The Magic Maple Marinade and Other Stories

Over the weekend, I made my own mayonnaise. You’ll be hearing more about this, but beyond the general feeling of triumph I experienced by my accomplishment, I had to take a step back and say, “I can’t believe I’m making my own mayonnaise. How much will DALS readers of babies and toddlers resent me for having time to do something so indulgent?”  With this in mind, it’s my honor to present today’s guest-poster, writer and editor Rory Evans. In addition to being one of DALS most faithful commenters (your avatar is safe with me!) Rory was one of my first mentors in magazines — we first met at Real Simple in 2001 — and I know I speak for a lot of writers when I say her hand-scribbled line-edits and queries on manuscripts taught me more about writing than almost anyone else I can think of. She is also the mother of a 2-year-old, which means she is more in the guerilla mode of toddler-feeding phase than the homemade mayo-making one. I keep her around for this reason, but also because every year on my birthday, she sends me this, much to the delight of my daughters and my neighbors and whoever else I invite to share in the bounty. Here, Rory shares a few tried-and-true tactics that have worked at her family table including a marinade made from the three ingredients above that I’ve already used a half dozen times since she told me about it last month. Thanks Rory!

A few nights ago, my 2-year-old daughter Evan ate everything off her plate. And then—holy role reversal!—she started picking off mine. The last time I had seen her ingest anything so quickly was when she was six days old, and downed two ounces of formula in a desperate, half-minute suck. (It was, we realized, the first food she had eaten in her 144-hour life—all those endless “breastfeeding” sessions had been a ruse. Nothing had been coming out.)

It will likely be years before she replicates this feat. And it of course made me try to decode what we had put before her. Here’s what she ate: boneless pork chop and a salad made with baby spinach, red onion, and sliced strawberries (North Shore of Boston people: Do they still serve this at every wedding held at Salem Country Club in Peabody?). The common ingredient, I realized? Maple syrup (in the marinade, along with rice vinegar and soy sauce; and in the dressing, with red wine vinegar and olive oil). Oh, “candy pork” and “candy salad,” I thought—remembering my friend Molly’s suggestion years ago to refer to anything even slightly sweet as “candy” and your kids will eat it.

If there is a blessing to having been a dried-up old bag when my daughter was born (I was 18 days shy of turning 40), it’s this: Most of my friends had had their kids years and years before, and I’d heard their stories about willful toddlers and Olympic-level picky eaters (my desk was about 20 feet from Jenny’s during that era when Abby decided to go on her 5-week solid food strike) I remembered a few of their various tricks: like not only Molly’s “candy” modifier, but also her “chicken fish” trick—her son would eat any kind of chicken, so she just started referring to any kind of fish as chicken fish. (See also: Jenny’s “Princess fish,” which I’ve also put to good use.) Since Evan mysteriously loves broccoli, I’ve started calling kale “broccoli salad” and cauliflower “white broccoli” with minimal blowback.

She is also a fan of “salad surprise,” where something we know she loves is hidden under a mound of mulch/greens. As in, the strawberries with the spinach, or the raisins that go into a kale salad. Of course, she’s been known to just push the leaves aside and go for the treat, but she eventually gets to the rest. Naturally, I live in fear of her some day being on to my tricks, when she decides that she’ll only ever eat another vegetable if it’s entirely camouflaged in some kind of Jessica Seinfeld cupcake. So I ask you, dear Jenny’s reader: What worked for you? Is there more dinnertime doublespeak that I should know about?


Maple Candy Pork Chops
Rory said she makes the marinade mostly by feel. Place four boneless center cut pork chops in a zip top bag. Add 1/3 cup of syrup, 2 to 3 tablespoons of canola, a bunch of glugs of soy sauce (about 1/4 cup), and then the same amount of rice vinegar, and a shake or two of powdered garlic (or if you are feeling ambitious, one whole clove, halved). Marinate at least an hour and a half and up to overnight. When ready to cook, place chops on an unlined cookie sheet, which most certainly should be lined with foil, and roast at 450°F for about maybe 15 – 20 minutes, flipping once half way through.

Salad Surprise with Strawberries
Toss 1 bag baby spinach, a handful of sliced strawberries, and a tablespoon or two of super thinly sliced red onion. I tossed it with a dressing made from 1 tablespoon maple syrup, apple cider vinegar (insert kate saying, “page turner!”), and olive oil, a pinch of powdered garlic, and a hint of ground cinnamon.


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KK Strick

I love easy homemade marinades! One similar to this is a staple in my house for all pork (esp tenderloin on the grill!)

I often add in a little powdered ginger for extra flavor and health benefits. 🙂 (maybe even a little honey or hoison occasionally.)

p.s. For pickles and giggles – I read your newsletter, do I win the Jane Marvel tote?


Ha! My 3-yr-old daughter’s all-purpose condiment is maple syrup. She says, “I know! We should put maple syrup on this!” about everything from PB&J to garlic mashed potatoes. She’s usually right.

My trick to get her to eat new things is to put it in a sauce and call it “Dippin’ sauce.” That works about 50% of the time. Also she will generally try something if I call it “magic.” As in “Magic noodles” (rice noodles with stir-fried veggies).

Amanda @ DinnersintheFourOneFive

I used the line that eating fish made you swim better – like a real fish. My son would gobble his fish and then wildly swing his arms around thinking it was true.

I am going to use the salad surprise this week though, what a great idea!!!


my 3-year old loves snacks. Lunch and Dinner, not so much. So we tell him we’re having “lunch snacks” or “dinner snacks”. works like a charm.


It is more a question of what have I NOT done. Let’s see…brussel sprouts were “Barbie Lettuce”, broccoli was “trees”, and I could put anything in a brown paper bag, draw a smiley face on it and write “Happy Mommy Meal” and place a forgotten tiny toy or note inside and it was consumed with gusto. Fun to think about all of this since my oldest “baby” graduates from high school in a few weeks!


My kids have never been too keen on soup, but my husband and I could eat soup every night of the week quiet happily. We started serving all sorts of soups and chowders to the kids in small bowls with biscuits, warm pita, or cornbread and called it “dipping sauce.” It’s amazing how much faster “dipping sauce” disappears than “soup.”


I have been known to add the word “party” to a dish I feared may be less than popular. Example: “party macand cheese” had bits of shredded carrots and beets. In general, and maybe this is just my kid (who is almost 10 and is still this way), I find that breaking adult food down into a manageable size and/ or texture helps a lot. Full-sized lettuce leaves induce salad refusal in my house, but chopped salad is happily consumed. Etc…..


Here is another quick maple salad dressing recipe: 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or other white vinegar and 1/2 cup vegetable oil. Whisk together first 3 ingredients and slowly whisk in oil season with salt and pepper to taste. I make a salad with field greens, apples, craisins and raisins and the sweet pecans from Trader Joe’s delicious!


We serve dip with every meal. Kids are freaks for dipping their food. Sometimes we make fancy homemade mayo with garlic and red pepper, sometimes it’s just barbecue sauce from a jar. No matter. It almost always works.

We call all julienned vegetables and fruits “fries”. Carrot fries, parsnip fries, melon fries… preferably served with dip. There’s a chance my kids might grow up unable to recognize a vegetable in its original form, but I’ll worry about that later.


I have Charlie and Lola, I will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato to thank for Moon Squirters (cherry tomatoes).


I just loved this post and all the comments that followed. We certainly have a few tricks, but we tell the kids the proper names of what they are eating. Then, expecting rejection, we make a game up. Our favorite game right now is “Who can take the teeniest bite?” Each child has to take the eentsiest, teensiest bite of an objectionable food (the veggies, of course). After an initial sampling, they usually surprise us and eat some more.


We called salmon “pink chicken” for years… definitely worked until I forgot my daughter could read and spotted it under fish on a restaurant menu. At least we had 6 good years!


I know this is a horrible habit, but i’ve found that letting my daughter sit on my lap for (occasionally) the first few or (most often) the last few bites can get her to eat whatever the offending food is. I can’t decide which will put an end to this ritual–her shame or sheer size?


Ah, Rory, I have admired your writing from afar for many years! My little dude is just nine months, but at this point he is totally into kale. I’ll take it!


This looks great! I’ve got pork chops marinating for tonight’s dinner. I’m even going to try serving the salad to my kids (4 under 7) …. Unchartered territory! Hope they love it as much as your delish bolognaise.

DeeDee V.

I have found that the make your own works for us. Salad, pizza, tacos…whatever. They always eat more if they had a hand in making it and we are consistently surprised when they willingly add what we thought would be the “problem” ingredient!

p.s. I read your newsletter, do I win the Jane Marvel tote?


In the beginning, my daughter would eat better off a toothpick… so we had “chicken lollipops” broccoli lollipops etc…. now that she is 6 we have advanced to pizza- chicken pizza, meatball pizza- all with sauce and mozzarella cheese!

And the very very best invention is Pepperidge Farm’s whole wheat goldfish sandwich bread… bc both kids will eat anything on fishy bread!


My son decided he disliked “spinach” but he loved “dark green lettuce.”


Hey Rory, It is me, Stephanie the plaid dress wearer!! I have been reading this blog for some time and just noticed your post! I use a lot of recipes from this blog, but one of our favorites is salmon baked with crumbled potato chips with dill, salt and pepper on top of it. It is a huge hit! The kids think it is great they get to eat potato chips for dinner, little do they notice the salmon attacked to it!!

Say hi to J for me!!


I, like Stephanie, have a oldest child who is graduating HS in a few weeks, but here are a few of our tricks: “cheesy” anything (he finally loves eggs), a “no thank-you” portion (just one bite, and eventually they’ll love it, tho it may takes months), organic mac & cheese with every meal so they have a comfort food to accompany the new foods (the organic version tastes much better as leftovers), and finally the Carrot Game, where we pass around a bowl of baby carrots. Everyone takes 3 at a time, and the person who takes the last carrot gets a prize.


My kids ate pork chops last night! And spinach! (Leafs, as they called it.) Thank you!!!


My daughter Lily won’t eat cheese, yoghurt, bananas or eggs…or so she thinks (mwah-ha-ha). She will eat ‘pizza flavour’ – code name Cheese! She will eat ‘sour cream’ code name Yoghurt. Eggs can be smuggled in but bananas are still a deal breaker.


These pork chops sound fabulous! Taking some chops out of the freezer right now.

Oh and I Liked Bodum on Facebook. Do I win the Newsletter Prize? 🙂