August 27, 2012

Product Review: Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles, Egg-free and Preservative-Free

Going to a Trader Joe's grocery store sometimes feels like opening the prize chest at the dentist's office.  You already know there are tons of fun things you like but every now and then you're surprised by some new treats!

The latest of these new treats for me is Trader Joe's fresh noodles which I found near the tofu and veggie meats.  One of the notable things about these noodles is that they do not contain egg, an ingredient that is fairly common in Asian noodles.  Flat and about as wide as fettuccine, the post-cooking texture is a cross between the dry, wheat-based noodles sold at Asian supermarkets and fresh Chinese-style egg noodles.  What got me most excited about these noodles was their simplicity.  The noodles you find in Asian supermarkets are all made with preservatives and artificial colors.  The ingredients of Trader Joe's fresh noodles are straight forward:  "wheat flour, water, salt, and corn starch."  Hooray!  No guesswork involved.

The Trader Joe's noodles are vacuum-sealed, soft and fresh, and only take 5-7 minutes to cook.  Boil them for 5 minutes, rinse with cool water and drain.  Then toss them into a pan and mix with stir-fried vegetables, your choice of protein, soy sauce (for wheat allergies, use gluten-free soy sauce or GF tamari), sesame oil (again, if you are not allergic), and a bit of salt, sugar, and finely ground white pepper. 

If you are wheat-allergic or gluten-intolerant, Trader Joe's also sells fresh rice noodles.  I was shocked to find that the fresh rice noodles offered at my own local Asian supermarket do in fact contain wheat starch, rendering them unsafe for those who cannot eat wheat and gluten. 

The Trader Joe's rice noodles are a little thinner than the wheat-based noodles.  They good for making pho and other Southeast Asian noodle dishes.  One of my favorite Thai noodles is pad kee mao, or "drunken noodles", which can be made spicy with sambal oolek ("Rooster Sauce").  Pad kee mao calls for wide rice noodles but I think the Trader Joe's rice noodles work just fine.  The blog Massive Appetite provides a good recipe.  For shellfish allergies, vegetarian oyster sauce exists.

I recommend trying out these new products.  They cook up quickly and there's nothing like eating fresh noodles!

August 22, 2012

First day - a bright new beginning

"I thought this was the year we stopped hovering in the classroom on the first day," says my friend, Sheri, as we follow our now 2nd grade sons into a classroom brimming with students, parents, and little siblings.

I laugh with Sheri in spite of myself.  I am in complete agreement about taking a step back from the last-minute primping and hugs of 1st grade.  Halfway through last year Ryken was already sprinting the last 50 feet to his open classroom and hardly remembering a "Bye, Mommy" before disappearing completely from my view.  My kid has been ready to cut the proverbial cut for quite some time.

My baby is now a 2nd grader.  Excuse me while I regain my composure...

The one thing that keeps me in the class longer this morning is, without a doubt, Ryken's food allergies.  Last year we had the luxury of connecting with Ryken's 1st grade teachers early enough to meet with them before the year began and have agreement on a game plan for how to keep him safe.  With the kids and me out of town until a few days before the new year began, I could only email his dual immersion teachers about his allergies and precautions.  I hadn't discussed Ryken's needs in person. I was able to submit his Food Allergy Action Plan and medication to the school nurse to the school two days before the year began but no luck in talking to the teachers who were busy getting their classrooms ready.  I did talk to one of the administrative assistants who told me she had just printed up new "Peanut-Free" signs for Ryken's classrooms and the designated lunch table.  It was good to know that the greater school community was gearing up for his return.

With a class kit of medication and forms in one hand and wet wipes in another, I walked Ryken into the classroom.  As expected, he excitedly rushed in ahead of me (thank goodness, he LOVES school!) to look for his assigned seat.  When I had finally been able to get a moment in front of the teacher, I quickly introduced myself to Ryken's English teacher and explained Ryken's food allergies as I handed over the stash.  The teacher recognized me immediately and cheerfully told me, "We are going to have kids wash their hands everyday.  We've bought a huge bottle of soap already but unfortunately Mrs. T (the Spanish teacher) wasn't been able to check it yet.  So these <wet wipes> will come in handy today but after today we will be washing!"

I swear, I think I heard music streaming through the windows!

I was really pleased with the immediate recognition and proactive stance on heading off food particles in the classroom, not to mention germs and viruses.  Clearly last year's teachers, this year's teachers, and the school staff were fully aware of Ryken's food allergies and discussed what has worked.  In my letter to Ryken's 2nd grade teachers I wrote about this as a helpful compromise since I understood that my first choice, whole-class hand-washing, would take away from precious instructional time.  I'm so grateful that the 2nd grade team has stepped up the hygiene!  Last year the 1st grade teachers gave out wet wipes after lunch to combat food particles from coming into contact with shared classroom materials. 

Today was only the first of many (180?) days of this school year but it's reassuring to know we are off to the right start.  And we families of food-allergic children could use all the support we can get, right?  I am hopeful that Ryken is in the capable hands of supportive and protective educators.

If your kids with food allergies are back in school, how have the first days been for you? 

August 20, 2012

Surviving the First Week of School

As summer winds down and we return from our month-long trip, reality starts to set in as I realize the boys start school this week.  Never mind the packed suitcases still lining the hallway, and the chaos that I'd left around the house in piles before we even left for our trip, I'm talking about a real craving for coffee when I even begin to think about a 7:40 am school start time.  Not to mention the panic that sets in when I start gathering all the forms, meds, and everything else I need to alert the boys' teachers of their food allergies, and then realize there's a glitch with the insurance for their EpiPens, and the pharmacy is out of stock due to the back to school rush.

I don't know if it's my food allergy anxieties or the fact that son number two starts kindergarten today, after he's repeatedly asserted that he really doesn't need to go to kindergarten.  As the second brother and middle child, he lives in his brother's shadow, while being his almost complete opposite, and I feel for him.

Summer is done, and I'm facing the fact that my baby boy is starting kindergarten.

OK, time to breathe.  If you haven't gotten all your ducks in a row, it's not too late.  All will be settled and organized. 

Irene and I have written several posts on the subject of back to school with allergies, and as today is the official first day of school for SFUSD students and as I still have 17 things to do in the next few hours, I am sending you good thoughts, some positive energy, and a link to those posts, instead of reinventing the wheel with a new checklist.

If you don't have a chance to peruse that awfully good information we published in past years with links to allergy gear, templates, advice, and books, here is the link to the San Francisco Unified Medication form.  Just scroll down to 'Medication form' to print out your pdf.  And don't forget to keep your prescriptions in their original containers with your child's name printed on them.

This year I will be adding to my back-to-school to-do list the application for the EpiPen4Schools so my school can get free emergency EpiPens.  Could be one of the most important items on my list.

Lastly, as I accepted defeat and realized it is not humanly possible to tackle the mess that is my house, I decided to organize one part of our morning routine that could save us precious minutes, minutes that are critical when you're leaving the house at such an insanely early hour.  How many times have we run back into the house because we've forgotten something, only to realize that it made us late for school?  Now that Logan's starting kindergarten, getting two boys out of the house at the same time will definitely be challenging.

I cleared out a space in the hallway for each child's backpacks, sports gear, sun hats, jackets, etc.  I had each child write their names on a strip of canvas and decorate it however he or she wanted, and hung them above their areas.  Ahhhh.  Now that feels a bit better.

Do one thing that will give you some peace of mind for the first week of school, whether it's setting out the kids' first day clothing, making a list of to-do's for getting ready for school, packing snacks in advance, putting a surprise note in your child's lunchbox, labeling jackets, or having medication forms ready.  Because as much as we'd love to be supermoms and check off every item on our list while getting to sleep at a decent hour, we can only do what we can do. 

Happiest first day of school to all our San Francisco AllergyWise families, with a special shout out to the tots (and their moms and dads) who are starting a new school. 

August 15, 2012

Calling all school nurses! Get your free Epi-Pens!

Mylan Specialty announced a program that will enable schools to better handle anaphylaxis.  The company, which produces and distributes Epi-Pens, is offering qualified schools two twin packs of EpiPens at no cost through EpiPen4Schools.

This is great news for states that have laws authorizing or requiring Epipens to be stocked in schools.  If your child needs an Epi-Pen you already know how expensive it is to stock and restock them (because they expire) year after year.  With educational fundings in every state suffering huge cuts in this sluggish economy, schools that can legally carry prescription Epipens for their entire student body often do not keep them in stock because of the financial burden.  The strains of budget cuts force many schools to choose between Epipens and classroom materials. 

So far there are only a couple of states that require their schools to carry Epipens: Illinois, Georgia, and Virginia.  The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act  has been put forward by Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk to encourage states to allow schools to keep Epipens in stock by offering incentives.  While the potential of this program is great, states and even individual school districts and sites will vary on whether or not they can carry Epipens without a prescription directly attached to a particular student. 

To apply for the Epipens district or school nurses must download, complete, and fax in the forms, which can be found at the EpiPen4Schools website.  A valid Epi-Pen prescription must accompany the forms.  Mylan's EpiPen4Schools program does not provide Epipens for individuals so it is invalid to send a prescription made out to an individual student.  The prescription must come as a standing order from a physician for use by medical and school personnel for any individual in the school setting that is experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction.

I encourage you to read about EpiPen4Schools and share this information with your school nurses and district personnel.  See if something can be done about stocking your local schools with EpiPens.  My son's school nurse told me that EpiPens must connected to an individual's prescription.  But I'm searching California law to see if there is in fact language that allows school districts to use their discretion on making this call.

Beyond your school sites, join FAAN's efforts in support of the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act by writing to your state's senators and representatives.  Share your personal stories and how stocking EpiPen auto-injectors could mean the difference between life and death for your loved ones.

August 13, 2012

Happy Girl Makes a Boy Happy

We sort of accidentally stumbled upon Pacific Grove, California as our summertime home away from home.  We love the slow-paced lifestyle of a kid-friendly small town with our big market chains just a mile and a half away for convenience.  The weather is perfect for the kids--similar to San Francisco summers and not too hot for eczema prone skin.  We get foggy mornings, sometimes clearing in the afternoons, making treks to the beach a popular choice for otherwise lazy days.  The local library, natural history museum, plenty of friendly shops, and playground all within walking distance means I don't need to deal with the headache associated with piling kids in and out of the car on a daily basis.  We've been very content playing tourists for almost a month now:

We flew a kite at Asilomar Beach

Riding the glass-bottom boat, we saw otters, sea lions, and jelly fish!

We rode a surrey from Lover's Point Beach to Fisherman's Wharf

A rare sunny morning got us to the beach at low tide.

Biking and scooting along the trail.

There's always something new to see and learn at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Their new Jellies Experience is especially fantastic!
But as this is our second summer here, we've had to start doing as the locals do.  Participating in the local activities leading up to the festival at the beach for the Feast of Lanterns, religiously hitting the Monday afternoon farmer's market in downtown PG (four short blocks away), getting a Pacific Grove library card, and a must on every local's weekly list of to do's--frequenting our favorite cafe--Happy Girl Kitchen Co.--for Blue Bottle Coffee and allergy-friendly treats.

Last year, I connected with Stephanie Stein, creative baker and sweetest person from Happy Girl Kitchen Co.  She generously shared her scone recipe and words of wisdom about baking without egg with our readers.  I adapted her recipe to make it dairy-free, and armed with Stephanie's baking advice, experimented with my own scone variation, Coconut Chocolate Chocolate Chip Scones.

So you know I was thrilled when I last visited Happy Girl and noticed a new pre-order form for Stephanie's baked goods.  I promptly placed my order for a dozen berry scones and a chocolate ganache birthday cake for Tristan, all egg, nut, and dairy free.

Stephanie was happy to take a break from her busy morning baking duties to discuss Tristan's food allergies and my specifications, even adjusting the cake to make it less sweet.  The result: a wonderful scone breakfast shared with friends and an even more fabulous birthday celebration for a delighted 8-year-old boy!  As he opted out of a full-blown birthday party with friends this year, having his first store-bought cake more than compensated.  His verdict: "Yummy and chocolately!"  His siblings were equally overjoyed about the allergy-safe cake, both announcing they wanted the same cake for their birthdays!

Eight one for good luck!  

Stephanie Stein's chocolate ganache cake was the star of the show!

A dozen berry scones, hot out of the oven--no egg, nuts, or dairy!

Couldn't resist picking up some carrot muffins--all allergy-safe for the kids!

Happy Girl Kitchen Co. at 173 Central Ave, Pacific Grove, CA--stop by before your  Aquarium visit!

As a chocoholic and self-proclaimed sweets critic, the cake was delicious--moist, with a rich dark chocolate taste.  And unlike my egg and dairy free creations, this one held up well and wasn't crumbly.

See you soon Stephanie, and thanks SO much!

August 9, 2012

Zachary's Pizza - milk-free options and a dream come true!

One thing that had always saddened me about my kids' milk allergy was missing out on Zachary's Pizza.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Zachary's, it is a Berkeley fixture, a Bay Area landmark that many diners believe serves the finest deep dish pizza west of Chicago.

Zachary's is celebration food for me.  It's one of my favorite treats that holds a lot of great memories for me.
I remember having Zachary's for the first time during a visit to the Cal campus in my senior year of high school.  Zachary's deep dish had won me over to Cal just as much as the beautiful campus, laid-back alternative vibe, and cast of crazy characters (including my favorite).  In subsequent years I shared many laughs with my brother, my college sweetheart husband, and friends as we dined on Berkeley's finest pizza amidst the colorful customer-made posters and constant chatter of college students.

My husband and I have always hoped to share the Zachary's love with our kids.  But with their severe milk allergies, it just wasn't meant to be.  We continued to visit Zachary's on date nights (I know, I know -- I am a simple gal.)  I have even tried my hand at making Zachary's-styled pizzas with mixed results: they were tasty but compared to the restaurant's impressive Zagat food score of 24 out of 30...well, there is no point in comparing.

When I found out earlier this year that Zachary's was now offering Daiya Vegan Shreds as a cheese alternative, I almost screamed out with joy!  Was it possible that my kids could now experience my favorite food in the world?  My excitement was soon muted when I talked to a server about cleaning practices.  She shared that Zachary's only washes their pans thoroughly twice a week (ewww) and she couldn't guarantee that cheese wouldn't bubble over from one oven rack and spill onto our pizza below.  I decided it was just too risky for the kids to try.

Last week we were expecting guests from out of town.  When we have visitors, I immediately think of the must-dos and must-eats for their trip.  My mind came to Zachary's because I truly feel that no visit to the Bay Area is completely without it.  I decided to call and inquire about their practices, just in case things had changed.  I spoke at great length with Christo in two separate conversations -- once for my initial questions and a second time for ordering -- about my kids' milk, peanut, and tree nut allergies.  Christo patiently and enthusiastically answered all my questions.  At times, he would put me on hold to run into the kitchen and make sure the staff could go the extra milk to avoid cross contact with cheese and milk.  (He was certain that nuts weren't a concern for the pizzas we ordered.)  I really appreciated that if he didn't just write down my order or concerns but he personally went over everything with the kitchen staff.

Here were my concerns and how they were met:

Are the pans safe to use?  I heard they are only washed twice a week.
Normally greased with butter, the pans are used repeatedly throughout the day for various pizzas.  (The server I had spoken with a few months ago was mistaken.  The pans are wiped and washed every night.)   Zachary's will thoroughly clean the needed pans if its staff is made aware of a severe food allergy.

How can you make sure the ingredients used in my pizzas haven't come into contact with milk?
This was a biggie for me.  Christo explained that Zachary's "encouraged its employees to wash their hands after preparing each pizza" but there was no guarantee this would be done.  Here is what worked for us:

(1)  Have the staff who took your order (hopefully, you can get a manager) explain to kitchen staff of your food allergies.  The pizza makers should thoroughly wash up and only use ingredients from their new stock-- chopped and sliced ingredients that can go straight from refrigerator storage to your pizza without touching cheesy surfaces.
(2)  Ask if your pizza can be baked on the highest rack to avoid any melted cheese dripping into your pizzas' pans.
(3)  Ask that your pizza not be cut along with the other pizzas.  I had completely forgotten about this but good ol' Christo remembered and had asked the kitchen staff to leave it whole.  We easily cut our pizza at home.  If you are dining at one of Zachary's three locations, ask for a clean pizza cutter and do the slicing yourself right at your table.

Is there milk in any of the other ingredients?
We ordered the Chicken Special which normally does not have any milk products except for the pizza's cheese.  We also wanted a milk-free Spinach and Mushroom, which is trickier as it is made with a pre-made mix of three dairy cheeses plus the two main vegetables.  Spinach, in fact, isn't even listed as a regular topping choice.  If your heart is set on the Spinach and Mushroom, ask if they can create a milk-free mix with Daiya Vegan Shreds, fresh mushrooms (from the new stock), and the chopped spinach that's usually reserved for their spinach salad.  This is what Christo had employees do, and the pizza still turned out delicious!

If you plan to order sausage, pepperoni, salami, or other meat, ask if the staff or you can check the label.  Deli meats may contain milk products such as nonfat milk powder, whey, or cheese.  We learned this the hard way!  If there is no ingredient label, please take precaution and order something else.
How can I be sure the people prepping the pizzas understand that this is a pizza for milk-allergic diners, not just people who eat dairy-free by choice? 
It is of utmost importance to thoroughly explain your child's milk allergy.  Just ordering a vegan pizza alone will not do because of the risk of cross contamination from the cheesy hands reaching into other fresh ingredients, the shared cutting boards, pizza pans, and pizza cutters.  I always pull out my food allergy alert cards.  These are handy for enabling wait staff to show kitchen staff exactly how serious the allergies and the great need to check labels and avoid cross contact.

Have other milk-allergic people eaten had the Daiya substitute and emerged unscathed?
We have!  I am so excited to report that my kids had no problems eating their Zachary's deep dish pizzas.  While veggie-abstaining Callan couldn't reconcile with the tomato topping, Ryken enjoyed the pizza more and more with each slice.  We had some extra slices that lasted us three days.  Woo hoo!

I make it a point to share with my kids all the details of how I make food or choose food in restaurants to prepare the safeguard against accidents and cross contamination when we eat out.  Start getting them involved in what they eat when they are young -- it will help build this awareness so that they can ask the right questions and make safe choices when they are adolescents and beyond!  After my initial conversation with Christo, I shared with Ryken the steps that Zachary's would take to avoid cross contamination with milk.  I told him I felt comfortable with trying it -- we have our Benadryl Allergy and Epi-Pen Jr. set at the ready should things look bad.  Ryken felt okay with this so we placed the order. 

Remember, though.  It was not so simple to get a truly "vegan pizza".  Being completely upfront about the kids' allergies and asking many, many questions -- these were key to ensuring that the safest practices were used.  We are so grateful to Zachary's enormously responsive staff and our personal pizza guardian angel Christo!  We definitely will order milk-free Zachary's again.

August 6, 2012

Adventures in Cooking: Whole Roasted Chicken

I wanted my first time to be under the direction of someone wiser and more experienced than me.  I'd seen it on TV countless times, and have had every good intention of engaging in the very act myself.  Yes, I was a roasted whole chicken virgin.

You know that ad, "Beef.  It's what's for dinner."  At our house, it's "Chicken.  It's what's for dinner."  At least four times a week, that is.  Almost always chicken legs, and almost always prepared in one of three or four ways.

Maybe that's why I don't love chicken, but I admit it's hard to resist a juicy, tender, crispy whole roasted chicken hot out of the oven.  So today, with a bit of courage, and some improvising with what I have in the fridge, I will make my first whole chicken.

I looked at a bunch of recipes and found one that mostly resembled my set of ingredients and family's tastes.  I like that the dish can be an all-inclusive dinner, with your starch and veggies included.  The other nice thing about roasted chicken is that most recipes don't usually require any of the top 8 allergens, and you can prep and start cooking during naptime.

Whole Roasted Chicken, based on The Barefoot Contessa's Perfect Roast Chicken.  Many recipes add fresh thyme inside the chicken and to the roasted veggies, I just didn't have any.  So I added extra garlic to the veggies.


Whole chicken
Safe butter or margarine, like Earth Balance original or Soy-free Earth Balance
Half to whole pound bag of baby carrots
Bag of fingerling potatoes
Yellow onion, thickly sliced
One bulb of fennel, tops removed and cut into wedges
10 cloves of garlic
1 lemon, halved
Olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Remove any chicken giblets.  Rinse the chicken in and out, and pat dry well.

2. Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken, then add the halved lemon, and half of the garlic.

3. Brush the outside of the chicken with butter, and sprinkle salt and pepper.  Tie the legs together with butcher's twine, and tuck wings under the body of the chicken.  I did the best I could with what I had, but you should really learn how to properly truss a chicken.  (I ended up making the chicken a second time with the proper kitchen twine and trussing procedure, and felt like quite the accomplished chef!)

4.  In a roasting pan, add carrots, fennel, potatoes, and the rest of the garlic.  Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Spread around the bottom of the pan and place the chicken on top.

Going into the oven.  Fingers crossed!
5. Cook for 1 1/2 hours or until juices run clear.  Let rest on foil covered platter for 20 minutes, then serve.

The result was delicious and the recipe basically foolproof.  When I tried this out the second time, though, I made the veggies in a separate roasting pan, as they were a bit too greasy for me in the shared pan.  Good luck!

August 1, 2012

Quick-prep Mexican meals and Spanish Rice

GF vegan enchiladas using rice paper sheets and salsa.  Behold, the beauty of
the cheese alternative, Daiya Vegan Shreds!

Whew.  It's been an action-packed summer.  From family visits to day camps, birthday parties to decluttering the house -- a long-standing task that never ends -- every week there has been a lot of "busy-ness" to take care of.  It can be hard to keep up with cooking healthy meals especially on the days when our to-do lists are particularly daunting.  Plus, it's been in the 90s in my town.  The heat has been another deterrent to cooking up a storm.

If I don't end up picking up some of these for the kids, I often whip up some Mexican food.  Mexican food is a great fit if you need to avoid some or all of the top 8 food allergens.  Enchiladas are pretty easy to put together with the basics being filled and rolled tortillas covered in sauce and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.  Below is a quick, meatless filling I like to use for enchiladas.  It's adapted from Karina Allrich's (aka Gluten-Free Goddess's) sweet potato black bean enchilada recipe:

Vegan enchiladas.  I used Trader Joe's enchilada sauce (contains wheat) for these.

Enchilada filling:
2 cups sweet potatoes, cubed and steamed in the microwave
14-ounce can of black beans or roughly 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup corn kernels (I use Trader Joe's frozen corn)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Fresh lime juice
salt to taste

Got a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance?
When I made the enchilasagnas, I used rice paper sheets like sheets of lasagna noodles.  I figured out quickly afterwards that it's actually easy to roll fillings in the rice paper sheets like traditional enchiladas.  I use the rice paper in stacks of two instead of one corn or flour tortilla.  Before filling and wrapping, be sure to soften the rice paper by immersing them in a shallow dish of warm water.  The added thickness of having two sheets makes it sturdier for holding the filling and rolling them.  Square or circle sheets work fine.  I love how the baked rice paper takes on a silky texture.  It goes perfectly with a melted cheese or cheese substitute.

Most store-bought enchilada sauces contain wheat which is used as a thickening agent.  If you need to avoid wheat or gluten, use jarred salsa to line your pan and cover your enchiladas.  I've done enchiladas both ways and the kids haven't noticed!

Can't have milk products?
Daiya Vegan Shreds are, hands down, the best cheese substitute out there.  They are free of the top 8 food allergens and, by golly, THEY MELT!

Not a fan of beans?

For a meaty dish, you can use shred up store-bought rotisserie chicken.  I highly recommend keeping the sweet potatoes in your filling.  They are full of vitamins including A, C, manganese, and fiber.  It doesn't take long to peel, chopped, and steam two sweet potatoes to tenderness.  Use a couple tablespoons of water and microwave-steam in a covered dish for 5 minutes or so.  While they are steaming, you can use those several minutes to get your beans and other fixings ready.

Remember your fixings!
My usual quick and fresh fixings include chopped green onions (put them on before popping your enchiladas in the oven), mashed avocado, and halved sugar plum tomatoes.

Now if you have a little more time at home (let's say an hour), think about making a side of Spanish rice!  With a short list of ingredients and a little bit of chopping, you can leave your rice to simmer on the stove while you complete other important summer tasks like hula-hooping, fort-making, sprinkler-hurdling, and Lego-building.  I prefer brown rice over white because of brown's added fiber.  If you prefer to use white rice, reduce the liquid by 1 cup.

Spanish Rice
Adapted from ilovetocook's recipe on
1 Tbsp cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups long grain brown rice
1 small onion or half of a medium onion, chopped 
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup prepared chunky salsa
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste
Squeeze of lime juice
  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  
  2. Add garlic and onions.  Cook until tender.
  3. Add brown rice.  Cook rice mixture, stirring often to prevent burning.
  4. When rice begins to brown, stir in broth, salsa, and cumin.
  5. Completely cover the saucepan.  Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
  6. Rice will be ready when all the liquid has been absorbed.  (This takes me around 40 minutes.)  The rice might start sticking to the bottom of the pan, too.  Taste-test.  If your rice still too hard, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more broth, cover again, and simmer until the new liquid is absorbed.
  7. Once the rice has been cooked, add salt and lime juice to taste.  I use low-sodium vegetable broth and find that adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt is a good amount.

Hope you are enjoying your summer days as much as I am.  As busy as they are, I know I will be sad to go back to the routine of the school schedule.  Wishing our readers with kids in year-round schools a safe and happy start to the new year!