picklesink

A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Love asparagus? Love a meal that’s ready in less than half an hour?

Then you’ve come (virtually) to the right place!

After a super-busy afternoon of shopping for plants (more on that in a future gardening post) and visiting the animals at our local farmers market/petting zoo, we arrived home hungry and with not very much food in the house, and with what I had in the fridge I was inspired to create this:

Asparagus fritatta

25-minute asparagus frittata

You will need:

  • a large oven-safe skillet or frying pan (I prefer non-stick)
  • a pot of boiling water to blanch asparagus
  • 1/2 pound fresh (preferably local!) asparagus
  • 1 cup diced cooked ham
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 8 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • oil or cooking spray for pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Boil water and blanch 1/2 pound of asparagus to your preferred tenderness, then cool quickly with cold water. (Full disclosure: I cooked the whole pound and ate half of it while cooking the frittata. It was delicious, but there were consequences.)

2. Mix eggs, ham, milk, chives, and salt and pepper in a bowl while preheating oiled pan. Turn broiler to high.

3. Pour egg mixture into preheated pan and arrange asparagus spears on top.* Cook for 2-3 minutes on top of stove, then transfer to oven. Cook on middle rack (10-12 inches from the broiler) for about 10 minutes, until middle is set and top is nicely browned.

4. Cut into wedges, serve, and enjoy!

Molly ate her frittata with relish. Figuratively. Not literally, because that would be really gross. Although she would probably love it; we are talking about a kid who dips dill pickles in vanilla yoghurt.

Molly enjoying

Molly enjoying her frittata with figurative relish.
©PicklesINK 2013

Ian was also a fan, although you can’t really tell from his expression. He is actually enjoying the frittata, just not the act of getting his picture taken. I’m pretty sure he took up photography just to make sure he could always be the one behind the camera.

Everyone enjoying

Ian, Ben, and Molly at the dinner table.
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben, as is often the case, took some time to warm up to the idea:

“What’s for dinner?”

“Asparagus frittata!”

“I don’t like that!”

“Yes, you do.”

“No I don’t! What’s in it?”

“All things you like. Eggs, ham, asparagus.”

“I don’t like asparagus!”

“You like ham and eggs.”

“I want JUST eggs! Is it like scrambled eggs?”

“Yes.”

“BUT I don’t LIKE scrambled eggs [damnit, it was a trick question!]! I only like boiled eggs!”

“You like frittata. It’s eggs with ham and asparagus in it.”

“I don’t like them IN it! Can I have the asparagus BESIDE it?”

“Fine.”

“And the ham beside it?”

“NO!”

“OOOOHHHHHHHHH!!! BUT I don’t WANT it IN it!!”

“YOU’LL LIKE IT!”

“NO I WON’T! I WON’T LIKE IT AND I’M NOT GOING TO EAT IT!!”

*10 minutes later*

“Mmmm….this is really good. I like this dinner. Actually, mommy, I LOVE this diner!”

Me: *headdesk*

Ben enjoying

Ben LOVING his ham frittata with asparagus, as requested, beside it.
©PicklesINK 2013

~ karyn

*You could also chop the asparagus into bite-sized pieces before blanching and mix them with the rest of the ingredients. The full spears can get a little stringy when broiled and Molly found them hard to chew, so I will probably do that next time. It’s much prettier with the whole spears though!

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The Sneaky Chef

One of the most successful strategies for dealing with picky eaters is the one around which Missy Chase Lapine, also known as “The Sneaky Chef” has built an empire – hiding “healthy” foods in foods with more picky kid appeal. Her first book includes recipes for a number of make-ahead purees in colours that will hide easily in various foods. For example, her Purple Puree becomes an invisible part of her Brainy Brownies. It’s a brilliant idea, and I sure wish I’d thought of and cashed in on it first!!

The basic idea is just that – basic – though, so you don’t really need to buy her books in order to mix less “desirable” ingredients into recipes that will spark a more positive reaction (or at least less screeching) than those ingredients on their own. (One I’m really intrigued to try is a recipe I have for brownies with pureed black beans. Don’t tell Ian.)

This week’s success story was a ham and cheese pasta bake, one of Ian’s family’s favourites growing up. It’s a delicious casserole dish full of cheesy yumminess, but incorporates no fruits or veggies, so usually they would have to be served on the side.

For some reason, even though it is made entirely of stuff Ben LIKES (individually) pasta bake is guaranteed to provoke a dinnertime meltdown before he eats that crucial first bite…and a Ben dinnertime meltdown is guaranteed to provoke similar complaints from Molly even though she doesn’t actually mean them (“Yeah! I don’t like this too! *nom nom nom* It’s yucky! *nom nom nom*).

Ham and Cheese Pasta Bake

1lb cooked short pasta (ie. fusili, penne, rigatoni)
4 eggs
1/2L half&half or table cream
200g shaved ham, chopped
2 cups (at least) cheese (ie. cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, gruyere – don’t use all orange cheddar or you’ll get that icky orange grease, and don’t use all mozzarella or it won’t have enough cheesy flavour)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix eggs and cream together. Mix in cheese (reserving ½ cup for top) and ham. Pour over pasta in a large casserole dish (or 2 smaller ones) and mix well. Top with remaining cheese. Bake in oven for 45-60 minutes or more if necessary to set filling. (The deeper the dish, the longer it will take.) Broil for a minute or so to brown top if desired. Top with fresh ground pepper for serving.

Delicious! Delicious hot from the oven, delicious reheated for lunch, delicious with a side salad…

Anyway, the other day I was inspired to try to make it a bit healthier, Sneaky Chef-style, as well as remove the need for the vegetable side, so I suggested that Ian (who was in charge of the cooking that day) replace part of the eggs and cream with a can of pure pumpkin puree. The result was:

Pumpkin Puree Pasta
©PicklesINK 2012

The kids literally ate it up (and in this case, use of the word ‘literally’ will not make me figuratively insane!). I think I may have to bring it to market: Picky Pickles-Pleasing Pumpkin Puree Pasta – It’s so delicious I guarantee that the only thing melting down will be the cheese!

One thing that I do find important about the “sneaky” method is not actually being sneaky. Once the kids have tried and like it, I do the big reveal: “Do you know what the secret ingredient is that makes it so yummy? PUMPKIN!!”

Molly tasting the pumpkin pasta.
©PicklesINK 2012

I was hoping that the pumpkin would be neutral and not overpower the cheese, but it came out a touch sweetly pumpkinny for the grown-up palate. I think it might have been better with a stronger-flavoured cheese, like a Gruyere or goat cheese. As well the ham got a bit lost, so I would be tempted to replace it with either a mild Italian sausage to complement the pumpkin or a salami or Chorizo sausage to spice it up a bit.

What do you think? Appealing or yucky? How do you deal with dinnertime meldowns?

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Salmon Wellington FTW!!

I don’t know what happened last night…I’m still kind of in shock! I think I entered the Twilight Zone for a little while.

“For God’s sake, Bella, it’s just an apple.”
“I don’t care, Edward! Why do you always give me things I don’t like? You know I hate apples! They have skins! And they’re cold! Why can’t you just give me things I like?”
Photo from: http://www.fanpop.com/spots/twilight-series/images/720496/title/movie-posters-fanart

At some point last night, at the dinner table (it’s all still kind of a haze) I heard the words, “Can I have some more broccoli?” and “Can I please have some more salmon?” and if I hadn’t seen my kids’ lips moving I would have assumed that I had invited some cruciferous vegetable and Atlantic fish-loving hobo in to eat and promptly forgotten about it.

I’ve already talked about Ben’s picky eating at length. It has been a lot better since he turned 5, and he did really well in Germany, but “a lot better” is relative and means that instead of a screaming, flailing meltdown EVERY dinnertime, we just have a whining, complaining argument 9 out of 10 times. And the 10th dinner is pizza.

The biggest problem now is not so much Ben (in the end, he does eat it), but Molly, who actually loves to eat ANYTHING, but loves to imitate what her beloved big brother does even more. So almost every mealtime now goes, “Ben, eat your dinner please.” “But I don’t like this!” “Just eat it, please.” “Ohhhhhhhh…” *grudgingly eats a bite* “Molly, please eat your dinner.” “But I don’t YIKE this!” *flings it on the floor*

Ian is away for the week, which means that I can eat and feed the kids all the seafood I like (he’s not a fan). Yesterday I thought, what the heck, I feel like eating the frozen President’s Choice Salmon Wellington that’s been in the freezer for ages, and I’ll deal with the consequences when my dinner-shunning kids sit down at the table.

I had fairly low expectations of success, giving Ben’s meltdown this morning over being told that I had put macaroni and cheese in his lunch instead of his usual bagel with cream cheese.

The only thing that I can think of that made tonight different was that instead of telling Ben what was for dinner, I let him figure it out for himself when he saw it on the table:

Ben: “What’s dinner?”

Me: “Dinner is the meal that comes after lunch and before bedtime.” (HAHAHAHAHA!!! That line never gets old!!)

Ben (actually laughing this time – we’re off to a good start!): “No, what’s FOR dinner?’

Me: “What do you think it looks like?”

Ben: “I can see that it’s broccoli, but what’s the other thing? Croissants?”

Me: “That’s a good guess – it’s kind of like croissants. It’s fish stick, but instead of cereal for the breading it has croissant. It’s called Salmon Wellington.”

Ben: “Oh. Okay.”

Oh. Okay”??? That’s when I knew something was up. I never get, “Oh, Okay.” It’s usually more like, “Ohhhhhh….but why? I don’t like that! Why do you always give me what I don’t like???” “But you like fish sticks, and you like croissants.” “But I don’t like them together!! Ohhhhh!!!!”

Maybe psychologically there’s something going on there – If I tell him what’s for dinner, and it doesn’t match the idea that he has in his head of what he wants, cue freak-out…but if I ask him to look at something unfamiliar and figure it out for himself, his brain has time to adjust to what he is seeing while trying to apply a name to it, and by the time he has figured out how to fit it into a familiar box, he has come to terms with it and maybe is even intrigued. Who knows? I don’t know if this was the key or not, but I’m definitely going to try it again.

Anyway, from there on it went swimmingly (heheheh). Ben decided to get himself a knife so he could cut his dinner up with a knife and fork like me, and Molly followed suit. Molly decided that salmon is her favourite because it’s pink (note to self: serve more pink foods). Ben STOLE a piece of salmon off Molly’s plate and ate it. Let me repeat that please, for my own benefit – he ACTUALLY FREAKING STOLE A PIECE OF SALMON OFF MOLLY’S PLATE AND ATE IT. Molly devoured her broccoli without stopping to draw breath. Ben squeezed his salmon out of the puff pastry and cut it up and ate it, then ate all his broccoli.

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG.
©PicklesINK 2012

I stared in mute shock at their empty plates and then offered them dessert. They accepted and happily ate their chocolate stars. And then came the kicker:

Molly: “Tan I pease have some more broccoyi?”

Ben: “And can I have some more salmon? But not the breading this time. I didn’t really like that. Just the fish?”

Molly: “Yeah tan I have some more salmon too?”

Me: *jaw hits the floor*

~ karyn

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Bavarian bits and pieces

Our German adventures continue. The whole family has arrived, so Ben and Molly now have two cousins to play with and they are all getting along famously.

Ian and I headed into Munich the other day to pick up his brother from the airport and get an estimate for my favourite-phil&teds-best-stroller-ever-tragically-broken-by-Condor-Airlines-and-yes-I’m-still-bitter from the Kinderwagen-Shop und Werkstatt. They seemed to have encountered this sort of situation before because they had forms and everything. They declared the stroller un-repairable and wrote out the estimate, charged us €10 and sent us on our way with their sympathies.

We stopped for lunch at a sort of hole-in-the-wall type side-walk cafe that Was. Just. Amazing. I had Schweinesteak mit Pfeffer-Sahnesauce und Spätzle (pork tenderloin with peppercorn gravy and German noodle/dumplings). I wish I had taken a picture of it but alas I was so hungry that I didn’t think to do so until after I had devoured it. Next time.

During our journeys we encountered vehicles representing both air and sea:

The very definition of the shaggin’ wagon.
©PicklesINK 2012

Really, does it get any better than a fuchsia, butterfly-covered, fringe-hung windshield Mercedes camper van?

“Up on the shore they work all day;
under the sea we play away!”
©PicklesINK 2012

And it’s a little hard to tell in the through-the-car-window shot but this is a camper trailer completely hand-painted in The Little Mermaid motif. Why? Why not, I say?

Ben and Molly have been enjoying the civilized life, lunching al fresco on the balcony.

©PicklesINK 2012

Although on reflection, al fresco is not really appropriate, is it? Google, how do I say “al fresco” in German? Google Translate informs me that al fresco (Italian) translates to al fresco (German). Thanks for a whole lot of nichts, Google.

Interestingly, the change of scenery seems to have had a profound effect on my picky eater – Ben has been very open-minded here when it comes to food. In the last few days he has tried, unbidden, salami, fruitcake, and various German pastries. Long may this trend continue! And if not, at least now we know that the solution to picky eating is international travel. I think Molly’s vote is for the French Riviera next.

“Dahling, my public awaits.”
©PicklesINK 2012

Even everyday errands are more fun in a foreign country – we visited the dairy shop to get fresh cheese (carved off the giant wheel before your very eyes) and yoghurt (preservative-free, spooned into 1L tubs from a vat and guaranteed to last no more than 2-3 days).

©PicklesINK 2012

And of course there are frequent visits to the Getränkemarkt to exchange empty juice, fuzzy water, and beer bottles for full.

Smells like The Beer Store, but they sell juice too!
©PicklesINK 2012

And, finally, we have been spending plenty of time at the playground and the Kurpark (more on those later). In the latter Ben found the perfect stump on which to pretend to be The Lorax. I’ve got to say, while I was not particularly shocked at how much of the book Ben could recite,

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.”
©PicklesINK 2012

I was a little more taken aback at how much of it Molly knew.

“I yam the Yorax! I ‘peak for the fwees!”
©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

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But I don’t LIKE that!

Food. Delicious, comforting, nutritious, not-so-nutritious, sweet, savoury, spicy, sticky, crunchy, chewy, bland food. Food can be a source of great pleasure…or, for the parents of a picky eater, agonizing despair.

Ben started life as a 4 lb. 10 oz. preemie, delivered at 33 1/2 weeks. Happily, aside from being teeny, he had none of the challenges one usually expects with babies born that early. He was fed first by nasogastric tube and then a combination of breast and bottle (the debate around which will I’m sure the topic of another post at some point).

Yes, he is doing “The Emperor” from Star Wars…
dun dun dun dun da dun dun da dun…
©PicklesINK 2012

We went on to start “solids” (purees) around 6 months and he ate ANYTHING. I was super-adventurous mom – I made my own baby food and mixed spices into everything (cinnamon carrots…curried chicken and broccoli…gingered squash). His favourite foods were kalmata olives, feta cheese, and anything with curry powder. I patted myself on the back and felt superior to all those moms who feed their kids boring purees and set themselves up for a lifetime of catering to their kids’ bland palates.

This was probably curried something.
©PicklesINK 2012

And then around 18 months, “More! More!” suddenly turned into “MMMMM!!” which is the sound of a toddler with his mouth clamped tighter than the trash compactor on the detention level of the Death Star. As an added bonus, always a bit of a puker (gastroesophageal reflux being one of his remaining preemie traits), Ben discovered the ability to barf on command to demonstrate his disinterest in eating something. Suddenly I had become a mom of a dreaded picky eater.

After I worked through the initial denial, anger, and grief (there is nothing quite like sobbing hysterically at the dinner table while Googling “How do I get my picky toddler to eat?” on your laptop while your 3 year-old screams, “NO!! I don’t LIKE that!! Why are you making me eat that?? I don’t LIKE it!!”), I slowly reached the acceptance stage.

A lot of the websites out there on picky eaters will tell you not to engage in power struggles – you choose what to put in front of your child and he or she chooses how much of it to eat and I wholeheartedly agree that power struggles around food can lead down an unhealthy path. The websites suggest offering a variety of foods, changing utensils, ignoring, removing distractions, using reward charts, etc. None of those tips worked for us and the list of things Ben wouldn’t eat grew: Raw vegetables were too crunchy. Cooked vegetables were too wet. Grapes and blueberries had skins. Ice cream was too cold. (ICE CREAM!! THE KID WOULDN’T EAT ICE CREAM, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!) Just about everything else “didn’t swallow very well” (ie. led to puking). And the behaviour at the dinner table (both his and ours) got worse and worse.

Finally we realized that we were dealing with two separate issues at mealtimes: what Ben ate and how he behaved. We decided that while we had no power over what he liked or how much he ate, we did have a responsibility to teach him to act appropriately at the table, and for us that meant no yelling, no arguing, and no declaring that he didn’t like something without trying it first. To deal with the behaviour piece we implemented the “try a bite or you sit out rule.” For time-outs we used Supernanny’s Naughty Step technique: the CALM but firm warning – place in neutral time-out spot for prescribed time period – return to time-out spot – repeat as necessary – apology – hug and kiss predictability of this worked really well for Ben and for us.

To deal with the “what Ben ate” piece, I focused on offering him a variety of foods but making what I knew he would eat as nutritious as possible, which meant making my own fish sticks and chicken fingers breaded in crushed bran or corn flakes, pureeing vegetables like carrots, zucchini, pumpkin or spinach into tomato sauce and serving over whole-wheat pasta, and baking a whole lot of the best ever “blank slate” muffins using my sister-in-law-to-be’s recipe:

These can be customized pretty any way you can think of – replace the banana and/or the oil with applesauce or jarred baby food (sweet potato or carrot work well); add grated or whole fruits or vegetables like carrot, zucchini, or berries; spice it up with vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, or cardamom; use whole wheat flour or oat bran for the flour; or boost the nutritional punch with additions like yoghurt, powdered milk, wheat germ, or ground flax – just increase the baking powder to help it rise as you add more “stuff.”

Ben turned 5 in May, and as suddenly as the pickiness started, it stopped – just in time, too, because Molly, who is NOT AT ALL a picky eater had just started to imitate her big brother’s, “I don’t LIKE that!!” just like she imitates everything else he does. Ben will now try most things that I put in front of him with, if not enthusiasm, at least much less argument than previously, and has even been heard in the past few months to say, “Can I try some of that, mommy?” The majority of these taste-tests now elicit a grudging, “Well, don’t LOVE it, but I LIKE it,” and in the words of Abraham “Grampa” Simpson, “Hot diggety-damn, that’s good enough for me!”

Ben enjoying a surf-and-turf dinner of lobster and steak with fuzzy water in a wine glass – “I don’t love the lobster, but I like it.”
©PicklesINK 2012

Molly, on the other hand, loves it.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ice cream: No longer “too cold.”
©PicklesINK 2012

And for Molly, ice cream = food = LOVE
©PicklesINK 2012

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