Monday, December 22, 2008

How My Cookies Crumbled

It's been a weird week.

My son has banged his shin four times in the last three days, hard, in the same exact spot. My husband's new i-Mac does not work, doesn't even have i-Photo installed on it. And my holiday baking attempts are coming in far below expectations.

I'm never much of a baker. I am left-handed and as a group we are just clinically unable or unwilling to follow directions.

But if I just pay attention and keep my mojo to a minimum, I can usually manage to turn out something both delicious and attractive. So during a recent playdate, my daughter and I kicked off the holidays with the same basic cookie recipe I've been making for a few years now.
I used white whole wheat flour, my old standby. It worked, but they came out as "health cookies". I mean, I liked them; the girls, not so much. Maybe I'll mix in half unbleached white flour next time.
This was cute, though -- on a whim we put red food coloring into egg whites and brushed the cookies before baking. Much easier than frosting, and just as satisfying for the kids. They came out with a shiny translucent glaze. That one's a keeper.

Then I made ginger cookies.

Another parent at my daughter's preschool brought these into a meeting last year, and they were the best ginger cookies I'd ever had! She gave me the recipe, and I made them and they were AMAZING! I made them this year and they were... eh. Is my powdered ginger old and weak? Is my candied ginger lacking in spice? I don't know, but there were more like cinnamon cookies than the spicy carambas I was looking for.
My kids liked the dough, anyway.

And they did all get eaten. I brought them to work and everybody very politely devoured them, so as not to hurt my feelings, I'm sure. (Okay, they were tasty, but I didn't get strangers wandering into my office looking for cookies they'd heard about, like last year.)

Then I had this idea to make peppermint candy. Amanda Hesser wrote about peppermint candy in the Times' magazine a few weeks ago. Chris loves spicy candies, so this seemed like a great present for him. I bought some peppermint oil, and melted some organic cane sugar... past the point where you are supposed to melt it, apparently. It is supposed to be a spread-out shiny melted-glass kind of thing. We ended up with peppermint crumble! Great sprinkled on top of ice cream or in hot cocoa. Except why put more sugar on top of sugar? So that got filed, permanantly.

Then, I made a gingerbread house. We have an elderly neighbor who ate the gingerbread house we gave him last year in about 15 minutes. I figured we'd make him another.

Look at this cute elf who happened along in an apron and got to work!
Unfortunately, even with elf help, the house did not turn out so cute. I used butter, first of all, instead of shortening, which probably makes a softer cookie and is just a reality I have to live with, since I don't want to use shortening. And I didn't use a template. Well, I did use one, but it was homemade, and largely residing in my head. This is my usual procedure, and things have been good. But I wanted a tall house this year, like a towering Victorian, a painted lady that we would paint with pastel frosting... and the buttery cookie walls were too soft, so the walls split when I tried to assemble the house. So I had to make some quick changes. Good thing I'm so **creative** and can change half-assed plans in mid-stream so quickly. Yessiree, it's lucky to be me when you're putting together a half-baked, half-assed gingerbread house.

Once we get it frosted I might have the chutzpah to show it to you. Right now it's not fit to be seen. It's hideous, actually.

You'd think that would pretty much wrap up our holiday baking for the year. Unfortunately, I've gotten sort of used to having cookies and leftover gingerbread mistakes to nibble on while I drink my coffee, or for a midmorning snack, or a dessert after lunch, or a quick pickmeup before dinner, or for dessert... There'll be more coming, I'm sure of that.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Forcing Pancakes?

Q: how do you know when your child is picky?
A: when you have to force pancakes.

My little carnivore, the younger one, would happily survive on bacon, salami and hamburgers. For sweets she likes chocolate and sorbet and that's about it. Muffins? No. Cookies? Well, if she must. Pie? Don't make her throw up and never mention it again. Pancakes? Gross and anyway she is HUNGRY!

This morning we didn't have much to eat. No cured pork products, and not even enough eggs to scramble for everyone. Hey, guys, how about pancakes?

The whining that ensued was such that there were two time outs and a five minute banishment from the kitchen, just in the course of mixing up the batter and frying the pancakes.

She ate two silver-dollars, under great duress.

Part of me thinks it's weird that I am forcing my kid to eat an indulgent American breakfast of refined carbohydrates that when she gets older she will try to forget she ever knew.

The other part is just annoyed.

But I do have to notice that my husband, who is lean and whose almost-spartan food instincts I try to emulate, eats pancakes with the air of a good sport. He'll eat them if I make them, he'll sometimes take seconds if I offer, but he would never request pancakes or order them in a restaurant, or think lustfully about them. Or fry up the remaining batter and have pancakes for lunch, two hours after having them for breakfast.

So maybe it's genetic, and I should be thankful that our daughter got his carb-instincts and not mine.

Anyway, this is my favorite pancake recipe, adapted slightly from the hippie classic, The Tassajara Recipe Book.

Buttermilk Pancakes
(If you have real buttermilk, great; otherwise just use milk. I sometimes use the powdered buttermilk, but I don't find it makes anywhere near the difference that real buttermilk does)

(And if I have buckwheat I'll swap some of it for some of the www flour , but that is probably one reason my kids don't care for pancakes, even though it's been years since I pushed anything really hardcore on them, like those wheat germ and flax numbers, I swear! What's not to like about a little quarter-cup of buckwheat?)

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk or milk
3 tablespoons melted butter

1. Melt your butter and set aside to cool.
2. Sift the dry ingredients together.
3. Mix the wet.
4. Combine.
5. Fry on a griddle. (I use bacon fat, which really puts it over the top. Yum!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's a Cruel World

I'm all for the natural cycle of life and everything, but that doesn't mean I want to watch my cat noisily eat a still-alive mouse that he's tortured for the last half hour.

What is going on? We have seen more mice in the last four days than we have seen in 10 years at this house.

At first we thought it was a nest of baby mice whose momma took a wrong turn and ended up in our house at a bad moment. But I've begun to think differently since watching our young vital cat triumphantly burst through the (new) cat door with a live mouse in her jaws. Uh, for the third time. Hmm. Thinking, thinking... Could it be? She must think she is doing such a good job, and maybe that even our grumpy older cat (to whom she often relinquishes the half-dead mice, after she's had her fun) might even start liking her.

The cats make humans look kind.

It makes me want to track down the cashier at the Food Coop who sneered at my wild swine sausages (how could she?!) and predicted that "someday the animals are going to rise up against the humans". And torture us to death, and possibly eat us alive?

Or perhaps they will all become vegan.

This is not to excuse the crueler aspects of the industrial farms by finding even worse cruelty in the natural world. I imagine 19th century farmers proudly thinking out that that's what makes us human -- the ability to deliver a swift and humane death to our prey. Or so we would hope.

I've got to do something about that cat door.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

So Much for Dinner and a Movie

When we somehow managed to arrange sleepovers for both our kids on the same Saturday night, we had great hopes for a high-impact date night (no babysitter fees, stay out as late as we want, sleep in, read the Sunday paper without the sounds of Spongebob's maniacal laugh in the background...)

You know what they say about the best laid plans...

It wasn't because, right as the previews ended and MILK started, the water bottle leaked and spilled cold water all over my lap. The water mostly evaporated and the movie was awesome.

It wasn't the fact that Franny's amazing pizza pies have gone up to a whopping $17 a pie. (It's usually a pie per person, so that's a lot for pizza, right?) I don't care, I would pay almost anything for their clam pie, with whole clams and chili oil. (Franny's is one of those super thin crust, all sustainable ingredients, hip and minimalist places that I am a sucker for.) We also had a vinegary saute of chicory, radicchio and gaunciale (pork cheek) which was so great.

It wasn't that the Beet-ini -- a top shelf martini made with pickled beets -- was $11. It was totally worth it-- definitely not the cloying sweet purple monstrosity I was imagining. ("Last time I got a specialty martini I swore I'd never do it again," I told Chris, seconds before throwing caution to the wind and ordering it.) I bought golden beets today to try to duplicate the effects.

It wasn't that the waiter told me that he'd probably order something a little more hearty on a blustery night like this, but that the Calabrese red I wanted was "pretty good". Fuck you, I want the cheap one, okay? I just spent $11 on a beetini. And I like southern Italian wines.

No, the reason our night was ruined -- almost -- was because we had no sooner settled into the bar, discussed the risks of ordering specialty drinks, gone for it, and taken that first, transcendental sip, than my cell phone rang.

Our five-year-old, on the fourth or fifth sleepover of her life, was having second thoughts. 9:03, and she was crying and wanted to go home.


Talk about culinarius interruptus.

No sooner had I hung up the phone than the hostess appeared: our table was ready.

Are we bad parents because we took the table, ordered our food, wolfed it down, and got to our daughter at 10:03?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pie Crash

I'm ordinarily pretty good with pies, which has made me really lazy.

The problem is, even a totally mediocre homemade pie is pretty good.

When I first started making pies I was obsessed with all the details. I kept a stainless steel bowl, a pastry blender and a sack of flour in the freezer. If everything is icy cold, it makes for a flaky crust. I would even run my hands under freezing cold water to make them cold before I touched the dough.

But then I realized that every time I slipped, the pie was still pretty damn good. So I got lazy. Through the years I got really lazy.

I started using whole wheat flour, salted butter, a food processor, and room temperature flour.

I reached the end of that sorry road yesterday.

This pie sucked.

I made two of them, and they were both terrible. Rolling out the dough was working with a dried dirty rag. It wouldn't cooperate. Then the pie wouldn't set. Then, when it was done, it tasted like crap. Mushy soft filling and a crust harder and thinner than a piece of Melba toast.

Where did I go wrong? Here are some possibilities:

1. Canned pumpkin? Okay, I'm sure you can make a great pie with canned pumpkin, or so I hear. The problem is, I switched to the can without thinking about it. I used the same old recipe I've been using all this time with roasted pumpkin. Canned pumpkin is more watery than roasted pumpkin. Euw, this filling was mushy and soft. I like a dense pumpkin pie that bears no resemblance to baby food.

2. Got too healthy? I love using white whole wheat flour and Sucanat, which is a really unprocessed version of sugar (Sugar Cane Natural, get it?) But maybe I went overboard. (Although I did the same exact thing at Thanksgiving, and my pies came out great, so wtf?)

3. Too warm? Maybe I didn't chill the ice water for long enough. Didn't chill the flour. Might not have even had super cold butter. And was it salted butter?

4. Lazy Lazy Lazy? This part i know. I Just cut every corner possible.

Never again. From now on I will shower my pies with love and care.

Friday, December 5, 2008

First Communion

(Or: My Kids Ate a Fucking Oyster!)

My kids are picky. Shellfish has never even been a serious goal, more of a dreamy aside, along the same lines as, "Maybe you'll be President one day!" How did this happen? I've retraced my steps.

1. A few years ago, we went to France. My father was living in Geneva and working for the Red Cross at the time, so we were sort of visiting him and sort of just hanging out. On our last day we went to the Saturday morning market and -- lo and behold -- the oysters were out. In France. they give you wine and oysters at 10 in the morning. This was maybe the thing my father liked best about his years living in Geneva. It runs in the family, this oyster and wine love. So he and I buckled up to the counter and ordered a dozen cold ones and a couple plastic cups of white wine. At 10 in the morning. Hoo boy, do they know how to do it over there. But one of the most memorable parts about it, aside from oysters and wine at 10 in the morning, was that my daughter, then 3, agreed to take a sip of the oyster liquor. She said she liked it but didn't want any more, but I didn't care. I thought it was a great moment. (My son, then 7, wouldn't even stand near us while we partook in such vile activities.)

2. Last year, my kids started showing interest in clams when I served clam pasta. I love linquine with clams and white wine and parsley and lemon zest. I serve it mothership-style, where my kids think they are just getting plain pasta, but really it is infused with the delicious briny taste of clams and olive oil and all that. So last year, instead of politely ignoring my husband and me as we heaped our "plain" pasta with clams, they started asking for tiny bites of the clams. I would cut off a tiny meaty edge, and they would eat it.

3. Last summer, out to dinner at My Italian Farmhouse, this cheezy but sort of homey and sweet Italian restaurant in NH near my mother's house, where we go at the end of every summer, my kids both tried steamed mussels. And liked them.

4. Over Thanksgiving we had a fried seafood night. When my brother was taking orders and asked if there was anyone who felt fried clams were necessary, and if so did they need the strips or the full belly clams, my mother and I raised her hands and my mother cupped her hands and bellowed out, "Bellies!" When the order arrived, to my utter shock, my 9-year old son -- who doesn't like beans, rice, spaghetti, fish, greens, tomatoes, or really very much of anything -- wanted to try the belly clams. To my further shock, he liked them and wanted more. We ended up fighting over the last few. I was so proud.

Do you see where this is going?

5. Last night my father came to visit. I asked him to pick up some fish at Grand Central Station. (I was going to broil it with bacon wrapped around, so I knew even my non-fish-eating kid wouldn't starve.) My dad arrived with a couple pounds of tilapia, a pot of soft French cheese, and a half-dozen oysters. He knows my husband and I are always ready to down a few oysters.

So I set out a plate of ice, and handed my husband the oyster knife and the bowl of oysters.

This is where things got weird.

"Can I try it? Can I try it? Can I try it?" That's my daughter, 5, the one who won't eat toast or cereal or pb&j or nuts or lentils.

"I want to try it too. I love clams, Mom. Remember? Mom? I ate the clams on Nantucket and the mussels in New Hampshire, right, Mom? I want to try oysters." That's my son, 9, the one who refused cake, pizza and juice when he was two, and survived on PB&J for about 3 straight years.

This breakthrough moment would have been great if this had been one of those holiday meals where my father tends to get a few dozen oysters. But, uh, we each only had two.

"You can try the liquor first," I said. I wasn't taking any chances. My husband and I tipped our shells and let each kid try a sip.

"That tastes just like the ocean," my son enthused. He really said that. "I want more."

By now there was one oyster left. This is where it gets gross. Avert your eyes for a couple sentences if you're squeamish about oysters.

I cut the remaining oyster in half. (I know: euw, but there was only one left.) I gave each kid half, which they slurped out of the shell. They ate them. They each ate a half a fucking oyster. I thought they'd be in college before this happened.

They loved them. They can't wait for New Year's in Boston, when my father has assured them there will be more.

It's working, this whole food acculturation thing. It's really working.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Future Food Czar?

Bill Moyers and Michael Pollan talked over Thanksgiving weekend.

This is pretty necessary viewing. Okay, it's kind of long, so wait until you have a lot of laundry to do or car ride, or your nails are drying. Seriously, it's really worth the listen.

I like the part where he talks about the White House Chef, and says that a locavore-type chef would make a big difference. Hmmm, who's it going to be? I wonder if Dan Barber would do it.

Also love the clip on the green market in East New York.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

For the Dogs

It's pumpkin pie season, and my dog couldn't be happier.

I am the kind of food geek that roasts her own pumpkins to make pie. Okay, look, I KNOW that it tastes the same if you buy it in the can. You can all stop telling me that. If I don't have time and I need to make a pie, I'll buy the damn cans, alright? But I LIKE roasting the pumpkins. It feeds my pioneer-lady fantasies, okay? It's me, the prairie and a few potatoes I dug up by hand from the freezing ground, right before the blizzard hit. I've just got to make it till Pa comes back with provisions. So leave me and my roasted pumpkins alone.

Anyway, my dog and I share this mindset, so when I roast pumpkins, she pretends she doesn't have a 40-lb bag of IAMs Mini Chunks and ten pounds of meaty marrow bones in the freezer, the likes of which Ma and Pa Ingalls would have served for Christmas dinner. No, it's just her, the back alley and a few strips of roasted pumpkin skins. Lucky she's so scrappy or the Tramp would never go for her.

Okay, whatever about my dog's and my pioneer fantasies.

The truth is, my dog actually likes pumpkin and squash skins. I learned this from my mom, who feed them to her dogs, and was the first person to talk me back into feeding dogs table scraps.

Back in the 70's and 80's we all got too fancy to feed our dogs scraps. It made them beg while you were eating. It made them fat. So they said.

I bought all this hook line and sinker, and when I got my first dog I never fed him scraps. He was a deaf pit bull who was really headstrong, so it made sense on a lot of levels to be strict with him in every way possible

(I used to let him chew on apple cores, until the day I was driving through downtown Philly with him in the passenger seat: I was halfway through an apple when he climbed on to my lap, trying to get at it. I had my arm extended out the window, skidding through traffic, with an 80-lb pit bull on my lap, sticking his head out the window to get the apple, before I realized that he couldn't even have apple cores.)

But my sweet girl Cleo, who is only part pit bull, is a little more malleable. (Look how gently she takes the pumpkin skins! She is always like that about treats.) I give her scraps. She doesn't beg; if she does, I make her leave the kitchen and lie down on her bed. It makes sense to give dogs table scraps. This is what dogs have eaten for thousands of years. It is why we have dogs, because they can survive on our table scraps.

Plus, what is all that crap in dog food? Thousands of unpronounceable ingredients and by-products, that's what. Are they healthier for all this nutritionally formulated food? I don't know. The fish guy at Fairway told me his dog lived to be 17, eating nothing but table scraps. That's spectacularly old, for a dog.

It makes sense to me to give dogs wholesome healthy food, not packaged processed food. It makes sense not to throw away scraps and then go buy a packaged food. It's wasteful not to give dogs your scraps, and it's probably healthier.

Cleo still gets dog food. But as often as possible I give her scraps. She gets the remains of soup stocks, and the livers and necks (uh, and feet) of the chickens that are about to be roasted. And she gets pumpkins skins. Look how cute she is!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Magic Garlic Soup

I'm not feeling so good. I have the first bad cold of the season.

Sore throat, big head, runny nose, swollen sinuses. Ehhhhh.

I got through a wigwam-building field trip and a double playdate, but when it was time for dinner I wanted some relief. There would be no fish tacos (the original plan), no spaghetti, no macaroni and cheese. I needed a spicy salty broth, the kind you can't get in restaurant unless you go into Chinatown, which I'm not doing on a sick night like this.

I was lucky on many counts:

1- I had chicken stock in the fridge.

2 - I planted lemongrass in my backyard last spring, which is still going strong.

3 - I had rice noodles and fish sauce on hand, permanent dry goods which should always be in the cabinet for nights like this.

4 - Limes could be had from up at the bodega around the corner.

5 - Finally -- and this is where I hit pay dirt -- I just spent a weekend with a family in which the mom is from Thailand. After a dinner party, we came back to our rented cabin, and she made a midnight soup. It was her homemade broth, noodles, cilantro and the magic ingredient: crunchy garlic. It was like discovering salt. I cannot believe this ingredient. Its MAKES the soup.

She chops up lots of garlic and sautees it in oil and salt until it is golden brown: sticky, crunchy, salty deliciousness. She likes it so much she puts it on everything, so she makes giant batches and always has a jar on hand. This is an incredibly wise thing to do. I thought I was doing it tonight, but we ended up using it all in one shot.

This soup is so good, after two huge bowls, I still can't stop thinking about it. Sorry the measurements aren't exact, but if you are drunk or hungover or sick, you won't care about measurements anyway. Just do it to taste. It's simpler than it might seem.

Its most basic incarnation would be broth with fish sauce, sugar and limes, then noodles, then crunchy garlic.

And then why not add limes and cilantro and hot sauce?

Or spinach or fish? Or whatever?

Drunk, Hungover, or Just Plain Sick Soup

a few cups of chicken stock
3 or so tablespoons fish sauce
generous pinch of raw sugar
Stalk of lemon grass

3 scallions, sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, or spinach, or whatever you have on hand (optional)

Thin rice noodles

4 or more cloves of garlic, minced and sauteed slowly in a few tablespoons of oil and a generous pinch of salt

Hot chili sauce such as Sriracha
Cilantro, chopped

1. Heat the broth with the lemon grass, fish sauce and sugar.

2. Add the sliced scallions and fennel or spinach or whatever else you want to put in.

3. Add the rice noodles.

4. Divide into serving bowls. Add crunchy salty fried garlic. Squeeze limes, and add chili sauce and cilantro. Feel better. I did.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Apple Deluge

We went. We picked. We came home with a motherlode of apples.

Back in Brooklyn, that $25 bag of apples -- $25! for apples!! -- we handpicked reveals itself to be, not so much a means of ripping off New York City tourists who are so desperate for some real food experiences that they will pay extravagantly for the privilege of doing the work usually reserved for underpaid migrant laborers, but rather, a far larger apple harvest than we could possibly know what to do with. They have taken over our kitchen table.

We picked them. Now we just have to use them.

Apple crisp, apple pie and baked apples are the obvious ones. But one of my favorite apple recipes comes from Viana La Place's terrific cookbook, Desserts and Sweet Snacks. She is one of my favorite cookbook writers. Years ago, during a book purge, I threw away her book Unplugged, which is out of print, which I had found in a thrift shop. What a bad move. My thoughts as I held the book in one hand, standing over the Out Box, were, "Well, I only ever really cook her lemon parsley pasta..." Deep down I think I was offended by the part where she talks about being in some Italian hotel and having an upset stomach and ordering just a side of spinach. Who does that? Not me. I am of the "feed a cold, feed a fever, feed an upset stomach' camp. I have regretted ever since throwing away Unplugged, which is almost more of a manifesto than a cookbook.

But I still have Desserts and Sweet Snacks, which has recipes for beautifully simple desserts like Peaches in Red Wine, Pink Honeydew Ice Cream, and a Date Shake, which recalls her childhood in California: she writes, "During my childhood in southern California, my family and i would sometimes go for a drive to Indio, a small desert town near Palm Springs.

"Date Palms flourished there in the midst of miles and miles of sand. We would always stop at a stand that sold date shakes -- a rich, creamy blend of ice cream and dates. I can still see the little stand, bathed in the clear desert light -- the straggly rose garden in front with the most fragrant red roses imaginable, the scent of parched grass, and high above our heads, huge clusters of rusty-orange dates dangling from the tops of fringed dusty palms..."

Okay I'm totally off topic, and quoting a book without permission. Dude, it's the age of blogging, they'll have to come after me.

Try this: Warm Apple Panino.
Basically you take a fresh bread roll or slice of fresh good bread. If it's a roll you hollow it out. You butter one side, and spread apricot preserves on the other. Toast them under the broiler. Meanwhile, you peel, core and thinly slice a half of an apple. Saute the slices in a 1/2 tablespoon of butter, adding a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of lemon juice. The apple slices should be tender but still hold their shape. Pile the slices into the panino. flatten slightly and eat while still warm. Delicious! Onward, apple soldiers. We can do this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bread at Home

That bread that Jamie made?
The braided one?
And that stew she made?
With the juices from the beef?

When you soaked the bread in the juices?

It was so good.

That's my picky nine-year-old son talking, the one who's never agreed to stew before, and certainly not to the concept of dipping bread in stew juice. I totally agreed with him, but my amazement is reserved for the fact that this woman finds the time to bake -- and braid -- bread. Anyone with three kids under the age of ten who can get through two risings, never mind braiding the dough, has my eternal admiration.

As my brother said, when he was 13 or so, holding up a loaf of homemade bread in my mom's face: "Hello! Mom! it's the 1980's. They sell bread in the stores..." I mean, it's not like she doesn't have choices.

Thanks for educating my son, Jamie! The bread was delicious, and we all love beef stew now (even me!).

Any other bread bakers out there?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Food Science

If there's any doubt lurking in your mind about how those soy crisps or corn nuts landed their way into your shopping cart, check out this US News article about the Food Industry. It's a dirty dirty business, filled with scientific studies that are closer to advertising, false health claims, and lots of the old "switcheroo" (like when the schools agreed to take soda machines out of schools, only to replace them with vitamin waters and sports drinks and Snapple.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chickened Out?

When I lived in Italy I got used to the grisly appearance of the animals in the butcher stalls at the market. Rabbits with the heads on, whole pigs' heads, feathered birds hanging by their feet. Even the chickens in the grocery store, wrapped up in a styrofoam tray and plastic wrap, had their feet and sometimes even their heads on.

I found out then that I'm not particularly squeamish about these things. I would just cut off the feet and the head, discard them, and then go about trying to figure out where the joints were so I could cut the whole chicken into pieces.

But it's been a while since those days.

I was totally taken aback when I unwrapped this Murray's chicken last night and found the feet still attached. Okay, I was kind of grossed out. It was the little toe nails that did me in. Also how it sort reminded me of E.T.

But I was fascinated, too. It made the chicken look so much more like a bird, like a pale, plucked version of a formerly living breathing animal. Without the feet it's just a cartoon image of a chicken, like a food icon. No toenails.

As I got ready to roast the chicken, I decided to leave the feet on. Why? I don't know! Maybe I just didn't want to deal with cutting those formerly alive feet off.

But I was also interested in how squeamish I felt. I liked being reminded that my food was once an animal, and that our food preferences are so culturally mandated. In China chicken feet are a delicious snack. You can buy a whole plate of them in a restaurant. It seemed lame to cut them off just to protect my prissy American sensibilities. Also, what would my kids say? Would they think it was gross? Grosser than kidney beans or eggs or asparagus or any of the other mild foods that make them, uh, squeam?

I also thought the whole thing was sort of freakishly cool-looking.

"Look guys, they left the feet on!" They glanced up from playing, uttered monosyllabic responses and went back to what they were doing.

An hour later: "Who wants the chicken feet?" I called out cheerfully when I set the roast chicken on the table.

Unbelievably: "I do!" "I do!" "I said it first!" "That's not fair!"

This was amazing. Would they really eat them, just because I was acting all nonchalant? "There are two," I said. "You can each have one." I used my kitchen shears to cut the feet off at the joint, and set a caramel-colored, roasted, slightly shriveled foot onto each of their plates.

"Uh..." My son had just arrived at the table. He stood for a moment, staring at his plate. "Actually, I don't want one. She can have mine."

I moved his chicken foot over to her plate just as she arrived. "I don't want them either," she said, without a missing beat.

And neither did the grownups, even thought they think they are so worldly and such good eaters. And thus the feet were reunited in the soup-stock bag in the freezer and our cultural lesson came to a close.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ivanka to the Rescue

And just in time.

Are your tired, stale brown bag lunches boring you to death? Wouldn't some industrially prepared, microwaved Southwestern Chicken or Sczchewuan Beef, at your desk, really liven things up?

Well, suffer your homemade lunch no longer. As the NY Times reported today, Ivanka Trump is going to revolutionize the office lunch. As she says on her blog, it is so boring eating the same foods day after day, and the deli sandwiches are so stale.

Apparently the recent economic downturn has caused workers to bring their own lunches to save money. It's been, what, 2 weeks? But these brownbaggers are B-O-R-E-D.

So, Ivanka, in a breathy, semi-soft-porn kind of voice, promises to make you feeeeel better about your lunch choices.

I'm saved from wanting to hurl myself off a cliff of cultural despair by the fact that the hundreds of comments on her blog are mostly from sensible creative people who consider their homemade lunches a healthy choice filled with possibilities. I'm also heartened to see the blogsphere reacting with the same scorn that I feel.

Because... where's the drudgery? (Making lunch for your kids, that's where, but that's another story...) Finding lids kind of sucks. But all you do is pack your dinner leftovers in your cute little lunch tiffin, and you're good to go. And that's the most basic level.

I've been swapping lunches with a co-worker. I only work two days a week, so on Mondays I bring lunch, on Tuesdays he does.

Today I brought sausage-kale soup with parsnips and lentils, and homemade dinner rolls, and concord grapes. Last week we had turkey and avocado sandwiches on one day, with chocolate chip cookies and also with concord grapes (we both happen to be addicted). We had curried zucchini soup with salad and couscous, and pear tarts, on another. We've had roasted vegetables with duck sausage and apple crisp. We have agreed there will be PB&J days, but so far they haven't happened. Of course, sushi lunch special is our backdoor option, but that hasn't happened either, since we started the swap in September.

What do you all bring for lunch?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who Doesn't Like Kiwi?

It just shows how neurotic and weird kids are when they turn down a kiwi. I've tried kiwi on mine before and it didn't work. They didn't want to try it, and when I forced them to try a taste, they did, and then shook their heads frantically. Too... what? Sweet and delicious? Too much of a cross between two of your favorite fruits, strawberries and bananas? Too beautifully green and patterned with soft gorgeous black seeds?

Whatever. I let it go; I mean, it's from New Zealand, right? Not exactly local. I was thoroughly annoyed, but it just wasn't high on my list of priorities, getting my kids to eat kiwi.

But the other day I noticed the kiwi bin. I remembered that you can send kiwi in a lunchbox with the top cut off and a little spoon, so kids can scoop out the fruit. How cute. And, as I've mentioned, I'm looking for more snack ideas.

So I bought a couple kiwi (kiwis?) and came home with a new determination. They will try it and they will like it. This was my battle cry.

But I needed a strategy.

I remembered learning at a schoolfood conference about the three-prong approach. I wish I remembered the researchers who presented this evidence, because it is important. To get kids to try new foods in the cafeteria, they learned, it is not enough to serve fantastic food.

This was their three-part strategy to get kids to accept new foods in the cafeteria:

1. Serve beautiful fresh delicious food. Duh. That's the easy part.
2. Incorporate the new foods into the curriculum. The kids should basically study the new food beforehand.
3. Have the kids help either prepare or grow the food, before the first time they try it.

If this works in the schools, why not at home? And of course, it makes so much sense! If I'm traveling in Thailand, and suddenly I'm presented with a food I've never seen before, that looks weird and smells differently from anything I've ever tasted before, I'm far more likely to dig in if I know about the fruit, have read about it, have seen other people like me eating it, and have seen it either picked or in the market or prepared, or whatever. It just ups my confidence level about this strange thing I'm going to put into my mouth.

So I started talking up the kiwi. "Hey, kid, so I got this fruit, it's called a kiwi. It's sort of a cross between a strawberry and a banana, and it's a beautiful green, like a jewel, inside. They're from New Zealand!"

They were totally interested (My son: "How come everybody wants to move to New Zealand?"), so I showed them a picture of kiwi on the internet, and a map of New Zealand (Me: "That's just if the Republicans win.". I read them about two sentences from Wikipedia before they zoned me out and were on to something else.

But that was okay. I'd planted the seeds; now I'd leave them to germinate... Come snacktime they'd be crying for kiwi.

It's so ridiculous. What's next, prepping them for a new flavor of popsicle? But I was really excited to remember this strategy that they are using in the schools. It makes perfect sense to bring it into the home. Who doesn't like knowing a little before they embark on a new flavor sensation?

So how did it go? Quite well, it turns out. My son devoured his portion -- including the skin! -- and begged for more and has asked several times since then. It would seem like a wasted exercise in the obvious -- if not for my daughter's response. Five years old, adventurous, sturdy, and a huge eater, but in the throes of her picky years. She didn't want to try it, and only when gently pressed was willing to taste a small slice. She did eat the slice, but refused more and was unenthusiastic about the whole process.

I don't have a control group of foods to compare -- wait, what I am saying? I have hundreds of examples of foods I've presented to my kids without prepping, which they flatly refused.

Still, kiwi is a gimme. Next up: miso stew, which I'm trying to reintroduce into my life. It used to be a weekly staple, until I had non-tofu-eating, non-sweet-potato-eating, non-shitake-eating, non-seaweed-eating kids. They do like miso broth. It's a start. I'll keep you all posted. Let me know if you have luck using this method!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lost in the Supermarket

I can no longer shop happily.

Seriously, I can't. I trying to cut back on sugar as my kids' main source of caloric intake, especially for snacks, and it's making shopping hard, and scary.

I am inspired by my mother's comments about all the foods in our house being good foods, so that it was okay for us kids to snack between school and dinner. (This isn't entirely true. I do remember Stew Leonard's cookies and the occasional hard-won box of brownie mix or pop-tarts. )

But for the most part, it's true; we had very few snack foods or premade sweets. My brother and sister and I regularly made whatever we wanted for afterschool snacks, but it was usually real food.

(Of course I loved going to friends' houses, where the cupboards overflowed with Chips Ahoys and Snackwells and Yoo-Hoo's. )

But I'm not going to raise my kids that way, and I'm already freaked out by how dependent we are on Stonyfield Farms Yogurt Squeezers, juice boxes, and weird things like fruit ropes. It's all organic, so it must be good, right? If you're okay with ice cream-level portions of sugar in every snack and meal, sure. I guess so.

So the other day, as I cruised the aisles, I held on to the rudder, hard. I looked over our usual suspects, all those junky things that get my kids through lunch with at least a few calories in their bellies, and appease them afterschool when they are bearishly hungry and eager for a sugary snack. I picked them up, looked at them, and put them down.

I put down the Squeezers and walked away quickly. Because: what if we just didn't buy them? Will my daughter starve? Or will she discover that nuts are good?

I looked at the fruit leather ropes. Is there any nutritional purpose to those things? Or do they just take up precious lunch-eating minutes? The info box confirmed my suspicions that there is virtually nothing in there but sugar. I walked away. Without these will they go back to peanut butter and jelly as a sweet snack?

I walked away from the organic multigrain granola bars that in any other era or culture would be considered candy. Will they turn to cheese and crackers? Will I remember to throw cheese and crackers into my purse as we run out the door?

I loaded up on nuts, cheese and crackers, honeycrisp apples and ... and ... that's kind of it. What else do you give hungry kids? My mind drew a blank. That's our current snack list, and I was unable to go further.

Already I have been meeting my kids at afterschool pickup with a honeycrisp apple, our current favorite. (Them: "Is that a honeycrisp? Yay! Can I have it?"). Hungry and thirsty, they devour them. amd no longer beg to visit the ice cream truck.

Afterschool there are cheese and crackers, more apples, frozen blueberries and sometimes leftovers from the night before, or a whole turkey sandwich if the situatin is drastic. Is it the change in seasons? They are famished lately. And I am running short on ideas.

What do you all feed your kids afterschool? I need snack ideas!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't Like Corn Syrup? You Snobby Racist!

Uh... why don't I high fructose corn syrup again? Oh, right, because it's a crappy industrial product produced through weird enzymic processes, because it gets digested by the liver instead of the stomach, because it is part of our natioanl corn-addiction, because it is so cheap that it is responsible for Big Gulps and the ever-sweetening of things like soup and ketchup, because it is the end product in our increasingly industrialized unsustainable food system and because it is at least in part responsible for the obesity epidemic... I could go on.

I'm sure you've all seen this commercial:

This week the commercial made it on to New York Magazine's weekly Approval Matrix, on the lowbrow, despicable corner of the matrix. They wrote: "A bizarre ad paints people who don't like corn syrup as snobby racists".

Thank you, New York Magazine!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oprah and Lisa

I haven't watched much Oprah since those cozy overwhelming days when it was me, my first baby, and a mountain of laundry on the couch. Oh, and my unemployed -- er, freelance -- friend who lived upstairs usually managed to nestle in somewhere. It didn't even matter what the topic was; come 4 pm, there we were, swilling coffee and dishing on Oprah's clothes, her makeup, her latest diet and anything else that came to mind.

But I don't have the time these days, and, too, (as Sarah Palin would say, and I find that I like saying it also, too) I have sentient kids who can't be there if there's anything even approaching a good topic.

But I'd watch today if I could -- Lisa Ling is going to present a report on How We Treat the Animals We Eat. You can see a preview on YouTube.

This is a huge issue for me. Yes, I eat meat. Yes, I love animals. How do you reconcile this seeming conflict? In my mind, you treat the animals well. California is voting on Proposition 2, regarding animal confinement next month. Should animals we're raising for food be allowed to "lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely"? Gee, let's take a vote.

Maybe this show will bring it to the consciousness of other states as well. I never thought I'd say this, and one of her successors is certainly influencing my giddy feelings of solidarity, but: Go, Lisa!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Our New Staple: Thai Beef Salad

A few weeks ago we went to the Brooklyn Flea. It was one of those weirdly tropical days, far too hot to dig through vintage maps and racks of clothing in a brutally sunny asphalt lot. So we wandered through Fort Greene looking for a lunch place and stumbled upon Rice, one of my favorite cheap NYC eats.

It was brunchtime, but we all went for Rice-y things: I got congee with grilled shrimp; my daughter got dumplings, Chris got some kind of chili-laden eggs, and my son got the winner, the Thai Beef Salad, which we have been eating in one form or another regularly ever since.

My version is brown rice tossed with a mix of fish sauce and lime juice and a pinch of sugar. Then I grill or broil steak and serve it with a bunch of vegetables.

But this is the thing. Even before the economic events of recent weeks, I am a cheapskate. I am a bargain hunter, a frugal gourmet, a total tightwad. Of course this thriftiness is in opposition to my appreciation for good real food and my desire that animals raised for food be treated humanely. There's plenty of cheap food that I have no interest in, like, for example 99-cent hamburgers and hot pockets, in which the consumer is actually getting ripped off.

So there I am in the meat section at the Coop -- where it's mostly farm-raised meat -- ignoring the $30 rib-eye steaks and going for the cheapest cuts. If it's chewy and gristly and tough and $6/pound, I'll buy it. It's the only way I can afford to buy farm-raised meat, and plus I like the challenge.

There are different things you can do with tough cuts of meat. You can slowly stew the shit out of them, as in brisket. You can semi-freeze them and then slice them against the grain in micro-thin slices and stir-fry them. You can marinate them for hours in salty acidic things that supposedly will break down the fibers (although I've been hearing disagreement about this. It was either Mark Bittman or Chris Kimball or some other giant in the field who wrote that the marinade or brine never penetrates more than 1/2 an inch or so. That may be true but then I don't know how they can explain the miracle of bacon).

Or you can pound them.

This is my latest favorite method. I buy chuck steak or london broil, and I put it between wax paper and pound the shit out of it.

Then I grill or broil it, and slice it really thin against the grain. Sometimes it doesn't work. I can tell when I see my children chewing on their food like they're chewing their cud, and also I can tell when my daughter starts wailing that the meat's too tough to eat. This is a sure fire method right here for knowing.

But most of the time it's great -- a little chewy but huge on flavor, especially when you add the Thai Salty-Sour-Sweet Sauce.
To quote my daughter: "Are we having my favorite sauce? I love this sauce!"

Thai Beef Salad
Meat, pounded
Rice, tossed with salty-sour-sweet thai sauce (see below)
Lettuce leaves
Carrots and cucumbers, pickled if desired (see below)
radishes, mint, basil, cilantro, as desired

Salty-Sour-Sweet Thai sauce
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon raw sugar
Mix all ingredients. Use half to flavor rice; put other half on table for diners to add extra flavor.

Quick Pickle
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
(You can play with this arrangement as per your preferences. My kids get used to the extremely sweet versions they find in Vietnamese restaurants, and turn up their noses at my less sweet versions. This version is pretty sweet.)
Heat ingredients until sugar is fully dissolved. Cool and then mix with carrots or radishes, julienned or shredded. You can pickle them in the fridge for an hour or overnight, or just use as a dressing on unpickled carrots.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Let Them Eat Candy

I've eaten a lot of chocolate in my life, and my vast, extreme, drooling preference is for Equal Exchange's Dark Chocolate with Almonds. I might consider putting a costume on and going door to door if everyone were giving out candy like these minis by Equal Exchange.

Okay, so $20 is a little steep for Halloween candy, but you get about 75 pieces. And no melamine. So, that seems like a pretty good deal, right?


Twenty bucks, just to fatten up other people's kids.

Maybe if they mixed up the bag a little -- dark with almonds, milk chocolate, dark with cocoa nibs, plain dark -- like the classic Halloween mix by old you-know-who, they'd have me.

All you people unaffected by the downturn, this is your moment. I'll think of you and your fat green wallets as I troll the candy aisles at the Rite-Aid, squinting at labels, trying to find the least bad candy for the wee little ghouls and goblins.

If you order by October 21, they guarantee delivery by Halloween.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Smart Mom: Belinda

I'm introducing a new feature on MM: interviews with smart moms. I'm always quizzing people on what they feed their kids, how they pack lunches, how they deal with pickiness, etc, so I thought I'd start sharing some of the bounty.

Smart Mom #1 is, fittingly enough, my mom. At 68, my mom, Belinda, is changing what life in your late 60's looks like. She's a yoga teacher who hikes every morning with her two dogs and still fires up a storm in the kitchen, cooking favorite dishes like black bean chili, butternut babaghanoush and sushi bowl.

As you'll see, her views on feeding kids are a bit unorthodox. She raised us in an extremely lax household, in which we were given free rein to figure out our eating preferences, and to cook and prepare food for ourselves from a very young age.

It was very 70's: everything was whole wheat, we produced our own eggs and honey, our cookies were healthy enough to eat for breakfast, and we always read labels so we could avoid the devil: hydrogenated oil. (But we weren't all good: we also indulged in Mallomars and Fluffernutter sandwiches.) Okay, so we didn't have regular family dinners or get pressured to eat things we didn't like. Somehow we all turned out okay.

Today I called up my mom and asked her to share some of her thoughts about feeding kids.

L: Your kids are all grown up now, and all three of us turned out to be good cooks and great eaters. Do you remember us being picky?

B: Oh sure, I couldn’t get you to eat any of the foods that I loved. Soups and stews and casseroles. But I don’t think you were picky. You were discriminating. It’s not a disorder. I don't know very many adults who eat everything.

L: I still don't really like stews and casseroles.

B: See?

L: What do you remember feeding us?

B: Mostly I focused on protein. Hot dogs, beans and franks, fish sticks. Tuna fish salad, which I made with half mayonnaise and half plain yogurt. Spaghetti with meat sauce, and I would sneak in lots of vegetables and mix it up. I also would sneak things into chocolate chip cookies, like raisins and soy flour and whole wheat flour...

You guys liked molasses mixed into milk. That was for the iron..

And we used to mix ketchup and mayonnaise --

L: Russian dressing!

B: That’s right. We used that as a dip for carrots and celery. I can’t remember what else. You must have eaten something good! Taco salad, chili…

L: What about the garden? We always had a huge garden.

B: You two, the girls, loved tomatoes. One year we had 72 tomato plants, just for the three of us. We grew raspberries and grapes, those were fun to pick.

L: Do you think that helped us eat more vegetables?

B: My father always said, “If you want kids to eat vegetables, have them grow vegetables.”

L: Back then there were some brutal methods for getting kids to eat, like making them sit at the table until they finished their plate, or spanking them. Did you have any particular method for getting us to eat?

B: No. I didn’t worry about it. My mother always made me wait until my father got home to eat, and I was always hungry. I was determined not to have you guys be hungry, so I let you snack. By the time you got to dinner you weren’t hungry. But it was good stuff you were eating: peanut butter, hummus, leftovers. It wasn’t just, “Have a carrot”. Who wants a carrot when you’re hungry? I made sure all the goodies and snacks were nutritious, so if you weren’t hungry at dinner, so what?

It was a philosophical thing, a decision not to push food, not to make food into an issue. The pediatrician told me, “Do not worry about food. They will eat when they need to grow.”

L: What do you think you did right?

B: I always let you help with the cooking. We made bread and pretzels and all that kind of thing.
And I always made sure you got enough protein.
And I didn’t keep sweets and empty calories in the house. We didn’t have soda. We may have had juice but we watered it down. You never acquired the taste for all that sweet stuff. If there’s one thing I’m pleased about, it’s how you guys eat and that you don’t have weight problems.

L: What would you do differently?

B: It was a little sloppy sometimes. I regret not having you sit down a little more.

L: What feeding advice would you give to all of us current moms and dads who are still in the trenches with our picky eaters?

B: Don’t worry about it so much. Always have good food available. It’s like on that show, "Jon and Kate Plus 8". I can't stop watching that show. And she is always bringing food, everywhere they go. Then you don’t have to buy the unhealthy food.
And relax!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Candy Scare

Last month, California health officials tested this candy made in China, White Rabbit Creamy Candy, and found it contained traces of melamine. Yesterday, some of the candy was found in Connecticut, and consumers have been warned against eating it. You can read the whole story here

I've personally never had, heard of, or seen White Rabbit candy (although I love the Wikipedia explanation that, because of its supposed nutritional components, "The candies hence accompanied the growth of a generation."), so I'm not too personally bummed out about this. It's not like Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate with Almonds was suddenly found to be poisonous, or Blue Marble's chocolate ice cream...

Still, cheap candy is not completely exempt from my life. For instance, there's this little holiday coming up soon...

My kids trick or treat on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, where stores give out the cheapest, worst crap in the world. Or so I thought until now. Okay, so Fifth Avenue is out this year. But even then, I'm a little unsure. My confidence is shattered, in this whole candy business. And in this China business. And this... global trade business.

I think the Halloween fairy may be paying our house a visit this year, taking all that trick-or-treating loot and maybe leaving a nice Fair Trade chocolate bar and a little toy. Or some money. Anything other than candy that might have been made in China.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Genius Farmer, Fish Tacos and Bibimbap, What More Could I Want?

Do you ever feel like the Dining In section has to scramble sometimes to come up with topics? At one point Wednesday mornings were the highlight of my newspaper week. But in the last year or so... eh.

Not today. Here are four good reasons to read today's Dining In.

1. Will Allen: amazing urban farmer guy who grows 500k worth of produce and meat on a two-acre urban farm in Milwaukee. He just won one of the genius grants, and wants to build a 5-story vertical building off the grid...

2. What, make baby food with a food mill, out of whatever you're having for dinner? Radical, but true.

3. Bibimbap in the Rice Cooker. I love bibimbap and I love rice cookers. I wonder if I can make this as a mothership meal...

4. Fish Tacos. I love fish tacos. Are they finally coming to NYC?

I have to shopping now for fish tacos and bibimbap.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eggs are God

A few years ago my friend Courtney saw Isaac Mizrahi hailing a cab across the street from her in Manhattan. She is the type of person who once followed Maya Angelou into a dressing room at Sak's and another time pestered a newly-famous Keanu Reeves into taking her out to dinner, so naturally she raced across Broadway to accost Mr. Mizrahi.

"I worship you!" she told him. He glanced at her and immediately quipped back at her, "Don't worship me, you should worship God," then climbed into his cab and sped away.

Okay, I realize this isn't the greatest celebrity story, but I'm totally embarassed around famous people, even when I do worship them, so I have to take my stories where I can get them, which is usually from Courtney.

Anyway, I remembered the "you should worship god" story because the first edition of Edible Manhattan is out, with a profile of Isaac Mizrahi's refrigerator inside.

Edible Brooklyn wrote a story about my cooking classes a couple years ago, so I'm already a loyal fan of this burgeoning empire. But even if I weren't, the Isaac Mizrahi kitchen profile would have had me within seconds. Most of these profiles are cute peeks into a famous person's fridge. The famous person offers little pithy descriptions about the contents -- why they like this chili sauce or how they cook their eggs or what they think of bottled water.

Isaac's reads more like a Rorschach test on acid. For example:

Worchestershire Sauce: "I love it. It’s like granny’s panties."

On Eggs: "Eggs are God! Wool is God and eggs are God."

He compares himself to Judy Garland: "Uppers, downers! Butter, Weight Watchers!"

I love him. And I agree, about eggs and wool. I worship them. And him, too, kind of.

Changing School Lunch

School lunch
Originally uploaded by john.murden
I first started getting involved in the school food reform back when my son was in kindergarten. I remembered ghastly school lunch from my own school days, and I started hearing that things had only gotten worse since those good old "ketchup-is-a-vegetable" days in the 80's. So I started a food committee at the school, and set about trying to change school food.

I very quickly became frustrated and discouraged and completely changed courses.

School food was like a behemoth wrapped up in laws and deals and bureaucracies. In NYC alone, 800,000 lunches are prepared every day. It is like this monstrous shark that can't switch directions very easily. It's further hindered by decades of well-meaning but often idiotic laws that dictate the amount and proportion of calories from various sources that have to go on each tray.

In addition to the bureacracy problem, there's the nutrition problem. Because: what is a healthy lunch? The NYC Coalition for Healthy Schools thinks it should be vegan. Yech. I'm not into veganism. Lots of nutritionists and parents think it should be low-fat. Like, pizzas made with low fat cheese. Disgusting! Even efforts to use local foods backfire, like when the Office of School Foods stopped using low-fat Stonyfield Yogurt in favor of a NYS yogurt that was non-fat and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

And then there was the fact that even when pilot programs served great food, the kids wouldn't necessarily eat it. (One research team found to get kids to accept a healthy lunch program, you had to serve great food AND have kids grow/prepare the food AND they had study it in the classrooms.)

Is it surprising that I stopped focusing on school food? My attitude was: let's focus on something that we can actually change.

Until this year. Last spring my kids' school was accepted into a pilot program created by the Office of School Foods and the NYS Agriculture Dept. It's called Garden to Cafeteria Day. About 25 schools are participating, and most of them are growing their own salad greens. We have a relationship with Added Value, an educational farm in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, so we're harvesting greens from them. Then, and this is the exciting part, the school cafeteria is going to prepare and serve them as part of lunch.

It's a small step, but an exciting one. I'm especially gratified to see how many people are supporting this -- our principal, our school's nutritionist, the teachers, the parents.

The schools are asked to make a day of it, so we're having a Harvest Museum, with tasting tables and songs and artwork and science projects all on display in the cafeteria. It's going to be very sweet.

It's happening next Wednesday. I'll be taking pictures, so I'll keep you all posted.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fish: Yes. Kidney Beans: No.

Five-year-old, under pressure to eat one -- one -- cooked kidney bean (a potentially new food experience, despite much interaction with other kinds of beans): "I have to eat the WHOLE thing? Can I just eat half of it? I can't. I can't eat it. It's disgustin'. It's, like, slimy and ... and ... it's yucky. I can't. I can't do it." [Covers mouth with hands, displays horrified widened eyes, shakes head frantically.]

We didn't make her do it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Do You Know Where Your Bacon Comes From?

Bacon is easily one of the top 10 most delicious foods in the world. There's just no way around this fact, no matter how smart and cute and funny pigs are, or how much you liked the movie Babe or the book Charlotte's Web. Bacon is just so good.

I will never stop eating it. So it is especially sickening to me to hear about pigs being abused just so I can have my Sunday morning special.

At D'Acres, we loved watching the pigs. They are hilarious cute creatures, who got cuter every day that we watched them. It didn't disturb me to know that they would end up as bacon, because I knew they were living a good life. Not too many animals, outside of dogs, cats and humans, get to live a protected life, filled with delicious food, warm clean straw bed and a humanely executed death. (The pigs at D'Acres even get a special last meal, how sweet.) I feel sorrier for the pigeons I see huddled by the curb with a broken wing than I do for the pigs at a farm like D'Acres. Starving or getting trampled to death would not be a preferred exit.

But the pointless abuse described in this article is criminal. I hope they are prosecuted, and I thank PETA for bringing these acts to the public eye. Watch out for Hormel, and know where your bacon is coming from.

Food Mistakes Not to Make

People, never give your kids sugar. Don't give them ice cream, don't give them popsicles, don't give them cookies. Don't even let them know about chocolate croissants or root beer. If you do, you may very well end up with the sugar-addicted monsters that I have.

Where did I go wrong? They are like heroin addicts, angling for their next score from the moment they wake up until halfway through dinner, when they start talking about dessert. It got really bad this summer. I'm not saying it's my mom's fault. Personally, I think kids should be in college before they have root beer for breakfast. But grandmothers have their own rules, I suppose.

And I'm not saying it's my husband's fault, but he does in fact by Ciao Bello sorbet about every other day.

But the chocolate croissants, cookies, Blue Marble ice cream, Milano cookies, gummy bears, the world's longest candy counter we visit in New Hampshire, Mallomars, rice krispie treats, marshmallows and candy canes: those are all me. What can I say? I'm weak. I have an occasional, and extremely nostalgic, sweet tooth. I love special exotic sweets, and holiday sweets and eating Junior Mints when I go to the movies. And so, now, do my kids.

Maybe this article by Tara Parker Pope would have helped. Six rules to live by. (I seem to be doing okay with the part about not restricting sweets...)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back in Brooklyn

The day after farm camp ended - the same day I was hosting a family-and-friend party in honor of my daughter's fifth birthday -- my laptop got into an terrible, nearly fatal accident. Accidentally knocked to the floor, its screen cracked. Since then, my three-month-old laptop has been in a computer coma, its power light blinking, but just a black screen staring back at me.


That's the sound of the wind going out of a massive amount of sails, each of them representing a part of my creative and financial lives.

We had only a week left in NH, so I sucked it up and let it go. Why think about a potential $700 bill with a dwindling number of days hiking and river trolling?

But now we're back in Brooklyn, and it's time to think. I'm on my husband's middle-aged desktop computer, with its cranky mouse, slow internet, and all his .... stuff. Record album covers, ebay auction lists, dept of buildings research. It's like trying to get comfy in someone else's living room. Or, more aptly, in my husband's dusty cluttered antiquated study. Can't even make an italic on this blog without summoning some archaic html code.

I'm off to Tekserve on Tuesday to cough off almost the original cost of my computer to fix it. Blech.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gettin Farmy

We're so farmy. We feed apples and onions to the oxen, chuck citrus fruit past the pigs into the mud, and argue over who gets to carry the eggs. Eggs are magical and must be fought over to gain possession. Some get broken every day.

Hens always escape and must be held.

This is the Cobb Oven, an outdoor clay situation, built around a discarded steel drum.

Tyler built a fire. We gathered blueberries and blackberries to make a bruise-berry pie.

This five-year-old brushed the pie dough with a beaten egg yolk.

Then this nine-year-old slashed the top, and we brushed it with egg yolk again.

While the pie baked in the Cobb Oven we gathered eggs!!

This hen was not budging.

Voila! Beautiful Pie! Two of the kids had to leave early, before it was done, so we agreed to wait until tomorrow to eat.

Tomorrow is our last day.