Growing up, we went to my Grandmama Newberry’s house about once a month for the weekend. We’d leave right after school and drive the two and a half hours up to Gray, Georgia, where we’d spend the weekend playing with cousins (some of the most amazing fun I had as a kid) and spending time with my mom’s side of the family – which always meant eating delicious food.

When we’d arrive Friday evening, there was almost always a pot of vegetable beef soup and cornbread waiting. Grandmama called it “vegetable soup” but I’m going to call it “vegetable beef soup” because there’s always stew beef in it – just wanna be clear.

The soup is very rich in flavor and good for the soul. You have to cook it the way she did, or it won’t taste the same. And that familiar taste is what makes it so great for me.

please forgive the soup sloshed over the rim.

please forgive the soup sloshed over the rim.

Grandmama Newberry’s Vegetable Beef Soup

Trim a pound of lean stew beef, chop into bite-sized pieces, season generously with salt and pepper, and brown in a little oil in a big soup pot. Add a diced onion, a 14.5-oz can whole peeled tomatoes chopped by you, a beef bullion cube or two, and water to cover well. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer on low for an hour or until the meat is very tender.

Now you can begin adding vegetables gradually, in order of cooking time. Add about three quarters of a cup (eyeball it) of frozen baby butterbeans first. They’ll need about twenty minutes. Then add two medium diced carrots. Add about half a cup (eyeball it) of frozen corn and four small peeled and diced red potatoes last, after everything is about done. You may need to add a little more water or bullion along the way. Once the potatoes are tender, stir in a tablespoon of butter and the soup is ready.

Serve with cornbread or corn muffins. I prefer slightly sweet, buttery cornbread because that’s how my grandmother and mom usually made it growing up. In fact, I’ve made cornbread from scratch many times but I really prefer this mix. Please don’t tell my husband I said that. He is very loyal to the original Southern way of making cornbread – without sugar!

UPDATE: Grandmama sometimes added okra and a little thinly sliced cabbage, too, I think along with the carrots.

Years ago, a friend – ahem, Jennifer – gave me a recipe called “Simple Blueberry Pie.” It’s been my go-to summer berry pie ever since. But at the farmers market on Saturday, Catherine and I were more inspired by the tiny baby strawberries. So, using the blueberry pie recipe as a base, we made a strawberry one.

  Here’s the original recipe. I think with a few tweaks it works with any berry. Just be sure to reduce the sugar by a fourth cup if using strawberries, as they’re sweeter. You’ll love this for summer because it combines cooked fruit with fresh and it’s a bit lighter than a traditional baked pie.

  Simple Berry Pie

1 cup mashed berries, 3/4 cup sugar (1/2 for strawberries), 1/2 cup water, 2 Tbps cornstarch, 3 cups whole berries…and a baked pie crust.

Saucepan: cook 1st 4 over high heat until bubbling and thickened (a few minutes, stirring. I undercooked this last pie and it didn’t set as quite firmly). Remove, mix in whole berries. Pour in baked pie shell. Refridgerate a few hours until firm. Serve with whipped cream.

Oh, and don’t forget to make your kid super happy with a big piece of pie for lunch the next day!

   

When your daughter goes to sleep, it’s nice to make her mini mint chocolate chip pancakes so that when she wakes up, she has warm pancakes and milk waiting. She won’t suspect that the reason they’re green is because you added raw bok choy to the batter. You’ll smile as she eats ten of them. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Pancakes inspired by Weelicious Green Vegan Pancakes. I replaced the half cup of applesauce with yogurt, replaced the cup of spinach with bok choy (and upped the amount), plus added chocolate chips and a dab of peppermint extract, and everything turned out fine.

mini mint chocolate chip pancakes. green from bok choy, minty from peppermint extract, way delicious-er than they look

mini mint chocolate chip pancakes. green from bok choy, minty from peppermint extract, way delicious-er than they look

You can also make red beet pancakes (but forget about roasting the beet, not sure why the recipe calls for that – just puree it raw with the rest of the liquid part of the batter), like the red beet pancakes with fresh red currants and chocolate chips you see below. Or orange ricotta pancakes. Or pretty much anything. Freeze them, and they make for fun, easy, protein- and nutrient-packed lunches.

preschool lunch: red beet pancakes with chocolate chips and fresh red currants, cucumbers, boiled egg and olives, green apples, and blueberries

preschool lunch: red beet pancakes with chocolate chips and fresh red currants, cucumbers, boiled egg and olives, green apples, and blueberries

So much has happened since I last blogged. Catherine has blossomed into a perfect almost-two-year old girl with big blue eyes and white blonde curls. We have moved to New York City. And, I have discovered this smoothie and haven’t looked back.

[Here is where you imagine I took the time to post a photograph of this pure grass-green smoothie in a tall glass on my white, sunlight-drenched breakfast table.]

Here’s a little exercise I did just for you.  Q: Can you describe this smoothie in a few words? A: Yes. Clean. Creamy. Refreshing. Filling. Light. Perfection.

Banana Parsley Smoothie

1 banana

1 big handful fresh parsley

chia and flax seeds

water and ice

Blend until smooth. Drink. Enjoy flavors like: subtly sweet and creamy from the banana, grassy and clean and fragrant from the parsley, substantial from the seeds, and cold and refreshing from the ice water. You’ll feel completely satisfied and it will hold you over for hours, yet has very few calories.

Tonight we had sandwiches, cut into the shape of stars.  They were grilled extra sharp white cheddar cheese sandwiches, with finely chopped spinach inside, all on “whole grain” bread bought at Target, because there was no time to get any really good bread from the farmers market, and this was the only imperfect part of the whole meal, though it was barely noticeable.  Because the sandwiches were stars only in shape; the true unintended star was the dip/soup.  Composed of sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, parsley, cooked chickpeas, and a little sea salt, pepper, and bay leaf – simmered in just enough water to cover – then, and this being key, pureed in the Christmas Vitamix (as it shall hereto forth be known, for obvious reasons) to the consistency of velvet, it was first dipped into, then devoured with a spoon – poor grilled cheese sandwiches cast aside (you got that, right? GRILLED CHEESE. CAST ASIDE!) in favor of orange velvet soup, by okay let’s be honest the TRUE, BIGGEST star of the table who has been on this earth only 18 months but knows a good dip/soup when she tastes one.

The moral of this star-studded story is that kids like to dip, and when we act on this knowledge we sometimes stumble upon something too good to share the stage.

I know it doesn’t look like much, but 18-month olds’ tummies just don’t lie.

P.S. You might want to know that this meal comes together in 20 minutes – if, and I repeat, IF, your husband helps out with the child.

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I see this blog morphing into a Little Fingers Food blog.  Ha – I just came up with that name as I wrote that sentence.  I wonder if that means I should start a new blog?  Anyway, these days I’m all about creating food that’s 1) delicious 2) healthy 3) easy 4) adorable – in that order.  I guess it’d be kind of similar to Weelicious, except I’m not a 6-feet tall model who’s friends with Gwyneth Paltrow.  But I pretend to be friends with Gwyneth – does that count?

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Anyway, this latest creation fits all of those categories perfectly. And it passed Catherine’s taste test – in fact, this might be the first time I’ve gotten her to eat eggs – so here we go. I’m going to provide the “recipe,” since it requires no measuring. I find writing down measurements really tedious.

Miniature wonton quiches

Preheat oven to 365 F.  Whisk 6 eggs and add S&P, cheese, caramelized onions, and any lightly-cooked veggie you like (I used broccoli).  Line an 8-muffin mini-muffin tray with store-bought wonton wrappers.  Fill each with egg mixture. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until egg mixture is firm.  Watch brunch guests look impressed, or your kids stuff their faces.

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*I should note, if I attempted to come in from work on a weeknight and start steaming and chopping broccoli and caramelizing onions for these quiches, the battle would be half-lost.  Instead, the night before, after C went to bed, I took a few minutes to prep my veggies, making dinner the next night extra easy – an absolute necessity when I’m the only one home with a 1-year old on weeknights.

 

Has anyone else ever noticed that motherhood – well, at least the early years, since that’s all I can speak to – is filled with highs and lows that happen within seconds of each other?  One second your newborn is screaming her head off mercilessly in the backseat and you have to bite down on your hand to keep from screaming yourself.  The next you’re holding her, she’s sighing contented sighs between gulps of milk, and the two of you are happy, albeit on the side of the road.

Or like the other night, while I frantically sautéed some squash, one by one Catherine picked up her peas and released them from her outstretched hand to the floor, staring me down defiantly.  She banged her hands on the high chair tray.  She yelled at me impatiently.  If she’d had a whip she would have used it.  I don’t know what it is about crying and whining, but it’s got to be more effective than water torture.  She had me in tears.  And yet.  Moments later, she had her squash and was shoving it in her mouth appreciatively, all the while casting winning smiles in my direction.  And all was okay.  I made a drink and leaned against the counter, watching her fill her belly with good food.

Come to think of it, I guess it all depends on when Catherine decides to scream, and when she decides to stop.

Don’t think I don’t know how obsessive I sound 2 posts ago.  Gosh.  I’m fraught with anxiety.  Torn between audiences. But I’m not deleting the post, because I’ve got to let myself make mistakes on this blog.  Be honest about who I am, imperfections and all.  I’m going to write a lot of really, really bad stuff.

On another note – we’ve been eating lots of muffins around here.

Butternut squash muffins.  My favorite so far – truly delicious.

IMG_5693 IMG_5696 IMG_5710Blueberry coconut muffins.  These would be much better as pineapple coconut muffins…coconut muffins with chocolate chips?!

IMG_5774 IMG_5841Carrot muffins with dried pineapple.  Tasty but a bit dense – they were loaded with carrots so no wonder.

IMG_5851Fig bran muffins.  Good right out of the oven, but later, just okay.

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Everyone loves kale chips. Except me.
IMG_5739They’re easy. They’re cute. They taste like fried kale. I’d rather have it steamed with tahini. Or a potato chip.

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Chris liked them. Even Catherine liked them.

IMG_5751 IMG_5762I don’t think I’ll be making kale chips again soon.  On another note, have I mentioned I have a very silly, playful girl?

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Catherine’s school has a new catered lunch option. I’ve written this first paragraph several times now, trying not to sound annoyingly obsessive but by now, you all know that’s exactly what I am, right?  Or, maybe I’m just informed and want to inform others and that makes me annoying.  Either way, I’ve got to accept who I am and stop apologizing for it!  So let’s just stop pretending and get to it.

Naturally, I analyzed and scrutinized over the menu. Asked the caterer questions. Tasted samples. I really, really wanted it to work. Because if I don’t have to send Catherine with a lunch every day, that means less pressure, and more quality time together. I already stopped pumping last week, and not having to plan and prepare a lunch menu each week on top of working full time would leave room for more spontaneous weekend and weeknight fun. So – as I was saying, I assessed the menu, and here’s what I found.

Overall, I’m happy. The food tastes  good. It’s fresh and mostly homemade. And I specifically asked about the meat, which I was assured has zero antibiotics or added hormones.  I was not given the source of the meat.  The owner didn’t know and had to ask the “kitchen.”  So I plan to follow up on that.  But there are a few problems. There are no whole grains on the menu. Sure, the bread and pasta are called “whole grain,” but if you know how to read a nutrition label you know they’re actually highly processed and not really whole grain.  Surprisingly, it’s very difficult to find real whole grain bread at the supermarket.  I  buy it at the farmers market and freeze it.  Otherwise you’re left with the actual whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, oat groats, millet, hulled barley, etc and that’s really your most nutritious bet.

Also, the catered food isn’t organic.  Organic is an option, but they’ll only do it if parents request it across the board.  So Catherine would be potentially eating GMOs and pesticides for lunch 5 days a week.

Then, there’s a lack of quantity, variety, and quality of vegetables. In one month’s menu, I counted only 5 different types of vegetables. For example, peas, carrots, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes. Which are great, but what about the thousands of other varieties of colorful, delicious vegetables out there? Don’t our growing babies deserve to be exposed to those to, if we can? Each meal only comes with 1, at most 2, vegetables.  Aso, a kids’ caterer should know that celery, cucumbers, and romaine lettuce have very little nutritional value. And for toddlers, they require a good bit of energy to actually eat. So they just don’t make sense or belong on a menu for 1-year olds.  Finally, I noticed the caterer is using “baby” carrots. These aren’t real baby carrots – they’re “cored” carrots.  Which means they loose the most nutritious part of the carrot.  Why not buy real carrots and get the nutrition of a real carrot??

The meals are very meat and cheese heavy. Most lunches contain a meat and cheese. The caterer could save money by serving more beans, which are healthier anyway.

Filler. Many lunches include highly processed, packaged items like craisins (raisins with red dye and sugar) veggie straws (these are chips with food dye to make them look like vegetables), and graham crackers (I love graham crackers, but for a 1-year old these should be an occasional treat or emergency snack, not an everyday lunch item). Not only are these are snacks, not lunch, but they have almost zero nutritional value.  A child’s stomach doesn’t hold much, and I don’t want mine child’s to be filled with empty calories if I can help it.  I’m ordering lunch – not junk food.

I agonized for weeks over this menu, because I wanted it to work, but couldn’t accept its inadequacies.  So I resigned myself to continue making Catherine’s lunches myself.  I decided I WOULD become the most genius, efficient lunch maker the world has ever seen.  I’d just MAKE IT HAPPEN.  I felt pretty determined.  Until I had a lightbulb moment.  A compromise.  I’d simply supplement and substitute.  Every week I’d take a look at the menu, cross off items and add my own.  Here’s an example.

Chicken taco salad with corn and tomatoes.  I add chopped raw red bell pepper (which C likes) and avocado (which she some days likes, most days doesn’t but I keep trying) from home.

Chicken salad sandwich, carrot salad, craisins.  Craisins get replaced with real dried fruit without added sugar and dye – or better yet, a vegetable, since she gets plenty of fruit for snacks.

Turkey burger sliders, veggie straws, and applesauce.  Veggie straws (glorified potato chips) get replaced with roasted sweet potatoes (which C eats like candy).  Packaged applesauce gets replaced with sauteed squash (C can eat an entire pan herself – this girls LOVES sauteed squash the way my momma taught me to make it). Now if you think I’m no fun for taking away the applesauce – I’m only doing it because she gets homemade applesauce with her cereal every morning, so she just doesn’t need a processed version for lunch.

Three cheese baked ziti, carrots, peas.  I’d probably leave this alone.

Cheese quesadilla, corn, pinto beans.  Well, it makes me happy that we’re finally seeing some beans.  But again, more cheese.  Cheese isn’t that good for us, it’s kind of a myth that kids need tons of cheese.  Ask any doctor or better yet Doctor of nutrition.  Ask the scientists at Harvard what they think.  I’m not making this stuff up.  Anyway. I’d add a vegetable to this. Maybe halved cherry tomatoes.

It isn’t that I take out all the fun stuff and leave Catherine with boring old healthy stuff.  I still give Catherine plenty of fun treats.  I make homemade cookies or muffins every week to send with her for snack time.  They’re easy to do and I love doing it.  I just make sure they have nutritional value by using whole grain flours like wheat, brown rice, and spelt,  minimally processed sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, and plenty of nuts, fruits, and even vegetables.  And believe me – there are plenty of days when Catherine eats far worse than graham crackers for dinner.  But these days are the exception, not the rule.

So I feel good about our compromise.  I’ve noticed she isn’t eating the food at school as well as she eats what I pack for her, which makes me a little nervous but not too nervous, because I’m still supplementing enough that I think it’ll be fine.

Oh – I also send her with snacks every day, rather than have her eat goldfish, instant pancakes, and other nutritionally void snacks every day, several times a day. I send her with things like berries, melon, whole grain crackers, homemade muffins and cookies, green smoothies, and yogurt. She breastfeeds in the morning, in the afternoon when I pick her up, and right before bed. For breakfast she’s still eating her magic multigrain cereal with fruit or sometimes a breakfast smoothie or, today, her first toast with Earth Balance butter, honey, and cinnamon (I cubed it and put it in her snack cup – perfect self-serve breakfast that allowed me to get dressed and made her super happy!).  For dinner I try to make up for the lack of whole grains at lunch by serving a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa, with some sort of bean (usually tossed in a little soy sauce and a LOT of sesame seeds – delicious and high in calcium) and sauteed or roasted vegetables.

Next on my list…work on my own horrible sugar habits.  I take care with Catherine’s diet, I need to start taking better care of my own!

Also – I really need to start breaking this information down into more digestible (pun) pieces.  I do have a lot of good tips to share and it’d be easier for everyone if I’d dedicate a post to a real recipe – a healthy, yummy, easy, and best of all, FAST one.

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