advent calendars.

Growing up, one of my favorite holiday traditions was counting the days away for Christmas on the advent calendar. Every morning, my brother and I would trade off the advent calendar duties, and each year, we alternated who got the odd days, and who got the evens. We had a system, and it was a very big deal.
So, for Mari's first Christmas, a family advent calendar was a must, and my mom found one that I just love. Until Mari's big enough to unwrap gifts each day, we're (read: I am) going to use a tiny ornament to move from day-to-day until December 25, when she'll get a super sweet treat, on this cute Land of Nod number.
If you're shopping for a wall countdown calendar, they've got a few more styles to see. But hurry, Dec. 1 is Thursday! (YES!)


the thanksgiving table.

I got an out-of-office reply over the weekend that closed with, 'be thankful.' As I downloaded photos from Thanksgiving, I reminded myself that it's not about the flowers, the tables, the wine or the food. This weekend was a whirlwind of overindulgence and fun, and I'm so grateful, this year more than ever, for our family.
Kids played football in the backyard. Cousins hugged. Tummies were stuffed - and for the record, the turkey was the best we've ever had. My parent's home was festive, warm and cozy. Here's the table, with the finished place cards.
We took a page out of the decor from Erin's shower, and the tags were finished off with a big bow of raffia.


thanksgiving prep: tags.

Is it Wednesday yet? I can hardly wait to start cooking. Last year, around this time, I was newly pregnant. So new, in fact, that it was a secret to all but our parents and brothers' families. I was secret keeping, and I was doing it in that lovely phase of pregnancy when, well, everything makes you sick, including turkey and all the fixings.

In all senses, I missed the holidays, and I could not be more excited to celebrate this year, to bring our family together to give so many thanks, and especially, to do it all with Miss Mari.
We're so blessed because we get to enjoy our big family meal with our big family; both sets of Mari's grandparents and uncles' families will be there, under one roof, and I'm giddy just thinking about it. My mom's hosting, and I'm helping with the tables (oh, and a dessert, which is simple and perfectly holiday-ish, and I'll be sharing next week).

We've got some plans for the table settings, and I'll have photos of the final product, but for now, here's a sneak peak of what's in store.

DIY tag extravaganza starts here.

Happy, happy thanksgiving to you and yours.

PS: see this post for some serious Thanksgiving inspiration (and feast your eyes on the video). Thank you, as always, Camille Styles!


peanut butter + banana cookies.

I love baking anything with bananas, and lately, I've been obsessing over Isabella's Cookies' little nugget of banana and peanut butter goodness called The Fluffy. I crave them at all hours of the day. I attempted to make my own at home, and after a couple of tries with real bananas, my favorite batch was made with a couple of teaspoons of banana flavoring.
I didn't do anything crazy here; I just subbed out the banana for vanilla and peanut butter chips for chocolate, using The BC's chocolate chunk cookie recipe (Barefoot Contessa Parties! pg. 236) as a guide, and if you love bananas and peanut butter cookies, this moist, sweet and salty combo will be right up your alley.

The hardest thing about this recipe is finding banana flavoring. Let me save you some time: order it online.

Peanut Butter & Banana Cookies
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yield: 3 dozen-ish cookies

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons banana flavoring
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 oz. peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on high for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, then the banana flavoring and mix.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl with each addition. Fold in the peanut butter chips with a spatula.

With a small ice cream scoop or rounded tablespoon, spoon the batter onto cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes (check after 10). The deal breaker: slightly undercooking the cookies keeps them soft and chewy.

Let cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. 



It's time. I returned to the office this week. It's so hard, isn't it? This separation, the transition and yet another life change. It's been a slow process getting to this state of mind, of trading in the most fabulous job in the world for another pretty darn good job. I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many supportive people as I put my full-time mom hat on hold and return to life as a professional. And I know it will get easier in time.

Ah, time.

I've had many up and down days preparing for this transition, and part of what has helped me gear up for it has been some serious organization, which, for me, is therapeutic.

The house is more nested, drawers and cabinets are streamlined and labeled, and down to the hour, we've tackled who's-taking-care-of-Mari, when she eats, when she sleeps and everything in between (thank goodness for that Bum Book thing). The one thing we don't have is a master calendar. Now that we're a family of three, we've got some management to do at home and with 2012 knocking on the door, now's a perfect time to rediscover my love of wall calendars. Care to join me?
{from Etsy :: Letter C Wall Calendar :: Pitcher Plant Wall Calendar :: More from Letter C Design}
{from Paper Source :: Great Big Wall Calendar :: Art Grid Calendar :: Kraft Grid Calendar}
Calendars make me so happy.

PS: making me even happier these days is when Mari curls up in child's pose. It's real, people. There is such a thing. Babies do sleep in balasana. And it's beautiful.


saturday morning coffee [cake].

One of Eddie's favorite things in life is coffee. And a close second is coffee cake. So, I've baked a few here and there, and now I really love it, too. I love baking it on Saturday mornings. I love baking it for gifting. For nibbling. Really, for anything, but especially for Eddie.
One of our all-time favs is Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake, which I found thanks to Ashley, who has such good taste and has never steered me wrong (note to self: need to revisit her recipe file). If you are a chocolate lover, this really is the best you'll ever have.

But, if you're a basic coffee cake person, with no fancy additions, just soft, spongey, sugary coffee cake, this is the one for you, and now, it's the one for us. The BC's Sour Cream Coffee Cake (from Barefoot Contessa Parties!, page 37) gets a simple drizzle of maple syrup + powdered sugar to ice it off, and it pairs nicely with College Game Day in the Fall.
I think you should enjoy this this first November weekend.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
From Barefoot Contessa Parties!, page 37
Serves 8 to 10

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks) at room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra large eggs at room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups sour cream
2-1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the streusel
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For the glaze
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or use this, one of my favorite products) a 10-inch tube pan.

Cream the butter and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble, like wet sand. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. I found a small cheese spreader worked well in and around the tube pan. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter into the pan, spread it out and scatter the remaining streusel on top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Carefully transfer cake, streusel-side up, onto a serving plate. Whisk the confectioners' sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to thin the glaze. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon. Ooze down the side is good.

This cake gets better and better as the days pass. I recommend making it a day before you plan to eat it. If you can wait that long.

*The BC offers this note on cake flour: If you don't have it, you can substitute 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus 1/4 cup cornstarch. Which is what I did. When I realized my cake flour expired in 2010.


months 2 + 3 must haves.

My goodness, does time fly. We are closing in on four months, and if it's possible, life with Mari seems to get more and more fun with each passing day. She's very busy - learning how to roll over, relaxing in ananda balasana, chuckling a little belly laugh and so much more.

And I've been tracking it hourly, with a quick flip of the page in Mari's Bum Book. It's a little record of her daily activity - sleep, wake, eat, poop, etc. - the riveting stuff that rules my everyday. When I'm trying to find patterns, what works for our baby, when she sleeps best and for how long, etc., this little journal is essential and makes it so easy, all in one place. Plus, it's cute.
So cute. And functional. It's spiral-bound, and there's also plenty of space to jot down daily milestones so I can remember all the little things. And that's the good stuff that I never want to forget.

As I track her progress day-to-day, I'm reminded how quickly things change, and how what we needed to survive the first few weeks has evolved.  We are so grateful to have some things that make life a little easier, and including the Bum Book, here's a quick list of our must haves for the second and third months, as Miss Mari has officially moved on and up into a crib of her own. (Which, for the record, was harder on me than it was on her - but isn't that always what they say?)

+ Graco Sweet Slumber Sound Machine :: plugs into a wall, and never shuts off until you do it yourself. A never ending alternative to the Sleep Sheep (which we do have and love, especially for travel). It's also iPod compatible.

+ Boon Grass Countertop Drying Rack :: pretty to look at, and dries all those pumping accessories and bottles fantastically. It makes washing everything with one eye open much more tolerable, and I don't mind having it on my countertop one bit.

+ Summer Infant Slim & Secure Video Monitor :: did I really need this? I didn't think so. But with it, I feel liberated to sit and blog, or cook, or do millions of other things without feeling like I need to go check on her. With the monitor, she's always with me. Especially in the middle of the night.

+ Gro-Egg Digital Room Thermometer :: ends the 'do you think she's cold'-debate and doubles as a soft night light. For those with unreliable heating systems (read: in beach rentals), this is my new favorite toy. It's also hip looking. Like super hip and cool. Kind of like that grass drying rack.

+ Aquaphor :: for rashes, scratches and all of the above, it's magical. Can't live without.

What's on your list?

PS: South Bay locals: buy your Bum Book (and so much other fun stuff) here. And then go eat next door at Simmzy's.