I feel as though I’ve been neglecting this little blog the last little while. My mother was here, and she not only set an impossible standard when it comes to number of books read in one sitting to my children, she cooked for me. Yay mommy! She likes to leave my freezer full of food when she leaves so that it’s easier for me to get dinner ready for a few months with the baby. Since I have a tiny freezer, we experimented with some fun ideas, as well as some tried and true methods.
First I’ll tell you the tried and true. Mom would never buy anything prepackaged at the supermarket. I’m not sure if this was because she was aware of how unhealthy most of it was, or if her innately thrifty nature was repelled at the thought of paying extra to have someone do what she could so herself. Why buy canned beans when you can make them from dry and for one-third the cost of canned? Why buy spaghetti sauce when you can make your own? Why buy snack pockets and pizza pockets when you can make your own? Don’t believe me? You can. I spent my entire childhood taking these things for lunch at school. Since we’re talking about my mom and childhood, I’ll tell you a story. And then I’ll tell you how to make your own meal pockets.
By the time I was in junior high I was supposed to make my own lunches, which was simple since it meant going to the freezer for premade pockets, or making a sandwich, the fridge was always full of fresh vegetables and fruit, so it wasn’t hard. But some days I would forget a lunch, some days I wouldn’t have time. It took about 5 minutes to walk to school so we didn’t live that far away. I would phone my mom sometime after first period and tell her I didn’t have a lunch if she didn’t already know and she would bring me one. (She always did, every one cheer for my saintly food providing mother who never said, “Too bad kid, I guess you’ll be hungry at lunch time.” Maybe she wanted me to get good grades in my afternoon classes too.) Remember my mom is a caterer and has a talent for making food pretty. So my lunch would be something like a tuna salad on whole wheat with pickles on the outside, she never put pickles or tomatoes in the sandwich; that would make them soggy. Then I would get carrot and celery sticks, an apple and an orange, maybe some dip or homemade crackers. Nutritious but boring right? Wrong! First, it was never in a bag, it was on a disposable Styrofoam or plastic tray, she liked to reuse stuff. The sandwich would be cut diagonally and laid on its side the sliced pickle would be wrapped in cellophane and arranged in a fan across or beside the sandwich. The carrots would be in the shape of flowers, or in really thinly sliced curls, the apple and orange would be sliced and arranged in a circle that looked like a flower alternating apple then orange then apple again, which kept the sliced apples from turning brown. The tray would appear in the office just before lunch hour with my name on it, and I would get paged with threats like, “Carrien you’re lunch is here, and if you don’t hurry up the principal says he’s going to eat it, if he can fight the rest of us off.” Yes I was spoiled. It was actually plainer than most everyone else’s lunch, I didn’t have chips or cookies or Lunchables or pudding or any of the things the other kids were eating but they were all jealous of my lunch, maybe because I had a mom who would take the time to make it special. Needless to say, I was not one of the kids trading their healthy lunch with another kid for their processed fatty snacks. I just remembered that, but it once again goes to show that if you just take a little more time to take pleasure in your food, if you make it look appetizing, you and your family will enjoy it more. Eating is something we need to do every day, why not take pleasure in it?
I do not do things nearly as elaborately as my mother though I do like to at least put it in nice serving dishes, but I’m remembering while she’s here all the little tricks she had to make eating fun, and I’m sure my kids will want carrot and cucumber flowers after she’s gone, and mini tuna patties that they can eat with their hands, and pickle fans and my freezer will be full of “Turnovers” aka. meal pockets.
I use olive oil instead of lard, I’ve been doing it so long that I honestly forget the exact proportions because I’ve gotten very good at eyeballing. I think you substitute about the same amount of olive oil as you would lard in a basic recipe. I also use whole-wheat pastry flour, which is milled finer than regular flour and makes a big difference in how it turns out since whole-wheat flour is naturally grittier. I add a pinch of salt and a lump or two of butter for flavor. If you don’t like that taste of extra virgin oil you can use the “light” second press stuff, or canola oil for that matter. The beauty of this is that it’s a healthy oil and super fast because it just takes seconds to mix with a fork instead of all that cutting that you need to do with lard. Add warm water a little bit at a time until it just starts to stick together when you pinch it and all the flour is absorbed. Put it in the fridge for a while, this give times for the gluten strands to stretch and get sticky so that it rolls easier. Most things made with whole-wheat flour do better if you can let them sit for a while for this reason, because it’s lower gluten.
Anyway, once you have pastry. Make fillings, these can be as simple or elaborate as you like. You can use cubes of ham and cheese, you can use barbequed pork you can use broccoli and cheese, spicy lentils, beans, thick chili, ground beef, potatoes and onions, you can make these whatever flavors that you enjoy. (You can also put in fruit fillings like what you would use for pies for a dessert pastry.)
Roll out the pastry cut out circles approximately 5 inches in diameter, larger if you want them bigger, put a spoonful of filling in the middle, using a bit of water or egg white wet the circumference of the circle, fold the pastry in half and press the edges closed with fingers or a fork.
Then place on a baking sheet and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes at 450F.
The trick to these being convenient is to take one day a month and make a gigantic batch, I loved helping make them when I was little, and then put them in the freezer. Pull them out and put them in lunches, they’re thawed by lunch, and if you like using a microwave you can warm them up just the same as the pockets you find in the freezer aisle. Only they taste better.
Here is my favorite filling.
Tuna Filling (Also good for sandwiches)
1 can tuna
1/4 cup prepared mustard
1/4tsp chili paste
6 pepperoncinis chopped
1/2 cup grated cheese
Here is a not too sweet apple filling.
4 granny smith apples-sliced
2 tbsp limejuice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
Stir it all together
I like to add ground fennel as well if I have it but it’s not necessary.
(This is a really simple dessert even without pastry, just bake in a dish in the oven and serve with plain yogurt on top.)
Oh yeah. My last midwife appointment I weighed 161. That’s a seven-pound loss from where I started at 168. Since the baby was 7 weeks old I assumed it was a pound a week that I was losing, which is a perfectly healthy respectable rate of weight loss. Then I realized that when I weighed myself before the baby was already 3 weeks, which means I’m almost at my goal of losing 1 1/2lbs per week. Yay. That’s pretty remarkable since my birthday was in there and the Genius husband made me the most chocolaty rich cake you have ever tasted. Don’t believe me?
The bottom layer was a French flourless chocolate cake recipe. He brushed port onto this layer.
The next layer was a dark chocolate ganashe flavored with chai liqueur. The layer after that was made of dark chocolate shaving and another ganashe. The top layer was brownies, mmm I love brownies, and he topped the whole thing with another layer of dark chocolate. (Half of it is still in the freezer.) I had many tiny slices over my birthday week.