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Category: Fun with Food



Around here, we love crispy pizza crust. The kind that is so thin you’re not even sure how it’s holding all that cheese. We also love pepperoni, though half our pizzas have sauteed kale and onions or mushrooms and feta. I like to experiment, and I love veggies on pizza, but as a whole, the family loves pepperoni best and I will suffer if there is none.

Homemade pizza sounds like one of those meals that should be easy to throw together, but around here it always becomes complicated. We make the crust right after breakfast so it can sit and rise and get a little sour. We stir the sauce together and let it simmer on the stove. We grate the cheese ourselves.

The first step though, is always the crust.

I love making homemade crust, rolling it, stretching it, letting it dangle from my hands, throwing it in the air pretending I’m a real Italian chef, watching gravity do it’s work. I love making homemade sauce, too. A can of crushed tomatoes, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar. I usually use the basic recipes found on The Fresh Loaf.

Parchment paper makes the transition from table to HOT HOT HOT pizza stone way smoother!

Before finding The Fresh Loaf, I had tried to make pizza crust so many times, each one an accomplishment because we hadn’t dialed a number to get pizza on the table. When I made it at home, though, it was always lacking. It was chewy and thick, and just not that great.

Then I learned some things about making pizza. The most important thing I learned is that you have to preheat the pizza stones while you preheat the oven, and your oven has to be hot. And not just hot, but HOT HOT HOT! 500 degrees is just about perfect.

Have you ever cooked anything in a 500 degree oven? Smoke goes everywhere, creating this thick fog in the air, and no matter how many windows and doors are open, no matter how many fans are blowing, it’s never enough, and I’m always nervous because I’m trying not to let anyone’s skin come near the heat.

Oh, the things we do for good food!

I’m trying to let my kids help but also intermittently screaming for them to back up and raise their arms in the air. We need to make sure no one gets set on fire. It’s truly stressful. (Please note that I’m dramatizing this a little. Though my kids get excited and a little rambunctious when it’s pizza-building time, I have enough common sense to ensure that my kids aren’t playing with things that could burn their skin clear off. When I do let them help, I pay close attention and am often guarding their arms so they don’t accidentally drop their precious skin onto the fire stones.)

Then, the pizza gets topped and I stick it in the oven and everyone breathes with anticipation.

Because about 10 minutes later, this slides onto our plates:


And everyone smiles and everyone chomps. I’m happy because almost everything we’re putting into our bodies is made from home.


Here, we value homemade foods and we often strive for them. When you live like that, though, even the easy meals become difficult. But for us, it’s still worth it.

What kinds of “easy” meals do you make? Have you ever tried homemade pizza?

I recently discovered How to Make Skillet Pizza. This has made pizza night a little easier. I’ll start tiny pizzas in skillets, then top the pizzas and let the cheese melt in a 425 degree oven. Those 75 degrees don’t seem like they would make a huge difference in the realm of smoke creation, but they really really do.



Last week I made pumpkin muffins. (I know it’s a little early, but I grew up in Florida where there are no seasons, so it’s all fair game year round. Besides, the grocery stores are selling pumpkins, so it’s fall now 🙂 )

I love muffins, but I don’t love when you buy them at a store and they become a dessert. I want my muffins to be healthy enough to replace a complete breakfast on a busy morning. Sweetened mostly with maple syrup or fruits, using whole wheat or another whole grain instead of all-purpose flour.

These kinds of recipes exist all over the internet. On this day, I landed on Cookie and Kate’s Healthy Pumpkin Muffins.

I had my kids help me. I really do believe that kids can help in the kitchen. Even my 18 month-old girl loves to be near when we cook. It’s never easy to involve small children, but for me it’s easier to bake with my kids than cook with them. Maybe because baking is usually something extra. If it fails, we don’t have to scrounge for dinner.

These muffins looked great in the original recipe. When we made them, they were a little dense but I’m sure that’s just because we didn’t follow the recipe exactly. At some point, we probably added extra flour or not enough oil or we stirred too long or something. But they were fun to make and they tasted pretty good. The best part came at the very end, when we sprinkled oats and cinnamon on top of the raw muffin batter.

I actually had the brilliant idea to put the oats and cinnamon in two tiny bowls. I instructed my kids to “pinch” the oat mixture and sprinkle. It’s almost like I got that idea from Pinterest. But I didn’t. I made it up myself.

When my little girl (18 months) saw this, she grabbed a chair from the table, scooted it to our island, and climbed up so she could participate. Then she did this:

Scooping oats from their canister and into the nearest other container. Something else Pinteresty that my 18 month old discovered on her own. That’s called natural.

I love when my kids entertain themselves. She actually didn’t make a giant mess or anything, either. I figured, even if she did, they’re just oats. Pretty easy clean up. Once I put the muffins in the oven, I moved my daughter to the table because she was having so much fun. As I was cleaning up from baking, this happened:


It’s okay though. “Amazing Grace” was playing on YouTube, so we were all reminded to just take it easy (okay, I was a little frantic, but we figured it out quickly).


What a beautiful song, right? Perfect for those frantic moments of motherhood when we have lots to do but our babies are yanking on our shirttails, drawing us near. My kids just got out their little “set” as they call it (a mini dustpan and brush) and swept up. Then, the kids went to bed and the next morning we ate pumpkin muffins. Win. Win. Win.

Fun With Food: Super Simple Cucumber Boats and a Salad for Me!

Fun With Food: Super Simple Cucumber Boats and a Salad for Me!

Let me start by saying something that I have said before. Lunch is a stressful time of day for me. I’m hungry. Three kids are hungry. I don’t have a plan, but I know that I want my kids to eat decent foods. I know I want them to have a somewhat balanced meal. But above all, I know I want their tummies to be satisfied when their plate is empty.

Sometimes I have the foresight to put together lunches for the week (I stay at home with my children, but preparing lunch every day gets old. I’d rather just do it once or twice a week. Oftentimes, prepared lunches means applesauce, peanut butter or tuna, crackers, a tiny orange or baby carrots and hummus.)

Well, recently lunch-planning has fallen to the wayside and I’ve been making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on leftover whole wheat hot dog buns, grabbing a handful of snapea crisps and calling it a day. You know, we don’t always have the time to cut strawberries into heart shapes and squeeze tiny yogurt snowflakes around a child’s plate.

I do enjoy getting creative with lunch though, and the other day I had an idea: Cucumber & Cream Cheese sandwiches.

I mixed softened cream cheese with a pinch of salt and a couple big pinches of dill. You really don’t have to measure these. Just start with a tiny bit and taste it and adjust if you want it saltier/dillier. (Dillier? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s a word.)
Here’s a pretty picture of the pieces all ready to be put together. It’s totally staged. If you make these, you don’t have to tip over your little bowl or line up the cucumbers like that. The cucumbers were pretty slippery (they are mostly water, after all) so didn’t make good sandwiches. I did little boats instead… sort of like canoes that don’t have seats.

Here’s the whole lunch:

Cucumber-cream cheese boats, multi-grain tortilla chips, dried mango, and yes, that’s fresh parsley next to the mango (my 3 year-old grabbed that from the counter and put it on his plate and I left it as a hilarious garnish because this was kind of a fancy lunch day.)

On this day, I actually made myself a lunch too. The original recipe is called “Quinoa, Goat Cheese & Arugula Mason Jar Salad” and is from Organize Yourself Skinny. You can find that recipe here. I’ll probably make the actual thing sometime in the near future, but this week I didn’t have enough mason jars, so I just dumped it all into a bowl at lunchtime. I also subbed feta for goat cheese and balsamic vinegar + avocado oil for the Italian dressing… I’m sure goat cheese and Italian dressing are great in this salad, but that’s just what I had.


Mason jar salads really are a fabulous idea for stay at home moms. Or working moms. Or dads. Really for anyone. How is your lunch prep? Are you an on-the-fly kind of foodie or a preparation gal?

Fun With Food: A Snacky Scrabble Game

Fun With Food: A Snacky Scrabble Game

**I admit that this is a little different from the usual Fun With Food posts, but stay with me. I promise this fits.

This morning’s Fun With Food brings us to a game that is dear to my heart. One that I have racked hours playing, in various scenarios, with all kind of friends and family. Yet my first love for this game is centered around my grandmother’s giant oval table, in her ancient dining room with a tall grandfather clock that ticked and chimed, next to french doors that never closed, sheer white curtains hanging over their glass and creating the opportunity for a barrier that was never taken.

My grandmother loved words. She loved literature, gardening, and history. Actually, she loved anything that could be learned, anything that could grow. She loved the act itself. She used to tell a story about how when she was a child her school did away with algebra and she and her classmates went to the teacher begging to be taught the ins and outs of the elusive x and y.

Yet her real love could only be found in literature and art history. Not a day went by without Shakespeare’s words. She knew them all. She believed learning could happen anywhere, and would say that the best way to learn American history was from Normal Rockwell and Ogden Nash. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother taught literature to a group of homeschooled teenagers. Together, they read Shakespeare and Homer. They acted out Macbeth (and others, I’m sure) because my grandmother always said the only way to really understand Shakespeare is to act it out, to get into the text and realize how the words created life. This is a Scrabble principle too. In Scrabble, we have to get into the confusion and find meaning.

I’m finding this is true in motherhood as well. In motherhood, we are given a tray of tiles that at first make no sense. Maybe we have tears, diapers, heartbeats, coos and gurgles, little arms that shake randomly, and a belly that is never full. These tiles continue to be moved around. The tray is confusing, full of non-words, difficult to sound out. We don’t know what to do with them. But we try anyway. We move our tiles around and we make their noises, we shuffle, we try to find meaning. Then, one day, we do. We place those life-giving tiles on the board and we draw new tiles. We start over. But not really. All new words must connect through existing ones.

In one of my college writing portfolios, I placed this in the front page: Dedicated to my grandmother, who unknowingly taught me to love words, whether mumbled by a weary man on a street corner, written in Shakespeare’s finest, or lost in a game of Scrabble.

Scrabble: scratch or grope around with one’s fingers to find, collect, or hold onto something.

Scrabble: the game where words are made.

In any game of Scrabble, both definitions are used. While we move 7 letters around on our narrow trays, we find newness in a void. Once an array of nothingness, we grope (we search blindly or uncertainly with the hands) until we find something useful, something that makes sense, something that makes our heart go “yay!” My grandmother added one rule to the game: if you learned a new word, you got 50 extra points. In the above dedication, I said that my grandmother unknowingly taught me to love words, but I know she was intentional. It’s just that her educational ways were not made from rules. She was simply sharing the things she loved. She was simply living and inviting others to live alongside her.

When I found these Scrabble Math Worksheets, I knew my kids would love them. My oldest had already found our game of Scrabble and was intrigued by the letter and numbers and set of squares that filled the board. We started our Scrabble life with those Math Worksheets, then we moved onto Word Building. My oldest was not content. He knew there was more to the game. So we tried a round of real Scrabble and we found that it was amazing.

Kids can play Scrabble! Who knew? (See: My Tips for Playing Scrabble with Preschoolers)

First thing this morning, my 5 year-old asked to play Scrabble. I poured myself a cup of coffee, filled a little bowl with trail mix, added almonds and cheerios, and we sat down to a lovely morning with words and food.
My 5 year-old is getting antsy to read and write. This morning he tried to spell the word “furnace” (FRNSHE). “Furnace. That box that heats up.”
I told him “FRNSHE” was not the correct spelling of furnace. He was disappointed, but then found the word “FUN” on his tray.

At my grandmother’s table, food was a part of Scrabble. My grandmother was always hours behind the rest of the world, so by the end of a game she was usually still finishing dinner. We were probably all snacking on our desserts.

This morning on our Scrabble table, we snacked on this:

Most of the yogurt-covered peanuts, banana chips, dried apricots and mango were gone by the time I took this photo. But this was the perfect pre-breakfast snack to have while Scrabbling.

There you have it, all the best thing in life: Fun! Food! Scrabble!

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

Fun With Food: Twizz-Literacy with a Side of Generosity

First, you must know that Twizzlers do not show up on our table very often.

The idea for Twizz-Literacy started with this marked down bag of Patriotic Twizzlers.

I have never been the kind of person who buys candy or desserts of any kind. Except when I’m pregnant… then I’ve been known to purchase 5 cartons of ice cream at once to fulfill a lingering craving. (It seems that taking advantage of a “Buy 2 Get 3 Free” sale saves some money by preventing me from going to the ice cream shop twice a week.)

I’ve also been known, when pregnant, to eat half the Now and Later’s before arriving to the Halloween party.

But I am not pregnant right right now, so sweets are not in abundant supply around here. But my kids love candy, and every once in a while I give in to their cute little faces.

You know, candy was just made for kids. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, and it’s colored to look festive and bright and wonderful, even though it’s really kind of evil.

Anyhow, Patriotic Twizzlers were $0.60 a couple weeks ago at Food Lion so I snagged them, thinking that we could do a little literacy activity with them.

I had recently purchased two of these sheet protectors from Dollar Tree:


I thought they would go perfectly with the Twizzlers. I thought my kids could peel the Twizzlers apart, cut them up and use them to make letters. Originally I thought I would print off 26 letter sheets. I thought I’d make my kids say each letter, then what sound it makes. Maybe a word that begins with that letter, too.

When it came time, though, I hadn’t printed off letter sheets and we all just needed a fun activity, so I just left the original papers in for inspiration and let them make the letters they wanted. Because right now the goal is just to make learning fun!

It definitely worked. My kids loved this activity! I sat with them to ensure that they actually made letters and didn’t just stuff their faces with sugar. I let them get creative, too! I’m a big fan of creativity. I love when my kids figure things out on their own. I did have to peel the Twizzlers apart because they were too sticky for my kids to do on their own. Maybe that’s because they’re from 4th of July, or maybe that’s how all Twizzlers are. I don’t know. I don’t usually try to peel Twizzlers.

Now, the thing you’ve all been waiting for:

My kids made brains.
And more brains.
Then they made rattlesnakes.

Oh yeah! We made letters too:


A few days later, we made lemonade and we colored watermelons onto paper plates and gave them away as “Happy Summertime” gifts, one for the girl who manages the office at our apartment complex and one to the most wonderful maintenance man anyone could ask for (these people receive gifts from us a lot because we love them and it’s super easy to just walk over and brighten their day. Maybe you have a neighbor or a co-worker that you could start showering with gifts?) This was a hurried activity so I don’t have pictures of the finished summertime gift bags. But here are the watermelon cards the boys made for their dad. You probably know what lemonade looks like, so just use your mind to add it into this picture.

Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?
Can you tell which one my 5 year old made?

These are not quite as elaborate as the ones we made for the people who manage our home, but maybe you get the idea. I circled the inside and told my kids to color it pink. My 3 year old decided the inside of his watermelons were going to be multi-colored. Originally I thought we would cut these in half, but then we decided to just fold them like cards. We pasted pieces of green tissue paper around the edge for some texture and to add interest, and we added seeds and a little note.

When we were packing the gift bags, my oldest son suggested we include some Patriotic Twizzlers and I was fully on board. Guys, he wanted to give away his candy!

Now go, and spread forth your own generous, creative, genius children!

Fun With Food: C’est Parfait!

Fun With Food: C’est Parfait!

These little treats have been my favorite breakfast food lately, and most of my children also love them (all of my children love them, except for the one who won’t believe me when I tell him that plain Greek yogurt + jelly/honey/maple syrup is the same thing as those little cups of Fage yogurts he eats, except without the tiny tube of jelly you get to fold over and squeeze. Sometimes it really is all about the packaging for him.)

It started one morning when the same old foods just weren’t going to cut it for me. I needed a new combination. Often we eat oatmeal for breakfast. Sometimes I spruce it up with mid-week eggs or an hour of pancake making. I’ve tried all kinds of pancakes: sourdough, banana, blueberry, chocolate chip, peanut butter and flax meal, orange-buttermilk with orange butter and maple syrup, but in the end, I think a pancake is just a pancake and on this morning, usual just wasn’t going to cut it.

Of course, my kids would have eaten cereal. Or they would have eaten oatmeal, especially if I had let them sprinkle their own brown sugar. They would have eaten Craisins and dry cheerios. They would have loved pancakes. This day, it was me. I needed something different.

That’s really what my Fun with Food series is all about. I want to have fun with our food. I want to taste new things and use my creativity in mundane ways, when it doesn’t really matter if I mess up. I want to experiment, to shake things up, to push on the buttons of our lunch and breakfast menus.

I went to the fridge and glared, like I so often ask my children not to do, standing with the door gaping open like my recently conscious mouth, the interior of the beloved appliance staring at me with it’s collection of hodgepodge, leftover foods cackling at my almost-surrender to The Usual.

Then I remembered the yogurt. My eyes darted toward the blueberries, plump and crisp and in-season. Hmmm…

The word “parfait” means “perfect” in French (it is also a dessert over there) but it has been Americanized to just mean a dessert, or a breakfast meal, consisting of ice cream or yogurt, with fruit and nuts or granola, sometimes with a syrup added, often arranged in layers and served in a tall glass so that each layer can be ogled like the great depictions of Degas ballerinas and the picnic people of Manet. When it is served, we immediately anticipate. The top layer is delicious, but we know there’s more waiting for us as we use our spoons to discover the tastes of what lies beneath the surface. This is the beauty of layers. It’s why art is so beloved.

Our parfait started with these things: Greek yogurt, honey, blueberries, and crunchy rice. These are the things we had. Parfaits, though, can be made with any variation on these things. Any fruits. Any cereal/granola/nuts. Any kind of yogurt/ice cream/custard. Any sauces/syrups/honey combination.

Mine was a simple wish: that my children and I could discover something beautiful together in the early morning, when the sun was just peeking out and gracing us with its lovely, life-giving wonder. Though the horizon, and therefore the complete sunrise, is hidden from our windows, I knew it was coming. It always does. Each new day, whether we notice or not, is ushered in by a mixture of colors all blended one on top of another to create the very best reason for early rising.

We missed the actual sunrise, and we didn’t have tall glasses or long narrow spoons, but we made do.

C'est The thing about French words is that, once you start saying them you can’t stop. Kind of like tasting these little breakfast miracles. So here we go again…

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(For those who don’t know “c’est parfait” literally means “it is perfect.” So if you chose to add the parfait to your weekly menu, teach your kids a little uplifting French phrase while you’re dipping into the delightful combinations that this day has brought.)




Fun With Food: Almond Butter Banana Milkshake Smoothies

Fun With Food: Almond Butter Banana Milkshake Smoothies

We love these smoothies because they taste like milkshakes but they’re super healthy and filling and thick and creamy and you don’t have to follow the directions exactly! Sounds perfect, right? It is!!



Almond Butter & Banana Milkshake Smoothies:

  • 2 Cups of Milk*
  • 2 Frozen Bananas**
  • 1 Heaping Spoon Full of Almond Butter
  • Flax Meal (optional)
  • Honey (optional)

Blend everything together in a powerful blender! We have a really old Vitamix that works perfectly for this type of smoothie. A regular old blender would probably work too, but I haven’t tried it.

*Any kind of milk will work! Today I actually didn’t use milk at all, but just poured in some almond meal and water.
**The bananas really should be frozen, so think ahead. I usually buy more bananas than we need every week and freeze the excess. Any time I find marked down, really brown, bananas, I buy them and freeze them too!

This smoothie is such a great easy snack and is so adaptable! If you want it thicker, add flax meal and let it sit for a few minutes before drinking it. The flax meal expands and gives it a really thick composition. You can add more bananas, protein powder,  honey, pineapple, or almost anything that you want.

Here’s a photo of my kids drinking it up, with some kind of nifty filter applied to make the photo look more interesting. Pretty cute, right? Look at those eyes on my baby girl! And her swoopy bangs. Oh, how I love her and her superhero brothers who have super-protection powers. (Powered for battle by these very smoothies!)

I hope you enjoy this smoothie as much as we do!!

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Fun with Food: The Daddy Snack Mix

Fun with Food: The Daddy Snack Mix

One day recently when my kids were hungry (which is almost every minute of every day around here), my husband grabbed the snapea crisps,the raisins and the walnuts.

For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a genius at everything… well, everything that isn’t creative. I’m the creative one in the family. The one who makes things pretty. But he is best at solving every problem we come across. Like the one that says, “Mom. I’m hungry.”


So on this day, my husband grabbed these three bags and put a handful of each item on one plate. Then our two boys sat next together sharing the one plate of food. That doesn’t happen very often. Sharing, I mean. But this day was amazing.

I used my husband’s idea a few days later. First I did this:


Then I formed everything into a portrait of my husband and called it The Daddy Snack Mix:


He doesn’t really have green hair. He actually doesn’t have much hair at all, but when he lets it grow it can get pretty big. But I do think the walnuts make a pretty nice replica of his beard which is long and fuzzy, like beards are supposed to be.

Fun with Food: Open-Faced Sandwich Squares

Fun with Food: Open-Faced Sandwich Squares

Lunch is always a little stressful for me. Partly because I have three children who all like different things. Partly because… I have three children. Then there’s me. I often end up with a handful a nuts or maybe a granola bar because, well if you’re a mom then you know. It’s just hard to find time to eat.

As Luciano Pavarotti says, “One of the very best things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” I love this, yet I also abhor it because in my household, there are three tiny people running around. Mealtimes often look more like training times than times to stop and devote ourselves to eating.

That aside, I do love coming up with new and interesting things for my kids to eat. Because my children don’t like chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese and fast food hurts their tummies. Poor kids. They never get happy meals.

These little open faced sandwich squares are one of my lunchtime favorites because they are pretty healthy and my kids LOVE them! They are super versatile, too, and fun to make. If your kids are a little older than mine, I bet they could make these themselves.

Here are the steps

1.) Toast some bread. Whatever kind of bread you have will work fine! Today I used homemade sourdough, but I sometimes use sprouted grain or whole wheat. I suppose you don’t have to toast these, but I like to because toast holds up better when you pick it up, whereas bread is kind of floppy.

2.) Mash a spoonful of avocado on top of the toast. Really, you could use any kind of spread… one of those herb cream cheese spreads or goat cheese or laughing cow cheese. Or mayonnaise or salsa… whatever floats your boat. We like avocados around here and they’re a super food, so I use them!

3.) Sprinkle on some cheese. I used feta here, but we also like these with cheddar! Here’s what it looks like once you’ve done these things:



4.) Place the pepperoni. My kids will eat almost anything if there’s pepperoni on it, but we have also used sliced ham and turkey. I like to cut the toasts into fours because they seem easier to handle. When cut, they don’t fall apart like they would if left whole, and they’re just fun little things for kids to grab.


5.) Serve with a side: snapea crisps (that’s what we used today), multigrain tortilla chips, raisins, apple slices, gummy bears. We don’t usually serve candy around here, but my kids would probably giggle ferociously if I put gummy bears on their lunch plates. And I’d do almost anything to make them giggle.