Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Family dinner is being preempted for Halloween! Tonight, we have dinner with friends and put on a Halloween-themed shadow puppet show; it's an eight year tradition. The tale we tell tonight is "Molly Whuppie: A Fairy Tale of Starvation." If you happen by Cambridge Place in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, come hear it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Family Dinner: Caught between a Teen, a Tween and a Toddler

Last week, the family calendar was bursting. My oldest is applying to public high school in New York City (a daunting process to the uninitiated), my youngest at 3 is starting to get birthday party invitations, and my middle one is balancing the usual 4th grade homework expectations, plus dance, acrobatics, sleepovers and social plans (HSM3!). It was a hectic and anxiety-provoking week, and our family dinners took a bit of a hit. There was food on the table every night, and at least one parent was in attendance, but it wasn't the whole crew sitting down at once the way it usually is. We all felt a little disconnected. I'm pretty sure the lack of a dinner routine just added to the stress.

Last night, I opted out of an evening meeting so that we would all be home, and it felt like the right decision. Everything was pretty calm, everyone went to bed on time. This week, there will be at least 3 normal weeknight dinners, which is probably the bare minimum we should schedule as our lives get increasingly busy. It's hard with the competing needs of a toddler, a tween, and a teen: more activities, more juggling, less time. But it's also increasingly necessary.

There is an old saying: Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. This adage used to annoy me, because when your baby's not sleeping through the night, it's a big problem. Yet, when you hear that a kid in your 13-year old's class had her stomach pumped because she took pills at a party, that seems like a pretty big problem. For my tween girl, you realize that as strong and smart girls can be, girls are sometimes the "risk-takers" at younger ages, can be more influenced by peer pressure, and tend to be better at deception. All of a sudden, staying connected with your kid is not a given, a luxury or a little problem.

I firmly believe that family dinners help keep parents and kids connected. Family dinners (or the connectedness it brings) can help protect kids from using drugs and alcohol. The most recent surveys indicate that most kids do not use drugs and alcohol, though they can get them if they want to, and at surprisingly young ages. Parent attitudes, expectations, and behaviors make a huge difference. CASA surveys indicate that five or more dinners a week are the most effective. To me, that number is to set a goal, not to set an impossible standard for families. Every dinner helps, and the routine and the expectation that you sit down together on a regular basis may be the most important of all.

Are parents passive pushers? (10.24.08) reports on recent CASA survey (August 2008).
Increase Risk for Alcohol Problems in Adulthood when Consumption Starts Before Age 15. Medical News Today, 09.30.08

Drug Use Prevention Sites for Parents and Teens

For teens:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Casserole Crazy and Childhood Memories

Casserole Crazy, by Emily Farris

Here's shout-out to Emily Farris, author of Casserole Crazy: Hot Stuff in the Oven. I first met Emily through BEAM camp, and I didn't know that she was a casserole chef in addition to her many other talents. Her new book just came out, so I want to give her props. Emily also hosts a Annual Casserole Party in November that seems to be a hot ticket in Brooklyn.

Although I am not a big casserole person myself, I love the book and there an obvious home for casseroles at family dinners. They are something easy that you can throw together when you have a minute and then pop on the oven for a fresh, home-cooked dinner. With cooler weather and thoughts of economizing, casseroles seem a perfect fit for the times.

I don't really have casserole memories as a child. Growing up in Florida in the 1970s (a recession-era), the Crock Pot was our family dinner staple. My mom would throw chicken and a can of soup in there, plug it in, and then dash off to work. Many hours later, it would be dinner. It sounds gross, but I remember loving it. The only family casserole dish I know of is "Concoction," which is a Depression-era dish made by my husband's Grandpa Dave. It includes ground meat, cheese, noodles, and corn flakes, believe it or not. I think the recipe stems from a USDA cookbook designed to help people stretch the surplus food they would give out in the 1930s and 1940s. Yes, I ate it, out of love and respect. I have similar memories of his famous Rainbow Jello, which was a multi-layer extravaganza he created for holidays. Since I never really knew my own grandparents, meals and food I ate with Grandpa Dave in my early twenties substitute for childhood ones. My children have been lucky to know Great-Grandpa Dave (who is now 93) as well as their grandparents. (We miss Grandpa Jonny terribly, though).

Emily claims casseroles as a Midwestern staple, with far more upscale potential than a pot with a plug or a dish with cornflakes. Hence, her recipes might include sun-dried tomatoes or portobello mushrooms. I'm going to try this recipe printed in The Brooklyn Paper. I will probably substitute cremini mushrooms because that's what I have on hand. I'll report back on the results. Since I don't own a Crock-Pot, maybe I can create some casserole childhood memories for my kids.

I couldn't find a recipe for Dave's "Concoction," but I found this:
How to Make a Casserole: A Simple Scientific Formula at Helium.
Casserole Crazy by Emily Farris, at Amazon

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Eat Local Family Dinner

We are halfway into the Eat Local Challenge Month of October. I'm participating, but only in the sense that I am trying not to shop anywhere but my food coop this month. (And that may be a more "worried about the economy" thing.)

Still, it's a good time to try eat local as much as possible. Harvests are in for the Northeastern parts of the country and the late summer-like weather is keeping the farmer's markets brimming with produce. Places like California, where the challenge originates, and parts of the South have more variety and selection of local produce year-round, but you have to work with what you have.

Eating locally for yourself is one thing; getting your family to eat local is quite another. On one hand, my kids are pretty flexible about food. But on the other, they won't eat any of the organic breakfast cereals I buy. They only want "good" cereal which means Life, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Special K with strawberries. I make special trips to Target to get these coveted brands, because as a mom, I think eating breakfast is important too. (Is there a "local" breakfast cereal, anyway?)

Dinner is more open to a local-only domain. Sarah Beam writes about the Eat Local Challenge family-style. One plus is that it has added new dishes to her family dinner rotation and is inspiring her family to try new things. Her somewhat reluctant husband even surprised her by showing up at their CSA (Athens Locally Grown) to join in the spirit.

Sarah hints that one tension for her family during the challenge is meat. Our family eats meat and has the luxury of grass-fed, locally-raised meat from our food coop. The prices are discounted, but it is still very expensive compared to conventionally-raised meat. I constantly have to adjust my expectations about what meat "should" cost. So, we just try too eat less of it. Last night, it was two pork chops (thick ones, but still) among our family of four, plus toddler. We shoot for one pound of meat or less for the family; half a pound, if it is stir-fry. Four or so ounces per person is the actual advised serving size, though many Americans eat far more than that at each meal. The meal is rounded out by extra vegetables and grains, local and/or organic whenever possible. We are moving in the right direction, at least.

A Challenge for the Whole Family. Sarah Beam

A Family Eats Local In Hawaii
. Debbie

Farm Stand on The Run
. Lisa Abend, Gourmet. 10.02.08

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Worth Fighting For

Martin Klimas for The New York Times

Food and food politics were the leading topic of the New York Times Magazine this week (Food Fights! 10.12.08). So many interesting and informative articles to peruse. Mark Bittman gives a personal, cook's perspective on how attention to food can improve your health and lifestyle. But food policy reaches beyond personal health and well-being; it is comingled with the economic health of the nation, energy dependency, and national trends in morality and morbidity. As usual, Michael Pollan gives us some shocking stats on the state of the (food) union. He also offers wise words and innovative solutions for how to rebuild and improve America's food system.

Pollan says that the next President will have to address the nation's food crisis. I'm not so sure. Health insurance has been a crisis in this country for over 30 years, yet it has only recently become a campaign issue with any life. (Bill Clinton was one of the first, believe it or not.) Even so, health insurance reform is a perennially "left behind" because strong lobbyists oppose meaningful change. I trust Obama, who at least has eaten arugula in his lifetime, to be ably equipped to deal with complex issues surrounding food. Yet, food policy is not easily wrenched from the hands of agribusiness and pork barrel subsidies, just as the health insurance companies and conservative lobbyists have ably undercut health insurance reform.

Still, good food, and all that represents, is worth fighting for. It's a fight you can take on personally, at home, with all the choices you make for you and your family around the dinner table.

Why Take Food Seriously? Because Your Life Depends on It
. Mark Bittman, NYT 10.12.08
Farmer in Chief. Michael Pollan, NYT, 10.12.08
Attack of the Tomato Killers. Doug Fine. NYT, 10.12.08
A country so polarized that consuming arugula has become a political act. John Schwenkler. Plenty. 10.6.08

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Economy Got You Down? Eat Dinner at Home

National Archives.

From hardscrabble Brooklyn to Main Street Vermont, it's hard not to talk about the economy these days. Talk of the Great Depression and widespread financial panic are juxtaposed with images of bread lines, poverty, and homelessness during the 1930s and 1940s. We all hope it will not, cannot get that bad in the country again. Yet, this crisis, like many of the crises America is facing today at home and abroad, gives us a chance to reflect and prioritize. All the stress of the marketplace makes the comforts of home, food, and family all the more important. Eating dinner at home is a personal way to both economize and reconnect to your family and values during a fearful time in the world.

Sweat Equity Put to Use on a Farm in Sight of Wall St. Jim Dwyer, NYT. 10.07.08

Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town. Marian Burros, NYT. 10.07.08

Are Bad Times Healthy? Tara Parker-Pope, NYT 10.06.08

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dinner Makes a Difference! September Round-up

With three school-age kids (the youngest just starting preschool and the oldest nearly in high school), I should know that the first month of school is a whirlwind. But I guess I forgot, and missed the whole month of posts this September! My worst miss of all was CASA's national holiday for family dinners on September 22, 2008. I was actually at a PTA meeting that night--shame, shame. (My husband made dinner and ate with the kids, though.)

Nevermind. Family dinner can take place any night and there's always another day for blogging. So here's my jump start on October, more about family day and other recent articles of interest.

Dinner Makes a Difference! Casa's Family Day was Sept. 22, 2008. Next year's is Sept 29, 2009. The Public Service Announcement is a beautiful thing. Don't wait! You can start a new routine of family dinner any day! More tips on family dinner here and tips on talking about drugs and alcohol here.

Momma, I'll have Some of What Your Having. Keith Dixon, NYT, 09.30.08. What a great article! We loved the Happy Baby Food Mill and used it right at the table to crush up the dinner food for our littlest one. I didn't have the gagdet for our other kids, but the blender worked well for leftovers. All my kids are adventurous eaters and I really think it's becuase we gave them real table food from any early age. Try it!

6 Food Mistakes Parents Make. Tara Parker-Pope. NYT, 09.14.08. I totally agree with every single one.

Rachael Ray Wants Kids in the Kitchen. Tara Parker-Pope. NYT, 09.14.08.

Alice Water Takes Kids Beyond Chicken Nuggets. Tara Parker-Pope. NYT, 09.26.08

Back to School Lunch Ideas
from Epicurious and the authors of Real Food for Healthy Kids.

A New Tasting Menu in the Baby Section
. Dana Bowen, NYT, 08.02.08.