Kids and greens – occupy {3}

Mustard greens, dandelion greens, spinach, arugula, even plain old romaine – Jacob picks through his vegetable soup looking for the chard, and Lucas jams kale into his mouth by the fistful. Although some people are surprised by how much my kids like to eat green leafy things, I see lots of kids eat and know that mine are not alone in this veggie-love.

I also know that the older they get, the harder it will be to keep those greens front and center in their hearts and on their plates, as they spend more and more time outside of my immediate vicinity, eating on their own and with their friends.

The last few weeks have seen a proliferation of cookie recipes here (and all of them really are delicious!) along with a slew of pastries, pies and treats – so much so that my friend Liz actually suggested renaming the blog “Inherit the Butter.” But we didn’t stop purchasing processed and packaged foods just to replace them all with sugary, floury, and yes buttery homemade snacks. Although we definitely have our fair share of what Lucas (rather frantically) calls “MMMMMMMS!” most of what we eat at home falls squarely on the vegetable part of the spectrum.  Continue reading

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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.

Shining one corner – occupy {2}

No recipe in this post, but if you like food, this is important :)

Marion Nestle, in yesterday’s NYT:

Healthy eating requires a food environment that makes it easier for everyone to make better choices. It also requires a food system that makes it cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables than less healthful foods, so everyone can afford to eat healthfully. Fix the farm bill! (read the full article here)

Lots of people far more eloquent and legally versed than me are talking about the food bill – here, or here, or here. Marion Nestle calls out the food system and its role in our country’s health problems, and I think for many of us she is preaching to the choir. But this idea of a food environment, rather than just a system, is subtle – it brings the responsibility back to us as individuals, which is another way of saying that it gives us back some power. The vast behemoth of big agriculture and industrial food-product creation probably overwhelms even the bravest among us. But our own personal food environments – this is a place where we can make an impact, and see a difference, day to day.

We can teach our kids to eat healthfully, and we can ask our kids “Are you still hungry?” instead of “Are you full?” We can eat locally, vote with our dollars, keep fruits and vegetables in our kitchens instead of Oreos and Pop-Tarts. Or if we have to have the Oreos and Pop-Tarts, we can make them – leaving out the real scary stuff, eliminating the packaging, and on the best days teaching our kids about how to nurture themselves and their bodies with what they put into them.

Changing our home environments might not feel like taking on the system in the ways we want to and ultimately need to – and there is a place for big action, a place for speaking truth to power. But there is also a place for taking care of our selves and our families. We impact our own food environments every day – and I think it is important to know that it matters.  We can shine one corner of the world.

(Or paint it, as the case may be).

Cheers to all of you out there shining your corners. Thank you for feeding your families with love, and awareness, and hope for a brighter food future.

Occupy

On February 27th [2012], there was a global day of action encouraging people to Occupy Our Food Supply, and to “ensure that we can stand by the food we eat, from farm to fork.” It got me thinking about the little ways that we can all “occupy” our household food supplies; we are not going to be able to take down agribusiness individually, but I really believe that each choice that we make as individuals can have an impact. With that in mind, I offer you: a reflection on eggs.

We choose to get our eggs from Fifth Crow Farm: here is a great video about why. I think this falls in the category of an Occupied Kitchen for several reasons. For starters, industrial poultry and eggs in this country are a horrid, disgusting business, where poor farmers become indentured to big agribusinesses and profits are prioritized over animal welfare to gruesome end. I won’t buy ‘conventional’ poultry, and eggs are part of the same system.

But why not buy the “Organic” and “Cage Free” eggs at my grocery store? Well, I used to – and I think that they are a big step in the right direction, away from conventional egg production. But even organic and cage free eggs don’t take it all the way. As Teresa writes on the Fifth Crow website, happier hens mean healthier, tastier eggs:

Labeling like  “Free-Range”, “vegetarian fed”, “humane” can be misleading and confusing.  Although there are differences between these categories, they generally all refer to operations of 1,000 hens or more in large warehouses under artificial light or in some cases no light at all.  These hens eat a grain based diet of primarily corn and soy.  “Cage Free” simply means that within these warehouses they aren’t in cages.  “Free-Range”  means they have access to an outdoor run – but birds who’ve grown up inside will rarely go out, and there isn’t enough room for them all to be outside anyways.  “Vegetarian fed” just means they’re not being supplemented with meat scraps or other animal bi-products, a common industry practice.   [In contrast], our hens are outside almost all the time,  eat as much green grass and bugs as they want, and have a completely different life than any hen raised in a conventional setting.

And then there is the issue of quality – with their bright orange yolks and delicately colored shells, eggs raised at Fifth Crow are not only ethically sound, they are also beautiful and tasty! There is even research to indicate that they are healthier for us. In a nutshell – or, perhaps, an eggshell (!): by buying eggs from a farm where they are produced sustainably and healthfully, we are supporting ethical egg production, while getting to eat tastier eggs and simultaneously helping our beloved local organic farm. Occupy!

In closing, I’ll leave you with this hopeful quote from the awesome  Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.  I think she is more eloquently getting at the point I am trying to make about the eggs, and about how small steps can ultimately make big differences. She writes:

While the food industry digs in to fight public health regulations, the food movement will continue to attract support from those willing to promote a healthier and more sustainable food system. Watch for more young people going into farming and more farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, school meal initiatives, and grassroots community efforts to implement food programs and legislate local reforms. There is plenty of hope for the future in local efforts to improve school meals, reduce childhood obesity, and make healthier food more available and affordable for all.