Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beach Food

Our summer is spent at a local pond. Yes, we do a few other things in the summer, but Monday through Friday we are at the local pond for daily swim lessons and fun in the sun. Our local pond has a snack shack with items like hot dogs, pretzels, and HFCS confections. I'm not a complete food snob. The once in a while nutritionally deficient treat is a summer tradition. However, the snack shack foods simply do not fill my active kids' bellies. Here's what we do instead to keep everyone well-fed and hydrated so that we can have fun in the sun.

Every day I pack a medium cooler full of:
berries, grapes, and whatever other fruit we have
cucumbers, tomatoes, other crunchy "wet" veggies
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
fruit leathers
the occasional special request such as Trader Joe's Cheddar Corn Puffs (think Pirate booty or popcorn without the kernels or cheesy poofs as Cartman calls them)

I also pack a Diet Dr. Pepper for me (my major vice). I've packed leftover pasta in the past since I know the kids will eat it, though I prefer to have them eat fruits and veggies while we're out.

The kids still ask for ring pops and other sticky candy. Having our own food helps me direct them to those healthier choices and helps them figure out whether they are hungry or just jealous of somebody's unfilling candy.

I read a great blog called "It's Not About Nutrition," and I have to agree with the title. It isn't JUST about nutrition. For me, it's about setting habits and guiding growing palates. Giving my kids lollipops and pretzels every day teaches them to expect those items every day and it doesn't teach them which foods truly will satisfy them and give them the energy they need. Yes, packing snacks takes time, but it can be done the night before or even in the hour before leaving for the beach. Most important, it's worth it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long Overdue Post

At least I can say the reason for my blogging absence has been a truly busy schedule. And some of that busyness has been related to food!!

Garden Update
We have begun to enjoy food from OUR garden. We have picked and eaten (read: immediately consumed) about 20 strawberries. The squirrels and other critters have found them, but they have not devoured them YET. We also enjoyed our first swiss chard as part of a crustless swiss chard quiche. This time I used basil, oregano, pepper and kosher salt as my seasoning as well as a fair amount of shredded cheese (maybe about 1 c.?). Aaron and I both have been appreciating fresh romaine lettuce - him for his almost daily sandwiches and me for my much anticipated salads. Normally I'm not a fan of salads, but they really hit the spot in the summer, especially when the vegetables are FRESH.

The peaches continue to ripen and grow slowly, and we are seeing little changes in our other plants. Some of the snow peas and peppers have flowers. The bean and squash plants are getting much bigger. Most of my cucumber plants look fairly healthy, and the tomatoes now require cages to keep them upright. I'm happy to say that our herbs are starting to show more promise than a few weeks back as well. The basil is growing slowly but is showing improvement. The cilantro actually looks like very tiny cilantro, and I think a few green onions might be trying to reveal themselves. The big garden surprise for this week, or maybe for the month, is that the oregano seems to be sprouting after showing no sign of life for what felt like a LONG time. Other herbs planted on the same day had started to pop up with no sign of the oregano joining them. And now, it looks like we may have bunches of oregano.

Eating Update
I wish I had some great family-friendly recipes to share with you. Right now, we're sticking to what we know works. The quiche was an adventure since I knew the kids hadn't tasted it since last year. Caleb loved it; Ellie picked at it. She seems to be in the phase when she doesn't want her food mixed/touching. She picks and eats chocolate chips out of cookies and then tries to eat the crumbles of the cookie, for example.

Since our main dishes haven't been all that exciting, I will share that I made Aaron and Ellie yummy birthday cakes. For Ellie, I tried a new cake pan that allows you to make an ice cream filled cake. I tried out a new chocolate cake recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and it was great! For Aaron, I went with his favorite flavor combination and made a Chocolate Sour Cream cake with peanut butter frosting and chocolate peanut butter ganache. I love the cake from this concoction - so moist and flavorful! I also modified my mom's peanut butter cookie recipe (originally from Crisco, so I replaced the Crisco with butter) to be a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe. So very yummy! I may never make plain chocolate chip cookies again. :)

As you might imagine, the decadent eating has not made my weight loss maintenance easy in the least. I'm up about 4 pounds from my goal, 2 pounds over my lifetime limit. I'm hoping that my exercising and increased salad consumption will help me get back down. Yes, I know I need to stop eating quite so much of the decadent desserts too. It's much easier said than done.

After writing all of this, I realized I needed to write about taco night. That will have to be another post. Thanks to the world of Facebook, we had a taco night. I asked the Facebook world what they were having for dinner and a high school friend mentioned taco night. We had all of the ingredients, and wow what a success! BUT, that is for another post since another non-nap is demanding some parental attention.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Garden Update

We made a lot of progress in the garden this weekend. Of course, a garden's work is never really DONE, but I feel pretty good about where we're at with it.

Planted as of 5/22/11
  • Lettuce - some green leaf variety, Boston maybe?
  • Red swiss chard
  • Kale
  • Tomatoes - JetStar, cherry, and possibly a third variety (should check with Aaron the Tomato Master)
  • Kentucky pole beans
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Butternut squash
  • Chives
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Scallions/green onions
  • Cilantro
To Be Planted
  • Rosemary
  • Bell peppers
  • JalapeƱos
Showing signs of hope
  • Strawberry plants have MANY blossoms
  • Lettuce, kale, and swiss chard are growing and looking promising
  • Sugar snap peas are taller each day
  • The peach tree allegedly has small green fruit on it
Showing signs of trouble
  • The apple tree is being eaten by the evil winter moth larvae. Grr.
  • We must protect our strawberries before the squirrel and birds make their moves.
We're pretty excited about the developments. At least the garden reminds us that all the rain serves a good purpose. We hope for sunnier days to help the tomatoes grow and the beans not to rot. As the garden begins to look more interesting, pictures will be forthcoming.

Baked Oatmeal - YUM!

Caleb and Aaron recently went to Wisconsin for a father-son retreat at a summer camp. They came home and both raved about baked oatmeal. I had no clue what baked oatmeal was, despite my midwestern upbringing. After some Google searching and getting a reasonably accurate description from Aaron, I found a serviceable recipe. It makes a great snack or breakfast and is wonderfully filling. See my notes below for a few suggested changes.

Baked Oatmeal
Serves 8

6 c. quick cooking oats
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
6 eggs
2 c. milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. canola oil
1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400. Grease and flour a 13x9 baking pan. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, brown sugar, salt and baking powder. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and canola oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until well-blended. Spoon into the prepared baking pan, and spread evenly. Sprinkle walnuts over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

I made a few changes to the ingredients. First, I used "old-fashioned oats." I think the recipe simply means don't use instant or steel cut. Also, I reduced the sugar to 1/2 c because I didn't feel like packing an extra 1/4 c. I substituted extra virgin olive oil for canola.

I made one change in the process. I decided to mix the walnuts into the batter and then sprinkle a few walnuts on top. I think this would be good with any nut. I may try pecans next time because I adore pecans.

The next time I make this, I will add cinnamon, and maybe something like nutmeg. It was yummy and comforting without the extra spice, but I think we'll enjoy it more with the spices. I also may try a nut-free version so that Caleb can take it to school.

Classic Chicken Soup with Noodles

A friend of mine is sick today and I thought I would send her a link to this great recipe. Until I figured out that I had not posted this great recipe to my blog! SO, here goes - a really tasty Chicken Noodle Soup for you and your family to try!

Classic Chicken Soup with Noodles
From Weight Watchers - 8 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 6

3 pounds skinless chicken drumstick and/or thighs, trimmed of visible fat (I used some skinless thighs, I think)
6 c. water
5 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces (I skipped this for my neighbors because they don't like celery)
2 medium onions, each cut into 8 wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 oz. parsley, about 3 sprigs (I probably didn't measure my dry parsley)
1/8 oz. thyme, fresh, 2 sprigs (ditto)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
2 c. uncooked egg noodles
1/4 c. parsley, flat leaf variety (for garnish, I'm sure I skipped)

Bring the chicken, water, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper to a boil in a Dutch oven (I use large pot). Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is no longer pink inside and the vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Discard the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Garden Growth

Our garden is starting to show signs of life, and I've been meaning to write about it for a while now. No pictures yet, but really the view isn't that interesting unless you're practically IN the dirt. :)

For those of you who don't know about our backyard garden adventures, let me give you a bit of history. We have 2 raised beds, a very enthusiastic strawberry patch, 2 unproductive blueberry bushes, and 2 young fruit trees (apple and peach). We also typically grow a ridiculous quantity of basil so that we can make never-enough pesto. The raised beds have brought us pole beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, swiss chard, and unanticipated squash (thank you compost pile). We tried planting zucchini, yellow squash and pumpkin last year and were sadly disappointed. It was a learning experience. I never knew about squash vine borers before, and I assumed that plants would know to produce both male and female plants so that fruit, or in this case squash, would occur. I also planted some sunflowers only to have them destroyed by the local wildlife (aka my arch nemesis - the squirrel population).

Having this garden is a great opportunity for my kids to learn about food. They appreciate fresh real food. They learn about the effort that goes into making food. They love watching the changes over time in the garden.

This year we are trying a few new crops and sticking with some past successes. As soon as the ground was workable, we planted romaine lettuce, red chard, and some variety of kale - maybe a red stem? I also took a chance and planted sugar snap peas. I'm delighted to report that all 4 have started sprouting. The lettuce and the kale are doing extremely well. I tried thinning the kale this week, but I may have killed a few plants. I'm going to wait another week or 2 to figure out whether I did and whether I should try more thinning so that the plants have room to grow. The weeds have been annoyingly productive this year as well. Maybe I didn't care as much about weeds last year, but I feel like I have to keep plucking little bits of this and that out of each bed, even when I've just finished weeding.

The other new development in our garden is a much sturdier fence around the larger of the 2 raised beds. Aaron and Caleb built a wood frame and attached plastic fencing to it. Other than spying a small brown bird or 2 in the bed, I think the fence is fairly secure. I'm hoping they will build similar protection for the other bed and for our strawberry patch.

The strawberry patch continues to spread just like the weed it actually is. I gave two peony bushes to my neighbor to make room for the berry plants. She thinks I'm nuts for giving up the flowers, but she is quite happy with the bushes and I'm quite happy with my future strawberries. The strawberries have their first flowers this week, so they need some protection ASAP. I put the net from last year over what I could, but it isn't much of a deterrent nor a true protection since any animal really could figure out that the plants aren't fully covered. The netting we have covers about 1/2 of our plants and not even very well, so we'll have to figure out something better. That said, I'm still delighted to see strawberry flowers! They just look so happy and promising.

Coming up in the next few weeks, we will plant the rest of our crop. We're planning on pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I'm still debating whether to try squash again. I would need to clear out a patch for them in the "wild" part of our flower beds, but I do not look forward to that project. On the other hand, I hate having an unused "wild" part of the garden; it looks blah and icky to give it a technical description. I'm also still disappointed in last year's experience, but I suppose this would be a chance to do better. As you can probably guess, I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A surprising success

As I wrote about our recent recipe failures, I remembered a surprising successful recipe and thought I would share it. I found this recipe while I was doing some menu planning on Thursday morning. I pulled out a Weight Watchers cookbook to get some inspiration, and Caleb started looking over my shoulder. The cookbook has lovely pictures throughout, and he asked all sorts of questions about what each dish was and of course made all sorts of comments (nice and not) about what he saw. I was near the end of the book when he demanded that I turn back a few pages. He pointed to a picture with a skillet of spinach and some garlic cloves and insisted that we make and eat it. I was really skeptical even though I know Caleb likes kale and will eat salad fixings as long as they have no dressing. Still, I figured getting more greens in my diet is a good thing. Even if your kids won't touch green vegetables, you might want to try this as a side because it's yummy and pretty simple.

Tuscan-style Garlic Spinach
From Weight Watchers - 2 PointsPlus per serving
Serves 4

2 lbs. spinach, touch stems removed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add spinach, in batches if necessary, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse under cold running water. Squeeze out excess water and chop.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add spinach and increase heat to medium-high. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until spinach is heated through, about 3 minutes.

I didn't have the 2 lbs. of spinach on hand, more like 1-1.5 pounds, and I would definitely try this recipe with even more spinach. I don't think it would make good leftovers, but I definitely would appreciate having more. Chopping wet spinach is not the easiest thing to do. Yes, I drained and squeezed. I ended up having a lump of spinach which I cut in a grid shape. Speaking of spinach, I'm not sure what the Weight Watchers folks think I buy for spinach when they talk about the tough stems, but I used baby spinach and was quite pleased.