Monday, August 26, 2013

Recipe: Fresh Fig & Almond Cake

As soon as I saw this recipe on Joy the Baker's blog, I knew I had to make it. It's the prettiest, most delicious cake, and I love that it's acceptable to have at breakfast. Along with a hot pot of coffee, this is the perfect start to our week.

I love fresh figs but never know how to use them all up, and this was the perfect recipe for them. The cake has hints of cardamom, and is moistened by buttermilk... making it decadent! The sliced, baked almonds add a toasty, crunchy flavor, reminding us that fall is just around the corner now.


Any other great breakfast cake recipes? I'd love to hear.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Summer Friday, Wanderlust

A little wanderlust on this summer Friday... take a look at these incredible hotels. Happy Weekend!

The Caves, Jamaica
Gibbs Farm, Tanzania
Villa Honegg, overlooking Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
Katikies Hotel in Santorini
Ice Hotel, Sweden
Amanyara, Turks & Caicos
Poseidon Undersea Resort in Fiji
Oberoi Udaivillas in Udaipur, India
Viceroy in Ubud, Bali
Hyatt Regency in Lake Tahoe
Fairy Chimney Hotel, Turkey

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to School: Backpacks & Lunchboxes

Little toddlers with little backpacks are probably the most adorable sight in NYC. There are so many packs to choose from, and since little J will be starting pre-pre-school this fall, I am excited to pick one out for her. These are my top choices for tots!

Jambanos the Pig Backpack, $32

Pkolino Shark Backpack, $55

Beatrix Papar Owl Backpack, $52

Skip Hop Doggie Backpack, $20

Giraffe backpack from Etsy, $36

Depending on the pre-school program, some parents may need to pack a lunch or snack for their toddler. How adorable are these lunchboxes?? Most of them are insulated, and can be paired with matching thermoses, compartment plates, utensils... etc. How fun!

Dabbawala Blushing Monkey Lunchbag, $25

Pottery Barn Personalized Lunchbox, $25

Firetruck Thermos Lunchbox, $17

Built Big Apple Buddies Lunch Sack, $16

Skip Hop Zoo Lunchies Lunch Bag, $13

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This magical fable is basically the essence of childhood, captured by a brilliant writer, into a novel. It's fantastical, exaggerated, terrifying and joyous... and it's a fascinating story, extremely well written. While reading it, I had the sense that I was inside a child's imagination. There were times of confusion, happiness and many points of extreme fear. 

The novel is set in England, and is basically a flashback story told by a middle-aged man who has returned to his childhood home. He has vivid memories of the house at the end of the lane, where he once befriended a girl named Lettie Hempstock, who has left a lasting impression in his memory. Centered around a pond that they believed was an ocean, many stories unfold in this man's memory, all of which focused on Lettie protecting him. Starting with the suicide of a visitor, including his father's affair with the babysitter, many events trigger this boy's wild imagination. Lettie Hempstock and her home is his only savior... the safe place where he can be himself and everything makes sense, even in retrospect. It is the home where he is told, "Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world." 

There are many passages in this novel that are so poetically and beautifully written, it's jarring. For example, “Nobody actually looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”  Through all the events and wise words, the young boy's innocence always shines through, even among the more heavy statements like, "All monsters are scared. That's why they're monsters." Or, "I make art, sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all."

While a bit confusing and maybe overly-imaginative, this book is a beautifully written story about childhood. I'd recommend it highly!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Recipe: Summer Popsicles

One of my favorite things to eat all summer long are cold, icy popsicles. Luckily, little J shares in my obsession and we've been enjoying these lucious treats on hot days. Now that I'm home (waiting for the baby to arrive!), I am busying myself in the kitchen with these adorable and fun creations. Homemade popsicles are so easy, can be very healthy, and are a great way to use leftover fruits and juices. They satisfy that sweet craving, and refresh you completely. J loves helping make these popsicles! We've experimented a bunch, and these are mine and J's favorites.

Strawberry and Kale Icies
Trust me, the kale really tastes great in these. Blend together 1 cup chopped kale, 1 cup chopped strawberries, and a splash of almond milk... and then pour into a popsicle mold (we love these), freeze, and enjoy!!

Peach and Cream Popsicles
These are decadent. Use your favorite yogurt (greek works well too!), blend 1 cup with 2 cups of juicy peaches, add a dash of honey to sweeten, and pour into a wide & short mold. I like this one from amazon.

Chocolate and Banana Pops
These may be more for the adults! They make the ideal dessert even after an elegant dinner party. I was inspired by this video recipe, and I also made delicious pops -- you can vary these with sprinkles to make them more tot friendly!

Unfortunately, NYC freezers are tiny and dont lend themselves well to lots of pops storage, but if I had the room, I would definitely spring for this amazing Zoku quick pop maker. It is the ideal instant gratification, and gives your the ability to make really creative, beautiful popsicles!

Have you seen these other amazing creations on Pinterest? Mindblowing.

(From top to bottom: Mixed Fruit, Watermelon, and Margarita)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Home: Easy Updates with Color

I love our apartment, but every now and then, I get antsy and tired of looking at the same dull colors in our living room. We've been working with the same brown leather sectional that my husband had as a bachelor, so it's a big part of what has defined our space. While it's beautiful, great quality and very comfortable, it does have a certain sense of manliness in it that I wanted to soften. A couple of years ago, we brightened the space with peach walls, colorful silk curtains, and fun throw pillows, but I wanted to do more.

I started with this inspirational room (from Safavieh Home Design) and decided to do the best I could to match it without breaking the bank.

I have been lusting after a pair purple velvet chairs for a long time, and finally found a set I love that work well with our room. The pair I ended up choosing is also from Safavieh, where my hubby got the rest of the living room furniture years ago.

This was our living room before (notice the toddler-friendly bumper around our marble coffee table - yuck!). Very plain and a little washed out. I had covered the table with a silk table cover, but it was wrinkly and slipped around, and often got in the way of toddler-play. I specifically wanted a way to keep that bumper around our table for safety, but have it be hidden and out of the way....

I had a custom cover made for our table, with some matching throw pillows. The fabric is by DVF home, and I love how it brightens the room while complimenting the browns, pinks, oranges and purples. Here's the after version!

This was a very easy, inexpensive update and we love the results! What do you think?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Recipe: Summer Squash Pizza

I am officially home now on maternity leave, and have been spending my days relaxing and waiting!! Luckily, I have enough energy to do some cooking and baking... at least for now.

I'm such a sucker for squash and zucchini - especially when it looks like this at the farmer's market.

It's not hard to get creative with squash recipes... so many to choose from. I also had extremely beautiful and fresh tomatoes from the market which were perfect for this recipe.

This heirloom tomato & summer squash pizza was the perfect dinner on a rainy summer night.

I followed this recipe pretty closely, using mozzarella and ricotta cheese. I started with frozen pizza dough, which made things a lot easier. I served this with a very simple drink of sparkling water & muddled berries, which was refreshing and delicious.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Restaurant Review: Dirt Candy

Hubby and I were lucky enough to check out Dirt Candy last night, thanks to our friend Jen who had made reservations 2 months ago!! This is an all vegetarian, trendy and tiny restaurant which is getting tons of hype for the creative, delicious cuisine. Chef Amanda Cohen, who named the restaurant based on her theory that vegetables are "candy from the earth," is really brilliant - serving up unexpected pairings with hearty, filling and savory vegetables.

The restaurant itself is teeny tiny, with only about 20 seats and one waitress. They offer half glasses of wine, which is a great concept if you are into trying a few different varieties or into pairing a different type of wine with each course. They even had a couple of non-alcoholic drinks - I chose the Rooibus Iced Tea which was refreshing and delicious. The two downfalls of the space are that there is no air conditioning (tough for a preggo!) and the chairs are 3 legged and somewhat unbalanced. Luckily though, the meal experience more than makes up for the plain atmosphere.

Hubby and I shared everything, starting with the Jalepeno Hush Puppies (spicy, airy fried corn meal) served with maple butter. We loved the unexpected contrast of flavors, it was a great start to the meal. We also had the Mushroom dish which consisted of a mushroom mousse, thinly sliced portabello mushrooms, a peach-fennel-ginger compote and truffled crostinis. It was YUM!

We then had an incredible dish of Corn Grits with cilantro, ricotta salata cheese and mushrooms, topped with a tempura egg. This was my favorite for sure!!

The restaurant is known for its clever and tasty Broccoli Dogs, which strangely and suspiciously smell just like hot dogs (thanks to the way they are smoked, and the addition of mustard). They are also hearty and surprising... topped with broccoli sprouts, and with sides of broccoli leaf chips and slaw wrapped in a thinly sliced radish, this was way better than I expected. We both loved them!

There were so many interesting desserts to choose from but we finally settled on the Sweet Pea & Mint Ice Cream, which was served among layers of chocolate, frozen cream, and a cookie shell. Cool, refreshing and delicious!! We could not get enough. 
This restaurant was definitely worth the 2 month wait. Even if you aren't vegetarian, I promise you will love the interesting combinations, powerful flavors and creative dishes. Anyone else been, and agree?


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Recipe: Mango, Lime & Ginger Cheesecake

Last week, I had tons of mangos lying around and wanted to make an easy summer dessert using all of them. I scoured the internet for great recipes, and settled on this amazing, easy and no-bake recipe for cheesecake.

From Woman's Day

As I've confessed before, I am not much of a baker, but this was so much more about the ingredients than it was about skill. If I can do it, you can too!! Disclaimer: I used store-bought crust.

This so cold and refreshing for summer. What's your favorite no-bake dessert?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Push Present! Gift Ideas for the New Mom

A push present is a trendy way to celebrate a new mom.... it's a gift that a father gives to the mother to celebrate the birth. It's a special "thank you" for carrying the baby for 9 months, and dealing with all the ups and downs of pregnancy, but also as a special treat after an arduous labor or birth. Anyone who has been through a birth knows that there could be nothing more special or wonderful than the newborn that has just joined your family, but I definitely agree that it's nice for a hubby to mark the occasion with a special gift showing appreciation to his wife! Here are some great ideas.

1. Splurge on a designer diaper bag that any new mom would be happy to tote around! These are my favorites.

Coach Baby Bag
Kate Spade Stevie Diaper Bag
Marc Jacobs Eliz-A-Baby Bag

Gucci Supreme Diaper Bag

2. Mom jewelry is really making waves right now. There are so many fun options... a new mom would love to wear her baby's initial or birthstone as a necklace or even as stacked rings or a fun bracelet. Plus, it's fun to add to these as your family grows! There are so many options!!

Roberto Coin Diamond Initial
Birthstone Stacking Rings

David Yurman Intial Pendant
Initial Charm Bracelet by Bauble Bar

Initial Pendant by Ariel Gordon

3. Is there a nursery item she's been coveting, but is hesitant to splurge on? Surprise her with a gorgeous and comfortable rocker, or beautiful crib bedding.

Glenna Jean Crib Bedding

Joya Leather Rocker at Giggle
4. Any new mom would love family portraits. There are so many wonderful photographers that do newborn and family photoshoots in the comfort of your own home. Why not set that up as a perfect surprise, and a lasting momento?

5. All women love a shiny new piece of bling...take a look at my friend's company, FifthBond for beautiful, unique pieces.

6. If she's into practical gifts, a top-of-the line kitchen appliance will be a perfect choice. For example, the Vitamix Blender will allow her to make her favorite drinks, soups, smoothies, sauces... and even whip up baby food for the little one.

7. Her feet have been hurting for 9 months... treat them to some extravagant heels!

Brian Atwood Mercada Pumps

Valentino Rockstud Pumps

8. Plan your first vacation as a family with the baby! You can't go wrong with Atlantis in the Bahamas (and they are having a sale for fall travel!)

Here are some outrageous celebrity push presents.... and just for fun, speculation and ideas on what Duchess Kate may receive from her husband after delivering the little Prince.

Push presents - what a fun tradition! Don't you think?