What's Cooking 10/30 - 11/03

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Halloween is finally here! We're excited to carry on our classic tradition of serving Chili, Cornbread, and homemade Root Beer on the spooky night. We'll have friends over and we'll hopefully be watching the Dodgers in the World Series. (Come on Dodgers!!) We're kicking off the month of November the only appropriate way, with turkey. So I'll be making one of my all-time favorite slow cooker recipes,  Roast Turkey Dip on Thursday. Pizza and Friday just seem to go well together so we'll fold our pizzas over have yummy calzones to send us into the weekend. 

Download and print recipes HERE

Project Backyard

When Ollie turned 4 years old, all he asked for was a backyard for his birthday. It broke my heart and made my smile at the same time. We were living in a concrete jungle surrounded by some of the most incredible parks in the world – which we took full advantage of, but there's just something about being able to swing open the back door and let the kids burn off energy. The fact that we actually do have our very own backyard is nothing short of magical.

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I can't believe we've been residents of the PNW for nearly nine months now! Summer has exceeded my wildest dreams and to say that we are loving this sweet suburban life would be an understatement. Backyards and bigger closets are right at the top of suburban luxuries that we can't seem to get enough of. 

After living through a record breaking rainy winter here in Oregon, we were committed to making the most of summer. That included a few yard projects that would promote as much time spent outside as possible. Once our yard (two thumbs up for artificial grass!) was put in, we were after a few finishing details that would make for some epic dinner parties and play time outside for the kiddos.

I used the Wayfair app to pull our space together using the "View in Room" tool and it was perfect. One of the most important priorities for me was to find an outdoor dining situation that was completely weatherproof. I didn't want to have to worry about bringing any furniture inside for the rainy months, so I was specifically searching for pieces that met this need. I also wanted a table with bench seating. Our patio space isn't huge, so I needed something that would be efficient. I also think bench seating is ideal for little ones. Since we plan to use this outdoor space for more than just eating (like midday lego building), I wanted it to be extremely kid friendly. Once I narrowed down my options, I created a "Patio Project Board" and began inserting each contender in the app where I could view how each piece would look in the actual space. Not only was this helpful, it was a ton of fun as well! It's extremely user friendly and addictive. Here are a few screenshots of what different tables looked like on the patio.

Option #1

Option #1

Option #2

Option #2

Option #3 (THE WINNER)

Option #3 (THE WINNER)

Ultimately the material of the table was just as important to me as the design. I loved how Option #3 reminded me of a modern version of a picnic table. The scale was perfect for our space and the reviews were great as well. When the table arrived I was thrilled to see that the planks on the top of the table were really similar in color to our decking. It was a perfect fit for our outdoor space for so many reasons. After deciding on the table I saved the image and began inserting other products like a rug, planters, outdoor bean bag (!!), and accessories. This helped me to feel like I was pulling a cohesive look together. 

We are thrilled with how things turned out and have been using the space daily. I can't recommend the Wayfair app enough and especially the "View in Room" feature. I plan to use it for any unfinished projects on the inside of our house (there are plenty!). 

A big thank you to Wayfair for providing these fantastic products for our outdoor space and giving me the tools to pull it together with their app. Wayfair has generously passed along a 10% off promo code for anyone that downloads and signs up for their awesome app. They're having a great summer sale right now, so it's perfect timing to do some browsing and play around with placing products in your space with the "View in Room" feature. Happy decorating!

Eat Better Feel Better

Our family was slow to set resolutions this year (I blame newborn sleep deprivation and moving all at once) but once we finally did, we decided that 2017 would be the year that we would cook better to feel better in our home. I have been committed to cooking with more purpose and passion this year. Mindful cooking and a recommitment to sitting down and breaking bread as a family each day has been my mantra. I know food plays a pivotal role in how we feel and I'm anxious and excited to see how our family will benefit from a few simple changes that I know will make a big difference.

For the month of February we decided to tackle a family breakfast project. We set a goal to sit down and have breakfast as a family each morning. We had become very lazy when it came to a breakfast routine – ok, let’s be honest, there was no routine. So we decided to kick off the family breakfast project and It shouldn’t be surprising that this had a huge impact on our family! Some mornings we were more successful than others, but we sincerely made an effort. Most mornings didn’t include elaborate displays of smoothie bowls or challah french toast, but the goal was simply to break bread together as a family before we all went our separate directions. Things like scrambled eggs with toast and fruit were a lot more common, and yes, cold cereal even made an appearance here and there. But what this exercise taught me was that what we were eating was actually far less important that what we were doing.

In March, I wanted to focus on trying to give our meals a nutritional boost. Being thoughtful about ingredients and mixing up our recipe routine a bit. It’s easy to fall into a routine – especially when you’re trying to feed picky toddlers. Tofu is one of those ingredients that I consider a versatile, yet better-for-you product that can really act as a blank canvas for flavor. Ollie isn’t a bit fan of meat, so I’m constantly looking for ways to sneak more protein in his diet. Tofu seemed like a good choice because it plays well with marinades and sauces taking on the flavor of whatever you pair it with and it was easy to incorporate into a lot of our existing favorite recipes – even things like mac & cheese and pizza! Inspired by one of New York's most iconic foods that we love (and miss!) I made a roasted garlic creamy tofu sauce for a white pizza that we’re still talking about. I was able to play around with tofu in both sweet and savory dishes easily incorporating it into a fruity breakfast smoothies or even strawberry ice cream that Ollie and I made together. I actually had more fun incorporating tofu into unsuspecting dishes than the expected varieties like stir fry and curry. (which are also great ways to use this ingredient) I shared some of my favorite tofu recipes (inspired by 10 different states) with @housefoodsamerica – all of the recipes can be found on their Facebook page. Thanks to the versatility of tofu, I was able to easily incorporate this ingredient into classic dishes from around the country. Definitely check them out!

We’re excited to keep up our breakfast routine and continue the effort to put good things in our bodies. I was sincerely shocked at how easily I was able to significantly increase the amount of protein in our family diet (for Ollie in particular) by focusing on an easy-to-find versatile ingredient that has felt a bit intimidating to work with in the past. This next month I’m planning to be a bit more open to having Ollie join me on my grocery shopping jaunts. I’m usually a late night grocery shopper after he’s in bed so I don’t have to fight the battle, but I like the idea of giving him some control and letting him pick out a few new fruits or vegetables in the produce section to bring home and try. You know, make him think that it’s HIS idea! Can’t wait to see what we come home with!


* I was thrilled to be able to work with House Foods America on this post. In honor of National Soyfoods Month they recently launched a campaign celebrating tofu with one recipe inspired from each of the 50 states. You can see the 10 recipes I developed here.

Expecting a baby!

Our family has some exciting news to share – we’re expecting a baby! Ollie will be getting a baby sister for Christmas this year, and we’re so thrilled. While filled with joy, we are also cautiously optimistic as we’ve been through a lot to get our babies here, and this time is no different.

My first pregnancy with Oliver was complicated by HELLP syndrome resulting in an emergency c-section at 28 weeks, followed by 66 long days in the NICU before he was able to come home. The day he came home was undoubtedly one of the happiest days of our lives. After Ollie’s traumatic entrance, we spent a lot of time thinking about another baby. We waited for months to meet with a specialist to consult about whether or not it was responsible to get pregnant again.  We were told that if we wanted more children, it was fine for us to plan for that. So we cautiously planned to get pregnant again hoping that the next time around would be a bit more “normal.”

I was pregnant soon after we began trying and filled with all sorts of anxiety. Despite the nervousness, my pregnancy was fairly textbook until about 23 weeks, when we learned that our baby was measuring small and that there were blood clots in the umbilical cord. Within a week we were indefinitely situated in a room at the hospital where we would be until the baby was born – the goal being to keep the baby in as long as possible. The doctors had us on close watch around the clock with many scares during those days and nights, and eventually our sweet Leo was born via c-section at 25 weeks weighing just shy of one pound. He was perfect. But oh so teeny tiny. He was a spitting image of his big brother and had such a special presence. Brave little Leo put up a courageous fight for 30 days, but his tiny, underdeveloped body couldn’t keep up. He passed away in our arms in the middle of the night due to complications from prematurity. This event broke us in so many ways. We were devastated.

Shortly after the tragic loss of our Leo last March, we were strongly advised to not pursue future pregnancies by my doctors. While they can’t pinpoint exactly why, my body seems to have an autoimmune response to pregnancy that prevents me from carrying to term (or anywhere close to it). Ollie came about three months early, and Leo almost four months. My doctors believe that if I were to become pregnant again, our outcome would likely be the same, if not worse. Not only does pregnancy pose serious risk to future babies, but it also poses a significant risk to my health. So after a second (and third) opinion, we decided that we would not pursue any future pregnancies. In many ways I felt that I have not only had to grieve the loss of Leo, but the loss of any future children as well. It’s been devastating. (I recently opened up about this topic of loss on the Extraordinary Mom’s Podcast if you’re interested in hearing more detail).

We felt strongly that we still wanted another child, a sibling for Ollie. There are essentially two options for growing our family: adoption or surrogacy. My doctor had actually mentioned gestational surrogacy at my 6 week postpartum follow up appointment when we had the “no more pregnancies” discussion. Because of my age, she felt that I was a great candidate for growing our family this way – something we had never even thought about. The quality of my eggs was great and the issues we’d had with pregnancy weren’t related to our genetics. Shortly thereafter, we were approached by a family member offering to carry for us. The original offer came almost in jest, when my sister-in-law (Robby’s sister) joked with my husband that she would totally carry a baby for us. She had carried six healthy babies to term and never had any complications. We immediately felt that this was a unique and wonderful opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. We officially started down the path of gestational surrogacy with my sister-in-law, Betsy, in May of 2015. It was very soon after losing Leo, but this was a gift in so many ways. More than anything it gave us purpose during such a difficult time and an opportunity to work towards growing our family.

The next few months were a blur filled with fertility treatments, shots, medications, tests, etc.. We were working with two separate fertility clinics as I was being treated in New York City and Betsy in Boise, ID. I did two separate rounds of IVF and egg retrievals in order to create viable embryos that could be shipped to Idaho and transferred to Betsy. The embryos are 100% genetically ours – my egg, Robby’s sperm. The process was exhaustive both emotionally and physically. We had so many disappointments including a failed IVF transfer, a few cancelled cycles, and months of poor response and frustration. We had nearly given up when finally we had success on our last and final attempt – the day of our successful transfer was incredibly on the one year anniversary of the day our Leo passed away. The coincidence still gives me goosebumps.

Since receiving the wonderful news that we are expecting, we have nervously made it through each week feeling more and more grateful that this is really happening. Betsy is 20 weeks along and doing great. She is beyond amazing – positive, kind, and so totally dedicated. I’m not sure that I’ll ever have the words to adequately express just how much we love her for giving us the opportunity to become parents again. Not only has she sacrificed, but her family has been there for every step of the way. We admire them in so many ways and will forever be grateful for their selflessness.

Our baby girl is due mid-December and we are so anxious for her safe arrival. The next few months will be challenging but we are so thrilled to be able to provide such a positive, hopeful family update after things have seemed so dark for the past 18 months.

We would be remiss to not mention the outpouring of love and support we’ve felt this past year. This support has carried us through many difficult moments. Thanks to so many of you for cheering us on as we’ve weathered this storm.

My heart aches for those who are desperately trying to start a family or grow their family. I have gained so much respect for those who literally fight to get their families here in many different ways. My hope is that by sharing our story, we can offer a glimmer of hope that the outcome can be a happy one (fingers crossed).

xo,

Kelsey

Cooking with Apples on Love Taza!

collage_1 Like so many, we love to go apple picking every fall and always come home with more apples than we can get through. It's a good problem to have! But I always have a twinge of guilt when I start to see the apples head south. I've partnered with the lovely Naomi Davis from LoveTaza to come up with a few out of the box apple recipes that can be used for any meal - breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. These ideas go beyond the expected apple pie or crisp and are a blast to make, especially if you have kids or toddlers who are particularly excited about using up the family's apple bounty. Head on over to her site to get the recipes and get a sneak peek of the delicious lineup below.

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S'mores

I'm finding myself hanging on to the very last bit of summer! Last week actually still felt like summer in NYC, but this week I feel like fall has officially arrived. If you're like me and not quite ready to move on to fall in the kitchen cooking with ingredients like butternut squash and pumpkin, indulge in these easy S'mores options that will remind you of summer and best of all can be made at home. They're also a great dessert option for watching the big game with friends on the weekend!  

S'mores Pudding Pie

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Cooking with Honest to Nod

This past month I partnered with the Land of Nod to create some original content for their darling blog Honest to Nod. It was such a fun creative process and the posts were a blast to put together.  

As Ollie's gotten a little older and officially entered into the toddler years, I've absolutely LOVED letting him help me out in the kitchen. A few weeks ago, we decided to tackle a homemade version on one of his favorite snacks. You can check out the process and grab the recipe for DIY Fruit Snacks right here!

 

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I also put together a "Back to School" inspired family dinner that will get any kid excited about school!  Check out my ideas here and make sure you snag the recipe for those simple flashcard cookie sandwiches. Thanks for having me LON!

 

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Ollie's Second Birthday: The Party Details

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We've talked about the Chocolate Chip Cookie Layer Cake (directions here!)  in depth, now I thought that I'd share just a few of the details that made this little party so much fun. I mentioned in my last post, that for Ollie's first birthday, we had ordered a few things from Shop Sweet LuLu. I was so impressed with how well curated the site was and the quality of the party decor that we received, that we just decided to reuse almost everything that had survived last year. We went with the same blue/green color theme and got a few more milk and cookies details and called it a day. Below you'll find a source list for everything we used to pull off this sweet theme. I particularly loved the cookie straws and those mini milk jugs! Happy Birthday Ollie! I'm so happy you're ours. xo

 

A few posts that I found while taking a trip down memory lane!

Oliver's First Birthday Party 

Oliver's First Birthday on Kelsey's Essentials

Welcome Home Oliver

 

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photos: Kylie Whiting