Frog Slime and Cinnamon Chips

I woke up this morning in a frog slime kinda mood.  Before you panic, that’s a good thing — it means that I’m feeling confident about recent kitchen successes and looking forward to resurrecting some “greatest hits” for the kids in the midst of whatever my next major experiment will be (and it’ll have to be something — those moss-green cookies are not going down easily).

Part of my bravado, despite the dubious nature of our food experiences over the weekend, comes from the fact that I’m really, really happy with the kids’ lunchboxes today.  I’m usually pretty pleased with the contents of their lunches — after all, I pack them, so I have no one else to blame if I’m unhappy — but, as with anything else, some days are better than others.  And it’s not even solely based on nutrition or health that I’m happy with the results this morning; it’s more that I feel the lunches represent good compromises between what I wanted to feed them and what they wanted to eat, include some ambassador from most of the food groups, and are full of things both boys are not only likely to eat, but are likely to eat quite happily.

In addition to the general quality of the lunches, I have to admit to being extra-psyched that they were packed and slipped away into refrigeration prior to 8:30 last night, which may be a new record for me.  I also managed to get some eggs hard-boiled and a pot of red potatoes cooked and cooled before bed, meaning that tonight’s potato salad will be easily tossed together while our turkey burgers cook, and I’ll get to imagine that I am a Food Network TV host breezily sprinkling ingredients into a bowl to effortlessly set dinner before my hungry family (I have a rich, if bizarre, fantasy life).

All of this advance preparation makes me feel a bit like a domestic goddess, or at least a domestic minor deity, because the best laid plans don’t always equate to the exact result you want when it comes to feeding a family creatively…and when the results are perfect, it’s a weird kind of high, forcing me to understand just how Martha Stewart always seems to be so maddeningly pleasant.  It also pushes me to think a little harder about what’s next on the agenda.  Tonight’s turkey burger menu is supposed to be a double, meaning that I had intended to make both the regular-sized dinner burgers and a whole mess of little slider-sized turkey burgers for the kids’ lunchboxes and for freezing.  But experiencing the satisfaction of thorough planning, and the mental relaxation that comes from knowing the children are delighted with their food, inspires me to put forth just a bit more effort to pull an old family favorite out of hiding: Frog Slime Meatballs.

Frog Slime Meatballs are one of L’s absolute all-time favorite entrees.  He loves them for dinner, for lunch, whenever, and he loves that he gets to call them Frog Slime Meatballs.  They aren’t technically meatballs — they’re more like mini-meatloaves, made in muffin tins for quick baking — but L.’s familiar enough with both the Italian food heritage of his father’s family and the Swedish foods of mine for the meatball to be a handy reference point.  They’re also, despite my son’s assertions, not made with Frog Slime.  He once had some in his school lunch, and another kid asked him “What’s that?”  L. responded, “It’s my Frog Slime Meatball.”  His teacher said, “L., what’s in that?  Do you know?”  Without missing a beat, L. chirped, “Frogs,” and stuffed a huge bite into his mouth.  (No wonder none of the other kids ever seem to want to trade lunches with him.)

But despite the unappetizing name, which we came up with out of frustration back before L. would willingly eat spinach (“What’s that?” “Spinach.” “But I don’t liiiiiike spinaaaaaach.” “Well, good, because I was only kidding.  It’s not spinach.  It’s frog slime.”), these little meat muffin things are pretty tasty.  And since they’re made with ground turkey, I’ll be able to whip some up tonight with the meat that was set aside for sliders.  The bonus part is that P. may or may not eat a turkey burger, depending on his mood, but he’s never turned down a Frog Slime Meatball — so I may squeeze another day or two of inordinate satisfaction with my kids’ lunches out of the 10 minutes or so of additional effort making the meatloaves will require.

Alongside these old favorites, a new, or rediscovered, go-to item will grace L. and P.’s lunches for the rest of the week.  I mentioned yesterday that I’d oven-dried some apples and bananas over the weekend.  Apple chips were a trick I tried once before to help with L.’s fruit aversion, and as I recall, they went down OK — but they got sort of soft and chewy after a day or so, which was fine with me, but made them less of a hit for L.  The mixed result didn’t inspire me to try them again anytime soon, and the whole idea died right there.  But when it struck me again this weekend, I decided I was scrapping the methods I’d tried before — all of which came from other people’s blogs, websites, and so forth — and doing them my own way.  I adjusted the oven settings and timing, tossed the dried apples and bananas with just a touch of sugar and cinnamon, and waited a day to see if they’d soften.  They didn’t.  Last night I offered one to L.: “I want that,” he said quite intently, reaching for the entire bag.  “Want some in your lunchbox for tomorrow, then?” I asked, handing him another few.  “MM-hm,” he responded, mouth full, head bobbing, as he anxiously watched to be sure the desired treat was being deposited in his lunch container.  “What is that?” he asked, pointing — L. is very big into knowing what everything is called, and will make up a name for people, animals, or objects that are unfamiliar rather than be confronted with uncertainty.  “Cinnamon fruit chips,” I said, stressing the cinnamon, since it’s his favorite spice.  “Cinnamon chips,” he repeated happily, careful to omit the dreaded f-word, lest he spoil his own fun in eating them.

So today’s offering to you, faithful readers, is this beginning of a collection of greatest-hit recipes: one old standby, and one new happy surprise that I’ll surely be making and experimenting with ad nauseam in my eagerness to continue stuffing fruit into L. in any form.   More will surely come, especially as the weather here in RI continues its march towards fall (but not too quickly, please!) — a time when some of our family’s most highly prized foods come into season, giving me the chance to  revisit our own classics.

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