, too, {hence "thumbprint cookie}, but I find that using a teaspoon creates a more even well.

6. Fill each well with a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of Pumpkin Butter {or however much you can fit!}.

7. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until the edges are just starting to brown and the cookies are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool before moving the cookies to a cooling rack -- they will be soft and hard to move when they're warm.

Note: I found that I achieved the best results by refrigerating the dough balls for a while after rolling them so they weren't too soft going into the oven. My cookies held their shape better when I used this technique. It isn't necessary but it makes for prettier cookies.

I also made a version of these without nuts and they were very tasty, too! They do spread a little further, so take that into account when placing onto the baking pan.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Baby Prep: Pregnancy Update + Cardamom-Fig Granola

Disclosure: I am honored to be a member of the Stonyfield Clean Plate Club. I received product or coupons for writing this post, but all opinions are my own.

Thirty-three weeks today. This whole baby developing thing is one of the fastest slow processes ever.

It's hard to believe that in just a handful of weeks Cole Thomas will be joining us out here and our lives will never be the same again. Preparations are well under way now that the nursery has officially been started and we've begun taking some birthing classes {HypnoBirthing, to be exact. I can't wait to tell you more about it.} It's gettin' real, folks.

Last weekend we were given a lovely baby shower by my in-laws. It was more of a celebration in honor of the baby {with both men and women in attendance} than a traditional shower with girls and games, which I enjoyed. We were inundated with love and gifts for our boy, and I came home and immediately started organizing. At 11pm. This nesting thing is no joke.

Pregnancy has been such an interesting time for me. I mean, it is for everyone I'm sure, but it has been amazing to see how nature takes over and prepares you for this wondrous event even when you're not a gal who ever had baby fever and who was convinced that it would be the most miserable experience ever.

Everyone who knows me well has marveled at how calm I've become during this time. I am not a laid back individual normally -- I'm a fan of control when possible. But that's just the thing; when you're having a baby, you realize that so much is out of your control that the outcome has been a new-found ability to just "go with it." I wonder if there's a way to request that this trait stay with me even after he's born.

Here's a little "almost there" update on what's been going on in my pregnant world:

The Belly: It feels really big now. Everyone tells me that it looks like I swallowed a basketball {or any variety of round objects, really, I've heard so many} because my bump is mostly concentrated in the front & center, which is fine by me. Sometimes I look at myself from the back and pretend I'm not pregnant, but then the belly just seems all the more shocking when I turn back around.

Weight: So far, I've gained a grand total of 21 pounds. I was petrified that I would balloon out of control when I first started seeing the numbers on the scale go up. I actually wrote a whole post about it, which I've been planning on sharing but haven't just yet. Women gain weight at all different rates and there are so many factors that come into play that it isn't even fair to compare one to the other. Luckily, though I felt like I gained weight quickly in the beginning, it progressed in a slow and steady fashion with the help of trying to eat well and staying active. I'm on track to be within the "healthy" range for a person my size by the time I deliver.

Movement: This kid is nuts. I'll be sitting there trying to work and my bump will start shape-shifting before my very eyes as he kicks and gets comfortable. I haven't had an ultrasound since I was 18 weeks along, so I often imagine what position he's in and what in the world he's up to in there. It feels like he has very pointy elbows.

Clothing: I'm still wearing mostly non-maternity stuff {loose & stretchy}, though some tops and sundresses have started coming up too high as they accommodate the bump. Maternity jeans & leggings are a godsend. I hate that I love them, but I do. I can still wear my old J.Crew shorts with the belly band, but it's not as comfy as slipping into those stretchy clothes made for round bellies.

Stretch marks - Nope {not yet, anyway}.
Swelling - Feet have gotten puffy a few times if I've been outdoors or on my feet for long periods of time, but no "cankles" yet.
Tummy troubles - Very few bouts of heartburn, which I used to get occasionally anyway even when I wasn't pregnant. "Reflux" if I drink too much water or am too full. Nothing too terrible or annoying.
Peeing - Sometimes having to get up twice at night to go.
Waddling - I'm still exercising most mornings, but my power walk feels more like a power waddle depending on the day. I'm not as comfortable as I used to be, but it's not unbearable. I just have to make more of a conscious effort on my posture so I'm not leading with the belly.
Hormones - I haven't been super emotional or cranky or anything during most of my pregnancy. If anything, I think pregnancy hormones have regulated some that may have been off kilter before! But I did cry over this commercial the other day. I mean, who wouldn't, though?
Braxton-Hicks - That's "practice contractions" for those of you who are unfamiliar. I've had these a few times and they don't hurt, but they feel like your abs have decided to do crunches without your consent. Very strange sensation. I also went walking in the evening last week and was not hydrated enough causing some major cramping. It was not pleasant and a little scary. This little nugget needs to stay put until he's fully baked.

Perks: My hair has never been shinier. My nails grow fast. My skin has been amazing -- no breakouts. {I have had some extra darkening -- a.k.a. "melasma", which I had before as well, but it's not awful.} I've probably had 2 headaches in the past 8 months which is mind-blowing since I would often get headaches before I was pregnant. People are super nice to you when you have a visible bump.

Preparations: As I mentioned, we finally took apart the guest room and are now stockpiling baby things in there. The only thing that's fully built is the glider {which I am in love with}. We are still deciding on a crib, but I think I've narrowed it down and will be ordering one this week. I have a good idea of the finishing touches {rug, art, etc.} that I'd like, but am holding off a little longer. My sweet friends are throwing me another baby shower in a week and half, and after that we'll really get going on finishing things up.

His closet is SO FULL of clothes. I will have to change him every hour on the hour just so he can get a chance to wear all these cute things. I may have to anyway with all the spit up and poo that will be happening.

We've got a good amount of "gear"-- car seat, stroller, a vintage baby buggy that was used by my husband and his brother, swing, high chair, tub, etc. etc. We will have to find a home for all these wonderful items so it doesn't look like we're living in BabiesRUs.

This is just a tiny bit. 
Farley has started to walk around in the room and sniff things. I think he knows some big changes are on the horizon.

Stuff I'm loving:

- I'm obsessed with L'Occitane's Almond Delicious Soap. I blame it on my mom who spoils me by buying me tiny, expensive soaps that I'd never get for myself. It is scrubby and softening and it makes me feel like I'm doing something just for me when I use it. Like a little spa break every time I shower. Someone gifted me with a few bars as part of my baby shower gift. I almost cried with joy.

Pure Fiji White Gingerlily Lotion. If you've ever wondered what I smell like {because that's a completely normal thought}, it's this stuff. I have loved it for quite some time, but I now slather it all over my belly after showers because the skin can feel all tight and it needs a little love. They carry this brand at really nice spas, so again, it makes me feel like I'm being pampered it just by using it. Apparently that's a thing with me.

My pregnancy journal. Before I got pregnant, I decide that I'd like to have a place to jot down thoughts and notes for posterity. So, I looked online for journals that might work and discovered very quickly that I hated most of them. I'm not into all the gooey baby type designs. {I'm weird, what can I say.} I did find these custom journals , but in the end, I decided to design my own on Zazzle. I love how it turned out {though I wish it were hard bound instead of floppy} and I've been trying to write in it as often as possible.

It says "Great Expectations -- The Story of Expecting You"
A good friend also bought me this book and I -- the listmaker -- am really enjoying filling it out!

Having a pregnancy countdown bucket list. Somewhere around the 20 week mark, I got more excited and less patient with this whole pregnancy thing. I needed motivation and something to look forward to {aside from the bundle of joy himself, of course} every few weeks to move things along. Our schedules are pretty busy as it is, but I wanted fun "mile markers" to treat myself to and speed things up. Best idea ever!

So far, most of the treats are food related {birthday lunch at Christopher's Kitchen; visiting the new Trader Joe's that just opened, etc.}, but some of them have to do with pampering {spa day!}or time with friends. Other tasks have included things I've wanted to do for a while that we never get around to {free admission Thursdays at The Norton Museum; Farmer's Market on Sunday mornings}. Having these things on my calendar keeps me looking to days ahead, happy and active.

Food. My current favorites happen to be: Fruit {still}. Raw green peppers and hummus {I don't even care for green peppers usually, but I'm enjoying them now}. Peanut butter & bananas. Dark chocolate. {I'll raid my baking pantry & eat dark chocolate chips for "dessert". It also helps that Lindt sent me a lifetime supply -- ok, maybe a few months supply -- of their amazing Excellence chocolates for my tasting party that I still have for snacking.} Coffee. {Still doing decaf.} These gluten free pretzel sticks as a treat every now and then. {Like crack, I tell you.} Cheese. {What else is new?} Yogurt. {You must try this new stuff, more about it below.} Cereal and granola.

Frame of Mind: Great. Am I looking forward to labor? Not particularly, but I have so much less worry about it than I did in the beginning. Some of that I think is just a natural part of getting closer, but some I attribute to the HypnoBirthing classes I mentioned. Yes, they're sort of "granola", but I love the positive feelings I get from practicing their techniques. More on this later.

Meanwhile, let's talk REAL granola. The edible kind.


As much as I love the convenience of buying store-bought granola, there are 2 things that deter me from doing so: Price and funky ingredients. I know there are a lot of good ones out there that are on the healthier side, but the truth is it doesn't take too much effort to easily whip some up at home. That way you can control the amount of sugar and preservatives, and keep it relatively inexpensive to boot.

Plus, you have the added perk of being able to make ANY flavor granola you choose! I mean, the possibilities are endless.

Since Fall flavors are on my mind, I played with cardamom and fig for this batch. I threw in some ground flaxseed and chia seeds for added nutrition, and walnuts for added texture and flavor. It's great alone or with a splash of almond milk... or for a real treat, sprinkled over some Petite Creme with a dab of extra Bon Maman Fig Preserves. That's basically dessert.

Stonyfield sent some of their Clean Plate Club members their new product, Petite Creme, to try out with Bonne Maman preserves and they didn't disappoint. If you're not a fan of "going Greek" when it comes to your yogurt, Petite Creme is for you. It's much milder, less thick and smoother in flavor than its Greek cousin. And it happens to go amazingly well with this granola.

Sweet, crunchy and simply addictive, I think this combo will be part of your Fall lineup.

Cardamom-Fig Granola

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cups walnuts, roughly chopped
2 heaping tablespoons ground flaxseed
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup good-quality fig preserves, such as Bon Maman
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: Dried figs, chopped {I didn't have any, but I think they'd make a good addition!}

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until well combined. {To make combining a bit easier, I heated the oil, syrup, honey & preserves in the microwave for a minute to help them loosen up and become more liquid.}

3. Spread mixture onto prepared baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for about 45 minutes, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so to promote crispness and even toasting.

Let cool before packaging. Goes great over yogurt or eaten as cereal.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Earl Grey-Pumpkin Snack Cake

I feel the changes of Fall coming. I almost felt a chill during my morning walk a few days ago. My belly is slowly dwarfing the rest of me as baby boy continues to grow. We started HypnoBirthing classes a few weeks ago {more on that soon}. Our guest room is being converted to a nursery little by little. I turn 33 this weekend.

Lots and lots of change.

All that change makes me want to do things that I'm familiar with just to keep some sense of what I know in my life. Like baking. Baking is always welcome.

Now that coffee giants all over America have officially declared it pumpkin season, I feel ok with doing some pumpkin-infused baking to usher in the seasonal flavors that we all know and love this time of year.

Except, not all of us love those seasonal flavors. Like my Abuela for example. She really, really dislikes some of those spices that are found in just about every Fall baked good you can think of. Says they make everything taste like craft store potpourri.

So, I came up with this recipe in case there are other folks like Abuela out there who just can't get on board with nutmeg and cloves and allspice. No potpourri here, just the fragrant scent of Earl Grey tea, a new favorite of mine.

It took me a while to become a tea person, to be honest. I used to love the idea of tea but didn't really care for the stuff itself. Then I started buying different kinds to sample whenever I'd come across ones that seemed particularly appealing. Now, I've developed a taste for tea {specifically chai or fruity herbal blends} and a major collection that I love to overwhelm friends with when they come over.

Earl Grey has such an aromatic quality to it since it's made with bergamot, an extract that comes from citrus. And you know me. I love anything citrusy. It doesn't scream "orange" or "lemon", but has such a pleasant fragrance that I'm not sure which I enjoy more: Sipping it or letting my nose linger above the cup.

The flavor goes surprisingly well with pumpkin, as I found when I combined the two in this snack cake. This super-moist cake doesn't even need any frosting, but hey, why not gild the lily while we're at it, right? Can you really go wrong with tea-scented cream cheese frosting? I think not.

It's everything you love about something familiar... with a little change sprinkled in for good measure.

Are you feeling Fall's changes in your life? Do tell!

Earl Grey-Pumpkin Snack Cake
Adapted from Dixie Crystals
Makes 9 servings

1/4 cup milk {I used almond milk}
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Scant 1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. {I just use my Misto filled with olive oil.} Set aside

2. Heat milk to steaming and steep tea bags in it for about 5 minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bags carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor from each bag.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. In a small bowl, beat together eggs, vanilla extract, pumpkin puree and vegetable oil until thoroughly combined.

5. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and stir until just combined {make sure there aren't any lumps but don't overmix}.

6. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for about 40 minutes.* Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

*You may want to check for doneness at 30 or 35 minutes, but it took closer to 40-45 in my oven. This cake is very moist and did not have a crumbly texture for me, but had I left it in a little longer it may have created more of a crumb.

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tablespoons milk
1 Earl Grey tea bag
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat milk to steaming; steep tea bag in milk for about 5 minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bag carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese until mostly smooth. Slowly beat in powdered sugar until incorporated.

3. Add about 1 tablespoon of tea-steeped milk. Add vanilla extract. Beat until smooth. {If the consistency is too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add some more milk.}

Frost cooled cake completely. Sprinkle with cinnamon for garnish, if desired. Slice and serve.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Honey Apple Bundt Cake with Honey Caramel Sauce

I love the celebrations that make up Fall. Mostly because they all have to do with food... that's enough to get me on board with just about any holiday.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me if I was interested in trying out some Jewish recipes for the upcoming high holidays which begin toward the end of this month. I didn't have to give it much thought -- um, yes! When she told me one of the recipes was for a Honey Apple Bundt cake that was "to die for", I knew exactly what I'd be making.

Hallie and I actually have an interesting story of how we came to be friends. It's all thanks to social media and technology, believe it or not. Somehow or another, Hallie started following my Instagram account a while back. While planning a shopping event for Rapunzel's Closet in Palm Beach, she reached out and asked if I'd be interested in providing the nibbles for a chic little soiree {thanks to IG, I have photo memories! This was before I had an iPhone, so pardon the terrible photos.}. I was thrilled and flattered, and happily obliged. Soon after, our friendship as email "pen pals" began -- Hallie was living in NYC and we had never even met. 

As it turns out, our correspondence became semi-regular {and the emails very, very long}, specifically bonding over a love of all things food. She would tell me about the amazing places she was eating in NYC and even sent me an extensive list of recommendations for my next trip to the city. Our talks of foodie things soon developed into talks about life, dreams and the pursuit of the perfect outfit {following Rapunzel's Closet keeps me in-the-know of what's cute & current since most of my reading consists of cookbooks and baking magazines}, and we planned to meet up for a girl date during one of her visits to Florida. After some wine, appetizers and lots of chatter, we parted ways and remained friends. 

And, because friends don't keep amazing cake recipes from each other, Hallie was kind enough to pass along this recipe she makes every year for the Jewish holidays. 

Rosh Hashanah starts next week, signifying the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Though I was raised Catholic, I have always loved learning about celebrations of other religions. Judaism is particularly neat to me because of the fact that it is not only a religion, but also a culture rich with its own traditions, foods and language. As is the case with many holidays, food is a significant part of the Rosh Hashanah celebration -- specifically foods that symbolize sweetness to get the year off to a "sweet start."

Fun fact: My college roomate and dear friend is Jewish, and one year when neither of us could go home for the holiday, we whipped up an Easter/Passover dinner in our apartment that was epic... for the college days, that is. Talk about a mash up! :)

It doesn't get much sweeter than this cake, I can tell you that much. From what I hear, Jewish honey cake has a reputation for being sort of dry and unappealing -- more like a necessary showpiece for a traditional table than a dessert to look forward to. {Sounds like fruitcake to me!} This cake is not only beautiful, but also moist and irresistible.

Studded with apples that lend moisture to the dense cake and drizzled with a ridiculous {in a good way} Honey Caramel Sauce, this is more of a showstopper than a showpiece. The cake is lightly spiced without being overpowering, allowing the honey flavor to shine through. {Which I surprisingly enjoyed even though I'm not a huge fan of honey.}

Whether you celebrate Rosh Hashanah, or are simply looking for a sweet way to usher in the flavors of fall, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try. I can assure you that guests will be clamoring for another slice, and your family will be kvelling {See? Shiksa can get her Yiddish on.} over your contribution to the celebration.

Thanks, Hallie, for sharing a new favorite! xo

Honey Apple Bundt Cake
Slightly adapted from a recipe by Nicole Slaven, private chef and instructor at the JCC in Manhattan

1 cup chopped pecans, divided
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups Golden Delicious apples, peeled & chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12- cup bundt pan {or spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray} and sprinkle bottom of pan with 1/4 cup of chopped pecans. 

2. In a medium bowl, beat sugar, oil and honey until combined. {Note: This batter is going to be thick so a hand mixer or stand mixer is the best bet here.}

3. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each is well incorporated after each addition. 

4. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gradually add to wet mixture until just incorporated. Like I said, it's a super-thick batter, so make sure there are no pockets of flour hiding, but also try not to overmix. 

5. Fold in vanilla, remaining 3/4 cup chopped pecans and chopped apples -- this part can be done by hand, but it'll take some muscle! 

6. Spoon mixture evenly over pecans in pan. Bake at 350° for 55 to 60 minutes. Note: This cake browns very quickly due to the high sugar content. If you notice that it's looking like it might burn, loosely place a piece of foil on top to prevent over-browning.

7. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 20-30 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to remove from pan. When the cake is slightly cooled, pour ½ cup honey sauce over top. 

Serve the remaining honey sauce along with the cake... a little vanilla ice cream won't hurt, either. ;)

Honey Caramel Sauce:

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream

Bring sugar, butter and honey to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for about 3-4 minutes. 

Remove from heat and carefully add cream {it will bubble quite a bit}, and stir until the mixture looks uniform and is slightly thickened. {For a thicker sauce, allow to cool before drizzling.}  

Drizzle some of the sauce over warm bundt cake placed on a cooling rack on top of a pan or placed over the sink to allow the runoff to drip onto something other than your counter tops. Transfer cake to a serving dish.

Serve the remaining sauce alongside cake for extra sauciness.