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    The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
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The food rules


There was an article in the New York Times last week about snacking and our children.  (You can read it here.)  Like the author of this article, I have found myself asking, How many times a day do our children really need a snack? 

And are these snacks providing the nutrition that children need?  Especially the ones eaten on the run, the cereal bars and snack packs and fruit-like pieces, rolls, leathers.  The convenience items that are tossed so easily into mom's bag.  Last year we came to a place where WJ was pretty consistently not hungry at meal times.  When I really took a look at what he was eating over the course of a day, I was feeling like there were too many chances to say, There’s no food in your food.”

So Dave and I sat down with WJ and wrote down a list of guidelines we call The Food Rules.  Basically, it is a schedule of eating times and a few simple guidelines.  The paper looked a little like this:

WJ’s Food Rules

Breakfast (must include protein)





Snack (yogurt or applesauce)

  • If WJ is hungry at a time that is not a meal or snack time, he may have fruit, nuts, or bread.
  • WJ decides how much to eat at meal times.
  • Adults decide about treats; no arguing.

We added a few symbols to help WJ read the schedule so that we could go back to it when he started his begging routine.  And we posted it in the kitchen.  It is still there, a year later.

These guidelines eliminated a lot of the struggles we had about food in this house.  Suddenly there was no more begging.  No more little boy begging his parents for snacks.  No more parents begging the little boy to eat his meals. Differentiating between snacks and treats helped a lot too.  More on that later. 

With The Food Rules, we all regained the power we were after.  WJ has the power to decide how much he eats and I have the power to decide what is available.  I have put my energy into making sure that our meals are balanced and that WJ’s snack options are as nutritionally sound as possible.  

What are your solutions to the food struggles in your house?

*This post is part of SteadyMom's weekly 30 Minute Blogging Challenge.  If you haven't met her yet, I encourage you to visit SteadyMom (and check out her new book). Post time: 23 minutes.


Two and a half rolls


What’s the deal with the bread?  While no one has come out and asked this point blank, I have had a few emails lately with undertones of this question.  What is the deal with the bread?

I am enjoying baking bread and writing about it.  There are so many ways in which the BBA Challenge bread baking weaves itself perfectly into a metaphor for our struggle this year to remake our family's life into one that is moving at a more intentional and healthful pace.  But the truth is that I was baking homemade bread before we embarked upon this year of taking things slow. 

The real deal with the bread is an ongoing struggle I have been having, and I know many of you have been having, with the way our children eat.  For me it culminated with a period in our family that, if it were written as a made-for-TV movie, might be entitled The Boy Who Would Not Eat DinnerIt became clear to me that I needed to change the way WJ was snacking.

Then two things happened.

The first thing that got me thinking was a conversation with a friend from Europe who is raising her children here.  “I hate these Goldfish,” she said, telling of how her preschool-aged daughter had begun requesting snacks all afternoon.  “My daughter should know,” she said in her rich and strong Portuguese voice, “after lunch… it is bread.” 

A light went on.  My child would not go hungry if I said no to the snacking on expensively empty calories.  I decided to borrow her Portuguese rule.  Before dinner, if you are hungry, you may have a slice of bread.

But when I began to institute the new rule, I found myself reaching most afternoons into a crinkly plastic bag of factory-made bread.  The kind that takes a week, sometimes more, to loose its springy softness and seems to repel mold like Deep Woods OFF! repels mosquitoes and ticks. I was still somehow feeling uncomfortable. 

Sighing deeply, I looked more carefully at the label on my carefully selected, whole grain, health food store loaf.  I struggled with the fine print: cultured dextrose and maltodextrin, monoglycerides and diglycerides, soy lecithin, and calcium propionate.  Maybe you speak Food-industry-ese and you are going to write in to tell me that I am mistaken, but to me these words translate into a simple adjective: processed.  I found that same cryptic jargon listed on the labels of the colorful boxes of snack foods I was trying to avoid, so how was this manufactured bread improving the situation any?  WJ would still be filling up on foodless food and missing the nutrition of our dinner.

Then the second thing happened.  I caught a scene in a movie, a completely inconsequential moment in Across the Universe, a film that tries to speak to us through the music of The Beatles.  If you have seen the film you will remember the scene where the dreamy young man leaves his job at the docks in Liverpool, stopping at home to pack a bag and kiss his mum good-bye, before setting off for Technicolor America. As he walks into the kitchen of his plain little flat, he slathers butter on a fat slice of homemade bread and gathers the shirts his mum has just ironed for his journey. There was something about this image that stuck with me.  The young man with his mother’s bread.

All over the world, I thought, there are boys, girls too, walking into kitchens and tearing off a handful of freshly baked bread.  It is that simple.  Whole grain wheat, yeast, warm water.  These are ingredients a mother need not fret over feeding her child.  If this is the way I wanted my child to eat, then I was going to have to change.  I was going to have to find a way to provide this simplicity. 

And so I have fiddled with numerous recipes.  Right now I am enjoying the challenges of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice but if you are hoping to begin baking bread regularly, a wonderful place to start is Artisan Bread in Ten Minutes a Day.  The basic formula in this book results in big batch of no-knead dough that keeps in the fridge, providing fresh dough to bake every day if you wish.

All of the bread I have tried, all of it... the children cannot keep their hands off it.  This weekend I baked a batch of Peter Reinhart’s Vienna Bread.  I shaped the dough into dinner rolls that were eaten up before I got even a chance to photograph them.  These two and a half sly rolls somehow tucked themselves under the corners of the cloth and hid safely from the little fingers that were reaching repeatedly into the basket all night.

I am not saying that there is freshly baked bread in this house every day.  Not even close.  But I am working toward having it available most of the time.  It is another way of eliminating the instant, the processed, the additives, the junk, in order to make room for more goodness.  That’s the deal with the bread.


Doing it all

We cannot do it all. 

Say it with me, ladies (and gentlemen, if you are out there, chime in too). Seriously.  Stand up, throw back your head and let’s whoop together in our outside voices:

We cannot do it all!

I say “we” because I know that we have this struggle together, this struggle for a life that is full of the things we love and need to do, the things our children and families need and love.  Our marriages.  Our work.  Our desire to be fully human and humane and participating in the world.

But we cannot do it all.

This is a realization that I come to regularly.  About twice a day.  Easily.  And I say this hanging my head with a due degree of shame… each and every time I discover it I am just as surprised as I was the first time.

My morning dose of this reality came as I was standing in my underwear in the gym locker room, looking into a gym bag that contained no sneakers. 

I can do quite a bit.  I will not bore you with the list, but I actually did do quite a bit today before foiling my own attempt at squeezing a workout into it all.

The second dose is coming right now as I sit here beside a sniffling boy who started the day with some sneezes, which then progressed slowly to glassy, baggy eyes and listlessness.  I am looking at him and sighing deeply and thinking about how this is the afternoon before I have a busy, booked-every-second kind of day at work.

I cannot do it all.

But there are things I can do. I can hold the door for that woman struggling with her stroller.  I can tuck my sniffling boy in and bring him tea. I can be kind.

And I can stop for a bunch of budding willows at the corner store.  I can bring a little bit of beauty into our home.  Something to gaze at just now, to remind me that at the end of this winter there will be spring. 

This is just a season. 

It is always just a season and there will always be spring.


Pain de Campagne

The story of the Pain de Campagne really begins during my second attempt at Portuguese Sweet Bread.  Trying desperately to get that recipe right, I learned several lessons about bread baking.  One of those is that you are going to have to get your hands dirty.

I started this BBA Challenge so excited to finally have a use for the dough hook attachment that came with my stand mixer.  Apartment dwellers know that a kitchen gadget must prove itself worthy to occupy its valuable real estate on any shelf, in any drawer.  And I have been renewing the lease, giving the dough hook the benefit of the doubt, for many years now.  Many times I have questioned my decision to let it stay on without getting much in return.  I began to hope that these exercises with yeast dough would give the hook an opportunity to prove true my optimism about its potential.

But at the heart of a successful loaf of bread, like so much else in life, is a relationship.   When your dough is building its primary relationship with a mechanical hook, things may not turn out well. 

I was just reading Peter Reinhardt’s description of a notable Parisian baker. When baking sourdough miche in Lionel Polâine’s shop, each apprentice is responsible for seeing his loaves through the entire process, “mixing and baking as well as stacking his own firewood and stoking his own fire.” The baker and his bread are in this together.

You cannot really know what is going on with your dough unless you push up your sleeves and introduce yourself.  I may have been more free to multitask with my dough flopping away awkwardly in the Kitchen Aid, but I have also been too distant from the bread, more concerned with the recipe's instructions than with the actual dough.  It is while you are kneading that you begin to know the dough, to see how it responds to you, to discern what it needs.  

I have now begun to knead by hand.

When my hands press into the yeasty mass, I begin to experience a cross between the maternal-umbilical-fetal bond and a science-fiction, Jedi-Avatar, mind-body transformation. 

I am the dough and the dough is I.

Ok. That is taking it a little bit far, but now that I am kneading by hand it is true that I have much more information as I work through the process of each recipe.  Kneading the Pain de Campagne, I could feel the dough begin to spring back against my force and I knew that the gluten strands were beginning to grow. 

But I could also tell that those gluten strands were not as developed as they should be when the timer went off to signal the end of the kneading time.  So I kneaded a little longer until, ladies and gentlemen, I had WINDOW PANE!  As I stretched the dough, it did not break but instead held tight until only a thin film remained, letting light pass through.  The "window pane test" is the SAT for yeast dough readiness and I had never achieved it as clearly as I did here.

As you can see, this bread has a small amount of whole-wheat flour, which gives it a slightly sandy texture and makes it a little dense.   But it also gives it that wonderful multi-grain nuttiness and a hearty texture. Pain de Campagne has been a big hit over here. WJ immediately began to refer to these loaves as “your famous bread." As in, “Mommy, can I have a slice of your famous bread with some apple butter? No, I think I just want it plain.”

Not much is gained, I am confirming again and again, when you try to do things the quick and easy way.  Even with the dough, you have to put in the time, the communication, the bonding.

Too far again.  I know.


Dinner party

I have a rule.  No repeats.  At least not in terms of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  I am behind many of the other BBA Challenge bakers and since each attempted loaf of bread imprisons me for at least the better part of a day, I am on a mission to keep moving forward. 

I have broken that rule only once—when the Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe chewed me up and spit me out and I was determined to have better results.  But my second loaf was not markedly better than the first, thus enforcing my conviction to keep moving forward.

No repeats.  But I have another rule too.  It goes something like this: The Barefoot Contessa knows what she is talking about. 

This weekend I spent time planning for some guests at dinner and was trying to keep it simple.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to impress.  So, as I often do when such occasions arise, I closed the Google “winter dinner party menu ideas” search screen on my laptop and asked myself, “What would Ina do?

Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, warns regularly against dinner party planning that keeps you locked in the kitchen while your guests are partying and also advices that what people really enjoy is comfort, not fancy:

This isn’t the time to test that intriguing recipe from the latest Gourmet; this is the time for something tried-and-true that will make people smile.” 

Ina Garten’s philosophy about entertaining helped me reign in my visions of grandeur.

I considered my goals for the evening with our guests and came up with these: enjoying the company of friends without all of us having to pay for babysitters, pretending to be grown-ups with social lives, breaking the pattern of weekend evenings sitting in front of a Netflix, shoving at Dave on our too small couch.

Channeling Ina and holding fast to my hopes for our dinner party, I found myself in conflict.  The simple menu I was envisioning would include a fail-safe roasted chicken, a salad brought by our guests and some homemade bread.

Homemade bread!  It is baked in advance, freeing me from the kitchen. And it is an ultimate in the comfort food arena.  Ina would be so proud.

Sometimes in order to be true to one of your personal policies, you have to breach another. You have probably already done the arithmetic here.  My conviction to keep it simple was going to force me to repeat a bread recipe.  I opened my baking text to Pain de Campagne, a bread I tried first a few weeks ago and loved.

I feel a little sad that the battle this weekend in the kitchen, the encounter between Peter Reinhardt and his distant, aspiring  apprentice (me), the skirmish between said aspiring apprentice and her Kitchen Aid mixer, who has been rebelling against this challenge at every possible opportunity, that none of this brought me closer to my goal of baking my way through this cookbook.

But I feel good that I could perceive that of my two principles one stood higher, held more value, offered more reward.

As I am typing now I am realizing that I never posted a description of my first attempt with the Pain de Campagne.  I will get it to you this week.  For the time being, what are your favorite dinner party ideas? Remember, we are keeping it simple!

Here is the roasted chicken (I omit the dried plums): Apricot Glazed Roasted Chicken with Dried Plums and Sage.