Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hunkering down and staying in

Hi to my loyal readers!  Sorry I have not posted in awhile (besides the coconut water post I just did which I wrote over the summer and saved to draft) but a lot has been going on.  The biggest changes are that I am working in the office more (interesting projects, too!), William is in nursery school now 4 mornings a week plus one full day, and Lauren has switched schools to the one around the corner.  This is narrowing our world so that we can walk her to and from school, I can bike William to school and I could (in theory) take the bus to work.  What I actually end up doing most days is driving William and driving myself to work and paying to park, but I have *intentions* to do more eco-friendly (and cheaper!) commuting.

The elementary school change has been the biggest thing.  It's been nice to have playdates where the kids can walk over after school and it's so much less stressful being close by (rather than the 11.5 mile each way commute we had before.  Past lovely ocean views which swelled with traffic when surf was up, creating an hour long trip each way on some days!) We had a nice experience at the old school once we were there, but getting too and fro was stressful for school itself, plus parties and playdates.  It felt like so much work and the new school is so effortless in comparison.  Lauren forgot her lunch one day and I just ran it back to her in 5 minutes, no sweat.

We've also slowed our weekend trips away.  They're fun once we're at our destination (usually my parents' house in San Diego) but getting there, the hours on the road, the time spent packing and unpacking plus the regret of local events we miss at home...We went down last weekend for my mother's birthday but will probably not be back again until October or November.

Since I'm spending so much more time in my own neighborhood, I'm getting more involved in local politics (mostly as an observer at this point) and am going with my neighbor to a Neighborhood Council meeting tonight.  We have a particular opposition to something the Planning Committee is supporting so I'm on a tear to get the views of the people on our street heard, and doing some legal research on zoning laws.  

In other news, William is becoming potty trained and wears underwear part of the day now.  He is much better about going when he's at school than at home.  There are some funny stories associated with this process but I'm not going to blog about them.

Lauren is reading more and her bookshelves were overflowing with once-read chapter books that she likely won't re-read, so she is having a book sale so that other children can enjoy them.  She is relishing her role as salesperson and likes giving reading recommendations to younger children.  She's only made $8 in sales so far, but is aiming for $40 to get a new camera.  The Bank of Daddy will provide 100% matching funds.

So that's what's new over here!  I will try to blog more often.  "Perfection is the enemy of progress" and all of that. I don't have the time to devote to proofing and prettying up posts so it's all a first draft.  Thanks for reading my drivel anyway!  xxooxxx

Caffeine jitters? Try coconut water!

This morning I was veeeeeery tired and accidentally had two cups of coffee.  I was so tired I forgot I'd had one so I poured myself a second.  I'm such a caffeine lightweight that it made my heart pound like it was coming out of my chest and made me feel nervous and jittery.  I would have preferred being half asleep!

After I dropped William off at school, I went to Trader Joe's and got groceries and then as an afterthought, popped in to CVS to check my blood pressure to see exactly how fast my heart was pounding.  I truly expected to be some astronomical number, like they would say "300?!  I didn't know someone could still be alive with it that high!" but it was "only" 128 over 80.  I still felt like I was on speed (*note, I am joking, I have never actually done speed!) so asked the pharmacist if there was anything I could do to counterattack the caffeine and he suggested drinking a ton of water and eating lots of bananas for their potassium.

That got me thinking of coconut water which is naturally high in potassium.  I asked him about that and he said "yes, that would be great to drink!" .  Wow, it really was.  I downed one in the parking lot and IMMEDIATELY felt more calm.  It was the same effect as if, say, I had been really nail-bitingly nervous about a kid on the edge of a cliff, and then they got rescued and I could instantly relax.  Whew!

So, I felt the need to share with you all in case you find yourself in the same situation, learn from me.  And while you're learning from me and my stupid mistakes, here's what to do if:
-you accidentally steal a car
-your kid needs poison control
-you need your appendix out
-your kid cuts himself and needs stitches

Happy sipping!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sprouts Westwood Finally Opens!

Note, my card reader is broken so all of the beautiful photos I took of the place will have to wait, will edit and add later, but for now I wanted you to know in time to get there for the party... SPROUTS IS FINALLY OPENING IN WESTWOOD!  YAY!!!

Not all of my readers are local so bear with me while I explain how fabulous this place is!

First the Grand Opening info:

Wednesday May 1, 2013
Sprouts Farmers Market
1751 Westwood Blvd (near the intersection of Westwood Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd) in the old Ross building.

7:00 a.m. the festivities start, with drawings and giveaways and one-day deals like $1 bags of organic romaine, $1 bags of vanilla wafers, $1 for a dozen eggs, $1 big artichokes, etc.


-Big, spacious aisles with fresh clean produce and current products (I have never seen expired food on the shelves, they are great about checking that!  One of my pet peeves at a certain competitor store!)
-Really unbeatable prices, especially on produce (a few weeks ago they had navel oranges for 28 cents a pound!  organic apples for 50 cents a pound...I could go on and on...)
-Double sale Wednesdays (every Wednesday!) when twice as many things are on sale because the current and previous week's sales overlap
-Bulk spices, perfect for when I just need a bit of something or want to try something new.  I once spent 22 cents there on a small quantity of a spice.  It was great not to waste  a whole jar for one recipe.
-Bulk candy (and flour, nuts, beans and other less tempting fare) because sometimes if we were to buy the big bag, we'd *eat* the whole big bag!  William gets his cashews & yogurt covered pretzels every week from the bulk bins.
-Friendly, helpful, *empowered* employees!  I once mentioned at checkout that I had accidentally been overcharged by a few dollars for organic apples the last time.  The cashier apologized and deducted $4 from my bill.
-They have a $3 and under cheese section with smaller quantities of cheeses so you can try something new.  Lauren loves to pick out a cheese she has never heard of before when we're at Sprouts.
- They have free sample cups of coffee.  Mmmmm!
-They give you 5 cents per bag if you bring your own bags.  This last one is something little but since I do bring my own bags, it's nice to get a quarter back every time I shop.

Disclaimer: William and I shop at "Frouts" in Culver City every Wednesday (and the ones in San Diego in my college years when they were named Boney's and Henry's) and we've spent thousands of dollars there over the years.  But my disclaimer is that I was also invited to (okay, more like I begged them to come and they said yes!) their blogger event today where I got a tour of the store and received a bag of treats: coconut water, vitamin water, tortilla chips, salsa, vanilla wafers, BBQ chips, and dried apricots.  Yum!  But to be honest, even if all they had given me was the time of day, I would have still written glowingly and excitedly about their store opening.  So excited that I'm going back tomorrow with my friend who has never shopped there!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Fresh 20: A Review of the Vegetarian Plan

Page from The Fresh 20 cookbook
Disclaimer: I was provided with a 3 month membership in The Fresh 20 and a sneak peek at their cookbook for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated.  All opinions are my own.

Through MomsLA, I got a chance to try out The Fresh 20 meal planning service and see what I thought.  The Fresh 20 is based on the idea that you can plan out your entire week's worth of healthy dinners based around 20 fresh ingredients and some pantry staples.  You subscribe for $5 a month, and at the beginning of the week you get a meal plan, shopping list and prep guide.

My hesitations before beginning:

 Q: Would they have a vegetarian option?
A: Yes, and also a gluten-free plan or "classic".

Q: Would it be a bunch of prepared "add a can of soup mix to this" and "add this specific frozen dinner product to that" type cooking?
A: No, in fact it was a lot of whole ingredients and fresh herbs, no preservatives, I could control the amounts of salt.

Q: What if all the vegetarian recipes just substituted mushrooms or fake meat products?
A: No fake meat products, some recipes called for making my own out of organic tofu but nothing processed.  There was one recipe from one week that called for shitake mushrooms, but that seemed to be easily substituted out

Q: Would it be a lot of really exotic ingredients that would be hard to find that I would use only once and then would get stale in my kitchen?  (Like the toasted pumpkin seed oil I just had to have back in 2010 and haven't touched since, probably should toss that!)
A: No, the plan did a good job of using up most of what I bought from the shopping list.  The whole point of the plan is to get a list in advance for the whole week and use everything while cooking.  I mean, not *everything*, you might end up with a quarter of an onion not chopped or a smidge of leftover pesto (yummy on bread for a snack in my case), but most things.

My experience:
Last Wednesday I got the membership, logged in and saw the past 3 weeks of plans for vegetarian.  The first one I looked at did not excite me only because two of the recipes used corn tortillas and I just don't care for the taste of corn tortillas.  I wanted to really love the food so I picked another week (March 1).  I appreciated not being stuck with just 1 plan,  it was nice to have the previous few weeks to also choose from.

Armed with the list, I was off to Sprouts to shop!  The Fresh 20 estimated it would cost $58.50 for the ingredients.  Because I was also buying yogurts, breakfast foods and other things for the kids, I spent $70 on that trip.  I needed to buy a few of the pantry ingredients (grapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, cannelini beans) and there were only two list items Sprouts was out of: fresh thyme and whole wheat hamburger buns.

In case Lauren didn't like the food, I stocked up on some frozen dinners from Trader Joe's for her (pesto tortellini wins every time.)  I hadn't read through carefully before starting, and thought "I will just go home and start cooking dinner tonight at 5:00".  We like to eat by 6:00.  With two kids underfoot, there was no way I could do all of the prep work and get the first meal ready in under and hour!   I learned that it would be better to start the week's prep on a Saturday or Sunday.  It did *say* "make ahead" pesto, bread crumbs, cut vegetables".  So, the first night we all ended up having Lauren's week of frozen meals, and I delayed cooking until Thursday.

Thursday afternoon while William napped, I cut, chopped, squeezed, food processed and prepped my way through the list.  Feeling thoroughly prepared, I made the first night's meal, Pesto Tofu Burgers with Sweet Potato Nuggets.  Lauren wouldn't try anything, but William really liked the sweet potatoes. (While cutting the sweet potatoes, I was surprised that mine were white inside, I thought they should be orange!  In a panic, I called my dad to ask him.  He was surprisingly well-informed about sweet potatoes and told me they can come in other colors besides orange and off-white was one hue.  My dad knows everything!) The recipe called for cutting them up into bite-sized pieces, tossing with olive oil and coarse salt, and roasting.  Easy and tasted like sweet potato fries!

Another lesson learned-the tofu burgers tasted good but were falling apart like scrambled eggs.  I realize now that I did not properly press enough water out of the tofu in prep.  I shouldn't hurry through that step!  They still tasted good, though! Next time, I'll know.

Friday was supposed to be Day 2, but Lauren got strep throat and we spent a lot of the day at the doctor's office and pharmacy, so I could not bring myself to cook.  She ate nothing (too sick) and the rest of us had leftovers.

Saturday I made the Lemon Broccoli pilaf and this was surprisingly simple to make and good!  And a great way to use up some of the lemons from our tree.  I don't usually like rice pilaf, but I love crispy broccoli and chick peas, so yum!  The kids wouldn't try it so Ryan & I had lots of leftovers the next day.

Sunday: By then, most of the prep work had been done on the other days so it was a cinch to make the Spaghetti & Pesto Tofu Balls.  I liked this meal the best.  And it was easy to make "regular" spaghetti for Lauren since she did not like this version of pesto.  (She is a pesto snob and to her, pesto is *only* legit if it has pine nuts, garlic, basil, EVO and imported Parm and nothing else!)

Monday I promised Lauren her favorite Spinach Souffle (BTW, the plan assumes you will eat out or have other plans for 2 out of 7 dinners of the week), so I whipped that up from memory, and gave the plan a break.  (BTW, the plan assumes you will eat out or have other plans for 2 out of 7 dinners of the week. In my experience, you'll have leftovers to eat if you want.)

On Tuesday my parents were here and we ate out.  Last night we had leftovers and tonight I am going to make the Day 4 recipe (Herb Crusted Tofu) BUT I do have to go back to the store since the cauliflower I bought last Wednesday has gone bad by now.  The good news is it is in season and on sale.  The Fresh 20 creator tries to use seasonally fresh food in the recipes to make it easy and inexpensive to shop.

In conclusion: I really like the idea of the plan and the concept of the list and prep guide made planning ahead easy.  Next week, I think I will analyze which of the meals I could even cook entirely ahead, and then if I catch a chunk of time (nap, please William?!)  I could cook up a storm and reheat each night.  I'd also experiment with doing them out of order and substituting ingredients.  For this week I wanted to try exactly as written.

My one suggestion to The Fresh 20 is that it would be so helpful to include weights for those of us who cook with a scale.  "Three medium carrots chopped",  I did not have.  I had a bag of baby carrots.  So I had to put a bunch of baby carrots together to estimate how many might equal one medium sized carrot, weigh that and multiply by three, add that much more to the scale and then chop.  It worked but was a lot of extra steps.  Same with "1/4 of a medium sized onion".  If they included approx. weight for that measurement it would make it easier if I just had an entire chopped onion from the day before and could measure out.

Overall, I think The Fresh 20 plan is a great idea, and it costs very little money to subscribe, so I recommend my friends to give it a try!   It gave me some great new ideas, got me out of the pasta/pizza/quesedillas rut, and I got to experiment with new flavors.  For the roasted sweet potatoes idea alone, it would have been worth the cost.  =)

I also wanted to let you know that they are coming out with a cookbook on April 23 and you can pre-order it here.  They are running a great contest where you can win a stocked pantry, and that is here.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Cheerio Necklace

William had fun today making a Cheerio necklace with dental floss.  We've found "Reach" floss is the best for little hands because it's stiff enough to handle without dropping the "beads" of cereal.

"I can wear it and eat it!  Mmmm!"