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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Never underestimate the power of the sprinkle.

No.  I don’t mean the colored candy kind.  Although if they are chocolate, and called Jimmies, I can’t quite resist those either…  but that’s another post.

What I mean to say is, sprinkle, as in sprinkling seasoning.

Part of getting a kid to try different food is engaging them in preparation.  Something as simple as seasoning is enough to make a kid proud of cooking.

Sometimes in our kitchen, The Child is involved throughout the preparation, and those are substantial experiences.  But more often, she’s playing or reading somewhere and I call out, “Do you want to sprinkle the salt and pepper?”

She pops out of whatever she was doing, grabs a pinch of salt or a shaker of spice, and holds it up high.  Sometimes there is a quick dramatic flourish, and she’s gone in a flash.  Other times it is a focused and slow shower of flavor, watching carefully to see where the individual grains land.

Fresh cut chives sprinkled on breakfast eggs and tomatoes.

Credit, as for so many things in our kitchen, goes to Alton Brown.  Good Eats on the DVR was kid programming in our house.  No freakin’ Barney here.  And as a toddler she started learning from AB.  (Belching yeasty puppets!  Definitely children’s programming!)

In various episodes he points out why he holds his hand so high when seasoning.  Hold it low and all your salt lands in the same place.  Yuck!  Hold it high and you get a wide dispersal area.  Any kid who has played with glitter knows this.  The light went on, and since she was always strapped into her chair at the counter when we cooked anyway, we let her start seasoning things as a young toddler.

A good place to start is roasted fingerling potatoes.  The potatoes, simply cut in half on a tray and roasted skin side up, can take a little over-seasoning on their skins as the kid learns even application.

I do not know if this will help a kid venture to try something new, we make ours try everything.  But it always seemed to help her look forward to sitting down to a meal.  Watching someone else partake of what she made tapped into the pride as well.

Basic Roasted Potatoes

The first cookbook I ever bought for myself was Jacques Pépin’s Cooking With Claudine, and the first recipe is for a steak with roasted potatoes and onions.  He roasted large potatoes, and my preparation has evolved over many years to use fingerling potatoes instead.  Roast just a few for a small dinner, or prep a whole bag for a party.  We have them alongside everything from salads to stews to steak, or even dipped into chili or salsa.

Preheat oven to 400 deg.  Slice potatoes in half, selecting those which are roughly the same size.  Prep a half-sheet pan by pouring some olive oil in the center of the pan.  Use a silicone baking sheet if you have one, but it is not necessary.  Having a quality half-sheet pan that heats evenly is far more important.

Plunk a potato, cut side down into the puddle of olive oil and slide it over toward a corner of the pan, leaving some space around it for air circulation.  In succession plunk and slide each potato.

This is an excellent job for kids, even very small ones.  As you slice potatoes in half, the kid puts them in the oil and slides them into place and patterns emerge.  Sometimes they are in neat little rows, sometimes abstract polka dots, and sometimes a giant smiley face on the tray.  *grin*

The tops of the potatoes will need some oil.  Using your fingers, or those of the child labor, transfer some oil from the pan onto the tops of the potatoes.  They do not need to be coated, but if you let your kid do it, trust me, there will be olive oil on every bit of surface area of both potato and hands.  Kids take this job very seriously.  Handing The Child a pastry brush also works well for this.   “Okay kid, paint the potato tops.”

Then comes the seasoning.  With kosher salt from a ramekin, The Child takes a pinch and holds it high to sprinkle.  The pepper grinder is so much fun The Child loves that too.  BUT, there is the necessary admonishment here…  you season it, you eat it.  There is no getting carried away with the pepper grinder and throwing food away.  That’s a mistake a kid makes only once.

Roast the potatoes for anywhere from 20-45 minutes depending on your oven, size of potatoes and preferred doneness.  Once you can easily stick a knife in them from the top, they are done.  Let cool enough to handle and serve hot.  Leftovers are easily nuked.

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Abdication

This week, I cooked.

I engaged my kid in the process.  We sat and ate together.  It was a proper meal, and she was with me at the local farmers market when we bought the ingredients.  It was food we could talk about and try together.

This would seem a no-brainer considering I write about our family, food, cooking, and parenting.  I write about our daughter’s developing palate, and how we lucked into a kid that eats and tries without too much complaint.

Except I have not been writing.  Only one post so far this year!?!  I have a long list of half-hearted ideas, all a steady foundation in self-admonishment.  We certainly have not stopped eating.  But I haven’t really been cooking either.  We have been in the food-is-fuel mentality for some time now.

Occasionally I would get a spark of inspiration, but these thoughts repeatedly centered around one theme.

Abdication.

Child rearing sometimes feels like managing abdication.  It would be hypocrisy to continue writing about our successes without acknowledging the stumbles.

Of course I have a host of handy excuses.  A job change for The Spouse.  Living mostly-apart while figuring out the new school and a mostly-move to the other side of the Bay.  Living through six months of construction in the midst of it all because, of course, the cabinets and fixtures were ordered mere weeks before the job offer arrived.  Plus, initially we didn’t really think we’d move.  (Or maybe just I didn’t.)  Oh yeah, and that successful spinal fusion a few years back?  The next disk is on the degenerative slide into oblivion.  And double oh yeah, I needed to pack and prep The Dog and The Child to travel for the summer as soon as school let out.

The extra pathetic aspect is that all these demanding circumstances are founded in really good stuff.  It’s a good job with great medical in a crap economy.  It’s a final stage remodel, watching eight years of dreaming come to fruition.  The Child is thrilled about the move to a new community and new school, even though she spent a happy 2nd grade year at the old school.  And by renting a small apartment we can keep our connections to our old ‘hood while exploring another community.  All of this stress is very good stress.  We are very lucky.  Did I mention we spend summers on a lake?  We’re really, really lucky.

But somewhere along the line with all the positive on the horizon, I gave up trying to make sure we were eating right.

It was a gradual slide into abdication for me.  Construction debris and drywall dust meant we ordered Chinese or Indian take out or hit the sushi bar often.  Turns out the kid loves uni.  A growing child who loves uni and anything else on the special board takes a chunk of change.  So as soon as conditions would allow I made us… stuff.  Stuff.  It was food but it wasn’t quite cooking, and I was not proud.  Initially I found myself laughing off an evening of beans on toast by telling The Child I was introducing her to an important component of British cuisine.  For months we enjoyed locally-made Massimo’s pizzas delivered through spud.com, telling myself at least it was unprocessed and local.  But before I knew it, many meals a week were a tortilla nuked with cheese, and breakfast was peanut butter toast or cereal day after day.

At the end of the slide I find myself sitting down six months later to a dinner at the cabin of freezer-burned Ore-Ida ‘seasoned’ fries, ketchup, and a martini.  I muttered with a disapproving smile that omnivorous means being able to eat whatever is available, right?  They were leftover from my father’s spring fishing trip.

Seriously.  I didn’t buy ‘em.

But I liked ‘em.  Uh oh.

I had fallen a long way, and the epiphany meant pulling out the camera, just like I used to when we sat down to fabulous meals.

I could feel my own palate changing.  My cravings on a personal level often devolved into an evening of putting The Child to bed and pulling out a bag of spicy chips and a tub of sour cream.  Yeah, that’s right, if you dip the Thai Spice Kettle Chips directly into sour cream you don’t even have to mix up a proper dip.  Now that’s lazy.  Deliciously lazy.  During the six months of construction I gained over 12 pounds.  My clothes stopped fitting.  And by June, those awful fries with ketchup actually tasted good.

What’s worse, I could see my kid’s patterns changing.  She was craving sweets and salts when bored or tired.  The habit of asking for a snack in order to avoid facing anything from chores to homework was well developed.  She started walking in and asking for candy for breakfast?!?  And it wasn’t even Halloween.

“Really? You thought that would work?  On what planet do you think…”  We’d never once had candy for breakfast.  She would shrug and wander off like some sort of zombie.

We lived in our completed home for a total of nine days before school ended and we trekked to the cabin for the summer.  Travel was smooth and easy for Child, Dog, and Mom, but it was late.  We collapsed into bed in our clothes upon arrival at midnight, grateful for the feel and smell the Northwoods around us, even in the dark.  When this summer ends our family will be living together again 24/7.  The new school is close enough to ride bikes on a nice day.  Hopefully my grumpy spine will benefit from less time in the car driving to and from school.  The new community has a gorgeous farmers market, and dear friends.

We woke to a mostly empty fridge that first morning and I made Fake-Cheez Singles on toast for breakfast, handed her one, and we went outside to feel the breeze blowing up off the lake.  While standing there, The Child handed it back to me, “This is gross.  Do I have to eat this?”

“No honey.  No you don’t.”  Her tastes don’t have the plastic-cheez 80’s muscle memory to fall back upon.  Mommy ate two.  Ew.

Then I thought to myself, “Okay then, time to reboot.”  First step is to forgive myself for the failure.  Learn and move on.  Each day this summer there has been a little less abdication, and The Child sees me more aware.  Our healthy routines and patterns are returning, slowly.  I actually feel like cooking again, and even a little writing.  Halle-freakin-lujah!

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The Blur of Days 4 & 5 & 6

There was enough organized chaos the last 3 days that I have posted nothing new.  So much for my thing-a-day for a week experiment!

We try to make certain The Child has a well cooked different-from-yesterday breakfast each morning.  But sometimes, it is a weekend on my own after an insomnia filled and over-scheduled week.  That’s when I just want to sleep late.

I eventually admitted utter defeat at sleeping in this morning.  My body clock is clearly set on the get up for school 5:40 a.m. alarm schedule and woke at 6 a.m. in an ‘I’m late’ panic.  Then an hour later The Child wanted breakfast.  I croaked from bed, “Have a banana off the counter, and then you can have a brownie I saved from the dinner party last night.”

Yeah, that’s right, I rolled over while telling my kid to go forage for a chocolate and fudgie brownie…  for breakfast.  A far cry from the breakfasts I make her during the week.  Followed by, “I’m still hungry.”

“You’re out of luck.  I’ll be up in an hour.”  I tried going back to sleep, but apparently I was the one out of luck.

On That Note…

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7148143/

The more I watched this little web series the harder I laugh.  Every parent is doing the best they know how, but sometimes I wish we could all not try quite so hard.

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Fending for Ourselves: Day 1

The Spouse left in the wee hours of the early morning on his way half way around the world.  For years he traveled constantly, but recently he’s been home.  Really home.  Like quit his job and working for himself from home home.

Which means I have gone soft.  He has been gone just 24 hours, and while I managed to get The Child fed and off to school (and subsequently picked up, run through her paces, and packed off to bed) I wonder just how I’m going to keep this up?

Seriously people.  I am looking out over my living room and there is a backpack pulled completely apart at the base of the stairs as the ultimate trip hazard.  The Bactine and stray cotton balls are several feet away.  Homework this evening charted it’s inevitable course through tears territory and into the land of “okay you can stay up an extra 30 minutes.”  And every horizontal surface is covered with something.  Dishes, bills, and laundry are everywhere.  Seriously…  it was not this bad yesterday.

Breakfast was pulled together with the air of Martha Stewart.  I arose convinced that this week would be no problem.  Piece of cake really.  I hadn’t counted on being out of coffee, but no matter, I could channel my inner East Bay housewife and stereotypically stop at ‘bucks later.  I whipped up some scrambled duck eggs with a slice of Monterey Jack melted in.  Some toasted garlic bread on the side and, “Voila!”  easy breakfast.  With snack packed and hot lunch ordered, we even made it to school just in time to be early.

The crash was inevitable.  The post-drop-off latte was too little too late.  Headache.  Crushing.  Coffee fail.  And I know I got loads accomplished today, honest.  I must have.  I’m certain of it.  I do not, however, remember having my own lunch.  In any case, it was suddenly an hour before needing to fetch The Child from school when I realized she had no clean underwear for tomorrow, no snack for before her swim lesson, and my grouchy back was suddenly on red alert.  Dag nabbit!! Laundry started and sandwich prepped.  Half for her, and half for myself, eaten over the sink with an IBU chaser.  Then hurry, hurry so the drive & wait, drive & wait cycle could begin again. A few hours later and I had not yet thought of dinner, despite both of us ravenously thinking of nothing else once we walked in the door from swim lessons.

Sometimes a jar of sauce is just a jar of sauce.

Simultaneously keeping The Child focused on her homework whilst staring into the void of my refrigerator zapped any vestige of creativity.  The fridge may be full of tasty leftovers, but I detest having the same thing the same way again.

So the green beans and bell peppers sauteed with bacon from the night before were chopped up and warmed with a previously opened jar of Wild Mushroom Tomato Sauce from Dave’s Gourmet, and thinned out with some homemade chicken stock.  Quick cooking angel hair pasta meant that literally watching water come to a boil was the painstaking part of the meal prep this evening.  The pasta was done in three minutes, tossed with the sauce and beans for another few, and it really hit the spot.  The Child even asked for an extra serving of green beans mid-way through her pasta.  It may not have been fancy but my jar of sauce and pasta dinner managed to have The Child eat enough to function while finishing up her homework.  Or at least nearly finishing, as the extra 30 minutes of homework time came and went quickly.

Day 1 of Operation Daddy’s Traveling Again has come and gone, and we managed just fine.  Tomorrow perhaps I will get more done, but for now I’m thinking sleep.  After I put the Bactine away and get her undies in the dryer, of course.  The backpack booby trap can stay where it is.  What’s the worst that could happen?

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We receive complements on The Child’s eating habits all the time.  I am still uncomfortable answering the inevitable inquiries.  The vast majority of children we come in contact with are extremely picky eaters.

We are the exception and not the rule.  A few years back, I caught myself responding to positive comments with a compensatory list of The Child’s faults, and it brought me up short.  I started investigating what was really going on with us so I could better express myself.  Writing helps me understand our family’s relationship to food.

I am learning to answer questions and accept compliments without undermining The Child’s well-deserved spotlight.

There are so many different facets to it:  eating together, cooking together, shopping together, and talking frankly about ingredients, farming, science, and the complexities of the natural world.  Some of her success may be just the way she is wired – thus the blog tagline:  parenting or luck?

I began to break it down one thing at a time.  But there are a fair number of ideas which  spawned half-written blog entries.  Entries which start out helpful and end with me shaking my head, hitting the delete key, and wondering how to convey our course of action without a perceived sense of judgement thrown at those who have chosen other parenting paths.

So let’s just call a spade a spade.

*Deep Breath*

The answer to all those folks out there who have asked with genuine sincerity how we did it…  “Part of the reason my kid eats and yours doesn’t is because I am mean and selfish, and you’re not.”

*Big Exhale*

Because I’m Selfish

I am not a short order cook.  I have no problem letting my child go a little hungry if a meal is not to her liking.

I discipline over trying food because I think an unwillingness to try or taste something new is rude.  And since the sense of taste is always changing as we age, and cooking methods and seasonings are never quite the same, for our family this means tasting every part of a meal every time.

We do not take vitamins or supplements.  Unless directed by a doctor for a particular condition or deficit, there is no double-blind controlled proof that supplements do anything but potential harm.  Especially multivitamins.   So my kid’s nutrition comes from the same place every other kid’s does.  Her food.  In this case as much variety as possible.  Accepting that there is no safety-net multivitamin or fortified food puts the onus squarely on me as the parent to ensure The Child eats a wide range of ingredients.

Food will touch other food.  Sometimes it is *gasp* intentionally all mixed together.  When multiple solids were offered as a toddler, they were always crowded together on the plate.

I hate to waste food to a compulsive degree.  So we will figure out a way to choke down something meh rather than throw it away.

We enforce basic table manners.  We all make being home for a family meal a priority, often at great effort and inconvenience, so it is hugely disrespectful to have a meal hijacked by theatrics and chaos.

Positive Consequences

It is not quite a bleak life of controlling discipline around here… *wink* There are ways to build choice into her relationship with what fuels her body.  And we revel in meal times being about communication and time together.

After the initial taste, The Child decides how much she eats.  She is consulted on ingredient or menu preferences, and routinely directly involved in preparation.  She shops with us and has useful input.  And we are big fans of condiments and additions to the plate to help make the best of a not-favorite meal.

Eating is as unavoidable as emotions.

A dear friend once asked if I was concerned about attaching emotions to food for my kid.

I don’t see how anyone can ever separate emotions from food.  Parents worry with good reason about eating disorders, body image, and obesity.  I do not know enough to speak to what causes one kid to have detrimental food issues while another does not.  But is there a culture anywhere which does not connect food to emotion?  When we’re happy and sharing time with friends and family, welcoming newcomers into a community, or consoling each other over loss…  there is, and will always be, food.

Only Time Will Tell

There is no way for me to know if the parenting choices we have made will have ill effects on The Child’s psyche.  Perhaps her genetic make up predisposes her to have a particular body type and disposition well beyond any influence we attempt.

But learning to communicate with each other is something we can control.  By fostering an environment where genuine curiosity is rewarded, questions are encouraged, and science matters – perhaps the inevitable will be better dealt with when it inevitably arrives.

In the meantime, we have chosen a path that works for all of us.  And that is exactly what every family should do.  Together.  Decide what is the best match of choices for your family.  Maybe you don’t mind limiting your family menu options to a very short list.  Or perhaps it makes you happy to prepare individual meals for your loved ones.  Perhaps you find it less stressful and easier to cart around food to play dates and vacations just to be sure your kid is eating what they want.  These are all very legitimate points of view.

But when someone asks me wistfully, “How do you get her to try so many different things?”

“I make her try things, because when all is said and done, it is easier for me.”

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First Day of School

The Dog and The Child

The first day of second grade was this past week.  We are a little excited around here as the roller coaster of the school year begins.

Reflecting back a few years, I remember the first “so how was it” conversation with my little four-year old after her first day of pre-K.

“We sang the breakfast song.”

From what I remember, the breakfast song was a little sing-songy verse about what each of them had for breakfast that morning.  It bounced from person to person in circle time to help the kids learn names.

“Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning?”

“We had oatmeal and banana and maple syrup!”  At which point she joyfully burst into song, singing  her verse about eating oatmeal.

Apparently all of the other kids had cereal, and *solemn pause* some kids didn’t have breakfast at all.

Wow.

This is when I carefully reminded myself that the stories shared were through the filter of a four-year old mind.  Given what we were paying in tuition, there probably were not any kids that had really shown up at their first day of pre-K without breakfast.  Right??!!??

I Must Admit…

Over the summer, I totally forgot to give my kid breakfast.  Often.  But it was a lazy summer, right?  There is no schedule.  We had no place we had to be.  And since we always eat breakfast of some sort eventually, I had a hungry kid to remind me.  It rarely got past 8:30 am before her growling tummy won out over my distractions.

But for school, we know we have to be out the door at a certain time.  So we always sit and have breakfast together before school each morning.  This year it was fried eggs with a slice of melted cheese, salami, and a side of sliced tomato.

Embellished Eggs Over-Easy

Make these one at a time in a small, non-stick omelet or crepe pan.  Melt some butter before cracking an egg into the pan.

Right after putting the egg in the pan I slice through the albumen of the whites to help them cook faster.  Runny yolks = Yum.  Runny whites = Yuck.

Sprinkle with chives or scallions if you have them. Then quickly top it with a slice of cheese before anything has time to set up too much.  Add a layer of salami or favorite lunchmeat.

Then…  to the best of your ability…  flip the whole darn thing.  This basically gives you an over easy egg with melty cheese and fried salami on the bottom.  If I am on my game I manage to flip it back over again and slide it off onto a piece of toast or half an english muffin…  crispy edges of salami on top and hidden runny yolk on the inside.

I was not however on my game this week, seeing as how I had zero bread products of any kind in the house (oops!), plus I managed to have mine fall completely apart on my first flip.  Conveniently a jumbled mess of breakfast still tastes just as good.

And no, I did not get a photo.  Just because I managed to make breakfast does not mean it wasn’t a chaotic zoo getting out the door for school!  We’re lucky I snapped a photo of her first day at all, much less her breakfast.

I like to pour a cup of coffee with my portion of breakfast, whatever it may be, and join The Child for at least part of her meal.  She seems more inclined to talk about what’s happening in school at breakfast than at dinner.  Plus, I know that if I don’t have breakfast myself I’m…  um… difficult.

And by the way, for all of you adults out there who think you are just not a breakfast person…  trust me when I say you are difficult too.  Eat something, dammit!

Which leads us to the genius of the teacher’s welcome-to-school song.  Beyond learning names, it probably gave her a good indication as to which kids would be melting into hungry puddles before morning snack time…

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Swimming Bald Eagle

I had no idea bald eagles could swim.  I have seen them somewhat submerged, wings flapping, struggling to take off with a fish.  But swim?  No idea.

Best Rorschach test ever...

The lake is calm this morning, and I saw the soaring shadow from the kitchen window before it hit the fish off our dock with the predictable splash.  Then there was a strangely rhythmic splashing, and I caught a glimpse of him through the trees.  Arching those great wings up and over, propelling itself forward.  It looked bizarre, but my brain only attached one label to the action:  swimming.  I raced to wake The Child and we got down to a good view from the shore just to see it give up and take off.

Maybe it was just drying his wings so he could fly?  Or it was simply struggling with the fish and my silly brain tricked me.

The Child was packed back off to bed, and I was contemplating coffee on top of the excitement, when I heard it again.  More rhythmic splashing.  The eagle had come back for attempt number two, and it was definitely swimming.  This time I snagged the camera and skipped The Child.  No sense getting her up if it wasn’t going to stick around.  But stick around it did.  It was swimming for certain this time.  No doubt about it.  It dragged the fish to shore and all the way up the bank under the trees for cover.

I grabbed the little Canon PowerShot.  It’s on zoom, and I was shaking a bit from the sprint down the hill.  The video quality is crap.  The audio is worse.  But I don’t care, this is the best of the little bits I got.  (btw :: That’s an otter swimming away from shore in first few seconds of the video.  The loon was there as well, but just out of frame, and the mink had scampered off the dock when I came down the path.)  The Child of course was up in a flash on her own and on the pier at my side in time to see it all.

Smiles despite not being able to see the eagle enjoy breakfast

It is my 39th birthday today.  Certainly memorable.  Life is good.

Moments like this when you see how someone could believe in auspicious signs, but not me.  Just an amazing and lucky happenstance.  Unless of course, I could somehow spin this as a cosmic sign to buy a new and better camera!

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