Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Find Me at Hungry with Children

It's time to come join me at....

Hungry with Children

At some point, I will be formally migrating over, but I encourage you to make the migration yourself, before it's too late ;P

What I'm Reading

How inspired a dad can be to cook for his kids (They really do love to cook for their little ones - C makes H scrambled eggs every Saturday morning. That's pretty good considering he's made me dinner about once a year for the life of our relationship.) - NYTimes

The Sauca food truck is crossing the bridge, and ditching the wheels (at least on this side of the river). - ArlNow

If you've ever tried to grab a pre-game bite before a Caps game, this piece makes a good point. Wow, sure, we fans are sad about another short playoff season, but Chinatown restaurants are really sad. - City Paper

How to take making risotto in stride. - iFlipForFood

Hot Pot in Arlington. We stopped in already, and it's fabulous. We're kinda hot pot connoisseurs, as it's our usual holiday celebration, and Mala Tang gets high marks. A helpful hint - order the NY Strip - locally-raised sustainable beef that is incredibly flavorful. - WaPo

I have said it before, and I'm going to have to repeat it here. I don't want to like Spike Mendelsohn. I want to put the self-absorbed twit label on him and be done with it. Three problems - One, the man can cook. Two, he works his butt off (on Top Chef, and otherwise). And three, he listens to what people want. The final point becomes even more clear with the launch of the Sixth and Rye Kosher Deli Truck. Bravo, Spike! Good choice, and thanks for listening. - City Paper

Ummm? My new blog?! RSS feeders, it's time to make your migration - there's a super easy link available on the page. - Hungry With Children

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

DC Loves Food is now Hungry with Children

It's been great, but you'll now have to deal with the real me, not my alter ego...

Please find me at Hungry With Children.

A Watershed Moment

Yes, this title was far too obvious, but bear with me now. I have my reasons.  It’s Spring, after all; the time of renewal and refocusing; the time for burgeoning ideas to blossom and become reality. It’s time to open new restaurants, and launch new websites! Yes, indeed it is. We’re coming full picture now, aren’t we?!

For my last post as the “mysterious Mark Felt”, I thought our mock service lunch liaison at Todd Gray’s (and Ellen Gray’s – this is a true labor of love - so we should give credit where credit is due) Watershed was the perfect occasion. If the name fits, after all. 

Watershed is located in the new Hilton Garden Inn in NoMa (about 7 or 8 blocks north of Union Station, in the middle of the developing New York Ave. federal government complex). It's a great concept - familiar, comfortable, but delicious food with quality, yet affordable ingredients, served in a hotel restaurant - a hotel at which "real" people (i.e., bureaucrats like myself, on our government per diems) stay. I know you've been there - in your not-exactly-the-Ritz inn, and the only dining options are something like a Houlihan's, or an overpriced and overcooked steak in the hotel bar. This is the solution to such dilemmas. Watershed is casual enough to make the average DC hotel guest (we're talking middle income tourists, government business travelers, your parents?!) feel at home, yet sophisticated enough to challenge a palette; precisely what a hotel like a Hilton Garden Inn needs. Actually, precisely what hotels around the country need - let's start a trend here.

Now, here's the part where I have to admit that I'm a dumbass and I somehow deleted the pics of all of the delicious cuisine we enjoyed on the house. So, I'll try to give you a quick rundown of why you should make a stop (there's plenty of mouth-watering pics on the website if you don't trust me) - here's a few reasons - the crispy and flavorful Po'Boy (or Rappohanack River Oyster Sandwich, as it's properly known), the newfangled Wedge salad with roasted tomatoes and subtle blue cheese, the Paprika-spiced potato chips (I'm also addicted to house oyster crackers served alongside the soups), the Baltimore Seafood Stew (okay, I didn't actually try this - I merely drooled over the table next to us as they enjoyed), and the desserts. Yes, there were desserts.

For me, though, our pleasant experience comes back to the comfort factor. A room full of natural color and light, welcoming textures, and simple yet flavorful dishes. As life changes, these types of the experiences, the kind where we are able to be ourselves, are those that we gravitate towards. 

In that spirit, let me sign off one last time, and welcome you to visit (and follow!) the real me at my new website, Hungry with Children. I'm excited for what the future holds, excited to write about the inspiration I find in the every day, and yes, still very much excited about all of the food I will continue to enjoy and blog. For now, adieu (pssst, that's your cue to meet me on the other side).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reading and Rhetoric

Feeling a little snarky today, particularly given the imminent shutdown and unemployment (though, just for reference, per my contract, which still dictates my actions while unemployed, I may neither seek another job, nor unemployment assistance payments). So, my Things That Are Making Me Happy During Spring post has now been laced with cynicism…My attempt to emulate our esteemed Congresspeople and translate my otherwise innocuous observations into nausea-inducing political rhetoric.

I love that Spring is the time for simple and light meals, like Steamy Kitchen’s chicken sausage and apple slaw (I went even lighter on the dressing as I don’t love a ton of mayo, and it was still great!).

Rhetorical Translation: We citizens need to arm ourselves (reload, if you will) with healthy recipes to help us protect our children from the serious obesity epidemic crippling this great nation.

It’s White House Easter Egg Roll Lottery time again. We did not win the lottery – again - maybe someday we’ll get in, but I’m not holding out hope as I am not nor do I want to be politically connected.

Rhetorical Translation: Shouldn’t all Americans, the taxpaying good citizens of this nation, have access to government programs? Isn’t it time that we stop making the distinction between the haves and the have-nots? Isn’t it time that we give equal rights to all our citizens?

I am looking forward to getting back on the bike for spring-time commuting.

Rhetorical Translation: As our nation sinks into more and more desperate times, wasting the time we should be spending with our families on our clogged roadways, we must free ourselves of the bondage of foreign oil. Unless we do, we'll fall into a world of peril where two-wheel commuting is our future. It is essential to the vitality of our economy, to our future as the most prosperous nation on earth.

Due to inclement weather, I was not able to bring the little man to this year’s elephant walk. It’s always a fun time to watch the parade - hopefully, next year.

Rhetorical Translation: We must make examples of these circus members, who for too long we have failed to hold accountable for their deplorable exploitation of the cherished pachyderm species. This is their day of reckoning. Not on my watch.

I have an appointment with our landscaper this week. Maybe he can teach me a thing or two about gardening…He seems to think dumping mulch is the answer to all gardening issues. I tend to disagree, but I’ve proven before that I seriously lack a green thumb.

Rhetorical Translation: My esteemed colleagues across the aisle will tell you that mulch is the answer, that mulch is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury. But, let me tell you - mulch has a price. If we continue to balance our garden's sustainability on the back of a worthless bed of mulch, we will end up owing the Chinese. You need to hold this landscaper's feet to the fire.

It's almost playoff time. Time to cheer on our first-place Caps, even in the outer limits of the DMV. Well, at least for one series...

Rhetorical Translation: We need to get to the business of government, to serving our fine taxpayers in grips of this financial crisis. We need to cut out waste and inefficiency like NCAA pools, or wasting time hanging out with Ovechkin.

Oberon is out for the season! It’s time to celebrate the taste of spring (and summer). For me, it's also a taste of home. By the way, home, I may be there soon. It appears I'll soon have a few extra days of unpaid leave on my hands (though I may be beckoned back at any time).

Rhetorical Translation: I need a beer. I’ve had enough politics!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Apple Strudel

This weekend's inspiration for dessert? Richard Blaise's challenge to recreate Wolfgang Puck's childhood memories meal. I was totally craving strudel after that Top Chef episode. The best strudel I ever had was courtesy of Mario Batali, but the chef at the Austro-German restaurant I worked at in college made a mean version as well.

Pretty happy with myself for creating my own take (with dried cranberries, because I don't like raisins, and with pecans, because I prefer them over walnuts). I totally eyeballed this recipe, but it worked well. I'll stick with my estimates as they are more accurate than trying to convert to actual measurements (mind you, with this recipe, there will be extra filling, so don't overstuff the pastry). Enjoy....

3 medium (roughly one pound) Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced into strips
1 handful brown sugar
3 spoonfuls sugar
1 splash apple cider vinegar
1/2 handful pecans, finely chopped
1/2 handful dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup prepared muesli or old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough (Trader Joe's is great)
kosher salt
ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove pastry from freezer and lay over parchment on work surface.

Mix together apples, sugar, vinegar, cloves, and cinnamon.

With hands, crumble together brown sugar, muesli, and dried cranberries.

Spread pastry with even layer of melted butter.

Spread crumble evenly over pastry, leaving 1/4 inch on one side. Top with even layer of apples. Lift untopped side and begin to delicately roll. As you roll, brush each pastry layer with butter.   

Sprinkle with kosher salt and sugar. Place parchment on baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until golden brown (may have to broil for one minute to get perfectly brown).

Serve with vanilla bean ice cream, caramel sauce*, and remaining filling.

Oh my - the strudel was sooooo good. Totally worth the extra hippage I'm sporting this week to indulge. In fact, I'm thinking I may have to indulge again this week - we're having dinner guests, and between the strudel and Smitten Kitchen's temptation to finally try spaetzle, I'm thinking German.

(* My caramel sauce was made by caramelizing 1/4 cup sugar with one tablespoon salted butter. I then added one can of tempered condensed milk.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

L is for Larceny

Might I just say thank goodness for that little Latin phrase, mens rea. Thank goodness it’s an element in most crimes, including property crimes. Thank goodness that a 16-month-old lacks capacity to adequately form the intent necessary to constitute mens rea. And thank goodness that intent does not transfer, so when daddy discovers his son's act, daddy can delicately tiptoe back into REI, and return the pair of size XXL ladies bloomers his son lifted without parental knowledge. Finally, thank goodness that REI does not believe that mens rea applies to the lifting of undergarments (yup, this is pair here on your right - straight from the website)… that they don't put security devices on their waterproof women's underoos, so that our family did not get the extra special surprise of discovering that our son is a shoplifter while the rest of the store's occupants stared on (that discovery occurred in the parking lot, just the three of us). Thank goodness.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lunch Liaisons: Sticky Rice

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).    

It’s a rare event that C and I find ourselves available for a meal at a not-so-family-friendly establishment (located outside of Penn Quarter) with highly recommended cuisine. So, when we had a previously scheduled weekday afternoon meeting, for which we would already have to take leave, C and I jumped at the chance to have a meal in the Atlas District sans the wait from weekend hipster crowds (no offense, hipster readers, I love you too, but I do not love waiting for a seat). These are the ways you schedule couple time once parentdom is your primary fiefdom.

We chose Sticky Rice, which really was based on savoring a few of (okay, half a bucket of) the much ballyhooed tator tots. And were they worth the hype? Um, we took two extra hours of leave, drove to the Atlas District, searched for parking, and C took on a gentrifying neighborhood (don’t judge, he fully admits this is an experience with which he’s not entirely comfortable). Yes, the bites of golden fried goodness and amazing spicy remoulade style sauce were entirely worth it. The tots were hot (and stayed hot), crispy (really crispy), and I loved the flavor of the frying oil that Sticky Rice uses. The rolls were original and tasty too – we tried the Drawn and Buttered (lobster and crab – a little too rich for me, but C was a fan), Crazy Calamari (sweet and spicy squid – very tasty), and my favorite, the Sante Fe (tempura sweet potatoes – more please). We need to find time to return, if not for the tots, to try out some of the tempting noodles, or maybe the Yellow Basil Roll.

Lunch Liaisons: Cuba Libre

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).    

Cuba "Libre"?! Not so much. It costs far too many pesos for the lack of quality. C and I shared a pleasant ceviche of tuna, jalapenos (flavor, but I would have appreciated a bit of kick), and olive oil. Otherwise, however, we were limited to lackluster sandwiches and little to no ambiance. For reference, my Cuban was soggy, unnecessarily greasy, and lacking in flavor. C’s mediocre Frito Misto, basically a hamburger made of both beef and pork, was very heavy (like, pit in your stomach heavy). If we’re expanding on chains, I would rather see an Applebee’s go in downtown. At least then, I would only have to pay half the price for "meh" food and ambiance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy Bloody Birthday: Beets in Dessert

C turns 32 years of age today. I get to tease him about being the senior citizen in residence until late this summer, when I catch up. I wanted to make something original yet delicious to celebrate C's special day, so I prepared a chef-inspired chocolate cake (Mike Isabella) and sorbet (Todd Gray) combo. I came up with the recipe for the "deep"  chocolate cake (as in root-inspired, hehehehe, I love a pun) by researching some classic applesauce cake recipes (for reference in incorporating pureed beets) and flourless chocolate cake recipes (shooting for really deep and luxurious chocolate flavor). To make the "blood" orange sorbet, I incorporated some elements of orange sherbet (sherbet being one of my favorite childhood desserts) and some elements of more classic pureed fruit sorbets.

Everything turned out really well (I write in the passive voice here because both are almost polished off). For proof, check out my pretty picture from my new SLR camera (this was taken after one week of my photography class, so I'm hoping my culinary shots will only improve from here; either way, I'm happy with the shot I was able to create). The cake was deep in chocolate flavor, but with an undertone of earthiness and a exceptionally moist texture from the beets. The sorbet was a nice balance between sweet and tart, and really refreshing, particularly when paired with the rich cake.

Deep Chocolate Cake
2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup very cold milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla 
1 1/2 cups pureed beets (approx. 4 medium beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed in blender)
6 oz. high cacao count (60% preferred) bittersweet chocolate

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a springfoam pan with olive oil. 
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside. 
  3. In a stainless steel bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer set on medium speed. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Blend in the vanilla extract. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the pureed beets.   
  4. In a double boiler (I usually just place a glass mixing bowl over a sauce pan), melt the chocolate. Fold in the chocolate a little at a time to the batter, mixing on low speed. 
  5. The batter will get sticky and thick because the chocolate is hot, and it will begin the cooking process. Temper by gradually adding the milk.
  6. Pour the batter into the pan (it will appear a little grainy, but will smooth out in the baking process). Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
    "Blood" Orange Sorbet
    3/4 cup sugar
    3-4 oranges, peeled and divided into sections
    3/4 cup pureed and chilled beets (approx. 2 beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed in blender)
    1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
    1 tsp. vanilla 
    1 1/2 cups very cold whole milk
    1. Keep all ingredients cold until just before beginning. 
    2. Place orange sections in food processor and pulse until pureed evenly. Add beets and mix well. 
    3. Then combine all of the remaining ingredients except the milk and process until the sugar is dissolved, approximately 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and whisk in the milk.
    4.  Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process until it is the consistency of soft serve ice cream. It can be served immediately or transferred to a sealed container, and frozen for 3 hours until firm.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Dining on a Shoestring

    I never was sure where the idea of a shoestring budget came from...Oh well, it's really not that interesting. Instead, I'll share my thoughts on how we cut back on food expenses without cutting back on eating well.

    Budget, meet Freezer.  Freezer, meet Budget.
    Sometimes in our fanaticism for fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, we forget that our freezers are perfectly reasonable places to locate ingredients, particularly in the winter. I use frozen vegetables all the time, and I love to buy quality organic meats to freeze for later use. Wegmans is a great resource for frozen goodies, even seafood (Trader Joe’s too, if you choose wisely). Check out this Cioppino I recently whipped up:

    Canned San Marzano tomatoes, frozen shrimp, tilapia, and scallops, dried herbs, served with some freshly diced zucchini and a baguette from the grocery store. For roughly $15, we had a meal worthy of a much higher restaurant price tag. It’s really not hard to make these things happen (okay, maybe I did have a little help in the process), and we don’t always need the most premium ingredients to accomplish these feats.

    Meal Plan Mondays
    (This is an idea I got from the Amanda’s Cookin’ blog, though our meal plan is a slightly lower level - I think Amanda prepares much more involved daily fare for her family than I do for mine. But, I also think Amanda works in her home. So, I’ll give myself a pass when it’s stir-fry instead of roasted chicken.)

    I don’t know about you, but after a long day at work and a few hours of running with and cleaning up after a toddler and dog, I can be easily persuaded into ordering takeout. But the price of doing such adds up after a while. So, instead, on Sunday nights, I make a meal plan for the week. Taking an inventory of the crisper drawer, looking up recently tagged recipe ideas, and ultimately making a plan is a big help to get through the week without throwing extra cash around, either for last-minute ingredient needs (the Bodega down the street tends to price at a premium) or to replace items that have gone bad. It also helps me avoid excuses like, “I forgot to take the meat out of freezer to thaw”, and also, to identify the nights when it’s either going to be leftovers or take-out, so as to make sure I acknowledge that the other evenings are going to have to pick up the slack. (More to come on the merits of writing things down).

    Planned Fun

    Here’s another non-secret….this approach does not fit everyone’s lifestyle. For instance, we find it almost impossible to take advantage of Groupons or Living Social deals (not so much spontaneity in our plans). Instead, it means....yup, you guessed it, we have to find other ways to save. Like making pizza at home for instance (and by the by, you also get to choose exactly how to go halfsies; WIN!)...

    Tough Decisions
    The real theme is here is that none of the aforementioned ideas are particularly earth-shattering. They simply involve choices to make the effort to save money. They involve making the tough decisions.

    There was a really long rant in all of this, but after I typed it out, I realized it was more of an exhalation and I feel better now that it escaped from my fingers. I don't need to bore you with the specifics of my thoughts on economic and tax policy. Others have it covered. I'll just share with you some much more enjoyable tidbits.

    VOCAB WORDS: Whee, Go, Huh?, Okay, Ahhh (***refreshed*** lip smack/exhale after gulping water from his cup)

    Annndddd....we have four new teeth, three new sets of shorts from Old Navy, a newly acquired affinity for dunking in swim class, a forehead almost covered with hair (we've been sporting a unfortunate hair line/mullet combo for some time now), and mommy has a new camera to show me off.

    Monday, February 28, 2011

    Closest Thing to Top Chef: Number 68 Project

    DC Food-Loving Folk, by now, no doubt, you've heard about the Number 68 Project. It started with a Social Network-style invitation-only concept, but quickly developed into a marketing beast. We attended the first event, last Sunday, with chef Mike Isabella and mixologist Derek Brown providing cuisine and libations. The theme for our evening was "We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails: adaptability, optimism, perspective".

    For us, it was less about being existentialist, and more about trying something that would be a one of a kind experience. This was as close as we were and are going to get to something like Top Chef, so it was about the experience for us, just maybe not the experience the hosts had in mind.

    Let's see. Cast alumni? Check. Pre-set meal designed for one night only? Check. Guestlist predetermined? Check. Service on site in a makeshift kitchen? Check. Corporate sponsor? Check (Leblon Cachaca Brazilian Rum). Course doesn't quite make it the table? Check. Attempt to stick to a theme? Check. Yup, pretty close to Top Chef. This was our version.

    Crudo: tuna, pine nuts, aged balsamic reduction
    - served with aperitif of rum, pear brandy, sparkling wine, lemon
    Padma: This is pleasant, but rather pedestrian, don't you think?
    Tom: The flavors are nice though.
    Gail: Mmm, and I really like this drink. It's refreshing.

    Salad: cocoa and cashew-dusted beets, mozzarella, balsamic reduction
    -served with mocktail of cacao black tea, milk, lemon,and sparkling water
    Padma: Wow, the cocoa really brings out the flavor of the beets.
    Tom: Yeah, the flavors are right on.
    Gail: I must say, it's a nice idea to have a non-alcoholic beverage with the salad course. And, again, this is a delicious drink.

    Pasta: ravioli of pork shank, mustard sauce, rye crouton
    - served with cocktail of rum, maple-infused vermouth, bitters
    Padma: I like the mustard and rye flavors, but I wish the pork was a bit more flavorful as well.
    Tom: Would have been better had I not run to the bathroom, and come back after it got cold.
    Gail: Whew, this drink is strong. I'll concentrate on my pasta; I like the wilted greens.

    Meat: oxtail, pepperoni sauce, rapini stems
    -served with cocktail of rum, apple juice, forbidden fruit (glass infused with bison grass smoke)
    Padma: Does anyone else think this sauce is just weird?
    Tom: The pepperoni is so strong. It just doesn't work. And the oxtail is overdone. I like the drink though.
    Gail: Agreed on the drink, Tom. I love the unique flavors.

    Cheese: panini of teleggio cheese and eggplant
    - served with grapefruit juice, honey, and bitters
    Padma: Mmmm....(**eyes rolling** both in satisfaction and to make sure that the others are in agreement before she says something)
    Tom: No complaints. This is good.
    Gail: I love the idea of grilled cheese for the cheese course. The honey in the drink sets off the flavors nicely.

    Dessert: nougat, chocolate, almond torrone (according to Isabella, pomegranate sorbet did not make it to the plate)
    Padma: It's very sweet. It's really too bad that the sorbet wasn't served.
    Tom: That's a lot of chocolate, and the texture is lacking. I could use a cup of coffee.
    Gail: I'll give him points for the idea though.

    Judge's Table:

    Padma: Derek (in the right foreground), your beverages were our favorite courses of the night. They were all delicious.

    Tom: Mike,  you made some spectacular dishes, but the oxtail fell short, and the dessert just was not complete. It's hard to send someone home, but we have to choose one.
    Padma: Please pack your knives and go...

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Perspectives on Dining With Children: Ellen Kassoff Gray

    I've never considered the posts I write on restaurants to be reviews, per se. I'm no culinary professional, and I don't have the luxury of unlimited funds to visit restaurants as regularly as would be necessary to term what I write reviews. Instead, I like to share my experiences, and thoughts, for what they may be worth to my valued readers. So, when I recently sat down to write about our not-so-positive experience at a supposedly kid-friendly joint in Dupont, I just wasn't motivated. I think most of this had to do with not wanting to re-live the whole debacle.

    What this experience did contribute, however, was some additional perspective on the notion of dining out with children in tow. I like to consider myself a rational and reasonable person. I also consider the idea of dining out with our very active toddler a tad bit daunting. To date, we've stuck to lunch at our neighborhood joints in the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, those with which we are comfortable and know what to expect. We also plan accordingly for the experiences - we wait until after H has his nap, we pack appetizers (usually veggies, cereal, maybe a fruit bar), and we go in with the expectation that we may have to take part of our adult meals home if things get out of hand. This recent experience to which I've alluded, however, just soured me and made me self-analyze - Are my expectations unreasonable? Am I just being a whiny mother?  Am I failing to take the restaurant's perspective into account here?! So, I went to the source - a mom and restaurateur - to see just what is within bounds in dining out with children.

    Ellen Kassoff Gray, owner/operator at Equinox, and Watershed, coming to the NoMa neighborhood, wife to chef Todd Gray, and mom to Harrison, 11, shares her perspective on dining out with kids.

    Teach them. Grow them.

    Kids have their own tastes and their own preferences. Sure, they go through stages of certain affinities, and those affinities change. Ultimately, though, we are responsible for helping our kid's tastes develop, and for establish healthy eating habits.

    Ellen says that if the parents are connoisseurs of fine food, it's more than likely the kiddies will turn out to be mini-connoisseurs too. For this reason, we cultivate them; we teach them how to dine. If we want our kids to be adventurous eaters, like ourselves, that sense of adventure will ultimately grow out of their own experiences. In other words, start them dining out early and often. Don't limit your children, and don't limit yourself.

    Be Reasonable

    With the ideal that we set the tone for raising little eaters, we have to be reasonable in what we expect of our children and of our fellow diners. Be prepared for the experience. When asked just what is unreasonable, Ellen doesn't hesitate in answering. "Don't ignore your screaming kids," she says. It's not fair to a child to let them get to such a point, and then to ignore it. Nor is it fair to your fellow diners to force them to experience the hell that is a child screaming, particularly when they are paying for the experience.

    As a parent of a little man who can quickly turn to a little screamer, I would add that parents should always come prepared with a back-up plan, and if necessary, a quick exit strategy. Pack snacks because food will not arrive instantaneously. Bring something to entertain a slightly older toddler. Take a little walk to break up the scenery. With the expectation of trying new things, know your child's needs and capabilities, and be prepared to be flexible. This will help everyone involved.

    The Golden Rule

    If you come prepared to proceed with reasonable caution with your child, you should be able to expect the same reasonableness from the restaurant. Expect that a restaurant has a high chair, and a booster seat. Don't expect to nurse your child without cover at the bar. Make your expectations for early service of the kid's meal clear to your server. Don't expect the menu to be gluten, dairy, and nut free without special requests. You see what I'm getting at.

    Some restaurants are particularly willing to be reasonable, and these might be the places you want to return again and again. Ellen shares that the philosophy at Equinox is that every diner, from 5 months to 50, is a potential customer-for-life, and she feels that each should be treated as such. She goes the extra mile to make sure the littlest customers have a great experience. As a parent, I can attest that restaurants where the staff is willing to make everyone feel at home are indeed the types of places that we will repeatedly return, along with our munchkin. Whether they are white tablecloth establishments, or family diners, restaurants that treat their customers as extensions of their own families (Ellen's theory on welcoming the youngest customers), are the types that we will frequent as a family.

    If All Else Fails, Bribe

    Kid acting out? Ellen has a few tips. As a mom who has wondered exactly what do to in these precise situations, my reaction?! Brilliant!

    As we all know, we can take every conceivable step to make sure our kids stay happy, and still, they have a meltdown. Most of the time, we can either take a walk, or leave, if desperate.  There are times though, that these are not options. Ellen's solution (she says that she has consistently done this on airplane rides) is to buy those around you a round of drinks. Now, why didn't I think of that?

    Desperate for happy hour with the girls? Ellen's advice is to go to a hotel lobby lounge. "They're always full of kids," she notes. Meet up with the girls, have a cocktail and a snack, bring along the kiddies and some entertainment, enjoy yourselves, and take a cab home. I'm not saying this will work with a little one under two, but it's a fun idea. Particularly given the number of hotels within walking distance in my neighborhood.

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    Happy Valentine's Day

    Happy Valentine’s Day
    Three seemingly innocuous words. For a very longest time though, I would have rather scalded the roof of my mouth with hot coffee than mutter those words. I hated Valentine’s Day and felt no need to celebrate it. So much, in fact, that C, wanting to propose over this particular weekend seven years ago, felt the need to get down on one knee on Friday the Thirteenth. He knew that I would not want my incredibly significant day associated with this particular holiday, the one I consider absurdly artificial and arbitrary (In my opinion, V-day leads to one of two things; single people feeling lonely, and paired people feeling inadequate. Neither is fun.).

    But, as cliché as it may sound, becoming a parent changes everything. It changes your perspectives, and your thought processes, and your attitudes.

    Somewhere along the line, I realized that I don’t hate the day itself, or Saint Valentine, or by any means, the concept of love. What I hate, or more appropriately, am annoyed by, is our culture’s concentration on romantic love as if it the only felicity to be celebrated (BTW, the current Hallmark company line – “Happy Valentine’s is not to say ‘I love you’, but to say, ‘I love us’!” - is a perfect example).

    Another case in point – my lunch break today. I took a run to enjoy the beautiful weather, but I forgot to pack my gym socks.  I carried my credit card, and decided I would stop at the CVS a block away to pick up a pair on the way out. Not possible; there was a thirty-person-deep line, each member with various articles of pink or red in their hands, waiting for the registers. Romance, folks, does not involve a day-of stop at CVS to “show you care”. It just doesn’t. What are the recipients of these gifts going to think? “Oh, you stopped at CVS on your lunch break?! Wow, thanks for pulling out all the stops to woo me.”

    What is, however, worth celebrating is the love that surrounds us. All too often, with our emphasis on the notion of romantic love, we forget to say "I love you" to our mothers, our fathers, brothers, sisters, inlaws, friends. Valentine's is a perfect excuse to celebrate the heck out of these loves, these all important individuals who are not our significant others. Having a child, and learning to understand a completely new and overwhelming kind of love, has helped me learn this lesson.

    Growing up, you know who never let me down on Valentine's? My mom. She always sent a card, all the way through law school, and for at least a few years after that. I was either too immature, or too petulant, to recognize what this meant. But, being a mom myself, I finally understand why she did it, and why we all should do this. This is, after all, a day to celebrate love.

    So, thank you Mom, for reinforcing this principle. I finally get it, and I look forward to arts-and-crafts pink and red hearts, helping H prepare for his class parties, and maybe one day, receiving a handmade card from the little man (we're a long way from that point). To everyone I say, Happy Valentine's Day! Cherish those that you love, even if it's not the movie version. 

    Vocab Words of the Week: "E-I-E-I-O" (Old MacDonald), "Duck", "Up", and an inquisitive "Hmmm"....

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Super Bowl Snacking

    It's been a week, professionally speaking. With no time to come up for air on the horizon, I'll take this weekend to celebrate the American customs of football and gorging, concurrently. Here's our focus-on-easy-to-make snack plan:

    Loco Ludo's Gougeres
    Trader Joe's Frozen Appetizers
    Low-Fat Spinach Artichoke Dip, with vegetable sticks
    Brie and jam, wrapped in pre-frozen puff pastry
    Cocktail Weenies, in the crock-pot (I love those things)
    Roasted Stuffed Pears

    We'll also be enjoying the little man's presence as he enjoys his second Super Bowl (he really cannot remember his first). This gives me the perfect inroads to introduce the new vocabulary word of the week segment. With recent introductions of "Whoa" and "Dog" to the repertoire, H's new word for this week is "Shoes", uttered with remarkable cuteness. Look for more vocab updates (found randomly at the end of completely unrelated blog posts!) soon.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    Lunch Liaisons: Galileo III

    (Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).    

    First, quickly, as this is a lunch liaison, I have to get something off my chest - I did not want to like Roberto Donna's third incarnation of his Italian temple. Several paltry trips to Bebo, tax scandals (not okay according to my particular brand of bureaucracy), and the snobbery of some upscale downtown spots all gave me pause. But, I do love great Italian food, and Galileo is indeed, great Italian food. I started with the calamari, this version sautéed with Swiss chard, tomatoes, garlic, and red wine vinegar. The chard was so very tender and the tangy flavors of vinegar and capers made for a delicious start. Also, probably the most perfectly cooked squid I've ever enjoyed. C, on the other hand, dug into the Cinghiale, a wild boar sausage served with potatoes. Unique, sweet flavors, perfect for the carnivore. We moved on to entrées of Risotto for me and Spaghetti with clams for C. My cheese and pear risotto was divine, but I could only finish two or three bites and got to enjoy the rest for lunch the next day. If I chose to be picky, I would point out that the pear flavor was lost a bit and the rice was just a tad stiff, but the dish was like the most decadent mac and cheese ever, so I don't see the point in complaining. C's al dente spaghetti (fresh homemade pasta is always better), and succulent clams were hearty and flavorful. 

    As we exited, we were reminded of the talent that went into our delicious meal by the James Beard nominations and awards hanging on the wall. Just in case we missed his looming presence, the hostess also pointed out that Donna hasn't missed a service since the restaurant opened in October. I must say, this makes a difference, a positive one.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Buffalo Guinness Stew


    I love soups and stews in the winter. Here's an easy and delicious recipe for a succulent, hearty stew made with flavorful and healthy ingredients. You won't need that fried chicken/Taco Bell winter layer if cook and enjoy a meal that warms the soul (I just went all Nigella with that sentence).

    1 pound lean buffalo stew meat (sold by Cibola Farms at local farmers markets)
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 can Guinness or other dark ale
    1/4 cup flour
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    10 baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
    2 cups beef or vegetable stock
    1 bunch celery stalks, quartered and sliced
    1 pound carrots, cut into medium chunks
    1 yellow onion, diced
    1 small shallot, diced
    4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from sprigs
    1/4 teaspoon smoked salt
    1 tablespoon soy sauce
    Salt and pepper
    Brown stew meat and onions in oil in Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed ban, at medium-high heat. Stir in thyme, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and shallot, stirring continuously, until the vegetables begin to soften. Season with salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Add flour to coat vegetables evenly. If the flour browns slightly, this will increase the flavor. Add stock, Guinness, smoked salt, and brown sugar. Make sure to stir to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan and all ingredients are incorporated. Cover and set on low-medium heat for 1.5 hours, or until meat and vegetables are fork tender. 

    Serve with a freshly-tossed salad and warm whole grain baguette.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Harry Potter Land: Worth It!

    In my notes, I wrote two words – worth it. It’s sort of a reverse Visa commercial analysis. Let me lay out our day for you to help you understand just how worth it The Wizarding World of Harry Potter truly is….

    9:30 AM: After vomiting for most of night, and contemplating whether to spend another day in our hotel room, we decided (with special thanks to the MIL for saying that she would take care of the remaining sick children for the day - just think about it for a minute) that Wednesday would be the day for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which, for our purposes, will at times be Harry Potter Land, and at times, HP Land, dependent on how lazy my fingers are at that particular moment). 

    10:15 AM: Unfortunately, everyone else at Orlando had the same idea. We arrive at the main parking gates to Universal Resort to discover that Islands of Adventure, the portion of the park where Harry Potter Land lives, is already at capacity for the day (what the wha?...). We pay our $15 parking fee on faith. We had already purchased our tickets (for Islands of Adventure only) and we will not be able to make a return trip. It's do or die.

    10:35 AM: We leave the parking structure. It seriously was a twenty minute walk to get out.

    10:45 AM-11:30 AM: Following the crowds, we attempt to find the gates to Islands of Adventure to see if there's a chance we may be able to get in (or in line). We first find our way to Universal Studios, which is not where we want to be, and after asking several theme park employees, who each gave an entirely different set of directions, we get to where the (currently empty) line for Islands of Adventure is forming. We are here to have fun, right?!

    11:30 AM: As it turns out, even though we were right next to the entrance, the line actually forms just on the other side of that there rope (according to the surly security guard). Said rope will soon become the bane of our existence. We walk the half mile back to the "correct" place to join the roped-in area and find ourselves in the first forty or so people in line (mind you, this is just to get into the park itself - all we've accomplished so far is parking).

    1:00: Yes, it's 1 PM. We are still standing here in a crowd of pushy, shoulder-to-shoulder adults acting like adolescents (and if we weren't sick enough already, this is the first warm day in our Florida visit, and wow, that sun is hot.). During our time in line, we've learned that not only is there another line altogether for the Harry Potter park, but it involves getting a return ticket for much later in the day. C and I debate the merits of sticking it out, and I learn that I should give myself some credit for the patience and optimism that I do possess. Sometimes I consider myself a cynic, but not in this crowd. I'm the freaking Jolly Green Giant compared to these people (well, I was smaller than most and just a little green that day, but you get my point). In the end, we give ourselves another half hour, and then we may have to throw in the towel (at this point, we really have no idea what kind of time frame we may be facing).

    1:15: OM Goodness - we're going to get in....We move, without running, as directed, as fast as possible to Harry Potter Land. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. We get in line for our return ticket ASAP. It's 7:20 PM. Yes, you read that right.

    1:15 - 6:30: So, what do two very ill people do for five hours in park full of food and dizzying rides? This is their story. There's a movie theater on the grounds, so we see Little Fockers. I know that it wasn't particularly well-reviewed, but I liked it. It was no more or no less than I expected. We also take care of most of our HP Land shopping in other stores around the park given that we have more than ample time to do so. 

    But mostly, we sit and stare at the castle in awe.

    6:30: Our return time approaches…we creep ever closer to the entrance, and learn that you do not have to wait at the pre-entrance line (suckers!) and can find a seat much closer to the actual entrance line.

    7:00: We find a seat near where the line, or cluster, has formed for return ticket holders (that would be us) and see a woman of no less than forty-five years of age tiptoe around a gate to Harry Potter Land and make a run for it (it was like Elizabeth Shue running for the US Embassy in The Saint; I kid you not!). From what we could tell, she successfully made it in, but security sure got tighter in the minutes that followed.

    7:05: Awakened from a daze. “They’re calling our number!! C, he said 7:20! That’s our time! Come on….let’s go! It’s our time!”

    And we lived happily ever after….

    NO, I wouldn't leave you in the lurch like that. ;)

    You walk in to HP Land to find yourself in Hogsmeade, next to the train platform. More importantly, there is the aforementioned Butterbeer stand ready and waiting to make everything about the wait better. We make a beeline for it. No sooner do we get in line than a waitress approaches us and tells us she can take our order and get us our beverages much faster. THINGS ARE LOOKING UP ALREADY!!

    This is me. 

    This is me on Butterbeer. 

    It makes me so very happy (and no, there is no alcohol - I always wondered about that)! The flavor is a blend of marshmallow and butterscotch, and the beverage is available in frozen and draft varieties (left and right, respectively, above). Both have their attributes; the draft has a buttery bite and marshmallow-ness; the frozen is a bit like a butterscotch version of the Serendipity frozen hot chocolate.
    Oh, and this is C with his Butterbeer mustache. He is so proud of himself for getting it just right. 

    Not everything is perfectly accurate in Hogsmeade, as I seem to remember Ollivanders being on Diagon Alley. But, some things are, like Zonko's is here, rather than Fred and George's Joke Shop, (the cashier hinted of things to come, however). It is really nice that we are here in winter, however, because the crispness in the air makes it all the more real (the village rooftops are snow-covered and there's a general wintery feel to the place).

    The big highlight of the park (which, yes, involves yet another crowded line, but also a very nifty locker system) is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. Our favorite part of the ride, however, is the line itself. 

    There are close-up views of the Hogwarts castle to increase the anticipation factor...

    Dumbledore's office...

    And other exciting things to see (I've only posted one as to not ruin things for you)...

               In addition to the aforementioned Butterbeers, we also delight in some Hogsmeade Village shopping and in a bottle of Pumpkin Juice. (I read the ingredients - apple juice and apricot puree are the two main components. Well, along with sugar. The pumpkin puree is just added to highlight the flavors. It's delicious.). We pick up some candy at Honeydukes (C was adamant that we need a Honeydukes candy jar in our house). Um, yeah, they are nasty. Don't buy them. After our purchases, it becomes clear that we are exhausted and it's time to head back to our hotel.

    So, I've given you a tour and taken you through our experience. But, why is Harry Potter Land really worth all the aggravation? Because, for a few minutes, or an hour or so, we adults are transported to a place where we can be kids again. Where we can scream in delight, marvel with joy, and believe in fantasies. I'm fairly certain that is why C and I adored the books so much, and that is why I adored the park (I cannot wait to share these experiences with our son). I left in a state of childlike bliss (fueled solely on Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice, mind you).

    The Happiest Place on Earth

    (Much like our week, I’ll get through negative before we can embrace the positive. I promise; I’m not a total whiner.)

    For the happiest place on Earth, there sure are a lot of rules for keeping that happiness. I seem to remember a more abundant and less inhibited celebration of all things Disney when I toured the parks as an 11-year-old. Certainly, there was no standing in line to meet characters.

    Hold on to Your Hats, and Babies
    For all the rules, it is shocking how many rides my one year old (at the time, 13 months) was allowed to enjoy. That said, Disney must have some inventive way of deflecting liability for injuries, because parents are entirely responsible for securing young ones on these rides. The entire idea is a little daunting. As the parent of a very active little man, I am all but certain that one or two kids have escaped a parent’s grip to find themselves soaking wet in the Small World river. Yikes!

    Choose Your Hotel Wisely
    Like, say, if all but one of your family members comes down with a severe bug causing all sorts of vomiting. I’m not saying you need the Ritz, but make sure that the maids come when requested, that they don’t leave your sink overflowing, that the room phone works, that room service will actually take your order ("I understand that you don't begin service until 7 PM, sir, but I there is nowhere in this resort that I can purchase some apple juice for my sick child."), that there exists a shuttle that can return you to the hotel from the parks (~2 miles) in less than an hour and a half, or a security staff on site to ensure that drunks and parentless teens are not screaming at all hours. You know, these kinds of things. You see what I’m getting at with my rant. In short, despite its “luxury” status and hefty price tag, I would not recommend “The Palace”.

    Here’s my five cent wisdom on making the Disney hotel choice: (1) Stay in the park, at an official Disney resort; (2) Rent a car (free parking at all parks with those official resorts); (3) Be within walking distance of something; (4) Find a multi-room layout to accommodate everyone (this we actually did, but the only hotel offering this at the time we booked was our loser); and (5) Accept that you will pay a steep premium for all of the aforementioned conveniences. 

    Traveling with the Extended Family
    Understand, respect and love your in-laws for what they are – at times an extra set of very useful hands, and at times, an extra set of (insert your descriptive term of choice so that I don’t get myself in trouble) kids.

    Despite all my complaining, I should make this clear; we actually had a couple of very nice days after getting through a few hellish ones. On to the good stuff…

    Make Meal Reservations
    C, perfect husband that he is, volunteered to take up this task, and he was on it. We actually had a perfect seafood feast before the illness set in (and no, it was not the cause). Because we weren’t particularly hungry for the rest of the week, our other reservations were not necessary, but come NYE at Disney, you are going to want a reservation. C and I found ourselves at Epcot during the day on Dec. 31 and there was not a seat to be had at any of the sit-down eateries. This actually resulted in a rather delicious brat and apple strudel from lunch counter at the Germany pavilion (seriously, it was remarkably delicious), but that’s not my point exactly. Reservations make everything easier.

    I should note that we also had one other reservation-free meal, a character buffet. But, this one wasn’t about the food; it was about the experience. We paid $42 a piece (yes, I’m still reeling) for, essentially, chicken fingers. That said, the smiles on H’s face, and the pictures with Pooh and Tigger (his faves) will last a lifetime. We’ll just have to remind him how much these memories cost when he turns 15 or so.

    Make Unorthodox Plans for New Year’s
    Or other holidays that might result in an overcrowded park (basically, you can’t get near the Magic Kingdom after 9 AM on Dec. 31). We saw a 6:30 showing of Fantasmic (or something like that – it had all of the characters and lots of Mickey for the little man) at the Hollywood Studios Park, which included fireworks. It was packed with families who had also chosen this route. A little hot chocolate, a half hour show, and early to bed. It forced me to relax, and I enjoyed the ringing in of this particular new year (I had been snoozing for a good two hours) more than most.

    Acknowledge Your Fans
    My Spartans were in the Capitol One Bowl on New Year’s Day, in Orlando. That meant that the parks were full of MSU fans all week. We fans represented well through the week, though the team itself broke our collective hearts come Saturday (as did those who felt the need to point out that we were in fact walloped in our bowl game – yeah, I’m aware, thanks – some wolves in sheep’s clothing can be rather cruel and callous, you know?!). The fans, however, did not disappoint. Clad in the proper colors all week, it become common place to acknowledge one another with a simple nod and “Go Green” with the expectation of “Go White” in return. No need to catch up on one another’s family histories. Rather, we just found our own way of saying hello.

    Accept, but Choose Not to Comprehend the Craziness
    I found myself repeatedly gawking at the descent into childhood attire by adults. That, and the abundance of sequins and leather floating around the parks (even if it is NYE, folks, please keep in mind that you chose to celebrate at Disney World). Then, I would check myself and remember that happiness means different things to different people.

    Remember Your Parking Lot
    This was my job for the week (I remember many useless, and sometimes very valuable, things). We parked in Unicorn, Imagine, Future, Happy/Sleepy (somewhere in between), and Television.

    Purchase Euphoria
    This is where the real happiness at Disney descends…in the stores. I call this phenomenon “purchase euphoria”. Basically, it goes like this...You, park visitor/shopper/otherwise rational consumer, walk into one of the countless stores around the parks (or Downtown Disney, where the real action is)….madness ensues and you walk out having spent more money that you can fathom. I can blame this curse on the fact that I’m a relatively new parent with an opportunity to spoil (and Amma and Agong were also around for the spoilage effect), or that I was in the Christmas spirit, or that photo frames are a must for vacations, or that my parents had gifted us a Disney card for Christmas that we obviously had to spend. But, the fact is, utter insanity ensues, and I really cannot explain what precisely occurs to make mush of one’s brain. All I can provide is anecdotal evidence (evidently, this curse is not gender specific): While in the Pooh store, C and I went to find one another, both of our arm’s full of stuff (most of which, granted, was for Baby H), and both of us unwilling to relent on the items we had chosen individually, resulting in a rather large haul for the little man.

    Speaking of the haul, here’s a few highlights: 

    There were mementos for Baby H....

    When the euphoria descended, tt became my mission that Baby H would have a set of ears. We built him a custom pair, along with a patch to commemorate his inaugural trip.
    I told you before about the race to purchase all things Pooh...H's favorite character, Tigger, was on many of the items.

    As well as a few things for mommy....

    I found this scarf to be one of the more demure (yes, it's colorful; no, it's not completely obnoxious) ways of incorporating the Mickey silhouette into adult attire.
    I chose not to pack my gloves for Florida...Mistake...The first night was under 30 degrees. People are always asking, "What's the point of fingerless gloves?". Well, (1) the iPhone, and (2) this particular pair allows for finger freedom along with mitten coverage, which I recently learned is the more sensible warming route.

    My one foodie purchase (it's an oven mitt). I thought it was the perfect fun incorporation of Mickey in our kitchen.

    For those of you looking to enjoy pics of our smiling mugs across the parks, full photographic evidence will be posted to facebook soon. Oh, and Harry Potter is on his way too. These are long posts!