Letter to Samuel: TWO

09.25.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Dear Samuel Woodford,

Today you are TWO! How is that possible? Seems like just yesterday we welcomed our blue-eyed boy into this big world.



But it’s also impossible to remember life without you.


Two means adventurous and spirited, smart and inquisitive, sweet and considerate, independent, observant and focused, and absolutely hysterical. It is most definitely our favorite age yet.

Your vocabulary has grown immensely this month, and you surprise us with new words every day. Here are a few current favorites: Donald (as in Duck), football, pedal, buckle, park, slide, airplane, purple, boots. You almost always say “please” and “thank you,” and sometimes you even correct us if we forget. You still call Lucy “dog,” and you have renamed Mr. Ribbit “Ricky.” You call all berries “boo boos,” including grapes. You have just started to speak in sentences. You say “I want cheese, please.” “Momma, tie shoes.” “Push car.” “All aboard, choo choo.” “I want Dada home.” You know the names of all of your family members and some of your little buddies. And you just amaze us with the things you remember. You know Minnie rides a pink bike in your favorite episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. You associate Nini with flowers and Pop with work. When we mention football, you roar and say “I want the lion” (the Nittany Lion, of course). You talk about ducks in the water and airplanes in the sky. It is just incredible to carry on conversations with you and watch your little mind work.

You are quite artistic, too. Coloring is one of your current favorite activities, and you will sometimes sit for 20 minutes and work on one page in your book. You also enjoy crafts that involve stickers and glue. You can draw circles and identify blue, purple, and orange when asked. When we say “how much” or “how many” you often say “one, two” and sometimes “three.”


You still love to run and play outside, of course. You have become very good at kicking the soccer ball and throwing the football. And you have conquered nearly every local playground. You received an early birthday present about two weeks ago — your bike! And you are obsessed. You wear your helmet and ride around the cul de sac, and you have almost figured out how to pedal.

You are also still very interested in your tools. While working on the wall between our kitchen and living room, you helped Poppy to hammer and drill and take measurements. You would pull out the tape measure, hold it both horizontally and vertically, then record the numbers on your notepad. Such a big helper and a hard worker!

We all caught colds this month, though Mommy’s has lasted longest of all. You point to my nose and say “boo boo” and “achoo.” You take such good care of me.

Lucy is still your best bud, and we are very grateful that she is so tolerant of your rough toddler play. You play tug-of-war and try to take the ball right out of her mouth. And you love to wrestle with her! When we dropped her off for her first weekend at the kennel, you cried huge crocodile tears and said “No, my dog, home.” But the reunion after two days apart was incredibly sweet! You both ran loops around the house, screaming and barking with excitement.


I believe I can now say that you are fully adjusted to your big boy bed. You sleep from about 9pm until 7:30am with an afternoon nap that sometimes lasts three hours. You no longer stand at your gate and scream, and you very rarely climb out of bed after we say goodnight. You have started to sleep with your head on a pillow and your body tucked under a comforter. Which makes you seem so grown up! Your current favorite bedtime books are Thomas the Train, Dora, and (still) Chugga Chugga Choo Choo. We also spend at least 10 minutes every night talking about our day. You request to “talk,” and it may be one of my favorite new habits. Then you ask for the “baby” song (Hush Little Baby) and the “ducks” song (Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day), and we say “night night” and blow about a dozen kisses before I slip out the door.

You seem a little bit more mature every day. You now sit in the big chair while having your hair cut, and you wear the cape, too. You are content to sit beside me during my doctor’s visits and no longer whine. In fact, you get very excited to hear baby sister’s heartbeat. And during our recent trip to Penn State, you acted like such a big kid. But you are also still very attached to your Momma. Sometimes only my hugs and kisses can soothe your tears, and I don’t mind at all.


I have written a letter to you every month since the day you were born. And we have both changed so much over these past two years. I am so proud of the big boy you are becoming, and I am thankful for you every day. You bring immense joy into our lives, and we couldn’t love you more. Happy 2nd birthday, Sammy!

Enter to Win $100 Credit to Minted

09.19.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

‘Tis the season to start shopping for holiday cards! Or, in our case, birth announcements. Yes, I know that we’ve barely had time to hang our fall wreaths and most of us have not yet finalized our jack-o-lantern designs, but I also know that once October hits, our weekends are booked. Which means that Thanksgiving and Christmas are basically right around the corner, and baby girl will be here before we know it!

I’ve already decided that this year I will forgo our annual Christmas cards in lieu of something sweet and pretty to announce the arrival of our daughter. And, fortunately for us, Minted has just released a stunning line of foil pressed birth announcements. Here are a few of my favorite designs:




They also have a similar line of foil pressed holiday cards. I just love the beauty and simplicity of this one:


Whether you’re in the market for birth announcements or holiday cards, Minted has graciously offered to give one lucky reader a $100 credit to your order! Click here to enter the giveaway. The contest closes on Thursday, 9/26. Good luck to you, and happy shopping!

I am an affiliate of Minted and will receive a small commission on all customer sales. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

Shutterfly Special: Up to 50% off Hard Cover Photo Books

09.17.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I finally finished Sam’s first year photo album … book 1. Yes, I had to break it into two books because, apparently, I take too many pictures. (No such thing!)

I used the Custom Path feature on Shutterfly to create the book. It was easy to use and easy to customize, and I was pretty impressed with the selection of layouts, stickers, and embellishments. I’m not going to lie, though — it took me about three months to complete. I spent a lot of time on the design and the text (including his monthly letters), but I know it will be worth it.

I took advantage of Shutterfly’s current sale — 50% off hard cover photo books! — and placed my order yesterday. I can’t wait to receive it!

You, too, can take advantage of the sale through this Thursday, 9/19. The discount is good on all hard cover photo books + pages, including books purchases from the new iPad app. (Some exclusions apply. See below for details.) Just use code BOOK50. Order your book now!

And take a look at a few of my favorite layouts from Sam’s book.


BOOK50 – Offer expires 9/19/2013 (11:59 P.M. PT). Offer is good for 50% off a 12×12, 8×8, 10×10, 11×14, or 8×11 photo book + pages at shutterfly.com. 7×9, 5×7, premium/layflat, matte, padded, leather, cloth, croc books are excluded. Offer valid for one-time redemption per billing address. Customer must choose only one of the five offers. Taxes, shipping and handling will apply.

I am an affiliate of Shutterfly and will receive a small commission on all customer sales. However, all opinions expressed are my own.

Our Day Out With Thomas

09.16.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Nana and Poppy (or Nini and Pop as Sam has so fondly named them) treated the September birthday boy to an early celebration last weekend. We spent our Saturday with Thomas the Train! (And a couple hundred other excited toddlers.)


The Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County hosted Thomas and Friends. (You can find more tour dates and locations here.) And it was a perfectly brisk fall day for the event.



Thomas huffed and puffed his way into the station, and Sam could not have been more thrilled.


We got to ride in a beautiful train car pulled by the the blue tank engine.



Sam proudly handed his ticket stub to the conductor and held onto our stack tightly for the remainder of the ride.



He must have said “choo choo” about 60 times. (Caught mid “choo” here.)


Sam and Pop looked out the window for trucks and tractors and Amish buggies.




After our train ride, we checked out the numerous other activities set up at the station: cranky car rides, pufferbelly rides, wooden train tables, storytelling, and an entire tent full of all things Thomas. Oh, pumpkin whoopie pies, too, because we couldn’t resist.






It was train heaven! Every little boy’s dream.


Thank you to Laura and Stephen for joining us. And to Nini and Pop for such a perfect birthday treat!


Belated Birthday Celebration

09.16.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

September is birthday month in this house. Lucy turned one on the 13th. Sam will be two on the 25th. And Nick is celebrating 31 on the 26th. That’s a lot of cake and ice cream and presents!


In Lucy’s case, that meant a new frisbee and a beef stock popsicle.


Happy belated birthday to our favorite Golden Girl!

Lucy is ONE

09.13.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Lucy Girl,

You are ONE today! We first met you when you were just four weeks old. You were one of the smallest in the litter of 12. You were sweet and quiet and wore a pink ribbon around your neck. Your temperament test confirmed that you were the pup for us — tolerant and gentle. And so we brought you home with us two months later.



You quickly outgrew your puppy collar, and the faint patches under your eyes soon faded. Our home became your home, and though life was crazy, it was also wonderful.




You loved your first snowfall and impressed us with your ability to fetch the duck without sinking into the fluffy white stuff.


And you soon learned how to escape from the temporary fence we installed in the backyard.


You grew more independent and more playful by the day. You insisted on fetching a ball or stuffed toy, despite the temperature outside. You ran laps around the living room and enjoyed our evening walks. When you began to lose your puppy teeth, you kicked them around the kitchen floor and chewed dozens of ice cubes to soothe your gums.


But, by far, the sweetest part of your puppyhood was watching the relationship develop between you and your brother.


You are always right by his side, requesting treats or stealing his snacks or waiting for crumbs to drop to the floor.


And, oh yes, your temperament test was very accurate. You don’t mind when Sam tries to ride you like a horse, or when he tugs your ears, or when he pulls up your gums to examine your teeth.


You love him as much as he loves you.


But the big surprise? Your endless amount of energy! You are not always the calm, quiet pup we first met. You have chewed up more of Sam’s toys than we can count. You steal the hat from his head and the plastic tools from his hands. And you are usually too fast to catch.



We enrolled you in puppy obedience classes when you turned six months old, and they did help to teach you commands like “off” and “drop it.” And you were quite skilled in the agility courses. But you still managed to get yourself into plenty of trouble at home.


We installed an electric fence, which thankfully, you learned to obey within a week of introducing it. But we still have no way to contain your craziness in the evening. When Sam goes to bed, it is time for the Lucy Show. You want to play, play, play — especially if Daddy is home.

You also love to play, play, play with your cousins, Sadie and Layla. Or should I say, you love to torment your cousins.


You love socks — you will dig through an entire laundry basket just to find one. And you love the water, too — from splashing in your water bowl to running through the baby pool to “swimming” with your buddy, Brooksie.



We cherish your (rare) quiet snuggles on the couch and when you lay at our feet while we’re working in the office or cooking in the kitchen. But we also appreciate your curiosity and your spirit.


Even on your craziest days, we wouldn’t trade you for any other pup. You are the perfect addition to our family. We love you, Lucy Goose! Happy first birthday!

Bumpdate: Weeks 19-22

09.09.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Here we are, baby girl! Another month down, and just four more to go. This pregnancy is seriously flying by. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without the typical discomfort and symptoms.

This month I have started to pop Tums — both before and after meals — and I stretch my calves to prevent leg cramps at night. Oh, and the belly is not just now visibly noticeable, it’s also physically unavoidable. It has become more challenging to bathe Big Brother Sam and climb into his bed for storytime and songs. I’ve also noticed significant growth in other, ahem, areas. Namely the butt and the chest. Not that I’m complaining — I’m enjoying my new curvy figure. And I know it is providing a safe and comfortable place for you to grow.


Speaking of growth, you are now almost 12 inches long and weigh just over a pound. And I feel nearly every kick and shift and turn. Daddy and Sammy have gotten to feel your little dances, too.

I’m sure you can also identify our voices by now — Mommy’s commentary throughout the day, Sammy’s giggles and occasional outbursts, Daddy’s nightly kisses and goodnight wishes, even Lucy’s barks. Oh, little lady, you are about to enter one crazy fun family!

Your closet has slowly started to accumulate pink things — onesies, rompers, dresses, and bows. And I think we have decided on a color palette for your nursery. Mommy is quite excited for all things baby girl! You are already so loved.

Five on Friday: Volume 2

09.06.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Better to link up late, than not at all!

(1) I went wedding dress shopping with my little sister last weekend. And I may have cried three times. I’m going to blame it on pregnancy hormones. But also? She found the one, and she looks absolutely stunning in it.


(2) While the girls were dress shopping, Sam stayed with Poppy and Uncle Stevo. And, oh boy, did they have a fun time. Sometimes it’s nice to have a day with no rules, right kiddo?


(3) Nick is back to school, which means early dinners on Mondays and Wednesdays and long evenings alone with Mr. Sam. As hard as those solo parenting days may be, I do cherish them. I know I will be a momma of two before I know it, and so I’m trying to soak up every moment with my boy.

(4) Because Nick is back to school, I’m in search of quick and easy casserole and crock pot dinners. Here are a few on my must-make list: Taco Stuffed Shells, Marsala Chicken and Mushroom Casserole, and Southwest Chicken Chili Mac. What are your favorite weeknight meals?

(5) Poor Lucy Pup has been a bit under the weather. I have to admit that I do not miss her wild puppy tendencies, and I do love the extra snuggles, but I do not like waking up three times during the night to let her outside. And that doesn’t include the three times that Nick was up with her. Oh, and Sam decided to join the party at 3:30am. So, basically, we didn’t sleep at all last night. Which called for a cup of real caffeinated coffee this morning.


Cheers to the weekend!

Letter to Samuel: 23 Months

09.04.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Hey, kiddo!

It’s hard to believe you are just one month shy of your second birthday! You are so full of life, and your personality is about ten times the size of your toddler frame.


Not a day goes by that you don’t have me bursting with laughter — or counting to ten while I channel just one more ounce of patience. Yes, the days are sometimes long, but the years are oh so short.


This month brought with it many changes — and a few challenges. But it has also been my favorite month yet. You are feisty and opinionated. You are energetic and imaginative, and you rarely stop moving and running and jumping and playing. You are thoughtful and affectionate. You are my sweet, silly, adorable Sam.


You now insist on choosing your outfits every morning and typically try to dress yourself. You often end up with both legs in one pants hole and a shirt sleeve stretched over your head. You also prefer to wear your cousin Sean’s old shoes that are at least three sizes too big. And accessories? You love them. Goggles, headbands, mittens, bracelets, belts … and bandaids.

You have figured out zippers, which makes packing suitcases loads of fun. And you thoroughly enjoy tugging Daddy’s ties off the rack and pulling out every piece of clothing from your dresser drawers.


Your vocabulary has grown immensely this month, and we now understand about 80% of what you say. Sometimes you surprise us with words like towel and pocket (pock) and moon and helmet (hel-muh). Lawn mower (maw-lower) is still a favorite, along with hot dog (for Mickey’s hot dog dance) and sit down. You now tell Lucy to sit down and offer her a treat (tree), and it’s pretty darn cute. You also call her dog (daw). Not Lucy, just daw. And you try to take her for walks while holding her leash, but she’s still better at walking you.


Blue is your favorite color. In fact, everything is boo. Which means you were just a bit disappointed to see pink balloons pop out of the big cardboard box a few weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t already in love with your little sister. When you hear the heartbeat on your sound machine, you say baby and touch your heart. And you felt her kicks for the first time last week. You had the biggest grin on your face, and you were totally mesmerized. Then you insisted that momma leave her shirt up so baby could hear me read your bedtime books.

You say ABC when you see a series of letters and can count one, two — usually followed set, go. You will typically answer one to “how old are you?” And two to “how old are you going to be?” You say oh yeah and oh no and whoa. And ummm while standing in front of the open refrigerator looking for something to eat.

Your favorite books are moon (Goodnight Moon), choo-choo (Chugga Chugga Choo Choo), piggy (This Little Piggy), and Mickey (little box of board books). And your favorite TV shows are Mickey (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse), Doc (Doc McStuffins), and Choo Choo (Chuggington). You usually get to watch one show in the morning and another before bed, and sometimes a third during dinner prep.

Your favorite foods are cheesesticks (chee), blueberries (boo boo), eggs, turkey burgers, and tacos. And you now request that your cereal is served with milk — then you drink it straight from the bowl just like Daddy.


You love to play with Daddy’s old toy train set. In fact, you spent at least 20 minutes cleaning its wheels after we pulled it out of storage. You have also recently developed an interest in matchbox cars. You learned from your buddy, Aiden, how to drive them along couch cushions and under tables. And you may have swiped a few of his cars after our Virginia visit. I found them stashed in your car seat and tucked in the pocket of our suitcase. Time to start our own collection, buddy!

You are also still obsessed with bikes and scooters and skateboards. One morning, we spent about 30 minutes watching the teenage boys at the skate park. Cheap entertainment! And water. You still can’t get enough of the water.


One of your new favorite things to do is ride your little giraffe bike around the cul de sac. (Yes, it is time to upgrade — we’re planning on getting a new bike for your birthday!) You also love to kick the soccer ball and attempt to shoot the basketball and hit the baseball off the tee. And Auntie Laura taught you how to hop-scotch (which sounds a lot like hot dog). You are quite the mini athlete!

You now refuse to ride in your stroller for evening walks. Instead, you would rather hold our hands, usually while listening to music. And then you look just like a teenager.


We are in no hurry to potty-train, but you have peed on the potty about six times — always right before or right after bath. And you almost always tell us when you have poo in your diaper.

However, the biggest milestone this month? You are now sleeping in a big boy bed! This deserves a post all of its own, but let’s just say that we followed your lead. After nearly two weeks of climbing (ever so efficiently and gracefully) out of your crib and another challenging three days of transitioning, you are now 100% comfortable with your new bed. You sleep from 9pm until 7:30am and nap for about two hours every afternoon. You sleep with four stuffed animals, two pillows, and a comforter. And sometimes I glance at you in the monitor and wonder … where has the time gone???


Love you to the moon and back.

Savor Pittsburgh 2013

09.03.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Last Thursday, Nick and I had the pleasure of joining 12 other local foodies to judge the eighth annual Savor Pittsburgh event. Nick was pretty pumped to come along this year after suffering through the many mouthwatering photos I texted to him last year while he sat in class. Evil wife, I know. But we more than made up for it this year.

We sat between a former instructor at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts/current executive chef for the Giant Eagle Market District and a food critic/restaurant reviewer for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Other judges included writers from local magazines, directors and producers for local television stations, and radio personalities. Yes, we were in very good company.

Nick was quite impressed with the attentive service we received from the volunteer staff. They didn’t let a beer bottle or wine glass (or, in my case, a water bottle) sit empty for longer than a few minutes. We were given a new set of silverware with each dish. And they kept us on track, swiftly moving through all 35 dishes in 2 1/2 hours.

But the real stars of the evening were the chefs. We don’t get out to eat in the city very often, so this was the ideal way for us to sample some of the best dishes the Steel City has to offer.

We each had our favorites, most of which took top honors that night. But first up, three dishes worth mentioning, in our humble opinions.

Gorgonzola Crab Polenta: A crispy soft shell crab topped with creamy Gorgonzola polenta and finished with chilled lump crab meat. A nice variety of tastes and textures. It was a bit heavy for an August night, but that didn’t stop me from finishing nearly half the dish.


Chilled Corn Soup with Red Corn Salad, Popped Corn, Corn Shoots, and Roasted Pepper Aioli from Habitat: A surprising favorite for Nick. Flavorful and refreshing, and we especially loved the creative addition of popped corn.


Short Ribs Mac and Cheese with Red Onion Marmalade from Bistro 19: Comfort food at its finest! Plus I’m a sucker for anything macaroni and cheese.


And now onto the winners.

Best Appetizer: Corn Custard with Shrimp Escabeche, Crispy Garlic, and Tomatoes from Bar Marco: Lots going on here, but it worked. A little tangy, a little sweet. And it was pretty, too.


Best Entree: Sesame Scallops with Bourbon Infused Teriyaki from Table 22: I can’t believe they served us each two huge scallops — I still regret not finishing every bite of both. The scallops were beautifully prepared, and the seasoning was spot on. Scallops are a real treat for us, and these did not disappoint.


Best Dessert and Best Dish: Salted Chocolate Caramel Tort with Milk Chocolate Mousse, Hazelnut Bark, and Blackberry Sauce from Savoy: This may have been the first time in the history of the event that a dessert was crowned best dish. But, for us, this dish had it all — sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy, appealing presentation, and completely satisfying. It was the perfect ending to our 35-course meal.


We would like to thank our friends at Savor Pittsburgh for trusting our palettes and inviting us to judge another very successful event. We were thrilled to participate and support the Magee-Womens Research Institute & Foundation. Congratulations to the winners!