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Category Archives: parenting

How to get a kid to eat broccoli

Just in the past week, I’ve been  harvesting the best broccoli I’ve ever grown.  It is super-crunchy, very tasty, and robust enough to have warded off the usual attack of the cabbage worms.

This broccoli doesn’t even make it through the front door without my 5 year old chomping into the florets.

He loves to help me find the crowns that are ready, then he waits stealthily until I’m occupied with pulling up a weed or picking another veggie — and he starts chewing away at it.

This broccoli is so good I’ve been just barely steaming it if I do cook it at all.

Now, in order to get my younger  boy to eat it I have to put butter on it.  But I’m just happy he likes it too especially considering how picky of an eater he can be.

The cauliflower plants aren’t quite ready yet.  I am curious if this guy will attack them post-harvest as voraciously as he does the broccoli…..

I always seem to be in the garden barefoot.  Note inadvertently color-coordinated  toenail polish shade.  Trying to think of a good new cheezy name for that color…”Broccoli Breeze”….

 

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Boys in 2010 with their cousin and the Mantis

We have had a large metal praying mantis sculpture in our yard for a couple of years.  Now we have about 500 of its real-life counterparts inhabiting our garden, thanks to an early birthday present for our 5-year old from our good friends.

It’s definitely a great gift for a 5-year old boy — but I must admit I was as excited about it as he was.

I’ve always heard that praying mantises, like ladybugs, are great predators for garden pests, eating all kinds of caterpillars and grubs that like to mess up good things growing.

We’ve also captured praying mantids in our house a couple of times and watched them for a day or so, and have been amazed at their lightning-quick forelegs and voracious appetites for moths.

This excellent birthday present was 2 egg cases, which the container said held approximately 200 baby mantids each.  The container also said it would take 2-6 weeks for them to hatch — you could put the egg cases outside in a tree or bush.

Click on pic to enlarge and you’ll see 3 baby mantids

Or better yet you could put them inside a glass bowl inside to watch them eventually hatch.  Well, I don’t know what size glass bowl they were talking about, but I sure am glad I put them in a mason jar with a lid because the morning after we got them, there was a jar full of hundreds of tiny mantids darting around inside trying to get out. ( I can’t imagine trying to herd all those mantids up from inside a house!)

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We all ran outside (after our 3 year old fell down the stairs in the midst of all the excitement — poor guy), my birthday boy unscrewed the lid and we watched them hop fearlessly from the glass to the green arugula and spinach leaves.

They were a tiny army — and a thirsty one at that, as they each immediately stuck their faces down onto the leaves to drink the dew from the night before.

We checked on the mantids after I picked the guys up from preschool at noon, and we found many of them perched on the tops of leaves in the garden, waiting for their next victims.

I’d put both egg cases back into the jar as I couldn’t tell which one was the one that had hatched.  Thank goodness.  Two mornings later, I came downstairs to find another jar full of baby mantids raring to get out.  I thought maybe the raised beds in the front yard had plenty enough pest protection from the first release of mantids, so I dispersed the second hatching onto the plants in our perennial garden in our backyard (including on our apple trees, blueberry and raspberry bushes).

Here are some more photos of these cool hunters after we turned them loose in the garden:

 

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Spinach hummus

My 3 year old’s favorite “vegetable” is spinach hummus by made by Roots, an Asheville company.  I’ve not been able to find it in my local grocery store lately, but did find their regular hummus (which is also some of the tastiest store-bought hummus ever) and decided to try to make my own version.

Yesterday afternoon in the garden, the boys helped me pick a few cups’ worth of spinach leaves (which, by the way, was much less exciting to them than pulling up fat radishes, but that’s another story).   Then we washed the leaves and pureed them into a pulp with the immersion blender:

I added just a few tablespoons of water to get the process started.   I had a total of about 3 cups of fresh spinach leaves.  Oh, and it helped to chop them up with a knife before trying to use the blender.

Fresh raw spinach smells and tastes so sweet.  No wonder you can drink smoothies with that as a main ingredient.  My 5 year old wanted to eat it just as it was, without mixing it in with the plain hummus.

Note little bro licking the lid of the hummus container as he’s watching his big bro at work.

The 3 cups of leaves ended up being about 3/4 cup of spinach puree, which we stirred in with the plain hummus.  It was so good they finished the entire container off in about 10 minutes.

Preschooler wisdom: It's always important to have a flashlight handy, even when you're devouring spinach hummus on a sunny afternoon.

 

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4 pounds of fresh spinach — a good recipe

My spinach has done so well this spring that I’ve been enjoying it for well over a month and have shared it with several friends.  I prefer it raw — in salads — when the leaves are small.  However, it got crazy on me and grew big and not quite tender anymore.

So I looked in my Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything cookbook, found a good recipe for “spinach croquettes”, then picked and picked and picked and came up with a sink full to wash:  

And that was the hardest part of the entire recipe.

Spring greens from the garden — lettuce, arugula, spinach, cress —  have the most labor-intensive preparation than anything else I grow.

I end up washing them a few times then inspecting both sides of each leaf before eating or cooking them.  It’s not the garden dirt that I mind — it’s slugs and cabbage looper worms that turn off my appetite. I know, I know, crawly critters are considered a delicacy and/or protein in some cultures.  And their presence is a better alternative to nuking my plants with pesticides.   Instead I raise our water bill considerably in the spring making sure my greens are critter-free.

My boys love weighing our garden veggies on this old scale that belonged to my grandmother.  It’s a trick great way to get them helping out in the kitchen when Preschooler Witching Hour is nigh (’round about 5:15pm).

Here’s the final product, which was thoroughly enjoyed by both boys (even the picky one) — spinach this way is deee-licious.  It was sweet, not soggy or bitter at all.  (I’d taken the other croquettes out of the skillet before I took the picture — you can fit about 8 in there at at time.  I think the whole recipe made about 18 — I’d doubled it).

And here’s the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything:

SPINACH CROQUETTES

MAKES:  4 servings  TIME:  30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • Salt
  • 2 pounds spinach, trimmed of thick stems and well washed
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere, cantal, or other fairly strong cow’s milk cheese [none of which I had so I used some mozzarella instead]
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs [I used panko crumbs]
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or use more oil)

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the spinach and onion and cook for just about a minute, until the spinach wilts.  Drain thoroughly and cool a bit.  Chop the spinach and put it and the onion in a bowl, along with the eggs, cheese and bread crumbs.  Mix well, then add salt and pepper to taste.  If the mixture is too loose to form into cakes, add some more bread crumbs; if it’s too dry, add a little milk or another egg.

2.  Put half the oil and butter into a large skillet, preferable nonstick, over medium heat.  Form the spinach mixture into small cakes and cook, without crowding — you will have to cook in batches — until nicely browned, adjusting the heat so the cakes brown evenly without burning, about 5 minutes.  Turn once, then brown the other side, again about 5 minutes.  Continue until all the spinach mixutre is used up.  Serve hot or at room temperature.”

 

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3 weeks after planting, and everything’s going wild

It’s already so warm that everything’s starting to bolt — my spinach leaves are getting unworthy of being eaten raw, I’m seeing the little broccoli-looking florets on some of my greens (like mizuna), and the lettuce is looking similarly bothered by this early, fast spring.

Y’all come by and pick a bag (or ten) of greens — they’re getting out of hand!

Mizuna is now taller than my 3 year old

Garlic coming up

 

 

 

 

All the seeds and sets I planted back on March 7th have come up in full force.  We’ve had ample rain, warmth and sun to coax everything up.

Beets and snow peas are great seeds for kids to help with the planting -- they are big and easy to handle

Snow peas

Garlic and radishes

Yum, shallots

Radishes

And no frosts or freezes to kill everything back — yet.  I just keep waiting for a weather report calling for a late-season blizzard or something (wasn’t Asheville’s Great Blizzard of ’96 at the end of March??)

If that does happen, I can cover 4 of my raised beds, but there is so much in the yard that we’d need to buy truckloads of plastic sheeting to cover all the trees and shrubs that are already flowering.

So while this unseasonably warm weather is unsettling (I keep thinking of flooded islands, melting ice caps) now I’m kind of hoping it stays this way — at least for my garden’s sake!

Raspberry canes

Blueberry blossoms

Jonafree apple blossom

Jonafree apple blossom

Honeycrisp apple blossom

 

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Aside

Nothing like a weird carrot to get the kids interested in the garden — and to get at least one of my kids excited about eating a carrot:

I’ve never been able to pick a carrot in the middle of February before.  I planted these seeds back in October, I think.  They’ve been growing slowly in one of the raised beds and the tops looked so good I just had to pull up a few.

Unfortunately, they aren’t too flavorful and the texture is a little tough.

That didn’t stop my older boy from taking this one from me when I brought it in the house and immediately washing it in the bathroom sink (the only one he can reach) and asking if he could eat it right then.  I told him we’d have to get some photos first.

Well, everthing comes back to Star Wars in our house.  His first impression of what the funky carrot looked like?  Yoda’s hand.  Here it is with cloak and light saber.

Our interpretations varied:  Yoda hand, creature with a tail (my husband’s first interpretation), one of those wild codpieces worn by remote tribesmen in New Guinea (my first thought) and “I don’t wike cawwots” (my almost-3 year old whose diet mainly consists of air and spinach hummus — I think he thought it was going to end up on his plate).

It didn’t taste as interesting as it looked; he got through about half of it before he decided it wasn’t so great:

 

But there were some really delicious pickin’s from the garden this week:  tons of spinach (we shared with friends and made a huge salad with mizuna and a bit of watercress thrown in), collards, russian red kale, leeks, and tiny little beets and beet greens.

The collards are perfect right now.  The green worms that had been feasting on the leaves are gone!  That’s one of those small things in life that make me really happy — to see a plant come back from near-destruction (especially when those gross worms were the culprits).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funky carrot

 

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Don’t eat those berries!

I cannot remember how many times as a child my parents warned me of the perils of eating “poison berries” off bushes in our yard.  Pretty much every berry in our yard was “poisonous”, according to my mom:  crimson holly berries, shiny red magnolia seeds, waxy nandina berries…and she was mostly right.

I mean, this was in the late 1970s, early 1980s when there was no Google for my mom to instantly find out which of those tempting, jewel-colored berries were safe to touch and/or eat, so my brother and I pretty much steered clear of them.  Well, except to pick them and use them as ammo to throw at each other.

Those gorgeous, enticing purply-blue berries on the mahonia bushes that we thought were deadly are actually edible.   I just instantly and inadvertently found out via a Google search to check my spelling of “mahonia” that you can make a great jelly from those berries.  I’m still skeptical though.  Mom drilled that “poison” thing into our heads.  I do that to my boys too — better safe than sorry (for example:  they love to check out mushrooms, and I know so little about which wild ones are edible I steer them clear except to look at them).

We have several mahonias in our yard.  They are quite invasive and non-native to boot, but they were here before we moved in so I live with them and actually enjoy their punchy fragrant yellow flowers in the early spring.  Turns out that bees LOVE them too, so they further find favor in my gardening eyes.  And, as the daffodils and crocuses (croci??) are popping out of the ground in late January and early February with this unseasonably warm weather,  so follow the mahonia blooms — and a bee too!

 

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Worm tea and worm castings

Top bin removed before getting castings out from middle bin

A few months ago I bought some worms and made worm-composting bins.  My boys and I have been feeding them kitchen scraps every week or so since then.  It’s been a fairly low-maintenance venture, and worms don’t sting, so I don’t have to don a hot (not figuratively) bee suit every time I need to feed them and/or check on them.

The only real negative was the gigantic fruit fly swarm that materialized mid-August when I hadn’t put enough dirt on top of the veggie and fruit scraps in the bins.  Otherwise, it was just like any healthy composting set-up with no smell at all.

Those redworms have been busy.  I tried to lift up the top bin and almost pulled my back out.  I finally hoisted it off and the middle bin was full of dark castings.

Top bin compared to final product -- castings!

I’d been feeding the worms only in the top bin so they’d pretty much all migrated up, so I only had to fish a couple of them out of there and transfer them to the top.

The bottom bin was about half-full of tea, actually that’s “leachate” — I was informed by James Magee at Blue Ridge Redworms that’s the correct term for the liquid that runs off the castings. ( Worm tea is another form of compost-based liquid that comes from worms, but there’s more involved in making it, including fermenting it with molasses and some other stuff that sounds pretty advanced.  I’ll stick to the liquid dregs for now….)

Adding leachate to raised bed

So, as I’d suspected when we started composting with worms, our system wasn’t big enough to handle all our kitchen’s compostables.  However, they ate more than I’d thought they would — maybe 75% of the stuff that would have gone into our regular compost bins out in the side yard.

I put all the castings into one of my raised beds where I’ve got some dinosaur kale growing.  I poured the leachate around the arugula, mache, and red russian kale in another raised bed.

Putting castings into raised bed

Now it’s time for the worm bins to go back into the basement for winter as we’re getting into freezing temps at night.

And I’ll be keeping an eye on the winter greens on into spring to see how they benefit from our worm composting venture….

Redworms at work in worm composting bin

 

“Edamame” sounds so much cooler than “soybean”

Time runs fast in the summer.  I’ve already pulled up all late spring veggies that were done, and am now heavy into tomatoes, squash and beans.

Soy plants in the raised beds. They're big. About 4 feet tall and bushy.

And speaking of beans, the edamame that my kids and I planted are coming in strong.  That’s an easy seed for little kids to plant — they are big, round, white seeds– so they’re easy to handle and see going into the ground in late spring. Now we’re enjoying some really robust plants.

When I was a kid, I remember my dad speaking disparagingly of fields of soybeans — I think he was disappointed to see mono-crops taking over the sandhills of South Carolina (I think I’m projecting….). Or maybe he just didn’t like to eat soybeans then.

I really didn’t hear much about soy again until I went vegetarian in college and ate all kinds of incarnations of the bean.  When I moved to Asheville about 15 years ago, I re-discovered it at a sushi restaurant as “edamame”.  Yum.  Anything that has lots of salt, I love.  Plus it’s fun to eat – it’s a Japanese version of boiled peanuts.

Sow True Seed had a variety of edamame seeds this spring, so I planted one row in the smallest (4×4 foot) raised bed, so not alot of plants but they are producing more than enough for our family.

My kids are not into harvesting edamame or any other small vegetable that requires patience to harvest. There are lots of mosquitos out and it’s hot, so it’s not really fun for long for anyone. However, they really wanted to pick every tomato, green and red.

They did enjoy getting to see how much we (ahem, “I”) harvested by weighing them on the kitchen scales.


Another fun thing about edamame is you don’t have to snap and/or string them like you do most other beans.  I just threw them in a pot of boiling salted water for about 8 minutes, drained, then salted them.  Then there’s the best part:

Still a little hot but sure are good

Notice there are no photos of my 2 year old eating edamame.  He likes to lick the salt off, then get the beans out of the pods and look at them.  We’re working on getting him to expand his vegetable repertoire.  Not easy, but at least he has a good example set by his older brother!

 

My 4-year old beekeeper


Since we got our beehive last month, our older son has been asking if he could get a “bee suit” too.  Sure enough, I googled around and found many beekeeping suppliers who sell beekeeping suits for kids.

I ordered one for his birthday, and when we opened the package he immediately asked James to help him put it on, then went straight to the hive to get an up-close look at them (well, right after I made him stand still and let me get this picture of him with his big ol’ happy grin before he put on boots and gloves!)

When he got to the hive, he yelled “I smell honey!!”

Now, although he was fully suited and protected, I was still a little worried about him getting stung somehow. However, he was not actually “working” in the bees, and we weren’t opening up the hive to check on them, so he was safe from getting stung, and was elated to have been able to get close to the hive and see the bees up close as they traveled in and out of the hive.

A few days later, we went to my husband’s cousin’s house to check on their new hive. My brother had installed the hive along with a new queen, but he was out of town and couldn’t check to make sure the queen had been released from the little box she’d been delivered in.

There is a wall of solid sugar on one end of the box that the bees eat to release the queen.  Sometimes (rarely) they won’t have freed her so the beekeeper has to help the process along.

This was my first attempt at checking on a hive without someone else’s help, but my brother assured me all I had to do was take the top off the box, find the queen box and make sure she was out.

Right.  Well, along with my trusty helper, I opened up the top and there was no queen box in sight, so I had to start lifting up the racks and looking down into the bottom of the bee box.  I finally found the queen box under the middle racks and gave it to my son to inspect.  He was intrigued that the queen had been freed by the worker bees from that little box (and so was I!)

The bees had already filled out several of the racks, and we were even lucky enough to see the queen — my boy was so excited you’d have thought he’d had seen an ice cream truck the size of an 18-wheeler.  The queen had made it out of the box and was busy laying eggs in the new cells.

Today, we went in our own hive along with my brother.  It was just about an opposite experience from the one I just described.

The bees have been so productive in the past few weeks that they have almost filled up all the racks with honey and brood.  We were really excited to see how much honey they’ve made, and how many brood cells there are.   Well, it was really hot – of course that’s compounded by being in full bee suits – and we were in the blazing sun with no shade.  My brother told my son to put his hands by his side, and not on the stand the bee box is on.

Well, not a minute after that, I looked at my son’s fleece gloves (gloves weren’t included with the bee suit, and there weren’t any to order in his size).  There were a few bees starting to land on his gloves, and they were not happy.  I’d heard that bees don’t like dark colors.  Well, it turns out they don’t like dark colors that also happen to be fuzzy (like fleece) — kinda reminds them of bears.

My brother calmly got my son away from the hive, brushed all the bees off his gloves, and called to me to put the top back on the box  (by this time the bees had sent out some kind of signal that danger was nearby, and they were agitated).

I was so hot and trying not to panic — I was worried for my son with those bees landing all over his gloves– then as soon as my brother got the situation under control I realized that I had to put the bee box back together quickly and I was getting nervous because there were suddenly lots of bees in the air around me.  But I got it done, then ran to make sure my son was OK, and he was totally unfazed, no stings —  but a little cranky from being just as hot and sweaty as we were (and his bee experience was cut short and he wasn’t sure why).

I called a local beekeeper/supplier this afternoon as soon as I’d recovered (and wasn’t about to fall out from heat stroke), and told him I needed some child-sized gloves. He’s got them in stock and we’re going tomorrow morning to get them.  I also told him what happened today, and he said, “Oh yeah, bees really don’t like fuzzy…nope, they don’t like fuzzy at all.”  No more fleece for us.

Here’s one of our bees (I’m assuming it’s one of our bees!) on a broccoli flower in the garden.  Wonder if that affects the taste of the honey (sourwood honey…clover honey… broccoli honey — yikes)?  I’m thinking we don’t have enough broccoli to make a bit of difference, plus I’m getting ready to pull it all up anyway because it’s too hot and it’s bolting:

 

 

 

 

 
 
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