Thursday, October 30, 2008

Eebee's Adventure Series

When Graham was a baby I spent hours and hours reading to him, watching intently to see if he showed any interest at all in the pictures and stories that I took great pains to animate.

He didn't really. I know he enjoyed our time together but I think any enthusiasm he showed was a reaction to the sound of my voice or our closeness and the attention being paid him, as opposed to any of the wide array of books that we worked our way through.

When he reached the age of one or so it became difficult to continue reading together. There was no way Graham was sitting still unless I could hold his attention, and words on a page were not cutting it. Anxious to keep on reading I tried out a ton of big, clunky, interactive books designed for young toddlers, but none of them held his interest.

It's too bad I wasn't asked to review books from eebee's adventures series back then.

A few months ago the folks at eebee's asked me to take a look at their series of interactive cloth books which are designed to help babies and young toddlers explore words, sounds, textures and imaginative play, as well as exercise their fine motor skills.

That might sound like a tall order for a series of books but eebee's adventure series are actually books and toys all rolled into one.

For example, eebee's Laundry Time, which recently won a National Parenting Publications Award, has activities for the young reader on every page, including taking towels out of the laundry bag and putting them into the washer, spinning the peek-a-boo washing-machine wheel, hanging eebee’s pajamas on the line and putting them away in the drawers.

All of the books in the series are similarly cool and much more interesting and carefully designed than any of the books I tried to interest Graham in when he was at that in-between age... too young to appreciate a story or characters, too old to be content sitting still and listening to my voice. I really think any parent with an older baby or young toddler will enjoy reading and playing with them together.

You can learn more about eebee's adventure series of books and other eebee products at You can also win a series of books just by leaving a comment below - I'll have Graham pick the winner's name out of a hat next weekend.

Good luck!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kicking it old school with Moo and Beans

The thing I have against a lot of television shows and videos aimed at young children is that they're just too good.

And by good I mean slick. A part of me feels nervous about carefully crafted dialogue, seamless pacing and flashy production values. I'm not sure if it's because I fear Graham's developing brain doesn't stand a chance against the onslaught or if I'm simply nostalgic for the bumpy charm and hokeyness of some of the productions I remember loving in the 1970s.

Whatever the reason, when I agreed to review the DVD My Baby A to Z - Come Explore Shapes With Me I fell hard for a couple of guys named Moo and Beans and immediately hoped their homespun antics would strike a chord with Graham.

My Baby A to Z is designed to teach children their shapes and the hosts are Moo and Beans - Monkey and Tiger puppets respectively. Along with their friends they bop around in front of scenes of simple animation and real video, strings in full sight, dancing with awkward abandon to funky base lines, in search of a variety of shapes.

I was happy to see that Graham loved them as much as I did. After just a few minutes he was shouting shapes at the television and jumping on the couch trying to imitate the child actors who also appear on screen and encourage children to make themselves into the shapes.

After the DVD was over I took a minute and asked Graham to try and find some of the new shapes he'd learned in objects around the room and he did so enthusiastically.

I feel strangely gratified that a program which (obviously deliberately and cleverly) employs a less slick and more retro approach is still able to stimulate my son: parents these days are lead to believe this generation of children have attention spans so short they need state-of-the-art bells and whistles to help them learn.

My Baby A to Z proves that they don't. It proves that solid concepts, goofy engaging characters and a phat, funky bass line does the job very nicely, thank-you-very-much.

*I reviewed My Baby A to Z - Come Explore Shapes With Me for the Parent Bloggers Network which has 20 free copies to give away to lucky readers. Click here for more details on that. You can also order it from the My Baby A to Z web site and put in the special Don Mills Diva discount code - F65RQW5J - for a 20% discount off the $19.99 selling price. The DVD is also available here on Amazon.*

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Creamy, dairy-free salmon chowder

There seems to be a direct correlation between food that appeals to me and the weather. As soon as the wind feels crisper, I immediately want to simmer things on the stove until the kitchen steams up. I love sitting together at the table over a bowl of lovely chowder or a bowl full of cassoulet.

In September I started my annual empty-out-the-freezer project and hauled out the skeleton of a giant Pacific salmon I had filleted it after it had a starring role in a photo shoot I was working on. The beast was 11 pounds so you can imagine the size of its carcass occupying my freezer.

I threw in some shrimp shells, carrot, celery and onions in a pot with the chopped fish bones and covered with water. As a testament to my lacking fish filleting skills, there was quite a bit of salmon still around the bones. About 10 minutes into the simmer, I pulled the salmon meat from the bones and set it aside. I thought I would make some sort of soup, maybe salmon chowder.

Last weekend we had my in-laws over for dinner. In addition to being celiac, my mother-in-law is also lactose intolerant. My plan for using the stock in creamy fish chowder now seemed a little cruel until I remembered a recipe I created for September’s Canadian Family magazine.

In a moment of culinary genius (I think!) I added instant potato flakes to a corn chowder to thicken it up quickly. Voila! It seems it is possible make creamy chowder and still keep my mother-in-law's tummy happy.

Check it out!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 head fennel, trimmed and diced, reserve fonds for garnish
2 celery stalks, chopped
6 cups fish stock
1 cup potato flakes
1 cup salmon pulled from bones, optional
salt and pepper
a splash of Pernod, optional

1. Sauté vegetables in large pot until softened.
2. Add fish stock and stir in potato flakes. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Add reserved salmon.
3. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Add Pernod if using.
4. Serve sprinkled with chopped fennel fonds.