Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Best Gifts for a New Mom

I know so many expectant mothers right now... especially those who are pregnant with their first little one! One of my closest friends is expecting any day now, and it gets me thinking of that amazing, blurry, exhausting and exhilarating time post-delivery when you are trying to figure out your new life with the incredible little miracle you're bringing home. There are so many ways to make this time easier, so that new parents can focus on their joy and not all the other less fun stuff like hunger, panic, pain....etc! It's always nice to bring a gift for the new baby, but sometimes it's fun to treat the parents too!

Here are some great gift ideas to spoil the new mommy in your life... and both parents would enjoy most of these!

1. Food! Make meal time easier by providing simple, hearty meals for the family. They should be provided in a disposable tray that doesn't have to be returned, is easy to heat up, and mess-free to clean up. It's a good idea to provide a few portions for visitors, family members, etc. If you're not much of a chef, you can always try a service like Plated to provide delicious meals to the tired new parents. And, if you're feeling really ambitious, you can set up a meal train to get other friends and neighbors involved.

2. When I had little J, my friend gave me a big bag of goodies just for me, which I devoured. It was filled with gossip magazines, chocolates, a great novel and a gift certificate to a manicure right on my block. Perfect treat for a tired new mom. Another similar treat could be a birch box with beauty products!

3. It would be so great to have a second hand for household chores during the transition period. Surprise your new mom friend with a cleaning service for the day, or show up yourself to be a helper! Another great idea is to provide a post-partum doula or mother's helper for a few hours to help with the new baby, teach about breastfeeding, or give her a post-partum massage. It's pretty easy to search online for services in the area.

4. I love the idea of a "Day Baby Was Born Box" which would include newspaper clippings and other fun cards/notes from the day the baby was born. Parents can use this as a start to also add other mementos like the hospital ID bracelet, first little hat & mittens, or any other keepsake. Would be so fun to look back on!

5. For a new mom who already has an older child, a great gift would be something to keep the older child busy and happy while he or she gets adjusted to the new baby. Green Kid Crafts provides fun art supplies for toddlers, and is available on a subscription basis, to ensure continued fun :)  

6. Subscription to Netflix, for late-night feedings when the mom is often up alone. Would be a great distraction for either parent. Or, if she's a big reader, get her an Amazon gift certificate so she can download lots of books onto her Kindle and read while the baby nurses... and nurses... and nurses.

7. A custom mommy necklace with her new baby's initial.... she will definitely treasure it and wear it with pride!! There are so many options, but I love Amelia Rose and Maya Brenner...

8. Cute & comfy nursing clothes to help her feel her look best while breastfeeding, running errands, or taking a walk with the new baby. Some ideas here, here and here.

9. A luxurious, comfy robe that will look great and presentable, even with family or friends around.

10. Something decadent and delicious that they wouldn't buy for themselves! Some ideas are cookies from Eleni's (they come in fun baby shapes!), chocolate covered strawberries from Godiva, or heavenly brownies from Fat Witch. When J was born, my sister-in-law brought me amazing and adorable chocolates from Martine's - they were in all sorts of shapes like a pink pacifier, a baby stroller and baby animals - they were so cute I didn't even want to eat them at first. But I got over that pretty quickly, phew.

Do any of you have other suggestions to add? Would love to hear!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

I was so excited for the release of this book, particularly because I loved the Kite Runner and really enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns. However, while And the Mountains Echoed is a gripping, well written story, the book leaves a lot to be desired. Khaled Hosseini tends to write about heartbreaking family stories, mixed with general issues of classism, poverty, friendship, women's rights and troubles in the Middle East. This book has many of the same themes, and reveals that Hosseini is a great story teller.

The novel begins with a bedtime story told to two young children, Abdullah and Pari, whose father is facing a difficult and morally challenging situation. In this story, a mythical "Div" takes children away from parents, and says "when you have lived as long as I have lived, you find that cruelty and benevelonce are but shades of the same color." The incident that follows becomes the crux of the whole novel, as the author explores the extremely close relationship between these two siblings, as well as those in the world around them. The love between Abdullah and Pari is so well described it is heartbreaking when they are separated. In another story, the relationship between Nabi and his boss is also extremely well explored, with many levels of love and frustration. However, there are too many stories being told here, with less depth than in Hosseini's other novels, and the result is somewhat disjointed. While we see the pain these siblings are facing, we just can't get invested as much as we want to, because the story strays away from them too much. Other parts of the novel, while fascinating, are given cursory glances -- and end up taking away from the central story instead of adding a deeper level. Perhaps the stories also span too much time and too much distance, going from the 1950s to 2010, from a village in Kabul to San Francisco, Paris, and even Greece.

Overall, I felt the relationships and characters could have been much more well developed, and there seemed to be an unfinished air to many of the stories. On the other hand, this book does read very well, is a captivating story and while it is deeply sad, there are many glimmers of hope. As one of the characters says, "She is my flesh and blood. And soon I will meet her children, and her children's children, and my blood courses through them too. I am not alone. A sudden happiness catches me unawares. I feel it trickling into me, and my eyes go liquid with gratitude and hope."

Did you read this or any of Hosseini's other books? Which was your favorite?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Recipe: Orange Blueberry Muffins

We had planned on having a very lazy Saturday and I kicked it off with a great breakfast of Orange-Blueberry muffins and a yogurt parfait made with tropical fruits. I scored mangosteen, dragon fruit, lychees and guavas in Chinatown on Friday after work, and l couldn't wait to eat them for breakfast!

This recipe for the muffins was delicious and made a perfect batch of moist, not-too-sweet muffins. I added raspberries as well, and they were a great punch of color. 

Guavas are my all-time favorite fruit. They remind me of childhood summers in Jaipur, India -- where we have a guava tree in our backyard. While it is generally bursting with ripe fruit, it also attracts the monkeys who are very sneaky about getting to these yummy fruits before we can! It's usually worth the battle though, as these guavas are the sweetest and most refreshing fruit in the desert heat of Rajasthan.

I also love mangosteen... have you ever tried it? It has the sweet & sour kick and comes in such adorable packaging. How pretty are these fruits?? 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Birthday Dinner at Atera

Walnut Sundae & Chocolate Mint

Hubby took me out for the most incredible meal for my birthday dinner... it was not only delicious, but it was a unique experience from start to finish. Atera opened a little over a year ago, and headed by chef Matthew Lightner, it has been a huge success. The concept is an interesting one -- you make a reservation a month in advance and pre-pay the whole meal. They have two seatings per evening, one at 6:30pm and the other at 9:30pm. Once the big night arrives, guests sit at a table encircling the kitchen, where you can watch the preparation and meticulous plating of every dish. This is a somewhat extravagant experience that is definitely for a special occasion. 
Clockwise: I can't remember what this first snack was!!, Beet "Leather" with luscious berries,
Sunchoke Kimchi in Vegetable Bullion, Savory "Cannoli"
There were over 30 courses (vegetarian for me!) and each was served by a personal waiter who provides details about each dish and the method/ingredients involved. The menu starts with 10 different "snacks" which were each beautiful and delicious... but I was really blown away when the real meal began. Each dish was more phenomenal than the last... and every plate was an artistic display. The food is served on things like bark, wood, moss, slate & stone. I could see the chef playing with our palate - especially during the snacks segment where we were made to feel all sorts of flavors, temperatures & textures. Overall, the meal was indulgent and satisfying. It was fascinating to actually watch Lightner using tweezers to perfectly plate each herb and flower that adorned his food.
Spring Onion with Black Walnut Powder & Dill
Clockwise: Vegetarian version of the fluke with Mulberries, Thin Wafers filled with something like wasabi,
Spring Peas in beer whey

My single favorite dish was the "egg" dessert.... it was even more delicious than beautiful! As a special surprise, the restaurant presented me with a printed copy of the menu (a modified version), that was signed by the chef himself!! It was such a great experience and I'm still in awe of it.
Clockwise: Japanese Sweet Potato, White Chocolate Birch Ice Cream & Wood Sorrrel, Cracked Egg Ice Cream
Walnut &  Hazelnut Truffles with Carmel Pretzels

Friday, June 14, 2013

Vegetarian BBQ Ideas in time for Father's Day

If you're a vegetarian, you're probably already tired of eating a Veggie Burger from the grill.... and summer hasn't even begun yet! Over the years, I have found some great recipes to make all the veggies happy at a BBQ. Are you planning to grill on Father's Day? This might give you some helpful ideas!

Here are some of my favorites:

Crispy Grilled Pizza is a perfect summer treat... substantial for lunch, and can be varied with any sorts of cheese, sauce, toppings that you desire... my favorite is grilled zucchini & goat cheese, YUM

Have you ever tried a portabello mushroom burger? It's incredible on the grill, and you can top it off with a bruschetta as described here. Another great idea for a burger is to use eggplant as the base... similar to a portabello mushroom, it has a thick, chewy consistency that works well with grilling. I love this Eggplant Haloumi Pesto recipe with haloumi cheese.

I've never tried Thai Tofu on Lemongrass Skewers, but these look perfect and will definitely be my next venture on the grill!

Faux-Pasta is also great on the grill... like these Zucchini Ribbons paired with Peaches & Macadamia Cream

Lastly, my personal favorite is Mexican on the grill. I love Grilled Veggie Fajitas with a side of spicy guac :)

For side dishes, I love corn on the cob, or Chili-Lime Sweet Potatoes or Stuffed Red Peppers

All of these dishes would go well with any Summer Salad that will compliment the heat. Try this out and let me know which you like best! 

Hope you all have a wonderful father's day! Have you seen this? This is a must read in honor of father's day... so sweet.

50 Rules for Dads of Daughters

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Recipe: Skinny Spinach & Artichoke Bake

I really love artichokes, especially when paired with fresh, organic spinach. I used this recipe, but substituted frozen spinach for fresh. The result was creamy and tangy... a perfectly satisfying vegetarian dinner. The non-fat greek yogurt and low-fat cream cheese are great additions to make this meal creamy, high in protein, and overall very healthy... even great for tots.

I served this with a dash of parmesan, sea salt and coarse black pepper. It's so hearty that you don't need a side dish, but it would work very well with a cold salad like this Raw Carrot Salad.

Who says being vegetarian is tough?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Being Mommy: Newborn Photos

Is there anything more adorable than pictures of a baby who is just days old... cuddly, sleepy and angelic? Professional newborn photos are trendy and very popular right now, but they are a lasting memory that the whole family will cherish. As the mom of a toddler, I can definitely see how those first sleepy days are the sweetest... and deserve to be captured!! Their little toes, eyelashes, soft pudgy arms, will never be so small again, which is a wonder and a treat to see.

I love looking at the newborn photos we have of J, and I can't wait to photograph another little doll very soon! I'm especially excited at the prospect of capturing sweet sisterly shots... photos the girls will always have to remember this special time.

Etsy has amazing newborn photo props, and I know expectant mothers out there will love to get some ideas from these. I didn't use props the first time, but there are so many adorable ones out there I'm tempted to order lots for this time around. Nothing makes the morning sickness and back pain worth it like planning for cuddle-time when the new baby finally arrives :)

If you're having a girl, you can't miss out on the opportunity to have her wear a tutu without protest... and these adorable headbands only look amazing when the baby is mostly bald!

Vintage Tutu & Headband Set by A Sweet Sweet Botique

What about a cozy cacoon by Baby Grace Hats

Such a sweet little hat! by ForeverMade

I'm in love with this peachy cheesecloth wrap by Custom Photo Props

and how can you forget wings! made by LilTutuDivas

For newborn boys, the photoprops seem to be sportier and sophisticated...

Like this little football fanatic crochet hat by Precious Moments Props

or how cute is this baby bear?? made by Imway2Short

I love this dapper little hat by Four Tiny Cousins

look at this sleepy little stud in his adorable bowtie! by NBrynn Design

and this rustic basket would be great for either boy or girl! by Karlys Kloset

If you are expecting, have you thought about hiring a professional photographer, or using photo props? I'd love to hear other suggestions.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Book Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I really can't put my finger on what makes this book so incredible. It may be Wolitzer's simple, powerful prose... or it could be the extremely compelling story... or the fascinating, well rounded character development. All of the elements in this book fall together in perfect harmony, leaving the reader wanting more and more.

Jules Jacobson is the narrator, a female protagonist who has a steady and unnerving voice throughout the novel. The story starts when she is 15 years old, at a summer camp for aspiring artists, called "Spirit In the Woods." The friends she meets during this summer are the ones she remains closest with throughout her entire adult life, and their successes, failures, troubles and triumphs are central to her own. As an akward teenager, she feels honored and privileged to have fallen into this group that calls themselves "the interestings" -- a group of rich Manhattanites with artistic talent that she comes to worship. Ethan Figman, the only one of them who does attain wild artistic success, is a central character in this novel and in Jules' life. But not many of The Interestings actually keep up with their childhood artistic dreams -- “The ones who kept up with it — or maybe the one who kept up with it — would be the exception,” Jules realizes. “Exuberance burned away, and the small, hot glowing bulb of talent remained, and was raised high in the air to show the world.” The struggles of these characters to come to terms with their talents or lack thereof, are relatable and painful, and it is the evolution of each individual from their teen self to their adult self, that Wolitzer captures so perfectly. 

I am surprised at how much this book moved me, especially given that it took me about 100 pages to really get into it. The first hundred pages merely set the scene, but watching as all of these characters grow, change, succeed and fail is the compelling part. This book explores all sorts of notions of success and happiness, and how they differ in adulthood from the teen years. In the end, Jules (with help from her self-declared "ordinary" and "talentless" husband) has the realization that, "You didn’t always need to be the dazzler, the firecracker, the one who cracked everyone up, or made everyone want to sleep with you, or be the one who wrote and starred in the play that got the standing ovation,” Jules tells herself. She comes to the revelation that, “You could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting.” In childhood, this realization could be heart-breaking... but when Jules finally comes to it as an adult, it is a liberating notion which provides great relief. What I liked most about this book is the way Wolitzer unravels ideas of self-evolution. It is not without disappointment that adulthood sets in, but the characters are very much still themselves, which is the most realistic and optimistic approach to growing up. 

I also loved the wonderful description of relationships in this book. Whether it was a romantic relationship, a close friendship, or a parent-child relationship -- Wolitzer provided so many angles and facets to each... leaving the reader wholly satisfied. Without giving too much away, on so many pages, the longing felt real, the guilt was measurable, the pain was almost tactile. 

The story and the charaters were very thought provoking. I found myself thinking, What was it about this camp, was it the vulnerable, impressionable nature of the teenage years that created these deep bonds, or were the actual friendships so irreplacable that they made a lifelong impact? In the end, this novel is about friendships, talent, envy, love... and what those can do to an ordinary life. Wolitzer's book definitely falls in the ranks of other coming-of-age, epic novels like the Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides) or Freedom (Jonathan Franzen), and is certainly one of the best novels of our times. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Father's Day Gift Guide

I can't believe it's already June! And that means Father's day is coming up. What kind of gift or treat do you get your dad? or for your hubby, the new dad? These are some of my favorite ideas this year.

Swimms are the best & most comfortable all-weather, water-proof, day-to-night summer shoe for the sporty dad... available in so many fun colors! ($149)

Adorable baseball oven mitts for the chef that's young at heart! ($12)

This gardener's seat is so cute and clever! ($32)

Wireless outdoor speaker/dock from Brookstone ($149)

I love this trendy and fancy Lacoste hat! ($45)

Keep his battery charged with the Freedom Case ($100)
How cute is this bowtie & handkerchief set? Perfect for a summer wedding! ($70)

If he's a cigar enthusiast, a travel humidor will be great for hot summer nights ($70)

Do you have a father's day gift giving tradition? If so, I'd love to hear about it...