Category Archives: reviews/giveaways

Step Right Up! CIRCUS 1903 Is Coming to Town! #Giveaway

I love a good old-fashioned circus. All those acrobatics and feats of strength and daring, high-wire acts and juggling and everything! Fortunately, a really cool circus is coming to Boston (and other cities) in a few weeks: CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus.

The producers of the world’s biggest magic show, The Illusionists have teamed up with the award winning puppeteers from War Horse to present a thrilling turn of the century circus spectacular…

…Sensational puppetry puts Elephants back in the ring as never seen before by introducing the largest-ever performing African elephant and her baby [NOT REAL — the elephants are puppets!], along with a huge cast of the most unique, amazing and dangerous circus acts from all four corners of the world, from strong men to contortionists, acrobats to musicians, knife throwers, high wire and much more!

Yeah, just doing a split on an ironing board held by 2 guys biking on a tightrope…what r u up to? (Photo credit Mark Turner)

The award-winning team of puppeteers and model makers who created the National Theatre’s War Horse will design, build and bring to life two stunningly beautiful elephants for CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus. Featuring groundbreaking advances in design and expression, the puppets appear throughout the show as the mother teaches her calf the tricks of the trade.

I cannot wait to see this live! (Photo credit: Mark Turner

Giveaway: I’m giving away 4 tickets to the show! Wednesday, March 8 at 7:00 p.m., BOCH CENTER WANG THEATRE in Boston. If you can make that show, jump into the giveaway! If you can’t, see below to get a 25% discount on tickets!

To win tickets: I’m doing this via Rafflecopter. It’s very easy, and you have several options to choose from.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Discount Code: Save 25% on tickets to see CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus  at the Boch Wang Theatre!  Visit  http://www.bochcenter.org/buy/show-listing/circus-1903  and enter code MOMS to buy your discounted tickets.  Discount applies to all performances, while supplies last. Valid on all levels, excluding Orchestra Pit.

Tickets: In any case, tickets are on sale at the Boch Center box office, through www.bochcenter.org or by calling (866) 348-9738.

Social Media: Follow CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus on Twitter: @Circus1903, Facebook and Instagram: @Circus1903.

 

Staying Fueled With Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Smoothies

I’ll admit it: We eat between meals. I’m more in the six-small-meals-a-day camp, so I tend to graze. And the kids get hungry between lunch and dinner, after at least an hour of playground time after school. Who can blame them?

And they need to stay fueled for everything else, such as fort building,

ice skating,

homework, and more.

We don’t eat junk food, though. Our snacks tend to be veggies and hummus, cheese and crackers, fruit, nuts, or the occasional granola bar. A bowl of plain whole milk yogurt with a drizzle of maple syrup is something they sometimes enjoy, too.

My younger son sometimes begs me to buy him the brightly colored yogurt drinks at the store, but I rarely do. Then Stonyfield send me some of their new Organic Whole Milk Smoothies.

Hello there!

I’ve long eschewed the low-fat trend (I also refuse to make any recipe with “skinny” in the name). The texture of low-fat foods was never quite right. Let’s face it, fat tastes good! It improves mouthfeel, whether you’re talking about yogurt, cheese, a muffin — you name it.

Also, I never quite believed (as an adult) that lowering our fat intake was necessarily helpful. We never did switch the kids to skim milk (yuck). Turns out my instinct was right — fat isn’t horrible for you and doesn’t lead, on its own, to obesity. Plus, fat keeps you full longer.

Anyway. These whole milk smoothies are now available in Strawberry and Peach. They’re good! My kids like both but have a slight preference for strawberry. They come in four-packs, with each bottle containing six ounces. Each bottle has 7 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein. With 16 grams of sugar, they have more added sugar than I’d like, but sometimes that’s OK. They’re gluten-free, organic, and non-GMO.

I make smoothies for the kid almost every morning (Stonyfield plain whole milk yogurt, fruit, juice, protein powder). These organic whole milk smoothies are a quick alternative for days when we’re rushed, or good for an after-school snack (or a midmorning snack for me). I might also try adding one to a smoothie I’m making to sweeten it up a little.

Thanks for going full fat, Stonyfield!

Fall Baking With Bob’s Red Mill and Stonyfield

Finally, fall is here! I don’t know about you, but the change in the weather makes me want to bake up a storm. I’ve cranked out cranberry coffee cake and monster cookies so far, but the baking season is just getting under way!

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In partnership with Stonyfield, Bob’s Red Mill sent me Organic Coconut Sugar and Steel Cut Oats. Steel cut oats are also known as “pin oats.” They make an excellent, slightly chewy bowl of oatmeal, and you can make them in the slow cooker overnight to have them ready in the morning. Or just make them in the morning (they do take a little more time than rolled oats), topped with nuts and fruit and yogurt.

Or, you can do what I do and use them in cookies! Here’s a handy round-up of cookie recipes that use steel cut oats — without having to cook the oats first!

  1. Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. I list these first for a reason. These wonderfully crunchy-chewy cookies are darkly chocolatey. You do have to roll them into little balls (which, if you’re like me and prefer an effortless cookie, might seem like an extra step) but this recipe is a must-try. They’re really good.
  2. Super Simple Sweet Steel Cut Oat Cookies. With bananas, almonds, and (optional) flax seed, these cookies would pass nicely as a nutritious breakfast cookie.
  3. Fatherly Cookies. These oatmeal raisin cookies have all the same ingredients as regular oatmeal raisin cookies, but they use steel-cut oats instead of rolled oats. Sounds like a crunchy oaty treat!
  4. Steel Cut Oatmeal Walnut Cookies. These use both rolled and steel cut oats. And while this recipe, like the last one, calls for raisins, remember that it is always appropriate to substitute chocolate chips for raisins, in any situation.

Bob’s Steel Cut Oats are also available in a gluten-free version, which is nice, because everyone should be able to enjoy the cookies listed above.

As for the coconut sugar, I’d never tried it before. It’s brown, with a slightly caramel scent. It’s made from the nectar of coconut palm blossoms. I was baking a big cranberry coffee cake for an annual weekend camping party in Vermont (imagine a field full of tents, children running wild on the hillside cutting down trees and building forts and piling up leaves and adding fuel to the bonfire, only returning to the barn when they got hungry), the musicians and singalong at night, long and spirited games of Capture the Flag, s’mores, coffee and oatmeal and toasting bagels over the bonfire in the cold morning air (well, near the bonfire, so not too cold)….

…anyway, the coffee cake. I doubled the Cranberry Almond Cake recipe from Budget Bytes but left out the almonds and almond extract and used an oatmeal crumble topping (with rolled oats, in case you’re wondering). I used coconut sugar both in the cake and in the topping.

The coconut sugar definitely made the cake darker and added a slight (and pleasing) caramel note to it.

Dark, right? But tasty.

Dark, right? But tasty. I’d use more cranberries next time. This was obviously before the entire 80-or-so people found their way to the breakfast table.

It’s National Breakfast Month! With Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs

img_9421.jpgSeptember is National Breakfast Month! To help me celebrate, the nice people at Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs sent me coupons for a few dozen eggs, plus some handy egg rings to make, well, round eggs. Circular.

I grew up on a little farm, and I was in charge of feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs. We sold some at our little farm stand. I grew up on very fresh (and tasty) eggs from a reasonably happy little flock of Rhode Island Reds, who had a roomy coop and a nice outdoor space.

While I can’t have my own chickens right now, because of where I live, I still want good fresh eggs…and eggs from chickens that have room to move around, not factory-farmed chickens. So if I can get local fresh eggs, great, but living in the city, that’s not always possible.img_9424.jpg

Egg labels can seem confusing, can’t they? “Organic,” “Natural,” “Cage-Free”…what do they all mean? “Organic” generally means no pesticides were used to grow the feed. “Natural,” well, that varies. “Cage-Free” means the chickens aren’t kept in cages…but it doesn’t always mean they have enough room to move around, and some have said that “cage-free” can be cruel to chickens.

Make 'em round!

Make ’em round!

“Certified Humane,” however, is the label to look for if you want chickens who have a happy life. “Certified Humane” means that the chickens (or whatever animals) have been certified by a nonprofit organization called Human Farm Animal Care, whose mission is to ensure kinder and more responsible farm animal raising practices. For Pete and Gerry’s, “Certified Humane” means that their chickens have gentle handling, low stress, plenty of room and fresh air and water, and freedom to dust bathe, roost, and stratch…plus good, quality, hormone- and antibiotic-free feed.

Here’s more information:

Sounds good to me! I like eggs. They’re one of my main forms of protein, in fact: eggs with pasta, egg soft tacos, eggs on quinoa with kale, egg sandwiches, scrambled eggs…

 

 

Scrambled, anyone?

Scrambled, anyone?

Oh, yeah, on a corn tortilla with cilantro and hot sauce...great post-run breakfast!

Oh, yeah, on a corn tortilla with cilantro and hot sauce…and some quinoa, roasted eggplant, and peas…great post-run breakfast!

Or on corn tortillas with sauteed arugula and cherry tomatoes, topped with avocado and, yes, hot sauce! Another great post-run breakfast!

Or on corn tortillas with sauteed arugula and cherry tomatoes, topped with avocado and, yes, hot sauce! Another great post-run breakfast!

Know your eggs. Know what you’re buying. Support small family farms (the kind of farms that supply Pete and Gerry’s). Support happy chickens.

September may be National Breakfast Month, but you should eat good breakfasts every day!

Disclosure: Pete and Gerry’s provided me with product coupons, egg rings, and compensation to facilitate this post. 

Gather Chocolates: Eat Chocolate, Help the Bees (and a Giveaway!!)

SUPER update (12/1/16): I have a discount code for you!

Looking for a great gift idea? Salem, Mass.-based @HarborSweets suggests: artisan chocolate that saves the bees!
Solo or bundled in a gift set, visit harborsweets.com and use code GATHER4FUN through 12/14 to save 10% off your shipping.
Pro tip: check out the Gather Tea Set – a great gift idea for the tea lover and gardener on your list, or for an anytime gift.

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I like good dark chocolate. I like bees. I like good causes. I like pretty boxes and nice packaging. I am a fan of pollination and small businesses and local companies and good food.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the honeybee declines in recent years. The USDA reported that pesticides and parasites caused a 44% loss of honeybee colonization in just one year. The White House has a Pollinator Health Task Force to study and address the problem.

Harbor Sweets, an artisanal chocolate maker in Salem, MA (and long recognized as one of the top women-owned businesses in Massachusetts), has a new line of chocolates called Gather. And yes, I was lucky enough to be asked to review a box.

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Gather is a new  small-batch line of chocolates Harbor Sweets. Contained in a honey-yellow honeycomb-shaped box is a flight of six filled chocolates and truffles, each coated in excellent dark chocolate. Inside each chocolate is a filling with a subtle note of local honey. The flavors include:

  • Caramelized Honey Truffle
  • Pomegranate Molasses
  • Sesame Crunch
  • Cashew Caramel
  • Coconut Cluster
  • Sour Cherry

img_9383.jpgGather shot (2)Inside the lid is a little map to indicate which is which (unless your brother eagerly opens the box and everything gets mixed up and you’re not sure which is which, but it doesn’t matter — they are all good! And, ok, maybe I was yelling, “No, wait, I’m a blogger!! That’s not how we open things to review them! Put the lid back on and let’s start over!”).

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And then, like crazy people — or because I insisted we each try every single flavor — we cut each beautiful chocolate into four pieces, to share. Please, don’t be like us. Eat a whole piece, and buy your family and friends their own boxes. Or buy a few boxes and go halfsies.

And, they’re pretty. The Sour Cherry has a flower on it. Caramelized Honey Truffle has a bee. There’s a beehive on Pomegranate Molasses.

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Gather was inspired by the plight of the honeybees. A portion of sales (2.5%) will be donated to the Pollinator Partnership, a 5013c NGO that educates about and advocates for best practices for honeybee protection.

Here’s a nice little video on the backstory (plus, you can see how chocolates are made!):

So: Good cause, good chocolate, good company. You can order Gather from Harbor Sweets ($12.50 for a six-piece box, $18.50 for a 12-piece box) or use their store locator to find out what retailers sell the chocolate. Plus, they ship coast to coast. These chocolates make an excellent hostess or thank-you gift.

THE GIVEAWAY BELOW HAS ENDED. 

But wait! One lucky person will win a six-piece box of Gather Chocolates from me! I have to ship it to you, so the winner needs to be within the contiguous 48 United States.

To win, leave a comment telling me what’s most appealing about these to you: the cause, the chocolates themselves, or the company itself. (Please make sure your comment is connected to or contains your email address so I can email you if you win! — and if you follow me on Facebook, I will give a little shout-out there to the winner, in case you don’t get the email).

You can leave an extra comment (another chance to win!) telling me if you’re going to eat these yourself, share them with a friend/loved one, or give them as a gift.

A winner will be randomly drawn Wednesday, September 21, 2016, at 8 p.m. EST and notified by email (see above, re: Facebook). Winner will have 24 hours to respond or else I’ll pick another winner.

UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulations, Michelle G.! Thanks, everyone, for entering. Go try these chocolates!

Stonyfield Whole Milk Greek Yogurt (Review)

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I love yogurt (whole milk plain, always), but something about Greek yogurt always put me off. Maybe it’s because it’s usually fat-free. I believe we need some fat in our food. It’s good for our brains, for one thing. Plus, whole milk yogurt tastes better!

Fortunately, Stonyfield just came out with organic Whole Milk Greek Yogurt. It’s creamy. It doesn’t have that tangy smell. It has a smooth mouthfeel, mild taste, and is just delicious.

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The milk used in Stonyfield’s Whole Milk Greek Yogurt comes from cows that are pasture-raised. This doesn’t mean entirely grass-fed (Stonyfield also has a new Grass-Fed Yogurt), but the cows get some time in pasture, grazing on grass the way cows should.

Stonyfield sent me several flavors to try: plain, strawberry, cherry, and honey. Their whole milk Greek yogurt also comes in blueberry, but I didn’t try that one (which I don’t mind — I don’t really like blueberry). The fruit (or honey) comes in a little side cup so you can add as much or as little as you want. The ingredients list is simple, and the sugar content is low compared to other yogurt brands.

Very simple ingredients list. Milk, honey. Cultures.

Very simple ingredients list. Milk, honey. Cultures.

The kids and I agreed that the amount of honey given was more than necessary for us (but it is such good honey that my older boy asked if we could get this kind of honey from now on instead of the clover honey we bought last time). The strawberry is really good, and the cherry is divine. If I could get the cherry preserves separately, I’d be in heaven. I’d eat one spoonful of yogurt, one of cherry, one of yogurt, one of cherry. Or I’d mix them. Either way, I had to take the gracious maternal step of letting my child have the last cherry whole milk Greek yogurt instead of eating it myself.

There's one cherry yogurt left in the fridge. Somehow.

There’s one cherry yogurt left in the fridge. Somehow.

While these yogurts would be excellent in smoothies and for frozen yogurt and for baking with, I enjoyed just eating them. And I’d like to eat more of them. I’m really glad Stonyfield has a whole milk Greek yogurt now. And, of course, it’s organic and made with non-GMO products.

For more on their products, visit Stonyfield and connect with them on Facebook andTwitter.

Kaleidoscope at Boston Ballet: Review

Do you remember looking through a kaleidoscope, and the pattern starts out one way and then changes slightly as you turn it, and then with another small turn you are zeroing in on something tiny and perfect and magical, and then you give another turn and the colors are changing and then whoompf, it’s a veritable explosion of color and patterns and brightness and movement?

Whoever named Boston Ballet’s current show, Kaleidoscope, absolutely nailed it.

The show consists of four works of “the most influential choreographic voices of the 20th century.” The first piece is George Balanchine’s Kammermusik No. 2, a fairly technical ensemble piece with two couples as soloists. I admit I didn’t quite “get” this piece, though it was interesting in its own way.

1.Boston Ballet in George Balanchine's Kammermusik No. 2 ©The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Kammermusik No. 2 ©The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Kammermusik No. 2 ©The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

This was followed by the lovely Pas de Quatre by choreographer Leonid Yakobson, a lovely, romantic work featuring four ballerinas. With their hands clasped so they form a circle, they constantly move in and among and through each other, forming intricate, interlinked patterns with their arms. It’s graceful and extremely well-coordinated. There’s constraint to this piece, but it’s not uncomfortable, and it reminded me of a white rose garden with lovely bowers. (I keep using the word “lovely” here but it’s fitting, trust me.)

Boston Ballet in Leonid Yakobson's Pas de Quatre; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Leonid Yakobson’s Pas de Quatre; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Leonid Yakobson's Pas de Quatre; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Leonid Yakobson’s Pas de Quatre; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Next up — and ‘scuse me if I sat up straighter in my seat and downright grinned — was The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, William Forsythe’s critically acclaimed piece that premiered with the Boston Ballet last May (and I loved it then). With five dancers in purple and green costumes, this piece is fast, athletic, joyous, and free. It’s powerful, and between the choreography, the setting, and the costumes (the lily pad tutus!), what comes to mind are joy-crazed flowers. Very athletic, skilled, precise, and liberated joy-crazed flowers.

Ji Young Chae, Seo Hye Han, and Misa Kuranaga in William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, costumes by Stephen Galloway; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Ji Young Chae, Seo Hye Han, and Misa Kuranaga in William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, costumes by Stephen Galloway; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han, Paulo Arrais, and Ji Young Chae in William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, costumes by Stephen Galloway; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han, Paulo Arrais, and Ji Young Chae in William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, costumes by Stephen Galloway; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

What came next, to end the show, was the downright wild spectacle of Léonide Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne, “an effervescent ballet that evokes Moulin Rouge and Paris in the early 1900s.” Premiered in Berlin in 1938 (and made into a film in 1942, this piece takes place in an early-1900s Paris cafe (with a fabulous set, complete with lit-up Eiffel tower and a changing night sky). There are waiters, maids, “cocodettes” (“ladies of easy virtue,” according to the program), a baron, soldiers, a flower girl, a glove seller, a duke, and a lady. I might have left out a character or two; there was a lot going on. Besides the main plot (essentially, lots of flirtation and competition between the Austrian baron and the soldiers and such), there were several amusing vignettes taking place all over the stage — the billiards game, some tiff at a cafe table, a miffed waiter,and so on). And the costuming was an absolute explosion of color. Vivid shades of orange, red, green, yellow; polka-dots; stripes; hats, you name it. But I haven’t yet told you about the can-can. Yes, there are can-can dancers, too.

Boston Ballet in Léonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Léonide Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Léonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Léonide Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Léonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Léonide Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Anaïs Chalendard and Paul Craig in Léonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Anaïs Chalendard and Paul Craig in Léonide Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Patrick Yocum in Léonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Patrick Yocum in Léonide Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

I’m sorry I can’t give you a photo of the explosion of color on the stage, but there’s no press photo of that. You’ll just have to go see for yourself! And here’s a video, too.

There are only a few days left to see Kaleidoscope, which runs March 17–26, 2016 at the Boston Opera House. Go this weekend.

Details: 

Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 7:30 pm

Friday, March 25, 2016 at 7:30 pm

Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 7:30 pm

Tickets start at $35. For more information, visit www.bostonballet.org or call 617-695-6955.

Disclosure: I was given press tickets to facilitate this review. All quotes are provided by Boston Ballet unless otherwise specified. 

A prAna Giveaway! #JustBeYou

12 Cat04_03_VictoriaSt-1470As anyone who knows me knows, I love comfortable clothing, the outdoors, companies that value the environment and people, and quality products. So when Stonyfield and prAna teamed up to offer me an item from prAna’s organic cotton clothing line as part of prAna’s #JustBeYou campaign, I said, “Heck yes!”

I mostly know prAna from back when I used to climb. I have some very comfortable cotton pants that were my go-to climbing pants for years, back when I spent all my free time climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and camping (now I mostly just run . . . a lot — and that is how I #JustBeYou — or rather, just be me — these days, especially when I’m out trail running).

The company also makes outdoor, casual, and yoga clothing — for women and men. They follow sustainability practices and make really lovely, quality clothing.

6_20150302_PranaBanff-0835_1

27 Cat02_14_Anfora-05738I was allowed to select anything from their organic cotton clothing line. It was hard to decide, but I went with the Tyda Dress in black. It is incredibly comfortable and cute, and for colder fall days I can add a cardigan and boots (I’m a big fan of cardigans). Even colder days? Leggings and a hat. This is a year-round dress, for sure, and you will probably see me in it often ofter the next several months. IMG_6706.JPG

 

IMG_6720.JPGWhile my dress pairs well with a sweater and boots, it also pairs well with Stonyfield’s Oh My Yog! Gingered Pear yogurt (what’s more autumnal than gingered pear?). We all know of my abiding adoration of Stonyfield (among other things, the company supports small farms and good farming practices, and they have some darn good organic yogurt). Oh My Yog! is a three-layered of yogurt with enough fat and protein to keep this often-hungry person fueled. (I am training for an ultramarathon right now — I need easy and nutritious snacks all the time!!)

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You too can enjoy some prAna clothing. I have a discount code for you, but I’m also giving away an item (up to $99 value) from their organic cotton clothing line!

Giveaway and Discount Code
First of all, here is a discount code for 15% off at prAna.com!

Enter code: JBYF15INLC for 15% off on prAna.com between Nov 1-Dec 15.
Not valid for prAna Influencers, on Gift Certificates or with any other offers.
Valid November 1 – December 15, 2015.

And now for the giveaway. I can offer one of you any one item of clothing from prAna’s organic cotton clothing line (up to $99 value). Winner’s prize can ONLY be shipped to a U.S. address. 

Enter via Rafflecopter. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

#JustBeYou

#prAna

#Stonyfield

Disclosure: I was sent an item of prAna clothing and coupons for Stonyfield yogurt to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own. 

Homemade Ice Cream — It’s a (YayLabs!) Ball! #Review

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We like homemade ice cream as much as anyone, and we’ve owned our fair share of ice cream-making supplies: a really nice electric ice cream maker (which I sold after it fell into disuse for a few years when the kids were very young), a hand-cranked ice cream maker (fun but it took some effort and time, so I gave it to my friend for her country house), and then an electric one again (seldom used, sadly).

And then guess what I was asked to try out? Stonyfield teamed up with YayLabs! to send me a SoftShell Ice Cream Ball. It’s a soft-sided ball, like a playground ball. You put your ice cream ingredients in one end and in the other, ice and salt. You’re supposed to use rock salt, but I don’t have rock salt. I have kosher salt. That worked fine. I found that regular table salt worked fine, too.

Ball, yogurt. Pretty simple. Add ice and salt, then roll.

Ball, yogurt. Pretty simple. Add ice and salt, then roll.

You don’t need to get fancy with the ingredients. You can just add yogurt! Or yogurt and some sweetener. Or cream and a little sugar and maybe some vanilla flavoring. Or just fruit juice. You choose. Anyway, the first time we used it, I had on hand Stonyfield Organic French Vanilla Lowfat Yogurt. I normally only buy Stonyfield Whole Milk Plain, but I somehow had vanilla on hand. So we used that. I didn’t add anything to it, just put the yogurt in the ice cream side of the ball.

It has its own stand!

It has its own stand!

Then ice and kosher salt in the other side, made sure it was closed tightly (careful not to cross-thread it!), and we rolled it around.

Add ice cream ingredients here.

Add ice cream ingredients here.

Though it looks like a playground ball, you cannot drop, kick, or throw the ice cream ball, or the hard plastic inside will break. You do not want to break your ice cream ball. You want to sit on the ground and roll it around.

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We made it into a game, the boys and I, and rolled to each other. After 10 minutes, per the instruction book, I scraped down the sides (not well enough, it turns out) and we rolled it for another 20 minutes. The yogurt wasn’t quite frozen but it was good enough for us! According to the instructions, higher fat products freeze more quickly, which is probably why the lowfat yogurt wasn’t quite frozen yet.

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They were laughing the whole time except when I took pictures.

But it was good. The kids would have liked it a little sweeter, but they were OK with it as it was.

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Oh, I forgot, we added some chocolate syrup near the end. To the freezing yogurt, and to the ball, and to the floor…

Then we brought it up to Maine when we went to visit dear friends in a cabin on a lake way up there. We bought cream in town and used some sugar. I used a pint of heavy cream and maybe 1/3 of a cup of sugar. We had no vanilla flavoring or maple syrup, so sweet cream ice cream it would be!

We rolled it around, first my friend and I and her toddler, then the boys and men joined us. Eight people, ages 2.5 to 43, rolling this ball in a great game and having fun.

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I forgot to ask my friends for permission to put their kids’ photo in the blog post, so you just see my kids rolling it here.

I think that’s the best part of this ice cream ball — the time spent making a game of rolling it, laughing, passing to each other, taking turns, letting the littler kids get a chance. It’s community-building. I scraped the sides better this time, and when it was done, whoa. Beautifully frozen sweet cream ice cream.

It may not be our everyday way to make ice cream, nor the way to go if you want more than a pint (in Maine, we each got a few spoonfuls), but it’s fun, for sure, and we can take it camping with us! (Car camping, obviously, so we have a cooler for ice and yogurt or cream. I don’t backpack with that stuff.)

If you need a fun addition to your summer treat supplies or a brilliant hostess gift, try this ball. It’s fun. I just hope they come out with a full-silicon version we could use for dodgeball or kickball. Wouldn’t that be awesome — playing kickball and making ice cream at the same time?

 

 

Not Just Another Night at the Ballet: Boston Ballet’s Thrill of Contact

Hoots and whistles and standing ovations, oh my.

I wasn’t at a Sox game. I was surrounded by people in their Boston Opera House finery. All this madly delighted crowd appreciation was for the Boston Ballet’s “Thrill of Contact,” the final show of the season.

It’s spectacular.

As Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen says in a press release,

Thrill of Contact is a cool collection of dance in diverse artistic voices ranging from the iconic masterpieces of Balanchine and Robbins to exhilarating works that push our art form forward. This program is a culmination of the fascinating choreography and outstanding artistry our company has presented all season long.”

I’ve loved modern dance since college, when many of my friends were in the Drama/Dance Department and thus I frequently attended dance productions. Much of college is a blur, but those performances? I remember them all like it was yesterday.

I used to see the no-longer-extant Snappy Dance Company and other modern dance around the Boston area. While I’ve seen less and less dance in the past several years, I still yearn for it. 

So it was to my shock and delight on Saturday night that after an initial piece that was classical ballet and quite lovely (George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations), the scene changed with fremd, the world premier of this captivating piece choreographed by Jeffrey Cirio. The dances before and after were excellent, interesting, athletic, beautiful, and – in the case of the last one – downright funny.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

But if you go to the ballet for any reason this season — and be aware that the season ends this coming weekend — go to see fremd (the word means “alien” or “strange”). If you are at all like me, with even the slightest craving for modern dance, this will scratch that itch. Yes, this is called a ballet, but it’s not at all what you might think of when you think of ballet. 

How to describe fremd? It’s fluid. Mechanical. Inventive. Innovative. There is an element of control, and an aspect that is very much not in control, or in and out of control. The main dancer controls the stage, and the others, who also control each other, parts of a machine trying to stay in sync.

It isn’t an uncomfortable piece, but there is what I can best describe as a remote sense of unease in the piece–a “dis-ease” that never feels threatening or awkward, for us or the dancers, but the parts must conform.

The German spoken-word poet whose voice rings out above the electronic beat does possibly contribute to that tiniest inner alarm bell.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

fremd also reminded me vaguely of running, of a track workout.

In short, the feeling of happy relief I got from seeing this piece is still with me. I have a curious craving to go back and see it again, and maybe again.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

fremd was followed by The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, called “the most difficult ballet ever performed(pnb.org), which premiered in 1996 with the Frankfurt Ballet. Four dancers were on stage, the two women in green with funky flat tutus that were like lily pads, the men in purple, the backs of whose costumes never failed to startled me. Of the two male dancers, one had powerful muscular legs, like a shot-putter (I realize I keep bringing this review back to track and field comparisons, but there are unavoidable — it was a very athletic evening of ballet).

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

The dancer with the ultra powerful legs had a stunning way of dancing on air. He didn’t exactly dance on air, but whenever his feet left of the stage, something very curious happened: Time slowed, or even came to a stop, and he was airborne, doing more footwork in the air than possible by the laws of gravity. He had demonstrated it in an earlier peace, but it was in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude that it became even more obvious. I couldn’t figure out how he did it. Have you seen the German film Run Lola Run? You know when they speed up the film or slow it down when Lola runs? It was a bit like that, watching him dance: He was weightless.

Set to the final movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, this magnificent display of classical technique celebrates physical mastery and precision…Intensely physical, the ballet is known as one of the most challenging to execute; it is an 11-minute burst of energetic and elated movement. The dancers’ powerful performance is a visible triumph as they seek exactitude as artists.

The final piece, Jerome Robbins’ The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody) is a classic comic ballet from 1956. A commentary on human behavior, set at a piano concert, it’s very funny.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

 Here are some behind-the-scenes videos, a trailer for “Thrill of Contact,” and another little video for you: 

Behind the scenes: Misa Kuranaga on George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations https://vimeo.com/126753178

Thrill of Contact Trailer: https://vimeo.com/127794407

Rethink Ballet: https://vimeo.com/126335931

Boston Ballet Institutional Video: https://vimeo.com/116565470

And now: The remaining shows of the season. This Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Go. Please. You’re welcome.

  • Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 7:30PM
  • Friday, May 22, 2015 at 7:30PM
  • Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 1:00PM and 7:30PM; Pre-Curtain Talk prior to 7:30PM performance
  • Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 1:00PM
  • Tickets start at $29. For more information, visit www.bostonballet.org or call 617-695-6955.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.