Rainbow Popcorn: A Fast, Fun Snack for Crunch Time

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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…)

Something New on the Menu: Asian Popcorn Medley

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I never thought I’d see this day, but my family is taking a break from pizza. It’s hard to believe. Especially because our town boasts pizza aplenty in nearly every imaginable variety. Within a two-mile radius of my house, I can find delicious New York style, Neapolitan, Sicilian, Greek, wood-fired, and even gourmet pizza. We have everything but a good deep dish constantly on offer.

But, after years of pizza for everything from dinners on the fly to kids’ parties to family movie nights, it was time for a different option. So, a few months back, we added Asian food into the rotation. We used to have it regularly, but somehow it fell off the radar when the kids were little and fought us over every vegetable.

Happily, it’s been a big hit. Everyone’s trying new tastes and rediscovering old favorites. My husband loves his sweet standby, General Tso’s chicken, while I prefer spicy Thai curry chicken and Szechuan steak. The kids opt for sesame noodles, lo mein and even the occasional California roll. We’re working our way through our local restaurant’s menu…and it’s going to take a while. (more…)

Popcorn: Tooth-Friendly Alternative to Sugary Snacks

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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.

All that changed when my son was born. (more…)

A Love Letter to Chocolate Hazelnut Deliciousness

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One of life’s little pleasures is discovering a new food that becomes a fast favorite. Take the humble bagel, for example. Despite growing up outside New York City, I didn’t taste one until my early 20s. Other late-to-my-plate faves include sweet potatoes, Greek yogurt, Brussels sprouts, capers and Manchego cheese.

Like any new love, these comestibles grabbed my full attention at first. I was blissed out, and craved them constantly during the early weeks and months of our acquaintance. Over time, things settled down as they became more rare and, dare I say, routine parts of my diet.

But nothing about these experiences prepared me for the commotion that ensued a few years back when my family and I discovered chocolate hazelnut spread. I was, frankly, besotted. My first thought after sampling a spoonful went something along the lines of, “Where have you been all my life, you sweet thing?” (more…)

Feasting on Fruits of the Sea: Mushroom Crusted Tilapia

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I am health conscious. I exercise nearly every day and I care about eating well. That said, it’s true confession time: I don’t eat fish. It pains me to admit it, but I just don’t like it, other than shellfish–which I adore but for some reason, health-wise, doesn’t seem to pack quite the punch as their finned counterparts.

Indeed, my aversion to anything but the bottom feeders of the marine world is one of my more embarrassing secrets. In an era where we know the importance fish can play in a healthful diet–and with friends who snack on sushi and salivate at the very thought of pan-seared tuna–I feel like an unrefined boor.

So with all this in favor of fish, why my aversion? I think it’s because, as a child, I overdid it on salmon. That may sound like the definition of a luxury problem, but when I was young, my grandfather traveled extensively for work in the Pacific Northwest. He’d ship salmon home by the case and, while I liked it well enough, eating it for days on end sort of turned me off. On top of that, we observed the “meat free Friday” rule of the Lenten season, which meant that fish—typically cod—was on the menu at least once a week, usually right around the time I was craving a hamburger. (more…)

Life in the (not so) Fast Lane: The Minivan Years

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Don’t hate on my ride. Thirteen years, three kids, two minivans and 200,000 miles later, I can truly say: I love my car.

Having spent my youth watching the road unspool from the jump seat of a Ford Country Squire, I was no fan of “family cars.” It wasn’t that I needed a sporty vehicle. When it comes to cars, I’ve always been all about safety…and I think a nice bank balance is a way better status symbol than a flashy ride. For years, I was happy with my boxy Swedish cars, purchased gently used, and always safe and reliable.

In contrast, my 6’ 4” husband hated squeezing into my sedans. When I was pregnant with our second child he “surprised” me with a brand-new minivan, the only car that would accommodate both his height and our burgeoning brood (he refused to consider SUVs out of protest to their gas guzzling). I was mortified, but I bought in, thanks largely to the sensible advice of my friend, Stacey. (more…)

Keeping Healthy Habits through a Long Winter: Adobo and Peanut Roasted Popcorn

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Sigh. My New Year’s resolutions are a distant memory. A couple of months into 2014, that long list of self- and home-improvement projects just doesn’t seem as quite as compelling as it used to. I know I’m not alone in this, because even the crazy crowds fighting their way into my gym back in January have thinned. It’s the human condition; in fact, only about eight percent of us stick to our resolutions.

Resolutions are tricky. They have an all-or-nothing quality to them that I find problematic. That’s why, even as I craft a list of goals for a given year, I try to remember that it’s all about progress. I don’t need to be perfect to make meaningful changes in my life and well-being. As I told my friend who’s struggling to stop smoking: every cigarette you don’t smoke is a victory. (more…)

Pop-ular for Watching Weight

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Despite our best intentions, we gobbled down too much turkey over the holidays. The plum pudding turned into plump padding, the crescent roll into a belly roll, and those rounds of corks popping made a button or two pop. Like millions of Americans, we ate too much over the holidays and it’s time to get back in shape.

Falling into an unhealthy eating pattern is an annual tradition we’d rather do without. We know the consequences of holiday sweets and second helpings, but we can’t seem to push away from the table quick enough. And each January, as clothing grows snug and scales tip unfavorably, we resolve to do better.

Now is the time to take stock of the cupboard and load up on good-for-you foods–like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats–and reacquaint ourselves with the local gym. It’s tempting to skip meals, but studies have shown that eating smaller, healthful portions throughout the day can help boost metabolism and aid weight loss efforts. So, if you’re hungry mid-morning or mid-afternoon, grab a smart snack that can help fuel your metabolism while satisfying hunger pangs, like popcorn.

Compared to many snack foods, popcorn is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn provides only 30 calories per cup. When oil-popped, it contains only 55 calories. Even drizzled lightly with butter, it’s only 90 to 120 calories per cup. Popcorn is a whole grain food which makes it a high-quality carbohydrate source that is not only low in calories, but high in fiber. This means it takes longer to chew and makes you feel full longer.

Try popping popcorn on the stovetop. It’s an economical and versatile treat the whole family will enjoy which makes it easy on your wallet and your waistline!

Wintertime and the Snacking is Easy!

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Could it be that winter is the new summer? Once defined as a time of quiet hibernation, winter has come into its own, in a social sense. In fact, we are often busier entertaining friends and family in the winter than during any other season. Consider the numerous celebratory occasions that begin with the harvest and continue on through the holidays and beyond, not to mention all the fun and frosty get togethers prompted by skiing, skating and sledding. (more…)

A Fancy New Year’s Treat: Coconut Ginger Popcorn Truffles

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New Year’s Eve is upon us and, much as I wish otherwise, I just don’t have it in me to party like it’s 1999. After a month spent decking the halls; chopping down and putting up a tree; cleaning, cooking and baking; addressing holiday cards; shopping, wrapping and shipping gifts; and general spreading of merriment and goodwill, I am completely and utterly exhausted.

I don’t want to be a killjoy. Really…I love the holidays. But by the end of December, I’m running on fumes, with zero desire to head out into anything resembling a crowd. When New Year’s Eve rolls around, I’m ready to snuggle up at home by the fire, throw on an “Iron Man” movie and call the year a done deal. I know…I’m lame.

Last year, though, I broke tradition. My friends Sharon and Todd lured me out of my hermit’s den with a last-minute invitation to a New Year’s Eve get together at their house. There were six couples and handful of teens and ‘tweens; the adults hung out in the kitchen and living room while the kids stayed happily occupied playing video games in the family room. It was absolutely wonderful—I enjoyed myself so much I forgot all about my prediction that I’d be heading home early. For the first time in years I actually stayed up—and wide awake—to watch the ball drop in Times Square at midnight!

Needless to say, I hope those guys have their party again and that I make the guest list. After a hectic December, that’s exactly the low key, mellow evening I could rally for. And if they don’t host, maybe I will…because it really was a pretty perfect way to wrap up a year.

Whether your New Year’s Eve party is a mellow gathering, a black-tie affair or something in between, these Coconut-Ginger Popcorn Truffles are a special treat that add to the festive feel.

Coconut-Ginger Popcorn Truffles
Yield: 3 dozen truffles

Ingredients
• 5 cups air-popped popcorn
• 2 cups miniature marshmallows
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter
• 3 tablespoons candied ginger, minced
• 1/2 cup shredded coconut
• 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
• 1 teaspoon coconut oil or butter

Directions
1. Place popcorn in large bowl.
2. Place marshmallows and coconut oil or butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until melted; remove from heat.
3. Stir in shredded coconut and candied ginger. Mix well.
4. Spray hands with nonstick cooking spray, then scoop up one tablespoon of popcorn mixture.
5. Roll mixture with hands to form a ball. Place ball on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
6. Repeat to make 36 balls.
7. Place chocolate in small, microwave safe bowl. Heat in microwave on HIGH for one minute, until melted. If not completely melted, microwave for another 15 seconds and stir again.
8. Stir 1 teaspoon coconut oil into melted chocolate.
9. Place chocolate in zipper-style plastic bag and seal. Snip off a tiny corner of bag.
10. Pipe chocolate on popcorn balls in a decorative pattern.
11. Garnish with extra shredded coconut and extra minced candied ginger if desired.
12. Place truffles in a cool place until chocolate is set.