Easy Granola, 6 Ingredients

People and tastebuds are funny. My daughter can't stand peppers unless they are roasted, and happens to love roasted red pepper hummus. My son is anti-cheese *except* he loves macaroni and cheese *only* if it is made by my mother. He is kind of anti-dairy except for the fact that he could consume his body weight in yogurt every day. Food is like politics and religion in a way. We all draw our lines in the sand somewhere. I'm okay with that. 

My 5 year old son is usually a purist with his yogurt but lately he's been game to add some texture with granola. This super easy recipe is so easy, he could make himself if push came to shove. It's a staple in our home! We switch up the dried fruit to add variety and occasionally substitute maple syrup for the honey. 

Granola

Ingredients
2 cups rolled oats
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup chopped dried fruit of your choice

Method
Preheat the oven to 375. 
Combine the oats, coconut oil, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Spread out on parchment paper and drizzle with honey. Bake for 14 - 17 minutes. Once cool, add dried fruit and toss well. 

Big Pig and the Kids

We pigged out. 

I mean it. We bought a 23 pound pig from an amazing butcher called Harlem Shambles and slow roasted it whole on the grill. It was an exercise in bravery as well as grilling and all of the credit goes to my husband, who has wanted to do this forever. As an aside, Harlem Shambles gets some of their meat from Kinderhook Farm, in upstate NY, where my family has enjoyed wonderful farmstay vacations and eaten some of the best eggs I've ever tasted. 

Back to the pig. 

prepping the pig

So we get this thing home and my husband starts prepping it for the grill. I figured we'd just put salt and pepper on it and call it a day. But he had a whole plan that involved stuffing the cavity and tying it up, and he's the Grill Master, so here's what went down: 

stuffing the pig cavity

He stuffed the cavity with fresh parsley, rosemary, garlic, lemon and onion and seasoned the whole thing with salt and pepper. The prep work was no small feat... it took over 45 minutes, involved some minor cuts from super sharp knives and there were at least two discussions about not having an apple for the traditional "apple in the mouth" photo. And then, voila! 

pig!

After figuring out how to put it on the grill, he set it to 225 degrees fahrenheit and slow cooked it for about 4 hours. Here's how it looked about halfway through: 

rotisserie pig

The cooking twine was a bit of a mess and didn't hold together as expected, but c'est la vie. Meanwhile, the kids were both fascinated and disgusted. When the cooking process was done, here's what he brought into the kitchen: 

Big Pig!

Delicious feast! My family and our guests descended on this thing like characters from Lord of the Flies. All of the kids had a taste of the tongue and loved it. Loved it! They also bravely tasted the ears and the cheek (which was particularly succulent and flavorful). My 5 year old announced that he wanted to "open it up and taste the brain" but that didn't happen (thankfully. That concept made me pretty squeamish). Two people tried the eye, which I have to admit, also made me a little disgusted. Only my two year old (and all of the adults) tried the snout. The rest of the kids backed off of that one. Not surprisingly, a 23 pound pig can feed way more than 8 people, and even after sending our guests home with doggy bags (piggy bags?), we're still knee deep in Big Pig leftovers. 

Two of my kids wanted it for camp lunch Monday and I used it for dinner to make noodles with pork and broccoli. We might be on pig hiatus for a while, but it was well worth it. 

noodles with pork and broccoli

I'll use the bones to make and freeze a stock and look forward to creating some tasty soups when the weather gets cooler. Recipes and suggestions are always welcomed! 

Kids and Salad

I've seen and heard of kids eating all kinds of salads. I see it with some of my friends' kids, and on Pinterest that kids eat all kinds of raw veggies and salads for both lunch and dinner. It hasn't been our experience here. While my kids do eat vegetables, they're usually cooked in some way (with the exception of carrots and celery). 

arugula salad with endive and parmesan

So last week when my older daughter (9 years old) had a sleepover with my niece, I was shocked to get a text that she had devoured the salad my sister made for dinner that night. "Must have that recipe," I texted back. And boom! Just like that, a new chapter has begun chez moi. I went out the next day and bought the ingredients: arugula, endive, parmesan and lemon and served it at a dinner party where it was gobbled up by four out of the five kids, and by all of the adults. The salad itself is nothing earth shattering. We're not recreating the wheel here. But it is enormously comforting to see that if you keep offering new foods, that one day kids will be comfortable enough to give it a go. 

My daughter even requested it for lunch today. A first! She says she loves the spicy arugula and the mild endive mixed together. And she's a huge parmesan cheese fan. Plus, most things taste amazing with olive oil and lemon. 

lunch with salad!

Do your kids eat salad? If so, what kind? 

Arugula Salad with Endive and Parmesan

8 oz baby arugula 
1 endive, sliced
4 oz Parmesan, sliced with a cheese plain
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil to taste

Toss all salad ingredients together. Drizzle olive oil and squeeze lemon juice on top. Combine everything and eat immediately. 

Beginning of Summer Madness

Is it me, or is the beginning of summer filled with chaos for everyone? 

Between the end-of-year school events and figuring out the new summer logistics, it's pretty hectic around here lately. Apologies for the lull in blog posts. The cells in my brain are swirling around trying to catch hold of the new schedules: my eldest child is in camp one week from 9-5, my middle child is in camp one week from 1-3:30 and then poof! The next Monday the entire schedule shifts again for a new routine. I had to draw it out to figure out the plan. 

By the time I get it all figured out, we'll be on to the next thing and in the meantime, there are still three lunches to pack, breakfasts and dinners to be made and work to be done. 

Sheesh. 

We're in the midst of planning a great update for LaLa Lunchbox to coincide with the busy Back to School season so stay tuned for more info about that...

The Thing About Comfort Food

When you think of comfort food, what comes to mind? My mom always says it's her mom's fried chicken wings or a baked potato.  And sure, while fried chicken wings are comforting in their decadence and deliciousness, they are not the first thing that I yearn for. As for baked potatoes, I realize this sounds crazy to some, but they never appealed to me. It's easy to find goodness in a great array of foods that are labeled "comfort foods" (like chocolate chip cookies, big juicy burgers, chicken soup or cheesy pastas). But what is it about comfort foods that make them so comforting anyway? What exactly are we looking for in comfort food? 

roast chicken and sweet potato

I've spent a fair amount of time these past few weeks helping a loved one who just had major surgery. Last week, I made dinner for her kids while she was in the hospital and yesterday I brought groceries to cook in her kitchen for her family. Both times, I relied on my own definition of comfort food: simple roast chicken (dark meat only). For me, roast chicken is a return to home. To reliably delicious family dinners where I sat around a formica table for 18 years with my parents and sister and discussed the comings and goings of the day. Where we hashed out familiar family chatter and where I began to discover, embrace and enjoy the world and my place in it. I'm grateful for those evenings, and a large part of what I find comforting in the food is that return to the simple pleasures of the company of loved ones. 

The smell of my mom's roast chicken and the taste of juicy thigh meat with white rice soaked in chicken juices is, to me, the most comforting food ever. When I was little, we had vegetable minimums; my mom told us we had to eat 4 green beans or two pieces of broccoli. I never had a problem with that, and in fact, green beans alongside that chicken and rice absolutely completes the comfort meal for me. And we must have eaten rice three days a week with dinner. I absolutely love rice. 

So as I set out to make a difficult time even slightly easier for my loved ones, I returned to my concept of comfort food and made roast chicken. I made some additions and modifications to suit the tastebuds of others and included a spinach salad with eggs, onions and bacon with a warm bacon vinaigrette that I knew would be appreciated. 

What do you seek in comfort food? 

Roast Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potato Chips

roasting chicken and sweet potato chips

8 drumsticks
2 large sweet potatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 375. Arrange the chicken on a baking tray lined with either aluminum foil or parchment paper. Sprinkle salt, garlic and thyme on both sides of the meat. Drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Slice the sweet potatoes into rounds. Arrange on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Roast for approximately 35 minutes or until the juices of the chicken run clear and the sweet potato chips are slightly browned and crispy. 

Spinach Salad with Bacon, Eggs, Onions and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

10 ounces baby spinach
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 package of bacon
6 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Spinach Salad with Bacon and Eggs

Toss the spinach and mushrooms in a large bowl. Fry the bacon in a pan (I used a cast iron skillet). Remove the bacon and  reserve most of the bacon grease. Fry the onion in the same pan, in the bacon grease. Cut the bacon into small pieces and add to the salad. Remove the onion from the pan and when slightly cooled, add to the salad. While the skillet is still hot, add the mustard, sugar and red wine vinegar with the reserved bacon grease and stir vigorously so that the mustard clumps dissolve and a fragrant dressing magically materializes. Add the sliced egg to the salad and pour on the warm vinaigrette. Special thanks to The Pioneer Woman for the idea of this recipe! 

10K for LLS

before the 10K

I had a magnificent morning! 

I love to run. I love when music is blasting at an inappropriate volume in my ear as I propel myself forward. I love knowing that the sweat is well earned. I have some of my most productive, clearest thoughts while I'm running and for me, running is a solo adventure. It's precious time by myself. 

it's inspiring to be surrounded by so many motivated people!

it's inspiring to be surrounded by so many motivated people!

Today, I ran the Oakley Mini 10K, the world's original women-only road race, to benefit the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, a cause near and dear to my heart. I joined over 7,800 other women, all of whom had dedicated their morning to completing 6.2 miles around New York's Central Park. It's an overwhelming feeling for me; though I'm dedicated and content to complete the run by myself, I'm inspired by the crowd. 

In fact, I felt a bit choked up with emotion during the first mile, as I saw women of all ages, stages and fitness levels, filled with determination. And here we all are, lucky enough to take in the beauty of Central Park on a fine Saturday morning. 

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of so many folks in my life, I raised over $18,000 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Those funds will be used to fund research for new, life saving and life-improving drugs and for patient and family education and services. My team, Moms In Training, raised over $400,000 for today's event. This is a victory! 

The best part of the 10K? That was definitely when I saw my family at the finish line. Feeling so blessed today. 

Guide to Safe, Nut-Free Lunches

The school year is winding down, but all kids still need to eat lunch every day. Thanks to the strict nut-free guidelines at my son's preschool (soon to be my daughter's preschool!), I've learned about a ton of products that are both nut-free and produced in a facility that does not process nuts. As a nut-allergic person, it is incredibly comforting to be in a school that takes this seriously. Thankfully, my son doesn't seem to have any food allergies but because of me and as a family, we're hyper aware of those who do. As we approach a new lunch packing season, for families with kids headed to day camp, I wanted to repost this guide to help those who need to pack nut-free lunches for whatever reason. 

Below you'll find a guide to safe, nut-free lunches, largely based on a great, detailed list that I received from my son's school. A note about safe, nut free lunches: fresh, whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables are always a great inclusion into any lunch. And always nut free! If you have product recommendations to add to this list, please add them to the comments below so that others can benefit too. Happy summer! 

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #1

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #1

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #1

Cheese and crackers is always a fun lunch for kids, especially if you add variety with a couple of different cheeses and crackers. 

Here are some crackers that are produced in a facility that does not process nuts:
* Kavli Crispbread - 5 grain
* Back to Nature - Harvest Whole Wheats
* Carr's Whole Wheat Crackers
* Mary's Gone Crackers Original

Hummus produced in a nut-free facility:
* Sabra Hummus
* Tribe Hummus

Want to make your own? Try these:
* Hummus
* Black Bean Dip
* Carrot White Bean Dip

Pretzels made in a facility that does not process nuts:
* Happy Herbert's Pretzels
* Unique Pretzels
* Annie's Pretzel Bunnies

 

 Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #2

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #2

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #2

My kids love lunch on a stick. We like to use tongue depressors for our fruit and cheese kebabs.

Yogurts processed in a nut-free facility include:
* Stonyfield Farm yogurt
* So Delicious Vanilla coconut yogurt (dairy free)
* Chobani yogurt
* Fage yogurt

For popcorn kernels to pop at home (we're huge fans!) you can use Arrowhead Mills Organic Popcorn Kernels (also gluten free). 

 

 

 

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #3 

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #3

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #3

We are big fans of sunbutter. It's not hard to make your own at home, as long as you can find sunflower seeds that are packaged in a nut-free facility and not roasted in peanut oil.  My son loves it either with jam or banana slices. You can pack sunbutter as a sandwich or a roll up (made with a tortilla). Sunbutter Sunflower Seed Spread is processed in a nut-free environment and is also gluten free. Cascadian Farm makes Spreadable Fruit, which is made in a nut-free facility. 

* Happy Herbert's* Unique Pretzels* Annie's Pretzel Bunnies

Breads made in a nut-free facility include: 
* Udi's Whole Wheat Bread
* Rudi's Multigrain Bread

Tortillas made in a nut-free facility include: 
* Rudi's Tortilla Wraps
* Alvarado St. Bread Tortillas

Cheese Sticks packaged in a nut-free facility include:
* Organic Valley Stringles
* Horizon String Cheese

Other nut-free facility lunch options: 

Homemade snacks: 
My favorite nut-free and dairy free granola bars, made with Enjoy Life Foods dairy free chocolate chunks
Oatmeal Banana Bars
Dairy Free Banana Bread made with Earth Balance

Graham crackers: 

* New Morning Organic Cinnamon or Honey Grahams
* Annie's Bunny Grahams
* Mi-del Honey Graham Crackers

Cereal:
* Kashi Cinnamon Harvest or Autumn Wheat
* Cascadian Farm Organic Cinnamon Raisin Granola or Maple Brown Sugar Granola
* Cheerios

Rice Cakes:
* Lundberg Organic Brown Rice Cakes or Organic Caramel Corn Rice Cakes or Cinnamon Rice Cakes

Fruit Snacks:
* Just Tomatoes etc. - Dried Fruits and Veggies (also gluten free)
* Little Ducks Organics - Tiny Fruits (also gluten free)  

 

 

 

This is What It Feels Like to Have an Anaphylactic Allergic Reaction

lifesaving allergy meds

This post is dedicated to the parents of kids with life threatening allergies. I've managed my fish and nut allergies pretty successfully all my life, and was raised to read labels and question ingredients. But accidents happen. In this post, I've laid out some strategies that have worked for me personally, and explanations about what it feels like to have an anaphylactic reaction, and why I act stupidly sometimes with the hope that it provides a bit of clarity to parents whose allergic kids may not be able to fully communicate during an allergy attack. 

The nuances of allergies can be complicated to explain to outsiders. For example, the reaction my body has to a walnut is far more severe than the reaction to a Brazil nut and yet they both cause anaphylaxis. Same with various fish. Over the years, I've unfortunately had the opportunity to gather this detailed data and have listed my top three tips below for eating out of my home. Sometimes, even after nearly four decades, I make mistakes and eat something that causes a bad allergic reaction. I have to live with this burden of guilt and regret when this happens and at the same time, I'm incredibly grateful to live. This weekend was my first allergic reaction in three years, and the first time that I've needed the epi pen since 2010. I'm still a work in progress. 

My strategies for eating out 
1. Avoid. There are many foods that I avoid completely and only eat if I've made myself because I've been burned in the past. This includes foods like pesto (walnuts), banana bread (walnuts), barbecue sauce (anchovy) and marshmallows (fish gelatin). If I'm at all doubtful that a food is safe, I don't eat it. There are plenty of other options in the world.
2. Lip Test. I usually do a "lip test," where I put a suspicious food on my lips and wait a few minutes. If I'm allergic, I'll get a hive immediately and I know not to eat the food. I've been enormously fortunate with this strategy and would recommend it to anyone with known food allergies that react immediately to contact with skin. If you aren't sure whether your skin reacts, and you have been told otherwise by your allergist, this wouldn't be an option for you.
3. Clean Hands and Utensils for All. When I'm at the grocery store, the bakery or anywhere else that I may be purchasing food where there are known allergens and potential cross contamination, I ask whomever is helping me to put on a fresh pair of gloves. I request newly washed ice cream scoopers, newly washed tongs, you name it. These days, many people are accommodating to the request. If it's an issue, however, you should question whether you want to spend a penny at that establishment. 

Note: these are things that have worked for me, but if your gut says it wouldn't be a smart experiment for you or for your child, or if your doctor has cautioned you not to vary at all from her recommendations, obviously do what feels right. This is not clinical advice by any means. 

photo courtesy of WebMD

photo courtesy of WebMD

What it feels like to have an anaphylactic reaction 
The worst part of an allergic reaction is the fear. Allergic reactions are painful, sure. But it's terrifying to feel something going wrong inside of your body and not be able to see any of it. I haven't had an allergic reaction in almost three years. This past weekend, my husband and I went to a party at a Russian restaurant about 45 minutes from our home, where I knew there would be lots of fish. I brought my Benadryl and my Ventolin inhaler but not my epi pen. I ate what I knew I could: brown bread and potatoes. After dancing and vodka, I was hungry. There was a dish on the table with pasta, chicken and tomato. I helped myself to some and danced some more. I needed another bite, and went back to the table to find different pasta and chicken. I put only the pasta on my plate and ate two giant forkfuls with the intention of going back immediately to dance. My husband came over as I was swallowing bite #2 and said "that's fish!" About 30 seconds later, I felt the reaction coming on and tried not to panic. I immediately took two Benadryl and two sprays from my inhaler.

The physical reaction
Beyond the panic, the first few moments of an allergic reaction make my mouth burn. My tongue feels prickly and I get hot throbbing hives on my lips. After about five minutes, I start to feel an ache in my esophagus as the hives move down my throat. I realize there's no going back because I've already swallowed the food. My next several hours are going to revolve around getting better. The panic makes my legs feel weak and I want to cry. 

We have a long ride ahead to get home. I have what feels like a golf ball stuck inside of my esophagus, my throat feels scratchy and and it's painful to swallow. I worry about the hives. I worry about my blood pressure plummeting. I try to contain the worry in my own head. I'm afraid to alarm the people around me because I need them to stay calm on my behalf, just in case. My stomach aches with both a sharp and dull pain that makes me want to close my eyes and sleep so that it will stop aching. Once the Benadryl kicks in, everything seems to be moving in slow motion. After about ten minutes, the hives on my lip go down, my tongue doesn't feel as swollen, numb and prickly but my stomach still aches. I know that I need the epi pen that's waiting for me at home. I'm full of regret. This is all my fault. I want to crawl out of my own skin from the knot in my stomach. I tell myself over and over that I can get through this and I'm grateful that my husband is with me. 

photo courtesy of surefoodsliving.com

photo courtesy of surefoodsliving.com

I don't always travel with my epi pen. Here's why:
1.  Stupidity. I don't think I'm ever going to have a problem, and even if I do, it's only under the worst circumstances that I need the epi pen. 
2. Cost. It's a burden to get refills of the epi pen. It requires time for an appointment with my allergist and there is a limit on the number of epi pens that insurance will cover at one time. Plus they're costly. Even if I go for years without having an allergic reaction that requires an epi pen, I need a non-expired one all the time. And not just one. I need one for my purse, one for my house, one for my car and another for just in case. 
3. The after effects. The epi pen makes my body jittery and uncomfortable. After the Benadryl and the inhaler, I feel drugged and uncomfortable in my own body. 

Every time I actually swallow a food that I'm allergic to, I need the epi pen. Every time. It took me years to come to terms with this because I hate the after effects of the epi pen but the secondary reaction that comes from not getting the epi pen (vomiting, hives the next day) is worse. Every time your child leaves the house, they should have the epi pen on hand. It's time I took my own advice. Within two minutes of getting the epi pen injection, I feel jittery and woozy all at once, but incredibly relieved that help is on the way. Everything feels like a monumental effort and yet I feel so speedy, like there's a highway full of race cars inside of me. I wait for the golf ball to go away and that's my signal that it's safe to go to sleep. This is what works for me, based on my personal experiences. 

The day after
After an allergic reaction like this, I feel bloated and out of it the next day. I need extra sleep. I try and put it behind me and thank my lucky stars that I got through it. I've never discussed the details about having a reaction with anyone so I don't know if this is standard. I haven't met so many people of my generation who have allergies like this, and when I have in the past, we've mostly compared notes on what we're allergic to and what medications we rely on. Do you have life threatening allergies? Is this generally how you feel during an attack? 

For nut-allergic families, I've compiled a Guide to Safe, Nut-Free Lunches. If your family or a family that you know has a child with life threatening allergies and you think they may benefit from speaking to an adult who has been through it, please email me. I'm happy to provide support.