Thursday, October 10, 2013

Perfect Sauce for Black Bean Burgers

Last night I wanted to throw together a quick dinner of black bean burgers with oven-roasted sweet potato "fries." The only real work to be done was in slicing the sweet potato and coming up with something creative to top the burgers and use for kiddo to dip her fries into.

I ended up with:
1/2 avocado, diced
2 TBS pineapple salsa
1-2 TBS mayonnaise, to taste/consistency you like
salt & pepper to taste

Mash & stir it all up with a fork. Toast your buns, top burgers with cheese and some of this sauce. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, etc. if you like and you're good to go. It's a little sweet, a little spicy and a whole lot of creamy delicious!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mom

With Mom on my 1st birthday
We lost my mom in 2009 and each year it feels really strange as another birthday passes by. It still feels odd having Labor Day weekend free; that used to be a time to get together to celebrate with her. Time to make her a white cake with strawberries on top. Time to relax on their sailboat. Time to watch a cheesy romantic comedy together with a coffee table covered in snacks, all artfully arranged on perfect serving dishes.

This year, I'm thinking of all the things she's missed since then. Our engagement and wedding, my daughter's birth and her milestones since, her first grandson graduating high school and now off to college and her second grandson starting high school. But also just all those steamy summer afternoons lazing on the bay, quiet evenings cuddled in the ridiculously too cold air conditioning under a pile of blankets, and all the decorating she'd be doing for the autumn about now.  Yes, we miss the big days, but even more we miss those no-agenda sorts of days and everyday changes. Four years later, I still have little moments I think how much I'd like to call her to tell her some little thing that happened.

Well, Mom, today the kiddo sang happy birthday for the first time. I know that one's for you and thought you'd get a kick out of it. And I'm sure she would be happy to take a piece of your strawberry cake.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

5 Tips for Surviving the Newborn Stage

When I was pregnant, I did tons of reading, trying to figure out what I would need to know for the rest of the pregnancy, for the birth and then--the biggie--for that time we'd need to figure out how to keep the two of us functional and a teeny person happy, healthy and thriving.

There's a lot of truth to the best advice being to ignore all the advice, but I did find a few things that really did help me as we survived life with a newborn. Don't get me wrong, it was an amazing time I adored but that sure doesn't mean it isn't a ton of work and an entirely new situation to navigate.

5 New-parent survival tips for surviving the newborn stage:


1. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

You know that little safety card in the seat pocket of an airplane? The one in the pocket your knees are jammed into for the entirety of the flight? It actually has a great little piece of advice to remember: you're going to be in way better condition to take care of a little person if you've taken care of yourself first.

This doesn't mean luxuriating in the bath while a newborn cries to eat. But it does mean to think about what you really need and squeeze in the time for it. Do you need to make a quick run to the bathroom before you sit down to nurse? I had times I would get pinned under a nursing then napping baby for a long time without a bathroom break and this advice eventually made me realize the value in stopping by the bathroom or grabbing a glass of water or a snack to take with me when I picked up the baby. If you have another pair of hands around to help, maybe send them in to get baby changed and ready for you. Leave bottled water, snacks, entertainment, lanolin, whatever you may need in the places you like to nurse so you'll be ready to go. Take that moment to put on that oxygen mask, take a deep breath and you'll be in the right frame of mind to focus on whatever baby needs.

2. Remember that, in the beginning, breastfeeding may be a full-time job.

I was getting frustrated with myself in the early days that I wasn't getting much done besides baby care and the occasional (heavenly!) shower. But I sat down one day and figured out that the time I was actively breastfeeding or pumping came out to about 40 hours per week. That doesn't count any other baby care time or anything else. That was my big aha! moment that helped me keep things in perspective and realize that soon enough things would change, the kid would get faster at nursing, and there would be more time to catch up on everything else. There's only so long you get that time together, so as much as you can, savor it and give yourself a big break (and maybe a handful of oatmeal chocolate chip lactation cookies, you know, FOR THE BABY).

3. Pretty much everything Dr. Harvey Karp told us about getting the Happiest Baby on the Block.

We didn't actually read the book, but the DVD was plenty to get us a great toolbox of skills for calming an upset baby. My husband was the master of the jiggle. He could get her so completely relaxed with that move. While I yielded the magic bullets that are boobs that solved about any random problem, Daddy got other mad skills for baby time including the jiggle power. We did very little of swaddling with blankets after the first few days, but we did love the sleep sacks with velcro flaps that provided the same sensation with a lot less struggle.

4. Don't quit breastfeeding on a bad day.

This came up a number of times for me. Because boy howdy, did I have some bad days in there. My hospital's lactation consultant did not show up at all the THREE DAYS I was check in. I got almost no help trying to figure out what I was doing. Luckily I'd taken a workshop and had done some reading and seen a video ahead of time, but still, some in-person reassurance would have been a ton of help. Finally I got some help from a nurse on how to use the pump the extra night we stayed near the nursery (little one had to stay in for an extra day) and I actually cried with gratitude. Even once we got home, we hit periodic hiccups once in a while. Just when I'd decide ok, tomorrow I'm calling for some help, the problem would be fixed by morning. So, when it gets tough, know that is totally normal, you're probably still doing exactly what you should be, and do reach out for help when you need it. I was lucky to find online communities of support as well as friends who were going through the same thing, plus knew where to contact professional help if needed. It felt good having a rescue number waiting in my back pocket.

And it got almost funny how many times I looked up what to do with a particular breastfeeding problem only to find that the answer was to just keep nursing, nurse extra, nurse, nurse, nurse. So when in doubt...there ya go.

5. Though you'll want to smack the easier-said-than-done folks who keep saying to just sleep when the baby sleeps, do sleep whenever, wherever you can. 

This goes for both parents if you have a partner. Find what works for you. One thing that worked great for us was for me to go to sleep very early, leaving a bottle of pumped milk for my husband to give the girl her last feeding of the night. Then I'd have some early rest in and could handle the middle of the night wake-ups while he got some rest. It worked well for us since he's a night owl anyway. Nap if you can, shift a schedule if you need. Get creative wherever you can to try to stay rested. It'll help you in so many ways. And sure, if you can actually sleep when the baby sleeps, go for it. :)
So what helped you get through those newborn days?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Zucchini, Zucchini, Zucchini, Oh My!

Zucchini bats in the wild
Zucchini bats in their natural habitat.
Like anyone who's grown zucchini, we have the periodic problem of that sneaky squash that decides to hide just so until it's grown to mammoth proportions. Then you have the baseball-bat of zucchini.

We have a tiny square foot garden, which is probably good because it means we can routinely kill fewer plants that way. We get great intentions each spring, but for the last couple of years, we have had a combination of busy, procrastinating and excessive heat that's gotten the best of a large chunk of our produce. We do great with basil because we grow it in pots at the front porch, where we pass it all the time. It's easy as you're going in and out to pluck off a flower or two or give it a drink, so it tends to thrive (yay, pesto!). But the rest of the garden is in the backyard, where we don't really spend time, so it too often gets left on its own. This year the rosemary, mint, parsley, chard and zucchini are still doing well back there, so I'm satisfied.

So back to the zucchini bats. I've been coming up with ways to use all our zucchini and I'm loving zucchini season! Here are a few of my favorite zucchini recipes. Please share any of your favorite zucchini recipes in the comments...we have more zucchs to come still! Hopefully I'll catch more of them before they become monstrous.

Zucchini Quiche from Taste of Home. I made this with vidalia onions and the sweetness was just perfect! I wouldn't have thought of the mustard in the shell and was suspicious of the lack of milk or cream. However, the texture turned out just right. I guess all the zucchini's moisture took care of it.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread from Allrecipes. I made this into muffins (bake for 20 minutes). They were perfect for breakfast, snacks and dessert. I made half the batch without the cocoa and chips, then stirred those in so we got both regular and chocolate muffins. Both rocked, but all of us loved the chocolate.

Roasted Zucchini. Cut zucchini into thick batons like fries. toss with olive oil and seasonings (salt and pepper are great, rosemary is awesome, parmesan, etc.) and roast on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees until you start getting some browning. Great side dish that brings out wonderful flavor from the veggies.

Zucchini Tots. I can't begin to tell you how much I love these. This is one of those recipes that really tests my willpower. If I don't put leftovers away as soon as I serve our plates, I'll be going back again and again, grabbing another each time I pass the pan. These make wonderful kid food, too! I love these as a side dish to our Sloppy Lentils (vegetarian sloppy joes, a great crockpot recipe packed with protein).

Sauteed Zucchini. Saute sliced zucchini, rosemary, salt and pepper in olive oil or butter over medium heat.

This week I'll be trying Zoodles (zucchini "noodles") for the first time, too. I think they'll go great with some fish. They look like fun and are healthy, too!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mount Airy Playground/Sprayground

Mt. Airy Playground (Source:
I've been trying out playgrounds in the area to find a good variety of activities. I'm on the quest for the best places to stay cool while getting some fun time for the toddler. Today we tried out the Mount Airy Playground/Sprayground at Germantown Avenue and Sedgwick Street.

There are plenty of regular and baby swings, so kiddo was happy. The tot lot has three slides, all metal. They did mean trying to teach kiddo to keep her feet up so she wouldn't stop multiple times on the way down the slide, but she had fun. I wonder how hot those would get on a sunnier day. The play surface is a great, bouncy rubber and there were some fun bouncing toys and one single-kid spinning ride. The sprayground wasn't turned on. I'm still not sure if she'd go for it yet as she's just beginning to walk a little bit. I think once she gets more comfortable walking on her own those will be a great way to cool down.

Bonuses: There's free street parking on Germantown and on Sedgwick plus you can combine this with a stop to the Lovett Branch of the Free Library just across the street (maybe your toddler won't end up screaming at the top of her lungs like mine did. FISH!! Yes, there are some tiny little fish in a tank by the kids' librarian that might delight your child like mine). Downside: There's really not any shade at the playground, so bring plenty of sunscreen. We'll probably save that one for cloudier or cooler days.

Roasted Squash-Cauliflower Quinoa

This week I had lots of random things in the kitchen I needed to use up (half a beet, anyone?), so I had to get creative to put together some new meals to get us through until our next grocery trip. Tonight's dinner was such a win, I will definitely put this on the list to make again. Hearty and flavorful, this would be perfect through wintertime, too.

I like that it's full of color, flavor and packs a big punch of veggies and protein. 

Now to figure out what to do with that beet.

Roasted Squash-Cauliflower Quinoa


  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (I bought this pre-done)
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, trimmed into florets
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Lemon-pepper seasoning salt to taste (salt and pepper if you don't have it)
  • 2 TBS Olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 vidalia onion, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth*
  • 2 Tofurkey Italian sausages, sliced into pennies (could use regular sausage, cooked chicken, etc. if you prefer meat, but these added good protein and flavor)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Penzey's bouquet garni seasoning (could sub in the same amount of rosemary, oregano, basil, sage, etc.)
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa*
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. On a non-stick cookie sheet or baking stone, toss the squash and cauliflower with 1 TBS olive oil and the lemon juice. Sprinkle with lemon-pepper seasoning. Roast in oven 20-35 minutes, (tossing after 15 minutes if needed) until squash is approaching fork-tender. 
  3. In a large skillet, heat remaining TBS olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion and shallot, stirring frequently, until softened (about 3-4 minutes). 
  4. Add garlic and continue to saute 30 seconds more. 
  5. Add the vegetables, broth and bouquet garni to the skillet. Stir. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 5-10 minutes until squash is tender. 
  6. Stir in the sausage and quinoa. Cover and continue to cook 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4 hearty portions.

*Note: I already had cooked quinoa on hand. You could easily increase the liquid to about 1 1/4 cups and stir the quinoa in earlier to let it cook with the vegetables.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What's the big deal with serum?

I've been lucky that I've generally had pretty good skin for most of my life. We'll plug our ears and say LA, LA, LA and pretend those pimply teen years never happened, m'kay? Other than that, I've never had to battle too much more than the occasional blemish, dry patch or irritation.

Up&Up Refining SerumAlso, luckily, when I was in my early 20s, an older friend gave me some great advice to pay particular attention to the skin on my neck. Because holy paper-skin, Batman, the texture changes so much as we age. Even moisturizing it regularly, it is now, two decades later, a completely different texture than it used to be. Running my hand over it gives me a weird feeling like my neck has been suddenly transplanted from someone I've never met before.

And now that there is a toddler in our midst, I have to say I haven't exactly put a skin-care regimen high on my priority list. It's been shoveled to the back of mind like so many half-used tubes and bottles of beauty products that I can no longer find in the back of the linen closet. So these days the skin on my face has started to take on that Stranger from a Strange Face skin, too, and I decided it was time to Do Something.

Namely, make a quick pit stop to the beauty section at Target because Mama wants a solution but also doesn't want to have to take out a mortgage on some skin cream. I have a couple of options for moisturizers already: a regular moisturizer plus sunscreen and also a BB cream that's become a dear friend when I have exactly two minutes to try to look like I've put some effort into my look. But I stopped using the retinol eye cream and night cream since I'm nursing and hadn't really gotten anything else to use instead. I kept seeing ads for serum and had even tried one out years ago, but didn't really get how it was different from moisturizer. I did a bit of reading and found that serum has smaller molecules than moisturizer. Moisturizer stays on the surface of your skin, hydrating and smoothing, but the serum carries nutrients into deeper layers of your skin.

So I stumbled onto Target's Up&Up Refining Serum. It was cheaper than the Olay product it was compared to and seemed a good size for the price. After using it just twice, my face had already started feeling more like itself again and I kept running my hand over my cheek, stunned with the difference! Just two pumps is plenty to cover my whole face and neck, making everything feel wonderful. I can tell you that adding even this bargain-priced serum into my routine (ha-HAAA, routine! OK, so I don't have a routine, but I've added it into my whenever-I-can-remember-it-and-don't-have-a-kid-attached-to-my-leg) has already made a huge difference to my skin's texture. Let it dry a bit, then make sure to put on moisturizer with a good sunscreen for protection and you're good to go!

Want to try it? Buy it in store at Target. It's not appearing on their website.

How about you? Finding changes in your skin as you age? What kinds of changes are you making to your skin routine? Find any products you really love? Let me know in the comments.

(No, I received no compensation from Target or anyone else for writing this review. I just fell in love with the product and wanted to share!)