Friday, August 31, 2007

A Very Green Caterpillar

I'm a city girl. I've said it before, and I stand behind it. I was in my twenties the first time I saw a cow, and I shrieked with delight. I think they're cute. I think chickens are silly. Milk comes from the fridge. Beef comes wrapped in plastic. Nature is lovely, but we don't understand each other.

Cue the bugs.

When it comes to bugs, my day gets weird. I don't like bugs, but I don't like killing them either. While I might make an exception for a silverfish, spider, or ant, it's only it if my husband does the dirty work. The sound effect that usually accompanies killing certain bugs lingers with me for days. To be honest, I'm a little grossed out right now at the thought of it.

Every now and then, I want just a little bit of basil to sprinkle on food. But unlike parsley or cilantro, I seldom feel I need an entire bunch of basil, so I don't buy it. So last week, I bought a little basil plant to keep on the windowsill for strategic basil-ing purposes. So far, it's worked out well. I like watching the wee little plant grow, which is not the norm because my general practice is to kill all that is green. Not intentionally, mind you. I just over-water, under-water...or stare at it too long. I don't know why, but I'm like the green reaper (sorry...I can't help a well placed pun).

Feeling happy about my non-dead basil on my city-girl windowsill the other day, I was admiring the leaves. A caterpillar. It was a wee little caterpillar of the same brilliant hue as the basil. I wanted to take it outside and leave it on a plant, but that required touching the bug, which, city-girl that I am, disgusted me to no end. My husband stepped in. But apparently, his "humane" approach involved a paper towel and a basil-green splotch. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,"I screamed. He was confused. Did I want the bug gone or not? When will he ever learn? "I want you to leave the bug outside." Not amused. "I'm serious! It's cute...I just don't want it on my basil." He then proceeded to try flicking it off. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! You're going to kill it!!"

In the end, to save our marriage, I covered up my ears and he claims to have kindly left the caterpillar outside. See no evil, hear no evil.

I hope it grows up to be a Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Guinness for Health

The World updated me on some Guinness information today.

Britain - Biggest market for Guinness
Ireland - Second biggest market for Guinness...last year
Nigeria - Biggest market for Guinness...this year

Oh, Ireland...really? You drop your beer mug one year, and this is what happens. How do you think that precious dirty pint is going to feel about this?

Guinness' parent company Diageo had this to say about it:
"In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the brewer invested in an advertising campaign called "Guinness Greatness" designed to appeal to cachet-seeking male drinkers. Meanwhile, the Irish are spending less time in the pub, the venue for most local Guinness sales, after the nation banned smoking in public places and commutes home from work grew longer, Diageo said."
Apparently, Nigerian sales account for half of Guinness's international sales. And if you're wondering about the presence of Irish pubs outside of Ireland, there are plenty. The Irish Pub Company has been helping pub owners the world over set up their own little slice of Ireland.

But this is a shock to the system. Guinness is almost synonymous with Ireland, at least in my mind's eye. Touring the Guinness factory is a serious tourist thing to do in Dublin because of the history of the factory, not to mention the pint & amazing view at the end of the tour, assuming it's not raining (finish laughing before you continue reading). The ads on display were my favorite part. They were definitely my husband's favorite part as we currently have 2 hanging in our dining room. Back in the day, Guinness was practically prescribed by doctors...well, sort of.


The BBC said the original campaign of "Guinness for Health" stemmed from market research in the 1920's "when people told the company that they felt good after their pint." A few other uses as of 2003:
  • In England, post-operative patients used to be given Guinness, as were blood donors, because of its high iron content. This practice continues in Ireland.

  • Pregnant women and nursing mothers were at one stage advised to drink Guinness - the present advice is against this.

My husband stands behind the benefits for blood donors, though he insists he never got one. I believe him since he isn't usually a stout drinker. But if he is going to go that route, only a Guinness will do.

Sláinte (pronounced slahn-cha)! Cheers!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Writing Contest for Kids Under 15

The bright youth of today can be intimidating. Sure, movies come to mind with the type-A personality high school students running for some seat in student government (Reese Witherspoon in Election comes to mind). But, as my husband would say, "it's a movie. Don't take it so seriously."

When confronted with a 14 year-old who is probably smarter than me, I can't help but recoil in shock...horror...envy. LA Times writer Steve Lopez reacted differently when confronted with his friend's precociously clever Rebekah; he initiated a writing contest.

"I'm calling on youngsters 15 and under to show me what you can do. You can write about what parents don't know about kids. You can explain how we can be better parents. You can lay out what really bugs you about us.

Or, like Rebekah, who just graduated from King Middle School's magnet program in Silver Lake, you can tell us what chores need to be done while you're doing more important things. And if you've already written a set of going-away instructions, like Rebekah, feel free to submit it.

Keep the essays under 500 words and include your name, city or neighborhood and phone number. And parents, DO NOT try to cheat and write the essays for your children. I'll be able to tell, and I'll have you reported to the authorities. Besides, if you're like me, you probably can't write as well as your children anyway.

The winner will get a Los Angeles Times shirt and cap, a tour of the newspaper and lunch in the cafeteria, and the winning essay will be posted on The Times' website. That means someone out there will be able to boast, for the rest of his or her life, of having been a published writer before being old enough to drive."

As for Rebekah, upon leaving for summer camp in Malibu, she laid out a "to-do" list for her parents to follow through on in her absence. A few of the line items are listed in the article, and she's a busy, busy girl. Most impressive for me was knowing that at her age, she can be this insightful.
"'Attend the global warming thing for LACER and film it, please. If they want me to say something, then say, 'I ask you to remember that it isn't the people with cars, air conditioners, running water, electricity, and medicine that are hit first by global warming. Think of the people who don't have these privileges when you decide what you are going to do to keep our environment livable.'"

I'm pretty sure I wasn't thinking of saving the Earth at 14. Self-realization is a b*&$^.

Shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond

I enjoy shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond a lot more now that I know that despite the expiration date on their coupons, BBB will still honor them. At least, they have in my experience. I received this via email...in case anyone's jonesing for a craving only BBB can cure.

Bed Bath and Beyond 20% coupon

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mommy Fall Down

Sure he's too young to put his toys away now...but not forever.

Ode to A Toy Box

Once you were wee
Wrapped in my arm
I'd keep you real snug
Safe from all harm

And as you get older
We cuddle and play
Singing our songs
And laughing all day

Now on those blocks
You build and knock down
I twisted my ankle
Fell down like a clown

I guess this is how
The games are to start
Toys and blocks here
And there strewn like art

But this won't be cool
As you get a bit older
You'll store all your stuff
Or get the cold shoulder

When Kids Learn About Food

The LA Times has an inspirational article on food in our educational system. Alice Waters is a force in organic food and environmental concerns with respect to restaurants. She started the obsession with seasonal, organic foods in restaurants, and has trained some of the most talented chefs in the country. Now, she's working on the little minds and tummies of the country. Her non-profit Chez Panisse Foundation opened an "Edible Schoolyard" at a Berkeley public middle school, and they're now working on a similar project at a New Orleans charter school.

"The students grow food in the on-campus garden and cook it in an on-campus kitchen. Teachers use the experience for lessons in nutrition, biology, math and even the social sciences, as they scrutinize where food comes from and who grows it."

What I would give to have had this opportunity in school. Speaking as a graduate of the Los Angeles public school system, I don't see how food and nutrition can be so overlooked in our educations. As noted above, it can be such a useful tool in addressing so many other important educational elements like biology and math. Finances, also grossly overlooked, could be taught be taught by analyzing the cost of growing versus buying food. Besides, eating well is a crucial part of health, so it would behoove anyone to be more exposed to good, real food instead of Cheetos. I'm just saying.

An interesting point in the article was the charter school's ability to incorportate this creative learing tool.
"The project shows how a New Orleans public school -- a charter school, that is -- can react nimbly and creatively when approached with a novel idea. Before Katrina, the city's public school system was a disaster: Only 26% of its eighth-graders were proficient in reading. It was also, in the words of an Urban Institute study, 'famously mismanaged and corrupt,' having turned to an outside rescue firm to take over its business functions just before the storm."

The ridiculously large Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is a dinosaur approaching it's end. It's too large to function properly, and kids suffer as a result. As new parents, we're obviously hyperconscious about schools these days, which is one of the reasons we like Santa Monica. As its own city, it offers its residents small, well-funded schools with an abundance of resources and extracurricular activities. I'd like to see more schools in Los Angeles benefit from the virtues of being small.

Adventurous Travel

Anyone out there hankering for a real adventure would love Intrepid. I just love getting their emails. Reading them takes me away to a unique and remote place we've never been, sleeping bag on our person and the camel parked outside.

To be fair, the packages range from very basic (yes, I said camel and sleeping bag) to pretty comfortable (hotels, cabs, trains). But they don't specialize in the traditional tours, so you'll find interesting destinations and methods of travel. Here's one I think sounds absolutely fabulous...not that absolutely fabulous: Patagonian Wilderness. I think MetaBaby might enjoy a tour of the Otway Penguin Colony :-)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Baking Soda Miracles

This is absolutely brilliant.

I hope I'll never need it.

I probably will.

Multi-Tasking Moms cleaned off some wicked sharpie artwork, courtesy of her artistic 2 year old, with a baby wipe and some baking soda. You can't make that kind of stuff up. Sit down and compose yourself before you go check out her photos.

AT&T Goes Anti-Green

Just a reminder of the mindless actions taken by corporations and the recent power of the consumer.

The NY Times reported on a blogger who posted a video of her 300 page AT&T bill for her fabulous new iPhone. Most of the line items in the weighty bills she and her iPhone toting compatriots were for text and internet data transfers, all of which were at a charge of zero. So the bills wasted ridiculous amounts of paper and fuel for transportation. How did no one at AT&T figure this out before the ginormous shipping bill was generated?

To this, I say Grr.

Thankfully, customers complained and AT&T responded:

"Apple iPhones around the country were displaying this text message: 'We are simplifying your paper bill, removing itemized detail. To view all detail go to att.com/mywireless. Still need full paper bill? Call 611.'"

Recipe: Wholesome Instant Pancakes

One of my childhood breakfast comfort foods is pancakes. But along with all of the other paranoias I've procured in my many years, I've become sensitive about the ingredients in my food. I like to be able to pronounce what I'm eating. If nothing else, it helps me feel smarter than usual.

I like Alton Brown's Good Eats for various reasons. He covers one food or food subject thoroughly on each episode. He reviews the best tools for the best results without resorting to uni-taskers, so I get good advice on cheap kitchen solutions. And he's a geek. He identifies the chemical reactions that result from mixing, baking, burning, etc. with props and such so that viewers get a thorough understanding of the chemical processes taking place in their kitchen. And since I believe that if I understand the fundamentals of how something works, I can apply appropriate reasoning to future decisions, this show speaks to me. After all, cooking and baking is just one big, delicious chemistry experiment resulting in, if we're careful, Good Eats!

So, when he doled out a recipe for instant pancakes, I was all for it. Finally, my big chance to ditch Aunt Jemima and all her luscious, fluffy goodness for my own stash of mix, each ingredient no more than a few syllables. Cake-ilicious.

I make a batch of the instant pancake mix using whole wheat flour and it's ready to go whenever the mood strikes. It's a bit more interesting and nutritious than using all-purpose flour. I've tweaked the actual pancake recipe by halving it (perfect for 2 adults) and adjusting the ingredients to our taste and texture preference. I used to use buttermilk, which can be substituted with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and enough milk to make 1 cup. However, I tried plain yogurt one day and I really liked it. It makes for a tarter flavor, so if that puts you off, add a little more sugar to your dry mix or just stick with buttermilk. Occassionally, I also add 1/2 (or an entire small) banana to the yogurt, emulsify with a stick blender, and continue with the recipe as usual...makes for a nice depth of flavor, with little change in texture. Eat 'em with butter and syrup. Or my favorite new treat is to spread on my favorite jam. Yum!!

"INSTANT" PANCAKES:
1 egg, separated
1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cups "Instant" Pancake Mix
butter, for greasing the pan
1 cups fresh fruit such as blueberries or banana slices, if desired

Heat a frying pan or electric griddle to 350° F.

In a bowl, add the instant pancake mix. Set aside.

In another small bowl, melt the butter and cool about 1 minute. In another bowl or large measuring cup (e.g., 2+ cups), measure out yogurt. Break the egg and add the white to the yogurt and the yolk to the butter. Whisk each, then add the butter mixture to the yogurt mixture and combine. For easy whisking in the measuring cup, I take a whisk, insert it in the measuring cup, and roll between my the palms of my hands (like making a snake out of play-doh).

Pour the liquid mix on top of the pancake mix. Using a whisk, mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work all of the lumps out.

Check to see that the griddle is hot by placing a few drops of water onto to the griddle. The griddle is ready if the water dances across the surface.

Lightly butter the griddle. Wipe off thoroughly with a paper towel. (No butter should be visible.)

Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle and sprinkle on fruit if desired. The yogurt batter are slightly thicker, so I use this ice cream scooper instead. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of the pancake and the griddle-side of the cake is golden, gently flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancake is set.

Serve immediately or remove to a towel-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Hold in a warm place (e.g., oven at 200°F) for 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 8 pancakes (12 with buttermilk)

Monday, August 27, 2007

MetaMommy's Thoughts

If you're not a little scared, it's not really a risk now, is it?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

One Small Step...

followed by another and another.

We had lift-off today. MetaDaddy, in observing MetaBaby's ability to stand and shift his weight while drinking from his sippy cup, decided to try getting him to walk again today. Apparently, he was holding off on walking solo until he was 1. He took several steps each time MetaDaddy coaxed him, with a max of 7 steps before landing on his bum. He didn't even stop showing off once I showed up to witness the event.

Tomorrow, I suspect he won't remember any of this.

What? Who? Me? Walk? No, no, no...you must be thinking of some other MetaBaby.

Morrissey as Music

I will never, ever enjoy the whiney musings of Morrissey.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Bert

I always knew Bert and I had something in common. I always felt for him when Ernie woke him up from a deep sleep to ask him if he was asleep. And despite that, Bert and I both still like Ernie.

Your Score: Bert

You scored 72% Organization, 45% abstract, and 57% extroverted!



And here's why...

First, this test measured how organized you are. Some muppets like Cookie Monster make big messes, while others like Bert are quite anal about things being clean.

Second, this test measured if you prefer a concrete or an abstract viewpoint. For the purposes of this test, concrete people are considered to gravitate more to mathematical and logical approaches, whereas abstract people are more the dreamers and artistic type.

Third, this test measured if you are more of an introvert or an extrovert. By definition, an introvert concentrates more on herself and an extrovert focuses more on others. In this test an introvert was somebody that either tends to spend more time alone or thinks more about herself.

Here is why are you Bert.

You are both very organized. You almost always know where your belongings are and you prefer things neat. You may even enjoy cleaning and find it therapeutic. Bert is a big neat freak and gets quite annoyed when Ernie makes a big mess.

You both are sometimes concrete and sometimes abstract thinkers. Bert is probably a bit more concrete in his bottlecap collecting addiction and his love of the weather. He does show his abstract side when he sings and performs his "Doin' The Pidgeon" song. You have a good balance in your life. You know when to be logical at times, but you also aren't afraid to explore your dreams and desires... within limits of course.

You are both somewhat introverted. Bert is probably more introverted, because he spends most of his time either with Ernie or alone. Still he has no problem being around other people in his role as chairman of "The National Association of 'W' Lovers." Like Bert, you probably like to have some time to yourself, but you do appreciate spending time with your friends, and you aren't scared of social situations.

The Your SESAME STREET Persona Test

Hat tip to What Works for Us

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ditching Bottled Water

Charles Fishman’s article in Fast Company’s July 2007 issue brought to light a lot of new information I didn’t know about bottled water. It was interesting and informative, but more importantly, it was enlightening. Water is an easily available resource in our homes that we’ve come to take for granted. When I was growing up, no one would think twice about drinking tap water. Heck, sometimes I preferred water from the hose! And at some point, it all changed. Tap water was seen as dirty and unhealthy. It almost felt as though you would be doing yourself a disservice to drink it. It seemed everyone was moving towards the bottle or water filter as a remedy to this ill.

Bruce Nevins, who worked at athletic-wear company Pony, started the swinging pendulum in 1976 on the suggestion of Perrier chairman Gustave Leven. “Nevins looked out across 1970s America and had an ephiphany: Perrier wasn't just water. It was a beverage. The opportunity was in persuading people to drink Perrier when they would otherwise have had a cocktail or a Coke.”

Once Perrier opened the door, Evian proceeded to market their still water, which Americans prefer, in plastic bottles. The plastic allowed consumers to see the purity of the water and conveniently toss it when finished. “The Los Angeles Times declared in 1989: ‘The most intriguing [fashion] accessory to come out of the ‘80’s is the Evian water bottle.’”

Fishman’s Facts About Bottled Water:
  • Water weighs 8 1/3 pounds per gallon. It's so heavy you can't fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water - you have to leave empty space.

  • Water bottles are made of totally recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic: Our recyling rate for PET is only 23%.

  • While the United States is the single biggest consumer in the world's $50 billion bottled-water market, it is the only one of the top four - the others are Brazil, China, and Mexico - that has universally reliable tap water.

  • Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey defends bottled water, which happens to be their "number-one item by units sold.” He admitted to smuggling bottles of water into movie theatres, but defended them overall. "It's unfair to say bottled water is causing extra plastic in landfills, and it's using energy transporting it. There's a substitution effect-it's substituting for juices and Coke and Pepsi. If bottled water raises environmental and social issues, don't soft drinks raise all those issues, plus obesity concerns.” However, as Fishman points out, soda and juice don’t flow out of our taps.

  • U.S. consumers have easier access to safe, pure Fiji water than most people in Fiji, half of whom do not have reliable drinking water.

  • 1 billion people have no reliable source of drinking water, and 3,000 children a day die from diseases caught from tainted water.
In addition to all of those concerns, the transportation of water is a heavy environmental burden. ABC News calculated that the transportation costs for a one-liter bottle of French water to Chicago is about 2 ounces of oil, not including the oil used to manufacture the bottle. “By contrast, tap water is delivered using little or no oil. New York City's water, for instance, flows by force of gravity.”

Further Pondering

A few more thoughts on the increased consumption of bottled water in the U.S.

Consumerism – Americans like shopping and spending money on things. If something costs more, it must be better. So I'm a better person for buying it, right?

Auto Pilot - We buy the bottles because we've gotten used to the notion that water that we drink comes from a bottle, not a faucet. When I started questioning my preference for bottled water, I had to get past the prejudice that tap does taste different to bottled water. Not better or worse, just different. I've never been a fan of sparkling water, so that wasn't a factor. But I didn’t drink much water overall, so I started questioning the bottle until I started thinking about drinking 8 glasses a day. That's a lot of water, and it's a lot of bottled water. It felt so wasteful that I started drinking tap water. Now I drink tap water from the faucet or the filter (I don’t really mind which).

8 Glasses A Day - The theory that people should drink 8 glasses of water a day hasn't been proven, but I suspect it had a lot to do in generating huge sales increases for water bottling companies. People in other countries don't have the same concept about 8 daily glasses of water, and they're doing just fine. Large glasses and drinks are not the norm elsewhere.

Stopping the Cycle

I remember going to a restaurant as a kid and they would give each person a glass of water before asking. Then, the standard changed so that in order to save water, it would only be served upon request. And before I knew it, the wait staff were asking “still or sparkling” at my request for water. Now, things are getting back to a nice place. It’s becoming less PC to choose the bottled water option in restaurants. In some, if you ask for still water, tap is now the only option. My husband loves this because he no longer has to feel like a leper for order tap; the lepers now order bottled still water ;-)

The environmental concern is really where the water issue gets ugly. We may want to be healthy, and the convenience of the bottle is glorious, but at what cost does it all come? If you make a few conscious decisions, you can help the environment while quenching your thirst:
  • When you eat out, ask for tap water.
  • Who isn’t recylcling those empty bottles? 77% to landfills?!? For goodness’ sake, recycle.
  • Even better, get a reusable bottle and carry it around with you.
  • As Fishman says, “simply asking the question takes the carelessness out of the transaction.”

Quakes in LA

Whoa! Time to move?

Los Angeles Enjoying 1,000 Year Seismic Lull

The article says the past 1000 years (yes, thousand) have been pretty quiet, and the Northridge quake of 1994, "the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history at the time, was 'a drop in the bucket' compared to the massive jolts that would strike the basin during a period of high seismic activity."

"By contrast, the Mojave Desert is in a seismically active period. Seismic activity alternates between the two regions, the study suggests."

This is a lull?!? I really don't want to see active. The lead author, James Dolan, says that data indicates that we're not coming out of the lull any time soon. And yet, why am I not relieved?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Whoosh, Goes the Airplane!

Silly seats, airplane spoons, boating spoons...don't let the kids see this website!!

Fun Stuff for Kids

Sorry...this one's in France, too. But cute is cute, and I'm not about to let a little geography stop me from sharing.

A Silly Egg Cup

Looking for a fun egg cup? Look no further. That said, you might have to look further to understand the description since it's rather poorly translated from French. Bon Chance!

Egg Cup and Crowbar

Kitchen Tips from Cooks Illustrated

Selected tips from the September 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated that I found particularly useful.

Disposable Vegetable Scrubber:
  1. Fold an empty perforated onion or citrus bag to form a compact shape, then secure it with a rubber band.
  2. Use the scrubber to clean vegetables under cool running water, then discard the scrubber.
Frugal and clever, though would you really have to throw it away after one use? That seems wasteful.

Rejuvenating Celery:
  1. Trim and discard the bottom end of each celery stalk.
  2. Place the stalks cut-side down in a tall, narrow container with at least 2 inches of water. Refrigerate until the stalks are crisp and sprightly, 6-12 hours.
Per the herb vendor at my local farmer market, this technique is also great for bringing herbs back to life. Cut off a bit of the end of the stalk and place in water. I tend to keep my herbs refrigerated in water, which helps them last 1-2 weeks (except for mint, which might only last 1 week).

No More Soggy Cheesecake:

If stored in a springform pan, don't allow condensation to affect your refrigerated cheesecake. Arrange a layer of paper towels over it before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating.

You could do this with any food you cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. However, if you want to prevent skin from developing on the food (e.g., custard) or unpleasant browning (e.g., guacamole), I tend to put the plastic wrap directly on the food.

How to Crush a Pill with Spoons

James was kind enough to comment on an important caveat that I failed to include in this post. Not all pills should be crushed because it can change how the pill was intended to work, and that can be dangerous. Here's a link that addresses the topic. As such, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist before crushing pills. But if you get the green light, the technique I mention below is a cheap and easy method.

Thanks, James, for pointing out my oversight.


*********************************************

We used to do this to give our cat her medication. It worked really well, though she still knew the medication was in the food and thus avoided it.

Take one spoon and put the pill in it. Take a second spoon and place on top. Crush.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Monkey

With each milestone we cross, I look back longingly at the baby I once knew and cherished, and forward to the precocious little boy I can see in your excited smile. Today, you mumble syllables and walk like Frankenstein as long as your holding on to someone's hand. We know you absorb and understand so much because we've seen each of your many light bulbs illuminate. You love to smile, and it's infectious. You need your sleep, but you stubborn about it. You eat every meal like you're starving. I don't think you even know what hungry is, though you think you're plagued by it. You're a joyous player, whether it's with blocks, cars, rattles or books; you're not picky. You just want to taste and touch and feel and see and hear and learn about everything.

I've tried to take you in each day in all of your innocent glory. You know more now about joy and happiness than so many of us do. I've tried to remember how you've developed daily, mostly aided by the hundreds of pictures of the special and not-so-special days over this past year. In the end, I can only remember so much. The details are already getting fuzzy, but I have an enormous amount of fulfillment at having been able to experience each step with you. Every day, you're a new and different person offering us new and different glimpses of pleasure. Your hugs are fabulous. Your giggle is ridiculous.

We wanted to get you something special for your birday. So, we give you chocolate. Your first take of the substance you are genetically predisposed to love (if someone else has snuck him a taste, don't tell me).

Cheers to every day we've had, and every day to come.

Happy Birthday, Monkey!

Ways That I'm Dumber Than You

Of all of the things my son's done to me (given me stretch marks, bite marks, scratch marks, etc.), none come close to the plain old dumb things I've done to myself.

Once, before MetaDaddy (then only known as MetaBoyfriend) went on a trip, I tumbled down a few steps. I put on a brave face and said "no, no...I'm fine. Go on your trip." However, the moans of pain led him to think I was fibbing. The GINORMOUS bruise on my rear proved I was fibbing. But, I insisted that he go on the trip. In the end (ha, ha...end), it was just a bruise. He had those steps painted with a rough finish to make them a bit more skid-resistant.

About a year later, I tumbled a few steps again (different set of steps). He got really paranoid about me on steps when I got pregnant, so I stopped wearing socks at home (the cause, I think) and I haven't had a slip again (knock on wood).

Today, I found a new way to injure myself. I'm short, so I need a step ladder to get anything out of the kitchen cupboards. I was rushing around trying to finish something up before putting MetaBaby down for his nap because the noise of the mixer keeps him up. I climb up the ladder, then I climb down. Well, that's how it should have gone. What actually happened was the two-stepped ladder was backwards, so when I "stepped" down from the top step to the first step, there was nothing there. I fell. It could have been worse. MetaBaby was safe, so I didn't have to worry about him. And there were no obstacles or chairs around, so I could have fallen on various different painful things. So in the end, I'm just a bit bruised, highly annoyed, somewhat embarrassed, and thoroughly exhausted.

I will be needing chocolate cake tonight.

Minimizing Tomorrow's Struggle

Morning stress can be compounded by making more decisions than we need to for our kids. One tip from Los Ninos En Su Casa (aka A Place of Our Own) on PBS is to make some decisions with your child the night before.

Clothes:
  • Select a shoe box, plastic box, etc. big enough to put pants, top, shoes, etc.
  • Have your child decorate the box to make it his/her own.
  • The night before, help your child select the next day's outfit. For example, sit down Monday night to help him pick out Tuesday's clothes.
Breakfast:

You could do this with breakfast too. Choose tomorrow's breakfast the night before. Put it on a shelf or in the fridge with a label for that particular day. You could also do this with lunch, if applicable. This would also be a good idea if you're changing caregivers (for example, parent to nanny).

Consider the possibilities!

You've potentially eliminated a couple of things to worry about in the morning. Here, we're not at the point of arguing about what to wear in the morning, but I've heard stories...and they're not pretty. Using this strategy, this should (might) take the morning struggle out of dressing and eating since your child actively participated in choosing the clothes and food.

Kids are offered such few opportunities to make decisions that this independence generates feelings that his/her opinions are valued and helps boost their self-esteem. But it's nice to know that parents don't have to suffer to this end :-)

Non-Toxic Toys that Don't Break the Bank

I recently found Milagros Boutique. They are a bricks and mortar store in Portland, Oregon where they sell toys, clothes, baby supplies, mommy supplies, etc. What caught my eye were the pictures and descriptions of some of their toys. And they've got some great prices. For example...

$5 or Less
  • Milagros Wood Tops
  • USA Made Wood Train Whistle
  • Locally Made Magic Wands! Tons of fun styles to choose from!
  • Vermont-Made Wood Cars and Trucks

Less Than $10
  • Portland-Made Secret Decoder Disk Set - Lets kids create secret notes to share and decode
  • Heirloom Rattles - Choose from 8 styles!

Up to $20
  • Wood Sword or Shield
  • Made in Montana Flip Flop Pull-Toy or Helicopter
  • Hugable Fleece Love Monsters!
  • Cranky Pals!
  • Mini Maya Wraps for your little Mama or Papa
  • Wonderful locally made wood rubber-band powered toys - Race Car, Tug Boat, Race Boat, or Catapult!

Even nicer, they say they don't carry "any wood toy lines that are made in China (such as Melissa and Doug)."

All of the wood toys we carry at Milagros are USA made:
D and ME Toys which are handmade in Montana
Vermont-made Montgomery Schoolhouse Toys
Wood Toy Shop products which are handmade right here in Portland!

While they don't have a formal online store, they do accept orders over the phone (503) 493-4141 using MC or VISA. They ship items for the cost of shipping.

They reference wooden products from Maple Landmark, which I also checked out. There are some beautiful items there, including wooden rattles, trains, and blocks. Everything's made in Vermont, and in their guarantee, they say "we will repair or replace any standard item returned to us for any reason at no charge." Search by age here. Standard shipping varies, but it's free if you make a purchase of $125.

Hat tip to EnviroMom

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Happens When the Power Fails

The power went out Sunday for a few hours. We went out for a nice walk only to realize it was hot out. Sure, it was only 80°F out, but I remind you that we had just acclimatized to 60° Dublin weather. So walking only served to make me cranky. It didn't help that I was hungry. But if I'm to be completely honest, I think it was #36 on this list.

When I got over my anxiety, the power came back on. Go fig.

Glad we weren't in the Valley, though. Whew!

How Geek Are You?

Man, i thought I was better/worse than that. Oh well...I guess I'll just have to study harder next time.

47% GeekMingle2 - Free Online Dating

Via High Tech Mom's Club

Assembling Your Home's Emergency Kit

Before our little sunshine was born, I assembled an emergency kit for each of our cars, and one for our home. Unfortunately, I've gotten lazy and I haven't updated them, despite the new and different needs of our (almost) toddler. I must get on that.

If you're thinking of assembling or updating your home's emergency kit, a friend recently pointed this fella out to me.

Emergency Food Kit from Costco - $114.99

Basic preparation will impact the probability of your family’s survival in an emergency. Delicious and Easy to Prepare. Each bucket contains 275 servings of Pre-mixed and Pre-seasoned 100 % Vegetarian and Vitamin Fortified food for you and your family. With a 20 year long shelf life, this kit is perfect for the preparation of natural disasters such as hurricane, tornado, earthquakes or even a camping/hunting trip.

Easy to prepare - 275 servings - Sealed in convenient Weather-Proof Bucket for Easy Transport
  • 30 Servings - Potato Bakon
  • 25 Servings - Corn Chowder
  • 25 Servings - Ala King
  • 25 Servings - Cacciatore
  • 25 Servings - Western Stew
  • 45 Servings - Whey Milk
  • 25 Servings - Blueberry Pancakes
  • 25 Servings - Barley Vegetable
  • Total Weight: 23 lbs.0
Mmm...pancakes. I hope there's syrup in there.

Pet Gear

So, you feel like shopping but can't figure out what to buy? Oh, if only someone would manufacture something completely senseless and ridiculous.

What, you say? Someone has?

Oh my. I'd love to see this guy in action. And for only $17.95, it's a bargain at twice the price!!

Via Daily Candy

Mac Tricks

If you use a Mac, you might find yourself hunting around for symbols whenever you want to include one in your text. Here's a cool list of shortcuts for those ever-so-useful symbols.

Reference for Every Character Key on a Mac

¢...∆...∑...HOORAH!

Via Lifehacker

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Visa Getting a Monopoly on Monopoly


I completed a survey recently, and I found the questions and statements interesting. The gist of the survey on Monopoly from some of the statements presented with the survey questions:


  • Later this year, Hasbro plans on introducing an updated version of Monopoly replacing cash with a Visa debit card similar to updated Monopoly games already introduced in other countries around the world. Have you seen, read or heard anything about a Monopoly game that uses a Visa debit card instead of cash?

  • Our children are growing up in a world where debit and credit cards play a fundamental role. The new Monopoly game helps educate our children about finances. Visa sees this as an opportunity to expand its award winning educational program Practical Money Skills For Life. It is never too early to learn financial education.

  • Much of the rest of the world - including Europe - already has a version of Monopoly that uses Visa debit cards. Just as countries around the globe have taken the next logical step by introducing debit cards into the game, it is time for the United States to do the same.

  • Hasbro and Monopoly are leaders in the toy and game industry and Visa is the leader in the payment card industry. By coming together they are using their joint prestige with consumers to bring this new generation game to America. It makes sense that together they are again at the forefront.

  • Monopoly mirrors the real world. Just as it did when it was introduced in 1935, this new version of Monopoly reflects current economic realities. Nowadays Visa debit cards are central to everyday life. The new electronic Monopoly just reflects the changing nature of society and the advancement of technology.

  • Currently there are dozens of variations of the Monopoly game for sale from Junior Monopoly to Dog-opoly and SpongeBob SquarePants Monopoly. There is even a Monopoly game currently for sale that uses a generic debit card. The only change being made is adding a Visa branded debit card version of the game to the large variety already being offered.

  • It is a fact that debit and credit cards are replacing cash. Today you can even use cards to pay for fast food. The new version of Monopoly is the next logical step. Life takes Visa and now so does Monopoly.

  • Regardless of whether you actually plan to buy the game, now that you have heard a little about the new version of Monopoly, updating cash with a Visa debit card, would you be much more likely to purchase the game, somewhat more likely, somewhat less likely, or much less likely to purchase the new game?

First off, I don't like the idea of branding the debit card with Visa; it's obviously a ploy to gain customer loyaly from kids, the credit users of tomorrow. That said, in a financially responsible household, I can see the game initiating interesting conversations about money, credit, and savings. Children are better off learning about money and how to manage it as they grow up, as opposed to learning the hard way later in life. However, if the topic isn't addressed in a serious manner, I can see the debit card as almost encouraging credit use more in a frivolous manner. Can these negative attitudes to money transfer from the board to real life?

Changing Shampoos

In my recent kick to try more natural alternatives to household items, I decided to try a new shampoo. I'm not devoted to a particular brand. My hair's thick and pretty healthy, so they've all done the job. I suppose I might be singing a different tune if I had hair issues that were remedied by a particular brand, but since I don't, I don't feel the need to pay more for a designer label. In the end, if I like the smell, I'll take it.

So making the switch wasn't hard. I went to Trader Joe's and found Avalon Organic Botanicals Nourishing Shampoo in lavender. I had to finish up the end of the bottle I had, though. The anticipation of trying something new is always so exciting! Finally, the day came. I tried it. It had a pleasant smell and wasn't sudsy, but it doesn't need to be to work, so I was fine with that. I used it with my old conditioner because I still had a lot left. I don't know why, but I felt like I had a really hard time rinsing something out, though I don't know if it was the shampoo or the conditioner (which I've never had trouble with). I dried my hair, and it felt heavy, as if I had product in it. Once it was dry, it didn't feel much better, but it was passable. I washed my hair again the following day, careful to shampoo my scalp well and rinse as thoroughly as possible.

Now, I should say that my hair washing routine has never been a problem. I wash every other day. I use a small amount which doesn't vary despite the length of my hair because you're only meant to shampoo your scalp, not all of your hair. The conditioner only gets put on my hair, since I've read that applying it to my scalp would leave a residue.

I was very disappointed with the shampoo, but I tried a few more times. Yesterday, I washed and rinsed, and it just felt horrible...weird and unpleasant. Despite having partially dried my hair (no easy task if you know how heavy my hair is), I went back to the shower to try to re-rinse it. Only slightly better, if at all.

And that's it, I'm not going to use the shampoo again. There's no point in changing to a more natural shampoo if it means I have to wash my hair twice as often. I'm using more time, water, shampoo, and energy in washing my hair for mediocre results. That said, I'm still willing to try something else. I'll consult the EWG's shampoo list this time. Not because they list what works as a shampoo, but because if I'm going for something better for me and the environment, I might as well have some good research on my side.

Birthday Freebies

August doesn't need any holidays cuz it's jam-packed with birthdays. I was perusing birthday freebies, and realized that even if I was tempted by any of these, I'm not keen on providing any of my personal information in exchange for a free scoop of ice cream or the like. I'll just pay the $2, thanks.

That said, I'm paranoid. If you're not, and you like free stuff, go for it. You might want to double check restaurant participation just in case their free birthday treat has been discontinued.

Hat tip: Frugal for Life

Monday, August 20, 2007

Breastfeeding on Codeine

Are you nursing? Are you taking codeine? NPR reported on a recent FDA advisory to doctors and nursing mothers cautioning on the mother's use of codeine for the sake of nursing babies. If a mother is a "supermetabolizer," her body will break the drug down into its active form, morphine, too quickly. The morphine then floods the bloodstream, which "can cause drowsiness and interfere with breathing," potentially resulting in an overdose in the baby. It's rare though (1 reported death), and no other medications that include codeine (e.g., cold medication) have reportedly EVER caused any problems.

"If you're a nursing mother taking codeine, call your doctor if you're having difficulty taking care of your baby," Kweder says. "It could be a sign that you're metabolizing the drug more rapidly than most people."

It's the most widely prescribed postpartum medication, and the agency is NOT trying to eliminate its use. However, since 1-10% of people metabolize codeine rapidly, the article says there's reason to be cautious and watch for baby's reactions. There are genetic tests, but they're very expensive and not widely available. Mom's are better off getting the lowest dose of codeine for the shortest amount of time.

Overall, it sounds scary, but it's not a life-altering concern. Be cautious and observant with your baby. The article's suggestion to "call your doctor if you're having difficulty taking care of your baby" is a bit generic. What new parents get home and say "wow, this is much easier than I thought." Babies are difficult to take care of, full stop. But as with anything, if something doesn't seem right, call your doctor; that's what s/he's there for. And as your baby gets older, it becomes easier to see when behavior is out of character.

Generally, I try to take the least amount of medication needed (dose and duration) for my sake, and moreso now that I'm nursing. I take a daily vitamin. After a terrible bout of mastitis, I was taking lecithin for a while in hopes of keeping the ducts clear and flowing, though I stopped after a while with no ill effects. I've taken a bit of cold medicine during the worst part of my cold (twice since MetaBaby was born), though I try to keep that to a minimum because my doctor said antihistamines reduce a nursing woman's milk supply (true or not, why tempt fate?). The only other thing I take is Tylenol for my occassional migraine, which just barely lets me get by.

Just Hanging Around

I can't resist.

Dawn provides a list of frugal ideas on decorating your bare walls, keeping in mind to "hang what you love."



To those of you who love, and are now concerned about the well-being of MetaBaby, worry not. We will not be duct taping our child to the wall. Truth be told, we already have something over the fireplace, and he just wouldn't look right above the sofa. If we move, however, we will be revisiting all decorating options :-)

Recipes: Cauliflower

So, how do you like cauliflower? I was never that excited by it, but I tried a recipe recently per Nigella's side note in an episode of Nigella Bites. It wasn't a real recipe, just a suggestion, so we tried it out and came up with this.

Baked Cumin Cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower
Olive Oil
Ground Cumin

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Cut up the cauliflower into small florets (I usually do this in advance and leave them in the fridge until ready). Spread them out on a baking sheet, drizzle little olive oil all over, then sprinkle on the ground cumin. Bake for about 40 minutes. They should be tender and golden.

Cook's Illustrated suggestions on cauliflower.

Shopping Notes: Buy head of cauliflower with tight, firm florets without any discoloration.

Cutting Cauliflower:
  1. Pull off outer leaves and cut stem flush.
  2. Cut head into 8 equal wedges so that core and florets remain intact.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lead Found in Baby Bibs?

I hadn't heard about this lead scare yet.

"Toys “R” Us halted the sale of vinyl baby bibs at its stores nationwide yesterday and offered customers refunds on perhaps more than a million bibs after tests confirmed that at least some of the Chinese-made items are contaminated with lead."

Per Toys R Us and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the bibs are only a safety concern if they are "so worn out that pieces could break off and be ingested."

The tests were paid for by the Center for Environmental Health (CHECA), which was instrumental in pushing for the voluntary recall. The lead level was apparently not high enough to warrant a federal violation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

I don't see how any level of lead in a baby's bib is tolerable. My son goes soaks several bibs a day with his drool, and don't get me started on the chewing. He chews everything and anything he can find. And with his razor-sharp teeth, he's gnawed through more things than I thought possible; I don't see him stopping at vinyl.

So, if you have any vinyl bibs, check the label for Koala Baby, Especially for Baby and Disney Baby labels.

The Hummus Bar

Oh, it's no wonder he won a Pulitzer. I heard Jonathan Gold talk about the Hummus Bar on the radio a few weeks ago, which definitely piqued my interest. But then I read the article in the LA Weekly. I just ate, and my stomach's growling. How did he do that?!?

There's no point in summarizing because he the gist is simple: the food's good and the place is packed with people who know what's good. It not just in what he says, it's in how he says it.

Go on, go get hungry.

Hummus Bar
18743 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
(818) 344-6606
Sun.-Thurs. 8:30 a.m. “until late,” Fri. 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Who Gets to Work Early?

Lifehacker asked Do You Get to Work Early to Get Things Done?

I have seldom been early to anything intentionally. I can't remember the last time (if ever) that I showed up to work early. I was always the type to stay late. Like, *after everyone else* late. Even when I was pregnant, wobbling around the office all alone. I usually got into a good groove and was so much more productive. That, and since our office worked with people on the east coast, I'd have had to get there before 4AM to be alone. LOL...ya, that'll be the day.

Crafts with Jars

I'm not one to keep empty jars, though I have started to recently. In looking to stop using the convenient plastic tupperware I've come to rely on, I've found that empty jars serve as small, cheap storage containers for leftovers in the fridge. At some point, I won't have room for more, though. So what to do with all of those jars?

This site lists some great ideas of how to use small jars for craft projects, the most fascinating of which I find to be a snow globe. You do need a couple of potentially uncommon items, however, like a glue gun and florist clay. But if that doesn't sound like a challenge to you, this might be right up your alley. I'm going to have to consider whether or not I really want a glue gun. Sounds like a level of crafty beyond me. I'm more of a scissors and tape girl :-)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Health Benefits of Alcohol, You Say?

My husband and his sisters all learned a valuable food tip from their mum. Alcohol makes food taste better. And true to that, no alcohol goes to waste in any of their households.

After tasting and experimenting, I fully agree. I grew up eating a stew that my husband found rather bland. So I tinkered with the recipe and replaced 1 of the 6 cups of broth with white wine, added some salt, and it's delicious. The taste is similar enough to be my comfort food, yet much more flavorful.

For a dessert topping, his mum once pureed a can of fruit (e.g., apricots) and added some cointreau. Superb!!

Now, a reason to rejoice. Men's Health says:

"Make fresh berries even healthier by storing them in rum or vodka, say USDA scientists. After dunking strawberries and blackberries in alcohol, the researchers found that soaking the fruits in liquor increased their levels of disease-fighting antioxidants. They aren't sure whether booze boosts the antioxidants' power, but they do know the effect yileds more ammo against oxidative cell damage - a common cause of cancer."

Learning From Kids

I'm not a boy. I never was one. I don't entirely understand them, though I don't entirely understand girls, so that leaves me in a curious place...always wondering "what are you talking about?!?" For example, I'm not really a shopper. I don't like going to places and trying on outfits. When I bought my wedding dress, I went alone and found something I liked, and the salesgirl couldn't stop commenting on how she's used to a dressing room full of women commenting, crying, pulling, poking, and prodding. Why? As for men, I once heard a comedian say something to the effect of "if you knew what we were thinking, you'd never stop slapping us." Indeed.

Men's Health has a cute roundup of how to improve your life by looking to the wisdom of kids. Some I especially agree with (in bold) and some I don't understand (e.g., 19 and 20).

21 Big Lessons from Little Kids: Little things you may have forgotten
  1. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Even when there's not a prize in the bottom of the box.
  2. Sometimes it's best to be completely blunt with people, as you used to be with relatives who wanted you to do something embarrassing or tedious for a shiny quarter.
  3. Asking questions is how you figure things out. Lots and lots of questions.
  4. An older, wiser Gordie Lachance says in Stand By Me, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12." Lachance is right. The trick is to try to be the friend you were when you were 12: fun-loving and loyal, with no strings attached.
  5. Playing is work. Approach your downtime with all the seriousness of a 5-year-old with a secret treasure map.
  6. Real guys don't dip their toes in the water. They jump right in.
  7. Girls have cooties. Well, the ones you meet in certain bars do, anyway.
  8. You hated it when a grown-up told you, "We'll see." It's still unacceptable. Don't say it yourself.
  9. The only way to know how something works is to completely disassemble it. (This is still good advice when tackling a complex problem. Your plasma TV? Not so much).
  10. There's a reason they don't give credit cards to 8-year-olds. You're supposed to save up money before you buy a new toy.
  11. Your body was designed for throwing baseballs, shooting hoops, and jumping off diving boards and stuff. In the secret language of children, the word "fitness" doesn't exist. It's called "having fun."
  12. Your world can be half-real and half-imaginary.
  13. Homework blows. Bring work home with you and it'll ruin your night. And your marriage. And your family. And your life.
  14. Too much of anything will give you a tummy ache. Like, say, bourbon.
  15. If there's even the slightest doubt, hit the potty before you leave.
  16. The coolest adults were the ones who took the time to listen to you. You still want to grow up to be a cool adult, right?
  17. Treasure Island, Dracula: The best books are consumed after dark with a flashlight.
  18. Use adrenaline as your drug of choice. You don't need beer, pot, or cigarettes to have a good time.
  19. Kissing a girl on the cheek is a big deal. Kissing her lips is an even bigger deal. Seeing her naked for the first time is a major, life-altering event.
  20. Going after a target in the urinal makes the time whiz by.
  21. Seeing a thunderstorm roll in is better than watching HDTV. And rain isn't something to curse, but to enjoy. Hurry up, before it clears.

Recipes: Zucchini

I've been thinking about zucchini (aka courgettes and summer squash) lately. It's a great veg for baby food because it cooks quickly in a steamer and purees well, while being a great nutritional addition to his meal. It also mashes really well when cooked, so it's a popular addition to our baby food. That said, I've never spent much time craving or cooking it, so perhaps now is the time to start so we continue eating it beyond baby food.

Recently, I've prepared it by peeling and slicing thin rounds, then steaming the whole lot for about 10 minutes, or until cooked as desired. I then put it in a bowl, add in grated lime or lemon zest and juice, and toss. It's nice as is, or add a bit of salt as desired.

My mother-in-law made some by dry-grilling, and it was surprisingly good. I had never really appreciated the flavor of zucchini on its own. Slice into 1/4 inch rounds, sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice, then place directly on a hot grill until cooked. The presentation is also lovely because of the dark skin and grill marks. Easy, quick, fat-free...what more could you ask for?

The September 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated has some additional suggestions on selecting and preparing zucchini.

Shopping Notes: Zucchini weighing less than 8 ounces are more flavorful and less watery than larger ones.

Preparation: Shred, discarding seeds and core, then salt and squeeze dry.

Basic Cooking Method: Shredding, salting (use 1 1/2 teaspoons salt with 2 1/2 pounds zucchini), and squeezing removes moisture from this watery vegetable, as does a dry-heat cooking method, like sauteing. Toss dried zucchini with 2 teaspoons olive oil and then cook in 12-inch nonstick skillet filmed with 2 teaspoons additional oil over high heat for 4 minutes. Stir infrequently as zucchini cooks to promote browning.

Friday, August 17, 2007

So Tired...So Very Tired

Woke up at 6:30AM in Ireland, which is 10:30PM California time. Flew here and didn't get to nap on the flight, so it's been about 22 hours. Our poor little fella was pretty tired, too. Unfortunately, since he's so bad at sleeping in busy places (e.g., lights, noise), he only had 2 half hour naps, both kicking and screaming. He had a 2 hour nap when we got home, then we woke him up for some food, and he was off to sleep again.

So tired. Trying to wait it out to go to sleep to minimize the jet lag. So I unpacked everything, did a bunch of laundry, and responded to my husbands repeated questions along the lines of "where did you get all of this energy?" It's not energy, it's momentum. Once I stop, I'll collapse.

When we arrived in Dublin, it was around noon. We all took a 2-3 hour nap when we arrived at my mother-in-law's home, and I felt much better. She was nice enough to buy food for our little guy, so I started cooking some of it. I started with fruit, then some squash, which led me to quinoa, and some lentils...and I guess I did more than I expected I would. However, I didn't realize it until my husband and the in-laws all started commenting on my energy level. I hadn't even noticed.

I think I can survive on less sleep than before parenthood.

I hope Boogie doesn't wake up too early tonight/tomorrow.

How I Make Baby Food - Part 2

As a follow-up to How I Make Baby Food - Part 1, here's a breakdown of tools and resources I've found essential, as well as a list of the successful foods I've prepared.

I thought making baby food was going to be an all-day production that was going to provide little payback. But it's worked out pretty well. I've found a groove where I shop for organic produce at the farmers' market and use it to make his food shortly after. However, I thought I'd be doing it every few days. In fact, I only cook for him once every 2 weeks. I do a few different things all at once, so it's a bit of an ordeal, but that's how I function best. You could also do a little bit over a few days and get the same effect. For example, I'll chop up a vegetable and put it in the steamer, chop up and saute some fruit, cook lentils in a large pot, and roast something like butternut squash. At the end, I prep each to freeze as needed (smooth vs chunky) by mashing, pureeing, blending, mixing, or sieving. Once they're frozen, we have plenty of food. I add to the frozen by incorporating mashed avocado, banana, or tofu throughout the week. And because I freeze most flavors individually (e.g., peas instead of peas mixed with something), I can create variety at a moment's notice.

Resources

First Meals - Annabel Karmel’s basic book on making and feeding your baby homemade food. It’s been my go-to book for information and recipe ideas.
Annabel Karmel - The author’s online presence where she has a few recipes, tips, and general info on feeding baby, though nowhere near as thorough as her books.
Bistro Brands - Although I never went this route, I was tempted. In the end, I was satisfied enough with the information I had that I didn’t feel I needed another resource, but if you’re starting out, it might be worth looking into. It’s essentially a recipe box that includes safety rules, shopping tips, numerous recipes, and prenatal suggestions.
Wholesome Baby Food - A website with vast information on making all kinds of baby food, proper foods by age, storage & heating concerns, allergies, and more. A great (and free) resource.

HARDWARE - special items you may already have that I found really helpful and/or indispensable in making baby food.
  • Steamer & Pot – You can use something fancy, but I just have a 2 quart pot and a cheap collapsible steamer.
  • Food Mill – When you’re trying to get food silky smooth, a blender just won’t do the job. I used the finest blade on the MIU food mill, and it produced great results. That said, when he moved on to slightly coarser food, I didn’t care for the output generated by the other two blades. It felt like more food was staying in the mill than being pushed through. So I only found the food mill useful for the first stage of food.
  • Hand blender – This has been really useful in pureeing food to a creamy texture without the mess caused by a blender. I put the food in a tall, non-plastic container like a pyrex measuring cup so that (1) the heat of the food won’t damage the plastic leaching plastic into food (ewww) and (2) to minimize food splashes, as with bowls.
  • Tall Pyrex Measuring Cup – As referenced above, I find this a perfect match to the hand blender.
  • The Best Spatula Ever - When I love something, I love it good. This spatula is excellent because it’s flexible, heat resistant (to 650 degrees), and doesn’t come apart. I’ve used other “good” silicone spatulas only to have the spatula piece come off into food while I was using it leaving a stick in my hand. A stick does not scrape the sides of a bowl well. No.
  • Covered Ice Cube Tray - When it comes to freezing baby food, there are few good options. Most ice cube trays are fine until you have to get the cubes out, which can be really hard. I found these ice cube trays at the Container Store, and I’ve been really pleased with their results. Because of the flexible pad at the bottom of the tray, each cube just pops out. And if it doesn’t, just give it a couple of minutes on the counter and it will. They also stack for easy storage in the freezer. The cubes are nice and small so you can mix various cubes for a tasty mixture of food (e.g., lentils, squash, and zucchini) when defrosting instead of only having the option of premixed food cubes.
  • Baby Cubes - I also have a set of these Baby Cubes to freeze baby food. I got them at the same time as I got the above ice cube trays, and I’ve used both equally often. The cubes are larger than the ice cube trays, so I tend to use it for things I won’t mix with other foods (e.g., a pre-mixed fruit puree) or for a food that I use in a larger quantity when defrosting (e.g., 2 small cubes of lentils or 1 large cube of lentils). Once frozen, I pop it out by turning it upside down over a bowl and squeezing two opposing corners. You can see the frozen cube slowly detach from the box, then it just falls out. Otherwise, keep the lid down a bit (so the cube doesn’t fly onto the floor) and just wedge a butter knife in at an edge; it should pop out.
  • Ice Cream Scooper - I've found this scooper particularly useful in filling the freezer cubes and trays with food. I like to get a nice full cube of food, so the scooper allows for added precision. Besides, it's less messy.
SOFTWARE - Food & Recipes

Single food purees - The first foods we fed our son
  • Butternut squash, sweet peas, zucchini, potato, brussels sprouts – dice (if applicable), steam until soft, puree, and freeze.
  • Sweet apples, pears – dice, sauté in a tablespoon of water (or more as needed) until soft, puree, and freeze.
  • Avocado, banana – mash as needed. Do not freeze.
  • Mango, Cantaloupe – chopped and fed through a mesh food strainer
  • Carrots, parsnips - I would have liked to make these, but I found conflicting information regarding the nitrate levels in homemade carrot and parsnip purees. While I'm inclined to think it would have been OK since I'm sure babies around the world have carrots without a second thought, I chose to omit them from his diet for a while just in case. Besides, his diet has never lacked variety, so I didn't feel I needed these.

Follow-Up Foods - These are the subsequent foods I’ve made for him. I still make the other foods, I just do the following as well to vary it up a bit. This means we have a nice overlapping of single food cubes (e.g., peas, zucchini) and mixed foods (e.g., fruit, potato & broccoli). As he gets older, I mash the food instead of pureeing to make sure that he’s developing his chewing skills.
  • Broccoli & Potato Puree – Steam the broccoli florets until soft. Boil some potatoes (don't bother peeling if you're using a food mill). Puree both in the food mill until you get a creamy mix. Add a little of the steaming water as needed to loosen up the puree. Freeze.
  • Potato & Leek Puree – Dice a few potatoes along with the cleaned and diced white part of a leek. Cook in just enough water to cover for about 30 minutes or until tender soft. Puree food in food mill; add some of the cooking water as needed to loosen up the puree. Freeze.
  • Blueberry Soup – Was a huge mistake, so I won't bore you with the "how to." It was messy, and rather bland to be honest. I made it once, and kept most of the cubes for future smoothies.
  • Pear & Kiwi Puree - Dice up 2 apples, 2 pears, and about 3 good sized kiwis (i.e., not the tiny ones). Cook the apples and pears in a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water (or apple juice) until tender (10-15 minutes). If the pear is ripe, add it with the kiwi. Once tender, put the kiwi (and pear if ripe) in to cook for a couple of minutes. Blend the whole thing. Sieve to remove the black seeds, if you like. Freeze.
  • Red Lentils - When you make lentils, two things will improve your results. Spread them out on a flat surface to check for tiny stones (they look like lentils so they occasionally make it into the bag), then rinse them before cooking. There's nothing worse than breaking a tooth on lentils as an adult. Imagine a baby!! Red lentils are especially good easy in my opinion because they break down very easily and make for a creamy end result. If you use other lentils, you might have to cook them a bit longer and puree a bit more.
    Heat some olive oil in a pot. Add a diced onion, carrot, and celery stalk and sauté for 8 minutes. Add a minced clove of garlic and cook for another minute. Add 1/2 pound of red lentils and 1 1/2-2 cups of water so that everything's well covered. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Puree and freeze.
  • Quinoa & Butternut Squash – To make the quinoa, add 1 cup of rinsed quinoa to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. I usually steam pre-chopped squash (from Trader Joes) until soft, but you can also roast it in the oven. I just seed it, chop it up into 6-8 segments, drizzle some olive oil on top, and cook for about 40-50 minutes at 400 degrees or until tender. Then I scrape the cooked squash from the skin into a bowl.
    Mix the cooked quinoa with the squash for a protein rich dish. Freeze.
  • Fruit Mix – Peel and dice 1 apple and 2 pears and sauté in a couple of tablespoons of water or apple juice for about 10 minutes, or until they start to get tender. I then add a mix of peeled and diced nectarines, plums, apricots, peaches, mango, kiwi, etc. depending on what’s available. I have a stash of chemical-free dried apricots and plums that I chop up and add in the event that I don’t have the fresh version. Cook until everything’s nice and soft, puree, freeze.

End of the Road

Here's a post I wrote, but didn't get a chance to actually post before dashing out of the house Friday morning.

***********************************************************

On our way back home today. Bracing ourselves for a grueling 11 hour flight with some sleep and a good breakfast. Oh, the joys of travel.

We'll be back Friday, so if you're going to rob us, do it soon.

Please don't rob us.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

100 Things About Me

What Works For Us has called me out. I failed to honor the tradition to post 100 things about myself at the time of my 100th post.

Doh!!

OK...here goes. Feel free to skip to the next post, though :-D

  1. I'm a Virgo.
  2. I'm either a real Virgo, or slightly OCD.
  3. I wash my hands often.
  4. My son's a Virgo.
  5. My husband's a Leo.
  6. I like my husband's family, and I'm not just saying that because they may (or do) read this blog.
  7. I like to cook.
  8. I like to bake more than I like to cook.
  9. I like trying out new recipes; I don't always enjoy eating the food produced by new recipes.
  10. I had a cat for 15 years before she passed away.
  11. Whenever I hear my son's toy with a bell, I think of her.
  12. My family is from Chile.
  13. I've been there 3 times, but I only remember 2 visits.
  14. We will go to Patagonia as a family one day. No question.
  15. Our favorite vacation spots: Bangkok, Thailand; Kauai, Hawaii; London, England; Spain.
  16. We've been to Tibet and tasted yak butter tea and yak in a stir fry; I prefer the latter.
  17. My favorite liqueur: Baileys Irish Cream
  18. A prior bad relationship started on a date where our windshield hit a pigeon on a freeway. It died.
  19. I saw Oingo Boingo perform their final concert on Halloween
  20. I love soundtracks (i.e., scores) to movies. The Piano, The Mission, The Nightmare Before Christmas come to mind.
  21. I know a lot of the lyrics to a lot of recent Disney movies prior to Pocahantas. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.
  22. The first time I met my husband, I was a bit preoccupied feeling nauseous to notice him. We were on a company boat cruise (I went with a friend who worked at his company) and I happened to skipped lunch that day.
  23. I get nauseous if I skip a meal. My husband always reminds me to eat...just in case. Self-preservation.
  24. When we went on our first date, I had a feeling we'd end up together. This was the first and last time I felt this.
  25. We had our first date almost 7 years ago.
  26. We still talk to each other a lot about everything and nothing.
  27. He's my best friend.
  28. I'm not a touchy-feely sentimental type.
  29. I have been accused of being too blunt.
  30. I have been accused of being too serious.
  31. I have been accused of being too quiet.
  32. I have been accused of not having much to say.
  33. The last was not said by people who read this blog.
  34. In unfamiliar surroundings, I don't speak much unless I feel I have something valuable to say.
  35. This blog is obviously not subject to #34.
  36. When I say something laugh-out-loud funny, people seem shocked.
  37. WTF?!? I'm funny!!
  38. I have only gotten wiser with age.
  39. I have become more compromising with marriage.
  40. I have become more patient with parenthood.
  41. I don't question poop when it comes from my son.
  42. I now understand what unconditional love is.
  43. When my son put his hand into a bowl of food, my husband stuck the entire hand in his mouth to avoid getting food everywhere.
  44. My husband now knows what unconditional love is.
  45. Often, when I move, my joints crack.
  46. I bore easily.
  47. I like trying new things.
  48. I like reading about new things.
  49. I am currently reading at least 6 books.
  50. I have read all of the Harry Potter series.
  51. I went through Harry Potter withdrawls when I finished the last book.
  52. I track all of my favorite blogs with Bloglines.
  53. I'm a geek.
  54. I love a smart man. And I love it when my husband comes out of nowhere with a heavy dose of information and knowledge. Purrr...
  55. I have a degree in psychology.
  56. I was employed as an accountant.
  57. I do NOT like drama in my life.
  58. My husband and I planned our wedding in 6-8 weeks.
  59. Our friends and family thought we meant "of the following year."
  60. They were quite annoyed when we corrected them.
  61. I'm sure everyone thought I was pregnant.
  62. I made sure to let everyone know I was drinking a cocktail (or 10) at the wedding so they'd know I wasn't.
  63. We really enjoyed our wedding.
  64. I don't believe in wasting calories on bad food.
  65. I REALLY don't believe in wasting calories on bad desserts.
  66. I'm always curious.
  67. I love to learn new things.
  68. I love to share valuable information.
  69. When posed a question that I don't know the answer to, I'm inclined to research the answer.
  70. I've been accused of sharing too much researched information at work. In all fairness, they DID ask!
  71. My hair was thick and straight as a child.
  72. I cut my own bangs when I was 10...without a mirror...because it seemed like it'd be easy. BIG mistake.
  73. My grandmother cut my hair once: left it long (almost to my waist), and cut the top part (e.g., at or above the ear) into a short cut (like a bob). When it didn't work out, we went somewhere to have the top part only permed. I looked like I had a poodle on my head.
  74. I will never perm my hair again.
  75. I doubt I'd ever cry at a bad hair cut because I know it could probably be much worse.
  76. These days, I make no excuses about paying well to get a good cut.
  77. As I've aged, my hair has become thick and wavy. Not a good combination.
  78. I can only use a hair dryer to dry my hair...I have no idea how "styling" works with it.
  79. I'm 5 feet tall.
  80. I forget how short I am until I see myself in pictures with others.
  81. I come from a short family.
  82. I hope my son's at least as tall as my husband (5'7").
  83. I learned to play the flute in school when I was 11.
  84. I probably had bad technique because when I played for more than 20 minutes straight, my index finger started to turn blue.
  85. I was a terrible flute player becuase I never practiced (see #84)
  86. I played through high school despite my mediocrity because I wanted to be in the marching band.
  87. I hated P.E. (aka gym), and the marching band got me out of it :-)
  88. I was raised by my mother and grandmother at different times (never together).
  89. My grandmother and mother, in my experience, have either gotten along really well or can't speak to each other.
  90. I have a half sister, but was mostly raised as an only child.
  91. I watched a lot of TV.
  92. I want a sibling for Boogie so he's not an only child.
  93. I'm will to consider adopting one day.
  94. I'm on the fence about getting a pet again; it's hard work and #11 is hard to cope with.
  95. I prefer hot showers.
  96. I long for back rubs...always.
  97. I don't have a favorite color. I like dark colors (e.g., green, burgundy, brown).
  98. I never used to wear red because I thought it too bold.
  99. Perhaps I've gotten bolder.
  100. A just result of being older.

Accountant vs Stay At Home Parent

I worked as an accountant at various companies over the course of several years. I'm beginning to think that having worked as an accountant makes me appreciate being a stay at home parent today.

Being an accountant is thankless. No one cares about you until you make a mistake. No one wants to validate expenses; we're just a nuisance for requesting backup and information. It's a department usually outside of the realm of generating money for its company. It's just about support and oversight. Overhead. Its work is intangible, and as such not quantifiable.

Now I do things like clean, cook, bake, make baby food, shop, and play with Boogie and keep him safe and happy, all the while relieving my husband of some of the chores and errands he had to do back when we both worked. Yet, I still feel useful and productive. And it is in no way thankless, thanks to my boys, but there isn't the same kind of praise as if I was working in a different environment where everything well-done gets praised or highlighted. Getting that stain out of Boogie's clothes just doesn't elicit the same reaction :-P Someone asked me if i get bored as a SAHM. Are you kidding? Who has time to get bored? Besides, as a curious person, I've always been on the hunt for new information and to learn new things. So if I'm not doing something that *needs* to get done, or playing with my son (which is the whole point of this endeavor), I'm doing something that entertains me. There can be learning and growth in any of the challenges we take on, as long as we work to that end.

Intangible? Usually. Productive? Absolutely.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How I Make Baby Food - Part 1

Keep in mind that anything I say in this, and any post for that matter, is a breakdown of our experiences. None of this is meant to be taken as gospel, nor should it in any way override your pediatrician's POV. These methods and recipes were successful for us, but you should always include your pediatrician in any dietary changes you make for you baby. After all, that's why s/he gets paid the big bucks ;-)

When I was pregnant, I started reading up on making baby food. I’ve already gone into why we decided to make our own baby food, so here’s a breakdown of how we coped. A friend gave us a copy of First Meals by Annabel Karmel from which I got a lot of good information. I also did a lot of reading online. I was looking for methods to preparing, storing, and serving foods. Additionally, I sought information on safe first foods, unsafe foods at various ages, introducing a variety of flavors, and so on. Essentially, any tips available on making the process go smoothly.

The funny thing is that the more I read, the more intimidated I got. So when we went to the pediatrician for my son’s 6 month appointment, I was both excited and worried. How much work is this going to take? If I freeze the food in cubes, how hot should I get the food before cooling it back down to feed him? And worst of all, am I going to make him sick?

Our pediatrician’s rules:
  • Pureed Foods - Start by feeding him pureed fruits and vegetables, and make sure to get him to try various different flavors like broccoli and brussels sprouts.
  • Cereals - Introduce iron-fortified cereals (rice cereal, oatmeal) after about 6 weeks of solids. His take on iron fortified baby cereal is that it was previously theorized that babies needed the additional iron, but he's seen studies that refute the point. He’s seen more successful diets start with fruits and vegetables.
  • Allergies - In addition to the usual suspects (e.g., honey, eggs, milk, nuts), avoid citrus fruits, tomatoes, wheat, and strawberries. Often, pediatricians suggest introducing a new food every 4 days so that only one new food is in the baby's system at any given time. In those 4 days, caregivers are to watch for allergic reactions, and if none develop, continue on to try another food. Since our doctor redlined allergens to be concerned with, we were granted a carte blanche.

So, I went home and started on my recipes. Despite my best efforts, MetaBaby did NOT like what was going on. He knew what food was (breastmilk), and new “so-called” food was just wrong, wrong, wrong. He refused food daily, and I had to keep reminding myself that this stage of feeding wasn’t about nutrition as much as it was about getting him to appreciate food textures and the act of chewing. He would tolerate the flavors if we put a bit on a finger and allowed him to suck, but besides that, the first month was slow-going. I tried a few store-bought organic foods like organic Gerber, Homemade Baby, and Earth's Best, which went only slightly better because of the texture, or so I suspect. Eventually, he came around, and when he did, there was no stopping him. He loves food. I’ve read that a baby should eat an amount of food equal to the size of his fist, but our little foodie tends to whine for more if we do that. He seldom lets us know that he’s finished before the end of his meal. Even more seldom does he refuse food. Oh, it’s happened, but it’s rare. And I’m not insinuating that he’s really happy with food because I make most of it for him; I just think we’re really lucky. Well, regardless I’d think we’re really lucky :-D

More on resources, tools, foods, and recipes in How I Make Baby Food - Part 2

The Rain in Ireland Falls Mainly in the Plains

As a Los Angeles native, I know a certain kind of weather pattern. When there's sun, it's here to stay (this year, it's been with us all year). When it rains, the streets flood. When it hails, look for Haley's Comet...that's how often it happens. When it snows, look for the film crew nearby that got carried away with the silly effects. There's a constancy about the weather, which is likely why so many people move to and stay in LA. That and the traffic...everyone loves traffic :-P

Ireland is different. Within 10 minutes I've seen:
  • Sunny with blue skies
  • Dark skies with ominous clouds
  • Torrential rain
  • Sunny with blue skies...and a muddy field
Sitting in my mother-in-law's kitchen, I go from warm to cold to hot to confused. It's strange, but entertaining. The weather is a source of entertainment! I'm sure it's like this in other parts of the world, but I spend most of my living time (i.e., not fast-paced vacation time which is always rushed) in LA or Dublin. Hence, I can't help but compare the two. And having such little experience with varieties in weather, I'm entertained by it all. I'm sure if I lived here, I'd come to appreciate the sun a lot more, and I'd groan a bit more at the rain. But for now, I'm just enjoying the variety in nature that provides the lush, green countryside that the grazing cattle casually feast on.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I Shant Skip Dessert





I LOVE a funny t-shirt. And this one...well, I might need this for my birthday as well.

Skip Dessert

Those Sinister Golden Arches

Get Rich Slowly recently posted on how Marketing Affects How Children Perceive Food. Apparently, a study funded by Stanford University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests that children of preschool age prefer McDonald's food to non-McDonald's food. That is, even if they're being served carrots, they perceived them as tasting better if they were wrapped in McDonald's packaging.

THIS is something we're going to try to avoid. We don't like McDonald's. We don't like the food they serve or the way they hook kids as consumers. We don't mind if our son has treats and goodies, but we want him to respect the food he eats. We believe there's tastier food beyond McDonald's, and we're working on making dinner a family ritual (i.e., not just for special events) so that bonding takes place at home instead of fast-food restaurants. That said, I can only imagine how hard this will be. It reminds me of something Morgan Spurlock said in Super Size Me. From Mindfully.org:

"A physiologist explains that fast-food restaurants hook kids in early. With clowns, toys and a chance to spend quality time with Mom or Dad, fast food becomes linked psychologically with fun and comfort.

"That moves Spurlock to make an instant parenting decision on camera: 'When I have kids, every time I drive by a fast-food restaurant I'm going to have to punch them in the face.'"

I'm not going to punch our little Boogie, but a don't think I'm not tempted to smack him in the back of the head if it helps move us away far, far away from those sinister golden arches. And make note...I only said *tempted*...don't take this as anything more than that :-P

Another Reason to Love Olive Oil

Harold McGee is an interesting guy. He's just fascinated by the science of food, and how it's transformed in the kitchen. He's written a few books, the most popular of which is probably On Food and Cooking, and blogs when the moment strikes. He's the guy who steered me towards capers in salt instead of capers in vinegar, which opened up a world of possibilities for me. I long for his rare but insightful posts, and I think I'll have to cross my fingers in hopes of getting his book for my birthday (yes, sweetie...I'm talking to you ;-).

One recent article in the NY Times got me thinking about the healthful qualities of olive oil.

"The sensations of bitterness, astringency and pungency are caused by members of the phenolic family of chemicals. Phenols also have antioxidant properties and so help to protect the oil from going rancid. Whenever you taste an especially peppery oil, it’s an indication that the oil is rich in olive extracts and relatively fresh."

But wait, it gets better. Dr. Gary Beauchamp, an ibuprofen connoisseur, did about 5 years of self-funded research along with a few other contributors and found the phenolic chemical in olive oil, which they named it oleocanthal. "They showed that oleocanthal is even more effective than ibuprofen at inhibiting enzymes in the body that create inflammation."

"In their 2005 report to the journal Nature, the team noted that anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen appear to have long-term health benefits, including reduction in the risk of some forms of heart disease and cancer. They suggested that the oleocanthal in pungent olive oils might be one of the things that make traditional Mediterranean diets so healthful."

So, I wonder if it helps if you have a headache? Well, even if it doesn't, it sounds like it might surely contribute to healthy living in more ways than I thought. So a glass of red wine, some dark chocolate, and a bit of olive oil...Cheers!

Before I sign off, Mr. McGee's additional notes on storing olive oil from his blog.
  • Heating olive oil reduces the levels of most phenolic compounds.
  • Pepperiness gradually fades as an oil ages. [I assume this means it's potential health benefits might be reduced as well]
  • Don't save a good olive oil because the balance in flavors is temporary; enjoy it while it lasts.
  • Store in a cool place protected from light to slow its aging.