Surviving the Newborn: My Must-Haves (part one)

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Now that Miss Maeve is leaving her 4th trimester behind (cue equal parts sigh of relief and sobbing), it’s given me some time to reflect on the newborn baby registry gear and home items that have been most-beloved by our family. To begin with, I’m sharing some of the larger, big-ticket items that made a huge difference in our lives, and peppered in some of the smaller bits that were super useful in the early days. There are far too many for a single post, so stay tuned for further installments!

Newborn registry must-haves
Nuna Pipa Car Seat: Stylish and safe, the Pipa is one of the lightest-weight and comfortable-to-carry carseats on the market. It has a revolutionary “dream drape” with SPF protection that keeps baby safe from the elements and harsh sunlight; which closes down over baby with magnets! Genius! It installs with tremendous ease, and has the added safety of a “load leg” which minimizes downward rotation in the event of an accident. Maeve loves her carseat, and I love that I can trust that she’s as safe as possible whenever she’s in it. It also has nice little clips on the sides to hold the straps away while you load/unload baby, which is a lifesaver when trying to transfer a sleeping baby without rousing the beast within.

Jujube BFF Diaper Bag: Because I’m a big advocate of babywearing, I wanted a diaper bag that wasn’t worn across my body and would accommodate a baby sleeping on my chest. Enter the Jujube BFF, which is a convertible backpack that can also be used as a shoulder/cross-body carry if desired. Best of both worlds! It’s also machine washable, which is unusual but absurdly practical. The fabric is super luxe, and there are pockets a’plenty to organize everything you need for a day out with baby. The straps are super comfortable, and even when it’s packed to the gills, I’m happy to wear it for hours on end without a sore back. Plus, the patterns they offer are some of the cutest on the market, in my opinion. If I could afford it, I’d have a few different styles to rotate!

Solly Wrap: Speaking of babywearing, how could I leave out my wrap? Having a baby in Los Angeles, in July, made many commercial baby carriers much too hot for daily use. I mean, who wants to carry around a human furnace, wrapped in sweatshirt material, in the summer? Unlike others, the Solly is made of a comfortable, breathable t-shirt material, and holds baby snugly and safely against my body. Being able to plop Maevie into the wrap when she’s super fussy calms her down instantly, and it’s a great place for her to nap when she’s feeling clingy but I want to be able to be productive and have my hands free. It’s also the perfect place for her when I’m walking the dogs, so I don’t have to deal with a stroller and two leashes!

Stokke Sleepi Mini Crib: We chose the Stokke Sleepi Crib system for Maeve for a few reasons: a) it’s solid wood and sturdy construction makes it likely to last many years, and hold up to the abuse she’s sure to launch on it over time; b) it converts from a bassinet to a full-sized crib, to a toddler bed, to a twin bed, and then to 2 chairs, even! It has many lifespans built into it, making it a great value; c) it’s freaking adorable; d) we scored it during their annual sale, when you can get the bassinet with full-sized crib extension kit for the price of the bassinet during non-sale times. It’s a beautiful piece of furniture, and the wheels make it very convenient to move around. Stokke has a high resale value, so if we decide to move onto another sleep option in the future, we’ll get a great return on the investment.

Bugaboo Cameleon3 Stroller: Paul is a car guy. He used to race, and values comfort and luxury above all else in a set of wheels. So when it came time to choose a stroller, I knew he’d want to be involved in the process. We thought we had a stroller picked out, abut when I went to a local Bugaboo event, I was floored by it’s quality. It rides like an absolute dream, thanks to it’s sophisticated shock system, and it can turn on a dime, making it easy to navigate in small spaces. It folds and unfolds with minimal effort, and comes with a beautiful bassinet that converts into a stroller seat once baby is old enough. I walk a LOT with Maeve, so having a comfortable, convenient stroller makes a big difference in my days. After using the Bugaboo for a few months, I can safely say I’ve become a bit of an evangelist for their brand. It’s absolutely the best on the market, in my opinion, and worth every penny. (Plus they also have quite a high resale value, which makes it a wise investment.) I’m such a big fan of the brand, they invited me to become a Bugaboo Brand Ambassador!

Dutailer Prestige Motorized Reclining Glider: Among the many mom’s groups that I belong to on Facebook, one of the most oft-heard pieces of advice were “invest in the most comfortable glider/recliner you can.” So, I took that advice to heart and we splurged on this bad-boy. Rather than having to force the ottoman back in and hoist yourself up out of the chair (which can be tricky when holding a sleeping newborn), the motorized recline/incline function glides you into position smoothly and quietly, which makes a huge difference when you’ve just spent an hour getting your cranky baby to sleep and don’t want to disrupt her. It also sports modern, stylish profile compared to many of the overstuffed and bloated baby chair options out there, so it blends in beautifully with our living room furniture. Pro-tip: we ordered ours from Bed Bath & Beyond, and used the 20% off coupon, which brought the price down to what the non-motorized version of the chair would cost. Score!

Sonos Speaker System: White noise is a sleeping baby’s best friend, but one of the issues with many of the white noise machines on the market for kids is that they turn off after a specific (and often short) amount of time, which can: a) disrupt a baby’s sleep, or b) make it harder for them to put themselves back to sleep if they wake in the night. The Sonos System is run with your smartphone or computer, so you can control the speakers from anywhere in the house; and integrates with various music sources like spotify, pandora, amazon and itunes, so you can play any of your music at any time. Albums or playlists can be played on repeat, so your white noise is guaranteed to basically never end. We used a “Rain for Sleeping and Relaxation” album for ourselves before baby, and now also for Maeve, and it works wonders. We literally leave it on 24/7 in our bedrooms. It’s also great for regular life, no baby required.

Yoga Ball: Babies love to be bounced. Think about it: they lived for 10 months in your belly, and every time you moved or walked around, they were being gently bounced and sloshed around in their wee habitat. So, when your newborn is going through a growth spurt, or gassy night, and won’t stop crying… the ball is your best friend. I made the grave error of waiting 6 weeks until I got my own yoga ball for Maeve, but as soon as it arrived, everything changed. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Get yourself a ball, yo. (Bonus: bouncing on the ball is great for leading up to labor and managing pain during labor. More on that in another post.)

A&A Easy Swaddles: So many swaddles that are designed for convenience involve velcro, which I find to be highly disruptive to a drowsy baby in the middle of the night. And my leggy lady’s gams were often quite constricted by the sizing of these styles. But the Aden & Anais Easy Swaddles use a simple snapping system that’s much quieter and convenient, I think. And they have roomier leg sacks for kicky babies like mine to have freedom to move. Plus, they’re made of the signature A&A supersoft muslin, which breathes beautifully and is so gentle on their skin. These swaddles quickly became favorites in our house!

Mamaroo: Maeve is a baby who likes a lot of motion in her ocean, and the Mamaroo is a favorite swing among the mamas in my family. It’s got several settings for different sways, and can be controlled by your smartphone so you don’t have to get up every time you want to change the setting, speed, or sound option. It’s the perfect place for baby to hang out while you eat, and the mobile has been one of Maeve’s favorite conversation partners since she learned how to coo.

Rock N’ Play: While it feels a bit like overkill to have two swings in the house, lugging the Mamaroo between our living space and bedroom was getting quite tedious… and sometimes Maeve only wanted to sleep in motion. My mom generously gifted us a RnP with motorized rocking and a vibration feature, which folds away nicely when not in use, so it didn’t take over the bedroom. Maeve loves napping in her RnP, and the vibration feature is wonderful for helping her slip back to sleep after waking from one cycle, which is key for a baby learning to sleep longer over time. Now that she’s older and doesn’t require motion as often as she did during her younger, fussier days, she still naps in her RnP whenever she’s unswaddled, because it’s sunken and cozy and somehow helps contain her moro reflex better than a flat surface does. Rock N Plays are also notoriously useful for babies with bad reflux issues because they can sleep in there at an incline, if that’s something your little one struggles with.

Kind Bars: Nursing a young baby is hungry work. You’re up at all hours, and chained to whatever you’re sitting in for eons on end. That’s where a snack station comes in handy, and I found Kind Bars to be the best kind answer for these late-night or early morning snack attacks. They’re hearty and healthy and easily the most delicious snack bar on the market. The fiber and protein are super essential for new moms. I personally love the Sea Salt & Dark Chocolate, and the Apricots, Almond & Yogurt flavors. Plus, nuts are good for milk production – so it’s an extra excuse to chow down! If you plan ahead, you can even make your own!

Preparation H Wipes/Suppositories: If you read my (overly-candid) post, “What I Didn’t Expect About Expecting” over at Club MomMe’s blog, you know that I was already suffering from ‘roid rage before giving birth. But after 4 hours of pushing, you can only imagine what kind of horrors lay beneath me. (Though, please, don’t imagine that. Once seen, it cannot be unseen. Trust me.) If this happens to you, don’t just ignore them and hope they’ll go away. Prep H will be your new best friend. And if that isn’t enough, ask your doctor for a prescription steroid suppository. That stuff, quite literally, saved my ass. And that’s all we’ll say about that.

I’ll be sharing more of our favorites from the newborn stage, along with the things that I’m falling in love with now that she’s less squishy alien and more of a fully-developed human… so stay tuned!

 

{Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links, which help support this blog.}


Introducing…

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Hello out there!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I think I’ve got a pretty decent excuse…

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Meet Maeve. She was born July 8th, and (I may be biased, but) she’s MAGICAL.

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Labor was… absolutely nothing like I intended or expected. I will get more into that in another post, but for now… let’s just revel in those CHEEKS.

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Please join me in wishing sweet Maevie a quite belated welcome to the world. These past two months have been a complete whirlwind of emotion, growth, challenge, sweetness, love, and exhaustion. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s been so long since I last posted here, I kind of didn’t even really know where to start anymore. But I miss writing terribly, and desperately need to reclaim a bit of normalcy in my life, so this is me gingerly dipping my pinky toe back into the blog world.

As a mom.

Because I’m a mom now.

Two months later, I’m still pinching myself. My little miracle is actually here.

(photo credit: Nadine Bosurgi, newborn photographer extraordinaire. I can’t recommend her highly enough!)


A new resource for victims of in-flight sexual assault

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You may remember that in 2011, I was sexually assaulted during an overnight flight. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to advocate on behalf of victims of similar crimes in several news stories to try and raise awareness and encourage people who’ve been assaulted in-air to seek justice and support.

To that end, I’ve launched an online resource site for victims/survivors of airplane sexual assaults, called Take Back the Flight. It’s still new and being fleshed out, but it is resource center and safe haven for victims of in-flight sexual assault. TBF offers support, education, and a place to connect with others who have experienced similar trauma.

in flight sexual assault resource

There has been a serious lack of resources and support for this specific crime, and I sincerely hope this helps more of these heinous crimes to get reported, so that those who went through it can find peace through justice; and that at the very least, it helps provide a place of solace for the survivors of these assaults.

If you know anyone who has been involved or affected by in-flight sexual assault, please pass this onto them. I want to make sure everyone has all the support they need.


Stitch Fix now offers maternity wear!

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By now I’m sure y’all have heard many a lady sing the praises of Stitch Fix and their stellar personal shopping service. I mean, what could be better than filling out a brief style profile, and then coming home to a box of hand-curated clothing pieces?

My Stitch Fix ritual once the shipment comes, is to try everything on and hold an impromptu fashion show for Paul, to help decide which items to keep and which to mail back. No freezing dressing rooms. No unflattering fluorescent light! Sure, there’s a $20 styling fee, but that amount will be applied toward any items you purchase. If you buy all five items from your fix, you get 25% off the entire purchase! Their selections are super reasonably priced, too. It almost always lines up with what I’d be willing to pay in a store (averages $55/item) – but it’s so much more luxe to shop in the comfort of my own home. 

I already had a love affair with Stitch Fix after getting some fun pieces for my honeymoon through their service, but when I heard they were launching a maternity style service, I jumped for joy. My first “bump fix” was a hit – especially this darling, comfortable, horse-printed dress, which I can dress up or down depending on the occasion. I’ll probably wear it for one of my baby showers!

Here’s me dressed up for a fabulous dinner at Maude, paired with some cute Kate Spade dress oxfords.

stitch fix maternity

My favorite part of each fix is how they include a handy “style sheet” to help you understand the many ways you can dress your new pieces up or down… which is a fantastic bonus for the fashionably-challenged like moi.

stitch fix maternity

If you’ve been stalling on giving Stitch Fix a shot, go on and pull that trigger! Especially if you’re pregnant. you’ve got nothing to lose, because if you’re not thrilled with your Fix, you can ship it right back. But when it works, it’s such a great, convenient way to find cute duds that will grow with you. Dump that preggo frump, and start rocking your adorable bump!


15 First trimester must-haves

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Now that I have some quality hindsight on my first trimester of pregnancy, (which for me, was riddled with motion sickness, fatigue, and migraines)… I want to share my ultimate survival items for the first 12 weeks.

These are the things that got me through the tough times, things I couldn’t live without. They saved my ass, they saved my sanity, they made the dark days brighter. I hope they bring you comfort, too!
first trimester must-haves

Sea-Band Wristbands: I had about 6 weeks of general nausea early on in my pregnancy, but worse was the motion sickness that started at 3 weeks! Whether I was the passenger in a car, or just scrolling through facebook – I was miserably queasy. But it was made much more bearable once I got a pair of Sea-Bands acupressure bracelets. They apply consistent pressure to localized points in your wrists that help abate nausea – whether from motion sickness, morning sickness, chemo side effects, and other causes. It’s great drug-free relief from queasiness, whether you suffer only in the morning hours or all day, every day.

Prenatal Vitamins: There are a bazilliony choices on the market for pre-natals, and everyone has their own favorite… but after substantial research, I found that I could just keep taking my regular daily vitamin, Optimum Nutrition Opti-Women Women’s Multivitamin and then supplement it with a solid DHA pill like this one from Nordic Naturals, which afforded me the best ratios of the vitamins I needed for pregnancy. With the bonus that they weren’t giant horse pills, which I loathe.

Instacart: For me, the first trimester fatigue was crippling. I’ve had mono before, and wasn’t even this tired! Combined with the 6 weeks of nausea and motion sickness, and then the migraines that replaced my nausea… there were days on end that I literally could not fathom leaving the couch, much less the house. Instacart’s on-demand grocery delivery service saved my ass more times than I can count. For just a few dollars per order, their friendly “shoppers” will pick up everything you need from your local market of choice (everything from premium grocers like Whole Foods, to Costco, and everything in between) and deliver it to your home within 2 hours flat. Your first order includes free delivery, and if you sign up through my link, we both get $10 credit to use! I can definitely see Instacart coming in very handy once the baby comes, too, in the early days where I’m too tired or overwhelmed to get us both to the grocery. It’s a brilliant service and I’ve had nothing but great experiences using it!

Leachco Snoogle Total Body Pillow: Even before your belly pops, your body is going through some serious adjustments as your baby begins to grow, and finding comfortable positions for sleeping gets increasingly challenging, early. Plus, you’ll want training for side-sleeping because shortly after your first trimester ends, sleeping on your back is not recommended. The Snoogle will seem absurd when you unpackage it, but once you discover it’s myriad position options and snugggle into it for the night, you’ll be sold. My only beef with the Snoogle is that I found the default cover it comes with to be a bit scratchy and a huge hassle to remove for washing, so I give bonus points to the Snoogle Chic Jersey Replacement Pillow Case which is easily removable for washing and as soft as your favorite t-shirt.

Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Stretch Mark Cream: The only protection us women have against stretchmarks is prevention. Genetics play a large part, and given my family history, I know the odds are stacked against me. So I moisturized early and often with various stretch mark creams – and Palmer’s is a fave. It’s natural, it smells great, and it’s super affordable. And, it seems to work. Knock on wood, 23 weeks and no stretch marks yet!

Corded Digital Cooking Thermometer: If you’re a bath person, the tub can be a sweet retreat throughout your pregnancy. But for safety’s sake, you must keep the temperature at or below your body temperature – you don’t want to boil that baby! A corded digital thermometer like mine, by Polder, is a great way to monitor the temperature and have the peace of mind necessary to allow that bath to be truly relaxing.

Epsom Salt: Speaking of baths, throwing in a couple cups of Epsom Salts is a wonderful, inexpensive treat. It helps soothe aches and pains as your body grows and joints shift. It soothes nausea. It softens skin. It helps soothe and heal hemorrhoids (oh honey, that shit is real). I truly can’t imagine where I’d be without my salts!

Rice Paper Blotting Tissues: At about 8 weeks, my skin turned into a straight-up oil slick y’all. It was so greasy, all the time. I always had combination-to-dry skin, and this was unknown territory for me. But blotting papers saved the day. They gently remove oil without adding product build-up, and have a plain side or powdered side in case you need extra mattifying power. Thankfully, the grease blast only lasted about 6 weeks before clearing up, but I still use the blotting papers for maintenance, as needed.

Ingrid & Isabel Bellaband: Ah, the ubiquitous Bellaband. A mainstay on everyone’s pregnancy survival lists. In early pregnancy, they work as elastic safety-nets, holding up your unbuttoned pants so you can wear them longer before having to shell out the dough for new maternity wear. Later in pregnancy, they’ll provide support and coverage to your belly as it grows, acting as a sort of belly-bra and providing modesty as your shirts begin riding further up your tummy. Truth be told, the way I bloated in early days made even my unbuttoned pants too tight, so I didn’t get much use from my Bellabands then. But as I near the 3rd trimester, I can see how they’ll become more useful very soon.

Long & Lean Tank Tops: Oh Target, how I love thee. I’ve lived in these tanks through my whole pregnancy. They’re exceedingly comfortable, and stretch comfortably around my expanding belly. Their the perfect under-layer as your temperature varies greatly from moment-to-moment, thanks to your hormones running wild. My first trimester uniform consisted of these tanks, with yoga pants and a flowy cardigan cover. Now, through my second trimester, they’ve served as the perfect pajama top. The dark colors are quite slimming, and I’ve washed them a billion times to find they last forever. And they’re CHEAP! Just fantastic.

Cardigans: The perfect overlayer for the tanks described above, and a comfortable, effective way to mask a growing belly before you’re ready to make your pregnancy public.

Yoga Pants: Invest in a high quality pair of yoga pants and they might be the only pants you wear your whole first trimester. My Lululemons were just that. T’was a sad day when I finally outgrew them, but I know they’ll come in wonderfully handy in postpartum days as well.

KLOUD City 17 pcs Assorted Colors Bra Extender Strap: The first hint that I was knocked up came in the form of major bewbage. My funbags grew quite considerably in the early days of my pregnancy, and while my bra cups could handle the overflow, my bra strap started cutting into my back quite quickly. This 17-pack of multi-colored bra extenders work with all my bras, and add a few inches of relief as easy as pie, for a fraction of the price of a new bra.

Acupuncture: Getting needled in the first trimester can help alleviate a lot of those pesky new symptoms that are popping up every day. They helped me deal with my nausea and headaches, and generally helped calm me down and relax – which is definitely a good thing for baby! Acupuncture can even help regulate your hormones to keep your emotional roller coaster to more of a smooth ride. Make sure your professional has experience with acupuncture for pregnancy, because like exercise, the approach must be modified to best protect you while you’re being treated. If you’re in the LA-area, I can’t recommend Laurie Binder highly enough.

Variety in the kitchen: Early pregnancy can truly test your relationship with food. From aversions to cravings, it’s hard to know from one minute to the next, what will sound good or what will make your stomach turn. Our best defense was to have a super-stocked fridge and pantry, with a little of everything I might possibly want. That way, when a strange craving for fresh carrots and celery hit me mid-day, I was prepared. And the same for a late-night jello craving. It’s worth the splurge to make sure you’re prepared, and avoid hunger meltdowns when you inevitably “don’t know what you want, but you know what you don’t want… and you have nothing you don’t want in the house!” (Cuz that’s a real thing, friends. And it ain’t pretty.)

WHEW. That was far from exhaustive, but a pretty good round-up of the items and services which brought me the most comfort and relief during that first 12 weeks. Your body is going through a LOT during this time, sister. So beyond these things, my best advice is to take it easy on yourself. If you need to nap, do it. If you need to eat, do it. If you can only stomach saltines and chocolate milk, lean into that. You can make up the rest later. Do what you need to in order to get through and keep yourself calm and comfortable. Your baby and your body will thank you!


Five minute, four ingredient, no-knead bread for your mouth

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Friends, I am dead serious. I am here to share with you the no-knead bread baking secret that will change your life forever. Never again will you buy a store-manufactured boule, made with god knows what extra ingredients and preservatives.

All it takes is four simple ingredients, and about 5 minutes of “hands-on” work time… and for a mere fraction of the cost of store-bought loaves, you’ll be drowning in the intoxication of freshly baked, home made bread that will have you questioning: “why buy, when I can bake?”

Your friends will envy you. Your spouse and children will worship you. You will rise to legendary domestic goddess status among all who come dine at your home or receive a loaf as a gift. It’s crusty. It’s chewy. It’s delicious.

Prepare, people. There is no going back from here.

Granted, there is a lot of down time. So, patience is necessary. But trust me, while there may be 10 or so steps to follow, the effort you’ll actually put in is so minimal, you’ll be shocked at how foolproof and simple the process is.

five minute, four ingredient, no-knead bread

What you’ll need:

  • 3 cups unbleached white flour (I use high quality flours like Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, or Trader Joes private label (which is exactly Bob’s Red Mill, at a fraction of the cost.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast (Food 4 Less has the best deal in town)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water

What you do:

  1. Gently mix together your flour and salt in a decently-sized bowl. I use a Le Crueset
  2. Mix your yeast into the water, and add the yeasted water to your dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated with a wooden spoon. Your dough will look a hot, shaggy mess, but it will become clear that it’s done all the “coming together” it’s going to do.
  3. ***The above steps should take about 2.5 minutes total***
  4. Cover your mixing bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap and leave in a secure place on a counter top, preferably where the temperature is stable, for the next 12-18 (or more) hours. After 12-18ish hours have passed, your dough will have risen at least by double, and be sort of bubbly and smell amazingly yeasty-fermenty-bready. (that’s a technical term.)
  5. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface

no-knead bread

  1. Fold the dough over on itself a couple of times, gently pressing it down each time to remove excess air bubbles. Cover with the plastic wrap and let sit about 15 minutes *This step is optional. If you’re pressed for time, just skip this step and go straight to step 7. Your bread may just be a bit “airier” if you skip it. Still delish.*
  2. With wet hands (which, rather than floured hands, helps preserve the flour/water balance) fold the edges of the dough inward to the center, helping the dough find its way into a ball-shape with a smooth upper surface. Plop it into a parchment-lined 9-10″ bowl, (or wooden Banneton Basket, if you’re a baller like me). Cover, and let sit for 2 more hours.
  3. 30 minutes before your dough is done resting, pre-heat your oven with your cooking vessel in it to 450 degrees. I get my best results using a Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Casserole Cooker (which is super affordable), but you can use a Le Creuset, pyrex, or similar heavy, covered if you prefer. Preheating your vessel is crucial, so don’t forget.
  4. Once the dough is ready, lift the parchment paper with the dough in it, and place it into your dutch oven. (If you’re not using parchment, just plop the dough in, naked.) Give it a jiggle so the dough relaxes into the base of the vessel.
  5. Cover, and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the cover and allow it to continue for 15-20 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when it’s golden and crusty, and the bread has a bit of a hollow sound when you gently tap or knock on it.

Then voila! You’re done! Gently lift the bread out of the pot, so it stops cooking, and try and patiently let it cool enough to handle before cutting into it. Then slice it up, and savor that warm, fresh-baked flavor and crusty, chewy texture. Good luck not eating the whole loaf right there and then! But while you do, practice your humblest expressions of thanks, in anticipation of all the praise you will soon be receiving from your loved ones!

 

Bread copy

 


First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage

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It’s official! We tied the knot on October 5th, 2014 – I became Mrs. Dana LaRue Park.

And, oh what a wedding it was! We hosted 40 of our nearest and dearest for an intimate ceremony, pre-and-post ceremony cocktail hours, and topped it off with decadent 14-course dinner party, complete with wine pairings. We aimed to feed everyone’s bellies as much as their hearts.

It was a magical evening, and left everybody buzzing with joy and full of love. It was a fairy tale come true!

Paul and Dana wedding

champagne press wedding invitation sls hotel

Paul and Dana wedding WEB-144
Paul and Dana wedding

SLS beverly hills wedding

sls beverly hills wedding

sls beverly hills wedding

Paul and Dana wedding

clover string quartet

Paul and Dana wedding

Paul and Dana wedding

tiffany wedding ring set

saam at the bazaar jose andres

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Paul and Dana wedding

Paul and Dana wedding

Photo credit: EPlove
Location/Catering: SAAM at the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills
Make-up and hair: Sweet Fuss Hair & Makeup Artistry
Florals and decor: Winston and Main
Event Coordination: Moxie Bright Events
Invitation Suite/Paper Goods: Champagne Press
Dress: BHLDN
Jewelry: Tiffany & Co.
Officiant: Olivia Rosewood
“Park” Marquee Sign: Metal and Lights
Live Music: Clover String Quartet


The best honeymoon souvenir, ever.

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Created in Paris… discovered while in Korea… and debuting this July…

Our magical miracle, baby girl Park, is on her way!

baby park

Words cannot describe our joy. If you’re familiar with my story, you know we never thought we’d be able to conceive naturally, and had plans for a frozen embryo transfer scheduled for December. But lo and behold, nature had very different plans. And yet another girl, to boot! She’s healthy, and active, and looking pretty darn cute in her ultrasound photos!

We feel incredibly, magically blessed, and can not wait to meet her! I’m over halfway there. Time is flying!

23 weeks pregnant


Epic Thanksgiving Feast Layer Cake

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I’m so thrilled to see so many of you sharing the One-Hour Turkey post with your families and friends on Facebook! Thank you! I can’t wait to hear about your life-altering experiences with it. But, if that one blew your minds… hang onto your hats! This one takes the cake! (pun heartily intended.)

What’s better than a thanksgiving feast, I ask you? WELL, A THANKSGIVING FEAST IN ONE EPIC LAYER CAKE FORMAT, FRIENDS! I got the inspiration from a series of posts on “meat cakes” over at Vegansaurus back in 2010 (in a past life long ago… when I was a (gasp) vegan). Culinarily curious gal that I am, I felt compelled to take up the challenge and put my vegan cooking skills to the test of tests by making as much of it from scratch as possible… from the faux turkey base to the mashed potato icing and cranberry sauce topping. Mind you, this could easily be made carnivore-style. Just swap in real turkey, butter, and cream as you please! Mmmmm.

how to make a thanksgiving feast layer cake
With Turkey Day right around the corner, I thought I’d bring this post back from the BAB archives, for those of you still looking for that “blow them away” holiday table treat. I have to say, making it was much simpler than it seems (bonus!), and I still consider it the masterpiece of my culinary endeavors thus far. (You’ll have to bear with the shoddy photo quality. I was but a wee blogger back then!)


It’s an entire holiday dinner in one meal: “turkey”, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and stuffing. For a lover of sweet and savory together, this business rocked my palate’s world. And everyone, even my most carnivorous of friends, was transfixed by the beast. They thought it was a regular cake, until I sliced it open and displayed it’s hidden magic! Everyone embraced it, vegan or not, and they gobbled it up like they were the (very very hungry) turkeys. And oh yeah baby, it was even better the next day.

how to make a holiday feast layer cake
I started with a base of homemade “turkey” seitan, for the meat part. Seitan is a protein-rich meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten powder… and though it may seem intimidating, its super easy peasy lemon squeezy to make. After a “meh” test run with one recipe I found, my bestie directed me to Ellen DeGeneres’ recipe… and holy gobblesworth, it was DELISH!

The big “trick” to making it successfully is to freeze between layers, which allows it to “set” and makes for easy spreading with the softer components like the potatoes and sauce. For the turkey and stuffing, I filled them each into a round pie pan, packed them down, and froze them for about an hour before layering, which created the right shape and size to begin with.
I also planned ahead to stack them in a way that makes sense, considering their textures. Turkey on the bottom because its sturdy and pre-shaped from the pie pan, then I slathered that with mashed potatoes. Once that had set in the freezer, I turned out the pre-frozen stuffing from the pie pan on top, and slathered that with sweet potato puree. Once that was set, it was easy to layer on the cranberry sauce. Then another layer of turkey, then sweet potatoes, another pan of stuffing, and the icing of mashed potatoes once more. I “piped” out a border to hold in the cranberry sauce topping, using a ziploc bag with a corner snipped off, which really added to the “cake” effect. I know, it sounds m-fing crazy. And it was time consuming, but actually really fun, and more rewarding than I ever imagined. I mean, I never pictured myself making a whole (delicious) thanksgiving meal by myself, much less turning it into a trompe l’oeil like a layer cake!


Hungry yet? Well, an epic feast deserves an epic post, so here come the recipes! And yo, its so much simpler than it sounds. Trust.

The Seitan Turkey

  • 4 Cups vital wheat gluten
  • 1 Cup bread crumbs
  • 1 Cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 large onion small dice and caramelized
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ Cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 Cups strong No Chicken, chicken stock (veggie stock)
  • 1 full sheet of cheesecloth
  • Butcher’s twine

Start a large pot of water boiling. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in another. Caramelize the onions until soft and golden brown and add them to the dry ingredients. Mix the two bowls together until a loose batter forms, and shape that into a loaf-y shape. Lay it out onto a full sheet of cheesecloth, folded over once.

seitan turkey
Roll it up tight into a cylinder, and tie it with bakers twine at either end, and twice in the middle. Drop that puppy into your hot water, cover, and let simmer gently for 2 hours, turning once throughout.


When its done, carefully unwrap it while its warm. Otherwise, the outer layer sticks to the cheesecloth and makes it much harder to remove. If you’re feeling cheeky, you can brush it with Earth Balance butter and blackening spices and bake it awhile to get a nice browned outside. I didn’t find this necessary, either way really. By the by, this makes a HUGE roast, so I’d halve the recipe if you’re cooking for a smaller crowd. Or, just freeze half and save it for a rainy day!

The Stuffing

This is the one component that was semi-homemade, as I used Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix and followed the instructions by adding veggies and broth. I just wanted to mention it because I used sauteed Trader Joe’s Stuffing Starter (a blend of celery, onions, fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) as the base, which was too easy and tasty for words. But I am bereft to report that, this year, they’ve discontinued the stuffing starter. WHY, TRADER JOE, WHY?!? So sub in some celery, onions, and herbs of your choice. In my mother’s tradition, I also added raisins, which brings a supremely sweet and rich dimension that I simply adore.


The Sweet Potatoes

  • One 3-pound bag whole sweet potatoes
  • Unsweetened, organic soymilk to taste
  • Earth Balance butter, to taste
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

This one is very dependent on how you like your mash. I boiled the sweet potatoes whole until they were fork tender. The skin just slips off when they’re warm, but be careful not to burn your fingers. I pureed them in my sexy-ass 14-cup Cuisinart (thanks, Cuisinart!) and added enough milk and butter until they were juuuuuust right. I gotta say, this was the silkiest, most satiny, savory sweet deliciousness ever. I lurved these babies!


We don’t have pictures of these final two parts, whoops! Use your imaginations, k?

The Mashed Potatoes

  • One 5-lb. bag whole russet potatoes
  • Unsweetened, organic soymilk to taste
  • Earth Balance butter, to taste
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

I did these the same way as the sweet potatoes, and I don’t really know what I did wrong (was it the type of potato? The cook time? Did I over-puree?)… but they turned out a bit gluey and thick. It was actually pretty suitable for this dish, especially the icing part… but if it were just a side dish I’d have tossed it out and started over cuz I prefer my mashed taters more light and fluffy in general.

The Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 bag whole, fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice, with pulp.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg to taste
  • pinch of salt

This one is simple pimple. Just boil everything up in a pot, then reduce and simmer until it reduces to your desired thickness. Add the spices last, so you can monitor how potent you want them.

That’s it! Just layer and freeze, layer and freeze, “ice” with mashed taters, and brace yourself for an EPIC flavor party in your mouth. To serve, just cut into slices and warm them up individually, but its also super yums when cold. Oh, enjoy all the compliments and comparisons of yourself to Martha Stewart…. cuz that’s just how fly this bad boy is. It really is. YUM. And if you’re like me, after your tastebuds do a happy dance, you and your friends can do one too… like we did!


So, what do you think? Would you give it a shot?


Korean Wife Camp: Radish Water Kimchi – Dongchimi

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korean radish water kimchi dongchimi
Paul’s stepfather, Edgar, loves Korean food almost as much as I do. Together, he and I definitely have the true Koreans in our family beat in terms of our obsession with their own cuisine. So for Father’s Day, we took him to a fun Korean BBQ restaurant called Kang Hodong Baekjong – one of the few in town where the meat is cooked over coals, rather than just a gas burner. It’s delicious.

But the part of the meal that really caught my attention was a delicious banchan dish called Dongchimi, or radish water kimchi. (Banchan is a blanket term for the fantastic array of free side dishes famously served alongside Korean barbeque.) It was deceptively simple seeming: just thin slices of “moo” or korean radish served in a salty, tangy, frosty broth – an utterly refreshing and fabulous palate cleanser. I couldn’t get enough! And while Dongchimi literally translates to “winter kimchi,” the fact that it’s served cold makes it especially delightful in the heat of summertime.

But when I asked my future mother-in-law how it is prepared, she told me it takes too long to make, so she just buys it pre-packaged at the store. What more tantalizing bait for an aspiring cook/wife/mother could there be, I ask you? A challenge! This presented the perfect opportunity for me to learn it, make it, perfect it, and dazzle the shit out of my Korean mother-in-law with the results!

dongchimi radish water kimchi

 

And while my mother-in-law was right, it does take rather a while to make (thanks to the fermentation process), the actual “hands-on” prep time and effort involved is quite minimal. The trick of this dish, really, is patience while it does it’s pickly thing and makes fermentation magic on your countertop. So, to make it simple, I’ll break up the recipe by days.

What you’ll need:

Day 1:
5 lbs Korean Radishes, cut into pieces about the size of your palm. (If you can’t source korean radishes, you can substitute daikon, which is available in most supermarkets.)
1/2 cup kosher salt (I use this brand exclusively, because it’s free of the caking agents found in other brands)

Day 5:
3 green korean chiles
3 red korean chiles, each pierced with a fork a few times
1 cup asian pear, cubed
3 green onions, roots and all
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
10 cups water

Grab a large glass jar. I used this one, which has a gallon and a half capacity and worked perfectly. Place your salt into a bowl, and give the radishe slices a good rinse. While they’re still wet, roll them each in the salt until well-coated, and place them into the jar. If you have any leftover salt in the bowl, sprinkle it on top of the radish slices in the jar. Cover and refrigerate it for 4-5 days, during which time the salt will pull moisture from the radishes, softening them and preparing them to absorb all the flavors in the delicious, briney broth you’ll be creating later.

After a few days have passed, you’ll notice about an inch or two of water has collected at the bottom of the jar, which will serve as the base of your brine. Grab the rest of your ingredients, it’s go time!

Toss the chiles, cubed asian pear, and green onions into the jar. Place your minced ginger and garlic into a cheesecloth bundle and drop that in, too.

korean pickled radish recipe - dongchimi

Add your 10 cups of water, give it a good stir, and cover it up again. Then put your patient pants on and leave it to ferment at room temperature on your counter.

korean radish water kimchi

Within a day or less, you’ll notice the formerly clear brine has begun to take on a milky, cloudier hue. That’s when you know the magic is happening! After a day, give the broth a taste, and see if you’re happy with the balance of mild spiciness, tangy tartness, and salty savoriness. Try a bit of radish, too. If it’s too crunchy, you might want to cut your chunks in half to speed up their softening. You want them to still have a bit of crisp to them, but they shouldn’t feel “raw” to the tooth, either. But it’s all a matter of preference. In our case, we left it out for two full days before it achieved perfection. Then just transfer it to the fridge, and take bits of radish and broth to enjoy at your leisure!

I was quite nervous that after all the time that went into making this, it wouldn’t match up the quality of Kang Hodong Baekjong’s delicious dish. But when we had our first bowlful with dinner, I was delighted to find that I loved it and even preferred it to the original! And when Paul declared it “restaurant quality,” I knew we had a hit on our hands. I’ll be taking a batch to my mother-in-law’s house next weekend, and can’t wait to hear what she thinks!

dongchimi radish water kimchi recipe

To serve, slice the radish very thinly, and place in a bowl with a ladle or two of the chilled brine and a few chunks of asian pear. If you have company, toss in a chile or bit of green onion for color. Dongchimi pairs fantastically with a hearty steak from the grill, or burgers… but I enjoy it with pretty much everything! And because it’s fermented, it’s chock full of nutritious probiotics which support healthy digestive function (among other great benefits), and high in oxygen saturation, so it’s a wonderful elixir for when you’ve overindulged and find your belly in a bit of gluttonous distress.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Stay tuned, because next up will be my tried and true traditional napa cabbage kimchi recipe! It took me 5 attemps to perfect it, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Until next time…. 안녕히계세요! (Goodbye!)