Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Energy continued...

We've been having a grand time making more little snack-sized sources of energy. This was a great activity for the kids to work through entirely on their own with a bit of verbal guidance and supervision. I did get in trouble for trying to get the nuts chopped and ready for them - which must be a sign that they were way into the project.

Here's the scene as it unfolded:

First, make a nice large mess of the tiny table we are working on. Don't forget to drip the mixture on the floor.

Pour the nuts and carob mixture together:

Add to a pan, refrigerate, cut into chunks, and devour them! (Good thing we made a double batch)

These got an enthusiastic thumbs up from everybody involved and they taste remarkably like the carob energy bars we get in the store.
"Only better!" says one reviewer.

Here's the actual recipe:
Carob Energy Nuggets
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup powdered carob
1 tsp sea salt
(only use if you are using unsalted nuts, otherwise leave it out)
1 T. vanilla
¾ cup cashews
¾ cup almonds 

½ cup pistachios
1 cup coconut

In a small bowl, mix together agave, carob, sea salt, and vanilla. Blend nuts until finely chopped. Add coconut and pulse until blended. Place in bowl and thoroughly blend in carob mixture. Spread mixture into a pan and refrigerate until firm. Then cut into small squares.

And here's the sweet little kicker to this one.
Later in the evening, Zeal was looking through some supplies for another project he was working on and came across a leftover package of candy foils we used last year when we were making candy skulls for Day of the Dead.
He shouted, "I have a great idea!" at the top of his lungs, and then pulled out what was left of the carob candies and wrapped them all individually. He was so excited about the foil, even the neighbors got to try some of them. They were a hit all around.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Zeal Balls! For anyone in need of a bit of energy!

(This one's for you, Valerie. Sorry it took me so long to get this up)

Energy Balls (otherwise know as Zeal Balls!)

Kids are often described as balls of energy! They go so hard, so fast, so pure, all day. Snacks are intended to be pick-me-ups for them, just satisfying enough to get through till the next full meal. But snacks also need to provide the nutrients to help little bodies keep up with the big ideas they have in mind.

A power-packed little combination of both sweet and savory ingredients, Energy Balls are a quick, easy, and all around fun snack for kids to make themselves or together as a family. Because they combine many different ingredients filled with a variety of nutrients, they provide a quick, one-inch burst of energy that will have the staying power that growing, moving kids need.

A great “to-go” snack, Energy Balls are easy packables for picnics, car trips, and school lunches. They can be made days in advance, refrigerated, and pulled out during the melt-down emergencies many kids experience when they are running low on fuel.

For an added creative and sensory experience, use your hands to stir the ingredients together. Don’t worry too much about getting the “right” measurements – these little guys are forgiving.

Energy Balls
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup granola
¼ cup grated carrots or zucchini
¼ cup oats
¼ cup sunflower seeds (or other nuts and seed of your choice such as flax or hemp)
¼ cup peanut butter or more if you feel the mixture is too dry to roll into balls.
1 T agave nectar or maple syrup (optional - we use pretty sweet granola from Golden Temple so we often don't add extra sweetener)
Mix all ingredients together and roll into twelve 1-inch balls.
Dust or roll in wheat germ, flax seeds, hemp seeds, or your choice of topping.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Strawberry Love!

We are lucky enough to be in strawberry heaven, all because our CSA is about as passionate about strawberries as they come. They call them their "signature item". We've been getting our weekly box for six seasons now, and the strawberries are as good as ever. Here is where they grow:

As you can imagine, when these always ripe and sweet strawberries make it to our doorstep each week, they don't often last very long. Generally they are eaten right out of the tote. But Zeal feels, for some unknown reason this year, that we need to be "doing something" with all that garden goodness. He's taken to slicing them (all the strawberries in this bowl were sliced by him - very methodically - and then he talked me into making the sign for his bowl (those are really his words gracing it)!

So when our friends came over for a cooking adventure, it felt natural to do something "strawberry". We decided on strawberry shortcake. We started with a simple biscuit recipe made from a baking mix (you know the kind that comes in a box). We used a gluten free one, but any biscuit mix or scratch recipe will do (we just decided to simplify it for the kids ever-wanting-to-just-go-and-play attention spans). This was a super easy thing for the kids to quickly do by themselves.

Warm out of the oven, we split each biscuit in half and the kids had a great time layering the biscuit halves, strawberry slices, and whipped cream. We used this soy one as we were doing a vegan version of shortcake. With very few ingredients and a great taste, it was a nice alternative.

These shortcakes weren't so short, but rather tall with taste. They got an enthusiastic thumbs up from the kids. I thought the biscuits could have used some sweetener to make it more dessert-y, but since the kids loved them just the way they were I decided to keep that to myself.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another reason I love my mom!

I have this plan to someday write down all the reasons I so love this wonderful woman in my life, my mom!

She's the woman who taught me how to cook, but never forced it on me.
She's the woman who has always respected that there were just foods I wasn't wanting to eat, and never made me (knowing that my body knew what it needed and what it couldn't handle before the allergy doctors figured it out.)
And she's the woman who always saved these special little things from my childhood and pulls them out at various moments in my life when they seem most fitting.

Here's the homemade apron I wore as a very young child - wore everywhere, but had totally forgotten about!

This Mother's Day she brought it to me. It will never fit me again (it's too small even for Zeal), but it's hanging in a place of honor in our kitchen as a symbol of love, cooking together, and handing down memories to our children. Thanks Mom!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Awesome Family Cookbook!

Cathe Olson, author of Simply Natural Baby Food is back! And, wow!

From shopping lists to sample menus to sound nutritional information for pregnancy and lactation, this book covers everything you want to know, and more! There are sections on how to supplement your diet to help with everything from cravings, constipation and heartburn to a colicky baby, lack of breastmilk and depression. But that's only the beginning.

There are over 300 recipes in this cookbook. When I first got this book, I started by writing little notes to myself in the margins: things like "Yumm!", "Quick and Easy" and "Great!" Pretty soon, I realized the whole book was being marked up and now I have little post-its sticking out all over to remind myself to "make that again!" Every recipe has been a hit!

Many of the recipes are vegan; those that aren't offer a vegan alternative. Each recipe offers nutritional information and key nutrients. Many of the recipes offer freezing directions and variation ideas. In addition to seemingly endless healthful recipes and unique ideas for everything from breakfasts to snacks, to stews, entrees and desserts the whole family will dive into, Olson offers a variety of teas and tonics to soothe pregnancy discomforts.

This book should be in every family's kitchen! It is truly the best `family' cookbook I have come across.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Breakfast in Bed: Celebrating Mamas, Wonder Kids, and Togetherness!

(Excerpted from the May issue of Wonderwise)

Breakfast in Bed: Celebrating Mamas, Wonder Kids, and Togetherness!

The light peeks through the curtains and you hear the birds begin to sing just a half-second before the tiny cold feet you’d know at any time of day burrow into the small of your back. You’re a mama, so this is only the beginning of the surprises you have come to expect throughout your days.

There is something very special about kids and beds. Away from the barrage of other activities, household stimuli, and other distractions, the bed becomes a place for connection, one in which children open up, talk about their dreams (literal and figurative), tell stories, ask questions, and listen.

So before you peel yourself up from that wonderfully comfortable nook to go set the table for a morning meal, consider the alternative: breakfast in bed.

Breakfast in Bed Essentials
Breakfast in bed is perhaps the most special kind of meal. It can be simple or elaborate. It can be in celebration of a special day, like Mother’s or Father’s Day, or just be a time to stretch out those precious morning hours where you all meet in bed to connect before the day’s bustle begins.

On the Menu
In our house, the more we bring food into our bed, the simpler the menus seem to become. We might just go for some of our favorite granola bars we made the morning before or some apple slices while we’re reading. We do have a few standing rules now about the kinds of food that can even be carried through the door: nothing too sticky, nothing too crumbly, and drinks get lids. Whether simple or elaborate, the menu for a breakfast in bed can take many different roads. For the mama who plans ahead, less work, and to add a true being served feeling to your morning, use your slow cooker the night before and try a creamy rice pudding or trail mix oatmeal. On those special days, such as Mother’s Day, the menu might get spiced up a bit. For the rest of the month, right here on Thinking Outside the Recipe, I will be featuring some of our favorite Breakfast in Bed recipes, so stay tuned.

Navigating forks and knives, cups and saucers, and all the other little items you might include in your breakfast in bed, can take some real juggling, so make sure you have something you are serving your special meal on. While trays made especially for eating this way, commonly called TV trays, can be a wonderful addition, you can also improvise and serve meals on a cookie sheet. Or try serving it in an appropriately sized box lid, perhaps even decorated to make it extra special.

Serving Stories
An essential part of our breakfasts in bed includes all types of stories and language experiences. While you are eating, share a few fun poems. Bring some light reading in the form of comic books. Or read the next chapter from whatever your bedtime book might have been the night before. It’s also a great time to connect your kids with the newspaper. Plan the rest of your day together based on what the weather page says. Read the funnies, or look for interesting kid-friendly news stories together.

Theme Meals
Etched in my memory is one particular Mother’s Day when we brought Mom breakfast in bed. The foods we served her spelled out MOTHER. Milk for M. Orange juice for O. Toast for T. Hash browns for H. Scrambled eggs for E. And a bowlful of thawed raspberries from the freezer for R. She was delighted with the gift and we all enjoyed the morning cuddling together.

Even if you aren’t celebrating a particular day, consider giving your breakfast a theme, such as High Tea (wear crowns and serve little sandwiches), Rainy Day breakfast (read rain themed books and serve “clouds”, aka tapioca pudding), or try a Jungle Breakfast (bring a few fun noses from your costume collection and serve “Jungle Juice”, aka banana, pineapple, mango smoothie).

Breakfast from Afar
A few years ago, we couldn’t be there for Mother’s Day, and I felt at a loss for sharing that special morning and breakfast with my mom. We still wanted to send our Mother’s Day brunch wishes even though we couldn’t be there with her, so we packed up breakfast in bed and sent it snail mail. The box consisted of some homemade muffins, chocolates, and a ceramic champagne flute my son had painted at the local paint-your-own-pottery place. A simple package, but filled with love. And Mom still got her breakfast in bed.

Breakfast Anytime
It doesn’t need to be morning time for you to enjoy this special ritual. And it is usually a treat for kids to eat breakfast foods for dinner, so consider turning your eating rituals upside down. On a particularly cold or dreary day, take lunch or a snack into bed. Bring your stuffed animals along and let them share in the fun. Have breakfast for dinner in bed, and include the whole family.

As we celebrate family, togetherness, and just being “Mom”, give yourself permission and an invitation to stay in bed a bit longer this month. Begin a new ritual and climb back under those covers and warm yourselves from the inside out.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Sweet Potato Firefighter Guy

Lately, we have been eating a lot of sweet potatoes in various forms for lunch. Not sure where it came from , but we have been calling sweet potato fries "Firefighter Fries" for ever now, maybe since Zeal could speak and announce his preference for them. In the last few weeks, he has been loving making them for lunch and adding a new twist to the process by using bamboo skewers to hold them together in the shape of Sweet Potato Firefighter Guy. Sometimes we are graced with an abstract figure; sometimes they take the form of a robotic transformer from Civilizania. Always, they are yummy.

Here's what we do for regular Firefighter Fries:

1. Peel a sweet potato/yam - it builds dexterity in the hands to have children use a vegetable peeler. Often, I peel them quickly with a knife if Zeal doesn't want to use a peeler.

2. Slice into "fries" or stick shapes. Sometimes we cut them into "coins" too. Any shape will do.

3. Spread sweet potatoes out evenly on a lightly oiled pan.

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

5. Toss "fries" and return to oven for another 15 minutes.

6. When browned, remove from oven and salt to taste. Yummy!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Book Review: Simply Natural Baby Food

Simply Natural Baby Food by Cathe Olson is a simply wonderful book. This little gem is a must-have for anyone wanting to give their baby or toddler the very best in whole, nutritious foods. Finally, here’s a great collection of baby food recipes and ideas that go beyond traditional jar food and provide our babies and toddlers with exactly what they need, when they need it.

Simply Natural Baby Food provides recipes for Starting Solids, Intermediate Foods, Older Baby Foods and Toddler Foods. There are many wonderful ideas for breakfast foods, snacks, soups, sandwiches, grains and vegetables, entrees and yummy sugar free desserts and beverages. Each section provides information about the nutritional needs of your growing baby with fun wholesome recipes.

This recipe book is not just “baby food” as the title suggests. With lots of yummy recipes for snacks and meals, this is a book you’ll continue to use well into childhood. Things like fig bars, zucchini cake, and carrot cake sprout cookies will please the whole family.

Go ahead. Think outside the jar!

CAUTION: Children at Work! Staying Safe in the Kitchen

A few little things that need to be said:

CAUTION: Children at Work! Staying Safe in the Kitchen
Wash your hands! Make sure every child washes his/her hands before cooking -- and washes them again any time they sneeze, use the bathroom or cough. Don’t forget to cough or sneeze into your elbow to minimize the germs that touch your hands.

Demonstrate the proper use of utensils, especially knives. Teach children to always cut away from themselves. Save the intricate carving for yourself. Check out these scary fingers to guide children in proper knife use.

Remember that seemingly innocent utensils like plastic knives and toothpicks can become dangerous weapons in the hands of an unwary child. Always supervise closely and offer help when necessary to insure safety.

Don't sample uncooked products made with raw eggs. Yes, this means cookie dough! Raw eggs are a primary source of salmonella, a dangerous type of food poisoning. Although you may have eaten raw cookie dough your entire life, it doesn't mean it's a good idea to teach your children to do so. Instead, let them be your "official tasters" once the project is completed.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Totally Smoothie!

As part of my presentation this coming Monday evening for the Eugene Veg Education Network, I will be demonstrating recipes including a few of our favorite snacks, a lunchtime treat, and our favorite SMOOTHIE, a cherry, spinach, banana mixture everyone will love! Here's a piece called Totally Smoothie I wrote for VegFamily years ago, that seems as timely as ever.

Totally Smoothie
by Ginger Carlson

Let's make it GREEN!" My son joyfully squeals while tossing a handful of fresh organic spinach atop bananas, rice milk, peaches and almond butter into the family blender. Liquefy. Stir. Chop. Pulse. "Green Smoothie!" he cries out in celebration jumping up and down on his stool. His delight is truly scrumptious, as is his breakfast.

Oh, the magic of the blender, the most forgiving tool in our busy lives and kitchens today. Getting our toddlers and young children to eat their share of whole fruits and veggies (or even any at all) can sometimes be a struggle. Spending some time getting to know smoothies may help your young child get those much needed nutrients, with the added bonus of being a way to connect with your kids and spark creative fun in the kitchen.

Smoothies offer a way to make your child's daily whole foods quota. Recent reports by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association show that toddler consumption of dark, green, leafy vegetables has become increasingly low and that fewer than 10% of all infants and toddlers consume ANY green leafies in a given day. Whole fruits and other vegetables are increasingly absent from the diet of young Americans as well. Smoothies can be our baby-step personal solution to this national problem.

Via the all-amazing smoothie, the kitchen has the great potential to become your very own investigational lab. Use a smoothie to explore ways to 'get them to eat their veggies' while providing an opportunity to problem solve ("It's too thick, what should we do?") and think outside the box, in this case, to think outside the recipe. Give ownership to the smoothie experience by allowing your child to get creative with what goes in it. She'll soon find out the joy of mixing colors and what it takes to make a purple, pink, green, orange, brown or white smoothie. As you experiment with your blender, you'll likely find that there really isn't a need for recipes and you can feel confident that there isn't a more ideal way to encourage inquiry and exploration in your young children. With a smoothie, it is nearly impossible to fail. And it's the trial and error, like all things we learn, that will help us, and our kids, to become more in tune with our creativity and become better problem solvers.

Smoothies are a wonderful way for your family to take advantage of the many benefits of raw foods. "We can expose more nutrients by blending, pureeing, and juicing. This keeps the vitamins intact, as well as the enzymes, and accomplishes the goal of steaming without any loss of food value," says David Wolfe, CEO of and author of Eating for Beauty. "Juicing, blending, and pureeing is a way of breaking up fiber without corrupting by heat the integrity of the fiber itself, the nutrients contained in the plant cell, and the quality of the water in the food." When you turn on the blender, you instantly win half the battle by eliminating the texture of a new raw food while enjoying a nutrient rich meal.

Even the savviest little palate will often have difficulty identifying all the nutritious ingredients in a smoothie. Because veggies and other ingredients blend so nicely, the only evidence of their presence in a smoothie will sometimes be the color. So it is easy to get added doses of protein by adding nut butters, avocados, soft tofu, soy milk or yogurt. Experiment with wheat germ, rice milk and flax seed for added grains. Sneak in kale, spinach or other leafy greens, peas, pumpkin, squash or tomato juice. Use soluble fibers such as oat bran, brown rice and your own variation of favorite fruits such as berries, grapefruit, oranges, melons, peaches, pears or pineapple. Add carrots, cucumber, cauliflower, or zucchini. Complete your meal with an alternative to refined sweeteners like molasses, honey, or maple syrup, but realize that the perfect smoothie need not be sweetened up any more than the natural sweetness that the fruit provides. Sometimes just adding a bit of fresh squeezed beet or carrot juice, or rice or vanilla soy milk can be enough to sweeten a smoothie to your child's liking. Of course, before blending, make sure your child is not allergic to those 'hidden' ingredients.

Smoothies are an all around perfect snack or meal for the young child. They are fast, convenient, affordable, satisfying, a tool to spark creativity, and let's not forget nutritious. So give it a whirl; energize your kids and yourself with a smoothie and devour those nutrients, along with the fun!

See it on VegFamily.
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