A Squared: May 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dark Chocolate, Cherry & Coconut Oatmeal Cookies + an Adaptation for Nursing Moms

When it comes to sweet treats, I have a type. I didn't even realize it until after I had made this recent batch of cookies with a few staple mix-ins, but these cookies are a pretty good representation of what I like in a dessert: rich dark chocolate, flavorful coconut, and sweet bold fruit. I've posted a recipe for these dark chocolate cranberry coconut cookies previously and also these coconut cherry macaroons with chocolate drizzle more recently. Well, this most recent recipe may be similar in flavor profile, but I think it's the best yet!


These oatmeal cookies are an update of the recipe my mom and I have been making for ages, but also inspired by some of the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I have ever had: the little bite sized ones you'll find in a bag at Potbelly Sandwich Shop. I don't know what they do to make those cookies so delicious, but they are the best oatmeal cookies I have ever had... they're small and soft and buttery. And I've done my best to make sure that these come close!


A few things make this cookie recipe unique: It is slightly healthier than your average oatmeal cookie. Half of the butter is replaced with coconut oil, which is a really healthy source of fat. It only has a light coconut flavor, but since there is flaked coconut in the cookies anyway that flavor works really nicely. This recipe also calls for less sugar than the original. Since we're mixing in chocolate chips and dried cherries which are both sweet in their own right, you don't need nearly as much sugar as you normally would. And I used a standard-sized cookie scoop to achieve the size and shape of these cookies. I'd also mention that in order to keep them in these perfect little rounded bites, you'll want to make sure your coconut oil is at room temperature and not melted. Using melted coconut oil will work, but your cookies will spread out in the baking process and get thinner. Still delicious, but they look totally different and the texture will change.


These cookies have a wonderful chewy texture. They're a little buttery and super hearty from the old fashioned oats. And the taste is fantastic too! These cookies are just sweet enough with a hint of salt, and some spice from cinnamon gets amped up with my favorite flavor combo of dark chocolate, coconut, and dried cherries. I could easily eat a few of these in one sitting. And I may have done just that a few times...


Oh, and for all of you nursing moms out there I have included an adaptation of this recipe for you too! There are a million lactation cookie recipes out there and they're all pretty similar. The combination of oats, brewer's yeast, and flax meal has shown to help increase milk production so those additional two ingredients can easily be added to this oatmeal cookie recipe to help you along if you're currently nursing. You can't taste them and as if you needed another excuse to eat cookies, I can't think of a better one than keeping your baby well fed!


Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, beaten 
  • 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries 
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut 
  • 4 Tbs. brewer's yeast (optional, for lactation cookies)*
  • 2 Tbs. flax meal (optional, for lactation cookies)*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together sugars, butter, and coconut oil. Stir in the eggs and vanilla until fully combined.

Stir in salt and next 5 ingredients (through salt) until well incorporated. *If making lactation cookies, stir in the brewer's yeast and flax meal at this step.

Fold in chocolate chips, cherries, and coconut. 

Using a cookie scoop or a large spoon, drop cookie dough onto the lined baking sheets in roughly 2 Tablespoon-sized scoops. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My 10 Favorite Items from Month One of Motherhood

So I have been a mom for all of like 5 minutes now. Or really, it has been about a month. But for all you moms out there that have been moms for longer I know that I still know very little so I don't want to position myself as any kind of expert here. That said, in these few short (or long, depending on how you look at it) weeks I've already had enough experience with good and bad baby products that I have a few recommendations of my own to offer already. Today, I'm rounding up my 10 favorite products from these first weeks of parenting a newborn... check them out below!


1. Ralph Lauren footie pajamas - I received a few sets of Ralph pj's similar to these and they were some of the best gifts. The cotton is super soft and they run a bit small, so the 3-month size fit Hannah really well right off the bat. She even wore a pair home from the hospital! I especially love these for a newborn because the ends of the sleeves flip over to cover her little hands, eliminating worry that she'll claw herself with her sharp little nails and also eliminating the need to put those little mittens on her (which never seem to stay on).
2. Boppy Luxe Pillow - The Boppy pillow is a staple for nursing moms, but Alex likes to use it too as it offers great support when you're just sitting and holding the baby for long periods of time. Boppy pillows come with tons of different cover options, but I love this set because the cover is plushy and comfortable for both babies and parents.
3. Halo SleepSack Swaddle (Plush Dot) - Alex and I were really terrible at figuring out how to swaddle Hannah with a blanket. Also, she generally hates being all wrapped up like that anyway. Lucky for us, since she was in breech position her doctor prefers she not be tightly swaddled and that her legs have some room to kick around so these Halo SleepSacks are key. They keep her securely swaddled up top, but allow her legs the freedom they need to move around. I have a few versions of this product, but I'm obsessed with the plush dot version because the material is so warm and soft-- perfect for snuggling up at bedtime!
4. Eddie Bauer Nursery Caddy - I had originally gotten this caddy so that we'd have a nice place to stash baby supplies in the living room. Well, since Hannah is sleeping in our room right now this piece is even more valuable because it just follows us around the house so that no matter where she is (or what time it is) we have diapers, wipes, and everything else within reach.
5. Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment - I suffer from eczema, so I'm already an Aquaphor lover myself. But, newborns often suffer from weird skin conditions in the weeks after birth and Hannah was no exception. Her poor little hands and feet were so dry and peely and the rest of her body followed, so using Aquaphor's baby formula was key in eliminating that dryness quickly.
6. Fisher-Price Rock 'N Play - I did not register for one of these, but received two as gifts from other newish moms. When that happens, you know that a product must be good. The Rock 'N Play is affordable and a great place for newborns to nap nearby or stay entertained with the vibration option when you need to put baby down to do important things like load the dishwasher or go to the bathroom.
7. Burt's Bees Honeybee Bundle - This is my new go-to baby gift. Burt's Bees cotton is the softest I have ever felt and it is so high quality that the clothes and accessories in this 12-piece set will really stand out against any of the other baby brands in your nursery. After receiving one of these starter sets, I started buying up any other Burt's Bees cotton items I could find: dresses, towels, washcloths, even a changing pad cover.
8. BabyJogger City Select Stroller - We love this stroller! Living in the city, Hannah's been out in the stroller several more times than she's been in the car and she loves riding in the City Select. Even on the worst sidewalks, the ride is smooth and she's lulled right to sleep. It also has tons of extra features available like an additional seat option, storage bags, weather shields, and right now Hannah's Graco carseat clips right into the top with help from a simple connector kit.
9. MAM Newborn Pacifiers - I didn't think I'd be a pacifier mom, but we have amassed a collection of them pretty quickly and frankly, they work. There have been a few instances when Hannah is super fussy-- especially in those evening "witching hours"-- and a pacifier can sometimes be the only way to calm her (besides nursing her 24/7). We have tried a few and these MAM pacifiers are her favorites. They are extra small and lightweight-- sized especially for newborn mouths.
10. Gilligan & O'Malley Seamless Nursing Bra - And of course, there's something for moms on this list too. It's not glamorous, but it is a necessity if you're a nursing mom. I bought several different nursing bras and this one is my favorite by far. It's the most comfortable and has the most give, so it's been the perfect bra to wear around the house and when we've been out and about over these first few weeks. And it's a steal... so I now own it in two colors.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sparkling Basil Lemonade

Hello there. Bet you didn't think I'd be coming at you with a recipe this week, did you? Well, here I am and thanks to a week with my wonderful mom graciously holding the baby I had a few spare hours to spend in the kitchen cooking things that entailed a bit more than just transferring a pan from the freezer to the oven. It felt good to be back!


One of the recipes I worked on was inspired by my new favorite beverage. I mentioned before that lemonade was one of my pregnancy cravings and even post-baby, I've still been enjoying a glass at home during some of these warmer spring days. I like to cut my lemonade with a little seltzer water to keep it a little on the lighter side and to make it feel a little fancier. Well, after creating that combination for weeks using bottled lemonade I figured it was time to make the real deal with fresh Limoneira lemons-- and what a difference that makes!


Limoneira is one of the world's leading producers of lemons, avocados, and citrus fruits and they're based right here in the US in Santa Paula, California. They've been around for 124 years (so they know a thing or two about good produce) and are dedicated to sustainable agriculture. Their products are available in grocery stores nationwide and even though they sent me this lovely crate of perfect lemons, I stumbled upon them at my local Jewel-Osco store last week too. Oh, and they also grow PINK LEMONS. Did you know those were even a real thing? Gorgeous.


This lemonade is super refreshing and a perfect spring or summertime drink. And with Memorial Day creeping up on us so soon-- the unofficial start of of barbecue and picnic season-- this is the perfect time kick your old lemonade recipe up a notch or two. Lemonade is always delicious, but when it's made from scratch it has a flavor like no other-- and it is surprisingly easy to make. The most difficult part of this recipe will be juicing all those fresh lemons, but the result is well worth it!

The first ingredient in this lemonade that makes it super special is the addition of fresh basil. Basil has such a bright fresh flavor, so infusing it into the simple syrup is a great way to add an unexpected herby note to the sweet tart lemonade. You could also do the same with herbs like thyme or lavender that pair nicely with lemons, if you'd like.


The second ingredient that takes this lemonade up a notch is seltzer water. A little effervescence is the perfect way to make a basic beverage feel extra special. To keep it at it's most bubbly, top the lemon juice and syrup mixture off with the seltzer water just before you're ready to serve it.

This sparkling lemonade feels like a summery cocktail even though it's alcohol free. Although, adding a little prosecco or vodka to the pitcher couldn't hurt!


Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces
  • 2 cups fresh juice from Limoneira lemons
  • 2 liters seltzer water
  • Ice
  • Lemon slices and/or basil leaves, for garnish

In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add sugar to the boiling water, stirring until completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Allow basil to steep in the syrup mixture for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Strain the leaves from the syrup and discard them.

In a large pitcher, stir together basil syrup and lemon juice. Pour in the seltzer water and add enough ice to chill the lemonade.

Garnish with lemon slices and/or fresh basil leaves. For best results (and to ensure that the lemonade isn't flat), serve chilled and immediately.




Editor's Note: Complimentary products were provided by Limoneira in order to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Peek at the Nursery

Over the past few months, I have shared several glimpses of Hannah's nursery while it was in progress-- both here on the blog and also over on Instagram. From the first piece of furniture we added to the room to Alex's meticulously painted wall stripes to the Minted artwork we selected for the walls, you've seen all of the pieces separately so far. Now that Hannah is here, I thought I'd do a big nursery reveal for you today... Here it is:


Hannah's room doesn't have any particular theme to its decor and that was totally by design. I wanted the room to be one that she could grow into over the next few years and also a room that could be easily transformed-- in case she becomes a stubborn 4-year old (which is more than likely) that hates the colors we chose or in the event that we need to make room for a future baby boy in there, we wanted to be sure that we wouldn't have any pink walls to repaint or any girly wallpaper to rip down when that happens. So, we kept the gray wall color that we added when we moved in and Alex indulged me by patiently painting fat white rugby stripes along one accent wall in the room. It's an interior bedroom-- which is great for keeping things dark and cozy during naptime-- but the white stripes really helped to brighten the room up and the create a cool focal point on the only wall in the room that doesn't have windows or doors on it.

pink and white polka dot sheets -- gray and white chevron crib skirt -- gray dog mobile

While we didn't pick a specific theme for the nursery decor, we knew we wanted it to reflect the decor in the rest of our home: for it to be modern but still cozy with gray as a neutral base color layered with lots of white (again, keeping the room feeling bright) and pastel pink for our baby girl. I love bold graphic patterns, so many of the pieces I chose for the room were rugby stripe, chevron, or polka dot patterned in those three main colors we were working with.


The Marguerite Glider was the first piece of furniture we purchased with the intent of using it in the nursery. We found it at The Land of Nod during a shopping trip with my parents in the fall of last year and my dad was the first one to try it out and suggest that we add it to the nursery. I loved the cool gray color and the nubby tweed-like fabric. I also really loved the modern shape of the chair as gliders can be a a little bulky and ugly, but this felt like one that could be placed in our living room or bedroom some day and still look cool-- especially with that great Chicago throw pillow and chevron blanket (similar)! And the nightstand, lamp, and chevron rug were all pieces that were in this room already in its first life as a guest room/office. The West Elm pouf used to live in our living room, but looked too perfect with the glider and the rest of the decor here to not do a little room swap.

And those chevron curtains above? That's all storage space that was just open before and I wanted to cover it up so you couldn't see all of our junk stored up there. So I had these chevron curtains made by an Etsy shop and they turned out to be perfect for this room!

BabyJogger City Select -- changing pad -- Ubbi diaper pail

Again, in the interest of being able to re-purpose items in this room after Hannah gets bigger we opted not to buy a changing table. Instead, we got a simple white IKEA dresser that she can use forever and connected a changing pad to the top of it. I also purchased these cute pink and while polka dot knobs from Etsy to add a little personality to this piece of furniture. And I'm obsessed with that Ubbi diaper pail next to it! It's so sleek and comes in a ton of different colors (we chose gray, of course) and unlike other diaper disposal systems it uses regular kitchen bags so we aren't spending a fortune on throwing away poop in special bags.

The DIY photo collage above is another holdover from this room's previous life: The framed pictures are all photos I took in Europe while studying abroad and the oversized frame was actually hanging around our master bathroom mirror when we moved in. Alex sprayed it white and we hung it here to frame the collection of smaller frames.

And parking the BabyJogger City Select stroller here? I could have moved it for the photos but this is real life-- and city life with a baby means storage space is at a real premium here now!

pink and white polka dot sheets -- gray and white chevron crib skirt -- gray dog mobile

We chose the Tatum Crib from Pottery Barn Kids (which is on super sale right now!) for a few different reasons-- Alex and I loved the simple clean lines of the crib, which suited our modern nursery design scheme. We also loved that this crib converts to a toddler bed, so we can extend its use throughout Hannah's life. The crib is also well made and composed of solid wood which was an important factor to my dad, who gifted the crib to us. There is no bumper on the crib (for safety reasons), but it is dressed with these adorable graphic print sheets in shades of gray, pink, and white.

I wanted a clock in this room so that I could keep track of time during night feedings and fell in love with this whimsical wooden bunny clock from Modern Moose -- completed with carrot pendulum. We also mounted a few floating shelves on the wall around the clock to create some additional space for displaying frames and other artwork. In addition to Hannah's framed sonogram photo, the "Let her sleep..." quote plaque that I found on Etsy, and the Willow Tree Serenity Angel figurine (a gift from one of Hannah's great grandmothers), I have also recently added this cool wooden "H" from Anthropologie to this display-- a last minute addition to the room so we wouldn't give away her name before she arrived!

gray striped storage baskets -- pink striped bin

Starting a library for Hannah was one of the first things I did after finding out I was pregnant. I have an ever growing list of children's classics that I want to add to her collection and we're off to a really good start. With limited space in the room, I selected this simple bookshelf and alternated open cubes with cubes filled with these great striped storage baskets from The Land of Nod-- perfect for storing teethers and other toys. Also, not pictured is a sweet Rabbit Wobble Rattle that now lives on top of the shelf.

crocodile xylophone -- Olivia -- Rockabye Baby! Lullabye Renditions of Taylor Swift

And that's Hannah's room!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

And Then There Were Three

She's here!

A Squared readers, allow me to introduce you to the newest member of our family: Hannah Elizabeth.


She came into the world at the beginning of last week and her birth was (thankfully) quick and low drama, weighing in at 7 lbs. 11 oz. with deep blue eyes and a head full of dark blonde hair. Alex and I were both bald babies so we were totally surprised to meet this little girl and see all that hair. I may be biased, but I'm pretty sure she's one of the prettiest newborns I have ever met!

We've been home for almost a week now and it's been an adventure. I'm a big sister to 4 siblings, an aunt, and a seasoned babysitter since age 11, but taking care of a newborn 24/7 has definitely been an adjustment-- and a test of my patience! Thankfully, she's a great baby and once she figures out that sleeping should happen at night and not during the day then I think we'll be in business. And Alex has turned out to be a real natural at this whole dad thing, which makes my life so much easier. I'm going to be sad when he has to return to work next week!


And you may recall that I was really nervous about introducing our new human baby to our giant dog baby since he's really standoffish with kids. Well, Clery totally surprised us in the best way by running right in to meet her and greeting her with a sniff of the diaper and a kiss on the head. He's obsessed with her, always kissing her head and her feet, standing by when she needs a diaper change, and getting very concerned when he hears her cry. I think we have two best friends in the making here!

I'll be out on maternity leave from my day job for the next few months taking care of Hannah. With that in mind-- and because we aren't doing a whole lot of dining out and cooking from scratch these days-- things will likely be quiet on the blog for the time being too. I have some more posts in the works, but don't be surprised if you don't hear from me as frequently over the next several weeks. We've got a lot mommy-daughter bonding to do!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Preparing for Baby: Stocking the Kitchen

While I know it's virtually impossible to prepare for being a parent, I knew I wanted to be as prepared as possible for my baby's arrival-- or at least, have my kitchen prepared for our arrival home as a family of three. Since food is kind of my thing, I knew that having a stocked kitchen was one thing I could definitely do ahead of time to help us prepare for those first few crazy weeks of parenting-- and especially after finding out that I'd have a more extended recovery (due to a C-section birth), this became even more important to me in those last few weeks of pregnancy.


So, over the 5-6 weekends leading up to the baby's birth, I did a lot of cooking and we made a few big bulk food buying expeditions too. I wanted to make sure that even if we haven't slept very much, we are at least well fed.


My freezer is stocked with dinners in disposable baking pans that can go right from the freezer (or after thawing in the fridge) straight to the oven. The dinners are all portioned for the two of us, with maybe enough left over for lunches the next day. I also wanted to make sure that each of them included a protein and vegetables, if possible, so that one pan could be an entirely balanced meal. Here's what you'll find in my freezer:


-2 pans of Chicken Divan (with a bottom layer of cooked brown rice, so it's all there already)
-1 pan of spinach & cheese stuffed shells with meat sauce
-3 small pans of mac & cheese with bacon, bell peppers & caramelized onions
-1 pan of enchiladas stuffed with chicken, cheese and red bell & poblano peppers (I used this recipe to cook 2 lbs. of chicken breasts in my slow cooker, which I used for the enchiladas and for the Chicken Divan)
-1 pan of spicy supreme pasta bake
-Individual portions of marinara sauce (leftover from the batch I made and mixed with ground beef for the stuffed shells above)
-Individual portions of homemade sage pesto
-Pre-portioned chicken breasts, steaks, and salmon fillets (for when I feel like cooking-- or having Alex man the grill)

I also did some baking so that we have breakfasts and snacks available in a pinch too:


-2 batches of banana muffins: 1 with nuts and another with chocolate chips
-1 batch of Morning Glory Muffins
-2 batches of banana pancakes (this was a gametime decision the weekend before we went to the hospital when I realized I had 2 brown bananas to use up. They heat up really well in the toaster though)
-1 batch of lactation cookies (I used this recipe)


And in addition to stocking the house with enough essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, body wash, and shampoo to get us through the next several weeks, I also made sure that our pantry and fridge was stocked with tons of snacks and (relatively healthy) convenience items for quick and satisfying meals:

-Krusteaz pancake and waffle mixes
-Granola & breakfast bars
-Granola & dry cereal
-Annie's Organic Mac & Cheese
-SkinnyPop popcorn, pita chips, pretzels & whole grain crackers
-Bertolli organic pasta sauce
-Frontera slow cooker & skillet sauces 
-Instant brown rice
-Barilla Plus pastas
-Dried fruit & nuts (and we got a bunch of these to make a huge amount of homemade trail mix, which we also packed in our hospital bags)
-Snacking cheese
-Sabra hummus
-Yogurt
-LaCroix flavored seltzer water

I also made us a handy list of any coupon codes and gift certificates we had for takeout/delivery options from local restaurants. This is super handy for those nights when even heating up a frozen dinner is a struggle and you can't even think about searching your email for coupon codes or that random drawer for a gift card you know you had somewhere!
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