Real Food For Families

Cooking, Circa 1950


I love reading about the history of cooking in America. It’s fascinating to me how the art and science of preparing food for our families has evolved from colonial times to the Industrial Age up until today. I especially appreciate learning about the time periods in which my grandmothers created meals in their kitchens…roughly the 1930’s through the 1960’s. My Mom, being the thoughtful gift giver that she is, recently surprised me with the most wonderful birthday gift…4 small recipe booklets that had belonged to my Grandma Gert. Three of them were booklets that came with larger purchases…her Westinghouse refrigerator, Atlas canning jars, and her Osterizer blender. The fourth, a charming compilation of recipes from the Hopewell, NY Home Bureau, of which my Grandmother was a member. Her recipes for Tapioca Pudding and Bavarian Date Slice (?…not quite sure what that is!) are in there, along with all of the recipes of her friends and neighbors. From my reading on the subject, I know that women used to rely on these type of booklets quite a bit as many didn’t have the resources to purchase actual cookbooks. And buying a book wasn’t just a matter of logging onto Amazon and right clicking, as we do today! My Mom also gave me the picture of the little girl cracking eggs into a bowl…it’s a cover from an old McCall’s magazine. Magazines were another important source of recipes and cooking advice, as they still are today. Those pictures in the magazines and the recipe booklets were actually Madison Avenue’s version of life in the 1950’s. Few of our grandmothers probably actually looked like or lived like those images would have you believe. Much as we do today, they probably sighed a bit as they thumbed through the pages…just a little bit envious of the sparkling clean, well dressed children carefully spreading red raspberry and currant jam onto their toast while a calm, smiling mother looked on. They knew that their lives didn’t exactly match up to those images. It’s a good reminder for us today, as we watch TV, scroll through blogs, and follow others through social media. The ideal version of life in 2013, that everyone else seems to be living, might just be a figment of someone’s imagination. The picture on the McCall’s cover…of the little girl, carefully cracking those eggs into the bowl? Most likely, thirty seconds later…she probably accidentally knocked the bowl onto the floor! So as I explore the yellowed pages of the 1955 Hopewell Home Bureau Cook Book, I am comforted by thoughts of my grandmothers and all of the other women who, for so many generations, have done their best to feed their families and to be content with their lives…even when that life didn’t look much like the one in the pages of The Ladies’ Home Journal.

Here are two recipes from these booklets…I’ve copied them exactly as they were first printed, 60 years ago.

TAPIOCA PUDDING (from the Hopewell Home Bureau Cook Book, submitted by Mrs. Edward Kennedy)
~Grated rind and juice of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon
~1 cup sugar
~6 tablespoons Minute tapioca
~4 cups water
~1 cup dates, cut up
Mix all together and cook in double boiler until thick. Stir in 1/2 cup nut meats and serve when cool with whipped cream topping.

RED RASPBERRY AND CURRANT JAM (from the Atlas Book of Recipes)
~1 pint red raspberries
~1 pint currants
~6 cups of sugar
Mash the fruit and heat to the boiling point, stirring well from the bottom. To each pint of each fruit add 3 cups of sugar. Heat slowly until the sugar is dissolved and cook until the jelly stage is reached. Pour into hot, sterilized, glass jars and seal tightly, at once.

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Three Changes You Can Make This School Year

We have about 12 more days until school starts back up. In many parts of the country, kids have already started skipping back to school, bright shiny new back packs slung over their shoulders, Moms and Dads doing the happy dance brushing away tears of sadness as their children wave goodbye and become SOMEBODY ELSE’S PROBLEM for the next 6 hours. No, no…of COURSE, I am just kidding…I have cherished every moment…all summer…EVERY moment, I tell ya! But, all good things must come to an end. As you start up the new school year, there is something I want to tell you about the products we are buying for our lunch packing endeavors. I’m about to lecture here, but it is important…so bear with me while I rant for a few paragraphs.

When you see something in the grocery store that says “Look, Mom! Look how easy we’re making this whole lunch packing thing for you! Make a PB&J sandwich? Noooo…you don’t have to do all that work…we’ve done it for you! Why, you don’t even have to actually pack the lunch if that’s too much…here, look…we’ve put together a wonderful, kid approved combination of sugar, salt and artificial flavors and colors…all you have to do is throw it in the bag…done!” When you see these items in your store, run…I repeat, run…very fast…away from these things. Because you know they have you right where they want you. You are probably sleep deprived. Maybe you have a baby on your hip or a toddler running away from you in the store. You might be a stay at home mom (or dad) who has to prepare and clean up about 21 different meals and snacks every day and THIS…this cute little premade sandwich in a package…with the crusts even removed for cryin’ out loud…this is what will save your sanity. Or, you are a parent who has to leave the house every morning to go to work and you have about 14 seconds to get those lunches packed. You’re thinking about how in the morning, maybe you could actually have time to drink that cup of coffee instead of spilling it all over your work clothes as you are running out the door because it took so long to scrounge around your pantry trying to find those stupid “real food” items these crazy blogs keep telling you to pack. But I am convinced that the more desperate we feel about packing our kids lunches, the more those packaged food companies have us wrapped around their little fruit roll ups. We have to take a step back and stop being overwhelmed by lunch. We have to plan ahead. We have to ask our kids, “Which two or three vegetables and fruits will you eat in your lunches this week?” And then buy those items, cut them up so they are ready to throw into the lunch containers. We need to stop putting juice boxes and sports drinks and vanilla flavored milks into the bag. Water is simple and cheap and exactly what they need. If you are grabbing those convenience lunch items off the shelves, before you throw them into your cart, I ask that you just look at that ingredient list. If the first few items on the list are not actually food (and sugar, my friend, does not count as an “actual food” when it is your kid’s lunch) then there is a problem.

So now that I have tried to make you feel like a horrible parent if you happen to have Lunchables in your fridge, it is important for you to know, that lots of us struggle with this. One morning, during a momentary lapse of judgement, I actually put THESE…


into my children’s lunch bags. We’re not horrible parents. Most of us are just doing the best we can. But I think many of us, myself included, can do a little better. Many of us have enough time to keep up with all of our Facebook friends and most of us have the financial resources to purchase the things that are important to us. Let’s make our children’s lunch important this year. As you start up the new school year, try making 3 simple changes to help your kids eat better while they are at school. Okay…maybe these are not actually simple to implement…your kids are mad enough that they have to get up at 6:30 AM and now you’re going to take away their chocolate milk and their Go-Gurt…sigh.

Three Changes to Make When Packing Lunch
1. Ditch the juice boxes, sports drinks, and flavored milks. These options usually have as much added sugar as soda. Send water in a stainless steel thermos. They will complain…ignore. Or maybe let them have a sweetened beverage once a week.
2. Make fiber a priority as you figure out what to pack. Google foods high in fiber, make a list, and sit down with your kids and ask them…what foods on this list would you like in your lunch? Fiber helps our bodies to use the natural sugars in foods for energy, thus avoiding the sugar high and inevitable crash as they sit down to learn about fractions after lunch. Fiber also helps us to feel full longer. Note that it is important to drink plenty of water when you are increasing the fiber in your diet.
3. Switch your bread from white to 100% whole wheat. Find a brand of bread that does not have high fructose corn syrup in it. If your child will only eat white bread, just skip the traditional sandwich. There are so many other options. Your best friend Google will help you find lots of ideas! I will try to post pictures of some of my kids lunches once we get into the school year, but there are lots of sites out there that do this much better than I ever could.

And lastly, if you are reading this and saying to yourself, “Pack lunch? That’s crazy talk! My kid buys lunch every day!” Investigate what kind of lunches your school serves. There are more and more schools out there that are trying to improve, but there are still a lot of scary school lunch programs around. If you are not happy with what your school has to offer, but you just can’t even begin to think about trying to pack lunch, start small. Commit to making lunch once a week, on Sunday night for the Monday lunch.

If your kids have already started school, I hope they are having a great year so far! And for the rest of us…it’s off to the pool for one more week!


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Hiking and Snacking


The summer is starting to wind down…swim team is done, our trip to the Adirondacks is behind us and there’s some much welcome white space on the calendar. Beginning now and heading into the fall is our favorite time to take advantage of some of the beautiful places around us to go hiking. We live in Central New York, and there are some amazing spots that are easy to get to and fun for the kids. The above pictures were taken at Clark’s Reservation . For the relatively short hikes that we go on, a bottle of water would suffice, but somehow I always get talked into bringing a snack. As the kids get older, I imagine that we will try to go on longer and more difficult treks (except that I am also getting older, and more lazy!) when the right kind of snacks will actually become important. For now, I guess our snacking during hiking is practice for the future!

SNACKS TO BRING ALONG WHEN HIKING (in addition to water!)
1. Plain popcorn
2. Whole grain bread, pretzels, crackers or tortilla wraps
3. Whole grain cereal (with 5 g or less sugar per serving)
4. Apples, bananas or oranges
5. Carrot/celery sticks
6. Raisins or other dried fruits
7. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
8. Unsalted mixed nuts and/or seeds
9. Combine #s 3, 6, and 8 to make your own trail mix

We hope to check out Pratt’s Falls and Chittenango Falls before the summer is over. What is your favorite place to hike?

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Food For Hair


My kids are on the swim team at our neighborhood pool and every year around mid July, their hair starts to look and feel like straw. I considered cutting it off and using it for autumn decor…but they objected. So this summer, Katie tried using a food remedy, with amazing results. Okay…we’re lying…that “After” picture was actually taken immediately following her haircut appointment. But we think that the mayonnaise is worth trying. She only did it twice this summer, but her hair did feel much nicer afterwards. All you do is scoop out about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of real mayonnaise, smear it over your hair, put a plastic bag around it and leave it in about 20 minutes. Then rinse it out and that’s it!





The banana…such a simple, wonderful food. It comes in it’s own packaging, is crammed full of good stuff, doesn’t have to be refrigerated, tolerates being thrown into a backpack or a purse, can be used to add sweetness to baked goods and smoothies, one of the least contaminated fruits in terms of pesticides, inexpensive…I could go on and on. The humble banana is a “real food” lover’s best friend. In my last post, I wrote about food waste. You should never have to throw out a banana! Most people know that over ripe bananas are the best kind to use when making banana bread, but here is a tip that maybe you didn’t know. If you don’t need them immediately, put your over ripe bananas in the freezer. When you are ready to use them, microwave on high for one minute, cut one end off, and squeeze the soft banana out. Very fun for kids to do. And when you do get around to making that banana bread, here is an easy recipe for you! This tip and the recipe are both from Lisa Reid’s book, “Raising Kids With Just a Little Cash”.

~1 1/2 cups flour
~3/4 cup sugar
~1 teaspoon baking powder
~1/4 teaspoon baking soda
~dash of salt
~2/3 cup chopped nuts (optional)
~2 mashed bananas
~1/3 cup oil
~1/3 cup milk
~2 eggs

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Mix all of the dry ingredients into an ungreased 8 or 9 inch baking pan, stirring with a fork until well mixed.
3. Blend in the wet ingredients until smooth.
4. Bake 30 to 35 minutes.

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Not Again…The Sad Story of Grapes Gone Bad

This is my fridge…no, silly, it does not usually look like this…but I’m carefully cultivating an image here on this blog…so we’ll just pretend that it always looks like this. It looked like this when I took this picture because I had just finished reading Simply Being Mum’s blog where she posts each Friday about the food that she has wasted that week. She does not waste much. The accountability of taking a photo of her fridge each week and blogging about the withered lettuce and the moldy salsa seems to have transformed her into someone who really pays attention to her food and really appreciates what she has been blessed with. I hope that can happen to me. I waste a lot of food. I am embarrassed by how much food I waste. I shop each week with grand intentions of all of the wonderful, homemade, minimally processed meals and snacks I am going to make…and then the end of the week comes around and I'm dumping stuff, left and right, into the garbage. A half a watermelon gone bad, a container of buttermilk for those pancakes I never got around to making, a forgotten about tub of cream cheese waaaayyyy in the back. And those grapes!! Why do they sell so many in those bags? We can never seem to get through them before they shrivel up. I know, I know…I could just buy a smaller quantity…but they look so delicious and I am always convinced that we will eat them all. I don't know if I will ever have the courage to document my weekly food waste, but I have begun to think more about this and am trying to put some strategies in place to help. Those of us who are blessed with the resources to purchase fresh, plentiful food must be careful to never take this privilege for granted. I, for one, have some serious work to do in this area. Here are some tips that I took away from Simple Mum's site.

1. Before you make up your grocery list each week, take some time to clean out your fridge and figure out what you have. If there are items that need to be used up soon, plan your next few meals around those items.
2. Go to a site like Allrecipes.com where you can enter an ingredient that you need to use up and search for recipes using that particular item.
3. If you find something that's starting to look "sad", think about how you might salvage it. Berries can be thrown into a smoothie, bell peppers can be roasted, lemons and limes can be cut up and frozen to be used for drinks later.
4. If you are not already meal planning each week, give this a try. It really helps to have some sort of general idea of what you will be making to cut down on wasted food (and to cut down on the trips to…insert favorite take out place here!)
5. If you ever do achieve the minimalist look in your fridge (a small family could live in here!) make sure to put something in there to help keep the refrigerator operating efficiently. Apparently, an empty fridge uses more energy. Simple Mum suggests putting containers of water or other beverages on the shelves.

So go check out your cold storage and rescue a couple of limes. And the next time you go food shopping…remember…you will never eat all of those grapes.

20130807-000526.jpgFrozen limes…just waiting to be thrown into a gin and tonic!