What’s the Point of a Kid Party If the Field Is Full

genentech

 

Every year, Genentech holds an employee summer event that’s part of their “giving back” to the community that includes fundraising and volunteer work. The end of the week ends with a giant party which in the past has been at AT&T stadium in San Francisco.

These parties are pretty amazing and spectacular. The company rents out the entire AT&T stadium and it’s all inclusive of ballpark food and drink, which means you can eat all the hotdogs, pizza and garlic fries you want and down them with beer, wine or soda. The big draw is the music: In the past there’s been Elton John, Demi Lovato, Train, Pitbull.

But while there’s headlining pop stars, the event is actually for kids. There are bouncy houses, slides, games, House of Mirrors, Ferris wheel. But there’s also big headline musicians who perform. This year, headlining the show was Colbie Caillat, Foo Fighters and Usher.

I didn’t really want to attend the event — it’s an ordeal to take the BART, Muni with a toddler and then watch her every whereabout and just let her eat junk food all day. But I thought she would enjoy the experience as last year she went and was only 2 — this year, one year older, it seemed like she would really enjoy all the kid stuff. It was like being at a festival.  As we rode the BART train, she was just happy riding the train, marveling at her surroundings.

But at the stadium, we got some food and listened to Colbie Caillat. As we peered down onto the field, she pointed excitedly to the bouncy houses and the excitement happening on the field. “I want to go on the bouncy house!”

As the Foo Fighters started to perform, we decided it was a good time to meander to the field.  But we never made it to the field, as security held up a giant sign that said “NO FIELD ACCESS.”  The field was full. This has never happened before, and I wondered if other people with kids were upset or this was just the expectation.

So we decided to wait until after the Foo Fighters finished performing – maybe people would leave the field to get some food or drink. But nope, that wasn’t the case. So we were stuck in the stands, a sad toddler who pointed to the slide and other fun things that she couldn’t leverage.  It was 3 p.m. and I was ready to leave. What was the point? I attended the event for my kid. To entertain and occupy her, we gave her cotton candy, churros and ice cream.

Was it worth it to attend the concert to see live music? I don’t know.  This event wasn’t about my enjoyment — it was for my child. My daughter was excited enough taking the train and spending solo time with her mother and her aunt. Next year, maybe we’ll just rent a bouncy house.

-Eunice Park

 

 

 

Comfort of Quiche

quiche

When I’m in a quandary about making dinner for my kids, my go-to meal is quiche. It’s simple and versatile — often you can dig through your fridge and find vegetables, cheese and eggs that will make a fine quiche. There’s also something warm and comforting about it. Rather than using a pastry crust, which is the traditional mode of quiche making, I’ve been using frozen hash browns as a crust as it saves time and is yummy.  I generally throw in vegetables in my quiche – sautéed spinach, mushroom and tomato with feta – is a favorite, but we also like leeks (sautéed in butter) and mushrooms with swiss cheese.  I also use a porcelain quiche dish or stone tart dish.

Experiment with different veggies and cheese – you can’t go wrong. It’s an egg dish that can fulfill the vegetable and protein food group – and satisfies.

Martha Stewart has several good recipes for quiche. Here’s one that will make you happy:

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • 1 package (1 pound) frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
  • 12 large eggs
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 package (4 to 5 ounces) soft goat cheese, room temperature
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 9-by-2 1/2-inch springform pan with butter. Line the sides of the pan with strips of waxed paper (the same height as pan); brush paper with butter.

2. Squeeze excess moisture from hash browns. Mix in a bowl with butter, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pat into bottom and up sides of prepared pan, using a moistened dry measuring cup. Place on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until set, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, whisk sour cream, goat cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until well combined; whisk in 11 remaining eggs. Pour into crust, and sprinkle with scallions. Bake until set, 45 to 50 minutes. Unmold quiche, and peel off waxed paper before serving.

Chinese New Year Paper Lanterns

Chinese paper lanterns

Gong Hay Fat Choy! 

I admit, I’m usually clueless about when Chinese New Year begins, because it doesn’t fall on the exact same day every year according to the Western calendar. I didn’t grow up in a very traditional Chinese family and my parents didn’t make a big deal about Chinese New Year. It was kind of an afterthought, like, oh yeah, Chinese New Year – did that already happen? Occasionally we’d get a red envelope with some lucky money, but we didn’t bet on it.

My kids attend a Mandarin language preschool and their knowledge of Chinese language and culture has far surpassed mine and my husband’s. Chinese New Year is the biggest event at my kids’ school. They learn songs and dance routines and rehearse for weeks to do a big performance every year. It’s the Year of the Horse, which is especially exciting for my daughter since she loves horses. Seeing how important the holiday is for my children at their school, I’m trying to bring the celebration home.

Being a Chinese New Year novice, I turned to my trusty cultural resource, Pinterest, to get ideas on how to celebrate the holiday with my kids. We made paper lanterns which was easy enough for the kids to do. I followed the instructions I found at Sophie’s World and the lanterns came out great. The kids drew designs on the paper before cutting and we used it to cover the nightlight in their room.

This afternoon, I’m attempting to make dumplings with the kids. We’ll see what a mess that turns out to be. Tonight, we’re having hot pot dinner with family at home, which is my favorite way to host a dinner. No cooking is involved. Just laying out raw meats, veggies, noodles, and the dumplings we (hopefully) make, and we boil it right at the table. It’s fun, easy and healthy.

I aim to report back on the dumpling project and post more details on the hot pot dinner later. If I were a better planner, I would have posted this before the New Year, so others could get ideas and prepare their your own celebration. But I didn’t know what day it was.

Wish me luck! And stay tuned.

-Catherine Lo

 

Mini Harajuku Girl

my mini harajuku kids

my mini harajuku kids

When I see pictures of myself as a kid, I laugh at some of the outfits my mom dressed me in. Both of my kids are very opinionated about what they wear and won’t let me dress them. I shop for their clothes at the usual places: Target, Old Navy, GapKids, H&M, and occasionally the sale rack at Nordstroms, where I can find my favorite kid clothing brand, Tea Collection, at a discount. I also love going to the Splendid/Ella Moss outlet store to get cute and comfy cotton basics for the kids, and myself too. I buy clothes for them that I think are cute, but when I bring them home, my kids tell me to send most of it back. Thank goodness for good return policies. Sometimes I take them shopping with me and let them choose. They’re very particular about what they like, which is good because they like less stuff and, in turn, I buy less. I’ll point out a shirt that I like, and they will reject it and choose the last thing I would ever buy in the store. I usually indulge them, otherwise they wouldn’t have any clothes to wear. Now that they’re old enough to dress themselves, they get to choose their outfits everyday. This usually results in very creative ensembles. When my kids grow up and are embarassed by some of the outfits they wore, they can’t blame me.

Last year, my daughter was in her Hello Kitty phase. Like most Asian girls, she loves Hello Kitty  (OK, I might have encouraged this a little). But she took her love to another level of obsession. She’d only wear clothes that had Hello Kitty on it, so she wore Hello Kitty from head-to-toe. This resulted in some ridiculous looking outfits.

My daughter is turning out to be quite the girly girl (I was a tomboy growing up). She likes princess dresses, tutus and tiaras just like the next girl, but she has a special affinity for animal prints and bright colors. At first I thought it was a funny joke to get leopard print jeggings for my toddler. Then, my daughter fell in love with her “cheetah” pants and can’t get enough wild animal prints: tiger, zebra, giraffe and leopard are all her favorites.

Recently, I found these shoes at H&M which combined all of her loves into one: bright colors, zebra and leopard print. She loves them and wears them everyday now. They’re so outrageous, I kind of wish they made them in my size. ;)

Check out some of my daughter’s (and a couple of my son’s) creative outfits:

My daughter is a true mini harajuku girl. Eat your heart out Gwen Stefani.

-Catherine Lo

Fast, Simple and Delicious: Blondies

Image

When I get invited to dinner parties or other events that entail bringing food, I’m always scurrying around at the last minute to think of a fast yet delicious dessert. The other week, a friend invited us to dinner and I was at a loss despite the fact I had just made a trip to Costco and had two giant containers of Humboldt Organic Ice Cream. That didn’t help because she had just turned vegan.

What would be fast and yummy? I started pulling out ingredients in my cupboard, thinking that I must have something that I could whip up. The thing that came to me were chocolate chip cookies, but those take a while because you have to wait for them to bake. I scoured my recipes and found one from the Smitten Cookbook. Blondies – they are simple, fast and delicious. They aren’t vegan (egg and butter), but the yummy factor overrides that.  Pouring the ingredients in an 8×8 square pan make it quick – and bars always look good when they are cut, stacked or on a plate.

Plus, Blondies are easy to adapt: add chocolate chips, pecans, dried cranberries, white chocolate. It doesn’t matter because they will disappear — which is what happened.

Blondies
Adapted from Smitten Cookbook

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup  brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch salt
1 cup  all-purpose flour

  1. Butter an 8×8 pan
  2. Mix melted butter with brown sugar – beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
  3. Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions e.g. pecans, walnuts, etc.
  4. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle and brown on edges.
  5. Cool on rack before cutting.

 - Eunice Park

Butternut Squash Apple Soup

butternut squash soup

One of the things I miss about living on the East Coast is visiting the quaint little towns in the Berkshires and Adirondacks. The best time of year is during the fall to see the leaves change color. Timing is critical to see the best foliage, and there are fall foliage tracking sites, much like weather channels, that tell you when and where the colors are peaking. On one of our fall weekends about 10 years ago, we headed up to the Berkshires in Massachusetts and stumbled upon an apple festival. This is just the sort of thing that makes for a perfect fall weekend trip, where you can taste the freshest apple cider, cider donuts and warm autumn soup. This was my first taste of butternut squash and apple soup. Sure, I’d had butternut squash soup before, but not with apple. The addition of apple gave it a tartness that brightened the soup and cut through the sweetness of the squash. It’s still the best butternut squash soup I’ve ever tasted.

Now, it’s common to see butternut squash & apple soup and I make it often at home. It’s pretty fool-proof, since butternut squash is so sweet & delicious on it’s own. Sometimes I spice it up with curry powder and cumin. But since I was making this for my kids to eat this time, I stuck to my basic recipe:

  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • ½ Large white or yellow onion or 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 lbs. of butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or combination of broth and 1 or 2 cups of water
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Over medium heat, saute the onions, celery and carrots in olive oil until onions are soft and translucent. Add a pinch of salt and the bay leaves.

Turn the heat up a little and add the squash (I like to brown the squash). Add a couple more pinches of salt and stir in the rest of the seasonings: ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Take in a whiff and the pot should be smelling lovely at this point. Add the apples and stir.

Add the 4 cups of broth and bring to boil. Then simmer for 10 minutes until all the veggies are soft when pierced with a fork. Remove the bay leaves.

Put the soup into a blender to puree. Caution when blending hot liquids in a regular blender and only blend small amounts at a time. To avoid a hot steamy explosive mess, I usually use an immersion blender right in the pot. I recently got a Vitamix blender, which inspired me to make this soup to test it out. The Vitamix blends hot liquids without any problems and whipped this up in seconds, when it usually takes me a few more minutes using the immersion blender.

Once the soup is all pureed, add back to pot. Add ½ tsp of freshly cracked pepper and 1 tsp of salt (or more) to taste. If you don’t taste enough apple tartness, add a tiny amount of apple cider vinegar.

Since the soup is so smooth, I like to garnish it with seeds for texture. I used pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds. I recently tried hemp seeds since it was on the menu for my cleanse and they are delicious. They have a nutty taste and add a soft texture to soups that I really like.

Warm up with a hot bowl of soup this winter!

-Catherine Lo

My Little Girl’s Pony Party

pony party

I tend to go a little overboard when it comes to my kids’ birthday parties. For my daughter’s first birthday, I invited the whole neighborhood and served a smorgasbord of international brunch fare: dim sum, french pastries, vietnamese sandwiches, bagels, lox, and quiche. It was like planning a small wedding and when the party was over, I felt the same way I did after my own wedding – thank god I’ll never have to plan another one of these again!

Her second birthday was decidedly more low-key. Instead of the whole neighborhood, only a couple of neighbors came over and I ordered Chinese takeout. My only effort was making these rainbow cupcakes, using rainbow sour strips.

Now our little girl is turning 3. Originally, I had booked one of those kid party places big enough to host all 18 of her preschool classmates, including their parents. Thinking about what my daughter would like, her latest obsession is horses. It’s all she talks about. So I decided to cancel the big party venue and spend the money to rent a pony to come to our house so my daughter could have her very own pony ride. I decided to shell out an extra $50 to add a 2nd pony since I knew my daughter wouldn’t get off the pony to let other kids ride. That was a good idea.

I went on Pinterest to get ideas for a pony party and I felt myself kick into full party planning mode. I prepared a kid-friendly menu: ham & cheese and PB & J sandwiches (using a horse cookie cutter), veggie sticks with hummus, mac n cheese, chips & dip, popcorn, and fruit. I also picked up some Vietnamese sandwiches and summer rolls for the adults to eat.

I came across a horse shaped baking pan at Ikea and made a brownie instead of a cake since my daughter is a chocoholic (like her mama). To make my life simpler, I used Ghiradelli’s brownie mix and decorated the horse using white icing, chocolate sprinkles for the mane & tail, and a chocolate chip for the eye.

Ikea dala horse

For decorations, I like to make stuff with things I have on hand. I cut out horse shapes from construction paper and made a birthday banner from some extra white paper plates. I did a google search for vintage horses and found beautiful images that I printed and used to decorate the table. I happen to came across mini hay bales at Michaels that also went with the whole horse theme.

I didn’t tell my daughter that ponies were coming to her party. I wanted it to be a surprise. Also, I had heard about other parents hiring a petting zoo for their kid’s party, which never showed up, leaving a group of very disappointed children (and parents). I didn’t want to get my daughter’s hopes up in case the pony was a no-show. But right on time, the pony trailer arrived bringing two very lovely and docile ponies. I could have asked the pony company to dress their ponies up as a unicorn or with a princess theme, but I didn’t bother because my daughter loves all horses, no matter how they’re dressed. When the ponies arrived, the kids ran up to the end of the driveway, and watched eagerly as they were unloaded. I don’t have a yard and my driveway is very steep, but we have a small patch of land next door (with a slight slope) where the ponies took the kids for a ride around. There were three helpers that walked alongside the ponies to ensure the kids were safe (all the kids were under 4). It was a good thing I rented two ponies, because my daughter never got off her pony, Napoleon. Instead of inviting her whole class, we only had a few of her friends from the neighborhood over, and they took turns riding the second pony, so everyone had plenty of riding time. After one hour, it was time to say bye-bye to the ponies, and I was relieved that my daughter wasn’t too sad to see them leave. She gave Napoleon a good-bye hug and ran straight inside to her birthday cake.

I might have gone a little overboard with the pony theme, but I can’t help myself sometimes. I feared that I would be spoiling my child to get her a pony for her party, but it was worth it just to see my her face as she rode her pony around and around.

Here are some great gift ideas for the horse-obsessed kid:

  • Horse Stamps Set: Kids love stamps, and even better for the pony lover that these are all stamps of horses
  • Horse Puzzle in Stable Box: This puzzle is cute and the perfect size and skill level for my 3-year old. The barn-shaped box also looks good on her shelf. I should probably get the firestation puzzle for my firetruck obsessed son.
  • Magnetic Dress-up Horse: Girls love to play dress-up and these magnets are easy & fun. There’s a ton of options to make a unicorn, princess or race horse.
  • Wooden horse trailer: My son loves trucks, but now my daughter can have her own truck & trailer for pull her horses.
  • Bruder Jeep horse trailer: Bruder makes awesome trucks that look and work just like the real thing. My son loves his Bruder crane truck, so we got this one for my daughter. Now we have two horse trailers so both kids can play.
  • Plush horse backpack carrier: When my daughter saw this at the toy store, it was the only thing she talked about for the weeks leading to her birthday. My daughter sleeps with the four little horses and totes them around everywhere.

-Catherine Lo