Friday, February 28, 2014

Recipe: Creamy Asparagus & Mushroom Soup

It was so frigid out that I had tears in my eyes as I pushed the stroller home from J's Super Soccer Stars class one of these bitter cold NY evenings. The cold stung my face and I had forgotten my gloves at home, so my hands felt numb for a good ten minutes even after I got home. As I've asked myself countless times this winter, why do I live here again? 

It was definitely a soup night. I decided to make a Creamy Asparagus & Mushroom soup to combat the cold, and it turned out to be a decadent way to do so...even though I made the soup without dairy. I paired it with a creative and delicious toast... using fresh baked bread, drizzled with {my new obsession} avocado oil, spinach, crumbled goat cheese, sliced tomatoes and sea salt/black pepper. 

I've made more soups this winter than ever before! One of the few ways I can keep my family cozy through the Polar Vortex... 

Creamy Asparagus & Mushroom Soup

1 cup chopped asparagus
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1/3 cup chopped celery
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water

1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup canneli beans
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp miso

sea salt, pepper flakes, garlic powder and pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring the asparagus, mushrooms and celery to boil in the veg stock with added water.

Meanwhile, blend together the almond milk, beans, lemon juice and miso in a food processor or blender until smooth... and then set aside.

Once the veggies are soft, use an immersion blender to blend while keeping it chunky. Pour in the cream from your blender, and stir until its mixed well. Add sea salt, garlic powder, black pepper and pepper flakes to taste. Garnish with cilantro. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guide to Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

I've been back at work for more than 6 weeks now and finally feel like I'm falling into the swing of things. Yes, I still forget to put one earring in, have forgotten about a court appearance, and have messed up playdate times and locations. I've even met with a client with a temporary tattoo of Cinderella on my hand. But that's not to say that things aren't getting better... they are. And that's mostly because of a few handy routines that help me feel organized, motivated and energized.

If you, too, are planning on returning to work after maternity leave, here are some tips to make the transition less painful (ok, nothing will make it less painful -- but maybe these tips will make it go a bit smoother)

1. Make Lists/Stay Organized. I'm a neat freak and list obsessed, but really - when you're a working mom, lists are the only way to go. I make two major lists per week. One is for my home life and the other is for my work life. I list things I need to do (plan J's birthday party, order groceries, deposit a check), things that I need to buy (size 3 diapers, an amber teething necklace, new sneakers for J and contact lens solution for hubby). Of course, I also list things I already took care of at 6 am, just to feel more accomplished :) My work list includes emails I need to write, clients I need to contact, motions I need to file. I am also obsessive about my calendars. I keep a paper calendar/datebook for work (which is backed up on my blackberry), and use gmail calendars for my personal life. I include J's playdates, classes and appointments on my gmail calendar (J & I have separate colors so everything is clear at first glance), and keep a printed copy in my datebook so I have easy access to it all.

2. Prepare the Night Before. No matter how much you plan and organize, the mornings are going to be crazy. After 6 am nursing, getting everyone fed and dressed, and pumping before leaving for the day -- I'm too exhausted and frantic to remember everything else. It's so hard to get out the door when you have to leave {two} sweet faces every morning, and if you can stop kissing them goodbye, you may get a chance to scarf down a granola bar for sustenance. I've finally begun to do all I can the night before. This includes showering, getting my pump supplies ready, taking my vitamins, packing snacks and setting up activities for J for the next day. It only takes 10-15 minutes to do everything the night before, but somehow it saves 30 minutes of panic the next morning. Controlled chaos in the morning is much better than regular chaos.  

3. Continue Breastfeeding. Keeping up breastfeeding will help you feel connected to the baby and just a little less guilty about working... and of course, it's so important and healthy for the little one. I finally took the plunge and invested in an additional pump to leave at work, along with an extra hands-free bra, a set of bottles and medela cleansing wipes. It saves me from dragging the pump around on the subway, especially when I usually also have files to carry. It also helps to feel organized because I just have to bring the empty bottles to work and the filled bottles back. Plus, the pump bags are just SO ugly. It's bad enough to be weighed down with a heavy pump - don't need to risk being seen with an ugly bag to boot.

4. Pack Healthy, Filling Snacks. If you're anything like me while breastfeeding, you will need substantial ammo to help you get through the day. I stash tons of snacks in my purse, desk drawers, even jacket pockets -- so I have no chance of going hungry or getting tempted by vending machine cheetos (yum!) I usually carry a fruit, pretzels, nuts, pirate's booty, chocolate covered almonds or multi-grain crackers. If you're extra tired from a middle-of-the-night nursing session, a hearty and nutritious snack will do wonders for your body.

5. Leave Some Essentials at Work. There are some things I always need. Mother's Milk Tea bags because they are stress relieving and milk-inducing, breast pads in case I'm stuck in a long trial and my breasts are about to explode, herbs/vitamins in case I forgot to take them at home (which happens all the time), basic makeup/hair brush for when I've had a rough night or a {too} early morning, and a framed picture of the little ones so I can always see their adorable faces.

6. Set Up a Camera. If you feel the need to check in on the kids several times a day, set up a Foscam Monitor that can be accessed remotely, from anywhere in the world. You can log in on a computer or even right from your iPhone, via the Foscam app which is super user friendly. Good luck tearing your eyes away from those cuties!!

7. Plan for Emergencies. You'll feel a lot better if your nanny/daycare is prepared in case of an emergency. Keep your medicine cabinet stocked, leave emergency numbers on the fridge and an extra copy in the diaper bag or stroller, leave small bills at home, maybe even a $20 metro card, and have a backup caretaker that you can call if you are in a bind. Stock the freezer with healthy and hearty meals that the nanny can easily prepare in case she's had a crazy day taking care of two kids - or if you are stuck late at work and will miss kiddie dinner.

8. Take a Lunch Break. Isn't a kid-free lunch the whole point of working?? When I was home on maternity leave, I used to think longingly about a time where I could chat with my co-workers over noodle soup. But seriously, take advantage of the one meal where you can sit down and enjoy the company of other adults, without spills, sippy cups and tantrums. It will make your work day more productive and will keep you going...until that glass of wine after the kids go to bed. Ahhh.

9. Plan Ahead. I have recently implemented a new routine where I stay late at work one day per week (usually Mondays), which helps me feel on top of my workload rather than drowning underneath it. It's also easy and efficient to designate a day that you stay late and your partner gets home early, and that can also be the night you order in or let your partner take care of dinner or bath time. I also love the idea of having weekly activities for the kids or standing playdates every week with the same kids (rotating houses) so it eliminates the need to plan an activity for J, and that way I know she's having a fun and busy afternoon. I also loosely plan the week's meals on Sundays when I order Fresh Direct. To stay healthy and try to lose the last few pounds, schedule in gym time at least 2x per week so you can hold yourself accountable (I have yet to do this... but I'm still trying!). While you're at it, plan a few date nights too -- chances are that romance has been taking a back seat. And if you can, plan a vacation so you have something fun to look forward to with your family.

10. Treat Yourself.... to new work clothes that make you feel excited about getting ready for the day, a manicure to feel more polished, a trendy yoga class, fancy blowout or whatever it is that will make you look and feel happy, rested, ready. The chances are that this extra step only requires a little bit of of money or a half hour to an hour of time... but it will go a long way in making you look and feel like a professional (even when your kids are covering you in Dora stickers).

Most of all, let go of the guilt. Working moms are always struggling with the guilt of leaving their babies, but remember -- your work is likely helping your family, helping you feel sane and balanced, helping you become a more energetic mom when you are present, and helping to set an example for your girls... that moms really can do it all!

What do other working moms do to stay organized?? I'd love to add to this list.

Photo Above by Melanie Rose Photography

Monday, February 24, 2014

Beach Essentials for Tots

Given the constant snowfall and arctic temperatures in NY, it was time for a sunny getaway. We planned this last minute beach vacation on a whim, and had to rush a passport for the baby! It was well worth it. Lots of pictures and details to come soon, but meanwhile... here's a peek at the girls' suitcase. Since Spring is around the corner now, it's been fun to browse through warm-weather attire, especially for the kids. Love the fun colors and patterns this season! These are some of my faves for babies and toddlers.

1. Bright, cotton dresses from Mini Boden's spring line are irresistably cute. ($30 & up)

2. I can't stop stocking up on these beautiful tunics for girls (and moms) from Roberta Roller Rabbit... I'd take the whole store home if I could! ($55)

3. These adorable babyiators actually stay on through hours of sun and fun. ($19.99)

4. This sweet seersucker hat for the little princess ($35)

5. I can't get over this little tote from Gap. Unfortunately it already sold out! ($20)

6. These are the cutest waterproof sandals for a mini fashionista. ($50)

7. With two little girls, its so tempting to dress them alike. Love these coordinating bathing suits from Old Navy. ($14 each)

8. Tea Collection's spring line is full of fun florals and bold morrocan prints. This dress has the sweetest flutter sleeves. ($35)

9. I love iplay's sun hats... waterproof, with UV, and ties to make them stay put. ($12)

10. Lather them up in this organic sunscreen that blends in very well. ($14)

What are your must haves for a beach vacation with two little ones?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review: The Tenth of December by George Saunders

I'm not usually a big fan of short stories, but picked up The Tenth of December by George Saunders because it's gotten such great press. I was instantly hooked. I could not have imagined how much these short stories would affect me or stay with me, but indeed, I find myself thinking about the characters, their sadness, the lyrical writing, its passion -- constantly. There are some standout stories that are true masterpieces -- my favorites were "The Victory Lap," about a teenage girl that is kidnapped the day before her birthday, and "Escape from Spiderhead" which is a commentary about modern pharmaceuticals, but is basically about love.

These stories have an air of melancholy to them, but the characters are so vividly portrayed that its impossible not to feel what they are feeling. These are stand-alone stories with no links between the stories or the characters, but you'll find yourself on every page of this book. I saw myself in the chubby 12 year old kid with an incredible imagination, but I also saw myself in the afraid mother. Saunders has an amazing ability to get his readers inside the heads of a variety of narrators in such short pages. His tone is hushed and polished and clearly gets to the heart of the matter very simply and very powerfully. There are definite themes in these stories -- some focus on social aspects of wealth, sadness, morality, class, love and loss -- and all the parts add up to much much more than the whole.

This book is dark but lovely. It's incredible that Saunders is able to do justice to humanity in just a few short pages and write with a simultaneous lightness and heaviness that will leave you craving more.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Recipe: Pistachio & Coconut Cookies with Walnuts

Little J is really into baking these days. She loves helping to make cookies, and has been on a crazy ingredient kick. She wants to know if we can make cookies with blueberries? with candy? with chocolate? with peanut butter? the answer is usually yes, yes yes. This girl is going to be quite the chef, I'm telling you! Baking with kids is great because you can teach them all sorts of things without letting on that they're actually learning. Cooking together is a great introduction to math (counting ingredients, adding them together) and science (solids, liquids, mixing, heating, rising, melting, etc), and the end result is usually delicious. The bonus is decorating with frosting or sprinkles. It's a great indoor activity with a creative component!

Jiya's questions got me thinking about diversifying our own adult baked treats. I came across this recipe for Pistachio & Coconut cookies and knew they would be the perfect compliment to my afternoon cup of Chai. I used walnuts instead of chocolate chips for the nutty crunch. YUM. 

Turns out I was right. These are so soft and chewy, with hints of pistachio and coconut that round out Indian tea just perfectly. I'm usually pretty boring about cookies -- always favoring the plain old chocolate chip and a glass of cold milk. But there's something about these little guys that makes me feel sophisticated while munching away...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Day Arts & Crafts for Tots

This past weekend, we got into the Valentine's day spirit and worked on some simple & creative projects with little J and her buddies. These were so easy and came out super cute! It was the best way to spend a very cold winter day indoors. Here are some of the crafts we did:

1. "Love is in Bloom" planter with heart shaped flowers! 

All you need is felt and scissors to make the flowers and leaves, pipe cleaner/straws for the stems, a stapler to stick them together, floral foam for the inside of the planter, sticky jewels to decorate the planter, and a planter. You can always improvise if you don't have certain supplies on hand. 

2. Photo Frame Valentines

These adorable foam frames are a great blank canvas for decorating with glitter glue, sticky jewels, stickers, markers... pretty much a tot's dream project! 

3. Heart Shaped Crayons

This is the perfect fix for all the mismatched, broken crayons you have lying around. Your kids will love to peel off the wrappers and break the crayons into pieces! Drop them into a heart-shaped silicon baking tray, and pop in the oven at 275 degrees for about 10 minutes. Don't forget to cool them in the freezer for about 15 minutes so they solidify. The silicon tray allows them to pop right out and they make the perfect class Valentine... J is so excited to give them out to her friends!

4. Handprint & Footprint "Love" Card

We made this little Love sign as a Valentine's day card and sweet moment for hubby -- the "O" is replaced with J's hand and the "V" is made of Leela's footprint. She was being squirmy as we stamped her foot onto the card, so the result is a little smooshy. I know their daddy will love it anyway :)

5. Heart Shaped Cupcakes

So easy to use regular cupcake pan, round liners, and marbles to make heart shaped cupcakes. These would be fun to decorate with conversation hearts, heart shaped sprinkles, or hershey kisses! Jiya loves baking with me. She's able to help by counting, mixing, pouring and sprinkling! She even enjoyed frosting a few on her own (licking her sugary fingers along the way!)


I'd love to hear about any other fun and easy Valentine's day projects for kids!

PS - how adorable are my little Valentines??

Friday, February 7, 2014

Being Mommy: Leela's Annaprasana

Last weekend, we celebrated a milestone for Leela -- her Annaprasana, which is a Hindu rite of passage that marks the first time a baby eats solid food. My husband's family, who are South Indian, recognize this special day when the child enters its sixth month of life. The ceremony is a religious event, conducted by a priest on a chosen auspicious day, and we held it at the Ganesh Temple in Queens.

We fed Leela rice pudding that was made with saffron, by her grandmother. The baby is traditionally fed from a gold ring that has been blessed by the priest, and the maternal uncle is supposed to do the first feed. My brother & his wife kindly flew in from Texas for the event! Jiya was next in line to feed her little sister, and was so excited to be involved.

Leela really enjoyed the ceremony and was happily licking away at the rice pudding! After the religious portion, we spread a few objects in front of the baby, each symbolizing something different from a love of books, to wealth, to beauty. We used a book, a pen, jewelry, money, fruits and flowers to present a range of options. It is said that whatever the child touches first, will be its passion for life... Leela's right hand touched the book, just like her sister! And her left hand grabbed the cash. Good thinking, baby doll!

It was such a fun and meaningful day, and we were so blessed to be surrounded by our families.

Both girls were so well behaved, and as I watched them that day, I could not help but think how quickly they are growing up right before my eyes. It seems like just yesterday when we had Jiya's Annaprasana, and now she is a lovely, charming and talkative almost-3-year old, who loves to play princess dress up, work on puzzles and sing & dance all over the house. She has become a caring and thoughtful big sister that always tries to include Leela in her games, often (not always!) shares her toys with Leela, and always always asks for her every morning when she wakes up. And that Leela is rolling over, giggling, interacting with everyone around her, and almost ready to sit in a high chair and eat smooshy solids -- its almost too much to believe how the time as flown. 

When I am overwhelmed and under-rested, I try to remember that these baby days are numbered -- the times when Leela is snuggled at my breast, or Jiya wants me to read her "another book!" or sing "just one more song" -- that both my girls need me to constantly carry them, play with them, kiss them, hug them... that these are all fleeting moments. Already, I cannot imagine a day when I will not be able to kiss their soft bellies, bathe their little bodies in a bubble-filled tub, or watch them breathe deeply as they sleep on my chest. But, I know that soon, there will come a time that I long for these days -- and sometimes, I can already anticipate how much I will ache for them to be babies again, to need me so much again.

But right now, the days are so busy, and there are so many little challenges, it's hard not to think that I can't wait for them to grow up a little. Grow up a little so we can travel to interesting places again, share meals as a family without the chaos of tantrums, or be able to leave the house for a few hours without bags of baby belongings! Motherhood is so mixed up with powerful emotions of love and happiness, and bogged down by the weight of responsibility, worry and tiredness. Its hard as a mother to see the big picture on a daily basis, but it's important to focus on all the tiny victories, the big smiles, the fun games and laughter -- instead of the comparative insignificance of a messy house or a sleepless night.

Special celebrations like this one are a reminder that our children's childhoods are only temporary and that every moment should truly be cherished.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Valentine's Day Gift Guide: For the Littles

Don't forget your little sweethearts on Valentine's Day this year! I've rounded up some of my favorites of the season... these little treats are sure to tickle them with joy.

1. Snuggly and adorable critter slippers to keep their feet warm & cozy all winter. $22

2.  I love this funny book about Valentine's day... a perfect little intro for any age! $5.50

3. How cute is this plush friend? It's handmade and antiallergic too. $23

4. Heart shaped crayons to color and create all their valentines! $7.20

5. Serve something healthy and they may even eat it on these adorable, personalized plates for boys & girls... $25

6. Old Navy heart pjs for babies & toddlers... soft and bright, just like them. $10

7. Set aside an afternoon to bake & decorate heart shaped sugar cookies with your little love. $4

8. Keep them nice and toasty in these lovely leg warmers (secretly want these in my size!) $49

9. Nothing beats the softest cotton pjs with adorable block printing from Roberta Roller Rabbit. Good luck trying to choose just one set! $55

10. This craft project will keep the little ladies busy decorating away! With a perfect place to stash all the Valentines... $10.50

I love spoiling the little people in my life. Is there anything better than a huge smile on a little face??

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Valentine's Day Gift Guide: For Him

Guys deserve to feel the love on Valentine's Day, too. If your boo is anything like mine, he'll love something luxurious or practical as a sign of your affection.

1. I'm crushing on these gorgeous Feragammo cufflinks, perfect for any fancy occasion. $250

2. The new Kindle HD/HDX is thin, light and on sale. $139+

3. A bluetooth speaker is essential for the home or office, especially with ever-changing iphone dock connectors! This JAM wireless one is adorable and well priced. $29

4. Edward Marc's chocolates are delicious and come in a variety of manly packaging! from $6

5. Annik Goutal's Mandragore is a fresh and spicy scent in a gorgeous bottle. from $128

6. ROK's espresso maker is manual and requires no electricity. Plus, it looks super chic on the counter. $199

7. A beautiful brass compass keychain for finding his way (back to you!) $10

8. Fragrant and sexy shaving soap in flavors like tobacco or whiskey. $16

9. How cute are these XOXO boxers from JCrew? $18.50

10. If he's a new dad, he will love & appreciate this hysterical book about parenting. $11

What are your go-to valentines day gifts for guys?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Valentine's Day Gift Guide: For Her

Valentine's day is the perfect excuse to treat your love to something special. Here's a roundup of some cutesy, sweet ideas for her... don't forget a thoughtful card!

1. This dainty, lovely "XO" bracelet is affordable and exceedingly chic. $26

2. Treat her to a heavenly bath with these delicious and relaxing Sugar Lychee Sugar Bath Cubes. $38

3. This Limited Edition Rose Diptyque candle will set the mood with its romantic aroma. $65

4. Love this irresistibly adorable Burberry Bow Clutch... great for dressing up! $595

5. How sweet are these Alice & Olivia flats? Perfect for Spring... assuming it will eventually arrive. $240

6. Lillet is a smooth and light white wine... extra points for serving a homemade dinner alongside. $20

7. Skip the traditional roses and send a rich bouquet of these bright orchids in any color. $60

8. If she has a sweet tooth, she will love these incredible, sensual and exotic chocolates from Xocolatti, with flavors like champagne brut, rose cardamom, olive oil basil, or orange tangerine. $29+

9. She'll be grateful for her beauty rest with this whimsical sleep mask. $28

10. I can't get over this fun and sweet book clutch by Kate Spade! Perfect accessory! $328

Monday, February 3, 2014

Recipe: Healthy Homemade Granola Bars

Lately, I can't leave the house without a stash of snacks to tide me over between meals. Breastfeeding is demanding! I am constantly hungry, especially after nursing or pumping. In trying to pack nutritious snacks, I came across this recipe for healthy, 5 ingredient granola bars. These bars have a dose of protein and good fats from the peanut butter & almonds, and the oats are great for milk production. I edited this recipe by adding a touch of coconut oil for flavor and chewiness and played with the ingredients a bit. I used honey and some raisins to sweeten the treat, but you can add anything you have on hand -- almond butter, flax seeds, dark chocolate chips, nuts, cereal, figs - the recipe lends itself to any tastes. Next time I'm going to mix in some crushed pretzels, craisins and pistachios. YUM!

I really love how these are substantial and very filling, without excess sugar and artificial ingredients. Perfect for a light breakfast on the go, or as a snack anytime.... and no baking involved!!