Friday, May 30, 2008

Star Wars bento challenge

Tempeh is easy and healthy.
I just bake it straight out of
the package in the oven for
half an hour. Then I let it
cool and cut into strips and
make various tasty meals.
Here's a tempeh salad.

Monday was a lazy Memorial Day, and Tuesday Ryan brought a cupcake to school for a friend's birthday. Here's goofy Nate wearing 2 pairs of sunglasses...upside down:

With such gorgeous weather lately, everyone has been spending most of the days outside. AJ exhausted himself and took a nap on the couch one afternoon.

Ryan had a field trip to go on a hike in the woods; the kids were each given a new box of crayons and had a sketchbook to draw what they saw on their walk. But I still packed him a cool snack in his backpack for the trip...
This week I decided to try the Star Wars bento challenge over at kawaiikiki's Bento Challenge.
My first attempt was Yoda on Dagoba: mashed potatoes, spinach, peas, green soy paper (for Yoda's head), nori and wheat bread (for Yoda's clothing). And the edible food coloring markers for Yoda's face.

I kept AJ's snack simple though: mashed potatoes, spinach, slices of wheat bread.
Ryan (wearing a Star Wars t-shirt of course) built a Star Wars Lego spaceship at home.

AJ's preschool "greenhouse" project
is ready to be planted. His teacher
was amazed last year that Ryan's
greenhouse worked so well and had
produced handfuls of string beans
by the end of the summer. AJ's
seems to be doing equally well, though
only 2 out of 3 beans germinated.

This week Ryan went to work at the
farm with Dada. He pruned an entire
row of new strawberry plants himself.

Not as intricate as wednesday's, but still fun: rice with black sesame seeds, nori letters, cucumber and tomato "lightsabers", a cantaloupe ball, green beans, sesame tofu.

Again, AJ's snack remains
simple: cantaloupe balls,
crackers, green beans,
sesame tofu.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Try, Try Again

Picky eaters can be tough. My middle son is quite sensitive to the appearance of his food, its taste, and its texture. The "experts" say children will often need to be exposed to a food a dozen or more times before they'll like it or even try it.

Try 100 times.

I must have offered green beans at least 100 times to AJ between age 1-3 before he willingly tried them. I never complained, never forced him to try a bite. I also never offered "alternative" meals. I just offered, asked, and modeled eating them again and again and again, and eventually, one night, he took one out of his ma po tofu dish and tried it. And another. And soon they became a favourite. Just like that.

But I was beginning to lose any hope of him ever liking cucumbers. While they are one of Ryan's favourite foods, AJ wouldn't touch them...until this week.
I was making an asian cucumber salad, as I have done probably a dozen times in their presence. Ryan and Nate were clamouring at my side to "steal" a piece before I had even finished the dressing. Suddenly there was AJ, talking about the soy sauce I was adding to the dressing (one of his favourite condiments), and asking to have a bite also.
He ate half a dozen slices right there.
The next afternoon, when I offered everyone popcorn and banana halves as a snack, AJ said, "No, I want cucumber salad." He ate 3 bowlsful.
Now I have to be careful. Whenever he gets turned on to a new food, I don't want to let him overindulge. I strive to keep these foods a novelty for a while. In a month or so, when cucumbers are in season at the farm, I'll probably say, "Ooookaaaaay, we'll make a cucumber salad," like it's a special treat. And after a few hundred tries, for me, it is a treat to see my picky eater enjoying a new food. But boy does it take patience.


Pizza/pesto foccacia.
I used some frozen pesto
from last summer to cover
my half (and tomato), and some
homemade sauce (with
pureed pumpkin & collard
greens hidden in it) topped
with Veganrella cheeze and
dandelion greens on the
boys' side. Veganrella is a
great soy-free vegan
cheeze that melts well.

Magpiedee's Nudgies

1 can (or equivalent) pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 cups oatmeal
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup ground or whole flax seeds
1-2 T. spices (such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice)

Combine first 3 ingredients in large bowl, then add the remaining ingredients. Mix well.
If desired, add 1 cup walnuts or other nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, etc.
Spread in a 13x9 inch baking dish or brownie pan (I use a Pampered Chef medium-sized Stoneware bar pan).
Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool, then cut into bars or squares.

These get eaten like brownies at our house. They also freeze really well, and are a great snack on hot summer days just out of the freezer.

** Huge thanks to Delilah D for sharing this recipe with me. She is one incredibly creative mama. **

This recipe is so versatile. You can replace the pumpkin with just about any fruit or vegetable. I have made pumpkin-pea nudgies, carrot-zucchini nudgies, blueberry-banana nudgies. You are only limited by your imagination! And they taste fantastic!


For Ryan's preschool field trip to a farm I packed him a bag of nudgies and a juice box.

AJ also got a nudgie bar
for his snack, along
with some Veggie Booty.

Dinner started out as a lazy ramen noodle night, but then I got carried away adding side dishes:dinner: ramen noodles & broccoli with peanut sauce; cold tofu; cucumber salad; honeydew melon; shiitake mushrooms; spinach.
Nate just couldn't get enough of the shittake mushrooms. He and my husband finished off the leftovers after dinner. They were a very simple recipe from Japanese Cooking that I will definitely be making again as soon as I can restock my dried shiitake supply!

Ryan's snack: Mini Golf!
Sliced cucumber "turf", white chocolate chip "golfball", carrot "putter", artichoke hummus "sandtrap", red bell pepper "flowers", and snow pea & lettuce "rough". Plus a few Wheat Thins square crackers to mop up any extra hummus.

lunch: spicy rosemary
(veganized) from
the Barefoot Contessa.
My husband loved it.
While I thought it was
very tasty, it was a
bit too greasy for me. I
think I'd rather bake it
than fry it if I make it again.

Ryan & AJ: soba noodles; carrots; edamame; mini blueberry muffin.

My second breakfast:
soba noodle salad with
edamame, cucumber,
tomato, sesame oil &
soy sauce.

Star Snacks: cantaloupe & honeydew melon; sesame tofu; soy cheese; Tofutti cream cheese & jelly sandwich; white/dark chocolate.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Restaurant Review: Imperial China

Chinese restaurants
are a dime a dozen,
but this one stands
out in the local crowd.

Located on route 9 west
in Framingham, MA (also
with access from route
30 via the plaza next door) it is convenient, centrally located, and tasteful. Though you can certainly order take-away, you'll probably want to dine in.

We often end up here
on Mother's Day, which
we did again this year.
There is something for
everyone: both Chinese
& Japanese menus, with
a lot to choose from.
Service is always friendly
and the vegetables crisp
and tasty.

There are lots of options for vegetarians on the Chinese menu, though I always re-ask about ingredients. For example, the Szechuan bean curd is made with pork. I always double check about things like that and fish sauce.

My husband always orders
the General Gau's vegetarian
"chicken" off the very front
of the menu. It's a bit too
'realistic' for me, though spicy
and always served with lightly
steamed broccoli.

I personally prefer the General
Gau's vegetarian "beef", also
located on the very front of the
menu. I enjoy the texture of
wheat gluten dishes, and this
always includes a nice mix of
chinese vegetables in a light

Ryan always requires an
order of sushi. He usually
gets kappa maki (cucumber)
and oshinko maki (pickled
daikon) and shares a few
pieces with me. The sushi
menu isn't large, and I
wouldn't come here if I
was just in the mood for
sushi, but it's adequate.

We always order a dish of
mixed vegetables, like the
Buddha's delight. Anything
with baby corn and broccoli
is a hit with the boys. Ryan
insisted that he try "every
kind of vegetable" in the dish.

And I can never get enough
pea pods! I don't hesitate on
Mother's Day to order a
dish that is almost exclusively
stir-fried pea pods with some
water chestnuts added for an
extra crunch.

And we always need at least
one tofu dish. AJ and Nate
love spicy fried tofu. I love
the addition of what I believe
are some portobello mushrooms
that make the dish very hearty.
There were certainly no
leftovers of this to take home!

Imperial China does not have
a website or online menu, but
there are a few reviews on Yelp
and on

The dinner concluded with
the standard fortune cookies,
or "Pac Man cookies" as AJ
calls them, and orange
wedges, along with a pink rose
for me on Mother's Day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Review: Harvest For Hope

Jane Goodall takes a break from the gorillas to discuss the state of the world's current unsustainable agricultural practices in Harvest For Hope. This is one of those books that I wish I could put into the hands of almost everyone in America. Even though it was "preaching to the choir" to me, it was a needed reminder to try harder to use less, waste less, and do my damndest to buy and store locally grown food even when our local farm isn't in season.

This was a quick read, and a scary overview of the evolution to modern monoculture factory farming. Read it, and you will immediately feel compelled to buy organic, visit the local farmer's market, join a CSA farm, or start your own garden. Goodall provides lots of suggestions for what everyone can do to support local farmers and help change how the developed world gets its sustenance.

5 stars!

Friday, May 16, 2008

stamping on food

Armed with some new soy paper wrappers and edible ink markers, I got out a rubber stamp set and prepared to decorate some onigiri rolls. I'd never worked with soy wrappers before. They soften easily on damp rice, but the image I'd stamped on them didn't bleed at all. So I will definitely use this technique again. But I still want to think of more edible surfaces to stamp on in the future.
Ryan's snack: sports-themed onigiri; spinach; grapes; a strawberry.
I've discovered that AJ doesn't always care for food that LOOKS like other things! When he saw his snack he declared "oooh! My favourite!" with regards to the stamped onigiri, but then he chewed off the ends at school but left the balloon image alone. I'll have to not make such an effort on his snacks. Oh well! Ryan loves them.
AJ: onigiri roll; broccoli; grapes; spinach.
My husband's lunch: various onigiri w/furikake seasonings; leftover general Gao's "chicken"; spinach; strawberries; an apricot.

Ryan has been picking
lots of dandelion greens
from our yard. Our poor
neighbor with the
monoculture golf course
lawn doesn't know what
he's missing! Ryan
insists I include his
harvest in our meals. So far I've blanched it with spinach, and added it with some green beans to our ramen noodles. Next he wants them added to his favourite tofu dish.

Ryan loves all sports, so I made his bento look like a pool table...a bed of brown rice; barely blanched spinach leaves (patted dry); edamame pockets; a pretzel cue stick; a white chocolate chip cue ball; a triangle I made out of melted chocolate and froze the night before; various fruits, veggies, & beans cut into circles with a metal frosting piper nozzle.

Lunch was orzo pasta
with chopped fresh &
sun-dried tomatoes,
garlic, walnuts, salt,
pepper, & olive oil.

The boys helped to
plant the azalea bush
they got me for
Mother's Day. Ryan
dug most of the hole
and added compost
from our compost pile.

Ryan: oriental rice crackers; an apricot; bean salad; cucumber salad.

A "picnic" lunch for the boys: whole wheat bagel pizzas made w/Veganrella cheeze; grapes; strawberries; peanuts; carrots; celery.

Dinner: pickled beets; steamed baby purple potatoes; spicy baked tofu; steamed broccoli; corn.

AJ and Dada's lunch: rice; mini pumpkin muffin; steamed baby purple potatoes; honeydew melon; spicy baked tofu; mini zucchini muffin; steamed broccoli; cantaloupe; 2 white & dark chocolate ducks.

AJ needed something to share with Dada on his preschool field trip to Boston to visit the ducks and ride the Swan Boats in the public garden. A few days earlier I melted some vegan chocolate and made various shapes, including these ducks.
A great award-winning book to read for kids is Make Way For Ducklings about a duck family's search for a place to live in Boston.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Restaurant Review: Big Fresh

Big Fresh Cafe - Framingham, MA

It may not look like
much on the outside,
but in my opinion this
is the best restaurant
in our town. What
better way to kick off
what I hope will be some
mouth watering restaurant

Located in a strip mall, across the street from McDonald's and Bugaboo Creek steakhouse, near Walmart and route 9, is this fabulous restaurant that strives to bring wholesome local New England grown foods to its customers.

The menu is delicious, with falafel wraps, asian curry dishes and stir-fries, salads and sides of locally grown vegetables. In the foyer is a bulletin board that often changes, highlighting different local farms. And in addition to daily specials, there is a blackboard telling what local ingredients are available and which farm they came from.

The New England growing
season isn't as long as in
other areas of the country,
but last week in May the
first local produce had
arrived--spring asparagus!
Later in the season this
board will be crammed with
a list of local food items.

Another thing I love about this restaurant is the open kitchen--you can watch your food being prepared, and during slower hours socialize with the staff. However, at 1pm on a tuesday, the place was packed with a line of people waiting to place lunch orders.

I was craving a falafel
hummus wrap, my usual.
My husband often orders
something different, but
ends up stealing some of
mine for a few tastes, so
this visit we ordered
the same thing. Delish!

Check out the Big Fresh website for their menu, catering menu, or to learn about the restaurant's various community connections.
Or stop in for a healthy lunch or dinner before heading out with your date to the Framingham 16 cinema, Shopper's World, or Natick Collection mall.

Friday, May 9, 2008

back to bento

Monday:May 5th was Children's Day, a holiday in Japan where carp streamers are flown to represent the family, often a larger one for the father, then smaller streamers for each child. So I cut out two carp streamer shapes out of nori and put them on either side of an onigiri triangle for AJ's snack, along with: edamame; a mini pumpkin muffin; blanched spinach; 2 cantaloupe bears.
Ryan's class was celebrating his teacher's birthday, so he brought a chocolate cupcake cone with vanilla rainbow frosting--I forgot to get a photo of it, doh!

Nate and I shared a
second breakfast of
blanched sesame
spinach and miso soup.

Lunch & dinner was a polenta lasagna. I've used rice lasagna noodles to make a gluten-free lasagna before, but using polenta really works well too! I only used half the polenta called for in the recipe though. I veganized this recipe from a Food Network show and it turned out fabulously! My husband really enjoyed it and the boys liked it too. Some of my substitutions included:
- for the sausage: Tofurky Sweet Italian Sausage with sun-dried tomatoes...I hadn't bought imitation sausage in at least a decade; this stuff was pretty good and smelled marvelous.
- for the 3 cheeses: Vegan Gourmet monterey jack; Galaxy Vegan Grated Topping for the parmesan (though I only used about 1/2 a cup instead of 2 cups); a homemade tofu ricotta of my own (this worked really well keeping the top moist so it could be cooked without covering for 50 minutes).

Basketball bento for Ryan: Basketball sandwich; baked sweet potato fries; a container of ketchup; orange slices.
I recently bought some edible food coloring markers and wanted to try them out. They didn't work too smoothly writing on slippery orange soy cheese! But I have another idea which was my main reason for buying them that I will try next week....stay tuned!

I froze the remainder
of our anniversary
cake. We'll save it
to eat after the new
only 7-12 weeks!

Here are AJ &
Ryan imitating
my 30 week
pregnant belly
with some mini
beachballs they'd
just gotten at
the garden center.

Ryan & AJ: green beans dressed with a little soy sauce; cantaloupe chunks; baked Ian's Alphatots; container of ketchup.

Friday:Ryan & AJ: grilled nutritional yeast cheeze sandwiches; mango slices; dill pickle pieces; baby carrots.

Lately Ryan has been creating some of his own meals & snacks. He calls them his Iron Chef food.

He has some very
interesting sandwich
combinations, like
sliced banana, sliced
apple, lettuce, &
cream cheese.

Or strawberries,
peanut butter, &

What's more, he's
been handing out
sticky notes at
mealtimes so that
everyone (myself
included) can rate
the food and see
which part of the
meal is the winner!