Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lazy Cookies

Tonight I felt like making something sweet to put in lunches tomorrow. Chocolate chip cookies, to be exact. The problem with cookies, though, is that they take forever, don't you think? I'm not talking about the mixing of the batter, but rather the whole process: parceling out onto cookie sheets, sliding them in the oven, waiting for them to cook and then cooling on racks before you can safely remove them. I didn't have the will for all of that, not tonight.

Still, the (sweet)heart wants what it wants. So I decided to make chocolate chip cookie bars. They really are the perfect compromise. The batter takes about 5 minutes to throw together and then you just spread it out in a pan, bake for 20 minutes and you're done. Simply cool, slice into bars and slide into lunch boxes for everyone to enjoy. You can even get fancy, if you want to. Melt some chocolate, put it in a baggie, snip the corner off and pipe thin chocolate ribbons on top. Go ahead: You have time.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
- 2.5 cups of flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 12 oz pkg of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan with butter.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large bowl.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Spread into a greased pan.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack, top with melted chocolate as above, if you want to.
Cut into bars, put in lunch boxes.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Like a worn out recording of a favourite song

Thank you so much everyone, for your well wishes and congratulations!  It means a lot to me.  I'm also super EXCITED because every time I make something new in the kitchen, I think squee, project!  And then if it doesn't turn out right, I make a big sad face in my scrapbook where I write down all my recipes.

I've been reading Catherine Newman's blog ever since she was writing over at Babycenter (and it's been so long since I had actual reason to read anything at Babycenter that I actually just blanked on the name Babycenter).  I read this last week about her solution for weekend lunches: getting the children to make their own in an Iron Chef-like contest.  I wondered how that would go over in my house.  Most likely, the following would happen:

1) The children would take out the package of bagels from the fridge and ask for help slicing them, since they are not allowed to use the large serrated knife.

2) The children would put said bagels into the toaster.

3) The children would put peanut butter on the bagels.

4) The children would request my help in mixing strawberry and/or chocolate syrup into their milk glasses.

5) On a very hungry day the children would spoon yogurt into bowls and top the yogurt with frozen berries.

The end.

There is almost a zero deviation from the mean, people.  When it's lunchtime, my kids almost always request peanut butter bagels, with a frozen berry and yogurt parfait, washed down with chocolate or strawberry flavoured milk.  A couple of times a month, on a weekend or a school holiday, the children may request French toast, or perhaps a ham sandwich, but otherwise that is the extent of lunchtime creativity.

There are negatives to food ruts, of course, but there are positives too - for one thing, predictability is nice.  And I am no different from the children, really.  Here is my confession: we have a wide variety of dinners in our house, a wide variety of snacks and baked goods, but I have the same exact breakfast and lunch every day.  I do not deviate.  I have a toasted tomato and cucumber sandwich and a piece of fruit every single day.  Sometimes I vary the bread and I usually vary the fruit, but that is my standard lunch.  Oh sure, occasionally I will shake things up a bit and have a tomato and cucumber PITA with hummous, and maybe a spinach/berry smoothie, and once in a blue moon I eat lunch out of the house and so my menu is necessarily different, but as a rule I just like to eat the same breakfast and lunch, day in and day out.  I do not tire of it.  I enjoy it.  I look forward to those meals with anticipation.  I am the kind of person who finds something they like on a restaurant menu and then orders that item each and every time I frequent that restaurant, from here to eternity.  I don't take the risk of ordering something I might not enjoy as much.

And so if my kids want to eat the same thing every day, I go with the flow.  After all, maybe the apples didn't fall so far from the tree.

Friday, April 26, 2013

we knew her when

Hearty felicitations are in order for our own Monday-poster Nicole, who is the newest food blogger at Yummy Mummy Club.

She has come up with possibly the niftiest blog name ever: she's the Meatless Mummy Con Carne.

So, she's the meatless mummy! With meat!

As regular readers here know, Nicole is a vegetarian-and-sometimes-vegan living in a house full of committed carnivores who say things like "it's OK, for vegan food" and "yo, Poindexter! Where's the meat?"

Or so I assume.

Anyway, she regularly has to cook from both sides of the meat divide, and does so with passion and flair. If you are trying to strike a balance between kale and bacon, follow her new column. It promises to be a great resource. Her recipes have never once failed to work for me, and I know you'll be pleased if you try them, too.

Please join The Ladies in raising a glass to Nicole. Congratulations on your new gig, dahling. Send us a tweet when you're lunching with Erica Ehm.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

everyone's a critic

These past few days have been challenging in the lunch-packing department, and all because of the baby.

Just shy of sixteen months old and he has OPINIONS, ya'll. And most of his opinions are of the "whatever you packed for me is instantly terrible because I want what Other Toddler is having".

I pack him a sandwich. He yells emphatically, shakes his head NO, points at Other Toddler's reheated leftovers, nods his head YES, throws his sandwich on the floor.

Next day, I pack him leftovers. So naturally Other Toddler comes with a sandwich and we go through the whole ridiculous process again in reverse.

He says "ban-ba" a lot, because that means "banana" and where in the hell is the banana, come on woman, make with the freakin' banana already, DUDE'S GOTTA HAVE POTASSIUM. He also will flip many, many fits if there is no yoghurt forthcoming.

Crackers, mini-pitas, goldfish crackers - these are all popular, day in and day out. Strawberries are his Most Favourite Thing Ever while they're in the grocery store cart, but are worthy only of contempt within the confines of home. Ditto cherry tomatoes. Cheese is never rejected. Apples with either be devoured, seeds, core, and all if I don't watch him... or else flat-out tossed aside because apples are horrible.

I'm holding him to the same standard as the dayhome kids; namely, you have to finish what's in front of you before you can have something else. (Or at least make an effort. If it's something you've never had before, you honestly try, and you just don't like it, you get a pass.)

It is a weird situation, to pack a lunch for your kids every day and then to be there when they eat it. I honestly think that if I weren't there to see it, he'd eat it with fewer complaints. That's just human nature.


In the lunches this week, dried fruit and lots of it! Nicole's fruit dehydrator love appears to be contagious. I realize the stuff from the grocery store has added sugar, but in small amounts it's a nice treat and better for them than cookies or candy bars.

Also lots of roast beef sandwiches, and honeydew melon.

Monday, April 22, 2013

You say it's your birthday

In case you missed the announcement over the megaphone, yesterday was my birthday.


I was prepared to bake myself a birthday cake, but happily my mom did the honours instead, bringing me my very favourite angel food cake with strawberry filling and whipped cream, tinted pink.  Some of you may know that I have what I consider to be a minor dairy intolerance: a serving of dairy can induce stomach issues of the run-to-the-bathroom variety, as well as skin breakouts.  But a small amount of whipped cream on such an occasion as my birthday is just fine, which is what I told my mom when she asked me about it earlier. 

I grew up in a house where we had whipped cream, not an oil-based alternative, and butter, not margarine.  While preparing my birthday cake, my mom asked me if I would prefer Cool Whip, which felt really wrong.  Something felt wrong with preferring Cool Whip, with its many unpronounceable ingredients, to whipped cream, with its ONE ingredient, even if that one ingredient is dairy, which I try to avoid. 

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a girlfriend about eating other people's cooking.  I won't eat meat, certainly, but other than that I don't like being too much of a princess about food.  I generally avoid dairy and egg, which brings me into semi-vegan territory, but I do not want to be one of those people who turns up their nose at food someone has taken the time and effort to prepare.  Does this have an EGG in it?  No THANK you.  You used BUTTER?  NO.  I don't want to be the hard core vegan who literally spit into her napkin when the hostess mentioned that the dip contained honey.  Besides, I love honey.

If someone takes the time and energy to prepare food for you, it is an act of love, and I want to always accept it as such.  Last summer I visited my grandma, who made me a lovely vegetable stir fry for dinner.  She served it with leftover potatoes and gravy, which is normally something I would not eat.  In my mind I weighed my own non-meat conviction with my grandma's feelings, and I decided that my grandma was far, far, far more important.  I spread a spoonful of gravy over the potatoes.  Maybe it was the secret ingredient of my grandma's love in that gravy, but it was delicious.

What does this have to do with lunches?  Well, I had cake for lunch yesterday, and I enjoyed every creamy bite.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

mea culpa

Big time lunchbox fail this week.

Monday night, I made sandwiches for the two older boys. Peanut butter & jam for 5yo who eats lunch at home, cream cheese & jam for 7yo to take to school. I had the lunches packed by 7PM! They had fruit and Greek yoghurt and homemade muffins and things they liked! I was WINNING, I tell you!

Then apparently yesterday 7yo opened his lunchbox and I'd put the sandwiches in the wrong bags.

Meaning I sent peanut butter (GASP!) to a public school (OH NOES!!) in the year 2013 (HORRORS!!!)

The school didn't call, or anything. None of 7yo's classmates has a peanut allergy. He explained to the teacher that I mixed up the sandwiches. She told him to eat, close the sandwich container tightly, and then wash his hands well after he ate.

I still felt guilty when he came home and explained what had happened.

I have no words of wisdom to share. I just wanted to let you all know that sometimes, these things happen. And that I'm grateful for a sensible teacher who handled it well and didn't overreact.

Sometimes, the best of us make mistakes. Packing lunches, day in and day out, is HARD. Mistakes get made. Nutrition gets thrown out the window. Kids forget their lunches altogether and panicked last-minute runs to the school happen.

It's OK. We're OK. We're all doing the very best that we can, and sometimes our very best is delicious homemade goodies, and sometimes our very best is just remembering not to send a peanut butter sandwich to a public school.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Going bananas

Some fruits are just assholes.

Take strawberries, for example. They look all tantalizing in their container, but then you pour them in the strainer for a rinse and discover a universe of mold. The only sure fire way to ensure they are fresh, ripe and mold-free is to go out and pick them yourself. Which is fine. For about two weeks at the end of June, where I live.

Then I bought a pineapple on sale last week and when I cut into it I discovered there was significant rot. I was able to salvage enough pineapple for one lunch. Out of five. Not cool.

Grapes are hit and miss, too, forcing one to either buy them in good faith and hope they aren't sour little orbs of nastiness or sneak a taste in the grocery store, risking public humiliation at the mercy of an overzealous produce manager. Or possibly banishment, if your grocery store is hard core.

You might say all of this makes a pretty decent case for the fact that we should be sticking to in-season fruits, and I would say you have a good point, but it's hard to stick to those kinds of principles when you are packing 20 lunches a week. Variety keeps us sane and somewhat satisfied.

That's why I think it's important that we take a moment here to extole the virtues of the simple banana. Portably packable, definitely dependable and emminently edible in so many ways, the banana is a mainstay of our lunches. I don't pack them in their original form too often, as they do have a tendency to get a little banged up in the lunch bag which (apparently) renders them inedible. At least, according to my kids. But I have been known to cut them in half, leaving the half in the skin and encasing it in a reusable container.I also sliced banana up to include in little toothpick fruit kebabs for the kids' lunches when they were younger.

The thing I find about bananas is that everyone has their own window of acceptable eating. One person might like them a little green, another will only eat them perfectly yellow, while another prefers the sweetness associated with blotchy brown skin. Even if everyone in your house only likes them one way, you still have options. You can throw a slightly overripe banana in the morning smoothie. When they get really brown, then you pop them in the freezer to chill out until you're ready to bake banana bread. Or cake. Or muffins. Which is exactly what I did this week.

My usual banana bread/muffin recipe calls for sour cream, which I also discovered was moldy when I opened the lid (sigh), so I made a new recipe that used oil instead and included oatmeal, which always makes me feel unnaturally nutritionally smug for some reason. I threw in some chocolate chips for good measure and the kids ate them quite happily for two lunches.

So while we wait for warm June sunshine and the small window of opportunity to gorge on ripe, luscious local strawberries, I may grow ever wary of what's lurking under the skin or imported fruit, but I will happily continue to buy bananas with confidence that they will never go to waste.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/4 cup milk
1 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (or more, if you like 'em chocolatey)

In large bowl measure first 6 ingredients. Stir to mix. Make a well in the center.

In another bowl beat the eggs until frothy. Mix in the cooking oil, milk and bananas. Pour into the well. Stir just to moisten. Add in chocolate chips and stir, but not too much or the batter will get tough and your muffins will be weirdly pointy.

Line a muffin pan with paper cups or great the tin well. Fill cups 3/4 full. Bake in 400 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine.

My kids are going on a field trip this week to see no other than Fred Penner!  Fred Penner!  He was THE children's songster when I was a kid, so hopefully the kids will have fun.  I am not volunteering for this field trip, no matter how much I would like to see the live unplugged version of "I'm A Bump In The Middle Of The Prairie".  The thought of being on a school bus alone makes me feel shaky, and anyway, my children have informed me that I'm not very "fun" to go on field trips with. 

The last field trip they went on, they were chaperoned by a friend of mine who, by all accounts, was the most fun mom ever.  She went with them through a corn maze many, many times.  I realized then that I would never be the fun mom on field trips.

But who needs to be the fun mom for events?  I'm fun every single day*.  This is shown through my wild and crazy lunch packing.

*I am not actually fun, every single day or otherwise.

Although the kids come home for lunch, Fridays are early dismissal days, which means that the bell rings at 1:10.  There isn't time for a proper lunch, so the children get two brief "nutritional breaks."  I used to send sandwiches, but found they were largely uneaten, and by the time we got home after spending time on the playground, the children were insane with hunger.  I realized, especially with my younger son, that there was just too much going on in the classroom and not much time, and so I needed to pack quick snack-y things for them to munch on.

This week, since they will be leaving for the Fred Penner concert at 12:15, I assume that there will be very little time for lunch eating.  So I will send them with their "Friday lunches", which will guarantee me my title of most fun mom ever*!

*I will never get the title of most fun mom ever.

I feel like one of the cool girls this week.  I'm packing lunches too!  I'm not just driving to the school and back six times!  I'M AN OFFICIAL LUNCH PACKER!  And this is what I will pack:

- Container of mini vegetable flavoured Bretons for Mark, container of Stoned Wheat Thins for Jake.
- Slices of ham for Jake, slices of sausage for Mark.
- Sliced strawberries.
- Cinnamon loaf
- Craisins for Jake, dried pineapple for Mark, because nothing says most fun mom ever like dehydrated fruit! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Blueberries and Gratitude

I've been mildly sick all week with what I would cheerfully call a "spring" cold if it was, in fact, spring here and not gloomy endless winter, so I wasn't doing lunches this week with anything even approaching my normal apathy. I HOPE YOU LIKE BABY CARROTS AND CANNED SOUP, KIDS.

And then, of course, my oldest child had a brief (thank you) but terrifying health scare yesterday. She's fine - ohthankyouthankyouthankyou - but I couldn't stop LOOKING at her for a while afterwards, like my eyes were hungry for the sight of her. Last night's supper was all her favorites, because I'm just so grateful she's all right.

I'll probably be back to crabbing at her to clean her room again by the weekend, but for now, the school lunches were made with laser-focus AND I got up early to make blueberry muffins, which are her FAVORITE. It's my favorite blueberry muffin recipe, too - simple enough to make even when mildly feverish first thing in the morning and solid enough to pack nicely in a school lunch. When I make muffins, I normally try to switch some wholewheat flour, but don't with these - they depend on the unhealthy delicious whiteness of the white flour and white sugar for their yumminess. You can pretend, as I do, that the blueberries make up for it.

Preheat your oven to 400.

1/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten.
Cream together the butter and sugar (in a bowl, my recipe says. Where do they THINK we'll cream butter and sugar?) and mix in the egg.

In another bowl, sift together
1 1/2 cups pastry or regular white flour
a tiny pinch of salt, which I skip because I never have unsalted butter on hand, but your call.
2 tsp baking powder

Add to creamed mixture, alternating with:
1/2 cup milk.
Fold in
1 cup frozen blueberries.

Spoon batter into a prepared 12-cup muffin tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until nicely browned.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

birthday lunch!

My middle son turns 5 today. FIVE.

Because of my dayhome, he's had packed lunches for most of his life. It's just part of how things go. He's used to it. On weekends, when I could make him a cooked lunch, he will often default to asking for a sandwich and a banana because a hot lunch is just a weird concept for him.

Last night though was the special Packing of the Birthday Lunch.

He wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, blueberry yoghurt, watermelon, and grapes.


For his cake he wanted a blue, heart-shaped cake, with white frosting. And Smarties in the frosting. And a "number 5" candle. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy, as he likes to say. My mom taught me the simple trick to making heart-shaped cakes when I was just a kid and helping my dad to celebrate his Valentine's Day birthday. Lest any of you have as imperfect a grasp of spatial relationships as I do, I hereby share the secret:

Bake a basic layer cake in one 8" square pan and one 8" round pan. Once the cake has cooled, cut the round one in half. Place the two halves alongside the square cake like mouse ears and hey presto! heart-shaped cake.

It's small enough to fit on a 12" pizza pan covered in pretty foil, which is how I assembled mine. Smooth over any gaps with frosting (if you're me) or slice the tops down neatly to make a completely flat cake (if you're someone who likes to decorate cakes).

For the rest of the week - blue cake in the lunchboxes! And watermelon, because huge ones were on sale this week at our grocery store and ended up being sweet, juicy, and perfectly ripe. This means winter is over somewhere! And that's almost good enough for me.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Let them eat scones!

Does it feel like spring will never come where you live? It sure does here. The day will look tantalizingly sunny from inside, but then you optimistically go outside in your jean jacket and realize that you are woefully under-layered.


Today, when I stepped outside for some air at lunch, it actually was sunny and jean-jacket warm. I even got to wear my sunglasses non-ironically. By mid-afternoon, however, the cruel rain was pelting my window and when I left work to drive home for dinner it was bitingly cold. I was, once again, underdressed.

If dressing in this weather is challenging, I find cooking to be equally so. I yearn for barbeque one minute, soul-solacing soup the next. It's so confusing. Clearly there is only one type of culinary craft one can depend on during such uncertain times: baking.

I find baking the ultimate comfort food. I might have mentioned that before. You can have your potato chips; I'll take the brownies, thank you.

But I'm not all about the chocolate. I was flipping through Canadian Living magazine today and saw this recipe for yummy little lemon scones with strawberries and cream and they pretty much shouted SPRING! Right in my face.

So I'm going to make them this week. And even though delicious, sweet, plump little local strawberries won't be on our table until June, imported strawberries will do in a pinch. Who can tell the difference under all that whipped cream? While they are still warm, I'm going to sit at my table, bathed in a ray of sunlight, and I'm going to eat one. Or maybe even two. And I'm going to pretend it's really and truly spring.

(Pssst: What does this post have to do with making lunches? Not much! I have no creative lunch nuggets this week. I, quite frankly, have no idea what's going in lunches so I'm just kind of winging it. Some weeks are just like that. Especially when spring refuses to come.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

No Regrets

Remember Bob Ross, of The Joy of Painting fame?  Remember his line "We don't make mistakes, we just have happy accidents."  He would take blobs of paint and turn them into happy little trees or happy little clouds or what have you.  You could probably go insane and dump an entire can of paint on a canvas, Joker-and-his-henchmen style, and Bob Ross would probably figure out a way to turn it into a happy little mountain scene.  It sounds like I'm being cynical but actually I admire that very much, the ability to turn a mistake into something positive, the ability to just think of it as a happy accident.

And so it was that I decided to make vegan sour cream.  I blended together a 300 gram package of soft tofu with 1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and a pinch of salt.  I whirred it all together, happily envisioning a big dollop on top of my quesadilla, mixing it with salsa as a dip for salty tortilla chips. 

Then, I tasted it.  And it was vile.  It may have been one of the worst tasting things to ever have come out of my kitchen, or perhaps even to come out of any kitchen. 

I scraped it into a container with the hope that allowing it to sit, refrigerated, would help matters.  It did not.  I let it sit for longer.  It was unchanged in its vileness.

Later that day I was making soup.  I sauteed mushrooms and onions, added the vegetable broth and some spices.  I pureed it all together, but it was missing the creaminess that I love in a mushroom soup.  Light bulb: would the vile vegan sour cream be less vile as a component of something better?  I nervously stirred 1/4 cup of the concoction into my soup and...it was the best soup I had ever made. 

Happy accidents indeed! 

After the soup incident, I decided to madly add the gross simulated sour cream into anything that seemed to want a nice creamy texture.  It turns out that it only wanted to be a part of something bigger, that horrible sour cream.  It wasn't strong enough to stand alone but as part of a group, it shone.  It elevated a simple soup into something creamy and decadent.  I wondered what would happen if I added it to hummus.

Without telling my husband my diabolical plan, I prepared hummus in my usual way, but added 1/4 cup of my formerly-reviled-but-now-admired sour cream.  I set it on the table along with pita and Greek salad, and vibrated with excitement.  "Wow," he said.  "This hummus is really good!"  I smiled as I told him the secret ingredient was tofu!  Tofu!  He grimaced.  "I wish you hadn't told me that."  He took another giant scoop of the hummus.  "I didn't need to know about the tofu."

Nicole's Yummus Hummus

1-19 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup vegan sour cream (recipe above)
fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup pitted Kalamalta olives

In a food processor, whir together chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon, oil, and vegan sour cream.  Add pepper to taste.  When hummous is very smooth, add olives and pulse until olives are chunky.  Serve with pita, vegetables, or as a protein-rich sandwich spread.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Loss and Magic

One of the kids in his class, the Boy reports - half in fascinated horror and half in TOTAL ENVY - brings in a lunchable and a pop EVERYDAY for lunch. And I get it - if I was in grade 5, this is what I'd want for my lunch, too. Remember when you were a kid and your hippy mom made you eat RAISINS instead of actual candy because it was the 1970s and you thought "FINE THEN, WHEN I AM AN ADULT I AM GOING TO EAT CANDY EVERY DAY" and now you're an adult and you probably DON'T*? That's how my kids are with lunchables. FINE, mom. We'll just eat them everyday when we're adults. Let's hope they don't.

*Not ONLY do I not eat candy everyday but I now make cookies with raisins in them because it turns out that raisins are DELICIOUS.

So to make it up to my kids, I sometimes make them homemade versions of lunchables, especially the little pizza ones. I get up early on Wednesday mornings (that makes me sound so virtuous) and make pizza dough and then I bake up a zillion little mini pizzas for the kids who are, I hope, pleased. And I did this yesterday except because yeast is weird, they became strange puffy pizza buns instead of little mini pizzas.

"Everyone thought they looked delicious and THEY WERE," said The Boy, when he got home. I wish I knew what I DID to make them but they were just one of the weird lucky flukes that happen when baking, probably never to be repeated.

I found it strange that our daily lives, our routine of going to school and packing lunches and buying groceries and doing the laundry continues on almost as though things were completely normal, almost as though we hadn't just suffered a huge loss. But we have - Bill's grandfather died on Good Friday and even though he was 93 and dying is to be expected when you're that old, it still came as a gut punch of shock.  One of the comforting things about having a routine, though, is the way it carries you through really hard times, the way it lets you go on auto-pilot until the wave of grief has stopped pulling you under.

Great-grandpa lived across the road from a general store and he would give the kids handfuls of change when we visited in the summer and they would dash across the road and come back with forbidden loot - pop and candy and even lunchables, once. Great-grandpa sat on the steps with the kids and tried out some of the lunchables with them and said, calmly, "Well. Those aren't very good, are they?" and the kids grinned at him as they pigged out with the hummingbirds flitting around overhead.

Now the store is closed and empty and no one lives in his house anymore and he is gone, too and the kids were so lucky to have had him in their childhoods, this lucky fluke that happened and will never be repeated.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

help me

A week ago my seven year old looked at me calmly and announced "I want to try eating vegetarian for a while."

This has come out of left field.

We are a meat-eating family. Beef, pork, chicken, fish - Easter weekend I even roasted a leg of lamb, for god's sake. (I wasn't crazy about it, but the lamb biryani I made with the leftovers was fabulous.) We've tried duck, rabbit, deer. We do our best to buy locally-raised meat and we have always explained to our kids where bacon comes from and how it's important to us that the animals we consume were raised happily and slaughtered humanely.

Seven year old says this isn't an ethical issue; he's just curious about vegetarian food. OKAY THEN. We agreed that for now anyway he'd continue to eat what the family does for dinner, because it just doesn't make practical sense to cook separate meals for him. He's fine with that, but basically what it means is that I can't send any meat in his lunch anymore. Remember back a few weeks ago when I complained about making a zillion ham and cheese sandwiches? BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

So this has thrown a small wrinkle into lunch packing around here, because my middle son is still and forever dedicated to meat. Suddenly my nice assembly-line lunch making has been thrown out of whack, a little bit.

We've had lots of hummus & whole wheat pita, cut-up vegetables, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs (Easter weekend and your supply of eggs, I thank thee), pancakes... suggestions, anyone? Seriously, I'm new to this - yes, I was a vegetarian for eight years, but with the clarity of my grown-up eyes I can see that I was a really bad vegetarian. (It was really a socially-acceptable way to justify horribly disordered eating, frankly.)

Oh, and he has expressed an interest in lentils, of all things. LENTILS. Please, internet - give me some lentil recipes that don't taste like hippies.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tupperware Tantrum

I had a Tupperware Tantrum last night when I was packing lunches.

I couldn't help myself. I mean, I have an entire cupboard dedicated to reusable containers and lids for lunches. It's kind of a thing with me, you know? In the fall I made a point of updating my stash, ensuring there were at least three of each new container I bought so each kid would have one. Yesterday, I could barely find enough for one kid's lunch. So, yeah, tantrum.

It turns out that my husband had something to do with the disappearing containers. Our schools do boomerang lunches, which means anything your kid doesn't eat comes back home in their lunch bag. So when he started dealing with after school lunches and the kids inevitably returned with a few uneaten blackberries, pineapple chunks or whatever, he would pop that container into the freezer to use in the morning smoothie.

Smart, right? I used to just eat whatever fruit they brought back. Or I would compost it if I wasn't into it in the morning. But this recycling lunch fruit in the smoothie thing is inspired. (Except for the hiding of lunch-sized containers in the freezer: that is just plain annoying.)

My husband has perfected the art of smoothie-making in recent months. He starts with about half a cup of the thick bottled "smoothie" juice you can buy in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. We usually stock up when it's on sale. Then he adds a splash of pure cranberry or orange juice, yogurt he freezes in small batches and some frozen fruit. Whir it all up in the blender and it makes a milkshake-thick, fruity breakfast drink. You could also put some in a thermos and send it for lunch.

What was for lunch today?
- Leftover greek chicken pita wraps
- Goldifsh crackers
- Grape tomatoes
- Green grapes
- A few of these crappy chocolate lady finger cookies my kids love for some reason

Monday, April 1, 2013

Baby, Your Sweetness Is My Weakness

I am all chocolated out.  This is not an April Fool's joke.  I've been sneaking a couple of mini eggs here, a few pastel wrapped Hershey's kisses there.  I even, shamefully, tried one of those powdery Angry Bird themed fruit candies, and I was roundly punished - it was absolutely vile.

So I'm feeling like I need a break from sugar.  Refined and added sugar, that is, because naturally-occurring fruit sugars are still fair game, which brings me to my new boyfriend, my food dehydrator.

I think I'm going to call him Hugh.

Strangely enough, most dried fruits that can be bought commercially are coated in sugar, which - with the exception, maybe, of cranberries - is highly unnecessary.  A fresh, ripe piece of pineapple is as sweet as sweet can be, there is no need for extra sugar. 

In the past week I've dehydrated six pineapples.  They were on sale for $1.88 each in my local grocery store, a steal of a deal.  I absolutely love fresh pineapple, but I also wanted to make the tropics last longer than a week.  Who am I kidding, I just wanted to play with my dehydrator.
Guess who is going to get dried pineapple as school snacks this week?  Actually, only one of my children likes pineapple.  The other one is going to have grapes, plus they will both have some nice fruit-sweetened banana bread.  We have got to get this sugar monkey off our backs, and I feel like those snacks will help.  Sweetness, without all that added sugar.
The fun thing about dehydrating fruit is how tiny it gets.  Below is the yield from four dehydrated pineapples, or approximately sixteen cups of diced fruit.
Hence, here is my caveat: it's pretty easy to eat an entire dehydrated pineapple at one sitting, and that's a lot of sugar.  It's so delicious, though, and I do feel like it's a wonderful, wholesome thing.  I recommend a dehydrator for everyone!  The kids are already putting in their requests: grape fruit leather and dried cherries being at the (completely not seasonal) top.  I will update in the summer and the fall with my attempts at those two things; in the meantime I'm going to be playing with currently-available items.
Wow, I feel like Ma Ingalls, if Ma Ingalls had electricity, access to tropical fruits, and modern drying technology.