Curing Winter Blahs in the Kitchen

Written by: Carly Ubersox

The winter months in Chicago always guarantee several things: cold, snow and long dark days. As parents we say goodbye to our outdoor hangouts and prepare to stay cozy indoors for what seems like forever. To make those frosty winter afternoons more tolerable and more fun, my two daughters join me for culinary creativity in our kitchen.

I’ve always loved wholesome food and cooking, even before my kids were born. When they were old enough to help in some small way, they assisted me with all kinds of recipes. Sometimes that meant tossing pre-measured or pre-chopped ingredients into a big bowl and stirring; other times it was as simple as asking them to be official taste-testers (we have a rule in our house to taste everything before you refuse it). My youngest daughter’s egg allergy forced me to put an even greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables, not just decorative cookies or anything-goes-frittatas, both of which are winter staples. So we began experimenting with egg-free (but still delicious and creative) recipes.

I avoid anything overly processed and focus on using simple ingredients, but anything that allows the kids to be inventive with what they eat can preempt a blah afternoon and shorten the familiar “witching hour.” The next time cold temperatures keep you at home, trade your play dough for playtime with food. It’s a great way to fill time before dinner—then dinner is served! Maybe with dessert!

Design and Eat a “Rainbow” (2-4 servings)

Let your kiddies create a colorful, edible masterpiece. Trying different color themes is part of the fun, so mix in whatever veggies or fruits you like.

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole wheat English muffins, split open
  • 4 tbsp. your favorite pizza sauce (we love locally made, all-natural Pastorelli’s)
  • ¼ cup red grape tomatoes, halved
  • ½ orange pepper, chopped into small pieces
  • ½ yellow squash, sliced thin and chopped into small pieces
  • ¼ cup broccoli florets, blanched for 2 min. in boiling water, drained (or thawed frozen)
  • ¼ cup shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler on low. Place the muffins cut side up on a baking sheet lined with foil. Top each with sauce and arrange veggies in a rainbow pattern on top. Sprinkle with cheese. Broil for 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Or skip the oven and cheese for a fruit version: mix 6 oz. of room temp. cream cheese with 2 tbsp. honey, spread on whole wheat pitas, top with sliced fruit in a rainbow of colors! Strawberries, bananas, kiwi, blueberries, grapes—you get the idea.

Banana Muffins (inspired by Claire Robinson’s cookbook 5 Ingredient Fix)

I adapted this recipe to be egg-free and to accommodate different mix-ins. Let the kids help measure and mix ingredients by hand, then they choose what to add. Mine prefer mini-chocolate chips, but a cup of golden raisins or tiny cubes of apple would be yummy too.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3 to 4 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup agave nectar or honey
  • 1 large egg or 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed
  • 1&¼ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1&½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup mini-chocolate chips or chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or tinfoil liners. If you’re using ground flaxseed, mix it with 3 tbsp. warm water and let sit for 5–10 minutes, or until the water is absorbed slightly and it has the consistency of raw egg.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it turns a nutty golden brown and fragrant. Take off heat to cool.

Mash up the bananas and mix in agave syrup (or honey) and combine well—it should be liquefied. Pour in the butter and whisk together. Mix in the egg (or soaked flaxseed). Add all the dry ingredients and stir to combine, but don’t over-mix. Last, fold in the chocolate chips or nuts.

Divide evenly among muffin cups. Bake in center of oven for about 25 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes; empty onto rack to cool completely.

Carly Ubersox lives in Bucktown with her husband and two daughters. She is passionate about the whole foods movement and hopes her children’s book Phoebe the Foodie inspires little ones to love and appreciate fresh, real foods. Visit phoebethefoodie.com for resources and more recipes.  

Posted on December 27, 2012 at 11:40 AM