Sondag, 20 Januarie 2013

Eating Jim's Lunch: Tyler Florence's Start Fresh cookbook

Somewhere, very soon, a grown man may cry over broccoli.

Jim, This Is Just To Say*
I have eaten
the leftovers
that were in
the icebox

and which
you definitely meant
to eat
for lunch

Forgive me
they were delicious
so tender
and so warm.
 It's rare when I jump to a recommendation without weeks of scrutiny, but Tyler Florence's Start Fresh cookbook won me over as soon as I started reading it.

I'm too lazy for most celebrity chef cookbooks. The recipes seem designed to occupy hours shopping for hard-to-find ingredients, doing abundant prep work, and then obsessively observing every stage of cooking. What I need now, with my household of five, is simplicity, clarity, and health.

A mom who was making her baby all-organic baby food recommended the book to me, and I thought, "Lady, you're insane." Every time I cracked the cover of a baby cookbook, I spent at least an hour preparing something that NO ONE in the family wanted to eat (though Jim would very kindly feign enthusiasm for the disgustingly soft, unbelievable bland horror that I dished up). My friends grew an organic garden and made mountains of baby food for their first child, only to have it summarily rejected. I was too smart to do this again (note: with every new Jones baby I buy an expensive sling I hate and a stack of labyrinthine baby/kid cookbooks). Not this time (for the cookbooks, I already gave up on a Moby wrap).

And then came the line that landed the sales pitch, "You make one meal for the whole family and just puree some of it for the baby."

I dream of only making one meal that everyone eats. Somehow, I have become that short-order mom who everyone thinks they won't be. My kids eat fruit, breads, peanut butter, crackers, and cheese. It's like being stuck at a w(h)ine and cheese buffet for life. Jim and I still love the variety and flavors offered through menu planning service Relish! (we've subscribed since '08). So I've been making two meals and feeding the baby from jars and containers.

When (Tyler Florence's) Sprout baby food went on sale at the grocery, I bought a couple packs. If the baby would reject them like the other kids' did another leading organic baby food brand, I could cast out the lingering book recommendation faster than she spits out peas.

The baby all but wept for joy at the first taste. Her joyful face soon turned cynical as I swear she thought, "What else are you holding out on?" Then she banged her fists until she ate every bit. About 10 bags later, I bought the book.

Start Fresh is a pragmatist's cookbook. Recipes call for simple ingredients that are roasted or steamed (techniques that are cheap and easy). Jim has some great 13 gauge baking sheets which are perfect for roasting.

Last night the baby ate pureed roasted broccoli with Paremsan while we tossed the broccoli with some random pasta, Parmesan, and olive oil. It was outstanding. Even Ranger ate the letters in his name (which is something for a 6 year old who doesn't eat pasta). Jim was gleeful when I packed the leftovers for his lunch.

And then he forgot them. (And Jim, should you still be reading this, I actually saved half for you.)

Start Fresh: Your Child's Jump Start to Lifelong Healthy Eating is currently an Amazon bargain book ($7.79).  The first part of the book is purees while the second half is family meals with simple adaptations. About half the recipes are vegetarian (including great foods like beets, quinoa, eggplant, butternut squash). Only four dessert recipes are included- which is a refreshing change from most kids' cookbooks. The included desserts look healthier than average while still sounding sumptuous (e.g. baked pumpkin with peaches, strawberry-stuffed muffins).

While the book has some fancy-pants moments like making your own almond milk, it has parallel slacker instructions for us less motivated readers.

*My deepest apologies to William Carlos Williams, his red wheelbarrow, the white chickens, and the rain.

***Baby Toolkit is one Midwestern couple's approach to geek living with kids. Our opinions and judgement may be questionable, but they are entirely our own. We have no relationship with Tyler Florence or Rodale books. We are however Amazon affiliates, so a small percentage of purchases made through our links helps support this blog (thanks!).

Donderdag, 17 Januarie 2013

Blackout: We Oppose SOPA & PIPA

Proposed American legislation threatens Internet privacy and freedom from censorship. If you're not already aware of these civil liberties and free speech issues, please see why sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing, and others are falling black on January 18, 2012. Even Google is marking the event (though their services will remain live throughout the day)

*Yes, if you read this earlier, I did correct the title. I meant to say I supported the opposition, but that isn't remotely what I initially published.  The girls have been up and down all night (bedtime is now some sick variation on whack-a-mole) and Ranger has decided  to have an early life crisis this week. I am totally losing my mind.

Dinsdag, 08 Januarie 2013

The Good Life for Less: A Happiness Upgrade

Jim and I began our married lives in austerity. We were students with time left on our degrees and meager student jobs to augment parental support.

Our first anniversary is remembered as the Ben & Jerry's milkshake anniversary. Milkshake- not milkshakes.

Those early days of rice and potatoes left us reading a lot of budgeting (and healthy eating) books (trust me, you pay later for a cheap all-starch diet).

I met Amy Allen Clark in 2008 at a mom blogger event. In a connecting flight back to the Midwest, Amy and I talked about our families- especially about adding a second child (as I was pregnant with Scout). Amy's lively spirit and positivity are contagious. I was sorry when I had to run (neither figuratively nor gracefully) for my next flight.

Since that time, I've faithfully read Amy's blogs at Mom Advice. Amy's elegantly simple solutions to household issues, like using a backwards daybed with a newly independent sleeper, have shaped my home. Her Notebook posts offer a maven's eye-view of great recent blog recipes, patterns and projects- and are one of the highlights of my feed reader.

When her publisher (Perigee, an imprint of Penguin) offered me a chance to read her new book The Good Life for Less: Giving Your Family Great Meals, Good Times, and a Happy Home on a Budget, I was excited to see Amy's take on the seemingly-familiar world of budget living.

The matter of finances is timely for our family. As we've worked to make shrinking ends meet (growing medical expenses and a few annual payroll freezes), I've been resisting the need to rethink our financial lives. Revisiting our budget with new constraints seemed more like my personal failure than anything else.

The text radiates Amy's warm energy. As I read the stories of Amy's family's journey to frugality, I kept stumbling into great memories from my own childhood. Rather than looking toward a slightly grave new austerity, I found myself excited to launch into a life that celebrates the riches already abundant in my life.

Without using the term, Amy's book embodies many Simple Living philosophies. The Good Life for Less reminded me of sitting together with my parents and brother eating homemade fudge and popcorn as we watched a favorite movie on broadcast television. Her family's Friday pizza nights made me think fondly of similar evenings in high school were I regularly attended my buddy's weekly family's pizza night and drank copious amounts of sweet tea while we played cards afterwards. Simple, wonderful times.

Amy includes many great budget-friendly recipes that I wish we'd had back in the early days of our marriage. Her homemade chai mix is not only a great gift option, but offers one of my favorite indulgences at a great value.

It was also great to read the book while feeling swamped by the holidays. Like many parents, I struggle about how much to get my kids. Her family's current formula of "Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read" is exactly the gift-giving framework I have been searching for. This formula allows for creativity, utility and wish-granting tailored to each member of the family.

There are so many parts of the book I could excerpt here as simple tips (because it is brimming with brilliance), but Amy's stories set mental gears spinning. With renewed creativity and joy, I'm identifying and capitalizing on those simple systems and moments that bring happiness and satisfaction to my family. A shocking number of those life upgrades come at no expense.

***Baby Toolkit is the ongoing story of two geek parents in the Midwest. I do know Amy Allen Clark, but have no financial relationship with her (other than the fiscal benefits of reading her blog and book) nor her publishers. We are Amazon affiliates, so a small portion of purchases made through our Amazon links helps support our blogging and podcasting (www.greatbigtable.com) efforts. Thanks!