An Exploration of Parenting by the Vowel

Fed Up with Sugar May 4, 2017

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 10:47 am

A few very important revelations occurred over the past ten days as part of the 10-Day Fed Up Challenge: 1. I’m slightly addicted to sugar 2. I need glasses.

The 10-Day Challenge to omit sugar from the diet for ten days with somewhat limited time to dedicate to the task of figuring out what is sugar-free, was a challenge indeed. I went into it with sheer will and determination, founded on frustration with how pervasive sugar is in our everyday lives. Starbuck’s April 19-23 #UnicornFrappucino craze was the tipping point for me (see my April 21 post here: Pink Unicorns and Purple Rain).


Sunday, April 23 – Prep Day:

I’ve never been a fan of weighing in on a scale while trying to get healthy. I’ve always occasionally weighed in at the gym, but my studio for the past nine months doesn’t have one. After an all-inclusive vacation, I didn’t need a scale to tell me I was out of line. But I did want to assess the impact of sugar reduction on weight so I bought a scale for the first time in my life. I saw my Pastor at Bed, Bath and Beyond so I figured getting off sugar was a sign from God.

I also added Pinterest back to my already overloaded phone with little storage. I created a sugar-free folder with recipes. I didn’t go to crazy — just four options. I headed to the store in search of low to no sugar options for me and low or lower sugar options for the kids’ breakfast over the ten days. This required some label reading, which is when I noticed my failing eye sight and got a bit frustrated with conversions I had to make (later in the week I would find out that #BigSugar continues to keep sugar as a percentage of calories for an item off the label — it’s not even there!)

Monday, April 24 – Day One:

Fruit and nuts. Until I could get my bearings on better choices, that’s what I stuck to for the first eight hours — banana, apple, almonds. Couldn’t really do my typical Noosa yoghurt… I did by plain Greek yogurt, but wasn’t in the mood for it. Mid-afternoon diced apples and tossed them in the crockpot to make steel-cut oats. It happened to be the day of my daughter’s confirm, so ate something light then for the 9:00p.m. dinner I opted for almond-encrusted walleye. Too bad the pizza at BurchSteak was so irresistible – might of had a slice… but I did refrain from dessert, which was no easy task.

Tuesday, April 25 – Day Two:

Edamomie_GCControlMissing my morning square of Ghiradelli with my coffee. Steel-cut oats instead — the mix from the day before had this odd gelatin consistency to it. The apples only slightly saved it. My 11YO, Calvin, chocked it down after adding several teaspoons of sugar. Baby steps. Walked by several coffee shops and just didn’t enter — the usual grande caramel macchiato did not fit the sugar-free lifestyle. In the late afternoon, I reached for my GC Control Select, which is designed to curb sugar cravings. I mixed a scoopful of the chocolate mix (pea-protein based) with my coffee. It kept me sane.

Wednesday, April 26 – Day Three::

Ventured into a coffee shop. I had to for a meeting. I just avoided ordering. What’s the point? Need to make more time to research options. I decide that it’s time to make the Spaghetti Squash Yakisoba dish, so I bake the squash and get the veggie prep rolling, then step back into my home office to work. I leave it all out for my husband and son to finish while Ava and I head out the door for her religion class. I set Calvin to task making pseudo pasta noodles out of the squash with a fork. (The next day, I would find all of the unprepped veggie semblance  tossed into one big plastic bag in the downstairs freezer — seriously!!!)


For the evening, I headed out to meet up with high school friends at one of our homes. Ummm… cheese is good, right? Also had chicken kabobs and a little arugula/ quinoa salad – delicious! And when my friend pulled out chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven, I literally melted. She offered to send a few home with me and I accepted. They are still in the freezer…

Thursday, April 27 – Day Four:

The kids are making me work the better breakfast angle so I scramble up some fluffy eggs for Ava before school. She is satisfied and might ask for those again. Before I head to meetings I quickly whip up the squash recipe (see day three), so it is ready later.

I notice that I’ve been reading a lot of labels as I pull things out of the cupboards at home and still not finding reassuring sugar content levels on labels. With 8 teaspoons (or a bit lower) and the sugar as  no more than 5% of our daily intake World Health Guideline (updated from 25% to 10% to 5% in 2014, after Fed Up documentary and more forced the issue), I’m really pondering natural (as the sugar found in fruits) and “added sugar” like fructose and the like that we in the last year have learned to avoid like the plague. I decided to stick to almonds and cantaloupe today. In the afternoon I mix up a GC Control coffee drink in the afternoon to power through high school registration with my daughter and host a wellness event. When I get home, I notice I’m not famished. I do immensely enjoy that soba dish and make the kids sit down and keep me company during my 8:15 dinner.

Friday, April 28 – Day Five:

I was enjoying my morning black coffee when Ava snapped me back to the breakfast I suggest as reward for the week – pancakes. The kids welcomed the change and early luxury weekend breakfast. I gave them the option of a small amount of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon, but they opted for syrup. Baby steps, but at least they finished off the last of the syrup, so my plan was not to replenish it (which I quickly did out of habit while doing the weekly shopping two days later….) Old habits! Reminder here: just keep the bad stuff out of the house.

After a very busy week, Ava heads to a friend for a sleepover and the husband is out, so my son reluctantly agrees to watch Fed Up with me. I am super jazzed because I’ve had to push if off all week and watching that the day prior to starting this challenge was sort of a key point. I think he agrees because he’s impressed with what I’ve been doing and might be starting to question his own sugar addiction (see the first failed attempt at a sugar intervention here). Fed Up, The Movie, is a historical look at health, food and fitness trends correlated with disease and the obesity epidemic. We take it all in — the stories and documentary-style tracking of several early teens on their journey to kick sugar. It’s all so frustrating and sad.

Saturday, April 29- Day Six:

Edamomie_ThatsItCouldn’t check out (nor really see well enough to read labels) at Starbucks when my place in line quickly came up. I grabbed an almond biscotti, That’s It fruit bar in apple and mango and ordered a tall Toasted Coconut Cold Hot Brew (I am confused how this is possible). I am sure it is not sugar free (later I find it online and realize it’s 8g), but it’s Saturday and I’ve been so good all week and it is 10:05a with only trace amounts of caffeine in my system. After reading the biscotti and That’s It labels, I couldn’t, in good faith, eat those. I tried to give them to my 12YO daughter, Ava, and she responded, Thanks, Mom, but I’m allergic to both apples and nuts. Good God, how can this be true? I am in denial.

We arrive home after her dance practice around noon and I pull out the Roasted Cauliflower Buffalo Bites and a side of chicken breasts sauteed in buffalo sauce I made the day prior. It’s a quick prep and satisfying meal — plus caters to a veggie my daughter can eat — cauliflower. The dip is white wine vinegar and worcestershire with sour cream and a wedge of blue cheese crumbled into the mix. Feeling quite good, really, on day six.

Edamomie_AuntAnniesI noticed the Auntie Annie’s Pretzel app prompting me to use my free National Pretzel Day coupon before it expired on Sunday. I looked for nutrition info on the app, but it’s not there. I did find it on the website — 10g of sugar in one original pretzel. Ignorance would have been bliss. The kids and I headed to the MOA to redeem — I am a sucker for any national day.

Sunday, April 30 – Day Seven:

I decided to hop on the scale for the first time since I’ve started the challenge. I’m down four pounds. Believe me I let the family know it. We headed off to church, said a few prayers about kicking the sugar addiction and figuring out a way to help those who fall victim to sugar the most — lower income families, kids with pizza and junk food still available in their schools and teens (specifically teen boys, who are the highest offenders).

We shopped for groceries for the week and tried to make better choices. Frankly, it was frustrating. I didn’t even buy marinara sauce. I added Greek yogurt and ingredients for another round of Mediterranean quinoa salad with arugula (which the family ate and seemed to like). We bought more fruit, veggies and threw in almonds and almond milk as well.

Monday, May 1 – Day Eight:

It snowed today. It would have been so comforting to curl up with a fancy coffee and a pastry today, but I held firm. The cravings didn’t seem as intense. I kept busy with work, a chiropractor visit and yoga. My friend, Carie, who intro’d me to the Sugar Summit, and I exchanged articles, texts and Facebook messages all week. She too was doing some label reading, started with better breakfasts and shopping fully organic, which she noted was about $45 more for the week’s worth of groceries.

Tuesday, May 2 – Day Nine:

Nearing the end. And while I didn’t go totally sugar-free and went overboard in a few instances, the diet I followed was dramatic enough to notice a difference for me. For today’s coffeeshop work session at Caribou I opted for a small cappuccino with almond milk (6g of sugar). I really enjoyed it and did not feel deprived — progress!

Wednesday, May 3 – Day Ten:

Today I noticed a calmness. I wasn’t panicked about what foods or beverages I would find or plan for that I could actually eat. I would make it through this day without a #SugarRush. One significant set back was waking up in the middle of the night a bit antsy, which is unusual for me. I worked for 1.5 hours, then went back to bed. I knew that I’d only get an hour of slumber, which can be counterproductive not to sleep a full 1.5hour cycle. My half-cup of coffee brought me nicely into my day, despite sleepiness. When this happens, a workout is the only thing that can reset me.

I whisked my daughter out the door to drop her off at school – it was my fault she was running 10 minutes behind and missed the bus. I had a chiropractic appointment then rolled into 9:30 yoga. It was intense, serene and blissful. Reset! I met up with a friend/ business partner for lunch at the new Barnes and Noble Galleria and indulged in the Avocado Toast (sounds simple, but truly heavenly). And since it was a beautiful spring day, Ava and I took Copper to the dog park when she got home from school. Being outside in the fresh air was a definite must to fight off afternoon lull. I opted for a 5:30 dinner (Mediterranean salad again!) and went with a 7:00 GCControl, which helped me power through the tasks involved with prepping for travel the next day.

TEN Days At-a-Glance:

I am SO happy I did the challenge. I didn’t get it perfect – that’s for sure. I did lose 6.5 pounds in 10 days, which is remarkable for me. I’ve always worked out 3-4 times a week and like to believe that offsets my sugar-indulgent diet. It does not. I’ve been able to lose 2-3 pounds in a month, but nothing as drastic as this. EVER. Clearly sugar is a factor and now I’ve learned some great info, can more readily discern labels on products and make better choices, especially when it comes to fancy coffee drinks, which for me was at the heart of the challenge and had the most impact.

I plan to enjoy a square of chocolate today. Overall, I’m going to stay committed to some of the changes I implemented over the challenge. I am very concerned about the state of sugar intake in America and the increasing obesity rates, diseases and allergies. There is so much to be done! I’m hoping I can influence my family to make better choices as well. Wish us luck on the continuing journey of life-long health and wellness!

— I would love to hear if you’ve taken the challenge and how it went and if not, I’d encourage you to look into it!


Pink Unicorns and Purple Rain April 21, 2017

Filed under: Eats,Independence — edamomie @ 2:56 pm

However it appears – in plain sight in the form of a Pink Unicorn, or hidden in marinara sauces or salad dressings – sugar is masquerading behind its feel-good mask.

But make no mistake, it is an addiction. Sugar is the new tobacco. We’re still fighting tobacco use and seeing a resurgence in labeling and awareness ads thanks to the introduction of vaping and the e-cigarette, but we can look to it as a model of how to handle our sugar education and intake. Is sugar addiction along the same lines as drug and alcohol abuse? Some argue no, but when this was all coming into public light in 2014, the Huff Post article quoted Dr. Lustig, the California doctor and creator of Sugar: The Bitter Truth, (2009 YouTube video with 7M views) as saying: “Every substance of abuse -– cocaine, heroin, you name it -– has required social or personal intervention,” says Lustig. “For sugar we have nothing, and my prediction is that we will need both.”

Social Intervention

PinkUnicorn_01Anti-tobacco campaigns could be repurposed – just swap out sugar. In fact, when I followed a link to Starbuck’s limited time availability Unicorn Frap, up popped a Stop the Start MN anti-tobacco campaign promo video sighting the dangers of tobacco companies’ appeal to teens through social media. Enter in the #PinkUnicorn.

Can you imagine the government cracking down on retailers and baristas and mandating that a portion of their profits fund anti-sugar campaigns? What might that look like? “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that sugar is harmful in significant amounts –- not necessarily because it’s high in calories but rather because it triggers a toxic chain of reactions in the body that produce harmful fats, hormones and other metabolic by-products. Sugar is a direct cause of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases, as well as obesity.”

Like any warning label, it’s one small (but significant) step in the entire picture. More education, better alternatives, consumer preferences spoken with their dollar, and social responsibility coming from a balance of government, business and consumer initiatives and actions is needed. A quick search revealed groups like the World Anti-Sugar Campaign, movements like Fed Up (2014 documentary on sugar complete with a 10-day challenge) and significant activity around this topic over the past two years.

Recently a friend of mine, Carie LaRock Allen (both of us moms of tweens and teens), invited me to join The Sweet Freedom Summit (Apr 10-17, 2017) to hear targeted talks from experts in their fields on the subject of sugar.

Personal Intervention

PinkUnicorn_02I tried to carve out as much time as a could to listen to these interviews. One that jumped out was a talk entitled Break Up With Sugar by Sara Vance, nutritionist and author. It resonated because she talked about it as a family affair and specifically addressed how our body develops a sugar addiction in childhood, which is intensified as kids grow into their teens. Teen boys are the highest offenders (Calvin, my 12YO, will soon fall into this category). They consume drinks full of sugar tipping their average daily sugar intake to 28.3 teaspoons (National Health and Nutrition Survey) when the daily recommended amount is 8 teaspoons. (See: Are Our Kids Eating Toxic Amounts of Sugar?)

I sat down with Calvin a few evenings ago to watch Vance’s video. He humored me, but afterward he lashed out — I’m active, What do you mean give up soda and sugary cereals? What am I supposed to eat?
Sugar intake has been a sore subject in our household for at least the past three years. It used to be that I could control it more, but with tween independence and a little spending cash, trips to Kowalski’s for soda and candy, etc I’m convinced I need to work harder and be more thoughtful in my approach with him. This kid loves sugar. I once found a bowl of cake mix, just dry cake mix with a spoon, tucked away in his room. I could site many other slightly appalling incidents, but the point is they need to make their own decisions and choose better.

I have a 14YO daughter too. Fancy coffee drinks, like the Pink Unicorn, are the enemy there. Maybe Starbucks and other barista bars could help us out with portion control and modifications to the norm? In my experience it’s hit or miss with the term “light whip,” but they mostly get my “half syrup” request correct (can we make that the norm?) Don’t even get me started on Shamrock Shakes.

I have a sweet tooth myself. I know it starts with parents as role models so I am going to take the 10 Day Challenge. This will mean giving up food and beverages like my beloved white chocolate mochas and my morning square of Ghiradelli. But not before I test out a Pink Unicorn…

PinkUnicorn_03I went in skeptically and came out pleasantly surprised, which is actually no surprise given my tastebuds. They went into sensory overload experiencing sweet and fruity to tangy and tart with a hint of sour in the powder. I ordered a “tall” 39 grams of sugar (or nearly 8 teaspoons, the max daily allowance) and strolled the block from Starbucks to First Avenue to see if Prince’s anniversary flowers were flooding the sidewalk. Not yet. It’s not even raining. I finished about half of my drink and give it a rest. Verdict: I am hopeful Starbucks keeps their five-day only whimsical drink just a passing fantasy. I’m already addicted.

For now, I’m doing the challenge and starting the family on alternate breakfast options. Say goodbye to breakfast out of a sugary box, especially if it comes with unicorns, leprechauns or Wonder Woman. Who’s with me? What’s working/ not working for you and your teens?

— #RIPPrince, In Minnesota, the unicorns should be purple.


Halloween Happy Hour October 30, 2016


Halloween Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

Halloween crept up on us this year. Last year we were scheming and sewing a month in advance (Queen of Hearts for a Day). This year’s Halloween prep was more spontaneous. It came together in one evening – Thursday the 27th – for a Halloween after school happy hour of sorts we planned to host Friday the 28th.

Calvin, my 11 year-old son, out of football and basketball for two weeks due to an injury, clearly sought another outlet for all of his excess energy. He channeled it into last-minute party planning inspired by Yummly, a place to search, archive and share sourced recipes from a whole host of top recipe sites like Delicious Table and Six Sisters’ Stuff.

After perusing Yummly for a half-hour, he saved 12 recipes into a folder we created in the Yummly app we titled Halloween ’16. I talked him down to seven recipes (after all, we hadn’t even invited anyone to the party that was to happen right after school on Friday). He made a spreadsheet and I quickly went through the ingredient list for each recipe. With our shopping list set, we were off to Target by 6:30p.m.

In addition to the ingredients, we picked up some treat bags and table decor and started our party project by 7:45p.m. The recipes that made the final cut included:
Halloween Chex Mix (Jam Hands)
Halloween Chocolate Pumpkin Cake (Aberdeen’s Kitchen)
Crescent Mummy Dogs (Pillsbury)
Halloween Graveyard Pudding Cups (Six Sisters’ Stuff)
Spider Oreos (La Jolla Mom)
Halloween Oreo Stuffed Brownies (Boston Girl Bakes) (the only one we didn’t make)
Haunted Halloween Witches Brew Party Punch (Delicious Table)


Mummy Dog Madness


Calvin would have stayed up into the wee hours if I hadn’t set a firm stop time of 10:00p.m. (in reality it was more like 10:30). He started with the Spider Oreos — pulling the Golden Oreo Double Stuffed cookies apart, placing the pretzel stick legs on the open-faced bottom of the cookie, adding some additional melted frosting (cream cheese) or what I like to call “baking glue,” securing the top and adding the mini M&M eyes.

Then we tackled the cake. Wow, 21 ingredients and way more elaborate than I anticipated. No going back now — this would be the main attraction. We mixed so much that my average mixer was fully maxed with enough batter to fill three 8″ rounds (a mixer the next size up is going on my Christmas list). While the cakes baked, we moved on to the Halloween Chex Mix, a thankfully simple recipe. Cal melted white chocolate chips in the microwave, measured 5 ingredients, mixed them up and placed on a cookie sheet to harden.

By this time it was already 10:15p.m. Cal signed off for bed, but not before reviewing the baking plan with me first: So you’ll finish the pudding cups and mummy dogs tonight? I confirmed that was the plan.

I was on my own. With a clean mixer ready for round two, I mixed the Halloween cake frosting including orange juice and sifted powdered sugar (of which I had exactly 4 cups, just as the recipe called for). This went into the fridge for the early morning frosting step after cakes had sufficiently cooled.


Halloween Treat-Eating Experts


Moving onto to the pudding cups, I mixed the chocolate instant pudding (dry mix and 2 c milk) and let it set while I took on the challenge of crushing orange frosting filled Oreo Double Stuffs. They do not crush well. I came back to the pudding mixture that set within 6 minutes and folded in the Cool Whip. The pudding mix then went into the clear small cups and the Oreo mix, painstakingly recrushed, comprised the next layer (regular Oreo crushing, much easier). The R. I. P. tombstone detailing and pumpkin candy adds would have to wait for the next day.

The cakes came out of the oven at 11:17p.m. and clean up began. I ended with a clearing of our dining room table and setting of the $3 Target orange and black striped tablecloth, spider web plates and napkins by midnight.

The next morning, Calvin and I were up a bit earlier than the ushe, frosting the cake. After softening the frosting made the night before in the microwave, I added the cakes layer by layer, spread the frosting and returned it to the fridge to set. We brought out serving platters and set up the treats we could — Spider Oreos and Halloween Chex Mix. He was then off to school and I off to work.

Of the handful of friends we invited Thursday late eve, three were able to attend. They were planning to come home on the bus so before Calvin left for school, he set some high standards for what I was to achieve during the day. I cautioned that I most likely wouldn’t be home, nor have the time. As it turned out, I arrived home 30 seconds before they did. We rolled with it.


Party Punch in Blood Red


The boys grabbed one of the snacks and disappeared for awhile. I finished the chocolate ganache frosting for the cake and set in all of the goodies, then it went back into the fridge to set. I then tackled the R.I.P. tombstones while Calvin popped in to make the Haunted Halloween Witches Brew Party Punch (3 ingredients — easy!). Next up, the mummy dogs. My 13 year-old, Ava, stepped in to help with the wraps and into the oven they went.

By 5:00p.m. Calvin’s last friend had arrived, so they all came to the table in a quick flash to sample all but the cake — that would come later. I headed out around 5:30 for an event and left my husband in charge. They were really quite an easy bunch. When I arrived home at 8:30p.m., all but one boy had left and remnants of cake enjoyed were scattered about the table. I cleaned up and enjoyed a piece of cake and a tall glass of milk, gathering energy to think about Halloween Phase II: costumes!

After all of the guests had left, Calvin and I recapped the eats. He thanked me many times during the process and after for taking the time and making the effort. It was fun to reconnect with him in the kitchen (see also #KidsintheKitchen – a hashtag to follow some of our ventures, on Instagram via @jengilhoi). We get into a rhythm and I appreciate and welcome his creativity as another collaborator to make baking and party planning fun. I’m seeing chef in his future…. A mom can dream.

— Here’s to more Halloween fun in years to come. Happy Halloween everyone!


A Fuller Fair Experience August 27, 2016

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 12:07 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

O: Outings

Our family of four fair-goers took on the MN State Fair yesterday in six hours. Now that our kids are 11 and 13, we’ve been in that six-hour duration sweet spot for the fair for the past four years (see 2012’s adventure: A Fairly Expensive Fun Factory). When they were little, visits lasted two hours — like why did we even go? I do notice, however, families with little ones and strollers who are in it for the long haul. Impressive. They must be out-of-towners. I am totally curious to see how those families do a 14-hour+ long day.



Monster Cotton Candy

This year’s six hour adventure — and it’s not like I time it at all — evolved much differently than even last year. The first factor was our #Valleyfair season tickets. After five visits to the Shakopee fair, we hardly needed to be in the Midway for rides. Instead, the kids selected one ride — The SkyFlyer swings — and waited in line and rode their ride while my husband and I ventured off seeking ends at RC’s BBQ (formerly Famous Dave’s). When we returned to our meeting spot, we were ready to enjoy the Midway for sport.


After texting a friend who claimed to have discovered the trick to the milk jug toss, dad applied the tips and took home this huge puppy, Pinky, for our 13YO, Ava, on his first try. It must not happen that often because the other dudes around the booth and the carnies stopped mid-toss in awe (Thanks, Dar!). And now we had this huge puppy to juggle through the crowds for the rest of day… another family tradition (it was minion Robert last year).


After the non-extended ride factor, the second biggest thing working in my favor this year for a fuller fair experience was the food-sharing factor. In years prior, the kids always wanted their own food and drinks. Now, we each do a top three list and merge our favorites and make sidebar stops if the items are on one of our lists. We all walk away happier with no tummy aches of the type that eating an entire monster bag of cotton candy will cause.


MPR Booth and #FreshFrenchFries


We arrived and settled into fair mode in traditional fashion with a trip to #FreshFrenchFries consumed next door at the #MPR booth. From there, fair food in totality equated to Red Baron Pizza, Monster cotton candy, Mouse Trap cheese curds, French Onion Monkey Bread, RC BBQ ends, Sweet Martha’s Cookies, Deep Fried Olives, pear soda, Cafe Caribe turkey drumstick, corndogs and lemonade. Not saying that everyone consumed everything, but it was close.


We walked five miles total, but if I had to calculate, we came nowhere near working off the fair caloric consumption. After our first loop through the food building, Midway and the Grandstand area, we hopped on the northbound sky tram that stretched over a half-mile. Great mid-fair break from the action and an ideal place to scope out the crowds and the opposing southbound tram travelers taking selfies. I’d venture to guess the 12-day fair has a record number of dropped mobiles.


Paul and Paula Bunyan


In the much less congested north fairgrounds we took in the Lumberjack and Lumberjill competitions at Stihl and the boys tested their skill at Bonanza rifle-shooting range. I was patient. I knew that this year might be my chance to get in the EcoExperience building and the Fine Arts building. It happened.


We spent time in EcoExperience checking out all of the latest developments from Citizen Environmentalists who can help track the flight of the Monarch butterfly to Paul Bunyan modeling a red hat and blue jeans made of donated red t-shirts and denim to advocate recycling. We wrote on a super smart Samsung refrigerator touch screen that turns expiration date issues into opportunities (here, make a recipe with all these items that are about to expire!) and took away some styling tips on a capsule wardrobe created by Arc’s Value Village in a #PaulaBunyan feminine denim theme.


Pinky the Puppy; Plans for Recycling


At this point, about five hours into fair fun, attention spans were waning a bit. The Fine Arts Building had a tucked away restroom that made for an easy stop and a way to intro the boys to the building. I gave a stern warning that I would spend some uninterrupted, nag-free time here before we moved on. I did. We saw the annual MN State Fair commemorative art and talented local artists. One repurposed bear, made of a slew of stuffed animals stripped to their basics, gave me an idea for our recent Pinky the puppy win. I heart functional art.


We left the building and rounded the curve by the International Bizarre. After some brief contemplation about the lengthy Midtown Global Market line for the fish of strawberry compote (Carpe Diem ice cream) by The Rabbit Hole, we decided against it. After all it was National Dog Day and our dog, @Copperdoodleroo, had been home alone for an extended time.


On one last thrill-seeking adventure, my 11YO son took a $4 scare tour on his own. We headed out with nary of viewing of an animal. A bit disappointing from my perspective, but in the past we’ve dealt with allergic reactions as a part of those visits so we chose to bypass this year. Oh well… maybe for next year’s #MNStateFairBucketList.


— Cheers to the Great MN Get-together and enjoying it with your families! 






A Twisted Princess Birthday Party June 7, 2014

E: Eats; O: Outings

When we last hosted a princess-themed birthday party, my daughter, Ava, was five. For her 11th birthday, the princess party in pink evolved to the Twisted Princess party. In years past, I had always taken the lead as party-planner. This year, I turned the reigns over to her. She handled it like a pro!


Party Planning

Princess Punch

Princess Punch

She made out a plan for the party including games, food, decor and sleeping arrangements and the main event – a trip to the movie theater to see Maleficent on opening night. We discussed theme options at length. Disney movies like Tangled and Frozen were too little girl like. Plus, every girl would want to be more individual and show their own style thus the Twisted Princess theme. We were going to do full hair and make-up to resemble a randomly selected princess, but our make-up artist (my sister-in-law, Katie), was not available. So Ava opted to throw princess options into a hat for her and five guests including Goldilocks, Snow White, Rapunzel, Alice in Wonderland, Gretel from Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella. They did their own make-up in frighteningly fairy tale style.


Eat Me Cupcakes

Eat Me Cupcakes

We chose eats and drinks for the party based on our princesses. Apple Orchard Punch (Drink Me!) and stacked frosted two-tier cupcakes (Eat Me!) from Alice in Wonderland went over particularly well. Snacks on hand included mini shortbread cookies from Hansel and Gretel and caramel apple slices inspired by Snow White. I’m not sure where Pizza Luce enters into a fairy tale, but I let that one slide. For breakfast the morning after, we went with porridge courtesy of Goldilocks and pancakes just because. Rapunzel and Cinderella did not make the menu.


Party Day

Six Twisted Princesses

Six Twisted Princesses

Per the usual, I am cleaning, running to Target and the grocery store several times and hitting up Party City the day before. Ava and I make the red velvet and white cupcakes the night before, I frost and decorate them the day of. Party City has some great theme decor, but Ava has outgrown a lot of it. I land on a pattern (Sweet Stuff) that has stripes and polka-dots and walk out of there with a huge fancy balloon and six smaller ones so each girl can have her own color.


I pick up Ava and two of her friends from school around 3:00 on Friday. The other two girls join around 4:30. Plenty of time for a full evening of fun! Pizza arrives around 5:15 then we load up and head to Southdale Center for the movie. The ride over is full of who likes who (or more like who doesn’t like who) in typical fifth-grade girl fashion. We get our tickets and then because we have time, rush the mall. I wasn’t prepared to see these girls so crazed about shopping – – I could not control them! After breezing through Len, See’s Candies and Francesca’s, we wrap it up and head back to the theater.



Shopping-Crazed Girls

Shopping-Crazed Girls

Maleficent starts with a promise of Disney magic and Angelina is amazing in high cheek bones, wings and horns. Much wrath, life-like tree fighters and a mythological world evoked scenes from Lord of the Rings and Avatar. The girls agree it was a good movie, but it did not leave them raving about it.


We arrive at our house post movie and the girls engage in an art contest – there are creators and judges. The rules: no winners or losers, every entry gets a “best of” award for something. How very diplomatic of them! … I personally love that it’s quiet for a short while. Then my 8 year-old son, Calvin, descends upon them to control the tunes. Then dancing.  We break for cupcakes (which served as her birthday cake) and more punch. On to a movie and more make-up. I leave them to their own. I head to bed and they are up until at least 1:00.


The next morning, we have some groggy girls. Some have to leave early for family stuff, sports and other activities. I am worn out from all of the planning and party and per the usual, could use a nap now!

— Happy 11th Birthday, Ava! We love you!



Layering it on to Land a Leprechaun March 17, 2014

A (Activities) and E (Eats):

6-Layer Rainbow Cake with Ladder to Access

6-Layer Rainbow Cake with Ladder to Access

Did someone say Pot of Gold? That’s what my 8 year-old son, Calvin, heard. We might not be more than 15% Irish, but for a chance at this said gold carried by a leprechaun, we attempted to make a trap to ensnare one of these little mischievous devils.


First, we baked a 6-layer Rainbow Cake. Inspired by Martha Stewart, but short-cutted like crazy thanks to Betty Crocker Vanilla Super Moist Cake Mix and Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting. One box mix divided into three equal parts made three 9 inch round cakes. The element of fun here was food coloring. My 10 year-old, Ava, was in charge of the color mixology and first up was purple, blue and green (see the video here (originally on Vine @jengilhoi)). Then we washed the cake pans, mixed again, divided and baked round two for yellow, orange and red layers. I usually spend a decent amount of time frosting the sides, but we had a different vision for this tower of cakes: high and messy. We skipped frosting the sides. To get cakes to layer correctly, I cut off the slightly rounded cake tops.


Rainbow Cake Testing

Rainbow Cake Testing

Second, we made white chocolate covered pretzel ladders using pretzel rods for the sides and thin pretzels for the ladder rungs. Super messy, but fun and kid-friendly. With one package of microwave-melted Candiquik white chocolate in a tray, Ava coated the pretzels, assembled them and hung them out to dry on parchment paper. These ladders would be the only way in which a 2-3 inch full-grown Leprechaun could access the cake.


Third, we broke into teams to design the traps using our cake bait. Neither kid wanted to be with me, rather they wanted to team with their Dad, the engineer. My feelings weren’t too hurt. He is highly experienced in shenanigans from his college days and has skill in weighted pulley systems and the like. To Ava’s dismay, we were once again a team. The criterion was that the leprechaun had to trigger something that set the course for events that would eventually end in his entrapment.


Ava and Mom's trap: Swing into Green Sea

Ava and Mom’s trap: Swing into Green Sea

Calvin and Dad’s trap was indeed elaborate and weighted. One sliding trophy on dental floss nearly took Calvin out in the testing process. I heard him cry out in pain. When their plan was presented, it include a wire trip that pulled a coat rack which then released a trophy that slid down the floss, knocked over a book that fell and slammed the trap shut. Ava was blown away.


Leprechaun Outsmarted MonsterHigh Ghouls and Frogger

Leprechaun Outsmarted MonsterHigh Ghouls and Frogger

Then it was our turn. We got points for style. Ours included a welcome sign, enticing Monster High ghouls, all sorts of mischievous items like tacks, granulated sugar, glue and ladders to climb up the multi-level tower. Once the top of the tower was reached, the leprechaun was to dismount the pretzel swing and land in a swampy sea of hot, green bubbles and drown. See the video overview here.


Neither trap caught a leprechaun. The leprechaun maneuvered through Ava and Mom’s trap, taking out the MonsterHigh Ghouls with tacks and out swimming Frogger to escape. Fooled again (see: Unlucky Strikes March 2011 blog post)! And now we have a ton of cake to eat too. Maybe next year we’ll get the gold!

For more images, see my Pinterest board (@jengilhoi) here. 


Cake Pop Culture February 16, 2014

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 3:20 pm
Tags: , , , ,

E: Eats

Up Close with CakePops

Up Close with CakePops

Cake pops have been on my radar for over a year. They just got some recent hype on February 1st during National Cake Pop Day, which proves they’re part of pop culture and here to stay. So what better sweet treat occasion than Valentine’s Day to test them out? In hindsight, I researched too much, got lost in Pinterest boards and overcomplicated it. The simple cake pop is a beautiful thing.


It’s really the perfect bite – actually three bites in one cake pop to be exact. In my opinion, it’s a better (less caloric) option than a sliver of cake or a cupcake with frosting whipped up into an insane tower that makes a dainty bite messy and nearly impossible. However, the cake pop is three times more labor intensive than your standard box cake mix spread with store-bought frosting.


Is it worth it? When I was up til 1:00a.m. making four dozen cake rounds in my NordicWare Cake Pop Baking Pan, I did not believe so. Each box cake mix for one 9×12 pan makes 48 cake pops. If I cake pop again, I might get another pan so turnover time is quicker. I had to wait 10 minutes in between 20 minute baking cycles to let them cool properly. The pan needed to be cleaned each time too.


Pops with Mustaches

Pops with Mustaches

You can also make the variety that doesn’t require the pan mold. You do this by making a standard 9×12 cake then mixing the finished cake with frosting and forming that into balls, much like a cookie, then dunking in frosting. I did make a yellow cake to test this version out, but the family ate it before I could come back to it two days later.


The cake pops we made were from a strawberry cake mix, for Valentine’s Day of course! Out of the 48 I made, only 25 actually made it to mustached cake pop art (when the yellow cake was gone, they started popping the unfrosted cake rounds). And because I waited four days, I also missed Valentine’s Day treat bags. It’s just how it goes sometimes. No mother guilt here.


I think I was hesitant to tackle the frosting because of burnout due to futzing with cake pop round baking. I also had to make another run to the store because the kids ate the white chocolate melting drops I bought last week (not helpful!!). So with a second round of Guittard Melt’n Mold White Chocolates melting in the pan, I called the kids to the kitchen for detailing duty. My son stuck the cake rounds in the center with the cake pop sticks, I dipped (and double dipped) them in white chocolate, drizzling the top and edges as needed, and my daughter sprinkled (Target brand white, purple pink and red four pack of Valentine’s Day Sugars), mustached (Wilton brand decorations) and resprinkled them.


Cake Pop Stand

Cake Pop Stand

The decorating was quite easy and much more fun than the baking portion. Although some of the cake crumbled off into the frosting by the last five pops, the others looked smoothly frosted. One tip I read somewhere was to make sure frosting covered the base where the stick and round connect – very helpful as it kept them from falling off. By assessing the rounds pre frosting, I thought they’d turn out smaller than your average Starbucks cake pop, however, they were comparable if not a little larger.


For a first attempt, we were satisfied. Note: I am not a baker or decorator (although I did work at a bakery for three summers while in college) so this is meant to be inspiration for the average non-baker to take on the cake pop. In the decor category, we could’ve added some eyes to the cake pop face, I guess. Ava, my 10 year-old, styled the shoot for the final cake pop photography and opted to stick them in an apple so they’d stand up in display mode. And our random pencil jar covered in mustache duct tape came in handy too. Clever!


For future, I’m taking decorating cues from Pinterest boards (see fishbowls, Valentines, rainbows, Frozen) and pinning them to my own Sweet Eats Pinterest Board, my sister-in-law’s cake pop book and a newly discovered cake pop and cupcake artist – Heather of Playful Cupcakeations. Ava and I liked the flavor combo, Calvin, my 8 year-old, commented that it wasn’t his favorite combo. I’m thinking chocolate cake pop with salted caramel frosting next time round.  Other yummy suggestions?


Mother’s Day Mayhem May 18, 2013

Filed under: Eats,The Unknown — edamomie @ 9:23 am
Tags: ,

U: The Unknown (Mothers Day Outcome) and E: Eats (Strawberry Cupcakes)

Last Sunday marked my ninth Mother’s Day. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it does not mean Day Off. Not that I don’t appreciate the Hallmark and florist-supported day, it’s just that expectations must be realistic. Unless you are at a remote getaway vacation slash spa trip with your girlfriends, you are probably going to have to do some of your normal tasks and chores. And children, despite their best angelic efforts, will slip back into their needy behaviors at times during your day. Here’s a recap of year nine.


Strawberry Cupcake Love

Strawberry Cupcake Love

Mother’s Day Eve Prep Work:

I’ve heard that some moms are pampered over the full weekend. Guessing that is not the norm. I work pretty diligently on Saturday – laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc – to make sure Sunday starts off on the highest note possible. This year I did four loads of laundry, shopped with my daughter, Ava, to pick up dessert recipe ingredients and made my fave spinach quiche ahead of time on Saturday = clean kitchen Sunday and an easy brunch.

Mother’s Day Morn

Did not sleep well the night prior – – up watching a romantic comedy til 1:00a.m. A few emotions and allergy triggers later, I awoke feeling low-energy and puffy. I hollered downstairs in usual form to my weekend morning tv-obsessed kids, “Church this morning! Come up in 10! I mean it!” Ava, my nine year-old, oft the most challenging to drag away, bounded upstairs and hopped into the shower. No sign of my seven year-old, Calvin. When he did surface, the little negotiator launched into the boringness of church and how he’d get much more out of religion if we could just stay home and read the bible for an hour. Just Ava and I went to mass.

Mother’s Day Late Morn

Home from church and the quiche is due out in five. At the table, everyone acknowledged the day and post-brunch I opened a framed photo of the family at my brother’s wedding, a red satin lipstick case and a babushka doll tea-strainer. Great. Thanks all. Now I can make my loose-leaf tea. And since we’re in the kitchen loading up the dishwater with brunch dishes, let’s just roll right into cupcake-making.
Ava loves strawberries and after a Saturday online recipe search for Strawberry Cupcakes and shopping for ingredients, she’s ready to dive in. There is a mixer, strawberry gelatin, strawberry jam and food coloring involved – what messy, colorful fun! Witness the strawberry cream cheese frosting dying process here:


This was a fairly time-consuming recipe to make and instead of the 12 cupcakes it said it would yield, we ended up with 26 cupcakes on our hands. The frosting also made way too much in my opinion, but then again, we just spread it on conservatively because we don’t have a fancy swirl-twister frosting-tipped dispenser or whatever its called.
Come to find out, the drive to make cupcakes came from her American Girl magazine, which cleverly showed the best way to eat a cupcake – – cut it horizontally across its mid-section and place the bottom portion on top of the frosting so essentially you have a frosting filled cupcake. Had I known this, we might have split the cupcakes first, then frosted their middles so the ends wouldn’t be as crumbly. Next time!

Mother’s Day Aft

The kids went outside to play, my husband ran some errands, and I fell blissfully asleep on the sofa in the sunshine, listening to the kids’ laughter from their outdoor escapades. For this, I was thankful.

Mother’s Day Eve

Calvin and I planted four plants I picked up from our school’s plant sale the day prior (one of which passed already on Tuesday in the 97 degree heat). I made a kid-friendly dinner (= microwave laziness!) around 5:30, then headed out at 7:30 to meet a co-worker, who’s also a mom, at a coffee shop. We agreed that it was a fairly good day and that getting a jumpstart on work for the week would allow us to sleep better that night.
I came home by 10:30, did the usual straightening and kitchen tidy-up, kissed the sleeping children on their cheeks, checked my inbox, unplugged and rolled into bed. A stellar day. One to be very thankful for.

— Happy Belated Mother’s Day! (delayed post due to normal duties post-Sunday May 12).


Winter S’more Variation January 27, 2013

Filed under: Eats — edamomie @ 5:11 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

E: Eats


12 Ingredient Recipe

12 Ingredient Recipe

On a Minnesota January Sunday Snowday, I don’t mind resigning myself to the kitchen for the day. Such is the case today. To lure the kids away from the constant call of electronics, we pulled out our Williams Sonoma The Cookbook for Kids recipe book on Saturday, put our list together and shopped. One recipe in particular looked so alluring sweets-wise, we all agreed we would make the S’more Cupcakes.


Typically thought of as a campfire treat in the summer, I love the idea of making this winter s’more variation. I have always had issues with summer s’mores anyway. My kids think I’m fussy, but the three rectangles of Hersey’s chocolate, two large square graham crackers and one cylinder marshmallow proportions always seem messy and not quite right to me. I do have my own solution for this, but it’s complicated….


Blending at Higher than Medium Speed

Blending at Higher than Medium Speed

Mid-afternoon we dive into this recipe. My 7-year-old, Calvin, wanders into the kitchen lazily to help. He perks up at the spread of ingredients and all the mixing, egg-cracking and batter-licking it will require. My 9-year-old, Ava, is curious, but not enough to leave her favorite t.v. personalities… yet. Calvin and I get started by lining the cupcake papers in the muffin tin and completing Step 1 (see below). We’re already two messy bowls into the recipe. Moving onto Step 2 – the blending – I do the pouring in of ingredients and he lightly guides the mixing bowl as it whirls around. The most fun being the flour mixture as it produces poofy whiteness contrasted by the liquid cocoa/vanilla/buttery mix.


We spoon the mixture into the 12 cupcake holders and have quite a bit left over which goes into a separate dish. Calvin then sprinkles the Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Chips on top (the recipe calls for one-fourth cup/ 1.5 oz – we use about one-half of a 11.5 oz bag). In the oven they go. We wait impatiently – turning the oven light on and off. About 5 minutes out, we make the frosting which is seriously yummy. I’m not even a marshmallow fan and I like it. A lot. Probably because it’s more dense and creamy (versus fluffy) what with three-fourths cup of butter and a half cup of powdered sugar. We don’t even have to crush the graham crackers as the recipe directs (this would actually be fun for kids) because I just bought the graham cracker crumbs instead. The recipe calls for a slight amount and we triple that, but I do only go with half the frosting. The point is, we can be a little creative here, kids!


Cupcakes - Completed and Ready to Eat

Cupcakes – Completed and Ready to Eat

Prematurely, I frost them before they’re cool enough (again, impatience!) and it makes for a mess typical of a summer s’more. If you make them – be sure to wait it out. As we taste and review, we all agree that we enjoy this variation on a s’more by our indoor fireplace very much. Delish!


For the record, the first recorded version of the classic s’more was printed in the Girl Scout handbook in 1927.  Here’s the Williams Sonoma version (pg 102 of The Cookbook for Kids):


Step 1: Prepare the Ingredients
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder with 3/4 c very hot water. Stir until blended, then add the 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla. Set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.


Step 2: Blend the Ingredients
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 3/4 c butter on medium until shiny (about 20 sec). Add 1 c granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 min). Add the two large eggs, one at a time, beating until just blended after each addition.  Beat the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture in three batches, alternating with the cocoa mixture in two batches.


Step 3: Bake the Cupcakes
Divide the batter evenly among muffin cups. Sprinkle the chocolate chips (1/4 to 1 c) evenly over the cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (17-20 min). Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely (We didn’t listen to this step!)


Step 4: Frost the Cupcakes
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on med speed, beat 1/2 c butter (room temp) until shiny and smooth (about 2 min). Add 1/2 c powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the marshmallow creme (one full 7oz jar, just as you buy in the store) until just blended. Spread the frosting on the cupcakes. Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the top (if you’re using whole crackers, place them in a ziploc bag and crush two whole crackers with a rolling pin).


Candy Salsa January 20, 2013

E: Eats

Candy Salsa Ingredients

Candy Salsa Ingredients

Usually the school subjects my seven year-old son, Calvin, tends to be jazzed about are recess and lunch. Every day I get reports about how little time he actually gets to eat his lunch and play outside. One day last week, he came home thrilled about extra time devoted to one of his favorite subjects: food.  The school had someone come in from Midwest Food Connection to make a recipe right there in their classroom for two days last week.


I’m pretty sure Calvin was in the front row, taking in all the techniques and mixology that went into the recipes. Upon picking him up at school last Tuesday, he waved the recipe card in my face: Mom, we have to make this stuff. It’s SO good!


It was a recipe for salsa. Not rocket science and quite basic. His enthusiasm ensured the ingredients made it to my grocery list for Wednesday. With portions of a whole as the quantity in the original recipe, I increased everything accordingly so I could use the full ingredient. What do you do with half of an avocado, three-fourths of a bell pepper and 18 sprigs of cilantro?


For the Love of the Roma

For the Love of the Roma

As he hopped out of the car at school drop-off on Thursday morning, he eyed me: We are going to make that salsa today, right? Me: Sure. True to form, after school, he reminded me once more. He stuck his head in the fridge, seeking our ingredients. After everything was assembled and awaiting chop, dice or squeeze techniques, we re-read the recipe and figured out what each of us would do. I am still not comfortable with him using a sharp knife – especially to dice items into small pieces, so I did all of the knife work. I also had him watch as I dismantled the seedy pepper, chopped the tomatoes and popped the pit out of the avocado. He washed veggies, de-leafed the cilantro, scooped out the avocado, squeezed the lime juice, added the salt and mixed everything together.  Oh, and sampled to taste: Needs more salt.


Cheater's Lime Juice

Cheater’s Lime Juice

I heated up the corn tortillas on a pan on the stove and we spooned the salsa onto the tortillas. We sat at the table for a little lesson in wrapping. Typically, this would be a side dish to a main course, but at 3:00 in the afternoon, it was a perfect snack. I’ve made salsa many times in the past with similar ingredients including garlic, but never with bell pepper. I could have eaten this salsa like candy. Calvin agreed and we attribute the sweetness to the pepper, thus renaming it Candy Salsa.


Remarkably, Calvin was totally onboard with the tomato, which for whatever reason (his Dad’s not favoring them?) he had vehemently disliked since summer. It must have had something to do with the chef’s preparation, other classmates agreeing the salsa was delicious, or just plain acceptance of the common tomato. Whatever. I love his passion in the kitchen.  He brought home another recipe from school for potatoes which we’ll be making next week. For starters, we’ll share the salsa one with you:


Candy Salsa on Corn Tortilla

Candy Salsa on Corn Tortilla

Candy Salsa (our name)/ Salsa Recipe (official name)

one-fourth red, yellow or orange bell pepper, diced

2-3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

5 sprigs of cilantro leaves

one-half avocado, diced

1 fresh lime wedge, squeezed juice only

salt to taste

Mix together in bowl and serve on warm corn tortillas or with corn tortilla chips.


Recipe from The Gift of Grain Lesson and presented by Midwest Food Connection at Hale school in Minneapolis the week of January 14 2013.


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