Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Allergen-Free Peanut

Food allergies are a strange thing. Kid’s Health says that when a person’s immune system thinks the body has consumed something dangerous, it reacts by producing antibodies, which in turn release histamines into the bloodstream. The histamines then act on a person's eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract and causes the symptoms of the allergic reaction.

“The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology estimates that up to 2 million, or 8%, of children in the United States are affected by food allergies, and that six foods account for 90% of those food allergy reactions in kids: milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, and tree nuts. Unlike allergies to other foods like milk and eggs, children generally don't outgrow allergies to peanuts or nuts.”

ABC News reported that the number of children suffering from peanut allergies in the U.S. has doubled to more than 600,000 in just five years. As a result, researchers are on the hunt for an allergen-free peanut, and AT&T State University in North Carolina’s Mohammed Ahmedna says he found it. Though still in testing, he says they’ve found a process to deactivate the allergens within the peanut in the lab, as opposed to rebuilding the peanut. Taking another approach, researchers at the University of Florida are trying to grow a safe peanut (i.e., without the three proteins that trigger most allergic reactions).

On a similar note, I came across a warning from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network regarding an erroneous press release from a U.S. food company with claims of a new product containing allergen-free peanuts.

“The product is Organic Amazonian Wild Jungle Peanuts, by California-based Sunfood Nutrition. The company’s press release said, among other things, that ‘Testing has revealed that these amazing nuts are free of aflatoxin – the mold in conventional peanuts that is linked to food allergies and illness.’”

“Just because a peanut is aflatoxin-free doesn’t mean that it’s allergen-free. Even a peanut that’s free of aflatoxin can still cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to peanuts."

We don’t have any food allergies in our home, but I’m always curious about food related concerns. This, in particular, is such a challenging medical issue that requires so much care and attention. You can see why researchers are looking for a way to eliminate the dangers by finding a safe alternative for allergy sufferers. However, I think that even if a peanut solution is found, I would still be very suspicious of “safe” peanuts. How could one be sure it’s safe? And that it hasn’t been contaminated? It just seems it's effectiveness is realized only in ideal situations, which aren't common in my experience. I can hope for the best, though, for the sake of those living in constant anxiety over themselves or their kids.

Glen Hansard on Morning Becomes Eclectic

We love the Irish band The Frames, so when we heard the lead singer Glen Hansard was in a movie, we were curious. Once is a musical of sorts in which the stars, Glen and Marketa Irglova, wander the streets of Dublin in what sounds like a believable, if quirky, love story. It's won a few awards, including an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Praise and description about the soundtrack on the Washington Post: GLEN HANSARD/ MARKETA IRGLOVA "Once"



We haven't seen it yet, but it's definitely on our list.

In the meantime, I heard a live performance of a few songs written by Glen and performed by him and Markets on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. We've seen The Frames live, and in addition to Glen's amusing Dublin accent, he's just a funny guy. I only remember one thing from the concert that was oh so long ago (or maybe it just feels like a lifetime ago?). In explaining a song, he was telling the audience that a kid had named the dog in question Deefer. That's "D" fer Dog.

So if you're hankering for some good music or a really Irish accent, have a listen to (or watch) the live recording from 7/31/07.

Giving Peas A Chance

Oh, peas. I loved peas as a kid. I loved eating them one by one, which is perhaps why I didn't break 50 lbs until I was 12. I was a slooooooow eater. But I only ever had them as peas. As an adult, and especially as a fan of Nigella Lawson, I've found there are many, many other ways to prepare peas. This is only exaggerated because my husband loves peas, mint, and any combination thereof.

Mushy Peas
Pea, Mint, and Avocado Salad
Chicken & Pea Soup
Petits Pois a la Francaise
Peas Portuguesa

And once, I had a salad with pea tendrils sprinkled on top. I wasn't too sure about it at the time, but its delicious simplicity has haunted me over the years.

The funny thing to me is that when we first started feeding our son solids, he was very resistant. After a while, he slowly became more accepting of food, but pureed pears and peas were the only foods he actually liked. Currently, peas are still the *sugar* in the foods that might otherwise be *medicine*. Maybe that'll change over time, though I'm hoping not. We're all working pretty hard to make sure that doesn't happen.


In homage to the challenges we all face in feeding our little ones, Apples 'n' Oranges' giveaway.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Lovey Boat

When our son was about 2 weeks old, he managed to get his thumb in his mouth, though it didn't look very comfortable since all of his fingers were plastered on the rest of his face (picture an octopus attacking). Impressive as it was, he lost it as quickly as he found it. Several weeks later (over a month, IIRC), he slowly began to realize he had control over the hands that seemed to keep attacking him. He found the thumb, and it's been a constant source of comfort ever since. When he's tired, the thumb goes into the mouth, and he'll gaze around until he falls asleep.

A Baby Center e-mail today said the following:

"Chances are good that your baby's grown attached to a certain blanket or toy. Transitional objects may help your baby weather potentially stressful experiences — such as a doctor's visit or a trip — more easily. You may want to buy a duplicate of her lovey (or cut the original in half, if it's something like a blanket), in case you need to replace a lost one or take it away to clean it."

So here's my question:
If his thumb is the only external source of comfort besides dada and mama, is his thumb his lovey or is he lovey-less?

More On Reusable Bags

Speaking of reusable bags, I just heard about the Baggu bag. It looks pretty convenient because you can stick one in your purse/diaperbag/manbag and use it for those unexpected purchases. They also give some interesting basic information in the FAQ section like:

  • BUT I USE OLD PLASTIC BAGS FOR OTHER THINGS AROUND THE HOUSE, LIKE TRASH BAGS, OR PICKING UP AFTER MY DOG. WHAT WILL I DO WITHOUT THOSE BAGS?

    Try using biodegradable and compostable kitchen & pet waste bags. When these bags break down in the landfill they won't leak toxins into the earth. We like the biobag, made from corn and printed with soy based inks. They are much more pleasant for both duties than grocery store bags, and they don't have any surprise holes.

  • IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE TO PLASTIC PRODUCE BAGS?

    We discovered these excellent cotton sacks called ecobags. They are made from light weight organic cotton gauze, perfect for all your fruits & veggies.

  • DO GUYS USE BAGGU?
    Definitely. Real men save the planet. Baggu fits discretely in your back pocket.
I've been looking for a good alternative to the large garbage bags we currently use, so I'm going to give the Biobag a shot. We'll see what happens.

Chore Wars

I might not need this yet, but with little Mr. Bundle O' Energy, I can see this coming in handy in the near future. Cuz I'm not going to be cleaning after him forever. He's lucky I do it now ;-)

Chore Wars

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How To Peel A Peach (or Tomato)

The interesting thing about peaches is that once they don't get any sweeter once they've been picked. As Russ Parsons puts it, it's the difference between maturity, which happens on the tree, and ripeness (i.e., softening), which can be completed at home. "You'll know it's ready when you start to feel a little give at the shoulders — the rim around the stem. The absolute worst thing to do with unripe fruit is stick it in the refrigerator. Chilling is what causes peaches and nectarines to develop that awful dry, mealy, cottony interior texture and the insipid flavor that goes along with it. Once the fruit is ripe, it can be refrigerated without worry."

That said, on to peeling.

Peel a Peach (or Tomato)
Cut a shallow X on the base of the fruit.
Immerse into boiling water for about 20-30 seconds.
Immediately move to ice water to stop the cooking process.
Peel back the skin at the corners of the X.

Save the Environment One Bag at a Time

Back in 2002, Ireland did something clever to reduce the the consumption of plastic polythene bags; they started taxing them. Consumers not inclined to pay this tax just bring their own bags. As a convenience, stores provide durable, reusable grocery bags with a flat base (essential) at a cost of 1 Euro each. And it worked!

"A tax on plastic shopping bags in the Republic of Ireland has cut their use by more than 90% and raised millions of euros in revenue, the government says."

Ireland's biggest concern at the time was litter. You could see any of the "estimated 1.2 billion free plastic bags" stuck in leafless trees throughout the city. Such a beautiful countryside plagued with opaque, white plastic.

We try to do what we can to help the environment. Reducing our consumption of plastic bags was one such endeavor. We never really liked the canvas or mesh reusable grocery bags we found here because their size and shape were impractical for real shopping trips. So on a trip to Ireland a few years back, my husband and I picked up a few reusable bags and brought them home for use in grocery stores.

Albertsons, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's have since designed similar bags, which is great because I hope consumers here start taking plastic bags more seriously. There's no reason to walk into a grocery store, Target, etc. without a couple of bags under your arm. And while you could argue that banning bags is too harsh, taxing them is perfectly reasonable. It's amazing how people remember to use their reusable bags when the alternative is a higher checkout receipt.

On a related note, while having a reusable bag is great, when you're paying $250 for one, you might be a bit confused about the whole point of avoiding plastic bags.

Cardboard Wishes and Fairy Tale Dreams

I keep reading about cardboard activities for kids these days. Thingamababy's contest to find a party name/theme using 21 large boxes for a thundering crowd of toddlers (so brave...so very brave). Lifehacker also has a list of ways to entertain young children, including the use of free boxes (e.g., from appliance stores) to be used as houses and castles.

I always loved boxes as a kid. There was a sense of quiet and privacy...a sanctuary away from adults that allowed my imagination to flourish. Though I never did anything spectacular (tunnels and "house" were my things), here are a few other box ideas I've heard about recently and noted for future use:

  • I'm amused by the use of boxes as castles and forts because I recently saw an episode of the Simpsons in which Bart and Lisa ordered a huge amount of free boxes from a shipping company, built a fort, and then defended the boxes from the shipping company when they tried to get them back. It was a lot like the attack on the castle in Lord of the Rings, which I found quite entertaining. When the kids finally got bored, they just used the hose to dissolve it all. Silly adults.

  • You can go out and buy a really cute toy stove or refrigerator, or you can just use a large box. Half of the entertainment comes in decorating the "appliance." Make a whole kitchen by cutting out doors, attaching handles, drawing on embellishments and knobs, etc. Kids are creative and imaginative, so they don't need a fancy new toy to get full use out of it; those toys are primarily for parents. Taking the time to share this activity with your child is a great way to play with him, save a few dollars, and suck in some of that wonderful imaginative energy that he gives off. Besides, when he gets bored of it and moves on, you can either fold it up and store it...or get the hose out :-)


Now, go forth and conquer.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Becoming a Better Blogger

Here's Lifehack.org's list of 101 ways to becoming a better blogger.

Cheers!

Via WillifordBlog

A Cheap Birthday Gift for Your S.O.

Something nice for your spouse's birthday...not that my mind is on my upcoming birthday or anything ;-)

How To Give A Back Massage

Via Lifehacker

Things We Do to Save Water

I've been working on small challenges to be a bit kinder to the environment like green cleaning and recylcling. Water conservation is another good one, and it's amazing what little changes can have a big impact. Here are a few of the things that we do to reduce water consumption that require little effort.

  • If you're reading this, I might be preaching to the converted. Make sure that when you turn the faucet on, the water pressure isn't unnecessarily high. It seems small, but just like with drips, I'm sure it makes a difference over time.

  • Short showers were never a thing for me, but now that I have an impatient boy, they're the only kind I have. If you lean towards hot showers, which unfortunately I do, it's better for your skin to spend less time in there, anyway. That said, warm water is really better than hot, though sometimes we don't like what's good for us.

  • No Limits Ladies mentions using cooled pasta water to water her plants. Along the same lines, use the water that you boiled eggs in, which is full of nutrients.

  • I've also heard that putting bricks in your toilet tank will reduce the amount of water required to refill it, but over time, the bricks deteriorate and can cause problems. A filled water bottle will work equally well without the brick's issues. I've never tried this one, but maybe it's high time we do.

  • Here's an incentive to avoid dish rinsing before putting them in the dishwasher. I've actually heard that the machine needs a bit of grime in order to clean it, so if there's nothing there, the dishes won't be as clean as if there had been something to cling.

  • Since the dishwasher is more efficient than we could ever pretend to be, we wash most of our stuff in it, though not everything. The few exceptions like delicate dishes/glasses, large pots, and items that tend to rust (e.g., kitchen shears) get washed by hand. I also prefer to wash anything of my son's that is plastic because I don't want it to be exposed to the high temperatures in the dishwasher. Instead of washing under running water, I fill the sink (or a large pot instead if it also needs washing) with warm soapy water, scrub and rinse, all of which don't take long at all.

  • Just before our son was born, our washing machine gave out. We bought a new front loader, and it was a wonderful investment. Though they run a bit pricier than top loaders, we bought a discontinued model at Sears at a significant savings. Even better, the City of Santa Monica sent us a $100 rebate. Despite having doubled the amount of laundry we do on a weekly basis, our water bill has not increased. Even better, it's much gentler on our clothes and runs much quieter than our former machine.

Friday, July 27, 2007

How to Cut a Mango

I took a tip from Alton Brown on how to cut a mango, who would never tolerate a uni-tasker like a mango splitter. It's worked great for me.

  • Peel the mango.

  • Cut the bottom so it's flat on the chopping board.

  • Put a corn-on-the-cob handle on the top.

  • Hold the mango with the handle and slice down from top to bottom. You should get nice whole pieces with a few Scooby snacks to spare (aka cook's treats).

And if you're looking for tips on finding a ripe mango, here's what About.com has to say:

"When choosing a mango, pick one that is plump and heavy for its size. Most importantly, the mango should be fragrant when held near your nose. If you'll be using the mango right away, you will want to find a ripe one. Mangos are ripe when easily indented with your thumb. (Avoid mangos that are so ripe they feel mushy.)"

Happy mango-ing

How To Cut A Watermelon

Wikihow shows us how to cut a watermelon.

      1) Wash the rind of a watermelon with regular soap or with a vegetable wash. Everything which the knife touches on the outside of the melon will end up in contact with the watermelon flesh as it slices through.

      2) Use a sharp knife to carefully slice off the top. A serrated knife works best for items that have a softer interior and tougher exterior like melons, tomatoes, and breads.

      3) Stand the melon on end, and carefully slice down through the center. Note: if you cut along the dark stripes on the outside of the watermelon, then the watermelon seeds will end up on the outside of the pieces of watermelon, making them easier to remove.

      4) Cut each half into sections.

      5) Hold the section in one hand while you slowly remove the melon from its rind.

      6) Slice down from the top to the rind in even slices. Continue in this way until each section has the fruit removed.

      7) Place each section into a bowl and arrange.


That's all fine and dandy, but personally, I just use a melon baller. It makes for nice, small bites that are less messy to eat. And prevention is the name of the game when you've got little fingers in the bowl.

Via Lifehacker

How She Got Her Harry Potter Book


A clever little story of the lunacy HP caused (the book, not the brown sauce). Personally, I like my UPS guy, though I've never seen him while possessed by a wig & long black robe.

How I Got My Harry Potter Book

Recipe: Homemade Play-Doh

Instructables shows how to make your own non-toxic playdough (aka Play-Doh). While I've seen the recipe a few times, I'm still a bit hesitant. Not for any good reason, either. I just associate Play-Doh with that smell...and I don't know if it'll be the same if I make it. That said, we'll try it when we're ready :-)

Ingredient
2 cups flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon cream of tartar (optional for improved elasticity)

food coloring
scented oils

Mix all of the ingredients together, and stir over low heat. The dough will begin to thicken until it resembles mashed potatoes.

When the dough pulls away from the sides and clumps in the center, remove the pan from heat and allow the dough to cool enough to handle.

Turn the dough out onto a clean counter or silicone mat and knead vigorously until it becomes silky smooth. Divide the dough into balls for coloring.

Make a divot in the center of the ball and drop some food coloring in. Fold the dough over, working the food color through the body of the playdough, but try to keep the raw dye away from your hands and the counter. Use gloves or plastic wrap to keep your hands clean.

Work the dye through, adding more as needed to achieve your chosen color.

When you're done, store it in an air tight container. If it begins to dry out, knead a bit of water in to soften the dough back up.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Simpsons Trailer

I've been hearing rumors about a Simpsons movie for over 10 years now. It's probably as exciting for fans as it is for people working on it. And finally...finally...finally...the moment is here. This reviewer seems to be pleased with the end product, but if you like The Simpsons, I'm thinking it'll be hard to dislike. I don't know how it's remained such a success over the years, but it has and I find it a comfort to know it's still around. It's like a pet: you just can't imagine a day when it won't be there to make you laugh. My can was always making me laugh...sigh

For those of you looking for a good 60 seconds: The Simpsons Trailer

What's for Pud?

Cute thing about people from the UK. If they refer to pudding for dessert, all that means is there's something for dessert. Pudding can mean pie, cake, or...well, pudding. Even cuter is shortening it to "pud."

I saw the reference in the last Harry Potter on page 92, and thought "aw, that's right...British book."

I was reminded again in the author's interview (spoilers!!!) where she says that reading the end of the book first is like "someone coming to dinner, just opening the fridge and eating pudding, while you're standing there still working on the starter. It's not on," she said.

Tee hee

Language Development in Babies

It's fun watching for the subtleties of learning. I was reading this article and got to thinking about the recent verbal advances we've seen in our son.

James McClelland, a psychology professor at Stanford University, developed "a computer program that learns to decode sounds from different languages in the same way that a baby does [which] helps to shed new light on how people learn to talk."

He goes on to say that "the debate in language acquisition is around the question of how much specific information about language is hard-wired into the brain of the infant and how much of the knowledge that infants acquire about language is something that can be explained by relatively general purpose learning systems."

As a psych student, I must admit I've been watching my son's language development with curiosity. Were the theories about innate lingquistic instincts in babies legitimate? My son was stringing sounds together like "dadadadadadada" or "mamamamamamama" for a while, though he hadn't obviously associated meaning with them until this moment. Lately, his vowel sounds have obviously changed and we can sense a new stage in language. He was saying "wow" for about a week, which was fun because we'd say "wow," then he'd say "wow," and so on. He's over "wow," but he's making other fun sounds, including what we think is an attempt to say "daisy duck," the name we've given his rubber duckie, though it sounds like "day duh" to the untrained ear ;-)

In the end, it's interesting that researchers are beginning to learn about language development from babies, though it doesn't take away from the amazing feat that this little learning marvels accomplish on a daily basis. If I did anywhere near as much as him every day, I'd need a lot of naps, too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Infant Sign Language

In an attempt to reduce frustration in our son's language learning, we decided to try to teach him sign language. Since babies develop sufficient motor skills to sign before they develop the verbal skills to speak, signing can serve to help them communicate and reduce frustrations. He was a bit hesitant at first, but now he has a few signs down...and he's sooooo excited when he uses them. For example, when he wants more food, we ask "do you want more?" If he does, he'll start wildly signing more and giggling with delight at the thought of "more" food. It's wonderful to watch, and it's another sign of progress for us.

The hardest part for us was actually learning the signs, but even that wasn't too hard. I bought a small book, Baby Sign Language Basics which was helpful, but it's hard to get the nuance of the signs from a still image. A friend suggested Baby Einstein - My First Signs, but we haven't felt we needed it yet. Once his vocabulary starts expanding we might consider it. The most valuable tool for me has been Signing Time on PBS. The host speaks and sings while signing...it's fun to watch and easy to learn. I picked up a few common signs, and we just keep using them again and again when referencing items/actions. Even better, it's free :-)

Carpet Cleaners Crazy Auto Dialer

We've been getting calls from carpet cleaners, but they never leave a company name or contact information. Initially, there was an 800 phone number, which we reported to the FTC, but more often than not it's an unknown number (i.e., no number shows up on the caller ID). When we checked the 800 number online, we found that the number is much hated by many, many people for the same reason we hate it. They shouldn't be calling, they haven't taken our number off their list despite having asked the one time we got through, and they often hide their number and contact information.

Their most recent number is (818) 555-1000, which happens to be the phone number for directory assistance. Not much we can do there.

I don't know how they do business.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Starbucks Just Got a Little Less Budget Friendly

So, it's going to cost a smidge more to get your morning fix. Starbucks is raising their prices...again. I used to walk my son to our local Starbucks for a soy decaf latte...it gave us something to do, and as long as I could keep from spilling, it was great.

I finally accepted that the sweetened soy milk was just too sweet for me, so I stopped. I found another place I like better, so I get the rare treat. That said, I'd be pretty annoyed if I was still a Starbucks-ite since they raised their prices 5 cents in October 2006, and now another 9 cents. If your cup of coffee costed you $1.50 at this time last year, that's a 10% hike. Eep!!

Awoken By the Rudeness of Lindsay Lohan

Today, we woke up before our alarm. No, not our wee one. Not a fire truck flying by. We woke up to the pleasant sounds of ghetto birds circling nearby. It's not the first time helicopters have oh-so-rudely interrupted our morning, but when we finally found out what happened, we were just offended.

Lindsey Lohan Arrested for DUI, Cocaine

Apparently, Lindsay was following someone in her car at 1:30AM. The driver of the other car drove to a parking lot near the Santa Monica police station and called the police.

"When police arrived at the scene, they found Lohan and the woman engaged in a "heated argument" and believed Lohan was under the influence. Lohan resisted a field sobriety test, cops searched her and found cocaine."

Why the helicopters? Well, they didn't start hovering until it started getting light out, so we can only assume the reporters and paparzzi were out in droves.

Ugh...

Rite Aid's Awful Customer Service

We used to have our prescriptions filled at Rite Aid because it's close, open late, and parking isn't a problem. However, it wasn't cheap, the customer service was terrible, and prescriptions were never ready in a timely manner.

When I was pregnant, I needed a prescription filled, and a friend was going to pick it up for me. My doctor called it in, and I called Rite Aid to confirm. They seemed busy, but gave me a time frame. I did a follow up call, and it wasn't ready. I called again, and it wasn't ready. I kept getting the brush-off and they stopped answering my calls at one point. Finally, someone answered and I really started to lay into her. It was hours later and my doctor's office would be closing soon. The person I was on the phone with said she'd get it done and call me back within 30 minutes. She didn't. I called my doctor's office and asked her to call the prescription in to another pharmacy. This new place, Horton & Converse, was so much better. Despite having never been there, they were able to accept my insurance information over the phone, fill my prescription, and allow my friend to pick it up without any trouble. They're only open 9-6:30 during the week and until 1 on Saturday, but unless we have an off-hours emergency, I don't foresee ever using Rite-Aid, Walgreens, or any other large corporate store again. I later called Rite Aid to leave a complaint, but I never heard back. I have no doubt that they just don't care about one lowly customer.

So at Rite Aid, I experienced years of:

Bad customer service
Long waits
Understaffed pharmacy
Large, carless corporations

Why did I tolerate this for so long? I hate knowing that I just put up with it because the hours seemed convenient, but in all honesty, I seldom needed a prescription filled late. In my attempt to patronize smaller stores, I've found such better attention and customer service. Prices can be higher, though not necessarily. And at the end of the day, patronizing small stores assures they'll be around when you realize you just don't want to be ignored by the Rite Aids of the world.

Unspoiled Reading

Finally...finished...Harry...Potter...

And, had to go online to settle a few things that didn't make sense. I'm feeling much more clear-headed now. And I got to read it before someone ruined it for me. Yay!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Summer Rain

It might be the driest year on record in Los Angeles, but it just rained here on the west side. In the middle of July. July.

Just wanted to get that straight.

Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America

We saw Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America. He's hostile and foul-mouthed, but it's only to get his point across. Sometimes it seems extreme, but eh...it's TV.

The premise is simple: put Gordon Ramsey, a Michelin starred chef, in a failing restaurant, and have him turn it around before it's completely extinguished.

In this episode, the owner's of the Fenwich Arms, a small British pub in Lancashire, England, are struggling to stay afloat. Elaine runs the front of the house while her husband, Brian, runs the kitchen. Brian has had 5 heart attacks, 1 quadruple bipass, and is working 120 hours per week at the age of 63. Ramsay comes in, and you might think he would have been nicer to the couple, but like I said...it's TV. He works to turn the fussy menu into proper pub food, despite the hesitant (or was it cantankerous) owners. It kinda worked...and it kinda didn't. The turnover increased like 30%, but the owner/chef Brian was back in the kitchen messing with the menu again on the follow-up visit at the end of the episode. Hmmm....stubborn is as stubborn does.

Cute website though: Campaign for Real Gravy

That was all fine and dandy, but what I found even more entertaining was the bit of information that preceded the episode. On a screen that you might see a warning of elements on the following program, was this text...read by Eric Idle:

"The following program contains English accents. To find out what on Earth anyone is talking about, please use the closed captioning."

Tee hee...cute.

Ageless Animations

On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart bought up another interesting point about the Simpsons. If Marge and Homer had Bart just out of high school, they were about 18 years old. Homer, as Jon Stewart commented, is 38 years old. Why is Bart not 18? I've seen a few different websites that suggest Homer is 36 or 39, but it stands true that Bart should be older than 10. Matt Groening figures Bart should actually be 30 at this point, but they prefer him at 10 because he's unlikely to be tried as an adult ;-)

On a similar note, how old was the Beast from Beauty and the Beast when he was cursed. In the song Be Our Guest, the line "Ten years we've been rusting" leads me to believe that the curse has been in effect for about 10 years. And as the story goes per IMDB:

"Prince Adam was cursed to a beast form by Enchantress who saw no love in his arrogant heart for others. The one way he could break the spell was to learn to love another and earn her love in return before the last petal from his enchanted rose fell, which would bloom until his twenty-first birthday."

So let me get this straight. Some enchantress cursed a 10 year old boy for being arrogant? Don't get me wrong. I'm not a fan of rude kids. But shouldn't there be some law against this?

I know, I know...just a cartoon. But I'm just saying!!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What To Do After a Bee Sting

Parents Magazine's issue for July 2007 has some great tips on caring for bee or yellow jacket stings.

See whether the stinger is still in his skin by looking for a black dot in the middle of the wound. Remove it ASAP with a flat-edged object like a credit card, wash the area with soap and water, and then follow these steps to ease the pain and swelling.

- You can neutralize venom by applying a solution of meat tenderizer and water with a cotton ball. If you don't have this at home (few people do), try rubbing on some solid antiperspirant instead.

- Put ice or cold water on the sting, and give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

- If the sting is itchy, give him an OTC antihistamine.

- Sever allergice reactions occur in only 3% of kids. Call your doctor immediately if your child develops hives or if he was stung more than 10 times.

- Take your child to the E.R. or call 911 if the sting is inside his mouth; he has trouble breathing or swallowing; vomits; becomes dizzy or faints; or he develops severe headaches, stomach cramps, fever, or diarrhea.

No one every wants their child to suffer a bee sting, so I'm pretty paranoid. We have an orange stroller, and I would swear bees come out of nowhere and start following us. So if you ever see me running down the street, odds are, there was a bee somewhere nearby.

Easy to Peel Eggs

One of our quick breakfast tricks is a hard boiled egg. We'll make a bunch at the start of the week, and they serve as a quick, nutritious* food in the morning for either of us. If I'm in a rush to get out of the house, I can take short cuts on personal things I do, but not things for my son. I have to feed, change, and dress him, and I don't like to rush it because it'll just challenge me more. Besides, if I don't have a decent amount of protein for breakfast, I find myself hungry within the hour. Cereal and apples...something weird about my system where either of these actually make me hungrier than if I hadn't eaten at all.

Back to eggs, Elise at Simply Recipes has some tips on making the perfect hard boiled egg. What caught my attention was how to make the eggs easy to peel. Don't get fresh eggs. Huh? In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee outs fresher eggs as being harder to peel when hard boiled.

"Difficult peeling is characteristic of fresh eggs with a relatively low albumen pH, which somehow causes the albumen to adhere to the inner shell membrane more strongly than it coheres to itself. At the pH typical after several days of refrigeration, around 9.2, the shell peels easily."

In a nutshell...err...eggshell, here's what to do.

- Use eggs that are a few days old.

- To cook a batch of fresh eggs right away, add a half teaspoon of baking soda to a quart of water to make the cooking after alkaline (though this intensifies the sulfury flavor).

- If you have boiled a batch that are difficult to peel, try putting them in the refrigerator for a few days; they should be easier to peel then.

- When I peel an egg, I tap the middle of the egg (e.g., the waist, if it had one) on a paper towel on the counter, then roll along the waistline to crack the shell at the midsection. The cracked shell usually just peels right off in one or two pieces.

Bon Appetit!

*Recent Health Data on Eggs
Long vilified by well-meaning doctors and scientists for their high cholesterol content, eggs are now making a bit of a comeback. Recent research by Harvard investigators has shown that moderate egg consumption--up to one a day--does not increase heart disease risk in healthy individuals.(5) While it's true that egg yolks have a lot of cholesterol--and, therefore may slightly affect blood cholesterol levels--eggs also contain nutrients that may help lower the risk for heart disease, including protein, vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, and folate.

Harry Potter Widower

My poor husband. My poor son.

The book arrives today. I have my suspicions, which include Snape being a good guy and Neville having a much bigger role than in prior books. That said, I'm quite excited to see it all play out. Maybe my son will get around to reading these "classics" some day ;-)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lily Allen at the House of Blues, Aneheim

Ooo...I love Lily Allen. Her most recent album is such fun. Great songs with clever lyrics, if you're into that sort of thing. She'll be at the House of Blues in Anaheim this September. Tickets go on sale tomorrow, though :-D

Beethoven's Wig in the Los Angeles Area

My husband and I love music, and we're trying to instill the same love in our son. We have a collection of fun music, most were random purchases from iTunes, as well as a decent collection from Putumayo. But we love our Beethoven's Wig. I recently heard about a couple of Beethoven's Wig concerts in the area:

Thursday, July 26, 6:30 pm
KidSpace Children’s Museum
480 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, CA
Information/tickets: (626) 449-9144
Tickets are $15 per ticket

Saturday, July 28, 10 am
Ford Amphiteatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E, Hollywood, CA
Information/tickets: 323-461-3673
Children FREE (reservations required), Adults $5

Sounds like fun!!

Matt Groening's Fake News

Matt Groening, The Simpsons creator and writer, was interviewed on Wednesday 7/18 on The Daily Show. He said that in an episode where they took a dig at Fox, "we had a little news crawl, and that was one of our favorite moments."

Here's a list of the "news" from Anecdotage:

"Pointless news crawls up 37 per cent," the cartoon ticker read. "Do Democrats cause cancer? Find out at foxnews.com... Rupert Murdoch: Terrific dancer... Dow down 5000 points... Study: 92 per cent of Democrats are gay... JFK posthumously joins Republican Party... Oil slicks found to keep seals young, supple..."

Unfortunately, as he goes on to explain, "we have been forbidden to do that again. Because the Fox viewer might confuse our cartoon with actual news." At least that's what he was told by Fox.

Silly Fox.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Teaching My Son Spanish

I speak Spanish fluently, and I've been trying to speak to my son so he can learn. It's hard to remember to speak throughout the day because I'm just not used to it. I prefer English because it's my stronger language, but I haven't given up on teaching Spanish, yet. That said, I haven't given up on my husband either. I'm hoping the conversations my son and I have will motivate my husband to join the game.

What's helped a bit is buying books, which means I can read fluid rhymes to him that keep his attention a bit longer. The selection of books out there these days is great. Some I have or would like to buy include:

Froggy Gets Dressed
I Had a Hippopotamus
Big Dog/Little Dog
Green Eggs and Ham
Good Night Moon
The Hungry Caterpillar

He has a lot of energy so sitting down with me for a whole story is unlikely, but it's a good start. Besides, it reminds me to keep on him.

On that note, I found a cute website that has old tales translated into Spanish like Little Red Riding Hood and The Ugly Duckling.

Unknown Area Codes...Not Any More

Sometimes, when we're finishing dinner or getting ready for bath & bed time, we get random calls that show up as blocked numbers or from unknown area codes. It's usually a telemarketer that we have a prior relationship with or a non-profit organization, meaning they're not subject to the Do Not Call registry. We pretty much don't answer any more, especially if the call looks suspicious. However, if the area code does show up, the curiosity can be maddening.

Lifehacker's tip on finding the location of an area code will surely come in handy.

Type the 3-digit area code into google's search engine. The first item should be the name of the area with a link to a map.

Excellent!

You might think "old news, Meta Mommy. What rock have you been hiding under?" Well, to you I say "whatever, I know now." Yes, I've been searching the hard way, and I'll leave it at that. No, I don't call the operator...any more.

How about this? Did you know about this search tool which helps pinpoint phone locations where area codes cover large areas?

Anyway, if you didn't know, enjoy. And if you did, why didn't you tell me sooner?

Recipe: Moroccan Style Lamb

I'm not a fan of cookbooks that imply "diet" in the title, but after taking a look at this Weight Watchers book at my sister-in-law's house, I had to get it. Over the past few months, it's become a weekly staple in our menu planning.

One of our favorite recipes is a lamb dish. I'm not the biggest fan of lamb, but if I didn't know any better, I'd swear it was beef. It's a simple recipe which allows for plenty of leftovers (how much you make is up to you) that can be eaten as is (our preference), or as the book suggests, frozen for future stir frys. Instead of a leg of lamb, we use a lamb tenderloin. And instead of oven roasting, my husband BBQs it. Less clean up for me ;-)

Moroccan-Style Roast Leg of Lamb
Leftover lamb freezes well. After defrosting, slice it thin and stir-fry with onion and red and yellow bell peppers for a quick supper.

Makes 6 servings

4 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons paprika (not smoked)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 (2-2.25 pound) half bone-in leg of lamb (preferably sirloin half), trimmed of all visible fat OR lamb tenderloin

Roasting Instructions:
1) Preheat the oven to 375F. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine the oil, mint, paprika, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Rub all over the lamb.

2) Place the lamb on a rack in the shallow roasting pan. Roast until tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the lamb (not touching the bone) registers 155F for medium, about 1-1/2 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into about 12 slices.

BBQ instructions:
1) In a gallon zip-top bag, thoroughly combine the oil, mint, paprika, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. I place the bag in a bowl, thereby allowing me to toss things in without the challenge of propping open the bag. Put the lamb in and marinate in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

2) When we BBQ it, we aim for medium/pink (an internal temperature of 145), so cook time depends on the size of the meat. Let stand 10 minutes.

Serve with some left over ratatouille.

Downgrading Your Cleaning Supplies – Save Money & the Environment

Check out a guest post I wrote on Free Money Finance titled "Downgrading Your Cleaning Supplies – Save Money & the Environment."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tips on How to Close a Chip Bag

Here's a clever way to close a large bag without clips, tape, etc. No more lost clips or stale chips. Definitely an organizational feat.

I don't have any large bags that I can close like this, so I haven't been able to try it. But if you do, let me know how it goes.

The End of the Chip Clip

Who Couldn't Use A Free Vacation?

Joy! I found a fun contest on Nerd's Eye View.

American Airlines and the new movie the Bourne Ultimatum have joined forces for a promotion where AA will be giving away a boat load of frequent flier miles. Just guess how many miles "Jason Bourne" has in his account, and you could win them all. Even better, you're guess doesn't have to be right, which is good cuz I'm terrible with this kind of stuff.

So maybe you don't care about American Airlines, or the Bourne movies, or Matt Damon (but how could you not, really), but you can't tell me you don't care about free miles!!

The catch: you have to have an AA frequent flier number. And if you don't sign up, that's cool. I'll be sure to say "hi" from Bangkok, Mumbai, and Budapest ;-)

Affordable Homes Still Exist...Just Not Where I Am

CNN's list of where homes are affordable had me checking my vision and questioning for typos. Property actually costs this much? Land with actual houses that come with roofs and indoor plumbing?!?

After all of the housing woes lately, I didn't know this was still possible. Mind you, these are median prices for liveable houses, not just the one fixer-upper with shag carpeting and the creepy neighbors. Condos aren't even factored in to the median, meanins from of these towns have condos that cost less than some people pay for cars in L.A. Madness, I tell you. Madness!

1. Northbrook, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $83,760

2. Blacklick Estates, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $83,480

3. Tonawanda, New York - Median home price (2006): $74,878

4. Shiloh, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $79,722

5. West Mifflin, Pennsylvania - Median home price (2006): $81,113

6. North College Hill, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $80,761

7. Maple Heights, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $84,597

8. Kenmore, New York - Median home price (2006): $93,413

9. Penn Hills, Pennsylvania - Median home price (2006): $84,915

10. Brentwood, Pennsylvania - Median home price (2006): $86,878

11. Depew, New York - Median home price (2006): $90,149

12. Irmo, South Carolina - Median home price (2006): $119,003

13. Corning, New York - Median home price (2006): $83,198

14. Lancaster, New York - Median home price (2006): $98,883

15. Bellevue, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $91,322

16. Gates-North Gates, New York - Median home price (2006): $99,612

17. Cheektowaga, New York - Median home price (2006): $88,239

18. Cheviot, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $92,038

19. Boardman, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $103,175

20. Lincoln Park, Michigan - Median home price (2006): $96,579

21. Melvindale, Michigan - Median home price (2006): $90,302

22. Storm Lake, Iowa - Median home price (2006): $85,830

23. Garfield Heights, Ohio - Median home price (2006): $93,116

24. Kokomo, Indiana - Median home price (2006): $87,148

25. Harper Woods, Michigan - Median home price (2006): $110,486

Allergy Labels

Once kids start day care, school, or the like, they have to start bringing certain things along with them. Mabel's Labels is a website that sells labels for stuff, but more clever than that, labels that identify allergies. If your kid has an allergy, it's best to make the warning obvious for other care providers. They say the labels "withstand the dishwasher, microwave, UV Rays and hard wearing children," so they should last a while.

At $16 for 20 labels, if containers and cups tend to get lost outside of your home, it might not be worth the investment in the durable labels. A cheaper option might be to buy some address labels and print the necessary information on a full sheet for a fraction of the price. You'd have to re-apply after washing, but you'd still end up saving money.

Another alternative is using a label maker, if you have one. The label would last longer on the container than a paper label because it won't dissolve in water, though I don't know how it would react in a microwave.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Recipe: Country Rhubarb Cake


I got this recipe from Gourmet magazine. It's ridiculously easy, and a great opportunity to take advantage of rhubarb while it's in season. It's more common in Ireland (my point of reference) than here, and it reminds me of the cranberry because it's too tart to eat without a significant amount of sugar. The cake is essentially a receipe for a biscuit, which means that you don't want to overwork the dough. Just mix it until the batter comes together or you'll get a tough bread.

This is home cooking that makes us gluttonous to a fault. It's a delicious combination of tart and sweet. Once we take a bite, we literally can't stop until it's gone. That said, you could easily substitute the rhubarb for another fruit with equal success. We're just too smitten to try any alternatives, yet. I would suggest that if you make the cream, consider omiting the sugar. The cake is sweet enough, and you're looking for the velvety quality of the cream, not the added sugar. Besides, cream whisked with whiskey is impossibly delicious, but that's just me.

Country Rhubarb Cake

Serves 6-8
Active time: 35 minutes
Start to finish: 1 1/4 hour

For cake
1 lb fresh rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (3 cups) or 3 cups frozen rhubarb, thawed after measuring
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar (optional: 2 additional tablespoons to sprinkle on cake)
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup whole milk
2 large eggs (1 separated)

For whiskey cream
1 cup chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon whiskey (preferably Irish)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make cake:
Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 400F. Butter a 10-inch glass or ceramic pie plate or a 2 1/2-quart oval gratin dish and chill.

Toss rhubarb with brown sugar in a bowl until coated.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl until combined well. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles damp sand.
In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together milk, whole egg, and yolk.
Make a well in center of flour mixture and add milk mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon to gradually incorpporate flour and form a soft, sticky dough.

Transfer half of dough to chilled pie plate and pat out over bottom and halfway up side with well-floured hands, then spoon rhubarb and any juices onto dough. Using a tablespoon, spoon remaining dough in small mounds evenly over top.

Optional: Lightly beat egg white with a few drops of water, then lightly brush cake with egg wash. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar over top.

Bake cake until top crust is golden and rhubarb is tender, 30-40 minutes. Transfer to rack to cook, about 30 minutes.

Make whiskey cream:
Beat cream with confectioners sugar, whiskey, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer until it forms stiff peaks (whipped cream peak that hold its shape and clings tightly to the end of the beater or whisk).

Serve cake warm or at room temperature with whiskey cream.

Cooks' note:
Cake can be made 4 hours ahead and cooled completely, then kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature. Reheat if desired.

The Image of Fast Food

As I consider dinner this evening, something a friend sent me comes to mind:

The Reality of Fast Food

If that doesn't make you eat in, I don't know what would.

Growing Up?



What good is being a grown-up if you're not making the calls?

Via XKCD

Being Organized Pays

So in case you haven't noticed, I'm a fan of being organized. I prefer investing the time and effort up front, which allows for less stress on the back end. 43 Folders' post on his organizational pursuits reminded me of the nuances of getting and staying organized. If you have limited storage space, which we do, being organized is crucial. It means you don't have to spend hours trying to find and retrieve something (barring the occassional keys snafu). 43's lightbulb moment came when he realized that he was organizing, but not eliminating. That's a huge part of being organized, though. Shuffling useless stuff throughout your home can be easy, unfortunately.
Possible thoughts:

(1) It's still good - I'm sure it is. Aunt Glinda gave you that coffee maker, but you already had one. You kept it because you didn't want to hurt her feelings, but you've never used it. Sure, it's still good, but guess what. Not to you. I have trouble discarding things that are "still useful," too, which is why we make periodic donations to local charities. You might consider eBay, freecycle, or charities like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or local shelters.

(2) You might use it again - You bought that dress with good intentions, but you wore it once and it no longer fits. If you hold on to something like clothes waiting for them to fit again or to come back into fashion, you're just avoiding the inevitable. I'm not trying to be a pessimist here, but it's important to be rational. And we're beyond that...we're ruthless. If you haven't worn it in a year, assuming it's not seasonal (e.g., ski clothes), why is it taking up precious space? If you're really hesitant, put it in a box out of sight for a year. If you forgot it even existed, come on! Give that dress a new life on someone else ;-)

(3) It was expensive and you don't want to have to buy it again if you find out you need it - If you didn't use it the first time, you won't use it the second time.

I'm sure there are many other reasons to keep things that you can't bear to part with, but the point is to evaluate your reasoning and examine your logic. Are you keeping things for emotional reasons? Do you have enough space for the stuff you've accumulated? Even if you do, is the extra clutter and maintence (e.g., cleaning around stuff) necessary and worth it to you?

The interesting side effect of purging our closets is a mental shift that has resulted in saving money. I don't impulse buy (as much) because I'm much more conscious of the ramifications of my purchase. The big questions I ask myself when shopping are:

(1) Can I afford the expense? - Is it worth the price? Will it put a dent in my budget?

(2) Can I afford the space? - Where will I put it? Will it create clutter? Will I have to get rid of something else in order to keep this? Is that worth it to me? I find this question especially useful with toys because I want to give our little guy everything, but he hardly cares. He'll play with a cardboard box just as well as an expensive toy. We can only store so many toys, and he's usually happier playing with one of us than the stuff we buy him. Added bonus.

(3) Do we need it?- Better yet, will we use it? Do I do things that require this tool (e.g., if I didn't bake, I wouldn't need a stand mixer--and yes, I need my stand mixer). Unitaskers are lame. Do I have something else that could substitute for this (e.g., paella pans are for people who don't know you can make paella in a pot)? It doesn't matter how small or cheap something is if I won't use it. It's just taking up needed space, which defeats my organizational efforts.

On that note, a friend suggested to think about purchases for a month, and if you still want/need it, get it. Stopping to think about purchases really keeps your budget in check.

Whatever you decide to keep, store it wisely. Personally, I like storage boxes, space bags (when the seal works, which has been a nuisance), and my trusty label maker. You can fit more in a box with space bags, and if you label things, you don't have to rummage to find anything. Put little sachets of I'm a virgo and a little OCD, in case you haven't noticed.

Do you have any tips to share?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Making the Grade: Child Care Centers in Los Angeles

While we're not currently in need of child care, we don't know what the future holds. Besides, I'm always on the lookout for interesting and progressive programs that exist to help families in an era when being disconnected from family is so routine. In Los Angeles in particular, so many residents are transplants. A city like this needs as many resources as possible.

The Santa Monica Daily Press reported that Los Angeles County will begin a pilot program in 9 select cities in which a trained researcher will assess the quality of service of each provider and make that information available on the Web to parents. Steps to Excellence Program (STEP), similar in concept to the county's restaurant rating system, intends to measure the following 6 areas:

-Regulatory Compliance
-Teacher/Child Relationships
-Learning Environment
-Identification and Inclusion of Children with Special Needs
-Staff Qualifications and Working Conditions
-Family and Community Connections

The county's goals are to:

-Provide parents with clear, concise information on the quality of individual child care settings
-Create incentives and supports for programs to meet and maintain higher program standards
-Distinguish programs that are meeting these higher standards
-Provide benchmarks to determine if the quality of care in individual programs or communities is improving over time

The pilot phase, which began June 22, 2007, will last 3 years and is both free and voluntary. At an estimated annual cost of $500K, the program will begin posting results on their website in January 2008. They hope to recruit 200+ child care centers and 400 family child care homes in the following communities:

-Inglewood
-Palmdale
-Pomona
-Florence/Firestone
-Pacoima/Arleta
-Wilmington
-Long Beach
-Pasadena
-Santa Monica

Locally, Connections for Children, a non-profit resource and referral agency, will pilot the Santa Monica centers. So if you live or work in the area, you should consider contacting them for further information and assistance.

Travel: Cordoba, Spain

CNN's recent travel article got me to reminiscing...

Traveling is divine. There's something so romantic about wheels touching ground in a foreign country, one where you have no history or connection. Everything is new and exciting; an experience in the making. Just getting off the plane is a thrill, with the unknown staring you down: poster ads, text messages, strangers hugging. But sometimes you find a place that's an entirely new level of magic. The summer streets of southern Spain are seering hot with even shelter in the shade allowing little reprieve. The weather begs for a siesta in a cool, dim room for a long afternoon. If that can't be arranged, you would settle for a cold drink in a dark corner with delicious little tapas. Simple, and yet so perfect.

We traveled to Cordoba in 2003, and it was one of the best trips we've had. It was hot everywhere, but the nights were deliciously warm. The narrow streets steeped in history. The whitewashed homes with spectacular tile, wrought iron, and oasis courtyards gave off such a refreshing aura. And the piece de resistance, the Mezquita, a vast mosque with a cathedral built in its middle. It's such a collection of conflict, harmony and history that it makes you reconsider yourself and the history you know.

With only 4 days in Andalucia, we only spent a day exploring in Cordoba, a day in Carmona, and two days in Sevilla. Just enough to whet our appetites for more.

Enjoy Eating In and Save Time & Money to Boot

For more on food, see a guest post I wrote on Free Money Finance titled "Enjoy Eating In and Save Time and Money to Boot."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

An Irish Summer

If the rain continues through Wednesday, it will have rained 50 consecutive days in Dublin, Ireland.

We'll be flying over soon, leaving behind the golden California sun for an Irish summer. It's not too bad for me because having been raised in Los Angeles, I long for seasons. Rain is a nice distraction, in moderation, of course (translate = please, no more land slides). So, maybe I'm spoiled. But my poor husband...he's the one I feel for. When it rains here, he literally looks depressed. You get the feeling that he feels robbed. He moved all the way over here for sun, not rain. So on those 3 days out of the 365, there's a definite blue tint to his him. But it's all fair when in Ireland because he knows the rain there. Much like the Irish in this article, he has low but hopeful expections.

"While we can tend to be a downbeat people on the surface, the Irish people actually have the basically hopeful disposition of the idealist. We're happy to trudge through the 10 months, once we feel there will be sun some time."

and even more amusing...
"We're starting to think that maybe this is not an aberration, that this is just how it is from now on, that with the luck of the Irish we got the sh**ty end of the stick when it came to global warming."

All we can ask for is a dry day on his sister's wedding. Just one dry day.

PVC Leggings

No seriously, PVC leggings. Apparently, they're back. From what? I have no idea. But some people considered celebrities are apparently wearing them, so they must be back. Either that, or Victoria Beckam isn't the icon she thinks she is. Gasp!!

If that's not enough entertainment, here are some tips from the Independent on how to wear them without requiring a visit to the Emergency Room.

Tips for wearing PVC/latex leggings
1 Some people will argue that this trend is for the size zeros only.

I disagree. If you don’t want a totally fitted look, then opt for a size bigger than you would normally choose.

2 Use a good dousing of talcum powder both on your legs and the inside of the leggings, then bunch them up like you would with stockings to pull them carefully up your legs.

3 Some latex leggings come with a spray that’s supposed to make them all shiny. Spray them all over and wipe down with a cloth.

4 Providing you don’t have any trapped air bubbles, they are actually surprisingly comfortable to wear.

5 Latex leggings are pretty subdued in sound. But be warned, the squelchy noise problem does arise when wearing PVC leggings.

6 When removing them, roll your legging down to slip them off and try not to pull them too much.

They forgot to say "don't exhale." After all, oxygen is sooooo yesterday.

We Call Them Vanilla Plates

No Limits Ladies posted an interesting suggestion. Save time, money, and stress buy using white dishes.

Time - The time required to find replacement dishes for certain patterns is great.
Money - The cost in replacing broken dishes in a specific pattern can be high.
Stress - Where are you going to find that discontinued pattern? Will your mother-in-law notice? Neighbors? Jones'?

A few very good reasons to go white. She also points out that white is better than other colors because it's hard to find the wrong shade of white, which isn't the case with red.

I fully agree with all of these points, though I hadn't thought about it until I saw her post. The interesting thing is we were gifted with pottery dishes that we love, but they're porous so they're not great in the microwave, and they're bulky so they're not great in the dishwasher. So we were at IKEA one day and found white dishes at 50 cents each. I'll say it again...50 CENTS! We stocked up.

Our primary reason was one not mentioned on her blog. We believe that the food, not the dishes, are to be highlighted. Any color other than white diffuses the brilliance of the food being served. So at a minimal expense, we got a nice collection of dishes that allows us to see our food, without fear of the consequences. We can also use a dish to take cookies and muffins to a friend's house, and not feel like eegits for leaving one behind.

Dads in their 40s

Oh, how my husband's going to hate to see this post.

An article on fathers in their 40's caught my attention. As women are becoming parents later in life, so are men.

Per the article, fathers between 40 and 44 were up almost 18 percent from a decade ago while birth rates of children with fathers in their 20s dropped about 15 percent in that same period. "Two major trends in the dynamics of the modern family drive these statistics: Many men are waiting longer to have children as they pursue career goals, and many others, divorced or widowed, are remarrying and starting new families."

We know several men who became fathers for the first time after the age of 40, my husband included. Personally, I think he's much more mature and involved as a parent than he would have been a few years ago. He doesn't feel as compelled to work until 10 nightly, including weekends. He relishes in the time he spends with our son, whether it's changing diapers, giving baths, or playing peek-a-boo.

The article states that "by this point in some men's lives, a softer, easier temperament prevails." I didn't know my husband when he was 20, but I suspect that he's a bit more mellow now. Or so I hear ;-) He certainly doesn't overreact to things or obsess over nonsense, which I've seen plenty of maturity-lacking parents do. The article goes on to address a concern over age-sensitive issues like sports, though that was never a concern because my husband's never been the soccer/football/marathon type. That wasn't going to happen now or 20 years ago. He does however love mountain biking, and though I'm not excited about seeing them share that sport, I'm willing to let it happen...I just won't watch. It's something they can share, which can make one more mature, while keeping the other young. Which is which? Hmmm....



I suspect kids keep us all young, and sometimes, dare I say it, even I need a bit of youthful silliness to keep the wrinkles at bay.

Tips on Traveling Light

As I've mentioned before, my favorite tip for travel is don't overpack. It makes your trip much more enjoyable because you're not spending extraordinary efforts in lugging useless stuff. Being smart and efficient about what you pack requires a close analysis of what you'll need, and research on choosing the best multi-tasking tools.

Lifehacker led the way to Tim Ferriss' list of how he travels the world with under 10 pounds. You may agree or disagree with some of his choices, but it's a great starting point. It seems very specific to warmer climates, so if you're going to Chile this month, you might need a few more things. The same goes for traveling with kids, but...well, duh.

Much like with anything, great packing also requires a bit of organization. I like to make a master list of things to travel with, so I can pare it down as needed for any kind of trip. And we usually take an electronics bag because we are who we are. Included are a laptop, iPod, camera, various chargers, and headphones. The laptop might seem a waste, but we check in on life every now and then, book flights and hotels (safer than strange computers), have scanned images of passports and other needed documents, and we upload photos daily from our camera to see progress during our trips. On a 3-week trip to Asia a few years ago, we literally took over 1,000 shots, and it was great to see them at the end of each day as we wound down. We also use it for video clips, which results in great short clips of our wee one, eliminating our *need* for a video camera.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Los Angeles Restaurants: Prix Fixe Menus

More on restaurants in Los Angeles. Gayot keeps a list of special and ongoing resautants events (e.g., set menus). Personally, I find that taking advantage of a great restaurant's prix fixe menu is a fun way to get an outrageously good meal at a fraction of the price of the a la carte menu. The menu's usually clever, well thought out, and delicious. One of our most memorable meals was a Hawaiian meal at Lucques that cost us less than half of what it would have cost otherwise. Careful with the drinks though...that's where they can get ya ;-)

Gayot's list isn't comprehensive, but I found a posting on Chowhound that has a few more fun listings, though you might want to call ahead to assure the special is still running since it was posted in Feb 2007. I've posted our current favorites, along with ones we're seriously considering, and I've included updated prices and other information. Additionally, given our current requirements, I noted whether or not they have high chairs, which every restaurant had except for Josie, for which I am very disappointed. Also, if we've been to the restaurant and had a good experience as a party of 3, I've noted that we found it kid-friendly (with a well-behaved infant). That said, I have not listed any restaurants where we've ever had a bad experience.

The following are a few favorites:

MONDAY

CAMPANILE Monday Night Dinner - 3 courses for $40pp. Family style meals using "season's finest ingredients." The month's menu is posted online at the beginning of the month. High chairs available, kid-friendly. 624 La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles (323) 938-1447

JIRAFFE Monday Night Bistro Night - 3 courses for $35pp. They go a little casual with paper table cloths, candle lamps, lighter meals, and carafes of wine. Menu updated weekly online. High chairs available. 501 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica (310) 917-6671


TUESDAY

CUIDAD Paella on the Patio - 3 courses for $29pp, including appetizer, salad, and your choice of paella. Spanish wines and sparkling White Sangria are available by the glass. High chairs available, kid-friendly, and a good level of ambiant noise (e.g., not too quiet). 445 S. Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90071 (213) 486-5171

eat. on sunset 3 courses for $22pp. Formerly known at Pinot Hollywood, which we loved. High chairs available. Menu updated weekly. 1448 N. Gower St., Hollywood (323)461-8800.

VIOLET "7 before 7" - Tuesdays through Thursdays, Violet chef Jared Simons is offering seven dishes before 7 p.m. for $7 a piece. We've heard nothing but good things, but we haven't been yet. Menu looks excellent. High chairs available. 3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 453-9113

WEDNESDAY

JOSIE 3 course prix fixe menu features food purchased at the Farmer's Market that morning. Prices average $30-35, but vary depending on the ingredients. Menus tend to focus a bit more on game, but if you're willing to try it, I'm sure you'll be impressed. High chairs are NOT available. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405 (310) 581-9888

THURSDAY

ANGELI CAFE Thursday Night Dinners - Food's served family style at long tables, and dinner starts at 7PM. The chef/owner Evan Kleinman loves food and hosts KCRW's Good Food Saturday mornings. $30pp; special dinners may run higher. High chairs available. 7274 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood (323) 936-9086

CAMPANILE Grilled Cheese Thursday nights - Variety of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Book ahead as it gets pretty busy. High chairs available, kid-friendly. 624 La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles (323) 938-1447

SUNDAY

LUCQUES Sunday Night Supper - 3 courses for $40pp. Great food, expensive drinks. Menu updated weekly online. High chairs available. 8474 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles (323) 655-6277

VIOLET Sunday Night Dinner - 3 courses for $25, plus a bottomless glass of wine for $10 extra. Simons is also serving complimentary cookies and milk to end each meal. High chairs available. 3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 453-9113

CUIDAD Tapas Night - An all tapas night and Spanish wines by the glass. Great Latin food. High chairs available, kid-friendly, and a good level of ambiant noise (e.g., not too quiet). 445 S. Figueroa St. Los Angeles (213) 486-5171

DAILY

PATINA Business Lunch - 2 courses for $25pp. Available Monday-Friday only. 141 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles (213) 972-3331

JOE'S Daily 3-course prix fixe lunch menu (closed Mondays), is a great deal at $17pp. 3-course prix fixe dinner menu also availalbe, but runs a bit pricier (~$65). 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice (310) 399-5811

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ratatouille: The Movie vs the Food

Given my pleasure I derive from movies and from cooking, I was pretty excited about Ratatouille (pronounced rat-a-too-wee), a cute Pixar movie about a rat who wants to be a chef. We saw a few minutes advertised on our Tivo, and it was great. However, I'm having a hard time getting past the whole "rat touching my food" thing. I'm sure the rat has washed it's little rat hands and is the model of cleanliness, but it's still hard to reconcile. So while I wish we could go see it, I'm also slightly glad that we can't. Of course, we'll get it on DVD eventually, but at least I can close my eyes or forward easier than if we were at a theatre.

The movie does seem very meticulous. I heard an interview on KCRW's The Treatment with director Brad Bird, and he said the animators actually worked at Thomas Keller's legendary French Laundry in order to learn the nuances and shortcuts taken by professional chefs (e.g., efficiency via minimal movements). Mr. Keller designed the movie's stylized ratatouille, and even appears in a cameo role as the voice of a patron at Gusteau's, per IMDB.

That said, every time I see an ad for the movie, the thing I want the most...is ratatouille. It makes me hungry. My husband makes a delicious version, and it's so easy.

Ratatouille
The prep time is minimal since nothing is chopped up finely. I prefer small eggplant because you want to leave skin on each cube to avoid having it dissolve to mush. Besides that, we're pretty loose with the ingredients. If you don't like zucchini, use more squash. Add some more color with different bell peppers. Whatever you do, make a lot because it's great for leftovers and freezing.

Olive Oil
salt
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 summer squash, cubed
2 bell peppers, cut into thin strips,
2 small or 1 large eggplant, cubed
2 zucchini, cubed
2 cans of diced tomatoes
Italian seasoning (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the diced onions with a pinch of salt and sweat for about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add all of the vegetables at once, followed by the tomatoes and the tomato paste. If the diced tomatoes are not seasoned, add the seasoning and salt to taste. Don't stir, just let everything steam on low heat for about 20 minutes (or until the vegetables are to your liking). Longer than that might result in overcooked (aka mushy) vegetables.

Dare to love Kozo

It's Friday.
It's the 13th.

Get away from it all with some fun video clips, courtesy of You Tube.

Dare to love Kozo.

The Law of Keys

When one has a limited, non-negotiable amount of time to complete a task outside of the home (i.e., errand), keys will disapparate. They will not be in one's usual "key place," nor will they be in one's purse, pockets, man bag, or fanny pack. They will not be near one's wallet, in the cushions, hooked on the diaper bag, or near yesterday's mail. They will have vanished. When one realizes and accepts that one no longer has time to accomplish said task, the keys will apparate in a perfectly logical place. This will require many expletives (silly ones if children are present).

Happy Friday the 13th...Mwua, ha, ha

triskaidekaphobia \tris-ky-dek-uh-FOH-bee-uh\, noun:

A morbid fear of the number 13 or the date Friday the 13th.

Dictionary's word of the day

Damien Rice at the Greek



If you love music, how can you not love Damien Rice? He's an intelligent, passionate musician, and we just can't get enough of him. We've seen him in concert 3 or 4 times, possibly more, and each time has been superb. The most impressive show was at the Troubadour, where his several hours included a jam session with Herbie Hancock shortly after their recording session for Possibilities.

Anyway, in an attempt to live vicariously through others, Damien et. al. will be in show at the Greek Theatre on 9/20, and tickets go on sale tomorrow, 7/13. If you've never been to the Greek, it's definitely worth a visit. It's an outdoor amphitheatre like the Hollywood Bowl, but much more intimate. Parking's pricey and stacked though, so carpool and bring some patience.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Groove Armada Concert

Just to shake things up, I'm sharing some info on getting on the list to see Groove Armada on the rooftop at The Standard, Downtown next Tuesday, 7/17 @ 9PM. Its free, but you have to be on the list!

Go to Giant Club
Click on the box under "Contact"
Enter your details

Chill out and groove.

Have a mojito for me ;-)

Courtesy of Metropolis

Laundry Tip - Wash Fabric Toys


My son has been dealing with teething issues for months. So ya, he drools a lot. And ya, he likes to chew on anything he can get into his mouth. He likes fabric toys, which I'm happy enough to give him. However, some say that they're not intended for washing (e.g., plush rattle dolls like those found on Tiny Love activity gyms). Well, the whole *soaked in saliva* thing is enough for me to toss it in the washer, though I let it air dry. They come out in perfect condition, ready to sop up any new drool. So I now wash all of his fabric toys, and if one doesn't survive (which hasn't happened yet), I'd sooner toss it than harvest bacteria. I'm just saying.

We've also gotten great use out of a set of books I found at Costco by Soft Play ($10 for 2 cardboard, 2 cloth, 1 waterproof). He destroyed the cardboard ones in minutes...literally, minutes...with drool...ever-powerful drool. But the others are in great condition.

Aquarium Event for Toddlers



The Aquarium of the Pacific is definitely on my list of things to do soon, but it hasn't happened yet. It's in Long Beach, which just feels like a long drive, though in LA, that's often times just a one-way commute.

Go City Kids event list includes a current toddler event at the aquarium, and it sounds great:

Sea Life Stroll
View the Aquarium before it opens! Parents can bring children in strollers for a close-up look at the exhibits, including personalized time touching the animals. Designed with toddlers in mind, this class features an Aquarium tour and a craft. Register in advance; adult attends with child.

Ages: 0-3
Time: 8:30am-9:30am
Cost: Members $14; Non-members $20

Aquarium of the Pacific
Long Beach, CA
(562) 951-1630
Directions

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Chinese Goods in an American Market

Despite being cautious after so many recalls of Chinese goods recently, I realize there's no way we would be able to eliminate Chinese products without a great deal of hassle or expense. Buying locally raised foods helps keep that concern to a minimum. But besides that, you don't always know what ingredients are in the foods you purchase, as I was reminded by a segment on ABC World News.

They interviewed Sara Bongiorni, author of A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy. She convinced her family to go cold turkey on Chinese goods for a whole year, which meant giving up a lot of conviences and stocking up on Lego for the kids.

I'm not sure that we could do it. We'd probably go a little scatty before long. Though in a strange twist, despite things being more expensive on an individual basis, I'm guessing we might save money because of the limitations on the products we could actually buy. Hmmm...I think I'll start taking a closer look at the "made in ..." sticker to see the viability of this project.

On that note, I wonder where the book was made.

Tips on Picking & Remembering Passwords

Lifehacker's advice on choosing and remembering passwords is a great system. The company I worked for required employees to have several different passwords and change them frequently (i.e., every 3 months or so), so I had to come up with a system that worked for me. I came up with something very similar. It was a combination of letter and numbers, where the numbers were based on when the password was last changed (e.g., Feb 2007 = 0207) and the letters were based on what the password was for (e.g., human resources = HR). I've also used a foreing language as the letter-based digits, which also came in handy.

This works pretty well for personal passwords, too, since they should be changed frequently to maximize security. For those rarely used passwords, I use Mac's Keychain instead of saving them in a Word or Excel document, which is simply unsafe. I don't know of any other such alternatives, but a commenter on Lifehacker recommended KeePass, which seems to serve the same purpose.

iPhone: Will It Blend

There was a Border Grill stand at the farmers' market today, and I couldn't pass it up. I got a chile tamale, which was delicious!! Washed it all down with a minty lime cooler, which is a lot like a virgin mojito.

Beautiful summer day if I ever saw one.

Then a friend told me about this site, and I thought "surely that's not what I think it is." Oh, but it was. And guess what happened. It worked...kind of.

It just kinda made me sad. Well, not that sad. I've moved on, after all.

Sip, sip...ahhhhh