Farmer’s Market Veggie Pasta Bake

One of the things I look forward to the most in the late summer and early fall is heading to a local farmer’s market. All of the delicious, mouth-watering produce and confections inevitably inspire me to try my hand at whipping up something healthy (or healthy-ish) and tasty. Last weekend, I happened to see some ripe, juicy tomatoes, brilliant green zucchini, and fresh summer squash. I sliced them up, turned them into a healthy and delicious sauce served over Penne pasta (with a little cheese, of course), and quickly had a dinner that was a hit with my whole family. Pro tip: if your kids come to the farmer’s market to help pick out the produce, I find that they are much more likely to sample whatever you whip up!

This quick recipe can be easily prepared for a weeknight dinner, is vegetarian, and can be prepared gluten-free if you choose a Penne that does not contain gluten (my personal favorite is Banza pasta, made from chickpeas). If you would rather a heartier meal, ground chicken or turkey could be browned and added into the sauce for a non-vegetarian alternative.

Pre-heat your oven to 350˚F, because the magic of this dish happens when it is finished in the oven. Next, boil some well-salted water and boil according to package directions. While your pasta is cooking, you can get started on the sauce.

Start by prepping your veggies. I like to slice everything at once and put them in separate prep bowls to make assembling the dish easier.

First, I diced the tomatoes and thinly sliced the zucchini and summer squash. These all went into separate prep bowls for later.

Next, you can either mince fresh garlic, or, like I did (because it was a weeknight) use a jar of minced or crushed garlic.

 

Heat about 3 T of good olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet, and add about 2/3 of the sliced summer squash and zucchini to the pan. Reserve some of the slices for the top of your dish (or if you are in a hurry, you can just add all the veggies to the sauce and top with the cheese – not quite a pretty, but just as tasty!). And add in all of the diced fresh tomatoes.

Let the veggies cook until they are soft and start to release their liquid – depending on the heat of your pan it should take about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute. Then add in the tomato paste, thyme, oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt, pepper and stir to combine.

Simmer for a few minutes to let everything meld together. At this point, I like to give the sauce a taste to see if the salt needs to be adjusted. Then, add your cooked, drained pasta of choice to the skillet. If the sauce is too thick, you can use some of the pasta water to thin it out a little bit.

Now onto the good part (if you like cheese, and my family definitely likes cheese) – fold in 3/4 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and then transfer the whole gooey, delicious mixture to an oven-safe baking dish.

Now here’s your chance to make this regular weeknight dish a little fancy! I love the saying that we “eat with our eyes first,” and when I have a couple of extra minutes, I try to dress up the presentation a little bit.

Take your remaining thinly sliced zucchini and summer squash, and layer on top alternating the slices. Then, sprinkle with a little more (about 1/4 cup) shredded mozzarella.

Bake uncovered in your pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, or until your veggies are soft and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Let it cool for a few minutes and dinner is served!

…and if you love Farmer’s Markets as much as we do, check out our Farmer’s Market Print Family Matching Pajamas!

America’s First Valentine – A Visit to Raynham Hall Museum

It’s that time of year again when class lists are sent home and children address Valentine’s Day cards to their classmates in anticipation of a celebration filled with hearts, flowers, red and pink. The time-honored tradition of sending Valentine’s Day cards with notes of love and appreciation has been practiced in the United States for many years – but have you ever wondered exactly how many?

 

The first documented Valentine ever sent in America was penned in 1779 during the Revolutionary War in Oyster Bay, Long Island at the former home of the Townsend family. This former residence is rich in history and has since been turned into a beautiful museum: Raynham Hall, located at 30 West Main Street in downtown Oyster Bay – approximately 25 miles northeast of New York City. I was lucky enough to tour this unique museum and hold a special Elephant Organics photoshoot there in celebration of Valentine’s Day, and our brand-new Love Notes print pajamas (available for a limited time in sizes NB – Women’s XXL). I was enchanted by the beautiful building, captivated by the story of America’s First Documented Valentine, and surprised to learn that this very building was also home to a prominent member of a Patriot Spy ring.

 

 

In order to understand the background and ill-fated romance surrounding America’s First Valentine, it is necessary to delve into the history books. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence had been freshly penned, and the British King George III, was none too pleased. Subsequently, The Battle of Long Island (or The Battle of Brooklyn as it is also known) marked the first major battle of the Revolutionary War after the Declaration of Independence was signed. This proved to be a disastrous defeat of the American Continental Army and George Washington by the British. After the battle, British forces occupied New York City and Long Island.

The British occupation on Long Island included the house that is now the Raynham Hall Museum. At the time, it was home to Samuel Townsend, the owner of a prominent shipping fleet, his wife Sarah Stoddard Townsend, 8 children, and 20 enslaved people. Importantly, the Townsend family were Patriots. In fact, Samuel narrowly avoided capture and imprisonment by British troops early in the occupation. He was forced to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain and the King. For a period of six months during 1778-1779, the Townsend home served as headquarters to the Queen’s Rangers, a British regiment of over 300 troops, and their commander, Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe moved into the Townsend home and lived alongside the family. Daily officers’ meetings were held in the front parlor – which in the present-day Raynham Hall Museum is set with furnishings to resemble what it may have looked like during that time.

 

It was Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe who penned the United States’ first Valentine. The Valentine was written as a poem, and was addressed to the Townsend’s daughter, Sarah. It was presented to her on February 14th, 1779. The poem, which can be read in its entirety in the picture below, or on the Raynham Hall website here, describes Simcoe’s infatuation with Sarah, and the difficulty of loving an enemy. Ultimately, it appears as though Sarah did not choose Lt. Col. Simcoe for her Valentine, perhaps due to their vast political differences. Following the war, Simcoe went on to found the city of Toronto, where he served as Governor of Upper Canada. Sarah remained in Oyster Bay until her death in 1842.

 

Besides the notable delivery of America’s First Valentine, Raynham Hall and the Townsend family are also famous for their involvement in the Culper Spy Ring. This intelligence network provided George Washington with information that was invaluable to the Patriots’ cause. The Townsends’ son (Sarah’s brother) Robert, operated under the code name Culper Junior and served as an important link in a chain of agents. In what reads like the stuff of spy novels, the agents formed an intricate spy network with notes penned in invisible ink and carried via whaleboat to wherever Washington was headquartered.

First Valentine - Raynham Hall

The exhibits at Raynham Hall Museum include a replica of America’s First Valentine (the original copy went missing sometime in the 1920’s), Sarah’s bedroom, the family dining room set up with some of Robert’s merchant wears, and many more rooms adorned with beautiful historical furnishings. Much to the Elephant Organics models’ delight, one of the current exhibits includes beautiful antique toys and even a dollhouse. The models enjoyed observing the toys during their shoot and comparing them to their own modern-day toys. If you would like more information about Raynham Hall, America’s First Valentine, or the Culper Spy Ring, visit their website here. You can even take a virtual tour of the museum here.

Special Thanks To:

Raynham Hall and their Board of Trustees

Harriet Gerard Clark, Executive Director

Theresa Skvarla, Assistant Director

Jessica Pearl, Collections Manager

Joanna Badami, who loaned many of the toys shown in our photoshoot pictures from her collection

Shop our Love Notes Print Collection!

3 Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness with Your Kids

If hearing the term “mindfulness” immediately conjures images of sitting in lotus pose with your eyes closed, you are certainly not alone. Nor are you wrong – yoga and meditation are excellent examples of practicing mindfulness, but it also includes so much more. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mindfulness is defined as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Research shows that practicing mindfulness can alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, sorrow, and pain.

During the uncertain early days of the pandemic lockdown, I noticed that my kids, then ages 3 and 6, began displaying signs of increased anxiety. Their attention spans seemed shorter, and they became annoyed more easily (and I would be lying if I said that wasn’t the case with me, too). So, as I sought to process what was happening on our local and global scale myself, I found that practicing mindfulness had a nearly immediate calming effect.  Since it worked for me, I searched for age-appropriate ways that I could make it accessible to my children also.

It worked so well for myself and for my children, that we still practice these techniques regularly. I think of mindfulness as a learned skill, and if we start early, it gives kids some tools to put in their metaphorical “toolbox” to use when things seem overwhelming or over-stimulating. Here are three of our favorite techniques that you can try with your kids.

 

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

This is one of my personal favorites as an adult. I keep a notebook by my bed, and in the evening, I jot down the date with 2-3 things that I am thankful for during the day. Then, I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and concentrate on the feelings of gratitude and contentment that this list evokes.

While older children may be capable of jotting down a few things that they are grateful or thankful for each day, younger ones are able to join in by drawing a picture. For babies or toddlers, you can even just point out to them something that you are grateful for during the day and tell them about it “this makes Mommy happy and grateful because….”. Feel ridiculous talking to your baby like they are an adult? Don’t! According to Developmental Psychologist Erika Hoff, speaking to your baby like an adult is beneficial for language development, “children cannot learn what they don’t hear.”

My children are now ages 9 and 5, so our Gratitude Journaling includes some writing by my elder daughter, and some spoken words and drawn pictures by my younger son. Sometimes our lists include things that are general and broad, like being thankful for the health of our family, or the sunshine on a beautiful day. Sometimes they are silly and specific, like gratitude for a playful squirrel that made us laugh while doing acrobatics at the birdfeeder to steal some birdseed.

Whichever way you do it, I have found this technique helpful because it (a) makes me pay attention to moments in my day that bring me gratitude and joy so that I have something to write about in my journal and (b) is a great way to close out the day on a positive note.

2. Use Your Senses

Have you ever used the 5-senses memory technique where you hold your hand up to the side of your face and each finger points to one of your senses? Using your right hand, place your thumb on your ear for hearing, index finger near your eye for seeing, middle finger near your nose for smelling, ring finger near your mouth for taste, and tap your pinky finger on your chin for touch. While you may not have done that since grade school, it is a great way to tune into your surroundings for an easy mindfulness exercise.

At a couple of moments during your day, try stopping for a moment and really thinking about each of your five senses. Then ask yourself: “what do I hear right now? What do I see? What do I smell? What do I taste? What physical sensations am I feeling?”

This is a great thing to do with preschool aged kids and up, and it teaches awareness and focusing on the exact place where they are at that particular moment.

3. Try Animal Breathing

Focusing on your breath is a common theme in yoga and meditation; it can serve as a a means to calm your nerves, or even to relieve pain. Telling kids to sit still and focus on breathing can be a great tool – if you can get them to do it. Animal Breathing is a great way to get kids to think about their breath and bring attention to it, and it’s fun, too! First, tell you kid(s) that you are going to breathe like an animal – it can be any animal, and some examples are below. Then, show them how to “breathe like the animal” and tell them to follow along. After the giggles subside, try slowing the motion and your breath a little bit and see if your child will follow.

Alligator Breathing: Hold your arms straight out in front of you on top of one another, palms resting on one another. Then open your arms (and your alligator’s “mouth”) and close them in rhythm with your breathing. Open your arms while you breathe in, close your arms and clap your palms together.

Horse Breathing: Hold your hands (or hooves) in front of you with elbows bent, hands cupped, and palms facing down. Extend your arms in front of you and bring them back in front of you by bending your elbows, as if you are a “galloping horse.” Breathe in as you extend your arms out, and breathe out as you bring them back towards your body.

Elephant Breathing: Extend one arm out in front of you with your shoulder by your face to make an “elephant trunk.” Wave your entire arm (trunk) up and down – breathe in as you raise your arm, and breathe out as you lower it.

Invite your children to make up some of their own! I find that this is a great distraction tool if you sense that your child might be headed for a meltdown or temper tantrum – I have pulled out my “elephant trunk” in the grocery store and my “alligator jaws” in the mall with great success.

Honey Lemonade

This past week has been a hot one here in New York! So, when my kids enthusiastically approached me with the brilliant idea of cooking together, I wasn’t really looking forward to turning on my stove or heating up the oven. But… kids on summer vacation can be very persistent, and I’m so glad that they were! Otherwise, we never would have experimented in the kitchen and come up with this delicious lemonade recipe.

This is a super simple and easy recipe – one that my kids (ages 5 and 8) had a good time assisting with because there are enough tasks to split up so that they both felt like they contributed, but it was also ridiculously quick to clean up. In my book, that makes for a perfect afternoon activity.

Since there are really only two ingredients that aren’t some form of water, choosing the right honey is probably the most important in terms of taste. The favorite in my house is Bee Harmony Honey* from Beesponsible. We have anywhere from 3-5 different flavors of this honey in our house at any given time, and we experimented with a couple different ones to see which was our favorite. It turns out that the Wildflower honey added a bright note that we loved. The Buckwheat honey pictured here has a more robust flavor and also produces an excellent end result. Whichever honey you choose, it’s hard to go wrong here – they are all delicious.

As a side note: Beesponsible has mini jars of honey that come in delightfully packaged flights and make excellent teacher gifts if anyone is in the market for a back-to-school gift.

So, without further ado, here is the recipe for our Honey Lemonade – I hope you enjoy it and have as much fun as we did making (and drinking) it!

Directions: Juice 3-4 large, fresh lemons until you have about 1 cup of the juice.

In a separate bowl, add about 3/4 cup warm water. Wisk in 1/2 cup of honey until dissolved. For a sweeter lemonade, add more honey!

Fill pitcher about 1/4 of the way full with ice cubes. Pour in the honey mixture, followed by the fresh lemon juice, and finish with 4-5 cups of cold water. Stir to mix.

Garnish with fresh lemon slices (you could also get fancy here and add mint leaves, and/or slices of other types of fruit).

Pour into individual glasses and enjoy!

The lemonade will keep 1-2 days in a sealed container in your refrigerator (if you don’t drink it all right away, that is)!

If you like bees and/or lemons – check out two of our favorite prints! Honeybee and Lemon Love – available in Baby (NB-24M), Kids (2T-14) and Adult (XS-XXL).

Lemon Love (10)

Honeybee (4)

*This post is not affiliated, associated with, or endorsed by Beesponsible Honey. The use of their product is for identification and reference purposes only and does not imply any association with the trademark holder of their product or brand.

What Do Moms Really Want for Mother’s Day?

On May 9th, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation declaring the second Sunday of May a “public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” Although much time has passed since its origin, and although traditions have changed, Mother’s Day continues to be a widely celebrated day where we take the time to show the moms in our lives how much we care.

Each family has their own special way of celebrating the occasion. For some, it is a holiday laden with lavish gifts and delicious brunches, for others a day for giving Mom some much-needed time off, or perhaps it is marked with macaroni necklaces and homemade cards. For families who want to recognize the occasion and get Mom something she truly wants, the most important question is “what should we get her?!?” What do you get the special person who is somehow multi-tasking as a caretaker, storyteller, nurse, chauffeur, finder of lost items, chef, household manager, and cuddler extraordinaire (or perhaps some combination of these, and likely a multitude of others)?

Personally, my own answer to this question has changed over the years. I have only had the privilege of being a mother for eight years so far, so my experience is limited at best. In the first couple of years, when my children were very young, I craved a luxurious morning of sleeping in and a little bit of precious alone time. Now that my children are a little older, I cherish their homemade cards and craft projects, and I even appreciate the at-home “spa” day that I was treated to this year, which included a somewhat clumsy application of sparkly nail polish on my toes, a hand massage with vanilla-scented lotion, a cup of tea and was accompanied by the “Spa and Relaxation” playlist on our Alexa device.

But I couldn’t help but wonder: what do moms REALLY want for Mother’s Day? So, I polled some real moms to find out what their answer to this question was. They answered anonymously so that they could be completely truthful, and the ages of their children range in age from 1 year – 18 years old. Here are some of their responses:

  • “Would love breakfast in bed!”
  • “A diamond tennis bracelet, a sleep-in, breakfast in bed, and lots of cuddles with the two best kids in the world (in reverse order).”
  • “What I would like most is some me-time!!! A morning or an afternoon to myself to do whatever I want!”
  • “I would love to spend some time with my kiddos / hubby, and it wouldn’t hurt to get a beautiful bouquet of flowers!”
  • “Lots of kisses and a massage.”
  • “I would love it if my family would do one thing that I usually do around the house to help recognize all I do, and help me out with it for the day / week.”
  • “I would love a day where I don’t have to plan a thing, drive anywhere, and have healthy food that I like magically appear in from of me for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
  • “I would like a cozy robe, some homemade cards, and maybe a bouquet of flowers!”
  • “This Mother’s Day, my husband is taking me for brunch, and then to a garden center so I can pick out new plants to put in our garden!”
  • “I want to be woken up by running feet and giggles with homemade cards, have meals with no dishes to wash, and enjoy a bubble bath!”

Whatever this Mother’s Day has brought you, I hope that it was enjoyable, and that you were able to create some new memories. Part of my Mother’s Day present was to be able to write in peace long enough to finish this quick Blog post!

Happy Mother’s Day!