Monday, February 28, 2011

Bizarre Findings in the Laundry...

I was folding one of my usual 7-10 loads of laundry the other day and felt a sharp pointy object in my sons pocket.  I dug in to his pocket and pulled out this bizarre orange sharp object.  I looked at it for a minute trying to figure out what it was.  The light bulb went off and it hit me... we had gone to Joe's Crab Shack for dinner a couple nights before.  Apparently my youngest wanted a souvenir!  

The claw had gone through the wash so it wasn't smelly or nasty, so I *almost* kept it, but decided not to.  On my way to the garbage I showed my husband and he started laughing saying that he had already confiscated a claw from him the other day.  Guess my son thought he needed two for that very reason.  

Oh man, these kids crack me up.  I'm just glad I haven't found frogs, snails or other nasty things in their pockets so far.  I'll take a crab claw here and there.  I'm just glad it wasn't the calamari that our friends had tricked the boys in to thinking was "ocean onion rings"!!!
Ahhh... the life of a Mom with two boys!

What things have you found in pockets that had you laughing?

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More Fresh Veggie Recalls for California Region

Eating healthy is getting harder and harder to do these days.  Not only do we have to contend with super busy school schedules, work schedules and other daily activities, now we are struggling with the concern over safe fruits and veggies to eat.  

In case you haven't heard about it, there is yet another mass recall of fresh & prepared broccoli from a company named Taylor Farms Pacific.  (You can read more about it here.)  Products have been distributed to a number of grocery stores and are included in a number of the prepared meals you can purchase at stores in the California region.

Yet again, it is another reminder why home grown vegetable gardens are best and not just because they are vine ripened.  Time to start planning out those vegetable beds for the spring!

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Birthday Week of Surprises

My son is a huge fan of frogs.  Not sure where that started ... but as a surprise on the day before his Birthday, when I picked the kids up from school I placed this cute balloon on his seat.  He was beyond excited to see this waiting for him!

What fun surprises do you plan for your kids around or on their Birthday?

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Make Your Own Pizza at the Storyteller Cafe - Disneyland Resort

We recently had the chance to stop in and have a dinner at the Storyteller Cafe (inside the Grand Californian Hotel at the Disneyland Resort).  The kids were both mesmerized by being able to make their own pizza's for dinner.  

If you haven't been there yet I highly recommend it!   It's a great break from the crowds and provides a number of more elegant dishes than you find at most of the other eateries inside the parks, although the Village Haus inside Disneyland is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine for it's BLT (with applewood smoked bacon) thin crust pizza.

The kids pizzas arrive on a Mickey Mouse shaped palette for the kids to add the sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni toppings.  Once you are done, the waiter/waitress takes it back to the kitchen to finish cooking.

Check out the pepperoni topping pattern my oldest came up with...
What's your favorite place to eat at the Disneyland Resort?  Why?

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Three Fantastic Meal Ideas from fresh & easy

Cooking for the family is frequently tricky.  These days as moms we are juggling more than ever and I don't know about you, but I know I stills struggle to find balance.  I know that family dinners are one area that I am constantly looking for assistance and ideas on.  A lot of it has to do with the honest fact that I am just plain tired and uninspired by the end of the day.  I want something easy, healthy and fast that I can cook for the family.  That is a huge part of why I love fresh & easy so much.  I'm constantly posting about them, well, honestly because that is where I do most of my grocery shopping (I loved fresh & easy long before I worked with them as a blogger).

Be sure to check out some of my all time favorite posts about fresh & easy (holiday dinners under $20 here and groceries for a family of four for under $100 here).

Recently I was invited to a Blogger event here in Orange County at the Epicurean Culinary School in Anaheim to celebrate the launch of 3 new stores in Southern California.  Don't know where your closest fresh & easy is?  Go here to find your nearest location throughout the California, Nevada and Arizona region.  They are constantly opening new locations, so if you don't have one near you, there will probably be one shortly.  I personally have two insulated grocery bags that I use because the closest fresh & easy to me is about 20 minutes away.  Yes, I save that much by shopping there and I just plain love their store label products!

We were treated to instruction on three fantastic recipes (yet easy, healthy and inexpensive).  All of the recipes are below (the pictures are mine from the evening of the actual dishes my group made). 


Shrimp Ceviche

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
o   1 package fresh&easy 31/40 Cooked Shrimp
o   1 cup fresh lime juice
o   ½ cup fresh orange juice
o   1 small red onion, thinly sliced
o   1 jalapeno, stemmed and roughly chopped
o   1 medium ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed from skin and chopped into ½” cubes
o   ¼ cup packed fresh&easy Sun Dried Tomatoes, chopped
o   1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped in ¼” cubes
o   ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, stems removed
o   3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
o   Salt and pepper to taste
o   D├ęcor: 1 bag fresh&easy Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

Cooking Directions:
1.     Combine shrimp, lime juice and orange juice in a large resealable bag and let sit for 30 minutes to one hour. If shrimp is too big for your liking, chop into smaller pieces.
2.     Once shrimp has marinated, toss them in a large glass or stainless steel bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
3.     Toss well and season with salt and pepper.
4.     Refrigerate until ready to serve, no longer than a couple of hours. Serve in margarita glasses with fresh&easy Blue Corn Tortilla chips.

Build Your Own Pizza

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:
o   1 package fresh&easy Traditional or Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
o   1 jar fresh&easy Pizza Sauce
o   1 bag fresh&easy Shredded Mozzarella
o   Flour for rolling
o   Toppings: Include your favorite ingredients

Cooking Directions:
1.     Preheat oven to 400F. Allow dough to come to room temperature before starting.
2.     Start with a small bowl of flour at your work area and remove dough ball from wrapper. Dip dough into flour so it is lightly coated before placing it onto the work surface.
3.     Place dough ball down and using a knife or dough cutter, cut dough ball in half. Be sure to dust the cut side with flour so it doesn’t stick.
4.     Using a rolling pin, roll each half into a long thin rectangle, no bigger than the size of the pan you are going to bake on. You should be able to fit 2 of these rectangles onto a regular cookie pan.
5.     Once dough is shaped correctly, move to cookie pans and try to remove any excess flour.
6.     Using a large tablespoon, place 4-6 tablespoons of sauce onto each crust and spread to within 1” of the edge all the way around – It doesn’t take very much sauce to make a good pizza!
7.     Now, take your shredded cheese and use about 4-6oz of cheese on each crust, sprinkling evenly over the sauce and to within ¼” of the edge.
8.     Take your favorite toppings, cut them in smaller portions and then sprinkle on top of the cheese.
9.     Bake until crust is golden brown. Cheese should start to brown and bubble in about 12-14 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes before trying to cut.
10.  Cut into wedges and serve.



Apricot Chicken Tenders

Serves 4

Ingredients:
o   1 package fresh&easy Chicken Tenders
o   1 jar fresh&easy Apricot Preserves
o   1 jar fresh&easy Sweet Hot Mustard  
o   1 bottle fresh&easy Whole Grain Dijon Mustard
o   1 package Progresso Breadcrumbs  
o   1 bowl fresh&easy Cooked Medley with Wild Rice
o   1 bag fresh&easy Microsteamer Veggies  

Cooking Directions:
1.     Preheat oven to 350F.
2.     Place ½ jar of apricot preserves into a medium mixing bowl. Going by taste, add 1 tablespoon of sweet hot mustard and 1 teaspoon of whole grain Dijon mustard at a time, stirring and tasting between each addition. Sauce should be sweet with a hint of spicy mustard in the flavor.
3.     Place 2/3 of sauce into a serving ramekin for later. Leave 1/3 in mixing bowl.
4.     Open pack of chicken tenders and place into serving bowl with remaining sauce. Toss to coat tenders with sauce.
5.     Once coated, move tenders to bowl of bread crumbs to cover. Once coated in bread crumbs, move tenders to a sheet pan and place into oven to bake.
6.     Cook tenders until they reach 165F internal temperature, and outside is golden brown, approximately 12-14 minutes.
7.     While chicken is cooking, follow package instructions and heat rice and vegetables in microwave.
8.     Plate veggies, rice and chicken with apricot mustard dipping sauce and enjoy.

Note:  We were each given a large bag of yummy treats from fresh & easy to take home, but I can say with 100% honesty, they are already products I have purchased and absolutely adore so it doesn't sway my opinion of fresh & easy.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Education Funding Crisis - We Need to Get This Right!

I normally don't write such opinionated posts like this, so I apologize in advance if it offends anyone, but as a parent, I'm just losing patience.  Let's just fix this!
__________________________
We were blind sighted by my son’s teacher. I walked out of the parent teacher conference feeling confident he was on track and that there wouldn’t be any surprises on his report card. I COULDN’T HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.  Report cards came home and much to my shock he had received multiple unsatisfactory (or F’s for our generation) grades.

What I am still reeling about is why we were not alerted to the degree of concern I should have had. Don’t get me wrong, I know these are areas my son needs to work on (I’m not a delusional mom). I love my son to pieces, but I also understand where his strengths (of which he has a TON) and weaknesses (thankfully, there are only a few) are.  What I don’t understand is how he went from a satisfactory student (in these particular) areas to unsatisfactory, which completely skips over the “area of concern” category (what would have been known as a D to those of us from earlier generations). No red flags were even remotely raised at the parent teacher conference. Not one.  Both my husband and I are full time working parents so we don’t have time for beating around the bush. Tell me what my son needs to work on well before this point and we’ll get it done. I’d like to point out that he got an outstanding (aka an A) for homework - so we’re doing our part at home. 

I’m really starting to worry that many teachers just don’t have time or passion to do their part at school anymore.

With school budgets being slashed, the supply lists for kids to bring to school is getting ridiculous. As a kid I never remember being responsible for bringing anything more than binders, notebooks and things I would need personally for the year. Now we are responsible for Clorox Wipes, Tissues, White Board Markers, Ziploc bags and more, the list goes on…

My son is in a portable classroom on school grounds with a shocking 32 kids in his class (he is in second grade!). The school he attends is one of the newest schools in what is supposed to be a very affluent district in California, but somehow the school is already 30% overcrowded. The drama our school district is currently enduring has made us the laughing stock of the entire state. Yes, it really is that bad. Don’t get me started on how hard the shortened school days and furlough days are on full time working parents. It’s a logistical nightmare, but we figure it out, we aren’t given a choice.  We do what it takes for the sake of our kids.  

I used to be a HUGE advocate of public schools, but I’m so sad to admit, that is fading… FAST and I’m not alone, it has been discussed recently how as a country, we are putting education on the back burner and as a result we are suffering as a country. This is only going to get worse.

Unions have a place in society, but in an economy like this, we can’t allow unions to shelter sub-par teachers who don’t have the bandwidth to keep up the evolving needs of today’s classrooms. I’m horrified at the number of teachers in the public school system that have jobs simply because of tenure, and not because they are amazingly talented. The public school system needs to learn to become a lean mean teaching machine. Mediocrity can’t be tolerated. Amazingly talented teachers should have no concerns about dissolving union powers, because they will be the sought after ones. It broke my heart the last few years to see some of the best teachers I have ever witnessed be laid off simply because they had been in their current school district for less time than their co-workers. The very teachers that inspired my children to be passionate about school and learning have now been forced to find other jobs where there really aren’t any.  An amazing teacher can make the difference in countless kids lives.  We need to reward those teachers.

What I don’t understand is why politicians can continue to cut money from schools and expect that the society will continue to produce educated workers and overall good citizens. Okay, so this has been slipping for some time (arguably that is part of why the prisons are so full), but as a mom now, I can’t help but be horrified at how much education has deteriorated since I was in school less than two decades ago.   It's not just about the budget cuts, it is really about the desperate need for a complete overhaul of the school system.

I say re-open Alcatraz. We must have a few more vacant islands off the coast of California that we can put to good use. Start taking away more of the comforts of the prisons before you take more away from our kids. Don’t tell me about how a multiple offense prisoner can’t have more costly luxuries taken away from him.  If you stuffed thirty-two prisoners in to the area of a small classroom portable like my kids are in seven hours every day, we might save some serious money.

Do more with less. That has been the motto for many corporations over the last couple of years in this economy. I challenge the public school system to do the same. Be ready to deal with budget cuts, but figure out how to teach our children in a more cost effective manner.  Wisconsin, if you have to get creative to get this done, then do it.  Other states will follow, hopefully this includes California.

Figure out a way to do more with less – the rest of us certainly have.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge

While up in the Bay Area, I took my boys to do one of my all time classic San Francisco adventures - walking on the Golden Gate Bridge.  It wasn't the most gorgeous day, but it was a classic foggy day on the Bay. 

One of the things I love most about the Bay Area is that it is full of low cost or free adventures.  Whether you love getting out and exploring nature, taking in the sights of the city on foot or just walking across the Golden Bridge, there are tons of things you can to to fill in the time between some of the more costly adventures the city can offer.

My boys were beyond excited to park at vista point and walk out a bit on the bridge.  Below is another picture we took that day.  Notice my two little photographers with their Nintendo DSi's in hand.  They both were snapping away taking pictures galore on their DSi's.

Have you taken the time to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge?

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not so Wordless Wednesday - Another Mickey Wedding Cake!

I mentioned in a post on Monday that I had taken the boys on a road trip up to the Bay Area a couple weeks ago for my best friend's wedding reception.  You may have seen my earlier post on their wedding cake that I made (click here to see the post).  They held a small wedding down here at the Disneyland Resort, but since most of their family and friends are up in the Bay Area, they held the actual reception up in the Bay Area a few weeks later. 

I was given the task of making a cake again, but this time on a larger scale.  So again I did another first - a three tiered cake.  I also got creative and crushed oreo cookies to mix in to the filling.  (I think I've been watching too much Cake Boss.)  I think I'm starting to really like baking these types of cakes!

The most hilarious part of this adventure?  I baked all the devils food cakes down here and drove them unfrosted/assembled up to the Bay Area!

In the picture be sure to notice the two smaller cakes as ears...

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

La Brea Tar Pits - A Fun Afternoon Adventure!

It all started one afternoon after we watched this episode of Dirty Jobs last week.  The kids were mesmerized.  When we told them that the La Brea Tar Pits were right here in Southern California, just about an hour away, they wanted to go.  We are so incredibly fortunate here in Southern California because there is an endless amount of things to do.  The La Brea Tar Pits were just one of those things we never got to.  We changed that last weekend.

I'm not exactly sure where I thought the Tar Pits were, but I really hadn't realized they were right on Wilshire Drive!  Across from the E! building and next to the Screen Actors Guild.

Big Tip: Be sure to bring at least $7 in cash for parking in the lot.  I am notorious for never carrying much in cash, so I wanted to be sure to warn others like me!  You can use credit cards to enter the Page Museum (you don't have to enter the Museum if you want to just see the Tar Pits, but for $7/adults and $2 kids, it's not an expensive adventure for the afternoon).

The Page Museum is like a secret garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.  There is a large open air courtyard in the middle of the building with paths, gorgeous trees and a fantastic koi pond to explore.  Be sure to find the turtles on the shore of the pond and say hi from us!  The Page Museum boasts a number of interactive exhibits that your kids are sure to enjoy.

I particularly liked the viewing area inside the museum that they call "the fish bowl", where they are excavating and preserving the fossils that are being discovered in the tar pits outside.

After we wandered around the Museum we headed outside to explore the tar pits.  What was amazing was seeing all these very small (4 ft by 4 ft) fenced in areas through out the park outside the museum where there is tar seeping up through the ground.  The ant hill looking one was quite cool. (the photo for that one is in the Whrrl story below).

We had an absolutely wonderful time exploring the La Brea Tar Pits and I highly recommend this fun afternoon adventure!

Take a minute to scroll through the images in the Whrrl story below - there were far too many images to include in this post.

More check-ins at La Brea Tar Pits
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