Monday, June 29, 2009

Homemade Maple Syrup

If you have toddlers in your house, you know that syrup is so much more than a mere condiment. It is a valuable resource than magically transforms many foods from frumpy to fabulous delivery system. That's right. It's not just for pancakes at our house. We drizzle it on oatmeal, cooked carrots, sweet potatoes, pork chops, name it. It's amazing what a little maple glaze can do for a toddler's willingness to eat.

Of course, I try to use pure organic maple syrup as often as possible. Both because I prefer natural sugars over corn syrup laden treats, and because real maple syrup is a good source of zinc, manganese, and just a whisper of calcium. Everyone knows that when feeding finicky eaters every extra milligram of nutritional content is valuable!

Given my tendency to run out of pantry staples though, I occasionally find myself with a plate of naked pancakes. What's a mom to do? My first preference is to whip up some berry syrup, but that middle kiddo is suspicious of it. Anything that color, with that many lumps...well. That can't be good.

Instead I whip up a small batch of homemade maple syrup. It's not the real thing, but it's sweet, it's the right color, and all three muchkins will eat it. It's so quick and simple that you may never buy Aunt Jemima again.

Homemade Maple Syrup

1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. water
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp maple flavor

Combine sugars and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to help sugar dissolve completely. Once it reaches a boil, remove from heat and add flavoring. Serve. That's it.

You can easily make as much or as little as you need, just use equal parts of each sugar and water, and adjust the flavoring accordingly. You can add a pat of butter if you like it with butter flavor. A dash of cinnamon to tease your tastebuds. Cook it for an extra minute if you want to thicken it up, or add a splash of corn syrup if you must. (This is a rather thin syrup.) Mix it with the rest of your real maple syrup to stretch it out for one more day. You can even let it cool and refill your favorite syrup bottle for easy pouring.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More lunch box thoughts

I know that a lot of you mamas out there are getting ready to send the allergic munchkin off to school. And that means packing lunch. We just completed our first year of packing lunches, and I learned so many things! Let me share the knowledge, so that you can go into your school year feeling like a seasoned pro.

First, lunchtime is finite. This is new to kindergarten kids if they have previously stayed home with mom. Up until now they have had as long as they need to finish eating. No more. Lunchtime is brief. Often even more so for kindergarten because they are so new to cleaning up the classroom and lining up to go to lunch, and that means it takes them longer to get ready. Which, in turn, means they are sometimes late to lunch. And they don't get extra time. For those of you with dawdlers, start practicing now. Set a timer. See how your slowpoke does. And don't forget to account for the friends factor. As in, my kiddo is sometimes so busy chatting with her friends that she forgets to eat. Or only takes a few bites. Ay-yi-yi!

Second, those handy little packaged fruit cups? Not so handy. They are wonderful in that you can send them to school several days in a row. Waiting for your child to have time to eat it. And it won't go bad while traveling back and forth all week. Of course, if it is traveling back and forth only because it is too hard for little fingers to open...well. My allergic kiddo was too shy to ask for help. At the end of the week I asked if maybe she didn't like the peaches and would like Mom to find another choice. No, she answered, she likes peaches. She just couldn't get them open. So, moms, please make sure your kiddo has the moxie to ask for help opening packaged snacks, or open them ahead of time and put them into a container that is easier to use.

Personally, I don't like packaged food. It is more expensive, and usually not in the right portion size for my little darling. What to do? When I am making dinner, or lunch, or whatever....I scoop out a portion before serving it. Really. I know the mandarin oranges are going to be inhaled. There won't be any left. There may be injuries suffered trying to decide who will eat the last one in the bowl. If I wait for leftovers, they may not come. So, get out your itty bitty container and put in a portion that is perfect for lunch tomorrow. Fruits, veggies, main dishes. Whatever. Save it, then serve it. And now you have at least part of tomorrow's lunch packed. Save money, save time.

Now for an unavoidable truth: school lunch tables are covered with unknown variables. The bus students may sit there in the morning. Breakfast may be served there. The cafeteria may double as an art room. Lunch might come in two shifts, with the kindergarten eating second shift. Who knows who was sitting there and what lovely residue they left behind. Sticky syrup, paste, peanut butter slime, maybe even a little 'I'll just wipe it here since I don't have a tissue.' Nice. You can pack a wipe so your kiddo can wipe the table first. We all know how thorough those kiddos can be. You can pack a placemat to unfold and eat on. You can teach your kiddo to eat over their lunchbox. Whatever fits your comfort level. Please establish, though, that food that touches the table should be treated as if it magically turns into brussel sprout pudding. That is to say don't eat it. Ever. Because you just never know.

One more thought for now: bring it all home. That's right. Even the trash. Those first few weeks your new student is learning the routine and how to use time wisely. You will be learning how much food actually goes into that body. If all of the trash, the half-eaten and the not-even-touched food comes home it helps the learning curve. What is the right portion size? How many types of food should you pack? What foods seem like a good idea but don't get eaten? Once you get a feel for what actually is consumed, certainly encourage your kiddo to find out where the trash can is. Because lunch boxes don't take long to get smelly.

Hope that helps a little bit. I'll try for a few more morsels of wisdom as the summer moves on. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cool Summer Treats!

The thermometer is creeping up and up. Every summer the craving for fresh fruit right out of the fridge hits me. Nothing is more refreshing. What says summer more clearly than a thick slice of cold watermelon?

Unless you're a kid. Then fruit is good. But popsicles and ice cream are better. C'mon now. It's a summer tradition bred into us through the generations.

How to balance the two so the kiddos get their frozen treat, but still get the healthy benefits of fruit? Frozen fruit. You knew that. And I just whipped up a batch of frozen fruity goodness from one of my kids' favorites: cantaloupe. They were drawn in by the promise of creamy frozen deliciousness in a bowl. And pleasantly surprised by how much it really tastes like fresh cantaloupe.

Pick your favorite melon and try it today. You won't regret it.

Simply Fruity Sorbet

2 c frozen melon
2 Tbsp oil (I used safflower)
1/4 c sugar, or to taste (we used a bit less)

Cube melon and place in baggie or freezable container. Freeze solid. Remove from freezer and place in food processor. Pour oil and sugar over frozen melon. Pulse until melon breaks into large chunks. Once uniform pieces are achieved, turn on processor and allow to blend for 1-2 minutes, until smooth and creamy looking. Enjoy immediately or put it back in the freezer for later. The oil keeps it from freezing solid, so it will still be ready to enjoy!

You could also puree this mixture with fresh melon, and then freeze for enjoyment. Either way, it is tasty. Use about one tablespoon of oil per cup of melon (or fruit), and adjust the sugar depending on the sweetness of the fruit you are using. Enjoy!

(OK, I admit, it got a little soft while posing for pictures. And I licked the bowl, because melted ice cream has no calories, right? A word of caution: the texture is kind of strange if you wait until it's soup to eat it. Frozen is recommended.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Banana Bread

In my pre-allergy baking days, my banana bread was legendary. Really. It was often requested for gatherings, and I never had leftovers to take home. Family get togethers, work pot-lucks, teachers lounge treats, you name it. I have given out the recipe many many times. It is that good.

It is also totally not mine. It is from a cookbook that I inherited when I got married. 'Cincinnati Reds Home Plate Favorites'. From Buddy Bell we have Base-Hit Banana Nut Bread. And it scores every time I make it.

After our allergy diagnosis I adapted the recipe to be egg and dairy free, and we still enjoyed it. When we got rid of wheat I thought, naw. Too many adaptations, it couldn't possibly be good. I still make the original recipe to take out to different places. I trust that it is still good. It tastes funny to me now, having been off of such decadent baked goods for so long.

Anyway, after my daughter asked- again- why I always make banana bread for everyone else but not for us....I knew it was time. Time to stop searching for a good recipe and just try this one out. Adaptations and all.

And it worked! It was moist (what gluten free baked good isn't?), and flavorful, and gone by the end of the day. My kids had it for breakfast, and two snacks. Um, and me too. Baked goods are my weakness.

My husband? The ever picky baked goods critic? Not so much. He said the flavor is good, but it's still too gummy. So, feel free to tweak it. Let me know if you get a drier version. I'm OK letting him eat toast. He never has adapted to allergen free baked goods.

I'm good with that. More for me.

Beyond the Bases Banana Bread

1/2 c Earth Balance buttery spread- soy free version (or use Spectrum shortening)*
3/4 c packed organic brown sugar
3/4 c organic cane sugar
2 EnerG eggs, whisked until foamy with warm water
2 tsp bourbon vanilla
1 c mashed banana*
1/2 c sorghum flour
1/2 c millet flour
1/2 c brown rice flour
1/2 c tapioca starch
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk + 1/2 tsp white vinegar (for buttermilk)

Cream butter or shortening (or blend thereof) in mixer bowl. Add sugars gradually, beating until light and fluffy. Add EnerG eggs and vanilla and blend well. Fold in mashed bananas. Whisk together dry ingredients in separate bowl. Add alternately with coconut milk mixture, mixing well after each addition. Pour into greased bundt pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling. Dust with powdered sugar (as you see above) or serve naked. Good both ways.

*Cook's notes:
  • We have not had butter in the house until about a week ago when we found the soy free Earth Balance. My allergic kiddo doesn't like overwhelming butter flavor after being off it so long, so I used a combination of butter and Spectrum shortening. A little more than half butter.
  • The banana is one of my secret ingredients. No slightly over ripe bananas here. The blacker the better. They should fall out of the peel when you open them up. Just shy of moldy. trust me, it gives a really intense flavor to your breads and muffins.
  • If you can have nuts, toss in 1/2 tsp of almond flavoring in place of 1/2 tsp vanilla. It's the other secret ingredient in this recipe, but I always omit it since we are avoiding nuts. Makes a huge difference in the flavor though. While you're at it, throw in some pecans too! Yum.