My Charmed Childhood & Chinese Chicken Salad

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The Sideboard Kitchen, Danville, California

If you read my book, Real Food (Amazon), there are many references to my charmed childhood growing up on a farm in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon, and as with many people, the older I get, the more I appreciate my roots and my life there.

My mother was a complete and total “foodie” twenty years before the term was coined. She was the epitome of fresh, organic and sustainable.  All of our food came from our land.  I had my first Twinkie in fifth grade.

My mother grew up in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada (below Iceland).  It’s tundra, so very little grows there.   My father had grown up on a cash crop farm in Illinois, so they were from very different backgrounds and he was 14 years her senior.  They met when he was working with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) for the Department of Defense during the cold war.  This is how my sister and I got our names as we both have the SAC initials.  They were married when she was 23 and he was 37.  They moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the Pentagon, and then to Nurnberg, Germany where he worked undercover for the CIA (and where I was a born), then he went to Vietnam, after the war they bought our farm and restored the 100 year old farmhouse where we lived.

They raised  race horses and my father taught history at the local college and coached the high school football and basketball teams.  My mother wore black silk cigarette pants with jeweled velvet slippers and invited the locals over for cocktail hour.   It was not unlike the T.V. show Green Acres.

When she wasn’t socializing with the neighboring farmers, my mother gardened, cooked, canned, baked and made jam.  She had a massive three acre garden full of tomatoes, lettuces, watermelon, strawberries and everything inbetween.  The black angus and lamb that roamed our fields eventually landed in a giant freezer, the size of a coffin, in our kitchen.  My father made wine.  There were orchards of peaches, apples, cherries and pears, and walnut and hazelnut trees, raspberry bushes and a blanket of mint around our pond.  Wisteria and hydrangeas, lilacs and honeysuckle graced the parameters of the historic house we lived in.  Our backyard was so big the grass was cut with a tractor.  White sheets blew in the breeze on the clothes line.  It was all wonderful.

As I watch the food scene evolve it reminds me of skipping through my mother’s garden on the farm and waiting for dinner to be ready.  This usually included a large garden salad dressed with just oil and vinegar, a T-bone steak the size of a dinner plate, and little else.

If you are in the area stop by the Sideboard Kitchen in Danville, owned by a local couple, their food is fresh and organic and very reminiscent of life on the farm.  They will be opening a second location in Lafayette where Squirrels used to be.  If not, here is my favorite recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad by the master, Bobby Flay, of the Food Network.  I substitute half of the romaine for kale and add cilantro like Sideboard, as pictured above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking for Teen Athletes – Gluten free Spaghetti and Meatballs

Cooking for Teen Athletes – Gluten free Spaghetti and Meatballs

Although I’ve been very busy with my entrepreneurial ventures and teaching at Berkeley, I’m still required to cook for my athletic teenage daughters.  Cooking for athletes is different than cooking for a normal family as there are serious time constraints and, “food as fuel” is more of a practice than a concept, although I think it should be an extremely high priority for anyone feeding growing children, athletic or otherwise.

My daughter will often swim for an hour and a half.  She does this after school, so she has already had a full day and has eaten next to nothing.  She’s also prone to anemia, so I am always trying to pack her meals with nutrients, and they need to be iron dense.  My other daughter plays soccer and has practices in the evening, so between soccer and swimming there is a tiny slice of time for dinner, and it’s around 5 p.m.

As many mothers know, teenage girls don’t eat much at lunch, which makes them very hungry when they get home from school.  This is when the bad snacking is often done.  I’ve tried many strategies over the years, but have recently decided to serve a quick dinner at this time when possible.  I know how lucky I am to be able to have the flexibility to cook early in the day, but if you don’t, try making a double batch of this to freeze in single serving glass containers, or to serve the next day.

When the kids were little, and I was for the most part a stay-at-home mom, I could spend two hours cooking dinner, but that is no longer possible.  Someday, I hope to have time to make homemade ravioli again, but for now this will have to do, and it checks the boxes of the top criteria for me.  Fast, easy, hot and nutritious. Plus, they love it, which might be the most important criteria.

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Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients:

1 package gluten free spaghetti cooked

1 jar of marina sauce or make your own

1 package of meatballs from Whole Foods Market or make your own

Parmesan cheese (I like these large shavings)

Instructions:

Begin cooking gluten free pasta as per package instructions.  Then, in a large sauce pan heat the meatballs and sauce until they come to a slight boil, reduce heat and let simmer while the pasta is cooking.  Once pasta is done, add to the pan and gently toss while hot.  Reheats and freezes well.

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Pasta, Prosciutto and Peas

I’ve saved the best for last.  This is one of my most cherished recipes, and I make it over and over again for my kids and friends.  I had this for the first time at Tre Vigne in St. Helena when I was 24 years old and on my first trip to the Napa Valley.

Michael Chiarello, now a very famous chef, vintner, TV host and sustainable farmer with his own restaurant, Bottega in Yountville, was the chef.  I still love this restaurant and had lunch there on my birthday this year (December, 2015).

Back then this entrée cost only $8, and we had lunch on the beautiful Tra Vigne patio.  I was with my sister, Sandra Sheehan and my Auntie Deborah. It was a hot summer day and there is nowhere on earth more pleasant than the Napa Valley in the heart of the wine country in the summer. What bliss. I returned many times and I always ordered this dish until it was taken off the menu a few years ago, but I highly recommend the Maltagliati Verde (herb infused pasta with slow cooked lamb) which we had on my last visit.

After the kids were born, I couldn’t make it to Tra Vigne as often, so I taught myself how to make Michael’s recipe at home, and my kids love it too. It’s perfect in a pinch when you find yourself with 12 unexpected and very hungry kids for dinner (double the recipe below), add a salad and some crunchy bread.

As for Michael Chiarello, he can still be found at the stove and was gracious enough to join us (on the patio of course) one afternoon at his restaurant Bottega for lunch.  He will forever remain one of my favorite chefs and inspirations.

Thank you Michael Chiarello!

Ingredients

▪ 1 lb of pasta

▪ 2 tablespoons of olive oil

▪ ½ lb chopped prosciutto, pancetta or bacon (shown)

▪ 2 cloves of garlic, chopped

▪ 1 cup of peas, fresh or frozen

▪ ½ stick of unsalted butter

▪ ½ cup of heavy whipping cream

▪ Parmesan cheese, as needed

Preparation

Boil the pasta, as per the package directions, and then begin making the sauce.

Heat a large sauce pan or dutch oven to medium heat.  Once hot, add the olive oil, then the chopped prosciutto and garlic. Brown lightly.  When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the ham and garlic mixture.  Then, add the butter and cream and reduce heat to low. Stir gently until the ingredients are well combined.  Add the cream, fresh grated parmesan cheese, stir well and reduce for 5 minutes.  Serve immediately in a warm bowls with freshly grated Parmesan.

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Kid Friendly Chicken Pad Thai – Gluten Free and Packed with Nutrients

Kid Friendly Chicken Pad Thai – Gluten Free and Packed with Nutrients

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I’ve made this 12 times over the last six months and both of my daughters still adore it.  I pack it with whatever vegetables are in season, so what’s not to love?

My 16 year old especially asks for this every time I cook.  As I’ve written before, my daughters both love Asian food, and I am much more of an Italian food flavor person.  However, the virtues of this dish are endless.  It is very healthy, low fat, gluten free (if you use gluten free soy sauce), packed with veggies, easy to make, can be eaten hot or cold and reheats beautifully.  This is an all around winner, but you have been warned, if you make it once you will get to make over and over again.

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Ingredients for the Sauce:

2 Teaspoons sesame oil

4 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce – stock

3 Tablespoons lime juice or 2 limes squeezed in pan

3 Tablespoons tangerine juice or 2 tangerines squeezed in pan

2 Tablespoons chopped or grated fresh ginger

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

Pad Thai

Ingredients for the Pad Thai:

8 oz. Pad Thai noodles

½ lb. thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces

½ Tablespoon sesame oil

2 medium carrots purchased grated

1 red pepper chopped

1 head broccoli chopped into bite size pieces

1 zucchini diced Salted/roasted peanuts (optional)

2 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Preparation:

1. In a glass bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. You can cook the rice noodles by submerging them in a bowl of warm water until they are tender or let them sit while you do the following steps.

3. Heat a large wok and add sesame oil. When oil is hot add the chicken and ginger and cook until chicken is white.

4. Add vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes so they are still crunchy. Remove the pan from heat and toss in the noodles and sauce. Toss well to combine. Garnish with chopped cilantro and peanuts and serve warm.

*I do not use egg in my Pad Thai because my children do not like it, but if you would like to add it then scramble one egg along with the chicken and ginger in step 4.

Kids, Sports & the Perfect Breakfast Sandwich

Paris at 5

Age 5 – First All City Swim Meet, 2004

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Age 16 – Highschool District Meet, 2015

I love being up early and the earlier the better.  I  love kids and sports and especially the quiet mornings spent packing the car in the silence before the neighborhood comes alive.  I love the whispered, “let’s go,” and making sure not to wake up the rest of house.  There was a time when I thought there was nothing more fun than packing up my girl before dawn and heading off to the far corners of California for a swim meet, soccer or volleyball tournament.  There was no place too far flung that I wouldn’t drive for a competitive sporting event.  Clovis, Monterey, Sonoma, South Lake Tahoe, Lodi – you name it.  This is not to mention the four volleyball tournaments in Reno in 2014 – be careful what you wish for because if you keep winning you end up back in Reno.

Truly, there was nothing I enjoyed more and no place I would have rather been.  I adored each team with it’s unique personality, including the kids, the parents, and the coaches.  I made so many friends that I hardly noticed the endless hours poolside, on the court, the field, or in the parking lot sitting in camp chairs.   And I loved watching my kids.

In these pre-dawn hours my favorite thing was to stop and get a mocha and a breakfast sandwich on the way   With one or the other of my daughters, I would watch the sun come up heading down the 680 corridor or across one of the many Bay Area bridges that took us to so many different places we would never have gone otherwise.

Now, I have a 16 year old that can drive (a mixed blessing) and because she can drive herself to swimming and beach volleyball it doesn’t mean she can make herself breakfast.  As many of you know, teenage girls are not the best eaters.  In fact, they would prefer not to eat at all.   However, they can’t be strong in their sport if hungry and light headed.

This is the first summer where I find myself standing in the kitchen making my 16 year old breakfast before she heads out the door by herself for a very long day of swim practice, coaching and teaching swim lessons to six year olds, followed by a 2 hour sand volleyball work out.

It’s nice to have more time for my own life, but I will forever treasure the time I spent with my children through sports.  Thank goodness, I have the spare 14 year old soccer player for a few more years.

Obviously there are a few variations, but I will start with the basic instructions and you can suit your own taste.

BASIC EGG SANDWICH

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1) In a small bowl crack one organic free range egg, and start your toast (I use sprouted whole wheat).

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2) Cover with your choice of cheese and microwave for 1.5 minutes on high heat.  You can cover with plastic wrap, but I’m a risk taker and take my chances.

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3) Sprinkle with Sea Salt and add avocado and cut in half.

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4) Wrap in foil or serve warm

VARIATIONS:

On a toasted bagel with bacon:

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On a plain bagel with bacon and avocado:

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Asian Italian Fusion

Asian Italian Fusion

 

 

 

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 Asian Pasta

Both of my daughters have loved Asian food since they were tiny, tiny, tiny.   We have gone to Susi where they had to kneel on their seats to eat their Bento Boxes.  They used chop sticks before forks.  Maybe it’s the cute box or the novelty of the chop sticks or even the food, but they are constantly begging for Japanese or Chinese.  I grew up on a farm where my mother served a steady diet of meat and potatoes with vegetables.  She made us steaks that covered our entire plate, but mostly I just ate PB&J.  I didn’t even like pizza, so this is all new to me (kids venturing out of the PB&J box and into spicy tuna rolls).

Later in life I developed a deep love for pasta, but not for Asian food.   So Asian Pasta is a compromise that we all love.  And believe me, I will do anything to get them to eat their veggies.  And in this dish they do it gladly.

I used ochecchi pasta because they love it so much.  It has a really yummy chewy texture and for a first Asian Pasta Recipe I knew it would at least be liked if not loved, but of course, they loved it.  It had all of their favorite ingredients, broccoli (the kid favorite in the vegetable family), sausage, brown sugar and light soy sauce.  I use the teriyaki with pineapple hand made sausages from Whole Foods.

This is a very filling recipe and good for hungry kids.  It can be served as an after school snack because it reheats amazingly well.

 

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Ingredients:

1 package of Orecchiette Pasta (Barilla)

2 teaspoons sesame oil (if you like spicy you can buy sesame oil with chili)

2 cloves of diced garlic

2 + cups washed & chopped fresh broccoli

2 Teriyaki and Pineapple house made sausages from Whole Foods

6 teaspoons soy sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

Sesame seeds to garnish

 

Instructions:

Bring water to a boil and follow package directions to cook pasta.  Then drain pasta well and set aside.

Heat pan or wok on medium high until hot.  Add sesame oil and and garlic and gently brown (do not allow to burn).  Remove sausages from casings and brown with garlic and sesame oil.  Add broccoli  and cook until just tender, but not soft.

Stir in soy sauce and brown sugar.  Gently toss all ingredients until evenly coated.

 

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After school snack…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Little Helper & Other Wisdom

Mother’s Little Helper & Other Wisdom

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My Littles

It felt like, one day I was eating caviar toasts and baby lamb chops washed down with a few glasses of Veuve Clicquot Champagne with my P.R. agency, and the next I was a stay at home mom with a 22 month old and a new baby.  I sat terrified most days waiting for my husband to come home from work.  I’m ashamed to admit this, but I remember envying my husband’s commute to work.  I would have done anything to be alone for 35 minutes listening to music and drinking my French Roast winding through the Berkeley hills.

I have moments of nostalgia when I dream of holding one of my babies in my arms again,  but mostly I am just happy to have survived those early years. My mother died when I was young and my dear mother-in-law didn’t sugar coat it when she told me, “I’ve already raised my kids.”   I had a magical nanny when I worked South of Market in San Francisco and I was able to retain her a few hours a week when the girls were very small, but mostly I was very much on my own.   One of the more hilarious activities was taking the baby and two year old grocery shopping.  The small town where I live has a good number of retirees, so I was constantly approached by these lovely women and told to cherish every moment.  I would be so exhausted and both kids would be screaming and all I could think was they must have amnesia!   They were also the generation of Mother’s Little Helper (click for the Rolling Stone’s famous song).  The rest of us had to white knuckle our way through it.

I discovered that taking the kids to dinner was not a night off for me, so I started cooking more at home (see my author page on Amazon to read more about my book and easy kid friendly recipes). At about 5 o’clock I would put the littles in front of the T.V. and mix myself one very tall drink and take it outside and water my flowers, and then I would start dinner.  With kids under foot and a stiff drink taking the edge off it was important to have some forgiving recipes.  I had wanted to give my book, Real Food, the title Easy Recipes for Drunk Moms, but my editor, Neo Gariby didn’t want my readers to get the wrong impression.  However, I’ve recently stumbled upon Thug Kitchen which I love and now I don’t think Drunk Moms was such a bad title after all.  I especially adore the bad language!  I’ve sworn off swearing to be a better role model for my children, but there is nothing like colorful words when describing cooking and eating good food. Once I perfected my evening routine things got easier.  If I’m not nostalgic for the screaming grocery store scenes, I am for those quiet summer evenings with the flower pots spilling over with fragerant flowers and my children fed and bathed.   I would read to them  and then tuck myself into bed at 9 p.m.  Those really were the best of times and because I am not the sort of person to ignore good advise I really did cherish every moment.