November 13, 2007

Drink your latkes this Chanuka

Sure, you love crispy latkes (potato pancakes), but they're a hassle to make, stink up the house and the fried treats add to your ever-expanding waistline. Plus, all that chewing saps the precious energy you need to open all those presents.

Worry you should not tattela; your friends at Jones Soda have got your back! Check out their new Chanuka Pack featuring four of your favorite traditional Chanuka tastes: latke, applesauce, chocolate golden coin, and jelly doughnut.

Even with a blender, your Yiddeshe mama couldn't make such treats. Buy two packs, so you have one soda for each joyous night.

What? You don't celebrate Chanuka? S'okay. They've got a Christmas pack, too.

October 28, 2007

Don't go nuts; another bite of food allergies at school

I saw this link to this current Newsweek piece on food allergies, fear and allergies in the lunchroom courtesy of Sandy over at The Motherhood. There's always a great recommended read or two over at this new site; I peek in several times a week.

Back to the Newsweek article, the Bunning Family of Lake Forest, is mentioned in it. Not only do the Bunning boys have severe allergies, but the parents are big players on the allergy activist scene.

The article also highlights current allergy research and notes what some schools are doing to educate students about this important issue.

"In Connecticut, that's the law—the state's guidelines for schools require
teachers to educate kids about allergies, so they won't harass classmates who
can't indulge in, say, grilled cheese sandwiches. Massachusetts, Vermont and
Tennessee also have statewide allergy guidelines for schools, and this year New
York and New Jersey began to formulate their own. Proposed federal legislation
would take things even further, giving schools up to $50,000 each to voluntarily
implement uniform guidelines so that when children graduate from a school or
cross state lines, parents won't have to start the education process all over

What does your school do to educate teachers, parents and students about food allergies?

Be sure to check out Scrambled CAKE's food allergy series, including the popular essay Don't kill the allergy mom.

October 24, 2007

What's for Supper?

I often wait until about 4:00 to answer that question and then the boys burst in the door from school (if I'm not driving carpool that day) and, well it's another pasta night. For me, the secret ingredient in any great meal is planning ahead.

I enjoy cooking a satisfying meal for my family. When my boys offer up a spontaneous and genuine compliment about food I've made for them it touches some primal maternal nerve setting off a complex chemical reaction that releases a waterfall of feel-good endorphins into my system. All guilt and insecurities wash away, if only for a moment.

So you'd think I'd be better at this meal planning thing. But I'm not. We eat pasta. A lot. Please, send me your menu-planning tips.

Organizationally challenged as I am, I was delighted to be invited along with other blogging Chicago Moms to a complimentary Mom's Night Out at the Super Suppers in Northbrook sponsored by the Dairy Council. Like typical Supper Suppers customers, each mom
assembled six unique, large (dairy!) meals to bring home.

I've seen meal-assembly places that look very industrial- all about efficiency. By contrast, stepping into Supper Suppers was like stepping into a friend's house. It was so much about relaxing and enjoying the process. With pre-chopped ingredients and a staff that does ALL the cleaning up, it's easy to relax. Oh, and there was wine; that sometimes helps, too.

We mixed ingredients and mingled with one another as we moved from prep station to prep station, preparing meals to fill our freezers, and, eventually, our families' tummies.

Read what Kathy B., Marketing Mommy and Grrlfriend Jess had to say about the experience and the food.

October 18, 2007

My Brother was a Rock Star in Atlanta

I just returned from a trip to Atlanta for the trade show of the National Association for Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM). I do believe I'm the first person to have ever written that sentence in a blog! NAFEM is similar to the National Restaurant Association show held each spring in Chicago, but with far fewer food samples. Which makes it less fun, but still good for business.

My family makes a niche software product that has quite a following among architects and designers of restaurants and other industrial kitchens facilities. Many people who only know my brother as the long-distance tech support guy stopped by our booth just for the chance to meet him in person. Whenever my brother started to do a demo, he'd draw a huge crowd at our NAFEM booth. Customers would line up to talk to him, sometimes just to say hi, or thanks. He was a total rock star.

I, however, was more like the anonymous roadie. Until I ran into a mom from my boys' school. All the way down in Atlanta! Who'da thunk?

I don't normally let my boys drink Coke, but I couldn't resist these cute 8 oz. aluminum colas cast in the classic Coke bottle mold. So we're saving them for a special occasion, like when Smartypants is over his mono and finally goes back to school (his illness was my little welcome home gift--ugh).

A friend from the South told me that Zapp's are the region's best potato chips and that I *had* to try the Spicy Cajun Crawtators. I leave anything with the s-word to DH and he's yet to open the package. So no report on that.

I barely made it out of the convention center on my quick business trip, but I did get a peek inside the new Georgia Aquarium. More than a peek really, I touched a bonnethead shark and a type of ray! Billed as the world's largest aquarium, it's must-see and has some very child-friendly exhibits. The New World of Coca-Cola, dedicated to all things Coke, is adjacent to the aquarium. And the nearby children's museum looks good from the outside. Atlanta might just be a great place for your next family vacation. Or ours.

October 09, 2007

Gluten-free Dining in Chicago

Why re-invent the wheel, or, in this case, the gluten-free dining guide? My webfriend Jenni Prokopy, who runs an excellent website called Chronic Babe, already wrote an informative piece about celiac disease and where to dine around the city on a gluten-free diet. It appeared a few months ago in the local webzine Gaper's Block Click here to read it.

You can also check out this recent Newsweek piece Waiter, Please Hold the Wheat to learn more about celiac disease and gluten-free dining on a broader scale.

And if you or someone you love is touched by celiac disease, you'll want to look at this brand-new book by (I'm guessing) the world's most popular gluten-free blogger Gluten-free Girl.

October 01, 2007

A Martini goes gluten-free

Adrienne Martini, author of Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood and mother of a child with a gluten-free diet is back, and this time she's guest blogging at Scrambled CAKE. She agreed to do this even before she knew I was going to send her some of the organic gluten-free lollipops I snagged at the Candy Expo. Check out Adrienne's regular musings at Martininimade.

The old adage about surprises is doubly true when it comes to kids. Expected joys and challenges seem to follow the small set like puppies follow peanut butter.

My husband and I didn’t expect to have a kid with Celiac disease, which means that any form of gluten will destroy the villi lining her small intestine. Her diagnoses came quickly. It took six short weeks, a blood test and a biopsy to figure out why she’d stopped growing, had a host of bowel issues and was generally lethargic.

In six short weeks, her entire diet had to change. Wheat, barley and rye had to be eliminated.

At the time, it was monumental. Finding the gluten turned out to be a larger problem than eliminating the gluten. Wheat is pretty easy to ferret out, thanks to the FDA’s new labeling laws but it and barley extract can sneak past you in things like tomato soup or butterscotch chips.

You learn to get on top of it – and describing that process is worth its own very long essay. To sum up, our little Diva –who is almost five now and growing like a weed – eats rice pasta like she chowed on the wheat kind. We focus on what she can eat, like apples and blueberries and cheese. She knows how to protect her own tummy and will give you an earful about her needs in that special way that a preschooler can.

Still, one obstacle remained. We had no idea what to do about birthday parties. Whether they were at her preschool or at someone’s house, kids’ parties always have cake. Always. It’s a rule of childhood. So what could we serve her when all of the kids were snacking on their iced confections?

For a few months, I simply let her eat as much ice cream as she could hold. If I were feeling daring, I’d scrape off some frosting that hadn’t touched any of the cake beneath. (This is fraught with cross-contamination hazards and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are truly desperate.) Then I was flipping through our newspaper and discovered the recipe that changed everything: magical cream cheese cupcakes.

Essentially, these are mini-cheesecakes without any crust. What’s fabulous is that you can make a huge batch (with your kid, if he or she is interested) and freeze them. When a party arrives, you pop one in your bag and go. What’s even more fabulous is that you can dress them up in any gluten-free way that you like. Smear ‘em with frosting. Sprinkle them with colored sugars. Top with nuts and/or jam. The options are limited only by your kid’s imagination.

The magical cream cheese cupcakes

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened (I recommend using name brand cream cheese. My experiments with the store brands have been less than satisfying. Edible, certainly, but lumpy.)
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1.25 tsp vanilla extract
jam, sprinkles, fruit, frosting, nuts

Preheat oven to 325. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.

Beat (by hand or with a mixer) cream cheese, sugar and eggs. Add vanilla. Pour batter into muffin tins and bake 40 minutes.

These will settle a bit in the middle as they cool. Fill the resulting divot with whatever topping moves you and your kids. Enjoy!

Next up in the food allergy series: gluten-free dining in Chicago.

September 23, 2007

OMG! The Candy Expo!

My teeth ached and my stomach rumbled even before I stepped onto the floor of the All Candy Expo. The Expo was overflowing with every type of sweet as well as some salty snack foods.
The Candy Expo was the first show held in McCormick Place's new West Wing, so everything was clean and shiny new, even the bathrooms. But, you don't want to hear about the bathrooms; you want to hear about the candy. It was everywhere!

Eating my way through the All Candy Expo
The Expo was the equivalent size of nearly 10 football fields. In my first walk down one of the many aisles I tried a chocolate covered crispy cricket. It would have been wise to save something this adventurous until later in the show, but I survived. I did, however, vow to avoid eating insects for the rest of the day.

At the risk of sounding too much like the Very Hungry Caterpillar, I also sampled a dill pickle, chocolate covered sunflower seeds, some upscale nut snacks, and a smoked buffalo steak snack (like jerky, but less chewy). I also snagged a marshmallow crispie to bring home for the boys and a bag of caffeine-enhanced potato chips for DH.

On my trip down aisle two I stopped keeping track of what I sampled or grabbed to take home. By aisle three, I nibbled the tasty morsels offered to me, but tossed most after a bite or two. By aisle 4 (the equivalent of maybe 2 football fields) I groaned with each glimpse of artificially colored high fructose corn syrupy gummy crap.

Another high-end, imported organic 65% cacao chocolate bar? Stop, I can't stand it! Oh, I can take the whole thing home to try? Oh, okay, sure.

By 1:00 I was spent. I looked like a pack mule with my overstuffed bags of candy. I felt like an overstimulated toddler after her birthday party, crashing down from my sugar high. I wanted a nap so badly I could have cried. But one thing stood between the parking lot and me: The Treasure House.

Each Candy Expo pass holder is allowed one trip into The Treasure House. One last, desperate attempt to grab up every possible goodie and stuff it into a small bag. I did not miss my chance. I got some kettle corn, mini-Tolberones, Jelly Bellies, and goodness knows what else.
I've already sent a basket of sweets to the teacher's lounge at my boy's school and we will no doubt be THE house for cool Halloween treats. I'm also planning an awesome PMS survival kit giveaway on my blog, Hormone-colored Days. But it will take many days to try the items that look promising.

Our Taste-Test results
The NRG potato chips looked really promising two days after the show when I was still dragging myself around as I tried to get the boys ready for school and myself ready for work. There are worse things to eat for breakfast, right? Not really, but I was desperate. Turns out the chips were too spicy for a mild food lover like me. The single chip I ate didn't jump start me quite the way I'd hoped and I couldn't handle any more.

Don't tell the boys I ate this without them, but Terra Nostra puts out a dangerously delicious USDA organic "satin milk with creamy caramel filling chocolate bar" that lives up to its satiny-creamy name. At the show, I sampled a bit of Terra Nostra's non-dairy/vegan rice milk-based chocolate, which tasted surprisingly like the real thing.

I hadn't intended to give the boys Fizzies, but they found my samples of this retro drink tablet and suddenly it was a done deal. You add the tablet to water and watch it fizz up like a soda. Packed with vitamin C and artificial coloring agents, I was glad that Smartypants didn't like it, even though he thought the concept was cool. Pikachu did enjoy the Fizzie drinks, though.

On a less artificial note, the folks at Pure Fun showered me with their organic hard candies and lollipops. They're gluten-free, certified vegan, kosher, and USDA organic and are made without artificial colors, which recent studies indicate have a negative affect on some children. But how do they taste? Great! I brought them to large family dinner last night and the nine kids present gobbled them up and filled their pockets with more to take home.

And speaking of gluten-free foods, I'll get back to the food allergy series soon with a post or two about gluten-free diets.

If you're hungry for more sweet details about the All Candy Expo, check out my new blog friends at Candy Addict and Candy Blog.
Adapted from a post at Chicago Moms Blog.

September 15, 2007

Best ever kid-tested allergy-friendly snack round-up

We searched for the best allergy-friendly snacks around, and then we tried them all. I’m here to tell you about our favorites. This post can help you if follow school rules: Nothing homemade! Nothing with peanuts! Or tree nuts! Or milk!. Or simply host an inclusive class party. It’s also a handy guide if you simply want to keep some packaged snacks on hand when your child has a playdate with an allergic friend.

Necessity is truly the mother of invention. Many of the companies noted below were founded by parents of allergic children who saw a need for safe snacks for them to eat and share with friends. Please see the company websites for product photos as well as full details on their ingredients, production facilities, pricing and shipping information.

The companies below were generous with their samples. If you are part of a food allergy support group or are trying to expose families from your child’s class or school to allergy-friendly alternative snacks, they may be willing to pass along a sample or coupons to you as well. (Same goes for IM Healthy soy nut butter.)

Vermont Nut Free Chocolates 1-888-468-8373
No peanuts or tree nuts

When the folks at Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates sent us some of their signature goodies, they promised that their chocolates would be as good as any other. The chocolately smiles around my kitchen table confirmed this. Their bars were gobbled up before I could say “peanut free.” I found their chocolate-covered pretzels (available in white, milk or dark chocolate) to be the perfect marriage of sweet and salty. I even managed to save a few for the boys to see if they agreed with me; they did.

Divvies 914-533-0333
no peanut, tree-nuts, dairy or eggs (now sold at Disney World, as well as online)

True to their tagline, made to share, they responded to my request for cookie samples with about a dozen two-packs of chocolate chip, oatmeal chocolate chip and molasses ginger cookies along with caramel corn, rock candy, jelly beans, and their signature pack of cupcakes. Share, indeed! We put out quite a dessert spread when some friend came over for dinner.

We wanted to know what nonallergic people thought of these snacks. Would the parent of a nonallergic child feel comfortable serving this at a class party or keeping these in the pantry or freezer? When it comes to Divvies treats, the answer is resounding Yes! Like the Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates, Divvies caramel corn was as sweet and fresh as any we’ve tasted. The boys approved of all the big, soft cookies, though I found them rather crumbly. Surprisingly for my house, the ginger molasses cookies were our favorite; they even tasted great after a couple of weeks in the freezer.

Divvies offers a clever cupcake kit, packaged in a box that converts to a holder for the decorated treats. Like the cookies, they produced a lot of crumbs. The fours boys I served them to enjoyed decorating the chocolate cupcakes with the chocolate frosting and sprinkles included in the kit. This kit is an ideal allergy friendly treat for class parties. And with their sophisticated packaging, complete with themed boxes tied with elegant bows, Divvies make a great gift.

Nonuttin’ Foods 1-866-714-5411
No peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg, rye, wheat, barley, artificial colors, (the list goes on)

Nonuttin’ is best known for healthy nut-free granola products and cereal bars. Their products are not free of all allergens, but each product is clearly labeled with information on the top ten allergens as well as gluten. For example, their cereals bars carry a sesame cross-contamination risk due to their crisped rice supplier. Because of the sesame exposure risk, Smartypants didn’t sample these, but the rest of us did and found the chocolate chip and double-chocolate bars comparable to more popular brands of cereal bars.

We brought Nonuttin’s cinnamon-vanilla granola clusters (made without eggs, dairy, peanuts or tree nuts) to a picnic. “They’re Canadian,” said my friend who read the package, “So you know they’re good.” Some of us think so kindly of our neighbors to the north. The slightly crunchy, slightly chewy clusters were a hit, and proved to be almost as popular as the homemade chocolate chip cookie my friend brought to the picnic.

Check out Nonuttin’s one-time sample pack offer to try before you buy in bulk.

Gak's Snacks (800) 552-7172
No tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, eggs or dairy

Gak’s Snack's tagline is so good you won’t believe what’s not in ‘em. As with Divvies, the company’s motto rang true. The boys gobbled up the large, soft cookies, and they loved the crunchy mini-s too. Ironically, they enjoyed these dairy-free goods dunked in a cool glass of milk. “It makes them taste like Mrs. Field’s cookies,” explained Smartypants. I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since my boy had a Mrs. Field’s cookie, but nonetheless, both boys really liked the organic brownie chip as well as the chocolate chip cookies.

Enjoy Life (their colorful, informative and easy-to-navigate website is worth a look)
All Enjoy Life foods are specially made (in nearby Schiller Park) to be free of all eight common allergens. They contain NO wheat/gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish or shellfish, and they’re made without other common triggers of intolerance: casein, potato, sesame and sulfites. So, they just sell empty bags and boxes right? Far from it.

Their extensive product line includes cookies, granola, snack bars, bagels trail mix and chocolate chips.

I’ve become oddly addicted to their “Not nuts! Nut free trail mix.” It’s got sweet and salty, fruit bits and mini-chocolate chips as well as sunflower seeds. I didn’t miss the nuts, though admittedly, DH did. As for the cookies, Enjoy Life’s soft cookies are about the size of a flattened golf ball. And Pickahu especially enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies, while I favored the Snickerdoodles.

To some degree gluten-free baked goods are an acquired taste. Newbies should be aware that gluten-free baked goods tend to be denser and chewier than their flour-filled counterparts. If you don’t think the whole class will go for them, it’s at least nice to know you can fill a goody bag or provide a special treat to an allergic child, a child whose taste buds, no doubt, are adapted to gluten/dairy free snacks/nut-free snacks.

What are your favorite allergy-friendly products?

September 14, 2007

Food Allergies in the Classroom

Allergy Moms (and Dads) know that food allergy concerns at school aren't limited to the lunchroom. That's why I've always considered the lead teacher or homeroom teacher my most important ally in the fight against accidental exposure to sesame, the allergen that might cause a life-threatening reaction in my son.

When Smartypants was younger, I prepared an informational flyer including his color photo and vital information (like birthdate and weight) as well as allergy information for all of his teachers. I gave his homeroom an extra copy to include her "substitute folder," so that every sub would have the important info about my son. In preschool, I had the teacher post a copy on the "snack cabinet" so any volunteer helpers (parents, grandparents) would be clued in, too.

FAAN publishes several useful guides for school, daycare and camp staff. Closer to home, OPMama, a member of the Chicago Parent online community recommends that schools in Chicago area or nearby suburbs give Children's Memorial Hospital a call. OPMama highly recommends their free informative lectures on the impact food allergies on all families.

As Rees pointed out in the Chicago Parent forums, parents whose lives have not been touched by food allergies often do not realize how serious they can be. A bit of education helps the whole community.

Before a child even enters a classroom there are pages and pages of registration papers to fill out, right? Always skeptical about how closely those types of papers are examined, I mark forms with fluorescent orange FOOD ALLERGY stickers purchased through FAAN. This makes the crucial allergy information stand out.

Mabel's Labels (reviewed by Chicago Parent's editor here) also makes allergy alert labels. Back in June I stuck a regular old Mabel’s name Label on my seven year-old’s water bottle. After 8 weeks of summer camp, countless throw-the-bottle games and many passes through the dishwasher, it’s looks as good as the day I put it on. They are amazing.

Mabel's ultra-durable red and white allergy labels are customized to include your child’s name and up to six allergies. I would have loved these when Smartypants was younger. They are a boon for the preschool or early elementary child who may not be able to clearly communicate her needs. They are great for school, daycare and camp, too. Had they been around when he was little, I would have slapped one of these right on my boy’s shirt before heading off to a party where he might be wandering about, trying to grab a snack without me.

What are your favorite school/daycare survival tips?

Stay tuned: Next week I'll be back with a kid-tested round-up of the best allergy friendly foods on the market and a post or two about gluten-free diets.

September 10, 2007

Making the world a safer place, one sandwich at a time

Food allergies will affect your family even if they aren’t an issue in your home. For example, this summer my boys came home from every camp they attended with a note requesting peanut-free lunches. Chances are you've heard something similar at school. Whether it's a matter of following the rules or a concern for peanut allergic children, I encourage you to try soy nut butter.

Pamela Hornik of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog put it this way in a recent post: I can not stop the war or even keep my daughter's shoes organized, but I can now send sandwiches to school without hurting anyone.

When it comes to peanut-free lunches, we pack our favorite PB alternative, the IM Healthy Soy Nut Butter from a company in nearby Glenview. When sandwiched with jelly it’s almost indistinguishable from PB. Plus it’s lower in fat and safer in schools. The boys and I like the honey creamy style best, but DH goes for the crunchy kind. We’ve been eating this for so long, none of us even like the taste of peanut butter anymore.

At our local Jewel usually carries one or two of the many varieties of the IM Healthy Brand in the PB section (on the lowest shelf, usually in a dark corner) as well in the natural foods section, but it’s usually on the lowest shelf. Try a specialty retailer like Whole Foods for a greater selection of the IM Healthy line as well as other unique “butters.”

Do you have a favorite peanut-free spread (Marshmallow Fluff?) or favorite source for such items?

September 09, 2007

Don't Kill the Allergy Mom

The Allergy Mom. You know her, the one who goes on about deadly foods (everything your child likes to eat) as she politely hands you a list of “safe” snacks (nothing he’ll go near). Once she’s out of earshot, the other parents huddle and express outrage. “But all my kid eats is peanut butter!” “What am I supposed to send for lunch?” “What nerve! Can her kid’s allergy be that serious?”

Yes, it can. Food allergies can kill. And sometimes they do. Sometimes at school. Be thankful you’re not an allergy mom.

When Smartypants was a toddler, I mixed up a nutritious batch of hummus for him. He loved my homemade blend of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste) and garlic. I beamed as he gobbled my creation. Then he got tired, started rubbing his eyes and fussing. I figured he’d had a long day and he was telling me he was ready for bed. Wrong, he was telling me he was in distress.

When I wiped off the hummus that coated his fingers, arms, hands and face, I saw he was bright red. He had a rash on every inch of skin the hummus touched. Hives erupted before my eyes. Fortunately, my cousin had advised us to keep a bottle of Benadryl in the kitchen, so DH grabbed the nearby bottle while I phoned the pediatrician.

We gave our young son the medicine and sat watching him, studying the dynamic 3-D show on his skin, dutifully tracking his breathing, the ever-changing hives and his vital functions. And trying not to show how completely freaked out we were.

So, yes, I’m an Allergy Mom.

Thankfully, we were spared a trip to the ER, but that night we were introduced to a whole new set of parenting worries. Allergy testing indicated a potentially life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis) to sesame. Although not among the top 8 allergens, it does make the top 20 (see below).

Even though sesame is not as ubiquitous as peanuts, it’s out there. Sesame seeds top bagels, loaves of bread and pretzels. It’s a common ingredient in Japanese, Chinese, Greek and Mediterranean foods (falafel, hummus, etc.). Those potentially deadly seeds lurk quietly in many snacks “party mixes” and containers of bread crumbs. Allergy Moms ask questions. We read labels. Always.

Now that Smartypants is older, he takes more responsibility for himself (I still give a heads-up to his teachers- I’ll get into more detail about this later in this food allergy series). But when he was in preschool, I was the Allergy Mom who handed out the “safe” snack list. A list compiled after a long night at the grocery store, examining the fine print and ingredients list on almost every product label in the snack/cracker aisle.

Most of the parents took care to stick with the list or call me if they wanted to bring an unapproved item. Some even insisted I read the product label myself before giving the green light. Their concern meant a lot to me. It’s scary enough sending your child out into the Big World. When that child has serious food allergies that maternal fear inches up a notch or five.

So please be patient; hold back your snarky comments and give the Allergy Mom a break. She’s depending on you to help keep her kid safe.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be sharing some of our allergy survival tips as well as new pointing out some tasty peanut-free snacks, many of which are free of other common allergens like tree nuts, dairy, soy, sesame, and gluten. I hope you’ll chime in with tips and resources as well.

For more information on food allergies:
Illinois Food Allergy Education Association
Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)
Mothers of Children Having Allergies (MOCHA)
Also, here’s a great piece, "Food for Thought," by my friend Adrienne Martini. (Okay, we don’t know each other that well, but she let me eat all her frites while she was doing a reading at HopLeaf last winter.) Adrienne is going to share a few thoughts and a gluten-free recipe later in this series (wait, maybe she really is my friend!). She is also the author of Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood. And you thought your postpartum depression was bad.

Top 8 food allergens

Tree nuts

September 08, 2007

I got a Brazilian!

SushiSamba Rio
504 N Wells, Chicago

I got a Brazilian dish, French Toast and so much more at SushiSamba Rio, a Japanese/Brazilian/Peruvian fusion restaurant.

SushiSamba is one happening place. They’ve got a little something for everyone- a rooftop lounge for the hipsters, unique “Sushi and Sake” classes for the foodies, and late night dance parties with DJs and musicians pumping out Latin-inspired beats along with samba and capoeira performances for those who like to get their groove on. From the food to the music to the décor, everything about this place is cool. So, um, what were we doing there? This is not a place you might think to bring kids, let alone expect them to be invited along on a little press junket. But they were and, you might want to bring your children there, too.

SushiSamba’s Sunday Brunch provides a nice change from the local pancake house. They offer a menu that will please every member of the family. For $15 per adult and $8 per child under 12, you choose from several tasty items to create your meal.

On our visit, we sampled almost every brunch item while chatting with Joanna, a PR representative from the restaurant who you may have seen on Check, Please!

Even though the brunch menu is filled with continental cuisine ("stuff your kids will eat"), SushiSamba adds a little twist. For example, the rich Eggs Benedict (pictured) is flavored with a Hollandaise sauce made with the mild Peruvian aji panca chile pepper and trades ham for smoked salmon. The smoked salmon was also featured in Sunday Samba Roll along with cream cheese and cucumber. We slap this stuff on a bagel; they artfully tuck it into a seaweed wrapper.

I’m not sure if I’ve lost you or your kids here, but my boys ate these unique items up. Even though they also filled their bellies with scrambled eggs and steak, they managed to find room for the melt-in-your-mouth-delicious Doce de Leite French Toast, and a taste of everything on the Smoked Fish Platter-white fish, salmon, trout and bagel chips.

It’s only as I write this out that I realize how much food we ate in one sitting, because that wasn’t all. The boys, DH and I also sampled the Carmen Miranda, a fresh fruit platter with granola and yogurt flavored with yuzu, a tart Japanese citrus fruit, as well as hot, sugar-coated Brazilian Churros served with Peruvian chocolate and caramel dipping sauces.

Happy and full as we were, we begged our hostess to let us try Feijoada (fesh-wada) ($13), a Brazilian specialty. It’s not part of the continental brunch, but it can be ordered and served family style. She demurred, so we loosened our belts a notch and tasted the traditional stew of black bean, shredded pork, seared beef and carne seca accompanied by white rice, collard greens, and farofa (a toasted flour, somewhat like cornmeal). DH could have made a meal out of this, but though the boys and I liked it, we were glad we got to sample the other foods.

The boys loved the Batidas, frothy Brazilian smoothies made with condensed milk instead of yogurt ($7). And they enjoyed choosing flavor combos for the custom blended drinks, which are large enough for two or thee young children to share. Their favorite was pineapple-orange-banana.

At SushiSamba you can go Brazilian or enjoy fresh sushi and one of the world’s largest selections of sake, Japanese rice wine. In fact, Joanna told us that in Japan sake is now considered an old man’s drink. Sake companies flock to SushiSamba to film commercials featuring hip young Americans drinking it in order to sell the beverage to Japanese young adults.

Sake. Batidas. Brazilian, Japanese. Fusion cuisine. Family brunch. They have something for everyone, except the wee ones in diapers, that is. There are no changing facilities. Which answers that eternal question: can a place be hip and offer diaper-changing facilities? Apparently not. Still, the bathrooms are a thing to behold. Not quite Ally McBeal, not quite a hall of mirrors, definitely something to see for yourself.

SushiSamba provides valet parking for $12, but there’s also a self-park garage a block away. If you’re lucky, you might find street parking.

Above: me taking a picture of Splinter washing his hands in the men's room on the other side of a glass divider.

Your kids will have fun washing up before the meal.

September 03, 2007

Tears in my Salad

My eyes welled up as I stood chopping veggies, but no onions were in sight. I was near tears because I was listening to a story on NPR about a camp for children whose parents died in the Iraq War. The piece was more than gut-wrenching. It was a call to action. I can no longer sit and listen to these stories. I must do something to help end the war.

Months ago I asked my boys what we can do to stop the war. Us? Our family? Don't you mean what can the President do?

I explained that in a democracy, it's up to the people to tell the president what to do. Not the other way around (in theory, at least). But we never acted on our discussion. Not until last week when I got invited to a war vigil. So I gathered up posterboard and markers and set the boys loose. Well, sort of. First my boys and their friend started printing colorful messages like "Bring the Soldiers Home" and "Soldiers Come Home." Seven year-old Pikachu's created a more abstract message of peace with flags and countries and tears and....

And then the boys began asking thoughtful, probing questions- who's fighting with us and who are the enemies? How many people have died?

Finally, as happens in our house, things degraded. Rapidly.

Can I draw fighting? No.

Can I draw guns shooting? No.

Can I draw just guns? No! This is a peace vigil for goodness sake!

I already drew a soldier, is it okay if he has a gun? Soldiers have guns, you know. Ugh. Always a loophole. Fine, the soldier can have the gun, but after after you draw it I'm putting away the markers!

The vigil (or war protest, as the boys liked to call it) attracted about 40 or so like-minded people, including four families with children to a busy intersection to spread a message of peace. Many who drove past our group honked or waved "peace fingers" in support. Okay, one guy waved a different finger and shouted something that I couldn't quite make out, except for the words m-----f-----. But overall the people driving through town were cool with our message.

"I didn't know standing around with a sign was going to be so fun," said Smartypants at the end of the muggy evening. We both felt like we'd done something good, something worthwhile. (Pikachu, not so much; he's rather hawkish.)

I can't say if I'm entering a new era of political involvement, but I did just invite the Senator Obama and his wife to meet me and a crew of my mommyblogging friends. Now what will I serve them if they show up?

BTW, the girl in the picture did not make posters with us. She would never even think of drawing guns on a peace sign.

August 31, 2007

I'm in Love

With the new Whole Foods in Northbrook at Willow and Waukegan.

After my friend Red Thread stopped into the new South Loop Whole Foods (just off the Taylor Street ramp off I-90/94) she politely offered me blogging dibs on the store. I thanked her for the heads up, but then made wry comment like, *yawn* Big Organic is growing again?

I can head to the Whole Foods in Evanston, Deerfield or the newish one in Sauganash. But I stopped in to the just-opened Northbrook location and I get it. I'm smitten. The store is more spacious than any Whole Foods I've been in. Everything looks so fresh.

And their foragers, professionals who seek out local foods, are doing a good job. They have fabulous pastries from Rolf's Patisserie in Lincolnwood (pricey enough that it's easy to keep temptation at bay), Chef Earl's fresh salsa and hummus, some great Wisconsin cheeses. To steal a phrase from another ubiquitous food outlet: I'm lovin' it!

Here are excerpts from Red Thread's post at the Chicago Moms Blog that I now relate to:

The angels sang and my recyclable tote bag was hungry for new items. First, you walk into the produce. Glorious, glorious fruits & veggies stacked like art....

The next thing I really noticed was a huge section of not just cosmetics and vitamins for sale, but IMO, a larger section of clothing than I've seen at Chicago WFs.

But wait...turn a corner to the bakery! A wall of fresh bread greets you and get this. There's a dessert bar! Dear goddess, why do you tempt me so? You can also get fresh pizza, made-to-order sandwiches, gelatto, fancy chocolates, and deli stuff.

The Curious Incident of the Cow (and my 7 year-old) in the Day (at Whole Foods)

My mother-in-law brought the boys to the Northbrook store the day it opened. I was dismayed to learn that Pikachu, who "doesn't like people dressed up in animal costumes" harassed someone in a cow costume. My progeny stepped on the cow's toes, whacked the poor thing's tail and goodness knows what else. After missing out on from a mini-golf adventure my bad seed wrote a letter of apology to the store manager. When we delivered it yesterday, the manager-on-duty, Red Elk, kindly and sympathetically accepted the suddenly shy and demure Pikachu's note. He even got down to my boy's eye level to have a gentle talk with him. He's either a dad or a former preschool teacher.

Apology complete, we picked up the fresh loaf of bread we planned to buy. We also purchased several items we hadn't planned on, but got hooked after a sample or three: Earl's mild salsa, artisan cheese, beer chips (completely addicting honey-sweetened potato chips), and artichoke-lemon pesto. Damn you Big Organic, you've got me under your spell!

August 26, 2007

The New Spatulatta Cookbook

My little chefs and I were so excited when our review copy of The Spatulatta Cookbook arrived. The boys waited impatiently while I gave the book a once-over before passing it on.

I love the colorful and instructive photos and the fact that it's divided by seasons- a sophisticated move for a children's cookbook. It also has sections on vegetarian food and snacks.
I appreciate the glossary of cooking terms as well as tips on how to set a nice table (though my boys probably skipped right over that part). The boys like the photos as well as the comments the girls serve up with each recipe.

When I handed the book over to the boys I told them to pick a recipe, which is why the first dish we tried was a sweet treat called Berry Dip and Roll. BD &R is a summer snack or dessert made by dipping strawberries in sour cream and then rolling them in cinnamon sugar. Of course this was a hit- and a little bit of a mess because Smartypants assembled the entire thing while I was still in bed.

But that's what this book is all about- empowering kids to cook, right?

Next up: Sweet Potato Pie, another recipe the boys chose. I helped out with this one, but as you can see here, the boys did much of the work. (This can be a lesson in patience for the adult who cooks with them.) The recipe made enough for two pies, so we had one to eat ourselves and another to share with extended family. Each time our relatives raved about the delicious pie, my boys absolutely beamed with pride. The relatives weren't just being nice- the pie was great!

Of course, the book isn't filled with desserts. There are plenty of fine family meals to be made from this book: Be My Valentine Chicken Saute, Caprese Salad, Kalbi Beef, Millet and Chickpea Salad, to name a few. We look forward to trying more now that our power has been restored....

You can buy the book, signed, from the Spatulatta site or click over to see what's cooking this week. Last time I checked, Olivia was foraging for foods that she and her guest chef cooked into a delicious meal. And the week before that it was an adorable little boy making Swedish pancakes. If you want your book signed in person, meet them on September 15 at Anderson's bookshop in Downer's Grove. Click here for details.

And while you're clicking away, see what some of my foodie friends are saying about this cookbook:
Bon Bons for Breakfast
Food for Thought
Mother May I?
Andrea's Recipes

You can also click over to my personal blog, Hormone-colored Days, to win a free Spatulatta Cookbook and other great stuff!

August 24, 2007

Chicago's Sweetest Farmer's Market

Originally posted at the Chicago Moms Blog.

Many people have posted about their for love the Green City Market, but my favorite city market takes place Thursday mornings at Eli’s Cheesecake World on the northwest side.

A typical trip to Eli’s means blowing the diet in a big way- they make tempting tarts, plump éclairs and at least eight varieties of cheesecake all calling like sirens from their lovely refrigerated display case. But on Thursdays you can purchase produce from local farms and products from area vendors to balance out all those luscious, sugary, buttery, and calorie-laden desserts.

It’s a small market, but a sweet one. The boys and I spent over 20 minutes ogling the produce from the Nichols Farm and Orchard. We laughed at the odd looking heirloom tomatoes, admired the cute, tiny pickle cukes, and questioned many items we’d never seen before. The vendor happily explained orange eggplants that resemble tiny pumpkins, lemon cucumbers that looked like gourds and offered up samples of everything that tempted us. We filled up our bags with a patriotic selection of fingerling potatoes-red, white and blue, half a dozen exotic eggplants*, lots of cukes and some interesting tomatoes.

We also purchased up some handcrafted Vietnamese goods from the fair-trade store 10,000 Villages, which had a booth on site. We picked up some tips on bicycling around Chicago and green cleaning supplies (you won't believe what you can do with a lemon) and learned that this year's Annual Cheesecake Festival will take place Sept. 15-16. This community celebration also serves as a fundraiser (foodraiser?) for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Donate two cans of food or $1 to the cause and your good deed will be rewarded with a slice of cheesecake- what a sweet way to introduce your little one to philanthropy.

Eli's Cheesecake World 6701 W Forest Preserve Drive (Harlem and Montrose), Chicago
Read up on Eli's factory tours (yum!) at Scrambled CAKE.

* We don't always get around to eating the exotic foods we buy. Sometimes we just watch them rot on the countertop.

August 21, 2007

Scrambled SAKE- Our Visit to Springfield

We enjoyed a recent family getaway to Springfield. Yes, I actually said enjoy and Springfield in the same sentence! Unlike our disastrous earlier attempt to introduce the boys to the Land of Lincoln, this trip was fun! This time we headed downstate with grandma, grandpa, and my brother’s family, which made a big difference. And we got to see cool new sites, like the Lincoln Museum (read a related Chicago Parent mag. travel review here).

We were 11 in all, 6 adults and 5 kids. Dining as such a large group, we were not as concerned with excellent food as we were with simply getting everyone served the food they ordered in a reasonable amount of time (i.e. under 20-30 minutes). Sadly, several of these restaurants were not able to do this. Some did rise to the challenge, though.

Here’s a round-up of restaurants to keep in mind when you head to our state capital.

After visiting Abe Lincoln’s home during our first day we were hot and tired. A park ranger suggested we walk over the The Livery to eat a family-friendly dinner. We walked a few steamy blocks only to find it was closed. We stopped into the place next door, Robbie's, but decided it wasn’t right for us. The hostess very graciously directed us to a nearby restaurant that might better meet our needs. In retrospect Robbie’s would have been fine. I still feel guilty that we didn’t give them a try, so maybe you will and then let me know what you think.

Augie's Front Burner, right across from the Old Capitol, was not the restaurant we were sent to, but it's where we ended up after wandering inthe hot weather. Of course, we were even more tired, hot, hungry and probably a bit “ripe” by the time we walked in the door. Augie’s is a casual restaurant with upscale food, food that earned them Springfield’s fine dining award in 2006. Our waiter took great care of our large party and rushed the kids’ meals. We encountered a slight bump when buttered noodles were served with (gasp) parsley flakes on top, but everyone survived. This was the best meal of our trip. Sorry, I don’t remember what we actually ate-I was on vacation, after all, and didn’t have my notebook handy.

After a great morning at the Lincoln Museum we walked a few blocks to Cafe Brio. Their Mexican/Middle Eastern vibe is a refreshing addition to the Old Capitol area, but not a great place for kids or a large group, based on our experience. They don’t have printed kids menus or any distractions (other than the waitstaff with their piercings and multi-colored hair) to keep the young ‘uns busy while waiting for the meals…and we waited a looooong time.

After tiring afternoon running about town- we visited the new capitol, the old capitol, and Lincoln’s tomb- we relaxed at our hotel and then headed to the nearby O’Charley’s for dinner. O’Charley’s is a 230-strong chain with units from Minnesota down to the Gulf coast. Think Bennigan's with less “flair.” Kids eat free and we learned that many adults do, too when the service is poor. I was practically asleep by the time my food arrived, so I don't have many comments here. I do recall, though, that Pikachu was delighted to order Baked Cheetos as a side dish for his popcorn shrimp.

We finally made it to The Livery for lunch. If you want to know why Americans are so overweight, pop into this restaurant and get a clue. Their specialty is the Horseshoe. Take a hamburger, top it with fries and cover it with melted cheese and you've got a Horseshoe. I’m not sure if they were joking when they told us the Horseshoe is a local tradition, but we felt obligated to try it. If you’re intrigued, go with the Ponyshoe, a smaller version. They also serve real homemade soup. Good stuff, it hit the spot even on a hot day. I suspect their milkshakes are also top-notch, but I couldn't handle that and a Ponyshoe. The fast, friendly service steeped in local culture makes The Livery worth a visit.

Our last family dining stop was Monical's Pizza, another place near our hotel (a Hampton Inn and Suites—loved it!) on the outskirts of town. There are close to 60 Monical’s throughout Central Illinois, with several in Indiana and one in Wisconsin. They did a great job of seating and serving us efficiently. Each child received a multi-page kids menu with activities and crayons to keep 'em busy. Monical’s also provided little tabletop booklets full of brainteasers to keep adults occupied while waiting for a pan pizza. (Giordano’s and Edwardo’s, are you listening?) Even so, we stuck with quicker cooking ultra thin and crisp pizza. It didn't have much sauce, but I guess that's their style. We rounded off our meal with two family-size salads topped with their house dressing. Our waitress brought the dressing on the side in squirt bottles, so even the kids could top off the salads on their own. We likey.

We stopped at the Illinois State Fair before heading home. Like the food, I was hot and fried after a few hours. Fried food is expected at a fair, corndogs, too, but the fair provided an unprecedented number of foods in the “on-a-stick genre.” Shrimp? Pizza? Eggs? Who knew such a thing was possible?

August 09, 2007

I got a golden ticket! And you can get one, too!

Long Grove Confectionery, 333 Lexington Drive, Buffalo Grove
(847) 459-3100

I didn't have to hire a roomful of wage slaves to open hundreds of candy bars for me to get my golden ticket, I merely called the Long Grove Confectionery to sign up their chocolate factory tour. You can, too!

As much as I'm looking forward to the tour, my excitement is tempered by the fact that I will be the sole adult chaperon to four rambunctious boys. I will threaten to eat their chocolate if they don't behave. This should keep them in line because, as my two boys know, this is no idle threat.

Tours take place Monday-Thursday between 10 and 1, and last about an hour. They cost only $2 per person and rumor is your get your weight in chocolate at the end. Full details and ideas for what else to do in the NW 'burbs can be found here.

The outgoing message on the tour hotline assures me we will have time to shop in the outlet store, but it's open to the public even without tours. I've been to the store before and I can assure you there are deals to be had, people.

For other sweet local tours check out this page on and read the Scrambled CAKE commentary of the Eli's Cheesecake factory tour here.

August 07, 2007

The Paula Kamen Cucumber-Tomato Salad, a recipe for cool

Like many good recipes, this one comes from a friend.

About a decade ago, DH and I were part of an informal chavurah, a group of friends who met for monthly vegetarian potluck shabbat dinners and discussion.

It was a hip group.

Intellectually and artistically hip, I mean. Our group included the creators of the (now) syndicated Edge City comic (which you can read in the Chicago Sun-Times), a woman who clerked for a Supreme Court judge, several writers, including this one, who is now also known for her CancerBitch diaries on Chicago Public Radio (click over for good news), and Feminist Fatale, Paula Kamen.

You may be wondering how the rather square DH and I, the only suburbanites in the group, wound up in such good company. I wondered that, too. I'm convinced it was a fluke, but that's fodder for another post.

On to Paula's amazing salad. This was her standard chavurah dish, and now it's my standard summer dish. It's healthy and refreshing, and the boys eat it! I make almost weekly.

6 plum tomatoes
6 pickle cucumbers
1/4 to 1/2 of a sweet onion
1/2 lb. of feta cheese (Go for the more expensive French or Greek variety; they are smooth and creamy. Consider using goat cheese if your only feta choice is the prepackaged stuff.)
1-2 large serving spoonfuls of kalamata olives, without pits
Seasoning to taste: basil, oregano, pepper, salt, olive oil, balsamic or rice wine vinegar

Chop first four ingredients into chunks. If you like them large, as Paula does, fine. You want to go small, that's okay, too. I usually keep the onions chunks large, so the kids can easily pick them out. If I don't have a lot of olive, I may slice them in half as well.

Adapt the ratio of ingredients to meet your tastes. I often wind up with a huge salad because I think, Oh, just one more tomato and then it looks to tomato-y so I add more cukes, then a bit more cheese, then back to the tomatoes, etc.

If you've got extra feta, cut it into cubes and enjoy as a chaser to watermelon slices. This delightful sweet/salty combo is perfect for a sultry summer night.

Paula has new book on women and mental health due out soon. I'll let you know when it's released.

August 05, 2007

Lake Michigan picnic

I'd like to tell you how much we enjoyed our lakeside picnic Friday night. After all, we were meeting a group of our friends and I'd prepared a lovely trio of salads: southwest black bean and corn, pasta with goat cheese, garden-fresh tomatoes and a few choice veggies, and, finally, our summer favorite- a pleasing cucumber-tomato combo.

The thing is, we never made it to he picnic. Both boys were sick Friday afternoon. Pikachu (the 7 year-old formerly known as Splinter) was burning up and lethargic when I picked him up from camp. (Counselor: yeah, he seems a little out of sorts...) He had a fever of 102!

Not only did we miss the picnic, we barely made it to sleep Friday night. It was the worst night we've had in years. One child or the other up was up just about every hour of the night. Poor boys. Poor Mommy (and to a lesser extent, Daddy).

Thankfully, both boys were doing better by Saturday afternoon when the mail arrived. As I was taking Pikachu's temperature, Smartypants burst into the room with a large box, "Look what just came!"

I put the thermometer down and asked him to bring me some hand sanitizer, so my germy hands would not contaminate whatever wonders awaited in the box. I did a quick wipedown and opened a box of...hand sanitizer! The folks at Germ-X sent me some samples; with two sick kids in the house, the timing could have been better.

Sometimes life imitates art and sometimes it imitates commercials.

July 20, 2007


I worked at at ice cream shop throughout high school. When I left for college my boss gave me a Chicago Bear stuffed animal that was issued in honor of the Bears' 1986 Super Bowl victory. I still have the bear- one of my sons sleeps with him.

When I was in college in Texas, I worked at a Mangia, Chicago-style pizza place.

In the late 1990s, I won, and ate, a year's supply of Lean Cuisines.

Eric Schlosser's book, Fast Food Nation, changed my life. I stopped eating Lean Cuisines, ground beef, and, for a short while, almost everything but chocolate.

I love rich, creamy chocolate.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I had many strong food aversions, but I craved Italian subs from Hero's on Addison.

I do not crave, nor do I eat, meaty Italian subs when I'm not pregnant.

I can't stand cilantro. Ditto with blueberries, due to an unfortunate childhood experience.

I have started two fires in my kitchen, plus I once almost smoked us out of the house.

Why yes, I happily accept paid writing assignments.

Soon you’ll swoon over El Sueño: A Scrambled CAKE restaurant review

El Sueño
9850 Milwaukee Avenue, Glenview
(847) 298-9090

Don’t be fooled by the drab exterior. Here are ten reasons El Sueño will leave you swooning. If you have any remaining doubts after reading this, click over to the Scrambled CAKE photo album at Chicago Parent.

1. They just opened this spring and their reputation is growing quickly. Hurry in soon while you can still get seated without a wait. This place is going to draw crowds.

2. Freshly made salsa. ¡Bueno!

3. Easy on the wallet. Every item on the menu is under $15.00 and the portions are huge. Our family of four could have enjoyed a filling meal with about half of the amount of food we ordered. Fortunately, the veggie burrito makes an excellent breakfast (even cold, but shhhh…I could lose my food writer credentials for admitting to enjoying cold leftover burritos).
4. Did someone say veggie burrito? They offer a special vegetarian menu.

5. Your meal includes a cup of bean soup (made with bacon). “Great soup,” says nine year-old, Smartypants.

6. See number 3. The affordable food means you’ll have a few pesos to spend on a margarita or three.

7. Their innovative menu features traditional Mexican foods with a modern twist, such as pumpkin tamales and duck tacos. Traditionalists can enjoy El Sueño's authentic Mexican breakfast buffet on weekend mornings.

8. Kids meals are $3.95. Options are a chicken or cheese flauta, quesadilla (Mexican grilled cheese, made with tortilla instead of bread), or for the child with absolutely no sense of adventure, chicken nuggets.

9. The kids have gulped down their food, but you are just starting to savor the fiesta of flavors in yours. No need to let them ruin your meal, simply send them to the mini-kids theater in the back of the restaurant where they can watch cartoons until bedtime. You can keep an eye on them from your table thanks to windows conveniently built into the theatre room wall.

10. Great service; our waitress was very attentive and patient.

A few cautionary notes:
* There are no baby-changing facilities.
* Bring your Lactaid and Beano. Seriously, your family will thank you.

If there is a wait because by the time you actually make it out to Glenview the place is wildly popular and you’ve got a hungry child with you who doesn’t have a deadly sesame allergy, head next door to Pita Inn for some good and also inexpensive Mediterranean food.

July 03, 2007

Krusty-O's and Buzz Cola and Squishees, oh my!

If you’re a Simpsons fan you know what I’m talking about. You’ll find these products soon at a 7-Eleven near you. It’s all part of the marketing hype for the Simpons movie that’s due out later this month. We Moldofskys are fools for a clever campaign. In fact, for the first time in my life, I'm actually jonesing to go to 7-Eleven.

Be forewarned, you won’t find any Duff Beer. The powers that be wisely decided that it wasn’t appropriate to market an alcholic beverage in conjunction with the PG-13 movie.

If you're wondering where the fictional Simpson family lives, check out and decide for yourself. Each Springfield that's hoping to host the movie's premiere made a promotional video. If you've an hour to kill, watch 'em all and then vote for your favorite Springfield or choose between some of my favorites: Vermont, Tennessee, Nebraska and Illnois (but only because I live here).

June 26, 2007

Go Roma...and go on Sundays when kids eat free!

Go Roma Italian Kitchen. We visited the Northbrook location, but they have many throughout the suburbs. See for details.

You've had a busy weekend and you're not up for cooking dinner, but you don't want to succumb to the golden arches, either. Well then, my friend, Go Roma!

Go Roma Italian Kitchen offers "sophisticated" fast food. Think Panera or Corner Bakery with a bit of Italian flair.

I’d driven by the Northbrook location for years thinking it was a full-service sit-down Italian joint. I only stepped in recently when DH and I headed there for a weekday lunch. I didn't have my kids with me, but kept my eye on a nearby mom and her two busy little ones. “Doesn't she look familiar? Do we know her?” I whispered to DH.

"At this point all white people look the same to me," said my cheeky old husband, who, BTW, is as pale as they come.

I turned my attention to food once my salad arrived, but before I'd finished it, the mystery mom, Susan, and I realized we were schoolmates over 25 years ago! She was about two years behind me in junior high; our older brothers were friends back in the day.

But you'd probably like to hear more about my Smoked Chicken and Pear Salad ($7.99), a winning combination of smoked chicken and pear (duh) mingling with goat cheese, walnuts, dried cranberries and grape tomatoes atop a bed of baby greens. Since that first workday lunch, I’ve returned many times. Go Roma’s ultra-thin crust artisan pizzas, topped with ingredients like spinach, goat cheese and oven-roasted veggies, are surprisingly filling. They’re also way better than Panera’s, whose crusts taste like English muffins. My standard Go Roma lunch is now the salad and ½ pizza combo. This provides enough food for one large meal or, if I’m listening carefully to my tummy, a decent meal and an afternoon (or late night) snack.

Clearly I like it enough for a workday lunch, and their curbside to-go delivery sure is convenient, but what about my boys? I had to make it back with them—on Sunday, because that’s when kids eat free! All. Day. Long.

Go Roma offers several choices for children all priced at a reasonable $3.99: cheese pizza, noodles with butter or marinara, ravioli and other kids standards. Kids meals include a drink (milk, apple juice or pop) in a kid’s cup and a cookie. I’d like to see a few carrots or a piece of fruit with the meal as a side or a substitute for the cookie. Call me a stickler, but did you notice how white Splinter’s meal looks (right)?

The entire menu is pretty child-friendly, so there’s no need to stick with the kid’s menu...unless it’s Sunday of course and those meals are free. Free! Free!

Granted it's not Osteria di Tramonto* but we fed the whole family a satisfying meal for about $20; that works for me!

What else to know before you go: They are a bit liberal with the sprinkle cheese (AKA parmesan), so either ask them to hold back a bit or bring an extra Lactaid.

* Celebrity chef Rick Tramonto's upscale Italian restaurant located nearby in coming soon!

June 18, 2007

Spicing it up with Spatulatta

The boys' remote reporting gigs are now live on Spatulatta, the award-winning by kids/for kids cooking show.

Episode 1 provides an overview of the fabulous Spice House in Evanston along with some seasoning suggestions: In

In Episode 2 learn how we get lovely cinnamon to sprinkle on our French toast and pumpkin pies. Watch as the boys transform fresh Vietnamese cinnamon bark into a delicate but potent powder that will spice up our next batch of Snickerdoodles:

Also, would you help our Spatulatta friends go Big Time by taking this survey? The results may help them get their own PBS show! Won't you please click?

Next up, pack up the Lactaid as our intrepid remote reporters head to a Wisconsin dairy farm to learn the art of artisan cheesemaking.

June 16, 2007

Pancakes with a side of Bluegrass (and a few cicadas)

We had a great time at the Wagner Farm Dairy Breakfast.
For parents who tolerate a bit of germ exposure there were animals to pet and even a real, live cow to milk (see left photo).

Germaphobes could send their kids to the clean, air-conditioned museum to try their hand at simulated farm chores such as gathering eggs and milking a plastic cow (right). Click here to see more in the Scrambled CAKE photo album.

June 13, 2007

Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining

My boys, ages 7 and 9, prepared a list of fine dining etiquette:

DO: eat with your mouth closed, wear fancy clothes

DON’T: burp, fart, drop utensils, talk loudly, bring your own food, eat messy

Uh, well, that’s a start I suppose. Clearly they need to learn more, but I wasn’t sure I was equipped to teach them until I found this great primer for adults by Chicagoan Colleen Rush—The Mere Mortals Guide to Fine Dining: from salad forks to sommeliers, how to eat and drink in style without fear of faux pas.

The book serves up witty, accessible advice from a mere mortal’s standpoint, rather than the position of snooty, holier than thou expert who discretely implies that you must have been raised in a barn.

Rush offers tips on how to behave in upscale establishments (first off, don’t let your anxiety about doing the wrong thing keep you from enjoying your expensive meal). She provides a who’s who, explaining the roles of everyone from the sommelier to the sous chef, and the what’s what, detailing all those forks and glasses.

In addition, Rush provides an excellent overview of drinks from aperitifs to Zinfandel and meals from fish to fowl. For those who like to impress, she also includes how to say “tastes like chicken” in five languages. On a related topic, there’s also a French cram session to help you decode the an upscale French menu.

Chapter 12 “Eatiquette: things your mama probably taught you (but your forgot)” is great for parents. Over the course of several Q and A Rush explains things like:

When it’s okay to eat with your hands (artichoke leaves, crispy bacon, unsauced asparagus, corn on the cob, strawberries with stems attached).

Whether you should bring your children (Does the establishment have a kids menu? Have you notified them of your intent to bring a pint-sized guest?)

And, when its okay to blow you nose at the table? (Never!)

For a few more of Rush's tips click here.

Whether you’re on a date night or dining en famille, this book will prepare you for a great fine dining experience.

June 09, 2007

If You give a Mouse a Farm-fresh Veggie

We received our first Fresh Picks order a few weeks ago. Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks is like CSA for Dummies. With a true CSA, community sponsored agriculture program, a customer, or shareholder, purchases a season-long share from a local farm or co-op and receives a weekly supply of whatever’s being harvested. Recipients have a general sense of what’s coming in each week’s delivery, but for many, part of the excitement of the CSA experience is the thrill of the unknown.

My life has enough thrills. I am sure that as nice as it might feel to know we are developing a relationship with a local farmer, we’d wind up feeding a portion of our weekly bounty to our compost heap, that is, after watching it slowly rot in the fridge.

So that’s where Fresh Picks comes in. Fresh Picks is like Peapod meets Whole Foods. They deliver farm-fresh (often organic and local) food to your doorstep, but you choose what and how often to order. You can order a la carte (a dozen fresh cucumbers, two containers of goat cheese and some organic bison chili) or pick a produce box similar to what you’d get from a CSA. We tried it last month and loved it. (For the record, I paid full price-out of my own pocket.)

Here’s the run-down:

If you’re gonna order Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, you’d better clean the house, otherwise, when Irv personally delivers your produce you will be forced to stand and chat awkwardly in the doorway as you attempt to block his view of your messy living room.

When you get your box of fresh produce, you are going to want to identify all the items. If you can’t figure out what some of them are, check your invoice. If you still can’t tell your leeks from the green onions from the garlic tops, you will want to consult a book like the Visual Food Encyclopedia.

Once everything is identified, you will want to put all this fresh goodness right in your fridge, but if you’ve got a small side-by-side, you will have to finish the leftovers in order to make room.

While you’re putting it away, you will notice that they’ve sent you the freshest asparagus you’ve seen since you parents grew it in their garden 30 years ago. You will taste it, raw, with no added seasoning, and you will be stunned.

Now that you’ve tasted it, you realize that you must make something fabulous for dinner, right now. Even though dinnertime is in less than 70 minutes and you’ve got to run a carpool soon and you don't even know what to make.

You’re not sure how to combine portabellas, asparagus, leeks (or are they garlic greens?) and the delicious, fresh goat cheese (from a farm in Champaign), so you crack open Farmer John’s Cookbook, ever grateful that even though you didn’t join his Angelic Organics CSA he sent you the book for review, because it's not only fascinating, it's also a wonderful guide for cooking fresh seasonal (Midwest) produce.

Farmer John will inspire you to create a pasta salad that is richer and more complex than your typical steamed carrots/celery/chickpeas/Wishbone Italian deal.

While you are simultaneously grilling, chopping veggies and cooking pasta your phone will ring approximately nine times. The lady whose car you recently scratched will call you to discuss the $500 estimate she received to repair the two scratches the size of a quarter, and then your mom will call you only to say she forgot why she called, then your dad will call you and go on about some new business deal, and then AmVets will call to see if you have anything to donate, next a pollster will call, and finally someone will call asking about tomorrow’s order because a popular caterer has phone number very similar to yours.

As you run, crazed, from the stove to the grill, setting the table with the phone cradled awkwardly between shoulder and ear, you will realize you have to leave for carpool in 10 minutes. But your husband is home and he will volunteer to drive lest he be put in charge of Your Project.

You will finish your project, adding some chopped walnuts and balsamic vinegar to your oh-so-fresh grilled veggies and goat cheese and you will enjoy the most fabulous pasta salad you’ve ever made, or possibly even eaten.

While you’re enjoy your amazing pasta salad, you will be thinking ahead to tomorrow night’s dinner, imagining what you will create with the next part of your order. And you will recall the jar of jelly that came with your order and realize farm-fresh jelly, you have to make fresh bread to go with it.

Phew! No wonder it’s taken me a month to gather up the courage to place another order. Still, the experience drove home the fact they we are just not a CSA family…not yet, anyway. (Did I mention the parsnips that never got cooked?)

If you belong to a CSA, I’d love to hear how you make the most of your weekly share!

June 03, 2007

Stephen Colbert wants try his new ice cream

Shhh! Do ou hear that sound? It's Ben and Jerry's latest flavor calling me. Even though it's tucked safely inside my insulated freezer, I hear it whispering my name. Kim...K--i--m.

Sweet and creamy Ben and Jerry's ice cream is almost always a hit, and DH and I are fools for clever marketing campaigns, so I grabbed Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream when I saw in the freezer section at Jewel.

With chocolate-coated waffle cone bits (reminescent of Kit-Kat bars) swirled with caramel in a vanilla base, this ice cream is a new favorite in our house. I'm shocked the the pint lasted through the weekend. Actually, I hope we finish it tonight; it's hard to sleep with Colbert's voice calling me from the freezer.

Sugar-smacking fun and sweet deals

We like fresh, healthy and organic, but there's no denying the sweet tooth that runs in the family. The boys indulged big-time yesterday at their friend's party at Georgia Nut Company's retail outlet in Glenview. I think the theme was March of the Chocolate Coated Goodies.

In a cheerful party room, the kids smocked up and put on their candy-making hats. The busy party leaders passed out items, demonstrated techniques, answered questions and offered help when needed. My boys had a great time, but I haven't seen their full bounty yet- a reported two pounds of chocolate! They slept at grandmas last night, so I wouldn't eat all their treats.

Georgia Nut Company offers candy making classes and parties for adults, too. Call 847-724-8405 for info or click here. Fun as it is, this type of party is not appropriate for nut-allergic kids.

Sweet deals

I wrote about June being a great month for Chicago-area book lovers, but it's also a great month for candy makers, cookie bakers, cake decorators and other crafty folk. Wilton holds their annual tent sale at their Woodridge headquarters this month, now through June 19. You can get some really sweet deals, 30 -70% off. I only recently learned about this event and as much as I'd love to go, I don't think I can rationalize it right now (even at 70% off!). Here's what a one blogger said about last year's sale:

May 29, 2007

Read and Eat It

We love to read and we love to eat! I just reviewed a book that helps us do both: The Kids' Book Club Book.

The book provides a host of information on starting children's book groups and keeping them going, but it's worth picking up if you're simply looking for a wonderful meal to go with a great book. For example, there's a recipe for Nan, a type of Afghan bread (p.212) that goes with Deborah Ellis' The Breadwinner (and would also complement my as yet half-written review of Skokie's Afghan Cuisine, where my boys ate basket after basket of the stuff).

I'll likely be mixing up a batch of supersweet Butterbeer (p. 192) for this summer's inevitable Harry Potter Party. Or maybe the boys and I will prepare some Turkish Delight (p.104) in celebration of the Chronicles of Narnia.

A little bird told me that the Spatulatta site will soon feature their own take on Read It and Eat It. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, let me know if you have treasured book/food combos of your own (other than nibbling on a candy bar while you tear through a beach read).

May 21, 2007

You like the concept of buying organic food, but not the sticker shock that comes with it at the checkout line. I can relate. Years ago, after I read Fast Food Nation, we started buying organic milk, eggs, and meat. Our bottoms stayed the same size, but our bottom line increased and our budget started feeling a little tight.

Last year, Consumer Reports (Feb. 2006) published a list of the Deadly Dozen, twelve fruits and veggies that you should buy organic whenever possible because their conventionally grown counter-parts tend to be laden with pesticides. They are:

Bell peppers
Imported grapes
Red raspberries

Hmm. Makes a person think twice before taking the kids to a U-pick farm, where you eat as much as you put in your pail. (Also see Food News for more info.)

Consumer Reports also recommends organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, as well as baby food. Studies have shown that babies who eat organic food have lower levels of pesticides in their blood. A summary of the Consumer Reports piece is available here.

The same article points out some interesting facts about labeling. For example, it notes that 100% organic is the highest standard, but a product label “organic” only needs 95% organically produced ingredients. “The remainder can be non-organic or synthetic” (Seafood is an exception because the USDA lacks standards for organic seafood labeling.)


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