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Posts from the ‘food’ Category

the best of the season

I like creativity. But I crave order. And nowhere is this more apparent than during our annual holiday cookie bake. Linds comes over, for a full day. We bake approximately 400 cookies. We wrap our precious booty in tins and cookie boxes. We are a FORCE. The day requires coordination and two people who have cooked together enough to have figured out a rhythm.

This year, my boys wanted to help decorate the cookies. But I am very specific about my cookies, having learned years ago from the best of the best, my sister-in-law Susan. I strive for elegance, consistency, and precision in my cookie decorating. I abhor cutesy cookies and stick to a limited palette of holiday-appropriate colors. My kids don’t care about any of that. They just want to slide their feet around in flour, eat raw cookie dough, and sprinkle stuff.

Tate wanted to decorate a cookie. He ignored the red and green sprinkles we’d laid out, and did his own thing. And the end result was my worst holiday cookie nightmare, but it’s alright. It’s the holidays. He can have his blue and pink cookie. But I have to do my thing too. And I have a cookie platter to worry about, and my platter doesn’t do blue and pink. So I admit that I made Finn eat Tate’s cookie first.

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It’s been a stellar December. My husband gave into two years of begging and went to a Zumba class with me today. It took approximately 45 minutes of psychological warfare but I got the job done by requesting his presence at Zumba as my Christmas gift. Having given in, he shook his head and muttered under his breath as he slowly pulled on his gym clothes. “I am a sad, sad man.” Climbing into the car, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, accusingly, “Men all over the world have lost something today.” He was so down about it that I almost called the whole thing off, because Zumba is not a downer. It’s a party. But we made it to class. He stood in the back and I was worried he’d try to escape but he grinned throughout the hour and I grinned too, watching his long arms flail around in the mirror.

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What’s not to grin about? He loves me more than his pride. For that and so much more, I, in turn, love him more than is rational. And permit me this moment of emotion–love really is the best Christmas gift of all.

Happy holidays everyone.

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lunchbox squash

At a recent dinner party, I watched as the hostess, my friend Kathryn, put the finishing touches on some halibut before sliding it into the oven. On the stovetop sat a cookie sheet with little orange half moons on them. “Roasted delicata squash. Try one,” she said, popping one into her mouth. “They taste like candy.”

I generally have a low regard for people who describe vegetables of any kind as tasting like candy. Vegetables never taste as good as candy. To think otherwise is to delude oneself. And we can really do harm when we say as much to a child, for whom candy sits at the very tippy top of the pyramid of childhood pleasures, teetering precariously atop the Nerf guns and cap-less Sharpie pens. I once told Finn that some roasted cauliflower tasted as good as candy, and that poor trusting little bastard put the piece in his mouth, apparently believing me. That incident set me back six months in his omnivore training.

But back to Kathryn. Having grown up on a farm, she knows her vegetables. And she wouldn’t lie to me. So I picked up a little half moon and chewed on it thoughtfully. Pretty f-ing delightful. The skin was chewy, but not bitter, and the inside part of the squash tasted like a buttered sweet potato. It tasted better than candy. Well, not Twix. But most candy.

No matter how tasty, you know I wouldn’t be writing about it if at least one of my kids hadn’t managed to choke it down. Finn, naturally, was not a fan. But Tate did more than choke it down. He ate every last piece that I packed into his lunchbox. The list of vegetables that (one of) my kids will eat just grew by 33%. And the squash could not be simpler to prepare.

A note about packing lunches. I hate packing lunches. What parent likes packing lunches? Tom would rather pull out his fingernails than pack a lunch. But sometimes out of sheer boredom I’ll put some effort into it, and it can pay off, at least for Tate, who seems more inclined to eat food when it is presented appealingly. He must take after my mom, who taught me early on that we “eat with our eyes, before we eat with our mouths.” But that’s Tate. If I packed the lunch above for Finn it would come back pristine and untouched, minus the orange and perhaps one cracker, which he would have nibbled at in desperation before realizing that it had sesame seeds on it.

For making Tate’s lunches, I like lunchbots containers because they are easy to open. I also like mini silicone muffin liners, for little portions of raisins, nuts, or hummus. You can prevent the items from spilling out by putting another silicone muffin liner upside down on top to cover. For Finn, whose lunch always starts with a thermos of warm brown rice, I could not live without this product. Please share your favorite lunchbox ideas, because we all need the help. I’ll post about other lunchbox discoveries, assuming I make any. Now, onto the recipe.

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KMW’s Roasted Delicata Squash

1 medium-sized delicata squash

Olive oil

1 T melted butter (for flavor, can be omitted)

Kosher salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Trim ends of squash, halve vertically, scoop seeds out, and cut horizontally into 1/3 inch thick slices. Leave skin on.

3. Toss squash in bowl with drizzle of olive oil (enough to lightly coat each piece) and melted butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Go easy with the salt as the squash shrinks as it roasts.

4. Roast in oven for 30-45 minutes, until browned at edges. Don’t pack them in too close to one another or they will steam instead of roast. If you like them crispier, bake them longer. If you like them softer, bake them less. Flip them once, or don’t.

5. Serve hot or at room temperature. Will keep in fridge for three days. You can double the recipe but you’ll need two pans–rotate halfway through cooking. I imagine these would be great as a grownup appetizer with a sprinkle of cayenne.

thar she blows

I’m sorry if the title led you to believe that this post is about pirates. Or about blow jobs. It is about neither of those things. But stay. Because this post is about something a lot more scurvy and dangerous than pirates or blow jobs. This post is about home canning.

Every few years, I dive headfirst into a hobby. The more expensive and time-consuming, the better. I buy all the stuff, and then I become mired in it to the point of exhaustion. That’s how I was with scrapbooking our travel photos before our kids put an end to both travel and leisure time. That’s how I was with knitting. Sweaters and drawstring pants for baby, hats by the dozen, scarves by the yard. And then one day, after buying twelve skeins of yarn to knit myself a sweater, I had a rare moment of clarity and realized that my $140 yarn would inevitably produce an ill-fitting woolen poncho that would look like something I bought off a yak during a hike to Macchu Pichu. Something so ugly that it would be ridiculous to say that I knitted it myself, because it would be patently obvious. What’s the point of knitting something if you can’t tell someone that you made it? Yeah. I don’t know either. I put the knitting needles away, and haven’t looked back since.

I’d been tempted to try canning for years. I always lacked the time, and the equipment. But last weekend, half my family was away in Michigan, and I had gobs of time to fill. So I gave it a go.

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I think canning could stick. For starters, canning appeals to my myriad anal retentive qualities. There’s the measuring. The sterilizing. The timekeeping. And the sealing (hermetically). Even better, the stakes are high if things are done wrong. I work best under pressure. And there’s nothing to make you feel alive like knowing that if you gift someone food that you’ve canned wrong, they could die of botulism. Or, there’s nothing to make you feel alive like a capsaicin burn from cutting three pounds of jalapeno peppers for your pickled escabeche.

But all that is kids’ stuff compared to the most dangerous thing about canning—the boiling of the canned goods. Reading the instructions in my canning book, I felt the disconnect that results when you read something crazy and your common sense screams at you that the writer got it wrong. Incidentally, this happens to me every time I read an article about applying eye makeup. Anyway, my canning book (Food in Jars) instructed me to stuff a hot glass jar full of hot jam, seal it up, and then drop it into a pot of boiling water. I’m no scientist, but I learned a couple things in 5th grade that have stayed with me through the years, and one of those things is that sealed objects in high heat will explode.

But I’d come this far, and spent a lot of money on produce. I looked down at Tate, who was sitting on the kitchen floor making a salad of wooden vegetables and monopoly money. I picked him up and moved him into the living room. Then I dropped the jars into the pot, and ran for cover.

Peering into my kitchen at the sealed jars boiling away on my burner, I felt the thrill of living on the edge. The cans did not explode! YES. I win canning.

The best thing of all about canning is that I didn’t just create something ornamental. I created food. I’m giving LIFE. I’m a provider, putting up my pickles and jams, which I’m 65% certain are sealed properly. What’s that about the apocalypse? I’ll be in the basement sprinkling jalapenos on my fish tacos.

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Canning labels and gift tags, Jigsaw Graphics

the getaway

We just got back from a 24-hour trip to Oregon wine country. With best friends. And no kids. Amazeballs.

I love wine. But I’m not naturally suited to wine tasting, for two reasons. First, I have really low alcohol tolerance. I can go from cold sober, to drunk, to deep slumber, in about 35 minutes, given the right conditions. Second, I don’t have a refined nose. I can tell when wine is corked. Beyond that, it’s all kind of a mystery. Which is fine, because for me, wine is a means to an end. I like the feeling I get from a glass of wine. Like I can feel a knot inside of me unraveling. I don’t need my wine to be great. I just need it to be wine. In that way, wine, for me, is like pizza. When I want pizza, even Tostino’s gets the job done. As an aside, the last time I baked myself a Tostino’s, I was alarmed to read “Now Featuring: Real Cheese” on the outside of the box. What, exactly, were they using before? Man. It’s a good thing I’ve only eaten approximately 7000 Tostino’s pizza rolls over the last 35 years.

Anyway, low alcohol tolerance and an undiscriminating nose are great for drinking your Penfolds Shiraz at home in front of the TV. But not so great when you are wine tasting. Wine tasting requires that you stand in front of a wine steward and find something different to say about each of the five different Pinots they pour for you. And that’s where I run into trouble. Invariably, when pressed to describe a wine, the best I can come up with is, “That’s easy-drinking.” The line is always a safe bet. Because wine, like other alcoholic beverages, is generally easy to drink. But once I’ve said that, I have nothing, and am left to drink in silence, making thoughtful faces as if the emotions I’m feeling about the wine are too complex to distill into words.

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Despite my natural handicaps, I had a blast tasting wine, because I was with Tom, Ethan, and Linds. It’s been a tough fall for the four of us. New jobs, new classrooms for our kids, family leaving, family passing away. The four of us blew into the first winery with the desperate air of convicts who had just broken each other out of jail and who expect to be dragged back at any moment. No elixir could have tasted sweeter than that first glass of wine, knowing that my children were miles away and incapable of finding me. I felt giddier and lighter with each glass. By our third winery, I was floating six feet off the ground. I was happy. So happy. To the outside world, and to the camera, I apparently just looked insane. Who knew.

But that’s the nice thing about getting away with the friends who know you best. They understand you. They don’t make fun of you when, desperate to sound like you know something about wine, you ask the wine steward whether your Riesling is a kabinett and the wine steward answers that she wouldn’t know because kabinett is a designation used only for wine made in Germany. Ugh. I, in turn, understood the gravity of the situation when Linds woke me up at 7:30 AM to ask in a scary, serious voice whether I’d brought a hair brush. She sounded so panicked that I thought something really bad had happened, like she’d forgotten her hairspray. No one gave Ethan a hard time when he asked for his burger at lunch without the bun. Tom just asked the waiter if he could have Ethan’s bun (“It’s a BRIOCHE bun, Ethan”), without missing a beat. And no one gave Tom a hard time when he revealed at the first winery that he didn’t “really like wine anymore,” and hadn’t, for months, and then spent the rest of the day surreptitiously dumping out the wine he was offered.

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All in all, the weekend was so perfect that I didn’t even mind when I got home and Cuz casually mentioned that Finn had asked her some questions about death while we were gone, and that she had done her best to explain the difference between burial and cremation, and that Finn kept asking questions when she said that some people chose to get “sprinkled over mountains” after they died, and that eventually she had to stop answering because she didn’t know how to explain cremation without mentioning that you burn the body. I’m going to worry about all that tomorrow. Because right now, I’m still floating. Wine is groovy. Getaways are groovy. And having family like Cuz who love your kids enough to give it to them straight, and friends like Linds and Ethan who you love like family, is the grooviest of all.

pesto for all

I feel like my kids are turning a corner with food, as my friends promised me they would. Finn ate the celery or carrots in his lunchbox, five days in a row. At dinner on Tuesday he only dry-heaved twice while eating a green bean. On Thursday, Tate ate two fistfuls of broccoli when I looked past my fear of celebrity chefs to try Jessica Seinfeld’s admittedly delicious recipe for Beef with Broccoli.

I can hardly breathe for the excitement. But I’ve gotten excited at my kids’ minor dietary improvements in the past, scared them by going overboard (see, spinach-garbonzo bean fritters), and ended up worse off than before. This time, I’m pacing myself.

So, pesto. My friends Patrick and Mollyanne brought some pesto for the kids when we went on vacation. Patrick is a chef, so I’m constantly watching his kids eat stuff that makes me want to flip a table over, in rage and jealousy. But Tate, who I suspect would be an adventurous eater if he didn’t see his big brother reject foods on a daily basis, ate up Mollyanne’s pesto, quick as a wink. Finn, that wretch, refused to try it. But Finn’s recent forays into new foods had me hopeful. So yesterday, I made my own batch of spinach-basil pesto, heavy on the spinach.

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Look at the color!! A bright and sexy jade green. Almost unidentifiable as a food object, in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, Finn’s not impressed with the color green, especially as it relates to food. When I brought the pasta to the table, he actually cried. I’m accustomed to it now, but still, there’s no crappier feeling than cooking something that reduces someone to tears.  I made a five-pound turkey meatloaf once that had Tom crying for a week.  I know it’s not right, but when it happens, my first impulse is to dump the food on the head of the person who is crying, or to smash their face into their plate.

In any event, this isn’t my first ride on the merry-go-round. At this point, the crying has to be pretty intense to faze me–like, there have to be hiccups.  I ignored Finn’s tears and put three pieces of green pasta on his plate, and told him he was to try it. After his second bite, his grimace relaxed into a confused expression. And then, the clouds parted. “I like pesto, Mama.” He ate two bowls for dinner, and a cucumber from the salad (dry heave: 1). All told, he probably had a single serving of vegetables. But still, better than nothing.

That’s not even the clincher. When I tucked him into bed later that night, Finn requested pesto in his lunchbox the next day.

I may have cried a bit myself when he said that. Tears of motherlovin’ joy.

No Tears Spinach-Basil Pesto

1 cup packed spinach leaves (more or less won’t hurt)

1 cup packed basil leaves (ditto)

2 T pine nuts

1-2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1. Combine ingredients in a food processor. Whir until blended into a rough paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate with plastic wrap touching the top of the pesto, to retain the color. Store up to three days.

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how to win a buffet

I love buffets. L-O-V-E them. I remember growing up in Beaverton and going to the breakfast buffet with my family at the Pepperwood Inn off of I-217. I remember mountains of chilled shrimp, in the shell. I remember raw oysters. I remember crab cakes. That buffet was my training ground.

Now that I’m 35 and actually have to pay for the buffet, I only eat at them when I’m on vacation. In San Diego last month we got a breakfast package at the Park Hyatt and got to partake of their buffet every morning for FREE. It was a beaut. A smoked salmon bar, homemade yogurt and granola parfaits in miniature glass milk bottles, plump little applewood chicken sausages, the works. Unfortunately it was such a dignified buffet, and I was so preoccupied trying to keep my kids from knocking over the fresh-squeezed juices on display, that I felt weird trying to take photos with my phone for this post.

But now I’m at a regular Hyatt in Maui, and it’s not the kind of place where anyone at the buffet is going to notice if you are taking photos, or indeed, even tripping and falling into the food. So I got my pics. But I didn’t eat at the buffet, because I knew in about two seconds that this buffet is not worth the $25.95 price tag. Plus they had birds flying through the restaurant (more on that in my next post). Anyway, here are some tips on how to win a buffet.

1. Seafood at a buffet is your friend

The thing about a buffet is that there’s a vast array of food, and only a finite amount of space in your stomach in which to hold it. What this means is that if the buffet has a seafood component and you eat seafood, you will be starting here. Because seafood is expensive. Seafood is also a pain to cook at home. When I see a display of smoked salmon laid out at a buffet, I feel a sense of satisfaction and imminent victory, because I know that I am going to own that buffet. Ignore the twinge of embarrassment that you may be taking too much salmon or smoked trout. Ignore the servers who may be looking at you askance. They are trained to make you feel bad about taking the seafood. There’s a famous seafood buffet in Portland at a place called Salty’s. It’s a great buffet, but I hate it because they have a person stationed behind the crab legs and raw oysters who doles out your serving. I always come to play and even I feel sheepish asking a real live person for my fourth helping of crab legs. What a freaking buzzkill.

Anyway, rest assured that if the buffet couldn’t handle the financial hit from your seafood consumption, they wouldn’t be offering the fish. Don’t forget to take a gander at all those darling little accompaniments when loading up on your omega-3s. Capers? Chopped egg? Creme fraiche? Yes please. Leave the bagel out of it, because that’s filler, and you don’t need me to tell you not to carb-load at a buffet.

2. Now is not the time for sausage

I like sausage and bacon. I like them a lot. But here’s the thing about sausage and bacon–you can get both at IHOP. A buffet is your time to try new things, to branch out, to sample the things you never get to eat.

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The other thing about sausage and bacon is that they are very brown. My mom taught me that you eat first with your eyes, then with your mouth. So when I eat at a buffet, I am mindful of color and composition. I will throw guacamole on my pancakes just to have something green on the plate, and like to put my bright berries in a little mound in the middle of the plate, for visual appeal. Anyway, about the meats–nothing is as unappetizing as a plate full of brown sausage, brown bacon, and brown oatmeal. I know that, because that’s what Tom eats at buffets. Tom has latent Midwestern tastes which come to the fore in such situations. Oatmeal! Besides being really cheap and readily available at home, oatmeal requires a bowl, which takes up so much plate space. Ugh! Tom says he needs the extra fiber on vacation. Whatever. I usually throw a berry or two on his plateful of brown when we get back to the table, just so I—I mean he—has something pretty to look at.

3. For the love of God don’t go for the eggs

I have no idea how you cook scrambled eggs in bulk. Maybe there is a special trough pan for that. I do know this: when you cook eggs in bulk, they aren’t being cracked from pristine eggshells. They are coming out of a large milk carton, or worse, a vat. I also know that when you cook eggs in such vast quantities and then keep them over a sterno can for an hour, what you get is something that is not fit for human consumption. But I always notice that everyone takes a scoop of the eggs! It’s like we are programmed to expect eggs at breakfast, and having been offered them, we are powerless to resist, no matter how rubbery or tasteless. You don’t need eggs. Unless they are part of an omelette bar, or the huevos in huevos rancheros. Which leads to my last two points.

4. Waffle bar, omelette bar, crepe bar: you had me at bar

I find it really annoying when a non-buffet restaurant charges for omelette fillings by the ingredient. Like, you can have an omelette with 3 of the listed choices, but the fourth is an extra $3.00. Everyone knows that all good omelette combos have at least four ingredients. Take your classic Denver, for example. You’ve got the peppers, you’ve got the ham, you’ve got the onion. So you’re good! WRONG. You forgot the cheddar cheese. Don’t try arguing that cheese is not technically a filling if it’s melted on top of the omelette. I may know someone who has argued that, and been rudely shot down. Or I may not.

The three ingredient thing is particularly annoying because it’s not like you are getting more food with that fourth ingredient. A three-egg omelette can only hold so much filling. So if you order a fourth ingredient, the cook is going to have to reduce the volume of each of your first three ingredients. It’s a net gain of zero food for you, and no loss for the restaurant. Man, now I’m getting all upset. In fact, now that I’m writing this I feel like it could be a legal violation to charge extra for a fourth omelette ingredient. Potentially an unlawful trade practices claim there. I have to remember to ask my coworker Josh—a consumer law expert and a fellow fan of buffets—to look into that.

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Anyway, that’s why I love omelette stations at buffets. You can have five ingredients if you want! Six, even!! Who’s going to gainsay you? Certainly not the guy in the chef’s hat who drew the short straw in the kitchen and is now grudgingly making your omelette creation in the cutest little fry pan you’ve ever seen. You can even have TWO omelettes! God I love this country.

5. Partake of the regional offerings

As the child of a German teacher, Tom traveled to Germany a lot as a kid. When he waxes poetic about Germany, it’s usually about one of two things: the Riemenschneider altarpieces, or brochen. Tom talks about brochen as if they are the most magically delicious bread product ever known to man, and the dude knows his bread products. Over time I have built them up in my imagination to the point that my mouth starts to water when I hear the word, and I’ve never even seen one.

Well, I looked up “brochen” recently, and it turns out that “brochen,” in German, means “roll.” But I get it. Because everything tastes better when it’s foreign. Which is why you should have the huevos rancheros at a buffet in Southern California, or the ha gow at the buffet in Vancouver, B.C., even though shrimp dumplings can be a bit heavy at 9:00 AM. The regional thing explains why I ate nasi goreng for five straight days at a buffet in Bali, even though nasi goreng is basically fried rice, and I avoid fried rice like the plague at Chinese buffets back home.

Here in Maui, they have the regional papaya on prominent display. Also this, which confuses me:

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It appears to be a collection of regional pickles, plus tofu, and nori. I’ve seen a lot of buffets in my time but haven’t run into this kind of buffet station before. I was trying to figure out if this was part of the omelette bar but by that time I’d been taking pics in the buffet for five minutes and a couple of the buffet employees were talking to each other in Hawaiian while pointing in my general direction. So I had to leave. But now it’s killing me. I may have to send Tom in for some reconnaissance.

Happy buffet-ing, y’all.

the Costco effect

I have a complicated relationship with Costco.  When I was young, my brother and I would spend Saturdays there with my parents, shopping for food and cigarettes for the smoke shop that my parents owned inside a tall office building called the Pacwest Center.  A smoke shop is a convenience store that sells food and cigarettes and lottery tickets.  A lot of smoke shops are owned by Koreans.  We spent every weekend unloading inventory on the loading dock where the trash bins are kept, and I spent a lot of hours working the cash register and selling Snapples to lawyers and architects who often looked down their nose at my family and talked really sloooowly to us while buying their Powerball tickets.  Two years after my dad died, the property managers decided they wanted a change, and kicked my mom out of the store to which she’d given more than ten years of her life.  That’s a real immigrant story.  I became a lawyer so I’d never have to feel that powerless again.

Anyway, spending time in Costco reminds me of those years of my parents’ backbreaking labor, which put me through four years of an Ivy League education.  In case it is not evident, I feel a debt to my parents that I know I can never repay.  The point of all this history is to explain why I don’t enjoy shopping at Costco, when I am capable of enjoying shopping almost anywhere else, including GNC and Hot Topic.

Personal stuff aside, I also don’t enjoy shopping at Costco because it has been my experience that it is not possible to leave that store without spending at least $300.  I’ve tried it, and failed, repeatedly.  Eventually I cut myself off completely, and didn’t step into a Costco for years.  But recently, my family’s vast consumption of fruit got me thinking about Costco again.  And when my friend Suzanne told me that she treats Costco like her grocery store, and can get out of there on her weekly visits without paying more than $100, I decided it was time for a reappraisal.

I’ve gone twice since I got a new Costco card.  And here’s my reappraisal, with all due respect to my dear Suzanne: it is still not possible to get out of a Costco for less than $300.  It was exactly as I remembered.  Now, as then, Costco makes me do some crazy ass sh*t.  Like this:

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I eat garbonzo beans like ten beans at a time.  At that rate, I will get through this bounty in approximately four years, during which time these cans will take up a lot of valuable pantry space.  I like garbonzo beans.  I do.  But liking has nothing to do with it.  When I see a flat of eight cans of garbonzo beans being sold for less than $6.00, I feel that it would be morally wrong not to buy them.  I feel this emotion often at Costco.  I call it the “Costco Effect.”  When other people see things being sold for extremely low prices, they think: bargain.  When I see things being sold for extremely low prices, I feel the extreme guilt associated with stealing.  I mean, how is it possible to pick, process, and can eight cans of garbonzo beans and sell them for $6.00, and still make a profit?  It can’t be.  And though it is completely irrational, the only way to assuage my feelings of guilt is to buy the product, and lots of it.  It’s how I play my part in a completely messed-up capitalist society.  My role is to buy.  And so I do.

At Costco prices, you just keep loading up your cart, because everything seems so damn cheap.  And everything they sell is so damn good.  The insidious thing about Costco, of course, is that it doesn’t take that many items at $12 or $15 each to add up to $300.  There are few shopping experiences worse than the feeling you get at Costco when all your items are on the conveyer belt and the cashier is scanning all your items, and as you watch the tally, you feel the urgent need to start removing things from the conveyer belt.  When I was younger, I was too self-conscious to do anything about it, but now I have a mortgage to think about.  So this time around I pulled off a whole fillet of salmon, a flat of Vitamin Water, and Tom’s Fusion razorblades.

It’s sad, but if something’s gotta give at Costco, it’s usually gonna be Tom’s stuff.  Especially if the item is a package of razor blades that costs $45.  You can buy 50 cans of garbonzo beans for $45.  That’s a whole lot of hummus.  While I’m on the subject, what is the deal with Gillette razor blades?  Unless each of the five blades on each cartridge is hand-sharpened by some blacksmith in some forge in Scotland, I fail to see how Gillette razor blades can cost as much as they do.  You can get a KNIFE for $45.  Like, a Wusthof.  I just don’t get it.  Which is why, until Tom can justify the expenditure, he can enjoy some Bic disposables.

Anyway, Costco.  For cheap.  I say it can’t be done.  If you think it can, please share your tips, for the benefit of all.

just eat the GD vegetable

I’ve struggled with my kids’ eating habits since they were old enough to say no to the food they are offered. In fact, I’ve struggled enough that I’m ashamed to say that I find it difficult to be happy for parents whose kids eat vegetables. I’ve been in situations where I’m commiserating with another mom about our kids’ eating, and then the other mom will ruin it by saying something like, “Jack won’t eat brussels sprouts…unless I cook them with bacon!” I mean, come on. I could coat brussels sprouts in a thick chocolate shell and sprinkle them with Legos and my kids still wouldn’t touch them with a 12 foot pole.  I also enjoy it when other moms say stuff like “Have you tried putting ranch dressing on the vegetables? My kids love that!” No, it never occurred to me to put ranch, or butter, or maple syrup, or balsamic, or cheese on the vegetables. Bitch, please.  I’m no amateur.  I’m sure Finn would love cheese-covered vegetables, if he ate cheese.

Recently, when I watched my friend Kathryn offer her daughter Charlotte (below) some beautiful unpeeled carrots with the green fronds still attached to them, I felt a stab of envy, and then, self-loathing. If those carrots had been offered to my boys, they would likely have looked at them with confusion before asking what they were. Where did I go wrong? Why was I such a bad mom?

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carrots apparently produce beautiful children like charlotte. i wouldn’t know

Most of my low points as a mom have been spent wrestling with my kids over food. My very lowest moment, which I am very ashamed to write about here, happened when I was struggling to identify new protein sources for Finn, when he was 4. Because he ate beef, I stupidly convinced myself that I could make him like pork tenderloin. I carefully roasted it in the oven covered in a delicious apricot glaze, and cut him five small pieces. I asked him to eat them. He refused. I asked again. He refused again. The sun began to set, and the food got cold. But I was determined. So we sat there. For an hour. Finally, angered and scared at the prospect that my kid would refuse food for the rest of his life, I lost my mind. I turned off the lights in the dining room and left him in the dark, hissing that he should “have fun with the monsters.” Hysteria ensued. He ate three pieces of pork while sobbing and gagging. He ate the pork, but the price was too high.

Now that Finn is almost six, I’m working overtime to figure out ways to get him to eat vegetables. Finn will willingly eat peas and corn, but I can’t even feel good about that, because apparently peas and corn barely qualify as vegetables given their high sugar content. That’s right, peas and corn are the new Count Chocula. This past winter, we discovered that Finn likes the napa cabbage we cook in shabu shabu. I doubt cabbage has much nutritional content either, but I’ve nonetheless eaten a lot of expensive shabu shabu in the last six months, just so I could get him to eat the cabbage. I once also got him to eat a piece of zucchini that was in a miso soup. Once. Anyway. You know you’re in trouble when you can recall every instance of your child eating a vegetable in his entire life.

Last weekend, my friend Mollyanne listened to me agonize over my kids’ food issues, and took me firmly in hand.  At our house for dinner, she disappeared for 20 minutes and then came downstairs with the chart below, which she put together with Finn. He chose all the options, and for the last two days, he has been excited to look at his chart and make his lunches with me. Yesterday, his vegetable came back untouched. Today, he ate his veggies, although they were peas. Tomorrow, we try cukes.

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I am grateful to my friend, who sensed my genuine distress and guided me by taking action. I’m also hopeful. And hope is a lovely emotion to feel after so many months of despair.

eating with my iPhone

I have a 2.5 year old.  The thing they don’t tell you in parenting books is that eating out with a kid when they are between 2 and 3 is seriously thankless business, on a level with making your own yogurt (learn from me: it’s $.80 cents a cup in the stores, and you don’t have to grow your own bacteria).  If your kid is an eater, maybe it works better.  But Tate is not an eater.

I appreciate when kindly waiters ask if I’d prefer that they bring the kids’ meals out first.  They’re trying to get food to the kid as quickly as possible, and that’s cute.  But the only way I have a prayer of getting to eat my own food is if Tate’s meal comes out at precisely the same time as mine.  From the moment our food hits the table, I have three minutes to finish my meal before Tate loses interest in his.  I tend to exaggerate a lot, but I’m not exaggerating with that sentence.  Three minutes might actually be overstating the correct length of time.

Anyway, that fourth minute is where my iPhone comes in.  I’ve gotten lots of dirty looks from people whenever I pull out the iPhone at a restaurant with Tate.  Here’s what I have to say to those pitiless souls: stare away, you judgmental freaks.  And how about giving me your home address, so I can come over and shake my head disapprovingly at you the next time you are going through some difficult moment in your life.

Years ago, I heard a story on “This American Life” about a guy who resisted using wheeled luggage for years because he thought only a wuss would wheel his stuff behind him–until he realized that it was just WHEELS, and they made travel a lot easier.  And that’s how I feel about the iPhone in restaurants.  I think Luddites are great and they make some really nice furniture and pickles, but for me, I’m going to use the technology when it’s appropriate.  If my iPhone can buy me the five minutes I need to inhale my plate of pasta and gulp down some pinot after wrestling six pieces of food into Tate’s mouth, it’s happening.  Besides, it’s not like I’d be having a real conversation with Tate but for the iPhone.  I mean, he can talk, but it’s not the most riveting stuff, assuming I can even understand what he is saying.  And I have to come up with all the topics for conversation, which can get tiresome.

I never feel the need to pull out my phone in order to eat with my 5-year old, so I know this moment will run its course.  Until then, this mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.

whole grain banana snack cake

Most Mondays, I bake some type of loaf cake and keep it on a stand for my kids to snack on when they come home on Tuesdays and Thursdays with their manny Zach. Since it’s for the kids, I try to keep it relatively wholesome. But that’s a fine line, because my kids aren’t horses. Get the nutritional value too high and they’ll throw themselves on the floor and act like you tried to feed them jellied oxtails.  Once, when I made zucchini bread without shredding the zucchini fine enough, Finn pulled my head down towards his, stuck the bread in my face, and demanded to know what the green stuff was.

I have a couple loaf recipes on rotation, but I’ve never been inspired to post about one of them before. Until this one. No white flour–instead, it’s made with a combo of oat and whole wheat flours, and takes most of its sweetness from overripe bananas. Plain yogurt adds a slight bite. If you’re thinking “what the hell is oat flour,” don’t sweat it–you can make your own by whirring a cup of rolled oats in your food processor.

The best part of the cake is the texture–airy and bouncy, but toothsome and satisfying. It eats like a coffee cake, but has the added nutrients from the whole grains. The original recipe has a crunch topping and chocolate chips, but you can leave off one or both and it’ll be fine.

If you’re like me, you don’t have the patience to mess around with a recipe that doesn’t hit it out of the park every time. Whether you eat it or smell it, this cake just works. And that in itself is worth something.

Banana Crunch Cake

Recipe from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup oat flour (I whir a heaping cup of rolled oats in my food processor to get 1 cup oat flour-don’t worry if you can’t get it super fine)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour or 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter (fine to nuke til soft or melted)
  • 1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed banana (probably 2-3 large bananas)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (non fat to full fat is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips or toffee pieces (optional)

Crunch topping (optional)

  • 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup light or brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Grease and flour an 8-inch-square pan. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. For cake batter: Whisk flours, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the bowl between eggs. Mix half the dry ingredients until moistened, then mix in bananas, yogurt and vanilla. Scrape the bowl down again before adding the remaining dry ingredients and nuts and chips (if using). Mix until everything is evenly moistened. Transfer batter to the prepared pan.
  3. For topping: Combine oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in melted butter until large crumbs form. Stir in chopped nuts. Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the pan.
  4. Bake until the edges pull away from the pan and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Remove cake from the oven and place on a rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.