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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Target Product Recall - Back Trails Jr. Toddler, Youth and Child Bicycle Helmets

Target has recalled almost 500,000 Back Trails Jr. Toddler, Youth and Child Bicycle Helmets because some of the helmets don't meet safety standards. This press release includes photos of the recalled product.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel

We never stay at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel, but we almost always visit. On Saturday, we had lunch at the Plumeria Beach House, an open-air restaurant with a great ocean view. I had the buffet, which was great except for the lack of prime rib (they had roasted lamb, roasted chicken, and a cooked-to-order shrimp pasta instead). There was a variety of salads, including Kahuku watermelon and cucumber salad, a couple of soups, some sushi and sashimi, manila clams in citrus butter, and even spinach and artichoke dip with salmon. There was also a pretty wide selection of desserts, some of which were very average (blueberry peach cobbler, brownies, and coconut cake) and some of which were delicious (bread pudding, strawberries with whipped cream, and chocolate chip cookies).

Marc ordered his usual, the Kahala cheeseburger. He said the fries were particularly good, but I was too full from the buffet to try them. For a drink, I ordered the passion fruit iced tea - if you do the same, be aware that refills aren't included.

After lunch, we walked around the grounds to see the dolphins and sea turtles. The lagoon behind Alex and me in the photo is the dolphins' play area, but we couldn't quite get them in the picture. When Alex is older, I think he'll enjoy the Dolphin Encounter Program. And the next time, I might squeeze in a culinary class.

Monday, August 29, 2005

We're Home!

I hope to get back into the posting groove by Wednesday, but in the meantime, suffice it to say that as wonderful as Hawaii was, it's good to be home and know that I'll be sleeping in my own bed. There's just something about hotel beds that prevents me from getting a truly good night's sleep, so I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow morning.

Alex wasn't quite as angelic on the flight coming back, but he was still pretty good. I must give credit where credit is due, though - it was Marc who really kept Alex calm when he got uppity. If I haven't mentioned it before, I need to say it now: Marc is amazing at taking care of Alex. We both highly recommend two first class seats over three coach seats - the extra space in and around the seats is extremely helpful, and the crew is attentive and accommodating.

The first class lounge at LAX didn't have its own restrooms; the ladies room outside had a changing table. On the flight to Hawaii, the lavatory in first class didn't have a changing table, so we had to go to the one closest to the front in coach.

The first class lounge for Hawaiian Airlines in Honolulu had its own restrooms, but there wasn't a changing table, per se. There were two wide vanity counters, so I used one of those to change Alex before we got on the plane. On the flight back to LA, the first class lavatory did have a changing table. I actually can't tell you what it's like to change a diaper in that small a space because Marc did it on both flights, but I can at least tell you that it is possible.

Going through security was a big pain, mainly because we had to take Alex out of the car seat and put that through the X-ray machine, along with the stroller. With all of our bags, shoes and baby gear, it seemed like we were putting a million different things on the conveyer belt. (A friendly reminder: Don't put your purse on the conveyer belt until one of you is ready to go through the metal detector and wait for it on the other side. You don't want someone to make off with it while you're still putting the rest of your luggage through the X-ray machine.)

The trip was also the first time we strapped the Graco SnugRide car seat directly into the car, instead of using the car seat base. It is obviously a bigger hassle than using the base, but it worked surprisingly well. It also gave me a taste of what's to come, since Alex is about to outgrow the SnugRide and I will soon have to strap him in and out of the "big boy" car seat while it's in the car.

That's it for now. Alex needs a bath and then it's time (I hope!) for sleep.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Pineapple Room

Before it went bankrupt, Liberty House used to be the main department store in Hawaii. The flagship store occupied the Diamond Head end of Ala Moana Shopping Center, and there was a nice restaurant on the third floor (there were more casual places to eat on the fourth floor). Six years ago, the third-floor restaurant was taken over by renowned local chef Alan Wong and named The Pineapple Room.

In case you couldn't tell from my post two days ago about our meal there, Marc and I love The Pineapple Room. In fact, we ate there three days in a row (Thursday and Friday for lunch, plus dinner last night). The only reason we're not going today is that they don't serve dinner on Sundays and we already have other lunch plans.

We had the Menu Sampling dinner last night, which consisted of five courses. Here's a sample dinner menu, although our dinner was different from the one listed. Our first course was some ahi sashimi with a carrot and daikon (Japanese radish) salad topped with a yuzu dressing and a slice of myoga. The second course was a piece of panko-encrusted onaga on top of sauteed enoki and shiitake mushrooms, followed by a lobster and corn risotto, then a "beef duo" of tenderloin and short ribs. The finale was a small scoop of sorbet, creme brulee served in a Chinese soup spoon, and a little fresh fruit, all served on a thin slab of cold marble. I opted for the house Plantation Iced Tea (which is iced tea with pineapple juice and a thin slice of pineapple) instead of the wine course.

The food at The Pineapple Room is just as good as, if not better, than the food at Alan Wong's itself. The atmosphere is less upscale and appropriate for families, especially if you go early. Unlike at the flagship restaurant, there's actually some space between tables so you don't have to listen to the conversation going on next to you. We'll be there every day the next time we come, too.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Good Hike

Marc and I just got back from a hike up Diamond Head. I was a little surprised that I made it as well as I did, given the two long sets of stairs that we had to climb to get to the top. I think a lot of the people climbing with us didn't know what they were in for. Some of them weren't wearing covered shoes, some were just clearly in terrible shape, and others had very young children with them. The first viewpoint is before the stairs, so I suppose some of them may have been planning to stop there (but even then uncovered shoes are dangerous because the trail is rocky and filled with loose dirt/sand).

The view is gorgeous from every viewpoint, and the breeze brought the temperature down some. Going down was actually harder than going up, not just because it was tougher on my knees and ankles, but also because my legs were a bit wobbly and gravity made me want to rush down the uneven rocky path.

There were quite a few people walking into the park, but it's quite a ways from the park entrance up to the start of the hike, so I only recommend that if you really want the exercise. We had to pay $5 to get into the park with a private car (individuals who were walking in were $1 per person).

It was nice to have some couple time (it was too hot to take Alex), and also to get some exercise. As we drove out of the park, Marc and I vowed to take care of ourselves and not become obstacles to our enjoyment of life as we get older.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Vacation Adventures

No matter where we go, it seems that the most important - and enjoyable! - part of our vacation is the food. Yesterday, we had lunch at The Pineapple Room, which is one of top chef Alan Wong's restaurants. I had the Poi Cup, which was a small bowl of poi topped with kalua pork and lomi-style tomatoes. I love The Pineapple Room's poi, because there's no sourness to it at all - it's just fresh and a little bit sweet.

All was not perfect yesterday, however. If you're a parent, you know that you need at least 6, and maybe 10, diapers a day. So we decided that we'd just buy a box of diapers when we got here. You might recall that Alex can only wear Pampers Cruisers. Well, we went to Wal-Mart and they didn't have any! They had their store brand, Pampers BabyDry, and Huggies BabyShaped. I gambled on a package of Huggies, which comes with "Gigglastic." What a BabyShaped diaper doesn't have that a Cruisers diaper does is this soft mesh netting that I think handles poop better. Alex hasn't had a massive poop yet. But I'll let you know how it goes.

Lest you think that was the worst of our problems, we had more misadventures yesterday. The hotel we're staying at put a crib in the room for Alex to sleep in. It actually looks like a medieval torture chamber because it's all metal. The mattress is about an inch thick. And the sheet doesn't fit snugly. We picked up a crib sheet at Wal-Mart but even that was too big for the mattress. When I pulled it tighter to make it snug, it pulled the mattress away from the sides of the crib. I had intended to bring our mesh bumpers but forgot to pack them, so we picked up a set from Wal-Mart but they wouldn't have filled the gap between the mattress and the crib. The verdict: too many SIDS and other risks for comfort.

I ended up sleeping in the king size bed with Alex, while Marc slept on the couch (we've never shared our bed with Alex in part because we're afraid of injuring him - needless to say, I slept pretty lightly). I'd been warned about hotel cribs but that was a while ago, and I'd kind of forgetten the specifics in the warnings. Well, they all came back to me last night. Today we're going to pick up a basic Pack 'n Play and Alex can sleep in that the rest of the trip.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Yippee! We're On Vacation!

Well, we arrived safely in Hawaii this afternoon and are having a blast. It's super hot and humid, though - not a trade wind to speak of!

Alex was a dream on the flight. We had enough miles for two first-class seats, which helped a lot. The extra leg room allowed us to stand up and hold Alex when he got a little restless. A big shout out to my friend, Whitney, who recommended that we bring the Boppy so Alex would have a comfortable place to sit on my lap - thanks, Whitney!

Marc and I had no idea what to expect from Alex on the plane, so we planned for the worst. I hit Mrs. Fields yesterday and bought out their nibblers (the bite size cookies). I divided them into 20 cellophane bags and put a label on them that read, "This is my first time on an airplane. Please be patient with my parents and forgive me if I cry - Baby Alex." The cookies were a big hit with our fellow first-class passengers and the crew. I forgot to take a picture but we plan to do the same thing on the way home, so I'll try to remember then!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

White House Greeting

About a month and a half ago, I posted the information for getting a note of congratulations on your baby's birth from the White House. My son's greeting arrived about two weeks ago. In case you can't read the text, here's what it says:

"Welcome! We are delighted to join your family in celebrating your arrival. You have already brought much happiness to those around you and you've just gotten started!

We are glad you are now part of the wonderful American story. Our Nation holds great opportunities for you. May you make the most of your unique gifts and may happiness and love surround you always."

It's a pretty cool keepsake for his memory box! (Someday, maybe, the box will become a beautiful scrapbook ... but for now, it's a memory box.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sesame Soba & Tofu With Asparagus

This is a tasty light summer dish.

Sesame Soba & Tofu With Asparagus
Serves 3

14 oz. extra firm tofu
3 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
8 oz. soba noodles
12 oz. asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1. Drain the tofu and wrap it tightly in a kitchen towel. Put on a plate and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.

2. Combine 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and chili flakes in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer over medium low.

3. Cook the soba noodles according to package directions. Add the asparagus for the last two minutes. Drain and return to pot.

4. While the soba is cooking, cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss the tofu with the sesame seeds so the sesame seeds adhere to the tofu.

5. Heat 3 teaspoons of sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the tofu and saute until browned on all sides, about 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Add the tofu and reduced sauce mixture to the soba and asparagus. Toss to combine.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Dine & Dish On $40 A Day

You might recall that I'm participating in the food blogging event, Dine & Dish, with the theme of $40 A Day. So here was my day in food:

Breakfast
Pancake Stacker Bowl from Millie's Restaurant, $5.99 - Millie's is the best quality diner I've ever been to. The food is always good, the staff is always courteous, and the most amazing part is that the other patrons are so polite, I've always had the door held for me. The Pancake Stacker Bowl comes with six buttermilk pancakes, a cream cheese filling that melts into a sweet sauce, fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It was really yummy, albeit decadent, and easily enough for two people. (I had to use the picture from their website because it was hard getting a good shot inside the restaurant.)


Lunch
Smoked turkey sandwich on rye from Label's Table deli, $8.99 - Label's Table has (in the expert opinion of my father-in-law) the best smoked turkey in the city. The sandwich is no frills - just bread, mustard and turkey. No lettuce or tomato. I was so hungry, I forgot to take a picture, but it was about two inches thick in the middle, so there was a lot of meat.
Label's Table doesn't have a website, so here's their information:
23311 Mulholland Dr.
Woodland Hills, California 91364-2734
(818) 222-1044

Afternoon Snack
Spicy tuna bowl from Whole Foods Market, $7.50 - A layer of sushi rice and a layer of julienned cucumber are topped with a mixture of chopped tuna and a spicy chili sauce. The bowl comes with a packet of soy sauce, a little bit of wasabi, and pickled ginger. It's a delicious and easy snack.



Dinner
Caesar Salad ($7.75) and Gnocchi with Marinara Sauce ($12.95) from Mulholland Grill - Mulholland Grill is in the back of a small shopping center near the intersection of Beverly Glen and Mulholland Drive in Bel Air. We got takeout instead of eating there since we were with Alex. The food is upscale Italian, and they have my favorite Caesar salad, which I split with Marc. They also make (in Marc's opinion) the best bolognese in town, so that's what he got. (I've come pretty close to recreating their bolognese with Cooking Light's Rag├╣ Alla Bolognese with Fettuccine.) I love their gnocchi, which comes with a choice of pesto, alfredo, marinara, arrabiata or vegetable sauce. I ordered marinara sauce because it's healthier than pesto, which is what I really wanted.
Mulholland Grill also doesn't have a website, so here's their info:
2932 Beverly Glen Circle
Bel Air, California 90077
(310) 470-6223



The total for the day came to $43.18, a bit over budget but I did share the Caesar salad with Marc, so I think it's okay (wink). Per the rules of the game, I didn't take into account tax and tip, although Rachael Ray does so on her show.

This was really fun - and proves Rachael Ray is right in that it's possible to eat well on just $40 a day!

Preventing Stretch Marks

I only see my dermatologist when there's a problem (and I've seen him twice in the last week!), so it never occurred to me to inquire about stretch marks before Alex was born. It turns out that if I had, he would have recommended applying a product called Albolene during pregnancy. Albolene is used as a makeup remover in show biz - it's like Vaseline blended with moisturizer. If I have another child, I'll be liberal with the Albolene. In the meantime, I hope this information is helpful to someone else!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Easy Nutrition Boosts

Here are some easy ways to sneak extra vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients into your diet:
  • Use romaine or other lettuces instead of iceberg. Darker greens have more nutrients, so I use a baby lettuce mix from Trader Joe's instead of iceberg. Sometimes I add romaine for the crunch. You can also add baby spinach leaves. I use these substitutions not just in salads but when I need shredded lettuce for tacos or sandwiches.
  • Add some ground flax seed (also known as flax seed meal) to your cereal, yogurt or smoothies. Flax seed has lots of fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Switch to whole wheat pasta, which has more fiber and digests more slowly. I actually prefer the taste of whole wheat pasta now, because I think it's more flavorful. I recommend adding a generous amount of salt to the cooking liquid for the best flavor. Trader Joe's sells whole wheat spaghetti, fettucine, penne and rotini for 99 cents a pound.
  • For more extra fiber, substitute whole wheat pastry flour for all purpose flour in all of your baking and cooking. It can be a little hard to find, but I've seen it at both Whole Foods markets in my neighborhood.
  • Buy organic fruit and vegetables when possible, because they are higher in antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Holiday Gift Ideas

I know it's only August, but Marc's birthday is coming up and to me that signals the start of the end of the year. I like to plan ahead, so here are some thoughts on holiday gift ideas:

  • Gift baskets: I love gift baskets, and I love making them, too. One of my favorite ideas (although I've never made this particular one) is to take an empty bucket of popcorn (available at movie rental stores) and fill it with movies (or rental gift certificates), giant size candy, and popcorn. This would make such a great gift for a family.
  • Memberships: A family membership to the Los Angeles Zoo is $65, and includes unlimited admission for two adults, all of their children and/or grandchildren ages 2-17, and reciprocal admission to zoos and aquariums throughout the country. Memberships at museums work much the same way.
  • Cookies: Before I had a child, I often gave baked goods away at the holidays. (Now that Alex is here, I don't think I'll be doing marathon baking sessions for at least a few years!) The wonderful thing about baked goodies is that almost everyone appreciates them and they don't become clutter. I like to plan ahead, though, deciding what I'm going to make (chocolate lovers adore brownies), what doughs will freeze well so I can do that part well ahead of time, and how I'm going to package them. One year I made the mistake of presenting cookies in stacked origami boxes - it took me about a month to fold all of the boxes, and I promised myself I'd never do that again!

I'll have more suggestions in the near future!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding

If you are, or are thinking of, breastfeeding, here's information on why breastfeeding is good for you and your baby.

But if you're not breastfeeding (and perhaps feeling some backlash because of that), I want to share a story that a friend was kind enough to share with me when I was struggling and considering switching to formula. My friend had a friend who was struggling with breastfeeding. The new mother took her son to the pediatrician's office, where the nurse asked if she had bought the very best, most expensive car seat on the market. The new mother, taken aback, said, "No." The nurse then asked if she felt the car seat that she had bought was good enough to protect her son. The new mother replied, "Of course." Then the nurse said, "Well, think of formula in the same way. It may not be the very best, but it's more than good enough."

I think I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again since I need to be reminded of this regularly: No matter how hard I try, I cannot be a perfect mother. I can only be a "good enough" mother.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Easy Banana Trifle

I didn't take a picture of this trifle because it was so easy, it felt like I was cheating - but I'm sharing the recipe because it was so easy!

Easy Trifle
1 box devil's food cake mix (plus water, oil and eggs to make the cake)
1 box instant vanilla pudding mix (plus milk to make the pudding)
5 bananas
1 tub frozen whipped topping, thawed

1. Prepare the cake mix according to package directions and bake in a 13x9 inch pan until done. Cool completely and cut into 1-inch thick slices.

2. Prepare the pudding according to package directions and chill until the cake is ready.

3. Cut the bananas length-wise into 1/4-inch slices.

4. Assemble the trifle layers in a clear bowl or tupperware for maximum effect in the following order: cake, pudding, banana, whipped topping. Repeat layers until you have 3 layers, ending with the whipped topping. To garnish, you can top with some fresh berries, chocolate shavings, or cocoa powder.

Note: I'm sure this would work with other flavor combinations, like pound cake, chocolate pudding and strawberries. Use whatever's at hand - this is a great emergency dessert!

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Random Laundry Tips

1. Turn your clothes inside out to prevent fading before putting them in the washing machine.

2. Wash your clothes in the coldest water possible to make them last longer and save on your energy bill.

3. Add your detergent to the running water and let the washer fill a little before adding your clothes. This allows the detergent to dissolve and disperse evenly, and prevents "detergent spots" from developing on your clothes.

4. If you have the space, have multiple laundry baskets and sort your clothes when you undress. For example, my husband and I have three laundry baskets in the closet - one for darks, one for whites, and one for lights. We also keep a couple of empty laundry baskets stacked under the ones that are being used for loads like towels and sheets.

5. Unless your baby has sensitive skin, you probably don't need to wash his or her clothes and blankets in special detergent like Dreft. However, if (like me) you want to keep your baby's exposure to potential allergens to an affordable minimum, try All Free. It's available in a 300-ounce container and is much more affordable than Dreft. In fact, it's more affordable than most other detergents, and for me it's cheaper at the supermarket rather than Target (even without a coupon).

Roasted Cauliflower and Sardine Pasta

Don't cringe! This is really good. Leftovers are good, too, but if you're at the office, eat it at room temperature because microwaving it might make your office smell a little fishy.

Roasted Cauliflower and Sardine Pasta
Serves 4

12 oz. cauliflower florets
8 oz. whole wheat linguine
1/4 cup toasted breadcrumbs (or make your own by putting 2 slices of toasted whole wheat bread into the food processor)
4 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 3.75-oz. cans sardines packed in water
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss together the cauliflower, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and spread the cauliflower onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cauliflower is golden.

2. Cook the linguine according to the package directions. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Meanwhile, drain the sardines and chop them into half-inch pieces.

3. In the same pot that you cooked the pasta in, heat the garlic and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for two minutes. Add the cauliflower, sardines, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and saute for 1 minute. Add the pasta and breadcrumbs and toss. Remove from heat and divide into 4 portions. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cheese over each serving.

Nutrition bonus: Leave the sardine bones in for extra calcium - you'll never notice them.

Quick Tips: The cauliflower can be prepared up to a day in advance. Grate the garlic on a microplane if you don't like mincing.

*Disclaimer: I'm not a nutritionist and I'm not a doctor. Consult an expert if you have any questions or concerns.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

What's The Difference Between Polenta And Cornmeal?

Every time I see a chef making polenta on television, I wonder what the difference between polenta and cornmeal is. According to this, it's simply that polenta comes medium or coarsely ground, while regular cornmeal is usually finely ground. And that's it.

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Product Review - Black & Decker Food Steamer

I got my Black & Decker Food Steamer about two years ago, and have used it regularly ever since. You might recall that I can't hardboil an egg without it. It's also great for steaming broccoli and other vegetables. You can also make rice in it, according to the instructions, but I have a real rice cooker for that.

I realize that an electric steamer isn't a necessity in the kitchen, and that it's easy to steam food in a pot with an inch of water and a metal steamer or colander. But somehow I find that I'm more likely to steam vegetables in my steamer than in a pot. Maybe it's because my steamer has a timer, or because my metal colander is a pain to clean - I'm not sure. But I am sure that my family eats healthier because of the electric steamer.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Selling Your Used Books

A few years ago, when my husband and I moved, I tried to sell a bag full of books at a used book store. The owner looked inside the bag, commented on the great condition of all the books, but declined to buy them because he didn't need them. Since then, I've discovered that the easiest way to get rid of my unwanted books (other than donating them to the library) is to sell them on Amazon.com's Marketplace. You can sell other things on Amazon, but I've only sold books, CDs, and DVDs.

The easiest way to list an item is to use the ISBN, UPC or ASIN number that is on the bar code of a book, CD or DVD. It's unique to that item so you won't have to search through various results to find the exact item you want to sell. Once you've found a match, you select the condition of your item (New, Like New, Very Good, Good, or Acceptable) and enter a comment (the comment is not required but I recommend it, particularly if the item is not listed as new). Setting a price is fairly easy. Amazon tells you what its own price is, as well as the lowest Marketplace price, so you can decide where you want to fall in that range.

Amazon provides shipping credits, which differ depending on the item you're selling (you get $2.26 for books). The shipping credit is supposed to cover the mailing costs, although with heavier items it sometimes is not enough and you have to cover the difference through the amount you received from the buyer. The items that I sell can all be shipped by USPS Media Mail, and usually ship for less than the amount of the shipping credit that I receive. Amazon does charge a small commission, so make sure you're going to make at least something before you list your item for a really low price.

Amazon requires that you ship the item within 2 business days of the purchase, which can sometimes be a problem if you have trouble getting to the post office. For my own privacy and protection of my identity, I rented a post office box to use as my return address (I made enough money from book sales to cover that cost within two weeks). I think it's a good practice to email the buyer to let them know their item is on the way.

I'm no tax expert (so see a professional if you have any questions), but my understanding is that my Amazon sales are taxable income only if I'm making a profit - for example, if I bought a book with the intention of selling it, then any gain from that sale would be taxable. But if I'm just selling a book that I no longer want to keep, it's as if I sold it at a garage sale to get rid of it.

I've been surprised at what's sold - Star Trek and Star Wars novels that I didn't want to reread, one of my husband's college textbooks, even an old Nine Inch Nails CD single. Baby books have sold very quickly - in fact, I felt a surge of sympathy for the man who ordered a book on baby sleep with expedited shipping.

All of your Marketplace earnings can be transferred by direct deposit to your checking account. So if you have unwanted books, CDs, or DVDs, give Amazon.com's Marketplace a try.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Product Review - Salton 1-Quart Yogurt Maker

About two years ago, I decided that I was eating enough yogurt that it would be healthier and more economical to make my own, so I bought a Salton 1-Quart Yogurt Maker. It worked as it was supposed to, but I still ended up donating it to Goodwill about eight months ago.

In order to make yogurt, you have to bring milk and powdered milk to a certain temperature, cool it to a certain temperature (I can't remember the numbers), strain it into the provided container (optional), add starter yogurt, and incubate the mixture for 6 to 10 hours. After a few months of repeating this process, I got tired of it. For one thing, it was a pain to heat and cool the milk. I kept dropping my thermometer into the saucepan, and the cooling process was either long (if I just left the milk on the counter) or tricky (if I submerged the saucepan into ice water to cool it faster, I had a tendency to splash water into the milk). For another thing, I really needed a 10-hour incubation because I prefer thicker yogurt, but it was hard to find a convenient 10-hour block. The consistency always came out slightly different, too.

In the end, I just threw my hands up in the air and decided that it was more economical - in terms of time and mental health, at least - to buy yogurt at Trader Joe's. But making my own yogurt with this inexpensive appliance (about $18 on Amazon) wasn't difficult. I might even give it a try again sometime.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Crock Pot Kalua Pork

This is one of our favorite recipes. It's not exactly low-fat, but it does give you a taste of the Hawaiian Islands. Serve it with sticky white rice and macaroni salad for a real "plate lunch."

Crock Pot Kalua Pork

3 1/2 lb. pork butt
1/3 cup seasoned Hawaiian rock salt or 1/4 cup kosher salt
nonstick cooking spray

1. Lightly spray the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Score the top and bottom of the pork butt with a knife about 2/3-inch deep. (Remove any strings the butcher may have tied.)
3. Rub half the salt into the bottom of the pork and place the pork into the crock.
4. Rub the remaining salt onto the top of the pork. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours.
5. Remove the pork butt from the crock and place on a large cutting board. Shred the meat with two forks and serve.

*You can add a bit of liquid smoke for a real fire-pit flavor, but I leave it out because I think it's carcinogenic. Stock up on seasoned Hawaiian rock salt when you're there (or have someone bring some back for you), or do a Google search for "Hawaiian salt" and shop online.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Some Good Mystery Books

Mystery might be my favorite genre to read. When I was in eighth grade, I was reading a lot of Agatha Christie, so my English teacher, Ms. Riddell, turned me onto Martha Grimes, and I've been reading the Richard Jury series ever since (for almost 20 years - boy, that makes me feel old). I'm not a big fan of Ms. Grimes's other work, but I love the Jury series, and I've even gone back recently and reread the early books. Jury is a detective with Scotland Yard, and in the first book, he becomes friends with a former lord, Melrose Plant (who gave up numerous inherited titles just because). The way their friendship develops through the novels makes me feel like they and the other recurring characters are old friends. And the mysteries themselves are good - I've yet to guess whodunnit and why.

In the last few years, I've been reading Faye Kellerman's Peter Decker series, which is interesting because of LAPD Detective Decker's relationship with Rina Lazarus, an Orthodox Jewish widow with two young children. The mysteries are intriguing, but I found a couple of the later books a bit dark and a bit strained.

A couple of years ago, I enjoyed reading several books by T. Jefferson Parker. I liked that his stories are set in Southern California, where I live, and the mysteries are compelling. Actually, they're a little too compelling, which is why I stopped. I'm terrified of snakes, and one story involved a massive snake - and yet, I had to keep reading because I had to know what happened. But that might have been the last book by Parker that I read.

A more light-hearted series is the Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsay Davis. The series is set in ancient Rome, and makes for good entertainment but not nail-biters.

Finally, I just read a mystery by Denise Hamilton. Her protagonist is Eve Diamond, a reporter for the LA Times. I enjoyed it, but didn't think it was spectacular. Eve just isn't a character I really bonded with as I read, so I'm not sure if I'll read any more.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Easy White Noise

About a year ago, my dad sent us an air filter that we put in our bedroom, and Marc and I discovered that white noise is a beautiful thing. After it rains, there's always a drip-drip sound in the rain gutter outside our bedroom, but with the air filter on, we never hear it anymore. We don't hear a lot of other irritating sounds as well.

So when Dr. Harvey Karp recommended white noise as one of the 5 soothing S's in The Happiest Baby On The Block, it made perfect sense to us. Instead of an air filter, though, we got Alex a CD called Soothing Sounds For Sleep. Back when the 5 S's were the only thing that could calm Alex, the CD kept us from shushing ourselves hoarse.

Even though Alex doesn't need to be swaddled anymore, he sleeps better with a little white noise on in the background. The tracks that we use the most are the rain, the ocean, and the train, although there are others (the ticking clock in the background of the ceiling fan track drives me absolutely nuts). We found that Alex sleeps the best if we select one track and put it on infinite repeat.

Disclosure: I'm an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on Chief Family Officer supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

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Salmon En Papillote With Enoki Mushrooms

I made this for dinner the other night. The white stringy stuff peeking through the opening in the parchment is the enoki.

Salmon En Papillote With Enoki Mushrooms
Serves 2

2 6-oz. salmon filets
1 3.5-oz. bag of enoki mushrooms, trimmed
6 thin slices of lemon
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 cups cooked sticky white or brown rice

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare 2 large sheets of parchment paper on the counter.
2. Salt and pepper the salmon, then place each filet on a sheet of parchment.
3. Top each filet with half of the enoki, 3 lemon slices and 1/2 tablespoon of butter.
4. Fold each sheet of parchment in half, bringing the short ends together. Beginning at one folded end, fold the side over and repeat, closing the opening as you fold. Twist the end to keep the parchment from opening back up.
5. Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
6. Tear open each packet, taking care to avoid the escaping steam. Serve with soy sauce and rice.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mommy-Daddy Time

One of my girlfriends went to a breastfeeding support group meeting and mentioned that she was a little worried about her milk supply. The others suggested that she bring her son into bed with her so he could nurse throughout the night, but my friend said she was reluctant because she wanted "Mommy-Daddy time." The group looked at her askance - how dare she put her relationship with her husband first?

Well, she and I aren't the only ones who think it's important to continue to nurture your marriage after the birth of a child. Before Alex was born, I read The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood by Vicki Iovine, and found myself agreeing with her on the importance of being courteous to my husband when I felt like screaming, and nodding when she pointed out that it was my husband I would be spending the rest of my life with, not my baby.

It isn't easy making my marriage a priority, but Marc and I both try to make time each day to catch up and to cuddle. We are best friends, and we are bound and determined to stay that way. And if takes Alex sleeping in his own crib and not in our bed to do that, then that's how it's going to be.

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Miracle of Modern Medicine

You may have heard by now that a brain-dead woman gave birth yesterday. The baby, born between 24 and 25 weeks of gestation, weighs just 1 pound 13 ounces (this is pretty close to the average 25-week fetus, but the average full-term baby weighs approximately 7 1/2 pounds).

It was stories like this one that sustained me throughout the darkest moments in the last half of my pregnancy with my son. It didn't matter that the two pregnancies I had lost ended before I reached the 10th week and never had a chance. I spent much of my pregnancy in fear of losing my baby. I can't count the number of times I closed the door to my office and wept because I hadn't felt movement for a couple of hours and no amount of cold fluid and being still would provoke that little boy into a simple kick. I remember the story about the smallest baby ever - born at 8.6 ounces - leaving the hospital in Chicago when I was about 25 weeks pregnant, and being reassured (Alex was already two pounds at that time, according to the ultrasound).

I know that late losses do occur, and that sometimes nothing can be done to prevent them. But anything that gave me hope was something to be grateful for.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

School Supplies

This week's Dollar Stretcher has a good article on saving on supplies for kids going back to school. I like the reminder to save up on basic supplies for the house, too, while prices are low. If you're not picky and pretty confident that the stores won't run out of what you need - for example, spiral notebooks that might have an ugly cover - then you might even wait until the clearance sales start.

Making Travel Plans Online

I'm always afraid to make travel reservations online because I feel like I must be missing the best deal. But if you're going to travel soon, the Chicago Tribune has a very recent article on finding hotels.

I.C.E. Your Cell Phone

Not too long ago, I got an email from a friend about "I.C.E."-ing my cell phone. The acronym stands for "in case of emergency," and the idea is that if someone is trying to help you, they can just call the number for "I.C.E." stored in your contact list to notify someone on your behalf. It's a good idea and I've been putting it off, but I'm going to do it now.

Bacon Bits Ice-Cream

Remember my post about the popularity of deep-fried avocado? How do you feel about ice cream with chunks of bacon or barbeque flavor? The Washington Post found a guy who thinks you might like it.

The Easiest Way To Brush Your Teeth

A few weeks ago, I went to the dentist and got a "C-minus" for the condition of my teeth and gums. I had stopped using my old Sonicare Advance toothbrush because the battery had died, but on my dentist's recommendation, have begun using the newer Sonicare Elite. I had forgotten how good it feels to use a Sonicare - my teeth feel cleaner, and with less effort. Sonicare toothbrushes have a built-in timer, so it's easy to brush each quadrant of your mouth for 30 seconds. A full charge lasts two weeks, so traveling with a Sonicare is easy.

The best part - at least for my vanity - is that my teeth are whiter, and I don't even use a whitening toothpaste. For me, this is the most practical way to whiten my teeth, because I have bonding on the bottom of both of my front teeth and chemicals wouldn't whiten them - basically, I'd end up with teeth that were white on the top two-thirds, and a light beige on the bottom third. Not pretty. I actually got my first Sonicare before my wedding to lighten my teeth, not because I cared about their condition.

One caution - Sonicare toothbrushes are not for everyone. I know someone who got massive headaches from using one. Even my dentist can't use one, but his wife does.

Photography Tips

CNN has photography tips for travelers, but some of them - like how to compose a shot - apply to any photograph. I think such tips are important because I have so little artistic sense that I needed Marc to point out that it's good to fill the shot with my subject.

Here's the most important tip of all, though - the secret to photographing well is to smile like a maniac. I mean, your cheeks should hurt. I've never been photogenic, but at least now most of the pictures of me with Alex are acceptable. Here's an example:


This one was taken a couple of years ago. Blech.


This one was taken the day after Alex was born. Considering the state I was in, it's a pretty good picture - all because I was smiling as hugely as I possibly could (it's not like I was in a good mood, either - I was still recovering from giving birth and wondering who the heck this little helpless baby was and what I was supposed to do with him, I had no idea how to breastfeed, and I hated being in the hospital).

Financial Prenatal Prep

I might get some flack for saying this, but I get so annoyed when I read a newspaper article about a family struggling to make ends meet, unable to afford health care, when it turns out they have five children! That's why I was happy to see this MSNBC column on the financial implications of having a child. The article also has a link on how to budget for that new addition.

Environmental Nutrition Newsletter

If you read general health tips like "eat more whole grains" and think, "It's not that easy," you might want to try the Environmental Nutrition Newsletter, which is written by nutrition experts and provides authoritative and practical advice on how to balance your diet to maximize health. A subscription is $24 and includes 12 mailed issues, plus access to their online archives. The EN website has a sample article on cutting out carbs and a 30-day free trial offer.

Tropical Smoothie


This is a smoothie I concocted for my husband, but I love it too. It's perfect for these hot summer days!

Tropical Smoothie

1/4 cup soy vanilla frozen yogurt
2/3 cup pineapple chunks
1 cup mango chunks
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup nonfat milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Nutrition bonus: You'll get lots of vitamin C from this. Use calcium-fortified orange juice and boost your calcium intake, too.

Note: The last time I made this, I added a scoop of vanilla protein powder and it affected the texture only slightly.

*Disclaimer: I'm not a nutritionist and I'm not a doctor. Consult an expert if you have any questions or concerns.

Monday, August 01, 2005

More Kitchen Tips

Here are some more random kitchen tips:

  1. Salt your pasta water generously when cooking whole wheat pasta. It significantly improves the taste.
  2. Use whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose flour. You'll increase the fiber content without affecting the flavor or consistency.
  3. Invest in a good nonstick pan. (I know this is obvious, but I have some pans that are just okay nonstick and some that are quality nonstick, and the difference is clear. Not only do I need less oil, cleanup is so much easier, and that's actually more important to me!)
  4. Hard boil eggs in an electric steamer. I freely admit that I cannot boil an egg properly. I don't know what my problem is, but I think I've managed to do it correctly on the stovetop only once. So now I "boil" them in my electric steamer and they come out perfectly every time.
  5. Sterilize bottles, nipples, pacifiers, pumping parts, and even teething toys in the dishwasher. You'll find dishwasher baskets made to hold the small parts of baby paraphernalia in the baby department of stores like Target and Babies R Us. Certain things will hold water at the end of the cycle if they're facing the wrong way (like bottle covers), so just shake the entire basket out over the sink when the dishwasher's done, and put it back in the dishwasher or in your drying rack to dry.
  6. This is an energy-saving tip that goes with #5 - if I'm near the kitchen when the dishwasher enters the drying cycle, I turn the whole thing off and open the door to let everything air dry. Even if the dishwasher is set to "no heat" for the drying cycle, opening the door gives me a chance to see if anything is holding extra water that I need to dump out.

Knowledge Equals Health

A new study has found that if the fat and calorie content of their choices are posted, students choose the healthier alternative. I'm inclined to this applies to adults, too. I know that if I have time to study the nutrition data before I order, I'm much more likely to choose something relatively healthy. For example, a couples of months ago, I studied the nutrition data poster at Burger King while I was waiting for my food, and learned that they fry their foods in partially hydrogenated oil - that's code for trans fatty acids, the kind that can bring on a heart attack. So now I won't order anything fried there - not even french fries.

Barney Bush


President Bush's dog, Barney, has his own page on the White House website. There are also some photos of Mrs. Bush's dog, Miss Beazley. You can even sign up for Barney photo updates.

Bye-Bye, Stretch Marks!

Thanks to my mother, I've been using therapeutic-grade essential oil of frankincense on my stretch marks and C-section scar, and I can't believe how much they've faded. My stretch marks have faded so much that I'm optimistic they'll be completely gone in a month. And my C-section scar is no longer raised, and has thinned out and lightened. I don't think it'll ever be gone, but in a few months, maybe it won't be very noticeable. For more information on essential oils, check out the book, Essential Oils Desk Reference by Essential Science Publishing.

A Fictitious Czech Is Their Greatest Hero

I've never heard of Jara Cimrman, but a number of Czechs recently picked him as their greatest citizen of all time. Cimrman, a character created by two writers in the 1960's, is described in today's Los Angeles Times as a "gray-bearded man in tweed" with "the intellect of Albert Einstein and the haphazard charm of Mr. Magoo."

Cloth Diapers In Los Angeles

If you're like me, a big deterrent to using cloth diapers is the rinsing and soaking and washing. Well, there's one diaper service left in Los Angeles and they don't require any rinsing or soaking. According to De-Dee Diaper Service's website, their cloth diapers are specially treated so that all you have to do is toss the soiled diaper into the special container they provide. I perused the site and couldn't find a price list or service area map, but I'm sure they'd be happy to answer questions if you call them at 800-803-9333.

How To Eat Healthy At The Ball Park

Yes! It's possible to have a good-for-you meal while you take in a baseball game. MedPage Today reports that sunflower seeds, beer, and regular hot dogs with onions and sauerkraut all have health benefits. Which isn't to say you should eat like that all the time!

Packing Healthy (Or Healthier) Lunches

This CNN article may be about packing healthy lunches for your kids, but I think there are good tips for all of us. Keep in mind that brown-bagging it to work is usually healthier than buying lunch and can save you a lot of money.

Here's a quick example: if you stop spending $5 for lunch 3 times a week for 50 weeks, that's $750 you could save and invest in a year. If you parked that $750 in a 5-year CD at 4.65% interest, which was the highest yield on Bankrate.com this morning, you'd have $946 for doing nothing. And that's a conservative estimate - most lunches are probably closer to $10, and most people work 5 days a week!

Private School Or Public?

Most of my friends and I may have very young babies, but this issue is already weighing on our minds. This MSNBC column reports that overall, at least, public schools are as good as private schools, then goes on to address the question of how to decide where to send your child. This page on the the Los Angeles Times website has information on public schools throughout the country.

Surprise, Surprise - Postpartum Fitness/Weight Loss Update, August 1

If you've been reading my updates for the last few weeks, you know that I've felt things are not going well, and that I am working to make my health important enough to me to change my ways. So imagine my surprise when I realized that I've actually lost 6 pounds in the last 6 weeks! Of course, it's not nearly as much weight as I would have liked to lose, but I am fitting into a smaller size now (I was between sizes when I started trying to lost weight). And one pound a week is the right pace for me as a nursing mother - more than that could reduce my milk supply.

I think what this proves is that little changes do make a difference. I'm not exercising as much as I would like, but I do put in at least 2 miles on the treadmill or at the park at least 3 times a week. And I've been having salads and fruit for lunch and snacks, at least some of the time, in lieu of fatter, unhealthier fare. I eat cereal once, sometimes twice, a day instead of three times a day.

I don't know if I've made enough changes to keep losing weight, but that's okay. Because I'll keep making small changes, and those will add up too.