Saturday, February 27, 2010

A very domestic day

Today, between watching's breathless coverage of the earthquake in Chile and the tsunami that wasn't in Hawaii, I finished knitting Z's scarf (a ruffled rib knit using Misti Alpaca Chunky, for those who care about that kind of thing), shopped both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and cooked up a storm. I had one of Z's friends over in the morning, transformed taco night leftovers into taco salads for lunch, baked my weekly batch of granola, cooked lemon chicken and roasted cauliflower for dinner (for guests, no less!) and whipped up a batch of ginger spice cookies to bring to the Montessori school open house tomorrow.

Could there be a more fitting end to the day that reading Z a chapter of Little House on the Prairie? Well, aside from putting on an apron and pearls, perhaps.

Edited to add a picture of Z modeling her new scarf

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A reader needs a dictionary

Now that Z is plowing through a chapter book a day (Judy Moody and these stupid fairy books are her favs), I figured she could use a dictionary. Her teacher recommended one with a lot of pictures.

Z immediately started leafing through her first reference book and wrote this note:
The reverse side reads "Words I naw" and lists L-words she knows.

Social media for (grand)moms

Everyone's talking about how moms own the social networks, but you know social media's made the mainstream when Grandma is LinkedIn and using Facebook to school a bagel company on how to maintain a modicum of Jewish cred.

Time for Mom to move to Oak Park, where she'll be 2 blocks from a Bruegger's egg or everything bagel and 1 1/2 miles from the super-authentic options at The Onion Roll.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fantasizing about family in town

My mother is messing with me. She asked me to check out a couple of vintage condos here in Oak Park and reignited my hope that she and her husband will move here--at least part time. (I say reignited because she had me looking at condos at the height of the housing bubble and nothing came of it.)

One of the properties was a winner, a well-priced 3 bedroom unit in the historic Decker building that boasted all the original tile, bathroom fixtures and kitchen cabinets. Plus some squishy carpeting and hideous old lady furnishings.

Bathroom--all original tile & fixtures
Hello, look at the sink faucet handles? Have you ever seen these outside of the movies?

Honestly, I don't know how serious my mom is about moving close by, but I spent all weekend fantasizing about weekly family dinners and kid-Grandma sleepovers. I dreamed of meeting up with Mom at the Farmers Market and taking in concerts in the park. I imagined her joining us at Z's preschool graduation picnic, meeting us at Temple and picking Z up from swim camp. And yes, I fantasized about that holy grail of family in town: free babysitting.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's a potty party!

As an established mom blogger, I get invited to a lot of daytime events. I miss 99% of them because I'm working, but since the invitation I received to the Huggies Pull-Ups Potty Party turned out to be for an open event, I sent Josh. He was tickled to be welcomed by the Edelman folks as Mr. Marketing Mommy and reported back that it was a well-run show, what with Ralph Covert from Ralph's World singing a potty dance song, free tutus and boas for the little girls, face painting and caricatures. His only gripes: A spent too much time scowling on the dance floor and too many of the snacks contained HFCS.
I'm guessing event staffers won't be sporting these tees at the gym.
She doesn't look too upset here. Perhaps cause she's a pottying champ.

Old Spice "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like"

Neither Josh nor I can get enough of this new, truly brilliant Old Spice commercial. My favorite line, "What I have is an oyster with to two tickets to that thing you love. Look again, the tickets are now diamonds."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just what every new mom wants: a sex book

It's been about 9 months since any new babies arrived in my life, with the last two being my sister Eleanor's son and my friend Kim's daughter. This after nonstop baby deliveries for 5 years. That's changing, what with a fellow preschool parent and colleague giving birth to girls in the past week and six more babies due to arrive to people I know by summer.

And I'm oh-so slightly tempted to buy some of those first-time parents a copy of Kirsten Chase's book, The Mominatrix's Guide to Sex: A No-Surrender Advice Book for Naughty Moms, if only because she tells you what your girlfriends might neglect to about post-partum sex. About what childbirth does to your lovely ladybits and how that might affect your (now virtually nonexistent) sex life.

I mean, I really would have liked someone to tell me not to bother having sex right after the 6 week recovery period because that is not nearly enough time to do the kegels required to restore a baggy va-ja-ja to its previous state. Kristen (who I've met, fully clothed and very normal-like) covers sex from pregnancy (hot!) to new mamahood (not!). She then talks moms through a slow-but-steady return to sexy, gives tips for keeping your kids occupied during mommy and daddy's "naps" and cranks up the kink in the book's final chapters with information on family-friendly sex toys and a few other subjects that made me blush.

This post is a part of the Silicon Valley Moms Group book club. We received copies of the book for free.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stonyfield Farms and the case for organic

One of the best perks of being a blogger--oh, ever--was the invitation I received to have lunch at local celebrity chef Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill with Stonyfield Farms CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg last week. We enjoyed an amazing high-end Mexican meal and there was a lot of food for thought, too, as we discussed organic vs. hormone-free milk, consumer demand for organics, the movie Food, Inc., and the slow-but-steady embrace of organic by "evil" big corporations like Walmart, Coca-Cola and Kellogg's. Hirshberg doesn't feel there's much to be gained by keeping organic small, crunchy and far outside the mainstream. He'd much rather see demand for organics increase so that a) the price can come down and even more people will convert and b) the animals, land and water will benefit.

His most urgent call is for campaign finance reform, as government subsidies for corn, soybeans and the like keep industrial food prices unnaturally low (especially for factory-farmed meat and eggs), but I was also impressed by his compelling case for organic dairy products (what Stonyfield Farms sells). I wrote about it for the Chicago Moms Blog.

While I am conscious about the food choices my family makes--choosing whole, recognizable foods and avoiding processed and most prepared foods--I've been somewhat slower to go organic.

I've got a good job, but I'm the sole breadwinner in our family and we need to stick to a budget. We've cut back on our meat consumption so that we can afford to buy organic, humanely-raised meat, but I have a hard time justifying paying $6.00 for a gallon of organic milk when I can buy hormone-free for as little as $1.99. I've been especially troubled by the notion of paying a premium for organic milk when those so-called organic cows are being kept indoors in what amounts to factory farm feed lots. (Horizon Organic, I'm looking at you.)

Now that's changing. The USDA just imposed new standards for organic milk, requiring that those cows have access to pasture grasses. As you can probably tell from the bucolic images on the front of many milk cartons, cows are supposed to graze on grasses. Chowing down on corn in a feedlot makes cows gassy and prone to infections. And a gassy cow burps methane into the atmosphere, which adds to our greenhouse gas problem.

So I'm considering biting the bullet and switching to organic milk. As a member of the middle class, I can probably ultimately afford it. But thanks to a conversation I had with Stonyfield Farms CEO Gary Hirshberg and a few other Chicago bloggers, I'm realizing that by choosing organic, I'm not just ensuringmy kids are ingesting fewer antibiotics and pesticide residues, I'm ultimately making organic more affordable for all families. According to Gary, if the share of organic grows from 3 or 4% of the marketplace to 10%, he will be able to achieve the efficiencies of scale necessary to dramatically reduce the premium on his organic dairy products. As the price comes down, more buyers will make the switch, making organic more affordable still.
That's good for the organic farmers. Good for organic companies like Stonyfield Farms. And good for all of us.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Oh hell, no

I finally answered the D.C. area robo-survey that's been dialing my cell phone for days. It went like this...

"Do you plan to vote in the November elections?" Yes
"Do you consider yourself a tea party patriot?" No
"Do you have a favorable opinion of Governor Sarah Palin?" No
"Are you male?" No
"Are you over 50 years of age?" No
"Have you ever contributed to a political party, religious organization, church group..." Yes

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

All I want for Valentine's Day is a quiet moment to enjoy the Ugly Truffles I bought last weekend with a cup of cappuccino from our Nespresso machine.

I'm getting 45 minutes of peace and quiet right now as A's asleep and Z's upstairs reading yet another beginner chapter book (hurray for reading skills!).

The silence is welcome after this action-packed week. Monday: Hebrew class. Tuesday: neighbors over for dinner and the surprise birthday cake I whipped up for Josh. Wednesday: 3 hour preschool board meeting. Thursday: blogger lunch at Frontera Grill with Stonyfield Farms CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg and Josh's birthday dinner at Gaetano's. Friday: stayed up too late watching the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Saturday morning: Tot Shabbat, Whole Foods, a local Winter Farmer's Market and the Lincoln Elementary Carnival. It's only 2pm and all I want to to with the rest of my day is organize the basement playroom.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A birthday surprise

Most of you will be reading this post on Thursday, February 11. Otherwise known as Josh Klein's 35th birthday. Since he'll be hanging out with A all day and both kids all afternoon, his day will not resemble the picture at the right.

However, I'll be taking him out to eat at Gaetano's to celebrate, and he knows that. His gift, which he also knows about, is a meal at Topolobampo. I couldn't get a reservation until late March, but this way he gets a celebratory meal and a "foodie present," to be redeemed later.

But back to the birthday surprise. You see, I baked and frosted a cake while having our neighbors and their 3 kids for BBQ pulled pork sandwiches on Tuesday evening. And even though I was able to get a head start because Josh was driving through 6-8 inches of snow to pick up Oscar from his neutering surgery at the Anti-Cruelty Society, I still had to cook the icing and frost the layer cake right under his nose. With 7 kids running riot through the house. (I made the Caramel Cake from The Cake Mix Doctor cookbook. And it was delicious.) Josh was speechless. Partly, I think, because he couldn't figure out how on earth I could bake a cake so fast and partly because it wasn't his birthday yet. I think I've stumbled upon some kind of secret birthday surprise strategy here.

Recipe week: My semi-famous salad dressing

As I child, I was blissfully unaware of bottled salad dressings. My mom always made her own and I loved it so much I'd beg for the dregs from the daily salad bowl so I could drink it straight up. Although I love salt & vinegar potato chips, I think my tastes are a bit more refined now and I'm happy to report I no longer drink vinaigrette.

This oil and vinegar combination--which I've gotten more compliments on than a lifetime of cute shoes--still bears some resemblance to Mom's, but it's been informed by Martha Stewart and Mark Bittman as well. Grab yourself an old jam or mustard jar (we save them and store everything from salad dressing to nuts, candy and dried fruit in them) and come play.

Peel 1 or 2 garlic cloves, slice them in half lengthwise, and place them in your jar. Then fill it 1/4 full with extra virgin olive oil. Add a nearly equal quantity of corn or canola oil until your jar is 1/2 full. Pour in unfiltered apple cider vinegar until your jar is about 2/3 to 3/4 full. There should be approximately 2 times as much oil as there is vinegar. If you like a touch of sweetness or want to lower the fat content of your dressing, now is the time to splash in a tablespoon or two of apple cider or juice. Add 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, a few shakes each of salt, freshly ground black pepper, dried oregano and celery seed. Put the top on and shake vigorously until the all ingredients are combined.

We pour this salad dressing over salads, which usually contain some combination of dark leafy greens; carrots; tomatoes (in season); pear, apple, grape or strawberry slices; sunflower seeds or pistachios; and crumbled feta or blue cheese.

Monday, February 08, 2010

It's never to early to plan your next birthday party

With 9 months to go, Z's already planning her 6th birthday party. I'm glad to see she's putting her sick day to good use.

Recipe Week: Homemade Mac & Cheese

I only get to visit my sister about once a year, but every time I've ever visited her, she's asked me to make macaroni & cheese. This is also the comfort food I make and deliver to new moms. And last night I brought half of it to a "Super Bowl" party (we didn't actually watch the game) and put the other half in my chest freezer for enjoyment later this month. I've made my mac and cheese so many times I can't remember the last time I consulted a cook book. That said, I'm sure this recipe owes something to the Joy of Cooking.

1 lb elbow noodles or pasta shells
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp each mustard powder, paprika
2 cups milk
Up to 4 tbsp cream cheese (optional, but worth it)
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
optional: fresh bread crumbs, seasoned salt and garlic powder

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook until barely al dente. Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium-high heat until foamy. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Add spices and whisk in the milk. Cook, whisking frequently until the milk mixture thickens (this can take a while). Once it's thickened, turn off the flame and stir in the cream cheese, if using, and all but 1/3 cup of the shredded cheddar cheese. Stir until melted. Drain the cooked pasta and combine with the cheese sauce. Pour into a greased 9X12 inch pan or two smaller casserole dishes. Top with shredded cheese and breadcrumbs, seasoned salt and garlic powder, if desired. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Earlier in Recipe Week

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Chocolate, chocolate and M&M brownies

Together with friends, we spent the morning at the Morton Arboretum, which was luring folks to its snowy, cold gardens with something truly sweet: chocolate. After exploring the Candy Walk, a real-life Candy Land game in the Children's Garden, we headed indoors to the Chocolate Expo inside the Visitor Center. Every table was offering free samples, and I sampled them all--pretzels dipped in melted chocolate, full-sized artesianal chocolates, chocolate and Swiss cheese paninis, chocolate balsamic vinegar and chocolate lava cakes. We even purchased a genuine Belgian waffle and a box of ugly truffles.

After sampling so many delicious chocolates, it was probably wrong of me to have an M&M brownie when I got home. To make amends, I'll share my recipe with you. It is my go-to from scratch recipe as it can be made with ingredients I always have on hand. It's adapted from the Hershey's Cocoa Powder Brownies, and a wee bit naughty as you know Hershey's would never advocate enhancing their recipe with a Mars product! Speaking of Mars, some of the tastiest samples were from Dove Chocolate Discoveries, a home shopping party outfit. Although I've attended a few, I've always shied away from hosting anything that smacks of Tupperware, but I have to admit in this case I'm tempted.

M&M Brownies

1 stick butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square pan with foil and grease the foil. With a wooden spoon, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla. Stir in the eggs. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, ending with the salt. Add the dry mixture to the butter and egg mixture and stir well. Add the M&Ms and stir once more. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-28 minutes. Cool before pulling out the foil-bottomed brownies and cut into small squares.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Recipe Week: Healthy, yummy pancakes

It's been quite a while since I've posted any recipes, so I'm going to make this recipe week. I'll post some of my favorite, go-to recipes for all to enjoy. First up, I've finally perfected our weekend pancake recipe (originally based on the Joy of Cooking's Basic Pancakes), increasing its wholesomeness without detracting from its deliciousness.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups 1% or 2% milk
3 tbsp canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
Up to 3/4 cup frozen organic wild blueberries

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then whisk together the milk, oil, eggs and vanilla in a smaller bowl. Dump the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk to combine. Preheat your pan or griddle, having sprayed it first with a Pam-like spray. Add the blueberries right before you ladle out your pancakes. I usually make a few smaller, blueberry-free pancakes for the girls and then add blueberries and make big, frying pan-sized griddle cakes for the grown-ups. This batter is on the thin side, so they cook fairly quickly over medium to medium-high heat and you won't have to worry about raw middles. As you cook, transfer done pancakes to a plate in a warm oven. Serve with real maple syrup.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Top 10 memories from Akumal

We got back from our 8 day trip to Akumal late Tuesday night thanks to a Mexicana airline screwup (they changed our flight from 2:45 to 5:35pm without bothering to inform us). With two overtired, junk food-fueled kiddos for traveling companions, our trip back most definitely does not make this top 10 list.

10. Getting a mani-pedi at the open air "Budha Spa," which would more accurately titled the Massage Hut. Frosted pink was probably the least offensive of the 5 polishes offered me, but that doesn't mean I like it. Z and A, however, thought the color was beautiful. My nails look okay, but the hand and leg massages plus 1 hour and 45 minutes of silence? Blissful.

9. Lunch on the beach at the Lol-Ha Snack Bar. I was fully expecting our day without my mom and Rick (who were on a bus tour to Chichen-Itza) would be stressful, but our kids were delightful from breakfast to bedtime, playing with us, each other, and the twin 6 year olds from Salt Lake City who moved into the condo next door. While our two angels devoured their hot dogs, Josh and I had the best shrimp and fish tacos.

8. Every meal we ate at the Super Chomak Loncheria. This counter outside the overpriced grocery store serves the best Mexican food you can buy wearing just a swimsuit and a towel.

7. Lunch in Playa del Carmen. Josh and I left the girls with their doting grandparents and headed north to Playa for a couple hours of shopping and eating. We started with dessert, Mayan drinking chocolate and a brownie at Ah Cacao, before having a healthy lunch of fresh-squeezed juice and fish sandwiches at 100% Natural. We read each other tacky tee shirt slogans ("I'm not a gynecologist, but I'll take a look" and "Take me drunk, I'm home" come to mind) and wondered how so many shops can sell the exact same tourist crap. While I comparison shopped for silver earrings, Josh got offered the chance to buy some "nose candy" by a street entrepreneur.

6. Snorkeling in Yal-ku lagoon. This really is as close as you'll ever get to swimming in a tropical fish tank. Josh and I took turns checking out the brightly colored fish with our rented snorkel and keeping the girls (who were wearing water wings) from getting pulled out to sea by an unusually strong current. Although we didn't go on the same day, the Italian restaurant (and small hotel) Que Onda is right next door to Yal-ku. If you're ever in Akumal, it's worth stopping there for their house made linguine, which is served with a variety of different sauces in a charming courtyard garden. We were lucky the restaurant has a gravel floor as A peed on it while wearing a sundress and no one was the wiser.

5. Reading The Book Thief, which was on loan from a co-worker. Oh. My. G-d. I couldn't put it down. Really, one of the best books I've ever read. If I had to choose between bringing this book and touring the ruins of Tulum for the third time (see wind-whipped family photo above), I'd choose reading. Hands down.

4. Discovering how much fun our kids can have with limited toys. We bought a few canisters of Play-Doh, some markers, a few sand toys and a bottle of bubble juice at the Super Walmart in Playa. That, plus the two Happy Meal My Little Pony toys we'd brought with us kept our girls (and Z's new friends Hannah and Emma) happily diverted for days. Of course, all you have to do is give A a plastic grocery sack and she'll "pack" it with random household items and play airport until she decides she'd rather play doctor instead. (Incidentally, her opening line for doctor is always "You so brave."

3. Watching Z and A play kissy-fish, a game of their own invention, which involves the two of them swimming into each other and kissing each other repeatedly on the mouth.

2. Dinner alone with Josh. On our second night in Akumal, we let my mom and Rick babysit and we walked down the beach to La Lunita, a romantic little restaurant we remembered being really good. It must have been an off night in the kitchen, as I was served a Sangria that was as sour as limeade and a poblano pepper stuffed with a giant wad of mozzarella and dried oregano that tasted like nothing so much as Domino's pizza cheese and catnip. We figured they couldn't mess up dessert, but someone had the bright idea to top a lime and cheese frozen pie (kind of Key Lime pie-y) with peanut butter drizzle. It was weird, but any oceanfront dinner date with free babysitting is going to score high in my book.

1. Hidden Worlds. Our one big touristy splurge was Ultimate Adventure packages to the cenote/eco-adventure park Hidden Worlds, where we got to ride the first-ever skycycle over the jungle (more challenging with a child between your legs), fly down a zip line and rappel into a ceynote, and snorkel/float through underground freshwater caverns where we saw stalactites and stalagmites, bats, spiders and a baby scorpion. There were probably fewer than 30 tourists in the entire park, which is huge, so we enjoyed lots of one-on-one attention from the guides.

Thanks, Mom for renting the condo, making coffee every morning and encouraging us to eat every last scrap of food in the refrigerator. Thanks Rick for being a doting grandfather (and jungle gym) to my children. Thank you Josh for putting the girls to bed as often as you did and for brushing the sand off your feet before climbing into our bed. And thank you to my kids for exclaiming "I'm having so much fun!" as often as you did.