Food for Thought Friday

Something Soup at Textism :: It’s soup season. Here’s one way to do it.

Being :: In the Kitchen with My Girl by Stephanie at Rhythm of the Home :: “Over the years our kitchen has seen its share of spilled flour and fading patience. We’ve coaxed picky eaters and had dinners so wild they seemed more like a circus routine than anything else. Some of it has been handled with grace, some not. But somehow it’s all coming together for this girl.”

The beginning of weaning: guilt, pleasure, and information overload at Mamas in the Making :: Trust yourself, trust your baby, give it time. “We should not forget – food is about relationship as well. The relationship with our own body. While eating we try to constantly listen to myself. Am I enjoying this taste? Is it too cold or too hot? Am I still hungry? We as adults have almost forgotten to eat like that. Our children haven‘t. This is a huge gift we can give them – the ability to listen to their bodies when eating.”

Want kids to eat better? Stop calling them “picky eaters.” at Spoonfed :: “Language is important. Labels are dangerous. And when we label our kids, we diminish our expectations of them and make obstacles seem insurmountable.”

I Want to Marry Marinating at Dinner: A Love Story :: Two things I was rarely doing before reading it this book? Browning meat, and marinating. This post has five marinade suggestions and recipes to go with them. “There. Doesn’t it sorta seem like there’s a little sous chef at home thinking about dinner so you don’t have to? How good does that feel?”

The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater at Northwest Edible Life :: “I know you. We have a lot in common. You have been doing some reading and now you are pretty sure everything in the grocery store and your kitchen cupboards is going to kill you.” Snort.

Food for Thought Friday is a (more or less) weekly list of links – tasty morsels, if you will, for belly and brain.

Food for Thought Friday: on knives, fall cocktails, French kids, and pooping


Preschoolers with Knives: How young can a child be and still learn how to cook? at Slate :: “The great, tubercular Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed the concept of ‘a zone of proximal development,’ for the work a child is not quite able to do on his own. With the guidance of someone more skilled, though, he soon can. With the exception of the oven, and a lot of the stove, much of cooking amounts to a zone of proximal development, even for a preschooler.” Great thoughts on taking kids seriously in the kitchen.

French Kids Don’t Get Fat: Why? at Karen le Billon :: Lots to think about here.

The Postpartum Diet at Simple Bites :: Encouraging and delicious guidance from Aimee on meeting three postpartum needs: physical energy and healing, milk production and quality, and bowel regularity. Several great recipes for new moms – or friends visiting new moms – to try.

In the Kitchen: Knife Skills for Kids at Creative Family Fun :: Our little guy is already pretty capable with a knife. “Only touch the handle, not the blade, Mama.” Just this week he cut all the mushrooms for our pizza. Don’t miss the guacamole recipe in this post!

A Single Mom Takes Off the Superwoman Cape at Simple Mom :: “I am going to cease the super human expectations, take a breath and focus on one thing I can do. Sometimes that one thing involves playing with legos or dump trucks with a beautiful little boy. But sometimes that means putting on a movie for him, so I can spend some time journaling and clearing my head.”

Happy Hour at Home: Apple Smash at Pink of Perfection :: Seasonal! Not kid-friendly!

Food for Thought Friday is a (more or less) weekly list of links – tasty morsels, if you will, for belly and brain.

Food for Thought Friday (is back!)

4 Quick Questions About Toddler Development with Dr. Alan Greene at Healthy Child Healthy World :: “I’ve heard it said that the ancient Greeks defined children as short humans who don’t like vegetables.” Ha! Just the levity I needed. Some great tips here about toddler development in general, and five motivators to encourage them to eat healthy food.

Beyond Cooking: 10 Experiences in the Kitchen for Children at 52 Brand New :: Lots of great ideas for building skills, confidence, and family connections in the kitchen. I think my favorite is the suggestion to extend books – to cook things from, or inspired by, the books you’re reading. But teaching kitchen techniques – that’s a good one too! Which leads me to…

How to crack an egg: what’s the worst that could happen? at NurtureStore :: Does your little one know how to crack an egg?

Dinner Happens. at Simple Mom :: Thoughts on dinner as the seasons change, with particularly lovely ideas for sharing your meals with friends and strangers.

Slow Cooker Naked Apple Butter at Oh She Glows :: Easy! Healthy! Seasonal! I can’t wait to try this.

Food for Thought Friday is a (more or less) weekly list of links – tasty morsels, if you will, for belly and brain.


On seeing past the end of my dinner fork

Oh, friends. Can I tell you about this evening? Can I tell you about the amazing meal my husband made with a certain two-year old and his end-of-the-day sillies while I was getting some work done in a local cafe? Can I tell you about the killer Caesar salad with homemade dressing and croutons he made from a local baker’s bread and our own lettuce and cherry tomatoes and eggs and garlic and chicken? Can I tell you about the cheesy grits full of delicious butter and cheese? Can I tell you about the two-year old who screamed, “I don’t like grits I DON’T LIKE GRITS IDON’TLIKEGRITSICAN’TEATTHEM!!!!!” for a very long time and then proceeded to eat a giant plate full of Caesar salad covered in garlicky anchovy dressing?

This business of toddlers and food is a tricky one. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out. Sometimes it is so stressful I completely lose sight of the Big Picture, the one where this too shall pass, the one where I remember how important these power struggles are as our little people become bigger people, the one where I know he and we will survive his toddlerhood just fine.

I think that in those times where I can barely see past the end of my dinner fork, it is important to remember it’s not always like this. In that spirit I am reposting something I wrote a couple weeks ago over at our farm blog. I think it fits perfectly here.

As we ate these outside at the picnic table last night, in a spell of blessed cool after a quick little thunderstorm, I realized it was the fifth time we’d eaten them in under two weeks. I think that means they’re a winner. I think that means y’all need the recipe.

There’s a very small amount of grating and chopping involved, but really these fritters could not be easier. You grate a summer squash or two – I’ve learned that yellow squash, zephyr, and pattypan work best for our family and for a certain particular two-year old right now, but zucchini fritters are particularly pretty. You squeeze the excess water out of the squash with a dishtowel or paper towels – this is the one picky step, but it only takes a minute, and having tried skipping this step, I think it’s worth doing. You chop an onion – mince it, if you’re living with the same two-year old. Then you mix it all up with some flour, some cornmeal, an egg, some cheese, some salt and pepper, and you shape them into patties, and then you pop them in the oven while you set the table.  Easy peasy!

A word on picky eaters: we have one. It’s been humbling. I thought because we have fields and countertops and a fridge and two freezers all full of delicious vegetables, that he’d take to them right away. And in his first six months of exploring solid foods, he did. But then he started having strong opinions, opinions like: white and brown foods like milk, yogurt, butter, bread, cheese, crackers, pasta, oatmeal, and eggs are really quite sufficient when it comes to one’s diet. And you know what? I want him to have opinions. I want him to be able to disagree with me. I want him to figure out what he loves and what he doesn’t love. I think he needs my guidance, but I also think he needs my patience and my trust … trust that he’ll survive toddlerhood just fine, trust that he is doing what most two-year olds since the dawn of two-year olds have done, trust that he is developing just as he should.

When I was pregnant I proclaimed I’d never “hide” vegetables in food, but I’m coming to realize it’s more complicated than that. In addition to all the independent toddler stuff going on, I think little people have a very acute sense of taste and texture. I think maybe we need to take it easy on them sometimes. And if that means choosing yellow squash over zucchini sometimes, or mincing the onions instead of chopping them – well, I can do that.

I’ll add that our son loves to help me make these. “Mama, I want to grate!” he says, and so he does, with some help. “Dad, I can break the egg,” he offers, and so he does, and pretty well at that! “Let me squoosh it up, Mama!” he demands, and so he does.

And so we make fritters. Sometimes he eats them. Sometimes he just licks the ketchup off his plate. “Like a dog!” he says.

You should make them too.

Baked Squash (or Zucchini) Fritters with Garlicky Yogurt Sauce
adapted just a bit from The Yellow House

Kid-friendly! Quick! And easy too to make gluten-free – the flour in this recipe just serves as a binder, so replace it with your favorite gluten-free flour and you should be good to go. One friend replaces the flour with masa harina – that sounds really good to us! Also, while parmesan is particularly tasty in these, feel free to use another kind of cheese. We used mozzarella the first time we made these because that’s what was in the fridge, and they were still very good.

These are great with ketchup (our son’s favorite), a fried egg (my favorite), tzatziki, or the quick garlicky yogurt sauce below.

2 cups grated summer squash or zucchini, pressed between layers of a clean dishtowel or paper towels to absorb some of the water
1 small onion, minced
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or other flour – see note above)
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a large bowl, toss the squash and onion with the flour, cornmeal, and cheese. Add the beaten egg and some salt and pepper, and mix until everything comes together. Use your hands if you like; it’s fun! It should have the consistency of meatloaf.

Using your hands, gently form the mixture into small balls (about 3 tablespoons of mixture for each fritter). Place them on the baking sheet and use your hand to flatten them into small patties about a half-inch thick.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. (If making the yogurt sauce below, make it now – this will give the flavors time to meld a bit.) Then broil for 2-3 minutes longer. The fritters should be a lovely golden color. Good warm or at room temperature. Serve with ketchup, fried eggs, tzatziki, or the garlicky yogurt sauce below.

Makes 6-8 fritters.

Garlicky Yogurt Sauce

3/4 cup yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced

Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste, and add more salt if you think it needs it. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes if possible to allow the flavors to meld.

Food for Thought Friday (welcome-to-2012 edition)

What’s been inspiring y’all recently?

Food for Thought Friday is a (more or less) weekly list of links – tasty morsels, if you will, for belly and brain.

Food for Thought Friday

Food for Thought Friday is a weekly list of links – tasty morsels, if you will, for belly and brain.


Canning in My Blood

Today we’re so pleased to introduce a new contributor, Julia Timmons. Julia is a longtime Southside Virginia resident and newly retired after 30 years of teaching. One of the things she enjoys doing with her newfound free time is canning – a skill she learned as a child, working alongside her mother to put up food from her father’s big vegetable garden. Read more about this, and about the long line of canners in Julia’s family, in today’s post.

This is also the first in what we hope will be a series of posts about our childhood kitchens. Thanks for getting us started, Julia!

When I was 10 years old my parents purchased a 55-acre farm in Bedford County, just above the Otter River and bisected by Lick Run Creek.  My brother came up with the idea of naming the farm Otter Lick Farm and proceeded to draw and paint a sign for the mailbox depicting an otter with his tongue sticking out!  Our first year of owning the farm we were not able to move – we had had plans to move my grandfather with us and his health suddenly took a turn for the worse, postponing our move for a year.  In the meantime through my uncle we had a Vietnamese family rent the farmhouse.  The house was built somewhere around 1940 and needed considerable work.  There were two occasions when the tenants called my dad in a panic over problems.  The first, their young son fell down the steps in and doing so put his foot through the 1/8-inch thick old sheetrock.  No worries there!  The second call was that there was snow in the living room.  Dad went out and found that the wind was blowing so hard and gaining just the right momentum and path that it was blowing through under the house foundation, up into the newel post and into the living room.  Needless to say, we had to do much renovation to put in insulation and “new age” sheetrock, improve the kitchen, convert the small enclosed porch into laundry, sewing and bathroom, and most fun of all, cover and screen the huge concrete slab attached to the back of the house.  It was here that I remember fondly so many family gatherings!  At our farm, the wind rarely stopped blowing.  We did not have air conditioning and that breeze through the huge oak trees in the front yard on a sweltering night or through the screened porch on a humid and hot afternoon was always welcome.

Soon after we moved, my father proceeded to plant a large garden.  My recollection is that it was about half an acre.  Along one edge we planted a grove of dwarf fruit trees – Red Delicious apples, Golden Delicious apples, peaches, and damson plums.  Between the three long sections of the garden, Dad planted lespedeza bushes to attract birds which would hopefully help with pests.  I remember goldfinches and indigo buntings flying in and out of them all summer.  Our crops of choice included tomatoes, corn, green beans (bush), butter beans (pole), peas, peppers, potatoes, onions, cucumbers and squash. We also dabbled in some other things like strawberries, asparagus, snow peas, gourds and pumpkins.  We tried our best to organic garden – purchased both praying mantis and ladybugs (true ones, not the nasty pest ones we have now).  We contacted the extension agent for advice.  At times this worked, and at others we had to dust and spray to keep the crops alive and producing.  Water came from the spring house, whose flow Dad had to monitor carefully after burning out the holding tank pump.  There was plenty of water all the time, just not at a huge rate of flow.

Between the house and the garden were two full sized “antique” apple trees, the apples from which were only good for cooking.  It was under these trees where Dad placed a metal rocker in which he sat to take his gardening breaks and drink coffee.  What escaped me was how in the world he could DRINK a boiling hot beverage on a 95-degree day.  When asked, he said it cooled him off (can you tell I am NOT a coffee drinker)?  The farm came with an old yellow cub tractor which dad worked on and got into shape to till, plow and work the soil.  Being in Bedford County, the soil was red, clay and full of rocks.  Many times I remember rock picking, as each year in the spring when we tilled garden to plant, or turned the plants under in the fall, more rocks surfaced.  I swear to you we were growing a crop of them!!

As a result of such a large family garden, there was always plenty to be done from spring until late fall.  Dad did most of the planting, weeding and some of the picking, while Mom and I took over from there and did all the preserving (we picked as well and occasionally planted, and EVERYONE weeded from time to time).  So many afternoons we sat on that breezy screened porch with the dogs at our feet, shucking corn, snapping beans, shelling peas and limas.  My maternal grandmother lived with us during the early years there and was often part of these family community times.  When we had visitors and family stopping in, they helped out.

My mom was mostly a self-taught canner.  Her parents lived for a number of years on Oak Ridge Farm in its heyday and later moved to Cabell Street in Lynchburg.  My grandfather had a huge garden there which sustained the family through the depression years and beyond.  My grandmother canned and everyone pitched in when it was time to put up food. My mother was the youngest of six though and doesn’t remember much about canning with her mother. Mom had three pressure canners – a Mirro one that was meant for meal-size pressure cooking and two 15.5-quart 7-jar Presto pressure canners.  One belonged to my grandmother and the other Mom purchased.  I still have both.  They work just like they did 70 years ago (my grandmother’s was given to her by my uncle sometime around 1940).  All we had to do to get hers in working order was purchase a new gasket, pressure gauge and weight.  I helped can with Mom and learned the basics of packing and canning as well as pickling and freezing.  I truly remember enjoying the entire process, especially when it came time to eat.  Many nights in the summer we had meatless meals.  My favorite summer meal – green beans with tomato and new potatoes, corn on the cob, and steamed squash.  YUM!

When I moved out on my own and got married, I had a small garden in the city.  I canned some then, under Mom’s tutelage and using the trusted Ball Canning Guide.  Eventually because of the deer, groundhogs and other critters, along with the time commitment to growing children’s needs, I gave in and tilled that under for the last time.

This past summer I retired from teaching after 30 years and have begun to dabble in canning again.  Why you might ask?  There are a number of reasons.  One, I am determined to help my family eat better food, with less preservatives and pesticides.  Two, there is nothing which tastes better than home canned or frozen food right out of the garden.  Grocery store mass produced foods just can’t cut it.  And lastly, I like it.  I get the deepest sense of satisfaction when the pressure has gone down to zero, I remove the jars and put them out on a towel to cool, and one by one I hear the “thwack” of the lid popping down to seal.  Seeing the amassed collection of peaches, potatoes, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and green beans in my pantry shelves creates a certain fundamental sense of bliss…

Simplest Applesauce

I am of two minds about cookbooks.  If you’ve ever sat in the comfy chair in my kitchen with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, you’re probably laughing out loud right now, because you’re remembering my enormous cookbook collection, the one that doesn’t even fit on one six-foot bookshelf.

I’ll post a picture sometime.  I’m not kidding.  ENORMOUS.

I adore cookbooks.  That shelf overfloweth but I still got a new cookbook last week and, umm, another one is on its way in the mail.  It’s probably all to do with what they represent to me, which food writer Laurie Colwin summed up very nicely in her book More Home Cooking:

Cookbooks hit you where you live. You want comfort; you want security; you want food; and you want to not be hungry; and not only do you want these basic things fixed, you want it done in a really nice, gentle way that makes you feel loved. That’s the big desire, and cookbooks say to the person reading them, ‘If you read me, you will be able to do this for yourself and for others. You will make everybody feel better.’


Only, sometimes I think we have forgotten how to feed ourselves – that we have lost our confidence and intuition in the kitchen, that we are at least sometimes overwhelmed by the task of planning a week’s worth of square meals for our family, that the idea of cooking from scratch without a recipe can feel as impossible as driving blindfolded.

The reasons for all this are probably pretty complicated, and I don’t mean to attempt a tidy explanation here in this post.  But I think the answer is just to cook.  To cook more.  To cook often.  To cook alone and with our partners and with our kids and with our friends and with our neighbors.

And there are times when I think my beloved cookbooks get in the way. I know that sometimes I’m paralyzed by choice – at any given moment I might have four cookbooks piled atop one another on the kitchen island, each with nine recipes bookmarked. Other times I pass a recipe by because I don’t have dried rosemary or I’m out of lemons or I don’t have the right kind of mushrooms or I only have chicken stock and not beef stock.

But I’ve been rereading all the Little House books over the last couple years and there’s never once mention of a cookbook.  I’m going to talk about Ma Ingalls for a minute here – cautiously. I don’t think we need to work like she did to feed our families well. She spent almost every waking hour of every day of every week of every month, all year long, keeping her family fed, and that’s not what I’m urging. I also don’t mean to romanticize the adversity or the loneliness or the dangers of frontier living. But gosh … Ma worked up a blackbird pot pie when the blackbirds were eating all their corn, and she made her own sourdough when blizzards kept the supply train from bringing essential pantry items like yeast, and there was (almost) always fresh homemade butter on the table. Caroline Ingalls did not have a giant cookbook shelf, and she did not have food blogs, and she did not have Facebook. She didn’t have measuring spoons or an oven thermometer either – or even an oven at all, for many years.

So how did she do it?

Well, first off, she managed it all because she had to, because if she didn’t figure it out her family would starve.  That’ll motivate you.

But that’s not the whole story, of course.  We know she cooked with her sisters and her sisters-in-law and her neighbors and women at church.  We know her daughters cooked alongside her from the time they were very young and so I think it’s fair to assume she did the same as a little girl.

And I think that when you do something your whole life, you’re not scared of it – it’s just something you do. Maybe it starts as something someone teaches you but then it becomes second nature. I want to give that to my son.

When I am feeling like I do not know what to feed my kid – when he has refused everything except bread and yogurt and pretzels for four days – when we’re out of baking powder and the milk has gone sour – when what with putting in another load of laundry and stubbing my toe on a Matchbox car and changing diapers and writing a new post for our farm blog and trying to figure out how many CSA shares to offer next year and going on a long meandering walk in the woods with my son and looking at mushrooms and wading in the creek and forgetting about my to do list for a while – when what with all that it’s all of a sudden 6:30pm and I have not even thought about what to cook for dinner —

— well, sometimes, when all that is going on, I make applesauce.

It’s not dinner.  But I swear to Pete it’s food.  Good food.  Easy food.  Real food.  And I can do it without a long list of ingredients, without three burners and five bowls, without stress. Without a cookbook.

Simplest Applesauce

Use whatever kind of apples you have on hand, and as many of them as you want. I used three Honeycrisps for the pot above.  Apples you’ve neglected for weeks in the crisper drawer or apples that are bruised from when your toddler threw them at the dog work great here.  I’ve listed some optional ingredients, but I recommend making this applesauce with just apples and water the first time.  Apples are naturally sweet and flavorful and become even more so after the gentle heat of cooking. It’s seems almost a miracle to make something so good out of almost nothing.

optional: one cinnamon stick or a good shaking of ground cinnamon, a little honey or maple syrup

Quarter and core your apples. I never peel mine.  Cut the apple quarters into chunks – a young child can even do this step with a plastic knife – and put them in a saucepan or Dutch oven.  Add just enough water to come about an inch up the sides of the pot, maybe a little less.  Add any optional ingredients now too.

Cover your pot, turn the burner on medium-low, and cook until the apple chunks are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove the cinnamon stick if you used it. Purée with an immersion blender (the easiest way, if you have one), or purée in batches in a food processor, or mash with a potato masher.

Lasts maybe a couple weeks in the fridge and for a long long time in the freezer!