Since St. Patrick's Day is this Saturday, why not celebrate by gathering the kids in the kitchen and whipping up a loaf of traditional Irish brown soda bread? It's so easy to make—and so good—that I bet you'll find yourself making it more than just on March 17.
This dense, moist bread gets its leavening from baking soda and buttermilk, hence the name. I happen to like the brown kind, made with whole wheat flour, the best, but you're welcome to use all white flour if you so choose.
Remember the Egg McMuffin? The childhood staple of road trips and early morning breakfasts on the fly is actually a good idea in theory. In fact an egg-based breakfast sandwich similar (but better) than the Egg McMuffin is reasonably healthy, kid-friendly, and surprisingly easy to make at home. It's also quick to whip up, making it suitable for weekday mornings before school, even. How quick? If you give me three minutes I'll give you a hot tasty breakfast sandwich.
For this basic iteration, I put together the traditional semi-international combination of egg, English muffin, Canadian bacon, and American cheese, just like at that place with the golden arches. Of course in my version they're locally grown cage-free eggs, organic American cheese slices, and low-fat Canadian bacon. I originally planned on using whole-wheat English muffins, but Trader Joes was out of them when I was shopping, so the sourdough version stands in this morning. For equipment, you'll need a microwave, a toaster, and a microwave safe vessel in which to cook the egg.
This week's cartoon is Three Little Bops, an unusual 1957 Looney Tunes offering from director Friz Freling. With a soundtrack by West Coast jazz great Shorty Rogers and vocals by the legendary Stan Freberg (no Mel Blanc!), Three Little Bops isn't your usual Warner Brothers cartoon.
Three Little Bops is a retelling of the traditional Three Little Pigs fairy tale, with the titular swine re-imagined as a hip jazz trio. Rather than attempting to eat the pigs, the Big Bad Wolf just wants to sit in and play trumpet with the porcine hepcats. Unfortunately, he's a square whose musical chops are less than adequate, and the both the pigs and their audience kick out the wolf and his "corny horn". The persistent Big Bad Wolf tries to insert himself with the group in a series of jazz clubs made out of—you guessed it—straw, wood, and bricks. Eventually, the wolf learns the lesson that he's "Gotta be hot to play real cool".
1950's Merrie Melodies offering The Hypo-Chondri-Cat is a hilarious but strange cartoon from animation legend Chuck Jones and the Termite Terrace crew. Wisecracking mouse duo Hubie and Bertie attempt to move into a cozy new home inhabited by the neurotic Claude Cat. Playing on Claude's hypochondriasis, Hubie and Bertie stage an elaborate ruse to convince the credulous Claude to vacate the house and head to "Cat Heaven".
It's weird (check out the surgery dream sequence), a little twisted, and borderline surreal—but it is funny. Probably not appropriate for really little kids, unless you want to answer endless questions about whether Claude's really dead or not. While the great Mel Blanc gets sole billing for the voice characterizations, he shares his duties with the equally great Stan Freberg, who voices Bertie the mouse ("Yeah yeah, sure sure").
I guess I should just go ahead and get this one out of the way. Any discussion of classic Warner Brothers cartoons invariably turns to Chuck Jones' One Froggy Evening (1955), the surprisingly cerebral tale of greed, human nature, luck, and a singing frog. Steven Spielberg referred to One Froggy Evening as "The Citizen Kane of cartoons," and for good reason—it's not just a great cartoon, but stellar filmmaking as well. Note that this cartoon features not one single word of dialogue, only animation and Milt Franklyn's inspired soundtrack.
If for some reason you're unfamiliar with this masterpiece, it concerns a demolition worker who finds a metal box in the cornerstone of a decades-old building he's destroying. Inside the box is a frog who dons a top hat and sings various Tin Pan Alley hits, ragtime songs, and opera arias. The rest of the cartoon follows the worker's descent into madness as he realizes that the frog only performs when he's watching (or does it?).
I feel sorry for my kids and others these days, since they don't have ready exposure to the classic cartoons that we grew up watching. As every cartoon connoisseur knows, the best classic cartoons—the only ones, perhaps—are those produced by Warner Brothers during the post-war Golden Age of Cartoons. In the late '40s and 1950s, the Warner Brothers animation crew elevated cartoon shorts to a high art unsurpassed by anyone to this day (sorry Pixar).
Fortunately for us, YouTube has tons of Warner Brothers Cartoons hidden amongst its offerings. I've decided to showcase some of my favorites to create an online cartoon museum of sorts that you can share with your kids so they don't grow up deprived.
Note: Sadly, 2010 was the final season for the Marinwood Christmas House. It won't be back this year, so enjoy these photos from last Christmas.
Last year, the most exciting holiday news in Marin was that the famous Marinwood Christmas House was back! At the time it was rumored to be a one-time-only event, undertaken in honor of the late Charles "Dooley" Stitham, who put together this impressive display for decades and who passed away in 2009. We're glad to report that it's here again this year and as awesome as ever!
Anyone who grew up in Marin—especially in San Rafael and Novato—in the past 40 years certainly has fond memories of this amazing decorated house. It was the Christmas House; the one all others aspired to be and the most amazing Christmas house ever. Lighted and decorated and full of colorful animated figures, dolls, toys, and holiday scenes, the Marinwood Christmas House is another of Marin's holiday must-sees. It's open daily through New Year's Day 5–10 pm.
The Marin IJ reports that two mountain lions were sighted in San Anselmo yesterday. The animals were spotted by a garbageman at about 7:15 am Friday on Blackhawk Drive near Sorich Ranch Park. Do you know what to do if you or your children have a run in with one of these predators? The odds are against it, but it doesn't hurt to know.
Read more about mountain lions and what to do if you see one in our article that we wrote as part of our outdoor safety series. We've also provided some links for you to learn even more about what to do in the unlikely event of a mountain lion encounter.
This year will be the year when at least one of the kids leaves the house on Halloween wearing an awesome, innovative, homemade costume. Faithful readers of this blog may recall that last year I planned one of the coolest costumes made by anyone anywhere ever in the history of cool Halloween costumes, only to be foiled at the last minute by the dark forces of the Target costume section.
When I asked my seven-year-old son what he wanted to be this year, he told me "A samurai". This is no doubt because he developed a sushi fixation some time in the past year, which is something apparently most little kids in Marin go through at some time. His concept of the samurai wasn't just a simple robe-and-sash affari, a la Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo, but rather the version with armor and a helmet and all that. Much, much more complicated. Despite my suggestions to do something a little simpler (like my awesome Tintin costume idea), he remained steadfast in his determination to stick with his vision.