Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick 'em with some treats - Deceptively Delicious

I wouldn't say that Monkey Man is the pickiest eater on the block - he eats more than just chicken nuggets and mac & cheese, but he's not exactly the most adventurous eater either. He has a few favorite veggies and unfortunately as we found out a few years ago, he's actually allergic to green beans (!) and navy beans - both of which were in the list of favorites. So sometimes it's a little struggle trying to get him to try new stuff. Every now and then I can make cheese sauce over steamed veggies, but isn't that kind of defeating the purpose of eating healthy veggies if you're going to drown them in cheese?

I love me a good cookbook, too. I have a pretty extensive collection of them and will sometimes spend an afternoon on the couch with a few of them looking for new things to try. Blame my mom for that, since she started me in the kitchen when I was old enough to stand up at the stove.

Parent Bloggers asked me if I'd be interested in checking out Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious - and I thought it would not only feed my cookbook addiction, but also maybe give me some good ideas for other veggies to try with Monkey Man. I'm not exactly very adventurous in the veggie department myself, so I figured maybe this would be good for both of us.

The cookbook itself is adorable. Hard cover, spiral bound, and very pink. The pages are durable and probably wipable too (although thankfully I didn't have to test that part out). Jessica introduces her family, intersperses comments that are presumably from her kids as well as her husband Jerry (yes, that Jerry), and offers her own brand of advice when it comes to dealing with kids and their eating. There are great illustrations and photos throughout the cookbook and it's very visually appealing. I liked that part a lot.

The general idea of the book, if you haven't already heard all the buzz, is that she recommends using vegetable purees in recipes to boost the nutritional values of regular foods like macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, cheesesticks, and so on. Jessica collaborated not only with a chef, but also with a nutritionist to assemble the recipes. She goes step by step over what you need to prepare the vegetables, how to make the purees, what kind of equipment you need for the pureeing as well as any baking or cooking. It's really very thorough and I believe that anyone could successfully do it.

I decided that I'd put a few recipes to the test - nothing too complicated but something I could easily fix one night after work or on a weekend when we're running around like a bunch of maniacs. First, I tried the Pita Pizzas - I had some baby spinach that I had pureed the day before, so I was able to throw them together in just a few minutes. I liked that I could use things that I already had in my pantry - wheat pita bread, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese along with the spinach puree. And you know, they were good and perfect for something like an afternoon snack or lunch when you're in a hurry and the kids are starving. You could probably jazz them up a bit by adding other toppings too if you wanted to.

The second thing that I tried was the recipe for Mozzarella Sticks. Yeah, I know, not the most gourmet recipe but Monkey Man adores them in restaurants so I figured why not. This used cauliflower puree as well as flaxseed meal and you also have the option of adding sesame seeds (which I left off since I don't like them). Well, he didn't care for the flaxseed meal on them, so I am going to try them again another time using just whole wheat breadcrumbs. So it wasn't a total flop, just a temporary setback.

The last thing were the Aloha Chicken Kebabs. Jessica recommends using sweet potato puree and pineapple puree - well, I didn't have any sweet potatoes on hand so I used all pineapple puree instead. I also, after the Mozzarella Stick Incident, left the flaxseed out and just stuck with the breadcrumbs. These were pretty tasty too - Monkey Man didn't care for the coconut but she suggests leaving it off if it's too objectionable. Personally, I liked these and they were pretty easy to fix.

I'm anxious to try a few more of these, especially the desserts. The chocolate chip cookie recipe incorporating chickpeas looks especially intriguing and I've heard raves about them - and who doesn't love a good cookie? So that's next on the list.

Seinfeld devotes quite a bit of space to nutritional information and the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables. One thing that I'd change, however, is to add a little more emphasis about actually serving fruits and veggies with these dishes and not just depending on the purees to meet the nutritional needs of your family. She does mention it briefly but I think it could be easily lost with all of the other eye-catching features of the cookbook.

Is Seinfeld's idea new? Nah, mothers have probably been sneaking healthy stuff into our food since the prehistoric era. But what she has done is incorporate some great ideas into a format that is visually appealing and full of enthusiasm.

Check out Deceptively Delicious for the picky eaters in your house!

Parent Bloggers Network

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kids are Americans Too

I'm not what they would call a political zealot. I tend to lean a little more to the conservative side on economic issues, and more on the liberal side on social issues. I don't watch any of the political talk shows unless they just happen to be on when I'm channel surfing, and even then it's a very quick five-minute process.

I'm not a Bill O'Reilly fan, nor do I think he's the Devil incarnate either. I've watched him a few times, was mildly entertained, and moved on. So when Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing O'Reilly's latest book "Kids are Americans Too", I really wasn't sure what to expect.

I liked the general premise of the book, which is to teach kids about their rights. As O'Reilly puts it, if you look at modern-day society it's hard to believe how much things have changed since the Founding Fathers came up with the Declaration of Independence. As much as things have changed, though, our fundamental rights are still the same as they were over 200 years ago. And once you think about that, it's pretty cool. O'Reilly also discusses how sometimes an individual has to think about the "common good" versus what the individual's own interests are, and sometimes the common good has to outweigh that. He also discusses some court cases regarding kids' rights with varying degrees of success.

O'Reilly doesn't go into any serious depth about the Constitution, the government, or the Supreme Court with his aim to give kids a very broad overview of how our rights work without going into minute detail. I think that in his attempt to give an overview, however, he almost gives too little information.

But maybe that isn't such a bad thing in this case. Although O'Reilly comes out of the gate very strongly in the first few chapters and had me completely hooked into the premise of the book, by mid-way in the book I was pretty turned off. I really wanted to believe that O'Reilly would give fair and balanced coverage to the topics, however I was really disappointed when slowly but surely he started sneaking his own viewpoints into the book. By the end, I really got the impression that O'Reilly would be almost giddy if every kid that reads this book subscribed to his beliefs. Not to mention that he slipped in references to his talk show and other books that he has written, which I think really isn't appropriate to do in this type of book. Save the sales pitch for another audience, please.

My biggest beef with the book, however, was that I think it was dumbed down a lot. The writing style is very disjointed - now, I have never read any of O'Reilly's other works so I'm not sure if this was written to appeal to teens with "MTV brain" as I call it, or if this is his normal style. I think kids today are way smarter than he gives them credit for in the book and the style of writing. In addition, there were multiple parts in the book where I felt like O'Reilly was very patronizing toward the reader as if they weren't quite cool enough or smart enough to play in his sandbox. It's one thing to play Devil's Advocate in order to arouse interest in a topic that you're passionate about, but it's another thing to make the reader feel like a moron if they don't align with your viewpoints.

Overall, I think the idea of the book was great - I mean hey, don't we all want to know more about our rights and want our kids to know more too? However, I think O'Reilly's personal beliefs bleed into the book too much for it to be an impartial report on this topic. I'd really like to see this subject tackled for teens by someone who is a little more politically neutral rather than someone trying to covertly push their own personal agenda.

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Printakid - magic you can definitely try at home

Have you ever ordered one of those personalized books as a gift for a child? I have. And I was sorely disappointed. Poor print quality, lackluster stories, and weakly-constructed books that wouldn't hold up to an adult's use, let alone a kid's use. Disappointing, to say the very least.

Enter Printakid. These personalized books for children not only met my expectations, but reached moon and stars beyond them. It was like magic!

Ordering one was as easy as pie. First, I went to the website and selected the story that I wanted. Themes ranged from "first day of school" to a Christmas story - I decided to go with the outer-space themed "The Robots of Sedna" since one of Monkey Man's favorite things is astronomy. Oh, and Star Wars. I figured it would be a win-win choice, even though all of the other book selections looked equally good.

Then came the personalizations. First, I got to dedicate the book and choose my own wording. Very cool. Then came turning Monkey Man into the hero of the story. I was able to choose his hair color, hair style, eye color, skin tone, if he wore glasses and what the shape of his glasses were (if he wore any). Then I put our names in there and was then able to choose the names of three of his friends that were then worked into the story.

So that was it. It took me a whopping ten minutes to put the order together. Now, all I had to do was wait for the book to come.

The day the book came, I sat down with Monkey Man and started reading the book to him. His eyes grew bigger and bigger...

"Hey, that's ME!" he shouted. And as we went through the story, he got more and more excited to see that not only was he the hero of the story, but his friends and Joey and I were in there too. He liked the book so much that every time we had people come over that week, he pulled it out and showed them the book, including my dad who got suckered into reading it at least four times the afternoon he was visiting.

Okay, so he liked it. But what did I think? Honestly, this is hands-down the best personalized book for children that I've ever seen. The illustrations are crisp, clear and colorful. The story is well-written and does a good job of making the "hero" feel very special. And the book's construction is sturdy - maybe not if you have a page-ripper lurking in your house, but it will definitely hold up to a lot of reading if treated in a normal wear-and-tear manner.

Printakid has done an awesome job in presenting a product that is not only easy to order, but a real kid-pleaser too. It's like magic, only the type that you can definitely try at home. Check out Printakid and see what kind of magic you can conjure up for the special kids in your life!

Parent Bloggers Network