WALLA WALLA TABLE - School also a chance to broaden lunch-from-home horizons

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After reading the last installment of the Walla Walla Table, a friend commented that she loved the article but now felt guilty about what she had been doing for her kid's school lunches. This is always my fear, that someone will feel that I am calling them out on things. Well, I kind of am, but in a positive way (I hope). I promise to not raise problems that I do not have a solution to, if you promise to not take things too seriously. It's just food, people.

I promised some better suggestions for your kid's lunch, so here we go with several recipes that will allow you to create better choices and save yourself time and frustration in coming weeks.

First question: Does it have to be a sandwich? Sandwiches are very popular lunch items as you can usually eat them on the go with no utensils required. And that means there are no utensils for kids to lose. Isn't that why we are afraid of giving our kids utensils? Then again, giving kids a bit more responsibility -- like making them responsible for bringing eating utensils back home -- can open up a wider array of lunches you can send them off to school with. Go to the second hand store and let them pick out a knife, fork and spoon, and make them pay for it. Their money, they will tend to be more responsible. If they lose a utensil, they get to buy another one with THEIR money again. Trust me, a few purchases will solve any forgetful child's issues. 'Nuff said.

We all get in that rut of not knowing what to make for our kids' lunch, but usually the answer is so easy that it is too obvious. Leftovers. You don't have to do what you did last night, but leftovers are a great way to get your kids to eat a better variety of foods than just sandwiches. And just to be clear a "wrap" is just a sandwich by another name. Soups, stews, pastas, salads and even proteins are great the next day, assuming proper storage and handling at the home kitchen. More on this another time.

Last go-round I gave you the simple vinaigrette recipe. Great on veggies, meats and salads. And even on couscous, a simple wheat pasta that is usually steamed or boiled and common in North Africa. It is a pasta, so note it has a good amount of carbs in it, but you can mix a bit with the vinaigrette and serve it cold like a salad, and it's great with garden cherry tomatoes.

If your kids will eat the vinaigrette then you are golden. There are many different riffs you can use that on and embellish and improve upon as you wish.

For an Asian flavor, add sesame oil and Chinese black vinegar in place of olive oil and wine vinegar. This is great on a simple salad of grated carrots, thinly sliced mushrooms and cucumber. Add toasted sesame seeds and you have something very fun that almost any kid will eat.

Or take a boiled piece of chicken, let it cool, slice thin and toss it in the vinaigrette. Serve with some fresh sliced tomatoes from the garden while we still have them. Better yet, toss the tomatoes first, and the tomato water that collects in the bowl will add to the flavor, then toss the boiled chicken with that.

When you have to make sandwiches, don't be afraid to reach into the "way back" machine for some great classics. I made my daughter egg salad one day, and when she asked what she was getting for lunch I heard the "eww gross" and "I don't want that." (Yes, it happens to me, too.) But when she got home she asked if she could have egg salad again tomorrow.

If you have a "Fancy Nancy" fan, how about high tea sandwiches? A little cream cheese and cucumber slices fancy things up a bit, frilly toothpicks and all. In this case, playing with your food is acceptable. But again, moderation and variation is the key, diversity is a good thing.

Fruit is a great one to experiment with. Fresh pineapple, mangoes, kiwi. We had a babysitter who'd never eaten kiwi until I offered it to her. Said it was one of the best things she ever ate. Papaya, guava when you can find them. There are many different kinds of apples and pears coming on right now, too.

There are many places to buy local ingredients, many straight from producers listed at wallawallafarmmap.com . For eggs there is Andy's Market, Salumiere Cesario, and local co-op programs. For Asian ingredients, most supermarkets carry some but the Asia Oriental Store on Isaacs Avenue has a good selection of hard to find items. Good bread made by human hands is readily available at John's Wheatland Bakery and the Walla Walla Bread Co. Pickles and relish made from locally raised cucumbers and naturally fermented can be obtained at Salumiere Cesario, I hear they have good peanut butter, too. ...

Don't be afraid to try something new. If you don't, your kids won't either.

Cheers.

Damon Burke, who with his wife Colby own the Salumiere Cesario gourmet grocery in downtown Walla Walla, can be reached at wallawallatable@gmail.com.

Classic Egg Salad

  • 6 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of pickle relish (sour or "dill," not sweet)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Put fresh eggs in pot with cold water, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove to an ice water bath and let cool. Chop and mashed with a fork. In a bowl combine all ingredients and mix together thoroughly, taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. To this you can add celery or whatever else you fancy, just no sugar please.

Couscous

  • About 2 quarts of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Couscous. I prefer the hand rolled to the machine cut you find at supermarkets.

In a stock pot heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil medium/high heat, add onion (you should hear the sizzle). Saut onion until translucent. Add stock and bring to a boil, covered. Once a good boil is achieved, reduce to simmer and add couscous in a stream through your fist until you have added about 2 cups worth, whisking the whole time. Reduce heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally until couscous has soaked up the stock. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Great with dinner hot, or let cool, add vinaigrette and serve as a cold pasta salad. Garnish with whimsy.

Tea Sandwiches

  • Good bread (do not settle for the squishy soft, over-processed, mass-produced stuff), sliced, crusts removed if you must.
  • Cream cheese or, even better, fresh goat cheese.
  • Cucumber, English or common, peeled and thinly sliced. (Tip: split lengthwise and cut rather than trying to keep it from rolling while slicing.)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Dry the bread a bit by toasting it gently in the oven or toaster on the lowest setting. Bring cheese to near room temperature and blend together with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to soften. If the bread is soft and the cheese is cold you ain't gonna have no fancy sandwiches, just a big mess. Spread toasted bread with cheese and layer on cucumber slices. Season with salt and pepper. Feel free to cut into cute shapes and such. This recipe can be adapted to many things, including blanched asparagus and prosciutto, or quick blanched green beans and prosciutto - whatever your little ones will eat, just be creative and get them to taste it, too.

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