Day 38 of 196 – A light lunch before the candy

Day 38My kids have amazing teachers this year. They inspire them to learn, have created interesting and creative projects for them to work on and are doing all of this in the midst of challenging working conditions. On top of all of this, they are throwing Halloween parties for their classes but have asked that we send healthy food! None of the kids will be deprived of candy on Halloween and they do still have a full day of learning to tackle and so it makes sense to make the parties about fun with some healthy snacks. That being said, there will still be candy so lunch for the day before Halloween is on the light side.

I have made some brown rice sushi with some cucumber, carrots and avocado – this thrilled my kids to no end – and packed some edamame for protein for this lunch. I made a couple of apple monsters with pumpkin seed teeth and googly eyes left over from a cake decorating kit. I may or may not have told my kids that their teeth will look just like these monsters teeth if they don’t brush them after eating a mountain of candy. My 10 year old laughed it off, but the 7 year old looked worried!!

Day 78 of 196 – can you really cook anything in a waffle iron?

lunch 78A 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.

Day 34 of 196: Feeling cubist

20141012_210239716_iOSI love to cook and love to buy and read cookbooks – often to the exclusion of other reading – but I am reluctant to buy a lot of kitchen tools. There is no shortage of gadgets but I find that most of the time I can accomplish the same task with a good sharp knife, my fingers or by improvising.  I do make the odd exception and the rice cube (pic at the left)  caused me to bend my minimalist kitchen-tool rule. The rice cube forms perfect little cubes of rice, grains or almost anything that can be pressed into shape and is a cinch to use. My 6 year old watched the video on their website and got to work making cubes of jasmine rice mixed with either grated beet, grated carrot or sandwiched with a thin omelette of kale and caramelized onions and then called it dinner.  I tried using the rice cube last week to make cubes of brown rice but the rice didn’t stick well and I improvised and re-titled lunch “deconstructed sushi”.

I was shopping in an amazing Korean supermarket a few weeks ago and picked up some unfamiliar ingredients (I am only minimalist with tools, I pick up new foods all the time) including some short grain wild rice that looked intriguing. Undeterred by last week’s failure (and by the package entirely in Korean – thank goodness for my lovely Korean neighbour who translated for me) I cooked up a pot of rice and set to work making a cubist lunch.

IMG_4890I formed little cubes of black rice and wrapped them in thin strips of heirloom carrot that I had sliced with my mandoline and quickly blanched so that they would bend around the rice. I also wrapped the rice in thin strips of smoked tofu and filled another three with cucumber. Carrying on with the theme, I pressed a couple of banana and squash (sounds strange, actually delicious) muffins and tucked them into this lunch.  Lunch was rounded out with some steamed edamame, sliced kiwi and raspberries and a roll of the fruit leather I made a few weeks ago.

IMG_4894I was about to pack up a second lunch when my little daughter wandered in, tasted the black rice and declared that she did not like it at all! I don’t get into struggles with my kids about food. I insist that they try everything but don’t insist they eat things they don’t like.  I keep everyone in mind when I make lunches and dinner and there are always enough options so that if you don’t like one thing, there is always something else on the table to eat.   Her lunch was just a rice-free variation on the planned meal – julienned carrots, tofu slices on a tooth pick, a muffin, some oranges (one of her best buddies at school is allergic to kiwi so they cannot sit together if she has kiwi in her lunch) and raspberries, edamame and fruit leather. At the end of the day, they both had healthy and delicious meals to help fuel them through the day and healthy and delicious meals that they would eat and not bring home untouched.

Day 31 of 196: tofu burgers and magical cauliflower

20141014_201732844_iOSMy little daughter came home from school early feeling sick  – turns out she was just really hungry – so we picked up a snack on the way home and then made a detour to the supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner.  We have a wonderful independent grocery store that is a 20 minute walk from our house that has the most amazing selection of produce with a focus on locally grown fruits and vegetables. This time of year is particularly bountiful with squash and gorgeous brassicas. We walked past a display of romanesco cauliflower and my daughter stopped to admire it and asked if we could get for dinner. Never one to discourage vegetable consumption, we found the loveliest one, picked up some other things for dinner and headed home.

After she had her lunch, we decided to bake some bread from a cookbook I picked up at Ikea (surely I am not the only person who leaves I Ikea with a cookbook and nothing else?!) with some local red fife flour – a nice coarse whole grain flour that is milled nearby  – and studded with a mix of dried berries and scented with saffron and mace. The house smelled amazing!!

When my big daughter came home she stopped to admire the cauliflower on the counter and was also taken aback by its beauty. This was a clear sign that this cauliflower was going to be going into their lunches!  After homework and some playtime, we set out to make dinner.  I had some cooked brown rice in the fridge (I usually cook 20141014_215922014_iOSup a few different grains each week to save myself time during the week), and figured it would make a good base for a salad. I broke the cauliflower apart and blanched it and then put it on the barbecue to finish cooking. While it was cooking, I made up a quick vinaigrette with lemon zest, lemon juice, mint, olive oil and a bit of maple syrup.  My little daughter broke apart a pomegranate and put some of the airls in containers for lunch and the balance into the bowl with the rice and the vinaigrette.  Finally, I grabbed the cauliflower off of the barbeque and put it into the bowl with the rice mixture and put it on the table for dinner.

It was an unseasonably warm October day so I decided to barbeque some tofu burgers and served them with some raw wraps that we picked up while shopping. I like these wraps so much because they are delicious cold and would be perfect in lunch boxes the following day.  I cooked up a couple of extra burgers for the kids and assembled their lunches.

20141014_205936333_iOSThe final product – a tofu burger on a corn and flax seed wrap, some pomegranate airls and orange segments, half a dozen florets of cauliflower and some cherry tomatoes, a little sauce to drizzle on the burgers and a few gummy bears for a treat.

Day 30 of 196: Sushi, deconstructed

IMG_4811After a long weekend with lots of indulgent eating, it felt like it was time for some simple and healthy food.  The kids love sushi and we are lucky to live in a city with lots of great sushi and food in general.  Over the weekend, I picked up a fun tool to make cubes of rice (and other grains) that I thought would be a handy tool for making lunches. The kids gave it a whirl the day I came home with it and they made – no adult assistance at all! – the tasty cubes of rice with veggies pictured on the left.  We made a pot of rice and mixed some of the cooked rice with chopped beet and another bit with some grated carrot. Finally, I made an omelette with some kale and cut it up into little squares to fit into the rice press.  The kids got to work and were delighted to have made their own dinner. After this great first run, I was keen to put the press to use for lunch 30.  I made up a pot of brown rice – not as popular with the kids, but a healthier choice – and while it cooked I prepped lunch and dinner.

We had fish tacos for dinner – basically just fish that I dip into egg and then seasoned panko and then cook in a hot oven for a few minutes, flip and then pull out the oven.  I set out bowls of different toppings – charred corn, rice, cauliflower rice, diced tomatoes and peppers, sautéed zucchini and mushrooms and some salsa – and everyone builds their own lettuce cups or tortillas for dinner.  I set aside some carrots, mushrooms, peppers and cucumber and diced these for lunch.

When the rice was ready, I put some in a bowl for dinner and then got to work on what I thought would be a quick and easy lunch preparation with the rice cube tool. What I did not anticipate was that the brown rice I was using was not nearly sticky enough to hold a cube shape and the sushi I had constructed was quickly deconstructing.  Rather than giving up, I took this as a sign that I was meant to make deconstructed sushi and ended up packing little sushi salads instead.  I set down a bed of brown rice and sprinkled the diced veggies over it, threw on a few radish sprouts for colour, chopped up some nori and called it a day. When my little daughter wandered over to see what was happening in the kitchen she declared that she hated sushi (a lot can change in three days apparently!) but I assured her that she was having some rice with vegetables and predictably she declared she loved rice with vegetables!

IMG_4824Along with the deconstructed sushi, I packed some steamed edamame, a few baby carrots from our CSA box, a little container with some tamari to dress the salad, some rice crackers and fresh fruit. For a treat, my big daughter selected a fruit jelly for each of them.

Back to the carrots for a moment – one of the kids had a friend over to play when we got our CSA box last week.  My kids are always keen to see if they are strong enough to carry it in and then open it up to see what is inside. I pulled out a big bunch of magnificent carrots with the greens still attached and soil clinging to the roots. My daughter’s friend looked aghast and asked what I was holding. I explained  – really perplexed – that they were carrots. She told me that she only likes baby carrots and what she meant was that she likes the little carrots you can buy in the supermarket that have been cut up and formed into little rounded sticks.  This experience made me realize how lucky we have been to get our food directly from a farm for the last 9 years because it has given my kids a connection to where food really comes from and how it is grown.  One more benefit from this CSA box!