Saturday, February 27, 2010

Risotto. Yes, You Can Make It!

Now, before you start thinking that risotto is just too time consuming and difficult to make, lemme stop you right there.  You're just being silly.  In my house, risotto is just cheesy rice and if it sounds less daunting to call it that, then by all means, do it.

If you've got picky eaters in your house like I do, and their diet consists mostly of spaghetti and macaroni & cheese, give risotto a shot.  The great thing about risotto is that you can throw just about anything into it and it will taste really good.  Even leftovers.  Start with the basic recipe to test the waters and then move on from there.  

The other thing I love about risotto is that you can sneak stuff into it that your child might not otherwise eat.  My son likes to say that he will eat mushrooms, but only if they are in cheesy rice.  Why the distinction?  I don't know.  Maybe he just doesn't notice the mushrooms as well when they are in the rice.  The reason for that?  Well, because I take my cue from the movie Big Night and chop everything teeny, tiny, making it nearly impossible for little fingers to pick out things that they don't like.  "I just don't see anything that looks like a shrimp or a scallop . . ."  EXACTLY!  (Pst!  Don't watch this with your little one, unless you think it's cute for a toddler to use the F-word.)  I love the crazy Americans in this clip who think that you should get a side of spaghetti and meatballs with your rice.

As per my usual, I based my recipe on a Food Network star's, in this case, Giada De Laurentiis, and my technique on Alton Brown.  I don't follow either to the letter, because well, that's just the way I am.  Risotto makes it easy to do your own thing.

Mama's Basic Risotto

4 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons butter, divided in half (you can also use part olive oil too)
1/2 medium onion (or 1 shallot) diced very small
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup wine (Use whatever you think tastes good, but usually a dry white wine is best.  If you don't want to use wine, substitute with extra stock or even water.  It won't taste the same though.)
1/4 heaping, to 1/2 cup, freshly grated Parmesan (don't even think of using the canned stuff!)
Salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Start by warming the chicken stock in a small pan to almost boiling.  Keep over low heat.  If you've got an electric kettle, Alton says to use that.  I just stick mine in a 4-cup measuring cup, warm it in the microwave, then keep it on the "warm hold" setting.

In a large, heavy pan or big pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, but not brown.  Add the rice and stir to coat in the butter.  Continue to stir until the rice has absorbed some of the butter and is translucent.  Add the wine and simmer until it has been almost completely absorbed.  Meanwhile, take a big whiff and think about how yummy your dinner is going to be.

Add about a 1/2 cup of the stock and stir the rice.  Contrary to what you've heard, you do not have to stir non-stop until the stock is absorbed.  Give the rice a few good stirs now and then.  Just don't walk away and leave it to take care of itself.  You'll notice when the stock is starting to be mostly absorbed and then you'll want to stir it some more.  Keep adding stock in this manner.  I use Alton's method to check when more liquid is needed.  When you can pull the rice back and see the bottom of the pan without the rice sliding back in, add more liquid.  

Usually, when I've got about a cup of stock left I'll taste-test the rice to see if it's cooked, or needs more stock.  Four cups usually works out perfect for me.  By the fourth cup your rice should be really creamy and yummy looking.  Remove from the heat when the final cup has been completely absorbed, add in the rest of your butter, then stir until melted.  Add the cheese and stir until incorporated.  Add some pepper (not too much!), then taste-test.  If needed, add some salt to taste.  You may find that the butter and cheese add enough saltiness, so be careful not to over salt.

Serve immediately when it's at its warm and creamiest. 

Once you've got the basic recipe down try adding in vegetables or meat.  Alton suggests not more than two ingredients at a time and always make sure they're fully cooked before adding to the rice.  Add the extra ingredients after the last bit of liquid has been absorbed.  My favorite is just plain and simple mushroom risotto.  Try adding some left-over chicken and some roasted vegetables.  Mmm, yum!  That would be fantastic!  Hmm . . . I may have to make that one soon!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Video Friday - Yea Yeah by Matt and Kim

This video was not made especially to target kids.  Nor are Matt and Kim kid music makers.  But, I dare you to share this video with your kids and have them not enjoy it.  Yea Yeah is all about making a mess and what kid doesn't like that?  I love that my kids can enjoy the mess making and I don't have to clean it up in the end.  If I could have a rewind button . . . how fantastic would that be!?  Here is Matt and Kim with Yea Yeah.  Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The World of Kids Music Part 3

So, the Seattle kids music scene.  I said I'd talk about it, so here goes.

Oh yeah.  Remember I said back in part 1 that I am not a hip and cool mom, so what I know about the Seattle kids music scene is not a lot.  But, I still want to talk about it, because, well, I think it's really cool that there is a Seattle kids music scene.  How many cities can say that?  Okay, okay so it's getting to be more common place.  Still, if you're going to start a kids music scene in a city, Seattle is definitely the place to start, right?  You can't deny that some pretty great music has come out of Seattle, no matter what your taste happens to be.  What is also really cool is how much Seattle has embraced this much needed change in music. 

As I said in part 1 I am also not the kind of Mom to just pack-up the car and drive two hours north just to attend a one hour preschool concert.  So, forgive me that I haven't actually done that.  However, I have listened to all of the groups I'm going to talk about and I have read several magazine articles and blog posts about said groups.  Stick with me here.

Just so you know, I get most of my insider information from Stefan at Zooglobble (I want to call him "Steve", but he's Stefan).  I've looked at a lot of blogs that involve kids music, but his is the best in my opinion.  A bonus is that he posts just about daily so you know that your kids music news is as fresh as fresh can be.  If you're truly interested in finding out more about kids music or want to learn more about the bands I will mention in a moment, go check out his site.  You'll be so overwhelmed, but then you'll just keep coming back for more and more.  Trust me.

So, kids music.  In Seattle.  Well, what I can tell you is that everyone around here in the general kids scene is talking about four main groups right now.  They are (in no particular order) Recess Monkey, The Not-It's!, The Board of Education, and of course, Caspar Babypants.  An interesting ensemble of names at the very least.  I have listened to CDs, watched video upon video, and read several online articles (all saying pretty much the same thing) about all four of these groups.  But, I've only seen one of them live.  I know, sad.   Most of these groups only have shows in the Seattle area, and while I would love to go see them, I just can't fathom driving for two hours for a kiddie concert.  Wait, I said that already.  Moving on.  I have seen Caspar Babypants live and I can tell you that it was a fun little show.  That said, I plan to talk more about Caspar Babypants in an upcoming post.

I think it's best that I not tell you how I feel about these bands and instead let you make your own opinion of them.  With all that the internet has to offer these days, it's pretty easy to find really cool, fun videos to share with your kids.  I'll share a few of those videos here with you and you can make the call.

This group of three teachers has been together since 2004 and has five albums.  What strikes me immediately about these guys is just how goofy looking they are.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one to say that too.   Here's a video by Recess Monkey that my kids and I had fun with.  It's called Marshmallow Farm.  If you've ever told your kids that those big bales of wrapped hay are giant marshmallows, you'll probably find this video pretty funny.

Five parents who are all currently in, or have at one time been in, an adult band (that sounds really strange and dirty for some reason).  All the articles I've read mention lead singer Sarah Shannon as having been a former member of the band Velocity Girl. However, if you read the bios on their website, you'll see everyone's been in a band, so why the distinction?  I don't know and it probably doesn't matter.  The Not-It's big thing seems to be the giant pink tutus that they wear at all their concerts.  Fans of the group can pay $27 on their website to get their own (kids sizes only, bummer).  I'd love to see these guys live.  They currently only have videos of their live performances, but I thought that this one was pretty good.  Here's the Not-It's live at Bumbershoot singing When I'm Five.
(The Not-It's! now have an official video on YouTube, see it here.  I still like When I'm Five though.)

From what I've read about these guys they are aimed more at the tween set.  However, that doesn't mean that you and your preschooler won't like them.  I can't really explain them since I haven't had much opportunity to listen to a lot of their songs, but what I can tell you is that they seem to be a mutant hybrid of School House Rock! and all the educational They Might Be Giants albums.  That's the best I can come up with.  If you want to know more in depth, Steve will tell you.  What I can tell you is that this video is pretty darn funny, despite the prolific dictionary definitions.  My son's favorite part is when the bitter blueberries (yuck, bitter blueberries) say to the tomato, "Oh come on!  We're high in anti-oxidants too!  We're not like, 'ooh look at me, I'm so healthy!'"  You've got to love anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables.  Here is The Lonely Tomato by Central Services presents the Board of Education.

Thus ends part 3 of The World of Kids Music.  Music doesn't end here though.  My plan is to show a music video each Friday that my kids and I have enjoyed.  Yeah!  Now, you have something to look forward to each Friday!  Oh, you already look forward to Fridays?  Well, now it's going to get even better!

P.S. - Don't forget too that I'll be talking about Caspar Babypants and the little show that we saw him at recently.  It involves a giant head, a strange instrument/toy, and great acoustics.  It'll be fun!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The World of Kids Music Part 2

After finding Captain Bogg & Salty, I went back to the internet and the library to see what other kinds of treasures I could find.  I was pretty disappointed for a while.  I checked out Justin Roberts because my son and I had enjoyed his videos for Willy was a Whale and Airplane of Food.  But, we both quickly tired of him.  Of course there was the ever present Dan Zanes, Laurie Berkner, and Ralph's World, but they just weren't our type of music.  We liked loud and rockin' music.  Preferably with funny lyrics.

Enter Greasy Kid Stuff.  These CDs are compilations of listeners favorites from the popular radio show.  Unfortunately, we couldn't listen to the show, but we could get the CDs.  They had stuff we were already familiar with like Hockey Monkey (another fun video) and Yo La Tengo's My Little Corner of the World (because I'm a Gilmore Girls fan).  Captain Bogg & Salty also shows up on the third album with their version of Part of Your World.  Truly classic, you have to listen to it.  And we discovered a favorite band, The Mr. T Experience who always seems to provide a song for these compilations.  They sing our favorite version of Unpack Your Adjectives and they also rock Up and Down and Spiderman.  My biggest wish is that some day they will put out an entire album of just kids music.

Next we found the series For the Kids, which here and there had some really fun gems especially Cake's version of Mahna Mahna  and Barenaked Ladies' version of La La La La Lemon.  It's very apparent that once you start looking there are all kinds of albums out there with music aimed specifically at kids and their parents.

We checked out all the They Might Be Giants kiddie albums (our favorite so far is still No!) and Barenaked Ladies' SnacktimeSuddenly, it was easy to see that kids music was just about everywhere.  I couldn't keep up.  I still can't keep up.  I devote a little time here and there to kids music sites in a lame attempt to find out what's new.  But, what's new today is totally old news tomorrow.  So, instead I just try to focus on finding fun, new favorites now and then, and appreciating what are now old, family favorites as well.

One of the best ways to see what's new in the world of kids music (besides the internet of course) is to watch kids TV shows.  It seems that the world of kids music has done a number on the types of shows aimed specifically at preschoolers in the last 10 years.  Think Sesame Street with all it's guest stars taken to the next level.  It seems that everyone wants to get in on the act now.  Maybe it's just that bands now days realize that if you get them hooked early, they'll stay with you a life time (like making Joe Camel ads to get kids hooked on cigarettes).

When I was first searching for kids music I used to read about a lot of parents who liked to watch Jack's Big Music Show on Noggin with their preschoolers.  Well, for a while we didn't have Noggin (recently changed to Nick Jr.), but now that we do, I can see where they're coming from.  It's fun to watch shows with your kids that contain artists that you've always loved to listen to.  Pancake Mountain takes this one step further by focusing more about the music and less of what I consider "filler".  And, thanks to the internet, we can actually watch Pancake Mountain and Jack's Big Music Show without bowing down to The Evil Cable Company.

Slowly proving their worth to my family is Yo Gabba Gabba on Nickelodeon.  I have mixed feelings about this show, cuz it's just so darn weird sometimes and my 6-year-old has a hard time getting the connection between singing about the food in his stomach having a party in one breath, and then switching to watching Tony Hawk do skateboarding tricks in the next.  Still, after reading about the line-up for the new season of Yo Gabba Gabba, I find myself oddly intrigued.  I will be watching to see Weezer dance around in bug costumes and Anthony Bourdain play the good "doctor".  I expect my 6-year-old to be unimpressed though.  This kind of stuff is really more for the parents benefit.

So, I think that's where I'll end this post.  I'll follow-up with Part 3 in which I talk about the Seattle kids music scene as I promised in Part 1.  For now, let me leave you with one of my favorite videos to watch with or without my kids.  This is from Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine.  I can't say that I am all that impressed with other songs on the album, but We R Super Heroes is really fun and catchy.  I think my son likes it mostly for the giant, pink monster that is the main character as well as all the other weird monsters/super heroes.  Whatever, it's fun.  Enjoy!

Watch more AOL Music videos on AOL Video

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The World of Kids Music Part 1

I am not a cool person.  Let's be very clear about that up front.  I am not part of the generation of "hip" parents who take their kids to weekly jam sessions and toddler concerts.  That's just not me.  I have never been the kind of person who is able to keep up with what's new and cool in the world of music.  By the time I discover a singer or a group that I like they've already put out three or four albums and have fallen of everyone elses radar.  I then spend a month listening to the same songs over and over again until I just stop listening all together and go into a music coma.  Music just doesn't seem to have the influence on my life that it does on every other person on the planet.

Then I had kids and I suddenly realized that music is and should be a very large part of a kids life.  So many good things come out of sharing music with your kids.  Back when my first son was pretty young I got interested in seeing just what was out there in terms of music for kids.

The very first CD I got for my son was John Lithgow's Singin' in the Bathtub.  I checked it out from the library and played it in the car.  I fell in love with John Lithgow!  Not only were they fun, catchy songs that we could all sing along with, they weren't simpering, moral teaching tirades like what I was used to hearing on kids TV shows.  I began to think, hey, maybe there really was something to this whole kids music scene that I would be happy to be a part of.

I went online to see what kinds of music other people were sharing with their kids.  I large group of people simply play whatever they normally listen to.  When you think about it, there are a great many songs out there that adults like that are kid friendly too.  My husband has had great success sharing music he loves with our son, who also enjoys it.  In fact one our favorite CDs to listen to as a family is Saturday Morning Cartoon's Greatest Hits.  This is a CD that believe it or not my husband bought when he was in college.  Okay, I guess that's not really so hard to believe because it has bands like The Violent Femmes doing covers of cartoon theme songs.  My favorite is Sublime's version of Hong Kong Phooey.  I'm not normally a fan of Sublime, but their version is awesome.  I would never think to play the Butthole Surfers for my son, but that's who covers his favorite version of Underdog.  I have to admit that I really love it too.

Still, there is music out there specifically made just for kids.  I'm not talking The Wiggles here and I'm not talking about Kids Bop either.  Both of which I'm sure are fine for some people, but honestly I wouldn't want to hang out with those people or their kids.  This is what I'm talking about.

Awesome, right?  I'm telling you, what little kid or adult wouldn't love to hang out with these guys?  Well, count us in because every summer when Captain Bogg & Salty takes their yearly trip to tour Seattle, we are there!  We've taken our kids every single summer come rain our shine and it's always a good time.  Always.  Last year there was a down pour right before the concert started, but the clouds cleared up, the sun came out and tons of families showed up despite the fact that we had to sit on the muddy ground.  We didn't care.  It was totally worth it just to spend an hour rockin' out with these guys.

Once we saw Captain Bogg & Salty, a whole new world of music opened up for my family.  

Coming up next - We explore Greasy Kids Stuff, Noggin, and Casper Babypants and the Seattle kids music scene.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Last Saturday my husband and I drove an hour north to take our son to volunteer.  This was the first time he'd ever "volunteered" for anything.  Did he have fun?  Yes, some.  Does he want to do it again?  No, he was very decisive about that.  Do I think it was good for him?  Well, I hope so.  I think maybe in the long run it will be.  And not just because we get to go to Disneyland now.

So, how did this all come about you ask?  Lately, I've been donating money here and there.  I haven't really picked any one charity, it's just that if something pops up on my radar that I feel passionate about, then I give a little.  And really, I mean a little because we don't make a lot of money.  However, we do make money, we do have jobs, so a little is what I give. 

Once in a while I give a buck or two to someone who is pan handling.  It's not often because honestly I don't really carry cash around with me anymore.  Everyone takes debit now. (BTW, I saw on the news over Christmas that the Salvation Army was outfitting some of their kettles with credit card readers.)  I give my share at work (often I give more than my share because I feel bad that some people don't give at all).  Still, this doesn't seem like much to me.  It's enough for some people, but not me.   More importantly, it's not something that my kids ever notice.

The thing is that my parents have always been very generous people.  I've heard it said that, "those who have the least to give, give the most."  I think about that phrase a lot because while I understand what it means, it doesn't say the right thing to me.  I'd prefer to think that, "those who have the most, give the most."  My parents have a lot of heart.  They haven't ever had a lot of money to give, but they've always had time and talent and devotion.  So, that's what they give.  They give money too, but I think a lot of time it's more about what you do than what you give.

This has made an impression on me.  It's not a life lesson that my parents ever tried to teach me except maybe by example.  It's one that I definitely feel that my children need to learn, especially since it seems like a lot of parents skip this lesson.  I'm trying to start that lesson with my sons.  I may not get as far with it as my parents did, but then again, maybe I'll get farther. 

Back to Disneyland.  Disney is having a promotion right now called, Give a Day.  Get a Disney Day.  (I am in no way promoting Disney here!  Just so you know.  Personally, I feel that the Disney corporation is slightly evil, but my son doesn't and that's okay with me.)  The gist is that you volunteer for one day and you earn a one-day pass to either Disneyland or Disney World.  So, I signed up figuring this is as good a place to start as any. At the very least, we'll get free Disneyland passes.

So, Saturday morning we drove an hour north.  My husband and I complained more about the long drive than my son did (BTW, our six-year-old was the only one who went with us because you have to be at least six to volunteer.)  We arrived at 10:00 on the dot (my husband was very smug about this because I was freaking out the entire time that we'd be late).  We trooped to the basement of a church and took a seat at a long table with another family. 

This volunteer event was put on by Habitat for Humanity and no, we weren't there to build houses (at least not real houses).  Because of the Disney promotion Habitat had been challenged to come up with a way for small children and their families to become involved with volunteering.  Normally, you have to be 16 to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity because they do build houses and there are insurance issues.  Here is the description for the event that we signed up for:

"Children age 6 to 96 are invited to join us Saturdays from 10:00 AM to noon to create personalized thank you cards for Habitat for Humanity's donors and volunteers.  All supplies are ready and waiting; we look forward to sharing this Habitat opportunity with you!"

I thought this was perfect!  My kid likes to draw (although it's usually things with many legs and eyeballs), and it's a perfect amount of time.  Just long enough to get something done, but not so long that he starts complaining that he's bored.  I was right.  It worked out really well and I think it was mainly because of the planning that Habitat put into it.  The whole event was run by one Habitat worker named Rob.  He checked everyone in, told us what needed to be done, and then let us do it.  

We actually had the choice of four different activities to choose from.  Of course we could make cards, but they also asked each family to make a tile.  Each family got one ceramic tile to decorate as they wished (preferably mentioning "families helping families" in some way).  Currently, they are planning to build six houses in a small neighborhood.  When the houses are done they are going to make a wall with all the tiles to commemorate the event.  Sounded pretty neat to me.  The other option was to build a house out of Popsicle sticks.  At an upcoming fundraiser the houses will be used in groups of three or four as centerpieces on the tables to make a small "neighborhood".  Cute idea I thought!  The last option, truly boring for me, but something that needed to be done, was stuffing envelopes.  Hey, when you've got a non-profit organization you probably have way more paper work than you do volunteers so I say get the help when you can. 

We didn't do the envelope stuffing part.  I think a lot of the adults felt that they weren't that artistic or crafty so they'd just stuff envelopes.  Several people grabbed the envelopes before we even got to the table.  My husband decided to build a Popsicle house with the help of our son.  Meanwhile, I started on the cards.  Occasionally I'd toss a card at my son if he wasn't helping Dad at the moment.  He had a short melt-down about half way through and we had a little talk, but he moved on and by the end he personally carried the tile up to Rob because he was so proud of it.  Part way through Rob started asking trivia questions to quiz the kids on facts that he had stated earlier about Habitat for Humanity.  He gave the kids a "100 grand" candy bar for each right answer.  His little joke since his job involves acquiring money for Habitat for Humanity.

The time went by really fast and before I was ready to be done, everyone was filing out of the basement.  I think that if there were more volunteer opportunities like this one closer to home, we'd probably do it more often.  I hope that one day I'll be able to find a cause for our family that is the perfect fit.  I'm glad that Disney decided to do the promotion, although I worry that it sends the wrong idea.  Volunteering isn't supposed to be about getting a big prize at the end.  Still, I hope that we as a family will be able to look back on that one event in a church basement and say that it all started there.