Big occasions provide good reason to reflect on the years gone by. And what’s a walk down memory lane without remembering the things that made the biggest impressions–in this case, food!
During a recent conversation with my older son, John, about childhood punishments meted out over the years, I had to think long and hard about when he last got in trouble.
We laughed about how, during his rare moments of misbehavior, I would take away his Matchbox cars. He played with those cars incessantly, knew every make and model by the time he was two years old, and went everywhere with a car in each hand.
Taking the cars away was a rather effective punishment. John immediately recalled how I would set them on top of the microwave — where he could see them but not reach them.
As he grew older, John was kind and loving and didn’t challenge me often. John could tell you that life wasn’t always easy, but he navigated big challenges with more maturity and grace than I could have imagined.
In the process, we forged a unique bond for which I am grateful every single day.
When John was old enough to attend preschool, I vividly remember someone telling me to enjoy this time because, before I knew it, he’d be graduating from college.
It seemed like light years away…yet here we are!
Since we love our lists of favorites, it seemed fitting to honor this occasion with the food that fueled John throughout the years.
Though he pretty much likes everything, there are a handful of recipes that rise to the top of his list. Quite a few recipes on this list were even inspired by John.
So, what are the favorites?
Somewhere I have a paper on which 6-year-old John answered this question: “stake and couscous.” Years later, the answers themselves are not what make the lasting impression. It’s the fact that “stake” is the only word I can remember him ever misspelling. In fact, John actually earned himself a ticket to the Scripps National Spelling Bee when he was in 7th grade. ⇩⇩
The recipes, in no particular order:
- When John was living in New York City for a summer program several years ago, he discovered sweetgreen’s Guacamole Greens Salad (aka Guac Greens). It’s fresh, crisp, and super satisfying. Most importantly, it was a dinner out he could occasionally work into his budget, so it felt like a treat. He became such a fan, it seemed only fitting to replicate it so we could all enjoy it with him at home.
2. Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts–Because I did not grow up loving Brussels sprouts, John surprised me when he took to them as a toddler. I vividly remember him saying, “Yum! Brussels sprouts!” as I was pulling a tray out of the oven one evening (and thinking that such words would never have emerged from my mouth as a teenager, let alone a toddler!).
3. Sushi Bowls–We’ve made a fun project of rolling sushi over the years (to the point I created a How to Roll Sushi tutorial). However, for a quick and easy meal that tastes just like your favorite sushi roll in a hearty bowl form, this recipe has long been at the top of John’s list.
4. Overnight No-Cook Oatmeal Cups–Things get tricky when it comes to breakfast, because if I ask John what he’d most like, he tells me that he likes everything I make. When pushed for an answer, however, John will often request overnight oats. For a quick, last-minute option, he also adores a refreshing yogurt bowl with seasonal fruit like berries and peaches and a hearty sprinkle of Chunky Homemade Granola. I try to keep a batch of the granola on hand for this reason.
5. Easy Pork Burgers–When living on his own for the first time, John regularly requested recipes that were quick, easy, and inexpensive. He made the basic version of these pork burgers on repeat, meaning he skipped the pineapple jam, opting for the 2-ingredient BBQ mayo and the occasional slice of cheese instead. (For the record, these are one of Emily’s creations and are so good!)
6. Serving salmon prepared nearly any way is sure to earn me genuine compliments from John at dinnertime. Everything Crusted Salmon is a new favorite, while Parmesan Crusted Salmon was the recipe that turned him on to salmon when he was a toddler.
7. John first made Dilly Beans as a 10-year-old during his first year at summer camp. He proudly unpacked the jar and told us we had to wait “a while” to eat them so the flavor would have time to develop. It took me until just after the New Year to convince him that they’d likely rested long enough. When we finally opened the jar, the flavor didn’t disappoint and he was so proud. The following summer, we figured out how to make these easy, pickled beans and they have been a summer staples ever since. If you are a dill pickle fan, John will tell you that Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles do not last long in this house either!
8. A fan of tea in all forms (hot, iced, lattes, etc.), Meadow Tea holds a special place in John’s heart. Minty and refreshing, it’s the quintessential summer drink. Thanks to his love of iced chai, John also inspired this recipe for a Homemade Chai Concentrate, which can be kept on hand for iced and hot chais. (We humbly think it beats cafe offerings–and it’s cheaper, too!)
9. Chocolate Chip Muffins (and also pancakes made with chocolate chips) have long ranked high on John’s list of favorites. These muffins are easy to whip up with basic pantry ingredients. If you look at the recipe, you’ll notice they make a fun kitchen project, too.
10. John’s Favorite Ice Cream Cake–Ice cream should be an all-encompassing favorite for which, depending on how you look at it, I am to thank or blame! John’s birthday is in June (he actually graduated on his birthday), so I often made an ice cream cake to celebrate the occasion. Other party favorites include Giant Chipwich Cake, Mud Pie, and Copycat Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake.
I knew this would happen! We exceeded 10. As you likely noticed, I also slipped in lots of extra mentions within the main list. Clearly, John is anything but a picky eater. And when my mind went to smoothies, I couldn’t overlook them. When John is home and the weather is nice, I frequently make filling smoothies for lunch and we sit outside and enjoy them together. It’s some of my favorite time. I tend to make our smoothies thick, as we both enjoy using a spoon to “eat” our smoothies rather than sip them. (My younger son is a sipper. 😉) This pictured Matcha Smoothie is John’s absolute favorite, while runners up include this healthier Homemade Frappuccino and 5-Ingredient Very Berry Smoothie.
A few final memories…