Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Making Memories this Fourth of July

My childhood memories of July 4th paint the picture of a quintessential, small town-americana celebration. There was a three day fair with dizzying rides and mouth-watering fried dough, with 4 H blue ribbon competitions, mud runs and a demolition derby. All of this built up to the morning of the Fourth, when dozens of floats representing local businesses and decorated in tissue paper flowers, paraded down Main Street with the high school marching band, little girl baton twirlers, and local pageant winners en route. That evening, we would cook red hot dogs over an open fire at my grand parents' house and watch the fireworks cuddled up in blankets on their roof.
I can still remember the anticipation of the Fourth and loved the time we spent together as a family having fun, but I didn't realize then how much I would cherish the memory in retrospect. Now I want to try to create a similar tradition for my children around our wonderful country's big day. Thankfully, we live in a town that also takes pride in its Fourth of July festivities. Speaking of making memories, your child can even have the opportunity to ride their bike in Needham's Children's Parade!
In the past, Parent Talk has coordinated an effort to meet and decorate bikes to be used in the Children's Parade route, and we are bringing it back this year. What could be better in the eyes of a child than sprucing up their prized possession with red, white and blue flair and then getting to show it off while riding in the street?! All you need to do is bring the bike; Parent Talk is supplying the decorations. People are gathering at 8am on Saturday, July 4th at Greene's Field in Needham. This fun kick-off event is free and open to non-Parent Talk members as well, so be sure to spread the word!

I will be back in my hometown of Houlton, Maine with my husband and our two and three year old. We plan to bring them to the same fair that I grew up loving. I'm not sure about the hot dogs over an open fire! Have a wonderful celebration however you choose to honor the day.

About the author:
Liza d'Hemecourt lives in Needham with her husband and their two children. She grew up in Northern Maine, attended Boston College and taught kindergarten and first grade before becoming a stay at home mother. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Recipes from Local Moms

We all have our strengths as parents and cooking is not one of mine. I want my children to have a varied and healthy diet but I find the process of meal planning to be daunting and more often than not, I make the same few meals over and over again, which is resulting in picky eaters! Moms who incorporate a rainbow of fresh ingredients and exotic sounding grains into their toddlers dinners never cease to amaze me, so I called upon a few of them to share some favorite summer recipes.
A typical meal at my house! source
These local ladies admit wholeheartedly that even though they present their little ones with impressive meals, it does not mean that they are gobbled up readily. We are still feeding the same species of notoriously discerning and stubborn small people. The difference is, these talented moms see cooking as a creative outlet and are not swayed by rejection; they consider even a mouthful of salmon and cous cous to be a triumph worth the effort! Even if you are already thriving in the kitchen while maintaining harmony among your children, these dishes will be fun to try. And if you are like me, serving frozen meatballs too often, these options will be inspiring, but may take courage to create!

Sally: Grilled Thai Curry Chicken Skewers with Coconut Peanut Sauce

A mutual friend made this dinner for Sally, then she made it for her own family the next week. It was a hit! She likes to serve it with roasted broccoli and coconut rice.

For the Chicken you will need:

2--1/2 to 3lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast pounded to 1/2 inch thickness and cut into chunks. Place them into the following marinade for at least four hours or overnight:

1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
  • Zest of one lime
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place chicken on skewers and grill on medium high heat for about ten minutes, turning once.

For the coconut peanut sauce:
Whisk together the following ingredients, except lime juice, bring to a simmer and then cook over medium heat for about three minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the fresh lime juice. Top chicken with the sauce and use it as a cold salad dressing for any left overs!

1 (13-oz) can coconut milk (do not use low fat)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, from 2 limes

A mother of two girls, ages 9 and 3, Sally is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College. She loves to cook and to bake with the girls. During a playdate, I remember asking her for the method to preparing amazing weeknight meals for her family while working. She said that she usually does breakfast for dinner on their busiest night and takeout on Fridays, but otherwise, finds her recipes for the week in advance, makes her shopping list and shops on the weekend with her 3 year old, who loves grocery shopping!
and usually goes to three different grocery stores with the girls to accomplish that list!

Shalini: Roasted Veggies Reinvented

She begins with an assortment of roasted vegetables and then uses them to make dinner over two nights: first as individual pot pies; second as a side dish with homemade pizza!

For the Roasted Vegetables:
Combine yellow carrots, pepitas, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes with sea salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes covered with aluminum foil, and 10 minutes off. 

Meal #1 Individual Pot Pies
Shalini used Martha Stewart's recipe for pie crust, called Pate Brisee

Fill two oven-safe soup bowls with the roasted veggie filling below, and top with the Pate Brisee crust. Bake at 375 for twenty minutes. For her pre-schooler, Shalini cut the crust into dinosaur shapes and served them alongside the pie filling. 

For the Pie Filling:

  • Make the roux in a stock pot by warming 3 tablespoons of flour with 1 stick of salted butter, add any chopped mushroom and salt liberally
  • Add about 1/3 of the roasted vegetables 
  • Pour in 2 cups of vegetable stock, tossed in a sprig of rosemary, and let that boil down for about 15 minutes. Take the rosemary out! 
Meal #2 Roasted Veggie Side Dish with Homemade Pizza:

Shalini begins with homemade pizza crust, but you could also use a prepared crust or roll out fresh dough from the grocery store.  

For the pizza topping:
  • Chop sweet, vidalia onions and combine with a balsamic reduction
  • Add mozzarella and basil 
For the Roasted Veggie Side Dish:
  • Add chopped cherry tomatoes and avocado to freshen up the roasted vegetables
Shalini is a lawyer, taking a break from her corporate bankruptcy practice to raise her four year old son and seven month old daughter. I noticed the beautiful meals she was making for her family from pictures posted on Facebook! Shalini says that her mother never really cooked and that she prefers to approach meal planning by working with whatever ingredients she has in the kitchen.

Maggie: Grilled Rainbow Veggie Skewers served with black bean salad and dip!

For the Rainbow Skewers:

Choose any assortment of vegetables that will give you ROY-G-BIV, cut them into chunks, stir them in a bowl with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill on skewers until tender!

For the White Bean Dip: 

In a food processor, coarsely chop the ingredients below, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Use this as a dip for the veggie skewers and you have an interactive dinner!

  • 1 15 oz. can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • salt
  • pepper

For the Black bean salad:

In large bowl, whisk avocado, cilantro and lime juice together until blended. Add beans, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, pepper, pumpkin seeds and toss until evenly coated.
  • 1 ripe avocado, mashed
  • 1/4 c chopped cilantro
  • 2 T lime juice
  • 2 15oz cans no salt added black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups shredded romain lettuce or spinach
  • 1 c grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 c corn kernels, fresh or thawed if frozen
  • 1 small red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 c toasted pumpkin seeds
Maggie is a dietician and has a three year old daughter and a one year old son. I first noticed her creativity with food when she started her own Facebook page called, Tomorrow's Lunch, featuring fun and nutritious options for her daughter to eat at preschool. Maggie had this to say about preparing healthy dinners for her family: "I think my kids are pretty good eaters, but even they won't eat a lot of most things. They'll try bits and pieces of what I make and I have to round out their meals with fresh, but plain, fruits and veggies, steamed broccoli, roasted cauliflower, pasta with pesto. My thought is as long as they keep trying bites of real, healthy adult food, eventually they'll want to eat more. But I realize, this is a frustrating process for parents."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Two Local Outdoor Gems for the Kids

We are approaching the long, lazy days of summer when schedules are less structured and we can trade time in front of the tv for precious moments running through sprinklers and chasing bugs. If you are looking for an outdoor adventure away from your backyard and local playgrounds, there are many options to choose among in our area. From shady trails through the woods to the neatly patterned rows of crops on a farm, there are exciting and interesting sites to behold that will nurture curiosity and force everyone to slow down and look closely at the wonders of summer while they last. Here is a snapshot of two beautiful spaces to visit with your little ones.

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

This wildlife sanctuary, which is part of the Mass Audubon Society, has over nine miles of trails. Broadmoor is located nearby at 280 Eliot Street in Natick and is the perfect place to burn off some energy outside where you can bring in some educational focus. By observing plants and wildlife that live in the different parts of the sanctuary, you'll be introducing your child to the concept of habitats. Some highlights of the area include beaver dams, nesting wood ducks and basking turtles! Walking through the forest can bring some much needed relief from the heat and you can talk about the different living things you see and compare them to the other parts of the trail such as the wetlands along the boardwalk. This is also a great way to practice skills like looking and listening while being very quiet and tip-toeing to have the best chance at spotting things like chipmunks and waterfowl. Nature walks also feed the imagination! I used to love pretending that fairies and gnomes were hiding among the moss and mushrooms on the forest floor only to come out and dance when no one was looking!

Finally, be sure to tie in a quick lesson on respecting our natural environment. In order to maintain the beauty of the trails at Broadmoor and to ensure the safety of all the living things that call it home, they ask that people refrain from running, that they eat only in designated picnic areas and carry out all trash. Visitors are encouraged to bring plenty of water and to wear practical clothing and footwear.

Natick Community Organic Farm

This farm is definitely unlike any I had visited in the Massachusetts area. To say that it is off the beaten path would be an understatement; in fact, the only thing you will find to follow when you get there is a beaten dirt path that leads to the spaces where their various animals are housed. There is no prominent information desk to greet you because your visit is free. Don't expect any posted information aside from signs warning you not put your fingers in the rabbit cages. The reason for this is not that they are inhospitable but that this is a working farm, which gives it a level of authenticity and uniqueness that is refreshing because it is stripped of any commercial efforts (though there is an area where you can purchase organic produce from their many gardens!)

I took my two and three year old here for a visit and felt as though time slowed down. Since there are no paved roads and because the area is so far set back from the actual road, I let my children wander. It was such an unusual feeling to be able to let my guard down somewhere outside of my own backyard. I couldn't help think about how the uneven ground and musty animal smells were so good for their senses. We looked in the barn and found a stall swarmed with fluffy chicks, then followed the path to the rabbit kennels and up toward the chicken coop and then to the pastures where goats and kids were grazing. Our favorite part was watching two enormous pigs fighting over the food scraps in one trough. We peeked through greenhouse windows to see the bright green seedlings all lined up, waiting to be planted in the freshly prepared rows of the nearby fields. Just observing the habits of these animals in this very rustic environment made the twenty minute drive well worth it.

Our guide, Heather, was extremely knowledgable and patient!
Of course, my kids wanted to do more than look at all these farm animals, so I inquired about group tours and organized a field trip for our playgroup. For $7 a child, with a minimum of six children, they will assign a teacher to your group and give you a guided tour of the farm. Our focus was on learning about and petting baby animals and aside from the challenge to follow their no running and no screaming rules---it was a huge success!
This mama cow was due to have her baby any day!

About the Author
Liza d'Hemecourt is the blog coordinator for Parent Talk. She formerly taught kindergarten and first grade and now stays home full time with her two children. Liza and her family live in Needham.

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