Letter to Samuel: Three Years

09.30.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Super Sam,

You are our sweet, silly, spirited boy. You test our patience, endurance, and sanity on a regular basis. And you make us laugh every single day. You have an endless amount of energy and dirt permanently embedded under your nails. You are constantly running and jumping, racing cars around the house, and scaling the mulched hill in our backyard. You almost always have a hook or bungee cord or plastic fishing rod in your back pocket, and you are rarely not wearing safety glasses or swim goggles or a superhero mask. You have a wild imagination, ask about a million questions every day, and tell the most animated stories I’ve ever heard come from the mouth of a three-year-old.

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You love pancakes, pizza, mac and cheese, tacos, apples, bananas, and broccoli; Legos, tools, dinosaurs, and the bat cave; chasing Lucy, dancing, and working on projects. You love to play “good guys” vs. “bad guys” and call anything that resembles a weapon a “chick-a-chow.” (We obviously discourage this, but you are a boy, and this is what boys do.)

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You often introduce yourself as “Super Sammy” and insist quite passionately that you are “six.” You torment Lucy and steal Nora’s toys, but they both love you unconditionally. You help Daddy to mow the grass and pull weeds, and you help Mommy to clean the windows and bake cookies. You like play-doh and painting and cutting paper with scissors, and you recently drew your first recognizable object: Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc.

You have mostly phased out your afternoon nap — which sometimes leads to major meltdowns around dinnertime — but you are exhausted by 8pm and fall asleep easily. Current favorite bedtime books are If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Super Friends X-Ray Vision, and The Diggingest Dog — and you have most of each one memorized. Favorite bedtime song is “Super Sammy,” which Mommy and Daddy sing differently, but you love equally. Favorite TV shows are Octonauts and Paw Patrol and anything about dinosaurs.

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Every morning (sometimes as early as 6:15), you come into our room carrying the clothes you want to wear that day, and you demand that we change you before we go downstairs. You even have a favorite pair of socks — your “super” socks, of course. You are quite opinionated. And articulate. And persistent.

You are a typical stubborn three-year-old, and you challenge us daily. But you are also kind and considerate and affectionate. Sam, we are so proud of the kid you have become. Every day with you is an adventure. We love you. All the way to the moon and back.

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Homemade Almond Joy Larabars

09.19.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It’s tough to give up sugar when you love cookies as much as we do. But these homemade Larabars are serious competitors in the cookie arena. And they are incredibly easy to make! Just throw everything into the food processor and mix until the ingredients get all sticky and yummy. Then roll them into balls and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Or eat them with a spoon right out of the food processor, which is Sam’s preferred method of consumption.)

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Homemade Almond Joy Larabars

(Print this Recipe)

Ingredients

  • 15 dates, pitted
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Combine everything in a food processor and mix until it sticks together and is no longer crumbly.
  2. Roll into balls, or press into an 8×8 pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before devouring.

Whole30 Results

09.16.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It wasn’t always easy. But we did it. We eliminated entire food groups from our diet for 30 days. We gave up cream in our coffee and cheese pizza and chocolate chip cookies. But we learned to love coconut milk and cashew butter and eggs every morning for breakfast. We ate more meat and more green veggies than I believed to be possible. We may have spent more money on our weekly groceries, but our refrigerator was always stocked with fresh produce and meat from the local butcher, and we threw away almost nothing. We learned to be more creative and more resourceful in the kitchen.

Whole30 changes the way you think about food, the way you shop for food, and how you eat food. We feel healthier and happier and, yes, we both lost some weight. Six pounds for me, which brings me all the way back to my pre-Nora weight. And nine pounds for Nick, in addition to the 16 pounds he lost during his first round earlier this summer. But more importantly than the weight we lost, we feel empowered and in control of our diet.

I still crave meat and veggies and (surprisingly) eggs. Although, I have to admit, I was really looking forward to adding maple syrup to my banana pancakes on day 31. We’ve also treated ourselves to homemade Larabars with mini chocolate chips and our first pumpkin spice lattes of the season.

We don’t intend to completely eliminate treats as we move forward, but we do plan to be more conscious of our indulgences. We’re anxious to continue to fill our bodies with wholesome and delicious food.

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Lucy is Two

09.13.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Happy birthday to our Lucy Girl! Thank you for fetching our socks, cleaning our dishes, protecting our house, and for being so tolerant of your siblings. Our family is more crazy and more complete because of you!

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Letter to Nora: Eight Months

09.08.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Oh, sweet Nora. Has it really been eight months since you joined our family? You bring such joy to our lives with your bright smile and little giggles. Each day is more fun than the last.

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You are constantly squealing and babbling and blowing raspberries. You sing to your wubbanub, and you love to have screaming matches with Sam — in the car, at the dinner table, before bed. You often say “ma-ma-ma” when you’re crying for my attention. And Sammy and Daddy are trying so hard to teach you their names. We’ve started a bit of baby sign language this month, too — milk, more, and all done. We’re all pretty excited for you to start communicating with us. I suspect you will be a little chatterbox like your brother!

You are so, so close to crawling. You get up on all fours and rock back and forth before you return to sitting position. You may not be completely mobile yet, but you can definitely get around. You squirm across the floor and spin in circles, and you have a surprisingly long reach. You are also now trying to pull up onto everything — our legs and shoulders, your music table, the pack’n’play. We should probably lower your crib mattress before you figure out how to pull up in there, too.

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I often find you sleeping in the very corner of your crib, and so I added the bumper this month to make it a bit more comfortable. You sleep with two wubbanubs and sometimes you whine in the middle of the night if you lose them. If the whines turn into wails, I tiptoe into your room, which always leads to a quick nursing and snuggle session. Occasionally, you wake up twice, and sometimes you sleep through the night without a peep. Either way, you wake up around 8am with a smile on your face.

You are still napping twice a day, though the length of each depends on our schedule. I love that you are so easy-going!

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You continue to love to eat and are up to three solid meals per day plus 4-5 quick feedings with momma (though it’s become pretty impossible to feed you in public). Favorite foods this month include: peaches, blueberries, avocado, waffles, turkey burgers, chicken meatballs, graham crackers, and cheese. The only food you really don’t like is eggs. You’ve become very good at eating purees from pouches, which helps when we’re on the road. And you think it’s fun to drink water from a sippy cup, though most of it ends up running down your chin.

You get angry if we take away your food before you are done, especially if that food is ice cream. If Sam gets an ice cream treat, we get an extra cone for you and add a bit of the sweet stuff to it. It quickly becomes a sticky mess, but you devour it.

You’ve recently learned how to take off your bib, which means we have to put it back on at least four times during each meal. And you think it’s hilarious to hang your hands over the tray of your highchair so Lucy can lick them.

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You are still our long and lean girl, and I finally had to move you into size 9-month jammies. Your hair is getting thicker, and there appears to be a bit of wave to it. I sure hope you end up with curly hair like your daddy! You still have just the two teeth on the bottom, though I suspect the top ones will pop through any day.

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Playtime has become pretty fun. You shake rattles and bang cups together and throw balls and open and close little doors. You love your stacking blocks — and so does Sam. He often builds a really tall tower for you, and encourages you to knock it over. Then he shouts “hooray, Baby Nora!” when you do it. He is your biggest fan, and it is so sweet.

However, Sam does not like it when you play with his toys, which you always do. I asked what he’s going to do when you start to crawl, and he said, “hide all my toys.” We obviously have to practice the concept of sharing.

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You still love to bounce in your jumperoo and are content to sit on the floor and play for extended periods of time. Though I did catch you chewing Lucy’s bone one day. Yuck! Then you threw a major fit when I took it away from you. I think you’ve already figured out “no,” and you do not like it one bit.

You also recently learned a new bathtime trick. You throw a toy over the toddler tub, then peer over the edge until you spot it and pick it back up. Then you flash a big smile in our direction — so proud!

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We took a few road trips and day trips this month, and you are still a fairly good traveler. You sing and squeal and peek around your car seat to watch Sam. And sometimes you sleep.

We’ve enjoyed many park picnics and playdates. You’re lucky to have several baby girlfriends to hang out with while Big Brother plays with his friends! You love to swim in our neighbor’s pool, though you weren’t so sure of the splash park. And you whimpered when I sat you in front of the fish tank at the aquarium. You stayed up way past your bedtime for two weddings and a baseball game, but it was so worth it.

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I’m much more flexible with our routine this time around, and I honestly think you are happier because of it. So many adventures await us, little lady. We love you!

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Whole30 with a Family of Four

09.01.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

One of my biggest concerns when starting Whole30 was how to feed the kids. Could I coerce them into trying zoodles and cauliflower rice? Or would I need to prepare separate meals? And how could I possibly resist their cupboard stocked with Goldfish and graham crackers and gummy snacks?

Surprisingly, the transition has been easier than expected for the entire family!

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Some meals are completely family-friendly and kid-approved. For example, chicken nuggets (dipped in egg and almond flour and cooked in coconut oil) with broccoli and sweet potato fries. Nick and I dipped ours in homemade ketchup, and Sam enjoyed good ‘ole Heinz.

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While other meals are made just for us like this Tex Mex Casserole. In this case, the kids get macaroni and cheese or tortellini or chicken quesadillas.

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Not surprisingly, Nora is a much more adventurous eater than our picky toddler.

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Although Sam has expressed a lot of interest in some of our favorite whole foods like dried apricots and cashew butter. And he has eaten many more fruits and veggies than I expected.

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He loves to help cook dinner, even if he’s hesitant to try it.

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My advice is to involve your kids in this lifestyle change. Offer them tastes of everything you eat, but be prepared with back-up options. And, yes, it is very, very difficult to resist licking the chocolate ice cream as it runs down their cone, but you can do it!

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Five Years

08.28.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Five years ago, we stood together in a garden on the banks of the Susquehanna River. We held hands and exchanged rings and promised to love each other in sunshine and in rain.

This is the man I chose to be my partner, my traveling mate, my sous chef, my champion, and the father of our children. He surprises me every day with his ambition and his devotion. And I foresee so many more adventures in our future. Happy anniversary to my best friend!

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Why Whole30 + Week 1

08.20.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I first learned about Whole30 earlier this year when my girlfriend started the program. It seemed so restrictive and impractical. No cereal and milk or cheese and crackers or pasta and garlic bread? No cream and sugar in my coffee? No chocolate chip cookies after the kids go to bed? Basically, no fun. But then she started to see and feel real changes — the changes the program claims to deliver. Not just weight loss, but more energy, better sleep, fewer aches and pains, improved focus. She was a believer, and I was intrigued.

I bought the book, It Starts With Food, and after just a few pages, I decided this was something Nick needed to do. Why? Because he has an incredibly demanding schedule and eats when he’s stressed. He doesn’t have time to exercise or sleep and was drinking far too many cups of coffee every day. Plus he has a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease. I promised to plan his meals and pack his lunches if he promised to stick to the plan for 30 days. And he did! He declined cake at my sister’s graduation party and beer at our neighbor’s picnic. And by the end of the 30 days, he had lost 16 pounds and felt healthier and happier.

I was still exclusively breastfeeding Nora at that time and was hesistant to make big changes to my diet. But after (finally) finishing the book and reading testimonials from fellow nursing mommas — not to mention a summer of weddings and indulgent eating — I decided I was ready to jump on board. And Nick was more than ready for round 2.

So here we are! Week 1 done. No sugar. No alcohol. No grains. No legumes.

So what have we been eating?

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Breakfast always includes some form of eggs. Scrambled with sausage and peppers or spinach; topped with avocado or salsa; or over easy on a plate of roasted potatoes. Also always accompanied by a bowl of fruit and a cup of (black!) coffee.

Yes, mornings are hard. The kids are hungry and whiny. Lucy is begging to go out. Nick is trying to get out the door to work. And, somehow, I have to get breakfast on the table. Cereal and fruit or muffins were always an easy option. But, this week, I’ve had to prepare a hot meal. And you know what? I think it’s worth the extra time.

Lunch is typically a salad of hearty mixed greens, shredded chicken or tuna, and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Apples and avocado typically make an appearance. And our current favorite dressing is a simple basil oil + white balsamic vinaigrette (2:1 ratio).

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Late afternoon can be tricky. I’m usually tired (and sometimes a little bit cranky) from a morning with the kiddos and am ready for a break and a treat in the form of caffeine and/or sugar. The Whole30 plan does not recommend snacking, but because I need to ensure I get enough calories and keep up my milk supply, I do it.

A handful of nuts and raisins usually fits the bill. Or almond butter with celery or a banana or an apple. I also made a pretty tasty and refreshing Coconut Chia Seed Pudding (1 can coconut milk + 1/4 cup chia seeds + 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes. Refrigerate overnight. Top with pineapple and sliced banana.)

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If mornings are hard and afternoons are tricky, then dinners are fun! Seriously. I have loved experimenting with fresh ingredients, and I do believe I have rediscovered my passion for cooking. This is not to say that it’s not tough to prepare a wholesome meal for a family of four while simultaneously entertaining a toddler and a baby, but I’m proud to say I’ve done it every night so far.

Turkey Burgers (1 lb lean ground turkey + 1 egg + 1/2 cup almond flour + 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning) topped with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Served with roasted mixed potatoes, homemade dill pickles, and pineapple.

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Steak Fajitas (1 lb flank steak or skirt steak + 1 red onion + 2 bell peppers + fajita seasoning: 1 Tbsp almond flour + 2 tsp chili powder + 1 tsp salt + 1 tsp paprika + 1/2 tsp onion powder + 1/2 tsp garlic powder + 1/2 tsp ground cumin + 1/4 tsp black pepper) topped with homemade guacamole.

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Pork Schnitzel (pork loin dipped in egg, followed by a mixture of almond flour and Italian seasoning, then cooked in olive oil) with sauerkraut, potatoes, and brussels sprouts.

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Coffee Mocha Steak (1 Tbsp black pepper + 1 Tbsp ground coriander + 2 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp ground cloves + 1 tsp cinnamon + 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa + 2 tsp ground coffee) with mashed potatoes and green beans.

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Stuffed Peppers (1 lb lean ground turkey + taco seasoning: 1 Tbsp chili powder + 1/4 tsp garlic powder + 1/4 tsp onion powder + 1/4 tsp oregano + 1/2 tsp paprika + 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin + 1 tsp salt + 1 tsp black pepper. Cook on the stovetop, then stuff into peppers and bake at 325°F for 20 minutes.) with homemade pico de gallo and plantain chips.

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Zoodles with Chicken Meatballs (1 zucchini, chopped + 3 carrots, chopped + 1/2 cup parsley, chopped + 3 cloves garlic, minced. Pulse in food processor. Add 1/4 cup almond flour + 1 egg. Add 1 lb ground chicken + 1 tsp salt + t/2 tsp black pepper. Process until combined. Drop balls onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes.) topped with compliant marinara sauce.

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I am happy to report that we both survived the first week “hangover.” Surprisingly, I didn’t experience any headaches, though I felt extreme fatigue during days 2-4 (and my arms and legs felt all tingly and tired). We resisted chocolate peanut butter frozen custard from The Meadows and sweet Lebanon bologna from the local butcher. Though Nick dreamed about pizza, and I dreamed about corn on the cob. I haven’t had any crazy and uncontrollable cravings, though I do miss my nightly bowl of Cheerios.

Onward, we go!

Visit the Whole30 website to learn more.

Summer Staycation in Dover

08.15.2014 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I decided to take the kids (and Lucy, too) and spend a week at my parents’ house between Laura’s bridal shower and her bachelorette party.

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Poppy really appreciated having his little helper there to assist with deck painting. And every night Sam helped Nini to water the flowers.

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Stephen took Sam for a long hike to the creek; they picked raspberries; and the two of them spent an entire afternoon on the slip ‘n’ slide.

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And Auntie Laura got lots of quality snuggle time with her niece and nephew.

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While Nora was napping one morning, I sneaked out with my big guy for some playground time — at my old elementary school! I think he was impressed by my agility.

 

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We spent another afternoon with Sam’s favorite girls. Lots of jumping and swimming and giggling! And I got to catch up with their momma — one of my favorite girls.
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We visited my grandparents, and it was the perfect day for deck swinging and bubble blowing.

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We even enjoyed a quick visit from Oma and Opa while they were staying with family nearby.

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We took an impromptu trip to Fuller Lake with Laura, Stephen, and Emma. And we bought a big bag of cherries to eat on the drive home.
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And we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon and evening at Codorus Park following Laura’s bridal shower. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs while throwing the frisbee on the lawn. We counted the boats and the kayaks. And we watched a pretty awesome fireworks show over the lake.

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Sometimes staycations are the best vacations.