30 January 2011

Breakfast Music

Oatmeal again tomorrow morning per Cool Guy's request, so I thought I'd talk about another aspect of breakfast here: music in the morning.

I'm not at all a TV-in-the-morning person.  I just do not like that kind of noise before, say, 7:00 pm.  And, honestly, I'd be just fine with no sound at all except for birdsong.  But also, I feel that there is a lack of cultural enrichment going on in daily life.  Public schools now don't have art or music at all, and I wonder when and how are children going to become familiar with the good stuff?

Music is very important to me, and I want my boys to be comfortable with more than just what they hear on the radio, so I began something about a year ago that is working out rather well.  Every morning for three months, we listen to a single composer while we eat breakfast.  Right now, it's Tchaikovsky.  And The Nutcracker is the first music to play on my playlist every morning.  It is so pleasant to listen to.  Cool Guy especially loves this music and hums right along with it as he is scarfing down his oats.

Three months of the same music morning after morning?  You think I'm nuts, right?  Usually after the first week, I do too, and then it kind of grows on me (and on the boys), and as each day goes on, the music becomes more and more ingrained in us.  Right now, I can't even imagine beginning a morning without The Nutcracker playing.  And Cool Guy and I find ourselves humming it all day long.  It's really nice.  (Encyclopedia is a little jaded about the whole thing, but I have caught him also humming along when he thought I couldn't hear him.)

Some things I've found about this method:
  • Instrumental works better than vocal for kids.  That opera-sounding music does not have the same appeal.
  • Tuneful is better than arty.  Bach over Debussey.
  • Just playing the music is enough.  No lectures, no commentary, no drawing attention to it at all.
The successes so far have been Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Tchaikovsky.  Debussey did NOT work.  Just not something you can hum along to. 

It seems like a silly thing to do, but it is so gratifying when, sometime down the road, we hear some of that music, perhaps in a TV commercial, and the boys remember it.  It's in their bones now, and they'll always have it.  And someday when they decide not to be little heathens anymore, they will have at least this much.  They will be familiar with some great music without ever even having to work at it.  All they had to do was sit down and have breakfast.


A few very helpful people have commented to me that my blog wouldn't allow them to comment.  I think I've fixed that problem, so I wanted to get the word out.

Comment away!  Really!  I just love hearing what others have to say about breakfast.

28 January 2011

A Retro-Meal for Breakfast

When I first got married, I had one cookbook, which had belonged to my Grandma DeMers: The Betty Crocker Cookbook from circa 1950.  Burt and I were in upstate New York from October through April (and as an aside, there is still nothing more wonderful than winter in upstate NY), and I had no job, no kids, and very little to do while living around his rotating shift work.  So I decided to learn to knit and learn to cook.

Twenty-five years later, I have put away the knitting needles for other pursuits, but the cooking goes on.  That dear old cookbook, which finally just disintegrated, was my doorway.  I often threaten to get a copy of the nostalgic reprinting of it.  There were so many tips in it which speak to another time, such as to be sure that you have a vaiety of colors and textures at each meal.  I'm pretty sure that ol' Betty was talking aesthetics at that time, but from a health standpoint, it is also a good rule to follow, and one that I have never managed to live up to.  I am the Queen of the Monochrome Meals.  But at that time, I took her tips as gospel truth and agonized over my uncolorful, texturally blah dinners.  (Oh, to have only that to worry about!)

Before the book fell apart, I had several recipes committed to memory: baked macaroni and cheese, baked chicken, pot roast, and creamed eggs on toast.  I love making creamed eggs on toast!  And after several years of serving this for dinner and then eating the leftovers for breakfast, I realized -duh- that this would be just as good cooked on its own as a breakfast meal.

It takes about 10 minutes to hard boil eggs from start to finish.  It takes about 4 minutes to make toast, and it takes even less time to make white sauce, so don't let white sauce scare you.  You can do it all at once if you are a quick mover in the kitchen.  I usually prefer to go ahead and boil the eggs and just let them sit, and then make the toast and sauce when the boys get up.

This morning, we had three leftover cornmeal-rye waffles, so I toasted those while making the sauce.  I'd like to say that they boys gobbled it up, but they didn't.  They ate the waffle and one NTY bite of the eggs.  It's OK, I tell myself, they'll come around someday.  I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed the eggs, creamy sauce, and crunchy waffles.  With an orange on the side for a little color!

Creamed Eggs on Toast
From Betty Crocker
Feeds 4
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 4 slices of toast
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil your eggs, and when cool enough to handle, peel them and cut into quarters longways.  Put in a serving bowl.

2. Get your toast toasting.

3. Melt butter in saucepan and then stir in the flour.  Let it get just a tiny bit brown.

4. Add the milk and whisk around to prevent lumps.

5. Keep stirring until it thickens.

6. Add salt and pepper, and then pour the sauce over the eggs and stir gently.

7. Put your toast on a plate and top with eggs and sauce.

27 January 2011

Flying Solo

Some things you just can't convert the heathens to.

Today boys are having oatmeal again, and I am having what I had planned for all of us and what quickly got deep 6-ed by the boys: cottage cheese and canned pears.  I don't know......is this something like creamed chipped beef on toast?  Something that you have to have grown up during a certain era to even conceive eating?

When I was growing up, this used to be a frequent dish at dinner.  Sometimes my mom would have a small bowl next to the dinner plate with a leaf of lettuce lining it, a mound of cottage cheese, and half a pear perched on top.  That was our salad for the night.  I loved it.  It was a nice change from the usual tiny bowl of iceberg lettuce that we usually had, and I like pears.  And cottage cheese.  Something about the combination, the sweet pears with the slightly salty cottage cheese just hits the right note.

How is it, then, that the boys have not been won over to this great combo?  I keep putting it on the table, and they keep refusing to eat it.  Is it me?  Or them?

No matter.  I like it, and they like oatmeal day after day, so we're all happy.

No recipe needed for this one.  Combine cottage cheese and canned pear halves, and dig in.  You've got most of your nutrition bases covered.

26 January 2011

Cornmeal Rye Waffles

There is something about waffles - the homemade variety - that just screams "fancy-schmancy" to me.  What is ironic about it is that they are so much easier to make than pancakes.
  • You can walk away from them for a minute while they're cooking.
  • There is no awful first waffle, like there's always an awful first pancake.
  • Cleanup is minimal.
What I like especially about these Cornmeal-Rye Waffles is that they have a little crunch.  It's totally a texture thing although the taste is pretty fantastic, too - a little less sweet than usual - perfect for soaking up that good maple syrup.  And then there's the smell while they cook - kindof a sweet cornbread smell.

I also like that these have lots of whole grains, protein, and other good stuff in them.  And that I feel like SuperMom for having made them.  One waffle will give you
  • 161 calories
  • 6 grams fat
  • 5 grams protein
  • 3 grams fiber
  • and other good things like potassium, iron, calcium, and Vitamin A
  • 23 whole grains
When I make waffles (or pancakes), I usually go ahead and make the batter as soon as I wake up, and then just let it sit until the boys wake up.  Then all I have to do is heat up the waffle iron and cook those babies.

This picture shows things right before it's showtime.  I have my waffle iron heating, my batter mixed and waiting, the plates handy, and a measuring cup and paper towel to set it on between times so I don't have waffle crud to scrape off the counter.

I used a 1/2 cup to pour the batter, and that seems about the right size for us.  It takes about 3-5 minutes to get the waffle good a crispy, and then I just pick it up carefully with my fingers and put it on the plate.

This recipe makes my favorite waffles.  They are light and fluffy yet crunchy from the cornmeal.  They are not too sweet, so we can all sweeten as we like with the syrup.  I used the Healthy Version on the right and just used regular sugar.  I always forget that this batter makes a TON, and the boys and I each have one waffle, so I have TONS of batter left.  I refrigerated what was left and will make waffles with sausage tomorrow night for dinner and will freeze any remaining waffles to toast some other time (though my boys won't eat toasted frozed homemade waffles, only toasted frozed boughten waffles.  Whatever.)

Even though today ended up being a snow day and I had all the time in the world to make breakfast, I had the batter made, waffles cooked, breakfast eaten, and myself showered all before 7:30.  The point being waffles are not nearly as time-consuming as you think they are.  And cleanup is quick, quick.  Try them out some weekend, time yourself, and then when you want waffles during the week, go for it!

Today's waffle special was served with some applesauce  on the side.  That just sounded like a really good go-with for these.

24 January 2011


The name for my new fruit salad: Roughy.  It's like a Smoothie, but it's not smooth - get it? 

The point is that sometimes it takes clever marketing to make things appealing to the Younger Generation.  "Fruit Salad" just doesn't stir excitement in my boys' souls.  I guess I could have called it "Wookie yum-yums," or some such, but I've got a little dignity left.  After making this salad, I realized that what I put into the bowl was exactly what I would have put into the blender if we were having smoothies.

And under the guise of Roughy, this salad got eaten.  Not that is wasn't delicious on its own, but it looked suspicious, being an amalgamation of things all mixed up together.

I served this fruit salad with oatmeal (again) for the boys and with a leftover scone for me.  Here's how I made it.


1. Take whatever fresh fruit you have on hand (I had oranges, apples, and bananas) and cut them into bite-sized chunks.  I didn't peel the apple, and no one protested.

2. Throw in some dried fruit.  I used a handful of dried cherries and a handful of dried cranberries.

3. Stir in enough vanilla yogurt to cover all the fruit well.

That's it!  And it got eaten and requested again.

If I had had some canned pineapple, I would have used it.  I only used one of each fruit, but this could be infinitely expanded.  Total time was minimal.  I started the salad while the oatmeal was cooking, and while the boys were putting on their oatmeal toppings, I finished up the salad.  It could also be made ahead, thus allowing the dried fruit to soften a little.

23 January 2011

Now and Later

I love chocolate-covered cherries, and I love Black Forest chocolate cake, and I love the even easier take on it, a moist chocolate cake with a can of cherry pie filling mixed in.  I simply cannot think of any better combo than chocolate and cherries.

Another thing I love is scones.  Here's why:
  • They're easier than biscuits
  • They seem so much fancier
  • I can make a whole batch and freeze half for later and it will be just as good.
When I found a recipe for chocolate-cherry scones, I thought "what's not to love?"  Even better, these are not terribly bad for you, being made with whole grains.  At least, while having the melty chocolate and dried cherries surrounded by a rich crumb, I know that I'm getting in some protein, fiber, antioxidants.

This recipe makes 16 scones, way more than we can or should eat in a morning. (Note: the recipe I linked to is not exactly the one I used, but very similar.  Mine came from King Arthur.  My batch of scones used barley flour instead of whole wheat, and I used almond extract instead of vanilla.  I was out of vanilla.  Almond worked just fine.)  What I do for scones and also biscuits is go ahead and roll out the dough and cut it, and then take what I'm not going to eat right away and put that on a baking sheet.  I put the baking sheet in the freezer until the dough is frozen and then I bag the scones up for the freezer.  Whenever I want them, I just pull out what I want and bake it just like normal, maybe adding a minute or two.

Scones are easier than biscuits mainly because you just pat out the dough rather than roll it, and you just cut wedges rather than use a biscuit cutter.  But easier isn't the same as easy.  They do take some time, and you've got to use a pastry cutter and get your hands dirty - unless you have a food processor, which I don't.  But the hour that I invested this weekend makes a pretty special breakfast treat for three breakfasts around here.  I'm definitely serving these on Valentine's Day.  My love letter to my family.

If this weren't my favorite combination, I think I'd find some version of scones that was irresistable to moi, and bake some/freeze some.  We have some dark winter mornings ahead, and this can be just sort of thing to make a day more special.

21 January 2011

7 Quick Takes, Breakfast Edition

When I post of 7 Quick Takes, I do so under my "family and spiritual life" blog.  But about a month ago, I really, really wanted to start another blog about a passion and adventure of mine, making breakfast.  It is a lot of fun for me, so I thought I would share this blog with Jennifer's readers this week.

I have found it interesting that for over a year now, I have been pouring out my heart, my deepest thoughts and musings in my other blog, and then here I just whip out a little snippet every morning on the new one, and am contacted by people a lot!  It's neat, and I think it points to a truth: food in a uniter.  Sharing meals with others will bring us closer together than anything.

We are having oatmeal again for breakfast this morning, per Cool Guy's request last night.  I think it is neat the way the boys always wondering about breakfast the night before.  They really do look forward to it, much more than they look forward to lunch or dinner.

Since it is a snow day today, we will be having the steel-cut oats, which I prefer but which also take longer.  I am going to try my friend Jessi's idea of stirring in Nutella and sliced bananas in mine, rather than my usual topping.  I think it will be pretty good.  Boys, of course, will remain conservative.

Before starting this breakfast blog, I had no idea I was such a lousy photographer.  I try, really.  I've even looked online on tips for better food photography.  I think part of the reason is my lack of expertise, and part of the reason is that I'm not a patient, detaily person.  So, there always seems to be a stray item, like a school lunch menu or a piece of junk mail, or the timer, intruding in the picture frame, and I JUST DIDN'T SEE IT WHEN I SNAPPED THE PHOTO.  So, you want to see beautiful food photos?  Go to some other blog.  You want to read about breakfast and know that this time yours can look better than the picture, you're at the right place.

Why breakfast?  You can read The Story, but in brief, I have found that my boys and I are noticeably happier and healthier when we regularly have a good, complete breakfast.  After doing a loop of eggs, sausage, pancakes, oatmeal for about a year, I thought I'd explore a little, push my definition of breakfast food a little, explore other ideas of breakfast.  I found a whole world out there in breakfast food that is just itching to be discovered.  It keeps me from getting bored, and it keeps the boys on their toes.

Favorite breakfast of all time (or at least for today)
Cool Guy: oatmeal
Encyclopedia: bacon
Me: Hopple Popple
Burt: breakfast meat-eggs-toast plate of any kind.

What is your favorite breakfast?  I'd love to know!

You can find more 7 Quick Takes at Jennifer's site, most probably of greater significance than my breakfast blog.  (But it's fun.)

20 January 2011

A Bagel Story

We had bagels this morning, but not just any bagels.  No, these bagels come with a story, which I hope you will be patient with as I indulge in a little nostalgia.

In the mid-1980's, I was a pledge at a social sorority at Oklahoma State University.  Every Monday evening, while the members of the sorority had their chapter meeting, the pledges of all the houses participated in an institution known as "Coke Date."  All the pledges  in my house - and we were dressed in church clothes - lined up shortest to tallest, meaning that I was first in line.  Then the pledges from a fraternity (it rotated week by week) would be lined up the same way, shortest to tallest, at our front door.  We paired off, me with the first (shortest) boy in line, and so on.  I have no idea what happened if there were more girls than boys or vice versa.  That problem fell to the tall ones.  Then we would walk, two by two, on a Coke Date, to keep ourselves occupied while our elders took care of the important business of the house.

Many, many times, our Coke Date was a trip to a bagel place on the main drag in Stillwater.  At that time, bagels were not common fare in Oklahoma.  I cannot remember ever having one until the Coke Dates.  Monday at this bagel place was 2 for 1 night, a promotion ploy I imagine that was concocted with the Coke Dates in mind.  Anyway, we would line up, and proceed conveyer-line style through the place, getting a foil-wrapped bagel shoved at us, and then on to the Dr. Pepper station.  (Yes, it's called Coke Date, but Dr. Pepper reigned.)

Monday night, therefore, would find us, in a strict, formulaic ritual, partnered with a total stranger of the opposite sex, who paired well according to height,  munching our bagels, sipping our DP's, and being with Everyone at this bagel joint, having a memorable time of it.  It was fun, and I met some very nice, short, young men during that time, but it also seems so quaint, even foreign to me now.  Really, what a bizarre thing it was!

The bagels, though, were fantastic.  Remember, I had never had one before.  These were just your basic white (who at that time had even heard of an Everything Bagel?), with cream cheese and very thin slices of ham sandwiched in the middle.  They were wrapped in foil and kept warm, and the combination of the chewy bread, the melty, messy cheese, and the salty ham was just unforgettable.  And I've never forgotten, though I don't think I can remember one boy who provided me with these beauties.

When I make bagels for breakfast, I like to replicate my college treat and remember that very exciting, world-expanding, eye-opening period of my life.

Stillwater Bagels

1. For each bagel, spread both halves with cream cheese.  I like to use Neufchatel, as it's lower in fat.  And nowadays, I use whole wheat bagels.

2. Place 3 or so slices of thin, deli ham on one half and top with the other half.

3. Wrap in foil, and put in a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

4. Have lots of napkins handy, unwrap, and enjoy!

You could get the bagels assembled the night before, wrap them and refrigerate, although assembly is very quick the morning of.  But if you're pressed for time, it works fine.  Then it's only a 10-minute breakfast.

18 January 2011

Carpe Piem

(Note: no picture today, due to operator error.  I shot a movie of a pie sitting on the counter on accident, and then deleted it, again, on accident.)

Yes!  We had apple pie for breakfast, and I'd do it again.  Not that it happens much around here, but Monday was a holiday.  I ran the boys all over town getting errands done, had Cool Guy do some reading for me, sent the boys outside to have their Nerf Gun war outside, and finally, it was mid-afternoon, and each boy had settled in for some cave time: Encyclopedia to the computer for one of his empire-building computer games, and Cool Guy to watch some of the 20 or so Tom and Jerrys that he DVR-ed.  (The kid has a love-affair with the DVR button.)  We were having leftovers for dinner so no cooking to be done in that department, and there was no basketball practice or gymnastics as per usual on Monday afternoons and evenings.  In short, I had time.

Burt loves, loves pie.  He has pie for his birthday cake.  If we go to a fancy restaurant, he orders pie for dessert.  And he would get it more at home except that I rarely make dessert, and he asked me once if I could please, please make homemade crust when I make pie.  It's a lot of work, and there's rarely time.

But today, there was time.  I put on a podcast, heard just above the T & J on the TV, and started rolling crust.  These pies of mine are never pretty, always a bit lopsided with jagged edges.  But inside, a pile of diced apples mixed with spices, vanilla and a little cream, and the crust - oh, my, it was so perfect and crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth, if I do say so myself.  The filling recipe was much like this one, but I used a double crust.

I don't even want to think what the calories were or the fat in that crust.  So, we're livin' high.  But I can rationalize pie in the morning this way.
  • It has fruit in it, so there's got to be a healthy element.
  • The whole pie only had 1/2 cup of sugar.  Surely a slice has less than a bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.
  • Served with a slice of cheddar or some meat, it works for keeping us going in the morning.
  • It's super-fast in the morning.  Slice and eat.
We'll only have it today because it will be gone by tomorrow.  Carpe Piem.

17 January 2011

Hopple Popple

I read about hopple popple on Roadfood.com and realized that I sort of have been making it all along.  And I'm not even German!  After a little more investigating on the web, it seems that there are many variations of this dish.  The constants are eggs, potatoes, onion, some kind of meat, and some cheese.  What makes hopple popple different from just a basic meat-and-potato scramble is that the eggs are in the background.  Yes, they're there in every forkful, but you'd be hard-pressed to decide whether it's a meat dish, a potato dish, or an egg dish.  They all play equally starring roles.

Meat can be anything: bacon, sausage, ham, and even pepperoni or salami.  Eggs can be prepared scrambled, or made like a puffy omelette.  I go for simplicity: scrambled.

Last night we had potatoes with our ham loaf, finally finishing the last of our ham.  I made sure to cook a couple of extra potatoes for this morning, and I had some smoked turkey sausage in the fridge.  I prefer pork, but when the sausage is mixed with a bunch of other stuff, turkey does fine.  Turkey or pork, the smoked links are absolutely fabulous in this dish.

Being MLK day, there is no school, so the boys slept in late.  While waiting for them to begin their Day of Sloth, I went ahead and got as much ready for hopple popple as possible, so that it would only be minutes of cooking time, and we'd actually have our breakfast in the a.m.

I find it helpful, when I have time and think of it, to get as much chopped, sliced, and diced ahead of time and waiting in little bowls next to the stove.  Then all I have to do is dump and cook.  Also, it allows the cold food, like the potatoes and sausage to warm up a little and not need quite so much time.

Now, my boys like everything in this dish, except the onions, which I chop up very fine so they won't see them, but there is something about mixing it all up together that seems to go against their collective grains.  But this morning, after the NTY bite, they both had nice helpings.  I thought it was one of the BEST BREAKFASTS EVER!  Not just scrambled eggs, not just fried potatoes, not just sausage, but more than even the sum total.

Here, then, is my Scots-Irish, French, Cherokee (see, no German!) version of hopple popple.

Hopple Popple
to feed 4 with leftovers
  • 1 half of a long link of smoked turkey sausage, like Hillshire Farms, cut in half lengthways and then thinly sliced
  • 2 small potatoes, cooked (boiled or baked) and peeled
  • half of a small onion, diced very small
  • 4 eggs, beaten with a little milk
  • shredded cheese
1. Cook the sausage or other meat in a skillet until it is a little crispy.

2. Add some bacon grease (or butter or oil) if you need a little more grease.
3. Add the potatoes and onions and cook until the potatoes are getting some brown.

4. Add the eggs and be sure that the heat is on low.

5. Scramble it all together until the eggs are how you like them.
6. Top with cheese and mix that in.

16 January 2011

I Heart My Blender!

It has arrived,  The Blender for the Rest of My Life!  Ever since I have been married, I've had crummy blenders.  I've tried three and gotten nothing but frustration from them.  The old ones always get stuck, refusing to whirl the food around until I stop it, poke around with a spatula, start again, and 10 seconds later, repeat the process.  Yes, the job would eventually get done, but I was sure, sure there had to be a better blender out there.

To the internet!  According to reviews, yes, there are better blenders out there, costing about $400.  Uh, no.  I'm not going into the smoothie business, just wanting to make them with a little more ease.

Then, the family went to a big-city mall, and I stopped by Macy's home department and cruised through the blenders, looking at the blades of them.  I figured that blender effectiveness had to be tied up in horsepower and blades.  They all looked the same, just like my other one, until I found the Breville.  It had 6 blades, two of them larger, and serrated blades, and also more horsepower than the others.  But the price was still a lot higher than I was comfortable with, though half that of the mega-blenders.

More internet searches, reading reviews, looking around.  And then I found on Amazon, that I could buy a refurbished Breville for less than half the price.  But, and of course there's a but, the reviews mentioned problems, mainly with leaking.  More research, and finally I decided to take the gamble.

It arrived, and yesterday I decided to try it.  First I asked Burt to check for leaking with some water, and it did leak.  Then we got out the manual, disassembled it and put it back together, and voila, perfect!  And then on to the blending.  Wow!  I put in my smoothie stuff, pushed the Smoothie button (yes, it has a smoothie button, and was amazed.  First, it was really quiet.  Second, no stalling.  And it turned out a perfect smoothie.

Of course, I plan on using it for more than just smoothies.  OK, back to playing with my new toy.

14 January 2011

Spelt Pancakes

Who has heard of spelt?  Until a year ago, I hadn't, and I'm usually suspicious of anything I haven't heard of.  Then, I got the King Arthur Whole Grains Baking Book, and became convinced that we needed more whole grains in our diet.  So, methodically, I turned to the first recipe in the book, Spelt Pancakes, went to the health food store to buy some spelt flour, and gave them a try.

And they were the best pancakes I ever had.

The hardest thing about them is keeping spelt flour stocked.  It's available at health food stores and at some grocery stores.  You can read more about spelt here, but basically, it's an ancient grain, related to wheat with more protein than wheat, and easier on the digestive system.  It has a different taste, giving the pancakes a deeper, richer flavor.  And it can be substituted for wheat in other recipes.

This recipe is very basic and very easy.  The only caveat is that the batter must sit for 15 minutes before making the pancakes, so you need to allow for that extra time, but they are worth the wait.

Pancakes are Cool Guy's second-favorite breakfast, after oatmeal,  and a special treat for everyone.  Two of these pancakes give you
  • 27 whole grains (that's over half what is recommended per day
  • 137 calories
  • 4 g fat
  • 5 g protein
  • 4 g fiber
And they look just like regular pancakes, not like some sort of "health food," that my kids wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

We had our stacks this morning with a thin pat of butter, some real maple syrup, an orange on the side, and (for me) coffee with cream.  Fine dining in the a.m.!

13 January 2011

My Smoothie Ambivilance

I like smoothies, really, but I don't see them as the be-all and end-all of healthy breakfasts.  Today was another snow day, so a perfect day for smoothies ----not?  Yes, and no.

One the one hand, it was cold outside, so most people would want something warm.  Not a good day for smoothies.  On the other hand, they lack a rib-sticking quality to get the boys and me through until lunchtime.  A better day for smoothies than most, since boys would be here to have something else if needed.  Mainly I chose to make smoothies today because the boys asked for them.

So my two gripes about smoothies are that they don't sustain us throughout the morning and that I hate my blender.  To combat the first problem, I could serve something else along with the smoothie, such as a breakfast meat, or even some cereal.  Cool Guy handled the problem by having a bowl of cereal at 10:30 this morning.  To combat the second problem, I am waiting to receive another blender in the mail.  I'll give this new one a try, and if it is the success that I hope it to be, I'll post about it.

The good part about smoothies is
  • they are easy
  • they are healthy
  • boys like them
  • they are quick
  • they are customizable
Today's smoothie got in 100% of our Vitamin C, a lot of our Vitamin A, a good chunk of potassium, some calcium, protein, and even some Omega-3.  That's quite a whallop for such a small investment of time and energy.  And did I mention that the boys like them?

In the final analysis, I think smoothies are a good thing, but not something that I would want every day as my main source of morning sustenance.  Enjoy it for what it is: a yummy, healthy drink.

My basic recipe for smoothies is vague.  It takes a little tinkering with yourself to make it yours.

For two or three people

1 banana
Several serving spoonfuls vanilla yogurt (probably 3/4 cup total)
Fresh or frozen other fruit of your choice, about 1 cup (we used frozen mango today)
2-3 ice cubes if not using frozen fruit
Orange juice if needed
Optional ground flax seed or wheat germ for extra nutrition

1. Place the fruits, ground flax seed,  and yogurt in the blender and turn it on.  Hopefully your blender works better than mine.

2. If it seems too thick, add orange juice until it is of a consistency you like.

3. Pour into glasses, add straws, and FILL YOUR BLENDER WITH WATER.

4. Train your family members to fill their glasses with water after they are done with their smoothies.  Smoothie residue is the devil to clean after it dries on the blender and glasses.

12 January 2011

Dig the Pig

I always said I'd make a great vegetarian if it weren't for pork.  Barbeque pulled pork, pork tenderloin, ham, bacon, sausage - I'd miss it too much.

I try, as much as is realistic, to buy my pork at the farmer's market, where they raise "happy pigs," my term, but it doesn't always happen.  Last weekend, recovering from the Eternal Cold, which has now developed into a full-blown sinus infection, I just didn't have the strength to muster the trip.  Cool Guy and I went to the local grocery store, and he asked for Stick Sausage.  That's our term for sausage in links instead of patties.  Well, you don't have to ask me twice!

Today, a snow day, but nevertheless one with very little sleep on my part (thank you, racking cough), I thought it would be the perfect time to just slide those babies in the skillet and basically let breakfast take care of itself.

Yes, they're fatty.  Yes, they're salty.  Yes, they're processed food, and I don't know what some of the ingredients are, but they are tasty, and they are just what fills the bill on a day like today - a "Mom's not at her best" kind of day.

We had ours with oranges and toast.  Easy Peasy.

09 January 2011

Breakfast Together

Today, Burt has volunteered to make oatmeal for breakfast.  He usually does this once a weekend, and it is great for me.  Regular oatmeal is not one of my favorites, but taking it easy in the morning, and needing only to sip my coffee and wait for the morning is definitely a favorite.  And also, I think that the weekly bowls of oatmeal with Burt and the boys is a nice routine for just them, and a bond.

As long as I can remember, growing up, married life, and life with children, breakfast has been a solitary affair.  As a child, while I was staring at soggy cereal in my bowl, I did it alone, or more exactly, with my sister.  As a newlywed, well, it's a long story, but Burt had brutal working hours as an ensign in the Navy, and what with training, refitting, and deployment out to sea, breakfast for each of us was alone.  Burt's hours were not conducive to having breakfast at home, and he said that he could get ready and to work faster if I would just not bother fixing him anything.  And I needed a lot of sleep back then, so I stayed in bed while he rose and ate alone.  And later, I would eat alone, reading the paper, and being perfectly content.

There is nothing wrong with some peace and quiet in the morning.  I have had it for most of my life, and I like it.  It's one of the reasons why I do get up so early in the mornings now (in addition to just plain biology, not needing as much sleep, and a back that won't take too much time lying in bed.)  I like having the time to sip coffee alone in my own thoughts, plan my day with no distractions, do some prayers or Bible reading without being interrupted, and maybe even begin a blog post or a crossword puzzle.  In the summer, I use that time to walk Scamp before it gets too hot, and then I have my coffee on the front porch listening to the birds.  Yes, I like some solitude, especially in the morning.

So it is not surprising that when babies came, they were exposed to the same kind of morning routine.  Oh, sure, there were the special years when I would hold them and give them their bottles, and the times when I would feed them those little jars of baby food, one spoonful at a time.  Those were wonderful times.  But then, as soon as each boy was old enough to feed himself, I would put his food on the table and get busy with something else, like a shower, or the dishes, or Lord Knows What.  It was always something.  And there's nothing exactly WRONG with that.  It's what we all were used to.

And then one day, sometime this past fall, I sat down and had coffee cup #2 while the boys were eating.  And it was nice.  We had breakfast together.  (Actually, I had already eaten, but 2nd cup of coffee counts.)  And I said to myself, "What's all the rush about?  Why such a hurry to get the laundry sorted?  Don't you know that they're halfway grown now, and soon, you'll have all the mornings you want to sort laundry and do dishes?  Sit down and enjoy some company, for cryin' out loud."  And I have ever since.

Sometimes I have already eaten because I'm starving, and I only have another cup of coffee.  Other times, I eat along with they boys.  And we talk, who knows what about, sometimes silly stuff and we laugh, sometimes interesting stuff like politics, and sometimes I just listen to a never-ending summary of a TV show that I have absolutely NO intererst in, but I listen.  And no one reads the paper, shutting out the others, and no one watches TV, and no one has had a chance yet in the day to get angry at anyone else.

Sometimes, I must put the food on the table and get myself ready for something, an early morning appointment, something.  But usually I manage to find that 10 or 15 minutes needed for us to breakfast together.  Really, it is such a small amount of time in the day to invest.

Maybe I'm the last mom to have figured this out.  But if I'm not, and if your usual morning does not have breakfast together at a table together, please consider giving it a try.  Yes, if you work, it will mean more for you to do in the morning.  But just like those baby bottle years, you can never have this time back.  There is only a finite number of mornings that your kids will be at your table eating breakfast as kids, and it's nice to enjoy that time with them.

08 January 2011

Ham and Corn Pudding

I woke this morning without my throat screaming at me every time I swallowed.  I got up and wasn't dizzy.  I made coffee and didn't feel that I had to rest after doing so.  I'm on the road to recovery!  Now, I'm going to be honest, here: I don't mind being just a teeny tiny bit sick once or twice a year if it will allow me to lie in bed and read all day long guilt-free, but this wasn't what I had in mind at all.  I felt awful for three days, and there's no glamour in feeling too rotten to do anything for three stinkin' days.

So, on to breakfast.  I haven't been to the store in almost a month, and we're scraping the bottom of the barrell.  We have oatmeal, sure, but I didn't want oatmeal again today (though  Burt and Cool Guy would).  What we have in abundance is ham, loads of ham.

I decided to try something new, Corn and Ham Pudding, a recipe from the Meal Makeover Moms, two dietitians who have children with typical children's tastes.  Their recipes are designed to be
  • healthy, or at least healthier than the original recipes
  • quick and easy to cook with ingredients that real people have on hand
  • something that real kids will eat without making faces
I like listening to their podcast, and I subscribe to their email newsletter, but I have never tried a recipe.  But today, feeling much better, I was ready to explore new territory. 

I didn't have lean deli ham, just leftover ham, which I trimmed the fat from, and I didn't have lowfat Swiss cheese, but instead had locally-made Swiss - fabulous and most definitely not lowfat.  I'm OK with that.  And I didn't have my corn thawed (and microwave is broken.)  Otherwise, I followed the recipe verbatim.  I usually do the first time I try something.

If the ham and cheese were already cut up, it would take just a minute to mix together, but you need to allow 40 minutes for it to bake and then a little more time for it to set, so this is not a quick breakfast.  Save it for the weekend or one of those early-rising days.

It smelled fabulous as it was cooking, and it looked pretty good coming out.  The judgement was that Burt and I liked it pretty well, but we liked it even better when we smothered it with picante sauce.  We like picante with our eggs.  The surprise was Encyclopedia, who is suspicious of anything new, and I was sure that after his one no-thank-you bite, he'd move on to the cereal, but he tried it and then got a HUGE helping.  And this is the boy who never likes ANYTHING that is "all mixed together."  Cool Guy just wasn't going to try anything this morning.  He drank his juice, ate his orange, and declared himself full.  He can try it again another time, because it will appear again at our table.

I like that in one easy dish, we had eggs, meat, cheese, and a vegetable, if you count corn as a vegetable, which I do, needing all the wiggle room I can get to meet my daily veggie quota.  Picante sauce is a veggie, too.

07 January 2011

An Ode to Oatmeal

Oatmeal, oatmeal, steaming bowl,
Fill me up and off I'll go.
Steamy, creamy, toothsome, sweet,
You are a morning's special treat.

Cool Guy has requested oatmeal for two days running, so today's the day.  I've been under the weather for three days now, and with my achy joints and scratchy throat, a bowl of oatmeal sounds pretty good to me, too.

I've never been that fond of oatmeal.  Burt, another oatmeal lover, requested very early in the marriage that I only buy old-fashioned oats, so I don't have anything at all to say about instant or quick.  But even old-fashioned are quick.  Once the water boils, it takes about 5 minutes with only an occassional stirring.

Last month, I bought some steel-cut, or Irish, oats and tried those out.  They take quite a bit longer to cook, about 25 minutes, following the directions on the package.  But for the first time, I really enjoyed my bowl.  They were indeed "Steamy, creamy, toothsome."  Burt still prefers the regular old-fashioned, but we can work around that.  Sometimes one way, sometimes another.

One thing about being a parent is that regardless how you feel, you still have mouths to feed, children to get ready for school, little souls to minister to.  And the way I look at it, my throat is going to hurt whether I'm lying in bed or stirring oatmeal, so we may as well get something good in our bellies (with minimal effort), and rest later in the morning.

Today's bowl of oats was the steel-cut, topped with my special oatmeal topping, and served with some fried ham slices and mandarin oranges. I wanted to try my friend Jessi's idea of serving it with Nutella and banana slices, but we're all out of Nutella.  Next time, next time.  I'm sure another bowl is on the near horizon.

Steel Cut Oats
This makes 3 generous servings or 4 measly servings

1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan.

2. Add 1 cup of steel-cut oats, and turn the heat to medium.  Set the timer for 20 minutes, and give a stir every now and then.

3. During the first 10 minutes, you'll have time to cook your breakfast meat, pour juice, set the table, and set out the oatmeal toppings.

4. After about 10 minutes, you're going to need to be with the oatmeal.  Turn the heat down further, and stir pretty regularly, to keep it from sticking to the pan.

5. After the 20 minutes, turn off the heat, and let the oatmeal sit for a minute or two.

6. Pour into bowls, top with your toppings and cream or milk.  All we had in the house was 2% milk, and it was fine.

If you had a "measly serving," (1/4 of the oatmeal), you will have consumed, not counting the toppings,
170 calories
3 grams of fat (that surprised me)
5 grams of fiber
7 grams of protein

That should get you through the morning.

06 January 2011

You Say Tomato, I Say To-mah-to

No, I didn't serve tomatoes this morning.  Or potato po-tah-tos.  We had hard boiled eggs, one of my favorite breakfasts.

What I want to talk about is how different things are done in different families, and hard boiled eggs are a case in point.

The way I grew up, we peeled them, sat at the table with salt and pepper shakers, sprinkled those on, and munched away, using more salt and pepper as needed.  De-lightful.

Burt's family proceeds entirely differently: They put the eggs on a plate, roughly chop them, and then put pats of butter, plus some salt and pepper, and eat them with a fork.  De-licious.

I think one of the most interesting things in life is finding different ways of doing every-day, ordinary things.  De-lovely.

Are there other ways to eat hard boiled eggs? 

Both methods are equally good, but my way has the advantage of allowing a little flexibility for cooking and serving.  Burt's way requires the eggs to be quite hot, as in right off the stove, to have enough heat for the butter to melt.  I eat my plain hard boiled eggs hot, room temp, or cold.  It's all good to me.  And since I have a rotten, miserable cold right now and plan on crawling back into bed the moment I start feeling bad again, I think I'll go with the flexibility of the plain eggs today.

(Just a note: neither boy has yet taken to hard boiled eggs, but both like eggs in general now.  I'm suspecting that they just haven't had enough during all those cold cereal years, so I continue to make them once a month or so, serve the no-thank-you bite, plan on using the rejected eggs for tuna salad, and get on with things.  Mom-sick days are fine ones for the boys to pour their own cereal.)

This morning's eggs were served with whole wheat English muffins with honey, and a mandarin orange.

05 January 2011

Fried Ham, Fried Ham

We had a ham for dinner on Sunday, so this week's breakfasts will include ham for the most part.  Yesterday, Encyclopedia requested fried eggs for today.  Usually, I cook some bacon to go with the eggs, but fried ham works pretty well, too.

1. I cut fairly thick slices of ham and put them on the skillet until they got a little brown on both sides.

2.  There wasn't any grease at all to speak of after frying the ham, so I put just a little bacon grease in the skillet.  I was using a non-stick skillet, so very little grease was needed.

3. I turned the heat down.  I have fried a lot of eggs badly in the past and have finally figured out that they are much better when cooked on low heat.

4. After cracking the egg in the skillet, I went ahead and broke the yolk, as we all wanted "fried hard" this morning.

5. The tricky part is figuring out when to flip the egg over.  Too soon, and you have a scrambled mess.  Too late, and you overcook one side.  There is a learning curve involved, but it's only eggs, not life-and-death.

And in very short order, you have the makings of a great breakfast: fried ham and eggs, toast with jelly, and a little mandarin orange.  I toasted the bread and peeled the oranged while waiting on the ham.  And now, I have the satisfaction of knowing that despite my cold, and despite that I'm spending the rest of the day in bed, accomplishing nothing, I have managed to send the boys to school well-nourished and able to make it until lunchtime.

Picky, Picky

It is time to address picky eaters.  We all have them; we may even be one ourselves.

I'm not a child expert unless you count my experience of raising two very different boys being an expert, and I'm not a nutritionist, psychologist, or pediatrician.  Only "the mom in the kitchen," my version of Man on the Street.

Here, then, are some random thoughts.  Take them as the offerings they are.

  • Most kids go through picky phases.  And like all phases, they wax and wane.  It's not worth getting too worried about.
  • I am not a short-order cook.  I make one breakfast per day, with the alternative of plain Cheerios, if the breakfast I make is not to one's  liking.
  • For any dish that is either new or questionable, I dish out one No-Thank-You bite.  This tip came from Meal Makeover Moms.  And I literally put one small bite, not spoonful on the boys' plates.  They take the bite and either tell me "no thank you," or they decide they like it and get some more.  It takes the pressure off everyone and greatly reduces strife at the breakfast table.
  • Alternative junk in the house is minimized. Not eliminated, as we are human and enjoy a cookie now and then.
  • To combat pickiness at dinner, we have a set window for snacks.  The cutoff is 2 1/2 hours before dinner.  If someone is starving before dinner, I can usually set out some carrot sticks ahead of time.
  • Politeness is encouraged.  Cool Guy's mantra is "Thank you for making this, mom, but it's not my favorite."  I can live with that.
  • If you serve a variety of items at breakfast, you won't have "all your eggs in one basket."  (Pardon the pun.)  So when I made the veggie egg scramble with Green Stuff in it, I also served bacon and oranges plus juice.  Encyclopedia had his one bite of eggs, said no thank you, and was satisfied with the bacon and orange.  We can all live with that.  This is especially important with serving something new or some historically disliked item.
  • Kids' tastes change.  Actually, so do adults.  I won't even go into my 30-year refusal to eat corn.  What a fool I was.  Encyclopedia refused eggs for 10 years and last night asked for them for breakfast today.  Persevere.
  • Excitement is contagious.  I get excited when oranges are in season.  Ditto for apples, peaches, blueberries.  I talk about it, share my enthusiasm.  And the boys also get excited.  Right now, we are each consuming about 2 oranges per day, by request.  And I KNOW they got that from me.
And one final word of advice to stiffen the spine: We are the parents, and one job of ours is to ensure that our family is fed well, with food to thrive on.  That is our calling and one of our many responsibilities.  Knowing that, it is worth the effort it takes to present food that is healthy, tasty, "real."  Food should not be a place for power struggles, and there is no accounting for tastes.  Each should be able to decide what and how much to eat, but as long as the options are consistent, like my plain Cheerios option, variety available, and the cook emotionally detached (really, it's not personal), breakfast can be joyful time.

Do you have any tips for dealing with picky eaters?  Please let me know!

03 January 2011

Two Magic Words

When I was growing up, breakfast at our house was not very good, and it was so not very good that this has always stuck in my mind at how bad (OK, yes it was bad) our breakfasts were.  Even as a kid, I was aware that we had crummy breakfasts.  Mainly we had sugared-up box cold cereal, and I hate cold cereal.  Alway have.  There is not one brand, not one variety that I like.

Also, I was a ridiculously picky eater as a kid, and this was back in the day when picky eaters were NOT catered to.

I'm not saying I was scarred for life because of bad breakfasts, or that my parents were rotten, not at all.  My parents just did what lots and lots of other parents do: gulp down some coffee, pour some cereal for the kids, and scurry out the door.  (And by the way, I have to credit my dad especially with instilling a love of the amazing world of cuisine out there.  We had Japanese tempura, homemade ravioli, Korean short ribs, and all manner of "exotic" fare when I was growing up in small-town Oklahoma in the 1970's.)

But, also, I can remember day after day of staring at, stirring, choking down, bowls of unappetizing, soggy, unnaturally colored cereal.

And then, occassionally, my mom would wake me with two magic words: "French toast," and I would shoot out of bed, be at the table in a jiffy, and dance my way through the morning.

It would be like going from black and white to technicolor, that's the impact French toast had on me.  It was definitely a rock star breakfast, and it still has that magic for me.

French Toast (per serving)
2 slices of bread - homemade is best, but any kind will do
1 or 2 eggs, beaten with a little milk in a pie plate - number of eggs depending on number of servings
sprinkle of cinnamon

If you have a griddle, this is a perfect way to use it.  If not, a skillet will do just fine.

1.  Beat the eggs with a little milk, and sprinkle with a little cinnamon.  Sometimes, I get fancy and add a little orange peel chopped up very finely to the egg mixture.

2. Soak the bread in the egg.  If it's squishy boughten bread, this will only take a few seconds.  If it's homemade or harder, stale bread, this will take a little longer.  You want the egg to permeate the bread, but not to the point of disintegrating it.

3. Rub some butter over your griddle after you have heated it up.  Place the soaked bread on the griddle and cook it until it's done, just like you'd do for a grilled cheese sandwich.

4. Since it's cooked on butter, I eschew adding more to the French toast at the table, but we always do have maple syrup to pour over.

Today's breakfast was accompained by some ham slices grilled along with the toast, and of course, oranges.  The entire operation took 10 minutes, and it is, without a doubt, Encyclopedia's favorite breakfast.  He takes after his mom that way.

02 January 2011

A New Year Resolution Breakfast

I love New Year's Day.  Burt feels nothing but disdain for, what he calls, a "made up holiday."  His view is that it is silly to celebrate the turning of a calendar page and that the only good thing about New Year's is the football.  My view, the right one, is that here is the chance for a clean sweep.  Out with the old, clean out the cobwebs, clear out the clutter (literally and figuratively), evaluate your life, make some resolutions!  Who says resolutions need be negative or punitive?  Maybe New Years is the holiday for the Eternal Optimist.

Resolutions for this year include following the advice of the Meal Makeover Moms and eating 2 cups of fruit per day and 2.5 cups of vegetables.  This is such an easier way for me to translate into my daily life as compared to "portions" or "exchanges" or "servings."  I know what 2 cups looks like.

The fruit part is easy.  I get that done during breakfast, but the vegetables are going to be a lot harder to do consistently.  And it probably means that I should, when I can, include veggies in every meal.

New Year's Day dawned, and I set out to make scrambled eggs and bacon.  After the bacon cooked, I checked the fridge for any leftover veggies to add to the eggs.  I found the scooped-out potato from the day before's baked potato skins, and I found some garlicky sauteed spinach from the night before.  Here's what I did.

1. After the bacon was done, I poured most of the grease in the grease bowl, leaving just a film.  Don't want to undermine the veggie effort too much.

2. I added the potatoes and gently stirred them around.  I wanted them to warm up and get a little crust.

3. I then added the spinach to take the chill off.  They were already pretty well-cooked.

4. While the veggies were cooking I mixed together 5 eggs (one egg per person plus one) and added a little milk.

5. I added the eggs to the skillet, and very gently stirred it all on low heat.

Burt and I thought it was one of the most delicious renderings of scrambled eggs we had ever tasted.  It was probably a little more grown-up than the boys wanted, but after the sample bite, Cool Guy had  a regular helping.  Encyclopedia only had the sample bite and then contented himself with bacon and an orange.  Which is fine.

Would I make it again?  Most definitely.  Would I have potato centers and spinach sitting in the fridge?  Probably never again at the same time.  But, and this is the point, I'll have something.  And off the top of my head, I can't think of any veggies that I would not put in scrambled eggs.  OK, maybe not eggplant, but I don't like eggplant.  And not lettuce, either.  But you get my point.  Save your veggies from the night before, warm them up, add eggs, and reap the benefits of delicious food and lots of good nutrition.

The time involved with this creation clocked in under 10 minutes.  I'm loving it.

01 January 2011

I Never Would Have Dreamed Up This One

Sometimes, it just takes the outlandishness in a child to spark some creativity.  Last night, as I was baking potatoes for the  next day's breakfast, Cool Guy asked, as usual, if we could have oatmeal for breakfast.  (I think I mentioned that he's on an oatmeal jag right now and asks for oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  He gets it about 50 % of the time for breakfast and lunch.)  Anyway......

Cool Guy: "Mom, can we have oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow?"

Me: "No, I'm baking potatoes right now for fried potatoes in the morning."

CG: "How about potato skins?" 

Well, how about potato skins?  Never had em for breakfast, never heard of em for breakfast, but so what?  They have potatoes, bacon, cheese, and they make boys happy.

Except I've never made them before.  I woke fairly early and already had the potatoes baked.  "This will be easy," I thought, anticipating extra time to do a little early morning web surfing.  One hour later, I'm just about ready to get the skins in the oven for cheese melting and muttering that this is the LAST TIME I'll ever make potato skins.

Until Cool Guy takes his first bite.  He is almost doing cartwheels, he likes it so much.  I am, too.  Who knew they could be this good?

Will I make them again?  Definitely.  Will I do it on a regular basis?  Probably not.  Way too time-consuming for daily fare, but for a weekend, holiday, birthday, snow day, how about potato skins?

(Note: I used the recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  I didn't have any green onions on hand, which I'm sure was fine with the boys, and I had baked the potatoes the night before.  I baked one potato per person, plus one, making 5, and I cooked only three strips of bacon, which was plenty.  A tiny dollop of sour cream (reduced fat) was perfect.)