Every year as the season slowly changes from summer to autumn, as I feel the cool crispness in the morning air, I find myself craving comforting soups and all things pumpkin.
I recently signed up for a CSA produce delivery box from Farm Fresh to You which has encouraged me to cook with veggies I normally wouldn't pick out myself at the grocery store, like Lacinato kale and acorn squash.
The inspiration for this stew was actually a ribollita soup because I had a big bag of ciabatta bread I needed to use up but I discovered this morning that it was already too late. What resulted instead is a creamy, hearty, and incredibly delicious stew packed with protein and veggies. I served it with garlic bread and I would highly recommend you do the same.
In late June 2021, I received an email from the editor of People Health, a health-focused special edition of PEOPLE that's distributed in doctors' offices around the country, with a print run of 500,000 copies. He wanted to know if I would be interested in sharing my battle with shingles and be on the magazine's cover.
My initial thought was that this can't be real. I researched his email address to make sure it was from the Meredith Corporation (it checked out), reread his email a dozen times, talked it out with my husband who convinced me to take the plunge.
"When else will you get a chance to be on the cover of a magazine?" He made a point.
Over the course of a month and a half, I was interviewed, I scouted “shooting locations” around our home and outdoor spaces and sent photos back to the photo editor and shopped for outfits for our family. When I would have conversations about tasks with my husband, Steve, and say things like, “People magazine wants me to send over outfit options,” we would both giggle.
On the day of the photoshoot, a crew of five people set up around our house, front yard and backyard. There was the hair and makeup person, the photographer, her assistant, and two guys in charge of lighting. A huge breakfast that could feed an army was delivered to our home at 7 am and set up outside. I was glammed up, Steve was helped to “look like he had slept for 15 hours.” The photographer gave a Facetime tour of our property to the photo editor who was in New York.
There was a wind machine, dance music, the photographer telling me to jump and swing my arms and smile big with my chin down (which feels very unnatural to me). Every 15 minutes, my nose was powdered, lipstick reapplied, stray hairs tamed. It was all very surreal.
Any latent hopes I may have had about becoming a model were quickly dashed as I exclaimed, “Modeling is too hard! I feel silly and awkward and I’m doing a terrible job.” Needless to say, I was NOT a natural.
After 2 hours of taking pictures, during which time Luna was our most cooperative child, we ended the photoshoot with a water fight in the backyard and it was amazing. I finally felt comfortable and in my element.
I never could have expected something as painful and terrible as Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome to happen to me and at the time, I felt like I was passing through actual hell. But I also could never have anticipated what I received in return: a much greater appreciation for my health and my incredible support system, the value of rest and self-care and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share my story and be featured in a national publication.
I had to cut out all of the magazine except for the pages with my story so the file would be small enough to post on this blog, but you can read it here:
The Take Your Baby series busts the myths and misconceptions of places and activities you aren't "supposed to take your baby." My philosophy is: if you loved to do it before having kids, you can do it now!
To many, babies and wine are like oil and water, they simply don’t mix. To others, like myself and the many kid-friendly wineries in Napa Valley, there’s no reason why you should give up the pastime of wine tasting when you add a baby or two to your family.
Wine tasting with babies in Napa is one of the things I get asked about very often. Over the past three and a half years since we had our son and then our daughter, we’ve gone wine tasting with them about half a dozen times, each time to a different winery.
Our most recent trip was on Memorial Day 2021 and that presented its own set of complications that stemmed from trying to explore while the world was figuring out how to return from the pandemic. Throw two toddlers into the mix who never want to sit still, and it was a recipe for a stressful afternoon.
In hindsight, I would say that we were not as prepared as we should have been and we learned what to do and what not to do when wine tasting with a toddler or baby.
Keep reading to learn my tips for wine tasting with a baby, toddler or kid and 15 family-friendly wineries in Napa Valley and beyond.
Exactly one year ago, I vowed to spend 2020 pursuing and practicing gratitude. At the time, there was so much to look forward to: a new job, a few trips to Disneyland, the wedding of one of my dear friends and all the festivities that come with it. I thought it would be a breeze to find something to be grateful for every day.
But the universe knew better. The universe knew I needed a challenge. Shortly after January 1st, it seemed like something went wrong in big and small ways every day. I was forced to do for a year what I had once considered emotional torture. Before this year, my worst day was a day spent at home. How was I going to find gratitude for a house that seemed to be falling apart, unemployment, sick family members, isolation? Little did I know at the time, focusing on gratitude would not only be possible, it would be the thing that saved me.
It’s never all bad just like it’s never all good. Even though it seemed like the world was unraveling around me, there were moments of pure joy and contentment in each day. What will I remember most from the last 365 days? The decadent meals, slowly and lovingly prepared; the giggle of an infant and a toddler; making eye contact with the love of my life when our child does something so cute my heart wants to burst; a leisurely morning with no plans that turns into a water fight; cozy movie nights cuddling under an oversized blanket; spontaneously blasting the music and dancing around the living room; making a mess while baking on Saturday mornings; impromptu FaceTime chats with friends and family at random hours of the day; cheese and bread made from scratch that we would have normally bought at the store; my kids becoming best friends little by little.
Maybe deep down in my core, I knew this year would be different and that is why I didn't make a list of goals like I usually do. Because I now know that any resolution I had made would not have been fulfilled. The expectations were low so the chances of failure were also low.
But oh, how I failed! This year broke me down into a million raw pieces that I sometimes didn't recognize. I felt like I failed as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a friend, as an employee. Too many evenings, I looked at the clock hoping it was my kids' bedtime. Too many nights, I slept alone in bed because my husband was awake to take care of our infant, and too many nights, I dozed off during our moments together trying to reconnect. Too many dinners, we ate frozen food or take-out because I was too burnt out from cooking every meal. Too many times, I forgot to answer a text or wish my friend a happy birthday because the day slipped away from me. Too many hours wasted being distracted with anxiety, doom scrolling the Internet, expecting to find a glimmer of hope. Too many hours my kids spent watching TV so I can catch up on laundry or use the toilet in peace. And at nights when my babies were dreaming and the house was quiet and I had plenty to do but nothing to do right now, came the Great Exhale.
Breathe in deep and count to ten. Exhale. Repeat. Repeat. The pit in my stomach eases. We made it through another day, another week, another month, another ten months. We survived.
I can’t believe my daughter is turning one tomorrow and I will have two toddlers. Plus, it officially feels like winter in Los Angeles so I’ve spent the past few weeks working on her winter toddler capsule wardrobe, documenting the process and now I’m ready to share it!
Why Curate a Toddler Capsule Wardrobe?
I’ve personally been wearing a capsule wardrobe of about 30-40 pieces for five years and can sing its praises high and low--less stress getting dressed, less laundry to do and put away, better for the environment. So when I had children, I applied the capsule wardrobe approach to my kids; I’ve done an infant capsule wardrobe for my son and daughter and a toddler capsule wardrobe for my son and now my daughter.
What do I mean by "a realistic toddler capsule wardrobe"? Too many capsule wardrobe guides for toddlers include about 15-18 pieces total (one I found had 18 pieces total, four of which were shoes and one of which were sunglasses). Other than that, they include only 3-4 shirts, 3-4 pants and 3 pajamas and assume that parents will do laundry every day. That is so not me or any other working mom or dad I know. I am able to do laundry on one day a week, two if I’m lucky, and my kids’ clothes need to last until laundry day.
On top of that, toddlers are messy humans. They get food everywhere, they find and play with water any chance they get, they pee or poop through their clothes. In our house, my younger toddler goes through about 3 outfits a day plus pajamas. My older toddler is good with one outfit a day, sometimes two if we go on adventure to the dog park or beach, and a pair of pajamas. We are potty training our son and he’s been doing amazing but we’ve still allotted him two pants per day just in case.
Let’s do the math for my one year old’s capsule wardrobe: 3 outfits per day x 7 days + 1 outfit so she has something to wear on laundry day = 22 outfits (this can be any combination of tops, pants, rompers, etc.) and 7 pajamas. You can even do fewer pajamas if some of your every day clothes are comfortable enough for sleep. For fall and winter capsule wardrobes, we also need to think about outerwear. I usually include three sweaters, one raincoat, and one warm jacket.
Keep reading to learn about the process of curating a toddler capsule wardrobe.
Why Is It Important to Shop BIPOC?
While we make our shopping lists and begin making purchases, it's important to remember that marginalization of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals and cultures can still be found in every aspect of society and it was painfully obvious as I was working on this gift guide. I saw cultural appropriation of authentic Indian spices and traditional Japanese tea sets. White people selling Boba Tea Kits. I also saw a gross number of companies whose stories included traveling to Rwanda/India/Guatemala, falling in love with what they found there and bringing that ‘knowledge’ back to America to start their business. That is the very definition of cultural appropriation.
The problem is that if consumers are not actively, intentionally seeking out shops owned and gifts made by BIPOC, they likely won’t find any. I spent hours researching companies to include in this guide and unfortunately, most people do not have that kind of time. A Google search for “leather dopp kit” yielded zero results for BIPOC-owned companies, at least on the first five pages. Virtually no one ventures past the first page of Google results and the #1 result captures over 30% of the clicks. In fact, only 0.78% of Google searchers click on something from the second page.
To further compound this issue, major gift guides from Buzzfeed, New York Times, Today.com, Good Housekeeping, etc. are sorely lacking in diversity. Most of their picks were from major brands on Amazon with a few small businesses sprinkled in. But this year, Amazon and Jeff Bezos don’t need any more money--during the pandemic, while small businesses are suffering and shuttering left and right, Amazon doubled its profit from $2.6 billion to $5.3 billion.
This holiday season, let’s support small, local and BIPOC businesses. When you purchase from a small business, a real human being smiles and does a happy jig.
Nothing says, "It's autumn!" like the arrival of pumpkin drinks at Starbucks and all pumpkin everything at Trader Joe's. While the Pumpkin Spice Latte and Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew at Starbucks have grown more in more in popularity over the years, it wasn't until last year that I tried and fell in love with the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew.
What I didn’t love was how costly it is and how much sugar is in a 16 oz Grande serving. Now with quarantine, I want to leave my house as little as possible but still want to enjoy that festive fall flavor. So I created this super easy to make (no milk frother needed!) Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew using just three ingredients, four if you count the ice.
Not only is this Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew delicious, it has less than 10 grams of sugar in 16 oz (compared to Starbucks’ 31 grams).
Before March, my days were full of a buzzing noise of all the places I had to be, things I had to do and people I needed to see. In fact, in March, I had a social commitment every day of every weekend, sometimes even two commitments a day.
I was feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, but I had no idea what to do about it. I have an impossible time declining invitations because I feel an immense sense of loyalty to my friends and family. Not only do I enjoy spending time with others as an extrovert, but I feel a huge amount of guilt at the thought of letting people down. On some level, I believe that if I don’t show up for my friends’ events, they won’t want to attend mine or be my friend anymore and I cherish my friendships too much to let that happen.
For that reason, I was a “yes mom” for as many brunches, parties, play dates, dinners and birthdays as was physically possible (and sometimes even more than was truly physically possible). I didn’t realize how stressful it was and what a toll it all took on my mental and emotional well-being until it was all stripped away.
My nonstop days of going to the park, to the zoo, to the library, to get coffee, to go shopping, to grab lunch with one friend and dinner with another were replaced with lots and lots of nothingness at home. The days got slow and quiet. One day melted into another until six months had passed by.
For months, I've been dreaming of an apple spice cake that has the same rich flavor and texture of a moist carrot cake but with the floral sweetness of apples. I searched high and low for such a cake recipe, but came up short. I tweaked and combined a few carrot cake and apple cake recipes, and the result is this incredible, crave-worthy cake that's a favorite in our family. It even has less sugar than every other recipe I've found and is also delicious without the caramel drizzle or ice cream.
"Your cake was amazing, so juicy," my friend said. "I took a bite and was mind blown."
Yes, this IS a mind-blowingly good cake and I make it every chance I get. You should too!
For many people who practice intuitive eating, joyful movement and gentle nutrition are the intuitive eating principles that we have the most difficult time with.
At least for me, exercise has been a sore spot for most of my life. I swam competitively starting at age seven until I was 17 and most of my weekends were spent at swim meets. In high school, I was on the swim and water polo team which meant I was in the water or at the gym from 5:30 am until 7:30 am and again from 2 pm until 5 pm. If we had a game, I didn't get home until 8 pm. I was exhausted and ravenous all the time--I couldn't physically eat enough calories in a day to sustain myself and my teachers forbade me from eating during class. The week before homecoming, I lost so much weight, my strapless dress wouldn't stay on. And I still vividly remember the guilt I felt (from my parents and teammates) when I chose to call in sick from one game during a tournament so I could attend my close friend's birthday party.
In senior year of high school, I quit the team because my body and my mind had simply had enough. And since then, I've had a complicated relationship with exercise. For most of college, I didn't "exercise" much at all unless it was a Zumba or Hip Hop Class and walking around the Santa Cruz Mountains for class. After college, I continued to brew in diet culture, using exercise as a form of punishment and means for weight loss. That lasted until I got pregnant with my son and didn't have the energy to move in the first trimester.
Fast forward a couple of years, I discovered intuitive eating and the anti-diet, Health at Every Size movement in September 2018. I was able to quickly and easy adapt almost all of the principles immediately, except for the joyful movement bit. Because I had been forced for so long to exercise to the point of exhaustion and use exercise as tool for weight loss, even the slightest sore muscle from working out triggered me. My muscles had PTSD. And that took almost two years to heal.
I still feel uneasy when I feel tight glutes or thighs from slightly overexerting myself, even if it is from moving happily. But what has helped me the most with this intuitive eating principle is redefining what exercise and movement mean to me in addition to defining my health and fitness goals that have nothing to do with weight loss. I'm done with the days of running on a treadmill or forcing myself to do push-ups and sit-ups for the sole purpose of burning calories. There are many non-weight loss benefits to exercise, but the one that resonates with me the most is being able to play with my kids for as long as possible, be strong enough to continue to pick them up and have enough endurance to run around with them. With those goals in mind, these are my expressions of joyful movement, the types of physical activities that truly make me happy and don't feel like exercise at all: