Monday, January 15, 2018

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Cranberries

Last Monday's dinner menu:

Now, while overall I liked the menu, the kids did not. My attempts to get them to like brussels sprouts were for naught. I thought Ree Drummond's take on the sprouts might be helpful, with all the sweetness, but I think the kids were turned off by the darkness of the balsamic vinaigrette glaze. I halved the sugar and the recipe was too sweet for my tastes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Glaze and Cranberries by Ree Drummond/The Pioneer Woman
The pork burgers were more successful, as I adapted Deb Perleman's recipe. So easy, and so yummy.

No pictures of the carrot salad (it was simply shredded carrots), but I'm quite certain my kids wouldn't eat as much salad as they do without Kewpie Sesame Dressing. It's full of umami, creamy, and not too sweet (at least the one made in Japan).

Monday, December 11, 2017

Neapolitan-swirl Bundt Cake

Miss Nomad Foodie asked for a cheetah-print inside the cake, with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry-flavored cakes, so I made an attempt using my go-to yellow birthday cake recipe, Smitten Kitchen's Best Birthday Cake. I find this cake consistently turns out as described: moist, plush, with a fine, dense crumb, and buttery flavor. I did reduce the sugar by 10%, to 360 grams. For the strawberry portion, I took about a third of the batter and added 1 teaspoon of strawberry flavor and about 15 grams of ground freeze-dried strawberries (I ground Trader Joe's freeze-dried strawberries in a coffee bean grinder). For the chocolate portion, I added about 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder to the battery.

I thought the easiest way to create the print inside would be to use a bundt cake pan. Miss Nomad Foodie insisted on "strawberry, strawberry is my favorite" frosting, so I started with Celebrating Sweet's Cream Cheese Frosting recipe, since I wanted something more liquid than my usual cream cheese frosting but more substantial than a glaze. The proportions of ingredients were:

113g cream cheese at room temperature
200g powdered sugar sifted with
30g ground freeze-dried strawberries
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon strawberry flavor
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

I supposed I could've added more milk to make the frosting flow and drip more attractively over the cake, but it was fine for our purposes, and it had an intensely strawberry flavor.

The kids decorated the cake with Trader Joe's Candy Coated Chocolate Drops, which are like a slightly more natural version of M&Ms.

How did the cake turn out? Well the flavor and texture was great, but alas, the pattern inside was more of a marbled-swirl than a cheetah-print. Nonetheless, we had a happy little girl!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Top 10 Travel Must Haves for Long Flights with Young Kids (and Babies)

As someone who regularly (at least once a year) takes a round-trip trans-Pacific flight with two young children since they were breastfeeding infants aloneyes, as in the sole adult—here are my favorite must-have travel items that makes those long-haul flights easier.

1. Zo & Co Travel Totes

Oh my gosh, how I wish I'd found these earlier. I only just found out about them this past year while browsing Amazon, and I want to spread the word. These are a must-have travel organizer if you travel economy.

I thought the size of the pockets in the Original version were just right - the largest pocket held my Kindle Paperwhite in the standard Amazon Case perfectly, and the taller pocket on the right was just right for holding my travel mug. In the pockets on the left, I put in Babyganics Stain Eraser marker, spray hand sanitizer, lip balm, and my earbuds. The tiny pocket in the middle held a collapsible cell phone stand. The seat back pocket then held my bullet journal. 
This is an awesome way to keep track of all the in-flight essentials: smart phone, Kindle, headphones, water bottle, eyeglasses, and any other sundry items (hand sanitizer, dental floss, tissues, pen, lip balm, etc.). I used to hate just using the seat pocket, because if a put a water bottle in, the pocket would get overextended, causing all my other items to fall towards the bottom of the seat pocket, making finding my stuff in-flight harder. Also, at the end of a flight, I’d always be afraid I’d forget some overlooked item that had fallen to the bottom of the pocket, not to mention how uncomfortable it is to come across previous passengers’ trash. With this organizer, I arrange what I want handy in-flight before I leave my home, and then once on board, it’s a simple matter of pulling out the organizer and sliding it into place. Disembarking is made easier, as I just slide the organizer out and put it in my bag. In-flight, having everything at my fingertips is so much more convenient than bending over constantly to reach my bag tucked underneath the seat in front of me or opening the overhead bin.

There are sturdy metal clips built into the organizer that clips it to the seat back pocket. The organizer folds into thirds (there's a small piece of velcro to keep it folded) to make it easy to toss into a bag after the flight. I had looked at other organizers, but this one still retains the usability of the tray table, and is more flexible than a pouch. In the photo above, you can see it takes minimal leg room.

The kids version of the Zo&Co Travel Organizer comes in a quilted fabric and held both kids' water bottles, crayons, and a compact notebook for coloring. The carabiner clips were handy for holding the kids' headphones. You can see their backpacks tucked underneath.
They come in three versions: originalkids, and tech. The exterior dimensions are the same - the only variances between these versions are the number of pockets and fabric. The tech version essentially combines two pockets found in the original into an extended pocket to better fit a tablet. The kids version adds one more smaller pocket and an extra carabiner to the original version, but in a washable quilted fabric.

While you're at it, tuck in a small handled plastic bag into one of the many pockets. You can later clip it to the carabiner and use it to collect trash in-flight, to keep your seat area tidy.

2. Insulated Straw Water Bottle

We have the Thermos Foogo Water Bottles, which have lasted over six years now. I always ask the flight attendants to serve the kids drinks in their water bottles to prevent messes. I actually don't travel with wipes - just saving the wet wipes and napkins served during snack time and dinner - because preventing spills is easier than cleaning up after them.

I will note that the straw parts can get gunky if you're not vigilant about cleaning and drying them out, but replacements are readily available (I stocked up on a bunch awhile ago).

I myself travel with the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Insulated Travel Mug, which is easy to clean and has a flip-open lid with a lock, plus incredible insulation power. While the kids have their own Zojirushi bottles, the open sipper design makes it less ideal for in-flight use. Like the Thermos bottles, the rubber stoppers and sipper components are replaceable.

3. Skip Hop Toddler Kids Backpack

These are inexpensive, durable, hold a surprising amount, and come in a variety of fun styles. Until my eldest started grade school, he used this backpack everyday for preschool and kindergarten. At the airport, my kids carry their own water bottles, pillow, blanket, and amusements.

Skip Hop backpack holding the Skip Hop travel pillow, Zo&Co travel organizer, aden+anais muslin blanket, and Thermos Foogo insulated straw water bottle.
4. Skip Hop Little Kids and Toddler Travel Neck Rest

To go along with the backpack, you can get a coordinating pillow, or a different one. My kids like to use them while sitting up, and also while lying down. They've also used them on road trips. I once forgot to bring their pillow on a low-budget flight, that while short-haul, had turned into a red-eye because of weather delays. Never again.

5. Lightweight Cotton Zip Hoodie

You probably already have one at home. They're great for keeping warm when the air conditioning gets too strong. (As an aside, for warm-weather travel I adore Uniqlo's Airism UV Cut Zip-up Hoodie for myself. It's inexpensive, lightweight to be comfortable in hot, humid climates, and yet also surprisingly warm during spring and fall. The fabric is also so thin that it folds easily and compactly into your purse.)

6. Muslin Swaddle Blankets

Now there are lots of different brands; I got the aden+anais swaddle blankets when my eldest was a newborn, and this is one baby item that has held up. It's surprisingly warm, highly breathable, and the swaddle size means that it's big enough to be usable even though my kids are now 8 and 4. This also means that if your youngest is still asleep when your plane lands, you can scoop them up wrapped in this blanket. I've also used it as a makeshift sun shade. It's the equivalent of a pashmina for kids!
aden+anais muslin swaddle blankets (still used after all these years!) and Skip Hop travel pillow

7. Kids' Headphones

We have the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones for Kids - customer service was great about replacing our daughter's faulty headphones 6-months after purchase when we put them on one day and realized she could only hear out of one side. These are sized for smaller heads, and are adjustable, so adults can also easily check the volume and sound quality. The complimentary earbuds or headphones distributed by the airlines have never worked for them.

8. Snacks packed in Easy Lunchboxes

I'll pack fruit, crackers, and whatever will otherwise rot in my refrigerator if I didn't bring it with us in these handy compartmentalized containers by Easy Lunchboxes. They're easy to clean and stackable, so they take up less space when we're done with them. The compartments mean that if they're not feeling hungry during meal service, packing any leftovers from their airline meals (e.g. bread rolls, fruit) for them to eat later (although make sure all fruit and veg is eaten up before disembarking the plane and lining up at customs!) is easy.

9. Amusements

To be honest, I didn't start packing an tablet until this year, when my kids were 7 and 4. Usually, they're fine with the existing in-flight entertainment (remember, I'm flying international long-haul, not short-haul flights on an American carrier), crayons, and paper. The flight safety card once provided my son with at least 15 minutes of entertainment, as he deciphered the various exit points on the plane. The toy that has consistently provided the most amusement are the Melissa & Doug Water Wow Activity Pads. My kids have also enjoyed Wikki Stix, magnetic doodle boards, and the Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad (although the pad itself is rather bulky, and so has been disqualified for future flights). Bring paper and pen with you, and you can play tic-tac-toe, fold paper airplanes, or do other origami crafts.

10. Change of Underwear

Now that kids are fully toilet-trained, I only bring a spare set of underwear (tucked into the front pocket of their Skip Hop backpacks). During the toilet training years, because sometimes the line to the bathroom, especially after meal service, is long, I've only once had to change underwear and bottoms. If your child is bringing a hoodie anyway, that can substitute for a wet t-shirt. Keep things simple. When my kids were infants, I'd bring a spare onesie and leg warmers. I think I only changed my top once. I found I tended to pack more than I actually used.

Now, for babies, I'd also recommend:

11. Structured Baby Carrier

Even after my infants were well into their toddler years, I still got a lot of use out of my Boba Baby Carrier. The structured carrier meant that it was easy to put on (just two buckles to snap together), and given that you can carry up to a 45-pound child on your back, it's ideal for a keeping jet-lagged, overtired child calm while waiting in long lines at immigration and customs.

12. Nursing Cover

Breastfeeding was my number one tip for dealing with infants in flight, because they're not going to fuss if they're in their happy place, nursing in mom's arms. Now, while I generally didn't use nursing covers, I found them useful for flights because the rigid neckline provided air flow while also blocking out extra light (from all the signage such as the seatbelt light, toilet occupancy light, etc.) which can be distracting for an overtired infant. I was given a second-hand Bebe au Lait nursing cover, so that's what I used, but any one with a rigid neckline would do.

13. Skip Hop Pronto Changing Pad

This portable changing mat has thoughtfully-designed pockets so that you could tuck a number of diapers and wipes in to minimize the amount of stuff to carry with you to the toilet, as well as a handy strap that could hook the pad out of the way.

14. CARES Travel Harness

I only once carried my child's car seat in flight, and I vowed never to do it again. It was heavy, it was bulky, and I didn't get that much value out of it (my child did not sleep for more than an hour in the seat). However, good for toddlers is the CARES FAA-approved restraint system, which creates a shoulder strap with chest buckle restraint system. They're safer, and also less likely to wiggle about.

Friday, November 17, 2017

BraveTart’s Mini Egg Chocolate Cookies

The cookies were quite tender and broke apart easily, but I loved the flavor.
Rummaging around the refrigerator to make room for the products of this last weekend's cooking binge reminded me that I have bags of butterscotch chips stashed in the back of the refrigerator. I've been impressed by BraveTart's creations on Instagram, so I decided to check her site and modify her recipe for chocolate cookies with Cadbury Mini Eggs to use up the half bags of butterscotch and peanut butter chips I had on hand. Other substitutions: I substituted coconut sugar for the brown sugar, and used 2 ounces of white sugar instead of the 2.5 ounces called for (the sweetness was fine). I can't imagine using the full amount of sugar.

I had the kids add five mini M&Ms to the top of each cookie, after pressing the scooped dough with the pusher (from my food processor) dipped in cocoa powder - since the dough was very sticky

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Homemade Pizza, Revisited

I've made pizza often in the past, making dough from the recipe in Wildly Affordable Organic or King Arthur Flour's basic recipe. On a Smitten Kitchen kick, I decided to try her recipe. The kids rolled out the dough, so it was a bit thicker than I'd like, but the sauce was a revelation. In the past, I've just used jarred pasta sauce, but I tried her recipe which is simple - just drained canned whole tomatoes, whizzed in the food processor with a little salt and fresh garlic - and it made a huge difference.
Hawaiian Pizza, from the side
Since it has been awhile since we made homemade pizza, I forgot that I usually have the kids roll it between two sheets of parchment paper, so there was a big floury mess on the dining table when they had finished. Cornmeal also makes a superior substance to dust baking pans with, to prevent sticking.

I had leftover sauce, shredded cheese, canned pineapple, and Canadian bacon, so I made the pizza again today. The first time I followed her 22-hour recipe (starting it at night before I went to bed, for a lunch of pizza) and today I had only time for a 6-hour rise. I definitely recommend the flavor with a longer rise...although since I rolled out the dough today, it was much thinner. Also, I substituted whole wheat flour, for a proportion of 175g whole wheat flour and 200g bread flour.

kid-created pizza

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Deb Perleman’s Carrot Soup with Meatballs and Spinach

Smitten Kitchen has always been a favorite, and her recipe for Carrot Soup with Meatballs and Spinach was another winner. After I puréed the soup with an immersion blender, the soup started splattering everywhere - I'm unsure how to prevent that from happening again. I liked the meatballs, of which I used about a 50/50 mixture of ground chicken and ground pork. Next time I might use all pork because the chicken was too lean. Also, while the kids complained that their carefully cut carrots had been blended into a mash, Miss Nomad Foodie chose to have another serving instead of the miso sweet potato and broccoli bowl that I'd prepared for dinner. A final note: I think I'll use butter to sauté the vegetables in next time because I like the flavor of butter in soup.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Weekend trip to Tainan, Taiwan

Over the long National Day holiday weekend, we traveled to Tainan to attend a wedding. Given the holiday weekend, we were thankful to have found a hotel room at a good price the week before through

We stayed at the Young Soarlan Boutique Hotel, which was perfectly adequate for one night. There was a refrigerator (handy for refrigerating the snacks we had brought down in a cooler), four bottles of water, an electric tea kettle, plenty of space for our carry-on luggage, flat-screen television, and desk. The bedding and towels, and the bathroom, seemed to be bleach-white clean. The air conditioning was much appreciated, as the wedding had been held outdoors bando-style in unusually warm weather.

At breakfast the next day, there was a small buffet of mostly Taiwanese-style breakfast offerings: rice porridge with sweet potato and typical porridge toppings, steamed rice, stir-fried noodles, various tofu and vegetable dishes, chicken nuggets, and steamed egg. There was also toast and steamed buns available. The only beverages on offer were coffee and tea.

My only two quibbles about the hotel were minor: the bed was firmer than I'd like (though this is generally true of Taiwan, and even the Shangri-la in Taipei is not immune to this problem), and that when we arrived to breakfast, there was a shortage of plates. I constantly had to ask the server for dishware, which he promptly refilled. To be fair, we had arrived towards the end of breakfast service.

As a side note, I must mention how much I like, for several reasons:

  • Finding rooms in relation to a specific part of town, such a certain district or landmark, is easy;
  • The booking process is quick and streamlined, and customer service has been great when we've had to use them;
  • Their Rewards program is awesome, with basically a 10% return, as they have a 1 night free for every 10 completed nights booked through them;
  • You can stack their Rewards program savings by going through a shopping portal, such TopCashback, which is currently running a 5% return on completed stays. I've used TopCashback for a few years now, and have been pleased with how well it works;
  • You can stack further savings on top of that by using a credit card that rewards travel spending;
  • Since it's an hotel room aggregator, you're not tied to a specific chain. While room upgrades and lounge access at a preferred hotel chain are nice, it's also nice getting a return on travel spending when that isn't an option.

Later, we caught up with friends at the 新化體育公園, which was a lovely park with lots of trees shading the playground area. Our friends told us that the park is rarely crowded. There's a public pool at the park, and while we did not swim, we took a peek. The pool is much more appealing than pictured, as in person it seems very spacious with a lot of natural light.

Lunch was nearby at Pa Pa Yummy, a delightful pizzeria with a comfortable, light-filled setting. The salad was ok, more Taiwanese-style, but we enjoyed the pizzas which seemed to utilize fresh, not canned, ingredients, such as the thinly-sliced pineapple on the Hawai'ian pizza.
The kids enjoyed the presentation of the freshly baked pita bread.
My favorite pizza was the most unusual one on offer, featuring honey, ricotta, and apples.

When we left, we bought a whole-wheat boule loaf with longan, which was a good reminder of the trip. Just across the street from Pa Pa Yummy and a few storefronts down is 筱庭杏仁豆腐冰, which is a wonderful shaved ice and almond tofu place. I highly recommend the almond tofu, which has the silkiest texture I've ever had for almond tofu, which can be served atop shaved ice. Delightful.

Overall, we had a great trip, even though the traffic on our drive back to Taipei was awful. 

Young Soarlan Boutique Hotel, 揚悅精緻大飯店- 台南館
No.487 Section 2, Jiankang Road, South District, Tainan, Taiwan

Pa Pa Yummy 柴燒美食基地