Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Parenting through The Kim Kardashian: Hollywood App

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood App

While most of us would like to see the Kardashians enjoy their wealth someplace far away, the new Kim Kardashian Hollywood App, a product of Glu Media, is surprisingly nefarious for the teen/tween demo.  Just launched, this game App ingeniously gives participants an attractive, glamorous Avatar on which to model themselves for climbing their way from obscurity to superstardom.  In order to win at life, participants need Kardashian-like networking and self-promotion skills. It's a fame game!

By obediently doing what's commanded (flirt, dazzle the crowd, charm, etc), participants earn money and stars which can be used to pay for items that will bring them into stardom -- flights, clothing, contact with A-listers, etc.  Participants also need energy, which is dolled out in the form of lightning bolts.  (Could paying for energy represent anything more here??)

There are some progressive themes in the App:  the young Avatar takes the bus around LA and is free to date the opposite or same gender.  But, the larger issues of striving for stardom is concerning and comes at a price -- participants are encouraged to make in-App customizable purchases.  In order to advance to higher levels, real currency is used, or the players must wait until they have earned more currency.  Charlotte Alter from Time magazine equates the storyline to Dante's Inferno saying: "the circles of hell are the levels of fame."

At the risk of sounding prudishly parental, it appears this App allows participants to flirt, cheat, and climb without any real-life repercussions.  While it is goal-oriented and there isn't any violence in the game, when Kardashian is pleased with the participants' performance, she throws money and popularity points around for the participants to pick up from the ground -- positive reinforcement? In what occupation would young men and women have money thrown at them?? Hmm...

But, perhaps most unsettling is that the App promotes an hierarchical environment based on popularity, where A-list people do not speak to D-list people.  In our daughter's school, as in most schools presumably, a good deal of work goes into counseling students against prioritizing popularity, segregation, bullying, etc.  Sadly, it appears that this App counters some of this work.

But here are the positives: Assuming that most teenagers will take the content rather lightly, the App is strangely absorbing, perhaps especially for a teen/tween who has free time to kill in the summer --car rides, airports, at the beach, etc.  It can also be largely productive if used as a discussion gateway for parents and their teens/tweens. Discussions could begin with "What could Kim be doing with her life that makes a difference in the lives of others...?"

James Liu of Forbes magazine wrote a compelling article explaining the success of this App:


Parent should familiarize themselves with this App and should speak to their children about the seemingly counterproductive themes being presented.

Shut the electronics off! Get everyone outside and enjoy some old-fashioned summer time play!

Consider buying GLU Media stock, because this is just the start of it...

Here are some more articles about the popular App:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Fish, in a Flash

What is better than a casual Saturday morning ambling through the local farmer's market with a freshly made artisanal coffee in one hand and an environmentally-friendly reusable shopping bag in the other? Ahh, endless summer days -- everyone is relaxed, unhurried and slowly milling about!

In the northeast, harvest season is beginning to peak, with incredible produce varietals popping up at all the farm stands.  This Saturday I bought the most beautiful, plump Butter (aka Bib or Boston) lettuce, Pea and Sunflower sprouts, fresh corn, a "pope's nose" baguette,  fresh squash flowers (for stuffing and frying) and heavenly radishes.  At the fish tent, I could not resist the fresh swordfish steaks; with its quiet flavor, it is one of the few types of fish that my daughter will eat.  On such an endless Saturday, there is no doubt that I will have loads of time to leisurely pull together a culinary marvel for my family and our dear friends, soon to arrive... forward 5 hours -- after an exhausting 2 mile hike and an entire afternoon running around on the beach with a bunch of 5, 6 and 7 year olds,  I am now frantically rushing to get everyone cleaned, showered, conditioned and brushed.  Guests are arriving in a half hour, everyone is completely exhausted, beached-out and famished -- and dinner hasn't been remotely prepped, or even fully shopped, for that matter! Culinary marvel, endless relaxing Saturdays?

I quickly look in the a large bowl I combine whatever I see for the marinade.  Looks like the fish is going to have an Asian flair.  Swordfish is hearty, so I can go wild and season it brashly.  I know I won't ruin its flavor:

1/4 cup of soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tablespoon diced ginger
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 large cloves of diced garlic
parsley, lots of it!
handful of diced scallion
juice from a large lemon
juice from 2 limes
1 tablespoon of hot pepper paste
salt, pepper

Simultaneously, I start some white basmati rice, soak the gorgeous butter lettuce and sprouts, put water on for the fresh corn, and warm up the bread. 

For the salad dressing, I mimic the flavors of the fish marinade:

Together I combine:  olive oil, juice of a lemon, garlic, oregano, lime juice, soy sauce (replacing the vinegar), roasted sesame seeds, a dash of miso, a heaping tablespoon of french whole grain mustard, hot pepper flakes and an anchovy. 

After coating the surface of my seasoned cast iron grill pan with a very thin layer of vegetable oil, I put the flame on high for a few minutes, then reduce to medium for cooking.   Grilling is the best way to enjoy swordfish. 

I place the swordfish steaks on the grill, 2 minutes on each side.  


Not letting the marinade go to waste, I quickly place it in a sauce pan over a high flame with a dash of flour.

I flip the fish for another 2 minutes

Sauce is getting creamy

I dress the salad and sprinkle it with Maldon sea salt crystals. 


I place the fish on top of the salad and --

drizzle some of that delicious sauce on top.

 I add the rice and... quality meal in 20 minutes! 

Some helpful tips:

  • To avoid pink texture for the kid's portions, cut their steaks in half and sear the opened sides before serving.
  • When serving swordfish to children, avoid the dense, dark spots. Not only are these spots more "fishy" tasting but they are also believed to be the areas where chemicals that the fish ingested are stored.   

  • Speaking of chemicals, mercury and other toxins in fish are cause for concern.  I found the following link helpful in deciding which fish to choose, how often I should serve, and whether I should buy farmed or wild: 
  • Cod is also a great fish to serve children.  It has very few bones (always a concern when feeding children)  has a subtle flavor and has a delicate, creamy, flaky texture.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blending and Storing Baby Food/Organic Food -- But Not Just for Babies

Close friends of ours are expecting a baby girl next month -- so exciting!  Recently they reminded me that I had made most of my daughter's baby food and were asking for some pointers. Ah yes,  making baby food... is really quite simple and can be done with a food processor/blender,  a mini food processor, or even a ricer or tomato mill.  If done properly it can help save on the food bill; and it allows parents to know exactly what is going into their child's body.  Preparing baby food also aligns the child's eating habits with the parent's.

Before I share some baby food ideas, here are a few important points:

  • Absolutely DO NOT feed your baby solid foods before the age that is recommended by your pediatrician!  Like everything else in a small person's body, the digestive system needs time to develop. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology is suggesting that feeding certain solid foods to predisposed babies is contributing to the food allergy epidemic, and you don't want that! See link:
  • Store food in glass or BPA free containers. Bisphenol A (BPA) grosses $6 Billion yearly and is the center of large controversy stemming from studies showing links to miscarriage, low sperm count, hyperactivity and anxiety. It is banned in Canada and elsewhere. See link from the Environmental Health News:

  • Formula - if you are using or supplementing with formula and your child gets gassy, try using the premixed formula.  We switched early on from powder to premixed and saw a HUGE difference in intestinal upset and burping issues.  
  • Try to use organic food whenever possible. Limiting your children's exposure to pesticides and other harmful toxins helps stave off problems down the road.  Besides, organic foods simply taste better (to me) and have shown to have higher levels of antioxidants. 

Conventional Fruit and Vegetable Pesticide Loads 

This chart is very helpful in making food choices:
Of the 43 different fruit and vegetable categories tested by the Environmental Working Group and included in their Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce, the following 12 fruits and vegetables had the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy or grow organically:
Sweet bell peppers
CherriesLettuceGrapes (imported)

In contrast, the following foods were found to have the lowest residual pesticide load, making them the safest bet among conventionally grown vegetables:
Sweet peas (frozen)
MangoPineappleSweet corn (frozen)
  • Always test the food before giving it to a child for taste and temperature.  
  • Do not use a Vitamix when your baby is still young.  Seeds should be removed and not blended. Even apple seeds can produce minute levels of cyanide and have a strong protective coating which are not ideal for your child's young digestive system. 

Ok, so let's make some baby food!

It's simple:

Wash the equipment that is going to be used to mill the fruits and vegetables.
Scrub and peel fruits and vegetables.
Bake, steam, or roast fruits and vegetables until tender.
Puree in your processor or mill with some liquid (filtered water or formula).
Store in BPA free containers.
Warm when it's time to eat and test to make sure it's not too hot.

Our daughter's first solid meal was mashed peas.  She also liked avocados, broccoli and almost any type of fruit.  She enjoyed fruits and vegetables mixed together, mostly carrots and apples.  As she got older, we would puree fully cooked chicken and meat. Do not add in any unnecessary starches, such as rice or cereal.  After all, before long, a high carbohydrate diet will replace this baby food, and will become a staple.


One more food-related recommendation that I received from my mother:

For the first few months, start a daily journal and place it in the kitchen (or someplace where everyone can access).  In this journal keep a record of how much formula (or food later on) is being taken in, quality/frequency of material coming out, what solids are being eaten, and any other eating/health related items (eg. if fever, write down readings).  If the child starts getting sick or reacts poorly to something that is being eaten, you will be able to point back to this journal for details.  This journal will also ensure a continuity of care between the parent and anyone else that is helping to take care of the child (spouse, sitter, nanny, grandparent, etc).  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Books Every Pre-schooler Should Read

Pre-schooler Book Recommendations:

Ok, so I keep pointing out how important books are to early childhood development.  It is perhaps equally important to be consistent with children (more on that later).  And a predictable bedtime routine helps toddlers fall asleep. Bedtime reading and storytelling should be part of that routine -- it is a favorite time of day, for both my daughter and I.  Also, it sends a powerful message to kids that, through reading, they can warmly share time and simultaneously learn with parents and caregivers.

I have compiled a list of books (from a very huge field) that I think should be on every pre-schoolers book shelves. I chose these books because they seem to be gender-neutral, do not place the spotlight on a traditional family (after all, nearly 50% of all children in this country are being raised in an environment that is in some way non-traditional),  and most importantly, have a meaningful theme.  Additionally, these books are pleasurable for both children and adults to read, over and over and over again!  Enjoy...

On the Day You Were Born, by Debra Frasier

Children should always feel that they are special, from their very first breadth. This book tenderly reassures children how important they are to the people closest to them, and also to the universe at large.

The Snail and the Whale, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer

This book brilliantly checks off all the boxes. It covers many themes, including the power of perserverance and how small creatures succeed with big dreams.  It has a compelling environmental message and is completely done in poetic rhyme  (essential aspect to cognitive development).

Knuffle Bunny - by Mo Willems

While I would like to see Mo Willems include some other types of families in his books (after all many of his books are set in diverse Brooklyn), I think this one incorporates an important tale -- make sure your child's special night time friend is something that can be replaced, if needed.  I would further this with some advice:

Unless you are overnighting outside your home,  train your children to keep their special nightime friends in bed at all times, where it won't get lost and it is presumably clean (might I remind you that it is lice season).  Besides, it is rather unsightly to see children walking around with raggedy stuffies close to their mouths...

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole.

A true animal story that heartwarmingly demonstrates there are many types of families. Just wonderful...

Urban Animals, by Isabel Hill

Another graceful rhyming book that subtly teaches children about animals and architecture.  It's a great refresher course for adults too!

Strega Nona, by Tomie DePaola

In this retelling of a delightful old tale, Tomie DePaola combines humor and warmth to the story of a magical "Grandma Witch" and her relationship with young farm-helper Big Anthony.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault and Lois Ehlert

This book combines tongue twisting rhyme (see a pattern here?) with a sweet personified alphabet.  Be prepared to read this one over and over!

Sometimes I Like to Curl up in a Ball, by Vicki Churchill and Charles Fuge

A sweet feel-good story about friendship written in sing-song rhyme.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,  Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

It is never too early to read master poets!

Little 1, by Ann and Paul Rand

This simple book, originally published in 1962, tells the story of a number who adds up to be so much greater than the sum of its parts -- very sweet!

What Animals Really Like, by Fiona Robinson

This hilarious picture book delivers a subtle message about stereotyping, it resonates beautifully with kids and the illustrations are superb!


At the risk of sounding negative, I will mention that I am not fond of Dr Seuss. For starters, he was not a doctor;  more importantly, I believe children should learn real words (of any language). Made up words can simply be confusing.


If you have to choose when to volunteer your time at your children's school, I strongly recommend prioritizing your school's book fair.  It is so wonderful to watch children choose books with their friends and your presence sends a strong message that reading and education are important to you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rediscovering Hamptons Hamlet, now with more Style!

Happening in the Hamptons - Sag Harbor Rising

New York's eastern end of Long Island is endlessly beautiful, regardless of the weather or season.  This area, home to some of the most renown beaches in the world, is a water lover's paradise.  But, as was the case for my family and I yesterday, not every day is a beach day.  Thankfully, there is plenty else to do.

We took a ride to picture-perfect Sag Harbor --  settled in the early 1700s, this was once a thriving whaling town. Today, the shops on the main street of Sag Harbor, unlike those of its swanky neighbors  (East Hampton and Bridgehampton), are almost a throw back to another era. The wonderfully nostalgic village, with its narrow streets, an old fashioned Five and Dime, bohemian shops, and an old sailers Inn (which is now a stylish hotel), brings us back to a bygone time.  This quaint New England style wharfing hamlet is always a treat to walk.  Which is exactly what we did on this trip -- and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the town is rapidly transforming!  Now antique shops with $200 bottles of perfume, Hermes cashmere throws, and brightly colored lacquered doors are popping up next to historic diners and hardware stores.

The largest, most noticeable update to the village of Sag Harbor is the ambitious $40 million dollar renovation project to the old Bulova watch factory in the center of town, appropriately called Watchcase. The project has seamlessly kept the old world feel of the existing factory and adjacent buildings and has fully updated them,  keeping the fabric of the community intact.

So much of today's design seems to depend on a mid-century aesthetic, which brought plenty of drama to the design community a few years ago. But, it has run its course and has become a bit insipid. I look forward to fresh design concepts where mid-century is less pronounced. The Watchcase has enlisted Architectural Digest top 100 architect and interior designer, Steven Gambrel, to design this ambitious project. He has superb vision, and does not appear to overtly design from a mid-century perspective.  Gambrel, along with city planning and restoration specialists are transforming this once lifeless section of Sag Harbor into tasteful homes.  Its gorgeous!

This exquisite restoration and hot location, however,  comes with a hefty price tag (and monthly maintenance)!   But I hear that sales are brisk, with over 75% of the units at Watchcase sold!
See New York Times article:

Whether interested in Watchcase or not, taking a trip to Sag Harbor is well worth it; especially if you have never been or it has been a while.  Visiting both the traditional shops and the uber-hip ateliers are a wonderful way to enjoy an afternoon.

Checking out brass knocker at Monc XIII
Capturing style, in Sag Harbor 
Sniffing Bellocq Teas at Astier de Villatte 

When in Sag Harbor check out:

The American Hotel
Page Restaurant, for an amazing Lobster BLT 
Cavaniola's Gourmet Cheese Shop - not only the best cheese out east, but knowledgeable staff to help guide you into making the right choice!
The  Bay Street Theater, where Broadway's talent summers!
Monc XIII,  new and vintage pieces are tastefully arranged like a comfortable living room.
Bay Burger,  great lunch -- tatter tots for kids and nice fish sandwich for adults,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cappuccino in a Flash!

Fun Gift...
For Someone That Has Everything.

Recently, we attended an elaborate 40th birthday party, hosted by a friend who appears to have everything.  For weeks, we struggled to come up with a gift. After spending a weekend at the beach, and using our beloved stovetop instant Cappuccino maker everyday, we thought, surely he doesn't have this!  It has been months since the party, and my friend enthusiastically uses the handy machine regularly -- he loves it!

So if you are struggling with a gift, here is a suggestion -- and demonstration, of course!

The Bialetti Mukka Express is a frothy wonder:

This device only has 3 pieces to clean and is handsome enough to keep out.

To use, simply pour the espresso coffee into the funnel filter, and water into the base.

Screw top part of coffee pot to the base. 

Fill upper compartment with milk (or whatever your lightener of choice is these days).

Place on stove, high flame. 

The coffee percolates and froths the milk simultaneously! 
Within 2-3 minutes an audible POP indicates your caffeine fix is ready.

Pour into cup and... have Italian coffee house quality, at home!

We have a number of the Bialetti stovetop coffee/espresso making machines, this company makes a quality, reliable product. Our current favorite coffee machination is the Americano, where hot water is added to expresso for a tasty "hot top" of varying dilution.

It may be interesting to note that while, on one hand I am recommending Cappuccino makers, I am watching my own caffeine consumption.  It is easy to keep a cup of coffee in each hand when watching little ones all day, and this can seriously impact your sleep. It is recommended to keep the caffeine intake to under 250mg/day (this is no more than 2 cups of drip coffee). Expresso is 3-4 times less caffeine per cup than percolated coffee. Green tea is less than 45mg per cup.

Need an organic chemistry fix with your caffeine intake? Here is a scientific blog (but not too esoteric) that shows and explains the function of caffeine in the body on a molecular level (my daughter was excited by the cute mice in the adenosine receptor diagram):

Oh, by the way, if the frothing pressure value is not in its proper place on the Mukka, this is what happens:

Coffee Geyser!