Sunday, April 10, 2011

Happy Days: Lemon Dressing

For the next six months or so, I Heart Cooking Clubs is focusing on the recipes of Jamie Oliver. I am very excited about this prospect, because Jamie's recipes tend to focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients. What better chef to highlight during the April to September growing season?

Here in New England, it's not quite the growing season yet. We're starting to tuck pea seeds into the ground. We're beginning to look forward to fresh asparagus coming in within the next month or so. But, it's far from a bountiful time right now. As a matter of fact, I often think of the very beginning of spring as the worst time for produce around here. The apples from last fall have gotten mealy with age. The potatoes and garlic are starting to sprout. Yet, the early crops that we so look forward to--asparagus, fiddleheads, strawberries, and peas--are still a ways away. All the produce in the supermarket is shipped in from far away, yet we are so ready for the fresh, light tastes that come with warmer weather.

Ah, the warmer weather. THAT we are beginning to have. Yesterday, it was sunny and the temperature rose to the mid-60s. In our house, we turned the thermostat down to 50, opened all the windows and let the fresh air in. We celebrated the beginning of true spring (because, really, in New England, March 21 is just a date among dates--we know we have a few weeks left of winter weather yet to come).

This week's I Heart Cooking Club theme is "Happy Days," and yesterday was just that. While Jasper took his afternoon nap, Kurt and I sliced up a fresh (though far from local) salad. I baked brownies (that didn't set up, but that's a different story altogether), and we made two homemade salad dressings. We packed all of this up, in addition to a growler of homebrew, some biodegradable bowls, jars of bubbles, a playground ball, an armload of hula hoops and a blanket, and headed out of our local orchard. There, we met three other families from our play group for a potluck picnic and general frolicking.

We spent three hours at the orchard, chatting, eating wonderful food (Thai curry noodles, muffins, and many beautiful veggie pizzas arrived from the other families), playing, and drinking in the sunshine. I couldn't possibly think of a better way to spend a Saturday in early spring.

So, thank you, Jamie Oliver, for an extremely simple, but refreshing dressing recipe. Thank you, I Heart Cooking Clubs, for the perfect theme for the week. Thank you, to the play group, for the awesome idea for the picnic and the wonderful company. And, thank you, spring, for finally arriving. There are happy days ahead.

Jamie Oliver's Jam Jar Lemon Dressing
increased from this link
9 Tbs olive oil
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
a few grinds of sea salt
a few grinds of black pepper

Combine everything in a mason jar. Screw the lid on tight. Shake vigorously, doing a "happy spring dance," if you wish.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Tragedy of Brown (and Electric Orange) Food

I haven't posted in a while. My little man, now 15 months old, has been taking all my energy. By the time he's in bed at night, all I can think of doing is collapsing on the couch to read or watch some DVDs. I miss writing, though, so I would like to get better about cooking and blogging. In the meantime, here's one of my semi-philosophical rants. I was reading Laura's post over on the the Spiced Life about her experience bringing her children to a "non-kid-friendly restaurant." You can read her excellent post about it here.

Laura hit a nerve for me with her post. It's something I've been thinking about a lot. My little family goes out to eat more than we should. Take last night, for example. It was finally Friday. It had been a rough week--Jasper had a cold and ran his very first fever. We had been couped up in the house all week. Jasper was finally better--the fever had been gone for two days, and his runny nose had finally stopped. When Kurt got home, we just wanted to get OUT. So, we went out to eat. We sat down, and found the same kids meal menu that seems to be at EVERY restaurant. Our choices were all brown or orange. Chicken fingers. Grilled cheese. Mac and cheese. A cheeseburger. Buttered pasta noodles (optional marinara sauce--yay for some red???). It's the same everywhere we go, regardless of the cuisine. A Mexican restaurant might add a quesedilla onto the list. A barbecue place might add ribs. Not that Jasper can eat ribs on his own yet. But, that's it.

I think a lot about nutrition for my child. He had a rocky start to his lifelong career of eating. Back when he was a newborn, he wasn't gaining weight fast enough. We went through hell with him--an appointment at a lactation consultant where she weighed him before and after nursing to figure out how much he was eating, a plethora of blood tests, and finally a specialist at the children's hospital. We finally ended up supplementing with preemie formula, and, after weighing him in every few days, then every week, then every month, and finally every few months. When Jasper started solid foods, we had to "boost" them, adding a scoop of formula to his fruit purees, and a drizzle of olive oil into his vegetable purees. He finally caught up. Jasper is still thin. He is still below the 50th percentile in weight, and well above the 80th for height. At this point, I do believe that he is just "long and lean," and perfectly fine. But, all of those doctors' visits, tests, and constant questioning about his weight and what he was eating stayed with me. They made me very aware of what I feed him.

Back to the discussion about restaurants, and our society's expectations of our children, in general. We know that we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. We also know that grilled cheese and fries have very little nutritional value, and lots of empty calories. Yet, we don't seem to be doing anything about it. Yes, toddlers are picky eaters. Even the "best" eaters are. Jasper is, too, in his own way. He loves broccoli. He barely touches chicken fingers. He loves zucchini, and lox, and sharp cheddar cheese and pretty much any fruit that you put in front of him. He has no interest in cheeseburgers or mashed potatoes. I guess my point is that "picky" doesn't have to mean "brown food only." We need to start expecting more from our children. Yes, I expect Jasper to be picky. Yes, I expect him to like somethings, and not like others. And, yes, I do expect him to push away plates of some foods. All kids do it. I think the problem is WHAT we expect them to eat and not to eat. If we set a plate of vegetables down in front of our children and watch them with a "what will they do?" face, they will sense the tension and not want to eat them. If we set a plate of chicken fingers and fries down in front of them with complete ease, they will sense that, too.

What I would really love to see is for kids' menus to start looking like the adult menu, with smaller portions. You can leave the chicken fingers on the menu--we all know enough adults who eat them, too. But, can we please include some real food on there, too? Can we please offer our children colorful options, brimming with veggies? Can we please offer a fruit cup for the included dessert, instead of only soft serve ice cream?

On a last note, last weekend, we went to Harlow's, in Peterborough, NH. We chose the restaurant because it is a mid-point to see a friend who lives a long drive away. The kids' menu looked similar to most, with one exception. They had a raw veggie platter option. It had carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes, all shaved very thin. It had about a half of an avocado, chopped up. It came with a little cup of organic ranch dressing for dipping. And it was the best meal Jasper has ever had at a restaurant. He had tons of fun dipping his veggies. He liked the different tastes and textures. And he loved looking at all the pretty colors on his plate. It was such a simple idea, yet made all of us so happy--the "picky" toddler, and the concerned parents. I wish more restaurants would add this easy meal to their brown menus. It certainly would be a step in the right direction.