Busy Toddlers: Finger Paints

01.31.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Sixteen months is a tricky age to start arts and crafts. As much as I long to display Sam’s masterpieces on our refrigerator, I have to admit that he’s still a bit young for crayons and markers and paints.

Unless he is highly supervised. And only if I can accept the guaranteed mess.


So last week we took out a few small tubs of finger paints and a set of watercolors and taped newspapers to the kitchen table. At first Sam very reluctantly dipped his brushes into the paints. But it didn’t take long until he was grabbing fistfuls and smearing it onto the paper.


He wasn’t so happy about his blue and green fingers, however. And within about five minutes, he was ready to wash his hands and move onto the next activity.


Verdict? Not quite ready for finger paints. But I can’t wait to try again in a few weeks.

Does your toddler enjoy arts and crafts? And do you have recommendations for finger paints? Because I was not entirely pleased with the watery nature of the Melissa and Doug set.

Don’t forget to share your favorite toddler toys and activities below!

When the Boy is Sick

01.30.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I know we are lucky. Aside from a runny nose here and a cough there, Sam has been almost entirely healthy since the day he was born. No ear infections, no fevers, no flu. I’ve heard the horror stories from other mommas, and I am grateful for Sam’s strong immune system.

But he was bound to go down eventually.


I had barely unpacked my suitcase after our weekend away, when the sad and sick whines began. It must be awfully hard to be a toddler who can’t communicate exactly where it hurts. And so there have been a lot of tears, a lot of extra snuggling and rocking, a lot of Sesame Street. Meals in my lap or on the couch under a blanket. Icepops in the morning and milkshakes in the afternoon.


And finally, today, a trip to the pediatrician. Poor kiddo has his very first fever, though the doctor was unable to trace it to any infection. Just a bad cold, I guess? But, oh, this is bad enough. Nothing worse for a mommy heart than to see her son sick.

Needless to say, we are both very anxious for Daddy to come home tomorrow.

Weekend in Chicago

01.28.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

Our weekend in Chicago was exactly what we needed — and more. Yes, temperatures were in the teens. And, yes, we missed the boy and the pup. But we had adult conversations and drank cocktails and held (mitten-covered) hands. We saw some sights, visited friends, and ate our way through the windy city.




First food stop on our weekend of indulgence: Frontera Grill, home of Top Chef Master Rick Bayless. We were prepared to meet a long line of lunch-goers, but we arrived at 11:30 and just barely beat the afternoon rush. The dining room is vibrant and casual (the more formal decor is next door at Topolobampo), and the waitstaff is authentic and knowledgeable. We started with the famous guacamole, which had just the right amount of spice. It was served with fresh tortilla chips plus a three chile salsa and tomatillo, and we housed it. Next, thanks to a recommendation from our server, we enjoyed the street food trio (with potosinas, stuffed chicken jalapenos, and sopes) and the not-too-miss mole. The food was beautiful and bold and definitely worth the visit.


With bellies full of spicy Mexican food, we decided we were ready to tackle the frigid temperatures. But we only made it about ten blocks before our toes and noses turned to icicles. This called for a hot chocolate stop at Wildberry Cafe.


Once we thawed, we braved the cold again and walk to Navy Pier. We didn’t expect to see much, and so we were pleasantly surprised to encounter an ice sculpting competition. Classic Chicago in January.


The perimeter of Lake Michigan was frozen, and the beach was a mix of sand and snow. But the walk along Lake Shore Drive was perfectly peaceful.



After a quick stop at our hotel to freshen up, we headed back to North Clark Street to meet friends for drinks at Bub City. I was so excited to see Lauren and meet her husband. Not surprisingly, we had a fantastic time, enjoyed a few Goose Island brews, and fell even more in love with Chicago.


After happy hour, we walked down the block to grab dinner at Lou Malnati’s. Now there is much debate as to which pizzeria holds the title for best deep dish. And after eating at Giordano’s a few years ago, I must say that Lou Malnati’s has a slight edge, in my opinion. The cornmeal crust is buttery and flaky and not too thick. We ordered the classic version with sausage and extra cheese. And when we saw the deep dish chocolate chip pizza on the menu, we couldn’t resist. Topped with vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream. Why not?



We woke up on Saturday morning to sunshine and blue skies and slightly warmer temperatures — though not nearly warm enough to not require my long underwear again. Our hotel was located on Michigan Avenue and so we spent some time strolling and window shopping along the Magnificent Mile. Then it was off to Old Town for brunch.



We had originally planned to eat at Old Town Social, but we arrived before it opened, and so we settled on Elly’s Pancake House instead. Fluffy old fashioned pancakes and strong coffee. It was just what we needed.


Our real reason for visiting Old Town was The Spice House. And it did not disappoint! I seriously think we could have purchased the entire store — from chili powders and herb blends to peppercorns and sea salts to baking spices and extracts, it was quite an impressive collection.


From there we hiked about two miles back downtown, and really enjoyed the brisk sunny day.



We worked up an appetite, obviously, and popped into Garrett’s for a small bag of the signature Chicago mix: cheese and caramel crisp. Sounds crazy, I know, but it is oh so good.


The plan was to eat our popcorn while walking to the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). We had heard great things about the new glass ledge viewing deck, and it was the perfect clear day to see the city from above. Unfortunately, there was a two-hour wait! No way were we going to sacrifice our dinner plans. Which should come as no surprise.

The thing I was most looking forward to during our weekend in Chicago? Dinner at Girl and the Goat. Reservations for this very popular restaurant owned by Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef Season 4, are booked months in advance. And so there was no guarantee that we would get in. But we arrived when the doors opened at 4:30, and the host told us there were two seats available at the community table until 6pm. YES!



I have to say — hands down — this is the best meal I have ever had. From the extremely friendly and approachable staff to the open architecture of the restaurant that encourages you to watch the chefs to, of course, the thoughtful and delicious food. It is tapas style, and we probably ordered more than we needed, but we finished every bite!

Clockwise from top: squish squash bread with ginger butter and applesauce; roasted cauliflower with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint; confit goat belly in bourbon butter sauce with lobster and crab and fennel; kona kampachi crudo with crisp pork belly; and wood fired chicken with sweet potatoes, fried pickles, and brussel slaw. Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious.


And guess what. We spotted Stephanie! We were seated just beside the kitchen, and there she was checking orders. We tried — paparazzi style — to take her photo, but eventually Nick asked if she minded posing for a picture with me. Thank you, babe! She happily obliged and seemed just as genuine as she did on television. Yes, I was a bit starstruck. And it was the perfect ending to an already perfect meal!


Before calling it a night, we stopped to visit friends and enjoy a few more local beers. I hadn’t seen Doug and Cari in years, and their boy, Aiden, is just three months older than Sam. We chatted and reminisced and swapped toddler stories until almost 10pm. Then we hopped in a cab and stopped for a nightcap at The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building. Check out the view from the ladies room!


As I said, the weekend could not have been better. I left yesterday morning feeling refreshed and full … of both great food and necessary quiet moments with my husband. Chicago, we thank you for your hospitality, and we hope to see you again soon!

Busy Toddlers: Pipe Cleaners + Colander

01.24.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

If you have a toddler and you’ve been trapped inside this month due to below freezing temperatures, then I believe you’ll appreciate this new blog series. Every Thursday, I will share with you a new Busy Toddlers activity. Whether inspired by Pinterest or our own pantry or the bin of ignored toys on Sam’s shelf, I’ll post an idea to keep your tot busy for … well, at least five minutes. And we all know how rare and wonderful five minutes of quiet can be!

(I also want to hear your ideas, so please consider linking up below.)

First up: an activity I’m sure you’ve seen before and uses items you likely have in your home.

busy toddler: pipe cleaners + colander

Pull a colander out of your cupboard and and sit it beside a bunch of colorful pipe cleaners. I bet your kiddo will figure out what to do before you even show him.


This is simple and cheap and gives your toddler an opportunity to practice his fine motor skills. If he’s older, you can also practice colors.


Alright, your turn! Tell me what you’re doing to keep your toddler busy and out of trouble. It’s easy — just hit “click here to enter” below. If you don’t have a blog, share your suggestion in the comment section.

And come back next week for another fun idea!

First Weekend Away

01.23.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

I can count on two hands the number of times I have not been home to kiss Sam goodnight. And on the rare occasion that I’ve been away, I’ve always been here to lift him out of his crib in the morning. That’s less than ten times in about 450 days. It’s not because I don’t appreciate the time “off,” it’s just what I do. And I love it.

But Nick and I are in need of a getaway. After a somber December and a busy start to 2013, this opportunity could not have come at a better time. Nick has to be in Chicago next week for work, and so we decided that he would fly out early and I would join him for three days in the windy (and frigid) city.

My parents plan to arrive tomorrow night and will spend the long weekend with Sam and Lucy. I’m very tempted to install a hidden camera just so we can laugh at their reaction to the craziness of our home. (Kidding, Mom and Dad, I know you’ll be fine.)

As for me and Nick, well, we plan to sleep past our typical puppy whine wake up call. And we can’t wait to eat a meal without toddler hands grabbing food from our plates. We look forward to meandering around the city, eating leisurely dinners, and enjoying a few cocktails. Oh, yes, we are in need of this getaway.

So far, our very loose itinerary includes: Millennium Park and Willis Tower, The Spice House, a blues club, and (hopefully) Frontera Grill and Girl and the Goat. But I would love to hear your suggestions, too! What are your favorite things to do/sights to see/places to eat in Chicago?

We’ll miss this kid, but I know we’ll return well-rested and anxious to receive his big bear hugs.

our kid

Week 3 in Photos

01.22.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)


{Every morning Lucy waits very patiently for Sam to Cheerios and bits of bananas.}


{Return of the green drink.}


{Ta-da! His current favorite activity.}


{He now insists on drinking from the big cup.}


{Who needs an apple when you have a spoon?
Also, I may need to start buying two jars.}


{Backing up photos. Long overdue.}


{Happy weekend!}


{Hide-and-seek with Daddy. Followed shortly after by almost passing out in front of the TV.}


{Before his second haircut and during. Thank goodness for lollipops and Elmo’s World.}


{Playroom progress.}


{It’s amazing what a coat of paint will do. Our basement stairs.}

Week 2 in Photos

01.22.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)


{It didn’t take long for Sam to figure out how to scale the gate that keeps Lucy in the kitchen.}


{Apparently it requires both hands to stir the soup.}


{Fun days with this kid. I wouldn’t trade my “job” for anything.}


{Fun … and exhausting. Sometimes when the toddler naps, the momma does, too.}


{It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tire out the pup.
But she’s so cute when she’s sleepy and snuggly.}


{Family run on an unseasonably warm Sunday.}


{Nick is back to school, which means the return of quiet Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Time to catch up on TV and magazines.}

One Month Later

01.14.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

It has been one month since we lost our cousin Lauren in the tragedy at Sandy Hook. One month since Lauren kissed her cat, Laila, for the last time and one month since far too many families gave final hugs to their innocent children. It has been one month since Lauren and five of her colleagues devoted their last day to educating and protecting their classrooms of kids, and one month since the bright futures of 20 first graders came to such a sorrowful end. It has been one month since those 26 beautiful faces first appeared on our television screens and one month since we cried our first tears.

It has been one month, and yet our families continue to grieve. Our country continues to ask questions and debate laws, and we continue to feel helpless, but hopeful, that real change is possible.

We must honor the lives lost and promise to work to make our world a safer one. Today the community of Newtown announced its national grassroots initiative, the Sandy Hook Promise, to “do everything we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.” I encourage you to sign the promise and pledge your support to “turn this tragedy into a moment of transformation.”


We must also promise to be kind and compassionate and appreciative. I encouraged you to do this one month ago: “Find 15 minutes in your busy day to call a friend. Send a card to someone on Halloween or just because. Thank your barista for knowing your name and remembering your order. Hug a teacher and express your gratitude for nurturing our children. Smother your kids with kisses. And be a persuasive voice for peace on Earth.”

I assume you’ve heard of the 26 Acts of Kindness campaign. Following the shooting at Sandy Hook, Ann Curry tweeted: “Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for each precious life lost. An act of kindness big or small. Are you in?”

Yes, we’re in.


You’re welcome to add this graphic to your blog (purple for Lauren, of course) to show your support and share your pledge.

My hope is that you inspire others, and we can move towards real change and a better world.

Favorite Moments of 2012

01.12.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

The obligatory best of 2012 post … only 12 days late.


Favorite Things for 0-3 Months
Four Month Letter to Samuel
A Video Conversation with the Little Man
Meatless Monday recipes: Pumpkin Penne Pasta Bake | Quinoa Burgers | Thai Fried Quinoa


Our Love Story
Our First Valentine’s Day as a Family of Three
Broiled Steak Salad and Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
Nick baked a beautiful loaf of Marble Rye Bread
We visited Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh
Five Month Letter to Samuel


The Culinary Kid (4-6 Months)
Six Month Letter to Samuel
Our obsession with Thai food continued: Thai Chicken Pizza
Breakfasts for Champions: Fiesta Waffles and Baked Chocolate Doughnuts


Favorite Things for 3-6 Months
Celebrating Easter
Traveling with My Little Buddy
Quinoa Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, and Cranberries
Chewy Chocolate Cherry Granola Bars
Seven Month Letter to Samuel
Big Things are Happening!


Bathtime with Sammy: Splish Splash Video
On Mother’s Day
It’s Official: We are Homeowners!
Moving with a Mobile Eight-Month-Old
Eight Month Letter to Samuel
Frozen Brownie Sundaes and A Memorial Day Makeover


Fluffy Pancakes and Baked Sour Cream Doughnuts to start your morning
The Culinary Kid: Banana Muffins and Turkey Meatloaf
Lake Weekend
His First Father’s Day
Cousin Love
Nine Month Letter to Samuel


Oh, The Big Three Oh
Trip to New York City: The Upper West Side | The Parks | The Food | The Sweets
Trip to Clearwater, FL: Part 1 | Part 2
Ten Month Letter to Samuel


All About Kindermusik
Favorite Toys at Ten Months
Late Summer Fun: the horse farm, the water park, the petting zoo
We celebrated three years of marriage
One of the best things to ever come out of our oven: Peach Pie
Eleven Month Letter to Samuel


I had the pleasure of judging the second annual Savor Pittsburgh
Nick completed the Tough Mudder
We celebrated Sam’s first birthday and Nick’s thirtieth birthday
Twelve Month Letter to Samuel


Fall Fun: apple harvest festival, pumpkin patch, Halloween
My grandparents celebrated sixty years of marriage!
Another Oktoberfest in the Wiley Haus
Nick baked Cheddar Bacon Jalapeno Cornbread
I baked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes with Spiced Buttercream Frosting and Apple Pie
Thirteen Month Letter to Samuel


Sam’s best little buddy came to visit
Happy Thanksgiving
Meet Lucy!
Fourteen Month Letter to Samuel


Life with a toddler and a puppy: A Crazy Kind of Wonderful
We remembered our dear cousin, Lauren Rousseau, and spent a sorrowful week in Connecticut
Christmas With the Ones We Love and The Magic of Christmas Morning
We enjoyed the first significant snow of the season
Fifteen Month Letter to Samuel

Best Face of 2012

01.11.2013 · Posted by Emily (The Culinary Couple)

One of my goals for the new year is to capture more moments with my camera — both everyday moments and milestone moments. And so I plan to participate in the monthly photo challenge from I Heart Faces. I look to this site often for inspiration and tutorials, and I’m anxious to start sharing my photos!

The January challenge is “Best Face of 2012.” I obviously chose one of our sweet son, Samuel. He is nine months old in this photo, and I love the expression in his eyebrows and that mischievous smile he wears so well.


{This photo was submitted to the I Heart Faces photo challenge – www.iheartfaces.com}

Photo Challenge Submission