Breakfasts of State Test Champions

April 1st, 2014 · 9 Comments · Uncategorized

Not much we can do about Common Core at the moment, except make sure our State Test warriors are sent off this week with bellies full of healthy breakfasts. A few ideas for those of you in the same boat this spring:

Yogurt Parfaits – Lately we’ve been switching out the granola for Kashi 7-Whole Grain Nuggets (Kashi’s answer to Grape Nuts). Abby appreciates a good crunch.

Breakfast Cookies – Make a batch of these ahead of time and withdraw from the cookie bank all week long. {PS: Don’t tell them there’s quinoa in there.}

Fruit Smoothies – The classic. Definitely add some protein powder (or peanut butter or avocado) to give it some staying power.

Smashed Avocado on Toast - See yesterday’s post way at the bottom. I’m beginning to think there is no snack or meal problem that this does not solve  – it’s pulled its weight as a healthy afterschool snack, pre-soccer-practice not-quite-a-snack-not-quite-a-meal, quick weekend lunch, and now, as pre-State Test brain booster.

Andy’s Oatmeal with Fruit - It takes a little while to make, but the upside is enormous here. No chance anyone’s getting hungry halfway through reading comp with this in the gut.

Good luck everyone!

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I’ll Let You Handle That

February 13th, 2014 · 37 Comments · Domestic Affairs, Vegetarian

Jenny called me at work a couple of weeks ago, on one of those gray afternoons when the temperature never rises much above 10 degrees and the dog refuses to go outside.

“I’m freezing,” she said. “How do I turn up the heat?”

“In the house, you mean?”

We’d lived in this house for ten years. This was not our first winter there.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Okay, do you see that box on the wall? The one in the living room, near the fireplace? It has digital numbers on it. That’s the thermostat.”

“I see it,” she said. “Now what?”

I’ll spare you the rest, but let me ask: Does this seem weird to you?

I could tell you how weird it seemed to me, too — how do you not know where the thermostat is?! – but I’d be lying. The truth is, it wasn’t that weird at all. I have to believe that most families have these random-seeming divisions of labor which, if you really step back and look at them — or write about them publicly on a blog — do seem pretty weird. Our house, and our marriage, is full of them. It’s practically built on them. Some of this is probably evolutionary (we have only so much bandwith, so we pool resources to survive, etc.), and some of it is probably just being happy to let someone else deal. Here are some other things that Jenny never does in our house: Replace light bulbs, pay bills, sweep the kitchen floor, cut the kids’ toenails, change the filters on our air conditioner, realize that our air conditioner has filters (and that they need changing), clean the tank of Abby’s beta fish. And here are some things I never do: Braid hair, iron anything, realize that anything needs ironing, organize closets, manage our calendar, feed the dog, sort the recycling on Wednesday mornings, hang up coats that get piled on the chair next to our front door, turn on the dreaded Sonos system.

This ad-hoc division of labor applies to our lives in the kitchen, as well. There are certain things we just close our eyes and rely on the other person to execute. (Q: And what if that other person isn’t around to execute it? A: We buy it.) For me, the idea of making, baking, and frosting a cake: unh-uh. Same goes for latkes — and for deep frying, in general. Have never done it, don’t know how to do it, don’t intend to learn. Jenny, on the other hand? She doesn’t make coffee. “Can you make some of your coffee?” she ask me on Sunday morning, as though “my coffee” is some rare, magical potion and not a matter of pouring some hot water over ground beans. How strange does all this get? Consider this: Jenny’s favorite breakfast of all time is a bowl of steel-cut McCann’s oatmeal with a little cream and fruit, AND SHE HAS NEVER MADE IT IN HER LIFE. Or, she tried once and wasn’t happy with the result and gave up forever, ceding all future oatmeal duties to me. Oatmeal is not hard to make. There is no real art to it. I am pretty sure she could (a) figure it out in about five seconds, if she tried, and (b) become a thousand times better at it than I am. But that’s not how it works, when it comes to the division of labor. Oatmeal is my thing. Mud cake is her thing. And as long as we stay in our lanes, we keep moving forward. – Andy

Andy’s Oatmeal Instructions
The only downside of steel-cut, real deal oatmeal is that it takes a while. If you’re trying to get it on the table on a Tuesday morning, as the kids are packing their backpacks and the dog needs to go out and orchestra practice starts in 25 minutes, this will not make you happy. On a Saturday morning, however, with the kids watching some SpongeBob and a cup of good coffee in your hand, and a rare “nothing day” stretching out in front of you: Yes. This humble little grain will do you right. Note: As much as I love oatmeal, I also believe that it’s all about the toppings. There must always be fruit — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas — or, if you’re in a pinch, dried cherries or cranberries work well, too. There must always be something sweet, as well, and here are my go-tos, in descending order of favoriteness: Maple cream, maple sugar, high-test maple syrup, dark brown sugar, agave. Jenny likes a few chopped almonds or pecans. Some people like a sprinkle of cinnamon. I am not one of those people.

1 cup steel cut McCann’s Irish oatmeal
3 cups water, plus another cup in reserve
1 pinch salt

In a medium saucepan, add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. When water is boiling, add 1 cup of oatmeal and stir. Reduce heat to the lowest simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally and scraping along the sides of the pot with a rubber spatula, for 25-30 minutes. If it looks like the oatmeal is getting too thick, add a little more water and stir. I like it to be almost like porridge: thick but not too thick. Top with a drizzle of milk or cream, and the toppings of your choice.

Related: You Make it, You Own it.

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Small Triumphs

September 24th, 2012 · 19 Comments · Baking and Sweets

There’s this meal — it comes every single day whether I like it or not and it is a continuing source of stress for me. At this meal, my kids turn their noses up at anything new; we’re always in a rush because we are pressed for time, and I am perenially un-inspired to come up with new things to make for them. The meal? Breakfast. Both Andy and I have gone on record declaring it the Hate Story to our house’s Dinner’s Love Story. Somehow, when the girls show up at the evening table, they show up with minds open, tastebuds flexing. They will eat oysters and duck curry and on occasion have been known to fight me for the last piece of Hamachi crudo. But at breakfast? Forget it. If it’s not one of the SuperStarches of the Morning Table (French Toast, Pancakes, Bagels) they’re not interested.

Until now. I’m almost afraid to type this for fear of jinxing things, but we seem to be in a good place — thanks to Abby’s sudden affection for the overpriced, oversweetened Starbucks parfaits, and Mom’s polite suggestion to maybe just maybe have one at a different time of day? Like say…Breakfast? Phoebe got on board as soon as I told her we could make the granola and she could customize the batch however she liked it.

And we were off.

The backbone: I start with a simplified version of the one I loved in the Times last yearOats, brown sugar, coconut, syrup, oil, salt, and cinnamon.

Then we add the Variables: Pistachios, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, raisins, dried cherries, cardamom. Not shown: pepitas, hazelnuts, chopped walnuts, flaxseed, sesame, millet, dried pineapple, apricots, or apples.

Basic Granola

In a large bowl, mix together:

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey (have not tried agave, but I will very soon)
1/2 cup oil (I like olive oil, but anything works)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Then mix in your pre-bake extras (any or all of the following):

1 1/2 cups nuts (such as pistachios, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, pepitas, hazelnuts, chopped walnuts)
1/2 cup coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1/4 cup of variables (such as millet, sesame seeds)

Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake at 300°F for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer granola to a large bowl and let cool.

Finish by tossing in some post-bake extras.
handful of M&Ms, chocolate chips, carobs
handful of dried fruit such as: dried cherries, apricots, raisins, pineapples, apples.

Store in an easily accessible jar. To make parfaits, layer plain yogurt, granola, honey, and fresh fruit (such as jarred Morello cherries from Trader Joe’s — pictured — or pomegranate seeds, strawberries, blueberries) in the most fun glass you can find.

Note: Phoebe picked the basic formula plus coconut flakes plus pistachios and almonds. She likes hers with no fresh fruit. Abby takes hers with cherries and pomegranate seeds.

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Cookies for Breakfast

January 6th, 2012 · 48 Comments · Baking and Sweets

I’m already over Andy’s goals for me and onto better things — namely, Bon Appetit‘s list of  25 Things to Eat, Drink, and Cook in 2012. In particular, please check out #24, a quinoa breakfast cookie I developed for them a few months back. I wouldn’t exactly call one of these lo-cal, but I can at least call it the healthiest possible cookie you can get away with still calling a cookie. I’m certain that if I added one more flax seed, the kids would sniff out something suspicious. (And btw: No need to tell anyone about the quinoa — you can’t see it once the cookies are baked.)

P.S. A cool little fact that I’m proud of: This is the 400th post on Dinner: A Love Story. Four hundred! Crazy right? OK, that’s it. I said it. In lieu of flowers and congratulations, you can just tell me what your favorite DALS recipe is — or even better, you can just follow me on Twitter! (Four hundred posts ago, I wouldn’t have ever believed those words would shoot so effortlessly out of my fingertips.)

Thanks to everyone out there for keeping this blog alive. I really mean that — we are so lucky to have such nice, thoughtful, well-read readers.

And now back to the cookies… (more…)

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Is Family Breakfast the New Family Dinner?

August 4th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Rituals, Vegetarian

And by that question I mean, is it easier for families to get everyone around the table at the same time eating the same thing first thing in the morning — before the playdates and the meetings and the deadlines conspire to pull everyone in different directions?

In case you can’t tell by now, we’re big fans of a shared meal at the end of the day. But that’s most likely because, after a few harrowing years with apron-hangers and witching-hours babies, we’ve found our dinner rhythm. We know the meals we can make blindfolded. We know what kind of surgery — rice removal surgery — has to be performed on the porcupine meatballs in order for Phoebe to eat them. But if morning is the best time for your family to unplug and connect — what’s stopping you from declaring breakfast the new family dinner? Actuallly….What’s stopping you from declaring the all-parties-present road trip or bike ride or the weekend hike the new family dinner?

For all of our inspired steaks and salads, we here at DALS haven’t yet cracked the breakfast code. Every week at Trader Joe’s we beg the girls to keep breakfast in mind as they shop — we will buy them anything if it doesn’t fall into the starch-fest category, aka pancakes, bagels, waffles, french toast, aka their morning-time default mode. (Our morningtime default mode: Smoothies, which the girls go back and forth craving and rejecting.) But no matter how many cartons of strawberry yogurt and granola we lug home, we’re usually back to our pancake routine by Wednesday. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll have Nigella’s homemade mix in the countertop canister, but it’s usually Trader’s buttermilk batter we’re shaping into silver dollars and the girls’ initials. If we’re going to have the same thing every day, might as well make it interesting.

Initial Pancakes (shown above) I find they turn out better when you drizzle the letter into the pan in its mirror image and then flip to its correct positioning.

Fakey Crepey Remember when we handed the girls ten bucks and challenged them to find something new at the farmer’s market? The first time they came back with lavendar honey and two sourdough rolls. The second time, they wisened up and found the newest vendor at the market: they found the crepe guy. With his French accent, twirly wand, and charming little cones,  I am no match for him, but I make what Abby now calls my “Fakey Crepey,” achieved by thinning out my pancake batter with milk, then smearing Nutella across the middle. It ain’t Paris, but it’ll do for now.

Silver Dollar Stack A perennial favorite in my house. (How could it not be?) The trick is to pile the tiny cakes as dramatically high as possible.

Nine Years. Nine Blueberries When I was six, I made my mother insert six blueberries into my pancake. When I turned seven, I made her insert seven. The ritual continued for an embarrassingly long time. When I told Phoebe about it, she responded “Grandma better get ready to make you a big pancake next time!” And then: “Make me one with nine!”

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Breakfast of Champions: French Toast Sticks

May 20th, 2011 · 15 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Posts by Andy, Quick, Rituals

In the very early days of DALS, I wrote a short post about my Aunt Patty, who introduced us to the life-altering pleasures of (a) Marcella Hazan, and (b) Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork loin. Patty did a lot of things well in the kitchen, that rare person whose talents matched her ambitions. Porchettas; marinated, butterflied, grilled legs of lamb; real tiramisu with real, espresso-soaked lady fingers and hand-whipped cream; lemon-zested ricotta cheesecakes in spring-form pans: the woman could flat-out bring it in the food department. But like any artist, no matter how inspired, she had things she was good at, and things she was great at.

She was great at breakfast. (more…)

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The Morning Routine

April 27th, 2010 · 8 Comments · Drinks, Posts by Andy, Rituals

Every morning for pretty much the last ten years, I’ve made a smoothie for breakfast. I first started making them because they seemed like a relatively painless way to get my daily allowance of fruit — fruit which, for whatever reason, I never seemed to get around to eating. But then I started to notice (imagine?) something: they made me feel good — or, at least, better than a big bagel or a plate of bacon and eggs. Jenny gradually became addicted, too, and the smoothie became our morning routine. The first thing she would do, upon wandering into the kitchen in her slippers on Saturday morning, was walk over to the blender on the counter and pour herself a big glass. Even when Phoebe was newly born, and Jenny was in the throes of maternity leave, the tradition marched on. Before leaving for work in the morning, I’d put a smoothie in the refrigerator, so she could have it when she woke up. As soon as Phoebe was old enough to try one, we got her hooked, too. Both our kids love smoothies now. They call them “fruit shakes” — as in, “Daddy! WHERE’S MY FRUIT SHAKE???” — and they have one almost every morning (along with their pancakes… or french toast… or challah with jam… or whatever other starchfest is is on the menu that day).  They, unlike me, prefer theirs in a tiny cup. No, not the blue one, the pink one. With a bendy straw in it. The pink straw. Pink! No, light pink, not dark! Yes, daddy. Good. –Andy

Once you get into smoothie habit, you’ll want to keep it going, too. They also make good after school snacks.

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