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
Apples
Celery
Cherries
Imported grapes
Nectarines
Peaches
Pears
Potatoes
Red raspberries
Spinach
Strawberries

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.)

May 06, 2007

Birthday cereal: a family tradition since 1993

Peek into our pantry and you'll get a taste of breakfast at Chez Moldofsky. When it comes to cereal we're all about the healthy stuff- Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Life, and when we let ourselves go, a box of Frosted Mini-Wheats.

As a child Cap'n Crunch and Count Chocula were my regular dining companions. Our cereal cabinet was filled with Sugar Pops, Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, and Lucky Charms (even though we only ate the marshmallows).

I sometimes feel guilty about my kids' wholesome morning diet. So on his birthday, each boy gets to pick out the cereal of his choice- fiber content be damned! Artificial colors? The more, the merrier! Excess sugar- who cares, they're headed to school for the day!

Even at 7 and 9 years old the traditional birthday cereal is still a pretty big deal. As they get older, it's almost sad to see them excited over something that I took for granted...until I remember how many dental fillings I have and how much a certain little person in our house really needs his fiber.

May 03, 2007

Batter up! Pimp your pancakes at Flat Top Grill: a restaurant review

Flat Top Grill
Reviewed: Lakeview Location
3200 N. Southport Ave.
Phone: 773.665.8100
Breakfast served 9:00 to Noon on weekends at the Lakeview, Old Town and Oak Park locations

Maybe you’ve enjoyed Flat Top Grill’s design your own stir-fry for lunch or dinner, but now they serve breakfast, too. We were invited to give it a try, so with empty bellies and unkempt hair we headed to their Lakeview location. Adults can eat to their heart’s content for a mere $8.99. It’s only $4.99 including milk or juice for kids ages 4-11, and kids under 4 eat free. Such a deal!

The buffet at the Lakeview location was loaded with mini muffins and fresh fruit with a steaming pot of oatmeal at the ready. But the real excitement here is the choose-your-own-fixins section. In the mood for a healthy veggie and tofu-skin egg white omelette? They’ve got you covered. The kid wants a gummy worm and strawberry pancake? No problem. (Until he actually tastes it, that is).

Our waitress offered helpful, but seemingly complicated instructions given that it was 9:00 Saturday morning and we hadn’t yet started our coffee. Smartypants simplified the concept for me. “It’s like Cold Stone Creamery, but for pancakes instead of ice cream.” I was relieved to find that the process was pretty simple once we stepped up to the self-serve area.

Serve Yourself
First we loaded up a plate with fresh fruit and returned it to the table so we’d have something to nibble while waiting for our first of several courses. Then we headed back with a mission to help the boys create breakfast combos as unique as their personalities. It’s a given that this involved gummy worms. Splinter balanced his intake of worms with chocolate chips, while Smartypants chose a berry complement (pictured here).

Like my husband, the Flat Top Grill cooks are not very good at reading minds, so after filling our bowls, we chose the appropriate swizzle stick to mark our meal: yellow stick for omelette, pink for pancake, green for a side of potatoes, etc.

But Let Them Cook
Perhaps because the coffee hadn’t quite kicked in we didn’t realize that the final size of our items, be they pancakes, scrambled eggs or omelettes, would be relative to the amount of fixins we chose. Therefore, we all wound up with HUGE first servings.

Pace yourself, or ask the cook to downsize despite your add-ins, because you definitely want to leave room for an order of French Toast. They use thick Texas toast finished off with cinnamon and powdered sugar and a week’s ration of butter plus your selected toppings. Mmmmm.

The pancakes were also quite tasty--except for the portions with melted gummy worm. Who knew? The omelettes, while hot and satisfying, were not the most delicate examples of that dish.

Entertainment
There’s no official entertainment, but a toddler will delight in watching the cooks do their thing. And then there are the unlimited trips to the buffet….

Bottom line
Flat Top Grill is worth a try whether you’re a regular breakfast out family or just looking to avoid cooking or cleaning up after your first meal of the day. And for only $8.99 it’s easy to feel like you got your money’s worth without going overboard. Even so, it is an all-you-can-eat meal, so play it safe and wear your ‘fat pants’.

Know before you go:
All locations have high chairs and booster seats, but not all have diaper-changing; call before you go, or should I say before your little one goes?

We managed no-hassle street parking in Lakeview due to our early arrival, but we'd love for their Evanston location to fire up the grill for breakfast.

See the Scrambled Cake photo album for more photos.

May 01, 2007

Did somebody say chocolate?

Chocolate that’s scientifically formulated to ease the symptoms of PMS! A dream come true!

I first read about the PMS chocolate when the gals at salon.com's Broadsheet Blog pointed out this piece about it over at the Washington Post. Methinks they took writer David Segal a bit too seriously, but he does come off as rather obnoxious.

I searched high and low for this bar in order to provide my readers with an accurate first-person account. I eventually found it at the store formerly know as People's Market (now owned by Whole Foods). I had to cough up a serious chunk of change—well over $3.00 for the delicate 1.75-ounce bar. But really, that's a small price to pay to put a damper on PMS grouchiness and satisfy chocolate cravings in one fell swoop, right?

I had hoped to find chocolate heaven, but instead took a brief trip to chocolate hell.

Sad truth is, if a well-meaning husband gives this to his special pre-menstrual partner he will never be forgiven...at least not until later in the month. It's horrible! Awful! Only slightly better in taste than the Octopus chips from Super H Mart. In fact, the barely eaten bar sat around so long, I finally threw it out. This is an unprecedented event. It's just that bad.I should have known when I saw the "dietary supplement" note on the label, but instead I was taken in by the large print health by chocolate. If only such a thing could be achieved!

Other warnings included, in very fine print, not recommended for pregnant women or for children. Also, fructooligosaccharides are among the ingredients. I know this is some kind of sugar, but it's the kind of thing that makes a consumer wary.

There is some good news about the bar. Many of its ingredients are organic and it's fair trade certified. And it has a load of health info on the inner wrapper. But I pity the fool who ever tries to comfort or woo me with one of these bars.

If you want to do good while eating well, try a Santander Colombian single origin chocolate bar. It's also a fair trade bar but lacks the health warnings, other than the obligatory one about peanuts/tree nuts. The bars come in milk chocolate and a variety of dark chocolate (the kind that’s good for you) blends. I found the 65% cacoa dark blend pleasing to my sensitive palate. It was as rich and complex as the company describes it, “a great bouquet and an aroma that lingers in your mouth.

If you try either of these brands, let me know what you think.

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