Revamping a Child’s Diet: Whole-Grain Popcorn fills the Snack Gap

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Stovetop Popcorn

I count myself lucky that my family has been spared food allergies.

We’re friendly with at least a dozen families whose children have peanut or tree nut allergies ranging from mild to extreme; a few of the kids can enjoy some types of nuts, while others are so sensitive they break out in hives simply by touching anything with nut residue on it. These parents and kids alike have my admiration, since staying safe depends on diligent reading of food labels and self advocacy. I feel the same toward folks who are managing other allergies like wheat gluten or food additives. It’s a lot of work.

My kids are fairly picky eaters. Our lack of allergies is a blessing here in the House of Fussy Palates. Still, I’ve always offered a variety of foods; strived for well-balanced meals; and encouraged good food choices. I buy organic when I can, and we sit down to meals together at least five nights a week. My kids are active –everybody does at least one sport at all times—and in great shape. So I wasn’t worried about their food intake in the slightest.

Until, that is, my daughter’s 10-year-old physical, when a blood test showed high cholesterol, specifically borderline high LDL, the low-density lipids that are the so-called “bad cholesterol.” Honestly, I was shocked. (more…)

Feeding Kids’ Imaginations: Sidewalk Chalk and Super, No Fail Caramel Corn

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no fail caramel corn

Like a lot of moms, I get a little wistful cleaning out the toy bins and shelves. I’m probably at least as attached to my kids’ old playthings as they are.

Not that the toys haven’t vexed me plenty over the years. Any parent can relate to the woes of frustrating packaging (“clamshell” plastic that’s impossible to get through without drawing blood and those annoying plastic ties that lash the toy to the cardboard in fifteen spots); hieroglyphic assembly instructions (I am genetically incapable of interpreting drawings); missing pieces (thank goodness for customer service departments); and downright elusiveness (yup, I actually sat outside a toy store in the dark one day waiting for a shipment of the “hot toy” a few holiday seasons back).

No matter how many tiny pieces I’ve sucked up into the vacuum cleaner, these touchstones of my kids’ play will always hold special places in my heart. (more…)

Popcorn: Tooth-Friendly Alternative to Sugary Snacks

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italian_popcorn

Last week, Number One Son and I braved a storm to drive him to a very important dentist appointment. He needed four fillings. Yup, the boy had four cavities. All of which developed over the past six months.

The miserable weather mirrored our moods. There was the physical pain (him), the financial pain (me), the insurance company rigmarole (again, me) and our shared sense that his good dental luck had finally run out.

Sure he brushed and flossed, but often under protest and halfheartedly. Show me a teenage boy who’s diligent about oral hygiene and I’ll show you a kid whose parents are dentists or hygienists. After all, it takes a lot to resist the siren songs of sleep and food when you’re an exhausted teenager in a growth spurt. Those extra ten minutes in the bathroom easily slip to the bottom of the priority list.

I think my son had been coasting on genetics: the hard, strong teeth that run in my side of the family. I know the power of heredity well from personal experience. Despite being taken to the dentist regularly as a child, I developed a huge dental phobia in my 20s and stopped going—even though I had a fantastic dental plan from my job at the time. It was silly. (more…)

Beyond Brownies: Double Chocolate Popcorn Balls for the Bake Sale

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double chocolate popcorn balls

Warm weather is upon us, and along with the typical natural risks—bees, ticks, aggressive raccoons—I’ve cataloged a man-made danger that’s cropped up in my path: bake sales.

I’m only half-kidding about bake sales’ being dangerous … but let’s just say that these babies pose a serious threat to my waistline, just in time for swimsuit season. And I can’t escape them. It seems every time I go to a shopping center, library or flea market, I’m running a gauntlet of gooey baked deliciousness, all at irresistible prices. If I have a kid or two with me, we are definitely sold. (more…)

Pop Up the Perfect Summer Snack

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edible popcorn bowl

In most parts of the U.S., summertime is the perfect time to gather with friends and family and celebrate the glorious offerings of the season. Summer parties are often casual affairs that let you revel in the garden, lounge around the pool, perfect grilling techniques, or polish up badminton skills.

Whether you host a potluck dinner, pool-side gathering, casual family picnic, or barbeque bash it’s important to have plenty of healthful family-friendly fare on hand. Popcorn is the perfect summer snack. It’s a whole grain that satisfies hunger without spoiling the appetite and gives you the fuel you need for an afternoon of fun in the sun.

Popcorn is also naturally low in calories–air-popped popcorn contains only 30 calories per cup and when oil-popped, only 55calories. And three cups of popcorn count as a whole grain serving. You can feel good about eating popcorn.

Add a splash of excitement to your summertime table with these creative popcorn treats. (more…)

Citrus Adds a Pop of Flavor!

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key lime clusters

Citrus fruits seem to radiate happiness with their eye-popping colors and mouth-watering flavors. Whether incredibly sweet or pucker producing tangy, these juicy fruits don’t shy away from making their presence known. Thankfully! So many of the foods we love incorporate citrus flavors and the world would be duller without them. Case in point: the Key Lime Pie.

Coconut cream is luscious, apple pies comfort, and pumpkin pie makes a timely treat, but if you’re looking for a blast of flavor at your holiday dessert table you’ll opt for key lime pie. The refreshing and light taste is welcomed even after eating a rich meal. A few bites ease your fullness and snaps you out of the dull state you were drifting into, making you feel a bit more energized.

Key limes are a treat for the senses.If you’re unfamiliar with them, key limes differ from the more common Persian lime. Key limes are smaller—about the size of a golf ball—and have a distinctive aroma and unique flavor compared to the Persian Lime. Key limes have more acid, which makes them more tart and aromatic.

And yes, Key Lime Pie is named after the Florida Keys where the pie originated. Whether you’re making a snack, meal, or dessert, the next time you want to make something vibrant, look to citrus fruits to liven up your menu. Try this recipe for Key Lime Popcorn Clusters courtesy of the Popcorn Board.

Key Lime Popcorn Clusters
Makes: about 32 clusters

Ingredients:
8 cups popped popcorn
4 whole graham crackers, #nely chopped
1 jar (7 ½ ounces) marshmallow crème
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 tablespoon grated lime peel
1 tablespoon key lime (or traditional lime) juice

Directions:
1. Line 9-inch square pan with foil.
2. Combine popcorn and all but 2 tablespoon of graham cracker pieces in large bowl.
3. Microwave marshmallow crème and butter in large glass bowl on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir until butter is melted. Stir in lime peel and lime juice.
4. Pour marshmallow mixture over popcorn, mixing thoroughly.
5. Using damp hand, firmly press mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons graham cracker pieces. Refrigerate 2 hours until firm.
6. Lift foil from pan. Break popcorn mixture into clusters

Dress to Impress

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black_sesame_popcorn

A stylish evening at home calls for a bit of edge that goes beyond sartorial choices. If black is the darling of the fashion world, why not add it to your table? Black Sesame Mustard Popcorn is a sophisticated and spicy blend that will add a touch of elegance to your next gathering. Whether you call it “snack” or “amuse-buche” you’ll definitely call it a keeper for the recipe file.

Black sesame seeds have enchanted the culinary scene with their earthy, nutty, and distinctive bitter  flavor. Chefs love the appearance and drama that comes with the color, but something about their quirky flavor helped them quickly move from trendy garnish into cuisine staple. Black sesames have been matched with ginger and wasabi in gourmet chocolate shops; sprinkled atop macaroni and cheese with truffle oil in corner bistros; and encrusted in delicate Asian inspired  fish dishes in 4-star restaurants.

Proving their adaptability, they’ve been incorporated into this popcorn recipe from the Popcorn Board (www.popcorn.org). Popcorn is a worthy canvas for any number of ingredients. Here the sesame and mustard flavors seamlessly blend for a palate-pleasing power snack. Popcorn is a whole grain that provides carbohydrates and  fiber to the diet and is naturally low in fat and calories. And for mere pennies per serving, popcorn is kind on your wallet too. If you’re planning a stylish night with friends—perhaps hosting an elegant party—add a bit of black to your table and you’ll make it an affair to remember.

Black Sesame Mustard Popcorn
Makes: 4 quarts, 16 servings (1 cup each)
Preparation time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:
4 quarts popped popcorn
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon yellow mustard powder
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or popcorn salt)

Directions:
Place popcorn in a large serving bowl. In a small bowl, combine butter, sesame oil and mustard powder. Microwave butter mixture for 20 seconds or until butter is melted. Stir until mustard powder is dissolved and mixture is well blended.

Drizzle butter mixture over popcorn and toss. Sprinkle sesame seeds and salt over popcorn and toss again; serve immediately.

Wrap Up Some Love for Mom: Pretty Poppy Chow

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poppy chow

I was recently involved in a civic and social issue in my town…actually, “involved” is kind of an understatement. I was smack in the middle, a spokeswoman and an organizer … all pretty much by default.

Typically, I keep a low profile. I belong to the school PTA, even serving twice on its board…but I’ve never considered being PTA president. I’m practically a professional room parent, and I’ve managed school’s student publishing effort for six years. I speak up and speak out when needed, and I offer a hand when asked or sometimes just because I know I can be useful. But I don’t necessarily feel the need to lead…most days, I’m grateful to get my kids clothed, fed and off to school and activities without incident.

Which brings me to my recent situation. I answered the phone one Sunday night to hear my neighbor in distress. She told me of an issue that was about to impact our neighborhood, and wanted to spread the word. She believed—as did I after listening to her story—that people in the community who were about to be affected hadn’t had an opportunity to share their views or concerns with the decision makers.

And so, a handful of us moms went into action. The details were complex, but suffice it to say that we worked round the clock for two weeks solid … networking with friends, neighbors, state and town officials, religious leaders and the media. I barely slept and hardly saw my husband or children, who subsisted on takeout food and cereal. And I was not alone…our cause was supported by hundreds of friends and neighbors who also made sacrifices of time, money and effort on our collective behalf. In the end, our voices were heard.

I learned a couple of important lessons through this experience. First, despite the power of digital communication and social media, nothing is more effective than discuss an issue in person. Our digital lives are wonderful and a force for social change … but we humans need one-on-one contact to truly understand each other. It takes time…but it’s worth the effort.

Secondly, never underestimate a group of moms. When motivated to act on behalf of our children, we are a powerful force. My friend Brenda reminded me of this when I was feeling horrible about all the cereal dinners and unsupervised homework time…she told me that not only was I working for my children, but that I was also modeling for them an important life lesson: speak out and be heard because you can make a difference.

And so, this Mother’s Day, I’m sending love and thanks to all the moms I know, especially those who show me every day by their actions that we are the best advocates our children can have. They’ve showed me that saying I’m “just a mom” is indeed saying a lot.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Make Mother’s Day special for your mom, and for everyone who supports you in being the best mom you can be! Whip up a batch of this Poppy Chow … it’s a delicious indulgence that makes a pretty presentation.

Poppy Chow
Yield: 2 quarts

Ingredients
• 2 quarts popped popcorn
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
• 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
• 1 cup milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions
1. Place popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.
2. In a microwave safe bowl, combine butter, peanut butter and chocolate chips.
3. Microwave 2 minutes; stir until smooth.
4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the popcorn and stir until well coated.
5. Sprinkle Confectioner’s sugar over popcorn and stir until coated.
6. Cool to room temperature before serving.
7. Store in airtight container, refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

(Handy) Man Up for Home Repair with Hot Mustard Popcorn

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honey_mustard

These days, my list of honey-dos looks more like a full-blown melon patch.

There’s all the usual stuff … weeding, fertilizing, planting, window washing and the regular home improvement projects that never seem to go away. But this year it’s worse. Old Man Winter did not go gentle into that good night; he ignored the calendar and raged on, heaping storm after storm upon us until well past his sell-by date.

Frankly, the homestead took quite a beating. I can see every layer of paint ever put down on my poor front porch, and there’s a critter-size hole under the steps; I may as well put out an “open all night” sign for skunks and raccoons. My back deck is no better, and I’ve got trim rotting on the side of the house. Thanks to the ice dams and punishing wind, it now rains INSIDE my garage. And these are just the things I KNOW about.

Sigh. Last night I had the best dream: (more…)

Rainbow Popcorn: A Fast, Fun Snack for Crunch Time

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rainbow popcorn

My family is having one of those weeks. Despite our best efforts, everybody is heading in different directions for days on end…proverbial passing ships. Our week’s highlights include: clinics; band and orchestra practices; gymnastics; scout badge work; mandatory school meetings; dental appointments; a concert; and a bar mitzvah. Call it bad scheduling, but sometimes it just can’t be helped.

And there are unforeseen events keeping me on the run, like discovering my cat is overdue for his rabies vaccine (yes, I got him in to the vet); a last minute and much-needed haircut for the child attending the aforementioned bar mitzvah; and my closet shelves collapsing. That final one was resolved pretty quickly; happily for me, the shelving was still under warranty and the installer fixed it for free. Of course, I had to pull everything out and put it back in after the repair, which is great for an impromptu spring clean but just not something I needed right now.

I’ve had more than a few crazy weeks like this over the years…all parents have. I try to reschedule what I can so we aren’t on complete overload, and also to remember that these are inconveniences, not real problems. Nobody is sick, and everyone chose to do these activities. That said, I employ a few simple strategies to keep us on course: (more…)