The Tiffin Tin

What\’s in your lunchbox?

Archive for September 2006

We’re Off to Gualala

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Lucky me (and I do mean that). I’m going to Gualala with one of the Tiffin Twins. It’s his sixth grade class field trip. As far as I know, we are not scheduled to get there in a rusty old pickup, but this picture evokes journeys for me, so there you have it.

The Gualala River is beautiful, and it is threatened by all kinds of modern forces. That’s why they’re going. To find out more about that and what can be done about it.

I’ll be away until October 7. I have a beautiful new camera, by the way, and on my return will be posting lots of food pictures.

Eat delicious lunches while I’m gone, okay?

And, lest you think I haven’t left you with anything of note to do while I’m gone, go and check out Ed Emberley’s October activities. They look like fun.

Or sign up for handy tips about how to live your life well, in small ways, at ideal bite.


Written by bloglily

September 30, 2006 at 1:12 pm

Whole Wheat Friday

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(from left to right:  whole wheat toast with homemade raspberry jam, butter; whole wheat toast plain with an obscene amount of butter; whole wheat toast with an embarrassing amount of honey:  I had no idea how much until after I posted the picture, and by then it was too late.) 

I’m having a difficult time — I’ll just admit it — figuring out how to get whole wheat bread to work in our house. Most whole wheat breads are, at least in my sons’ eyes, way too heavy, have too many seeds and look all wrong. But, like the juice reduction program I recently managed to institute, it’s important to all of us to enjoy and eat whole grains. My boys eat a lot of sandwiches. I’d rather they didn’t always eat them on white bread or baguette.

I’ve been keeping my eyes open for breads and bread recipes that don’t rely on too many seedy things, and yet aren’t white bread, dressed up as whole wheat with a teensy amount of wheat germ, sugar and raisins. Although Berkeley is home to many wonderful bakeries, so far I haven’t found one that makes a nice whole wheat bread — one the Tiffin Boys will eat, anyway.

This afternoon, I made two loves of bread from the encyclopedia of vegetarian cooking, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This book is huge, has a bunch of award stickers on the cover, and yet the whole wheat bread recipe is elegantly simple.

It’s also a recipe you can make wrong, and it will still turn out. How do I know that? Because I failed to follow the very clear directions. I didn’t add the flour to the sponge, but instead added it when I got around to the second step, the one where you add the rest of the flour to the dough and knead it. Despite this error, which occurred because I was nervous and excited (yeast does this to me), the bread was fine. Tiniest Tiffin ate a lot of it. Could be that any warm wheat product, slathered with enough sweet will taste okay. Still, he did give me a high five after he finished it. And then he ate mine.

Here’s what you do (not, by the way, what I did — omitting the flour in step one! Don’t you do that.)

First you make a sponge, which is basically just a mixture of the following

  • 2 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 scant tablespoon (one envelope) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 2/3 cup nonfat dry milk or dried buttermik
  • 1/2 cup gluten flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour

You stir all that together, until it’s smooth and then you cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put it someplace warm for an hour (after an hour it should be twice its size and foamy on top).

Then, you stir the sponge down. Next, add 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 3 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour about 1/2 a cup at a time. You’ll know you’ve got enough flour when you produce what Madison calls “a shaggy, heavy dough.”

Knead this shaggy heavy dough for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add more flour if the dough will take it, a few tablespoons at a time. (I’ll admit here, that I added a LOT of flour, but that’s because I hadn’t added it in the beginning. The dough took it, let us be clear.)

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, roll it around, then cover it and set it in a warm place to rise (it will double in bulk). About 1 1/2 hours shoudl do it.

Deflate the dough, form it into loaves and place them seam side down in two greased 4 1/2 by 8 1/2 bread pans.

Cover again, and set aside until the dough rises to the edge of the pans. This should take about 45 minutes. During the last fifteen minutes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake until browned — 45 to 50 minutes. You’re supposed to let it cool completely before you slice it. We did not do that. It was okay. Given all the other directions I failed to follow, this seemed like the least of my problems.

I’ll make this again, and follow the directions. If I do, I’m pretty sure it will be really great, rather than simply decent.  I’ll report back if and when that turns out to be the case.

Written by bloglily

September 29, 2006 at 5:41 pm

Posted in baking, bread, Uncategorized

Working the Assembly Line

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Making lunch for several people at once can be a little like that famous scene from I Love Lucy: the one where Lucy and Ethel get a job making candy, and then Lucy gets distracted, and suddenly everything speeds up and there’s candy everywhere and Lucy and Ethel are in big, big trouble. In our version, we all wake up fifteen minutes later than we should, the lunchboxes are still in the hall, full of the slightly disreputable leavings from the day before, and there’s no bread anywhere to be found, and the parents become undignified and frantic and the children end up eating dry cereal for breakfast. That sort of thing.

After more mornings of this than I care to admit (the adults in our family have been making school lunches since 1998), I’ ve only recently come to some techniques for keeping the line moving, and the lunch-preparer sane. I offer them to you hoping you will not have to spend eight years learning the hard way as I did. These tips are helpful no matter how many children you have. Something for Everyone: that’s the Tiffin way.

  • Advance preparation is absolutely key. Before you go to bed, each lunchbox should be cleaned out, and — this is a key point — filled with the containers you’re going to use the next day, if you are the sort who uses containers. (I am.) The water bottle should not be under the couch. It should be in the lunchbox. This task is an ideal one for children to perform when they get home from school or after care. It is a terrific way to teach them to think ahead, and prepare ahead.
  • Try to get up before your children. Or, if you are hoping to have some help with the lunches (and you should) appoint one child to be your early morning helper. They will enjoy being up alone with you. I know getting up early is incredibly difficult sometimes, especially when you have little ones who like to sleep in your bed and hate to let you go, but it’s an important habit to adopt. You don’t have to be June Cleaver, dressed to the nines for breakfast, but it’s good to have YOUR things ready before the madness that is breakfast begins. That means you should be showered, in clean enough clothes, and your own tea or coffee should be piping hot in a nice cup just for you. Perhaps your helper would like a cup of hot chocolate. There is no reason why the making of lunches cannot be a small morning indulgence. One in which you have the house to yourself or share it with one special child.
  • Lay everything out before you start. Think about what you’re making and get all of it out of the refrigerator and cupboard. The rhythm of the assembly line works best when you don’t have to interrupt yourself to go rooting around the fridge for cheddar cheese.
  • Have a sink of warm, soapy water at the ready. When you finish using a utensil, put it in the sink. Even if you don’t have time to do dishes, it’s much nicer to come home to things that are soaking, than things spread everywhere.
  • Do one item at a time. Prepare all the protein items and put them in the boxes (sandwich, soup, etc.). Then the fruit and/or veg items. Put in the calcium or yogurt, or whatever other thing you give your children. You should be sure that the lunch is balanced. (I’ll be writing about that tomorrow.) Add cold packs to each lunch, if needed. A napkin. And a utensil.
  • Put things you’re done with away, as you finish using them. It’s less confusing to have fewer open containers of mayo and mustard on the counter when you’re working. Plus, as you put things away, you have a sense that you’re nearing completion.
  • When you’re finished with the food, tuck in one small thing (if you have time) that your child doesn’t expect. A chocolate kiss. A note. A small toy. A joke. A riddle. A trading card.

I hope this makes the morning less of a madhouse. This entire process takes a while to refine. Some things I’ve suggested will strike you as madness. Mix and match. You are the parent and you get to decide how things are going to be!

Written by bloglily

September 27, 2006 at 6:55 am

In the Garden

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My youngest son (he who is sometimes referred to as Tiniest Tiffin) goes to a school that has very low test scores and the highest number of children eligible for free lunch in our district.   It also has great teachers, a fine principal, a nice physical plant and a very sweet librarian.  I’m glad he’s there (and not just because of the awesome lunches they serve in the cafeteria.)  The low test scores may be attributable to the fact that, for many of the children, English is not their native language.  Can you imagine trying to take a test in German after a year of high school German?

But they all speak garden.  Our school’s greatest treasure (besides the fact that there’s a grassy field where you can play soccer) is Farmer Ben.  He’s a young guy, just had a baby, and went to the school when he was a kid.  He wears overalls, and has pink cheeks.  He’s a little bit strict, but he likes kids, you can just tell.  He knows all their names and plays a mean game of kickball.  He’s going to be a wonderful father.  He took a four month leave of absence to be with his daughter.  And he left another good guy, Farmer Jasper, in charge while he’s out, a guy who can hold his own on the soccer and kickball fields. 

The sunflowers are huge, there’s a lot of zucchini and the corn’s high.  It’s harvest time at school.  The children may not always know how to answer the questions on standardized tests.  But they are, for at least the hour they’re in the garden, in a place where they’re connected to the earth, each other, and this place.  I’m grateful for that today. 

Written by bloglily

September 25, 2006 at 12:00 pm

Hot Lunch

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Why is it that one child likes his lunch hot, and another needs a cold pack with everything? It’s one of the mysteries of human diversity. Suffice it to say that one of the Tiffin Twins is a hot food guy. So I send him to work outfitted like a man who’s working construction on a chilly day. With rib-sticking hot food in a thermos we both like. (16 ounces, good for a middle schooler, with very cool little grippy things on the lid so it’s easy to open). And a bottle of water.

This lunch is stir fry: pork, brown rice, green beans. Protein, whole grains and veggies. Water. The perfect lunch for a hot food guy.  He thought so too.

Written by bloglily

September 21, 2006 at 1:56 pm

Fruit on a Stick and Other Matters

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You’ll notice there’s no picture today. I’m not slacking off, I’ve just temporarily lost my camera. The one that has the pictures of the great joke that went into one of the Tiffin Twins’ lunches. (Check lunchbox notes. The joke’s there under the September 19 entry.) And pictures of this morning’s fruit on a stick.

I thought this idea was a little ridiculous, but I’m here to tell you that when you’re seven years old and you get three cocktail toothpicks with cantelope balls, watermelon balls and red grapes threaded on them, you are a happy man. So do try fruit on a stick. It’s sort of fun and not difficult. You need: three kinds of fruit, a melon baller and some toothpicks. The long-ish kind with the frilly ends are fun. A normal toothpick will also do. Stick the fruit on the toothpick and pack it all in a tupperware or other flat box. If you’re feeling like being a bit wild, put some marshmallows on too.

Other matters? Well, just one actually. Juice. Two of my boys are huge juice drinkers. And although juice does give you some vitamin C and possibly calcium (when it’s calcium- enriched anyway), it also costs a lot of calories for those benefits, benefits you could better get from a piece of fruit and some yogurt or milk (if you drink milk, that is). And so, knowing we’ve gotten into the habit of thinking of juice as the beverage you drink when you’re thirsty, I’ve been trying to get the boys to see it as a once a day, or once in a while drink. I don’t want them to think juice is evil. I just don’t want them to think it’s water.

Here’s how I went about changing this habit. First, over the summer, I started filling glass containers with water and putting them in the refrigerator. Four, to be exact. I chose glass because things seem to get colder in glass. And because it looks nicer. And because it doesn’t pick up weird smells after a while. Four containers might seem like a lot of water, but it’s not when it’s all you drink.

Throughout the summer, when the boys were hot and asked for juice, I’d say something vague like, “There’s no juice in there, but I think there’s ice cold water.” It was important not to make a big deal out of this. In this case, I think I might have pointed out only once or twice that water’s a great thing to drink and that juice is more a once a day kind of thing. And they would pour themselves a glass of water and really not say much more.

Gradually, juice has disappeared. Now, on the table at dinner, we have ice water, milk and wine. And they don’t seem to notice. For a while, one of the boys would ask for his glass of juice a day, but then he stopped after a few weeks, and a few times of me saying vaguely, I don’t think we’ve got any in the fridge.

Here are three things that make me think juice is no longer the drink of choice around here (1) I found a container of juice in the fridge and realized it had been in there for over a week. No one was drinking it. (2) Yesterday at dinner, there were orange slices on the table. One of the boys said, “can I have some orange juice,” and then corrected himself, “I mean orange slices.” It wasn’t for our benefit, or even conscious. He likes orange slices better than orange juice. (3) Another boy said, when I asked him if there’s juice available in the cafeteria at lunch if he’s thirsty (in fact, there is — they’re generous about that), “Oh, just pack me some water. Or if you forget, I use the water fountain.)

How about that? It’s a small thing, but it’s actually a big deal, to change one habit. I come away from this experience believe you can indeed help someone change a habit, if you do it one at a time, without judgment, and casually if you can, with a neutral explanation about why you’re doing it. You offer a pleasant alternative to the habit and then you persist.

What are we tackling next? Having dessert every night after dinner.

Written by bloglily

September 20, 2006 at 8:58 am

Rampant Growth!

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Purple grapes, vanilla yogurt with strawberries, bread sticks and turkey. Water.

Okay. First thing I want to say is — this is not the most attractive lunch I’ve ever put together. It’s delicious, but do you really want your lunch to have a trading card in it called “Rampant Growth”? One of the Tiffin Twins chose this to give to Tiniest Tiffin. They were both quite pleased with this transaction. I kept thinking about how unappetizing it was, although it’s certainly a good description of what children do.  They grow.  Rampantly.

There’s a lesson here: children don’t have the same antenna about some things as we. Boys like trading cards. They like opening their lunch boxes and seeing them. It makes them happy. Their friends offer to give them junk food in exchange. (Tiniest Tiffin, remarkably, did not trade his card for doritos. He thought his brother might be mad if he did that. Whatever his motives, I’m glad he kept the card.)

And also this lunch makes me think about how it’s not good to have too much white food in your lunch. I put some strawberries into the vanilla yogurt. But the turkey and bread sticks were, well, white. No way around that. The grapes are purple, so it wasn’t an unmitigated white-out. Tomorrow, it’s time to put that turkey in a baguette, where it more properly belongs.

Written by bloglily

September 18, 2006 at 9:45 pm