Repopulate! Keeping Your Gut Healthy On Antibiotics

My house has the Two Week Rule: no doctor unless the illness is getting worse after two weeks. Unfortunately, both my daughter and I passed that two-week mark for completely different bacterial infections, and found ourselves taking antibiotics. I was worried.

Both of us have digestive problems and antibiotics are harsh on that system. So I read some of my nutrition books, chatted with friends and family, and flipped through the web for advice. Here is what I found:

Yes, antibiotics can cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and exacerbate existing intestinal problems. Why? Because antibiotics kill bacteria, but they don’t stop with just the infection plaguing you, they wipe out the beneficial bacteria in other parts of your body as well.

Our gut is filled with an effective and diverse population of microorganisms (also called flora) that help us digest our food to get the nutrients we need. You can put all the healthy food in your mouth you want, but unless your body is breaking it down and absorbing the vitamins and minerals, you will become ill and eventually die. Killing off our natural digestive ecosystem with antibiotics is a dangerous side effect, especially for those prone to stomach upset. Continue reading Repopulate! Keeping Your Gut Healthy On Antibiotics

Make Weird, Wonderful Ice Cream Without the Work

Dear Moon Pie Ice Cream: Get in my belly! Photo: Rachel Cericola.

It’s hot, so I want ice cream. Okay—it doesn’t have to be hot for me to want ice cream. That said, I do feel a lot better about having ice cream when it’s homemade ice cream.

Homemade ice cream has a taste that’s just so fresh and delicious. And making it yourself allows you to pack cookies, candies, fruit, and whatever else you want into one bowl. Heck, you can put carrots and cardamom into it, if you want. In fact, that sort of experimentation is heavily encouraged in No Churn Ice Cream.

This book inspires readers to make some pretty weird, often wonderful flavors. Even better, you don’t need rock salt or some type of contraption that needs the deep freeze for 24 hours. Instead, No Churn Ice Cream has an easier way—as well as a whole lot of recipes.

Photo by Teri Lynn Fisher.

Leslie Bilderback, the same author who taught us how to make mug desserts and spiralized main courses, provides several interesting options, as well as plenty of old standbys. The hook on this book is that ice cream is as easy as mixing fresh ingredients in a bowl and popping that medley into the freezer. There are plenty of complex offerings too, with interesting flavor combinations such as Orange Flower Water-Almond Ice Cream, Pineapple-Pepper Ice Cream, Beet-Pistachio Sorbet, and much more.

Even though the idea is that this process is simple, the book shows you plenty of ways to pimp your ice cream concoctions, with purees, swirls, cookies, candies, and more. The idea of crushing up circus animal cookies and layering them into ice cream had me frothing at the mouth.

To start, however, I wanted to keep things simple, so I opted for old-fashioned mint chip. Although all of these recipes can be made with a whisk and the power of your biceps, I opted to use my KitchenAid mixer, which made things easy-peasy. The key is to whip the cream and fold in remaining ingredients. Once everything is blended, just pop the mixture into the fridge for six hours. Any freezable container can become your ice cream container. I opted for a loaf pan, but you can upcycle old containers if you’re a budding Breyers.

Of course, it’s really hard to wait the full six hours, so don’t be ashamed to sample after about four. My first attempt was minty delicious, even though I sort of messed up by not chopping the chocolate. I guess I was too excited and didn’t read the directions thoroughly. Even after the mixture was frozen, it was easy to remix into a different bowl. Either way, it didn’t keep us from scarfing it down.

Next, I wanted to try something with a bit more flair—and this book has plenty of those options. I played it semi-safe though, by making Moon Pie Ice Cream. I am wondering if I will ever make (or eat) another flavor again. Oh my. This was a little slice of heaven covered in a big slice of marshmallow fluff. It was simply awesome and made me more excited about trying the rest of the recipes in the book.

However, I opted to wrap up my review process by checking out another old-fashioned flavor: vanilla. In my opinion, if you’ve got a good vanilla recipe, the world is your oyster—at least the ice cream world. With this basic flavor, you can stir in all sorts of goodies, including the aforementioned animal cookies (which I loved).

Next on the list: Blueberry-Blue Cheese Ice Cream. Oh my! Photo by Teri Lynn Fisher.

Just know that despite being simple, some of these recipes do not have simple ingredients. For instance, the vanilla recipe calls for actual vanilla bean. In my area, the cheapest I could find vanilla beans in a pinch were two for $10. Upon seeing this price, my eyes popped like something out of an old cartoon. When I showed these magic beans to my husband and told him the price, he said I could have picked up two gallons of already-made ice cream for the same money. However, the cost was for the greater good. You could probably substitute extract, but that wouldn’t be by the book now, would it? Just don’t be afraid to experiment, or at least do a little bargain shopping. (I know that affordable vanilla beans can be found online, but I wasn’t willing to wait!) The point of the book is that ice cream can be a simple but also creative process. However, you probably don’t want to blow your budget on well… beans.

Still, it was fantastic. It was even more fantastic when I stirred those little frosting-covered animal cookies in. Or chocolate chips. Or chocolate-covered pretzels. Yum.

I definitely want to get more adventurous with my ice cream making, and this is the book to help make that happen. No Churn Ice Cream is filled with recipes that are fun—and ones that are funky (in a good way). The next flavors on my must-try list include Blueberry-Blue Cheese Ice Cream, Apple-Spice Ice Cream, Blood Orange Sherbet, and Cardamom. I will check those out after one more round of Moon Pie, of course. If you’re in the mood for ice cream (hello, everyone!), I’d recommend that you pick up this book, pull out a freezable bowl, and get to work!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Raising an Adventurous Eater: Vague on Venezuelan

Tequeños are Venezuelan cheese sticks. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

So far, my family has had a few good eating adventures. I knew that sooner or later, we would hit a roadblock. That block was at a Venezuelan restaurant—and it was made up almost entirely of fried cheese.

That’s not to say that fried cheese is bad. (Oh, quite the opposite.) And I’m not going to say that this outing was awful, because it wasn’t. We went to a place in Boston called Orinoco, which has gotten all sorts of awesome reviews. I was very excited. Going into this restaurant, I had all sorts of mouthwatering ideas about spice and corn and more spice. Alas, it was not to be.

The restaurant is in a beautiful location in the city. The decor was great, the service was great, and even the menu was really appealing.

I started off the evening with a Mojito Cojito, a drink that the waitress had recommended. It definitely made me feel like I was hanging out on the beach, but only because it had a slight taste of Coppertone. That’s because this drink is made with coconut rum and had tons of pieces of coconut swimming in it for good measure. The more I drank it, the more I liked it though—go figure, it’s made with rum!

The empanadas. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

For an appetizer, we opted for Tequeños, which are basically Venezuelan cheese sticks. The big difference between these and your typical cheese sticks is that the dish is made with guayanés cheese, which is a white cheese that originates from the south east region of Venezuela. American fried cheese is typically served with tomato sauce, but these came with a chipotle ketchup. It was a yummy, spicy condiment, but it also seemed really weird to be dipping cheese sticks into ketchup. I don’t mind weird, but I was a bit disappointed that the ketchup was the star of the dish. The cheese was supposed to be salty, but it and the coating on the outside came off as a kind of bland. My mantra that “fried = good” was blowing up in my face, people. That said, my son hoarded the extra stick to himself. He wasn’t the least bit disappointed—yet.

For the entrees, he chose what seemed to be the most authentic between the three of us: empanadas. We’ve had a few empanadas before, but these featured a Venezuelan-style shredded beef and peppers. He’s not a fan of peppers to begin with, but he picked a few of those out and managed to wolf down a good portion of the beef and a few of the outer fried pockets. My husband said the flavor reminded him of sausage and peppers that you’d get a ball park—and he meant that with the highest of praise. The dish also came with a salad, which had a sweet, garlicky dressing on it. That was enjoyed by all.

My husband picked Parrilla Caraqueña, a mixed grill plate that included strip steak, chicken, and chorizo. It also came with a side of yucca fries and guasacaca, which is Venezuela’s version of guacamole. He said it didn’t taste particularly ethnic, but that everything was very well seasoned. Overall, he was completely happy with his meal and almost cleaned his plate (and some of my son’s too).

The Parrilla Caraqueña, a mixed grill plate. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

For my entrée, I opted for Pollo Adobo, which is a chicken dish. I also ordered up a side of yucca fries, which sounded like a good idea at the time. I love me some fried goods, but after the cheese, the fries felt like a bunch of little bricks sitting in my tummy. The chicken looked pretty enough and was made with oregano oil and scallions, which it was swimming in. It was cooked really well, but a little fatty for my taste. It was also a bit saltier than I like.

I’m not sure how authentic the food is here, but I had read it was pretty darn close. I don’t expect all of our adventures to be wonderful, but I found this one to be particularly disappointing. I think because I was expecting so much more. I would love to come back again though and maybe order something different. The atmosphere was lovely and the menu was filled with other options that I had my eye on. In the meantime, onward and upward!

Raising an Adventurous Eater: A Bevy of Brazilian Treats

From now on, I want all of my meals in clay pots. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

In the last (and first) installment of Raising an Adventurous Eater, my family and I checked out Senegalese. This time, we went for Brazilian.

We had been to a nearby Brazilian steakhouse more than a few times, so we originally weren’t too sure this would be unfamiliar territory. I’m happy to say that we were wrong—dead wrong.

As mentioned in my last installment, I am a pretty adventurous eater, but not a meat eater. Well, sort of. I haven’t eaten red meat or pork in over 15 years now, and I’m not planning to do that anytime soon. That was one of the reasons I was a bit nervous about Brazilian. My previous experiences at the steakhouse were pretty limiting. It was usually meat or chicken and fish wrapped in other meat. However, it turns out that Brazilian cuisine offers a bevy of different options. Even better, they don’t typically come on the gigantic spool of meat I’d previously seen at that steakhouse.

For this adventure, we opted for a place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called Muqueca. This restaurant is famous for serving dishes in clay pots, which are made from clay and mangrove tree sap. They also come all the way from Vitória, Brazil, where they are shaped, dried, and fired up to perfection. At least, I have to assume they are perfection. I’m not exactly a clay pot expert, but I can tell you that they are the perfect cooking vessels.

Fiery deliciousness. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

To start, I opted for a Caipirinha, which is supposedly the national cocktail of Brazil. According to the menu, “the word ‘caipirinha’ is the diminutive version of the word ‘caipira,’ which refers to someone from the countryside, being an almost exact equivalent of the American English hillbilly.” When I asked about what was in it, the waitress informed me that it was like drinking vodka. I don’t drink much vodka these days. In fact, I don’t drink much at all. She assured me that it was delicious and came in a variety of flavors, including my chosen passion fruit. It arrived with about 10 limes chopped up inside and the potency of a sledgehammer. It was like a party in a tall glass. Yum.

For an appetizer, we ordered Salgadinhos, which are basically little fried balls of deliciousness that you can get stuffed with cod, shrimp, or chicken. We chose the latter. It also seemed to have a thin layer of mashed potato or maybe even yucca on the inside. My son, who hates potatoes in any shape or form (with the exception of chips), devoured these things and proclaimed their awesomeness. I informed him of the presence of potato and he sort of shrugged it off. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: It’s hard not to love anything that’s fried.

My son got to “cheat” a little bit here, since there was an actual kids’ menu at Muqueca. He chose the grilled chicken, but it was marinated in a savory little sauce to make it stand out from your typical kids’ meal. It also came with fries (which he shunned—whose kid is this?), as well as plain white rice and a hearty portion of savory black beans. He’s never been a huge bean fan, but he tried it. He said it wasn’t his favorite, but that it wasn’t bad, either. I consider that to be a win.

For the adult entrees, we discovered that Muqueca isn’t just the name of the restaurant; it’s also a national dish with seafood that’s poached in a broth with tomatoes, cilantro, onions, olive oil, coconut milk, dendê oil (palm oil), and a natural coloring seed called annatto. It’s sort of like seafood stew—and it’s downright fantastic. I opted for Shrimp Muqueca, while my husband got the Arroz com mariscos, a seafood casserole with shrimp, mussels, squid, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, coconut milk, and rice all in the same bowl. Mine had rice and a separate fish sauce on the side.

Each entree was cooked and served in clay pots, which keep the dishes nice and hot. In my family, we would devour my father’s pizza the second it came off the hot pizza stone, so I wasn’t afraid of scalding a few taste buds. It was so worth it.

And speaking of scalding: This restaurant offers hot sauce as a condiment and it was exactly the type of spice I was hoping for when we chose Brazilian. This is not the kind of hot sauce you’d find at the grocery store or even in a bottle. It’s made on the premises. I doused one of my shrimp into the sauce and immediately found that not to be such a wise decision. The Caipirinha wasn’t exactly the best chaser, either. It was like trying to put out a campfire with lighter fluid. The heat sort of reminded me of wasabi, but it was a different kind of pain. I later asked the waiter what was in the sauce. He said it was a mixture of Brazilian malagueta peppers and different kinds of hot sauce. He also said we came in on a day with a weak batch. Thank goodness, because, well… I need that skin on my lips, okay? He also mentioned that if he ever had a cold, he could just smell the sauce; it doubles as a remedy for being stuffed up. It was oh so hot, but very yummy.

May cause simultaneous tears of joy and pain. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

All three of us enjoyed our meals and, with the exception of the fries, we cleaned our plates. My son was super happy about the kids’ meal option, but still tried something different. My husband thought his was very hearty and full of flavor. I didn’t really see mine as a stew, but I did find it to be fantastic. It came with plenty of shrimp and they weren’t the sea-monkey kind that I see a lot of restaurants trying to pass off in their shrimp dishes. The fish sauce (called pirao) really wasn’t necessary. It was fine, but the liquid that the Muqueca sits in was delicious all on its own.

Our second eating adventure was another awesome success. Now where can I get myself a set of those clay pots? I need to start serving our meals in them immediately!

Raising an Adventurous Eater: Sampling Senegalese Spice

Brochettes de Poulet. Photo courtesy of Gluten-Free-N-Y-C, used with permission.

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I love food. I was brought up on my grandmother’s meatballs and fried dough. (She actually made it every week!) My dad made delicious pizza and veal cutlets. And when we felt like going out, there were cheesesteaks. Oh. So. Many. Cheesesteaks.

Wait… what was my point?

Oh yeah. While all of this food was insanely delicious, it wasn’t exactly adventurous. It wasn’t very artery-friendly, either. Since my youth, I’ve sampled plenty of other foods. However, my palette has still been pretty limited.

My husband recently suggested that we spend our Saturdays branching out of our family’s comfort zone. Instead of trying to choose between the seven or so restaurants within driving distance, we should delve into the unknown and check out new types of cuisine. We live about 30 minutes from Boston, so the options are literally endless. In some cases, a world map may be involved.

And now with our plan in place, I must mention a few caveats. First of all, I haven’t eaten red meat or pork in over 15 years now. It’s a bit limiting, but I am not planning to add on any additional animals for the sake of this experiment. Also, my 8-year-old son loves salad, but absolutely loathes potatoes… like they’re salad. He feels that way about a lot of starch, actually. Where did he get that from? While some would consider his style to be adventurous, he definitely used to be more daring. In fact, I’m starting to find that he depends a bit too much on the kids’ menu—and eats way too many burgers, usually with no sides. This was as much for him as it was for us.

(In all fairness, it’s more for us, but he needs to suck it up!)

Photo courtesy of Teranga Restaurant.

With that said, our first outing was to Teranga, which is supposedly the first Senegalese restaurant in Boston. First or last, it was just plain awesome.

Going into the restaurant, all we really knew about Senegalese food was that it was African. That’s it. We also knew that the restaurant is highly rated on TripAdvisor, our go-to spot for all restaurants, hotels, and various other attractions.

According to the restaurant’s website, “Senegalese cuisine is a melting pot of diverse cultures including French, Asian, Arabic, and African.” It also says that the word Teranga translates to “hospitality.” It’s not just the name, but also appeared to be a motto, since our waiter was extremely friendly, helpful, and willing to help us make selections.

We aren’t usually appetizer people, but opted to check out the Brochettes de Crevettes, which is basically shrimp on skewers. It sounds very simple, but had this kick-ass little Sriracha sauce on it to well… kick your ass. It was super-spicy, but also delicious. Seeing that my son doesn’t like shrimp or extreme spice, we let him off the hook for this one. Besides, it meant more shrimp for me.

Another appetizer option we checked out was Accara, which is a batter made of black eye peas and then fried. I am pretty sure I would eat a shoe if it were fried properly, so you can imagine how quickly I devoured these. It came served with a little zesty tomato/onion sauce on the side. My son was willing to try this, but doesn’t have the same penchant for fried goods as his mother (or father). He declared it to be “not his favorite” and left us to stuff our faces. I’m not exactly sure I would order this one again, given its fried-ness, but it was downright delicious. I could have eaten an entrée-sized portion of those Brochettes de Crevettes, though.

The very delicious Michoui. Photo by Vivian C. on Yelp, used with permission.

For entrees, my husband went with the Michoui, a marinated, slow-roasted lamb shank. Seeing that I don’t eat red meat, he doesn’t get to have lamb often and was really pleased at how delicious this meal turned out to be. Just looking at this thing, I could tell how moist it was. The meat was practically falling off the bone! It was served with couscous on the side.

I had my heart set on the Poisson Braisé, which is a tilapia dish with yucca couscous, but it was not to be. They were out of tilapia. So I went with the Brochettes de Poulet, which is a hearty portion of tangy, skewered chicken that’s grilled and served with an onion sauce on one side of the plate and a Sriracha sauce on the other. It was also topped with what I thought were yucca fries, but the menu listed it as alocco, which are fried sweet plantains. Whatever it was, it was delicious. The plantains sort of balanced out the spicy shrimp, but I still managed to tip those little fry babies into the remaining Sriracha for an extra kick.

My son didn’t have the comfort of the kids’ menu here, since they don’t have one. However, he happily opted for the Yassa Guinaar. This looked similar to the lamb, but was actually a marinated chicken dish. My son wasn’t too thrilled at having to eat off the bone, but I reminded him that I had seen him devour a KFC leg or two without any issues. Since it was a hearty piece, I helped him cut the meat off, which was covered in a lemony onion sauce. He complained that the sauce was “too hot,” but it wasn’t the least bit spicy. My husband and I determined that it might have had a bit more salt than he was used to and encouraged him to mix the sauce and chicken with bites of his jasmine rice. That gave him the happy face I was hoping for.

Our first culinary outing was a massive success, in my opinion. We love spicy and this was definitely a spicy adventure—although one that didn’t make my son want to turn up his nose and/or throw a fit. It’s fun to try something new and something different. And when you mention to someone that you tried Senegalese food, it typically conjures up the response, “What was that like?” In a word: Awesome. I’m hoping for something just as successful for the next installment of “Raising an Adventurous Eater.” Stay tuned!

Why I Love Burrito Van, or Down With Kale!

The first time I tried kale was at a swanky automotive event in New York City. There were swanky drinks, swanky cars, and swanky appetizers on swanky little trays. It was swank. And then, there was kale.

I had never tried kale before, but had heard of its wonders. It was supposedly delicious and easy to make and the perfect substitute for not-healthy potato chips. This is what everyone told me. Everyone.

So, when I spied the funny-looking green things I asked if they were, in fact, the wondrous kale. I was informed that it was kale and that it had a light dusting of some kind of fancy salt I can no longer remember. I decided to try the kale.

You people, you all lied!

There is nothing tasty about kale. It is like munching on a piece of particularly crunchy grass. Pieces of it stuck to the roof of my mouth leaving me to awkwardly try freeing it with my tongue like a communion wafer in church. You cannot stick your fingers in your mouth to free that wafer and you cannot stick your fingers in your mouth to free stupid kale in a room full of swanky people being swanky.

I should mention that my partner-in-crime at this event, Emme, was equally appalled by the kale. She is not swanky. I love her and love that she thought the kale chips were the spawn of Satan. I’m pretty sure she encouraged me to use a strong swanky drink like mouthwash to free the kale. I say pretty sure because things are a bit of a blur after that, likely due to the strength of the swanky drink.

I have not once knowingly consumed kale since. I have no idea how anyone eats the stuff. Burritos, however, I totally understand. That is why I love this video by Parry Gripp and animator Nathan Mazur. Not only is it an ode to burritos, but it comes out firmly against kale.

Down with kale! Long live burritos!

(via ThatsNerdalicious)

A Bacon Scented Pillowcase For Sweet Bacony Dreams

Bacon Pillow
Image: J&D’s

There’s nothing quite like waking up to the smell of bacon in the morning. It doesn’t matter how comfy your bed is, the smell of bacon is a lure that cannot be resisted by any means known to humankind. Even the most world-weary of us will put on slippers and a warm robe and trudge down to the kitchen for some fried pork bliss. Now, with this pillowcase, you can enjoy the smell of bacon all the time right from the comfort of your bed.

J&D’s is offering a bacon-scented pillowcase ($12.99) that will keep the sweet smell of bacon swirling around your head while you sleep. The smell is supposed to last for 6-12 months as long as you wash the pillowcase according to the care instructions.

They do include a list of possible side effects that includes:

  • Happier dreams of breakfasts past, floating on bacony clouds or placing the winning hog at the 4-H contest.
  • Effortless, overnight weight loss by kicking your digestive system into high gear – try not to eat your pillowcase.
  • Dramatic increases in your intelligence and higher brain functioning because… Bacon.
  • Easier wake-ups – your mornings will be like being shot out of bacony cannon.

Nothing we can’t all handle. Bring on the bacon!

(via ThatsNerdalicious)

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth

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Image by First Second.

“I like how it got all the plot points across, but kept it kid-friendly.”

This was my son’s comment after reading The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo. He recently took a Shakespeare course, and Macbeth was one of the plays studied, so I was curious about his take on this graphic novel. My son gave it a thumbs up.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth is a First Second offering for this fall that will appeal to Shakespeare fans of all ages, but especially the younger set just meeting the Bard. This version is full of animals, food, and humor.

The story takes place in a zoo, where the animals put on shows for each other after the human crowds go home. The audience is as much fun as the cast, with silly-to-witty commentary throughout. I particularly liked the little aside from the vultures with their opera glasses:

“Ooh! I love the witches look!”
“They say warts are the new black.”

Macbeth is played by a lion who thinks he loves food more than anything until he meets the witches, and realizes he’s really hungry for power! However, he would have to eat the king to become king himself. He talks to his wife, Lady Macbeth the leopard (out damn spot… hee-hee!), who hands him a cookbook, “100 Ways To Cook A King,” suggesting they saute in lemon-butter sauce.

“But still, Macbeth refused. Eating someone just didn’t seem polite.”

He finally relents and eats the king: “What follows was horrible and gruesome and definitely the best scene in the whole play…” But of course, we don’t see it because the elephant shows up right then to see the play and blocks the whole stage.

And so the silliness continues in this amusing version of classic theater. The artwork bounds through the pages, with the dialogue and narration clear, but with a kid-friendly twist. Like the best animated movies, the jokes are on a couple of levels, so parents reading this to their children will find it just as fun.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth comes out the end of this month, recommended for ages seven and up. Check it out!

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Our Totally Unscientific Food Box Experiment

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 9.46.26 PM
Screenshot from, the recipe and food delivery service.

For a few months this spring, our household had trial memberships to two recipe and food delivery services: Plated, the “Chef-designed responsibly-sourced recipe and food delivery service,” and Blue Apron, which features “Fresh ingredients, great recipes, delivered weekly.”

I called it our food box thunderdome experiment.

“Why?” said the spouse. “For science!” said I.  (Also, I was sick of all of our recipes and we were both working late hours. The family was in a cooking rut and time-crunched. And, both Plated and Blue Apron had trial offers that made testing them out fairly affordable. Cheaper than a babysitter + dinner + a movie, at least.)

“Science?” he said. “This isn’t scientific. To be scientific, you’d have to control for date, time, temperature… essentially getting two boxes on the same week and then comparing to groceries on the same week—and no. That is not going to happen.”

“No problem,” I said. “I declare this a totally unscientific food box experiment, all mistakes and impressions are my own doing, and reproduction of this experiment is at your own risk.”

And away we went. We ordered nine different meals from Plated, including their “first two plates free” trial. Plated’s “recommend your friends” option also gave us more free meals. Thank you, friends! Then, we ordered nine meals from Blue Apron, including their “first three meals free” trial.

For both services, there were hits and misses. Here’s the totally unscientific breakdown:

Delivery: Both boxes arrived when they said they would, with thorough insulation.  Box size is nearly identical. All of the produce was fresh and ready-to-cook: Avocados were ripe, fruit was ripe, vegetables were ripe. There were no rock-hard avocados. This was fantastic.

Home Ec 101: A base order is two Plated meals of two plates each or three Blue Apron meals (feeds two to three people each) per delivery.

Selection: We could select meals from an available menu at Plated. We had to list our preferences and a selection was chosen for us by Blue Apron.

Minimum Cost Per Box: (This was per our experience only. YMMV depending on the number of family members and how well you work those refer-a-friend deals.) Blue Apron was $59.95 (three meals, no choices aside from dislikes and allergies). Plated was $48 plus the monthly membership (two  meals/four “plates,” with multiple delivery options).

The Breakdown: Three meals from Plated costs $72, plus membership; three meals from Blue Apron costs $59.50. This is a $12 difference, plus Plated’s membership fee.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 9.46.35 PM
Screenshot from, a recipe and food delivery service.

Membership Fees:

Plated has three options: $10/month billed monthly; $8/month billed annually; and pay-as-you-go (this puts the per-plate cost up to $15/plate). There is no minimum monthly order, although each Plated order must include four plates.

Blue Apron has a minimum three-meal plan, but you have to un-check the calendar when you don’t want a box or else, surprise, a food box will appear on your doorstep. (This totally bit me in the butt a few times.)

A very not-scientific gut feeling: Our feeling was that many of the recipes from each service could be made for much cheaper. That’s obvious with some of the tomato-and-cheese and chicken items. But not all of the recipes were a budget blow-out, especially when we factored in driving around for ingredients and the cost of certain spices. With Plated, we were able to pick the menu items that provided the most bang for our buck. With Blue Apron, we weren’t able to choose. We also found ourselves less motivated to cook the third meal of the week from Blue Apron, especially since we didn’t pick it. That’s pretty expensive apathy.

Allergies: We could stipulate no dairy, meat, fish, etc. on both. Only Plated offered no-gluten-added meals, which was really important for us and led to much less food substituting versus Blue Apron.

While a lot of produce arrived bagged in a group, with a contents labeled, we received wrapped single items from Blue Apron—always carefully tagged. Photo: Fran Wilde.

Packaging: Plated’s packaging seems more environmentally conscious. The items aren’t individually wrapped unless they need to be (sauces, grains). Both Plated and Blue Apron send liquids in bottles that can be re-used. Other packaging can be recycled. There just feels like a lot more of it from Blue Apron. And really, non-scientifically speaking, there’s a lot of packaging in general, from the boxes to the cold packs and on. If you got these meals regularly, you’d be drowning in cold packs.

General Impressions About the Recipes (From Me, My Patient Spouse, and Our Child):


Me: I loved Plated’s recipes. They were beautiful, delicious, and highly intricate to cook. I learned many new techniques.

The Patient Spouse: Was all good.

The Child: Nope. Not for me. Too spicy, too fancy. Too much fish. Nope. nope, nope.

Blue Apron

Me: I also loved many of Blue Apron’s recipes, though it felt like we wasted a lot of food. Three meals a week is more than we wanted, but that was the minimum. We often substituted out the pasta and couscous because of food allergies. And oh my goodness, does Blue Apron love zesting! Lemons, limes. Seemed like every recipe required zesting. We didn’t need that much zest, really.

The Patient Spouse: Was all good. Have you figured out how to stop the boxes from coming yet?

Me: Nope, still trying.

The Child: Some of it was okay. I liked the gnocchi. Can we have more gnocchi? But without those flowers. (There were edible zucchini flowers for one recipe. Those got the nope.)


1. The best part of this unscientific experiment was when we all started cooking a recipe together. In the kitchen, all of us, at one time. That happens sometimes, but not always. There’s something that happens when you all have to figure out a new recipe together. It’s kind of like a puzzle.

2. Another big pro: Never having to go back to the store for a missing item on a complex recipe.

3. And not having to buy a big box or tin of something that we’d only use a bit of unless we wanted to be eating elaborate food for a month.

4. And we can reuse the recipes.


1. Price and selection—and the contents of each box were a bit overwhelming at first.

2. There was a lot of packaging for each, and there’s no way to return the cool packs for reuse.

3. Being stuck with items one or more of us couldn’t eat was annoying (especially when it came to allergens that were not specifically weeded out).

The Upshot: The upshot is that these boxes are spendy, unless you go with their “suggest a friend” option—and for families, it may be way on the fancy side.

I have some friends whose picky kids turned into gourmet chefs once they started getting into the “build-your-dinner” kits. Not mine. Nope.

I’m no food photographer. And this was delicious. Photo: Fran Wilde.

But for an occasional “night-out” dinner in? The fun of cooking together again without having to remember anything at the store? Or having to figure out which recipe? That was so good. That means, for us, Plated would be a better choice.

Both services seem to default to auto-enrollment in regular/weekly food deliveries. Plated’s team helped me work that out pretty quickly. It took me forever to figure out how to stop the boxes from coming on Blue Apron. I unchecked everything on their widget. Twice. They still came.  (Eventually Blue Apron did help me fix this; thanks you guys!)

Our Favorite Recipes: Blue Apron had catfish and jicama slaw with amaranth and watermelon radish. So very good. A hands-down winner. Pan-seared salmon with lima bean and olive relish was also good, but this is one that we had to substitute out the couscous.

Plated had vegetable lasagna, chicken paillard (so much fun smashing the chicken to make paillard, I can’t tell you.), miso rice portabellos, and chicken tikka masala. It was all just completely awesome. (I wish I could link you to these pages at, but I can’t.)

So, one family, two food subscription services: Plated and Blue Apron. When we emerged from beneath our pile of boxes (oh so many boxes), we discovered something: We liked cooking again.  I’ll call that a win.

Fund This! A New Role Model for Boys, Eating Good and Cheap, and a 3D Printer for Kids!

Welcome to the second Fund This! of June. In this edition the theme is hacking the norm. Meet Generation Grit, a company that’s trying to expand the options of role models for boys in the toy industry. Check out Good and Cheap, where eating healthy and well can be done on $4 a day. Finally, take a peek at a 3D printer that uses a new tech method and an iPad app to make designing and printing even more accessible to kids and teachers. Happy funding!


Image courtesy of Generation Grit.

Generation Grit

It is not enough to change the role models girls are given; we must also change the role models given to boys. It is not enough to empower girls, but to shrug at the macho, one-dimensional examples guiding our boys to manhood. Apparently, Laura Hale has also had enough. Reminiscent of another toy line based in historical adventure and storytelling for girls, Generation Grit seeks to take the classic action toy, give him a cool backstory, and engage boys in a creative storyline about character values. Not in the weird way, in the alternative-to-machismo way. Show some diversity in interests and strengths in men, perhaps? Stellar idea, in my opinion as the mother of two boys. Also, the packaging and accessories are gorgeous.

Now, my boys are a bit older and don’t play with toys much anymore, but I showed them this campaign and they were very interested in the book plot. My younger son even liked the idea of having the action figure for “display.” Is that code for “I like it, but I don’t want to admit it in front of my older brother?” Anyway, he is just the kid I would buy this for: full of humor, sensitive to other people’s stories, imaginative, and creative. In fact, he is really into Marvel right now, but what he loves most is the backstory, not the action. So, if you also think it’s about time we start expanding toy choices for boys, I urge you to check this out. Act fast—there’s only a few days left!


Image courtesy of Leanne Brown/Good and Cheap.

Good and Cheap

This is one of those campaigns that makes a difference. The PDF version of Good and Cheap (a cookbook on how to eat well on $4 a day) is already available for free. Go download it. It is genius. But this campaign isn’t for those who have the ability to do that. It is a living well effort to bring this information to the thousands of families living on food stamps through a hard copy version that will be distributed to agencies across the nation. The more money that campaign organizer Leanne Brown raises, the more families she can impact. I probably don’t need to lecture on the importance of eating whole, fresh food, but for many, it seems like a luxury. Brown has made eating healthy accessible and affordable. I completely support her effort. Selfishly, I checked out her book, since my own family has had to move to a much stricter budget—and was pleasantly surprised.  Simple, easy to follow, not a problem substituting gluten-free ingredients. Good and cheap.

Image courtesy of Mission Street Manufacturing.


The other GeekMoms will tell you that this campaign ignited a bit of a quandry for me. It is well over its funding goal and for good reason. It has a great platform: A 3D printer designed for kids! I am including it because what I hope is that it is a better entry point for 3D printing for many teachers and families who have no background in 3D printing. I also love the entirely new thing they have done with it—using an iPad app to design and print. Perfect for young hands. At our Oakland Lab, which was designed and built for kids, we use a PrintrBot Simple, Mendel Max 2, and a TypeA Machines 2014 Series 1, and the kids must learn to not only run them, but also fix them. My only concern, and one that I hope the creators take seriously, is the technical support they provide. 3D printers take a lot of tinkering—a lot. Makers who are buying this, presumably to have an easy, user-friendly experience (and not just for the fun primary colors), will become easily frustrated if these are as finicky as many other printers. That said, welcome to the market, Printeer!

Cooking the Books: Attack the Geek with Michael R. Underwood & Giveaway!

Since 2011, I’ve hosted an interview series on my own blog called Cooking the Books, which explores the intersection between food and genre fiction. Cooking the Books’ interviews with science-fiction and fantasy authors, agents, and editors have a thing in common: there’s a recipe at the end.

I was all set to post this great interview with Michael R. Underwood, author of Attack the Geek, the new book in the Geekomancy series (more on that in a moment), when I thought, “Waitaminnit, I think the GeekMom audience would love this a lot.” Mike thought it was a great idea too and offered to throw in a worldwide giveaway (more on that in a moment also), in addition to answering random food-related questions about his work and giving us a fabulous pizza recipe.

Book Giveaway! Recipe! Interview with awesome author! This is a brilliant plan. Let’s get rolling…

Michael R. Underwood’s Geekomancy series follows the adventures of Ree, who discovers that some people have the power to bring geek-culture icons to life, for better and worse. From Geekomancy to Celebromancy to Attack the Geek, Underwood keeps the action high and the geekery even higher. Welcome, Michael, to a special edition of Cooking the Books on GeekMom!

Attack the Geek Full
With permission, Angry Robot Books.

Cooking the Books/Geek Mom: The Geekomancy series’ main character, Ree, has worked in several service industry niches—food and sales, with Cafe Xombie (Geekomancy)—as well as getting her break in Hollywood (Celebromancy). Now she’s a barista at Grognard’s. Can you talk a bit about the restaurant/bar culture as it relates to both geeks and geeky writers? 

Michael Underwood: As geekdom ascends in popularity, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen geekdom seep into bars and restaurants. Brooklyn has steampunk/SF-themed bar The Way Station, a group has kickstarted a geek bar, and there are others around the country. Fantasy taverns are the archetypal meeting place of adventurers and bars are frequently the cornerstone of any convention, from small regional conventions to big gaming and SF cons like GenCon.

Restaurants and bars are cruxes of socialization, and geekdom is social—it’s about sharing passion. So there’s really nothing better than some good food and drink to accompany shared enthusiasm and friendly arguments about beloved shows, books, comics, and more.

CtB/GM: Do you feel that you’ve taken the fantasy-style tavern brawl to a whole new level in Attack the Geek? How so?

MU: I honestly hadn’t thought much about Attack the Geek as a fantasy tavern brawl. I was more drawing on bottle episodes of TV shows, where our heroes have to hold out against attackers (like the “Jus in Bello” episode of Supernatural), on siege stories like the battle of Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and from “game comes alive” stories like Jumanji. Making the fortress a gamer bar and the gaming gear that comes alive in RPG/strategy games, I mixed up the influences to create something new.

CtB/GM: What are your favorite tavern/bar brawls from TV/film/literature?

MU: It’s hard to beat the bar brawls from Firefly and Serenity—from the pool cue bludgeons wielded by Jayne to people being thrown through holographic windows and Mal’s overly-cocky mugging for Inara to River’s subliminal-advertising-induced-intricately-choreographed ballet of violence that kicks off the plot of the whole film.

What makes these fun for me is how the fights so clearly reveal character: Jayne’s highly tactile approach to life, Mal’s chronic mis-calibration of morality to the situation and his devil-may-care attitude when things go wrong, Wash’s charming bravado as he threatens the locals with the Serenity’s non-existent guns, and River’s graceful, intricate approach to fighting and moving through life.

CtB/GM: If you could have one food item from pop culture, what would it be? 

MU: If it weren’t for the trout-zombie virus included, I’d want to try the energy drink from The Middleman!

I could stand an Ent-draught or two to get a tad taller, or maybe some lembas as emergency survival food. My Whedonite tendencies would lead me to wanting to try the Fruity Oaty Bar from Serenity—or maybe that’s the subliminal programming talking.

CtB/GM: When we discussed your CtB visit, we talked about new business models for publishing. It seems as if the restaurant industry is looking into similar business model changes… do you foresee “book trucks” (like food trucks) on the horizon?

MU: Penguin debuted a book truck at BEA last year, and then they sent it around the country for promotional purposes. We already have bookmobiles run by libraries, so it seems only sensible that someone could start a book truck—especially if they teamed up with food trucks to offer fun reads that would accompany the great eats. Though it seems like they’d probably end up spending a lot on napkins/hand wipes.

Being more serious, I think that book trucks are less of a no-brainer than food trucks, just because technology has already delivered mobile reading devices—phones, tablets, and e-readers. Airports still sell a goodly number of books to a captive audience, but I think that quite a bit of the appeal of book trucks would be the novelty, and it’d take some innovative thinking and business planning to get beyond that initial novelty. Genre-specific trucks with decoration themes are obvious. Fantasy truck with ’70s fantasy mural on the side? Hell yes. Steampunk truck with Victoriana and airship stories galore? For sure. Truck done up like a CSI lab with mystery/crime novels? Go for it.

CtB/GM: What about publishing with Angry Robot do you like best? Are publishers like restaurants?

MU: One of my favorite parts of working with Angry Robot is developing supportive working relationships with authors, each of whom is their own literary chef, bringing their expertise and aesthetic to our big restaurant of food for the mind.

The other part is the innovation mandate. My boss Marc Gascoigne is dedicated to forging ahead, to finding new and cooler ways of connecting with readers, whether that involves trying out print+ebook bundling, partnering with new business models (like Oyster), or another cool and crazy idea.

Publishers are definitely like restaurants in a number of ways: They develop followings based on selection/menu, presentation/packing, and on the personalities. And like restaurants, most publishers aren’t as much in direct competition with one another as you might think. The more restaurants there are that deliver incredible food and a welcoming atmosphere, the more likely customers/readers are to take a chance on another publisher or restaurant, since they’ve already had good luck at least once when they expanded their horizons.

I think there’s also a degree to which individual authors are like restaurants. You still have to cultivate a following, get your work out in front of more people than just your core audience, and that most restaurants/authors become known for one particular feel. You’re a pizza place or an epic fantasy author. Any time an author tries out a new flavor, there’s a risk, but the reward, the upside of finding a new combination, is more than enticing enough to be worth going out on an aesthetic limb.

CtB/GM: What’s next for Ree? What’s next for Michael Underwood? 

MU: I’m currently plotting and am soon to start writing Hexomancy, the third full-length Ree Reyes story. This will roll the plot of Attack the Geek into the overall plot of the series, and will also include some major developments in the characters’ relationships—plus, the usual mix of geeky comedy, superpowered geekdom, and action/adventure.

After Attack the Geek, my next release is Shield and Crocus (June 10), an action fantasy novel about a group of revolutionaries in a city built among the bones of a titan. They strike a bargain with one of the tyrants that rules the city in order to stop the magical storms which transmogrify and/or level entire neighborhoods at once, killing or transforming people along the way. It’s like what would happen if you set Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn in China Mieville’s New Crobuzon.

CtB/GM: Where might we expect to be seeing you this spring and summer?

MU: I’m going to be all over the place this year. Here are my scheduled appearances through the end of the summer:

  • May 23-26, BaltiCon, Baltimore, MD
  • May 28-31, Book Expo America, New York, NY
  • June 5-8, Phoenix Comicon, Phoenix, AZ
  • July 3-6, CONvergence, Minneapolis, MN
  • July 10-13, ReaderCon, Boston, MA
  • August 14-18, WorldCon (LonCon), London, UK

CtB/GM: Would you share a recipe with us?

I’m going to share my recipe for Ree’s favorite pizza from Turbo’s Pizzeria, affectionately known as…

The Pizza of Win 

For the dough:

  • 22 oz. warm water
  • 1 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 30 oz. unbleached bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 T medium or dark rye flour
  • 1 ½ tsp wheat germ
  • 1 ½ tsp mild-flavored honey
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1 T dried basil
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • Dash of garlic powder.
  • Olive oil for greasing

This is going to take several stages, so I recommend podcasts (like The Skiffy and Fanty Show, or Fran’s own Cooking The Books podcast with Mur Lafferty [coming soon!]) to listen to while you work.

  1. Start by making a sponge with 15 oz. of warm water, the yeast, and a pinch of sugar to help get the yeast get going. Wait a few minutes for science!
  2. Add 13 oz. of bread flour, the rye, and the wheat germ; stir to combine. Wooden spoons are best, because tradition. And flavor.
  3. Cover the bowl and stow it somewhere room temperature warmish. Listen to podcasts.
  4. 90 minutes of podcasts later, add the rest of the water (7oz.), the rest of the bread flour, the barley malt, the garlic powder, the basil, and the oregano. If you have a mixer, use it. If you like being old-school and hardcore, mix with the spoon and then knead the dough yourself. This will also give you the sexy baker look (and the less sexy dough-all-over-your-hands look).
  5. Mix/knead until the dough will pull away from the edge of the bowl. Another rubrick I’ve heard is that you want to mix the dough until it has the consistency of your earlobe (folkways!).
  6. Get your pizza pan and use cornmeal to dust the pan and the dough, so it doesn’t stick. Plus, cornmeal gives the dough a great mix of textures.
  7. Once you’ve got your dough ready, you’ll need the materials to make the pizza into a pizza of win:

Basil Pesto Oregano:

  • Roma tomatoes (sliced)
  • Mild Italian sausage (or soysage)
  • Feta cheese
  • And a standard mozzarella or mozzarella/Parmesan mix
  1. The basil pesto is your sauce and the mozzarella/Parmesan is your cheese base. Then, top it with pre-cooked crumbled Italian sausage, feta cheese, and the Roma tomatoes.
  2. Cook for 12 minutes at 400 degrees.
  3. Raise a glass to Ree Reyes, Turbo’s pizzeria, and the glory of pizza.
  4.  NOM.


Cooking the Books fans and GeekMoms alike, Michael has generously agreed to do a GIVEAWAY!

The details, from Michael himself: “I’ll give away a copy of Geekomancy (get in on the ground floor) or Attack the Geek (get the new book).”

How to enter: Comment below with your favorite food / geekdom pairing for a chance to win. [Forex: Earl Gray / Star Trek]

Michael will randomly pick a winner and announce it here and on Twitter on April 14.The winner will be contacted for mailing information.


photo courtesy of Michael R. Underwood

Michael R. Underwood is the author of GeekomancyCelebromancy, as well as the forthcoming Attack the GeekShield and Crocus, and The Younger Gods. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. Always books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiance, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes pizzas from scratch. Visit him at and on Twitter.

Want to read more Cooking the Books? The updated library of interviews is here.

How to Make Game of Thrones Weirwood Tree Cauliflower Steaks

Photo by Cindy White

Some time ago, I came across an intriguing recipe for cauliflower steaks. They’re easy to make and quite elegant, resembling lovely white trees on a plate. Of course, being a Game of Thrones fan, I couldn’t help but see a white tree and think “weirwood,” so I immediately started coming up with ways I could adapt the recipe to make it fit the description in the books. Now that the show is just about to return for a fourth season, I thought it would be a good time to share this slightly altered version of the innovative dish.

In Game of Thrones, weirwood trees are considered sacred by the people in the northern region of Westeros. The trees are distinguished by their pale white bark and blood-red leaves. Many of them also have eerie faces carved into their trunks. It is believed that the gods dwell in them and can see the past, present, and future through their eyes. In the first episode of the HBO series, Catelyn and Ned Stark meet beneath Winterfell’s heart tree, a grand weirwood that sits at the center of the castle’s godswood.

Image credit: HBO

Here’s what you’ll need to make Weirwood Tree Cauliflower Steaks:

  • One head of cauliflower (yields two to four steaks per head)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

Begin by trimming the leaves and stem from the head of cauliflower until the bottom is neat. Then, cut the head into 1/2-inch cross sections, straight through the top. You’ll end up with a few steaks and a lot of florets (save these to roast later or make into a delicious soup).

Photo by Cindy White

Using a paring knife, carve the faces into the trunks of your trees. You can make any kind of expression you want: angry, sad, laughing, whatever. It almost always ends up creepy, no matter what you do.

At this point, you can sear the steaks in a skillet with the olive oil (about 3 minutes on each side). However, that will make them golden brown and for our purposes, we want to keep them as white as possible, so straight into the oven they go. Coat them on both sides with the oil using a pastry brush or your hand, sprinkle with salt, and place them on a baking sheet.

Photo by Cindy White

Cook for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the edges start browning. To make the faces stand out more, I used a little kitchen torch around the edges to darken them.


For the final touch, sprinkle the branches with paprika and red pepper flakes to get the red leaf effect.

Photo by Cindy White

And that’s all there is to it. Here’s the finished product:


These are great as a main course or a side dish, depending on the preferences of your guests and your other menu options. They’d also make a perfect addition to an entire Game of Thrones-themed meal. After all, the books are full of lengthy descriptions of elaborate dishes that’ll make your mouth water and your stomach rumble. For more culinary inspiration from George R.R. Martin’s world, be sure to check out the ridiculously comprehensive collection of recipes at Inn at the Crossroads, the official Game of Thrones food blog.

Game of Thrones returns to HBO for its fourth season on Sunday, April 6 at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Feeding Mr. Banks: Secrets of a Hollywood Food Stylist

Photo courtesy of Disney.

What do Saving Mr. Banks, Dinner for Schmucks, How I Met Your Mother, and Boardwalk Empire have in common? They all feature the work of food stylist Chris Oliver. As chef and owner of Hollywood Food Styling, Oliver has provided beautiful, edible creations for hundreds of movies and TV shows.

“My niche is the on-camera food for film and TV,” Oliver explains. “I’m a chef, and one of the reasons I get a lot of jobs is when the actors actually have to eat the food. Or they’re supposed to eat the food. So it’s not like I can use glue for milk or any kind of chemicals or take cornstarch to thicken stuff. It really has to be natural stuff that they can ingest.”

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a few tricks of her own up her sleeve. Oliver shared some of her tips with a few bloggers at her test kitchen in Huntington Beach, California, where she designs and prepares a wide variety of screen cuisine. She gave us a demonstration of how she recreated some 1960s dishes for Saving Mr. Banks.

In the film, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) attempts to convince author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to sign over the movie rights to her Mary Poppins character. One of his tactics is to try to impress her with a steady parade of snacks and refreshments, which get fancier (at least by 1960’s standards) as the wooing goes on. It was Oliver’s challenge to make sure the dishes were not only appropriate for the period, but also reflected the story director John Lee Hancock wanted to tell.

This Mickey Mouse Jell-O mold illustrates Chris Oliver’s creativity and resourcefulness. Photo courtesy of Disney.

“What I was told when I got hired was, ‘We want to see junk food—Twinkies, Ding Dongs—and then we want to have a progression,'” Oliver says. “So they thought they were going to impress her.”

To make a buffet table look appetizing, she uses risers and double-sided tape to position the dishes with a slight tilt to the camera. Color is also important. A red plate, a garnish of parsley, or a sliced olive on top can liven up even the most boring dishes. She showed us how she carefully layers her plates to add interest without making them too busy. With a few well-placed strokes of a paring knife, she demonstrated how to make a rose out of a tomato or lemon peel. She also cautioned us to be mindful of the placement of the food and how it will appear on-screen, and illustrated her point using a photo from an old cookbook.

Food stylist Chris Oliver shows off an old cookbook with unfortunate baguette placement. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Cookbooks, it turns out, are Oliver’s secret weapon. She has shelves full of them in her kitchen, from every era and culture. She refers to them often to research era-appropriate ingredients, recipes, and presentations. It was so much fun flipping through pages and coming to terms with the truly horrifying reality of mid-century American cuisine.

But food isn’t all she creates. She’s also had to come up with edible facsimiles for things like vomit and dirt. For one war film, she got very detailed instructions on the kind of dirt they wanted her to make for a group of starving prisoners of war.

“They shipped in samples of Pakistani dirt so that I could match it, so they could eat it,” she said. “It’s a lot easier than you think. I did an edible arm for an alligator to actually eat. We did like a million of them. They’re huge and heavy and we had to figure out a way to cast it and make it.”

Chris Oliver transforms a plate of boring deviled eggs into a more photogenic dish. Photo courtesy of Disney.

After recreating a few signature dishes from Saving Mr. Banks, Oliver let us try our hand at a few classic recipes, including deviled eggs, fruit kebabs, chocolate tarts, and sandwich pinwheels. I was teamed up with a partner and assigned something called “Moss Balls,” which are basically several different kinds of cheese (cream, blue, and cheddar, among others) rolled up into a balls and covered in parsley. We picked a set of pretty wooden bowls and made them look as appetizing as we could. It wasn’t as good as Oliver’s work, but we were proud of our creation.

An amateur attempt at food styling. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Before meeting Oliver and her team, I didn’t think much about where the food in films and television comes from. Now I have a healthy appreciation for all of the thought and preparation that goes into it. What a food stylist really does is blend cooking and art in the service of creating the perfect culinary backdrop. Plus, you get to cook for some of the biggest names in Hollywood. As far as dream jobs go, it kind of takes the cake.

Saving Mr. Banks is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Holiday Open House

Our family hosts a fun open house for our friends and neighbors. This is a popular holiday tradition, particularly among military families. This is from our 2012 open house when we were still living in Florida. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Our family hosts a fun open house for our friends and neighbors. This is a popular holiday tradition, particularly among military families. This is from our 2012 open house when we were still living in Florida. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

When I was younger, I remember helping my mom make oodles of Christmas cookies every year. The majority of the cookies were destined for our friends, neighbors, mailman, bus drivers, and our schoolteachers. It was an inexpensive, homemade tradition in my family.

These days, my own family hosts an open house for our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We started doing this in 2005 when my husband and I couldn’t wrap our heads around having a more-formal holiday party that might combine his PhD-program friends with my toddler-playgroup friends. Not only would the two worlds not necessarily have much in common, but we weren’t sure everyone would fit into the house at once.

In 2005 we came up with the “open house” idea. We’d open up the house for a 6-8 hour period, welcome everyones’ kids, and offer a more-laid back food plan. This is totally my family’s style and we have really enjoyed doing this every year.

Eight years later, we have our annual open house down to an art form and I would love to share the best practices we’ve learned in case you’d like to host a holiday open house of your own.


There are two things that we have to take into account when we set the date for our open house. First of all, we attempt to have our open house on a Saturday. This usually means deconflicting with holiday piano recitals, office parties, and other friends’ open houses. We also try not to have it too close to Christmas itself, so we can catch many of our friends before they head out of town. Secondly, we usually start in the late afternoon and allow it to extend into the late evening. This way, families with young children can come earlier, and then those without younger kids can stay later. This worked out well when our sons were toddlers and preschoolers: they could celebrate with their friends.


We do the same thing every year: two kinds of fondue with all the goodies for dipping. Cheese fondue and chocolate fondue are universally appealing, and we offer a variety of breads, cakes, fruits, and vegetables to dip.

In addition, we have an assortment of Christmas cookies and dips, such as my mother-in-law’s very popular shrimp cheese ball.

In 2010 we went to a fellow Air Force member’s open house and learned a new favorite: bacon roll ups! The first year we offered these I couldn’t make them fast enough! We have learned to make up a double recipe the night before and bake them in small batches.

While we certainly don’t ask it of anyone, we have learned to count on our guests to bring their favorite treats, dips, spreads, and snacks. We welcome all of it and it adds to the festivities.


We typically have alcoholic beverages available at our open house. I wonder if the convention at an open house is to not overdo things, because we’ve never had a problem with drunk guests. <Knock wood!> We have beer and wine available, and I try to come up with a unique beverage to offer in our punch bowl, Crock Pot, or Christmas-tree-shaped glass dispenser. In years past we’ve offered hot mulled cider in the Crock Pot and “real” egg nog in the punch bowl.

For those who choose non-alcoholic option, we have plenty of non-spiked cider, soda, juices, and egg nog, as well as multiple options for the kids.

I always set out a bowl of Silly Bandz for guests to use as wine charms!

Did your kids go through a Silly Bandz phase? Re-purpose them into wine charms! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Other Activities

One of the perks of this being an “open house” is that very little else is expected of us as hosts. We are free to mingle and talk. Usually, I’m in the kitchen monitoring the bacon roll ups in the oven, or refilling the egg nog punch-bowl, but I can enjoy visiting with friends during all of that. We aren’t the least bit formal! For the kids (and adults!) we have plenty of board games and video games.

A couple years ago, I learned to put all of my recipes on a Pinterest board for easy reference and easy sharing with friends. Pay a visit if you need ideas for your own open house.

Thanks to uprooting ourselves every 2-3 years, we are able to have the same menu items every year and it seems like a fresh new party! This has made planning for our open house much less stressful… and more of a holiday tradition!

Review: NatureBox Subscription Box, A Snacking Alternative

Image: NatureBox
Image: NatureBox

NatureBox subscription boxes deliver unique foods to your door every month to give you an alternative to the stuff found in your local grocery aisle.

Most parents are very concerned about the quality of food their children eat, and one of the biggest challenges tends to be snack foods. You can guide your kids toward healthy snacks, but the options are limited and often don’t taste so great. NatureBox aims to provide a healthy and tasty snacking alternative.

The service provides a new box each month with five full-sized snacks with options for 10 and 20 pack boxes. The basic five-pack box will run you $19.95 per month so it’s roughly $4 per bag. My sample box had bags from 3.75 to 5.5 ounces so despite being called full-sized, they’re not large bags.

What exactly do they mean by “healthy?” All the snacks are nutritionist-approved and have no high fructose corn syrup; partially hydrogenated oils; or artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors, and have 0 grams of trans fat. Basically, they’ve gotten rid of all the stuff we avoid when we read labels in a store.

Image: NatureBox
Image: NatureBox

The one major drawback to the snacks is their high calorie count. My Fall Feast box came with Harvest Nut Mix (675 calories/bag), Baked Sweet Potato Fries (280 calories/bag), Flax Fortune Chips (520 calories/bag), Honey Crunch Crisps (800 calories/bag), and Dried California Peaches (250 calories/bag).

I listed these by the bag because, despite having serving sizes that are much smaller, these aren’t big bags. They’re the kind of thing that the average kid, or adult, could easily eat in a sitting. Now, of course you don’t have to eat the bag and they can be sealed back up to finish later, but you’re going to be having a high-calorie count even for a handful of food.

The snacks themselves were very tasty with plenty of crunch and flavor. They were also very different from what you’ll find in the snack aisle at the grocery store, which may be a challenge if you have picky kids.

Image: NatureBox
Image: NatureBox

I admit, I didn’t tell them what they were eating until they tried it and deemed it delicious. That’s just my kids, who aren’t the most adventurous eaters, so you might be able to sell your kids on Flax Fortune Chips. Mine would have scrunched up their face at the name.

And they were definitely the kinds of snacks that an adult would love, too. I can see stashing these in your desk drawer or munching them on a long commute home. As long as you watch the high calorie counts, or if that’s simply not where you choose to focus your efforts, NatureBox subscription boxes are a tasty and unique snacking alternative.

GeekMom received this product for review purposes.

Food Allergy Cards for International Travel

Food allergy card in Hindi. Photo:
Food allergy card in Hindi. Photo:

Select Wisely offers a very valuable service: laminated wallet-sized cards translated into over forty languages, describing your food allergy or other health condition. This looks like an invaluable resource if you or your child is traveling internationally. Along with common allergies such as peanuts and shellfish, they also have cards for eggs, gluten, milk, latex, Type 1 diabetes, asthma, and penicillin, among many others. The languages available include everything from Arabic to Vietnamese. They accept special orders, and can also send you a document over email which you can print and carry yourself, or show to people on your smartphone.

As one of the (many) testimonials on the site put it:

My 12 year old son has gone on 2 school international tours using your food allergy cards. 5 different countries with no allergen exposures. Parents do not travel with the school so so having the allergy cards is a great worry reducer.

This could easily be a lifesaver for some people. The prices range from $4 to $15, depending on the complexity of the document. That seems like a very reasonable price to pay if this is a major concern and you have any worries about communication barriers.

Thanks to Esther M. Friesner for the link.

Teenager Aims to Un-Junk Junk Food with Unreal Candy

Unreal candy comes in five varieties, including Candy Coated Chocolates. Image: Unreal.

I’m a candy geek. I know in today’s healthified world, it’s not proper to say such things. But, I do love me some Twizzlers, M&Ms, and even the occasional filling-pulling Mary Jane. I know these things aren’t good for me. Some are downright awful. However, there’s a relatively new company out there named Unreal, and they’re applying different methods and familiar ingredients in an effort to un-junk some of our favorite junk foods.

Now, it’s a bit of a stretch to use the words “candy” and “healthy” in the same sentence. “Healthy candy is an oxymoron,” says Adam Melonas, Unreal’s co-founder and chief innovation officer. “Candy is candy.”

It’s true that each Unreal product has both calories and fat, so there’s no miracle at work here. However, the Boston-based company has made it a mission to eliminate all of the unrecognizable, unacceptable ingredients from its products. In other words, the company is cutting out most of the stuff that you’d find filling out today’s candy section.

Even more impressive, Unreal was the brainchild of Nicky Bonner, who came up with the idea for the company at the ripe age of 13.

It all started a few years back, after a fruitful Halloween haul. “I went trick-or-treating one night, woke up, and half of my candy was gone,” Nicky says. “My dad took it.” Like many parents, Michael Bonner didn’t like the idea of so many chemicals at Nicky’s disposal. Determined to show his dad that candy wasn’t so bad after all, Nicky did some research. “It was the only time in my life that I had to say he was right,” he says. Nicky then decided that there had to be a better way.

With Michael’s help, Nicky talked to doctors, food scientists, and several other experts all over the world. He also spoke to Adam, a renowned chef.

“I’m not sure how many chefs you know, but generally we take ourselves very seriously. This kind of threw me off-balance at the beginning,” Adam says. “However, it was literally seconds after we started speaking that I knew that this was no ordinary 13-year-old child. The power that existed within the message he was spreading; it was very contagious.”

Nicky had an idea to create an indulgence, without all of the bad stuff. “We wanted it to be made out of all real ingredients, less sugar, no artificials, ” Nicky says. “All good stuff and none of the junk.”

Adam Melonas sourcing ingredients for Unreal in Equador. Image: Unreal/Casey Neistat.

Currently, Unreal offers five types of candy using real ingredients — stuff you’d actually recognize and would be able to pronounce. The lineup includes options that are similar to a few of the candy classics. There are Candy Coated Chocolates, Candy Coated Chocolate with Peanuts, a Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar, a Chocolate Caramel Peanuts Nougat Bar, and Peanut Butter Cups (Nicky’s personal favorite). To keep the costs down, it’s not 100-percent organic. That said, Unreal promises to deliver its products without the use of corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors and colors, or even GMOs.

Adam says that coming up with Unreal’s lineup was a bit of a science project. The staff went through thousands of recipes, as well as testing on Nicky’s friends and countless others. “It would make your head spin if you understood how we went through 18 months on roasting peanuts,” Adam says. “Selecting the right peanuts, roasting the perfect roast on the peanuts; it sounds like the most inefficient or unskilled process you could imagine. It was literally that level of detail to give the people what they want.”

Another important part of the experimentation process involved reducing the amount of sugar in every product. Adam says that at one point, they actually took out so much sugar, it stopped tasting like candy. “Sugar on the market today is the greatest possible filler because it’s the cheapest possible ingredient,” he says. “We did the opposite and put in protein and fiber. However, we will never call it healthy or a healthier candy. The aim of the company and the aim of the mission was merely to give people a better alternative.”

Unlike some of those candy companies using faux ingredients, there’s no secret to Unreal candy. “We got back to basics,” Adam says. “We used real ingredients and it sounds cliché — but we used ingredients that your grandmother would recognize.”

My husband, 6-year-old son, and I tested out some of the Unreal lineup and were pleasantly surprised. While it doesn’t have the same level of sweetness as our old favorites, it also doesn’t have that toxic taste. It also includes a hearty dose of fiber, which makes having less of the candy a lot more satisfying.

Unreal just launched a year ago. The company is working on wider distribution, as well as making better candy. Adam says that each Unreal product is a project that’s never complete. Nicky is also very involved in day-to-day operations, in between his home-schooling and all of the other normal responsibilities of a 16-year-old. Besides the actual candy, Nicky is always thinking about the company’s potential and new innovations. He says that he hopes to expand the Unreal line to sodas and snack foods in the near future.

Unreal makes candy that’s very similar to some of your old favorites. Image: Unreal.

Unreal candy is currently available across the U.S. Check out the company’s website for a list of retailers.

History Geek: 1930s Week

Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Swing dancing! The creation of Superman! Adagio for Strings! Radio Plays! Migrant Mother photojournalism! Heath bars! The Wizard of Oz! Monopoly!

The last few weeks I’ve been preparing for and directing a History Through the Creative Arts Camp about America during The Great Depression. Originally history was written down by conquerors who took political power. This legacy continues in history textbooks that think that war and politics are the most important parts of history to study. I disagree. I think history is the whole human experience during a time period. Of course, this makes it tough to design a children’s summer camp that only lasts five days. So I turn to passion.

Rebecca explaining something with lots of hand movements…. Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Tasting historic recipes each day. Image By Rebecca Angel

Passion makes for great teaching. I’m passionate about the creative arts, culture, and social justice. So that’s my focus on history. And when students learn why certain songs were written, when the photographs were taken, how the plays were created, they learn about the power struggles during that time and place. I run the week by having the campers sing, dance, write, eat, sew, and create their way through the time period.

A student talking about their own research. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I also asked for help. During the week of camp there were other adults bringing their expertise (geeky excitement) to the campers. Plus, the kids themselves taught each other. My daughter ran the camp newspaper, “Typewriter Talk,” with the campers taking turns being reporters for the day. Another student of mine asked if I was covering Europe during the ’30s. I wasn’t getting into the details of the start of World War II with this camp. She asked if she could do a five minute presentation each day because she thought it was really important for everyone to know this stuff. Sure!

Campers taking their parents on a tour of camp. Image By Rebecca Angel

What I wasn’t covering in active learning, I put out on display. In the space I use for camp is a huge wall for push-pins. The other counselors and I fill this wall with all the things we found out, but couldn’t squeeze into the time allotted. Scientific achievements, slang terms, maps about the Dust Bowl (then and what’s happening now!), details on the stock market, the 1936 Olympics, weird advertisements, and lots more. My daughter created a display on photojournalism. My son did one on the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP—he pointed out it sounded like a sound effect). There were puzzles and written activities available during downtime where the answers could be found on The Wall. Whoever completed a sheet got a tiny harmonica (so they could sound like hobos around a campfire…) or candy created during the 1930s.

In the spirit of the '30s, I asked the kids to wear the same clothes everyday (washing was encouraged) and they worked on making outfits for Friday's party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Sewing clothes for Friday’s party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I’ve run many history camps over the years, but this was the toughest to research; so many aspects made me cry. A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression is one example of trying to get to the heart of The Great Depression. I read some of it to the campers. I focused on the positive things of sharing and kindness, but the fact that people were so grateful for so little during this time—is enough to make the tears flow. (I kept myself in check during camp.)

Family history as decorations. Image By Rebecca Angel

I’ll write a few more posts about aspects of camp I think you might enjoy: games, comics, movies, and radio plays. If anything, I encourage everyone to do one of the projects during camp: Research your own family history. The campers presented how their families got through the hard times of the 1930s, and there were some great stories. My own grandfather was a newsboy in the lower East side of NYC.

I could write so much more because everything was so cool! I hope I inspire you to get geeked about history! Here’s a video of the swing dancing each day:

Chop Chop – A Fun Cooking Magazine For Families


Photo: Chop Chop Magazine
Photo: Chop Chop Magazine

 Back in the day, when there was no internet to distract and encourage a mom who might happen to be spending her days surrounded by four little ones, we had to rely on magazines to keep us connected.  It was a glorious day when a fresh copy of Parents or Parenting arrived in my mailbox. One of the first things I did was turn to the food section and tear out the kid friendly recipe of the month. After trying it out a few times it was neatly filed in my little home office, right next to files containing car paperwork and bank statements.

But it’s a new age for mamas and the hungry little ones who live in their houses. Now we have the internet. There are recipe sites by the thousands. There are parenting sites by the millions. But one of the most exciting resources I’ve found lately, that brings it all together beautifully, is a bright little magazine called Chop Chop. Continue reading Chop Chop – A Fun Cooking Magazine For Families

Chew on This: Is Big Biz influencing dietitians? – San Antonio Express-News

Image: Wikipedia Commons.
Image: Wikipedia Commons.

A group of registered dietitians has taken to Facebook to protest their professional organization’s more and more intimate relationships with “Big Food”. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics often counts on funding from ConAgra, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and other large corporations for its conferences and training.

I don’t necessarily think this is a new trend; many professional organizations need to follow the funding to keep afloat, especially in today’s day and age. Do you think it’s a conflict of interest?

Chew on This: Is Big Biz influencing dietitians? – San Antonio Express-News.

Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 1)

Food is very important to me. Wait, that sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Because really, whether you eat to live or live to eat; food is important to all living creatures. But I love to cook, I love to bake, I love to eat out, I love to eat in other people’s homes. If you tell me you’ve gone to a particular restaurant, I will ask you what you ordered off the menu there, and, as my husband pointed out, will actively listen to your answer and even ask pointed questions.

“You’re not just being pleasant,” he said to me, early on in our relationship. “You really want to know!”

When I go to another country, one of my favorite things to do is find the local supermarket and browse the shelves.  I know I get this from my mother and her identical twin sister. My father’s half-sister came to visit us once, and upon returning from a “quick trip” to the supermarket, she said to me, “My God, we were there for ages! And then I looked at them, and I realized, they’re window shopping in the local supermarket chain!”

In my experience, when you pop into the local supermarket, you will find chocolates, candy, and cookies that are interesting and unique to the culture – and you can buy them as souvenirs and gifts for friends back home. They will be much cheaper than the same product being sold in tourist areas. And it’s not just international. Oh no. Honey, I once killed a pleasant three hours in a Winn-Dixie outside of New Orleans while I waited for Delta to fly my luggage to the right city. Supermarkets say a lot about where you are visiting. And New Orleans had a plethora of indigenous products to gander at.

I cook a lot, and I involve my daughter as much as I can. We have a Learning Tower in our kitchen, and Vivi spends a lot of time up there at counter level, helping me make our meals, or treats. I want her to grow up knowing how food gets to her table, and understand what goes into the food she eats. At the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, he explains why food in restaurants tastes so much better than the food you make at home: monte au buerre. I think it’s important to know things like this, so you have an understanding of the work that goes into making a meal. When we cook something together and eat it, I always say that it tastes better because we are proud to have made it.

So I was intrigued when Spil games contacted me and invited me to Amsterdam to discuss, and be a part of the launch of their wildly popular game Sara’s Cooking Class on mobile devices. (In the interest of full disclosure, they invited fellow GeekMom Melissa Wiley, who had to decline due to previous commitments. She, weepingly, but graciously recommended me for the trip instead, and was rewarded handsomely with Stroopwafel.)

Continue reading Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 1)

A $20 Box of Awesome: La Bella Box

La Bella Box
The October La Bella Box. Image source: Melissa Wiley.

Is there anything nicer than getting a package full of surprises in the mail? How about a package full of surprises in the mail once a month! I’ve noticed a growing number of monthly subscription-box services popping up lately; I decided to check out a bunch of them and report my findings here. Previously reviewed: Knoshbox.

La Bella Box curates an assortment of items from boutiques across the country. These may include artisan foods, handmade crafts, or health and beauty items. It’s an appealing concept: the chance to sample carefully selected items from Etsy shops and other makers, and at a quite reasonable price. The mix of edible and artsy items sets this subscription apart from the crowd.

Sample contents: The September La Bella Box contained handmade caramels by the Bubble Gum Art Co., some very cool Pure Raw Honey Tea from Honey Tea Thyme (you stir a spoonful into a mug hot water for an unusual and heartening drink), a reversible cloth beverage wrap by Joe Jacket, and some cold process honey soap from the Wild Herb Soap Co. The October box — well, this one, comprised totally of food items, made us swoon. Copper Ridge Simply Scrumptious Pumpkin Butter (a big hit with my kids), Chocolove Mini Chocolate Bar (I hogged it myself), La Spice The Walnut Company Cinnamon Spice Walnuts (my husband would like to order these in bulk), Magee’s Nuts Butternut Corn (think Cracker Jack, but eighty-seven thousand times tastier).

Monthly subscription cost: $20. (That includes tax and shipping.) Single box, three-month, and six-month subscription options.

Gift subscriptions available? Yes, including an email-notification option if you don’t have your gift recipient’s address on hand. At $20, this is an excellent gift idea.

Sample La Bella Box was provided for review.

Lonely Planet's Coffee Table Books Bring Adventure Into Your Home

Image: Lonely Planet

Last month, Lonely Planet published two gorgeous new books that will both inspire you and decorate your coffee table. When I think of Lonely Planet, I think of travel guides that you take along on your travels. But these new books will instead plant the seed for future adventure. Great travel books include magnificent photography that evokes emotion and paints a scene. These books definitely succeed there.

Continue reading Lonely Planet's Coffee Table Books Bring Adventure Into Your Home

A Delicious Subscription: Knoshbox

October Knoshbox
October subscription box from

Is there anything nicer than getting a package full of surprises in the mail? How about a package full of surprises in the mail once a month! I’ve noticed a growing number of monthly subscription-box services popping up lately, and it’s a trend I support wholeheartedly. I decided to check out a bunch of them and report my findings here. Up first: a box full of flavor.

Knoshbox describes itself as “a monthly subscription box for artisan food.” Let me say right off the bat that Knoshbox would make a fantastic gift for anyone on your list: the chance to sample some truly scrumptious foods from all across the country.

Sample contents: The October box had a wonderful autumn theme — quite a treat for my sunbaked SoCal family. It contained a jar of Skillet Pumpkin Sauce (from Seattle-based Skillet Street Food); some Happy Jack Pumpkin Crunch Granola and a Toasted Orchard Bar, both by Nate’s Naturals of New Haven, CT; and a package of utterly to-die-for Bacon Peanut Brittle (made by The Redhead NYC, an East Village eatery). Bacon peanut brittle. I ask you. All of the items were delicious (the apple-flavored Orchard Bar was gone five minutes after I opened the package) and we loved the opportunity to sample some truly original food.

What’s next: The November box’s theme is Bourbon: bourbon caramels, bourbon-sugar-crusted homemade marshmallows, bourbon pecan pancake mix, and bourbon pecan brownies — from artisans in Vermont, Indiana, Georgia, and Illinois. Sign up by Nov. 1 to get in on this package, or check back later in the month to see what December has in store.

Monthly subscription cost: $30. (Includes shipping.)

Gift subscriptions available? Yes — a single-box option allows you to try the service for one month, or send it to a friend. And if you fall in love with a particular item, you can order more in Knoshbox’s Market.

Sample box provided for review.

Eat Like a Geek: A Medieval Feast

Medieval Bakers. Image by Wikipedia, Public Domain. The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

This week we’ve got a comprehensive collection of recipes from our own Kris Bordessa, excerpted from her very cool book, Great Medieval Projects You Can Build Yourself. So you don’t have time or energy or the extra cash to get to a Renaissance Faire this year? Why not make our own at home? The book is written for the 9-12 set, but anyone can benefit from the factoids below, as well as indulge in the historical flavors!

And if olde recipes and thynges pique your interest, don’t forget to check out Kris’s book on Amazon. Take it away, Kris!

A Medieval Feast

A medieval feast was a grand event. Feasts celebrated special events or honored guests visiting the castle. The food in itself was entertainment and often the castle cooks presented elaborately decorated platters of food. For instance, the cook might serve a roasted peacock that that had its grand tail feathers put back in place, making for quite an impressive dish.

You might think the best dishes and silverware would be used at a feast, but medieval era people didn’t use the same kinds of tableware that we do today. Instead of plates, diners each used what was called a trencher — a piece of stale bread. Diners chose food from a common platter using their fingers, and placed their morsels on their trencher. The only utensil that people used at a meal was a knife. This was important for cutting meat. People used their fingers for all other eating. Diners frowned upon people who licked their fingers while sharing a plate with others — talk about bad manners! Between courses, servants brought bowls of water so that diners could clean their hands.

Make Your Own Trencher

You’ll need:

  • a round loaf of French bread
  • a sharp knife

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Slice the bread horizontally into ½ inch thick pieces.
3. Place the bread pieces directly onto the wire racks in your oven. Bake for about half an hour. If the bread is crispy, like toast, it’s done. If not, continue baking, making sure to check it every ten minutes.
4. When the bread is done, use these trenchers instead of plates at your medieval feast (you may want to use a tablecloth!) Continue reading Eat Like a Geek: A Medieval Feast

Julia Child's 100th Birthday Celebrated Online


If you grew up in the 80s like I did, there’s a high probability that you came across Julia Child the same way: through PBS. The ebullient and impressive host of a variety of programs, she had a way with food–a casual, almost childlike enthusiasm for great ingredients and everything French.

In celebration of her 100th birthday, PBS has pulled out all the stops at their website, including a highlights video and that gorgeous infographic above.

Continue reading Julia Child's 100th Birthday Celebrated Online

Fourteen Fictional Foods You Can't Have (And Recipes For Them)

This picture is a lie. Image credit: qwrrty

Our favorite fictional worlds are often fantastically full of fantasy flavors–some better than others. It’s hard to resist creating Earthly versions of them, so why fight it? Here are fourteen foods from fiction and ways to make them yourself, along with three you can find without much invention.


Of the myriad Middle Earth munchies, lembas seems to be the most popular to recreate. (Maybe because “cram” is a less appealing name, especially when eating it is described as “a chewing exercise.”) Lembas, on the other hand, has a description similar to hard tack, a cracker sort of thing we don’t see much of in the US. Here’s a lembas recipe based on what we know about it. At the end of the experiment, you will be baked andthentherewillbe cake.

Fruity Oaty Bars

I wouldn’t fault you for printing Fruity Oaty Bar wrappers and putting them on your Clif bars. That seems reasonable, and less likely to have any ill effects from consuming Blue Sun products. But if you want to make your own, they tell us right there in the name that they likely contain something resembling fruit, something resembling oats, and are bar-shaped. How convenient! Even more convenient–a recipe using oats and the fruit puree of your choice. I invited your best friend, the Companion Cube. Of course, he couldn’t come because you murdered him.


Cake and grief counseling will be available at the conclusion of the post. This is your fault. I’m going to kill you. And all the cake is gone. You don’t even care, do you?


Leave it to the Klingons to name a delicacy with the sound a human is likely to make when eating it. Short of actually eating live worms (which I really don’t recommend, despite enjoying How to Eat Fried Worms), you can recreate the look with Jell-o Blood Worms. If your tongue is brave, try this recipe made with ginger and cocoa. And if you’re really yearning for the sensation, I think you could get close with casu marzu.Momentum, a function of mass and velocity, is conserved between portals. In layman’s terms, speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.


Really? Really? You want to eat spoo? Babylon 5 fans are so weird. (I love you anyway.) How about some gnocchi spoo? It’s not worms, but we covered that particular taste with the gagh. Did you know you can donate one or all of your vital organs to the Aperture Science Self Esteem Fund for Girls? It’s true!

Food cubes

Dear Future,

Nutrition is important, but food is supposed to look good as well as taste good. Please remember this.

The present

I’m all about space travel, but you won’t see me spending long on any planet that thinks food cubes are a good idea. Claudia Black, who played Aeryn Sun on Farscape, says they used “hawanalis.” A poster on the RPF suggests that what she really meant was haw flake candy.That thing you burnt up isn’t important to me. It’s the Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit; it makes shoes for orphans. Nice job breaking it, hero.


The problems with popplers are plentiful, and not limited to MEAT protests. There’s the lack of transportation to Omicron Persei 8, the difficulty of eating animated food, and the fact that I can’t stop thinking about my fond 80s feelings for Popples. Searching for imitation recipes of this Futurama universe delicacy will yield you everything from seafood bites to hush puppies to chicken nuggets, so choose your favorite deep-fried, ball-shaped treat and sing along. You can pick ’em, you can lick ’em, you can chew ’em, you can stick ’em. If you promise not to sue us, you can shove one up your nose!” The Enrichment Center is required to remind you that the Weighted Companion Cube cannot talk. In the event that it does, ignore its advice.

Ice planets

Your food is problematic? Let us solve your problem! Make your own Firefly ice planets to torture your kids all afternoon. Anyway, this cake is great. It’s so delicious and moist. Look at me still talking when there’s science to do.

Continue reading Fourteen Fictional Foods You Can't Have (And Recipes For Them)

10 Things We're So Over on Pinterest

Image: Natania Barron

When Pinterest burst onto the social media scene, there was a ripple of excitement among the GeekMoms. Curating shiny pictures, ordering and pinning things — yes, this pertained to our collective interests. We practically fell over one another to get invites. But in the last few months, we’ve all started to notice some trends that are, how shall we say, completely and utterly annoying. So we thought, in the spirit of Pinterest, that we’d share.

From hairdos and hairdon’ts to unexpected abs, here’s our top ten list of things we’re so over on Pinterest.

1) Nail polish. It’s got a ubiquitous pose. The hand, tilted just so. The nails, aligned just right, clutching that marvelous bottle like Excalibur pulled from the stone–no, no more, just… stop. Half the nail polish shots we see are pretty much straight off the Sally Hansen shelf (which, let’s face it, we’re all quite capable of); the rest look like you totally did that with your left hand (nailed it!). A small percentage are actually pretty keen (like some amazing geek inspired examples that include multiple TARDISes or Pac-Man, etc.). But by and large, we’re reaching for our nail polish remover. For our eyes.

2) Misfiled pins. Chalk it up to our obsessive compulsive tendencies. But why in the world are nail polish poses showing up under Food and Drink? Or Nature? Not to mention those truly annoying before and after shots of “Look at me I lost 50 lbs. in six months” showing up in just about every category out there (I mean, it’s one step away from the “ridiculously easy tricks to lose weight” ads). Surely there’s got to be a better user-generated way to curate some of this stuff. Not to mention, they really need to improve their search. Seems like Google Search integration would totally be the way to go.

3) Keep Calm and… Okay. So, like Facebook, Pinterest has demonstrated itself as one of those places online where memes go to die. And while the Keep Calm meme hearkens back to WWII propaganda in England and has a certain historical charm to it, I think we can all agree that it’s been done to death. Literally. Let’s truly carry on, shall we? And of course that’s not to mention all the other terribly hackneyed memes out there. Just because you can use Photoshop, doesn’t mean you should–and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s funny. Let’s leave it to the professionals. (Kristen just hopes that less “Keep Calm” doesn’t usher in more of the Gibson girls bemoaning making dinner memes. I’m with her.)

4) Bad links to crappy ads. Because so much of Pinterest is merely about the outside (the shiny pretty pictures) plenty of people have used this to exploit users by hiding links to their online schemes. Take a pair of R2-D2 shoes I pinned, without checking the link. I was later informed that it went to some bunk website selling crap. New to Pinterest at the time, I had no idea the links conveyed like that. I was just sharing because OMG R2 SHOES. I try to be more careful now. But it’s not the first time I’ve seen this, and it still proliferates. We need a way to report this stuff better, don’t you think?

5) Hair bows. Granted, I give Gaga points for this one. She’s a style icon. She can wear a meat dress, or a paper bag, or a Muppet dress and totally get away with it. She’s haute geek. But hair bows on the general population pretty much look ridiculous. Especially on poor little children. This needs to go away, pronto. Along with some of the really, really ugly hair “experiments”.

6) Gwyneth Paltrow. Nothing against Gwyn. I like her, I do. She’s plucky. She’s got some pipes, cool style, and hey, she’s even got her own website, which I dig. I just can’t figure out how no matter what I search for, she shows up. Looking for a brownie recipe? There’s Gwyneth looking gorgeous and making me feel guilty for wanting brownies. Want some ideas for a baby shower? There’s Gwyneth reminding you that her children are cuter than yours. Want some wedding tips? There’s Gwyneth smiling at you to inform you that she’s Mrs. Chris Martin. It gets to a girl after a while. I say let’s counter with a little Tina Fey.

7) Willowy Girls in various poses. This term was coined by our own Laura. You know what I’m talking about. She’s tall. She’s thin. She’s blonde. Her hair is tousled just so. Her dress is flawless, her skin akin to moonlit alabaster. Maybe she’s sharing how to get the perfect French braid, or exhibiting the next must have fashion accessory. Maybe she’s staring your way to entice you to feel terrible about yourself. Whatever reason she’s there, she is everywhere. It’s time for some buxom, regular ladies to own it. Don’t you think? Too much polish and we might as well chuck in Pinterest for Cosmopolitan.

8) Jars of stuff. Hey, look! It’s a jar with glitter on it! It’s a jar with cookie ingredients in it! It’s a jar filled with leaves! It’s a glowy jar! A jar in a jar! A Jar-Jar in a jar! A jar filled with a preserved goat fetus! (Okay, I’ve never seen that last one, and I’ve got to admit that would be kind of cool.) But, let’s have a talk, oh persistent pinners of the magic of the Jar. Jars are containers. See-thru containers. And guess what!? You can put stuff in them. Apparently, on Pinterest, this is a novel concept. Next up: Tupperware!

9) Rainbow cakes. So. It turns out if you add massive quantities of food coloring to box cake in a spectrum of shades, you can stack them up and make rainbow cake. Never heard of that? Wow, you must be the last human on earth.

10) Abs with no heads. Nothing says “you’re a complete and total fitness failure” like the glorious abs of a person you don’t know. It’s kind of intimate, y’know? And there’s something downright off-putting about headless bodies. If I follow your fitness regimen, does that mean I have to forsake my head? Sometimes these are accompanied by lists of how to get these rock bodies, and it always includes uncomfortable sounding positions like a “Russian twist” which, I think, sounds like a delicious vodka beverage. But most of the time it’s juxtaposed against food. You know: Rock hard abs and… seventeen layer cheese lasagne covered in Bearnaise sauce. Perfect Pilates sculpted thighs offset by deep fried brownies slathered in butter cream and ganache. How are we supposed to be motivated when we’re getting these mixed messages?

What’s the solution to this pintastrophe? Well, aside from jars full of pickled science specimens, let’s just say I’m open to suggestions.

(Special thanks to Brigid, Kelly, Laura, Melissa, Judy, Patricia, Sophie, Ariane, Kris, and Kristen for their input!)

Gadgets For Grilling: Brookstone Talking Remote Meat Thermometer and More!

Brookstone Grill Alert Talking Meat Thermometer
Grill Alert Talking Meat Thermometer, Image: Brookstone

The Brookstone Talking Remote Meat Thermometer takes the guesswork out of summer grilling. It’s one of the biggest challenges all us would-be Bobby Flays face. How do you know when the meat is done? Especially if you’re cooking a larger cut, it can be difficult to know when you’ve crossed the line from raw to perfect to glorified piece of leather.

Most people have some kind of thermometer that they can use to check the temperature of their meat, but this usually involves keeping a close watch over your food and periodically stabbing it to see how much the temperature has increased. If you walk away, start talking to your friends, and lose track of time for a few, then you may come back to find your food terribly overcooked.

Continue reading Gadgets For Grilling: Brookstone Talking Remote Meat Thermometer and More!

Summer Food: 30 Fun Ideas For Your Geeklets

food fun for kids,
Peachy. (CC by 2.0 Bruce Tuten)

1. Make a bowl of edible worms. Grossly yummy.

2. Play the match game with little ones. Simply hide equal portions under small containers on a tray. This makes healthy snacks and new foods a treat, not an obligation.

3. Make frozen yogurt dots. Spoon (or pipe from a plastic bag with a corner cut open) your favorite flavored yogurt in small dots on a baking sheet. Freeze for about an hour, then pop off the dots. Cold deliciousness.

4. Learn a bagel cutting technique that teaches a mathematical principle.

5. Have a watermelon speed spitting contest. “Outside, I said outside!”

6. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing. Encourage the creator to come up with a name for the frozen delight, like Toby’s Tooth Freeze or Sadie’s Strawberry Slush. Continue reading Summer Food: 30 Fun Ideas For Your Geeklets