Friday, July 30, 2010

Oishii: Keeping it Real

I'm a label reader.  And if you know me at all, you know that I'm looking for villains like MSG, aspartame, corn syrup, preservatives (like sodium benzoate), fluoride, and food coloring. 

In a recent article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest they announce that Europe has instituted a new warning label on foods that contain artificial coloring, because products with Yellow 5, Red 40,and other dyes “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”  The article states that:
Because the FDA hasn’t encouraged food manufacturers to switch to safer natural colorings, many American food companies use the chemicals in the United States products but not in the U.K. equivalents. For example, the topping for a McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae sold in the United States contains Red 40.

In the U.K., the topping’s color comes from strawberries.
Imagine that - rather than using artificial coloring to make strawberry sauce look appealing, in the UK they use real strawberries. 

I know many people put a lot of trust in the FDA to keep us safe (isn't that their job, afterall?) but my basic philosophy is this: if you can get something in it's unadulterated natural state, that is probably the better option.  Whole grains rather than processed crackers and cereals, grass-fed organic meats versus conventional or processed meat.  100% juice instead of Kool-Aid or juice cocktails (or God-forbid, soda!).  Real fruit instead of fruit snacks (though I am partial to dried fruit and fruit leathers).  I used to be a big fan of peanut m&ms, but now I opt for Sundrops (in moderation, of course. Saving my body from the ravages of food coloring isn't helpful if I'm poisoning it with an OD of sugar and caffeine!). 

Finding healthy, whole food snack items for the kids can be challenging sometimes because we're so "spoiled" with convenience foods, which tend to be highly-processed, chemical-laden concoctions that may be doing a lot of harm to our bodies.  So here is a list of some things that we always try to keep on hand:

whole fresh fruits and veggies
dried fruits and fruit leathers
nuts (chestnuts, almonds and cashews are our favorites)
whole grain bread
hardboiled eggs
homemade popsicles and smoothies

And for those of you who think healthy, organic food is just for the rich, you may want to check out this article from Mothering Magazine.  Another article from Mothering Magazine offers ideas for healthy snacks and lunches.  I'm sure many of you have other snacks that work for your family - please share!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Feeling Lucky?

I don't have much time to browse around on the internet, but I do love to enter a good giveaway when I get the chance.  I discovered this little place called Giveaway Scout where they list a bunch of giveaways from all over cyberspace (D, I imagine you would LOVE this).  Every once in a while I'll check it out to see if anything catches my eye.  I haven't won anything yet, but like a compulsive gambler I keep hoping...

Speaking of giveaways, we're hoping to offer one on the first of every month here at our humble little blog.  So make sure to check back here and leave comments, sign up to be a follower, link to our blog - anything to show your support!  And if you're a business that would like to sponsor a giveaway here, please contact us.  Thanks!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Someday I will go to bed before 11 p.m.

Someday I will cook dinner, clean the bathrooms, fold the laundry and work out all in the same day.

Someday I will do something really sexy for my husband.

Someday. But not today.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Anti-Princess Diaries

Back in February I posted the commentary below on my private family blog after a playgroup where Mayumi was playing with a plastic Disney crown.  I was reminded of it when I came across the blog Disney Princess Recovery: Bringing Sexy Back for a Full Refund.  The blog is written by Mary Finucane, a psychotherapist with training in play therapy and mother of a little girl in Rochester, New York.  Her observations are lucid and eye-opening and they struck a chord with me.  I'd love to start a dialogue about this, so check out her blog, read my post below, and let me know what you think.

Princess Maya - charming I know, but I was a bit chagrined when Maya discovered the crown and insisted on wearing it. I made the comment that I didn't want any "princesses" in our home. Bruce (the only Dad in attendance - isn't he great?!) told me that Holly (his wife) had felt similarly but alas! I needed to embrace it because it was inevitable. A bit mortified, I announced I wanted a proletariat household!

Someone asked what I had against princesses and I defended my stance: I feel like there is a certain "princess" mentality that implies a bratty, spoilt, good-looks-and-expensive-jewelry-are-the-most-important-asset sort of mindset. The kind of idea that you can "rule" over other people and that you are entitled to pedestals and special treatment. And I am NOT okay with that. I have to raise a daughter in a society where women are highly sexualized and little girls wear pants with "princess" printed across the butt (or worse yet, "juicy!"). Where people go into debt to buy expensive cars, jewelry and handbags. Where every woman on TV has a 20-inch waist, has had plastic surgery, wears fake nails and is practically naked. The last thing I want to do is re-enforce the prevailing belief that a princess is someone who wears pretty dresses and tiaras and is better than every one around her because she is so beautiful. (For another point of view on this topic click here and here).

Now, I love princesses as much as the next person - I really do! Princesses played a big part of my imaginary world as a child (especially those kick-butt girls like Princess Leia). I'm all about enjoying the beautiful things in life, too. I want Maya to appreciate beautiful things and have an active imaginary life, but please don't fault me for encouraging her to pursue other "careers" like an artist, a scientist, a teacher, a healer, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, a stateswoman, a civil servant, an explorer... I hope she develops qualities like intelligence, a sense of humor, determination, curiosity, a hard work ethic, kindness, generosity and true leadership. You can argue that a "true" princess would have all those qualities, but when I see t-shirts that pronounce:

I have a hard time believing that being a princess is about more than wearing a tiara.

I'm also a bit miffed that Disney has usurped the "princess" title and left little room for any other interpretations, but that's another story.

If Maya really wants to be a princess, that is fine. But in our house princesses pick up their own toys, wear blue jeans, and get dirt under their nails like the rest of us.

Just to be clear, though, I still respect you if you've got plastic crowns and pink gauzy gowns in your toybox. I don't mean to be critical of moms who love their princess babies. (There's no questions that my baby is also the center of our world.) I'll just assume you're encouraging your daughters to be the humble-but-sassy, hard-working, kick-butt, princess neurosurgeon-type. And that's cool, too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Meditation: Out of Tune

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune.
~William Wordsworth
This poem reminds me of the need to return to nature and simplicity, to put some perspective on life and re-evaluate the quest of "getting and spending." I think about how I "waste my powers" on things that don't really matter rather than focusing on the true sources of joy. So this week my intention is to take time to breathe, stop and smell the flowers, really listen to my daughter, and count my blessings so that I can be content with what I have rather than always wanting more. The goal is to create a harmonic symphony of life and avoid the cacophonic dissonance from being out of tune, to bare my bosom to the moon and howl like the wind! Oh, Wordsworth - what a way you have with images!

Saturday, July 24, 2010


One of my favorite cookbooks is The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Most of the recipes are pretty good because of their strict testing methods. From the preface:

"We begin every recipe project with a blind tasting of recipes from other cookbooks, then we develop our own approach, and we continue testing and tasting until we feel we have the best version. It's a group process. Everyone from a new test cook to the most senior editor has a voice. Then we take one final step: we use the wrong equipment or ingredients to see just how much abuse a recipe can take."

But the tried-and-true recipes aren't the only reason I love this cookbook. I also love it because it provides tons of tips, instructions and best brand recommendations--very important for an amateur like me!

Periodically (probably not as often as I should) I clean out my freezer and find stuff that looks like this.

So I was interested in Test Kitchen's section on freezing and defrosting. Here's the summary:
  • Four months is the limit for storing frozen food
  • To prevent freezer burn, wrap food tightly and wrap it twice
  • Leave expansion room for liquids
  • Cool food completely before freezing; otherwise, steam will create ice crystals that affect the texture of frozen foods
  • The best way to defrost is in the refrigerator, not at room temperature
  • Nuts stay fresh longer in the freezer, but can be chopped frozen just as easily as fresh
Maybe this is common knowledge to you veteran cooks out there, but much of it was new to me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

3 Things I LOVE About Summer

1. Being Outside
Despite the atrocious heat we're experiencing in our neck of the woods, I love the long days and access to nature.  Hikes, parks, bike rides, beach visits, working in the garden... I don't mind a little sweat as long as I can enjoy the fresh air!

2. The Food
Fresh fruit (I've devouring peaches and all sorts of berries right now), dinner cooked on the grill, ice-cream cones and lemonade... my stomach and my taste buds are so happy during this season.

3. Leisurely Naps
Admittedly, one thing I love about colder weather is that inclination to hibernate.  But there is something about summer that also invites taking it easy and finding time to rest and rejuvenate.  The hum of the ceiling fan, the feel of crisp, clean sheets, and a well-deserved nap after a long day in the sun.  Yum!

What do you love about this glorious season, my friends?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meditation: Attitude

“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”
 ~ Walter Anderson
I need constant reminders that much of how we perceive life is shaped by our attitude towards our circumstances.  I have a bad habit of wallowing in misery when bad things happen.  This is especially true when I face physical pain - not only do I suffer physiologically, but also psychologically.  It requires an extraordinary effort to train my mind to avoid succombing to dark thoughts.  But it makes a huge difference when I'm able to do it.  And not only that, I know that Mayumi is watching me and I feel the weight of my responsibility to set a good example.  I want her to be a person of character.  I want her to experience joy in this life.  I want her to be an optimist.  Which means that I need to be that way, too (or at least try to be!).

This reminds me of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."  This week I will focus on adjusting my attitude, especially during times of duress (terrible twos anyone?), with the understanding that I control my reponses, I mold my world and I have power over my own happiness.  "Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course." (William Shakespeare - Henry VI Part 3 in case you were curious).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Real Salt Giveaway Winner

Is Lisa!!

Please e-mail me at with your address and I will get your Redmond Kosher Sea Salt to you in the mail!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I would never use the word "gourmet" to describe myself. Words like rational, pragmatic, and dare I say, cheap might better describe me. But I am kinda a sucker for "gourmet" food products. I love to eat good food and am willing to pay a little more every once in a while for those really special ingredients that make a big difference like chocolate or cheese or olive oil.

One ingredient that I didn't necessarily think would make a big difference in my cooking was salt. We switched from regular table salt to a coarser Kosher salt and I'm not sure I tasted much of a difference - it just felt a little bit fancier to throw pinches of salt from a crock into my food. But then, at my local grocery store (Harmons in Utah) I saw this huge display for Real Salt. It looked so pretty because it was pink but it was also pretty expensive compared to what I usually bought. I thought it was cool that it was local and produced right here in my state but I passed it by. After a few more trips, my curiosity got the best of me and I leafed through the pamphlet that accompanied the display.

Another word to describe me might be skeptical (although I've had my share of gullible moments). But as I looked through that pamphlet, I thought it didn't sound too far-fetched. Mainly, it was saying that your everyday salt is overly processed and bleached but that Real Salt maintains a lot of trace minerals that are lost in that refining process. And because of the location from where it is mined, there are even more trace minerals than normal. So all that I could believe - it made sense to me. But did it really taste different? One of the workers from the grocery store was passing by and commented, "It really does taste different!" So I thought I would try it out.

Conclusion: It does! I didn't notice it at first because I was just throwing it in sauces and soups where I didn't readily notice the subtle flavors, but when I put it on my broccoli (that I just like to steam or boil and top with EVOO and salt) I felt like it tasted tastier - more flavorful or savory. It didn't just taste salty - it was a little more complex than that. I also felt like I didn't need as much to flavor my food.

The website describes it as enhancing the flavor of your food, not masking it. I don't know about the whole testimonial section that practically makes it sound like it can cure cancer (just kidding - more like high blood pressure) - it's a little too close to some of the crazy multi-level marketing claims of the dietary supplement industry here in Utah. But I think that if you take those claims with a grain of salt (pun certainly intended), you'll be okay.

So anyway, want to try it and taste for yourself if it really is better than your normal salt? We'll be doing a giveaway of Real Salt and you can choose if you want the 26 oz granular

(which comes in an earth-friendly pouch too),

16 oz Kosher,

or 16 oz coarse grind salt

(they even have a powdered form that I am just too lazy to post with the link and the picture right now...). And this is open to everyone, not just local Utah residents (although I know, it kinda defeats the purpose of supporting local but some things are worth shipping). Just leave a comment about which type of salt you would like and what your favorite foods are to salt. Also, for an extra entry, become a follower of our blog and leave it in a separate comment (or let us know if you're already a follower). The giveaway will be open until Sunday, July 18th at 10:00 PM Mountain Standard Time.

Disclosure: I was in no way compensated by Redmond Real Salt for this post and the statements made are 100% mine. I wasn't even provided a free sample of the stuff - I just really like the stuff (but I not-so-secretly hope the company will somehow see this post and maybe send me something or at least give me a coupon ;)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Free hugs

Our wabisabi dad sent us girls this YouTube video, saying it's the best one he's seen. I have to admit, my mommy hormones kicked right in and I got a little teary-eyed. We're all just human beings who want a little love! Enjoy.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Flying solo

I'm so excited that in a few weeks I get to go back to Beantown to visit family and friends. Not so excited that I will be making the five-hour direct flight with my six-month-old daughter.

I'm already a little stressed. How am I supposed to carry a baby, a car seat, a stroller, a travel crib, a diaper bag and luggage? What if she screams the entire flight and people give me nasty looks? Is the time difference going to ruin her schedule forever?

Whatever the outcome, I'm determined to travel with this infant and take a little vacation just like I did before she was here. But I could really use some tips on how to make this successful. Anybody?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Star Festival

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Orihime who had a special gift for weaving the most exquisite cloth anyone had ever seen.  Every day she would sit on the banks of the Amano River as her nimble fingers wove gossamer strands that flickered and shimmered in the light.  But her father, the Sky King Tentei was worried that she was too isolated, so he arranged for her to meet a humble (but noble) cow herder named Hikoboshi (sometimes called Ushikai). 

As these stories go, they fell in love at first sight and were married soon after.  But their love was so consuming that they neglected their duties and soon Orihime's loom was collecting dust and Hikoboshi's cows were roaming around unattended.  Despite the king's warnings the lovers were unable to part from each other, so Tentei forcibly separated the couple and forbade them to meet. 

Despondent over her loss, Orihime approached her father in tears, begging him to let her be reunited with her husband.  Tentei's heart was softened enough to allow the two lovers to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month on the condition that Orihime return to her weaving and Hikoboshi to his herds.  The lovers agreed and so, once a year, they are reunited for a passionate, yet tender night.

This is the legend behind the annual event of the star festival, when the stars Vega and Altair come together across the Milky Way.  The festival is called Tanabata in Japan and is celebrated by writing your wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on small pieces of paper and then hanging them on branches of bamboo, along with other decorations like origami ornaments.  The effect is something like an oriental Christmas tree and the nostalgic whimsy of it all contributes to how the Japanese define the summer season.  Street festivals can be found in every town with shaved ice, old-fashioned sweets, games for children, hanging lanterns and the colorful bamboo branches filled with wishes - because after all, this is the night when your deepest wish can come true.

So tonight, maybe you and the kiddos can catch a glimpse of the heavenly lovers and then pen a few wishes down: I wish for more patience, more time, more grace, more motivation, more, more more... (I am a greedy one!).  I wish for health for my family and loved ones.  I wish for another child.  I wish for paths of opportunity to be opened to all of us.  I wish!

The bamboo leaves rustle,
shaking away in the eaves.
The stars twinkle;
Gold and silver grains of sand.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kid to Kid

I just discovered the greatest kids' store ever! It's called Kid to Kid. Have you heard of it? It buys gently used kids clothes, toys and furnishings. And it only accepts good quality stuff; a lot of it looks practically new.

It's one of the stores you never notice unless you have kids. When my friend told me about it, I was a little skeptical. Second hand? Don't they usually smell? And I already buy all of Olive's clothes on the cheap at stores like TJ Maxx or Burlington Coat Factory. But I decided to check it out and found they have tons of cute stuff! Of course, it's always going to be hit or miss, but for my first experience, I bought five dresses and four pairs of pants for $35! They included brand names like The Children's Place, Old Navy and Tommy Hilfiger.

I was most excited about the pants because it is really hard to find just bottoms without buying a top. And don't you think those dresses (and bloomers!) are super cute?

Their website says they have 75 stores in 21 states, so I hope there's one near you.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Recipe rankings

\What should I make for dinner?

I ask myself this question as I plan out the week and get my grocery list together. We have lots of cookbooks and I often just flip through them, looking for the ones that look really yummy in the photos or really easy by the ingredients list. I also look for the ones I've given rankings, a method I've been employing for the past year or so.My scale is 1-5: 1 being "disgusting, never make again," and 5 being "delicious! delectable! a sure crowd-pleaser."

The problem is that I've only ever ranked the recipe on its page and didn't transfer the ranking to the table of contents or index, thus it was like finding a needle in a haystack. I only recently got around to accumulating all of the rankings so I can more easily find my favorites.

After finishing this little project, I've come across another problem: I don't have many 4- and 5-ranked recipes. Guess I'll have to keep plugging away at new recipes to get up to the two dozen or so go-to meals I'd like to have in my repertoire. I'm taking suggestions, so let me know if you have a favorite recipe or cookbook that could help an amateur chef like me!