Cooking for Kids

sweet pea & parmesan crostini

I’m still wiping the sleep from my eyes, though I’ve been up for hours now. I’d like to say it is because I was dreaming about sweet peas—that would certainly make for a more interesting story. Imagine, being lulled into unconsciousness with thoughts of delicate green tendrils, sprouting the first peas of spring, sugary enough to eat just shelled from their pods.

No, that is not how my story goes. Instead, my fatigue is due to bolting from bed to answer the shrieking screams of a three year old demanding fresh cold water in her sippy cup.

Yeah, you can only imagine my reaction. I’m choosing to believe it wasn’t really about the water. It’s never about the water, the toy or whatever seems to be the cause of their tantrums. I need to believe that, if only to retain any morsel of sanity.

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things i like {may 2011}

This week is shaping up to be a doozy, but in a good way. Today, I'm off to meet with my editor at Working Mother. It's going to be an interesting visit, given last week saw a major reorginzation and the letting go of the editor-in-chief, executive editor, managing editor and photo editor. This is a regular meeting to review cookbooks, but still, I take nothing for granted, especially in publishing.

Times like this are a necessary reminder that while life as a freelancer can be exhausting and nerve-wracking, at least I'm in control of my own destiny to a larger degree. Our managing editor had been with the magazine since 1988. I don't know how you begin to start anew after 22 years at a job. I always equate freelancers with sharks—we must keep moving or we'd die. Our survival is all about developing new relationships, in the hopes of having a few extra balls in the air in case one comes crashing down. Staff jobs are amazing for the regular paycheck, benefits, and who doesn't love a good title, but when you come to work on a Tuesday only to find out Friday is your last day, that leaves you in a most unexpected pickle—and not the kind you want to preserve.

Tomorrow welcomes a meeting of which I can't talk about, but let's just say I'm happy for it, regardless of where it goes. There's also an event with Kelly Ripa and Tom Colicchio. I'm partly excited but mostly self conscious of what to wear. Have you seen Ripa's biceps?

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oat ricotta pancakes

A little birdy told me that today was National Pancake Day. Since I'm convinced Isabella could live on pancakes if given the chance, it seemed fitting to dedicate a special post to her favorite breakfast food.

There’s an ongoing joke during mealtimes. Once a plate hits the table Isabella asks “is there ricotta in here mom?”. Growing up it was relegated to baked ziti, lasagna and sometimes a dollop on a bowl of pasta. Nowadays you'll find me spreading it on toasted bread with marmalade for a late night snack, adding a spoonful of warm, creamy curds to oatmeal, in lentil "meatballs" and waffles.

I’ve never been a sneaky chef, so the goal of these pancakes is not to fool anyone. It serves a dual-purpose, feeding my addiction to homemade ricotta while fulfilling her favorite breakfast request. It's also a recipe born of thrift since I first started adding ricotta to pancakes and waffles to use up any extra hanging around the fridge.

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fixing a fussy eater

If I lured you in with the expectations of a silver bullet to blast away your kids' so called fussy eating habits, then let me apologize. There is no such panacea. Like their bodies, children grow into their palates. What they don't like today, they may very well love in 20 years—such is the relationship I now have with brussels sprouts.

And that food they obsess about right now? Well, don't be surprised when they turn their nose up to it tomorrow. As with their mood swings, these things change with the direction of the wind.

I'd like to tell you about a little girl I once knew. She survived on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, some Sicilian salami and pasta with butter under an avalanche of grated locatelli cheese. The sight of marinara sauce on one single strand would set off hysterics. When faced with lunch at a restaurant known for their burgers, she opted for a meal of pickles and diet coke.

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vanilla bean syrup + homemade yogurt


On any given week, there’s a slew of cookbooks and box of gadgets outside our front stoop for people to help themselves. This makes me quite popular with the neighbors and passersby. After years of accruing appliances and gadgets, I’m learning to only hold onto the things I really use. Much of what I receive these days, comes way of samples sent for work, so parting with them really isn’t with sweet sorrow. Either I test them and move on, or an item is so exceptional it makes the cut and gets much coveted countertop space. It’s been my experience that anything not sitting right in my eye’s view will idle away and collect dust.

Since we renovated our kitchen three years ago, I promised anything that didn’t get play time within the last six months had to go, and I do a purge every few months to stick to that rule. Which brings me back to needing my essentials out on the countertop. Except for taking down the pasta maker which sits right above the stove or hauling out the pressure cooker which sits happily on a shelf in the pantry, I find it completely annoying to go digging for an appliance just to make a recipe. Time has taught me there’s usually more than one way to get equally successful results.

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vegetable wontons

My obession for from-scratch cooking is sometimes my greatest obstacle. When I’m sick, prepared soups, even those from the little Italian shop near my house just won’t do. Aside from whatever vitamins, minerals and rest my body craves, I think it has also conditioned itself to need homecooking as much as it requires oxygen to survive.

Luckily, when I got hit with the never-ending cold three weeks ago, Jen had just posted her recipe for wonton soup. She doesn’t know it, but she loosened the chains a bit for me. In her post, she said she uses premade wonton wrappers (not to be confused with potstickers). Since we’re likeminded in the how, why and where regarding our food, I decided to take her cue.

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israeli couscous with squash, dried cherries & pistachios

Mommy guilt is a great motivator. Some spoil with truckloads of toys. For my girls it usually means a batch of cookies. Except children cannot live on chocolate chip cookies alone, even if they are the best in the world—Isabella’s words, and I kind of agree.

When I’m away traveling or have a crazy week of evening events, I leave the next best thing to a hug and kiss goodnight—some homecooked comfort to fill their bellies. Isabella’s new found love is Israeli couscous. The first time she had it was at our friends and it was lightly seasoned with cumin. I was pretty floored when she not only devoured it, but even asked for seconds. She’s a quirky kid when it comes to certain flavors.

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trick or treat trail mix

As I kissed the Mr. goodbye in the wee hours of the morning, he said it felt like I just came home a minute ago. I can't help but feel a pull towards home too.

Kim recently said I talked her off the ledge. Really, we're both just holding hands, our friendship growing stronger each day as we carve our professional path in a world where motherhood really is the job we value most. Our lives are not perfect, but we are fortunate.

The compromises we make seem big in our worlds, yet they pale in comparison to, say, my mother's. She woke up at 6:00am every morning while I was in high school to work as a supermarket cashier. She's endured so much for the sake of her children. Her sacrifices were real ones. I keep that perspective every day.

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homemade buttermilk pancake mix

To think, just a few weeks ago the Mr. and I were settling in for our vacation in North Truro with the girls. The first four days were rainy, but that didn't matter. We were in Cape Cod, and a rainy day there rivals a sunny day here.

By day four, though, we were all feeling a little lazy, and had indulged in an afternoon of the boob tube. Watching both Giada and Ina Garten scoop and sweep cup after cup of flour—with their fingertips, left me scratching my head. Very early on in my baking follies, I remember being told to spoon and sweep. As I've evolved as a baker, I now rely on weights. Not all cups are created equal, so that alone can mean the difference of an ounce or two.

Scooping vs. sweeping is a whole other ballpark. Using one set of my measuring cups, the difference is just under an ounce.

Ounces matter in baking.

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english flapjacks—brooklyn style

When I was around 10 years old my mother sent me to the store to buy onions. After inspecting a few at the supermarket, I returned home empty handed—all the onions were covered in dirt. It made no sense to buy food caked in a thin layer of mud.

When I told my mother why I had no onions, a rather large chuckle was followed with an explanation that onions grew in the ground. Growing up in the city, being disconnected from the food chain, it's easy to understand how a kid can make a mistake, right?

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