Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tropical Delights!

When Zeal was just a wee one, we spent a bit of time on a beach in Thailand (those were the days!)
There, he fell in love with the fresh tropical fruits:

And today, whenever we are in the store, he asks for them. Mango is a huge favorite, but fresh young thai coconuts top his list. Besides tasting great, they are high in potassium (much more than a banana) and other minerals.

Young coconuts (the whitish, pale brown ones) are much softer and easier to enjoy than the harder dark brown ones we had to pound with a hammer and chisel when I was a child. To cut into a coconut, use a large knife (a butcher knife if you have one) and (have an adult) make a cut on an angle. Cut around the top until you have a "lid" that will fold back.

Add your favorite straw and sip away.

When you are done sipping the coconut juice, use a spoon to scoop out the soft "meat" and ENJOY!

Makes us feel like we're back on the beach.
Okay, just a little bit...

Everybody needs a little wishful thinking now and again. :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kitchen Tool of the Week: FUNNELS

What ever you do, don't forget to add a funnel or two or three to your kitchen for play, exploration, and yes, with all the help they provide kids with pouring and transferring from one vessel to another, they actually are a good functioning tool to have around.

And they make great masks when you just don't feel like having your picture taken.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Eat like a Bird

My dad used to tell me I ate like a bird. I'm sure he didn't mean this:

We went to the zoo for the day and came across this wonderful exhibit about adaptations. One of the tables was set up as a game to match the kitchen tool to the bird who eats most like it.

The Hummingbird's eating technique resembles the dropper.
When the Snipe eats it resembles chopsticks.
The Flamingo is like a strainer.
The Toucan's beak resembles tongs when it eats.
Pelicans eat in a similar way to the slotted spoon.

But here's Zeal just preferring to drink his carrot juice like a butterfly. Can you say "proboscis"?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: Vegan Lunch Box

The currently out of print Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann is on its way back, being republished by De Capo Lifelong books. You can already place a preorder through Amazon.

Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann
Reviewed by Ginger Carlson

Whether you are sending lunches to your average anything-but-healthy school cafeteria, taking picnic lunches to the park, packing your own lunch for the office, or serving your kids at your own kitchen table, Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann will inspire you, and may even turn your family into adventurous eaters.

Born from the award-winning blog of the same name (, and featuring only the highest rated recipes, this book turns lunch preparation into a healthful, fun and delicious art form. Chapters range from the quick and easy to the more time consuming, to the prepared ahead of time variety. McCann includes chapters for holidays and special occasions as well as a helpful and an easy-to-read Allergen-Free Index for readers with sensitivities to nuts, glutens, soy and/or wheat.

While many of the suggestions include ideas for prepackaged items (which the rushed lunch-packing parent may appreciate), the book strikes a nice balance with its many kid approved and even award winning recipes.

Within each chapter are themed and balanced menus (each menu includes whole grains, protein, fruit, vegetable, calcium and dessert), information about what may be considered obscure ingredients, variation ideas, as well as serving, packing and “frugal Momma” tips. From the simple to the sublime, Vegan Lunch Box features everything from the revived pb & j to vegan versions of classical lunch dishes to new favorites such as Lunch Box Fondue. You’ll find an abundance of ideas and recipes for snacks, side dishes, soups, desserts, and other packables you hadn’t considered before. Mc Cann even offers a sampling of recipes from such places as Ethiopia, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan and India.

It’s called Vegan Lunch Box, but you don’t have to be vegan to enjoy and learn from it. And you may just find your breakfasts, snacks and dinners feeling inspired too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Celebrating Green!

I just hate when I read about a cool idea the someone did AFTER a holiday, so I'd thought I'd let you in on our food planning.

St. Patrick's Day is on Monday, just two short days away, and Zeal is all excited to have everything GREEN all day long. So, we made a quick list of possible green foods for the day:

-avocado and cucumber sushi rolls
-avocado soup
-broccoli soup
-pesto pizza
-pesto or spinach pasta
-a big happy green salad
-cucumber cups or avocado boats
-palak (or sometimes called saag) paneer or aloo (potato)
-green thai curry
-brussell sprouts which cooked the right way are totally delightful
-fried green tomatoes
-tomatillo sauce on something like an enchilada
-collard greens
-zucchini boats

This is just a preliminary idea list, so please share your favorite green foods.

And, of course, we will be starting the day with our favorite green smoothie:

Mama’s Best Smoothie
1 banana
2/3 cup frozen sweet cherries
1 handful spinach leaves
½ cup almond milk
a squirt of agave, to taste (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Whir together until smooth.
Makes 4 servings.

And there is no way I will get through the day without one of these, my favorite Active Greens bar.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Squishy Bananas!

We use bananas a lot when we bake, make smooties, or just in snacks. Often we choose recipes that require a mashed banana. Depending on the ripeness of a banana, sometimes they are too hard for little hands to mask with a for, and perhap they just don't want to use their hands (and get all messy) to mash with.

Here's a great way for little hands to mush up a banana without all the mess.

With the banana still in the peel, gentle squeeze all around the skin (not too hard or it will pop before you are ready).
When you think it is smushed enough, open it and scoop out your squashed banana. Again, here's our favorite mashed banana recipe.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crispy Treats!

We made super yummy, crispy bars of sweetness with a friend.
Even though they were cooking them on the stove, this was an easy enough activity for the kids to do pretty much on their own. I stood behind them and verbally walked them through the whole thing. They stood side by side, each at their own burner and got to each make one entire batch for themselves. No, they didn't each eat the entire batch, but even if they had the ingredients we used were all natural, so it wouldn't have been that bad, not as bad as eating your whole sack of Halloween candy anyway.
Here's what we did (me talking behind the kids):
"Ok, you little coconut loving cooks, turn your burner on to medium heat."
(they needed a little help with this step, because one of the burners kept clicking and didn't light right away)
"Now measure 2 Tablespoons of Coconut Butter, and put it in your pan."

"Stir it around until it is all melted."

"Okay let's half this container of rice mellow. Once you two have figured out how your going to half it, pour it in your pan and mix it up with the coconut butter."

Ricemellow is a tremendous alternative to using marshmallows. It is all-natural, gluten and corn free, sugar free, and vegan. I use it exclusively when making fudge, but we also use it to make s'mores when camping. It's made through Suzanne's Specialities It comes in containers that look this and can be found at your local natural food stores:

"Now mix in 1/4 cup of nut butter."

If you want, you can add any other flavors at this time. One of the kids added a few chocolate chips.
"Turn off the heat and add your cereal."

We used about 2 cups of an organic crisped rice we found in the bulk section of our local market, then added a bit more to get the consitency to the liking of the kids. Any puffed or crispy cereal will work.
"Mix, mix, mix. Do a little crispy mix dance!"

"Now get a little Earth Balance on your fingers and grease your pan."

You can use any butter or margarine to grease your pan, we just like using GMO-free Earth Balance.
"Press your mixture into your pan, and pop it in the fridge."

When cooled, cut into squares and share with your friends. Yum!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: Play With Your Food by Joost Elfers

Go ahead …play with your food! Learn to really see your food with this inspiring and creative ‘coffee table’ book by Joost Elfers. Play With Your Food (as well as Food Play) is full of life-sized photos and step-by-step ‘recipes’. Learn to make okra grasshoppers, cucumber lizards, melon turtles, and my son’s favorite, the bok choy buffalo, to name a few. These sure would make a great centerpiece for your holiday feasts!
All ages (Stewart, Tabori and Chang)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lessons from a Slow Eater: or How to Eat a Waffle

Our waffle maker has officially "burned out", but we woke up with a waffle hankering. So what better thing to do than enjoy breakfast on the town?
The waffles came, piled high with fresh fruit and accompanied with pure Grade A maple syrup. Yum!
I was half way done and chatting with our "neighbors" when I realized he still hadn't taken a bite. Connecting on a different level with his waffles, he was in his own world. Silently, I watched, and learned:

How to Eat a Waffle

Waffle #1
Pour the fruit off the top and push aside.
Get up and ask for a small bowl of butter.
Pour syrup over the top of the butter and mix thoroughly.
Dip knife into maple syrup/butter mixture and take your time drizzling into waffle squares.
Attempt to cut the squares, but then give up and bring your face down to the waffle's level and eat from there.

Waffle #2
Hold waffle up with both hands and start from the corner.
Eat one little square with each bite, making a zig zag pattern along the way.
Tilt your head back and forth so you can see the pattern forming.

Waffle #3
Tear into tiny bite-sized squares and save for later.
Proceed to waffle #4.

Waffle #4
Hold waffle up and nibble around the edges until it resembles the letter "Z".
Go back to waffle #3.

Back to Waffle #3
Dip first three squares into maple syrup one at a time.
Ask for a box and save the rest for later.
Say "I'm done with my waffles now; Let's go Mom."
Sigh and wait cause Mom is still enjoying the moment as much as you enjoyed your waffle and she is now going to finish her coffee refill.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cooking Tool of the Week: Kitchen Scale

Add a scale to your kitchen for some extra math as well as fun. Kitchen scales come in all sizes, shapes, and colors and run the gammet in pricing. We picked this one up at the dollar store and it is working just perfect. Scaled by ounces, this is a perfect way for children to measure and compare the size of their cookies, energy balls, apple slices, or other cooking projects.

So the next time your children are fighting over the brussel sprouts, pull out the scale and show them that just because she got 5 of them, your 4 is equal weight! ;)

Peeking in our Kitchen

One little corner where we create, by the wee chef himself:

The upside down V on the middle cabinet is a corner. And it appears we have floating tiles :)
Notice the bare branches out the window above the sink. We're hoping our view will be filled with more green very soon. But when that happens, we are inclined to "cook" less and may just be out enjoying it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Through the Eye of a Noodle...

...many journeys will surely be made.

With my own childhood wheat sensitivity lurking, I am not a big fan of using wheat. Still, R and Z love their pasta.

And more fun than anything is to eat it stuffed. In this case, I made a filling with tofu and seasonings (sea salt, oregano, thyme), added some chopped spinach, and he was off.

I sat by with my lips sealed as he tried to fill them. It didn't take him too long to figure out that the filling was going in one end and out the other. hee hee. His solution: to hold one end closed while filling from the other. Once he found a way, I then shared that I fill them sideways. He said, "That's cause you do things sideways, Mom, and I go straight from the top."

Well said, my boy. How great that we are all so beautifully different...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Snow and Ice!

What little we got this year has all melted and spring is sneaking up on us, so making his own "snow" has been a recent source of joy for Zeal.
We use a Vitamix, but any decent blender will do for taking a few ice cubes and whipping them into your own blizzard. Zeal likes to eat his plain most of the time, but adding a bit of rose water, cinnamon, agave, brown rice or maple syrup, or other flavors and extracts can turn your snow storm into your own personal ice cream factory.

aaaah, simple pleasures....

Mmm, Mmmm, Muffins!

This is our all time favorite muffin "base". With this recipe, you can experiment with lots of different uses (breakfast muffins, tea cakes, birthday cakes) and add in any other flavors you wish to see in a muffin. This is easy enough for a child to do on their own, but it is fun to make these easy muffins together.

Banana Muffins
2 mashed bananas
½ cup oil
¾ cup maple syrup of agave nectar (to make them less sweet, use 2/3 cup)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour

Use your hands to mash the banana, then mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl. (Okay, yes, you can use a fork, if you wish. But little hands can sometimes really enjoy this sensory experience:) )

Mix in ANY other special ingredients to your muffins such as chocolate chips, raisins, goji berries, coconut, crystalized ginger, chopped nuts, dried cranberries, blueberries, or sweet cherries etc. etc. etc.

Pour batter into a greased muffin tin. Bake for 22 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing.

Make 12 yummy muffins, so share them with your friends.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Playing with Scraps

Before you plop the scraps into the compost, see what can be made of them. Here's a braid we made from the leftover pieces of a leek.

We can't wait to get going on some zucchini whistles! (more on that as the garden grows)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cooking Tool of the Week: Pastry Brush

We all need to oil our pans from time to time. Painting pans is lots of fun for kids of all ages. You don’t have to have a fancy or expensive pastry brush to do the job. The best and longest lasting pastry brush I ever had (all the others lost their bristles too fast and they were ending up in our food) was a good paint brush I bought at our local art store. Any brush will do, but if you can find a brush that is between one and a half and two inches, that is usually best and most versatile for painting both larger pans and smaller areas such as muffin tins. Of course, make sure the brush you choose has never had any paint on it before. ☺

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Friends for dinner! Yummy, Yummy Spring Rolls

A few friends came for dinner. We were able to please everyone with this dish...not because the ingredients were different in each one, but because everyone got to express their individuality by how they wrapped them.

S. wanted them long and skinny. D. wanted them in a little ball. Z. wanted them as triangles.

Here's the recipe:

Spring Roll Skins
If you are in a pinch, pr-emade spring roll skins are available in your grocery store, but once you have made you own, you might never want to buy them again.
¾ water
2 cups flour

Boil water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Pour water into 2 cups flour and knead until elastic. Cover with a damp cloth until you are ready to roll out into individual wrappers.

Avocado Spring Roll
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
2 carrots, finely grated
1 cucumber, grated
1 T fresh grated ginger
1 T tamari
1 tsp. sweet chili sauce (optional)
1 ½ cups greens, chopped
¼ cup chopped peanuts
Spring Roll Skins

Combine all ingredients except avocado. Mix thoroughly. Add avocado and toss together gently. Place filling in the center of spring roll skin. Fold wrapper around filling and close at the ends. Wet fingers and pinch ends closed, if needed.
Cook in a lightly oiled pan over medium heat until browned on both sides.
Enjoy with Ginger’s Dipping Sauce.

Ginger’s Dipping Sauce
¼ cup lemon juice
3 T sesame oil
2 T water, or more to thin
1 T brown sugar
2 T soy sauce
1 T grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ t. salt

Whisk all ingredients together. Serve with Avocado Spring Rolls or use as a salad dressing.
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