Wednesday, June 30, 2010


We spent a weekend in May at a friend's house.  We had a lovely time and came home with great memories from the Dads' and kid's camping trip and, as it turns out, cooking.

Olivia, my darling kitchen helper, has pleaded many times since to make the cake we enjoyed that weekend.  We eat a lot of desserts at our house, so for a new one to catch her attention is impressive.  Yesterday, I relented.  It is not a chocolate dessert, but I will say:  I'm completely smitten.

Olivia calls it Angel Cake. It was originally coined "Neiman Marcus Cake", because - yes, you guessed it -- it is so rich!  We all thought that was a bit cheesy, so hopefully the new name will stick (at least at our house).

Angel Cake

1 box yellow cake mix
8 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)
4 eggs, divided
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, melted (liquified, not just soft)
1lb. pwdered sugar (see conversion post)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Blend cake mix with 2 eggs and melted butter.  Spread into a greased 9x13 pan. 

Combine cream cheese, 2 eggs, vanilla and powdered sugar.  Mix well (beater works best) and spread over batter.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until firm.  Edges should be just golden. 

I enjoy it with a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Seriously, after you've used an entire pound of sugar in a recipe, what's the difference! 

It is indeed rich.  A decadent treat.  But when sharing good times with family and friends, it strike the perfect entertaining balance: easy and memorable!  

Thanks, Mel for the memories and the cake!

Parental advice. Part 1.

There was a time when I did not think my parents were wise.  My BFF and I even referred to them as "parental units", thereby completely dehumanizing them and negating any wisdom in their words. At the time they simply provided restrictions, rules, and limitations to what would otherwise be my wonderful, glamorous life.  

Amazingly, the perspective gained over the last twenty years has altered my view.  I now see the simple  truths and wisdom they conferred.  I can now, as an adult and parent myself, actually appreciate these little morsels.  And, of course, I have already begun berating my own children with such. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A kitchen necessity.

I ran across this conversion table at The Smitten Kitchen some time ago. It is not obvious conversions and equivalents but those which most of my cookbooks do not address. I immediately printed it and posted in in my recipe journal.

When I saw it this afternoon, I thought you may want to do the same!

Happy cooking!

Conversions and Equivalents courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen

Temperature Conversions
275°F = 140°C = gas mark 1
300°F = 150°C = gas mark 2
325°F = 165°C = gas mark 3
350°F = 180°C = gas mark 4
375°F = 190°C = gas mark 5
400°F = 200°C = gas mark 6
425°F = 220°C = gas mark 7
450°F = 230°C = gas mark 9
475°F = 240°C = gas mark 10

Volume Equivalents
60 drops = 1 teaspoon
1 dash = 1/16 teaspoon
1 pinch = 1/8 teaspoon
1 teaspoon = 1/3 tablespoon = 1/6 ounce
2 teaspoons = 2/3 tablespoon = 1/3 ounce
3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon = 1/2 ounce
2 tablespoons = 1/8 cup = 1 ounce = 1 standard coffee scoop
4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup = 2 ounces
5 1/3 tablespoons = 1/3 cup = 2 2/3 ounces
8 tablespoons = 1/2 cup = 4 ounces = 1 gill
16 tablespoons = 1 cup = 8 ounces
2 cups =1 pint = 1/2 quart = 16 ounces
4 cups = 2 pints = 1 quart = 32 ounces
16 cups = 8 pints = 4 quarts = 1 gallon

Ingredient-Specific Equivalents

1 stick = 4 ounces = 8 tablespoons = 1/2 cup
4 sticks = 16 ounces = 32 tablespoons = 2 cups

1 ounce = 1/4 cup grated
6 ounces chips = 1 cup chips
1 pound cocoa = 4 cups cocoa

Half and half = 1/2 milk + 1/2 cream = 10.5 to 18 percent butterfat
Light cream = 18 percent butterfat
Light whipping cream = 30 to 26 percent butterfat
Heavy cream = whipping cream = 36 percent or more butterfat
Double cream = extra-thick double cream = clotted or Devonshire cream = 42 percent butterfat

1 large egg (approximately) = 1 tablespoon yolk + 2 tablespoons white
1 cup = 4 jumbo = 4 to 5 extra-large = 5 large = 5 to 6 medium = 7 small

1 pound = 4 cups all-purpose or bread flours = 4 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup sifted cake flour = 7/8 cup sifted all-purpose
1+ cup self-rising flour = 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 lemon = 1 to 3 tablespoons juice, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons grated zest
4 large lemons = 1 cup juice = 1/4 cup grated zest

1 pound = 2 1/2 cups sliced or chopped

1 pound white = 2 cups white = 454 grams
1 pound packed brown = 2 1/4 cups packed brown
1 cup packed brown = 1 cup white
1 pound superfine sugar = 1 cup white sugar = 190 grams
1 pound powdered sugar = 3 1/2 to 4 cups
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar = 1 cup white sugar
1 cup powdered sugar = 80 grams
100 grams white sugar = 1/2 cup

1 cake = 3/5 ounce = 1 packet dry = 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 teaspoons dry

Resources Elsewhere
Google has a calculator/conversion feature built into their search functionality. To find out how many ounces four cups contain, simply type in“4 cups in ounces” to learn that it is 32, or that 100 grams converts to 3.52 ounces. Sadly, the Google search on my sidebar doesn’t carry this function, so you have to query it from their homepage.

Summer reading list.

This book sounds like the perfect summer read!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Alex, please stay away!

I do love living near the beach.  I love walking my dogs along the bay.  This, however, comes at a cost: the annual threat of hurricanes making entrance in the Sparkling City by the Sea any time from June through November.  This, my friends, is a constant source of angst for those of us along the gulf coast.

We have boarded up our windows and packed away every "irreplaceable" item in our house almost annually since moving to our coastal enclave.  One year I even potty trained my kids in artificial darkness after we boarded up and then determined we did not need to evacuate.  Nonetheless, we are not glib about hurricanes and the severity of the threat each and every time.  

It now seems that Alex may have the Texas coast in his sight.  This puts it on high alert, despite the likelihood of him coming ashore in Mexico.  We've all seen how these things can change at the last minute.  With a tropical storm in the Gulf I become an avid weather watcher. A good friend who has moved to higher ground passed along the link for the Tropical Storm Risk website.  I also like Weatherbug, which coincidentally has iPhone and iPad apps.  

I'll be refreshing my screen frequently over the next few days!  That and praying for landfall in an unpopulated area far, far away from my home.


Another item to file under "Brilliant Idea!"

Again, why haven't I thought of this?!?  

For myself, I would slather the bread with raspberry jam and top with fresh mozzarella.  Maybe a sprinkle of brown sugar too.  I promise the gooey results will leave you breathless!  And no need to buy a panini press.
Find the best family food recipes (like waffle iron grilled cheese) quick dinners, healthy snacks, pancakes, vegetables, birthday cakes, cupcakes and muffins.

Super what?

Who ever thought I could / would spend so much time on the topic of sunscreen.  Are you completely done with this line of discussion?  Well, my friends, I am almost there with you.  

My darling husband reminded me yesterday that I went through this same panic years ago and purchased a large pump dispenser of Dr. T's Supergoop!  He still had some of the individual sized bottles in his golf bag.  Yes, I suppose I do still have that large pump in my bathroom.  Why had this slipped my mind?  Why had I again started buying sunscreen at the grocery store checkout line?  I blame these lapses on childbearing.  My mind truly has never been the same.  

So, I dusted off the bottle of Supergoop and looked at the ingredients afresh, now armed with my up-to-date knowledge of toxic chemicals and stability issues. At first blush I was pleased.  I then plugged it into the EWG's sunscreen rating system and noted it received an acceptable rating of 3.  Other sunscreens, however, receive a better rating.  I mentioned Badger in yesterday's post.  It seems to receive the best rating -- 1.  

Of course, I want to purchase the "best" for my family, but the Badger sunscreen only comes in 2.9 ounce tubes as far as I can tell.  Properly slathering my entire family for a day at the beach would likely consume an entire 2.9 ounce tube.   

I would simply prefer to buy in bulk!  Which is clearly why I purchased Supergoop in the first place.  They sell a 24 ounce pump dispenser for $68.  You can refill a spray bottle 5 times from the large pump dispenser.  The spray is not a mist spray, but still lotion.  I spray into my hands and slather from there.  They also sell single application tubes which come in handy -- throw one in your handbag, car, etcetera so you always have sunscreen on hand for the unexpected stop at the park. 

So once again life has once again brought me full circle.  I have restocked the exact same sunscreen I purchased two years ago.  In 2012 when I begin this rant again, would someone be so kind to remind me I am again running in circles?! 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm so confused!

After reading the Environmental Working Group's 2010 Sunscreen Guide today, I did what I'm certain millions of other American's did -- I panicked!  According to EWG, only a few dozen  sunscreens on the market actually protect us as they should or as they promise.  After searching for the products I typically use, I was aghast -- not only did they not make the cut, but they are on the "avoid" list because they contain "harmful chemicals" that can enter your bloodstream.  Ick. I'd rather go au naturel than expose myself  and my children to harmful chemicals!

As I've mentioned before in my post discussing the need for Vitamin D, I cannot imagine life without time in the sun.  I recognize that the best sunscreen is a hat and shirt.  I am crazy about hats, but I admit I enjoy feeling the sun on my skin.  My rule is to limit my direct sun exposure to 30 minutes a day.  After that I slather like crazy.  

The EWG's science is impressive, albeit confusing to a non-scientific mind.  The bottom line for me is this: I need to purchase all new sunscreens to ensure my family is protected from both UVA and UVB rays!  And no, a trip to HEB will not suffice.  They brands they recommend will require an online purchase.  Click here for a search for one of their top rated brands, Badger

To see all their Top Sunscreens, click here.  

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why can't I just enjoy?

On Tuesday Kevin called mid-day to inform me he was cooking dinner.  Say what?!  The last time Kevin cooked dinner it was the dawn of the new millennium. We were dating. I was totally smitten and ate the pasta with fake crab meat without informing him that it was indeed fake crab meat he was serving. I love the man, but he does not cook. At all. So, I was incredibly suspicious to say the least.

Next flowers arrived.  A gorgeous arrangement from Vincent's. What Kevin lacks in his cooking skills he makes up for with his ability to phone a florist. I am spoiled by flowers. They arrive frequently.  Well, 4-5 times a year. Isn't that frequently by most man standards?  Also, they never arrive on birthdays or valentines day or other obvious choices, always a random day with no apparent reason. This is why I consider myself spoiled by flowers -- it is never out of obligation. Well that, and sometimes I will admit I wonder, why doesn't he think of it more than 4-5 times a year?!  I digress.

So the flowers alone would not necessarily make me suspicious, but flowers coupled with a promise to make dinner, well that was just to much. So what do I do?  I do not luxuriate in the idea of being positively spoiled by my loving husband. I begin, instead, to worry.  What did he do?  What is he going to tell me?  Why? Girls, we really do have a way of turning a wonderful situation into a worry.  I recognized this even at the time but was powerless to stop myself.

I ask as soon as he walks in with the bag of groceries.  What is it?  Why are you doing this?  He is cheerful and eerily happy.  He asks if I like the flowers. I nearly start crying.  What is it?  I demand an explanation.  He thinks I am crazy. Positively certifiable.  I think he is simply trying to get me off the trail.  He wants my defenses down.  Clearly.

Dinner was great. Yes, I did have to assist a tad in the prep, but how fun - we were cooking together!  I love cooking.  Even alone.  But cooking with my husband (especially with him calling the shots) was beyond my wildest dreams. I starting enjoying myself.  For a moment.  But then I remembered: he doesn't do this. We don't do this. My paradigm had shifted too far too fast. I couldn't get my bearings.

Dinner was lovely. Pasta with sweet Italian sausage, chickpeas, tomatoes and fresh baby spinach. Even the kids would partake -- Kaden the pasta and sausage and tomatoes and Olivia the pasta and spinach.  We consider that a success. Even this puts me on edge.  Everyone is happy except me. Still on edge.  The wine is helping, though. I was relaxing a bit. At this point I was merely curious, not frantic.

With dinner complete, Kevin says, there is one more surprise.  The kids run off with him.  What, my kids are in on it?!?  No wonder they are eating a normal meal.  He clearly bribed them to create an alliance.

They bring a gift to the table.  I am frantic again.  But as soon as I hold it in my hands I know precisely what it is without even untying the bow.  I squeal.  I delight in untying the bow slowly.  And then I can help myself no longer.  I rip off the paper, tear open the box and hold my new iPad in my hands.  I adore my husband!   He went to all this trouble to make presenting me with a new gadget into an event.  As if the gadget itself would not have sufficed.  Wow.  I sat in awe.  For a moment I allowed myself to feel special.  Loved.  But, by golly, that nagging suspicious started again.  So I nag and nag, asking why I am getting such an extravagant gift for no reason and why he felt the need for such a flamboyant build-up to the actual gift?  No reason.

I adore my new iPad.  I love laying in bed and reading the paper.  I love typing my blog from bed and reading others' blogs outside by the pool.

I also adore my husband.  I adore him for showing me he is still willing to court me ten years after catching me.  This was an opulent day.  I know it will not happen again (or at least not for another ten years).  I am ok with that.  I realize you all would hate me if it happened with any regularity.  I would probably hate me too.

But let me just say this:  if anyone has any information that would make this story any less of a fairy tale, I beg you to keep it to yourself.  I am done with the fretting and do not want to know. Was that his plan all along?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fairies cannot be real.

Little miss thang questions everything. I don't mean she asks a lot of questions.  I mean she questions everything!!!

At age four she suggested Santa was not real. I was not prepared for that conversation. I would have been more prepared if she asked me where babies come from. I could handle that.  I have a book with diagrams and explanations. Where is the book that debunks the "Santa is not real" myth?  

I calmly asked why she thought that. Her response: "He is just someone in a costume like the princesses at Disneyland."  Oh, my.  This is serious.  Those words are pure blasphemy for a four year old girl.  I don't know which was worse, questioning Santa or the princesses!  I was aghast.  I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but I was mute for a few excruciating moments. My life flashed before my eyes -- were we honestly done with Santa the princesses at age 4?!?

We had visited Disneyland only 10 months earlier.  She loved the princesses.  She was star-struck then entire trip.  Photographic proof.

This is not a casual encounter.  And at the time Olivia did not think this was a lady in a costume.  She thought this was Belle!  It was magical!  Absolute perfection.

But that's how it goes with this little girl.  One minute she loves everything pink and wants to do nothing but dress as a princess. The very next minute she is boxing up all her princess Barbies and asks to paint her room blue. Light blue.

Witness the difference between Halloween 2008 and Halloween 2009. And no, she is not dressed as a  nurse or doctor, she "is a surgeon. they are the best." {words and emphasis hers.}

And by the way, I asked, "what should I do with the box of princess Barbies?"  

"Save them for K's daughter." K is her twin brother (the crazy wizard pictured above). He does not have a daughter. 

"He will one day" she reminds me. Well, "what about your daughter?" I am clearly tiptoeing here.  

"I am not having kids. I don't want to get married, remember" she retorts.  

Of course.  

I explain all this because I grieve the end of innocence. As with everything else, we never fully appreciate what we have until it's gone. Or in my case, nearly gone.    

Now at seven years of age, we are currently losing teeth on a regular basis. The tooth fairy is on every one's mind and a constant topic of conversation. Additionally, little miss thang is fond of the Rainbow Magic book series which features fairies of all sorts. Suffice to say, she has fairies on the brain.  

Today at breakfast, however, she proclaimed that fairies were not real. To what do I owe this revelation?  "Well", she said, "fairy dust cannot really make people fly like in Peter Pan. The tooth fairy left fairy dust all over me, and I still cannot fly."  

So that was the big thunk I heard last night, I thought.  

And, she continued, "crocodiles live is swamps, ponds, lakes and marshes." OK, now I'm lost. "Duh, the crocodile in Peter Pan lived in an ocean. That is not real. Crocodiles do not live the in ocean."  Who can argue with a good first grade education. 

So, I concede. "You are right, Peter Pan is just a movie and is not real. Most movies are fiction as you well know. But, that does not mean fairies are not real. Of course the tooth fairy does not leave her magic flying dust on children. Can you imagine children flying about every time someone lost a tooth. It would be madness. Fairies are indeed real. In college I actually took a course about fairies and their habitats. It was quite interesting. We really should try to find a book about real fairies." (words and emphasis mine).  Shameless liar. 

"In college? You still liked fairies in college?  Weren't you too old to like fairies?"

I tried to muster the courage to say, "you are never too old", but instead, left it at "well, I was a bit of a nerd in college." 

"That's ok, Mom" she says giving me a big hug,  "at least you got good grades in college."   

Yes, the tables turned and she placated me. 

Which I suppose makes sense after all. She will not mourn her own loss of innocence. It is our child's innocence we miss, not our own. Until, that is, we hit the age where we long for innocence. For a day without the myriad worries and fears every parent faces.  

She will understand that one day, I decide. But then I remember, she will not. Because, of course, she "is never having children."

Brilliant ideas must be shared.

What a great party trick for those with a laundry room right off the kitchen. File this under "why didn't I ever think of that!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No more chicken nuggets.

If you have ever had dinner with my family you would know: chicken nuggets are a staple at the table.  I am certainly not proud of this but it is a fact.  I have recently made progress and have made the ultimate threat:  this is the last bag of chicken nuggets I am going to buy.  GASP!  So, as I ration out each nugget carefully -- the "last" bag is now half empty -- I am searching for alternatives.

I have yet to try this, but I thought I would share it nonetheless.  It has promise.  If nothing else, I appreciate her battle and resolve!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Luscious Lemonade.

It is officially summer. And it is seriously hot! This time of year we spend lots of time in the pool and lots of time entertaining friends. I didn't have a good go-to summer drink to offer my adult guest other than alcoholic drinks or water.

Well, here are some luscious lemonade recipes that do not involve a powdered mix! Perfect for poolside soirees!

From left to right, Raspberry Lemonade, Lavender Lemonade and Blackberry Lemonade.

So, would anyone like a drink?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jaime Oliver's Jam Jar Dressings.

I am inspired by Jamie Oliver. He could rest on his laurels and simply open a little pub or two in the English countryside. Or sit by and write books to capitalize on his success. I get the impression, however, that will not suffice. It seems that Jaime wants to make the world a better place. Or, at least, a better place to eat. I appreciate his message. I too struggle with putting healthy, satisfying food on the table every evening (and let's be honest, it doesn't happen every evening).

Jaime wants everyone to have the knowledge and the opportunity to enjoy good food. Fresh food. And by doing so he plans to deal a massive blow to the likes of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. He is trying to encourage us to get back into the kitchen and cook for ourselves and our families, thereby cutting out the fast and overly processed foods that are making us sick. And fat. And depressed.

One concept I have incorporated into my kitchen routine is Jaime's Jam Jar Dressings. The dressing is, after all, the most important part of the salad. The dressing makes the salad delicious. It makes it fun to eat. Eating your veggies should not be a chore! The other good news is that our bodies absorb far more of the nutrients from salads because of the the presence of oil and acid in the dressing. Making the dressing in old jam jars is a quaint and practical solution. I just throw the leftovers in the fridge and use them the next night.

Here are three of my favorites:

French dressing
Peel and finely chop ¼ of a clove of garlic. Put the garlic, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar, and 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake well.

Lemon dressing
Put 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon. Put the lid on the jar and shake well.

Balsamic dressing
Put 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar into a jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake well.

Easy peasy! And I'm sure you see the common denominator: a ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid (vinegar or lemon). Play around with other varieties and find your personal family favorite. You will be amazed how much better your salad tastes with a fresh, homemade dressing. This is an easy way to liven up your salad and remove some preservatives and additives from your family's diet!

For more of Jamie's delicious dressings click here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Vegetable Potato Salad.

This is a great summer salad. Incredibly easy to throw together. Served at room temperature (which makes my lifer easier) And so much tastier (and healthier) than the traditional mayonnaise-laden version.

I served it tonight alongside burgers. It would also be great to bring to a pot-luck dinner or when entertaining poolside (love things served at room temp).

For the recipe click here.

Happy Father's Day.


The word alone can bring tears to my eyes. 

I was one lucky little girl. 

This photo captures the quintessential spirit and demeanor of my Dad. 

Daddy and me, circa 1971


Never taking a bit of attention for himself but focusing instead on others.

He looked at me with this exact proud smile throughout his life. 
 There were a few incidents that may have brought on another 
look -- the stern look of disappointment -- but this 
gentle smile was certainly the mainstay.

Here's to my dad and all the dads out there who change diapers, 
stay up at night with puking kids, help with breakfast or lunch or dinner, 
coach sports teams, help with homework, play mind-numbing games of Candyland, 
and generally go above and beyond the role of traditional father.

For all the sleepless nights I caused, I am sorry. 
 For your amazing and unconditional love and support, I remain eternally grateful.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What you are doing matters.

What I need to say, but also what I need to hear. I've listened / watched this video a million times. Sometimes I think I just need a little reminder that what I am doing does indeed matter. Maybe you do too.

The video was put together by katherine center, for the mom 2.0 summit.
and the words…
(If I knew what to say.)
You are a miracle.
And I have to love you this fiercely: So that you can feel it even after you leave for school, or even while you are asleep, or even after your childhood becomes a memory.
You’ll forget all this when you grow up. But it’s okay.
Being a mother means having your heart broken.
And it means loving and losing and falling apart and coming back together.
And it’s the best there is. And also, sometimes, the worst.
Sometimes you won’t have anyone to talk to.
Sometimes you’ll wonder if you’ve forgotten who you are.
But you must remember this: What you’re doing matters.
And you have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs.
The truth is, being a woman is a gift. Tenderness is a gift. Intimacy is a gift. And nurturing the good in this world is a nothing short of a privilege.
That’s why I have to love you this way. So I can give what I have to you. So that you can carry it in your body and pass it on.
I have watched you sleep. I’ve kissed you a million times. And I know something that you don’t, yet:
You are writing the story of your only life every single minute of every day.
And my greatest hope for you, sweet child, is that I can teach you how to write a good one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mommy's Time Out.

I love wine, especially a nice Pinot Grigio. I also love time away from my darling duo (yes, as cute and sweet as they may be, I do indeed require time away). Nonetheless, something about this just feels wrong.
Write reviews or rate Mommy's Time Out Pinot Grigio, and check out food pairings and tips from other members!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Sun: Evil or Necessary Medicine?

I have been known to peruse a plethora of parenting books until I find a parenting style with which I agree and then tout it as the "best" approach, thereby negating all other theories. I gain security solely by finding a published author agreeing with my method. With all the confusion and various approaches, how else does a mother survive?!

I am now applying this same approach to sun exposure. I've finally found someone willing to say sun exposure is good for you! It does indeed feel good to be in the sun. Certainly it can't be all evil, right?!

I have been reading Gwenyth Paltrow's blog, GOOP, for some time now. I subscribe to the weekly feed and am always pleased with the culmination of experts' opinions and other useful information she brings together on various subjects.

This week: Vitamin D and sun exposure. The expert: Dr. Frank Lipman MD, founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC, where he combines the best of Western medicine with age-old healing techniques from the East. Dr. Lipman advocates that regular, moderate, unprotected sun exposure is essential for good health. You read that right -- ESSENTIAL. Read the entire piece by clicking here.

No one advocates throwing all your sunscreen into the waste bin. But today at the pool I may actually wait 30 minutes before applying sunscreen. When the judging mothers gasp due to my blatant irreverence towards the sun I will quote from Dr. Frank Lipman, who clearly the advocates the "best" approach: all things in moderation, my friend, all things in moderation.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Looking Past the Children’s Menu

I think the statement in this NY Times stating: "Children's menus are the death of civilization" is a tad harsh, but I see the point.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Nicola Marzovilla, the owner of I Trulli, emphasizes the importance of the dinner table. From left, his daughters, Julia and Olivia, and his wife, Astrid.
Published: May 24, 2010

Nicola Marzovilla runs a business, so when a client at his Gramercy Park restaurant, I Trulli, asks for a children’s menu, he does not say what he really thinks. What he says is, “I’m sure we can find something on the menu your child will like.” What he thinks is, “Children’s menus are the death of civilization.”

Parents have so come to expect the safe fare (and cheaper prices) of a children’s menu that Fornino, a pizza restaurant in Park Slope, nearly faced a boycott when it opened earlier this month without one. But Mr. Marzovilla has never had one and swears he never will. Easy for him to say: He’s not in nurture-happy Park Slope, and maybe expectations are different at a restaurant where a plate of handmade pasta costs $24. But even if he were running a pizza joint, he would never offer children what he considers a “dumbed down” menu on the side.

Mr. Marzovilla welcomes young children at his restaurant, even discounts their meals on Sunday evenings, and is not above serving a simple appetizer portion of pasta to please little ones. But he has strong opinions about food, and about the messages parents convey to their offspring through what they eat. Children’s menus aim too low, he argues — they’re a parenting crutch.

“The table is very important,” Mr. Marzovilla explained as we sat around one at his restaurant early Sunday evening with our five collective children. “It’s about nutrition, it’s about family; you go right down the line. And the children’s menu is about the opposite — it’s about making it quick, making it easy, and moving on.”

Mr. Marzovilla, 50, moved with his family to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx from the Puglia region of Italy when he was 11. Even if Mr. Marzovilla was not a foodie by profession, it would be important to him that his children try, say, octopus: “It’s my culture.”

He does not make it easy for his children to refuse new foods of any kind, a policy that has yielded a 14-year-old daughter who devours all manner of raw fish, a 17-year-old son who prefers his fish whole, and an 11-year-old daughter who slurps down snails in Chinatown with such relish that the waiters sometimes line up to stare.

Try it. No. Just try it. No. Just try it! No! — such is the dialogue that accompanies many a family meal, usually ending with the parent in defeat. How is it that Mr. Marzovilla encouraged them so successfully?

Everyone at the table had a good laugh at that one. “Encouraged: that’s a good word,” said Mr. Marzovilla.

“Try ‘forced,’ ” said Julia, the 14-year-old.

“There wasn’t a time we didn’t end up trying it,” said Domenico, the 17-year-old. “Sometimes it took longer than others.”

“You know, I’m their parent, I’m not their best friend,” Mr. Marzovilla noted. “I have a duty to mold and teach.”

Olivia, the 11-year-old, was looking at the menu. “How does fried rabbit taste?” she asked.

“Very good,” advised Domenico.

Mr. Marzovilla works most evenings, but the children sit down every night at their home in SoHo with his wife, Astrid, for a meal she cooked, usually no later than 6 p.m. It’s such a given that the children do not bother trying to negotiate their way out of it.

“Some parents, it’s important to them that their kids do sports,” Mr. Marzovilla said. “To me, it doesn’t mean a thing. To have this experience with their family is more important.”

The table was not just a place to eat for a young Mr. Marzovilla — it was a place to grow. At mealtime, he literally had a seat at the table, along with the adults and his older cousins. Two of his three siblings now live nearby, and their families often join forces in Chinatown or at their mother’s home in Murray Hill, where smaller children see older ones keeping it together for the course of the meal and eating whatever is put in front of them with an open mind.

It happened at our table Sunday at I Trulli. The restaurant experience of my twin boys, who will turn 4 this summer, extends to exactly one local diner, where, yes, they have been known to eat chicken fingers and fries. At a worshipful distance across the round table, they kept their eyes trained on Julia, Olivia and Domenico. Like them, my children devoured orecchiette with rabbit ragout. When offered a clam off the shell, one asked that I remove some brown stuff at the base — and then ate it. No, he didn’t like it. But he tried it.

“If you don’t ask your children to try things, how will they ever know what they’re capable of?” Mr. Marzovilla said. “And isn’t the same true of us?”

Ditch That Itch!

Simply passing this along from one of my favorite FB "friends."

This stuff has worked on every mosquito bite this week...
Olive Oil, Cleavers, Chickweed & Beeswax
Massachusetts, USA

Mosquitoes are bad, worse than ever thanks to global warming I figure! I have been bitten up and down the coast in more places and more times than I can count. I noticed they have been going for the fingers this year. I favor natural products and while we were driving around Massachusetts and being swarmed I needed a new remedy as ours was not holding up. I caught site of Ditch That Itch! and decided ok, why not give it a go. Not only does it work but it really works, I mean really, really. Berkshires mosquito bites be gone! We went on to visit my friend on the North Shore; all of us were scratching at the table and everyone was complaining so I decided to share (after holding out for two days of selfishness, these products require rationing if you only have one small jar!). Again, itch be gone! All of the picky chicks around the table were in awe and if they were not immediately converted they soon jumped on the bandwagon. I currently consider this to be the perfect hostess gift, I am writing this at the end of September in New York City and we still have plenty of mosquitoes, some things never go out of fashion. Smells like beeswax.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Roll your way to fit!?

Maybe not, but I do swear by these little foam rollers. I keep one under my bedside table and try to spend a few minutes on it a few times a week.

In the words of my illustrious Pilates instructor of 5 years, "it is the poor man's masseuse." It does indeed work -- you can literally feel it working. Ouch! That's when you know you really need it.

The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions (this is where the ouch! enters the picture) and scar tissue. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues. These are all good things. Your body will thank you. Your chiropractor may, however, miss your visits!

Of all the exercise equipment I've ever purchased, this was certainly the best $20 ever spent! To learn to use it properly check out this informative article or watch this short YouTube video.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Homemade OREOS.

I've subscribed to Smitten Kitchen's blog for sometime now. I love the visual aspect of the blog as well as many of the delicious recipes and witty posts! I cannot say I've sampled many of the recipes yet, but the post on Homemade Oreos caught my eye. I was hooked. Oreos are a staple at our house. Don't get me wrong - I make homemade cookies often (actually more often than I'd like to admit), but the simplicity of an Oreo dunked in milk is simply perfect. Nonetheless, the thought of a homemade, and thus, clearly better Oreo piqued my interest.

I admit, however, that I was weary, or is it, leary of trying to improve upon a classic. Would it live up to my expectations?! Would it withstand a dunk in milk?! Would my crazy-finicky children even eat them?! I stalled. The recipe lay on my counter for weeks, maybe months. I found no good excuse, but one day me and my best kitchen helper, Livi (age 7), rolled up our sleeves and threw caution to the wind.

The result was delicious! Very sweet. A sugar splurge to be sure. I could have eaten the filling by the spoonful. And the wafers had a wonderful consistency - crunchy on the outside and yet still a bit chewy inside. Isn't this ultimately the sign of the perfect cookie?

But do they compare? Well, yes and no. Yes, they are delicious and addictive! But no, they are not the same. In my book, they are indeed, better.

Don't believe me? Well, then you'll just have to try them for yourself. Milk required.

For the complete recipe click here.

Chocolate Cloud Cake

Ok, first a confession: I am addicted to chocolate. Not your average Hershey chocolate bar. No thank you. I crave deep, dark, rich chocolate. I adore homemade chocolate chip cookies. Brownies make me cry for joy. What I do not generally care for, however, is chocolate cake -- generally too airy and dry and lacking in the intense chocolate I crave so much. 'Tis not the case with flourless varieties, however, which is why the chocolate cake section of my recipe journal lacks more than a tablespoon or two of flour. Dense chocolate cakes make me happy. Warm gooey chocolate cakes bring me to my knees. So, when I read over Nigella Lawson's recipe for the flourless variety she calls "Chocolate Cloud Cake" I was immediately smitten.

Last Friday evening we had friends over for a casual dinner. Finally, an excuse to try this recipe! I'm not certain if they too have an out-of-control chocolate addiction, but I do know that no one uttered a word until their respective dessert plate was clean. Sips of wine, yes, but no words.

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, minimum 70 percent cocoa solids
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs, 2 whole, 4 separated
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur, optional (recommended: Cointreau ~ I substituted Grand Mariner because I had it in the cabinet)
1 orange, zested

For the cream topping:
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur, optional (recommended: Cointreau ~ ditto above)
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, for sprinkling (I skipped this step, opting instead for the pure white cloud effect)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9" spring-form cake pan with baking parchment.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, add the butter and let melt in the warm chocolate.

Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/3 cup of the sugar, then gently add the chocolate mixture, the orange-flavored liqueur and the orange zest.

In another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk until the whites hold their shape but are not too stiff. Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the center is no long wobbly. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.

When you are ready to eat, place the still pan-bound cake on a cake stand or plate for serving and carefully remove the sides of the pan from the cake. Don't worry about cracks or rough edges, it's the crater look we're going for here. Whip the cream until it's soft and then add the vanilla and orange-flavored liqueur and continue whisking until the cream is firm but not stiff. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, easing it out gently towards the edges of the cake, and dust the top lightly with cocoa powder pushed through a tea-strainer.

Calling all mini Mavericks.

Shopping online today and ran across these darling aviator shades! So much cooler than the traditional molded plastic neon mess we generally see when trying to find something to shield our wee ones' eyes.

Oh, and the price is right!

2 for $5.00.

One can never have two too many tunics!

I love tunics. I love the ease with which I can pair them with shorts, capris, jeans or over a swim suit. I love that they are universally flattering. I won't purchase just any tunic, though. I have tunic standards. This is my latest purchase from a trip to Palm Beach.

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it! The color choices left me speechless. I, after trying on each one, went with the blue and bronze.

boho chic
rope piped tunic with pockets

Living Green.

I was not born in the 60s and I do not wear hemp. Nonetheless, I am one of the many moms across the country making wiser choices about living — wasting less, saving more verging towards being green. My most recent step comes in the form ofLunchSkins. LunchSkins are made from a thick cotton fabric that is coated with a food-safe polyurethane liner. This unique high-quality fabric is manufactured in Europe by a family-owned business and has been used for many years in bakeries and restaurants. Additionally, LunchSkins are grease-proof and moisture proof making them ideal for messy sandwiches and snacks. Goodbye plastic bags!


Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?

I love making homemade cupcakes — just the perfect amount of cake and icing! Yumm. I can never, however, create a beautiful cupcake worthy of any party or event. What a shame my abilities do not match my love of cupcakes!

A problem no longer!! Introducing, Ticing, decorative edible sheets of icing. They come in a variety of designs and motifs. Just frost with your favorite buttercream (yes, I can handle that much), peel the ticing off its backing, place on your cupcake and press. Voila!! The flavor of the frosting is all you taste, but yet your cupcakes are little miniature works of art!

I just love the daschund design. I’m thinking little Tucker may have a birthday party this year!!

Weeknight Dinner – Asparagus And Arugula Spaghetti With Lemon And Pine Nuts

I am always looking for new, easy dinner recipes. I do love to cook, but my weeknight schedule is not conducive to meals that require 2 hours of prep and/or cooking time. And did I mention, the fussy palates for whom I must provide meals!?! Yes, children add a certain challenge to any cook’s repertoire. I do insist that my kids eat fresh food — we are not a fast or box food family. Furthermore, I encourage them to ingest greens. It is not popular. I do not always win. It is a battle, however, that I am willing to wage.

Tonight I’m making Asparagus and Arugula Spaghetti with Lemon and Pine Nuts by Chef Jon Ashton. The title says it all: simple, wholesome ingredients make wonderful meals. And no, I am not so misguided as to think my 6 year olds will gobble up the arugula and asparagus with reckless abandon. They will pick and push green things around on their plate. They may even complain. They may, however, miss a spear here or there and accidently enjoy this creamy, delectable dish!

For the full recipe: Cookstr - Asparagus and Arugula Spaghetti with Lemon and Pine Nuts.

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