Friday, December 11, 2015

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer cupcakes

One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is baking-- better yet, decorating. This wasn't always the case. When I worked at a bakery, the holidays meant early mornings, long hours, lines of customers, and never-ending racks of cakes and pastries to decorate. Now, I happy to satisfy my creative interests in the kitchen at my leisure. Here is one of my favorite cupcake creations that is easy, fun and adorable. Who doesn't love Rudolph?

Use your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and decorate as follows...
Supplies Needed:
  • Chocolate Frosting
  • Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
  • Red Gum Drops
  • Red Food Coloring
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Pretzels
  • 2 Ziploc bags (or 2 piping bags
What to do:
  • Frost cupcakes with chocolate frosting.
  • Fill one Ziploc or piping bag with white buttercream frosting.
  • Add the food coloring to a separate bowl of frosting to make red frosting.
  • Fill the second frosting bag with the red frosting.
  • If using Ziploc bags, snip a small hole at the bottom corner of each bag.
  • Use the white Ziploc/piping bag to make two dots. Place chocolate chips (top down) onto the white dots.
  • Place a red gum drop in the center of each cupcake.
  • Use the red Ziploc/piping bag to make smiles.
  • Break off pieces of pretzels for the antlers.
  • Share with friends and family and enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Grandma's Crustless Pumpkin Pie

One of Lila's favorite seasonal desserts by far is pumpkin pie. Savoring the spicy pumpkin filling she will usually scoop it all out and leave the crust. If she could just have a bowl pumpkin pie filling, she would be in heaven.

And so, Grandma's Crustless Pumpkin Pie was born! Taste-tested and approved by Lila, this light, simple pie is sure to remain part of the holiday tradition for years to come. From our kitchen to yours. Enjoy!

  • Butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (15 oz) can of pumpkin
  • 1 (12 oz) can of evaporated milk
Be sure to use organic ingredients!

  • Preheat oven at 325 degrees.
  • Lightly butter a glass baking dish (preferably a 9 inch round pie dish).
  • Prepare filling by blending all of the ingredients. Scoop and smooth the mixture into the dish.
  • Bake for about an hour or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Cool and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (The longer it stays in the fridge the better it gets!)


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Place cards on our Thanksgiving table

One of the most important elements of our Thanksgiving dinner is the personalized place cards for each guest. As a child, this was my responsibility. By the time Clara was four years old, she was ready to carry on the legacy. 

The format is usually the same. We fold in half a blank index card (or sometimes colored construction paper). On the front she draws a decorative Thanksgiving image, usually a cornucopia or turkey. Inside, we write why we are thankful for that person. Now, Clara can write the whole card herself. When she was younger, she would dictate what she wanted to say, and I would write it for her.

One of my favorite name tags of recent years was Clara's drawing of her grandparents as two sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. 

These place cards provide such a simple and yet nourishing tradition. We have hosted Thanksgiving in our home for many of the past ten years. I keep some of the name cards from year to year, and they serve as a reminder of that time and place as well as who our guests were around the table that year.

Besides enjoying the place cards, I do also like to eat on Thanksgiving. My favorite recipes remain those passed down by my grandmothers. My maternal grandma's pumpkin bread is always a great appetizer to have on hand although with the amount of sugar in it, it might better qualify as dessert. We often serve it with cream cheese on top to make it feel a bit more savory rather than sweet.

My paternal grandma's cranberry relish is the right combination of sweet and tart. My stepmother's sweet potato casserole was probably the inspiration for Clara's yam-focused place card from last year. I like this dish because it is easy to do most of the preparation the day before and just heat it up with the marshmallows and raisins right before sitting down for the Thanksgiving meal.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families! 


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: 10 ways to make working out feel like child's play

For the past 6 or 7 years, my mornings have been my "me time." I am generally not a morning person, but with a kid, career, and other responsibilities, I have found that I have no other choice but to take advantage of the early morning hours when the house is quiet and asleep. It's best to wake up early because, once the little one rises, I am compelled to shift gears into mommy mode.

My mornings used to be sacred. This was when I would get in my much needed exercise routine-- taking time for myself and my health. Well, this year, my little motivated second grader has decided that she should take advantage of early mornings too! So, as I am beginning my workout, I hear her door open and it's all over. Next thing I know I am getting my "exercise" by multi-tasking and running up and down the stairs.

Some mornings I barely get any real concentrated workout time, which really puts a crimp in the rest of my day. One day recently, I was feeling particularly stressed and in desperate need of a good sweat. But, when I got home Lila asked if we could do something together after dinner. Tired and giving up on the idea of getting my workout in, I asked her what she would like to do. Her suggestion was "racing down the hill across the street."

"Really?? O...kay."

I threw on my sneakers and we headed outside. For the next 45 minutes or so I had the most hilarious, fun, exhausting workout ever.

As much as I have love my morning routine of yoga postures, push ups, and lunges, I must admit that it does get kind of boring after a while. In fact, I've been finding it harder to get motivated to wake up in the morning. I still do think that making time for myself is important and I am not willing to give that up. But Lila, once again, has turned my "planned time" upside down and showed me that "play time" can be so much more fun offering the same, if not better, results. The laughing that ensues is a great bonus abdominal workout!

Here are Lila's top 10 ways to make working out feel like child's play:

10) Have a race-- over and over again.

9) Run up and down a hill, until you can't breathe. Repeat until completely exhausted.

8) Blow up a balloon. Hit it into the air and chase it around the living room as if your life depends on keeping it off the ground.

7) Go on a nature hike. Climb things.

6) Have a frog jump contest.

5) Play basketball (outside or indoors). Break rules. Travel. Roll on the ground holding the ball while your opponent tickles you until you let go. Chase them.

4) Play hop scotch and jump rope. Sing while you do it (if you're not totally out of breath).

3) Play hide and seek and run like crazy when you're found.

2) Play on the monkey bars. Work on becoming a bad a** mama who could do pull ups.

1) Have a wild dance party which involves jumping on the bed like two crazy people. Collapse and laugh until your stomach hurts.


Monday, September 28, 2015

the seven (or eight) year itch

According to wikipedia, the "seven-year itch" is a term that suggests that the happiness in a relationship declines after around year seven... The phrase originated as a name for irritating and contagious skin complaints of a long duration.

This summer, my husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary and so I thought we had dodged the dreaded seven-year itch. Well, in the midst of being utterly irritated with my husband recently, I started to itch... on my wedding ring finger! Oh, the irony.

I removed my ring to find my finger chapped, red and, like my mental state, completely irritated! Was my finger suddenly rejecting my wedding ring? Was this a sign?? Could this seven-year itch be true???

Apparently, wedding ring dermatitis is a common condition that is caused by soap build up under the ring or the allergic reaction to nickel found in white gold. 

I love my husband. I do. I am one of those rare gals who married her high school sweetheart. We made it through a long distance relationship in college, a major diagnosis and illness, the deaths of our fathers, many, many stupid arguments, and big, "That's it! It's over!" blow outs. We went from living together and thinking our quirks were cute to being married and getting on each other's nerves on a regular.

I know I make our relationship sound oh so {not} wonderful, but I do believe that all of the tough stuff has strengthened our bond even more than the good stuff (of which we have plenty as well... really!).

But, after seven to eight years, I have found that marriage can be really, really difficult. Things that used to be easy between us have become major work. We are so busy and crazed that we have to remember things like speaking to each other in a kinder tone (i.e. "Could you please put your dish in the sink, sweetie?" versus "Would you put your damn dish in the sink for once!"), kissing good bye, saying "I love you." We seem to do all of this very well with Lila. We simultaneously shower her with hugs and kisses and "I love you's" but sadly we don't always treat each other with the same amount of affection.

I could argue that we don't need to do these things because the love between us is a given. Perhaps it is displayed in more practical ways. For instance, my husband will anticipate me rushing back into the house in the morning because I have forgotten something (again) and he will be ready to pass this item into my hand (cell phone, water bottle, travel mug... car keys) like a baton, making my morning a little smoother. And, despite the fact that I am a vegetarian, I will clean, trim, and prepare my husband's chicken, gagging at the raw gross-ness, so that he has something to eat after working late. We will do these things for each other even when, at a given moment, we can't stand each other. Isn't that love? Couldn't that be considered affection?

But, when looking at my irritated finger, I realize that I can't just wear the ring and ignore what's going on underneath. Relationships need care and attention. This is something we can't ignore or take for granted because what starts as a minor irritation can quickly spread and become unbearable. 

As my finger heals, I am emailing my husband date night ideas. He is arranging the child care. In time, all will become healthy once again... and we will take good care to keep it that way.  -Tara

Friday, September 25, 2015

Finding joy in the everyday in unexpected places

I admit I am not the most playful person, more prone to barreling through my to-do list, accomplishing what I feel I "should" do before leaving room for fun. However, this summer, I found myself prioritizing joy and fun and play. I didn't want to lose all that momentum when the humdrum of school-homework-dinner left very little time for fun.

On the drive home from school, I wondered if Clara and I could find a way to have fun despite the fact that the only time remaining to play in the day was dinner time. We decided to think of something fun to do while eating dinner. My suggestions included a picnic on the living room floor or eating while pretending to be other people and talking with accents. 

Clara had a much longer list which she wrote down as soon as we got home so that we could vote:

1. Watch while eating
2. Play board game.
3. Teach Mama how to play lemonade (a sing-song hand game she learned from friends)
4. Make a tent and eat in it.
5. Watch the sunset (maybe at the beach).
6. Play outside

We don't watch videos while eating as much as Clara would love to, so that was crossed off the list. I have been working with Clara to understand the concept of compromise. I was surprised she didn't really know what it meant when I mentioned the idea a few weeks ago. While discussing how to eat our fun dinner, she suggested we compromise. I was proud of her for remembering the word and being gracious enough to agree to it.

Since her idea of eating in a tent and my idea of having a picnic on the living room floor were somewhat similar, we combined ideas and compromised with a delightful dinner in a makeshift tent on the living room floor. 

This was not the first time we modified our dinner plans to make it a bit more special. When Clara was younger she liked to create her own restaurant at home with handmade menus and meals. We hosted the girls for an American Girl doll tea party (with questionable success) once before in our living room.

Clara dragged chairs into the living room and precariously rested a blanket over them creating a tent-like feel. She insisted we turn out all the lights to make it special. I found a camping lantern that helped to create a more authentic ambience.

Such a simple shift... just moving a few feet away from sitting on the dining room chairs to our living room floor, and yet it made all the difference in making this a special meal.

Clara said, "This is so nice." And then about five minutes later, "This is really nice." And then realizing her repetitions, she clarified, "You know when something is so fun that you just have to keep saying it...this is one of those times. I just can't stop saying how nice this is!"

A small victory. A bit of joy in a hectic day. A reminder that I can keep finding ways to make room for fun, even in every day life.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Back to school and on to the 2nd grade!

Summer vacation was a blast but the girls were so excited to go back to school. Big kids now, they have settled nicely into second grade. The year ahead will surely be filled with new lessons, friends, activities, and adventures. Wishing the "core four" a fabulous year!

-Tara, Ellyn, Annabelle, & Lisa

Lila is excited for science class. She is currently experimenting with the idea of becoming a chemist.

Clara can't wait to devour lots of books this year. Her love for reading has inspired Clara to consider a future career as a librarian (in addition to being a mommy).

Elisa is a whiz in math class. No wonder why she plans to become a mathematician. 

Clearly an animal-lover (note the stylish cat ear head band), Sarah is already looking forward to a wonderful career as a veterinarian.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Letting Go of Summer

Yesterday morning, while waiting at a stop light on my way to work, I saw four mothers huddled together, their arms fiercely embracing their children, in a unified protective mama-bear stance. I wondered what harm they feared would befall their daughters and sons who seemed to be safely standing on the sidewalk.

The mothers' eyes darted expectantly, nervously, even defiantly to the north. I looked around to see if there was an accident I had not noticed. Just as the light turned green, I finally figured out what they were looking for: the yellow school bus that would take their children to their first day of school.

My daughter does not go to the local public school, and so I forgot that this was the first day of school for others in the community. I immediately identified with these women holding on to their children. These women were reluctant to release summer, to let go of their children. They were fearful of releasing their little ones to a world where there may be bullies and difficult tests and missed buses.

I often think of something my mother used to repeat around the start of a school year. She said she always hated when summer vacation came to an end because it meant less time with her children. Conversely, my aunt counted down the days until summer vacation when she would finally have the house to herself and some peace and quiet.

As a child, my mother's story made me feel loved and valued. As an adult, I see both points of view. One of the best benefits of being a teacher is the gift of time off during the summer. For me, it is a chance to have a taste of being a stay-at-home mom. However, I also value the structure and activities of the school year. I always wish that I could bring a little bit of the freedom and lazy-day feeling of summer to the frenetic pace of the school year.

Although summer can be a time of relaxation, it also comes with expectation for joy, for adventure, for increased community, for fulfilling dreams. Despite the seeming brightness of sunny days, summer can come with disappointments.

As a filmmaker who became a teacher, I always said to myself that I would use my summers to create films, and yet fourteen summers of being a teacher have come and gone. Yes, I have produced some short films (mostly about Clara). However, I have yet to maximize this time to create the grander documentaries I imagined. With more than two months of free time, summer reveals for me that time is not the obstacle preventing me from traveling or creating my dream documentary. Sure, there are practical obstacles, but perhaps there is also inner resistance or other fears that interfere.

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Tim Kreider wrote about learning to accept that his summer did not go as planned. He was hoping to go to Iceland, but life's logistics got in the way. Kreider writes:

"I didn’t go to Iceland, but I watched “Zapped!” and ate Taco Bell in a hospital bed, ...I saw a Perseid meteor streak across the night sky and vanish so fast it was hard to tell whether its incandescent trail was in the atmosphere, on my retina, or only in memory.

I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went."

I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia at this time of year. Since I have been either a student or a teacher for more than thirty years, September feels like the truest beginning of a new year. A time of possibility and hope. A time of letting go of summer and what might have been. Like Kreider, I find myself taking tabs at the end of a summer, and even though another summer went by without producing an Oscar-winning documentary, and I, too, didn't travel as much as I planned to, I think there is value in acknowledging what was accomplished this summer even if it was something different than what I had intended.

This summer, after a year of writing a book, hunched over a laptop, I deliberately spent very little time on my computer. Instead I discovered local hiking spots, starting each morning with a walk in the woods. I began each day by lacing up my sneakers, telling myself I was ready to move before doing anything else. Just as Clara went outside of her comfort zone going to new sports camps, I ventured into a cardio boxing class, both of us challenging our physical limits in different ways.

This summer, I learned how to grow a vegetable garden, each morning looking expectantly for signs of flowers and growth, jumping up and down when I found my first fully grown cucumber that had been there for a while, but hiding under the leaves.

This summer, I learned how some water balloons and swings can bring neighbors together in play and community.

This summer, I had to ask someone I love for forgiveness, and she gave it to me even when I did not deserve it. 

This summer, I spent time in the kitchen with Clara, teaching her how to cook. Even when she was not wearing much else, she always insisted on wearing her red, plaid children's apron every time we cooked. I loved seeing her joy in creating meals and her careful attention to presentation.

This summer, I kayaked to an island that in previous years felt too far and too scary to reach.

I am grateful for a simple summer, spent in the garden, in the woods, in the kitchen, and with friends. 

Like those moms I saw yesterday at the bus stop, part of me wants to hold on to Clara and hold on to summer. Yet, school life is a busy life. It's time to create new syllabi and plan for another school year. Although the sun is setting earlier each night, I hope to carry with me a little bit of the promise and possibility of summer into my school year. And I will hug Clara a little tighter each night knowing that our once seemingly endless days of summer are coming to an end.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Missoula Children’s Theatre Camp

Lila definitely has the "performance art bug." Whether she's singing, acting, or dancing, she is naturally drawn to the stage. When Lila's grandma was looking for birthday gift ideas for our little rising star, I came across a flyer for the Missoula Children's Theatre Camp. It was the perfect gift-- an experience that Lila would truly enjoy and remember. 

Soon Lila was signed up and ready to go. About a week before camp, we received the details. The kids, ranging from Kindergarten through 12th grade, would be cast on Monday and by Friday evening they would be prepared to showcase a full theatrical performance. Having been in a few plays in high school and now working for a college with a conservatory of theater arts, I know a little bit about what goes into a production. I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that in just one week (actually 5 days) they would be performance ready.

But Missoula Children's Theatre (MCT) has this all down to a science. Although this was the first time that it was on my radar, this was actually the MCT's 25th season at our local theater. They travel around to communities throughout the country, with everything they need to put on a full-scale children's production. They teach and inspire kids nationwide by exposing them (even if it's just for a week) to the joys of musical theater. In such a short amount of time, the children form a bond, jelling into an ensemble, and together take on the challenge of learning lines, songs, and dance routines to be performed by the week's end. And they have a blast! After the first day, Lila was waking up early, eager to go and have fun with her new friends and teachers. She absolutely loved it.

Lila's group put on a production of The Little Mermaid (a different story line than Disney's The Little Mermaid). Lila was cast in the role of a "sea pony." All the behind the scenes preparation was kept under wraps, so family and friends filed into the theater Friday night not knowing what to expect. What we got was an entertaining, adorable performance. Sure, with just a week preparation, there were some fumbled lines and missteps, but nothing is better than witnessing the confidence, creativity, and pride in these young performers shining on stage.

The Sea Ponies in The Little Mermaid

Lila the Sea Pony- so proud of her great performance!

At the end, there were lots of hugs and smiles and promises to see each other the same week next summer. Lila's experience with the Missoula Children's Theatre not only created a lasting memory, but perhaps an annual tradition. -Tara

Our star, post-production, being showered with flowers and gifts. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

To be or not to be... the search for the perfect taboulleh

A local restaurant makes outstanding taboulleh, but it is particularly divine in the hours right after it is made. I head to the back of the restaurant where it's kept in a glass display, hopefully peeking for the tell-tale signs of freshness: a vivid green color, fluffy leaves, and not too much dampness. The restaurant owner caught me intently eyeing the taboulleh the last time I went in and shared a story about a man who recently stopped by the store and balked at the price tag for taboulleh.

"How could you charge $7.95 for a container of parsley?"

The owner held his ground. "That is our price. You can take it or leave it."

The customer left. An hour later the owner got a call from the man's wife apologizing. "I'm so sorry about my husband. He has no idea about how much work goes into taboulleh."

I learned first hand this summer how much work it takes to make this salad. I am a fan of lemon in most anything and this dish has long been one of my favorite salads. I won over my husband with these recipes. He confessed that my taboulleh is "the quintessential summer salad, fresh and delicious!"

Taboulleh is essentially parsley salad with bulgur (a very tiny whole wheat grain), lemon, scallions, mint, and tomatoes. Not a fan of the parsley sprigs that often sit on the side of meals a garnish, I never imagined that parsley taking center stage could feel so nourishing and refreshing. I tried three different versions this summer to make it easier for you to choose which variation you prefer.


I went with Ina Garten's recipe for my first attempt at taboulleh. This recipe called for a full cup of bulgur wheat and cucumbers. I prepared a generous recipe of this for my niece's birthday, and it was nearly all gone by the end of the evening. I liked the crunch that the cucumbers gave to the salad, but I was striving for a more traditional taste with mostly parsley and mint and not as much bulgur wheat and no cucumbers. I used less kosher salt than this recipe called for and yet it still tasted very salty. We don't traditionally used much kosher salt so maybe I'm not used to the flavor.

It was a lot of work to cut up all the parsley. The recipe suggested 30 minutes of active prep time, but it took me closer to a full hour to chop the parsley and other ingredients.


I went back to the Internet for a new recipe with less bulgur wheat and more greens and appropriately found this link: "Your Taboulleh Probably Has Too Much Bulgur In It." I knew I had found a kindred spirit when I read the author assert that "The only thing more refreshing than a mouthful of parsley and mint is a mouthful of parsley, mint, and lemon." I one hundred percent agree! I was surprisingly entranced by the accompanying video, never imagining that there were videos dedicated just to parsley preparation.

Despite my best hopes for this taboulleh, it turned out to be my least favorite. I followed the recipe closely except for swapping yellow and red tomatoes for the purely red tomatoes. I missed the bulgur wheat which almost disappeared amidst the parsley. The recipe didn't have the same vibrance of the first one. I tried dicing the tomatoes in a smaller size since that is what I see in more traditional recipes. Clara's friend, Lila, was visiting the day we made this, and she helped expertly cutting the tomatoes in quarters. 

"Can't I just cut them in half instead?" she asked a couple of times.

I encouraged her to keep trying the quarters since that was the variation I wanted to try. In the end, I think Lila was right that cutting the tomatoes in half allows them to give more flavor. Despite my reservations about this version of the taboulleh, Clara and Lila loved it, and both asked for seconds!


Since I spent a few weeks test-driving different taboulleh recipes, I figured I had to try the version at Le Pain Quotidien when I saw it on the menu. I knew from the description on the menu that it was a non-traditional preparation (quinoa instead of bulgur wheat, arugula instead of parsley, and avocados on the side). It was a very tasty and surprisingly filling lunch, but definitely a detour from what I was striving for.



Taking my favorite elements of both recipes, I added more lemon, slightly less bulgur wheat, and more parsley. Over time, I learned how to chop a bit more efficiently and so now the preparation takes closer to 30 minutes. Here is my new taboulleh recipe:


3/4 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/4 cup boiling water
3 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons sea salt
4 minced scallions (white and green parts)
1 bunch of fresh mint leaves
2 bunches of chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half

Place the bulgur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, add juice from two lemons, olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Stir, and let stand at room temperature for an hour or more.

Add the parsley, mint, scallions and tomatoes. Add juice from third lemon and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt: mix well. Cover and refrigerate. The flavor improves if the tabbouleh sits for a few hours. Tabbouleh will last for a few days in the refrigerator.

Parsley/mint/scallions/tomatoes, waiting for bulgur wheat to be added.


I am happy to have discovered how to make my own favorite taboulleh recipe... And now I know firsthand that $7.95 is a bargain to pay for someone else to do all of the chopping!


Friday, August 7, 2015

Lila's Piggy Cookies

Piggy-backing off of Ellyn's last post, Lila has also been getting creative in the kitchen. It seems that she has inherited my passion for baking and the best part of all-- decorating! When she's not watching funny cat videos on YouTube (an obsession of hers) she is researching cookie and cupcake decorating techniques.

Lila has observed me making creatively themed cupcakes for her birthday parties, but I don't think she's really been aware of the fact that her mommy had an eight-year stint as a cake decorator a long time ago, way before Lila was even thought of. I am never surprised by her artistic abilities because the arts run deep in our family, but I am tickled by the fact that she has expressed a specific interest in "food art." Although she has changed her career aspirations from chef to chemist (hey, I ain't mad at that!) baking is still one of her special hobbies. One of her favorite culinary creations to date has been her piggy cookies. Lila initiated the idea and made these herself with very little help from me. In fact, since we used pre-made sugar cookie dough, as her sous chef, all I did was put the cookies in the oven and take them out.

Here's what you need:

  • Your favorite sugar cookie recipe (or buy pre-made dough so that you can get to the fun part sooner)
  • Frosting with pink food coloring 
  • Mini marshmallows (to craft the ears and the nose)
  • Chocolate chips (for the eyes)
  • Cashews (for the smile)
Use your creativity to assemble these ingredients into cute pig faces. Store them in the fridge or freezer so that the frosting hardens. Enjoy! -Tara

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tell your kids to play with their food

Last month, a second grader surprised me with her baking skills. We were finishing a week-long summer program and planning our celebratory party. She offered to bring in brownies that she emphasized she would make entirely by herself. The next day, she proudly came into our class with 27 brownies carefully cut into generous squares. She emphasized that there were just enough for everyone to have one, and watched carefully to make sure that no one took an extra. I was impressed—not just by her organizational skills, but especially that she had baked a dessert all by herself.

Clara is just a year younger than this girl, and I questioned whether a year from now she would be volunteering to bake something all by herself. We are still at the stage of her helping out as sous chef or kitchen's assistant. She has never made an entire dish by herself. I know brownies are not the hardest dessert to prepare, but still this situation got me thinking about Clara and cooking. 

At the same time that I was thinking about Clara's culinary future, she received a hand-me-down copy of Strawberry Shortcake's book, Cooking Fun. This book from 1980 details ways to make a typical meal more interesting through food layout and design. Clara especially liked the Snakey Snack "recipe" (alternating slices of carrots and cucumber with cream cheese in between and arranging it to look like a snake). She was proud of herself when she made this mostly by herself for her friends when they came over for a playdate. Another favorite was Crackerwitch Castle (a tower of cheese and crackers).   

Clara was very happy to find a radish tail that worked perfectly as a
snake tongue.

Clara followed the directions to make Crackerwitch Castle and added her own embellishment with
cracked cracker topping and red pepper boats with carrots.

For any one who is looking for fun food ideas, this site has 60 ideas to get you started. I like their Loch Ness bagel monster and the Octopus' Garden. I'm not a fan of all of their recipes, though. The Banana Dogs look just wrong. I am lucky that Clara is a good eater, so I never had to trick her into eating her vegetables by making them look like something else. (But if she was a picky eater, I think I would go to Play with Your Food first for ideas! I love the way they give peppers and other veggies such a personality in these photos.)

Not all experiments have been a success. Clara's attempt at making the Octopus Garden resulted in a mishap when the pepper dipped a bit too far in the hummus.
I am not one of those moms who cuts out fancy shapes for my daughter's sandwiches every day or makes whipped cream smiley faces on her pancakes. I tend to have just enough energy to make sure she gets healthy snacks—slicing her apple into pieces rather than giving her a whole apple feels like an accomplishment. The only exception to the norm is on her birthday in which case I have been known to prepare cutesy presentations like butterfly sandwiches to please the birthday girl. However, I'm enjoying the delight in which Clara is expressing towards contributing to the cooking, even if at this point, she's mostly helping with the presentation rather than the actual food. 

Our next step is creating a meal together. It turns out we have a couple of other kid's cookbooks that I forgot we owned: Lidia Bastianich's Nonna's Birthday Surprise and The Silver Spoon for Children: Favorite Italian Recipes. Both of these books have real recipes like for Fish Kabobs and Pesto Spaghetti. Lidia's book is accompanied by drawings and a children's story that reinforces growing one's own food and making seasonal recipes. Another kid's cookbook that looks promising is Mollie Katzen's Pretend Soup. Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook was a classic in my house when I was a teeanger trying to experiment with vegetarian cooking. 

Yesterday, I read in the Motherlode blog on the New York Times site about a 9-year-old cooking Pasta with Tomato and Mushrooms and an 11-year-old making a fruit tart. I would love to help Clara develop the confidence and skills to try these recipes in a couple of years. The Times has been offering a series called "Kids in the Kitchen" where they share kid-friendly recipes. We definitely plan to put some of these on our list of recipes to try with Clara.

Clara has developed a curiosity about the kitchen and cooking through playing with her food. I encourage you to consider telling your kids to play with their food this summer and see what they create. 


Monday, March 2, 2015

Don't yuck my yum

"I like double-decker peanut butter and radish sandwiches!, and I told my friends that they couldn't eww my yum" Clara proclaimed giddily one day.

"Radishes?" I asked. She had never eaten radishes. "And peanut butter sandwiches?" Our school is firmly nut-free so the idea that Clara ate this meal at school seemed truly perplexing.

Finally, I learned that the rabbits of David Cleveland's book "The April Rabbits" were making aforementioned peanut butter radish sandwiches, and Clara was delighting in taunting her classmates with the promise of eating these sandwiches.

It is true that Clara is a good eater. I feel blessed that she will eat nearly any fruit or vegetable, almost always devouring the broccoli or salad on her plate before anything else.

Many six-year-olds have a more limited palate, and so on more than one occasion, Clara came home from school saying that the other kids made fun of her for eating something they wouldn't touch.

"Don't eww my yum," Clara said earnestly one day to her classmates as she munched on a smoked salmon, caper, and cream cheese wrap. Her teachers taught her this phrase, more commonly known as "don't yuck my yum," and it is so simple and so true. 

Live and let others live seems to be a pretty good maxim for most things in life.

I'm happy to have a daughter who is willing to try different foods, but most of all, I am grateful to have a daughter who is not afraid to be different from her peers, a girl who doesn't let their "yucks" ruin her "yum."

Clara gets ready to eat sushi.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Lila and Clara are such good friends. Lila is also quite the adventurous eater! Just dare her to try something: a grilled hot chili pepper, a sautéed rooster comb, sour cream and onion crickets... she is totally game. (Yes, these are things she has actually eaten and enjoyed!) What throws people off the most is that Lila appears to be "picky" because she rejects the typical foods that kids are "supposed to" like such as mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and happy meals. She takes her food selections very seriously and the food activist in her becomes compelled to inform her peers about the dangers of a junk food diet. (I've had to sensor her from yucking their yums sometimes.)

Her gourmet taste can get expensive but it's worth it. I love that she'd rather go to a farmer's market than a toy store or when showing her pictures of an upcoming vacation she'll hone in on the entrees being served above all else. I have to say, we are really lucky. My husband and I would love to take credit for her eating habits, but it's hard to know if we had anything to do with her willingness to try new things. Also, what has worked with Lila may not work for other kids. A couple of things that we think may have helped: We have a household rule-- "try it before you say you don't like it." And we get her involved with cooking-- according to her, whatever she makes is delicious, of course. (Actually, it usually is.) I agree with Ellyn, I love that our girls enjoy a variety of foods and are not afraid to eat outside of the box

According to Lila, Crickets are not only tasty, they are also a great source of protein.
-Ellyn & Tara