Friday, July 30, 2010

Hobo Kitchen: Poor man's pesto

Since I have some bloggy friends who post recipes each week, I thought I'd join in the fun. Now, I don't actually do most of the cooking at home — that would be the delightful Sam — so I can't promise this will be a regularly scheduled feature. But, for whatever reason, I love the idea of sharing some of my favorite foods with you. And, for our purposes, I might steal some of Sam's recipes, too, because why not?

The Hobo Kitchen will generally focus on meals that are easy or take shortcuts, because that's the hobo way. But they're also really, really yummy — no beans eaten straight from a can here. Though I have done that in the past. Because I'm a bona fide hobo, yo.

I'm also going to assume that you're not an expert cook, because if you are — seriously, why are you coming to me? So I'm going to give you some easy kitchen tips mixed in with the recipe, which you can ignore if you're thinking, Um, yeah, I know.

A lot of our meals are vegetarian, though not all, but pretty much none are vegan, because we love cheese. But if you're a vegan whiz at translating cheese out of recipes, feel free to follow along.

I'm starting off easy with a topping:

Poor Man's Pesto

I've named it this because it's a pretty cheap pesto to make from what you might already have around the home. We've been growing basil in our garden, so I wanted to find a way to feature it. We're also growing garlic, but it's not ready yet. 

"Real" pesto calls for pine nuts, but have you seen how expensive pine nuts are? I mean, they're awesome — they're worth it if you can spring for them. But if you can't, no worries! Walnuts taste yummy, too.

Fancier recipes also call for pecorino cheese rather than parmesan, but I figure more people have parmesan at hand. Any hard Italian cheese will do.

So here are all the ingredients, as lined up above. (I take pictures like this so I can remember!) I have no idea on amounts. I guess I used about equal amounts of the basil, nuts, and parmesan, one garlic clove, and then eyeballed the oil and salt and pepper. I really don't think there's a way to mess this up, though, as long as you're using your eyes and your common sense.

  • basil leaves
  • walnuts (if you're feeling fancy, go with pine nuts, but it will no longer be Poor Man's Pesto)
  • parmesan cheese (you can go with grated parmesan from a can or get fancy with a shredded kind)
  • olive oil (whatever quality you can swing)
  • garlic
  • pepper
  • salt

To put the ingredients together, you need a cutting board and a knife. See, I'm extrapolating Poor Man's Pesto to assume you don't have access to a food processor. Or that you're too lazy to get it out and clean it after. Ahem.

I prefer a chef's knife (we have this Calphalon one). Sam took a cooking class several years ago and Calphalon Contemporary 8-Inch Chef's Knifebrought home the life-changing (for me, truly) information that using a bigger knife is easier than using a smaller one. I have phobias around knives, and now that we have a good chef's knife with a nice balance and heft, I feel so much more in control of my cutting. (Here's a nice intro video giving some basic techniques with a chef's knife.)

To cut finely or mince with a chef's knife, you can put one hand on the handle and the other balanced on the dull top, then just rock it back and forth over what you're cutting. (This video shows it well at about 1:07.)

Working with real garlic cloves is easy, if you haven't done it before. Just pop out one of the cloves from the garlic bulb and then hit it with the flat side of the knife blade. That will loosen the papery outer layer so you can easily peel it off. You might need to cut an end first, which is fine. Then just cut off the very ends of the garlic clove and throw them into your yard waste or compost. The rest of the garlic, then, you can mince as above.

  1. Finely chop or mince the garlic, basil, and walnuts. To make a smoother pesto, use a food processor. Otherwise, your pesto will be as chunky or thin as your knife skills allow. I don't mind a nice chunky pesto, though! It's got a nice texture to it. Maybe I should have titled this Lazy Woman's Pesto.
  2. Put all the chopped ingredients in a bowl. Add the parmesan cheese according to how cheesy you like your pesto. (I like super cheesy.)
  3. Pour in some olive oil, and begin mixing it through. If it looks dry, add more. If it looks sopping, add more parmesan to soak it up. You want the consistency to be nice and oily but holding together. If you're using the food processor, it should be like a paste.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. I never actually taste as I'm adding, though. I take that directive to mean "as I think will taste good based on how it looks."

Now you can use your pesto! We had bagels on hand, so onto bagels it went. Pesto goes well on top of any breads or toasted under cheese. It makes a divine pasta sauce and can also be added to fish or chicken dishes or pizza. You can use it as is or add it into a tomato-based sauce. Speaking of which, tomato soup becomes gourmet when you add some pesto and a rich grated cheese. You can mix pesto into rice and couscous dishes as well, and it plays well with garbanzo beans. Whatever you choose, wear your garlic breath with pride.

If you want to freeze pesto for later use, some say to skip the cheese and add it after thawing instead, but drizzle more olive oil on top of the pesto before sealing the container. You could also add a little lemon juice to help prevent browning from oxidation. (It won't have gone bad, but pesto just looks best nice and green.) You can freeze it in cubes for easier use. That should help you take care of any overgrown basil production in your garden!


Linked up at Vegetarian Foodie Fridays at Breastfeeding Moms Unite!, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum, Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade, Friday Food at Momtrends, Food on Friday at Ann Kroeker, Wholesome Whole Foods at Health Food Lover, Friday Favorites at Simply Sweet Home. Although I'm a little nervous about partying with these foodie types.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Let kids do their own cooking

In the same spirit as my call to "Bring cooking down to your child's level," here's a real-life photo journal of how our three-year-old does some of his own food preparation and cooking. I was there to supervise and assist as needed, but I mostly just stood back and watched him go.

When children prepare and choose their own foods, it makes them more likely to want to eat (if that's an issue around your house), and it can help make eating and cooking enjoyable rather than a power struggle or chore.

Plus, I think it's just good to realize how competent our children really are, and what kind of responsibility they can handle if we let them.

Preschooler makes his own fries

Would this be more impressive if it were a salad instead of frozen french fries?
Well, at least it's not Muddy Buddies.

Mikko chooses his own food and knows where to find it.

He counts out how many he needs.

A sturdy step stool can help shorter kids navigate kitchen counters. We found a couple two-step ones at Target and Ikea, which are similar to this one at Amazon, but something even taller and sturdier like the Little Partners Learning Tower would be even better.
(Yes, I'm coveting.)

An easy way for little kids to heat pre-cooked food is by pushing the toast button down on the toaster oven.

Mikko lets me handle the food and oven once they're hot, and I got the plate down for him from our rather high cabinets. If our (non-precious) plates were stored accessibly, though, that would be a great way for kids to help themselves and learn to set the table, too!

Mikko knows his condiments.

His father helps with the aiming.

I just want to point out that the rest of his meal is behind him: a banana, an orange, a butter sandwich, and some organic cookies. He's a grazer!

The one picture that turned out too blurry was when he first offered me a fry, which I thought was rather sweet! I guess he must have thought I was famished, what with my camerawoman duties and all.

It tasted very good!

How do your kids help choose and prepare their own food?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Breastfeeding and babywearing

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe's Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today's post is Wordless Wednesday: Babywearing Photos! Please read the other blogs in today's carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!

Today is a babywearing fashion show at the Breastfeeding Cafe! In honor of the theme and the breastfeeding carnival, I decided to showcase a few babywearing-plus-breastfeeding pictures.

In the ERGO on a hike at 1 year old

Testing out the Sleepy Wrap I won — nursing in it was entirely his idea!

Even babywearing babies need a snuggle break —
after testing out the Mini Mei Tai I made for his cousin

You can find more babywearing photos in my flickr set, and I'll keep adding more.

Here are more posts by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.

Find sites to link up your Wordless Wednesday post
at my super-cool collection of Wordless Wednesday linkies,
and let me know if you have one to add.
You can also link up a thumbnail from your post below!

This linky list is now closed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What kind of movie to take preschoolers to: Toy Story 3 or Mamma Mia!


We've had the opportunity recently to take our three-year-old to two movies, after a long hiatus once we'd outgrown the crybaby movie showings when Mikko's mobility (scooting over those oh-so-clean theater floors) meant we couldn't pay attention to the screen anymore.

Our first choice was ostensibly a children's flick: Toy Story 3. It was in a real theater, and we talked it up big to heighten his anticipation and clue him in to our expectations of his behavior — explaining that a theater has a big screen that's like a TV only much, much bigger. We told him the lights would go off and we would have to use our quiet voices or (preferably) not talk at all. We got popcorn to make it even more of an experience. Sam had found figurines of Woody and Bullseye (only Mikko calls him Poke-eye, which is awesome) for ├╝ber-cheap at Goodwill and saved out Woody to hand ceremoniously to Mikko before we drove to the theater. We chose a weekend matinee, which we figured would be suitably crowded with young children and families, who would presumably be tolerant of any three-year-old murmurings or queries of "What his name, Mama?" or antsiness.

The problem is, Toy Story 3 is not all that kid-friendly, it turns out. I mean, it's fine for older kids (perhaps even just a teensy bit older). It's not like it's R-rated or has Woody dropping the F-bomb or anything — but it's much darker than the first one, and darker even than the second.

Remember the innocent freshness of the original Toy Story? Toy StoryAnd how magical it was to see toys behaving like people when the humans' backs were turned? And how the theme was how two very different people … um … toys could become friends? And, sure, there were the darker scenes with the destructive kid, and meeting the other toys he'd messed with, but for the most part it was filled with light and adventure.

Then the second Toy Story brought in the whole Toy Story 2: Special Edition - DVDguilt angle of "Never, ever abandon your toys, or they'll be despondent," and oh, by the way, people who sell on eBay are untrustworthy vultures (thanks a lot for both those messages, Toy Story 2, seeing as we sell things online for a living and get enough of that misunderstanding from certain customers). Don't get me wrong — I still liked the second one, but it was a little less … fun. Especially given the scary Prospector character.

Then Toy Story 3 comes along and really rubs it in about how giving toys away, especially to a daycare, is The Meanest Thing You Can Ever Do. Because our children (and, heck, me, too) really need to be told to cling possessively to everything they own and never, ever give to charity.

But all that has nothing to do with the point of this post (I just can't resist a mini-revival of my pseudo-movie-critic days), which is that Toy Story 3 is really heavy for a three-year-old.

Almost the whole film is literally dark. Buzz gets set back to his factory defaults and is once more an enemy. Woody's separated from the other toys. All of them together are in a daycare that's a de facto prison, and the ones holding them prisoners are other, really mean toys.

That's a little disturbing in itself, but the last straw was a loud wind-up toy monkey who bangs his cymbals together and screeches loudly as a lookout, and Mikko lost it. He started wailing, and of course we were sitting in the front, so of course everyone got to watch me swoop him to the back where he could cry at some distance removed from the freaky screaming monkey.

Mikko informed me he wanted to go home, thankyouverymuch. I thought about the stinking fortune we had paid for even matinee tickets and greasy popcorn and tried my darnedest to soothe his troubled heart. Thankfully, it worked. We bounced and shushed in the back of the theater, and then we resumed our seats and nursed for awhile, and we got to watch the rest of the movie in relative peace.

I count that a success. At least for Sam and me — we enjoyed the movie. But I wasn't sure it was really the finest experience for Mikko's sake.

Well, we had another chance to give him some theater-going fun. Every summer, neighborhoods throughout Seattle show outdoor movies. In West Seattle, the movies are projected onto a blank wall of a building, with a parking lot courtyard that's emptied out so everyone can bring blankets and lawn chairs. The first weekend was Mamma Mia, the ABBA musical, a movie we'd seen before on DVD and that Mikko had enjoyed even then, so we figured it was worth trying out on the big screen.

The upsides of West Seattle's Movies on the Wall are many:
  • Free, family-oriented outing
  • Community atmosphere, making you feel part of your neighborhood
  • Pleasant weather, just nippy enough after sundown to enjoy cuddling under a blanket, unlike our Midwestern experiences with drive-in theaters where you had to turn your engine off to hear the sound, but that meant losing the precious A/C as well
  • No bugs, unlike our Midwestern experiences as well — with the windows open so we wouldn't roast at an Indiana drive-in, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes. I started counting bites afterward and got up to 80 on one leg before I gave up in despair.

The slight downsides we discovered as we went:
  • The movies start at "dusk," which is rather vague, but people begin jockeying for seats much earlier. We showed up before 7 and could barely find room for our chairs. (If you go to the West Seattle Blog's write-up of the event, you can see us in the top picture, if you squint really hard.) I had to walk Mikko around for awhile, but all the stores in the Junction (shopping area nearby) had mostly closed already, and he was so eager for the movie to start and kept thinking we were missing it. In fact, the movie didn't start until 9:30, which is when the sun sets in Seattle in July. It is what it is — one of the shorts they showed before the main event was barely visible, so I realize they couldn't have started any earlier. But, it makes it a really late night for a toddler! The movie didn't get over till after 11 p.m. That explained, in retrospect, why Mikko was the youngest kid present.
  • W.C. Fields was really racist, sexist, and classist. Who knew. The pre-show included a short film of his about a dentist (a truly terrible dentist) in honor (dubious honor) of the dentists who had co-sponsored the night's event. And, of course, this comes just as we've scheduled Mikko for his first dental appointment and have been trying to propagandize him into believing dentists are nice and don't hurt you (um, unnecessarily …), and meanwhile this short film has a woman screaming bloody murder in the dentist's chair, so wouldn't you know it: Our little wailing alarm goes off again, and Mikko wants to go home because the film's so scary. We convinced him to wait it out by promising him Mamma Mia was just around the corner. The good news was Mikko scored quite a bit of dental loot in some freebie giveaways before the main event started, so he had a fun time playing with floss and trying out his new toothbrushes before the movie started. (No, seriously, he thought that was a blast.)

But, anyway! Mamma Mia started, and boy, was it ever worth the wait! Mikko watched it straight through and only asked once "What his name, Mama? What her name?" during the pretty much only extended dialogue scene in the film.

I'm telling you, this movie is gold for kids, because it's almost entirely singing. And not just singing, but catchy, happy songs, with jaunty, energetic dance moves. The plot is told nearly all within the music, so there's none of that pesky exposition to distract your tot from the fun.

I mean, seriously, go watch this clip and see how you could resist such toe-tapping, heartwarming appeal.

And did I get sentimentally weepy during the scene where the mother sings goodbye to her daughter? Yes. Yes, I did.

Oh, ABBA, how I could kiss you! Mikko watched it all, transfixed, and when it was over and people were folding up their chairs and blankets to go home, he started the solo chant for an encore. "Again, again! More! More Mamma Mia." We couldn't convince him the organizers were unlikely to stay up till 2 in the morning just to indulge him, but we promised to listen to the album on our iPod on the way home. And so we did, singing along.

It's been several days now, and he's still bouncing around singing all the songs in his own inimitable style.

The fact that he's crunching chips and that he
steals the camera partway through is all part of the act.

So, there you are. Given the choice between the kids' movie of Toy Story 3 and the adult musical of Mamma Mia for a three-year-old who is sensitive to unhappiness above all else? I'd go with Mamma Mia every time.

It's funny, too, because of course the plot and a lot of the jokes (given the PG-13 rating) are inappropriate for children. But as I discovered when I rewatched Grease as an adult, which had been one of my favorites in elementary school, all the stuff kids can't understand goes — whoosh! — right over their heads. (I seriously had no concept as a nine-year-old of what Rizzo meant by saying she was "late" in Grease. Late for what?) Watching Mamma Mia this time around, with my three-year-old enthralled (and silent! absolutely silent!), I let go of all the quibbles and qualms I had the first time I watched it in terms of plot, theme, and casting and just enjoyed it as he was doing.

So it's up to you and your ethics and sensibilities and tolerance for singable 1970s disco tunes, but if you have a chance to bring your little ones to see Mamma Mia (or something similarly musically buoyant), I would leap at it.

P.S. I wrote the above last week but hadn't had a chance to edit the video and post it. Then yesterday we thought, Hey, we sat through two movies with Mikko! Let's go give Despicable Me a try! So we did, and it was a complete bust. Even though we'd shown him previews on our computer beforehand and he seemed intrigued, when the movie started, every time Gru — the main character — appears on screen, Mikko would say, "Can't like him. Can't like Gru." And he was quite serious. We tried to convince him Gru was mean at the beginning but also funny, and that things would get better. No joy. Then there was a scene where the matron at the children's home yells at the children, and that was that. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. We departed, our heads bent to avoid anyone getting too good a look at us, and fortunately received a full refund of our ticket prices since we'd lasted all of five minutes. I will say, though, the popcorn at Columbia City is really good. I'm still glad we bought some, even though we couldn't return that.

This latest experience gave Sam and me some further insight into what makes a good
preschooler movie, and our thought is that it must (a) be engaging and (b) have no villain. Then we ran down the list of children's cartoons we had seen, and with the exception of a Barney one Sam had endured in his movie-critic days, we couldn't think of one that wasn't at least a little scary. So I guess we'll stick with PG-13 sex-romp musicals until Mikko's five or so…

What movies have your children seen and enjoyed? Any surprises? Any theater-going tips for families with little ones?