Just a few of our favorite things!! I thought it would be fun to round up some items we use in our home that would also serve as great holiday gifts this season. Links can be found below each guide.
Are you a label reader? Are you that person standing in the store aisle reading the back of a new package label before you buy it? Like an investigative reporter, do you research and dissect a new product before you take it home with you? I am 100% with you!! Yes, I’m a label reader and that Mama standing in the aisle right next to you!!!! The top questions I ask a product before purchasing: What are the ingredients or materials used? Where did it come from? and…. Do I really need this??? I check all labels before bringing something into my home and I’m not just talking about food here! I’m talking household cleaning products, beauty products, personal care products, home and textile products. Everything from my kids toys, the pans in my kitchen, the shampoo in my bathroom, the paint on my bedroom walls…. everything!!! My home is by no means 100% green or toxic free, but I try hard to make sure not only the food we eat, but the home we live in is healthy, friendly for the environment, and as less toxic as it can be.
If you live in my house you will hear me yell “wash your hands” about 100 times a day to my kids. Sadly, there are so many unnecessary chemicals found in liquid hand soap. Top chemicals in hand soap you want to avoid are any fragrances, parabens, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Methylisothiazolinone & Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Triclosan to name a few.
Making your own toxic free liquid hand soap has never been so easy and you can avoid all the bad stuff here!! The base is made with pure Castile soap. Castile soap is a concentrated natural vegetable-based “soap” that greatly differs from the toxic soaps we are accustomed to from the store. You can find Castile soap here on Amazon or at Target. I also found these Amber glass pump bottles on Amazon here. Also, you can check out my recipe below for toxic-free hand soap! Now go “wash your hands” and be carefree!
Homemade Liquid Hand Soap
- Amber Glass Pump Bottles
- 1/2 cup Castile Soap Liquid
- 1/2 cup Distilled Water
- 1 Tbsp Vitamin E Oil
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 10 drops Favorite Essential Oil We Love Lavendar and Sweet Orange
- In a glass pump bottle or recycled soap dispenser, add the water first, then the liquid castile soap, followed by the oils. Shake all the ingredients together.
- Shake the soap dispenser each time before using, then squirt a small amount on your hands as needed, rinsing with water.
Back to school, back to school… who’s ready to send the kids back to school!? It’s hard to believe summer 2019 is coming to an end and soon those hectic school weeks will be in full swing! Routine and organization are key in our house and I’m rounding up some of our favorite items for getting us back to school!
Five days a week we pack those school lunches and coming up with fresh ideas to surprise the kids each day can be a challenge! Thinking beyond the sandwich, these school lunches are sure to inspire! Starting with the lunchbox itself. We love PlanetBox lunchboxes not only because they come with super fun customizable magnets we can swap everyday of the week making lunch a surprise to unzip, but also because they are made with products safe from lead, phthalates, BPA, and other harmful toxins.
This is the Rover size lunchbox from PlanetBox. Darren (age 5) and Lillian (age 4) love this box best because of the multiple sections allowing us to easily break up lunch into categories of protein, fruit, vegetable, starch, and treat. Thinking beyond the sandwich Darren’s lunch pick is chicken on a stick, Soba noodle salad, fresh mango, cucumber slices and dye-free chocolate melts.
Lillian’s pick is chicken and rice with grilled squash, oatmeal energy ball with coconut, strawberries, cucumbers, red bell peppers and Marcona Almonds.
FUNctional carry bags have a mesh inside to hold ice packs to keep lunch cold. Extra pockets for napkins, forks and such as well as a water bottle pocket. Everything for lunch in one organized space.
Snack Time! The perfect reusable silicone storage bag for snacks on the run! I love using these for me and the kids. They are safer than regular plastic baggies and better for the planet! Stashers are made with pure platinum silicone and are BPA and BPS free. They come in a variety of sizes – I use the half gallon Stasher for freezing my energy balls and the sandwich Stasher for storing my personal care items while traveling. The bags feature a strong pinch locking seal at the top that really secures all the contents inside. Featured bonus here is you can cook in them too!
What fun would back to school be without colorful new supplies for school and work? Ooly’s got you and every kid in your house covered!! Serious amounts of fun packed into all of their creations. Lillian’s picks include this adorable fox sketch pad, crayons and glitter gel pens! What she loves best about these crayons are the shape and bright colors they come in. They are thick/triangular shaped fitting perfectly in her tiny hands and as an added bonus they don’t break easily compared to other brands!
Darren’s pick’s are all things monsters, including new pencils with super fun monster erasers and bookmark sticky tabs!!
Last, but not least, some classic favorites we use at home including the Chunkies paint sticks!! Both my kids are obsessed with Chunkies, and I am too, because they are all the fun of painting without all the mess! Seriously, if you don’t have the Chunkies already check them out here!!
All the fun of back to School can be found here with:
Shop Small – Shop local – shop with the friendly team at Avon Prime Meats located in Avon, Connecticut! You know I am a huge fan of shopping local, supporting my community, and selecting the best foods for my family to eat. Shopping at Avon Prime Meats covers all three of these categories! With a large selection of quality prime meats, gourmet grocery products, prepared foods – as well as fresh local produce and baked goods, they really have it ALL!! When we first moved to Connecticut, my mother-in-law introduced us to their location. She is obsessed with the marinated steak tips and we eat them at her house frequently! Living close by in West Hartford, we make stops by the Avon shop to pick up specialty cuts and local treats when preparing for special dinner’s at home! Last week I was able to catch up with General Manager, Rocio Olivares, to take a deeper dive behind the scenes of our well loved community Butcher, Grocer and Caterer!
Chances are you’ve heard the terms Prime, Choice, or Select, when referring to cuts of beef. Maybe you’ve even noticed the grading shields on packages of beef you bought at the grocery story. But, do you know the difference between the 3? It can definitely be confusing, but Rocio and her knowledgeable team are able to help you select what you need to prepare the perfect meal factoring in tips on cuts to select, preparation tips, and dietary needs with an on-site Nutritionist as part of her team!
Where to start at Avon Prime? With the Butcher of course! Only quality meats are selected from this skilled team! Overall, beef is graded into either Select, Choice, or Prime, with Prime being the highest of quality. We have to look at a few things to help define this – quality, tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. Avon Prime carries a large selection of Premium and Prime cuts bringing you some of the highest quality- all natural beef to choose from.
This shop is pure magic and offers more than quality beef! Prepared items or take out meals are available in the cooler sections! Some favorites I found include: Chicken Marsala with Wild Mushrooms & Garlic Herb Zucchini Noodles, Kale & White Bean Salad, and Rainbow Chard with Garlic Scapes, are prepared daily by in-house chefs! The kids love sitting on the cow bench in the front of the store while I pick up items we need.
Specialty items and sales are featured in the shop weekly, but a few things I picked up on a recent trip included a killer Tomahawk Steak and Copper River Salmon. Minimal preparation needed for both of these beautiful delights because they are perfection on their own. Salt and pepper to both sides of the Tomahawk and into the smoker it went. After a nice slow smoke, we performed a reverse sear for a perfectly pink and tender Rib Eye dinner! As for the Copper River Salmon (known as the worlds best Salmon), wild harvested from Alaska’s renown Copper River, we took care and brushed it lightly with butter and seasoned with salt & pepper baking it at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes for a heart healthy meal.
One of my favorite parts about Avon Prime beyond the quality meats is being able to truly shop from some of the areas local farmers and artisans alike. Some of my favorite CT locals that can be found here are: Sweet Fever Cakes, Hartford Baking Company, Brewery Legitimus, Browns Harvest, and Tulmeadow Farms. If you are a food lover local to Connecticut, or just passing through, take a moment to pop into Avon Prime Meats! You can pick up a sandwich at the deli counter, grab some meals to-go, or pick up groceries to make an awesome quality meal at home. If you are making a dinner for 2 or hosting a holiday party, a knowledgeable team member will be happy to help you plan accordingly.
Avon Prime Meats is located at 395 West Main Street Avon, CT www.avonprimemeats.com
Challenge Accepted!!! When Chef George Noujaim of Noujaim’s Bistro said he made the best Maryland Crab Cakes, I took this statement to heart. For a Maryland girl who loves her Mama’s cooking and grew up eating plump handcrafted Maryland Blue Cakes, this was a bold statement!! Standing strong on his word, Chef George took on my mom head to head for a Crab Cake Challenge in his Bistro located in Winsted, CT.
My Mom working her magic in Chef George’s kitchen where the two of them whipped up 28 plates (56 Crab Cakes) in a blind tasting for customers on June 21st, 2019.
Set in the heart of Winsted, CT you can find a cozy Bistro filled with love and life from owner and Chef, George Noujaim! His sister, Noha, is a burst of sunshine working away hand crafting treats like Kibbieh, Maamoul and Baklava! Kibbieh, is made of bulgur (cracked wheat) stuffed with ground beef, onions, and spices!
In the main dining room you will find local artist’s creations, treasures from Lebanon, and often live entertainment! Dining with Noujaim is more than tasting a meal packed with traditional Lebanese flavors, it’s a meal crafted with passion, love, and a story behind each dish coming out of his cozy space. Chef George steps from behind his kitchen to greet his customers and takes time to remember what’s most important about enjoying a meal … the good company that should follow.
The Crab Cake Challenge was no disappointment to anyone who was able to reserve a table for this sold out event! In the end, both Chef George and my Mom brought passion and love to every deliciously handcrafted Crab Cake that left the kitchen! Two very different style’s of Crab Cakes but, again I say, “Don’t mess with this Maryland Mama who knows her way around a traditional Crab Cake!” Winner Winner Mama’s Crab Cake Dinner!
Noujaims Bistro is a Restaurant with Lebanese heritage located in the heart of Winsted, Connecticut. Chef George offers both catering, take out, and reservations for dinner – all information can be found here!
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting two Connecticut Moms, Tiffany and Jenn, who are on a mission to make ALL kids feel inclusive at special events- even if your child has a top 8 allergen! The mission that started the joint venture was simple. Separately, they were two moms who scrambled to find specialty bakeries, or out-there recipes to accommodate the food allergies of their children. After searching and researching the market, they found nothing that totally worked for them. Tired of creating large batches of cupcakes for one child where the rest ended up in the freezer or eventually the trash, and totally burnt out on running to a specialty store to pick up one cupcake, they decided to take matters into their own hands! They spent a year working with high quality ingredients in their home kitchens to develop custom cupcake kits that are safe for kids, fun to make, and convenient for parents!!!
A custom cupcake kit?? It’s an absolutely brilliant idea when you think about it!! A kit that is fun, interactive, tastes amazing for everyone, and best of all, includes EVERYTHING you need to make 2 or 20 cupcakes!!! That’s right, these ladies thought of everything and I was not surprised because they are moms on a mission!! They created the Duo Kits to create two cupcakes (so no more freezing leftovers or wasting them) or a Party Kit of 20 cupcakes for those larger events or to take to school!! All kits include: the cake mix, frosting mix, disposable frosting bag, the cutest oven-safe baking cups, mini wood spoons, handy carry box/bag and an allergen display sticker so everyone knows who the treat is for and what’s in it! These ladies really nailed it in making something that not only tastes great, but that allows everyone to be inclusive at an event.
Darren and Lillian baked this chocolate Party Kit of 20 for Sunday dinner and we served them to the family. If you don’t know this about Italian families, they can be brutally honest – especially when it comes to food. Everyone at the dinner loved them not knowing they were baked without gluten, dairy, or eggs!! You can read more about Tiffany & Jenn and purchase Fun for all Foods products here.
Glowing from the inside out and no I’m not “expecting,” but I did just have a HydraFacial at Face It – Med Spa here in central Connecticut! What’s a Med Spa you ask? I had the same question for Anita Wolf, RN and Owner of this beautiful spot tucked away in West Hartford’s center! From my visit with her I learned this, a Med Spa is much like a blend of a traditional day spa and a medical clinic in one. They offer services and procedures from licensed medical professionals typically only found at a doctor’s offices. Although it was a relaxing experience “like a spa” there was a highly technical piece that went with every step of the experience – yes, even for a facial!!
Anita has a beautiful story and a long journey that has brought her to where she is today! As a Registered Nurse with over 20 years experience, she has been involved in the opening of 7 med spas including one of her very own! When I asked Anita what’s next for the future of Face It?? She gave me an unexpected response! During our conversation she explained to me how there are so many Med Spa’s out there who are not fully educated or practicing appropriately. Her dream is to open an educational training center in Connecticut where RN’s, MD’S and PA’s all new to the industry can join for medical aesthetics training.
If you’re local to the Connecticut area or planning a visit check out Face It and all the services they offer here.
Anita A. Wolf, RN & Owner – Anita has been an aesthetic medicine practitioner since 2004. During this time, she has performed thousands of skincare treatments, including advanced laser techniques and all forms of injection treatments. She is currently certified in over 22 aesthetic procedures. Anita is a sought-after instructor, having taught these procedures to Dermatologists, Plastic Surgeons, Physicians, Physician Assistants and Advanced Practitioners, and Registered Nurses across the United States. Helping women and men address skin problems and challenges — aiding them to feel more confident day after day — and providing a softer, more natural appearance is what Anita does best.
I had the absolute pleasure of spending time at Chandelier, a boutique fitness space designed for empowering women through fitness and health. The studio offers personal and small group training in Glastonbury, CT. I have never stepped foot into a “boutique fitness studio” and had no idea what to expect!?
The space itself was beautifully designed by Gursu, who is also the owner. I have two words to describe this studio, fresh + inviting!! A light and open space with beautiful hardwood floors, exposed beams, and foliage create a very comfortable environment. I was totally on board with the mid-century and minimalist vibe happening here!
Gursu is no joke! He uses a mix of science and tailored exercises to meet individual goals while incorporating cardiovascular training, strength training and flexibility into the workout! For the record, my arms were burning by the end of class! 🙂
He offers both private personal training, pilates, barre, and small group personal training services, which really makes it a perfect fit for anyone needing customized support in workouts! Walking into a ‘generic gym’ can be overwhelming – where to start, what equipment to use, how to use it? It can feel like a guessing game at times, especially if you don’t know what you are doing!! Chandelier removes all the guessing out of it. Gursu is by your side and together as a team you accomplish both physical and nutritional goals.
Chandelier’s Gursu Samancioglu, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer, has over a decade of experience providing lifelong, sustainable fitness and wellness habits in Boston and Connecticut. Gursu’s education background includes a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion as well as a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Health. Gursu also has experience working as an Exercise Physiologist at the prestigious Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospital in Boston, MA.