Got apples?  Here’s a simple recipe that has been a family favorite since I was a kid.  It’s perfect in the fall when apples are abundant and even better in the winter on a cold snowy night.  I serve it unsweetened as a side dish (it’s especially good with pork) or drizzled with a little honey for the boy’s dessert.   You can peel the apples if you want, or leave the peels on if you’ve got fresh apples without too many blemishes or pesky pesticides.

We’ve been making fried apples a lot this month to use up our U-Pick apples, especially the ones that looked great when we picked them, but have since gotten spotty and bruised.  Aidan loves this dish.  We’ve never had left-overs and I often pass up seconds, so Aidan can have thirds!  Enjoy.

Fried Apples

6 – 8 medium-sized cooking apples (such as Granny Smith or Jonathon)
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (adjust to taste)
A drizzle of honey (optional)

Peel the apples if desired, then core them and cut them into thin slices.  Melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the apples and saute until tender, allowing at least some of the apples to become golden brown.  Sprinkle the cinnamon over the top and add a drizzle of honey if desired.  Stir just enough to coat the apples and serve warm.

Makes 6- 8 servings.

Serving Suggestions: Fried apples are especially good as a dinner-time side dish with pork chops or pork roast.  You can also serve them for breakfast with ham or sausage, as a topper for  cottage cheese pancakes, or sprinkled with granola.  Serve over ice cream for a lovely fall dessert.

Picky Eater Pleaser:  Peel the apples and leave out (or reduce) the cinnamon.  If your kids like that, experiment with adding more cinnamon or leaving on the peels next time.

I’m not sure how it started but my sons and and their grandmother  have a running joke about eyeballs.  The boys will throw the word “eyeball” into a conversation and Grammy pretends to be totally grossed out (although sometimes it’s not an act!).

Eyeball (un) Appetizers (lesson learned: use a black or red plate if you want your eyeballs to really stand out!)

The boys love this joke so much, I thought it would be fun to really gross Grammy out with some creepy Halloween appetizers.  So here’s your warning:  If the thought of eating an eyeball makes your stomach turn, this is not the post for you.  But if you crave a little  fun with your food, here’s a sure-fire Halloween party hit for your little ghouls and goblins.  Eyeball (un)Appletizers!

My boys thought these were fabulous!  They had a lot of fun making the eyeballs and even more fun serving them.  They chopped the crab with plastic knifes, made the salad, stuffed a few egg while mommy stuffed the rest, and added the sliced olive pupils.  We served the eyeballs on a plate with a lid, so when Grammy lifted the lid she would see two eyes staring back at her.  Success!  Grammy was totally grossed out by these!  She managed to choke down one before she gagged and couldn’t continue, but the  boys (and their Papa) laughed like crazy and ate a lot! I had two and they weren’t bad (although I admit I took the black olive off the second one–very cool looking but not the best taste combination!).

Hope you have fun making and eating your own disgusting Halloween (un)appetizers!

Eyeball (un)Appetizers

8 – 12 hardboiled eggs
4 – 6 ounces crab or chicken salad (see salad suggestions below)
Sliced black olives or raisins

Shell the eggs and slice them in half.  Remove the egg yolks and save them for something else (egg salad is a yummy low oxalate lunch).  Arrange the egg halves on a serving plate.  Spoon 1 – 2 teaspoons of crab salad into the hollow of each egg half.  Top each egg with a slice of black olive.  Enjoy!

Makes 16 – 24 appetizers.

"Ewwww!"

Salad Suggestions:  I wanted my eyeballs to really be gross with a somewhat realistic texture and a blood-shot appearance.  The easiest way to do this is to use real or imitation crab, separated or cut into chunks.  Add enough mayonnaise to hold it together and maybe a dash of salt and pepper or Old Bay seasoning, and Voila!  You have a crab salad that will make your eyeballs look bloodshot (and really gross!).  Another way to do this is to use shredded or finely chopped chicken or turkey.  Again add a little mayo, pepper, and salt, but this time you might want to add some thin strips of red bell pepper to achieve the blood-shot look.  I used 8 ounces of crab meat to make my salad and had at least a third of it left over after stuffing the eyeballs (which my sons ate as their snack that day without any add-ins).  You can always make a bigger batch of salad than you need.  After stuffing your eggs, add your favorite veggies, fruits, or seasonings and lunch is served!

If your kids complain and pick at their chili because of the “yucky” vegetables, this chili is for you!  My sons used to love my chili.  They ate big chunks of red bell pepper and onion with smiles on their faces.  Then the picky “threes” started, and suddenly my good eaters wouldn’t eat anything.  My solution–puree, puree, puree!

Super Picky Eaters' Chili BEFORE . . .

This mild, yet satisfying, chili is very versatile.  It can be made low carbohydrate or Paleo-style without beans or corn.  You may also add other vegetables, such as pumpkin or butternut squash to sweeten the chili and give it more vegetable nutrition.  The key with my picky eaters right now is to puree the vegetables they don’t like (such as onions and red peppers) and to leave the vegetables they do like whole (such as corn and butternut squash), so they recognize the yummy chunks in their food and are more likely to eat it.

. . . and AFTER! (okay, I did help him get the last bite)

I made this chili last night and my boys chowed it down.  I used a can of corn and added the beans to the boys’ bowls right before serving, skipping my own bowl.  This way my boys got the kidney beans they love and I was able to eat a double portion without worrying about my various health concerns.

Yum!  Aren’t you glad it’s soup weather again?

Super Picky Eaters’ Chili

2 1/2 pounds ground beef (or ground turkey)
2 cups water
1 cup onion, roughly chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, roughly chopped
6-8 cloves garlic
4 cups tomato juice
1  can kidney beans (about 1.5 cups) (optional)
1 can corn (or veggies of your choice – see variations)
1 tablespoon chili powder (add more if your kids like spicy foods)

Brown the beef in a dutch oven or stew pot over medium heat.  Pour off the grease and return the beef to the stove. Meanwhile, put the water, onion, red pepper and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil until the peppers and onions are soft.  Use a soup wand (stick blender) to puree the vegetables or put them into a blender or food processor and blend until the onions and red peppers are well pureed.  Add the pureed vegetables and tomato juice to the beef and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Add the beans, corn and spices (no need to drain the beans and corn unless you want to) and continue to simmer until the flavors have melded and the chili has cooked down to your desired thickness (drain the corn before adding for a thicker chili). Serve with shredded cheese or a dollop of yogurt if desired.

Makes about 12 cups of soup depending on how much you let it cook down

Variations: Add 1/2 – 1 cup pumpkin, butternut squash or carrots to the puree for a sweeter chili.

You may also add any other vegetable your kids like to eat, such as green beans or broccoli.  I once made a “chili vegetable soup,” using ground turkey, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans along with the onion, red pepper and tomato juice.  My kids ate it, so I consider it a success even though I thought it was only so-so tasting. Just remember, you want to puree anything they might “get picky” about and leave whole anything that will temp them to eat it.

Meal Planner:  I keep things simple by serving this chili with sliced apples and crackers or cornbread.

With the beginning of a new school year, I am crazy busy again.  It’s getting harder to carve out time to make and eat family meals with my boys.  Often it is easier, more convenient or necessary to eat on the go or to eat separate meals.  Yet, as I get busier and more distracted with outside concerns, I believe the need for family meals grows.  Family meals are one of the ways my family stays connected.  They are a constant, reliable part of my children’s lives.  My boys know that even if mommy is busy, I still will sit down with them to eat most of our meals together.  I will give them my undivided and hopefully positive attention as they talk about concrete mixers again (and again and again . . .).  This need for consistency grows even stronger as we are pulled in so many directions.

Aidan enjoys family meals.

As I try to align my busy life with my values, here are some things I am learning.

1.) If we skip a family dinner, it’s extra important to have time to talk about our days and our dreams during our bedtime rituals.  I try to start getting ready for bed earlier so we have plenty of time to talk about the things we saw or did during the day while we have our nightly thanksgiving and good nights.

2.) There’s nothing sacred about dinners when it comes to family meals.  If I know we won’t be eating together in the evening because the boys will be having a picnic dinner out of their lunch boxes at the Cub Hub while I study next door in the computer room, then that is the perfect day to make cottage cheese pancakes together for breakfast.  It might involve getting up a little earlier, but it’s a special time to connect before heading out the door, and that’s a real treat in our house!

3.) I can re-invent what a family meal looks like. Yes, most days I want the more traditional sit-down dinner with meat loaf, green beans and mashed potatoes, but if I can’t put this together because we have gotten home too late, I can still shun take-out and opt for cold cereal and bananas, yogurt, or pineapple and cottage cheese.  As long as we eat together and the food choices are healthy, adding real flexibility to my meal choices reduces stress!

4.)  A snack together is better than nothing.  This summer I always took peanut butter sandwiches to the pool because my boys would be famished when we got out of the water and because it made showering and dressing much easier. When we got home, I pulled out a pre-made salad for myself, plus some cut-up fruit and milk.  The boys would finish their dinner while I ate mine – a satisfying, if not short, compromise to not having a full meal together.

5.) Keep it simple and ask the boys to help.  One of the reasons I like cooking with my kids so much is that we really bond and enjoy each other during this time.  Adding more ways to have fun together in the kitchen and at the dinner table, makes it easier to stay committed to family meals.  Hopefully, as they grow more skilled in cooking, setting the table and washing the dishes, it will also lighten my load and make it easier for me to keep family meals a priority.

Do you have other ways you stay committed to family meals when your schedule heats up?  Please share in the comment section.  I’d love to have more ideas!

My boys have a new favorite food–Jamaican Rice and Peas!  This is a staple from my vegetarian days that I haven’t made in years, but I had one of those crazy cravings and gave in.  It also seemed like a good learning opportunity for the boys.  What better way to introduce new cultures than through their food?

Yummy Jamaican Rice and Peas

Aidan loves his rice and peas (here made with kidney beans)

Rice and peas is an everyday staple in Jamaica.  Its subtle coconut flavor and creamy texture are a perfect complement to Jamaican Jerk Chicken and other spicy island treats (try it with salsa chicken and pineapple for an easy, Caribbean-inspired family meal).  It is traditionally made with pigeon peas, but black-eyed peas or kidney beans are often substituted.  I make it with canned peas because it’s so easy, but you can prepare  the raw peas yourself if you can’t find canned pigeon peas and want to make the traditional dish (use one cup raw peas with three cups water).  I sometimes use the  pepper and sometimes don’t.  Since you use a whole pepper and remove it before cooking, it doesn’t make the rice hot, but adds a nice, subtle pepper flavor.

The night I introduced Jamaican Rice and Peas to my boys, I talked with them about Jamaica and tropical islands.  They were fascinated and asked lots of questions and repeated the things I was telling them over and over.  I think it was the first time it had started to make sense to them that people live in many different places, and that people in different places eat different foods than we do.  It was fun watching them learn, and  it was a very pleasant way to make dinner conversation with soon-t0-be-three-year-olds.  I plan to buy a good map to keep in the kitchen, so as we cook and learn together I can point out where the different foods we eat come from.  I hope this will also make cooking and eating together as a family more fun.  It sure was fun last week.  And it was even more fun when Aidan requested “Island rice and beans” again for dinner a few nights later (we ate it as our main meal the second night since I already knew they liked it).

Jamaican Rice and Peas

1 can kidney beans, pigeon peas or black-eyed peas (15 ounces) (see note)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (13.5 ounces)
1 cup water
2 cups brown rice (or substitute long or short grain white rice–not instant!)
1 habanero pepper (can substitute a Scotch bonnet or chili pepper or omit)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
salt to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon)

Put all of the ingredients into a saucepan, including the liquid from the beans.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender (about 50 minutes for brown rice or 30 minutes for white rice).  Remove the habanero pepper and serve.

Makes 4 main dish or 8 side dish servings.

Note:  Most Jamaican chefs cook raw beans first (which are soupy like non-drained canned beans) which is why I use the canned bean “juice” in my recipe. It keeps things easy and more authentic tasting.  You may like the texture of this dish better, however, if you drain and rinse the beans first, then add an extra 1/2 -3/4 cup water to dish.  (I find that I need more water when I use white rice instead of brown rice.)

Picky Eater Pleaser:  Try leaving out the pepper, thyme, garlic and beans at first, so you just have coconut rice (you will have to add 1/2-3/4 cup water).  If your picky eater likes this, try adding back in the beans first, then add each “spice” one at a time each time you make the dish.  Alternately, make “coconut rice” and let family members add their own beans at the table.  You can also use 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs instead of the dried thyme and remove them before serving.

Menu Planner:  Rice and beans makes a filling vegetarian meal by itself, but it is also really good with spicy meat dishes like jerk chicken.  Try it as a side dish with salsa chicken and pineapple or as a main dish with a tropical fruit salad on the side (mango, banana and pineapple with coconut sprinkles-yum!).

A few days ago Cameron announced he was done eating about ten minutes after the meal started.  When the boys were young toddlers, I let them get down from the table as soon as they were finished.  Otherwise they would start throwing peas or blowing bubbles (soon to be tidal waves) in their milk.  When a one-year-old is done, he is done!

But this time I did something I’ve never done before.  I told Cameron that Aidan and I would like him to sit and talk to us while we finished our meal.  Surprisingly, he climbed back into his chair and looked expectantly at me.  Okay, now what mom?

I’ve never been good at starting conversations, even with soon-to-be-three-year-olds, so I tried the dinner table classic:  “Tell me the best part of your day” and “Tell me the worse part of your day.”  It worked! I learned that Cameron loved making popsicles and didn’t like having only one book at nap time.  Aidan also loved making popsicles and didn’t like his tower being knocked down by his brother. Both thought they should have ice cream for dessert, that jumping in the pool is fun until you get water up your nose, that Grammy and Papa had been in Florida for too long (four days . . .), and that putting play-do in your hair is silly.

In the end, Cameron stayed at the table for another twenty minutes.  Along with finishing his carrots and his watermelon, he talked, laughed and had fun with his mom and brother.  I hope he also felt a sense of belonging, of being important enough to be listened to and wanted—not just the dinner table, but in all of our family activities.

I’m not expecting miracles.  Most days I imagine he will be done, when he’s done.  (Or I’ll really wish he’d gotten down . . .) But we were blessed that night because I took a chance at chaos and tried to talk to my kids. Maybe “Best part, worse part” will become a family tradition.  Maybe we’ll find other ways to talk about the things that are important to us.  What matters is that we are trying and succeeding in small steps to make family meal time a special time for everyone—mom, Grammy and Papa, and kids.

 

What could be better in the summer than a huge banana split?  A huge banana split with a health make-over—one so healthy it can double as a fruit salad!

Yum!

I love Banana Splits!

It’s been so hot lately I haven’t felt like cooking.  Three nights ago I pulled out assorted cheeses, lunchmeats, and whole grain rolls.  After a quick sandwich, I set out the cutting boards and the boys and I went to work making dessert.  Because dessert was also part of dinner, I doubled the fruit and went light on the chocolate sauce. My family also uses a reduced sugar, “reasonable” fat ice cream to keep these “dinner worthy.”  An unexpected bonus: this dinner was definitely fun!  My boys and I laughed and talked about dinner and their day at the pool as we ate and “cooked” together.

Yum!  These banana splits were so good we ate them again the next night (and the next . . . but hey, we couldn’t leave Grandma and Papa out of the action, could we? ).

Healthy Banana Splits:

2 small bananas (or 1 large)
4-8 ounces strawberries, sliced
1 cup pineapple tidbits (about half of a 20 ounce can, drained)
4 scoops vanilla ice cream or ice milk (1-2 pints depending on your scoop size)
Chocolate syrup or fudge sauce

If you have a toddler, slice the banana in bite-size pieces.  Otherwise, slice the banana length-wise (“split” the banana), then cut each split piece in half.  Put two pieces of the split banana on either side of a bowl.  Put a scoop of ice cream between the banana pieces then add sliced strawberries and pineapple tidbits to the top.  Drizzle a little bit of chocolate syrup or hot fudge sauce over the top and serve.

Yeild:  Makes 4 banana splits

Get the kids to help: Kids can cut the bananas and strawberries (use a plastic spreading knife, a butter knife or a lettuce knife with young children).  They also enjoy assembling the banana splits and drizzling the chocolate sauce over the top.  You may want to pour a little sauce in a measuring cup and let them drizzle it from there to prevent chocolate floods!

Picky Eater Pleaser:  If your kids don’t like “mixed foods,” put a small pile of each fruit and a scoop of ice cream on a plate (not touching of course) and drizzle each pile with a little sauce.