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.
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.
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:
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.
**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.
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:
There you have it, all the best thing in life: Fun! Food! Scrabble!
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.
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.
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…
(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
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)
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!)
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.