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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dream Dinners Round 2: The Disappointment

I posted previously that I was pleased with our Dream Dinners experience and that I would be going back. Well, I went back and this time, we weren't as happy with our meals. Here's the run down:

  • Kung Pao Chicken - First off, the chicken came in large slices, so I cut them into smaller pieces. But even that couldn't save the dish, which just didn't taste very good. As Marc said, "I'd be very sad if you told me there was enough for lunch tomorrow." There was, but we tossed the leftovers that night.
  • Orange Mongolian Beef - This meal was at least okay, just not great. There was way too much sauce. And again, the chunks of meat were quite large so I cut them into bite-size pieces before cooking.
  • Maple-Thyme Pork Chops with Wild Rice Pilaf - This was my favorite meal of the second batch of dinners. The maple-thyme marinade was quite good, but there wasn't enough to make a sauce, which the meat really needed. And the pilaf was actually quite bad - I had to add quite a bit of seasoning to make it palatable and even then Marc hated it.
  • Homestyle Chicken and Dumplings - This was also okay, though not great. It used the same chicken slices as the Kung Pao Chicken, and while I didn't cut them smaller, I didn't like the large size either.
  • Caramel Pecan French Toast with Peaches - This sounded great, but didn't come out well. I think the flavors just don't go together.
  • Thanksgiving Side Station - This consisted of mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, a spice rub, cranberry sauce, and biscuits. I have to admit that I gave away the mashed potatoes because I had a friend who could use them and I always make a Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole for Thanksgiving. I used the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving but hated it (it tasted like it was made with dried cranberries, not fresh, and was too tart). The biscuits were fine but tasted like any frozen or refrigerated biscuit. The stuffing, gravy and spice rub are still in my freezer and I'm not sure I'll ever get around to using them given the disappointing nature of the rest of the meals.
The bottom line this time is that I won't be going back to Dream Dinners anytime soon, if ever. But now that I've tried it, I'm open to trying other similar companies to see if I like their food any better.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Teaching Chanukah

Living in Los Angeles, we're not unusual in being an interfaith family. Like many of our friends, we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas. Fortunately, someone recommended a board book called The Story of Chanukah, which we are going to use to teach our children about this holiday when they (or at least Alex) is a little older. While the book naturally includes the story of how one day's worth of oil lasted for eight days, it also details how the Maccabees defeated the Syrians. And as Marc often reminds me, Chanukah would be a very cool holiday, at least for boys, if the emphasis were on the vanquishing of the enemies instead of the lasting of the oil.

Happy Chanukah!

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Product Review: My Baby Can Talk DVDs

Shortly after Alex was born, I learned that babies can learn sign language even before they can talk. It was an intriguing idea, especially since it was supposed to reduce the frustration caused by a baby's inability to communicate that drives both babies and parents crazy. There were some signing classes offered near my home, but none of them fit my schedule. After some online research, I found this DVD: My Baby Can Talk: First Signs.

I'm not sure how old Alex was the first time I played it for him, but my guess is between four and six months. Since I knew no sign language myself, I would watch it with him - in fact, I probably watched it more than he did, since he didn't show much interest in the DVD until he was at least a year old. As I picked up the signs, I tried to use them at appropriate times when talking to him, although it didn't come naturally for quite some time.

I think Alex was about a year old when he finally began using some of the signs. He started talking at about the same time, but the signs have been marvelous because he uses them for actions and things that he doesn't have words for yet. Most significantly, he uses signs to tell us he's hungry or thirsty, and to ask for "more" of something. These signs have allowed us to avoid countless meltdowns and made me a huge fan of infant signing.

As a generally practical person, at first I was annoyed that there were so many animals depicted. I would rather have learned the signs for "please" and "help" than the signs for "horse" and "bear." Over the last few months, however, animals have become a substantial part of our dialogue with Alex, so it turns out the animal signs are kind of useful. I never would have guessed that would happen, but just this morning, Alex asked for his giant stuffed bear by doing the sign for bear.

We recently acquired My Baby Can Talk: Sharing Signs, the follow-up DVD to First Signs. This one has additional animals, as well as words like "help," "thank you" and "share." The segments are shorter than the segments on First Signs, so I've found it a little harder to learn the signs from this DVD (in fairness, I'm also less likely to sit and watch the DVD with Alex since most of the time it is on, I am using it to distract him from things like drying his hair and my back is to the television).

I highly recommend both of these DVDs to anyone interested in having their baby learn to communicate via sign language. You will obviously need to spend the time learning the signs yourself in order to understand what your baby is saying to you, and to reinforce the teaching of the signs. But as someone who knew and used no sign language at all before her baby was born, I can confidently say that if my child and I can learn to communicate in sign language, anyone can.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Annual Life Review

I've never thought of what I do every year around this time as a "life review," but it's a pretty accurate term. My birthday is at the end of the calendar year, so between that and New Year's, since I was a teenager, it has been a natural thing for me to write about the past year and more importantly, what I want to have happen in the coming year.

A few years ago, the weekly newsletter I get from Cheryl Richardson suggested some questions to consider once a year (I think her birthday is also near the end of the year so the timing worked out great for me). I've been using her suggestions ever since, and have reproduced them below. I'm not quite sure, since I didn't include attributes in my journal, but I think I may have mixed in suggested questions from other sources as well.

Even if your birthday is not in November or December, this sort of "life review" is a good thing to do once a year, whether at your birthday or at New Year's. For me, it takes the place of New Year's resolutions and is more about prioritizing and goal-setting than traditional resolutions. It helps me focus on what is important to me and how I want to grow as a person. It's also amazing how, even though I often forget the specifics of each goal, when I look back at the end of the year, most of them have come to pass. That, I believe, is the power of the mind.

Here are the things I ask myself each year:
  • List 5 things that complete the following sentences:
    • This year, I am ___.
    • I will not ___.
    • I would like ___.
    • I will ___.
    • I love ___.
    • I hate ___.
  • What advice would I give myself right now?
  • List 5 jobs I would want to try in the next year.
  • How did I do with last year's intentions?
  • What are my intentions for this coming year? (I try to limit the list to 10 intentions.)
After answering the questions, I have sometimes written letters to myself when I have been so inclined. It's nice to go back in subsequent years and see what I was thinking, how things worked out, and if there's something I've put on the back burner that I want to start working on again.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Restaurant Review: Pizzeria Mozza

I normally don't review restaurants here, but I figured Pizzeria Mozza would interest a lot of people since its chef-owners are Food Network star Mario Batali and famed baker Nancy Silverton (I don't want to just call her a pastry chef when she seems to be much more than that). Batali and Silverton have collaborated on a pair of side-by-side restaurants at the corner of Melrose and Highland, but only Pizzeria Mozza is currently open (I called the number for Osteria Mozza but the message doesn't say when it's going to open.)

Marc recently took me on a special lunch date to Pizzeria Mozza, where we ordered three appetizers, two pizzas, and a dessert (we took one of the pizzas home). I loved the fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta (then again, I always love fried squash blossoms), but the fried rice and cheese balls (I can't remember the Italian name for them) with a bolognese sauce were disappointing - for one thing, the sauce was much more of a marinara than a bolognese. The oven-roasted olives, which came in a small bowl of sizzling oil and garlic, could have been spectacular but I was flabbergasted that they were served without bread for dipping. (The customary "bread basket" consists of three long thin breadsticks wrapped in paper.)

The pizza that we ate at the restaurant was topped with chewy littleneck clams, chopped garlic, fresh oregano, and grated parmesan and pecorino cheeses. The toppings were good, but the crust was amazing. (I had read that Silverton had worked hard on creating the perfect crust and wow, it's a good one.) She leaves a thick border, which turned out to be perfect for dipping in the olives' oil bath, though I still left feeling a bit resentful at being deprived of what would presumably have been great bread. (For the record, Silverton herself was right there, busy making pizzas, the whole time we were at the restaurant.) The pizza we took home was a simple margherita, which reheated okay and retained the great crust taste. For dessert, we shared a cup of vanilla gelato topped with espresso and served with a couple of bite-sized almond biscotti - not exactly my favorite kind of dessert but it was okay. (I would have preferred something chocolate or even tiramisu but there was nothing like that on the menu.) Add in a Diet Coke for Marc and the total with tax and tip came to just over $71, but that doesn't include the $6 valet parking fee. (The "Diet Coke" was actually a small glass bottle of "Coca-Cola Light," imported from some European country that I'm pretty sure wasn't Italy.)

With a new baby, we definitely won't be going back anytime soon, although I don't think we would have anyway. While the pizza was great, the restaurant was not only crowded (though not nearly as cramped as, say, AOC), it was also incredibly loud. I did want very much to try the salumi, or cured meats, made by Batali's father, that I had read so much about, but I couldn't because of the pregnancy. Maybe once things settle down, Marc and I will be able to check out Osteria Mozza and I'll get to try the salumi then.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Preparing to Breastfeed #2 Update

I've already posted about my concerns about breastfeeding this baby after all of my troubles when Alex was born, but I thought I'd post an update about what I'm doing now that I've talked with my lactation consultant, Ellen Steinberg.

My talk with Ellen was a great primer in getting me thinking about what things will be like right after the baby is born. I am having a scheduled c-section, so she highly recommended that if at all possible, I have the baby brought to me in the recovery room so I can nurse him during the first hour when he is most "primed" for nursing. She did mention, however, that I will need assistance getting him latched on since I will only be able to nurse lying down at that time. I checked with my ob, who said that the hospital staff now tries very hard to keep mommies and babies together in recovery, which is great because I don't think that was the case when Alex was born.

Ellen walked me through the football hold, which is the position that worked best with Alex at the beginning. It wasn't my favorite position because it was hard on my wrists but this time I will make sure my wrists are better supported from the start. I think visualizing myself latching the baby on brought back a lot of my memories from those early days with Alex, although we'll really find out if that's true after the baby is born.

Because I had a milk supply issue from the beginning with Alex, Ellen recommended that I bring my Pump In Style to the hospital with me and start pumping immediately, at least during day feedings, to make sure my supply is adequately stimulated. I'm not exactly looking forward to pumping, especially from the get-go, but it's definitely worth it if it means having an adequate supply when my milk comes in. Ellen prefers Playtex Nurser bottles as being the most compatible with breastfeeding, and she recommended that I bring one to the hospital so that in case we do have to supplement, we can use that bottle instead of the Enfamil products provided by the hospital.

A few more things Ellen said that I thought were interesting:
  • C-sections can delay milk coming in, but less because of the surgery itself and more because of the time away from baby during recovery.
  • Gestational diabetes can also delay milk coming in.
  • The football hold will generally be more comfortable after a c-section than the cross-cradle hold because the baby will not press down on the incision.
  • As soon as I am able to leave the bed, I should nurse in a chair, because it will be easier to get a proper latch.

Disclaimer: Ellen's advice to me was meant specifically for me and in no way should be construed as expert advice meant for another person. If you need personal advice, please contact an expert. You can find information on how to locate an expert near you here.

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