Category: <span>Sophia Cooks</span>

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The brisket at my parents was stunning this year as was the apple cake at Evan’s Bubbie’s Passover celebration. I refuse to believe the apple cake was kosher for passover because it was that good. Traveling to see family is arduous when your kids don’t nap and your commute is traffic laden. This year’s Passover celebrations were back-to-back which, despite not having to cook ourselves, was a serious undertaking on our part.

In addition to celebrating with family, Sophia had a birthday party to attend and we decided to sneak a quick trip to a coffee shop, too. I love the energy that coffee shops have on weekend mornings. They’re bursting with people who are optimistic and hopeful about their days off. The adults are looking forward to that ever-important first cup of coffee while the kids (both human and canine) explore their surroundings and indulge in baked goods. Our neighborhood has no fewer than 6 coffee shops in a three block radius. Coffee is a big deal in Olde City.

I wish I could regale you with stories of grand culinary undertakings but truthfully, we were too busy spending time with the kids, attending their social events, and visiting our extended families to really have the time. One thing we did make was ice cream. And not just one batch but three. It was a snowball effect, really. I made french vanilla and then Sophia asked for chocolate, so we made a batch of that. Vanilla and chocolate seemed too luxurious and fairly unhealthy so I made a batch of strawberry to balance it all out. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

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It has been a while since I shared anything in this space; We’ve had a few busy weeks and aren’t sure when we will see a slowing down. I am surprised on how much our family’s dynamic is changing as Eliza gets bigger; This photo was taken on Sunday when I decided that only a roasted chicken dinner complete with wilted spinach and potatoes was in order to bring a bit of comfort to our table.

I decided to involve Sophia and Eliza in the cooking instead of occupying them with their toys and activities. The girls enjoyed being able to help and see how their chopped potatoes turned into roasted ones that were golden and delicious.

I recall that, when Sophia was just an infant, I would never be able to make a home-cooked dinner from scratch on my own. But as the months went by, I adapted and learned how to keep her occupied while I cooked. Then when Eliza came along, I couldn’t imagine being home with the both of them and managing serving their meal, much less cooking one. It is retrospections like this that confirm that, as the wise elders in my family say, this too shall pass.

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It was only a matter of time before our hopes for a mild and mostly snow-free winter were dashed. And so they were this past weekend when a monster storm blew through our parts bringing with it upwards of 2-3 feet of snow.

I was actually excited for the snow because the storm was coming in over a weekend and we didn’t have to fret over school closings, childcare, and maintaining reasonable work hours. As such, Evan and I hunkered down with the girls focusing on family time and cooking.

Dutch Baby

I made a Dutch Baby for the first time ever and it was such so easy and yet, it tasted so luxurious. The fact that it warmed up our apartment and filled it with a rich and comforting vanilla aroma was an added bonus. It was so, so good in fact, that I made it again the next morning. I’ll have to be strong and hold myself off from making it again too soon.
IMG_3513Evan cooked his famous fried rice and a chicken/vegetable stir fry. I’ve no pictures of it, just happy bellies as evidence of his spectacular culinary prowess. Old City isn’t in a rush to dig out so we stayed close to home and finished the weekend off with homemade calzones. Ricotta, wilted spinach and tomato sauce calzones to be exact. They were better than I expected, took less time than it would to order take-in, and were much, much healther. Moreover, they’ll make excellent, not-sad-desk-lunches for a few days this week. It’s a win!

In between all the cooking, playing, play-doh, legos, and much, much else, there was plenty of time spent outdoors in the snow. Brr…

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On life, it’s meaning, the people we choose to walk alongside on this wild and crazy ride we call life. 

My family lost someone very special this past weekend. Though not unexpected, the loss feels just as difficult as if it were sudden. I cannot fully describe my own feelings because I do not believe that I’ve really processed it all. 

At times like this, when my heart feels emptier, the sage advice, to “not postpone joy”, feel as poignant as it does today. 

Our weekend was otherwise calm, peaceful, relaxing, and filled with a few hours of peace and quiet while the kids enjoyed an entire day with their Baba and Deda. We made the most of Sunday-Funday with a dance class, a movie afternoon, and homemade Pizza Margherita Sophia and Evan made together. 



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Not really cold, no, but colder than it was a week ago when we were all courted by mother nature and her 69+* temperatures. In any event, we here were not impressed by the sudden drop in temperatures and decided to stay in for the weekend. One of the girls was under the weather, too.

Preceding the rest of the weekend, we had a busy enough Friday where my in-laws babysat for us so that we could go to a holiday party. In addition to letting us have a few hours to interact with other adults, they brought over delicious cookies and bars (homemade, of course). I’ll have to try and get my mother in-law’s recipe for the date-nut bars. They were unbelievably good… I’ve been like a bee to honey near them.

Occupying two kids under 5 in a 1200 sq. ft. space can get a little overwhelming but desperation served well to inspire us; Sophia is a fan of arts and crafts and Eliza loves to construct things. We paired the two together and asked Sophia to arrange flowers using this set and draw the results. Wanting to keep up with her sister, Eliza jumped in and drew as best she could as well. So proud of their artwork they were that we affixed their prized possessions to our fridge for Baba and Deda to admire when they stopped in to visit with us and stayed for Sunday dinner.

Evan cooked beef meatballs and mashed potatoes using half the butter called for in this recipe and the results were stupendous. Thinking we ought to up the green quotient, we paired everything with trees or steamed broccoli. Saving the best for last, we shared the chocolate brownie cookies Sophia and Evan made together earlier today. It was that sort of a weekend where we stayed in, spent time as a family, and enjoyed good food and time with grandparents.

By-the-bye, that is the mantra for the next few weeks for us—family time. And as for the inspiration for the old expression? Charlotte Bronte whose works I have been consumed by while cheating on my other love, Outlander. So much to read, so little time.

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Sophia turned four. Four is a big deal! Almost like a recipe — a party, a good party requires a few key ingredients. Good food. Check. It also requires good cakes, several cakes. Check. Some drinks — juices for the kids and beer/wine for the adults. Check, check. Last, but absolutely critical, a good party requires friends and family.

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We started planning Sophia’s party a few months ago because we like to take our time working out the menu, guests, and the theme. She was set on a Lego theme and no amount of persuasion helped convince her to change her theme. Evan and I had our hearts on a Totoro theme. We’re hopeful she’ll want to have that as her theme next year and if not, there’ll always be one of Eliza’s parties. We invited our close family and a select few friends. We would have invited more but space was limited and we wanted to leave plenty of room for the kids to enjoy catching up. As it was, there were over thirty people and lots of cousins and friends.

We made all of the food ourselves, save for a salad, a side and a kugel. There was the sausage and peppers, chicken baked in an asian broth dressed with scallions and sesame seeds, rice, a corn and edamame succotash, grilled cheese two ways, an apricot kugel, a fiesta and a quinoa salads, and stewed eggplant. I baked two cakes–a lemon layer cake and a chocolate cake. The lemon cake was a rich pound cake base with a home-made lemon curd and iced with a lemon-cream cheese frosting. The chocolate cake was death by chocolate a triple layer chocolate cake filled and iced with chocolate ganache. Lastly, and because we enjoy cooking together, Sophia and I made chocolate balls which were a rich chocolate cake mixed with ethereally light vanilla buttercream frosting and dipped in bittersweet chocolate. They were such fun to make and a huge hit at the party.


The adults socialized, the kids played, we sang happy birthday, blew out candles, ate cake, and opened presents. Sophia was thrilled that her friends and family made the time to join us in celebrating her birthday. She loved her presents. This birthday was for Sophia but it was a family party where we came together with people we love and spent time catching up.

IMG_3315The picture is a bit fuzzy… it is the best one I have until my sister and brother-in-law look through their pictures. They hosted the party opening their house to our guests and helped enormously. Their selfless generosity is the very definition of family. This is what families, real, close-knit families do–make time, open their home, their hearts, and enjoy the pitter patter and laughter of tiny guests. I couldn’t be happier that Sophia and Eliza are learning by example. And thank you Anna, David and Alex for your open home and open hearts. Truly.

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Not particularly different from any other days other than the fact that Evan and I actually captured our culinary output on camera while running after the kids, enjoying Philadelphia, and much-deserved time with my parents. Cookbooks, blogs, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter are full of single shots of delicious eats but they don’t often give us a glimpse into a full day in the kitchen. I am going further and sharing a weekend. The farmer’s markets brimming with strawberries and vegetables have inspired me in the kitchen. Our local HeadHouse Square farmer’s market looked like an explosion of bright red and green. Had we not been limited by the one tote we brought with us, I would have bought every radish and green in sight.

So here goes… two days in our culinary life:


Tomatoes aren’t really in season yet but parsley, young red onions, and garlic are bountiful. I roasted the tomatoes in the oven until they were bursting with sweet-sour flavor and dressed in an herbaceous vinaigrette. It was sunny bright.IMG_0978

Earthy and flavorful is this deep-roasted broccoli with oven-fried garlic. Some florets are verdant green while others are crispy-baked. A perfect side served room temperature and just as good cold in the evening. Healthy, too.

Speaking of healthy but more importantly, absolutely delicious. This is the one dish I did not cook. My mom made this gorgeous, chilled borscht topped with sour cream, grated egg, scallion, cucumber and dill. Mouthwateringly delicious and perfect on a hot summer’s day.

IMG_0985 Some go goo-goo for pasta salads but I find them to be too rich, too heavy and laden with cheese and unbalanced vegetables. Instead, I opt for a quinoa salad. Same principle… herbs, veggies if you’d like, and a light olive oil vinaigrette. This one has lightly pickled onions, garlic, and some herbs. 
IMG_0991These easy oven-baked chicken thighs have made regular appearances at our dinner table the last few weeks and for good reason, too. They are so very delicious, a synch to make, and fill the house with the most beautiful aroma. 


Corn chowder, to me, is a summer affair. This one is a very light version of Corn Chowder sans bacon and with part-skim milk. Light and refreshing it pleased even the tiniest of taste buds.

IMG_1012Eggplant is such a favorite at our house. Baked, sautéed, stewed, stuffed and even steamed, we eat it year-round and I cook it in the Italian, Turkish, Japanese, Indian and Azeri styles. Every which way it is unforgettable. This is pan-fried eggplant topped with a dill and garlic crema. It is my most favorite preparation because that’s how I grew up eating it.


And since hot weather, margaritas, happy hours, and siestas are upon us, we make guacamole. Simple. Avocados, red onions, and limes. A favorite snack for everyone … even Eliza.


And if you know me, you know that I am someone who does not like to make dessert optional. The rhubarb season is brief and it is one of the earliest spring plants. Rhubarb is best friends with strawberries but I thought it is special enough to be the star of a sweet ending. Here’s a rhubarb snacking cake. Yum.

Maybe I shouldn’t tell you that completing this culinary line-up are homemade strawberry-creme-fresh and chocolate ice creams. Well, the least I could do is not taunt with pictures. They are mind-blowing.

Whew. That was quite a lineup, wasn’t it. Well, all that cooking didn’t preclude us from enjoying our weekend outside the kitchen. We visited a farmer’s market, the Three Bears Park, and partook in the happenings of Old City. We also went to Spruce Street Harbor Park which has been open for a week, and Sophia has her eyes set on the skating rink at Blue Cross Summerfest. Sophia may be eyeing skating, but I am eyeing those hammocks and beer at Spruce Street Park.




Quality time with Baba and Deda were huge hits for us and the girls. Played out and fed with all sorts of delicious, the girls played with Legos together. Future engineers? I can only hope.

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I remember loving snow days. As a teenager, I would have the house to myself and all the time in the world to lounge, read and … and sleep. As an adult BS (before Sophia), I would spend the day working from home also in my pajamas and round out the evening with a super comforting dinner and drinks. As a mom, snow day means juggling two kids and work without our nanny. It means getting up super early to work, working through their nap and then, working some more when they go to bed. There were pajamas and TV but only for Sophia. We let ourselves go, and permitted Sophia to watch two cartoons. The first was My Neighbor Totoro and the second was Ratatouille.

We couldn’t just plop both kids in front of the TV all day and so there was plenty of other activities going on. We structured the day to include self-play, science, crafts and reading. Sophia played with Laser Pegs and learned the basics of circuits.

Eliza helped take the circuits apart :). We also learned about plants and how they come from seeds. Since I best learn through application, we planted an avocado seed in a container hoping it sprouts. Sophia checks our little seed every hour or so looking for the “leaves”.




The delicious avocado that housed the seed in our science lesson became a part of our mostly healthy and most definitely delicious lunch. This is broccoli, bean and avocado salad with miso-yogurt dressing and topped with pumpkin and sesame seeds. That was served with a french onion grilled cheese. Mmmmm…. so good.


And since it is likely that you’re already hungry after looking at the picture above, I may as well share a few more dishes from this week’s food roundup. Here we have Saba no misoni which is Mackarel stewed in miso served atop japanese sushi rice and topped with seaweed. This dish is a favorite at our house especially for Sophia. Salty and sweet and topped with crunchy seaweed makes every bite oh so very satisfying.mackrelAnd lastly, you can never have enough roast chicken though the usual method of tossing a bird in the oven can get a bit boring. We tried Jamie Oliver’s roast chicken in milk and were very happy with the results. It was perhaps the most tender and moist roasted chicken I’ve had and as a bonus, our house was perfumed by garlic and cinnamon while it baked.


The weekend is upon us and with it the promise of warmer weather (seriously, though I also am a skeptic at this point), more delicious meals, more playing, more science learning and just … more.

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I gather you’ve seen that Growing Up Savvy has been a bit quiet as of late. It isn’t because I’ve tired of the blog or was out of thoughts to share, rather because we snuck away on a getaway to somewhere sunny and warm. I sound just like everyone when I say that we really needed to get away, but we really just needed to get away. We haven’t been on a proper vacation since December of 2013 and since then we had a baby, renovated a bathroom, moved, changed nannies and listed our house for sale. It has been a busy year and not just my body, but my soul needed a change of scenery to recharge to. And what a change of scenery it was! Azure and green waters, a light wind blowing the salty air onto the shore and sand between my feet. I have to say that packing and airline travel with two kids is nothing short of a military operation that we approached with the appropriate strategic plan. Alas, we’re back and recovering from the stunning scenery.

This recovery will take a while but I’ve decided to ease the process by whipping up a delicious milkshake that I had while on vacation. It sounds simple enough, just four ingredients that I always have in my pantry and fridge but just haven’t thought to use that way. And so I present to you a cinnamon-banana milk shake which is just a banana milkshake with a bit of island spice added to it. BananaMilkshake

Light, foamy and refreshing, this shake takes mere minutes to whip up and satisfies everyone in the family. My shake in hand, I can now look through the rest of the pictures from our recent getaway just to ease the symptoms of vacation withdrawal.



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This weekend flew by faster than a blink of an eye but no matter how short it seemed, it was filled with play and incredible, edible fun. Evan, Sophia and my nephew Alex went to the Please Touch Museum where the kids tried their hand at being explorers, bus drivers, metro riders, astronauts and musicians. Evan’s uncle is a talented pianist and this picture here gives me hope that musical aptitude is in her genes.

IMG_6457There were some serious naps after such fun for Sophia and also for us grown ups. When we did recover from all the play, we cooked and spent time with family. I made pasta from scratch because … because it is delicious when it is handmade and because I had the best helper.



We recently acquired this cherry red pro-sumer pasta maker and it is a joy to use. For those who are curious, the pasta maker is a Marcato Atlas Pasta Machine in red.Pasta


This right here is fettuccine dressed with a lemon-sage sauce and tossed with toasted walnuts. Beautiful to look at and so delicious. There were other culinary delights but the experience of making pasta with Sophia topped them all.


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