At Home with Tiffani Thiessen (October 2, 2014)

Sweden With Love

Every morning when she wakes up, Tiffani Thiessen's four-year-old daughter Harper turns to her mom and says, 'Is there a baby in your belly?' Convinced a baby grows overnight, she is disappointed when her mom's stomach is still flat. "She puts more pressure on me than anyone!" says Tiffani with a laugh. "Every day, she begs me to have a baby. She can't wait to turn into a little mommy. She's ready!"

Ready for another baby are also Tiffani and husband Brady Smith, an actor and artist. "We are definitely trying," says Tiffani, who turned 40 earlier this year. Is she pregnant? "I don't think so!" she says. "I would feel it, and I don't feel pregnant right now. With Harper it happened right away, so I'm hoping it'll be as easy this time around."

Since Harper was born, parenthood has taken priority for Tiffani and Brady. Both try to spend as much time at home as possible — Tiffani's role on USA Network's White Collar has required her to work only a few days a week — and they have never employed a nanny. "I know I'm extremely fortunate that we've been able to be her full-time caretakers," says Tiffani, who gets help from her mom and aunt.

An avid cook, Tiffani has also turned the family's Cape Cod-style Los Angeles home into a food producing haven, with an ambitious vegetable garden and a chicken coop for eggs. You can often find her and Harper cooking up a storm in the kitchen, although Harper prefers digging in the dirt wearing a princess dress and boots. Tiffani's passion for food has even turned into a new show — Cooking Channel's Dinner At Tiffani's — which begins shooting its first season this fall.

Often described as a sweetheart, Tiffani is indeed as lovely as she appears. She's funny, kind, silly, straight-forward and generous. But beneath all those qualities, you'll also find a strong sense of self. It's that combination of sweetness and strength that makes her presence so addicting. In an exclusive interview — with photographs by Elizabeth Messina — Tiffani opens up about turning 40, raising a very spirited daughter, her strict dinner rule and the one thing she will never watch on television! Ulrica Wihlborg.

Ulrica: I remember when Harper was four weeks old, and now she's four years old!

Tiffani: She was the kind of baby that would never fall asleep! I would be nursing her, and she'd be wide awake. All these other mothers would tell me their kids would fall asleep the minute they started nursing them, but that wasn't my kid!

Ulrica: What's she like now? Does she still have the same personality?

Tiffani: She's a very high spirited girl. She doesn't stop until she's completely worn out. She's a very active little girl. She knows what she wants, and that can be challenging at times. But I don't ever want to quash her spirit or change the fact that she's a strong-willed little kid. We have boundaries and we have rules, but we're not crazy strict. We want her to grow up to be both a respectful and happy person.

Ulrica: She just turned four. How is that stage?

Tiffani: There are so many amazing things about a four-year-old. There's no baby left. She's full on kid. You can have complete conversations with her. She understands everything you say. We can enjoy a lot of the same things. But it's also an interesting age, because there's a lot of pull back and forth. One minute she wants to be a big kid and the next she wants her mommy. That can be challenging. But I enjoy her company so much, no matter what stage she is in. Someone said to me, 'The days are long but the years go by so fast.' It's so true. I don't want to miss out on anything.

Ulrica: What are some of the rules you stick to no matter what?

Tiffani: I'm pretty strict with bedtimes. She's a happier kid when she's had a good night's sleep, so I'm not a parent who is okay with her staying up late. And we're big on manners. She's a really good kid when it comes to manners and it's become second nature to her to say please and thank you. I also think it's important to teach your child to look people in the eye. She's easily distracted, but I think it's really important to teach your child to look people in the eye and say hello and thank you and good morning.

Ulrica: She's in her last year of preschool now. Are you scared of letting her go or are you ready?

Tiffani: I've loved so much that I've been able to spend basically every day with her. Even when I've been working, she's come to work with me. So I'm torn! She's going to be in school until 3 pm, and that's a long time for me to be away from her. I suspect I'll pull her out once in a while.

Ulrica: Harper is best friends with (The Guncles) Bill Horn and Scout Masterson's daughter Simone.

Tiffani: They're too cute! They are in the same class, and they're so into each other we had to separate them this year. They're born seven days apart and are both strong little girls. They fight like sisters. One minute they love each other and the next they want to tear each other's hair out. It's very funny!

UIrica: You turned 40 this year. What did that feel like? Did you have the obligatory freak out?

Tiffani: I did but I didn't! Honestly, I felt happy, I really did. I'm in a great marriage. I have a great kid. I'm working. I couldn't be more grateful for what I have. So I felt good. I was more excited about trying to figure out a great way to celebrate.

Ulrica: How did you celebrate?

Tiffani: I went to Mexico with my friends and family. We had a long weekend filled with awesome food and cocktails on the beach. I didn't want to throw a big party, I just wanted to lay by the pool and laugh and giggle. And that's what I did. It felt great!

Ulrica: You're an amazing cook! What's your secret?

Tiffani: My mom, my aunt and my grandmother are all great cooks. My mom used to do so much cooking! I grew up with them in the kitchen, so I had to learn. It's never something I thought was a special talent. I love food and my appetite for great food has grown as I've gotten older. I've been traveling the world since I was 16, so I'm always curious about food from different places. And I love what food does to people when you're sitting at a table together. You connect over food, and I love that.

Ulrica: What makes for a great dinner party?

Tiffani: Great friends, great food and no phones! There are no phones and no texting allowed unless it's an absolute emergency. Instead of picking up your phone, pick up your fork!

Ulrica: Harper seems to have an obsession with dresses and shoes...

Tiffani: And princess dresses! She's such an outside kid, much more than an inside kid. She can get dirty all day if she wants to, and she does! She'll be covered in mud in her princess dress. I love that she has both sides to her. She loves to wear a princess dress while climbing the tallest rock in our yard.

Ulrica: Lifetime's controversial The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story premiered over Labor Day Weekend. Did you watch it?

Tiffani: No! I don't think I need to watch it. I heard about the script. All of us talked about it between us. Most of it is untrue. I'm sure it's harmless, but I don't have any interest in spending two hours watching it. I'd much rather actually watch something I want to watch! Time is too precious, I'd rather spend it doing out things that give me joy.