Archive for ‘Just for Fun!’

May 20, 2019

Cooking Can Be Child’s Play

Rainy days are a great time to remember cooking can be child’s play! We have had an unusually rainy year. That means my grandkids are often stuck in the house. When we get tired of trains, painting, reading, and building with blocks, I like to move into the kitchen where there’s plenty of fun to be made.
cooking
Of course there are safety issues to be considered, but even a young toddler can pour and stir and taste or at least pretend. My grandmother didn’t hesitate to give me a sharp knife as a preschooler. She expected me to be able to peel potatoes with it to her high standard. I should only remove skin, not big chunks of potato. I didn’t do too well at first, but I didn’t cut myself and I learned to step up my food prep game.

I am not brave enough to hand a sharp knife to my grandchildren, but I let the toddlers use a grater and they have a designated drawer in the kitchen that they are allowed to access alone once they’re competently walking. The kid drawer contains my measuring cups and spoons, a tea strainer, some small spatulas, and biscuit cutters. The measuring cups become pans for the play stove that I rescued from my grandmother’s attic.

There have been many an imaginary cake and pots of soup made using that stove. Eventually, I bought some play fruits and vegetables and set up a pantry from which the kids could select ingredients. My oldest grandson expanded this pantry to include marbles. He loves to stir them with a whisk because it makes a loud noise.

Sometimes, he helps me with real food. Because he’s only two, his tasks are usually stirring and adding salt & pepper. If he wants to measure and dump things in the bowl, I get him a separate bowl and a measuring cup and let him have some flour, sugar, salt, and water. He makes a mess on the counter and on the floor, but he has a great time making “pancakes”.

Any time the grandkids are cooking, we talk about different kinds of food. I let them taste or smell herbs and spices. I show them the real version of a potato or an onion when they’re using a play potato or onion. I explain that you have to fill the 1/4 cup four times to equal one cup. I don’t belabor this point because my oldest grandchild is not yet three. I am only trying to plant a seed of math knowledge while we’re having fun.
at counter
Once I’m ready to clean up the mess, toddlers are happy to help. I let them stand on a ladder at the sink and “wash” dishes. Washing mostly consists of pouring water from one container to another, but it keeps them occupied while I clean up the rest. Yes, my countertop and floor get washed in the process, but I make sure to control the chaos and I don’t mind mopping up a little water.

My grandmother made homemade play dough and let me add the food coloring. Because I’m gluten-free I don’t keep flour in my pantry, but without that restriction I would definitely incorporate making play dough making into our kitchen fun! When we’re not making snakes and iguanas, we often make lemons, spinach, bread, fried eggs, raspberries, grapes, and pizza with our store-bought Play-Doh. (The gluten molecule is too large to pass through your pores, so I never worry about handling the dough.)

As the kids get older, I’ll let them do even more. Right now, I make sure to talk through the process whenever they’re watching me cook. By the time they can mix up biscuits, they’ll already know that we start with all of the dry ingredients, then add the fat before finally adding liquid. They’ll probably know how to use milk & vinegar as a substitute for buttermilk too. Essentially, they’ll be at a different stage of readiness having observed the process before attempting it. Having confidence in the kitchen will give my grandchildren a leg up as adults who may decide to dine at home.

I don’t just focus on the lessons when playing with my grandchildren in the kitchen; I incorporate stories about my life. I can’t tell a story without hearing, “Again!” And so I tell it again. I am weaving a family narrative that will anchor these children to their history creating a sense of belonging to something bigger. Through these stories, they will learn more about me, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as their own parents and themselves.

It is easy to see by the response, the stories are enjoyed and appreciated. They are also important. Research says family narratives not only help us make sense of the world but can play an important role in healing (1).

The weather woman is promising more rain this week. I’m looking forward to the chance to stir up a cake, spin a yarn, and create bonds with my grandchildren that will sustain them. I’m so glad cooking can be child’s play!

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/expert-answers/celiac-disease/faq-20057879

https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-018-0347-9

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201702/collective-stories-in-families-teach-us-about-ourselves

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010736/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-3-the-lessons/

August 29, 2018

A Love Affair With Coffee

Are you having a love affair with coffee? I love the smell of coffee. I always have. Years before I liked drinking it, I wanted to pour it over my head every time I smelled that scrumptious aroma. Today, you can drive me up to a Starbucks® window and the instant coffee wafts past my nose, I feel my shoulders relax and my gut calm. I probably sigh out loud.

I don’t know why coffee has such a strong effect on me or why it feels comforting. No one in my family regularly drank coffee. It took me years to learn to enjoy it. From 100% freeze-dried Taster’s Choice® instant to my current favorite, whole bean Jim’s Organic Sweet Love Blend, it’s been a journey.
coffee press
Like everything else, coffee drinkers have their preferences. A few years ago, I went to a presentation on coffee at the Gilcrease Museum. During the tasting portion, I learned I am not a coffee purist. I am not willing to spend a full two minutes pouring boiling water over barely ground beans roasted so lightly they taste like…well, let’s just say they’re not to my taste.

I understand that very dark roasts can mostly taste like charred beans, but for some people that can be as delicious as the charred edges of steak cooked on a charcoal grill. One local roaster promoted a particular coffee to me by touting its high acidity. The problem with that is, I prefer a very smooth mellow flavor. If high acid comes with a bite at the end, I don’t like it.

Perhaps my favorite bag of coffee ever arrived from Costa Rica with a friend who had been traveling. Every drop I made from that bag superseded any coffee that came before or since. I’ve tried other Costa Rican coffees, but can’t seem to replicate that experience.

For the past few months I’ve been on a quest to find a new satisfying roast. I had been grabbing less expensive, already ground bags until I realized the simple pleasure of a really delicious cup of joe can set the tone for my whole day. I want every day to be the best possible, so I had to begin with better ingredients.

After experiments with several Starbucks, Peet’s, Wicked Joe, Equal Exchange, and Black Rifle flavors, I grabbed a bag of Jim’s Organic in a small health food store in my hometown. That one bag led to an online order that arrived this week. In addition to the Sweet Love Blend, I’m trying Costa Rican Hacienda La Amistad, Sumatra French Roast, and 2 Souls Dark Roast. They were all ordered as whole beans. Of course I couldn’t see the them online, but in the store I look for dark beans that glisten with aromatic oils.
coffee beans
I grind the beans for about 15 seconds and place them in a ceramic French press. I’ve owned a variety of coffee brewing machines over the years including one that shot sparks into the room when I wasn’t even using it. None of them have lasted for more than a couple of years and none of them produced a better cup of coffee than a $7 glass French press purchased from a restaurant supply store.

The ceramic press is a new purchase. So far, I like it. It keeps the coffee hot longer than my previous glass press. This press filled with Sweet Love Blend is good enough to extend my love affair with coffee.

A former boyfriend recently said he was always impressed that I could make such a good cup of coffee at home. My thought bubble was saying, “How would you know? You drink it with so much cream and sweetener, you can’t even taste the coffee”. (Former boyfriends always give me thought bubbles.)

Given the popularity of frappumacchiatocino drinks, I sometimes wonder how many people enjoy the taste of coffee. All that sugary stuff inside or on top certainly masks its flavor. On the flip side, a little cream can make a moderately bad, bitter cup palatable. Perhaps previous experience with an unpleasant aftertaste leads to a cream & sugar habit.

Then there are those who like coffee flavor, but want to fortify it as a breakfast substitute or an after workout replenisher. I have friends who swear by bullet coffee. It’s not my thing, but I recently saw a recipe for bullet coffee that looked delicious. In addition to butter, it included cacao, cinnamon, coconut oil, dates, and pink Himalayan sea salt.

I’m pretty sure health benefits are not the final consideration for most dedicated coffee drinkers. How could they be? One week, coffee causes cancer and increases the risk of heart disease. The next week, the antioxidants prevent dementia, type II diabetes, and Parkinson’s and make us live longer. The research is conflicting at best.

Recent research indicates that we need to figure out how long it takes our body to metabolize coffee to determine whether it will increase our mortality risk. And how exactly do we do that?

Since there’s no way to know the exact risk or benefit, it seems like the best thing to do is listen to my body. Obviously, it’s good to feel calmed and comforted. It’s not good to consume so much caffeine that I feel jittery. A couple of large black cups in the morning and I am set for the day. On rare occasions, I might enjoy a cup with cream in the evening if I have dessert. More than that would be too much of a good thing.

If I were to wax philosophical, I’m following the tenet that moderation is best in coffee as in all things…other than love. You can never have, or give, too much love!

https://gilcrease.org/

https://newsok.com/article/5340388/gilcrease-museum-preview-celebrates-debut-of-helmerich-center-for-american-research

https://www.jimsorganiccoffee.com/shop/

https://www.blackriflecoffee.com/

https://dceg.cancer.gov/news-events/research-news-highlights/2018/coffee-mortality-genetic-variation

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/coffee-and-health/faq-20058339

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/?s=coffee+


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

April 23, 2018

I Love Brunch!

I love brunch! It sounds like elegant decadence to my ear. Say the word and in my head I see Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – form fitting black dress, long gloves, updo, and lengthy cigarette holder. If we’re going to brunch, we get to sleep late and there are sure to be mimosas or bloody marys. I don’t know if it’s the idea of a lazy morning, the siren call of crispy bacon, or exactly what, but brunch is always appealing!

My brunch favorites lean toward the breakfast end of the menu. Bacon, eggs, grits, fried potatoes, waffles, and fruit trump roast beef, salmon, or salad for my first meal of the day. As long as the bacon is crisp and the waffles are gluten-free, I am happy with simple preparation and presentation. If the taste is delicious, I also appreciate the unique and fancy.
waffle
One of my favorite local restaurants serves poutine as a regular brunch option. Originally from Quebec, poutine is made of French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. Add an egg to the top and you’ll be fortified to withstand the harshest cold weather.

When I travel to Asheville, I often choose crêpes because many restaurants in the area automatically make them gluten-free. These thin pancake-like pastries can be carriers of savory sausage & eggs, spinach & cheese, chicken & mushrooms, or salmon & ricotta. They can also be filled with cream cheese & strawberries, chocolate & hazelnut, bananas & caramel and many other sweet concoctions.

If you like quinoa and oatmeal, breakfast bowls can be hearty plant-based brunch options. Add black beans, avocado, pico de gallo, and a squeeze of lime to quinoa (or rice) for a filling Mexican bowl. Dress up oatmeal with maple syrup or coconut crystals, shredded coconut, almonds, cashews, and fresh berries. Add some vegan chocolate for added delightfulness.

When we stay home for brunch, we have eggs Ben. They’re like eggs Benedict, but made by Ben with his special hollandaise sauce. In fact, Ben & our friend Hunter had an eggs Benedict cook-off at my house a few years ago. I don’t remember who attended to weigh in on the judging, but, predictably, Ben & Hunter each contends he won. I think we need a rematch.

I’ve hosted bridesmaid brunches, wedding shower brunches, impromptu brunches and really late Christmas breakfasts that should have been called brunches. The planned events often include cinnamon rolls. I like making cinnamon rolls. I’ve made tons of them over the years. Last year, I turned some of them into bread pudding. Cinnamon roll bread pudding meets any level of excess required for your decadent brunch.

Brunch just wouldn’t be complete without a superior cup of coffee. A couple of years ago I stayed at an old hotel in a nearby city. The room was questionable, the TV reception terrible, the lobby clad in shabby grandeur, but the bacon and eggs were perfect and the coffee was superior. I went back for brunch last year. The hotel was still old and shabby and I didn’t even care. That’s how strong the draw of brunch with superior coffee can be.

You don’t have to dress up to go to brunch. You certainly don’t have to wear long gloves and large diamonds. Traditional ice sculptures, carving stations, and cooked-to-order waffles are not essential. Sleeping late and full immersion in decadence, on the other hand, are mandatory…well, for me anyway.

Happy brunching!

https://www.facebook.com/Creperie.Cafe.Of.Weaverville
http://www.ashevillebouchon.com/lecluse/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/?s=crepe

February 13, 2018

No Special Equipment Required for Gluten-Free Cooking, but Some Gadgets are Fun!

If you’re new to gluten-free cooking, you’ll be relieved to learn there’s no special equipment required to make a delicious gluten-free chocolate cake, Gouda muffin, or meatball from scratch. Everyone I know has everything needed already in their kitchen. With that said, there’s no hiding the fact that some gadgets are fun!
mixer
If you have a sharp knife, whisk, grater, food chopper or blender, you have all you need to make most recipes. If you want to bake, it’s also helpful to have a dough blender, and a mixer. I’m not big on small electric appliances, so I have an inexpensive food chopper, but no electric food processor, blender, mixer, juicer, toaster, rice cooker, waffle iron, or even coffee maker.
waffle
I drink coffee, but use a French press and make waffles using an antique cast iron waffle maker. Admittedly, my waffles might fare better with a nonstick waffle iron, but I love the simplicity and durability of the one I have. While I don’t want a bunch of appliances lining my countertops, I must confess that there are a few gadgets I love to use!
grater
Cube Grater
Last weekend I was grating garlic for scalloped potatoes using a small box grater. Made by Microplane®, this 3-sided cube has 3 different blades. None of them are specifically made for garlic, but I got a great result anyway.

The bladed cube comes in a slightly larger translucent cube marked with measurements. Grate your cheese, chocolate, or coconut into the larger cube and measure it at the same time! Add the top and you have an automatic storage container.

I like having tiny grated pieces automatically trapped in a container where I can easily scoop them into a teaspoon. I also love the efficiency of the blades. This tool just works well which makes it a pleasure to use.
zester
Zester
While we’re on the subject of Microplane graters, I’ve used my zester on a regular basis for years. Again, it works well! There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a kitchen tool that looks great, but doesn’t do the job. None of those will be making my list.

Rotary Hand Mixer
I use a rotary hand mixer for cake batter, whipped cream, and meringue. It looks a lot like an egg beater, but it’s much heavier and capable of mixing a thick batter.

Just before I moved into my first apartment, my father acquired an assortment of pots, pans, dishes, cups, metal mixing bowls, and kitchen tools from a restaurant. Seems this restaurant owed him some money that they didn’t have, so he decided to collect in what was available – kitchen and dining equipment. The timing was good. I needed to outfit an apartment, and Dad didn’t really want to sue.

The hand mixer I use today, came from that transaction. I used the pots and metal mixing bowls for years. They weren’t attractive, but they were large and functional. All that’s left now is the mixer. I’m grateful to have it. It’s a workhorse!

Dough Blender
Of the several dough blenders in my drawer, an old one with a red handle is my favorite! I found it in my mother’s kitchen. Like all of the old implements I use, it’s sturdy. I find the wires more effective for cutting fat into flour than the metal blades on a more modern model I own.
pitcher
Funnel Pitcher
The day I poured boiling water across my hand while attempting to fill a French press, I learned that I might need some assistance with my pouring aim. A funnel pitcher fits the bill. It’s easy to fill dessert glasses with panna cotta or create the perfect pancake using a funnel pitcher. I like these pitchers so much, I’ve given them as gifts so other people can like them too.

Looking back at this list, it appears that I like sturdy, functional, tools that work well. That sounds right. I don’t really care whether they’re new, old, or in between as long as they have the other characteristics.

I can make do without these tools and still create delicious gluten-free food, but a well-crafted utensil heightens my cooking experience and I like that. Hopefully, you have favorites that make your kitchen time more pleasant. If not, feel free to check out my favorites!

https://us.microplane.com/kitchen_en_us/cubegraterfamily.html

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”