Wednesday, October 2, 2013

We moved!

Kid Cultivation has moved! Please click the link to visit us at our new and improved site:


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Blue Apron Review

You know the drill. It's 6:30 and you just got home from work or school or the PTO fundraiser or the dentist or the ridiculous playground that has the water feature right next to the massive muddy sand pit - quite possibly all of the above. The kids are starving, there's sand in everybody's underpants and you just realized you're out of garlic and you forgot to thaw the pork chops. The takeout menu drawer is beckoning. Pizza. Subs. French fries. Burritos. Maybe Thai food if you're lucky. Not exactly health food and probably not all that delicious either. But doesn't have to be that way. Have you heard about Blue Apron, yet?

Blue Apron is a complete meal-based grocery delivery service. Basically, a team of culinary specialists put together creative, seasonally-inspired recipes for three complete meals each week so you don't have to. You choose from a vegetarian or carnivore option. Once you've placed your order, you receive a grocery box shipped directly to your home containing everything (and I do mean everything!) in the exact quantities you'll need to prepare three complete meals for your family.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of trying out the service firsthand when the folks over at Blue Apron sent over a free box as a gift for our family to try out. Check out the goods!
We selected the meat/fish/poultry option. Everything arrived in great condition in a sturdy, well-insulated box. The meat and fish were ice-cold, vegetables ripe and unbruised, and even the fresh herbs you see above arrived vibrant, green and fresh. That's no small feat shipping from NY to Chicago! I was seriously impressed with the packaging.

The KC kids weren't nearly as impressed with the packaging as they were with the box contents. They unpacked the whole thing shouting out ingredients and trying to match the food to its corresponding recipe. Looly claimed the experience of unpacking the box was like "Food Christmas." Not a bad reception from the 7-and-unders.
To be honest, I wasn't sure Blue Apron was going to work for us. Ten years ago, pre-kids, when we were both working full time, Mufasa and I would have been all over something like this. But these days, I like my cookbooks and food magazines. I look forward to browsing and selecting recipes to try. And really between picky kids, food allergies and 5 mouths to feed I just wasn't sure I wanted someone else planning our supper. But then this happened:
Cod with Pickled Grapes & Summer Succotash from Blue Apron
I thought that might get your attention. Beautiful, right? The rainbow of produce, crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside seared cod, pickled grapes. Sure, we cook like that sometimes...on the weekends. But see, here's the thing. With Blue Apron, that was Tuesday night dinner. Tuesday, people!
Stuffed Squashes with Caesar Salad from Blue Apron
And how about Friday night's stuffed squash? 

One of the best parts for me was how excited the kids got. They loved having colorful recipe cards to follow with a photo that looked exactly like our finished product.
Having all the ingredients pre-measured and at the ready made the whole experience of cooking with kids fast and totally painless. And no last minute grocery store runs for tomato paste or garlic required!
Roo sauteing the succotash
Looly was so inspired to help she even volunteered to wash the dishes, so yeah, thanks, Blue Apron!
Our third meal of the week was Chicken Tikka Masala and overall, we were slightly underwhelmed with it compared to the other two meals. In fairness, however, Mufasa is Indian and we live in a city where we can order excellent Chicken Tikka Masala from a slew of fine restaurants (2 within walking distance) on any given night so perhaps we're more than a little biased. It still served its purpose and there were hardly any leftovers to speak of.

I did run into a couple of minor issues preparing the meals throughout the week. First, since Roo is allergic to eggs, we opted not to use the mayonnaise that was provided for dressing the Caesar salad and instead subbed an egg-free canola-based "mayo." The dressing was still garlicky, lemony and totally spectacular. Second, I didn't get around to making the stuffed squash and Caesar salad for a few days after our box arrived by which time the chicory was showing its age. We subbed fresh lettuce from our CSA box instead.

On the whole, Blue Apron offers an innovative, feasible solution to the weeknight dinner conundrum. What do you do when you don't have the time and energy for full on healthy family meal planning and a grocery store run but you don't want to succumb to the the take-out trap. Blue Apron makes fresh, creative, wholesome home-cooked meals accessible and easy.

The recipes are healthier and tastier than what you'd receive with most take-out. The meals are scalable to your family's size and appetite, meaning you won't be left tossing out tons of leftovers or half-heads of rotten cabbage. You can subscribe or cancel the service any time, and at $9.99 per person per meal, it's not any more expensive than what we would end up paying at a family restaurant in our town. So why not bypass the burger joint this week and give Blue Apron a try?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Egg-Free Cinnamon Spice Chocolate Chip Pancakes

A few years ago, reeling from the realization that Roo could not and likely never will be able to consume eggs, I couldn't help wallowing in a warm bath of self-pity. No more leisurely mornings at our favorite pancake house. No Christmas morning french toast casserole. No summer strawberry cream cheese brioche bake. No farmers market donuts. No crepes, waffles, breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros or egg sandwiches. What were we going to do with ourselves on weekend mornings?!
Practicing their Cups
Bean sports weekend morning hair like nobody's business, am I right?

Thankfully I've gained a little perspective over the years. I've learned that Roo seems to do just fine with eggs at the table as long as he doesn't personally ingest them. We still don't risk cross contamination by going out for breakfast if we don't have to, but Christmas morning french toast casserole has retained its rightful place in the holiday line-up (thank gawd!). Don't worry. Roo always gets extra bacon. And usually chocolate.

As for the weekend staples, we've been able to adapt much more painlessly than I ever could have imagined. Egg-free pancakes? No problem!

Egg-Free Cinnamon Spice Chocolate Chip Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 & 1/2 tbsp baking powder (yes, tablespoons)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup chocolate chips
butter, maple syrup, whipped cream, powdered sugar, berries, or extra chocolate chips to serve

Start heating a griddle or heavy frying pan over medium heat. Whisk together first 6 ingredients (flour-salt) in a large bowl. Pour the milk and oil into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. A few lumps are fine.

Use a ladle or measuring cup to spoon about 1/4 cup batter onto the griddle (or use a tablespoon to make super-mini pancakes like Mufasa). Scatter a few chocolate chips on top of the wet better. When the surface is dotted with tiny air bubbles, flip the pancakes and cook the other side until golden brown. Serve with butter, syrup, whipped cream, powdered sugar, berries, extra chocolate chips or my favorite - plain.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lemonade Stand for a Cause

I knew it was going to happen eventually but I put it off as long as I could. It's not that I'm a total lemonade stand scrooge. I stop at other kids' lemonade stands all the time, thirsty or not, but something about accosting a slew of commuters coming off the train who have no choice but to walk within two feet of a lemonade stand on our busy street while 3 adorable children smile expectantly in their direction seemed a little like neighborhood harassment.

But the KC kids kept pushing and negotiating and insisting. They won. Incidentally, that's also their strategy for selling lemonade and it's highly effective.
To abate the sting of steep prices ($1 a glass!) and in hopes of instilling some strong core values in my little entrepreneurs, I suggested they donate their profits to a good cause. They agreed on our local food pantry. I said I'd match whatever they raised.
I knew they'd have fun squeezing lemons, drawing a sign on the dry erase board, chatting up the neighbors and serving paper cups of their own icy tart lemonade. What I didn't count on was the multiple trips to the grocery store we'd end up making to keep up with the mad afternoon rush. I didn't count on the generosity of our neighbors or that of my kids who kicked in the contents of their piggy banks to seed the cash box. And what I really didn't count on was the hundred dollars they would make!

Sure that $100 included the change they started with and I kicked in the cost of the lemons and extra bag of sugar. But seriously, folks, $100 from a freaking lemonade stand! You've never seen 3 kids beaming with more pride...or gleaming with a stickier coating of simple syrup.
Today we wrote the check. $100 from them, $100 from us along with a donation matching gift form from Mufasa's work and that little lemonade stand turned into $400 for our local food pantry! Not a bad showing for an afternoon's work from 3 kids without work permits.

So, it looks like we have a new annual event on our schedule. How about you? There's still plenty of time for a summer lemonade stand in support of your favorite charity. Who's with us?!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Beaches Negril Resort Allergy Review

A few weeks ago we embarked on our first international travel since 3 kids and Roo's food allergies joined the family. In case there was any doubt, traveling with food allergies is daunting - nuts nestled  in airplane seat crevices, unfamiliar restaurants, driving 15 miles out of the way in search of a well-stocked grocery store only to discover you made a wrong turn 9 miles back...uh-huh.

Traveling out of the country can feel downright impossible. I'm here to tell you it's not. At least for us, at this point in time, with our current set of allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and peaches) we have proved it not only possible, but dare I say...enjoyable.
We selected Beaches Negril Resort and Spa based on several positive reviews we read regarding the handling of food allergies. Beaches touts a no worries to food allergies stance and that's really great except we all know it's a big fat lie. There is always some worry with food allergies. Always. That said, Beaches Resorts have made a commitment to take food allergies seriously and are making a concerted effort to welcome and accommodate guests with special dietary needs. Rock on, Beaches!
We notified the resort several weeks in advance of our visit about Roo's allergies and received an email confirmation that they would be able to accommodate his needs. Upon check-in we reminded the staff of his allergies, which had not been notated anywhere in our reservation but turned out not to be necessary. Within a few minutes, we were meeting with the resort's head chef who gave us a rundown of allergy protocol and assured us that Roo would be able to find safe things to eat throughout the week. Nice, right?

At each resort restaurant we informed our server or a manager that we had food allergies. A few minutes later, a chef would come to our table to discuss safe options. At the buffet style Mill restaurant, a chef was available to walk us through the buffet line pointing out which items were safe and those that weren't. Overall, Roo didn't have problems finding things to eat. Special thanks to Chef Conray who went so far as to prepare delicious egg-free, nut-free, fruit-filled muffins especially for Roo which turned out to be some of the tastiest treats any of us had on the trip. Talk about going the extra mile!

Our beachfront suite was large enough for the five of us and had a mini fridge and microwave. We brought along plenty of safe snacks and microwavable foods just in case but ended up barely using any of it. Best of all, no one ever seemed inconvenienced in the least if we asked to double or triple check to make sure certain items were safe. The kids particularly loved eating at the tappenyaki style Kimono's restaurant one night where our chef was careful to avoid eggs and nuts for us as well as onions, due to another traveler's allergy.

I should point out that while the food is ample and edible, it is not gourmet. I don't know about you but on a trip when I'll be spending 70 percent of the time in my bathing suit, gourmet meals are not a huge priority anyway. 24-hour access to soft-serve ice cream at Sweeties was enough for me, thank you very much. For us, food safety and sustenance were the priorities and Beaches Negril delivered on both accounts.
We tried to be smart at the buffet and avoided areas where there was high potential for cross contamination from peanut-butter, eggs, etc. Roo enjoyed packaged cereal, bacon or sausage, cheese, and fruit for most breakfasts and there were always options available to him at lunch and dinner (pasta, chicken, quesadillas, etc.). 

The Venetian was hands down our best meal of the week though surprisingly it was the least accommodating restaurant we tried in terms of allergies. Our waiter checked with the chef regarding our allergies and we were told he would make spaghetti and meatballs for Roo. Luckily, that's what he wanted anyway but we were not provided any other options. Despite the claims to the contrary, I couldn't get past the notion that there could be egg in the meatballs so Roo skipped the meatballs, ate the pasta, marinara, and extra Parmesan. He was happy and satisfied to the point that the rest of us were able to enjoy dessert - pumpkin doughnuts, chocolate tart, and tiramisu while he sucked on a ring pop I brought along in my purse. 
Looly relaxing at The Venetian
The bottom line is be smart. Be prepared. Be gracious. Notify the resort in advance of your needs. Be specific. Remind, remind, remind - everyone and every time. Bring along several packs of epipens. The resorts are located far from the nearest hospital. Better safe than...well, better safe, okay? Express gratitude and remember names. Don't assume ingredients are the same abroad as they are at home. Bring back-up. We brought an entire suitcase packed with safe foods just in case. We ended up not using most of it, but it was so much more relaxing knowing we had it available if we needed it. 
To be fair, after reading a few complaints from other visitors to Beaches Negril, I concede the following. It's Jamaica. And it's the tropics. There is extreme poverty in many areas. There are bugs. Milk comes in a box and according to Bean tastes different than milk in the US. The driving is chaotic. It's hot and humid. The birds tend to visit the open air restaurants for their breakfast too. All true. But, guys, it's the tropics!

There are enormous sparkly pools, a lazy river and water slides, breathtakingly clear azure seas, the softest coconut white sand that doesn't burn your feet even at high noon, multiple swim-up bars, fruity rum lunch, a warm, gracious, enthusiastic staff to cater to your every whim, palm trees fluttering in the breeze, and smiling, dripping, sun-exhausted kids. Relax and enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thunderstorm Orzo Salad

These two love the rain. The more lightening and thunder, the better.
 This one...not so much. 
When the sky gets dark and the rumbles start, Bean tends to look like this. Pathetic, I know. At least it's not bed time. That's the worst. Well, it's the worst right after the fingers in her ears all-out screaming attacks that occur every time we get a middle of the night storm.
Bean requires more than a little distraction to cope with the booms. Like, a whole lot of boiling, chopping, stirring, whisking, pouring kind of distraction. Come on, Bean. Let's go make a salad while these guys look for worms.
Thunderstorm Orzo Salad
inspired by Cooking Light

1 cup orzo or other small pasta
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled (divided)
1/4 cup red wine vinaigrette (recipe below)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse in cold water. Combine the cold pasta, spinach, onion, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and 3/4 cup of the feta cheese in a large bowl. Pour the red wine vinaigrette over the top and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with remaining feta sprinkled on top. 
Red Wine Vinaigrette

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp agave (or honey, or granulated sugar)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more to taste, I prefer a vinegary vinaigrette)

Combine the vinegar, mustard, agave, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream whisking all the while until you have a thick, tasty dressing. Serve on the orzo salad above or crisp baby greens.
The worm hunters back in time for dinner.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Old-School Buttermilk Fried Chicken

In an effort to be both hip and timely my book club read The Great Gatsby last month. It was going to be, well, great. Cool, smart ladies reading classic fiction we hadn't looked at since high school, putting on lipstick, heading out to see Baz Luhrmann's much-hyped film, chatting it over with ice cold gin and tonics afterward. I could almost feel the cigarette holder between my fingers, not that I smoke, but we were just going to be that awesome.

But apparently we forgot. We forgot that we're not 16 anymore with endless summer stretching before us. We forgot the obligations. Work. Travel. Spouses. Pets. Kids. Oh, and some of us need to be in bed by 10 pm. So the movie never got seen. Not by any of us. And then it was gone. Out of the theaters while we were still making our great plans. Awful, right?

At least we still have book club. And this plate of cold fried chicken.
You know the scene? Tom and Daisy huddled at the kitchen table shortly after the accident, a platter of cold fried chicken between them. This is symbolic fried chicken, people.

In keeping with Gatsby, this is old school fried chicken - shake it in a paper bag and deep fry it old school. No Corn Flakes. No oven "frying". No rushing. Old school fried chicken takes time. First there's a leisurely herb-scented buttermilk bath.
Then a slow fry. Resist the urge to make your oil too hot or you'll end up with burnt on the outside, raw on the inside chicken. Nobody wants that. Keep the oil right around 325-350 degrees. Adjust the heat accordingly as you work. Don't speed it. Savor the process. Then eat the chicken. And remember, there's always Netflix
Old-School Buttermilk Fried Chicken
adapted from

3 pounds chicken pieces (I used 12 drumsticks)
1 quart buttermilk
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 handful fresh thyme
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp Penzeys Black and Red Spice (or 1/2 tbsp cayenne and 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper)
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp seasoned salt
2-3 cups canola oil for frying

Whisk together the buttermilk, Tabasco sauce and cayenne in a large bowl. Toss in the onion slices, thyme and parsley. Place the chicken pieces into the mixture and marinate at least overnight (8-36 hours). Drain the chicken pieces in a colander.

Heat the oil in a large, deep, heavy pot over medium high heat to 350 degrees. Your oil should be about an inch and a half deep in the pot. 

Meanwhile, layer two large paper grocery bags, one inside the other. This is a great time to bust out the sturdy Whole Foods bags that you have stashed in a closet somewhere. Dump the flour, Black and Red, onion powder, and seasoned salt in the bag. Fold over the top a couple of times to seal the bag and give it a shake. Add the drained chicken pieces, reseal the paper bag and give it a few heart shakes to coat the chicken.

Working in batches, carefully place a few chicken pieces into the hot oil. Don't crowd them. Fry the chicken on one side for about 12-15 minutes then carefully flip each piece and fry the other side about 10 -14 minutes until crispy, golden and cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, or let cool to room temperature, refrigerate and serve it Gatsby-style. Cold.