Nov 30, 2011 Paid/Sponsored Post
[The following post was commissioned by Treatful.com]
As anyone with kids (or, um, anyone who’s married to me) knows, stuff piles up. Even the most well-intentioned gift may end up being shoved in a closet, given to Goodwill or re-gifted to an annoying relative. This is why I love the idea of gifting experiences instead of things. Great food is something that will be enjoyed and remembered long after the meal is over.
Treatful is a website that allows you to quickly and easily give restaurant gift certificates. Many of the restaurants even allow the gift to be given digitally, with no gift card to be delivered – a beautiful certificate is emailed to the recipient, who just prints it out and brings it to the restaurant. Easy, but thoughtful. Simple, but attractive. And the best part for you, the giver? No fees! The amount of the gift is the amount you pay. (Actually, my readers will get an even better deal than that: there’s a discount code at the end of this post!)
Here’s how it works:
- Search the Treatful site for restaurants in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco
- Narrow your search by price, neighborhood, cuisine, and special features; add restaurants to your “short list” as you go, to keep track of the ones you like
- Treatful’s restaurant pages give you a description of the restaurant, pictures, links to Yelp ratings, the location on a map, and a suggested gift amount for two people to have a meal
- Once you’ve chosen a restaurant, you can customize the look of the certificate that will be emailed, or if you want to print the certificate out and give the treat in person, you can have it sent to your own email address
- You can choose a specific date to have your treat emailed on, allowing you to get organized in advance
- You can pay via credit card or PayPal (Treatful is a PayPal verified business)
- That’s it! Your gift will be delivered
- Treatful treats never expire!
I have a foodie sister in San Francisco who would love to get a gift like this. I even found the great Italian restaurant down the street from me on Treatful! This is a great way to support local restaurants. Maybe I should buy that treat and give it to myself. :-)
As if the very idea of this site isn’t great enough, here’s an extra enticement to try it out: just enter the code SMOM at checkout and you’ll receive 10% off of your order! Discounts on gift certificates are rare, so this is like getting free food. But hurry, this fantastic discount code can only be used through December 31st, 2011.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 13. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.
Nov 30, 2011 Today's Agenda
So I’m not sure how four days of doing nothing but cooking, eating and spending time with family has gotten me this far behind, but it has. Just when it felt like I was getting things under control, I’m buried again. But, at least I’m buried in good stuff.
Speaking of holiday family craziness, my mom was here for Thanksgiving. My purple-haired, turkey giblet-dissecting mom. I need to find a few minutes to post about that.
I’ll also be hosting a twitter party today from 1-2 about not being judged. I’d love it if you would join in. We’re tweeting about things we’re simply not going to be ashamed about any more. It’s going to be a ton of fun – you can get more details here.
I’ll be posting a sponsored post about Treatful, a great way to give a restaurant meal as a gift – quick, easy, and nicely presented – with a discount code for my readers!
And I’ll be ending my day at The Daily Show as a guest of ONE! I’m chairing a campaign that starts tomorrow called The 12 Days of Change, so I’ll have much more coming up about that. So why The Daily Show? ONE’s co-founder, Bono, is tonight’s guest. Very cool. Watch tonight on Comedy Central at 11pm, and maybe you’ll see me clapping wildly from the audience. Or maybe you’ll see my friends sitting on top of me to keep me from rushing the stage. You never know.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 13 (Treatful). Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.
Nov 26, 2011 Posted From My Phone
So when Snapware says not to put its containers in the dishwasher, I guess they mean it. Oops.
Now it looks like art.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom, from Amy’s cell phone (so please excuse any weird formatting). All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.
Nov 22, 2011 Cooking & Baking
So I’m not sure when I first got it in my mind to make cake pops. It might have been after I brought a couple of really beautiful NY Cake Pops home for the kids from an event (the Hugh Jackman interview – that’s right, eye candy and dessert), and they raved about them. It might have been when I spent an hour searching for the perfect cake decorating book on Amazon and discovered that cake pops were taking over. Or it might have been the moment I decided to do Slim-Fast and my inner demon said “Cake pops. Cake pops!”
Regardless, I decided to do it, and in true “me” fashion I ordered a bunch of supplies before making even one batch. I ordered a big Styrofoam block to let them dry on, a plastic display stand for serving them (to whom, I had no idea) and little bags and gold twist ties to wrap them in.
But then over the weekend, before any of that stuff had arrived, Fiona and I decided to jump in and make some. I had a layer of yellow cake in the freezer that I hadn’t used because it was really lopsided, so I put Fiona to work breaking that into crumbs.
I wanted to have some kind of vanilla/chocolate flavor contrast, but didn’t have any vanilla frosting to mix with the crumbs (and just didn’t feel like making any), and only had dark chocolate melting chocolate, so I just used those. Fiona mixed everything up by hand – literally – and I took out my new Wilton chocolate melter (which is awesome, by the way).
Fiona made the pops many different sizes, and as much as I wanted to correct her I was also curious as to which size would work best (we discovered that if you make them too small, they fall apart when you put the stick in). We put those in the fridge for an hour.
Then we dipped our sucker sticks in the melted chocolate, stuck them halfway into the pops, and put it all back in the fridge for another half hour.
Jake came over to help dip (yeah, he’s the kind of “helper” who shows up for the fun part and then disappears) and they decorated the pops with chocolate chips, colored sugar, and sprinkles.
We let them sit until they were dry to the touch, then we tried them and oh my GOD they were good. I mean, how could they not be? It’s frosting and cake dipped in chocolate. The next step was to make them look good. And I’m sorry to say, I had to do this without Fiona. Don’t get me wrong, the kids’ turned out really cute, but I get annoying with this stuff. If I can’t make it look professional I’ll just buy it from someone who can.
The only additional supply that had arrived was the Styrofoam block. I covered it in packing tape, got out a ruler, and poked sixteen holes on one side and twenty-five holes on the other (for different sized pops). I put some foil over the top to catch drips. Eventually I think I’m going to get a wood block and drill holes, but who knows when I’ll get around to that. If someone could just sell me one that would be fabulous.
I made a 13x9x2” devil’s food cake from a mix and let it cool completely, then I put it in my stand mixer and mixed it up until it was in pieces. Since the cake was nice and moist it didn’t really get to a crumbly stage like the other one had, but it did get to the point where there were no big pieces.
I added canned chocolate frosting a spoonful at a time until the cake was the consistency of soft Play-Doh (I ended up using 3/4 of a cup).
Now, here’s the part where you’ll start to suspect that I’m a little crazy, but I got out my trusty Oxo kitchen scale and weighed out cake balls 30 grams each. Trust me: if you want to make things a uniform size nothing is as easy as weighing them. The key is to have a scale that can weigh in negative numbers, so that you just keep taking the dough out of the bowl until you’ve reached 30 grams. So much better than eyeballing it.
Once balled up, I put the pan in the fridge for half an hour to chill. About half way through that I pre-heated the Wilton chocolate melter and melted some chocolate, stirring frequently. Then I switched it to the “warm” setting and got the pan from the fridge.
I dipped each sucker stick into the chocolate and pushed them about halfway into the cake balls. I’ve checked out a few sites over the past few days for cake ball advice and even though most of them advised putting the balls back in the fridge before dipping, I didn’t. I let them sit for about fifteen minutes to let the sticks set, then got to dipping. (It’s worth noting though that by the time I got to the last ten, I had to put them back in the fridge – they were totally warm and mushy. So depending on how fast you work, you may or may not have to cool them down again.)
It took me a while to get my technique down so that they came out smooth, but here’s what I ended up with after making about a dozen uglier ones: I dip the ball in and immediately (but gently) tap the stick against my finger to get off excess chocolate. This leaves the chocolate a little lopsided, so I twirl the ball slowly while letting the rest of the excess drip towards the stick. Once the chocolate stops moving and starts to set I put the stick into the Styrofoam.
After about half an hour the cake balls were dry, and I drizzled them with white chocolate. Another fifteen minutes and they were stable enough to be laid down again without wrecking the chocolate. Ideally I would have put them into my new plastic stand, but it isn’t here yet!
Some sites have said to refrigerate them at this point, and some said they would “weep” – that the moisture would escape from the insides and things would get ugly. These are going to my son’s classroom tomorrow for their Thanksgiving feast, and since I routinely leave frosted cake or cupcakes out for forty-eight hours, I think these will be fine too.
I can’t wait until the white dipping chocolate I ordered gets here, because that’s when the fun will begin. Even though I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, coloring it does make the cutest cake pops.
Now that I’ve got my dipping technique down I want to try something more complicated, from a booklet I was sent to review, Cake Pops & Mini Treats. I need a few more supplies though. Yay, more shopping!
While making these look good is certainly harder than making them taste good, this was a great project for Fiona and me to do together, and I can’t wait to make them with her again. And I promise not to critique her technique. :-)
I visited the following sites to learn the basic techniques for making cake pops:
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 1 (NY Cake Pops, Cake Pops & Mini Treats booklet). Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.
Nov 22, 2011 Paid/Sponsored Post
[The following post was commissioned by “The Smurfs” on Blu-ray™ + DVD Holiday Combo Pack]
So I’ve been tasked with getting together a gift guide for Gutsy Smurf, the tough, brave and adventurous Smurf from the new Smurfs movie, coming out on Blu-ray™ on December 2nd. This was a very easy task, since Gutsy Smurf reminds me very much of my son Jake, minus this kilt, sideburns, and Scottish brogue, of course.
Document your adventures
Before Gutsy Smurf sets off to do anything gutsy, he needs some way to record what’s happening. At under $100, this Sony Cybershot camera is the perfect entry-level camera for someone with no photography experience. With Sweep Panorama Mode and SteadyShot image stabilization, this camera helps ensure dramatic, sharp pictures, no matter the conditions.
This camera is so smart, it can even detect if the subject is smiling or blinking!
Protect your tech toys
This gift is very basic, but very important for anyone setting off on an adventure: proper cell phone protection. Smurfs – and tweens – can be very rough on their phones, but Otter Box provides the solution with their Defender Series cell phone cases. These cases provide superior protection against bumps and drops.
They come in a wide variety of models, for everything from iPhones to Galaxy Tabs. The front has a clear protective screen, and all buttons and ports are easily accessible.
Learn how to fly
Next up, Gutsy Smurf needs an adventure to take his protected phone on. What takes more guts than flying through the air? Trapeze Experience offers lessons for anyone over five years old and under 250 pounds. With locations in New York and Florida, you can live out your dreams of swinging and flipping at this acclaimed trapeze school.
Even if you’ve never done anything like this before, Trapeze Experience will get you started. With two-hour lessons for $100, you can give your little Smurf a taste of what it takes to become a trapeze artist.
A skateboard on steroids
Skateboarding is so 20th century. If you want your Smurf to get a real workout while he rolls, get him a Shred Sled. These affordable, wheeled toys take skill, balance, and ab muscles to ride. I’m grateful nobody was videotaping me when I tried Jake’s Shred Sled, because I lack all three – it was not pretty.
Jake took to it quickly though, and after a couple weeks’ practice it became his favorite mode of transportation, even more than his bike. Shred Sleds mimic the “carving” motion of snowboarding, and you can even propel yourself uphill without pushing off. I’m sure Gutsy Smurf would have no trouble mastering it – I just hope he remembers to wear his helmet!
Go on a high-tech scavenger hunt
The Apisphere Geomate Jr. is a handheld geocaching GPS game that the whole family can play. What is geocaching? It’s a world-wide scavenger hunt that’s catching on with adventurous Smurfs everywhere. For about $65 Gutsy Smurf can hunt for a quarter million different clues hidden in all fifty states.
No internet connection is necessary. The battery-operated unit will direct you to the nearest geocache, which can be hidden almost anywhere. The unit also logs which ones you’ve found, and can direct you back to your starting point so that you don’t get lost.
Read the adventure
Of course even Gutsy Smurf needs some down time, and this spectacular book will keep him transfixed for hours (my little guy has read through it several times already). “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” tells the story of an orphan in Paris, partly through words and partly through exquisite drawings that bring the characters to life.
At over 500 pages, this book might look imposing, but Smurfs of all ages will soon be sucked into the story of a broken mechanical robot that holds a secret, if only Hugo can get him working again!
I hope I helped you with some shopping ideas for the adventurous kids on your holiday list! And to help some other deserving kids have a good holiday, just leave a comment with your best suggestion for a gift for Gutsy Smurf. I get to decide which gift I think is the most creative, and a Smurf backpack and Smurf toys will be donated to Toys for Tots in the commenter’s name.
As part of this campaign I’ll be receiving the new Smurfs Blu-ray™ + DVD Holiday Combo Pack, and knowing my kids (who are Smurf crazy) it will be played until it is memorized. I think it would make a great gift for your little Smurf.
Brought to you by The Smurfs on Blu-ray™ + DVD Holiday Combo Pack! Includes the never-before-seen The Smurfs Christmas Carol, an all-new Smurftastic adventure! Get more at www.smurfhappens.com, including games and other Smurfy goodies!
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 1 (Shred Sled, “The Smurfs” on Blu-ray) and 13. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.
Nov 22, 2011 Today's Agenda
So over the weekend Fiona & I tried our hands at making cake pops. It was a smashing success. Literally. I let her do all the cake smashing by hand. Actually, I let her do everything. So they tasted fantastic, but didn’t look as good as they could have (even though she did an awesome job, for a seven-year-old). For that, I’m so sorry Fiona, but you have to be out of the picture. So I’m making some more this morning. Of course, if they still don’t look great, then I can’t blame Fiona.
I’m going to do my best to figure out how many calories are in each, and then only eat one. Or two. We’ll see how that goes.
Last night I posted a review of the most comfortable over-ear headphones I’ve ever worn. They’re a little pricey – around $100 – but would make a great gift for the audiophile in your life, especially if she’s complained in the past about headphones being uncomfortable.
Later today I’ll be sharing a little sponsored gift guide I wrote for “Gutsy Smurf” from the new Smurf’s movie, which is coming out on Blu-ray. Basically, it’s all stuff an adventurous ten-year-old kid would love, blue or not, so if you have one of those you can find some great gift ideas, in a range of prices.
And after that will be my cake pops post. Hopefully they’ll be beautiful, but no matter what, they’ll be delicious. I mean, cake mushed together with frosting coated in chocolate? No way that doesn’t taste great.
And, the cleaning continues. Despite my mom leaving the best comment anyone’s ever left on my blog.
Enjoy your Tuesday!
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 1 (headphones, Smurfs’ Blu-ray). Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.
Nov 22, 2011 Product Review
My husband, son and I have been fighting over a pair of Sol Republic Tracks headphones since they arrived from the company for me to review a few weeks ago. At a retail cost of around $100 they would be a fantastic gift for someone in your life who really appreciates good sound.
Luckily I had them to myself for the first day, since my husband was at work and Jake was at school. I put them on, adjusted the headphones – I’m sorry, the “sound engines” according to the box – and cued up “Defying Gravity” from the Wicked soundtrack on my computer. Now, this is a song I’ve heard probably two hundred times, mostly in my car or through earbuds (and I don’t use cheap earbuds, I’ve got good ones). But from the first notes I could hear the difference. I could hear a string bass line that I’d never heard before, deep and rich! A few more songs had me convinced that these headphones were worth the size. Normally I go for whatever’s tiniest, but I don’t think I’ll ever wear earbuds in the house again.
When I was done listening I started doing other things on my laptop. It wasn’t until I got up about half an hour later that I realized I was still wearing the headphones; they’re so comfortable I hadn’t even noticed I’d left them on. That’s kind of a big deal for me, because most headband-style headphones give me a headache. The ear pads are big and cushiony and fit snugly over my ears without squeezing my head.
These headphones have a unique design that allow them to feel just as comfortable on my daughter’s little head as on my son’s larger one. Instead of the headband part being adjustable, the sound engines slide up and down. They even come completely off, and the cord can be removed. This would be extremely handy when traveling, since wrapping the cord and squishing the headphones in to a suitcase or bag would make me nervous.
For what it’s worth, the website claims that the band is nearly indestructible. Having lost a couple pairs of pricey headphones to a cracked headband, that’s rather important to me (although I’m not willing to sacrifice mine in order to test that claim – sorry!).
They have several features that I don’t think I would ever get any use out of, since I don’t think I’d ever use these out of the house (like, on the subway or walking around), and I rarely use Apple products. But they have a microphone that can be used with most Android and Blackberry phones to take calls, and a three-button iPod/iPad controller for iTunes. There’s a list of compatible devices here.
So now, my husband can sit on the couch while someone else is watching TV or playing music, and listen to his own stuff on the iPad. They don’t cancel out all outside noise, but they muffle it enough that I have no problem hearing what I want to hear through the headphones when the kids are being their crazy selves or the TV is blasting. I’m able to work on podcasts or videos without having to tell everybody else to quiet down.
These would make an excellent gift for that person in your life who cares about the sound coming out of his computer or phone, but values comfort first and foremost. I really love these headphones and highly recommend them.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 1. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.
Nov 21, 2011 Paid/Sponsored Post
[The following post was commissioned by T-Mobile]
I love buying gadgets and tech toys, and know what I like. But when it comes to buying tech for other people, I just don’t do it that often. My sisters and I bought a laptop for my mom a couple of years ago, and that worked out very well, but I haven’t been brave enough to do it any other time. So, I was thrilled to host about twenty other bloggers for an event at the new T-Mobile store near Union Square last week, where we mingled and noshed,
had the T-Mobile staff at our disposal,
and were given tips on how to choose and buy tech gifts.
Smartphones for the neophyte
Now, in my opinion, someone who is totally into smartphones and up on the latest tech trends will not want you to get them a smartphone, unless you know exactly which one they want (in which case you’re probably either married to them or gave birth to them, and they’ve been hinting pretty hard). But for people who haven’t made the jump to the wonderful world of smartphones yet, a gift might be the kick they need.
Two new smartphones from T-Mobile, the myTouch (on-screen keyboard) and myTouch Q (slide-out keyboard), are designed specifically for people who’ve never owned a smartphone before, and who might be a bit apprehensive. They both run the very popular Android operating system, and to make set-up easier they have a wizard that guides the user through setting up email and social networks, plus a tips widget to help figure things out along the way.
[I got to give these phones away on my site last week – congratulations to Deanna Watson and M. Banks – enjoy your new phones!]
What to ask at the store
T-Mobile provided us with these questions to ask at the store where you’re shopping for tech gifts (and, actually, they’re smart questions to ask when shopping for yourself as well:
- What does my rate plan cover?
- What kind of speeds/data am I getting?
- How much will my monthly payments be and/or other charges?
- What’s the exchange/return policy?
- Is my/my recipient’s home and workplace covered by your network?
- What are roaming charges?
- What are your warranty/insurance policies?
Some other tips I learned at the event:
- If your gift recipient is moving from one phone to another, make sure you can help her transfer all of her contacts, pictures, and data over to the new phone seamlessly, or that she can bring it into a store to get expert help in doing this.
- If the person you’re giving a phone to makes a lot of international calls, or is a teen with her first phone, you might want to consider gifting a pre-paid plan as well.
- Consider whether your recipient will want to use the phone as a camera replacement, GPS, or a mobile hotspot and make sure the phone you choose includes these features (and that the plan does as well).
- Don’t forget accessories, like cases or protectors, portable chargers, bluetooth headsets, and upgraded storage cards.
- If you’re gifting a smartphone to a child or teen, you can add applications like Drive Smart Plus and FamilyWhere to help put your mind at ease about your child’s location and phone usage.
- As far as plans go, T-Mobile has a great online calculator that helps you figure out the best plan, based on things like how often you stream videos or music, how many pictures you upload from your phone, etc.
Purse and pocket sized tablets
If your gift recipient already has a phone she loves, you might want to consider giving a tablet. I didn’t get a chance to play with either of the tablets that people at the event were gushing over, but lucky I ran into the T-Mobile crew the next night at another tech event, and got to try them out.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 plus and the SpringBoard with Google are, in my opinion, great gifts for someone who likes to be productive on the go but doesn’t want to carry around a laptop. At $229 and $299 respectively with a two-year contract ($50 less after a mail-in rebate) these are much cheaper than an iPad, and better suited to throwing into a purse or a pocket. I would actually let these out of the house with my kids, as opposed to the iPad, which I’m way too paranoid to let out of my sight.
Thanks to my blogger buddies!
I appreciate all of them taking time out of their day last week to come to my event. They’re all awesome, so please check out their blogs (linked below) – you won’t be sorry!
Me & Vivian
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 13. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.