Monday, March 29, 2010

Little Pea - Spinach Salad

"'Spinach!' squealed Little Pea. 'My favorite!'" -  Little Pea, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace
When I brought home Little Pea (written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace) my six year old lit up and said, "I remember this book from preschool! My teachers read it to us." I guess he doesn't remember checking it out from the library and reading it with me. In any case, the reason I brought it home in the first place was because although I knew I'd read this book with my older son, I also knew that my four year old is too young to remember it from our first go-round. So it is with the younger child: so often when we're at the library I pass over books that I know we have read, completely forgetting that my kids (especially my younger son) may not remember them the way I do. And there is nothing--nothing at all--wrong with rereading books.

Little Pea is the story of Little Pea, the only child in a family that resembles many families except, well, they're peas. As in the vegetable. Little Pea is a typical kid who enjoys playing with his friends and spending time with his parents. He also--like many kids--happens to be a picky eater. When it's time for dinner Little Pea just does not want to eat his...candy. But he has to eat his candy because if he doesn't eat his candy he can't have his favorite dessert. Which happens to be...a bowl of spinach! This whimsical story with a twist on the typical picky eater tale is great fun for kids, who may recognize themselves in Little Pea. Jen Corace's illustrations are "simple" (in the words of my six year old) but she does an excellent job of conveying Little Pea's moods, whether he's joyously playing with Papa Pea, snuggling with Mama Pea or disgustedly eating his candy.

We did not make candy (much to my sons' disappointment). Instead, we made a variation of Little Pea's favorite dessert:

Spinach Salad

This salad makes a great lunch or light dinner. I used our favorite salad ingredients that I happened to have on hand.


  • baby spinach
  • Craisins
  • avocado
  • carrot
  • green onions
  • hardboiled egg 
  • turkey bacon
  • almond slivers
  • parmesan cheese
  • salad dressing (use your favorite)
  • red wine vinegar (optional)
  • salt and pepper
1. Boil the egg(s) and begin cooking the bacon (I cooked mine in the microwave).

2. Wash your spinach. Add a generous amount to your salad bowl. (Eyeball it; the amount I use is based on what I know my family of four will consume.)

3. Wash the carrots and onions. I peeled the carrot and allowed my six year old to make carrot shavings with the vegetable peeler. I chopped the onions and added them to the bowl.

4. Peel and slice the avocado and add to bowl.

5. Add the almonds and Craisins.

6. Crumble the cooked bacon and add to bowl.

7. Grate cheese into the salad bowl.

8. Peel the boiled eggs and slice. Add to bowl.

9. Add salt and pepper to taste.

10. Add vinegar and salad dressing of your choice. Toss everything together before serving.

I like to think that Little Pea would approve of this enhanced version of his bowl of spinach. My family certainly enjoyed it; it made for a nice dinner on a warm spring day. 

Fans of Little Pea may want to check out Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace's other books, Little Hoot and Little Oink--both of which offer more fun twists on typical childhood dilemmas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bee-bim Bop! - Bee-bim Bop ("mixed rice")

"Hurry, Mama, hurry gotta chop chop chop! Hungry--very hungry for some BEE-BIM BOP!" - Bee-Bim Bop!, Linda Sue Park

After last week's cookie interlude I decided to focus on another complete meal for this week's recipe. This week I made bee-bim bop, as featured in Linda Sue Park's  Bee-bim Bop! (Although Bee-bim Bop! is a picture book, Linda Sue Park is best known for her novels, including the 2002 Newbery Medal winner
A Single Shard.)

Bee-bim bop--rice topped with vegetables and meat--is a Korean meal that, literally translated, means "mixed rice" or "mix mix rice." It is one of my favorite types of easy meals because it combines protein, veggies and carbs all in one dish (other meals I include in this category are stuffed baked potatoes, fried rice and Chipotle burrito bowls). It is also a very kid-friendly meal, in that there are many ways for tiny chefs to participate in its preparation.

In Park's book, the narrator--a little girl who appears to be about three or four years old--describes (in rhymed verse) the shopping for and preparation of the bee-bim bop. Her enthusiasm is evident in both the cadence of the rhyme and in Ho Baek Lee's illustrations. At the end, the entire multi-generational family sits down together to enjoy their meal. It's a book that celebrates the importance of cooking and eating together. At the end the author includes a recipe for her family's version of bee-bim bop. The especially nice thing about the included recipe is that it indicates which parts are suitable for children to help with and which parts should be prepared by adults.

Bee-bim Bop (courtesy of Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park)

  • 2 cups white rice
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce (I use San-J wheat-free tamari--it is a staple in my gluten-free kitchen)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds (optional--I had a hard time finding them so we did without)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper)
  • 1 pound of tender, lean beef
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 packages frozen spinach (defrosted) OR 1 pound fresh spinach (washed)
  • 1 pound mung bean sprouts
  • 4 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying
1. Cook the rice in a rice cooker or pot.

2. While the rice is cooking, mix the garlic and chop the green onions. Mix together in a bowl with the soy sauce, sugar, vegetable oil, sesame seeds and pepper. This is the marinade for the meat.

3. Slice the beef into very thin slices. Place in a bowl with marinade. (The exact instructions in the book read: "...stick your hands into the bowl, grab handfuls of beef, and squish it all around for 2-3 minutes. This makes it nice and tender.")

4. Break the eggs into a measuring cup and whisk together. Heat a nonstick frying pan. Pour about 1/4 of the egg into the pan and let the egg spread out into a thin layer. Cook for one minute on each side. Repeat until all the egg has been used. Cut the cooled "egg pancakes" into thin strips.

5. Wash and peel (we didn't peel, we just left the skins on) the carrots and cut into small sticks. Stir-fry over high heat until tender.

6. Stir-fry the spinach until tender, season with salt and pepper.

7. In a hot pan (I used my iron skillet) stir-fry the beef (in its marinade) until cooked through.

To serve, put bowls of all the different meal components on the table and allow each family member to serve themselves. Pile the meat and veggies on top of the rice and top with the egg. Add some of the "gravy" from the cooked meat. Finally, mix (remember, "bee-bim" means "mix") everything together. And enjoy!

[Full Disclosure: My kids did not assist with the preparation of this meal. We spent a lot of time talking about it and they were looking forward to making it but, after a day of shopping and helping my husband in the garden, they decided they wanted to play Wii instead. It was a school night and I wanted to eat before 7:00 p.m. so I didn't force the issue.]

Although they didn't help with the meal prep, the boys did enjoy this meal. We all liked it and it will probably find a way into my regular meal rotation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Penguin Story - Black and White Cookies

"'There is white ice for sliding,' says Edna. 'There is black night for seeing stars. There is blue sea for hunting fish. But there must be something else.'" - A Penguin Story, Antionette Portis 

We've been thinking and reading about penguins these past few weeks. As part of his animal unit at school, my six year old had to create an animal diorama and give a short oral presentation. He chose the penguin--which happens to be one of my both of my sons' favorite animals. So we have been enjoying a lot of books--fiction and non-fiction--about penguins.                                  

One of the best of the bunch is A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis. In this book a penguin named Edna, tired of the white, black and blue sameness of her life in Antarctica, sets off on a journey to see if there is "something else." What she finds is a simple yet empowering discovery--one that inspires her to keep exploring, to see what else might be out there. I love the simple black, white and blue (and later another color but I won't give it away) illustrations in this book as they can serve as an introduction to talking about colors--specifically, the colors found in a place like Antarctica. 

Oliver Jeffers' Lost and Found is another of our favorites. It's the story of a boy who finds a lost penguin and the journey they take to return him to his home. the penguin really lost or is it the boy who needed finding? There is a tender and melancholy quality to this story and its illustrations but it is, ultimately, a happy story of friendship found and lost and found again. Oliver Jeffers is an author to watch; my boys adore his The Incredible Book-Eating Boy.

Of course, during our study of penguins we read plenty of factual information about penguins as well. My kids actually love the non-fiction section of our library, which stocks a dozen or so penguin books. One of our favorites from our personal collection is Penguins (Scholastic First Discovery). It's part of a series notable for its use of acetate overlays that add more depth to selected illustrations. It introduces a variety of penguin species and discusses specific eating, mating and lifestyle characteristics of a few specific species. In Seven Weeks on an Iceberg by Keith R. Potter (which seems to be out of print, but we found it in our local library) we learned why the black and white feathers of the penguin are specific adaptations that help it survive in its environment.

We made these cookies in honor of our black and white friends: 

Black and White Cookies

Black and white cookies (sometimes called half moons) are most commonly found in New York. They are a cakey cookie frosted with white and black (chocolate) icing. They received their pop culture moment of fame in an episode of Seinfeld. I occasionally see them in places like Starbucks or the Nordstrom eBar but since going gluten-free I have been deprived of this occasional treat and my four year old has never had one. Until now! I modified some recipes to create a gluten-free version, though you can certainly use regular flours to make your cookies.


The Cookie:

  • 3/4 cup gluten-free all purpose baking flour
  • 3/4 cup sweet rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of baking soda
  • 1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar
  • 1.5 sticks of softened, unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
(A note on the flours: I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free all purpose baking flour and Mochiko sweet rice flour but there are many kinds of gluten-free flours you may wish to experiment with. If you don't want to make these using gluten-free flours--because let's be real, unless you or someone you'll be serving these to has a gluten sensitivity you probably aren't going out of your way to look for gluten-free flours and xanthan gum--simply use 1.5 cups of regular all purpose flour instead. If you do use regular flour you can omit the xanthan gum from the recipe. Xanthan gum is used as a binding agent in gluten-free baking since gluten-free flours lack the binding properties of gluten. It can be found in Whole Foods and many health food stores.)

1. Preheat the oven to 325* and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together your dry ingredients--the flour(s), baking soda, salt and xanthan gum. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and lemon juice and mix. With mixer on a slow speed, slowly add the dry ingredients until blended.

2. Scoop the dough onto baking sheets (I used an ice cream scoop). I was able to get a total of 12 cookies out of the recipe. Use the back of a spatula to flatten the dough. I didn't worry too much about making them perfectly round, although afterward my husband said we should have rolled them out and used a round cookie cutter. WARNING: If you are working with gluten-free flours, resist the temptation to taste the raw dough. Trust me. It will be vile and you will wonder why you are making these cookies in the first place and think that perhaps "gluten-free" is actually a synonym for "poison." Once it is cooked through it will taste fine--it's just another one of those mysteries associated with gluten-free baking (or the flours I chose to use).

3. Bake for 15 minutes.

The Icing:

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 5 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 ounces melted bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • a few drops of black food coloring (optional)

1. Wait until the cookies have cooled before you attempt to ice them. Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Add the extracts and corn syrup. Add the hot water, one tablespoon at a time, while stirring the icing with a spatula. When it is slightly runny it's ready to be used.

2. Melt the chocolate (I used the microwave). Divide half of the icing into a separate bowl. Mix in the melted chocolate and cocoa. Add a few drops of black food coloring if you want the chocolate icing to be a true black. Blend together. At this point the black icing may be too stiff to work with; I added a little more water and sugar and reheated it in the microwave until it reached the desired consistency.

3. Using a separate spatula for each icing, ice half of one side of the cookie with the white glaze. Do the same to the other side with the black icing. I iced my cookies over the sink to avoid drips on my counter. Set aside and repeat, until all cookies are iced. Let sit for a couple of hours until the icing has hardened.

The finished product:

You now have gorgeous (and tasty!) black and white cookies to enjoy while cuddled up with a good book about penguins!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato - Orange Twiglets, Green Drops, Cloud Fluff, Ocean Nibbles and Moonsquirters

"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)
  • garlic
  • parmesan cheese
  • small tomatoes (I chose heirloom tomatoes because my kids get a kick out of the funky shapes and colors)
  • milk
  • 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.

Moonsquirters (tomatoes):

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.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Green Eggs and Ham - Green Eggs Benedict

"Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am! And I would eat them in a boat. And I would eat them with a goat... And I will eat them in the rain. And in the dark. And on a train." - Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss                                                                                                                        
 I was trying to avoid the cliche of it all but really, it's kind of hard to have a blog about children's books and food without paying homage to the classic that marries the two: Green Eggs and Ham. Especially on this week, Read Across America week, which celebrates the birth and contributions of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.

Green Eggs and Ham tells the story of a rather stuffy, set in his ways character who steadfastly refuses to try the green eggs and ham offered by the infamous Sam-I-am. The real delight, for kids, is in the increasingly crazy places Sam-I-am attempts to serve the meal. My kids like the train. Finally, as the book comes to an end, our picky eater cautiously tries the green eggs and ham only to discover--yes!--he does like green eggs and ham.

This book, along with other Seuss favorites like The Cat in the Hat, has become a classic book for beginning readers. So important are Seuss' contributions to children's literature and early literacy that Read Across America Week--a National Education Association program designed to encourage reading and literacy awareness--is celebrated annually on the week of his birthday (March 2). Schools, libraries and communities often prepare special lessons and programs in conjunction with this week. For instance, last year my older son's kindergarten class read Dr. Suess books in class and learned about his artistic style. Last year, because my son had become so interested in Dr. Seuss' books, I made my kids breakfast sandwiches with green eggs to celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday. This year we twisted the classic green eggs and ham and made...

Green Eggs Benedict (Serves 4)


  • 6 eggs (this served 2 adults and 2 children)
  • fresh baby spinach
  • hollandaise sauce (I used a Martha Stewart recipe; pre-Celiac disease diagnosis we used the pictured Knorr mix--found in most grocery stores.)
  • English muffins
  • Canadian bacon (Yes, I know it is green eggs and ham. I figure if pizza joints can substitute ham for Canadian bacon I can take liberties here and use Canadian bacon in place of ham.)
  • green food coloring 
1. While heating the water (which I colored green with liquid food coloring) to poach the eggs I browned the Canadian bacon in my iron skillet and prepared the hollandaise sauce. I also started toasting the English muffins and bread (two members of our household are gluten intolerant; we used gluten-free bread in place of English muffins).

2. We poached the eggs, two at a time, in the hot water. The green dye gave the eggs a green hue. At the same time, I used my stick blender to mix green dye into the hollandaise sauce.

3. As the English muffins came out of the toaster and the eggs finished poaching I assembled the Eggs Benedict. I put a piece of Canadian bacon on top of a halved muffin and topped that with some spinach leaves. Traditional Eggs Benedict does not include spinach (that would be Eggs Florentine) but I liked the idea of greening it up nutritionally. Plus, the green just worked with the theme. I set a poached egg atop the spinach and topped everything off with  the green hollandaise. (The heat from the egg and sauce wilts the spinach so I did not pre-cook it.) I think the finished product turned out rather well:

My kids (ages 6 and 4) loved this meal. The green theme worked. They even ate the spinach without complaint. Following our meal we continued our Seussian theme with a round of the Cat in the Hat I Can Do That! game.

Reading is a daily occurrence in our household, but we plan to continue to celebrate Read Across America Week by pulling out our Dr. Seuss books and reading them together. My six year old suggested making a cake for Dr. Seuss--and while we'll stop short of eating it in the bathtub (see: The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (Beginner Books(R)), I'm sure the Cat would approve.

For further reading, I recommend Your Favorite Seuss: A Baker's Dozen by the One and Only Dr. Seuss. We recently checked this out from our local library and my kids enjoyed all of the selections (Happy Birthday to You! in particular). I enjoyed the short biographical sketches that gave an overview of Theodore Geisel's background and philosophy. He really was quite subversive and ahead of his time.