An almost free lunch

You know, I’m really proud of The Kid.At work, my child is within walking distance of at least twenty really outstanding restaurants.  It would take no effort at all to spend $200 a week on lunches.

But The Kid only goes out for lunch two or three times a month.  My frugal, sensible, little worker bee is a charter member of the brown bag club.

Actually, it’s a box–this box, in fact.  Ain’t my child special?

Sunday is spent preparing large batches of grub which are split up and frozen.  The newest addition is a dish using a spaghetti squash.

So here, in The Kid’s own words is that recipe, along with a little lunch box advice.

Spaghetti Squash bake

spag-squash2 Spaghetti squashes

3Tbs Capers

1C Spaghetti Sauce

2 cans canellini beans, rinsed.

1lb mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 onion, small diced

¼ c Parmesan cheese, grated

¼ c white wine

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice squashes into rings, remove seeds and center. Put onto lined baking sheets and brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When oven is up to temp, bake squash for 40 minutes, or until a knife can easily pierce the rings.Let the squash until it is cool until it is able to be handled. Then remove the peel, and delicately break into strands. It will want to break apart on its own, so just follow how it wants to fall. Put the strands into a mixing bowl, and set aside.

Heat a pan to medium. When hot, add a splash of canola oil and add onion to pan. Season with salt and stir occasionally. When it gets soft and translucent, add garlic, and season. When the garlic gets fragrant, add mushrooms, and heavily season with salt. Stir occasionally, and cook until mushrooms are caramelized. Add wine, and cook until pan is dry. 

When mushrooms are done, add to bowl with the squash with beans, capers, and sauce.

Transfer mixture to a 8X8 baking pan and top with cheese. Bake for twenty minutes, and then put under the high broiler until cheese has color.Throw it in the fridge. Once cool, slice into servings, and put into separate containers. Freeze all portions not to be eaten in the next couple days.

*Biggest thing about lunches; have lots of options in the freezer. That way it’s super easy and you don’t have to eat the same thing until it’s gone.

While my child may be an expert on the art of carrying meals to work, I’ve become pretty proficient in healthy snacks, either at home or on the road.

I always keep a bag of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in the fridge.  I love the salty/sweet and crunchy/chewy contrast.  It’s also great to sprinkle in salads or hot cereal.  Right now my mix is mainly cherries, strawberries, cashews, and almonds.I’m also fond of raw veggies and dip.  Buy whole and cut them to your own desired shape.  For dips, try hummus, whipped low-fat cream cheese with herbs or hot sauce mixed in, or nut butters.  I love carrots dipped into peanut butter.  But for the love of all that’s delicious, please don’t use those bagged “baby” carrots.  They’re just whittled-down regular carrots sprayed with chemicals.

The weather’s getting cooler every day.  Take some tuneage, a book, and your homemade lunch outside and enjoy your break.  At home, grab the kids, some snacks, and go for a walk or climb a tree.

There will be no rescue squad to save you.

*Any injuries sustained during aforementioned tree climbing are solely the responsibility of the climber and in no way the fault of the well-meaning food columnist.

Thanks for your time.


Within gitting distance

Before I get started with this week’s topic, I want to give everybody a heads up about something going on this weekend.On Saturday from 12-3PM, the Carolina Inn is hosting a Barbecue Throwdown on their front porch.  There will be eight local chefs (including the Carolina’s Chef James Clark), all trying to wind up the smoke and fire champ.

The event will be hosted by the radio announcer of the Carolina Panthers, Mick Mixon.  And music will be provided by the Gravy Boys.  There will be five judges plus the guests will also vote on a fan favorite.A portion of the proceeds will be going to TABLE, an Orange county charity that helps kids at risk for hunger.  They’re also asking that guests bring donations of non-perishable foods.  You can score tickets at:  Every ticket enters the holder into a raffle, too.

Petey and I will be there, and hope to see you, as well.

It takes quite a bit to get The Kid to do a characteristically very low-key, practically stationary happy dance.But one thing that mildly thrills my child is eating local.

Dinner last week was a banner meal.  A few weeks ago The Kid gave me a tip that the Durham Co-op had gorgeous, but inexpensive Denver steaks.  No fooling.  I went and scored two pretty specimens for around $6.

On the day The Kid and I made our pilgrimage to the Got To Be NC festival at the state fairgrounds, we also went to the state farmer’s market, in Raleigh.  Unbelievably and embarrassingly, it was our first visit.While there, I bought three jars of D’Vine’s sassafras jelly.  My child was hankering after peaches and strawberries.  On the way out The Kid stopped at one of the meat purveyors and along with a couple of steaks, picked up some fresh shitake mushrooms.

And after another quick trip to the Co-op for some local corn and pancetta, The Kid was ready to eat.

The protein was an extremely rare Denver steak smothered in a shitake mushroom sauce.

The Kid’s shitake sauce

shitake sauce

1 pound shitake mushrooms, cleaned sliced, with stems removed

Fat from cooking steak

½ cup sherry or cognac

1 ½ cup beef stock

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

3-4 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

While steaks are resting, turn the cooking pan on medium-high.  Without cleaning pan, add mushrooms, season, and sauté until the liquid releases then cooks out, and mushrooms start to caramelize.

Deglaze with sherry and cook until the pan is dry again.  Pour in beef stock.  Bring to a boil, and let cook until it has reduced to half, and thickened slightly.

Whisk in cold butter until the sauce has thicken and is glossy and smooth.  Add back mushrooms, check seasoning, then spoon over steaks.

The Kid then attended to a side dish.

To make this recipe you need to cut the kernels off the cob.  To do this, stand up the shucked cob on a cutting board.  Run a sharp knife down the cob, slicing off the corn.  This is kind of messy, but the sharper the knife, the neater it will be.  Some people swear by standing the cob in the center of a Bundt pan, but I never noticed a big difference in cleanliness.  After stripping, using the back side of the knife, scrape the cob, gathering the corn juice.

Fresh corn and pancetta

corn pancetta

5 or 6 ears of fresh corn and juice, shucked and off the cob

¼ pound pancetta, chopped

1 shallot, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Put pancetta in a skillet on medium, and cook until all the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crispy.  Remove and set aside.

Sauté shallots until they just begin to brown.  Then add corn, and turn to medium-high.  Stirring frequently, cook until it begins to caramelize around the edges and the moisture has cooked off.  Remove from heat, check for seasoning, and add back the pancetta.  Serves 2-3.


The Kid’s finished dish.  Dig those groovy black plates.

I think the only way The Kid would have liked the meal more is if there had been a produce picnic smack in the middle of the Durham garden in which it had been grown.

p rabbit

Thanks for your time.

Ate My Fill On Blueberry Hill

About six years ago, I was disgusted.  And also, scornful.


That’s me in 11th grade with my best buddy, Waldo.  Fat and spotty–it’s a wonder that boys weren’t lined up around the clock…

Since junior high my weight had stayed around 185.  I’d fluctuate; from an infrequent low of 160 to my max weight of 227 after The Kid’s birth.

But finally, I made a decision.  My weight was creeping back up to 200, and my clothes felt tight and uncomfortable.  I was sick and tired of being fat.

This time, I made two changes that made all the difference.

I increased my activity level from nonexistent to light.  As I got healthier, I moved more.

And I finally realized that losing weight was just the beginning.  I had to keep the weight off once I reached my goal.  But I also knew there was no way I could live the rest of my life only eating rice cakes and poached chicken.  A life without potato salad and cake was not a life in which I wanted to participate.

My primary strategy would be to limit calories.  One meal per day would have a maximum of 300 calories.  Then I’d eat a normal dinner with unlimited fresh fruit or veg between meals and a bite of something sweet before bed.

This is an actual picture of me, grazing.

This I could live with.

I had another tactic.  I would absolutely not eat flavorless “diet food”.  I held “frou-frou” food in complete disdain.  Most healthy swaps little resembled the food they were imitating, and not only did they not hit the spot, they had no idea where the spot was, or what to do with the spot if, on the offside chance, the spot was located.


If there’s a healthier option for something, I give it a go.  If I’m unable to tell the difference between the more voluptuous version and its healthier variation, I go for healthier.

This diet philosophy worked.  It’s been five years now, and my weight stays around 128 pounds.  I wished I’d figured it out decades ago.

Last week when Petey and I were in Whole Foods, Demo Specialist Joe DiBario had a table set up and was serving Portobello sliders.  For dessert, he’d made a delicious treat that I ended up buying.  At home, after I polished it off, I called the store and asked for the recipe.

It’s a creamy blueberry pudding topped with goji berries and cooked dried apples.  I could eat a bowl of the apples and goji by themselves.  They’d make an awesome topping for all kinds of things, like oatmeal, or pancakes, or even on pork chops.

It becomes pudding by using chia seeds, a food that a few years ago I would have laughed at, not eaten.  Chia seeds are insanely good for you and when allowed to sit in a liquid will swell and form into a texture that is quite similar to tapioca pudding.

Team Leader Andrea Mastrobuono, was kind enough to act as a go-between, get the recipe from Joe, and send it to me to include in today’s column.

Blueberry Chia Pudding with Turmeric Apples and Goji Berries

Blueberry chia pudding:

blueberry puddng

1 cup chia seeds

3 cups apple cider

½ cup crushed blueberries + ¼ cup whole

Zest and juice of ½ lime

½ tablespoon honey

¼ teaspoon allspice

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Refrigerate for 3 hours.

Turmeric apples:

turmeric apples

1 cups agave syrup

Juice and zest of ½ lime

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 cup dried apples

In a small saucepan, combine agave, lime, salt and turmeric and bring it to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour over dried apples.

Goji berries:


¼ cup goji berries

¼ cup orange juice

Cover Goji berries with OJ and let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Assemble the dish with your pudding as the base and top it with turmeric apples, and goji berries.

Makes 8-10 servings at around 200 calories each.

This pudding is the kind of thing I want to eat on a rainy day fresh from the shower.  Whether you’re watching your weight or not, it’s delicious.  But it just happens to be better for you than a handful of Flintstones chew-ables.

I loved Romper Room, but Miss Carol never, not once, saw me in her fickin’ magic mirror.

Definitely, happily, on the do-bee list.


Thanks for your time.