What Worked In 2014


This week my friend Ann over at Modern Mrs. Darcy posted a list of several things that worked for her in 2014, and it inspired me to come up with my own list. Since 2014 seemed challenging, especially with the frantic pace we were sometimes running at, I have really tried to be more optimistic in the last year, and focusing on what worked seemed like a good exercise in positivity. I have to say though that it was somewhat hard coming up with this list, my mind automatically wandering to “what didn’t work,” since there’s always ups and downs in a party of 5. Alas, I came up with several things; some minor and some big, and it was helpful to take note of good practices I’d like to keep going in 2015.

1. Investing in a new bed
2014 was the year of insomnia and backaches, and I was sure replacing our 10 year old mattress would cure all my problems. While it didn’t help my backaches, it has certainly helped my insomnia. I consistently woke up between 2-4 am and had trouble falling back asleep, not able to get comfortable. The new bed feels ridiculously good to sleep in and within a week I was no longer waking in the wee hours of the morning. We bought a Dormeo Octaspring bed by the way, a memory foam mattress that is made up of lots of memory foam springs, so it sleeps cooler than the older memory foam mattresses. IMG_5767

2. New bedtime routine
Since I was really hell bent on getting more sleep in 2014, I also switched up my bedtime routine. Either during the kid’s own bedtime routine, or right after they went to bed, I washed my face, took out my contacts and brushed my teeth, and then got into my jammies. I was then already set for bed when I got drowsy. My old routine involved flopping on the couch to watch TV as soon as the kids went to bed, and then putting off going to bed because I was feeling too lazy to do the whole routine. I then ended up falling asleep on the couch, only to drag myself to bed by midnight, barely having the energy to brush my teeth let alone wash my face. This new routine helped me get to bed by 10pm most nights, which in turn helped me sleep a lot better.

3. Moving the boys in together
Having the boys share a bedroom was always part of the plan, but when we finally made that happen this summer, it was glorious. By having them share a room, we got an office back which in turn meant we recaptured our own bedroom, as my desk and computer had sat 12 inches from my bed for the last two years. And for the most part, the boys love sharing, although Syd gets frustrated when it’s nap time and he can’t play in his room. Not the end of the world though, and all around a great move I’m so glad we did.

4. My Time Magazine & Cooks Illustrated subscriptions
My friend gifted me the CI subscription and after the first issue arrived I wondered how I had cooked without it for so long, and I signed up for Time in late Spring, sure I’d never get around to reading it but wanting to have something “smart” in the house to read if I had the time. Turns out, when each issue comes, for both Time and CI, I immediately sit down and read through cover to cover. They have helped me to not just “feel” smarter, but have genuinely helped me become more informed and become a better cook. IMG_7230

5. Our CSA’s
Having failed before in the community supported agriculture (CSA) way of life, I wasn’t sure how we’d fare this time around, but since changing the way we eat, it’s become one of the things I look forward to the most each month. We belong to a produce CSA and a beef CSA, and both have ensured we eat healthy, organic and locally grown food each and every month, and they’ve helped us save some money too!

6. Sirius subscription
We got a 1 year free Sirius XM subscription when we bought our car last year, and it’s about the only thing I listened to all year long. It expired on December 24th and I already miss it. I loved the alternative channel, and it helped me find tons of new-to-me bands this year, and I also loved the news channels for around the clock world news.

7. Going back to a paper planner
After several missed appointments and consistently failing at getting through the to-do lists scribbled on scraps of paper, I went back to a paper planner in September, and it’s made me wonder why I even abandoned the darn thing. Do you know you’re more likely to remember things if you *write* them down? No wonder I’ve been a bit more reliable the past couple of months. I bought this Kate Spade agenda and I LOVE it! IMG_5917

8. Pinning inspiring quotes
As silly as this sounds, I got a lot out of finding inspiring, positive and upbeat quotes to pin, and not so ironically, it’s one of my most highly followed boards. I should get a job doing it in fact. I attribute it to the power of positive thinking, and by immersing yourself in the world of positive thinking, you can’t help but let some of it seep into your own mindset. It sort of reminds me of the story that came out this year about the guy who changed his life with his computer password.

9. Forcing family alone time
A social creature by nature, I have a hard time *not* making plans with friends and family. I love being around others, but this year, I made a solid commitment to myself, to give the social commitments a bit of a rest, especially on the weekend when the kids and Art really need to wind down. At first it felt really weird to not have something social planned Saturday and Sunday of every weekend, but eventually it felt right. And I’m pretty sure we’re all better for it. IMG_6986

10. Changing out my hangers to slim-line ones
For months I saved up BB&B coupons, and finally completed my project over the summer; to switch out all our old mismatched plastic and wire hangers to the flocked covered slim-line ones, and it’s made putting clean clothes away less of a chore, and saved us a ton of room in our small closet. IMG_6114

11. Changing everything about the way I drink my coffee
I’ve switched from a Keurig to a Chemex, switched from CoffeeMate to half and half with maple syrup, now to straight up black, and switched from full-fueled coffee to 100% decaf. It feels ridiculous to look back on this past year of coffee drinking and call it a “journey”, but in fact it was, and now I enjoy the warm tasty beverage each morning, with none of the ill side effects, including an afternoon slump and occasional heartburn.

Anything in particular work for you in 2014? I’ll share what didn’t work later in the week, so I can try and not make the same mistakes next year.

21 Day Cleanse Meal Plan & Shopping List


21Day-Cleanse_Banner The meal plan for this cleanse looks a lot different than last time, primarily because it’s a whole new season. When I went through this in late Summer, the focus was on grilled fishes and chicken, and lots and lots of salads. This time though, we are in the midst of Winter, and our diet should somewhat reflect the cold season, and the fruits and vegetables grown within this season. Eating with the seasons is not only cheaper and easier, but it’s better for you too (in-season vegetables and fruits are shown to pack a more nutrient dense punch), so you’ll find this meal plan filled with lots of warming and comforting soups, and plenty of winter vegetables and fruits. Of course there’s the occasional warm weather fruit thrown in, like mango, but I’ve noted what you should and probably will have to buy frozen.

Keep in mind that this meal plan is extensive, for the sole purpose of providing you with lots of ideas that could easily last you the whole three weeks. This specific meal plan is a lot of cooking for one week, so please keep in mind I’m not suggesting you have to or should cook this much; it truly is to provide you with ideas. The last time I was on the cleanse I ate lots of leftovers and made the same thing for a few days in a row, like the very same green juice or in the afternoon when I didn’t want to clean a juicer or a blender, I drank plain almond milk with an Aloha pack. So tailor this for your needs and wants and capability in terms of cooking. Also, these dinner recipes should easily feed a family of 4, so again, adjust accordingly if you have a larger or smaller family.

Lastly, I tried to tailor the meal plan with recipe ideas that used the same ingredients in numerous places, so there was less waste, and to try and condense the grocery and ingredient list. If you hate pumpkin or butternut squash for instance, there’s a lot of it on here, so feel free to get other ideas in the link I provided below, or on my Pinterest board. When you take a look at the grocery list, you’ll note that I’ve added EVERYTHING you may need for these recipes, including all the spices and oils, assuming you were starting with an empty kitchen. Since that’s likely not the case, don’t fret when you see the long list, just cross out what you already have on hand. I think that’s pretty much it. Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll try to provide some more ideas throughout the 21 day period, but this should definitely get you started strong. Good luck!

Simple Green Juice Apple & 1-2 tbsp almond butter Braised Lentils & Vegetables Almond & Date Smoothie 1 Pot Chicken Stew
Turmeric Beet Juice Roasted Chickpeas Rainbow Salad in a Jar Chai Gingerbread Shake Vegan Coconut Red Curry over brown rice
Carrot Beet Juice Handful of raw almonds & a pear Leftover Vegan Coconut Curry over brown rice Spiced Almond Milk, sub coconut nectar for maple syrup Roasted Chicken with Grapes & Olives, sub chicken broth in place of wine
Red Grape Cooler No Bake Lemon Macaroons, sub coconut nectar or date paste for maple syrup Chicken Burgers, Thai Style with steamed veggies or garden salad Thanksgiving In Your Mouth Shake Pan Steamed Chicken & Broccoli
Simple Green Juice Kale Chips Harvest Carrot Quinoa Salad Cranberry Pumpkin Smoothie Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash & Kale
Carrot Beet Juice Apple & 1-2 tbsp of almond butter Slow Cooker Creamy Pumpkin Soup Tropical Turmeric Cleanser Butter Nut Squash Noodles & Baked Salmon, sub coconut nectar for maple syrup
Turmeric Beet Juice Handful of walnuts & pear Crockpot Whole Chicken with steamed veggies Coconut water & Good Greens Aloha pack Leftover Roast Chicken Soup with Roasted Veggies

Download a printable copy of the 21 Day Cleanse Meal Plan.

Download a printable copy of the 21 Day Cleanse Shopping List.

Additional cleanse-friendly recipes.

Restart in 2015 With a 21 Day Cleanse


21Day-Cleanse_Banner I’m not too sad about seeing 2014 come to a close. As I sit here with a hacking cough, the second cold I’ve caught in December, I look forward to starting all over in 2015, with a new found respect for what it means to be healthy, and a new mission to try and make the most of the year, both mentally and physically. Of course 2014 had many bright spots, but my Hashimoto’s diagnosis was not one of them, and after going through a 21 day cleanse at the end of summer, it feels odd to go back and read that post, where I wrote how unlikely it was that I had an autoimmune disease. Joke was on me.

While the recent switch to gluten-free has greatly improved my brain fog and given me a new found spark of energy, I continue to suffer daily with grueling backaches, despite seeing a chiropractor and doing thousands of hours of yoga. I still need to write a recap of my first visit with my new Integrative Doctor, but one of the things she suggested I try for the backaches was to do another elimination diet in the new year, and see how I feel, as she suspects dairy may be part of the culprit. I’m willing to try anything at this point, and since way too many glasses of wine and cheese found its way into my mouth this month, I’m anxious to get started with another round of the 21 day cleanse on Monday January 5th. I invite anyone who is interested to join me, and have already had a tremendous response on Instagram, so if you’re willing to give this a try and looking for further details, read on. 219

Elimination details:

For 21 days, say no to these foods: dairy, eggs, red meat, soy, gluten, wheat, corn, refined grains, alcohol, soda, caffeine, nightshades and sugar in most forms, including cane sugar, maple syrup, honey, and refined sugar, and of course the vast majority of all processed foods. There are acceptable forms of sugar including date paste and coconut nectar. Most fruits are allowed with the exception of strawberries, bananas and oranges (limes and lemons okay).

For 21 days you’ll eat plenty of these foods: turkey, chicken, fresh fish (not raw), dairy free beverages including coconut milk and almond milk, nuts and seeds like cashews and almonds. legumes and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, healthy fats including olive oil, coconut oil and ghee, and of course plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Full details of foods to avoid, and why, can be found through this link. 318

Purpose of the elimination diet:

This particular set of food categories can be extremely taxing on our digestive system, causing a lot of our bodily energy to go towards digestive work. When you eliminate these hard-to-digest foods, you free up much of the energy wasted on initiating immune responses. These foods can also be highly allergenic for certain individuals and by eliminating these foods, and then slowly adding them back in, you can see which, if any, you’re sensitive to. Besides, most Americans would benefit greatly  just by the simple removal or reduction of added sugars, soda and alcoholic beverages.

What a typical day looks like:

This elimination diet is more about giving your body a chance to rest and a heal, and less about “dieting” to lose weight. You will have a juice or smoothie in the morning, a mid-morning snack consisting of something like an apple and almond butter, a regular portion size lunch, another juice or smoothie in the afternoon as your mid-day snack, and a regular portion size dinner. You don’t count calories or restrict portions, eating until you are comfortably full, and are allowed to snack on healthy, nutrient dense foods. The idea behind the smoothies for breakfast and mid-afternoon snack, is just to give your body a chance to rest, as these are easier to digest. IMG_3017

How you’ll likely feel:

In the beginning, especially days 2-4, you’ll most likely feel terrible, at least I did. The caffeine and sugar withdrawals were horrendous, and I spent day 2 and 3 in a blurred, exhausted mental fog. Once you reach day 5 though, you’ll start to turn a corner and by day 7, you’ll most likely feel great. Just be prepared for that initial withdrawal period, and try to adjust your schedule and activities accordingly, in other words, if possible don’t sign up for anything too strenuous.

Once you’ve gotten over the tough part, you will likely notice an increase in energy, including less of an afternoon slump, improved digestion, improved mental clarity, and an overall lighter feeling, most likely because you’ll feel less bloated. While this cleanse isn’t about losing weight, by the simple elimination of sugary foods and alcohol, you will most likely loose some weight. By the end of day 21 last time, I had lost 6 pounds, going from 145 to 139 lbs.

Is this a detox?

The idea of detoxing has come to mean a lot of different things, and in the end, it really means something different to everyone. I recently read this article about detoxes, and I can’t say I disagree with it, which is why you’ll find me staying away from the detox word. So if this isn’t a detox, what is it, and is it necessary? I can only speak from my personal experience, but after eating extremely healthy for a year, nothing made me feel as good this year, as I did during the last cleanse. I don’t necessarily believe that I was really “flushing” toxins out of my system, but I absolutely believe that I was giving my body a much needed break by eliminating sugar, alcohol and caffeine. Whether tomatoes and eggplants were really causing my body any harm, I have a hard time believing, but no one can convince me that eliminating sugar and some other foods, was a bad thing for me.  All this to say, call it what you want, but I will personally be staying away from the detox word. IMG_3018

Tips and advice:

  • I want this to be an encouraging endeavor for all involved, so whether you’ll be joining me on this particular cleanse, or doing some other eating plan like Whole 30, all are welcome to join the Facebook group and follow along on Instagram for support. If you decide to join in, I urge you to at least give yourself 7 days to get the hang of it and see how your body starts feeling. Everyone has different schedules and demands, so if you find this to be too taxing to continue for 21 days, no one is going to fault you, but I encourage you to at least give it a week.
  • Keep it simple. I’ll be sharing some recipe ideas and sample meal plans, but if you have a tight schedule, and work outside the home especially, make simple dishes like a roasted chicken which you eat on a salad for lunch, and at night with some steamed veggies. Turkey patties or turkey meatballs are great in a pinch and are quick and easy to whip up. This doesn’t have to be complicated! Save the weekends for trying a new recipe or spicing things up a bit.
  • Use shortcuts like a great bottled salad dressing like Tessemae’s, which can be used for dipping turkey patties, marinading chicken breasts in, and of course as a salad dressing. Aloha packs are great too so you can add to water or almond milk for an easy and quick afternoon snack drink.
  • Eating out will be a huge challenge, I’m not going to lie. It is nearly impossible, especially at chain restaurants, to find a single menu item which does not contain one of the elimination foods. So keep this in mind when making your schedule. Smaller restaurants, where they make everything in-house, are much more likely to accommodate you by holding the sauce on cuts of poultry, or making a simple side of steamed veggies. If you must eat out, try to call ahead and ask if the kitchen will make accommodations for you.
  • It’s easier than you think. Yes, it will be hard, but if you are somewhat used to cooking at home, you can easily make a bounty of recipes and foods that are cleanse-friendly, and won’t leave you feeling bored or deprived. The hardest part will most likely be avoiding temptations like sweets, but in terms of cooking cleanse-approved foods, the possibilities are really endless.
  • My last bit of advice, is not to go out on a wild eating bender the day before you begin. Filling up on all your pleasure foods including sugar and alcohol the days before will leave you feeling especially miserable when you begin. Instead, try to focus on limiting sweets, caffeine and alcohol in the 1-2 days leading up to the start of the cleanse.

How is this different than Paleo or Whole 30?

Some grains and legumes are still allowed, while red meat and eggs are not allowed. You are also replacing your typical breakfast meal with a smoothie or juice. Other than that, they are nearly identical in terms of the elimination of sugar and alcohol, gluten and dairy, and focus on eating nutrient-dense foods.

Why this cleanse?

At the time when I first tried this particular program, I was desperate to try and feel better and anxious to get started. It was before my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, but after having my 7th case of strep that year. Because It’s All Good has a loose interpretation of the cleanse program, I saved myself time and frustration and just went with that one. And it worked! I felt fantastic, better than I had felt all year, and so if it ain’t broke, why fix it? While fault can be found in virtually all types of dietary programs, goodness knows Paleo and Whole 30 has seen their fair share of critics, I think this program is pretty solid and relatively easy to maintain. Is it perfect and do I believe in everything Dr. Junger says? Of course not, and I don’t believe you need to spend $400 on supplements and a guide, when you can do this for free at home. That’s why we’re going to do this together and with each other’s support. IMG_3022

Reintroduction phase:

While I’m sure many who follow along may be eager to fit into their jeans again after a fun-filled holiday season, and will rush to have a piece of pie and a glass of wine on day 22, I know some of those participating may in fact be looking out for their trigger foods. I for one will be slowly reintroducing dairy to see if I notice any ill effects. If you want to track your trigger food items, you can slowly reintroduce them, and this document will guide you along the way.

Recommended reading & supplies:

You certainly don’t need to have a copy of IT’S ALL GOODon hand to follow along, but if you do have the book, there are plenty of cleanse friendly recipes that you can follow to mix things up. In her book she refers to them as Detox friendly recipes, and a sample menu is found in the back of the book.

A Pinterest account will do wonders for helping you find plenty of foods to eat. Just look for recipes free of of the elimination foods, which are plentiful. Any whole 30 or paleo recipe, as long as it excludes beef or eggs, will work just fine, as will your typical “eat clean” recipes. I have a clean eating board on Pinterest which includes plenty of ideas as well, and will provide my own sample menu and recipes by the end of the week.

You don’t need a juicer or a powerful Vitamix 1363 CIA Pro to get through this, but if you do want to invest in a basic introductory juicer, Brevilleand Omegas are great, and a simple Jack Lalanne Power Juicer will also get you started just fine. And plenty of people also love Blendtec, Magic Bulletand Ninja Professional Blender , which are considerably cheaper than a Vitamix.

If you want a recap of my cleanse experience last time, you can read this recap post and this post, which goes into how to thrive on a cleanse.

If you aren’t ready for a cleanse, but are eager to turn a tide in the new year, perhaps you want to try something less restrictive like the 30 day challenge we did earlier this year. I put together a clean eating swapping guide, which will hopefully prove useful in your journey.

Wherever you are in your health journey, and whatever your goals may be, once again I encourage anyone interested in testing the waters or diving head first, to join us in the private Facebook group, and follow along with me on Instagram. We’ll begin on Monday, January 5th.

Please let me know if I’ve missed any thing, and of course ask any questions you may have!

Last Minute Doily Gift Topper


Doily gift topper

Every holiday season I try and come up with some new and creative gift toppers for holiday gifts. In fact, my family has started to look forward to these crazy gift toppers every year. It’s kind of fun because the gift topper becomes like a little gift itself. This year I have been particularly swamped with other tasks (read toddler and newborn) so I needed a gift topper craft that was simple, quick, and still lovely. I think this doily gift topper would make any elf proud!

Items you will need:

Doily gift topper

Doily gift topper

– Paper doily in varying sizes

– Sewing pins (but thumb tacks would work as well)

– A Styrofoam ball and knife

– Glue to attach the topper to the gift

Doily gift topper

Step 1: To begin, cut the Styrofoam ball in half. I used a regular kitchen knife for this. The flat side of the ball will lay flush with the gift box top.

Doily gift topper

Doily gift topper

Doily gift topper

Step 2: Next, insert a pin or tack in the center of a doily. Then gather the doily around the pin to create a ruffled flower look.

Doily gift topper

Doily gift topper

Step 3: Insert the pin into the rounded surface of the Styrofoam ball and make sure it is securely attached.

Doily gift topper

Step 4: Then repeat steps 2 and 3 until the entire rounded surface of the ball is covered in ruffled doily. To attach my gift topper to my gifts I used a hot glue gun.

Now how simple was that!? My favorite part about this gift topper is that is looks lovely for any occasion. Which means I will probably (most definitely) be re-using it for Valentines Day.

Doily gift topper

One Pot Chicken Root Vegetable Stew


Chicken Root Vegetable Stew One pot meals are always my favorite kind. With the busyness of the holidays all around us, I’ve been relying on simple meals to get us through. And really, I think simple meals are the best way to go most of the time anyway – holidays or not. I’ve also really been making an effort (thanks to Andrea’s inspiration) to focus on the quality of my ingredients. We don’t eat a ton of meat or poultry at our house, but when we do, I’m trying to seek out local organic, free-range sources. (This time I went with what I could find at Trader Joe’s out of sheer convenience. The quality and flavor are still great.) Because it’s winter, I’m also pulling out my Dutch oven for just about every meal. I love the way it can go from stovetop to oven and back again. This Chicken Root Vegetable Stew is all about using simple flavors to create something really satisfying and delicious. One of my very favorite cold weather veggies is celeriac, or celery root. It cooks up with a texture similar to a potato, but with the flavor of celery. I also added some cubed turnips, carrots, and potatoes.
Chicken Root Vegetable Stew-2 This stew has a lot going on in the flavor department. It starts by building a good base flavor by searing the chicken pieces in butter. Then onions are added along with some white wine to deglaze the pan. That is followed by adding all the root veggies and chicken to the pot, chicken stock is poured over the top, it’s seasoned well, and everything goes into the oven for about an hour. By the end of that time, the broth is bursting with the flavor of the chicken and veggies, which are both tender and flavorful as well. We also like to add a little heavy cream at the end, or right before serving, but it’s completely optional. It just adds another level of richness to the broth. If you’re like me, you’ll be slurping that broth straight from the ladle just to make sure it tastes okay before placing it on the table. (wink, wink) I could drink that broth! Chicken Stew with Root Vegetables Chicken Stew with Root Vegetables-2 Now, I always like to give a few notes to the recipes. If you don’t care for the veggies listed, totally substitute them with the ones you do like. Rutabagas could be added in. You could use all potatoes. Chopped kale could be added at the end. It’s totally up to you. This can also be made in a slow cooker, which is a great tool to utilize anytime, but especially during the holidays. Just sear the chicken in a regular frying pan in the butter. Add the onions and wine like the recipe says, then transfer that to the slow cooker and add everything else in and cook on HIGH for 2-4 hours, or LOW for 4-6 hours. It could maybe go for a little longer, but the vegetables will start to fall apart if they’re in there for too long. If you want to speed up the cooking process, use boneless, skinless chicken and cut the veggies into smaller pieces. I prefer using the skin-on, bone-in chicken because the flavor is superior. Totally up to you and what you can find or have access to. Root Vegetables and Chicken Root Vegetables
To serve the stew, ladle it up into bowls with crusty bread on the side, or with a scoop of rice in the bowl, or eat it as is. We are usually so hungry and the anticipation is so great after that hour of delicious smells wafting through the house, it’s all we can do to actually use a bowl. Ha! But seriously, this stew is so good. It’s the perfect thing to make for a small crowd and it’s really hearty and satisfying.

Chicken Root Vegetable Stew
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Make this hearty one pot meal for busy weeknights and during the holiday season.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 whole free range, organic chicken, cut into 8 pieces (or 8 chicken thighs), bone-in and skin-on
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 celeriac (celery root), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 large or 2 small turnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2-3 large red potatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups organic chicken stock
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ½ cup organic heavy cream (optional)
  • For serving - crusty bread or cooked rice
  1. Heat a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the butter and let it foam and melt. Place the chicken pieces skin side down in the pan, working in two batches, if needed. Cook for 3-5 minutes then turn over and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and keep warm. Add the onion to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, allowing the onion to soften. Scrape up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Next add the wine to deglaze the pan. Cook for another 5 minutes, then turn off heat. Some of the wine will remain.
  2. To the Dutch oven, add the cubed vegetables and garlic. Place the chicken pieces on top. Pour the chicken broth over the top Season well with salt and pepper, and add the thyme sprigs. Cover with lid. Place in oven and cook for 45-60 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. The internal temperature should be between 160-165°F and juices should run clear. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. If using, gently stir in the heavy cream. (The veggies will be very tender, so don't stir too hard!)
  3. To serve - ladle into bowls and serve with crusty bread or rice.


Great Cookbooks to Give and Receive


best-cookbooks-of-2014 In my imaginary dream kitchen, I have a bookshelf just to hold my cookbooks. Like many people, I love collecting cookbooks, and I won’t stop, can’t stop. Cookbooks keep me excited about cooking, and they’re there for me when I’m feeling in a cooking slump, quickly offering mew new-found inspiration and gusto to pick up my spatula and dirty more dishes. Last night over a quick dinner with my guy, I rattled off a wish list of several easy-to-find items, including several cookbooks. These are books that I’d love to receive and gift, and since there’s always a Barnes & Noble open late, or Amazon 2 day shipping to save your life, there’s still plenty of time to order up before the big day next week.

Plenty More – “Ottolenghi is a genius with vegetables—it’s possible that no other chef has devised so many clever ways to cook them.” writes one reviewer of this follow up to his Plenty cookbook. Ottolenghi is an Israeli chef living in London. He’s said to be a genius with vegetables and because of his background, his flavor profile is both interesting and intense. A friend owns Jerusalem and swears by it, and his newest cookbook Plenty More is supposed to be his best book yet. Bring on the cumin and coriander!

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace – I’ve owned this cookbook of sorts for over a year, and I’m asking for it again though because I made the mistake of ordering it on my Kindle the first time around. My kindle edition has notes and highlights marked on almost every page, and when a book is that noteworthy, you just need an actual hard copy in hand, because it will never run out of battery life.

The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook – I’ve had this book on loan from a friend for about a month now, and while some recipes require work, something quite inherent in gluten free baking, most of them are worth it and I trust that for the most part, ATK won’t steer me wrong. I’ve baked several things out of this book, and as a result have dirtied up my friend’s pristine copy. This is therefore added to my wishlist so I can hand her over the new copy and I’ll keep the tattered one for myself.

Every Last Crumb: Paleo Bread and Beyond – I’m not trying to go Paleo, don’t you worry, but I am trying to maintain gluten free status, and from the reviews and buzz I’ve heard all around social media, Brittany Angell is a genius with gluten free and grain free baked goods. I’m intrigued.

Sunday Suppers: Recipes + Gatherings – While the IG of Sunday Suppers reads a bit like a Kinfolk mag, the reviews on this book are much more positive and it promises to deliver simple yet good tasting recipes to serve around the communal table.

Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence – Because one cannot subsist on Paleo treats and healthy treats all year long, Joy the Baker is here to rescue us. I’ve wanted this book since it came out because it looks stunning, and also to support Joy, a sweet and kind gal, who is also insanely talented.

Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship – Intended to be a date-night at home guide for couples, this book, out December 30th, features meals for two, and sounds like it was written for tired parents and busy working couples. Sign me up!

Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen – I love the concept of this book, which was written by the editor of Food & Wine, and is centered around her confession of being terrible in the kitchen. The book is a crash course in cooking from some of the world’s best chefs, and is supposed to include both tips and recipe from the pros. While I’m a decent cook, I could always use some new pointers.

Meals Made Simple: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes to Make Anytime – I already own this book and cook from it quite often, but I’m including it as a great recommendation for gift giving, to anyone who just wants to cook healthier, not necessarily Paleo. While the book is meat heavy, it is super well organized, many of the recipes are really easy to make, and yield great results.

For other great cookbook recommendations, this list from Bon Appetit is quite interesting, and this list on Good Reads includes cookbooks and books on food. The Calorie Myth may need to be my next food book read.

Good Deals To Be Had


In case you’re still only half way done with your Christmas shopping, or you need to offer some suggestions of things you’d like to see under the tree, here are a few of my favorite things which I’m personally adding to my wish list, and they all happen to be on sale. A girl can dream, right? Seriously though, in my quest to find our family photo outfits last week, I spent a lot of time trying things on and window shopping. These pieces all look as cute in person, and fit well, as they look online. Lots of plaid, sequins and metallics. gooddeals-GAP GAP 40% off with code FESTIVE. Sequins sweaters, SEQUIN SWEATPANTS Y’all! And a leather jacket that is gorgeous and somewhat reasonably priced (for leather)  gooddeals-JCREW J. Crew 30% off with code GIVETHIS. Buffalo check vest, the most perfect statement necklace to gift to a sister or girlfriend, and their sweater leggings are the bomb, I have a clearance pair from last year which I LOVE! gooddeals-LOFT LOFT has all their sweaters and tops on sale for 50% off no code needed. Jewel sweater, rose sweater & open front cardi gooddeals-MADEWELL Madewell is offering up to 30% off with code GOFORIT. The perfect plaid shirt and an oversized blanket scarf gooddeals-SAT SATURDAY is all about party looks, which are 25% off with code RSVP. This metallic gold bomber jacket is so rad. The polyhedron ring is a fun gift. And gold, pleats and a midi length skirt? This dress is all sorts of fab!

Knott’s NYE Celebration Plus a Giveaway


Fireworks1 As a Southern California native, I’ve enjoyed going to Knott’s Berry Farm for as long as I can remember. My parents always took us here at least once or twice a year, since it was so close and so affordable, and it’s been fun to see the changes and evolution the park has gone through. Of course some features and attractions are still the same, like the Log Ride and Montezuma’s Revenge, but others have long gone to make way for bigger, better roller-coasters, however nothing will ever replace the good old fashioned Parachutes.

Whether you have longstanding fond Knott’s memories of chicken dinners and train robberies, or you’re new to the park, I wanted to let you all know about their upcoming New Year’s Eve celebration. It’s a totally family-friendly event, complete with live entertainment and a spectacular fireworks show, all for the price of regular admission. The park will still be decorated for the holidays, so it will be fun and festive, and The Howe crew will be there on New Year’s Eve, and we can’t wait to ride our favorite rides and gorge ourselves on funnel cakes, gluten-free diets be banished for the day! You can also be sure I’ll be buying a new ride picture, a tradition I’ve come to love. Here are a few of our recent pics from visits to Knott’s this year. Scan035 Scan036 Scan037 If you’d like to visit Knott’s in 2015, I’m giving away 2 tickets to one lucky reader! You can use them anytime in 2015, and to enter to win, just follow the prompts below. You can enter to win through December 31st, and I’ll announce the winner on January 2nd. Good luck! If you’re planning to visit Knott’s NYE celebration, please use the #KnottsNYE hashtag if you share on social media.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

2014 Family Photos


holiday-family-photos1 I don’t believe I have a single staged family photo from my childhood, not even one of those awkward family photos from the Sears portrait studio. I think I’ve seen an intermittent photo of just myself as a baby, sitting in Santa’s lap or atop a pony, maybe even on a carpeted backdrop from KMart, but the point was, we never did family photos. I’m sure it had something to do with the rather chaotic, dysfunctional state of affairs our family was in for many years, and when things were good, we were more apt to take a random Easter photo standing out front of our house, than getting dressed up and hiring a photographer to take tastefully staged pictures. No matter the state of dysfunction your own family may have been in, I’m sure this is the same for many of you, am I right?

holiday-family-photos13 But family photos are sort of a big deal now, especially since digital took over and families could get affordable, fun, less-uptight photos taken just about anywhere. Miranda of M.Shanti Photo took ours again, and found a great backdrop in Signal Hill, a little subcity in Long Beach. We’re not really sure what the building is used for, as we saw an older lady open it up and feed several cats while we were there, so maybe it’s just an old building she holds on to as a shelter for stray cats from all over the neighborhood? Who knows really, it looked cool in photos so that’s all we were concerned with, but if it doubles as a sanctuary for homeless cats, all the better. holiday-family-photos3

holiday-family-photos12 The kids know Miranda just as well as a family member since they see her on an almost weekly basis. Getting them to loosen up for her is always a problem. Not really.

holiday-family-photos5 She had some ideas of poses she wanted to see us in, so once we arrived we got those out of the way first, and then we sort of just had fun. It was sprinkling during most of the shoot, and at the end it began pouring rain, so towards the end we were sort of just frantically running around trying to get some decent photos captured. For a twenty minute shoot, I think she did a damn good job.

holiday-family-photos4 Coordinating our outfits is always an interesting and time-consuming venture for me. I really should try to plan earlier or try not to worry so much about it, but at any rate, I’m happy with how all our outfits came together this year. The day before Thanksgiving I went to the mall by myself and searched around, as I was uninspired this year. Usually I have an idea of where I want to go with the outfits, and center them around something I already own, but I was coming up blank. So I just started looking around, and came across the patent leather red boots Taylor is wearing, and I knew I had a starting point.  holiday-family-photos10 After finding the red boots, I still wasn’t sure how we were going to go, so I just walked out of Zara and started going to different stores. I went into Gap Kids and found the plaid dress, and the combo of the boots and plaid reminded me so much of the style I loved from my youth, I went with it, adding in the leather jacket for some warmth and texture. So Taylor’s outfit was really the jumping off point for the rest of us. holiday-family-photos11 I couldn’t find anything I loved for Hayden that was red. All was either red plaid, red stripe, all patterns that just felt overdone, so I decided to go more black and white for the boys, and add in pops of red. Note the red piping on Hayden’s cardigan, and of course his Converse. holiday-family-photos9 Had I found bright red jeans for Syd, I would have went with those, but then I saw this scarf and knew it was just enough. He also had a bit of red trim on his black hi-tops.  holiday-family-photos8 Art’s outfit was the hardest and easiest to put together. Red for guys is sort of hard, you’ve either got a red sweater or scarf, but red vests or red jeans just aren’t him and I knew would be too much, so I settled for the tiniest hint of red in his shirt. Good enough.
holiday-family-photos7 My outfit was the only one which used items I already had on hand. I did buy a plaid shirt in case I didn’t like the way the blazer looked when I got home, but I ended up loving it so took the plaid shirt  back.  holiday-family-photos6 The end result is a look that coordinates, blends in together without being too matchy-matchy, but also stands out because of the subtle pops of red. We’ve done jewel tones before, brights, standard white and denim a long time ago, so even though black, white and red is a very typical holiday look, it was new for us this year.   holiday-family-photos14 holiday-family-photos15 Miranda asked us to dance here, and all of us had no problem with that, except for Hayden. He just stared at us.  holiday-family-photos-14 Finally towards the end of our dance sesh, he did a little half-turn, either to try and get in the groove or to ignore us, still not sure. Our Christmas cards from Paper Culture came today and I love how they turned out so much. For the first time I ordered two different styles to mix it up, and will give the card with the funnier poses to friends and close family, and the more simple, kid-centered card will go out to extended family and work clients.  holiday-family-photos16 I can’t wait to turn these photos into prints for our wall and frames. How about you guys? Are you big on the family photos, or do you think they’re too much work? They are fun to have when all is said and done, but they’re certainly a lot of work and stress to prep for, I don’t disagree. My goal for next year is to somehow take the stress out of the prep process so I can enjoy the actual shoot more.

Outfit details:

Andrea – tuxedo blazer old from Club Monaco, similar here, blouse J. Crew, jeans Elizabeth & James, heels Shoemint

Art – shirt Grayers from Nordstrom, jeans J Brand Kane style, boots old from Nordstrom

Taylor – dress and jacket Gap Kids, boots Zara

Syd – pants, shirt & scarf Zara, Supra hi-tops already owned from Nordstrom

Hayden – pants, sweater & shirt Zara, hi-tops Converse

Week In Review – So Much Good Stuff


new-puberty-corbis_custom-51c80e1a4cdb2b9bd7c78d1a95683ef1485d69a3-s1100-c85 I stayed up late ordering Christmas cards and making photo books for each of the kids this week, which left plenty of time online for my twitter and facebook feed to fill me in on some excellent reads. Some of my favorites are below, quotes from each article italicized. By the way, I had asked friends on my FTLO of Facebook page for recommendations on photo books, and I discovered some new companies, so thanks a lot! I decided that for this round of books, just to go with Artifact Uprising. I have so many photos that it gets overwhelming trying to decide which memories to capture and feature, so in the end I decided to just focus on IG for the past year. I created “All About Me” books for each child, for the year 2014, and the AU program was really easy to use. I can’t wait to see them in real life.

1. Celebrating Bad Food: An Interview With Christopher Kimball – hands down my favorite read of the week, just because I am fascinated with Christopher Kimball, founder of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. The interview discusses the myth of food as art, print media, obesity in America, current hipster food trends, and the driving marketplace for junk and fast food. Basically, all of my favorite things! “People always go, “oh, my grandmother never used a recipe.” Well, that’s because she cooked ten hours a day or whatever, so she had it down cold. If you only cook three hours a week, you need a recipe. So I’m a big believer in: you’ve got to have technique, you’ve got to have experience. Because you can’t be an artist in the kitchen, assuming that’s something you want to be in the first place. I’m not sure I agree with that anyway. The objective is to turn out good food that’s healthy, that people enjoy then you sit around the table.”

2. How Girls Are Developing Earlier In A New Age Of Puberty “The family can serve as a huge buffer against some of those negative effects of early puberty,” she says. “There’s also been some research to show that certain aspects of the neighborhood context and also schools can be protective. … It can completely mitigate the risk associated with early puberty on girls’ emotional and behavioral functioning.” So thankful we’re not here yet, however the emotions are rnning wild these days…preteen angst is not far off, I can smell it!

3. Is the Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out – an interesting critique of the Food Babe’s use of science to back her claims and grow her army. Look, I don’t think I need to state I’m a real food advocate, and while some may believe we should all stick together, no matter what the methods, I don’t necessarily agree. I appreciate what she’s trying to do, but I don’t agree with much about how she’s doing it, by instilling fear into the average person who just needs some lessons and cajones in the kitchen. I have personally seen so many people, friends, readers get so overcome with anxiety about what they should eat, because of so many outlandish claims out there, that they don’t do anything to change. I just wish she would tone down the fear rhetoric and offer viable solutions for people, real people with food budgets and families and busy lives who can’t fastidiously pore over every ingredient list. “I personally think this is largely a distraction from more real concerns about the food system, like advertising aimed at kids, the environmental impacts of food production, food waste and hunger.”

4. Contemporary Christmas channel on Spotify so good, and so telling of my age. Fellow mid-late thirties out there, I think you’d really appreciate this playlist

5. NPR’s Best Books of 2014 – still going through both of these to note the overlap, if any. What are some of your favorite books of 2014?

6. NY Time’s 100 Notable Books of 2014

7. Typical of a high speed car chase in LA – make sure to note the red truck and skateboard.

8. Athleta Downalicious Vest is everything to me right now. I wear it almost every single day, no kidding.

9. Tarte Fiery Lip Tint is also everything to me right now, I also wear this almost every single day and my kids still ask if I’m going out somewhere when I put it on.

10. A Guide to the Terrible, Delicate Art of Making Parent Friends I’m lucky to have found a good group of mom friends, and their spouses have also become my spouses friends, but I appreciate how hard and delicate it all is. There are several friendships that have dissolved over the years because of either schedules, or we discovered eventually, that we didn’t have as much in common as we previously hoped for. “Now consider that, in order for this budding friendship to last more than one playdate, all four of you must jibe somewhat as people AND as parents, which means that at least in some small way, your general interests, taste and socioeconomic standing must gel, but critically, so must your general approach to parenting.”

11. The Secret to Homework We are in a big battle with homework over here, with Taylor getting upwards of 2-3 hours of homework a night, it’s frigging ridiculous and I’m fighting back. In current discussions with the principal and teacher, so wish me luck. More and more evidence these days is showing that homework for the sake of homework doesn’t work, and can actually be a hindrance to learning. If you have or have had a 4th grader, I’m curious what your child’s homework load looks like each night. Please share!

12. The Red Tent was made into a Lifetime mini-series, airing December 7th and 8th! One of my favorite books of all time, I hope Lifetime doesn’t screw it up ;)

And that’s all she wrote folks! Have a great weekend. Taylor marches in the town’s Christmas Parade tonight, and tomorrow we get our tree! Tis the season!

image credit