Rafting Vacation – Amazing and Efficient Cooking

September 3rd, 2015

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My family was lucky enough to take a trip to Oregon this summer.  It was a blast.  There were 3 generations of my family on a 3 day white water rafting and camping trip on the Deschutes River.  My kids and my parents had been planning and preparing for weeks and months before.  We were all so looking forward and we were not disappointed.  Of course we all knew the rafting and rapids would be fun.  But none of us really thought much about the camping and land portion of the trip.  We knew we were going to have fantastic guides at (we’d been on a one day trip before) but we did not know the lengths they would go to keep us happy, safe and well fed.

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Which brings me to the food.  I sometimes complain to myself that I don’t have access to a piece of kitchen equipment or there is a missing pan.  I won’t again.  The guides on the rafting trip set up amazingly efficient “kitchens” that created wonderful meals.  Also I must remind you we are not an easy group to cook for, given our dietary and health restrictions – everything from my 9 year old being a vegetarian to my sister being vegan to my step dad needing to avoid too much salt and sugar.  Of course there’s lactose intolerance and beef issues sprinkled in the crowd too.

The food was amazing.  Plus they did it all breakfast, lunch and dinner for 3 days.  We offered assistance but they turned down our offer and told us to relax (the wine helped too).  I was thinking typical camping/outdoor fare such as hot dogs and veggie burgers but this wasn’t the case at all.  I was so tired, hungry and wet that I didn’t get a photo of the appetizers of marinated olives, hummus and veggies, that greeted us at the camp when we docked.  Here are photos of the first night’s dinner –  grilled local salmon, spinach salad, ratattouille and quinoa.  Followed by dessert of chocolate fondue.

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I’m sorry my camera batteries went dead after the first night.  So many beautiful scenes of Orgeon and family.  I could’ve taken more photos of the lovely breakfast offerings of blueberry pancakes, yogurt and fruit and bacon.  Or the lunch of camp made falafel wrapped with veggies in flatbread with homemade yogurt dressing.

What I really learned was how efficient you could be with proper prep and shopping and just the essentials.  If I didn’t know this from cooking demos in other people’s kitchens, and meeting people living in SRO’s (single resident occupants) without kitchens, I know it now.  There was no running water, except the river.  There was no conventional stove (a butane burner and grill did the trick).  There was no refrigerator.  And let’s not forget, all the equipment and food was all packed on a raft that had to go down class 2, 3 and 4 rapids.  And did I mention the crazy wind one night and keeping the food bee free?

Besides being great cooks, the guides were also great diners and slipped quite easily into our family conversations.  We were sad to say goodbye.  My kids both said it was the greatest thing they’ve ever done.  In fact they both wrote on their first back to school assignments, that wanted to become rafting guides.  It was truly an inspirational trip.  Looks like they’ll be lots more rafting, (and cooking) in our family’s future.

Thank you Nan and Poppa!

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Boston Cream Pie Birthday

August 24th, 2015

 

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This year my son was turning 12 and his request for a dessert was a Boston Cream Pie.  I thought it was kind of out there and not sure he had tasted one before but his sister and I were ready to oblige.  Of course since his b-day is in the summer it’s always a very busy day and when you factor in all the other things such as camp drop shuttling and family in town there never seems to be enough time for a scratch b-day cake… especially a Boston Cream Pie.  Also I’m not sure why it’s called a pie.  It is clearly a cake.

 

Thankfully I found a recipe that makes the cake with a few shortcuts.  I would usually avoid a birthday cake mix at all costs, however I found an organic, all natural mix by Immaculate Baking Company (no chemicals, additives, GMO’s) at Whole Foods.  That wasn’t my only shortcut however.  No time to do the scratch cream this recipe calls for vanilla pudding.  Believe it or not my son hasn’t had vanilla pudding.  Funny, but pudding just doesn’t seem to come up the way it did in the 70’s in my childhood.  It also means since he’s not a big Boston Cream Pie connoisseur, the pudding would certainly suffice and be yummy and new to him.

My daughter and I had a great time making and assembling the layers.  We did use high quality dark chocolate for the frosting.  No need to short cut there.  And I must say it was pretty impressive looking, and very tasty.

Funny thing was my son didn’t recognize it as what he had asked for.  When he saw it he said “Wow, that looks great.  What kind of cake is that?”  Huh?  Apparently after some discussion what he was really wanting was a chocolate cream pie, as in a true pie with a crust and chocolate meringue.  Of well.  Now he has another new favorite dessert to add to his repertoire and now we’ll have to make a chocolate cream pie so he realizes the difference.

Here’s the Recipe I found and made from Taste of Home.com

Boston Cream Pie

TOTAL TIME: Prep: 10 min. + cooling Bake: 30 min.
MAKES: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 package yellow cake mix (regular size)
  • 1-1/2 cups cold milk
  • 1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons hot water

Directions

  1. Prepare cake mix batter according to package directions. Pour into two greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans.
  2. Bake at 350° for 28-33 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing cake from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk milk and pudding mix for 2 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes or until soft-set. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. In a microwave, melt chocolate and butter; stir until smooth. Stir in confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough water to achieve a thick glaze; set aside.
  5. Place one cake layer on a serving plate; spread with pudding. Top with the second cake layer. Spoon chocolate glaze over the top, allowing it to drip down sides of cake. Refrigerate until serving.  

 

 

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Amazing Race Party and Food Challenges

July 24th, 2015

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My family loves watching the Amazing Race.  The kids love to see all the crazy antics and challenges.  I love seeing all the settings and cultures from around the world.  And we all route for our favorite teams.  It’s kind of a life lesson in geography and anthropology all wrapped into one.  Showing the kids how people stick together and cooperate as well as how poor sportsmanship can bring down the team.

This year my daughter wanted an Amazing Race birthday party.  Since she wanted to participate I came up with the challenge and clues for her and her friends.  This was actually pretty fun and creative.  There was a dress up race around the park, a backyard obstacle course, a geography word scramble, just to name a few.  Of course I had to have some foodie challenges as well.
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We actually begun at a favorite local juice shop, Juice Girl where the girls had to drink a juice and smoothie and determine all the ingredients before getting their next clue.  There was a travel to China challenge where the girls used their chopsticks skills.  Finally I put them to work with a race to make lemonade (the old fashioned way – nothing electric), as well as cupcake decorating (using candy they collected at a yogurt shop contest).  This was good idea as not only were they making things quickly but they would also be careful and make them tasty as they would be drinking the lemonade with their lunch, and eating the cupcakes after.

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My daughter and her friends had a great time.  With all the challenges we kept 8, 9 year olds busy forabout 2.5 hours both at home and around town.  The challenges took some organizing (making simple syrup, gathering chopsticks) but really made use of things we already had at home (dress up clothes, obstacle items) and didn’t require buying much (bag of lemons, juices, smoothies).  We decided we’re going to do smaller get togethers and challenges more regularly, while we’re waiting for the show to start again.

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Think Outside the Oven – Microwave and Toaster Cookies

May 20th, 2015

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So my oven went out for about a week.  At first this was no big deal, I can certainly cook on the stove.  The oven wouldn’t be repaired for a few days and I made soups, chili, quesadillas, crepes, etc.  My family was eating no problem and didn’t give the oven a thought until I was to make sweets for the school garden fair.

 

I forgot about the oven and even thawed out my homemade cookie dough I had (always have) to make some quick and easy chocolate chip cookies to go with some brownies I was also going to bake and bring to the fair.  Then I went to turn on the oven and remembered.

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I didn’t want to waste my homemade dough and decided to experiment with other ways to cook it.  First I lined my toaster oven with parchment and tried to bake.  It worked!  I set the toaster on bake and it took longer than the oven, maybe 15 minutes.  But the pan is so small, the cookies were small and I couldn’t make too many at a time.  They did kind of spread together, but hey, they cooked well and were tasty!  Since they didn’t look as nice and round as usual I decided they wouldn’t be going to the fair.  However I was pleased I wouldn’t be wasting the dough.  Since I was now making these to eat for my family I wanted to try another cooking method…Yes, the microwave.  I try to control myself from experimenting with the microwave too much. Remember my post to popcorn where I started a fire while trying to pop corn in a bag?

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I looked online and others had tried baking cookies in a microwave too. I experimented with a plate vs a ramekin.  Ramekin was better.  I tried different cooking times so the cookie would be cooked through vs just hot dough.  What I came up with was pretty good.

The cookie became more like a cake.  I dropped a heaping tablespoon full of dough into a ramekin and cooked on high for 35 seconds.

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I let it sit to cool a bit and it became less doughy and more cake like.  I was really excited to show my kids and loved how we could have individual servings of fresh hot cookie cakes so quickly and easily.  We even ate the warm cookie cake with ice cream on top.  Yum!

 

As for what I made for the garden fair…I went to the store and bought Rice Krispies and marshmallows for a few batches of Rice Krispies Treats.  I followed the stove top recipe on the box and added 3/4 cups of white chocolate so it was a little “out of the box” and we took them to the fair.  Although my stove is fixed we still make the cookie cakes on occasion.  Another excuse always to have homemade cookie dough on hand.

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Easter Evolution and the Pollan Family Salad

April 2nd, 2015

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One of my favorite Easter activities is egg dying.  So that will certainly happen.  And although I like to do the natural dyes (see past blog for recipes and photo on right), we’ll likely do some not so natural too (photo on left).  This is an area as my kids get older that they like to experience both the organic, healthy way and the colorful less eco friendly way as well.  I figure the majority of our days we practice an eco friendly lifestyle of eating mostly healthy organic foods, reducing our meat intake, limiting processed foods and recycling, but sometimes the holidays have to have some leeway.  The chemical dyes are one way I’m giving in.

 

My other give in is a Cadbury egg (my teeth ache just thinking about it).  My son is 11 and has never had one and is curious (ok, begging) to try one.  So in his Easter basket of rabbit glasses, a book, recycle “grass” and sugar free jelly beans will also be his surprise egg.  My daughter’s basket will also include real eggs from the chicken’s down the street.  Since she’s discovered the egg box in our neighborhood that shares eggs from adopted chickens, she’s enamored (and only wants to eat those – not store bought).

 

I’m not hosting Easter this year but were going to spend the afternoon with family.  There will be a festive egg hunt, followed by early supper.  It’s all ages (from 1 – 70+) so there’s lots of land mines when planning dinner.  I’ve been asked to bring a salad.  At first I was thinking it should be “special” and “holiday worthy” but then I came across this lovely and simple one from Michael Pollan, which is sure to please all diets and tastes (I’ll likely serve my cheese and nuts on the side).  I figure if it’s good enough for his family, it’s good for mine too.  (Although I still may add some edible flowers).

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Pollan Signature Salad
6 servings

We serve this salad at all our large family gatherings. Light, crisp, both vinegary and sweet, our signature salad is a delicious addition to any meal.

For the dressing:
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar, champagne vinegar, or sherry vinegar
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

5 to 7 ounces mesclun or mixed baby greens
½ cup chopped, toasted walnuts
½ Bosc pear (cut lengthwise), cored, and thinly sliced
1/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

For the dressing: In a glass jar with a lid or in a small mixing bowl, combine the vinegars, mustard, grapeseed oil, olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Shake the jar vigorously or whisk in the bowl to emulsify.

For the salad: Place the mesclun in a large salad bowl. Pour on half the dressing and toss the greens to coat. Add the walnuts, pear, and more dressing to taste (taking care not to overdress) and toss again. Top with the Parmesan cheese shavings and serve.

Food for thought: Walnuts are the healthiest tree nuts around—they have close to twice as much antioxidants as other nuts! What’s more, they are an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which is great news for people who don’t eat heart-healthy fish.

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Happy St. Patricks’ Day – Corned Beef, Cabbage and Soda Bread

March 17th, 2015

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My family got a jump on St. Patrick’s Day this year and I made our Irish feast on Sunday.  With all the kids’ activities I wasn’t sure I could do the holiday justice on a Tuesday night.  Last year I didn’t make corned beef because my son and I are the only ones that eat it.  I wasn’t going to miss it again this year, so I bought corned beef by the pound at Whole Foods rather than having to buy a whole pre-packaged brisket.  1, 1/4 pounds was perfect for our St. Pat’s meal plus another night of left-overs.  I also bought for the non-beef eater and vegetarian, aka my husband and daughter a small Field Roast grain loaf.  It actually paired quite well with my cabbage with apples (see below) and roasted potatoes and carrots.

 

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My daughter had also asked about Soda Bread after hearing about it on a radio commercial, so we made that as well.  I found a different recipe other than my own that called for buttermilk and all purpose flour.  This one also had raisins but my kids said “no” to those.  It came out good.  Big and dense, but not as dense as my wheat version.  The left-overs are really yummy dipped in soup too.  Here’s the recipe from SimplyRecipes.com.  It was pretty quick and easy.

 

the real corned beef

the real corned beef

 

I don’t like corned beef that’s falling apart and grey.  And I don’t have hours to cook it all day.  If you’re getting good corned beef from the butcher you should cook it so it actually has some flavor.  Here’s what I do… (note this is for a ledger piece of meet my

Corned Beef

1 1/4 pound piece only cooked about 45 minutes)

4 lb. corned beef brisket (brined from the butcher)

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons dijon mustard

Mix the mustard and honey together.  Use it to coat the meat.  Go right over the black peppercorns and other seasonings on the meat (of if you have a spice packet, mix with mustard).

Place meat on rack over roasting pan with 1/2 cup water in bottom of pan.

Roast approximately 2 hours or until thermometer reads 150F.

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with Cabbage and Apples

I usually do this with purple cabbage because I think it has more flavor but this year my daughter wanted green.  It was still good.

1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, sliced

1 head cabbage, sliced and shredded

2 apples, peeled and sliced

1/3 cup vegetable broth

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté about 5 minutes.  Add cabbage and apples, stirring to combine.  Add broth.  Once cabbage and apples are cooked and wilted, about 7 – 10 minutes add in vinegar and salt and pepper.

 

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Making Whoopie…Pies

February 6th, 2015

My kids love to puruse lovely food photos in cookbooks and tell me which things they’d like to make.  While my husband and son were making plans to watch the superbowl, my daughter was checking out a baking activity for us ladies.  In the Whoopie Pie cookbook by Love Food (UK) she spied after dinner mint whoopee pies, and that was it. She even checked the cupboard and saw we had the ingredients.  Except one which she couldn’t reach.  So while we were baking the cookies and getting ready to make the frosting I realized we were out of mint extract.  Oops!  Hmmmm.  Here’s where it’s good to have a stocked pantry and the ability to make substitutions and create your own flavors.  Although my daughter was hoping for lemon extract.  I’m not a fan of lemon and chocolate.  Orange, yes.  Lemon, no.  Next she suggested coffee.  I was surprised by her choice, but chocolate and coffee is a perfect flavor pairing.

 

So we made After Game Mocha Whoopie Pies.  My kids not having too many whoopee pies in their lifetime were surprised by how soft the “cookies” were.  I had to explain this is more like cake and the cookies aren’t hard like an ice cream sandwich.  They understood better after seeing them assembled.  And yes, they scored a touchdown with the whole family.  These would be great for Valentine’s Day.  You could even shape the cakes into hearts.

Mocha Whoopie Pies

(this makes about 30 pies)

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

scant 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

large pinch of salt

6 tablespoons butter, softened

generous 1/3 cup vegetable shortening

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg, beaten

2/3 cup milk

 

Coffee Filling

1 1/4 cup cream cheese

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 1/2 teaspoon coffee extract

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugarm sifted plus extra for dusting

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa and salt.

Place butter, shortening and sugar in a large bowl and beat with electric mixer until fluffy.  Beat in egg followed by half the flour mixture and the milk.  Stir in the rest of the flour mixture until incorporated.

Pipe or spoon small mounds of batter on the cookie sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.  Beake, one sheet at a time for 8 – 10 minutes until risen and just firm to the touch.  Cool for 5 minutes on pan, then carefully transfer with palate knife or spatula to a cooling rack to cool completely.

For the filling, place the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat together until well blended.  Beat in coffee extract and confectioner’s star until smooth.  Chill filling in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

To assemble carefully spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a star nozzle or simply spread carefully on flat side of half the cakes.  Top the filling with a second cake and dust with confectioner’s sugar if desired.

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Game On! with Chicken Apple Bites Recipe

January 31st, 2015

There’s something about dads and football.  This year with the match up of the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks I’m especially reminded on my dad.  My dad was from Rhode Island and was a Patriots fan.  My son is from California but it a Seahawks fan (go figure).  I wish my dad was alive to watch this year’s game with my son.  They would love to cheer and jeer at each other.

Another fan favorite match up is football and chicken wings.  I’m not a big fan, really of either.  Something about all those bones and tendons.  (and time outs of the game)  But I like any excuse to make special food and be festive (plus there’s always the half time show and commercials).  If you’re looking to make wings, Martha Stewart has a ton of recipes and sauces.  Check here.  But if you’re wanting something with chicken and no bones for your kids or family gathering, try these Baked Chicken and Apple Bites from Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Baked Chicken and Apple Bites

Here’s a twist on  the usual “meat” balls using chicken and a touch of sweetness from apples.  Serve these at a gathering with rounded toothpicks and a variety of sauces such as honey mustard, or favorite BBQ sauce for dipping.  Or thread them on a skewer together with chunks of cheese and pineapple.

Makes 28 – 30

1 ½ pounds ground organic chicken

1 organic green apple, such as Granny Smith or Delicious, peeled, cored and grated

3 organic green onions, minced, about 3 tablespoons

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

¾ cups whole wheat bread dry crumbs (see tip page )

¼   teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon balsamic or white wine vinegar

 

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Sqeeze out excess liquid from grated apple using paper or clean kitchen towels.

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until blended.

Using a melon baller or tablespoon, spoon out a heaping tablespoonful of chicken mixture and roll into a ball using hands.  Repeat until all mixture is used.  Place chicken bites on prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until cooked through and brown on bottom.

Grating or shredding is easiest with a food processor, but can also be done ona box grater.  Be sure to squeeze any excess liquid before adding to mixture.

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Take a Stand: Tips to Help Kids Raise Money Through Food/Drink

January 23rd, 2015

You may have heard of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.  A little girl named Alex was diagnosed with cancer when she was 1 year old. When she was four years old, Alex asked her mom if she could have a lemonade stand to raise money for “her hospital”.  Her legacy lives on as lemonade stands all  over the country continue to support her pediatric cancer foundation to the tune of $100 million as of January 1, 2015.  How cool is that?!

My kids and friends wanted to make cookies and sell them at a stand at the park.  They’ve done lemonade stands but they wanted to make cookies all by themselves (for the first time) and then raise money to give to The Milo Foundation, a Bay Area dog and cat rescue group.  How could I say no to that?  Of course we were going there for the third time that week to try to adopt a dog.  The kids raised $19 and gave it to the foundation.  Ironically we didn’t find a dog there, but a few days later at the Marin Humane Society.  Guess we know where the next stand money will go.

Here are some steps to help you create a stand and raise money for something you or your kids believe in…

1. Make excellent homemade product.  If it’s lemonade squeeze it yourself.  If it’s cookies make them from scratch.  Store bought is not an option.  My kids made the recipe from the bag of the chocolate chip bag with some added sprinkles.  It doesn’t need to be fancy.  Here’s a lemonade recipe.

Lemonade

(Makes 3 ½ cups)

½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, juice from about 4 lemons

½ cup sugar

1 ½ cups water, divided

Heat sugar and ½ cup water over medium heat in a small saucepan.  Stir until sugar has dissolved and mixture has thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes.  This is simple syrup.  Combine lemon juice, simple syrup and additional cup of water to taste.

Chill in thermos for easy packing or plastic pitcher, if location is a short walk.

Pour over ice in plastic or paper cups.

2. Create fun signs.  Kids can get really creative with this one.

3. Set up shop with friends and family to help.

4. Choose a location with lots of people.  Think parks, game fields, school.

5. Set a fair price or simply ask for a donation for each cup. (*You’ll make more $ by asking for a donation.)

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Happy 2015! Try this Mocktail for All Ages

December 28th, 2014

Cocktail or Mocktail?

Looking for a special way to ring in the New Year with the younger or non-drinking set?  Here’s a festive, tasty “mocktail” that everyone can enjoy.

Organic Juice Sparkler

This is a fun and healthy way for children to join in on a fancy toast with a sparkling drink of their own. This recipe is really simple and can be made with any kind of fresh, organic juice such as orange, pear, or apple. At holiday time I like pomegranate juice because of the bright and festive color. Pomegranates are a rich source of antioxidants and flavonoids. The juice can be found year round in the fresh refrigerated juice section of most supermarkets.

Makes 1 cup

¾ cup sparkling mineral water
¼ cup fresh pomegranate juice

Combine water and juice in a glass.

Variation

If serving a crowd, combine three parts sparkling mineral water with one part fresh pomegranate juice in a pitcher. Serve over ice cube cuties for older children and adults.

Kids Korner

For a really festive drink, add a few cranberry ice cubes (just add cranberries when freezing water in trays) and a straw. Or a simple piece or rosemary or mint on the top is fancy for all ages.  You’ll be surprised how much those touches will excite your child.

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