Thursday, October 24, 2013

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

It's October! When everywhere you look, someone is putting 'pumpkin spice' into something and selling it at a premium.

I'm as big a sucker for it as anyone. There is something about that smell that instantly transports me to the woods behind the house I grew up in, wearing rubber boots and rustling through the ankle-deep leaf carpet. In buying that over-priced latté, I'm trying to recapture that feeling.

Whenever I see a recipe for something I like with the added deliciousness that is pumpkin pie spice, I get inspired to try it.

First step? Mix up your own pumpkin pie spice. There are about a zillion recipes online but this one is my favourite. Just mix everything up in an airtight jar and pop it in the cupboard.

3 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp nutmeg
1.5 tsp ground allspice
1.5 tsp ground cloves

The nice thing about making your own is that you can adjust the various components to your own personal tastes.

What does all this have to do with lunches? Well, just after Thanksgiving Julie van Rosendaal posted a recipe for "Roasted Sweet Potato Gingerbread" on her "Dinner With Julie" website - and lo, you can use canned pureed pumpkin instead of sweet potatoes.

*cue angels singing*

I whipped up a batch on the weekend, using some leftover canned pumpkin (WHY is there always leftover canned pumpkin?) and WOW. We had some warm right away with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and it felt like a luxurious treat. It has since gone to school in several lunches, and it's perfect - not crumbly, and still moist & delicious several days later. It's a nicely festive little dessert option for the week before Halloween, and pumpkin is packed with potassium, Vitamins A & B, and is rich in anti-oxidants.

Take THAT, Starbucks.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

These Apples Are Delicious (as a matter of fact they are, she said)

Can you BELIEVE that it is mid-October? Can you believe that October is MORE than half over? Me either. It feels like school just started and then - whoooooosh - here we are.

What's been going on for lunches around here? Same old, same old. The kids are still coming home and eating the same exact lunches that they have for years - bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter - and I'm still packing the same rotation of snacks for them to take to school: cookies, loaves, muffins with fruit or veggies on the side. If it's not broke...

The one fruit I never pack for school snack is the one fruit I always had as a child, and that is the much-loved and celebrated apple. Whole apples are hard for my kids to eat due to chronically loose teeth and time constraints, and sliced apples are just too BROWN. I know, I know, if I sprinkled them with lemon juice they would be fine, but I'm more of a "well, you can eat them after school" kind of mom. I'll happily bake everything from scratch, but apparently lemon juice on apple slices is just too much for me to handle.

It's too bad they don't have apples at school because I currently have sixty pounds of apples in my cold storage right now, along with forty pounds of Concord grapes. I just got back from Thanksgiving at the in-laws', where fall means fruit, beautiful, quality fruit. We're all enjoying the fresh flavours, but the time to enjoy the grapes is limited, and I have a plan.

Remember my not-so-secret love of fruit leather? Remember how my husband romanced me by buying me a food dehydrator? Do you see where this is going? HOMEMADE GRAPE AND APPLE FRUIT LEATHER. I see the future and it is going to be all dehydrating, all the time, at least for the weekend. I haven't quite figured out the measurements yet...and I haven't quite figured out how to make the leather thick and chewy rather than thin and roll-up like, but it's all part of the experience. As someone at Blissdom Canada said a few weeks ago, I CAN DO ANYTHING IF I BELIEVE I CAN. Well, I probably can't become a professional athlete or a supermodel or someone who has to work with small children, but I am pretty sure I CAN make fruit leather.

Stay tuned - I will let you know how it turns out! In the meantime, I'm going to go eat some more Concords and stock up on teeth whitening strips.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The fruit drought

I bought a honeydew melon the other day and when I cut it up for lunches it looked lovely, pale green and firm. However, when I ate my serving at work the next day it was disappointing. The texture was wrong, a signal that melon season is over. Period.

Of course, we have seasons for a reason. There was a time when people only ate local fruit in season. So you enjoyed your two weeks of strawberries and then it was over, unless you had the skill and foresight to do some preserving. 

Now we can get all kinds of fruit all year long. Mangoes in March, nectarines in November:  I definitely partake. It's hard to eat only apples, pears and bananas for 8 months straight, though our lunches do skew towards these fruits in the winter months. So when it's cold and blustery and I have non-local fruits in the fridge that may have questionable texture, I make fruit salad. Because, really, who doesn't like fruit salad? It's a welcome change in the lunch box and it adds some variety to our fruit-eating repertoire. After almost 6 tedious weeks of making school lunches now, I'll take variety wherever I can get it. 

Simple Fruit Salad
1/2 cup grapes
1/2 cup diced apples
1/2 cup melon (watermelon, honey dew or cantaloupe)
1/4 cup of blueberries
1 tsp maple syrup or honey
1 tsp lime juice

Mix all together and chill. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

when you can't send peanut butter

This is not a sponsored post, nor was I compensated in any way for the following content.

Our school is officially classified as "nut careful". Which is terrible grammar, I know, but it essentially means that all students, staff, and visitors are asked to not bring any nuts or products containing nuts to school. Classrooms with a student who has a nut allergy are "nut free" - in those classrooms, if a parent forgets and sends something with nuts, the offending item is promptly removed and the parents are called to remind them.

This is all fine. No peanut butter & jam sandwich I've ever made is delicious enough to run the risk of hurting a child. My peanut-junkie kids can get their fix on weekends, or the seemingly endless parade of PD days.


My kids are unapologetic lovers of peanut butter: peanut butter & jam, or honey, or bananas, or smeared on a cut-up apple, or on celery stalks as ants-on-a-log. Even carrot sticks apparently taste good dipped in peanut butter. They are pragmatic about the situation, but when their friends started bringing sandwiches to school made with nut-free peanut butter substitutes, they started pestering me to give them a try.

Enter NoNuts Golden Peabutter.

I was given a jar by a neighbourhood mom who tried it out on her kids, with limited success.

I'm glad I didn't pay any money for it.

At first glance, it looks basically like peanut butter. The smell isn't quite right, though. We all used a highly-scientific sampling procedure - we took a taste on the end of a spoon.


The mouth feel is the same as smooth peanut butter. And your brain goes something like this:


And that's how it went. I tried it as did all three of my kids, and we all had the same reaction - for something that has two kinds of oil on a six-item ingredient list, this stuff is as dry as tombs. I cannot imagine eating an entire sandwich made of it. I'd rather chew paper. My poor toddler just kept saying "more milk, pwease, mommy?" and guzzling it down in desperate fashion. The aftertaste has unbelievable staying power, too. I tasted it again while writing this post just to make sure I was remembering it correctly (I was) and several swallows of strong coffee later I can still taste it.

NoNuts Golden Peabutter is made of brown peas, oil, icing sugar, and preservatives. It is free of nuts, peanuts, gluten, and trans-fats. One tablespoon has 2 grams of protein; less than the admittedly-not-terribly-healthy Kraft Smooth PB that my kiddos like. I checked with registered dietician and blogger Diana Chard who told me that a serving of protein is 6 to 7 grams, so NoNuts' claim to be "very high in protein" is not correct unless you're eating it by the quarter-cup. I say that if you do that your entire body will shrivel into a dessicated ruin, so.

Bottom line? I don't recommend NoNuts Golden Peabutter. Yes, it's nut-free - but that's about all it has going for it. It's more expensive than peanut butter, too. Leave this one on the shelf.


Recipe time!

One thing my kids do love is hummus. I am very, very lazy about hummus - it goes on sale a lot, and I figure pre-prepared hummus is better than no hummus.

However, I have a new food processor so my excuse for not making any from scratch is kind of gone. I've made this recipe before and it makes a nice, chunky hummus. My Lebanese neighbour tells me that if you want very creamy, smooth hummus, you need to parboil the chickpeas first so they break up more readily.

This is from Eat, Shrink, and Be Merry by Janet & Greta Podleski

1 can (19oz/540ml) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup light sour cream
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each ground cumin and ground coriander

Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Makes about 2 cups.