Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Lunch Sacks

Now that the end of the school year is upon us, it's not exactly the time of year most people are thinking about lunch boxes. Then again, I am not most people and I think about lunch all the time, so it's as good a time a year as any. I found these lunch sacks on the Lands' End web site in the clearance section for a really great price, $6.99, so I picked them up for the squirts. The regular price for the newer, updated is $10.50 or 2 for $20.00, so not bad for a good quality sack. The lilac is M's, something other than pink for a change, and the bright red is for Z.

They are very durable and sturdy, which is what I expect from Lands' End. The exterior is a durable woven nylon and the interior is a heavy weight PVC that can be pulled out and cleaned very easily. The top folds over and secures with velcro and there is a plastic handle at the top along with a nifty carabiner clip to hook onto backpacks or, in our case, the rolling backpacks my kids use for their skates. The shape is more of a flatter rectangle than I thought, taller and longer and about the same width as my ipod, so it will probably work better lying down than standing up.

Lands' End has quite a selection of lunch boxes in various sizes. While they are not inexpensive, they are very durable and will take a beating. One that I like is the Uniform HotStuff Lunch Box which includes a thermal container. At $29.50, it's a pretty good value considering that the thermal containers alone are around $14.00 at Target.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Summer snack

We had our normal Monday after school routine in which I have to work and Z has two 45-minute sessions of practice. Add thirty-five minute rides each way and it's 7:30 before we have dinner. Although the brutally hot weather has subsided, for now, it was quite warm today, so I made today's snacks with all of that in mind.

I gave them some amazing, super sweet watermelon chunks and fruit punch flavored G2 Gatorade. In the middle row are Trader Joe's Oat 'n Wheat Bran Swirls - think mini oatmeal cookies with a hint of toasted coconut - oh my are they good! In the next container are raisins and some Omega-3 packed walnuts. Some pretzels, green bell pepper slices, and some Trader Joe's Veggie Sticks finished things off. Toss in a reusable fork and a Tinkerbell napkin and we were good to go. I gave Z the identical snack, with a Transformers napkin instead of Tinkerbell.

They were both so happy about the cool watermelon and green peppers and were surprised to find the G2 to drink. Usually it's milk or soy milk, although lately I have been giving them water as well in the afternoon. We are all loving the TJ's Oat 'n Wheat Bran Swirls - thanks for the tip on those, Jeannine! Z asked if he could have them for breakfast tomorrow and I had to think of a good reason why he can't. The best I could come up with on the fly was that they are not high enough in protein. He bought it, for the moment. We'll see what happens in the morning.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mango lassis for everyone!

OK, not everyone. Apparently not everyone likes them, which works out well for M and me, who LOVE them.

When the temperature soars, a mango lassi is the perfect treat to cool off. Last weekend we had our first official heat wave in the northeast with temperatures over 95 degrees for four days in a row, so mango lassis were definitely in order. Sweet, slightly tart, tropical, healthy, and refreshing, it's a tasty grown up milkshake that is the original smoothie. Indian and other South Asian people have been drinking them for years and they are a classic treat. In India, mango lassis are served with snacks and appetizers any time there is a party. They are de riguer during Indian wedding celebrations, particularly those held outdoors in the warm weather.
My son doesn't like them, nor does my husband, but my daughter and I love them and will probably have them every day this summer. They are loaded with carbs, but with the milk, mango pulp, and yogurt, they are a lower fat option to an ice cream milk shake.

I don't really measure anything when I make these, but these are roughly the quantities I use to make two servings:

1/2 cup mango pulp
1/4 cup plain yogurt, low fat or fat free
1 cup milk, 1%, 2% or skim
2 tsp sugar (more or less to taste)

Blend and serve over ice. Makes two servings.
Mango pulp is readily available at Indian markets. It's a big can (appoximately 28oz) for about less than $3.00. One can of mango pulp will make a lot of mango lassis considering that most restaurants charge around $3.00 and up for one. Plain yogurt can be lowfat. I have made this with vanilla in a pinch and it was fine, although a little sweeter than I prefer. The milk can be low fat or skim milk, although 2% seems to render the best consistency. I have seen a number of different garnishes, ranging from the ubiquitous mint leaf to crushed pistachio to a pinch of crushed cardamom or black pepper. Yes, that's right, black pepper. It gives the mango lassi an little bite that you wouldn't expect to work, but does. My favorite, however, is a sprinkle of shredded sweetened coconut.
Now that summer is upon us, I will be making these again and again. M will be happy, as will I.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's Summer!

Ok, well almost, but it has been quite warm here during the day and increasingly humid.

The pink concoction on the right is falooda. Say it with me now, "Fa-LOO-da." Go ahead and laugh. It's funny. It's weird. Willy Wonka would agree. The flavor is weird and the texture is even weirder. But it's definitely refreshing.

When it's hot outside, my people have it down when it comes to cold refreshing drinks. These are drinks that predate smoothies and Pinkberry treats by hundreds of years. Lassis and other cool drinks have been part of Indian culture forever. It's hot in those parts, damn hot!

Falooda was first brought to India by the Persians who sought refuge there and is believed to be a version of a Persian dessert. This drink is very popular among Farsis of South India, but is also well known and enjoyed throughout India. Falooda consists of vermicelli noodles, yes noodles in your drink, which are floated in a solution of milk or ice cream, water, and flavored syrup. The little seedy looking things at the bottom of the glass are exactly that. They are called tukmaria seeds, which I believe are a type of basil. I think they are actually berries though because they become chewy when soaked in water for faloodas. The noodles are actually short, very skinny little noodles about 3/4" long and tiny like angel hair pasta.

This particular concoction was made from a kit which included packets of vermicelli noodles, tukmaria seeds, and the flavoring. In this case it was rosewater syrup, which is a common flavor component of many Indian desserts. I have seen other flavors of falooda, such as mango, pistachio, and tutti frutti, all of which are popular kulfi flavors.

This was not my first falooda, but it was the first time I made it at home. Z and M were suspicious from the begining. They agreed to try it when they saw me scoop the vanilla ice cream into the glass. It's ice cream. How bad can it be? Z made a grimace when he saw the tukmaria seeds at the bottom. M, following his lead, made a similar face and giggled. They both tried it and neither was thrilled with the flavor or the texture and would have preferred a traditional American milkshake. Although the texture was kind of strange, admittedly I was not fond of the rosewater flavoring and will use less than what is included in the packet. This would actually be really good with Hershey's Strawberry Syrup. I'll have to keep that in mind for next time.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cool Gear Snack Time containers review

I bought these Cool Gear Snack Time containers at the container store the other day to take on our road trip over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. This company makes some fun and imaginative containers, many with gel inserts embedded into the walls of the vessels which can be frozen to keep things cold. I like the concept because it can eliminate the need for a separate ice pack and save space.

I saw them and immediately thought of the endless combinations of snacks I could assemble: dry cereal and milk, milk and cookies, cereal and milk, juice and crackers, soy milk and trail mix, yogurt smoothie and berries, etc.

The top container is a straw type cup with a straw insert that extends to the bottom of the container. The container itself has gel sandwiched between two layers of thick plastic which can be frozen. The claim is that it keeps liquids cold for four hours. The bottom container screws on to the bottom and can making a nifty compact vessel.

For our road trip I packed milk in the top and dry cereal in the bottom. I'm not sure if the gel cup kept things cold for four hours, but it was a hot day and the milk stayed cold for quite a while. The only concern I have about this product is that the vessel for the liquids is a bit small holding only 4oz of liquid. That size is just right for my kids with the tiny appetites, but might not be enough for most others.

The bright fun colors drew my attention immediately. I had a hard time choosing between the vibrant orange, lime green, aqua, and hot pink. Choosing the hot pink for my daughter was easy, but I kept going back and forth between the other colors for my son, finally settling on aqua Predictable pink and blue. I noticed on the company website that they have a product specifically for cereal and milk which includes a spoon. Very cool indeed. As far as BPA in this product, I'm not sure if it has it or not. It didn't have one of those "BPA free" labels, so I don't know for sure. The company's website prominently promoted a new line of products that is completely BPA free, so they are well aware that it is of concern to many consumers.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

After school snack for two

Friday was a particularly busy day. Z had school and M had sports camp in the morning and both had skating in the afternoon. It was a particularly warm day as well, good for wearing shorts and playing outside. Late spring is finally here.

Although M did not have school, a healthy but substantial snack was in order for both of them.
On the far left are mini fruit bentos with grapes, plum slices, and half of an apricot. In the middle are mozzarella cheese cubes and Wheatables, and on the right are some baby carrots and sliced celery. In the reusable drink boxes on the left is diluted blue Powerade with ice.

On the right are very cool pink and blue reusable gel filled drink cups with snack container on the bottom. I found these at the Container Store recently and thought they would be a fun variation on the reusable drink boxes we usually use. They were particularly handy on our Memorial Day road trip because the gel in the upper container can be frozen and will stay cold supposedly for four hours. For our road trip, I put milk in the top and dry cereal in the bottom for breakfast in the car. For this snack, they got vanilla soy milk and some cookies.

As far as the Powerade, that is a compromise. They both have water bottles (reusable, of course) that they keep handy for activities. When they are actively playing or doing sports, I allow them to have diluted sports drinks to replenish their potassium and sodium. They barely notice that it's diluted and for them it's just plain fun to drink something that is in such an unnatural color. (rolling eyes). Oh well.