Help Me, Help You: Service and Dining Out With Children

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My own experience made me consider starting a sensitivity clinic for waitstaff on how to deal with families in restaurants. Louise is five and a half. She started dining out when she was three weeks old at Izakaya Den and never stopped. She was the fussy newborn at the sushi restaurant nursing under a cover, the toddler in the French cafe restless on her seat, the little kid asking for some crayons in a hole-in-the-wall ethnic joint. Last September, we threw a wrench in our set-up: We had another baby. It’s always daunting to take kids out to eat, but we know our part of the drill. The guessing game – the make or break- comes from the staff of the restaurant we choose and how they handle those dining out with little kids. To waitstaff everywhere, I want to say: Help Me, Help You. Dealing with families is simple and straightforward, and it makes everyone happier- you, us, and the rest of the guests in your dining room. Here are my thoughts:

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The Ten Most Memorable Meals and Bites of 2013

The last twelve months involved a lot of eating – a lot of eating out and a lot of eating in. Some of the best meals were at home – comforting dishes that took time, effort, and heart to make, but there were many in restaurants as well. While I eat out in Denver a good amount, I try experience the culture of cities I visit through the local food scene. I was either pregnant or with an infant the entire 2013, but managed six trips: Seattle in February, Puerto Vallarta in March, Austin and New York City in May, back to New York in November, and Berlin and Bucharest in December. Each of these trips involved heavy eating out. My best meals of 2013 are listed in chronological order.

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Zucchini, Romanian-Style

I am not a gardner. I am not sure what the opposite of a green thumb is but I have it. I blame my lack of magic touch on plants of all kinds (I once killed a cactus) on a lifetime of urban condo living. I have never lived in a free-standing home which means that I have never really had a garden (yes, I once had an extensive patio where mint thrived), which excuses at least some of my lack of talent with plants. That said, one year I had a zucchini plant. It not only survived but produced zucchini at a rate that was worrisome particularly since there is only that much one can do with zucchini. Zucchini grows like a weed to the most talentless gardener and there is always a lot of it. I no longer have a zucchini plant, but recently I got a few giant zucchini specimens from friends. I called on my inner zucchini lover to find a few ways to use the bounty and came up with two that bring me back to my Romanian roots – zucchini with tomato sauce and stuffed zucchini. I managed to shoot a few pictures of … Continue reading

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Can It: Peaches!

I compared peach canning – and canning in general – with child birth. It is not complicated, but it is in many ways hard. And if one remembered how it feels, it would likely never be done again.  Like many others, I don’t remember so I go back to the well year after year . Each year I get all excited about engaging in a marathon of making jams, jellies, and canned fruit in syrup — peaches being my favorite subject of canning. One Saturday morning, I came home with 40 pounds of Colorado peaches.  I was ultra excited about canning these beauties in perfect halves in the lightest syrup to have when the short Colorado harvest season ends. By 2 a.m., as I was still filling jars and boiling them, my excitement subsided and reached a bottom low as I looked at the remaining 15 pounds of peaches. But those are now distant memories and I love the results so much that I would do it again tomorrow. You mustn’t be as greedy as I was with quantities –  you can do this with any amount of fruit. It is labor-intensive but really easy and very rewarding. And at … Continue reading

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Apricot jam, the way I make it

A staple of my summer and my personal favorite jam to eat and make, my apricot jam does not have a technical recipe. This tendency to go without recipes limits the possibility of posting many of my kitchen creations. The way I make jam explains why I cook more than I bake and how I can to pull off a bright dinner each or any night for my family on a whim.  I just know how to make it, I can feel it, I can see it, and no matter what happens, I can fix it. That may not work in baking but it gives me a chance to play and make food freely every single night, nose out of the cookbook. I grew up seeing apricot jam being made in a ritualistic but very matter-of-fact way each year. I remember vividly one year when my grandmother left it on the stove too long. So long that the bottom of her giant dark orange Le Creuset pot had a thick deep layer of black burnt apricot stuck to it that took some serious determination to remove. Of course, my grandma removed it.

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Which Kids Eat Everything?

Not long ago, a good friend sent the link to an article talking about the new and buzzy book French Kids Eat Everything. It made me uncomfortable and that discomfort and similar previous nagging feelings gave birth to the Family Meal, a new section of the blog. I did not read the book, but the title irritated me. Say this to yourself – French kids eat everything – and you will hopefully get uncomfortable too. Seriously, think about it. There is nothing magic about French kids. They are born the same way all kids are born: 10 fingers, 10 toes, two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and a blank slate for growing, learning, and developing everything including taste in food. French kids and American kids and Romanian kids and Venezuelan kids – probably Martian kids too if there were any- all of them eat everything. They are wired to eat everything, sooner or later. Must you look up to the special French kids who eat everything? Take their example? Follow their lead? Wonder in shock and awe, whispering, How do they do it? You got it: no. If you have a kid, your kid eats everything. So stop. Stop thinking … Continue reading

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The Soup Club, Chicken Minestrone

Mothers everywhere unite! This one is for you — but make no mistake, you can keep looking anyway cause the soup is pretty awesome and the idea behind the story is completely doable in a kid-free environment- it isn’t just kids who like soup for lunch.  I pack my daughter lunch nearly every day. I cook it, of course, and it is challenging, no doubt. There is one thing I know she will eat almost all the time: soup. It cannot be the same soup though because she gets bored. My bandwidth for soup-making, however, is limited.  This is how Wa-Sup was born, a group of friends, moms, and cooks. I sent a message to five friends with children of my daughter’s age, all of whom really know their way around the kitchen. My friends went along with the idea of meeting once a month and swapping homemade soups packed neatly in 12 ounce bpa-free containers that work in the freezer, the microwave, and the dishwasher. Drinks, apps, and conversation are a great bonus. Four months later, I love this group more than any club, group, or gathering that I have ever been a part of. That hour at my … Continue reading

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Cook the Cover: Pizza

I devour food magazines, but I do not usually cook from them. And if I do, it never involves dough because, well, my baking history is complicated but flour and yeast and baking soda and gelatin are simply not my friends. They hate me so much I have to hate them back. But I digress. Bon Appetit always has great recipes, most of which I use for inspiration. I see an ingredient I should be using more or a way of cooking or some other cue that sparks my cooking instincts. With the instincts sparked, I walk away from the food magazine and either make something up or open up a cookbook. A couple of months back, while gearing up to redesign the site and trying to get my photographer friend Jennifer Olson reengaged, I decided to Cook the Cover of Bon Appetit, which was at that time a pizza by Jim Lahey. Said and done- not in time to submit for any contest but a great excuse to cook, learn to make pizza, and hang out in the kitchen.  Jim Lahey’s recipe can be found in its original form here. Here’s how my version went.  Pizza, the Cook the Cover … Continue reading

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New Look and French Apple Pie

The soul-searching process will never end but the blog needed a facelift that came with an extensive soul-searching process and the facelift is here. I asked myself so many questions over the last few months and I will undoubtedly continue to do so for years to come. I came to some conclusions.  This blog is about sharing: experiences, knowledge, pieces of my heart through cooking, parts of my soul through stories. This blog is meant for readers everywhere but even more for local ones, which is why I added both the Best Bites section, which will be a journal of the best thing I had to eat every week and the Page 6 section which will focus on local events, happenings, and the like. This blog is about learning for me and for you, which is why I am trying to tap more into the teachers I have around me, people who cook, bake, shake, or make certain things much better than I ever could and books that walk me through incredibly complicated recipes with ease and grace. Without further ado, it is the learning part that I am taking on today. Pie. I am not a pie maker. I … Continue reading

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Not About St. Patrick’s Day

It is spring and small green leaves are beginning to peak out of the sea of brown that was winter in Denver. Green is the color this week not just because of spring but because of St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday I dread most for a variety of reasons- I have no trace of Irish in my family, I loathe the commercialized green beer aspect of it, and well, it is the day my father passed away so there is nothing to celebrate for me. Frankly, I just pretend it doesn’t happen every year and do my best not to be annoyed with the chaos. This year, I caved. And I caved for three reasons: a good cause, an insistent friend, and a recipe I wanted to share. The cause: a fundraiser benefitting the St. Baldrick Foundation March 16 at Fado’s Irish Pub. This, I hear, is the largest volunteer-driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research. [ let me mention that my father died of cancer.] At this event, thousands of volunteers shave their heads in solidarity of children with cancer while requesting donations of support from friends and family. The goal this year is $225,000 and Fadó Irish Pub will … Continue reading

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