How We Stopped Using the S Word at Dinner

Kid's diet needs to be filled with healthy food.

Spinach.  It’s just rude.

There’s lots of worry today about kids getting fat, eating unhealthy,  filling up on high calorie  snacks.  Sure.  But do you know what the real problem is?  Every year, the bad foods get sexier, more fun, and cuter.  Meanwhile,  all the healthy foods are hanging around just as ugly as they were at creation.

Think about it.  On the left, we have cheese stuffed rising crust artisan supreme five topping gooey extreme deep dish tastes like take-out pizza with free cinnamon sugary twist bread and butter soft sticks.  On the right, we have broccoli.  Seriously: broc co li.  First off, what’s with that name? It sounds like something’s stuck in the garbage disposal. And, just what the heck is it?  And, how’d we ever get the idea kids would sit up and salivate when they hear it’s for dinner?

Food companies know better.  They don’t call those yellowish poo shaped things in the foil bag by what they really are.   Cattle feed, ground and mashed in monster vats with truckloads of syrup and salt.  Laced with won’t-ever-go-bad chemical secret powder.  Then squeezed out wet, blown with factory air, hit with dayglow dust, and shoveled into bags by the tons.

If they called them what they are, they’d never leave the shelf.  Instead, whole teamloads of high paid experts are hired to pimp them up. They get completely phony names, like ‘itos’ or ‘ingles’.  They get put on TV with big production numbers,  cool cartoon avatars, and insanely happy snackers.  Really, look at the people in those commercials:  are they wolfing chips, or antidepressants?

Next to these, vegetables just look like shiploads of immigrants at the Oscars.

Isn’t it time somebody decided to re-brand and market the food we really want kids to eat? Why do we have to keep trying to push something past tightly pinched lips that sounds like number one?  Are we permanently stuck calling it peas?  I say, time for a makeover. To get the ball rolling, here are five Good Food 2.0 ideas.

1. Mean Green Bully Blast  –  Today’s kids want edgy, power loaded foods that will make a difference on the school bus or swing set.  Have you ever known any cool kid with a bag of broccoli? ‘Broccoli’ is something musty from the old country you find in grandma’s trunk in the back of the closet that’ll get you flattened and banned.

2. Shred Head with Shag –  Yeah, it’s still just salad – and isn’t that a really appealing food name to kids.  Does any other word in the English language  start with ‘sal’ except saliva?  Why would anyone want to put that in their mouth? And, even worse, stop calling them lettuce and carrots – seriously, they sound exactly like something you’d accidentally gag up.  Le-eh-eht-tuce.  Carrrr-rot. Yuck.

3.  Dragon Scales with Wizard Stone Clusters –  I don’t know who thought up the name ‘granola’.  I do know, not one of the top 500 popular kid’s cereals is called ‘granola’.  And, anybody who believes I’m going to sit over breakfast and convince my tykes they’ll poop better when they’re fifty if they eat lots and lots of fiber instead of magically delicious marshmallow shapes, has never been to my house.

4.  Sunsweeties –  Nature has done a bang up good job of taking pure sunshine, turning it into delicious flavored sugar, storing it in fragrant, bright colored, fun shaped packages.  Then, we started messing with things, calling them ‘fruits’ and whatnot, and put the kids right off.  So now, companies buy them up, boil them down, dilute the goodness and mix it with gluey, inky stuff and sell the same thing as treats.  There’s something funny about that.  I’m just not sure what.

5.  White Leopard NinjaMight –  You can tell just how long ago cottage cheese got its name from the fact that (a) nobody has lived in a cottage since Hansel and Gretel and (b) they stopped making cheese inside them long before that.  And what kind of cheese comes out of a dank  little hut in the forest in the first place?  I can tell you my kids won’t touch it, no matter how good for their bones, with protein and all.

Try it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.  Put your own marketing whiz to use, and stop calling healthy foods by names that doom them to the garbage bin.  And, do us all a favor, share some of your ideas here, for other dads.  Or, just keep shoveling the s and peas.

10 Worst Gifts for Men Who Cook 2011

Trouble waking up in the morning? This Wake And Bake Alarm Griddle is just the thing to get you going. X these off your list.  Now.

Well, here’s your annual warning.  After a little Holiday shopping research I’ve turned up this new crop of presents Dad is hoping will not be making an appearance.  This year’s list of truly terrible gift ideas is a real testament to human ingenuity, or an incredibly bad sense of design.

You can find the entire freshly updated 10 Worst Gifts For Men Who Cook 2011 list and links here, in the Dads’ In the Kitchen! gift advice section.

Some say, it’s not the gift:  it’s the thought that counts.  Well, if you give any of these to a man, I guarantee he will have no idea at all what you were thinking. Maybe you can use one of those little gift tags, to explain.

For example, what message are we trying to send Dad with a log covered in fungus? Or, this year, there’s even a couple of NSFW items, including a cringe making grill tool that involves hot dogs and an anatomically correct stick figure; and an in your face cookbook that’s tasty, hysterically funny, and Martha Stewart lock your door they’re gangsta, all at the same time.

That said, I suppose it’s necessary here to address what’s truly important, the meaning of the holiday. Yes, my review of these and any other products, is for sale.  Just because no one pays me anything at all at the moment for this valuable service, doesn’t mean I’m not available.  Or, willing to accept free samples.  Or, do paid endorsements.

Otherwise, my wife is likely to decide I’m just doing this out of the goodness of my heart, for nothing but a sincere desire to help other dads, and become a popular dad blog some day.  And that just isn’t going to pay for college.

This Holiday, Please Don’t Drink and Dad

40 year old father arrested for driving little Barbie car at 4 MPH drunk.

Don't let this be you.

They’ll drive you to it.

Many men start adulthood – and dating, and married life, and pregnancy, and fatherhood – with a drink, or two.  There’s a connection in there, somewhere.  Anyway, as time goes on, the responsible male head of the family recognizes, there is a time for having a beer, or bottle of vodka, and a time for staying relatively sober.

Especially now, when children’s thoughts turn to sugar plums and expensive electronics,  it’s important to spare them the lifelong embarrassment, shame and terror that can come from being a careless,  tipsy pop.  This Holiday Season, as you’re getting your drink on, I hope you’ll join me and take a moment to see things from your kids’ perspective, with this Top Ten signs they wish we wouldn’t Drink and Dad. 

1.  Holiday music is a special treat for youngsters.  Everyone likes to sing along.  But if you’re doing the third replay of ‘Grandma Got Runover By a Reindeer’ and still laughing, why don’t we check the breathalyzer.

2.  ‘Invisible elves’ is probably not going to convince anybody why Daddy is stumbling a lot over things nobody else can see.

3.  Yeah, they’re cute as can be.  But really:  trying for that once-in-a-lifetime shot of the kids hanging like ornaments on the Christmas tree is just not going to fly.  No matter how much the guys at work will really love it.

4.  If you can’t dance, there was absolutely nothing in that last drink that fixed ‘can’t’.

5.  No matter how many pretty colors and shapes it has in it, that giant mixed bowl of cereal is just not going to pass for Christmas dinner.

6.  The following are signs you’re doing online gift shopping after a bit too much Holiday Cheer.  You  (a) buy something your son will grow into and be able to use five or six years from now;  (b) order that drum kit you always wished you’d got for Christmas when you were a kid;  (c) decide it won’t really matter the gift for your wife isn’t going to arrive til January 4.

7.  Hearing the kids and their sleepover friends play ‘guess why Daddy won’t stop laughing / crying by himself in the kitchen’ is probably not the kind of Holiday game you want to encourage.

8. Yes, it really does save time and trouble to just let the little ones run around free for the Holidays without their drawers or diapers on.  For about, oh, two hours.

9.  Yes, it’s four am, and you really did leave that three page note finally getting everything off your chest on the desk in the bedroom your mother in law is using.

10.  It may be a good idea to check first, and see from the kids faces whether they are really as excited as you think to see you in the living room wearing all the Christmas lights.

This Holiday, raise a glass, make a toast, but give the family a time they’ll treasure forever.  Not a viral YouTube video.

(By the way, if you’re an alcoholic, pick up the phone.  Now.  And get help.  Seriously. )

You’re Possessed by Holiday Diet Demons and They Want You To Skip This Post

High calorie pecan and pumpkin dessert, diet busting Holiday Pie Fat image from maubrowncow

Can you decode the secret message hidden in this dessert?

Holiday diet? Are you nuts? Mmm…nuts.

Quick:  have you recently  accidentally misplaced the bathroom scales, in the driveway, behind the car’s rear tire?  Have you been decorating all your large mirrors with thick flock?  Are your ‘lite cooking’ tips buried under stacks of colorful Christmas recipe calorie bombs?

If so, don’t be alarmed.  It’s not your fault.  The reason for this behavior is your home, like millions of others, has been secretly possessed by holiday diet demons. It’s a fact. Holiday diet demons (or HDD’s) are invisible, attracted to the colors red and green,  gravy, and appetites. They have nothing to do all day and night but try to convince men, women, children and dogs this is eating season, anything is game, and resistance is futile.

I have personally encountered these demons, and they’re not pretty. In fact, they’re quite crafty.  Inside your head, they sound completely reasonable and convincing. They are able to whisper seductive cooking and eating instructions directly into the part of the brain that’s responsible for stuffing the mouth full with both hands.

That is why, as a public service, I’m presently sitting outside, away from any possible snacking opportunity, to share some of my important findings and notes.  Use this list to check yourself for whether diet demons are secretly responsible for some added jolly at your house.

1.  One sure sign of holiday diet demon infestation, is having a cheery belief that foods with names ending in ‘itos’ are part of a trendy new hispanic healthfood craze.  This is actually false.

2.  If you’ve been celebrating because chocolate is busy curing cancer, you may have demons.  No, not even the really dark, rich, smooth expensive kind.  So, keeping a high level in the bloodstream at all times, actually is not necessary.

3.  Pie a la mode doesn’t really appear on the breakfast menu of any culture, ever.

4.  Deep fat fried food is actually not a method recommended by medical research to prevent pregnancy.  When you get right down to statistics and actual couples, it’s just not been found to be all that effective.

5.  A few extra pounds underneath the chin doesn’t really make you look more distinguished.  And neither does the scarf.

6.  Parents:  punishing your children, or teaching them a lesson, by finishing their desert for them, will send the message that all you really care about is getting their sweets.  Highly likely, some demons involved there.

7.  In spite of how good it sounds, that new strategy of reducing or completely eliminating the hours between meals will not simplify your life.  Not in a good way, anyhow.

8.  Joining Holiday Diet Clubs, whose members go into each others homes to eat their fattening foods for them, has not yet been proved to result in any significant weight loss.

9.  Most studies do show that people better survive cold weather, and colder months, when they add an extra inch or two of insulation to their door jambs.  Not their waists, as previously reported.

If you have any such signs of holiday diet demons at your place, be sure and pass them along to me in the comment box below, or twitter me @kitchenup    #dietdemon.

As for me, I am not curious about what the buzzards are circling over there.  I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat it.  But, maybe it’s worth just a quick check.

Just Chill, Turkey

Turkey in apron and chef hat has no idea what recipe to cook for dinner.Her way or the highway.

(Outstanding Turkey roasting tip below)

My wife and I rarely fight about cooking.  First of all, it’s her kitchen.  She can tell you where and when every pot, pan and appliance came from.  Plus, she’s got generations of female kin at her back,  with know-how and recipes and skill.

All I’ve got is the internet and a guy’s inborn drive to experiment.

The sensible thing in such a situation would be to find something useful to do in the garage.  Instead, I decided to teach Simon Cowell a thing or two about singing.  Don’t ask what possessed me, because I do not know.  I just found my mouth open, explaining to my wife the very best, no fail, expert tested way to cook the Thanksgiving Turkey.

I imagine, when a guy has his car rocketing down a mountain grade, and suddenly finds he didn’t make the last turn, what goes through his mind as his tires claw air.  What a view from up here.  No going back.

Now, to my credit, it was a very good idea.  Heard it from a real chef on the radio driving home from work.  Made absolutely perfect sense.  The bird, he said, was hard to get done right because it has two kinds of meat. They cook, and get done, at very different temperatures.  The white meat cooks fast, the dark meat cooks slow, and needs more heat.  So, it’s really hard to get them both done at the same time.

Which explains why its so tough to keep the breast meat moist without leaving the thighs underdone.  Tell me you didn’t ever wonder.

‘What’s wrong with my turkey?’, my wife said.  I could see the sign. I thought I could make the turn.

‘It’s a great idea,’ I said.  ‘I love your turkey, none better. Really.’

‘So, why does it need fixing?’, she said.  I thought about touching the brakes, but I was in the groove.

‘No, nothing like that.  Just a tip to make it easier, better.  From a top chef.’

If I hadn’t had the wind in my ears, I probably would have heard the tires squeal their last complaint, as they lost their grip on the asphalt.

A hundred women rose up behind my wife, to do battle.

‘A what?  A “chef“?  Is that what you’re telling me? I need cooking lessons, now?’

‘It’s just science’, I said, knowing that would take all the personal insult right out of the discussion.

‘If you put ice packs on the turkey breast, while the bird is waiting to get stuffed, it makes them colder than the thighs.  Then, when you put it in the oven, it takes the breast longer to heat up, so it cooks less, while the thighs cook longer.  Bingo!’  Case closed.

‘You want to wrap ace bandage and ice packs around my turkey, because you heard something on the radio, and think mine isn’t cooked properly. Well’, she said, ‘ why don’t you just go on ahead and do it ALL yourself this Thanksgiving, Mr. Chef‘, she went on.

I’d tell you the rest of the conversation.  But let’s just say, it was quite a view, all the way down.

It really is a good idea.  But lets just keep it to ourselves.

Ice Your Turkey’s Breast Before Cooking for a Moister Bird

Regarded food scientist Harold McGee says applying an ice pack to your turkey breast before roasting makes all the difference between a dry, overcooked breast and a moist, juicy slice of heaven. Chef Justin Wangler of the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center put the advice to the test, roasting two turkeys side-by-side. The results: The McGee turkey breast was indeed moister.

The Death of Mister Mom

Dad in the kitchen in the 1960's wearing a pink apron doing dishes, children smiling.Mister Mom?  In your dreams.

I was walking past the girls room the other day, and heard them playing dolls.  One said, ‘This one will be the mister mom’.   I almost dropped my rubber gloves and feather duster.

I know.  It’s real cute.  Guy opens a diaper,  calms a sick tummy, or gets mushy peas into, instead of onto, a toddler,  and the six o’clock news anchors fall over themselves cooing about ‘Mister Mom’.  Cue the laugh track.

Mister Mom.  Women hear it and smile knowingly.  Real men take one step away from each other and chuckle, manly.  He’s a joke.  Mister Mom.

Mister Mom is the slack jaw guy who can’t figure out pasta sauce for dinner.  Who uses the smoke alarm for a kitchen timer. The doofus helplessly holding his infant boy turned pee fountain.  The ‘here, you take the crying baby, you’re a woman’ guy, who then wipes his hands on his faded football jersey like he’s afraid he’ll catch something.  The man whipped by life or love of a woman into domestic submission.  He’s the rough male forced to fill in for a real mom, out of his nature and out of his depth, trying to ape what real moms do, in his silly, clumsy way.

He’s not someone you’ll ever meet, however.  You won’t find that guy in your neighborhood, or any neighborhood, unless you’re watching the flat screen.  Because Mister Mom is pure fiction, a Hollywood cartoon,  a figment toasted by ad men everywhere.

Ever wonder where he came from?

If you look back at macho 50’s and 60’s TV – black and white glory – you won’t find him.  Just the opposite.  There’s ‘Sky King’,  a spy chasing pilot raising a couple of kids himself.  And ‘My Three Sons’, being raised by a pipe smoking engineer and tough old male housekeeper.  And, ‘The Rifleman’, an iron-spined solo frontiersman running a homestead in the West, standing up to bullies, bringing up  a son.  Up on the Ponderosa,  Ben Cartwright mans the house in ‘Bonanza’.  Danny Thomas, in  ‘Make Room for Daddy’, takes charge of the home and kids for a stretch after his TV wife dies.  Chief Warden Rick chases criminals in Coral Key Florida while raising two sons with some help from Flipper, a dolphin. By the 1970’s we find Fred Sanford, who raised son Lamont by himself, and Manhattan widower Phillip Drummond bringing up three youngsters in ‘Diff’rent Strokes’.

Throw in a dozen or so movies with single fathers – think Atticus Finch of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – and there’s plenty of testosterone-at-home culture.  And every single one of them was just called, ‘dad’.  With respect.

It wasn’t until the 70’s that dads at home caught some disrespect.  First they were laughed about as ‘househusbands’, and with 1983’s movie release of “Mr. Mom”, that term took over.  Suddenly, the notion was,  men who fell out of their ‘traditional’ male roles as breadwinners, were morphing into female roles, and being feminized in the process.

And in my opinion, that’s where the Mister Mom stereotype comes from.  From the disrespect many have for feminists, and feminism, and men who didn’t fear it.  As women moved out, and men moved in, suddenly the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s man at home, a strong highly capable male raising kids, turned in the public imagination into a wimpy incompetent pretending to be a mother.

The sad fact is,  that’s the image that’s stuck today, and frequently repeated in major newspapers, magazines and television coverage.

What difference does all this make?  I’m not just being cranky.  It doesn’t dent my ego to help raise my children or man the kitchen. And there’s a legion of dad bloggers out there now proving the same point.

But, how many other men in this country, and around the world, avoid taking more time with their children during daylight hours, or contributing to their home life, because of that stigma?  How many children grow up thinking that men can’t be men and raise them at the same time?  How many women work double shifts, out and then home, to make up for it?

It’s time to bury Mister Mom.

It’s time to recognize that a man at home isn’t less a man.  He’s not a surrogate mother.  He’s a father.  Dad, trying to be the best dad he can be.  Nothing more, nothing less.

My Affair With A Star

Dark clouds with the sun's star light  burning throughSometimes we find what we’re missing, and can’t look away.

Every parent has those days.  When life starts to feel tied down by lost socks,  late starts, long waits and detours.  The kind of day that eats patience like a tornado, and spits out insults for fun.  The kind that makes some white beach barefoot and burnt somewhere look like a perfectly acceptable career move.

And after weeks like that, no matter how bright the nightlight at home, a man sometimes thinks about what could be over the horizon, and feels the lure of another’s warm caress.

I’ve got that, bad.  And I’m having an affair, with a star.

It started innocently enough.  A few months back, I finally accepted that I’d reached the last notch in the belt, and the only six pack I’d likely see for at least a year was in the fridge.  I thought about what I’d been eating.  Looked for any  sign of diet control. Couldn’t remember any exercise besides bench pressing kids. Time to burn pounds.

I thought I’d kill two birds – get some P & Q out of the house and see if my heart still pumped – by working out on the running path near home.  My legs protested, my lungs ached, but I started, and worked on steadily pushing my distance further.

And for the first month, I burned, all right.  With humiliation.  Grey haired women stroked smoothly past me with grandmotherly smiles.  Women with babies and diaper bags and prams flowed around me like a flood past an immobile rock.  I was enjoying how every single person coming the opposite way would raise a friendly hand, and ask, ‘how are you doing’, until I realized, they were asking out of concern.  Kids running high school track bounded past so fast I actually appreciated the breeze.

There comes a time when we re-view where we actually fit in the scheme of things, and mine came.  Definitely not the Nike athlete.  Definitely not built for speed.  So rather than be iphone immortalized like an Amish farmer on the freeway, one morning I decided to take the back route, the dirt trails that wound through the hills, out of traffic.  They were tough and steep, rocky, narrow, winding, but to my happy surprise, nearly unpopulated and a challenge I discovered I could master.  Just what the doctor ordered.  And that’s where the affair started.

Out on the dirt path, rising out of the wooded canyon, across a sloping hillside, into the wide open, I ran into star shine, into a blinding bright shot of sunlight.  Sunlight reached out to meet me, and I stopped short, heart pounding.  I don’t know how I’d forgotten what it felt like to be so hot, exposed, sweaty, and primally alive.  Wide sky, empty land, and the energy of our neighbor star beating down.  Strong, beauty like a pressure on the skin, irresistably tempting, but with a dangerous streak. It hooked me, by the cells, like an ancient craving.

Since then, my legs have hardened with some muscle, I count in miles, and I had to buy a new, shorter belt.  And I can’t stop thinking about our next rendezvous; now, in the semi dark at the keyboard, when I’m on the road, or doing homework with the youngsters, and it keeps me going.  I count time between visits. When we get together, I smile, and take an eyeful for as long as I can.  A good romance is like that.