Drink Your Soup: Butternut Squash, Leek & Apple Soup

Back in California, on a crisp morning last Fall, we were invited to the sweetest little Saturday morning birthday party at a park. She made it a “breakfast” theme and each seat had a little plastic cereal bowl with a built in straw, a box of cereal and little spoons to match. The kids got to decorate their own pancakes and eat them, and the adults noshed on bagels and lox and mainlined Peet’s coffee.

Well, I brought those little bowls home around the same time that I fell in love with this one-pot, instant-pot soup from Skinnytaste. This cookbook of hers is so sticky and coated after a year of constant use, it’s a wonder that the pages even open to my favorite recipes anymore.

The good news is that you no longer need to risk life and limbs to cut butternut squash. I’ll never do that again. Use a 2 lb container of store bought, pre-chunked butternut squash. The leek in this recipe gives it that something special. I put this together today while my kids ate breakfast. When I got back from preschool drop off, I added the coconut milk and used my immersion blender to blend it up. I have a whole jar of the liquid gold in my fridge now. I will typically eat a mug of soup for lunch because it’s easy and I can do it standing while I feed my kids at the counter top.

Oh, and back to those genius bowls. They’re perfect for soup. My children won’t eat this Fall soup without their special bowls, but they will ask for seconds and thirds. Make this, because, October, and don’t be surprised when it becomes an easy stand-by on rotation in your home.

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Slightly adapted from Skinnytaste’s Fast and Slow cookbook

2 lbs pre-cubed butternut squash

1 granny smith apple, cored and cubed

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 leek, white parts only, roughly chopped (be sure to scrub the grit hiding inside first)

2 tsp better than bouillon chicken

2 cups of water

1/2 cup of coconut milk

Add all of the vegetables, BTB and water to your Instant Pot. Set to manual for 15 minutes. Natural release or quick release. Add coconut milk. Use your immersion blender to blend it til smooth. If you don’t have one, order one (because it’s sooo great for IP recipes like this) or transfer carefully to a blender and blend until smooth.

This whole process can be accomplished in the crockpot on high for 4 hours, and then blended within.

Serve in mugs. Serve children in little bowls with straws. Enjoy!

 

Perfection is Overrated (and a recipe for Bourbon Pork Tenderloin)

Your life looks perfect.

Do your kids ever cry?

You make it look so easy.

Over the years, I’ve heard these phrases and many more just like them from friends, acquaintances and people on social media. In the age of Facebook, it seems we are all eager to present our perfect lives to the world. Husbands and wives declare their love for one another, parents only post perfect photos of their kids (do you know how many takes it takes to get a perfect photo of kids? It’s about the same as the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a blow pop), and most of us shy away deliberately from the tough, vulnerable stuff. When we do become vulnerable,  it often causes people to worry and rush to our aid. You make one post about crying yourself to sleep (I mean, at least you slept!), and then all of a sudden your mother starts blowing up your phone wondering if you’ve lost it and asking if she should she book a plane ticket. I digress.

Hearing these questions always caused me to cringe. Is my marriage perfect? Is my husband perfect? Are my kids perfect? Of course not. Do I try to share a positive image of my life, but be true to the ups and downs? Yes. But maybe I needed to try harder. The year that George was born, my husband was out of the country for 6 months total on TDY travel. I sleep trained alone, potty trained alone, and celebrated my kids’ birthday alone. I fought to lose my post-partum weight, to feed a massive cluster-feeding child who was never satiated, and keep up with the tantrums of my growing toddler, mostly alone. I say alone, because, #soloparenting, but my village held me up that year, and made it possible for me to thrive.

Still, it was during that year that I started to be more honest about my life on social media, and it was when I felt like I finally developed a voice that said – here are the highs, here are the lows, wouldn’t have it any other way, please come give me a hug if you’re in the area (and could you also pick up a rotisserie chicken for me? kthanks.) That voice is the voice that resonated with so many moms I knew, and in honing that voice, I became a much more authentic version of myself. I’m a recovering perfectionist, here to say, this is my life. I am not editing it for you. I barely have time to pee more than once most days (must work on this), so I promise you, I’m not cooking something just so I can take a picture of it.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law told me about a book she was reading. In the book, it asked the question: what would you do more of, if you didn’t have to do it perfectly?

Talk about a question. It has rung in my brain for years since she posed, it, and I’ve answered it in more ways than one. I would entertain more. I would write more. I would pick up the phone more.

***

Last week, I took Marilyn to her first dance class in Virginia. She had been missing dance so much this Summer, and then her first class was canceled because of the hurricane. This dance studio is tucked back behind a community pool and a dilapidated Marshall’s, but once you’re inside, surrounded by Nutcracker costumes, pink leotards and ballerina buns (the required attire), you feel like you’re where the magic happens. We moms dropped our littles at the end of the hall as directed, prayed they wouldn’t be the ones who had to pee during class, and gathered on the couches to anxiously await their return.

I fell quickly into conversation with three moms, and before the hour was up, we had exchanged phone numbers. What would I do if I knew I didn’t have to do it perfectly? Start friendships.  With our group text established, I sent out a message inviting the families over to our house for Sunday dinner.

In the past, analysis paralysis would have taken over, and our Sunday would have been ruined. Ask my husband about the 20,000 things I have over-committed to throughout the years, and how the whole family is sent into a tailspin because of my stress levels. But, I’m recovering. Through minimalism, and through a more authentic exploration of who I am and who I want to be, I’ve committed to myself and my family not to overdo things anymore. Side note, an excellent book on this topic is Present Over Perfect.

Over the last two years, I’ve honed the art of entertaining (maybe I should call it gathering) without pretense. The secret? Affordable food that can either be 1) made in advance and kept warm easily (aka chili, soup) or 2) food that can be made in advance and doesn’t have to be served piping hot (for me, usually that means grilled meat) and 3) paper plates and 4) tolerance for chaos. Some of the best Sundays of the past year have been spent in our house, surrounded by friends, with kids eating on the floor and adults in every corner. I wanted to recreate that feeling here.

**

This Bourbon Pork Tenderloin is one of the most versatile, easy, show stopping proteins out there. It cooks in 30 minutes or less,  has a ton of gorgeous surface area for soaking up all of the marinade, and it slices up so easily, you barely need knives. I have rarely met a man, woman or child who eats pork who didn’t love the simple tenderness and flavor of a pork tenderloin.

We buy ours at Costco, and they come in 2- 2 packs. Cooking and marinating two makes a nice dinner for our family of four with leftovers. We doubled this recipe and grilled 4 tenderloins for a crowd of 6 adults and 6 kids and still had leftovers. I planned my menu around this recipe, which I sliced and served on a wooden cutting board with simple boiled corn on the cob (with garlic herb butter from Trader Joes) and easy oven sweet potato fries. Guests brought bread, wine and dessert. I took the kids to Target and let them pick out paper plates for their friends. George picked Avengers and Marilyn, shocker, picked mermaids.

Community is formed when we let down our walls. Gathering doesn’t have to involve fine china, perfectly planned menus or months of advance planning. So, what would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly? 

And finally, add this into your entertaining rotation!

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Bourbon Pork Tenderloin

2 pork tenderloins (3-4 lbs total)

4 large garlic cloves

4 tsp fresh ginger

1/4 cup of dijon mustard

1 dash of hot sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce or coconut aminos if you’re paleo or avoiding soy

2 tsp worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup of a neutral oil (vegetable, canola, or olive oil)

1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon – we use Maker’s Mark

Chop your garlic and grate your ginger with a microplane (don’t peel it!). I freeze my ginger so it grates really easily and we always have it on hand. Mix with the rest of your ingredients and marinate your pork tenderloins in a ziplock bag for a minimum of 2 hours, and up to 8 hours.

Grill it on direct heat (medium coals) until it reached it’s an internal temp of 135 and then place on hot coals for a sear for 5 minutes, turning until all of the sides are well-seared. Alternately, you can cook these in the oven at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of 145.

 

 

Parenting: Tuning In to my Toddler

I just spent a glorious long weekend in California with my best friends. All-in-all, because I had to escape the hurricane a day early, I spent 6 days away from home. It was a rare long break for me. As most of you know, I take a lot of little breaks from the kids throughout the week (thank God for great caregivers), and my husband I go on vacation several times a year as a couple sans kids, but solo trips for me are more challenging. As moms, I think we struggle to get away, because so much work is required for us to step out for a bit. Sometimes it feels like the work to get the break > the break. Stepping out requires asking for help, being willing to accept it, and letting go of control. Over the years, my prep game has changed drastically. If you ask me about the lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote I made as just one of the 5-6 meals I left for my husband and one year old child several years ago, I’ll deny any knowledge of that crazy lady. These days, I leave a loose schedule, a list of what’s in the fridge, and I make my exit.

This trip came at the perfect time, because the last few weeks have been especially taxing for me as a mama. My two-and-a-half year old has an appetite for destruction. Last Spring, I gathered opinions on whether or not our new home should have a dedicated play room, and now I find myself wondering why I didn’t think to dedicate a padded room to my little daredevil whirling dervish of a son.

It seems like more and more, I can’t turn my back on him for a second. I’m in a close personal relationship with poison control, and I think I own every single cabinet and drawer lock on the market. My first child was the kind of unicorn baby who didn’t need baby proofing, she was just that trustworthy, and now I feel like God might be laughing at me.

As the days with George have become more and more exasperating, I’ve turned to my village more and more for support and resources. A few weeks ago, I spent my precious Saturday night in the bathtub binging on parenting podcasts (I can hear the younger version of myself cringing) to try to get ahead of things. I had felt myself yelling more and more, threatening more and more, and generally losing control of things. I’m choosing to be the primary caregiver for my kiddos, so it’s a requirement for me that I enjoy that job, not just endure it. I don’t mean enjoy every single moment, but overall, I’ve gotta come out ahead.

A friend turned me onto the Atomic Moms podcast a few months ago, and I find myself bookmarking and sharing her pods on a daily basis, trying to further spread all of the incredible info she is sharing. So, today, I’m sharing one thing that is working for me lately. To listen to the full episode, which I recommend you do, go here.

ALP is an approach pioneered by parenting experts Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, authors of The Happy Sleeper, a book, which was making the rounds over the past year. I heard it recommended as a wholistic approach that was lighting up the sleep world. Having already conquered sleep, I relished not having to read this book, but these ladies are developing some valuable techniques which extend to all aspects of communicating with and understanding our toddlers. In this episode of Atomic Moms, they share theirapproach, and host Ellie shares how she applies it to her spirited child.

After listening to the episode, I started applying the approach. Luckily for me (and for you), my children give me about 47,000 opportunities per day. So far, I find that the “A” is the most valuable part — in order to verbally “attune” to your child, it forces you to actually attune to them and figure out what the heck is going on. My first reaction lately has been to yell, this has forced me to move to attunement before reaction.

ALP is quite simple but gets better the more you practice it; by the end of week one I was ALPing my drycleaner. Muscle memory, folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. No matter how silly it feels, practice saying these things to your kids, even when they’re too little to notice, and even when it’s not a situation that is escalating. It makes it so much easier when the time comes and you need it desperately to avoid melt downs on both sides.

The method:

  • A- Attune to your child
  • L- Limit set
  • P- problem solve

I’ll give you a few examples, and then you can give me yours. It’s 5 pm, and I’m trying to make dinner in the kitchen. George is repeatedly coming up behind Marilyn and shoving her into the wall, or the chair in the kitchen for no reason. She is screaming.

  • A- George (I’m down on his level), I can see you have a ton of energy right now, and you really want my attention. (This is the hard part – what is my kid doing, and why? It’s Psych 101)
  • L- But, I can’t let you bang your sister’s head into furniture (setting the limit)
  • P- I have an idea, how about you climb up into the learning tower and help me stir up the salad dressing and cut the apples (cue these– worth their weight in gold)

Or, it’s dinner time; we’re all munching away on our pork chops and sweet potato fries, when Marilyn starts dipping hers in her water. Next, she starts dribbling water on her plate, and quickly, food starts being thrown on the floor.

  • A- Marilyn, I can see you’re done eating (hint, it’s tough to notice this quickly enough if you aren’t off your phone, focused on your kid during dinner) because you are playing with your food
  • L – But we don’t waste or throw food in our house
  • P – Why don’t you ask to be excused and clear your plate, and you can help me get the dishes loaded

Mamas, it’s an ever-changing game, but right now this is helping me through long days with toddlers. So, if you can’t get yourself a junket to California, but you’re feeling a little strung out, try it this week, I’d love to hear what works for you and what doesn’t! For those of you with older kids, does this attunement step still matter?

 

Green Smoothie: If You Could Charge Yourself Like a Cell Phone

Sometimes I feel like I’m a mother masquerading like an elite athlete. I rise early, and go to bed late, racking up tens of thousands of steps throughout the day. I squeeze packets of almond butter in my mouth on the go, in the style of the Tour-de-France. All of my meals are rushed, inhaled. I’m constantly trying to get enough protein, water and caffeine to fuel my never-ending strategy of running my toddlers until they go to sleep without a fight, stay there all night, and give me a few waking hours to myself to watch the Bachelorette.

It’s such a glamorous life, this one.

Errrrybody and her mother is reading Rachel Hollis right about now, including me, and as I got into the book, I also found her weekly podcast. Worlds collided when Rachel interviewed Kelly LeVeque, author of Body Love, another book I’m “reading” (fun fact: my husband can’t stand that I read 3-4 books at once). My readers know that I listen to podcasts throughout the day so that I can pretend that experts visit me in my kitchen, so I listened with joy to Rachel’s interview with Kelly, wherein she confesses an addiction to Cheez-its and the smoothie, which would later become my lifeblood.

After our 6 week long roadtrip last Summer, and following a slew of going away events and dinners, I found myself packing what I’ll affectionately call the PCS Fifteen. I needed a reset, and reading Body Love opened my eyes to a lot of things that I had noticed for a long time, but had never put together. I’ve always avoided sugar at breakast, favoring protein, but I wasn’t always avoiding carbohydrates and fruit. Kelly puts forth that it’s the combination of four things: fat, protein, greens and fiber, that sends our body signals of satiety, keeps our bodies full, and ensures that our blood sugar never spikes. Avoiding those spikes is what keeps us off the roller coasters I call hunger and cravings.

Starting on July 1st, I started making Kelly’s classic, what Rachel calls the “OG” smoothie. Kelly shares dozens of recipes, but this mama ain’t got time to mix it up on the daily, so having something reliable, easy, formulaic that only requires one “fresh” ingredient (and it’s one that lasts forever) is this mama’s jam in life.

I’ve been drinking this smoothie 6 days a week for 3 months, and now I make it for my husband and kids most mornings, too. It keeps me going for 5-6 hours without hunger, fills my body (and theirs) with all of the good things in life, gets me going on my protein goal for the day, and goes down easy and smooth. I like to think elite athletes would approve.

The “OG” Smoothie: AKA Charge Me Like a Cell Phone

1 scoop of high quality protein powder (with at least 20 grams of protein and no artificial sweeteners) * I use After Burn which has 25 grams and a really neutral flavor

2 tbsp of almond butter

2 tbsp chia seeds

1-2 cups of almond milk, unsweetened vanilla

2-3 cups of frozen spinach (I buy the giant bag at Costco and just throw it in the freezer and shatter it like glass when it comes out)

Add a handful of ice, and blend in a high quality blender like a Vitamix or a Nutribullet for a super creamy texture. If you’re nursing or working out intensely, consider adding an avocado or another scoop of protein powder

**Notes

  • Add ice for super cold smoothie
  • Add cauliflower rice for extra veggies + super frosty
  • Any greens will do- arugula, kale, and herbs
  • If green smoothies are new to you, you can start with 1/4 cup of frozen fruit added, but after about a week, phase them out
  • Sometimes I replace some of the almond milk with iced coffee

 

The Birthday Plate

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We’ve all been there. There’s a Pottery Painting night for your Moms Group. Someone comes up with it as a creative date night idea. You need something to do with your pregnant friend that doesn’t involve margaritas with salted rims. So, you end up at a Pottery Painting place staring at a giant wall of white dishes and wondering how you’re going to maximize your $50.

I have your answer!

Paint a Birthday Plate. A Birthday Plate is a plate that is only used on someone’s birthday. It designates the recipient as special, it is festive and gorgeous for photos, and it will be used and loved by everyone in your family.

The Birthday Plate I painted comes out four times a year, and I can’t imagine our little at-home family birthdays without it. I painted it in 12.5 minutes, and then spent the rest of the time at the pottery night drinking Sauvignon Blanc and saying “you missed a spot” to my friends.

So, schedule a girls night out, or just file this one away for the next time you find yourself painting pottery.

Back-to-Preschool Breakfast

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I’m not a morning person, but I am a breakfast person. Most days, I make a hot breakfast for all of the members of my family before I plug in to the wall and get my robot fuel (see my obsession with #fab4 smoothies which keep me going for 5-6 hours).

My favorite thing to do is make fun breakfasts for the kids. They usually don’t take long, but make them so happy.

A few of the things I keep on hand for fun breakfasts are:

  • Dave’s Killer Bread – bread is the ultimate canvas for creativity
  • Alphabet cookie cutters
  • mini scalloped cookie cutters
  • raisins, chocolate chips and sprinkles
  • This pancake art tool
  • Almond and peanut butter

There are a host of ideas, but this baby bear peanut butter toast is a family fave. Cups make great cookie cutters, and french toast is infinitely adaptable.  Share your favorite ideas in the comments!

How To: Clothes and Shoes BST

 

“The postman had to walk up to the house because you ordered too much stuff,” says my husband as I walk in the door. There are 7 packages in a stack on the bench in our entryway. Shopaholic, no? These packages aren’t from Nordstrom, Tea Collection, Smocked Auctions or Target. They’re from mamas across the country who form a vast network of “BSTers” – buy, sell, traders.

As a network, we recycle, hand-down and cycle the carefully selected quality kids clothes and shoes that we covet. Does it feel like I’m speaking another language? I admit that three years ago the descriptor “VGUC Livie and Luca Petals” or “EUC Bella Bliss pima cotton, one small flaw” would have meant nothing to me, but now it’s my private language of commerce.

Here’s how it goes. An item is purchased new by someone. Sometimes its purchased by someone with no budget, sometimes its purchased for a photo or for a certain occasion, but for whatever reason, when the owner is done with the item, it still has a great deal of wear or life left in it. BST “boards” connect and network the owners and potential buyers of these items. There are BST boards for things sold at Nordstrom, for expensive smocked clothing, for Native shoes, for monogrammed items with the letter D, and for probably a thousand or more categories I’m not naming.

I have champagne tastes in kids’ clothing, but a consignment budget. Consignment shopping is a hobby of mine, but I rarely have the time without kids to do the browsing, so I use the BST boards to target the brands I love, and I buy almost every single thing my kids wear used on those boards.

I pay less than 50% of retail on all items. I later resell those same items for less than I paid, effectively renting them from the market for the short life in which my children will wear them. I buy all of our shoes used because I have found that my kids hate stiff leather (blisters), and so a worn in pair of shoes is not only affordable, but soft.

I’ve failed to mention the environmental impact of these boards — so many clothes are purchased, but not worn to their full life, and this offers an almost perfect market for making sure they are recycled and loved again. So, take to Facebook and search for BST with the brands you adore. Learn the lingo, set up your PayPal account, and get ready to get close with your mailman.

So, as the stacks of packages roll in, I beam with pride knowing that my kids will be dressed adorably, affordably this Fall. Can you handle the cuteness?

Want “in” on this world?

  1. Identify your favorite brands; the ones you would buy over and over if you could afford it.
  2. Search the name of the brand and BST on Facebook – find groups, and request to be added.
  3. Read the pinned posts at the top which will hold the rules for each board.
  4. Set up your PayPal account- clear out old addresses and get it linked to your current bank account or credit card so you’re ready to purchase- the way you buy on boards is by posting your PayPal. Be ready to execute prompt payment or you will lose the items, or your status on the boards.

My favorite boards:

  • Nordstrom BST under $20
  • Hot Smocking Mamas (this is the epicenter of all southern clothing)
  • Boutique Florence Eiseman New and Gently Used
  • ‘M’ Monogram Resale
  • Little Citizens: Tea Collection Resale

Favorite items to buy BST:

  • Leather shoes: they come already broken in, so no blisters, and leather shoes generally have a lot of life left- I adore Livie & Luca, See Kai Run and Keds
  • Holiday-themed outfits: kids only wear these once, maybe twice, so they are perfect to buy used and then hold and resell the next year
  • Anything pristine and white: these are usually for a photo, but lets be honest, no one is putting their kid in white if it’s not their portrait or Easter
  • Itty bitty things: bonnets, bloomers, swaddle bows – photo opp stuff
  • Play clothes: I love to get play clothes at a steal, especially brands that wear well like Bella Bliss, Tea Collection, Vineyard Vines, and Florence Eiseman – I would never pay retail for these, but they are great used purchases

Leaving you with a few of my favorite BST finds – oh, let them be little, and be dressed by me forever!

Birthday Present Closet

 

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The birthday party hiatus is over. School’s back and that means that every other Saturday, you’re likely to be found at a bounce house, a city park, or an indoor play space standing around in a semi-circle having awkward conversation with other parents while your children run around in grippy socks getting high on pizza and cupcakes. The birthday party circuit gets real this time of year.

I’m digging the trends on kids’ birthdays these days – many invitations are calling for no gifts, and even more kids are donating their birthdays to charities and causes. These millenial offspring are embracing minimalism in droves. Still, chances are some parties will still call for presents, or that inescapable mom tick will take over – can. not. show. up. empty.handed.

So, today I’m sharing my favorite birthday party present hacks. Ain’t nobody got time for a Target run every weekend.

The three tenets of the birthday gift closet are:

  1. Buy in bulk
  2. Buy on sale
  3. Wrap minimally

Let’s unpack this.

Buy in Bulk

Choose several items and buy them in quantities of 4-5. More than this, and you’ll risk seeming like a one trick pony, less and there will be too much decision making involved every time there is a party. Choose items that are popular for kids at or above the ages of your kids. Remember, there is more risk in buying something that is too young for a kid, but I’ve never met a mom who didn’t love pulling out a game 6 months later that their kid is jussssttt ready for.

Buy on Sale

Say it with me: Prime Day. Every year on Prime Day,  Black Friday and during other close-out sales, I stock my gift closet. Melissa and Doug and Green Toys are often on sale on Prime Day, as are a lot of board games and popular books. Last Prime Day, I bought 5 Sneaky Snacky Squirrel games, 5 Sum Swamps, 5 Camelbak water bottles, and 5 copies each of Rosie Revere Engineer and Iggy Peck Architect. Each of these toys fell right in my perfect price point, and among the 2- and 3-year old subset, most kids don’t own board games yet, so I knew the gifts would be valued and used (eventually). No one can ever own enough water bottles for kids, and favorite books are always a win.

Wrap Minimally

Wrapping minimally is about reducing decision fatigue, time spent, and maximizing the personalization factor. I own one huge role of craft paper (so many uses). I own multiple giant spools of twine in neutral colors. Every year, I order a new pack of personalized stickers (my favorites are from Tiny Prints, and Erin Condren has adorable ones too). This reduces the need for cards and means I never have to go searching for the right kind of wrapping paper, tissue paper or any other items. I apply this wrapping philosophy to gifts for all occasions. Bottles of wine get a sticker. Tupperwares of food get a sticker. Gifts get a sticker. Stickers are affordable, memorable and minimal.

If you’re looking for a solution to gift giving, you can apply these hacks to your life. Maybe you love giving your kids favorite books away- if so, buy 5 copies of 5 books. Maybe you enjoy making homemade playdough for your kids friends- if so, stock the ingredients and bags so you can easily make them in bulk. Putting in a little bit of time and money up front will keep your birthday party game running smooth for the year.