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If I’m famous for anything in the kitchen, it’s my track record for that most heroic of tasks: Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a beast, but someone’s gotta do it. Best assign it to the person who once claimed ownership of a pre-Pinterest era Thanksgiving binder that housed every T-day recipe from Gourmet to Saveur, classified, naturally, in order of appearance, from cocktails to desserts.

That person would be me.

Last year I cooked two dinners – Canadian Thanksgiving in October, and American Thanksgiving in November. Twice I wrote out long lists ingredients to source; twice I stood on my feet for two days solid, peeling, mashing, squeezing, rubbing, brining and basting until I gave myself a simultaneous episode of tennis elbow and carpal tunnel. Twice I had that foreboding sense that I might not make it to the finish line. Twice I managed to pull it off, poured myself an immense glass of red, and melted, silently, into my leather-backed chair between cheerful dining companions.

This year, we travel. It’s the least we can do – to share our part of the responsibility of getting one’s family, preferably intact, to a home that’s not our own. To brave the two busiest travel days of the year, crossing fingers for no delays, no lost baggage, and most important – no issues with the in-flight wine supply.

But that’s how it goes. You can’t always be the ones to stay at home. To sit back and put your feet up on the sofa, enveloped in the comfort of candlelight and your Frank Sinatra Pandora station, while others brave trains, planes and automobiles to land in this exact place.

But a travel year doesn’t mean that you have to put your excitement about Thanksgiving dishes on hold. There should be a law – let’s call it Jessica’s Law because nobody will pronounce my last name correctly, which could be summarized by the following equation:

TH Factor = (TMT-DTD)/3.14TMT2

In layman’s terms, your TH factor (that’s your Thanksgiving Hunger factor) = (Thanksgiving Miles Traveled – Days until Thanksgiving Dinner), divided by (Pie x Thanksgiving Miles Traveled) squared.

It just made sense to have pie in the equation – make it pecan, pumpkin, it doesn’t really matter.

The gist is that the closer you get to Thanksgiving, and the farther you have to travel, the hungrier you are for these kinds of foods at home.

Lately, my TH Factor has been stratospheric. And it doesn’t help that I’ve found a favorite new squash.

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OK, maybe I haven’t found a favorite new squash. Everyone, their brothers, their uncles, and their kids’ elementary school teachers have discovered it this year. That would be delicata. Do you hear the angels sing when I mention the name?

Not only does the name “delicata” conjure loveliness on its own, but it also follows up its name with a silky, almost custard-like texture that will have you questioning whether you’re eating dinner or dessert. And I’m saving the best part for last….you don’t have to peel the skin.

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Here we are. The last CSA post of the season. I don’t know whether to click my heels in the air or shed a tear. I’m torn….

These posts are a beast to put together – many of them tally 3,000 words in length, which to give you some perspective, is like writing an AP English final every week (albeit without the stress and pre-reading).

But it’s fun. I love taking you on a journey through food: how we tackle mealtime based on our CSA deliveries, and how we use leftovers from one meal to create the next. It keeps me honest – never again will I question exactly what went into that strawberries and cream cake that I served on Emma’s birthday, or wonder how I made those waffled grilled cheeses.

I keep thinking about next week’s post, and the post after that – will I feel empty writing about just….one dish?

Perhaps. And perhaps not. Maybe having some free time will motivate me to clean out the kids’ long stockpiled art collection. Shop for some desperately-needed non-2007-era clothes. Massage? Manicure! This is actually starting to sound good….

Today I’ll leave you with the set of recipes that I made from my final Bialas Farms box: Week 18. Here’s what we received in our box this week:

  • Baby Bakers (potatoes)
  • Leeks
  • Green Cabbage
  • Delicata Squash
  • Shallots
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet Carrots
  • Bunched Beets
  • Sugar Pumpkin
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy

It’s a big set of recipes. Something about this being my last box made me nostalgic about my deliveries before the week was over. If last week I struggled to put interesting meals on the table, this week I was chock full of ideas. It also helped that I received my monthly box from Hatchery, whose products always seem to get the juices flowing.

I’ll admit that the first meal that I made doesn’t fall squarely into the “interesting” category. A split roast chicken, carrots and parsnips cooked in honey, butter and herbs (along with some of the chicken juices).

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Not creative and unique, but certainly delicious…And made for a beautiful Saturday night dinner at the lake, paired with a butternut squash casserole and a fresh green salad with a previous week’s stash of leftover romaine.

I found the squash casserole on Food & Wine magazine’s site and followed it to the letter. Not only was I able to use my CSA butternut squash, but I also used some of the leeks from last week’s box, as well as thyme from my kitchen garden. If you’re planning Thanksgiving sides, I highly recommend this bad boy.

With a little leftover chicken, and some homemade stock from the bones, I made a Sunday night (gluten free) chicken noodle soup. I had a few old zucchinis from a few weeks ago, which looked like they were nearly ready for the garbage bin—but I was able to salvage this sorry lot by peeling off some of the softening green skin, and spiralizing them into noodles.

My kids are so-so with spiralized zucchini noodles on their own, but I learned this week that if you add them to soup, their whole attitude changes. Sam even declared this chicken and vegetable noodle soup his new favorite. In fact, he made me promise me that I would still make him this “when he’s an adult”. Deal.

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To make the chicken soup with zucchini noodles

First make the chicken stock by taking the remaining bones from the half chicken and placing them along in a slow cooker with a few types of chopped vegetables (I used leek greens, carrots, and celery) along with some thyme and black peppercorns. Cover with water and cook on low overnight, and then strain the next day. Save any remaining chicken for your soup, and if you have none left, simply cook a breast the next day and chop/shred it for the soup. Store the stock in the fridge until you’re ready to use it for the soup.

When you’re ready to make the soup, simply prep a bunch of vegetables- I used chopped celery, carrots, red peppers, and zucchini noodles (1 zucchini, peeled, and passed through a spiralizer). Since the carrots, celery and red peppers are quite hard, you can either cook them in the chicken stock in the slow cooker for a few hours when you’re out that day, or if you’re using them at the last minute, put them in a microwave-safe container with a splash of water, and nuke, partially covered, for about 2 minutes. Drain the water. In a Dutch oven, combine your vegetables (including the zucchini noodles) and your stock and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, and some chopped fresh parsley. In a separate bowl, whisk an egg, and then slowly add a ladleful of hot stock to the bowl, whisking constantly. Take the pot of soup off the heat, and then add the stock/egg mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. On low heat, warm the soup gently for a minute or two, making sure that the soup doesn’t boil and scramble the eggs. Serve with a grinding of fresh black pepper.

Note: If you have leftovers, this soup may separate in the fridge. If that happens, just give the jar a good shake before heating it back up.

If you were to guess what my favorite vegetable has been, you would likely guess incorrectly. The vegetable that I loved most of all, strangely enough, was this: German white garlic.

There is a huge difference between the garlic that I find at the grocery store, and the plump, sturdy cloves that I received most weeks as part of my CSA. The German white garlic heads come with only 4-5 cloves – not multitudes of tiny cloves that make you peel and curse, peel and curse. I hate that garlic. It does the job, but oy.

So not only did I receive garlic most weeks with my CSA, but I also bought extra to stow away for rainy days and stewing adventures.

This is not stew: 

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One of the interesting takeaways from our weekly efforts to try new foods is the fact that my kids prefer to eat foods in as close to their natural state as possible.

Carrots? Raw…

Squash like zucchini, yellow squash and pattypan? You guessed it.

Potatoes? Now that might be stretching it.

We’ve been able to try a host of new foods together simply by peeling and eating. Which on the one hand is great – introducing new foods into my kids’ diets has never been easier. But on the other hand, my adult palette is craving more mature foods…foods that actually have sauces, and garnishes.

I know that we’ll get there. One day we’ll sit down as a family and heap our plates full of lasagna or pearl barley risotto. I’ll be able to sauce, dip, smother and otherwise complicate food to my heart’s content.

Until then, we’ll move ahead in baby steps, which means connecting with my kids at their level: recognizing that meals with a more complex set of flavors can be intimidating, and developing recipes that are both easy for me and appealing to them. It’s hard to take rejection in the kitchen, so keeping things simple is always the goal. If they don’t like it, so be it, at least I haven’t spent a huge amount of time on the dish.

As part of my work in the food world over the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting others who are on a similar mission to eliminate (or at least reduce) kids’ pickiness at mealtimes.

And what a time to be picky! Our farmer’s markets have grown in size and stature, CSA delivery boxes have become the norm, and businesses offering home-delivery of artisanal food products are sprouting faster than asparagus in April.

This is a time to embrace food, to get back to our roots, and to teach our kids about the availability of beautiful, healthy foods that can both nourish and satisfy hungry bellies.

Today I’m introducing you to someone who I consider to be an ally in my effort to educate kids about healthy food. 

Jennifer Tyler Lee is also a Mom and Entrepreneur who has written a book called The 52 New Foods Challenge.

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After struggling with her own kids’ picky eating, she came to a similar conclusion: that by making things fun, and encouraging kids to eat a new food each week, she could encourage her kids to accept a healthier range of meal options.

While my blog focuses more on a weekly exploration of a single food independently, Jennifer offers a roadmap for exploring 52 new foods over the course of a year, and has some healthy recipe suggestions to help you along.

I loved reading through her book. Although I’m a voracious home cook, I admit that I still sometimes struggle with mealtime ideas for the kids. Grain salad with spicy Hatch chiles and radishes? Not a favorite of theirs. And they were not pleased to find me inserting lobster and tarragon into their mac ‘n cheese.

I thought that I’d take a cue from Jennifer and create some recipes at home inspired by the 52 New Foods Challenge book, yet still within the confines of my own food philosophy which is summed up by this: all food – even kid food – should appeal to the whole family, even if it means bringing the kids along for the ride.

In other words, I should want to dig into the meal just as much as they do.

Back to my earlier comment about sauces, given my kids’ reluctance to try them, I figured that I’d make a dish out of flavors that they recognize (e.g. carrots, pears, ketchup) along with a set of flavors that are completely new to them (e.g. ginger, soy sauce).

One of the foods on the list of 52 New Foods in Jennifer’s book is Asian pears. We tried Asian pears last year as part of our weekly mystery food challenge and the results were iffy. But with a little persistence, we’ve tried them a few more times (remember, repeating foods with kids is key) and they’ve become a family favorite. In fact we were recently at the Farmer’s market and picked up a basket of Asian pears. To my shock (and glee), my kids ate through the whole lot within the first few days. Scrambling over to Whole Foods to pick up an extra ingredient for the recipe shared in this post has never been so satisfying!

Pears are great for eating out of hand, for baking, and they cook down beautifully to lend a subtle sweetness to sauces for any kind of meat or vegetable dish.

Pears are often a key component in Asian cooking, so I thought that I’d create an Asian-style sauce with pears and use it to glaze tender baby back ribs.

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I cook the ribs in the slow cooker – they require no browning at all, just a light seasoning, and then they cook until meltingly tender for 8-10 hours. It’s easy to start them the morning that you plan to serve them, but you can always cook them overnight. The sauce is made by blending pears with a few other vegetables and condiments (let the kids push the button, it always helps!) and then is used to baste the ribs in the oven before serving. If you have a little toaster-style oven on the counter, you can use this here too for the final glaze, depending on how many ribs you’re cooking.

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