April 12, 2015

Sweet Potato Stars with Cinnamon Butter

It's a handkerchief-dabbing kind of week for me. My daughter, Nova, turned six months old on Easter, and she's about to try solid food.

Back in September of 2011, I fastidiously planned Darwin's first meal. He was to receive a schmear of baked organic sweet potato on a plate that he could experiment with/potentially consume at the same time that I ate baked sweet potato off my own plate (along with roasted chicken and a spinach salad) while his Dad video-taped the event.

I remember that meal well; anyway, I can watch the footage whenever I want. On camera, baby Darwin gums the plate, smashes the orange dollop with his hands, and ultimately drools on about a quarter teaspoon of his food. The end.

It's not a lot to see, and in fact, he didn't really take to solid food for another three months. But that first feeding is a big old emotional deal, isn't it? A nibble of food now means one less sip of breast milk later. It marks a separation, the moment the shared biology of two bodies begins, just barely, to disengage. A friend described the feeling well, reflecting on her son's first meal: "I took a picture of him, first," she said: a record. "I channeled every molecule of this person through my body." 

How true. Here is my daughter, in her Easter dress, on her half-year birthday. I channeled every molecule of this person through my body:

Despite the gravity of the first feeding, or maybe because of it, I made an effort to approach Nova's first meal casually. I thought I'd offer sweet potato first, but hey, maybe it would be avocado. Maybe I'd serve her in her high chair, or maybe I'd let her lick a little mash from my finger. Maybe it would be this week or maybe it would be next. I waited for the Mood, and today, the Mood knocked.

Scott came home from the city in the evening.

"I gave Nova some [soft-steamed] carrot sticks today," I said.

"Did you videotape it?"


"How did she do?"

"She put one in her mouth, and licked it, and made a face."

"It sounds like it went well, then."

And it did go well, in that now-familiar, anticlimactic way. I'll remember Nova's squirming weight in my lap, and the bright orange shape poking between her small fingers, shiny with baby drool. As the years roll on, I'll allow myself some occasional, quiet sentiment about it. But for now, it's time we got used to washing food from bibs and fingers and the floor under a baby's chair, again.

Next up? Sweet potatoes. Nova, my bright star, and all you babies beginning your journeys as eaters, these sweet potatoes are for you. May you love and be nourished by food for a hundred years!


Sweet Potato Stars with Cinnamon Butter
Makes ~ 15 stars
Materials: one small (1.5-inch) tin-plated star cookie cutter (I use the smallest of this set.)

1 sweet potato
1 pat unsalted butter
dash cinnamon

Peel the sweet potato, and slice it into rounds 1/4 inch thick or slightly less.

Use the cookie cutter to punch star shapes out of the middle of each round.* Use a small bamboo cutting board to help safely press the cutter down.

Fill a pot with an inch of water and a steam basket; add the stars and steam, covered, for 5-10 minutes, or until the stars are tender.

Remove from heat and toss with butter and a dash of cinnamon. Serve.

*PLEASE save the outer edges! Steam them and eat them yourself, or serve them to the kids at another meal.

April 6, 2015

Spring Vegetable Mini-Quiches

It's springtime! -Ish. It's 55 degrees. We've waited long enough. We go out to the yard, Darwin and me and Nova wrapped to my chest in her jammies and soft hat.

We head for the backyard compost heap, garden tools in hand. The heap rises up from the ground like I remember it from the fall, a slurry of onion skins, banana peels, egg shells, broccoli stalks, collapsed pumpkins, pineapple tops, kale stems, celery butts, sweet potato peels, and many unidentifiable bits and scraps, plus little oval produce stickers swirling in the middle like a minor trash gyre.

Go ahead and hack at it, I tell Darwin, who takes his kid-sized purple hoe to the pile. I angle my shovel into the edge, and together we uncover the black, fertile interior of the pile: the worm's work.

More than robins or crocuses or disappearing snow, it's this big heap of scraps that excites me for spring. Soon we'll smooth this good compost into the garden beds, sprinkle rows of tiny seeds into the ground, and... well, wait, some more. We'll wait for a long time. But the waiting after planting is different, delicious.

In the meantime, we leave our mud-crusted boots on the welcome mat, and do delicious indoors, conjuring spring with miniature quiches made from of-the-moment asparagus, sweet peas, and tender carrots in cups of rich egg and cheese.

Eat them warm or cool, in your kitchen, at school, or at work, for breakfast or dinner. Enjoy making them, and enjoy eating them; you know what to do with the scraps.


Spring Vegetable Mini-Quiches
Makes 12 mini-quiches

4 eggs
1/4 large sweet onion, chopped small
1 med-large carrot, peeled and chopped small
10 medium asparagus spears, chopped small
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated whole milk Mozzarella
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
salt* and black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 325, and line a muffin tin with silicon liners. (Aluminum liners work, but mine always come away from the liners flawlessly when I use silicon.)

In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook onions and carrots in a swirl of EVOO until the vegetables are translucent and softening, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat together eggs with Mozzarella, Parmesan, and cottage cheeses. Add pepper and salt, if using.

Add asparagus to the vegetables on the stove, and saute a few minutes more.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the frozen peas, letting the peas cool off the mixture slightly.

Add the vegetables to the egg bowl, and stir to combine.

Spoon the egg/veggie mixture into the lined muffin tin, and bake until centers are completely set and tops are just barely toasting, 20-25 minutes.

Cool ten minutes, then serve.

*I don't add salt, because the Parmesan cheese is salty. Use your own judgement.

April 2, 2015

Pin It Party!

Welcome, friends! I'm excited to take part in my second Lean Green Bean Pin It Party today.

If you're new here, here's what we do:
Whole, minimally-processed foods
Vegetables and fruits with every meal and snack
Bold flavors for kids AND Moms and Dads

Enjoy your stay, and if you like us, come "Like" us on Facebook, too! Thanks for your support and happy pinning. :)

Nutty, homemade toasted oat cereal with no added sugar and 100% whole grains!

A fun spring treat and a riff on the popular "Energy Bite" recipes with crunchy sunflower seeds instead of flax.

"A big, creamy, chicken-y, heartland casserole!"

Fast, creamy refried beans, dotted with kid-friendly veggies like zucchini and corn.

Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Whip

Power-food for baby! Sweet potato whipped with creamy natural peanut butter.

March 29, 2015

No-Bake Speckled Energy "Eggs"

I admit to being kind of a purist when it comes to sweeteners. I use fruit almost exclusively to sweeten our family's muffins, cookies, and holiday treats. Recently, though, I've been looking longingly at recipes for sticky, no-bake "Energy Bites" like these and these and these, which are sweetened with an amount of honey that I dare say is measured not in tablespoons, but in cups. CUPS. Well, a third of a cup, anyway.

So I put on my substitutions hat. I tried a batch made with dates instead of honey, but the bites crumbled. I tried again, switching up ingredient ratios: Energy Gravel. I was dying to get it right, but I just couldn't.

Finally, I had to do something not-too-easy for me, because I was starting to feel a little haunted by these recipes. I had to just use the flippin' honey.

My kids aren't old enough to say, just use the flippin' honey, Mama! But when they are, I hope they'll help be that voice in our household. Because not only does honey bind together all these beautiful bits of seed and grain with an almost-floral sweetness, it's also one of life's little pleasures, in moderation.

And for an occasional treat, you can't do much better.

Here's what you get in these eggs:
100% whole grains
Whole-food plant protein
Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and coconut
Antioxidant-rich honey (instead of sugar)

A sweet indulgence you can make with love and share with your kids.

These nutty, chewy eggs are great for an Easter party potluck, or packed in a bento lunch as a dessert treat. And for me, they became part of my parent-education, reminding me to sometimes yield: to be the egg, not the eggshell.


No-Bake Speckled Energy "Eggs"
Makes ~ 15 eggs

1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, coarsely ground*
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Scoop and mash the mixture with the back of a spoon until they are well-combined.

Chill for 30 minutes or more.

Using your hands, roll the dough first into balls about one inch in diameter. Then shape each ball with your fingers to make egg-shapes.

Serve or chill in the fridge or freezer until ready to eat.

*I put my seeds in a sandwich baggie and break them up a bit with the back of a sturdy measuring cup.

March 22, 2015

Cheater Refried Beans

Darwin started preschool this year. Two mornings a week, his Dad drives him downtown and escorts him into a room of smiling teachers and hand puppets and alphabet posters.

They call it "drop-off," which sounds like some kind of cliff, or the part of the ocean where the sand bottoms out, and I find this aptly mysterious. It's hard to get information out of him about school, or what he thinks of it. When I ask, he's usually vague and positive ("it was good.")

Later, out of the blue, he'll start singing a song I've never heard before, or he'll say something like, "I made a new friend in class today."

"You did?" I'll ask. "What is your friend's name?"

"I don't remember. She brings a big blanket to school every day."

"Oh," I'll say, "well, that's cool," and I'll blink a little in amazement.

While Darwin is apart from us, singing and building things and fusing synapses of all sorts, I cook. It's almost the opposite of school: a meditative erasure. I do beans a lot on school mornings, because I can soak them the night before, and because I love and believe in beans, in a not-entirely-explainable but essential way.

These particular, delicious beans, my "cheater" beans, get their tiny southwestern kick from regular old jarred salsa. Like all beans, pintos come with plenty of protein, fiber, iron, and B-vitamins. They're savory and satisfying, speckled with kid-friendly veggies like chopped zucchini and sweet corn. Darwin, who'll eat almost any of my bean concoctions, likes this one the best.

He comes home from school with some be-pom-pommed craft in his hand and I give him a kiss and a bowl of beans, and then we go on with our day, filled up by good things.


Cheater Refried Beans
Serves 6

1 pound dried pinto beans, soaked overnight, rinsed, and drained
1 sweet onion, chopped small
1 small zucchini squash, sliced into quarter moons (optional)
3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)
1 cup of good jarred salsa
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbls. butter
Toppings: fresh cilantro, avocado, grated cheese, sour cream, etc.!

Cook pinto beans in a pot (cover with water and simmer one hour or until tender) or a pressure cooker (our method--much faster!)

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, saute onion in butter over medium heat for about fifteen minutes, stirring frequently as it softens and begins to brown.

Add zucchini, if using, and saute five minutes.

Drain cooked beans and add to the soup pot.

Add salsa, and cumin, and salt, and bring the mixture to a bubble for about ten minutes to deepen flavors. If the beans begin to stick, add water a quarter cup at a time.

Add corn and remove from heat.

Serve garnished with shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or chopped fresh cilantro.

March 15, 2015

3-Ingredient Tropical Green Smoothie

I did the math: over a few fervent years in the mid-2000s, I drank around 1,500 green smoothies. We lived in San Diego at the time, where for a dollar, you could buy a bunch of organic parsley the size of a broom. I'd fill our grocery basket with strawberries and Valencia oranges and misty, sparkling bunches of spinach and kale. Then I'd strap everything to the back of my bike and ride home along the Pacific Beach boardwalk. Oh, those memories! Misty and sparkling indeed.

We were years from starting a family, but I knew I was drinking green smoothies for the sake of our future kids. Smoothies were a gateway to healthy eating for me, and they can be a powerful tool for kids, too, on their path to enjoying dark green leafy veggies.

Here's one of my favorite smoothie combinations, which provides a delicious and effortless serving of fresh fruit and greens. It's rich in Vitamin K, folate, fiber, and Vitamin C, and its tropical sweetness will win over all of kid-kind. You do NOT need a high-powered blender for this recipe; the spinach leaves are tender enough that any old lemon will grind them up.

Drink up, little ones! Cheers to Spring!


3-Ingredient Tropical Green Smoothie
Makes ~ 1 pint

1 frozen banana
1 cup fresh pineapple
2 packed cups fresh, raw spinach (more if you like!)

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup of cold water.  Blend until completely smooth and enjoy immediately.

March 8, 2015

Tamari Tofu Steaks

10:30pm. Dinosaur footie pajamas. Darwin is still awake, sitting backwards in a chair, watching me make tofu. I whisk the glossy marinade with a fork, then press dry each tofu slice with a flour sack towel.

"Mama's making tofu," Darwin calls down the hall to his Daddy. Bedtime isn't happening, but we're making do: I'm getting ahead with food prep while Triceratops Toes chatters and stalls. Someday he won't want to hang out with me when it's late and he's fighting sleep. I remind myself of this while I slip the fragrant pan into the oven.

I set the oven timer. Waiting time.

What is tofu, really? Don't laugh. I always forget and have to look it up. Tofu starts when whole soybeans are soaked, ground, and mixed with water. The resulting soy milk is coagulated with a salt (magnesium chloride) and the curds are pressed and cut into blocks. That's it. Even though it looks suspiciously modern and geometrical in its little plastic bathtub, tofu is a traditional, minimally-processed food, and one with tasty potential.

This recipe is our favorite preparation. The little steaks are sweet and salty, chewy and quick-to-make. We like them best cold, cut into rectangles and skewered with a food pick. They're a convenient, sustaining and sustainable protein, perfect on a snack plate of veggies or at breakfast-time, in place of eggs.

It's 11:15pm now, and somewhere between the flipping of the tofu and its cooling en route to the fridge, Darwin has wandered back into his room and fallen asleep. The monitor in the baby's room reports silence. The day is almost done.

So here it is: my Put-The-Kids-To-Bed, Bang-Out-A-Batch-Of-Tofu recipe. Everyone has one of those, right? No? Well, have mine.


Tamari Tofu Steaks
Makes ~12 tofu steaks

1 14-16oz container firm tofu
2 Tbls. tamari or soy sauce
1 Tbls. sesame oil
1 Tbls. unsweetened rice vinegar
1 Tbls. honey or real maple syrup
dash onion powder
dash garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 400, and line an aluminum cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Drain tofu, and slice into thin rectangles.

Using a clean flour sack towel or a few paper towels, press the slices of tofu gently but firmly, until they give up most of their water.

In a small bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients.

Dredge each piece of tofu in the marinade, then place it on the cookie sheet. Space the steaks roughly evenly. Save any leftover marinade.

Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the steaks and drizzle any remaining marinade on them. (Try to avoid letting the marinade pool on the baking sheet; it will burn.)

Bake for another 15 minutes, then remove the steaks and let them cool slightly before serving. Or, cool completely and chill for later.