I wasn’t ever hungry as a child

Daniel and Hannah
No person should go hungry, period. When it is a child, it is even more heartbreaking. Here in the U.S., 50 million people don’t have enough to eat. 16 million of them are children: that’s 1 in 4 kids who don’t know where their next meal will come from. I’m honored to donate this post as part of Food Bloggers Against Hunger; my hope with today’s action is that we will raise awareness about food insecurity and hunger in the United States, while sharing some ideas about what you can do to help.  Continue reading

Lunch time

cheese crackersI know that there are a great many of you who have packed hundreds, thousands even, of “school lunches” for your kids. I, however, have packed exactly 17 of them to date. And until today, they were all duds.

I was new to this whole lunch thing, and I wanted to shine. I consulted with him on his choices each morning, put his favorite foods into his favorite snack bags, tucked those bags lovingly into his bright green lunch box. I put an ice cube in with the water in his froggy water bottle and arranged it next to a carefully rolled cloth napkin. Perhaps I even RErolled the napkin, once, maybe.

cheese crackers

These lunches, my friends, were my own personal visions of motherhood done right, of care and nurture and love. Love that he would feel come lunch time, even though I was a whole half a mile away, up the hill at home.

While he was spending his mornings playing with his friends, splashing and swinging and singing and sandboxing, and having the time of his life, surely – surely! – while he was doing this he would work up an appetite for these delicacies. Delicacies he himself had selected. Delicacies that I had packaged not with preservatives or BPA or hydrogenated-syruped-who-knows-what, but with gobs and gobs of love. LOVE! (And perhaps a touch of anxiety about being away from him for a whole four hour stretch, alongside a wee smidge of pride about his abiding love for vegetables).

And of course I don’t need to tell you the next part. Continue reading

Good night, gorilla

lemony-avocado corn salad with cheddar gougères

I was catching up with a friend this morning, telling her how Lucas wants to read the same book over and over and over again … he crawls into my lap with it whenever he can, and will sit for as long as I let him, reading and re-reading … and each time he sees the giraffe (erRAF!), or the mouse with his banana (NANA!), or the lion (RAAARRRRR!) – it is a revelation.

kale and wheat berry salad

He never, ever gets sick of it.

Continue reading

Twinkle twinkle

If I think too hard about how my habits, decisions, traditions and routines might ultimately impact my kids, I can get really bogged down in my own head. It is a bit overwhelming. Like attempting to wrap my mind around the size of the universe, trying to really grasp the impact our families of origin have on us stretches my brain to its breaking point. It is the sort of contemplation that is probably generally best left to poets, or astrophysicists.

(Who sometimes have a lot in common, by the way).

Even too much positive thinking about your own influence can be detrimental. If I focus on the amazing possibilities we are giving our boys, I can wind up thinking, we are totally rockin’ this parenthood thing. Inevitably, those are the precise moments when I will hear something crash, or someone scream, or – worst of all – an eery silence will descend and I will know with absolute certainty that somewhere (most likely deep in Kyle’s closet), something poisonous is being thoroughly explored by a toddler and a preschooler, who lately have gotten the hang of working in cahoots.  Continue reading

Arsenic what?

This is homemade Chocolate Almond Butter. It does not contain organic brown rice syrup. You know, that ingredient found in granola bars and crackers and baby formula, and other things that obviously should have arsenic in them. Because arsenic in brown rice syrup is – wait what? No, actually – wait, WHAT?!

Yes, I offer you one more reason, in case you needed it, to make your kids’ snacks yourself. I loved Jenny’s post at DALS; she made Alana’s granola bars from The Homemade Pantry (yes, it is sort of like a new kind of bible around here) and loved them. We have also made Alana’s car snacks and loved them. Today though I offer you a combination guaranteed to get your kids off packaged goodies forever. If you doubt me, look at this:

And he’s my pickier one :)

This cracker recipe has everything that a good graham cracker has, but I find it even tastier – there is something about that maple-y whole grain goodness, mixing with all that butter and brown sugar, that is warm and rich and wonderful. (I didn’t promise you my healthiest recipe today – I promised you no arsenic. I mean really, let’s not be too picky about the butter and the sugar on this one, okay?)  And then, when you smear some homemade chocolate almond butter on top, and perhaps sprinkle a couple little leftover slivers of that 70% cacao baking bar on top of that … and maybe even sandwich another cracker over it … well, you might be stuffing your face too. Even if you can find a way to resist them, I promise that your kids, or your grandma, or your neighbor, or your spouse, or whomever you cook for, will enjoy a special treat.

And it won’t be all Flowers of the Attic-y to give it to them.

Maple Brown Sugar Grahams
Adapted from Alana Chernila’s graham cracker recipe in The Homemade Pantry – 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying And Start Making

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dark rye flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
7 tablespoons cold butter, cut into one inch cubes (freeze for a couple of minutes before it’s time to add it in)
5 tablespoons grade B maple syrup

In the bowl of your mixer, combine flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder and sugar.  Whisk together well. Attach to your mixer and add the cold butter. Mix on medium-low speed just until starting to combine, about 30 seconds.

In a liquid measuring cup, combine the maple syrup with 1/4 cup cold water. With the mixer running on medium-low slowly add the maple syrup to the bowl in stages, giving the dry ingredients time to absorb each addition. Once it is all in, continue to mix for 20-30 seconds until the dough suddenly “clumps up” (per Jacob) – it will all of a sudden look like dough and come together around the paddle.

Push the dough into a ball, wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. We went with overnight. You could also freeze one half of the dough if you wanted to make a second batch some other time.

About twenty minutes before you are going to start making the crackers, remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap it. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 350 F. If you are using the whole recipe, cut the dough in half.  Lay one half between two sheets of wax paper and roll it as thin as you can (Alana says ideal is 1/8 inch). Tip: I made my wax paper sheets a little bit long, brought the ‘tails’ over the edge of the counter, and then leaned against them as I rolled. This held it in place so I could roll it with more pressure and get it thinner.

I used our pizza cutter to cut out the crackers. (Alana used some kind of crinkle cutter and the photo of her crackers is so cute!) Reroll any scraps and cut those too. Then do the other half of the dough, if you are doing it now. They can be squeezed close together since they won’t spread – I was able to fit fifty crackers, 25 per sheet, with each cracker cut to more or less 2×3 inches (I was not completely precise but they were all pretty close).

Bake at 350 F for about fifteen minutes or until turning gold at the edges. Cool on wire racks.

Alana suggests that her graham crackers are better the second day, and I did find that the flavor had matured on day two – you could taste more of the subtleties of the flours and the syrup. That said, they were really delicious out of the oven.

Chocolate Almond Butter
Much like butter, this takes only a few minutes and my guys love making it. They also love eating it – I give them spoonfulls right out of the jar, which they call “pops”. It is really nice on toast – or smeared on a maple graham :) 

1 cup shelled raw or roasted almonds, whichever you prefer
(if using raw, I also add about 1/4 teaspoon salt)
2 heaping tablespoons dark chocolate shavings from your favorite baking bar
1 tablespoon canola oil, if needed

Put the nuts, salt if using, and chocolate into your food processor with the blade attached. Pulse a couple times, and then blend for about thirty seconds. The nuts and chocolate will break down into a grind (sort of like flour, or ground coffee). Keep pulsing, and eventually they will start to clump together. If you’re not getting a relatively spreadable consistency after a minute or two, drizzle in some of the oil and pulse again. Repeat as needed to get your almond butter the consistency that you want.

This will keep for a day at room temperature, or about a month in the fridge. And it is totally arsenic free.

Bread of joy

As I’ve mentioned, we are Omni-ligious around here. This year, I was searching for a Passover kitchen activity that would complement the Easter egg-dyeing we were doing. Matzo making crossed my mind after reading about an artisan matzo recipe in the March 2012 Sunset issue, and it felt right. Jacob was excited about a project that involved the food processor and the rolling pin – not to mention sea salt! This was shaping up to be a great kitchen week for him.

Growing up, I have no recollection of attending any seders until the year I was nine, when my dad and stepmom helped organize and produce the first Jewish Black Interfaith Freedom Seder with Kehilla Community Synagogue and Allen Temple Baptist Church. I have hazy memories of singing Follow the Drinking Gourd, going on a massive afikomen hunt with all the children present, and being hungry enough to find parsley dipped in salt water surprisingly tasty. From then on, it seemed that there were seders most years, using that same photo-copied haggadah that had been originally cut-and-paste produced for the interfaith seder. It was a haggadah that many rabbis would have frowned on – Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes and Native American parables sat alongside, and sometimes in place of, ancient Hebrew prayers. We sang about Dayenu, yes, but we also sang spirituals, and there was an interfaith gospel choir that performed on a stage, though they didn’t wear robes.

Matzo is probably the single symbolic food item (in a holiday filled with them) that people most associate with Passover. It has history dating back to the original event; Passover commemorates the exodus from Egypt, and the Israelites were leaving in such a hurry that they couldn’t let their bread dough rise, or so the story goes.  Matzo is also called “The Bread of Affliction” – the Jewish people were escaping slavery when it was ‘invented’ and so it serves as a reminder to appreciate freedom, to remember what life was like for ancestors without it. So matzo is a history lesson and an appreciation of freedom all in one.

It is also, generally speaking, disgusting.

Tasteless, with the average consistency of cardboard-meets-old-paste, the commercial variety is really not even marginally improved by things like adding eggs to the dough or dipping it in chocolate. It tastes terrible enough that you never think to question the Bread of Affliction moniker.

Our homemade matzo was a game changer. My brother Dan teasingly called it Matzo Fresca, but once he tasted it he stopped teasing and kept eating. It is denser, chewier, much less square-shaped, and approaching delicious. I can tell you one thing for sure: olive oil and sea salt do a lot more for flour than just adding water. The cardboard squares, normally tasting solely of paste and obligation, had morphed into a round cracker bread that you actually want to eat, can even find joy in eating. At the seder table this year, we were no longer commemorating affliction; this matzo was about celebrating the thrill of freedom, about pleasure, about a meal not just shared with loved ones, but enjoyed with them. This was food to nourish our souls, and also our palates.

One warning here: once you have tasted ‘real’ matzo, there will be no going back. So make sure you are ready to commit to a lifetime of annual kitchen-flouring, finger-tip-burning, and painstaking cracker flipping. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. It is a miracle, a blessing, an act of faith; you have the power in your hands to turn affliction into joy.

In lieu of the traditional matzo blessing, I offer you this, from Julia Child: “How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”

Amen.

Matzo Fresca
We fairly closely followed the matzo recipe that Sunset magazine printed, which is from Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland. We opted to use our hands rather than a floured baking sheet to get the matzos in to our oven, and we cooked them for more like four minutes, flipping not once but twice for each piece. We didn’t re-bake any of them, and people loved the softer bite and chew of the crackers. 

2 3/4 cups flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup olive oil
About 1 tablespoon flaky sea salt

Put a pizza stone on an oven rack and heat your oven to 500 F. Let it preheat for a long time – it took 55 minutes for my oven thermometer to actually reach 500 F.

Once your oven is hot, put 2 1/4 cups of the flour, the table salt, and the oil in your food processor. Mix for about ten seconds. With motor running, slowly add 1/2 cup water. Mix until it comes together. Pinch the dough with your fingers: it should hold together and feel soft and supple. If it is too sticky to work with, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide the dough into quarters, and each quarter into three pieces (twelve total pieces). Roll the pieces in to balls, and then use a rolling pin and roll one piece into a (relatively) round,  approximately 8 inch wide circle. Try to get it thin enough to see through. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt flakes, then roll lightly with the rolling pin to press them in to the dough. Poke the circle all over with a fork to prevent the dough from puffing up while it bakes.

Gently pick up the circle using a wide spatula or your hand. Drop it *carefully!* onto your hot pizza stone. Bake until top starts to bubble, about one minute. Flip with your spatula. Bake another minute or two, until the top of the matzo is light golden and crisp; flip again. Bake one minute more, until the bubbles are golden and the matzo is a bit darker at the edges. Transfer the matzo to a cooling rack. Make the eleven remaining matzos the same way. (Note: this part of things would be much easier if you lived in ancient Egypt and could just toss your dough balls out on some super hot desert rocks to cook while you packed to flee across the Red Sea). 

(Another note: cooking all those individual matzos will take a while, and you need to be present at the oven the entire time, so make sure that you have additional activities planned for any helpers who might be hanging out in the kitchen and feeling bored while you do ‘the mommy part’ of things. Otherwise you might end up with, I don’t know, laundry soap poured all over your house. Something like that.)

Make your matzos up to two days ahead of time. Store airtight (we wrapped it in double plastic wrap, then foil, and it stayed perfect).