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Asparagus Egg Drop Soup

March 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Asparagus egg drop  This springtime soup is super easy and quick, yet elegant and delicious. The name is enough to get children interested, and the process of dropping the eggs is perfect for young cooks: one to crack and drop, one to whisk, switching mid-way, of course. It’s a perfect set-up to get kids wanting to try something new.

4 T olive oil

2 onions, halved and thinly sliced

8 C vegetable or chicken broth

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough ends removed, cut into one-inch lengths

4 eggs

Salt, pepper, grated parmesan cheese

 

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 8 minutes.  Pour in the broth and bring to a simmer. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes.

2. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Slowly pour the eggs into the simmering broth, stirring gently and constantly about 30 seconds.  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the cheese.

Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe.

© French Kids Don’t Get Fat / Anna Migeon / 31 March 2009 / All rights reserved

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Amazing Chocolate Truffles

March 28, 2009 1 comment

Truffles This recipe has gotten me more compliments than probably anything else I’ve ever made.  I found it one day while standing in line at WalMart. Real Simple magazine had a title on the front that caught my eye, something about truffles made easy.  We had recently bought some Godiva chocolates as a gift and I found them overpriced, but certainly a nice gift that anybody would appreciate. I ended up buying the magazine and have made these truffles countless times since. My daughter gets together with friends and makes them, too. They make an outstanding homemade holiday gift or impressive contribution at a fancy potluck, establishing your reputation as a domestic goddess.  I had to concentrate pretty hard when I first started making them, but now I find them wonderfully easy and fun to make.  They can be made over two days.

20 oz semisweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli, the flat bars)

2 T unsalted butter                                                                                                                       1 C heavy cream

 In a small pan over low heat, bring the cream to a simmer.

Meanwhile, break up 8 oz of the chocolate and add it to the butter in a container or baking pan that’s about 4’x6’ or so.

Remove the cream from the heat and pour about half of it over the chocolate and butter. Slowly whisk the mixture, adding more cream as it’s incorporated in. Blend thoroughly.

Place the mixture, called ganache, in the freezer for about 30 minutes or in the fridge overnight, until set. It should have the consistency of fudge.

Use a small melon baller or spoon and form rounds of the ganache and spread them out on a a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Let the truffles harden in the freezer for about 15 minutes.

Remove them from the freezer and roll each truffle between your hands to make them into balls. Cold hands, working quickly, is best. They don’t have to be perfectly round.

Let the truffles rest in the freezer again while you make the coating.

Put all the remaining chocolate in a small pan over another pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove from the heat and let cool at room temperature a few minutes.

Drop the truffles, one by one, into the coating, rolling them quickly with a fork to coat them, and remove them with the fork, scraping the excess chocolate off the back of the fork on the edge of the pan.  Set them carefully on a new sheet of wax paper.

As they come out, you can dust them, five or ten at time, with a sifting of cocoa powder, powdered sugar (I used a small strainer to do this), finely chopped nuts or coconut, or leave them plain. I like to make some of a few different types, including plain.

Allow them to set in the fridge for awhile. I buy miniature muffin papers to pack them in. The truffles keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks (not that they would ever last that long).

Conventional Wisdom Versus the Truth about Why Kids Won’t Eat Their Vegetables

March 26, 2009 1 comment

Veggie man “Getting a child to enjoy healthy food is next to impossible, but there is no harm trying,” says a website that talks of “making” kids eat healthy foods by piling food in humorous structures on the plate.

“Most kids will turn up their nose at the site of anything green,” another web source matter-of-factly warns parents that might not be aware of this “truth.”

Kids are fussy. They‘re hard to please, conventional wisdom tells us. Feeding them is Difficult. It’s A Problem. Kids are born wanting to eat what’s bad for them, not what’s good for them. They will not eat vegetables unless we poke and prod and motivate them somehow. Until they get old enough to fear death and disease like we adults do, we must outwit them somehow or find ways to induce their cooperation.

This attitude in their parents is reason enough for kids not to want to eat vegetables.

The problem is compounded when we combine those beliefs with the common adult attitude, unquestioned and passed on to children quite naturally and automatically, that healthy food is yucky, and unhealthy food is yummy. Parents don’t like vegetables, so of course they don’t expect children to like vegetables. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. How can we blame them for not liking vegetables? It is our lot, our misfortune, in a fallen world, to love what is bad and hate what is good. We consider it an ironic twist of fate, the universe’s colossal joke on us, that the healthiest food group to eat is the yuckiest.

This belief alone is yet another excellent reason for a kid to have no interest in eating vegetables.

Based on these beliefs, parents find that feeding their children means giving in to temptation and pressure, or engaging in battle. Either you give them fast food, junk food or whatever they will eat as long as they eat (we cannot let them starve) or face a constant struggle and a series of desperate measures to “get kids to eat” their vegetables.

The latest trend in desperate measures, with short-term results guaranteed, has been developed into an elaborate system in not just one but two best-selling books: The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious. We can’t get them to eat vegetables, but we can hide them so well, disguised within desserts or pasta dishes or foodstuffs that kids are known to eat, that kids won’t know they’re eating them.

I came across one particularly creative victory in food smuggling on the web yesterday. A mom reported that she got her daughter to swallow some form of vegetable by getting her to eat a vegetarian corndog while convincing her that it was made of meat.

It’s this parental attitude toward vegetables that creates the situation of kids who won’t eat vegetables.

It all goes back to the fact that parents don’t realize vegetables can be good. The parents have tasted sour grapes and our children’s teeth are set on edge, like in the old Israeli proverb in Ezekiel. It takes faith to believe that vegetables can be good, for those who have never tasted it to be true.

Therefore, finding healthy recipes we like, cooking at home, and eating in peace and joy as a family seems to be the thing we think we can’t do.

It it’s not possible for healthy food to taste good, there surely have to be other ways of getting there. Over 11,000 websites offer answers to “how to get kids to eat vegetables.”

Like with losing weight, the simple, old-fashioned answer is overlooked as impossible to live by. People look for any strategy to taking off pounds other than to eat less junk and exercise. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that attempts to get around that one straight and narrow way.

Giving vegetables “cool names” like “x-ray vision carrots” is proven to result in more carrots ingested, false advertising or no. We can carve vegetables into “fun” shapes to disguise them as something else. We can offer praise, or resort to begging, insisting, praising, punishing and rewarding. We can worry, fret, fuss, strategize and manipulate. We can make rules.

It’s all like trying to make the goat go into the barn by pushing and pulling rather than giving him a tempting reason to want to go in.

In the mind of a child, it all reinforces what a parent believes: that vegetables, while necessary, are unlovable.

Getting kids to eat vegetables has to start with the parents not just eating vegetables but actually liking them themselves. But the first thing conventional wisdom almost entirely overlooks is that vegetables can be delicious. By no means must eating well be joyless. There is an enormous variety of vegetables that many people have never tasted. There are limitless ways to fix them and make them good to eat, far beyond smothering them with cheese or ketchup.

Colorful vegs Find Healthy Foods that You Can Love

Tasty, easy recipes are the first essential tools to making vegetables delicious. It takes a little time but it’s not burdensome. I have made hundreds of new recipes over the years, and have posted some of my best selection on this blog. It’s an adventure of new flavors and discovery that will increase your pleasure in eating, not deprive you. If you continually add favorite healthy recipes that you enjoy into your repertory you will eventually replace the bad foods with good. No pain and all gain.

Leverage the Appetite

The second powerful tool for getting kids to eat vegetables, also ignored by conventional wisdom, is their appetite. If all there is to eat all the time is good, healthy Real Food, they won’t be able to help wanting it. It’s as strong as the force of gravity. Let them get hungry and present them with something both healthy and tempting. Quit forcing, making an issue of it. Without being the least bit ugly about it, give them no choice. The more you enjoy what you are cooking, the greater the chances your child will pick up on that and be attracted themselves.

It’s as simple as learning to love vegetables yourself to “get kids to eat vegetables.” Your own transformation from fussy to adventuresome will lead the way for their transformation.

© Sacred Appetite /  Anna Migeon  /  26 March 2009  /  All rights reserved

Cooking as its Own Reward: How to Keep Lesser Motives From Spoiling the Broth

March 23, 2009 5 comments

Girls cooking At my house, my kids help cook and do some cooking of their own. They also take their turns at doing the dishes after dinner.  My approach to getting them to cook varies greatly from how I get them to do the cleaning up, though. Why? Because while true passion about cooking is possible, probably no one alive has more than a fairly limited enthusiasm for washing dishes.

Every child is born naturally interested in cooking. When they see an adult breaking eggs, stirring, mixing, measuring, using equipment like spring-form pans and muffin tins, and tools like knives, whisks , blenders and mixers, and witness miraculous, appetizing transformations emerging from the oven, they want to get involved. And rightly so.

So how do we encourage that intrinsic motivation, and not extinguish it?

Use the Suzuki Method

I use the Suzuki method of quitting while I’m ahead.  Suzuki’s way of teaching music, counterintuitive in our society, directs us to stop them while they still want more instead of pushing to the point of resistance in order to get in as much as possible of instruction or practice.

Keep an activity fun and it remains something that we get to do, not have to do.  My goal is to aim always at whetting the appetite, increasing the desire to do, not necessarily increasing the amount of doing.

The trick is to avoid making it a burden for either party. I have always been casual and spontaneous about getting my kids cooking. Early and easy successes feed their interest. Brownie mixes are a great tool. Occasion little forays into cooking can have a big impact, building the foundation of fun and confidence.

Also in keeping with Suzuki’s principles, the better cooking they’re regularly exposed to, the more inspired they will be.

Let Cooking Be Its Own Reward

Whatever you do, don’t ever reward a child for cooking. The whole point is that they be interested in doing it for its own sake.  Rewarding them sends the message that it’s not something worth doing except for a reward.

According to dozens of studies reported by Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards:  The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, being rewarded for an activity tends to reduce one’s interest in doing it, and the chances of doing it again without a reward.

The worst move is rewarding someone for doing something that we would like her to find motivating in its own right, like reading, learning or being generous, Kohn warns.  It’s controlling and manipulative and tends to backfire.

I’m cautious, on the other hand, not to turn cooking into a grim duty.  I really do need my kids’ help cooking sometimes and Iet them know when I do. But I don’t see how any good can come of communicating that, “By gum, I have to do this, so you have to do this. You best prepare for reality, for the drudgery of life.”

That’s like going on a first date and telling your date everything that’s wrong with you before they get a chance to fall for your charms. Once we’ve truly fallen in love with someone, we can, ideally at least, accept little flaws that may gradually emerge.

Let Them Do the Fun Part

Being a sous-chef (under-chef) of the kitchen is less interesting than being the chef. The chef takes charge, selects a recipe, makes whatever makes her heart sing, and does the enjoyable parts instead of just chopping vegetables to fulfill someone else’s vision. For kids who think that being an adult means doing whatever you want, this may be a good motivator.  Let them dream of the day they can fix whatever they want to eat, every single day, like I do.  My family knows that since I’m the chef, I make whatever I feel like making.  On the other hand, any time they want to take over, I will be their sous-chef.  I’ll do their menial tasks.  I’ll clean up. Thus their desire for self-determination is encouraged.

Who doesn’t like to get her own way? That desire can be leveraged. At our house, vinaigrette is a subject of disagreement. Three of us have our own ways of doing it and each believes his way is best. The one who makes it gets to Do it My Way.

As for washing dishes, we take turns at our house, according to a little chart on the side of the fridge. We tell the kids to do it because they are contributing members of the family and that it’s part of the necessary drudgery of life. Otherwise, but for a sense of order that helps hold our lives together, an opportunity to enjoy doing it well and a time of quiet reflection and mental relaxation, they get no external motivators for doing dishes any more than cooking. Who needs to be controlled that way, after all? That’s about all there is to my strategy on that.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 23 March 2009 / All rights reserved

Why A Child’s Place is In the Kitchen: Relating To and Through Food

March 23, 2009 6 comments

This post was featured in the Charlotte Mason blog carnival on June 9, 2009

Mom and kids cooking

The question is not,—how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education—but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And therefore, how full is the life he has before him?  — Charlotte Mason

Psalm 31:8 Thou hast set my feet in a large room.

My French mother-in-law, Lucienne, once told me early in my marriage that she thought that cooking well helped one keep one’s husband.  I felt a tiny bit defensive; I was working on it. When my Polish sister-in-law, Margozata, and I observed that we didn’t cook as well as our sister-in-law, Marie-Hélène, who had grown up there in the family village, Lucienne tried to console us with, “But you have other good qualities.”

If it’s true that the surest way to the heart is through the stomach, we non-French cooks will just have to do the best we can.

Mother feeding baby When my baby was born, once again came the call to feed well in love.  As it is for the rest of us, the way to a baby’s heart is through feeding time. Food is central to the care and nurturing of a child, but furthermore, it’s the primal soup in which parent-baby bonding germinates.  A baby associates feeding with love, comfort, safety. A child who loves healthy foods as he grows up is a one who learns to relate positively to food in the company of his parents. It’s all related, at a gut level.

Every baby is born not only eager to eat, but also wanting to cook like Mom and Dad. Not only is it a primary means of relating to other humans, but cooking is intrinsically interesting in its own right: stirring, mixing, measuring, cracking eggs, creating, using tools like knives, mixers, fire, not to mention the eating. The processes are sheer experimentation, with reactions, transformations, surprises, delights and disasters.  It’s as richly fascinating a subject as any. Gardening, too, deepens a child’s relationship to food.  What they cook, they will want to eat; what they grow, all the more so.

Even grocery shopping can be an opportunity for kids to get acquainted with food. When my children were little, I would take them to the Farmer’s Market in Decatur, Georgia, the world’s best grocery store.  We would taste samples, look at the cheeses, the vast array of produce, and the seafood—some of it still wriggling. We would often eat lunch together there at the buffet of exotic foods.  My children gained connections to all kinds of food and culture while spending enjoyable time as a family.  They got to know Real Food and had fun doing it. As a result, they aren’t distrustful of it. It’s not foreign to them like it is to some of the youngsters who ring up my groceries and don’t recognize the radishes coming across the conveyor belt.

By leading a child to relate to all that is good in the world, we place their feet in a large room and give them a fuller life.

For some folks, though, their original, built-in interest in food is extinguished along the way instead of fostered.

Some years ago, we visited Rome and were given an incredibly informative tour by my husband’s distant cousin.  Jean-Jacques was a French priest and former physician who formulates family issues policy for the Vatican. He’d been in Italy for nine years. He knew everything about Roman history.

We were struck, on the other hand, by his complete indifference to where or what we ate.  He ate food, of course, but he had no relationship with it and apparently took no pleasure in it. He ate to live, but he clearly didn’t live to eat. My eyes were opened to just how different people can be from one another when I asked him where capers* came from and he had no idea. Nor did he care. It was a shock like the one I got when I first discovered, as an adult, that some people didn’t read the comics. We found it highly unusual for a Frenchman, and a discordant gap in his broad knowledge, like a tragic flaw in a classical Greek hero. We left Rome disappointed in nothing but our gastronomic experiences there. Since Jean-Jacques has no children, at least his disinterest in food was a tragedy only for him. Was it, I have to wonder, perhaps a factor in his remaining single and becoming a priest instead of getting married?

Along with connecting kids to healthy food and to each other, cooking is one of the richest educational opportunities available to a family.  Cooking is a natural way to work, relate and share with others.  It gives a child the chance to both deepen and satisfy his inborn curiosity. He follows directions, takes responsibility, uses his hands and head, and finds satisfaction in concrete accomplishment.  It’s real living. What could be more practical than taking advantage of this natural part of life to teach and equip your youngsters with such valuable assets?

I’m grasping my last opportunities to pass on all these assets to my son, who is going off to college in September.  I tell him that the ability to cook—which he already has a head start on, being half French—is a quality that will make him a valued roommate, and furthermore, good husband material.

I think my mother-in-law would approve.

***

Capon “Food and cooking are among the richest subjects in the world. Every day of our lives, they preoccupy, delight and refresh us. Food is not just some fuel we need to get us going toward higher things. Cooking is not a drudgery we put up with in order to get the fuel delivered. Rather, each is a heart’s astonishment. Both stop us dead in our tracks with wonder. Even more, they sit us down evening after evening, and in the company that forms around our dinner tables, they actually create our humanity.”

– Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

Capers in dish

*Capers are the unripened flower buds of a Mediterranean perennial shrub, used pickled in the cooking of that region.

©  Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 19 March 2009 / All rights reserved

French Kids Don’t Get Fat, But Do French Kids Cook?

March 17, 2009 3 comments
 
Kid cooking Jeff, a reader from Portland, asks: “I wonder as I read your blog whether your family chips in on meals . . . or is this a solo activity.

I have found that my daughters, who are 8 and 12, really enjoy chipping in. But since your kids are older, has the novelty worn off for them, as to cooking . . . ?

 

 

 
Reading through my diary from seventh grade recently, I came across some bitter complaining about how my mom had made me do some cooking for dinner. But then I concluded my whining thus: “But I kinda liked it.”

Then once, and only once, in high school, for some reason, I selected my own recipe, Salisbury Steak—basically a hamburger patty in sauce—something I had only eaten in school cafeterias. I made it for our dinner with mashed potatoes and a simple salad. It was even better than the ones I’d had at school. I enjoyed eating it, and was proud that I could make something that good. I still remember how my dad complimented it.

I never did that again.

A bit like me when I was a teen—but, happily, less so—my kids Alex, 18, and Erika, 16, don’t demonstrate a strong drive to get in the kitchen and cook. All the same, I consider my goals well met for them in this area.

My aim has always been that they enjoy eating and cooking good food. I like cooking well enough that most of the time, I am quite happy to do it all myself. I believe my enjoyment of it has contributed to their positive associations with it. Every child is born ready to cook, and while my kids’ interest is currently a bit dormant, it’s intact and ready to revive when the time comes.

They both offer to help cook sometimes, and other times I ask for their help. Alex says he enjoys it. Erika does like to make desserts. They’ve both successfully made complete recipes on their own and been pleased by doing so. They aren’t intimidated. They are familiar with a wide range of ingredients. They won’t go out into the world feeling mystified by cooking as are some people, who say, “I can’t cook.” They know through experience that any normal, literate person can cook well. That’s an important asset.

My kids are pressed into service more often than I was. They have also been requested to volunteer a good bit more than I did. But until the day cooking becomes their responsibility, they have other priorities. It seems that it’s one of those things they don’t often feel like doing, but generally find themselves able to enjoy it when they do. When the time comes, I think they’ll be ready to embrace it.

I don’t fault my mom for not making me do much cooking, any more than I did when I was still a teen, if for other reasons. I believe it’s better to err on the side of doing too little than pushing a child to do too much in the kitchen. Certainly my interest in cooking never had a chance to be extinguished. I just feel bad that my working mom got so little help from me. I like to think I could have maybe responded well to her pushing me just a bit more. I know I would have done more and enjoyed it, whether I would have admitted it or not.

  •  

 
Jeff’s question merits a series of answers. Today’s post is the first of several to come, which will discuss the value of involving children in cooking, how to preserve their motivation, the importance of keeping it fun, and letting cooking be its own reward.

 
© French Kids Don’t Get Fat / Anna Migeon / 17 March 2009 / All rights reserved

Why and How Long You Should You Wait Before Teaching Your Child the Benefits of Healthy Eating

March 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Kids scared "What’s Eating Our Kids?" asks writer Abby Ellin in a Feb. 25 New York Times article. The answer? "Fears about ‘Bad’ Foods."

(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/health/nutrition/26food.html?_r=2&th&emc=th)

Bad food Many American parents are finding out just how effective it can be to bring out the boogey men of diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, along with the goblins of sodium, calories, and trans fats. Anxiety has been found to be an effective motivator. These kids willingly eat what their parents want them to eat. That's what we want, right?

It’s not a bad thing that parents are getting concerned about what their kids are eating. I believe it to be of extreme importance. But the tide of mass carelessness about children’s diets has turned to mass hysteria. While using fear to get children to eat right seems to work, at least short-term, it may not be so good for these youngsters’ mental health, according to the article. Furthermore, is it right? Is such unpleasantness necessary? Must feeding children well be difficult and tortured? Or is there a better way, somewhere between the extremes, to build healthy eating habits in kids?

Conventional wisdom is that we need to start early teaching—even warning—kids of the importance of eating healthy foods and the dangers of eating the wrong ones. But until a child builds a solid foundation of love of healthy foods based on pleasure and enjoyment, information on the importance of healthy eating is of little use at best. A child who is offered flavorful, healthy Real Food regularly and has positive experiences at the table naturally learns to enjoy and value good food itself.

It’s like teaching children to read. We can start out by talking about verbs, participles and gerunds, or how high SAT scores can be achieved by reading certain books and memorizing Latin roots. We can give kids t-shirts that say "Reading for Success." We can warn first graders that if they don’t learn to read, and quickly, they will fail. They will never get into college or get a good job, and will end up living in a box on the street. Or we can read aloud to them all the best written stories we can find, the most exciting, interesting and stirring tales. We can pique their interest and give them joy in reading. If we seek first to condition them to love reading as its own reward, all these things will be added unto them.

Likewise, we can introduce a class of kindergartners to great music by telling them how it can make them smarter (they used to say that anyway) and improve their math and spatial reasoning skills. Or we can introduce them to great music, the best music we can find and only the best. Let them dance, let them make their own music, let them fall in love with it.

We can teach science as something that will help them make a lot of money someday. We can tell them if they don’t memorize their science facts, they will fail the standardized test and flunk third grade, the start of a slippery slope to destruction. Or we can introduce science in all its amazing intricacies and fascinating interrelations, and fan their inborn desire to know about their world.

Similarly, we might introduce a child to Jesus, not as the loving, forgiving, life-giving Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, who suffers the little children to come unto him and transforms our hearts, but as an alternative to eternal damnation in hell. There is meaning in our methods.

Kids don’t care about getting a job and making money. At least they shouldn’t. If they do, they’ve been done a great disservice. If they’re worried about trans fats at age six and are motivated to eat what they don’t want to eat by information instead of enjoying healthy food with a healthy appetite, another disservice is being done.

As parents, we should be like water fowl: our feet churning madly below while all serenity on the surface. We need to be concerned and take great care how we feed our children. But is it right, is it normal, that we should we lay our own burden on our little ones, any more than we should share with a child our worries about having enough money to pay the bills, or problems with a spouse?

When it’s age appropriate, once the foundation of love has been solidly laid, a child will discover the facts that affirm his healthy eating habits, habits he enjoys. He’ll be glad to hear about it. And a little fear isn’t necessarily completely out of place at times. But first things first.

We ought to take great care about what our child eats, but we can and should base good habits on love of good foods, rather than with fear of bad ones. Consistently offer healthy, delicious Real Food, and hunger will take care of the rest.

© French Kids Don’t Get Fat / Anna Migeon / 11 March 2009 / All rights reserved