31 January 2008

The Cuban Buffet


We didn't expect the food to be great. We've all been to Cuba before. And so we weren't disappointed. The bar was already set pretty low. I think our little one ate less at the buffet than I would have expected though. And so his nutrients tended to come more from snacks, which required a little planning. In case you want to do such planning ahead of time, this is a synopsis of what we found at the buffet. Note that while the food is rarely anything to write home about, the quality does vary from hotel to hotel.

1. The Protein This is a pretty easy find. The pork and chicken can be good. There is loads of grilled fish. And sausage and bacon up to your eyeballs. Eggs 5 different ways. Sandwich meat that looks a little mysterious and hot dogs. My kid refused the former and gorged on the latter. Make sure hamburgers are cooked all the way through before giving them to you wee ones; we had a little incident.

2. The Dairy The sliced cheese and milk for some reason my little guy wouldn't go near. He is normally a dairy fiend but he refused the cheese and said the milk was too creamy. He did like the yogurt though.

3. The Fruit The pineapple it never looked ripe, the flesh looking rather pale, but half the time it tasted really good anyway. The other half it was crunchy and bland. The papaya, orange, and grapefruit were plentiful and good. The Bananas are great. But that was it in the way of fruit.

4. The Vegetables Tomatoes. Cabbage. Cucumber. Green pepper. Broccoli. These were the most plentiful. But carrots, brussels sprouts, zucchini, green beans and many others all made an appearance at one time or another. Unfortunately, except from the salad bar, the veggies tended to be overdone and quite greasy and so it was a hard sell to get the kid to eat them.

5. The Carbs Yucca and Plantain in various forms. Pasta and rice pretty average at best. Potatoes. Fries. And great baked buns and breads. This was a staple for Spud. We always packed a bun for a morning snack, along with a banana.

We were only gone a week and so there was little chance of Spud getting scurvy or some other dramatic vitamin definciency but it's nice to have a safety net of snacks, so to speak. This is particularly true if you venture away from the resort for any length of time.

30 January 2008

Wee Travel Journal


I prepared Spud's travel journal before we left. It's a little bit educational. A little bit entertaining. And in the end it is a souvenir of the trip.

1. I pasted in destination-specific found images and graphics from magazines, postcards, photos, stickers, flickr.com. I included images of palm trees, old cars, musical instruments, beaches, Che Guevera, pineapples, flags etc. It was fun getting him involved at this stage. When he saw the printouts of the old cars though, he didn't want me to paste them in. He carried them around the house for a couple of days first.

2. I included a few travel-themed printouts of mazes, spot-the-differences, and dot-to-dots that I found on Trunki's site.

3. Next I devoted pages to the following topics:
"The toys I packed for my holiday ..."
"Today made me feel ..."
"Today I ate ... "
"Today I saw ..."
"The weather today was ..."
"The friends I made..."
"The words I learned..."
"The things I miss about home ..."
Together we took turns drawing and scribbling the answers and I wrote down in quotes the things he said on each topic. I also gave it to his nana to record her stories of what he said and did on our outings.

4. Finally, I brought double-sided tape in our little craft kit so we could easily add any paper souvenirs we acquired, such as the wrapper of the Cuban chocolate bar Spud enjoyed very much or one of the sweet notes from our maid.

29 January 2008

The Packing List

Packing lists are important to me; it's due to my list-o-phile ways. I'm not going to bother posting an extensive packing list here though ... there are loads of them for reference online. And I really think that they are the most useful when they are customized to you personally. I, myself, referenced 3 or 4 lists looking for ideas with which to make up a master list. Then each trip gets its own list which are then added to a veritable library of lists. Ahhhhh. We use Google Docs for this so my husband and I can actually edit the lists practically at the same time and, theoretically at least, from anywhere in the world.

For this trip I took our "Weekend Camping List" and did a save as "1 Week Cuba". The only 2 things I missed on the trip, and I always miss something, was a selection of pens to write with [I only had drawing pens] and hand cream. Could be worse.

What follows are a few special items that I either wish I had brought or was particularly glad I did:

1. Versatile Airplane Outfit — At 4 am, in close to freezing temperatures, I dressed the little guy in light but lined zip off pants, socks in his sandals [not something I would normally tolerate], and a long-sleeved, hooded T-shirt over a short sleeved tee. Around the time of our decent, in just one minute, he was wearing a tee, shorts and bare feet in sandals. Add a hat and some sunglasses et voilĂ !

2. Trunki — I've gushed about this ingenious kid luggage/toy in previous posts but I can't say enough good things about this one. Our little guy loves Trunki. He treats her like a little friend. Her name is Trixie. She kept him busy in long customs and border line ups. She spared his tired little feet when we pulled them through the airports. It was the best 40 bucks we spent when it comes to travelling with our little one. The one possible downside is that it may be too flashy for some types of travel or travel destinations.

3. Cammy, a Cozy, and Music — whenever we spend time away from home I like to bring some familiar bedtime items to make going to sleep in a strange place a little easier. We brought Cammy, his stuffed camel [for comfort], one of his blankets [familiar smell and texture], and some familiar bedtime tunes. We packed portable speakers for this trip because we wanted to have music in our room but a simple mp3 player with head phones could work too.

4. Thermal Stainless Steel Mugs — It's so nice to go to the bar, load up on your bevvy of choice and take it back to your deck chair for a leisurely sippage. Otherwise, you get a small plastic cup not much larger than a shot glass, in which the contents melt quickly in the heat, and you end upleaving a huge plastic-cup-footprint before your holiday is done. Not to mention that you will have difficulty staying hydrated with all the walking back and forth to the bar. Also shown in this shot is an 'ecobag', also known as my stylish beach bag, that I bought at Sears for 99 cents. I bought two.

5. Camp Suds and Dish Towel — it's nice to be able to wash your afore mentioned mugs as well as your wee ones' sippy cups in the room. We also use this dreamy, all-purpose soap for rinsing out our bathing suits. It works in warm or cold water. And here I post about wipes and Cetaphil, two other gotta-brings for me.

6. Plastic Plates — occasionally, rather than bullying the little one to leave the room for a meal, we found it handy for one of us to bring back snacks from the buffet to our room. The hotel staff really don't like this. Perhaps it's because they don't want dirty, breakable plates in your room? If we promised to bring the plate right back, then they reluctantly let us do it. Later, we found a plastic plate at the beach bar which we washed up and used for such purposes. I've added this item to my list for future trips.

7. Snacks

28 January 2008

Fun Packing Trunki

The day before our departure was dedicated to packing ... some last minute shopping ... tidying the apartment ... and keeping the stress levels as low as possible. We left ourselves plenty of time and even had some fun.

The funnest part was packing Trunki, Spud's crazy-cool ride 'em, carry on luggage. I wanted to include Spud in the packing process as much as possible. But I also didn't trust that he would make all the best choices, as you would expect from someone with only 3 years of life experience. And so we encouraged him to put in Trunki whatever toys or things he wanted with the knowledge that we would have to edit it down at the end of the day if it didn't all fit. He was fine with that as long as we promised to include as many cars as possible. He would've even forfeited the pale and shovel for more cars if we let him but I knew that would be a bad idea. So this is what it started like ...

Spud's Contributions:
· cars, cars and more cars
· a yellow plastic bracelet
· a treasure chest with a couple of metallic puff balls
· a velvet bag full of random bits and bobs like a miniature Winnie the Pooh and some plastic gold coins

Our Suggestions:· choice of stuffed animal [he chose Cammy]
· choice of 5 mini books [we also had a couple of books as surprises for the plane trip, known as 'trip prizes']
· view master [we brought a couple of sets as 'trip prizes' also so this would have extra value]
· mini lego block set
· water wings
· sunglasses
· head phones

My Suggestions that he agreed to but reluctantly:· Thomas craft bag [with paper, crayons, safety scissors, white glue, and double-sided tape]
· HIs Cuba Journal
· Spare set of clothes

Note that in the early stages, the beach toys had not yet made their way in. Some serious editing had to be done before they would fit. And I ended up with the craft bag and the journal ... which in the end are more for me than him anyway.

17 January 2008

Time for Tea

I'm working from home today on some real tedious stuff. And it's going to be a very long day. I thought I would take a moment of appreciation ... with a little tea in my precious camel teapot from my dearest friend Wendy-bee and the gift of music in the background, from my dearest hubby. How can that not make me smile? And now I must go back to my 70 pages of transposed words and upper-and-lower-case mishaps ... sigh.

13 January 2008

The Great Dim Sum Quest, Vancouver

Dim Sum is the perfect, kid-friendly weekend brunch. The cart service means no waiting. The loud and busy ambiance means any mild ruckus from your wee ones will likely go unnoticed. And families are the norm so you are in good company. Here are 3 great dim sum places we've checked out recently and loved.

Location: in the heart of Chinatown
400 - 180 Keefer Street [just down from Main Street, upstairs in the mall]

Apparently Canada's largest Dim Sum restaurant. They sport fantastic seafood dumplings of all sorts. We didn't try anything we didn't love. The best dim sum we've had in a long time. After lunch, we browsed the little import shops downstairs.

Location: on Main Street which is bustling with some great independent boutiques, consignment stores and antique shops
3888 Main Street [at 23rd Avenue]

This place is very popular; as big as it is, we still needed to wait 15 minutes for a table. It might be worth arriving a little earlier to beat the lunch rush. Seafood is the specialty here and they do a fantastic job. This may be our favourite dim sum of the three. It's hard to say for sure though, because we really loved Floata too.

Location: in a rather boring stretch of Hastings Street where you probably won't spend any time before or after brunch
1132 E. Hastings Street [just past Glen Drive]

The Pink Pearl, opened in 1981, is almost a Vancouver institution. And it feels a little worn around the edges inside. The food is great though. It may be less seafood-focussed than the above two but still has killer shrimp dumplings. And plenty of sweets.

Bentolicious I


Yam hearts
Flower eggs
Edamame skewers
Brown rice balls [from the freezer]
Soy sauce fish
Cuke hearts
Orange jello

Tuna patties [from the freezer]
Ketchup Monkey
Cheese cars
Cashews + white chocolate chips
Squash cubes

Apple sauce container [grandma's, from the freezer]
Flower cheese
Kiwi balls
Heart egg
Cherry tomato
Brown rice ball [from the freezer]
Orange slice

Apple sauce
Flower egg
Cheese diamonds [upon request]
Mini M&Ms + cashews + craisins
Ritz crackers and cheese
Salad Pocky
Tortilla chips

Green beans
Strawberry yogurt
Apple Cheese
Kiwi + Banana slice
Flower / Star toast
Chicken sausage
Mini M&Ms
Nut Butter Balls

Strawberry tomatoes
Yam cars
Brown rice ball [from the freezer]
Banana yogurt
Peanut Butter Balls

New Skewers
Anything on a Skewer
Bentolicious II
Bentolicious III

07 January 2008

Bento Takes Shape


Rice Molds
Easy as pie. Easier! On Sunday night I cooked 2 cups of brown rice, added some sweetened rice wine vinegar, made up all the balls and threw them in the freezer for quick morning lunch prep. Check out flickr.com to see what some ambitious bento-ing folks are up to. Unfortunately, adding nori (seaweed) to make characters out of the rice is not an option for me right now, as my wee one is currently insisting that not a speck of green will pass his lips, knowingly. (Thankfully this does not apply to large pieces of green as in broccoli).

Star and Heart Eggs
I have to say I was quite nervous about trying this but it's really easy. The hardest part is peeling the still hot hard boiled egg. My husband apparently has no feeling in his finger tips so this has turned into his job. Simply place the peeled hot egg upright in one half of the mold, place the other half on top, secure latches, and drop in cool water for a few minutes. VoilĂ . I used large eggs for my molds and they came out a little small which meant that the star actually looked more like a flower. Especially when I cut it in half lengthwise to reveal the yolk in the centre. Beautiful.

Mini Cookie Cutters For All Sorts of Foods
So far I've made hearts, stars, fish and cars out of cucumber, bell pepper, yam, potato, toast, ham and cheese.

New Skewers
Anything on a Skewer
Bentolicious I
Bentolicious II
Bentolicious III

06 January 2008

Bento Accompaniments

The pleasure I get from sorting through all these wee treasures and choosing the right colour combination or theme, is embarrassingly huge. I'm glad my kid seems to appreciate all of this almost as much as I do.

Happy Wee Containers ...
I use the little fish for soy sauce. I put ketchup in the monkey container. And I use the taller containers for raisins and other small bit treats that will fit through the dispensing hole.

Little Skewers for Wee Fingers ...
These tiny little creatures brighten up cheese and pineapple cubes. They also work to spear a row of edamame [soy beans], a favourite of mine and Spud's.

You Gotta Keep 'em Separated ...
Some adorable little sheets that add a lot of charm while keeping the red pepper from staining your hard boiled egg.

Don't Stand So Close to Me ...
Like the bento dividers, these mini containers also help prevent unwanted mingling of flavours. I also like to put little treats in these guys, such as a simple trail mix [cashews/dried cranberries/pumpkin seeds/mini m&m's]. Messy fruit pieces that might juice up the bento can also be contained in these little gems. The paper cups are coated on the inside.

New Skewers
Anything on a Skewer
Bentolicious I
Bentolicious II
Bentolicious III

04 January 2008

Bento Crazy

Completely inspired by Lunch in a Box, I went shopping for some Bento supplies at previously mentioned Daiso. The following are the boxes I proudly came home with.

I bought a blue and an orange one of these so I can mix and match the little boxes that fit inside. I like the clear top so you can see the lunch in all it's cuteness even after it's closed up. This is important to Spud too.

This stacking box seems to intrigue Spud the most. Each level carries a whole new surprise. Yesterday, I filled one layer with jello, one with fruit and veg and a heart-shaped egg, and the third tier with crackers and nuts.

I bought this one because I challenged myself to see if I could avoid plastic. This was the only feasible option. It's a bit bigger than we need but if I load it up with little containers it does the trick.

For guidelines on what size the bento box should be, according to sex and age, check out the Lunch in a Box page here.

And these adorable things are bento belts, that hold it all together.

I look forward to posting some more of the goodies I found and some of Spud's lunches too. On his first bento box day he said "that was the best lunch ever ... can I have another best lunch tomorrow?" I'm crazy for it, Spud loves it and his caregiver during lunchtime appears to be loving them as much as we do.

New Skewers
Anything on a Skewer
Bentolicious I
Bentolicious II
Bentolicious III

03 January 2008

A Little Japan, China and Vegas


Oh how I love Richmond's Aberdeen Mall [near Vancouver, 30 minutes from downtown]. And, trust me, I've never really used the word "love" and "mall" in the same sentence before. But here's why I think every family finding themselves in the area should consider spending a few hours at this fun place.

1. The main feature for me has always been Daiso, with its 2 floors of $2 wonders. This is where I recently spent a small bucket of money on bento supplies which I will post about soon. And while I spent a glorious 90 minutes perusing all the little kitchen doodads my husband helped the little guy spend his 2 bucks in the toy section. He ended up with a pretty cool zebra-striped cardboard jeep that you put together ... with working wheels of course, because that's very important.

2. After picking out the toy, the guys went to the Fun4Kids which is one of those indoor playgrounds with slides and balls and padded rooms. I actually really like this particular one as it's clean and open so that you are better able to track where your little one is. His crazy red curls helped too.

3. The food fair is all about authentic Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese cuisine. It's cheap and it's good. We had some great wonton soup where the wontons were packed full of green veg and my kid gobbled them up.

4. Cheap knock-off clothing. We saw adorable little jackets, dresses, and pants for 5 to 10 bucks in one little shop on the way to Daiso.

5. Dancing waters. There's a small-scale, Vegas-style fountain that spurts and splashes to Elvis and tunes from Flashdance. Do I need to say more?

01 January 2008

Celebs Who Write Kids Books

Why do I find the notion of a rock star or actress writing a kids book ... or any book other than an autobiography, so annoying? Maybe it's just pure envy. Why should they be so multi-talented? It hardly seems fair. But I have to say we've run into a few books by celebrities that have really tickled our fancies.

1. Micawber and I'm a Manatee, by John Lithgow

The story Micawber is about a squirrel who becomes fascinated by art and tries his tail at it himself. The story I'm a Manatee, is a playful rhyme about a boy who dreams of being a manatee himself. Both stories are sweet, funny and the words are cleverly crafted. I really love these. Other titles that we haven't read yet include, Marsupial Sue, The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, and Carnival of the Animals.

2. Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day and Is There Really a Human Race? by Jaime Lee Curtis

Today I Feel Silly deals with the topic of emotions, in labeling them and finding levity in them. Is There Really a Human Race deals with making the right choices and enjoying the journey. Both are charming, smart and funny. My 3-year old is fascinated by them both and always has a lot of questions.

3. Cheech the School Bus Driver by Cheech Marin.

As someone who listened to Cheech and Chong albums and enjoyed their movies more than I'd like to admit [in my adolescence, just to be clear] I take an extra little, subversive pleasure in reading this story to my wee guy. It's actually a pretty cool story. Can mariachi beat rock and roll in battle of the bands? Check it out, man. It's pretty groovinova.

4. The English Roses, Mr. Peabody's Apples, and Yakov and the Seven Thieves, by Madonna

I bought these in a box set and have them in the "rainy day" drawer. I think they'll stay there until his next birthday in the spring, at least. I can't rightly give my opinion on them one way or the other until I've seen his reaction to them too.

OK, in the end, I've tried not to be so judgemental about celeb-kid-authors. The stats have been pretty good for us so far. So the next time we're at the library I'll check out these titles too ...
· I Already Know I Love You, Billy Crystal
· Goodnight, My Angel: A Lullabye, Billy Joel
· Friends of a feather, Bill Cosby
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