Category Archives: children

White but groovy: Taking the tofu challenge

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Roll cubes of extra-firm tofu in corn starch, fry them in a little vegetable oil, and you can swap out the chicken breast in many Chinese stir-fry recipes.

Tofu is much ridiculed in certain kitchens, but it remains worth learning about. In hardly any time, a hunk of no-cholesterol vegetable protein can be soaking up any flavors you have. Fried a bit, as in the picture above, and they’re a blank canvas for Chinese, Italian, Indian or Thai flavors.

A beautiful, crunchy canvas.

I’ll be honest – I wouldn’t have gotten into tofu if we didn’t eat a nearly vegan diet about a third of the year, for religious reasons. When you rule out meat and cheese for any reason, for even one meal, tofu’s one of the most versatile stand-ins you could hope for.

Check out my article about tofu from Wednesday’s Buffalo News for tofu tips and some recipes from moms whose kids love the stuff. I want to especially thank the gracious and patient Trudy Stern for helping me with my article, and contributing a recipe for the fantastic sesame-crusted tofu she serves at Tru-Teas, her tea shop at 810 Elmwood Ave.

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Land of plenty: Grand Buffet, Amherst


One of three ranks of steam tables now occupying what used to be the Funny Bone. Insert punchline here.

Staggering out of a Chinese buffet, hoping you can get home before the insulin shock renders you too logy to drive, you tend to get philosophical, like a man on Death Row.

“You get what you pay for.” True dat.

Yet somehow, after all of the General Gao’s overdoses, every once in a while I’ll return to the steamy arms of the Chinese buffet. It always starts innocently enough.

Hey, the kids can get whatever they want, there’s 80 different dishes, and all the white rice they want.

But I’m not thinking volume, no sir. “All you can eat” is not part of the pitch I make to myself. Think of all the different things I can try, that’s how it goes. Plus, the price is right.

At Grand Buffet, in Amherst’s Boulevard Mall, kids pay 80 cents times their age for weekend dinner, and adults pay $12.99. The math works, making it all seem like rational decision-making. Until you pick up your first plate and head for the action.

Suddenly, you’re Jack Nicholson in The Shining, except your tool is a fork, not a fire axe. I can have 27 Crab Rangoons, you mutter to yourself. They’re all right there in the pan, and no one can stop me.

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Crawfish with scallions, fresh out of the kitchen, didn’t attract nearly the crowd the fresh batch of crab legs did.

The Grand pulls in a substantial crowd with its seafood array, judging from the loaded plates I saw pass by. Crab legs, crawfish, even an array of sushi, which kept getting replenished steadily from a stockpile behind the counter.

Then there was the raw shellfish. Now, I have enjoyed raw oysters from time to time. And I like to think of myself as a trusting person.

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But oysters au naturel at a Chinese buffet? If I wanted to gamble, I’d go find a casino.
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Filed under beef, cheese, children, chocolate, dessert, drinks, food, fruit, meat, pork, poultry, restaurants, seafood

What I cooked this summer: Campfire breakfast


At first, in the wild, they clung together for safety, unsure what lay ahead.

Of all the meals I prepared this summer, none topped the breakfast one morning at our campsite in Evangola State Park. At least, if you ask my kids.

It was our first time camping, just me and the urchins. Mom stayed home to enjoy the peace and quiet.

I knew we didn’t have a chance to convince her to join us, because of that night in our Florida apartment maybe 10 years ago. She’d woken up to use the bathroom, and was doing her business when she looked up, bleary-eyed, and saw a palmetto bug the size of a chihuahua glaring at her from the ceiling. Her screams woke me up, and though it wasn’t the main reason we left Florida, it’s fair to call it the multi-legged cherry on the sundae.

She’s been a little twitchy around anything with an exoskeleton ever since.

So it was just us out there, and what a swell time we had. It cost us all of $7 a night to camp there, with bathrooms and hot and cold running water within sight.

We collected shells on the Lake Erie beach, skipped stones over the waves, chased seagulls. Discovered the feverish grip of claustrophobia that can only be found in a tent equipped with three arguing children and a rainstorm.

Fortunately, I had things to set on fire, which as it turns out is even more distracting than television. Before it started raining, I made French toast and cooked up some Giordano bacon, then did some sunny-side-up eggs and toast for myself.

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Maybe it was the Giordano bacon, or maybe it was the crash of the surf on the beach behind us, but these eggs were magnificent.

The state park had equipped each fire ring with an adjustable-height grill setup that made cooking over the coals a snap. You wait for some logs to burn down, and push the coals under the grate. Set a cast iron skillet on it to heat up, and off you go.

Lydia, Zoe and Jake agreed that it was the BEST EVER. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was the wood smoke. Maybe it was the tingling anticipation, as they ate, that at any moment a daddy longlegs could drop into their plate.

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After a couple days of roughing it with the old man, they had turned into conquerors of all they surveyed.

It’s fair to say that I have been pondering ever since what low-hassle fare might be best suited for the fire ring. Next year, perhaps we can even convince Mom to be brave, and join us in the wild. Or maybe Watkins Glen.

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Filed under children, food, grilling

Cutting off fingers


Jake and the yakitori. He picked this photo “because of the eyes.”

The first time my kids ordered chicken fingers at a restaurant, I was relieved. I wouldn’t have to badger my smaller two to eat dinner, while my wife and I enjoyed the restaurant’s real food.

By the 10th time my kids ordered chicken fingers, I was starting to have some doubts. Certainly I appreciated enjoying my dinner in peace, instead of lobbying my picky offspring on a bite-by-bite basis. But were we really teaching them to hold out at home?

As with many parenting questions, how to get your children to eat a decent diet doesn’t submit to simple answers. But here’s a New York Times article on how some parents and restaurants are working their way out of children’s menu ghetto.

For all the fretfulness I’m obligated to express over the health implications of this pandemic — chicken fingers are often fried, and are often accompanied by fries — I’m much more rankled by its palate-deadening potential. Far from being an advance, I’ve concluded, the standard children’s menu is regressive, encouraging children (and their misguided parents) to believe that there is a rigidly delineated “kids’ cuisine” that exists entirely apart from grown-up cuisine.

The author, David Kamp, goes on to explore a few examples of restaurants and food corporations that are stretching the envelope a bit.

And here’s one family’s list of rules for keeping dinnertime sane at their house. We personally have tried many regulatory frameworks, and haven’t kept many besides “You have to try some of everything” and “Clean your plate or no dessert, if there is dessert.”

Your little darlings may cheerfuly ingest all you place before them, from brussels sprouts to sushi. If that is the case, please go right ahead and keep that to yourself.

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Filed under children, nutrition