Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Try The World

I came across an interesting ad on my Facebook page the other day. I don't usually pay much attention to them, but this one stuck out. It was for a company called Try the World. Have you heard of it before?

Try the World is a subscription service in which the customer receives a new box every two months filled with culinary delights from specific location. For example, one month is Paris, and you may get macarons, Dijon mustard and salted caramels. The Venice box may contain truffle oil and limoncello bars. Each box also has movie and music recommendations, as well as a card with product descriptions and culture factoids.


I love this idea because it combines two of my favorite things: eating and traveling. One of the first things that Dan and I always do when in a new country is check out grocery stores and farmers markets. It is fun discovering new products (Speculoos spread!) or even familiar products marketed in a completely new way (green tea KitKats).


A really fun way to use this subscription would be to host a bi-monthly themed party with music, drinks, and whatever is in the box. I am tempted to try this subscription, but a few things are holding me back. Firstly, it is pretty expensive at $39 per box. Secondly, you can't customize the boxes for dietary restrictions or allergies. I would hate to pay that much money only to find I can't eat three of the seven items. And finally, the reviews haven't been great. People who received the boxes for free seem to have gotten much better, and faster service than the general public. The company is fairly new, so maybe I'll let them work out some of their growing pains before diving in.

I do think it's a promising idea though and could be a fun gift for someone who loves to eat and travel (hint, hint). What do you think? Have you heard of Try the World? Have you done anything similar? Let me know!

Company: Try the World
Cost: $39/month, every 2 months
Product: Includes 7-10 locally made/grown gourmet treats as well as cultural information and recommendations

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dallas Highlights

A few weeks ago Dan and I took a mini-vacation, sans kid, to Dallas. I grew up in a suburb of Dallas and my parents still live there today, but I haven't spent too much time downtown. This experience almost felt like Dan and I traveled to a new city.

We dropped Zahara off at my parents and prepared for my first time away from her (other than this 18 hour date). Our agenda: eat, sleep and drink. We had three nights to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. I realize that sentence sounds ridiculous if you don't have kids. If you do though, you know exactly what I mean. I felt like Mel Gibson in Braveheart...FREEDOM!!!

Here are some highlights from our trip. As a sidenote, Dallas has a ton of wonderful museums and sights. We didn't see any of them.

Best Drinks:
We went to two fantastic cocktail bars. My favorite was the Midnight Rambler. This "craft cocktail salon" is nestled inside the trendy Joule hotel. The charm to places like these is that the bartenders (known as mixologists) can create custom drinks based on your preferences, using ingredients like egg whites, homemade bitters and exotic liquors. The Midnight Rambler has an extensive menu categorized by drink profile--I preferred sour while Dan enjoyed aromatic.

Midnight Rambler

I definitely recommend sitting at the bar and getting to know the mixologist. Ours, Zach, was incredibly professional and passionate about his craft. He is a trained lawyer who gave up law to pursue his passion. I started with a drink off the menu (the Savory Hunter*, which I highly recommend!), and then Zach custom made drinks based on my preferences. He had as much fun experimenting as I did. I discovered I love drinks with cucumber and a clear alcohol (vodka or gin).

Another fun cocktail bar was the small, difficult to find Parliament. I loved the dark, speakeasy atmosphere, but I wasn't as successful with my drinks here. I think it just came down to personal taste differences with the bartender. Dan loved it though, and it was fantastic people-watching.


Best Food:
By far the best meal we had in Dallas was at Mesomaya. I grew up with Mexican food, and this was as good as it gets. We ordered cheese enchiladas and a roasted beet salad. First of all, who would think of beet salad as a traditional Mexican meal? But it worked! The beets were sweet, the cotija cheese was salty, and the lime dressing was perfectly acidic. The cheese enchiladas were fresh and not at all greasy. Dan enjoyed his avocado margarita. I could eat here every day.

Mesomaya avocado margarita

Best Spa:
Ok, so we only went to one, but I can't imagine a better spa experience than the Ritz Carlton. Sure, it's pricey, but you get what you pay for. It was such a luxurious, relaxing experience. The Ritz has all of the features you'd expect from a high-end spa; a whirlpool, a steam room, a sauna, a relaxation room. Upon arrival you are given a mimosa, along with a terrycloth robe and slippers. They also have a huge bowl of gummy bears! The facility is segregated by gender, so Dan and I spent most of our time apart but shared a couples massage. It was glorious.

Best Hangout Spot:
The weather was not great. It was cold, rainy and very windy. We tried to make the best of it and headed out to the Farmer's Market. I have fond memories of this place as a kid, but it's currently under construction and was a big let-down. On the way back to our hotel, we just wanted to sit, read and drink tea. The Weekend at the Joule was the perfect spot. It's in the lobby of the hotel (just a floor up from the Midnight Rambler) and is filled with artfully placed couches and chairs. We sat for more than three hours drinking chai tea, chatting with hotel guests and generally enjoying a baby-free lifestyle. It was amazing. And be sure to check out the unique book store, the Taschen. The 3D "Big Book of Breasts" was quite interesting.

Since my parents live in Dallas, this is definitely something we can do again. Any favorite spots we missed? Let me know!

* The Savory Hunter: lemongrass and kafir infused gin, lime, coconut, cilantro, thai chili

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

First Time on the Ice

We celebrated our neighbor's fifth birthday this weekend with Zahara's first trip to the ice skating rink. Once again, her natural daredevil attitude took over and she showed no fear. She LOVED it! 

Dan and I were more nervous than she was. We haven't been skating in years and we were a little unsteady on our feet. Zahara did great though. She was laughing and saying "more ice skating!" over and over. It was a real struggle to get her off the ice.

She couldn't quite skate on her own yet, but I think if we went back a few more times she would be zooming around the rink. We saw a few kids her age who were in the middle of a lesson. It is so awesome to see what kids can do. Without question they were better than I am.

This was also Zahara's first big-kid birthday party. We've made the rounds last year for all of the first birthdays, but this was the first with lots of big kids. As a special treat, we let Zahara have some pizza and cake. Who is surprised that she loves it? Oh right, no one.

What a fun day! I love my fearless baby!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dear Zahara: 20 Months

Dear Zahara,

Happy 20 months! What fun we've had! Your imagination and thirst to interact with the world astound us. A favorite game of ours now is to play shop where I pretend to be a customer at your store. You'll tell me what you sell--apples, bananas and bread, for example--and I'll ask to buy them. Sometimes you'll sell them to me, but sometimes you crack us up by saying, "no, gone." Apparently your store is in communist Russia. Or maybe in DC during a snow storm.

You also love to cook. We have a step stool that you love dragging out of the pantry and pushing to the counter. You climb the stairs and "help" me cut by holding my hand while we chop. Shaking spices into a bowl, pouring that bowl into a pot and then stirring the pot is one of your favorite activities.

Another example of your amazing imagination is your new "ship." We had a large cardboard pallet from our last trip to Costco sitting out for recycling. You pulled it into the living room, climbed inside and declared that it was a ship. We drew windows on the inside and you narrated what you saw through them: fish, turtles and water. So clever!

Painting Valentine's cards

I know I'm just bragging now, but it's my right as a parent to do so. You can count to 10! It is so fun to listen to you count everything. And, you know a lot of your letters too. The other day we were walking in a parking garage and you stopped and pointed out an "O" and a "P." They were spelling out the word "stop" on the ground.

Not only do you have an ever-increasing vocabulary, but you are starting to form two- and three-word sentences more frequently. You really have the imperative command down: get up, sit down, find me, have it... You're pretty bossy, actually. Who can refuse you when you're so darn cute though?

You are just an absolute joy and we love watching you grow into such a funny, smart and engaging toddler. Happy 20-months!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pantry Door Makeover

A couple of weeks ago we went to Nick and Laura's house for brunch to see their new house. Nick, a former member of Spouses on Sabbatical, is no stranger to house projects, and Laura is pretty crafty too. They've put a lot of work into the house already and it looks great. One of my favorite features is the chalkboard calendar in the kitchen. When Dan saw it he asked if we could do something similar in our house. Another excuse to play with chalkboard paint? You don't have to ask me twice! It's not like I have a slight obsession or anything.*

This is a super simple project that is low cost, low time-commitment and makes a big impact. Here's what you'll need:

  • Mini-roller and pan
  • Rust-Oleum black chalkboard paint
  • Painter's tape
  • 2 inch brush
  • 150 grit sandpaper
  • Touch up paint for the door
The first thing to do is pick out a spot for your new chalkboard; I chose the outside of our pantry door. The door is basic builder-grade quality, but I like the framed out arch. If you have a plain door with no architectural features, consider making some. Use craft paper to create the shape you want your new chalkboard to be and use that as a template to give your chalkboard a little more character. Just tape the paper on the door and lightly trace with a pencil. Then place painter's tape on the outside of the lines and paint inside. 

If your door already has a natural frame like mine, place painter's tape on the outside edges. Press hard on the tape to ensure it has a good seal. Pay special attention around curves. I removed all the hardware from the door because the handle jutted into the area I needed to paint.

Next, lightly sand the surface to help the paint adhere better. I used 150 grit.

Gently mix the paint and pour a small amount into your pan. A little goes a long way, and you want thin, even coats. I did three coats and barely used 1/5 of the can. I let each coat dry for at least two hours before re-coating. 

First coat

Second coat

Remove your tape while the last coat is still wet. It helps to prevent paint from peeling off with the tape.
Third coat

I have to say I am a little disappointed with the ScotchBlue tape. My edges were not as crisp as I had hoped. The arch was actually terrible. I'm sure that is partly user error.

Hopefully you can skip this step, but after my last coat was dry I taped around the inside of my chalkboard to touch up the edges. This time I used Frog Tape and a 2 inch paintbrush.

The hardest part of this project came next: waiting for my chalkboard to cure. I waited three full days to make sure it had time to harden. Then it was ready for seasoning. This is a really important part of the process. Seasoning makes sure that you don't end up with ghost writing, where your writing is still visible after you erase it. I learned this the hard way from my mistake in my chalkboard platter.

To season your board, take a piece of chalk and rub it vertically, then horizontally all over the board. The goal is to get into every nook and cranny. This is a pretty dusty affair, and I went through a couple of pieces of chalk. When you're done coating the board, wipe away with a dry paper towel or cloth. If you want the board to look like new again, wait a few days and then use a damp (not wet) towel.

Now it's ready for the glorious art (ha!). I wanted a calendar up top and a place for Zoey to draw on bottom. I went to my best friend Pinterest for some inspiration and came up with this. I am pleased as punch with it and can't wait to update it every month. Hopefully I'll get better and more adventurous with my chalkboard art. I'll keep you posted!

I can't get over what a big impact it makes for less than $20! I am still building my supply stash back up after leaving some things in England so I pretty much had to buy everything for this project. I imagine most people will already have a lot of these supplies.

Budget breakdown:
  • Wooster Pro Mini Roller Kit: $8.35
  • Rust-Oleum Chalkboard Paint: $4.83 (scored at 50% off with a coupon)
  • ScotchBlue Painter's Tape: $0 (already owned)
  • 3M Pro Grade Precision Sandpaper in 150 grit: $3.97 
  • 2 Inch Paint Brush: $0 (already owned)
  • Latex paint: $0 (already owned)
  • TOTAL SPENT: $17.15
* You'll tell me if this is starting to get out of hand, right? I can't help it. Chalkboards are so easy and fun!

Previous chalkboard projects:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Food for Thought

I came across an interesting article earlier this week that I couldn't wait to share with you. It's called "Death to the Chicken Finger: How we created an entire generation of unsophisticated, picky eaters — and why we must stop the tasteless cycle."

The premise of the article is that North American children are increasingly becoming picky eaters because we, as a society, are allowing them to. Through the prevalence of kid's menus at restaurants, limited choices at school cafeterias, and "fun" snack foods, the author, Adam McDowell, argues that by automatically assuming what types of food children will and will not eat, we are limiting their cultural experiences and potentially harming their future relationships with food.

Dan and I love food. We love eating it, cooking it and talking about it. We've tried to raise Zahara with a similar appreciation. Though her first introduction to solid foods was puréed sweet potato, she quickly told us that she preferred to eat what we were eating. And so began our journey with baby led weaning.

By the time Zahara had turned a year old, she had already sampled foods that many adults would shy away from: raw mackerel, pickled herring, beets, curried chicken, sushi...the list goes on.

I am fully aware that every kid is different and that we got lucky with our wonderful, adventurous eater. And I realize that even a great eater will generally go through a picky phase at some point. In fact, McDowell brought up a really interesting point I had never heard before about why toddlers will often begin refusing vegetables. He says it is a remnant from our hunter-gatherer days: "Children who are just learning to walk are also mobile enough to start grabbing a fistful of wild plant material to jam into their mouths — which could be poisonous..."

Despite the article's title, McDowell doesn't advocate ending all "kid's food." The problem, as he sees it, is that when restaurants put the same basic foods on every kids menu, they are automatically assuming that kids will only eat those foods. And that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If kids see that they are only supposed to eat chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, they may reject "adult" food without even trying it. Instead, he encourages parents and schools to advance their children's palates the way the French do:
Here are some rules for French children, as enforced in the cantines scolaires (school cafeterias) that are standard throughout the country...: A child is not forced to eat any particular food, but won’t get an alternate choice. Parents and educators don’t make a big fuss when children refuse; they just take the dish away and try again another time. When the next meal comes, the adults figure, the kid will be hungry enough to try anything. And if the next meal is dinner, the child is likely to have at least one parent there to help him or her along. The French also avoid scheduling children’s lessons and activities for weekday dinnertimes.
Again, I recognize that each child is different and, knowing from the personal experience of my best friend, not every kid will eat when they are hungry. Parents should make the best choices for their children. But, as a whole, we as a society should encourage our kids to explore the world through food.

I don't think the solution to a generation of picky eaters begins with reforming restaurant menus; I think that change needs to happen at home. However, why can't restaurants make a better kid's menu? There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a kid's menu. Smaller portions at a smaller cost that comes with a toy? Great! But, instead of offering the same few choices, let's add a roasted chicken drumstick or a chickpea curry. Good food doesn't have to come in the shape of a dinosaur.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snow Day!

This weekend we were treated to a big, fluffy snowstorm! This was the first big storm of the season for DC, though it paled in comparison to what our friends in Boston have been getting. Still, by midday we had several inches of snow and Zahara couldn't wait to explore. She literally dragged me by the hands yelling "snow!" and "outside!" The girl knows what she wants; who am I to stand in her way?

I thought she'd only last a few minutes outside, but she was having the time of her life. Even when she fell tush-first in the snow, she held out her arms for me to pick her back up, and on we went. We were ill-equipped for snow though. Our first outing was to our neighbor's house to borrow some boots (thanks Sarah and Kai!). The boots definitely helped, but her legs were practically frozen solid by the time we got back in. Our second trip out was to borrow a snowsuit from another neighbor (thanks Gary and Rebecca!). She was much warmer and drier after that.

This is the stuff memories are made of. We had so much fun out there. Sadly, all the snow melted by the next morning. Maybe it will snow again soon? I hope so!