The Tiffin Tin

What\’s in your lunchbox?

Archive for October 2006

Orange Food

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I’m not a fan of tinted food. But for some reason I can’t fathom (maybe because it’s fun?) children love colored frosting. And so, last night, we made Halloween cupcakes.

Let me say something about home-made versus store-bought. For a very long time, and even now, I prefer baked goods made with real ingredients, put together by at least one person who’s going to eat what’s being made. It’s a quality control thing. Plus, it’s important for children to know what goes into their food, and it’s fun for them to create something out of things they’ve seen in the kitchen but had no idea could be transformed into something terribly delicious.

But sometimes, perhaps more often than I’ve ever been willing to admit, it’s just perfectly fine to use a cake mix and that frosting stuff that’s on the shelf next to the cake mixes. Especially if you’re going to make the white frosting turn orange with judicious (actually, we started off judicious but then became wild) applications of food coloring. So if you’re a person who’s a little uptight about making everything from scratch, I’d say ease up every once in a while and focus on what counts in the enterprise of making orange cupcakes — it’s the chocolate chip you put in the center of all that orange. And the frosting. And the speed with which you can put all this together on an evening when you’d really just like to be lying in bed reading a mystery.

This isn’t a recipe, exactly, because it’s as easy as falling out of bed when too many children have come in to cuddle on a Saturday morning:

  • 1 cake mix, chosen by a child
  • 1 can of white frosting, also chosen by the child
  • a few chocolate chips (or any other dot-like candy), ditto the thing about letting the child choose
  • food coloring.  Red and yellow to be exact.  Who said this couldn’t be an educational outing?  Red and yellow makes orange.  That’s today’s fun fact.

Make cake mix into cupcakes, add red and yellow food coloring to the white frosting until you get the shade of orange that says “Halloween” to you, and decorate as you’d like with dotlike candies. We tried to make jack-o-lanterns on the cupcakes, but didn’t like the look we got. So we went with the elegant single chocolate chip in the center of a sea of orange frosting.

Happy Halloween!

Written by bloglily

October 28, 2006 at 10:15 am

Where Would You Hide A Gummi Spider?

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Yogurt’s a pretty good place to hide an arachnid.  Across from the red guy is ham on herb bread, accompanied by Valencia oranges (on a stick — an arrangement that’s becoming very popular with the second grade Tiffin child.  I keep wondering if maybe he’s using those toothpicks to swordfight.)  And did you know that those Nilla Wafers you ate when you were a child now come in a mini size?  For a long time, I didn’t put cookies or sweets in the boys’ lunches.  And then I realized, a little bit goes a long way. So now I do.  I’ve just got to start adding some veg.

Written by bloglily

October 27, 2006 at 9:32 am

Halloween Food

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Yes, I cut Tiniest Tiffin’s ham into the shape of a pumpkin, and below the pumpkin two owls.  And yes, I put that black owl in the box along with his fruit on a stick. I have no excuse for this behavior except that in a few years he’s not going to think this is cool anymore and then the only person whose lunch I’ll be able to use my cookie cutters on is, well, sadly, me. (Also in this lunch: applesauce and those crackers that have peanut butter in them.)

Tiffin Twin had this lunch:


Ham and raclette roll ups (one small slice of raclette goes a  long way), cantelope, Straus vanilla yogurt with sprinkles, the kind you use to decorate a child’s birthday cake with. And the last bit of apple crisp. A cheery lunch for a middleschooler.

Happy Halloween (tomorrow — what can you do with a gummi spider?)

Written by bloglily

October 25, 2006 at 11:01 pm

New Lunchboxes

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It’s been what — six weeks? — since school started. And in that time, we’ve (well, they’ve) managed to lose pretty much all the lovely lock & lock containers I bought earlier in the school year. Plus two canvas bags. And all our water containers. When asked for an explanation, Tiniest Tiffin said this: “I don’t MEAN to lose the containers except when I forget them. ” (It’s like living with a miniature Yogi Berra; my favorite Yogi Berra-ism I’m not as dumb as I am.)

Huge digression. Sorry. Back to lunchboxes. I went to Koreana Plaza in Oakland, hoping not to spend too much money to replace the many lost lunch containers. They’re almost out of lock & lock boxes. They didn’t seem enthusiastic about ordering more. But then — in the grocery section — I spotted the most incredible divided boxes — about 9 by 9, with four individual containers and a nice-fitting lid. Amazingly, they were only $4.89. I snapped up the only two they had and felt quite good about my replacement lunch boxes. They look a little like lunchables, except of course, they’re anti-lunchables.

As a reward for my good shopping, I bought a very cute little Korean bento box, so small you imagine it’s used only by someone on a rigorous diet or a person so teensy they hardly ever have to eat. Me? I’ve got to make room for Thanksgiving, so I’ll be eating those teensy portions for a little while. And here’s what my boys are eating:

Tiffin Twin is having: 2 Korean cookies, the name of which I cannot decipher, but I can attest that they are delicious; smoked turkey baguette, cantaloupe, and nonfat vanilla yogurt, so rich you’d swear it was made with cream.

As for Tiniest Tiffin, he had something similar:

Except he likes his fruit on a stick, with cantelopes and those slightly scary cherries you can only have once in a blue moon (make that a red moon). He also doesn’t like his meat inside bread. And that closed container? Yogurt.

So, these two lunches, plus my own lunch for a teensy person, and a thermos of hot pasta (with delicious tomato sauce) for the other Tiffin Twin and we’re a family that has enough to last us to the end of the day. Here’s everything stacked and ready to go:

Eat up!

Written by bloglily

October 24, 2006 at 10:39 pm

You Love My Lunch More Than You Love Me

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No, honey, I don’t love Straus Family Creamery maple yogurt, apple crisp I made last night from tart organic apples, a meltingly beautiful piece of ham on crunchy, but yielding bread, and the last, most lapidary grapes of the year, the kind that seem translucent and are so sweet you want to cry… no, I don’t love your lunch more than you. It’s supposed to go like this: You’re the one who loves your lunch. I’m the one who loves you.

I know you were trying to make me laugh, because I was a little grumpy this morning, discovering that you and your brothers had managed to lose the tops to almost every lock & lock container we own. And it did make me laugh.

But I also think you need a little more attention in the morning, and you need to be the one taking the picture of your beautiful lunch and you also need to be up a little earlier so you can do a little more to help make your lunch. And then maybe when the shutter closes on your lunch, you won’t see those beautiful grapes but how much I love you, more than I’ve ever loved anything, including those beautiful grapes.

Still, when you grow up, I hope you remember that apple crisp is an incredible thing to have hot or cold, and that you’ll make it for your children, who will surely know, as you do, that a parent loves a child with more passion and commitment than they love anything else in the world. And sometimes all they can do to show you that is make you apple crisp.

Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone provides the inspiration for this wonderful apple crisp. (Okay, more than the inspiration — she is the goddess who gives us this recipe.)

Crisp Topping

6 tablespoons butter (cut it into chunks — it should be cold. If you’re concerned about the type of fat, you can also use canola oil, or can mix canola with a nut oil.)
3/4 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup flour (I used unbleached white flour — I think whole wheat would be good here too)

1/2 cup rolled oats (you can also use chopped nuts, something I’ll try with walnuts at some point when my kids like nuts more)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Work together all these ingredients with your fingers, using the mixer with the paddle attachment or the food processor until the butter’s crumbly. You want a “coarse, crumbly mixture.”

And then you put it on top of fruit that you’ve prepared and placed in a shallow 8 x 10 baking dish you’ve lightly buttered. Cook at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes.

For apple crisp, you’ll want to do this to the fruit to get it ready for that lovely crisp topping:

2 1/2 pounds apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin. Toss with 1 teaspoon cinammon, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar.

Written by bloglily

October 19, 2006 at 9:30 am

Glorious Food?

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This morning’s New York Times, which ungenerously does not allow you access to this story without some kind of subscription after a few days, reports this morning on the imposition of good lunching principles on English schoolchildren in the north of England. The children, according to the article anyway, “consider French fries a major food group.” According to the writer, weaning them from this sort of food “is not easy. There is no nicotine patch equivalent for chicken nuggets.”

The trouble can be seen just in that paragraph. Nobody likes to be told their food choices suck. The moral superiority of good food proponents is the single biggest impediment to the whole healthy lunch movement. That, and the top down nature of it all.

If you want people to eat well, you have to seduce them. Good food looks and smells lovely. It is not abstract. It speaks to our sense of pleasure, not our sense of duty. And good food can never be imposed. If you choose something to eat , freely, you are far more likely to want to eat it. That’s why a child who goes to a garden they help tend and picks something they’ve seen growing is far more likely to try that thing and maybe enjoy it. A child who’s told something is good for them is going to run screaming away. And their mothers are going to keep feeding them french fry sandwiches.

Which is not to say that things won’t settle down. It’s possible to learn from mistakes. The article also describes a school where new meals were introduced more slowly, with more input from parents and children. Things went better there. But until parents and children feel like what goes in the lunchbox is their choice, and their pleasure, the meals served in school cafeterias won’t be going down particularly well and the meals that come from home in a brown bag aren’t going to be much different than they ever were.

Written by bloglily

October 18, 2006 at 9:44 am

Sesame Tofu: Who Knew?

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Who knew indeed. A lovely Sunday at the Temescal farmer’s market inspired more tofu-buying. That’s what’s in the upper right hand corner of the lock-n-lock: strips of tofu marinated in a wonderful asian sauce with sesame seeds mixed in. Sun dried tomato pesto next to that — from the Afghani food stall. Below that, a few wheat crackers. Next to the crackers, a very nice ham, rolled around sharp cheddar cheese. A carambar (french caramel candy, brought back from Paris by one of the Tiffin Twins who, until this year, went to a French-speaking school) and cantelope with grapes to round it out. A very international lunch, come to think of it. Asia, Afghanistan, France, California, and Wisconsin (for the cheddar).

Tiniest Tiffin likes to have a lot of things in his lunch. Trouble was, some of the pesto sloshed around in the lock-n-lock and he didn’t like that so much. I don’t like my food touching either, at least not when it’s Afghani pesto mixed up with my ham, so I can understand.

Written by bloglily

October 16, 2006 at 7:53 pm