cooking with kids

Sweet Rice

by Lisa

Finn is not like the rest of us.

For instance, he just ate a fish taco for breakfast.

Also, he loves rice with a passion that makes me wonder if his conception and birth were blessed by Buddha himself.  (He has, too, a kind preternatural patience and even-keeled temperament that is positively other-worldly.) If there is rice on the table he will eat it. Whereas his sister, even as an infant, sprouted an indifferent attitude toward this versatile grain, saving her starchy passion for pasta and potatoes and bread, Finn has always chosen rice above all other forms of carbohydrates.

So, I cook it more, and that means leftovers, which both kids will happily eat for lunch, pressed into cute little star/animal shapes, and sometimes rice pudding, and most often, a dish that I just call Sweet Rice because it’s not really pudding. It’s more like porridge, and I’m certainly not the first to serve it for breakfast, but it’s so easy and versatile (think breakfast, snack, dessert) that it’s worth sharing.  In fact, with some minor supervision over the stove, Finn can make it himself.

Sweet Rice

  • Leftover rice
  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon (part of a stick or powdered)
  • Vanilla (highly optional)

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Spoon the rice, however much you have, into a saucepan.

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All of it.

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Cover the rice with milk.

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Add sugar to taste.  We used about 1/4 cup of sugar for maybe 2 cups of rice.

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Sprinkle in a dash of cinnamon, or break off a small piece of the stick and plop it in.

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Stir over medium heat until much of the milk is absorbed and the porridge thickens a little. This is the part I supervise, so no picture.

Serve and admire.

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Taste and cheer.

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Fine Dining. The Real Thing. With Kids.

by Lisa

This is not what you should do when you plan to take the kids to a fine dining establishment:  Make them drive 4 1/2 hours. Not feed them lunch. Check into a hotel and unpack while they run a little wild.  Drive to Said Fine Dining establishment without a reservation, nor even any clear idea about where you will be eating that night, even though all four of you are very hungry for a Real Meal and tired and already more than a little road-fatigued.

Nevertheless, after checking-in and unpacking and putting on clean and reasonably nice clothes, the family (ok,  Kory and I) decided to drive to the Hotel del Coronado for dinner.  It was early–around 5 pm–and the beautiful old hotel was nearby, and we knew that there would be several food options once we arrived, but we really didn’t plan ahead aside from frantically scanning menus on my new iPhone on the 20 minute drive over.  For some reason, my husband and I became fixated on eating at 1500 Ocean because the menu looked so nice and we were tired and just wanted a good meal. I know this is not what most normal, sane parents think when confronting dinner at the end of a long day of traveling: gee, let’s take our kids to the fanciest place we can find, so we grown ups can have a really good meal!  And we don’t, usually.  But, we were so far into vacation mode, and the kids had on cute-enough, clean clothes, so we did.

The Coranado is reputedly haunted, which story the kids loved, so we explored the gorgeous old lobby a bit while Kory got us a reservation, and then we descended in a magnificently ornate elevator to the restaurant.   Unfortunately, we didn’t get a table outside, but we had a really lovely, cozy booth, replete with comfortable and chic back cushions, which Finn and Ella found very fancy.

One of the things which sold us on 1500 Ocean was the excellent kids menu, printed separately on a beautiful card, which made for a really nice souvenir (I’ve been collecting menus for years, but this is Ella’s first one):

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There was beautiful bread :

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with homemade butter sprinkled with (I think ) black maldon sea salt:

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So the kids knew right away that this was someplace Special and Different and Fancy. They’re both at that great age where aesthetics are surprising and gratifying: they happily recognize and appreciate when things are “So beautiful!”

But one of the great things about this elegant place is that they do welcome well-behaved children who are ready to eat.  The kids received their drinks in plastic cups with lids, which was funny and anomalous, but also nice.

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Things picked up with the amuse bouche of smoked eel with heirloom tomato. While Finn wouldn’t touch it, Ella gobbled down hers, and his, and would have eaten ours, too, if given the chance.

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We split the Hiramasa Crudo, which Ella also loved:

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and a shrimp cocktail that doesn’t seem to be on the menu anymore. It was very good, but had heat, so we kept it for ourselves.

During all this, the special occasion Shirley Temples and Ocean Cava cocktails of brut champagne, blood orange bitters, and rock salt kept us  all very, very happy.

The kids both asked for mac-n-cheese, but we convinced them to get one mac-n-cheese and one steak with asparagus and mashed potatoes, which turned out to be a good thing. The server very kindly split the entrees onto 2 plates, so both got some of each.

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Finn devoured the macaroni, which was more like a very rich, creamy deliciously fragrant pasta, and Ella, the carnivore, turned her nose up at pasta, but  couldn’t get enough of the filet, which was delicious and perfectly cooked, even though the low light and the iPhone picture makes it look like a lump of charcoal. In real life, it was very pink and very tender.

I had the Maine Diver Sea Scallops, which were excellent and very pretty:

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and Kory had Kurabota Pork Tenderloin, which was more defined and pretty than this picture allows, and also delicious:

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We splurged on dessert, too, including the Almond Brown Butter Cake, Cookies and cream, and Chocolate Chipotle cake, which had a lot of residual heat (but was really fun and excellent) and Ella bravely tried.

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Through it all, the kids were completely terrific, in spite of their exhaustion.  (That pillow was very tempting for Finn once the macaroni-fontina coma began to set in.)  I’m certain they wouldn’t have lasted through the tasting menu (which Kory wanted and I vetoed immediately), but their manners, if not impeccable, were certainly very, very good, and they understood exactly what was expected of them in a restaurant.  They tried new foods, and (Ella at least) liked almost all of it. They saw food in shapes and patterns they had never thought possible, which is always a fun aesthetic lesson.  I think the fact that they understand basic restaurant etiquette, combined with the general Fanciness of the place was the formula that worked for us in spite of everything that could have conspired to make the meal a disaster.  We did have to walk Finn outside during one break in courses, but to some extent that defeated the purpose because at a fine dining establishment, they won’t serve your next course until you are seated and ready. But again, both Finn and Ella sort of liked learning that fact, and were pretty amused by the ceremony of it all.

After, we wandered the hotel and its courtyard:

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Made sand angels:

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and watched the Navy Seals practice night landings on the beach until it got dark:

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But the real icing on the cake was that in our wandering, on our way back into the hotel, we saw Hayao Miyazaki, sitting right there, in 1500 Ocean, just as we had (ok, maybe not just as we had) with half a dozen others, around an elegant firepit eating dinner in an elegant all white suit. Reader, it was like seeing Walt Disney.  Only better.  We told Ella exactly who he was, and her eyes opened wide because she knows and loves several of the Studio Ghibli films.  We gawked as much as we politely could, then we spirited the kids away, back to our hotel, and put them safely, well-sated, to bed.

Making Drinks (kid version)

One of the first things my husband Tony and I learned about each other on our first (blind) date was that our fathers both made wine. His dad actually used grapes. A regular event during Tony’s childhood involved taking delivery of a load of zinfandel grapes, stomping them into juice in the backyard and then – well, Tony’s version skips right to the burritos (a rare takeout meal after a long day of grape-mashing), while his father continued to do all the work to make and bottle wine that we still (on very special occasions) enjoy today.

My dad, influenced by Euell Gibbons’ books like Stalking the Wild Asparagus, made wines from elderberries, dandelions and blueberries. He kept burlap bags in the back of the car so that he was always prepared to gather materials – you never know when you might run across a nice patch of dandelions – and his foraging habit almost stopped before I was old enough to be embarrassed by it, but not quite. I do remember helping him decant it sometimes, holding the tubing that carried the wine from a 5-gallon carboy into the wine bottles. It spilled all over me once and I still remember the pungent smell of the fermented blueberries, vinegary and sweet.

Tony and I do not make wine. We don’t make our own bitters or beer, as some of our friends do, nor limoncello, like Lisa and her family, nor even root beer, as my family did when I was little. The beverage that gets the most care and attention in this household is probably Tony’s morning cappuccino, which he learned how to make at his father’s elbow as a child, and which he is now teaching the boys how to make. And maybe it’s the influence of that morning cappuccino that has the boys lately making complicated milk drinks. It started one hot day with Eli adding ice to his milk, and has now evolved into a recipe that involves a sprinkle of cinnamon, a few grates of nutmeg, and sometimes a spoonful of Ovaltine and/or vanilla. It reminds me a bit of those old Colonial milk punch recipes (but without the booze). And it’s the only way Ben will drink milk, so I’ll keep putting the ingredients out.

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(Tune in later for a post about the mixed drinks the adults are drinking around here)

The San Francisco Treat

by Caroline

It’s not, despite the jingle, Rice-a-Roni. No, the true, old school, San Francisco treat is an It’s-It, a chocolate-covered oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich, originally invented by George Whitney in 1928, and sold for decades at San Francisco’s Playland-at-the-Beach. Now that the playground is gone, It’s-Its are made in a small factory near San Francisco airport. We’ve been driving past the factory for years, and finally the other day I looked at the website to see if they offer factory tours. Sadly, no. We drowned our sorrows in homemade It’s-Its:

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Want a closer look? I thought so:

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Mueller’s Bakery

by Lisa

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It isn’t the Cinque Terre, nor is it Venice, and it’s definitely not Paris, where Caroline & her gang are lucky enough to be on vacation, but Bay Head, NJ still has quiet, clean beaches, flanked by stately homes, canals, and Mueller’s Bakery— which has got to be one of the best small bakeries in the country.

Our rental was just around the corner from Mueller’s, which we knew about thanks to my brother, who lives the next town over. Every morning, the youngest girls would descend from their sleeping garret in the attic, find me and Finn in the second floor sunroom watching Cyberchase and drinking coffee, and we’d throw on our swimsuits and walk around the block to the bakery.

Inside was everything a butter-sugar-flour addict could dream of: the best jelly donuts I’ve had in 30 years–powdered and sugared both; chocolate donuts; powdered and glazed cake donuts; melt-in-your mouth apricot and berry danishes; bear claws; cheese claws; apple bars; turnovers; sweet pretzels; cinnamon rolls and twists; fresh bagels; fat muffins stuffed with blueberries; fancy cakes; everyday cakes; loaf breads and long breads–including sweet and savory varieties like Irish Soda; tray after tray of cookies, including decorated, themed ones as well as more traditional ones; cupcakes; and the major reason for my family’s swooning: the crumb cake–the recipe for which is unchanged since the Bakery’s inception over a century ago.

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Suffice to say the crumb cake has a dense, rich layer of incredibly moist cake, and an even richer, not-to-sweet thick layer of buttery crumb, topped with enough powdered sugar to lightly dust your shirt while you eat. They’re impossibly good, the Platonic ideal of a crumb cake, and if you’re craving one right now, Mueller’s ships them. Anywhere.

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We’d grab our cakes or donuts and cross the street and sit on a bench in front of the canal, where we’d unwrap the cakes and donuts from their waxed paper bags and eat, happily, while the morning woke up around us.

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It was just like eating croissant on the Seine, Jersey Style.

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