Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mommy TechReport: Cry-it-Out w Earplugs

Okay, so the inner geek in me is rearing its head.  A while back on maternity leave I got into some online shopping (and by that I mean got addicted).  My apple iPhone headphones died (and by that I mean one ear stopped working) after 2 years of abuse.  I decided to upgrade to Klipsch headphones cuz I've heard the sound quality is awesome (or so Amazon.com reviews tell me).  

To sidetrack a bit, I accidentally had these in my jeans pocket when Papa Bear did a load of laundry.  You can imagine my horror.  Googling "my headphones got wet".  Well, apparently the advice of putting stuff into a tupperware of rice actually works!  After a good 48 hour rice bath, my earbuds were crisp and all the buttons worked perfectly!  Wonder if it makes a difference between long grain or Japanese?  Hm.

Back to the matter at hand.  Anyways, I rationalized my purchase of these relatively expensive headphones on the fact that I do make conference calls from my car, and I do sit on loud airplanes when I travel, and the headphones I take to the gym never seem to stay in or block out enough sound.  And yes, my new earbuds delivered on all that and a bag of crunchy kettle chips.

But above all that, I can now claim they saved my sanity.

Anyone ever hear of the Ferber method of cry-it-out sleep training for babies?  I'm pretty sure that this should be listed on the top ten ways to torture a new mom.  Not that being a new mom doesn't have its own tortures that come with it.  I'm not entirely versed in the Ferber method (as in, I've never read the book, only read other books which comment on it) but yeah, it sucks.  Basically, it involves letting your kid cry himself to sleep and figure out how to put himself down.  This sounds harmless enough in theory.  IN THEORY.  

What this looks like in real terms is me lying in bed listening to my kid yell down the house at 1am-3am, while Papa Bear snores away.  Meanwhile, I'm fidgeting like a junkie without a fix.  Papa Bear told me that one of his friends at work sleep trained his daughter by letting her sleep in her own vomit two nights in a row.  And they say motherhood is a beautiful thing?

Enter my Klipsch earbuds to save the day.  That and Laura Story's song "Blessings"... / What if a thousand sleepless nights / Are what it takes to know You're near? /  Granted, I couldn't truly sleep on my side like I normally do, but the half hour it took for me to come down from the mental ledge I was almost going to dive off of was priceless.  And speaking of price, the darn things are now only $60 on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Need a New Breakfast Spot

Driving to work this morning, missed my ramp to Rt 130 off Rt 1 because some truck didn't want to let me into the right lane.  Typical Jersey.  My turnaround spot happened to be the North Brunswick Shopping Plaza with Barnes & Nobles, Michaels, Bed Bath & Beyond, and... Panera.  :: sound of brakes being hit ::  My right foot must be directly triggered by breakfast hunger pangs.

I do love Panera for their baked goods.  Ever get soup in a bread bowl and wish you could go back with the empty bread bowl and ask them for free refills?  Anyways, this morning's pastry was a chocolate chip muffle.  Who's ever heard of a muffle?!  Apparently this is the term for a muffin top without having to waste a muffin bottom, a.k.a. they scooped muffin mix onto a flat cookie sheet.  Can you say ripoff?!  But hey, whatever.  Hungry mom needs breakfast.

Needing a beverage to accompany my empty calories, I look to my left and see machines churning away something that looks like an iced coffee premix, bubbling away.  So I order iced coffee.  The girl hands me a clear cup and I look down in a puzzle.  Did I just ask for a soda or something?  I roll with the punches and head back to the soda machines and hope that iced coffee might be somewhere near.  Found it next to the iced tea and pours away.

Now I'm stuck with the awful dilemma of having to make my own iced coffee.  The first taste, slightly bitter, not enough coffee impact, and tastes VERY watered down.  Hand goes straight to the go-to-fixer-upper, Splenda.  Three packets seem to improve it, but no milk, no creamer located anywhere near there?  When's the last time I ever had iced coffee without dairy?  Probably 1997 and I never looked back.  Heading out I see the hot coffee station and locate the half and half.  Dope and go.  I get into my car to find that the dairy has just killed any flavor in the coffee and I've spent $2.75 on a coffee that is 3/4 filled and still sitting in my car because it didn't rate coming in to the office with me.  As Jessie would say, EPIC FAIL.

Panera, please don't trust me with making my own iced coffee.  There is a reason why machines like Keurig succeed.  Why iPhones are telling us when to wake up and where to go.  Why new cars come with GPS navigation systems.  The reason is that between getting Baby Bear ready for daycare and getting out the door at a reasonable hour looking reasonably presentable and awake for work, I can barely remember my own name.  This is enough of a challenge without having to make my own beverage taste good.  That's your job.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bourbon Country Knows How to Treat a Girl

So part of my 9 to 5 includes travel, for better or worse.  In this case, for the better.  Yes, travelling includes lines with screaming children and delays and motion sickness.  But the pluses:  a full night of undisturbed sleep, eating out at nice restaurants on someone else's dime, and occasionally a few hours of alone time to sit pensively in an airport Starbucks and post about life.  Did I mention sleep?

So this week I find myself in bourbon country, a.k.a. Louisville, KY.  Where apparently KFC is a way of life rather than a chain restaurant.  And apparently Colonel Sanders impersonators are as abounding as Elvis impersonators in Memphis.  Well, maybe not that many.  As I sit in the airport waiting for my flight, I can't help but think:  Bourbon country sure knows how to treat a girl right.

The flight from Newark takes off at 7 and lands roughly after 9am, when I am ravenously hungry.  Hello, Cracker Barrel.  I'll save you the gory details, but let's just say that some Sweet Potato Pancakes were sacrificed in the name of brunch.  They had great texture and came complete with a dollop of brown sugar cinnamon butter on top.  Paired with apple cider in a frozen mug and my taste buds were happy.

Off to work and presentation to customer.

Dinner.  We had initially planned to go to the Mayan Cafe, which I've heard gets rave reviews, but was packed, so we ended up at Harvest, a farm to table restaurant dedicated to local and organic produce.  It's apparently also a good choice because it's been picked as a semi-finalist for a James Beard award for "Best New Restaurant".

The atmosphere was great, enough so that by the time we had gotten our appetizers the place had packed out every candle-lit table.  The pictures on the wall are of the farmers who grow the ingredients you're about to ingest, and on the opposite wall there's a map of all the farms who've contributed.

We started with a cheese plate and some kabocha squash hummus.  Yum.  A look at the dinner menu reveals that there's no way to exit Louisville without consuming some type of fat.  Pork confit, meatloaf, burger, hot brown* pizza, fried chicken were all recommended to us by our supremely nice, flannel-wearing waitress.  I went for the option that seemed the least likely to give me heartburn, so that meant flank steak on a bed of pureed root vegetables and a mountain of shoestring potatoes (try eating those politely).  A little over-seasoned, but decent.  Would have liked more meat, but I probably don't need it.

*A "hot brown" is apparently an open-faced sandwich made with turkey and bacon, covered in cheese.  It'd me interesting to see if I could find anything like this in the northeast.  Chalk it up to more of my education of all things southern.

What we really need to talk about were the drinks.  On any given restaurant bar menu, an assortment of spirits are featured in the specialty cocktails.  Not so here.  Suck it up and deal, because there's bourbon and more bourbon and don't you even think about ordering the organic vodka drink, because you're just going to lose serious amounts of face.  I ordered an 1849, which so sue me, I've forgotten what brand of bourbon was pleasantly mixed with honey and tea.  For a woman who loves to taste, but not necessarily drink, this was a great start to the evening.  What really made the night however, was the Whiskey Sour made from a house sour mix and Maker's Mark.  Yum.  I think by that point I was lost in conversation and forgot how potent whiskey cocktails are.  Had to hit the brakes and reach for my almost untouched glass of water.

Last but not least, dessert.  I have officially been introduced to modjeskas.  This Louisville classic, it's basically a homemade marshmallow enrobed in caramel.  Not being a caramel fan (sticks to my teeth for too long), I can see the nostalgic appeal but not my cup of tea.

Night of undisturbed sleep.  The bourbon definitely helped.  Papa Bear can attest to a somewhat slurred good-night-i-love-you phone call.

Breakfast at a Marriott Courtyard (not as bad as you think, but not really worth mentioning).

Lunch with a customer at their pretty darn good cafeteria which really looks like an upscale restaurant.  Salad with Mexican Caesar dressing, potatos au gratin that melt in your mouth, short ribs that disintegrate on your fork, and caramel and sea salt covered pot de cremes.  Life does not get better.

Needless to say, I'm here in the airport sucking down a bottle of water in the futile effort to detoxify my body from the abuse of partaking in good eats and not much else.  Will that stop me from returning and doing it all over again?  That's a resounding, NO.

Hope to see you again soon, bourbon country.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Truly Transportive Food Literature

Today's review is of the book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese.

Anyone else out there read with the intentions of forgetting the world you currently live in and being enchanted and entertained by someone else's crazy life?  Imagine a scene when your 7-month-old is currently in the cry-it-out period of screaming from 2am to 4am with no hope of consolation.  Somewhere in that 2 hour loss of my sanity, I picked up this eBook.  I would be hard pressed to come up with any other book that could fully transport me from the horrors of modern-day motherhood rather than this piece by Jennifer Reese.

More than a recipe book and less than a auto-biography, Jennifer Reese regales us with the both the practical and the absurd.  On the practical level, the book is informative, spelling out whether it is more economical or healthy or flavorful to (for instance) make your own bread or buy it.  She goes on to do this with countless other foods, from bakery items to eggs(!) to yogurt to restaurant food to drinks and so on.  The absurd part is that this woman has tried just about everything in search of a domestic life that no longer exists (in a first world country today).

There are a few disclaimers, however.  Before you go thinking that you've just solved your budget problems on Mint.com or that you can now add June Cleaver to your list of accomplishments that includes an MBA, MRS., MOM, etc. take a moment to consider.  She notes this herself, but keep in mind that the author was unemployed at the time when she put these together.  Beyond that, I have serious questions about the line of work her husband is in that she would be able to spend $3,500 on a fence for her chickens and $1000 on a failed bee-keeping project without declaring bankruptcy.  CEO?  Investment Banker?  Janitor for Facebook?

In any case, the read feels more like a journey rather than a hop from recipe to recipe.  Touching and humorous stories of her family pepper tried and true and highly impractical recipes (who has 8 hours to make your own beef jerky?) and some recipes which actually are simpler than I thought.  Donuts?  Bagels?  Chinese food?  Fried Chicken?  But all of them relevant to the most important question:  does it taste better and is it worth it?!  

This book plays on my desire to reach for the culinary stars in the form of homemade everything.  It whisks me away to an imaginary place where I did have time to wait for dough to rise or for meat to cure or to fold butter into pastry.  Where having fresh veggies from my garden doesn't mean mosquito bites or groundhog attacks or the basic time to water plants.  Let's just say that if I had to survive on what I could kill or grow, I wouldn't need my gym membership.

People with time on their hands should have a field day with this book.  But me?  Let's say it right now that I'm not going to plant a garden or hatch some chickens.  I'm going to curl up, order some takeout from a chinese noodle house, and read this book.  I might even try a recipe or two.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Movie for a Kid-Free Monday Holiday

All I have to say is thank goodness for American presidents and our need to glorify their efforts in creating the America we're currently living in.  Too bad capitalism is moving towards socialism and as a country we've moved from protesting so we can earn a decent living to protesting so we can receive what we THINK we're entitled to.  But enough soap-boxing.  On to more interesting things, like our review of Daniel Espinosa's Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds.

Hubby and I had some glorious kid-free hours which we took to do the only thing that we really miss from our former DINK (Double Income No Kid) lives.

Go to a movie.

Stop reading if you're sensitive to spoilers.  I'm about to spoil away.

Kid or no kid, we get to the movie (as anywhere we go now) 10 minutes late and are launched into the first few minutes of the movie with Denzel running for his life.  Salty nachos and fountain drink in hand, we're hooked.  I agree with other reviewers out there who have said that the plot was somewhat formulaic, but at least the cast of characters delivers it true to form.

Denzel lends his celebrity appeal to his character, Tobin Frost.  I was probably sitting there thinking "Denzel is a bad man" rather than "Tobin is a bad man" more because everyone is in love with a Denzel-gone-wrong character (see Training Day, American Gangster, Book of Eli) rather than how he actually portrayed his character in the movie.  I'm not sure if he ever truly delivers the psychological mastermind he's supposed to be with the dialogue that the writers have given him.  "I'm already in your head."  Really?  Because I wasn't aware of any psychological mind games that you just played on poor Ryan Reynolds.  Bad writing aside, I came to watch Denzel be a bad-@$$ and kick some butt so I was fairly happy.  Wasn't completely buying that he was sorry his longtime friend and whole family died because he led the bad guys to their home, but nice to see he could stop bashing heads enough to stop for a glass of wine.

Ryan Reynolds plays the all-American "good guy" we've come to expect from him.  (Go Green Lantern!)  I will say that the greenness and untried aspect of his character wasn't fully realized to make a comparison between the person he starts the movie as, to the person he becomes towards the end of the movie.  One doesn't completely buy the sweat and nervousness as he's stuck in an interrogation room with just Tobin as gunfire goes off in the background.  I'm pretty sure someone who just answers a phone would have pissed his pants by then.  But okay.  Then I'm not truly sold when he shoots down an innocent cop in broad daylight that he's really remorseful that he had to get to that level.  Perhaps it was the cinematography, but it didn't come across that he was at all taken aback by his actions, or that he had any hesitation in doing so.  His triumph and saving grace, however, is in the expert way that he portrays how the whole situation wears on him, and it's as if you can see him visibly age throughout the movie.  The tipping point is when he's beaten a double-agent to the ground and they've both stabbed each other, but he bare-handedly breaks his neck after an un-artful wrestling match on the floor.  Kudos.

The supporting cast appropriately dances around these two show stoppers with the typical twists and turns of yes-your-government-is-grimy.  Not an original thought, but guaranteed everyone in the audience buys it.  Can I say this:  As a action-movie lover, can we get away from the typical situation room where profiles and intel are displayed on the big screen for the team at the CIA?  It's been done.  I feel like I'm waiting for Chloe to position the satellites for Jack in an episode of 24.  Ugh.  Get over it.

If you were looking for some grand love story amidst all of this turmoil, this was not the one to watch.  I didn't buy the innocent love story and would actually have rathered that his girlfriend turn out to be a double-agent or some other similar Mr. & Mrs. Smith-type storyline.  The scene where he sends her away isn't even that heartbreaking.  I was happy to see her boring, flat character leave.  Thank goodness.  Get to the gun-toting and car chases already.

All in all, a decent way to spend some kid free hours.  No earth shattering surprises, no twists or turns that you couldn't already see coming.  The ending is wrapped up with a pretty bow and no one really cares how Ryan Reynolds is going to continue on with life, but no one really cares either.  The movie is over.

But, the movie did feature Denzel and a bunch of shootout scenes.  What else do you need for quality entertainment?!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Most Valuable Tool for the Techie Mom

Today's review is for Pepperplate.com's iPad / iPhone app.

I featured this in the Un-Valentines Day post, but wanted do full justice to this essential app for everyday life as a family who likes to eat well but can no longer afford to eat out every night (a.k.a. baby needs a college fund).

Only recently did I commit myself to cooking almost every night of the week, quite a feat for someone who hasn't cooked regularly since, um, ever. My family will fully testify to the horrors of under-cooked poultry and seasoning disasters which were trademark of my cooking "style". And in the traditional ways of generational ethnic cuisine, there is no roadmap, no recipe and no measurements which could ever teach you to replicate the mouthwatering goodness of mom's home cooked meal.

Enter Food Network, allrecipes.com, Epicurious, etc. And thus my salvation from endless weeks of takeout from Shanghai Noodle House, Efe's, and Ruby Tuesdays. (Much to my hubby's dismay.) I discovered online recipes and videos and the draw of new sensory experiences.

Formerly, I would have printed recipes and taped them to my cupboards. I probably should have taped them to my forehead, that was how much I referred to them. Cooking also required shopping, it seemed, so I went to ShopRite with little scraps of paper. Only to realize that I had bought cumin but forgot the toilet paper. Only to go back the next day for the next recipe's ingredients.

This whole process can only go on until you eventually give up and happily go back to tipping the waitress at __the restaurant of your choice___. Until you discover Pepperplate.

Pepperplate.com features:

- The ability to import a recipe from any number of online recipe sites including Food Network, Allrecipes.com, Epicurious, and many others

- You can customize the recipes by adding notes, changing quantities if you want.
- Display the recipe while you're cooking without the screen automatically shutting off.

- Create menus and plan your week's (or month's!) meals.

- Create a shopping list from your recipes which synchronizes with your iPhone

- Automatically synchronizes your online account with your iPad and iPhone and vice versa

On a scale of 1 to awesome, I would say it was one step away from awesome. Full awesomeness could be realized by granting my wishlist below.

- Add a Pantry feature, so you can see what you already have at home (instead of buying a third jar of dry basil).
- Add the ability to divide the shopping list between different stores (veggies come from the asian food store, large amounts of anything from Costco, specialty ingredients from Whole Foods or Wegmans).

But again, all things considered, one step away from awesome.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy Un-Valentines Day!

In typical Mama Bear form, we did NOT celebrate Valentines Day.

Instead, it was a quiet night at home with family.  Mom and Dad and a close friend over for pork noodle soup from the slow cooker.

Since it was such an a-typical V-day, our first review will also be a-typical.  No pink cupcakes with hearts, no lambchops with mint sauce could more fully express the love in my heart than:  home made chicken stock.

Before you question this most mundane of choices, a little background.  Given that my hubby and I have resolved to save more money (thanks Dave Ramsey), we've taken to cooking at home more.  Given that beef is for specific health reasons not a regular option for protein, chicken is the go-to.  Given that breaking down a whole chicken (Alton Brown helped with this one) is more economical than buying that stuff packaged in styrofoam, I have some chicken carcasses to spare.  Romantic, huh?

What to do with random chicken parts?  Chicken stock.

I scoured online recipes, and picked the one that didn't require 8 hours of my time stirring and watching a pot simmer.  Loaded up on Pepperplate iPad app (review to come) and here we go.

So, in Alton Brown's recipe, he put a metal steamer on top of all the ingredients to keep everything submerged.  All I did, was I added the veggies to the pot first, then hefted the chicken carcasses over them which kept everything in place.

I also varied the recipe by adding a bay leaf and some peppercorns for flavor.

Bring everything to a boil and then simmer for 1 hour.



Pull out the chicken.  These I will scavenge for tasty bits and use in the pancit I'm going to make for Amy coming home from college this weekend.


It'd be a shame to throw out all the cooked veggies, so I saved the carrots to grind up for homemade baby food.

Then the scary part.  So they talk about clarifying the broth with a raft, and I was lost.  I somehow couldn't get over the fact that after years of trying to avoid getting eggshells in anything, I had to purposely spike my perfectly good broth with them?  Wha?! 

I was mortified by the scum that rose to the top of my broth by simply adding some water and egg white and boiling. But thankfully this and the eggshells were all strained out with the cheesecloth.

And if making chicken stock from scratch doesn't say love, I even labelled the bottle.  

So when I put it in the fridge my hubby doesn't think that this post was about iced tea.