Christmas morning was warm and balmy here in Austin, but by evening the temperature had dropped forty degrees, and the wind was a-howlin' through the trees behind our house. Inside, we were warm, and cooking up a kickass batch of chilaquiles verdes: interior Mexican comfort food at its very best. Not only was this meal 100% Kaspar-friendly, it was 90% made by Aaron -- a nice treat for me in and of itself. I don't believe chilaquiles are traditionally designated as celebratory fare -- in fact, I think they were initially a breakfast food -- but I'm gonna play my Texan card and call them exactly that: this here is holiday eating. Christmas Chilaquiles will certainly be a tradition at our table from here on out, anyway.
Of course, Christmas (and the end of time) has come and gone, but you don't have to wait until next year to rock this recipe. Or maybe you should -- I can definitely see these impressing your brunch guests this coming New Year's Day. (Because what better food for a New Year's brunch than a breakfast-turned-dinner dish a little bit of kick to it, hmmm?) Whether you want to fake some fancy (shhh: these are easy to make) or just see your picky eaters clean their plates on a regular weeknight, I recommend chilaquiles. For everything. And everyone. Vamos a celebrar!
Click "Read More" below for the recipe.
Here's hoping everyone had a wonderful holiday! We sure did. It wasn't quite as low key as we'd planned in terms of the presents (Kaspar scored), but hey, what can I say? Santa loves on the littles. Kas loved every minute of it, opening one gift after another and quickly realizing that Christmas is the most awesome thing ever. He was too jazzed up to nap at noon, and by 3 PM went into synapse overload as he tried to prioritize his playtime game plan (Spiderman first? Pickup truck? Cutting with kid scissors? HOW CAN YOU CHOOSE?), so we headed out for a walk in some cold, windy weather, and then -- back home -- hunkered down with some Charlie Brown while Aaron cooked up Christmas Chilaquiles. It was beeeoootiful.
Click "Read More" below for more Christmas pics!
We got a huge bag of locally grown citrus with our CSA loot last week. Good timing, too, as we've been fending off coughs and colds all fall, and can all use a super-dose of vitamin C. Our family's been eating grapefruit on the daily ever since, but we decided the best fate for our oranges was to be turned into some good old fashioned O to the J.
The holidays are upon us! We’ve been reading The Grinch and gearing up for a fun celebration, though we approach that, in our family, in a decidedly low-key way. We try to limit holiday travel, and even (erm, especially?) extended family shenanigans; we clear our schedules and cozy up together, at home, instead. This tradition of small-scale winter holidays was born the Christmas before we had Kaspar, when Aaron and I turned down all in-law advances and stayed in Brooklyn, just us, together. We slept in, bought ourselves a Wii, ordered pizza and spent Christmas day ‘bowling’ in our tiny living room. It was the best. Stress free. Since then, Christmas has been more about the kiddo, and less about sleeping in, but still – because it’s a (newish) family tradition – we’re all about lazy, home-style Christmas breaks. (Don’t worry: we make sure to visit with all of the grandparents before and after the holidays happen. We’re selfish about Christmas morning proper, but the season is all about sharing good times with the fams.)
Streamlined, small-scale gifting is a part of that tradition, too. Back in Brooklyn, where space was limited and ‘stuff’ just got in the way, we thought carefully about anything new that came into our home. And while everything may be bigger in Texas, we still do our best to stave off the endless stuff-pile that is American life (especially American life with kids!). We focus on just one or two main presents, per person, choosing items we think will inspire lots of fun throughout the year to come, instead of just ending up in a pile, forgotten. This year, Kaspar is getting a talking, plastic Spiderman action figure (it begins), which Aaron bought for him… and is very excited about. I’m sure Kas will be, too. But his main present is one Aaron and I made together, which was inspired by a photo his teacher sent to us from school one afternoon. In it, Kaspar sat at a small table, wielding child-proof scissors and carefully cutting a piece of paper into a million little bits. Beneath the pic, his teacher typed: “He focused on this work for a full twenty minutes!”
Kaspar is super proud of his new scissors-skills – he’s apparently been showing them off for the rest of the school’s staff, when anyone happens to stop by the classroom – and I’m impressed and pleased with his recent capacity for focus. He loves to draw, cut, and make stuff; if markers, paper, paint or glue are involved, he’s all-in. But what struck me the most about that photo wasn’t Kaspar’s focus, or his craft. It was his work station – the table and chair.
I regularly set up activities for Kaspar at our kitchen table, at home, and he’s always excited when I do. But if he had a little space to call his own, with creative materials to choose from, I know he’d dive in and get his paper-cutting (etc.) groove on independently. (Independence is his thing these days. Like whoa.) So I hit up Craigslist and found a wooden table and chairs another mom was selling for $25. Two hours later – after running the idea by Aaron and showing him the listing – I had the table and chairs in the trunk of our car, and big plans for their renovation in the front of my mind.
As you may have noticed, I am somewhat impulsive when it comes to projects; Aaron, on the other hand, is a planner. I’m big on concept; Aaron’s thorough with details. I cut corners, and am content with “good enough”; Aaron likes to do a job right when he decides it’s worth doing. But, he can sometimes take forever to even make up his mind to embark on something. (For my part, I often embark on said somethings without adequately preparing, then quit half-way through when the somethings go South.) Surprisingly, our very different project-making styles support each other (and cancel their respective pitfalls out) when we go in on things together. Our recent activity table makeover was a perfect example of this unique alchemy.
Aaron actually didn’t feel, at first, that the table and chairs needed to be painted at all. He viewed them with a purely utilitarian eye, and said they’d be fine for a work space for Kaspar just as they were. I, however, felt that of course they’d need a full DIY makeover. The previous owners (aged 8 and 5) had drawn on them with crayons, and their mom had painted over their surfaces with one coat of white paint. Not only could you see through the paint, but it wasn’t glossy. And I hate the feel of rough paint. Ugh. Besides that, the whole point was to make something amazing out of something that was verging on junk. Concept, remember? (And yo, we were talking about Christmas… we may be low-key, but we’re not total slackers.)
I think Aaron pretty much heard all of this as ‘more to do’ in our long list of lots to do, so I told him not to worry about it; I’d take care of everything. I intended to get the job done right. As in, I intended to do some actual planning and get the proper materials before beginning. (I am so much wiser now that I’m 28!) I headed over to a nearby store, Treehouse, which is essentially an environmentally-conscious (and independent, local biz) version of Home Depot, bringing one of the chairs with me. I told the head paint guy what I wanted to do, and he deftly interpreted my descriptive words (“shiny, smooth paint” = polyurethane layer, apparently) and hooked me up with a pint of VOC-free bright green paint, and one of low-VOC (no-VOC once dried) polyurethane. (I had some acrylics at home for detailing… And Aaron had agreed, before I left, to rock out his art skills per my conceptual requests once the project advanced to that stage.)
By the time I’d painted the table and chairs green, and added a red border on the table-top (I did this by taping it off, then painting… a good way to work with limited artistic talent), Aaron could see where the project was headed. Which is to say, he saw the conceptual light. I imagined fox and raccoon faces painted, respectively, on each of the chairs, but he suggested we go with stylized silhouettes instead. He also added some deer to the table top. The result is current, yet classic. I love it! (My man's a genius.) Aaron does, too. And so will Kaspar. We’re going to stuff his stocking with art supplies, and we still need to figure out a kid-accessible shelving/storage setup to house them in (ideas?). But we’re 90% of the way there. Christmas, here we come.
This activity table and chairs cost under $100 total (and we have tons of paint and poly left over), is made with recycled and non-toxic materials, and is completely unique/one-of-a-kind. It also made for a fun bonding activity for the hubs and me (cuz, truth is, that Wii has pretty much collected dust since the little man arrived). Best of all, I know Kaspar will use it all the time. I can’t wait to see his face when he first sees his very own workspace. And I look forward to admiring all of the masterpieces (and shredded-paper messes) he creates there.
Do you like it? What are your kids or loved ones getting for Christmas/Hanukkah/end of Mayan time? Do you have any new-ish traditions? Do you embrace, or stave off, gifty 'stuff'?
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” - Mr. Rogers
Sending love and prayers for peace to the families in Connecticut experiencing unspeakable loss tonight.
May we all continue to see, and be, the helpers.
While I always dreamed Kaspar would one day eat chocolate chip cookies (Alt-Mama style, of course, i.e. super healthy and super delicious), Aaron's big food goal for our very-food-allergic little man has been a slice of pizza. I think it's a guy thing. It seemed appropriate enough, though; Kas hails from Brooklyn, after all. Guy thing and Brooklyn roots aside, however, Pizza seemed a long way off, for a while, given that Kaspar was severely allergic to dairy, tomatoes, and wheat. But as his allergies have slowly improved -- thanks to a certain alchemy of TCM, Ayurveda and time -- the pizza thing seemed increasingly possible, especially over this past year.
Kaspar can now eat tomatoes and cheese, but wheat is still out of the picture, as far as we know. He was still highly allergic to it last time we tested; this was confirmed last Thanksgiving, too, when a wayward stuffing crumb gave him a swollen face, and gave me a good scare. We avoid wheat and gluten along with all nuts, and Kaspar's various other off-limits foods, and we're planning to run tests again this February, when he turns three, to find out if things have continued to change for him. If wheat were suddenly okay (it happens), that would obviously make daily life a lot easier for our family. In the meantime, we're all about rocking our "something" in style. And I found a way to feed my kiddo chocolate chip cookies, thanks (heartfelt) to Namaste Foods' Perfect Flour Blend. Thanks to the brand's pizza crust mix, which is free of wheat, gluten, and anything else that might aggravate Kaspar's system, Aaron has found a way to feed him pizza. Boom! There's no stoppin' us now.
We don't make a big deal about Kaspar's dinners usually being different from ours, because that's just the way things are for him. When we first found out about his allergies, I thought I'd try to prepare food we could all eat, all the time, so he'd feel included. But aside from quickly realizing this would be impossible, it also struck me that it might be unwise. His sense of normalcy is created in our home; in the interest of his developing an ability to self-advocate, and self-regulate for his own safety, I've chosen instead to prepare separate meals. We all eat together, and mealtime is a pleasurable experience in our home, but Aaron and I often eat things Kaspar can't. Like, every day. As Kaspar's fruit and vegetable options have expanded, I'm able to prepare sides we can all share, and this has been a good opportunity to talk about foods, where they come from, what they taste like (sweet, sour, etc.), and whether we each respectively enjoy those tastes. Allergies are sometimes part of the conversation (Kas might ask what we're eating and if it's okay for him -- which is exactly the mechanism I intended to put in place, so he wouldn't make dangerous assumptions around that question), but mostly we all just chow down on, and enjoy, our respective dinners and mutual company. When Kaspar's at school, or when we're traveling or visiting friends, he knows that he can't just eat what everyone else is eating... but he also knows I'm on top of it, thinking two steps ahead, and will reliably produce something he can eat, and will enjoy.
That being said, the opportunity to cook an entire meal together, and eat it together, is rare for us, and it was a gift we all savored during a recent family pizza night. We talked it up with Kaspar first, explaining all of the steps involved in making pizza: mixing and pre-bakign the dough, layering our toppings on the crust, baking it again, and then eating it -- all of us! He asked, "It's okay for me?" and we said "Yep! It sure is. This pizza is safe for you. We checked."
Kaspar was, of course, as excited for the journey as he was for the destination. As with making juice -- or even pancakes -- together, I noticed his (methodical) involvement led directly to his enthusiastic consumption of the food we'd prepared. (FWIW, I've noticed this trick works well with adults, too...) I'd filled a bowl with vegetables for him to put on top of the crust, including chopped tomatoes, kale and broccoli, and he munched on them intermittently (raw!) as he placed them on the pizza, and then of course devoured his slices, veggies and all, once the finished product came out of the oven. Score!
Aaron and I devoured our slices, too; the flavorful crust, which contained Italian herbs, was the perfect chewy (but not gluey -- a common gluten-free fail) consistency. Topped with all of those vegetables and melted raw cow's milk mozarella and cheddar cheeses, we all felt like we were eating something decadent. We'd prepared the entire bag of crust mix, but even with a cookie-sheet sized pizza, Aaron and I had to deliberately hold ourselves back from eating the remaining few slices after dinner. (Or for breakfast the next morning.) We sent them to school with Kaspar, in his lunch box, instead. When I picked him up, his teacher said he'd "had his own little pizza party at lunch", (boy was psyched!) and that he'd told her all about making the meal with us the night before, getting right down to the details. *Broccoli, baby.*
I love Namaste Foods. I really do. Not only do they make foods that taste delicious (seriously, friends LOVE our chocolate chip cookies), but they really go the distance on the allergen-free front. Their products are all gluten-free, and, unlike most other brands that produce gluten-free products, they're also free of the top eight allergens, produced in a 100% dedicated allergen-free facility, and they produce mixes that are made of the kind of stuff I actually want to feed my kid. I usually advise parents with food-allergic or celiac kids to avoid the overpriced, highly-processed products marketed to those folks, and instead make their own food at home, as we do... It's simpler, less expensive, and WAY healthier. No contest. But Namaste Foods? They're different. They're all about the whole grain, whole foods love. And, when I inquired with them about whether they have any knowledge of where the rice in their rice flours is sourced from, due to recent, alarming reports on high arsenic levels in rice products, they got right back to me; not only do they know where their rice comes from, they test ALL of the rice flours used in their products to ensure they contain no arsenic at all. That's what I call going the extra mile; the arsenic thing was just one more threat in a world of threats for people with food allergies (who tend to eat a lot of rice, as other grain options can be limited... they certainly are for Kaspar). Namaste Foods caters to this population, and I appreciate that they pay attention to what matters, on the large and small scale, so food-allergic people can worry less, and eat more. Because, of course, we love our food-allergic family and friends, do we not? It's nice to know when a brand has their backs. And it's extra nice when that brand makes food we can all share together, and enjoy, in good health. (FWIW, it's also extra-extra nice, as a mom of a food-allergic kid, to have a few 'convenience' foods in my back pocket -- or, you know, my pantry -- so that I don't have to cook two meals, from scratch, every time our family eats... Namaste Foods gives me a free pass on those nights I feel like slacking.)
So guess what. It's giveaway time. Namaste Foods has generously offered to send one of you a reusable tote bag containing 3 Namaste Foods products, a copy of their Simple Pleasures cookbook, a copy of Living Without magazine, and assorted recipe cards. Here, have a look:
Want to win? Simply leave a comment below (don't forget to include your email address -- it won't be displayed online, and I won't sell or give it to anyone else) and tell me one way you and your family enjoy mealtime together. And feel free to participate even if no one in your family is food-allergic. Trust me-- these products really are yummy and wholesome for everyone! I'll randomly choose a winner next Wednesday, December 12, so let's get this party started. Good luck!