Friday, January 29, 2016

The best gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

My word have I made a lot of chocolate chip cookies.  I haven't found a good gluten-free packaged cookie that's worth the price, so I've gotten comfortable sifting through recipes on Pinterst for the best chocolate chip cookie.  This recipe actually claimed to be the best, so I put it to the test.  The person (My Gluten-Free Kitchen) responsible for this recipe was intense.  She laid out expectations of her cookie outcome and detailed notes as to how her cookies came out so well.  I respected that.  I respect people who take their cookie game seriously.

I may have just found it, ladies and gentlemen, the best gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.  They taste like they're full of gluten, so that's a win in my book.

I can't in any way take credit for this recipe.  I didn't change a thing (except I used good ole Bob's Red Mill 1-1, so I didn't need xanthan gum),  They took a bit of time to make, but if you enjoy baking the prep won't phase you.

I loved them!  So let there be #cookiesfordayz.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A's 2 month update

Snuggler, big coo-er, and smile-r.  This is little Archer at 2 months.  The loves of his life are the birds on his Snug-a-Bunny.  He eats a lot which makes him a happy and a content little man...until you give him a bath.  Then it's screaming time until he's bundled and cozy and under 2 blankets again.  Sleeping is better on some nights than others, but at 9 weeks that's still to be expected.  He seems to have an outgoing sort of personality, or at the very least doesn't mind interacting with other people.  He was smiling up a storm with our pediatrician at his check-up which was so sweet to see.

He's a pure light in our family.  Even with him being so little, I absolutely love the dynamic between he and Ella.  Ella's joy for the new addition has added to our own happiness, and I can't wait to see them grow up next to each other.

I have to say that the transition from having 1 kid to 2 kids has completely surprised me.  It hasn't been anything near to what I expected.  Yes, Tim works from home so if all out chaos ensues in the middle of the day, he can lend a quick hand, but there isn't much chaos that needs tending to.  Ella is eager help or is patient when I need her to be, Archer sleeps well, eats well, and has an overall calm demeanor.  

I'm so thankful.  Because in all honesty, I needed this.  I needed to see Ella love Archer and I needed to see Archer smile uncontrollably at our pediatrician and easily gain weight on formula.  I needed what these last two months have been.  Because after the craziness that was my first year of motherhood, I needed to be reassured that I can have 1 kid, 2 kids, and be happy and thrive.

Of course, it's not all rainbows. Archer was nearly inconsolable in church this past weekend for no other reason than he was tired.  I swayed, and "shhhed" in the back of the church for a good chunk of Mass -- it gave me so much anxiety I had to hide the tears.

These moments come and go, but they in no way define the family of 4 life.  At the end of the day, I'm grateful my kids are who they are and I wouldn't trade their relationship and our new family for anything.

Monday, January 25, 2016

From the weekend

Ella has adjusted so well to Archer being the new little kid on the block.  She hasn't just adjusted well, but she's been helpful and loving.  She brings us diapers, the burp cloth, puts dirty bottles in the sink.  She rocks him in his Snug-a-Bunny and cannot go to bed without giving him a goodnight kiss. Over the weekend, I was reading her a story when Archer started crying and she closed the book, jumped off the couch and ran over to comfort him.

We've been so proud of her and frankly in awe of how seamless the transition from a family of three to a family of four has been.

Tim and I know this adjustment period could have been hard, that sometimes it takes a while for the older ones to adjust to the little ones being around.  So since Ella has been such a trooper and a stellar big sister, we wanted to do a little special something for her.  We didn't treat her with a new toy or anything when A was born, so we took our Saturday morning and made it all about little Ella.

Planning treats or outings that Ella will really enjoy is sometimes hilariously challenging.  If you know her, she likes her things, she likes routine, and she (so far) doesn't like new stuff (you should have seen her Christmas morning).  But there are three things she loves without fail - stuffed animals, puppies, and books - so we went to Barns and Noble where she played and played at the lego table and picked out a new stuffed animal (of course not before being treated with a little brownie from the cafe).

Stuffed animal and books: check.

We then hit up the mall "to see the puppies(!)"  Every time we're shopping and we pass the dogs, she gets so excited, so we went and soaked in all the cuteness.

Ella's not yet two, so it's hard to tell if she really felt special and appreciated.  I hope she did.  She cradled her new and little husky for the duration of the morning, so we were happy.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Start anyway

About 5 weeks ago, I decided I was going to become dedicated to fitness.  I've got the whole clean eating thing down pretty (keyword: pretty) well, and I don't consume a whole lot of sugar, so I decided to focus on and dive into challenging my body.  I do this 3+ times a week with either yoga or cardio.  And I've been loving it.  Around January 3rd, I started to see all these ads for new and shiny and cute workout gear. New gear new you! sort of slogans accompanied the insta pictures or ads and it quickly got me thinking.

We often take all these little steps to start working toward whatever we want to work toward.  For fitness that might be buying cute sports bras or buying that new pair of Nikes we've been eyeing or joining a gym or getting a trainer.  Or for blogging that might mean making sure our layout is pristine and perfectly programmed and laid out.  If we don't have the means to take these little steps, we can become discouraged from ever working toward our goal because it's not as fun to workout in the old tennys as it is to in the shiny new pair or it's not as satisfying to see a post on a simpler layout as opposed to on the prettiest one.  We become consumed by the "when I get..." or "when I do..." mentality.  As great as these steps can be, it's the dedication and perseverance that will ultimately see us through to our finish line.

One of my favorite stories is one I read recently in Michael Strahan's Wake Up Happy.  If you're not familiar with Strahan, he's an ex-athlete who had a notable and long pro-football career with the NY Giants and was recently inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.  He writes about when he was younger his brothers and brothers' friends would call him "Bob" which he later learned stood for booty on back.  He was a bit of a chubby 13-year-old and had a hard time keeping up with the boys.  So he decided to dedicate himself to transforming his body and got a Jane Fonda workout tape and did the routine every day after school.  And, clearly he went on to turning his body into that of steel.

This is what has served as my inspiration.  The raw, just-get-to-it sort of mindset.  Yeah, as I go on I'll probably treat myself to some new workout gear and I'd love to one day get a trainer, but that current void shouldn't prevent us from taking the first step.  Grab your computer, go to YouTube and get to it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Postpartum curves and ten dollar watches

At the end of my pregnancy I was up 30 pounds.  And I'm currently down 15.  In other words, I'm deep in the throws of trying to find anything in my closet that will fit while hunting for inexpensive clothes as the baby weight slowly says goodbye.

This interim period can be a challenge.  That larger number on the scale has a way of immediately crushing some self-esteem, so after weeks (literally) of trying to find a pair of pants that fit alright I treated myself to this watch from none other than Target in order to spice up my wardrobe.  It was all of 10 bucks and I'm pretty sure it was marked "mens", but I love it.  One day I'll own the ever-so-dreamy Michael Kors watch or dearer to my heart, the Shinola watch or the Fossil watch, but this baby is my current bff, and it's taken a bit of edge off when going into fitting rooms.

I scored these ripped jeans from Kohl's for a whopping 14 dollars.  They're killer.  I love them, only because I feel pretty bad ass in them.  And they kicked my stretchy maternity jeggings out of my closet.

Monday, January 18, 2016

From the weekend

Silver dollar stack - an essential to having a good weekend.

I got a lesson from the kitchen table this weekend.

Saturday was a day.  I'm not even sure why.  It was probably just the normal crazy that is family life, maybe the extreme lack of sunshine is finally getting to me -- who knows.  But I was in a funk - the kind that's spurred on by a burn from a straightener, spilled coffee, and toddler tears shed over the "wrong" pair of socks.

We got around to lunch around 3 - gluten-free instant mac 'n cheese.  Yes, it was the "screw it" kind of lunch, but it was fast and easy and provided enough that Ella and I could split and get a bite.  I was moving quickly trying to satisfy my hungry girl and naturally burned myself as one does when getting flustered and impatient.

Bowls were served, drinks were placed, and I began devouring.  I mean a 3 o'clock lunch, right?  Ella took a bite and then put her fork down and folded her hands - of course the universal sign that it's time to say grace.  I was taken back as (admittedly) saying grace did not even occur to me in the moment.  I was at a point of simply going through the motions to get through the day.

I thanked her for reminding me and we paused and said our prayer and had the sweetest lunch - just us. Tim was doing some work.  We talked toddler chat and had extra big cookies after our bowls were cleared.

Yeah, sometimes she throws a fit over putting her socks on or takes all of her brother's clothes out of the drawers, but then sometimes she's the one teaching me the lessons.  And on Saturday, somehow she knew it was just the lesson I needed - to slow the hell down, pause for a moment, and remember what matters.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Zeroes and Ones

Earlier this week I had my six week postpartum visit -- the visit to make sure all is well and when you're (usually) told you can get back to living your normal life, workouts and all.  (I'm comin' for you, Jillian Michaels.)

While at my appointment, the nurse gave me a clipboard with a little survey attached to it, something they give all their postpartum moms she told me.  I was to fill it out while waiting for the doctor to come in.  It was a how are you feeling sort of survey.  Anxious?  Sad?  Depressed?  You were to rate your current state on a scale of 0-3.  I read each question, honestly reflected, and circled a 0 or 1 for every question.

(If only the doctor who delivered Ella had that same survey.)

It was not that long ago (though it at times feels like it) when I wrote this post and this post and this post, all describing how draining my pregnant and postpartum months were, that they were so draining they sent my anxiety spiraling which led to a bout of postpartum depression.

Those 0s and 1s circled on that survey (that I'm sure is seen as nothing more than protocol) meant everything - freedom, happiness, achievement, hard work paying off.  My doctor came in, admitted she was surprised by the scores and asked what I thought was different about this time around. Familiarity?  She asked.  I told her maybe, but part if felt like just pure luck (or more correctly, grace).  I told her this experience has felt so different than my last that it had to be more than just me knowing how to make a bottle.  Maybe my hormones are simply on my side this time around.  Who knows?  I'm not asking questions.  What I do know is I'm able to exit the house while able to breathe freely, and I'm able to go see a movie with my husband and enjoy it.  No "what if this" or "what if that."  It's a gift I am not taking for granted.

I'd like to think that this due in part to my hard work over the past year.  Therapy, learning how to pinpoint a trigger for the anxiety and learning how to work through it, workbooks, research on the best yoga routines for anxiety, exercise, diet, vitamins, learning how to realize and address my needs without feeling bad about it.  I haven't tired in trying to overcome this and I haven't given up.

I have to note I was more than hesitant to write this update just 7 weeks postpartum.  My diagnosis for postpartum anxiety and depression didn't come until months after having Ella.  So I was waiting to see if I would start to feel worse as these last nearly 8 weeks have passed.  I've only improved so I thought it was okay to move forward.  I also have to note that just because this is my current reality doesn't mean that I don't have anxiety anymore.  It took nearly everything to get to the store and back the other day and I can't really explain why - it just got the best of me that day.  But what it does mean is I'm freer than I was and sometimes when fighting a battle like this one, that's more than enough.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Gluten-free Pierogi with Potatoes and Cheese

Any tradition I was exposed to growing up was related to Polish culture.  My dad's parents were from Poland, so growing up around Polish food and customs was of course a heavy part of my dad's upbringing.  My dad shared a slice of his upbringing during my childhood -- most of which was food. Growing up, I always remember loving pierogi.  I had never seen it made from scratch, but as someone who wants to incorporate tradition into my family life I thought it would be fun to try and make pierogi from scratch for our nice Christmas Eve dinner.

I've attempted a lot of things in the kitchen.  One of my favorite things to do is to take a recipe and try to successfully make it gluten-free (from scratch).  And so when this one turned out wonderfully, I couldn't have been more proud.  I had never made dough let a lone gluten-free dough and I had never invested an entire afternoon into a dinner, but it was beyond worth it.  Here's the gluten-free recipe:

What you'll need:

For the filling:

5 medium potatoes
.8 oz goat cheese
1 whole onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the dough:

3 cups Bob's Red Mill 1-1 All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup warm milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 to 3/4 cup warm water (depending how much the flour soaks)
1 tablespoon melted butter
Pinch of salt

For the toppings:

1 large onion, chopped
3 slabs bacon, chopped
1/2 sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
2 tablespoons oil for frying

What to do: 

For the filling:

  • Place potatoes in a pot, cover with water and cook until tender.
  • In the meantime, heat up the oil in a frying pan, add chopped onions and cook until golden brown.
  • Once potatoes are cooked, using a potato masher, mash potatoes until lumps are gone.
  • Add goat cheese and mix together.
  • Add onions, spices, salt and pepper and mix well.

For the dough:

  • Pour the flour on a counter top.
  • Add pinch of salt.
  • Make a little hole in the middle and start adding milk and butter.
  • Add a little water and work the dough until you can form a ball.  This will take about 10 - 15 minutes.
  • Once done, cover with a big bowl and let it rest for about 20 - 30 minutes.
  • Roll the dough until it's thin (like pasta) and use a cookie cutter or a large wine glass to cut out the circles.
  • Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the circle of dough.
  • Wet one half of the circle and then seal together.
  • Boil a large pot of water and season with salt.
  • Once the water is boiling, put 8 pierogi in at a time.
  • Once they come to the surface, let them cook for 1 minute, remove, and set them on a plate.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan and fry them until golden brown.

For the toppings:

  • Using a separate pan, add oil and chopped onions and fry until golden brown.  
  • Brown bacon until crispy.
  • Add onions and bacon on top of the pierogi and serve with Greek yogurt.  (They're also really good with apple sauce.)


I recommend having someone around to help you.  If you're manning the assembly line by yourself, the dough can start to dry since the process is time consuming.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fitness: A changed mindset

I've never been in shape.  Thin, yes.  Average size, yes.  But never in shape.  And every time I've attempted to get in shape I've come at it from the wrong place - a negative place.  I want to be skinny, I want to be prettier, I want to fit into Hollister jeans.  It was never because I wanted to be healthy or so I could live a long, flexible, happy life.  And if I'm being perfectly honest, I always scoffed at those who did approach fitness with that it's because I care so much about my well-being (!) zeal.  It's really because you want that tiny bikini bod, let's be honest I thought.

Well, that's all changed.  After housing and birthing two little humans over the past two and a half years, I've learned just how much we should care about our bodies, that it's on us if we want to feel good, and there could be potential consequences if we don't treat our bodies well.  When I got pregnant with Ella, I was 129 pounds.  I was the thinnest I'd ever been.  My closet housed sizes 0-4 and I never had an easier time finding clothes than I did when I was that size.  But the 4 flights of stairs that stood between me and my apartment door consistently reminded me I was badly out of shape.

When I was pregnant with Ella, my doctor informed me that birth is a marathon.  I quickly learned pregnancy was a marathon as well, and it was one I was not properly trained for.  My joints ached, my back hurt.  Sure, these are common occurrences while pregnant, but after I had Ella and I incorporated lifting car seats and a growing baby into my day-to-day and was constantly bending over (to change her, pick her up, etc.) I put stress on my already weakened body that it frankly couldn't handle.  My left shoulder, neck, and lower back hurt so bad I ended up seeing chiropractors and had a stint of weekly massages.  When all that healed, and I got into a new routine of yoga, I got pregnant again.  More weight gained, more stress put on my body.  Only during my last pregnancy, my neck and lower back were easily thrown out and for the first time in years my right knee was dislocated.  So there were a few occasions when I was left with a heating pad or ice in bed, unable to move.

I say all of this not to sound like a dramatic post-pregnant woman but to explain how my mindset on fitness changed.  I was told by my doctor to do exercises to strengthen my back and I didn't do them. So what happened?  My back became weaker and weaker until the point of sheer pain.  I recovered much faster after this pregnancy than I did with Ella and when I realized my back was in much more pain than anything post-labor, I asked my doctor if I could start doing a light, postpartum yoga routine in attempts to strengthen my body.  She cleared me and I've been doing it since.  I felt almost immediate relief on my back which has fueled me to break out my yoga mat at 6AM on little sleep.

Aside from the few goals I have, transforming my body is my main priority this year.  I would say it's a new year's resolution, but I started 2 weeks before the ball dropped.  My reasons for doing so have changed -- to keep up with my kids, to gain energy, to (continue to) fight anxiety, to gain strength, and to look like Jane Fonda when I'm 75.  Losing weight isn't my main goal, it really isn't.  This isn't some plan to lose the baby weight.  I won't be giving up dessert and I'll have a latte when I feel like it. (Moderation, people.)  This is about having control over my body, not my body having control over me.

I was hesitant to document this so early on.  I just reached 6 weeks postpartum.  But I decided to do so after going back and reading my early anxiety posts.  I want to be able to track my progress and look back on my starting point.  So stay tuned for fitness posts!  The is a lot more to come.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Welcome, 2016

This Christmas break was a seriously good one.  Tim had the week after Christmas off which was a huge blessing - one we made the most of and did not take for granted.  Our holiday festivities have had a fairly strict budget, so we didn't go crazy with staycation activities like day trips and shopping and many meals eaten out.  We had a few cozy evenings in over some hot chocolate and episodes of The Office.  We were productive in that our entire place was cleaned head to toe, we talked over resolutions and financial goals.  We celebrated a snowfall by making homemade crepes.  I broke out my shiny, new, white planner which is basically all that's needed to make this woman happy. Summed up, this may sound like 8 days of sheer boring-ness, but it wasn't in the least.  I'm was sad to see this break come to an end.

The best part was we took in life with our growing family.  Holidays have a different feel with 2 little ones and not just in the experiencing-Christmas-through-their-eyes sort of way.  It's a bit more chaotic and a little louder.  Our nights often look something like one of us running around the kitchen with Ella while the other is getting dinner ready, Archer making himself heard in the background. And while on some nights that loudness drove me crazy, on others I stepped back and took it in.

Happy first week of 2016 to you!