Saturday, September 4, 2010

Learning to Ride with a Balance Bike

At the suggestion of a friend a few years ago, I made a note to look into getting MetaBoy a balance bike when he turned 3. A balance bike is a lot like a traditional bike, except it doesn't have pedals. The idea behind this is that a pedal-free bike is that it allows a child to walk while seated on the bike, allowing him to learn to balance and steer. This action gives the child the ability and confidence to speed up, and before you know it, she's flying along with her feet off the ground, and your running behind her trying to keep up.

I saw several models, ranging in price from $50 to $350. I finally settled on a Skuut, primarily because I wanted to patronize my local toy store, and that's what they carry. A quick search online revealed that its price currently ranges from $90-100.

We bought it for my son's 3rd birthday. He was pretty excited, and on his first ride, he did well. He walked several blocks sitting on the bike. Then he lost interest completely, and I thought it was a lost cause. But one day, out of nowhere, he asked to ride his bike again. Whew!! He got on, and walked like before, but this time he was a little more confident. And he got better with each ride. Now, he sits and runs (think of how the Flintstones drive their cars), then picks up his feet and soars on the bike path...with one of us running and panting behind him.

The best part of this bike is that one day, he'll be able to make an easy transition to a bike with petals, and he won't have to endure training wheels (I hated training wheels!). At least, that's what they say. We're not there yet, so I can't say for sure. But for now, he's doing great, and he loves it. And MetaGirl, who is now 2, will get it when he graduates to a bike with petals.

As for the specific bike, I don't know that one is better than the other. Is the $300 one better than the $50 one? I don't know. But I know that a $50 price tag is much more accessible. And on that note, here's one I found at Costco for $50 (shipping included). And because it's Costco, you know that you can always return it if you don't like it.

If you can afford it, though, consider patronizing your local small toy store. You might pay a little more, but I'm sure they could use the business these days. And your dollars are the best way to assure that the stores you truly appreciate will be around when you need them.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cool Dollhouses

Browsing around, I found some gorgeous dollhouses here. Lovely enough for parents to engage in some play time, methinks ;-)

Better yet, I found the A-Frame second from the bottom for sale at Totsy for 75% off retail (otherwise, $75). It's a quirky house, but fun! And for 75% off, worth a second glance, no?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ice Cream Maker Give Away!

I've been thinking about ice cream lately. I stumbled across this post, and I thought I'd share in case anyone else is thinking similar thoughts.

Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker Give Away

As posted recently, I purchased one. It's super easy to easy, and the result is fantastic. All you need is a little patience, since it does take at least a day from start to finish (mostly chilling time, not actual work). And there's nothing nicer than knowing what you're eating and feeding your family.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Motrin "Phantom Recall"

I haven't been able to find Motrin at any of my usual stores. Finally, I asked the pharmacist at Target, and she said it was recalled, but there's plenty of generic (i.e., ibuprofen).

A quick Google search later yielded McNiel Consumer Healthcare's attempt at a "phantom recall."
"The company at the center of a massive recall of children's Tylenol and other popular over-the-counter products tried to perform a "phantom recall" of defective Motrin by sending contractors around the country to buy up the medicine from stores without alerting regulators or the public, according to the chairman of a Congressional committee investigating the company."

Washington Post article: Maker of children's drugs accused of hiding Motrin recall from public

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Striving for Success and Relief in the Kitchen

Food makes me feel better. It's not just the eating or talking about food, it's the making it. I'm not talking anything gourmet, I just like trying new recipes, new ingredients, new techniques. The fact that you can make something from start to finish with a tangible end product is really gratifying. So while I've always been inclined towards baking cookies, cakes, muffins, etc., I've recently been branching out. It seems to help me regain a bit of myself when I'm lost in the throws on toddler tantrums.

These past couple of weeks have been particularly trying. MetaDaddy has been traveling for work, so he's been gone for 10 of the past 14 days. And when he gets back, I can't expect much because of jet lag. As usual, the kids got sick the minute he stepped foot on the airport. Why, why why!?! MetaBoy started it, and MetaGirl was lucky enough to get a mild version of whatever he had. Then she caught something somewhere else, and now he's sick. Tomorrow is two weeks with one stomach flu or another.

So, I'm having a pity party, and everyone's invited!! Except you probably don't want to come over because you might get sick ;-)

And what's a party without presents? I "happened" to find something on sale that I've been eyeing for a while. I figured it's time to indulge.

Sur La Table is having a sale on Cuisinart ice cream makers (well reviewed by Amazon users). Supposedly, they retail for $90, but they seem to be $50 everywhere. You could get it at Bed Bath and Beyond with one of your million 20% off coupons, though I couldn't seem to find it on their website. The Sur La Table deal, available thru May 31, 2010, offers a $15 gift card with your purchase, which works out to for $50 plus tax, less $15 for a future purchase. Amazon's best offer, if you're willing to take the white machine instead of selecting one of the 5 other colors, is pretty comparable (currently $41.48).

No, I didn't need it. But we all like ice cream. And MetaBoy loves to help me in the kitchen, so I'm excited at the prospect of showing him how to make ice cream. I think it's incredibly valuable that he knows that foods he loves like bread, cake, or ice cream are easily made from scratch at home, even though we can also buy them at the store. As a kid, I didn't know that pancakes could be make without a mix. Or that butter is so incredibly easy to make!! Heck, I didn't know a lot of stuff about food until well into adulthood. We've learned to take basic stuff for granted, and it's a real shame. How can we know how to eat well if we don't know what we're eating?

Anyway, I haven't made anything with the machine yet because everyone's still recovering. But once we're ready, I've been eyeing a decadent mint chocolate chip ice cream recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. I love that book. Some recipes are a little tedious or labor intensive, but there are several great, easy ones, like the amazing cauliflower soup that I could eat for days, or the chocolate shortbread cookies. Best of all, whatever recipe you make, you're guaranteed something delicious. There's comfort (food) in that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Never Trust My Oven's Temperature

When I used to pre-heat my oven to 350F, I couldn't help but wonder if the temperature was as promised when the oven beeped. To quell my fears, I bought a thermometer and placed it on a rack inside my oven oven (on the outermost bar, near the door). I felt pretty smart when I found out that it took 10-15 minutes longer after the oven beeped to hit the target temperature. That's why I was having so many problems!!

We since moved, and I brought my thermometer. I put it in the oven here, and as I learned its quirks, I realized it similarly took longer to heat up than promised by the oven's thermostat. But I was having other trouble with the oven, that involved heat, smoke, and char everywhere (food and oven walls). On a whim, I put the thermometer further into the oven (now hanging on a rack in the very center of the oven), and I find out that the oven is hitting then exceeding the target temperature by 25, 50 or more degrees!! My 400 oven hit 500 (and beyond?)!

Now, I'm not sure where I'm going from here, but knowing is the first step. I've been much more cautious with high temperature cooking, which can lead to burning, smoking, and splats (aka dirty oven). I've considered looking into getting it repaired, but we're thinking of moving soon, so it might not be worth the expense.

Whatever I do now, the take away lesson: Never take the temperature of your oven for granted. Whether too high or too low, it can affect your cooking, and in turn, your confidence in cooking.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Recipe: Roast Chicken

We've been using the same roast chicken recipe for years, first found in Nigella Lawson's How To Eat. It's easy, and the results are a flavorful, juicy chicken. Personally, I find it better than restaurant (or similar) roast chickens in that the meat stays moist for a few days, which makes leftovers lovely.

Another thing I like about Nigella's recipe is that she includes a ballpark cooking time that can be adapted to different sized chickens. Specifically, 15 minutes per pound, plus 10. So a 5 pound chicken would cook for 85 minutes. I get annoyed when a recipe calls for a 2-3 pound chicken since they can be hard to find. At least they are at Trader Joe's and my local butcher.

Perhaps I'm bored, perhaps I'm curious, but I've been considering alternate recipes lately. Infidelity?

I tried Thomas Keller's recipe, which resulted in a deliciously crispy skin, but rather tough meat. MetaDaddy was not impressed.

I tried Jacques Pepin's split chicken with a mustard crust from More Fast Food My Way. He says the method cuts the cooking time by half, but it didn't seem like it did. The crust was delicious, and the meat was juicy and tender. I've added it to my repertoire, but only as a chicken recipe, not as a "how to roast a chicken" recipe.

Today, Mark Bittman tweeted about a blog post where the author recounted her experiences in finding a perfect roast chicken recipe. Her goal was to find a moist chicken with crispy skin. Mmm...I love delicious goals. Overall, she didn't find much success. She ended up fusing one approach with another.

In reading the post, I was reminded of a Cook's Illustrated recipe where they used baking powder and punctures throughout the skin to assure super dry skin. Supposedly, it worked well, but I haven't tried it yet. I'm put off by the thought of leaving a chicken coated with the salt mixture on a V-rack in the refrigerator overnight. I'm pretty sure I can't afford the required space for that kind of silliness.

Mark Bittman's approach is clever, as one would expect. He starts with a hot pan. I might try this one next.

Roast Chicken Recipes:
My Nigella Chicken
Thomas Keller
Felicity Cloake Blog Post - Multiple approaches tested
Cooks Illustrated
Mark Bittman

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book for Kids: Tools by Taro Miura

There's a tiny little toy store in Venice called Toys and Tales. Much like small, independently owned stores, the selection there is great. I have a hard time leaving without buying something.

Case in point, I found Tools by Taro Miura. Drawn on two pages are a collection of tools, and the following page is a drawing of the person who uses the tools (e.g., electrician, barber, carpenter). My son, who is almost 4, is obsessed with this book. And the teachers at his preschool loved it so much that they picked up a few copies for the school. Highly recommended!

There aren't many small toy stores in the area, so it's nice to patronize the few that we have. The selection of toys and books is so much more interesting than at the big chains. And while there's room for everything in life, loyalty to the little guy means they'll be there tomorrow to help us find that perfect gift or expand our kids' horizons. So go out and find the small local store that you're going to help support :-)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Nature vs. Nurture...Bah!

I've heard that Royal/T in Culver City has an interesting menu, does a tea set, and is good for kids. I was checking them out on Yelp, when I saw this picture:

Photo by minda w.
Hello Kitty Sushi Bento Box Workshop w/ Sushi Girl

MetaGirl would go nuts...absolutely crazy...for this lunch. If it came with a set of bracelets, she'd be set.

If I ever had any doubts about nature vs. nurture, she's surely shown me the light. She's been turning toys into bracelets, necklaces, and hats since before she could walk or talk. Now that she's 20 months old, all bets are off. She has to accessorize before we leave, and even the mention of a hat is enough to generate a tantrum.

I, on the other hand, never wear hats, jewelry (other than my wedding ring and a cheap watch) or...any accessories. I just don't care. I might if I'm really trying, but 95% of the time, I don't. And I didn't care at all for the first year of her life. So where she got the obsession with bracelets (toy hooks, napkin rings) is beyond me. I love watching and encouraging all of the silliness, though. She has the collection of hats, and anything safe to use as a bracelet is fair game. But I'll be keeping an eye on her when my makeup is in the room...just in case.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Music: The Muppets Do Habanera

Habanera...with a Muppet flavor.

I was in tears.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Recipe: Slim Mints

A recipe for slim mints (ya, just like thin mints from the Girl Scouts).

I know. You're welcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why I Cook

Michael Rhulman got me rambling on why I cook. And why do I cook? I cook so I can feed the people I love.

I think about food a lot. Not because I have some sort of eating disorder, but because when you have young kids, you always have to preempt food meltdowns. You always have to be ready to feed at a moments notice. I always have a snack in my purse. I never thought I'd be that person, but I am. When I'm not feeding them, I'm thinking about what I will feed them. When I'm feeding them, I'm thinking about what's next, and have I fed them enough. When I'm not feeding them, I'm preparing future meals. In my mind, I'm always feeding them.

So I didn't cook anything before I was 20. Not once, did I cook food. I baked, and I loved it. But I never cooked food; knives and flames scared me. I was so bad at it, that it was a source of pride. "Oh, I don't cook. Trust me, it's not even an option for me!" This pride began to dissipate when I found that trying to feed myself without a drive thru window was impossible. I have a small appetite, but between all of the junk food I was surviving on, including my baked goods, I began gaining weight. That said, I didn't realize I was gaining weight until I lost it. I lost it by going to the gym and eating less junk. "Interesting," I thought.

Anyway, I spent the next few years cooking, but not really. Pasta was common, as were salads, sandwiches, and so on. Then I bought my first cookbook, "Pillsbury Best Chicken Cookbook," which was great because it wasn't complicated and broke down every step. I've made some good meals from that book, and I still have it today.

When I met my husband, I started cooking more because I found that it's more fun to feed two people than one person. I was also encouraged by my husband's interest in food; he loves cooking, eating, and savoring. He's a great guinea pig!!

But it wasn't until I stopped working to stay at home with our first child that I started cooking in any real way. I had more time to think about food. I began going to our local farmers' market in Santa Monica, which is truly impressive. At first, I bought fruit, potatoes, and onions. Then I began trying new foods (to me) like sprouted lentils, leeks, jerusalem artichokes, and so on. I began feeling challenged by the exposure to new foods. I began reading cookbooks for fun. I began looking at food as a source of personal growth because it was no longer about feeding people, it was about expanding my horizons and learning by doing, which is how I learn best.

When my son started on solid foods, I made it all. I cooked, pureed, and spiced it up. And with his massive diet, it worked well because everything he ate was unprocessed and healthy. Yes, my son loved lentils and broccoli. And his sugar intake was in the form of local, fresh, organic peaches, strawberries, cherries, and grapes.

My daughter has been a lot more picky with her food intake. I tried pureeing foods for her, but she couldn't stand being spoon fed. She didn't start on solids in any serious way until she was about 10 months old, and it was as soft finger foods (e.g., peaches, avocado, tofu). So I didn't cook for her on an individual level, but in my defense, I tried!!

And here we are. I cook most days of the week. I've ebbed and flowed between complicated, quick, labor intensive, simple, and time consuming foods. I stopped baking for a while because I no longer had time to do so while still making dinner. But we've found a balance once again. I bake again, but only if I can find a way to distribute the goods (e.g., friends, kid's friends). Dinners during the week aren't complicated, but everyone is happy enough eating it (e.g., leftover chicken with pasta and sauteed veg, or smoked salmon sandwiches). I save more complicated or time consuming endeavors for the weekend (e.g., berry tiramisu, roasted chicken).

In sum, here's why I cook:
  • Cooking makes me a more well-rounded person.

  • Seeing me cook in the kitchen has taught MetaBoy about food, cooking, and eating. He loves getting in there and "helping." It teaches him how food is cooked into the food we eat. It teaches him about processes, patience, responsibility, and how to be careful with things he doesn't understand. He learns every time he joins me.

  • When I cook, the kids inevitably join me in the kitchen. MetaGirl rummages through drawers and MetaBoy grabs his apron to help. We spend time together and have some fun learning about food. The other day, they each insisted on munching on a bulb of fennel. Who am I to argue with a request like that?

  • Eating home made food at the dinner table leads to good habits. We all sit together and enjoy talking and recounting our days. We all eat the same food, and MetaGirl is constantly trying to eat things that I'm not ready to let her try. I usually give in. She's convinced me to let her try carrots, apples, and broccoli. I didn't think she was ready, but she showed me. You learn things about each other when you sit together and share.

  • Having kids and cooking for them has taught me how to find balance. Sometimes, it's not worth stressing them out by spending an hour in the kitchen. Just assemble something they'd like in 15 or 20 minutes (an episode of something on TV) which keeps their tummies full and everyone happy (them, me, the neighbors).

  • They're growing so fast. They need food and energy to grow, and I feel a lot better cooking for them because I know that they're not being loaded with sugar, empty calories, and pesticides. The less processed foods, the better. Though I'm not a monster...they get a few treats every now and then ;-)

  • Cost is a relative thing. I buy a lot of organic, hormone/antibiotic free foods, which isn't cheap. We would probably spend less eating from the drive thru every day, but our long term health would suffer, and isn't there a dollar cost associated with that?

  • Speaking of health, cooking at home has improved my diet and that of my husband. We eat less junk because there's always something healthy around to choose from. Sure, we still have some "treats," but nothing's bad in moderation. Personally, in making sure that the kids like water, I've taken to drinking water at most meals. And I never would have thought it had such a big impact, but dropping soda and juices and doing nothing else to speak of aided in an unintentional loss of about 5 pounds. Something to think about, huh?
So over the past few years, the reasons and processes of cooking have changed, but it's something that I know will stay with me for as long as I can muster the energy. Thinking about food is now engrained in me. I'm now that mom who wants to feed everyone. I'm that wacky lady who's insisting on giving you leftovers "you know, for the kids!" And that's pretty fun, too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recall: Tiny Love Wind Chimes

A nice bonus to buying stuff on Amazon are the notices that they send out when an item that you purchased is recalled.

Case in point, I received a notice about a Tiny Love recall. It's just as well because despite having bought the toy 3 or 4 years ago, we still have it.

Recall: Tiny Love Wind Chimes

If you'd like a reliable method of keeping up to speed on recalls, consider signing up for email notices from the CPSC. You never know when you'll be affected.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sesame Street Cake Pops

Speaking of cake balls, my Mount Everest.

Sesame Street Cake Pops by new hero :-D

Photo by Bakerella

Around the Internet

New fad in baked treats: Cake Balls

New fad in healthy eating: The Nordic Diet

New explanations for old conundrums: Why Does Time Fly By As You Get Older?

New (to me) kitchen toys that I want: Amish Double Pie Carrier Basket With Tray And Lid

And finally...
A good reason to avoid quizzes and such on Facebook: Is Your Facebook Profile As Private As You Think?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fruit Tree Giveaway from LACMA

LACMA giveaway

Artist collective Fallen Fruit kicks off a yearlong project, EATLACMA, with a fruit tree giveaway. Come pick up a free fruit tree along with planting instructions for your garden. This is the first in a series of events, which will include an exhibition, opening in June, and a series of food-related events throughout the year. EATLACMA is a year-long investigation into food, art, culture and politics. EATLACMA's projects consider food as a common ground that explores the social role of art and ritual in community and human relationships.

EATLACMA unfolds seasonally, with artist's gardens planted and harvested on the museum campus, hands-on public events, and a concurrent exhibition, Fallen Fruit Presents The Fruit of LACMA (June 27-November 7, 2010). EATLACMA is curated by Fallen Fruit—David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young-and LACMA curator Michele Urton.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Easy to Serve Grapes

I realized a trick that helps me prepare, store, and serve fruit to the kids. My big problem, say with grapes, is that I buy a lot, then I don't have a big enough container to put it in the refrigerator. I don't want to put it in a bowl because it takes up too much space, and I don't want to take up one of my few large rectangular containers because I prefer to save those for leftovers.

I found that if I wash and remove the stems, they easily fit in a tall, compact juice pitcher or carafe. I can fit a lot of fruit, it keeps well (though admittedly, fruit never lasts long here), it doesn't take up a lot of room in the refrigerator, and it's easy to serve. I think I'll be picking up a few more for the delicious summer months.

Just for the record, I wouldn't try this with delicate berries like strawberries and raspberries which should not be washed before storing. Besides, they do best if they're not tossed around.

For more tips on storing produce, check out Real Simple's tips here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

New Trend: A "Save the Date" on YouTube

Whoa. 2 months. Who missed me?

I don't know Jeff and Erin, but wow...I wish I did! Check out this "save the date" for their wedding.