Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Review: Children's Books for Spring

As you've probably caught on by now, I'm an avid reader. I can't remember a time that my head was not buried in a book -- even as a young child, I could get lost in a novel for hours on end. Reading has always been a sense of comfort and wonder, an easy, education and relaxing activity that I could always find pleasure in. I've learned so much through books... whether it be by finding myself in the pages of a novel, or by exploring new cultures and traditions in another, or just simply by marveling in an author's talent or ability to take me somewhere else...reading has always been a sort of escape for me.

I really hope that my girls build a love of reading, and that it plays a big part in their lives, like it has in mine. I can already see how much little J enjoys "reading" books, flipping pages, telling stories, and cuddling up with a bunch of her favorites. We love reading classics, but I also like to introduce more modern children's stories.

Here are some great new children's books that we've been enjoying, and would highly recommend!

1. A Gift for Mama by Linda Lodding is the most adorable story about the most adorable boy who sets out to buy a present for his mother. The illustrations are beautiful and the lesson is so sweet. Such a great mother's day gift, too!

How cute is that??
2. Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson is an interactive book in which the seasons unfold like magic. Since little J has been learning about months and seasons in school, this was a great addition to reinforce the concepts at home.

What a fun little book!

3. I'd Know You Anywhere, My Love by Nancy Tillman is really the most heartwarming book that parents may enjoy even more than their kiddos. I have tears in my eyes as I read these words aloud, all about a parent's unconditional love for their child, who is unique and special. I love a book that celebrates differences...such a great boost of confidence for any little one. 
What are your favorite books to read with your munchkins?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spicy Black Bean & Tofu Burgers with Veggie "Coleslaw"

I have been a long-time quest for a moist and delicious veggie burger, but I luckily came across this recipe for Indian Spiced Black Bean and Tofu Burgers that has satisfied me completely!! I modified the recipe by adding some corn, chili peppers, and black rice to the mixture. I had a little trouble making this stick together like a patty, but after adding some extra bread crumbs, I had better success. I'm definitely going to go easy on the tofu next time since that's what made my mixture too soft. This black bean and tofu burger was filling, with a spicy kick, and protein-rich to top it off. The Indian spices are a perfect compliment to the black beans and tofu, and really round this dish out. I didn't have goat cheese so I used fresh ricotta, and topped it off with chopped tomatoes and avocados...
I paired this burger with a sort of veggie coleslaw that I made by chopping carrots, cucumbers, radish, celery, and zucchini in the food processor. I dressed it with lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper, and a dash of the amazing chat masala that elevates this salad to the next level.

Can't wait to try more veggie burger recipes on the grill this summer! Any suggestions?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Little J's THIRD Birthday Party!

A few weeks ago, we celebrated little J's 3rd birthday, at the Art Farm in the City. If you don't know about the Art Farm, it's the cutest little hidden gem on the Upper East Side. This is a smaller branch of the larger and well known Art Farm in the Hamptons, but it's equally adorable and eco-friendly. The venue offers an art project for the kids (we chose paper mache piggy banks), a half hour of live music, dancing and bubbles, and of course - time with the farm animals!!

For the farm time, we had sheep, rabbits, chinchillas, turtles, guinea pigs, etc. The kids loved petting them, feeding them, and some kids even loved being scared of them ;) I was impressed with how smoothly the staff ran the party, and how much they engaged all our guests, even the adults! Everyone had so much fun, especially little J.

Animal themed parties are always easy to plan -- there are so many great places that sell themed favors, party supplies, and décor. We kept this party very simple because the venue is small and we had lots of kids - balloons and party hats for décor, light catering for an early dinner, and a beautiful little cake by Julie of Say it With Flour.


For party favors, the venue supplied each of the tots with a Melissa & Doug Animal Stamp Pad, along with their paper mache project. We added little trinkets to the goody bags -- animal tattoos, animal stickers, horse, pig and cow bend-ables, and farm animal finger puppets! Kids really love little stuff like that, and it will surprisingly keep them busy for a while.   just ordered these from Oriental Trading, my go-to place for little items and craft supplies for the little ones.

It's so fun to celebrate milestones, especially with lots of friends and family. Eating and play together... can anything be better??

Friday, April 4, 2014

8 Ways to Make Yourself Work Out (especially when you're a working mom)

Since going back to work from my second maternity leave, I've had a really hard time finding the time and energy to work out. I crave my pre-pregnancy body, sometimes even more than I crave chocolate, but it's soo hard to motivate at the end of a long, exhausting day. I haven't perfected this by any means, but here are some tips that have made it easier to make it to the gym. 

1) Dress the part. Don't put on your pajamas when you get home. Put on work out clothes. I promise, it's much easier to take a walk or head to the gym after the kids are in bed, if you're already in exercise pants. As you already know, it's impossible to get out of pajamas!!

2) Eat dinner with the kids. Do your kids have an early dinner time like mine? Join them. It's much better for your health to be eating at 6pm, and it will be a lot easier to go to the gym at 8pm if you've eaten a couple of hours ago. This will save you from eating your kids' leftovers in addition to your own dinner after they're asleep (yes, yes I am guilty!). If you need a snack after the gym, have a protein rich smoothie or granola bar.

3) Schedule it in advance. Just like everything else about motherhood, getting to the gym will mean feeling organized in your personal life. Schedule in gym time in advance, make sure your partner is home with the kids the evenings you plan to work out, and that nothing else is getting in the way of you making time for exercise.

4) Prepare. Keep a gym bag packed and stocked. Add whatever you need to in advance, so you can't use it as an excuse not to go. If you love watching TV in the evenings, do it at the gym while you're on the treadmill. Or download the show you love onto your iPad and take it along. If you want to listen to music, load up your iPhone with great music to get you going. Or if you're an avid reader like me, download a book-on-tape so you can "read" while you run.

5) Speed walk. Let's face it - we may not always have the time or energy to work out, but do what you can, when you can. Speed walk during your commute. Walking to the subway, bus stop, or parking lot? Do it faster, and do it more often. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a walk during lunch on a nice day. The little steps can really add up to make you look and feel better.

6) Find a buddy- preferably a fellow mom with the same time constraints as you. It's much more fun and a lot easier to work out together when you have someone to motivate you and hold you accountable. Plan to take a yoga class with a friend, or find a new walking buddy in your neighborhood. It will go a long way for your health and your sanity.

7) Invest in a jogging stroller. With the weather getting better, it will be a nice family activity to go for a jog on a weekend morning, kids-in-tow.

8) Reward yourself. Set a goal. When you reach it, reward yourself with that new purse you've had your eyes on for months :)  

Now, this is all assuming that your kids are sleeping well. If not, you're probably too tired to even read this whole post, forget working out. In that case, go back to bed.... there's always tomorrow. ZZzzZz.

In case you missed it, here is my Guide to Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Would love to hear any other suggestions!!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Recipe: Creamy Polenta with Poached Egg, Vegetables and Goat Cheese

It was a typical hump-day Wednesday, and we were all feeling a little blaaah... until dinner happened. This creamy, savory and satisfying dish was a perfect pick-me-up! The polenta is filling and hearty, and layered with crushed red pepper, a poached egg, mushrooms, zucchini and spinach sautéed in avocado oil, and topped off with crumbled goat cheese -- its a real winner.

This was actually my first time making polenta from scratch (I usually just use the store-bought kind), and I was surprised at how easy it was! I used this basic recipe, but added some spices, and salt and pepper to taste. I kept some extra for another meal this week (maybe a polenta pizza?) since I'm now obsessed with how easy it is to cook with. I used a small bowl to cut out little circles of polenta, but this would have been just as delicious if I had kept it lumpy and creamy :)

I made up the rest as I went along, but that's whats so great about polenta -- its the perfect base for all sorts of fun variations. Using any veggies, cheese, and spices you have on hand, you can experiment and create anything you may enjoy. I would argue though, that a runny egg is essential to a polenta entree. It makes everything moist and blend together, adding a touch of decadence and protein. Polenta really lends itself to many tastes. It's great with eggs for breakfast, as a creamy side dish to any protein, or layered with toppings as an entree.  It can be grilled, fried, baked... okay, you get my point - make some polenta!

This was a great vegetarian meal, even suitable for dinner guests. Do you cook with polenta? I'd love to hear more variations for recipes!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Disney World!

We did something really ambitious last week... Disney World with two little princesses!! Luckily, everything went smoothly, especially considering their ages and all the luggage we had to bring along! We had 4 days in Orlando, which was short but a great snippet and preview of many inevitable trips in our future. We stayed at a timeshare property, the Hilton Grand Vacation Club, which was the best way to travel with the kiddos. Our suite had 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, a living room, big kitchen and a great dining table. They brought us two high chairs and crib, which made things so easy for us. We were able to have a hearty breakfast each morning and pack up lots of snacks for the day. This was the ideal way to save time, energy, money - and avoid long lines for food at the parks. The hotel was beautiful, accommodating and filled with activities -- several heated pools, hot tubs, a kids club, many restaurants, and a gorgeous layout. Definitely the best way to travel with kids!

Magic Kingdom was so much fun for all of us! We spent most of our time in Fantasy Land, where the rides and attractions are all geared toward Jiya's age. She had so much fun at all the rides, loved meeting Minnie Mouse, playing in the water splash park, seeing the Disney Parade, and admiring Cinderella's castle! The weather was perfect, and Leela loved being outside.

The whole place is incredibly well run and clean... we were truly impressed. But I couldnt get over how many people there were there! It seems like everyone from around the world had come to see this amazing fantasy world. Since we were there for many school spring breaks, the lines were definitely long and it was very crowded (poor hubby was having a hard time navigating our rented double stroller through heavy traffic!), but it was fine for our purposes -- which was just to get a glimpse and do what we could. 


We had big plans at Hollywood Studios, but got rained out most of the afternoon, which was a big bummer. Still, it was great to see a shorter version of Beauty & the Beast on stage, catch some rides, and have a long lunch with our friends who live in the area.

Our last day, at Epcot, was my favorite. We had scheduled a Princess Breakfast where many of the princesses greet the children and dine with all the guests. Luckily for Jiya, Belle was the hostess, taking pictures and hugging all her fans... and then Cinderella, Princess Aurora, Ariel and Snow White came around to meet everyone, sign autographs, take pictures. It was really Jiya's dream come true. At the end of the breakfast, they set up a Royal Procession! All the little girls marched around like princesses... it was so sweet.

Aside from the epic princess brunch, we loved Epcot for all the yummy food, beautiful set up of the different countries around a gorgeous lake, and the many kids' activities that kept Jiya entertained and happy while we enjoyed Italian wine, French crepes, and a Japanese drum show. Only in Disney World!

It was so fun to be a kid again, even if it was just for the weekend ;-) Have you been to Disney lately? What would you recommend?