Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marie Callender's New Baked Meals: I'll eat that

I have to confess right up front here that I'm not a big fan of frozen meals. The preservatives and artificial ingredients have always scared me - something is just not right if a chicken breast can stay in your freezer longer than that chicken was actually alive.

That said, certain circumstances have made frozen food indispensable over the past year – an increased workload for both my husband and I, busier school schedules, and probably the biggest change - my oldest daughter stopped eating red meat. Since the rest of the family are still enthusiastic carnivores, I very often had to make two separate versions of our dinner (beef and vegetarian chili for example) and as you can imagine that got old really fast. You think I'm cranky when I have to cook one meal at the end of a crazy day – try telling me I have to cook TWO.

What I started doing was buying some frozen options for my daughter to have on those nights that the rest of us were eating meat. I tended to only buy them from stores like Trader Joes or Fresh & Easy, though, since their products tended to be healthier and with less artificial ingredients. My daughter figured out quickly which frozen items she liked best and which ones she'd avoid in the future - the soy cheese enchilada sounded like a bad idea from the start.

So when I was asked to test drive the new multi-serve baked meals from Marie Callender's I thought it'd be a good chance to broaden my frozen food horizons. I'm a big fan of the Marie Callender's restaurant (their chicken pot pie owns me) so the brand already had some clout with me. These new meals are 'family size' meals as opposed to individual serving portions that make up most of their line.

I set out to my friendly neighborhood grocer to pick up some items to sample. Before I left I let my family look over the options and pick out which ones they'd like – we decided on the Vermont White Cheddar Mac & Cheese and the Chicken, Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna. Unfortunately when I got to the store I found that they only carried three varieties – Scalloped Potatoes & Ham, Southwestern Chipotle Chicken Bake and the Three Meat & Four Cheese Lasagna. (And they were very difficult to find, pushed to the very edge of the freezer case.) I picked up one of each, and a pint of coffee ice cream. The ice cream had absolutely nothing to do with this review, but I wanted to make the most out of my frozen aisle experience.

We decided on the Chipotle Chicken Bake and the Meat Lasagna. The meals can be cooked in either the microwave or the oven - I cooked them 3/4 of the way in the microwave and then popped them in the oven to finish off, just to make it seem like I was actually cooking a meal. (While they are intended for multi-servings, the containers are fairly small and fit easily inside a standard microwave.)

Us flesh-eaters started in on the lasagna, and I have to say I was immediately impressed with the 'fresh' taste of it, and how you could really taste the sausage and the ricotta. The sauce had just the right amount of tang to it, and wasn't overly sweet like a lot of prepared sauces are. We gave it a thumbs up, and agreed it was something we'd buy again in the future.

My older daughter wasn't as excited about the Chipotle Chicken. (To be fair, I think she had her heart set on that Mac & Cheese, and you know how it is when you're looking forward to something and then get something else.) I think the mixture of the chicken, the corn and the black beans were fine, but the rice was too soggy and had an odd taste to it. (Then again, I'm pretty picky about my rice - hey I'm Asian, people.) I think that omitting the rice and then serving the rest of the ingredients inside a flour burrito with a little salsa would be FANTASTIC - back to the test kitchen!

(We haven't tried the Scalloped Potatoes yet, but I'm thinking it might be really good in the morning, served with some croissants and coffee. Now I don't have to cook breakfast, either.)

Here's a chance for you to check out these meals for yourself. I've got two coupons good for a free Marie Calender's Baked Meal ($5.69 value) and I'll include a $2 coupon for a Marie Callender's Frozen Pie. Mmmmm - pie.

Just leave a comment here by 11:59pm on Monday, November 29. I'll use random.org to pick a winner.

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I received coupons for free Marie Callender's Meals to purchase my test items, plus extra coupons for purposes of a giveaway. I also received a stipend for my participation in this program, but no restrictions were placed on the content of my review. All opinions are 100% mine. 

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Listening To the 'Band On The Run' Reissue & flashing back to detention

42 years ago today The Beatles released The White Album. While I sing Happy Birthday and go bake a cake, I'm going to listen to the recently reissued, remastered Band on the Run CD I received a few weeks back. For those of you not familiar with the third album from Paul McCartney and Wings, Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. TAKE THAT JUSTIN BEAVER.

I'm going to totally date myself here, but I remember seeing Wings at the Los Angeles Forum many years ago. Probably right after electricity was discovered, and somebody said, "Let's put on one of them newfangled rock and roll gitups!" I remember it being an amazing night, and it's further etched in my memory because in order to get tickets, a historic event took place – I ditched school for the very first time. And guess what? I GOT CAUGHT. (Note to Sir Paul McCartney: I got detention for you, man.)

And now all these years later my 12-year-old is a big Beatles fan. We saw McCartney's show at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this year and it definitely ranks as one of the best concerts I've seen. And to get tickets nobody got caught trying to hand in a forged absence note written by their science lab partner, either.

Here's some great footage on the band:

This new reissue was personally supervised by Paul McCartney and the remastering work was done at Abbey Road studios. It's 2 CDs with nine bonus tracks, plus a DVD with some great behind-the-scenes footage. We are all loving it over here.

Here are the tracks on the CD:

"Band on the Run"
"Mrs Vandebilt"
"Let Me Roll It"
"No Words"
"Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me)"
"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five"

Bonus Audio Tracks
"Helen Wheels"
"Country Dreamer"
"Bluebird" [from One Hand Clapping]
"Jet" [from One Hand Clapping]
"Let Me Roll It" [from One Hand Clapping]
"Band on the Run" [from One Hand Clapping]
"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" [from One Hand Clapping]
"Country Dreamer" [from One Hand Clapping]
"Zoo Gang"

"Band on the Run" Music Video
"Mamunia" Music Video
Album Promo
"Helen Wheels" Music Video
Wings In Lagos
Osterley Park
One Hand Clapping

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The Children Speak: I interview my daughters about texting, sexting and safety

This is sponsored content from
BlogHer and LG Text Ed

If you remember from my post a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that as part of my ongoing participation in the LG Text-Ed program I would be interviewing my daughters, ages 12 and 14, about their views on cell phone usage and safety. Lo and behold, the children were interviewed and it wasn't as painful as I thought.

While their answers were pretty much what I expected, I was surprised to see that fights via text and online are fairly common and something both my girls had experienced. I was also a little taken aback by how my 12-year-old was less than willing to tell us, her parents, about certain issues. And for the record I don't ever ask her about things in a "bad cheesy voice" and then write about it on my blog. Oh, alright maybe sometimes. Well, maybe kind of often. On a related note she's grounded for five months.

To start things off, relax, kick back, grab some popcorn and watch this intro video my 12-year-old made:

The Interview:

(I'll be referring to the girls as TWELVE and FOURTEEN. Don't worry – those aren't their real names. In real life they go by FIVE and SEVEN.)

Q: How many texts do you send in a day? Receive?

TWELVE: I send and receive around 30 texts a day. But each text isn't a long, droning conversation – it's more like "Hey" or "sup"

FOURTEEN: I probably send maybe ten texts per day and receive around fifty texts per day, majority of them being from Twitter.

Q: Do you only text people you know well?

TWELVE: I usually text my good friends most often, but I do text some people I don't know for homework questions or for some other reason.

FOURTEEN: I only text people I know well.  If I don't know them enough to trust them, they wouldn't have my phone number and I wouldn't have theirs.

Q: If you had something extremely important/personal to share with a close friend how would you contact them and why that way? (In person, on the phone, text, or all three?) 

TWELVE: It depends where I am and how important it is. If I'm at school I'd usually tell them there, but if I'm home I'd just text them if it's important. But if the text is personal then I'd probably just wait till school to tell them, or tell them to delete the text after since some of my friend's moms check their texts.

And I NEVER use the phone because my parents can hear in the other room, so if it's personal I wouldn't really want them overhearing. If I did my mom would say "So who's your friend you were talking to?" in a bad cheesy voice, as well as making little comments after, then write about all of it on her blog. No offense mom! *nervous laughing*

[Editor's note: Hahahahaha! See 'grounded' joke above.]

FOURTEEN: I would probably call them unless I knew I was going to be meeting them in person very soon for another reason. If there's a lot to say and I have the chance to call them and talk to them on the phone I'd rather do that than through text messages.

Q: Have you ever been bullied or harassed through a text? If so, how did you respond? Did you tell your parents about it?

TWELVE: Well my friends and I joke a lot, so I don't think that counts. But I usually don't go up to bullies and give them my number so I haven't really been harrassed by text.

FOURTEEN: I don't remember ever being bullied or harassed through text messages. But if I ever was, I probably would tell my parents about it.

Q: Have you ever had a fight or argument via text or online?

TWELVE: YES. YES. YES. YES. That actually happens quite often.

FOURTEEN:  I've gotten into "heated arguments" via text I suppose, but I've only gotten into "fights" online, I would say. 

Q: If so, how was it resolved? 

TWELVE: Well, it depends who's fault the fight is. If it's their fault I kinda guilt them into saying sorry. But if it's my fault, I'd probably say let's just forget it and move on, and then we're friends again. And If it's a small fight then I'd usually solve it over the interwebs, but if it's big and involves grudges, I'd probably solve it at school.

[Editor's note: TWELVE, please see me after the interview for tips on how to say, "I'm sorry."]

FOURTEEN: The online "fights" usually just died down quickly, since most of them took place when I was much younger.  We pretty much would just ignore one another.  I remember once, my close friends stepped in on the fight online and stood up for me, which made a big difference.

Q: Do you ever send texts to your friends that are of an extremely private nature, meaning it would be HORRIBLE if it was leaked to your friends? 

TWELVE: Sometimes, like texts about people we know. But now I've gotten into the habit of using code-names so that if anyone saw it that's not in my circle of close friends no one would know who we were talking about. But even if we used their real names and  the wrong people saw the texts, it wouldn't be HORRIBLE more like embarrassing or awkward. If it's really that HORRIBLE I'd rather just tell them in person.

FOURTEEN: Yes, I do send private texts to friends, but nothing too drastic. Just things like maybe crushes or saying something about someone. It would be kind of bad for it to be leaked, though.

Q: If you knew that one of your friends was sending inappropriate photos of him/her self to someone, would you say something to them? Would you tell your parents? 

TWELVE: Yeah, if it was one of my good friends. I'm not sure I'd tell my parents though because it's not really any of their business, plus that'd just be a weird, awkward discussion. But I'd make sure they'd stop, I can usually talk my friends out of almost anything if I care enough.

[Editor's note: IT IS SO OUR BUSINESS.]

FOURTEEN: I would DEFINITELY say something to them. I don't think I'd be able to live with the fact that one of my friends was doing that. If they didn't stop even after I had told them to several times, I would possibly tell my parents since it could turn into a serious issue.

[Editor's note: FOURTEEN, listen to your sister.]

Q: Would YOU ever send an inappropriate or intimate picture of yourself to someone via text? If yes, how would you feel if they shared it with someone else - or many someone elses, including lots of people you do know, and lots of people you don't know?

TWELVE: No, ew! That'd be weird. And slutty.

FOURTEEN: I would never even THINK about sending an inappropriate photo of myself to someone else, even if they were my HUSBAND.  I know how that stuff usually ends.

[Editor's note: Hahahahaha! Looks like everyone is TRYING TO GET GROUNDED TODAY.]

Q: If you were giving advice to a younger sibling or a younger friend who was just starting to text, what kind of warnings would you give him/her about being safe and smart?

TWELVE: I'd say not to text alot, and then freak them out by telling about this thumb disease you can get from texting too much. And that you shouldn't text random strangers, and not to text when driving your big wheel.

FOURTEEN: I would tell them to only give their phone numbers to people who they trust, obviously not to "sext," and to not text or respond to texts from anyone they do not know or do not know well.

Q: Here's a question for FOURTEEN only, who will driving in two short years. [Interviewer stops to dry her eyes.] What do you think it would take for you to stop texting/checking email/dialing the phone WHILE driving? Money? A written contract w/Parents? A pact between friends? Etc?  

FOURTEEN: I don't think it would take much for me NOT to do that. I don't think I would be texting or e-mailing while driving, anyway. Calling, MAYBE, but only if it's using a hands-free device. If I had to stop talking on the phone at ALL while driving, I would probably need some sort of alert that would go off when I tried to call someone or receive a call while driving, reminding me NOT to do it.

Can we got to Starbucks now?

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Have you had a conversation with your teen or tween about texting, sexting and safety? If not, what's holding you back?

As before, BlogHer will match LG’s donation of .50 to Dosomething.org for every comment on this post, so please leave a comment with your thoughts on this topic – Dosomething.org will get $1.00 for each and every one.

You can see a roundup of other participating bloggers' posts on the BlogHer/LG Text-Ed page.

Thanks to everyone who left a comment with a question suggestion on my last post, not only for helping me out but for helping out Dosomething.org as well! 

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Don't make me drink alone

Hey winos! I mean wine connoisseurs! I'll be participating in a Fresh & Easy Wine Tasting on Twitter tonight at 7pm pst. Fresh & Easy has provided me with three holiday wines to sample, and I'll be talking about them in real time on TasteLive.

You're probably thinking, "Who would want your opinion on wine? It's like asking a cat's opinion on seafood." Well, maybe so, but would a cat be able to say things like, "This is tasty and I'm going to hide a bottle in my church purse." Well, okay then.

If you'd like to participate, head on over to Fresh & Easy, pick up some wine, and join the conversation. You can find instructions on how to join by clicking here.

Here are the bottles we'll be tasting, with a short description from the wine expert at Fresh & Easy:

• La Gioiosa Prosecco – From the Veneto region of Italy, this crisp sparkling wine is perfect for toasting your friends and family with this holiday season.

• Hilltown Chardonnay - Offering a true taste of the magic of California's Monterey Country, this award-winning wine pairs well with that juicy holiday turkey.

• Castillo Rioja – From the Rioja Alavesa region of Spain, this full-bodied red is elegant and packed with fruit flavors. For those red-meat lovers, this wine will complement your holiday roast.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Teens, Texting, Cell Phones & Other Catastrophes

This is sponsored content from
BlogHer and LG Text Ed
Because I'm channeling my inner school teacher today, I'm going to start this post off with a little quiz. Then I'm going to ask your help with something. It's like being in biology class and then being asked to pound the chalkboard erasers.

First the quiz:

According to recent studies, 75% of kids from ages 12-17 own this:

A. Justin Bieber backpack
B. Spare key to parent's liquor cabinet
C. Cell phone
D. Combination Partridge Family/Brady Bunch Sand Painting Kit

If you guessed 'D' you're incorrect but I can tell you share my vision of utopia.

Obviously the answer if 'C.' Although, 'B' could also be correct, in which case parents – I suggest you conduct a thorough search of your kids Bieber backpack.

With all these tweens and teens owning cell phones, the topic of cell phone safety is a big issue right now: sexting, texting while driving and cyberbullying are all things we should be discussing with our kids. As part of my ongoing participation in the LG Text-Ed program, I'm going to be interviewing my daughters, ages 12 and 14, about their views on cell phone usage and safety. I'm going to require them to put down their cell phones while I interview them - that way they can't text things to their friends like, "omg my mom interviewing me so lame."

Now, here's where I need your help. Leave a comment below giving me a suggestion for a question to ask my teen and tween daughters regarding texting, sexting, texting while driving, cyberbullying or anything else relating to cell phone usage or online safety. 

(Sorry, but you'll have to save your questions on raves and Forever 21 deals for another time.)

But here's the best part: BlogHer will match LG’s donation of .50 to Dosomething.org for every comment on this post, so please leave a comment with a suggestion – Dosomething.org will get $1.00 for each and every one

So PLEASE – ask away. And don't be shy – unlike biology class you won't be graded.

You can see a roundup of other participating bloggers' posts on the BlogHer/LG Text-Ed page.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

This 'Peter Pan' Will Make You Believe In threesixty° Theater

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to view a performance of threesixty° theatre's production of Peter Pan at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. This isn't just any play, though - the show combines actors with CGI technology, puppetry and a cleverly transforming stage into a theater-in-the round experience. In fact, it doesn't even take place inside the theater, but in a custom-built circus tent just outside the main building.

But I'm going to stop right here for a second and tell you a story about my daughter's phone that she dropped in the toilet at the theater after the show. It was my old iPhone I'd given to her and she'd had it for all of one week. Why am I telling you this tragic story? Because unfortunately it's colored her entire experience of the show and in case you ask her about it she's likely to say it was the worst night of her life when in fact up until that point she and her friend had a great time and were totally mesmerized by the whole thing.

Now, back to Peter Pan.

I wonder if Peter Pan has a cell phone? Never mind.

For me, the staging and the technology were the real stars of this show. The story of Peter Pan is one I've heard (and read to my kids) no fewer than 5000 times, so that wasn't really the reason I was drawn to this particular staging of it. They do stick closer to JM Barrie's original story (not the Disney version) so the story is a bit darker but for the most part it follows the narrative that we've all grown up hearing. The actors all did a fantastic job (I didn't even mind that the Darling children were all played by adults) but again, the most unique aspect is the amazing staging by threesixty°. Here, take a look:

(Also, check out this fascinating interactive graphic explaining how the whole thing works. They even have a video showing how the tent and stage were set up. Thanks, LA Times!)

Another detail to look out for: their clever use of ordinary items to create their props. Their fantastical 'alligator' was created with the help of wooden clothes hangers and clothespins. Also, my daughter's sharp-eyed friend saw what she thinks was a football being used as the body of one of the puppets.

There was a lot of talk about the Tinkerbell character and how she was much sassier and strong willed, but she was one of my least favorite characters. I thought her way of communicating - with a series of grunts and whines – started to get really annoying after a few minutes and it kept reminding me of a poor Gilda Radner imitation. Sorry, Tink. But I still do believe in fairies!

Aside from that, I loved everything about this Peter Pan experience and I would wholeheartedly recommend you go see it. And lucky for you - they've extended the show's run through January 2. Just remember to keep an eye on your kid's cell phone.

(They also offer an 'Into Neverland Behind-The-Scenes Tour' on Saturdays that looks intriguing. See the website for details.)

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