Holidays, Events & Parties

Bulldogs
Baltimore is known for its quirkiness, and the American Visionary Art Museum‘s Annual Fourth of July Pet Parade is the perfect embodiment of quirk. We’ve rarely missed one since we moved here. (It helps that the museum is right around the corner from our home.)

AVAM Pet Parade Poster
This is no ordinary parade, and these are no ordinary pets. Their humans — many dressed up in Independence Day–themed costumes — dress them up and “parade” them in front of an admiring crowd, vying for wacky awards and honorable mentions. Most of the entrants are dogs, but over the years we’ve seen turtles and other reptiles, birds, a firefly in a mason jar, and a piglet. This year we spotted some goats.

AVAM Dog

AVAM Goat

AVAM Cat

AVAM Dog
The human contestants are called on stage one by one to share their pets’ names and any fun facts, tricks, or quirks about their furry/scaly/feathered friends. A small dog wearing some googly eyes was peeking out of the basket in the photo below; behind, you can see Fifi, the AVAM’s giant pink poodle “kinetic sculpture,” who makes regular appearances in local parades.

AVAM Pet Parade Stage
There was a Cuban food truck on hand serving the crowd. It might not be hot dogs and apple pie, but ethnic food always seems pretty American to me.

AVAM Pet Parade
In spite of the fact that our girls are still pretty wary of dogs, they handled being in a crowd of festive-looking canines quite well.

AVAM Monkey on Dog's Back
AVAM’s Pet Parade always makes us smile and gives us another chance to say “only in Baltimore.”

What did you get up to this past weekend? Are there any “signature” events in your neck of the woods at this time of year?

This post was inspired by Design Mom‘s newly resurrected series, “Love the Place You Live.” Be sure to check out the link-up at her site for more posts where readers explore fun places and events close to home; if you’re a blogger, too, I hope you’ll join in!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up a Chair

July 4, 2014

4th of July

Happy Friday, friends — and happy Fourth of July to my American readers! Hope it’s a safe and happy day wherever you are. We have plans with family this weekend and otherwise are laying low, since B was down with a terrible case of food poisoning last weekend (and the earlier part of this week) and we could use a few days to catch up on some things and just be.

Today definitely calls for an celebratory drink, though, so join me and grab a 4th of July Wine Sparkler from The Kitchn. Don’t they look light, refreshing, and fun? As for my high and low this week:

Low: Although he’s finally on the mend, B’s illness seemed to last a long time. I’ve been sleeping with the girls a lot, which rarely provides a sound and restful sleep. I also usually get a couple of short breaks on the weekends, but since B was out of commission, it wasn’t possible — plus I was trying to take care of him as I could, which, on the heels of the girls’ birthday festivities, felt like a lot. (Whenever I solo parent for a while I think of all the single parents out there — how do they do it??)

High: Luckily, I had no where much to be this past week — some play dates, errands to run, visits with family members — but otherwise, it was pretty low key. I’m totally digging the summer schedule with no homeschooling activities, lessons, or other regular appointments to keep up with. Can’t it be summer break all the time?

Bonus question: Are you watching the World Cup? If so, who are your teams? I’m not watching — I’ve never been much of a sports watcher, except for the Olympics — but I think I could get into it. I heard the U.S.-Belgium game was such a nail-biter! Also, I had to laugh: Last Sunday the girls and I joined a few friends at a small Ethiopian restaurant for lunch, where it was our small group and about 25 Ethiopian men glued to the the TV screens, yelling and cheering for the game. Ethiopia wasn’t even playing! It does seem like the World Cup is becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the U.S., though.

Alright, friends: If you’re not out at the pool or grilling burgers right now, grab a Sparkler above and tell me how you’re doing! I hope it’s a safe and happy weekend for you and yours. I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

SlowMama's Summer Recipes
It’s been a while since we’ve had a good recipe round-up around these parts, but the Fourth of July — a.k.a., America’s High Holy Day of Summer — seemed like as good a time as any. The SlowMama archives are positively busting with great summer dishes; here are some of my favorites that seemed particularly grill-worthy:

Homemade Sodas

Homemade Sodas
You’re so fancy.

If you prefer your lemonade sans gas, try Ann’s basil variety — still one of my favorite summer drinks.

Boiled Peanuts

peanuts
Make them for the nostalgia factor, make them because they’re best eaten when it’s a million degrees out — just make them. (Or, if you prefer your peanuts Thai-inspired, go with these chili lime peanuts instead.)

Guacamole Salad

Recipe: Guacamole Salad
I make this side dish every chance I get in the summer. Would go great with some grilled chicken and corn on the cob…

Panzanella

panzanella2
Another tomato-based side, but a little more Italian-y. If you’re lucky enough to be seeing fresh tomatoes at the market or in your garden already, make this one immediately.

Summer Ceviche

ceviche2
A little something different from your traditional burgers and dogs. This would be amazing as a starter.

Quinoa Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, and Roasted Pepitas

Quinoa
Ann’s technique for making perfect quinoa is the secret to this dish’s awesomeness. A great change of pace for a summer potluck.

Curried Chicken Salad

chicken salad plate
I just made this one last weekend, and it felt like it was gone five minutes later; it’s a total crowd-pleaser. Throw a couple extra chicken breasts on the grill, and you can pull it together in no time.

Triple Berry Pie

Triple Berry Pie
Still my favorite summer pie, hands down — and we’re just about entering peak berry season, when it really shines. (And look how patriotic it is!) If you prefer something a little more traditional, though, try Zoe’s recipe for basic pie crust — and don’t forget the dairy-free coconut whipped cream!

Chocolate Mint Pudding Popsicles


I completely forgot about these! This is definitely happening.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookie plate
Can’t have a cookout without ‘em.

I feel like there were so many other recipes I could have added here — the watermelon granita Ann posted just this week, for one, or a Pimm’s cup, or even this peach crisp… Got any particular favorites? What’s on your July 4 menu?

Images: SlowMama

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Pull Up a Chair

June 27, 2014

Birthday Girls
Let’s start with my high of the week: My girls’ birthday yesterday. They turned six! I can hardly believe it. They were just four when they came home… I know that’s how time works, but still, how can this be happening?

We had the best day: A morning playdate with two other families at a beautiful local park on the water (complete with perfect weather); a mom-and-daughters lunch at a gourmet food market (at the girls’ request), where we had a trio of salmon and homemade soup with handmade raw chocolates for dessert and then walked out with a bottle of kimchi and butterfly lime kombucha (are they my girls, or what?); a stop at a floral shop to pick out a flower to honor the girls’ first mother (and they picked out pink gerbera daisies for themselves); a fun afternoon manicure (a gift from their aunt and uncle); dinner made by Daddy, who came home early (their request: his special chopped salad); and a cake party with friends (I made two gluten-free cakes — successfully!) followed by gifts, which included m-cro kickboard scooters that they couldn’t be more thrilled about.

Jinji Chocolates!
I’m writing this in a bit of a tired haze after such a full day, but I can’t believe I get to have so much fun with such awesome little girls. Did I mention they are now six? Sniff, sniff.

As for a low, that’s probably it right there: This time really does go so incredibly fast, and I need to remind myself of this when we’re having hard episodes. (We had one of those this past week, but luckily the birthday bliss is blocking it out.)

As for a drink today, I’m pouring elderberry lemonade, which we served at the cake party last night.  A great alternative to wine when you want something special for adults and kids alike.

H Turns Six
Anything exciting on your docket this weekend? The birthday celebrations here aren’t quite finished yet: Tomorrow we’re planning a short hike and a picnic with some playmates of the girls’, and we’ll be helping my brother and sister-in-law unpack in their new place. Looking forward to it all!

Hope you and yours have a lovely weekend, whatever you’re up to, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul and JWR

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Dinner Guests
Growing up in Nova Scotia, hospitality was a way of life. People there are welcoming: There’s always room for one more at the table, and it’s not unusual for someone to stop by unannounced for tea — or longer.

Given my background, then, I always feel a bit strange about not offering more hospitality in my own home. Creating an extra space at our table is doable (if we can find that lone folding chair), but an extra three or four people is a bit of a feat. Our nine-foot-wide home just doesn’t accommodate large groups — or even small ones — very well.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve also developed the expectation that I need to tidy, clean, and have a special plan in place before inviting guests over – and as any parent with young children knows, that’s not always realistic. Add the needs of my husband (who’s a major introvert) and daughters (who can still act a little weird around people), and I feel like I need to carefully plan invitations to guests.

Still, hospitality is an important value to me, and I came across a post recently that challenged me to start thinking about it a little differently. The author focuses on what he calls “scruffy hospitality”: the idea that, by inviting people into our homes even when there’s toys strewn about, kid chaos, and a simple dinner on the table, we’re really making space for genuine relationships. Conversely, if we wait to have everything together before welcoming friends, we’re missing out. I really like what he says here:

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.

Don’t allow a to-do list to disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests “come as you are,” perhaps we should tell ourselves “host as you are.”

Guilty. It’s so easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that I need to whip up a Barefoot Contessa–approved dinner and clean my house top to bottom before any guest darkens my door. There’s some pride going on here, too: I’d like to have a better house for entertaining, and I care about providing an all-around lovely experience for guests – but I also know that real friends come for the company (okay, and maybe something slightly yummy to eat). I know I certainly don’t care about mess and kids running about when the tables are turned, so why can’t I cut myself the same slack? It’s a good reminder that hospitality isn’t primarily about entertaining but about building relationships and sharing our lives with each other.

Of course, I think there’s something to be said for balance. I’d feel so uncomfortable having guests for dinner while knowing that our only bathroom is a disaster zone and we have nothing planned to eat. It feels disrespectful to be unprepared for guests, especially if I’ve extended an invitation in advance.

Still, while I think there’s a place for beautifully laid-out dinner parties and special-occasion gatherings, what about the every-day, last-minute, come-on-over kind of stuff? I’d like to be better in that department.

I’d love to know: Are you all about “scruffy” hospitality, or do you prefer to entertain in style or plan well in advance? What do you expect when you’re invited into someone’s home — especially if they have young children? And what are the non-negotiables for you if you’re having guests for a meal at your house?

Image: William-Sonoma via Pinterest

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by Margaret Cabaniss

slow_dads_gifts

Yes, it’s mostly slow mamas around here, but we do love our slow dads. Here are a few gift ideas for Father’s Day (a week from Sunday, so you still have time!) to show them how much they’re appreciated:

1 / Coffee Mug. For old salts who are particular about their morning coffee.

2 / Book Light. For the low-tech dad who refuses to get a Kindle but manfully rocks a fussy baby in the middle of the night. Ten bucks was never spent better.

3 / Steens Cane Syrup. For the nostalgic dad who misses a taste of home. Substitute his favorite childhood food here.

4 / Camping Hammock. For the outdoorsy dad — or the one who just needs a comfy place to relax after a long day chasing the kiddos. (If it’s likely those kiddos will simply follow him into the hammock: Better get the two-person model.)

5 / Red Metal Toolbox. For the handy dad who keeps it retro, a handsome place to keep his stuff.

6 / The Bar Book. What’s the booze version of a foodie? This is for that dad. Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s new (as in, came-out-Tuesday) book goes deep into proper cocktail-making technique, so he can start whipping up some artisan Manhattans — a gift for everyone, really.

Not pictured: a box of homemade cookies. For the dad who says he has everything, but who we all really know can never have enough cookies.

What are you getting your favorite slow dads for Father’s Day this year?

PS — You can find other great gift ideas for dudes in the SlowMama Holiday Gift Guides from 2012 and 2013; these cheap-and-easy topographical map prints would be a hit, too.

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First Family Road Trip

May 27, 2014

Road Trip
I have an aversion to traveling on holiday weekends, but when friends invited us to use their lake house in northern Pennsylvania this past Memorial Day weekend, we couldn’t say no. It was a good chance to get out of the city for some special family time and soak in some nature.

It was, technically, our first road trip as a family. We’ve taken our time hitting the road with S and H; they don’t love being in their car seats for long, and for their first year home, we preferred to avoid unnecessary meltdowns. But we figured the “about three hour” trek to Eagle’s Mere, PA, would be a manageable baby step. Of course, that driving-time projection was according to our friends, who are not only familiar with the myriad winding roads you have to take to get there, but never have young children riding in their back seat. It took us five hours each way, which included stopping to eat, and some unexpected road work.

Lake House
Also, I forgot how long it takes to pack for a family — and for this trip, in addition to our personal belongings, we were bringing groceries, bedding, games and art supplies in case we had rain, snacks for the car, etc. (I realized when we got there that I have a ways to go when it comes to mastering road-trip packing: We brought way too much — especially in the clothing department.)

Hiking in PA
All this meant that we left later than intended and arrived later than expected, which gave us only one full day there. But we made the best of it and had a fantastic time: We hiked (there are so many beautiful parks up there, with waterfalls and hiking trails galore) got some beach time at the lake, had a first-class cookout, and roasted marshmallows in the fire pit. The weather was gorgeous the whole time, and our friends’ house was the perfect getaway place. If there’s a next time, we’ll make sure to spend at least two full days up there, but we’re still glad we went.

S at the Beach

Mom, Girls and Marshmallow Sticks
The girls had a blast, and while the trip there was a bit of a bear — they began whining “Are we there yet??” about an hour into the trip — the way home went much better. Napping helped; so did stops at Cracker Barrel. (I think the girls may have enjoyed the rocking chairs out front more than the biscuits.)

Cracker Barrel
We’re already looking forward to our next road trip, but I think we’ll keep taking baby steps. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll find ourselves on a cross-country adventure…

Are you a road-tripping family? What are your tips for making them enjoyable – or at least tolerable — for young children and parents?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul and B

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IMG_1933 It’s been a whirlwind couple of days around here, and I’ve got jury duty today, so this morning I thought I’d just share some photos from our weekend.

The baptism on Saturday was so beautiful, and S and H looked (and felt) like little princesses. Their gorgeous dresses were made by our good friend — and their godmother — Abby. I tucked baby’s breath into their hair, which was the perfect touch.

IMG_0486

IMG_1987
I was pooped on Mother’s Day after all the excitement Saturday, but I got to sleep in a bit, and then we went out for a delicious brunch. The girls gave me homemade cards and an all-natural, vanilla-scented sugar body scrub they made in their craft class. These two light up my life and make me a proud and grateful mom.

Mothers Day 2014 How was your weekend, friends? Do anything special?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul, Hal N, Tino C, and B

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by Margaret Cabaniss

How to Make Silhouettes
I made these little paper silhouettes of my nephews as a Christmas present for my sister a few years back — but it wasn’t until she asked me recently to update them (and include one of the little guy who had come along since then) that it occurred to me that they’d make a great Mother’s Day gift, too. It’s the perfect thing to give to moms (or grandmothers) who say they already have everything they want — because honestly, they always want more pictures of their darling children.

There’s a high-tech way to make silhouettes in a photo-editing program, but I like the slightly more three-dimensional, hand-cut look — and it’s still pretty simple.

What you’ll need:

  • a photo of said children
  • computer/printer
  • 1 sheet each of heavy black and white card stock
  • a bold-colored pen
  • tape and a glue stick
  • a fine-tipped craft knife (and cutting mat) or very small scissors
  • a frame

Paper Silhouettes
To start, you’ll need a photo of your child in profile from the shoulders up. This is, hands down, the trickiest part of the whole project: Trying to get very little ones to sit still and stare straight ahead and not wiggle or try to eat the camera turns out to be a bit of a thing. (Try playing a video — or holding some candy — just out of frame; they’ll be as still as statues.) You want to do this against a well-lit, light-colored background, like an empty wall — even use your dreaded flash to really get a good, high-contrast photo. Don’t worry too much about making it perfect, though: As you can see, Thomas didn’t quite get the “close your mouth — and don’t smile” idea, but it ended up adding Thomas-y character to his little silhouette.

Once you’ve snapped your photo, upload it to your computer, resize it to the final dimensions you want for your silhouette, and print out a black-and-white version on regular printer paper. This will be your pattern for cutting the final image out of the black card stock.

How to Make Silhouettes
Next, outline the head and shoulders with a dark pen or marker to make the edges really clear, so you can easily see where to cut. The trick to silhouette-making is including enough detail so that the faces are recognizable, but not so much that you’ll be cursing all the tiny cuts you need to make later. (This is particularly true with girls’ hair: I definitely recommend pulling it back – or at least brushing it well – before taking your picture.) Remember, you’re going for stylized here, not a perfect anatomical rendering. To finish the image on the bottom, I drew a slight S curve, starting somewhere around the shoulders, from back to front.

Paper Silhouettes
Once your image is traced, cut it out slightly outside your tracing line. At this point, you can attach it to your piece of black card stock by either taping all the edges of your image (making sure to cover your tracing lines) or simply gluing it straight down. (But remember: If you glue the image to the card stock, you’ll have to use the back of the image for your final display — which means they’ll be facing in the opposite direction.) I’ve tried both with about equal success, but one method might work better than another for you, depending on your cutting tools; just try experimenting a bit.

Paper Silhouettes
For cutting out the photo, this little craft knife turned out to be perfect: The tiny blade swivels in its mount, making it much easier to trace the curves of the image. (My attempts to do this with a standard Xacto knife were…not pretty.) If you don’t have a cutting mat, a piece of cardboard or a stack of old newspapers will work, too — or just use small scissors, being careful to move slowly.

How to Make Silhouettes
After you’ve cut out your image, mount it to your white card stock (using your glue stick or some other adhesive), frame it, and you’re done! These get even cuter with time, as the kids grow out of their younger features; I can’t look at that cowlick on a three-year-old Thomas without melting all over the place. The mother in your life will love these.

PS — Other handmade Mother’s Day gifts to try: a memory boxchocolate macaroons, and chocolate truffles – or go for broke and make them all!

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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by Ann Waterman

asparagus
Spring is finally here, and that means asparagus is front and center in grocery store produce aisles, farmers’ markets…and on my plate! With such a short peak season, I indulge as much as possible, and recently I discovered two helpful tricks to make the most of this delicious spring vegetable.

Conventional kitchen wisdom says to snap asparagus at the base, and it will naturally break at the point where the tender part of the stalk begins. More often than not, though, I end up losing half the stalk this way – which nearly brings this asparagus-lover to tears at the thought of all that waste. Last year, though, I learned a tip that saves most of the stalk for eating and makes for a pretty presentation.

The secret? Instead of snapping the ends, I cut off about a quarter to a half an inch from the bottom — just enough to get rid of the dry ends — and with a peeler, I remove the tough skin at the base of the asparagus (about 1 to 2 inches will do). It makes for much more even cooking and hardly any waste. It does take a little more time than just snapping off the ends, but it’s totally worth it in my book.

asparagus_peeled
My other secret? Blanching. Blanching is a way of cooking vegetables by briefly immersing them in boiling water until they are barely tender, then plunging them in an ice-water bath to stop any cooking from residual heat, preserving the texture and brilliant color. It works for a number of vegetables, like beans and broccoli, and I especially like it for asparagus.

asparagus_blanching
What’s so special about this technique? You can blanch vegetables up to two days in advance and store them in the fridge until you need them. They maintain their color and crispness and are ready to go when dinner is just around the corner. This can be a real life saver if you’re preparing a large meal and want to get things done a few days in advance — or for any day when you’re trying to make life easier by getting some cooking out of the way ahead of time. I like to pull my asparagus out of the fridge about an hour before I plan to use it to bring it to room temperature. Then I’ll warm some butter in a pan and give my asparagus a turn in it, or I may serve it with this quick and easy blender hollandaise by Julia Child.

asparagus_hollandaise
It’s also great chopped up and served in a frittata, where pre-cooked vegetables are a must because of the short cooking time. The possibilities are endless.

Frittata
If you want to give blanching a try, here’s what you do:

    • Wash and trim your asparagus (or whatever vegetable you’d like to blanch).
    • Fill a large bowl with water and ice and set it close to where you’ll be cooking.
    • Bring a large pot of water to boil, making sure to salt it well (the water should taste like the ocean).
    • When the water is at a good boil, add asparagus and let cook for 2-3 minutes until the stalks are just barely tender-crisp (you may need more or less time if you’re cooking different vegetables; some are firmer than others).
    • Immediately remove the asparagus from the boiling water using tongs or a slotted spoon, then transfer to the bowl of ice water, making sure the stalks are completely submerged.
    • After about 5 minutes, drain the asparagus and pat dry with a dishcloth or paper towels. Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag in the fridge until needed, up to two days. I also like to wrap mine in some paper towels before storing them to soak up any additional moisture. Pull them out when you need them!

What’s your favorite way to prepare asparagus? Any tips of your own to share?

P.S. — For a complete meal, try serving your asparagus with easy roast chicken and sweet corn pudding.

Images: Ann Waterman

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