Every time I've made wraps, I've used tortillas. They're readily available, cheap and easy to roll. Yesterday I was at Trader Joe's and decided to try some lavash bread. I don't know what my hangup was -- the lavash is much easier to roll than tortillas, makes a nicer, sturdier wrap, and tastes great. For lunch today I rolled leftover corned beef, cream cheese, honey mustard and herb salad greens into the lavash. Yum. I haven't abandoned tortillas, but lavash bread makes a great change.
A view of our back yard
The view of our back yard has changed dramatically over the last year. These photos were taken just over a year apart (July '07 and 5 minutes ago). Last summer we removed the old back fence and the wall of ivy that had grown all over it. Alfie took some potted plants and planted them alongside our dwarf orange and lemon trees. All are thriving beyond our wildest expectations!
For more views, click here.
My new wireless headset -- The Pea
My mobile phone isn't Bluetooth-enabled, so I no longer take or make phone calls on the road. But it's difficult to break old habits. Today my phone rang while I was driving. I knew it was Alfie; he had been emailing me all day, asking me to call him when I had the chance, but I kept putting it off. Like Pavlov's dog, that incessant ringing could not be ignored. In desperation, I reached into my purse, grabbed my phone, leaned over and threw it into The Pea's lap. "Please open it and talk to daddy, honey". So Alfie got to hear The Pea's sweet voice and we finally got to talk to each other today.
Yes, I quite like my newly-discovered on-the-road mobile answering service. I think I'll keep it.
Armani saves my ass
Famous last words. As soon as the jeans were on, I fell in love. Angie raved about how they looked on me. Her friend was about to end her shift and take her 30% discount with her. What choice did I have? I figured I could always return them if I had second thoughts. Nope. And icing on the cake.... Alfie thinks they look hot. So please forgive my self-indulgence and MySpace-esque narcisissm, but I am posting this little homage to my new skinny jeans.
Comfy, stylish, flattering to the ass -- and 30% off. Perfect. Now excuse me, I'm going to celebrate with a double scoop of mint chocolate-chip ice cream.
Okay, make it a single.
Unleashing my inner kid
The swag whore in me was delighted that they were offering all this nice stuff for freeeee (American Girl sells a doll tshirt painting kit featuring shirts just like these, 3 for $20). The girls were having so much fun, it made me envious. I felt like snatching The Pea's project from her and completing it myself (especially when the paint started coming out in blobs, squirting all over the doll shirt). The girl in charge must have seen the hunger on my face because she let me paint a doll shirt of my own. Wooohooo! I copied the design from the shirt The Pea was wearing so that she and her American Girl Mia would have matching ice skate tees. Damn, these kids today are so lucky!
The Omnivore's 100
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten. (In my case, everything I've tried is in pink)
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Post a comment here at http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk/ linking to your results.
The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
(my comments are in italicized text)
(oh, and I just Wiki'd any of the foods I wasn't familiar with)
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos Rancheros
7. Cheese fondue
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari (I'm allergic)
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters (allergic)
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (allergic to the clams, and I hate sourdough anyway)
33. Salted lassi
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
40. Oxtail (oxtail stew or kare-kare is very popular in the Philippines)
41. Curried goat
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (the non-poisonous kind, please)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (unagi is my favorite type of sushi!)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
57. Dirty gin
58. Beer above 8% ABV
60. Carob chips
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
69. Fried plantain
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetostor brunost
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail (as long as it isn't raw)
79. Lapsang souchong
81. Tom Yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a threeMichelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
90. Criollo chocolate
92. Soft shell crab (yes, I'm allergic to crab but soft-shell crab in sushi is worth the risk)
93. Rose harissa
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor (allergic)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
My kids' score? 17. Well, they're young, so it's a start, at least -- their score is about twice what mine would have been at age 7. And it's not like I'm going to allow them to have coffee and gin at this point anyway. My score? 51 out of 100. Which puts me above "picky" and somewhere between "wimpy" and "adventurous".
Actually, only rule #3 really determines whether you are an omnivore or not. I'd certainly love to try almost all the foods on that list, I just haven't had the opportunity. There are 8 things on this list that I will absolutely NOT put in my mouth. Which might actually put me just below "adventurous", but definitely not an omnivore. And that's fine with me. Just reading them out makes me squeamish (I don't like anything cooked in blood, or any food made with internal organs). A true omnivore would be willing to try 100% of those foods. I wonder what Andrew Zimmern's score would be? What's your score?
Ovarian Cancer: Know your body. Know the symptoms. Spread the word.
We're all familiar with the pink ribbon symbolizing Breast Cancer awareness. But did you know there's a teal ribbon as well? I've just found out that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Why am I blogging about it? Because I've found out that lack of awareness is one of the two main factors contibuting to the late diagnosis of this "silent killer". So join me and help spread the word:
* According to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, about 20,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease -- and about 15,000 women will die from it.
* The statistics look bleak. Many women don't seek help until the disease has begun to spread -- approximately 75 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed after the cancer has spread beyond the ovary. And the overall five-year survival rate is 46%.
* Early detection is key. If detected at its earliest stage, before the cancer has spread, the 5 year survival rate is more than 93%. But currently only 19% of cases are diagnosed at this stage.
* There are no routine screening tests for ovarian cancer (Pap smears test for cervical cancer). However, recent research suggests that together the 4 symptoms of bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and urinary urgency or frequency may be associated with ovarian cancer.
Visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance's website for more information about symptoms and early detection.
Goodbye to mac-n-cheese
Last weekend we celebrated the Ethiopian New Year by participating in the cultural festivities in Oakland, watching the Mesgana Dancers, and having lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant . I watched our kids devour the Yedoro Wot and Yemeser Wot, soaking up the flavorful sauces in the pancake-like injera. And I thought to myself, This food is soooo gooooood.
Followed by ..... We can actually eat in places like this with the kids now.
Followed by.... It's about time.
Seriously, I'm beyond happy that we've left the safety of "kiddie food". They eat from all food groups (and they'll even eat veggies when they're not smothered in cheese). They will happily eat the foods of our three cultures: English (for example, fish-n-chips, sausage rolls, roast dinner), Filipino (adobo, lechon, lumpia) and American/Western (Caesar salad, meatloaf, quiche, etc...) They've also tried and enjoyed more ethnic foods like Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Spanish, and now Ethiopian. Even more important, they're open to trying new, unfamiliar foods.
Of course, it wasn't always this easy. They are kids, after all, and I think pickiness is a stage all kids go through. There was a time that The Pea would not eat any meat at all, and would live on mac-n-cheese with peas if I let her. The boys were the opposite; they loved any kind of meat but would not eat carbs like bread, rice or pasta. For a while I became a short-order cook, making separate dishes for kids and adults, sometimes different things for each kid.
It's all too easy to fall into this pattern, especially when you can stop the whining by simply opening a box/can/packet and heating through. We had to make a concerted effort to broaden their tastes. We used well documented, tips and tricks. To get them to eat veggies, I initally smothered them in cheese. I discovered cherry tomatoes. I alternate between preparing "grownup foods" and their old "kiddie favorites" (with a bit of nutritious foods hidden inside). We ask them to try new foods again and again and again. We heap praise on them when they actually do try the foods. Little by little, our perseverance did the trick. Or perhaps they outgrew their pickiness. I still like to claim the credit.
Even now, each kid still has foods they dislike. The Pea hates chicken (except when it's chicken teriyaki or chinese chicken salad, go figure). 3Po still doesn't like peas. Jammy likes the taste of almost anything but is extremely picky when it comes to texture: he won't eat slimy, mushy food like polenta or mashed potatoes. None of them like spicy food.
As parents, we respect their individual preferences and try not to force them to eat anything they truly dislike. We allow the kids to have an alternate meal (leftovers, or simple, healthy, easy-to-prepare foods like toast, bananas and milk or yogurt) if they have tried the food, given it a genuine chance, and still dislike it. If they say they are full, they are excused from eating the rest of the meal (including dessert).
Speaking of dessert, the one old-fashioned rule we still abide by is "No dessert unless you finish your meal". It's not a hard-and-fast rule: they don't actually have to lick their plates clean, and if dessert happens to be fruit or yogurt they can go straight to it. We just want to reinforce the idea that some kinds of food are not-so-good-for-you treats (i.e. ice cream, cakes, chocolate, etc...) and they must put some healthy things into their bodies as well as the junky stuff.
Once in a while I'll tear open a box of macaroni and cheese. But happily for all of us, my kids now prefer with penne with goat cheese and spinach.
The Laguna Seca raceway is one of the most revered raceway circuits in the world, and hosts some of the top racecar and motorcycle events. Thousands of spectators crowd the stands to see the world's best racers do wild and crazy things that most of us would never dream of attempting.
This was taken somewhere on the Laguna Seca racecourse. With all that concrete, metal, and, um, silicone floating around, who would have thought that Laguna Seca still actually had some real wild things hanging around?!
For more wild things, click here.
Oh, and check out how well Mr. Clean Magic Eraser got rid of 3Po's permanent marker scribbles here.
My Eggplant Lasagna recipe, a.k.a How to Avoid Pizza Takeouts
Dinner? Oh, right. Ummmm, canned soup ok? Last year I succumbed to the vice known as Little Caesar's $5 Hot-N-Ready Pizza waaay too many times. I'm trying to do better this year. I've started making dinner the night before (i.e. chicken salad or egg salad that we eat with greens and toast) or earlier in the day. This afternoon I threw together an eggplant lasagna. When we arrived home, exhausted and hungry, I simply reheated it and everyone devoured it.
1 medium eggplant, sliced thinly lengthwise
8 oz (approximately 2 pcs) italian sausage, cooked and crumbled
2 cups red pasta sauce (you can make this in advance or just use fresh tomato sauce or use bottled sauce -- hey, who am I to jugdge? I use the bottled stuff myself)
2 cups white pasta sauce (see comment above)
1 cup shredded cheese
1 box lasagna noodles, precooked (if you want to use no-boil lasagna noodles like I do, be sure to add more sauce or a bit of water, or soak the noodles in very hot water for 10 minutes before assembling -- otherwise the topmost layer of noodles will end up dry and chewy)
1) Spray a 13x9x3-inch baking dish with cooking spray (so it will be easy to clean afterwards!) and preheat your oven to 450F. Divide all ingredients equally into 4 groups.
2) Mix the sausage in with the red pasta sauce.
3) Layer the ingredients in the baking dish as follows: Red sauce, noodles, eggplant, white sauce, cheese. Repeat 4 times.
4) Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes.
There are so many ways to customize this basic lasagna recipe to make it healthier/more decadent/ kid-friendlier/ etc... (i.e. omit eggplant, substitute cooked ground beef for the sausage, eliminate white sauce, add shredded carrots, etc...). It sure beats doughy, oily cheese pizza. Enjoy!
Do I hate video games or not?
I hate video games. I hate the glorified violence and sexuality in many popular games. I hate the way kids get obsessed with them for hours on end. I hate that only 1 or 2 kids can play at a time, making it a nightmare for parents to promote sharing and taking turns. I won't even go into all the studies that link excessive screen time (computer, gaming and tv) with obesity. So when I see kids engrossed in any small handheld gadget with an electronic screen, it usually turns me off.
Whoooa!! Can you say uptight, judgmental mama? Okay, let me backtrack a little. I realize we're not living on an island. I know that eventually my kids -- my sons especially -- will be under a lot of peer pressure to play and own these devices. And I think that parents who criticize other parents for letting their kids get obsessed with handheld gadgets should be careful to look at their own lives (two words: Crackberry, iPhone). So I won't say that I'm going to ban all video games.
To be precise, I don't hate all video games, just the useless, violent ones. In certain circumstances they can be a good form of entertainment for kids and adults alike (Wii, anyone?). I certainly don't think it's bad parenting to allow kids to play video games -- as long as the content and usage is monitored properly by an adult (and not an adult who is secretly dying to play Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Combat). Surely parents can choose which games their kids play. Surely they can limit the number of hours spent in front of a videogame, make playing contingent on finishing homework or chores or outdoor play, ban videogame playing during playdates.
I like it even better when the video game doubles as an educational tool. If my kids want to play video games, especially at this young age, then better make it an educational game, right? Companies like Leapfrog make products that strike a great balance between electronic learning and video gaming. Nintendo makes some great educational games for DS and Wii. The Wii is even being incorporated into some classrooms. Hey, this is the 21st century: if Sesame Street taught me to read, why can't the Leapster2 do the same for my kids?
And let's face it, these videogames can be such a welcome distraction for kids and parents in many situations. We could certainly have used a Leapster2 on our summer travels, when we were stuck in one line or another (airport, museum, amusement park, you name it). We did have drawing materials and small toys handy, but the Leapster2 would have been one more tool in our arsenal against boredom and whining. Now that we have a Leapster2, I no longer have to dread the day that I have to schedule my annual gyno exam on a day that the boys are with me. At least they'd be staring at their video screens and not at me.
Now my kids have joined the ranks of those kids sitting with their games, furiously twiddling their thumbs to the sound of electronic beeps and chirps. But I know I'm in control -- and I know that other parents can be. And that makes all the difference. I'm honest enough to realize I've planted my toes at the edge of the proverbial slippery slope. With the right products and the right attitude, we'll make it all the way down without getting too much mud on ourselves.
The Magic Chalkboard
Alfie: See here, 3Po, I'm going to write "oatmeal" on this chalboard, and in a couple of days, a box of oatmeal is going to appear in our cereal cupboard! Isn't that great?
Several days later, I still hadn't gotten around to shopping at Safeway, so the boys still hadn't gotten their oatmeal fix. A Lego catalog came in the mail, and 3Po and Jammy spent a long time poring over the contents. Every so often they would come up to me and ask me to buy them some Lego. I would respond with, "It's not Christmas and it's not your birthday, so I'm not buying you any Lego.
Finally, 3Po stared hard at the shopping list chalkboard and announced:
3Po: Mama, I want to write "Lego" on that chalkboard. Then someday I will open up the cereal cupboard and there will be some Lego in it!
Who Remembers Daimos?
Alfie, of course, could not be more delighted. Having landed squarely into middle age he has gone all nostalgic, reminiscing about the good old days and reliving all his childhood TV shows. He has introduced the kids to his boyhood favorite, the Thunderbirds, and they took to it so quickly that we've already bought the Best of Thunderbirds DVD . All this has stirred up some nostalgia of my own. Memories of the cartoons I watched as a kid in the 70's have been swirling around in my mind, and all of a sudden I miss them.
I miss the Flintstones. I miss Penelope Pitstop. I miss I miss Sigmund the Sea Monster, Flipper, the Land of the Lost. But most of all, I miss the Japanese anime shows. Remember those? If you grew up in the Philippines in the 70's of course you do. Everyone I knew was hooked on one type of Japanese anime show or another. All the girls tried to draw the heroines and all the boys wanted the robot toys for Christmas.
For girls, there was Candy Candy and RonRon the Flower Girl. For boys, there was Daimos, Voltes V (read "five"), Mazinger Z (read "zee"), Grendizer and Mekanda Robot. Actually, even the robot series appealed to girls because of the the soap opera stories woven throughout the plotline (Remember the Voltes V Armstrong boys' search for their missing father? who turned out to be one of the enemy Bozanians? Who can forget Daimos' touching Romeo-and-Juliet love story and the way they kept screaming to the heavens: RICHARD!!! ........ ERIKAAAAA!!). My hands-on favorites were Daimos and Voltes V. They had interesting plotlines, the best transforming robots, handsome heroes and strong female characters (note to Mazinger Z: if you're going to attract the feminist audience, then please give the female robot Aphrodite A some weaponry other than those boob missiles).
We were absolutely outraged when Ferdinand Marcos pulled all the robot cartoons off the air, citing exposure to violence as the reason (I guess he didn't want any dissidents getting ideas....). Luckily my uncle had the foresight to videotape a good number of epidodes (and the money to buy a Sony Betamax), so I spent a good part of the 80's comfortably ensconced in an airconditioned room with my cousins, watching tape after tape of Daimos and Voltes V. That's why I will be able to hum the Voltes V theme song as long as I live.... Da dumdum da-dummm..... DUM--DUM...
But I grew up and moved on, and didn't give it a thought until this summer, when it all came back. I'll admit, when I saw my kids enjoying Thunderbirds, I got a bit jealous. Why should they be watching poorly-filmed, freaky-eyed puppets when they could watch the beautiful classic anime sketches of Voltes V? Voltes versus Thunderbirds? Ha! The Armstrong Family beats the Tracy family anytime. Thunderbirds 1 thru 5 are no match for the Voltes Cruiser, Bomber, Panzer, Frigate and Lander -- plus they volt in.
But there's one way that Thunderbirds beats Voltes -- they've got DVD's available on Amazon. And now that Alfie has gotten his Thunderbird fix, I want mine too. Tracking down a copy of Voltes V or Daimos or any 70's anime show aired in the Philippines has been much harder than I thought. For one thing, many shows like Voltes V and Daimos were dubbed into English especially for the Philippine market; I was shocked to discover that all those "American"-sounding voices were actually Filipino voice-overs (so sue me -- I was only seven!). So English copies would be extremely rare, if they exist at all. Due to a series of lawsuits over copyrights, it is unlikely that Candy Candy will ever be released in English again. And a Google search for "Ron Ron the Flower Angel" returns no relevant results whatsoever.
I guess I'll have to make a trip to Manila and go deep into the bowels of Divisoria or Quiapo and search for a poor-quality, overpriced VCD of my favorite childhood TV shows. And I'll be delirious with happiness when I find it. In the meantime, thank God for YouTube....
** Cross-posted on the Filipina Moms Blog
Out of my way, grocery shoppers!
My patience was stretched to the limit by people who rammed their carts into my ankle, people who poke and manhandle the fruits and vegetables like they're masseusses at a spa, people who decided they didn't want that wedge of Brie cheese and left it by the unrefrigerated cereal shelves so it would spoil and add to Trader Joe's inventory costs. Generally, grocery shoppers are a kind, polite bunch. Just my luck, then, that I happened to run into my top three shopper peeves:
** People who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot and let them roll into other people's cars. Last week the boys and I came out of Trader Joe's and found a shopping cart embedded in the hood of our minivan. Now we have a nice shopping-cart-handle-shaped dent. Come on, guys, it's not thaaaat far to the shopping cart parking place! The exercise will do you good!
** People who leave their trash in their shopping carts. Yes, I know it's nice to walk around Target sipping a supersized Slurpee and munching on a pretzel. I get it, it's like not being able to watch movies without popcorn and soda. But once again, it's not thaaaat far to the nearest trash can.
** People who write checks to pay for their stuff. Hey, have you seen that Visa Check Card commercial? You're holding up the line. It's the 21st century and they do have these things called check card or an ATM cards. They work just. like. your checkbook. Only faster.
Yeah, you know who you are. Do the considerate people a favor and stay away from Trader Joe's, ok? Or at least until I get off my high horse and out of this bad mood.