Friday, March 30, 2012

Random Friday: Sparkly, Soothing, Sweet Edition

This has been a grueling little week involving: aforementioned long solo drives and house hunting adventures with my wee toddler, business travel for the hubs (exhausting for all involved... hats off to all parents who go it alone for any amount of time... I deeply and wholly salute your bravery and fortitude), a small bout of food poisoning for me, bad weather, a sick dog, and just general mayhem.  I am happy to bid this week adieu, and with it, farewell to my nemesis, the month of March (thank you for my new nephew, March, and the rest of you I could have done without!  Begone!).  Mentally, I'm toast, and so I devote this Random Friday to pretty, sparkly, pampering type items that are pleasing to the eye or palette and not much else.  Turn off your brain this fine Friday, and enjoy some eye candy on me.  Here's to a fresh, new week come Monday.
Happy Weekend!
Alexis Russell Rough Diamond Earrings -- love these!
Stumptown Mocha, come to mama
Cinque Terre, Italy - I'm relaxed just imagining sipping a glass of wine with the husband on one of those balconies
Tazo Passion Tea - hot or iced, I can't get enough
L'huile de Grace from Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco - simply the best skin potion ever
Blue Aquamarine Gold Necklace from Friedasophie
Multi Tourmaline Necklace, also from Friedasophie - so many great finds in this Etsy shop, and many for under $50! Check it out.
Slutty Brownies!  You heard me.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Holiday Eats

Can you believe the spring holidays are almost upon us?  Here at Casa SMJ, we are an equal opportunity, multi-faith household, and I personally enjoy celebrating as many holidays as possible given the opportunity.  I love that the commonalities of the major Judeo-Christrian spring holidays lie in rebirth and renewal, gratitude, plenty, and the celebration of freedom; gross over-generalization on both counts, I know... but all elements I can get on board with, especially since both holidays allow for plenty of chocolate. We are lucky to be invited to both a Passover Seder and an Easter Party next weekend, and I am already planning ahead for my contributions to both.  I'm striking out into new territory with both (risky, but fun) and haven't tested any recipes yet, but I wanted to share the ones I've been flagging and pinning in case you have a potluck to attend or host and need some inspiration.  Here are some of the most delicious looking options I've found so far:

For Passover:
Saffron Chicken Broth with Spinach Matzo Balls via Bon Appétit
Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch via David Lebovitz
Lemon-Almond Cake with Lemon Curd Filling via My Recipes
Layered Mediterranean Dip via Annie's Eats

For Easter:
Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Dip via Bon Appétit
Deviled Eggs via Simply Recipes
Roast Leg of Lamb with Mint, Garlic and Lima Bean Puree via Anna Pump
Cadbury Creme Egg Cupcakes via My Baking Addiction
I need one of these right now.
For a big party, I love the idea of having a galvanized tub filled with Mason jars of pre-mixed cocktails.  People can grab whatever they want, there's nothing to mix, and no one is keeping track!  This would be a great idea for any warm weather party, and what a fun way to kick off the start of Spring!
Mason Jar Cocktails via Six in the Suburbs
What is your favorite Spring holiday dish?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


via Sabjimata
We're getting ready for another move.  More details on that will follow, but in the meantime, I am caught up in the whirlwind of all the preparations.  Today I'm going to go see three different homes solo with the toddler which should be interesting.  Simultaneously taking mental notes on everything from square footage to appliances while body-blocking him from breaking any strangers' fine collectibles will be my cross-training workout for the day.  This day will also involve multiple hours in the car, so while I sit here wishing I had something enlightened or clever or informative to share, I'm afraid today is a day where I am just too lost in the details to get too far out of my own head.

When we load up a van this time around, I'm fairly certain it will be something like my thirtieth move since birth.  You'd think I'd therefore be one of those old pros with super streamlined belongings who can pack and go at a moment's notice, but alas, no.  I married a pack rat, and we like to do such a vast variety of outdoor activities that our gear alone merits it's own little U-Haul.  And I'm currently existing in that weird space where I know we are going somewhere, but I am not sure where yet.  We looked at a tiny and charming place this last weekend where we would have had to jettison many of our belongings to fit inside.  It was so charming that we actually spent the afternoon considering it, and as we sat eating quesadillas and pondering, I was mentally setting up a massive yard sale, sorting through our basement in my mind and tagging and pricing things as I went.  Mental yard sales take a lot of energy, you know, and I was fairly exhausted by the end of the day.  After sleeping on it, we realized that shoehorning our family into the place, no matter how adorable, was not a good plan; so what a phenomenal amount of wasted energy and concern on my part the day prior!  I learned a good lesson about jumping ahead of myself in our planning, and am trying desperately to just live in the moment and plan things only as they actually happen in reality.

No matter the circumstances, there are few things more stressful than moving.  Stepping into the unknown, finances, logistics, decisions, timing... is anyone good at taking these things in stride?  I take comfort in a few things: faith that things will work out the way they should, the husband's unparalleled energy and superhuman ability to captain our moves and come out relatively unscathed (with the help of Advil, Gatorade, and Heineken), and the support of our family and friends around us which is certainly easing the way.  Still, it is sometimes hard to keep the middle-of-the-night stress demons at bay.  Thank you for your patience with me as I try to keep my inner logistics monster under control and get this move planned out.  And if you are one of those rare people who knows how to pull off a move stress-free, please share your secrets... you have my utmost respect.

Wish me luck today.  Mama's gonna need it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Random Friday: Spring Edition

We have had the most gorgeous week of weather here on the east coast.  Last night, the little guy and I were out kicking the soccer ball at park until almost 7pm, wearing shorts and feeling completely summery.  I know this taste of spring is just a tease, and we're due to plunge back into more seasonal temps next week, but I can't help but have a touch of spring fever in spite of that.  In honor of this glorious season, I dedicate this Random Friday to Spring!
Cherry blossoms are blooming all over town, and they alone put me in a good mood.

On the flip side of that, all this whacky weather promises to make this one of the worst spring allergy seasons on record.  I'm always looking for natural remedies for such maladies, and have done some interesting reading about ingesting bee pollen as a cure for seasonal allergies.  Obviously this is not a good plan for those with bee allergies, but for the rest of us, the theory is that bee pollen desensitizes us to be pollen in the air which causes the allergic reaction.  Small daily does of pollen help your body build a natural defense to the allergen.  A little scoop in a smoothie has a pretty innocuous taste, and could definitely be worth a try this season.
Organic Bee Pollen via Abe's Market
With warmer weather, appetites diminish, and a lighter, crisper dinner begins to sound better than a whopping bowl of stew.  Luckily, Bon Appétit is just wrapping up their Salad Week, with daily blog posts on everything from beautiful salad bowls to four new homemade dressings to try.  My favorite part of the series was this post on 14 Main Course Salads; this Thai Chicken and Shrimp Noodle Salad looked especially enticing...
With so many incredible recipes listed as part of Salad Week, a light and healthy new dinner idea is literally right at your fingertips.  Thank you, Bon Appétit!

Nothing says spring like a sweet new pair of flats, and these Franco Sarto ones on Zappos get rave reviews and are reasonably priced, as well.
What are you most looking forward to this spring?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts from the Road

I'm just back from a quickie twenty-four hour trip to New York to attend the bris of my dear friend's new baby son.  I don't get the chance to travel solo much these days; in fact, it has been a long time since I've broken out of our regular routine, period.  So, flying up and down the highway all by myself, for four deliciously Wheels-on-the-Bus-free hours in each direction, felt almost illicit in its freedom.  It is amazing how much perspective stepping out of one's life can bring, if even just for one day.  This is what I've always loved about travel: the way it so easily shakes up your perspective and makes you see your own reality with fresh eyes.  Even though this was travel on possibly the smallest scale ever, it remained an eye-opening and thought shifting experience.

Some rumination about it all...
1) The bris took place in the town where I grew up.  My parents moved away fourteen years ago, and I rarely return.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about this fancy NYC suburb I called home for most of my childhood.  On the one hand, I had wonderful friends, the rich cultural experience afforded by our proximity to Manhattan, and a top-shelf education.  On the other, the town always struck me as, and was in my personal experience, a place where there is a ton of dysfunction, pain and chaos in existence, all of it consistently and dutifully swept under the rug in order to maintain an appearance of absolute superiority and perfection.  I tend to feel a little tense and claustrophobic when I even pass the exit for this place, which is ironic, because on the face of things, it is a lovely and aspirational little hamlet of plenty.

Yesterday, I found myself driving down the flower and Tudor-lined streets of my hometown, and felt the usual pinching in my shoulders begin.  But then two things happened:  one, I realized how small everything in town looked compared to the way it looms so large in my memory.  The stables that used to seem so shiny and fancy, the pool where I worked in the summers, the faux-Tudor shopping center... all of them seemed rather small, normal, and toothless to me, in a way that was totally disarming.  And then there was the reason for my being in town at all, which was that my childhood partner-in-crime had become a mother.  The striking reality hit me of us having our own kids, our own husbands, our own lives now... all built consciously, creatively and with a lot of tenacity, in places of our own choosing.  We're no longer defined by this place where I once felt terribly caged in, and can take from it all the good it had to offer and leave all the pain in the past.  In fact, being in her parents' home where we wiled away so many high school afternoons felt almost like an embrace.

I'm not used to being surrounded by much from the past.  My parents live in a different part of the country now, and we lost almost everything from my childhood home in a fire a decade ago, so that time in my life exists strictly in my mind's eye, without any objects or totems to ground it in reality.  Being back in my friend's room, where even the exact same stationery set she always had in high school was still sitting right where I last saw it in 1998, gave me a long-missing concrete sense of time and distance, coupled with an unexpectedly sweet sense of familiarity and belonging.

All of this is to say, the town still makes me a little twitchy, but that has been unexpectedly overshadowed and remedied a bit by all the joy and love surrounding my visit there yesterday.

Whew.  That feels better.

2) New York City is amazing.
I stayed there on Tuesday night with my sister and her husband, and I'm always struck by the energy and diversity of the NYC streets.  We strolled through her new neighborhood looking for a dinner spot that evening, and my mind was blown as it always is by just how much New York packs into each square block.  We wound up at a phenomenal Argentinian steakhouse where we talked for several hours over perfectly-grilled grass-fed, organic skirt steak and obscene "fries provencal" (can't recommend this place highly enough).  Tucked in on their cozy futon with the river sparkling out the window as I fell asleep that night, I truly felt "away".

3) Public Service Announcement: Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal is the ideal on-the-road travel breakfast.  In my sister's old neighborhood, I knew exactly where to go for a perfect latte and New York bagel, but this time around I was both flying blind and in a hurry in the morning hours.  I needed a sure thing: nutritious, fast, and inexpensive.  A grande iced coffee and oatmeal with all the fixings set me back $5, and I didn't know it was possible to do anything in Manhattan for $5.
A generous portion of oats comes with brown sugar, dried fruit and a nut medley, which pretty much covers you on all of your AM protein, fiber and sugar needs.  I know this is probably old news to many, but I try to avoid the 'Bucks and support my local joints unless I'm on the road.  Now that I've tried it, this is totally going to be my new airport/road trip go-to when I need some nourishment and want to side-step a large bag of Chex Mix.

4) Finally, it must be said.  I'm in love.  Truly, madly, deeply.  With this guy...
Can't take it.
His deliciousness leaves me speechless!  AJ, I love you and your mama very much (your papa ain't so shabby either).

As you can see, this was quite a bit of emotion and adventure packed into one brief, twenty-four hour jaunt away.  And the best part of traveling, of course, is coming home, where my boys and burrito night awaited me with open arms.  Thanks to the hubs for making it possible for me to feed my wanderlust and bond with our new little man for the day.  Being away just reaffirms for me how much I truly love being here on the daily.  To have the opportunity to appreciate both makes me feel deeply blessed.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Double Duty Dress

I'm aware I'm in danger of beginning to sound like a Patagonia add, but I'd be remiss if I didn't share with you this sweet little gem of a fashion find I discovered there this weekend.  Normally, I'm pretty skeptical of two-in-one clothing concepts. What makes a cute tube top may not-so-much a cute skirt make, and why not get just one really good thing instead of trying to force a single item of a clothing to be something it is not?  This is my usual philosophy, but the Kamala Skirt/Dress has changed my mind.  Check it out:
It's a sweet halter dress with a pretty gathered bust.
And a functional maxi skirt with a sassy little tie at the waist.
Win and win!

I can see the brilliance in a piece like this, especially for traveling.  We're headed out on a family beach vacation in June, and I'm already pondering how to not be the psychopaths who show up with ten times our body weight in luggage (with children, this is an easy trap to fall into, and we're determined to do better!).  Lightweight, versatile pieces like this one that can be worn on multiple days to multiple occasions are a good first step in traveling more lightly.  

Beyond the obvious suitcase benefits, the Kamala is sartorial gold even here at home, as I love that it could be worn with some little wedges and fun jewelry as a cute sundress for a date, but just as easily as a skirt with a hoody and some flops on an early morning coffee run.  The lightweight jersey fabric is flowing, comfortable and forgiving, and this spring the skirt/dress comes in some really adorable patterns as well as a basic black which would really be the ultimate in travel genius (bring on the toddler spills, wine spots, coffee missteps and not-so-clean airplane seats).  

And I said it before but I'll say it again... Patagonia makes their clothing virtually indestructible. And that is why this active, toddler toting klutz loves them so.  As the winter melts into spring, consider adding this perfect piece to your spring-into-summer wardrobe.  It has made me a believer!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Random Friday

Love this:
My poster is the centerpiece of my kitchen and my touchstone in my crazy days.  I thought this simple explanation of its origin was touching and beautiful.

Are you looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe?  Look no further.

The little man and I made these from Smitten Kitchen yesterday, and they are the chocolate chip cookie ideal, a little crunchy, a little chewy, a touch salty: basically just cookie perfection.

Have you not worn leggings since 1992 but would like to reintegrate them into your current adult-style wardrobe?  That was the case for me, and I kind of didn't know where to begin.  
Luckily, I have a fabulous Boston stylist to call upon in these situations, and Stilista's Marisa put up a blog post on how to style leggings like a grown up just for little ole me.  Thank you, Marisa!  Her advice is pure gold!  Check it out!

The health food world is all abuzz about this stuff:
I'm on a mission to hunt some down and report back.  Stay tuned.

I've got a huge hankering for barbecue, and am going to make Ina's Maple Baked Beans this weekend while the husband slow smokes something on the grill.
These are without fail the best beans ever.  What's on your to cook list this weekend?

Finally, I am over the moon from becoming an aunt this week!  Just to clarify for my extended family who read this site and might be wondering what's up, my two actual sisters-by-blood remain well-rested and child-free at the moment, but my sister-from-another-mister/lifelong partner in crime/bestie since high school had her first baby this week, and I have truly never felt my heart so full with love, pride and adoration.  This aunt gig promises to be pretty special.   Wow.  Mazel tov to Mama S, Papa J and our beautiful new little man AJ!  Life is good!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fab Foamy Face Wash

I was a Kiehl's devotee for most of my twenties.  Kiehl's is an 160 year old apothecary which originated in New York City's East Village.  Their effective, reasonably priced (in the wacky world of skincare) products have a cult following, and for a long time I was a member, loving their simple Ultra Facial Moisturizer and thick and delicious Abyssine Cream the most.  And don't even get me started on the Ultimate Strength Hand Salve or Lip Balm #1: pure genius and best in class, the both of 'em.

However, since I've been a mama and an all around more informed consumer, I've developed an obsession with all natural skin and hair care products.  All it takes is an hour spent on the Environmental Working Group website to be pretty well-convinced that paraben and chemical-free products are the best and safest way to go.  Sadly and weirdly, this is not the case with most Kiehl's products.  In fact, some of my old faves contain such yummy ingredients as PEG100 Sterate, an actual known carcinogen.  Why?  We can and should be able to do better for our skin, which is after all our largest organ and the part we present to the world.  So, I've bailed on Kiehl's and moved on to brands I can trust, like Dr. Hauschka, Yes to Carrots, and California Baby for the little guy.

Recently, though, Kiehl's introduced a single line of Certified Organic, paraben and silicon-free products in their Açaí line.  I was eager to try out one of these products just to see how Kiehl's does organics, and also to show them that there is a market for these superior products.   I usually go super low-budget on my cleanser ($9.99 huge bottle of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Castille Soap from Trader Joe's, to be specific), but this winter my skin has been freaking.out., so I decided to try the Açaí Damage-Minimizing Cleanser as a stopgap measure.  

I LOVE this cleanser.  It is gentle and non-irritating, yet totally effective. I am one of those people who usually needs some sort of really gritty and aggressive scrub or something as bracing as the pure peppermint oil in my Dr. Bronner's to feel like my skin is getting truly clean.  I think as my skin ages, though, these intense-feeling options are getting to be too rough for my delicate facial skin.  Still, I need any product I add to my regimen to be reasonably priced and super-effective in order to be considered worthwhile.  This Açaí Cleanser totally fits the bill, leaving my face feeling more fresh and clean than any other scrub I've tried, but without that tightening, drying feeling you often get from scrubs or toners.  A bottle costs $24.50, and my first one was actually a gift, but I've been using it daily for about eight weeks, and I've barely made a dent into a third of the bottle, due to the great foam-pump dispenser.  The bottle is on track to last at least half the year, and I'd say that's a great investment.  I also love the fragrance of the cleanser, which is slightly citrusy and floral, but not at all fake or cloying.  My irritated winter skin has finally stopped wigging out, and this cleanser even gets off make up without additional help from makeup remover or even a washcloth.  Good stuff.

I hope that classic companies like Kiehl's will continue to convert their product lines to more organic, healthy options like this Açaí one and I hope that through the use of our consumer dollars we can show them that the market demands these high quality, non-toxic options for our precious skin.  If you're in the market for a new cleanser, give this one a try.  And definitely pay a visit to the EWG website if you haven't already.  Knowledge is power and our bodies deserve the very best!

Monday, March 12, 2012


As you may have gathered from my lack of posts last week, I'm in a bit of a period of being overwhelmed.   It's funny, really, because my to do list has certainly been longer in the past (see: a two-month period in 2009 when I had a baby, moved to a new city and went back to work almost concurrently -- or so it seemed at the time -- with my sister's wedding and a two week period of between-houses homelessness thrown in for good measure), but even with that kind of perspective, I still find myself needing to catch my breath daily right now.  I feel a bit windswept, bamboozled, frazzled and turned around at the moment.  I keep forgetting things, leaving things places they don't belong, and generally being a bit batty.  The husband found the peanut butter in the freezer the other day, for example.  And this morning, I was driving downtown with the express purpose of running a specific errand, and realized a mere five minutes from my destination that the items I needed to accomplish the errand were still sitting on my dresser at home.  Yeah, it's been like that.

We have some major changes in motion and on the horizon: all good things, all exciting things, all things I'll share soon.  But major life changes are major life changes, and good or bad, those things will surely throw your brain and body for a loop.  I've been trying to keep things simple otherwise to compensate, and hence the lack of recipes lately: my current dinner favorites are soft scrambled eggs with havarti and multigrain toast or a heaping bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with fresh blueberries and almond milk (yes, I those would be dinner favorites).  I will say that the little guy and I whipped up that Blueberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake last week and it was dreamy and is highly recommended, and that I intend to make this Tomato Basil Soup this week and serve it exactly as pictured, with the drippiest grilled cheeses possible.
Photo via Sacramento Street
Pro tip: I've been buying most of my cheese sliced from the deli counter these days.  I love doing this for two reasons:
1) You can try a bunch of different cheeses at a fraction of what you'd spend by buying them in whole blocks: just ask for a quarter pound or less of sliced cheese, and you're usually out just a buck or two, and have enough for several sandwiches or little piles of crackers.
2) There is no other way to get that perfectly thin, delicate slice (unless you happen to have a meat slicer in your kitchen, in which case, more power to you), which melts like perfection in panini or at the center of your little soft egg scramble that you are having for dinner for the third time in five days.
You heard it here first.

In any case, I need to be better about not tuning out and shutting down when I feel this overwhelmed, because I inevitably feel so much better once I've blogged or picked up the phone.  Sometimes, though, when you're feeling like you're at the center of a churning wave and just looking to swim up to the top for some air, its hard to remember to just grab that lifeline, as swimming around in circles seems the only thing to do.

It also always helps me to remember how small I am in the universe, and how passing and minuscule even the most daunting changes are in the big picture.
Festival of Lights, Thailand.  Photo via Beatrice Valenzuela.
This photo gave me that same feeling I get when I'm truly able to breathe deeply and gain some perspective... we're all just little lights on the horizon in the end...

ps - An SMJ post was featured on Momfilter last week!  
So exciting!  I love Momfilter! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sundress Day

People, it is 70 glorious degrees outside in Boston today.  Do you know what this means to me? As a cold weather hater who has accepted her odd fate to dwell in New England, this exceptionally mild winter has been a great gift to me.  Even though we haven't had snow, however, we've had our share of gray and bitter days; in fact, it was just 48 hours ago on Tuesday that both the little man and I were rather under the weather and it was 25 degrees and blustery out and I was feeling so homicidally housebound that I dragged us both to the zoo just so we could hunker in the tropical rainforest house and try to relax a bit.  Whew.  Not pretty.

That is why days like today are such a supremely wonderful phenomenon in my life.  The sun beats down and warms your pale, pasty skin, the little crocuses start pushing up out of the dirt assuring you that spring is near, your shoulders relax, and everywhere there is joy and hope.  Certain dudes in my life refer to this incredible first warm and sunny day of the season as Sundress Day.  After a long and brutal winter of women being swaddled top to bottom in down, wool and fleece, we shed our layers and venture out in our favorite cool and breezy cotton, savoring that incomparable feeling of a dress blowing casually around your legs.  Today is admittedly a little premature to be called Sundress Day... there is still a crisp breeze blowing, and as soon as the sun goes down it's going to be nippy out there... but today's warmth brings the promise that true Sundress Day is just around the corner, and here are some of the ones I've been admiring...
Organic Cotton Señorita Dress, Athleta
Tile Burst Maxi Dress, Anthropologie
Splendid Striped Scoopneck Dress via Piperlime
Keely Mini Dress, Gypsy 05
Kimono Dress, Gaiam
Suffice to say, I'm ready for Sundress Day.
The countdown is on...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Random Friday: Food Edition

As promised, more Friday randomness, this time all related to the wonderful world of the kitchen...

This book takes everything I love about travel, cooking, eating and life + all that is valuable about pain, hardship and struggle and poetically condenses it into 291 pages.  Read it.

Also in the world of books, Joy the Baker's cookbook came out this week!  And moves instantly to position one on my cookbook wishlist.   If this book is anything like her gorgeous blog, it will be a valuable addition to your kitchen.  I love seeing someone so talented, humble and deserving garner such success!  If only her book tour was coming to Boston...

How amazing does this Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake look?
via Alexandra Cooks
I am definitely baking one of these this weekend. And because she calls it "breakfast cake", it is totally okay to eat it for breakfast.  Don't you love how that works?

I've been particularly obsessed with our panini press lately, so I was pleased to see "the best grilled cheese sandwiches you'll ever have" posted on Cup of Jo this week.
Don't mind if I do.  I plan to panini my way through March, a month that I typically disdain due to the endless drag-on of winter, and lack of three-day weekends and anything else fun to sweeten the pot.  This particular March I at least have the arrival of a very important new baby in my life to anticipate, and so I shall toast my new little nephew with grilled Nutella (I think his mama will approve).  Can't wait to meet you, little man!

Speaking of Nutella, hello Nutella Hot Chocolate...
Another way to perhaps make March more palatable?

Finally, I love the look of this little kitchen sideboard, photographed by Laure Joliet...
The mirror, the green glass bottles of water, the color contrast of the tangerines to that greenness, the tiny gold serving spoons, the plant... it all just looks fresh, crisp, lovely and springy.  Take that, March.
Have a lovely weekend, everyone!