bringing home the veggies

So Nate is now playing on a soccer team that Michael coaches and I "manage" which brings the entire family to Mccarren Park every Saturday morning around 10am. Which means, of course, we are obligated to go to the amazing weekly farmer's market there that we too often avoid out of sheer laziness.

Last weekend we hit it after a winning game and Michael and I separated, each buying way too much produce. When I told Michael that we could not buy any more vegetables because we didn't have room in our fridge and it would all go bad before we could eat and what was the point of buying it if it was going to go bad...he said, "I love you very much." And then proceeded to buy more carrots.

We are a good match because Michael curbs my neurosis with passion and good humor and I fulfill his culinary dreams often based on too much of a good thing. He is the dreamer and I'm the doer. And of course I made it my mission this week to eat, cook, serve or preserve all the many veggies we bought which started with Michael cleaning and cutting the carrots and celery. Huge help!! The only way the market load every really works is if you get home and do all the primary prep work so you see beautiful clean colors and not bags of dirt when you open the fridge.

Anyway, I was on a mission so every evening we had cut up veggies and dip to tide everyone over until dinner. Mack must have eaten 60 carrots this week. Next best use: soup. I made a beautiful zucchini soup which lasted us all week. And finally, this incredibly delicious spaghetti squash with garlic and cheese.

Nate turned 6! But more importantly check out this cake!

Birthday cakes were pretty important to me growing up. My mom, an amazing artist, used to make the most beautiful and original cakes using icing pointilism—perfect dots of many different colored icings which formed a detailed picture of that year's favorite character. They were colorful, elaborate, heavy on the icing and stunning. When Nate turned one, I thought: I'll carry on the tradition. 10 hours later I was covered in food dye, vowing never again. The cake (a big number 1) was not attractive and Nate fell asleep before we even lit the candle. As my mother-in-law whispered during Saturday's party, cakes have a very important meaning in my life. (ie I am somehow always trying to live up to my mother's grand talents, and of course failing miserably.) This year, I had a revelation while in Exodus in Easton... an old school cake, with a photo top! How far from tasteful could I get? Carvel in Bay Ridge made my dreams come true! 

are picky eaters mentally ill?

Oy. So there's this new study in the journal Pediatrics which every major publication has now written about that claims kids who are very picky eaters have a greater chance of having mental health issues as adults. The study was done at Duke University by Dr. Zucker who urges parents not to panic. Not every picky kid will be severely depressed or have an eating disorder.

But this part of Dr. Zucker's analysis rings true to me, and always has:

“Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings. They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”

I've long noticed Nate's aversion to foods is really not remedied with games or tricks. He feels very strongly about not eating certain foods in a way that seems to go deep. Something about a texture or smell will disgust him completely. I've fantasized that he will turn into a "super taster" or foodie with highly developed senses who actually excels at all things culinary but it's probably more likely this extreme sensitivity will apply to other aspects of his life. Which might not be bad—I'm all for him being a sensitive guy with a rich internal world even though it's a harder role to play in this world.

Another part of the study urges parents to create positive experiences around eating. Family dinner should be more about family than dinner. I think about him crying alone before sandwich night and wonder if we should just lay off him.

can someone get a sandwich around here?

Sandwich dinner is many family's cop-out meal. Not ours. For us, sandwiches for dinner turned out to be an emotional journey and a major turning point on our road to better times. Some people don't know this but my husband, Michael, is actually the self proclaimed king of sandwiches. See this post. Our kids however shun sandwiches. Last week Mack ate a few bites of salami and cheese sandwich and Michael was glowing for days.

The idea arose this morning. Me: Nate you've eaten 85 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this summer. Can we try another kind? Nate: no. Michael  "Nate I'm going to make some sandwiches for you to try tonight at dinner," translation: mommy is going to make sandwiches for us.

I bought some new breads and salami, then made egg salad. (It occurred to me that Nate likes hard boiled eggs so what if they were just mashed up?) I'll admit, I was somewhat hopeful that this dinner would change the rest of our lives,

An hour before dinner Nate fell into a funk. I don't want sandwiches for dinner, Don't worry, I said. There are lots of options...." he looked intrigued. "Like hot dogs," I lied. Nate made his way to his room saying he wanted to be alone. I gave him some cool down time then entered to find him crying. I held him, then threw a couple hot dogs in the microwave.

When we sat down to dinner, I was nervous, standing up a lot, making announcements and stopping Michael from saying anything that might ruin my master plan which was anything at all. I quickly spread some egg salad (but refrained from calling it "salad") on a lenders bagel and gave it to Nate, then proceeded to pretend to not care what happened next. Michael made Mack a salami sandwich  and I started to make myself a sandwich when a crazy thing happened. Nate ate the open-faced egg salad bagel and liked it. Next we tried a closed egg salad bagel with toothpicks and he ate that too. I was so excited that I rewarded him with no carrots required AND candy. Michael was pleased. Well done he said.

My theory is that seeing foods that Nate could reject (salami, ham, etc) gave him the leeway to choose something that looked familiar even if in a different form.

Unfortunately neither of us noticed that Mack didn't eat anything and he was up all night, hungry. It was a big cleanup and Michael had to leave early to play tennis in Queens. Looking back I will probably realize what a ridiculous person I have become, with fucked up values and an unhealthy need for my kids to eat well. But for the night, I called it a triumph.

when life gives you cucumbers

I was reading Judith Viorst's Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move to the boys last night. (Michael was at a  disco party in Mamaroneck).  It is the sequel to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, and Alexander is still extremely stubborn and his older brothers tell him to "stop being so immature" and then call him "puke face"—which of course greatly appealed to the boys' literary sensibility even though they didn't know what puke meant. "A cucumber face!" Nate said erupting into contagious giggles which sent Mack falling off his bed in hysterics. He heard "cuke face" and I let it go. I was afraid if I corrected them that they would literally never stop laughing and I would never finish the book and they would never go to bed.

Someday I'll tell them the truth.

But coincidentally, at Nate's camp which he will start in a few weeks, the different age groups are called newcomers, cucumbers, pickles, grapes and raisins. This year he will be a cucumber.

And also I bought too many cucumbers at the store this weekend so I made easy cucumber salad: slice and put in a big bowl. Then add equal parts white vinegar and water to cover. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt and 1/2 tsp of sugar per 4 cucumbers. Throw in a bunch of dill (don't bother chopping). Let sit in fridge for a few hours then drain.

pistachio pasta

 Yesterday Nate told me he made up something new to eat.
“You did?!” I gasped as if he had learned to fly.  
“I put a banana on top of a pistachio.”
 “YUM! You put those two things together?: I tried to be cool.
 “No!” he said “I put the banana ON TOP of the pistachio.
 “Oh that’s cool. Like you mix cheese and pasta.”
“Or banana and pasta,” he suggested.
“Hmmm. Or tomatoes and bread!”
“Or banana and pasta.”
“What about pistachio and pasta?”
“Hmm… he thought about it. “Or banana and pasta. “

Eight hours later when it was time for dinner, I announced with great excitement “Pistachio and pasta for dinner”! Okay, he said. Nate shelled and crushed the nuts so he felt like he was helping. We made a joint decision to add some parmesan cheese. In the end it was almost a pistachio pesto—crushed nuts, cheese and olive oil…very sophisticated and yet childlike.

Of course, Nate refused to eat it and started picking out the bits of nut. I realized then that I should have left them whole. That when Nate said banana ON TOP of pistachio he meant NOT MIXED TOGETHER.

This is a good lesson for me. But wait isn’t it me who is supposed to be giving the lessons…clearly we are still on the wrong path.  

class breakfast

I signed up to make muffins for Family Breakfast Potluck in Nate's class and my first thought was: how can I make something that requires almost no effort but isn't store bought (I am class mom after all!) .

But then I started reading food blogs for my new column in Brooklyn Based and I came across many exciting muffin recipes by mom-bloggers who are way more energetic and patient than me. Adding fiber cereal and chia seeds and all the amazing ingredients that I"m sure the other kids in Nate's class would eat but Nate won't. And they were all far more complicated recipes that I would spend hours making and then be disappointed that Nate rejected-we've done this routine too many times.

So I basically made our usual add eggs, milk, oil to whole wheat pancake mix then poured the batter into small muffin tins, threw in a couple blueberries and a drop of Nutella and baked for 10 minutes. They were pretty yummy (though toppings tended to settle at the bottom during cooking.) I served them in an empty egg container because they were the exact size of the holes.

Lemme say they were not a hit. I think they looked too healthy next to the frozen mini waffles, cookies, doughnuts and bagels (lame!).  The best dish was eggs baked in muffin cups sprinkled with bacon pieces. Next year I'm making that!

abcdef breakfast

Yesterday, while breakfasting on bagels and bacon, Nate pointed out that both items began with the letter "B". Then Michael said we should do a different letter every day for breakfast! Then I was shopping for cantaloupe.

We've only done a few letters but it is proving to be a good way to introduce some new foods (or just get Nate to eat something other than frozen waffles) in the name of the "game".

So far we skipped A (see above) but followed through with...

B: Bagel with Butter and Bacon (accompanied by Bear and Buffalo)

C: Cantaloupe and Cinnamon Cereal with (not shown) Coffee.

D: Danish and Dip (yogurt and honey) with fruit

E: Eggs and English Muffins

F. French toast and Fresh Fruit

cheese sauce

My favorite veggie dish growing up was cauliflower with cheese sauce. I tried to make my own version tonight, steamed cauliflower with nouveau-trashy cheese sauce.

nouveau-trashy cheese sauce

  • 1 can “healthy request” Campbell’s cheddar cheese soup
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 2 slices American cheese torn into pieces
  • ½ teaspoon yellow mustard
  • salt/pepper

    simmer and whisk until smooth and hot (about 10 min.)

to veg...or not to veg

Is it okay for your child to eat no vegetables? Like none at all. I guess the answer to that question is probably, no, it’s not alright but my son seems to be living pretty well on a diet of NO VEGETABLES.

For awhile we were on a one-vegetable gig-carrots were the one and only veg he ate but he would eat one or two minis at every meal—or be punished. Really. We once sent him to bed because he wouldn’t finish his carrots and then felt terrible when he actually did go to bed for the night in his clothes. I hate to make this a fight but I’ve tried every other option. See Carrot Mac and Cheese.

Last week, under the forgiving gaze of two adoring grandparents, he refused his one baby carrot. I pushed and pushed and 30 minutes later he was still nibbling through the baby carrot in mini microbites. When he finally finished it, he made a weird gagging noise, came over to me and threw up ONLY CARROT all over me. It wasn’t a lot of vomit-baby carrots are small—but it was the whole baby carrot, the one I made him eat, in regurgitated flecks on my lap. I have to admit it was a brilliant move that Michael and I now refer to as “throwing up the carrot”- when a kid makes it almost impossible to continue making him do something.

Anyway, a few days ago Nate announced that he was through with carrots. Not surprising. He refused cucumbers and snow peas – former favorites—so I was forced to pack an apple in his lunchbox instead of the usual veggie cuts. This went on for awhile until I finally declared my case again at dinner: