Snack Attack

I belong to a large mom’s group that posts a variety (everything from baby gear tips to restaurants for a date night and anything in between) messages, questions and comments.  Someone shared this article in the New York Times about kids and snacks.  It is a great read and hits home for many parents – myself included.  When does snack time end?

Some days it seems I’m in the kitchen all day preparing meals and then snacks between.  And like the writer, I too am faced with all the requests for snacks to bring to occassions.  However I don’t mind, most of the time, because it means something healthy will be there.  If left to someone else, I don’t know what my kids will snack on.  Yes, it’s a control thing for me.  Knowing there are dietary restrictions and allergies, I have an arsenal of appropriate snacks.  But I also get lots of questions for ideas for snacks and know it’s hard to get creative (that’s pretty much why I wrote my latest book).

However I understand the writer’s frustration with snack time being all day long for some kids.  Because of this I have started to limit things I have to eat in my own bag.  (No need for nuts and dried fruit and apple slices and cheese and mini sandwiches) .  I too want my kids to play and engage, not sit on the sidelines and eat snacks.   But I see the triggers.  When my kids are at the park and see other kids eating they’ll ask for something.  Food is social.  Food can also be comforting for kids (adults too), and they’ll ask for a snack if in a new surrounding and are not yet ready to join in a play.  It can also be a distraction or help with boredom (especially when they ask for food in the car).  So if we’re only out for an hour or so, or if they’ve just eaten, I only bring water. 

This brings me to my next point.  They won’t starve.   I meet so many parents that say “but they’re hungry”.  This gets out of hand as some parents give snacks after dinner (and even dessert) or get manipulated into becoming short order cooks because kids don’t want what’s offered for dinner.  That’s the way it goes.  As my mom would say “like it or lump it”.  Sorry if that sounds harsh.   

I try not to think of “snack” as a bad word.  The connotation of snack has somehow become a bag or box of something eaten on the run, when I like to think of it as a mini meal – fuel to help kids going thru their active lives.  If I can find time to cut an apple and spread it with sunflower butter or peel a banana, why can’t another parent.  Why always go for prepackaged snacks with additives, preservatives and empty calories?  And yes, the billions of dollars spent on marketing unhealthy snacks is appalling.  But let’s stand our ground.  If eating healthy is something that’s important to your family, teach kids about healthy food choices and bring something healthy, that they like.  Go ahead and pass by the vending machine and other offerings.  No, it’s true you may not be the most popular parent, and believe me it does sometimes get uncomfortable. 

But if you offer a healthy snack then does it really matter if dinner is spoiled?  When my kids say “I’m hungry” and I’m in the middle of making dinner, I pull out some carrots, edamame and hummus.  If they truly are hungry they’ll eat it.  But if they’re bored and just looking for something from the pantry (i.e. crackers, rice cakes etc) they’ll say “Nevermind, I’ll wait for dinner”.  And if they fill up on the veggies and don’t eat much at dinner, they had some good food.


I Say Granita, She Says Benicia

While on the way to school this morning my daughter exclaimed “I didn’t get Benicia!”.   Benicia?  I had no clue what she was talking about and neither did her brother (he’s usually pretty good at deciphering).  She continued to kind of talk to herself about falling asleep early the night before.  She moved on and forgot about the question. 

Tonight when I was making dinner my daughter asked “Do we still have Benicia?”  Again with the Benicia.  When I told her we were having salmon, veggies and rice she got quite irritated with me and said “for dessert!”  It took me a minute.  “Ohhhhhh.” I said “Do you mean Granita?!”  She laughed and said “It’s not called Granita, that’s silly.  You know that blood orange stuff.”  Okay, Got it.   

I’ve been getting a head start on making some of my favorite Chinese New Year  recipes so I coul d get some photos for articles and blogs and had made the granita a few nights ago.  Granita is an icy dessert; made quite simply with juice, water and simple syrup.  It’s a light and refreshing finish to a meal by itself and can also be served over vanilla ice cream.  You can make this with any citrus, although I usually use tangerine because of the good luck factor during Chinese New Year.  This time I couldn’t pass up the blood oranges.  I love them and they’re not always in season.  It was delicious and so pretty (fun pink for Valentine’s idea too).

Citrus Granita

This recipe was inspired by pastry chef Andrea Mautner of Restaurant TWO in San Francisco (such a bummer it’s closed). While attending a cooking class she prepared a wonderful dessert with this as one of the “elements.” I thought this simple icy treat would be perfect for a Chinese New Year celebration, because one of the symbols for luck is tangerines, which are given to children during the holiday.   

Makes 8 (1/2-cup) servings

Juice of 5 to 6 blood orange or other citrus (about 1½ cups)

¾ cup Simple Syrup (see note below)

¼ cup water

 Combine citrus juice, Simple Syrup, and water in a bowl. Pour into an 8-inch-glass baking dish or pie dish. Freeze for about 2 to 3 hours, until frozen.

            Once fully frozen, scrape granita into flakes with a fork. They may melt easily and be a bit slushy. Granita can be eaten as a slushy now or refreeze for another hour. It will become icier.

Spoon into tall, old-fashioned ice cream glasses or mini ramekins. Serve immediately or return to freezer until ready to serve. Fluff with a fork again before serving.

 Tip. Clear the Freezer. Be sure you have a level space to set the granita to harden before walking over to the freezer with the liquid.

 Kids Korner

This will melt quickly. If kids aren’t eating it fast enough, serve along with straws to get all of the juice. Or spoon over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt for an old-time Creamsicle reminder.

Note to Make Simple Syrup:

Heat equal amounts (1 cup each) of turbinado (raw) or white sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar has dissolved and mixture has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Cool to room temperature.


Slow Cooker: Need it or Not?

slow cooker

All this cold weather makes me think about hot, comforting food like chili, soups, stews and others.  It also reminds me that I don’t have a slow cooker.   I’ve never really gotten over the crock pot foods of the 70’s.  My mom was a single parent and used the crock pot quite a bit.  It was easy, even at age 10, I remember sometime I was asked to put the ingredients in, which hours later yielded  the family dinner.  But I remember it all tasting the same.  Meat that after 8 or so hours was hard to identify, but fell apart easily and a sauce that was also a bit of a mystery (not bad, but boring).  We had everything from ham hocks and saurkraut (yes, really) to pot roast with veggies – but there was always a sameness.

After seeing so much about slow cooking, the ease of slow cookers (I am a busy mom after all) and some tasty looking recipes (always handy for a potluck), I recently mentioned being ready to purchase a slow cooker.  Of course now I learned of the debate over which ones are safe, because of the possibility of lead.  Here’s an interesting blog article about such research if interested and want to know which brands fess up to what’s in their product.  I can’t believe this is another product with safety issues.   

Then just when I thought I was going to embrace new foods from a slow cooker I was faced with more of that 70’s taste at a family gathering.  Hmmm. 


Between the blandness, texture and safety issues, maybe I’m better off wth one less appliaance.  You never know.  I may get there, but not a priority.  Please feel free to tell me I’m wrong and share some of your favorite slow cooker makes/models and recipes to help nudge me to the slow side.


Snow or Bust


We made it to the snow!  Every year we have plans to go, but someone gets sick or we’re not brave enough to make the drive in a storm (my husband and I have many stories of getting stuck in the snow).  My six year old was excited from the get go.  He was up for it all sledding, learning to ski, eating icicles, catching snowflakes, etc.  My daughter, age three had never seen snow.  I thought it would be quite interesting.  She only wears ballet clothes (whether it’s dance day or not) and does not like long sleeves, outerwear and cold.  I had a feeling I’d be inside with her while my husband and son snow enjoy the great outdoors.  


I planned on a game marathon with her and cooking some hearty slow foods.  Whenever I think of snow I think of chili and soups.  Yum!  However, she proved me wrong.  She loved the snow – after the initial shock that it is cold and turtlenecks and snow suits are made for a reason.  She even wanted to go to ski school like big brother.  And we all had too many hot chocolates in the lodge not to have fun.  I have a feeling we’ll be heading up again soon. 


I made and brought my white bean and chicken chili for this trip.  It’s an easy make ahead dish for transporting in an ice chest and makes enough for hungry people for lunch or dinner after snow play.  You can make this without the chicken too for the vegetarian skiiers.


White Bean and Chicken Chili (from Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry)

The origin of this recipe is from San Francisco Flavors, by the San Francisco Junior League. The original is great, but not many parents with small children have two hours to allow a stew to cook, let alone remember to soak dried beans overnight. The prep time is reduced in this recipe by using canned beans and sautéing the cooked chicken in the spices to soak up additional flavor that would come out from the slow-cooking process. You can reduce your time further if you have leftover chicken on-hand or buy pre-cooked chicken and pre-shredded cheese. This version for busy families takes only 35 to 40 minutes from start to finish.

 Makes 12 cups

 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ (4-ounce) can chopped mild green chilies, or 2 fresh chilies, roasted, seeded, and chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 pounds cooked boneless, skinless, organic free-range chicken (can be left over or purchased pre-cooked)

2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

4 cups organic low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

2 cups shredded Monterey jack or mozzarella cheese (rBGH free)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


In a large stock pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, chilies, cumin, oregano, cloves, and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Mix in chicken and cook for 2 minutes. Add beans and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

 Transfer 1 cup of the broth to a small bowl and whisk in cornstarch mixture. Stir cornstarch mixture back into pot, cover, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring, to thicken.

 Add 1 cup of the cheese to the pot and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with remaining cheese.