Monday, April 23, 2012

Boston Brunchers Review: Scollay Square (Boston)

Brunch is my favorite meal, hands down. You gotta love a meal that involves both savory and sweet. Plus an excuse to drink champagne before noon sounds good to me! So it comes to no surprise I jumped at the chance to join the Boston Brunchers for a special Mom brunch with cookbook author Katie Workman at Scollay Square.

Scollay Square is located in the shadows of the State House on Beacon Hill. Some quick online research revealed that the original Scollay Square was located where Government Center now stands. The Scollay Square on 21 Beacon Street pays tribute with old photographs and decor from that era.

Joining me for this Boston Brunchers mom blogger edition were some fabulous women: Jessica from Don't Mind the Mess, Melanie from The Coupon Goddess, Laura from Good Cook Doris, Leah from Boston Family Foodie, Marissa from A Boston Mom, Boston Brunchers host Renee and Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket.

Three-course brunch menu - so hard to choose with many great options!

Scollay Square had prepared a three-course brunch menu showcasing some of their signature dishes. For the appetizer course, we had a choice of fresh berries with whipped cream or this:

Asparagus wrapped with prosciutto, grilled. Delicious!

No contest. This was my favorite dish. The asparagus was cooked to perfection and grilling the prosciutto was a nice touch. The fresh mozzarella and oven roasted tomato drizzled with a balsamic syrup rounded off this dish. Yum.

Next came the entree course. There was a choice of Flat Iron Steak with Grilled Asparagus, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Chimichurri Sauce, Butternut Squash Lasagna, Buttermilk Pancakes, or Monterey Jack and Portobello Omelette served with Has Browns and Lemon Dressed Greens. I'm a classic bruncher, so I had to go with the omelette.

Monterey Jack and Portobello Omelette
The omelette was light and fluffy and there was a good ratio of cheese to portobella mushroom. The has browns were okay (a bit on the greasy side) and the greens were kind of dull and overdressed.

As we dined and sipped our drinks, we had the opportunity to hear about what went behind Katie Workman's new cookbook. I'll be posting a review soon, but let's just say rigorous recipe testing, gorgeous photography and years of experience feeding her family and friends leads to a pretty cool cookbook.

The waitstaff was attentive and helpful. My guess is they don't see a lot of kids (dining room was a bit cramped and did not see many high chairs), but they were more than happy to accommodate our youngest Boston Brunchers (a couple of moms brought along their adorable and well-behaved babies).


For the finale, we were served Strawberry Shortcake with Vanilla Ice Cream. It was a nice ending to a great event. It's not often I get a chance to 1) brunch without my kids in tow 2) exchange tips on blogging and 3) commiserate with some talented women on trying to do it all.

Disclosure: Thanks to Scollay Square and Boston Brunchers for hosting brunch, which I received free of charge. As always, all opinions are my own.




Friday, April 20, 2012

Milk Awareness Day (Part 2)


Student enjoying white milk
What happens when you bring in three pediatricians in white lab coats, 391 cartons of free white milk, and a group of enthusiastic parents with milk mustaches to an elementary school?

On March 7th, 2012, the Lowell Elementary School in Watertown, MA devoted an entire a day to promote the health benefits of white milk. With the support of the school administration and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates (the local pediatrician office), the goal of Milk Awareness Day was to help kids make healthy choices, starting with choosing low-fat, white milk over flavored milk. A seemingly impossible task when almost 80% of the kids buy flavored milk over white milk at lunch everyday.

It was going to take a lot of planning, coordination and creativity. Here’s what happened:

“Let’s Talk Milk” School Assembly

Milk Day School Assembly
Milk Day began with an assembly in the school’s library. Students from grades PreK-5 gathered to hear three pediatricians from Harvard Vanguard talk about the benefits of choosing pure white milk instead of flavored milk. The kids were attentive as the doctors gave a presentation on the importance of calcium and other essential nutrients and vitamins found in milk. Then came the bait.

“Raise your hand if you drink chocolate milk at lunch” asked Dr. Dan Slater. A sea of hands flew up in the air.

Drs. Slater, Mitchell and Stepanian went on to explain the effects of sugar and why consuming too much sugar is bad for kids’ health. But how much sugar is in a carton of flavored milk? To demonstrate, they played a video clip of sugar being poured into a school bus from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Students and staff gasped as the bus began to bust at the seams with sugar.  

To further demonstrate sugar consumption, the pediatricians had the students guess how many cups of sugar are consumed at the Lowell school in one day. One by one, students came up to pour one cup of sand (representing sugar from flavored milk) into a clear storage container. The room grew increasingly agitated as over 18 kids gathered on the small stage.

“You guys drink 19 ½ cups of sugar more than you would if you drank regular white milk. That converts to 4 ½ added pounds of fat. And that’s not healthy.”

Kids are sometimes told too much sugar is not good for you, but it often doesn’t mean anything without the proper context. The Milk Day assembly was a great opportunity for the school doctors to explain this in a way kids could get and hopefully remember.

Harvard Vanguard doctors and students

Lunch
At the end of the assembly, the various grades began their lunch periods. Thanks to the generous support of Harvard Vanguard, children were offered free white milk with lunch. In addition, milk mustaches and white silicone bracelets with “MOO” imprinted on them were given to all the kids for choosing white milk. Nearly all the kids grabbed white milk over the flavored stuff. Only a handful of kids chose chocolate milk or water. Kids chose to show off their white mustaches and bracelets. It. Was. Awesome.

Pledge & Photo Opp
After kids finished their lunches, they were encouraged to sign a pledge to drink white milk and to have their pictures taken with milk mustaches. Lunch period is usually boisterous time, but more so on this particular day. Kids clambered to sign the pledge and showed off their milk mustaches. By the end of all the lunch periods, it was difficult to find space to scrawl a signature on the pledge. The goal was to make it a positive day. And based on the mood at every lunch period, there was no doubt we had achieved that goal.

And as a bonus, parent volunteers also collected the empty milk cartons to be used later for planting seedlings later this month as part of a wellness fair. How cool is that?

Principal Kaplan watching students sign pledge

Students could not wait to sign pledge to drink white milk
Milk Day was a hit with everyone

But wait, there’s more work to be done!

Months of planning and support paid off in spades. Except our efforts can’t be isolated to one day a year. School principal Elizabeth Kaplan has made it a priority to meet with parents to figure out ways to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and snacks at school. Even though Massachusetts has passed regulations that will eliminate flavored milk by 2013, the Lowell school is trying to get a jump-start. And by all accounts, is well on its the way.

Check back to read the final installment of my “Milk Chronicles” after our follow-up meeting with the school principal later this month. Wish us luck!

This post was originally published at jamieoliver.com on April 20, 2012. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Little Fingers: Dr. Panda Teach Me! App Review and Baked Flatbread Chips Recipe


Ever since Santa left us an iPad under the tree, I’m kind of obsessed with finding the perfect apps for our device. I have this inexplicable urge to hoard memory. As a result, I have become very choosy when it comes to buying apps, because God forbid I run out of memory!

When it comes to educational apps, I look for the following: positive editorial and user reviews (awards are a plus), price (under $4.99 is ideal), interactivity (cool animations that really leverage touch technology), games that make learning fun, and is an app the kids do not grow tired of. I’m not asking for too much, right?

So we decided to give Dr. Panda Teach Me! app by TribePlay a spin. Dr. Panda Teach Me! is designed for the preschooler/early learner (ages 2-5) in mind.  Dr. Panda leads the user through four different landscapes and over 10 educational activities such as colors, numbers, and puzzles to name a few. Activities are reward-based vs. points based. It is also free off links, ads and in-app purchases.


My 3-year-old immediately went to town, tapping everything in sight to see what would happen. He giggled with each cute animation and instantly knew how to maneuver his little fingers to get from landscape to activity quickly. The educational activities were appropriate for his learning level and he enjoyed making his own landscape when he completed an activity.

Some things to note if you are considering to buy this next time you are at the App Store. Because there are so many different animations hidden in each landscape, Dr. Panda Teach Me! is better suited for an iPad than a smartphone given its larger screen size in my opinion. Also, this is really geared toward a preschooler. My 6-year-old played with it for less than five minutes and declared it was too easy for him. My 3-year-old played with it for 30 minutes and asked to play with it again the next day. A sign of a good app in my opinion!

For $1.99 (Free Lite version is also available), this is a good app for my youngest. Plus the fun music makes me feel as if I’m in some 70s game show – which is not a bad thing.

But before you get those little fingers all over your expensive personal electronics, why not put them to work to help make a healthy and tasty snack! My kids love making these Baked Flatbread Chips. They are super easy to make, not to mention delicious. 


Baked Flatbread Chips

INGREDIENTS
  • 4-6 whole wheat flatbread rounds (I recommend Trader Joe’s Middle Eastern Flatbread)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher Salt

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. With a pizza cutter or kitchen shears, cut each flatbread round into 8 wedges
  3. Place wedges onto a rimmed baking sheet. Using a brush or fingers, lightly coat wedges with oil, then season with salt.
  4. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until crisp and lightly browned
  5. Enjoy warm from then oven. Serve with your favorite dip.


Disclosure: As a member of Boston Parent Bloggers, I was given the opportunity to participate in this sponsored campaign. I received the app for free to offer a review. As always, all opinions are my own.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Recipe: Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting



With Easter quickly approaching this weekend, I've been looking for a sweet treat to share with the boys besides the usual suspects of jellybeans, Cadbury Creme Eggs or chocolate bunnies. I wanted to find something a bit more healthier that we would all love: Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

I think I may have found the mother of all recipes based on smiles after we made a batch. And the vitamin-rich carrots, antioxidant-rich raisins, and walnuts that are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids make this a treat I feel good about serving my family. Plus having the kids help make these have now become part of our family Easter tradition.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Easter. Okay, Cadbury Crème Eggs are a very close second.

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café

INGREDIENTS
·      2 Eggs
·      1 cup packed light brown sugar
·      ¾ cup canola oil
·      3 tbs lowfat buttermilk
·      ½ tsp vanilla extract
·      1 cup plus 2 tbs unbleached all–purpose flour
·      ½ tsp baking powder
·      ½ tsp baking soda
·      ½ tsp kosher salt
·      ½ tsp ground cinnamon
·      ¼ tsp ground ginger
·      2 cups shredded carrots
·      ½ cup raisins
·      ½ cup chopped walnuts

Cream Cheese Frosting
·      12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
·      ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
·      1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS
1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
2.     In a large bowl or using a stand mixer, beat together eggs and brown sugar on med-high speed for 3-4 minutes, or until mixture is light in color and thick. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. On low speed, slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg-sugar mixture.
3.     In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Using a rubber spatula, fold flour mixture into egg-sugar mixture until fully incorporated.
4.     Add carrots, raisins, and walnuts and continue to fold until well mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.
5.     Bake cupcakes for about 50 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool in muffin tin on wire rack.
6.     Meanwhile to make the frosting, beat cream cheese (with paddle attachment) on medium speed for about a minute until smooth. It is important cream cheese is at room temperature or the frosting will be lumpy. You can microwave on medium power for 30 seconds to soften (be sure to remove foil wrapper!).
7.     Add the butter and continue to beat for another minute. Then add the confectioners’ sugar and beat for one more minute until well mixed. Chill frosting in the refrigerator to firm it up before using.
8.     Remove cupcakes from muffin tin and frost cupcakes. Decorate with shaved coconut, carrot strips or lemon zest.  

This post was originally published at MomItForward.com on April 3rd, 2012. 

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