Real Food For Families

Berry Season


It is finally berry season where we live! We are hoping to get out and pick some at a local farm next week. Strawberries are ready now and raspberries and blueberries will be coming soon. I have great memories of picking raspberries every 4th of July at my parent’s home and then pouring milk over them…mmmmm…I may have also sprinkled on a bit of sugar! Here’s a recipe for Berry Muffins, adapted from 100 Days of Real Food. The idea that I love is customizing them…instead of folding the berries into the batter, you can stir them into the individual muffins after you’ve poured the batter into the tins. This is nice when you have random amounts of different berries that you’re trying to use up, or you have someone who won’t eat blueberries (how you cannot love blueberries, I have no idea!) or you want to add nuts to some, but not all. I usually double this recipe and freeze the extras.

BERRY MUFFINS (makes 12 muffins)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, whisked with a fork
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup apple juice or orange juice
3 tablespoons oil (we use coconut)
Berries, rinsed. Diced, if they are large. You will need 1 to 2 cups.
Finely chopped walnuts, optional.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Line a muffin tin with liners or grease them with softened butter.
3. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together.
4. Stir together the eggs, butter, honey, vanilla, juice and oil in another bowl.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just moistened, don’t over mix.
6. Fill the muffin tins about half full of batter. Stir in the fruit/nuts.
7. Bake about 15 minutes until a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Summer Slushie Policy

All year long, I complain about the lunches that the school serves my kids. Then, finally, we arrive at summer vacation and this happens….


Okay…fine, School Lunch Program, you win. I’m sorry. I admit it. I am no better than you at feeding my children. I know that there are parents out there who don’t let this happen. Moms and dads with spines. Parents who can tune out the relentless begging and whining for the magic, icy drink that screams “Summer!” I am not one of those moms. I cave, every time. There is an evil snack shack at our pool with an innocent looking teenager sitting inside just waiting…waiting the approximately 6.4 seconds that it takes from the time we arrive at the pool until one of my kids asks, “Mom…can I get a Slushie?” If these slushies were simply an occasional indulgence, I would be okay with that. But we are at the pool almost every day. I need some sort of strategy. So I am thinking about implementing a two Slushie per week limit. I will purchase one, and they can buy a second one with their own money. Yes…I am so smart…I feel much better now. I am on top of this…bring it on, Evil Snack Shack. “Mom…can I get a pixie stick?” Grrrrrr….


The Story of the Chicken Who Came to Visit


One quiet summer morning, three years ago, my husband came in from letting out the dog and said to me, “Do chickens move like this?” And then proceeded to jut his head forwards and backwards a couple of times. “Um…yes…maybe?” I was not sure how I was expected to respond to this question. “Well,” he said, “I think there is a chicken in our back yard.” So I followed him out to our back deck and sure enough, there in the dew blanketed grass, was a small white chicken, it’s head bobbing in and out as it walked across the toy strewn lawn. So, of course, the children squealed with delight, photos were snapped, the neighbors were alerted, the cat next door was curious (and kept at bay with the garden hose) and the chicken happily strutted and bobbed around the property, even coming up onto our deck to pose for photos with the kids. She was not at all afraid and appeared to be quite used to being around people. We do not live in a rural area…we actually live in an older suburb, just on the edge of a small city. So a farm animal taking a stroll through our neighborhood is not a common occurrence. It was quite exciting and fun for about 45 minutes, until it became apparent that the chicken was not planning to go anywhere and was happy to just stay in our yard. Which would have been fine, except that I was starting to grow weary of protecting our new friend from the neighbor’s cat. And I didn’t like my children’s offer of letting the chicken stay in their bedrooms. Lucky for us, we happened to have a connection in the chicken world…my brother and sister-in-law raise chickens on their beautiful property out in the country. So that afternoon, the newly named “Lollipop” took a ride in the back of the minivan to her new home. The circumstances of her appearance remained a mystery all summer long, until finally, when September rolled around and school started back up. Katie, of course, shared the story with her first grade class and a boy spoke up and said that he had lost a chicken over the summer. This boy lives a few streets away from us, so I contacted his mother, and sure enough…”Lollipop” had been their chicken. They had taken on two baby chicks after the kindergarten class the previous spring was giving them away (after their unit studying how eggs hatch). They were more than happy to hear that the chicken had been taken to a proper chicken coop with other chickens and didn’t want her returned. In addition to having a place to bring lost chickens, there is another great benefit to having family who keep a chicken coop. Delicious, organic eggs from happy chickens! We love eggs around here and are grateful for the beautiful, fresh ones that come from Uncle Steve, Aunt Tricia, and cousin Danni’s chickens. Here is one of our favorite ways to use them…


For the crust:
~1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
~1/2 cup oil (whatever you normally use for baking)
~1/2 teaspoon salt
~2 tablespoons milk

Combine everything in a 9 inch pie pan and mix it together with a fork until it’s crumbly. Use your hands to form it into a ball, then flatten the ball and press it into the pan. Use your palms and heels of your hands to press it out to edges and up the sides of the pan. If you’re like me, and don’t care what it looks like, just bring the dough up to the edge of the pan and you’re done. If you want fancy edging on your crust, I would increase the amount of dough by about a third so you have enough. Once the crust is ready, mix up the filling and pour it into the crust.

For the filling:
~1 1/2 cups of milk
~4 eggs, whisked together
~Salt and pepper to taste
~dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

The final add ins are up to you…our favorites are chopped tomatoes and feta cheese or cooked, diced bacon and shredded cheddar cheese. Sprinkle these in at the end and then bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until the filling has set.

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KATIE: A couple of days ago my mom tried to teach me how to make steak. Well, by the time my mom was done I was trying to escape to the backyard because of all the smoke. By the way my mom did most of the cooking, so I’m not to blame for the burned steak. Now, here above is a picture of the pot we used when my mom was done with it!

DEBBIE: Obviously, we need to tweak this recipe a little bit before we post it. The steak was actually edible, but we don’t want you to end up with a pot that looks like ours!


Sometimes…It’s Mac & Cheese and Hotdogs


Despite all of our planning, sometimes dinner looks like this. And that’s okay. (See those carrots on the plate…that’s good, right? I promise you…he did eat the carrots!). My son had not one, but two events to attend tonight…back to back…so I resorted to feeding him dinner at 4:00, right after he got off of the school bus! We know that nights like this are going to happen once in awhile. And in my opinion, that’s exactly what packaged, processed food is for. Our favorite boxed Mac & Cheese is a brand that doesn’t have any artificial flavors or dyes and the hot dogs are uncured, so there are no added nitrites or nitrates. Then make sure to throw some fruits or vegetables onto the plate and off they go to karate and cub scouts. So yes, it’s from a box…and no, it’s not perfect. But, you know what? When you’re eight and it’s summer and you’re eating hot dogs and Mac & cheese (and carrots!)…that is kind of perfect.

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Shrimp and Sun Dried Tomato Pasta


This recipe and I go way back. Way back to another lifetime, before I had kids, before I was married. Before I had anyone to cook for other than myself. I don’t remember why I even tried to make something like this back then, but somehow this meal made it into the rotation, along with cereal out of a box, pasta tossed with Parmesan and lemon juice, and Lean Quisine frozen meals. Once I discovered how simple it was and how easily it fooled other people into thinking that I actually had some culinary skill…I think I served it every single time I had company. My parents, my in laws, my friends, my siblings, my co-workers…anyone who has ever been invited to dinner at my house has probably seen this Shrimp and Pasta dish on the table. The original recipe was from the grocery store (Wegmans) but I’ve made it so many times, I don’t actually use a recipe anymore. Feel free to make it with chicken, switch the greens to Swiss chard, or use fresh tomatoes.

Shrimp and Sundried Tomato Pasta
~1 lb. of cooked shrimp (put raw shrimp in boiling water for 3 minutes to cook)
~1/4 cup olive oil (or oil from your jar of Sundried tomatoes)
~2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
~10 oz. fresh spinach or Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
~16 oz whole wheat pasta (I usually use penne or rotini)
~1 jar (10 oz.) of chopped Sundried tomatoes, reserve 1/4 cup of the oil
~1 cup chicken broth
~feta cheese, crumbled, about one cup
~lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
2. Heat oil over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or large skillet, add garlic and cook about one minute until it begins to sizzle.
3. Add spinach and cook until it is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add chicken broth and Sundried tomatoes, bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat and add shrimp, cook for another minute.
6. Drain the pasta and add the shrimp mixture and feta cheese, mix to combine.
7. Season as needed with lemon juice, salt and pepper.


Should You Buy Organic?


Most grocery stores seem to offer a wide variety of organic produce options these days. Does it make sense to spend the extra money on these items? In my opinion, the answer to that is…sometimes. If you look at the research, you will find conflicting information about whether or not conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are safe. But in 2012, for the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics adopted an official position, warning doctors and parents that pesticide exposures from food are potentially dangerous to children’s health. The following excerpt is from their website :
“Children encounter pesticides daily in air, food, dust, and soil and on surfaces through home and public lawn or garden application, household insecticide use, application to pets, and agricultural product residues. For many children, diet may be the most influential source, as illustrated by an intervention study that placed children on an organic diet (produced without pesticide) and observed drastic and immediate decrease in urinary excretion of pesticide metabolites.”

The research on whether or not the pesticide exposure from produce actually causes health problems is still being done…but my kids will probably be adults by the time the results are clear…and I don’t think I am going to “wait and see”. In the meantime, I am trying to choose wisely, since there is a significant cost increase when purchasing organic vs. conventional produce. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using the Environmental Working Group’s annual list of the most and least contaminated fruits and vegetables to help make these choices. EWG ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of more than 28,000 samples tested by the US Department of Agriculture and the Federal Food and Drug Administration. The samples are washed and peeled before they are tested to reflect how consumers will eat them. Here are the top five in each category from the 2013 list…to see the entire list, go to the EWG site.

Most contaminated: Apples, Celery, Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Grapes
Least Contaminated: Asparagus, Avocados, Cabbage, Cantelope, Corn

The list does change from year to year, so make sure to check back each spring. Then, if you are trying to lower your grocery bill, go ahead and buy conventionally grown items on the least contaminated list and reserve your organic purchases for the more highly contaminated produce. Sadly, apples always seem to be at the top of the “Dirty Dozen” list…and being from upstate New York, we eat a lot of apples around here! I am planning to do a post in the fall about organic apples…stay tuned!

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If You Have Leftover Corn on the Cob…Make This!


We never have leftover corn on the cob…everyone loves it. This White Cheddar Corn Chowder was on my plan for the week, scheduled carefully for the day after we had corn on the cob. So, of course, every last cob was eaten and there were no leftovers. I guess the last time it was summer around here was so long ago…I forgot…we love corn on the cob…there won’t be leftovers. So I had to pull the bag of frozen corn out of the freezer. But the next time, I’m going to husk 18 cobs (I mean, the kids are going to husk 18 cobs…I’m putting them to work this summer!) because as great as this soup was, I’ll bet it’s even better with fresh corn. The recipe is from Whole Living Magazine . I skipped the celery and used 1% milk. Enjoy!