October 16, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
2 Comments

FoodSaver 2-in1 Vacuum Sealing System

Have you ever bought bulk packages of meat or fish, taken them home and tried to divide them up to put some in the fridge and the rest in the freezer?

We used to do it a lot, but stopped when we found that freezer burn wreaked havoc on the food we tried to deep freeze and use months later. It meant that we spent a bit more upfront but we weren’t throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of steak, chicken and salmon in the course of a single year.

Same went for banana bread, which I hate making unless I do it in large batches. But it just never lasted well in our freezer, despite being double-bagged. I would even go so far as to try to suck out all of the excess air from those “locking” bags (I think you know the ones…). Picture that. Just for a moment. A grown woman standing over a plastic bag sucking the life out of one of its corners. I always felt like I was taking my life into my hands when I’d attempt this feat with something like raw chicken, when I’d see out of the corner of my eye some rogue chicken juice creeping up toward my mouth.

This was my first (and still favourite) use of the FoodSaver system. We like to buy meat and fish in bulk and freeze at least half into a couple of different servings.

This was my first (and still favourite) use of the FoodSaver system. We like to buy meat and fish in bulk and freeze at least half into a couple of different servings.

That used to be me, so I was kind of thrilled when a FoodSaver system arrived at my doorstep a couple of months ago.

THE GOOD

FoodSaver is really easy to use. I read the instructions once, and barring some slight confusion about how to insert the extra roll of plastic when you want to make your own size, I didn’t encounter anything that prevented me from sucking out air like a pro.

As I mentioned, we’ve been using this thing for a couple of months; I thought it was important to see what food that had been sealed using the FoodSaver machine would be like if we left it in the freezer as long as we normally would. I’m pleased to report that we didn’t experience any freezer burn on meat or fish, and banana bread thawed like a dream. The banana bread pictured below was sealed at the beginning of August and I thawed and opened it yesterday; it was as fresh and moist as the day I sealed it. So it works. And it works well.

I find vacuum sealing food rather fun. I can’t articulate why, but watching the air get pulled out of the bag is somehow very satisfying.

The FoodSaver 2-in-1 works really well with baked goods, like banana bread and doughnuts, as well as "wet" foods like chill, applesauce or soup.

The FoodSaver 2-in-1 works really well with baked goods, like banana bread and doughnuts, as well as “wet” foods like chilli, applesauce or soup.

I love the option to use and reuse the Ziploc-style baggies thanks to the handheld wand that’s built into the FoodSaver system. This is what gives it that 2-in-1 claim. And we’ve gotten a lot of use out of these bags; plus, it appeals to my desire to be greener whenever possible. And though I recognize that plastic is terrible, unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil when you want to preserve things in the freezer.

At about $230 for the Food Saver 2-in-1 Vacuum Sealing System, I think it’s reasonable value. I easily tossed away $230 worth of meat and fish last year alone. I’m expecting this to fully pay for itself inside of one year. (Of course, you still have to buy replacement bags and rolls…)

I like that the machine gives me the option to select “wet” or “dry” foods; this straightforward instruction means that food like chilli doesn’t get sucked up into the FoodSaver as it’s vacuuming out the air.

It’s a nice-looking enough unit, but…

THE GAFFE

It takes up a lot of real estate on my countertop. People with small or galley kitchens probably won’t like FoodSaver’s footprint (at least the model I have). It’s really a bit bulky to go into a cupboard, so unless you have a walk-in pantry like I do, finding a home for it might be tough.

Refills aren’t cheap. At Canadian Tire, for example, a double-roll refill is $23.99 and a 12-pack of large Ziploc-style reusable bags is $15.99.

You end up using A LOT of plastic because the machine requires a four-inch clearance on either side of the vacuum-sealed “line” to work properly.

The electrical cord is not long enough…an extra foot would be really helpful.

Not all wet foods seem to get fully sucked of air. The chilli up there on the left, for example. That said, I can’t say it’s made a difference in terms of how well it’s kept food in the freezer.

Sometimes, the machine appears to be finishing the job and then just…stalls. I turn it off, and start over again and that seems to do the trick, but it’s weird. And freaky because the noise it emits while it’s stalled isn’t pretty.

THE GEARS

3.5/5 (if refills were less expensive, the overall system would have earned a higher rating)

So…where can you get it?

October 15, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

Wordless Wednesday: Dress Mavens (it ain’t just for the ladies)

Dress Mavens for girls

There’s something about matching outfits with my little girl; I just can’t get enough of it. So when Dress Mavens recently made a dress for me (in red, which I paired with leopard print shoes), I bought a kind-of matching ensemble for Miss Q. The “Maggie” did not disappoint. Aside from the jewelry from Gymboree that Miss Q chose herself, I added a cute little velvet and grosgrain ribbon belt from H&M and polka-dot-patent shoes from PediPed. To give the dress a bit of volume and extra flair (we were going to a wedding after all), I put a Kelly green tutu from Gymbroee underneath. Of course, when she wears this more casually, I doubt we’ll go for the tutu. The girls’ dress sizes at Dress Mavens are generous, so if your daughter takes a size 4-5 at GAP Kids, rest assured that a size 4 will fit beautifully, and probably offer room to grow.

OxiClean 4X Concentrated Extreme Power Crystals

October 12, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
60 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving: enter the clean-up (sponsored post)

I don’t know if every kid who grew up in the ’80s has the same memories of Thanksgiving dinners as I do. But clearer than the turkey is the way our table was always set: first, a waterproof pad (that I swear was later repurposed atop a mattress when my children came for a sleepover) and then one of my mom’s linens or one handed down to her.

The padding left the table a bit squishy and meant that wine glasses sometimes toppled over. And the linen ended up covered in a cornucopia of cranberry sauce and gravy.

I was thankful, year after year, that my mom never asked me to try and get those stains out. She’d spend an unfortunate amount of time hunched over the laundry room sink, with a bar of Sunlight in hand. Scrubbing. I remember a lot of scrubbing.

Fast forward 25 or 30 years, and now that we host our own Thanksgiving dinners, I’ve learned to skip the linens. Sadly, that doesn’t mean I don’t still meet my fair share of stains after a big turkey dinner. Whether it’s on clothes or fabric napkins, those cranberries and that gravy still like to make their mark.

OxiClean

I confess. Sometimes convenience trumps my desire to live a crunchier life. I love how EASY these are.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that I don’t spend too much time in the laundry room. I reach for a spray bottle of pre-mixed OxiClean liquid or use one of the new (and utterly convenient) OxiClean Laundry Detergent Paks. I still favour natural detergents for my everyday laundering, but for tougher stains — and I don’t have to tell you that gravy is tough — I usually go for something stronger.

If only all the washing up following Thanksgiving ended with laundry. Alas, no. The dishes are another story altogether. Another thing I’m thankful for? Our dishwasher. Because, honestly, the last thing I want to do after prepping, cooking, serving and hosting up a storm is dishes by hand. I know some people find doing dishes relaxing, and one woman I recently met tells me she does all her best thinking washing dishes.

Not this girl.

I’d rather tuck into a nice glass of wine listening to the sweet hum of the dishwasher.

So, as we get ready to go into turkey overdrive tomorrow across Canada, lifestyle expert Nicole Sassaman has some great tips so you spend more time entertaining and less time cleaning:

It’s all about survival, people. If you can make it through preparing a bird from scratch, serving everything at (relatively) the same time and manage to carry on conversations with every member of your extended family (yes, all of them), you pretty much deserve a medal.

But since I don’t have a medal, instead, the kind folks at OxiClean would like to give you the chance to win a Thanksgiving Survival Kit, valued at $60. That’s a whole lot of clean, my friends. It includes a bunch of awesome OxiClean products (Laundry Detergent Paks, Liquid Laundry Detergent, White Revive Stain Remover, Dishwashing 2 in 1 Booster, Unit Dose Laundry Detergent and Extreme Power Crystal Dishwasher Detergent).

Enter here.

 

DISCLAIMER: I was compensated for this post, but opinions (and sass!) are always my own.

Barbie and the Secret Door DVD

October 10, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Barbie and the Secret Door DVD

The movie: Barbie The Secret Door

When it was available: September 2014

What it’s about: A mermaid, fairy and princess walk into a bar. No, no…that’s not it. They walk into a magical kingdom, led by shy reading-fanatic Princess Alexa (who sounds suspiciously like all of the other lead Barbie characters). During one of her daily walks, she finds a secret door. Obviously, she opens it or the title of the DVD wouldn’t make much sense now, would it? Turns out that she discovers a world like the one she’s been reading about. But there’s an evil twist, and her name is Malucia. With the help of her mermaid and fairy friends, Alexa finds strength and power within herself and in this brave new world, she can do anything. Even take down the horrid Malucia. Featuring some new Barbie tunes, Alexa sings her way through the magic and comes out the other side of the door a more confident girl who’s empowered to take on the real world.

What Miss Q said: “I really like this movie because Alexa is so pretty and brave, and she fights so good. And I really like her dress and her magic song.”

The verdict? This is one of Miss Q’s favourite Barbie movies, possibly surpassing Barbie & The Pop Star (huge news in this house!). Though that might have something to do with the Barbie and the Secret door dolls and horse that Mattel generously sent along with the DVD. Her favourite Barbie now is the one that sings the “I’ve Got Magic” song from the movie, while her entire torso lights up in time with the music. I love listening to her re-enact parts of the movie when she’s playing independently in her room, even if she does sometimes pit the Barbie friends against one another. We’re working on the friendship message…

But speaking (writing?) of friendship, Miss Q did request that we buy this movie for one of her friends as a birthday gift. Expect movie dates down the road.

October 7, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
14 Comments

BlissDom Canada 2014: the highlights reel

OK, so there’s actually no reel. Unless, of course, you count this:

Or this…

And then there’s that one video that Christella Morris filmed late Friday night during an impromptu karaoke session in BlissDom‘s after-hours lounge at the Delta Meadowvale. But I don’t think she’s posting that one publicly (thank God).

This was my fourth social media conference in two years and my second BlissDom. This time around, I was a “community leader,” which basically meant that I had to teach some folks about one of my areas of expertise (public relations) and drink the proverbial BlissDom Kool-Aid, which isn’t hard to do.

#IAmWriting

The #IAmWriting panel.

Actually, it’s pretty easy to drink, because the minute you step foot around the likes of Jenn Powell and Shannon “Shash” Mischuk, you can just leave your self-importance at the door and shed any bit of shyness because they create this incredible atmosphere of goodness and kindness and warmth. Oh, and fun. So. Much. Fun.

Of course there’s learning thrown in for good measure — like the Google Analytics microsession with Jenn Perry; the panel on writing with big names like Sandra MartinBrandie Weikle, Jen Reynolds, Marci O’Connor and Ann Douglas; or the opportunity to deliver an in-person pitch to a brand you’ve always wanted to work with, like Chevrolet in my case — and many opportunities to feel inspired during sessions that want to make you change the world, like when we heard about the Global Soap Project from the smoothly charming Derreck Kayongo.

Yet out of three days of sessions, my favourite part of conferences like these continues to be making online connections offline. Putting real faces to Twitter avatars. Running amok in a sort of speed-dating-style frenzy that always ends in me asking someone’s Twitter handle after they introduce themselves by name only. Meeting new people whose work I’ve never read, and then making a mad dash to a computer to stalk them and find out what I’ve been missing all this time — especially when they end up being so on the verge of amazingly nutbars that you can only assume their blogs will be interesting and engaging. And probably so funny that you’ll pee your pants a little, which I know is easy to do after jumping like a 12-year-old on an inflated Twister mat during the BlissDom welcome reception. (Here’s looking at you, Kyla Cornish and Kristine Laco!)

There are a lot of laughs during the conference, but there are amazing moments rife with raw emotion, too. Like a group of near-strangers who gathered around a piano to sing Lean On Me, with Marya managing to do the chords justice while the rest of us actually found harmony. Literally. Or the tears that erupted as influencers passionately pitched brands, telling stories that maybe they’d never shared before in a public forum. And being able to connect with acquaintances who were real friends by the end of the three-day whirlwind.

Other highlights: I rocked my Dress Mavens dress and didn’t seem to offend anyone with its daringly plunging neckline; fan-girled all over Matt Clarke of Convos With My 2 Year Old fame; discovered the magical undereye makeup of Daniel Thompson with Alex; got kicked out of my own hotel room (admittedly, with good reason — there were at least 15 crooners on two mics busting out hits from the ’90s at the time…and it was easily midnight); found a lentil in my bra; had a beautifully intimate dinner with Crystal and Erin; danced in PJs; and functioned on very little sleep, considering I’m an old lady.

I’m grateful for this community, and thankful for having a conference like BlissDom that brings us all together. It’s only because of sponsors that any of us can even afford the ticket, so huge thanks needs to go out to Chevrolet Canada, KAHLÚA Canada (who happens to be my client as well), Manulife, Canadian Lentils, Tim Hortons, Rent frock Repeat, PercyVites, Church & Dwight, Delta, Trend Trunk, Harley Pasternak, Wine Country Ontario, Kleenex Viva Advantage, Luigi Bormioli, Unicef, Dress Mavens, Ontario Pioneer Camp, Roots, Leon’s, Pure Barre, Bellies Inc, philosophy, Spectro, Hasbro, Starlight Children’s Foundation, Camp Tech, flipp, and all of the other supporters and media partners listed here.

More highlights…in no particular order (mostly because I’m lazy)

  • Cheryl Hickey

    Cheryl (probably one of the most down-to-earth "personalities" you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting) and I have created a lovely friendship through Twitter over the past couple of years, and it was nice to see her in person for the second time inside of a week.

    Be sure to check out OURS by Cheryl Hickey, her new line of natural products for babies, kids and moms (oh sure, dads too) available exclusively at Rexall.

  • Camp Tech

    Linn from Camp Tech solved two of my WordPress issues in 20 minutes. So that's impressive.

  • Carolyn from Fifty-Seven

    I first met her at a baby show a week earlier, then saw her in the hallways of the Delta Meadowvale wearing a Sarah Stevenson (for Target) blazer that I'd also brought to BlissDom. After she attended my PR 101 microsession, we shared a heartfelt moment together that I'll never forget.

  • Ali & me

    I get to work with Ali on the P&Gmom program, and she happened to be sitting beside me during the Derreck Kayongo keynote! 

    She's the cutest, right? Guess what, she's got a blog, too: Streets and Ali's.

  • My very own Papaya Jambalaya

    Jackie Gillard: quite possibly one of my favourite humans.

  • Jenn Powell, BlissDom co-principal

    If you don't cry at BlissDom, I really believe that you haven't done BlissDom right. 

    And if you don't encounter or witness a crying Jenn Powell, then you've never been to BlissDom! (She's a crier after my own heart...)

  • Kim & the blender

    I think I missed a blend-off at one point, with Kim from new blog Chatters of Gabby creating some fruit concoction. 

  • Where my Ottawa girls at?!

    Sometimes, I wish I could live in Ottawa. It's an amazing city (which I wrote about in CanadianFamily.ca not long ago), and there are amazing women who live there, like Sarah, Erin and Crystal. (Plus an honourable mention here to Loukia, not pictured but who stars in that Lentil Mani video way up at the beginning.)

  • PR101

    I don't know why I can't take a decent photo unless I know I'm being photographed.

    But at least I had the always-awesome Alanna from Good Night Sleep Sight there with me.

  • PJ party

    Yes, I like to whoop it up.

    Sometimes in my jammies.

  • Shash

    Shannon, Jenn's partner in crime when it comes to BlissDom and their digital marketing agency, Splash, sharing a touching moment with one of her seven million children.

  • TBT party

    I'm all ready to do it up '80s-style with Selena and Jenn!

  • Tiffany and Julie

    I just really like these two. Like, a lot. That is all.

    (Julie and Tiffany from the West Coast!)

  • Alex and Matt

    I met Alex from Clippo under an outdoor tent at last year's BlissDom conference. She's awesome, and every time I get a chance to hang out with her, I adore her even more.

    And this is Alex having a moment with Matt Clarke, who's The Dad in and co-creator of the brilliantly hilarious Convos with my Two Year Old series. If this doesn't ring a bell and you're a parent, I question how we're even friends. Stop what you're doing right now and go watch the series from the beginning. I'll guarantee you it's better than Lays chips: you can't watch just one.

    Matt was cool enough to hang out with us crazy chicks well into the wee hours. I tell you, the women FLOCKED to him. (It might have been the dimples. Just sayin'.) He was cornered by one blogger I shall not name for a good 20 minutes. But he was a champ, and so humble and endearing, and even followed many of us on Twitter that night.