peppermint marshmallows

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Let’s make marshmallows! Let’s make pretty bags of marshmallows, in lots of different flavors, and give them out to everyone we love!

Have you ever made marshmallows? I have not. But I’ve heard over and over that it’s really easy to do. And I love eating marshmallows, so I figured it’s about time I learned to make them.

Have you ever eaten a homemade marshmallow? They’re kind of game changer. I mean, I’m not one to complain about any sweet treat, so it’s not like I reject store-bought marshmallows, but once you’ve eaten a really good homemade marshmallow, nothing else quite compares.

Homemade Marshmallows and hot chocolate-2 Homemade Marshmallos 3 Ways chocolate, peppermint and vanila marshmallows

I asked Lindsey Johnson to share her favorite marshmallow recipe, and to include all her best tips so that it’s no-fail as possible.

Homemade Vanilla Marshmallows Homemade Marshmallows and hot chocolate

So let’s grab a mug of warm sweetness and get this sugar show on the road!

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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A Few Things

December 4, 2015

striped stockings

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

I’m feeling a creativity high from a family photo shoot we did yesterday. I’ve been thinking about the concept for the shoot for a year or so and when Wendy from Blue Lily told me she was coming into town, I shared the idea with her and we officially put a shoot date on the schedule. The concept is very different than anything we’ve ever tried before, but Wendy sent over a few photos from the shoot this morning and I’m dying about how awesome they turned out! I’ve been sharing them on Instagram if you’d like to see. And of course, I’ll share them here too as soon as Wendy has had time to process everything.

Oh my. There is probably nothing I find more satisfying than working on creative projects with my family. It’s heavenly.

As an added selfish benefit, preparing for the photo shoot kept me partially distracted from the mind-numbing loss of life in San Bernardino. I’m still not in a place where I can talk coherently about it, and I won’t pretend to try today. If you’re craving discussion about it, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. I’m not there yet, but I assume I’ll get there eventually and I’ll be glad to know you what’s on your mind. But for now I’m going to continue to distract myself (and maybe you, too) with a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- My friend, Shannon, had the amazing experience of volunteering in a Syrian refugee camp. Here’s 1 part of her report.

- Are there any movies you wish you could unsee?

- It’s called Nexushaus, and it’s a cheap solar powered home that is water independent.

- Hah! Monthly horoscopes by a bitter astrologer.

- 26 things every person should do for themselves at least once a year. What would you add? What would you subtract?

- One of Pantone colors of the year is Rose Quartz. I read that and suddenly had a flash back to junior high. I’m pretty sure I exclusively wore a frosted pink lipstick from Covergirl called rose quartz all through 8th grade. Anyone else?

- Make hand-painted wrapping paper and mod wooden ornaments.

-  Is the Design Mom Book on your gifting list? (If yes, thank you! That’s awesome of you.) If yes, I heard from my publisher that from now through December 15 th, anyone who orders book through this link, can use the promo code HOLIDAY to receive 20% off the list price. And anyone who places their order specifically on December 8 will ALSO receive free shipping. Just a heads up!

I hope you have a really wonderful weekend. I hope we can all find a way to take positive action this weekend — send a care package, make a donation, volunteer, call your senator — in some way that you feel helps make the world a better, kinder place. (Since guns are on my mind, I read this article and I’ll be looking at this list.) I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts

December 4, 2015

Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Liz Berget for Design Mom.

Cranberries! I’ve been craving them. I love the tart flavor. They’re gorgeous to look at. But outside of cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, and maybe a handful of Craisins when we make granola, I never use them in recipes. I mean never. I buy them to put in vases for flower arrangements, but I don’t have a single recipe that calls for cranberries.

sugared-cranberry-mini-tart 2

So I thought, why not use this holiday baking season to up my cranberry game? I went straight to Liz Berget and asked her to share a cranberry-focused recipe that would be perfect for holiday entertaining.

Make Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts, Perfect for any holiday event | Design Mom

Look how cute these mini-tarts are?! I adore what she came up with. I love that the sugared cranberries look like they have a coating of frost. So cute! I can’t wait to make these.

Sugared Cranberry Mini Tarts | Design Mom

Before we jump into the recipe, I’d love to hear your take on cranberries? Do you like the taste? Do you ever buy them fresh? Or has your relationship with cranberries been largely focused on the juice (and perhaps it’s magical abilities to heal a uti)? Do you have any favorite recipes that feature cranberries? Please share!

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Legacybox. Get 40% off when you give it a try! Find the code below.

Okay you guys. This one is a game changer. You know that box in the back the closet? The one with photo negatives from the years before your first digital camera and the random camcorder tapes? What is even on those? And you know that shoebox at your Mom’s place? The one with the rolls of Super8 film, and the stacks of slides she inherited from Grandpa? Well pay attention, because I’m about to show you how turn those into high-quality, totally useable digital files. And all you need is Legacybox. It’s like magic!

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

The reality is, almost all of us have those boxes, because technology changes so fast these days, that even something we used on a daily basis 10 years ago, might not be accessible anymore. Do you still have a VHS camcorder? Or a VHS player? Nope? Neither do we. But we did once, and it would be awesome to be able to watch the movies we made on those VHS tapes, right? Wouldn’t your kids love seeing those?

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

Legacybox can handle pretty much any old, outdated format you can dish up. Sign up at Legacybox and they will send you a kit which includes a guide, round-trip shipping, a crush proof box, and access to a personal concierge so you can talk to an expert any time. You fill the box with any formats in your collection — tapes, film, image negatives, whatever you’ve got — then send it back with their pre-paid label. Then, you go about your business. In a few weeks you’ll receive your originals back along with DVDs and digital files ready to share and enjoy! I’m telling you, it’s magical.

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

One of my favorite parts, to make sure nothing gets lost or mixed up, the Legacybox kit includes barcode labels. You add a barcode to every single thing you put in the box, and then you can track it all online to make sure your memories stay safe through the whole process.

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox. Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

We put a bunch of stuff in our Legacybox kit. Photo negatives, a VHS tape from our wedding, a VHS tape with a Bean Society video on it (have I ever told you about The Bean Society?). Getting the box back was such a delight! It felt like finding treasure. One of the things we got back are several photos of baby Ralph — taken before the digital camera era. The first one is from his blessing day:

Stanley Family on Ralph Blair's Blessing Day Ben Blair and toddler Ralph Blair Toddler Ralph Blair

Such a treat for me to be able to see and easily share these images! Want to give it a try? I’ve got a BIG discount code for you! The first 50 people who you use the code DESIGN at checkout will receive 40% off their Legacybox!

Bring your memories into the digital age! Send your photo negatives and old camcorder tapes to Legacybox.

Tell me, Friends. If you were filling a Legacybox kit, what would you put in? What tapes or images or film is waiting patiently in your storage? What footage have you not seen for 20 years? It’s fun to think about!

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By Gabrielle.

Well. Emily just made me cry.

And now there’s nothing more for me to do but find a tissue and leave this story here for you. I hope it finds its way into your heart in the very loveliest way.

Welcome, sweet Emily.

Heartstrings pulled, straight ahead.

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2015_DesignMom_Winter_Colors_

By Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Minted.

I’m confident that most of you already know about Minted’s legendary holiday cards, but less well-known is Minted’s excellent Art Market. It’s easily one of my favorite spots to shop for wall art! And that’s really no surprise, because ultimately, Minted is a design marketplace, connecting all of us with the world’s best artists.

But today, instead of focusing on the art collection overall, I want to tell you specifically about Minted’s Completely Custom Art. Because if you’re searching for a gift that is truly personal, plus endlessly gorgeous, this is where you should start. Have you ever given a gift that made the recipient’s eyes light up? And you know you totally nailed it, you found the perfect thing? (Go you!) Well, a reaction like is pretty much guaranteed if you gift something special from Minted’s Custom Art collection. Here are 6 personalized ideas so you can see what I mean.

2015_DesignMom_Constellations

Personalized idea one: Let someone know you’re glad they exist. Choose a foil-pressed print of a particular Constellation Print, the one she was born under, so you can celebrate the fact of her existence all year round. Oh. And related, Minted has Birthstone Art as well!

DesignMom_California_Map DesignMom_2

Personalized idea two: Pick out a Foil-Pressed Map that reminds him of a place he loves. The maps are available for all 50 states and certain cities too! You can customize the color, size and frame.

Minted_silhouette_v3

Personalized idea three: Go for a Custom Silhouette. Upload a side-profile picture of your child, your pet or anyone you love, and Minted’s Design Team will turn it into a silhouette art print. You can even have it foil-pressed or letter-pressed, and you can choose lots of colors!

DesignMom_5

Personalized idea 4: Put her in the picture with Custom Photo Gifts. You could create a treasured keepsake using all of her best Instagram shots. Or focus on one excellent photo, but add a foil-pressed design. And it’s not just prints. There are photo calendars and stationery too!

customhouseportrait_v4

Personalized idea 5: Turn their house into a work of art with a Custom House Portrait. This one might be my favorite of all these ideas! Wouldn’t it be super cool to have a series of these featuring every house you’ve ever lived in as a family? All it takes is uploading a straight-on photo of your house (or their house), then Minted’s Design Team will convert into a line-drawing. You can include the address and the date they moved in as well.

Related, you can also do this with one of your child’s drawings! That’s right. You can Turn a Drawing into an Art Print!

vowsandpoems_v3

Personalized idea 6: Give them their Favorite Quote as Artwork, so they can hang it on the wall and see it daily. Think wedding vows, or a favorite poem. It’s hard to get more meaningful than this.

See what I mean? Minted makes it possible to create a completely custom, totally thoughtful gift that you can’t find anywhere else. Something perfect for anyone you’re shopping for. And in case you missed it, I should note, all of Minted’s art is available in a range of sizes and styles, you can switch up the colors, and there are 12 beautiful framing options as well. Custom all the way!

Now I’d love to know, have you ever given what you felt like was a perfect gift? Isn’t it the best feeling? Tell me the story! I always love your stories.

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In Vitro Meat

December 2, 2015

engineered meat

By Gabrielle. Image via David Parry / PA Wire.

This is a pretty darn random topic for December 2nd, but this is what I woke up thinking about: Lab Engineered Meat.

Have you read anything about this? Apparently, there are companies getting closer and closer to creating meat without having to kill any animals. Looks like meat. Tastes like meat. Cooks like meat. Is meat. But it’s created independent of a whole animal. The idea is that we’ll be able to manufacture ready-to-cook chicken thighs (no skin, no feathers), or a side of bacon, without growing actual chickens or pigs.

I realize the whole thing feels very sci-fi, but it’s something that has been predicted for a long time. In fact, the wiki page about in vitro meat has this quote: ”We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” — Winston Churchill, Fifty Years Hence, The Strand Magazine (December 1931)

I keep seeing articles about this future meat and they’ve made me curious. For those of you who already eat meat, how would you feel about eating lab-grown meat instead? Does the idea gross you out? Is your instinct that you want to stick with the “real thing”or only eat natural food? Or would it be a relief to you to eat meat that you don’t have to worry about? No crowded animal cages to think of. No documentaries about the meat industry to feel guilty over.

For those of you who are vegetarians or vegans, what are your thoughts on this? Would you eat meat that didn’t require any animal death? Or any animals at all? I know there are many reasons for choosing a non-meat diet. For some people it’s health, for others it’s a ethical issue, and no doubt there are a dozen other reasons I haven’t really considered. For those of you who choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons, do you ever miss eating meat? Would engineered meat change your options? I ate a vegetarian diet through 3 years of college, and I missed eating meat pretty much every day. I started eating it again when I was pregnant with my first baby, and I’ve never given it up since.

I’m also thinking about my friends who farm animals for meat. I’m thinking of Mary Heffernan who I’ve featured here on Design Mom, or Diana Prichard who I traveled to Ethiopia with, or my next door neighbor in France, Madame Lucienne who raises cattle for beef. I assume there are thousands of animal farmers who would be impacted by this the development of engineered meat in a big way. And that reminds me of  tobacco. I remember reading once about how the tobacco farming industry was decimated when smoking became widely unacceptable. Will something similar happen with the meat industry? Will we decide as a society to stop raising animals for meat?

Anyway, totally random, but I would love to hear your take on this! What’s your instinct? Yay or nay to in vitro meat?

P.S. — Somewhat related, a couple Fridays ago I shared a link about veggie burgers that “bleed” like meat. I had no idea, but apparently plants have “blood” that tastes just like animal blood. I found this so fascinating!

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Host a Hot Cocoa Bar!

December 1, 2015

How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips! - Way easier than a dinner party, you'll want to host a dozen of these this month!

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom. // Thank you Crate & Barrel for sponsoring this post.

During the last holiday season, we got it into our heads that we wanted to invite a whole bunch of families over for dinner. Not all at once like a holiday party — we wanted to have them over one family at a time. We liked the idea of getting to hang out and talk with one family, a real chance to get to know them better. But we quickly realized, we couldn’t make dinners work. It was a combination of holiday over-scheduling and feeling like a whole bunch of dinner parties in one month was too much pressure.

How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips! - Way easier than a dinner party, you'll want to host a dozen of these this month!

So we came up with an alternative plan. We stocked our pantry with supplies, and then whenever we had a spare evening, we would make a last minute phone call or send an email and invite a family over for a Hot Cocoa Bar. Essentially: Hey, can you guys come over after dinner for hot cocoa?

This worked beautifully! Since it was last-minute and spontaneous, it took all the social pressure off. I don’t know if I can articulate why it worked so well, but this is what we loved:

How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips! - Way easier than a dinner party, you'll want to host a dozen of these this month!

It was easy on relationships. There were no invitations to send and no rsvp-ing. If the first family we called couldn’t make it, no stress, we would try them on a future date, and call another another family instead. Because it was casual and we didn’t know when it was going to happen or how often, we didn’t make a list of invitees and worry that someone would feel left out.

It was easy on prep. Something about it being last-minute made it easy for me to feel like the house was presentable enough — meaning I didn’t stress about deep-cleaning. And while a dinner party involves a lot of preparation and cleanup, a hot cocoa bar doesn’t. You can stock up once and be ready for a dozen parties. No party favors needed.

It was easy on schedules. A hot cocoa bar doesn’t have to take long, so sometimes friends would stay an hour, other times, they’d stay late into the night (age of kids and bedtimes was a big factor). It wasn’t on anyone’s calendar, including ours, so there was no thinking about what to wear or coming up with hostess gift or wondering if you’d be in the mood for the party. It was last minute and spontaneous — which means we didn’t make the call and extend the invitation unless we really wanted to, and our guests didn’t say yes unless they really wanted to (last minute things are easy to say no to). So no one was stuck at an event they didn’t want to be at.

How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips! - Way easier than a dinner party, you'll want to host a dozen of these this month!

In case you’d like to try hosting your own Hot Cocoa Bar this year, here are my tips:

1) Stock your pantry. Find a good classic hot cocoa mix or recipe — nothing particularly flavored— and keep the mix or ingredients stocked. Keep extra milk in the fridge and whipped cream too.

The prettiest holiday mugs. How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips!

2) Check your cupboards. Think about what you’ll serve the hot cocoa in. Maybe you have holiday mugs that you pull out every December. Or maybe you’ll mix and match your everyday mugs. See what you’ve got on hand — if it can handle hot liquid, you’re good to go.

Your basic checklist is mugs, spoons, and napkins. You can put out your favorite red tablecloth too.

How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips!

3) Upgrade it from Hot Cocoa to a Hot Cocoa Bar, by setting out mixins and stirrers in bowls. Things we like:

- candy canes — they add peppermint flavor and are good for stirring

- cinnamon sticks, for the same reasons

- marshmallows, little or big

- baking chips — milk chocolate, butterscotch, white chocolate, mint, etc.

- short bread cookies for dipping

You could even try an Italian syrup, or go really decadent and have chocolate bars to melt in your mug. Remember that quote from The Polar Express? “We drank hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.”

How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips! - Way easier than a dinner party, you'll want to host a dozen of these this month!

I should note, we have never served all of these mix-in options at once. Having 2 or 3 things to customize your cocoa is plenty to make the whole thing feel extra special. And happily, you can stock up on any or all of this so that you don’t have to run to the store at the last minute.

How to host a Hot Cocoa Bar. 4 Tips! - Way easier than a dinner party, you'll want to host a dozen of these this month!

4) Keep a pot of hot cocoa warming on the stove. When guests arrive, let people serve themselves and add their preferred mix-ins. Then hang out. Sing Christmas Carols. Go on a neighborhood walk to look at lights. Admire your holiday decorations. Read a chapter from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Do whatever it is you do!

simple holiday decor ornaments in a bowl or basket is the easiest holiday decor

And that’s it. Easy as pie. A simple casual gathering that will last an hour or two (or longer if everyone is into it!). An easy, happy way to connect with the people you love over the holidays. No stress involved.

Now it’s your turn. How do you feel about entertaining during the holidays? Do you host an annual Christmas party? Maybe something fancy? For about 10 years in a row, we hosted an annual Christmas Recital, and I loved it! Or maybe you prefer something more humorous — like a crazy holiday sweater party? Have you ever gone to a cookie exchange party? Or maybe you dread holiday entertaining altogether. Would a hot cocoa bar gathering sound fun to you? I’d love to hear your holiday entertaining stories!

P.S. — I picked out a whole bunch of gorgeous holiday wares from Crate & Barrel for these photos. Here are the product links in case something caught your eye:

Nordic Dessert Plates and Platter | Snowflake Mugs and Everyday Mugs | Spoons and Silvery Linen Napkins | Mercury Glass Trees and Silver Glass Votive Holders | Ornament Collection and Jingle Bell Garland (I’m obsessed with this!) | Wire Basket | Silver Ornaments | Tilt Bowls (these are perfect for marshmallows and addins) | Red Tablecloth

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By Gabrielle.

Do you have a friend who encourages you to be the happiest possible version of yourself? One who sees the wonderful in everyone, and then goes one step beyond to gratefully acknowledge all the wonderful? Maybe she’s an interior decorator, too, who doesn’t believe that a dream home has anything to do with the number of rooms or the number of zeros in the price tag, or even the delicious color scheme that’s the current rage on Pinterest. Perhaps, instead, she thinks the life you and yours live inside the home is the dreamiest part of all.

If you’ve got a friend like this, you are a lucky one! But no worries if you don’t, because I’ve found one for us all. Her name is Bethany. You’re going to want to keep her.

Hey! I’m Bethany. My husband, Paul, and I have been married for 11 years, and we have three kids.

I’m a stay at home mom and part time interior decorator. Paul is a cinematographer and photographer for an oilfield equipment company. He’s the one who actually took all these photos of our home that you’re seeing. I do the decorating and styling, and then he makes it look great in photos. Truthfully, he’s the one who has really encouraged me to pursue my art and to follow this path I’m on! More on that later…

Our oldest son, Charlie, in the second grade, is a Minecraft and Lego wiz.  He’s a quiet but funny guy that loves reading and writing and as the oldest, he is constantly challenging our parenting. Paul and I often look at each other in a panic because who really knows what they’re doing here? By the grace of God, Charlie manages to still be a great kid despite our many parenting fumbles.

Our middle daughter, Norah, is a firecracker who loves dancing, coloring, and fashion. When I found out I was having a girl, I think I was so excited to have this little doll to dress up and give her the girly room that I wanted to decorate. She quickly showed me that she’s her own person with her own opinions about things, which I think was a lesson I needed to learn early on. Around age two she fought me on every single outfit I picked out, and now at age five she dresses herself completely. It’s a battle I had to give up early on and I’m so thankful I did. She’s got a creative spark and I would never want to quench that.

More sweetness, straight ahead!

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Two Rainbow Smoothie Recipes — one creamy and one refreshing.

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is in partnership with Quaker Oats.

Are you a smoothie drinker? We are. We don’t make them daily, but a few times a week is totally normal for us. We love smoothies for after school snacks, and we love them for a quick morning breakfast. I would say especially in the mornings. When we’re feeling rushed, or have a morning time crunch, smoothies are our fastest breakfast. Partly because in general, I’m not big on measuring smoothie ingredients. I tend to throw in whatever’s in the freezer or fridge and adjust proportions as I go. : )

When I’m deciding what should go in the smoothie, the rainbow is my general guideline. If I can fit in red, orange, yellow, green and blue/purple ingredients, that’s terrific. And when I can, I call it a Rainbow Smoothie.

A refreshing Rainbow Smoothie recipe — the more colors the more vitamins and nutrients!

Today I’ve got two Rainbow Smoothie variations for you. I asked my kids to describe the difference, and they said one is creamy, and one is refreshing — and that they loved them both! Each includes Old Fashioned Quaker Oats. The wholegrain oats make the smoothies more filling, so that it really feels like breakfast in a cup. And though I mentioned I don’t typically measure my ingredients, I did measure these so that I could give you a good starting point, and then you can add more or less amounts of ingredients as you see fit.

A refreshing Rainbow Smoothie recipe — the more colors the more vitamins and nutrients! The persimmon and pineapple add the big flavor.

#1 Refreshing Rainbow Smoothie

Ingredients:
- 5 large frozen strawberris
- 1 persimmon, cut into chunks or wedges
- 1/2 cup frozen pineapple (or about an equal amount as the persimmon)
- a handful of spinach
- 1/3 cup frozen blueberries
- 1/4 cup Old Fashioned Quaker Oats
- 1 cup water

A refreshing Rainbow Smoothie recipe — the more colors the more vitamins and nutrients! Persimmon and pineapple add the big flavor. Whole grain oats make it filling.

Throw everything in the blender and mix it up till smooth. You can add more or less liquid if you want the smoothie to be thicker or thinner.

For the next one we switch out the persimmons and pineapple for cantaloupe and bananas. And use milk instead of water. That combo of banana and milk is what brings the creaminess.

Next smoothie combo, just ahead!

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Thanksgiving Report

November 30, 2015

calm treehouse livingroom

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

It wasn’t my original plan, but I ended up taking off work Wednesday thru Friday, and oh my goodness I’m so glad I did. What a luxury it was to simply focus on enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with my family! It was just what I needed. I barely even glanced at my phone for days. A social media break like that once in a while is a treat.

It was a really laid back few days. I pretty much barely left the house at all. After Thanksgiving, it was a strictly lounge-y sort of holiday. Zero shopping. Zero to-do list items. Lots of hanging out. Lots of eating good food.

A few questions:

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was good. There were 18 of us — 8 Blairs and 10 Guests. Everyone helped with food. There was plenty to eat and it all tasted exactly like Thanksgiving should. Plus the conversation was excellent. I went to bed happy and full. And I especially loved how the house felt and looked. The light was extra good that day, and my brother Jared sent two stunning flower arrangements. Last year, Ralph and Olive were in France during Thanksgiving, so having all of us together this year was heavenly.

How long did your pie leftovers last? Ours only made it till Friday. Maude ended up making another banana cream pie on Sunday because we were still having pie cravings.

Did you make turkey noodle soup over the weekend? Us too. But otherwise, the Thanksgiving leftovers are over and done.

Did you score any good deals during the weekend sales? My mind was elsewhere, but now I’m jealous of anyone who has their holiday shopping done! Last year, I took care of our shopping early, like pre-Thanksgiving early, and it was such a relief. No such luck this year.

Do you follow Small Business Saturday? I confess, I wasn’t in shopping mode and didn’t make any purchases that day, but I wanted to support the movement all the same, so midday, I had an idea and I started instagramming about some of my favorite small businesses. I made it to nine, and then realized I love too many small businesses and wouldn’t be able to mention them all. Hah! But that’s certainly a good problem to have. Getting to know dozens of creative entrepreneurs is one of the best parts of my job.

Have you started decorating for the December holidays yet? We started the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the photo above was snapped during the very brief calm between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It already looks much different! We’ve done pretty much everything but the tree, which we plan to pick up sometime this week.

What are you feeling grateful for these days? When we went around the dinner table and shared what we were grateful for, I mentioned that I love that our family is in an ideal phase for Thanksgiving. I don’t know if I explained myself very well, but basically I talked about how different holidays really shine depending on the phase your family is in. Like it’s hard to beat Christmas morning when you have little kids in the house who are still under the magic spell of Santa. And Halloween is brilliant when kids are old enough to get creative with their costumes.

We happen to be in a really good phase for Thanksgiving. Everyone is old enough to help with the cooking and preparations, and they have interesting things to add to the dinner conversation. Plus they seem to really understand what the holiday is for — this special time set aside to be with your family and be thankful. And I know it won’t last, this phase we’re in, so I really appreciated it this year.

I can tell you that I’m also feeling incredibly grateful for YOU. My inbox can be a funny place. Sometimes people are very frustrated with me. But during Thanksgiving week, my inbox was nothing but love and kindness. So many of you wrote such wonderful messages and it’s part of why the long weekend was blissful for me. Thank you.

To all of you who read here, who send ideas and suggestions, join in the discussions, share my posts, give helpful feedback, click like on Facebook, or heart on Instagram, or repin on Pinterest, I want you to know how thankful I am for this community. You have been a big part of my life for 9 1/2 years now, and I miss you like crazy when I take a few days off!

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! And now, bring on December! : )

P.S. — Speaking of December, I just filled my sidebar with tons of my favorite decorating and DIY gift ideas. I hope they’re helpful!

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DIY: Stamped Clay Place Cards

November 24, 2015

Stamped Place Cards for Your Holiday Table | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Do you use place cards at your formal meals? We rarely have. But I feel like we should use them more often, because they can really make set table feel extra-special. As a guest, seeing a card with my name on it, made for me, in a spot set for me, is delightful. Proof someone thought of me! : ) I loved seeing a place set with my name as a child, and it’s pretty darn wonderful as an adult too.

Stamped Place Cards | Design Mom

This particular place card idea really caught my attention, because I love the mixture of materials — clay and twine with a touch of metallic. And I could imagine my kids working on these and having a wonderful time.

stamped-place-cards 9 stamped-place-cards 6

So Amy Christie whipped up some samples and we’ve got an easy tutorial for you today. Here’s what Amy says:

On Thanksgiving when I was young, my mom would bring along a project for all the cousins to do while we weren’t eating. Painting salt-dough turkeys, and making a large banner about thankfulness, are the two I remember most. It gave us something to do, inspired by the holiday, and it came in handy when the weather was inclement.

Stamped Place Cards for Your Holiday Table | Design Mom

If you are looking for an easy and simple and fairly clean project for the little ones celebrating with you, these stamped clay place cards are a great choice. And if you have any budding spellers, this is extra fun! Bonus: if you worry about misspelling names, these place cards are easily fixed. Instead of throwing out the whole thing, just toss the erring letter (or two) and add in the corrections.

I also love this project because I’ve always been a fan of place cards. Over the years, we’ve made several versions for our tablescapes, holiday and otherwise. Even in their simplicity, I liked them enough to keep a small stack of the ones with my name in my childhood desk drawer.

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Want to try these? Let’s get started.

Click here for the tutorial!

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By Gabrielle.

Rebecca describes herself as the stay-at-home mom of a family who really doesn’t like to stay at home! Once a big-firm attorney, she now spends her time planning family field trips, blogging, and authoring a book due in 2016. I admire her sense of adventure, her enthusiasm, her Fall Bucket List, her advice about living a brave, can-do life — and, yes, I also adore her navy couches. Sigh.

So come meet Rebecca! You’re going to like her so much, I just know it.

The Green Machine, as we affectionately named ourselves — we even have a family rallying cheer! — is made up of myself, my husband Joel, and our two children Kane (seven) and Cameron (five-and-a-half…that half is very important!). When I think of the thing that most defines our family, it is heart. Hearts full of love for each other, keeping our hearts and minds open to people and ideas, and putting our hearts into whatever it is we’re doing.

I’m Rebecca and I consider myself to be a bit of a jack of all trades, a master of none. I’m a lawyer, but have been taking a break from the practice of law for the past almost five years to run The Green Machine. I’m not super into astrology, but I think I definitely fit my Gemini sign’s combination of both an introvert and extrovert. I am interested in an endless variety of subjects and I would stay in school forever if I could, so having this time at home with our children has been a wonderful opportunity to explore new things with them. I love modern design, trail running, and the color grey. I also love to entertain, but am equally excited to host a kitchen dance party as I am a fancy shindig. I like to say that glitter and sarcasm keep me balanced.

My husband is both the funniest and most hardworking person I know. He practices law at a big firm in D.C. and is away from home a lot, which is probably the hardest on him out of all of us. He is also the loudest human being EVER. He does nothing quietly, which I like to think is really just part of him putting his heart into everything. He is also an incredibly good sport about all of the family adventures I scheme up, and keeps us all on an even keel.

More gorgeous views, straight ahead! Oh, those stairs!

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Thanksgiving Prep Schedule

November 23, 2015

tutorial for the perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

By Gabrielle. Photo by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom — learn how to perfectly roast a turkey here.

I really like Thanksgiving Week. Not just because I get to enjoy a big meal with so many people I love, but also because I really love having a good reason to do all the tasks that go along with Thanksgiving prep. I realize not everyone gets a kick out of stuff like this, but from time to time, it’s totally my thing.

I love taking an inventory of our dishes and flatware and linens. I love thinking about a centerpiece and about what I’ll put in the entry to greet guests. I love giving the house a deep clean — not just for Thanksgiving, but as a backdrop for December and the whole holiday season.

I love planning the menu with the kids and reminiscing about favorite desserts we’ve served. And I love reading our notes from the years we celebrated Thanksgiving in France, and how excited we were when my sister found fresh cranberries to bring!

Over the years, I’ve learned I function best if I spread out the preparations throughout the week, so that I don’t get overwhelmed. Though some years I get overwhelmed anyway. Did you see this video? I laughed so hard! It’s like a documentary of my life. “I need a bird feeder in every window!” Hah!

In addition to cleaning the house, here’s how I’m doing Thanksgiving prep this year:

- Last week, I ordered a few additional plates and additional flatware.

- Over the weekend, Ben Blair did round one of the grocery shopping — picking up any non-perishables we need for Thanksgiving day.

- Today, I’m ironing the linens and figuring out an activity for the kids table.

- Tuesday, I’m buying supplies for the centerpiece, and I’m setting up the front entry display — something Thanksgiving-y to welcome guests. We’ll do the shopping for the rest of our dinner ingredients too.

- Wednesday, we’ll do some pre-cooking. We’ll prep the crab cakes, two of the desserts and one of the side dishes. Technically, we could do all the cooking on Thursday because we don’t eat till 2:00 or 3:00. But we like to go on a family walk around Lake Merritt on Thanksgiving morning. Doing some prep on Wednesday makes that walk doable. No doubt we’ll also need to run to the grocery store for something we’ve forgotten.

- Then on Thursday, we’ll cook the rest. Like most people, we have one oven, and it is required to do a lot of juggling that day, so I like to write down a rough cooking schedule for Thursday, just to make sure I actually have time and oven space to cook everything we want to cook. : )

The kids are out of school all week, which means I have lots of potential helpers, so this schedule feels pretty doable to me. But then again, I won’t be surprised if we have to move stuff around. That’s normal at our house.

How about you? Do you like the sort of tasks that come with Thanksgiving week? Or is “taking inventory of the linens” the stuff of nightmares for you? Are you cooking this year? Maybe bringing a side dish to the feast? Or are you’re hosting this year? If you have a particularly busy week of work and school, how are you handling the grocery shopping? We’ve definitely had some very last minute years! And no doubt there are many of you who are traveling this week — does Thanksgiving for you mean suitcases and plane tickets? I always love hearing your stories.

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Thanksgiving Side Dish: Stuffing with cherries, fennel, and pecans | Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Okay you guys. This is it. Thanksgiving week has arrived! If you’re hosting (I am!) it’s officially time to nail down the menu and track down any specific recipes you want to use. If you’re looking for ideas, I’ve been sharing a few Thanksgiving side dishes throughout the month, and I’ve got one more for you today. It’s one of those traditional Thanksgiving essentials: Stuffing.

Thanksgiving stuffing with dried cherries. Delicious! | Design Mom

This particular recipe is sprinkled with extras like dried cherries and fennel. Which reminds me that stuffing, which on the surface seems like a not-stressful, pretty basic dish, can actually instigate some pretty big opinions.

From what I can tell, there are 3 separate debates that happen around stuffing. First is the Cornbread vs. Not-Cornbread argument — for some people only a specific kind of stuffing does the trick (you’ll read below that some families make both!). Second is the Simple Stuffing vs. Add-Ins argument. Meaning, do you prefer a simple boxed recipe? Or do you favor adding in extra ingredients and new flavors? And third, do you actually stuff your turkey with the stuffing? Or do you cook the stuffing separately?

Thanksgiving stuffing with dried cherries. Delicious! | Design Mom

I wonder if the strong opinions come because Thanksgiving is like a giant meal of comfort foods. But it’s not comforting, unless it’s the recipe and the flavors and textures that you grew up with. So you end up with a dozen people at the table, who hear the word stuffing, and all think of something a bit different.

If you’re on the stuffing recipe hunt, Lindsey Johnson has an amazing one for us, but before we jump in, I’d love to hear: Where do you fall on the stuffing debates? Are you team cornbread? Are you team boxed? Do you cook your stuffing in the turkey or outside? Or are you just thankful that someone else is handling the cooking this year?

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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A Few Things

November 20, 2015

Eiffel Tower Black and White

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Hi Friends. How are you? How was your week? I confess, I’m glad this week is almost over. It wasn’t my best. I think it’s due to a combination of last week’s discussions/arguments about the new Mormon policy, and this week’s headlines and updates on Paris and Isis. I feel like I’ve somehow used up my emotional capital. In fact, yesterday, I received a comment from someone who told me I needed to say more about the church policy, and accused me of being fearful and hiding, and I was so frustrated I sent back a rude email. Ugh. Not my finest moment.

But there are good things too. An especially GOOD thing is that my mother-in-law was released from the hospital yesterday!! This is so much sooner than was originally anticipated. We were first hoping for Christmas at the earliest — and that’s if she got better at all. And here it is, still pre-Thanksgiving, and she’s doing so much better! It truly feels miraculous. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that she’s healing so quickly. Julia is amazing and we need her around as long as possible!

There are other small-but-satisfying good things too. I feel like my content on Design Mom this week has been especially awesome (I hope you’ve enjoyed it). I have two terrific photo shoots scheduled today that I’m looking forward to. Plus my kids are off of school next week, so this is like the start of a very long weekend! Which is heaven to me — I love having the kids around, and I love getting a break from our morning routine.

And one more good thing is that I found lots of excellent links this week! Speaking of which, here are a few things I want to share with you:

- Like most everyone else, I’ve been trying to get more educated on Isis, the Paris attacks and the Syrian Refugees. I thought this article — how a refugee gets to America, explained by an actual refugee — was helpful. What of you been reading that is good? Share links!

- If you want to take action and help via a donation. This organization got an A+ on Charity Watch — 90% of your donation goes to refugee aid.

- Or, if you have a baby carrier you no longer need, you can donate it to refugees here.

These architectural collages. I want to look at a million of these. Heaven.

- November is National Diabetes Awareness month. Amy Christie, a dear friend and long-time contributor here, has a daughter who was just diagnosed with Type I. Amy wrote three posts about what she’s learned so far. Start with Part 1 and read all three.

- Have we reached a saturation point on Go Fund Me and Kickstarter campaigns?

- I think I might be the last one to hear about egg rationing.

- “My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment.”

- For all the highly organized people in your life.

- Have any of you tried this? Apparently, it lets you wash your roots, while keeping the rest of your hair dry.

- 80 books no woman should read. Funny! Also. Kind of sad.

- Chasing the link between gut bacteria and autism.

- Okay cat experts, I need to know, are cats and cucumbers really a thing?

I hope you have a happy and wonderful weekend. I hope that everyone out there needing some self-care gets it. Naps for everyone! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

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100% Cotton Holiday Pajamas

November 20, 2015

100% Cotton Holiday Pajamas — in prints and stripes and plaids that will still look good after Christmas!

By Gabrielle.

I’m on the annual hunt for holiday pajamas! New pjs for the kids is one of our favorite Christmas Eve traditions. But sometimes I leave the shopping till the last minute, and then trying to find sizes for everyone is almost impossible, so whenever I can, I try to purchase them early — like by Thanksgiving — and then I keep them hidden until I can wrap them up and put them under the tree, sometime in mid-December.

As you already know, there are a TON of holiday pajama designs out there. Lots of really cute ones! Polar bears and snowflakes and ornaments and snowmen and Christmas trees. But that’s not what I’m looking for, so I skip most of what’s available. This is what I’m looking for instead: options that are 1) 100% cotton, 2) available in sizes that will fit all six of my kids, and 3) something that will look festive and holiday-ish, but will also look great after the holidays.

So basically, I’m looking for pajamas that you could pull on in April or September and they wouldn’t scream CHRISTMAS. This means I generally avoid red and green combos, or anything with winter-y symbols — though I’ve been known to make an exception here or there, because goodness gracious, this is not the most important decision in the world. : )

I started my hunt this week, and happily, I found lots of terrific options! I thought I’d share them here in case anyone else is shopping for pajamas too. This is what I’ve found so far:

1) Matching plaid flannel for the whole family from The Company Store. I like that they have options within their plaid —classic tops and bottoms, nightgowns, grown up sizes, teen versions that have lounge pants plus a waffle knit top, even matching pjs for the puppy! And I really like that the fabric is 100% cotton flannel (that’s actually hard to find these days — most of the flannels out there are polyester and they don’t age well as they wash). This was the source of last year’s pjs and they are still looking great! I also love that the colors in the plaid don’t scream Christmas, so they look good through the whole winter.

2) A new discovery this year: Burt’s Bees is offering organic pj sets. And they’re really cute! I like these candy cane striped pjs, and these in solid red with great button details, and these in a wide rugby stripe. The downside is these only go to size 7. So if you have older kids, you’re out of luck. The upside is that these will look great during the holidays, and afterwards too. Also, they’re fairly priced at under $20.

3) Hannah Andersson has tons of holiday prints in red & green, but I prefer their red and grey stripe, and their thermals in solid red, or solid green versions. Did I mention I prefer no Christmas branding?

4) I found these red & white striped pjs and they are much less expensive than Hannah’s and get great reviews (though I haven’t tried these personally). Available from size 12 months to 14 years and they’re under $20! Plus they’re tagless and 100% cotton. The same label offers a women’s version as well.

5) I also like this red and navy wide striped set. Again, 100% cotton. These are from the boys department at The Children’s Place, but I think they work well as a unisex option. The red feels holiday, but after the holiday the red + navy means they’ll just feel classic.

6) Or if you don’t like the unisex look, you could pair those red and navy pjs with this red sleep set from GapKids, it has tiny white polka dots and feminine detailing. Also 100% cotton.

7) I’m totally into these Grandfather style pjs from Cyrillus in France. We bought these in a similar plaid for all the kids three years ago. And then I added a little red grosgrain bow to the pocket for the girls. These pjs lasted for years! They are plaid but not flannel, and 100% cotton. The weight of the cotton is perfect — it worked all year long. And the best news: They finally ship to the U.S.! Which means, this is probably what I’ll order this year.

8) Last but not least, Union Suits are a fun option (depending on kids ages and preferences). Here’s a cute union suit by J.Crew. It’s available from size 2 through size 16 — and it’s 30% off right now! And here is a solid red union suit from Hannah Andersson.

Alright. Now it’s your turn. What have you found this year? Any other great options out there? And do you have a pajama tradition at your house? If yes, how do you like to manage it? Do you go for matching options? I know some families bring out the pjs in early December, and in other families, pjs are the preferred gift from Grandma and Grandpa. How does it work at your house?

P.S. — For this post, I focused on options that could fit multiple kids in one family. But if you’re shopping for a baby or toddler and don’t need older kid sizes, there are a ton more options out there!

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Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese | Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Hooray! I’ve got another Thanksgiving side dish for you! The first idea was the shaved Brussels sprouts. And when I shared that post, I wasn’t sure if I was hosting Thanksgiving this year or not. But it has since been decided, and we are definitely hosting this year! This is great news, because we love hosting Thanksgiving. This whole week I’ve been making an inventory or dishes and flatware and linens and seating. And of course, I’m thinking hard about the menu as well.

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese | Design Mom

Much of it our traditional menu is quite established as this point, but there’s always room for another side dish! This year, I feel like I should finally master a sweet potato recipe. I have rarely if ever served sweet potatoes for any meal, Thanksgiving or otherwise. For a long time I thought I wasn’t a fan. But we keep ordering sweet potato fries whenever we go out for burgers, and I’ve realized that if they’re savory/salty, I’m totally into them!

So I asked Liz of Carpé Season for a good, savory, sweet potato recipe, and she totally delivered. Don’t these look amazing?

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese | Design Mom

Where do you fall on sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving? Are they a must-have on your menu? Or do you avoid them? And do go for a more traditional marshmallow topped option? Or do you favor savory, like me? I’d love to hear!

Click here for the recipe and notes!

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July Picture Books 201507

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

I always love sharing new picture books with you! Here are six that I’ve added to our collection. One is for older kids, and one is for younger kids, and the rest are for the middle kids. As usual, all of these picks are both visually compelling and fun to read.

First up, My Wild Family by Laurent Moreau. This is an oversize picture book and the illustrations caught my eye first. It’s a really beautiful book to look at. As you read, you get introduced to each member of the family — like a strong older brother who is just like an elephant!

July Picture Books 201508 July Picture Books 201509

This is a great book for sparking an imaginative conversation. What animal is your child like? What animal are you like?

July Picture Books 201501

Next up, Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec. This one is a charmer, and I’m betting you don’t have anything else like it. It’s a visual whodunnit for preschoolers.

July Picture Books 201503 July Picture Books 201502

Each page asks a mysterious question, and your kids will study the illustrations to find the answer. So many cute details! This one is irresistible.

Four more books when you click through!

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Artichokes

November 18, 2015

Why artichokes are the your kid's favorite vegetable and you don't even know it yet. #reclaimthekitchen

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post was brought to you by Wolf. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.

Oh my goodness. I’m so excited to share this with you! Last month, I had the chance to work with my sister Jordan, and my sister-in-law Liz, on such a fun project. Wolf — makers of gorgeous cooking appliances! — asked us about some of our favorite family recipes, and then they made a video of us cooking up one of our go-to, easy family dinners. Take a look!

This video is such a treasure to me because the meal we put together is connected to a dozen family memories and to a dozen of the people I love most. Jordan prepped a simple Brown Butter Pasta (she’ll share her post on 11/18). The recipe comes from our dear Aunt Robin. As Jordan mentioned in the video, it’s essentially a more sophisticated mac-and-cheese. Kids love it!

Liz made a simple bread, called figasa. It’s a recipe we learned from our Grandma Daisy, whose parents were immigrants from Italy. When I was growing up, my mom made figasa at least once a month, and I can totally see her in my mind, pushing thumbprints of butter all over the dough. I said this in the video, but in case you missed it, figasa is essentially the same thing as focaccia, but in the region of Italy where Daisy’s parents came from, it’s called figasa. In fact, I remember focaccia suddenly being on every menu everywhere and being so confused because I couldn’t figure out why people were calling it the wrong name. Hah!

My job for this meal was the artichokes. Artichokes bring back so many memories from my childhood! My family loved eating artichokes. I remember trimming the artichoke leaves, watching the artichokes drain upside down after they were cooked, and dipping the leaves in mayo or melted butter. Then seeing the discard pile get higher and higher. I remember getting to the hairy part and needing help cutting it off. And then finding the pot of gold underneath — the heart!

How to prepare and eat a whole artichoke. It will be your new favorite vegetable, I promise! #reclaimthekitchen

I also remember realizing in high school that most of my friends had never eaten an artichoke. I’m not totally sure why that was — but when I was a kid, I don’t think they were as available as they are now. I wonder if my parents knew about them because they both grew up in California, where everything grows so well, and artichokes are readily available.

An artichoke is something you really need to be taught to eat. There’s nothing instinctive about it. In fact, I sometimes wonder who the first person was that figured out you can scrape the leaves against your teeth! So if your parents were never taught how to prepare and eat them, then chances are you wouldn’t know either.

In case you’re someone who has never had the opportunity to make them for your family, I’m here to encourage you. Artichokes are such a hit with kids! They’re easily the most interactive vegetable. There’s so much dipping! Kids adore dipping! And the mysterious hairy part! An artichoke is such a fascinating food.

If you want to give them a try, you’re in luck, because the prep is actually quite easy. Really, truly. The only tricky part is knowing how to eat one, but once you’ve done it, it’s not something you have to relearn. : )

Anyway, it was such a pleasure to work on this video with Wolf. I’m in love with their Reclaim the Kitchen initiative. Wolf knows that the kitchen is the heart of the home. They’re on a mission to help families cook better, live better, live more thoughtfully, and live more healthfully — starting with simple family meals at home. So terrific!

Feed your kids artichokes! They are the most interactive vegetable and kids love dipping the leaves. #reclaimthekitchen

Tell me, Friends. What’s your experience with artichokes? Did you grow up eating them? Do you remember who taught you to eat one the first time? Have you taught your kids? Or do you find them intimidating? And if you were asked to prep a simple family meal packed with memories, what would you cook?

P.S. — Ready to give give artichokes a try? Here’s how I prep them. I cut off the stem and tops with a knife, then trim the leaves with kitchen shears. Then I put them in a big pot of boiling water — enough water to cover them. Cover the pot and simmer the artichokes. Cooking time can vary, but try 30 minutes for a medium-sized artichoke or 45 minutes for a jumbo one. Take the artichokes from the water and let them drain upside down. You can put them on a dish or in a strainer — anywhere that will allow the water to come out. Then get ready to dip!

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