February 12, 2016

Favorite Things: Baby Gear Ages 0-6 months

Yes, this is a food blog. No, this isn't going to turn into a "mommy blog." But I've always enjoyed blog roundups of favorite things and found quite a few new items I love as a result. Also, all my friends all seem to be pregnant at once, so I've been answering a lot of questions about things they really need and my favorite brands, so it seemed to make sense to gather them all up in one place and direct everyone here.

There are dozens (hundreds! thousands!) of baby registry lists out there that tell you how many washcloths and bottles to buy and I'm definitely not trying to contribute yet another. Rather, these are specific items that I found the absolute most useful during our first 6 months with a new baby, and a little bit about why I like them so much.  We did not register for baby gifts, so many of these items were sent from friends after Ryan arrived based on what they liked when they had newborns — and they were all real winners. We mostly survived those early days thanks to Amazon Prime… we were rather unprepared, so I literally overnighted things like the pack and play sheet and changing pad covers from the hospital.  (Note: Amazon links are affiliate.)

Just a little background on us, since everyone's storage/lifestyle/etc is totally different: my husband and I live in a 4-story, very narrow row home in the city. We have one car but do most of our getting around the city via foot or Lyft/Uber. Our nursery is rather small, so we don't have a lot of room for excess "stuff", and we have no family room/playroom. We try very hard to consolidate all of the baby's things in his nursery, with the exception of the Mamaroo and one activity mat, which we kept in the living room.

Essentials:

Baby essentials 0 6 months

1) Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat: There are dozens of car seats available, any they’re all safe, so it really comes down to personal preference. We went with the Chicco Keyfit 30 after talking to some friends, and I love it (which is a weird thing to say about a car seat, right?).  I dread the day we have to move Ryan into a convertible car seat.  This is works so well for our lifestyle which, like I mentioned above, means we take a lot of taxi rides or travel in other people’s cars.  It’s a breeze to install without the base and it’s FAA complaint, so I bought Ryan his own seat for his first flight and he stayed in his car seat.  Our Chicco Keyfit has been on planes, trains, and automobiles (busses, too!) and I love how easy it is to tote around.  It also snaps into most strollers, if you go that route — we had a double stroller for our nanny share that his car seat popped right into.

2) Mamaroo Bouncer: Okay, not really an essential, but we used it every single day for his first 9 weeks.  I had a horrific c-section recovery and couldn’t climb into our tall bed, let alone get up the stairs, so I slept on the couch in our living room every night and Ryan slept next to me in the Mamaroo. It was also the perfect place to set him down during the day and the multiple rocking motions and white noise options easily lulled him to sleep.  We used this up until Ryan was about 6 months old, although he’s so small that he’d still easily fit in it weight-wise.

3) Pack and Play: We just went with the simplest one (no diaper changing station, etc).  Once I could get into our bed, Ryan slept in this in our room until we transitioned him into his crib.  We use it whenever we travel as a travel crib, so it’s a necessary item for us.

4) Diaper Bag: I went with a cross-shoulder bag from IKABAGS on Etsy.  It has tons of internal pockets and is big enough to hold what I need - plus, it doesn’t scream “diaper bag.”  If I could change one thing about it, I wish it had an outside pocket for my phone, but even without, it’s a great bag and one I will use after my diaper-toting days are over.

5) Aden + Anais Swaddle Blankets: These are on basically every baby list out there, and for good reason — they’re so versatile.  The swaddle blankets come in two sizes — get the bigger size.

6) Love to Dream Swadddle UP: We were fortunate enough to receive several different hand-me-downs of various swaddling apparatuses,  but the Swaddle UPs were my favorite.  Ryan was able to kick himself out of the swaddle blanket by 6 weeks, so we started with this — I think he liked that he could still suck on the ends of the arm ‘flaps’ and keep his hands near his face, unlike the typical SwaddleMe type blankets. By 10 weeks, he only wanted to be arms out, so we could unzip the arm flaps but the rest of the swaddle was nice and tight and comforting.  Since it’s form fitting, we still use it at 9 months as a layer for night time sleeping (we keep our house on the colder side) — pair of pajamas, tight fitting Swaddle UP, and then a sleep sack on top.

7) Boppy: I know some people claim to like My Breast Friend (am I the only one who shudders at the name?) more and I haven’t tried it to give a direct comparison, but even at 9 months, we still use our Boppy every day for nursing.  It’s also the perfect size to fit around your baby as support when s/he is learning to sit up, although that came after 6 months for us.

8) Burp Cloths: Perfect for everything from actual spit up to spills, runny noses, drool, and anything else imaginable.  Sure, any plain cloth will do, but we received a set of these embroidered burp cloths from Moonbeam Baby and I love them so much, they have become my go-to gift for friends with new babies (especially those on their second or third, since they already have so much of what they need).  Lots of cute patterns for boys or girls and you can choose the font and color.  Bonus: these are roughly the size of a hand towel, so if they survive babyhood, I can use them as hand towels in Ryan’s future bathroom.  

9) Baby Carrier: noticeably absent from this list is a stroller and that’s because we don’t use one.  We wear Ryan everywhere, and have an entire arsenal of babywearing wraps and carriers as a result — stretchy wraps, woven wraps, ring slings, mei tais, soft-structured carriers — you name it, I (probably) own it.  I’m actually going to write a separate post on this later because people are always asking me for the “best” carrier, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, I linked to the Nesting Days carrier, because this was my absolute essential go-to for the first several weeks.

Honorable Mention: Aden + Anais Bibs — I can’t vouch for these personally, but when I mentioned to the other mom in our nanny share that I was gathering up all my favorite baby things to send to a friend and would probably turn it into a blog post, she said I had to include these because they are the most absorbent bibs she has used.  Ryan isn’t much of a drooler (probably because he’s 10 months old and still has no teeth) so we’ve never kept a bib on him for drooling reasons.  But if your baby is a big drooler, these bibs are apparently the best!

 

 Toys:

Baby toys 0 6 months

1) Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo Activity Gym: We borrowed this Skip Hop activity gym from our neighbors and still have it on the floor of Ryan’s nursery.  The mat itself has fun flaps and textures to encourage reaching during tummy time and cute dangling animals.

2) Fisher Price Kick and Play Piano Gym: We picked this one up for our living room so we didn’t have to constantly carry one mat between 4 floors of our house.  While the mat and hanging toys are better on the Skip Hop listed above, the kick and play piano was a huge source of entertainment for Ryan.  Plus, the piano tilts to an upright position so even now at 9 months, he still like to sit and bang on the keys.

3) Manhattan Toy Winkle Rattle: Lots of different tubes to chew on and perfect for little hands to grab.  We still have this attached to Ryan’s high chair and it’s usually the first toy that I toss into my diaper bag.

4) Munchkin Twisty Figure 8 Teether: Similar to the previous toy, but with lots of different textures for sore gums to gnaw on and great for eye-hand coordination since everything twists.

5) Melissa & Doug First Bead Maze: The recommended age for this is 1+, but reviews said not to wait that long, so I picked it up when Ryan was about 5 months and he took to it right away.  He couldn’t quite get all the beads around the track at that point, but it definitely helped him work on his pincher grip while trying to manipulate single beads (and of course, he enjoyed chewing on it).

6) Skip Hop Explore and More Roll Around Hedgehog: This was our go-to upstairs toy for quite a while.  The openings make it easy for tiny fingers to grab, the top is great to chew on, and the beads are fun to push around.  Also: small and doesn’t make much noise, which is basically the criteria for great toys in my book.  

7) Skip Hop Bandana Buddies Puppy: Lots of different animal options; we, of course, went for the puppy.  Lots of different fabrics and textures, rattles, and has a little hook to attach to the stroller, car seat, activity gym, diaper bag, etc.

8) Fisher Price Shape Sorter: Right around 7 or 8 months, this became Ryan’s favorite toy, but as early as 5 months he was really into opening the lid, picking up the shape blocks, and, you guessed it, putting them right into his mouth.  Now he likes to bang them together, but in his under 6 month stage, it was a great way for him to learn how to grab something and to practice taking something out of my hand.

9) Car Seat Toy: We don’t have the exact one I’m linking to, but a similar premise — something which hangs from the handle of your car seat and entertains and soothes a baby while in the car.  Ours hangs a little lower and giving it a few quick jingles was enough to distract Ryan when he started to cry.  

 

Miscellaneous Stuff:

Baby supplies 0 6 months

1) Skip Hop Grab and Go Wet/Dry Bag: This was a gift from a wise friend (thanks, Daisy!) who told me to always keep a clean change of clothes in the outside dry pocket and put the unexpectedly dirty clothes in the wet pocket — then toss the whole thing in the laundry when you get home.  It saved us on many occasions from leaky diapers and wet clothes, and I’ve gone on to purchase two more (one for my own gym bag, one for our pool bag for wet swimsuits after swim lessons).

2) Babylegs: Essential for cooler weather babywearing.  Now that it’s winter, I have a full on babywearing coat to keep us both warm, but once temperatures started turning a little chillier around September, I needed something to bridge the gap between Ryan’s socks and the end of his pants (which always hike up when he’s in a carrier).  Babylegs are the perfect solution.

3) Zutano Booties: In the early days, we just put socks on his feet.  Then one day, Ryan discovered his feet, which immediately resulted in pulling his socks off and we’ve been losing the battle ever since.  These Zutano booties are literally the only booties/shoes I’ve found that stay on, thanks to an adjustable snap.  Snap them up on the tightest setting, and these babies aren’t coming off.  Seriously, if I had one piece of advice for a new parent, it would be to pass on all the adorable baby shoes and just buy several pairs of these instead.

4) Zutano Baby Sunhat: We had a spring baby, which meant that summer rolled around before he was 6 months old and got the go ahead to use sunscreen.  A sunhat was absolutely essential to get through our many walks outside.  I love the Zutano brand (again) because it’s nice and thick so the brim doesn’t flop in his face and it’s snug enough to stay on his head.

5) Milkies Milk Trays: If you’re planning on breastfeeding, you’re probably going to pump at some point (all the time, if you’re a typical working mom).  If you’re pumping, you’ll probably be freezing milk at some point.  Skip the freezer bags and get a set of these milk trays.  Everything freezes in one ounce frozen sticks (we tend to call them boob-cubes) which thaw quickly and make it so easy to thaw just the amount you need, versus an entire 5 ounce freezer bag.  Also, none of that layer of milk fat settling on top and sticking to the sides of the bag no matter how much you try to mix it before pouring the frozen milk into a bottle.  I’d pop out the frozen milk and store it in gallon sized ziplock bags by the month, and now that my supply has tanked and Ryan’s getting half of his daily milk from my frozen stash, it’s so much easier to pull these out than the freezer bags.  This is, hands down, my favorite pumping accessory.

6) Disposable Changing Pad: I pack a light diaper bag.  I’m the kind of person who goes out to dinner with nothing but my wallet and phone in the pocket of my jacket, so it’s not surprising that I take such a minimalist approach to the diaper bag as well.  I have a sturdy, waterproof, reusable changing pad, but it’s so bulky and takes up way too much space.  Instead, I started using these disposable ones — no, not environmentally friendly, but unless you actually get bodily fluids on them, you can keep reusing them.  Ryan is now 9 months old and we’ve used 11 so far, so I don’t feel too bad about the environmental impact.  They take up basically as much room in your diaper bag as a sheet of paper.

7) Portable Wipes Container: Rather than continuously buy the small containers of wipes for diaper bags, I just bought a reusable container and stuff wipes in there.  Works perfectly, and the wipes stay moist for months.  Done and done.

8) Travel Diaper Pouch: Yes, you’re essentially putting a bag of diapers into your diaper bag, but it makes life so much easier.  I stash a couple of diapers and the portable wipes container in here and then I can just grab this when I’m using something other than my diaper bag.  The nanny grabs it when she takes Ryan to library storytime, I move it into our pool bag when we go to swim lessons, etc.  Plus, diapers don’t get squished in the bottom of your diaper bag.

9) Pottery Barn My First Anywhere Chair: This was a gift that I never would have purchased on my own, but we love it.  Ryan could prop himself up in it from about 3 months onward, and now he sits in it most evenings while I read a book to him.  It’s also been the perfect backdrop to see how much he’s grown — in the beginning his little head didn’t clear the top, and now he fits in it like an actual person!

 

 Books:

Baby books 0 6 months

Reading is a huge part of my life, and I’m really hopeful that I’ll raise Ryan to be a voracious reader as well.  There are hundreds of great children’s books out there, but these are just a few of my favorites.  Looking at this list, I actually have 8 of them — all except Steam Train, Dream Train — completely memorized because we read them so much.  It’s actually been extremely handy, since now I can recite a few books while I wear Ryan on my back while cooking dinner, while I rock him to sleep at night with the lights off, or in the car if he starts to get unhappy.  I think it’s time to switch it up and add some new books to our collection so I can have a few more memorized on standby — what are your favorite children’s books?

1) Little Blue Truck

2) Little Blue Truck Leads the Way

3) Steam Train, Dream Train

4) Little Puppy Finger Puppet Book (we actually have received 4 different animal versions of these - Ryan loved the finger puppets!)

5) Do Cows Meow?

6) Hippos Go Berserk

7) Dr. Seuss’s ABCs

8) Llama Llama Red Pajama

9) Bark, George!

 

Baby essentials first six months

February 9, 2016

Butterscotch Blondies

When I first stumbled across this recipe, it immediately went into the “must make” pile.  I can generally take or leave chocolate, meaning if it’s the only dessert option, I’ll take it (because… dessert), but if there’s something else, I’ll leave it.  Butterscotch definitely trumps chocolate in my book.  I was so excited to bring these blondies into my life that I was even willing to overlook the “butter flavoring” — um, what IS artificial butter flavoring, exactly?  Don’t dwell on that too long, because if you really stop to ponder that question, you probably won’t make these, and that would be such a shame.

IMG 3265 Butterscotch Blondies {Bunsen Burner Bakery} blondies

 

These butterscotch blondies have become one of my favorite bring-to-a-friend treats, because they’re a little different and unexpected.  Everyone loves brownies and cookies and you can never ever go wrong showing up with a batch of your favorite homemade brownies, but butterscotch is a little off the beaten path these days.  And yet, these are still so delicious that even my most chocolate-loving of friends has raved about them.  I’ve brought them down as hostess gifts when we stay with friends in DC, left them in the mailbox of friends who recently had a baby, brought them to various potlucks with nary a spare crumb left at the end.  These things are popular, folks — much more popular that you’d probably expect when it comes to butterscotch.

Butterscotch Blondies {Bunsen Burner Bakery}

Just learn from my mistakes and don’t overbake them, or a hard bottom layer of butterscotch will form and you’ll have to break out your sharpest knife and all your upper body strength to cut through the bottom layer… and then still probably bend your metal spatula trying to remove the blondies from the pan.  And yet even if you screw up and do wind up with a burnt layer of butterscotch, they are still delicious, which says a lot — these are practically foolproof!  Or make it even easier on yourself and line your pan with foil, so you can pull the entire sheet out of the pan after you bake them, or bake them right in a 9x13-inch springform pan.  Or, you know, go ahead and slightly over bake them and consider removal from the pan part of your upper body workout for the day so you can justify eating a second one.  Or a third.  Yeah, you should probably just go ahead and do that.

 

Butterscotch Blondies
From The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon butter flavoring
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 11 ounces butterscotch chips
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9x13” pan well, or line pan with aluminum foil, leaving excess foil hanging over the short edges of the pan, and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium sized glass bowl in the microwave a 30 second intervals, or in a saucepan over low heat.  Once melted, which in the sugar, salt, baking powder, vanilla, and butter flavoring.
  3. Whisk in the flour and eggs until thoroughly combined.  The mixture will be quite thick - you may have to switch to stirring with a rubber spatula.  Stir in the butterscotch chips.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula.  Sprinkle the sea salt evenly over the blondies.
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Blondies will be very soft when done — do not over bake, as the butterscotch will start to burn to the bottom of the pan.  Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into 24 squares.
(Amazon links are affiliate.)

Butterscotch blondies

February 5, 2016

January 2016 iPhonetography

The first month of 2016 is in the books!  We had a pretty uneventful January, since we all seemed to pass the same cold back and forth since the last week of December.  Ryan started swim lessons (and loves them!), we were snowed in for a weekend, but otherwise, nothing too exciting.  Lots of time spent experimenting in the kitchen with a baby on my back — basically my favorite way to spend an afternoon!

As usual, here’s a roundup in pictures of how we spent the past month.  Many of these come from my private Instagram account, but you can follow along on my public account here.

Image 9

1) Another New Years Day in Philly, another Mummer’s Parade to see the string bands, this time with a baby!
2) Ryan received a set of these Elemnosqueeze Blocks for the holidays, and they are fantastic.  He loves squeezing them, chewing on them, and knocking them over - I love building crazy, structurally unsound towers thanks to the grippy sides.  Highly recommend!
3)  We bought a double stroller for our nanny share.  First trip out and both babies were out like a light!
4) Nine months old!
5) Dog walk with friends turned into “dog lays on ground and refuses to move.”  Oh, Dreidel.
6) As mentioned above — a snowy afternoon in the kitchen with a sleeping baby on my back is basically my favorite thing in the world.
7) Happy baby.
8) It snowed.  A lot.
9) Obligatory baby in two feet of snow picture.
10) Dreidel has been more and more interested in Ryan lately, and Ryan just can’t get enough of her.  I love watching their friendship develop.
11) Frozen river and a snowy walk home from work.
12) More dog and baby shenanigans.  Whatever toy Dreidel has, Ryan wants to play with it as well.
13) I spent last weekend decorating cookies for a baby shower I’m co-hosting in DC this weekend.
14) More cookies, when I realized the first ones were probably too big to fit into favor bags…
15) I’m going to be so disappointed if Ryan’s first word isn’t “guacamole”… followed shortly by “steak burrito, please.”  This kid loves his Mexican food!
16) Post swim lesson family photo! 

February 4, 2016

Chocolate Pancakes with Peanut Butter Ganache

So.  Valentine’s Day.  It’s all fun and games and cute little cards with candy when you’re a kid, but as an adult, it’s a pretty polarizing holiday.  Is it a day to celebrate romantically with your loved one… or a stupid made-up holiday commercialized to sell cards, chocolates, jewelry, and expensive price fixe restaurant menus?  

IMG 0221

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle and enjoy celebrating with friends — kind of like the adult version of the elementary school class party.  A few years ago, I made hippo-themed cards and sent them to my friends.  Last year, I was in DC right around Valentine’s Day for my spa-day-instead-of-a-baby-shower celebration and brought white boxes tied up with red twine, containing pink m&m cookies and red vanilla sugar cookies for all my friends who celebrated with me.  (Sidebar: in the M&M cookie post, I mentioned that I had pink m&ms left over from a prior baking project — those would be the m&ms I purchased before our anatomy scan ultrasound, which informed me that I’d be baking cookies for my family with the blue ones!).

IMG 0210

This is all a way to say that I may celebrate in fun ways with my friends, but my husband and I definitely don’t celebrate the romantic side of Valentine’s Day.  No gifts, no dinners out, at most perhaps a card, given to each other and signed from the dog, generally with some kind of pun about puppy love.  This year, he’s on call over Valentine’s Day weekend, so there won’t even be any fun pancakes… like, perhaps, these chocolate pancakes with peanut butter ganache - the true way to my husband’s heart.

IMG 0211

But since Valentine’s Day is on a weekend this year, YOU should make these.  Yes, they’re sinfully rich and decadent… but they’re also pancakes!  And there’s some whole wheat flour in there!  So it’s a totally reasonable choice for breakfast!  Show someone in your life (your spouse, your parent, your child, your roommate) how much you love them and bring them some chocolate pancakes for breakfast.  Sprinkle them with powdered sugar, pour on the ganache, top with a few miniature chocolate chips… or just go totally nuts and pile on a scoop of ice cream.  Mmm… ice cream.  (Heart shape optional.)

IMG 0218

 

Chocolate Pancakes with Peanut Butter Ganache
Makes 12 Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  •  1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
Directions:
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt.  Stir in the melted butter, vanilla, milk, and egg until just combined.  The batter will be lumpy.  Gently stir in the miniature chocolate chips.
  2. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat.  Lightly butter the surface.
  3. Scoop out the batter in 1/4-cup increments and evenly space on the griddle.  Cook until pancakes start to bubble on top; then flip and cook for an additional minute.  Repeat with all batter.
  4. To make the peanut butter ganache, combine the chopped chocolate and peanut butter in a small heatproof bowl.  Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until simmering, about 3 minutes.  Pour the heated cream over the chocolate and peanut butter, and let this sit for 2-3 minutes.  Once the chocolate is mostly melted, stir until the ganache is smooth.  Pour over the pancakes.

Chocolate pancakes peanut butter ganache

February 2, 2016

Creamy Artichoke Dip

In case you live under a rock (or perhaps, in another country), the Super Bowl is this weekend.  Like many (most?) Americans, there’s probably a good chance you’ll attend some sort of party and gorge yourself on all sorts of delicious food.  I thought I’d offer up one healthy option to bring to the table: a creamy, ever-so-slightly spicy, artichoke dip.  Aside from the artichokes and pita chips for dipping, you probably have everything you need for this right in your kitchen, and with the aid of a food processor or blender, it takes all of 5 minutes to make.  

IMG 2245 creamy artichoke dip

Don’t get me wrong - I love all the cheesy, gooey, bad-for-you dips and party foods, but it’s nice to have something slightly less artery-clogging at parties, right?  Thing of this as your vegetable side, paired wth the wings and pizza and jalapeƱo poppers (and look, peppers are a vegetable, too!).  And if you’re looking for more “traditional” Super Bowl party food, i’ll offer up these suggestions —pulled pork, spinach and artichoke dip, chili bean dip, caramelized onion dip, and for dessert this crowd-favorite chocolate chip cookie dough dip — but I highly suggest you give this easy dip a try as well.  As an added benefit, it’s also vegan and gluten-free, so grab some appropriate crackers or pita chips, and you have something to offer your friend’s roommate’s girlfriend, who you didn’t realize was a vegan (I was a Girl Scout many moons ago, and the “be prepared” logo always carries to my parties!).

IMG 2248 creamy artichoke dip

So, who are you supporting this year?  As a Steelers fan married to an Eagles fan, I don’t really have a vested interest either way, so I’ll be cheering for the good food!

Creamy Artichoke Dip
A Bunsen Burner Bakery Original Protocol

Ingredients:

  • 1 (12 ounce) jar artichoke hearts, drained
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • salt and freshly grond pepper, to taste
Directions:
 
Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender.  Process to make a smooth paste.  If the resulting dip is too thick, add a teaspoon of lemon juice to thin.  Scrape the dip into a bowl and serve with pita chips, tortilla chips, or crackers.
 
Creamy artichoke dip
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