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My mom taught me how to can.  In fact, she was full of useful instruction when I was a kid including: how to make my bed (hospital corners), the art of the thank you letter, and the ever-so-wise tip: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” (I seem to have forgotten this last one recently and so I am resurrecting it as my new mantra- I think it will serve me well.)  Though I do still try to do my best with thank you letters, I admit to having given up on the tightly made bed (duvees are the way to go!)  The canning skills I learned from her though,  are still extremely relevant and useful.  I took it for granted growing up that the pantry was always full of a variety of delicious jams.  It was not until I was older that I realized how few people my age knew about this practical art.  Gratefully, the art of preservation is experiencing a resurgence.  Just look at the popularity of sites such as Punk Domestics and Food in Jars.

My first canning projects were jams: apricot , raspberry, blueberry.  My mom showed me how to carefully sort the fruit, meticulously wash the jars, fill them leaving just the right amount of head-space, and secure them with clean lids and bands.  It was a fun activity to share and I of course loved to taste the fruits of our labors.  Over the years, I branched out in quantity (such as the 200 jars I made for our wedding favors out of our 20 square foot college kitchen) and variety by adding in pickles and relish, as well as applesauce and curds.This recipe is not one of my childhood.  It has become a family favorite none-the-less, born out of necessity as my parents’ garden expanded and they learned that three of four zucchini plants really are extreme plenty for a two-person household.

Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles is the recipe that makes me yearn for our zucchini plants to over-produce.  No matter how many jars I make each year, it is never enough.  By February or March, I find myself rationing them so that we have enough to last until the next harvest.  Sweet, tangy, and crunchy with just a little bit of spice.  These are a staple on our weekend lunch table.  They are great on sandwiches or on their own.

What tips did your mother teach you that you still put to use?

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Yes, it is true, my kids eat their vegetables.  No, not every vegetable, every time, but they do eat them and what is more they like them.  They even ask for them.  So you do not peg my family and sweet little munchkins as social and culinary oddities, I thought I would let you in on a couple of tricks that I am convinced have helped me to raise two kids who are not afraid of vegetables.

1.  Serve different kinds of vegetables, often.

Though there are certain vegetables that my kids will almost always eat (sweet peas, cucumbers, broccoli), I am careful to serve other types of vegetables frequently as well.  I find that the more I mix of the types of veggies and the way I prepare them, the more likely they are to try different tastes.  Though I never force them to eat anything, I do encourage them to try a bite.  For the most part, I ignore them if they say they do not like something. What they do not like on a certain day, they may love the next.  Keep at it.

2.  Eat vegetables yourself and let them see you.

As a general rule, I figure I should be eating more vegetables than my kids, if I expect them to eat veggies at all.  I pile on the salads and extra servings of vegetables and make sure they notice.

3. Catch them when they are hungry.

There is little chance my kids (or anyone else’s for that matter) are going to eat a pile of broccoli, when they have already consumed two bowls of mac and cheese or another preferable kid food.  In the hour before dinner when my son is loitering in the kitchen complaining that he is “starving”, I like to put out a big plate of fresh raw veggies.  Both he and my daughter will polish off  surprisingly large servings of carrots, cucumbers, peas, broccoli, celery, etc. as they are waiting for dinner.  After that, I do not worry too much if they happen to pick at their dinner vegetables.

4.  Let them pick which vegetable to buy or cook.

When kids have the choice of which vegetable to eat, they are in control and may be more likely to actually eat it.  Often at the farmers’ market or grocery store, I allow each child to pick out a vegetable.  Often they surprise me with their choices (cauliflower, jicama), but almost without fail, they will gobble up their selection.

5.  Vegetables should taste good.

Take the time to serve fresh, seasonal vegetables raw or cooked in a way that fits that food.  Vegetables should taste delicious, just as the other parts of the meal should.  Taste it, if it tastes good to you, it probably will to them as well.  If the vegetable is overcooked or underseasoned, you cannot really blame your kids for not eating it.

Green and Brown Spaghetti is my kids only favorite way to eat zucchini.  As any gardener knows, there is never a shortage of zucchini in the summertime.  When recently both kids announced that they did not like zucchini (or ma-chini as my daughter calls it) I knew it was time to break out this favorite from last season.  In this recipe, the zucchini is cut very long and thin to resemble spaghetti.  I picked up the technique from Smitten Kitchen last year.  Instead of cooking the zucchini, the hot cooked pasta is simply drained over the zucchini in a colander.  The zucchini becomes just slightly tender, while still maintaining a good bite.  Tossed with a bit of fresh pesto, it is a huge hit with our kids, but is certainly not a “kid food.”  You can be proud to serve this to hungry eaters (and veggie-phobes) of all ages.

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