Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Max, The Birthday Boy One-der

We weren't going to have a party. Well, at first we were, but with family schedules and Easter and life happening, we opted out of having an "official party".  But this guy....he's worth celebrating. So we did. 

Besides, we'd already figured out a party theme and ordered him a cute birthday outfit. Lilly's first birthday took place in One-derland, so it seemed only natural for Max to be our Birthday Boy One-der.  Complete with a tiny cape.  (I've been calling him the Wonder Baby since his 9 month vaccinations -- he received two different shots and a blood draw without shedding a tear. He's had super hero status ever since.)

Honestly, besides the cute onesie/cape getup and the sign (an Etsy printable), this was all incredibly low-key. We asked a couple of neighbors to swing by with their kiddos on Sunday afternoon for cupcakes and singing. And that was it. No major meal. No games. No big presents. No drama. 

I did manage to bake the cupcakes myself, and even made Max a tiny little smash cake. To make the decorating easier, I found some adorable little comic booked themed fondant cake toppers on Etsy (Etsy is my friend), so all I had to do was slap on some frosting and a topper. For a "favor" I enlisted help from Lilly to glue tiny superhero capes on some lollipops. The foam masks and plastic tablecloth were both impulse buys from Target. Easy peasy.

Even with just this little party, I could tell that Max did NOT love being the center of attention. You can see the look on his face in almost every picture. He's humoring us. For the cake. Seeing that look, and remembering the party-induced meltdown that Lilly experienced at her first birthday, I was so relieved that we decided not to do a big party. But as I said, he's still worth celebrating. 

Happy Birthday Max. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


My little buddy turns one today.

It has been my privilege to be your favorite. To watch you grow and move and laugh and explore. We love your kind, easy going nature, your infectious laugh and your sweet smile. You are a mover, a tinkerer, a joy-spreader and an explorer first class. You have a scream that could shatter glass but you rarely use it.

Thank you for showing me just how much my heart could stretch. You make me a better mom and I am forever grateful.

Happy First Birthday Maxwell Michael. My sweet, kind, joyful, curious little boy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cream Cheese Studded Blueberry Brioche French Toast Bake

A few weeks ago, I hosted a brunch for my book club. Well, I use the term "book club' loosely, since we haven't bothered with choosing a book since 2011. Now we're more of a "wine and conversation" club. We meet irregularly, a handful of times each year. Since I couldn't remember the last time I'd hosted, I figured it was my turn.  Coincidentally, one of my college besting planned to be in town for a short visit, so the morning became my own personal Superbowl of great girlfriends and incredible conversation.

I'd originally bribed JiT too take the kiddos for a little Sunday morning adventure, but at the last minute one of our guests asked if she could bring her son along since husband had been called on a business trip. So JiT played babysitter in the basement, while the ladies (with cameos by Max) invaded the dining room.

This crew of ladies regularly has me crying with laughter, so I didn't want to miss a second. As such, the menu needed to be completely make-ahead. I opted for a decadent brioche French toast, sweet and custardy with bursts of blueberry and rich cream cheese, then topped with a warm blueberry sauce. You make it the night before then throw it in the oven an hour before serving.

A French toast bake is pretty pedestrian in terms of brunch fare, but this one really shines thanks to the brioche and cream cheese. Its worth seeking out brioche -- a rich, pastry-style bread made with eggs and butter. You can often find it in the deli section of larger supermarkets or at a good bakery. Also, definitely don't skip the sauce. The French toast is rich and creamy on its own but the blueberry sauce adds the perfect bright sweetness. Frozen berries are absolutely fine for this.

A bowlful of fresh berries and a few savory components are all you need to round out the brunch bar. I made some miniature veggie omelets, oven baked in a heart-shaped silicone mold, and a pound of really good bacon, also prepared in the oven. The kitchen was cleaned up and guest-ready 15 minutes before their arrival. Once everyone arrived, we simply poured coffee, popped the champagne for mimosas and commenced laughter.

I'm planning to repeat this menu for Easter brunch -- I figure if I throw everything in the oven before the Easter egg hunt begins and it'll be ready by the time the kids finish counting eggs and their plundering baskets. Hopefully the snow will have melted by then. Our walk to school today wasn't exactly Spring flowers...

Cream Cheese Studded Blueberry Brioche French Toast
Makes one 13x9" pan (apx. 12 servings)

1 loaf brioche bread (about 12 slices), cut into cubes
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, cut into one-inch cubes
1 cup fresh blueberries
12 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup maple syrup


Spray a 13x9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange half of the bread cubes in the bottom of the pan. Distribute cream cheese cubes evenly over over the bread cubes and sprinkle blueberries over top. Top with the remaining bread cubes and set pan aside. 

In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and maple syrup. Pour mixture evenly over bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

Remove bread cube mixture from refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover mixture with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until center is firm and top is golden brown. 

Remove French Toast bake from oven and allow to cook 10 minutes before serving. Serve with blueberry sauce (below). 

Blueberry Syrup

2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoon butter


Combine cornstarch, sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly with a whisk until boiling. Continue cooking and stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes.  Reduce heat to simmer and add blueberries. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes until blueberries burst and the mixture resembles a thick syrup consistency. Stir in the butter and serve warm, alongside the French toast.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St Patrick's Day - Kid's Fruit & Veggie Rainbows

Happy St Patrick's Day! I am totally off my game this year with the celebrating. The green shirts I ordered from Old Navy are scheduled to arrive tomorrow and I could not rally the energy for any sort of shamrock shenanigans at breakfast this morning. 

I might have skipped it altogether except Lilly kept asking when we were going to celebrate "the leprechauns". 

For lunch, I cobbled together healthy finger food rainbows with little "pots o gold" (pieces of chicken nuggets and cheddar cheese coins). My rainbows are made of fresh strawberries, baby carrots, freeze dried sweet corn, steamed peas and blueberries. Clearly you can modify based on whatever you have available in each color (and that your kid will eat). 

When I was a kid, the leprechauns always dyed our milk green too. And so it is.

We ate these for lunch but they'd make a fine dinner if you're still looking to celebrate (or if the corned beef and cabbage doesn't go over very well). They'd also be a fun first day of spring meal (March 20th, aka JiTs birthday) or any ole day, to encourage the Littles to eat their veggies. 

Anyway, happy St Patrick's Day, happy spring and happy birthday to JiT! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Crafternoons: Greek Yogurt Edible Finger Paints

Lillian has long been my arts & crafts buddy. We often peruse Pinterest together for ideas, then go tearing through the house in search of pipe cleaners and glitter glue. Recently however, our crafternoons have undergone a shift in dynamics: Max. 

At nearly eleven months old, Max is into everything. I can barely keep track of him as he crawls and cruises around the house. He loves opening and closing doors, pressing buttons and figuring out the mechanics of things. He is no longer content to sit quietly in a jumpy seat while Lillian and I have all the crafty fun. 

Well, maybe "crafty" isn't the right word anymore. While, we've joyfully welcomed him into our fun, it has required some adjustment. We've been celebrating his sense of wonder with sensory play activities. Lots of messiness and discovering. I enjoyed this phase with Lilly a couple years ago, when we whittled the winter away with homemade play dough and colored puff balls. This time around, its even more fun since I watch the kids interact. They regularly delight one another and themselves. Today, for example, towards the end of our finger painting adventure, Lilly decided painting her brother's face was far more interesting than the paper. He sat patiently as she smeared his cheeks with green and blue, laughing hysterically all the time. 

The "paints" are a simple mix of plain Greek yogurt (I'm sure regular yogurt would work just as well), food coloring and a bit of water. This certainly won't make for lasting artwork, but the kids sure enjoyed smearing and squishing it. And I had absolutely no concerns when it ended up in mouths (and hair and ears). 

Greek Yogurt Edible Finger Paints
Makes 2 tbs of each color

1/2 cup plain Greek or regular yogurt
4 shades of food coloring

Divide yogurt between four small plastic cups or bowls. Add a few drops of food coloring to each cup and stir until the color is blended. Add a small amount of water to each color to adjust the consistency of the paint as needed. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

We're all nuts for Baked Berry Donuts

Thank you, everyone, for the words of support, encouragement, kindness, and solidarity following my last post. Hopefully sharing my story will help erode some of the stigma that surrounds PPD.

Despite the ongoing recovery from crazy, we do actually manage to have some fun around here occasionally. I'm going to try to remember to document it. And here we go. 

Last weekend my parents visited for the weekend. My mom and I surprised the guys with tickets to a Blackhawks game on Friday night. 

And with Valentines Day on Saturday, they graciously offered to stay another night with the kids so JiT and I could spend one blissful, two-years-in-the-making night away downtown.

Sandwiched in the middle was Valentines Day Breakfast. I wanted to do something special for the kids before with ditched them, and also do something nice to thank my parents for watching them.  So we made baked raspberry mini donuts, topped with strawberry glaze and sprinkles. Lilly and I actually made the donuts a couple days beforehand and froze them. Then we just dipped them in glaze and hit em with sprinkles in the morning. Easy peasy and very cute for a party. 

While I'm not usually one for having a zillion specialty pans laying around, mini donuts are so cute and easy to throw together. And people think you put a great deal of effort in, so pretty well worth the splurge and the kitchen real estate. 

Everyone enjoyed the "party." JiT and I LUUURVED having a night to ourselves and I think Nana and Pop had a great time with the kiddos so it was a win for everyone. This weekend we've got one of my college besties in town and a bunch of my wine-drinking girlfriends coming for Sunday brunch so  the donut pan might be making an encore appearance. 

Baked Berry Donuts 
Makes about 2 dozen mini donuts

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
6 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup raspberry puree (press berries through a sieve to remove seeds)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray mini donut pan with cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl whisk together flours, sugar, and baking soda. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat egg and add in milk, oil and vanilla extract. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir gently to combine. Pour in raspberry puree and stir until evenly mixed. Spoon batter evenly into the wells of the donut pan (or use a plastic squirt bottle, which is much less messy) and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, until donuts are golden and cooked through. Remove from pan and set on a rack to cool. When completely cooled, dip each donut into strawberry glaze and top with sprinkles if desired. 

Strawberry Glaze

1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup finely diced strawberries
1/4 cup freeze dried strawberries, crushed to powder

Combine sugar and strawberries in a small bowl and stir to combine. If mixture doesn't seem wet enough, wait five minutes for the strawberries to break down and release their juices. Do not add water, there will be enough moisture from the berries. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My Stint in Postpartum Purgatory

Last July I fell apart. Completely. Like, weeping and screaming like a maniac in the car because we couldn't find a parking space at the community pool and my both kids were crying and I hadn't slept or eaten and I. Just. Lost. It.

Well, I'd been losing it. It was already lost at that point. You know that mom who drove her minivan into the ocean with her kids strapped inside? That wasn't me, thank God. Thank God I have an amazing husband, mother, community of friends. I have people who took my by the hand and said "stop. breathe. get help." And I did. Nevertheless, I had the blues big time. The hormones and the not sleeping and the chaos of trying to get two children out the door to do anything, ever just closed in and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think. The only thing that seemed to keep me going was anger and worry. I don't even know what I was angry about. But boy was I ever angry. At everyone. Mostly at myself for being so damned angry. And sad.

Because I have everything I've ever wanted. I have two healthy children and a husband who adores me. I have a fulfilling career that I got to create for myself and it's far more successful than I'd ever imagined. I get to be home with my kids. We are financially stable and healthy and well. In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing to be angry about.

In fact, people would regularly tell me how great we looked in pictures. How precious the children were. Neighbors would tell us how nice our lawn looked. How cute our front porch looked. How adorable our dog is. How wonderful the cupcakes we brought the the party were...

I felt like I'd helped create this place where everything was tidy and adorable and Pinterest-perfect. And I couldn't be happy. I could not find a single moment of happiness in my world. Everything I did felt like a lie. And with two small kids in the equation, I couldn't seem to make anything look perfect anymore. Nothing came out the way I wanted it to. The more I tried the more exhausted and insane I became and the more miserable I made everyone around me.

I finally talked to my OB and started taking anti-depressants. At first that just made me feel like even more of a failure but after a while they helped. It wasn't overnight. But slowly, I started to accept that there is a difference between perfection and happiness.

There are still moments when I lose my sense of balance and start to feel guilty and stressed about absurd things: Max takes formula now because I lost my breast milk; he's never worn a single cloth diaper; Lilly's hair hasn't seen a bow in months and she watches more Disney Junior than I'd care to admit; our hummus is store-bought. A friend suddenly dropped me and I cannot figure out why. Our family Christmas card photo shoot was a laughable failure. This blog is a like a virtual black eye that I cannot seem to fix. Let's not even discuss the edible peanut butter play dough incident.

When stuff like this starts to eat at me, I try really hard to recognize the crazy, pull an Elsa and "Let it Go." It doesn't always happen but mostly it does. Lots of yoga. Lots of breathing. In January I was able to taper off the anti-depressants. And nearly two months later, I can honestly say I feel happy, mostly. And grateful. Always grateful to everyone in my life. Most of all to my husband and children and dog, for putting up with me and loving me anyway.

I'd like to think I'll be back here soon with more posts. With mouthwatering pictures of the mini raspberry donuts the kids and I just made for our Valentine"s Day breakfast. To share some of the stunning pics JiT has been taking with his new camera. Or to tell you about my amazing clients' blogs and the tv segments I've been coordinating and the awesome food styling gig I just finished. I hope I do that. But if I don't. If I'm too tired or too stressed or I just want to play with the kids and be really present for them, I might not get to this. And thats ok. Because my life is not perfect. But I'm trying to make sure its mostly happy.

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