Apr 30, 2007

cringing and reviewing brown bagables.

Well, it appears my boys and I are in a prime position to taste some lunch-worthy products. Because we are making it our job and intent to supply you with an ongoing list of bagable foods, recipes and ideas: it makes sense that we will taste products to determine if they are bagable---or not. So going forward, expect us to occasionally give our opinions on foods/products and whether we think they 'make the bag.'

Disclaimer: I have no doubt my taste buds are different from yours are different from my children are different than your children. So take our reviews with a grain of salt; keep in mind you might like what we don't or dislike what we love! Hopefully, in the least, our product reviews will 1. increase your likelihood of trying new foods yourself, 2. make your kids curious to try new things, 3. increase your propensity for picking up new, intriguing products in your grocery aisles and 4. finding products that you and your children love (and might not have known about)!

Confession: I cringe a bit at the thought of reviews. On the one hand, I love trying new products and equally love that my children are willing to 'at least take a bite.' What makes me cringe is admitting to you that I don't like something. More pointedly, I don't want to hurt the feelings or reputation of the granola bar/fruit bite/bake-your-own/freeze dried vegetable/grandmother's cookies. Those people and companies have worked hard to build a company, promote their product and try to make bagable foods for you and I. So I feel bad when I don't 'just love it.' But I will be honest, and if I don't love it and my kiddos won't eat it then by all means you will know our precise experience of that product. So you can trust when I say: wow, that was good and I will buy it again. Or when I say: interesting, a bit bland and at least in my house not bagable.

If you really want to read a product review where I am squirming due to uncomfortable dislike of a product, one of my very first product reviews---one I would not put 'into the bag'---was for Trailblaze Oatmeal Energy Bars.

More reviews to come!

Apr 27, 2007

a flurry of tzaziki

It is thick and white but won't be coming down from the sky. This flurry should be in kitchens all around, in a hurry to pop dipping options into brown bags the world over.

I thought flurry was a nice description of mixing up this recipe and/or filling a brown bag since for me that process is usually hurried. When I am really on top of my game, I make lunch the night before... but time and again I am throwing, chucking, shoving and grabbing all the nearest bagable items to rapidly insert into the bag on our way out the door: quick---before we are late! So, I make sure at least recipes are made the day/night before, to assist in my morning flurry. Recipes just are not going to happen at my house during the morning rush; but that is just me.

I made tzaziki so my boys could try it as a dip for cucumber half-moons, zucchini matchsticks and pita triangles. Turns out, one son prefers it with broccoli, another on pita with grilled (cold) lamb.

By the way, if my boys ate tomatoes, a pile of cherry tomatoes would be a perfect accompaniment with tzaziki; hopefully your kiddos like tomatoes. Tzaziki is a great partner for adding veggies to brown bags!

Quick facts I borrowed from Wikipedia:

  • Tzatziki is a Greek appetizer.
  • The Greek name is based on/means chutney.
  • Tzatziki is traditionally made with strained sheep/goat yogurt, cucumbers, onion, garlic.
  • It also might have: olive oil, vinegar and herbs (dill, mint, parsley).
  • It is often served with pita bread/flat bread, olives.
  • It is a standard condiment in Greek souvlaki and gyros.
  • Tzatziki is served cold.

I adapted a Tzatziki recipe from Barefoot Contessa:


Kosher Salt & Coarse Pepper
2 cups plain (or Greek) yogurt
1 medium cucumber, unpeeled and seeded
1/2 cup sour cream
1T champagne/white wine vinegar
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T fresh dill

Place the yogurt in a cheesecloth or paper towel-lined sieve and set it over a bowl. Grate the cucumber and toss it with 1 T of kosher salt; in another sieve. Place both bowls in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours so the yogurt and cucumber can drain. Squeeze as much liquid from the cucumber as you can; mix/blend yogurt, cucumber, sour cream, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, dill, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper. You can serve it immediately, but I prefer to allow the tzatziki to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to blend. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

A flurry of recipes:

Apr 25, 2007

subway my way

Sometimes we need food fast. When we are on the road, and/or in a rush we can usually locate a Subway. We occasionally stop to eat a sandwich and over the years, my boys' preferences have solidified: one always orders salami and shredded cheese, warmed with olive oil, salt and mustard. The other jumps in with the turkey/ham/bacon melt which means a warmed up meat sandwich with provolone, olives, olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper.

The other day I found a bag of mini-baguettes and decided to load up their lunches with their favorite subway sandwich made via yours truly. Does your child have a favorite sandwich? Consider buying a special roll or deli-bread, or use part of a baguette sliced lengthwise to create a fun twist on an old favorite. So when they open their brown bag lunch, they aren't met with the usual. In fact, far from being bored they are delighted to find such a treat made by you!

Apr 22, 2007

your kids can make these strawberry bars.

Well, the secret is in the sauce. We have 'grandma's strawberry jelly,' which is the only kind my fourth grader will consume. No, it isn't sugar free, not even close. In fact you would probably be mortified if (and when?) I share the recipe. Hey: at least there are strawberries in it, too.

Sugary treats aside, you can use any number of organic or sugar free jam or jelly in this recipe. These bars can be made with apricot jam, raspberry, blackberry or blueberry jelly, you name it. I should probably just call them Jam Bars. But for us and our strawberry-based nostalgia, they will forever be:

Strawberry Bars
1 cup flour (I use wheat)
1 cup rolled oats (good for you!)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup strawberry jam

Butter 8x8 inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350. Mix everything in bowl, except jam. Press 2 cups of mix in pan, spread jam, sprinkle remaining mix over top. Lightly press down, bake 25 minutes.

By all means, if making this to honor Heart of the Matter (HOTM), eating well for your heart: use healthy jam. As in, less sugar and more berries. Or even marmalade, or another fruity condiment that is good for you! Plus the oats and wheat flour and this little bagable dessert is worth making for breakfast, lunch or a kid-friendly dessert!

Apr 19, 2007

The ubiquitous PB&J

My son went to visit a new school, to help him decide 'where to go to school next year.'

He knew some of the kids at the school, and met others that he really enjoyed. Not too long after his visit, I was having coffee with my new, favorite friend who also happens to be a mom of one of the boys in this particular 5th grade class.

I had to share with her. I mean, how often do you get the fun, social scoop on your own child? I had asked my son what he thought of her son. We were having lunch and he peered at me over his fork and said, "yes, I remember him, he is very sanguine." And, perhaps noting the demise of my education on such highly appointed verbiage he paused to share the definition: "happily confident."

I smiled, to pretend I understood and mask my amusement at his use of vocabulary. As if it were normal. As if his mom even knows how to pronounce, let alone define the aforementioned word. Sanguine. It does roll of your tongue, though, doesn't it?

So I shared with my friend that she had a very sanguine son. And then, adult to adult, I shared the definition. We had a good chuckle and drank our coffee, like grown-ups should.

You would think 'nice' or 'friendly' or even 'outgoing' would have come to mind. Sort of like when you make a PB&J you would describe it as simple, basic, or standard.

But that is not always the case. In fact, PB&Js can be so much more. It is the quintessential sandwich to initiate good ideas; the ubiquitous combination that is the foundation for unveiled ingenuity... (
Touché---mom knows big words too!)

I emailed some friends to ask how they reinvented the PB&J; here are some of the responses to my PB&J query, to bring these slices of bread and condiments beyond 'classic,' 'nice' or 'usual.' Here are personality-filled sandwiches that might even be considered sanguine:

  • Erika from Tummy Treasure had this to say: "My favorite is a peanut butter and banana sandwich with a sprinkle of toasted coconut. When blueberries are in season I also like fresh blueberries and almond butter on whole wheat bread."
  • Stefania from Family Food had this amazing rendition: THAI-STYLE PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH. Serve on a toasted, halved whole wheat bagel (or wheat toast) spread a layer of creamy peanut butter. Then top that with chopped salted peanuts. (You could use chunky peanut butter but this method is waaay better.) Then, top the peanut-y peanut butter bagel with: thin slices of red onion, thin slices of cucumber, Thai or regular basil leaf.
  • Michele from What's Cooking? has reinvented PBJs twice over: her daughter loves hers open faced on Naan with lemon curd, her son isn't allowed to have peanut butter at his preschool, so she uses sunflower seed butter and jam. He can't tell the difference---and the kids at school are safe!
  • Julie from Bad Home Cooking offered this: "my son loves his PB&J's...but he also likes peanut butter and honey sandwiches (me too: especially with creamed honey and crunchy peanut butter!). A Japanese version of the ubiquitous (hey---that is where I got that word from---thanks Julie!) American PB&J that my kids love is Onigiri.
  • Alisa at Go Dairy Free offered her toasty "PBJ": I love almond butter on toast with just cinnamon or a bit of honey and cinnamon. I like it in toast format, but a sandwich works as well. Also, very un-nut-like, I am addicted to Toby's Tofu Pate with tomato slices and lettuce. Still a non-meat spread though, only partially with the theme.
  • Karen's son prefers FlufferNutters made with REAL marshmallow fluff; she likes to sneak in the occasional crunchy peanut butter & piece of milk chocolate---a PB&smores! You can find more of her ideas at Family Style Food.
  • Janelle from Talk of Tomatoes (Okay, that is kind of a joke, since that Janelle is ME---I write on talkoftomatoes as well as brownbagblues---follow THIS link to my article on the Wellfed Network where I uncover the unusual way my kids like their PB&Js!) talks PB&Js, too.
So instead of landing a basic, borderline boring PB&J in your brown bag, aim for better, brazen and brilliantly revised PB&J's! Please share your brown bag brilliance so we can all bag some novelty sandwiches! And to continue to curb your appetite for PB&Js:

Apr 16, 2007

purple is the new brown.

What child wouldn't chuckle at an all-purple lunch? Even better would be some musical attachment where the bag, once opened, belted out a raucous rendition of "Purple People Eater."

In the very least, color-coded lunches provide the brown bagger a new way of coming up with lunch ideas. Think 'purple' and scour your pantry and fridge, think 'purple' and visit the grocery store or farmer's market. And tell me what you find! Here is just a small little list to get you started:
  • purple cow drink (mix small amount grape juice with milk and put in thermos)
  • blue corn tortilla chips (with black refried beans for dipping)
  • blueberry yogurt
  • grape fruit leather
  • red grapes
  • blueberries
  • prunes
  • plums
  • figs
  • raisins
  • kalamata olives
  • blueberry cream cheese on a bagel
  • grape or raspberry jelly on wheat or pumpernickel bread,
  • grape juice
  • Purple cabbage slaw (with black sesame seeds?)
  • Radicchio---or purple tinted endive---with raspberry dressing
  • prune juice
  • blackberries
  • eggplant
Sometimes I cheat and include a 'purple package' of food like the picture of the granola bar or vanilla milk, above. The contents might not be purple, but the package is!

Apr 10, 2007

New friend: nutty results

My favorite new friend has a son who is in fifth grade: aka growing like mad, and athletic to boot. He isn't much of a lunch eater, and she is always looking for new ways to 'punch up the protein' in his lunch. I told her I would give it some serious thought, as I too can appreciate growing boys who need the energy for their bodies and brains!

My first thought was nuts: pepitas, pine nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts. My kiddos love pecans, cashews, walnuts and macadamia nuts. Nuts are a grand source of protein and 'good fat.'

Sometimes nuts are just nuts; other days I make nuts into a brown bag 'treat.' In fact, we went to dinner at my---new, favorite---friend's house, and I brought Ginger Sugar Pecans as a thank you hostess gift. Guess what? Her son loved them!

My boys love eating them for lunch too; t
hey also love the candied walnuts I sometimes tuck into their crumpled brown bag. Click here for the walnut recipe; below find the gingery pecans:

Ginger Sugar Pecans
5 cups pecan halves
½ cup sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground ginger
2 T honey
2 tsp olive oil

Toast pecans in single layer on rimmed cookie sheet at 325 for 10-15 minutes. Shake once during baking. Combine sugar, salt, ginger in small bowl and set aside. Mix honey, 2 T water and oil in sauté pan; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to medium, add pecans and cook for a few minutes until liquid has evaporated. Immediately throw into sugar mix and toss well—these are fabulous warm or at room temperature. They taste even better on day 2 when the flavors have had a chance to settle.

Apr 6, 2007

yellow is the new brown.

It is that time of year, when I keep reminding myself, in Annie-like fashion: "the sun will come out, tomorrow!" For some reason, this year in particular, I have been craving the glowing warmth of that blazing ball of fire. And although I cannot do anything about the sky, I can add a little warmth and sunshine to my children's lunches. So when they open up their brown bags, they will be filled with glowing yellow on top of yellow: a bag full of sunshine to brighten their day.

What goes into a 'yellow brown bag'? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • freeze dried corn pieces (buy at whole foods or online at just tomatoes)
  • mini corns (canned tiny corn cobs)
  • yellow squash
  • yellow pepper slices with ranch (maybe ranch with a tsp of mustard for color?!)
  • quiche wedges
  • egg pasta with olive oil and Parmesan
  • egg salad sandwich
  • Hawaiian bagel w/pineapple cream cheese
  • yellow beets, roasted with olive oil and salt
  • egg bagel with cheddar and butter
  • granola or yellow-colored cereal with milk
  • lemon yogurt
  • golden yellow apple slices
  • dried apple, pear, banana, pineapple or mango slices
  • pineapple
  • banana
  • lemon bars
  • cheddar rice cakes
  • popcorn
  • lemonade
It you like colorful, bagable ideas, here is a bagful of white ideas and a bagful of red.

Apr 2, 2007

the back-talking bag.

This is where you use the bag as a communication device.

Brilliantly implemented by preschool teachers, my boys inadvertently learned to talk back to me via their brown bags. Huh? Instead of me remaining a clueless parent regarding my child's food likes and dislikes, eating habits and bottom-line consumption, the teachers had the kids return all unconsumed items to their lunch box (subliminal messaging to otherwise clueless parents).

In other words, if you ate half the sandwich, the uneaten half went back into the container, then back into the bag. If you ate none of your grapes, for the twentieth time, then when they return home uneaten yet again, the teachers hoped you clued into the fact that Annie really doesn't like grapes and John always takes the cheese off his sandwich.

Maybe when the only thing returning every day is a bag of carrots and those apple slices, you should regroup and redirect lunch time initiatives for your children: no more cookies or chips or granola bars until you eat your 'growing food' (heard that one before, have you?). Or, when very nearly the entire lunch contents return, you will then be informed that it was pizza lunch day, or that they were rushed b/c of play practice, or equally helpful: it took too long to open the dip container and carrot bag and yogurt container and unwrap the cheese stick. Note to self: limit how many things they have to unwrap, rewrap, unscrew, yank off or otherwise insert into a box.

I have loved that lesson they learned in preschool: to this day they return everything in their lunches and I have a clue into their food consumption, eating habits and preferences, timing and lunchtime activities (among other things). As it turns out, back-talk isn't always a bad thing---especially if it comes from a bag.

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