I've got two kids in school now . . . and both require that I pack them lunches or snacks. . . which, at first, sounded great. I get to decide what my kids get to eat. But then I went to the school meetings.
One school says "Only healthy stuff. No fast food or sodas." YAY, I say. Then the other school says, "Nothing homemade. Only prepackaged foods." NOOOOOO WAAAAYYYYYY, I say.
And, to complicate things, the allergies. No peanuts anywhere and one school bans all nuts. Um . . . . I kind of rely on nuts as an easy, portable and nonperishable whole-food snack. . . . And then there's my kid's carrot allergy. Do you know how nice/healthy/easy it is to just pack some raw carrots in a lunch?
I had mild guilt when my oldest just ate in the cafeteria last year at the local Catholic school. They required a doctor's note just to have water with lunch (the other option is non-organic white or chocolate milk). I knew it wasn't exactly what I wanted him to be eating . . . but it was easy and I didn't have to think about that one extra thing. Now, at his new school, I have to pack him a lunch. I love that . . . . and I hate that.
Anyway, that got me thinking about eating healthfully on the go — I mean, even I would be better off with a packed, thought-out lunch at work too — in a world with so many special needs and restrictions and . . . well, just overworked parent brains.
So I did a little research beyond what I normally pack for myself . . . I mean my kids aren't going to eat the almond butter sandwiches I eat everyday. And the research shows . . . .people and websites are crazy. There is no way I'm going to make my child an alfalfa sushi sandwich rollup or sesame-pecan chicken strips with a mustard/peach preserve dipping sauce, as some chef from the Food Network suggested, for a lunch box. I guess I'm a little bothered by the unrealistic-ness of all that. It's kinda how I feel about most stuff on Pinterest. Yes, I'm that mother whose kid doesn't bring a homemade craft for every classmate on every holiday. And trust me, I love me some crafts. But that's insane.
So, I'm pulling this all way back to basics. Back to whole foods. Back to a place that feels manageable on a busy night/morning, but also a place I don't have guilt. As my husband reminds me when I get stressed about finding time to cook — "it doesn't always have to be a five-course meal." Yes dear, I'll say it in public, "you're right."
So here's the start of my list for no frill lunch items:
- Whole fruit — banana, sliced apple, pear, grapes, Satsumas, berries . . . whatever is in season
- Raw veggies — carrots (not us), celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, edamame (cooked, but served room temp),
- Freeze-dried or dried fruit — raisins, craisins, mango, apples, kale chips, fruit leathers,
- Hummus (can be prepackaged and kids can dip crackers, veggies or pita wedges in it)
- Crackers, pretzels
- Corn chips with salsa or bean dip
- Granola bars (organic options)
- Homemade muffins (made over the weekend if I'm feeling ambitious. . . . )
And as for the "pre-packaged only" school . . . . well . . . . as the old saying goes "if you don't have anything nice to say . . . . "
I've decided that you have to find people in your life that celebrate and understand what you're trying to do and what brings you joy.
I know, that was a little esoteric. But I've had 8 hours of driving home from visiting my sister in Dallas to think about this . . . 8 hours listening to my 3 year old play loud games on his iPad while simultaneously listening to the song Danger Zone on eternal repeat.
Anyway, back to joy. I can get bogged down in the daily drudgery/details of anything that I actually love. There are only so many days I can take putting effort into either planning, buying or making a healthy, locally-driven meal when I'm met with 6 rolling eyeballs that clearly say, "you're going to make us eat that?" I truly love good food from local places. But my boys . . . and just a busy, hectic life . . . sometimes suck the life out of my enthusiasm.
And . . . cue sister. My little sister is one of my best allies in healthy, local food joy. She and her three beautiful girls live in Dallas (yes, God gave her all the girl people and me all the boy people — I'm still figuring out the fairness of that) and she is one of the most committed and adventurous food people I know.
Her last two girls are actually twins, and it was their second birthday this last week. So I got to hang with my girls and enjoy the camaraderie of someone who shares my food joy. I brought some local veggies and balsamic vinegar and we did a little Louisiana-meets-Texas grilling feast. We tried an amazing all-vegetarian Indian restaurant, Kalachandji’s. We cooked. We ate at her favorite local food spots. We feasted on a gorgeous split personality birthday cake by Bronwen Weber — cuz my nieces could not possibly be any more different.
And, like most foodies, she is incredibly generous and sent us off with some of her favorite local pistachio tart cherry biscotti and orange marmalade. I've already eaten one packet of the biscotti . . . . And, even more importantly, she sent me off with a renewed love of celebrating fresh, local foods. I needed that.
I have issues with salsa around here. Like, why do Mexican restaurants give you hot salsa — as in tomato soup? Maybe it's me . . . I've had several local friends say they like cooked salsa. But my favorite salsas are fresh with lots of bright flavors that typically can't be found in a jar . . .
. . . that is until I discovered Malco's Magnificent Salsa from Baton Rouge.
I actually had two new salsas to try, Joseph's Garden Salsa from Madisonville and Malco's.
So the family had a taste off of the two local salsas. We tried each one with chips and on cheese quesadillas. And there was absolutely no comparison. Let's just say the Joseph's is pretty much full, still in the fridge and Malco's is long gone.
Joseph's was OK, it was just like most other bottled salsas . . . muddled flavors with limp, if any, veggie presence. And Malco's was just such a nice surprise.
I haven't given up on Joseph's Fine Foods, though — I plan to try some of their pickled veggies next . . . maybe even their "Zesty Brussels Sprouts." My husband is puking somewhere right now . . .
I know that title totally sounds ridiculous . . . but, really, this pomegranate balsamic vinegar from Red Stick Spice Co. in Baton Rouge is amazing.
My husband actually told me about this company last fall after seeing it referenced on Tiger Droppings (yes, that place where I try not to look at the computer to see what he's laughing at . . . because I've done it before and been sorry . . . it's a man place, you know).
Anyway, being me and loving local stuff, especially as gifts, I bought several oils, vinegars, tea and spices for my mom, sister and mother-in-law for Christmas. And they loved them. Which was fun until I realized I didn't get myself anything.
And, after trying this vinegar, I can't believe it took me several months to go shop for myself.
I put it on my caprese salad last night, but it would be fabulous just with oil as a salad dressing, reduced over ice cream (I know, that sounds a little freaky at first, but reduced balsamic vinegar makes a sweet syrup that I personally love) . . . . or licked off your finger . . .
And my sister suggested it on her favorite, easy chard recipe.
- * * my sister doesn't use measurements . . . * *
- Ghee/butter/olive oil
- Dried cherries, roughly chopped
- Onions, roughly chopped
- Chard, deribbed if the ribs are tough . . . if from a farmer, it's likely tender enough
- Pine nuts, toasted
- Balsamic vinegar
- Sauté dried cherries and onions in ghee/butter/olive oil until soft. Toss in roughly chopped chard and sauté until tender. Top with pine nuts and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve.
So we found out recently that my 8 year old is allergic to carrots — like can't breathe and we-now-carry-an-epi-pen kind of allergic.
First, it's a rare allergy in the United States (though about 25% of Europeans have it). Second, it STINKS!
I know those with peanut/nut allergies have it far worse. I mean you can't see those and they're in everything. At least carrots are orange. But the thing is . . . you don't realize how often you eat carrots until you can't. And they're in his vitamins for goodness sake.
That's my son's rice at a Mexican restaurant last night. And they don't make it without carrots. And he loves beans and rice. And he was sad.
And really, I'm sad. Because fresh carrots are so easy and good for you.
Anyway, since we're burying carrots at our house, I decided to share my most favorite carrot soup recipe so maybe it can live on.
This French recipe for Potage Crécy, named for the region in France that grows some of the best carrots in the world, is easy and filling. Like any hot soup, I feel like this more in the cooler months, but we have to say goodbye to carrots now . . . so my and the allergy's timing isn't great.
- 2T unsalted butter
- 1T olive oil
- 2 leeks, diced
- 6-8 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2-4 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 5 cups chicken/vegetable stock
- 2 1/2t fresh thyme, or 1 1/4t dried
- 2 cups half and half
- 2T fresh lemon juice
- 1/2t fresh grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter with oil. Add leeks and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add carrots and potatoes and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add stock, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer until potatoes and carrots are cooked, about 30 minutes.
- Purée soup, either in blender or with stick blender. Add half and half, lemon juice and nutmeg. Adjust salt and pepper.
The bounty of summertime is always amazing to me . . . and I most enjoy it at the beginning, before I'm tired of any single crop and the heat has sapped my enthusiasm. And, go ahead and call me cheesy, but I like to make a game out of finding ways to use as many fresh, local ingredients as I can in one meal.
For dinner the other night, we started with a super easy, but looks rather gourmet salad of Louisiana baby lettuces topped with Louisiana Strawberries, chopped Sucre candied pecans, blue cheese from somewhere up north and Hanley's strawberry vinaigrette (get this while you can . . . it's seasonal and only available March - May).
And I've found my menfolk tolerate veggies better when I add pasta . . . it's like it distracts them or something. Anyway, back in college, I got this cookbook with easy, from scratch pasta recipes. I've had mine for a long time and it looks pretty crappy, but I still love almost any recipe from it. It's not strictly vegetarian, but it has a lot of meatless options that are really good. The cookbook was out of print for a while, but I looked today and it's back with a much prettier cover on Amazon (just in case you were interested).
So we followed our Louisiana salad with a pasta featuring local mini portobello mushrooms with a side of local yellow squash. I've made the following pasta recipe with both the pepper and herb Boursin, a creamy French cheese, as well as used lots of different veggies. It's a recipe that works well with lots of variations.
- 1T butter
- 1T olive oil
- 1lb portobello mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut crosswise in 1/4-inch slices
- 1/2t salt
- 1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 51/2 oz package pepper Boursin cheese (or herb)
- 1lb asparagus
- 3/4lb medium pasta shells
- In a large frying pan, melt the butter with the oil over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are tender and well browned, about 8 minutes. Add broth and Boursin cheese and bring to a simmer while stirring.
- Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until almost done, about 6 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook until it and the pasta are just done, about 4 minutes longer. Drain. Toss with the mushrooms and sauce.
Fresh herbs can make such a difference in food — adding a freshness and complexity that the dried version just can't. My black . . .OK, maybe just a really dark green . . . thumb loves them enough that that's one of the few things I attempt to grow (lucky for me, most are pretty easy).
And for the times I've killed my herbs or just didn't think to grow it, I've discovered Jacob's Farm, a micro greenhouse in downtown Baton Rouge. So far I've gotten several beautiful little packets of basil, parsley and spearmint as well as lettuce in my farm bundle.
The owner and grower, Kris, is perfecting the art of gourmet hydroponics — working to deliver lettuce year-round in a place that typically only sees lettuces through April. And since he grows them hydroponically, that means it's grown without soil, so no need for pesticides or herbicides. This no bug or dirt thing makes for some beautiful, and delicious, plants. And, they keep longer than traditionally grown lettuces too — up to 2 1/2 weeks.
Right now he's keeping it small, selling mostly to family and friends while he focuses on maintaining quality while growing year-round. So you can find his herbs and lettuce at Country Table Delivery, who first supported him. Or, you can check his will-be-done-in-a-month website (jacobsfarmbr.com) and keep an eye out at local grocery stores for his stuff. Don't worry, you'll recognize it — it's the herbs and lettuce that's so perfect it almost looks plastic.
As I've been making this map of our local farmer's markets, I've been curious about the overall trends of farmer's markets across the country and how Louisiana fit in.
And what's happening, is they are growing by leaps and bounds — more than tripling since 1994. Whether it's a focus on getting healthier or being more independent and self-sufficient . . . it's a promising trend.
One stat that isn't as great, if you look at the map below (make sure to hover over the states to see the number of farmer's markets), is that Louisiana ranks pretty low. Now we're not at the bottom, that distinction goes to Delaware. But Delaware has a population of about 925,000 and Louisiana's population is just over 4.5 million. Um, that's one market for every 33,000 people in Delaware and one market for 70,000 people in Louisiana. So clearly we shouldn't be bragging about beating Delaware.
Anyway, to help our local markets grow, let's make sure to support our local farmers. To find out where to buy local goods, check out my new interactive map of farmer's markets and roadside stands in South Louisiana.