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Toddler Eating and Recipes

I am amazed how intuitive toddler eating is and how much it drives me crazy.

When our little one eats everything served for dinner, I think to myself, “Yes! Now I can make that again and he’ll actually eat a full balanced meal.”  Nope.  It actually means that he’s gotten his fill of those foods and is ready for something different.  He’ll eat only cheese for lunch (as in, no other foods, just cheese), and then not eat cheese again for another few weeks.  He’ll get really into roasted carrots before dinner when we’re preparing them, but then choose not to eat any when it’s time to sit down and eat the meal.

The one thing that is clear is that feeding a toddler is a lesson of letting go of control and practicing to trust the intuition that’s naturally built into each little person.

There are, however, a few standbys that have been happily and consistently accepted by our little one.  Yes, that list includes all the fruits, bread, and butter.  But it also includes “nut balls,” veggie pancakes, and other nutrient dense choices that include nourishing fats and proteins along with the ever-loved carbs.  And yes, those little bodies are moving around ALL day long and do need a lot of carbs!  But having a variety of macro-nutrients, along with a variety of colors, textures, and flavors, will set them up for a lifetime of healthy intuitive eating.  I believe that if sugar is kept away and most food choices in a house are nutrient-dense whole foods prepared from scratch, toddlers will choose to eat an adequate amount of varied items and get the nutrients they need.  It might just take a week (or a month) to balance out all of those seemingly bizarre daily eating choices.

In the next few posts I will be sharing some of our favorite recipes – the ones that ALL members of our house enjoy.  Cooking projects keep kids busy, engage all the senses, and result in ready-to-eat snacks and meals that need to be prepared anyway.  With every recipe I post, I’ll highlight good opportunities to engage helping toddler hands.  Enjoy!

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Snack Attack

snack food!

If you’re anything like me, you try to cook from scratch and eat whole foods.  When you do end up buying packaged food from the store, you check out the ingredients list and try to find something that’s pretty simple and made from things you can pronounce.  Well, last week I just really wanted goldfish!  Or some other cheesy crunchy orange snack from the middle aisles of the grocery store.

goldfish ingredients

The ingredients in goldfish certainly aren’t the worst, but for someone who eats organic, savors grass-fed dairy, avoids highly processed vegetable oils, and soaks her grains and flours before baking, they’re pretty far from what I’d like to be eating on a daily basis.

What do do?  Make my own!

Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently to add some fun snacky homemade foods into our lives:

homemade cheez its

Homemade Cheeze-Its
-The recipe I followed: Serious Eats Cheez-Its
   -Thoughts: Addictive!  Totally met my craving for goldfish, but probably wouldn’t want to have around the house all the time.
-How I tweaked it: I used whole plain yogurt + 3 tablespoons of melted butter (1 cup total volume) instead of cream.  I then mixed the yogurt, melted butter, and flour 24 hours ahead of time, allowing it to soak covered at room temperature (read more about soaking grains here).  When I was ready to bake, I mixed the dry ingredients first, dumped them into the wet ingredients, and kneaded the (very wet!) dough on a floured surface.  I followed some advice from the recipe’s comments and rolled out the dough directly onto my silicone pad (which I use instead of parchment paper).  The wet dough on the pad was super easy to slide on to a tray, cut into squares, and put in the oven.  I baked at a lower temperature (325) for a longer amount of time (until they were golden brown) to get them crispy without burning.  I put the tray back in a warm oven later that night (after I had baked something else) to help them dry out all the way.

homemade kind bars1

Homemade “Kind” Bars
-The recipe I followed: Fruit and Nut Bars from The Nourishing Home
   -Thoughts: It totally worked!  Mine are slightly more fragile (crumbly), but they do stay together as bars and have a great balance of salty and sweet.  Perfect for keeping at work for days that I didn’t pack quite enough for lunch.
-How I tweaked it:  I used maple syrup instead of raw honey – my preference when baking (raw honey loses its benefits when heated).  Molasses would also be a sweetener that would add an interesting twist to the flavor.  I also splashed in some vanilla.  In need of more “glue,” I added a bit more nut butter+coconut flour.  It would definitely be possible to change the ratio of fruit to nuts (or add something else, like chocolate chips or granola), as long as the total amount comes to just under 2 cups total.

homemade gummies

Homemade Sour Watermelon Gummies
-The recipe I followed: Sour Watermelon Gummies from Meatified
   -Thoughts: Not as good a match to the real deal as the recipes above (adding more honey would likely get it closer), but a great way to enjoy a fruity snack and get some pastured gelatin into your diet (your skin, hair, nails, and joints will thank you).
-How I tweaked it: Didn’t!  I did end up adding a heaping tablespoon of honey.  This was the perfect use of the extra watermelon we threw in the freezer last summer.   If you don’t have silicone molds, it totally works to pour liquid into a flat-bottomed dish and then cut into squares when gelled.  A note: If you taste your liquid before cooling, it should be super tangy and sweet – it will become much more bland when cooled.

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Let the Foraging & Gardening Begin!

April from Philo

Our landscape is greening more and more every day.  Buds swell and flower, new birds arrive daily, and early greens are emerging.

Pussy Willows

The first cold hardy seeds and seedlings are planted in our garden.  Whenever it is dry enough, I try to get into the garden to stay ahead of weeding and garden bed preparation.  It’s best to work the soil when it’s not too wet, which can be tricky at this time of year!  By having several garden beds ready to go, there’s always space when I’m ready to plant the next thing.  Seeds and seedlings I plant in April include: peas, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, beets, radishes, and onions.  I’ve started most of our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) inside – they will be the next to go out.  Carrots and parsnips are also on my list to plant in the next few weeks.

nettles-growing

Stinging nettles and dandelion greens have emerged and are young, tender, and delicious at this time of year.  They also happen to be loaded with nutrients and are exactly what our bodies need as they awake for spring.  I love this post by Urban Moonshine about harvesting dandelions in early spring.   Dandelions’ bitter qualities are what make them health-giving but can also turn people off from foraging and eating wild plants.  Nettles, on the other hand, are quite mild and can be used instead of spinach when cooking.  Here is a post with harvesting instructions and numerous ideas for using nettles in your meals.  Check out this post if you’re interested in other yummy plants to forage in the early spring.

dandelion-familyHappy foraging, happy gardening, happy spring!

P.S. Our naturally dyed deviled eggs came out great!  This year’s notes: my green is in need of improvement, and I learned to be cautious when playing with salt, baking soda and vinegar for my blue dye…avoiding blue volcanos in the kitchen is generally a good idea 🙂

Natural Easter Eggs

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Winter Recipes

I love cooking in the winter.   Darkness comes early, leaving plenty of time for food prep before I get hungry for dinner.  Warmth and good smells contrast with the brisk cold outdoor air.  And the final result is a hot delicious meal.

Though I’ve cooked a bunch of new recipes recently, I failed to take any photos or document the ingredient tweaks made as I adjusted each dish to taste.  Oh well.  It turns out I’ve already documented many of our go-to recipes that incorporate stored, frozen, and canned garden harvests.  Here are some favorite recipes for the depths of winter:

Chicken Soup and Elderberry Syrup: Two of our favorite get-well-soon foods.

elderberry-syrup

Squash:  A variety of simple flavor combinations that allow you to enjoy last year’s bountiful harvest day after day.

Butternut squash

Winter Sweetened Kale & Brussels sprouts: Sweetened and tender from frost, these brassicas are nothing like the peppery and sometimes tough summer versions.  You can’t go wrong with these simple go-to recipes.

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

Chili and cornbread: Nourishing and delicious.  Perfect for enjoying in front of the fireplace after a day filled with snowy adventures.

chili-up-close

Tomato soup: A standard in our household.  This is our favorite way to use tomatoes canned in the height of sunny summer.

Tomato-soup-with-toast

Ginger and Turmeric recipes: Miso squash bisque, curried broth, and Golden milk tea: Warming, comforting, delicious, and SO good for you!

Ginger-and-Turmeric1

Cream of cauliflower soup: So creamy you’ll forget it’s packed with veggies.

cream-of-cauliflower2

Enjoy

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Better Bitters

homemade-bitters

Our pantry, freezer, and fridge are stocked with organic whole foods.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have access to such high quality ingredients, many originating here in Vermont and some from around the globe.  Cooking everything from scratch (and barely ever eating out) allows us to spend more on the raw materials, making incredibly high quality meals quite affordable.

Then one day out of curiosity I took a peek at the Angostora Bitters ingredients panel from our cabinet… Alcohol, water, sugar, gentian, natural flavorings, carmel color and added colors.  Not the worst things in the world, but I realized that I could do way better!  Why hadn’t I thought of making my own bitters before now?

It turns out, making bitters is incredibly easy.  Simply steep ingredients like citrus peels, herbs, or spices in vodka, strain, and enjoy!  But what to steep?

Inspired by great new companies, like Urban Moonshine and Salud Bitters, I wanted my bitters to be functional and delicious.  I had also been meaning to take advantage of the collection of herbalism resources I’d been accumulating.

medicinal-herb-books

Browsing through my books, I started to list combinations of herbs, spices, and citrus peels that would promote health or ease ailments.  I’m no herbalist, so I don’t guarantee results.  I know that herbal remedies need to be used regularly over time to be effective and I’m not planning on having bitters every day.  The herbalism lens, however, was useful to me in concocting some intentional blends from millions of possibilities.

A simpler option, of course, would be to start with single or two-ingredient bitters.  Orange, cardamom, or ginger bitters would all be great all on their own.  I was ready to make a project out of it, however, so I pulled tons of ingredients out of the cupboards and got to work.

bitters-ingredients

I filled each jar about 1/3 of the way up with herbs, spices, and peels (dried ingredients will expand and you want everything to stay below the level of the vodka).  I then filled each jar with vodka, labeled each with its ingredients list, and let them sit in a dark corner of my kitchen.  I shook them daily (sort of… on the days I remembered).  After two weeks, I strained and rebottled into old hot sauce jars.  Perfect for pouring small amounts!

bitters-steeping

Though my concoctions were blended without really knowing how they would taste, I love the unique flavor of each one.  I now have a diverse selection on hand for adding to seltzer, water, or cocktails.  What an easy way to upgrade this versatile cupboard ingredient!

homemade-bitters

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End-of-the-Season Recipes

oct-harvest

It’s the end of the growing season, but it isn’t quite time to rest.  With the bulk of our harvest frozen, canned, dried, and fermented, it’s time to deal with the left overs: the harvest that didn’t get processed during the peak of the season.  Though these “ugly” fruits and veggies are now gaining recognition in the mainstream (not everything comes out looking perfect!), they’ve always been part of harvesting and cooking for home gardeners.  I have fun examining the motley selection of veggies occupying my kitchen counters and refrigerator space, determining how they could be combined in delicious ways.  It takes some creativity at this time of year!

Sometimes end-of-season produce is a bit worse for the wear.  This weekend I prepared several gallons of sauerkraut from some cabbages that were admittedly acting as slug hotels in the garden.  After removing the holey outer leaves, however, wonderful fall sweetened crisp cabbage was revealed.  Yum!

cutting-cabbage1

It is also an important time of year to monitor harvest stores in the basement and attic.  Any veggies that show sign of rot or discoloration should be used first.  As last night’s dinner highlighted, blemished squash, onions, and other veggies are often perfectly delicious.   They don’t stay good for long, however, so it’s good to enjoy them right away while they’re still tasty.

Butternut squash

Thankfully, some plants are happy to be outside in the frost and colder weather.  Most of the brassicas: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, get sweeter and more tender after it has frosted.  For now I’ll happily leave them outside and will be ready to enjoy them when I see counters and fridge shelves empty and need to go get vegetables in order to prepare for our next meal.

Find great recipes for fall harvest from some of my previous blog posts:  Sauerkraut, pumpkin, chard, winter squash, frost sweetened kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Enjoy!

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

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Fun Fancy Finger Food

Making fancy appetizers can be a fun and beautiful way of highlighting delicious local harvest.  The best part is that beauty often comes with simplicity when highlighting fresh vegetables and fruits.  Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently:

caprise-skewers

Caprese Skewers: Halve cherry tomatoes and small mozzarella balls.  Skewer a basil leaf between piece of tomato and a piece of mozzarella.  Ta da!

cantelope-ap

Cantaloupe and Parmesan: The easiest of the bunch – this is more of a pairing than a recipe.  Lay out bite size pieces of cantaloupe and place thin slices of a hard cheese like parmesan on top. Skewer with a toothpick if desired.

cucumber-bites

home-made-icing-piping-bagCucumber Bites: Mix equal parts chèvre and sour cream, and mix in a dash of garlic powder, salt, and enough dried dill weed to speckle the mixture with green throughout.  Let sit in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before mixing again and tasting.  Adjust garlic, salt, and dill to taste.  Splash in a bit of lemon juice and/or add lemon zest if desired.  Spoon entire mixture into a icing piping bag (or one corner of a ziplock, twist tie shut, then cut off tip).  Slice cucumber into rounds.  Pipe dip on top of each cucumber slice.  Garnish with fresh parsley or dill.

 

melon-aps

Mint, Feta, Watermelon Cubes: Cube watermelon, slice solid feta into thin square pieces, and separate fresh mint leaves from stalk.  Arrange watermelon cubes on your serving platter, place a piece of feta and mint leaf on top of both, and skewer each tower with a tooth pick.  A beautiful flavor-packed end-of-summer treat!

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September in the Garden

garden-trellis

fruits-of-septemberSeptember is, quite literally, a fruitful month in Vermont gardens.  Melons finish their journey to ripeness, apples and pears are ready in orchards, fall raspberry canes bow with the weight of fruit, and tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants continue to mature in gardens.  In our sunny southern sloping garden, we’re excited to be growing these heat-loving treats so successfully.  It is also a time for preservation as we prepare for impending frost.  Vegetables like kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans can be blanched and frozen.  Ingredients for salsa, tomatoes, pesto, hot sauce, and apple sauce are all ready to be harvested and canned.  Almost any vegetable or fruit from the garden can be pickled.

Here are a selection of some of my favorite recipes that may help inspire you to enjoy the bounty September has to offer:

Tomatillos-and-tomatoes

Salsa – Our basic recipe and ideas for inventive iterations.

sungold-harvest

This most delicious way to highlight cherry tomatoes.

IMG_8967

Pan Seared Eggplant, which would be great with Dukkah sprinkled liberally on top.

raspberries

Flourless chocolate cake, featured annually in our household smothered in fall raspberries.

pesto-recipe

Pesto – consider swapping another nut or seed for pine nuts, another cheese for parmesan, or another herb for basil.  So many opportunities for great flavored sauces!

pickles

Pickles and fermented veggies – The idea I always fall back on at the end of the day.  Almost any favorite vegetable or fruit can be pickled.  However (even more beneficially) wilty, less favorite, or overly abundant things can be pickled with equal success.

Wishing you a happy harvest season!

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Summery Garden Recipes

harvest

I’ll admit it: I’m not a recipe follower.  My approach in the kitchen is to start with whatever item we have in abundance, add spices or flavorings that we didn’t just eat in the past few meals, taste, adjust, and enjoy.

This leads to a broad diversity of results that carry us through weeks of enjoyable seasonal meals.  But sometimes I feel the need to switch things up.  To try something new.  Or to use some new combination of flavors I just wouldn’t have thought of when trying to pull together a quick dinner from scratch.

Sometimes, especially starting around August, I also start to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of certain veggies and tired of my standard way of preparing them.  Bring on the recipes!

Here are a few ideas we’ve enjoyed this summer:

beet-risotto

Beet Risotto: Crafted by a friend and creative chef, this fun combination, enhanced by a generous amount of lemon zest, was a great way to enjoy our first true harvest of beets.  Check out her other recipes if you ever need in-season inspiration!

kale-ribbons

kale-salad

Raw Kale Salad: I was doubtful at first – I don’t love raw kale or dishes without enough sour, salt, and fat to balance out kale’s strong bitter green roughage.  It turns out the trick is in fine cutting and dressing ahead of time.  Yum!

rainbow-pizza

Rainbow pizza: When I saw this online in January, I immediately thought: “I can’t wait to try this in August!”  If the cauliflower crust in this recipe intimidates you, try it with a regular crust.

zucchini-fritters

Zucchini Fritters: After inventing a handful of variations on meals featuring zucchini and summer squash, I was excited to find this one to add to my repertoire.

Homemade fudgesicles: Ok, we didn’t grow any of the ingredients in this one.  AND, we ate them all without taking a picture.  BUT, it is a simple recipe with relatively whole foods and very delicious results!  I especially appreciated how the subtle sourness of the yogurt enhanced the overall flavor of these delicious cold treats.

Be sure to send your favorite summer veggie recipes my way, I’m always in need of new ideas!

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Feasting on Herbs and Flowers

spring-herbs2

This is my favorite time of year to include a big handful of herbs and flowers in every meal.  Herbs have fully leafed out and are starting to grow tender new leaves.  The flowers in bloom are ever evolving, and you’d be surprised to learn how many of them are edible.  While we’re waiting for our first peas, beans, cucumbers, and carrots, I love highlighting the wonderful flavors of backyard and garden herbs and flowers.

tea-flowers

Make tea: Both herbs and flowers make wonderful tea.  Standard flavors like chamomile and mint are easy to grow in your garden and are best harvested at this time of year.  Other familiar blooms and leaves also make great tea!  Try red clover, stinging nettle, sage, rosemary, raspberry leaf, lemon balm, catnip, or rose petals.  Spices from your kitchen like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon make great additions to tea blends.  Want to dig deeper?  Get a book or look online to learn the healing properties of your favorite herbs and flowers.

fresh-herb-tea

spring-herbs1

Make Herb Pesto, Dip, Sauce, or Dressing: I’m always surprised by how big a bundle of pungent herbs can be used to made a small dish of delicious “pesto.”  Try blending the herbs in your garden with sprouted sunflower seeds, olive oil,  parmesan, and lemon juice for a delicious pesto.  Add a small amount of chicken broth or coconut milk for a wonderful sauce to top your meals.  Add more oil and vinegar, and perhaps some plain yogurt, mustard, and garlic to make a delicious green dressing.  As a bonus, herbs are packed with nutrients and a variety of healing properties.

herb-pesto

Garnish Generously: Flower petals and finely chopped herbs made delicious and beautiful garnishes for meals and toppings for salads.  If you don’t have many choices in your garden, wander into your yard (make sure there are no pesticides or pet waste!) or nearby fields.  Dandelion greens and petals, clover petals, violets, wood sorrel leaves, purslane, chick weed and lambs quarters are all nutrient-packed wild leaves, “weeds,” and flowers that are plentiful and tasty.

may-salad-ingredients

may-salad