KIDS CAN COOK!

November 28, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

I have entered a new era in the world of parenting: my thirteen-year-old son has learned to cook—by himself. (My youngest son is his sous chef.) Meaning, he can be in the kitchen and I can lie down on the couch and take a nap because I don’t have to hover over him every second making sure he doesn’t mess up the recipe or light himself on fire.

This is an amazing milestone, for both of us. If he is displeased with the lack of “good” special treats in the house, he can whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies himself, and I don’t have to stop folding laundry or pull myself away from helping someone with their homework to help him. And he cleans up after himself! It really is a miracle.

Sure, there have been some missteps. He learned the hard way that there is a difference between baking soda and baking powder. He over-baked his first batch of cookies, rendering them flavorful, yet very hard to bite into. When making a batch of No Bake Cookies that were only supposed to boil for one minute, he learned never to walk away from a boiling pot to wrestle a sibling to the ground. He continued to get better, but even when he did everything right, he still said “Why aren’t these as good as yours?”

But I coached him along (from the couch), teaching him my tricks: how to defrost butter fresh out of the freezer, how to turn on the oven, how to start with wet ingredients and then mix in the dry, and how to start the electric mixer on a slow speed when adding dry ingredients so that flour doesn’t explode out of the bowl and all over the kitchen. And most importantly, I didn’t get up from the couch! The kitchen was his domain. He could ask any question he wanted, but the ultimate act of cooking was his and his alone.

His most recent batch of chocolate chip cookies was spot on, and the snickerdoodles he made last week were–and this is the truth–better than mine. They were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside with the perfect amount of cinnamon…divine.

This year, I told the kids I was going to give them each a cooking job for Thanksgiving dinner, and my oldest actually said “Great!” I’m going to give him the job of supervising my younger two as they make these treats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I’m also going to take it a step further and teach him how to make the granddaddy of desserts: a Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake! (Don’t worry; we’re having pumpkin pie too.)

Wishing you all a warm Thanksgiving filled with family, loved ones, and great food made by dedicated cooks!

 

 

MY FAVORITE THINGS, NEW YORK STYLE (Part 3)

November 25, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Reflections on Pop Culture

Inspired by Oprah’s List of Favorite Things and my recent trip to New York City, here is Part 3 of My Favorite Things—New York City style—just in time for your holiday shopping! (Read Part 2 here. )

Most Fascinating Clothing Store I’ve Ever Been To: UNIQLO

I’ve never heard of UNIQLO, but my sister had and was curious, so we popped into their SoHo store to take a look. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s more than a clothing store: it’s a whole new way of looking at clothes. “UNIQLO clothes are MADE FOR ALL–highly finished elements of style in clothes that suit your values wherever you live.” Every item comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns and styles, so that anyone can create their own look, whether it be one that matches or one that is a no-holds-barred display of color.

And they have everything, from leggings, undergarments, and pajamas to skirts, dresses, and jackets, and many of their clothing staples are neatly packaged into little plastic bags, just perfect for wrapping and placing under a Christmas tree. With so many choices available, a gift card might be the way to go so that the person on your Christmas list gets exactly what they want, like this little skirt that I was enamored with:

It’s reversible, and they suggest pairing it with leggings and boots…how cute would that be? Here’s the best part: it’s only $29.90! All of their clothes are reasonably priced.

You do have to sign up to browse their online store, but it’s free and it’s worth it to see what they have available for women, men, and kids.

Favorite Restaurant: Restaurant Marc Forgione

Tucked away on a little side street in TriBeCa, Iron Chef Marc Forgione’s restaurant is a warm, homey, candlelit fairyland. The décor is simple yet charming, our waitress was a pure delight, and the food…whoa, baby. Think high end fine dining without the pretentiousness.

We were invited to try several amuse bouches during our meal, and you’ve got to love a restaurant that offers their upscale take on an everything bagel (sooooo good) and a Dorito.  When our waitress announced that Marc Forgione himself made our starters, we almost fell out of our chairs!

The Chicken Under a Brick dinner that my sister and I shared was deliciously moist and flavorful and I’ve never had roasted potatoes as good as these ones: crispy on the outside and perfectly done on the inside…divine.

Then along came dessert…my God, the dessert! We ordered two: a  rich, chocolatey riff on the popular S’mores treat, complete with a toasted marshmallow on a stick, and a Bananas Foster cheesecake that was…wow.

I can’t imagine a future trip to NYC without a visit to Marc Forgione’s Restaurant, but in the meantime, I’ll have to settle for his cookbook, releasing April 2014. What a great gift for the foodie in your life, plus it contains the Chicken Under a Brick recipe!

Favorite Part of Central Park: My Dad’s New Bench

No one loved New York City more than my dad. Even though he lived in California, he made it out to NYC twice a year, every year. He saw shows, movies, and museums, he ate at simple delis and fancy four-star restaurants, and he roamed through bookstores and music stores. But every morning before he did any of the above, he would run on the city sidewalks, weaving through the pedestrians on his way to Central Park. There he would settle into his rhythm, chugging along through the trails and around the Reservoir, looking like he could run forever. I know, because he’s kicked my ass around the Reservoir more than once.

With how much our dad loved the city, my sister and I couldn’t imagine a more fitting way to remember him than by adopting him his own bench in Central Park. After spending half a day traipsing through the park trying to find him the perfect bench, we ended up selecting first one we saw: a great location where you could sit and look into Central Park, watching joggers, bicyclists, and dog walkers pass by between the bench and the lake, and knowing that all you have to do is turn around to see the iconic New York skyline. He would have loved it.

Thank you, Sister, for a fabulous New York trip!

MY FAVORITE THINGS, NEW YORK STYLE (Part 2)

November 22, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Random Thoughts, Reflections on Pop Culture

Inspired by Oprah’s List of Favorite Things and my recent trip to New York City, here is Part 2 of My Favorite Things—New York City style—just in time for your holiday shopping! (Read Part 1 here.)

Favorite New Way to Eat a Sandwich: Tartines

New York is the home of a delightful soup, salad, and sandwich shop called Le Pain Quotidien (Our Daily Bread). But these are not your ordinary sandwiches: these are tartines, open faced sandwiches topped with delectable flavor combinations and presented in the shape of triangles, like mini pizza slices. The Prosciutto, Pear, & Fig was a standout, and the Roasted Turkey & Avocado was brought to an entirely new level with the addition of a spicy mustard. I may never eat a regular sandwich again.

They have an online store with their cookbook and sweet and savory spreads, as well as a recipe section: let the cooking begin!

Most Powerful Scene in a Movie

Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, is based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. It is an intense, suspenseful, and terrifically acted movie that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. But the most honest, heartbreaking, and powerful scene came at the end of the movie when the ordeal was over. Tom Hanks should win an Oscar for that scene alone: the quietly devastating and ultimately human response to surviving a horrific event.

Favorite Place to Find Reasonably Priced Books for Kids: Scholastic Books

As a child, I lived for the Scholastic Books flyers that my teachers would send home, heralding books for only $1 and complete book collections for less than retail price. To this day, I am the most excited person in the house when my own kids bring home their Scholastic Book flyers. So when my sister and I were strolling along in SoHo and came across a real life Scholastic Book store, I just had to go in. Picture Books, New Readers, Chapter Books, Young Adult, Teen…it’s all there, along with puzzles, music, toys that stimulate creativity, and a lot of Harry Potter merchandise. It was fantastic! But you don’t have to travel to NYC to get these kind of deals: shop online for your books, toys, and games, and enjoy Free Shipping on online book orders over $25 now through 11/25/13.

Favorite Shoe Display: Converse Store in SoHo

I have never owned a pair of Converse shoes in my life, but this display made me want to buy three pairs: red, white, and blue. Visiting Converse’s store on Veteran’s Day and seeing this homage to our country took my breath away.

Did you know you could create your own Converse shoes online? Custom Converse lets you choose from a variety of colors and prints to design every portion of your shoe, right down to the color of the eyelets. A gift card for Custom Converse shoes would make a terrific gift for your hard to please, fashion forward, creative children!

Click here for Part 3 of My Favorite Things!

MY FAVORITE THINGS, NEW YORK STYLE (Part 1)

November 20, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Reflections on Pop Culture

Inspired by Oprah’s List of Favorite Things and my recent trip to New York City, here are a couple of My Favorite Things—New York City style— just in time for your holiday shopping!

Favorite Nut-Free Treats for the Holidays:

Vermont Nut Free Chocolates Advent Calendar  (This isn’t technically New York, but I figured Vermont  was close enough!)

It is so difficult to find nut free treats that when I discover a new one, I practically jump for joy. Vermont Nut Free Chocolates, one of my go-to nut free chocolate sources, is now offering a nut free chocolate advent calendar! Behind every door from 1-24 lies a perfectly safe and delicious chocolate treat for your nut allergic child…or for you! Available in milk or dark chocolate.

Eleni’s in New York

Oprah had Eleni’s “Color Me” treats on her Favorite Things List this year because of how whimsical they are, and I have them on my list because they are a completely nut free bakery. I discovered Eleni’s on my visit to Chelsea Market in NYC. I was enamored of the beautifully decorated cookies (plus they had samples!), but when I turned the box over and saw the “Nut Free” on the label, I nearly swooned.

And they ship! I brought these ones home for my kids as a souvenir:

Favorite Candy Display: M&M World, Times Square

On the 2nd floor of M&M World, three walls (three walls!) are lined with colorful tubes housing every flavor and color of M&Ms you can imagine. It is a feast for your eyes as well as your mouth! All you have to do is get a bag from an employee and you are free to wander from tube to tube, filling your bag full of M&M treats. I went crazy, picking plain, peanut, almond, peanut butter, mint, and pretzel in both milk and dark chocolate, and I went with an Easter-ish pastel color scheme. After you pay, all you have to do is tuck your M&M bag in your purse and then you can sneak M&M’s anytime you want…while watching a movie, while strolling through MOMA, or while watching a Broadway musical or two!

You can even personalize your own M&Ms right there in the store or online. You’d be amazed at the number of different personalizations you can do, including your favorite NFL team.

If that’s not enough, they had an overwhelming selection of Apparel, Candy Dispensers, and stuffed M&M’s to suit anyone’s fancy. If you have kids, this may be the place for you to get all your Christmas shopping done. If not, there’s always Hershey’s Chocolate World. Anyone need a Hershey’s throw blanket?

Click here for Part 2 of My Favorites List from New York City!

OPRAH’S LIST OF FAVORITE THINGS 2013

November 16, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Reflections on Pop Culture

 

Oprah’s List of Favorite Things 2013 just came out. I love to look through it every year (especially since she always sponsors a chance to win them all!), but I think it’s fair to say that Oprah and I have different tastes. For example, this straw purse? I love the beach more than anyone I know, but I’m still not seeing the charm.

Or how about this photo of your pet on a throw pillow? Um…no.

But for every one of Oprah’s favorite things that has me saying “What? Really?”, there is another that makes me sit up and say “Ooohhh, that’s awesome!” Here are my Top 4 Favorite Things from Oprah’s list of 60:

1)    The Present Cake

This is right up my alley: chocolate cake with salted caramel truffle cream decorated as a perfect Christmas package. What’s not to love? If you check out their website, they have other goodies too, like cakes and cupcakes, and this whimsical Caramel Apple Cake (yes, this is a cake!).

2)    iPhone cases that will charge your phone? That is genius! And these battery cases are not just for iPhones: Mophie has them for iPads and iPods too. Anyone else think this is a wonderful stocking stuffer idea?

3)    Sarabeth’s Tomato Soup and Biscuits I’m not a huge fan of tomato soup, but after my recent visit to Sarabeth’s Restaurant in New York, I am definitely a fan of their food! I had a delicious Chopped Market Salad with chicken and my sister and I shared a basket of muffins in a variety of flavors that were absolutely delicious! How could you go wrong with a restaurant that has Lemon & Ricotta Pancakes and different sizes of porridge available: Baby Bear, Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Big Bad Wolf?

4)    Sprinkle’s Cookie Dough in a Tube is from Sprinkles Cupcakes, the world’s first cupcake bakery founded by Candace Nelson, host of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. I’d love to try her cupcakes, but since her stores are nowhere near me, I suppose I’ll have to settle for her cupcake mixes (also available at Williams-Sonoma) and cookie dough in a tube. With flavors like Salted Oatmeal Cornflake and Fudge Brownie, I just might be ok.

Inspired by Oprah, I’ll be serving up a list of my own favorite things, just in time for the holidays…stay tuned!

 

 

 

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL: A BOOK REVIEW

November 7, 2013 in Book Reviews

Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink has poured her investigative talents into Five Days at Memorial. It is a reconstruction of the horrific events that played out at Memorial Hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. With a host of incredibly sick patients to care for, no electricity, a lack of supplies, rising water, threats of looting and violence, and no clear communication with the outside world to organize a rescue plan, the doctors and nurses at Memorial Hospital did the best they could for their patients.

Or did they?

That is the question at the heart of this book.

What is the proper protocol for evacuating patients from a hospital? Do you send the sickest first, even if it’s doubtful that they’ll survive the trip and there is no certainty about where they are being taken? Or do you send the more able-bodied patients first because they may have a better chance at survival? What about patients with a DNR—Do Not Resuscitate—order in their chart? Are they worth rescuing, or if they were conscious and able to speak for themselves, might they choose to give up their spot in the evacuation line for someone younger with more to live for?

The problem was, and continues to be, that no one has the answers. These are tough ethical questions, weighing the value of which life should be saved, or which patient should receive the last remaining oxygen.

It’s a horrifying choice to have to make. It’s even more horrifying when that choice is made when it doesn’t need to be made.

Memorial Hospital was plagued with miscommunication after miscommunication, both between the hospital and the outside world, and among the personnel within the hospital itself. Some floors were operating without oxygen at all, while other floors had working oxygen flowing from the walls. Why weren’t the patients from the floors with no oxygen moved to the floors that had it? Because the hospital personnel didn’t know.

Why were rescue helicopters turned away by hospital personnel when there were still patients that needed to be rescued? I never found a good answer for that one.

And on the fifth day, when everyone was slated to be evacuated, why were nine of the sickest patients allegedly injected with a lethal drug combination so that no “living” patient would be left behind?

Fink’s book follows both the events during Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath: the investigation of one doctor and two nurses for the murder of nine patients.

I’ll leave it to you to arrive at your own conclusions as to the innocence or guilt of those accused of euthanasia, and I guarantee you will have an opinion. These events will make you think, question, and wonder about how people survive in extenuating circumstances, what choices they will make to protect themselves and their fellow human beings in times of adversity, and how such a thing could occur in the United States in the 21st century.

These are tough questions, and there are no easy answers, but hopefully we can all learn something from what happened at Memorial Hospital, if nothing else than considering what we would do in a similar situation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NANOEDMO: FORGING MY OWN PATH

November 4, 2013 in On Writing

 

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. (Read about that here.) The premise is simple: write 50,000 words in 30 days, and by the end of November, you will have a kind of finished* novel. (*Most novels are 90,000 words plus, so you do the math.) I am happy to report that I accomplished the 50,000 word goal in 30 days, and even continued on into December to finish the first draft!

As fall rolled around, I started planning for this year’s NaNoWriMo project. But instead of starting something new, I wanted to use the month to revise a novel I’ve been working on that needs a major overhaul. I was excited: revise 50,000 words and by the end of the month, I’d be more than halfway done with the revision process.

The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how to count my words. For me, editing involves cutting long, rambling passages that have nothing to do with anything. If I’m supposed to revise 1,667 words a day to meet my goal but I end up cutting 1000 words, is my word count only 667 for the day?

I went straight to the source: NaNoWriMo’s FAQ page. There, in black and white, it said that in order to participate you had to start a project from scratch.

Noooo!

I didn’t have a new project. I had an old project that I desperately wanted to work on. Should I start something new just to participate in NaNoWriMo (and what on earth might that be?) or should I proceed with my original plan and skip NaNoWriMo altogether?

After stewing for a couple of days, I decided to create my own November challenge and I’m calling it NaNoEdMo, as in National November Editing Month. (Since it’s just me, maybe I should rethink the “National” part.) Every day, I’m going to edit my novel until I have 1,667 revised words that I love. It may involve any of the following processes: cutting and pasting, adding, deleting, researching, rewriting, crying, and drinking. But in the end, I will have completed the second draft of my novel.

That will be something to celebrate, even if I don’t get a NaNoWriMo T-shirt.