As a trained chef, Special Projects Director of Food & Wine Magazine, a judge on Top Chef (and Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Duels), host of the new show The Feed, overseer of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, board member of City Harvest and Hot Bread Kitchen, published author (if you haven’t read Talking With My Mouth Full you should) – Gail Simmons has a lot on her plate.

Add to the roster: mom to five month-old Dahlia Rae. But don’t tell her that “it’s going to get better” because she already loves every minute of it: “It’s such a special, cozy, crazy, amazing time. Of course I am exhausted, but I don’t feel like I am trying to just get through to the next stage.”

The new mom leaves her Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, neighborhood – where they moved a week before she gave birth – for Boston soon to shoot season 12 of Top Chef with Dahlia Rae in tow.

We caught up with her (in between pumping and meetings) about the challenges of nursing and one of her most embarrassing moments (yes, it involves breastmilk).

What’s In A Name?

Dahlia is my favorite flower – it symbolizes sunshine and comes in so many amazing colors. It was our wedding flower and it was on our invitation. Rae is to honor my husband’s Aunt Rena, who passed away two years ago. She was so encouraging and supportive in our lives, and we love and miss her so much.

 Lifesaving Products

We opened the Fisher-Price bouncy chair when she was a month old, and we couldn’t believe we hadn’t opened it sooner. It allowed us to eat dinner, for me to pump and go to the bathroom when I was home alone with her. Once she hit three months, she graduated to the Mamaroo, which we call the hovercraft. She’s really into it now.

 Part Of The Club

On Top Chef, I was the only one who didn’t have kids, so they’ve been a wealth of knowledge and help. Michelle Bernstein made me realize it’s okay to be back at work and to lose the guilt associated with it because it’s the quality of the time you spend with your kids, not the quantity.

 Deep Thoughts From Gail

How will she sleep comfortably unswaddled? How can I leave the house without 14 bags? How do I pump when I’m running around all day? These are questions I don’t know the answers to.


I was taping in front of a live studio audience and forgot to put nipple pads in my bra. They leaked right there. It was horrifying. You think you’re at least keeping it together on the outside. Of course I was wearing a beautiful silk dress. And in case you didn’t know, yes, milk stains. It was a low point.

Get In My Belly

After giving birth, you feel like you don’t know anything, including how to keep yourself fed. I have mastered the efficient grocery shop. Fresh Direct is tough for me because I like to physically walk the aisles and see my options. I went to Union Market and created a basic order with them. Sometimes I go and pick everything out and have them deliver it, others I just call and ask for my basics. I embrace anyone who delivers these days.

Flower Child

I love Honest diapers. Dahlia wears dahlias on her bottom – how cute is that?! Angela and Ethan Stowell [chef] gave me this amazing RoSK blanket that’s waterproof on one side, soft and fluffy on the other and it ties onto the stroller. It’s great for the park because you can put the waterproof side on the ground.

Neighborhood Nosh

We moved to Cobble Hill a week before I gave birth, so we’ve been getting to know the restaurants with baby in tow. We love Buttermilk Channel, Court Street Grocers, Nightingale 9, Red Gravy, Iris Cafe – they’re all so accommodating and kid-friendly. I spent a month in LA shooting and we frequented Cafe Gratitude, Alfred Coffee & Kitchen and lunch at Fred Segal.

Just Stop, Already

Everyone keeps saying, oh it’s going to get better, but we are actually loving the early days. She’s only four and a half months, and we are already reminiscing about things she “used to do”. It’s such a special, cozy, crazy, amazing time. Of course I am exhausted, but I don’t feel like I am trying to just get through to the next stage.

Give Yourself A Break

I think new moms feel out of control so they obsess about routine and schedules, but the truth is they are babies, and you have to give yourself a break. They are going to be fine if you can’t feed them every three hours to the minute. Babies are adaptable and every child is different – you can’t prescribe one schedule for all. It’s all going to be okay as long as they are fed, dry and loved.

First Foods

I hope to make Dahlia Rae’s food myself in the beginning. I can’t wait for her to try avocado, banana, mango, sweet potato, peaches, corn. There would be great irony if I spawned a very picky eater.

Three Hours Alone On A Saturday

Will that ever happen again? I’m getting a mani, pedi and a massage anywhere that will take me at a moment’s notice.

Mom Brain

Now I know why my mom sometimes can’t remember my name. Because she had three children. I barely know my own name some days, and I only have one. Sleep deprivation is rough.


Photo Credit: Melanie Dunea

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Dana Avidan-Cohn
Weekdays: Scarsdale, NY
Weekends: Litchfield County, CT
Family: Dan, sons Nash, 3.5 and Carter, 23 months
You might know: Her excellent taste. She’s the InStyle Senior Market Editor & Digital Correspondent.
Secret obsession: YA fiction (It’s so entertaining!)




My older son Nash usually wakes up first and I hear the same thing every morning: “Moooommmy come and get me I’m awaaa—-aake.” I don’t budge.


That usually wakes up baby C, and then Dan goes into their room and is greeted with mild wrong-parent-disappointment that quickly dissipates upon the promise of some outlandish but spectacular breakfast.


Dan and the boys are on the couch watching SportsCenter.  Every dish in the kitchen has been used for breakfast. Every food product we have has been used for breakfast. The kitchen is a modern art exhibit of toppled furniture, yogurt graffiti, dish statues, and half-had beverages.


I come downstairs well-rested and excited for the day. I give the boys kisses (which they half acknowledge amidst the sports highlights). I hi-five Dan for letting me sleep in and set about rebuilding the kitchen over some coffee and music.


I realize that both kids are covered in remnants of breakfast so we decide swimming is the easiest way to tire them out and clean them off.


They are out of the water and taking out the soccer goal to play some “Sock.” We have spent a lot of time and money on toys to keep them engaged but NOTHING has been better than a $40 pop up soccer goal.


We take them into town for some lunch. I love a sandwich shop lunch with kids because it’s low key and it doesn’t matter if they aren’t perfectly behaved. My boys split a wrap with chicken, avocado and honey mustard and two fresh juices.


There is an amazing local chocolate shop that makes everything you can imagine for kids. The glass case is covered in little fingerprints. Nash orders a dark chocolate screwdriver (they have a whole toolbox selection) and C wants the same. By the time we get back to the house, it’s melted all over them and they are asking if we can go back and get more.


The DOUBLE nap!!!! Dan and I lay out and read for 2 hours of peaceful heaven.


Grandparents offer to get the kids from their nap, so we go for a quick run and workout. Even when I am exhausted I always feel so much better afterwards. We make smoothies as a snack. This is one of their favorites:

  •          1 cup frozen blueberries
  •          Ice (optional)
  •          1 cup pomegranate juice
  •          2 tablespoons wheat germ
  •          1/4 cup almonds
  •          1 avocado, pitted and peeled

*Makes about 12 ounces, which could serve two little ones


We are back on the dock with both boys in Puddle Jumper Delux swimmies. We take them out on the stand-up paddleboard or in a canoe.


Dan takes out the fishing rod. If they catch something, they look at it and let it go. Nash thinks it’s the same fish every time — he calls him “BOBO” (who is a bass).


We make pizzas outside in a little outdoor wood oven and the boys help put on the cheese and sauce. They love baking and cooking.


After dinner they get a bath and put on pjs. Carter calls all of the pjs “yucky” and “gross” and only wants to wear something with a truck on it.

Then I let them pick out as many books as they want, and we read them all. They are finally tired. Dan and I divide and conquer and put them to bed. I have yet to stay awake while doing this.


Dan wakes me up and we go downstairs for dinner and drinks. Usually a cold rose for me and a martini for D. These weekends with them are the most fun and exhausting days I have ever had. Working full time makes the weekends very precious so I try to really soak up the chaos.

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On Our Radar: July 24, 2014



WHO: Baby Lit’s new board books let you introduce the classics before she can even talk.
WHAT: Jane Austen and Shakespeare for the baby-set.
WHEN: Nothing says bedtime like Goodnight, Mr. Darcy.


WHO: HoneyBee Child SwingEase turns a regular old swing into a baby / toddler swing.
WHAT: The smart design also folds up so you can stash away in the diaper bag.
WHEN: 6-36 months, under 40 pounds.

WHO: Life In Play’s Organizer turns any handbag into a diaper bag.
WHAT: Thanks to Kickstarter, the days of having to buy a less-than-stylish diaper bag are numbered.
WHEN: Pre-order now, receive it in October.

WHO: Polagram app allows you to order prints of photos/Instas, and they arrive super fast via the post office, so you can enjoy IRL.
WHAT: That’s. So. Meta.
WHEN: Past, present, and future become one.

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Step-By-Step Transition To A Big-Kid Bed

Everyone knows the cardinal rule of infant slumber – never (ever) wake a sleeping baby.

We’d like to propose an amendment: never (ever) rush the transition of that sleeping baby from their happy crib to a big-kid bed. One cannot overstate the value of a child who sleeps unstirred through the night.

How do you know when it’s time to say “buh-bye” to the crib?


You need the crib for #2

Leave yourself plenty of time to make the transition before your new arrival makes an appearance. Too much change all at once (new sibling, new bed, new room) is never easy – no matter your age.



If Junior is climbing his way out every night – it’s not safe to keep him behind bars any longer.


More space, please.

While we’ve known littles who have slept in their crib until age 4, we also know not-so-littles who needed more room to spread out. You know your kid’s limbs best – trust your instincts.


So, you’ve decided it’s time to transition. Now what?

If you purchased a convertible crib, you’re in luck. Simply convert to a toddler bed. Toddler beds use the same mattress and sheets as your crib. Most come with attachments that serve as a bed rail. All you need to add is a pillow.


Toddler Pillows

Don’t go for extra fluffy – the smaller the better. Remember they’ve been resting their head flat on the mattress happily for quite some time.
See our picks >


Toddler Bed Sheet Sets

Pre-packaged sets come with fitted and top sheets. Our recommendation: hold off on the top sheet until he’s got the sleeping in one place thing down. We spent the first few weeks detangling our sleeper from the unnecessary layer of fabric. See our picks >

If the crib doesn’t convert, how do you choose what’s next: a toddler bed or a twin/double?


If space is an issue

consider a toddler bed. They’re close to the ground (in case of falls) and the abbreviated height makes purposeful departures
(i.e. midnight potty breaks) easier to accomplish. They also use the same size mattress as a crib, so there’s no need to add that to the tab. See our picks >


However, if you have the space

to go big – do it. This will be your kiddo’s bed for the foreseeable future. For a regular bed (twin or double), you need a bed rail. Try and position the bed with one side against a wall – this will minimize sides your sleeper can slip off of. If the bed doesn’t work against a wall, you will need two rails. See our pick >


we opted to not use rails

and lined the ground beside our kiddo’s twin bed with bean bags that we repurposed in the playroom after falling out of bed was no longer an issue.
And, of course you’ll need new sheets. Let your little help you pick the designs to get them excited about the change. Some of our favorites: Little Auggie, Mia & Finn, Dwell Studio, Unison Home, Biscuit Home.

- The Extras -

1. If you have stairs and haven’t gated them yet, now is the time. Munchkin, KidCo and Summer Infant are all reliable brands whose sites walk you through finding the right solution for your space.

2. Add a nightlight in the hallway and the bathroom, so independent littles can make their way to the bathroom in the dark. We’re drawn to these kitschy versions of a gummy bear or kitty cat. Or you could go all out (it doubles as a piece of art!) with Mr. Maria’s giant bunny.

3. Teach them when to stay in bed and when to rise with a nifty nightlight clock. It’s About Time, Nuk, KID’Sleep, Onaroo, and GoodNite Lite are all good options.

4. Don’t make any changes to their bedtime routine. Keep nightlight, sound machines, woobies, and rules consistent.

And hope for the best.

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