Family Game Night

Once upon a time, my job was to help create educational materials for both children and parents (and "community stakeholders"). Part of that research-based work was encouraging families to spend time together, particularly having a regular family dinner time. It's supposed to be very healthy for family relationships!

Now that I have a family of my own, we try to sit down together for dinner as often as we can. On top of that, in the past year we've also started a regular Family Game Night. Every Friday after dinner we play something--sometimes two of us, sometimes three, sometimes all four. It's something to look forward to all week!


 
I cleaned out a closet shelf above our puzzles & activity books to create a games shelf.


 
One of our newest games purchased on a special trip to FAO Schwarz on 5th Avenue. This is Chutes & Ladders, the My Little Pony edition. Besides the usual chutes and ladders, there are also rainbows that can lead you even higher up if you're lucky.
 

 
I adore this vintage game, it's a cooperative one with Eat-Locally-Think-Globally values called Back to the Farm. We got our first edition back in the 80s so it's part of my own childhood. I took it to college and lost it to basement apartment flooding, but my mother got me a replacement (yay! Thank you!). Now my kids love it!


 
Guess Who? is for two people (or two teams). You each pick a secret item and then answer yes/no questions about its characteristics. You flip down the doors to eliminate possibilities until you figure out the other person's choice. We also found it's easy to make your own cards that fit into the holders.

 
Another favorite from my own childhood: Boggle. Our eight-year-old is now sophisticated enough to get into finding words. We use the iPad as our timer since our set only has the cubes/shaker. That's my photobombing beer there.
 

 
Trouble is a new one for me, but seems similar to Parcheesi. I like the satisfying gesture and sound of pressing the bubble in the middle to roll the die.
 

 
Junior Monopoly is great! It goes MUCH faster than regular Monopoly, but has the same features of amassing cash and real estate. I think it's just as satisfying as the adult version.
 

 
This was a Christmas gift (Thanks, Uncle J and Aunt G!), and we love it already! It's called Wildcraft! and it's another cooperative game. The premise is you travel up the mountain path to collect huckleberries (the blue chips in the center), and you encounter problems and harvest herbs to solve those problems as you go. Besides learning some basic herbalism, there is a lot about helping others and even tracking the motion of the sun throughout your journey!


 

This one is Feed the Kitty, a seemingly simple game of dice where one's luck can change in a moment. You never know who is going to come out on top—particularly with four players!

We have other favorites too, including Zingo (like Bingo but with images that emerge from a "shoe" and you try to grab them before others do), Blind Spell (you are given a word and blindfolded, then handed letters that make up that word plus a few extra; you have to spell the word and identify the extras before the timer rings) and Busytown: Eye Found It (Richard Scarry!!!! Goldbug!!! Awesomeness!!!).

What games do you love? Do you play anything regularly?

Brattleboro, Vermont with Prof. Kitty

Peter Havens

What is up in Brattleboro, Vermont? We call it the "one and only," because there is no other place called Brattleboro anywhere in the world. If you are planning a visit to this sweet spot in Vermont, or if you LIVE here, or even if you're checking it out with no clear plans to visit, I hope this list is useful.

A disclaimer: There are many, many other things that people love to do in Brattleboro, Vermont. This is just my personal list... a mere taste of the town's charms.

Books:
Everyone's Books (Local indie bookstore that also has cards and bumper stickers)
Brattleboro Books (Browse-for-hours used books)
Mystery on Main Street (mystery and more, esp. Gorey)
Baskets (a trove of paperbacks in Harmony parking lot)

Dining:
TJ Buckley's (the best place in town looks like a diner but is high-end nirvana within. Cash only please)
Peter Havens (superior dining and heavenly cocktails)
Fireworks (wood-fired pizza and much more. I love the calamari starter)
Whetstone Station (brew-pub with 2 floors of river views)
Duo (new Main Street spot is super-popular and super-sleek)

Fireworks
 

Lunch/Dinner:
Amy's Bakery (soup, sandwiches, coffee with a river & NH mountain view)
The Marina (fries, clams, lobster mac & cheese, and West River overlook--try for sunset!)
Top of the Hill Grill (a summertime favorite, be prepared for a line and 'cue)
Chelsea Royal Diner (your typical excellent diner, with creamee stand in summertime)
Shin La (this Korean food is a town mainstay; sushi too!)
Panda North  (Our beloved Chinese restaurant does it well)
Superfresh Organic Cafe (the famous hippie spirit lives on in this vegan/gluten-free hotspot)

Panda North


Specialty Foods:
Grafton Cheese (Cheese & great gifts, plus a petting zoo for families)
North End Butchers (obsession of many locals: fresh cuts & deli meats, local produce, sandwiches)
Windham Wines (next to North End Butcher, our local wine experts--ask about tastings)
Adam's Seafood (need fresh seafood or shellfish? come here first!)

Drinks:
Metropolis (best bet for the local music scene)
Arkham (purposely a dive bar, off Harmony Parking lot)
Kipling's (come here for your Guinness and great juke box--cash only)
Flat Street Brew Pub (good beer list, also kitchen including POUTINE)
Twilight Tea Lounge (chai & other tea delights)
Mocha Joe's (locally roasted coffee, be prepared for a wee line)

Groceries:
The Brattleboro Food Coop (straddling the line between local and trendy... overpriced or just awesome?)
West Brattleboro Farmer's Market (from May to October, everyone comes here on Saturdays)
Winter Farmer's Market (from November-April, find farm/local-made delights downtown at the River Garden on Main Street, every Saturday)
Lilac Ridge Farm (turn off Rte 9 onto Greenleaf for a lovely small farmstand... owners were in the movie Food Inc.)
Dutton's Berry Farm (kind of our permanent Farm Stand--myriad produce plus jams, sun-dried tomatoes and much more)

Farmer's Market summer haul


Hiking/Outdoors--Google for more information/maps!
West River Trail
Mount Wantastiquet (actually in New Hampshire, hike up the mountain that looms over town from the east. Trailhead accessible off Rte 119 in Hinsdale, NH)
Vermont Canoe Touring Center (rentals) (open May-October)
Cortland Hill Orchard (September holds a BOUNTY of delicious Cortlands)
Scott Farm Orchard (diverse heirloom orchard where "Cider House Rules" was filmed)

West River Trail


History & Art:
Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (our very own super-cool museum)
Estey Organ Museum (did you know Brattleboro is significant in organ history?)
Gallery Walk (if you're here the first Friday of the month, check out our galleries!)

Cotton Mill Hill installation

Nightlife:
Latchis Theatre (the one & only movie house in town)
Hooker Dunham Theater (check out the musical acts coming this way!)
New England Youth Theater (sells out quickly: highly acclaimed young performers)
Brattleboro Music Center (many magnificent performances and series)
Vermont Jazz Center (world class jazz venue & school--shows usually on Saturdays)
Stone Church dances: Ballroom/Latin, African, Contra


Festivals:
Strolling of the Heifers (another one & only for our adorable town)
Northern Roots (Celtic, fiddle, more!)
Literary Festival (once Saul Bellow spoke to an over-capacity crowd... what could be next?)
Film Festival
Women's Film Festival
Winter Carnival
Brattleboro-West Arts Studio Tour
Cotton Mill Hill Open Studio & Sale
Touch a Truck (hospital fund-raiser and horn-free... your little ones may LOVE this one)
Baconfest (check latest Facebook...)
Brattleboro Brewers Festival (how could you go wrong?)


Shopping:
Please try walking down Main Street, Elliot Street, and Flat Street in downtown Brattleboro for LOTS of shopping choices.

at a Main Street antique shop


Races:
Maple 5K (late September)
Walk Run & Roll (early September)
Bill Powers Memorial 4-mile Firecracker
Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 3-mile


Kids:
Brattleboro Retreat Petting Farm
Kid's Playce
Whippersnappers
Crowell Lot Park playground
Living Memorial Park playground
Brooks Memorial Library kid's room (10-2 on Saturdays)
Avenue Grocery or Chelsea Royal Diner for creamees

Fun times at Kids Playce

Turkey Sausage Bean Soup

Simple, warming, and thick. This hearty soup is great for a weekend afternoon when there's a little extra time for chopping and simmering.



Ingredients
  • 1 t olive oil
  • 1 large pat butter
  • onion, chopped
  • 3 turkey sausage, sweet Italian
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 box chicken broth (32 ounces)
  • 3 small potatoes, cubed
  • 1 can great northern beans (15 ounces)



Assembly
  1. In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil and melt butter. Toss in onions and stir.
  2. Sauté onions until glassy and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  3. Squeeze sausage out of casings and stir around, breaking up chunks with your spoon.
  4. When sausage chunks are cooked on all sides, add carrots and celery.


  5. Continue to sauté, stir, and break up sausage chunks until everything is sweaty. (About 2 more minutes.)
  6. Stir in crushed garlic.
  7. Pour in chicken broth, and add potatoes and beans.
  8.  

  9. Cook for about 30 minutes... The goal is to make sure the potatoes are soft.
  10. To thicken the soup, use a potato masher to squish everything around for about 30 seconds.




Serve!




Hunkering down in the Deep Heart of Winter

Remember Christmas? Winter was only 4 days old, and having a sparkly white holiday seemed like a festive idea. Remember New Year's Day, when the possibility of changing for the better gave one the drive to barrel into 2015 with vim? Remember the rest of January, when all that possibility played out into reality, with some actual success? Remember Groundhog's Day, when we thought that theoretically winter was half over and we're on our way to spring?

Those hopeful days seem so long ago now.



One of our driveway piles--we tunneled right through it this morning after shoveling out for the day.


Now, right now, it's the deep heart of winter. There hasn't been a full week of school since January 12th. I've lost count of the blizzards and the trips out to shovel. The pile of shoveled snow has gotten so high that it slides down again after being tossed up, so I trudge down the street a bit and throw the snow on the front lawn where the drifts are only 3 feet high and not 6 feet high. After resisting for weeks, I have accepted that I must wear layers that include ski pants, fleece jacket under my winter coat, scarf, and neon orange toque. I've given up on running outdoors and retreated to the local gym to use the treadmill. (Exception: our Tuesday morning group always runs outdoors, because we are awesome.) I've given up on healthy habits and making positive changes in my life. I am just hunkered down doing basic maintenance that involves beer, cheese, chocolate, and spicy food. And I tell myself that this is IT. The middle. There will be more weeks of snow and sub-zero temperatures. But this is the nadir. When March comes there will still be blizzards, and snow might even come in April. But soon... maybe a month from now... the cold and the winter will start to lose their power. Spring and the sun and the rotation of the earth and the flower fairies will smite old man winter on the forehead and send him reeling off to think about what he's done.

Here are some photos of our attempts at life while waiting for winter to go away. How have you been holding up? If you live somewhere warm, are you really really really appreciating it right now? (I hope you are, haha!)

 
A delightful dish of poutine from Flat Street Pub. Smothered with melted cheese curds and rich gravy, this hit the spot on a cold Sunday afternoon.


Quick work trip to Boston. This is the long view from my hotel window. I kind of centered on the Citgo sign.


Closer view of Boston on a side street with 4 feet of snow. They've gotten about 2 more feet of snow since I was there.


Business note: Don't try to get work done while the Superbowl parade is going on. It's loud, and the excitement is contagious. Here's my 11th floor view of the Minutemen at the beginning of the parade.

Breakfast in Boston: Egg-white farmer's omelet at the Highball Lounge (which is part of the Nine Zero hotel on Tremont street). I had this with a ton of bottomless grapefruit juice and coffee.


Boston lunch: Lobster roll at Kelly's roast beef--they say it contains the meat of 2 lobsters and I believe 'em. Quite delicious.


Boston dinner: Filet mignon & shrimp at The Oceanaire, a super fancy "Seafood Room" that happened to be open (and then jumpin' with swanky locals) during the Monday blizzard when we were in town.


Starbucks near Government Center: I've always liked the teakettle merrily spouting steam.


A box of chocolates for my Valentine--it's chocolate scat that was a brilliant fundraising idea by our local environmental education center. I learned about moose, raccoon, otter, and red fox droppings.


Elements of dinner—planning a vindaloo simmer with basmati rice. SPICY!


Next up--school vacation week and trip to New York City!

Fruit & Nut Balls: Run-fuel, Kid-fuel

For the past year or so I've been using commercial energy bars as quick, portable nutrition on my long runs (anything over 8 miles or so). I was just about to fork out more money to buy some more of my favorites online (I like Bearded Brothers Mega Maca Chocolate as well as Picky Bars Mix packs), when it occurred to me that perhaps I could make my own fuel. Basically I'd need fruit for sugar/energy, plus some protein like nuts. My recipe below is based on my mother's excellent fruit & nut balls that I've been enjoying for years. Mostly I just added superfood goji berries!




 Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup organic raisins
  • 8 dates, pits removed
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup dried goji berries
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Assembly
  1. Place the raisins, dates, pepitas, and apricots in a food processor and blend until an oatmealish consistency--about a minute. In some food processors the mixture will start to form a ball and circulate in one mass, that's a good time to stop.
  2. Add the almond butter and goji berries. Process for about 20 seconds and check. You're looking to just blend in almond butter but not chop up the goji berries too much. Continue to process in short bursts if needed.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup coconut flakes on a plate. Pull walnut sized lumps of the fruit and nut mixture from the food processor, roll into a ball, and roll the ball in the coconut to loosely coat it. 
I like to collect the balls in a plastic container and sprinkle extra coconut over all for storage. This recipe makes about a dozen. Give the container a little shake before opening to reattach some coconut.

I'm trying these out on my long runs as little bites to carry wrapped up in my pocket. Bonus: my children love them too as anytime snacks!

Hacking "Frozen" Doll Clothes: Help for Topless Princesses

Santa brought my daughter a cool Frozen "vanity closet," which is a pretty plastic case for Elsa & Anna's doll clothes. We already had the Elsa & Anna dolls from the Disney movie "Frozen." However, while the set comes with cool doll accessories and two (2) skirts, it does NOT come with tops for the dolls. So my girl was frustrated on Christmas Day trying to dress Anna & Elsa in half outfits.

I perused Amazon reviews and found that SOME Frozen dolls come with painted-on bodices and don't need additional tops. You just add-a-skirt and you're done. Our dolls weren't painted though, but looked like "normal" naked dolls when not wearing their original dresses. I promised promised promised that I would try to solve the problem by creating some Anna and Elsa tops myself. It was an act of mom magic I wasn't sure I could pull off...

A modest view of the problem.

I used one of our existing doll dresses as a guide and cut out a rough bodice shape. Then I sewed darts on the front and sides, hemmed the back closures, and zig-zagged the top. I sewed a single snap in the back to fasten. Finished enough for play!




Completed doll bodice!



Better, ya?



It's not fancy, but the kid was thrilled.



Elsa got a top, too. Here are the dressed dolls with their fancy closet! I like that their new strapless blouses are a little billowy and possibly ill-fitting, as if designed by Hannah Horvath. There's no need for every single thing to be perfectly tailored and shiny.

So has "Frozen" infiltrated your life at all? I really do think the songs are catchy.

Birthday Yum: Indonesian chicken curry

Another year, another birthday! This is not a "big number" for me, just a regular number. I celebrated mostly with good food and lovely family. One great (quiet) birthday gift was simply observing my daughter caught up in reading library books for most of the day. She is becoming a big-time reader just like both of her parents.

Before I get to the chicken curry, here are some other food highlights from my weekend.


Pre-birthday date night! Vermont hamburger with cheddar and mushrooms at Fireworks restaurant. We usually come here whenever we go out and we are always satisfied. They have a new presentation including a little tin for the fries and a KNIFE that holds the burger together.



This morning, a treat of mother-daughter-granddaughter brunch at duo. Above is my Bloody Hot Mary, which is extra spicy and features jalapeño-stuffed olives. I love duo so much! (It is a new restaurant in town that is both friendly and fancy, just what Brattleboro needs if you ask me.)



"Sweet Sunday" is an Eggs Florentine-esque breakfast that has mushrooms and caramelized onions hiding under there, too.



Chocolate Semifreddo: ice cream and dense brownie with candied ginger. I also had a caffe latte.



Later, for a little personal cocktail hour I had a single serving of sparkling wine (thanks to the 4-can packs of SOFIA from Francis Coppola's winery), a Vermont Farmstead Lillé cheese, and crackers.

And I decided to cook my own birthday dinner, inspired by a jar of Trader Joe's Sambal Matah Indonesian Salsa that we were given for Christmas (thanks Auntie A!). Here is my totally made-up Indonesian Chicken Curry...



Ingredients:
  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs, just cut in half
  • 1 t turmeric powder
  • 1/2 t cumin powder
  • 4 T Trader Joe's Sambal Matah
  • 1 box chicken broth (32 ounces)
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup red lentils



Melt the coconut oil in a Dutch oven and add onion. Stir on medium heat for about 5 minutes until the onion starts to get transparent.



Add chicken thighs and stir/turn to just cook on the outside: a few more minutes.



Stir in cumin and turmeric. Let the heat release the spice aroma!



Add dollops of Sambal Matah and stir until heated through and smelling great.



Pour in chicken broth...



Add cubed potatoes...



Add chopped garlic...



Add red lentils, cover and bring to a boil. Then turn to low and simmer until lentils have disintegrated and potatoes are soft, about 45 minutes.

When I think of authentic curry, I think of meat in odd chunks as if cut with an axe. Definitely NOT in tidy cubes. To get a little of that axe effect, I pulled the chicken thighs with a fork once they were cooked.


Remove cooked chunks from pot, and with at least one fork, pull each piece apart to shred it.



Shredded! Return to the curry and stir together.



I served my birthday curry over white rice with a side of spinach. We were very pleased with the result: nicely spiced and very filling!



I also whipped up some bacon-wrapped scallops. Because birthday.

Happy January to you! I love this month, so full of good intentions and possibility and taking care of oneself!