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October 23, 2011

Lunch in Portugal – Part 1

I’m in Portugal this week, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to find out what the Portugese eat for lunch. Like the rest of Europe, the bakery/cafe plays a big part in day-to-day life. There’s at least one on every street corner. In fact, it appears to be the meeting place for lunch. From sweet egg custard tarts to savory croissants and mini quiches, the choices are endless. The locals aren’t afraid to eat a quiche for lunch, followed by an almond tart for dessert. And if you’re an adult, it’s all washed down with an espresso.

We’ve tried quiches filled with spinach and tomato, ham and cheese, and spinach and cheese. All have been obscenely delicious. I’m inspired to make my own when I get home. But I’ll probably make a lighter version with phyllo dough instead of the traditional pie crust. Admittedly, the crust here has been perfectly flaky and buttery.


October 19, 2011

Oatmeal Snack Bars

S has been complaining that the grain-free bars I make are too sweet. Really? This is coming from the child who would love nothing more than to eat a bowl of icing. But, okay, I like bars, so I’m game for finding a new recipe. I prefer to stay away from wheat, when we can, so these super-easy oat bars from sounded interesting. There’s no sugar or flour, just oats, dried fruit and a bunch of nuts and seeds. If you’re sensitive to gluten, use gluten-free oats. (I’m a fan of the ones from Bob’s Red Mill.)

The verdict? It’s a keeper. But I will be playing with it some, trying different nuts, fruits and coconut. S thought they weren’t sweet enough (The other bar is too sweet and this one not sweet enough. Ack!), but C liked them. And I had two with my cup of coffee this morning. For the next go-around, I’ll add 1/4 cup of honey or brown sugar.

Note: These have the texture of a dense muffin, rather than a crunchy cookie. Recipe follows the photo.

Baked Oatmeal Snack Bars (from


1 1/2 c. rolled oats

1/2 c. chopped nuts (any variety is fine – walnuts, almonds, etc.)

1/2 c. dried fruit (again, any you like is fine – raisins, cranberries, apricots, dates, figs)

1/4 c. seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax or sesame)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. kosher salt (I think you could eliminate this or cut it to 1/2 tsp., esp. if you don’t add a sweetener)

1 1/4 c. skim milk

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients.

Pour wet into dry. Stir to combine.

Pour into a 9X9 baking dish either coated in cooking spray or lined with parchment.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Cut into squares.

October 17, 2011

Black Bean Quesadillas

Yes, there’s cooking involved. But it’s all done in under 10 minutes. Here are the easy-peasy steps:

Black bean quesadillas

1.  Put a tortilla in a pan on medium heat. (Note: Use whole wheat so you don’t have Mommy guilt like me.)

2.  Flip once to warm on both sides. (This makes the cheese melt faster.)

3. Sprinkle some grated Monterey Jack cheese on half the tortilla.

4. Put a couple of tablespoons of rinsed, canned black beans on top of the cheese.

5. Fold quesadilla in half and cook until golden on both sides, about 2 to 4 minutes.

6. Cut into triangles.

All done! I smashed up half an avocado and added a twist of lime and a dash of salt to make a small side of guacamole. You could also add some salsa to the inside of the quesadilla. Unfortunately, we were all out.

To round out the lunch, I threw in a couple clementines and a plum.



October 5, 2011

Crafty Lunchbox Notes

There’s an interesting read in today’s Wall Street Journal about how companies and parents are getting creative when it comes to lunchbox notes. Personally, I prefer writing my own message or drawing a little picture on a sticky note. But I don’t have time to do it everyday, so I can see why purchasing pre-written notes might be appealing.

Recently, I was flipping through an old magazine with a special feature on dogs. More than 40 dog breeds were profiled with a brief fact and small photo. Knowing that my daughter is a dog fanatic, I decided to cut out all the photos and tape a different one each day to her reusable lunch container. She loved it and couldn’t wait to see which breed was waiting for her the following day. But then a couple days into it, she told me it’d be really nice if there was a message from the dog du jour. Sigh. A mom’s work is never done.

Do you include a note with your child’s lunch?

October 4, 2011

English Muffin Pizzas

Aside from having to bake it, an English muffin pizza takes as little time to pack as a PB&J. I started with whole-wheat English muffins, spread them with pizza sauce, sprinkled on some mozzarella and topped each with a large slice of Applegate pepperoni. I baked the pizza at 350 degrees for 7 minutes, which was plenty of time for the pepperoni to crisp and the cheese to melt. While it was cooking, I chopped up some fresh fruit and carrots, and filled a water bottle. When the pizza was done, I wrapped it in foil.

August 30, 2011

Day 1 – Eel and Avocado Roll

The excitement is in the air—tinged with a bit of apprehension, of course. It’s that wonderful first day of school. If your child is anything like mine, she wants everything to be perfect: her outfit, her hair, her backpack, and her lunch.

For the first day, I decide to pack one of my daughter’s all-time favorites: eel and avocado roll. If anything goes awry, at least she can find comfort in her lunch. To start, I add rice vinegar to leftover rice. I’m not using sushi rice, so it’s even more important that I don’t handle the rice too much while I’m mixing. Then, I cut half a sheet of nori (seaweed) and place it on my sushi mat.

Packing seaweed always reminds me of my own childhood, when my mother used to pack little strips of nori for snack time. The girls around me all had Fritos or Doritos, and they would stare at my dark crisps of saltiness with disgust. I hated the reaction the seaweed got, but I loved the way it tasted. Hopefully, S won’t have to feel similarly ostracized because of her lunch. After all, even Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s now carries little packs of seaweed. But I digress.

Spoon the rice over the seaweed and press it to cover the entire sheet, all the way to the corners. Over the rice, sprinkle toasted sesame seeds.

Next, flip the seaweed over so the rice faces the mat, and put julienned cucumbers, sliced avocado and eel in the middle. My pre-cooked eel comes frozen from the Asian market, so I simply pop it in the oven for eight minutes and broil it for two. The result is warm, crispy yumminess.

Then, I use the mat to roll the rice. This is a skill I have yet to perfect, but it’s the delicate balance of rolling just tightly enough. If it’s too tight, the filling squeezes out the sides; if it’s too loose, it won’t hold together. Lastly, use a very sharp  knife to cut the roll.

To accompany the sushi, I throw in some edamame. And to make sure she gets fruit, I add cut-up strawberries, figs from our tree in the backyard and raspberries.

Voila! Lunch is made. And as a bonus, there’s enough for me to have the same!

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