Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Blueberry Bake Sale Bars


Blueberries are special to me.  More than any other food, they evoke a Proustian quality of memory.  My childhood was far from perfect, and my recollections of those years are often tinged with sadness and loss.  But where blueberries are concerned, there are, in my mind, only happy associations.  Of course there are the ones you would expect - summer, picnics, ice cream, and pie, but there are more, too - nurturing, hope, freedom, possibility, and even love.


I took my girls picking today.  What blueberry memories will they have?  For me it might be the remembered flavor of a handful of berries the color of comfortable denim, snatched in passing, eaten with one hand while wandering the rows, a tattered paperback in my other hand, the morning mist around the blueberry bushes just beginning to dissipate.  Or the sheen of a berry might remind me of the exact color of my Dad's blue Buick in October, covered with the first frost of the year.  What unbidden images will flavor my daughters' blueberry dreams?


I spent my high school summers working at a U-pick blueberry farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, which meant that I spent most of my time sunbathing, or when it got too hot, sitting in a comfortable rocker in an open-sided shed reading piles of books, eating blueberries, and petting the calico cat.  Occasionally I would weigh buckets, direct visitors to the best rows, and make change.  If I felt ambitious, I picked buckets of blueberries to take home.  We froze them in empty Chock Full O Nuts coffee cans, and then reached into them for berries to adorn winter pancakes, or muffins, or blueberry bars.


For one weekend every summer, the farm became very busy.  During the annual Blueberry Festival, which was a fundraiser to benefit the Susquehanna County Library and Historical Society, people came to pick berries for the bake sale.  My family always baked something like these blueberry bars.  The crust is not too rich - more like a scone than a cookie or pastry.  We cut them into big slabs (to evoke that "little hands" feeling), put them on a napkin, and charged a dollar.  People went crazy for them.  I've altered and improved on the recipe since then.


Big Blueberry Bake-Sale Bars

4 C flour, divided
1/2 C + 3 T sugar
5 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 C cold butter, cut into pieces
1 C cream or half-and-half or milk
2 beaten eggs
4 C blueberries
4 t cornstarch
1 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 C melted butter

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter an 11 X 15" sheet pan.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine 3 C of the flour, the 3 T of sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the lemon zest.  Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut in the 1/2 C cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center; set aside.

3.  Combine the cream and the eggs with a whisk.  Add all at once to the flour mixture.  Using a fork, stir until just moistened.  Spread the dough onto the 11 X 15" pan.  Hands are best for this.  Work the dough into all four corners of the pan.

4.  Mix the blueberries, 1/2 C sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice.  Spread this mixture over the crust.

5.  For the streusel topping -   Combine the melted butter, 1 C flour, confectioner's sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and mix with your fingers until moist and crumbly.  Crumble over the top of the blueberries and press in gently.

6.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes, until the top is slightly golden brown.  Let cool completely, cut into hand-sized squares.  Enjoy!

 
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Hand-rolled and hand-cut pasta

I was inspired to try making homemade pasta by this post at SouleMama.  I've made pasta before, always by machine, and I just hate washing all that gadgety stuff at the end.  It makes it seem so not worth it.  So when I read that Amanda hand rolls and hand cuts her pasta, and that she actually likes doing it, I thought I'd have to try.  I got The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution from the library, and followed Alice Waters' recipe.  I used the KitchenAid mixer to mix the dough.  When I took it out to hand knead it, it seemed kind of dry.  The eggs we use are from a local farm and run small, so I crumbled the dough back into the KitchenAid and added another small egg.  That seemed to do the trick.  I hand kneaded it a little and then let it rest.  That resting business always seems kind of unimportant to me, and used to sometimes skip instructions like that, until experience taught me that gluten strands, whether in bread or pasta, sometimes need time to relax and de-stress, just like us.  I can tell you that after an hour resting on the counter the dough was very easy to work with.


Here it is, folded in thirds for cutting.  I purposely cut fairly thick strips because I thought they would look cool and rustic.


I was really paranoid about the noodles sticking together when I cooked them, so I spread them out in layers on clean tea towels.  Then I dropped then quickly into the water one at a time while my husband stirred gently.  They were a little thick, so they took 5 minutes to cook.  Next time I will be patient and roll them out a bit thinner, but I was hungry and impatient - a common problem for me!


They were delicious!  Here's my hubby's dish of pasta, served with caramelized fennel, grated parmesan, arugula with roasted walnuts, and a little steamed artichoke.  I am not a huge fennel fan, but we got some from our CSA, and this is a fennel recipe I actually enjoy.  It is the Pasta with Golden Fennel from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets.  The arugula and artichokes came in our CSA box this week, too.    

Felted Sweater Mice

I am back, maybe to stay for a while?  Or maybe not.  It seems that the demands of summertime mothering are not so conducive to blogging, but I really miss having that reflective time, and some space in which to celebrate the small successes of my days.  So we'll see how it goes, I guess.

For now, I want to show you my little felted mice.


They're made from felted sweaters from the thrift store.  These are the first three, though I have plans to make six - one for each of my children, and one for each of their four cousins.  The two on the left have eyes made of beads, and the one on the right has stitched eyes because that cousin is a chewer.


 They have felt hearts stitched on their tummies!


The pink tail is a strip cut from a sweater that I maybe overfelted a little.  It worked great.  I really wanted yellow for the other tails, and I didn't have any yellow felted sweaters, so I knitted a couple of I-cords.  I learned how from a tutorial on YouTube.  That was fun and satisfying!  I-cords is short for "idiot cords" because they are so simple once you see how to do it.  I will be looking for excuses to knit I-cords now.


Here's one of mine with the card she made for her cuz.

The pattern for these is Betz White's, and can be found here.
  

Monday, May 3, 2010

This weeks fare




We didn't get to everything last week. The pea soup and beans and rice lasted longer than I anticipated. The soup was great and very possibly the best pot of it I have ever made, everyone loved it but still, when I served it for "brunch" on Saturday, there were groans.

  • Sunday: Shrimp, broccoli and carrot stir-fry, rice, banana bread
  • Monday: Mexican beans, Mexican rice, corn tortillas, coleslaw
  • Tuesday: Gumbo, sauteed greens, fresh bread
  • Wednesday: Taco salads, potato dumplings
  • Thursday: Hot and Sour soup, sushi, sauteed broccoli
  • Friday: Foccacia, salad with tuna and potatoes, sorbet
  • Saturday: Pork souvlaki, barley bread, hummus, beet salad, pumpkin pie
On another note, I figured out how to grocery shop without a plan. Once again, many people probably already know this. I have a well stocked pantry--beans, flours, grains, canned goods and dried fruits. My freezer is well stocked, as well, with meats and fruits. It is the perishables that get me when I don't have a plan. What I used to do was over shop. I would put any produce item I could ever possibly want in my cart, that way, my options were endless. That resulted in a lot of waste. For most of the month of April, I just couldn't wrap my mind around a weekly menu, but this time I used another tactic. I, mostly, stuck with the basics that don't go bad in a few days, or even weeks (carrots, beets, celery, chard and kale, potatoes, apples and oranges,) with a few exceptions that were in season or I knew we would eat in the first few days (rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower.) I get yogurt and a hard cheese or some feta--something that isn't delicate, and I called it good! It was a nice change of pace without a lot of waste or feeling like there was a lot of food to be dealt with before it went bad.

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday at I am an Organizing Junkie.

I made an important discovery!!!

It could be that I have rediscovered the wheel a bit but, here it is: If you want dinner on the table at 5:30, you must start preparing dinner BEFORE 5:30. For the past two weeks, I have been starting dinner WAY earlier than (seemingly) necessary, and holy beans in a pot, dinner has been on the table between 5 and 5:30!!! The kitchen has been cleaned and the food put away and I can actually enjoy the family for the rest of the evening instead of spending it rushing them through their bedtime routines. THEN...oh, yes, there's more...I can spend the time after they go to bed RELAXING instead of cleaning up the kitchen. It has only taken me 10 years, but I have finally gotten this timing thing down!

On another note, I found a Jacques Pepin dvd at our local library and he pretty much rocks! It is titled "Fast Food My Way" and even though most of his dishes don't work for our family, it just got me thinking about meal making in a different way.



I have made this Tibetan bread a few times with spelt flour and it was lovely.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'm back!!!




After a busy several of weeks, I am back! I have so many blog posts that I composed in my head while scurrying around, and they will come, but for now it is merely a "Menu Plan Monday" post, you know, just to ease back into things. So, here it is....

  • Sunday--Red lentil soup, barley flat bread, roasted asparagus, beet salad
  • Monday--Chili, polenta, roasted cauliflower
  • Tuesday--Red beans and rice, coleslaw
  • Wednesday--Split pea soup, potato dumplings, salad with roasted squash, fresh bread
  • Thursday--Gumbo, squash-corn muffins, sauteed greens
  • Friday--Pizza and leftovers
  • Saturday--Pasta with mushrooms and leftover greens
There have been complaints of not enough dessert. Although, those complaints come from the family sweet tooth so I am not sure how seriously to take them. We usually have a dessert on Friday night along with our movie night. Miss Tooth, says *all* of her friends have dessert *everyday* so wouldn't I PLEASE consider just one more day for dessert. How often do real people have dessert?

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wet Burritos



OK, I said something in my last post about cooking traditional Mexican food this week.  Check back tomorrow if that's what you want, because tomorrow we're making tamales.  Today, we're having wet burritos.  Wet burritos are traditional - in Colorado, where my husband has relatives.  This is the one entree that his mom made that I had to learn.  I'd like to think I've improved upon it, too.  The sauce is not spicy at all, almost bland.  I like spicy food, but I don't spice these, because the simplicity of this is part of the appeal.

The Sauce:  
Sauteed 1 lb ground beef or ground turkey until browned.  Add about 3 cups of tomato juice, and
about 2 cups of refried beans, or one 14 oz can, and stir and cook until blended and the consistency you want.  If it gets too thick, you can thin with broth, more tomato juice, or water.  Salt to taste.   (This is really good with homemade refried beans.  It doesn't call for much, though, and it's not worth making the beans just for this dish, so I always make extra beans to use with future meals - see my post on planned leftovers.)

Other ingredients:

flour tortillas (I use whole wheat for these)
optional fillings -In my family we use cheese (I don't, but the others do), caramelized onions (a by-product of my refried bean recipe), avocado chunks, sour cream, and salsa.  Some people like lettuce, tomato, and raw onion.  You get the idea.

Assembling the burritos:

Warm the tortillas on a skillet until soft and pliable.  If you're using cheese, you can warm it on the tortilla to melt it.  Put the tortilla on a plate, and put a little puddle of the sauce in a strip down the center.  You'll have to experiment to see how much you like.  Add any other fillings you like.  Roll the burrito up, and add another puddle of the sauce on top.  Add any other stuff you want on top.  Eat with a knife and a fork.  Enjoy!   


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Planned Leftovers

I love good, homemade traditional Latin American cooking, including Mexican food. If it's prepared properly, it's nourishing, and it tastes fantastic, like someone slaved over it all day. That's because someone did. Traditional cuisine can be a boatload of work. It's a load of work when I cook this way, and I have the benefit of a food processor, which most Latin American cooks don't use. I have lived and traveled in Latin America quite a bit, and I have noticed that in Latin America, someone, usually Mama or Abuela or Tia, is in the kitchen all day.

One way I have learned to handle the workload, when I decide to prepare these more labor-intensive meals, is that instead of one day of Mexican dinner, and then back-to-our-regularly-scheduled-program, I plan several Mexican meals in a row, and strategically plan for leftovers. That's how I'm starting this week. We'll see how it goes.

This week's Menu Plan:

Monday:  Wet burritos (I had never had these until I got married and got the recipe from my MIL.  It's a burrito with sauce on top that is eaten with a knife and fork.)   Today I am doing the bulk of the food prep for the next three days - refried beans for today's burritoes and as a side for the tamales, poached chicken for the tamales, and as a by-product of the poaching, chicken stock which will be used in the masa for the tamales.  Oh, and also homemade salsa, which will be used for today and the next three meals.

Tuesday:  Tamales, refried beans, Mexican rice

Wednesday:  It's ballet night, so no cooking - leftover tamales, refried beans, and Mexican rice

Thursday:  Albondigas (Mexican meatball soup), tortilla chips, and salsa.  And that will be the end of our Mexican extravaganza for the week.

Friday:  Dandelion green fritters, Greek-ish salad with feta and carrots, yogurt dressing

Saturday:  Soft polenta with pesto shrimp (pesto frozen from last summer)

Sunday:  Creamy polenta and spinach soup, white bean bruschetta, and stuffed mushrooms.  Cake with strawberries and yogurt for dessert.

We'll see how it goes!  I'm going to try to post about a few of these meals this week, as long as life cooperates!

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.
 


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Friday, April 2, 2010

West African Peanut Soup and Banana Fritters


 This meatless, gluten-free dinner is fast, frugal as all get out, and good for you to boot.  The best part about it is that it tastes fantastic.

The Soup:  West African Peanut Soup may be the recipe I have been making longer than any other.  I found it in my early twenties in the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant, and I have never looked back.  There is another similar recipe in the same chapter called Groundnut Stew - almost the same ingredients, but chunkier, not pureed.  Kids almost universally love this.  I leave the cayenne called for in the original recipe out, and put a bottle of Tabasco on the table for those who are inclined to spice.  The chives or scallions are also added at the table.

2 cups chopped onions
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger root
1 cup chopped carrots
2 cups chopped sweet potatoes
4 cups veggie stock, chicken stock, or water
2 cups tomato juice
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
salt to taste (how much depends on if your tomato juice was salted - I'd start with a 1/2 teaspoon)
1 cup chopped scallions or chives

1.  Saute onions until just translucent.  Stir in fresh ginger.  Add the carrots and saute a couple more minutes.  Mix in the potatoes and stock or water, bring the soup to a boil, and then simmer for about 15 minutes, until the veggies are tender.

2.  In a food processor (or, even better, with an immersion blender - man, I want one of those!), puree the vegetables with the cooking liquid.  Return the puree to a soup pot.  Stir in the tomato juice and peanut butter until smooth.  Reheat gently, stirring often.  Add more water, stock, or tomato juice if a thinner soup is desired.  Taste the soup.  Its sweetness will depend on the sweetness of the carrots and sweet potatoes.  If it's not there naturally add the sugar.  Salt to taste - make sure to add enough.  Serve with tabasco sauce and plenty of chopped scallions or chives on the table.

The Fritters:  I'm on a bit of a fritter kick.  It has something to do with this sack of whole grain cornmeal that's been in the freezer for a while - I've almost used it up!  As I've mentioned, I'm trying to use up the contents of the freezer so that I can defrost it and fill it up again this summer.  Cornmeal mixed with stuff and fried - that's a fritter.  The salmon patties I've been making with canned salmon are basically a fritter.  I was planning to make weed fritters this week.  Sounds weird, huh?  Our local food coop gets fresh spring nettles at this time of year that a local person picks, de-thorns, and brings in.  They are supposed to be very healthy and tasty.  I tried to buy some yesterday, but we've been having such stormy weather that it seems the picker hasn't wanted to pick them lately.  You can also make fritters out of dandelion greens, but they didn't have any of those either, and the little yellow-flowered weeds that fill my yard are some other yellow composite, not dandelions.  A dandelion impersonator, I suppose.

With the soup, I decided to make African banana fritters.  I found the recipe on RecipeZaar, my favorite online source for recipes.  These are simple as can be (5 ingredients), and delicious.  I rolled them in cinnamon sugar.  Both my kids, neither of whom likes bananas, loved these.

On bananas:  we don't eat a lot of bananas, because, as I said, my kids don't like them, and we do strive to make foods that must be air-freighted from across the globe an occasional treat.  At this time of year, however, there aren't a lot of fruit choices.  The quality of California citrus and kiwis is declining, so I stop buying them.  California strawberries are becoming available, but they're mostly not very good and I always try (and usually fail) to hold out until we get the first really good ones from our CSA in June.  My husband starts complaining that there is not any fruit to pack for his lunch.  When I ignore him, he eventually goes out and buys his own dang bananas.  So there you have it.  I am a banana nazi, but I try not to get "all hard-core psycho" about it (I saw the phrase "all hard-core psycho" on the blog Chile Chews, and it has become part of my internal dialogue ever since.).  What do you get "all hard-core psycho" about?

This post is linked to Pennywise Platter Thursday at The Nourishing Gourmet.


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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kicking it into LOOOOOW gear.

I have times where I can really kick it into high gear and get an massive amount of stuff done in an amazing amount of time on surprisingly little sleep. It hasn't been that kind of a month. I won't go into the details of all the ailments and hitches-in-get-alongs, but it has been a weird month. We did manage to eat food. Fortunately and unfortunately, my kids food allergies don't allow many easy pre-packaged things or take-out, but I did buy bread and a box load of "bunny" cereal to get us through.

We managed a 7-year-old birthday party in there somehow, too. Now I have been known to get a bit...um...excited about birthday parties in the past. I love them. I love themes. The more I do, the more inspired I get and the more ideas I try to implement. I enjoy it, really I do, but by the end I am really tired. So, with that in mind and all the other things going on, we decided to keep it simple. The middle one turned 7 and wanted a jungle party. Our family made the decorations together. We used a total of 9 brown paper bags, 5 pieces of green tag board for these vines and leaves and 7 sheets of tissue paper for these leaf garlands and in an hour, the place looked great. We put up a 4x6 sheet of paper on the wall with the beginnings of a jungle background and cut out jungle animals for the kids to color and add to make a mural.



Then they went outside to blow bubbles and play freeze tag before coming in for lion sandwiches and cake. The other fun thing about this party was the gift that the big one and I made for her. We made her and her doll matching skirts out of 3 old T-shirts. We were all pleased with the results!

I am probably too late for the Menu Plan Monday but, nevertheless, here is the menu for the week:

  • Sunday: Rick Bayless' Savory Golden Country Ribs, salad, guacamole, mexican rice, beans
  • Monday: Chili, polenta and roasted cauliflower
  • Tuesday: Black bean soup, fried leftover polenta
  • Wednesday: Baked sweet ribs, rice and asian slaw
  • Thursday: Baked potato with toppings (strained goat yogurt, bacon bits, chili, etc...)
  • Friday: Pizza with steak, grilled onions and feta, sauteed chard, carrots and pepper strips
  • Saturday: Tuna melts, potato dumplings, salad
I made these vegan brownies for treats to have on hand. I substituted spelt flour and rice milk and omitted the nuts. They fast and easy to put together but taste more like a rich chocolate cake. I am not hearing any complaints. I, also, found this new cookbook at the library. I thought it seemed really similar to the Home Baking book I mentioned here and then was pleasantly surprised when I saw they were from the same author. I made the Blueberry Bannock recipe from it already and it was fatastic!! It mixes flour, salt, baking powder then adds water and frozen blueberries, puts it in a greased cast iron skillet and bake for 25 mn. The total prep time is under 5mn and it tastes like a cross between biscuits and blueberry muffins. We had it for breakfast with yogurt. Now it is time to tackle some laundry and ease back into normal for a bit before the big one turns 9. She wants an "arts and crafts" party.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When in doubt, put it in a pie crust




After the little one was sick for a week followed by the bigger ones sick for a week followed by the little one and me sick for a week, we have not been eating so well. All I can say is thank goodness for ground beef and potatoes! It is so easy, even a dad can do good things with it! Yesterday, even though I still had no voice, I had energy and man did I cook! We have granola, we have individual apple pies, we have knishes, we have empanadas, we have a huge pot of beans, we have oatmeal raisin freezer scones, and we have chicken and stock. I cooked so much that I quite successfully avoided doing any laundry! Anyway, here is how we will use it this week:


  • Sunday - Empanadas (potato, tomato and beef for the kids, greens and olive for the adults) feta yogurt sauce, salad
  • Monday - bean tacos, mexi-rice, coleslaw
  • Tuesday - mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, steamed broccoli
  • Wednesday - taco salad, beans, corn muffins
  • Thursday - potato gratin with whatever bits of chicken might be left over
  • Friday - steaks, potato dumplings, salad
  • Saturday - pizza and apple pie

So, I found another great book at the library: The Frugal Foodie by Lara Starr. That is where the freezer scone recipe came from. Make the scones and freeze them. In the morning, pop as many as you need into the oven for about 10-15mn and they are ready to eat. Pure genius, I say! Now, one could do this with any scone or even muffin recipe, I guess, but hers is particularly easy and the kids LOVE them. She has a lot of great ideas for meals and saving money and one day, I imagine, I will return it to the library.

Now, about that pie crust. I am totally digging the hand held pie! It is perfect for lunches for the kids. I use spelt flour and Spectrum organic shortening (with a bit of bacon fat for flavor) for the butter and I am hard pressed for anything that doesn't taste good in THAT! We have had ground beef with olives and raisins, samosa potato and pea filling, apple pie filling, goat cheese and cherry jam fillings, chicken gravy with broccoli bits filling, bacon and potato filling and sheep's feta and spinach filling. Seriously, the possibilities are limitless! And now that I have a food processor, the crust is so easy to make. I made several batches of it yesterday. I used two last night and still have one batch chilling in the fridge, ready to go. Since I have a lot of squash to use, I am thinking about pureed squash, caramelized onion and goat cheese filling or steak, onions and feta. Now to be able to eat this much pie crust on a regular basis and still feel good about it, I only use about half of the recommended amount of fat. Most recipes seem to call for about a cup and a half of butter, shortening or lard and I am using 2/3 to 1 cup. I don't notice the loss in flavor or texture. The other thing I do is make a knish crust, which uses olive oil instead of the other fats. It is a bit labor intensive at the start, although, each step can be done in advance and tackled when one has time. I like meals that can either a) go from the freezer to the table in about 30mn or b) have the bulk of the work done well before meal time. Chopping and concentrating on pots or following recipes at 4:45pm generally does not jive well in our house. My next step is to experiment with freezing these individual pies and how long to bake them and at what temperature. Well, I guess it is time to tackle that laundry...

This link is posted to I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day

French Almond and Apricot Pie, with apricots grown and canned by my sister!  I don't know what happened to the crust (which has rum in it and is usually foolproof).  Maybe it's that it really should have been baked in a tart pan.  Oh well.  We're going to go cut into it now - I'll report back...

...Oh my, it is absolutely delicious!  It may be the best pie I've ever had - I'm serious.  Here's how I made it:

I always use the Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Crust recipe, except I use rum.  It started one day when I didn't have any vodka, so I subbed rum and hoped for the best.  The results were so yummy.  The rum added an elusive and delicious flavor to the crust, but not so overtly that anyone could identify it.

I found the pie recipe here.  I didn't use coconut, and added extra ground almonds.  180 C is about 350 F.  I think that might be why the crust slumped - usually pie recipes are cooked at a higher temperature, at least for a while, to set the crust.  I did end up cooking it longer than specified - I think it was closer to 55 minutes.

I entered this pie in the Pi Day Bake-Off sponsored by Serious Eats and ScienceBlogs.  You can see all the pies here.




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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I am obsessed with peasant food

I used to not cook. Then I started just winging it. That didn't ever end well. So, I started following the recipes. Once I learned how to cook, what the rules were and why, then I could break them and still have some measure of success. My ingredients became more and more diverse and complex. If I came across a recipe with only a few ingredients, I passed it over. I really thought the longer the ingredient list, the better the dish. Then came creativity within confines. I loved it. I started cooking vegetarian, then vegan, then raw and living foods. I learned a lot from making very many mistakes but it was fun (although my husband would argue otherwise.) Once we had children, the confines became time, energy and food allergies. And now, with all the new information we have about eating organic, locally, and seasonally, those become my new restrictions. So now I have come full circle. I am obsessed with peasant food: cooking something delicious, nutritious, and with only a few well-chosen ingredients.
It really started with this book and then I found this a couple years ago. I couldn't stop looking at what all these people eat, especially the families with only a few ingredients and usually a large group of people. I saw who was eating what and how much it cost to feed how many people. I decided that I wanted to cook and eat closer to the peasant extreme than what the folks of the more developed countries were eating. It looked healthier, simpler and more delicious-er! Well...those were pretty big assumptions.
I started with beans and rice. I moved on to meats and their broths, and then potatoes and corn. I found some of these assumptions to be accurate: healthful, delicious food--with proper technique and practice, for certain. But is it simple--only by ingredient count. Cooking this way takes a lot of time. A lot. I can't just whip out some dried beans and a chuck roast and have it ready in 30mn. or even an hour. Although, once the components are made, very simple meals can be put together thereafter.
There is an expert on American peasant food, too. It is Clara. She has a YouTube series on depression cooking. I, of course, have watched them all many times...obsessively. She talks the whole time, too. There are two things that has said that I think of often: 1) We didn't have the conveniences you have now. (She was talking about a cutting board. Wow.) and 2) my mother was always in the kitchen. One episode is posted below, but there are many.

My other favorite "peasant" food cookbooks are:
  • Safari Kitchen by Harva Hachten
  • More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre
  • Home Baking by Naomi Duguid
The last one, I recently borrowed from Erica. It made me realize something. I not only like the lifestyle and food of this kind of cooking, but the aesthetic. I love the aprons, the head scarfs, the mismatched floral print skirts and shirts. I LOVE it. I want to do it. Oh, and the village fire burning stoves they use. I found this and am hoping I can talk R into it this summer!!!




Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Well, that was a bust!

I am already totally revising my menu and it is only Tuesday. But it is good to be flexible, right?
The squash and kale pasta=not that great and halfway through the day I realized I was kidding myself thinking that if that's all there was, the kids would eat it. Also, to make it kid friendly I would have to omit the red pepper flakes and the garlic. I decided to make them tuna melts and spice up the pasta (which was a new recipe I tried from Everyday Foods.) Well, as is the risk with trying new recipes, I have a huge batch of less than great leftovers. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't inedible, but the idea of eating the leftovers is highly unappealing. So, do I invest more ingredients and try to make it better? Or cut my losses? I think I will cover it in mozzerella and bake it again for me for lunch.

The second hitch in my get along is that the GIANT bird will probably not really be thawed until tomorrow AND I discovered that our final box of potatoes from last fall is needing my immediate attention. So, in light of the recent discoveries, we will be eating potatoes. I am going to boil and mash them all today. Some will go in potato dumplings for dinner tonight, some will be for mashers and gravy tomorrow, some will go into potato farls for snack, with some I will attempt to make Erica's salmon and potato cakes for Thursday, and whatever is leftover, I will make samosas or potato bread or something with.

Happy Spuds to you all!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Eating from the Pantry and Freezer


A few special menu planning challenges this week: On Monday, we are bringing dinner to a family with a new baby. My BIL Chris is coming for a visit starting Thursday, and we will be celebrating his birthday on Friday evening. If we go crabbing this weekend, we're hoping fresh Dungeness will replace what's on the plan!

I'm still in "using up what's in food storage" mode, because that's the way we roll in February, March, and April (if you still haven't seen Sharon's post about this, check it out.  I think I've linked to it three times). I really want the chest freezer to be close to empty by late spring so I can put what's left in the little freezer and defrost that bad boy to get it ready for filling up again in the summer! This week, I'm trying to use up apple pie filling, delicata squash, some straggly red cabbage and kale from the garden, home-canned pear sauce, canned cherries, frozen bell peppers, and corn meal.

Monday: Bean and bacon soup (made a big batch Saturday), corn muffins, and apple pie!

Tuesday: No-knead artisan bread, hummus, marinated feta and olives, roasted delicata squash

Wednesday: Bibimbap, sesame spinach, rice - I hope to post the recipes for this one later in the week, because I would say this meal is my number one crowd-pleaser, and it's easy, nutritious, and endlessly adaptable.

Thursday: Pork chops, pear sauce, mashed potatoes, German red cabbage, roasted delicata squash

Friday: Salmon patties, oven fries, coleslaw, white chocolate white forest birthday cake (I hope to post this recipe later in the week, too!), chocolate ice cream

Saturday: Crock pot chili, corn muffins

Sunday: BBQ ribs, baked beans (I make 'em like this, except I use cooked dry beans), coleslaw, corn muffins

Have a fantastic week!

This post is linked to Menu plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie 





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Sunday, February 21, 2010

A brand new week










I am hoping to keep this week extra simple because the big one is (and has been for years) really wanting to do more of the cooking. Today we made chocolate pudding together and she was able to do most of it on her own. So, I am going to make a serious effort to get them all in the kitchen more. Partly because they want to and partly because I feel they need to learn some skills and kitchen work is one they are most interested in right now. So, without further ado...here is this weeks menu:

Sunday: Mediterranean fish stew, potato gratin, pickled beets and salad

Monday: Kale and squash baked pasta, sauteed mushrooms

Tuesday: Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickled beets, sauteed chard

Wednesday: Tortilla soup and taco salad with black beans

Thursday: Thai beef stir-fry, asain coleslaw, rice

Friday: Pizza and pie

Saturday: California pork chops, rice, green beans and salad

As a back-up plan, I did manage to get 3 cheese pizzas frozen and an additional 4 crusts.

I, too, am working to use up the canned and frozen goods from last year. The salsa, pickled beets, pickled peppers, tomato sauce and canned tomatoes we have no problem using. It is the canned beans, watermelon rind (???), peach puree, green beans, apple pie filling and pickled carrots/peppers that are a challenge. I was inspired by the Casaubon's Book post that was a link in one of Erica's posts; specifically where she says "...good cooks can transform second choices into first ones." I am determined to make these less than favorite canned goods a bit more fun. Last year, I froze a lot of peaches (whole and sliced), blueberries and pureed squash that I have been rationing, but I feel confident that we can start eating at will.

This post is linked to Meal Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.



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Friday, February 19, 2010

Fast food

Well, no sewing happened. Some kids had homework to be helped with, some kids got sick, some grown-ups rear-ended other grown-ups and had to spend a few days on the phone with insurance agents. This week I thought about homemade fast food. Things that can go from the freezer to the table in 20 minutes or from anywhere to the table in 20 minutes. As I was making a double batch of pizza dough, I remembered that after the middle one was born, I made homemade frozen pizzas. I used to just freeze extra dough, but that still required some planning (get it out in time, roll it and top it, etc...) then I par-baked the crusts and that worked really well. Then I par-baked them and topped them and froze them. Duh, that's what a packaged frozen pizza is?!? There are other things, too, tamales, black bean or lentil burgers, falafel (I have some patties I put in the freezer but I haven't actually tried them yet.) Granted, it generally takes a whole day (or two) in the kitchen to get these to the '20-minutes-to-the-table' point, but once I muster up the motivation, it's worth it. I have been able to tweak these for breakfasts, too: breakfast pizza is a par-baked crust that I take out and top with chevre, frozen berries and cinnamon-sugar. There are, also, pumpkin tamales that can be topped with yogurt and my mom used to make these bran muffins that she would keep the batter for in a 5 gallon ice cream bucket in the fridge and then just bake as needed. It had egg and two kinds of cereal that I sure wouldn't work for our family, but I am contemplating trying to tweak the recipe. It's risky business though, I mean, a lot of potential waste if they turn out truly terrible.

The other thing I do for quick meals is based on the Laughing Planet menu (which can be downloaded here.) In short, there are several sauces that are mixed with different veggies and beans or chicken and/or cheeses that are then put on brown rice, wrapped up in a tortilla or tossed in a salad. I usually plan on doing this and cook up some chicken, a pot of beans and a batch of rice, but I loose my steam when it comes to the sauces and those are really what push the food from ordinary to fantastic.

Lately, the Everyday Foods publication from Martha Stewart has really been full of good, simple and healthful things that are sounding really good and doable for me. The last two months have had things like black bean burgers, other pizza dough recipes that are not pizza i.e. chard pie, fruit turnovers and dessert pizza, and a simple asian dressing that can be used in several different ways. We'll see. I still have a day or so to figure out how I want to approach this week.



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Donburi Saves the Day (Again)

Frazzled. Frayed. Too tired to cook. Too tired even to eat. That's how I've felt the last two Thursday nights. Which probably means I need to look at what is out of balance in my week that is frying me before the week is even out. But more urgently, last night, anyway, was that I needed to feed these children and this similarly-frazzled husband something. And if that something could nourish my body and soul, so much the better.

When we're tired, sick, or down, I always seem to gravitate to broth. I usually have a supply of homemade chicken broth in quart Mason jars in the freezer. I'll try to post more about homemade broth soon, because I've got a good system.  If my supply of broth is getting low, I do also usually have some Pacific brand aseptically packaged broth on hand.  That's what I used last night.

Donburi is basically a simple brothy rice, Japanese style.  It's easy to cook and easy to eat.  It's a good fall-back position when things go awry.  I have made it when we were down with the flu, when we were grieving over bad news, and when the grocery shopping hadn't gotten done and there was next to nothing to eat in the house.  Like most of my best recipes, this one came from Josie.

ingredients for 2 servings:

rice

1 1/2 C broth (I use chicken, but any kind would be good)
1/4 C mirin
3 T soy sauce or liquid aminos

1 boneless chicken breast (I have never actually included this.  I usually make this on an emergency basis, and I don't stock boneless chicken breasts.  I have subbed mushrooms, or just left it out.  It's still yummy.)

6 medium scallions, cut 1/2 in wide (I never seem to have these on hand in an emergency, either, but I do usually have chives from the garden, so I use those.  Yesterday I used green garlic shoots from the garden.)

3 lg eggs, room temperature, beaten

So here's what you do.  Cook your rice.  When it's almost done, take your broth, mirin, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 3 minutes.  Stir in your chicken and scallions, simmer for another 3 minutes.  Pour the eggs in all at once.  Do not stir.  Cover the pot and gently simmer for three minutes.  Voila.  Serve the brothy soup over rice.  Breathe deeply.  Listen to the sounds of contentment coming from your family.  After dinner, run a nice warm bath and get in with a good book for the rest of the evening.

P. S. - I think "Donburi" sounds like a Pokemon character.  "Donburi Saves the Day!"

This post is linked with Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap.



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Monday, February 15, 2010

My Happy Week


In Novella Carpenter's excellent memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, she quotes an old Portuguese saying that the happiest weeks in a person's life are the week after their wedding and the week after a pig goes to butcher.  S picked up our half a pastured hog on Saturday, so this has all the makings of a very good week! With that in mind, this week’s menu is unabashedly pork heavy. We haven’t been eating much pork for quite some time, so we are ready!* Besides, all that hog happiness just seems to work really well with some of the storage items I want to finish up soon – home canned pickled beets, pear sauce, the last of the frozen cranberries, potatoes that are starting to sprout, and a big 5 pound bag of coarse ground cornmeal that’s been in the freezer for a while.

Monday: Pork chops baked with sauerkraut and pear sauce, mashed potatoes, peas

Fat Tuesday: BBQ country ribs, potato and beet salad, coleslaw, corn muffins, bananas Foster

Wednesday: Salmon patties, oven fries, pickled beet coleslaw

Thursday: Bean and bacon soup, corn muffins

Friday: Tuna melts, oven fries, fruit

Saturday: Ladies Night, Erica doesn’t cook, the family eats leftover goodness

Sunday: Maple-mustard pork roast, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, delicate squash, gingerbread with pear sauce and whipped cream

I am participating in Meal Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie, along with a couple, two, three hundred other bloggers.  If you need inspiration, there is lots to be had! 
*
I stopped buying industrial pork a while back because of all the scary news about hormones, antibiotics, E. coli, a probable link between pork mega-farms and methicillin-resistant staph, and the incredible amounts of pollution produced by factory pork farms. As if we needed any more reasons to avoid industrial meat, the FDA recently approved a new chemical for industrial meat production, one that is very likely to remain in the meat, because it is given to the animals close to slaughter. We have local sources for local, organic, pastured beef, lamb, chicken, and eggs, but until a couple of weeks ago, our only source for pastured pork was our local food coop, and it was incredibly expensive. Then my lovely friend Josie, who keeps her ear to the ground about such things, found a farmer who raises pastured pigs. Let the happiness begin!

Other random stuff:

S and I just watched “Away We Go” on DVD, and I loved it so much. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida wrote the screenplay, and I think Dave Eggers is, well, a genius. It is nice to watch a movie that reminds you about what’s important. I like it that the main characters are portrayed as being deeply in love, but realistically. They aren’t perfect people and they sometimes get on each others' nerves, but at the same time, they always have each others' backs. On their journey around the country, the couple gets a foretaste of what sorts of challenges life will throw at their attempts to be true to each other and to create family. Most of the other characters add up to one giant cautionary tale about just exactly what we’re all up against and all the many ways we can lose the path and forget what matters, through bad luck, selfishness, or just plain human weakness. The movie manages to be hilariously funny while still retaining its ring of truthfulness. It is affirming and hopeful – overall the perfect romantic movie for our Valentine’s weekend! Now that I’ve shamelessly built it up to the point where your expectations will be far too high to enjoy it, forget everything I’ve said and go rent it.

One of my favorite poets, Lucille Clifton, died yesterday.  I had the privilege to see her read her poetry in college.  She said that someone once asked her why her poems were so short.  She replied that she had raised six children, and that her poems were limited by the number of lines she could remember as she cared for her family and household and worked throughout the day and waited to write them down in the evening.  This is one of my favorites.  Actually, they are all amazing.  There are links to several of her poems here.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Sweetie

I dedicate this song to the jazz-loving gentle giant I had the good sense (for once!) to marry. This video is long, but totally worth your time, so relax and enjoy.



Itchy Fingers

 I have been itching to post about so many things, but I have been down with a nasty virus this week.  I never did make a meal plan, my strategy this week was to get people fed with as little energy expended as possible.

So here's what we did eat:

Monday:  Leftover beans, leftover rice, leftover salsa, and hard-boiled eggs

Tuesday:  Taco soup with pasta, avocado, corn muffins

Wednesday:  Salmon patties, oven fries, roasted broccoli, homemade tartar sauce

Thursday:  Donburi

Friday:  Steak, Colombian salt potatoes, guacamole

Saturday:  Homemade bagels, scrambled eggs, bacon

Sunday:  Valentine's Day breakfast - coffee, gingerbread pancakes, pear sauce, sausage
Potluck party with friends - pasta salad, fruit salad, lemon bars

For this coming week, I intend to post the meal plan on Monday.

Oh, and there's an awesome post on Sharon Astyk's blog about eating locally in February (and March, and April) and how these are the months where you end up "finishing up" the stuff that's not necessarily your favorite.  For instance, next week, I think we will be finishing the pickled beets I made last summer.  Also the pear sauce that no one has touched.  And next summer I will focus my canning efforts on stuff that we really like (and the kids really like); the old standbys like strawberry jam, spaghetti sauce, and applesauce.


Friday, February 12, 2010

My name is Josie and I am a recovering pack rat

I have been in recovery for about 3 months now and it has not been easy. I have managed to resist acquiring more stuff, but I am having a hard time parting with my beloved crap. I am taking it one day at a time, but that makes for slow rewards. My New Year's resolution (well, one of them anyway,) is to streamline this house for minimal stuff and maximum efficiency. We live in a relatively small place (a family of 5 in 1032 sq. ft.) which I believe can work out nicely but I live in a state of controlled chaos. I spend a lot of time fighting my piles. In December and January, I was on a roll. I was taking a laundry basket of stuff to the goodwill every other day. In February, however, I have slowed down. No, I have stopped. Partly because, I had to catch up on housework but mostly because it was easy getting rid of stuff that is obviously crap. It is not easy making choices about things I like, but don't really need or use. AND, it is easy to get rid of the kids stuff, but now it's down to all my stuff. The biggest hold up is the craft closet(s). I save every old t-shirt, sweater and pair of jeans for re-purposing purposes but I can't really sew until I organize the craft closet which I can't really organize because of all the piles of things to be sewn. It is all so overwhelming that instead of doing anything, I play Word Twist. You can see the pickle I am in. So...today I sew. I will ignore laundry and sweeping and dog walking and I will sew! I will finish some old projects and start some new ones. I will make produce and snack bags, pj's for the kids, cloth pads for moi and I am especially inspired by these pot holders and all of her stuff. I love the collage-i-ness of it all and I am DIRE need of aprons. So...here I go....


Monday, February 8, 2010

A pop quiz

Here this blog has just been started and I am getting a pop quiz. R told me yesterday that he will have to work late every night this week. So, how do I feed the fam food a) they can eat and b) I feel good about, and still manage to parent in a way that allows me to sleep easy at night. My instinct is to make 14 dozen tamales, a giant pot of beans, 2 batches of granola, roast a chicken and make stock. I am not going to do that. That would take two solid days of "parenting with my voice" from the kitchen--deal breaker. I could make a run to the store, but the convenience foods my kids allergies (wheat, cow-dairy, nuts and seeds, eggs, soy and garlic. Yes, I know, GARLIC?!?) allow them to have are waaaaaay expensive and I have already spent my budget this week. But finances aside, I have a lot of ingredients in this house. Sure they are ingredients that take a day to thaw, a night to soak or an hour to cook, but there is plenty. This is not a prologue to my big plan. I have no plan as of yet. I have a menu I made on Saturday as a starting point:

Sunday: T-bones, potato gratin, mushrooms and onions and chimichurri sauce.

Monday: Polenta, roasted cauliflower, sauteed chard, marinara with left over steak.

Tuesday: Fish tacos, beans, rice, salad, salsa and avocados.

Wednesday: Black bean burgers, Jojos, salad and broccoli.

Thursday: Leftovers cleverly thrown together in a new and exciting way that the children love.

Friday: California pork chops, rice, broccoli and pickled beets.

Saturday: Pizza and apple pie.

Of course, R won't be here, so I will have to alter things so there won't be a fridge full of leftovers about to go bad. Well, wish me luck.....Josie

p.s. That cheat sheet would have been awesome about now.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Butternuts Won a Book!

We just won a copy of a permaculture book called Gaia's Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture on Crunchy Chicken's blog.  I'm sure we'll be telling you all about it!

Thank you Crunchy Chicken


Breakfast for Dinner

Erica here.  I ran out of patience for the week on about Wednesday. The special needs student that I teach has been unwilling to go outside on these dark, drizzly days, even during the nice sunbreaks we’ve been getting. I miss our hikes to the mudflats, where his nervous system is reliably soothed by the fresh air and fascinating, ever-changing environment, and where we I feel that we can converse and connect in a way that just doesn’t happen as often in the classroom. He misses them, too, but is too overwhelmed by the fear of cold drizzle hitting his skin to get his gear on and go out, no matter how many tricks and tools I use to persuade him. He has been spending more and more time huddled in front of the heater, immersed in his internal world, playing with Legos, and lately I leave work feeling that he finds my presence in that world irrelevant at best, intrusive at worst.

In addition, I have been fighting the raging red monster – PMS. This was one of the worst bouts in recent memory. I have spent large portions of these last few nights lying awake, and I feel brittle and threadbare, like mummified pieces of me are going to start falling off at random moments.

By Thursday, I came home from work feeling mighty low. It was taking every ounce of willpower not to snap at the girls over little things as I pondered dinner. Then my husband called to tell me he would be “a little late.” In my childless days, I would have eaten cold cereal, soaked in a warm bath, and spent the rest of the evening in bed with a pile of books. To make things worse, I had no viable plan. The salmon I had planned on preparing didn’t work out – when I had gone to the store to buy it, it wasn’t on sale for $6.99/lb after all, but was $10.99/lb. Turns out I had looked at the previous week’s sale flyer. I don’t pay that much for salmon, especially when it has been “previously frozen for quality,” so I left the store empty-handed.

The kitchen seemed filled with dirty dishes, which was hard to believe since no one had been home at all that day. However, dishes from last night’s bedtime snack, plus pots, bowls and cups from oatmeal for breakfast and the morning's tea, empty reusable containers from packed lunches, and empty reusable water bottles all added up to a mess. I complained out loud, and my 4-year-old offered to help with the dishes. “Great,” I thought, “what next?” because we all know that an offer of help by a 4-year-old is actually a guarantee of more work. I almost asked her if she wouldn’t really rather watch a movie while I cleaned up, and then I stopped and took a deep breath.

I’m not sure what made it possible for me open my eyes and accept the gift that my sweet girl had offered, but this time, I did. My pattern is usually to keep struggling to make things conform to my vision of okayness, making everyone else miserable in the process. But this time, my daughter helped me with the dishes, and it was delightful. I had to guide her in scrubbing each one with a soapy sponge, and rinse them without splashing water all over, but by the time the dishes were done I found myself saying, “Want to help me make waffles?”

We made these multigrain ones, with blackberry sauce from my frozen berries, and scrambled eggs on the side. I didn’t just pull this idea out of thin air, they were on my plan for Saturday morning breakfast, and as I helped my daughter wash dishes and started to relax, I realized that they would make a lovely supper. Just another reason why it’s so useful to make a weekly plan, even if you deviate from it. They were delicious.

The rest of last week’s meal plan:

Monday: Coconut curry chicken in the crockpot, rice, peas

Tuesday: Homemade tomato soup with frozen garlic-whistle pesto, grilled cheese sandwiches

Wednesday: Stir-fried beef with broccoli and pecans, rice

Thursday: Waffles, blackberry sauce, scrambled eggs

Friday: Refried bean tacos with feta, Mexican rice, caramelized onions, and salsa

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Sole piccata with home canned pickled beets and capers, brown rice, steamed broccoli, blackberry pie

Wasted food disclosure: my lovely packed lunch of coconut chicken curry and rice, left on the kitchen counter Thursday morning in my PMS and sleep-deprived fog.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

The other nut....

I am Josie. I am the friend with the food allergy family. I am joining Erica in this quest. Actually we have been working on it together for a few years now. I always know what Erica has eaten, will eat, is wanting to try to eat and will never eat again. And at any moment she could tell you the same about me. I enjoy cooking, eating, reading cookbooks and planning meals, but in moderation. I tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. a lot. My least favorite part is from 3:30 until 6 when I don't have a plan. I spend much needed mental energy contemplating what to feed this family. Each hour that passes, crosses undecided upon options off the list. This drives my husband INSANE. "We have a pantry full of food. How is this an issue?" he asks. "We have a pantry full of ingredients," I politely correct.

I have tried many forms of organizing my menu plan to avoid this situation. I have made a very detailed weekly menu, down the specifics for each snack. It was ridgid and confining, but the week or two I was able to do it was great. I knew what to make for 3 meals and 2 snacks everyday without thinking. I have been unable to do this since. I sit down on the couch with my cookbooks and a blank sheet of paper and I simply cannot think of anything I have made for this family in the past 8 years. So I fritter away an hour looking through the cookbooks, asking the kids what they like to eat (cake and candy) and end up playing Word Twist on Facebook. So then I found a few other ideas for looser but still structured menu planning here and here. I just can't commit to them either. My new plan is to make a cheat sheet. Much like this one for recipes, except for meals my family enjoys.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chocolate Cake...for Breakfast!

Donna's comment a couple of posts back reminded me of one of my very favorite comedy routines EVER. If you can watch the whole thing without laughing until tears are streaming down your face by the end, you may very well be dead inside.


Bill Cosby Himself - Chocolate Cake

Fria | MySpace Video



Packed Lunches

I realized last night that my eldest daughter's lunch habits have changed in the last few weeks.  Not sure what tipped me off, maybe it sunk in as I was writing yesterday's entry that I had just bought TWENTY cans of tuna.  Then I started thinking about where all that tuna was going, and it occurred to me that where it was going was into my dear darling daughter, who I love more than life itself and would die to protect.  Hmm.

Now I'm sure that you've all seen all of the same scary headlines about mercury in tuna that I have, and you have probably also heard that study after study has shown that people who eat more seafood seem to have lower rates of just about every disease you can name.  In fact, some health authorities are now urging people to aim for not two, but four, servings of seafood per week.

But back to my eldest, who I love more than life itself.  She used to eat school lunch sometimes, if she liked what was on the menu.  After the scandal two years ago involving a videotape of sick cattle being prodded inhumanely to slaughter, we banned school lunches involving beef.  We had not eaten any industrially raised beef at home for a few years before that, but it took an actual video of just what kind of meat was being sold to schools for us to decide that taking the next step wasn't extreme.  Beef is often on the menu up to four times a week in our district.  That's how subsidized industrial beef is; red meat is the most economical protein schools can prepare.  So, my girl was eating hot lunch about once a week.  About two months ago, after several gag-inducing experiences with hot lunch, she finally decided that she was totally done with buying hot lunch at school.  I was thrilled by this decision, and more than happy to pack lunch everyday in exchange for peace of mind.

Now, however, we find ourselves in a bit of a rut.  "What would you like for lunch today?"  "Tuna."  How about egg salad."  "No, I don't really like that anymore."  "How about PB&J?"  "No, I really don't like that."  And on and on.  I didn't mind at first, because I recently discovered, via blood test, that my vitamin D is very low (which is, apparently, very common in the Northern US in the wintertime).  I have been concerned about my kids' vitamin D levels and have been giving them supplements, but actually I was taking supplements, and still ended up with not enough vitamin D.  Vitamin D is found naturally in very few foods; the best natural source is fish.  Vitamin D is also found in animal fats, such as lard, liver, natural cheese, butter, and egg yolks.  The vitamin D levels are considerably higher if these foods come from animals which were raised on pasture (because their own exposure to sunlight raised their own stored vitamin D).

But back to my eldest, who I would throw myself in front of a bus to protect.  When she first started craving all this tuna, I remember thinking that maybe her body was trying to supply itself with vitamin D.  Tuna really is nutritious stuff.  Still, I think it's unwise to rely so heavily on one food, especially one that might contain some level of mercury.  We buy chunk light tuna only, which is low in mercury, but still, mercury is best avoided.  It certainly contains BPA, too, since all cans these days are lined with a plastic containing BPA. 

I checked for current recommendations on tuna consumption and found information provided by both the FDA and the National Resources Defense Council.  According to the FDA, my eldest can eat up to 12 ounces of fish including chunk light tuna a week.  That's more than two cans.  Sweet!  We're good!  But wait, the NRDC says that a child of my daughter's weight should eat no more than 5 ounces or so of chunk light tuna.  That's one can.  Maybe we're not so good.  And wait a minute, wasn't it the FDA that said that BPA was nothing to worry about, and then changed their minds?  I think I'm going with the NRDC recommendations.

Which means my eldest and I are going to have to do some brainstorming about alternatives to tuna.  I'll have a head start though, because we went through this same process when we banned school beef.  I've got tools, namely, a handy chart put out by the Laptop Lunchbox people to get your creative lunch-planning juices flowing (you have to scroll down to get to the chart, but there are lots of good ideas on the way down, too).  The only thing I don't like about the chart is that many of the fruits and veggies they recommend are only in season in the summer.  At this time of year, I'm packing a lot of dried fruit, because the fresh ones, other than citrus, are so crummy.  If you have a thermos, you can add soups to your repertoire, too.  My daughter especially likes pea soup (made in about 5 minutes from frozen peas), carrot soup, and black bean soup.  You can also send all kinds of saucy pasta dishes in the thermos.  I like to warm the thermos by pouring some hot water from my teapot into it and letting it sit until I'm ready to put the hot food in.

I also made a list, back in the banned-beef days, of healthy, frugal kids snacks that aren't processed and full of stuff you can't pronounce.  I think I got many of the ideas from Nourishing Traditions, some from the More-With-Less Cookbook, and maybe a few from my own head?  Here goes:

nuts and seeds - sunflower, pumpkin seeds, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, trail mix made from any/all of these plus dried fruit and maybe a few chocolate chips

popcorn (we like ours with nutritional yeast which tastes good, is loaded with B vitamins, and reminds me of Cinemopolis in Ithaca)

peanut-butter popcorn

veggies and dip (we really like Annie's brand sesame goddess dressing for dipping)

dried fruit, all kinds

yogurt pops - put flavored yogurt into popsicle molds

cottage cheese and crackers

hummus and pitas or crackers

quesadillas, or tortillas with refried beans

baked tortilla chips or pita chips

celery with nut butter

apple slices with dip (I have seen homemade Nutella-type dips but haven't tried making them yet)

jerky (nonindustrial)

fruit

cheese

hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs

healthyish cookies - oh, come on, every kid needs a cookie once in a while

muffins

chocolate-covered bananas, strawberries, dried apricots, etc.

So, what do you pack for kid lunches?  How about for your lunch?