Archive for March, 2010

is that a banana an octopus, or do you like me?

March 15th, 2010
Tear a banana peel into eight strips for an instant octopus that kids will love.

Tear a banana peel into eight strips for an instant banana octopus that kids will love—and eat!

Ok, this banana looks more phallic than oceanic, but does transforming a banana into an octopus compensate for allowing my son to eat Fruit Loops? He had a glass of milk, too, and we are on vacation. (Since becoming a mom, I’ve become a big fan of hotels, like the Hampton Inn and the Residence Inn, that include buffet breakfast with the room.)

Of course, just last week, I got a direct mail piece from Consumer Reports telling me all the wonderfully helpful things I’d learn—if I subscribed. Like the fact that Cheerios is one of the best cereals for you—and Fruit Loops is one of the worst.

I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.

phobia cure: chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies recipe

March 7th, 2010

Cookie recipes scare me. I remember too well as a kid struggling to hand-mix the stiff Tollhouse chocolate chip dough and then burning the cookies. My sister Margaret’s always came out just right, so I ceded that ground to her. Then there was that time I attempted to make my Great Aunt Frances’ famous ginger snaps. I can still picture the baking dough oozing across the cookie sheet, leaving a charred path in its wake.

My mom’s go-to cookie recipe was oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with wheat germ. I remember eating a lot of those—no childhood baking trauma attached. So the other day, I was in line at Trader Joe’s and saw packages of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, strategically placed for impulse purchases. Not only did I resist, but I also vowed to set aside my cookie baking phobia and make some myself.

Coincidentally, I’ve also had a copy of Sur La Table’s book Baking Kids Love by Cindy Mushet that I’ve been wanting to try out and report on. (Editorial note: I received a free review copy of this book from its publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.) One of its 30 recipes is Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. Perfect.

Cindy’s 11-year-old daughter, Bella, helped her create the book and offers a running commentary. Photos of Bella and other kids, a colorful design, and full-page photos of the end results will appeal to kids. In addition to baking these recipes with your child, I recommend this book for kids who are old enough to read it themselves.

Although I didn’t in my adaptation of the Chewy Oatmeal Cookies recipe below, each recipe in the book lists the required tools as well as an ingredient list. Cindy includes those extra steps, for instance, when to scrape the bowl, that more experienced bakers wouldn’t need. Other recipes I’d like to try: Gone Bananas Chocolate Chip Cake, Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake Muffins, and Crunchy-Top Vanilla Scones (along with its Scrumptious Strawberry Shortcake variation).

Cindy’s original Chewy Oatmeal Cookies recipe calls for cranberries, but I swapped in chocolate chips. I actually enjoyed making the cookies—enough so that I plan to make more cookies! Having the right gear, especially a stand mixer, helped.

Because baking with me is no longer novel and there are now so many different ways Carter can entertain himself, I never know exactly when or for how long he will join me. “Special time with Mommy” no longer is an automatic attraction. This time, he wanted to put the dough on the cookie sheets. The attraction: a mini ice cream scoop.

Gotta love the appeal of kitchen gadgets, and I highly recommend a 1 tablespoon scoop for doling out cookie dough. Carter needed some help squeezing the handles and didn’t make it through all 48 scoops, but had fun trying. The scoop was so much quicker than the two-spoon method I used to use. Carter is going to kindergarten in August, and I pictured myself up late scooping out cookie dough, so he would have cookies to take to school in the morning.

As far as taste and texture, these cookies passed the test: they were all gone fast. In fact, my neighbor Nandini, who sampled them, came over to get the recipe. She needed to make cookies that night for her son’s class. I lent her my mini scoop.

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (see note)

Position an oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl on low speed for one minute and then medium speed for another minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In three parts, add the dry ingredient to the butter mixture and beat on low speed just until a few patches of flour remain. Add the oats in three parts and then the chocolate chips. Mix until the ingredients are evenly blended. Scrape down the bowl and fold the dough a few times to make sure all the flour is incorporated and the chips are evenly distributed.

With a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, shape the dough into cookies. Evenly space 12 cookies on each baking sheet. Place one sheet on each oven rack. Bake for 7 minutes, then switch the pans’ positions and rotate each a half turn. Bake another 7 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges.

Place the baking sheets on cooling racks and cool the cookies completely. Once the pans are cool, remove the cookies and line the pans with new parchment paper. Bake the rest of the cookies. Yield: approximately 48 cookies.

Note: The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of dried cranberries or other dried fruit, such as raisins, currants, dried cherries, or chopped dried apricots, with the optional addition of 1/3 cup of chopped nuts or chocolate chips.

Adapted from Baking Kids Love

first time at the ballet: skipped death by hanging, Sinatra gets rave reviews

March 1st, 2010

“Well, there’s death by hanging—depends on how you feel about that.”

At will-call, the guy handed me my half-price tickets (thank you again, Google) and answered by question about whether “Medea,” one of the three Smuin Ballet dances, would be scary.

From third grade through college, being a dancer was a huge part of my identity. I quit before I went to grad school. This was the right decision at the time, but I’ve missed dancing ever since.

I continued to attend a lot of dance performances, though. Pre-motherhood, I used to go to dance concerts around the Bay Area all the time. I had an Oakland Ballet subscription and a partial San Francisco Ballet one. I’d even go over to Berkeley to see Mark Morris. Part of my strategy to remain sane post-motherhood involves cutting way back on anything extra, including seeing live performances.

Now that Carter is more independent, I’m starting (just starting) to get over my guilt of not being with him during awake, nonwork hours. Of course, he doesn’t care. When I saw that Smuin Ballet was performing its winter program in Mountain View this weekend. I decided to try to go, as long as I could get cheap seats. (Michael Smuin was the former artistic director of the SF Ballet and a true showman. I remember seeing his “To the Beatles,” complete with motorcycle on stage, when I was a kid.) The only snag now: I didn’t know who would go with me.

“I’ll go with you, Mommy,” Carter said when he heard that. He’s been to one kid’s play and one kid’s dance performance and had decidedly mixed success sitting still and being quiet. Needless to say, I was hesitant to take him to a real ballet performance. I got tickets on the farthest side of the front row in the balcony, so we could scoot out immediately and unobtrusively at any sign on trouble.

He was an angel.

He was just as entranced as I was with the first piece, “Soon These Two Worlds,” a contemporary ballet with colorful costumes, from resident choreographer, Amy Seiwert.

We skipped Medea and its accompanying hangings, which gave Carter first intermission + 20 minutes + second intermission outside. He mostly danced around a fountain, for an hour before we went back in to see Smuin’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” (My parents introduced us six kids to the symphony with half of a concert, followed by ice cream out. Going was a pretty big deal: one parent would take one child at a time.)

“When Sinatra sings, you naturally want to dance,” Smuin said. Apparently Carter is also a fan of Frank’s: he said he liked this ballet better than the first, which was my favorite, “because it had funner music.” He also sat still and quietly watched from lights down to lights up—happy as could be.

Maybe Carter will follow in my footsteps. He wants me to find him a dance class. If nothing else, I have a new companion as I stick my toes back into the dance world.