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Sunday
Nov242013

Night at the Museum

I've only seen the trailers for this movie with Ben Stiller but when I walked into the Harvard Museum of Natural History, I could instantly imagine scenes from the movie. In all my years living in Boston, I can't believe that I've never visited this museum treasure. I'd heard of it but assumed it would be crowded and dusty with faded stuffed animals and creaky floors. My husband planned a day there since my son Jake recently switched obsessions from locomotives to dinosaurs, and the museum offers an impressive display of dinosaur fossils. Maybe because I didn't have any expectations and the exterior looked like an old college dormatory, I was very surprised and impressed with each room I entered.

Great Mammal Hall

Towering skeletons of dinosaurs and whales. Up close and personal views of tigers and pythons that you'd never get at a zoo. Extensive and complete collections of every species of hummingbird, sparrow, butterfly and beetle. Jake even got to pet a live 3-inch-long cockroach—ick! Exhausting specimens of flowers and plants in the Glass Flowers Collection and minerals and gemstones in the Earth & Planetary Sciences Gallery. Everything is sparkling clean and well cared for. This place is educational and breathtaking. You never get bored; in fact there's so much sensory overload that my brain started to ache! I recommend this museum as a perfect family-friendly outing during the upcoming school vacations if you haven't yet visited. And if you have, go again to see their limited-time special exhibits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jake was pretty freaked out by this python.…ok I was tooFor Massachusetts residents there is free admission on Sunday mornings from 9:00am to noon (year round) and on Wednesdays from 3:00-5:00pm (Sept through May) when you show your driver's license or other proof of residency. We arrived at 11:55am on a Sunday and they still gave us free admission for the rest of the afternoon. The Red Line Harvard T stop is the best way to get there because parking is always tough, but on Sundays metered parking is free if you're lucky enough to nab an empty space.

 

 

 

 

Everything is true to size

 


AmethystThis quartz reminded me of kryptonite!

Sunday
Nov172013

'Just Add Cooking' Delivers Dinner in a Box

I have a binder full of beautiful healthful recipes that I absolutely intend to cook...someday. Unfortunately my inspirations far outweigh my actions. Quick and easy end up deciding what appears on my dinner table during the week, much of that being microwaved frozen vegetables, whole wheat pasta or couscous, and beans or veggie burgers. So of course I gladly accepted a sample box of three dinners from a new Boston company, Just Add Cooking. It was established in 2012 by two Swedish-born dads who value unfussy, quick home-cooked meals. The idea stemmed from a service that is already very popular in Sweden: Boxes delivered to your home that contain easy recipes along with all the premeasured ingredients you will need to make the recipes. 

To begin, you go to their website to see if your zip code falls within the delivery area. If so, you create an account and choose a plan (3, 4, or 5 meal box; the prices range from $107-$139). Each recipe feeds four people. They deliver once a week on Sundays between 2-6pm. You don't have to be home for the delivery; you'll receive a text when it's dropped off. You can choose from 5-7 recipes each week for your box, with three vegetarian options. Check out their recipe page for beautiful photos of each dish as well as the full recipe so you can see if the ingredients fit your family's dietary needs. You can cancel a week's order if you don't need it, or cancel your subscription entirely at any time through your profile page. The website is very user-friendly.

I chose sausage and broccoli rabe over pasta, haddock in white wine curry, and a chicken cassoulet with chorizo and pancetta. I don't eat a lot of meat and these recipes also used cream and butter, but they actually seemed the "lightest" of the choices and I figured I could modify the ingredients if needed. My box arrived a little early at 1:50pm on a Sunday. The ingredients were covered with cooling packs.

Also inside was an envelope with the three recipes, each just one page long including a photo of the finished meal. The directions are organized in rows, with priority of steps running left to right. For example, you are told to cook the pasta and as that boils you will chop the vegetables.

The ingredients were perfectly premeasured, from the meats to vinegars to herbs and spices. So no waste! The quality of the ingredients, especially the meats/fish looked very fresh and high quality. The website states that they seek out fresh, local and in-season ingredients.

Below is the sausage pasta dish. It looked the easiest with only seven ingredients. I followed all directions exactly as listed and I have to admit that I was impressed by a couple of things. One is that from prep to serving the pasta in bowls, it took me exactly 30 minutes as stated on the recipe. The other is that the flavor of the dish was pretty awesome. The ingredients didn't look that special but the meal was hearty and yet not heavy. I've never cooked broccoli rabe before and it tasted so yummy. I'll definitely be buying it in the store. My husband loved it too!

If I had to make one request, it would be for a wider selection of healthful recipes with more vegetables, beans and grains and less butter and cream. But the quality and taste of the recipes I made were excellent and they do seem to be adding new healthier recipes every few weeks. I think the price of these boxes for convenience and quality is reasonable, considering that the cost of take-out for a family of four would cost as much or more. 

Just Add Cooking is now offering a special promotion in which they will donate $5 to the Greater Boston Food Bank's Holiday Food Drive for each box delivered in November. FitMamaEats readers can also receive a $20 discount—just mention the code FITMAMA at checkout. Try it out during the busy holiday season!

Disclosure: I received a 3-meal box for my honest review of this program.

Sunday
Nov032013

Plant-Happy Eats at Newton's Walnut Grille

Photo courtesy of YelpI'm always excited when I hear about a new vegetarian restaurant. Maybe it's because I haven't yet found one that I absolutely love. A client tipped me off to Walnut Grille, which opened in Newton Highlands in March this year. The mixed reviews on Yelp didn't deter me from heading straight over with my family. We arrived at noon on a Saturday and it wasn't crowded. What first struck me was the odd decor. After viewing online the innovative menu, I was expecting to see either an earthy decor with a lot of browns and deep greens, or ultra modern with black, white and neutrals. I was greeted by green, but a lime green, as well as sparkly silver chandeliers with purple crystals and silver-trimmed booth chairs. It also smelled of incense. The waitress greeted us quickly and was friendly. I noticed that there were several families with young children, so it appeared a kid-friendly place.

Jake enjoying his milk while I dive into my first-ever "green" shakeThe majority of the menu is vegan and has a nice selection of soups, salads and appetizers that are out of the ordinary such as the Ocean Salad with hijiki (brown sea vegetable), jicama and soba noodles, and Gobi Manchurian, cauliflower coated with chickpea flour and cooked in a spicy sweet tomato sauce. I stayed basic, figuring that if their simple menu items tasted great, I'd venture back for the more exciting options. I ordered the Beluga Lentil Soup, All Greens Juice (organic cucumber, celery, spinach, kale and parsley), and PLT made with portabella mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, tempeh bacon and vegan Thousand Island dressing on crusty whole wheat bread. My son ordered cheese pizza from the kids menu, and my husband ordered the Buckwheat Pancakes made with sweet potatoes and dates, served with fresh fruit and vegan whipped cream. 

I've made fruit smoothies with greens at home but I'd never tasted an all-greens drink. It was blended to order and my first thought was earthy. I immediately detected cucumber and celery. The juice wasn't sweet or chilled, so it wasn't too pleasant going down, but I guess I got what I ordered! The lentil soup was fine but not very special. The ingredients tasted homemade but I'd wished there were more lentils or that it had deeper flavors.  
 

My PLT plate looked delicious so I dug in. Maybe a little too quickly because I'd eaten most of the sandwich before realizing that I forgot to look for the tempeh bacon. The sandwich was loaded with shaved juicy mushrooms and the dressing was pleasant and tangy but I couldn't recall other flavors or textures resembling soy bacon. The sweet potato fries were perfect, my favorite part of the whole meal. They're not usually cut that thick but were enjoyable because they tasted freshly made.

My husband's pancakes were large and covered with chunks of fresh fruit. He said they tasted ok, nothing special. I stole a bite and thought the buckwheat made them a bit heavy and dense. I couldn't detect any sweet potatoes in the batter and wondered if they were even in there.

My son's pizza was generous for a kid size. Unfortunately he took one bite and wouldn't eat the rest. It had a really thick layer of cheese so it was very oily and rich, but the strange part was the sauce. Actually I didn't see a sauce, but there was a very tangy flavor under the cheese like balsamic vinegar. It was also loaded with garlic. I've learned that the one taste kids don't typically enjoy is tart! It was just too strong-tasting for my son to appreciate. I took the leftovers home for myself to eat later but it was too greasy and odd tasting even for me so I threw it out.

I so wanted to love this place and give a raving review but with each menu item I kept saying "it's ok, it's fine." Most of the food lacked any memorable flavors, except ironically the kids pizza, which should have tasted the simplest. I would be interested to visit again and try the dinner specials because I'm a fan of all their ingredients—seasonal vegetables, fruits, grains and plant proteins—there must be one thing on that menu that I will love! Walnut Grille is open weekdays 11am-10pm and weekends 9am-Sat 10pm/Sun 9pm with brunch on weekends. There's plenty of free parking in a shared lot behind the restaurant. If you've eaten here and recommend a certain dish, please let me know!