Thursday, August 9, 2007


Tacos are the ultimate mothership meal, and the easiest one to understand. You put out some taco shells, and a mess of stuff. Every one gets a plate, and a taco. Let the stuffing begin.

For a long time tacos meant, to me, supermarket ground beef and those little MSG flavor packets that came in the El Paso taco family dinner packet. So it wasn't until my son was a preschooler that I made tacos, my way. I was amazed to watch my little four-year-old, one of the pickiest eaters known to civilization, systematically stuff his taco with almost every item of food I'd put out. Since then tacos have become a regular meal in our family. Okay, so my daughter still does not like tacos; she just eats the filling. The beauty of the Mothership Meal: that's okay.

Here are some of the things we use:

The Mothership: Taco shells (or soft whole-grain tortillas)

The Satellite Saucers:

Chicken or steak, cut into cubes. (Best if freshly grilled and diced. But no complaints if leftovers are used)
Grated cheese (cheddar, jack or queso fresco)
Diced tomatoes and onions tossed with corn, cilantro, lime juice and a dash of olive oil
Sliced radishes
Shredded lettuce
Hot sauce
Any other vegetables on hand that might be munched on by small children

1 clove garlic
1 tsp coarse sea salt
Juice from 1/2 a lime
1 avocado
1/2 tomato, finely diced

Use a mortar and pestle, if you have one, to pound the garlic and the salt. (If you don't have a mortar and pestle, chop the garlic finely, then use the flat side of the knife blade to smush the garlic into a paste. Add the lime and let sit for a few minutes; the lime will 'cook' the garlic. Add the avocado and mash with the pestle, or a fork, until not quite smooth. (Never use a food processor! And never refrigerate guacamole. Sorry, but you must eat it all the night you make it.) Add diced tomatoes and serve immediately.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Garden Groove

We're in New Hampshire now, on our annual summer trip to my mother's house. It's the heat of the city that really pushes us up here for the entire month of August, but the draw of the mountains, and "Mima", is undeniable. I like to expose my kids to nature and bugs and backpacks -- and especially to the garden. We always come in the spring to help my mom plant her garden, and then we come back in August (and at Thanksgiving) to reap all that we have sown. (Well, the kids don't really sow that much, but as long as they are reaping, I am happy.)

Of course, it's northern New Hampshire, so the harvest is not exactly bountiful. In last year's sweltering summer, we were astounded to have both canteloupe and corn. This year, it's not so impressive. New Hampshire is just too cold for a really swell tomato crop, and the wildlife is far too fond of broccoli and squash. On the other hand, it's August and we still have snap peas! Those 50° mornings really keep the coolweather crops coming.

As always, I am astounded by my children's willingness to eat almost anything that they have personally picked. My daughter will not eat green beans from a plate, but will obsessively forage through vines and leaves and eat all she can find, crying when she can't find any more.

It all goes back to what my grandfather (who gardened into his 90's) used to say: "You want your kids to like vegetables? You've got to have your kids GROW vegetables."

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Grill Talk

The only problem with grilling is that it's not exactly efficient. If you use a charcoal grill, like I do, it's really hard to get the right amount of coals hot. Either you set up too many and have this inferno blazing long after your burgers are done, or, as has been happening to me ever since Chris came home with this jumbo size bag of itty-bitty charcoal pieces that burns like matchsticks, you don't use enough and your barely get through a round of chicken.

Lately I've been erring on the side of excess, and grilling up a storm, in preparation for keeping my kitchen dark the following night. Here's the chicken I grilled last night, which was destined to be tonight's dinner.

First I marinated it in:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Then I put all the hot coals in one quarter of the grill, and cooked the chicken slowly over the cooler part. The ambient heat cooked the chicken through, and I moved it to the inferno corner when I was ready to brown the chicken. When it was done, I set it aside to cool, then cooked that night's dinner: burgers.

Tomorrow night: the ultimate mothership meal: Chicken Tacos. Come back and find out if my 3 year has finally conquered her disdain for the hard shell taco.