Sunday, August 29, 2010

True Confessions: Do you Sneak Healthy Stuff into your Family's Food?

Do you have any trouble getting your kids to eat what is good for them?   We do at our house some of the time.  I am amazed at how much time and angst I go through as a mom trying to make sure my kids are not wasting away of scurvy or some other disease caused by lack of fruits and/or vegetables.
To be fair, our kids do eat a fair amount of interesting things, like pesto and black olives and broccoli, and some are more adventurous than others.  But our youngest, in particular, has a true aversion at the moment to nearly any visible fruit or vegetable.  So I find myself getting creative in finding ways to get said child (and children) to eat fruits or vegetables.
A year or two ago, I picked up from the library "new book" shelf a copy of Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food, a cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld (interestingly, the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld).  I thought this might be my way to ensure that kids were getting good doses of hidden fruits and vegetables in their meals and snacks.  But I didn't like the idea of being "deceptive," so I left the book in plain view and told the kids that we would try some of the recipes.  Unfortunately, most of them were not hits at our house, though I do still add in extra tomatoes to our taco meat.
Another cookbook, also with an unfortunate name, is more successful at our house:  Sneaky Chef:  Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine.   She has a number of "purees" of nutritionally powerful fruits and/or vegetables that she recommends mixing into various foods.  I have successfully mixed in the "white puree" (zucchini and cauliflower) into mac & cheese and mashed potatoes.
Even before reading these books, I have been fond of putting extra "nuts and twigs," as my husband calls them, into my home-baked goods.   My Texas sheet cake recipe, which gets raves whenever I make it, is full of unusual flours (teff, anyone?) and my current favorite uber-healthy ingredient, flax.   Texas sheet cake is not exactly health food, but because it is dark, a lot of good things can go unnoticed and therefore eaten.  
Lately I've been making a family favorite crumble muffin.  The original called for raspberry (this was my very "nuts and twigs" adapation of an old cookbook recipe I had), but the visible-fruit-averse child in our house was driving me crazy by not eating these super yummy & fairly healthy muffins.
So I confess that I did resort to subterfuge.  Currently, I make a double batch of these muffins, one with fruit (usually raspberries or blueberries)--the "fruit muffins," and one batch with shredded or pureed zucchini, and these are called "plain muffins."  Everyone gets to eat their favorite  muffins, and everyone gets a little bit of fruit and/or vegetable.  The muffins freeze beautifully, making for super quick breakfasts.
And so far, no scurvy at our house.
Here's the recipe.  Care to share you experiences of getting kids to eat more fruits & vegetables? Or any "secret" recipes that are popular at your house?
Raspberry Crumble Muffins

Mix together dry ingredients:
1.3 cup flour
1/2 cup flax
1/3 cup oat flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
Mix dry into wet; add in 1.5 cup raspberries or other fruit (or 2 cups shredded or blended zucchini).
Scoop into 12 muffin tins that have been greased.
Crumble for topping:
1/3 cup brown sugar
pinch cinnamon
1/3 cup flour
3 T melted butter
mix together and crumble atop muffins
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Father Leo's Fusion Fajitas: Why I Am a Book Blogger and Not a Food Blogger Will be Evident Here

All month long, I've been promising to myself make the fusion fajitas that Father Leo Patalinghug beat Food TV Chef Bobby Flay on the "Throwdown" show.  We have watched the episode plenty of times at our house, especially after Father Leo appeared at our parish in May.  What an exciting time we had meeting him in person.

Read the rest of this article on my newer website, Reading Catholic. Click here to visit the full article on, and I invite you to visit and follow me over there!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are We Too Plugged In?

I haven't even finished this article from the New York Times about scientists who left their cellphones and Internet behind for a week, and I want to turn off everything and go off for a week into the wilderness.

I've thought a lot about the relationship we all have with being "plugged in" after I wrote about Nicholas Carr's new book, "The Shallows" on what the Internet is doing to our brain.

I think rather than continue to do "research" on what's best, I'm formulating an idea of a plan to have certain times that are Internet-free.  That already happens for me pretty naturally with taking care of a household and three busy children.  But I do find my checking e-mail or just clicking around on the Internet to be seeping into lots of time that could be spent more interestingly.  Do you have a time or day when you do not connect with the world in any way?  What do you do with that time?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grace Before Meals: What are Your Food Rules?

First of all,  Happy Feast of the Assumption!   What a great mid-summer feast.  I have very specific childhood memories of being on vacation with our family at Wildwood, NJ, and the priest blessing the ocean waves on this day.  I always want to be at the beach on this day, but it rarely happens.  Maybe next year?

This spring, as I was preparing to take on this role of book page editor and blogger for the Catholic Post, I had a number of discussions with my editor Tom Dermody, about future books to feature.

I had just finished Michael Pollan's slim but very intriguing book, Food Rules, and I suggested this one as a possible one for a summer month.  Fortunately, Tom pointed out the challenge of a month-long discussion on this one book, and he's right.   That's why he's the editor, and I'm the editee.  Thank you, Tom.

Food Rules is a compendium of different rules people shared with food writer Pollan about how they eat healthy.  Most of them are great basic advice for eating well, though some are very appealing to me personally. Sweets only on days that begin with an S? I don't think so, Mr. Pollan!

But the book an interesting starting point for talking about food rules--we all have them, and defining them can be a fun exercise.

Here are some of my food rules:

Almost always, I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every single day, and I don't mind a bit.   This one I learned from my Dad, who didn't mind it, either.

This one, also from my Dad:  there is no such thing as too much fiber.

Coffee can make you feel better.  This one was from my Mom, and I only learned this later in life and not in time to thank her.

Dark chocolate makes you smarter (even on days that don't start with an S).

I wish I had some good food rules for children, but for now I just keep putting out whatever good stuff I can and hope some of it sticks at some point, either literally or figuratively.

What are your top food rules?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Grace Before Meals: Family Meal Rules?

Fr. Leo's ministry Grace Before Meals is all about gathering families around the dinner table for good food and good conversation, in order to foster the great connections that the domestic Church that is the family.

But I had an interesting discussion some weeks back with a group of moms about if the "family dinner" was so important.  One mom argued that other mealtimes, like breakfast, could be a time to gather, and pegging it to dinner was too restrictive.   Another mom argued that perhaps even mealtime was not necessary for connection when there are other opportunities for connection as a family, and that "forcing" everyone to participate in family mealtimes could be counterproductive.   It made for an interesting conversation.

I do think there is something important about eating together that is unique in a family's experience.    But I also know some people don't have great memories of family mealtimes.  Also, there can be different seasons of life, such as busy sport or work schedules and young children just learning table manners, that can make family mealtimes a challenge at best.

As I wrote in my review of Fr. Leo's book, our family's mealtimes often break some of the common "rules" for dinner time.  I was partially joking, of course, because there are no rules in Canon Law for how mealtimes should look.

But we do try to make an effort to have family mealtimes and interesting conversations to go along with those, and I find that as our children get older both the discussions and the food get more interesting.  That keeps us committed to trying to make those times a priority, even as schedules get busier.

What are some of your family meal rules?  Any suggestions for

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grace Before Meals: Your Favorite Cookbook, Food Magazine, Blog or Recipe Website?

Care to share your favorite website, cooking magazine, blog or cookbook to help you cook at home?

I tend to "google" a recipe if I'm looking for, say, a recipe for something in particular, like soba noodles in peanut sauce.

But the sites I tend to trust for accurate, turns out most of the time, recipes is Epicurious.   I enjoy getting recipes off of various people's blogs, but I find the recipes frequently don't come out as good as the photo!

Cookbooks?  I have two versions of the Joy of Cooking, one my mom got me when I lived in my first apartment in the 1980s.  When a new edition came out in 1997, she gave me that one as well; for some reason, even though I purge cookbooks from time to time, I still keep them both on the shelf.    They are both such a wealth of information about all kinds of cooking and food, and a good base to learn about basic techniques and cooking methods.  Armed with the information

I love cooking magazines, and I used to have a tradition a friend recommended of subscribing to one cooking magazine per year and then rotating; so I did "Cooking Light" one year, Cook's Illustrated the next, and so on.  But though I love to page through them, I found that they piled up alarmingly, so  I don't subscribe to any at the moment.   The one cooking magazine I did frequently try recipes from was Cook's Illustrated, and they tended to be pretty great recipes.

What are your favorites?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grace Before Meals Question: Favorite Faith-Based Food Traditions?

One of the best things about Fr. Leo's book Grace Before Meals is how it is divided by different seasons, from religious holidays (the Feast of the Sacred Heart) to sports team gatherings.  The recipes and "Let's Talk.. Let's Listen" portion of each relate to the  of each of these times through the year.  He suggests great ideas to help 

One recent one I can recall is from July 16-- we try to have something with caramel on the feast of Our Lady of Carmel.  I know, it's not "Our Lady of Caramel," but it does help us to remember Our Lady that day in a "sweet" way.

Since we are Italian at our house, we've got lots of food-based traditions that relate to the liturgical year.  My husband makes his family's Sicilian savoiardi (ladyfingers) recipe on St. Joseph's Day, and we serve both fish and pizza on Christmas Eve.  (I'm not sure why the pizza, except that traditionally Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence from meat; both my family and my husband's family had this tradition).

What are some of your favorite faith-based food traditions?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Grace Before Meals: Favorite Newer Recipe to Share?

Fr. Leo's Grace Before Meals has helped me vow to try new recipes.  From the cookbook, we've the penne with vodka sauce, and it is very, very good and easy to make.  As I've mentioned already, I plan to make Fr. Leo's Throwdown-winning fajitas soon, and I hope to post photos and a review of that when I do.

But I always love to find good new recipes, especially of foods that will get my children (and my whole family) to eat more fruits & vegetables, and to expand our palates beyond the usual.

In recent weeks, our family has avidly watched each episode of The Next Food Network Star, a reality show on the Food Network.  We are rooting for Aarti to win, finding her the most engaging personality among any of the contestants.  In previous weeks, we have had a consensus at our house that the only contestants whose shows we would be interested in watching are Aarti and Brad, but (sniff!) Brad was sent home last week.   Go, Aarti!

Several weeks back, one of Aarti's recipes was for a quinoa pilaf, and I grabbed my chance.  For those who know me, I am a big fan of unusual grains, and try as much as possible to sneak some of those said grains and flours ("nuts and twigs" according to my longsuffering husband) into my cooking and baking.  I've never been able to get quinoa palatable for the whole family, and I find it rather dry myself, though I will eat it.  It is very healthy, but I've just never found a recipe that everyone would like.

Aarti's recipe was a big hit!  I made it on a Friday night for dinner along with salmon, and it was tried by everyone (no small feat in our house), and three of the five of us ate it up.   The raisins, cinnamon and onions really sweetened the dish, and the curry and other spices didn't overwhelm.

Do you have any good newer recipes to share?  Bonus points for "nuts and twigs." ;-)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Meet a Reader: Sylvia Standaert

Here's August's "Meet a Reader,"  the monthly feature that also appears on the Book Page of the Catholic Post.

If you have a suggestion of someone that would be a good subject for a future "Meet a Reader" column, please leave a comment!

Who:  Sylvia Standaert, librarian, Our Lady of Grace Academy (formerly St. Anne School), East Moline
I was born with Cerebral Palsy but because of my parents’ dedication and my determination and tenacity, it has never deterred me from reaching my goals.  I have worked in a Pre-school-8th grade school library (Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy formerly St. Anne School) for 43 years.  The kids keep me going.  I have two older brothers, Gene and Jim, and enjoy their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  My hobbies include collecting Longaberger baskets, reading, shopping and travel.  I have visited 46 states and 14 countries.

Why do you love reading?
I have read voraciously since the first day I could read.  It might have stemmed from the fact that it was something I could do despite my handicap, but I can't imagine being without a book.  Books can take you anyplace you want to go, and make you feel like you are part of the characters’ lives.   Books can teach you anything you want to learn about any subject imaginable.

What is your favorite book? 
My favorite book is The Bears Visit the Library, a book I wrote and my niece/godchild Michele illustrated. (Michele is an artist in Arizona).  The Bears Visit the Library is based on a program I do each year with the kindergarten class at our school.  When we started the kindergarten at the school, I thought using my extensive collection of teddy bears could be a great way to relay the importance of reading and using the library to a group of very inquisitive five-year-olds.   I usually start my bear curriculum in January, about the time the kindergarten teacher is doing something with polar bears.   As the school year progresses, brown bears appear, as do holiday, gardening and sports bears.

What are you currently reading? Mysteries are my favorite genre.   I just finished a Charlotte LaRue Mystery "Death Tidies Up by Barbara Coley.  Charlotte has a maid service and keeps finding dead bodies in unusual places.  I love the Abby and Ophelia mystery series by Shirley Damsgaard, including the latest in the series, “The Seventh Witch.”  Ophelia is a small town librarian, and she and her grandmother Abby have some very "magickal" powers.   Other favorite authors include Joanne Fluke, Mary Higgins Clark, Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts and John Grisham. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grace Before Meals Offers Healthy Servings of Ideas & Recipes for Family Mealtimes

Father Leo Patalinghug,well-known cooking priest, who defeated Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s “Throwdown,” has a new version of his book, Grace Before Meals,  as part of his ministry ( to strengthen family relationships around the dinner table.

So let me start by saying, bless us, Father Leo, for our family has sinned:

Sometimes, we eat fast food in the minvan.
Sometimes, we don’t eat together. 
Sometimes we eat in front of the television (but it’s always an educational show, I promise you—“ The Next Food Network Star” and “Gilligan’s Island” count as educational shows, right?).
Some of us eat pie for breakfast, when there’s pie around.
Some of the younger of us don’t like to stay seated.

I’m sure we’re not the only family to break the rules of what constitutes a “good dinner” or a “good meal.”   That’s why Grace Before Meals is such a great resource.

Grace Before Meals is not a “rule book,” but encouragement and some great tools to challenge families to gather around the table and create special traditions regarding mealtime.   Themed chapters focus on traditions and recipes for different times, from the common (New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day), to the not-so-common (sports teams, the Feast of the Sacred Heart).

Many things make this book worthwhile to have on your cookbook shelf, but two features stand out:

*First, the recipes.  While some are not exactly health-conscious, they are largely made with wholesome natural ingredients.  Available in the new version of Fr. Leo’s book is the secret recipe for his “fusion fajitas” with which Father Leo beat Bobby Flay on “Throwdown.”  My only “beef”  (pun intended) is that there are not photos of the finished dishes, something I love in cookbooks.

*Second, the “Let’s Talk…Let’s Listen” section at the end of each chapter.  The questions are great conversation starters, and “Let’s Listen” provide some scripture verses to look up and share regarding the topic.

For instance, in the Father’s Day meal section, questions include, “Do you think it’s harder to be a mom or a dad? Why? “ and “Which television fathers are the most realistic?”

Recently, I was part of a conversation with a group of moms about whether the old-fashioned “family dinner” is required for connected, happy family life.   Why not other mealtimes, like breakfast, or other activities, like game nights or excursions, to build closeness?

G.K. Chesterton, a man who clearly loved meals, pointed out, that meals are sacred, but so is all of life:

“You say grace before meals.  All right.  But I say grace before the play and before the opera, and grace before the concert and the pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

As Chesterton says, it’s not an either/or.  Family connections can be built around any sort of activity, though there’s something unique about cooking and mealtimes that foster connection and conversation. 

The cooking and the mealtimes are going to look different in every family, and Grace Before Meals reminds us to make those family connections and conversation a priority. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Month of Food for Thought: Your Family's Favorite Grace Before Meals?

This month's theme at the Catholic Post Book Group is food, since the reviewed book for this month is cooking priest Father Leo Patalinghug's new edition of Grace Before Meals, a cookbook that encourages family mealtimes for both spiritual and physical reasons.  I'm very enthusiastic about this book, and I have Fr. Leo's famous Throwdown-winning fajita recipe  ready to try at our house sometime this month.  My review will post tomorrow, and also appear in in the print Catholic Post this weekend.

What I hope to do this month is share and learn ideas about food & mealtimes, and how that can enrich family life and family spirituality.  I hope you'll join in and share!

First up:  what is your family's favorite grace?  At our house we use the standard, "Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen."  Occasionally (or not so occasionally, for breakfast and lunch),  we are saying, "which we are receiving from thy bounty" when we forget to say grace before meals.  How about at your house?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

First, What are You Reading? Volume 1, August 2010

Without further ado, here are the questions and my answers for this first volume of “First, What are You Reading?”

If you want to read about my thinking for this new feature, read my previous post here.

First, what are you reading?

What do you like best about it?

Too often we think that we have to make big grand changes in life to really make a difference, but this book argues persuasively that small changes can make a huge difference in business, relationships, and health. 

Most fascinating in this book was learning that self-control is finite.  The authors quote numerous studies to show that once you “use up” your self-control resisting, say, chocolate chip cookies, you are less likely to persist in say, writing your next column, instead of checking Facebook or watching Gilligan’s Island episodes with your kids. (Not that I have any experience with either of those situations, LOL).

The authors show that if you can direct the rider (the self-control), motivate the elephant (the passions), and shape the path (control the environment), change becomes much easier.

What do you like least about it?

Not much.  It’s really that good. 

One funny story:  The book has exhaustive chapter notes at the back that are actually quite fascinating and informative.  One of the chapter notes recommends the book, “Divorce Busters” as a book anyone should read to strengthen relationships.  I immediately put it on hold online to arrive at our local library, and when it arrived it raised some eyebrows from the excellent library ladies who know me so well at our small library.

What is next on your list to read?

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  I’ve seen several Facebook friends recommend this young adult  (YA) series, and so I’m planning to dive in.  It looks like not my kind of YA fiction, but I’m keeping an open mind.

I am also working my way through quite a few books about and by Cardinal John Henry Newman, as one of those books will be our September selection at the Catholic Post Book Group, since he will be beatified in September.

If you are a blogger, please consider using the Mr. Linky post at the bottom.  Don’t forget to link back to here so others visiting your blog can also join in the fun!

If you are not a blogger, please take a moment to leave a comment and share what you are reading—even just the title and author is fine, though your one or more sentence review would be great.

Here are the four questions again.  You can answer any or all:
First, what are you reading?
What do you like best about it?
What do you like least about it?
What is next on your list to read?

If you are a blogger, please consider using the Mr. Linky post at the bottom.  Don’t forget to link back to here so others visiting your blog can also join in the fun!

If you are not a blogger, please take a moment to leave a comment and share what you are reading—even just the title and author is fine, though your one or more sentence review would be great.
I look forward to hearing about your "reads."