It’s time to get serious about getting back to school

8-27-14

Or maybe it isn’t.

Because even though the rest of the nation seems to have headed back to the world of brown bagging it…

Parker and I have not.

We have spent the past few days vacationing with friends on the coast of Maine.

Today, we are spending the day lost in needlessly violent water “wars” — which involves the throwing of car sponges at one another (and a good friend) at the lake.

We also have made ample time for much-too-large ice creams.

And really good beers on the dock.

Heady-Topper

Tomorrow we will tackle back-to-school shopping.

On Friday…. More water fun.

This weekend? More of the same.

Monday? I suppose we finally will head home and acknowledge the reality of fifth grade crashing down upon us.

And Tuesday? Back to the lunch box trenches.

I also finally will share the results of the kitchen renovation that required far too much of my attention this summer. I’m thrilled with the results, even if the process wasn’t always thrilling.

Until then… Get your gear on. Get inspired. Get back into the lunch groove.

Trying to come back from my brown bag sabbatical

8-12-14

I know… I know… I’ve taken a few weeks off.

It’s just been a crazy few weeks. And the time off from lunch duty wasn’t planned.

But the last few days of the renovation hit hard and fast and needed my full attention. Just ask my oft-ignored child…

And then there was the moving back into the house.

Well, not moving us back in. We’re staying at the camp until the end of August. But unpacking all the stuff. Setting up the kitchen. Settling back in. And most importantly, bringing the cats back to the house.

Not sure I could have handled another night with the three crazed cats at the camp.

And now I’m on vacation for three weeks with Parker.

So far, much fun. Yesterday, a museum in Vermont. Today? Splashing at the lake. We’re trying to build a water-worthy Huck Finn-style raft using only rope and found wood.

This isn’t likely to succeed.

But we also needed a lunch break. So Parker is feasting on this-and-that. I made myself an Asian carrot slaw with golden raisins.

But now to try to get him back outside to finish our raft. He’s a bit immersed in his latest book, “The Monuments Men.” I predict cocktails (and mocktails) with books in the hammock later this afternoon.

Hope everyone is having a splendid finish to summer. Promise to return to regular lunch duty in the next few days.

A sandwich wrap made from tomatoes?

Easy lunch box ideas: ham and cream cheese wrap; strawberries; and a yogurt. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

Don’t tell Parker.

Actually, he asked and I kind of sort of lied.

“What type of wrap is THAT?”

“It’s made from barbecue sauce.”

“Oh.”

So I was at the natural foods store the other day and discovered these packages of something called GemWraps. They are no junk, no sugar, vegan, gluten-free wraps made from grape concentrate, tomato paste and seasonings.

They look and feel like fruit leather, but are thinner and less sticky. Sounded interesting, so what the heck. I got two varieties — barbecue and mango chipotle.

I made a wrap for myself last night. It was OK… Didn’t have a lot of flavor and was kind of a strange texture. I guess if you’re watching calories and carbs (they have almost none of either), it’s a way to still have a wrap.

Not sure how they will go over with Parker…

Obviously we need to clear something up

Easy lunch box ideas: graham crackers with peanut butter and banana; kiwi slices. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

Allow me to explain this to you one last time.

If you wake up in the middle of the night…

And if when you wake up in the middle of the night you are cranky…

In particular, if you are cranky to me…

More to the point, if you are cranky to me merely because you can’t fall back to sleep…

And if, as a result of this crankiness, neither of us gets much sleep…

And if in the morning I still must get up, pack your lunch and try to work a full day…

Do not expect the lunch of your dreams.

Graham crackers with peanut butter and really badly sliced banana. And kiwi. Done.

Getting fancy with a leftover steak sandwich

Easy lunch box ideas: steak, avocado and rosemary with cream cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla; and blueberries. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

So apparently yesterday’s warning went well. The steak — and in fact Parker’s entire lunch box — was a mess by lunch.

Yet he ate it.

I may not be able to prevent him from roughing up his lunch box, but I at least can get him to eat what’s in it.

Most of the time.

Today might not be one of those times.

I decided to get creative this morning. I wanted to use up the remnants of the leftover steak by making a cream cheese sandwich/burrito.

But for flavor and greenery, I decided to also add half an avocado and a whole mess of minced fresh rosemary.

Then I rolled it all up into a tight bundle and sliced it in two.

I decided on issuing no warnings today. He won’t notice the unusual ingredients; he’ll just assume it’s a regular steak sandwich.

We’ll see how it goes over.

Such a simple lunch should not require a warning, but…

Easy lunch box ideas: leftover steak with sour cream; and strawberries. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

After roughly five years of this lunch packing/blogging thing, I’ve finally accepted something.

I have accepted that my son — and I’m willing to bet your kid(s), too — will not exert his brain much at lunch.

My vision of his lunch experience goes something like this:

Parker sits down for lunch amidst a gaggle of boys. Never girls. They’re still icky.

Parker babbles for who knows how long.

Parker opens his lunch box and starts taking things out.

Anything that Parker cannot identify within the first nanosecond of seeing it is immediately returned to the lunch box.

Parker babbles some more.

Parker eats only the foods that do not require him to use his brain to identify, figure out, sort out or in any way think about.

Lunch is finished.

All of this is to explain why I have started issuing warnings and alerts as I pack his lunch each day.

Today is a fine example. Leftover steak with sour cream. Easily one of Parker’s favorite combinations.

But because of the renovation, I have limited lunch packing gear at my disposal. So the sour cream could not have its own container. Which means that by the time my incredibly rough and careless child gets to lunch, the steak and sour cream will have been flung about repeatedly.

Which means the steak and sour cream will be an unidentifiable blop by the time he opens the container.

No less delicious, mind you. But it will suffer from questionable visual appeal.

Now, you or I would take a moment to look at it and sort out what it is. We might even think to ourselves, “Gosh, I made a mess of my steak and sour cream. Perhaps tomorrow I shouldn’t launch my lunch box into the air. Repeatedly.”

And then we’d eat it anyway.

My boy? Very likely not.

So today, I had this conversation.

“So Parker. This is steak. This is sour cream. By the time you have finished abusing your lunch box for several hours and actually try to eat this, it will look like a messy blop. But it will still be steak and sour cream. OK?”

See? I’ve now alleviated any need for thought.

The lunch that took 10 hours to make, but minutes to pack

Easy lunch box ideas: cold barbecue pulled pork with sour cream; and watermelon. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

Luckily, all those hours were spent on Saturday.

We had friends out at the lake Saturday, so I decided to make smoked barbecue pulled pork.

I used a technique I learned from Elizabeth Karmel. Basically, you get yourself a really big pork butt. I cut it into two pieces, then rubbed them with a salt-brown sugar-smoked paprika-fennel rub I made.

Around 9 a.m. I prepped the grill for indirect cooking (heat only on one side) at 300 F. I popped the the pork onto the cooler side, then added some foil packets of soaked wood chips for smoke.

Then I walked away for about 10 hours.

The entire yard smelled amazing.

When the pork hit 195 F at the center, I took it off the grill and let it cool until easily handled. At that point, it pretty much just fell apart. Toss in some homemade extra sweet and tangy barbecue sauce and we were good.

Delicious stuff.

So today’s lunch started there — a sandwich of cold leftover pulled pork with sour cream. Parker seems to like it as much cold as hot, so it should be perfect for a warm day at summer camp.

As expected, the cold-nacho-lesson was lost on him…

Easy lunch box ideas: ham and cream cheese "sushi" on whole-wheat tortilla; and watermelon. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

So it seems the cold leftover beef nachos were a hit.

My lesson was lost on him…

Not only was every last morsel of the cold nachos consumed, Parker didn’t so much as utter a peep about them.

And let’s be clear about one thing… My 9-year-old is not reluctant to share his thoughts about things he dislikes…

So it seems the cold nachos could be a thing for the future, even if the lesson wasn’t absorbed.

For today’s lunch? A Parker classic — ham and cream cheese “sushi” with watermelon.

For me? Everything not tied down… Stressful day as renovation that was supposed to end today now stretches into the end of next week. Ugh…

Hope everyone has a restful and well-fed weekend.

If you’re going to whine, you’re going to get cold nachos

Easy lunch box ideas: cold leftover beef and cheddar nachos; blueberries; and a yogurt. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

Admittedly, the cause and effect here perhaps is a bit too nuanced for Parker to learn anything from.

But still…

Dinner last night was supposed to be… Well, I hadn’t actually had time to sort that out.

And that would be because a certain 9-year-old opted to whine and complain about… Well, just about everything.

And, of course, nothing.

Which is what made it all so special.

So I decided a quick and dirty dinner was called for. The better to get me back out onto the porch with a cocktail.

So into a skillet went 1 pound of ground beef. A bit of salt, some pepper, some garlic powder and a bit of chili sauce.

Onto a rimmed baking sheet went some tortilla chips. When the beef was browned, I dumped it over them, then grated the first block of cheese I could grab. A few minutes in the oven and the brat… I mean, loving child had his dinner.

My dinner? 1 1/2 pounds of quick-pickled carrots I was playing with a recipe for.

And a few old fashioneds…

So today’s lunch… He’s getting cold nachos because that’s the only leftover I had.

Sometimes life gives whiners cold leftover nachos.

A little of this, a little of that. Lunch in 5 minutes flat.

Easy lunch box ideas: ham; tortilla chips; noodles with steak; and watermelon. http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com

Had neither the time nor the energy to assemble lunch today.

Are we there yet? Is this renovation over yet?

Anyway, the best I could do this morning was assemble a collection of this-and-that.

Tortilla chips a la plastic bag.

Ham slices a la plastic bag.

Watermelon chunks a la plastic bag.

Dregs of noodles and leftover steak served up as cold salad.

Onward…