Thursday, December 31, 2015

Celebrate. Joy. Hope.

There's something magical about New Year's Eve. I mean once you get past the stress of making plans, having no plans and ending up in your pjs on the couch eating a box of chocolates, watching Taylor Swift perform a song you're pretty sure is brand new but in reality is probably two years old...

Just me?

Okay.

Anyway, New Years Eve... And yes, while I'm aware that Rosh HaShanah marks the beginning of the new year, there is something powerful and moving about December 31st. The world seems full of hope, full of promise, full of ambition for the coming year. And whether that carries well into the year or ends at 12:01, it doesn't matter.

2015 was hard for our family. Like really hard. There were challenges and obstacles around almost every corner. From pregnancy complications to the NICU, medical emergencies, surgery and working diagnoses for both of our boys, it was real and harsh and raw. We did our best to keep things as positive and normal, as we could, for the boys. We had a first birthday party, went to the zoo and play places. We had pj days and Paw Patrol days, running in the park, cuddles, laughs and smiles. And it got us through. 

But today. Today is December 31st. And tomorrow this year will be gone. It'll be another chapter in our lives. A chapter that broke us down a little so that we could become even stronger.

There are three words I want to focus on this year. 

Celebrate.

Hope.

Joy.

I want to celebrate. I want to celebrate everything. Every inch of progress our boys make. Every smile. Every milestone, big or small. I want to celebrate Monday and Wednesday and birthdays and good weather. I want a calendar filled with more than medical appointments and with more family fun days. I want to celebrate it all. I want to find the good and make happy memories and live.

I want our lives to be filled with hope. Hope for progress and therapies and that every day will be a good day, that everything will be okay. Will there be sleep regressions and teething, silly arguments over nothing and toddler tantrums? Yes, yes there will be. But there will be hope too. And if those are the worst things we'll have to face, then I welcome them with open arms.

Joy. I want there to be so much joy. The kind of joy that is all encompassing and overwhelming. The kind of joy that takes your breath away and leaves you awash in gratitude and wonder. The kind of joy when Y learns something new or N beats the odds. The kind of joy that melts mommy guilt and bickering and tantrums. Joy and laughter and smiles. Everyday. To find a reason for joy every. single. day.

Do we always get what we want? No, no we don't. But we can hope. We can be joyful through it all. And when we do get what we want? When we get what we so desperately need? We celebrate.

Happy 2016!




Friday, December 04, 2015

Mini Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt Cakes!

Let's call life with two under two... busy.

In the past few months, "busy" has taken on a whole new dimension. Working through a few different diagnoses for both boys, has left our schedule overtaken by doctors appointments and hospital visits. As difficult as it has been, these two little boys are incredibly amazing. N is constantly smiling and Y is pretty much one of my favorite people to hang out with! They're the bravest, strongest boys and I could not be prouder to be their Mommy - or so I think! Everyday they impress me even more! (I mean let's be real, y'know between the infant sleep regressions and toddlerness, haha!).

But for now, on to blogging and happy thoughts of chocolate and cake and chocolate cake...

Speaking of chocolate cake, you know what makes even the tastiest desserts even better? When they're baked as miniature versions!!

With 2016 quickly approaching, I'm so excited to share with you a few of my favorite products from the past year! Today I'll start with bakeware and throughout the month will highlight cookbooks, kids items and more!

Nordic Ware has certainly taken the lead and enhanced our cooking and baking through innovative products this year. We use our Flare pan, multiple times a week. Yes it may just be a frying pan, but when we had to be out of our home for a few months, it was one of the first things we packed with us to bring to my parents house! Don't even get me started on our dutch oven! It's lightweight and beautiful features are only outdone by how well it cooks basically everything we've attempted in it so far.

But you guys know me, and if you follow my Instagram feed, you'll know that baking is my first love in the kitchen.

And that's where this pretty great pan comes in.


Like I said, life with two under two can get pretty busy, even without all the extras we have going on. So what's better than a cake pan, with a gorgeous design that makes your baking fancy without any effort? A cake pan that does that very same thing,  THIRTY times over. Yes THIRTY.


The Bundt Tea Cakes and Candies pan, makes 30 miniature classic Nordic Ware bundt cakes! Think of the endless possibilities. A cute platter of mini cakes for your hostess the next time you're out for Shabbos, perhaps? Or maybe a variety of flavors of mini cakes on cake stands displayed at your next event! An addition to your shalach manos - never too early to start planning! A tray of mini cakes sent to the office or packaged beautifully for a neighbor, teacher, new mom or housewarming gift? It's also perfect for a bake sale or last minute treats for an entire class! Or on a simpler level, if you're anything like me, mini bite size cakes as a treat to last the day, afternoon, week, when you're craving a baked good but don't want to go too crazy. Also, they're the perfect size for dessert for Y (although, like his Mama, he prefers two in a sitting...).

Thirty mini cakes in one shot! I can't get over it.


In true Nordic Ware fashion, the cast aluminum is sturdy and results in beautifully and evenly baked mini cakes. It's non stick surface ensures the cakes pop out beautifully, retaining their design. You can even use it to make mini candies, adding versatility to it's list of features including heirloom quality and a lifetime guarantee. It's basically a Mommy baker's ideal gift!

I've included a recipe below that's also super easy for the Mom on the go who wants a delicious and beautiful tray of desserts!

Excuse me, as I'm off to have thirty one mini cake, before bed!

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake (makes 60 mini cakes)

1 box of Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix
1 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
Mix until well combined.
Using a half tea spoon measurement, scoop batter into mini bundt cake form.
Bake at 350 for approximately 12-15 minutes (depending on your oven, you may have to check at the 10 minute mark to avoid over baking)
Allow to cool and remove from pan

This pan was generously provided by Nordic Ware. The thoughts and opinions expressed within this review are solely my own.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dutch Oven Dinner

I'm the kind of girl who would be significantly happier taking a walk with M around Williams Sonoma than Tiffany.

Weird? Maybe. 

Any inclination to change? Nope.

While shiny diamonds are pretty awesome in their own right, they've got nothing on a shiny dutch oven! 


When this arrived at my door a few weeks ago, there may have been some hysteria. 

My love for all things bake/cookware is wonderful (unless you're approaching it from a "financial" or "space in our tiny kitchen" angle... but hey, how about we just don't?). And while a lot of the time, items tend to be more pretty than they are useful, it was most definitely not the case here! 

As I've mentioned time and again, my favorite part of cooking is the connection it provides to the past and to the incredible people in my life, from my grandparents to my parents, presently. I love that I can make a cake in my kitchen, and the apartment will smell just like my grandmother's home when I was 10. I love that after messaging my Mom a million times over a recipe and instructions, once it's complete, I can give my boys a dish my Mom would make me. 


I've honestly never felt a greater connection to the memories of being around my grandmother while she prepared dinner, than I did while preparing this meal. For one, I started at about noon. My grandmother would always start making dinner shortly after breakfast. It wasn't that dinner necessarily needed that much time to cook, but it was when she had the time to dedicate to it and ensure it'd be ready and no one would have to wait to eat. I'll be honest, I'm usually not so great with the "no one waiting" part. Oftentimes, dinner will only be ready (read: I'll start cooking) after M gets home. This was different though. N was napping, Y was happily sitting in his high chair with snacks and excited to watch Mommy cook, and I had both the ingredients and energy to get started!


Even more significant than starting at noon, I made this from intuition and preference rather than from ratios and research. I struggled to keep the measuring spoons in the drawer, and approached the addition of spices from a intuitive angle. I don't think I ever saw my grandmother use an actual measuring spoon (which may also explain why I haven't been able to recreate a few of her recipes...). I stuck to what we like, rather than what would be expected and the reward was an incredible dish arising from the mingling of flavors and simplicity. 

It's no secret that I prefer recipes that involve minimal ingredients, prep time and clean up. This recipe used exactly two dishes: the dutch oven itself, and a plate for preparing the meat. That's it! And the dutch oven is so beautiful in and of itself, that it transfers seamlessly to the table and is a gorgeous serving dish.

A noteworthy feature is it's weightlessness. I've always had my eye on cast iron cookware, but being an itsy bitsy balebusta there's no way I'd be able to lift it, once full, in and out of the oven. Not the case here! This 3qt  dutch oven was light enough, even when full, that I could easily take it from counter, to oven to table with no struggle at all. Nordic Ware's dutch oven is made of cast aluminium. The Pro Cast Traditions line is sturdy, the heat conduction properties are excellent and the value and affordability make them accessible for those looking to purchase a heirloom quality pan without spending hundreds. There's no questioning the quality, and the fact that the product is so gorgeous, with a beautiful, gleaming cranberry colour, is an added bonus! Also, this specific model is the 3qt and it was large enough to double this recipe, at least! It's the perfect size for our family and a filling weeknight dinner! 


The dish came out absolutely excellently! The potatoes were soft, the meat pulled smoothly and the garlic was roasted to perfection. Everything cooked evenly and retained its moisture. Both M & our toddler Y, absolutely loved this and clean up at the end was as easy as the meal prep! 


If you're looking to add to your cookware collection, looking for the perfect gift or simply want to elevate your cooking with minimal effort, this is the line you should look to!

Dutch Oven Dinner (Serves 3)

2 large Sweet Potatoes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
1-2 tsp Onion Powder
1-2 tsp Garlic Powder
1-2 tsp Paprika
2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1/4 cup BBQ Sauce of your choice (I used a classic Chicken/Rib BBQ Sauce)
2 tbsp Brown Sugar
0.5kg Boneless Blade Steak
5 Cloves of Garlic
1/4 c Sweet Red Wine

*I've added the measurements for the spices, but feel free to add them at your discretion! 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F

Peel and cut the sweet potatoes, into small cubes

Add sweet potatoes to dutch oven and generously drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (4-5 tbsp)

Add 1-2 tsp each of onion powder, garlic powder and paprika

Add 2 tsp of cinnamon 

Add 1/4 tsp of black pepper and 1/2 tsp of sea salt

Mix the potatoes to ensure even distribution.

On a separate plate, mix the BBQ sauce and brown sugar. Dip the steak in the mix until covered well on both sides. Add to dutch oven.

Peel garlic cloves and add to dutch oven.

Place in oven and bake for 40 minutes. 

Remove, stir potatoes and add sweet red wine.

Return to oven and cook for an additional hour, checking occasionally. 

Ready to serve directly to table!


I was generously provided with this Pro Cast Traditions 3qt Cranberry Dutch Oven by Nordic Ware. The opinions and experience provided within this post are completely my own.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Pan Cakes with Flare

Having graduated with a double major in English & Art History, I’ll be the first to say that math and science aren’t my strong suit. I took all required classes but I’m way more of a Chaucer and Caravaggio kinda girl, than the Galileo or Einstein type.

There’s no doubting that my willingness to jump into anything scientific has grown exponentially, given that the science of baking and cooking is definitely a science that speaks to me. And of course, whenever the division needed to figure out how much that new bundt pan will cost me on sale is necessary, I’m your girl (or y’know the girl that will ask my husband exactly how much we'll be saving…).

Having said all that, my list of favorite scientists is starting to grow, and on that list? Dr. Thomas Povey, Professor of Engineering at Oxford. He’s a rocket scientist who, among other feats, seriously cut down my cooking time in the kitchen. I like to think of him as the patron scientist of Mama’s to two under two.

Nordic Ware’s recent introduction of the Flare Cookware line has brought an innovative, practical and revolutionary product, to a market that could use this ingenuity.

Dr. Povey used his experience of trying to boil water on a camp stove while mountain climbing in the Alps (only slightly more difficult than trying to boil water with a newborn and toddler in the background) to develop a product that would both heat up and cook food faster, more evenly and efficiently.

Hello, Flare Cookware!


With the addition of scales to the bottom of the pan, the absorption of the stoves heat energy is quicker and held, not dissipating. This result in less time preheating, less cooking time and less energy.


With Flare, less is more.

More time to enjoy breakfast and less time cooking it. More time to read stories and less time scrambling eggs.

In my opinion, recipes need to be quick and easy and the fewer bowls or items needed for prep, and the less time in the kitchen the better. While pancakes definitely meet the first criteria, for some reason they always take me for.ev.er. They’re so easy and with the addition of fruits and altering which flour I use or which additions I make, are a quick and healthy meal option for our toddler. But what toddler (or Mom for that matter) is patient enough for the process of ladling batter onto a frying pan over and over and over again, with later batches burning, early batches taking ridiculously long to cook and so on?

And have you tried to clean a pan after making a dozen pancakes?

No. No thank you.

Not the case now! I literally made 10, evenly and perfectly cooked pancakes, in 15 minutes. And the pan wiped clean afterwards.


*Cue confetti*

And these weren’t just any instant, light pancakes. These were legit pan cakes. They bear a denser texture, a stronger flavor and are definitely hearty. I adapted my grandmother’s recipe. The one she’d make occasionally and have ready for us after school, warm and gigantic. These don’t need any syrup or topping, but of course you’re welcome to garnish and dress them up however you’d like! I may or may not have made a maple icing drizzle for them the last time…



Definite to do list items for this week?

1. Get yourself a Flare pan.

2. Make these pancakes.

You’re welcome!

Pancakes
Makes 10, 8” pancakes

1 C whole milk (3%), cold
½ C white sugar
2 large eggs (cold)
1 ½ C all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
dash of cinnamon

Whisk all ingredient, in order, until just combined
Allow to rest for 1-2 minutes
Using a ladle, fill the surface area of the pan with batter, leaving enough room to flip the pancake with a spatula.
Allow to cook for 1 minute* and flip
Cook for an additional 30 seconds
Turn onto a platter and repeat until you’ve used all the batter
Best served warm, and on the same day (can be kept in a sealed container, in the fridge for up to 3, reheat before serving)

*Times may vary depending on your stove. These times are based on our electric stove.

Disclaimer: The 8" Flare pan used and mentioned within the post, was generously provided by Nordic Ware. All opinions expressed above are completely my own.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chocolate Coconut Muffins

When I shared these coconut berry pops a couple of months ago, I was exhausted from chasing around our one year old and having just moved (at 8 months pregnant, nonetheless!). Now that there's a new, super cute reason to be exhausted, I'm not only loving recipes that are quick to make and require few ingredients, but ones which are quick to eat too!  


You see, either I have to eat quickly because there are only a few minutes left during nap time, after my to do list has been partially tackled, or for instance, my 18 month old is standing in front of me, longingly staring at whatever it is that I'm eating (and not moving until he's had a piece... Or half!).



So these days, I'm absolutely loving smoothies, muffins and anything else I can make quickly, add nutrients to and eat on the go! Coconut water has been a great help in meeting all three! Using it as a substitute for water in smoothies, is a simple and effective way to add electrolytes and a little boost. And when your muffins may have a tad more chocolate chips than a healthy muffin should, adding coconut water is an easy way to add nutrients! 

When Epicurex introduced me to Chocolate Coconut Water, I was more than happy to give it a try! Nutrients and chocolate? Yes, please. Adding a touch of chocolate to smoothies and a few recipes calling for water, has been a simple yet effective way to boost flavor while adding electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium (and more!) effortlessly! The intensity of coconut water, is muted with the addition of chocolate and a subtle coconut underlying flavor. It's a fantastic way to add a new dimension to your treats!


These chocolate coconut muffins are a great, simple treat! They are best served fresh with your favorite spread or a touch of margarine! With the boost of electrolytes and chocolate, thanks to the coconut water, you're only enhancing and not compromising the flavor at all!

Enjoy!

Chocolate Coconut Muffins (Makes 12)

2 large eggs
1 C sugar
1 1/4 C all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Optional: 1/2 C of chocolate chips or a handful of shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350F
Line and grease a muffin tray
Beat sugar and eggs together until well combined
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt
Add the flour mixture alternating with the chocolate coconut water
Mix until just combined
Add the optional chocolate chips or shredded coconut, if you'd like
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes

These muffins are best served fresh! They have bread like consistency and are wonderful with jam, cream cheese, margarine etc! 

Keep in a sealed container, at room temperature for up to 2 days otherwise




Epicurex provided me with a sample of Cocozia Chocolate Coconut Water to help create this recipe. The opinions, images and recipe provided, are all my own.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Itsy Bitsy News!

With gratitude to Hashem, M & I are so excited to (officially) share special news with you!

A couple of hours after Shavuot ended, we welcomed our newest member, who has brought a whole new meaning to itsy bitsy!

Our strong, itsy bitsiest, newest little boy!


That's right. We have two little boys under two! And while our hands are definitely full, our hearts have never been fuller!

Absolutely LOVE my Happy Mommy Box, bag!

Baby N, was born under 4lbs and had to stay in the NICU. In only 9 weeks he has taught his Mommy what being strong means and is an incredible little superhero!

As for big brother Y?


When he's not busy editing and preparing guest posts for the blog... he's busy being the brother of the year! He dealt with his sense of normalcy being totally and completely uprooted and adjusted beautifully to our chaotic routine. This Mommy is super lucky to have two incredible little boys ka"h!


We've learned a lot these past couple of months, and there's so much to write about! I'm looking forward to sharing our latest adventures, y'know between checking on the newborn, tripping over a Lego or ten and chasing a toddler!

Hands full, heart full!

Be back soon with new adventures, fantastic product reviews and a few delicious recipes too! Hope you're having a wonderful summer!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pasteis De Nata & Ricardo Cuisine!

Growing up, summer meant spending time with my grandparents. While during the rest of the year, their home was where we would go to after school until my parents could pick us up, summertime meant spending the entire day running around the backyard and playing in the garage. Yes, you read that right. My grandfather put down carpet in the garage for us, a chalkboard to play school and made us our very own skipping ropes. We’d spend endless hours playing away until my Mom would come to pick us up. Summer also meant getting to tag along on one of my very favorite errands…

A trip to the bakery!

I’m fairly certain that I can trace my love of bakeries and baked goods back to those mid-morning trips with my grandfather to the bakery at the end of the street. Picking up fresh buns was a daily occurrence. The occasional loaf of bread or hot dog/ hamburger buns may have been purchased at the grocery store, but as far as buns or bread for our meals was concerned, nowhere but the bakery would do! To this day, my Dad still stops every Sunday to pick up bread for our Sunday dinners! And while helping my grandfather fill a bag with fresh, warm buns was fun, it was when we would head to the counter that the excitement would really peak. As I stared at the display cases filled to the brim with classic Portuguese desserts and pastries, the kind staff would, without fail, “sneak” me a cookie or treat! From walking through the door, to leaving with a bag full of that fresh scent and warmth, the experience was always enjoyable.

When it comes to Portuguese bakeries, there is one dessert in particular, that is iconic.

Pasteis de Nata. 


I can’t even begin to count the number of times, someone has asked me if I’ve made them. Having become kosher five years ago, the “is there anything you miss?” question is a popular one. Over the past few years, I’ve done what I can to transfer family recipes into ones that would accommodate and meet kosher dietary requirements. When friends learn this, pasteis de nata always seem to be the first thing they inquire about. I must admit, while I enjoyed them, they were never the first dessert I’d reach for. But sure enough, make something (especially a baked good!) inaccessible and it’s suddenly a favorite! Given that, I still had yet to attempt baking them, since I have never, NEVER, had a successful experience with custard or caramel.

Until now! 

About a month ago, I was introduced to Ricardo Cuisine. I’m always on the lookout for fantastic food/ recipe websites, and while I certainly love a good cookbook, there’s something special about the ease of searching for a recipe and having a slew of results pop up within seconds. The Ricardo Cuisine site has definitely become a favorite of mine in a very short amount of time! Its crisp and clean layout showcases the food presented beautifully. The menu can be tailored to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. The drop-down menu underneath Cook breaks down your search into mains, appetizers, desserts etc. The Discover bar leads you to videos, a menu planner and further broken down categories (i.e. summer cooking!) and more! Add special features, a boutique, a magazine and themes (i.e. Cooking for Diabetics) and this website is as comprehensive as it is fantastic! 

Naturally, I gravitated towards the dessert section, where I found 17 categories! Browsing through them, it was at once clear that not only did the desserts look appetizing and great, but the recipes were also accessible and straightforward. The ingredients didn’t even need a ton of tampering with to comply with kosher requirements! Just when I thought I had hit the jackpot, I stumbled across a recipe that provided all the confirmation I needed…

Portuguese Tarts!



The recipe, like the others I had browsed through, was so straightforward and accessible that for the first time, I really felt like I could attempt to recreate this classic! The added bonus of the fact that it didn’t require any gelatin or ingredients kosher versions of pasteis call for, was especially exciting! The recipe is inherently kosher!

Not gonna lie, I was still nervous to attempt anything involving custard, but if I was ever going to find a recipe to give it a shot, it was this one! So during the kids nap time, on a sunny afternoon, I went for it! And…

SUCCESS!

I made custard! It was a milestone moment in this Itsy Bitsy Balebusta’s kitchen! Another great thing about pasteis is that as long as you get the components right, the final presentation doesn’t have to be clean and fancy! Pasteis de Nata are known for their almost burnt looking appearance. Take one bite though, and it won’t matter what it looks like!

I’d definitely recommend taking a look at the site and using it to help you plan your next menu, meal or snack! The recipes are so great that something I’ve failed at before, I was suddenly able to make effortlessly. I wasn’t left with a sink full of dishes at the end (always a plus!), I had all the ingredients I needed in the fridge and pantry, and everything was so easy to follow that it really felt effortless. The only alteration I made was baking each tart in a ramekin. Truth be told, I didn’t have an appropriate dairy muffin pan, but in the end it was a great option! I was able to make slightly larger pasteis than the traditional ones (and really, is extra custard and pastry ever a bad thing?) and didn’t have to worry about any custard spilling out during the baking process. I generously greased them beforehand and baked them at 500F. All in all, not only is it a beautiful site to browse through, but you’ll both want to make the recipes and enjoy the seamless process almost as much as the final product!

                        

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s been about five years and I have a few extra pasteis waiting for me!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Berry Coconut Pops!

Being a Mom and trying to keep the home together, with a 1 and a half year old running around (yes basically running at this point, since I can barely keep up! What?!) requires way more energy than I have most days. Not only is there the task at hand of keeping the home together, but given that we just moved, there's also plenty of unpacking and settling in to get to. With an adventurous little boy seemingly always on the go, this Mommy is on the look out for quick and easy snacks, that are healthy and nutritious. While that's already a tall order, add to the search something that's cool (a fairly warm Spring has arrived, and we are without AC) and requires appliances and utensils that have actually been unpacked...

Enter a perfect opportunity! Right before our move, the friendly people over at Epicurex introduced me to Cocozia organic, kosher coconut water. Given that most of my recipes are generations old, being faced with an ingredient I've never used and one which my usual go to sources (re: my Mom and family) aren't overly familiar with, is rare. But hey, with all the new adventures already happening this Spring, why not throw in a little experimenting in the kitchen too?

Here's a quick, and easy treat that's perfect to hydrate and cool you off now that the weather is finally starting to change! It requires barely any effort, takes three ingredients and less than 10 minutes to make start to finish (including schlepping out the blender). Put it into the freezer overnight and you have the perfect treat for the next day! And as if there needed to be an added bonus to all of this, it's also healthy! No added sugars or artificial sweeteners! A Mama's jackpot right?


I took this opportunity to try out Cocozia coconut water and added 1 cup to the berry mix. After further looking into coconut water, it seemed like the perfect addition to add a boost of electrolytes without the fat or cholesterol (if you'd feel more comfortable, check with your doctor before introducing new foods/ ingredients to your toddler!). It also contains plenty of potassium and magnesium and is touted as being fantastic for hydration, without any sugary or synthetic additives. In the past few years, the benefits of coconut water and oil have really taken center stage, as a wonder food. Adding a simple cup of coconut water to these pops, has the benefit of adding a variety of nutrients, with minimal effort and great taste (Cocozia actually has a variety of flavors of coconut water, here I used the original, but adding in one of the many flavors opens the doors to all sorts of potential combinations!). It's a simple and effective way to boost treats without compromising on texture or flavor!



Enjoy!

Berry Coconut Pops (Makes 6, 4 oz Frozen Pops)

1 Cup Frozen Blueberries
1 Cup Frozen Strawberries
1 Cup Cocozia Coconut Water

Measure out one cup of each ingredient

Add to blender and select "puree" function for 5-10 seconds followed by "liquefy" function for 5 seconds*

Pour mixture into six, four ounce, ice pop molds.

Place into freezer, and freeze overnight.

To remove, run under lukewarm water briefly before removing ice pop mold casing.


Notes:

*Feel free to adjust times to suit your preference when it comes to consistency. Do not over puree, as you want a thicker consistency which will freeze better and increase your chances of successfully removing the pops from the forms!

My second time making these, I added a quarter of a frozen banana to the mix as well, and pureed an additional 5 seconds, to add a little extra stability to the consistency!

I was generously provided with a sample of Cocozia Coconut Water courtesy of Epicurex. The thoughts, opinion and recipe presented in my post, are all my own.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts & A Giveaway!

After all of the Passover cooking, who doesn't have a renewed sense of appreciation for those who go all year round without gluten? While there are those who will be quick to say that 8 days isn't so bad and that they have their favorite Passover desserts/ recipes - maybe even a few they use year round - reaching for flour-filled cakes, cookies and bread after the holiday, is always welcome. Having the ability to only have to limit our flourless intake to eight days a year is a luxury!

Being the only one in my family who keeps kosher, I'm sensitive to having food available to meet any dietary requirement. It's such a central part of gatherings and truthfully, our heritage. I'm incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have parents who are not only understanding but also super accommodating. They've gone above and beyond to provide M with a BBQ and always ensure we have what to make/eat when we arrive at their home for Sunday dinner. With Y a part of the party now, it's amazing to see the variety of snacks and treats my parents always have on hand for him. He never has to feel like he's missing out!

While planning Y's birthday I did my best to take into account that a few of our guests wouldn't be able to partake in most of the sweets. While there were fruit and veggie options on the table, what kid would enjoy going to a party where they couldn't have cake or candy while everyone else around them was? I was nervous to attempt to bake anything myself, with all the flour constantly floating around the kitchen, and it took having to search for delicious gluten-free kosher options, to realize the shortage of availability! In the end we made individual bags with plenty of candy, iced brownies from a local gluten-free bakery and more! My respect and admiration is endless for families that have this as a daily challenge.

Given all of this, you can imagine that when I opened Nicole Spiridakis' cookbook, Flourless I was blown away. Nicole herself is not gluten-free, but her sister in law does keep a gluten-free diet. Nicole became obsessed with the idea of naturally gluten-free recipes after exploring the idea that it's "often easier to make desserts that did not call for any wheat flour at all compared to those that incorporated a gluten-free flour substitute." Truth be told, that was also another reason I was hesitant to bake anything myself for our gluten-free family members. While recipes are plentiful and easy to find, those that didn't include complicated/ expensive/ hard to find flour blends or gums, were in short supply.


Nicole's cookbook is absolutely fantastic, and that's coming from someone who basically can't make it throughout the day without a baked good. I love that her cookbook is compiled of recipes that have easily accessible and inexpensive ingredients and don't require unfamiliar components to make gluten-free treats! Additionally, I think she makes an incredibly important point when she says that, "The main thing to keep in mind when creating flourless desserts is to not see them as substitutes for more traditional desserts... They're delicious in their own right."

This cookbook is wonderful in all regards. The writing is clear, heartfelt and you can't help but be inspired to give it a shot, regardless of how far outside your comfort zone flourless baking is. I love the dark tone of the images, and how they showcase respective recipes in clear, real, natural ways perfectly complimenting their inherent structure and qualities. The styling and arrangement is perfect. You really question how these muffins, cookies and more could be gluten-free!

That's right, I said muffins and cookies! Flourless holds within its pages recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Cookies, Puddings, Tarts, Candies and Confections among other treats. You're not limited to the soufflés and flourless chocolate cakes that all too frequently come up when you search for gluten-free recipes (although those are surely included as well!). Here you will find recipes for a flavorful Lemon Loaf, a delicious Apple Tea Cake with Maple Glaze and what will become your go to gluten-free Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies! The recipes are versatile, perfect for breakfast, dessert, to gift and more. You can bake them seasonally and enjoy summer picnic or Thanksgiving go to's, from berry pies to pumpkin bread (yes, bread!), or enjoy them year round. You'll also find bold flavors such as ginger, sesame, tahini, rosemary, pistachio and more, to expand your palette! The array of recipes goes above and beyond to provide you with a comprehensive collection of options that leaves you with plenty of inspiration, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the lack of availability to muffins and more.

Oatie Squares
Quick & simple to make, with easy to find, natural ingredients! A total hit here!
Given how inspired I was by this cookbook, and how great my appreciation is for families and individuals who face the task of altering their menu to comply with a gluten-free diet for any of a variety of reasons, I'm so excited to be able to share a giveaway for this cookbook, courtesy of the very generous Raincoast Books. You can enter below and I hope this cookbook brings plenty of inspiration and warm delicious delights into your kitchen and home! Good luck & enjoy!

Flourless Giveaway Contest Details/ Rules:
Open to Canadian residents. No purchase necessary. Skill-based question will be asked upon drawing winner's name. Prize is one (1) copy of Nicole Spiridakis' cookbook Flourless provided by Raincoast Books, approximate retail value of $38.95. Odds of winning are dependent on number of eligible entries received. Contest will run from Monday April 20th, 2015 until Sunday April 26th, 2015 at 12:00 am EST.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Even though it's officially Spring, it's still a bit chilly outside. Truthfully, I am not hot weather's biggest fan, so clinging on to cooler temperatures for a bit is welcome! Take me outside into the heat for more than 15 minutes and I become an itsy bitsy bit grumpy. Good thing I live in Canada where hot weather lasts approximately 1 week!

Last year was different. Y was born in January, during quite possibly the coldest winter ever. I mean we had an ice storm right before he was born. C'mon!  I can't even explain how worried I was that I was going to go into labor and be trapped in a storm. Yeah. Then he was born and let me tell you, there is nothing quite like having a colicky baby and being trapped in your apartment for 24 hour day cycles, with the risk of frost bite if you just want to get outside for a breath of fresh air. It sucked. A lot.

Then summer arrived and with it colic left. I'm making it sound significantly lighter than it was, but more on colic another time.

Basically, last Spring and Summer were more than just sticky days. It was freedom, and new adventures with our little boy!

As I reminisce about those warm, sunny days, I'm sharing a recipe that M & I would make for Shabbos pretty much every week when I was pregnant with Y. I was obsessed. I could not get enough of this salad - yeah salad. I skipped all those sweet cravings and opted for salad. For reals.

For years the only vegetables I'd eat were carrots or potatoes. And let me clarify... I'd only eat the carrots if they were baked into a cake or muffin, or if they were boiled the way my grandmother, Avo Ana, would make them. By the way when I say "for years" I mean up until, oh maybe... six years ago! But all of a sudden, pregnant me tolerated and actually liked spinach! The strawberries, vinaigrette & almonds could have something to do with it though...


I will admit, I used a store bought dressing *gasp.* In my defense it is pretty fantastic. I've never been very good at making dressings, they're always either too oily, not oily enough or just off. That and caramel, are two things to date, that this itsy bitsy balebusta has not been able to successfully make. Anyhow, M & I finally settled on a Tonelli raspberry vinaigrette after standing in the aisle at the grocery store for way too long. We had previously tried one other dressing which M accurately described as, "tastes like cardboard." We definitely had better luck with this one, I mean we literally wanted to add it to everything we ate! It's light, sweet and adds the perfect finishing touch! If you feel inclined to make your own, you can find a fantastic homemade variation over at Overtime Cook, where she shares her recipe for Raspberry Zinger Vinaigrette! I've substituted the raspberry tea for pomegranate tea (special Rosh HaShanah treat!) and it was great, so you're able to play around with it to suit your taste. If I can successfully make this vinaigrette, you most definitely can too!

So here's a fresh, healthy and colorful way to bring in Spring! I'll return to dessert recipes shortly, promise!

Strawberry Spinach Salad (Serves 4)

5 cups of flat leaf baby spinach (washed and checked, I usually refer to the Kof-K guide)
1 cup of sliced strawberries (again, checked using the Kof-K guide)
1/2 cucumber, sliced thinly
1/4 cup slivered almonds
vinaigrette of your choice
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Add ingredients to a large bowl and toss. Dress with vinaigrette after plating. Add sesame seeds after vinaigrette!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How To Plan A Stress Free Party Part 3: Decorations & Details!

I hope our previous post in the series, helped you with ideas for layout and general party set up! At the end of the series, I’ll provide a check list with all of the tips in one place as well as my prep schedule for the week leading up to the party!

Now for more fun stuff!

When it came to the decorations for the room, we tried our hand at making them ourselves! I really loved the way the display on the main table turned out and it was super simple and cost effective! Each month, M & I (struggled) to take a “month by month” picture of Y. We’d dress him up in a white onesie and jeans, and add a tie that read how many months old he was and seat him in the same chair. It started off super simple in the early days (about the only thing that was simple then, ha!), when he would just sit there and cooperate unknowingly, but towards month 7 he started attempting to eat the tie, jump off the chair and in general wreak havoc on the mini photo shoot! Regardless we got a picture each month, and the progression from baby to little boy over the 12 photos is unbelievable! I wanted to incorporate these photos into the party and decided that a backdrop on the head table, was the perfect way to do so! It wasn't difficult at all, and replaced the customary “Happy Birthday Banner” I assumed we’d use. It was definitely a more personal touch, and a conversation piece for guests as they approached the table. M loved hearing people debate which month and photo the transition from baby to little boy happened, and it was so interesting to hear everyone’s different opinions!


Basically, I took a large white project board and wrapped it in green wrapping paper. I had the month by month photos printed out as 4 x 6’s with a white boarder, and lined them up in two rows, months 1-6 and 7-12. Above these, using the same file we created for his invitations, I printed out three 8.5 x 11 sheets, reading, “Happy Birthday Mr. 1-derful” respectively. I cut them out into a wavy pattern and placed them above the images! Finally I came across this quote on Project Nursery's post and absolutely loved it, so I added a matching frame with the quote, right above the photos. It was the perfect personal touch to decorate the head table and replaced the need for decorations on the wall or a banner!

As I mentioned in part 2 of the series, the gift table also held a bib, that served as a guest book for Y's first birthday party! I originally saw this idea on the BLovely Events page (through Pinterest) who used a onesie at a baby shower in the same way. I was planning on first writing Y’s name on a onesie. I decided a My First Birthday onesie would be ideal, but searched with no luck. It wasn't until I came across this bib, in the clearance section, that I finally found a suitable piece! Other than packing it into the bag to take to the party, together with a box of markers, it left me with no work! It was a really easy addition, a great conversation piece and memento, and it was very cute to see how enthusiastic everyone was about signing it! We purchased a second one for Y to actually wear when we had cake, over his Birthday Boy t-shirt. That tee, a long-sleeve white onesie and a pair of jeans, completed his simple, comfortable, birthday outfit! 

On the table, alongside the bib, we placed two posters, outlining Y’s milestones over his first year. There is plenty of inspiration on Pinterest that can help you tailor this to your unique little one! I especially loved this one. On our poster, I added info about all of Y’s favorite things, from his favorite books, songs and foods, to all the things he can do (Wave! Give kisses! etc) as well as, all of the things he loves (walks, my parents dog etc). I created it on a chalkboard background from How to Nest for Less and downloaded chalkboard fonts from Where the Smiles Have Been, to complete the look! We then had it printed at our local Staples and laminated so that we could keep it and add it to his baby book (that I’ll finish one day!). 

Next to this, again using the same file we created for his invitation and the Happy Birthday banner on the board, I created a poster with all of Y’s firsts! I wrote the milestone in one font and the date/ month it happened underneath it in a different one. Everything from first smile, to first road trip, airplane ride, food, tooth, crawl and so on. I had kept track of these on my phone in a calendar and note over the course of the year and realized this would be a great way to get them all in one place! A quick scan of my private Instagram account also reminded me of a bunch of milestones (and luckily on the webpage – not on the app, the dates are listed underneath each picture!).

Both of these posters accompanied the bib “guest book” and like the board, were great conversation pieces. They also ensured the décor really reflected our little boy and all the many reasons we have to celebrate his first year!

A final small but effective addition to the décor, was the use of these place cards from Catch My Party. I used them to clarify what was dairy/dairy-free on the main table, one on the coloring table asking the kids to color in a sheet for Y and one on the gift table next to the bib reading, “We’re so happy that you’re here! Please sign Y’s bib to celebrate his first year!”. They were incredibly useful, and I brought along a bunch extra in case I thought of anywhere else I would need one. The pattern is also absolutely adorable and simple enough that it complemented the rest of the décor easily!

That’s all for the décor aspect of the series! If you have any questions feel free to email me (victoria@itsybitsybalebusta.com) or leave a comment below!

Next up… our menu and all the baked goods, sweets and snacks! Join us for the next part of the series coming up soon!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Handmade Gifts From The Kitchen!

Versatility in life while cooking and in the kitchen is essential. The ability to swap ingredients or alter recipes, especially for the kosher cook (or anyone with dietary guidelines to follow, be it for allergies, intolerance etc) comes hand in hand with prepping meals! When that versatility expands to cookbooks, you know this Itsy Bitsy Balebusta is thrilled!

I rarely accept an invite to a meal without offering to contribute (unless Y is having a particularly fun – read 'challenging' – week, oh teething!). Also, living on a budget, we usually opt to bring a baked good, plated and wrapped, as a hostess gift, when we make it out. Special occasions from Chanukah to birthdays also always include a little baked treat from our kitchen! I love the personal touch it adds to a gift, and I always make an effort to include favorite flavors, themes and recipes! Who doesn't love a fresh homemade dessert?


Given all of this, I was thrilled to receive this stunning cookbook. Alison Walker’sHandmade Gifts From The Kitchen, is a beautiful, instructive, creative collection of recipes, ideas and tips. Not only is this book filled to the brim with fantastic recipes, notes on packaging, presentation and assembly, it inspires and encourages you to get into your kitchen!

While handmade gifts are a treasure all year round, what better time to refer to such a wonderful collection, than with Purim around the corner? All it takes is a quick glance through these gorgeous pages to have enough ideas to spark a multitude of themes and additions to your Mishloach Manos! (On Purim, we gift food and treats to our friends, in the spirit of love, friendship and brotherhood, and to ensure that everyone has ample food for the Purim seudah or feast, that is held later in the day! These Mishloach Manos, can be theme-oriented, sweet or savory, and must be ready to eat items.)

One of my personal favorite recipes, is simple and classic, and sure to become a go-to. The Poppy & Sesame Seed Crackers, are super easy to make and with a bit of parchment paper and a lovely gift box, you have a great gift ready to go! Add a few packets of tea, maybe some fruit or a Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake, also in the cookbook, and a wonderful Mishaloch Manos for a teacher, neighbor or friend and relative is set! This would also make for a great end-of-year gift for teachers, with a special personal touch!

The creativity continues with Chocolate Button Shortbread Cookies. These would be a fantastic addition to a teddy bear themed Mishaloch Manos, or alternatively as a treat for a new Mom, with a little "Cute As A Button" gift tag attached!

That’s the wonderful feature about this cookbook. You aren't just flipping through pages, finding ideas for dinner or dessert! Each page brings you inspiration for gifts and treats to share with your family and friends, beyond your dining table! And with some of the later recipes, that require time to sit after they're made, Alison is helping you to stock your pantry for, as she put it in her introduction, those moments when you need an impromptu gift. How many times are you running out the door to an event that was supposed to be in the calendar but somehow got mixed up and have to plan extra time to stop and pick up a little hostess gift? With these incredible recipes, you'll have an arsenal of gifts ready at a moments notice (or as a special treat for yourself too, on those especially long days!).

The recipes are not only sweet based. There are plenty of simple, savory options as well! These range from marinated olives to BBQ sauce, pumpkin relish, and a variety of chutney and mustard! There is even a From the Garden section as well as the Raise a Glass chapter, which includes recipes for liquors and vodka. Yes. This book literally has everything! An exceptional lineup of gifts you can make from your kitchen is tucked between these pages! And not only are the treats gorgeous in their own right, they're also versatile and can be used as decor! The Stollen Wreath for instance, doubles as a fantastic centerpiece! By the last page, you're so inspired that you see multiple uses for common gifts and have plenty of your own packaging & gifting ideas as well!


There are recipes that are simple enough to include the whole family, and what better way to get everyone involved in Purim preparation, and help kids add their own personal touch, than in the kitchen! Sure, there will be some mess, and it may take a bit longer, but the memories and pride of presenting their friends and family with something they've made is totally worth it! As Alison shares in her introduction, and I agree, "true pleasure comes from sharing food!"

And yes, anyone who's made a hostess gift or Mishloach Manos can tell you, that while prepping all of these items is time consuming, it's also oftentimes less expensive than purchasing gifts. Add the bonus of the joy of sharing something made with a personal touch and love and what could be more special? This cookbook also goes above and beyond to help make the whole process as easy as possible, with resource guides to where to buy packaging and materials, as well as ideas for how to plate and present the items! There's info on when to bake before gifting, how long in advance items need to be prepared, or how long they should marinate/ sit before being given and so much more.

Overall, this is a gorgeous book, brimming with inspiration and absolutely stunning images, any of which I'd love to have framed in our kitchen! It's versatile, both inherently with the multitude of recipes and ideas included, and in the sense that you'll be pulling it off of your shelf every Purim to add that special, unqiue treat to your Mishloach Manos, as well as for any Shabbos you find yourself going out, any time you're a guest or any time the opportunity to brighten someone's day with a little baked treat presents itself! And the great thing about this book is that you'll find yourself looking to do so more often, just to flip through the beautiful pages and experience the joy of sharing Handmade Gifts From The Kitchen!


Disclaimer: This cookbook was provided to me by Appetite by Random House. All opinions contained within my review are solely mine. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to Plan A Stress Free Party Part 2: Setting Up & Layout!

This series will provide a comprehensive look at our son’s first birthday party, and serve as a guide filled tips we learned along the way. It's our hope that it'll help make your little one’s special day as minimally stressful as possible! After all, the less time you spend preparing and setting up, the more time you'll have to celebrate and focus on the day! When I searched for tips for Y’s birthday, I couldn't really find anything comprehensive (and especially when it came to boys birthdays!) so although these posts may be a bit lengthy, I hope they give you some ideas and help you with your celebration!

Let’s get started!

After months of going back and forth on a theme, we finally decided to go for a more generic theme rather than characters, and all the ideas we had previously floated around. As much as our son absolutely loves Rio, we kinda figured this would be the only year where he wouldn't straight-up give us a theme, and where we could really, really focus on him and the awesome little boy that he is (rather than on his favorite movie and so on). Gd-willing, there will be plenty of birthdays ahead full of that! It also opened the door for us to create a lot of our own decorations, invitations and so on, without spending money on the party items we had passed in various stores, while attempting to stick to a budget!

And so we decided on Mr. 1-derful!

After the theme was set, we decided to go with blue and green for the color scheme, since it was easy to work with, and plenty of boy birthday ideas I had seen, complemented it well. I also threw in some yellow since it seems to be Y’s favorite color! We purchased plastic tablecloths from the dollar store, together with simple green and blue paper plates. We doubled-up on the quantity needed, in case guests wanted a separate plate for sweets and veggies. At the end of the party, we wrapped up the mess into the tablecloths and disposed of them! Super easy cleanup and nothing to worry about if there were spills or other incidents!


We set the party from 1-3, just long enough to be a drop-in where everyone could enjoy sweets and refreshments but not so long that Y would get fussy or bored. Also, we purposely scheduled it for after his nap time so that he could be well rested! It happened to be Superbowl Sunday, and we wanted it early enough in the day that it wouldn't interfere if our guests had plans. Lastly, we definitely know how valuable Sundays are in general, being one of the only days in the week where we’re really able to get out and take care of errands etc, so we didn't want to impose on anyone’s day off either. The length of time and the timing itself ended up being great, and we were really happy with it. We booked the room from 12-4 to allow an hour for setup and an hour to clean up. In the end, we only needed about 20 minutes to set up – I came prepped with a map of the layout, what would go on each table and had separated items into corresponding large reusable bags for each table, to make setup as smooth as possible. We also had a friend of our's and my family arrive a little early and their help was invaluable! My Mom got some bonus time with Y, while my sister and Dad helped move and set the tables. Cleanup extended a little past our 4 pm deadline, since guests left a little later than 3. All points to consider when booking your space, if you’re having a party outside of home!

The room we rented was a simple party room in a condo building, through an incredible friend of our’s. It was large enough to hold all of our guests comfortably and provided tables and chairs. Living in a small apartment, we didn't want everyone to feel crammed and for kids to have no where to really go. This option offered us the space we needed, as well as the bonus of keeping all of the mess and traffic outside of our home, at a minimal cost. We wanted to have an intimate yet open setting, and other rental options such as indoor play places and larger party rooms compromised that. This option was the clear winner!

The set up was very simple. A large rectangular table with a blue tablecloth against one wall, with a smaller square table attached to it. This was our main table. It hosted the trays of baked goods, our fruit and veggie trays, the cakes (yes cakes, more on that later in the series, when we talk all about the food!), and napkins, plates etc. The small adjoining table held the coffee urn and drinks, together with cups, spoons and so on. It was against a wall on the far side of the room, the first thing you saw when you walked in, but out of the way enough to leave plenty of area to walk around and socialize, or take something from the table without feeling crowded. I didn't want to position it in the middle of the room, (although that layout is great if you have the space, since it allows everyone to walk around and effortlessly take from all angles) since it minimized the amount of space and would be a huge obstacle for all the kiddies moving around! Depending on your guests and the layout of your room a different option may be more suitable, but against a wall on the far side of the room, was the best option for us!

The second table was directly across the room from the main one. It was covered in a yellow table cloth, and was a place to keep all of the gifts, our family and friends so kindly and generously brought for Y. It also held one of my favorite details of his party – a, My First Birthday bib, where all of our guests were welcome to sign their names, as a sort of guest book and memento of Y’s first birthday party! It was a hit and is a cute way for us to be able to look back and remember who was a part of Y’s special day. Full details in our next post!

Next up, and possibly the best idea of the three tables, was the coloring table! I searched Pinterest and found a variety of coloring sheets and printed out approximately 2-3 copies per child, of each one (just in case someone made a “mistake” or really liked a particular one, there would be enough to go around). The specific sheets we used can be found here and here. I also created our own coloring sheet, using a simple word document. I used the same fonts M used to create the motif for the invitation, and simply applied a word art filter to make them just an outline. It created a unique coloring page, that included the theme perfectly and easily! I loved this aspect of the party, because it gave the children something to do while their parents got to socialize, it was age-appropriate and everyone from the two-year-old to the eight-year-old were super excited to color! At the end we were given a whole bunch of beautifully colored-in sheets with notes to Y, which I hope to compile into a little book for him! It was a cute way for the kids to keep busy and contribute to the party and it helped to avoid any running around or boredom! Definitely a hit! Again, all it required was a plastic tablecloth, 2-3 of each coloring page per child and 2 boxes of crayons from our local dollar store (since it’s inevitable that more than one child will want the same color at the same time!). 

We brought along Y’s travel high chair that buckles onto a regular seat, so that he would have a secure and steady place to enjoy his cake or take a rest. It also doubled as a great area where guests took turns taking photos with him! After all of the adorable high chair decorations I had seen online, we actually opted to purchase a highchair decorating kit, since it came with the banner for the tray as well as a mat for underneath the high chair, to catch any excess cake or treats. We found one with animals and a “Fun To Be 1” message! It was part of a larger set of decorations, but we felt it was generic enough that it could blend in seamlessly with the rest of our décor! It was an excellent and easy touch to dress up his special seat and the mat helped with clean up at the end (especially since it was a rented room and wiping blue icing off of the floor after a party wasn't something I was interested in doing!). 

 
I hope this has given you some ideas to help make the setup and layout for your little one’s party less stressful and more attainable! Join us for our next post where we fill you in on the decorations and how we opted for quick and easy homemade pieces that added a personal touch to the room and celebrated our little boy’s milestones over his first year!

*All brands and links found throughout the post, are not associated with Itsy Bitsy Balebusta and are not sponsored in any way! They're simply the items we found and included in our celebration, and I've linked further information regarding them solely for your convenience!*

Monday, February 09, 2015

How to Plan a Stress Free Birthday Party!

While I could sit here and tell you all about Y’s first birthday party for the next oh, year or so, I thought I’d approach all of the celebrations from a slightly different angle! It’s absolutely surreal that a year has already gone by since this little boy made his grand entrance into our lives, and we are so incredibly grateful for all of the milestones and moments that have been cause for celebration from the very first day. This first year as parents has been quite the roller coaster ride. From weight issues, to colic all the way to smiles, first words and so much love, this little guy has pushed us to grow in so many ways over the past year! How do you fit all of this into one day of celebration?! Well, we opted for 2!

On the day of his birthday, we decided to celebrate together, as our little family of three. We took Y to a play place where we were amazed and really had the opportunity to realize how much he has grown, and how independent and adventurous he  has become! He spent the afternoon crawling and cruising everywhere and exploring everything! We even got a glimpse into the next stage of parenting when he started to whine when M picked him up, to leave! Once home, all whining was forgotten, when the celebrations continued with his first taste of cake! A few days later, we had a larger celebration with family and friends! The party was absolutely beautiful and it was so wonderful being able to see people who provided so much support and love over Y's first year! We couldn't have hoped for a greater way to honor our little boy's special day, than with all the love, laughter and smiles that filled the room!


I want to take this opportunity to share with you a few tips and tricks I picked up, to help plan and pull off a stress free birthday party!

I’ll be the first to admit, that I can be over-ambitious at times and that more often than not, stress bubbles to the surface and my elaborate plans and to-do lists begin to go askew. Considering I started pinning ideas for Y’s birthday a long time ago, the running game plan resembled more of a wedding than a birthday party. That’s the wonderful and awful thing about Pinterest. I had pinned 3-tier cakes alongside “simple and easy decorations”. It was a huge mishmash of stuff and I was overwhelmed before I even really figured out a theme – which I changed at least 4 times!

And with that here's my first tip, for successfully planning a stress free birthday party!

It wasn't until I came across a post on my Instagram feed in early December, that everything suddenly came into focus. The wonderful Emily Ley shared photos of her son’s birthday party. As incredible as the party looked, it was actually her caption that caught my attention. I can honestly say it’s one of the main reasons why Y’s party went as smoothly as it did. I’m paraphrasing here, but Emily made mention of how the party was for her son, how it wasn't about her hostess or DIY skills. She sourced where she found the items for the party and how she pulled it off. And then the line that really grabbed my attention...

“The good stuff really does happen when you let go.”

I literally want to frame that quote in every room of our home so that I can see it all the time.

I realized, that in my pinning and planning fury I had neglected remembering two very important points.

1. This day is about Y. Not about how many crafts I can make off of Pinterest. Not about how many desserts I can squeeze onto a table. Not about how many videos I can watch to learn how to pipe a cake or cupcakes or anything like that. This day is not about Mommy or a show and tell of all the things I can do. This day is about Y!

2. I need to learn to let go. Accept that things are going to veer off course and that at the end of the day if our little boy is smiling then the party was a success no matter what.

I didn't realize how strongly her words had affected me, until approximately 48 hours before the party, when we got word that there was an issue with the party room we had booked. Y'know, the place where all of our guests had received invitations and directions to. The place we found and booked a month and a half in advance. Yeah, we were getting word about an hour before Shabbos that we may not have access to the room. Luckily for us, one of our closets friend’s sorted it out and everything was back on track!

Also, the menu. Oh the menu. You should have seen my rough drafts of ideas! First I wanted to do a buffet style of all of Y’s favorite foods, but in more grownup versions (I doubt anyone would be heading for seconds of sweet potato puree or baby cereal!). I was thinking sweet potato fries in mini take out containers for instance! Then I saw a pin of scoops of ice cream in mason jars, with little bowls of toppings laid out on the table and an ice cream/frozen yogurt party was the new theme! Then we jumped to Toy Story, Rio and a bunch of other themes that he seemed to show interest in throughout his first year! Each one included endless decorated desserts, that even though I knew I was totally incapable of creating, or were way out of our budget, envisioned on the table anyway!

When I took the time to stop and realize how what I was really doing was using this party as an outlet to decorate a table and make food and socialize after a year of being home with a baby and basically having only my husband and mom to communicate with on a daily basis, I scrapped everything. This day is supposed to be solely about Y! I will admit that making the baked goods and his cake was important to me though. I wanted his first taste of sweets to be from his Mommy’s kitchen, and after a year of only eating homemade and healthy food, throwing him into a party of sugar and icing and store bought goodies worried me. So I came up with a plan! And with that plan came a theme that was all about Y.

Our little Mr. 1-derful!

I hope you’ll come back this week and follow along our posts, for more tips on decorating and baking in preparation for a stress free birthday party, for your special little one!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Beyond The Kitchen #5: Nurse Gifts!


As a continuation of Y's birthday week celebrations at itsy bitsy balebusta, what better way to celebrate than a post all about gifts?

In my last post, I described how M had to run home to get our bags. Well there was a very special bag that he brought along with everything else, that I'd made sure to prep and set aside!

I had a wonderful experience with our hospital from our very first appointment. From patient and sensitive doctors, to a very sweet receptionist who made me look forward to every appointment, I really loved my entire experience! Given these interactions, I was confident that the nurses and doctors present when the big day came, would also be amazing.

I wasn't wrong!

I wanted to mark our baby's "birth" day with a token of gratitude to those who helped bring him into the world. I prepared four gift bags with an array of items ranging from practical things I thought our nurses would appreciate as well as little treats. I didn't want to go too crazy with it, since for starters the weather was awful and at 8 months pregnant I couldn't stand being out for so long in crowded stores! Also, I knew we'd basically be bringing the entire apartment with us when the time came and asking M to carry gift bags on top of everything else wasn't fair! So four small bags it was!

Since we didn't know the gender of the baby, and the hospital had the word "Sunny" right in its name, we opted for neutral bright yellow bags with silver dots!


Each bag contained*:
  • One glossy lip balm
  • One mini bottle of hand cream
  • One mini bottle of hand sanitizer
  • A mini package of tissues
  • Three chocolate truffles (obviously, it's not a gift unless there's chocolate involved).
  • Three bags of tea (Pomegranate, Cinnamon Vanilla & Strawberry)

Even though it wasn't much, the nurses were incredibly sweet and grateful. We gave one to the nurse who was with me the entire night I was in labor (but who's shift was unfortunately over before Y arrived), one to each of the two nurses present for the delivery and one to the nurse we had overnight. They were so touched at the thought of being remembered and celebrated on our baby's special day, that one of them even kept saying, "but for me? Why??" and just stared at the bag!

These nurses helped get me through one of the most physically challenging days of my life. They pushed me, were supportive, smiled and reassured me every time I asked, "it's gotta happen soon, right?" made me laugh and literally held me when I panicked. These women switch shifts and run back and forth and push themselves so hard and the thought that we'd let them leave our room without knowing how much we appreciated their involvement and effort, wasn't an option!

Here are some notes of what I'd change or include now, in hindsight!
  • More gifts! I really thought 4 would be enough, but given the fact that I was in labor for 26 hours and in the hospital an additional day and a half for recovery, we were unfortunately short on gifts! I think 6 or 8 would have been a more suitable number to prepare!
  • It wasn't the easiest thing to carry M's backpack, my overnight bag, the baby's diaper bag and the bag with all the gift bags around the hospital as we moved from hallway to hallway, to triage, to finally being admitted! Preparing a bunch of gift cards (in small but reasonable denominations) to one of the coffee shops in the hospital is a great alternative. Fits easily into the overnight bag and is one less thing to schlep around on an already chaotic day!
  • One basket in your room for nurses and staff to take from is another alternative! Be careful with food, some hospitals have policies that they only accept prepackaged items, with any status or allergy information clearly labelled! Picking up coffee, donuts, muffins etc from one of the cafes in the hospital is another option! 
Thank you to all of the incredible nurses, staff and doctors who make this experience so much easier, less scary and as comfortable as possible for families everyday!

*I purchased all of the items in the bags independently. None of the brands or products visible in the image, are associated with this blog or sponsored in any way!

*Check out the Beyond The Kitchen tab for more posts on the ups and downs of my adventures, what I'm learning as I go along, tips and tricks that make our lives easier/ keep the home together, and my milestones as a Mommy, a wife and an itsy bitsy balebusta!