My big daughter and I were at a café and cooking school the other night making soup for women at risk in Toronto. The café was closed for the event but their menu was posted on the wall. I have been to other events and parties there but haven’t ever popped in to buy food but will keep it in mind the next time I need something delicious! The sandwich menu looked great and my daughter dragged me across the room to show me an amazing sandwich – a wrap with some grilled veggies, pesto and goat cheese. As a vegetarian of nearly 20 years, I feel like I have eaten this sandwich a million times and ate too many of these in the late 90s – just needs a balsamic drizzle to take me back to my undergrad years – but was delighted that she found something she was keen about for lunch so added it to the menu for the week.
Dinner last night was a Spanish chick pea and spinach stew – found the recipe online and thought the spicing was unusual so figured I would make it. It turned out to just be strange (unusual is sometimes a red flag) so wont be making it again but we did have it along side of a salad of hearty grilled veggies – cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, carrots – with a big squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkling of Maldon sea salt. Simple and delicious and also great for packing into some wraps for lunch! While I put the veggies on a platter for dinner, I took a big wrap and spread it with some nut free pesto, sprinkled on some chevre and dotted it with a roasted red pepper condiment that was a new arrival to the supermarket that I like to shop at (I am such a sucker for new food products!!). On top of that, I laid out some baby spinach (the same stuff that went into the stew), a couple of roasted carrots, some sundried tomatoes, sprouts and a few bit of cauliflower. I rolled it all up, cut it in two – one for each kid – and wrapped it up for lunch.
I love beets so have been roasting a bag every so often to keep on hand to toss into a salad for my lunch. I diced up a couple of the beautiful golden and candy cane (they turned uniformly pink after roasting) ones and packed them into the kids lunches. I added some fresh fruit – mangoes and raspberries – some cherry tomatoes and black bean crackers and a few chocolates for a treat. My little daughter has a been turning down vegetables recently but was so enthusiastic about having a wrap sandwich like one of her good buddies that she just might eat something fresh and tasty!
I had a couple of kid-free hours and plans to go out in the evening, so I got a jump start on Monday by making the girls’ lunches on Sunday afternoon. This meant that I could play around a bit and also that I would have some natural light to take a pic! It is dark here by 530 so it was a pleasure to snap a quick pic with the sunlight reflecting off of the snow.
I had a bag of colourful carrots in my fridge and while they always look gorgeous, they don’t always taste as good as they look. The bag I have on hand has defied the odds, and the carrots are sweet and delicious and each colour tastes different from the others. I used the carrots as a starting point for this colourful meal. I sliced the carrots on my mandoline, and blanched them in boiling water to soften them so that I could roll them up. I coupled them with some snap peas with hopes that the kids would eat something green at lunch.
Protein is a must to keep my kids going all afternoon and protein that can be quickly inhaled is key. I whipped up a batch of golden panisses for this lunch. Panisses are made from chick pea flour and the process is not unlike making polenta. You start with heating up some water and a bit of olive oil in a pot until it is hot, but not quite boiling. You mix in an equal amount of chick pea flour – I added some cumin and coriander that I bashed in my mortar and pestle – and stir over medium heat until it comes together. Next you spread it on to a cookie sheet or into an oiled dish to set up. Once it has cooled, you slice it up – traditionally into long fingers, but for lunch I thought cubes made more sense – and then cook it again. I tossed the cubes with some olive oil and salt and roasted them in a hot oven until they were crispy on the outside but still soft inside. You could also fry them in a pan to get a similar result. They are great on their own – or with some pesto for dipping – but also a great crouton alternative in a salad or bowl of soup.
To round out the lunch, I packed a couple of oranges – one blood, one mandarin, some vibrant root veggie sticks and a few chocolate-coated pomegranate airls.
Because I made this so far in advance, I put the panisse cubes in the toaster oven to warm them up in the morning. I usually do this with anything that is eaten warm so it isn’t freezing cold when the kids have it at lunch time. The lunch bags they use are insulated so the cubes – or the quesadilla from the other day – are probably room temperature by the time lunch hour rolls around. Much more appetizing and key for my little daughter who does not like to eat foods that are meant to be hot, cold. With the exception of leftover cold pizza, we are on the same page so I am happy to oblige.
Another action packed day and had to get school lunches into lunch boxes, dinner on to the table and children out and back, to and from swimming lessons in what must have been double time! There is a terrific Mexican restaurant in the west end of Toronto that has done a booming business and now distributes their amazing salsas all over the city. I keep them on hand nearly all the time and a bag of their amazing tortillas in the freezer because they can quickly and easily transform any humble ingredients into a tasty dinner.
For dinner we had the green tortillas – apparently green from cactus – topped w some sprouted brown rice, roasted corn and green onions (sautéed together with a big squeeze of lime) , scrambled eggs, shredded smoked cheddar and whatever salsa happened to appeal. It was easy and delicious and so warming on a freezing cold day.
For lunch, I made the kids quesadillas with the smoked cheddar and some broccoli that I diced up small enough so that it would cook while I cooked the quesadillas. During the day, I baked a batch of really delicious – really a pleasant surprise – banana buckwheat muffins. I had a little bag of buckwheat flour on hand from some cookies I made recently so figured I would give the muffins a try since I am not likely to make the cookies again and we had a bunch of bananas on the counter that were perfectly ripe (=not going to be eaten by anyone in the house). The muffins were light and airy and the nuttiness of the buckwheat matched well with the bananas. The kids ate far too many muffins after school, but I managed to rescue a couple and packed a mini muffin in each lunch box. I also tossed in some dried pineapple, cucumber slices and a few slices of apples that I sprinkled with some cinnamon. Finally, a few candied sunflower seeds for a treat. A great lunch to wrap up the first week back at school. The sun is shining, it has finally warmed up a bit and 2015 is definitely off to a great start!
Lunch 80 was an exercise in speed and preparedness. We walked in the door from school pickup at nearly 4pm and I had to pack lunches, make dinner and be back out the door at 630 to attend a course. Looking ahead at my calendar, I can see that the next few months are going to be busy between work, kids and a course that I am taking (I am doing homework again and not just helping w my kids work!) – all great things – but I did some pre-work to set myself up to make busy evenings less chaotic. One of the things I did is make up a bunch of lunch appropriate foods and freeze them so that I can pop them into lunch boxes along with some fruit and veggies. I made up some waffles (multigrain and apple), pancakes, soup and lots of muffins. We always have lots of fruit in the house – my little daughter has been known to get up early on Saturday mornings (the kids can only watch TV on the weekends) and help herself to a couple of apples (and leave the cores on the windowsill for me to dispose of later) – and I keep easy to prep veggies on hand.
For this lunch, I packed some pancakes (warmed them up before the kids left for school) and a little container of maple syrup, pineapple (I had to cut it up but bought it was cored), banana slices, blueberries, pomegranate airls, some snap peas, a tomato and a few bunny cookies for a treat. Fast, easy and nutritious!
We had a couple of quiet days at home during the school break after we returned from vacation. We all needed a bit of downtime and after the rush of school, followed immediately by rushing off on holiday (we picked the kids up from school and headed directly to the airport) so it was nice to spend a day or two drawing, painting, building and reading. The kids, especially my big daughter, loves to flip through cookbooks and while I was menu planning for the week, she looked through Plenty More – the latest Ottolenghi book – and found a recipe for some sweet pea and mint fritters that looked lovely and that she thought she would like for school. When I was at the supermarket, I happened to be standing in front of the frozen peas so picked up a bag with plans to make them with her after school.
When we got home from school, we pulled out the book and I realized that I had not read through the entire recipe that included freezing the uncooked fritters for a couple of hours and then breading and frying them. With the bag of now mostly thawed peas sitting on the counter, it was time for improvisation. We made up the pea mixture (sautéed shallots, peas processed in the processor until they were chopped up but not mush, an egg – but I swapped the egg for some ground flax and warm water, mint, garlic, salt and pepper) and formed little patties. I dusted them w corn starch and cooked them in an oiled pan until they were crispy on the outside and cooked through. They were fantastic and the kids ate them up as quickly as I could make them. I managed to set aside half a dozen and packed them into their lunch boxes.
It is now apparent that the ying ying soy foods smoked tofu slices are a staple in our lunch boxes and here they are again! They really are delicious hot or cold and a great lunch option because they are packed with protein to keep the kids going through their active days. I threaded a few slices onto a skewer while the kids ate the balance of the package (and no dinner later on – no surprise!) and I sliced up a few rainbow carrots, a pineapple and some grapes. Finally, I tossed in four citrus flavoured gum drops to round out this 79th lunch.
A very exciting thing happened on our flight home from Florida. No, we were not upgraded to the front of the plane or bumped to another flight in exchange for wads of cash (that has happened before – it was also very exciting). This was an entirely different experience – not only did we get an entire can of whatever we wanted to drink and as many snacks as we wanted (go Jet Blue but pretty amazing to see people actually take the flight attendants up on this!!) but we also had free WiFi for the duration of the flight! I thought hours of live TV was pretty terrific – especially since we gave up cable months ago and it is fun to binge watch food shows once in a while – but being able to surf and read for 3+ hours is a treat. This gave me a chance to catch up on reading (the binge watching fun wore off pretty quickly – the food network was showing a Guy Fieri marathon) some of my favourite food sites and I came across a bunch of different articles about how to cook all kinds of stuff in a waffle iron. People cooked waffles, obviously, but also grilled cheese sandwiches and even cinnamon rolls (not sure about this one – wouldn’t really be much of a roll). One of the ideas that stuck with me was waffling cooked rice and so I gave it a shot yesterday.
My kids love rice – especially the little one – but I am told that food that must be eaten with cutlery just slows them down at lunch so rather than even eating a few bites, they just won’t eating anything at all! Perplexing and frustrating because on the days when they have decided not to eat because of the challenges of using a fork, they come out of school starving and grouchy. Rice that they could pick up with their hands seemed like it had potential. I cooked a pot of sprouted brown rice and let it steam a bit in the pot (I just left the lid on the pot) so that it was a little bit sticky. I heated up my waffle iron and set the outside crispness to high (there is a dial on my waffle iron) and let it warm up. Once it was nice and hot, I brushed the iron with a bit of grapeseed oil and packed the cooked rice into the iron. I put far more rice in than I would put waffle batter since it needed to compress to stay together and because it was not going to rise like batter does. I ran the rice waffles through a couple of cooking cycles so that the outside was nice and crispy, browned and the whole thing held together. We pulled the first one off the iron and tested it and it was fantastic! The outside was crispy, but the interior was still soft and the nuttiness of the brown rice was intensified so that it was pretty flavourful. We devoured the rest of the waffle and I made another one for the girls’ lunches.
There is a terrific tofu maker in the city who sells his products at St Lawrence Market and also at the farmer’s markets and small supermarkets (although I spotted them at Whole Foods this week). He makes delicious smoked tofu strips – a lunchbox staple – as well as some great marinated tofu. I picked up a couple of packages of the tomato tofu thinking they would be good for an after school snack or for lunch. The package that I opened up for this lunch served both purposes – I packed some for lunch and they finished the balance while I made dinner. Along with the tofu and brown rice, I packed some roasted soy beans, some endives with segments of blood orange and a handful each of blueberries and pomegranates. For a treat, I packed a couple of chocolate non-pareils that we picked up on our way home at Trader Joes.
2015 is off to a terrific start and I am back and getting caught up on the lunches that I didn’t document here (they are always captured here) at the end of 2014 as well as resolving to try to stay on track here. The end of 2014 got busy and we left the city early to escape the cold for a while but with the kids back at school, lunches need to be packed!
While we were away, we went to a great food truck event in Hollywood, FL. Every Monday, 30 or so food trucks gather around the Arts Circle in the centre of Hollywood and serve up tons of delicious food. The last time we encountered so many food trucks was around Washington, DC last summer. We were amazed at the sheer number of trucks around the city and all of the different food they served up. After a visit to one of the Smithsonian museums, we came out and had Korean, Ethiopian, Indian and Thai food from a group of 10 trucks that happened to be parked in front of some office buildings! The laws in Toronto have made it difficult for people to serve food from food trucks – and the freezing weather at this time of the year doesn’t help either – so we jump when we get a chance to dine this way. It is such a great way for everyone to try something different and it is truly a pleasure to dine outside in December.
Back to Florida – we all ate well (I had a quesadilla with plantains, black beans and some queso fresco – yum!) – very well, but couldn’t eat everything we wanted to so I figured I would give a few of the things we had to pass up a whirl when we got home. One of the trucks we passed had delicious looking and smelling arepas stuffed with all kinds of enticing ingredients. I have only had arepas once before, think it was from a cart at a NYC food festival, but had recently come across a recipe and they looked simple to make and would be a good lunch option.
Arepas are made with masa – a corn flour – baking powder, salt and some water. You mix everything up, form patties and cook in an oiled pan until they are golden on each side. Once they are golden, you transfer them to a baking sheet and bake them until they sound hollow when you knock on the bottom – just like baking bread. I made three little arepas and concerned that they would get soggy, decided not to stuff them and instead packed a filling along side. I tossed some black beans, roasted corn, cherry tomatoes with some salsa verde and green onions and put that into little containers for the kids. This was packed alongside of some giant Incan corn, veggies, fruit and a couple of juice sweetened gummy penguins. A great first day back at school lunch!