Tips for Perfect Christmas Cookies + Boston Family Entertainment Giveaway!

Christmas is right around the corner and boy has it sneaked up fast! It’s always hard coming up with gift ideas for family and friends… but these days we’re personally trying to cut back on the amount of “stuff” we buy and give, and focus more on homemade items and experiences for gifts. What better gift than something made with love and the opportunity to create lasting memories? Read on for my tips to make the Perfect Christmas Cookies and then be sure to enter the amazing Boston Family Entertainment Giveaway at the end of the post for a chance to win some spectacular tickets to Boston-area events!
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Tips for Perfect Christmas Cookies + Giveaway!

5 Tips for Perfect Christmas Cookies

Sift

Make sure to sift all your dry ingredients. Doing this breaks up any clumps of flour or baking soda, combines everything evenly, and helps make your cookies light and fluffy.

Parchment Paper

Always line your cookie sheet with parchment paper, this is key to getting the cookie bottoms that perfect light golden brown. If you're planning on doing several batches of cookies make sure to round the corners of the parchment with some scissors first, as the sharp corners of the paper can start to burn after a few times in the oven.

Cookie Scoop

A cookie scoop is probably one of the best little investments you'll make in the kitchen and I don't know how I ever lived without mine. Using a cookie scoop ensures you get uniform-sized cookies every time and makes the whole process of getting your cookies ready for the oven go so much faster.

Time

Always bake your cookies for the lower suggested time.  Cookies that are just cooked all the way through make for the softest, chewiest cookies.  If they aren't cooked in the middle yet you can always put them back in for another minute or two, but it's best to start with the lowest time.  

Your Secret Weapon - the "Bread Trick"

Accidentally over-cook the cookies?  Forget to cover them on the counter?  Believe it or not, the magical solution for over-cooked or stale cookies is just a slice of sandwich bread and a big ziplock.  Put all the cookies in a gallon ziplock bag, throw in a slice of bread, seal, and leave for a few hours - the cookies will get softer as the bread gets staler.  Magic!  


Boston Family Entertainment Giveaway
There is so much to see and do for families visiting Boston. We have an amazing Boston Family Entertainment Package that will mean loads of family fun for one lucky winner! Get those Perfect Christmas Cookies Ready! Today's giveaway has been brought to you by the following sponsors: This holiday season, consider experience such as tickets to a show, museum passes or a gift certificate for other fun family entertainment. Experience gifts are a great way to help families create lasting memories.

Ultimate Boston Family Entertainment Package

One lucky winner is going to receive the Ultimate Boston Entertainment Giveaway Package that includes:
  • (4) tickets to Bricktacular at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston (every weekend in Dec.)
  • (4) tickets to Blue Man Group (to be used after Jan. 1st)
  • (4) tickets to American Girl LIVE, a new musical featuring the iconic American Girl characters playing at the Boch Center, Feb. 22-24 (for Friday, Feb. 22 at 7:00 pm)
  • (4) tickets to Archery Games Boston (can be used anytime)
  • Dinner for 4 at South Street Diner (can be used anytime)

Boston Entertainment Giveaway

Official Rules and Conditions: One winner will receive the Ultimate Boston Entertainment Prize Package. No cash value. Open worldwide to adults 18+. One (1) winner will be chosen. Prize must be claimed within 48 hours of announcement or a new winner will be drawn. Prize will be delivered electronically. All entries will be verified. This giveaway is in no way associated with Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Rafflecopter, or any other entity unless otherwise specified. Giveaway ends 12/16/2018. Enter using the widget below. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out all the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaways!

Click to Enter More Giveaways

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Protein + Fiber Packed Turkey Chili Recipe {and Instapot Giveaway!}

It's been cold and snowy here in New England these last two weeks (like 3 Nor'easters in two weeks snowy!), so what better way to warm up than with a bowl of hearty and healthy chili!  This recipe was done in our crockpot but could be made in less time in an Instapot.  Don't have an Instapot?  You're in luck - I've teamed up with several other bloggers to give one away!  {Scroll down to enter the givewaway}

Protein and Fiber Packed Turkey Chili

This chili is super easy to make and can be adjusted to your taste with whatever veggies you'd like to add.  I often make chili as an excuse to use up all the extra veggies we have in the fridge - once all the flavors meld together you can hide just about any vegetable in there (perfect for picky toddlers or husbands).  While not in this current batch, I've often added things like mushrooms, spinach, sweet potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, squash, etc.  As far as using canned beans and tomato sauce I always buy store-brand organic varieties when I can - they tend to have less additives and salt than non-organic and are cheaper than the name brand ones!  

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of lean ground turkey (can also use lean ground beef if you prefer)
  • 2 cans of low sodium tomato sauce
  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans
  • 1 can of lentils (adds a lot of protein and you won't even notice them mixed in with the ground meat!)
  • 2/3 cup of frozen corn (using frozen veggies is a great shortcut)
  • 1/2 cup of frozen chopped peppers
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon chopped jarred garlic
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (turmeric has great anti-inflammatory properties)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • shredded cheese and/or crackers to garnish

Directions

  1. Brown ground meat in a skillet, pouring off excess fat.  

  2. Add meat and all remaining ingredients (except for garnishes) to crockpot.  

  3. Cook on low in crockpot for 8 hours or high for 4 hours, until veggies are soft and flavors have melded.  

  4. Garnish with shredded cheese and crackers, if desired.  

Looking for a way to make this yummy recipe faster?  Use an Instapot! 
I've teamed up with several other bloggers to give one away to a lucky follower.  Enter below for a chance to win - good luck!  

Instapot Giveaway!

Instapot Giveaway!

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A Picnic Lunch with New England's Finest

Brrrrrr!  Anyone who lives in the Northeast knows just how brutally cold it's been here lately - in the past two or three weeks I don't think it's gotten over 5 degrees outside!  So when the thermometer hit double digits (10 whole degrees!), we decided to take advantage of the heat wave and head outside for a little snowshoeing and a picnic. 
| This post contains affiliate links and an honest review of New England's Finest |

New England's Finest Gift Subscription Boxes
A Picnic Lunch with New England's Finest

As you all know, I LOVE sharing about New England-based products on the blog and was so excited to find out about New England's Finest - a carefully curated subscription and gift box service that only features products crafted right here in New England. New England's Finest was kind enough to let me check out their "Picnic for Two" Box which made for a perfect lunch for me and my husband on our little hike. We're lucky enough to have some great trails here within walking distance of our house, so the second the thermometer hit 10 degrees we bundled up, grabbed our snowshoes, and headed out to enjoy the balmy weather (ha!).

A Picnic Lunch with New England's Finest

After a short hike we found the perfect little clearing, spread out our picnic blanket, and unpacked our lunch.  Each New England's Finest Box has a different theme (BBQ, sweets, cocktails, etc) and ours was full of yummy locally-made foods perfect for a picnic!  In this particular box we had a selection of delicious jams/jellies, crackers, and salami - all we had to do was pack a cutting board and grab some cheese from our fridge.  

A Picnic Lunch with New England's Finest

One thing I particularly love about NEF as a company is that for every 12-month gift subscription purchased they donate a gift box to a family receiving care at Boston Children's Hospital as a way to give back to the community.  So if you're looking for that perfect gift for someone (or yourself!) who loves New England or is a New Englander at heart, be sure to check out New England's Finest and get "a little flavor and charm from the Northeast."  

A Picnic Lunch with New England's Finest
A Picnic Lunch with New England's Finest

Follow New England's Finest on Facebook and Instagram to see their latest promotions and boxes.

Products included in the "Picnic for Two" Box: Tomato Basil Crackers from Jack's Crackers (NH), Perfect Peach Jam from Better Than Average (NH), Chorizo from Vermont Salumi (VT), Raspberry Smoked Maple Jam from Potlicker Kitchen (VT), and Cranberry Pistachio Crisps from Jan's Farmhouse (VT).

- I received this item for review from New England's Finest but all opinions expressed are my own.  Please read our full Disclosure Policy for more information - 

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Dealing with Extreme Food Intolerances in our Baby

Sometimes babies have a hard time processing breastmilk because of food mom eats - this isn't that uncommon.  In fact our first baby had MSPI (Milk-Soy Protein Intolerance), and I had to avoid dairy and soy while breastfeeding until she outgrew it around 15 months.  What is uncommon is a baby that is so sensitive that she can react to EVERYTHING mom eats.  Unfortunately, that seems to be where we're at now with our second baby and why I've been so MIA from the blog and Etsy shop these last two months.  | DISCLAIMER:  I am not a medical professional and am not suggesting medical advice - I am just sharing our experiences.  Please always consult your own doctors and specialists before trying anything. |
This post contains affiliate links.  

Dealing with Extreme Food Intolerances in our Baby

Going on a TED

Our baby's poops were "off" from birth... at first they were blamed on the medications I got during my c-section (she was breech), then on dairy/soy which I quickly cut out of my diet, but then she started having blood in her stool. After a particularly scary (bloody) diaper I immediately went on a Total Elimination Diet (TED). A TED is when you cut your diet down to just a handful of low allergenic foods in order to get your baby to "baseline" (baseline being no more bad symptoms, whatever that may be for your situation), then adding one pure food in a time to make sure your baby still does well with it in your diet. With the okay from our baby's GI specialist I started my TED of turkey, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and clean olive oil (a lot of olive oils are cut with soy or corn oil, and there are only a few brands that are truly "clean"). I also cut out all my vitamins and supplements in case those were affecting her.

Over the next few weeks things slowly improved (less blood and mucus, better color), but we couldn't quite get to baseline. I then started infant probiotics and epsom salt baths for her and a digestive enzyme-probiotic combo for me, with every new thing or change in dosage acting as a new trial... giving every little change a week to see if and how it affected her. Vaccines at her well-child checkup were treated the same as well.. each one done separately at least a week apart (and vaccines did cause her lower GI issues to flare up unfortunately.. so after each vaccine we'd have to give her a bit more time to settle back down). Everything I ate was recorded in a log with times and every poop she did was also recorded with times, descriptions, and even photos. It was a very, very tedious process and the results constantly felt like two steps forward, one step back.

After about 1.5 months we were finally flirting with baseline but couldn't quite keep there.  Nevertheless, I was desperate for more food varieties... my back was starting to hurt every time I ate - my body was getting tired of digesting only the same three foods each day and even though my blood work had been coming back normal this diet was still taking it's toll.  Unfortunately, every time I tried to add a new food in our little one would seemingly fail it (more mucus in stools, blood, and/or acidic poops).. it was incredibly disheartening and depressing.  It got to the point where I felt extreme guilt and dread after sealing Christmas cards because I didn't know what the glue was made out of and if it would affect our baby.  

FPIAP, FPIES, or Histamine Issues?

We won't know exactly what's going on with our baby until she starts solids since breastfeeding essentially "filters" everything to an extent.  In general most kids with these kinds of sensitivities seem to fall into at least one of three diagnoses: 

Food Protein Induced Allergic Proctocolitis (FPIAP) - This is generally considered the "milder" version that only affects the lower GI tract (blood, mucus-y stool, etc) and most will outgrow it by around 1-year old (we pray to God she has this version).  Some also refer to this as “Chronic FPIES” or just “Allergic Colitis.”

Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) - This is typically a more severe version of FPIAP that also affects the upper GI.  The most common adverse reaction to a trigger involves severe vomiting-to-shock, that often requires a trip to the ER to get under control.  There are foods that are considered to be more "common" triggers for FPIES but literally any food could be a trigger.  Most will outgrow it by 3-4 years old.  

Histamine Issues - This includes Mast Cell issues.. these poor kids have trouble regulating histamine levels in their bodies and anything and everything can effect them.  It can be a very difficult and overwhelming life-long road to navigate.  

The Decision to Go to Formula

I wanted to continue breastfeeding SOO badly - I love breastfeeding and the peaceful bond that it brings.  However, as hard as I tried I just could not keep our baby at baseline and it was not beneficial for her gut or for me mentally or physically to continue such a restrictive diet that seemingly got us nowhere.  

If our TED had been more successful and I was able to add back foods into my diet and keep our little one's diapers clear I would have been more than happy to continue with what I was doing, but unfortunately that wasn't the case for us.  Once we hit two months on this diet I decided it was finally time to try formula.  Her GI doctor made a recommendation to try first and while those first two days of bottle and formula feeding were SO hard (I cried more than our baby did), we finally had success.  Knock on wood, she's been doing awesome since and it's such a weight off my shoulders to not have to monitor everything as strictly as before.  

Going forward we're taking vaccines very slowly and will likely delay the introduction of solids until at least 7 months.  We're closely monitoring everything with the GI and will likely get another opinion at an allergist too to get more guidance on everything going forward.  I pray to God she has the more mild version of things and outgrows it quickly, but only time will tell.  Best of luck to other mamas out there going through similar things, it can be so hard.  

UPDATE:  The doctors believe she has FPIAP (which would be the best-case scenario), and I'm really hopeful that that is the case and she will hopefully outgrow all this in the coming months.  We've very cautiously and slowly started solids at 8 months and hopefully will keep progressing.
SECOND UPDATE: Now at almost 15 months we’ve made some great progress but she’s still very sensitive to new things and even vaccinations. We take everything slowly and allow for an adjustment period with new foods and most have been passes as long as she has time to adjust and get used to them. It’s still a very slow and tedious process...  Hang in there!

DISCLAIMER:  I am NOT a medical professional and am NOT suggesting medical advice.  I am simply sharing our experiences.  Do not take any information I provided as fact or advice.  Always consult your own doctors and specialists before changing your diet, adding supplements, or going on a TED.  Always get medical approval for yourself and your baby.  

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Back-to-School Lunch Ideas with Parenting New Hampshire Magazine

School is starting back up and that means it's back to the daily grind of packing lunches for most parents.  Parenting New Hampshire magazine interviewed myself and few other NH-based bloggers for our "Brown-Bag Makeover" tips and tricks.  

You can pick up a copy of this publication at many locations across the state, or read the article HERE online. 

 "Brown-Bag Makeover" | Parenting New Hampshire Magazine

"Brown-Bag Makeover" | Parenting New Hampshire Magazine

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The Healthy Snacks Influencers are Eating

Lisa Valinsky just put together a great list of The Healthy Snacks that 24 Influencers are Eating Right Now and it includes a snack from yours truly that's BIG in our house - in fact I think it currently makes up at least 25% of our toddler's diet (oops).  

So if you're looking for some great healthy snack ideas - definitely check it out!  You're sure to recognize some great bloggers on there too :)  

  Credit:  Lisa Valinsky

Credit:  Lisa Valinsky

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Bangers + Mash for St. Patrick's Day

St. Patricks's Day is coming up and you need a to have a good Irish meal to celebrate - everybody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day afterall!  "Bangers and Mash" (sausage and mashed potatoes) is one of my favorite Irish-inspired meals to make because it's easy and quicker than making corned beef and cabbage.  And really - you just can't go wrong with sausage and potatoes!  

Perfect St. Patrick's Day Irish meal - Bangers and Mash

Bangers + Mash

Total time 50 mins  |  Serves the whole clan!  

Ingredients

  • sausages, at least 2 per person  (I believe it's traditionally supposed to be a sage-y sausage, but our local grocery store doesn't carry those - so I went with Sweet Italian)
  • potatoes for mashing, my rule of thumb is at least 1.5 potatoes per person when figuring out how many to buy 
  • sweet onion
  • butter
  • milk
  • head of cabbage
  • sage
  • salt + pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Wash, peel, and chop potatoes.  Set them aside in a pot of salted water to boil.  
  2. Pan fry sausages and onion until cooked through.  Season with salt, pepper, and sage to taste towards the end of it's cooking.  
  3. Chop some fresh cabbage and gently boil until wilted (just a few minutes).  
  4. Once the potatoes are soft, drain them and mash with butter and milk until it's to your liking (feel free to also season with salt and pepper to taste).  
  5. Serve!  We like the sausages and onions on top of our mashed potatoes and the cabbage on the side.  

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Sláinte!

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Grandma Dot's Apple Cookie Recipe

It may not be Fall right now but that doesn't mean we can't still enjoy yummy apple baked goods!  This recipe is for a soft-baked cookie - lightly spiced and not too sweet, just perfect.  
Besides, it's my Grandma's recipe so you know it has to be good.  

Grandma's Apple Cookie Recipe:  Great recipe for Fall or any time of the year!  Lightly spiced and not too sweet, perfect!

Before you start don't forget to read our 5 Tips for Making Perfect Cookies - Everytime!  

Grandma Dot's Apple Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen, 2-inch cookies.  

CREAM
-  1 cup sugar
-  1/2 cup shortening
-  1 tsp vanilla
-  Add 2 beaten eggs

COMBINE
-  2 cups flour
-  1 tsp baking soda
-  1/2 tsp salt
-  1/4 tsp allspice
-  1/4 tsp nutmeg
-  1/2 tsp cinnamon

 

Sift dry ingredients together and add to creamed mixture.  
Fold in 1 1/2 cups diced raw, unpeeled apples, coated with 1 tbsp brown sugar.  (I usually chop my apples a little on the bigger side.)  Dough will be crumbly.  
Drop by small teaspoons full and BAKE at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  

These cookies are best enjoyed the same day you make them; they tend to get soggy the longer they sit because of the moisture in the apples.  Usually they're gobbled up fast though, so this generally isn't an issue.  

Grandma's Apple Cookie Recipe | Great cookie recipe for Fall or any time of the year!  Lightly spiced and not too sweet, perfect!

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