"These are not peas. Of course they are not. These are green drops from Greenland. They are made out of green and fall from the sky." - I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Lauren Child
I can't believe I didn't discover Lauren Child's Charlie and Lola books until my kids were five and three. How did we miss out on these for so long? Author/illustrator Child's books about levelheaded Charlie and his quirky little sister Lola are, in a word, charming. Everything about these books, from Child's mixed media collage illustrations to her distinctive dialogue, just makes me smile. They are lovely books and kids can relate to the characters. The Disney Channel animated series based on the books is not required viewing to appreciate the books but it doesn't hurt (my kids love it when I read the dialogue in Lola's voice).
In I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, the first of the Charlie and Lola books, Charlie patiently and cleverly gets his picky sister to try new foods by giving them fantastical names and backstories. Carrots become "orange twiglets from Jupiter." Mashed potatoes become "cloud fluff from the pointiest peak of Mount Fuji." Lola plays along with her brother's game and eventually turns the tables him and tries her most hated food--a tomato.
We used the components of the siblings' meal to create our own Charlie and Lola dinner.
Orange Twiglets, Green Drops, Cloud Fluff, Ocean Nibbles and Moonsquirters
- fresh fish (we used sole)
- bread crumbs (we used panko crumbs for half and gluten-free crumbs for the other half--pretty much anything will work, including baking mix such as Bisquick)
- fresh carrots
- frozen peas
- egg substitute
- 4 large yukon gold potatoes (this included the single largest yukon gold potato I have ever seen)
- parmesan cheese
- small tomatoes (I chose heirloom tomatoes because my kids get a kick out of the funky shapes and colors)
- salt, pepper, paprika
Ocean Nibbles (fish sticks):
1. Slice the fish into fish finger-sized pieces and, working assembly line style, dredge them first in the egg substitute and then in the bread crumbs. You may wish to add additional seasonings or flavors to your bread crumbs. We added salt, pepper and paprika. Other possibilities include parsley, garlic and/or parmesan cheese.
2. Arrange the breaded fish in a single layer on a foil-lined baking tray. I recommend using non-stick foil or spraying your foil with lots and lots of non-stick spray so the fish does not stick.
3. Bake the fish at 400* for 20 minutes. Your cooking time may vary depending on the size and type of your fish. Had I used a thicker cut, such as salmon, I would have upped it to 30 minutes.
Orange Twiglets from Jupiter and Green Drops from Greenland (Carrots and Peas):
1. Prepare a pan (I used my iron skillet) to stir fry the peas and carrots. Coat the pan with olive oil and heat on high. While the pan is heating, wash the whole carrots and slice them into thin sticks.
2. Add the raw carrots to the pan first. After they have cooked a bit, add the frozen peas. Stir fry until cooked through but avoid overcooking.
Cloud Fluff (garlic and parmesan mashed potatoes):
1. Wash and slice the potatoes.
2. Boil the potatoes until soft throughout.
3. Mash potatoes with potato masher. Add fresh garlic and grated parmesan to taste. I added a splash of milk for a creamier consistency and continued to mash everything until well mixed.
1. Arrange the tomatoes in a bowl to be passed at the table.
To get the full Charlie and Lola effect we completed the meal with Lola's pink (strawberry flavored) milk, as seen in I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed (Charlie and Lola). (A third book, I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola) completes the trifecta; fans of the animated series will also enjoy the tie-in adaptations.)
This meal was another hit in our household, though I will be the first to admit that my kids are not as picky as Lola. They both devoured the moon squirters and ocean nibbles; my four year old (predictably) left some cloud fluff and most of the orange twiglets and green drops on his plate. Both boys did get involved in the preparation and helped make the pink milk and mash the potatoes. They enjoyed calling everything by their "new" names.
Again, I cannot stress enough how much I think everyone should read the Charlie and Lola books. They destined to become classics. (Though they are stylistically different, something about the strong-willed, quirky central female character reminds me of Russell and Lillian Hobans' Frances books.) We have also enjoyed her other books, which include the Clarice Bean series and Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent--both heavier on text but illustrated in Child's signature style.