Archive for January, 2010

BPA-Free but Microwave Safe? The Search for a Safe Lunchbox

Ladybug lunch box, $14.95 @ Lunchboxes.com

So yes, I got the email a few years ago about plastic containers being potentially dangerous when microwaved or used to store food in the freezer or fridge.  I remember suspiciously eying all the take-out food containers we were using for all our leftovers and thinking I should probably replace them.  Let’s just say it didn’t make the short list of priorities.

The turning point was when Jasper, after a year + of taking hummus sandwiches in his school lunch (he’s a creature of habit), decided he wanted the fancy pants stuff his friends were taking in theirs; namely, leftovers. Totally do-able, and actually easier, right?  Except that all the stuff gets nuked at school.  So faced with the fact that I was probably loading him up on BPA (I have evolved enough to know the name of the enemy), I started looking around for some options.

First stop, courtesy of a suggestion from cousin Steve: Preserve Products, a BPA-free company that recycles plastics to be more environmentally friendly. They use only #5 plastics, which have not been shown to leach BPA.  These are also dishwasher friendly (top rack only).

Large food storage container, $2.99, Preserve

I ordered small, large and square containers, plus a colander, and a 4-pack of plates, bowls and cups.  We’ve really enjoyed them; the food storage containers stack nice and neat in the fridge and the dinner ware is in constant rotation.  The downside is that these cannot be microwaved.  So the search continued.

Over at A Child Grows in Brooklyn they were talking about Lunch Skins.

Lunch Skins, $8.95 at 3greenmoms

I could definitely see these replacing my Ziplocs. The website says they might also replace  your Tupperware, but I DON’T see that with these and besides I have my cool Preserve stuff.  So these are not the answer, despite the fact that they are dishwasher safe and come in cute, Marimekko type fabrics. Alas.

Next, I found the most excellent Bento Box system from Laptop Lunches.   You can buy a kit from these folks that includes a lunchbox, and multiple, different-sized containers in a variety of colors.

Bento system, 2.0, $39.99 at Laptop Lunches

I bought a smaller version called “Bento Buddies” 2.0 that came with one large container good for sandwiches or pasta, one smaller and good for fruits and veggies, and two little containers, one a perfect size for hummus or some other condiment, and the last good for something even smaller (raisins?). Everything is dishwasher safe (top rack only).  And the containers (not the lids) are microwave safe.

Bento Buddies 2.0, $12.99 @ Whole Foods

Yippee, right?  Well, not exactly a home run. We’ve been using the Buddies and loving them, but I have to admit I don’t really understand the difference between these and the Preserve Plastics containers and why one can be microwaved and the other cannot.  The lunchbox containers are made mostly of plastic #5 as are the Preserve Products.  In the FAQ section of the Laptop Lunches site they say, “Our plastic containers are all FDA-approved for microwave use. However, some experts believe that microwaving in plastics of any kind may be hazardous. If you microwave in plastics, our containers are fine. Please note that the lids are not microwave safe.”

I’m starting to think that the BPA-free but microwave safe lunch containers are a mirage. Does anyone have any ideas out there?

Review: Moomah Cafe + Art Space in Tribeca

Moomah

Moomah, a cafe and art project space in Tribeca. Photo by Kim Cornelison.

OK, let me get this out of the way: I know I can stay home and make art projects with my kids for free until the cows come home or I lose my mind, whichever comes first. But this is New York City and I don’t have to; I can take advantage of the many amazing kid-friendly places we have available to us. This often means dropping some bucks to do so, and that seems completely reasonable to me.

A change of scene is especially key in winter. So I was excited to venture with Magnolia to Moomah in Tribeca last week. Here’s what we found.

What it is:

A beautiful cafe and art project space brought to us by Tracey Stewart, celeb wife of Jon (yet another reason to love him.) Parents and kids can choose from a changing roster of DIT (Do It Together) arts and crafts projects that vary in difficulty — Magnolia chose a Valentine’s Day placemat which she was able to do almost entirely on her own. Once completed (with liberal amounts of pink glitter, of course) the staff laminated it for us. It’s super-cute!

We also hung out in the Funky Forest, an interactive “ecosystem” where kids manage resources (vivid lights and images projected onto walls and the floor) to help the trees grow. The Funky Forest, currently open on Fridays, is free with the purchase of a DIT art project. Moomah also offers classes and other fun stuff on an almost daily basis — check for upcoming events and activities.

Oh, and there’s a cafe, too. Have lunch or munch on pastries from Balthazar.

What it costs:

The DIT art projects range in price from about $14 – $25, with the most elaborate of course being the most expensive. We spent $16 on Magnolia‘s “placemat love” project, but it’s far cuter and looks much more impressive (it’s laminated!) than our homespun crafts.

Here it is — a collection of colorful vintage V-Day-inspired images. And one proud artist.

moomah placemat

The Valentine's Day placemat Magnolia made at Moomah.

Where it is:

Moomah is in Tribeca at 161 Hudson Street, between Hubert and Laight Streets.

What we thought of the place:

Loved it! (Special bonus — ran into my friend Elizabeth with her youngest son. Hi Elizabeth!) It’s equally adult- and kid-friendly. A fun chilly-day outing that makes you glad you live in New York, where celebrities open posh spots for tots.

For more ideas, check out the current ish of Time Out New York Kids — they have a great list of 25 things to do with kids in NYC in winter. There are some nice surprises on it, including a progressive apartment party, Saturday afternoon carnivals at Bowlmor Lanes, and an indoor playground at the Queens Center Mall.

One more tip, for Brooklyn mamas — “The Bell House Rocks” at The Bell House, a Gowanus music/event venue, on Sunday, February 7, from 10am to 4pm. There will be a bouncy castle, videos, music, disco lights, and free popcorn and juice for the kids. Full bar for mom and dad. Ten bucks “per walking human.” See you there!

How will you keep your kids entertained this winter? Got any NYC secrets we should know about?

Winter Culinary Inspiration: The Saveur 100

Jan/Feb 2010 Saveur cover

The January/February cover of Saveur magazine -- The Saveur 100

I used to like winter, but now I don’t. OK — sledding with the kids was fun, I’ll give the month of December that, but otherwise, it’s a big countdown to summer at our house.

I get moody when the temps drop, and if I don’t work to pull myself out of the funk a little, I’ll find I’m suggesting to Chrissy every night that we order nachos and queso fundido and open another bottle of red while we wait.

So I was happy to get a little lift — and learn quite a few things, too — when paging through the current issue of Saveur magazine. The cover story is on Readers’ Favorites100 ingredients, chefs, tools, books, and tips that readers can’t live without. Here are 3 of the things I loved hearing about:

chocolate gravy — Sounds weird, I know, but it’s a dark, fudgy sauce commonly used on hot, buttered biscuits in the South. Mrs. Cummings, a lady from our church, used to make it in the morning for the girls in my Sunday School class after a sleepover. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but believe me when I tell you it is heaven. I want to make it for Jasper and Magnolia — with our camera at the ready.

flour sack towels — I need some! Apparently, these are a cook’s best friend. They’re dish towels made from soft, flour sack cotton and are supposed to be amazingly durable and absorbent. The perfect dish dryer or surface duster. The ones pictured below are available on Etsy from HarrietsHaven — a set of 2 with orange flowers is $20.

flour sack towels from HarrietsHaven

Flour Sack Towels from HarrietsHaven, etsy, $20

TasteSpotting.com — A lush site that calls itself a “community driven visual potluck.” Visitors can submit food photos from all over the Web and TasteSpotting editors review and post them. Fun to browse and very inspiring — the photos link to articles, recipes, and blogs. I’m currently salivating over Real Simple Huevos Rancheros….

You can find the rest of the Savuer 100 online, but I recommend picking up a copy of the mag. Inspiration guaranteed.

I Love My Expedit!

It’s true!  We’ve gone Expedit mad in Brooklyn!

Jasper’s room was a disaster, still teeming with items from his toddler and baby stages, spilling out of baskets on the floor.  His closet was overflowing with toys and games, Legos and Lincoln Logs he never played with because they were squirreled away in boxes and bags.

Expedit to the rescue!

What I love about it: it LOOKS and IS solid and sturdy (for you safety-concerned people: it can be attached to a wall).  It wasn’t hard to put together (unlike some IKEA items).  You have the option of either displaying your collections, or hiding them.  We did a combo; some items on display, some hidden in soft bins.  AND it comes in a variety of sizes. We chose the mid-size model for Jasper’s room, and turned it on its side:

IKEA Expedit, $69.99

Now he has more toys available for play (it’s like Christmas all over again — but without the credit hangover), and everything is organized (and that makes the Virgo moms happy).

We liked Jasper’s Expedit so much, we scoured the “As Is” section at IKEA (oh yes, you must know about this!) for a one row unit for our study.  Now, we can stow all of the downstairs puzzles, games, outdoor toys, etc. out of the way, while still providing a place to sit and put on shoes (we turned this one on its side, too).

IKEA expedit, $59.99

Further investigation shows me that people are using their Expedits for all sorts of storage needs.  Check out the Flickr Expedit group for inspiration (love the sewing room someone put together — so colorful and fun it makes me want to transform our guest bedroom)!

Recipe of the Week: Todd English’s White Bean Soup

White Bean Soup

Todd English's White Bean Soup (Mostly)

This long-time favorite winter recipe pre-dates our lives as parents, so I can’t promise your kids will love it, but I can promise you will. It’s a modified version of Todd English‘s yummy White Bean Soup from his cookbook The Figs Table — pure garlicky goodness.

Todd English’s White Bean Soup (Mostly)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 carrot, peeled and finely diced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 celery stalks, diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 head roasted garlic, peeled

4 cups cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cups chicken broth (we like a thicker soup, but tweak the bean/broth ratio if you want more liquid)

1 bunch spinach, washed and torn apart.

Place a large stock pot over medium heat and, when it’s hot, add the oil. Add the carrot, garlic, celery, rosemary, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and cook until the veggies become translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the roasted garlic, beans, and chicken broth and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Place half the soup in a blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture is thick but not completely smooth. Return it to the stockpot. (We use an immersion blender — tool extraordinaire! — right in the stockpot instead of transferring to food processor and back. Whatever floats your boat.)

Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Serve immediately.

What are some of your favorite go-to winter recipes? We’d love to hear!

January: the Boden catalog makes it seem closer to summer

Printed tunic, $88

The Boden spring catalog has arrived and summer fantasizing has officially begun in earnest.  Like the Mini Boden catalog, which arrives with darling boy/girl/baby clothes, the grown-up version is best savored a few times over, with folded down corners marking favorites.  And so, as January days pass, I’m picturing myself in warm summer weather in things like this:

Jersey Crinkle Dress, $89

I think that one would be perfect for the Vineyard. And work.  And everything in between.

Now, shoes — I love these.  They’re a little mod and a lot of fun.  I think silver…but also drawn to eye-popping yellow or the excellent coral:

Fab sandals, $88

I love the bold graphic print of this shirt, and the perfect waist length.  100% cotton is right down my alley.  I think I’d choose pink over blue.

Stencil print top, $68

The Amalfi dress has a great vintage vibe.  Definitely one I’d have to see on but just from the pic in the catalog, I’m imagining my hair pulled back and sunglasses on, wandering through the West Tisbury farmer’s market (okay this is a fantasy — who would really shop in this? the reality is filled with wild children playing in the dust while I’m imploring them to get up) with a great straw bag filled with dinner plate dahlias and organic vegetables (mais oui!):

Amalfi dress, $98

Well, you get the idea.

As I crank up the heat in the house, I keep repeating this mantra: summer is coming, summer is coming…

Joys in the ‘Hood: Why We Love the South Slope

Little Buddy Biscuit Company

Little Buddy Biscuit Company on 5th Avenue.

We live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Sort of. People who live in “center Slope” — the heart of the brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood both loved and reviled for its rabidly family-centric reputation — might disagree. But to me, it’s still Park Slope. Just really south. Hit Fifth Avenue, hang a left, and keep walkin’ south.

You might also see the nabe noted on maps as Greenwood Heights, as it’s very near New York‘s famed Green-Wood Cemetery. But, whatever. I’m sticking with Park Slope South.

We used to live on the much more scenic, tree-lined streets closer to Prospect Park in the middle of the ‘hood, but we traded in our 1-bedroom co-op for a little house with a yard, and so here we are. Still in Brooklyn instead of the ‘burbs, and happy about that.

Things may not be as fancy down our way — lots more houses with ’70s siding than stately brownstones — but there’s still a family-friendly vibe, with lots of couples with young children flooding into the area. Housing is more affordable and it’s less congested, which makes parking easier.

We like to talk the place up and feel as if we’re doing our small part to keep families from moving to New Jersey. So here are a few of the reasons why we love the South Slope:

P.S. 295 — The local elementary school we’re zoned for. We didn’t go crazy with checking on schools before we bought our house because Jasper was only 1 year old when we moved in and we just couldn’t wrap our minds around it then. But, luckily, it’s a good school — it’s a magnet school for the arts, boasts tons of parental involvement, and scored an “A” on the city’s school report card program. Take that, overcrowded P.S. 321 in “center Slope!” (They scored a “B.”)

Eagle Provisions — This old Polish market way pre-dates our arrival — the store has been on Park Slope’s 5th Avenue since the 1930s. You’ll find little old ladies coming in for the house-made kielbasa, but also hipsters perusing the vast selection of international beers and young moms picking up fancy sea salts and organic milk. The guys who work here are gruff, but they know where every last jar of whatever it is you’re looking for is. And whatever you’re looking for, they probably have.

Has Beans & Southside Coffee — You can totally get an expertly-made cappuccino in our neck of the woods, and at local establishments packed with more character than 7th Avenue’s Starbucks. Hit Has Beans on 5th Avenue and Southside up on 6th, mere steps away from P.S. 295.

Little Buddy Biscuit Company — This one’s a newcomer to the community, and we’re glad they’ve arrived. Yummy baked goods, tasty lunch options, strong coffee in the winter, and delicious ice cream in the summer. It’s super kid-friendly — they often have kid-sized cookies and cupcakes, and they’re constantly doling out adorable Little Buddy stickers and pins.

Lopez Bakery — This longtime Brooklyn fave has bounced around to numerous 5th Avenue locations. When we first moved to the ‘hood, they were in a little sliver of a place right around the corner between 18th and 19th Streets — now they’ve moved a couple doors down to bigger digs. You can get good baguettes and hearty whole wheat Alsatian bread — and we do — but we really love their tamales and empanadas.

ScratchBread + Toby’s Public House — A CIA grad named Matthew Tilden bakes his amazingly delicious scones, shortbread, and more in the brick ovens at Toby’s when the place isn’t busy turning out thin-crust pizzas (read more about ScratchBread and Tilden on Edible Brooklyn). You can sample his goods at Cafe Grumpy, Bklyn Larder, and Get Fresh. The pies at Toby’s are delicious, too, and make for a speedy take-out dinner for the kids — they are in and out of the oven in literally a few minutes.

Under Minverva — OK, I’ve never actually been *inside* this place, but I like having a funky art gallery/yoga/event space around the corner from my house. It makes me feel all edgy and hip. A recent show involved a lot of cool-looking white stuff in the window and a cute live bunny hopping all around. We strolled by with the kids to see the rabbit one afternoon and a staffer (artist? owner? unclear) brought him out for the kids to see and pet. Pretty sweet.

Prospect Park YMCA Sports Complex at The Armory — This 114-year-old building, on 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, just got an impressive $16 million dollar renovation. It’s now home to a new sports complex run by the local Y, whose main branch is farther north, on 9th Street. In addition to offering the same classes and fitness equipment available on 9th Street, the facility will operate as a recreation center for kids from nearby public schools that may not have gyms. Magnolia (who declined to be photographed) and I went today to check it out and I can tell you that 1) it is vast, 2) there’s a gorgeous running track, and 3) some of the beautiful original wood floors and big mahogany armoires used for I-have-no-idea-what remain intact throughout the various hallways and fitness rooms.

Here it is….

Park Slope Armory

The new YMCA Sports Complex at the Park Slope Armory.

Fonda — A new South Slope Mexican eatery from a chef with authentic cred — Roberto Santibanez was born in Mexico City, trained in Paris, and served as executive chef at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas before moving to New York to become Culinary Director for Rosa Mexicano. In short: I am psyched!

An abundance of Dollar Stores — Yep, there are more of them in the South Slope than in the tonier North, and it’s true that they are a major eye sore. But with little kids, parents find them endlessly useful. Need a cheap distraction or quick bribe? Gotta stuff goody bags for a birthday party? A Dollar Store’s your next stop, mama, and you can’t swing a dead cat and not hit one down where I live.

There. Now I hope I have prevented you from moving to New Jersey.

Review: Best Christmas Gifts for Kids

Now that the boxes and paper have been thrown away, I thought it would be appropriate to see how the gifts we gave our kids are measuring up. And by “measure up” I mean how much time the kids have spent playing with them.  Christmas break was two weeks, and we all needed our diversions (the moms got hers and hers iPhones, which were PLENTY diverting).

Top Gifts of Christmas 2009:

1) Bikes! This was a bike Christmas for us.  My daughter has been coveting her brother’s bike all summer, deeply annoyed that she cannot go as fast as he can on his bike when she is on her little scooter.  So we started shopping for a 16 incher.  For girls, they’re pretty much all pink at the affordable level (between $60-$90).  You can get more color variety at the $200 level.  It seemed crazy to spend that much on a transitional bike, so we went for the craziest pink princess bike you ever saw.

Disney Princess Bike, $69 on Amazon.com

She loved it.  Yes, other parents give us weird looks because this one is so over the top, but we figured, if you’re going pink, might as well go all out.  It’s made by Huffy and so far is great.  If it hadn’t snowed or been frigid outside most of the holiday, she would have been riding this thing everyday.

We hadn’t planned on getting our son a bike, but the Greek chorus that are the grandparents (“doesn’t she have a hat?”, “that coat is too small” etc) decided that his beloved Magna “Major Damage” bike had become too small for him.  A second opinion from a bike shop confirmed this was the case.  So for him, it was a second hand, Raleigh MXR 20″ bike (like this, but an older model and in black).  Perfect, as it had both a coaster break and hand break.

2) Castles. Castle mania reigned over the holidays.  And so it can be written that we highly recommend both the Melissa & Doug Folding Princess Castle and the Playmobil Knight’s Take Along Castle.

Will the medieval knights lay siege to the princess castle (populated entirely by Disney princess figurines)?  Or will they lay down their swords and seek the hands of the fair Techicolor maidens?  Stay tuned.

Melissa & Doug folding castle, Amazon.com $65

3) Legos. Jasper graduated to real Legos this year.  He’s a tinkerer, and these are perfect for his tinkering little hands. After years of Duplos, I was shocked at how tiny these things are.  The downside of real Legos: I foresee many becoming lost in the cracks of our house. And 405 barely fill the case (which means there’s plenty of room for MORE…and more tiny parts around the house).  But he does love them, and they are fun for me, too.

405 piece lego set in tub, $30 on Amazon.com

4. Books! Books played a big part in the holiday show.  Some hits of the season: the Magic Treehouse chapter-book series (books 5-8) for Jasper, and The Silver Slippers for the ballet-focused Magnolia (complete with its message on determination and practice, but with a real silver slipper necklace to soften things up).

5. Crafts! Last year it was all about Play-doh. This year we are loving a terrific Mosaic art kit (simple, fun, and hours of playtime).

My First Mosaic: Pets kit, $10-$15 on Amazon.com

Also a hit with the three-year old brain was the magic pen coloring book.  Truth in advertising: this thing IS kind of magic;  Magnolia uses the “magic pen” to make the colors appear in the picture that is on the page (takes all the guess work out of drawing in the lines). Another bonus: these books are cheap-o. This is good because it doesn’t take long to get through them.

Oh, the toys still to be played with!  And with the temperature staying in the teens, we need plenty of things to keep us busy.

There’s still all the dress up clothes (princess, boas — everyone needs at least two — a cowboy outfit).  The Thomas the Tank Engine roundhouse, a fixture on Christmas lists for years.  Shock of actually owning it has so far gotten in the way of play beyond setting it up and making it “snowed in.”  The Lincoln Logs and the “April,” i.e. the “apron” filled with crayons.  Both have had some play but are now hibernating until their time comes again.

And next year, I’m vowing not to let the cool science calendar for kids get away again, selling out before I could buy it.

Recipe of the Week: The Barefoot Contessa’s Tagliarelle with Truffle Butter

D'Artagnan White Truffle Butter

D'Artagnan's White Truffle Butter, $8.99, from dartagnan.com

OK, it’s been a while since our last Recipe of the Week post, but here we go. Our New Year’s Eve dinner was inspiring!

We tried a new Barefoot Contessa pasta recipe — Tagliarelle with White Truffle Butter, and we did a basic green salad with a lemon-y vinaigrette to accompany. Ina Garten (aka the Contessa) is a perpetual fave in our house for her simple, satisfying meals. (And it doesn’t hurt a bit that she’s a big fan of butter in copious amounts.)

We’ve been cooking and entertaining a lot lately, and so for New Year’s Eve (of course going out wasn’t even on the table…), we wanted something easy but that also felt special. Ina‘s secret ingredient of white truffle butter — decadent, unusual, and absolutely packed with flavor — made the meal.

The recipe is technically Tagliarelle with White Truffle Butter, but you can substitute egg fettuccine for the tagliarelle, and that’s what we did. Find D’Artagnan’s White Truffle Butter at specialty foods shops or online at dartagnan.com.

Short version, here’s the recipe:

Heat heavy cream until it comes to a simmer, then swirl in the butter with some salt and pepper until the butter melts. Lower the heat. Boil the pasta (it’s fast-cooking, so this recipe is really made in a snap) and reserve some of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta and add it to the truffle-cream mixture. Add cooking water if necessary (we found we didn’t need to.) Garnish with chopped chives and shaved Parmesan. Here’s the full recipe from the Food Network.

We were so busy oooh-ing and aaah-ing over the dish that it didn’t occur to me to snap a photo for this post until we’d already eaten it all up — but at least you have a visual for what to look for when you shop for the special butter. This pasta would make an excellent dinner party dish — it’s both easy and impressive.

Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite Barefoot Contessa recipe? Or did you cook something for New Year’s Eve that you thought was delicious? We’d love to hear….


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