Weirdness from a 9 year old on food

Eleanor is 9, so sometimes, she’s a super interesting tiny human. (She hates when I call her a tiny human, and in fairness, she is taller than every other kid in her grade and probably the grade above her.) However, kids at this age, while wildly frustrating at times, are also still in that most interesting phase where they are still developing their own ideas and opinions. This starts about the time they start school and start being exposed to new opinions and customs and such that are different from what they know from their family. It’s kind of really cool.

So recently, I’ve been taking note of some of these interesting ideas, beliefs, etc that come from her. Some make me laugh. Some are just crazy wrong. But they are all interesting. As an example, she likes broccoli stems. She prefers the stems over the florets. I think it’s partly a texture thing, but I found it interesting. It also made me observe how little stem is on the broccoli sold at most grocery stores. This is likely because most people prefer the florets. But that either means the stems are being thrown away, which is a food-waste problem, or it means they are being separated and, I don’t know, sent to companies that make pot pies and cream of broccoli soups? I hope so, but I am concerned they are being wasted.

Another funny example recently took place because she was doing a theater program for school. It was the week of the actual performance, so she had to be at school later than normal. When we picked her up, she had not been able to eat her snack, so she ate it on the way home. She had apple slices, and they had browned slightly, as they do. Owen asked her if she minded that, and she informed us that she likes it because the brown makes the apple a little sweeter and it tastes good. Who knew? We’ve been avoiding apple slices because we figured the browning would totally be a “no” with all her picky eating habits. I guess we know why there is a saying about assumptions.

Trust me, there are so many antidotes, many unrelated to food that I could share, but for this blog, we’ll stick to food. She also watches a ton of Food Network (No, I’m not solely to blame for that!) and so her descriptions of food, even if sometimes made up because she doesn’t really have a reason not to like a dish, are very articulate at least. But they almost always have a little bit of that 9 year old innocence and peculiarity that is so entertaining!

Cooking my stress away

My husband often thinks I look stressed in the kitchen. I’m sure I do. But in reality, cooking is my favorite form of stress relief. I’m one of those people who often has trouble shutting my brain off for even a few seconds. Yoga, while great, does not do it for me. I need something that consumes my mind, and cooking does that for me.

I can spend hours reading cookbooks and searching recipes. Give me a new cookbook, and you can guarantee I’ll read it cover-to-cover like I just found the newest best-seller. Even though I rarely follow a recipe as written, I get so many ideas and just general technique knowledge. Also, several of my “cookbooks” are really more about technique than the actual recipes.

Stress-eating is one of those things we are not supposed to do, right? So, stress-cooking, while totally relaxing, does present a dilemma. What do you do with all that food? Sometimes I do go overboard, and like today, we still have part of a pot pie, homemade ricotta, gnocchi, muffins…okay, too many leftovers in our fridge still at the end of the week. But this just means that my stress-cooking binges also require strategic planning. So there’s one more thing for me to obsess and focus on when planning my binge the night before that takes my mind off whatever life stresses I’m trying to escape!

I have a few simple rules I try to remember before going on such a binge:

  • Variety: I try to make sure I make some foods that are hearty meals and some that are great snack or breakfast items. So maybe one dish is a hummus, dip or pasta salad that’s good served cold.
  • Storage: I consider how long each food will last and make sure I make some that can be frozen, or sometimes my food fun involves dehydrating foods that can then be stored in the cabinet. While I haven’t done much of it, pickling is also a good option to consider.
  • Weather: I also consider and plan for what the weather is going to be while cooking as well as the week ahead. This seems obvious, but I don’t want to run the oven for 3 hours if it’s hot out, and I’m probably not smoking meat in the rain. Also, if I know it’s going to warm all week, soup is probably not going to be eaten.

So yes, sometimes I do look stressed while cooking. But that stress actually makes me feel better. It’s like when you go for a nice run, and at the end you’re out of breath and aching. It feels great even if it looks a little disturbing. And at the end of cooking, I get to share my creations!

When is this food appropriate?

Some people believe there are certain seasons when you should eat certain foods. For example, soups and casseroles are typically thought of as foods good when it’s cold outside. There are also people who think certain foods are for certain times of the day. The best example of this is that until recently, you could only get a Sausage McMuffin at during a certain time frame because that is a “breakfast food”.

While I will admit that I enjoy some foods more in certain seasons, I am definitely a rebel when it comes to whether my food choice is time appropriate. Yes, I eat more salads and cold sandwiches typically when it’s hot. And yes, I have ordered soup before a meal just to warm up on one of those horrifically cold Chicago days in January. But I will also eat chili for pretty much any meal, any day of the week. I don’t care if it’s 110 outside, I will still eat a bowl of chili. Did I mention I really love chili? And while, no, I won’t bake and heat up my house to make my chicken pot pie (recipe to come, working on a new rendition) when it’s 100 degrees outside, I might smoke a pork roast!

Who decided certain foods were “breakfast” foods. It wasn’t the French. In Paris, omelets are definitely available all day. When I was a kid, one of my favorite meal memories is “pancake night.” My father would make pancakes for dinner. We had the whole breakfast works with it, including the all-star BACON! And in Chicago and the surrounding area, putting an egg on a burger is considered as normal as my southern family would consider cheese. So if you can order an egg on your burger, why can’t you get 2 eggs over easy and some hashbrowns at dinner?

I say go with your cravings. If you want a couple fried eggs and toast as dinner or a midnight snack, do it! If you want to grab a giant t-bone and baked potato at 8 a.m., you should, and who cares that you’re going to need a nap by noon! I like food. I like to enjoy my food. And I think everyone should just embrace the simple joys in life. For me, that is food. For others, who knows. But if what brings you that little bit of joy doesn’t hurt anyone else, eat it up!

Trying to feed the sick and the weary

Nothing is worse than when your kid gets sick. I don’t care how old they are, you feel helpless in a way you never thought possible. I remember the very first time Melanie, my oldest, got sick. She was four months old. It was allegedly a cold. We ended up in the emergency room and spending a couple of days in the hospital because of “pneumonia” (this is in quotes because we’d later learn that there was a bigger issue). I had a four month old who couldn’t breath. We spent the better part of a year in an out of hospitals and seeing all kinds of doctors. It turned out that she had a slight developmental delay that was causing her esophagus not the function properly, which was causing her to get fluids in her lungs. With some great medical professionals and time, she outgrew it.

However, now that I’ve tugged your heart strings a bit (don’t worry, she’s barely ever had so much as a cold since), let’s talk about feeding the sick kid. Before the doctors figured out what was happening, we spent a year or so with the child projectile vomiting on a pretty regular basis. Doctors told me about the “BRAT” diet. We tried. But she would only eat the bananas. But, we discovered some foods she could eat. Mashed potatoes can be a great food for a little one that is having tummy troubles. Sure, I kept them a little more bland than I do for myself these days, but they are mild, can be made rather subtle in flavor, and yet are filling. Oatmeal was also a big hit. Again, you can keep it simple, just add a little applesauce or any pureed fruit.

As they’ve grown older, we’ve experienced all manners of illness, as kids do. Mashed potatoes are still a prime choice with the older two. The youngest one won’t touch them. I will have to say the youngest as not been sick often, and it’s usually just a cold, so it doesn’t really impact her eating other than how much energy she has or is using. And my oldest is “adulting,” so I have not had to cater to her during an illness lately.

But I recently went through an illness with Katie, and it reminded me of what a challenge this can be. We came up with some options to eat when you are suffering from one of those illnesses where you are sure anything you put in your stomach will not stay. Plain pasta is a good option. She prefers ramen noodles without the seasoning, but any plain pasta would work. Toast also works if your child will eat it without the usual spreads. Quinoa or rice with just a bit of salt is gentle. The aforementioned bananas or mashed potatoes are an option. Hot tea can also be good if you choose a mild-flavored tea. The best is find something not too filling, not too spicy, but that is edible.

Hopefully, the kids just never get sick and can just eat what they like. But since we don’t live in a fairy tale, I thought I would share some minor thoughts that occurred to me.

Dehydrating Foods

I purchased a rather inexpensive food dehydrator years ago because Melanie liked dried fruit so much, and stores charge an absurd amount for the smallest quantities. Seriously, they dried them. They didn’t add gold dust, did they? But I’ve recently rediscovered this simple machine as an answer to my concerns about food waste, and it has produced some incredibly tasty results.

Our kitchen inexplicably ripens fruits and vegetables in a fraction of the time one would expect. This is great if say, you bought avocados that aren’t quite ripe and you want guacamole tomorrow. This is not good if you need to have fruits and vegetables for the kid for the week and you don’t want to hit the grocery store 2-3 times a week. I’m not even kidding about how fast it happens. We have had an avocado go from hard and underripe to wrinkled and absolutely inedible overnight.

Mushrooms, which Eleanor, well, all the girls, just love especially do not fair well. I have maybe 2 days to make them or they’re garbage. I’m told you shouldn’t eat fungus that starts growing fungus. I’ll do some thinking on that one later, I guess. Anyway, we had some mushrooms that came in our produce delivery, and I knew we weren’t going to have an opportunity to cook them before they would go bad. So I broke out the dehydrator, washed them, and dried them overnight. It turns out, you just need some warm water and 30 minutes to rehydrate mushrooms and to use your dishes. Now, any time we find mushrooms on sale, we buy a few packages and dehydrate them for later use.

And dried fruit is just awesome. I remember my mother eating orange peels when I was a kid. Now, I don’t remember if this memory may have been during a time she was pregnant with one of my siblings or if, as I remember it, this was just a normal thing for her. I always thought it was crazy. I tried them and I did not see the appeal. But recently, I decided to dehydrate some oranges because they were going to go bad. It turns out that dehydrated orange peels taste fantastic. The orange part is pretty good too. And let’s not even get started on apples and bananas.

Dehydrated tomatoes make an excellent additive to pasta sauces and salads. I’m also considering adding them to a galette like you would sundried tomatoes to a pizza. I’ve only dehydrated cherry tomatoes, but I imagine this will work well with any type of tomato.

I haven’t tried dehydrating meat, but we all know it’s just around the corner. With my love of cured and smoked meats, I have to at some point decide to dive in and try making my own jerky. Currently, I’m experimenting with blackberries to see how that comes out. I didn’t get too brave with this; I just threw 3 or 4 in with the oranges that are currently in the dehydrator.

Smoking in a Weber Kettle

I got a crazy idea to buy a grill a few years ago. I don’t remember what inspired such an adventure. I think I hadn’t been to the ballpark in a week or something and was craving a grilled brat. But it’s been a couple of years, so who knows what was in my crazy head that particular week. After some research and reviewing my lease to make sure I could have it, we went to the local Lakeview Ace Hardware and bought a Weber. I bought the smaller, 18 in, kettle because how much was I really going to need to put on there at once…

I maybe grilled brats or steaks or burgers a few times. Then, the idea hit me to smoke. First, I was looking at smokers online. Then I found a story about turning your Weber into a smoker. All bets were off. I’ve been smoking at least twice a month since. I’ve smoked pork, lot of pork. I’ve done dry rubs, marinades and both hot and cold brines. I’ve smoked a turkey for Thanksgiving. Last year, we admitted we don’t even particularly care for most of the turkey and smoked two chickens instead. I’ve smoked a lot of chicken legs and thighs, which are our favorite part. I’ll admit something here that most of my meat-crazy friends will scoff at, but I used to be a big chicken breast fan. I still like them, but when smoking meat, the dark meats are where the flavor is hiding. I’ve smoked beef, which is okay, but I truly prefer pork.

And the smoking isn’t limited to meats. I smoke things for the veggie eaters, too. Smoked portabello mushrooms are a huge hit around here. Smoked tofu is trickier. The first time it was well received. The second time I tried to do it, it got a weird rubbery texture. I got some tips from a guy at a meeting for an upcoming bbq competition I’m participating in, and so I plan to try those out the next time. But you can also smoke veggies and side dishes. Yellow, red, and orange bell peppers and onions smoke fantastically. I tried potatoes, and they didn’t pick up much of the smoke, but they were good baked pototoes.

If you google it, you’ll read a lot of opinions on the best way to smoke on your Weber. I keep it simple. I pile all my coals on one side of the kettle after lighting them in a chimney. I add some water soaked wood chips. I then put a pan of water on the other side. I have one of those grill racks with hinged grates on each side so that I can add coals or wood as necessary. I put the meat on the side over the water pan, as far from the heat as it will fit. Then, it’s just a matter of monitoring your temperature. I have an instant read thermometer that has a long cord so you can keep it in the dish in the oven. It works perfectly for this purpose. You use your top and bottom vents to control your temperature until your meat is up to the desired temperature.

My favorite part about all this smoking is how much my husband loves smoked meats. Like, getting him to share some with his co-workers took months. But next to that, my favorite part has been when sharing them with a couple of my friends who, unlike me, are like true, could go to competition and win, smokers. Having someone at that level, who you know understands all that jargon and what-not, compliment the finished result is the best!

nutritional info

So my dad recently asked me to add calorie count and such for my recipes. While I could definitely see the usefulness of such information, I am hesitant. If I post nutritional information, and I’ve made an error somewhere in the calculations, what are my liability issues? Yes, I’m an attorney if you didn’t know, so this is the first place my brain goes.

But I do try to include recipes that could appeal to a variety of dietary restrictions, thanks to my family, and I hope that those of you reading find things you like that are also healthy. Admittedly, there are going to be recipes that you should probably avoid if you have serious dietary restrictions or health issues. The Sausage Balls, for example, are not a good dish for those watching cholesterol or calories. And the Jen’s French Toast Casserole is definitely not for anyone watching calories. But, the Garlic Humus and Broiled Rosemary Pork Chops are pretty healthy options!

In deciding whether to include nutritional information, I did do some research, and there are some pretty good sites for calculating your meals nutritional facts out there. I found the recipe calculator to be very good along with the calculator. You can copy and paste your recipe directly into the second one, and you have to make some minor adjustments to identify some ingredients based on their terms, but it’ll shoot out what looks like a pretty fair assessment. I have no affiliation with either site, and so I, in no way, vouch for their accuracy, but it looks reasonable.

The bottom line is that while I won’t take on the potential liability of attesting to any particular nutritional evaluation of the recipes I include on the site, I do encourage you to use the resources out there if it is important to you. I just want to share the foods I enjoy!