Friday, December 31, 2010

RIP Mickey and Goodbye 2010

Today is the last day of 2010. I spent a good part of the day, saying goodbye to my best friend Michelle's dear father, Mickey. He died just 2 days after Christmas, very peacefully. Mickey lived a long life and we were all beginning to think that he would live forever, considering he'd bounced back after many close calls.

I don't know how she did it, but Michelle read a short and sweet eulogy about her dad today. She simply adored him and I know her life will be forever changed and difficult without him. She didn't read words of sorrow and despair today. She talked about Mickey's love of family, pastry, taking naps (and encouraging everyone around him to nap with him!), his generosity and lastly, how he loved a good time. As she talked about his love of hats, she then plopped on her head a red, white and green knitted hat, Mickey's favorite. Michelle is never afraid of how she might look silly, especially in front of a church full of people. That is one of the things I love about her! She put the "fun" in funeral today. I know, it sounds strange to be laughing at a funeral....but Mickey was always laughing and looking for a good time. Mickey would want everyone laughing at his funeral and Michelle gave him exactly that.

Today was an incredible celebration for an incredible man.

He had endured a difficult childhood, losing his dad at the age of 10. He survived major trauma in World War II. The man was no stranger to tragedy, yet he lived out the rest of his life having fun and he taught his daughter, my best friend to do the same. She too, has endured more than any parent should have to, yet she always has a smile on her face and a kick in her step. She is the one everyone goes to for guidance, a shoulder to cry on, and comic relief. I'll never know how she does it!

While I am not one for New Year's resolutions, this week I've been thinking outside of the usual box (exercise more, eat healthier, quit procrastinating). Instead, my resolution is to have more fun. More play dates for me, instead of my kids. Not taking life so seriously is going to be at the top of my list.

I dedicate these resolutions to you, Michael DiDomenico. Rest in Peace, Mickey. We love you!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Facebook. I love you I hate you

Do you have a love/hate relationship with FB? I do! Redbook magazine estimated that women spend 13 hours a week on FB! That's like...a whole freakin day. On the puter, perusing, snooping, gaming, commenting, poking, joking, sarcastic'ing, farming. It's one of those things you do after you check your email. You innocently log on to FB and get dragged into yet another group, a chat, a few minutes to see what so and so is up to.

We all have so much to do, yet what are we doing? Virtually......nothing. Sure, we communicate (I use that word loosely) with each other and with people we haven't seen in 20 years. Suddenly we're asking our 'friends', "Did you paint the bedroom mint green or mocha locha chocolatte?

We're lying in bed at night wondering the following:
1. Did Karl get that tattoo he's been talking about?

2. Did Amy satisfy her marshmallow pregnancy craving?

3. Did Theresa get that rash checked out?

4. What kind of witty FB status update will I put next?

It's not just the status updates that lure you in. But it's also the groups you join where you can feel a real sense of camaraderie. For me, I will join a group that I feel extremely passionate about. Like the time I joined one called "I like to clean the lint trap out of my dryer", or the ones I've created; "I love Tom Jones", "People Against Chimps as Pets" or "Brad Pitt wouldn't date Bea Arthur, or would he?". There was even a group created by a friend called "I love Becky Nero Facebook Groups". Yup. I got some fans. There really is something for everyone on Facebook.

As much as I hate what a time sucker it can be (if I let it), there are so many things to love about it.

Exhibit A: Seeing my 74 year old mother post things like "You go Girl!" on some one's wall. To me, this sounds suspiciously like a Depends ad.

Exhibit B: FB is so good at alerting us when our friends are in crisis. Who has a flat tire, who's PMS'ing, who fainted during their mammogram, who went to their favorite bakery and they were out of zeppoles.

Exhibit C: It brings people together in ways not previously possible. I have found out about numerous fundraisers for so many people in need: Bone marrow drives, cookbook sales to benefit schools and diseases, flood and fire victims needing help. I do believe that as much as FB can be such a negative and toxic place with many hate groups, conversely there are so many people helping people. And that, I like.

Exhibit D: It's harmless entertainment and does wonders for the shut-ins (self included). If you have the right group of FB friends (not the ones bragging about their handbags and cars) but the ones who can poke fun at themselves, offer you some encouragement, share your common interests, then well, FB can be a happy place.

And if you really like FB, join my fan page by clicking on the box in the upper right corner of this page!



Stylish Blogger Award goes to ....the most unstylish girl


A few days ago, a fellow blogger named Allyson of Serial Datist nominated me for this award. You all know I am not really very stylish and sometimes buy my clothes at Job Lot. But if someone wants to nominate my blog, I will not disagree and feel very honored to accept this award. My blogging skills are sort of like those of a 4 year old and I have so much to learn but I'll get there eventually. I will not let it stop me from writing!

Here are the rules to accepting this award:

1. Thank the person who sent it to you (check)

2. Share 7 things about yourself. (See below)

3. Pass the award on to bloggers who you think are awesome.

4. Contact the bloggers you picked and let them know about the award!


Here are the blogs I have chosen. Please check them out!


Mixed Salad Annie for making and photographing such beautiful food

Pizza Therapy for putting your heart and soul into my favorite food!

RitzyPicsPhotography for capturing such beautiful moments on film!

The Savvy Shopper for offering all kinds of tips from fashion to food and how to cut without losing quality.

Here are my Seven Things

1. I have a strange aversion to Ugg boots and tutus.
2. I will never understand how some people with children maintain houses that look like museums no matter when you "pop" in their houses.

3. Some nights when I'm in bed and I have to go tinkle, I think to myself, "I'd rather wet the bed than get up". That's how tired and lazy I can be.

4. I don't think I will ever have a flat belly.

5. I don't know how to think about nothing and I wish I could.

6. The year 2011 is going to be the year of the Hot Weiner pizza. You heard it hear first.

7. I eat chocolate in the closet.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bed Bath & Beyond: Part 2

In a recent October post, I bragged (a little too much) about returning my malfunctioning Tassimo coffee maker to Bed, Bath, & Beyond with no receipt, after 3 years. Triple B happily exchanged it for a brand new one. No hassle return policy works for me! As you'll recall, I was also given a $50 rebate form. Now, I thought it was pure madness that they would give me a rebate on something I technically didn't purchase, but I completed the rebate form anyway and a few weeks later I received my $50 check.

Now, I have to admit, I felt a little guilty receiving this check. It's not that I don't like freebies and deals, but something in me just felt like I was "bucking the system", so to speak. I wondered how many people make a living trying to cheat the system, thus driving up costs of other things.

So, what did I do with the check? I cashed it. But then I thought I should pay it forward to someone else. I bought 4 tickets for my family to see Bill Harley and Keith Munslow in concert to benefit the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. The tickets were $12 each, totalling $48. Bill and Keith are amazing performers and are so generous with their time to help others in need.

There are so many people struggling all over. The Rhode Island Community Food Bank is in dire need this year. Thanks to people like Bill Harley and Keith Munslow, a great time was had by many families and in turn, families in need will hopefully get the food they need.

Paying it forward really does feel good. Please share any ways you like to pay it forward. I'd love to hear about your good little deeds.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Well, Hello Dolly!


Photo credits to Ann Levesque from RIMag who was kind enough to
feature this recipe in the December issue

Have you ever been invited to a cookie swap and just got so overwhelmed by the idea of baking for hours on end? Well, here is the perfect cookie swap recipe! It requires no bowls, at all! I promise. And no standing by the oven waiting for the next batch to bake. Some people call them Magic Bars but in my family we call them Hello Dollies.

My grandfather, Americo always loved these cookies, especially at Christmas time. And every time he saw me he'd say, "Hello Dolly!" Grampa was about 5 feet tall and always wore baby blue shirts and white pleather shoes. Every year, no matter how busy and stressed I get around Christmas, I still make time for Dolly because it's the easiest cookie to make and it connects me back to my Grampa Rico! My nieces and nephews love these cookies too and I hope, one day they make them for their kids and pass on the tradition.

Last year I was invited to a cookie swap and made 6 dozen Dollies and froze them in Ziploc bags. Then we had a blizzard. Cookie swap was cancelled and I was "stuck" with all these cookies. If you must know, they taste just as good frozen (if not better) and somehow I worked my way through a few dozen, enjoying my own little cookie swap with myself, every day.
Hello Dollies
Ingredients:
1 stick butter (or 1 stick Smart Balance 50/50 blend)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups shredded sweetened coconut flakes
1 (14 oz) can fat free sweetened condensed milk
Melt butter and pour in a 9x13 inch pan. Evenly coat the butter with the graham cracker crumbs to form a crust. Evenly sprinkle the nuts, then chocolate chips, then the coconut. Pour the condensed milk evenly to cover the entire surface of coconut. That's it!
Bake 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown, being careful not to burn as the edges tend to get darker. Cool slightly and cut into bars. Makes approx 24 bars.
Variations:
1. Use pecans or chopped peanuts
2. Change the chips you use (butterscotch, milk chocolate,white, or a mixture of a few kinds).
Note, I am not a big believer in "lightening up" a cookie recipe. But if I can cut some fat somewhere without sacrificing flavor, I will. There is no difference in using fat-free condensed milk or the regular kind. And the Smart Balance butter blend provides the buttery taste you're looking for but also cuts some fat.
I hope you all enjoy these cookies. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!




Friday, November 12, 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise a Sugar Baby

My last blog really gave my mother too much credit (or blame) for creating this monster. Really though, like many addictions, other people should be blamed instead of any personal responsibility assumed by its rightful owner. Agreed?

I'd like to thank the following additional enablers who have supported my sugar habit along the way. Sorry Sugar Mama if you feel they are now stealing your thunder. They too shaped me into the true Sugar Baby I am today and to leave them out just wouldn't be right:

1. Mary Next Door.
She is the nicest neighbor known to mankind. Her house always smelled like the best chicken cutlets frying on the stove and her grilled cheeses would knock your leg warmers off.

But what I really liked going there for were her candy bars. You see, every time I entered Mary Next Door's house, I'd stand shyly next to her hutch drawers, just waiting to be asked the magical question all little red haired freckled girls long to be asked. "Becky, do you want some candy?" To which I'd reply in a meek voice, "Ok". Then I'd open the drawer to find the super size candy bars waiting to be ripped apart.

Thus began my love affair with the Milky Way.

Mary Next Door also gave out these same gigunda candy bars for Halloween. She never scrimped on the bite sized bars. No, she'd have a special box ordered just for this holiday and kids in drugstore costumes were being bussed in from all over for her candy.

2. My 8th grade gym teacher, Mrs. S.
I was always a very shy kid (imagine!) until I reached the 8th grade when I got contact lenses. My mom told me that people couldn't see my "pretty eyes" well enough under my Sally Jesse glasses. This was code for, "Sweetheart, you are wicked gawky looking and if I don't help you spruce up, you are going to be voted "Most Likely to be Found French Kissing Her David Cassidy Pillow in the Girls' Lav".

So, I got the lenses and they did wonders for my self-esteem. I got involved in many school activities and Student Council. Then my junior high experience peaked. Mrs. S bestowed the biggest, bestest responsibility that all kids dreamed of: The School Store.

The School Store was actually a glass counter top in the hallway. Inside laid the best candy, chips, popcorn, Doritos, you name it, oh and some school supplies... I think, but no one ever bought those. Back in the day, there were no obese children and schools could get away with selling crappy food to kids without the government intruding. It was glorious. (Oh, did I mention I'm now on the Wellness Committee at my son's school?).

So, you're thinking, "So what? You were in charge of a store that sold candy. It doesn't mean you actually ate it Becky, right?"

(See #3.)

3. My father, a.k.a. Sugar Daddy
While he was hyper vigilant about us eating everything green on our plates each night, his one mistake was his inattentiveness to his cigar box. He kept this baby on his bureau loaded with quarters. And I mean, loaded. Every morning after he left for work, I'd grab a handful of quarters and stuff my pockets. Come school store duty, I was ready to support my habit. I would literally buy 2 candy bars and a bag of cheese popcorn every single day and eat all of it before even going home. This was my healthy afternoon snack.
(Thanks Dad, for not counting your quarters at day's end.)

I am sorry if I have left out any Villagers who contributed to Sugar Baby's downfall. If you are reading this, please come forward and say your peace. The healing process has begun, big time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Diary of a Sugar Baby

Any form of dessert has always been one of the most pleasant parts of my day, but now, I am starting to hate it. After this week's events and non-stop consumption, I can honestly say that I think the sugar has taken its Toll House on me. There was Halloween on Sunday, my husband's birthday the next day, a funeral and the family gathering the day after that. Toss in a bucket of candy glaring at me all week, and a "Ladies Days Situation" into the mix and there you have it, the Sugar Depression has hit.

Sound crazy? Well, it's true. If you eat enough of it, you will eventually get depressed. And the more you eat it, the more you need it and crave it. The converse is also true. Once you give it up (gasp), you don't miss it. But who can actually give it up? I think about going cold turkey all the time and then I feel too weak.

Sadly, there are Crack Babies, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome babies, and babies who end up with asthma from pregnant smoking moms.

And then there are the forgotten Sugar Babies.

History of a Sugar Baby

Born from a mother (called a Sugar Mama) who, as a youngster, got fired from a bakery for eating too much pastry. The same Sugar Mama who gorged on a Nutrageous bar in front of her starving prego daughter who was hooked up to an i.v for 5 hours waiting for her C-section to happen.

Sugar Mama is still going strong at 75 and is known for eating cookies in bed at 3am (we also call her "Frat Girl".) Sugar Mama never met a cream puff she didn't like and has been found passed out with powdered sugar on her mouth after eating too many Wandies. Surprisingly, she is not obese. Sugar Mama always gave her kids ice cream, jello, cookies, you name it. (She did cook healthy meals too, but this really isn't about that... for once.)

To make her Sugar Mama proud, the Sugar Baby eats some form of sweets every day. If available, she will eat cookies before (or for) breakfast. After every meal, she is again, seeking out something sweet. While her kids are playing, she hides in the food pantry and eats spoonfuls of peanut butter topped with chocolate chips. She always has room for dessert.

Sugar Baby misses those school fundraisers when they actually sold useful stuff like candy bars. Sugar Baby is convinced that her mother created this mess in-utero and that there is no cure.

I may be the first ever to create a 12 Step Program to help all the helpless and innocent Sugar Babies of the world.

All day, Facebook updates read things like:
"Hi, I'm Alex and I ate 10 Kit Kats today."

"I'm Shirley and it's been 2 hours since my last Reeses."

I know for me, there is no happy medium. I cannot eat just one of anything so today I decided I needed to dig deep within my soul instead of the candy bucket. I know that if I can just overcome the next few days, my addiction will be broken.

Anyone joining me on this torturous journey? Misery does love company!

What am I eliminating?

Any kind of dessert. Cakes, cookies, pie, candy, ice-cream. I am not sure if I will stop using the 1/2 tsp of sugar in my coffee.

My Strategy?

Every time I thought about hitting the candy bucket today, I drank water instead. If you're all smart, you'd invest in some Depends stock right now.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bed, Bath, & Beyond; You get my Vote!

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE a good deal on something. Well, who doesn’t nowadays? And even better than a good deal is getting great customer service. I will share my story and it will run shivers down your spine (well, it did to mine, that’s how excited I am!).

After baby Nicolas was born just over 3 yrs ago, I realized if I was going to survive the 2nd Baby Syndrome, I would need lots of coffee to get me through. Lots. During my hazy days with him, I found a new love in “fancy hot drinks”, like cappuccinos and lattes. The sleep deprivation was doing a number on me and these hot totties were my own personal "mommy crack". Since I am not the type to blow 5 dollars on a Starbuck's, I decided I would buy my husband a Tassimo hot beverage maker for Christmas (I am all for a gift we both can use), you know the one that makes coffee, tea, hot choc, lattes and cappuccinos? That one. It was love at first sight. Until it wasn’t. Long story short, it ended up under the kitchen counter so I wouldn’t be reminded of my laziness in a rehab attempt. The poor thing just collected dust for almost 2 years.

Occasionally, the Mr. would ask about it and every time he did, I felt like an unfit mother and wife. Until this week.

I went on www.tassimo.com to troubleshoot to discover that I might need to “descale” the machine. But the catch was I needed the cleaning disc (that came with the machine but sadly went missing) and a descaling solution. Was able to find these online cheaply but the shipping was going to total more than the order. Sorry. Not my cup of tea.

Next step. Drive to Bed, Bath & Beyond to ask a sweet salesgirl what to do. She then told me (are you sitting down?), “Just bring in the machine and we’ll replace it for nothing. No receipt or box needed.”

I nearly collapsed.

Not trusting this information one bit, I naively approached a nice sales boy. Same question. Same answer. “Absolutely, bring it back, no hassles return policy.”

HUH?

(Stay seated.)

I went back to B,B&B today lugging my disabled machine and the little reason I purchased it back in 2007. I was then given a BRAND NEW model and a receipt.

The salesgirl then broke the worst news of all. “You also have a rebate inside.”

“OK”, I said meekly, and ran like the wind out of B, B& B (or as my mom calls it “Bed, Bath, Body and Beyond”)

Got home, unloaded 2 grocery stores full of food, and my brand new Tassimo Bosch. Inside the bag was a rebate form for $50. All I needed to do was return the rebate form, UPC and receipt.

Gulp. I do not deserve this. I just scored a new machine and a rebate too? I am still not so sure I should qualify for the rebate. I’ll let you know in 6-8 weeks.

And just one more perk. After registering the product on line today, I also got 2 free boxes of T-Discs for my BRAND NEW COFFEE MAKER.

I am super impressed by Bed, Bath, Body & Beyond's return policy. I had NO idea this existed. The bottom line is, you can return anything if you are not happy with it or it doesn’t work properly. NO QUESTIONS ASKED.

And now, we’re back in business here at CafĂ© Nero! Would you like a biscotti with that?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Becky's Baked Chicken Tenders

Bye Bye "Mystery Meat", say hello to Becky's Baked Chicken Tenders. (I am the Anti-Nugget supastar, in case you didn't know.)

Here is a recipe you and the kids will love. Using plain panko bread crumbs and spices from your own pantry, you can create a healthy and VERY tasty new version of the dreaded nugget.

Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb and provides a nice crunch compared to regular breadcrumbs. They are also sold pre-seasoned but I like to control the sodium in my food. You can find these breadcrumbs anywhere now, even Ocean State Job Lot!

You can make these without the ground flax meal but why bother? I use it any chance I get. High in Omega 3, take a look http://www.bobsredmill.com/flaxseed-meal.html. (I love Bob's products and also find them at Job Lot.)

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts washed, patted dry and cut into finger like strips

1 egg

1 cup plain panko bread crumbs

3 TBS ground flax meal

1 TBS kosher salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp onion powder

2 shakes of cumin powder

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp dried parsley

1/2 tsp oregano

1 TBS Parmesan or Romano grated cheese

grape seed oil and/or cooking spray


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a shallow bowl, whisk the egg and approx 1 tsp of water to thin it a bit.

In a separate pie plate or shallow dish, place your panko bread crumbs, flax meal, and all the spices and grated cheese. Mix well using your hands. At this point, smell the mixture, or even taste it if you think it needs more of something else. Don't be scared....it's your masterpiece, not mine!

Spray a baking sheet generously with cooking spray lined with aluminum foil (optional, but the foil helps the cleanup after).

Taking 2-3 tenders at a time, dip each in the egg mixture and let the egg drip off into the bowl. Then coat in the panko mixture, pressing down firmly so the crumbs stick well. Don't be afraid to turn them over a few times to get a good crunch on them. Repeat until done.

Place each tender on the baking sheet in one layer. Next, spray the tops generously with more cooking spray, or drizzle grape seed oil over each tender. (Grape seed oil is one of those super healthy oils and adds a nice flavor. Also very tolerant of high heat.)

Bake in the oven for about 12-14 minutes and then turn each tender over and bake another 12 minutes or so. You are looking for a golden brown color and a decent crunch.

TIPS:
  • Double up when making the panko mixture so you'll have extra for next time. You can store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for later use.
  • Put your own twist on this, using more of less of certain spices. Try adding chili powder, cayenne, dried thyme or lemon pepper.
  • Use the crumb mixture for homemade fish sticks. Choose a sturdy white fish. (I haven't tried this yet. Cooking time would probably be shorter)
  • I've turned them into Buffalo style by dousing them in hot sauce just after cooking and dunking in blue cheese dressing.
  • You can also slice them after cooking and put in a salad for your lunch.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Trick-or-Treat, Smell my Feet

The other night we had our friends, Mark & Mia over for sup. After the kids went to bed, we got a little giggly thinking about the suckiest things a kid could receive in his/her trick-or-treat bag.

What started as a top ten list turned into a monster. You may have to relocate the fam after giving out any of the following to your neighborhood goblins:
  1. Sweet & Low packet
  2. pennies in a plastic sandwich bag
  3. religious pamphlet
  4. a Cheez-it
  5. dental floss
  6. staples
  7. Chapstick
  8. apple
  9. Dum Dums
  10. Communion wafer
  11. your old hockey trophies
  12. circus peanuts
  13. 1 Uno card
  14. a rock
  15. Fortune cookie
  16. 1 shoe lace
  17. leftover Pink Peeps
  18. a can of chick peas
  19. 1 Pez
  20. empty bubble wand
  21. an enema
  22. pierogis
  23. a raw pumpkin seed, pulp attached
  24. fire safety booklets
  25. a raisin
  26. pine cones
  27. baby carrots
  28. Feenamint
  29. dog biscuits
  30. 1 orange Tic Tac
  31. anti-bacterial soap
  32. a Mentos
  33. can of sardines
  34. a ball of dryer lint
  35. 1 cheese ball
  36. ketchup & mustard packets
  37. a peanut
  38. used tea bags
  39. broken crayons
  40. hemorrhoid cream
  41. lighter fluid
  42. push pins
  43. H1N1 symptom list
  44. the list of approved snack items from their school

If you think of any other great give-aways, do share below!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

We've covered breakfast in a recent blog with a breakfast cookie. Now, onto lunch.

So many parents complain about making the lunches, especially after seeing what comes home in the lunch bag at the end of the day. I hate throwing food away, too!

I only have to make 1 lunch so I don't feel it's a big deal. I know people who have multiple lunches on the assembly line each morning so the task can be a bit more daunting, especially if they all don't like the same thing.

As a kid, I loved tuna sandwiches and plain old peanut butter. I used to buy lunch once a week when they served spaghetti and salad or pizza (little did my taste buds know just how disgusting the pizza was). My son never buys lunch and doesn't care to. I know they are trying to improve the school menus but truly, I know enough teachers who suffer severe nausea on a daily basis from the "aromas" wafting from the cafs. Nuf said.

What's a parent to do? We are brainwashed by the food industry to pack items like "Lunchables" (code for processed, high-sodium, the anti- food) and 100 calorie snack packs (code for processed and overpriced). Whatever happened to packing as my friend Gina calls it, "a piece of fruit"? An orange or an apple, remember that in your lunch bag?

My son is not a "lunch meater" (did I just coin a new phrase?) so I have to be creative. Here is what I have made for his lunches over the last 2 years:

  • cold whole wheat spaghetti drizzled with olive oil and parsley
  • peanut butter and fluff on whole wheat bread
  • whole wheat tortillas wrapped with cheese
  • egg noodles
  • homemade chicken soup in a thermos
  • homemade pizza or bakery pizza strips
  • homemade spinach calzones

That's pretty much the running list. Snack items include:

  • Triscuits or Wheat Thins
  • granola bars
  • string cheese
  • sliced cheddar cheese
  • homemade muffin or cookie
  • always a vegetable; either sugar snap peas, cut up carrots, celery, cukes, peas, green beans or salad
  • water bottle and sometimes a 100% fruit juice. Sometimes I let him buy the sugar laden chocolate milk

Readers submitted their own ideas on the Facebook fan page. I'm including some extras that I wish my son would eat!


  • Gogurts (freeze and throw in the lunch in the a.m)
  • hummus and crackers or pita bread
  • edamame
  • egg, chicken, tuna, turkey, or ham salad
  • lean cuts of deli meat in a sandwich (Hormel Naturals makes a very healthy turkey & ham; no nitrates or preservatives. You will pay slightly more than your usual deli meat.)
  • apple slices and peanut butter (if allowed in school)
  • Nutella on whole grain bread (for me that is DESSERT!)
  • Sunbutter ( a great peanut butter substitute if your child has an allergy or the school has banned PB products) sandwich, or as a dip for apple slices.
  • any kind of leftovers from the night before. Kids don't care as much as you think about having HOT food. Or use a Thermos.
  • refried beans spread on a whole wheat tortilla with cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa
  • Laughing Cow cheese or cream cheese used as a spread with shredded carrots, sliced olives, leftover cooked chicken in a wrap
  • Tri-colored pasta salad with shredded carrots, celery, broccoli florets with Italian dressing
  • dried fruit, raisins, cranberries, apricots, banana chips
  • Greek yogurt with granola (the Greek stuff is so rich and creamy and packed with protein) or topped with mini chocolate chips
  • your child's favorite fruit either whole or cut up

Other Tips:

  • Use your kid's creativity and let him/her make lunch. Challenge them to use at least 3 colors in the rainbow in their lunch and you are sure to be packing in some good vitamins!

  • Don't pack massive quantities of one thing. They only have so much time to eat. Picking on a few items will hopefully guarantee that they are getting a variety of nutrients.

  • Use an ice pack to keep cold stuff cold

  • Ask your kids what other kids eat at school to either, 1. Get ideas or 2. Help you feel better about what you are sending in : )

  • Remember, your kids' tastes will change so keep trying new things and don't give up or you'll both be in the same food rut for years to come

  • Make sure you have a good mix of protein and carbs to keep their brains and bodies at optimal speed for a great day of learning

Foods to Avoid Like the Plague:


  • Ramen noodles: Devoid of nutrients and extremely high in sodium

  • Lunchables or anything that comes in a can or plastic package. I just think homemade is the way to go, as much as you can. Do what is best for the child and not necessarily the easy/lazy way out.

  • Happy Meals. Yes, I have heard that some parents deliver these to their kids at school. I can't even go there right now.

  • Any junk food: Twinkies, Yodels, candy bars, Doritos, potato chips....you get the idea. I think putting these in a kid's lunch on a daily basis is a recipe for disaster. NOTE: I do not believe in depriving ANYONE of sweets. Give them a cookie or baked good that is homemade. At least you know what's in it, right?

Please share your lunch tips here and what works for you. We can all benefit from each other's wisdom : ). Thank you so much to all the Facebook fans who helped contribute to this article!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Too Much "Boo"ze in Halloween

I don't know how many people are reading my blog. I think after this posting, I will find out!

I’ve written this one in my head for 4 years now and finally have the guts to publish it. Putting these words on paper will mean one of the following:

Someone will;
  1. Call me a "stick in the mud"
  2. Agree with me
  3. Think I should live on another planet
  4. Defriend me, either on Facebook or in real life

At this over 40 stage of my life I worry less and less about others’ opinions. (Wait til I’m 80).

Here goes. I just have a question.

When did Trick or Treating with children become a drink fest? I am not talking about the tots running amok with Grey Goose and Bud Light. I am speaking of the parents who carry a cooler on their backs while the kids are running door to door to score some sugar. Seriously, it’s everywhere. No matter which neighborhood you venture into; the high class and the not so high class. The parents are chugging beer while the kids are chomping on Charleston Chews.

When exactly did this happen? Has it been going on for years and I was just unconscious?

Here’s the thing. I do not drink at all. Was never much of a drinker before I had kids and then once I did have them, I somehow developed a strange allergy to booze. I might have a sip of wine and seriously, that is more than my body can handle. So, it’s easy for me to sit on my wagon and judge. Alcoholic beverages are not my thing. Now, if you’re going to criticize people who eat chocolate excessively.....

I digress. I don't judge people for drinking responsibly. BUT....

I think that childhood is a very short ride and kids only have a very brief window of time to be innocent. And I look at Halloween as a fun and carefree childhood activity. Why do parents have to infuse alcohol into it? Is Trick or Treating so stressful that you need to get through it by drinking a 6 pack? I just. Don’t. Get it.

And it’s not just Halloween. It’s kids’ birthday parties, it’s play dates with mommies drinking margaritas, it’s the “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” attitude. It’s those damn “Real Housewives” on Bravo TV. Whenever the ladies get together you never see anyone drinking a cup of coffee. They are too drunk, hooked up to Pinot I.Vs. One couple could not endure a family photo shoot without a gallon of burgundy red on the side. I don’t find it funny. I find it pathetic and I think it sets a horrible example for children. Growing up thinking that this amount of alcohol consumption is normal, is not normal. And I really feel like part of the minority.

There's a time and a place for everything. Children's events should be just that; for children. The adults should plan their adult parties another time.

I’d love to know what the audience thinks. Does it bother anyone else? Please share your comments below!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Help End SMA!!!



I find the true movers and shakers of the world are mostly moms and dads forced into fighting for a cause they didn't know they were destined to fight. Take for example, the Calise and Strong families. Both have one thing in common: A beautiful, intelligent daughter with SMA, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, the number one inherited cause of infant death.

These 2 families have never met in person but they share a bond like no other. They fight a fight that no parent should ever have to fight. But they do. They are trying to find a cure for an incurable and deadly disease for their precious daughters. These 2 phenomenal girls are Gwendolyn Strong and Corinna Calise. (Pictured are the Calises)

I have never met the Strong family but I feel like I know them well. They have chronicled Gwendolyn's journey from the joy of her birth, to the devastating SMA diagnosis, to the triumphs of each birthday. I love seeing Gwendolyn grow up via the blogosphere. Take a peek into Gwendolyn's world here: http://www.gwendolynstrong.com/ . She is so blessed to have such devoted and driven parents, Bill and Victoria who work tirelessly for SMA funding and research. They want nothing more than for Gwendolyn to have a life full of love, laughter, friends, fun, books, music, family and more importantly, a chance.

I can say the same for the Calise family; Michael, Michelle and Corinna! Michelle and I have been best friends since High School and her boundless energy and enthusiasm for life never cease to amaze me. She and Michael run on very little sleep yet they are both always ready to help someone else in need. They have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help fund/find a cure for SMA. Here they are! http://www.fightsma.org/index.php?fam_calises .
These 2 families inspire and amaze me! They are making true history in finding a cure for SMA. But they still need more help!

HOW YOU CAN HELP TOO!
No donation required, just a few clicks!!

END SMA by voting for the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation to win $20,000 for SMA research at VoteForSMA.com every day in September through Jimmie Johnson’s Samsung Helmet of Hope contest.

You can vote once EVERY DAY from now until September 29th at 5 PM EDT.

Go to VoteForSMA.com, select the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, enter the two security words, check the Official Rules box, and then click “Vote Now!”

That’s it! It’s really that simple.

Don’t forget to add your name to the DailyVoteReminder.com list so you don’t miss a $20K vote.

SHARE this with all of your friends!


Please make a difference in thousands of lives like Gwendolyn's and Corinna's!! Go to VoteForSMA.com now!!!

Much love and peace,

Becky

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cookies for Breakfast

Yes, I am the best mom, EVER!

With school starting this week, everyone is wondering what to pack for the kids' lunches. No one is talking Sugar Smack about breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

I have figured out a way to get my kids to eat more than the usual nibble at breakfast time. I give them cookies. Not just any old Oreos or Chips Ahoy, my dears. I actually bake them cookies for breakfast. Now before you think I have gone over to the dark side where kids are eating Toaster Strudels, Pop Tarts, or licorice (yes, I do think they all belong in the same category whether you want to believe it or not), I have found the answer to every parent's breakfast dilemma. The Breakfast Cookie.

You see, I have one son who likes cereal but not with milk. I see him muddling through the bowl like it's agony. It's just so dry and blah. He won't eat eggs but he loves pancakes. He eats a yogurt every single morning of his life, without fail. The rest of breakfast can be tricky, especially on school mornings when the time crunch hits and I'm screaming, EAT YOUR BREAKFAST OR YOU'LL MISS THE BUS!!!
They say "necessity is the mother of invention" and I do believe it must have been a mother who invented the Breakfast Cookie! She surely had a child like mine.
There are many recipes out there and I'm sure if you just Google it, you'll find one you like. The one I made today is from Disney's Magic Kitchen Cookbook. I followed it, mostly to the letter but I thought a few changes would make them slightly healthier. The recipe below includes the changes I've made.
Bring these along when your child has a sports activity and needs a little healthy snack to keep him going or even pack one in the lunch box. And since no one I know has time to bake on a school morning, make these on the weekend and freeze for later.
Ingredients:
Non-stick cooking spray
1 Smart Balance stick softened (Smart Balance is a great butter blend. Works great in baking, sub it for butter)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups Total Raisin Bran or Original Total
2 TBS ground flax seed meal (optional)
1/4 cup chocolate chips....or more (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, beat the Smart Balance for 30 seconds with electric mixer. Add brown sugar and baking soda. Beat until mixed. Add the eggs, beating until mixed. Add the flour and ground flax seed meal (if using) until the mixture no longer looks dry and resembles cookie dough. Use a wooden spoon to mix in the cereal and chocolate chips if using. (This will mash the cereal a bit automatically in case you thought the flakes are too big.)

For each cookie, pack the mixture into a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Spoon out the mixture with a rubber spatula onto the prepared cookie sheet. Press the mound of dough and flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining dough, placing the cookies 3 inches apart.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit on the cookie sheet for 1 minute longer.

Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool.
Makes 12 cookies.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rodney King and Mommy Dearest Offer Advice for the Mother Hood

Two of my favorite quotes as they relate to The Mother Hood:

"Can't we all just get along" (Rodney King)

"Why must everything be a contest?" (Mommy Dearest to her 7 yr old Christina)

It seems motherhood has become a competitive sport. Everywhere. Blogs, Tweets, Facebook, the playground, the grocery store, anywhere is game for the sport. According to one recent study, cyberbullying moms are especially running rampant and are dominating the blogosphere. After all, it's much safer to type a comment than it is to go face to face with a mother. And it's cowardly. But a lot of women are doing it. And someone, somewhere is reading this and judging me, to which I say, "pflggtthhh". And PS. I just read a posting from a popular mom blogger who actually stopped blogging because she couldn't stand the constant ridicule from other moms about her life. Ouch.

I actually hesitated in writing about this topic for fear of being judged by my fellow sisters/mothers. Trust me, this blog is more about questions, than answers. So judge all you want.

But why judge at all? Who are we competing with and why? Are we so insecure with ourselves and our choices that we feel vindicated when we judge others? Do we judge and gossip because that is what women "do"? Or are we just so bored with our lives that we have nothing else to discuss?

Did our mothers and grandmothers behave this way? Did they whisper behind each other's backs, "Did you hear Eunice saw Mabel in Woolworth's buying three housecoats? How dare she spend that kind of money on herself!" And, "I think Rose just got one of those new machines that dries your clothes. I guess she'll be too good for us now. Hmpfh!"

I'll admit, today's moms are faced with challenges and choices our fore mothers weren't. Should we work or stay home after the kids are born. Or maybe we just don't have a choice in the matter. We do what we have to or need to given our circumstances. Some moms who work full-time wish they could stay home. Some moms who stay home, wish they could work. I personally think the best gig is working part time and enjoying the best of both worlds. Our nanas were content staying home with the kids.....or were they? The point is, we really are damned if we do and damned if we don't. Someone will have a judgment about our decisions. Breast or bottle, disposable or cloth diapers, paper or plastic. In the end, no one gets an award for being Super Mom but I do believe if you are the best mom you can be, then the rewards will speak for themselves when you are long gone.

Would men behave this way if they were able to bear children? I really don't think so. Instead, they'd be bragging about who has the biggest belly bump and bra cup size and who hurled the most in the first trimester. And cut to the delivery room, "Hey man, did you SEE the size of that placenta?"

Obviously, I don't have any answers and I have a twisted view of pregnant men.

Perhaps this blog might make The Mother Hood a nicer place to play and share together like we're always teaching our kids.

Why must everything be a contest? Can't we all just get along?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shrimp Pesto Pasta




Whenever I see my parents, instead of "Hello" from my dad, it's "You need basil or parsley? How about some tomatoes?" He's always ready to share his bounty with the world....that's the nice thing about people who have vegetable gardens! How can I say no? These ingredients are an Italian cook's dream come true and before you know it, they will be a distant memory. So enjoy them now!
I made this recipe on a whim for company one night and they loved it, deeming it "blogworthy". Photo credits to my number one fan and blogtographer, Mark Sylvestre.
Hope you all enjoy this delightful dish!
Shrimp Pesto Pasta
To make the pesto:

1 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/4 cup pignoli (pine) nuts, or you may try sliced almonds or walnuts, whatever you're nuts about is fine with me!
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
approx 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs roughly chopped calamata olives (optional, but I think they are what separates this from your ordinary pesto)

In a food processor or blender, pulse the basil, parsley, nuts, garlic, salt & pepper until finely chopped. While it's still running, add the olives (if using) and slowly add enough oil to make a thick and smooth consistency, approx 2/3 cup. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese.
The pesto will keep well in the fridge for 2 days.

The pasta portion of the show includes:

1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 lb rotini whole wheat pasta
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1/3 cup sliced calamata olives
1 lb frozen pre-cooked shrimp, thawed according to package directions
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (goat cheese might also work well here)
  1. In a large serving bowl, add the sun dried tomatoes, slightly drained and sliced olives. Set aside.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions or until al dente and drain. While the pasta is cooking, in a separate skillet or stove top grill pan, spray lightly with cooking spray and turn heat to medium. Add the grape tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, tossing occasionally. The goal is to get a little carmelization/slight browning on the tomatoes. You want them to hold up and not turn to mush. Transfer the tomatoes to the serving bowl with olives & sun dried tomatoes.
  3. With the heat still on the pan, spray a little more cooking spray or a drizzle of olive oil. Add the thawed shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then transfer to the serving bowl with the other ingredients.
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl and toss with the pesto, making sure to incorporate the pesto well into the pasta. Add salt and pepper if needed. After it's cooled slightly, toss in the feta or goat cheese and serve, warm or room temp.
Variation: Omit the shrimp and use grilled chicken breast strips or leftover rotisserie chicken.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Share it Forward

Being the Frugalista that I am, I always try to think of innovative ways to save money. Sure there are coupons, consignment stores and plain old "going without". But have you thought of forming an alliance with your friends, family, and/or neighbors to maximize the virtual goldmine of supplies/tools they all have sitting around, begging to be used? I have! ( One statistic states we don't use 70% of what we have in our homes. )

It started out very innocently when I wanted to borrow a friend's mandolin so I could make homemade potato chips (Yes, I am crazy!). My friend said that they never use it and we could "timeshare" it. I was going to buy one but it was a bit pricey and not really a "necessity". Then the same friends went on vacation and we asked to borrow their rug cleaner. (You're thinking, "these people sure take advantage of their friends!" Don't worry, we feed and water them regularly). We usually leave carpet cleaning to the professionals but this time I didn't feel like wasting the money. So we used our friends' cleaning machine and the rugs came out GREAT!

Savings= $150

So I started thinking about taking sharing to a whole new level. What if we all shared our toys in a more organized and streamlined fashion without spending a penny!?

Here are some great ideas to get you started:


Girls Night IN!

Pick a house, any house and gather all your gal pals. Have some snacks and beverages. This too can be pot lucked.

Your mission, if you chose to accept it is to bring to the table items you:
a. Are not that fond of but someone else might like
b. No longer use
c. Don't care if you ever see again

The idea is to swap, trade, or borrow each other's items. You can work these details out with your friends, whether the goal is for all to borrow, timeshare, or keep; you decide!
Chose a theme for the night. Pick one or a combo of any listed below and run with it:
  • Unopened/unexpired makeup
  • clothing
  • DVDs
  • books
  • costume jewelry
  • shoes/accessories/pocketbooks
  • small housewares/kitchen gadgets (I know I have a few too many!).

This is a great way to connect with your friends, have a lot of laughs, and get some good stuff FREE. It's like a yard sale only way more fun and no annoying hagglers. ("Can I have that coffee table for a quarter?")

What NOT to Share:

  • opened or used makeup
  • cars
  • expensive jewelry
  • husbands/children (have you seen what happens on Wife Swap?)
  • anything you can't bear to say goodbye to

Baby's Day Out!

Gather your mom friends and their kids. Let the kids run amok while you swap the following:

  • baby/kids clothing
  • Halloween costumes/seasonal items
  • snow boots/snow suits/winter coats/hats/mittens
  • toys/games/books/music/DVDs/videos

Bring your own bags and prepare to shop til you or the kids drop, whichever comes first!

Guys Night OUT


OK, I don't mean at the local strip club. I mean, the backyard where they can show off their tools. Many jobs in our house are done by us (read, my husband), as long as he has the correct equipment and know-how, he makes a valiant effort to save us money and tackles many jobs on his own. However, he doesn't always have the right stuff for the job. He takes numerous trips to Lowe's and Home Depot and has invested in some good tools, including a power washer (a great investment!). However, even being a "Do it Yourselfer" can also come with a price tag. So now is the time to beg and borrow from your friends. Devise a plan, formal or not, to swap tools as needed.


If you have a group of 4-5 friends, you are guaranteed to meet every one's home improvement needs by swapping any of the following:

Lawnmowers, weed whackers, drills, saws, power washers, ladders, leftover paint/stain, shovels, snow blowers. The list is endless. And the plus side to all of the sharing is it keeps you connected to your neighbors instead of that awkward wave from the driveway in your jammies. We're talking some serious bonding now!

Word to the wise. Set clear expectations and boundaries from the beginning. Make sure everyone knows how to use the equipment and provide manuals whenever necessary.

I hope you use these ideas and if you think of some new ones, please post a comment below. Time to make the potato chips!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eat a Pickle....Cut the Fat?


Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles
My sister in-law Kim's grandmother always said this. We don't know how true it is but I personally feel better after eating anything pickled, knowing that I might be burning some body fat in the process. Truth is, though, I will eat anything pickled: cukes, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, green tomatoes, the list goes on.

My dad's garden is suddenly overflowing with the green stuff and my mother is dubiously sauteing it, grilling it, and frying it. I think it's time to move on to something new! After all, zucchini is one of those "vanilla" vegetables. It doesn't taste bad, per se. It just needs a little zest to make it more appetizing. One way to perk them up is to pickle them!

I found a recipe in Cooking Light Magazine and thought I'd share my own adaptation of it. Their recipe calls for mustard seed and I've substituted pickling spices instead. I find the pickling spices are more flavorful. I also changed the amount of hot pepper flakes.

Here's what you'll need:

4 cups 1/8 inch zucchini slices
1 cup sliced sweet onion
3 thinly sliced cloves garlic
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp pickling spices (found these at Job Lot for .88)
3/4 tsp kosher salt

Combine the zucchini, onion, and garlic in a glass bowl (or a 9x13 shallow glass baking dish works well too). Bring the vinegar, sugar, spices and salt to a boil. Pour over the zucchini mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

These taste just like pickled cukes and have a nice crunch to them without all the high sodium in the store bought pickles. I am guessing that if you like to preserve in jars, you can try this recipe in canning jars as well.

Eat a pickle, cut the fat!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Popping Panzanella Salad


If you've never tried Panzanella Salad, now is the time! With all the in season ripe tomatoes, here is a chance to use them up. Panzanella Salad is like a Bruschetta in a Bowl and my version will definitely awaken your taste buds!
Ingredients:

5 cups of cubed day old crusty bread. I used Trader Joe's Ciabbata bread.
4 Roma or plum tomatoes, cubed
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 tin of anchovies in oil, drained and chopped
1 cup pitted calamata olives chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves sliced
1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped
1/2 cup chopped pepperoncini peppers
1/2 cup to 1 cup feta cheese cubed

Dressing:
1 lemon juiced
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic chopped
salt/pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano

In a large bowl, place the bread cubes, tomatoes, anchovies, pepperoncini peppers, olives, basil, parsley. Toss.

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and pour over bread salad. Toss. Add the feta cheese. Let it set for 30 minutes and serve at room temperature.

Transform it to a Grinder in a Bowl! Add chopped cucumbers, celery, bell peppers, roasted peppers or chopped salami Major YUM!

You can also use different tomatoes, like a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes. Whatever you have from the garden will work. They're all good and juicy so bring 'em on!
Side note: I ate this the next day and it was still great and not mushy like I thought it might be. Enjoy!

Becky's Original Israeli Couscous




This is a great versatile side dish and a huge crowd pleaser! Enjoy it for your next barbecue or as a fancy side for chicken or fish. The great thing about this salad is that you can swap out different ingredients. See the variations listed at the end.
There is a little debate about how much sugar should be used. You can vary it from 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on your sweet tooth.


Picture courtesy of Deana Gunn from Cooking With All Things Trader Joes. For more on my interview with Deana: http://blog.cookingwithtraderjoes.com/2010/06/23/beckys-israeli-couscous-salad.aspx

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup sugar

1 box Trader Joe's Israeli Couscous (found in the pasta/rice aisle
1/3 cup unsalted dry toasted sliced almonds
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
2 oz feta cheese crumbled

1.) Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2.) Follow cooking instructions on the Israeli Couscous box. Add cooked couscous to the bowl containing the dressing. Toss with the dressing and let it cool (about 20-30 minutes), stirring occasionally. The couscous will absorb the dressing as it cools.

3.) Add the almonds, cranberries, and basil. Toss the feta cheese in lightly. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Serves 4

Variations:
If you don't have Israeli couscous, substitute 1 1/2 cups of dried orzo or TJ's Harvest Grains. Cook until al dente, drain and then add to the dressing.

If you don't have fresh basil, substitute fresh parsley, mint or a combination of both. If you don't like almonds, substitute toasted pignoli nuts.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning to Love Your Laundry

For too long laundry has gotten a bad wrap. It's drudgery, it takes FOREVER to do, it piles up, it lies around and doesn't pick up after itself. It smells.

Well, in our house, my motto is "laundry does itself". No, I do not wrinkle my nose like Samantha in Bewitched. I happen to LOVE doing laundry. Now, before you think I am one of those crazy, fanatical housewives, think again. The rest of the house could use some help (I'll stop there), but laundry, well, it never really goes away, unless you live in a nudist colony. And having clean clothes is just so...satisfying. There, I've said it!

I really feel like I am in the minority of Laundry Lovers. There are people who like to clean toilets and wash floors. Me, I like to fluff and fold. Must be in my jeans. My dad was a dry cleaner and I spent my teenage years working for him, waiting on customers, checking pockets, and organizing tangled masses of hangers. My mother also loved to do laundry and never complained about it (even though she often turned my white underwear pink!).


My mission today is to change the way the world views their dirty laundry. I know that when you start to change the way you feel about your laundry, you will no longer feel that every load you do is like hauling 100lbs of concrete on your back (this is the way some people make it sound!). Our fore mothers/grandmothers had no washers, no dryers, no laundromats and did they complain? Laundry was the least of their problems, considering they had to deal with life-threatening childhood diseases, no Dunkin coffee to get them through the day, and no Pea Pod delivery service.

This blog is dedicated to some very good friends. I'll call them "Mia" and "Kristen". I am "outing" you both from the laundry closet. I love you both too much to see you buried under so many piles, err mountains. And I fear that Kristen's children will suffer mild ridicule for wearing crocheted underpants to school this fall. And as for my friend "Michelle", I consider you a recovering laundryholic so you're safe for now.

OK, now that I've given you a pep talk, here a few tips to bring some lovin' to the laundry room:


1. Do your laundry every day or at the very least, every other day. Yes, you heard me. Do NOT wait until the weekend to "do laundry". It makes no sense. You are making yourself a prisoner for the weekend if you wait for Saturday or Sunday. Who wouldn't hate laundry at this point? Doing a little each day makes the job so much easier and will become part of the fabric of your life, trust me. It's like flossing. You just need to get in the habit. If you work all day and don't have time to do a load in the am, throw a load in as soon as you get home from work. (This is the "Laundry does itself" part). Then you can start dinnertime festivities. When the washer is done, put the clothes in the dryer, asap. (Again, it's still doing itself!). Move on with your evening fun. Before bed, take the laundry out of the dryer. Fold it and put it away, right away....

2. Do not leave it in the basket. This is where all laundry goes to die and will never see its rightful owner! Folding ONE load of laundry takes less than 5 minutes. Just think of all the time you waste on Facebook, watching reality TV, talking on the phone (wait, people text now) or reading my silly blog. This will also save on some ironing! (PS. I don't iron unless I have to go to a wake or a wedding).


3. Do not wash towels after every single shower. It's really OK to use it a few times after you've let it hang dry. After all, you're drying your super, squeaky clean body so how yucky could it get? This will cut down on your laundry!

4. Put a collapsible laundry hamper (dollar store) in each kids' room for them to dump their laundry in. Every day or so, gather ye baskets (or have them bring to you, Queen of Laundry), and separate your lights, darks, and whites into a 3 section laundry cart. I keep one next to the dryer for this purpose so the laundry stays organized for when there are enough items for a load, I don't have to separate and sift through mountains.

5. Let (Make) the kids help. As much as I love laundry, I don't like folding the hundreds of white socks (x3 males!). Now is a good time to teach your tots how to match! And once all the clothes are folded, they love putting them away, even though they make a mess. Who cares? My dear mother in-law Anne, RIP, made sure all 5 of her sons knew how to do laundry. Now that's a smart woman!

6. Just do it for heaven's sake! It's never going away so deal with it.

As you can see, I am not only a food snob, but now a laundry snob. I will continue to stick my nose high up in the air until you take those ripe socks off the floor and put them where they belong.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Italian Grinder Diet

It seems Becky's Big Bytes have gotten her into more trouble again. Last year it was for taking too many, which landed her in the back row at a Weight Watchers meeting. Now her nighttime teeth grinding has caused an impending gum surgery.

Let me explain.

I went for my 6 month cleaning a few weeks ago. My dentist, who likes to call me "Becky Wecky", declared that I now have exposed roots. I thought, "Well, that's pretty rude. I know I'm due for a touch up but come on. The box of Garnier Nutrisse Brown Sugar #63 has been glaring at me for weeks. I know, I know!" Dr. Dentist said, "No, Becky Wecky, your roots in your teeth are exposed." (Side note, I only had 3 Wisdom teeth and blame that for my sometimes "slowness".) He casually mentions that I need a gum graft surgery and not to worry, "Your insurance will pay for it". I'm thinking, "Hmm, not so bad....a few days of ice cream, some alone time out by myself under some nice anesthesia...sounds like a great mommy's day out, right?

Wrong!

I then visited the specialist who asked me what was wrong with my teeth. I said, "Well, doctor, I like the way they look, but I don't like the way they feel." I explained how I grind my teeth at night and I only chew on one side now since the other side is so sensitive. My $400 mouth guard cracked under all the pressure and ever since have been using one from CVS which I was advised now is making matters worse. I asked him if I will ever stop grinding and he said that I am a grinder and will always be a grinder. There is no cure. Apparently, grinding is my "thing". To which I said, "I guess then I am an Italian Grinder." Well, he thought this was hilarious and nearly suctioned himself silly. You know, these doctors tell the same jokes over and over again and those poor hygienists have to pretend they're funny. Well, the tables were turned that day and I told him a funny.

I wish the rest of the visit was as jovial. I learned that I will need 2 more gum surgeries after this one has healed. They take (cut) skin from your upper gum/palate area and graft it in the lower to cover the roots (where are you Brown Sugar #63 when I need you!?).

And the news just gets bleaker. All of this is done under a local anesthesia so the Mommy Time was over before it started.

The insurance hardly covers it, resulting in at least $1400 out of pocket, just for this surgery alone. Thank you health coverage for caring so much about our teeth. Or is it your goal to make sure that none of us can chew so the obesity issue will resolve itself? OK, then.

I will be restricted to a soft diet, will not really be able to brush my teeth, and will be sutured, bloody, and swollen. Happy Anniversary, Mr. Nero!

I am trying to remain optimistic. Things could always be a lot worse. Like my poor sister who had to have her jaw wired shut for 6 weeks, just months before she got married. Back then, there was little variety on the market of energy drinks, protein powders, and smoothies so I used to make her stuffing and polenta which she gracefully sucked through a straw. Watching her brush her teeth and try to spit was pure entertainment for the whole family.

As for me, I am looking for suggestions for the "Italian Grinder Diet". And please do not tell me to puree some provolone, salami, and hot peppers.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to Enjoy Cooking with your Kids

Cooking with kids can be:
a. Fun
b. Torture
c. Messy
d. Educational
e. All of the above


The answer is "e" on any given day in our house, depending on the mother's mood. I have to say, I rarely look at it as torture. Well, maybe a tad frustrating if I forget that they are little and messes happen (even to me when I'm not paying attention!).

I grew up cooking with my mom. Some of my best childhood memories are from the kitchen where we laughed, talked, and taste-tested. I call myself a "Sugar Baby" as I am convinced that my mom's sweet tooth was passed on to me in-utero!

I am a firm believer that not every child in the universe likes only mac & cheese, chicken nuggets and hot dogs. In fact, if someone served me this diet on a regular basis, I would definitely revolt! If we keep feeding kids boring and bland food, that is all they will ever know. Don't insult their taste buds. Let them explore different herbs, vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. You will someday be pleasantly surprised by the child who likes quinoa and tabbouleh with fresh mint leaves.

One way to get them to broaden their culinary horizons is to let the kids help you cook. Now, you're probably thinking that you don't have time, it's too messy, you don't really have the patience at the end of a long day, etc. And you're right! But you know, sometimes, you need to step back and let them do it. Kids really do love to help, especially in the kitchen. In case you have a picky eater (and who doesn't at some point?), letting them cook with you is a great way to expose them to different tastes, textures, and smells. And who knows, they might start eating all the funky foods you like! And suddenly, your usually quiet 7 year old suddenly starts opening up about this blond girl at school....

Here are some useful tips to get cooking with the little ones:

1. Get the step stool(s) ready.

2. Little People/Big Tools really don't go hand in hand, so opt for a little whisk, little spoon, little spatula, you get the idea.


3. Safety Rules: Yes, I know you all have common sense but sometimes we get caught up in the moment when the chocolate chip cookies are ready. Make sure the kids steer clear of a 4 foot radius of the open oven. No running in the kitchen, EVER, while cooking. Keep the knives far away, and hide the extra chocolate chips from the kids.



4. Know your limits, and theirs. This means that your kids don't need to cook for 30 minutes straight. In their little world, 5 minutes is a long time. The kitchen timer comes in handy here.



5. When cooking with more than 1 child, give each one a job. You know what they say about too many hands. Let one child pour, one mix, one measure, etc. And speaking of hands, make sure they wash 'em before they start cooking.

6. Let them smell the spices but be careful. You don't want your 2 year old sneezing incessantly after inhaling too much cinnamon or red pepper flakes. Waving the spice jar under the nose is much safer or place some in their little hands to touch and sniff.

7. REMAIN CALM AT ALL TIMES..... EVEN WHEN YOUR 7 YEAR OLD CRACKS EGGS ALL OVER THE KITCHEN COUNTER AND THE DOG STARTS LOPPING UP THE LIQUID EGGS OFF THE FLOOR. Not that this has ever happened while giving a lesson on egg separation, but my point is to be adventurous. (If I teach the boys just enough in the kitchen, my future daughters in-law will thank me for making their lives easier and hopefully it decreases my chances of ending up in a nursing home.)

8. Make things that they like. Pancakes are great because they get to reap the rewards right after. And did I mention cookies?

9. Make things they don't like. Yes, it's not always about them, right? Eventually they will need to eat more variety so why not start young. The crazier the food, the better!

10. Let the kitchen double as a classroom. For school age kids it's a great way to sneak in math concepts, fractions, and measuring. You can also save money on a tutor this way.

11. For the really little ones ages 10 -18 month olds, give them a bunch of empty plastic containers and some wooden spoons, old measuring cups, etc to play with. This will surely buy you some time while you prepare your next masterpiece.

Do you have any tips for cooking with kids? Please share them here!

ps. The photo above is my son Nicolas eating homemade pizza sauce, one of his faves.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Becky's Israeli Couscous Salad

I really enjoy shopping at Trader Joe's and recently submitted a recipe using TJ's ingredients. I also had the chance to interview with Deana Gunn who is a co-author of "Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's" and "The Trader Joe's Companion". It was a really fun interview and got me thinking a lot about cooking with and for kids, so you can guess that I will be blogging about it soon!

Here is my latest creation: Becky's Israeli Couscous Salad. Take a look and try this recipe for yourself. http://blog.cookingwithtraderjoes.com/2010/06/23/beckys-israeli-couscous-salad.aspx.

Let me know how you all like it, OK?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N

This week we ushered in the beginning of summer vacation.....for the children. Is it really a "vacation" for the parents?

Today was the 2ND full day of vacation for our 7 year old. My eyes were barely open, my first cup of coffee not even yet poured, and my mouth guard was still in its rightful place when he showed me his list of "Things to do Today". He said I got to choose which activity we would do....it was all up to me!

His list included the following:

1. Toy Story 3

2. Buy "Silly Bands" (in case you are living under a rock, these are rubber bracelets and are causing quite a stir in the schools lately because kids are so enamored with the fact that when you take them off, they retain the shape of a hippo, a star or a cat.)

3. Sleepover at Nana's (this seems like the best option but Nana was unavailable!)

I was stalked all morning with this list. Everywhere I went, I was followed by the boy with "the list". If you've seen the John Cusack classic "Better off Dead" where the paperboy is constantly chasing a family for the "TWO DOLLARS" they owe him, you get the idea. Only my kid is much cuter and more polite about his stalking.


When I became a mom, I was showered with books about how to feed, change and burp the baby, but no one gave me the parenting manual with the chapter entitled, "Do as he says, and no one gets hurt". It seems these little people have so quickly mastered the art of Hostage Negotiation. Their constant, specific demands will eventually wear you down to the point that you just give in and pay the ransom.

So, after giving a motherly speech about how "we have all summer to do fun stuff", and "we can't do something every day, especially if it costs money because we can't afford it", and "I'm not going to see you pouting all summer if you don't get your way"; I negotiated a plea bargain and went with #2 on the list.

Monday, June 14, 2010

When We Were Little....

Ahhh, you know you're getting old when you start uttering those 4 words. It's true though, don't you think? Times are really so different now for kids and parents. It's all so wacky to me, I thought I'd reminisce about the way things used to be when I was a youngster.

Yes, "I was young once too", is another thing I hear myself saying. Argh!!

When we were little:

1. There were no "Play Dates". We just went to the neighbor's house to play for hours and our parents never ever checked on us. They must have figured, the less they knew, the better. Now, kids have scheduled playtime and it's written on a calendar (in my world of paper and pen, or on one of those new-fangled techno-devices people are using nowadays). We played well into the night, a game called "Manhunt" which today, sounds like something on the Nancy Grace show.

2. There were no SAHMs (Stay At Home Moms). Well, they were there, but they just weren't called that! The SAHMs from days of yore actually STAYED HOME, whereas the SAHMs of today are always gallivanting. Amen sisters.

3. To enrich our lives we played "school", "ice cream truck", Monopoly, Sorry, CandyLand, Yahtzee, Checkers, etc. In our house, we played "Step on Stomachs" to see who could endure the most pain. There was no Little Gym, no Mommy & Me Yoga class, no Baby Einstein DVDs (what the heck was a DVD, we didn't even have VCRs back then), no toddler piano and French lessons, and certainly no Gymboree.

4. Our mothers didn't obsess or stress over which diapers to use (most of them used cloth as it was before the invention of Pampers!), which formula to use, which car seats to buy (ha, lucky we all made it out alive!), there were no choices and no crash studies. There was no Babies R' Us. Just K-Mart, Ann & Hope, & Sears. There were no Binky holders, Baby Bjorns, travel systems, and wipe warmers.
We were bathed in a basin at the foot of our driveway (and if you don't believe me, I have a picture of my brother in one to prove it.)

5. Some of our mothers smoke and drank during pregnancy (not that I am condoning this!) and now, you can't even eat feta cheese or lunch meat while prego. Just merely pointing out one of the many differences in prenatal care.

6. Positive Reinforcement was not yet invented. Its evil sister, "The Secret Pinch" you got in public, was however, very much alive.

Somehow, my generation managed to produce some highly successful people. We did not suffer irreparable harm, only required a standard dose of psychotherapy here and there, and escaped with minimal scarring.

When I am struggling with a parenting dilemma, big or small, I ask myself just one question:
Will this decision adversely affect my child in 20 years? The answer is always a resounding "no" and always keeps me grounded in reality.

So truly, bathing a baby in the driveway is OK. Although, my brother might disagree!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Drooling, Wake Night with Hubby and other signs it's time to get out

As a partially SAHM (stay at home mom, yes, it's a stupid term!), and part-time worker, I, like many other moms out there don't have a lot of "alone" time with me, myself and I, or with my husband.

Below are some signs that it's time to get out, either with your spouse or just you, yourself, and you, for some fun or serious adult interaction:

1. While checking out at the local Cumberland Farms you strike up a 10 minute conversation with the cashier about the upcoming "Free Slushies on Fridays". You tell him how much you enjoy "Freebie Fridays" and he starts telling you that only one out of every 50 customers cleans up after themselves near the Slushy machine and he HATES "Freebie Fridays." You promise him you will not make a mess when you get your free slushy and you really hope his Friday is not so bad.

2. You start a blog, a Facebook Fan page, and numerous other non-sensical FB groups to amuse yourself.

3. You look forward to that annual gyno appointment just so you can be alone in the examining room twiddling your thumbs and drooling while you wait an hour for your ObGyn doc to appear. Paper robe is optional.

4. Perusing the card aisle at CVS is the most fun you've had in a while. Have you seen all those musical cards? They are a hoot!

5. Your "Date Night with Hubby" is actually "Wake Night with Hubby". This happens when you and your spouse haven't been out alone together, except for the unfortunate wake you must attend. Sadly, you enjoy Wake Night with Hubby.

Ok, I think it's time to call a babysitter now....

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Save some dough, make your own!

By now you all know I like to cook.

What you might not know is there are several things about cooking that have always intimidated me. Two of those things were roasting a whole chicken and making my own pizza dough. I have totally overcome my fear of both through a bit of practice. Like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I had been on a healthy kick with my pizza dough and was using a recipe with whole wheat flour. However, I just wasn't feeling the love for this dough. It was not easy to work with and was very unpredictable, even if I made it the same exact way each time. I don't do well with unstable personalities, so I decided I needed to move on to a new recipe. As usual, I consulted the Internet and went to http://www.breadworld.com/. In case you don't know about this site, it is the Fleischmann's Yeast website and there are hundreds of recipes. It totally rocks! Well, I searched "pizza dough" and immediately it brought up the site for a great pizza dough recipe, http://www.pizzatherapy.com/. All I needed to see were the words "pizza" and "therapy" and I thought, my life is now complete!

I clicked on the link and lo and behold, there appeared a man named Albert Grande who happens to be this pizza guru. He lives, eats, and sleeps pizza. Immediately my jaw dropped. Being a Grande girl, I thought, what if we are related? So, I fired off an email:

"Dear Albert, you might think I'm crazy, but I think we could be cousins. My grandfather was Americo...."
Albert lives in Hawaii so the chances were slim but my instincts were telling me the pizza love affair we both share must be in the blood and no distance can break that bond! And he looks like my uncles...he must be my cuz. Well, Albert wrote back to me and he was simply flabbergasted.
"Yes", he told me, "I am your second cousin!"
We made all the familial connections and were giddy with excitement.

So, you see you never know what you will find on the Internet. I was simply looking for a dough recipe to get out of my pizza slump and I found my cousin, who I've never met but that just didn't matter. We share a love of pizza, children, family, "Grande talk", and laughter. I hope to meet Albert some day, but in the mean time, I will continue to use his family (our family, LOL) recipe, passed down from his mom.

The first time I made this dough, it came out perfectly. It was so easy to work with. I have even tested the waters and used about 1/2 whole wheat flour and it was still easy to work with. It's also great for calzones, too. Check out Albert's site at http://www.pizzatherapy.com/. He has created quite an empire around my favorite food. It's no wonder we are related!!

If you are afraid to make your own dough, like I was, Albert has a video on his website to walk you through the whole process. You will be amazed at how easy it truly is. And making dough is another way to save money. The ingredients are very basic: flour, water, salt, yeast, sugar or honey, and olive oil. In the time it takes to drive to the bakery or supermarket for dough, I make my own and it's delish!
Making dough is so fun and therapeutic. It's no wonder Albert calls it "Pizza Therapy"!

I will be posting pizza recipes soon! Stay tuned : )

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy "Anyone Who's Mothered" Day

I am a mother and I have a great mother so one would think that I should be all gaga (not to be confused with the Lady) over May 9th. However, if you know anything about me from reading thus far in my blog, I have many views and opinions. A few deep thoughts are coming and they are not so funny this time around. (Just a little disclaimer in case you thought I was going to entertain you.)

I feel like holidays such as Mother's Day can be very cruel for those who:

a. Don't have a mother
b. Are not mothers and want to be
c. Long to be fathers
d. Have lost a child
e. Are missing a far away child.

The list goes on.

I suppose I might be more hypersensitive to this issue since it was quite a while before I actually became a mother. I remember my small, innocent nephew asking me once, "Auntie, why don't you like kids?" Ouch. He thought that because I didn't have kids, I didn't like kids.

The truth is that there are countless mothers out there "undercover". Many have never been pregnant and many are not even women. We've all "mothered" someone, somewhere in our lifetime. Whether it was in a college dorm, comforting a friend with a broken heart, far away from home. Or the teacher who nurtures a student who doesn't get much attention at home. Or the wonderful friends who treat your kids like their own (you know who you are). Or the sister who is a perpetual Godmother to your kids and loves your kids unconditionally. To the dads who are going it alone and acting in the roles of Mom and Dad. To the coworker who takes you under her wing and gives you that much needed motherly advice you won't take from your own mom. Or the sweet nurses who hold your hand in the delivery room telling you it will all be OK. And what about the thousands of people who adopt homeless animals and "mother" them to pieces?

They've all served as the role of "Mother" in some capacity and to me, they all "count" as mothers on Mother's Day. I don't want Mother's Day to be a day where someone feels excluded. Call me crazy but even my own mother thinks this holiday and many other "Hallmark" holidays should be extinct.

So, whether you are a mother in the technical sense of the word, or not, please celebrate all who have Mothered. The world has become a much better place thanks to all of you "Moms".

Happy Mother's Day to you all.

Happy Mothers Day: Part 1

With another "Hallmark" holiday rapidly approaching, let's talk about Mother's Day. I don't like the commercialism of these holidays. I hate how they prey on people:

"Take mom out for brunch"..... it'll only cost your family $100 for scrambled eggs. Does going to a brunch with small kids spell relaxation to you? Errrr, not really. I guess if you are an 85 year old shut in, brunch sounds just divine. But we're not talking about the elderly here....we're talking about me.

I digress.

My idea of a perfect Mother's Day is the following:

1. I get to sleep until I wake up naturally; not to the sounds of "MOMMY, I'm AWAAAKE! Come get meeee!" You cannot put a price tag on this glorious REM-filled sleep!

2. No meal preparation by me for anyone for the entire day. Period.

3. The adorable homemade cards from my kids. Nothing cuter than that.

See, I don't ask for much and you know, every year, I pretty much get what I want. I don't need to go to an overpriced, crowded restaurant with my family. I am just as happy with takeout. Perhaps a little jaunt out by myself for some peace and quiet, a hike/walk/run, or maybe I'll watch a Real Housewives marathon on Bravo. Staring blankly at a wall is also an option and very good for the soul.

A very wise mom friend said recently that she is a mother for 364 days out of the year so for that one day, can't she just do what SHE wants? You betcha!

Knock yourselves out ladies and do something that makes YOU happy. Just stay away from the million dollar eggs. Don't you know we're in a recession?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Becky's Oven Baked Fries

I think it's time for another recipe. You know, I really love French fries but instead of frying them, I bake them at a high heat in the oven to make them crispy. It took me a few years to figure this out so now you don't have to!


I love drowning my fries in ketchup and vinegar (it's a Rhode Island thing!) and I don't miss the deep fried-ness, as long as I have my condiments, I'm a happy girl!

Becky's Oven Baked Fries

4-5 medium all purpose or russet potatoes
cooking spray
onion powder
salt
pepper
garlic powder
paprika
dried parsley

Scrub the taters well and leave the skins on. Dry well with a towel or paper towel. Cut the potatoes in approx 1/2 inch wedges. Spray a baking sheet or a grill pan generously with cooking spray. Place sliced potatoes in the pan evenly so they are not on top of each other. Spray the potatoes generously with cooking spray and shake the pan around. This will help the spices to stick well without adding lots of fat. Next, take all your spices, approx 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of each and mix together in a small bowl until well combined. Sprinkle the seasonings over the potatoes and give them another shake around to evenly distribute.

Bake in 450 degree oven. Check them around the 30 minute mark and give the pan a good shake. The key to making good baked fries is high heat and not letting them stick to the pan. You can flip them over with a spatula and bake approx 15 more minutes or until they are the desired crispness.

You can get a little more adventurous with your spices. Try cumin and/or chili powder, cayenne pepper, etc. Just be mindful of the crowd you are feeding! There really is no wrong way to season them, just go easy on the salt because you can always add more later if needed.

Thanks to Mark Sylvestre, my blogtographer and #1 taste tester!