Monday, April 26, 2010

Tallulah in the Kitchen - Amazing Blueberryalicious Pancakes

"Tallulah's specialty is pancakes and she's always experimenting with new recipe varieties. Just last week she invented the chocolate chip flip with mini marshmallows and sliced bananas." - Tallulah in the Kitchen, Nancy Wolff

Part picture book, part instruction manual, Nancy Wolff's Tallulah in the Kitchen is one of the first books I recall reading over and over to my six year old. He was a newly minted two year old who had recently stopped napping and I was very pregnant. In my desperate attempt to enforce some type of quiet time during the day we read. A lot. Tallulah in the Kitchen was one of the books procured from our local library and during the three weeks it was in our possession it was one of our favorites.

We recently revisted this book because I remembered how much we enjoyed it the first time around. My six year old didn't remember it at all but I was happy to see that he loved it just as much, perhaps even more because he now has a better understanding of the humor. My four year old loved it too.

Tallulah is an aspiring chef whose specialty is pancakes. She enjoys creating new and unusual recipes (some are flops, like the one filled with coconut and jelly beans) and trying international pancakes (like crepes). Today, though, she is making blueberry pancakes and recruiting her friends Freddie and Roxy (and her dog, Flapjack) to help. We see Tallulah shopping for ingredients and organizing her supplies, then doing everything from mixing the batter to flipping the pancakes. Frequent asides give mini cooking and safety tips ("oven mitts are a must when handling hot pots and pans") but feel organic to the story. It's a story but it's also a clever way of introducing young readers to the basics of preparing a meal from start to finish. In the end, Tallulah and her friends enjoy their pancakes--as pancakes should be enjoyed--together.

Beyond the appealing storyline (who doesn't love pancakes?), the illustrations perfectly complement Tallulah's quirky personality and the story's overall tone. Wolff uses a variety of techiniques (bright saturated colors, collage, newsprint, different fonts) to create unique and eye catching illustrations. I'm sure the busy illustrations and animal characters (Tallulah is a cat, Freddie a crocodile and Roxy a pig) are what initially caught my son's attention. This is a sweet and humorous book that shows just how much fun cooking can be, especially when you're cooking with friends.

It has become something of a tradition for me to make pancakes for dinner when my husband is out of town. I am of the opinion that breakfast is good at any time of the day. My boys agree. So last Friday evening, after reading Tallulah in the Kitchen, we made:

Tallulah's Amazing Blueberryalicious Pancakes


(Full disclosure: This is not the recipe included in the book. That recipe is a traditional pancake recipe that calls for flour. We followed the recipe on the back of our gluten-free baking mix. Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix, by the way, is amazing.)

1. Whisk water, oil and egg together.
2. Add liquids to the dry mix and stir together. 
3. When batter is thoroughly mixed, add blueberries. I didn't measure. I let each of the kids  pour from the bag until it looked about right. Gently fold blueberries into the mix. 

4. Pour batter into pan or griddle. When the pancakes begin to bubble, flip them and let cook on the opposite side. In my experience the second side cooks much quicker.

Beautiful pancakes!

Can't get enough pancakes? Some of our other favorite books about pancakes are Eric Carle's Pancakes, Pancakes! and Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Pig a Pancake.

While researching information about Nancy Wolff I discovered that in 2008 she partnered with sleepwear designer Karen Neuburger (I love her fuzzy sleep socks!) to create a line of children's pajamas featuring Tallulah and her friends. Proceeds from their sale benefit First Book, a non-profit that provides new books to low income families and encourages families to read together.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cookbook Review - Williams-Sonoma The Kid's Cookbook

Wiliams-Sonoma The Kid's Cookbook: A great book for kids who love to cook (Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles)

Our family owns many cookbooks, including a few that feature kid-friendly recipes, but Williams-Sonoma's The Kid's Cookbook (recipes and text by Abigail J. Dodge) was the first we owned that features recipes actually designed to be prepared by children. It was a gift from my parents a few Christmases ago and although it is recommended for ages nine and up, my six year old has already prepared several recipes from this book with little to no help.

The book itself is an attractive hardcover with spiral binding, which is always appreciated in a cookbook. The bright colors appeal to young kids and draw them in.The first section contains an introduction with short descriptions of kitchen basics like grating cheese, cracking eggs and cutting fruits and vegetables. It also discusses measurements (a conversion chart is included) and baking basics. The recipes are divided into four sections: breakfast and lunch, snacks, main courses and side dishes, and desserts. "Super easy" recipes (all of the recipes in this book are easy) are marked with an asterisk. Each recipe includes a full-page, full-color photograph of the finished product.

Recipes in this collection range from the aforementioned "super easy" with few ingredients and instructions (corn off the cob, old-fashioned pink lemonade) to a few that all but the most competent young chefs will need assistance with (all-American apple pie, super shrimp stir-fry). There's a good variety of stuff in here, "kid-friendly" being the theme that ties everything together. So you end up with a recipe for chocolate dipped treats right before the recipe for cheese and spice tortilla chips.The main courses include a couple of vegetarian selections and recipes for chicken, shrimp, pork and turkey. Salads, fruits and vegetables are all well-represented. My only criticism is that main courses and side dishes are included in the same chapter, which makes it a little difficult if you're quickly flipping through the section in search of one or the other.

My six year old has made the egg salad sandwiches and the creamy tomato soup with little parental intervention. The instructions include frequent asides like, "Put the lid securely on the blender. Make sure it's on tight! Hold down the lid with your hand..." These things may be second nature to seasoned cooks, but they're important reminders to inexperienced chefs, who may be too overwhelmed by everything else that is going on to remember to put the lid on the blender.

All of the recipes in this book are easy, but they're also surprisingly tasty. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, as it does bear the Williams-Sonoma name. The non-Celiacs in our house were especially impressed by the pizza dough. The creamy tomato soup, which is made with chicken broth and diced tomatoes, is also a winner. The oven-baked carrot fries have become a favorite side dish (I'm making them tonight, in fact) and the recipe for turkey burgers has become my go-to burger and meatloaf recipe.

Many of the recipes in the book are naturally gluten-free; others are not and can be modified to be gluten-free (use corn or rice flour tortillas for the veggie wraps, use rice noodles in the "oodles of noodles" soup). Other recipes, like the one for pancakes, are of little use to gluten-free families. Despite this, it is one of my favorite cookbooks and my kids frequently request recipes from this book when I pull out my cookbooks and recipe box and sit down to make my weekly meal plan. Of course, they also know that when they choose something from this book that they will be involved in its preparation.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Day-Glo Brothers - Neon Painted Cake

"After the war Bob and Joe's colors made them rich. Day-Glo began to brighten everyday life back home. The colors made their way onto gas station signs and detergent boxes, traffic cones and magazine covers--including Joe's old favorite, Popular Science." - The Day-Glo Brothers, Chris Barton

The Day-Glo Brothers

I owe a debt of gratitude to authors like Chris Barton, who write cool non-fiction picture books. It makes my job as mom to two curious boys that much easier when I can answer their questions by picking a book off a shelf. Oh, I have my specialties, but when my boys' lines of questioning turn to how things work I turn to a book.

I knew Chris Barton's The Day-Glo Brothers, with its true story of how brothers Bob and Joe Switzer invented Day-Glo colors, would appeal to my boys' inquisitive natures. My kids frequently scour our libraries' shelves for books about outer space, bridges and automobiles (a current favorite is Car Science)--so I knew The Day-Glo Brothers wouldn't be a hard sell. And as soon as they saw Tony Persiani's cool, Day-Glo infused illustrations they were hooked.

Author Barton drew on primary sources to write this biography of how two brothers invented something that most of us take for granted. It's strange for me, a child of the 80s and 90s, to think that there was a time when Day-Glo colors didn't exist. However, until the Switzer brothers began experimenting with fluorescence to enhance Joe's magic acts, nobody had ever developed glow-in-the dark paints--never mind paint that glowed in the daylight. Tony Persiani's illustrations literally (and gradually) light up the pages so readers know exactly what is meant by the term Day-Glo.

We read this book at the perfect time, just before a trip to Disneyland, so the boys were able to put their newfound knowledge of fluorescence and Day-Glo to use and point out rides and attractions that used fluorescent paint. (Like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, below. Not the greatest picture because we were in motion but you can see how fluorescent paint is used to great effect.)

Here is another of my favorite examples of Day-Glo in popular culture--the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper costumes:

I started thinking about ways we could continue to explore fluorescence and Day-Glo by bringing it into the kitchen.

Turns out there aren't a whole lot of options because Day-Glo paint isn't exactly food safe. There are some spices that seem to emit a natural fluorescence (turmeric). And I was able to find some neon food coloring. The question was, what can we do with this? I considered and rejected the idea of making neon star cookies. The Switzer brothers created Day-Glo paint. Why not paint something?

Which is how we ended up decorating a couple of cakes by painting on neon cream cheese frosting.

Neon Painted Cake


  • Cake (I used a boxed Betty Crocker gluten-free devil's food cake mix and a Whole Foods gluten-free cake mix. You can use whatever. Homemade. Funfetti. You don't even have to bother with cake--basically you're creating a canvas for your painting, so you feel free to skip this step and use pre-made mini canvases: rice cakes or graham crackers.)
  • White frosting (Preferably buttercream, either homemade or from a can. Something white, that will harden. You don't want to paint on a gummy, slippery surface. More on this later. )
  • Betty Crocker Neon Food Color Gel (I found this at my local Safeway.)
  • Turmeric
  • Whipped cream cheese
  • Food-safe paint brushes (I found some in the cake decorating section of Michael's and also picked up a pack of kids' paint brushes.)

1. Bake cakes according to package directions. I wanted round cakes and I needed two, one for each kid. One thing to remember, when working with gluten-free cake mixes, is that one box yields only one round layer. A regular boxed cake mix should yield two round layers.

2. Let cakes cool completely before frosting. I initially bought the Cherrybrook Kitchen vanilla frosting shown in the picture. I ended up not using it because, while it tasted great, it was more of a glaze and never completely dried. I had to scrape it off and start over with homemade buttercream. You need a dry, hard surface if you want to "paint" on it. For this reason, I also don't recommend using Cool Whip or whipped cream as frosting. 

3. Let the frosted cake(s) "set" overnight. The frosting needs to be dry before you attempt to paint on it.

4. When you're ready to decorate your cakes, mix your paints. My friend Ashley, who makes gorgeous cakes, suggested I use cream cheese as my paint. I scooped small amounts of cream cheese into a divided tray and added a squirt of the Betty Crocker gel coloring to each. The Betty Crocker neon gel comes in four colors: pink, orange, green and purple. I used the end of a paintbrush to blend the gel with the cream cheese. I also decided to make yellow by combining turmeric and cream cheese. If you do this, remember that turmeric does have a taste. A taste that perhaps does not belong on a cake. It's your call.

5. Paint your cake!

My four year old created an abstract painting:

My six year old painted a car in a garage at sunset:

If you have an ultraviolet light (ours happens to be a Crayola Glow Station pen), shine it on the cakes in a darkened room and see what happens:

The turmeric ended up giving off the most fluorescence but the pink (and to some extent, orange) ended up looking nice as well. It goes without saying that the boys enjoyed eating their creations as much as they enjoyed painting them.

For a good explanation of how regular and daylight (Day-Glo) fluorescence work, check out the cool animated video at Charlesbridge Publishing, publisher of The Day-Glo Brothers.

DayGlo Color Corp., the company founded by the Switzer brothers, has a website and an online store that may be of interest to those who are interested in products manufactured by the company. (My personal favorite Day-Glo color is Rocket Red.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Little House in the Big Woods - Johnny-cake

"Laura always wondered why bread made of corn-meal was called johnny-cake. It wasn't cake."  - Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Shortly after beginning to read chapter books independently, my mother suggested I read the first of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, Little House in the Big Woods. It was the summer I turned seven and I tore through the series (with breaks in between some of the books to read various books in the Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume canons) with fervor until I finished the last book during Christmas vacation six months later. I have particularly fond memories of reading The Long Winter during an overnight stay at my grandfather's house. I always, always knew that I would read these books with my kids. One of my first thoughts upon learning my first child would be a boy--I am not kidding--was that there went my dreams of being able to bond over the Little House books. Then I heard--from teachers and other parents--that their boys loved these books. And my visions of reading them with my children were restored.

My boys and I began reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series last summer, when I thought they were both old enough to appreciate Little House in the Big Woods as a read aloud. They didn't just love it; they clamored for more. Good thing Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote eight more books in the series. (Though I tend to dismiss the last book, The First Four Years, on the grounds that it is disturbing and has a different tone from the rest of the series. A fact I picked up on even at the age of seven, though a recent New Yorker article shed some additional light onto this topic.)

We are now in the middle of On the Banks of Plum Creek, my favorite of the Little House books. To me, this book has more action and character development than Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie (the first two titles we read), which are heavy on the long descriptive passages. It is in this book that the individual personalities of Laura and her sister Mary become more defined--Mary as the gentle, obedient daughter and Laura as the spitfire tomboy (my older son always gets upset when Laura does something wrong and gets scolded by Pa)--and we see them in the world around them instead of just at home. Who can forget that house in the ground, or mean Nellie Oleson and her town party, or the locusts, or--most disturbing to my seven-year old mind--Laura losing her beloved rag doll, Charlotte? Oh, there is action and plenty to love in the earlier books: the image of Laura and Mary playing with a pig's bladder balloon in Little House in the Big Woods is forever burned into my brain because it just seemed so weird to me the first time I read it. And my boys don't tire of hearing about Pa and his hunting escapades, or the way they built their homes, or the various animals the the Ingalls family kept as pets and working farm animals.

Food figures prominently in Wilder's descriptions of the (often harsh) pioneer life. So much so, in fact, that Barbara M. Walker collected many of the foods mentioned throughout the course of the series in The Little House Cookbook. It is in this book that we found the recipe for johnny-cake, a bread that was a staple in Laura's childhood home. Walker describes it as, "a crusty slab of cooked cornmeal that was mostly a vehicle for syrup or gravy." The name "johnny-cake" comes from New England pronunciation of "journey cake"--a staple of colonial travelers.

Johnny-cake (adapted from The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker)


  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons "drippings" (more on this later)
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • bacon (optional--we used this to generate drippings)
  • honey or maple syrup (optional, for dipping once served)
1. Preheat oven to 400*.

2. Mix the cornmeal, salt and baking soda in a medium to large mixing bowl.

3. (Optional) Make drippings. Walker has a whole section devoted to drippings in her book. Drippings are the reserved fat from cooked bacon or salt pork. They were used for frying or in place of butter. We made our own drippings by cooking (several) strips of bacon in the iron skillet. (My husband manned the skillet while the boys and I prepped the dry ingredients, making it a true family affair.) If you don't eat pork for religious or health reasons, I imagine you would be able to use melted butter or shortening in place of the pork drippings. I wouldn't recommend substituting turkey bacon for pork bacon in this recipe; we normally buy turkey bacon but the low fat content makes it difficult to generate the amount of drippings needed for this recipe.

4. Pour drippings into the center of the dry ingredients.

5. Stir molasses into the boiling water and pour over the drippings. Stir until mixture becomes pasty.

6. Stir in buttermilk and mix well.

7. Pour the batter into baking pan and bake. Here is where my method diverged quite a bit from Walker's instructions. Rather than a baking pan, I poured the batter into the iron skillet and cooked it in that. The book says to bake for 20 -30 minutes, until the dough surface is cracked and the edges turn brown. We found that 20 minutes was the perfect amount of time.

Walker recommends serving the johnny-cake with honey, molasses, baked beans or boiled cabbage and meat. I suppose that would have made for a more authentic meal but instead I made chili. (We added the crisp, crumbled bacon we used to make the drippings.) It was perfect for a cold, overcast spring evening. We of course followed this up with a chapter in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

As for the johnny-cake--it tasted like a bland, dry corn bread. We didn't serve it with syrup, honey or molasses since we dipped it in the chili but if eating it as a snack or with breakfast the extras would have helped to sweeten it.

In addition to the original Little House series and the cookbook, there are a number of spinoff books.   Summertime in the Big Woods is part of the My First Little House series of illustrated picture books--perfect for young children who are not yet ready for the longer originals. I tend to ignore most of the "new" Little House books but this series came highly recommended by friends.

And for grown Little House fans, this New Yorker article is a must-read. Among other things, it discusses how Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, collaborated to write the Little House books. I'll never read them in the same way again.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Snacks - When There Just Isn't Time to Cook

It's Spring Break so I've traded in my oven mitts for my Disneyland shoes. Instead of a new recipe this week I'm posting some favorite books with some themed snacks. Because sometimes there's just not enough time to cook. (But there's almost always time for a book.)

Pair Kelly Bennet's sweet Not Norman: A Goldfish Story with a bowl of goldfish crackers. (NOTE: Pepperidge Farms Goldfish are not gluten-free and I've yet to find a similar gluten-free product. Much to my dismay.) We love this endearing story about a boy who is not quite thrilled with his first pet.

Not Norman: A Goldfish StoryPepperidge Farm Cheddar Flavor Goldfish Crackers, 1-Ounce Single Serve Package (Pack of 60)

Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle Bunny Too go great with Annie's Bunny Grahams. And they do make a gluten-free version (pictured below--they're the ones in the blue box)! These books hold a special place in our hearts because, well, because we love everything by Mo Willems but mostly because they hit a little too close to home: my four year old's favorite possession is the blue stuffed bunny he received for his first Easter. And we've survived a few Knuffle Bunny-ish scenarios of our own.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Bccb Blue Ribbon Picture Book Awards (Awards))Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity  

Have an apple and read Shel Silverstein's classic, The Giving Tree. If you have time follow this up with some of Silverstein's poetry from Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. My kids--especially my six year old--are very interested in poetry right now.

The Giving Tree  

As far as I'm concerned, most of Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond's "If You Give a Mouse..." books are just right for book snacks. But I am partial to the original If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and the newest book in the series, If You Give a Cat a Cupcake. (Fun fact: the copy of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie that I read to my children is my copy from my own childhood and signed by the author.) One might think that my older son, at six, is almost too old to enjoy these books but he enjoys reading them to his brother. 

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (If You Give...)If You Give a Cat a Cupcake (If You Give... Books) 

Normally I'm pretty wary of giving my kids snacks that have hues not found in nature but we all love Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers (sour gummi worms). What better book to pair them with than Chris Barton's excellent The Day-Glo BrothersGet this book--the true story of how two brothers invented Day-Glo colors--for any kid who is interested in science or the way things work.

The Day-Glo BrothersTrolli Sour Brite Crawlers, 5-Ounce Packages (Pack of 12)

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith begs to be served with string cheese. It's up to you whether you serve the traditional mozzarella variety or something...stinkier.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

And one final book snack, just because we're in Disneyland. People may debate the literary merit of books featuring licensed characters, but I happen to think the Little Golden Books based on the Disney/Pixar films have absolutely stunning artwork. They are illustrated in a cool, retro style--many of them by Pixar artists. Here's the Finding Nemo title (though I prefer the Wall-E and Toy Story ones). And here's a Nemo marshmallow pop that can be found in many Disneyland (and, I would assume, Walt Disney World) candy shops. These are among my kids' favorite Disneyland treats.

Disney Pixar Finding Nemo Little Golden Book
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