Something New for Dinner: Soba Noodles with Roasted Squash & Tofu

by Caroline

Like any family, we fall in to dinner ruts, when I feel like our meals fall into two categories: something with rice or something with pasta. This is exacerbated by the fact that I’m feeding two fairly picky eaters, and of course we are also limiting ourselves by choosing not to eat meat or fish. So it was a little thrill the other day when my mom sent me a recipe that looked like something the boys would eat. It does fall into the “something over pasta” category, and in fact uses ingredients we eat all the time, but combined in a new way and that, sometimes, just makes all the difference.

Of course, I couldn’t help tinkering with the recipe; I roasted the squash (because of course I already had the oven on to bake dessert), and we kept the sauce on the side because only one kid likes sauce, we used black sesame seeds because that’s what we had on hand, and at a certain point, fairly early in the process, Tony took over because, as I’ve said before, I really don’t make dinner (but sometimes I do delegate). Happily, it was a hit with the whole family, so thank you, Mom, and thank you, Martha Rose Shulman, for a great new entree to add to our winter dinner rotation.

Stir-Fried Winter Squash and Tofu With Soba

6 ounces tofu (we used a pound), sliced about 1/2 inch thick
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 small butternut squash, diced (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon sherry
1/4 cup water
Soy sauce to taste
1/2 pound buckwheat noodles (soba)
1 tablespoon dark Chinese sesame oil

1. Wrap the tofu in clean kitchen towels or paper towels, and place under a cutting board for 10 minutes. Cut in 1-inch wide dominoes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok, and stir-fry the tofu until lightly colored, about three minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spatula, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the onion to the pan, and stir-fry until it softens, about three minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the squash. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and sesame seeds, and stir-fry for one minute, until fragrant. Return the tofu to the pan, stir in the sherry and 1/4 cup water, cover and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer five minutes or until the squash is tender. Uncover and add soy sauce to taste. Keep warm while you cook the soba.

3. Bring 3 or 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the noodles gradually, so that the water remains at a boil, and stir once with a long-handled spoon so that they don’t stick together. Wait for the water to come back up to a rolling boil — it will bubble up so don’t fill the pot all the way — and add 1 cup of cold water. Allow the water to come back to a rolling boil, and add another cup of cold water. Allow the water to come to a boil one more time, and add a third cup of water. When the water comes to a boil again, the noodles should be cooked through. Drain and toss with the sesame oil.

4. Arrange the noodles on a platter, top with the tofu and vegetables, and serve.

Yield: Serves four.

Advance preparation: You can stir-fry the tofu and vegetables several hours ahead and reheat when you cook the noodles. This is one stir-fry that even tastes good reheated the next day.

One City Garden

by Caroline

I grew up in a little town (it calls itself a village, and while I find the word a little precious, it fits) of big, pretty houses on smallish lawns. The yards weren’t fenced, and my neighborhood didn’t have sidewalks, which made it a pretty soft place for a kid to grow up running around with her friends, racing from one yard to the next as our game developed. Our yard was part of the action, too, until my dad realized that the front got a lot more direct sun than the backyard, and so that’s where the vegetable garden went. Screened by a pretty hedge of deep pink and white beach roses, the garden produced peas, beans, tomatoes, broccoli and lettuce, among other vegetables. My dad established another small garden next to the side door and encouraged a patch of blackberries at the end of the driveway. Volunteer squash and tomatoes sprang up from the compost pile and, as my siblings and I grew up and needed less yard to play in, Dad cultivated gradually larger swaths of the backyard, too.

Now my parents have retired to a big piece of property in rural Connecticut, where my dad has an enormous garden and orchard, and I’m the one with an urban garden. Now, this is not the kind of really urban gardening that Lisa wrote about last summer. We don’t have a front yard here in San Francisco, but we can at least do our planting in the ground, not a truck (though honestly, my kids would prefer a truck).

For now, while my children are young and require a lot of my attention for their cultivation, we’re keeping the garden small. (A friend, whose youngest child is the age of my oldest, has recently converted her entire backyard into an edible space; no lawn at all, just paths made and lined with herbs, blueberry bushes and fruit trees in sunny spots along the fences, vegetables — some in beds, some (like the artichokes) standing alone — sprouting up in every spare nook. I dream of such a yard, someday). We’re still learning what we can
produce here in our foggy neighborhood; we don’t get a lot of heat or sun, but we have a pretty long growing season; greens do very well, tomatoes do not. And whenever one of my kids has an urge to plant a seed, I encourage the impulse even if I know, as with yesterday’s apple seed, it’s not likely to bear edible fruit. Some times, it’s important simply to plant a seed.

future apple tree

future apple tree

strawberries and chard

strawberries and chard

lettuces, agretti, and zucchini

lettuces, agretti, and zucchini

can you spot the artichoke?

can you spot the artichoke?

It’s the Great Pumpkin Pancake, Charlie Brown

by Caroline

Today after school we will finally carve all the pumpkins that have been sitting on our front stoop this month. I’ll save the seeds, to toast and eat during a post-dinner showing of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and then I’ll need a quick dinner that doesn’t add much to the general pumpkiny mess. I’m thinking pumpkin pancakes. Breakfast for dinner is a fine quick and healthy meal, and like Lisa’s recent omelette, pancakes are a fine food with which your children can practice their cutlery skills.

Eli eagerly anticipating his pancake

Eli eagerly anticipating his pancake

Ben practicing his cutlery skills on actual food

Ben practicing his cutlery skills on actual food

These pancakes are about the lightest, fluffiest pancakes you’ll ever make (these pictures really don’t do them justice at all), so make them silver dollar size so they bake all the way through.

cooking pumpkin pancakes

cooking pumpkin pancakes

They taste great served with applesauce, yogurt, ricotta cheese, or of course maple syrup.

1 c flour
3 T sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg

1 egg
1 c plain yogurt
1/4 c pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
2 T butter, melted and cooled

In a large bowl, beat the egg and then stir in remaining wet ingredients. Blend well. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then stir into the egg mixture until just combined.

Heat a skillet and add a dab of butter. When the skillet’s hot, pour about 1/8 c batter per pancake. Flip when the tops bubble and the edges seem dry. Cook until the other side is golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.

Feeding the sick

by Caroline

Despite timely flu shots, good eating habits, and frankly pretty impressive personal hygiene in kids this age, my sons have been passing a cold back and forth for over two weeks now. I can hardly remember what it feels like to send two children to school. And although I’ve managed to stay healthy (knock wood), the broken nights and the days spent tending to one or the other languishing child has worn me down.

While I know that this is not the time to slack off on the meals, know that they need a varied diet of fresh fruits and vegetables all the more now to get them healthy, I’m honestly relieved that when my kids are sick, probably like most kids, they shut down and eat like birds. This worried me somewhat when my first was a toddler, but now I recognize this as an inheritance from their father. I am the only one in the house who feeds a cold (or fever, or strep throat, or whatever other illness has hit me). The boys in my family subsist, as near as I can tell, on water and something crunchy until they’re back to themselves. They eat dry cereal, pretzels, rice crackers, and plain toast. Again, as someone who rarely misses a meal, who generally starts thinking about lunch even as I’m taking bites of breakfast, this continually surprises me. I might not want enchiladas or mushroom stroganoff when I’m sick, but as I’ve written before, I still usually want a couple flavors on the plate.

I’m lucky, I know, that I’m not talking about serious illness here. A friend’s son is recuperating from brain surgery and, while he’s recovering, has been vomiting daily for weeks. One of Ben’s classmates was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a couple years ago, and continues to have a caregiver attend school with him daily to monitor his blood sugar and his meals. My kids don’t have allergies or any chronic illness that we have to factor into their diets. They’re picky eaters to start, and now with stuffy noses and taste buds dulled by fever, there’s not much they are interested in eating. For days, their meals have looked like this:

bunny plate with rice & edamame

bunny plate with rice & edamame

(note the attempt to add appeal by serving the food in a cute plate, one that belonged to Tony when he was a boy.)

Today was the first day in a while that Eli could hold his head up long enough to come to the table, but I was feeling pretty droopy myself so was grateful to discover that our favorite local bakery, Arizmendi, was making a family-favorite pizza: pesto and roasted potato. Arizmendi makes a different pizza every day, and while we all love to make pizza from scratch, this was not the day for that. Instead, we let our bakery friends do the cooking, and saved our energy to make a nice salad and slice some crudites:


Everyone ate a great dinner, and when there was interest in fresh Bolinas apples for dessert, I went to some trouble for my congested children and served them up in slices with sugar and cinnamon for dipping:


Dessert was followed, of course, by their nightly doses of sudafed, tylenol, and a fervent wish for a good night’s sleep.

Dinner in 20

by Lisa

I  love to cook.   I do not always want to cook. These statements are not mutually exclusive.

While I will very often prep a little bit of dinner at lunchtime (the virtue of working from home), one day last week I had done nothing for dinner.  I hadn’t even taken a mental inventory of my produce and pantry to come up with a quick game plan, which is something I do daily. But on this day, I was just so tired I hadn’t done any of that. And  all of a sudden it was 5:35 and there was nothing in the way of dinner suggesting itself.  I took a deep breath, walked into the kitchen,and opened the refrigerator.

For a busy parent, perhaps the greatest virtue of shopping at a farmers market is that you always have something so fresh and so good that it can be cooked very simply and quickly.  That night, I took from my produce bin:


Italian parsley, sage, basil, chives, green leaf lettuce, a few green beans, 8 eggs

I’ve written before about how eggs are your friends and how simple is very often best, and about how in many ways, cooking for my young family very involves making small, new changes to staple ingredients to keep seasonal ingredients a little bit exciting.  That evening, from some pre-conscious part of my brain “Omelette aux fines herbs” suggested itself. This was a much loved dinner for Kory and me, but a new twist on the omelette for the kids.

I chopped up the herbs, par boiled the green beans until they were tender-crisp, then rinsed them in cool water to stop the cooking, and washed the lettuce.  I made a quick jar dressing:


One part red wine vinegar, one part mustard and 4 parts olive oil, a smashed clove of garlic, a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper.

Let the dressing sit for 10 minutes so the garlic infused the dressing. Put the top on before you shake it up.

I made a quick omelette with the herbs and the eggs, and tossed the green beans in with the lettuce for a really lovely, tender green salad. The dressing went on the greens.

Dinner was on the table by 5:55 pm.  That’s less than 25 minutes from concept to table, and the hardest part was snipping the stems off the beans and washing the lettuce.

Of course, both Ella and Finn complained about the green bits in the omelette, protesting that they didn’t like them.  I told Ella they were chives, Finn that they were basil, and they both raised an eyebrow and dug in and one bite was all it took to convince them that it was, in fact, delicious.


The fringe benefit to this fast, easy meal is that it is also an easy, manageable fun meal with which to work on table manners.  Eggs are easy to cut, and whenever possible, I encourage Ella and Finn to use their knife and fork in the continental way. This is how Kory & I eat, and both Ella and Finn at 7 & 4 are old enough to control their utensils. It doesn’t always happen in the ideal way, but this kind of dinner is the ideal place to practice.  It becomes a kind of quiet contest to see who can rise to the challenge of eating like a polite little French child. Of course, it doesn’t always happen like this, but  it really can be done.




So, while I wished, for a minute that night, that I had a stash of TV dinners to plop on the table, I didn’t really need them.  There was enough in my kitchen to make something fast and delicious, and the lovely fall flowers that live on our table reminded us that even the hastiest, thrown-together meals  can be an occasion.