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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Kid Friendly

Twice-baked Potatoes: "to look the world back into grace"

Ben Goshow

Twice baked potatoes are on the menu for tonight. No, my friends, this isn’t functionality for dinner. This is the extravagance afforded when the second draft of Mom’s book has been turned in, and there is time for massaging potato skins with oil, baking them at leisure, scooping out and ricing the entrails, beating them into a frenzy with fat, and then returning them to the oven to let each crown of cheddar cheese get gooey. Nathan is the foodie of the family. Today, when he drops his school bags at the door and asks what’s for dinner, I’ll tell him “twice baked potatoes” and can expect to be emphatically and unapologetically kissed, never mind that he’s eleven and in middle school now. (Yesterday, I had a gigantic hug on the basis of homemade guacamole.)

Food is love. And because I have a piece about this I wrote for Today’s Christian Woman, which will be published in a couple of weeks, I dare not spill all my stories here. Still, it’s fascinating to me that I feel the compunction to begin this blog post to tell you what’s on the menu.

Yesterday, tacos.

Today, twice-baked potatoes.

Maybe I’m thinking of food because, having now turned in the second draft of my book, I’m back to reading and have taken up, The Supper of the Lamb by Robert F. Capon. The entire book is dedicated to one recipe – and to the spirituality of food and the gathering it inspires. This book comes highly recommended, and I know I’ll enjoy it despite that at Camille’s piano lesson yesterday, I was falling asleep through chapter five, which appears to be a long and poetic meandering. Beautiful, I’m sure, but not the kind of reading to keep you awake in a dimly-lit room at 7:30 at night. Not when your head is thick with a cold, and you got out of bed at 4:45 am.

But here is a beautiful part in an early chapter of the book: it’s about seeing and about the beauty we re-see into the world when we pay it some attention.

“There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it into bits – witness the ruined monuments of antiquity. One the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its light and shadow warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling . . .

The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men.”

Our world is beautiful because God made it so and sees it so. And when we do the work of seeing — when we pay the “whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string” some rightful attention — we begin to more fully belong to him.

I suppose the kitchen is a place, for me, of seeing: of seeing my family, of seeing the beauty of food, of seeing the holiness of something as everyday and unextraordinary as whipped potatoes. I feel more alive when I’m living with the materiality of food – and recognizing my body’s presence in space and time.

But then, I must write about it – because it’s almost as if I can only make it most real by naming it. I have to write because without those words, I am tempted by blur and busy and bustle, too hurried to really live.

So then, twice-baked potatoes. And a blog post – to tell you what’s on the menu.

Monday's Menu: How will kids make healthy choices?

Ryan and I had yet another conversation this past Saturday about the future’s looming possibilities. Of course there’s nothing to decide: we’re not sure if we’re staying in Toronto or going back to Chicago. Truthfully, it won’t necessarily be up to us. The sheer indecision of it is enough to drive me mad some days. One question that will necessarily have to be settled whatever we decide to do is: where will our children go to school? We’re literally tasted every educational variety: public school, Christian school, homeschooling, and now (secular) private school. I think we’re disabused of the notion that there is any perfect option out there. And at the same time, we believe that God asks us to exercise wisdom in puzzling out the implications of each choice and to make our decision prayerfully and thoughtfully.

When we talked this past Saturday, we considered what it would be like to go back to Chicago and send our children to public school (and there are many great public schools in Chicago). But Sunday morning, I woke up to a disturbing article in the New York Times (“Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill") and was persuaded that the only safe option for our children was to hunker down somewhere in the middle of Montana: just our family, sequestered on some isolated ranch. (And because we’re American, we’d be bedded down with our guns, of course.)

The article talks about the chilling rise in many competitive high schools of the abuse of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. It’s the good kids taking these drugs simply so that they can continue performing (and excelling) in their academics and athletics. Madeleine, one girl they’d interviewed who is now a college freshman at an Ivy League school said, “People would have never looked at me and thought I used drugs like that – I wasn’t that kid.” She explains how her drug abuse began. “It wasn’t that hard of a decision. Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, and then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”

I couldn’t help thinking how easily our own children could arrive at logic like that. Getting good grades, getting into a good university, making my parents, teachers and coaches happy – worthy goals, right? And if I can only achieve those goals with the help of a prescription drug, what’s the harm in that?

Which brings me to the larger question for parents: what prepares a fourteen-year old for a temptation like that? I find a glimmer of an answer in the story of one high-school sophomore interviewed for the article, who talked about his experience trying Adderall but his decision not to continue using it. He “disliked the sensation of his heart beating rapidly for hours.”

What we need to do is teach our children early on that they have a body: a completely obvious answer, I know, but one that bears repeating and one that we often forget as adults. How much we sleep, what we eat and drink, if we choose to exercise: these are important choices for our bodies and effect how we feel in terms of energy, focus, and mood. By helping our children make the connection between their choices and the consequences on their bodies, we can prepare them for the decisions ahead, which will have much graver implications.

We can hope that one day, they’ll have what it takes to decide that risking harm to their bodies simply isn’t worth it.


Monday's Menu: Just a Spoonful of Sugar

I have two potential leads for today’s blog post: Lead A: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has recently proposed a ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks, which could take effect as early as March of next year. “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh this is terrible.’ New York City is not about writing your hands; it’s about doing something,” said Bloomberg in a recent interview.

Lead B: I walked into Camille’s classroom last Friday morning and set down, next to the trays of croissants and pains au chocolat, the breakfast cereal, juice, and milk I’d been asked to bring for their class breakfast. I stacked Special K, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Fruit Loops: guilt rose in my throat.

Lead A is so perfectly distant. Let’s talk New York City, okay? Lead B is the story I’d rather not tell, especially to my friend, L____, who reads here and has made it her mission to make the food served at our children’s school healthy and nutritious. What will she say when I admit I served Fruit Loops to a class of eight-year-olds for breakfast?

L____ and I talked this past Saturday night at our neighborhood picnic, music blaring in the background, DJ’s telling kids to, “slide to the left, slide to the right.” For as long as I’ve known L____, I’ve known that she doesn’t eat either sugar or flour. Which isn’t to say that she’s impossibly severe and stern-faced, wagging fingers at those of us who do our fair share of indulging in both. However, she is committed to healthy choices for her family, and she’s also committed to food education in schools.

L____ tells me about her recent efforts to work with other parents from our children’s school to plan a menu for the middle school dance, which will be held from 4:30-6:30. How about fruit kabobs? she suggests. A quesadilla bar? And no, the kids don’t need cupcakes and cookies, she adamantly asserts.

She tells of the looks she receives from the other parents, the ones where they grimace at the apparent snakes slithering out of her scalp. They’re not convinced. “But this is a special dance, and it’s ok for their to have a small treat,” they contend. L____ doesn’t swallow the whole treat argument. She counters that these kids are getting treats every day.

But the mother in charge of the whole affair stammers, “But I just don’t want everyone to remember the dance that, ‘Johnny’s mother hosted,’ as the one that really sucked.”

That woman should have known she was barking for sympathy up the wrong tree.

If there is one thing I like about L____ (and there are many things I like and admire), it’s the sense that she is unapologetically principled. If she believes in something as right and good, she’s unafraid to defend it, no matter what conclusions you’ll draw about her.

And so, talking with L____ got me thinking about our sugar consumption around here. If you know our family, you know we eat generally healthy. I suppose “healthy” is a relative term, but because I enjoy cooking and because we believe in the value of gathering our family around a table, we’re maybe more naturally inclined toward healthier choices. Not to mention I grew up with a mother who banned soda and sugar cereals and generally cooked nutritious meals for the family: I have a history of healthy choices behind me for which I am grateful.

But what about our sugar consumption? How much were we really eating? I’d say we probably eat dessert two, maybe three times a week. I’d thought that was moderate. But I started to consider the hidden sources of sugar in our home, in things as innocuous as the bread we eat (not to mention the not-so-innocent sources, like juice and syrup). Consider that 5 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Now, picture your sugar bowl on the table, and dole out the allotted sugar into the food you’re consuming.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and add 1 tablespoon of your flavored creamer: 3 spoonfuls of sugar.

Pour yourself two small bowls of Rice Krispies: 2 spoonfuls of sugar

Toast two slices of your favorite cinnamon raisin bread: 3 spoonfuls of sugar.

Eat one small container of flavored yogurt: 2 ½ spoonfuls of sugar.

Hello, and that’s just breakfast?

We had a conversation last night with the kids about sugar: why is it bad for you? And if it’s really bad for you, what’s a reasonable amount to be eating? Little people have terrific sense: they draw their own smart conclusions.

Ryan and I reminded them that as their parents, our job is to make the tough decisions for their well-being, decisions they are very likely to resist, decisions that may be very unlike the choices that most other people make. Doing the right thing always feels like swimming upstream, against the current. But if you care more about doing what’s right, and less about what other people may think, that’s real courage in the making.

Heck, when you take your children to the doctor’s or dentist’s office and they leave with a lollipop in their hand, what further evidence do we need that we’ve gone pretty far off course in terms of our sense about sugar?

Here’s your challenge: look at the sugar in your diet. Are there small ways you can begin reducing your sugar consumption? Around here, we’ve decided to:

  1. Stop eating breakfast cereal. (This was an especially easy afternoon snack. The onus is now on me to figure out healthier alternatives.)
  2. Eat dessert one time a week. (L____ will not agree with me on this one, but for now, I think this is a step in the right direction of moderation.)
  3. Treat fruit as a sweet treat.
  4. Make more homemade bread. (This is an easy way to eliminate hidden sugars. I’ve just recently bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and yesterday was the first batch I mixed. I do think it’s as easy as five minutes a day to make your own bread!)
  5. Eliminate sweet snacks like cereal bars and dried fruit.

Just a spoonful of sugar. . .




Monday's Menu: I'm Hungry for a Story (Granola Recipe)

Up until the moment I had to get up from our second-row seat and march him up the aisle towards his impending doom (during the silent prayer of confession, he'd been anything but silent), I was having visions of heaven. We had sung two old hymns, which I learned from the pews of the Southern Baptist churches where I did my growing up: "I Stand Amazed," and "Blessed Assurance." How marvellous, how wonderful,

And my song shall ever be

How marvellous, how wonderful

Is my Savior's love for me.


This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior, all the day long.

"We live today in a world impoverished of story," says Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book, and it's as if I realized as we sang those hymns yesterday, that heaven was, at least in part, going to be a feast of story. From the beginning of time until the time of Jesus' return, God will have been gathering for Himself, not just a multitude of saints, but an anthology of stories. People from every tribe, nation, people and language will sing the melody of grace in their collected psalms and poems of their lived experience; each will be a song of salvation. I can imagine it will take an eternity for that concert of praise.

Stories are sacred: they are our threads of continuity, of belonging, and for those of us who believe in the risen Jesus, they are always stories of salvation. Salvation happens in unexpected places: in backyards, in bedrooms, around the table, and at the kitchen sink. There are stories (salvation?) in our recipes, especially those we've collected from our mothers and grandmothers. I think of my friend who lost her mother years ago to pancreatic cancer, and how it has been her sacred work to type and save all of her mother's handwritten recipes. We all need to belong and to matter to someone, and our family recipes (and their flavours of an irretrievable past), can grant us that.

Today's recipe is from a family cookbook I own, although the names on the front cover aren't ones I recognize: Wheeler, O'Brien, Christensen, Porter, Ralph, Dillon. It was Cathy Dillon who gave me a copy of her family's recipes and stories. Cathy and Bill lived in the white colonial on Chestnut Avenue in Arlington Heights, Illinois, next to the first house we ever owned. We loved that grey-frame house whose nursery became an office and reincarnated, years later, again as a nursery. And we loved Cathy and Bill, feeling that we had the good fortune of settling beside the protective watch of grandparents.

The "Isle O'Dreams Family Recipes - Second Edition" is exactly the resource you want to consult when there's fresh rhubarb at the market and you've determined to make a pie like your grandmother made. And the granola recipe featured on the first page of the "Breakfast and Brunch" section has now made its way into our family lore. Several summers ago, we had two college girls we knew from church live with us, and for all that may have been inconvenient or irksome about sharing a space with FIVE young children, it was quickly forgiven the moment warm granola was taken from the oven.

Here's the recipe in its original form, although I will also suggest the changes I've experimented with over the past several years. This granola makes a great gift, and when my kids wake up later this morning and realize it's on the menu for breakfast, I might be in contention for Mother of the Year.


4 C uncooked oatmeal

1 1/2 C wheat germ

1/4 C non-fat dry milk powder (I never have this on hand, so it's usually omitted.)

1 T brown sugar

2 T cinnamon (I use a little less.)

1/2 C honey (I prefer maple syrup as a sweetener. Audrey loves this recipe with molasses.)

2/3 C canola oil (You can also substitute half of the oil apple sauce as a low-fat alternative.)

1 T vanilla

1 C nuts or seeds (We prefer almonds.)

1 C dried fruit (Usually craisins or dried cherries)

* I also like to add 1 tsp, of almond extract.

*You can also add a couple of teaspoons of ground flax seed or flax seed oil.

Mix the dry ingredients. Heat the honey and oil in the microwave. Add the vanilla; pour over dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Spread in a jellyroll pan, (You'll be glad if you spray it with non-stick), and sprinkle with nuts. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. (Keep an eye on it. It doesn't have to be completely crispy when you take it out of the oven because it will continue to get crispy as you store it.) Let cool, and sprinkle with dry fruit.

Serve with milk or yogurt. Enjoy!

Monday's Menu: Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

I've been stocking my freezer recently, preparing to leave for almost an entire week. You heard it right. Mother bird is flying the coop, and Dad is taking over. For all the many wonderful ways that Ryan is completely capable, he is not and has never been a cook. And while he'll manage perfectly well without me for a week, getting the kids to and from school and music lessons and hockey, he will NOT be preparing dinner. One of the many things he'll find next week in the freezer will be crockpot beef stroganoff, a recipe I quadrupled last week and now have 3 freezer bags full for future meals. This is an easy-to-prepare, easy-to-freeze dish. (For easy freezing, prepare according to the instructions, and cool whatever you're freezing before spooning it into a ziploc freezer bag. Squeeze all the air out possible, making the bag flat. Double bag, and voilà! You have a meal for the crazy days when you're chauffeuring, or when you, like me, get a chance to fly the coop!)

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

  • 1 lb. cubed beef stew meat
  • 2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed golden
  • mushroom soup
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (softened and cubed)
  • Dollup sour cream
  • Salt, pepper
  • Fresh garlic, minced
  • Beef bouillon cube (I like Better than Bouillon, pictured here. I'm telling you, this your SECRET weapon for anything that calls for bouillon. You can find it in chicken or beef flavors.)
  • ½ packet onion soup mix
1. In a slow cooker, combine the meat, soup, garlic, onion, Worcestershire sauce and water. 2. Cook on Low setting for 5-6 hours, or on High setting for about 3 hours. Stir in cream cheese the last hour of cooking time, and add the sour cream right before serving.
** Your crockpot will probably not hold more than 2x this recipe. If you're crazy like me and want to quadruple the recipe, you can use a dutch oven. You could cook everything covered in your dutch oven on a low temperature (250 or 300) for 5-6 hours or until the meat is as tender as you like it.

Monday's Menu: Mexican Lasagna (and 5 ways for making dinner preparation easier)

Does your house, like mine, erupt with a kind of volcanic chaos just when you're making dinner? This is especially true in winter months when it's simply too dark or too cold to send the kids outside to run off some energy. Making dinner becomes a kind of Olympic feat of the most grueling proportions. Today, I'm sharing five suggestions for getting dinner on the table easier, and I also have a great kid-friendly recipe for you. 1. Make your meal plan for the week. Did you read last week's post? Step one for less-stress dinners is having thought through what you're actually making this week. Check your meal plan in the morning in case you need to defrost something for tonight's meal.

2. Assign a dinner helper who's on-call for whatever you need. (I do this for every meal of the day.) Currently, Audrey is my dinner helper. She runs into the basement to get anything I need out of the second fridge or our overflow pantry. She sets the table and serves the meal. She pours drinks, and the best part is, she's also responsible for the last minute, "I need another napkin!" or "May I have more milk?" kinds of requests that are generated all throughout dinner.

3. Plan easy, healthy meals. A great website is, the original source for the mexican lasagne recipe below. I think the work of making dinner feels worth it when you know you're preparing something healthy and yummy that everyone can enjoy. Disclaimer: today's recipe is one of the rare meals that everyone enjoys. Generally, at my house, there is one person grumbling at every meal that he or she doesn't like something. The rule is: you don't have to eat it, but there will not be anything else to eat before bed.

4. Thirty minutes before dinner, try to insist on some quiet play. This is worth your time and focused effort. Make this the time kids look at books independently, or color, or listen to music quietly in their rooms. I've finally realized it's OK to forbid running circles through the kitchen just as I'm getting dinner on the table!

5. Light a candle at the table. Make your gathering as a family around the table a sacred time together. Insist on everyone sitting down at the table, and turn the t.v. off.  Lighting a candle and dimming the lights is a visual symbol for the kids of this sacred space you're creating. Make your mealtimes together even more purposeful by prayer, Scripture reading, and great conversations starters like, "What was your high and your low today?"

Happy Monday!

Mexican Lasagna


  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean or higher)
  • 1 large carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • One 16-ounce jar salsa
  • One 15½ -ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • One 10-ounce bag or box frozen corn kernels, thawed (about 2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Five 8-inch flour tortillas, cut in half
  • One 16-ounce container low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1½ cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese


  1. Cook the meat and carrot in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up the large pieces, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Add the salsa, black beans, corn, chili powder, and cumin to the skillet and stir to combine.
  4. To assemble the lasagna, arrange a third (about 2 cups) of the meat mixture in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish. Layer half the tortillas over the meat, allowing them to overlap. Spoon half of the cottage cheese and 1/2 cup of the Cheddar cheese over the tortillas and spread evenly.
  5. Place 2 more cups of meat mixture over the cottage cheese. Layer with the remaining tortillas and cottage cheese. End with the meat mixture.
  6. Top with the remaining Cheddar cheese and bake uncovered until the cheese melts and the lasagna is heated through, about 25 minutes.

Monday's Menu: Roasted Vegetables

"How do I get my kids to eat vegetables?" I'm no miracle worker, and I can't promise that roasted vegetables are the answers to your prayers. But, they are a quick and easy way to prepare something healthy for the dinner table. You can roast broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes (red, yellow, white, sweet), and other root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, beets). You can also roast peppers, tomatoes, squashes, and eggplant. Oh, and I did I forget shallots? If you've never bought a shallot, it's high time to explore the world of onions! I've got some yummy combinations for you.

First, pantry items. This winter, keep extra-virgin olive oil, kosher/sea salt, and garlic powder stocked in your pantry. They're your go-tos when the dinner madness is upon you.

Experiment a bit when your oven temperature: 400 degrees tends to be where I most likely land when I'm roasting vegetables, but if something else is crowding your oven at 350 degrees (like a meat dish), you can roast your veggies at a lower temperature on a higher rack for a longer period of time. Leave the veggies in the oven for as long until they're as tender as you like to eat them.

Generally, before roasting, I toss the vegetables in a bowl with a generous amount of olive oil, salt and pepper. And depending on which vegetable I'm roasting, I might also add some garlic powder.

Ready for the combos?

Sweet potatoes: All by themselves, tossed with lime juice and chopped cilantro after roasting.

Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, yellow potatoes: Add some chili powder before roasting.

Eggplant, squash (yellow, green), and peppers: After roasting, you can stuff these into calzones before baking. What kid notices veggies inside a pizza pocket with spaghetti sauce for dipping??

Carrots and shallots: Actually, add shallots to every one of these combinations because they are THAT good when roasted.

Broccoli and cauliflower: Add garlic powder. To die for.

Happy roasting this week!