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Why Dads Are Awesome at Playing with Dolls

©2020 Mattel
Post written in partnership with Barbie®

Not all dads grew up playing with dolls, but it’s never too late to start an activity that offers them a chance to bond with their little ones in fun, creative ways that can aid their child’s development. According to an October 2020 study from Cardiff University in collaboration with Barbie®, doll play activates brain regions that allow children to develop social processing skills like empathy. These findings show us that doll play can enable children to rehearse, use and perform these skills, which are not only going to benefit them now, but also helps to set them up for future success. Every parent wants their child to grow up to be the best version of themselves they can be, and it all starts with empathy. By playing with Barbie dolls with their kids, dads can help foster this development in their children and have a whole lot of fun doing it. Let’s take a look at some of the ways dads are amazing at playing with dolls.

You’re Already an Expert

Many dads spent their childhoods involved in the same kind of imaginative play as doll play, just with soldiers, action figures, or miniature cars. Playing dolls with kids uses the same creativity and imagination, and you can even incorporate lasers and dinosaurs.

Fresh Perspectives

You’re never too old to try something new. Playing with your child and Barbie dolls offers dads a fun way to bond and create fun adventures! Go on an intergalactic space journey with mermaid Barbie on her magical DreamCamper™, while making friends with space aliens who only eat marshmallows! Let your imagination run wild, and sit back and observe where your child’s mind goes. This experience gives you a glimpse into how they think, and you’ll create goofy memories that will last a lifetime as your child’s brain enjoys the benefits of doll play.

Teachable Moments

Playtime can be a great way for dads to instill some life lessons in your little one. Ask your child if you can join in and let them take the lead. As you role-play with your assigned Barbie doll, infuse some parenting into doll play. For example, if you and your child are pretending you’re at the beach and it suddenly starts to rain, suggest a fun way to make the most of it! Since doll play can help foster empathy, using dolls to overcome adversity and setbacks can become a valuable tool in your child’s development.

All the Feels

Playing with Barbie dolls can be a great way for kids to express their feelings which is pivotal to developing empathy. Sometimes, it may be challenging for children to verbalize how they’re feeling. However, through doll play, they’re able to act it out and work through the different emotions, allowing you to assist them in the process. By playing together, dads and kids can explore their feelings through role-playing exercises where everyone feels safe and secure.

Exploring New Horizons

Parents desire for their children to grow up in a world built on kindness and compassion, and Barbie dolls can be a great tool to start fostering that from an early age. According to Dr. Sarah Gerson, the neuroscientist who led the study at Cardiff University, “Dolls like Barbie offer a wide expanse of diverse characters and add-ons like professional roles and uniforms (a judge, a football player, or a doll in a wheelchair), that can help children identify with and imagine an infinite range of scenarios.” Introducing new dolls to playtime with different skin tones, genders, and abilities, exposes children at an early age to diversity, and teaches them about inclusivity in an age-appropriate way they can understand. Since doll play activates the brain region related to empathy even when kids play by themselves, dads can help children develop better versions of themselves even when they’re not actively playing together.

Even though some dads might now have grown up playing with dolls, this research shows that it’s never been a better time to start and challenge yourself to something new. By playing with Barbie dolls, you can help your kid develop into an empathetic, kind leader as they grow older.

You can check out more findings from the Cardiff University and Barbie study here.

Study was commissioned by Barbie (2020). Study was conducted with 42 children (20 boys and 22 girls) ages 4-8 years old with full data captured from 33 children.

This post was sponsored by:
Barbie®

Why Doll Play is Better Than Screen Time for Kid Development and Parent Sanity

©2020 Mattel
Post written in partnership with Barbie®

Let’s face it: It’s really hard to limit our kids’ screen time these days. From remote learning, apps, and an endless stream of new TV shows, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens. While some screen use is certainly necessary from an educational and entertainment standpoint, taking play offline, specifically playing with dolls, like Barbie®, has been shown to have scientific benefits for childhood development that you can’t get from looking at a screen. Barbie and neuroscientists from Cardiff University have collaborated on a new study that shows how doll play activates brain regions that allow kids to develop social skills like empathy, indicating that doll play enables children to rehearse, use and perform these skills. Additionally, the findings also show that doll play allows children to develop empathy and social processing skills more so than solo tablet play, even when playing by themselves. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why doll play beats the screen when it comes to your child’s development. Oh, and you know, keeping your own sanity because that’s important too.

Doll Play Helps Develop Conflict Resolution Skills

You may have noticed that with everyone home all the time, things can sometimes get a bit testy. Shows and games can provide a welcome distraction, but in most cases, they don’t teach us much. However, by playing with dolls like Barbie, kids can develop empathy that serves them not only in these uncertain times, but also helps to set them up for future success as they grow and develop in life. For example, if your child isn’t getting along with one of their siblings, they can use dolls to role-play and figure out a fun, playful way to work out their problems. So when Mom and Dad don’t have the bandwidth to settle another dispute, see if Barbie dolls can help your kids come to an agreement through the power of play!

Dolls Help Kids Feel Connected

Recess and playdates have certainly taken on a different form in 2020 and for kids that can be a major bummer. When your kid is feeling isolated, the whole family feels the strain. Barbie dolls can be a great tool to replicate real-world play patterns when the option of doing it in-person isn’t always on the table. According to Dr. Sarah Gerson, the neuroscientist who led the study at Cardiff University, “This play allows them to think about how their friend could be feeling (perhaps sad they can’t see each other) and how they might react (comforting that friend).” In the age of social distancing, Barbie dolls can help kids develop key skills they could be missing out on.

Dolls Can Give Parents A Welcome Break Too!

Who said kids should have all the fun? Parenting is a constant juggling act these days, and sometimes you just need to feel like a kid again. When you’re sick of virtual meetings and tired of having your work face on all day, take a play break with your little one. Get down on the floor, get creative, and let your imagination run free! Doll play is an especially fun way for parents and kids to bond because so much of it is created by the two of you in the moment: You and your kid can steer the session towards the interests and inside jokes that are most important to the two of you.

Did Somebody Say No Buttons and Passwords?

Even with parental controls, there’s no surefire way to make sure your screens are totally kid-proof. Doll play, however, is totally offline and carries no risk of your child ordering 100 packs of crayons with the click of a button. Your credit score will certainly be happy. Seriously though, by playing with Barbie dolls, young ones can unplug and let their inner kid run wild as they activate the regions in their developing minds that develop empathy.

Dolls Give Us A Look Inside Our Child’s Mind

The brain region related to empathy development is even activated when kids play with dolls by themselves, so encourage kids to play solo too! When kids play by themselves, they often voice different characters in role-play scenarios. We’re not saying you should spy on your kids, but listen in a little bit and see what kinds of things they like (or dislike) when their mind roams free with Barbie dolls. Staring at a screen is a passive activity, but doll play is the opposite. It can give parents valuable insight into the minds of their kids.

Whether it’s working on more serious matters like conflict resolution or just taking a play break yourself, doll play carries numerous benefits that you can’t get when the screen is shining bright in your kid’s face. By playing with Barbie dolls, kids can become even more empathetic than previous generations and that might just be the biggest benefit of all.

You can check out more findings from the Cardiff University and Barbie study here.

Study was commissioned by Barbie (2020). Study was conducted with 42 children (20 boys and 22 girls) ages 4-8 years old with full data captured from 33 children.

This post was sponsored by:
Barbie®

The Dad Gaming Bootcamp: How To Take Over Rocket League Before It Takes Over You

Rocket League Car on Busy Freeway
(Getty)

I bought Rocket League for my son for his 8th birthday. He’s probably played 20 times since then. I’ve played it nearly every single day since. 6 months later, I am ranked Platinum.

Sometimes it feels like I’m amazing at this game, but I know that compared to many, many others…I’m terrible. But that’s exactly what keeps me coming back. It’s what experts call “flow” and it’s so addicting. Like throwing back some Planters Pop & Pour, proud sponsors of The Dad Gaming League, once you start, you just keep coming back.

Rocket League is the most sport-like game I’ve ever played. The strategy and coordination, sure, but I think mostly it is because of the progression of skills. It’s one of those games where you can come in, learn the basics, and have a blast. But there are so many skills that can be honed and refined over days, weeks, months, and YEARS, just like real sports. Yes, really. The soccer car game. 

Normally we write comprehensive “getting started” posts that will help newbs get up to speed immediately while giving experts some tips and tricks they can use as well. However, the skill range of Rocket League players is just massive. The difference between a first time player and a Grand Champ is hard to fully comprehend. And that’s what makes the game so great.

So here we’ll list out the top things to focus on, in order of importance, to get started in Rocket League. But a lot of these things may just link out to other sources. And that’s because a single comprehensive training guide for Rocket League cannot exist. Everyone’s journey will be different. 

PREREQUISITE: HAVE FUN

So there are a ton of Rocket League guides out there right now. 99% of them are geared towards mechanics and skills and how to sweat it out and grind and get better fast. We have a lot of that too, but more geared towards casual players who want to have a good time. See, above all else, we recommend you go into Rocket League with one goal in mind: to have a good time. In true dad fashion, we know it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, we just want everyone to try their best and have fun.

Rocket League lends itself well to sweaty players who want to prove to everyone they are better than them, talking trash along the way. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We encourage you to go into it expecting to have fun and doing just that. So while you can work your way up the ranks and do all of the right things, try not to take it too seriously, and absolutely don’t be a toxic player. Tell the other team, “good shot,” when they make a good shot. Never use “what a save!” sarcastically. And say “gg” at the end of each match, win or lose. This is what being a dad and Rocket League are all about.

So work on your skills if you wanna, but above all else: have fun and treat teammates and opponents kindly. *Dad steps off his soapbox* 

Now, for how to play. 

Camera Settings
Before you even get in to try your first training module or play your first practice game, change your camera settings. The defaults are just so bad. They’re very zoomed in on the car and tough to see the full field. Making this change will make your experience so much better and your leveling up so much faster. You’re welcome to jump right in the game and play with the defaults, find what you like, and change later, but I’d recommend changing them to the below settings right out of the gate…

Play the Bots
The most accessible way to get started is by playing the always-polite bots. In local matches, you can play against varying skill levels of bots. Play some games against the easiest bots, then when you find yourself winning most, increase the difficulty. The max difficulty for bots is not anywhere near the max skill level of real people, so you can use this to get your skills up before jumping into online play.

This tip is listed early because you can jump in and play against bots right away for fun. All the while working on the below skills and returning, again and again, to practice what you learn.

Training Training Training
As I’ve gotten better at Rocket League, I’ve realized the importance of training. It’s laughable, but I’ve even told my wife, “Sorry, I can’t hang out tonight, I have to TRAIN.” This particular move is NOT recommended, but for real, training is important.

You should spend a certain amount of time each RL gaming session in training before you jump into a match. There are a few methods of this.

When you start the game up for the first time, it’ll walk you through the basic controls. This is important for getting started, so take it seriously. From there, there are built in training modules for things like shooting, defending, etc. Try those on beginner. There are also custom modules that are really great for honing particular skills. You can browse them within the RL interface, or Coach JSU gives some really great training package codes in his videos.

Lastly, FREE PLAY is an invaluable resource. It’s just you and the ball. Seems basic, but you can do all kinds of things. Practice dribbling, knock the ball in the wall and then try to nail a shot, or even use your infinite boost to learn to fly.

Kickoffs
This skill is so early mostly because I want to get the word out that LEFT GOES FIRST. Kinda kidding but not really. You’ll notice that you are positioned randomly for kickoffs. Some spots are closer to the ball than others. Whoever is closest should go for it and the other people can defend or boost up. The far left and right diagonal spots are always closer than the back positions. So whoever is there, goes. And if there is one on the left, and one on the right, the one on the LEFT goes! When in doubt, use quick chat to let your team know “I got it!”

The easiest way to get to the ball fast is full gas and full boost all the way through. Then double jump (flip/dodge) into it at the last second. More advanced technique allows for flipping on the way to the ball to get there quicker and preserve boost.

Speed (Boost and Lips)
Rocket League is a game of accuracy and positioning, but above all it is about SPEED. Getting to the ball or in position quickly is vital, and boost is the easiest way to make this happen. But don’t use it all up and have nothing left. You’ve gotta preserve boost.

When you hit supersonic speed, you’ll notice a trail behind your wheels. This is essentially MAX SPEED. So when that happens, you don’t need to use boost anymore. Preserve it.

The quickest way to accelerate is actually not boosting, but flipping. So if you need to get back on defense and go the whole length of the stadium, try to boost a little to get started, and then do two rapid front flips to hit supersonic speed as fast as possible. If you get used to flipping forward to gain speed quickly, you’ll preserve boost and get where you need to go fast.

Flipping into the ball at the last second has the same speed effect, but this time on the ball. Flipping into the ball is the best way to blast a harder shot.

Positioning (Rotations)
Positioning is nearly as important as play mechanics. Even if you have amazing skills in everything else, if you spend the whole time chasing the ball around the field, you’re not going to have a good time, bro, and your team will lose and hate you.

An entire book could be written about positioning and rotations. But the thing to know is that a good and efficient 3s team will always be “rotating” or taking turns being in particular positions. If you’ve spent time on offense trying to pass or take shots, when you run out of boost or possession changes, it is most likely time to get back on defense so whoever was back can move up. It’s not about fairness; it’s about a smooth movement of players around the field to set up pass/shot opportunities and all the while make sure the goal is covered.

With good rotations and positioning, your team won’t need someone planted in the goal, not moving. There will be smooth movement and someone who is ready to be goalie when needed, but also able to take advantage of missteps by the other team.

Shot accuracy and Big Booms
Take some shots when you have an opening! The key to getting better at shot accuracy is to take a lot of shots. In training, sure, and also in games. Keep at it and you’ll gradually get better. Focus on lining up the shot as well as you can as you approach. Those are higher percentage shots.

The other key part of getting good shots is hitting shots with power. A slow moving ball is an easy one to save. But if you hit the ball solid, with speed, and you flip into it right at impact, you’ll launch it at a speed that is much tougher to defend.

Dribbling and Flicks
Just like in soccer or basketball, dribbling is maintaining possession of the ball and moving down the field to where you want to take it. Free play is an amazing place to practice this. Most recommend turning ball cam off when dribbling. Just drive around, slowly tapping the ball on the front of your car and get used to this. Then, when you’re in a game, don’t just blast a wild shot from way downtown, put your dribbling skills to use. This is especially important in 2s or 1s games, with less people to come take the ball away.

Once you have your dribbling capabilities down, you’ll find that sometimes, if you creep up on the ball quickly from the side, the ball will slide onto the top of your car. If you have the ball on top of your car and you single jump or flip forward, it’ll POP into the air straight ahead. Congratulations, that’s your first flick. This type of shot is great for catching opponents off guard who may be coming to challenge your dribble, but also great for popping the ball over a goalie who has to fly high to try to get it.

Aerials
For new players, aerials are easily the most intimidating skill. Don’t let it be. Work on the other stuff first.

The thing about aerials that I found is that it starts with something far simpler: boost+jump.  Early on hitting jump and boost at the same time felt so strange, but for us dads with adult-sized thumbs you get accustomed to it. So start by getting used to hitting boost and jump at the same time when trying to reach those slightly higher shots.

Once you have that down, you’ll find you can press and HOLD boost and jump at the same time. The holding of the boost button will simply allow your jump to continue. If your car is aimed upward, you are flying. Again, just practicing this, and doing it in game when trying to reach balls, will get you used to the mechanics very naturally.

To get higher even faster, you can press that jump button twice. As long as you aren’t pressing any direction on your joystick, your car will push a bit higher on that second press (rather than flipping). Try that to get higher faster.

Just by getting in the habit of this boost+jump button pressing, it’ll naturally lead to more advanced mechanics on aerials when you’re ready.

And Beyond…
Again, this article attempts to give you some skills and things to think about as you start your Rocket League career. But mannnnnnn, people in those champ, grand champ, and SUPERSONIC LEGEND ranks are just unreal. They all have their own styles and mechanics. So if you’re at the level where you are ready to progress, seek out some more advanced material. There’s a ton on YouTube and other places. And join up with a group like The Dad Gaming – Rocket League. There are a ton of extremely elite players there, who are always happy to help folks of all skill levels!

For more of a hands-on look, check out some clips on The Dad Gaming Youtube page:

Above all else, have fun with it! Rocket League is my favorite video game of all time. I love it so much, and I can’t wait to stock up on some Pop & Pours on tournament night to play with all the great Dad Gaming League friends –  It’s gonna be a blast!

(This article was written by the head of The Dad Gaming, Joel Willis. Though he will readily admit he’s not very good at this game, he is getting better all the time. And everything he knows about the game was taught to him by Rocket League Grand Champ and Coach JSU, who also advised on this article and created the instructional videos referenced.)

This post was sponsored by:
Planters

Never Neglect The Sides: Sides That Will Revamp Your BBQ Gameplan

Summer’s here and the grill is hot. But even the staunchest of grillmasters will tell you: a BBQ may be carried by meats and main dishes, but it’s nothing without good side game. And while mashed potatoes are amazing, a bowl of starchy carbs isn’t always ideal for a hot day in the backyard.

Side salads, once the most boring of pot-luck options, deserve a fresh new look to complete your cookout spread.  We’ve teamed up with Simple Truth® to put together some side dishes that avoid the post-meal slog with pure, simple ingredients and vibrant flavors. These dishes are all super easy, super affordable, and most importantly: they’re delicious.

Tomato and Watermelon Salad

Nothing says summer like watermelon; they taste like vacation. Gourmet Chef Brooke Williamson helped us elevate our favorite fruit by tossing with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. The result is a refined salad that will have the whole family smiling like it’s the first day of a three day weekend. Check out Brooke’s 1-minute method here.

Total time: 30 MIN Serves: 10

Ingredients:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk oil and vinegar. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, watermelon, red onion, mozzarella and basil. 
  3. Add the vinaigrette and combine it well. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, refrigerating any leftovers. 

Fajita Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is a staple of the picnic table, but if you’re just drenching penne noodles in that white creamy stuff, people will pass it over. Spice it up with some Tex-Mex inspired spins for a more exciting option. This recipe is great because it’s flexible. Swap the chicken for more beans or throw some bell peppers in there. It’s all delicious!  

Prep time: 20 MIN Cook time: 30 MIN Total time: 50 MIN + 1 HOUR MARINATING TIME Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  1. Season chicken with salt and Seasoning Rub on all sides. Place inside a large, zip-top bag. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound chicken to about 1⁄4 inch thickness.
  2. Squeeze juice of 1⁄2 lime into the bag. Add oil. Seal and massage liquid into the meat. Marinate in refrigerator at least 1 hour, or up to overnight.
  3. Heat grill to medium-high. Discard marinade and grill chicken approximately 6 minutes per side, ensuring a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Chop chicken into bite-size pieces. Set aside; keep warm.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and immediately add frozen corn to hot pasta. Transfer back to pasta pot. Add beans, tomatoes, and onions. Stir to combine.
  5. To make the dressing, blend yogurt, 1⁄2 avocado, cilantro, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, cumin, and juice of remaining 1⁄2 lime in a blender until completely smooth.

Gently heat pasta mixture on stove until warm. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl. Add chicken. Toss with dressing. Top with remaining 1⁄2 avocado. Serve, refrigerating any leftovers.

Crispy Chickpea and Orzo Salad

Speaking of pasta salad, Chef Brooke showed us a more gourmet upgrade that uses orzo for a fluffier, richer take. Add some crunch with roasted garbanzo beans and a creamy Goddess dressing, and you’ve got a pasta salad that won’t take up all of your leftover containers. Pro tip: To avoid clumping, wash, drain well, and toss with oil before cooking. Check out Chef’s recipe here.

Prep time: 10 MIN Cook time: 45 MIN Total time: 55 MIN Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Place garbanzo beans on a clean dish towel and gently pat dry. In a small bowl, combine beans, oil, salt, paprika, and garlic powder; toss to coat.
  3. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour garbanzo bean mixture in even layer. Roast 40–45 minutes, gently turning every 15 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.
  4. Add orzo to a large serving bowl. Top with tomatoes, cucumber and beans. Serve with dressing, refrigerating any leftovers. 

Keto Ice Cream Sundaes

Okay, with three salads on the books, you deserve a treat. Sanding by the grill on a hot summer days demands ice cream. So for our final side item, we’re giving the greatest BBQ the curtain call it deserves with a keto-friendly dessert that harnesses the power of the greatest flavor combination known on this earth: chocolate and peanut butter.  


Prep time: 5 MIN Cook time: 8 MIN Total time: 13 MIN Serves: 2

  1. Set sauté pan over medium-low heat. Toast nuts, stirring occasionally, 5–8 minutes until browned and fragrant.
  2. Stir peanut butter powder and water to create drizzle.
  3. Divide ice cream evenly between two bowls. Drizzle with peanut butter and sprinkle with nuts. Enjoy, freezing any leftovers.

Simple Truth®  provides all-natural ingredients for fresh meals suitable for any diet. With clean snacking staples to meatless alternatives to your favorite Summer staples, the simple truth: is eating well doesn’t have to mean boring eating. So spruce up your BBQ with a selection of affordable and inspiring ingredients from Simple Truth®.

This post was sponsored by:
Kroger’s® Simple Truth®

What Makes The Perfect BBQ?

The Parents of Scary Mommy, The Dad and Fatherly Weigh In

 

A family BBQ is instantly recognizable, but no two are quite the same. Everyone has their own hard-earned and iron-clad opinions about everything from marinades to grill architecture. It’s the little details, the flourishes of technique, and the secret recipes that make each family’s BBQ both traditional and unique. We cornered the editorial staff of Scary Mommy, Fatherly, and The Dad to find out what makes their family BBQ the perfect BBQ.

Joel, Editor-In-Chief of The Dad

This is a pretty major dad-confession, but I’d rather cook on a cast iron than a grill or BBQ. Please don’t publish that!”  (Sorry Joel)

“But even when I do man the grill, the cast iron’s still great for veggies. I’ll cook asparagus in bacon grease with it directly on the grill. Also, this is 100% fact: ever since we did that Kroger story last year, I swear by their BBQ rubs for steak and chicken. I even use the Memphis Rub on salmon to give it a little sweet tang. So good.”

Brooke, Top Chef Winner & Scary Mommy Contributor

“For me, the perfect BBQ includes a very balanced plate of food. But not like four separate meals on one plate – I want a sweet and a sour, a rich, and an acidic. I like to hit all the notes. If it’s a rich marbled piece of meat, then I like to have a bright, acidic slaw.”

You can see Chef Brooke’s favorite BBQ staples here, and some fresh take on sides here.

Rob, writer for The Dad

“The defining factor is the type of meat you’re going for. It’s important to know your cuts – If it’s tenderness you seek, choose a cut from low-activity muscles like the loin – tenderloin, sirloin, T-bone – or ribs. Leaner, tougher cuts are great for flavor and texture – flank steak is perfect for fajitas. And for slow cooking and braising, look for tough, heavily exercised regions – the shoulder, leg, and rump – or places where there is a lot of connective tissue, like the shank, or oxtail.”

Rachel, writer for Scary Mommy

“We celebrate my brother’s birthday every year as a kick-off to the summer season. We make these amazing ribs by turning the normal charcoal grill into a DIY smoker. You lay the charcoal bricks with pre-soaked woodchips on one half of the grill, and a tin pan half-filled with a really good apple juice on the other. Light the grill under the wood chips, and cook the meat on the opposite end of the grill so you’re smoke circulates.”

Jared, writer for The Dad 

“For me, it’s about the sauce. I grew up in Florida, so BBQ was super sweet and syrupy when I was a kid. That rib-sticking stuff is still amazing, but I wrote a piece last year about the history and background for all the regional styles of BBQ, and it changed my whole game. I’m an honorary Carolina guy now – it’s all about that sharp vinegar base. I swiped all the Private Selection® Carolina rubs and sauces from The Dad studio, and now those are the only thing I use to grill chicken wings.”

Dave, Creative Director for The Dad / Scary Mommy

I love a classic steak as much as the next guy, but I’ve been really into trying different marinades lately. It’s fun to change up the flavor profile rather than cooking the same thing every weekend. I really love Chinese BBQ, so I’ll marinate a pork shoulder with char-sui cooking sauce. Also, chicken can go a lot further than you think when you spice it up with something like a Peruvian Aji Amarillo Marinade.”

Joanna, writer for Scary Mommy

“I love a turkey burger, but turkey is can be tricky to get right on the grill. Since it’s less fatty than beef, I’ll keep mine moist and juicy by placing an ice cube on the patty while it cooks. While it melts, the moisture gets absorbed by the meat! Or, if you want to be a little decadent, you could do the same thing with a tab of butter that you let sit in the freezer for a few minutes.”

Matt, writer & host for The Dad

Pizza stone on the grill, or even just pizza straight on the dang grill! I’ve been saying it for years! Simple Truth® has a gluten-free pizza crust mix that’s organic and non-GMO and all that good stuff. Or to turn boring ole’ weeknight frozen pizza into a *chef’s kiss* meal, there are a bunch of primo Private Selection™ pies that take just a couple minutes on the grill. Grilled mushrooms & truffle oil over a thin crust? Can’t beat it. It might not “BBQ” per se, but it’s cooking outside, and that’s what counts.”

Whether you’re throwing pizzas on the grill for a quick dinner or digging an honest BBQ pit to slow smoke something unforgettable, the heart of “the perfect BBQ” is really the joy it brings you and your family.

Kroger’s® Private Selection®  is a collection of select ingredients that elevate any dish into an experience to savor. Kroger’s® Simple Truth® provides all-natural ingredients for fresh creations suitable for any diet. We gave a lot of love for these brands in this article, and while it is sponsored content, we are honest fans.

This post was sponsored by:
Kroger’s® Private Selection®

Finding Balance with Chef Brooke Williamson

How A Celebrity Chef & Mom finds room for everything.

 

This summer, Chef Brooke Williamson showed us some of her favorite dishes for the perfect BBQ. The Top-Chef winner, business owner, and mom knows the importance of sharing a meal that is suitable for all tastes while using elevated ingredients for a sensational experience. That’s why she works with Kroger’s® Private Selection® and Simple Truth® ingredients to create a Perfect BBQ. We sat down with Brooke between takes to discuss the perfect BBQ, a fear of heights, and how she got her kid to try something other than chicken fingers.

For you, what is the perfect plate of BBQ?
Williamson: Variety. Definitely. I like a very balanced plate of food, and that doesn’t mean four separate meals on one plate, but I do want a sweet and a sour, a rich and an acidic. I like to hit all the notes. But to me, just a hot dog with all the fixings – ketchup and mustard and relish and onions…that can totally be a balanced plate of BBQ on its own. 

Is there a cooking style or cuisine that you are partial to or originally inspired you, and why? 

Williamson: I would say that being born and raised in Los Angeles, produce inspires me more than anything. I would say that California cuisine is what it is because produce is so prevalent and sort of the king of ingredients here. (Editor’s Note: check out Brooke’s take on veggie-forward BBQ sides

What talent would you most like to have that you don’t currently possess? 

Williamson: I would love to be able to play an instrument. My son plays the piano and I’m so jealous of his abilities. He inspires me. Or Flying. (laughter) Flying an airplane, because I’m so massively afraid of heights that I feel like maybe that would help me get over it. So, yeah. Piano and airplanes.

So many foods, particularly vegetables, had a bad rap but are seeing such a resurgence. Suddenly people are like “oh brussel sprouts are good!”

Williamson: My son’s favorite vegetable.

If you told me that in 1989, I would have said that’s insane. Do you think it’s because like…our parents’ generation just… didn’t know how to cook? 

Williamson:  My mom was a great cook, but I also think that she followed basic recipes. That is kind of what you did in the eighties. Now perhaps, people feel a bit more liberty to impart their own thoughts and ideas into their food. (Editor’s Note: Check Out Brooke’s spin on BBQ classics) I think that the realization that produce is sometimes better when left alone came to fruition, so now their’s some more personal liberty to practice some personal likes and dislikes. 

Are there any lessons you’ve learned cooking for a family that carries over into your professional kitchens? Or Vice Versa? 

Williamson: My home life and my, my business life doesn’t have a line of separation, you know? So the way that my brain works in the kitchen is the way my brain works in the kitchen. I think a lot of my structure, technique, and follow-through in the home kitchen is very similar at work. 

So, like, you have a little ticket rack for tracking orders in your home kitchen?

WIlliamson: No! Ha, but I try to cook with variety so if there’s part of a meal that doesn’t particularly appeal to someone, there are other options there. And I think that has been the best way to get my son to be open-minded about food – to provide options for him to decide for himself. You know multiple choices that aren’t chicken tenders. And it’s also sort of my responsibility to guide my customers to new dishes, without them feeling like I’m trying to educate them. 

Are there any awesome healthy alternatives to kid-favorite dishes you are partial to?

Williamson: We try to eat healthy at home because we eat out a lot. So we try to balance dining out and junk food by making a rule of not having a lot of junk in the house. But you can’t keep a kid from eating chocolate chip cookies all the time. There are concessions you make, and you find the balance somewhere else. I made this one that’s a total 180 of a classic kid food, which is chocolate pudding. I used Simple Truth Organic™ Hass Avocado. That’s an incredibly specific swap out. (Editor’s Note:  She made it for us, and it checks out. Find the recipe here.)

You’re a renowned chef, a business owner, and the youngest woman to cook at the James Beard House…a lot of accolades. But what is the hardest you’ve ever bombed?

Williamson:  I mean, just because I have all those qualifications on my resume doesn’t mean that I’m a master at anything. I fall on my face all the time! And when I fall hard, that’s when I learned the biggest lessons. I don’t have anything specific that stands out because, because I don’t take my failures to heart, you know? Even with what’s going on in the world, with the pandemic and restaurants struggling…my son actually asked me why I became a chef, because it seems so much harder than what his friends’ parents do. It seems like we’re constantly trying to figure out what to do next. And, you know, we don’t have a stable lifestyle or the huge house, or the knowledge of, you know, what next month is going to look like. But I wouldn’t trade my life for anything else in the world, because it’s what makes me happy. And if I hadn’t become a chef, I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have my son. So I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is to just sort of take everything in stride and, and know that there’s always a way to change the outcome. If I were to like fester on one specific instance where I’ve failed miserably, then I feel like I wouldn’t be able to move on.

You just burned your hand on the stove. What’s your go-to curse word? 

Williamson: Oh, “mother flower.” (Editor’s Note: She could have meant “flour”.)

Do you actually say “flower” or are you censoring yourself because we’re a parenting brand?

Williamson: It depends on how painful the burn is!  I had a line cook in like the early 2000s and it was an open kitchen so he would say “mother flower” every time he was mad about something. To this day -and it actually has very little to do with having a kid because he hears me swear all the time – but if I’m just really frustrated, the first thing that comes to my mind is “mother flower.”

As a Mom Chef, what is the best meal you’ve made for your family? 

Williamson: You know what? I’m, I’m actually most happy with myself when something is perfectly seasoned and cooked properly. So like, it doesn’t really matter what I’m cooking. If I brine a pork tenderloin for the perfect number of hours or if a marinade for steak has that perfect balance….Cause I don’t really measure anything. So it’s kind of always a crapshoot. If I execute perfectly, then I’m pretty satisfied. But if I can do something well, that’s what makes me satisfied. 

Chef Brooke showed us some of her favorite BBQ dishes and sides the whole family will love using her favorite ingredients from Private Selection® and Simple Truth®Private Selection® is a collection of select ingredients that elevate any dish into an experience to savor. Simple Truth® provides all-natural ingredients for fresh creations suitable for any diet. You can check out more of our work with Chef Brooke here, and be sure to elevate your summer BBQ’s with Kroger’s® Private Selection® and Simple Truth® .

This post was sponsored by:
Kroger’s® Private Selection®

I Thought Taking My Daughter’s Bitty Baby To The Game Was Embarrassing…Until We Won The Championship

This article is sponsored by Bitty Baby™ from American Girl

“I can explain.” Those are the words you lead with when you’re still making up an explanation in your head. For when something is a little out of whack, and you’re not quite sure how you ended up in that situation. That’s where I found myself, holding a baby doll and with my nails freshly painted pink, at a college basketball watch party full of bros.

I grew up with all brothers, so I didn’t know what to expect when I found out my firstborn was going to be a girl. I wasn’t disappointed, it’s not like I found out while holding a mini baseball glove and tiny football helmet; I just had no idea how to play with a little girl. 

At first, I didn’t have to. Most babies are the same – just little blobs of flesh designed to rob you of any sleep or sanity. When they start to grab things, playing pretty much consists of holding something colorful in front of their face until they flail around with it. Or doing voices and impressions that would otherwise have you committed to an institution. Then when they start moving, playing is just making sure they don’t die.

It’s when they get older and start developing their own interests that you can get a little lost. I tried hard not to force my stuff on her, either. Although I did show her my favorite movie once when she was still an infant. I thought I could develop her into a tiny little sci-fi fan, but she spit-up on my laptop and that was that. At age four though, she got her first “girl” toys; nail polish…and a Bitty Baby.

She’s a spring baby, so we planned her party on a March afternoon. Later that night I planned to enjoy my annual ritual of watching the basketball tournament with my brothers and friends. Play with my daughter during the day, and the night was reserved for beers, basketball, and smack talk. “Guy” stuff.

Watching my daughter play with her Bitty Baby was like watching her level up at being a kid. She’s always been creative, but her imagination ran wild with the doll.  She immediately named her Katie. A little embarrassing, considering it took us twelve weeks and a series of ballots to settle on her name. 

We spent the afternoon on adventures with Katie all over the house, from starting a nail salon to going on a couch-fort safari. It struck me that my daughter didn’t see Katie as just a play-friend, but a character in her world who needed to be cared for and nurtured. It seems obvious now, but it was extraordinary to see my four-year-old interpret and imitate my own parenting with her Bitty Baby. I thought I understood make-believe, but I wasn’t ready for what came next. 

Shortly before I was supposed to go to the basketball party, my daughter asked to paint my nails. I caught a look of glee in my wife’s face, making me suspect it was her idea. I quickly came up with some excuse I don’t remember to get out of it. However, my daughter hit me with the look every dad knows. The one they cannot know about when they get older. The look that would’ve gotten me to do anything. I said yes, knowing the onslaught of ribbing I was going to take from my friends that night.

With my freshly-pastelled nails, I was about to leave for guy-time when my daughter pulled that puppy dog look a second time. She held up her prized possession, her new Bitty Baby, and said with the saddest voice: “Katie loves sports. Will you take her to the game?”

I instantly knew why “Katie” “loved sports.” It’s because of the Saturdays my daughter saw me on the couch, acting like a crazy person as college kids tried to put a ball in a basket. Knowing it was my daughter trying to connect two things she loved, I couldn’t say no.

And that’s how I ended up at the party with a baby doll and painted nails. Yes, there was an endless parade of jokes at my expense. Looking back, I could have left Katie in the car, but at the time it didn’t even occur to me. In some imperceptible way, her devotion to the doll got to me. My daughter asked me to bring her doll to the game, and so I did. But here’s the twist: the team we were rooting for was a gigantic underdog, expected to make a quick exit from the tournament. So the longer the game went and the closer the scoreboard was, the less focus anyone had on my new friend or pretty nails. Then the impossible happened.  The type of impossible that makes March beautiful for sports fans: our team pulled off an enormous upset!

When the final horn sounded, our group erupted into cheers and wild hugs like we were kids. Watching us, you would’ve thought we each won the lottery. As I was leaving, one of my oldest friends grabbed me into a bear hug: “We have two days before the next game. And that doll better be with you when you come back.”

And that’s how the superstition started. My daughter and I would play during the day, and then I’d ask her if I could bring “Katie” to the game party.  We transitioned seamlessly from a child’s imaginative play to a dad’s childish sports superstition. But my team kept winning, my nails kept getting pinker, and I ended up playing with Katie almost as much as my daughter.

In the end, being a #GirlDad worked out just fine.

Bitty Baby™ from American Girl helps dads and daughters discover a world of make-believe together while learning the importance of love and kindness.