Thursday, May 29, 2014

Childhood Memories

Georgica Beach, East Hampton
Like many parents we know, my husband and I spend a lot of time and effort into planning special events and family outings with the kids. We love watching them having a great time, exploring new things together or seeing their eyes light up with possibility. But also, these family outings are helping us relive our own childhoods. We remember taking family trips, going on long drives, fighting with our siblings....

Recently, we started thinking about the whole idea of memories, and how far back can we really remember in our own childhoods?

We both were lucky to have fun childhoods, filled with sibling rivalry, family picnics, lots of laughter with our cousins, and great travel experiences. There are some very vivid scenes from my childhood that are etched in my memories -- a tree that was perfect for climbing right in our front yard, a pink stuffed bear that was my lovey, my brother's colorful cotton blankie. I distinctly remember playing with my brother on a table with benches that we had right outside the kitchen. I can picture myself coloring there, building legos, and even eating cereal. 

My husband seems to remember many details from his childhood, but I wonder how much of our memories are via photos and stories versus actually remembering events and places. If photos and videos help construct our memories... then our children will undoubtedly have tons of material, thanks to the digital age. 

Central Park, NYC

That got us thinking about whether Jiya & Leela will remember all of these great childhood moments -- being pushed endlessly on the swings, splashing together in the kiddie pool, playing frisbee in central park, or snuggling up to watch Frozen for the billionth time.

Will they remember building castles with blocks?

Will they remember reading {so many} books before bed time?

Will they remember making ice-cream out of play-doh?

Does it matter?

We decided that all these fun events and time together will likely blur into one big happy memory... that while they may not remember each time we went to the swing park, they will remember the joy of swinging as a child. That while they may not remember the details of their local zoo, they will remember that they love to watch and feed animals. And while they may not remember how much and how often, they will remember our many hugs & kisses. 

How much detail do you remember from your childhoods... and what makes any childhood a happy one? Great memories? Building strong family bonds? Growing up with siblings and cousins? I wonder, do we need to remember specifics, or are feelings of being loved and valued, enough to take away? It is such a privilege, as parents, to raise these little ones... and there's so much to think about. How the little things we do can leave a lasting impact.  

What do you remember from your childhood? 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Recipes: Grilled Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Sandwich/Grilled Veggies & Couscous Salad

Memorial day marks the official kick-off of grill season, and I couldn't be more excited to try new, fresh vegetarian dishes this summer.

Here are two hits from this past weekend... both are healthy with a kick, light and refreshing - but also substantial enough to stand alone.

Grilled Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Sandwich

I made this dish up as I went along, trying to re-create a discontinued dish at one of my local sandwich shops. This recipe is almost exactly what I did, but I used a crunchier bread for texture. Sweet potatoes are a perfect grill favorite for vegetarians... they are so hearty and sweet. These pair well with goat cheese, ideally in a sandwich or a salad. I've also tried this in pizza, which is a great combination. Now why would anyone take this off their menu??

Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad

I made the vegetarian version of this dish, using lots more jalapenos, and the veggies I had on hand. The grilled eggplant and asparagus really bring out the best flavors of this dish. Total crowd pleaser!

What will you be firing up on the grill this summer? Would love some more veggie friendly ideas!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gifts for Little New Yorkers

It's hard to come up with creative and unique gifts for the little ones, especially since they seem to have everything these days. I've rounded up some of my favorite new finds for the littles, all centered around NYC.

I'm swooning over this adorable City Skyline block set. What a great way to get to know this great city... by building a city scape and watching it glow-in-the-dark. Boom! Perfect gift for an NYC tot! ($50)

How cute would this Skyline Coverall be on a pudgy little baby? Or on any little baby?? Wear it with NY pride and enjoy the compliments... ($98)

Educational and entertaining, love this New York Puzzle for ages 3 and up. ($10)

Ahh this Taxi Rattle is too cute! Wonder if it would help to wave this around to hail a cab? ($16)

For little New Yorkers on the go.... an organic cotton baby blanket with the whole city laid out! ($52)

What's your favorite baby gift??

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wedding Planning

My friend Jen is planning a rustic, beautiful summer wedding in Cooperstown, NY. I thought it would be fun for us to hear about her wedding planning process... here is a bit about her experience so far! She is going to guest-blog again post-wedding, so we can hear about how everything turned out!

Thanks for stopping by, Jen!

Cornwallville Church in Cooperstown, NY

Hello, New Mom and the City Readers!

Thanks to Neha for letting me guest blog about my wedding-planning experience.  My fiance Joe and I got engaged last June, and are getting married July 19 of this year.  So, I've made it through approximately 11 months of wedding planning so far, and I've got a little over 2 more to go.  As the big day is quickly approaching (!!), I've been reflecting on my experiences over the past year, and trying to incorporate the lessons I've already learned into the final planning push.  I've never been someone who had a vision for her wedding day, so when I started planning I was working from scratch.  That has made the planning process rocky at times, but I've learned some things along the way, which I hope will help me from here on out.

Jen & Joe in Yosemite National Park, where he popped the question!

1.  Seek advice from those who've been there . . . but don't lose sight of what you want, and what's realistic.

Since I'm getting married in my 30s, I have plenty of friends who've already tied the knot, so I'm lucky to have both lots of weddings to be inspired by and many former brides to share their been-there, done-that knowledge with me.  I've drawn on friends' experiences for tips about invitations, registries, seating, food, everything.  I found the most amazing website and accompanying book, A Practical Wedding, to answer all questions logistical and emotional.  (Seriously, I could write an entire blog post about the virtues of that website alone!)  However, the flipside of having been to a lot of weddings and of the existence of about a zillion wedding blogs is that it's very hard to resist comparing.  Since nearly all of the weddings I've been to have been religious, I worried that ours will feel like less of a wedding with a secular ceremony.  After looking at countless highly-personalized DIY receptions online, I've wondered whether it's okay to have a wedding that has no theme other than "wedding."  When I started obsessing about those questions, I realized I had to take a step back from others' advice and focus on what would make the day perfect for Joe and me.  We're not religious, so it wouldn't make sense for our wedding to be.  That doesn't mean our ceremony won't be filled with meaning and love.  And, our wedding's theme will be "fun party with people we love."  That's realistic for us, and that's what we set out to do when we started planning nearly a year ago.

The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY
2.  Ask for help.  Really!

We've all laughed and then gasped in horror at the leaked emails that surface every couple of months, in which a terrifying bride-monster tells her bridesmaids to lose weight, wax their arms, and clear their calendars of any non-wedding responsibilities for the next 365 days.  The Bridezilla is such a trope that I think many women--completely normal, non-narcissistic women--live in fear of embodying the stereotype.  But the thing is, most women don't police their loved ones in their everyday lives, and they also don't start doing it when they're planning a wedding.  For fear of appearing selfish, I spent a lot of energy not asking for help, even when I very much needed it.  And then, one day about 6 months ago, my parents said, "You seem stressed about everything related to the wedding.  What can we do to make it more fun and less stressful?"  That sweet, wonderful question opened the floodgates.  Once I learned to start asking people for help--my parents to take on transportation planning, my crafty aunt to sew table runners, my friends to brainstorm songs for the playlist--I realized that people really do want to help.  It shouldn't be a surprise, but remember that your loved ones want to be involved in your wedding.  Accepting this help and support was a huge de-stressor, and has made me feel incredibly lucky to have these people in my life.

Beautiful Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY

3.  Make decisions and move forward.

Weddings, and wedding planning, are life, condensed.  You're taking many of the people and things that matter to you from various stages of your life, and trying to smush them together (in what's probably the biggest party you've ever thrown, unless you are a professional event planner, in which case, call me!) into one perfect 8-hour day.  In that context, every choice takes on huge significance.  Do we tie flowers on the end of every pew, or every other pew?  Can people choose from 2 types of red wine, or do they need 3?  As someone who has a difficult time making decisions, I was overwhelmed.  Worst of all, the dumb, little decisions (flowers, wine) were taking up as much of my mental energy as the big, important decisions (where to have our wedding, who to invite with space and money constraints), and nothing was getting done.  So, we made a rule-- if it's a small decision, one of us just makes it and moves forward.  No second-guessing.  If it's a big decision, then we talk about it for a little bit and then table it for a few days, and then repeat until the decision is made.  Allowing myself to just make a decision without worrying whether another day of thinking would lead to a better decision has been a huge relief.  It feels so good to cross things off the to-do list!

As of right now, the result of all this planning is a medium-sized wedding in Cooperstown, New York, with the ceremony in a small, non-denominational white clapboard church and the reception in an old town meeting hall.  Joe will wear a grey suit and I'll wear an ivory dress, and we'll dance with our guests and eat brunch foods for dinner.  That's the plan!  I'll be back this summer to fill you all in on how it went!

This gorgeous vintage carousel is the site for Jen & Joe's Cocktail Hour!
I'm curious how universal my experiences are, and would love to hear others' advice, struggles, and triumphs.  What do you think?  Please share!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Timi & Leslie "Charlie" Diaper Bag

Today I'm launching a new series that will feature my favorite mommy/baby product of the week. let's call this trendy tuesdays, shall we?

I'm hardcore crushing over this ridiculously chic and well-priced diaper bag by Timi & Leslie. It comes in 9 colors, and has tons of pockets along with a changing pad, insulated bottle tote & stroller straps. It can be worn cross body or as a tote, and is even water resistant!! At $159, it cant be beat.

I love that this can easily be disguised as a work bag, perfect for a working mom on the go! I could be carrying this in court and no one would suspect there are diapers inside...

What's your favorite diaper bag?

And just for fun, what's in your diaper bag?

My essentials (besides diapers and wipes!) are hand lotion, sanitizer, my trusty nursing cover, extra clothes, Plum Organics squeezie packets for the baby, snacks & sippy cup for my big girl, a teething toy, Badger sunscreen, and lollipops to tame any severe toddler meltdowns!

Leave a comment below... I'd love to hear about your diaper bag must-haves!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Recipe: Spring Risotto & Heirloom Tomato Salad

This simple spring risotto features the best flavors of the season -- ramps, asparagus and wild mushrooms. Ramps are ideal in early spring... and blend so well into this creamy dish. They have a strong taste that comes down a notch when cooked, leaving a flavor of mild garlic with the edge of an onion. I picked up some fresh ramps bursting with flavor at the farmer's market and knew I'd melt them into a risotto.

I went off of this recipe, modifying it only slightly to make it spicier by adding finely diced chili peppers. I save the parmesan for the top, to use as a garnish.

We paired this with an heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad over a bed of arugula leaves, dressed with a simple mix of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. No need for much else! These ingredients speak for themselves.

What are your favorite spring ingredients?

*If you read and enjoy this blog, please comment!*
*I'd love to hear your thoughts, and to get to know my readers!*

Friday, May 9, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

Lately, Jiya has become a big snuggler. “Mommy, do you want to cuddle up with me and watch Frozen?” Why yes! Yes, I do. Now that she’s three and perfectly conversational, it’s like having a built in friend. She is inquisitive, talkative and so adventurous! There are so many things we love to do together -- read books, tells stories, work on arts & craft projects, dance, bake... the list is endless. While she is blossoming into her own individual and gaining so much independence, at three, she still sees me as the window to so many opportunities. Mommy teaches me to dance, mommy takes me to the zoo, mommy pushes me in the swings! And (usually), mommy is happy to oblige.

At eight months old, Leela is still a baby with round cheeks and two newly sprouted teeth. She doesn’t know much about the world around her, but she knows her mommy. She knows when I enter the room, she knows me by my smell, my voice, my touch. She knows that when she leans toward me I will know she wants to nurse. She knows that when she tugs at my pants, I will pick her up. And she knows that when she cries, I will comfort her. 

With Mother’s day coming up this weekend, I’ve been reflecting on what it has meant to me to be a mother. While this experience is different for every woman, there are invariable truths. Your life is no longer your own. Your children’s happiness means more to you than your own. Your priorities have changed, your body has changed, your heart is full.

Yes, you are tired – You have bags under your eyes, worry in your heart, and your whole life seems to revolve around those sweet little faces. Their smiles, their tears, their needs.

But, when I think about being a mom, I think of all the joys before I can remember the hardships. That Jiya tells me every day that I’m her best friend and that she loves me sooo much. I think of Leela crawling toward me with her little scooting body, and trying to climb up my legs. I think of both girls together in the bathtub, splashing, playing with bubbles and grinning at each other.

When I am tired from a too-early morning, I remember that there are so many joys in each day:

How Leela’s determined little fingers have learned to pick up a cheerio and put it in her mouth,
how she has learned to clap and wave (at appropriate times!),
how eager she is to hold her own bottle…

How Jiya lines up her princesses for a tea party,
how she mixes paints with her fingers to explore the colors they will make,
how she becomes interested in everything I’m wearing, putting on my face, using in my hair.

Sometimes I find myself just sitting and watching my girls. Watching Leela gum tiny pieces of fruit, watching her arms flail with excitement when her daddy comes home, watching her chubby body pulling up to stand in her crib. It is truly incredible to watch Jiya solve a puzzle, to see her little mind working to put pieces together, to witness the delight that spreads across her face when she’s accomplished something new.

To be a witness to every day miracles, that is the joy of motherhood.

When you are tired, remember the little miracles and the big joys that fill your life.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Photography by the lovely and very talented Shhivika Chauhan

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 “Here’s what I mean by the miracle of language. When you’re falling into a good book, exactly as you might fall into a dream, a little conduit opens, a passageway between a reader’s heart and a writer’s, a connection that transcends the barriers of continents and generations and even death … And here’s the magic. You’re different. You can never go back to being exactly the same person you were before you disappeared into that book.” -- Anthony Doerr
[Why Reading is Dangerous, Spirit Magazine (Southwest Airlines), February 2008]”

While Anthony Doerr is a well known, many-award-winning novelist, this was my first time reading one of his books. It was everything he is reputed to be on paper -- thrilling and ambitious, with a perfect combination of beautiful prose and passionate dialogue. All the Light We Cannot See is set in German occupied France, and tells the tale of a young, blind French girl and a German boy whose lives intersect in the walled citadel of Saint-Malo. The title is telling of the style of this novel -- filled with rich, intricate metaphors, but is an engrossing read. Anthony Doerr says of the title that “It’s… a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” This book is a gem.... extremely plot-driven but beautifully told...

Marie-Laure and her father, who is the keeper of locks at a museum, flee to Saint-Malo with an extremely precious jewel. Marie-Laure cannot see with her eyes, but is keenly attune to the tensions of the war, as well as tensions at home. I love how Doerr writes with so much detail and precision - he is actually bringing life to everything in a way that Marie-Laure (and the reader) can envision it:

“Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters…So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.”

Werner, a bright and resourceful boy, is adept at fixing instruments and is therefore a valuable asset and recruit of Hitler Youth. Werner is a likable character who, although he can see, has turned a blind eye to many atrocities that are being committed every day. It is his sister and his travels, that finally reveal the truth to him... but he is still not sure if he can take a stand against it all. As all this weighs on his conscience,  the reader is forced to think about many injustices, and how are we enabling them by seeing and not speaking?

There is a building tension and suspense as the writer flips from Werner to Marie-Laure throughout the novel, but we can sense that finally, they will cross paths. When he meets Marie-Laure, we see struggles between morality and survival, between good and evil as the children attempt to navigate WWII, along with the sorrow, anxiety and fear that comes along with the war. Still, we can see that goodness does linger, as Doerr writes, "Does any goodness linger in this last derelict stronghold? A little."

This powerful book is moving and beautiful... although a bit descriptive and heavy at times, the story is uplifting because of its focus on the curiosity and magic of childhood. Must read!!! 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Recipe: Thai Kale Salad & Easy Vegetable Pad Thai

This simple recipe for Thai Kale Salad inspired me to make some Thai for dinner last week. This salad is crispy and spicy, a perfect complement to a sweet noodle dish like Vegetable Pad Thai. I couldn't wait to try this recipe - and it certainly didn't disappoint. I used black sesame seeds to coat the tofu, carrots, radishes and tomatoes for the veggies, and a good dose of sesame oil to moisten the leaves.

We're really into kale lately -- including it in salads, juices, smoothies and soups wherever possible. The slightly bitter greens blend so well with fruits in smoothies, or as a base for a healthy salad. If you don't love the taste of kale, you can still get on board by drowning it in a yummy peanut dressing, as this recipe suggests. Win-Win!

The key to making Vegetable Pad Thai taste authentic at home is to have the perfect balance of sweet, spicy and sour. It cannot be done without peanuts, sriracha, and limes. Peanut oil, cilantro, and a dash of soy sauce (as a substitute for fish sauce) take this to the next level. I also find that a couple of scrambled eggs really add some depth and protein to this dish. As for veggies, I used mushrooms, zucchini and broccoli, but you can use any that you prefer.