Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Home Cookin': Very Veggie Pasta Sauce

Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 at 1:20 PM

Dinner is served - ERINN SIMON
  • Erinn Simon
  • Dinner is served

Every parent knows it can be tough to get kids to eat vegetables. So tough, sometimes, that it can be tempting to look for ways to trick kids into consuming their daily quota. Even so, I'm not a fan of  "hiding" veggies in kids' food. I think it reinforces the idea that eating vegetables is a chore we have to get through. Not true!

I like the approach of serving veggies every day, and modeling how much you like them. I believe that if kids are consistently served a variety of vegetables in a positive way, eventually they'll come around to actually eating them. It's the method we use at the Burlington Children's Space. Teachers sit with kids at mealtime, serve themselves whatever vegetable we're having for lunch and talk about how colorful, crunchy, or tasty it is. It usually works!

That being said, there's no reason you can't boost the vegetable quotient in a popular dish that's already pretty healthy, like good old-fashioned red sauce! This recipe is a favorite at my house and at BCS. The best part? It's incredibly versatile — it works with pasta, pizza, lasagna, and can even be modified into a tasty tomato soup. Whether or not you tell you kids about the kale and carrots is up to you. 

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Will You Go Out With Me?: Telling Stories

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2016 at 10:16 AM

Ryan in line at The Moth - ANGELA ARSENAULT
  • Angela Arsenault
  • Ryan in line at The Moth
Most couples who have been together for the better part of 15 years will say there are just some issues that are never resolved. I’m not talking about the big stuff, but rather those small, often inconsequential differences of opinion that, over time, become more like a running joke than an actual disagreement.

One such debate in my relationship centers around the art of storytelling. I’m guessing it’s not as common an argument as putting the seat down, but it’s very real to us. Given that I write stories for a living, and Ryan tells them regularly on stage to hundreds or thousands of people at a time, the skillful weaving of a story is something we both think a lot about. The point we most often disagree on is the amount of detail that should go into a great story. I tend to appreciate, and include, way more specifics, while Ryan takes a more minimalist approach.

So in our case, a night out at The Moth StorySLAM was kind of high stakes. On the Moth Radio Hour, which airs weekly on NPR, people tell true stories that range from the hilarious to the traumatizing. Naturally, the stories that make it on air are the best of the lot. Ryan was skeptical about the caliber of tales we’d hear at The Skinny Pancake in Burlington on a snowy Tuesday evening. His doubts were rooted in his belief that good storytelling is exceedingly difficult, and that, generally speaking, people are bad storytellers.

We were poised to find out as we stood in line outside the Skinny Pancake waiting for the doors to open. (Sidenote: if you go, arrive well before doors open to get a decent seat. It’s worth spending 30 minutes in line so that you don’t spend two hours standing up during the show.) A woman in a Moth t-shirt worked her way down the line, handing out a tiny strip of paper and a pen to everyone she encountered. I froze for a second, thinking it might actually be a rule that every attendee place their name in “the hat” for a chance to tell their own story.

“I don’t want to tell a story,” I said, as soon as she approached us. “Nope, me neither,” Ryan said. For two people who care so much about the recipe for a great story, we were admittedly uninterested in actually telling one. To our collective relief, the strips of paper had an optional question that you could answer and then place in a different hat to potentially be read by the event’s host, Autumn Spencer, in between storytellers.

Every StorySLAM has a theme — in this case, it was “Strict,” — and so the question printed on that tiny strip of paper was, “Tell us about a time you broke the rules.” Not surprisingly, Ryan answered the question in six words. SIX. I whittled my answer down to three run-on sentences.

We scoped out a great pair of seats in the back corner once the crowd was allowed in, then ordered crêpes from the limited menu and marveled at the fact that neither of us knew more than two people in the room. When does that happen in Burlington?

After almost an hour, the Slam got underway. The 5-minute unscripted stories came fast and furious. Autumn did a great job of keeping us chuckling between storytellers, and I learned that I’m not the only one who couldn’t answer that question about breaking the rules in the limited space provided. One of the strips she read from was covered in ink on the front and back.

In the end, a Slam champion was crowned, based on scores given by three groups of audience judges. The stories — most of which centered around school or religion (namely Catholicism) — were good. A couple were even great. (The winner told an unexpected tale of getting an oil massage in a women’s prison in Thailand.) The gently enforced time limit helped keep everyone on topic and supported Ryan’s “less is more” theory of the craft.

But I’m still a sucker for details, especially the emotional details of a story. Which is why I’ll spend some time telling you that the most important takeaway for me had nothing to do with the stories told on stage, or the fact that The Moth format might favor Ryan’s method of storytelling to mine. All of this storytelling got me thinking about Our Story — Ryan and mine — and I realized: I like that our story includes this silly point of contention. It’s a detail that speaks to how well we know each other. And it reminds us that even when we disagree, we can laugh about it. Nobody has to be right. The debate rages on indefinitely because we’ve got that kind of time.

Visit The Moth's website to find out about Burlington StorySLAM events for the next four months. Tickets go on sale one week before the event. February's theme is "Love Hurts."

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Review: Good Night Yoga

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 12:55 PM


My daughters, 5-year-old Hadley and 3-year-old Pippa, received lots of books for Christmas. One of them was a little different from the rest. Good Night Yoga, written by Mariam Gates and illustrated by Sarah Jane Hinder, is a relaxing book that takes young readers through calming yoga poses and deep breathing exercises before bedtime. My kids loved it.

The first time we read it, we were visiting friends and were at the end of a day with lots of activity. The girls were exhausted. The kind of exhausted that results in crazy bedtime antics. I had been saving Good Night Yoga for just such a night.  

The rhyming story begins with the sun going down and narrates the natural world putting a close to the day — the stars come out; the birds, ladybugs and butterflies find their way to bed; and the moon finds its place in the nighttime sky. Each page offers a calming warm color palette illustrating the natural process of nighttime taking hold.

The animals and plants are joined on each page by illustrations of children who demonstrate yoga poses. Through the course of the book, young yogis learn how to do “The Good Night Yoga Flow,” a series of 11 poses starting in standing Sun and ending in lying down Child’s Pose. 

The first time I read it, it was difficult to figure out which part to read first — the rhyme or the description of each pose. I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the story but the girls’ eyes were immediately drawn to the yoga poses when I turned each page. 

But working out the sequence was something I worried about more than the girls. When Hadley saw how the book worked, she jumped on the bed and her eyes lit up with excitement. “I know this pose! We do this at school!” she said, immediately bending her knees and stretching out her arms into Cloud position. “See? I can do it!”  Pippa squealed and followed suit, contorting into her 3-year-old version of Cloud.

We spent a good bit of time on the last page of the book, which illustrates the full “Good Night Yoga Flow” sequence. We took turns demonstrating our favorite positions before it was time for lights out. 

Movement, even calm movement, is not usually part of our nighttime routine so I was a little unsure how our yoga session would affect bedtime. But when I settled Pippa into bed she said sleepily, "Mama, I love this book!' and turned on to her side, pulling the covers up to her chin. 

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Home Cookin': Citrus-Season Salsa

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 8:01 AM

Citrus salsa - ERINN SIMON
  • Erinn Simon
  • Citrus salsa
Last Mother's Day, my kids gave me the best gift — a stack of cooking magazines. My favorite was Curbside Cuisine, with its pages of recipes from the country's greatest food trucks, with an emphasis on burgers and tacos. We've made and devoured many of the recipes we found in those pages, but the one we've really adopted as our own is this citrus salsa.

We make tacos every week at my house and I'm always looking for new and exciting fillings to change things up. This salsa has been in taco-night rotation since the first time we tried it.  It's the perfect recipe for making the most of winter citrus fruit and it also works wonderfully with chicken, fish, and (our current favorite) roasted veggies like cauliflower, carrots and butternut squash. It's also great tossed with greens and a little olive oil, served over rice or couscous, or as a snack with tortilla chips. 

Citrus-Season Salsa (Makes about 3 cups) 
Adapted from Curbside Cuisine/Tieghan Gerard

1/2 large grapefruit, peeled, sectioned, pith removed and cut into small pieces
1 Cara Cara or blood orange peeled, sectioned, pith removed, cut into small pieces
1 mango, peeled and diced 1 fresh jalapeño, seeded and diced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
juice of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional*)
*I'm the only one in my family who likes cilantro, so I just chop some for myself and add it to my own tacos. If you have no cilantro haters at your house I urge you to add it to the salsa.

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss. Taste and adjust salt and/or lemon and lime juice if necessary. The salsa will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two if tightly covered. 

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Words at Play: Fostering Conversation

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2016 at 8:05 AM

Recent studies suggest that talking with children is a critical factor in a child's language development. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily come about naturally. TV, computers, iPhones and other distractions often place parents and children in the same room but in different worlds. We have to make a special effort to talk to our children.

Luckily, there is a lot to talk about. Children enjoy discussing their everyday experiences. Just the other day I overheard a conversation between a 5-year-old boy and his dad in the locker room of a local pool. They rushed into the locker room and headed for the toilet. The dad said, "Good job telling me that you had to go before it was too late!" There was a pause, and then the son said, "It sure is a big one." The dad said, "Yes, it is." The son asked, "Do you think it will go down the toilet? The dad said, "Yes, they have super powerful toilets here." Then the boy asked, "Have you ever seen an oil rig?" "Only on TV," replied his dad. These are obviously a pair who enjoy communicating with each other. Even the most mundane conversations add to the richness of a child's verbal life.

Books can also spark rich conversations. A couple of months ago I recommend Harry the Dirty Dog to a friend's son. His dad got it for him and the next time I saw them, the boy told me, excitedly, "Harry runs away from his family, and gets so dirty that he becomes a black dog with white spots instead of a white dog with black spots." The world Harry lives in is very different from ours. In Harry's world stray dogs run around in packs. There are also steam rollers and coal cellars, things you don't often see these days. Books can open up all kinds of new topics for conversation.

When we talk with children about books, we can be guided by what interests the child. Some children enjoy discussing the pictures while others find the words more interesting. Certain books trigger memories and others can transport a child to an entirely different world. Sometimes a child just wants to sit in your lap and hear a book read from beginning to end, with no interruptions. That's fine, but if you read a book more than once, discussion becomes more likely.

Open-ended questions — ones that don't have a single word answer — encourage conversation. You can always point to a picture of a cow and ask, “What kind of animal is that?” A more interesting question might be, “Why do you think that cow is driving a tractor?” (Assuming of course that the cow is driving a tractor!)

Talking with your children when they are young will become a lifelong habit. When it’s time for those difficult teenage conversations, you’ll be a bit more prepared!

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