Kids in the Kitchen–He Does it Again!

Long day.  I’ve washed dishes three times.  Done two loads of laundry.   Cleaning floors was harder than usual considering all the Thanksgiving food that ended up underfoot. Not my favorite way to spend the day, but since the big event was at our house this year, the place was a disaster after all the merrymakers disappeared.  So yes, I’m tired.

A little help with dinner, please.

But dinner is already almost done, and I do have help.  Leftovers in the fridge–plenty of turkey for sure.  I whipped up a salad, and Sam volunteered to roast the cauliflower I picked up at the market.

If you’re not already familiar with roasting as a cooking technique, then you’re in for a treat.  Fall and winter are the perfect seasons for roasting all sorts of seasonal vegetables. Roasting concentrates flavors, and the resulting caramelization banishes bitterness by bringing out the natural sugars in vegetables.

Roasted Cauliflower

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 5 or 6 cloves of garlic still in paper
  • 1 yellow onion, cut in wedges
  • olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
  • a couple of sprigs of rosemary (optional)
  • small lemon, sliced (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wash and chop cauliflower into pieces of approximately equal size after trimming off leaves and removing the core.  Dry and place in a single layer in a roasting pan.

Add garlic and onion wedges to pan.  Pour a drizzle of olive oil over vegetables.  Grind fresh pepper over the top, and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Toss in pan with your fingers until evenly coated with oil.  Tuck in rosemary sprigs and top with lemon slices if using.  *This is where younger kids can help.

Sam’s Special Cauliflower Ready for the Oven

Roast for approximately 30 minutes or until cauliflower is soft and has plenty of browning.  Remove from oven and toss once again.  Serve.

Rules for roasting:

  1. Cut vegetables into similar sized pieces for even cooking.
  2. Create a single layer in your metal roasting pan.
  3. Coat your veggies evenly with oil.  They say about 1-2 Tb. per pound of vegetables.  You can mix this right in the pan with your hands to really coat everything.
  4. Use high oven temperatures–400 to 500 degrees.

Cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family, related to broccoli.  This is a great way to get your vegi-averse children (or spouse) to eat and enjoy their vegetables.  And Leftover roasted vegetables are a welcome addition to the lunchbox.  So make lots.  The kids will willfully eat them.

I promise.


Forever Young

I’m taking an informal poll.  Have you ever eaten a Twinkie?  Is it a generational thing?  If you have children, have they ever eaten Twinkies?  Are there hordes of young Twinkie consumers out there?  Do they get packed in lunch boxes?  Exactly who eats Twinkies anymore anyway?

I was growing up at the height of the Hostess Heyday   I’m sure to have sucked down a Twinkie or two in my time.

When Hostess announced they would be shutting the factory doors forever, I , along with everyone else, was strangely fascinated in how the life of such an iconic American edible would play out.

When the deal was done, there was apparently a mad rush for any and all last boxes of Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, and Twinkies left on the shelves.

Were these crazed shoppers stocking up on a favorite sugary treat before they were all gone?  Or was it something more sinister.  Were they thinking about trading in on nostalgia for cash?  Making a killing on eBay?  Black market Twinkies?

Well, come to find out you can find them on eBay.   When I last checked, there were 11,079 listings.  And at some pretty outrageous prices too if you’re desperate enough.

One young mother,interviewed in a segment for CBS news, actually lamented the fact that her daughter might never have the pleasure of eating a Twinkie.

Like this is somehow a bad thing?

Worse yet, she felt they were being robbed of a family tradition.

I almost fell off my chair when I read that.

Yes, food is often associated with traditions.  Turkey at Thanksgiving.  Watermelon on the Fourth of July.  Even s’mores on a camp-out.  They may not be especially healthy but at least there’s some labor involved.  But Twinkies?  That seems to be taking things to extremes if you ask me.  For a non-food.

Check out the ingredient list:

A chemistry teacher in Blue Hill, Maine, has the proof.  An experiment to test the life of a Twinkie has been ongoing now for nearly 40 years.  It’s still there, a bit brittle and certainly inedible but still there, nonetheless.

This is good news for all those who are nostalgic about Twinkies.  They will never die.

Blue Hill Maine 37 year old Twinkie

Lip Poppers

When I was teaching kindergarten we taught the letter “p” as one of the lip popper letters.  If you put your hand in front of your mouth and say, “Popping popcorn pleases pilgrims,” you’ll see what I mean.

And the Indians shared bowlfuls of the stuff on the first Thanksgiving, right?

I hate to be a Grinch (and mix my holidays), but that’s part of the great Thanksgiving Myth.  There was actually no popping corn on that day in what is now the state of Massachusetts.

There was parched corn to be sure, but the Indian corn growing in the region was not very pop worthy.

But this is not a history lesson.  This is about grains–and fiber, vitamins and minerals.  This is about snacking on popcorn.  Which, if you don’t get it at the movie theater, turns out to be a darn good snack.

Especially if you air pop it.

Back in the 90s I actually owned an air popper.  It went the way of my George Foreman grill (both of which I wish I’d kept).  But it can be done–at home–in your microwave–without oil.  And without resorting to those bags of microwavable popcorn from the store which utilize chemicals that have been linked with cancer.

So if you’re interested in a really healthy, fun snack to make at home try this:

Pour 1/4 cup of popcorn into a paper lunch sack.  Fold the top of the bag a couple of times to keep it closed but leaving lots of room for expanding corn.  Stick in your microwave on high for about 3 minutes.

There’s a lot of difference between microwaves so the thing to do is use your ears.  Listen to the popping.

Pull the bag out before all the popping stops (this could lead to burnt popcorn)–until just when it slows to a few seconds between pops.

Careful!  Open the bag cautiously–away from your face.  Hot steam can burn.

If you’re so inclined, drizzle on some butter, add salt.  Other suggestions include:

  • My favorite, add nutritional yeast (not baking or brewers yeast).  This adds a “cheesy” taste as well as vitamin B-12.
  • I haven’t tried this myself but plan on doing so.  Spray corn lightly with an oil mister.  I’ve seen them at home/kitchen stores.  Then add salt or other spices so some of it will stick to the popcorn and not end up in the bottom of the bag.
  • Other add-ins might be sugar and cinnamon, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and chili powder, or a new and exciting combination of whatever pleases you.

Enjoy.  And Happy Thanksgiving!

Do this one thing 50% of the time

Eat 100% whole grains.  At least half of the time.  Not in addition to refined grains but in place of them.  It’s that simple.

Is it really that important?

Eating whole grains will do a world of good by helping you maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure.  It also reduces the risk for a whole slew of diet related diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel.  All the stuff that’s good for us.  Dietary fiber, minerals, and many of the B vitamins.

Examples include:

  • whole wheat
  • oatmeal
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • whole cornmeal
  • brown rice

Examples of refined grains:

  • white flour (most breads, crackers, pastas, etc.)
  • degerminated cornmeal
  • white rice.

Try this:  Replace one refined grain item at a time with a whole grain variety.  Give the family time to adjust their taste buds before introducing more new foods.

Mix it Up:  In pasta dishes, use half whole wheat and half regular pasta to win over the unconvinced.  Or half brown rice and half white rice.

Experiment:  Use a 50/50 ratio of whole wheat to white flour in baked goods.  I think baked treats, pancakes and pizza dough are a good place to start because sweetener and cheese are good distracters.

Think Outside the Box:  Lots of items come in 100% whole wheat including tortillas, wraps, crackers, cereal, etc.  And there are lots of lesser known whole grain options to try as well:  quinoa, farro, millet and spelt just to name a few.

Repeat to self, “Change is good especially where the health of my family is concerned.”

It’s not the end of the world or even the end of your favorite weekend breakfast scone.  I, for one, would never give up our local bakery’s stellar sourdough bread. I just won’t make it a regularly scheduled part of my day.  It’s a treat.  And when I take that first delectable bite–with real butter–I’ll savor it.

It’s not about giving anything up, except perhaps a dress size or a diet related disease.  And I expect that after a while you’ll come to love whole grains, not just because they’re good for you, but because they taste great.  Remember, it’s a learning curve.

I love the bottom line.  We don’t have to give up our refined pleasures–just moderate them.  You’ll enjoy them all the more because of it.  The goal is 50% of 100% whole grains–or more if you’re really motivated.

This is math even I can do, and that’s saying something.

3 Emergency Dinners and Scenes from New York

My husband has been out of town for over a week.  He’s pretty much a homebody so this is definitely out of the ordinary for all of us.  He happens to be on the other side of the country working with utility crews from all over the nation getting New York City back in power.

Without him here every night for dinner, I’ve let mealtimes fall by the wayside–seriously.  At first, it  seemed like a vacation from the nightly stress of getting dinner on the table, but now, after a week of winging it, it’s rather tiresome. The most important lesson I’ve learned?

You have to plan ahead.

I know planning ahead for an emergency dinner seems counterintuitive.  But it isn’t.  Not really.

We rely heavily on a well stocked freezer and pantry staples so dinner comes together without too much fuss and bother.  Here are three of our favorites.

  1. Burritos  Beans and tortillas make the basis of this meal.  We always have cheese on hand, but if you don’t, it freezes well grated.  Fill them out with leftovers from the fridge: grains, meats, and/or vegetables.
  2. Breakfast   Eggs, any way you like ’em, cook up quickly.  Throw in some grated cheese and chopped spinach, olives or whatever’s tasty and available.  Whole grain toast with apple butter and breakfast sausage.
  3. Pizza  Using thawed pizza dough or pita rounds.  Top with your favorite jarred pasta sauce and grated cheese.  Add olives, ground meat, sliced tomatoes,or last night’s pan cooked broccoli and place under the broiler.

From the freezer:

  • tortillas
  • sliced whole grain bread
  • grated cheese
  • breakfast sausage (thaws quickly under running water)
  • pizza dough (taken out in the morning to thaw in the refrigerator)

From the cupboard:

  • canned beans (whole or refried)
  • olives
  • pasta sauce in a jar
  • apple butter

From the refrigerator:

  • leftover meats
  • last night’s vegetables
  • eggs
  • salad vegetables
  • fruit

Add a simple salad of greens or fruit to round things out.

Admittedly, these emergency dinners involve a working stove, refrigerator and plenty of light and heat.  So perhaps, strictly speaking, it’s not an emergency.  After Hurricane Sandy, an unplanned dinner is small potatoes to what the folks on the East Coast have endured.

        What are your favorite quick dinners?

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

With the cost of organic fruits and vegetables often twice that of their conventionally grown counterparts, is buying organic worth it?
There was a big brouhaha a couple of months ago over a study put out by Stanford University about the benefits of buying organic food.  According to the study, there was no significant difference in nutrition or disease prevention between organic and conventionally grown foods. 
So, can you skip buying organic?  Especially when it could save you money at the market?
Yes and no.
We still don’t know about the long term impacts of pesticides over the course of a person’s lifetime, and according to Joel Forman, MD, a member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health, “We do know that children – especially young children whose brains are developing – are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures.”
So what’s a concerned parent to do?
Take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
 Get your own clippable guide to the “Dirty Dozen” to use as a reference.
The bottom line?
Get your daily requirement of fruits and vegetables, period.  Eating these nutrient dense foods is more important than worrying about how they were grown.   If you want to buy organic, but are watching the budget, then spend your money where it really counts–on the most heavily pesticided produce.
Apples, a fall favorite at our house, are at the top of the Dirty Dozen list.  While they may look tasty, neither you or Snow White can count on low levels of pesticides unless they are organic. Kids love apples so maybe this is where you can prioritize an organic purchase.  Remember this when buying juice, applesauce, or any other apple products.
And don’t forget, there are other reasons for choosing organic.  Organic practices protect soil, water and air quality.  They also protect the health of farmworkers.  In the long run,organic is good for everyone.
 An (organic) apple a day–and 4 or more servings of fruits and vegetables will  not only keep the doctor away but any wicked queens as well…





You Can’t Eat Shoes

I have a confession to make.  I collect cookbooks the way some women collect shoes.  It’s a problem because I’m running out of shelf space and because Jim rolls his eyes every time a book sized Amazon box arrives at our door.

While there are plenty of cooking websites online that I can and do turn to for inspiration, there’s nothing that can take the place of real paper.  I love my entire collection–from the tattered old copy of Laurel’s Kitchen I had in high school to my treasured How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

I happened to be at Whole Foods Market the other day with Sam and paused to look through a large selection of them on an end aisle (a marketing ploy that really works!).

The colorful cover of Cooking Light Real Family Food by Amanda Haas caught my eye.  I handed it over to the family food critic for a once over.  He enthusiastically agreed with my selection.

Here’s what we like:

  1. Use of photographs:  Every recipe gets a delicious looking full color picture.  Even the table of contents comes in thumbnail photos.  Great for your nonreaders…or anyone!
  2. Icons:  Haas employs icons to help you decide what to cook.  It’s easy to see if a recipe is vegetarian, can be prepared quickly, or is gluten or dairy free.  Love the Kids can Help icon which points out ways little hands can assist.
  3. Philosophy:  One Family One Meal Plan.  She focuses on menu planning, grocery shopping, budgeting, and simple cooking.  It certainly is a lot simpler if everyone eats the same thing.
  4. Recipes:  Lots of hits at our house.  Chili-Roasted Sweet Potato Nuggets (we’re becoming a household of sweet potato aficionados), Quiche Bites (pack in lunches!), Pumpkin Muffins, Cheesy Stuffed Shells With My Secret Tomato Sauce were all well received at the family dinner table.
  5. Readability:  Nicely laid out, attractive cookbook.  Recipes are preceded by a short informative introduction, easy to understand and nothing tricky in preparation.  Each is followed by full nutritional information. Nice.

My only regret is that the index is listed by main ingredient or type of food.  I often search for recipes based on the ingredients I have on hand.  Cabbage, for example, is not listed although there is a recipe for coleslaw.

To increase the nutritional content we’ve used brown rice and whole grain pastas and breads in place of the white counterparts.

If you’re looking for dinnertime inspiration, Amanda Haas, the founder of, has created a cookbook that helps parents make healthy and delicious family dinners happen.  Sam has requested the Pork and Mango Stir-Fry, and I still want to try the Chicken Divan.  We’re not done with this one yet.

4 Ways to Get Your Kids Into College

I remember hearing that the one thing all national merit scholars had in common was sitting down to dinner with their families.  I couldn’t find any hard data on this so perhaps it’s an urban legend.  But there are lots of studies out there that do indicate that children of families that dine together have all kinds of advantages–from better social skills and higher grades to being less likely to become obese or experiment with drugs.

Sound good?

Of course, this isn’t the 1950’s.  Our lives are vastly different from those of June and Ward Cleaver.  In household’s where often both parents work, time is a big factor.  And if you’re a family with busy teenagers, scheduling can be a problem.

At our house, dinnertime is an important ritual.  No television.  No radio playing.   Cell phones are outlawed at the table.  In fact, we don’t answer the phone while we’re eating, period.  That’s why we have an answering machine. 

We begin each meal with a short blessing.  We all share what we’re grateful for–which usually includes the delicious food we’re about to eat.  It’s a relaxed time–an opportunity  for Jim to describe that funny thing that happened at work, for Sam to talk about his day at school.  I usually share some  interesting fact or outrageous story I heard on a news program that I’m sure will get us all conversing. 

If eating as a family is something that seems about as realistic as getting all of your Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving  then consider these four suggestions. 

  1. Make it a priority.  Most mealtimes last only about 20 minutes.  Less than an episode of American Idol.  Set a realistic goal.  If every night is asking too much, then decide what’s reasonable, even if it’s only a couple of nights a week. 
  2. Keep it simple.  Gourmet french cuisine is not required.  Dinner can be as easy as a quick pasta dish or rotisserie chicken from the market paired with a green salad.  We’ve resorted to stretching out leftovers on plenty of occasions.
  3. Share the work.  Everybody chips in. Prep and clean-up can be a family affair.  Many hands make light work.   
  4. Practice makes almost perfect.  Because, if we’re completely honest here, who’s perfect?  Sometimes it’s catch-as-catch-can.  The more routine it becomes, however, the easier and more enjoyable dinnertime will be when you can sit down together. 

I’m not promising that eating dinner as a family will get your child into Harvard, but spending time together, learning from one another and keeping the lines of communication open means you’re not only connecting with your kids but helping them maintain a healthy body weight and eat a healthy diet.

How often do you eat dinner together?  What works for your family?