Yesterday, I had snack duty at preschool. For some reason, I didn’t feel like doing my usual muffin or granola bar baking. Instead, I got the crazy idea to make brown rice pudding. I decided to use Mark Bittman’s slow cooked oven technique. It’s very easy to make rice pudding this way; you don’t have to stir it constantly or worry about the bottom burning like you would if you cooked it on the stove top. However, it takes a long time and you do have to check it every half hour of so. This pudding took about two and a half hours to cook, and it was still a bit liquidy. In the future, I think I’ll use a cup less of liquid (I used 8 cups milk, 1 cup rice and 1 cup maple syrup). One the pudding was finished, I had to figure out the best way to transport it to preschool. I decided to bring the pudding in a big container and make the little individual servings in the classroom. Lily loved this because she got to sprinkle on the coconut and feel important. We also brought our usual kid-friendly kale smoothies (frozen bananas, frozen pineapple, frozen mango, kale, apple juice and vanilla soy milk).
*Cooking Tip:Blueberry Brown Rice Pudding for Hungry Preschool Kids
1 cup brown rice
4 cups coconut milk (I used the kind that comes in a carton: it’s not as rich as canned)
3 cups almond milk
1 cup maple syrup (this makes the pudding sweet, but not overly so: more breakfasty than desserty)
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup frozen blueberries
unsweetened shredded coconut for serving (optional)
Heat oven to 300°F. Stir rice, maple syrup, milk, and orange zest together in an over proof container and put it in the oven. Every 30 minutes, stir the pudding. When the rice starts to absorb the milk, the grains will float to the surface. After two hours, taste the pudding to see if the rice is soft. The pudding will look liquidy when it is done, but will thicken up as it cools. Stir in blueberries when the pudding is finished and refrigerate overnight. If you’re feeling fancy, sprinkle some coconut on top before serving. Yummilicious!
I just noticed the pinkness of the lunch, which includes three things pink: plain Greek yogurt with boysenberry jam, an apple strawberry fruit crusher, and the Canadian bacon in the the mini ham and pineapple shish kabob. Those packaged applesauce fruit thingies are quite convenient, but they’re really expensive compared to actual fruit. Younger kids also need a little help twisting off the lids. Why did I even buy them? Oh yeah, stuff like this always finds its way into my cart when I’m shopping with Lily. Next to the fruit crusher is a little homemade granola bar wrapped in waxed paper, which is how I store them when I make a big batch for snacks. The little cake in the top left compartment is Marian Bantjes’s mom’s hot milk cake. Marian Bantjes is an amazing designer/artist/letterer/illustrator/writer. Several years ago—actually, shortly after my daughter was born—she had an exhibition in our gallery at Cal Poly. While she was here, we randomly got to talking about cake (among other things) and how the typical birthday cake is way too sweet and not at all appealing. She mentioned that her mom used to make a nice, light, not-too-sweet hot milk cake. Then she generously found the recipe for me on her iPod. I wrote it down and have been making it ever since. My lucky kids both got a small piece today.
Today was a special Mommy and Lily day. We went to a morning ballet performance of The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my all time favorite stories. True confession: I can’t read The Velveteen Rabbit without getting completely weepy. It gets me every time. I also can’t watch most ballet performances without getting completely weepy. Dance just does that to me. I love it, I love it, I love it. Lunch was Lily’s choice, and she wanted to try a Japanese restaurant we hadn’t been to yet. Here she is getting ready to eat that big pile of salted edamame. And, don’t tell, but at special mommy-daughter lunches, you get to have ice cream: super delicious green tea and mango ice cream:
At preschool today, I put my MFA to good use with an edible art project: gingerbread cookie decorating. Christmas cookie decorating was big in my house, because my mother was The Most Amazing Christmas Cookie Baker Ever. I kid you not. Mom made cookies for days: Mexican wedding cakes, whiskey rum balls, lemon cornmeal wafers, raspberry oatmeal bars, peanut butter filled chocolate cookies, peanut butter blossoms, apricot hazelnut chocolate dipped bars, rugelach, Jan Hagels, these crazy Oreo cookie ball concoctions, and her signature chipotle gingerbread cookies. She sent Christmas cookie care packages to my closest college pals, my brother and I—long after we had all graduated from college and were gainfully employed in major metropolitan areas. She was amazing that way.
I will certainly never achieve my mother’s greatness in the holiday baking kitchen, nor would I ever attempt to. However, every Christmas I always make the most amazing gingerbread cookies ever:
Maureen’s Incredibly Amazing Chipotle Gingerbread Cookies
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (omit if you’re a wuss or if you have small children)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 cups all purpose flour (or 2 cups all purpose flour and 2 cups white whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan, combing the sugar with the molasses, water and spices. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the butter and stir until melted. Let cool for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda and salt. Add to the saucepan and mix with a wooden spoon until completely blended. Spoon the dough into a large resealable plastic bag, flatten, and seal. Refrigerate until the dough is firm and cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Cut the dough into quarters. Work with one piece of dough at a time and keep the rest chilled. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Dip cutter in flour and stamp out cookies as close together as possible. Transfer the cookies to ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until risen, firm and dry. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes before transferring them to racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough. Gather any scraps, knead briefly and refrigerate dough before re-rolling.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 2 weeks.
When I was in first through third grade, my dad was stationed in West Germany. If there is one thing that can be said about Germans: they really do Christmas. I mean, it’s a sugar-coated winter wonderland full of magic, roasted chestnuts and incredible sweets. At least that’s how I remember it. In Germany, among other countries, they celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Kids put out their shoes the night before and awake to find them filled with various treats. My mother never forgot about St. Nicholas Day after we left Germany and continued to fill our shoes with goodies for as long as I lived at home. My mother was awesome that way. In honor of my mom and all things German, I continue to celebrate St. Nicholas Day with my kiddos. Today they found their shoes filled with: chocolate coins, chocolate Santa bears, old-fashioned knitting dolls, red velvet cocoa mix, chocolate Goldfish, and tuna paté (I always include something totally random). St. Nick was extremely generous and left me a new Apple Airport Express. By the way, this story has absolutely nothing to do with today’s lunch. I realize now that I should have done something St. Nicholas-themed. Oh well. Instead, I made a totally quotidian, non-holiday lunch: tuna melt on whole wheat skinny bread, sliced cucumbers, sauteed broccoli (left over from dinner), and Trader Joe’s whole grain apple cinnamon sticks.
Lunch today is pretty straightforward: no fancy leftovers or melty cheese concoctions. The sandwich is ham, havarti, and dill pickles on whole wheat bread. I always buy the long sliced “slickle” style dill pickles, because they are super convenient for making sandwiches. For fruit and veggies today: carrots, grapes and persimmons. I also couldn’t handle having a little empty space next to the sandwich piece, so I threw in some roasted pumpkin seeds. I know, fear of negative space is silly, however, in a lunch box, I like everything to look pretty and full.
Today’s lunch is not quite as plant powered as yesterday’s, because, in a moment of weakness, I made bacon and cheese biscuits to go with last night’s vegetable stew. So, what you see in the image above is two adorable little bacon cheese biscuits. For a little extra protein, I threw in some sliced fresh mozzarella and extra sharp cheddar (there’s also a date in the cheese compartment). We’re still working our way through last weekend’s persimmons and apples from the farmers market. It’s officially crunchy fruit season. And, yes, our tomato plants are still producing. The treat today is a couple of Junior Mints; we’re also still working our way through the Halloween candy. Monday is a school holiday for the kids and I, so I’ll have a lunch making day off. Thank you Mom for giving birth to me on Veteran’s Day, so I get my own birthday holiday. And much more importantly, a heartfelt thank you to all veterans and especially Dad and Dad-in-law, who served their country in Vietnam. We are so, so grateful for you.
Today’s lunch flies in the face of my healthy, not cutesy lunch philosophy. But, I couldn’t help myself. I am a complete Halloween junkie. Maybe it’s the dress up, the macabre, the pagan undertones, the candles, the spooks, the pumpkins, the candy, a Catholic preoccupation with the dead—who knows? As a kid I was obsessed with Halloween. As a 20-something designer in Chicago, I spend months fabricating elaborate costumes, because there was always something fabulous to do on Halloween. If not, I brought my own fabulous. Now, with kids, Halloween is beyond awesome, because—guess what?—my kids are crazed for Halloween. I had to honor their love of All Hallow’s Eve with a Spooktacular Halloween Lunch. The inside-out mummy sandwich is smoked turkey and mayo on whole wheat with a fresh mozzarella wrapping. I used a small biscuit cutter to make the circular head. The arms are pieces of fresh mozzarella cheese sticks. Mr. Mummy is lying on a bed of nori seaweed snacks (nori is also the dark stuff behind his eyes). The jack o’lantern is sliced persimmon with chocolate chips glued on with a little cream cheese. When I got to the celery, I ran out of steam. I was intending to make little snake eyes with freeze dried strawberries, but it was time for bedtime stories, so the cucumber is just cucumber. I have no idea if this lunch will survive the trip to school intact, so I let the kids take a sneak peek. Happy Halloween.
Yesterday, I had one sad, sick kid at home. Luckily, he appears to have had a 24 hour bug and he’s in fine form today. He’s getting the soba noodles lunch from yesterday. Today’s lunch for Lily is a starchy protein powerhouse for my little growing girl: quesadillas on a corn/whole wheat tortilla with mashed potato (left over from dinner) and salsa, a hard boiled egg, plums and canteloupe, and a mini serving of on the sweet side trail mix. The trail mix is a clean out the pantry extravaganza of goldfish, peanuts, cashews, peanut butter filled crackers, fruity o’s cereal (TJs), and chocolate chips.
My pumpkin obsession continues. That weird, shiny, lumpy—and, I have to admit, not too appetizing looking—stuff in the round container is amazingly delicious pumpkin pie chia pudding with a little plain Greek yogurt swirled in for creaminess. Looks can be deceiving. I decided to keep going with the sweet lunch theme and made sunflower seed butter and Cacao Bliss skinny bread sandwiches. The only reason I had Cacao Bliss is because they (some random health food people) were handing out testers of the stuff at Saturday’s farmers market. It is an allegedly healthy, vegan alternative to Nutella made from coconut butter, coconut oil and raw cacao. I suspect it’s quite expensive. For the life of me I don’t know what the difference is between cocoa and cacao. I really should look it up. I can tell you that Cacao Bliss is darn fine—not quite as creamy and spreadable as Nutella—but yummy in a rich, coconutty kind of way. Plums and carrot slices also play a supporting role in this lunch.
Pumpkin Pie Chia Pudding
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup vanilla unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp. chia seeds
2 tbsp. maple syrup
a squeeze of honey
a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon and nutmeg)
Whisk everything together. Let thicken up in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The chia seeds will plump up and end up having a texture similar to tapioca.
Today was Labor Day. No school. No packed lunch. Just a perfect day at the beach. Lunch was smoked fish tacos from The Smokehouse in Cayucos (quite possibly California’s most charming beach town). Iain had smoked shrimp and Lily had smoked salmon. It was good, oh yes, very good.