Written on November 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm , by Jonna Gallo
A few weeks ago, I spent a memorable morning at the Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the South Bronx. Created in partnership with the New York Foundling, a well-respected social service agency, Haven Academy has a unique mission: to provide a comprehensive array of school-based services (medical care, dental checkups, counseling, you name it) to children in the child welfare system. The hope is that the school—the first of its kind in the nation—will become a nationwide model geared toward helping kids in foster care thrive despite their difficult family circumstances. I was unfamiliar with the school but fell instantly in love with its passionate principal and the cheerful, competent teachers I met in its immaculate halls and classrooms.
What brought me there specifically was a celebration of Food Day, a national movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food (think fewer sugary drinks, super-salty packaged foods and fatty meats, more fruits, vegetables and whole grains).
Two celebrity chefs, Food Network star Sunny Anderson and cookbook author Katie Lee, came to cook with nearly two dozen eager fourth-graders. (My oldest is in fourth grade, so these kids particularly touched my heart.) Katie offered up how-to’s for a flavorful bean-rich taco wrap, while Sunny shared a fantastic fruit concoction that I have made twice since. (Pineapple and coconut? Um, YES please.) Check out the recipes below and give them a try, preferably with a kid you love.
Meantime, with Thanksgiving right around the corner and plenty of reasons to be grateful, I just want to say that I’m honored to have met so many kind, concerned people at New York Foundling and Haven Academy working together to provide a brighter future for struggling kids. What a blessing.
Katie Lee’s Taco Wraps (serves 6)
You will need:
‧ 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
‧ 1 tsp olive oil
‧ 1 tbsp taco seasoning
‧ 6 whole wheat tortillas
‧ 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
‧ 1 cup baby spinach leaves or lettuce
1. In a small bowl, mash beans with olive oil and taco seasoning.
2. Spread a few tablespoons of beans on the center of each tortilla.
3. Top with cheese, spinach and a couple tablespoons of salsa.
4. Starting at the bottom, roll the sides of the tortilla over the filling. Fold edges in.
5. Wrap in a piece of wax paper and cut in half.
Sunny Anderson’s Cucumber and Orange Salad with Creamy Pineapple Dressing (serves 4 to 6)
You will need:
For the dressing
‧ ½ cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained
‧ ¼ cup sour cream
‧ 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
‧ 2 tsp sugar
‧ Kosher salt
For the salad
‧ 2 oranges
‧ 2 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise twice to quarter, then sliced ½ inch thick
‧ ½ cup finely chopped red onion
‧ 2 tbsp sweetened coconut flakes for garnish (optional)
1. Make the dressing. In a large bowl, combine pineapple, sour cream, apple cider vinegar and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and is not gritty. Taste and season with a tiny pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (optional).
2. Prepare the oranges. Slice off the top and bottom of each orange to create a flat surface on both ends. With orange resting on one cut end, use a knife to cut between the flesh and the pith (white covering beneath peel), angling the knife to expose the flesh from top to bottom. Hold orange in one hand over a large bowl and carefully remove segments by sliding the knife between the flesh and the membrane that separates each segment. Repeat with second orange.
3. Toss the salad with dressing. Add cucumber, red onion and dressing to bowl with oranges. Gently toss, then serve chilled or at room temperature with a sprinkle of coconut (optional).
P.S. Don’t miss Sunny Anderson’s homemade Tomato Soup in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle, on sale January 7th!
Written on October 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm , by Jonna Gallo
With vampires and zombies in the midst of a major Pop Culture Moment, my money is on lots of teenagers dressing up as one or the other this Halloween. Many might be tempted to amp up a costume that seems only so-so with special-effects contact lenses, but should do so ONLY with adult oversight. (Pardon the pun.) Parents, please be aware that ALL contacts, even so-called novelty or theatrical types, are still considered medical devices by the FDA. They need to be prescribed and fitted by a licensed professional—yes, even if they’re just for “show” and not corrective. And it’s crucial that lenses be stored correctly between uses and never, ever shared. (Doing so could result in a serious infection, or worse.) For more info and a detailed Safety Checklist, go to allaboutvision.com.
Written on October 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Up until a couple days ago I had scrapes, bumps and bruises all over my legs from the Merrell Down & Dirty Obstacle Race on September 29. (Let me rewind: Earlier this year, I checked into a Biggest Loser Resort for a weeklong fitness immersion and loved it, which is what gave me the idea I could take this on too. To read that story, click here.)
The Merrell course offers 5K and 10K circuits with obstacles throughout—walls to scale, a 24-foot inflatable slide with a rope ladder, a multi-level climbing apparatus called The Monster—and several mud lagoons to low-crawl through. Similar adventure-type events include Tough Mudder, Spartan Beast and Warrior Dash, if any of those ring a bell. When an ad for the Merrell event popped up on my Facebook feed, I thought about it off and on for days, wondering if it should be my next “thing.” I emailed the link to one of my closest friends, an up-for-anything type with a strong competitive bent, with the note, “Considering this. Thoughts?” She wrote right away: “This looks insane and fun and of course we should do it.” Typical me, I got a little freaked out as the event approached and tried every which way to weasel out (yes, even though it had been my idea).
She was having none of it. Every texted potential excuse (there were many) was met with a quick, kind, “You’ll be fine. See you in the morning.” Day of, once we were moving and grooving on the course, I had a blast. Our agreed-upon motto, “slow and steady,” served us fine, and we crossed the finish line—filthy, unhurt and very happy—a little over an hour after we began.
Whipping on my Finisher’s Medal was a trip, and I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment for days. I could easily see why people are drawn to these events in rapidly growing numbers. (When Tough Mudder was founded in 2010, 20,000 entrants took part in 3 events. Just three years later, in 2012, over 460,000 participants joined 35 events.) Then last Tuesday night I happened across this New York Times article, A Growing Race with Big Risks, and learned that a 28-year-old man had died during a Tough Mudder event this past April. I was floored and so sad for his family—and, frankly, I also started wondering if I’d been really naive in trying the Merrell. I read (or at least skim) much of the Times daily, but somehow I’d missed this altogether.
Suddenly, my bragging rights were replaced with the uncomfortable feeling that I’d taken a totally unnecessary risk. As a mom of two kids, 9 and 5, that makes me feel reckless. I’m sure even baseline number-crunching would prove that doing a mud run is far less risky than, say, crossing a street or driving to work. But I have to cross streets and go to work. I didn’t have to do this. A Google search turned up some more recent press, including a piece in the New York Daily News that delves more into the psychology of the rise of these events and specifies who should probably steer clear. In the end, I’m glad I took part. It was fun to share with a great friend, and I think it gave my kids a glimpse of a different side of me. One of my most important takeaways from the Biggest Loser was that transformation can happen when you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone.
Still, I’m wondering: If you’re just a regular person—meaning, not a so-called extreme athlete—is doing one of these obstacle courses a bad idea? Tell me in the comments.
Written on October 10, 2013 at 2:10 pm , by Jonna Gallo
So we’re less than 24 hours out from hearing who gets the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. By numerous accounts, 16-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousufzai—shot in the head by a Taliban gunman one year ago yesterday aboard her school bus—is a frontrunner. The miracle of her survival that terrible day and her slow but steady recovery over the ensuing months, cheered on the world over, provides as much inspiration now as it did then. And regardless of whether she wins tomorrow, Malala’s face should remind us all of the power of one purely determined individual who believes in herself and her cause. I just added her recent autobiography I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban to my short list and loved this clip from The Daily Show Tuesday night. If you missed it, by all means click—even the typically ascerbic Jon himself seemed humbled to be in the presence of such spirit. She’s 16 years old, people! Such poise, grace and heart. I read online that the Nobel committee received a record 259 nominations this year, and I’m sure every one of them did something amazing. I’m aware of the sentiment among some that at her age, she hasn’t yet “done enough.” Still, every fiber of my being is saying, “Go Malala go!” I hope she wins. We’ll all know tomorrow.
Written on August 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Well, I couldn’t put it off any longer—the time was nigh to bite the bullet and go school-supply shopping. Nearly two hours and $150 later, I have two sizable shopping bags (my kids are going into first and fourth grades) on the floor of my linen closet. Back-to-school is the second-biggest shopping season of the year after Christmas (natch), according to the D.C.-based National Retail Federation. Spending in 2013 was forecast at $635 on average for clothes and supplies, down slightly from $689 in 2012. Almost 26% of families will ask kids to reuse items from last year, a stat that speaks to me personally as I decide whether to spring for a new backpack for my daughter. (My son got one recently as a birthday gift, negating this as an issue with him.) The bag she got last year for kindergarten was used lightly and remains in perfectly fine shape, IMHO. It’s a pretty, somewhat standard Pottery Barn Kids pattern—which I offer by way of saying, it’s not like there’s a lame character from an outdated movie on it. It would be fine for first grade. But she’s asking, repeatedly, for something “new” and “different.” Practical Me wants to say, “Last year’s is fine” and have that be that. Yet there is absolutely a part of me that wants her to be excited about a new school year—and if a fresh backpack would help lessen the blow of saying so long to summer, so be it. Truth is, we’ve already dropped a substantial amount of money this month, between supplies and fall clothes, since both kids grew like weeds this summer, outgrowing most if not all of their stuff from spring. In other words, buying a backpack won’t make or break the budget. Normally I’m a decisive mom, but with this one I’m on the fence. Is it a not-great precedent to set, replacing something that doesn’t need replacing? Probably. But I always got a new school bag when I was growing up—seems like a nice tradition.
Do you request (or require) that your kids reuse school supplies whenever possible? Tell me and share your rationale in the comments, please.
Written on August 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm , by Jonna Gallo
So when I think of Ashton Kutcher, here’s what comes to mind: 1. Kelso on That ’70s Show. 2. Goofy pranks on Punk’d. 3. His obscenely overanalyzed relationship with Demi Moore (which flamed out anyhow). Inspirational? Umm, hardly. But on Sunday night, when he received the Ultimate Choice Award at the Teen Choice Awards, his acceptance speech was charming, heartfelt and, dare I say, uplifting. In acknowledging the millions of fans who made and have kept him a star, Ashton (whose actual first name is Chris, he revealed) offered up words of genuine wisdom. He recounted a bunch of basic, boring jobs he held as a teenager, pointing out that opportunities generally look “a lot like work.” He offered a personal take on being “sexy,” saying that being smart, thoughtful and generous is really what to strive for. And he wrapped with a pointed suggestion to actively build the life you want instead of just getting swept along in someone else’s. The 4-minute snippet of his remarks has gone viral, with well over 2 million YouTube views. It’s definitely worth watching—with your kids, if you can.
Written on July 31, 2013 at 4:09 pm , by Jonna Gallo
My very soon-to-be-9-years-old son has a king-size Star Wars habit, courtesy of his dad. (I mean, my husband is such a superfan that I surprised him with an R2D2 groom’s cake at our wedding. YES, I am a good sport.) So my ears definitely perked up when I heard about the three-night switchup on Disney XD (a digital cable/satellite channel aimed mostly at tween and teenage boys) running now through August 1. It’s called Disney Fandom and focuses on programming from Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. Come Thursday night at 8 ET, I know where I’ll be—happily huddled on the couch with my little man, watching the premiere of “My Family Recipe Rocks – Star Wars” Special Edition. Host Joey Fatone catapults me right back to the days when I was slightly too old to be an ‘N Sync fan and had to take it underground. I cheered for Joey unabashedly when he did Dancing With The Stars, too. (For the record, I still think he got totally gypped of the mirror ball trophy.) Anyway, during the show, Joey visits the world’s largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia, showcased in a museum on the ‘Rancho Obi-Wan’ near Skywalker Ranch, and cooks a Star Wars themed breakfast from the Star Wars Cookbook. I expect the force will be with us.
Written on July 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Well there’s no doubt where I’ll be come 8 o’clock tonight—huddled on the couch with my soon-to-be 9-year-old, who has been counting down to the premiere of Teen Beach Movie for weeks, thanks to the promo that’s been running between shows on Disney Channel. (He’s fascinated with anything and everything to do with teenagers—they’re like an exotic species.) The story surrounds what happens when a cool, confident surfer named McKenzie and her boyfriend Brady are mysteriously “transported” into a movie (c. 1962) called “Wet Side Story.” This is Disney, so presumably plenty of spontaneous singing and dancing ensue. As for drama, it’s bikers versus surfers for control of the local hangout. Will Disney enjoy a ratings juggernaut along the lines of the monstrously successful “High School Musical” with “Teen Beach Movie” is the question. We’ll know tonight. I’m looking forward to watching.
If you catch “Teen Beach Movie” over the weekend, come back and post a comment letting me know what you thought.
Written on June 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm , by Jonna Gallo
So today my kids and I are getting in just under the wire to take advantage of a cool offer to make a custom Father’s Day card at Treat.com, a Shutterfly company. To say that I am obsessed with Shutterfly is an understatement—it’s been my go-to site for a number of years now, for backup photo storage, prints and gifts. Now I’m having fun getting to know Treat. Make your one-of-a-kind masterpiece and enter code CARD4DAD at checkout to score the freebie. But don’t wait—offer expires tonight! (June 9.)
Written on May 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm , by Jonna Gallo
So all of a sudden it’s like 90 degrees in New York City and my kids have two confirmed cases of Summer-itis. All anyone wants to do is go swimming, wait for the ice cream truck to show up and hang out with friends, playing Manhunt or drawing all over the concrete with chalk. NO ONE wants to do homework. Yet we still have three and a half weeks of school to go. As a mom, I have zero drive to try to get my son to do math problems or writing exercises at night. After all the stress of standardized test prep and nine months of hassling over homework assignments, I just feel like school should be over now. Who’s with me??
Written on April 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Admittedly, I have time before I have to think about prom in any real way – my oldest turns 9 this summer – but I read prom-related stories and stats with fascination. According to an annual survey by Visa, parents in the Northeast (where I live) can expect to shell out $1528 this year, down a bit (really!?!) from 2012. (To help keep tabs on expenses, Visa suggests its free budgeting app called Plan’it Prom, available at the iTunes store, Google Play and practicalmoneyskills.com/prom.) Overall, parents say they’ll cover 59% of prom costs, with teens shouldering the burden for the rest. I’m curious as to what you think – is a 60/40 split about right? I feel like I have no frame of reference. Off the top of my head, a $1500 night out kind of blows my mind, no matter who’s paying.
Written on April 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm , by Jonna Gallo
Of course it was natural to react with shock and horror yesterday afternoon as news of bombings came out of Boston. One minute, it was adrenaline-fueled runners, their loved ones and volunteers whooping it up at the finish line. Then, in an instant, came mushroom clouds, debris, fear, anger and uncertainty. Hearing later that among the lives lost was an 8-year-old boy, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. As the mom of an 8-year-old boy, I did the only thing I could think of, which was drift into his dark room, stroke his cheek, then listen to him inhale and exhale in quiet measure for a long, long time. So many prayers to all affected but especially the family of Martin Richard, shown here in a photo that went viral on Facebook this morning. Sometimes there just aren’t any right words. The picture says it all.