16 March 2012

It's About Time

OK, if anyone there still reads this blog, no I am not dead, or retired, or moved on to something else.  Believe me, Break the Fast is continually on my mind.  But....it's not my job, and my job, unpaid though it is, takes precedence, so The Blog must wait.  Hurray, that I have time today!

I have a huge backlog of items to post, but today I thought I'd keep it simple.  Not too many weeks ago, I was folding laundry and listening to the Meal Makeover Moms podcast.  Their focus on this particular episode was breakfast.  Yeah!  I love breakfast.  They reaffirmed everything I believe about breakfast and then addressed the conundrum that many of us, including me, find ourselves in: how to make a kid-friendly, tasty, nutritious breakfast in a very short time that will get your children from early morning to school lunchtime without crashing. Yes, we can fry eggs and bacon, but surely not every day?

The key word is protein.  Protein is what is going to get you through the morning.  Let's see: we can have eggs, bacon, sausage, and at this point I run out of ideas for the typical morning sources.  None of these is going to kill us, but a daily dose is not only boring but also not the best for overall well-being.  Don't get me wrong, I looooove bacon, and nothing beats an egg for a quick, satisfying start to the day, but come on, there must be something else out there.

Meal Makeover Moms to the rescue!  How about a peanut butter smoothie?  Well, yes, how about it?  I listened to their recipe, and then just went to my trusty blender and started in.  My beef with smoothies has always been that they don't have staying power.  Cool Guy, in particular, could do a smoothie every day, but I resist because it takes time, cleaning up time, and it isn't enough.  For that same amount of time, I could get something much more substantial on the table.  But, hey, a peanut butter smoothie might work, so I tried.

And yes, one glass of Elvis-inspired smoothie was not only tasty, kid-appealing, and full of good nutrition, but it also kept us happy until lunch.

I didn't really follow the recipe.  I just took the idea and used what I had, which I would encourage you to do, also.

Here it is.  If you try this, hope you're as happy as I.

Elvis Smoothie
1 banana
vanilla yogurt
peanut butter
ice cubes

Place all in the blender.  I usually put in a few serving spoonfuls of yogurt, a splash of milk and a large serving spoon of peanut butter.  Sorry I can't be more specific.  I don't think you can screw this up.  Consistency is what you're working for, not too thick, not too runny.  The ice cubes help thin it out and give a frostiness, which is nice.  A nice touch, if you're feeling indulgent, is to add some chocolate syrup, but the shake is delicious with or without.

16 January 2012


Some call it zeitgeist, or serendipity.  I'm calling it confluence today.  It's where all of a sudden, ideas start appearing, seemingly randomly, and all are pointing at an idea.

I've been experiencing this lately.

The idea is answering a call, and yes, this does apply to breakfast.

Not to get too personal, let's just say that the call that I am answering is my job as a mother.  Sometimes, usually in the two dark months after Christmas, I tend to get the winter blues.  Part of it could be due to lack of fresh air and sunshine, part of it to the post-holiday letdown, though I would definitely say that has decreased over the years.  And part of it is the prospect of three more months of this weather until things just begin to get better.  Definitely retiring somewhere warm year-round.

Back to the call.  Why am I here?  What is my  purpose in life?  (I am getting to breakfast.  Bear with me.)  What in my life is meaningful?  Purposeful?  Why do I get up every morning?  This is something that each of us, at some stage - if we reflect at all - must face.  And the midst of the winter blues brings this kind of reflection to the fore.  I am here because I have a very big job to do: raise my sons to be healthy, whole, productive, and happy beings.  My job happens to be harder than some other mothers' and not as hard as others.  I have daily challenges.  I can crumple, or I can soldier on.  I choose to soldier on, though it is often by will alone that I do so in January and February.

Confluence: what was that all about?  Things run across my path.  I was at Mass yesterday, and the theme was answering the call.  I have been reading things, and those things point to my call.  Notably, I just finished the book version of Supersize Me, the documentary by Morgan Spurlock about his month of eating only McDonald's food and upping the portion when it is offered.  The upshot is that he gained an enormous amount of weight and did some major damage to his health.  In the book, titled Don't Eat This Book, he tackles many other facets of America's problem with bad eating and overall bad living.

My call is not just to avoid fast food, though I do, despite the whine factor, despite non-stop media bombardment.  My call is, among many other things, to provide food which will be the most beneficial to my family.  It must be nutritious and satisfying on all levels, even if it isn't featured on TV or accompanied by a toy.

My particular job is to make sure that my ADHD child gets a good whallop of protein in the morning to help him focus just a little bit better.  And it has to be appealing and tasty or he'll have none of it.  And it has to be joyous, a tiny morning celebration, or the day will never go in a positive direction.  I have talked before about making the morning breakfast an early version of the Family Dinner Table.  I can carve out time in the morning to at least sip that second cup of coffee while breakfast is going on, and to make pleasant conversation anticipating the events of the day, making a few jokes, and in general easing everyone into a state of mind to take on the world.

It's a tall order, and it occupies a great deal of my brain.  I also need variety, if only to keep my own psyche stimulated.

I was at first reluctant to talk about this, afraid that I would sound preachy or over proud, but then I reckoned that my thoughts might be the bit of information traveling across someone else's path to add to her own confluence.  If you've hung in so far, thank you.  On to the preaching (or motiviation.)  If you are the primary care-giver in your home, ask yourself where your strengths are.  We are all going to excel in some areas and need improvement in others.  Of late, I have been a pretty good home-manager.  I have gotten us fairly organized.  I keep a multitude of appointments each week, and I am on time, pay on schedule, and keep good records.  I get three meals on the table seven days a week.  My grocery bill is high, but not as high as an eating out bill would be.  My family consumes well above the national average in fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

On the minus side, I am not as patient with the delights of a child as some would be.  I get bored playing blocks or legos, or pushing cars and trucks around.  I don't do that as well as I should.  I like to escape to my books as soon as possible.

Whatever your own weakness, are you at all able to make it better?  Are there some tiny steps you can take to make your own home a little easier to live in?  More joyous?  Healthier?  Less stressful?  Are there things you could give up?  Are there things that are non-negotiable?  Baby, it's cold outside.  Take some time to think about this while cooped up indoors.  What is truly important?  If your world crashed on you tomorrow, what would you hold onto?  In ten years, what will you regret?  What will you be proud about?

Are you answering your own call?  Honestly?  Are you striving?

Back to breakfast: In my quest of the Holy Grail (or Grails) of breakfasts, I have stumbled on a few of late.  Stirring vanilla protein powder in a bowl of oatmeal makes Cool Guy happy while adding the protein he needs.  He likes the added vanilla flavor, and I like that it holds him until lunch.  Do I notice any discernible difference in his focus?  Not that I can tell, but then who knows how scattered he'd be without it?

The second uber-breakfast was recently discovered.  This is called a Bird's Nest.  You butter a slice of toast and then tear it up into pieces into a bowl.  Add a 3-minute egg on top, to be the egg in the nest, and then pour a little syrup over it.  When you break the egg, most of yolk soaks into the syrupy toast, and you have an absolutely wonderful taste treat.  It is comfort food at its finest.  The presentation is happy, the taste is sublime.  If the toast is whole wheat, and you include a glass of juice and a fruit, you have a perfect breakfast. Kid-appealing, good for you, better than fast food, and it only takes 5 minutes, start to finish.

If I have inspired you to examine your own calling, I am glad.  I would love to continue this conversation further.  If I have inspired you only to try the Bird's Nest, then that is enough.

06 January 2012

New Year's Resolution

Hello, Dear Reader,

Have you made a New Year's Resolution yet?  Two years ago, mine was to cook real breakfasts as often as possible, and I think that one changed my life.  (Not drastically, but change it did.)  If you don't have a resolution yet, may I suggest that one?  Just jump in there, scramble an egg or two (no more time involved than a bowl of cereal) and see how your year goes.

My resolution - outside of my usuals: eat less, pray more - is to make a commitment to post on this blog at least once a week.  In order to do that, I must put it on my TO DO list, which I follow religiously (unlike praying, which I should do religiously *sigh*).  Right now, my mind is buzzing with topics.  I have a really good fancy-schmancy breakfast cookbook, from which I'd like to try quite a few recipes, preferably whittled down and simplified to fit a real person's life.  I'm going to begin with the egg chapter this week, so tomorrow, I go to the farmer's market to get some really good, really fresh eggs.

And then, I've got quite a few product reviews.  After 26 years of marriage, I decided that the cruddy old pots and pans that I've struggled against should be retired, and I've done the research, and made the plunge.

Also, I've noticed that my posts of late have been rather slapdash, which is fine some of the time, but definitely not what I had set out to do.  So I am planning on incorporating a little more research into what I'm blogging about so that we can all (including me) learn exactly WHY such-and-such thing is good for us, and exactly HOW it is so.

I am very excited about upping the level of the blog, and hope that you all will check in from time to time.  Look out next week to see if my resolution is holding. :)

20 December 2011

What to do When Your Kids Won't Eat Hard-Boiled Eggs

It's maddening.  Neither Encyclopedia nor Cool Guy will even taste a hard boiled egg.  So, so easy, so nutritious, so portable, so REJECTED.

Still, every month or so, they appear on the breakfast table, always with other things, so that the boys will have something to eat.  I wish they would at least try them, but it's not really a battle I'm ready to have a stand-off over.  I continue to boil more eggs than get consumed, and then have eggs left over.

Here are some things I do.  (Also, let me confess, I always boil more eggs than needed so that I WILL have extras)
1. Have them the next day cold while I fix oatmeal for the boys.
2. Slice them, cold, and serve them open face on buttered bread for lunch the next day.
3. Make tuna or egg salad.
4. Use them, quartered, in salads.
5. One from my mom: quarter them and serve over cooked spinach.  (I'm still the only consumer, but it's an old favorite.)

I was playing around with egg salad the other day, and came up with a great version that Burt raved about.  I diced up the eggs, and then added mashed avocado, a squirt of mustard, squirt of mayo, and had the best egg salad ever.  Do try it.

15 December 2011

A New Twist on a Breakfast Favorite

I have posted before about making baked potato skins.  This is one of the boys' favorites, and it's really not that hard or time consuming, as long as I remember to bake the potatoes the night before.  Then I just halve them, scoop out the centers, and garnish with filling and toppings.

My usual skins have bacon, cheddar, sour cream, and green onions.  But, this past weekend, Burt and I did up a smoked beef brisket (which was to-die-for fantastic).

  No matter how wonderful it is, though, three of us at home cannot eat 8 pounds of meat in one sitting.  Leftovers are inspiration of some of the best things to eat.

Here's my new skins combo.  Brush barbeque sauce on the skins, top with chopped brisket, and cheddar, and put back in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes to warm everything up.

It's not a traditional breakfast taste, but it is very satisfying and delicious.

05 December 2011

Nostalgia and a Quest Ended

Do you have a food that you tasted once and have been looking for it for your entire lifetime?  My father in law was always on a quest for rhubarb pie that tasted like he remembered.  I don't think he ever found it, but he spent his lifetime looking for it.  My quest has always been for buckwheat pancakes like Mrs. Keener's.

Now you get to indulge me in a little reminiscence.  Paula Keener was a friend from grade school.  She lived in "the country," though when I go back home today, her home really wasn't that far out of town at all, but by standards at that time, she was far removed from the rest of us.  I guess since she was more isolated than the rest of us, her parents always let her invite girls over to spend the night.

Oh, we were wicked.  For some reason, Mrs. Keener always allowed Paula to invite lots of girls, or at least more than one.  But here's the problem: Mr. Keener drove a bread truck, so he had to be up and at work at, like, 4:00 am.  What is wrong with this picture?  Multiple grade school girls, dad needs sleep.  I can remember giggles, giggles, giggles, whoops of laughter, and then "Paula?  Come here."  Paula would go to her parents, and then come back and tell us that we had to be quiet so her dad could sleep.  Within 5 minutes, it would all begin again.  And this would go on all night long.

These were the days before cable TV, at least out in the country.  So there was nothing to lull us into placidness like parents have today.  No, by gosh, we relied on our own resources to be just about the worst group of guests imaginable.  And the funny thing of it was that a month or so later, we'd all be invited back.

Besides being rotten guests, I remember the mornings after.  Mr. Keener, bless his heart, would be long gone, and Mrs. Keener would be in her kitchen making some fantastic breakfast.  One morning, she made pancakes.  Now, as a kid, I never cared for pancakes.  I was a horrifically picky eater.  But, and this is funny, I was too polite to turn down the pancakes.  Oh, right.  Too polite, after an evening of total inconsideration toward Mr. Keener's sleep, I'm suddenly all politeness.  But somehow, somewhere, my parents had drilled into me something about not being my usual impossible picky self when a guest in someone's house.

So I took a tentative bite of these pancakes, and wow!  What have I been missing!  These weren't Bisquick pancakes, no sirree!  I had never had anything more wonderful for breakfast in my life!  What were these?  Mrs. Keener, probably delighted that these city heathens could at least appreciate her efforts, let me know they were buckwheat pancakes.

That detail stuck in my mind forever.  I don't think I bothered asking my mom to get the recipe or try making them.  Maybe I knew it wouldn't work out at home.  I don't know.  I just remember that once I had married, I was on a quest for the pancakes that Mrs. Keener made.

I have tried, Lord knows, I've tried.  I have bought buckwheat flour by the bucketful, and most recipes are extremely complicated and just weren't what Mrs. Keener had made.  Finally, not too long ago, I was flipping through King Arthur, and saw a recipe for them.  Do I try again?  Dare I?  These don't look too hard.  They don't require yeast like so many do, and somehow, I couldn't imagine sleep-deprived Mrs. Keener tiptoeing around her kitchen whipping up yeasted pancakes.  Nothing to lose but a breakfast and some flour and time, so I gave them a try, and there they were.  Mrs. Keener's pancakes.

They are easy as any other pancake, and taste just different enough to make you notice.  Boys liked them, and I loved them.  Compared to some other breakfasts I make now, they are good, but not the best thing on the planet.  However, they are much better than the Bisquick pancakes I was raised on.  Much, much better.

I haven't seen Paula in probably 25 or more years, and I have no idea if her parents are still around, but Mrs. Keener, her hospitality, and her wonderful pancakes will always be uppermost in my mind whenever I make these pancakes.

Mrs. Keener's Buckwheat Pancakes
(courtesy of King Arthur Flour)

1 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup regular flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 TBSP. molasses
2 cups buttermilk (I never have buttermilk.  Put 2 TBSP vinegar in a measuring glass and fill up rest of the way with milk and let it sit for a bit)
1 TBSP melted butter

1. Combine the dry stuff.
2. Combine the wet stuff
3. Mix together
4. Make the pancakes, like you would any others.

Well worth the purchase of a special flour, believe you me.

2 pancakes give you 12 g whole grains, which is half RDA.  Also, you get 2 g. fiber, vitamin A, iron, and calcium.  A healthy start to the day. 

18 October 2011

Dessert or Breakfast?

Am I cheating?  Justifying?  I don't know.  I just know that it's good.  This morning, we had an apple cobbler with cranberries, complements of King Arthur Whole Grain Baking.  Over the past month, I've been haunting Marietta Farmer's Market, especially Lane's Orchard's Stand, where each week, new varieties of apples are available.  They recognize me now.

We are lucky.  We have a basement, and it has a kitchen (!) complete with a full sized refrigerator.  We don't have a root cellar, but we do have a mostly empty fridge "downstairs," so I decided to get as many apples now, while the gettin's good, and store them there to see us through part of the winter.  We have Grimes Gold, Firm Gold, Macleod, Winesap (tart!), Macs, JonGolds, you name it, we got it.  Have I mentioned that unless it's peach season, my favorite fruit is apples?

So it's apple season, and I have an overflowing refrigerator.  And I wake up at 5:00, while the rest of the household sleeps in since they stayed up late watching Oklahoma football on TV.  May as well do something good with all these apples.  Burt loves pies.  In fact, he always asks for pie for his birthday instead of cake.  I think I've made it known to him that a pie takes about two hours of labor, while a cake takes 20 minutes.  Still, he persists in pie.  I should be happy that birthdays only happen once a year.  And, truly, Burt wants nothing else.  No presents, nothing else.  Just pie.  So it's the least I can do.  But pie at any other time?  Sorry.  It's just too much of a time eater.  Counting the crust, which Burt prefers to be homemade, and we're talking 3 hours total.  But there are other options, and cobbler is one.

I stumbled upon a apple pandowdy recipe, and decided to try it.  The idea behind the pandowdy is that you put the fruit in the pan and then top it with a crust.  After it has baked, you break up the crust and integrate it with the filling, thus soaking the crust in the juice.  The thing that appealed to me was that the crust could be just a wreck, and no one would know.  And it should be a lot quicker than pie.

This particular recipe came from King Arthur, which, very nicely, gave me permission to reprint their recipes as long as I credited them and provided a link to either their store or their cookbook.  Credit and links duly noted.  Let me say right now that this pandowdy is the best apple concoction that I have ever made.  And believe me, I've made a lot, lot, lot of pies, cobblers, etc.  I'm a regular baking machine in the fall when it's apple season.  This is supreme.

The addition of dried cranberries is genius.  It adds a wonderful rosy color to the dish, and provides just the right tart.  For apples, I like to use as wide a variety as I can.  You know, some apples are eating apples, and others are cooking apples.  Some are tart, some are sweet.  I say just take a little of each, and then you don't have to worry about mushiness, tartness, oversweetness, or whatever.  Well, I pulled from six varieties, and it was a wonderful balance.  Let me add that if I only had one variety, I'd plow onward and make this.  I just don't see how  it could not come out good.

So is it a good start to the day?  Honestly, I don't see how anyone could question that.  In 7 cups of apples, only a mere half cup of sugar is used.  The crust is whole grain, so the carbs are not empty.  Yes, there are 6 tablespoons of butter, but come on.  You are getting SO MUCH fruit.  Live with it.

One thing that might be a little off-putting is that the main flour of this dish is barley flour.  I have a really hard time finding it here, and have gotten lucky occasionally at the local health food store.  However, this is a whole grain flour, and it adds a really nice taste, so it is worth taking the time to find it.  If I were determined to make this and I didn't have barley flour, I think I'd use white whole wheat flour instead.

When this baby came out of the oven, and I dug in, I just couldn't believe how good it was.  Cool Guy, who is not really a pie fan, became really hoggish with the crust parts, as in picking them out and taking them for himself, the rascal.

If I were to name a drawback, it would be that I doubt that the crust will retain its integrity over time.  Therefore, I ordered the family to consume the entire dish in one day.  It was going to breakfast, part of lunch,, snacks, and dessert for dinner, but by gosh, we were going to eat it in one day.  No protests.  If any is left, I guess I'll find out if the crust is any good on day 2, but I don't think that's going to be a problem.

*NOTE*  Day 2, there was enough of the pandowdy to make two small bowls for breakfast.  As I feared, the crust just wasn't as good, but overall, the taste was fine.  Certainly eat as much as you can on the first day, but enjoy it on the second, also.

Since eating it fresh is so important, I wouldn't recommend making this unless you have a lazy weekend planned.  Start to finish, it took 2 hours, and an hour of that was labor.  If I had thought to make the crust the night before and refrigerated it, if I had thought to peel and chop the apples ahead of time, it would have all gone together quickly, but I know me, and that doesn't happen often.  By the time dinner is over, this early riser is ready for bed, not another round in the kitchen.  Save this one for when you have time, but if you don't already have a favorite way to enjoy apple baking, be sure you carve out time for this.

Apple Cran-Dowdy
Courtesy of King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Book

3/4 cup whole barley flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 TBSP. butter
2-4 TBSP. milk

Combine dry ingredients.  Cut in the butter until it is the size of small peas.  Add enough milk to make the dough hold together.  (For me, that was all 4 tablespoons.)  Shape into a disk, and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

7 cups peeled, cored, chopped apples
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
2 TBSP butter, cut into small pieces (I forgot to add this, and everything was FINE.)

Toss the apple slices with the cranberries in a large bowl.  Combine the brown sugar, spices, and salt, and add.  Pour the syrup and cider over the fruit and toss.  Put into buttered 9-inch square pan, and dot with butter.

Roll out crust to fit over the fruit.  Place it on top, and stick in a 350 degree oven.  Bake 50-55 minutes.  After it comes out of the oven, let it rest a few minutes, then cut the crust up, kindof turning it into the fruit.  Leave some large chunks, leave the edges alone, and leave some sticking up.