Should You Bribe Your Kids?

Published Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
Should You Bribe Your Kids?
(image source: vintage storybook art, unknown source)

Mommy Perfect weighs in with common sense and experience on the oft debated parenting question, “Should You Bribe Your Kids?”

Parenting magazines, eggheaded sociologists, and new-age parents will tell you that bribing kids is a bad idea, that it will eventually backfire, that children can miraculously behave precisely how parents desire simply because they desire it.  I’ve heard this sentiment repeated often in print as well as the park bench, but guess what, its complete bullsh*t.  This hogwash comes from ivory tower philosophers hoping for a utopia that doesn’t exist.  Let’s talk reality.

Economists have long understood that you influence human behavior by establishing incentives and penalties; the carrot and the stick.  This is natural law, because it’s how the natural world functions.  It’s even hard-wired into our bodies and brains: eat calorie dense food like fats and sugars and your brains rewards you with a dopamine rush; touch a hot fire and your brain penalizes you with sensations of pain.  All of life and societies operate this way.

Children are not born knowing what society expects from them, what is good behavior from bad, or table manners.  If we expect these values to be understood by our kids then we must teach them; that’s our job as parents.  If you want your kids to be good, then you must teach them to be good.  We do this by example, and we do this by instruction.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

None of us would show up to work on Monday morning if there wasn’t a paycheck in it for us.  Incentive.  Who among us would pay our taxes if there wasn’t a threat of jail time for non-payment?  Penalty.  If adult behavior responds this way, why would children be any different?

To answer the salient question, yes, you should bribe your kids.  “Eat three bites of meat and you will get this bite of pie.”   Provide incentive for clearly understood achievement and always follow through with the promised reward.  This is absolutely vital.  If you break the trust even once the effort to parent will become 100x greater than it needs to be.  This truth applies to all higher mammals including humans.

A distinction should be made between a bribe for a clearly understood achievement and a reward for ceasing bad behavior.  Say your child is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store because you declined to buy a cookie — this is not a scenario where a reward should apply.  Do not promise to give them the cookie if they stop crying as this will only teach them to throw a fit next time with the expectation that they will be rewarded upon ceasing the crying.  I suggest that bad behavior would require either being ignored or garner a penalty, a figurative “stick”, but it must be administered immediately, not in the distance future because young brains don’t comprehend time as well as we do.  Banning TV when you get home is too far removed from the incident right now.  A scolding perhaps: “You are not getting the cookie, and I am not happy with you right now because you are being bad.”  Children are aware when their parents are not happy with them, and that can often be enough of a penalty.  Perhaps a sharp “HEY!” or a gently but abrupt squeeze on their arms.  I know many parents object to corporal punishment in any form (which I don’t mean to wade into at this time), but a gentle yet physical jolt can help to get their attention and make them know that you mean it.  The point is not to scar them or even to deliver pain, just make them aware of your displeasure and if they are in the midst a tantrum they may not hear your scolds, but they may feel an appropriately gentle squeeze on their arms.  Always be deliberative with penalties, never cruel.

As your children get older, it is entirely appropriate to incentivize not only good behavior but accomplishments as well.  If you catch your 10 year old being especially kind towards your 6 year old, take them aside, praise them, and give them a dollar.  If you want more of that behavior then you must reward it.  Pay them for good grades on their report card.  My system goes like this: A’s get $5, B’s get $3, C’s and D’s get nothing, any F’s get grounded for one week (no TV, video games, or sleep-overs).  A six-subject report card of all A’s would earn $30.  The children must be old enough though to have the concept of longer time spans and working towards far off goals — I think at least 8 years old, but depends on the child.  Clarification: I don’t pay for the grade on every assignment or test, only on report cards, but that would be up to you to determine.  Perhaps an especially important test is worthy of a bribe.  The bribe needn’t always be money, especially with younger ones, but any reward that the child desires: ice cream, TV or video game time, a trip to the park.

Teach and encourage your kids to negotiate on the price of the bribe.  We are preparing them for real life here so they may as well begin to learn how negotiation and deal making works.  My kids have become adept and accustomed to negotiating with us.  Early on I had to teach them how this works, but now they always try to “wheel and deal” with us.  I know so many adults who have no idea or even have an inclination on how to make offers and counter offers, whether buying on Craigslist or buying a house.

I also encourage them to identify jobs that need to be done and make me an offer to be paid for it.  These are budding entrepreneurial concepts: find a need, fill the need, get rewarded.  If they want to buy something, they need to look for a job that needs to be done, then make me an offer.  Yard needs to be raked, car needs to be washed, pantry reorganized; teach them to identify what needs to be done rather than you telling them what you want done.

Should everything in your household require payment?  I think not.  A home is not truly a free market economy because the kids don’t pay for rent or board.  We expect a certain amount of clearly defined and age-appropriate chores to be done as exchange for living here and being fed.

The purpose for bribing your kids to is incentivize behavior.  You are the economist and you are designing a system to develop the type of adults that you want your children to become.  Incentives and penalties are effective tools when utilized wisely and will make your job as parents easier and more satisfying.

Agree, disagree, have suggestions or a story of your own? Please share in the comments below.

Where’s My Trophy?

Published Monday, April 4th, 2016
Where's My Trophy
(photography by August Bramhoff)

The other day my husband came home with three trophies that his mom had been keeping in storage from his youthful sports days.  This was from the “old days” when you had to earn a trophy by winning, not just participating, and winning wasn’t considered “offensive”.  I watched as he showed our kids the trophies; the pride of accomplishment and the fond connection to his childhood was quite evident.  It made me stop to think and look around — what about me?  Where’s my trophy?

I realized that after multiple moves across the country, starting over here and there, I had nothing left of my younger years.  No symbol of the things I have done; no trophies or medals to prove it.  That is until my eyes rested on the one thing I use everyday: my trusty Nalgene water bottle.

It’s the only thing I own that has been there for everything I have been through, every place I have gone and every adventure I have had.  My youth was not idle — from rock climbing, surfing, back country snowboarding, and riding horses, to rolling down a cliff in a 4×4 truck (not my fault, I was a passenger), cross-country road trips, my wedding and honeymoon, having kids and beyond.  It’s always there dangling from my finger or attached to my pack, keeping me alive, never letting me down.

You wouldn’t think that someone could grow to become fond of an inanimate and inane object like a drinking vessel, but there it is, the symbol of my life’s accomplishments.  My trophy.  My Nalgene water bottle.  It may be a bit banged up, but its still strong and nearly indestructible (a bit like me).

I look forward to seeing what adventures in this life my Nalgene and I can get up to in the next 40 years.

Related: 12 Simple Ways to Drink More Water

This is not an ad for any specific product.  Disclaimer: this article may contain affiliate links.

Healthier Carrot Cake

Published Monday, April 4th, 2016

Carrot cake is that odd-ball confection made with a vegetable but which we all love to eat. I frankly cannot think of another vegetable cake that I could eat, and I certainly wound’t enjoy it. The reason is simple: carrot cake is loaded with fat and sugar. And I mean LOADED. Traditional carrot cake is so calorie dense (i.e. delicious) that it’s lost any semblance of vegetable healthiness it may have once possessed. So how does one set upon inventing a carrot cake recipe that is healthier while maintaining its tasty appeal? Well friends, I think I’ve done it. I offer to you Mommy Perfect’s Healthier Carrot Cake.

Moist? Check.
Sweet? Check.
Cakey (not dense)? Check.
Creamy frosting? Check
Low-sugar, low-fat, low-calorie? Check, check, check.

Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comment section below. Enjoy!

Healthier Carrot Cake

Healthier Carrot Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup flour (whole wheat or all purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey (or 1 cup Splenda)
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened crushed pineapple (strained)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
    Frosting
  • 8 oz reduced fat cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • 1/2 fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup non fat dry milk powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup honey (or 1/2 cup Splenda)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degr F.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. Combine wet ingredients in a separate medium bowl.
  4. Mix in the flour mixture until just combined.
  5. Grease cake pan (9" round or 8 x 8 square).
  6. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  7. Cool on a rack before turning out.
    Frosting:
  1. Beat ingredients until creamy and well combined. Adjust sweetener to taste.
  2. Sprinkle with additional chopped walnuts (optional).
  3. Frost cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.
http://mommyperfect.com/2016/04/healthier-carrot-cake/

Poem: To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time (Gather ye rosebuds while ye may)

Published Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016
To the Virgins to Make Much of Time
(image source: unknown photo of girl in meadow)

This 17th century poem reminds us to that time and youth are fleeting.  Make the most of your life while you can, for days once gone shall never return.  “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”.  Enjoy.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
By Robert Herrick, 1591 – 1674

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

The Most Powerful Words in the English Language

Published Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016
The Most Powerful Words in the English Language Mommy Perfect
(Image source: vintage TWA ad)

Do you know what the three most powerful words in the English language are?  Think about it for a moment.

You might be thinking “I love you”, and while love it very powerful, that isn’t it. Then perhaps “I hate you”, after all hate is such a strong word, but no, that isn’t it either.

I would suggest that the most powerful three words you can say to someone are: “I am sorry”.  Those three simple words are so thoroughly potent that’s its practically magic.  It can pierce the thickest hide and the blackest hearts.  When said with sincerity it will bring the hardest men to tears and calm the angriest rage.  Truncate it further to two words — “I’m sorry” — and it loses none of it’s power.

Friday evening my husband (Mr. Perfect) was driving the family to dinner.  The roads were thick with evening commuters eager to get somewhere to start their weekend. Mr. Perfect made a right turn after stopping at a red light, but didn’t notice that he had just pulled in front of a pickup truck who was barreling through the intersection.  The truck had to slow down and change lanes; nothing dangerous, but inconvenient for the other driver.  The driver of the truck, a young man in his 20s, passed on our left while blowing his horn and making gestures.

We met again at the next intersection a few hundred yards down the road.  The young man had put his passenger window down and was fully enraged shouting at my husband as we pulled alongside him.  I knew where this was going and I begged him not to engage with the road rager.  I said something along the lines of, “No, don’t, the kids are in the car!”

Mr. Perfect rolls down his own window to let in the full barrage of profanities and challenges to fisticuffs.  Rather than dish the obsenities back at the youth, or accept his challenge to get out and settle this like “men” in the middle of traffic, my husband responded in a way that totally surprised me as well as himself.  He sticks his head out of the window, looks the younger man in the eyes, and says to him loud and clear: “I’m sorry.”  That was it; that was all.

The enraged youth instantly goes calm.  His bright red countenance changed in the blink of an eye from wanting to commit murder a moment ago, to one resembling a neutered fawn.  The driver of the truck replied with a simple, “Okay”, and rolled up his window. Mr. Perfect had totally diffused the situation in a way that nothing else could have.  It was truly magic and it opened my eyes to the potency of that phrase.

Those words “I’m sorry” are not always easy to say, which is why we don’t hear it or say it as often as we should.  As humans we have a strong urge to be right, and we tend to feel deep in our being that to sincerely apologize would compromise our survival.  Oddly the more wrong we are, even when its completely obvious to yourself and everyone else, the more difficult it is to say that we’re sorry.  It takes courage to be the first to say that you’re sorry, but when you do its like a silver bullet.  I’ve heard it said that to apologize is to show weakness.  Hogwash!  A sincere apology can often require tremendous personal strength.

Two of the hardest and surliest men I’ve ever known, my uncle and my father, had a quarrel many years ago which ended their formerly close relationship. Words had been said that couldn’t be unsaid and they refused to speak to or even see one another for years.  Both men held the opinion that the other one was wrong and neither one of them was going to be the first to extend the olive branch.  I could see that each man wanted the quarrel to end, but neither would meet the other half way.

After more than a decade apart the brothers were forced to meet due to the birth of a new baby in the family.  The two met, shook hands, nodded at one another, grunted, and then silence.  Finally my father says to his brother, “I’m sorry.”  Both men hugged and began to cry like children.  These two hard headed fools had wasted 1/8th of their lives apart because they couldn’t say those words.

It isn’t enough to simply say “sorry” — for some reason that word alone lacks sincerity.  We hear that from children often when we force them to say sorry and it comes across as meaningless.  “Sorry” by itself just doesn’t cut it; it sounds flippant or even disdainful.  But “I’m sorry” or “I am sorry” will dissolve anything.  Keep that in mind when you make your kids apologize, as well as for yourself.  Its worth noting that we demand our kids to say it, but adults so infrequently do.

Try it next time you are having a quarrel with your spouse.  Don’t be afraid to say it to your kids if you wrongly discipline them inappropriately in a fit of anger.  In fact it sets a good example for our kids to hear us saying “I’m sorry” when we are wrong.

“I am sorry” truly are magic words.  Keep it in your back pocket and watch how well you can improve situations around you when appropriately used.

Power Pancakes

Published Friday, March 18th, 2016

Experts say you need to eat a good breakfast to perform your very best for the rest of the day.  Mommy Perfect’s Buttermilk Power Pancakes have enough protein to start you day off right!

Most days my kids only want pancakes for breakfast, so I set to work coming up with a recipe that provides more protein than your average pancake mix while still tasting great.  Every other high-protein pancake recipe that I’ve ever come across simply has you adding protein powder to a traditional recipe, and let me assure you that tastes like crap!  And it doesn’t matter which protein powder you use, it doesn’t dissolve properly and once cooked it becomes mealy.  Yuck!  There is one decent tasting boxed mix called Kodiak Cakes which the kids enjoy, but its not very cheap, if you can even find it at your supermarket.

Power Pancakes fluffy buttermilk Mommy PerfectThese Power Pancakes have 4 grams of protein per cake and the whole batch
costs less than $1.  My kids and I are very pleased with the results.  These are fluffy and flavorful buttermilk pancakes — your family won’t even know they are eating healthy.  You can even mix up the dry ingredients the night before to save yourself some time in the morning.

Power Pancakes

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 7

Power Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tblsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk (also called instant dry milk)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • 2 eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute like EggBeaters)
  • 1 Tblsp vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients together, sifting in the baking powder and baking soda to prevent clumps.
  2. Add wet ingredients and mix until just smooth.
  3. Lightly grease skillet on medium-low heat. If you have an infrared thermometer (which every kitchen should have) the skillet should be around 350 degrees.
  4. Drop ladles of batter onto skillet. Cook until edged are dry and bubbles in the center have popped. Flip, cook for another two minutes or so (depending on the heat of your skillet -- adjust time and heat accordingly).

Notes

Serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, or cinnamon and sugar.

*If you don't have buttermilk you can make your own really easily. Although the Power Pancakes won't be as thick, it will still achieve the taste and the rise that you're looking for. Simply mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let it sit for a few minutes.

http://mommyperfect.com/2016/03/power-pancakes/

 

Related: Check out my Easy Breakfast Options for more school morning ideas to make your life simpler.

Lately my kids have been topping their Power Pancakes with cinnamon and sugar.  They sprinkle it on top in place of syrup, and believe it or not they end up eating less dietary sugar overall because they use far less than with syrup.  Here’s how you make it:  Use an empty ground cinnamon container (the taller ones with a flip-top lid, not the little squat ones).  Add 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.  Close lid, shake well to combine, sprinkle as needed.

Better Than Sabra Hummus

Published Monday, February 1st, 2016

Mommy Perfect takes on that deliciously smooth all-purpose Mediterranean dip and offers up a recipe that’s better than Sabra hummus.

Just when you’ve barely gotten started with your “New  Years Diet”, along comes the Superbowl to tear you away with all its wings, dips, and diet-crushing snack foods that we all should rightly be avoiding.  With New Years diet resolutions in mind, but still wanting to partake of the Superbowl snack foods, the dip at the top of the list is hummus.  The tangy, smooth, Mediterranean condiment isn’t just deliciously addicting, it’s a certifiable health food (in moderation of course). Hummus is loaded with protein so it curbs hunger, has no cholesterol, and it might even help to prevent some forms of cancers.  Possibly best of all, my kids love it!

Hummus has become hugely popular in North America in the last few years, with Sabra being the most popular brand and rightly so: it’s very tasty and available in the deli section of most supermarkets.  However, it’s not cheap.  A small container of Sabra costs several dollars and won’t last a single sitting for one (also, it might give you listeria).  For roughly half of the retail price you can prepare twice the serving size at home in under 5 minutes.

Better Than Sabra Hummus

Better Than Sabra Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 - 15oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 3 Tblsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tblsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • dash of ground cumin
  • dash ground paprika for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Strain the chickpeas from it's water, setting both aside.
  2. In a blender or food processor, combine tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Blend until creamy.
  3. Add chickpeas, salt, and cumin to the food processor. Blend for about a minute, then taste test it. If its dry, add a tablespoon of the chickpea liquid and blend for another 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat by tasting, adding a tablespoon of liquid, and blending again until the desired consistency is achieved. Some prefer theirs more wet or more dry. Smoothness is achieved by blending for several minutes and providing adequate water.
  5. When serving, sprinkle paprika over the top for garnish.

Notes

Tahini is a lot like "natural" peanut butter in that the oils will separate in it's container. You will need to stir the tahini well before adding to the hummus. I find this step to be the most annoying, but its necessary. Do not just add all the tahini oils from the top -- take a few minutes and stir it well before using.

http://mommyperfect.com/2016/02/better-than-sabra-hummus/

The friction from your blender or food processor will warm up the hummus, so I suggest refrigerating for an hour before serving, but its certainly edible right away.  Serve with dipping vegetables, chips, pretzels, or toasted pita bread wedges.

Using this base recipe you can get creative with additional flavors.  Try adding one of the following for a twist: avocado, artichoke, sun dried tomato, grated Parmesan cheese, roasted red peppers, chipotle peppers, or try replacing the lemon juice for lime juice.

Greek Yogurt Dark Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Published Friday, January 29th, 2016

Greek Yogurt Dark Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins Mommy Perfect

Mommy Perfect offers up creamy and tangy Greek yogurt dark chocolate chip banana muffins packed with protein.  Your kids won’t realize that it’s good for them!

I set out to create a muffin recipe that my kids would gladly eat while being mostly healthy.  I had a bunch of ripe bananas that needed to be eaten so I started with that.  Add protein-rich Greek yogurt, some dark chocolate chips, and I had what I was looking for — they love them!  In fact they ate the whole batch at once, so I had to make another batch to save for their school lunches.  Easy to make, and your kids can even help by mashing up the bananas for you.  Just be sure that they are fully ripened (when little dark spots form on the peel).

Greek Yogurt Dark Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Greek Yogurt Dark Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Ingredients

  • 12 oz flour (or 2 1/4 cups by volume)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 Tbls butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed, fully ripened bananas (roughly 3 bananas)
  • 1 cup fat free plain greek yogurt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg.
  2. In a bowl sift together baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs, mashed bananas, and yogurt; mix well.
  4. Add flour mixture and chocolate chips. Mix until just combined (don't over mix).
  5. Spoon batter into regular sized paper-lined muffin cups. Fill roughly 3/4 of each cup with batter.
  6. Bake for 20-25 min or until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
http://mommyperfect.com/2016/01/greek-yogurt-dark-chocolate-chip-banana-muffins/

Inspired by this recipe from KRAFT.

Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread

Published Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread cast iron slice Mommy Perfect

Spice up your barbecue or party with Mommy Perfect’s Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread recipe. I promise it’s not too hot.

Cornbread and BBQ go together like apple pie and ice cream.  On Superbowl Sunday I like to fire up the Weber and grill up ribs or wings, and my cornbread always has a place at the table.  We use honey, buttermilk, and creamed corn to add body and sweetness, and the jalapenos don’t present too much heat (just a touch) but it really livens up the dish.  For the record, I have a low tolerance of spicy food — I enjoy a touch of heat, without the pain.  I find this jalapeno creamed corn cornbread recipe to meet that perfect balance that I enjoy.  Plus it’s an absolute cinch to make.

You can bake this in a cast iron pan or bake with terra cotta pottery, which actually works better in my opinion (but not everybody has terra cotta in their kitchen).  I suggest an 11″ diameter saucer (about an inch deep).  The important thing to note about baking with terra cotta pottery is to allow the ceramic to preheat sufficiently in your oven before putting the food into it.  It adds a bit of time to the preheat process, but the results are better.

This Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread recipe also pairs really will with my Low-Carb Low-Fat Tex-Mex Chili.

Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread in Cast Iron Pan

Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread in Cast Iron Pan

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cornmeal (not cornbread mix -- should say 100% corn)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tblsp honey
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 2 raw jalapenos, diced
  • 2 Tblsp corn oil or vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 10-inch cast iron pan or 11-inch terra cotta saucer in the oven to preheat. If using a terra cotta dish, let it preheat for a few extra minutes before baking.
  2. In a bowl combine dry ingredients (cornmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda and baking powder).
  3. Cut jalapenos in half, scoop out the seed and innards, then finely dice.
  4. In a separate bowl mix together the honey, buttermilk, eggs, jalapenos, and creamed corn. Stir well to ensure that the honey is well incorporated.
  5. Slowly add the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.
  6. Swirl the oil around inside your baking vessel (iron pan or terra cotta dish), then pour the batter in.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the bread springs back upon your touch and the top is golden brown.
http://mommyperfect.com/2016/01/jalapeno-creamed-cornbread/

Be sure to also try my Best (easy) Baked Beans Ever and for your party or barbecue.  They are a crowd favorite as well.

Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread terra cotta Mommy Perfect

Ninja Coffee Bar Makes Great Coffee at Home

Published Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Ninja Coffee Bar Makes Great Coffee at Home Mommy Perfect

From the makers of vacuums and blenders, the Ninja Coffee Bar steps into the coffee domain with a luxurious feature-rich machine at a competitive price.  Mommy Perfect offers our review of this premium drip machine.

My husband and I have been on a coffee discovery journey for a lot of years now — more than a decade.  We’ve traveled far and wide to test craft and specialty coffees, and I have studied every method of brewing coffee that is available to man.  I admit to having gone “geek mode” about coffee, which I talk about somewhat in my article How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee.  We’ve contemplated opening a craft coffee shop, and someday we just might.  Well, this last Christmas we acquired the Ninja Coffee Bar, our latest gadget in my endless quest to experience great tasting coffee.  Ninja are the same people who make the Shark vacuums that you’ve likely seen commercials for.  The Ninja brand is their kitchen appliance division, offering blenders, slow-cookers, and now this coffee machine. Although it doesn’t say Breville or KitchenAid on the label, I know that Shark/Ninja makes high-end, high-quality products which, by my estimation, are comparable in quality to those traditional brands.

Ninja Coffee Bar

When I first unboxed it I thought there was going to be a technological learning curve to go along with it.  I often find that new gadgets toss in so many buttons and features (which I won’t use and don’t need) that I need to keep the manual beside the appliance.  My microwave is like that and it annoys me — its button overload!  Not so with this Ninja Coffee Bar.  The buttons are few and specific, which I like, and now that I’ve been using it for a couple weeks I find that its not difficult to use.

The Ninja Coffee Bar is aesthetically designed with a brushed stainless steel body and black accents.  Unlike most other drip coffee makers that use a glass pot over a hot plate, the Ninja uses a double-insulated carafe to hold the brew and keep it hot.  Ninja’s choice to use a carafe was a smart one.

Ninja Coffee Bar review Mommy PerfectThe machine has 4 buttons for controlling the brew style: Classic Brew, Rich Brew (which is bolder), Over Ice Brew (for iced coffees) and Specialty Brew which makes concentrated coffee as used in espresso-like drinks or recipes.  Secondarily the Ninja has a dial to select one of 4 sizes: Cup, Travel, Half Pot, and Full Pot. You can brew directly into your coffee mug or travel mug for individual servings, which saves you having to wash the pot if you’re only drinking one cup.  This travel mug option is excellent.  I also like that you can switch from regular brew to a more rich one, as I prefer a weaker cup while my husband likes a bolder cup.  We can brew to our individual tastes.

As I discuss in my earlier article How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee, the brewing device is only one leg of the trifecta: beans, grinder, and brewing method.  To enjoy great coffee you need all three, and if one leg is weak the coffee won’t be excellent.  The Ninja Coffee Bar does an excellent job of brewing coffee, better than most other drip systems on the market in my estimation, but it can’t create miracles.  Improperly ground stale beans won’t be revitalized into a gourmet cup of java, but with good beans and a proper grinder the Ninja Coffee Bar is capable of extracting a darn good cup of coffee.  It does the important things right: water temp, water volume, and brewing time.

For those of you who enjoy foamed espresso specialty drinks, but don’t want to spend $5 at Starbucks, the Ninja includes a manual milk frother which will give you the mouth-feel that you’re looking for.  It includes a recipe book to make it easy for you to concoct all sorts of tasty coffeehouse specialty drinks.  However, the coffee geek in me must be clear: the Ninja does not make “real” espresso, as that is technically a specific type of brewing method.  What the Ninja does is brew a rich “espresso-like” drink which will satisfy any Starbucks fan.  I make a tiramisu desert that calls for espresso, which the Ninja works great for.  I should comment that Keurig, Tassimo, Nescafe and others, also boast their “espresso” capabilities, none of which are capable of making authentic espresso either.

Unlike those pre-packaged, single-serving pod machines (Keurig, Tassimo, etc) who’s beans were ground when George W. Bush was still President and have been in warehouse storage ever since, the Ninja allows you to use freshly ground beans that you dose to your preferences.  Frankly there’s just no other way to do it.  Those single-serving pods add flavors and chemicals in an attempt to disguise how old and disgusting their beans are.  Although they are convenient, you don’t want to drink that stuff if you can avoid it.  Due to the manual nature of grinding and dosing your beans, you may have to play with it as you learn how you prefer your coffee to taste.  The Ninja includes a dosing scooper which is clearly labeled for the amount of brew that you desire, but tweaking may be necessary.  Between how many scoops and which brew method you choose, you can make dramatically different tasting cups.

The Ninja includes a programmable delay brew feature so your coffee can be ready when you wake up in the morning, which is pretty standard on most coffee makers.  I’ve tried it, it’s not complicated to setup, and works well.  For me personally, taste is paramount, so I choose to have my beans be freshly ground as close to brew time as possible, but not everybody is like me.  If you’re happy with pre-ground beans or if you’re in a particular rush, the auto timer is a good feature.

Pros:

  • Excellent and consistent brewing quality
  • Espresso-style specialty drinks
  • Great looking stainless steel design
  • Simple user functions
  • Reusable permanent filter
  • Insulated carafe

Cons:

  • I honestly didn’t find any cons about this machine.  I will continue to use it and update this article if I come across any downsides that pop up with time.  If I had to really nit-pick I’d say that the name “Ninja” is its weakest attribute as it doesn’t invoke visions of gourmet coffee.

With freshly roasted high quality beans and a capable burr grinder,  you’ll have home brewed coffee as good as any craft coffee house can make.  If you’re in the market for a coffee maker, the Ninja Coffee Bar is an excellent machine, loaded with features, especially for the price — you won’t be disappointed.  They also provide a 60-day taste test money back guarantee.

Do you already have one of these?  In the market for one?  Are you a coffee geek like me?  Leave a comment below.

This is not an advertisement for the Ninja Coffee Bar or any other product.  Disclaimer: this article may contain affiliate links.

Young Adult Books Are Not Just For Kids Anymore

Published Monday, January 18th, 2016

A couple years ago I was over at my sister’s house browsing through her book shelves when I noticed a lot of her books were for teenagers (so-called “Young Adult”), but none of her kids were teenagers.  I wasn’t quite sure what to think; was she bad at reading or what?  She just laughed at me and told to me to try the books before judging her.  She handed over some of her favorites, and sent me on my way.  Dismissive at first, I began reading them and found the genre to be quite fun: the stories weren’t complicated or deep, but were compelling enough to keep me engaged.  I am now an avid reader of YA fiction and I am not afraid to admit it.  I often find that some people look at you funny (as I did to my sister) when you’re sitting there in a cafe reading books for teenagers, but they don’t know what they are missing.  It happens to be one of the fastest growing genres, 79% of those purchasing YA books are adults… and they aren’t buying it for their kids.  YA offers all the various categories of fiction.  You can read about romance without having to spend pages reading about graphic sexual interactions. 

The fantasy worlds created in these books are great to help me escape from the stresses of the real world, something today’s adults clearly feel the need for.  I don’t know about you, but when I hear all the negative things going  on in the world and I am having a rough day and I just can’t take it anymore, there is nothing I like more than disappearing into whatever make-believe story world I have on my Kindle.

YA books are also great for evoking nostalgia.  They often remind me of my more youthful years, making them a comforting zone of solace to escape the doldrums of adult life.  Society is so critical of YA for being shallow or unsophisticated, and yet it is the simplicity of it that often provides the most pleasure for young people and adults alike.  I still do read mature novels for “grown ups” and I enjoy them, but sometimes I just want an easy mental vacation.  

Lets not overlook perhaps the most essential part of the secret appeal of YA books: their universal applicability. It used to be just my sister and I waiting for a new release and even going to a book signing, but now my teenage niece and her friends all join us.  I see many generations of people all excitedly awaiting the new book by the hot author of the day.  I can’t wait to share with my own kids some of the books I have discovered, when they are old enough. 

For people who feel the YA category is just too “immature” for them, there is an emerging new genre called New Adult Fiction.  It bridges that slight gap between Young Adult and Adult genres.  It typically features characters between the ages of 18 and 26, whereas YA’s characters are generally ages 16 to 19.  It is already quite popular, more sexual in nature than the younger YA genre and so must be separated for obvious reasons.  It has been called “soft core mommy porn”: more than the fleeting touches and shy looks of YA, but lacking the explicit details of adult romance.  New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing relationships and sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices — the college years, as it were.  The genre has gained popularity rapidly over the last few years and you can find quite a lot of it available to read.  

Recommendations can be tricky things, but here a few good ones that are very popular to get you introduced to the genre.

Cassandra Clare has written a series called “Mortal Instuments” about a normal teenage girl that stumbles into a supernatural world that no other humans can see.  It’s an interesting world she creates a even though it has some of the traditional creatures you might expect — vampires, werewolves, etc — it also some new ideas.  It has loads of action to take you on a wild ride.

Kiera Cass has  a YA series called “The Selection” that is somewhat similar to Hunger Games, but without all the bloodsport and death.  Thirty-five girls are competing to escape from the life laid out for them and be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels in order to win the heart of a prince.

Karen Marie Moning‘s “Fever” series is more of New Adult than a YA.  It begins with 18 year old Mackayla Lane who’s sister is murdered with only a single clue left behind to find the murderer.  She gets drawn into a shadowy realm of magic and ancient monsters, and discovers her own unusual powers.  The characters are interesting and the story draws you along.  It has some sexual content along the way so I don’t recommend it for the underage.

If you have any good reading suggestions please comment below — I am always looking for more books to read!  Also I post books that I have read on Mommy Perfect’s Pinterest page.

If you’re interested in sharing Kindle books with me and other Mommy Perfect readers, I’ve put together a group on Good Reads where we can swap and share ebooks using Kindle’s Lending feature.  Come join and lets share some good reads!

This is not an advertisement for any specific book or author.  Disclaimer: this article may contain affiliate links.

12 Simple Ways to Drink More Water

Published Friday, January 8th, 2016

12 Simple Ways to Drink More Water running Mommy Perfect

You’ve heard it a thousand times: drink more water.  Researchers say that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated, so the odds are strong that you aren’t drinking enough either.  Dehydration is responsible for a long list of health problems including high blood pressure, fatigue, weight gain, joint pain, kidney stones and many more.  Our bones are 50% water, our blood is 80% water, and it must be constantly replenished for good health.  It’s the most commonly overlooked malady, and also the easiest to fix.  I could go on with reasons why you should be drinking more water, but hopefully you get the idea.

I’m often asked, “What type of water is the best?”  The answer is to drink clean water that tastes good to you.  Some companies make outlandish claims for their bottled water or filtration devices, anything from curing cancer to reversing diabetes.  These are dishonest scams.  Tap, filtered, bottled, reverse osmosis, spring, distilled… these are all fine just so long as it’s clean and pure and you enjoy drinking it.  Getting the water into you is more important than the “type” of water.  Any company making amazing claims for their water to improve your health in unusual ways is a worthless, overpriced scam. But if you enjoy drinking it, and its clean, then do what makes you happy.  I choose to drink reverse osmosis myself because I like the taste and its also very inexpensive per gallon to put an RO system under your kitchen sink.

How much water should you be drinking?  Women’s magazines other outfits are often suggesting that we drink 8 cups a day, or 10 cups, or check your urine color, or smell your urine… oh good grief!  Here is the best method for calculating your daily water target:

_________ lbs (your body weight) X .66 = ounces per day of water

For example, if you weigh 130 lbs: 130 X .66 = 85 oz per day.  Grab a calculator and figure out your daily target.  Then get a portable water bottle and figure out how many bottles you ought to be drinking every day.

Now that you know “what, when, where, and why”, here are 12 simple ways to drink more water every day.

1, Carry a portable water bottle everywhere you go.  I personally use Nalgene water bottles and have been for 20 years, because they are virtually indestructible and are easy to carry around.  I literally have one in my hand everywhere I go, even into restaurants, which occasionally garners an odd glance. Once you get into the habit it becomes second nature and you don’t even think about it.

2. Set a timer.  If you space out your water intake its very easy to get it down.  Half a cup every :30 minutes is practically nothing; but by the end of a work day you’ll have downed 8 cups, painlessly.  Set a timer on your smartphone to chime at you every :30 minutes until you get into the habit.  Half a cup is about a mouthful.

3. There’s an app for that.  There are countless free apps that help you to track your water intake, just search the Apple App Store or Google Play for “drink water”.  The Fitbit app also does this.

4. Use flavoring.  Some people find it unpleasant to drink water, but I’ve observed that sentiment goes away with time.  They’re just not used to drinking so much water.  There are many zero-calorie “on the go” products like Crystal Light or MIO.  Some people like to infuse mint leaves, fruit chunks, or orange slices into their water (let it sit in a pitcher in your fridge overnight).  Feel free to add flavorings if it helps you to get it down.

5. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty.  If you are feeling thirsty then you are already dehydrated, and now you’re behind trying to play catch up.  It takes time for the cells in your body to rehydrate.  Its not a simple as chugging a huge bottle of water and feeling like you’ve caught up.  Its best to get well hydrated and keep it there all day.

6. Ginger snaps.  Ginger snap cookies have the ability to make you feel thirsty.  While I don’t suggest cookies as a snack, if you find yourself compelled to have a treat, at least ginger snaps will amplify your thirst and compel you to drink more water.  This is a good tip for kids by the way, who are also often dehydrated.

7. Spice it up.  Similarly to ginger snaps, eating food with a bit of spice will tend to make you feel thirst, so add some hot sauce to your meals.  Hot sauce is also a low calorie condiment, so feel free to indulge.

8. Eat your water.  Water-rich foods like cucumbers, celery, apples,  and melons are a great snack while also adding water.  Also light soups or broths are obviously mostly water.

9. Feeling hungry?  Drink!  Often dehydration can manifest as a feeling of hunger.  If you find that you are getting hungry, drink a cup of water and wait :10 minutes.  You might find that the hunger dissipates, or at the very least holds your hunger at bay so you don’t raid the vending machine at work.

10. Wake up to a tall glass.  Every morning when you wake you are severely dehydrated.  You’ve just gone 6-8 hours without a drink (which is why your face is puffy).  As soon as you wake up, drink a tall glass of water — just slam it back.  You’ll feel feel it invigorate you instantly.

11. Booze and water, 1:1.  We’ve all heard this hangover prevention before: drink a cup a water with every boozy beverage.  It works.  So next time you’re enjoying some drinks with your friends, chug a glass of water after each drink.

12. Carbonation.  Many people find it easier and more pleasant to drink carbonated water.  Products like the Soda Stream will make your water bubbly in under 5 seconds.

Share good health with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.  Also tell us your own tips and advice in the comments below.  Cheers!

This is not an ad for any specific product.  Disclaimer: this article may contain affiliate links.

New Years Resolutions That Aren’t Dumb

Published Monday, January 4th, 2016

Ahhhh New Years.  The time for letting go of failed hopes and dreams, and to make lists of new (and likely most of the same) goals and aspirations.

I’m just not feeling the optimism this time.  Perhaps its because I’m feeling older this year, or because the years seem to be flying by so fast, or maybe the daily routines of existence feels like a rut.   I feel like “why make a list of goals only to watch the chances of achieving them wither away with the passage of time?”

I don’t know the answer.

Maybe the  problem lies with the goals themselves.  Instead of the obvious ones that everyone makes — fitness, money, love, travel, etc — perhaps I should think “outside the box”.  Be more realistic and more interesting.  (I hate that idiom by the way, “think outside the box”, and people should stop using it so often, including myself… I know, I’ll put it on my resolution list).

Here are some ideas for New Years resolutions that aren’t dumb:

Learn something new.  Attempt to learn a new skill every month.  It doesn’t need to be exotic; even simple things like basic car or home maintenance.  Or take a class in some subject that you’ve never tried.  The idea here is to keep the mind flexible.  Your mind will become used to doing the same things over and over, and it gets lazy, but mastering new skills forces your brain to build new synapses (brain pathways) which is supposed to be healthy (even though its hard and uncomfortable).  For example, last year I tried to learn how to play the piano a little.  I could feel the steam coming out of my ears as I tried to make my fingers move.  It’s definitely not as easy as I thought it would be.  Or maybe I’ll just buy something from IKEA every month and see if I can put it together properly.

New Years Resolutions That Aren't Dumb Learn Something New
This seems like a skill that I should learn.

Try something that scares you a little.  The idea here is to broaden your horizons and sphere of influence.  This would probably be something more physical.  A couple years ago my husband signed me up to a Krav Maga class without asking me (a self defense fighting system).  That was WAY out of my comfort zone, but I ended up loving it and making several new friends, some of whom have become some of my closest and dearest of friends.  This never would have happened if I hadn’t been forced to do something that scared me a little.  Last year I tried stand-up paddle-boarding.  If you’re uncomfortable with guns, try taking a class on shooting and gun safety.  Most gun clubs or gun ranges offer a means for you to safely try shooting even if you don’t own a gun.

Random act of kindness once a week/month.  This strikes me as something that everyone thinks about doing by never does.  It’s not something I keep in the front of my mind to do, but I have noticed that when I manage to do something I do get a boost of happy feelings.  So in the interest of wanting to feel happier overall, I think I am going to try to make more of an effort to do little things for others more often.  Whether it is a pay-it-forward type thing at the coffee house or just help someone when you see they need it.  I was thinking about making it be a daily thing, but lets be realistic and take baby steps here… once a week is probably good.  Maybe Monday should be RAC day.

One non-electronics night a week.  You and I already know how much time we all waste on Facebook or Netflix, and I’m pretty sure this one sounds easier than it is.  We hear stuff like this all over the place and however realistic it may or may not be, it’s probably worth a try.  Over the Christmas school break I have been playing board games with my kids more often and it is amazing how much everyone enjoys it.  I can see it is also teaching them to lose a little more gracefully; the crying and screaming from the loser is getting less each time we play.  I’ve read things like: if you turned off the TV and spent :30 minutes a day learning a new language, you’d be able to speak it fluently by the end of the year.  Similarly with a musical instrument.  While those ideas sound great, I’m not sure that I could stick with it, but it might be worth a try.

Whatever your plans for New Year resolutions are, consider trying to mix in some of these ideas to keep it interesting.  And keep it realistic.  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

New Years Resolutions That Aren't Dumb Calvin

P.S.  Along these similar lines, if you’ve ever wanted to be a writer but not sure where to start, Mommy Perfect is taking submissions.  Email me any previously unpublished articles and if I feel like it fits well then I’ll publish it.  Email me: gidget at mommyperfect dot com (obviously reformat that address).  Cheers!

Low-Carb Low-Fat Tex-Mex Chili

Published Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Low-Fat Chili

This is a simple yet delicious Low-Carb Low-Fat Tex-Mex Chili recipe that you can make in just a few minutes.

The idea for this came when I was on a strict diet a few years ago and I was tired of eating only chicken breasts.  Now the whole family eats it because it’s easy to make, healthy, and tasty.  I keep a pot of this in the fridge at all times.  Very versatile, and perfect for dieters.

Here are some serving ideas:

  • You can eat a bowl by itself for a low-fat, low-carb chili.
  • Use it at a filling in burritos or tacos.
  • Make it into nachos: Pile on top of some tortilla chips, sprinkle shredded cheese on top, and place in the oven for a few minutes at 350 until cheese melts.
  • Put a scoop on top of some leafy green lettuce to have a “taco salad” (crush a few baked tortilla chips on top for texture).
  • Put it over rice for a more filling and balanced meal.

This chili also goes really well with my Jalapeno Creamed Cornbread.

Low-Carb Low-Fat Tex-Mex Chili

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 - 6

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. On medium heat brown the turkey and beef together in a pot until its into ground beef bits. Pour off the liquid.
  2. Add the tacos seasonings, black beans, diced tomatoes, and the frozen vegetables to the meat. Simmer on medium/low heat until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Notes

The taco seasoning packets says to add water, but that's not necessary because of the amount of water than comes with the canned and frozen vegetables.

*Note: We do half ground beef and half ground turkey because using all turkey can have a mealy mouth-feel, so the beef helps to mask that. Also please note that not all turkey is lean so you much check the packages. They do sell 99% lean ground turkey, and 97% lean ground beef.

http://mommyperfect.com/2016/01/low-carb-low-fat-tex-mex-chili/

 

Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard

Published Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard

This is hands-down the best way to make oatmeal.  Steel-cut oats have a hearty and rustic texture, but the traditional stove-top method takes a lot of time, which most people don’t have first thing in the morning.  This method that I’ve developed is so simple, and makes the oats so thick and creamy — it tastes like custard while retaining that “snap” from the oat berries.

We use a Crock Pot and mason jars to create a “double boiler”.  We fill the Crock Pot with water to just at (or below) the level of the milk in the mason jars.  By slowly cooking the oats inside the mason jars we prevent them from getting overcooked and crusty at the edge/bottom of the cooking vessel.  Fix it before going to bed; its ready in the morning.  Prep time is under a minute.

We substitute water for milk in the recipe which adds a ton of creaminess.  Skim milk if you’re watching your fat/calories; milk alternatives if you avoid dairy, or water if desired.  Many milk alternatives have added sweeteners, so keep that in mind.  This is also gluten-free, if that’s a concern for you.

In this recipe we use pint mason jars.  If using different sized jars, reference the table below (half-pint is the right amount for my kids’ appetites).  Cooking times stay the same, 6-8 hours on low.  You could even make just one serving in a single jar if you wished.  We recommend using Kerr or Ball brand jars, as these are tested to be heat tolerant; generic brands may be less so.

Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard

Prep Time: 1 minute

Total Time: 1 minute

Ingredients

  • 4 - 1 pint mason jars
  • 1 cup milk per jar (4 cups total)
  • 1/4 cup steel cut oats per jar (1 cup total)
  • pinch of salt in each jar
  • Optional: sweetener of your choice

Instructions

  1. Pour 1 cup milk into each jar.
  2. Add 1/4 cup steel-cut oats to each jar.
  3. Add a pinch of salt to each jar.
  4. Stir slightly.
  5. Place the mason jars into your Crock Pot. Do not put the lid on the jars -- let them breathe.
  6. Place golf ball sized aluminum foil balls in between each jar and the Crock Pot edge (to prevent bumping and shifting).
  7. Fill the Crock Pot with water to just at or below the level of the milk in the jars. If you fill beyond that point the jars will become buoyant and float.
  8. Put the lid on the Crock Pot and set to low for 6-8 hours.
  9. Remove jars using tongs.

Notes

Serve with brown sugar or maple syrup, cream, pecans or fresh fruit.

Important: Only use regular steel-cut oats for this recipe; not quick steel-cut oats, not instant oats, not rolled oats.

http://mommyperfect.com/2016/01/slowcooker-steel-cut-oatmeal-custard/

Reference: Oats to Liquid Ratios

1/2 cup liquid (4 oz) 2 Tblsp oats
3/4 cup liquid (6 oz) 3 Tblsp oats
1 cup liquid (8 oz) 1/4 cup (4 Tblsp oats)

Feel free to experiment with slightly more or less liquid if you prefer it thicker or wetter.

Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard, crock pot
Pint Mason Jars
Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard aluminum balls
Pint Mason Jars in Crock Pot with aluminum foil balls as spacers
Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard crock pot
Half-Pint Mason Jars
Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard aluminum balls
Half-Pint Mason Jars in Crock Pot with aluminum foil balls as spacers

Slowcooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal Custard mason jar

Disclaimer: this article may contain affiliate links.