While Dad’s Away…Cheese Please!

My husband sometimes travels for work.  When he’s gone from the dinner table my kids like to imagine what he’s eating.  This is pretty funny.  They’ve even taken to talk like him.  This just sounds like a low pitch troll.  These days they’re guessing pretty right on with fish.  When we reconvene, he goes over his meals and the kids decide who wins.  “I said fish!”  “Yeah, but I said salmon and that was exact!”


Since my husband isn’t eating cheese these days when he’s gone we indulge.  My vegan sister has introduced us to fake cheese like Daiya, which is not bad.  But for certain foods I’d rather just skip making it or make it when my husband is out of town.  Thus Mac and Cheese night for the kids and I.  Now this is not the box version.  We’re making real cheese and pasta (see recipe).  Usually it’s not macaroni shaped but tortelli or penne or bow tie.  Whatever we’re in the mood for.  This is a great recipe I got on Real Simple’s app, which I like for quick inspiration while shopping in the grocery store.


If he’s gone two nights there will be pizza (see recipe).  We sometimes make an extra pie for dad without cheese which can be good too.  We even like pesto with smoked salmon and capers on pizza.  But when it’s kids and I it’s a cheese pizza with olives, half pesto, half red sauce.

Is there any food you and your kids indulge in while your spouse is gone?

Here’s what I’m waiting to make next time he heads out … Lasagna Roll Ups.


Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry

This recipe is courtesy of Michelle Stern owner and teacher of What’s Cooking, children’s cooking classes.  Michelle is great at getting the kids involved, both having fun and learning to cook.  This recipe is fun for a large family Sunday supper or for a team of hungry kids.

Makes 12 rolls

2 cups pasta sauce, homemade or jarred, without added sugar

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 large cage free organic eggs

3 cups low-fat ricotta cheese (rBGH free)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (rBGH free)

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (rBGH free)

4 ounces fresh organic baby spinach leaves, chopped, about 3 cups

12 cremini mushrooms, sliced, about 1 1/2 cups

12 lasagna noodles (10 x 2 inch with curled edges) boil extra to allow for breakage)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread a few spoonfuls of pasta sauce in bottom of an 8 inch glass or ceramic baking dish to coat bottom.

Cook lasagna noodles according manufacturer’s instructions.  Drain, rinse in cold water, and lay noodles on cutting board or work surface in a single layer until ready to use.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then stir in the ricotta, parmesan, 1 cup of mozzarella, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper until mixed.

Place a lasagna noodle in front of you. Spread about 2-3 tablespoons of the cheese mixture along the entire length of the noodle.  Top with spinach and mushrooms and sauce, as desired.

Carefully roll up the noodle and place it (with the curly side up) in the prepared baking dish.

Pour remaining sauce over the tops and between rolls and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese.

Cover the dish with tented foil and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for additional 10 – 15 until cheese and melted and heated through.

Kids Korner:

Michelle has some good tips for empowering children to help with this recipe:

  • Let child use an egg slicer to slice mushrooms
  • With supervision, let older children snip spinach into pieces with kitchen scissors.  Or tear into little pieces with clean fingers.
  • Give children a rotary grater to grate cheese (and protect little knuckles)
  • Have children assemble and roll lasagna rolls, and stack in the pan.




Giants vs Dodgers – Food Concessions Battle



I don’t know the baseball standings right now.  But I do know how the ballparks for the L.A Dodgers and S.F. Giants rank for me and my family in terms of food.

I grew up in the LA area and went to many Dodger games.  It was the years of Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, and Tommy Lasorda.  Yes, I’m that old.  Anyways my kids and I I were lucky enough to go to a Dodger game while visiting family in L.A. this summer.  It was just as I remember as a kid.  There were no differences.  The concessions were stuck in a Dodger Dog and fast food time warp.  Luckily my sister the vegan thought ahead and brought she and my vegetarian daughter veggie mexican food from Chipotle.  However when I went searching for my son’s dinner – it was slim pickings.  I couldn’t even find a plain cheeseburger that wasn’t a pre-made saucy fast food mess, topped with bacon.  He ended up sharing some cheese pizza with his uncle and having some peanuts.  I was determined to find something healthy and all I came up with was one cart (really not even a permanent stand) that said “Healthy Fare”.  This meant a $12 wilted iceberg lettuce salad and some iced teas.  (Apparently they already sold out of sushi – this was only the second inning.  People want this stuff!).  I bought the iced tea and went back to my seat in a huff.  Luckily for me my daughter’s veggie burrito was huge and I ate some of hers.  My sister felt bad and gave me some of her salad too.  Thanks sis.  Really in an area with all kinds of celebrity money and high profile chefs, someone needs to step up and bring LA into the present.  Magic, are you listening?

The very next week we met friends for a lovely day at AT&T park to see the Giants.  My husband and I used to live right down the street and go to many Giants games (back when Barry was Barry).  As we were walking near the stadium there was a Safeway selling peanuts, water and Cracker Jacks for about a quarter of the ballpark price.  This was a good ballpark food start.  Once we got inside there are was a large variety of lunch options.  However the lines were much longer than the Dodger lines.  Everything  from Cha Cha Bowls (my daughter and husband’s pick) to clam chowder in a bread bowl (my son’s pick), to fish and chips and fresh crab sandwiches.  Of course there’s the usual ballpark fare too.  There were actually too many choices for my son and we did a bit of line jumping before he made his soup decision.  We were with friends whose kids chose hot dogs.  They bought and finished them no problem before we even got through our first gourmet line.   I realized if my kids weren’t such food snobs (my doing) we’d spend less time in lines and we’d see more baseball.  I’m not complaining, just observing.  Again it was all about wrangling food for the kids and by the time my friend and I were choosing food for ourselves, we decided to hit the margarita cart.  It went well with my daughter’s Cha Cha bowl which was bigger than her head.

Both games were fun and we saw both home teams win their respective games.  If I ask the kids which game they liked better they’d probably say Dodgers.  The reason?  Not the food.  Not the baseball.  The give-away – Kurt Gibson bobble heads!  The Giants gave away 2 for 1 tickets to fly on Virgin Airlines (not sure we’re headed anywhere before the stingy Nov. 2012 deadline).


Update to Day 4

So my family explained to Katie, the sitter about the hunger challenge.  She saw all the unhappy faces in the fridge and cupboard.  I was glad I made the vegetable parmesean as sometimes she’s eats a gluten free diet.  So I didn’t want our restrictions to impact her diet and health.

veggie parmesean


My husband and I ate the pizza and veggies.  I must say they were both really good.  A nice salad would’ve gone well too, but we need to preserve.  We’re only half way there.  So we headed to back to school night and saw all the kids artwork, and listened to the teacher presentations.  It actually ran late so we only had about an hour to ourselves.  We headed to a beer pub, Mill Valley Beerworks.  Was this cheating?  I suppose.  But my husband had a gift certificate, so that’s why we chose it and technically we didn’t spend any money.  We each had a drink.  But I couldn’t help ordering a mini pork slider for myself.  (I actually would’ve liked about a dozen).  I cannot tell a lie.  I was really hungry from eating early and not much, since I wanted to be sure there was enough for the kids and sitter.  Yes, I cheated.  Again I didn’t pay, but it was $4 and thus almost my entire day’s allowance.  Technically I could subtract the $4 from my left over money, which brings me to $21 for the next few days.  This is where I’m getting stressed (we need bread, cereal, fruit) and would go to the Food Bank to see what they had for me to suplement and make it through to the next food stamp allotment.


The kids and sitter ate later.  When we got home it was all gone.  Good thing I wasn’t banking on eating that.  Kids were in bed.  However I learned this morning the kids had dessert.  I wondered what they had, thinking the sitter wouldn’t have gone behind the unhappy faces.  They had mango sorbet which was in the freezer.  They knew that wasn’t part of the challenge, but there’s no unhappy faces because the tape doesn’t stick in the freezer (and there’s not much that is part of the challenge).  Oh well.  I couldn’t get mad.  Everyone cheated a bit.  This has been hard for them and they’re getting a bit agggravated by me and the challenge.  Actually everyone is a bit on edge.  I think it comes from lack of choice and freedom.


Day 4 – Big Dilemma

So my morning was good.  Started my day with oatmeal and apple.  My husband is back so he did breakfast for the kids (which is what happens most mornings) – cereal and fruit and OJ.  He didn’t take photos.  I’m sure they were glad for the break.  My kids keep saying “more pictures?!” as I make them wait another minute to eat.

son's lunch

I packed my son’s lunch.  Pretty standard.  I never mentioned their drink for lunch – it’s water.  Always has been.  I do have this great new water dispenser on the counter in the kitchen.  I ad citrus and/or mint for flavor.  The kids can reach and then help themselves all day long.

getting water

By lunch I was very hungry.  After taking the kids to school, I went paddle boarding with friends.  We went to Starbuck’s first so they could get coffee.  Nothing for me.  I feel didn’t like I was missing out.  I’m not a morning coffee gal, and was full from the oatmeal.

my lunch

My daughter and I came home and had left-overs from dinner.  I ate the rest of the minestrone from dinner with a veggie wrap and she had some some noodles from the night before, along with some veggies and crackers with sunflower butter.


Later was snack.  Celery and crackers with sunflower butter and a bowl of frozen pineapple.  I’m a bit bored with some items.  But no one compalined.  We usually have lots of choose from – nuts, dried fruit, nut butters (almond, peanut, soy), crackers, tortilla chips, graham crackers etc.

Here’s the dilemma.  It’s my kids’ open house at school.  Only parents invited.  We were able to get a babysitter last minute, so my husband and I can both go.  We have the sitter for 3 – 4 hours – kind of a minimum.  So what do we do after?  Normally we would go to dinner – but I don’t have much money left and should keep it for the rest of the week.  My husband suggested a movie, but the times aren’t working out well.  Funny it’s ok to spend money on entertainment – although if you don’t have it for food, there’s not much of that either.  Perhaps out for coffee/tea?  Drinks would be more.  I have about $25 left….

pizza fixin's

For dinner we’re making pizza and a roasted veggie parmasean dish.  I bought premade dough from Trader Joe’s for $1.  I make my own dough 50% of the time – being that sometimes I just don’t have time to wait for dough to rise.  The pizza sauce was the reserved sauce from pureed tomatoes and the sauce for the veggie dish was left-over fondue.  Interesting right?  Well we’ll see.  We need to have some for the our friend babysitting too.  I didn’t tell her about the challenge.  She may already know as she is a caterer, baker extrodinaire and restaurant consultant.  We’ll see her reaction.  Hopefully she won’t be hungry here.  I’m so used to being a host with plenty to offer.



Hunger Challenge/Meatless Monday – Day 2

Today was easier than yesterday.  I knew it would be.  The kids have more of a routine, are at school and not asking about the unsmiley faces.  There’s been lots of talk and then stress at my house about what’s going to happen during the week in regards to food.  I imagine in a house where food is lacking this would always be on a child’s (and parent’s) mind too.  Wondering if you’ll be provided with enough to fill you up (physically and emotionally).

My husband ended up on a plane today for 24 hours, so we didn’t need to worry about him.  No, it was work related.  At least I don’t think  he wasn’t trying to get out of the challenge.

Breakfast was the usual for me – oatmeal with a sprinkle of granola and a half of banana.  The kids had yogurt with berries and granola and orange juice.

kids' breakfast
my oatmeal

I made my son’s lunch for school.  I had to remind him that we were not only on the challenge but it was Meatless Monday so no turkey sandwich.  He settled for sunflower butter and fruit spread plus carrots, pretzels and grapes.  My daughter and I had lunch at home after I picked her up from kindergarten.  Her wrap was avocado, cheese, and spinach.  Mine was the left-over roasted veggies from dinner with hummus, avocado and spinach.

son's lunch
daughter's wrap
my wrap

Later was snack time between school and Tae Kwon Do.  My daughter suggested smoothies which was perfect.  I plopped in about a cup of frozen pineapple, a banana, about a cup of orange juice and about 3/4 cup yogurt.  We all had some and put some in popsicle molds to freeze and eat tomorrow.

smoothie (and those pretzels again)


Dinner was very exciting.  My kids love fondue.  And this is a fun and easy recipe for pizza fondue (see recipe on previous blog here), which works great for Meatless Monday too.  What’s not to like – tomaoes, cheese and spices?  Plus they love to break out my fun orange fondue pot I found on Etsy.  (We serve in it only.  I don;t risk burners on the table with kids).  Although my son questioned why I was opening a can of tomatoes saying “Aren’t canned food bad?”  We usually use Pomi in a carton, but I explained about the price difference and they were still organic.

While my son was at Tae Kwon Do my daughter and I made a trip to Whole Foods for a baguette, some celery, a box of crackers, brown sugar (not my usual, but cheaper version) and a few plums ($8.46).  There were a few discussions when my daughter said “Mommy can we get this?” or “Mom we’re out of this.”  I had to remind her about the challenge, which she mistakenly (or freudian) calls “the hungry challenge”.  She’s only 5, but she’s starting to catch on…if we buy the olive bread for $4 instead of the french for $2, then we can’t buy the crackers.

Since my husband is gone I removed a few big scoops of the tomato puree to reserve for pizza sauce later in the week, and then saved on cheese too.  I also transformed the lentils from left-over Sunday night to a lentil salad (now cold with rosemary salt, vinegar and oil).  I made japanese sweet potato chips for dipping.  We also dipped the baguette, red pepper, broccoli, and celery.  My son doubted that a family on food stamps could make this since it was so good.  I said yes they could, as long as they had the time and energy and liked to cook (no orange fondue pot necessary).

cooking fondue




North Beach Book Signing

I was invited to do a book signing in North Beach at a great parenting resource and baby boutique called Carmel Blue.  I hadn’t been to North Beach in so long and was happy to participate in the store’s book fair to launch their parenting and children’s book section.  I always go to such events by myself but this time my five year old daughter accompanied me.  We had a great time and I used the event to show her around North Beach – the square, the cathedral, the shops, the cafes.  She was extremely patient, and even helpful, as I signed books and spoke with new and expectant parents.  She loved looking at all the baby things (great selection of unique clothing, toys and gifts) as well as the babies themselves.  She was even the big kid in storytime.  We met a wonderful grandfather of 6 girls visiting from the mid-west who was kind enough to take and email me these photos.  Thanks Joe.

We visited Caffe Roma twice, which I hadn’t been to years.  First, we arrived early for the event, so we went to tea (for me) and hot chocolate (for her).  She enjoyed seeing all the many people coming and going and all the loud banter.  After the book event I thought we’d go to Tony’s Pizza or North Beach Pizza, but she wasn’t interested.  No pizza?  I was shocked.  She wanted to “go back to the cafe from earlier”.  I obliged.  It wasn’t as bustling (which she liked), but she was quite happy with her eggpplant penne and a few italian “kisses”, aka cookies, to take home and share with dad and brother.

I love showing my kids new (to them) neighborhoods and sharing and remembering all the times my husband and I spent in the city as a couple before they were born.  It’s fun to see what’s new and what remains.  My daughter was all walked and questioned out after our North Beach work and adventure, as she fell asleep on the ride home at 2pm.  I’ll have to take my son back next time.  He’ll indulge me with a slice.



Vegetarian Cookbook Review with Cheese Fondue Recipe

When I was offered a look at the new cookbook, The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes by Judith Finlayson, I was intrigued.  As you may know I’ve been toying with the idea of purchasing a slow cooker.  Read about my hesitations in my blog.  My family is also doing Meatless Mondays and I am always looking for new vegetarian dishes.  And my sister is vegan and while many of the recipes use dairy, there are some which note how to make them vegan, which I find helpful.  Anyways the cookbook arrived and the recipes looked great.  I wanted of course to make something, but still am not sure I want another appliance (especially to store).  The great thing is, I can and have made some of these recipes without a slow cooker with great results.  Of course some dishes (those with beans) need extra work (soaking) not required of the slow cooker, but it can be done.  Also some of the dishes can be cooked in a braising pot for a few hours (which I already have) – but no I wouldn’t leave the house.  The convenience isn’t there without the slow cooker.   The author does give info about various slow cookers and use, which is helpful if I do buy.

So while I didn’t buy a slow cooker I did buy a retro 70’s fondue pot.  Why?  Because it is lovely and orange.  Seriously my friend put a photo of this fondue pot on her blog and I immediately bought it on Etsy.  Who knew Etsy had kitchenware?  I’m in trouble now.  I’ve had it over a month and it’s only been a display item on the open shelf in the kitchen.  The slow cooker wouldn’t have such a prominent place.  Not sure what I was waiting for to use it.  However the perfect opportunity came with the arrival of the The Vegetarian Slow Cooker.  There are some inspiring dishes that are from all kinds of food flavors and origins and then I saw the section on fondues.  One in particular is a new favorite at my house… Kid’s Fondue.  This is like a bowl full of rich gooey pizza.  I am not kidding.  So while the recipe said to cook in the slow cooker for 1 hour, I simply heated and cooked low on the stove and then poured it into my fondue pot.  Super simple.  My family loved it.  My son was quite skeptical at first.  He likes fondue and is not a huge tomato lover.  When he saw it he said he wasn’t going to eat it.  However after dipping a piece of baguette and red pepper he exclaimed “This is the best fondue I’ve ever had!” 

And really I think the whole book is straight forward and pretty simple.  It may end up putting me over the top to buy a slow cooker…  But for now I’m enjoying the book without it.  I think making a recipe your own is what cooking is all about, and me wanting to use the book not as intended means the book is interesting.  So whether you are vegetarian or not, or have a slow cooker or not you can make this book yours too.  Here’s the recipe…

Kid’s Favorite Fondue

(page 108, The Vegetarian Slow Cooker)

Need: small (max 1/2 quart slow cooker)

fondue forks

1 can 28 ounces tomatoes (I used Pomi)

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

sliced baguette, celery sticks andsliced red pepper to serve and dip

Process tomatoes with juice.  Transfer to cooker.  Add spices and cook on high for 1 hour, until hot and bubbly. (I used a pan on the stovepot on low for about 30 minutes)

Add cheese in handfuls, stirring to combine.

Reduce heat to low and serve.  Dip bread and/or veggies into fondue.


Happy New Year! Lobster vs. Pizza – Don’t Ask (with Kid’s Organic Pizza Dough Recipe)


From Lisa Barnes

Here’s a photo from last year’s New Year’s Eve at my house. My son was 3½ and my daughter 6 months and yes, we dressed up in silly hats and rang in the New Year at 9 p.m. (East Coast time) with confetti and streamers. I’ve discovered this is what you do as parents with young children, instead of going out to glamorous parties and expensive dinners on New Year’s.

Actually my plan was to do a little celebration with the kids early, and have a nice romantic meal with my husband once the children were asleep. Maybe even rent a movie and stay up and see midnight. This did not happen. I thought I’d make whatever my son wanted for dinner. He loved making pizza dough so I thought he would naturally say “pizza”. Well he replied “lobster”. I’m not kidding. I wondered if I mentioned lobster as a possibility for the later adult meal, but couldn’t figure out how he came up with lobster. O.K. the meal would now be a romantic lobster dinner for 3. Except I wasn’t able to get to the store until 4 p.m. that evening. Note to others (and self) – do not go grocery shopping at 4 p.m. the day of a holiday. Not only was the store mobbed but it was slim pickings. Plus I didn’t want to cook live lobsters. So we supplemented with steaks and called it surf and turf.

We sat down to a lovely dinner, and even had candles and china. My son was thrilled. Of course, my daughter woke up just as the plates hit the table (they always know dinnertime) and I was off to feed and comfort her. So the dinner was enjoyed by a two-some (my son and husband).

I made lobster again this year, as my son is a creature of habit and requested it again. Who can argue? Anyone can bake lobster and melt butter. But here’s a recipe for pizza dough so you can resolve to make your own instead of ordering out in 2008.

Presto Organic Pizza Dough Recipe

There’s no other kitchen activity that’s more fun for kids than creating their own personal pizzas. Kids love to knead dough and choose their own toppings. It is not necessary to have perfect pies, so get your hands in there instead of a rolling pin.

This dough makes pizza, breadsticks and teething biscuits.

1 tablespoon powdered yeast (1 ounce package)
½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons warm water
¾ cups organic whole wheat flour
¾ cups organic unbleached flour
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add remaining ingredients to yeast and water. Mix together and knead by hand for about 3 minutes, until dough is smooth. Make dough into a ball and return to bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled – about 30 minutes.

For pizza: place dough on a greased baking or pizza pan and press fingers to spread into desired shape. Add desired sauce and toppings and bake in a 425 degree preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crust is brown on the edges. Makes one 12 to 14 inch pizza.

For bread sticks: Divide dough into 12 portions and roll with hands into stick shapes of desired width – fatter for soft and thinner for hard. Place sticks on a greased baking pan and bake in a 425 degree preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden. Makes 12 breadsticks.

For teething biscuits: Make above breadstick recipe and place in freezer to harden, or a cool soothing treat. Be sure to carefully monitor baby while chewing on biscuits.

Double Time: Double all ingredients to make a thick crust pizza. Or simply make one pizza now and save the second dough ball in the freezer for the next time your little ones ask for pizza.
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
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