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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Recipe Day – Spring Rolls by child grower Annita Woz

cael toe up on beach feetThe silence is all around her.  Her children’s voices  are unable to reach all the way home from the school yard. 

The usual chattering of learning,  the incessant interruptions are defined differently from one moment to the next only by a mother’s mood and her patience level.  No small ones tug at her wisdom today.

Whisking away, she can hear the sound of metal on metal as it churns up the orange and lime juice, creating a simple dipping sauce. 

The aromas fill the room where the silence has cleared so much open space.  Fresh mint and cilantro are on the cutting board and the hot water in the tea kettle has errupted its steam to break the stillness of the day.  The shrill whistle is retrieved from the air and shut up tight as it is lifted from the burner. Then, the sound of hot water, spilling and expanding on a cold china plate laps at her ears. 

From the flat round package, the delicate spring roll wraps are carefully removed and submerged and softened in the hot liquid and filled with the fresh and crisp ingredients, the mint and scallion wait until after all the rest,  the silent creation through tender rolling begins.

Pulled back by the smell of the mint gathered directly from the patio container, she is reminiscing as she does each time she makes these.  Back she goes to a cooking class taken with her youngest sister years ago when neither had ever touched fresh mint leaves.

Standing together in a class on Laotian cooking, they are reading the now-common ingredients like cilantro, bean sprouts,  chicken,  rice noodles, shaking their heads.  One imagines biting into chicken covered with toothpaste, the other mint-ice cream on bean sprouts.

Yet that night, cilantro and mint become new favorites for the two sisters. Standing silently, hip to hip, the smiling young women learn to fold and roll and tuck the fresh spring rolls and each marvels at the taste of real mint and peanut sauce and how each bite is exactly the taste of walking barefoot through the dew covered yard of their childhood home.

Years later,  the younger will teach her sister recipes without a class.

With hennaed hands, the sisters will taste  new foods at the wedding where the younger marries a man born in Pakistan and with the marriage  comes  new food,  new music, new flavors rooted in family.   Both dance and play dandia;  sticks and twirling sari’s and bare feet and rich traditions that neither have touched before,  take them both from their quiet families and into the frenzy and laughter of celebration.

From her new mother in law’s meals, the baby sister learns and memorizes and shares with her sister all the warmth of garam masala, the simplicity of naan, the coolness of yogurt sauces and the spicy grilled kabobs of skewered tandoori soaked chicken.

Now, separated by several states, they stand alone in their kitchens, each finding a personal triumph with each successful match of flavor and meal, both concentrating and lost in each new recipe.  The silence is delicious.

Right now, it is nearly the end of Ramadan in the little sister’s kitchen.  Participation in the focus and the cleansing through fasting,  leaves the room bereft of the daily meal preparation and the clanking of metal, the warmth of the stove, the clutter of mind and home. During Ramadan, the little sister finds simplicity soothing, reading more relaxing than the television and the hustle of going out to dinner is replaced with holding hands and going for walks and mindful consumption.  

In the midwest, she sees in her head the older sister, standing barefoot on the tile with her children gone to the start of the school year.  Without interruptions it is the sounds in her own mind that are now blaring and distracting.  The sister holding the handful of fresh picked mint pauses, inhales the green to the point of tasting it by breathing, and across the country she connects the mint memories and the spring rolls cooking class with the sister who hasn’t cooked since before dawn.  She wonders how long the loudness inside her head has been screaming to be heard.

The setting sun brings them both back to the present.  The return of the school children and the return of the family meal and the end of a day’s fast,  brings the inspiration that comes from living, from getting out there, from the teaching and the touching of breaking bread and sharing stories.

Without regret, both give up the silence to accept the lessons.

The quiet inside their heads rarely misses the escape from the meetings, the events, the niceties that are intrusions on their calm interiors, their deliberately erected and protected peaceful walls. 

Yet, at sunset, their hearts love the racket, the cacophony that is the way-finding of their children.

Each day they learn more from their children than they teach.  The tiny experts take and use and enjoy each minute of the day, living in the moment by opposing silence and all its peace, teaching their grown ups the bittersweet gifts of growing and making all the beautiful noise.  

Laotian Spring Rolls

recipe as taught by Kathy Khamphony of Madison who tells us that spring rolls are called neung leab in her native Laos.  They are usually served as soon as assembled.  But can be stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator.

8 -10 Rice Papers (called Spring roll Skins at Millers)

leaf lettuce

bean sprouts

slivered cucumber

cooked rice noodles or vermiccelli

whole cilantro, mint and basil leaves

minced cooked pork, chicken or shrimp or fried egg strips (great way to use leftovers)

Spicy dipping Sauce (or alternate fresh sauce) and ground peanuts.

For each spring roll, dip 1 sheet of rice paper in shallow plate filled with very hot water (perhaps from your tea kettle.)  The “paper” will quickly become pliable.  Remove carefully to keep the edges from sticking together, and place it on another large plate that is slightly wet or directly on your cutting board/counter.  Soak another sheet and overlap in on the first for strength.  Layer 2 four-inch pieces of lettuce, 10 bean sprouts, 10 cucumber slivers, some noodles, 4 leaves of each herb, and 1 tbsp of meat on bottom border. Roll from the bottom edge over filling, fold edges in, and roll up tightly. It takes a little practice but it feels good to have your hands on the food. 

Sauce:

1/2 c sugar

1 tblspoon lime juice

1 tblsepoon bottled fish sauce

1 clove rgarlic, mashed to a paste

2 or mor thai hot peppers if you wish, mashed

Boil sugar with 1 cup of water 2 minutes to make a simple syrup. Cool, stir in remaining ingredients. Makes one cup. Serve with crushed peanuts for dip

Alternate no-cook sauce:

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

4-6 tbsp fresh orange juice

1 tsp honey

1 tsp soy sauce

Whisk together well. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Enjoy- perhaps next time a Pakistani recipe will have to be shared…we’ll see where the silence leads.  

### For ChildGrower blog by A. Woz Sept 11, 2009.

Recipe Day- Mint Watermelon Salad- from child grower A. Woz.

breckinfeet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about a trip to Italy with Italian Food Artisans (805.963.7289) http://www.foodartisans.com?  

Take a culinary vacation in Italy, a food and wine lovers dream,  wine tasting, cooking classes, explore the Cinque Terre area via train or better, by walking.  

Great to imagine, yes?

But a wee bit unrealistic for this time in our lives, huh.

I’m settling for living vicariously thru this article in the August 2009 Cooking Light, where it describes winemaker dinners, cooking demonstrations, meals in private homes, herb harvesting, and culinary workshops.  I’m there!  Okay, in my head, I’m there.

So I have to settle for making a summer salad using some fresh herbs from my front step flowergarden where I planted some mint this spring.  Mint is grown everywhere, but originated in the Mediterranean and grows best where the soil is fertile and moist and yes -all the worries about it being invasive, and taking over as if it were a weed- are valid. 

I transplanted one small mint plant from my AeroGarden, a silver sunlamp growing kit with an irrigated water system that can be used to grow a few herbs indoors. The fake garden well lit by two bulbs has served as a source of imitation sunshine on those dreary overcast days of the last months of winter and has fooled many visitors into thinking that I had a window with a direct link to the Sun Goddess in the corner of my cooking area.

 The AeroGarden was a gift my children proudly gave me in December and though half of the plants we tried to growing hydroponically did not make it,  the strong stalks of mint thrived.

The one plug of seed that we transferred from indoor grower is now a very large patch of good smelling greenness.  I cannot resist growing it outdoors, knowing I can go out in my pajamas in the early morning hours and step my bare toes into the earth, and crouch down at eye level with several waving stems of fresh mint in the dawn of any new day.   

Before the children are stirring, before my grocery list starts forming itself inside my brain, before the news and the messages of the day invade my mind, I move to the flowerbed that surrounds my porch, and gather up a peace filled moment from the giving ground.  

I flick a beetle from the top of the plant, making sure that it lands feet down and scurries away and no worse for the launch, then I turn back to my task of  pinching off the tops and pulling random browned or bug bitten leaves and tossing them aside.  The few offending weeds that have dared to invade the bossy mint patch are plucked and tossed, root and all, over my shoulder,  like a bit of salt, discarded, but somehow bringing good luck.

I put my fingers around the lower section of the plant, count three leaf segments  up from the root and remove the top half of the arm of mint.  It still waves at me,  forgiving me for my abuse,  preparing to come back fuller and stronger since I have stripped these fragrant pieces from its growing limbs.

The smell on my fingertips is not of fresh ground coffee anymore, but has been changed now to a skippy menthol breeze lilting around my nose and the oils are making my palms turn pale green. The  handful of stolen greenery releases its grip on the stalk and gives up its leafy life. The only resistance it can make in this sacrifice for my salad is a waft of the familiar, this fresh scream of aroma from the torn mint leaves in my grasp,  a recognizeable bold and classic morning announcement,  proclaiming  that dawn has indeed arrived and is stealing back the day from the darkness.

As though I have been kneeling in a valley of wildflowers and plants, perhaps at the base of the terraced vineyards on a steep hillside in the northernmost village of Italy, I see myself gathering herbs into an apron and saying, “Ciao!” and “Ciao bella!” as though I am a native and from some happy family of wisened winemakers.   This transformation requires no flight to Milan, no landing near Pisa, no train trip to the Italian countryside.  The journey begins from just this small sprig of fresh torn mint, traveling on a  journey to a watermelon salad.  

Today, maybe for this entire summer, I feel content to remain in my pajamas, tiptoeing past pillows cradling the sleepy heads of my still silent children, content to invade my mint patch before creating a simple salad right here, in my Midwest kitchen. 

Mint Watermelon Salad

Seedless watermelon cut into cubes
1 pint of yellow or grape tomatoes halved
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 of a lime
1/4 c. feta cheese crumbles
15-20 fresh mint leaves, torn or chopped
Fresh ground black pepper
Combine watermelon and tomatoes, salt and olive oil.  Squeeze lime juice over the top, toss.  Add mint, feta and fresh ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Cooking Light, 2008.

 

 ### by Annita Woz for Child-Grower Blog July 28, 2009.

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