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Behind the Scenes on Mother’s Day

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Behind the Scenes on Mother’s Day

No one in my family likes to hike as much as I do. Mother’s Day is supposed to be mom’s choice. I pull out my trump card and use that day to plan my more ambitious outings.

Last year we took on the Cedar Falls trail at Petit Jean State Park. This is a trail to a tall, often kind of wispy waterfall at the bottom of a canyon. The park has several places where you can stand at the top and gaze down at it. The views there are pretty but because of the geography your gazing must be done at some distance. To really get the full effect of the falls, you need to go down to the canyon floor and look up at the falls. As a bonus, the bottom of the falls are covered with rocks and boulders that are way more exciting than any playground for the 10-and-under set. In the spring, the path to the falls is covered with wildflowers. It may be the most beautiful hike in the state.

Still it’s not for the faint of heart. The park has placed warning signs at the beginning instructing visitors that the hike is strenuous. They sell t-shirts in the gift shop where you can brag you survived. At the same time, you regularly see dogs and toddlers on the path. Granted they might be being carried on the way back up, but it’s not an impossible journey. It’s about a two-hour hike round trip, although I’m sure park rangers or someone just really familiar with the trail could do it in half that time, or that was the calculation I made when deciding how long it would take medical help to reach us if a certain boy had an allergic reaction at the end of the trail.

You see there’s a tradition: a lot of hikers bring food and have a picnic at the bottom of the falls. This was a real dilemma for us the first year. Having never been there before and not really knowing much about the trail, I decided not to risk having Max eat at the bottom. That was not a popular decision, especially when we got to the falls and saw other hikers had a couple of rather elaborate picnics laid out before them on the rocks. I reassured my family we had a lovely picnic back in the trunk of the car, but there’s no doubt our picnic envy marred our enjoyment of the falls. I know the rumbling tummies made the hike back up the canyon seem about three times longer than it should have as well. There may even have been some what I like to call “llama drama” feigning fainting from hunger, and I may have countered by bringing up the third world and starving children and how certain people had a lovely breakfast and should be thankful. Mostly I tried to block that part of the trip out of my mind.

Since I’m pretty good at blocking unpleasantness from my mind especially with the passage of time, it was with some excitement that I proposed going back there this Mother’s Day. Claire was sort of willing, but Max was not happy. After considering it for a few minutes at dinner one night, he drew an analogy that I must say threw me for a bit of a loop. Jason didn’t get it at first, but I knew as soon as he started just where he was going with it and what he meant. He said his not wanting to go back to Cedar Falls was like how after he ate the Burger King burger and had the allergic reaction and had to use the epi pen, he no longer wanted to go back to Burger King. (See the second part of Our Journey.) He knew it wasn’t quite the same but after he went to the falls and had a bad time and was hungry he no longer wanted to go back to that same place. “I don’t like to go back to places where I have bad memories,” he said. It became clear to me at that point that we definitely needed to go back to the Falls. That spot is way too beautiful to let one non-picnic tarnish it. I am less sure if we need to go back to Burger King. I get his reluctance there.

Anyway, after briefly considering a few other hike locations, we did decide to go back to the falls. I played my Mother’s Day trump card. Having had some time to get used to the idea, Max was mostly OK with it, or he didn’t cause much of a fuss at least. I decided a picnic at the bottom was in order this time. We stocked up on the benadryl and the epi pens. I made sure to pack only foods that are part of our regular menu. It didn’t seem like a good time to experiment with lobster or caviar even if it was Mother’s Day and that does sound elegant now doesn’t it? It turned out fine, even better than fine really. The weather was perfect and the crowds were thinner than usual. It may not be every mother who wants to go hiking on her day.  I was glad I did, and I felt quite blessed my family loved me enough to go along with me. Now we’ll just have to decide about Burger King.

One of my favorite snacks to take on hikes (which I obviously should have taken the first time we went to the Cedar Falls trail) is granola. I love the tropical version here: http://www.usaweekend.com/article/20060226/FOOD04/91015002/Great-granola, but they are all good. It’s easy to improvise. I cut the oil by about half, and it still tastes great.

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Pie

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Pie

There is a story that has become legend in my family over the years. The year was 1970. My parents were newly married and sharing an apartment not far from where my Dad had his first (and turns out only, he would retire some 35 years later) job teaching sociology at the local university. I was just a twinkle in my Dad’s eye at this point. It was a hot summer. A neighbor brought over a container of apricots to share with the new kids in the building. My Mom turned them into a from-scratch pie. Dad, who previously had favored chocolate pie, never looked back. Perhaps the memory has grown sweeter over the years, but to hear him tell it today it was close to the best thing he’s ever eaten. Apricot pie has been his favorite ever since.

This story and the aftermath had both good and bad repercussions for me. On the bad side is that I’m not personally that fond of apricot pie. It’s usually a little on the tart side. Really I’m not that big on pie in general, yet growing up with him it was on the menu a fair amount. On the good side, it’s an easy gift to give to a guy who can be hard to buy for. His other favorite things are tropical fish and train books. Since he seemingly has every one of those ever written, those can be kind of hard to pick out. A fresh apricot pie is always a hit. On the bad side, apricots have a short season and can be hard to find. Once my mom and I attempted to fool him by subbing in peaches. Afterwards he claimed he could tell but said he didn’t want to hurt our feelings. We didn’t try to fool him again just in case. When I visited my grandmother when I was in college, she showed me how to rehydrate dried apricots, which is a clever trick but time consuming and on the expensive side. Also on the bad side, pie is not exactly healthful, at least prepared the traditional way as my Mom was doing it.

There were many happy pie eating days. Then everything changed. In 2003, my Dad was on his way to the bookstore (for more train books, go figure), when he started having chest pains. He took a detour and drove himself to the hospital instead. After making a wrong turn and walking into an administrative area of the hospital and having a volunteer tell him he couldn’t take a shortcut down a hallway, he returned to his parked car and drove himself back around to the emergency department where they diagnosed his major heart attack and placed two stents to reopen his clogged arteries. Realizing just how close a close call he had had, he got super serious about changing his diet. He became fanatical about exercising and has been a regular at the gym ever since. It is really inspiring, and he deserves a lot of credit. Overall though the diet changes seemed to be harder for him than the exercising. While he was more philosophical than I thought he should be about the hospital mix up, it didn’t take him long to start bemoaning the loss of his favorite pie or of pie in general.

As the timing went, it just so happened Jason and I were dealing with the aftermath of Max’s anaphylactic reaction to dairy and diagnosis with multiple food allergies at about this same time. (See Our Journey.) I am ashamed to say I wasn’t all that sympathetic to my Dad. I had a hard time seeing beyond my own struggle right then. It seemed to me, my giving up dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts/tree nuts and seafood to be able to continue to nurse Max was a much more restrictive diet than what he was facing, although looking back on it I think it was the realization of the permanence of it for him which made it more difficult. Luckily for him, my Mom was more sympathetic. She did some research and eventually landed on a crust recipe from the American Heart Association. It was not exactly low fat, but it replaced lard or Crisco used in traditional recipes with canola oil and water which meant it at least featured the good fats instead of the bad ones. Much to his delight, she promptly started making pies again. The bonus good news there was once Max outgrew his thankfully short-lived wheat allergy, pie became one dessert everyone could enjoy.

The rather serious wrinkle I found with this new crust recipe was I could never get it to work well. At one point, I became convinced that Mom must be holding out on me. I was sure that she must be adding some fourth ingredient beyond flour, oil and water to her crust because when I made it is almost always resulted in a gloppy, gooey mess. Sure with enough coaxing I could eventually work with it long enough to get something to present to my Dad, but it was never easy. To his credit, my Dad always appreciated my efforts. Then again since my Mom taught me to bake when I was a teenager, he has always been careful to play us against each other — stoking the competitive fires and trying to get more baked goods out of the bargain. I am sure it worked some of the time. I was ready to give up on this pie crust though. I even went so far to have my Mom make it in front of me one day. Then she watched me make it again. She said I used too much flour, and I know now (being one myself) that moms are always right. Still when I got home reducing the flour didn’t seem to make any difference at all.

Since I was still struggling and since Dad gift-giving holidays kept coming up, I began to ask my friends for help. They had various suggestion. Several said the dough needs to be super cold (that does help some). Another suggested I roll the dough out between wax paper. That didn’t seem to help with the pie, but it was and is a great tip for making egg-free sugar cookies. Then just recently I wanted to make a pie crust on a day I knew my Mom was off at one of her Red Hat club meetings. I decided to google the recipe instead of waiting to call mom for it or, you know, looking in my recipe file. A revelation: milk. The recipes, and there were several with the AHA seal, all had a fourth ingredient: milk. Some of them also said not to bother rolling out the crust but just to press it directly into the pie plate. I can’t tell you the validation I felt. A fourth ingredient. You press not roll. Yippee!

So once I came back down from that high, I realized I did have a new problem. Max couldn’t eat a pie with dairy. Would soy milk work just as well? I gave it a try. It still wasn’t easy, but it did work much better. I half-rolled it out, half pressed it. Just knowing that others had found it difficult to roll out gave me new found confidence and determination. I have let the kids start helping me with making the crust again. They love using the rolling pin. I was reluctant to include them when I knew rolling out was going to be a struggle, but somehow now I don’t mind so much. We don’t just stick to apricot. Sometimes they eat more of the crust then we use in the pie. I still don’t know how my Mom manages, but with my new recipe and an early apricot crop, I can tell you already what my Dad is getting from us this Father’s Day.

Heart-Healthy Dairy-Free Pie Crust

One 9-inch pie crust

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (optional, I leave out for my Dad)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons cold soy milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. In a small cup, whisk together the oil and milk and pour over the flour mixture. Using a fork, mix until completely dampened. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch pie plate, then up the sides and over the rim. To use as a baked shell, prick the surface of the dough with a fork several times and bake for 12 to 15 minutes; cool and fill per recipe. To use as an unbaked shell, fill with the desired pie filling and bake according to specific recipe.

If it’s Monday, it must be …

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If it’s Monday, it must be …

Beans! That’s right. I stole the idea from New Orleans, a city I haven’t even visited, but which after a few hours of watching Food Network I felt like I had. It seems one of the traditions there is red beans and rice on Mondays. It is a custom held over from the time when ham was the Sunday meal, and Monday was when the women were busy scrubbing the clothes. They needed a meal plan that didn’t require much fuss, or so I heard on television.

Inspired by old-school Emeril Lagasse (who is from Massachusetts anyway), I made it on a whim one day after watching one of his shows. We’ve since cancelled cable, so I’ll need a new inspiration. At the time, I hadn’t ever even really soaked beans before. I was a little nervous at first as it all seemed a little too easy. As it turned out, I love red beans and rice. I love the taste. I love being able to add as much hot sauce as I want. Did I mention I love the ease of making them? I use the crock pot and as long as I remember to soak them the night before, it’s one of the simplest meals I make. We’ve gone through a few recipe iterations but I am pretty happy with the one we have now.

While I do love them, I know it’s not fair to serve it every week. The kids feel lukewarm about them at best. Jason, for his part, appeared at first to be quite fond of them, but sometimes it is hard to tell with him. In fact, one of his most charming characteristics is he will eat whatever I put in front of him, whether it’s burned or over-seasoned or just not his preference, with almost no outward reservations. He will clear his plate, and say “thank you that was good” even when it wasn’t every night almost without fail. Still, if I ask him directly, he will give me an honest assessment. It’s almost the best of both worlds.

Thus, we were into my third or fourth week of serving it before I noticed any issue. I mentioned to him that I thought Max was coming around, and asked what did he think of that night’s recipe. He replied he thought the recipe could be spicier and confessed that he knew I liked them but maybe he wasn’t the best one to judge since he wasn’t all that fond of them in general. What?!

This revelation lead me to scale back the frequency somewhat. I mean in return for the gratitude he shows me most nights, I am willing to make a few allowances even when I really love a dish. I started alternating some other bean dishes. We have homemade chili some Mondays and hoppin john made from black-eyed peas other days. We also have tried cuban style black beans with sweet potatoes, although that is another one that I’m a little more fond of than everyone else.

I think having a regular bean night cuts down on the complaints I might otherwise get as everyone knows what to expect. It’s also super budget friendly. A one pound bag of beans can be had for under $1. The pepper, onion and garlic are the most expensive part of the recipe (with how many recipes can you say that?), and it makes enough and keeps well enough that we can have it on Monday and again on Wednesday or Thursday if we like.  Alternately I can eat on it for lunch several days in a row.

The frugality and quantity size are important because we have had somewhat of a perfect storm of events here lately conspiring to raise our food bill. For one, both kids have had growth spurts. At 9 ½, Max has crossed the five foot mark. I haven’t measured Claire lately but at four days shy of 8 it is safe to say she is not too far behind. They are both wearing size 14 in kid clothes and perhaps understandably have the appetites to match.

Also, food prices in general have gone up. While I tend to have a schadenfreuden reaction when I see news stories where shoppers complain about the skyrocketing cost of cow’s milk, milk replacements have never been cheap. While the price of soy milk thankfully seems to have been one of the few that has stayed close to constant, at $2.50 a half gallon it was never economical. To add to that, Max discovered recently that he actually prefers the taste of almond milk. While I still give him soy in his lunchbox, I think variety is good. Since he prefers the taste and they all have roughly the same amount of added calcium, I have started adding almond and coconut milk into the regular rotation. Unfortunately, the cost of one of those runs the same as a half gallon of the soy, which still is only a little less than the gallon of cow’s milk. Considering the budget only stretches so far, we’ve coped by adding a bean night and an omelet night (yay for outgrowing egg allergies) once a week.

While pretty much every day is laundry day around here (Did I mention growth spurts that make me reluctant to buy too many outfits in one size especially this close to the end of the school year?), I like that my menu plan has a cultural context even if it’s more personal to Food Network than me. Laissez les bons temps rouler! “Bam!”

Super Simple Red Beans and Rice

1 pound small red kidney beans

1 small onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1 clove garlic, chopped

8 cups water

1 heaping tablespoon Cajun seasoning (or make your own blend)

1 tablespoon parsley

1 ham hock (optional)

Rinse beans and soak in a large pot overnight. Drain and rinse beans again. Place in crock pot with water, green pepper, onion, garlic, parsley, seasoning and optional ham hock. Cook on low for six to eight hours. Serve on a Monday with rice (I use half white, half brown), andouille sausage, greens and corn bread.

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ooh la la

Maybe I’m suffering from delusions of grandeur, but I do believe if I miss a few days of shopping at my neighborhood grocery store that a little alert goes off at Kroger headquarters and a team springs into action. Depending on how far they think I’ve strayed, they send me a packet of coupons or just a flyer with some sweet talk about me being one of their favorite customers. I like to joke that I’m constantly amazed how much of our income I spend there, so they probably are too. At any rate,I think we can all assume that I am there a lot.

This last year it turns out was a big year for my little store. I actually remember the day and time when I first heard about the changes. It was about 2 p.m. Christmas Eve 2010. (I remember because a few days before the helpful check out clerk had warned me whatever I did I should avoid their store that day, and as I was standing in the crowded line — with every lane open mind you, something I’d never seen anywhere before –I was thinking this is what Alanis Morissette meant by the “good advice you just didn’t take”.) That particular store closes on Christmas, and I do believe people panic and feel the urge to hoard (me included obviously) lest they be without something we perceive we might need for 24 hours. Anyway, the store was so crowded one of the managers ended up being my checker. As she bagged my organic soy milk, she told me in glowing terms about the yearlong renovations the store was about to undergo and how she could tell (maybe by the soy but also probably by that whole alert system at the home office) how much I was going to love it. They were going to have aisles of organic produce, cases of cheese, containers of premium olive oil, three rows of kitchen gadgets not to mention the olive, sushi  and soup bars.

In some ways 2011 ushered in a rough transition year for my little store. They kept the store open during the renovations. Stockers were constantly moving items around as the construction company worked on different sections. Employees would make cheat sheets for the day about which aisle the bread was on today. The ceilings were stripped and all the wiring and light fixtures hung down exposed. The fire alarm was constantly going off. I wondered what would happen in a real fire as customer and employees didn’t even pause when it went off. A lot of my neighbors stopped shopping there. They said they couldn’t find anything. In my better moments. I kind of enjoyed the scavenger hunt aspect of it all. Claire in particular liked the tunnel they had set up part of the year to connect the new and old parts of the store while they worked on the middle section. Plus whenever I thought of trying one of the other Krogers or (gasp) Walmart, the other big player in my neighborhood supermarket field, Kroger enticed me back with even sweeter deals.

Now a year later the work is over and the store is just magnificent. They have two aisles of international food which has been just the inspiration I have needed to try some new recipes. At one point, I even found pickled herring and Swedish crisp bread. I have always had to special ordered peparkakor cookies for Swedish St. Lucia Day, but they are a regular staple on the shelf of my now-not-so-humble little grocery store.  I was equally amazed to find two brands of ligonberries and cloudberries, which I remember were quite the rarity when we brought them back to our parents from Ann Sather’s famous Swedish restaurant in Chicago on our honeymoon. The new Kroger also has in much more regular supply allergen specialty ingredients like dairy-free sour cream and plain soy yogurt, both of which I have previously had to drive across town to find reliably.

I have been busy adapting recipes. One that Max and Claire both loved came with supplies from the Swedish aisle section:

Swedish Meatballs

1 cup panko bread crumbs (OK that is not Swedish but the Japanese section is just across the way)

1 cup soy milk

4 to 6 tablespoons Fleishchmann’s Unsalted Spread 

6 shallots

3 to 4 garlic cloves

1 1/2 caraway seeds

salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds ground sirloin

1 pound ground pork

2 large eggs

handfuls of fresh parsley and dill

2 tablespoons flour

2 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth (or check to make sure dairy free if you buy boxed/canned)

1 1/2 cups dairy free sour cream like Tofutti brand

1 cup lingonberries plus more to garnish.

 

Combine bread crumbs and soy milk. Brown shallots garlic and caraway seeds in 1 tablespoon Fleishchmann’s Unsalted Spread for a couple of minutes. Put the meat in a bowl. Add the shallot mixture, eggs, parsley and dill to the bread crumb mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use your hand to form ping-pong ball size meatballs. Fry in batches with about 2 tablespoons Fleischmann’s Unsalted Spread adding more spread as needed. Turn frequently. It should take about 6 to 8 minutes a batch. Remove meatballs. Keep warm. Skim off some fat. Add 1 tablespoons Fleishchmann’s Unsalted and flour. Stir until dissolved. Add in chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce sauce for several minutes. Turn to low and add in dairy-free sour cream and lingonberries. Return meatballs to pan or place in crock pot to keep warm. Serve with additional lingonberry.

 

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year!

I have been so busy cooking and eating that I haven’t taken time to blog about it. Unlike Thanksgiving and New Years, we don’t have any established Christmas Day food traditions. Jason’s mom always made a standing rib roast with Yorkshire puddings, and our first few married years we either went back to her house or tried to recreate her menu.  Jason is often involved in church choirs, either conducting or singing. Now the kids are involved in Christmas Eve pageants.  We have begun postponing our trip to our hometown until after Christmas. The rib roast just wasn’t something I enjoyed making. We have tried turkey but that just seemed too reminiscent of Thanksgiving. This year we decided to split kitchen duties. Jason found a bag of charcoal left over from summer. I found a good deal at the store on some thick-cut sirloin steaks. As a side, I decided to try combining and adapting two of my favorites: the Pioneer Woman’s Burgundy Mushrooms   http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/09/burgundy-mushrooms/and Alton Brown’s Wild Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/wild-mushroom-and-asparagus-risotto-recipe/index.html.

I started the mushrooms after the present opening in the morning substituting dairy-free beef broth for the bouillon, which usually has dairy, and cutting the margarine (I used unsalted Fleischmann’s) by half.  I let that slow cook all day. That night instead of warming broth and wine as suggested in the risotto instructions, I used the broth from the mushrooms. I also obviously left out the cheese. It seemed to take forever especially with hungry kids repeatedly checking in, but it was so good. We may have found a new tradition.

For New Year’s today, we made hoppin john using the recipe on the back of the Bush’s Best black-eyed-peas-with-snaps can. Since I can’t find a good link I will copy it below. I used less oil and subbed a beautiful yellow pepper for the red pepper. I sometimes will make the peas from scratch with a ham hock bone, but this year we are still recovering from our road trip to our hometown. I got a slow start. I served the hoppin john with canned collard greens and corn muffins made from a boxed Jiffy mix (I substituted soy for the cow’s milk).  It wasn’t anything to really blog about except that I re-discovered by adding jalapeno peppers and salsa to my portion that I really like black-eyed peas. I see this recipe returning to our regular rotation. I also am superstitious enough to want all the good luck I can get.  Happy New Year!

Hoppin John (recipe borrowed from Bush’s Blackeyed Peas)

1 cup chopped onion

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 cup chopped cooked ham

2 cans Bush’s Blackeye Peas with Snaps

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

In a large skillet cook onion, peppers and ham for four minutes. Drain blackeye peas with snaps reserving 1/2 cup of liquid. Add peas with snaps, liquid and hot pepper sauce to ham mixture. Stir to combine. Serve over rice.

Happy New Year!

Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine

Bonus: Max is old enough to make them himself now.

I would like to say that Max had a hot breakfast every morning of his childhood. I would like to say he only ate cereal for breakfast for his first few months after starting solid food while his Dad and I got a handle on dealing with his food allergies.

The truth, however, is that he ate cold cereal for breakfast every morning without fail for years and years. In my defense, it’s fairly healthy, and I was busy figuring out cakes and cookies and casseroles and soups. Breakfast without dairy and eggs seemed too daunting. Plus, I am not a morning person. Breakfast without eggs and dairy seemed even more daunting at 7 a.m.

It was my Mom, who is a morning person, who first decided to experiment. She decided to begin with my childhood favorite, pancakes. She substituted soy milk for dairy and Energ Egg Replacer, she found in the health food store, for the eggs in a recipe from a very tried and true Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

Those first pancakes did not brown well. To my more experienced pancake palate, they seemed overly sweet and a little on the tough side too. Max, for his part, gobbled them up and asked for seconds. I stumbled somewhat belatedly on a principle of cooking for kids that should have been more intuitive if I had been less intimidated about experimenting: Almost everything will be happily eaten if it can be dipped in maple syrup.

We still eat a lot of cereal and way too many Poptarts (many flavors are dairy free) but I have settled on a great pancake recipe. We have pancakes now once a week. I have found a recipe that I love and works well.

Now that he has outgrown his egg allergy we have omlettes and scrambled eggs regularly as well. I am still not a morning person however. Not even my mom has a recipe for that. Luckily breakfast foods work for dinner as well.

Pancakes

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 beaten eggs or equivalent in egg replacer
2 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups soy milk

Mix dry ingredients. Set aside. Mix oil, soy milk and egg. Pour wet into dry. Mix until most lumps are gone. Heat skillet to highest setting. Poor 1/4 cup of batter per cake. Flip when bubbles form. Serve hot. Freeze extras. Makes about 30.

Variations add dairy-free chocolate cake and/or replace plain soy milk with chocolate soy milk.

Kids Cook Wednesday

A few summers ago I made a strategic mistake. Hoping to add a little order to our long lazy summer afternoons I gave cutesy names to each day of the week. We had science Monday, art Tuesday, kids cook Wednesday and board game Thursday. The themes were in part an attempt to make sure Max learned something before he started kindergarten in August and also a way to add some accountability to make sure I stuck with it. There’s nothing like cutesy names to help 4 and 5 year olds remember and to nag you into coming up with something fun to do. I imagined the themes would end when Max started school, but here we are more than three years later and we still follow the themes most weeks.

When we began the cooking day, I imagined the kids would take turns planning the menu and cooking several dishes, but that proved too much. We usually end up doing one item. If it’s a hectic week, it can be a simple item. Today it was a recipe they know by heart — chocolate shakes from the Food Allergy Mama, Kelly Rudnicki. Other times it’s cookies or cakes or pies. Sometimes it’s homemade pizza or even side dishes.

The kids have improved a lot. They have mastered some basic skills like pouring wet into dry, measuring away from the mixing bowl not over it, how to start yeast and how to knead. They are always up for using appliances, and I now trust them to operate the hand mixer, start the gas stove and work the blender.

Eventually, probably over another long Arkansas summer, I want to let them plan and execute full meals. It’s going to be particularly important for Max to know how to cook for himself. Right now it still feels like an accomplishment to make a tray of Rice Krispies treats or a batch of granola in the hectic times after school.

Here was one of our more elaborate projects:

Sweet Potato Balls

2 cups cold mashed sweet potatoes

4 tablespoons dairy-free margarine like Blue Bonnet Light

1 tablespoon soy milk

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 to 8 large marshmallows

1 to 1 ½ cups crushed cornflakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sweet pototoes, 2 tablespoons margarine, soy milk, salt and nutmeg. Divide into six to eight portions. Pat each portion around a marshmallow. Roll in remaining margarine and then roll again in cornflakes. Place in a greased 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.