TV and kids: the great power-off switch

Here’s a topic I hope generates robust discussion among fellow readers: it involves television viewing and the young, malleable mind…

Fokids & TVr Four-and-a-half years, DH and I have gone to great lengths limiting our children’s television exposure. Up until the age of two, our first-born had scarcely watched any TV at all. It’ isn’t that hard for us really because–aside from the month of March–we hardly watch TV ourselves. We don’t subscribe to cable, never have time for the news (did I mention we have two young kids?) and have no idea what’s happening on Must-See-TV (truth-be-told, even when we are clued in, we still don’t get it. What’s WITH 30 Rock?!). In fact, annually, we talk about getting rid of the TV altogether. At home, our preschooler’s TV viewing is limited to three options: the local PBS station, the New Hampshire PBS station and a handful of educational videos (OK, so the Sound of Music may not fall into this category but hey, if your kid memorizes the entire soundtrack, doesn’t that count 4AM Feeding?). But when we visit relatives, it’s a whole different line-up.

My mother- and father-in-law just bought a very fancy new TV. The thing is capable of all sorts of nifty things, including turning regular shows and movies into a surreal HD experience that leaves me unnerved every time. And though my father in-law holds multiple advanced degrees from Ivy-league institutions, I think the thing might be smarter than he. It’s kind of like HAL.

This year, as we spent the morning preparing a variety of Thanksgiving staples, brining the turkey and mixing up the stuffing, we let the kids watch Sprout. Since this is PBS’s offering to the venerated halls of cable TV, I assumed it an innocuous choice. Ah, but to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME. No sooner did I take a break from slicing shiitake and sit down to enjoy a speechless moment with my kids than I got peppered with requests for no fewer than FOUR items our daughter now wants from Santa (what, pray-tell, is a Tag Reader? Yet another human stand in? [this isn’t to say we won’t cave and buy one…I’m just saying…])!

Since PBS is publicly funded, they severely lack the resources to keep up with other cable network megaliths and have to rely on the benevolence of corporate sponsors like Crayola and Fisher Price. There were so many commercials interspersed between short programming bursts and get-up-off-the-couch warm up activities that I practically developed A.D.D. myself (hey, can someone pass the popcorn?) Within 30 minutes, I was so discouraged by the channel, I blew a circuit, shut the TV off and stormed back into the kitchen for a glass of wine.

Fast forward 20 minutes and the kids were on their 5th lap of the circuit that runs from living room, through kitchen, past dinning room, down hall and around again. This was interspersed with loud squeals, breaks to turn light switches on and off and occasional stumbles. I was on my third glass of wine.

Later that afternoon, as we tucked in to the fruits of our morning labors and looked forward to a long visit with family around the Thanksgiving feast, we were DH was dragged from the table on multiple occasions to referee toy sharing battles, too-quiet-upstairs-visits and the general mayhem that ensues when kids finish a 4-hour-meal 20 minutes in.

Needless to say, this did not make for a happy DH and I was the first to hear about it. My response: “how about Noggin? We are at Nai Nai’s/Grandma’s after all.” More daggers. But the result was totally silent, statue-like children. Santa could have walked through the door bearing 20 Tag Readers, four Glow Station Day and Nights and two mice in a purple cage (more on this one later) and neither of them would have blinked an eye. Added plus: no commercials; it almost made me a convert.

Almost.

But then I saw it, the eerie, glassed-over look in my kids’ eyes, their unresponsive demeanor when we called to them from down the hall, the slow oozing of cerebral matter out of their ears; we all looked on in amazement. So, as another year draws nigh and we still have some major holidays ahead, I’m sticking firm to my stance, TV too young is just a bad idea!

Thoughts from the peanut gallery? (oh, and please pass the popcorn!)

Outstanding Leek & Wild Mushroom Stuffing

Back in my late 20’s, when I had more time and less money, I was always looking for new ways to spend less and make more. Nothing helps you spend less money than having less free time so, since DH (before he was my DH) was juggling two jobs, I figured I should too. There was a fabulous gourmet grocer a la prepared food purveyor called Zathmary’s, with a shop in both Needham Heights and Brookline’s Coolidge Corner, where we were living at the time. Sadly, though Zathmary’s was terrific at managing food, they were TERRIBLE at managing money and their accounts payable so both have since gone under. However, I did take away one fabulous and regular installment from my days there, their amazing Leek & Wild Mushroom stuffing.

I’m sorry if you’re sitting down to read this after putting the last bag of Thanksgiving groceries in the fridge but if you’re as behind as I am, here’s hoping this will save you a tireless web search (Rocks in the Dryer, this one’s for you!)

Zathmary’s Leek & Wild Mushroom Stuffing (serves: 8-10)

  • 1 1/2 c. hot water
  • 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb fresh button mushrooms, sliced
  • 4-6 links, sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped leek (white & light green part only)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 c. dry white wine
  • 1 T. fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 baguette, rough cut in 1″ cubes (or 4 ficelle)

Soak porcini in water for 30 min then remove and chop (reserve liquid); in a saute pan, melt butter; add leeks and garlic, when softened, set aside. Next, removing sausage from casings, crumble and cook until no more pink shows; add all mushrooms and cook until softened; add leek & garlic mixture; add wine, thyme and porcini liquid; cook until liquid is nearly evaporated. Add cubed bread and egg; stir gently until all ingredients are combined and transfer to a buttered casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until top is lightly golden.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Crack Pot

'tis the season

As in  CRACK out the crock POT (so if you’ve arrived at this blog post based on your web search for wack jobs, the following may disappoint).

I love the end of Daylight Savings Time. Let me amend that, I love the Bush-era end of Daylight Savings Time, the one that happens just enough later that instead of feeling like the summer rug has been yanked from under my feet, now, by the time I roll the clocks back,  I’m ready to take the damn rug out and beat it.

I like not feeling stressed that, just because there’s still daylight and a modicum of decent weather by the time nap ends at 4:00, it means I have to get out and do something with it. Now that it’s actually getting dark at 4, it’s carte blanche to stay in and be a homebody (I am terrible at being a home body); I LOVE having options.

Today, on top of the early dusk, it was also very cold and very wet, which around my house translates into one thing =crock pot.

I got a crock pot before I had kids, in fact, possibly even before I was married I think. It was a gift from my younger brother (who actually bought me a vegetable steamer [bless his heart] but we exchanged it for the highly-coveted-and-oh-so-useful crock pot instead). When DH and I lived in DC and worked typical DC hours (rush hour 0800 to rush hour 1900), it was a Godsend to come home to a house that smelled like home cooking and a hot dinner ready to eat. So if the Crock pot has been my culinary Godsend, then Judith Finlayson’s The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes has been its bible.

Over the past 7  years, I’ve probably only made about 30 of the 150 recipes but many of them I’ve made multiple times. Most are hits, a few are misses, tonight’s was somewhere in between. Not blogworthy, perhaps but if you’re going to make it, I thought I better throw my two cents in just in case.

With only a 4 hour window (for unseasoned crockpotters, typically dishes are started either in the morning or even the night before), I threw together page 38’s Savory Cheddar Cheese Soup . Admittedly, I was expecting something along the lines of a Welsh rarebit or at least something with a more fondue-like consistency (if you’re looking for the same, don’t try this at home, it’s definitely soupy). The one stroke of brilliance I did have was realizing that I also could combine my kids’ side dish of vegetables WITH the soup and have a true one-dish wonder. Tonight’s last-minute veggie: frozen broccoli florets, which I tossed in the crock pot for the last 5 minutes and in my opinion, it made the dish.

My mother makes a sinful, cheesey broccoli casserole, this was definitely it’s soupy cousin. I can’t guarantee that you’re wee charges will gobble it to the last drop, nor that you’ll love it in the same way I did, only that, on a cold wet night in early November, this is just the thing to warm (and fill) you up with a single bowl (side dish of meat and wacky dinner companions, optional).

[P.S. If you pick up or already have the cook book, let me know what you love. Here are a few tried and true in our house: pp. 46, 89, 95 & 152]

Super easy mac-n-cheesey

I have long been a devotee of Irma S. Rombauer. When I was single, I used to flip through the pages of her 1997 edition while eating breakfast or after cleaning up from dinner and get all sorts of handy tips, like how to cook the perfect hardboiled egg, the proper way to brew coffee, or where various cuts of meat come from on each animal and how to prepare them. Now that I have less self-indulgent time on my hands, I only get to flip through Joy for random inspiration or last-minute references.

This past weekend, feeling too lazy to retrieve a box of mac & cheese from our cellar, I decided to see what Irma had to say about whipping something up stove-top. I read her entry, surveyed my cupboard and came up with this pathetically easy and surprisingly tasty concoction:

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T flour
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk (per Irma’s suggestion; it really was creamier than my whole milk option and what the hell else do you do with evaporated milk anyway?)
  • handful of shredded cheddar cheese (or more to taste) + grated Parmesan for zing
  • 2 cups cooked elbow noodles,
  1. prepare a roux with first two ingredients,
  2. turn it into a bechamel by adding the third gradually
  3. add cheeses to desired taste
  4. stir in any additional items you might have around (in the hopes of diversifying young pallets, I added some crumbled Italian sausage and chopped broccoli florets but my kids would have been perfectly happy without)
  5. pour over (or spoon in to) cooked noodles

Really, that was it.  To think I’ve been cooking mac & cheese from a box all my life…Who knew it was so easy?! Happy cooking.

 

Kids in the Kitchen

My paternal grandmother was from Central Italy, a small village outside of Campobasso. Back in 1965, my parents stopped in her home town while on their honeymoon. They described a village surrounded by rolling green hills dotted by flocks of white sheep and filled with the wonderful tastes and smells of Italy. When I was about 7, my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s and she didn’t cook as much but until then, she was a GREAT cook. Though she’s been gone for 25 years now, I still have clear memories of her cooking. Fabulous foods whose names rolled out of your mouth as easily as the delicacies rolled into it. Things like braciole, cosciotto d’agnello con aglio [leg of lamb with garlic], stromboli, and at Christmas, pizzelle (which we continued to make just like this for many years). So it was with my Nonnie in mind that my 4 year old and I set out on adventure to make a gigantic pot of Jeanna Paula Anzluena’s Pasta Sauce with Meatballs.

For me, this was an act of homage to my grandmother but for my daughter, there were really just two main attractions : 1. the opportunity to pulverize a variety of herbs and vegetables using my food chopper and 2. mixing and rolling food with her bare hands. As I mentioned previously, I’m not a mom who regularly treads into the land of craft projects but cooking with my kids is a whole different journey. The kitchen is our canvas and food the medium. They smell the spices in our spice drawer, they mix, measure, pour, fill and taste; and they definitely get messy. Since my kids are young, we haven’t crossed into the vast terrain of reading recipes and using sharp cutlery yet but the road ahead is long.

In the end, I am pleased to say that we turned 2 lbs of ground meat into these:

my child got to play with food–mix, mash and roll–without being reprimanded and we now have enough sauce and meatballs to fuel us right into pizzelle season. Mangiamo!

For more great ideas about fun things to do with kids in the kitchen, check this out

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