Check out Marlene’s website!

I’m all for getting real food into kids but realize that the biggest hurdle is the family chef doesn’t know what real food is!

Sadly, we are the generation of parents raised after the microwave made it possible for anyone to eat any time instead of waiting until everyone was home and sitting around the kitchen table.  The convenience of packaged “food” seemed to solve a lot of problems- it was inexpensive, it took little time to prepare and big sister could cook if mom or dad were busy with personal development (also known as overtime- heck yeah, there used to be so much work people were paid to stay late and get it done).

Prior to the microwave (a giant beast that took up the entire top of the counter) we relied on the stove to make meat, a veggie and a starch. Now we were using canned soups, canned veggies, and meat that could be nuked and on the table in less time than it took Dad to make the commute home from work.  My comfort food was redefined.

Flash to the future and I’m feeding my kids the packaged food from birth and now trying to introduce the old meat,veggie, starch as better.  My kids think comfort food is goldfish crackers, pop tarts and chicken nuggets. A carrot is the most adventurous veggie they have embraced and only if it is dipped in high fructose corn syrup mixed with some partially hydrogenated oil whipped into a sad version of ranch dressing.

Lucky for me, I love to cook and now that I’m connected to a CSA and get new recipes regularly I’m able to pause mid-grab at the grocery store and ask myself- is this convenience food or real food before I throw it in the cart. I cook. I cook things no one eats but me, sometimes but the kids are coming around.

This new website is one you can check out to learn how to cook without spending hours in the kitchen and with results that are nutritious and everyone will try.  We’ll see! http://www.marlenesmealmakeovers.com/

Bon appetit! or Let’s have some Eats!  as mine say.

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Mommy Overboard

As usual I have done it again.

Over the holiday, we signed up as a family to go to the local food pantry and sort cans and stock shelves and organize the donations that the community generously rounds up through food drives and fundraising events.

I’m ashamed to admit this is the first time we have done anything like this. Sheltered in the comfort of our neighborhood we have gone about our days oblivious to the real needs that exist just around the corner.

Determined to give my kids a dose of reality, I take my two daughters and each brings a friend to spend a sunny Saturday morning working together at the local food pantry.

I am hoping to simultaneously do some good and teach my kids to be grateful for all that they have.

Together with about 25 volunteers, we lug boxes filled with canned goods and stack all sorts of beans and soups and fruits for a solid ninety minutes. The work goes fast, spirits are light, the sense of community feels really strong. We see other families from our school and we see strangers, but we all feel like we have important work to do and we are happy to lend the muscle to do it.

As soon as we leave the pantry, one of the youngest announces that she is really, really hungry and wants to go get something to eat.

In typical mommy overboard fashion I have to push the limits of this teachable moment and get on the “be grateful”  soapbox.  To make sure to drive home the importance of taking care of the hungry in our community, I respond immediately with, “YES, go with that. You are hungry. Imagine waking up every day and going to bed every night hungry, just like you are now…really feel that hunger so you know what other people are feeling…”

Oh, yes. That is what I said.

My two girls roll their eyes, used to my dramatics, but their two friends are staring with disbelief – alternating looks of anger at their buddies who have gotten them into this-  and all look at me to see if I am joking.

No, not me.

I can’t simply focus on the good part of volunteering…the part about helping and how good that felt.

Oh, nooo.

Instead of choosing to cement volunteering with the good feelings I choose instead to link it solidly to this life lesson, in a fashion likely to turn them off to doing anything good ever again!

This is what mothers do.

Yup, I link the whole morning with growling stomachs instead of with what we can do to help keep tummies from rumbling.

Do I then reign myself in and find the hard workers a quick snack?  No. I do not even dig for a cough drop from the bottom of my purse. Instead, I proceed to drive a few miles and drop off some of the clothes and toys mine have outgrown at the Salvation Army donation center.

More of that giving spirit and grand effort to get through to my kids.

Somehow I do not notice the sulking while rattling on about helping others and how good it feels.

Overlooking the two younger ones as they grow more pale and sort of glassy eyed I finish off my homegrown social studies unit and make them go in to the animal shelter and register for volunteer hours all the while wondering why they just don’t seem interested in petting the animals or enthusiastic about the opportunity.

I carry on with the “lesson” of how children have empty cupboards and attempt to connect them to the hungry feeling and really push it by making one more stop to get milk and a few things from from the local grocery store.

So lost in my effort to overdo a good thing, I refuse to buy any snacks, not even a donut hole.

While walking up and down the cart filled isles, they tell me how hard it is to look at the food all morning and the food pantry and to carry it around and stock the shelves.

They actually were thinking about food and not having it, for one entire morning.

Oddly enough, as I push my groceries around the salad dressing isle, I bump carts with another parent who was just at the pantry with us.  And across the bread isle, we recognize another person who spent the morning sorting the jars of spaghetti sauce from the jars of peanut butter.  And in the frozen food section another hungry helper fills her cart.

We all wave at each other and though we don’t know each other’s names, we make small talk and our children smile and wave goodbye after the grown ups move to the next item on our lists.

The volunteer families are still putting food on our tables the way we always have, but today, we are changed a little.  We don’t actually need to see the pantry shelves filling the carts of the families who have the empty cupboards. We don’t actually need to go hungry to understand how cupboards  get filled.

As we fill ours, I feel as though we have all gotten the message.

No lecture required. No need to go overboard, moms. We have all grasped the meaning of the morning and feel we are the ones who have been given more than we gave.

The lesson teaches itself.

### by Childgrower A. Woz for EP January 3, 2009.

Chopped

A revised version of this post was featured on http://www.empoweringparents.com on February 11, 2010.

When we have visitors the kids like to get in the kitchen and play a game called Chopped. It’s based on a television cooking show where chefs create entrees and are judged on taste, presentation and originality.  The chef who doesn’t measure up is eliminated from the competition.

When they play at home, the eliminators (usually the moms) use a point system for each category and are instructed to never declare a tie.

They want a clear winner and they want the truth.  Just like in the show.

Now I’ve watched the program and I see how this works. When the professional chef gets the ax, the camera follows them out the door and down the hallway under the guise of getting an exit interview but mostly just to capture the emotion of losing.  It’s a vulnerable time where some chefs look tough, some are crying and some look as if they prefer to hit the camera man with a frying pan.

Chopped contestants in this weekend’s Woz family kitchen jockey for top honors by playing to their strengths and pointing out the other’s weaknesses. Usually on the show this is done by the commentator.  Evidently the game just isn’t as fun if it isn’t done without constant criticism. Harsh, but we know that kids can be tough on each other. Much tougher than parents will be.

As moms in the hot seat of judging, we try our best to ignore all the antics and concentrate on the duty at hand knowing we cannot get out of putting the creations in to our mouth even when the secret ingredient is say, clam sauce.

Moms are brave.

And we must also separate our desire to make everyone happy.  We steel ourselves to chop the offending dish and chef, and hope that good manners prevail and the losers are good sports.

Unlike every other time, the youngest in the group and also the one who cries foul when she doesn’t win,  has locked-in the presentation and originality category – best two out of three – and has avoided the chop!

Unfortunately, going against two older cousins hasn’t historically gone well and she is so sure she is going to lose,  that when it is announced she has won two out of three,  she stomps off at the indignity of not taking all honors! She shoves her brother in the hallway and shouts in an angry tone over her shoulder something about the other contestants influencing the judges, and then slams the door to her bedroom.

She was so sure she would not win, that even when she does, she cannot accept the honor.  She has self- sabotaged her own win with her excessive worry of failure.

The other judge, a social worker friend of mine, shares a summary of a recent workshop she attended.  It concluded that young men and women entering college are finding themselves paralyzed by the fear of failure and some are getting lower grades than they imagined for themselves and are avoiding degrees in known challenging studies such as the hard sciences.  College counselors are experiencing more anxious students engaging in more self-destructive behaviors who seek the easiest route to the most glory.

Unfortunately, they are finding there is no easy route.  And they are angry, depressed, and frozen.

I wonder if my daughter is going to spend more years in a therapist’s chair than she will in college and once in the workforce will she be left behind, in a mediocre job with limited creativity, a crabby and angry woman who slams doors and isn’t willing to put in the time to improve either?

Will she fall into the ranks of the many graduates who return home to the welcoming arms of parents without the job that school is supposed to prepare them to take and without the stable job that declares her a successful adult… And how angry will she be then?

We came to one conclusion as we sat sipping tea and tasting the creations from the cooking competition:  Kids learn best via honest feedback and less fake-fairness.

If she hasn’t made a chopped recipe worth eating, then spare her the niceties, no accommodations for her age, no adjusting for never winning the best tasting category, no sugar-coating the unpalatable truth.

As I roll the dessert she made around on my tongue, this strange combination of oyster sauce and brown sugar, I seek a way to say something nice.  But instead, with the strength of another caring parent to back me up,  the mom judges decide to follow the rules of the game,  just like the rest of the world will.

Spare no chef! Spare no truth! “This cookie tastes like a fish taco,” and we swallow hard and brace for the fit throwing,  “and,  you have been chopped!”

###

A.Woz for Childgrower Blog and EP

Recipe Day- Fennel & Cuke Slaw from A. Woz

bare feet at I T

It is good to see that in 2009 women, should we choose, may cook, may explore recipes , may take pride in throwing on an apron if we wish.

With the same enthusiasm as taking a trip to a foreign country, we test new ingredients, new flavors and we purposely spend time in the kitchen creating something memorable, edible, beautiful even, or we are allowed to simply step back from the stove entirely, and smile while watching someone else give it a go.

Our bodies don’t need all the food that we dream up, but our minds and hearts might.  A good meal provides a transport to conversation. Breaking bread together can take us to a level of pleasure that is acceptable to express in public.  As we experience intense emotions over a sublime flavor, a good recipe gives us permission to reach inside someone else’s personal space and grab their arm and make a connection.

Find those women and cook together if you can. Don’t spend one minute of time eating a meal with people who fail to feed your soul or to fill up your conscience or challenge your mind.  

This recipe is a combination of flavors from the combination of two good friends.

The dressing for this slaw is adapted from one served by my friend Nancy Rohrman.  She poured a slightly sweeter version of it over fresh fruit- blueberries, strawberries, fresh grapes, and pineapple. 

The coleslaw I created in this post was served for the same Red Tent book club that Nancy has been a part of for many years and she phoned-in to join us from a friend’s home in a far away state.  Since we weren’t set up to Skype , we passed the phone around to hear how the transition was going,  did our best to raise our glasses in several toasts in her honor and served an ice-cream dessert on my deck as she scooped out a bowl for herself  in another time zone.

For the fennel part of the slaw,  I owe thanks to another friend, Karen Johnson.  Though I have no doubt that she could turn any fresh ingredient into an excellent meal, I’m giving her credit for the fennel as it first arrived in my weekly community supported agriculture (CSA) farm share, that I pick up from her garage each week in the growing season.  She turned me on to the farm share and I am forever indebted.

The farm delivers 2-3 bulbs of fresh fennel each season as part of a variety of fruits, veggies, eggs and cheeses from a farm co-op out of Blue Mounds. Karen’s garage is the host location for about 100 local families.  When she’s around at pickup time on Thursdays,  I get to chat about good recipes for all these good veggies, some of which I had heard of but would not have recognized, and most certainly I would never have tasted until I joined Vermont Valley Farm. Kohlrabi, turnips, leeks and buttery eggs from free range chickens -that honestly do taste better than what is available in the grocery store-  have all found their way into my recipes. And my mouth is happier for it.

I tested this coleslaw recipe for my family last week and my kids couldn’t believe how much fennel tastes like black jelly beans. Have fun experimenting in your kitchen with this new recipe and cheers to Nancy and Karen. 

Fennel and Cuke Slaw with Sweet Poppyseed Dressing

1 large cucumber, cut in half and sliced with peel

1/2 head of cabbage, chopped

1/4 medium sized red onion, chopped

1/2 cup fresh fennel, diced

1/4-1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Dressing: 3/4 c sugar, 1/2 c vinegar, 1/3 cup oil, 1 tbsp poppy seeds, 1/2 tsp dijon mustard or 1 1/2 tsp dried mustard.

Slice cukes into bowl, add salt, cover for 1/2 hour,  toss cukes a few times in the brine and after 1/2-1 hr hour, rinse under cool water and drain to remove salt.

Combine the cukes with the rest of the ingredients: cabbage, onion, fennel.

Whisk together ingredients for dressing.  Drizzle over salad, toss to coat.  Let stand for 15 minutes, serve.  Enjoy with a citrusy white wine.

### from child grower Annita Woz.

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