Chaos in Aisle One (Our Hunt for the Last Hostess Twinkie)

 So the kids and I were driving home from school today when we overheard a radio DJ mention how sad it was that the Hostess company was going out of business.

“What?” I shrieked at the radio. “No more Ho Ho’s? No more Twinkies?”

From the backseat, my 8yo asked, “Mom, what’s a Twinkie?”

“WHAT?” I shriek again. And well, okay, it shouldn’t have shocked me that my youngest child has never even tasted a Twinkie, since I am kind of a crunchy granola health nut who never buys such crud for my kids to eat. But the thing is, my childhood was very, very different. Back in the day, I ate many Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, crème-filled cupcakes, and my personal favorite, coconut-crusted SnoBalls. My diet was a childhood wonderland of sugary, spongy deliciousness. In fact, during my unfortunate teenage years, when I was lucky to have an apple to eat for lunch, I considered it a lucky day if I could mooch enough change from my friends to buy a 60-cent package of Hostess Ho Hos. Zero nutritional value, but hey, it was better than starvation.

After the radio announcement, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. Although I had not eaten a single Hostess product in the past two decades, I had a sudden urge to hunt down what may well be the world’s last package of Hostess Twinkies and split them with my deprived children.

We raced over to the nearest Raley’s Supermarket, where I grabbed the arm of the nearest store clerk. “Please,” I sobbed, “Twinkies…must have Twinkies!” The store clerk gave us a sympathetic look and pointed toward aisle one, which had all the chaos and panic of food shortage, with a crush of customers frantically clearing the shelves of every remaining Hostess product.

Okay, fine, none of that actually happened. But we did find a practically empty shelf, with no Hostess products remaining except for a bunch of Zingers. Yuck, Zingers. The next three supermarkets yielded similar results, although we did manage to score a box of Ho Hos and  some crème-filled cupcakes.

“Have you ever seen the movie, Zombieland?” the checkout bagger asked us. “It’s about these people who go on a mission to hunt down the last existing Twinkie in America.”

My mouth dropped open. Wow, a prophetic B-movie! Of course, now I must see that film, although it is probably super-lame. But here I was, dragging my kids from store to store across three towns, desperately trying to find one remaining Twinkie. Alas, we did not. I am sure that the last of the scrumptious golden Hostess icons are probably, as I write, up for auction on EBay for twenty times the original cost. How depressing.

Once we were home, the kids and a couple of neighborhood friends ripped open the boxes, made a farewell toast to the Hostess company, and stuffed ourselves with crème-filled, cakey, frosting covered goodies. To be fair, they tasted about as good as a B-movie full of zombies. But my kids danced around in the autumn leaves, munching Ho Hos, transported to a childhood wonderland of sugary, spongy deliciousness. Thank you, Hostess, for one last wonderful memory.

Adventures in the Kitchen (Cooking With Kids)

My three children love to cook. No wait – scratch that. Two of my three kids love to cook. The oldest would rather play video games and then eat whatever the rest of us cook. But my 8yo son and my 10yo daughter  are right at home in the kitchen, concocting edible creations. My son (who happens to be rather science-crazy) prefers to stand at the stove, stirring, mixing, and boiling ingredients together. He has mastered both the toaster oven and the microwave, as well, and is happy to make grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas for the family meal.

My daughter, who grew up with an Easy Bake Oven like millions of other little American girls, is crazy about baking. She now has her own drawer in the kitchen filled with cute, kid-themed cooking utensils, like a wire whisk made to look like a giraffe. She is now at ease whipping up a few batches of cookies or brownies without any help, and has even managed to bake her own cakes. This October, I’m planning to teacher her how to bake an apple pie, if for no other reason than to teach her about the irony of the expression, “Easy as apple pie.”

It really isn’t too difficult to help kids to get started with cooking. It does involve stepping back and relinquishing control. Mistakes happen. Messes happen. Eggs break. Sometimes the food creations don’t turn out as beautifully as they would if a more experienced adult had made them. But kitchen oopsies are not the end of the world. In fact, if not for a few kitchen mistakes, then perhaps we would not have potato chips or chocolate chip cookies.

Some tips for cooking with kids:

  1. Let kids choose the type of food to cook or bake, and then guide them toward the simplest recipes. Remind them that they can graduate to more challenging recipes after they master the basics.
  2. Kid-sized tools in fun shapes and colors not only add to the joy of cooking, but also make the clean-up part a little more fun. Well, in theory anyway.
  3. Encourage kids to help in the planning. Plan a scavenger hunt to teach them where to find essential tools and staple ingredients in your kitchen. Take them to the supermarket and let them help shop for ingredients or boxed mixes. (Don’t be afraid of letting kids start with boxed mixes).
  4. Teach kids how to handle emergencies in the kitchen. Keep baking soda handy in case of electric stove fires. Teach basic first aid skills in case of burns or cuts. This basic knowledge will prepare kids to face the potential dangers of food preparation, and help both kids and parents to feel more secure.
  5. Finally, relax and enjoy the experience. Turn on music in the kitchen. Sing as you wash dishes side by side. Laugh if the batter flies out of the bowl or the cookies burn to a crisp, then clean it up and try again. Keep the stress out of the kitchen, and turn cooking into an fun adventure.

Onigiri — IKEA-Style (My Version of Fast Food)

So our family does a lot of sports. At the moment, my 10-year-old daughter is training to compete in Level 8 gymnastics (22 hrs. of training per week!). My 12-year-old son plays soccer almost year round and practices 2-3 times per week. My youngest starts soccer again this summer, and I play indoor soccer three times per week.

Sports, I love. Kids’ sports, I love. Feeding my family fast food? I loathe. With a passion. I’d much rather throw together a bunch of homemade bean and rice burritos than swing through the drive-thru of Taco Smell. I prefer to prepare and freeze a dozen healthy mini pizza calzones to warm up on the run, or even pack good old-fashioned sandwiches for dinner. And here is one of our family favorites: Onigiri. But, being a true Californian, we had to turn our Japanese favorite into a fusion dish by adding some frozen meatballs from our friendly-neighborhood IKEA store. Ta-daa!! Swedish Onigiri! Here’s how we do it:

STEP ONE:

Throw some Calrose Rice into the rice cooker (the good, sticky Japanese sushi rice works best, although we have tried this with Thai glutinous rice, too. Totally different awesome fusion dish). While the rice is cooking, warm up your meatballs. No IKEA where you live? Any basic 1-inch meatballs will do. When the rice is cooked, line a small cup (like the one on the right) with plastic wrap and add some rice. Make a little “nest” in the center for the meatball.

STEP TWO:

Easiest step of all. Add the meatball to the nest. Cover with more rice (not too much, or your onigiri will be huge!)

STEP THREE:

Lift the saran wrap from the cup and twist around until very tight. If you can stand the heat, then use your hands to shape the onigiri into the perfect ball (or whichever fun shape strikes your imagination).

STEP FOUR:

Unwrap onigiri and sprinkle with salt for flavor and to reduce the stickiness. Best way to eat it? With the hands, of course, especially while sitting in the car driving kids to sports, or while sitting in the stands and watching. Also works well for school lunches, and probably even the dinner table. But who has time for that?

The Best Spanish (?) Rice Ever

Okay, so it is totally conceited to refer to my own recipe as The Best Ever. And it is ridiculous to call this Spanish Rice, as I am 98% certain that people in Spain do not prepare rice dishes like this. Really, it is Americanish Rice. But that sounds dumb. So do other cheesy Spanglish/Mexamerican recipe name ideas, like Fiesta Rice, or Tex-Mex Rice (I am SO not Texan!). Whatever. Let’s just call it arroz. Now let’s cook, because I’m hungry.

The Recipe

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup long grain rice, uncooked

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 jalapeño chili, chopped

1 Tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

2 cups chicken stock

1 can or 2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 8oz. can tomato sauce

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

salt to taste (plenty–at least 1 Tbsp.)

My Not-Quite-Spanish rice, after I cooked it for lunch today

Before cooking, create a Pandora music station based on Johannes Linstead, Jesse Cook, Armik, or Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra. Trust me…this will make the cooking more fun and the food more flavorful. Next, follow these directions:

In olive oil, brown onions with rice, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until rice is cooked. Remove from heat and stir in fresh cilantro. Enjoy as a side dish, or add a can of black beans or cooked, chopped chicken to serve as a main dish. Or roll in a tortilla with refried beans and cheese. Just enjoy.

 

 

The Salad Dressing I Want to Marry

Brace yourselves, world. I am going to inteoduce you to the absolute Best. Salad. Dressing. Ever! No really. I love this salad dressing so much, I want to marry it. Ready?

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Tada! Aunt Annie’s Woodstock is the tastiest salad dressing I have ever had. It has a really unique combination of tomatoes, tahini, cider vinegar, and soy sauce. You can drizzle it on your salads, top your baked potato, or eat it by itself from a spoon. (Okay, not really, but someone writing this blog may or may not have done so once or twice).

Here is my favorite way to enjoy Woodstock dressing:

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The only downside to this salad dressing masterpiece is the cost. Each little bottle is seriously pricey. I came across a homemade recipe at this blog site: Fake Aunt Annie’s Woodstock Dressing. And one day, when I am not feeling too lazy, and after I figure out what the heck EVOO is, then I might actually try it out to see if it tastes anything like the original. And if it does, then maybe I will make a huge batch and marry it.