Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eight-Legged Lunch

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Tuesday, 10/30/12 - We had a "practice time" at Little Gym for Baby in the morning, then straight to school for Z, so I packed her a lunch to eat during Baby's class and the drive to school. And since I was getting food out, I packed one for me too!
Sweet peppers, Ranch, strawberries, ham, cream cheese mini bagels, olives
Hot Peppers: Neither of us like peppers, but to set an example at a recent barbecue, I'd tried a mini sweet pepper with Ranch and didn't hate it, so I decided to try them again at home. So I packed some in Z's lunch, on the off-chance she'd eat them, with some Ranch in a mini muffin cup. I attempted to make a spider to sit on the Ranch, by cutting a large olive in half widthwise, then cutting the half with the big hole in it into eight slices to make legs. They all kind of sank, so it looks more like an octopus. Oh well.

Red Web: I added a spider ring cupcake topper to some strawberries - I was excited to find some in the grocery still, since I know they're no longer in season. 

Hamming It Up: I sliced some ham into strips and threaded them onto some spider picks in a silicone spider cup.

I'm Walking In A Spider Web: For the "main event," I spread reduced-fat cream cheese (I couldn't find a non-fat brand at the grocery without fake colors in it! Whuuuuck?!) as thickly and evenly as I could on a mini bagel, and etched in web designs using a toothpick. For the spiders, I cut a large olive in half for the bodies, then another olive into eight slices lengthwise for each spider. They stuck nicely into the cheese, and pretty much stayed put. This was not a lunch to trust her to cart around though! Mama carried this one to the car!

I tucked a Lunchbox Love note in with, because I love her! And I figured it would give her and the extra Little Gym teacher something to talk about while Baby and I were in class. Only there was no extra teacher that day. We got a last-minute* call that E's class was being combined with the older group 45-minutes earlier because the other teacher was needed to substitute at the other gym location. 

*they'd tried to call me much earlier, and left a message, but I'd forgotten about it after my shower.

Mama's "Spooky" Lunch
Cheese scraps, soy cheese, concord and red grapes,
green heirloom tomato, salt, sweet peppers, Ranch
I had saved some Colby Jack and Gouda cheese scraps (from her Vampire lunch and something else... can't figure out what though...) and topped them off with a slice of vegan soy cheese I found at a grocery store going out of business. I figured I'd give it a try. It's quite tasty! Just to jazz things up, I used a mini bat cutter on my soy cheese. Wheee!

I had a hugemongous green heirloom tomato from my CSA box starting to go bad, so I cut off all the funky bits and sliced up the rest. I put some kosher salt in a mini lion box, since I love me some salted tomatoes! It actually tasted quite a bit like bacon, of all things. Very yum.

I included some sweet peppers for myself as well, with some Ranch in an EasyLunchboxes Mini Dipper. Even though I had just bought them the day before at Safeway, they were already getting moldy. Ewww. So I had to cut off the tops to see inside to see if they were going bad (not something I wanted to discover after they were in my mouth!) and then excise off any gross bits. The orange and light red ones were tasty. THe dark red one was "meh."
Baby's Lunch
For Baby E, along with her bottle, I packed a re-usable little green pouch with some home-made plum-pear-banana frozen cubes and a kale cube. They thawed nicely by lunch, and kept our lunches cold to boot! We had some technical difficulties, including Baby not liking my food (*sad face*) but I'm excited to keep trying these pouches out!

Other than the peppers, she ate every last bite! Most of it before Baby's class was over too, which was a surprise. Usually she nibbles forever, and has plenty of leftovers for after school. And while she didn't eat the peppers, she did try a bite of both colors. Before drinking the Ranch. /facepalm

Tools of the Trade
        Japanese Bento Box Accessories Sauce Container set of 4 Animal Mayo Cup

Foodie Penpals - October 2012

October Foodie Penpals Goodies!
My Foodie Penpals box came from the "little bit of everything" blogger over at It's Sweet For Certain! And let me tell you, this box was certainly "sweet!" And I don't just mean sugar!

YumEarth Organics Sour Worms Gummies - A fun treat clearly with Z in mind! I've been too cheap to buy dye-free gummy worms along with all the other gummy shapes I've found (plus Trader Joe's doesn't make any,) so I've avoided "worms in apples" and similar food themes. Well. Not anymore! Now if they do a "Worms in Dirt" food activity at school, along with some safe pudding and crushed TJ's JoeJoes, she'll be all set! So other than letting her have one (because she saw them as I was taking pictures,) I'm hoarding the rest for wormy-themed foods!

Fish Lake Organic Berry Patches Strawberry Jam - I hear this is amazeballs good, but since I currently have no less than FIVE open jars of preserves and jam in the fridge, I was forbidden asked not to open yet another by my Hubby.

Pirate Booty - Too bad my kid doesn't like Pirate Booty. Said no one, ever!

Larabar, Apple Pie and Peanut Butter and Jelly bars - Perfect! I "grab-and-go" a lot, so having a healthier sweet treat on hand that's easy to eat one-handed while driving is great. Err. Not that I eat while driving. That wouldn't be safe...

Equal Exchange Chocolates, Dark Chocolate and Mint Chocolate bars - I'm saving the dark chocolate bar to melt down for treats like chocolate-covered strawberries and custom-shaped chocolate treats (to fit themed bento lunches. Duh!) But the mint bar was downed in one sitting slowly savored, one small square at a time.
Because these bars are almost "single source" (meaning all the cacao beans to make the chocolate come from the same region,) they have rich undertones that are lacking in blends and "watered down" chocolates. Much like wines have various flavors based on soil and weather factors, single-source bars can have the exact same recipe, but wildly different flavors.
With fine chocolates, if you place a small piece on your tongue and let it melt and coat your mouth, you can taste it with all your taste buds. The salty/sweet receptors at the tip of the tongue, the bitter receptors at the back, and even the sour receptors at the sides. So the same piece of chocolate can have so many different flavors and nuances. Good stuff!

I am a shameless snacker. I'll wolf down my one serving of dinner, then instead of seconds or a salad or something, I snack! I think it's a sensory thing. I like to be munching or chewing on things when I do stuff. Helps me focus. But gum annoys me. I prefer REAL foods. I like the whole experience of eating; grab, bring to mouth, chew, swallow, repeat, etc.
Not only did my Foodie Penpal totally nail getting 100% safe foods for Z, but (other than the ornamental gourds. Apparently they're not for eating?) there's nothing in this box I'm worried I wouldn't like. And no pesky ingredients for me to overmix or mess up in some way! I'm not qualified to handle ingredients...

The Lean Green Bean
Here’s a detailed explanation of the Foodie Penpals program:
-On the 5th of the month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treatsThe spending limit is $15The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!
-You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
-Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you can choose to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mini Apple-Blackberry Tarts

The farm we get our CSA share from each week has an apple orchard, so I've had a ton of apples to go through. I generally don't like cooked apples, but baking apples aren't too tasty as slices. So I had to get creative.
The blackberries came from my backyard!
2 roll-out pie crusts (pre-made or home-made)
Baking spray or butter

3 cup chopped apple (baking apples work best)
3 cup blackberries, rinsed and drained (can choose to mash and strain out seeds, if desired.)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup oat flour (to thicken if needed)

1/2 c quick cook oats
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, chopped

At any point during prep, preheat oven to 375 F.
Step 1: In a large bowl, stir together all the filling ingredients except the oat flour. Let sit 20 minutes. If mixture seems too watery, add oat flour to thicken.

Step 2: Meanwhile, roll out the first pie crust and use a large round cutter or bowl lip to cut circles twice the diameter of your muffin pan cups. Place dough circles in the greased (spray or butter) muffin pan and cut a little V of dough out where the circle overlaps when fitting into the cups. Press dough closed, and use little bits of dough to seal up any tears or holes. Save excess dough to roll into more. You should be able to make eleven to twelve tartlets, depending how thin you roll the dough and how big your cutter is. Set aside.

*I discovered that the box of rolled-up pie-crust dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store has fake colors. So Hubby found some "safe" frozen molded crusts. [I did manage to find a safe roll-out version from Immaculate Baking Co, available online or at Whole Foods. They also make safe Crescent Roll dough, among other things!] I let the pre-molded crusts thaw then rolled them out. One crumbled coming out of the pan, so I mashed it into a ball and started over. The other just broke off at the sides, so I only had to roll those parts out with the scraps.

Step 3: In a small bowl, combine all the dry topping ingredients. Then add butter and use a fork to mix in as thoroughly as you can. Set aside.

Step 4: After filling has sat for 20 minutes, use a spoon to fill the dough cups as high as you like. You may have excess filling.
*Ahem.* You can choose to add the juice at the bottom of the bowl but that may weaken your tartlets.

Step 5: Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the tops.

Step 6: Bake at 375 for 25 minutes, or until edges of dough begin to brown.

The Verdict
Quite tasty. Hubby and I liked them, but they didn't hold up very well to being removed from the pan, so the extras were hard to store and re-heat. Mine were quite over-filled so the dough couldn't support the weight, and I think the juice made the bottoms weak too. But they re-heated well, and were a win overall. I won't win any awards for presentation though! What uuuuugly little pies!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Leftovers - September 2012

Thursday, 9/13/12 - We had a fun tour with my MOMS Club at the farm where we pick up our CSA box each week, so I packed some lunches in our EasyLunchboxes to eat between the farm and preschool.
Plum, Special K crackers, cherry tomatoes; red lettuce salad w/purple cabbage,
blackberries, carrots, dried edamame, chia seeds, raisins, raspberry vinaigrette

I already showed off her lunch in the Mini Quiche recipe post, so this one was mine!
The dry salad toppings (seeds and raisins) are in the Mini Dipper container, and the dressing is in the Smidget.

Saturday, 9/1/12 - She wanted a beautiful lunch AT lunchtime, so I threw this together so she could start eating right away.
Kalamata olives w/string cheese nibblets, raspberries, ham and cheese sandwich
A quick and simple lunch with some animal fork picks stuck in for fun!

Thursday, 9/6/12 - A fun little dinner.
We had some left over bread from my Bruschetta, and Z LOVED it. She wanted mustard slathered on the bread, plus ham. I cut the ham with my bear head cutter just for fun. After I added a few ginormous green beans, I realized it looked like a face. With 4 eyes.

Saturday, 9/15/12 - Can't remember why we needed a lunch on the go this day. But I was clearly in too much of a hurry to do the picture "right" (on cute background paper in the natural light on my back porch.) I left Baby E in the shot because she's so darned cute!
Cheese stick, Olive Bread, hard boiled egg w/pink salt, Kale Chips
I had made several hard boiled eggs in one go, and chose molds based on what I thought I might use soon. This one used the fish mold.

Sunday, 9/16/12 - Packed by Hubby. We had Little Gym class followed by a birthday party for one of her new school chums, so Dadda packed us some yummy lunches!

PH-honey sandwiches, plum, homemade butter caramels, Pirate Booty
She had taken a few nibbles of her breakfast sandwich (she prefers sandwiches most mornings. It wasn't until I got a bunch of Chobani Champions flavors to try that she started liking yogurt and granola for breakfast! 
So I tucked the remainder of the sandwich in too, in case she'd want it. Dadda likes creamed honey instead of the local raw honey I buy to help our seasonal allergies. And he started calling it "Daddy's Special Honey." So now that's the kind she asks for. Jerk.
But his homemade butter caramels are ah-mazing! So I'll keep him!

Toasted bagel w/cream cheese, plum, dark chocolate PB cups, caramels
Both lunches are a little more treat-heavy than I pack, but she thought hers was the bestest lunch EVER! The little gasp of joy as she realized the little wrappers held caramels was the sound I aim for every time I plan out a cute themed lunch. Bugger.

    Japanese Bento Decoration Ham Cheese Cutter Set 9pcsJapanese Bento Egg Mold Fish Car

Sunday, October 28, 2012

All-Natural Preschool Snacks - October, Week 4

Monday, October 22 through Thursday, October 25

Strawberries, red grapes, SunButter, TJs graham crackers, True Lemon packet
I needed something large enough to fit everything I wanted in this snack, so I dusted off my Sistema Klip-It Lunch Cube (I've only seen colored ones at Old Navy and The Container Stores.) I don't like to use this box much because the left half flips upside-down to close (after securing the snappy lid.) After making an effort to make a cute lunch, the last thing I want is for it to tumble around helter-skelter before I've even put it in the lunch bag! And if I'm packing for myself, an EasyLunchbox does the trick without fiddling with floppy lids and folding compartments. So I kept the purple one I had bought just in case I ever needed it, and gave the rest away (except the pink one. It got busted somehow, so I recycled it.)

In the left/top half, I skewered a strawberry onto a fun plastic skeleton lollipop stick that I got in a pack last Halloween from Dollar Tree. After soaking off the candy skull, I washed and saved the stick to re-use! (I forget how many there were in a package. I saved two for me, and gave the rest away. I'm sure you'll see them crop up in other bloggers' lunches...)
Since we only had two strawberries left, I filled an orange silicone pumpkin cup with some red grapes. The the cup wasn't tall enough to keep the grapes in after flipping, so I used a cloth girly skull napkin (from Red Poppy Cards and Crafts on Etsy) folded up underneath to hold the cup flush against the lid.

In the right/bottom segmented half, I chose one of my childhood favorite snacks - graham crackers and peanut butter. But since her school is nut-free, I chose SunButter instead, and put it in an EasyLunchboxes Mini Dipper. The graham crackers came from Trader Joe's so contain no "artificial flavor" like all the grocery store ones. Not all artificial flavors are petrol-derived, but it's not like they tell you on the package which ones ARE, so we avoid them all, just to be safe. Vanillin, used instead of vanilla in most mass-market chocolates and baked goods (including graham crackers, most likely,) is not petroleum derived, and is often just listed as "artificial flavor" or "flavor added," but Z happens to react to it, so we avoid it too. In case you're wondering, they don't seem to have the little "break lines" like the commercial brands do, so my breaks are a little sloppy.

portable knife for spreading the SunButter and a True Lemon Raspberry Lemonade drink mix packet complete the snack.

The travel knife came from a Sistema Cutlery To Go kit found at Old Navy. The fork, spoon, and knife tops fit onto separate handles so they can be taken apart for more compact travel. It also comes with tapered chopstick tops that can be plugged in instead! All in a nifty little case. I think I paid around $5, less 20% for some promotion using my Old Navy card! I wish I had bought more!

She ate everything but the mini strawberry! Woop!

Apple slices, Apple Straws, True Lemon mix packet
 In one of our sandwich boxes I sliced up an apple and used a little U-shaped cutting tool to carve some grooves across the peel on some of the slices, and a "Z" in a larger slice. Just for fun. To keep with the apple theme, I chose a silicone apple cup for her Apple Straws chips. After school, she was very excited to tell me that she'd used the Apple Straws as drink straws.

I also included a True Lemon drink mix packet to add to her water. Last week I'd sent an opened drink packet dumped into a little container, along with a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon (and forgot to take a picture! Doh!) since I figured out the packet, which was meant for 16-ounces of water, contained a little less than 1 tsp powder. The school's drink cups are 5-oz cups, so I figured a 4-oz dose of powder should be fine. I even wrote instructions on some masking tape and taped it to the powder container, so the teachers would know how much to add.
But they trusted her with it or never even saw it, apparently, since she told me that "One scoop didn't taste delicious enough. Or two scoops or three scoops. I had to use all four scoops." Argh! Luckily, each packet contains so little sugar (so far I haven't been able to find an all-natural drink mix powder without Stevia,) so I figured until I can figure out a better solution, I'll just accept it and let her over-saturate her water.
If I could find an easy-open small box to just hold enough powder for one cuppy, or a leak-proof drink container that's easy to open and easy to pour, so I could just send 16-ounces pre-mixed... Or something.

She said the apples were too mushy, so she didn't eat them. Nor did she notice her initial carved into the middle one. *sadface*

Buttered Rosemary Bread, red grapes
I almost forgot to pack a snack that day, and threw this together as we were headed out the door. I grabbed the first small divided box I could find in my stash; a Tinkerbelle snack box from The Disney Store (now discontinued.) To make it festive, I stuck a flat pumpkin cupcake pick in the grapes. DONE!

Totally forgot to send a drink that day too. Doh! Luckily the snack mom had brought safe apple juice concentrate. I was in such a hurry I had to take the photo in the car, so I used her little lightly-insulated snack bag as the background. (Meant for carrying compact bento boxes. Works great for her small snacks! Daiso, $1.50.)

Small snack, so I wasn't surprised to find the box empty after school.

Whole Grain Ritz, spreadable cheese, red grapes, True Lemon packet
In a sandwich box I decided to try her out on another cracker-spread combo. I packed around 6 Whole Grain Ritz crackers (our favorites for spreadable herby cheeses!) and a mini muffin cup with some Rondele Garlic and Herbs cheese I managed to nab at 75% off from a grocery store location that was closing down. I included a mini bone spork cupcake topper for spreading, and a skeleton cupcake pick for the grapes chillin' in the silicone pumpkin cup.
True Lemon Lemonade drink mix packet for her drink (they were on sale if you bought two boxes, so I picked both lemonade flavors when I discovered them at the grocery store. Very exciting to find dye-free drink mix at a "regular" grocery!)

She left most, if not all, of the grapes, but ate all the crackers and cheese.

     Food Decorating Pick Cute Happy Pumpkin 8 pcs