junk food

Saying Yes

by Caroline

This past year, my 6 year-old got out of school an hour earlier than my 9 year-old, and we spent that hour in the school library or, on sunny days, in the park across the street. Once spring came, an ice cream truck parked at the entrance and as we crossed the street into the park every day, Eli would ask, automatically, “Can I have an ice cream?” And I’d say, just as automatically, “Nope,” and list the snacks I’d brought in my purse. It was a routine that caused no particular stress or bother; we didn’t need any legislation to ban the ice cream trucks, we just went on our way.

I don’t have a single good reason for my school year, week day ice cream ban (which is really too strong a word for this routine), and probably if Eli had lobbied harder I would have caved. But he didn’t, so I didn’t. We would play in the park for an hour, he would munch on an apple and a muffin and maybe some peanut butter crackers or a MoJo bar, and then we would pick up Ben and snack some more. I don’t think either of them feels at all deprived of sweets, and if you have read this blog any length of time, you also know they are not — it’s just that most of the time, I like to make them at home.

But when summer vacation comes, I feel like celebrating. Even though the weather in San Francisco isn’t so summery, I embrace the season with sandals and bright pink nail polish and home made ice cream and field trips with the kids to the latest ice cream and donut shops:

the menu at Dynamo Donuts

My friends tease me about my summer food enthusiasms, but my family is certainly not complaining. And when we travel, as we have been this last week (and as Lisa has written along the same lines) I am just a little sweeter, and even more inclined to say yes to treats. They are morale and energy boosters, they are a way to sample the local food culture, they are a break in a busy day of walking from one science museum to the next. On the ferry to San Juan Island last week, which seemed in some ways so foreign, the boys were delighted to find their favorite ballpark treat:

And after a surprisingly good lunch from the snack bar at one of Vancouver’s amazing public pools today, Eli chose from the standard ice cream menu:

While Ben bypassed that for a less typical post-swim snack:

This afternoon, flagging after a long walk from the planetarium to the Granville Public Market, we stopped for donuts, and we’re already looking forward to fudge tomorrow at the Capilano Suspension bridge, because apparently fudge is one of the things one buys to survive a walk across a sky-high suspension bridge, and because we are on vacation, and because it is fun to say yes.

Buy Me Some Peanuts and…

Caramel Corn!

by Caroline

As I learned this week, thanks to the intrepid research assistance of friends and family, true Cracker Jack — whether you buy it at the ball park or make it at home to eat while cheering for your team — contains molasses. And while I’m always looking for ways to add iron-rich molasses to our vegetarian diet, I don’t love its flavor, which can dominate a dish. Especially a dish consisting primarily of popcorn.

So, we made caramel corn and it was fabulous. I looked at over a dozen recipes and made two different versions, and based on all that, think this recipe from Smitten Kitchen wins. Many recipes call for corn syrup or Lyle’s Golden Syrup, they call for shortening or margarine; while I do tend to stock those ingredients, I always have a much bigger supply of plain old butter and sugar (and butter just tastes better). Other recipes are fussier about the preparation of the caramel, too, but nothing could be easier than letting it bubble, unstirred, for ten minutes.

I love the addition of cayenne pepper in this recipe, which gives the corn a nice warmth without being too spicy, but if you’re sharing this with the kids, just leave the pepper out. Or, be like me and make two batches.

So here it is, straight from Smitten Kitchen:

Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 cups salted peanuts (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see Note)
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt (see Note)

Lightly coat two large, heatproof rubber spatulas, a very large mixing bowl and two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or a thin slick of oil.

In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared bowl, removing any unpopped kernels. Toss with salted peanuts, if using.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper (if using).

Have the two large baking sheets ready. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 cup water. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, 10 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking-soda mixture (the mixture will bubble up).

Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and don’t fuss if it doesn’t all come out of the pot — you’ll have plenty. Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.

Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate them into small pieces while still warm. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Once cool, store in an airtight container. More

Root Beer Float x 2

by Lisa

We have a great debate going in our house: which goes in a root beer float first, the ice cream or the soda?

This has been an ongoing experiment all summer long, since we discovered Trader Joe’s has a good bottled root beer (& a caffeine free cola that’s pretty terrific, too.) We don’t drink bottled soda as rule around here (although we do indulge in homemade kidtinis), but I’ve been making an exception lately and I keep a few bottles of this soda on hand for fun and nostalgia.  It’s great for a weekend cocktail and floats make for an easy, fun dessert in the hot weather.  Especially for guests and grandparents.  Lately, about once a week Ella will mix up a cherry coke before dinner or we’ll have root beer floats after dinner.

In our effort to settle the ice cream/soda debate, we stumbled upon Bobby Flay’s adult version, which includes bourbon and is pretty much the perfect end to a barbeque if you’re a grown-up.

To wit, our method is this, and involves floating the ice cream on the soda. But you put the ice cream in first and get a slightly creamier drink.

Fill a large frosty mug with root beer (and a little crushed ice if you like. It’s nice if it’s colder, but it also gets in the way).  Float 1 scoop vanilla ice cream on the soda.  If you’re an adult, add a up to a shot of bourbon over the ice cream. Top the ice cream with fresh whipped cream.

For adults only

Moon Pies for Rocket Boys

by Caroline

It’s all about rockets in our house lately. The boys are reading about Apollo 11 and the other moon missions, drawing rocket pictures, building cardboard and foil rockets, and making plans for their future lives as rocket scientists.

I play along as much as I can, but my kids understand two fundamental things about me: I prefer stories to lists of facts (I refuse to read aloud from the encyclopedia at bedtime); and I’m always happier if there’s food involved. So, during this rocket time, we’re all happy reading Tony Di Terlizzi’s fun picture book, Jimmy Zangow’s Out-of-This-World Moon-Pie Adventure, about a boy who flies into outer space and gathers a year’s supply of moon pies.

And then, in one of those fabulous coincidences that occasionally strike, I realized the boys had never had a moon pie, and a magazine arrived with a recipe for them. It was fate. It was a sign. And it was also an excellent way to spend the first full day of summer vacation.

boiling the sugar

pouring the boiling sugar into the gelatin

whipping marshmallow (or, I Can't Believe I Let Eli Put the Camera So Close to the Goo)

one giant, messy marshmallow

melting chocolate

chocolate-coated graham crackers, awaiting their filling

The resulting moon pies really can’t be beat, but I did, at Tony’s suggestion, make one big change from the original recipe: slice through the marshmallows in half, horizontally, and you get 18 manageable moon pies instead of 9 that are so tall they won’t fit in anyone’s mouth. Make sure to keep a big bowl of cold water handy, both while you’re pouring the boiling sugar mixture into the gelatin (in case of accidental burns) and while you’re spreading and later slicing the marshmallow: if you dip your spatula and knife blade in the cold water, it won’t stick. And then, invite some friends over to share the snacks.

mmm, moon pie

Lunch with Finn

by Lisa

I’m in my last year of having a little one at home  (though little is a relative term for my son, who has never been small).  Finn attends preschool only 3 mornings a week, I have a sitter for about 5 or 6 more hours, and the rest of the time, we do important  5-year-old things, like Lego, and Indiana Jones, and playing in the park, or taking short day trips, or reading, or napping, or building, or planting, or cooking.  We have a lot of unstructured play time.  We talk a lot. He plays alone a lot.  Some days, we stay in our pajamas until 10 am.  It’s been a terrific time, with just the two of us, and while he is endlessly excited about starting kindergarten at the big school, and I am looking forward to to more time for my work, I’m also sad to see these lovely years end.

One of the most tangible things we do, on occasion, is go out to lunch, just the two of us, some place local and casual.  I’ll pick him up from school, we’ll run an errand, we’ll find a place to eat.  He usually has a  say in what we eat and where.   Sometimes we go to a terrific little breakfast/lunch spot in town because they give the kids wikistiks. (Also the food is good.)

Another time, we found a hot pretzel on an SF trip, before we spontaneously decided to wander into Chinatown. We came home with some great almond cookies.

And last week, he was dead set on grilled cheese, which we found in a little lunch shop, where we were able to eat outside in the middle of a street art fair.

Surprisingly, the Lays chips he chose were a lot healthier (less fat, less salt, more vitamins) then mine, a fact which still makes him laugh.

He got his grilled cheese. I got a terrific turkey club. We both had Italian sodas.  He was sweet and grateful.  We sat in the sun and ate and chatted about things, like whether or not we liked the paintings lining the street, why his dad is famous for his kidtinis, whether or not that plane flying overhead was a jet plane or not, the plans in his head for his new Lego construction.  It was an easy, joyful meal.  My son is growing up.  Fast.  But that also means that we can enjoy being together in surprising new ways.  I love his company more than ever, and most of the time, he still enjoys mine. A little pause for lunch together, alone, in the middle of the day, with a little bit of good, easy food, is a simple way to enjoy each other’s company on our own terms.   An easy, affordable meal out with your child lets you be together without distraction, without the burden of preparation or clean up, without interruption. It makes you pay attention.