Enjoy Every Bite

Despite my best efforts — and believe me, I have tried — Lilli basically lives on yogurt, cereal, plain starch (rice, rice cakes, barley, farro, pasta), grilled cheese, fish sticks and granola bars. As someone who prides themselves on serving whole foods made from scratch, meal times can be… well, is “despair” too dramatic a word?

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Sometimes, if I’m lucky, she’ll enjoy a few pieces of avocado and maybe a few blueberries. We’re a far cry from where she was before she turned two, when she would gobble up mushrooms, roasted broccoli, and all sorts of fruits.

On the other hand, there’s Beatrix, who is like old school Lilli taken to another level. She seriously enjoys food. Daycare has remarked on it. My mother would watch with wonder all summer long as Beatrix would dig into the fresh asparagus, enjoy every kernel on her corn cob, and delight in basically everything that was put in front of her. “It’s a pleasure to watch her eat,” Mom would say.

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Being a toddler, she’s also incredibly impatient. So if we weren’t fast enough, she would shriek and slam her little fists down on the table. My mother actually started calling her “Elizabeth,” as in Elizabeth Taylor, because she was a beautiful drama queen who couldn’t get the food in her face fast enough. “Calm down, Elizabeth, the {brisket, chicken, pasta, meatballs, fish, rice, eggs, fresh vegetables} has to cool down first.” (This was inspired by a particularly mean Joan Rivers joke in which she called Ms. Taylor the only woman in the world who would scream “faster!” at a microwave. Z”l, Joan.) Someone started calling her “the little piglet,” although I want to be very careful about this, because the last thing I want to do is give my daughter an eating complex. Enjoy every bite, little one, I say. Food is delicious.

The biggest threat to Bea’s appetite is her older sister’s influence. Every few days, when Lilli will do her evening ritual of completely rejecting a meal (and ask for a bowl of yogurt or cereal two hours later) Bea will catch on and abandon her plate as well. So when I saw this recipe for homemade fish sticks in Taste of Home’s 100 Family Meals I was sent, I crossed my fingers and went to the kitchen.

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The idea behind this cookbook is to get families to sit down together a few nights a week for dinner. If you do it twice a week, you’ll end up with 100 meals at the end of the year. This recipe was marked as “Eat Smart” and “Fast Fix”, looked super simple to make, and much healthier than the frozen fish sticks I’m loathe to serve the girls. I had everything in the kitchen, including some frozen tilapia from Costco, which I set to defrost in the fridge on a plate covered with Stretch-Tite the night before.

I actually skipped the two tablespoons of garlic herb seasoning blend the recipe called for, first because I had no such thing in the house, and second because I could almost hear Lilli’s stock protest (“It’s too spicy!”) in my head as I was reading the recipe. I don’t have cooking spray in the house, so I put my finger over the olive oil and drizzled that on top of the fish sticks.

And how were they? They were great! Rich and I enjoyed every bite, with homemade tartar sauce (at his insistence), and a side of red cabbage slaw with dried cranberries and fresh slices of mandarin oranges. But alas, Lilli flat out rejected them, and Bea took a bite, and then followed her big sister into the living room to join her in watching some Youtube garbage.

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Regardless, these are going into the rotation and will be served instead of the frozen ones from the store. I will not be deterred! They really are a great weeknight meal. I think if I serve these to Bea without her sister being there, she will devour them all, then slam her tiny hands into the table demanding more!

Parmesan Fish Sticks from Taste of Home’s 100 Family Meals: Bring the Family Back to the Dinner Table

Ingredients

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

1/8 to ¼ tsp. pepper

2 large eggs

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. garlic-herb seasoning blend (Optional)

 1 lb. tilapia fillets

Cooking spray

Directions

Preheat oven to 450F.

In a shallow bowl, mix flour, salt and pepper. In another bowl, whisk eggs. In a third bowl, toss bread crumbs with cheese and seasoning blend.

Cut filets into 1-inch-wide strips. Dip fish in flour mixture to coat both sides; shake off excess. Dip in eggs, then in crumb mixture, patting to help coating adhere.

Place on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Spritz tops with the spray until crumbs appear moistened; or, drizzle with olive oil for the same effect.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and fish begins to flake easily with a fork.

 

 

 

Urban Adventure

I’m not sure if it was the aroma of Rich’s challah French toast or the furry little paw poking at my nose that woke me up last Saturday morning, but when Rich overheard the one-sided conversation I was having with the owner of said paw, he strolled in to see what was happening.  He was still holding his beloved cast-iron skillet, wiping down the remains of the morning’s meal.  “Would you like to have an urban adventure, Ms. Sleepy, Sleepy?” he asked. “There’s an exhibit at the ICA I’m interested in seeing that ends today. We can go to the exhibit, then go to Flour bakery for a bite.” I had my coat on before he had put down his skillet.

The exhibit Rich was interested in viewing was a retrospective of the expressionist artist Mark Bradford. A 2009 MacArthur Fellow, Bradford is an artist without a paint brush, utilizing found art — most often billboards he’s scavenged around his native Los Angeles — to create collages that explore race, class and gender in urban American society. Like an archaeologist digging through a site’s remains, Bradford scrapes away at the layers on billboards.

Mark Bradford -- Kryptonite (2006)

I had never been to the ICA, and there were a few things about the museum I really appreciated. The first was them waiving me through when I flashed my university ID. (Why had I never been here before?!?) I loved that they provided free audio tours on iPods for all their visitors; another option was to call the number printed on the descriptive card next to each painting. Since it was the weekend, we opted for using free minutes and left the iPods for other visitors. I also really enjoyed that throughout the exhibit were docents who would gather perplexed visitors, myself included, and walk us through some ideas that the artist was perhaps trying to convey.

After the museum, we walked a few blocks over to Flour bakery. I haven’t had a ton of stuff from Flour, but I’ve loved every bite I have had there; I still think fondly of a grilled tofu sandwich I had at their Washington Street location last October.  But it was the daily special, the salmon cakes, that caught my eye.  Full confession: Even though I’ve considered myself a vegetarian for good chunks of my life, I absolutely adore fish. As long it has fins and scales, I will eat it with relish — or make that tarter sauce. Steamed, fried, poached, pickled or baked, I love it. I remember once, when I was in high school and had been a vegetarian — er, pescatarian — for years, that I announced to my parents I was going vegan. “But Molly,” my mom pointed out, “you love fish.”

So clearly I had to have the salmon cakes. I actually got them to see how they compared to mine. During the layoff, salmon cakes had become a house favorite. It’s a total pantry recipe; I’d always have the canned salmon, the panko bread crumbs, mayo and eggs in the house. The toughest and ickiest part of the preparation was removing the bones from the canned fish. I am thrilled to report I have discovered Bumblebee now makes a package of salmon already skinned and deboned, costing less than $2. And so inspired by Flour, I revisited an old favorite, this time with sweet potato and chipotle.

Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man

Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Mayo

Ingredients

1 can or package salmon — approximately 5 oz.

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 green onions, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

In a 2-quart saucepan, boil the sweet potato in 2 cups water until tender.

Drain potato. After it cools, place the cubes in a medium-size bowl and mash well. To this, add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well-combined. I find that using my hands is the best way to get this done.

Heat oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Using 1/4 cup of fish mixture per patty, form patties and fry in skillet over medium flame, approximately 5 minutes per side, until golden on both sides. Add more oil to skillet if necessary.

While the patties are frying, make the chipotle mayo.

Chipotle Mayo

Combine in a bowl:

4 tablespoons mayo

1 chipotle pepper and its adobo sauce, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon juice

Flour served their salmon cakes with a mesclun salad on the side. Tonight we had ours resting atop a pile of garlicky chard studded with currants. It was delicious.