One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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Papa Does Dinner

Though Mama’s a vegetarian, she does eat some seafood—and Papa’s become pretty adept at cooking it for us. For starters tonight, he sautéed some yummy bay scallops. They’re creamy white, firm, and fleshy. They can be as big as my hand or as tiny as my toes. Papa chose bite-size scallops for him and Mama (they were three-biters for me) as appetizers. I haven’t had many chances to pick up seashells on the shore, but Mama tells me that if you think of a “traditional” shell pattern, that’s what a scallop comes in! And because this round fleshy disk is attached to a shell, it sometimes comes with the connective muscle still on it. You can see it looking like a small flap alongside the muscle, and it’s very easy to peel off. If won’t hurt you if you eat it, but it is rather chewy.

A long time ago, Mama taught Papa how to sear scallops, and now he’s able to show me! There are two secrets: start with a dry scallop and a hot pan. You might be wondering how you dry your scallops since they come from the sea! If they’re very fresh, you just set them out on a paper towel, lay another paper towel on top, and let them sit for a couple minutes. If they’ve been previously frozen, it’s going to be difficult to get that crisp, golden restaurant-quality sear—but you can come close if you dust the scallops lightly with flour. Either way, be sure you salt and pepper your scallops before putting them in the pan.

Start with medium-high heat, melt a pat of butter, and add your scallops. (If your scallops are very small, they’ll cook quickly and can take a higher heat.) Now don’t move them! Leave them alone for 1–2 minutes. And if you don’t have a pair of kitchen tongs, don’t make these until you get a pair. They’re really the only way you can turn over the scallops without losing that yummy crust of deliciousness you just developed. You can very gently lift up an edge of a scallop with the tongs to check on its color, but that’s it. When ready, turn them and cook for just another minute or so, again without disturbing them. Be careful not to overcook them, or you’ll be eating rubber (though I don’t quite understand why this is a bad thing, considering all the toys I put in my mouth). This isn’t the time to be setting the table. Stay right there and man your scallops. Act like a chef and give them a gentle squeeze around the middle. If they’re supersoft, they’re not quite done. There should be a firmness with just the slightest bit of give. Scallops will continue to cook once you remove them from the pan, so you really want them to be oh-so-slightly underdone. Actually, a perfectly cooked scallop with have a small blush in its very center when you cut into it—which you should be able to do with child’s spoon.

Papa did a great job! The scallops were golden on the outside and supple on the inside. They tasted buttery and like an afternoon at the beach. I ate three of them.

Then, because it’s still halibut season, Papa decided to cook up a favorite dish of ours, something along the lines of this one. Mama apologizes for not having a picture of me eating this, but she was too busy scarfing it down herself. Of course I ate the oranges (even with all the green on it), and I had a few bites of the halibut—Papa got a good sear on it, as well—but I really took to the fennel. Did you know that it takes on a very different flavor when it’s cooked? It’s much sweeter. Mama tells me this is what licorice tastes like, and I hope I get to have some soon. What do you think my chances are?

Love, Jude

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Cake Pops, Baby.

Seeing as I’m just a baby, I don’t exactly know when these became “the thing,” but I find them curious. They’re cake…but they look like lollipops. Not that I have any experience with lollipops, either, but I digress.

When Grandma and GeeGee were visiting, we went to a 4th of July party, and Mama thought it would be fun to give cake pops a try. My Aunt Karen is quite fond of making them, but Grandma’s never done them! Even Mama’s never made something quite like them, what with the cake mix and the canned frosting. She kept musing, out loud, that she should make the cake pops from scratch, including the lolli-stick. (What would you use?) I just wanted to get down and dirty.

So here’s what you do: Bake a 9″ x 13″ cake according to the package directions. Mama chose a white cake, but you can make whatever kind you like. Once it’s cooled, you break it up into a big bowl. Then stir in 1 cup of room temperature pre-made frosting. Again, Mama chose white, but you can choose vanilla or cream cheese or even chocolate. You wouldn’t think that 1 cup is enough, but trust me, it goes a long way.

Now comes the fun part: Reach into the bowl, smoosh your fingers in the cake, then put a big glob in your mouth before your mama can stop you. Repeat as often as necessary, but in the meantime, you scoop out a bit of cake-and-frosting, give it a few squeezes to bring it all together, roll it into a ball, and set the ball on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Note: Mama had only 24 lollipop sticks, so she and Grandma made the balls pretty big—perhaps too big. They were about the size of golf balls, and GeeGee thought they would’ve been better had they been a bit smaller. You’ll figure it out.

What? Am I not supposed to eat them yet?

Once you’ve made all your balls and have your hands good and messy, go after the dog, paying special attention to smearing your cakey face on her back. That way, she smells like cake the rest of the day! Then, put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about half an hour, to give the balls a chance to firm up. When you’re ready to decorate the pops, put a couple bags of candy melts—those little pastel-colored discs—in a microwavable bowl and zap them in 15-second increments until they’re melted and very smooth. (You can also use chocolate, if you prefer, and skip the microwave in favor of a double boiler, if that method suits you.) Dip the end of a lolli-stick into the melted candy, then stick the candy-coated end about half-way into a ball. Set it back on the cookie sheet and proceed with the rest. When all your cake balls are stuck, go ahead and start dipping them. (But first you might want to test out where you’re going to set the balls to dry once they’ve been dipped. Mama used foam flotation from a floral arrangement, which was kind of messy. A tall glass or vase might put the pops too close to one another—or they could topple. Experiment with a few pops before you dip them.)

Be sure you keep your coating very melty. Return it to the microwave as often as necessary to keep it flowing. Mama bought only 1 bag of blue and 1 bag of red, and we found that having more melted candy than you need is really better than having what you think is going to be just the right amount. To achieve a smooth exterior, you want to be able to swirl your cake pop in one swift stroke and set it out to harden. We ended up having to do a lot of dipping just to get the big balls coated. Depending on what you want to decorate them with—sprinkles, jimmies, or the like—you’ll want to finish that step before setting them out to harden. If you’re just going with decorator’s icing, then allow the cake pops’ coating to set up before you do that. (Mama just grabbed any ol’ thing off the store shelf, and it was something that would work much better on cupcakes. It was too wet for the pops and never set up entirely. They sure were messy!)

We left GeeGee alone with the cake pops, and he decided to start decorating them. They were a real family effort.

So, were they good? Well, people at the party—both adults and kids—went wild over them. I didn’t eat a completely finished product, but I sure did stuff a lot of the mixture in my mouth. And I’m pretty sure I caught Mama eating one…or two. She and Grandma both said they wouldn’t make these again. I hope that isn’t so!

Love, Jude


BJFB: Florence Edition

You all know that I was in Italy for a couple weeks this summer. Starting months before we left, Mama began speaking to me in a new way. “Are you thirsty? Hai sete?” “Here is your milk. Ecco il tuo latte.” “Where is your book? Dov’e il suo libro?” “Under the bed. Sotto il letto.” You get the idea. She and Papa kept telling me about the big airplane we would take and all the trains we would ride. (I love trains!) Did you know that we ate dinner on the airplane? And that we slept on it too? The plane was where I was introduced to my first succo di frutta (fruit juice), specifically succo di pesca (peach juice). As I don’t get to drink juice at home, I started to think I was going to like Italy!

We flew into Rome then took a train to Florence. Right away I noticed that things were different. I didn’t understand anything anyone said–even Mama, when she spoke to other people! There were so many people everywhere we went, and all kinds of crazy traffic. I’ve never seen so many cars, scooters, buses, and bicycles in one place–often crammed into the same street. Even the police sirens sounded different.

Papa had to work while we were in Florence, so Mama and I did a lot of sightseeing together. She had been there before, so that freed us up to just walk all over without an agenda, play in parks, go swimming, chase piccioni (pigeons), and eat whatever we wanted. (But boy, let me tell you how awful those cobblestones are when you’re riding in a stroller. Nearly two months later, I still think I could use a chiropractic adjustment!) We shopped at the Mercato Centrale, a large indoor market chock-full of produce, meats, flowers, and dry goods. Mama bought us lots of albicocche (apricots), mele (apples), lamponi (raspberries), banane (you know this one), and frutta secca (dried fruit).

There was so much delicious looking fruit at the Mercato Centrale, or Central Market, we couldn’t decide what to buy. And this was just one stand!

It was very hot during the day, so the gelato was plentiful. Some people think gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream,

Our first day in Florence, and I’m eating my very first gelato (strawberry and chocolate chip) alongside the Duomo.

but that’s not so. I’ve had a taste or two of ice cream in the past, and I can tell you it doesn’t even come close to the soft, creamy, lightness that is gelato. Every flavor we ate tasted just like what it was supposed to. I can’t even remember all the lovely flavors we ate because we ate that many of them. We had them in the morning, after lunch, during our evening passeggiata (stroll). Between all the little bottles of succhi di frutta and the various stops for cups of gelati, I think Mama had convinced herself that sugar was somehow less of an issue while on foreign soil. She would have me point out, however, that the fruit juice was quite different over there; it was very nearly just pureed fruit poured into a bottle.

Another thing I found different in Italian cuisine was the breakfast. For starters, the yogurt is much thinner, like kefir, but it still tastes pretty much like the yogurt I eat at home. But let me tell you, it’s a whole lot more difficult to eat with a spoon when you’re just learning how to use one. I liked feeding myself the tangy flavors of yogurt while Mama gathered the rest of our breakfast at the hotel–including fried prosciutto. Oh. My. Goodness. I’ve had bacon before, and I’ve had prosciutto, but whatever I ate in Italy was a revelation. It was slightly crispy and slightly salty and tasted of perfection. How can something so simple taste so different? The other really great thing about Italian breakfasts is the cornetti, which are something like crossaints. They’re flaky and buttery and usually there’s a tasty filling inside!

I’m usually “pretty good” at restaurants, as in this photo…except shortly after this was taken I decided to make Mama’s breakfast a little more difficult. (Side note about ordering milk for your kid: everyone steams it on the espresso machine!)

Because of the change in time zone, my usual naptime was right around the time Mama and Papa would go to dinner. They found this to be a winning combination, as Italian meals take a really long time. The waiters aren’t pushing to get you fed and out the door so the next diners can take your place. Obviously, this poses a slight problem for parents of toddlers…unless the timing happens to be in your favor. As it often was for us. Sometimes I would eat my antipasti then fall asleep in time for Mama and Papa to enjoy their meals.

Mama said she enjoyed her grilled polipo (octopus) and sablefish while I kept my hand warm.

Other times, I fell asleep on the walk over and woke sometime during the meal so that I could get a few bites in my tummy.

Apparently Mama enjoyed her sole while I was sacked out.

My best meal, however, was on our last night in Florence, at a trattoria called Za-Za. I made it through my delicious antipasti before drifting off into a slumber. And what an antipasti plate! You might recall that I enjoy pâté, and the chicken pâté here was the best I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Mama). I just couldn’t eat enough. Then there was the omelette with truffles–oh my yum. Italain omelettes are different from what you might make at home or get at a diner here in the States. They’re very thin and almost oily, and cooked just enough. And there were plentiful olives (which Papa doesn’t like) and fresh mozzarella. I wish I could remember everything on that plate because it was all so delicious. My brown-butter gnocchetti arrived just as my eyes closed. Not a bad last meal in this birthplace of the Renaissance. Next stop, Sorrento!

I couldn’t eat the yummy antipasti fast enough.

Love, Jude


What’s with all the green?

You might recall that I used to eat a lot of spinach, in the form of something we called “gruel.” But now that I’m beyond all that baby food, Mama serves me sautéed spinach and kale, and I notice she puts herbs in everything. I am no longer such a fan.

Mama had some leftover halibut from fish tacos, so she decided fish cakes would make for a good dinner. Papa peeled and boiled the potatoes, and Mama raided the garden for the mint and parsley. The cakes came together pretty quickly, so Mama decided on her favorite chickpea salad as an accompaniment.

While Mama’s a proponent of cooking beans, she feels this is only something a person who has her act together can do, and Mama is not one of those people. She doesn’t have various pots of beans and grains cooking and all her vegetables cut for the week ahead on a Sunday. She just doesn’t. So when it comes to a superfast side dish (or sometimes, in Mama’s case, a main dish), she likes being able to reach into her cupboard and pull out a can of beans. Just drain, rinse, and serve. Now, I’ve been slow to come to chickpeas (though I like to say “chick-pea”), but I very recently ate half a can all on my own. So Mama felt pretty confident I’d share her gusto for garbanzo salad.

Not so much. I couldn’t find one that was just a plain old chickpea. All that basil and parsley. Doesn’t she get that toddlers have a clinical aversion to green showing up on non-green foods? As for the fish cakes, I took my obligatory one bite, but that was enough for me. I liked the crispy fried part okay, but it still tasted fishy—and there was all that greenery. I ended up sharing it with the dog. The green I didn’t mind was the avocado I ended up eating for dinner.

Love, Jude

Herbed Chickpea Salad

1 can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
Handful of fresh parsley, minced
Handful of fresh basil, minced
1–2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of ½ lemon (or more, to taste)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Drizzle of olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

As you can see, this is a pretty loose recipe. Mama just does it all to taste. Start with a little of an ingredient and add more. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away!

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Bison: It’s what’s for dinner

I’m not sure I know what a bison is. Mama tells me it’s the same as the buffalo I’ve seen roaming the hillside at the zoo…but I don’t really understand how that big gruffy animal is the same thing I saw on my plate tonight in the form of meatballs. Mama says you can buy ground bison meat at most groceries stores, so who am I to argue? It’s supposed to be healthier than beef, but I wouldn’t know about that. As there seemed to be a lot to do with these particular meatballs, I only paid partial attention as Mama made them. She tells me there are as many ways to make a meatball as there are to raise a kid—and everyone feels their way is the best—so I’ll relay what I can. But don’t shoot the messenger.

Start with about a pound of your ground meat. It can be beef, bison, turkey, chicken, pork, veal, or a combination of whatever you prefer. Purists might stop you here, tell you to add some salt and pepper, shape the meatballs, and cook them off. But there’s a whole world of flavor out there that you can add to your meatballs. There was very finely chopped onion (Mama noted that some people even grate it on a box grater) and minced garlic; you can cook the onion or not, but add it to the bowl with the ground meat. Some people add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste or ketchup, others go ahead and put a bit of marinara or barbecue sauce in it. There’s a filler, such as breadcrumbs (make yours fresh by grinding a slice or two of bread—the heels work great for this—in a food processor), cracker crumbs, or even something called a panada, which is bread soaked in milk. Then comes your binder—usually 1, but sometimes 2 eggs. Then you add your spices—whether it’s simply salt and pepper, a favorite herb blend, or your own combination of preferred spices.

Mix it all together. Mama says to do this gently and until everything is just combined, otherwise you’ll be packing down your meat, and your meatballs will be tough. (Incidentally, Mama says you can make a meatloaf instead, if you prefer.) Make your meatballs as big as you like, but think about how you’re going to be cooking and eating them. If they’re big, you might want to brown them in a frying pan first, then finish them in the oven. If they’re small, you could bake them or even grill them until they’re done. If they’re really small, you could simmer them in spaghetti sauce or soup. Mama sautéed these for a couple minutes then baked them for another 15.

I thought the meatballs were pretty good. What’s not to like about a food that you can roll around your plate? They were flavorful and moist. (And they were the only part of dinner that I ate.) I’m still not sure how they relate to that big old animal at the zoo, though.

Love, Jude


Popsicles, popsicles!

When I was in Italy, I had something I’d never eaten before: gelato. Mama and I had it every day (I think she had it twice a couple times, too, which she thinks I don’t know about). We ate gelato with pears and Nutella, gelato with basil and cantaloupe, gelato in cones, gelato in cups… I can’t even tell you all the kinds of gelato we had!

Look how well I can hold a cone of gelati.


But now that we’re home, and it’s awfully hot outside, Mama’s kept it simple and made me popsicles. They’re so easy, even I could do it…but then again, I’m pretty handy in the kitchen. The only part I needed help with was making the simple syrup (hot!) and cutting the honeydew (knife!). After that, we pureed it in the blender, Mama poured the mixture into the popsicle molds, and then she put them in the freezer. Waiting until they were frozen would have been the toughest part, if I hadn’t had to go to bed.

What I like about these popsicles is that I can bite them. They’re just a little bit crystally and not too hard. They’re sweet, but they mostly taste like the green melon. And I see that Mama snuck a little raspberry into each one that I have to munch may way down to. I also like that I can hold it by myself, which just means that I can offer it up to Mama (or Papa) for a taste. Just a taste, Mama.

See the raspberry Mama hid in my popsicle?

Love, Jude

Fruit Popsicles

½ cup sugar
½ cup water
Fresh fruit (about 3 cups), cleaned & prepped

Bring the sugar and water to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Set aside and cool completely. (This is called simple syrup. You can adjust the sweetness as you prefer, but Mama likes the one-to-one ratio here. This makes a little under 1 cup.)

If you’re using a large fruit, like a honeydew or cantaloupe, peel, seed, and chop it into cubes. Smaller fruit, like berries, can be tossed in whole after being destemmed. If you’re using something like peaches, it’s really up to you if you want to peel them. Put the fruit into the blender and add the simple syrup. Puree until there are no more chunks of fruit, a minute or two. Again, if you want your popsicles less sweet, start with half the syrup, puree, then taste it. Mama says you need to have some sugar in it, though, otherwise the popsicles will freeze solid.

Pour the puree into popsicle molds—but don’t fill them all the way. If you want, drop a tiny berry in at the bottom—it looks pretty, and it’s fun to get to! Seal up the pops and freeze until set, a few hours. We got exactly 18 pops from this mixture, and I’m working my way through them.


Cooking lessons first, morality lessons later

When Mama was growing up, she told me she had an Italian plum tree and a sour cherry tree in her yard; later, there were apple trees. One by one, though, they began to die, but the plums and “sours” (as she calls them) continue to be among her favorite fruits. It’s probably how she came to pinch the cherries from the tree down the street from her, in the yard of an old woman whose tiny house was all that stood guard over the coveted summer crop.

It’s a wonder, then, that it took three summers before Mama noticed the wild raspberry bush in our neighbor’s yard…especially since the house has been vacant since before I was born. When she noticed the red gems glowing in the sunlight, she darted across our semi-private mountain road with me (after looking both ways, of course) and pointed out the very reddest ones, showing me how to pick them and either pop them right into my mouth or put them in a dish. (Sometimes I pick the orange ones and throw them because that’s fun too.) She only let me get the berries closest to the edge of the bush because, as she soon discovered, the vines and leaves were positively covered in thorns of all sizes that made her skin itch.

Mama explained I can only ever pick berries when I’m with her or Papa, and only then, just the berries they say are okay to eat. (Papa later pointed out that she failed to explain that we shouldn’t be picking someone else’s berries without their permission. Mama replied, “Who’s there to ask?”) Luckily, there’s a small vine of berries on our side of the road, in front of the whistlepig’s hole, so maybe next year it will have enough fruit for us.

This is a photo from this year. We get about this many berries every other day.

This is photo was taken a year after the original post. We get about this many berries every other day.

Until then, Mama goes on a raspberry raid almost every day, though she sadly reports that they’re coming to an end. I get to eat them with my yogurt in the morning or as a snack throughout the day. They’re yummy and very sweet. I like that they’re so tiny, and Mama likes that they keep in the fridge for a couple days without spoiling. When she started picking more than we could eat, though, she decided to make a small batch of freezer jam. Because it gets very hot and can splatter, she didn’t let me near the stove when she made it. But I did get to taste the result when she spread it on a homemade flatbread that Papa grilled, then topped with arugula and dollops of ricotta. Wherever the fruit comes from, I could get used to this kind of eating.

Love, Jude

Purloined Wild Raspberry Freezer Jam 

2 cups wild raspberries (or any other berry, or a mixture)
2 cups sugar
Juice of half a lemon (or to taste, but you need some acid to make this all work)

Wash and prep your berries (hull and halve strawberries, destem blueberries, etc.). Add them to a small saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.

Equal parts fruit and sugar... I like this already.

Equal parts fruit and sugar… I like this already.

Bring it all to a gentle boil, and lightly smash your fruit. You can leave a few whole chunks, but you need to smoosh the fruit to release its pectin. Boil, stirring frequently, until the jam begins to thicken. This could take about 10 minutes—the riper and sweeter your fruit, the longer it will take.

See how it's getting all gooey and jammy?

See how it’s getting all gooey and jammy?

If you think it’s jammy enough, you can test it by spooning a bit onto a plate and sticking it in the freezer. Once it’s cool, you can tell whether it’s ready by tilting the plate—if the jam runs right off, it’s not done; if it sort of goozes the way jam should, then you’ve got yourself jam. Carefully pour the hot jam into very clean jars—this recipe makes less than 1 pint. Mama uses a Ball jar and waits to see if the seal pops shut (a time-honored tradition in my grandma’s kitchen, she tells me). Regardless of whether they seal, Mama waits until the jars are cool to the touch then puts them in the freezer. No special canning equipment or know-how required. Unfrozen, the jam will last in the fridge at least a month, but really, could you wait that long?

Note: Some people use pectin when they make jam. Mama says it’s a natural ingredient in fruit anyway, so she doesn’t add it to hers. Even though it ensures your jam will “gel” every time, she likes the simplicity of measuring sugar and fruit in equal proportions. And her jam is usually thick enough to spread between cake layers. Usually. If you decide to use pectin, she suggests buying the no-sugar-added kind, following the package directions for the amount to use, and decreasing the amount of sugar you use in this recipe. (You’ll still want to add sugar, even with this kind of pectin.) Be sure to boil your jam to activate the pectin—but not too long, or the pectin will start to break down!

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I’m baaaa-aaaack.

Mama says I’m too young to understand that reference, but no matter. What matters is that I’m back, and I’m going to try to be more faithful about this blog. A lot has happened over the past couple months, which I’ll tell you all about in the coming weeks, from starting to talk, to going camping for the first time, from having a visit from my Grandma and Geegee, to going to Italy on a big airplane! And of course, I’ve been eating all kinds of things along the way.

In order for me to get back in the swing of things, I’m going to keep these first few posts short. I’ve been thinking about writing every day, so I just have to jump back in.

To start with, let me tell you about something called s’mores. As you might recall, I don’t eat a whole lot of sugar (though that’s really changed since I’ve been to Italy). Mama allows it some of the time now, especially since summer is ripe with all kinds of sweet fruits and cool popsicles. This past weekend, I went camping for the first time. Did you know that when you go camping, you get to be outside all the time, sleep in a tent, pee in the woods, and eat food cooked over a campfire? Well, I had the best little sandwich I’ve ever eaten. First, Papa and I scavenged some good sticks in the woods, which Papa then whittled to have finer points. Then Mama showed me how to skewer marshmallows on the ends. Since I was a little too excitable around the fire, Mama held my marshmallow stick for me. She and Papa explained that there are two schools of thought regarding marshmallows. Mama likes them to catch fire so they get all melty inside, and also so she can blow them out. Papa likes them to get toasty just by the fire’s heat.

Mama slid her marshmallow onto a graham cracker spread with Nutella, and topped it with another graham cracker for me. Papa poured Mama’s homemade chocolate sauce on the s’more he made for her, and Mama made a third s’more for Papa using a peppermint patty. Boy, were they good! They were supersweet, crunchy, yet soft. I didn’t even care that my face and hands were covered in sticky goo. Mama and Papa toasted more marshmallows for us to eat by the campfire (though they cut me off after one).

Sticky gooey goodness

I’ll have some more s’mores any time.

If this is what camping is all about, I can’t wait to go again.

Love, Jude