Saturday, March 13, 2010 Getaway

With a tenth wedding anniversary on the horizon but two kids and a budget at home, a friend was asking for weekend getaway ideas that would be special and fun, but wouldn't break the bank.  Of course, the plan should suit the couple's unique pair's dream could be a weekend on the slopes, while another couple might prefer the beach.  City or country, sophisticated or simple, energetic or relaxed, the list of options could be epic.

For a weekend, I always say it's best to keep it simple.  Don't venture so far afield that you're exhausted by the journey...and don't overdo it with the schedule once you're there.  There are only so many hours in the day, and you don't want to come home needing another vacation to recover!

Assuming my friends would like an urban sort of adventure, I thought Chicago could be a great escape.  It's the only destination serviced by Toronto's Porter Air that takes you downtown to downtown, saving all kinds of hassle at international airports, to say nothing of expensive and time-consuming transfers to and fro.  Better yet, Porter is boasting a seat sale to Chicago right now...$119 pp each way if you book before March 17.

With the budget in mind, my next stop was Hotwire, the online hotel selloff site. For dates in April, I was able to find 4.5 star accommodations (think Trump International Hotel or the Peninsula) for just over $100/night (US).  Hotwire leaves a bit to chance (you don't know which hotel you're booking till you book it) but I've always had great luck.  At the 4 star level and above, I'd say it's more than a safe bet.

Once you're there, Chi-town has so much to offer.  Phenomenal architecture, world-class arts and culture (including stunning outdoor art), outstanding shopping, exciting sports and goooooood eats.  On my next trip, I know I'm going wherever Guy Fieri went on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives!

Oprah and Obama can't be wrong, right?  Chicago is my kind of town, indeed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ever buy buttermilk for a recipe and then wonder how you're going to use up the rest of the carton before it spoils? One evening this week I got a call from our beloved next door neighbour, in exactly this pickle. Sure, I said, I'll take the rest off your hands. And the challenge was on. So what do you do with a whole litre of buttermilk? I'm happy to report that the yummy possibilities are virtually endless.

First, I thought about the chicken I had thawing in the fridge. I immediately set it to marinate in some buttermilk, garlic and black pepper. Grilled the next day, it was moist and delicious. Of course, buttermilk is a core ingredient in great Southern fried chicken but let's be honest, if ever there was a food best saved for restaurants to prepare...

Next on the list were some delightful Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins. Easy, quick, and super tasty, these were a hit with everyone around here. My only adaptation to this recipe might be a pinch more salt. The orange zest brightens up the berry taste and the buttermilk gives great texture and flavour. Crispy on top and perfectly moist inside, these were terrific.

Finally, I was torn between a refreshing Chilled Beet & Buttermilk Soup with fresh dill and the obvious crowd pleaser: Buttermilk Pancakes. The soup still has my mouth watering but with rain the the forecast, and the whole family hunkered down for a quiet weekend at home, I figured the flapjacks would hit the spot. No mistake there. My 4 year old just exclaimed "mummy, you make the best pancakes and the best bacon!" as I was putting the empty buttermilk carton in the recycling box. Mission deliciously accomplished!

Monday, March 8, 2010 Parents' Gear

I'm overjoyed that FIVE women I know are expecting this year. Half way through my second mat leave, and about to embark on the juggle that is life as the working mom of two (yikes), I am always glad to learn of new recruits. Strength in numbers, right?

One of my moms-to-be wrote asking if I could narrow the landscape of baby gear down to a top five of must-have items. Ask five parents and you'll probably get five different answers (and over time, needs change) but in my experience, these five items* (plus a crib!) were mission-critical in the first six to twelve months:

Soothing and comfortable for the baby, complete with removable amusements, this fantastic invention gives mothers their hands back. I found that my kids were more independent as a result of having been put down as early as possible, as often as possible. It's not to say I didn't cuddle them a lot, or that I left them unattended, but being able to put them down so I could cook, straighten up, type with both hands, fold laundry, etc. was clutch. The lifespan of a Bumbo seat is short, and it's not for every kid, but it's worth an honourable mention -- if nothing else, babies sure look cute in a Bumbo!

We're out and about a lot. Having something to bring along that securely accommodates your baby, and includes a tray for feeding or playing is fantastic. We have also used one of these as our every day high chair, instead of a stand-alone high chair. Traditional high chairs often have huge footprints. Using one of our own dining/kitchen chairs and a strap-on baby seat made more sense in our smaller home, and didn't make its own decor statement.

The Circle of Neglect...The Isolator...The Office...most parents have fond euphemistic nicknames for these beloved items. Like the Bouncy Chair and the High Chair, these fantastic inventions give your child a place to be outside of your arms. And they amuse AND exercise them too. Couldn't live without these! One or the other is fine. My younger child is a jumper so she was better suited to the Jumperoo, whereas my older one is more studious and placid. He liked the stand-around-and-look/play functionality of the Exersaucer.

Baby wearing is a very personal matter...some of the moms I know couldn't live without their sling or carrier. Keeping baby close while keeping hands free is a great state of being for a mom or dad! There is a wide variety of options in this category and any new parent would be smart to visit a specialty retailer who carries a wide variety of options, to test drive a few. In Toronto, visit Diaper-Eez, Crayons or Moms to Be and More.

5. Good quality lightweight umbrella stroller
I love my Maclaren! It's one of the more expensive items I bought and I have no regrets. Its best feature is that it reclines, making it useful from an earlier age and allowing baby/toddler to sleep when necessary. It's also a proper adult height so I don't have to hunch over when driving it (not true of cheap and cheerful models). It folds down to almost nothing, travels well and handles great. 12 pounds of freedom, this thing. Bottom line with strollers, though, is that one size does not fit all. I'm yet to find a single stroller that meets all parents' needs. Visiting one of the retailers listed above, or Macklem's in Toronto, will help you demystify the gamut of options.

Top 5 things I thought I needed but rarely if ever used:

1. Change table/mattress
We just change diapers where we are...beds, floors, sofas, etc. A good fold-up change mat is a good thing, for comfort and cleanliness at home or on the go.

2. Pack n' Play
Unless you plan to travel a lot, I don't think this is necessary...easily borrowed for occasional use (or even rented in some vacation destinations!). Buying one second-hand would be a good approach if you feel you need one. Craigslist is your friend.

3. Diaper Genie
We use the green bin and haven't had a need for a dedicated waste system for diapers.

4. Baby Bathtub
We use a Thermobaby Daphne bath seat in our regular tub, keeping the baby in place without the need for a mini tub within the tub...we used the kitchen sink to bathe the babes when they were wee!

5. Baby Monitor
This depends entirely on the size and layout of your home. I found that I was able to hear my baby wherever I was in the house and amplifying her every murmur during the night would only have disturbed my sleep. In bigger/multi-level homes, this could be a must have but it wasn't important for us. This said, a video monitor might seem frivolous but now that I'm onto the cry-it-out sleep training, it would be great to be able to see that the baby is safe in her crib before I go in to check her blankets, etc.

Borrow (or barter!) before you buy...
Whenever possible, see if you can borrow the big items (swings, exersaucers) or buy them second hand. Their lifespan is so short that it seems wasteful and unnecessary to splurge for these brand new.

A word about car seats...
Even if you don't have a car, knowing you can get in one with your baby is very important. An infant bucket seat doubles as a cradle when out in a restaurant, etc. too. My babies did very well sleeping in these things when we were here and there. A snap and go stroller was a genius complement to this kind of car seat. Professional installation of your car seat, or a tutorial of how to get it right (see retailers and your local Police station) is very's not as easy as it may seem to get it right.

Baby software...
I've concentrated on gear/hardware here. A few soft items I couldn't do without include as many baby facecloths as you can store, pacifiers, a nice fold-up playmat, some interactive soft toys (love Lamaze brand), swaddle blankets and the amazing Grobag.

*I've included lots of links to certain retailers and brands but it pays to shop around! Please consider your options.

Friday, March 5, 2010 York Eats

A friend is heading down to NYC for her sister's 40th. No kids, just a bunch of girls heading down to eat, drink, shop and be merry. Looking for some restaurant and watering hole recommendations, I thought back to my most recent trip to the Apple.

On my last visit, a friend and I happily polished off a bottle of sparkling rose over some tasty grub at Bread on Spring Street. The lamb ragout was delish and the afternoon bubbly sublime. This spot is on the same block as Rice to Riches, the only-in-New-York all rice pudding restaurant. I don't actually like rice pudding, but this place is amusing enough to warrant a mention. And from what I hear, if you dig the RP, this is the place for you.

Elephant was a great dinner. Fun scene, cool 'hood. Pan-Asian menu, reggae soundtrack, handsome bartender. Just sayin'.

I am a die-hard fan of
Veselka, which is open 24 hours a day. Who doesn't want late-night perogies?? Alone or with friends: for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I make an effort to go there every time I visit The City. LOVE.

The Cake Shop is a unique hybrid of bar/cafe/record shop/live music venue in a GREAT part of town for nightlife. Go for the vegan brownie: stay for the slam dancing.

Finally, Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center is amazing refined Mexican...pomegranate margaritas, anyone? Ole!

If you're more interested in reading about New York than actually visiting these places, amuse yourself with Fake NY Restaurant Reviews. And if you happen to be subscribing to the All Nacho Diet craze, treat yourself to NachosNY, the Quest for the best nachos in NYC.