Merry Christmas! Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Style

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season! Ours has been low-key, but very nice so far despite each of us being hit with a cold that slowed things down pretty quickly. Tis the season for that too I suppose. After Madeline’s birthday party, which was a wonderful whirlwind (more on that soon!), we were totally exhausted and in desperate need of some down time. Fortunately, everyone was feeling mostly recharged by Christmas Eve, so we decided to extend Ava’s evening walk and take in the neighborhood lights. We bundled up and headed out hoping to beat the sleet that was on its way.

Bay Ridge is a very residential section of Brooklyn, where some families have lived for generations. Each year from November 1st until mid-December, the wreaths, lights, and yes, inflatables begin appearing, with more houses getting bedazzled each day. Some even hire professionals to adorn their windows, doors, trees or whole yards with holiday cheer (that’s right, there are companies you can hire to decorate your house for Christmas-and around here, a lot of people do just that). All that effort-or money-put into Christmas decorations deserves to be seen, so we figured we should get out and enjoy the displays. And success! Madeline loved seeing houses that we pass everyday illuminated, some completely transformed, in the darkness. Her little index finger stayed extended, nearly frozen, pointing to one home after another as we strolled by. Who can blame her?

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Do you go all out with your Christmas decor? Is your home festive both inside and out?

Merry, merry to all!

Mamas Must-Have: Priorities

Well hello my little blog! Oh, how I have missed you.

Since returning from our trip home last month I have been preoccupied with a multitude of tasks, worries, and plans, all of which have taken a clear precedent over blogging. From preparing for Hurricane Sandy to hosting Thanksgiving dinner, it’s been a busy few weeks. Couple that with a month of nightly wakings to soothe and nurse a teething baby, and you have one exhausted Mama. Indeed, we all have to keep our priorities in order and sadly, writing has not made my list recently.

In addition to not making time to write, I have found myself feeling uninspired as of late, and therefore concerned about the content I might produce. I cannot deny that this has made me reluctant to post as well. I do not want to write just because I have a blog. Above all, I do not want what I share to lack authenticity or seem forced, so after a few moments of stressing about not having a “must-have” for moms on a particular Monday, or needing a new recipe to boast about for an upcoming Friday, I concluded that perhaps my current schedule has become restrictive. With that in mind, I have decided to alter the format of Must-Have Love a bit. I still plan to write primarily about the same general topics, but you can now expect to see a wider variety from day to day, or week to week.

My hope is that these changes will allow more freedom in my writing and give me new opportunities to post often. Although that isn’t something I anticipate really happening until the new year, as I am currently consumed with planning a first birthday party, floating among more DIY projects than one only semi-crafty person ever should be. Many details to follow…

Just getting started…

Until then, thank you for continuing to read my ramblings. I hope you will stick with me through this transition.

Foodie Friday: Love for Seasonal Beers

Each year fall brings so much to love. As a southerner, I have spent most of my life eagerly awaiting the arrival of autumn, mainly  seeking relief from the blazing summer temperatures. Now that I live in New York, where the season is in full swing by this time of year, around now I’m enjoying cooler temperatures with pumpkin anything, especially including beer.

Last year I wasn’t able to get my seasonal booze fix because I was pregnant, so this year when I started getting excited about the release of these brews, I realized I didn’t really remember which ones I like most. Clearly there was only one thing to do…try them all to determine my favorites, of course!

So, for the past couple months, I have picked out two singles each Saturday to taste over the weekend. And it turns out, I pretty much like ’em all. However, many are on the heavier side and may not be for every palette. They are definitely meant to be sipped and savored. Personally, that’s how I prefer to drink and could become quite a beer drinker if these seasonals were available year round.

Here are the ales I’ve enjoyed so far this fall:

As I mentioned, all ten of these get my seal of approval. But there were some obvious winners among those I tried.

My top picks (so far) are:

1. “Punk” Dogfish Head Punkin Ale-The most fragrant of the bunch, this beer is rich with immediately detectable notes of cinnamon and pumpkin spice.

2. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat-This lighter choice is more crisp than its competitors. As a lover of Belgian style brews, I immediately liked this one, though the seasonal ingredients were on the mild side.

3. Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale-I found this beer to be well-balanced and extremely drinkable. The pumpkin flavor is obvious, but not overwhelming, with a spicy, yet smooth finish.

Are you taking advantage of all the delicious beers that are available this time of year? What’s your favorite fall adult beverage?

What I’m Loving Now: Men’s Watches…for Women!

I’ve been loving larger, men’s style watches on women for some time now. It really started when I saw my BFF’s beautiful, full-faced, silver Michael Kors watch. I gawked at that thing for three straight days, just admiring the time piece, which she received as a gift. And following her visit, my longing for a bold new watch only intensified.

Since then, I have paid more and more attention to this obvious trend. Chunky linked bands in gold, silver, white, gray, black and beyond. Shiny faces, pearly backgrounds, diamond studded, large roman numerals, no numbers at all…so many possibilities to love.

Then I saw this:

My New Favorite Accessory

…and decided it was time for me to start wearing a watch. Specifically this one. After months of pining over it, dreaming of it on my wrist, it became mine thanks to a generous surprise from my thoughtful husband. And I adore it.

Not only has wearing a watch been an awesome change for me, but also an easy way to accessorize. My watch is simple enough to wear with other jewelry for sure, but I love that it stands on its own as well. That’s what is so great about oversized men’s style watches-they can be simple and functional, and still offer a little sparkle too.

What do you think of this look? Do you prefer a smaller, more delicate watch, or are you digging these heavier styles like me?

Mamas Must-Have: Food on the Go

Since starting solid foods, I have only fed Madeline at home. When making plans we schedule everything around being home for breakfast, lunch and dinner.Until this week. Between traveling, and visiting family and friends in South Carolina, I have been forced to get comfortable eating meals with my little one while out and about. Now that she is eating finger foods, bringing food along wherever we go has been easier, but it still took some adjusting for me.

After one week and many meals on the run, I feel like a pro when it comes to feeding my baby away from home. Experience, above all, has helped me relax and enjoy dining out with Madley. And these staples make packing food to go a snap:

1. NutureMe Dried Baby Food

We make Madeline’s food most of the time, but after receiving a sample packet of NurtureMe, I knew they would be perfect for traveling. I was right. Ordering a couple boxes to have on hand has been a lifesaver. They are a bit pricey compared to our usual homemade options, but they are organic and have no additives. For occasions like this week, they are definitely worth it. And because you only have to add water, they are easy to prepare on the go.

2. Happy Baby Puffs

These were love at first bite for Madeline. Simply seeing the canister excites her. Puffs are a great beginning to a meal, dessert, or just a snack. Not to mention they are easy to transport and serve practically anywhere.

3. Yogurt

While it may not be super easy to pack and bring along on trips, yogurt makes my list of convenient foods because you can purchase it almost everywhere. A winning option in a pinch.

4. Cheese cubes

I cut cheese into small bites to give Madeline with lunch from time to time. She loves it and because it stores well and is mess free, so do I.

5.Peas

Peas are the easiest veggie to serve a new eater while away from home. Like cheese, it’s easy to take along and is less messy than most other favorites. Plus, it’s a healthy alternative to its equally convenient snack foods.

Lastly, these two (non-food) items have made traveling with food and eating out with Madeline much easier as well!

What foods to you bring along when you’ll be away from home during a meal or snack time? I definitely need some variety for the rest of our time down south, and would love some suggestions!

Foodie Friday: Fall Favorites

Fall is my favorite season. I love when the trees begin to sway, shedding their ripe, colorful leaves. Now is when I begin reintroducing hot coffee to my morning routine, wrapping scarves around my neck to walk the dog, and slipping socks onto my chilled toes each night. And I long to fill weekends with trips to local farms, apple picking for fresh fruit to bake with. Or scouring the pumpkin patch in search of the perfect gourd to carve. These are things I begin dreaming of while sweating through the hottest months of summer.

And now it’s here!

So I will savor these days for the next couple months and try very hard not to dread the snow that awaits me. I advise you do the same. Fortunately, along with the cooler temperatures, autumn brings some of my favorite foods, which means I can help you appreciate this time of year as much as I do with these delicious-and mostly decadent-recipes:

1. Pumpkin Scones

2. Butternut Squash Risotto

3. Caramel Apple Muffins

4. Spiked Cider

5. Awesome Autumn Chili

What is your favorite season? Do you have any must-make recipes for this time of year?

What I’m Loving Now…L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil

Recently my sister came over for a midweek slumber party of sorts. Whether she was escaping the stresses of college life for a moment, or just wanted to see her niece, I don’t recall. What I do remember is the shower intervention that occurred during her brief stay. Basically, she woke up around the same time Madeline’s first nap ended and after gulping down a cup of coffee, asked what exactly she needed to do for me to ensure I took a shower, “like, immediately”. Rude! But not really. In all honesty, I was feeling pretty grubby, and clearly looked the part. So, after a snack, Madley played with Aunt Mimi while Mama scrubbed down.

Finding time to shower during the day can be a struggle with an infant. Sometimes I simply choose to do other things. Other days I don’t have a free moment. Either way, on occasion showering feels like a luxury, so I try to cherish it. I appreciate just having a quiet second to myself. But on this particular day, my eight minute escape was divine. Not only because my sister’s unexpected help allowed me to get so fresh and so clean, but also (mostly) because she handed this to me as I headed for the bathroom:

Heaven

When I saw the shower oil I was unimpressed. Honestly, the thought of using oil in the shower sounded gross and I imagined this slick stuff coating my skin, leaving me greasier than when I stepped into the tub. Then I smelled it. Mmmm…I quickly decided that I didn’t really care how my body felt or looked, I wanted it to smell like a light almond paradise. So, needless to say I poured the L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil into my palm and started rubbing it in. To my surprise the oil lathered up into a thick, creamy, foam body wash of sorts. Amazing! Instant love. And oh the scent-so very good! Now every shower feels indulgent, and maybe soaping up will make my priority list a little more frequently from now on. Here’s hoping (right, sis?)!

What is your favorite body wash to suds up with? Have you tried shower oils? What’s your verdict?

Mamas Must Have: First Books for Baby

We have been reading to Madeline since she was born. Before even. From her first days she heard the cadence of our voices, rhythmically saying words on a page as we showed her pictures that her unfocused eyes surely couldn’t make out. Then when she was about three weeks old, her “Nana” and “Pop Pop” gave her Goodnight Moon and our first reading routine began. Now, at nine months, Madeline’s book collection has grown significantly and we try to provide a lot of variety with frequent visits to the library.

There are many board books she enjoys looking at on her own. Others we always read to her. Some of her books have few or no words, and others are much too long for her to sit through at this point. However, we just want to expose her to as many books as we can, hoping to instill a value of reading at an early age. As a former teacher, I want my daughter to develop a love of reading and books. And with so many wonderful stories to read and illustrations to see, why not start early?

While her favorites have changed over time, and her preferences vary from day to day, these are some of the first books we read to Madeline that she enjoyed from early on and still loves now:

1. Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown

A bedtime classic

We read Goodnight Moon every night before listening to a lullaby and putting Madeline down for the night. It’s her favorite part of our bedtime routine.

2. Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans

The first in Bemelmans’ beloved series

It’s probably obvious why we love the Madeline books. When we received this book (thanks Melissa!), I didn’t plan on reading it until Madley was much older, but we were looking at the pictures one day and she was really into it, so we gave it a try and she loves it! I think it’s because it’s a rhyming book and there is very little text on each page.

3. First the Egg, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

A fun, simple read with beautiful illustrations

This is a short book with colorful and captivating pictures that draw little ones in. The repeating format makes it enjoyable for even the smallest readers (or listeners).

4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

A favorite of nearly everyone

The Very Hungry Caterpillar has always been a favorite of mine to read aloud. It’s silly and the layout is fun.

5. Photo Look Book, by Sassy

A perfect first photo album

So, this one isn’t technically a book you read to your child. But it was an early favorite because you put your own pictures in and babies love to look at faces-especially real ones and other babies. Since we live so far from almost all of our family, we filled this foam photo book with pictures of our loved ones and show them to Madeline often, naming each relative.

By introducing books early, I hope Madeline will appreciate them and find joy in reading as she grows. There’s no guarantee by reading to her now that will happen, but we both love story time and we’re sure having fun in the meantime.

What are your must-have books for babies and young children? Any favorites from your own childhood that has lasted through the years?

Foodie Friday: The Wedge Salad

I’m a salad girl. Most of the time. I actually enjoy just about any mix of greens with good combination of other ingredients. And cheese. I’ve actually trained myself to like salad I think. Over the years, it’s been a good way to get additional vegetables into my diet and it makes me feel less guilty more balanced when I indulge in the occasional treat. There was a time when I would order salads when eating out just because it was the lowest calorie option, or so I wouldn’t blow a diet. Now I really do like them, but I mostly make my own. My favorite lunches are lettuce-free versions (like this) that I can prepare in advance.

Sometimes though, I will still order a salad at a restaurant. Just not for the same reasons. Now it’s most likely to have something I wouldn’t make for myself at home. Which brings me to the greatest salad creation there is: The Wedge. It’s not healthy. It’s not especially good for you. It’s high in calories and fat. And it has few vegetables to boast about. But it’s delicious, which is why I love it.

Case & point. Mmmmm…
Not so healthy, but oh-so-pretty

Clearly I could make my own wedge salad. It’s quite a simple blend, as most of the best dishes are. However, that would be a risky move and I think it best to keep this one as an occasional splurge. For those of you who have more self control than I do and wish to throw your own wedge together, you can in a snap. Quarter a head of iceberg lettuce and place each fourth on a plate. Top with diced tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, crumbled bacon, and bleu cheese. Lastly, drench in ranch or bleu cheese dressing, serve, and devour. This makes a lovely lunch on its own, or pairs beautifully with steak for a decadent dinner. If you’re anything like me, you just may need to get a work out in first…

Are you a salad eater? What’s your top salad selection?