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.


O’ Christmas Tree with Apple Crisps Recipe

measuring a sapling
measuring a sapling

We talked about a tree quite a bit this year…a big tree, a living tree, just a kids’ tree?  I was thinking a big living tree that we could have outside with lights and be able to plant in the yard and watch it grow year after year.  My daughter, being 3 doesn’t remember much about the previous years of trees (or the holidays for that matter) so she thought planting a tree sounded good.  However when my son realized this would be no ornaments on the big tree he was dissappointed.  He really enjoys unwrapping the ornaments every year.  And I must admit, I would miss this ritual too. 

We do not have a stylized or as I say “Pottery Barn” tree.  A few years ago I was taken back by friends who had an amazing tree of all silver matching ornaments.  It was beautiful, but there was no story or history.  Ours would not be in a magazine or catalog.  By this I mean our ornaments are a hodgepodge.  When I was little my mom always put individual little trees in my sister and my bedrooms.  Each year we would carefully select a new ornament and add it to our collection.  The collection is quite eclectic (although I chose many mini wooden angels) and international (ornaments made from all over the world vs. today’s all made in China).  These ornaments now hang on the big family tree, as well as some of them were handed down to my kids for their own trees.  Hoping they too will enjoy collecting.  This makes some of the ornaments 30 – 40 plus years old.  There are even a few my grandmother beaded from the 1950’s.

This year we decided to go to a sustainable Christmas tree farm in Petaluma and cut our own.  My husband grew up in the mountains where you’d always cut your own (no lot or farm needed).  However we’d always gone to the local school or tree lot.  I like the idea of cutting one tree and knowing another will be planted.  I’m also hoping it’s going to last and not turn brown too quickly.

Our family had a great time on our tree outing …hiding in the trees, measuring up the perfect tree, seeing farm animals, visiting Santa, collecting “tree cookies”, using a saw, etc…  I must admit though I had to remind myself that more trees would be planted.  I heard a dad comically yell “Timber” at the top of his lungs and thought of the truffala trees.  If you have little ones you know about the Dr. Suess book entitled “The Lorax“.  When seeing the stumps of the pine trees, I kept thinking of the poor Truffala trees which were hacked down to make thneeds (which of course nobody needs).  But I kept telling myself this was different.  True, no one needs a Christmas tree.  But they bring great joy and memories to children and adults alike.  Plus these would be recycled (make into mulch) and new seeds planted in their place.

Truffala Stump Reminders
Truffala Stump RemindersThe Lorax

We got the tree home, after many miles of hoping the tree rope was tied well enough to the top of the car.  We made hot apple cider and snacked on apple chips (see recipe below) and carefully unwrapped the ornaments one at a time and told the history of each ornament.  It was all going so well, until I realized my 3 year old was unwrapping (aka ripping and destroying) a paper Santa head ornament.  It’s hard to explain to a child that the ornament was wrapped in paper, but also made of paper (35 year old paper) and shouldn’t have been unwrapped.  So there’s one less in the collection.  

Simply Heat: apple juice, orange wedges, cinnamon stick, and clove
apple chips ready for the oven
apple chips ready for the oven

Apple Crisps

(page 47 from Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry)

An alternative to boring potato chips, this simple treat satisfies a child’s need for crunch. Using a mandoline provides convenience and accurate cuts for even baking. However a careful, steady knife works as well. The apples crisp in the low heat, which dries out the moisture. Once in the oven these need no attention (just remember to turn off the oven overnight), until it’s time to pack them (or eat them) in the morning.


Makes about 48 apple crisps; 4 (12-chip) servings


2 tablespoons evaporated cane juice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 large organic apples such as Fuji or Braeburn


Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Stir together evaporated cane juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl.

Using a mandoline or a steady hand and a knife, cut the apple vertically in to 1/8-inch-thick rounds. You do not need to core or peel the apple. The seeds will fall out or can easily be removed from apple slices after cutting.


Place apple slices on prepared baking sheets in a single layer and sprinkle with cinnamon mixture. Bake in the middle of the oven for 1½ hours. Rotate pans and cook for 1 hour more. Turn off heat and leave in the oven overnight if apples are not dry and crisp. Loosen chips with a spatula to remove from parchment paper.


Kids Korner

Shake it Up! The easiest way to lightly and evenly sprinkle sugars and spices is to transfer to a spice shaker. Having a specially marked shaker for cinnamon and sugar saves time when making other snacks such as cinnamon toast or spicing up plain yogurt. This is also a “neat” way to get children to help with decorating and flavoring tasks.


Growing Up Veggies, Herbs and Ice Cream

From Lisa Barnes

Not only did we set up a compost, but we planted some edibles. I’d been reviewing lots of great photos and ideas in Sunset Magazine and online on Kids Gardening , but because of all the animals around us (deer, foxes, raccoons, turkeys, skunks etc.) we decided to plant in containers on our front deck. I figured once we had some experience then we could see about making the investment in a true garden in the yard and building the deer fence.  While I was optimistic I was also realistic in my green thumb expectations.  I don’t do very well with plants and thus usually only have orchids or cut flowers indoors.

So my kids and I venured to the nursery with lots of questions about edibles and containers. We bought starts of tomatoes, lettuce, beans, peas, strawberries, basil and mint.  All chosen by my children.   When we got home we all got dirty and had a great time planting. Every day the kids have been eagerly taking turns to water the plants each day and look for anything “to happen”.

Well after about 3 weeks, my family actually ate a salad of greens from our efforts. Harvesting lettuce was really a proud moment for my kids and I. I’ve been writing and telling parents about getting children involved in the growing, shopping and cooking of their food. We all see how children (and adults) enjoy tasting foods at the farmer’s market and picking berries at a u-pick farm, but there really is a sense of pride when they grow and eat something they’ve nurtured. Both my daughter and son enjoyed the lettuce and kept pointing outside and reminding my husband and I “We made this lettuce, just right out there.  Now we don’t need to buy lettuce at the store”.

Because we haven’t had enough the heat, the tomatoes aren’t ripening yet. However they are growing.  Not knowing how big they’d get from our little 5 inch starters, we kept gathering sticks to make stakes and hold the plants. Finally we made a trip back to the nursery to learn about proper stakes and garden tape to make a cage. (I was asking too much of my culinary string). Also feeling bold we bought some additional pots for seeds my father had sent us. After about 2 weeks now we’re sprouting carrots, radish and cucumber too.

While we’re waiting on our veggies, I’ve found the perfect thing to make for the summer and use the garden – mint chocolate ice cream.  (This recipe from Simply Recipes has great step by step instructions and does not use peppermint extract or food colorings as so many others.)  I missed making ice cream, since I had such an old freezer (see post), so I couldn’t wait to make and share the taste of real mint ice cream (that wasn’t bright green) with my kids.  We made about 3 batches so far as we have many birthdays in our family in July.  In fact I’m going to have to buy fresh mint for our next batch, as we need to give our mint in the garden a chance to grow more.

My family has been really been enjoying time together in our mini garden (and the fruits of our labor).   With just a few simple pots, dirt, and plants I feel good about practicing more with my family of what I’ve been preaching.
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler, Williams-Sonoma: Cooking For Baby, and Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry and lives in Sausalito, California.


Happy Mother’s Day! (with Organic Greek Frittata Recipe)

From Lisa Barnes

There seems to be three camps of moms on mother’s day…one that likes to celebrate with family, one that likes to celebrate without and one that tries to juggle both.

The first like to be surrounded and reminded of their children and their own parents – getting multiple generations together for usually brunch or dinner. Then there are those (usually with young children) who like to take the day off from being a mommy. Many I know do a relaxing spa day alone or with other mom girlfriends and then go to a romantic dinner with their spouses. The ones that like to try to fit everything and everyone in (like their daily life) tell me they’re doing a lunch or spa without children in the morning and then are joined for a family celebration in the evening.

If you’re a Dad – ask your wife what she’d prefer. One year I celebrated mother’s day by shopping by and for myself. I thought it would be nice and relaxing but it was so depressing. I watched families going into restaurants for brunch and missed my husband and kids (they had a fun day without me!) and also missed my own mom who doesn’t live close by. I came home and said I never wanted to do Mother’s Day alone again. Of course I like the alone time – just give me the day off before or after.

Anyways if you’re lucky enough to celebrate with your own mom and family, here’s a lovely and easy fritatta recipe to make at home. And if you’re in the mood for someone else to make brunch, make reservations fast (OpenTable.com can help). If you live in the Bay Area I would suggest Foreign Cinema. They have a wonderful brunch, excellent mimosas and bellinis for mom, and a great 3 course children’s menu.

Happy Mother’s Day! (Here’s a photo of my mom with my daughter)

Organic Greek Frittata
A frittata is an easy, yet elegant dish, to serve for friends and family – perfect for a Mother’s Day brunch. Adding couscous to the frittata makes it heartier, and gives the eggs a bit of a crust. Cut the frittata into wedges and your children will think it’s an egg pie.

1/2 cup water, plus 1 tablespoon water – divided

1/3 cup uncooked couscous

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

5 cage-free, organic eggs

2 teaspoons expeller pressed canola oil

1/3 cup slivered oil packed sun dried tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped nicoise or kalamata olives

1/4 cup diced organic onion

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan bring ½ cup water to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in couscous, remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff and separate with fork.

Combine the 1 tablespoon water, salt, pepper, and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk together. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, olives, and onions and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and stir in couscous and egg mixture. Level mixture with rubber spatula. Sprinkle cheeses over top. Bake in oven for 10 minutes, or until set and cooked through. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut into wedges with knife or pizza cutter.
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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