In the Kitchen, Noodle Kid Style

When I heard that Jonathon Sawyer was releasing a cooking-with-kids cookbook I immediately went to Amazon to pre-order it. Last week Noodle Kids arrived and we were SO! EXCITED!

The timing was perfect with the long MLK Day weekend ahead. Matilda and I read through the book and she picked Roasted Chicken Ramen and Pho to make and made the shopping list. Of course with a list including things like bonito flakes and seaweed we headed to the always-fun Park to Shop in Asia Plaza. The kids love Park to Shop with all the amazing room of noodles, Hello Kitty items and, of course, Pocky (their favorite). We loaded up with all kinds of noodles, spices and sauces we headed home – dreaming of ramen that wasn’t instant.

On Saturday I made the broth – basically your standard chicken broth with the not standard (for me) additions of seaweed sheets and dried mushrooms. I always have a chicken carcass or two in the freezer since we roast a chicken almost weekly, so this want’s an issue for us. You may need to plan ahead of you’re not in the habit of having a bone collection in your deep freeze. The house smelled delicious.


Matilda had a friend over so I had the girls help me chop up the additions to the ramen – tofu, a couple of left over chicken breasts, and green onions. While I peeled the 6.5 minute eggs and added the last ingredients to the the broth, they assembled little bowls of sesame seeds and bonito flakes and made our kitchen island into a ramen station.

IMG_1111(why is the friend cut out of the frame? because unless you are regularly posting pics of your kid on social media I won’t post pics of your kid, even with your permission.
I’m quirky like that.)

They each got to mix and match what the wanted (as long as they both picked something green to go in!) and made their very own custom ramen bowls. Her friend was a little hesitant, never having had ramen before, but she ended up having 2 bowls and even tried some tofu!


Matilda’s verdict: “I’m so in love with this dinner right now!”

My verdict: it was amazing. And I was pretty darn proud of how close my bowl was to the picture in the cookbook (minus the styling and professional photog, of course):

theirsCookbook photo

mineMy bowl – yum!

On Monday we made the pho – an all day process since the broth needs to simmer 8 hours and I forgot to do it the night before for overnight stock. Next to ramen, pho is Matilda’s favorite food so she was excited for this. Unfortunately this one didn’t knock it out of the park like the ramen. But I can hardly fault the recipe since I didn’t follow it exactly (i.e. I used 3 bones instead of 4 because that’s all the store had, I didn’t have a cinnamon stick so I added ground cinnamon later. I also added some very thinly sliced beef because that’s how we like our pho). So this is operator error more than anything. It was still VERY good but wasn’t on the level of our favorite pho place. Which, honestly, is a pretty high bar. I will likely try this again when I have all the proper ingredients on hand.

I can’t wait to make other recipes in this book over the coming weeks and months. The Grilled Ramen and Cheese and the Little Ears with Kale (a from-scratch version of a house favorite: orecchiette with sausage and kale) are the next two I plan to try.

In case you want to give Noodle Kids a try – the book is for sale in all Team Sawyer restaurants, on Amazon (non affiliate link above) and some local book stores.

*We are friends with the Sawyers however I pre-ordered and purchased the book through Amazon myself. I wrote this post because I am so thrilled for our friends and honestly, it’s a pretty kick-ass book. They have no idea that I’m writing this and I got nothing in return for doing so. What I’m trying to say is: yes, we know them; no this is not an ad. You should buy the book because it’s rad. (hey! I’m a poet!)

Trentina for Lunch – Giveaway

Disclaimer:  As a part of the Trentina friends and family preview, I was lucky to be invited to attend a lunch tasting menu opportunity with a guest, and to giveaway a gift card to a local reader. My thoughts always my own.

If you live in Cleveland and don’t live under a rock, you no doubt heard about the opening of Chef Jonathan Sawyer’s newest restaurant, Trentina, earlier this summer. This is new fine dining establishment blew our socks off back in June when we were able to experience The Menu Bianco -a 15 course dinner tasting menu at Trentina. So when I was asked to be part of their lunch-service preview I quite literally jumped at the chance.

I took a colleague for a delightful Friday lunch. It was her first Sawyer experience and I was excited to share it with her. Lunch at Trentina is decidedly more relaxed than dinner, yet still refined and elegant. Lunch offers an a la carte menu showcasing the Northern Italian fare and Midwestern ingredients featured on the the more extensive dinner menu. Trentina will host a soft opening on Friday, September 5 (more info here), followed by the official lunch launch on Tuesday, September 9.

On to the food… I didn’t capture each of our 4 courses  but I managed to grab pics of a few, before digging in. I was lucky that my companion was willing to share each plate with me so we both got to taste everything. As we sat with dazzling sunlight surrounding us we were able to sample 8 dishes put out by Chef Sawyer and Executive Chef Matt Danko, each one delicate and flavorful. As dishes were cleared we would declare a certain item our favorite only to be presented with the next round which made it hard to pick a “best” dish.


 Wood-Fired Broccoli with eggplant sauce, anchovies, crab apples, and parsley.
I usually HATE broccoli but I enjoyed this dish a whole lot.


 Oysters on the Half Shell with Prosecco mignonette and apple
I can usually take or leave oysters but there is something about the addition of the finally diced apples
that makes me swoon. I could eat an entire plate of these.


Beef Carne with herbed and moustarda
This was a highlight among highlights. My dining partner never had beef tartare before so she was hesitant. But one bite and she was sold. This dish is simple but has such complex textures and flavors that it’s an absolute luxury. (My apologies for the photo – we were a few tastes in before I remembered to snap a pic)

Baked Shellfish Spaghettini: tomato, saffron, sofritto with fennel and celery.
This dish stole my heart. Served in a cast iron pan it seems rustic and straightforward but there was such a delicate complexity to the flavors that I found myself sad when I passed the dish to my friend. The briny, sweet mussels paired with the spaghetti which was lightly flavored with saffron and pressed in the bottom of the pan almost like a crust. Oh and the tender haddock – cooked to perfection – perched on top, this dish is one I can’t stop thinking about.

One of the things I most appreciate about Trentina is the attentive yet not overbearing waitstaff. They take seriously any dietary restrictions you may have, including requests for vegetarian and vegan menus. They explain each dish as it is brought out and make sure there is nothing lacking during your dining experience. Also worth noting: they ask about time constrains so your meal will happen at a pace suitable to your schedule – something I was grateful for as we had to get back to the office. Add that to the charming design of the interior and you have a memorable lunch hour, no matter if your catching a lunch date with a special person, a business lunch, or enjoying a leisurely lunch with friends. I was actually so impressed (and Mark was so jealous) that I will be going back this Friday for the soft opening!

Trentina will serve lunch Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m, starting on September 9th. Reservations are encouraged but not required and can be made via OpenTable or by calling 216.421.2900.


Jonathan and Amelia Sawyer want you to experience Trentina for yourself and have generously given me a $25 gift card to give away to one of my readers. ENTER TO WIN: Just leave a comment or tweet this post (leave a comment letting me know you did so). I will pick a winner from my comments around 9 PM on my birthday – Sunday, September 7 – and notify the winner via email.


Summer Weekends Are For Grilling – a Heinen’s Giveaway

Disclaimer: This post is part of Heinen’s #HeinensGrill campaign. I was given a gift card in exchange for a post about what we like to grill. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own.

When we moved into our house about 7 years ago my parents offered to buy us a grill. After several years of grilling with gas we opted for a charcoal Weber kettle grill and we haven’t looked back. We use it nearly every weekend in the summer. When you own a house without air conditioning, everything gets cooked on the grill so the house doesn’t heat up. It’s either that or eat cereal every night (which I’m sure the kids wouldn’t mind). Mark is the official griller in the the family, although I do sometimes take a turn by the coals. We cook all sorts of meats, pizzas, fish, veggies, fruit – you name it, we’ve likely grilled it.

On Sunday I had done my usual weekend Heinen’s run and picked up some nice steaks. It’s one thing that I can count on at least 3 of us enjoying (the only meat Madman will eat are hot dogs and ham). But Matilda loves steak so much that I now have to get her her own cut because she will eat the whole thing. So I got 2 rib-eyes and a top loin (mostly because I couldn’t decide between the two cuts and I wanted to do a side-by-side taste test). I used my favorite method to prep the meat – heavy salting with a few added flavors. I read about this years ago and it really does make a big difference in meats – especially lesser cuts. I had pretty good steaks but salt only improves the flavor and tenderness.


 Steaks marinating in salt – rosemary and smashed garlic came to the party, too.

Basically the method is this:

  • Season steaks liberally with kosher salt – use more than you think you need. You want the steaks to be pretty well coated with salt. Use 2 tsp+ per side. Add aromatics if you want.
  • Let the steaks sit at room temperature for 1 hour per thickness of steak (so a 1.5 inch steak will sit out for 90 minutes).
  • Rinse, rinse, rinse. Rinse the steak really well under running water to get rid of all the salt.
  • Dry, dry, dry. Use clean paper towels to pat the steak very very dry so that zero moisture is left on the steak.
  • Grill!

We had an outing planned for the afternoon so I couldn’t do this to the letter, but I’ve found that you can still do it even if you won’t be around right before cooking. Just adjust your amount of salt – the more salt the quicker this works, less salt means you have more time. Since I figured we’d be gone about 4 hours before the steaks hit the grill, I cut back to about 1 tsp of salt per side, then put the steaks in the refrigerator. It worked fine. (edited to add: I googled around to see if I could find where I originally read about this method. I couldn’t but this post does a good job at explaining why this works).


Mark, doing his thing on the Weber

Once we got home the first thing I did was pull the meat out of the refrigerator to start warming up to room temp. While Mark got the coals started I rinsed and dried the beef. Then it had about 30 minutes to get to room temp before the grill was ready. I used that time to prep a quick caprese salad and boil some read potatoes for sides.


Local tomatoes, fresh basil from our plant = YUM!

The result? A perfect, easy Sunday dinner (with enough for leftovers for Monday lunches). I am a steak purist and will totally cringe when I see someone put steak sauce or even herbed butter on their steak… and please don’t ever cover my steak with mushrooms and onions. I will not be happy. I like my beef cooked medium rare and served plain. This method gives you a perfectly salted, tender steak that you can practically cut with a butter knife.


 Taste test result – I was surprised liked the top sirloin better.
If I had purchased thicker-cut rib eyes I think it would have been a tie.

What is your favorite thing to grill?

Giveaway for readers: If you live near a Heinen’s they have offered a tote full of grilling supplies as a giveaway to one of my readers. You need to be local to a store as you will pick up your prize at your local Heinen’s. All you need to do is leave a comment with your favorite thing to grill OR tweet your favorite thing to grill, just make sure you use #HeinensGrill and tag me (@kakaty) in your tweet. Example: “Hey @kakaty I love salmon on the grill! #HeinensGrill”.

Use only one entry method, one entry per person.

Winner will be picked after 8 PM on Sunday 8/10.

My Kids are NoodleKids – Are Yours? (Giveaway)

It’s no secret that this entire family is a fan of Noodlecat. It’s Matilda’s favorite place and, judging by Mark’s twitter feed, his favorite lunch spot. We eat there often because we love the food, we love the sustainable philosophy and we love Chef Sawyer.

Here’s a fun fact… when we moved to Cleveland 5 years ago, Chef Sawyer was at Bar Cento which is where we took our first date night in the city. It was there we met the chef and learned about his “Cook Chefin’,”  nights where kids got to make their own pizzas (with chef assistance) in the restaurant’s kitchen. The entire Sawyer family’s devotion to making good, healthy food accessible and fun for kids is something they’ve made a priority for years. Kids are warmly welcomed in their restaurants. It’s one of the many things we love about them. So I’m thrilled to tell you about their upcoming NoodleKid event at Noodlecat:

We will be there for sure. We can’t wait.

The Cat wants you there so I have tickets to give away to my readers. The winner will get up to 4 tickets for either a 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. seating. You have 2 chances to enter:

1) Leave me a comment telling me either your kid’s favorite food or your favorite meal to cook with them.

2) Tweet: “I want my #Noodlekids to get their slurp on @Noodle_Cat 2/23”  then leave me a comment telling me you tweeted. Please only do this one time so you don’t annoy your followers.

You have until 6:00 PM on Monday, 2/18 to enter. I’ll email the winner that night.

Seats are filling up fast, so if you want a guaranteed spot call the number above ASAP to make your reservation.

Good luck!

Disclosure: Our family has spent many meals at Noodlecat and I’m happy to help them promote their kids events. I received tickets Noodlekids but I was not compensated for this post. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. And believe me, Noodlecat is always worth the visit.

Eating Out with Kids in Cleveland

Continuing on the theme from the last post… Never underestimate the power of a good meal that you didn’t cook or have to clean up after. We usually eat out on Friday or Saturday night when Mark and I are just too tired to think about preparing a meal. While it might not burn energy, it burns daylight which can be just as important if you’re counting the minutes until bedtime. We are lucky to have lots of fantastic, kid-friendly local restaurants in Cleveland. No need to subject yourself to Olive Garden or Red Robin to get a good meal out with the kids. Yes, I am a straight-up food snob and refuse to eat at Applebee’s and the like…not when there are literally dozens of wonderful local joints to choose from.

Note: I always keep crayons and paper in my purse, I also sometimes have stickers (these are fantastic, too), and those little mini play dough containers are easy to keep stashed for long waits. I’m thinking of getting a Tegu pocket set based on a recommendation from Ashley. We try to keep the kids device-free at dinner but know that waiting can be a pain for them so having a couple of distractions is key to a somewhat peaceful outing.

Here are our Cleveland-area, kid-tested favorites:

What kid doesn’t love noodles? The kids portions here are just $4 plus they offer some diversity in addition to just plain noodles and broth that even the pickiest kids will enjoy. This is usually Matilda’s first choice for a good reason. Delicious, local food, great music, easy-going staff. Our kids are 100% NoodleKids. Matilda even tried my octopus last time we went!

No kid portions for this kid! A full order of College Ramen is her “usual”

Our kids are hungry at 5:00 so getting a table isn’t hard. Come later and you will wait. When we are there it’s usually a crowd of AARP members, most of which are pretty tolerant of kids. The staff is very nice to families but this is a place where the distractions in my purse help a lot since the pizza can take a while. Matilda and Mark LOVE their meatballs while Madman and I love their pizza. We do take out from Geraci’s pretty often, too. It’s cash only, so be prepared.

Superior Pho
Again with the noodles. We are all pho fans and there is nothing in town that beats Superior Pho. The staff is good with kids and the no-frills dining room takes away the worry about dining with kids. It’s a great place to warm up on a sub-zero winter evening. One down-side: the bathrooms are communal with the rest of the building and kid of gross. Not a reason to avoid, just know before you go!

Matilda couldn’t wait to introduce her cousin to pho when he visited this summer!

Liquid Planet
A healthy “fast food” place with smoothies and kid-approved PB&J pitas. I love their rice bowls and we all love their quick service. It can get pricy but overall it’s worth it if you just want a good, healthy(ish) meal fast. We do sometimes get looks from the CWRU students studying at the Cleveland Heights location but whatever, you’re in a restaurant, not a library!

B Spot
$5 dollar burgers during happy hour are a beautiful thing. Add a beer for $3 for mom and dad and Friday night is perfect. Both kids love it here, especially the pickle bar. Everyone is loud and messy in here so your kid won’t be any different from the 20-something at the next table. East-side bonus: let the kids run around the inside of Eaton mall or check out the kids section of B&N to burn some energy before heading home.

mmmmmm…..Lola burger

The Tavern Company
I don’t know why, but this place was a surprise find for us. Perhaps because I didn’t think a pub would be family-friendly, but they are. The food here is quite good, much more upscale than we expected for a pub. It is also extremely kid friendly with crayons and coloring books; TVs help, too. Their mac & cheese (Madman’s favorite) is delicious and Matilda is a fan of their burger.

Vero Pizza
We’re big fans of Vero and we usually get a seat upstairs which provides fun views of the pizza oven. Again, due to our early-bird dining status we typically have the place pretty much to ourselves. Matilda is a huge fan of the bruschetta and the beet salad here while Madman will gobble up slices of the delicious pizza. Mark and I are fans of everything and we’ve never been let down by their specials. Of course, bribing the kids with gelato helps with good behavior.

Madman can polish off 1/2 a Vero pie – extra mushrooms, please!

What are your favorite family-friendly non-chains in the the Cleveland area? This list is obviously eastside-heavy but we’re always willing to venture out to try a new place!

Christmas Cookies

I am the baker in my family. Have been since about middle school or so. For years I’ve been the one to make the sugar cookies for cut outs at Christmas, loaf after loaf of zucchini bread in the summer, and birthday cakes year-round. As a newlywed I made extra money for gifts by selling my Christmas cutouts to co-workers! Now, I’m the one to provide the sugar at our family Christmas gatherings.

I have some tried-and-true recipes that I make year in and year out but I every year I also try something new. After a consultation with twitter, added 2 new recipes to the mix this year and both were fantastic. On Saturday and Sunday I made 6 different types of cookies, most of which are hanging out in the freezer until the celebrations begin. Here’s what I made…

Peanut Butter Blossoms. These are my husband’s favorite and a must every year. I use a recipe from a family friend but it’s similar to the one I linked to. I makes a ton so it’s good for a cookie exchange. If you want to up the ante like I do use mini Reese’s cups instead of the Kisses. They will melt so I usually pop the finished cookies into the freezer for 5-10 min after they cool to room temperature which will harden the Reese’s cups.

Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes, this is the recipe that’s been floating around since email was invented. Yes they are delicious. My recipe is double what I linked to and makes a TON of cookies and even my trusty Kitchen Aid can’t handle that much dough. So I halved it and the linked recipe is the smaller version. I got to use my new Vitamix to make oat flour and to chop the chocolate this year so it went much faster. Make sure you use really good chocolate (this is not the place for Hershey’s bars). I baked 1 dozen of these then scooped the rest of the dough into balls and froze them so I can easily make fresh cookies when I need them.

Mexican Wedding Cookies. These are new this year – I don’t know why I’ve never made them before becuause they are super easy. I made them on the recommendation of Crystal via Twitter. I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe because I always have good luck with recipes she posts. And, I got to use my new Vitamix again! These are so yummy, I will be making them again.

Sugar Cookie Cut Outs – This is what started it all. I took over making the cut-outs in high school, I think. True story: my dad used to take us kids out of the house when my mom made cut-outs because of all of the cursing. At some point she switched to making them with the pre-made dough in a tube you can get at the grocery store and I thought homemade were better so I took over and have been making them ever since. I’ve tired dozens of recipes but I find the simpler the better (again, I linked not to my recipe but to a similar one). I like to roll them thin to get the maximum frosting:cookie ratio. These are frozen, undecorated and will be frosted at another time. This year, given Matilda’s sensitivity to red dye I’ll be trying out some natural (and expensive!) food coloring. And please, no royal icing… only buttercream in this house!

Orange Sugar Cookies – This was one of my “trial” recipes that made it into regular rotation. I love these cookies with or without the chocolate. I linked to the recipe I use but I up the orange zest to 3 tablespoons, increase the orange extract to 1.5 teaspoons and add 1/2 teaspoon of orange extract to the glaze. Sometimes instead of dipping the cookies I drizzle them with the glaze because I’m lazy. These are great in the summer if you use lemon instead of orange.

Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies – These were a trial cookie that hit it out of the park. They are insanely good – sweet with just a hint of heat. I read through the comments and decided to add the cinnamon and chili to the dry mix and rolled the cookies in plain white sugar. Next time (there will be a next time) I’ll add half a bag of chocolate chips. I’m not exactly sure how I heard about hot chocolate cookies but I looked at probably 8 other recipes before discovering Martha’s, but all the others had bad reviews in comments except for this one. I highly recommend.

I still plan on making America’s Test Kitchen’s Gingerbread Cake for our Christmas dinner dessert. That will also be a new recipe so I’ll have to report back later.

Here are a few tips if you want to make 6 kinds of cookies in a single weekend (I didn’t count, but I think when I was done there were  around 21 dozen cookies).

1) A Silpat is your saving grace (0r any other silicone baking mat). As are heavy half-sheet pans (I got mine for cheap at a restaurant supply store). Having these mean no washing cookie sheets between batches and nothing sticks. Plus the big pans can mean more cookies per batch.

2) A cookie scoop (again, I got this for cheap at a restaurant supply store). Makes scooping cookies super easy and uniform.

3) Parchment paper. I lay this out when rolling dough so I can get away with less flour which makes for a better cookie. I lay out a sheet and put pre-scooped dough balls on it while waiting for the oven. That way I can empty my mixing bowl, wash it and move on to the next dough even if all of the first kind of cookies aren’t done baking.

4) Read through all your recipes. Know what order you’re going to make them. Does it need chilled? Great – make it, throw it in the fridge then make and bake your next recipe while that one chills.

5) Mise-en-place – I know that might sound too “Iron Chef” for some but it makes all the difference. On day one I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. So that night I got all my dry ingredients mixed, my wets mixed (where I could) and laid it all out. On Sunday morning I was able to have 3 kinds of cookies (nearly 10 dozen!) DONE before 10:30 AM (I started around 7:15 thanks to the Madman alarm). I was shocked at how much time it saved.

6) A spouse who will keep the kids out of the kitchen while you work. I love to have my kids in the kitchen with me but I was in cookie-mode and just needed them out of my hair for several hours. At kitchen with doors (like ours) so you can close everyone out is also a nice thing to have.

What are your holiday baking traditions? What recipe should I try next year?

Grandma G’s Applesauce

Today I tweeted about making applesauce and Monina asked if it was difficult. Before I could respond my friend Michelle tweeted her family applesauce recipe. Which, of course, is different from mine. I love seeing how other people make the same product – so much family history! Michelle’s 95-years-young grandfather is the chief applesauce maker in her family. My paternal grandmother was the applesauce maker in mine.

Everyone loved Thelma’s pink applesauce. Her secret was to leave the skins on – something only a few people do. It adds color, flavor and body to the sauce.

A few years ago, about 3 years after Grandma passed away, my mom asked me to take over the applesauce duties for our big family dinners. My aunt even bought me a food mill so I could be authentic.

This applesauce is sweet, but you can adjust to your taste. It’s also very easy. I suggest making a big batch and freezing some…that is if you have any left. My dad could eat this everyday. When I make applesauce I use a full peck of apples – I just make it in two batches – and throw a few jars in the freezer. A huge bowl of this will be going to Thanksgiving dinner with us next week.

Grandma G’s Applesauce
1/2 peck (give or take) apples, mixed varieties.
You want a mixture of sweet apples like macintosh and melrose. Get the “drops” or “seconds” if you can to save money. I got a peck of seconds at the farmer’s market for $2 last weekend.
Splash water or cider
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c brown sugar

Cut all the spots and bruises off the apples. Slice (I use an apple slicer) and throw into your biggest pot.

Throw the cinnamon and sugar over the top. If you’re like me and over-filled the pot and can’t stir it without making a mess, no worries. Just stir it later as the apples break down. If your apples aren’t very juicy you can add a splash of water, apple juice or cider. I usually wait to see what kind of moisture the apples give up and add this later if needed. The liquid just makes steam to soften the apples.

Cover and cook over low to medium low about an hour or until the apples are very tender and start to fall apart when you stir them. Stir when you remember. Cool the apples until you can handle them.

Spoon the soft apples into a food mill, blender* or the grinder attachment on a mixer and process. This is a great job for kitchen helpers.

(this photo is from last October – she’s grown so much!)

Store covered in fridge for about 2 weeks. Or pour into jars and freeze. If you’re cheap like me, recycle your pickle jars for freezing. It will keep in the freezer at least a year.

*if you use a blender I would peel half of the apples before cooking since the food mill or grinder will leave some of the skin behind.


The Plunge

For a very long time I have been reading the tales of others who went sugar-free, grain-free or “primal” with both awe and a feeling that I should also do that. I read a ton; AndreAnna is a big source of info as is Holly. Heidi Robb has given me many pointers and my trainer, Jen Arenschield, has supplied me with many articles about going sugar-free.  I read Mark’s Daily Apple and The Paleo Solution. For years my work email address was somehow subscribed to Dr. Joseph Mercola’s daily newsletter and once I discovered he was legit, I started reading it.

It still took me 5 months to finally take the plunge and cut out processed food, sugar and grains. May 9th was my first day. I promised myself I’d make it 10 days. On May 11th I thought I would die from my withdrawal symptoms (massive headache, extreme fatigue). I went to bed at 8:30 that night and got up the next day feeling a little better. By the end of the first 10 days there were no more headaches and while still tired, I wasn’t as fatigued. I decided I could do it for 30 days.

Now I’m 6 days shy of my 30 day goal and 21 pounds lighter. Other than the first week it wasn’t too bad. Yes, I was grumpy and a few times would have cut you for a baguette. I also had one day that all I could think about was making chocolate chip cookies and falling face first into the bowl of cookie dough. Up until this past week my energy level has been lower than usual (and I’m still up 1-2x a night with the Madman, so “usual” is pretty low), but that is starting to get better.

I’m not following any strict plan, which after years of Weight Watchers, is strange. I’m using (and the iphone app) to journal my food; but I think once I get a handle on protein/sugar contents I will be able to back off of this tracking. I aim for 70-100g of protein and try to keep my sugar (from fruit/veggies) to below 20g. I don’t really pay attention to fat or fiber. I usually get about 1200-1500 calories a day.

A few people have asked me what I eat and how it works for the kids. Here’s my basic day:

Breakfast: eggs, smoothie or fasting.
I’ll make scrambled eggs (2 whole, 2 whites) with some veggies – spinach or red/yellow peppers, usually. If I’m on the run I’ll eat 4-6 hard boiled egg whites on the way to work. (The only reason I don’t eat the yolks is because I don’t like egg yolks if they aren’t runny).

Some mornings I’ll have a smoothie with whey protein, chia seeds, spinach and either strawberries or blueberries.  Either way my breakfast clocks in at 20-24g of protein.

If I’m not hungry in the morning I don’t force myself to eat. Often I find that I’m not hungry until 10-11 AM.

I make a huge salad with lettuce, other veggies, cheese and some fruit. I usually use straight balsamic as the dressing. My current favorite combo is strawberries and this amazing grass-fed organic feta from the Farmer’s Market. So delicious! Then I’ll have protein on the side. Yesterday I had 3 chicken legs. Some days it will be tuna salad, egg salad (both made with a little mayo, mustard, celery, chia seeds), or leftover protein from the night before.

Going out with coworkers isn’t that hard, either. Chipotle/Qdoba are easy – meat, veggies, guac and salsa over lettuce. Or I can have a salad with grilled chicken with oil and balsamic dressing. Or a burger without the bun.

This is where I thought things would get tricky and I would be making a separate dinner for myself. But that hasn’t been the case. I usually have a salad (almost always a smaller repeat of what I had for lunch because that’s what I have on-hand). Sometimes Mark will want a salad, other times he won’t. Then, since we almost always have a protein I eat that and just not the starches.

For instance, when we have burgers I have mine either with a knife & fork or wrapped in lettuce. Last night we had spaghetti and meatballs so I sautéed some diced peppers (I keep a big bag of them in the freezer) and had my meatballs covered with marinara and peppers while Matilda and Mark had their’s over pasta. Chicken, steak and pork are easy to eat without a starch. Right now Copper River salmon is in season and I could eat that every night (so could Matilda). The night we had lemon shrimp and pasta I just ate the shrimp. For them stir-fries go over rice while I skip it. Honestly, I usually eat what everyone else is eating but I just don’t eat the grains.

I have a Paleo cookbook that I haven’t even cracked yet. And there are tons of sites for paleo/primal recipes, but so far I haven’t seen the need.

Plus, I’m getting more adventurous with my vegetables. I’m not a huge fan of many of them (I will never, ever willingly eat broccoli) but I’m trying more. After years of not touching asparagus I bought some at the Farmer’s Market for $1 (hooray for being late and catching the end of the day deals) and roasted it. It wasn’t fall of your seat delicious but it wasn’t awful and I ate it without making faces. And Matilda ate a bunch, too.

I’m looking forward to both our CSA season (starts today!!) and more vegetables coming into season at the Farmer’s Market. I think I will be challenged to eat more of the good stuff.

Almonds and blueberries are a favorite. Fresh-ground peanut butter or almond butter on celery (or off a spoon!) is another. Strawberries with cream – yum! But after the first 2 weeks my snacking needs went down. I usually have something around 3 PM and then, if I work out, something around 8-9 PM.

I haven’t had any alcohol during this 1st 90 days but between being pregnant and nursing for 50 of the last 65 months it’s not like I’ve been drinking much in the last 5 years. I gave up Diet Coke when I got pregnant with the Madman and even though I took it back up at the beginning of the year it wasn’t that hard to quit again. I had been drinking 2 cups of coffee a day but since I can only stomach coffee with cream and lots of sugar I gave that up. Right now I drink mostly water and iced tea, which wasn’t much of a shift for me. I did, however, give up most of my milk (I love milk). But I still do have a glass of Snowville whole milk a few times a week.

Over all it’s working and I can see myself sticking with this way of eating for a long time. I’m not going to lie – on June 10th I plan on having something sweet and/or grain-full. But I can see now that when I do “cheat” it won’t be with junk… it will be with awesome artisan bread or Jeni’s Ice Cream – it will be worth the splurge. I have vague plans to eat pretty clean until our vacation in July, and then I think I’ll aim for 6 days a week with 1 “cheat day” and see how I feel. But other than then 1st 10 or so days, I’m really doing just fine. I’m happy with what I’m eating, I feel better and I don’t feel deprived.

Share the Shearer’s

As I mentioned before – Mark’s race was a weekend-long family affair. We were in Cincinnati for 2 nights/3 days along with my parents and other family. I have 2 rules when traveling with kids: 1) a suite or 2 regular hotel rooms are essential and 2) bring SNACKS. Lots of snacks.

Luckily not long before the race weekend Shearer’s asked me to be part of their Share the Shearer’s and try out their new line of healthier chips (in comparison to their classic Red Bag line). Ever since I learned that Shearer’s was not only a local company but one of the greenest good manufacturing plants in the world, we have made an effort to buy only their chips for parties and home. So accepting their offer was a no-brainer as I already buy their product.

It was perfect – I could stock our hotel room with snacks for us, for my parents and for other family who would be stopping by throughout the weekend. Shearer’s sent me a box of assorted chips – the new potato chips, along with several flavors of Riceworks and Shapers. The day we left I also went and picked up some grocery items like cheese, yogurt, water and fruit to round out the selection we’d have in the hotel room.

Thank goodness for the snacks! First of all, the Black Bean Salsa and Cinnamon Shapers were gone days before we hit the road. Mark and Matilda took care of those in short order. In fact we passed the cinnamon ones off as dessert a couple of times (18 grams of whole grains and low sugar in a dessert – score one for mom!). During our 4-hour drive to Cincinnati we all shared the Sea Salt Riceworks which were NOT what I was expecting from a “brown rice crisp”. They were a little nutty, salty and crunchy and quite delicious; I’m pretty sure I had way more than my share of that bag.

In the hotel room we sampled the chips with visiting family….believe me, people were more than happy to come hang out in our room! The sour cream and onion and the rippled were everyone’s favorite. And no one had any idea they were eating chips without trans fat. In fact, my mom asked for a bag of Rippled to take home – they were as good as her favorite potato chips (and that woman is a potato chip connoisseur). Mark chowed down on the BBQ and Classic flavors post-race… he said the salt was “essential” after running.

I gave the Sweet Chili and Tangy BBQ Riceworks Chips to a co-worker who is gluten-free. Later that day he not only thanked me 3 times he asked to throw one of the bags in my trash. He had eaten both bags and was embarrassed to have 2 “empties” in his own trashcan. Guess that means they were really good!

Chips aren’t a pantry staple in our house, but Shearer’s will always be our go-to when the craving hits. It’s nice to know that you can get the flavor you want without the junk you don’t want. It’s a company I’m more than happy to support.

Disclosure: Shearer’s provided chips to sample and a grocery gift card to supplement our selection for the weekend. The opinions are strictly my own.

In Defense of a 30 Minute Meal

Foodie. Hippie. Locavore. Food Douche. Call it what you will but we, like thousands of other families, have take great strides to improve what we eat. Make more homemade. Support local agriculture. Cook more.

There’s an article by fellow Clevelander, Michael Ruhlman, that’s been making the rounds for the last year and when first I read it I nodded along in agreement. Everyone has time to cook – just not everyone makes the choice to cook.

But as it’s resurfaced and I’ve read it again, this time through the lens of a working mother of 2 kids under 5, I get defensive.

I cook a lot. I make much of what we eat from scratch. But why should it have to take an hour or more for it to be considered real cooking? In reality, if it weren’t for the “fast and easy meal” recipes from people like Jamie Oliver and – my favorite source – America’s Test Kitchen, then I would probably not cook as much as I do today.

America’s Test Kitchen – my current favorite recipe magazine

Here is our evening: I pick up Matilda from preschool, drop the carpool kid off, and walk in the door between 5:15 and 5:30 . Mark and the Madman get home between 5:30 and 5:45. The Madman goes to bed at 7:00.  That leaves –  at the most – 90 minutes for dinner to be cooked and eaten, baths to be given and, hopefully, some playtime, reading and snuggles thrown in. I imagine that this scene is played out in countless homes of working parents throughout the country.

My solution is to seek out recipes and ideas with faster cooking times and things I can do ahead. The entire family loves this Korean Beef Rice Bowl. It’s a 30-minute meal that, with a little prep (I do all the chopping, cutting and marinating the night before), can be on the table in 10 minutes. Because of this recipe and others like it, on the nights Matilda has gymnastics we can still have a healthy, real-food dinner cooked by me. We all enjoy it, it’s healthy and it makes me feel good that I made it. A really crazy night might see scrambled eggs with spinach and herbs from our garden thrown on a plate. In the few minutes it takes to cook dinner Matilda can have the table set and when the boys walk in we all sit down for dinner. 

My goal every work-week is to make 3 home-cooked meals with enough leftovers to get us through 2 more dinners. I do what I can on the weekends to make this happen. Something I learned from the 30-minute-meal type shows is to prep all the veggies as soon as I get home from the market. On the weekends I’ll roast a chicken (or 2) to use during the week or make overnight stock if my freezer stash is getting low. I’ll clean and chop and measure out all my mise en place for the 3 meals on Sunday night. I store them in tupperware, labeled with blue tape. I’ll fill a huge bowl with torn lettuce for my lunch salads and will make a big batch of tuna salad. If I’m feeling wild and crazy I’ll make my own mayonnaise, butter or bread, too. 

Some weekends I’ll even get chicken breasts from the Plum Creek Farm stand at the farmers market and will spend an hour cutting them up to make chicken nuggets to stash in the freezer for nights I don’t feel like cooking. Or I’ll make a big batch of waffles on a Sunday morning and freeze the leftovers for out-the-door breakfasts (yes, I give my kids waffles that are still-frozen…they eat them in the car). But I also never feel guilty serving my kid a store-bought nugget or waffle when the homemade supply runs out.

Listen, I do love to cook – when I have time to enjoy it. Give me a weekend with nothing pressing and I’ll make chicken pot pie, braised short ribs or a luscious lasagna from scratch. But trying to shove the meal prep or long cooking (and/or oven-heating) time into my small window of weekday evening of time with my kids is not a high priority. That’s not even mentioning the stress of trying to cook while tripping over a one year old who is reaching for the burner knobs on the stove while the 4 year old whines that she’s hungry. That is not enjoyable for anyone.

I do think that Ruhlman’s overall point is very valid: everyone has time to cook, but not everyone chooses to do so. And while I’m happy that today he has time to enjoy “carnal exertions” with his lovely wife during the hour his dinner roasts in the oven, I’m sure he remembers a little bit of what life was like when his kids were knee-high rugrats clamoring for “food! food! now!”

So please, Michael, stop making at-home 30-minute cooks feel like we are the enemy to good food. And please don’t discourage editors, publishers, producers and chefs from developing new fast meal ideas. I rely on them. In fact, I invite you over to see how I can have a rocking from-scratch meal on the table 20 minutes after I walk in the door.