Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cooking on the Edge of Insanity

You might wonder why it's taken us so long in getting around to write this book review.  After all, it came out months ago.  The author, Emily Rosenbaum, first published this as an e-book (you can get it on nook or kindle e-reader), and due to its popularity has also been published in hardcover as well


So again, you ask, why so late on the review? Well, peeps, it's all well and good to read a book when it comes out, but we are of the firm belief that when it comes to a cookbook one must actually try a few recipes before you can give it a fair assessment.  If you ever saw the size of the closet kitchen we cook in, you'd understand why it took so long.

That said, the good news for you peeps is you know we're not feeding you any bullshit when we say we've actually used her recipes a lot.  You'll know we mean it when we say that mini, lover of all foods white, brown and bland, child who thinks fresh fruit is the stuff horror movies are made of, actually likes the spinach-chocolate muffins in this book.

Now we know the trend is all "hide it and they'll never know," but we went ahead and involved mini in the cooking process.  The hiding thing may be all well and good for some peeps, but mini is too smart to be outsmarted like that.  Not when it comes to food, anyway.  If she ever found a muffin tainted with a peach or an apple (the horror!) she'd stop eating muffins of any kind, altogether.  And mark our words, peeps.  She would know.  No matter how hard you tried to hide it, she would know.

But of course, if you read Emily's book and her endearing stories about trying to cook something all three of her children will eat, in the two minutes she has free between pickup and pulling out her hair, you'll know that if she can do this, you can do this.  And if her child will eat it, yours might too.

So instead of hiding things we sold mini on the idea of how fun it is that you're eating fruit, it's healthy for you, and you can't taste it at all!  This actually worked for a while, especially because it's really fun for kids to press that giant black button on the food processor and make that whizzing sound.  And once we calmed her down after the panic attack she had upon seeing the neon green substance in the food processor that is all the wet ingredients, she stopped hyperventilating long enough to realize that it all turns to brown once you mix it with chocolate.  Ahhh, chocolate.  
See? Brown.

What was next? Well we would never in our lives have considered making tortillas from scratch, but after a trip to whole foods where even the tortillas are processed on equipment that handles eggs and seeds, it was time.  So we broke out the flour, braced ourselves for the mess, and followed Emily's easy tortilla recipe.

These tasted delicious
While we were at it, we figured we might as well follow her method for cooking garlic, her spinach recipe, and her black bean recipe (forgive us, we used cans!)  Amazingly, despite smelling the cumin and curry that went into the beans and declaring them "disgusting!!!" to her mother and her friend, both mini and her friend gobbled it up.  Even with the visible chunks of onion and garlic.

So tomorrow, instead of a bland soy nut butter sandwich on whole wheat she doesn't like or eat anyway, mini will be bringing a bean burrito with homemade tortillas to school for lunch.  And a spinach muffin for her after-school snack. 

Seriously, if you have kids, and you care about what they eat, you should get this book.  The recipes are totally doable for those of us who cook in the real world, and even if you only cook once in a while, you'll be glad to have this one in your arsenal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Proof That We Are Wise Beyond Our....Oh, Wait...

If you're wondering who this is, keep a'readin
Hello peeps.

Today we have some exciting news to share: Theresa at A Mountain Momma has featured yours truly as a guest blogger on today's Wednesday's Words of Wisdom!  Link below...

Wake me up When September Ends

We won't give away any more other than to hint that if you're a mother, particularly a working mother, we'll hope you can relate and offer some thoughts and comments of your own as we all know no mother is perfect and it's not always easy. 

Please go visit and check it out, even if it's only to satisfy your curiosity to see how a sane woman could willingly connect Poker Chick and "wisdom" in the same thought.

While you're there check out her other posts, she's quite entertaining and worth reading.  No, really, that wasn't sarcasm.  For reals.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Princess and The Peanut

I was lucky enough to snag* an advance copy of a new book called The Princess and the Peanut, written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt. 

This is a new book that covers a sorely needed gap, food allergy education for children.  And it's not just for the children with the allergies.  In fact, after reading this, I'd say it's really best for kids who have a friend or classmate with food allergies.

See, some crazy people have the notion that if you educate kids on food allergies they'll be less likely to - you know - protest and such when they have to give up things.  Crazy, I know.  But I just happen to buy into that kind of crazy.

So I sat down with my 6-year old girl who is also allergic to sesame, eggs, tree nuts, and (wouldn't you know it) peanuts, and we both dived into our first book review together.  Truth be told we were both skeptical: she, because she feared it might be boring or scary, and I because I was terrified it'd be cheesy.

It was neither scary nor cheesy.

The Princess and the Peanut is a cute, modern take on an old classic, however in this one, a poor unsuspecting princess who doesn't even know she has food allergies is in for a surprise when the Queen runs out of peas and uses a peanut for the royal princess test instead.  After all, what could happen?  What follows is a smart, matter-of-fact and fun story showing what to do should you have or encounter anyone with an allergic reaction. 

Beyond the obvious, there was a lot to like.  Things the mini liked:

It was silly.  The book has a surprisingly humorous tone to it, which she loved.  She particularly enjoyed it when the royal princess had a skin test to various things.  While "peanuts" came out positive, we were both pleased to find out that neither "three blind mice" nor "dragons" induced a reaction.   And any book with a court jester is automatically awesome to her.

She could relate.  She saw the picture of the princess having a reaction and knew what it was.  She saw the royal epinephrine, the skin testing, the abandonment of products that may contain peanuts, and she knew exactly what that felt like.

What did I like? Well any parent knows if you find an educational book your kid likes that's reason enough to like it! But beyond that, what made me happy was that it was accurate.  My biggest fear was that it would perpetuate some kind of misinformation, like if the princess got a shot of epinephrine but then stayed home instead of calling 911.  Fortunately, our fears were put to rest as the book elegantly weaves in key topics of treatment, diagnosis, and the importance of avoiding the offending food.
Wait, there's a book that shows a princess looking like this?

I thought it was surprisingly engaging.  I particularly liked the pages of illustrations where mini had to come up with the story herself.  I like books that force my child to think.  I like that it presented information without being preachy or boring.  

Another good thing? The princess was still cool.   There was no "poor me".  No one was pitying her or looking down on her.  She was still a strong, smart, desirable princess.  However, people who loved her like the prince had to do things a little differently if they wanted to be around her.  And it was no big deal.  Which is exactly as it should be. 

My favorite part? When we put the book down and I asked my daughter if she liked it and she had a huge grin on her face as she said "I LOVED IT!"  That princess was cool, and she could relate.

Overall, I love the lesson that this teaches.  I love that it teaches kids actual facts that are medically accurate.  And while it did not end as I had hoped (we don't want to spoil it but here's a clue: they went traditional vs. modern), I let that one slide because the story was so cute overall. 

So we'll be going on Amazon and pre-ordering a copy for her classmates tomorrow, along with Ganz-Schmitt's first book, Even Superheroes Get Diabetes

You can do the same, or you can wait until it'll be sold in bookstores next month.  If you simply can't wait, check out the trailer, the music alone will put you in a good mood.   Meanwhile we can't wait to see what topic she tackles next.

*When we say "snag", by "snag" we mean they sent us one. Thanks peeps!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Games We Play to Find a School in NYC

Ahh, September.  Back to school.  Back to the madness.  And back to the season of watching people go mad as they try to find their 4 year old a school in the Gotham city.
As friends get Kindergarten applications for their little ones we were reminded of the crazy day two years ago when we took off the day after labor day just to call elementary schools.  We had two phones and two calendars going all morning, getting applications and scheduling tours, etc.  This was a deja-vu from the day three years prior to that where we found ourselves hitting redial over and over just to get nursery school applications for our then-one-year-old.  Once they were out of applications, you had no hope of getting a spot anywhere.  Needless to say the busy signal was echoing in our heads all night after that.  Even the boss was assigned three numbers to call!

The process of finding a school for your child in Manhattan is effed up to say it mildly.  It goes without saying that there are way too many applications than there are spots in most schools.  This is a given and there's not much can be done about that.

But the madness can be managed much better.  Three quarters of the craziness can be alleviated by taking out all the stressful game-playing.

Problem #1: You have to send in an application to most schools before you can even go on a tour and decide whether or not you even like the place.

First off, if one could actually tour the schools in the spring - BEFORE you have to apply, one would probably have to call a lot less schools for the applications and be able to focus more on getting to know a few.

Now, let's say you decide you like some and are even lucky enough to get into one, or get onto a school's waitlist even.

Problem #2:  You never have the information you need to make the decisions you need to make.

The timing of the whole process is flawed.

Fall before Kindergarten - Call for applications, tours, interviews

January/February - Register for zoned public school and have your child take the city gifted &  talented test

February - Independent school letters arrive; must make decision.  If you get in and you accept, DONE.  If denied/waitlisted or you really want to try for public, then go through the following madness:

March - Zoned schools send out confirmations.  If accepted, DONE.  If denied, begin Real Estate Bingo.  Start calling realtors ASAP and begin touring houses in Westchester, Long Island or New Jersey.  Do not tell friends in same boat so as to competitively keep low inventory of affordable houses for yourself.  OR...

May - Time to play Board of Ed Lottery.  Find out alternate school.  Do not have say in alternate school.  Do not get to tour alternate school.  Simply get offer for some school and make decision by end of month.  If you take it, DONE.  If the option is unacceptable, follow steps in Real Estate Bingo above OR play Board of Ed Roulette with Souped Up House Odds by taking chances that your child will not only pass Gifted & Talented exam but there will be a spot in the program you want.
It's a sad day when a sign like this will make you happy, peeps.

June - Find out results of Gifted & Talented exam.   If fail, call Realtor and shell out the extra cash because you are desperate and they know it.  If it's a pass, wait two more weeks to play Who Gets the Short Straw? and see what spots your child is offered. 

Late June - Get Gifted & Talented placement.  If acceptable, DONE.  If not, you'd better start praying to the suburban gods that they either find you a place and the will to live away from concrete or that they suck away enough children from your zoned school to hit your spot on the waitlist.  We call this game Elementary Hail Mary.

We thought people were smoking crack when they told us this, but eventually, one way or another it does work out.  Likely it never works out the way you expect, which is why therapists do so well in this city.  But for your child, eventually, they will find a school so amazing that you'll wonder why you ever considered any other option.

Which brings us to our biggest problem.

Problem #3: Parents still think they have any semblance of control over this process.  Silly parents. 

You're embarking on a process which will have you spend the next year of your life year playing games where you don't know the rules.  Your sanity is going to be tested umpteen times.  Times ten.   Good luck keeping it.  You'll need it, especially because of:

Problem #4:  No free drinks for parents

Poker Chick would like to suggest to schools that they provide some beverages during tours and interviews.  We promise everyone will be much happier.

The good news?  Everyone wins something, even if you have no idea what that is as of now.  Happy calling, peeps.  Meanwhile those of us who made it to the other side are out interviewing fortune tellers.

We know a good business opportunity when we see one is all we're saying.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Art Vandelay, Latex Saleseman

How does one sum up a trip with some of the oddest stories ever?

Art Vandelay, Latex Salesman.

Odd?  Well that's literally how the trip started.  First night in Florida, after landing, checking in, and making the first of many Publix runs, we went to the local Chili's for dinner.  After all, it was Orlando, and when in Rome....

After rejoicing at the $4.99 kids menu, an odd man came to visit us.  He was not our waiter.

He was wearing a pin that read "Art Vandelay, Latex Salesman".

After laughing a bit and cracking a few jokes ("the sea was angry that day my friends....") we ended up chatting a bit with this fellow New Yorker/ magician/entertainer/balloon man.  We've never before met a balloon man that wasn't creepy.  He regaled us with stories of his travels.  Spoke of Southern hospitality that blew him away.  The slower pace of life outside New York.  The jokes non-New Yorkers just don't get.  He continued to entertain the adults, giving us insider tips on fun Disney things on the cheap as he made amazing balloons.  Most notable, this is the first balloon man we've ever met that is not creepy.

That's the bizarro world that belongs to Art Vandelay.

What else comprised this interesting trip?

Well, it's a story involving bizarre events such as car vomit, chefs who love food allergies, staying in Florida to avoid a hurricane, and repeated good customer service from an airline.  It's a three-act tale of life in an alternate universe:

Scene 1:  LaGuardia airport, gate 7

A nervous mother walks up to the gate.  After fighting with security about the soy nut butter jars in our bags, showing the epipen and explaining it to several employees and a manager that we can't buy it in Florida, we are ready for the usual eyerolling at the gate when we ask about peanuts we know they serve on board, hoping they have a heart.  Faster than you can say "peanu-....", we're shocked by the immediate understanding and knowledge they exhibit when hearing this.  They nod and immediately pick up a walkie-talkie, springing into action as if they actually know what a severe allergy means and have had some kind of training on the subject.  As if.

"We have a peanut allergy in 21 alpha.  I repeat, captain, peanut allergy in 21 alpha.  Over."

Some static and mumbling on the receiver.

"Copy that, sir.  We're clear."

He then turns to this mother and smiles:

"All set, ma'am.  We're clearing a peanut-free zone 3 rows ahead and behind.  Enjoy your flight."

We are flabbergasted.  No fight? No pleas? No protest? They just....helped?

Bizarro airline service experience #1.

Scene 2: Dinner at a Disney resort restaurant

"Hi, we have some food allergies at the table and had a few questions."

"Right away, ma'am."

Out comes Chef Brian.

"We can make anything you want.  I just reviewed your allergies as they were noted in the reservation.  We have a designated fryer. I'd stay away from the pasta, because that's made in a plant with seeds.  The pizza should be ok.  What sides do you want us to make you?"

He rattles off about 27 safe options.  Excuse me?  Have we died and gone to heaven?

We pick pizza with a side of peas.  Chef Brian comes out two minutes later.

"So I double checked our pizza as per our policy, and we just switched vendors who does not have a dedicated facility.  We have a supply of special allergy free pasta in our closet, we can make you any kind you want. Alfredo? Sauce? Fancy mac and cheese style?"

Mini picks mac and cheese.  Chef Brian tells us just to code it as a "pasta kids meal", giving us this very expensive allergy-gluten-free pasta with custom made bechamel sauce for $5.99.  We are too stunned to speak.

"Oh, and I see in your reservation you placed an order for a special chocolate cake for the table?"

We find our words again.

"Yes, we spoke to the bakery twice but wanted to double check that you really can..."

"Way ahead of you ma'am.  The mix we use is made in a dedicated nut, seed, egg, soy, dairy free facility.  We made it with egg replacer instead of eggs, knowing that she has an egg allergy, using sanitized equipment.  I just got off the phone with the bakery again myself, because it's our policy not just to double check, but to triple check these things.  Chocolate frosting ok?"

Now we are beyond tongue-tied.  Visions of the mini in a white flower girl dress as we step into a future of bliss with Chef Brian start popping into our head.  Chef Brian is our hero.

Our fantasy is interrupted a few minutes later by a waiter carrying a balloon and treats, along with a loud gong sound.  Apparently on every special occasion they announce it to the whole restaurant so they're all one "family".  This occasion?  Some 7 year old in another table made a nice picture and they want to randomly reward her for it.  We swear you can't make this stuff up.

They come out a little later with the gong, holding a giant chocolate cake.  We know it's not ours, because it's way bigger than we paid for, and fancy bakery style.  As we wonder how many of these gong hits we're going to have to sit through before we finally get our treat, the cake holder starts talking about a special family reunion.  Clearly going to the table next to us.  How do we know? It's written all over them. Literally.  15-20 people sitting at a table all wearing t-shirts that say "Smith family reunion".

So imagine the shock of the whole place when it comes to us?  Why a family reunion, one wonders? Well, everything's a special occasion, and what else do you call it when a bunch of friends from New York get a lovely trip to Florida and want to celebrate with cake just because they feel like it and for once in their life actually can?
The fancy cake

So bizarro restaurant experience follows bizarro flight.  There's only one way to explain something like this:

Art Vandelay, Latex Salesman.

Scene 3 - several urgent telephone calls made past midnight

In a strange twist of fate, the hurricane that was headed for Florida veers north, sparing us but threatening the east cost.  The timing will surely cancel our trip home, even though the computers haven't reflected that yet.  We try the airline, hoping to rebook for a later time before people get bumped and rebooked, making it days longer before we get home.  We hear a recording announcing they've hired more staff but still have 2 hour wait times due to expected weather delays and cancellations.  Steeling ourselves for a long and painful wait, we are caught off guard when the recorded message offers to have someone call us back if we enter our cell phone number.

We try it, almost in disbelief, but remain cynical as we hang up the phone.  The clear and articulate voice tells us because we are frequent fliers we should hear back in 35-40 minutes.

Something like 45 minutes go by and nothing.  We call again, finally reaching the prompt for entering our phone number.  Surprisingly, after we do, we're told we already have a place in line, and that it's only been 34 minutes and we should get a call in 10 minutes but we can try and rebook online while we wait if that's why we're calling.

We hang up, not sure how to react.  We try online, seeing that the $50 change fee plus fare difference only amounts to $1,200 per ticket.  We prepare for the fight of the lifetime.

8 minutes later, the phone rings.  The person on the other end actually seems...helpful.  She speaks English.  She actually has our info in front of her already.  We don't have to repeat anything.  We just tell her the situation and she says yes, there is still room on the Monday flight and if we just hold a minute she'll transfer us to the change department.  She's gone before we have time to eke out a sound, much less a question, so we give our friend an "I told you so look" as we listen to the bad music.

We're about to hang up in defeat, when a person finally speaks.  They have our info, will go ahead and send us an email confirming new ticket.  And the price?



"That's right, there's no fee, ma'am."

"But, the website says..."

"Yes, but the weather's not your fault.  We understand that so given the situation there's no fee."

Wait a second, weather? An airline? NOT the customer's fault?  Before you go into full disbelief, there's more.

The $25 each baggage fee?  Waived, given the circumstances.  After going home 2+ days later than planned, it's expected we'd have more luggage than planned.  We shouldn't have to pay for that either.

Wait, who are we talking to again?
See the average of 8 calls per airline? And we only made one easy one.  We really were in bizarro world.

We hang up and proceed to call the hotel and car rental place to ask for two more days.  Again, we prepare ourselves for a fight, ready to dive into the irony of asking to stay in Florida for a hurricane.  Of course it's not their fault, but is there anything they can do?

Of course there is.  They understand.  After all, being stuck in a lovely resort in the Florida sunshine while the alternative is to sit at home with no power, water, or Starbucks as a hurricane blows in our windows must be horrible.  It's not our fault we have to miss more work and get two more days vacation.  We shouldn't have to pay so much for that either.  The horror of sipping pina coladas for two more days is bad enough.  So 15% off the car rental for the whole week.  15% off the hotel for the last two nights.  Just for asking.


Has anyone ever had a vacation experience like this?  Only one way to explain the bizarre, almost backwards series of events.

Wait, you haven't figured it out yet?

Humpfh.  And you want to be my latex salesman.