Toddler Tips: Literally Lateral

While Maxwell is not what I would call a picky eater, his aversion to certain textures has limited some of the foods we can immediately introduce that he will eat.

If he doesn’t enjoy the food that he is eating, we get the immediate finger scrape of the tongue. Foods that have joined that phenomenon are mashed potatoes, meatloaf, homemade meatballs, fish sticks, and most recently: slushed ices & teriyaki chicken.

In the initial stages of teaching Max how to eat, we would mainly rely on the reports from his daycare. If he was eyeing another kid’s pancakes, then we made sure to get him pancakes at home and test them out there. (The Kellogg’s® Eggo® Minis Buttermilk Pancakes have now remained a staple for breakfast all week long….with butter and syrup added on weekends for an extra treat.)

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Maxwell and his pancakes!

When he didn’t want to eat his puffs for snack time anymore, we introduced Gerber Lil’ Crunchies® – Mild Cheddar with yogurt. (I also highly recommend Stonyfield® Organic YoBaby® Yogurt as it provides that daily dose of probiotics for your little one.)

And when lunchtime got especially boring in texture with Gerber® Plastic Tubs mixed with Earth’s Best Organic® Infant Oatmeal Cereal, we introduced more table food to satisfy the palette.

Eventually Max started to come around on food in general, but this took a little finagling and some observation on how Max preferred to try new things. He would try something, not like it, then we would have to take a side-step in our process and get him to like another item related to that initial food to get him to take that next step. Once he got accustomed to the taste of that other item, we then gave him the initial food again with slight modification. Funnily enough: it worked!

The conclusion became clear: in order to introduce new foods that may not be the biggest hit, Matt & I would have to make lateral moves.

For example, Max initially HATED scrambled eggs. I am not exaggerating that we attempted at least a dozen times before changing our tactics to convince Max that scrambled eggs were delicious. When scrambled didn’t initially work we decided to try a different style of egg: fried with a little cheese on top.

The fried egg with cheese became such a hit! At our local deli there was a fall special for football season: $1.99 breakfast sandwiches on Saturdays & Sundays. We would buy three bacon, egg & cheese sandwiches and offer Max the egg on one while we each ate one sandwich and picked the bacon off the third one. Once Max showed he was comfortable with eggs, the next move would be to then try making scrambled eggs with cheese. Those dozen failed attempts are now a thing of the past as Max can now devour about 2 scrambled eggs on his own.

When it came time to start trying to convince Max that vegetables were delicious, we applied the same concept. First, we took notice that Max would gravitate toward eating fruit & vegetable pouches that contained spinach in them. That made trying spinach our task. Next, we decided that to introduce the real thing, we would need a vehicle like a favorite sauce or flavor to get Max to try it. With Chicken Francaise as one of Max’s favorite foods, Matt & I agreed that incorporating spinach into the francaise sauce was the best move. The end result: Max inhaled his entire serving of spinach with gusto.

And when ground beef was a tough sell, the move became to try another sandwich, like grilled cheese. When the grilled cheese was well accepted, we then made Max a burger patty and his first cheeseburger was quickly scarfed down. Well, he only ate about half of it in the first go, with the other half broken up for him to bring to daycare for lunch the following day. (He ate that too.)

The method worked for Max as he didn’t feel pressured to like a new food right away. We instead found clever ways to come back to once detested foods and make them some of his favorites!

So for those picky eaters, I suggest trying the lateral move:

  1. Have a goal for what you want your child to ultimately eat
  2. Take a side-step by observing what they do like, or formulate a different approach
  3. Once comfortable in that step, incorporate that goal

When children don’t like food that you have worked so hard on for just them, the feeling one gets from watching them spit out that food can be slightly soul-crushing. You just want what’s best, I know. But once you figure out what tactic entices your child to eat and experiment, go with it.

Not every child will be comfortable with the continual offering approach and some will try anything once and like it. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a parent who wants their son to open up to the possibility of expanding their culinary palette. If this tactic works for you, then kudos. If not, don’t get discouraged. You will find out what inspires your child to enjoy food.

Or you may just have a picky eater.

Kids can be funny like that.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

 

 

A Garden of Love….and possibly some fresh mint

Before Matt & I became serious about being parents, we had talked about our hopes and dreams for things we wanted in our first home. Jokingly (but not really a joke) we needed at least 1.5 bathrooms. We wanted room to expand our family, a place we could express our own sense of style and flair. No pool (even though since we now have one we have come around on the idea of swimtime during the summer) and a space to throw summer barbecues whenever we could.

But more than anything else, Matt wanted us to have an herb & vegetable garden that we could use to our advantage. When we needed that little bit of basil or possibly a fresh tomato, what better place than to grab the necessities from our own backyard? Prior to our house-hunting whirlwind we had attempted a bucket garden at our year-round rental. We used big buckets with potting soil and wrapped chicken wire with stakes around it to keep rabbits and squirrels from tampering with our project.

While our attempt at vegetables yielded only one little measly yellow squash plant with fungus on it, we found that the herbs were a lot more abundant! (And you know, no fungus.) Thyme, rosemary, and dill grew like wildfire from just a few seeds, so we found ways to incorporate those herbs into more of our dishes. Chicken dishes, tuna fish, homemade tomato sauce….we found ways to use as much as of it as possible. Eventually we just couldn’t find the time to keep up with pruning and drying out our abundance, so the garden fell to the wayside.

Fast forward to now….where Matt & I finally have the home, space, and enough time to work on such a large project. And so since this idea was Matt’s brain child, he set out to bring this garden to life.

If you had looked at the list of our YouTube searches, you may have chuckled a bit at seeing “How to Build a Keyhole Garden” in between “Little Baby Bum” and “Baby Shark”. We discussed what herbs and vegetables would work best with the way we cook, as well as looking up articles and videos on the best options for growth.

With a goal in mind, Matt set to work on creating on our garden project. First came a handful of Home Depot trips to select the correct lumber, chicken wire, topsoil, and potting soil all while scoping out potential plants. Next, Matt started skillfully building a keyhole garden, making sure that the ground was even before setting down the cardboard for the bed of the garden and loading it with the proper soil mixture.

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Starting our garden

And finally came the best (but most important part): selecting what we should grow in our garden. We wanted to have vegetables and herbs that we normally use in our cooking, as well as a few fun ones to try out in new recipes.

Of course the herbal basics (basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley) were automatic shoe-ins for the main part of the garden bed. As a bonus, we added lavender, lemon balm, and sweet mint to round out the lineup. That holy trinity will be beneficial come iced tea/lemonade recipe time. And for that savory factor, lavender is one of the key ingredients in Herbs de Provence.

For vegetables, that became a little trickier but not impossible.

One of the best basics for a garden are tomatoes (even if it is considered a fruit). We decided on Roma tomatoes because they’re smaller than Beefsteak or Jersey, but are considered a good tomato for making homemade sauce. And usually smaller tomatoes are easier to grow, which means if this goes well maybe next year we’ll add cherry tomatoes to the mix.

Next came cucumbers, as my husband is half-Greek and I made pretty good homemade pickles using my great-grandmother’s recipe. There would need to be two types of cucumbers in our garden as the seedless are better for salads and tzatziki while Boston Pickling cucumbers are better for just that: pickling. And so we added those to our list.

With peppers we realized that while red bell are perfect for me as I am minimal on the heat and more on the sweet, Matt could get more into harvesting hot peppers for potential chili and just spicing up a few of our favorite dishes. By accident instead of grabbing four Tabasco pepper plants, we grabbed two Tabasco, one red chili, and one Santa Fe Grande plant. If all goes well, there will be very little need to replenish hot sauce.

For our final plant we had initially talked about spinach as Max has shown an interest in finally eating a green vegetable. (He ate spinach in Francaise sauce, which was a small victory in our house.) But since Matt could not locate a spinach plant anywhere, another great option was to attempt fresh romaine. With a handful of plants, we could pluck ripe leaves from the plant and have a salad without completely uprooting the whole plant. Sounded like a great compromise. Also, spinach is almost always on sale near us so that’s never a problem.

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Ta-da….we have a garden!

The lineup was complete and with some configuring (and eventually re-planting of some of our crops), Matt & I worked together in bringing our garden creation to fruition.

We’re waiting with bated breath to make sure that crops start growing so we can harvest our end product and I can’t wait to share what we make when/if we do!

Stay tuned for potential recipe adventures and stories of our gardening experience.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

 

It’s a little bit butternutty….

While I did it for the sake of Max’s little tummy at the time, adjusting to a dairy and soy-free life wasn’t easy.

With the constant need to read ingredients the process of eating became more of a challenge, more like an Olympic sport! Every item placed in the cart at the grocery store was scanned for any mention of dairy and/or soy. (I recommend the ShopWell app….saved me many times over at the grocery store and you can adjust it for just about any type of dietary restrictions.) I had to advise every waitress when I went out to eat of my dietary restrictions, sometimes even reading over a menu several times before I walked into the restaurant.

I lived with the feeling that it must have been frustrating for the cooks in the kitchen to have to adjust my meal, just because I didn’t want my son to cry in pain from any dairy or soy in my food that would get transferred to his breast milk. This frustrated me to the point that I really didn’t want to eat out at all until Max was cleared or we stopped breastfeeding. (After about nine months, I was able to finally go back to normal when Max started eating solid foods and showed no reactions as I reintroduced dairy and soy into my diet.)

But aside from that I will admit: I had missed dairy on occasion. There were moments I wished I could have a big slice of cheesecake, a plate of buttery Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, or a big bowl of fettuccine alfredo. Sure, there were alternatives like the Daiya products to give me the feeling that I was eating cheese or ranch dressing. (By the way, their pizzas and macaroni & cheese were pretty decent for not having any gluten, dairy, or soy in them.)

More than anything though, I really missed a good pasta in a cream sauce. Fortunately, I was able to locate this gem of a recipe courtesy of Cookie + Kate, which used pureed butternut squash in vegetable broth to replicate that decadence one craves when you order anything in a cream sauce. (And another added bonus aside from being healthy for all you non-meat eaters: it’s Vegan!)

You can check out the recipe on the Cookie + Kate website here: Creamy Vegan Butternut Squash Linguine with Fried Sage. And if you’re not that big into linguine, I recommend using fettuccine as evidenced by the featured photo. It was a delicious substitution and I mean, who doesn’t love fettuccine in a cream sauce?

While I am not a vegan or vegetarian by any means, this dish at the very least satisfied my palette. With my diet back to normal, I would more than likely add some heavy cream and possibly some Parmesan to give it that extra kick of salt. Yet I learned that if you need to be healthy, healthy can be delicious.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

Spicy Tips: Back with a fun Iced Tea Tip!

It certainly has been a while since I have found time to sit down and write out new recipes. Being a parent has that ability to deplete any time you had hoped you would have to share your thoughts with others. (Just looking at the amount of drafts I have yet to finish is enough to give me palpitations….I need to do better.)

But never fear, I am back with a fun tip for those looking for ways to quickly make one of my favorite warm weather drinks: Iced Tea!

Now I have done the sometimes laborious process of making tea with hot tea bags, followed by whisking in honey to the warmed mixture to incorporate and a whole lemon or two to make one delicious drink! Yet sometimes, time is of the essence and if you’re short on time but still want to make that summertime nectar without using a pre-made mix, I’ve got a great solution!

So one of my favorite shortcuts to making an easy iced tea is all thanks to Lipton® and their fabulous Cold Brew Bags. (They’re in just about any supermarket and you can click here for some info: Lipton Cold Brew Bags). One bag per 4 cups of water (you will probably use 2 bags per pitcher, unless you want to add a flavor) and it only takes about 5 minutes of brewing time before it’s done. If plain tea isn’t enough and you want to add a flavor to it, you can always brew a few cups of hot water and add your flavored tea there, then mix the two together.

And if you’re like me, you want to add some flavor like lemon or honey/sugar to that mix. For a nice little hit of lemon flavor, I have to admit that my name is Jenn and I am an addict of the Arnold Palmer. For those of who you don’t know what that is, it is half iced tea and half lemonade mixed together. But for this purpose, I would recommend using maybe 1-2 cans of Minute Maid® Lemonade to one pitcher. (Not the frozen kind, but a can from a 12-pack. You can also get a carton or container of lemonade of any brand you like and adjust the amount of lemonade you put in to your liking.) Not quite the half and half of an Arnold Palmer, but leaves the iced tea with a nice sweetened lemon flavor that I know most of us love.

More importantly, it is a way to add sugar to your drink without the sweetness being too much. The lemonade blends nicely and if you still find that the lemonade makes it a little sweet for you, always remember the best part about iced tea are those ice cubes that clink around in the glass when you go to take a sip!

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

Spicy Tips: For An Early On Mom-To-Be

Well it’s official: Matt and I are expecting our first little one in November!

Of course when I first found out, it was all over a rather drastic change in my eating habits. Matt had been the first one to notice that the beautiful half-rack of ribs that he had made me for dinner one night only warranted a nibbling on 2-3 ribs before I announced I couldn’t eat anymore. I kept asking for dinner later rather than right when I came home, when I would normally be ready to eat my hand! My sleeping habits also took a change when by 9:00 pm I was barely able to stay awake. And so with Matt’s encouragement I took a test one morning and over three months later here we are!

 

Since I am starting my second trimester, I am happy to report my eating habits have started to improve. But if you endured the food aversions like I did, then meats like chicken and beef became your arch-nemesis. I couldn’t even stomach the thought of chicken for almost a solid month and a half until I tried chicken breast at two family events. There were minor cravings for junk food but mostly I stuck to the staples that I knew I could handle without too much fuss.

 

As I am finally feeling a little more peckish these days, I thought I would share some of my tips that got me through the first trimester. Granted, they may not work for everyone but hopefully a few of them do help those mothers-to-be just starting out:

 

1) Keep it plain (and hopefully healthy). I know, not always the easiest thing to do when you have been cooking with lots of spices and flavors. But during that first trimester the thought of food doesn’t always sit right with most women. You may not throw up, you may have a constant wave of nausea, or you may be praying to the porcelain gods. Seriously, keep food plain. Pasta is good and if you feel like a little bit of sauce, add just a little bit. Bread, crackers, tons of water, fresh fruits and veggies–these are the things you want to eat the most of. If you want meat keep it simply seasoned.

 

2) Don’t be afraid to eat the same thing over and over. When you find a food that you can handle you may be eating it several times in a week. For me it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, unsweetened applesauce, and lots of tomato soup. It felt like for several days a week (minus a few where I did get cravings) these were my main staples. Just be prepared to stick to a regimen that you know your stomach can handle.

 

3) Go with your cravings if you get them. On the days that I would get a craving during my sick period, I went with it! My husband has started to understand that if I crave cheese fries or a chocolate milkshake, it’s good to cave to my craving. It means your body is obviously wanting something from that craving. For the milkshake it reminded me that I more than likely needed more calcium in my diet. With the fries I needed something more filling in my system than just fruits and veggies. You may pay for the cravings later but still go with it. In early pregnancy you can’t avoid the changes that are going on in your body. But more importantly: make sure that what you crave is okay to eat, so talk to your doctor about food “dos and don’ts”.

 

4) It is alright to not eat, but keep hydrated (and you can do this with more than just plain water)! I mean this especially since this was drilled into my head: water is vital. I went days eating minimal. I couldn’t help it when the thought of food would turn my stomach in the nastiest of ways. But water? Yes, you need that. You need that every day in mass quantities. If you’re like me you will get sick of just water, so it’s okay to change this up a little. To settle my stomach I had my Ginger Peach tea with some lemon and honey in the mornings and an occasional afternoon cup (using the same bag–because limiting caffeine is important). Juice with club soda or seltzer was a great way to cut the sugar down and get some light effervescence into my diet. And lemonade? Oh that is just a beautiful citrus bevvy that I would gladly drink every day!

 

5) Getting Sick = Healthy Baby. I can’t take credit for this adage but it’s important to share nonetheless. Every time I paid for my food choices I had to keep remembering that I was getting sick for a good reason: it means my body is producing the hormones needed to help the baby grow. Not everyone deals with morning sickness and some get it a bit too much, but for me it was a reminder that my little one is working hard to get to the proper size and that my body is always in a constant state of adjustment to accommodate that.

 

Whether these tips work for you or you find your own way, just remember that you know your body best. And once you get out of the morning sickness phase, be ready to eat with a vengeance! (Case in point: Matt walking into the house to find me eating a large order of cheese fries and a double Italian Hot Dog. The bit of ketchup I had on my face must have been quite endearing.) And most important for moms-to-be….

 

Enjoy every moment of it!

 

– Jenny V

Francaise: Not just a chicken dish

While I am a healthy mix of nationalities (and according to my recent genealogy research a few I didn’t know about), I was practically raised by my dad’s side: mainly composed of English, German, and Italian family members. I can credit my family for being a key factor in my appreciation of food and cooking. And especially with Italian food, I have developed a rather particular palette. Because while I’m sure a good portion of the Italians I know would pick a tomato-based dish as their favorite, mine has always been and always will be Chicken Francaise. (Fortunately, the version of Francaise we made for this post does have tomato in it.)

In fact, I love Chicken Francaise so much that during my freshman year in college when the cafeteria had failed spectacularly in their attempt to make it (they added raisins and made it sweet….NEVER add raisins or make it sweet, it’s gross), I went home that weekend and asked my dad for an emergency dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I still shudder thinking of those raisins….I stress that they should NEVER be added to a savory, lemony dish…:::shudders:::…but I digress.

About three years ago, approximately April of 2013, Matt and I opted for takeout from our favorite local Italian joint. I remember the date because Matt encouraged me to order anything and everything from the menu for reasons unbeknownst to me. It was after the fact that he admitted that that was the day him and his mom were in a jewelry store picking out my engagement ring. That day in particular, I had a craving for Shrimp Francaise. I had tried the chicken, I had even tried a flounder version from one of our favorite seafood restaurants. But shrimp? Never.

Fast forward to a few years later, Matt and I decided to try making Shrimp Francaise to add some new dishes to our repertoire. The end result was a delicious lemony and buttery seafood dream, with some fresh sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes that were bursting with flavor! Seriously, cooked cherry tomatoes–look into it and do it. And as for spinach, buy it fresh in bulk and you will yield many meals: a nice salad, a sandwich topping, and of course, cooked in Shrimp Francaise.

Fun plays on classic dishes are always a great way to spice up your culinary technique in the kitchen. This one is definitely a keeper.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn & Matt’s Shrimp Francaise 

1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned & fully peeled

2 eggs, whisked

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 lemon, sliced thin 

1 container cherry tomatoes

1-2 healthy handfuls fresh spinach

1/2 cup white cooking wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 – 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

1-2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

1) In a small bowl, mix in eggs and tablespoon of lemon juice. In a small pan, mix flour, paprika, and black pepper. Dredge each shrimp through flour mixture, then egg mixture. Place shrimp in pan over medium high heat with a little oil in pan. Brown on each side and let it cook almost all the way through, then remove from pan.

2) Into pan, add tablespoon of flour and butter to create a roux, then add white wine, chicken broth, squeezed lemon juice, and tomatoes. Before the tomatoes begin to burst, add the spinach and shrimp. Place lemon slices over top.

3) Cook until spinach begins to wilt and  tomatoes burst. Remove from heat, season with salt if desired, and serve over pasta.

 

 

 

Sunday Dinner Memories….

While Matt is my main inspiration for posting recipes, he is not the only reason why I do this.

You see, when I was a little girl, not more than four or five, I remember Sunday dinner was always at my Grandma Parson’s house. (She was my great-grandmother and a force to be reckoned with on a culinary level!) I can still remember the way the smell of the pot roast and the sweetness of buttered carrots wafted through the air before I was even able to get my coat off and run into the kitchen to give her a hug. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that that smell *was* the initial hug, welcoming me into her home. It was just that good….and so was she.

I have memories of watching her pull that roast out, testing it to make sure it was done, then grabbing the salt and pepper in her arsenal and by instinct, seasoning perfectly. I’m sure in earlier years she had used them, but there was never a recipe in front of her. It was all by instinct, and the spread was glorious! Pot roast, creamed cauliflower, mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and applesauce. And me, sitting next to her at the head of the table, greedily filling my plate with all the goodies.

My Grandma Parson passed when I was a sophomore in high school at the age of 98. She outlived her own daughter, my Grandma Shirley, by only a little over two months. My Grandma Shirley wasn’t a cook by any stretch of the means, more like the woman who would serve you Sanka using hot tap water. (I still love to think I get my sense of adventure and rebelliousness from her though, even though she couldn’t cook.)

I hadn’t thought about her too much until last year, as a bridal shower gift, my parents gave me my Grandma Parson’s recipe box. When my mom told me what it was, I think I sobbed for a good few minutes holding this treasure trove. It was more than just a box of recipes she collected. It was like receiving a piece of her in the process, a part that I could have in my home and visit whenever I needed guidance in the kitchen. And the best part? Her smell still lingers on those index cards; every time I open it, I’m that little girl running to greet Grandma Parson all over again while she has the oven ajar, preparing the drippings for gravy. Fun fact: the main picture on my blog is that recipe box.

I don’t mean to bore any of you with the details, but there is a point. My point being that with last night’s dinner, I felt my version of slow-cooker roast would have made her proud. As I prepped everything to go into the Crock Pot, including searing the roast in a cast-iron skillet, her guidance was ever-present. I liberally seasoned the meat, I tapped some salt into the cast-iron before searing, and as I put in all the ingredients to help develop those flavors in the Crock Pot, I understood her need for instinct in the kitchen.

I’m sure she would have been proud, because as I watched Matt take that first bite of roast, I felt like I was getting the opportunity to watch what face I used to make when I would eat my Grandma Parson’s roast: satisfaction. And I’m sure in those moments of love, she felt pride (like I felt) at being able to provide a delicious meal for her family.

Grandma Parson….this one is for you. Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Sunday Dinner Roast a la Crock Pot

2-3 pounds top round roast (you can use any kind you like, but I prefer the cuts of meat that are on sale and can always use a little love)

2 cans beef broth

1/2 – 3/4 bottle red cooking wine (don’t pour all of it in at once, only half – save that quarter to de-glaze your cast iron!)

3 stalks celery, sliced into snack size pieces

1 package pearl onions

1 large potato, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Steakhouse seasoning

1-2 bay leaves

Worcestershire Sauce (a few shakes will do it)

1 1/2 tablespoons Gravy Master

1-2 tablespoons butter

Directions:

1) In the Crock Pot, add all ingredients (including bay leaf) except for roast, butter, little bit of red cooking wine, and seasonings. Turn on high.

2) Turn on stove on high heat and place cast-iron down on flame. While cast-iron is warming up, season roast with salt, pepper, and steakhouse seasoning. Sprinkle a little bit of salt into the cast-iron and after a few minutes of letting it come up to temperature, place roast into screaming hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes to get a nice crust on it, then transfer into Crock Pot and push down into the juices. Use the little bit of red cooking wine I told you to leave out to de-glaze cast-iron, scrape gently, and transfer liquid into Crock Pot, pouring it over the roast.

3) Cover and cook on high for an hour, then on low for four to five hours. Flip roast halfway through to keep moisture throughout. Baste liberally every 30-40 minutes. When done, remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

4) While resting, remove vegetables and transfer into a serving dish, remove bay leaves and toss in butter into Crock Pot with juices, allowing it to melt into drippings. Transfer drippings into gravy boat and serve over the vegetables and roast as you like it.