Izzy (and Mama) Eat: The Gourmand Grows up...

Tales of Empty Nesting ...The Next Chapter

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My Son the Fromager (Stinky Cheese Fan Part II)

Not only did we purchase the aforementioned cheese, U Bel Fiurtu,but we also bought a hunk of Montagnolo blue and some of Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert (both of which, I might add, were served at our wedding). Izzy and I took them home with a promise of a cheese tasting ahead.

So last night after dinner, instead of dessert, we had a cheese tasting, eating from mildest to stinkiest. We had it with homemade bread made from the recipe from A Chicken in Every Granny Cart, a blog that inspires me to cook too much!

So first came the Camembert, followed by the Montagnolo, finishing with the stinkiest of all..the Corsican U Bel Fiurtu. He definitely preferred the stinky one, even eating the rind which I wasn't too keen on myself. His dad favored the Camembert while I was into the Montagnolo. Izzy seemed to take the whole thing quite seriously, until the end when he kept on eating the U Bel Fiurtu and asking me to sniff him....did he smell stinky enough?

It is my guess that he was hoping to turn into the stinky cheese man.."Run run run as fast you can, you can't catch me I'm the stinky cheese man!" I may even venture to say that he was inspired by the tale of the Stinky Cheese man, found in this book The Stinky Cheese Man (and other fairly stupid tales). Ah the power of words.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Salmon Balmon

I have always had a predilection for salmon (or as Izzy says, "Salmon Balmon") in all of its glorious forms; smoked, grilled, baked, gravlax, even canned. I come from a family of salmon lovers and I was raised eating bagels and lox every Sunday.

So of course I am pleased to report that Izzy shares my love for all things salmon and seems especially fond of smoked salmon (or as my dad says, Novie), which I have been feeding him for as long as I can remember. He acquired the taste for it early and so far it has stuck with him..

Recently his great-grandfather introduced us to a tinned smoked salmon (Bumble Bee), something that is rarely found in area supermarkets. Great-Grandpa is so fond of this salmon that he buys out the whole shelf whenever he sees it. Sometime last year he insisted upon driving over one day to hand deliver some 20 tins to us (mind you he was 97 at the time). I imagine he gets a kick out of the fact that we share his fondness for the this surprisingly tasty, somewhat salty, smoky stuff. Which is somehow slightly reminiscent of Nova and works in a pinch when I can't get my Zabar's freshly smoked salmon fix.

Unfortunately it is only available in select supermarkets and I can't find it anywhere. Who knows what we will do when the last case of 20 tins runs out. Great-Grandpa has just moved and can no longer be our salmon delivery person. I do know they carry it at the Food Emporium in Fort Lee, N.J. so if anyone can pick up some for us...we would be much obliged. .

Delicious, Nutritious, and Yes Pinkalicious!

Who knew when I bought tickets for the play "Pinkalcious" that it would turn out to embrace so many of my food ideals and also be adorably entertaining for Izzy to boot! This hour long production (perfect length for antsy ones) of quirky characters and original songs is a delight to both kids and adults .

Pinkalicious is a charming little musical (based upon a book of the same name) that tells the tale of a young girl who only wants to eat pink cupcakes. She consumes so many that she becomes afflicted with 'Pinkititis' and then is made to deal with the consequences which include a seemingly unpleasant "cure."

I recommend this show as a great way to open a discussion about eating...what people eat, why, nutrition, etc. Who knows, it may even help a picky eater or two change their ways.

Izzy was one of only a handful of boys to attend this particular performance which is a shame since it is certainly appealing to boys as well. Cast aside your 'pink is for girls only' notions and take your boys to the show too!

Oh and did I mention, hot pink cupcakes, both miniature and large were for sale in the lobby.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The stinky cheese fan...

"I want the stinkiest cheese they have," Izzy announced as we waited on line at the Zabar's cheese counter. The counterman looked up in amusement. When it was our turn to order I said, "I don't know about the stinkiest, but medium stinky will do." He pointed out something I had been eyeing, which was a Corsican sheep's milk cheese called, U bel fiuritu. I believe it was lovingly described as "pungent but not aggressively so". I asked for a sample and handed it over to Izzy who gobbled it down before I could try it myself. I figured a hunk of that was in our future even before I had tried it myself. Sampling does add so much to the shopping experience, not only for the grown-ups. It not only has entertainment value but is also a great way to encourage food discovery.

Now I know that kids enjoy cheese in general but I never thought the stinky ones would be high on the list of favorites. In fact, when I was a kid I was certain that blue cheese had to be one of the most awful things to eat and wouldn't go near the stuff...I will also admit that blue cheese was an acquired taste that only came in my late 20's after watching my boyfriend (now husband) enjoy it so thoroughly. He prepared it for me and convinced me I had to try it.. I haven't stopped eating it since.

To be continued...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I want Vietnamese...

If ever I say, "Where would you like to go for dinner?" Izzy almost aways answers, "Vietnamese." If we want to go somewhere else, he will continue to ask for Vietnamese. I would say we go out for Vietnamese food more frequently than any other type. Maybe this is because we have two decent Vietnamese restaurants within walking distance of our house and also because we all like it. One of the places is cozier and we are regulars there (Saigon Cafe), the other is brighter, more cacaphonous and cheaper (Nha Trang Place).

Tonight we went to the latter. Their specialty is Pho, a giant bowl of beef soup with rice noodles, bean sprouts, and thai basil. The meat in the soup is somewhat of a mystery to me. The menu says it contains "6 types beef brisket: navel, frank, omosa, tendon, and eye of round". I have eaten it many times before and I know it is good but I am somehow compelled to read that anatomical description each and every time. Which always gives me pause and then I inevitably order it anyway.

The soup is served in a giant white bowl, large enough to share. It was a somewhat messy endeavor for him as he happily slurped up the rice noodles and broth, along with a few of the meaty bits. I admit I don't add them all to his bowl. Not because I don't think he will eat them but more out of fear of mad cow. I do worry that it is somehow lurking in the omosa, whatever that is. Thankfully, Izzy is blissfully unaware of the worries that plague me and is free to enjoy his soup. If only I were so fortunate.

Friday, February 23, 2007

This little piggy left the market...

Ssshhhhhhh. Don't tell great-grandma Ida (may she r.i.p.) that her great-grandchild is wild for salceson, otherwise known as polish head cheese...which I believe is made from the entire pig's head.

How did this come to be? Don't blame me. I think it happened the day his papa took him to our friendly-neighborhood Polish market, Europa Meat & Provisions on Jersey Ave., which is where I usually pick up pierogi and an occasional kielbasa.

They came back with a slab of this pink, gelatinous loaf which was composed of what looked like tongue and other meaty tidbits. It reminded me of something I had eaten in Paris but generally stayed away from, for there was something too piggy about it. Not that piggy isn't tasty, it is. But when you haven't been brought up eating it, certain things seem more taboo than others. Head cheese was one of those things.

I sampled a piece of that slab, and so did Izzy. We were both smitten. The taste was actually reminiscent of the tongue I used to eat as a child. So I started to buy it on a regular basis. I noted that other customers had it sliced. So I did too. I started making sandwiches for us with it, on semolina bread, with Dijon mustard. Izzy ate it like it was candy. He would sometimes throw aside the bread and say he only wanted the meat. Even I was astounded.

The clincher though, came the day we stopped at the Italian deli to buy an eggplant parm. sandwich. The line was too long and nothing I could say would persuade Izzy to leave. Finally I said, how about we go to Polish and get some head cheese instead...he followed me out the door, while the other patrons looked on in amazement. Forgive me Grandma.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

F is for falafel, not necessarily fast food

Sometimes those of us who don't eat fast food, still need a quick, inexpensive bite to eat. Not that falafel is always quick. In fact, at one of my favorite falafel nooks, Moustache, in the West Village, it is actually billed as 'Slow Food' and they aren't kidding. They have warm, puffy pitas, fresh from the oven, along with a host of salads and other inspired Middle-Eastern fare. When I am looking for an extended falafel experience, we go there. When I am seeking something less time-consuming, I go to either Rainbow Falafel (for take-out) on 17th Street or Chickpea, a newer establishment in the East Village with excellent falafel sandwiches, along with smart creations for the indecisive amongst us, including the schawafel (schwarma and falafel) and the chickplant (hummus, eggplant and egg) sandwiches. They too provide homemade pitas (not as puffy as those at Moustache but still warm and tasty).

It was there I ended up with Izzy yesterday, after a trip into NYC to scoop up some winter sale clothes for next season . We had been there once before, en route to get my haircut and the food served as entertainment for Izzy while I got snipped. This time, we ate at the counter, even though they do have a cozy spot in the back. I had the chickplant and Izzy had the schawafel "with pickles please". He noted that the pickles were not as tasty as the pickles from Europa in JC..(see Pondering pickles in a future post). We also discussed the differences in falafel colors, theirs are bright green in the interior whereas others are yellower. What a satisfying, healthful lunch, as fast as any food can possibly be without being precooked. And as it turned out,one sandwich would have been sufficient for the two of us, which would have made it the true bargain lunch.

I recall that the first time Izzy ever tried falafel was on a hot summer day in Union Square Park. He must have been around 14 or 15 months old. We had gone to the Greenmarket and it was lunchtime so I picked up a falafel sandwich from Rainbow. We took it to the park and spread out on the grass. I may have packed some snacks for him but I also offered him some tastes of the falafel which he was happy to have. I just handed him small bits of the sandwich. On subsequent occasions he ate more and more. Eventually he started to ask for it, though he went through a brief phase for a few months where he would only eat the pita and tomatoes..Now, after sampling at least three falafel joints (I forgot to mention Ibby's), he is becoming a true falafel aficionado.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A balancing act: Of shopping with slings and strollers

For the past three-and-a-half years,up until October, nearly all of my food shopping had been done with my boy in tow. When we lived in midtown, I shopped at a variety of places. Some days, I would slip Izzy in a sling and off we hop on the subway to the Union Square Greenmarket. I would bring along an empty backpack to carry on the way home. Admittedly this was not the comfiest way to shop but I knew of no other. I invariably bought too much and would come home, arms and back sore, backpack overflowing with all manner of comestibles.

Other days, we would board the bus to Fairway, shop and have most of our bags delivered (now that was sheer bliss)! These trips usually went off without a hitch until one incident which occurred on our way home. My boy must have been about 12 weeks old. I had decided to carry a few bags along with us. We had just boarded the bus when he started crying hysterically. People were glaring at me and giving me all sorts of awful advice as to how to quiet him when I knew all he needed was a bit of boobie. Problem was I was balancing too many things and I was unable to get him comfortable situated without help. Finally a young woman took pity on us and I was able to nurse him. Ah, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

For the most part, that was my shopping routine until Izzy was six months old and we moved to Jersey City. Then everything changed. Getting into the city meant a walk to the Path station, train ride and then subway ride because I would only use stroller- accessible stations (with elevators). Yet despite the time and trouble, I had to have my city food fix; either the Union Square market or Fairway, along with Zabar's, Beard Papa and other Upper West Side fixtures. I was fortunate to have a big, sturdy stroller in which I could stuff one bag of groceries and hang two on the side. I know I vaguely resembled a bag lady but it was worth it. Yet if I hung one bag too many, the entire stroller would tip forward, baby and all...And yes..it did happen.

To add to the challenge of just getting there and back, these shopping excursions needed to be scheduled around naps, diaper changes, nursing sessions, especially since my apartment was no longer just a cab ride or subway stop away. I would try to arrange everything to keep Izzy content since getting him out would require balancing the stroller which would inevitably tip over, cracking eggs, upsetting chickens and bruising tender lettuce. Most days I was lucky and he would wait until we were on the Path train home before he started howling to get out. I would often nurse him the whole way home, with my foot on the stroller, hoping it wouldn't tip over.

As time went on, I dropped the frequent trips uptown and started to look for more local shopping experiences. Trips to Hoboken were added to my repertoire and I decided I could live with Union Square and Whole Foods to meet my regular shopping needs. Occasional trips uptown became a treat. As it was, food shopping was occupying a huge part of my time. This began to change somewhat to accommodate Izzy and his changing needs. Shopping excursions had to be coupled with ample playtime or else I would have one unhappy child on my hands. So our routine evolved until eventually, just this past October, he started preschool.

With no Izzy at home in the morning, I had to do my shopping alone. At first it was lonely without my sidekick but the upside was that I could bring my granny cart and buy oodles more than I could before. Now I can get away with one, maybe too trips per week into the city.

I do miss our trips together so on weekends and during vacations he comes along, as he did yesterday. What is remarkable is that although he is older, the many of the same challenges remain. We no longer have a giant stroller, just a light portable one. It doesn't really hold that much and if I hang too many things on it and Izzy decides to hop out, as he is wont to do, the whole thing tips over. He still needs to play and eat so there is only so much I can get done...And sometimes he ends up falling asleep which is another problem since now he is too heavy to hoist up the steps in the event of a broken elevator..which we encountered yesterday.

To some it may seem that I go to extreme lengths to bring home food for my boys, and perhaps I do. Yet once I have the coveted eats at home, all the balancing seems worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Getting a haircut, an excuse to eat?

A trip into to the city, for whatever the reason, is nearly always an excuse to eat, especially if it is around lunchtime. Today was no exception. We went in to get the boy a haircut. I didn't really think he needed one, especially since he was beginning to have that 70's look. However, he had been complaining that it tickled his ears so I decided that a trim would solve the problem. Unfortunately she lopped almost all of it off, but I digress..

After haircuts, we usually go to Westville, an adorably small place with what I like to think of as a 'greenmarket meets comfort food menu'..Niman Ranch hot dogs with organic green beans, Brussels sprouts and milkshakes..To me it seems to be the perfect nook for lunch with child but I ran into another mom at the kiddy hair salon once who said she wouldn't dream of going there with her son because of the cramped quarters. We discussed it for a few minutes and then she left. Much to my surprise, we bumped into them eating there awhile later. The meal appeared to be going fine. Parents often underestimate the ability of their kids to adapt to restaurant environments..which brings me to our lunch.

Instead of Westville, I decided to search for something else. After all, the West village is filled with possibilities and I feared we were stuck in a Westvillian rut. Time to branch out.

As we ambled down West 4th Street I happened upon Mary's Fish Camp. Now this is one of those places, along with Pearl Oyster Bar and other tiny seafood joints, that has linesout the door at night but it had never occurred to me to try it during the day; nor had it even crossed my radar as a "lunch with the boy" type of place. After all, it was small, usually crowded and somewhat pricey. Nonetheless, I had to stop and read the menu, even though I already knew what I would have..the lobster roll. So we stopped, I peered into the window and saw that the restaurant was nearly empty. It was a sign.

I couldn't help but ask,"Would you like to have a lobster sandwich?" He immediately nodded yes and in we went. We had the run of the place but he chose to eat at the counter. He loves to be a part of the cooking action. We ordered the lobster roll, a side of asparagus and a lemonade. Our platter arrived along with a heaping side of shoe string fries which go so well with the mayonnaisey goodness of the lobster chunks. Unfortunately, the lobster made Izzy cough "Too peppery, mama". So after eating only a few bites he left the rest for me except for a few intermittent mouthfuls of the mayonnaise-covered bun which he nibbled on along with his fries and asparagus.

Despite my reservations, the meal was somewhat of a success. It had the added appeal of chatty waitstaff and I didn't even have to break out the restaurant toy bag. The dining experience was diverting enough, in and of itself. Something that seems to be occurring more and more.

The more the merrier...bad news for the preschool snack table?

The New York Times has just reported on a new study that looked at how children eat in larger groups. Of course it showed that the more children present at the snack table, the more snack they would eat..( uh o's again..I just had this dreadful vision of my child stuffing his face with pink o's - did someone tell me those are fruit loops?)

The researchers examined small groups of three children versus larger ones of nine. They found that the children in the larger groups ate more than did those in the smaller ones. I take solace in the fact that the tables at Izzy's preschool don't usually seat more than three children..perhaps circumstances are not as dire as I first thought.

On the bright side of this research however, is the fact that humans are social eaters. No surprise that this applies to babies, toddlers, small children etc. So when introducing foods to babies, from the beginning, plan their mealtimes around yours. Make it a point to eat with them. Also make it a point to eat what they are eating..all the more reason to prepare your own baby food. Jarred babyfood is not something I would care to eat. But I surely wouldn't mind eating a lovely fresh pea puree with my dinner and some homemade applesauce. You get the idea. Children want to eat what you are eating. They may not eat it the first time but keep at it. I may have mentioned this somewhere before but introducing solids is an exercise in patience. Just keep at it.

Now back to the snack table. If all of the families made a point to provide healthy snacks, peer influence could work its magic, toward an end that I imagine most parents aspire to..having a child who enjoys eating healthy foods..

Monday, February 19, 2007

Boy cleans fridge..yes you heard it here.

The other day, when the boy was going off to school, I remarked that the fridge was in need of some cleaning. He said, "Wait til after school, I want to help." Ah, I must be doing something right.

That day came and went and it wasn't until this morning that I realized the fridge was still in need of some cleaning. Perfect, especially since I didn't know how I was going to entertain us on this, our first day of vacation, since it was freezing cold out.

I started getting Izzy involved in this activity since he was old enough to stand by the drawers and take things out. This is one way he began to learn about the various ingredients in our refrigerator. He would play with the fruits in the bottom drawers and whatever else was safe. Now he takes his job seriously and removes everything he can reach from the bottom shelves and drawers. He has his own squirt bottle for cleaning as well. We managed to get the job done in less than two hours. It sure does help make a tedious chore palatable. And not only that, hopefully I am raising a boy who will clean his own fridge one day.

Freezing cold + no car = empty fridge

This cold weather, along with the snow-covered sidewalks, sure is cramping my granny cart style. I think it has been over two weeks now since I have been out shopping in the city, which means no Whole Foods and no Greenmarket. If not for the car trip last week to T.J's and our neighborhood gourmet shop, GO - Gourmet Organic., who knows what we would have been eating.

GO has managed to save us from eating takeout on many an occasion. It is great to have around for bread - lately the baguette has been our family favorite - as well as other kitchen staples like dairy, frozen organic peas, a decent selection of cheeses, olive paste, fig jam and a myriad of other goodies. I have even heard tell that it is going to be written up in the New York Times Jersey section one of these days.

GO has also been instrumental in shaping Izzy's palate because when they first opened, they always had several cheeses displayed and cubed for sampling. When we would walk in, Izzy would hop from his stroller and make a beeline for the cheese samples, grabbing whatever morsels were put out until I had had to stop him. Blacksticks Blue has since become a favorite with all of us. Another item that also struck his fancy (and mine) was the perfectly chewy ficelle, which he loved to nibble on while sitting at the tables in front of the shop. Sadly, those ficelles are no longer available,( a story for another day) though thankfully, the baguette has become a reasonably satisfying substitute. Freshly-baked bread is a necessity around this house so I am glad we have at least two sources nearby..but you will have to wait for a future post to hear about the other one.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hot dogs and blueberries:

Studies have shown that peer influence can outweigh parental influence. If this is true, how am I to combat the following.."Mama, J. brings a hotdog and blueberries for lunch every day." I try to contain my disgust but I am too transparent and he asks, "Is that bad for you?" I reply, "Well it isn't the healthiest thing to eat on a daily basis. And blueberries aren't in season right now." He says, "Maybe it is Summertime where he comes from." Hmmm...Summer has come early to certain parts of Jersey City..I guess we can thank global warming.

Where does meat come from?

As I was preparing tonight's meatloaf, the inevitable question arose. "Mama, where does meat come from?" Now this isn't the first time he has asked but each time I find, my explanation has become more elaborate. Tonight I said, "Well, it depends which kind of meat. This meat comes from a cow." "How?" "The cow is raised on a farm, hopefully a small one. The farmer cares for it and feeds it healthy food, which means vegetarian food. Then the cow is taken to be killed. It is then sent to the butcher and cut into parts for food." He then asked, "Why does it have to be killed?" My reply, "We wouldn't be able to eat it otherwise." "Just like the chicken, Mama?" "Yes, like the chicken." I wondered if he would still eat his dinner. He did, along with a heaping portion of his recycled broccoli soup which turned into a broccoli, pasta, goat cheese casserole.

One cannolo, two cannoli, three cannoli, four..

Did I mention that while we were in the city yesterday, we were near Veniero's Bakery so I suggested that we stop by to pick up some cannoli. I have always had a thing for cannoli so understandably they were one of the first desserts that I allowed Izzy to try. He has probably been eating them since before the ripe old age of two. Though I did manage to keep him from most sweets before the age of 2.5 years, I was unable to keep him from cannoli, nor did I try to, since I rationalized that as far as sweets go, they figure amongst the healthier options (never mind the deep-fried cannoli shell), the filling is basically ricotta cheese and sugar. Now I used to think that Veniero's made fairly decent cannoli (and they do) but that was before I moved to Jersey City.

Back when we first moved to Jersey City, I continued to go to NYC when I needed a cannoli fix. Until, during one of my weekly jaunts to Hoboken, I discovered another tempting source for cannoli, Carlos City Hall Bakery. Each week, after completing my errands, I always made a point of stopping in for a cannoli or two. Izzy was barely eating solids at the time, so his initial taste for them must have come from my milk (which reminds me to share the whole breast milk and taste theories later.) When he was finally old enough to show an interest, I broke down and gave him a small sample. It was all over after that. I couldn't eat cannoli without sharing with him. His love affair with cannoli had begun. I couldn't help but grin when we would get to the counter and he would say "cannoli"...The counter staff would always seem perplexed that this little being would be requesting cannoli rather than cookies.

So yesterday's cannoli purchase provided fodder for an impromptu cannoli comparison.."Mama, these cannoli aren't the same as the ones from the Hoboken bakery. They aren't as messy." Indeed he had a point. The shells on the Hoboken cannoli are flakier (read tastier) and hence crumble more. I might also add that the filling is creamier. He noted that the filling from Veniero's had green candied tidbits on the ends, as well as chocolate chips, while the ones from Carlos' had white bits. I myself, couldn't remember. I guess that the next step is a side-by-side test taste though for me, Carlos is already the winner.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Broccoli soup..a collaborative recipe

On some nights, I just don't have the energy to conjure up something new for dinner because unlike normal people, I obsess over what we should have. Fortunately, tonight Izzy did it for me. After nap, we went downstairs and I inquired, "What should we have for dinner? There is some broccoli in the fridge. He replied, " I want broccoli and pasta soup!" Well so be it..I set about looking through a few recipes and he just kept saying, "It will have broccoli and pasta in it." I agreed but decided we needed to add some diced carrot, celery, fresh thyme, hot pepper flakes and tons of garlic, along with chicken stock. He set about chopping the broccoli while I diced the other ingredients. I sauteed the garlic, carrots and celery with olive oil and then added stock. Brought this to a boil and simmered the broccoli til tender. I then pureed part of this, returned to pot and then added the pasta. Though the pasta absorbed most of the liquid, I added a bit of water to remedy the matter. Izzy grated a bunch of cheddar cheese (I know, I know but we were all out of Parmigiano Reggiano since the snow has kept me from city shopping) to put on top. It turned out to be more of a stew than a soup (we may tweak it for repeat performances) but it was a belly-warming, comforting dinner, not to mention noteworthy as the boy's "first recipe." May there be many more to come.

I say "Momofuku," he says, "Noodle Bar".

Why is it that I have an extensive list of eateries that I long to try but that when I am put on the spot, not a one comes to mind? We were on our way to the National Academy Museum for a Family Arts program this morning. All I could think about was where we were going to eat lunch afterwards. My friend R. was kind enough to drive us and she said that it was up to me to figure out where we would dine (as it should be). I had searched for a place on the Upper East Side last night and nothing grabbed me, except for Kid Fresh which I see more as a shopping rather than eating, experience. I figured that something would come to me eventually.

Suddenly, a light bulb went off and I said, "Momofuku" and Izzy said, "Noodle Bar". I guess our experience there this past summer made quite an impression on him; I know it did on me. I was obsessed with the restaurant from the first, for it took Asian food to a new level with its extensive offerings of local, seasonal, and organic delights. Not many other eateries can boast a list of Heritage pork to rival Momufuku's. It didn't disappoint.

I had already been there a few times myself and I was hesitant to take him because they only have bar stools and it is a rather cramped and crowded spot. I wondered how a three year-old would fare, albeit a generally well-behaved one. Well, I suppose it should come as no surprise, but he exceeded my wildest expectations. We arrived and luckily did not have to wait to secure a spot at the crowded counter. He seemed in awe of the place, peering behind the bar where all the action was taking place. Food was sizzling, dishes were clattering, smells were wafting about and waitresses were busy ferrying steaming bowls of noodles all around us. I overheard the servers say they couldn't believe how adorable and well-behaved he was. They fawned over him as he balanced himself precariously on the high bar stool, for over an hour, while earnestly trying to slurp his noodles topped with Berkshire pork and munch on the delectable shitaake mushroom buns. Ah, I reveled in the moment, then and now, for if he could cooperate here, then we could go anywhere.

When I snapped out of my revelry, I told R. about Momofuku Ssam, the newer restaurant with a different approach, instead of soups, it specializes in Ssam which are Asian burritos(giant flour pancakes)or rice bowls, filled with a dizzying array of succulent foodstuffs, from soft, shredded organic chicken to flavorful beans, roasted onions, whipped tofu..etc. etc. and of course that same old addictive Berkshire pork found at the original spot. So off we sped to lunch. Turns out that the newer spot is less frenetic (at least at noon on a Saturday )then the original. And they have regular tables so it is easier if you go with more than one child. The set-up is semi-cafeteria style and you go up to the counter and choose the fillings for your ssam and order your buns. You pay and take them back to your table. I had trouble choosing from all that was offered but eventually selected a Bibb Lettuce Ssam with organic chicken, roasted onions, pickled shitaake mushrooms, bacon black beans, edamame and whipped tofu($12)along with an order of the not to be missed pork buns (2 for $8). Izzy and I shared bites of the pork buns and he kept grabbing for the porky tidbits when they escaped the bun. I then fed him chopstickfuls of the Ssam mixture. The portions were so big that we even saved some for papa's lunch.

I can't say that R. and her daughter were as enthralled with the experience as we were but what can you expect from a semi-vegetarian Cuban who doesn't eat pork???

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Leg of lamb revisited

Remember that roast leg from the other day? It qualified for one of the most expensive pieces of meat I have ever purchased. I hesitated to spend more than $35 or so dollars but the sheep lady from 3 Corner Farms promised I would get two meals from it and she was right. So tonight I prepared one of our favorites, pasta with lamb sauce. People always look at me skeptically when I mention this dish because it seems that Americans are more accustomed to pasta with beef or regular old tomato sauce. Well let me inform you, if you have never tried it you are missing a toothsome delight and a great way to use leftover lamb (though it is actually better made with fresh lamb). So simple too..

Recipe for Pasta with lamb sauce

One large onion, diced, 1 carrot diced, shallots or garlic to if you wish, saute in two tablespoons olive oil til' caramelized, add cubed lamb (whatever is left over) large sprigs of rosemary, stir add a cup of wine, let simmer a moment and then add a large can of plum tomatoes, whole or crushed..simmer gently until you child says, "Mama, it smells like dinner." Pour over a big vat of pasta and eat with some formaggio sprinkled on top.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The allure of Trader Joe's (ode to mini-chicken tacos)

When I first moved to Jersey City, I knew that the local supermarkets left much to be desired. I heard that some people traveled to Whole Foods (about a 25 minute trip) or to Trader Joe's, a bit further, to do their shopping. Since I don't have a car I couldn't get to either of those places on a regular basis so I was delighted when friends with cars expressed interest in schlepping me and my boy along on an excursion to Trader Joe's.

The first time I went there, I wasn't bowled over though I did manage to find some decent items. Friends explained that I simply hadn't discovered the true treasures..which could have been true since the actual shopping part was somewhat rushed. With two toddlers racing up and down the aisles, I didn't really have the time to inspect all that T.J's had to offer. So I went back a second time and this time, I was hooked. Organic maple syrup, avocados and kiwis for super cheap. Giant logs of goat cheese for the price of one button elsewhere and Niman Ranch Bacon at half the price I would pay in the city. Not to mention a nice selection of jams, teas,chocolates and wine (an array of decent bottles for $8 and under). Granted the produce department is rather small and the meats and breads leave something to be desired but many of the packaged and frozen goods are stellar. In the past I have never been known to purchase any jarred sauces but the call of the Moroccan simmer sauce and green salsa proved too hard to resist, especially after my friend D., touted their virtues. Her T.J. recommendations have sent me on a a downward spiral, from a few jars of sauces to today's purchase of frozen mini-tacos. Actually I had purchased the tacos for her because they are her go-to dish for her child who is on a special gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free diet which is difficult enough without adding organic, local and other criteria to the mix so I try not to judge and carry on. Though I admittedly look at some of the suspicious ingredients on the label such as maltodextrin and have to wince a moment.

In any event, we found ourselves indoors on this snowy winter's day, school closed, streets slick with ice, wondering what to feed ourselves and our boys for lunch. She had actually brought lunch for her boy. Mine had his lunch ready too since I had packed it this morning, thinking school was open. So the boys were set.

So the question remained, what should we eat. Although I had just been to T.J's yesterday I had nothing particularly exciting to offer, no fresh bread, great cheese or other tidbit. This is the inexplicable thing about T.J's, it provides me with wonderously cheap jars of olive tapenade, bourbon vanilla extract, and fabulous smelling handsoaps and a myriad of other things that add enormously to my larder yet these items must be supplemented with REAL food from elsewhere, such as greenmarket bread, cheeses, meats etc. which I didn't have on hand. What I did have, however, were the two boxes of mini-chicken tacos which I had in the freezer, ready to hand off to D. on her way out. Against my better judgement, terrible hostess that I was, I suggested that I serve us some of D's very own tacos, oh the horror! And she agreed.

When I smelled them in the oven I had a feeling it was all over. Maltodextrin and dextrose aside, those mini-chicken tacos are pretty darn tasty for a frozen food item. Crispy, chewy on the outside, creamy slightly spiced on the inside. D., how could you do this to me?? They almost taste REAL.!

The question is, will I feed them to my boy or just horde them? He is probably allergic to some unsavory ingredient in them anyway so better that I keep them all to myself..or share some with my husband if he is lucky.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Who says we aren't carnivorous by nature?

It was a late night with lamb leg around our house. Okay since the boy napped from 3-6 and I had to wake him! I was eager to finally cook the small leg of lamb I had purchased a few weeks ago from 3-Corner Farms at the Union Square Market (a weekly stop for us on the greenmarket circuit and certainly merits a whole post some other time) and I decided to marinate it yesterday to cook tonight, even though that would mean my child wouldn't eat dinner til about 9:30 (how very European of us) which is usually his bedtime

I gave him some pierogi around 8 to tide him over and set to work on the mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. As he started to smell the lamb sizzle, he hopped off of his high chair and said, "I'm done with these pierogi. I am going to wait for the meat." When the meat was done and resting on the cutting board, he inspected it and asked, "Where do the juices come from?" I said that they came from the blood and fat. As his father began to cut it, Izzy saw that some parts were more well done and others were red and juicy. He then announced, "I would like the red juicy parts." I thought he was joking, Not even I eat the red juicy parts, I prefer mine to be pink.

More O's woes

So there I was thinking my boy was safe in a healthy O's haven when at bedtime I hear this.."We had O's for snack today...they were pink and white and very sugary. I ate them."

O woe is me. I can't even begin to start ranting about why other preschool parents want to feed my child and theirs, sugary snacks in the early morning. Don't they know anything about brain food? What are pink O's? Somebody please enlighten me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Uh O's

It appears that despite my best efforts, I have created an O loving child. This morning, upon awakening, he asked, "Have you ever made O muffins?" I replied, "No, have you?" He said "No." So I asked, "How would we make them?" His reply, "Just put O's in the batter and bake them. We need to use the sticky kind." On the bright side, he wakes up dreaming of baking. Yet...

I can't help but wonder why it is that O cereal has become a ubiquitous part of childhood, from being recommended as a first food to becoming part of a child's snack or daily breakfast? Cheerios have infiltrated American culture so thoroughly that parents are made to feel remiss if they don't offer them. I tried to avoid them for as long as possible, well past eight months and I refused to buy Cheerios which are simply sugar-laden letters posing as cereal. I figured I would go the organic route but discovered that as a first finger food, some of them, because of their lower sugar content, are less dis solvable and therefore more of a choking hazard. I was always certain I would be dislodging some O's from Izzy's throat at one time or another, yet luckily we passed the finger food phase unscathed. Then I thought I could dispense with O's..instead they became part of the snack cup phase and were even requested at breakfast time. We have tried many, Cascadian Farms, Trader Joe's O's (which seem reminiscent of some kind of pet food) and Health Valley Oat O's which are the tastiest of the bunch and apparently they would work well in a muffin. At least they are 'healthyish.'

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Mother/child granny carts

Living in downtown Jersey City, without a car, can sometimes make shopping for gourmet victuals challenging, particularly in the cold weather when I don't feel like making the trek into the city. I haven't been into the city all week because the boy has been ill so I was forced to have the dreaded "Shoprite on Sunday" experience to pick up a few items to hold us over.

In any case, it may surprise you to find that Shoprite now carries a decent array of organic products, including a wide array of dairy staples, an entire organic aisle of dried and canned goods and an organic fruit and veggie section.

Braving the Sunday crowds was worthwhile because Izzy and I walked there together pushing our matching granny carts, as we have done for the past six to eight months. I have a large red one and he has a small blue one. We made quite a pair as we walked slowly down the main boulevard all bundled up. He gets a kick out of following after me and once at the store he is always so helpful putting everything into his cart. The outing was productive for both him and me. Getting him his own cart was a great way to get him excited about food shopping, something unfortunately, that most men I know don't seem to enjoy.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Where's the octopus mama?

No, we were not at the aquarium. We were out at a new haute Greek restaurant in lovely Tenafly, NJ. Thanks to Grandpa Joe for taking us all to Axia Taverna tonight. The appetizers are always amazing, we ordered five, including smoked mackerel with housemade pita, orange-scented meatballs and artisanal sausage with smoked pork. Those came to the table first and we started to sample them when the plaintive cry arose..."Mama, where is the octopus?" And who could blame him for yearning for that charred, slightly chewy taste sensation? He would have eaten the entire portion if I had placed it in front of him but you know..it is nice to share.

Be born and eat: a bit of history

Four years ago, come April, my son was born. Little did he know that his culinary education had begun long before that day. For while he was growing within, I had already plotted his future as a boy gourmand. I had heard of and witnessed the quintessential picky eaters of lore. In fact, I have some evidence to prove I was one myself. Yet somehow I knew that I would be intolerant of a child who would not eat lox or lardons and squirmed at the sight of anchovies. So I was determined to raise him to adore everything. I had read some French studies (and you know if anyone were to know how to teach taste, the French would be the ones to do it) that showed how children whose mothers ate certain flavors during pregnancy, were predisposed to preferring those flavors. Simple enough, eat as wide a variety of foods as you can and expose the budding palate. I did my best, though space was limited at the time, as the creature within was co-opting some of my precious stomach space. Luckily for me (and him) that while pregnant, we lived in NYC so I was able to provide him with a rotating menu of assorted taste sensations, including regular jaunts to Ariana Afghan (our neighborhood favorite) and big slurpy bowls of japanese ramen noodle soup. Though I'd say City Bakery won as most visited eatery during pregnancy not only for its close proximity to my midwives (CBS midwifery..the best!) but also for its distinct array of healthy, greenmarket offerings, not to mention the incredible pastries and hot chocolate..but this must be saved for another post or three. Of course this is only an inkling of all that I ate..and as the occasion arises, others shall be mentioned. Suffice it to say that as the big day neared, the creature within had been privy to quite a sampling. And, no surprise to anyone, the first contractions occurred at City Bakery..but back to that later..let's get to the here and now before these moments slip by.