One of my all time favorite sandwiches is the Cubano: roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, dill pickles and mustard all smashed together and grilled on a soft white sandwich roll. Oh, it’s decadent and a testament to my continued failure at vegetarianism. But, no matter—I had to do something with those leftover grilled country style ribs. The kiddos each got an itty bitty Cubano in their lunch boxes today. On the side is a nice, fresh fruit salad with oranges, kiwis and apples. I also threw in some Goldfish and dried apricots. Oh, and about that big marshmallow in the center: it’s from the Epic LEGO Cake project for Iain’s birthday.
This past weekend, we celebrated my sweet Iain’s 8th birthday. While trying to come up with a cool birthday cake concept, I stumbled upon the LEGO cake. Actually, I think it’s technically called the Building Bricks cake, because, LEGO is a registered trademark, of course. But, let’s just call it what it is: a cake inspired by the most awesome kid’s toy ever invented.
The cake is red velvet and I used Deb Perlman’s excellent instructions for making the cake itself.
For constructing and decorating the cake, I followed the hilarious Rosanna Pansino’s (of Nerdy Nummies) video. Liliana watched this video at least 15 times, so we wouldn’t make any mistakes.
Making the LEGO cake was super fun, but it was definitely a time consuming project. I recommend going with the marshmallow pips, because trying to frost the little mini cupcakes was a nightmare. Also, give yourself two days if possible: one day for baking and one day for decorating. The cake recipe that I used made one 9 x 13 cake and 24 mini cupcakes. The cake gets cut apart in order to make two long bricks and two little square brick cakes, so you will need to make 4 colors of frosting. I doubled Deb’s cream cheese frosting recipe and had just enough for the four LEGO cakes. To see the whole process in 30 sections, check out my little stop action video.
Sunday barbecue was a big meat fest, because my Dad is in town for a week to celebrate my big dude’s 8th birthday. All the grandparents came over last night for a little bbq love. Last night’s main feature was boneless country style pork ribs with both a spice rub and a nice slathering of bbq sauce. Today the kiddos get thinly sliced bbq pork and some leftover roasted potatoes for lunch. I also packed some crackers—Goldfish and Wheat Thins—and cheddar cheese, as well as: slices of celery, carrots and apples. It’s quite to colorful lunch today.
I’ve talked about my intense love of Nilla Wafers before. Since today is a Friday and it’s a Friday before Iain’s 8th birthday and I’m feeling celebratory, I decided to make little Nilla Wafer sandwiches for lunch. Sometimes, when making Nilla Wafer sandwiches, a little sandwich has been known to jump into my mouth. Mmm. These little yummies are filled with sunflower seed butter and sliced apples. But, imagine the possibilities: nutella and bananas, peanut butter and dates, cream cheese and strawberries… One of my favorite desserts is a little teeny tiny Nilla Wafer ice cream sandwich: so elegant and portion-controlled. Okay, I have to stop thinking about Nilla Wafers, because, right now, there is a box within my reach and that’s a dangerous thing. With the Nilla Wafer nummies, I also included some yogurt and Crazy Good Granola. Let me tell you, this is a crazy good lunch. I just hope the kiddos find it within themselves to eat all the carrots and celery.
Lunch today is pretty good, although, not quite crazy good like yesterday. The sandwich, made on a whole wheat sesame bun, is a smoked turkey and cheese (cheddar and mozzarella) panini with dill pickles. I put some sugar snap peas and carrot slices on the side. This lunch needed a little more orange, so I added some cheddar Goldfish and dried apricots. Fruit today is nothing exotic—just half of an apple.
Granola is one of those things that is super easy to make. It is also fairly cheap, since the main ingredient is rolled oats. I haven’t done a cost analysis on homemade granola versus packaged cereal because, well, I don’t know how to do a cost analysis. However, I suspect that it’s cheaper than many fancy whole grain (!) organic (!) healthy (!) cereals. A couple of days ago I made a batch of Crazy Good Granola. In fact, this granola is so good, it might just make you cry. I used Melissa Clark’s Olive Oil Granola as a starting point, but I modified it to be nut-free and a little less sweet. For today’s lunch, I made a little yogurt parfait with plain whole milk yogurt, honey, Crazy Good Granola and dried blueberries. It always seems like a granola parfait should be served with a sweeter sandwich, so I made sunflower seed butter and blueberry jam sandwiches. Strawberries and a few chocolate chips complete this delicious lunch. Oh, and that Crazy Good Granola was my crazy good breakfast this morning:
*Cooking Tip: Crazy Good Granola (adapted from the genius food writer Melissa Clark)
- 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 1/2 cups raw pepitas
- 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Spread mixture on a foil or parchment lined rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until golden brown and well toasted. Let the granola cool completely before putting it in a big glass jar. I kept this granola pretty plain, because sometimes the kiddos can get picky about dried fruit. “I’m not really crazy about raisins.” “I don’t really like these dried apricots.” Of course, you can make granola to your own personal taste and dietary needs. That’s why granola is the best thing ever. I love granola with golden raisins, dried apricots and cashews. Pistachios and unsweetened coconut chips are also nice add-ins. You can even use pureed dates as a sweetener if you don’t want to add any sugar, honey or syrup. I’ve tried lots of different granola recipes, but this one is my new favorite.
Spaghetti with homemade meat sauce was my absolute favorite meal growing up. What kid doesn’t love a spaghetti dinner? Last night I made spaghetti (well, fettuccini, actually) and no meat lentil sauce. If you are a vegetarian (or a flexitarian who eats just about anything) and like things to taste meaty, lentils and mushrooms are your best friends. To add lentils to your pasta sauce, cook the lentils first, drain off any excess liquid, and add the lentils to homemade or bottled marinara sauce. I like to mash the lentils up a bit with a potato masher—this thickens the sauce nicely. The kiddos are pretty good about eating lentils because lentils are, in fact, super yummy. They’re not fooled into thinking that lentils are ground lamb, but they don’t complain either. I used some of the leftover lentil sauce to make today’s pizza bagels.
For my own lunch, I made one of my favorite working from home lunches: the one egg frittata:
I started by preheating the oven to 400˚ and heating about a tablespoon of olive oil in a small cast iron pan. While the oil was getting hot, I chopped up some kale and threw it in the pan for a quick saute. Then, I chopped up some leftover noodles and added those to the pan along with a nice dollop of lentil sauce. I stirred this around, grabbed an egg out of the fridge, cracked it into a bowl, added a little milk and whisked it up with a fork. Then in went the egg, I sprinkled some cheese on top, because I couldn’t help myself, and stuck the pan in the oven. It was nice and bubbly and brown after about 10 minutes. I’m embarrassed to admit that I often eat my delicious one egg frittata right out of the pan when I’m home alone. But today I was feeling civilized and I didn’t have to race off to pick up my daughter from preschool, so I actually took the time to put the frittata on a plate. Even with the preheating and chopping and saute-ing and browning, this meal is done in about 30 minutes. And when I say done, I mean cooked and consumed. After all, I have to get back to procrastinating, I mean, working.
Lunch today is a kid favorite: mac and cheese with peas and a little sandwich with salami, Canadian bacon, dill pickles and lettuce. I have to say, I’m not much of a salami fan on account of the fact that it’s a meat so fatty that it’s, well, speckled with white fat flecks. Yuk. I don’t even like to think about it. But the kids love it, because they’re kids and they love salty fatty stuff packed with umami. Okay, maybe I just wanted to use the term “umami.” Occasionally, I indulge the kids and their love of salumi products with something like an itty bitty salami and ham sandwich. For the healthy stuff in this here lunch, we have strawberries and a dried apricot. Tomorrow’s lunch with be vegetarian for sure.
This is what we like to do with stuff that’s growing in the garden: put it on top of pizza. Every Friday night we make pizza; this is my night off from cooking, so to speak. If my husband and son are motivated, they make dough on Thursday night. If not, I buy a couple of packages of whole wheat pizza dough at Trader Joe’s. I just love a pizza loaded with veggies. Last Friday I picked four big artichokes and boiled them up. I sliced the hearts for the best pizza topping ever. I also threw on some kale, because kale is awesome on pizza. Toss it with a little olive oil first, so it doesn’t get too charred. Then consume pizza with an enormous glass of red wine, because it’s the right thing to do. I highly recommend Cocobon if you are looking for a good, cheap wine that tastes much more expensive than it is.
I don’t have a photo of the kids’ lunches today, because, when I took the photos the camera’s memory card was in my computer. Hmm, I guess that’s what that poorly designed, incomprehensible red icon that I didn’t recognize on the camera back meant. Whoops. I can tell you that I made a delicious new chia pudding.
Tropical Chia Pudding
- 1 can light coconut milk
- 1 banana
- a cup-ish of mango chunks (I used frozen)
- a half cup-ish of pineapple chunks (I used frozen)
- handful of spinach leaves (optional)
- 1 tablespoon agave syrup (optional)
- 4 tablespoons chia seeds
Puree all ingredients except the chia seeds. I used my trusty Vitamix, which makes everything super smooth. Stir the chia seeds into the delicious blended tropical smoothie and chill in the fridge overnight.
This is a fabulous, rich and creamy vegan pudding. I served it with a half whole wheat bagel sunflower seed butter and jam sandwich. I also packed half a banana in each lunch. Mmm.
And, now, for a little Friday garden tour.
The front yard:
This box has several varieties of kale and lettuce. After many failed attempts, I finally have a nice batch of lacinato kale growing out front. However, I’m sure it will soon be infested with aphids.
Because we are incompetent at composting, we have all sorts of random veggies popping up around the yard. Here is some lettuce and what I think is a pumpkin (or maybe a zucchini plant?) growing alongside the kids’ hopscotch squares.
The side yard:
A few years ago, I planted three small artichokes in our front side yard. I got the plants from my friend Sky when she was thinning out the amazing artichokes that she planted in her front yard. Artichokes must love the climate here, because they grow like crazy in crap soil with very little water and fertilizer. Right now, these artichokes are taller than me and they are going gangbusters. You see that big one that’s starting to open? It should have already been picked, cooked and eaten because artichokes are best when the buds are still closed up tight.
When we started looking for a house in SLO, I was hoping to find something with mature citrus trees. And, as luck with have it, our ridiculously over-priced modest little 60s tract home came with two big gorgeous orange trees (a navel and a valencia) in the side yard. We have so many oranges right now that we can’t keep up with them.
I am crazy about raspberries. I think raspberries may be my favorite thing on earth. My Nanny Yetman makes a raspberry jam with wild Newfoundland raspberries that would blow your mind. My mom planted raspberries in Nebraska and babied those bushes for months, so we could have fresh raspberries in our cereal. A couple of years ago we built a box just for raspberries, because, no surprise, the kiddos are raspberry fiends. The little raspberries are just starting to form on this big, unruly bush and I can hardly wait for them to grow and ripen.
This bed is underneath the orange trees and filled with strawberries, arugula, spinach, cilantro and basil. I haven’t had much luck with strawberries; the snails seem to get them as soon as they turn red. But, I keep trying. It also appears that something is attacking my spinach. So it goes with organic gardening: it’s a constant struggle against vermin. At least the cilantro is thriving.
The back yard:
This is our biggest raised bed (about 8 feet x 4 feet) and we’ve had the worst luck with it. I’m always planting stuff in here that completely fails. I just pulled out four sad little cauliflower plants. I’m hopeful that the warm weather crops will do better. The eggplant on the left is looking pretty good. I’m not so sure about that little pepper on the right. I’m also trying to grow celery for the first time. I actually hate celery (blech!), but the kiddos like it. Especially Iain.
I put in these beans about a month ago. Look at those climbers! Beans are the most magical of plants, no? The little short guys on the right are edamame. I’ve never grown those either, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ve had okay luck with beans.
Lettuce is another one of those things that I’ve killed like crazy. I’m pretty sure it’s due to lack of water and too much sun. But this gorgeous variety—red freckles—has been doing extremely well. It is the best lettuce ever. The flavor is nice and mild and the ribs are very thin. I just love being able to go outside and pick my salad.
A week ago, I bought my tomato plants at Cal Poly’s annual tomato extravaganza: Tomatomania. I still haven’t put all of them in the ground, because I filled up my tomato beds and need to find more space. We go through a lot of tomatoes. I got all sorts of crazy varieties at Cal Poly: things like Black Cherry, Red Zebra, Pink Torbay, Isis Candy, etc. Most tomatoes don’t even make it in the house, because the kiddos graze on them while playing in the back yard.
We have planted several dwarf citrus trees around the house: meyer lemon, satsuma, calamondin, Mexican lime, and bearss lime. It seems to take a few years before these little trees start producing fruit. I think it stresses them out to get moved from containers into the ground. Citrus trees are sensitive that way. After about five years, this little meyer tree is finally content and producing big, full-sized lemons.
This little blueberry bush was a Christmas present. It’s still small, but berries are already starting to form.
We have herbs growing all over the place: in beds, in pots, in the ground. The mint plant in the middle is new, because I’ve learned my lesson with mint: it must be contained or it will take over the entire yard.
If you’re wondering, our yard is not enormous. We’ve tucked raised bads in little corners and planted edibles in random places where there was once grass (like the parking strips next to the sidewalk where the kale is). It’s amazing how many things you can grow in a small space.
Last night I made mini edamame burgers—green sliders!—based on this recipe.
I made a few alterations to the recipe; I substituted mild chili powder and smoked paprika for the red pepper flakes, so the patties wouldn’t be too spicy. I also added a tablespoon of soy sauce and an extra egg to make sure that the patties held together. These crazy green veggie burgers are dee-lish. I had several mini burgers left over, so I smashed one up to make edamame quesadillas for the kiddos:
It seems like I make quesadillas for kid lunches at least once a week. Why is this? Maybe it’s that I’m more likely to have tortillas than bread in the house. I also find it really easy to make a couple of quesadillas while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Here is my simple, quesadilla-making method:
1) Spread filling (usually something left over from dinner) on tortillas. Make sure your filling is not too liquidy. Put some shredded cheese on top. While doing this, preheat a cast iron pan over medium heat.
2) Carefully place your quesadillas into the steaming hot pan. I always use a dry pan when making quesadillas for a nice, crispy exterior. Once the quesadillas are in the pan, lower the heat to medium low, so the tortillas don’t get charred before the fillings get hot.
3) Place a smaller cast iron pan on top of the quesadillas in order to smash all the filling together. This is helpful if you have thick quesadillas loaded with goodness and want everything to get heated through evenly. If you don’t have a small cast iron pan, you can use any heavy pan as a weight:
If you’re a minimalist and don’t have another heavy pan, just smash the quesadillas down with a spatula. I would do this, but I’m lazy and usually washing dishes as quesadillas are cooking.
4) Periodically lift up the edge of the quesadillas to make sure that the tortillas aren’t getting too brown. Once most of the tortilla is crisp and golden, flip the quesadilla, put the pan back on top, and brown the other side. If you make quesadillas a lot, you will get a quesadilla nose. Seriously. You’ll be able to detect the exact aroma of a quesadilla that needs to be flipped. You will also be able to detect a blackened tortilla, so pay attention.
I don’t know what possessed me to make tuna melt muffins yesterday; I guess I was just in a savory muffin mood. I wanted all the flavors in a tuna melt baked into a muffin. I would have added some sliced scallions to the muffins, but I wanted to use ingredients that I already had in the house:
*Cooking Tip: Tuna Melt Muffins
- 1 cup multigrain baking mix
- 1 can of tuna
- 1 cup chopped spinach
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup shredded cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
- 1–2 tablespoons cornmeal
- pinch of Old Bay seasoning
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease a 6 cup muffin pan. Mix all ingredients until you have a wet batter. If the mixture feels too dry, add a little more milk. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan and sprinkle with more shredded cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until muffin tops are nice and golden. Serve with a little spicy tartar sauce or butter. I think these muffins would also be good with some capers, chopped dill pickles, fresh dill or olives added into the batter. Yummers!