Breyer’s : Business as Usual

Holy Toledo Batman!  Is that really All-Natural Ice Cream?  Even the carton that says it is all-natural ice cream?…

A couple of developments along the Breyer’s front that I’d like to share before they melt…. although Frozen Dairy Dessert goes a lot longer without melting than does ice cream!  Perhaps that is the sole positive about frozen dairy dessert, if you don’t mind the gummy taste or un-natural ingredients.

At any rate, astute reader DMC in DC informed me and Little Sis that a class action lawsuit was filed against Breyer’s  because of the presence of processed ingredients (in particular alkalized cocoa) in their “all-natural” ice cream.  There is supposed to be a final fairness hearing on September 12.  Hey that was yesterday!!  I’ll let you know if I learn anything more.  Unfortunately it is too late to file a claim, which according to DMC is no accident, i.e. the $2.5 million that Breyer’s promised in restitution will not be fully distributed because there isn’t enough time for claimants to file, but I have no dates for the original posting so don’t know if they were extra bad or not.

Clearly, the ingredients of our food is catching our attention.  So many of you have commented on this issue.  We get hits from all over the world everyday on the Breyer’s posts.  People don’t like that these changes were made despite a product reputation for wholesomeness built over decades of our purchases.

We all need a wake up call now and then, don’t we?  I sure did.

Dissenting Democrat, a fellow wordpress blogger mentioned us in his blog because he too is disappointed by Breyer’s, er… Unilever’s desertion of the Breyer’s model of a good, all natural product.  He tells us he likes politics, but he LOVES ice cream.  Real ice cream that is.  You can check out his blog here.

Breyer’s Frozen Dairy Dessert Reply

Progress can be slow.  As slow as melting ‘Frozen Dairy Dessert.’

I wanted to keep you posted on my interactions with Unilever, the multi-national corporation that owns the Breyer’s brand.  If you missed the letter I sent to Unilever about the change in many of their Breyer’s products from ‘all-natural ice cream’ to ‘Frozen Dairy Dessert’, you can read it here.

Clearly, I am not the first person to complain about the change in quality and taste as well as the addition of UN-natural ingredients to the ice cream formerly known as Breyer’s all Natural.  My letter was met with an almost immediate email response (read below) and the promise of a more in-depth look at my concerns in the future.  The email includes a list of the flavors that will not be changed to Frozen Dairy Dessert – but beware!!!  The ‘Ice Cream’ label does not preclude the use of either tara or guar gum or of caramel color which is an additive that the Center for Science in the Public Interest places on their AVOID list.  Please feel free to add your voice to the discontent appearing in the Unilever in-box at this link.

Additionally, I just received a coupon in the mail for a free Breyer’s product.  This was also obviously a canned response as the opening sentence is, “Thank you for contacting us regarding Breyers Ice Cream.  We are very sorry to learn you had this experience.”  I’m not deriding them for the canned comments, after all they did respond quickly, just amused and wondering if I will indeed ever hear any more.

As to the coupon for the product I swore I would never buy again… I will actually use this coupon to obtain for free the least offensive of their ice creams because it is not putting money in their pocket…. in fact it is taking it OUT of their pocket.  If a lot of people sent them letters to complain about the changes, Unilever would be sending out a lot of free coupons.  Might cost them more than they are saving by using cheap ingredients!  I’m just sayin…  Here’s the link for comments again.

And finally the moment you’ve all been waiting patiently for… here’s the email I received.

“Thank you for contacting us regarding Breyers Ice Cream .

Breyers® products have consistently delivered high-quality ingredients, great flavors and smooth creaminess that our fans love and we assure you that we remain committed to using high-quality ingredients in all our Breyers® products. Our Ice Cream varieties and new Frozen Dairy Dessert options continue to use fresh milk, cream and sugar.

What distinguishes our Frozen Dairy Dessert from our Ice Cream is that it’s blended in a whole new way to create a smoother texture, tends to have lower fat, and maintains a better texture throughout distribution…from our freezer to your home freezer.

Breyers® offers a wide range of products to meet the different taste, nutritional, and value needs of consumers. Many flavors will not be converting to Frozen Dairy Dessert, including: Natural Vanilla, Natural Strawberry, Chocolate, French Vanilla, Vanilla/Chocolate/Strawberry, Mint Chocolate Chip, Homemade Vanilla, Coffee, Vanilla/Chocolate, Lactose-Free Vanilla, Triple Chocolate, and NASCAR® Checkered Flag.

Your comments are extremely important to us and we will share them with our staff. We thank you for your interest in our products and we will be sending you a complimentary coupon via U.S. Postal mail which you should receive within 7-10 business days.

Sincerely,

Your friends at Breyers”

All I can say is…. Eat Food!  REAL Food!

No Farms, No Food

This week I have had such a privilege. I signed my children up for nature camp this week through our county parks and recreation department. Two hours per morning for the week, led by naturalists, conducted at a nature center, and titled: Creepies and Crawlies. My daughter has been looking forward to learning about these critters all summer. If I’m being totally honest, I’ve been looking forward to the guarantee of two hours a day where I’m not in charge, or playing referee, or helping guide them towards a snack we can all feel good about. I did not expect the impact that his camp would have on me. Yes, it’s been fun to hear them talking about hissing cockroaches, ratsnakes, salamanders, and slugs (well okay, not so much the slugs)… but that’s not what has affected me the most. I have been moved by the drive to and from camp.

Frederick County farm courtesy of Wikipedia

I live in middle Maryland and our area is pretty varied in the sense that we have a small city 2 miles from our home and a great number of reasonably modern developments within 5 miles of that city, but once you get out of that 5 mile ring, it’s pretty much all farms – and an occasional cluster of small stores (bakeries, butchers, barbers and gas stations seem to be the most common) with a four way stop or stoplight. I’ve been floating through the farmland of Frederick County all week, marveling at the hard work and persistence that each field and house represent. It is relentlessly beautiful. Everywhere I look there is life and today, finally, there is rain. Sweet rain. It arrived last night in an avalanche of bluster and booming that forced us to drug the dog (yes, I’m serious) and break out the glowing bracelets I had left from the fourth of July for the kids. They fell asleep in a sweaty tangle in the bunk they chose to share during the storm. I stepped out onto the patio for a moment to catch the smell at the beginning of that storm. A smell I remember well from childhood summers, but that we don’t seem to get all that often anymore. It was glorious.

The rain eventually tapered off a bit, and so I am hopeful that it was gentle enough at some point in the evening to begin to ease conditions for the crops and farmers I’ve been admiring all week. I know one storm will not stem the tide. Today’s fits and starts of gentler rain will need to show a little more staying power to make much difference either. I also know that our situation here in Maryland is nowhere near as dire as it is in so many parts of the country. I am thankful for my neighbors that they haven’t yet had to admit to themselves that this year’s efforts were all for naught. I am heartsick for the farmers of the mid-west and other parts of the U.S. and Canada who are likely to lose their entire crop for the year.

There are a lot of conversations that we can have about this drought, but for the purposes of THIS blog, I want to stick with our guiding principle: eat food, real food. Tomorrow is farm market day in many communities. If you are fortunate enough to have a farmers’ market near you, I urge you to visit. If you live in an area where the farmers are struggling, I implore you to go. See what’s on offer, and support those who work such long days to grow food.

My farm stand haul

The prices at your grocery store are about to go up friends. Most products that come in a can or a box or plastic wrap contain some form of corn and/or soybean oil. Corn is used in the fuel that the trucks use to bring those giant packs of beautiful strawberries from California. Wheat (in some form or another) likely makes up a huge part of your diet (unless you are gluten free). These crops are severely threatened. Prices of processed foods are going to go up. I confess there is a small part of me that is curious about the impact that these price changes could have. Would it be easier for more of us to choose real food if pre-packaged food becomes more expensive? And then I remember the farmers…. I suppose I can work my head around to some long-term gain that might be eeked out of this situation, but if I were looking out at those crops, I would be frightened and heartbroken. And so tomorrow, I shall go to the market. I grow a lot of veggies, but there’s always something that I didn’t manage or that didn’t work out in my garden. I will go find those items and I will talk to our farmers and share with them my concern for them and hope to support them with my grocery budget. I will take those veggies home and eat them in the simplest preparation I can muster so I can taste the life in them, and appreciate the tremendous effort that came from someone else’s hands to help me fill my table.

Click here to find a farm market near you.

More about the drought:
A moving story about the drought’s impact on one farm from Rachel of A Home in College Hill here.
Grist describes why the drought is hardest on small farms here.
NPR shows the progress of the drought here.
The New York Times discusses the breadth and depth of the drought and its economic impacts here. NYT also provides a pretty shocking graphic here.
Click here to get up to date drought info for the United States from the National Integrated Drought Information System

Why the corn and soy crops are important:
USA today covers the trickle down impact of crop failure here.
CNN describes how prevalent corn and soy are in American grocery stores, American pantries, and in American bodies here.

Back to the Changes in Breyer’s

Many of you saw my post following the unhappy discovery that my Breyer’s ‘ice cream’ was not actually ‘ice cream’ but was labelled as ‘Frozen Dairy Dessert.‘  I have been watching the freezer section and, oddly enough, which varieties are still labelled as ‘ice cream’ and which are ‘frozen dairy dessert’ varies not only by region but by time.  I have found both peach ice cream and peach frozen dairy dessert in the freezer at my Kroger on different recent occasions.  I check it out every now and then out of curiosity because we have received a huge reaction  (huge for our little blog that is) to that post.  Many people from all over the globe have found, read and posted their dismay over the addition of chemicals to the formerly ‘all-natural’ ice cream here on our blog.

Once I vented my anger on the blog I had planned to merely let my dollars do the talking to Unilever (the corporate parent of Breyer’s).  Your responses impel me to write to Unilever.  I thought I’d share the letter with you, our lovely readers!  Please feel free to add your responses on the matter to Unilever : http://www.unileverusa.com/resource/contact/default.aspx

Dear Unilever,
I am extremely disappointed in the changes that have been made in the ingredient list of Breyer’s, the formerly all-natural ice cream.  Upon discovering that many Breyer’s flavors, even simple ones like peach, do not even qualify for the label ice cream, but are sometimes labelled as ‘frozen dairy dessert,’ I stopped purchasing your product.  I was a loyal Breyer’s customer, buying your product exclusively for many years because the labels lived up to your advertising campaigns boasting of natural and recognizable ingredients.  I stopped reading the labels of simple flavors because I
trusted your reputation.  Of course when you added flavors with cookies, I knew that those flavors did not meet your previous chemical-free standards, but I never bought those.  I bought and enjoyed vanilla, chocolate, coffee, cherry vanilla, and butter pecan knowing that although ice cream is an indulgence, at least I was offering a wholesome indulgence to my family.

I would have left my protest to your ingredient changes at the level of my dollars in the grocery store, but for the fact that I write a blog in which my sister and I explore feeding our families real, wholesome food.  I posted my dismay over the changes in the basic Breyer’s flavors and have been overwhelmed by the response.  I thought you might like to know that my little blog, in the vast sea of internet information, has drawn 186 views and 53 comments to our post, “Frozen Dairy Dessert, Really Breyer’s?”.  The comments all express dismay over your decision to include more chemicals and less real food in what used to be known as Breyer’s all-natural ice cream.  http://mysisterspantry.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/frozen-dairy-dessert-really-breyers-24/

There is a market for your old ice cream!  Why not save a few simple flavors from chemical modernity.  I know lots of people who will buy it.  I don’t need caramel color, guar gum, tara gum, mono & di-glycerides, corn syrup, carageenan, or unidentified ‘natural flavors’ in my ice cream.  And I won’t buy yours as long as they are on your list of ingredients.

I am guessing that the folks who buy your flavor blast varieties won’t even notice if you take the chemicals out of your original flavors and convert the frozen dairy dessert back into ice cream.

Sincerely,
Lisa Bromfield
“AKA Bigg Sis”

Little Sis and I are curious to know what you find in your grocery freezer.  Does your store carry Breyer’s ice cream?  Frozen Dairy Dessert?  Both?  Please check the simple flavors and let us know what you find.  Power to the People…. Right on!

 

Recalibration

Whenever a friend asks me for advice about food (what are they thinking, right), my answers are pretty consistent. Read your labels, avoid processed food, less packaging is usually better, yes you have to cook, buy ingredients not meals, and for pete’s sake put down that soda. Great advice, and I follow almost all of it much of the time. This is the way with advice right? Right? Please tell me I’m not the only well-intended hypocrite out there. This week I’ve made a conscious effort to remind myself of the central mission that Big Sis and I adopted when we started this enterprise. Eat food, real food. Just food, not chemicals, not gimmicks, not time-savers, and not substitutes.

A few months back, I decided to cut meat and dairy from my diet most of the time (weekday vegan). For the most part I’ve been pretty successful at staying true to the eat food, real food tenants, but there has been some slippage as I’ve tried to replace food items that are near and dear to my palate and I’ve found myself sucked in by some items that definitely don’t honor the other part of our shared philosophy, which is that eating real food can be affordable. Due to my enthusiasm and sporadic attention, the grocery bill has become a bit of a monster. We haven’t talked about this much, but Big Sis and I both believe that it is possible to maintain your current budget, and in some cases even decrease your spending by replacing processed foods with real food. This belief doesn’t even begin to take into account the long term savings in health care and work lost to illness that healthier eating can provide – don’t worry, I’m not about to do any math here, although I am now tempted to Google to see if someone else has already done that math….. Stay on target. Stay on target.

beautiful, simple, inexpensive lentils

And so after paying the last month’s bills, I decided it was time for a bit of a recalibration. Time to remind my brain and my body that there are simpler ways to stay true to my dietary choices without breaking the bank. And so I whipped up an old friend, one that you should meet as well. Enter bulgur and lentils. These two humble (and CHEAP) ingredients can be manipulated into a variety of dishes on their own, but put them together and a world of possibilities opens up, particularly for those interested in replacing some meat based dishes in their recipe box. I stumbled upon this combo in The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn years ago. As a side note, if you are looking to shrink your expenditures and you come across a used, or better still a library copy of this book, you will find a wealth (hahahaha) of ideas on how to economize in just about every category of domestic life. At any rate, the recommendation here is to mix lentils and bulgur and cook them in water (2 water to 1 lentils and bulgur). This mix can then be used in essentially the same way that you would use ground meat. We used the ridiculously large amount that I made this week in veggie burgers and for a taco/burrito night. The bulgur-lentil mix performed beautifully in both of these areas. My son was particularly taken with his grainy beany tacos. I thought I’d share these simple, cheap, real food recipes with you, just in case you need to recalibrate too – or just in case you’re looking to save a little money and improve your family’s nutrition. Eat food, real food.

Lentil Bulgur Mixture - from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 4c water
  • 1c lentils (I used plain brown, super cheap, lentils)
  • 1c bulgur

Bring water to a boil, add lentils and bulgur and simmer for 45 minutes.  Do check and stir periodically as they will stick on the bottom, particularly if you over cook.  When finished, I turn off heat, leave cover on and let them steam a bit to make the bottom sticking phenomenon go away (works with rice too, by the way).  I doubled this recipe and we now have far more of this mixture than we can use in a reasonable amount of time.  I will try freezing, but remember that this is an expandy food when you make your own.  This mixture should be refrigerated once cooked.  Feel free to make the mixture ahead of time by a few days and save yourself some meal prep time.

happy little burgers waiting to go in the oven

Lentil Bulgur Burgers - adapted from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 2 c lentil-bulgur mixture
  • 2 c bread crumbs
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c chopped green pepper (opt.)
  • 4 T mixed herbs (I use bail, oregano and thyme)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 eggs (flax, soy, or chicken)
  • 2 T soy sauce or Bragg’s plus milk to make 1/2 c (I used almond)
  • 1/4 c sunflower seeds (opt., but I like the texture)

Preheat oven to 350 if you want to bake your burgers.  Mix the first six ingredients.  Add eggs and soy sauce/milk and mix well.  Stir in sunflower seeds.

amazingly yum and easy pretzel rolls

If you have time, chill for at least half and hour (I did it without the chill and it wasn’t a problem).  Form into patties.  Fry 10 minutes per side, or bake (on parchment or lightly greased cookie sheet) at 350 ten minutes per side.  The fried version has a more burger-like appearance, so if you’re looking to convince someone, that may be a better approach.  I find baking easier in process and for cleanup.  We served our burgers on these pretzel rolls from our friend Somer at Good Clean Food. Traditional burger toppings plus a little kimchi for me. Delish!

Lentil Bulgur Tacos

I must confess that I got a bit slapdash here, so I’m going to describe my procedure without measurements as I would be completely fabricating quantities any other way.   Saute chopped onion until soft.  Add minced garlic.  Add chili powder, cumin, and a little soy sauce or Bragg’s.  When fragrant, add enough lentil bulgur mixture to satisfy your crew.   Turn heat up a little if you’d like to get some browning on your taco filling.  Cook until flavors meld and all is warm.  Serve with taco shells or tortillas and fixings.

No chemicals, no gimmicks, little packaging, no “time savers” (although it really didn’t take long), and no weird factory substitutes.   Just food, real food.  Cheap and delish.

Pickle Power

Okay you fabulous people.  I had no idea that so many others had experienced the pain of my pickle …. perplexity…. ok, that’s not a word, but it just had to be a “p” word (and the pre-K crowd goes wild….).  I have learned a great deal since posting about my frustration with standard pickles bought from an above average American grocery store.  My key conclusion: I will not likely be buying pickles again, and if I do, it will be something like Bubbie’s fermented pickles.  The price of these all natural probiotic beauties, however, makes them a candidate for a special treat rather than everyday lunch purchasing.  Other conclusions I’ve drawn: pickles are both a flavor and a process, and it is useful to figure out what you’re after if you want to satisfy your most dear pickle cravings.  I’ve realized that most of my pickle cravings are flavor rather than process or probiotic related, and so I am particularly interested in fresh and refrigerator pickles at the moment.  But WOW! did I get some great suggestions.

A quick gleaning of your wisdom (and an overwhelming craving for BBQ – which I satisfied with seitan, something we’ll discuss when I get it down) led me to put together what I can only humbly and realistically call a sweet and sour pickle salad.  The children were unimpressed, but I can’t say I’m surprised.  Frankly after giving them the equivalent of Lucky Charms pickles, I’m not sure I’ll ever get them to eat the real deal.  My husband and I enjoyed them immensely, eating them as a side dish, layering them on top of our BBQ, eating them straight out of the bowl, yes it was a bit of a fresh pickle orgy.  So, while simple, I thought I’d share with you my quick not quite pickle recipe in case you, too, are reeling from my pickle revelations.  These still have more sugar than I would like, but I guess I need a little weaning where my pickle expectations are concerned as well.

Chemical Free Simply Fabu Sweet and Sour Pickles

  • 1 large English style or 2 medium whatever you have on hand pickles (this is still me – please don’t get stuck on the type of cuke for pity’s sake)
  • 1/4 onion cut into slices (or however your crew will eat them)
  • 2 c water
  • 4T sugar
  • 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2t celery seeds
  • 3t salt
  • 1t mustard seeds

Slice cucumber however you like.  Put cukes and onions in bowl that will hold your cukes and some liquid – ideally to cover cukes.  Bring water just to a boil and add sugar – take off heat to avoid scalding sugar and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add other ingredients and stir.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.  Pour over cukes and allow to sit for at least half an hour.  Longer would be better and a chill would be nice too.  We ate ours at room temp and straight out of the bowl until all that was left was the brine.  De-lish and no HFCS or Yellow 5 in sight.  The cucumber plants that are growing like crazy are all the more lovely to me now.  Soon we shall be drowning in cukes for me to experiment with.  And thanks to your generosity I have many options to choose from.  Can’t wait.

C’mon, Really?

So one of the things Big Sis and I talk about a lot (at least to each other when everyone else has tuned out) is the various forms that sugar takes and how much of it hides in unexpected places.  Having eliminated most processed foods from our diet, the whole question of hidden sugar is not something I pay that much attention to anymore.  And it is at that moment, isn’t it, when we realize our vulnerability.

I’ve mentioned (once or twice only, I’m sure) that my daughter is a pretty picky eater.  We struggle to find foods that she enjoys that are also healthful and that I am willing to provide her with.  Recently we discovered that she truly enjoys pickles.  She is CRAZY for pickles.  Now, she will try any pickle, but (no shocker here) she is particularly fond of bread and butter pickles.  I know, I know.  They are sweeter pickles, Little Sis, duh.  Did you really think they didn’t have any sugar?  No, I just didn’t check to see how MUCH sugar.  Nor did I read the list of ingredients…. Shame on me.  Buyer be-freaking-ware all the time.  After I watched my daughter scooping handfuls of these pickles into her mouth, I became quite suspicious….  Turned the jar to read the label, and promptly put the lid back on the jar, moving it to the far end of the table.  With just 8 of these delicious little pickle chips my sweetie pie had eaten the equivalent of half a snicker’s bar worth of sugar, or in this case, high fructose corn syrup.  Swell.  The real kicker was the discovery of Yellow 5 in the ingredient list.  What’s that you say?  Yellow 5?  You mean the one on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list of foods everyone should avoid?  Yes, that Yellow 5 (which is found in countless other processed foods, by the way).  Super Swell.

So I put on my detective cap…  Next trip to Wegman’s (where I purchased the relatively affordable and inedible in my home pickles) and discovered that in the “regular” food aisle they only carry their own bread and butter pickles.  No choice.  There are bread and butter pickles that use regular sugar in place of HFCS, and also those who use turmeric in place of Yellow 5 (all of this to keep the pickles from being bluish instead of creepy greenish).  None of these options were available to me.  Bummer.   On my next trip, I remembered to look at pickles in the “natural foods” section – the weird store within a store that Wegman’s has (that I think is really annoying and confusing, but maybe that’s just me).  In this section, Wegman’s offered it’s store brand organic bread and butter pickles which contain sugar (rather than HFCS), and were noticeably less creepy green because of the lack of Yellow 5, or any other coloring agent, in the jar.  These pickles were significantly more expensive, and the sugar count (albeit a sugar I preferred) was still shockingly high.  My children were with me for this investigation and I allowed them to bully me into buying these organic wonder pickles on the condition that we would also buy dills and they would give them a shot and that their bread and butter intake would be limited at my discretion with no complaining (yes, I had them sign a contract).

I was kind of stunned by this whole thing, which may be silly.  It reminded me of a few simple rules that I tend to get lazy about since I make most of my own food.

1) Most food manufacturers produce the food that profits them the most.  Period.  That means high fructose corn syrup and toxic dye so the pickles don’t look blue.

2) With processed foods if it doesn’t taste sweet or salty, it only has some sugars and salts; if it does taste sweet or salty, it has an enormous amount of sugars and or salts.

3) There are prices that are too high when it comes to getting a vegetable into picky daughter’s  (or anyone else’s) belly.  Yellow 5 and HFCS are on that list for me.

4) While Wegman’s has gone to great lengths to label their store brand foods as being gluten-free, vegan, food allergy problem, whatever when appropriate (and I applaud them for this, really) none of these things mean a food is good for you.  Potato chips should be the big tip-off.  What?  They’re vegan, right?  I bought them the fancy grocery store – they must be good for you….

5) More often than not, the processed food that I’m buying (with guilt and trepidation) is only a shadowy substitute for a real food that I could make in my own kitchen without an enormous amount of time or energy expended.

On that note, I am taking up the great pickle research project.  I have canned pickles before and frankly, I wasn’t thrilled with the result.  I will look for recipes for this again, but will only undertake that task if my cucumber plants go INSANE.  Instead, I believe I will opt for fresh pickles.  I’ve found a few recipes, but most of them go something like this: cucumbers, onions, salt, celery seed, white vinegar, and sugar.  Dissolve dry into wet, pour over veggies.  Let sit overnight in fridge – done.  But will they last?  Doesn’t matter over here.  What about the sugar?  See that’s the beauty of doing it at home; I can cut it and then reduce it more over time to fool the little stinker into liking them that way.  What if they’re blue?  Frankly my dear…..

Anybody Looking for a Date?

At left you see my memory of animal crackers.  They came in a cardboard box shaped like a train car.  It had a little white string handle that you could use to carry the box.  And if I was VERY good at the store, there was a shot I could score a box of my very own.  Flash forward approximately eight thousand years….

At a recent school event, the kids were offered a choice of a bag of animal crackers, a bag of animal crackers with icing, and a bag of animal crackers with icing and sprinkles….  in case you’re wondering, both of mine looked at me to see if I would stop them, and then went for the whole freaking hog.  The terror I’d been watching on my son’s face at the prospect of joining the big kids next year had completely paralyzed me… and so they ate animal crackers with shapes and sprinkles.  We sat down with our future fellow kindergarteners and they downed as many as they could while I checked out the nutrition information.  They surrendered  their ill-gotten booty gracefully about halfway through the bag, without seeming to have enjoyed them overly much.  It was the thrill of the bag and the sprinkles, in my opinion.

While I’ve always enjoyed dessert, I have come to realize that compared to others, my sweet tooth is, in fact, reasonably tame (my salt and fat teeth are different stories).  Lately, however, I’ve been overwhelmed by sugar cravings.  I don’t understand it really.  I’ve not gone on a sugar binge (what usually gets these things going) or purchased a whole bunch of sweet treats to tempt myself into the sugar pit… and yet, I can’t seem to get sweet things out of my head.  Having completed their school year, my children are with me much more of the day, and they too, seem to be suffering from sugar deprivation…  In order to continue on our current chosen culinary path, it is critical to prevent a sense of continual deprivation  And so, I return to my quest to find sweet treats that we can munch on periodically without any appreciable  spike (and subsequent crash) in energy and without worsening our current cravings…. I also want to help my kids to appreciate the yum that can be found in simpler treats, without all of the high fructose corn syrup bells and whistles.  As usual when I’m seeking healthy culinary inspiration, I turned to my sister.

While we were at the beach, Big Sis shared her awesome brownie bites which my husband and I and we both LOVED them but my children, not so much.  Too dark chocolatey tasting.  Just didn’t work for them.  Knowing they would only serve as an adult decadence, I whipped up a batch of brownie bites for my husband and myself to enjoy (and wow they are SO good), and quickly cleaned out the food processor.  I stared at my counter where the ingredients were still strewn and decided to use the brownie bite as a template, and vowed to keep it as simple in taste as possible.  Thus was born the Oaty Bite.

Oaty Bites - makes about 15 bites, unless you’d rather have many small bites or a few big honkin’ bites

  • 16 dates
  • 1T plus 1t maple syrup
  • 1T plus 1t water
  • 1t vanilla
  • 1/4 c hemp seeds (or whatever nut or seed you prefer)
  • 1.5 c rolled oats, plus a handful for rolling

In a food processor, combine the dates and the liquids.  Process until as smooth as you can get it.  Add the hemp (I chose hemp because of the nutritional boost and the relative small size to prevent picky kid rejection) and the oats and process until a ball forms and the mixture is sticky but not too terribly wet to the touch.  You should be able to form shapes with it.  If it seems to sticky, add some more oats.  Form into balls and roll in oats. We prefer ours cool and so keep them in the fridge.  There.  Voila.  Done.  No stinkin’ icing.  No flipping’ sprinkles.  Just simple ingredients with a sweet touch. Perhaps next time I’ll add a little cinnamon and try to shape one like a gorilla.  Delish.

In Repose

It’s astonishing what can happen on vacation.  Two days ago I found myself asking what day it was – on Monday of a weeklong trip that started on Saturday.  This is unprecedented.  Typically, my uncertainty about the day is a sure sign that I have “vacated;” I have become untethered from my everyday life enough to truly rest in some way.  It’s interesting that this trip is the one that has made me fell so rested so quickly.  We are a large group.  We are a noisy group.  We are a diverse group in terms of our vacation wants and wishes.  We accommodate one another, to be sure, but I don’t think that’s what is doing it.

I think part of my relaxation stems from being with a group of people who will NOT ask me why I won’t let my kids have cupcakes for lunch every day, or how I could possibly give up fast food, or why I would bother to cook from scratch when there’s so much good food already made in the stores.  I am in my home food community.  I am not subjected to TV ads, radio ads, bulletin boards for stuff I shouldn’t, and don’t particularly want, to eat.  The beach that I’m visiting has no boardwalk, and therefore no french fries (for which I admit an overwhelming weakness), cotton candy (which I find repulsive), or any of hundreds of non-food items for sale just steps away from your towel.  For our merry band, beach snacking is not about a tasty treat you can only get at the beach, but about grabbing a bite between dipping your feet in the ocean, playing a quick game of football, and digging for sand puppies and shells.

For us, snacking on the beach looks merely like a more portable version of snacking at home.  It’s not a bag of chips (although I admit that I do love chips); it’s not a bunch of juice boxes and a package of cookies.  It’s a handful of items (some a little salty, some a little sweet) that might actually stand a chance of nourishing the weary sandcastle builder.   A box of Triscuits (Big Sis and I giggled to discover we had both brought MANY Triscuits with us for just this purpose), a mess of almonds, and a container of pecans and raisins.  To drink?  Cold water.  Yes, we are on vacation.  Yes, that means it should be special.  To me, this has come to mean that I should not have to end the day feeling sick from eating everything I’ve ever craved or move toward bedtime resenting my children for having their 10th meltdown of the day when their sugar induced highs come to an abrupt end.  Sitting with this group and watching our children snack on this pristine beach, I’ve been thinking a lot about snacking and how snacks, perhaps more than any other category of foods seem to have left the purpose of nourishment behind altogether.

Our snacks are supposed to be tasty, a treat, delicious, creamy, gooey, colorful, salty-fatty good; if they are for kids, they are also supposed to be fun, silly, packaged individually, strewn with characters from movies and television shows, and downright entertaining to eat.  Good grief.  What if a snack was just a snack?  What if a snack was simply a small amount of food that kept you reasonably satisfied until the next meal?  What if we began to think of our snacks as nourishment rather than seeing them as entertainment?

On our beach outing, my daughter expressed an objection to the snacks I had available (shocker); I pointed out to her that we were not at home and that my beach bag is not a restaurant.  This is what I have; these are your options (only a slight variation from my usual snack time response to picky eater grief).  “Choose one so you can finish up and we can look for shells.”  And she did.  A handful of almonds, two crackers and a couple of glugs of water later, we returned to our oceanside fun.  Nourished, refreshed, and ready for plenty more family beach business, which really is the point, isn’t it?

Small Mouths, Small Bites

Happy day after Mother’s Day! I was planning to give you a garden tour this morning to celebrate the new plantings that were part of our Mother’s Day festivities, but the rain has chased me inside… well, okay, I never made it out.  A garden update is in our future, and it’s very exciting, at least in my humble opinion.  Dead seedlings were replaced and the garden is exploding, and when the sun comes out, I’ll show you.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about lunch.  Okay, I think it’s pretty clear to all of you that I’m thinking about food most of the time, but lunch has been on my mind ever since I registered my wee ones for kindergarten in the fall.  I have already resigned myself to packing lunches daily, a plan that was reinforced when I looked at the school lunch menu – but that’s another post for a day when I’m already in a bad mood, because it will have a pretty high percentage of rant in it.  For this gentle rainy morning, I just want to explore a trend that has emerged in yummy, nutritious, fun lunches for me and my little people.  I’ve stumbled upon a recurring theme.  Small bites.

In Big Sis’ discussion of Lunchables (Lunchables are also a zen threatener for me, so I’ll be brief here), she conceded that the packaging of these products (many of which have as much sugar as a Snickers bar, BTW) is kid-sexy.  Little compartments, small amounts, a variety that they can choose from, assemble, control.  The bento box craze reveals some of the same appeal.  Compartments that contain small amounts of various bits that they can choose between, manipulate, control. Honestly, this has also been one of my favorite things about eating Ethiopian food or tapas: variety, tastes, experiments.

So with these thoughts in mind, I decided to put a lunch together that really offered as many different bites a I could fit on the plate, a strong element of choice, some possibilities for assembly and experimentation.  I included one new food, and some things they’ve been reluctant to eat in the past as well as some old standbys.  This was not revolutionary; I’ve offered my kids strange little collections of food before, but I’ve not been this deliberate about it, nor have I ever watched and listened as carefully while we ate.  I tried to be quiet (this is hard for me) and see what choices they would make without pressure. This lunch was remarkably successful.  Was it the quantities?  Was it the variety?  The fact that they couldn’t help but have a healthy lunch if they ate any two of the items on the plate?  I have no idea; what I DO know is that they both ate most of it.  And my little picky one ASKED about 2/3 of the way through the meal if she could skip the rest of the celery if she ate all the other veggies, because the flavor of celery is okay, but she doesn’t like the way it feels in her mouth….  If you’ve eaten with my daughter, you know this is not the way our meal conversations usually go.  Delightful.  And Daddy and I got to finish the dip which they liked with the apples and on the bagel, but not on everything else.  My preference was to have it with the celery and banana.

Nutty Lunch Dip

  • 4 T peanut butter
  • 4 T plain yogurt (I used almond yogurt)
  • 1/2 t maple syrup
  • generous shake cinnamon

Ready for another miraculous cooking procedure?  Put all those bits in a bowl and stir them thoroughly to make smooth yum.  Adjust ingredients to taste.  If it seems like a little more sweet would be good, try a little more cinnamon first; you may be surprised.  When you’ve got it tasting the way you want, dip a few things in it.  Let your inner five your old take control of the lunch plate.  Pretend you don’t already know what tastes good together; you just might find something new hiding in the guise of an old trusted and predictable vegetable.  Nutty small bites for all!  Delish.