PB&J with a boost (a non-recipe)

37017889900_3330429574_o

School is in full swing and I’m already falling into a school lunch rut. I’ve been saving kid lunch ideas all over the place, but can’t seem to think of them when I need to feed hungry kids quickly.

Which is why PB&J was invented right?

You might think as a nutrition student, I would grab for something a bit more … nutritious but alas I am a human being and parent of two and just doing my best. In these moments of doing my best with what I have – which is lack of preparation and half and ounce of energy – I try to think of ways I can boost nutritional value – convenience food or otherwise.

So as I am making PB&J for my hungry kids, those jars of chia and hemp seeds in my fridge come to mind.  And there you have it, redemption for this nutrition student (kidding). I sprinkled some hempseed on the side of the pb and chia on the j. Done.

IMG_4271 2

I thought I was done but my five year old wanted me to make him a fish-shaped sandwich, yes a fish. Let me pause to note, I am definitely not that mom making cute creations out of food or bentos for my kids’ lunches (I’m just not that talented or patient). So I’m puzzled by where this idea came from, but he’s five years old – and in the wild and free mind of one that age, a pb & j sandwich can be a fish.

So we collaborated (because he’s much more talented than me in this area) to make a fish AND a scene in its natural habitat :).

This sandwich has indeed gone from humble to an inspired pb&j sandwich.

37416043015_3837f1f995_o

note:

With nuts being highly allergic for some kids, it is being banned from schools/ child care facilities. If an alternative to peanut butter is needed sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) seems to be a most neutral and safe one to use in a nut-free situation. 

 

Advertisements

Supersnack – Spirulina Popcorn

superpopcorn
Spirulina Popcorn

I recently hosted my first workshop on “healthy eating made simple” sharing my learnings so far from the nutrition course I’m taking. At first I was stumped on what to focus on, but finally decided on the topic of simplifying healthy eating. I personally found it to be confusing and overwhelming to keep up with what exactly was the best diet for me and my family’s health!

Going back to the basics by adding more vegetables into every meal and reducing processed foods can add so much of the nutrients missing from our current American diet. One of the ways I’ve been heeding my own advice is in the snacking arena. With two small kids, snacking can be an all day obsession – whether to keep boredom at bay, to distract from a tantrum, to bribe for good behavior, to simply satiate to stave off hanger. So much power in these in between bites!

There are a lot of default kid snacks – much of which are made with refined flours and loaded with sugars. They’re easy and convenient and the kids love them – but there’s absolutely no nutritional value to them and these simple carbs turn into sugar after we digest them. Plus I tend to overeat these snacks when I’m hungry and then end up feeling really sluggish and generally crappy afterwards. wonk wonk.

To avoid them I’ve eliminated things like crackers, pretzels, chips, cereal, etc. (which are all of my weaknesses too!) from my shopping cart altogether and instead (still working on) filling the cupboard with healthier alternatives, one of which are organic popcorn kernels. 

They’re cheap, and so easy to pop at home for homemade popcorn to top with whatever spice you choose. Popcorn is also a whole grain and low in calories and most importantly for me, satisfies the crunch and salty umami cravings with the flavor toppings I choose.

I’ve been making popcorn in a large pot and sprinkling seasonings like old-bay, seasoned salt, furikake, nutritional yeast, and topping off with spirulina for its powers as a protein-filled, antioxidant-boosting superfood – because why not make your popcorn a vehicle for some nutritious goodness too??

Here’s an official recipe for a popcorn seasoning that I’ve free-handed for a while until I googled for some real measurements.


 

Spirulina Popcorn

adapted from Goop.com

Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup non-GMO popping corn
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon spirulina
  • 3 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne

Instructions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil in a large metal pasta pot (or similar) over medium-high heat.
  2. Add two corn kernels, cover with the lid leaving it slightly ajar, and cook until the kernels pop.
  3. Add the ¼ cup of corn and cook with the lid slightly ajar, shaking the pot every 30 seconds or so, until almost all of the corn has popped (you’ll know because there will suddenly be much longer breaks between popping sounds). Cover with the lid and turn off the heat while you prepare the seasoning.
  4. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, spirulina, nutritional yeast, sea salt, and cayenne in a large bowl and mix together with a rubber spatula.
  5. Add the popped corn and toss with the spatula (or your hands) to evenly distribute the seasoning.

Note:

One of my favorite things to do at a local movie theater we used to live near is to concoct my own mix of flavorings with the popcorn spices the theater provided. I would spend ten minutes sprinkling and shaking while my husband would save me a seat for the movie. If you’re wondering where this was – it’s the Sunshine theater in downtown NY – not sure if they still do this though – plus I would now bring my own nutritional yeast 🙂 !

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting veggies first – a mini tip

greens

It’s been a busy summer so far with kids out of school and getting distracted by all the fun summer activities to be had here in NYC. I’ve also been diving into a holistic nutrition course to educate myself on a topic that I’ve been passionate about. The course has given me the focus I need and so far it’s been enlightening and inspiring. I hope to incorporate more of what I learn here!

Eating more greens and vegetables is a no brainer for optimal health – and is a common denominator in most dietary theories. As I’m trying to be more intentional about incorporating vegetables at the family dinner table I find that I need a better strategy than habitually keeping greens an afterthought, scrambling together a crudite platter for dinner. Nothing wrong with some raw veggies and dip, but I know I can do better.

With two little kids, there is a very small and unforgiving window of feeding time, as many parents know. So my goal is to have the veggies ready along with everything else served up for dinner – instead of finishing up the salad or roasted veggies halfway through the rest of their dinner.

One day I started dinner prep with vegetables in mind and found everything else fell into place.

Light bulb moment.

Start with the veggies.

I found that this simple mental shift was helpful in ensuring I prioritized greens to have ready right at dinner time.

So, I put veggies first.

I get the produce out of the fridge so that it’s visible. Get the peeling, washing, chopping, drying, etc. out of the way.

I admit this is not revolutionary or maybe not a real cooking tip, but for me the  just taking the time be intentional about something revealed an easy solution that starts with a shift in perspective.

Ideally I’d like to get to the point where I’m a meal planning machine – churning out meals planned well in advance, always having frozen back up meals stocked, not having to rely on pizza delivery (is it just me?) but this baby step – considering vegetables first before I start cooking – will one day take me closer to achieving meal prep glory.

Please share any of your tips for getting more vegetables on your dinner table. I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

SaveSave

Japanese Curry Rice (not from a box)

oaktownspiceshop2

If you haven’t heard of Japanese curry or it seems like an odd pairing of words, then I’m glad to introduce this wonderful comfort food. This dish is where the Venn diagram of childhood foods of my husband and I squarely intersect. While my version was served with a side of kimchi and his with some Japanese pickled ginger, it’s a nostalgic dish for both of us.

A typical home cook would make Japanese curry composed with a protein, vegetables and starch (e.g. beef, onions, carrots and potatoes). One of the most popular ways of cooking this dish is to use convenient curry cubes you can find at the Asian grocery store – S&B Golden Curry Sauce mix. As with many convenient shortcut flavoring devices when you look closely at the fine print, there’s an ingredient lurking in it that explains a lot of the sluggishness, bloating and general food coma that seems to ensue after consumption. It was through a book I’m reading called “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks” by Kathleen Flinn that instigated my “duh” moment and noticed the huge amount of MSG and sodium in the curry mix. Hence a search for a healthier alternative began.

Lucky for me, I happen to stumble upon a Japanese Curry blend of spices at Oaktown Spice Shop. Below is their recipe for Japanese Curry Chicken which came printed on an index card to take home. I’ve made this a few times and is definitely the extra effort for its delicious results – my kids gobbled it up the same as if it were out of a box, and even my Japanese mother in law approved. Oaktown Spice Shop has an online shop, so snag it up and try this recipe!

Continue reading “Japanese Curry Rice (not from a box)”

Lentil Soup with Mushrooms for a Blizzard

IMG_6995

Since moving to New York at the end of January we’ve been through two snowstorms.  I think I’ve had my fill and caught up from the snowless winters we experienced in Northern California.

The snowstorm wasn’t as bad as meteorologists had expected, in fact the NYT says the city narrowly escaped the worst of this storm. Regardless, it was a snow day which means it’s a great day for soup.

I’ve been wanting to redeem myself from a terrible lentil soup recipe I cooked from the internet – it was flavorless, one-noted and didn’t have any of the hearty goodness that seeps into your soul that soup, in my opinion is required to do. I have a great Indian-inspired lentil soup that is now my go-to, but I was looking for a more mediterranean-style without the warming spices. After comparing notes and melding together several recipes the frankenstein recipe was satisfaction and full meal in a bowl.

If I have the time, I generally like to tackle a particular dish by researching several different recipes and notice the template and variations in ingredients. When I feel the groove or essence of the recipe I use what I like or have in my kitchen to make it my own. Do you cook like this too?

Here’s the recipe for lentil and mushroom soup. I used green lentils because it’s what I had on hand. It’s chewier than red lentils which I liked for this recipe. The bite of the lentils and softness of the vegetables was a nice contrast in texture. I also used cremini mushrooms, but you can use any mushrooms you like – chanterelles were used in the Green Kitchen Stories Version.

Note: Add some lemon juice or vinegar of your choice to this soup. The acid kicks up the flavor and cuts the richness from the pancetta and mushrooms. I started with about a spoonful and continued to add to taste.

IMG_7027
Continue reading “Lentil Soup with Mushrooms for a Blizzard”

Golden milk two ways: sleepy time and afternoon tea 

On my good days I try to switch up my afternoon coffee routine with a cup of golden milk. When I first heard about this traditional Ayurvedic medicinal drink made with tumeric I was intrigued and was willing to give it a try for all its great health benefits. Tumeric has anti-inflammatory properties and combined with the other ingredients it’s a powerhouse of a health elixir. And the name, golden milk drew me in – sounded like a luxurious way to kick off my late afternoon to tide me over before the dinner prep frenzy.

Some people might think this process is a bit involved and it’s defnitely not as simple as brewing a bag of tea, but since I make my coffee using the pour over method, this recipe has a familiar ring of ritual. Gathering the various spices, warming up the milk in a pot, whisking the coconut oil together to melt it all into a golden cup of goodness is all part of the experience and perhaps part of its health benefits. It forces you to slow down and take in the scents, the textures and the transformation of the different ingredients into a creamy golden tonic that is comforting and healing.

I’ve also tried a recipe dubbed as an “evening tea” with its addition of chamomile and it is quite wonderful and calming for unwinding in the evening.

So here they are – the two versions of golden milk tea, which could be consumed anytime of the day, but make it when you need it and see how you like it.

Note: Black pepper helps with the bioavailability of Tumeric – allows your body to absorb the good stuff (curcumin). It also adds little kick and warming quality to the drink.

Continue reading “Golden milk two ways: sleepy time and afternoon tea “

Resolutions 2017

u3ajsxhzm_u-freddy-castro

It’s a new year and I’ve been taking the past few days weeks to take stock of 2016. There were lots of ups and downs for us personally in 2016 so I’m ready to start afresh. 2017 is already starting off with a bittersweet bang — beginning with a cross country move back to NYC.

Getting ready to move a family of four (plus a dog) and processing it all got me thinking  about resolutions – specifically by reviewing the year’s past. As I shed our possessions to once again return to a small apartment, I’m also looking through the cookbooks, the piles of articles torn from magazines that I saved for later and never actually looked at again.

This unused pile of cookbooks and hidden inspiration in the kitchen prompted me to make some specific resolutions around the kitchen and use the resources under my nose. So this year I’m resolved to try to cook more out of my collection of someday recipes – especially out of physical cookbooks, and try my hand at some more challenging recipes that have been on my mind for a while.

Here’s my short-list of my ambitions (short, because I like to under promise, over deliver).

  • Variations on Roast Chicken –  Thomas Keller’s simple roast chicken has been on rotation in my kitchen this year so I’m going to explore some other spice combinations for some variety. Like this one with sumac, Zatar and lemon.
  • Mom’s Homemade Kimchi – Since my mom’s generation and prior didn’t use recipes cards, cookbooks or have blogs to reference for their family recipes I’ll have to extract it from her and etch it permanently onto the internet.
  • Pok Pok chicken wings – remember the craze?! I have the cookbook and used to live walking distance from their LES location so I have nostalgic cravings for this. After getting the book years ago, which was entertaining to peruse, I was intimidated by most, well all of the recipes, but I think it’ll be worth the trouble for this one.
  • More plants – Kale is definitely on my weekly shopping list and here to stay but this year I’m looking forward to continuing to explore more plant-based dishes. Since living in California and being blessed with its bounty of fresh produce and farmer’s markets, its been easy to get inspired to eat your veggies. And I’m taking this with me to the east coast! The wellness trend taking the food industry by storm is also shedding light to some amazing chefs and interesting things happening with veggies. It’s an exciting time for healthy eating.
  • Meal Planning – Meal planning with 2 little kids is a struggle but an essential part of eating a home cooked meal and surviving the week! I’m still finding my “system” but overall I’d like to be more intentional and make things in “bulk” for future meals.
  • Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon – Mastering the Art of French Cooking is on my bookshelf now thanks to a book sale at my local library. I’ll crack it open this year and start with this classic.

What’s on your short-list? Any food related resolutions on your mind? Share in the comments, I’d love to know!

PC: Unsplash.com

New Year Traditions and dduk guk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)

dukkgook

Happy New Year! I can’t believe it has been one year since I started this blog. I honestly didn’t think I would make it this long. It’s been fun to share recipe discoveries and archive family favorites here.

This new years day, we spent it focused on keeping culinary traditions from Korea and Japan, honoring the heritage of me and my husband. I love traditions that involve food – like Turkey every Thanksgiving – there’s comfort in knowing exactly what you’ll be eating that day every year. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate 2017 than slurping up some soba noodles and eating chewy rice cakes in dduk guk (Korean rice cake soup)!

Out of curiosity I researched background on dduk guk (Korean rice cake soup) and I found a Facebook post by the official “Korean Food Foundation” with some historical background. If you’re interested take a look here.

Here’s a solid recipe for Korean Rice Cake soup that I use all the time from my trusted source for Korean food, Maangchi. I typically use a beef broth as the recipe calls for but this time pre-made some oxtail bone broth for new years day to make it a little more special. As for the soba soup we ate along with other delicious Japanese sides, more on that in a future post!

Note: This dish is not only for new years day, it’s a common weeknight dinner and kid favorite in my house!

Continue reading “New Year Traditions and dduk guk (Korean Rice Cake Soup)”

Sushi at Home (with the kids)

sushioverhead

One of our favorite ways of entertaining before having kids was to serve “make your own” sushi or temaki sushi (hand rolls). It’s simple to prepare and feels special to have fresh sushi presented beautifully at your own table. Our guests could fill the rolls with what they want and it’s much more affordable than dining out in NYC. I won’t take any credit for this idea as it was ushered into my life by my husband who grew up with this tradition at home. The shopping, the prep, assembly and presentation is all done by him. While I like to cook I keep this sacred as “his” thing. (I don’t mind being “served” a meal either!)

During an attempt to plan a birthday gathering for my mother-in-law we realized that most sushi establishments worth going to didn’t open until dinner, and the idea to entertain sushi at home resurfaced! Not to mention, two members of the party are under five years old, and trying to enjoy dining out with those two would be a delusion.

The fun part about do-it-yourself temaki sushi is that everyone gets to choose how they want their rolls. It’s exciting for the kids too as they get to try all kinds of different fish, flavors and even vegetables. My eldest who is four years old loved the octopus. What to serve is up to you but we have our staples which I share below.

The freshest fish that we could get here near Oakland is at Tokyo Fish Market, a solid little Japanese grocery store in Berkeley. This is where the fish and most ingredients were bought and then sliced at home.

**Overall there is some prep work in slicing the fish and vegetables. The sushi rice flavored with rice vinegar and sugar will likely need the most lead time. It’s worth trying as a simple and elegant way to celebrate a special day or just entertaining friends and family at home.

Here’s a great primer with more detail on hosting your own temaki sushi party.

And here’s what we served for the birthday party. Again you can customize with whatever it is you want to serve!

  • Tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Octopus
  • Yellowtail
  • Squid
  • Salmon Roe

Ingredients for temaki sushi assembly:

  • Nori
  • Sushi rice (flavored with rice vinegar and sugar)
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Cucumber
  • Shiso leaf
  • Tamagoyaki
  • Daikon Sprouts
  • Kimchi on the side (as seen in picture) – customize to your liking. It’s your party!

Enjoy!

 

EATING IN KOREA

jeju-bbq-overhead

We recently came back from a quick 9 day trip to Korea to visit my dad’s side of the family. There are lots of facets to look back on this memorable trip but it was an interesting experience seeing the country and its food culture through the eyes of my Japanese-American husband and two American children.

I’ve visited Korea before and grew up in an immigrant household where we mostly ate Korean food so culture shock was not expected, but traveling as a mom of two kids was definitely a far cry from my last visit as a care-free college student. With my companions (hubby, a toddler and preschooler) in tow, here are some of my observations about eating in Korea.

+ Abundance is a word that comes to mind when thinking about eating in Korea. There’s an abundance of what’s on the table – a stimulating sensorial array of small side dishes (banchan), bubbling stews, pungent pickled things. You can also expect to eat in abundance and not ever feel like you will miss a meal because there’s a restaurant on every corner. You will also have food coming at you from your host or whoever you are dining with. It’s a cultural thing to show your hospitality and love through food and offering it whether they want it or not is not the issue. My husband has already been hazed in this tradition by my parents and extended family. To put it bluntly, Koreans are generally food pushers. Don’t take offense, if someone plops food on your plate, whether you asked for it or not.

“A meal is not complete for a Korean, without soup or Kimchi,” – My aunt

+ Kid seating.  High chairs were a rare commodity. Unless you’re specifically at a family friendly restaurant, or at a theme park for kids (e.g. Lotte World), don’t expect to find any high-chairs or boosters for your kids. In most restaurants we found that there is a section for Western style tables and chairs, or in the more traditional setting of sitting on the floor with a low table. We ended up in the traditional setting most of the time. My kids spend a lot of time on the floor anyway so they didn’t seem to have minded this too much. What they did mind was taking their shoes on and off every time we had a meal ate these restaurants.

With the lack of high chairs we had to rely on lots of distractions to keep them from roaming around since they weren’t strapped down. Thank goodness for Pororo cartoons! (if you don’t know who this cartoon character is, your kids will be indoctrinated as a Pororo fan as soon as you board the plane via the branded kids plane meals and his presence all over Korea!)

+ Kid Food. There’s no special kids menu. And I kind of love this. The expectation is that the kids eat what the adults are eating. Because of the abundance of variety and omni-presence of rice there is always something that kids can eat and turn into a meal. My kids got by like this without having to resort to mac & cheese or chicken nuggets (not that we had the option!).

+ Breakfast. In Korea there’s no specific food you eat during “breakfast” like here in the states. The younger generation in Korea likely adopts a simple western style breakfast but at least within my extended family – they seemed to stick to the same traditional morning meal which is anything you would eat for lunch or dinner! But typically breakfast is comprised of soup and rice with some banchan. I’m fascinated by what people eat for breakfast around the word, there’s so much variety. Have you seen the NYT Magazine piece (from a few years go) on what kids around the world eat for breakfast?

Before we embarked on this trip, I had anxiety around how my kids would adapt to the new country, the language barrier and Korean food 24/7 but I was proud and relieved to see how  adaptable and resilient they were to their new surroundings.

It was also nice to have the astute and blunt observations of a 4 year old. My son exclaimed “that’s a weird breakfast!” at 8am in front of a table set with a steaming fish casserole with banchan around it. We were definitely not having blueberry pancakes that morning.

Perhaps my kids are still too young to have any sort of culture shock, since they’re still getting grounded in their own reality. Through this quick international trip, I hope the sights, the smells, and tastes of Korea are woven into their sense of heritage and family roots.