Monday, March 8, 2010

Stale marshmallows, exploding pie dishes, and dinner on the table by 7: A conversation with cookbook author, Aviva Goldfarb

Sure, we’d all love to have a nice, hot, healthy meal on the table for our families each night, but – in reality – we all know that’s about as achievable as me trying to figure out a way to stop eating the three boxes of Thin Mints that are currently shoved way in the back of my refrigerator.

We’ve got so much on our plates, and if your dinner rotation looked anything like ours used to (a repetitious cycle of spaghetti, bean burritos, scrambled eggs, and cereal), you understand that all the preparation and planning to create homemade recipes with fresh ingredients can be overwhelming.

I feel lucky I have time to shower most days, let alone successfully plan a menu and make a grocery list. If you ask me, it’s one of the biggest challenges I face as a wife and a working mother, and I’m willing to bet my three boxes of Thin Mints that a majority of you feel the same way.

Enter…Aviva Goldfarb. She’s a wife, mother of two, cookbook author, owner and CEO of The Six O’Clock Scramble, and an active participant with such organizations as Oxfam and Healthy Child, working to promote awareness about creating healthy environments for our children and putting an end to hunger and poverty.

And, not surprisingly, she’s been in your shoes. She knows what it’s like to try and negotiate the aisles of a grocery store with children in tow. She’s had nights where she wondered what in the world she should cook for her family. She’s been tired and exhausted, and she’s even blown stuff up in her kitchen, for crying out loud.

She’s been featured in “O” magazine, Real Simple, Redbook and Shape (to name just a few), and I am so very excited that you get to hear from her today!

Stale marshmallows, exploding pie dishes, and dinner on the table by 7: 
A conversation with cookbook author, Aviva Goldfarb

Sera: How have your cooking habits changed since you became a mom?

Aviva: Oh, pretty much completely. Actually, I have always been interested in healthy food, but before we had kids I didn’t mind so much running around to find special ingredients or making an elaborate meal. But once the realities of parenting set in, I needed really practical recipes, and had to tone down some of the spiciness for a while, although now our 12-year-old son loves spicy food (our 10-year-old daughter is just starting to like them.) Also, going to the grocery store wasn’t as much of a chore before we had kids, although I never loved shopping daily. But now I try to keep errands to a real minimum and plan for a whole week of meals and snacks at once.

Sera: How do you handle the days when you're rushed, tired and too hungry to spend a bunch of time preparing a healthy meal?

Aviva: Do you mean every day? That’s pretty much what you’re describing for us moms, right? That’s why I find that it’s essential to have a plan so you already know what you’re making for dinner and you know you have all the ingredients needed. What holds many people back from making dinner isn’t the cooking itself, it’s the planning or making decisions every day at dinner time about what to make and then trying to scrounge together the ingredients for it. Also, stick to simple meals that don’t take too long to make and don’t have too many ingredients. You can make such wonderful food from a few fresh and healthy ingredients, there’s no need to go to all that trouble and expense!

Sera: What are some of your favorite non-healthy splurges, whether they are from a restaurant, a box, or something you come up with on your own?

Aviva: Well, in terms of meals, I love cheese and could make a whole meal out of it, but I try to resist, and also love a great slow-cooked beef like brisket or homemade corned beef. Once in a while a piece of fried chicken is a treat, too. My strange dessert obsession is stale marshmallows, but I also love chocolate and would eat a lot of candy if it was healthier and calorie free.

Sera: Is there one particular recipe from your cookbook that is a staple in your household, one that everyone just loves?

Aviva: My daughter loves simple pasta like Celia’s Simple Spaghetti from my upcoming cookbook (basically spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and cheese), my son loves steak and baked potatoes, and my husband loves my spinach enchiladas. If my family could have steak and baked or mashed potatoes every week they would probably be thrilled, and we all love my husband’s homemade pizza, which he makes a couple of times a month. I like a lot of variety so I’ll eat any of it happily, but I really love lots of vegetables with my food, and I’m kind of crazy for fresh roasted beets, especially with oranges and goat cheese.

Sera: What is your personal favorite recipe from your cookbook?

Aviva: Wow, I think it’s impossible for me to choose! I got into my business partially because I love experimenting with food and could eat different meals every day of the week. But the Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Pineapple Glaze are pretty awesome, and I love the Grilled Caramelized Ginger Salmon and the Mango and Black Bean Salad.

Sera: What inspired you to get involved with the non-profit organizations you work with, and how can people get involved?

Aviva: I grew up in a family that always found ways to give back so it’s kind of a way of life for me, and I feel like we are so terribly fortunate to have all of our needs met when so many are suffering. I guess that I feel that we who have so much have an obligation to give back in as many ways as we can, but I also find that doing so brings great happiness and satisfaction, because it puts life in perspective and helps us realize what is important. It’s also important when you’re trying to raise kids in world that everyone around them has so much, that they also see how little others have and how we can help them. I was very proud of my son this month. For his bar mitzvah this month rather than giving him gifts, he asked that people make donations to an organization called Nothing But Nets that provides malaria nets for people in third world countries.

Sera: Who inspires you to cook?

Aviva: Probably my family because I want to feed them healthy meals and help them appreciate good food and where it comes from. Also my mom because she always made the most wonderful dinners for our family when we were kids and it really had an impact on me and helped me realize how important that effort and that time together is.

Sera: Aside from your own, which blogs and/or cookbooks do you read or refer to the most?

Aviva: Well of course I love Laughing Through the Chaos! I don’t read tons of blogs, although I’m kind of a Twitter fanatic, so if you count micro blogging that I guess I do follow a lot of people. I love for research and fantastic recipes, and in terms of cookbook authors, I admire Mark Bittman (The Minimalist), Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), and I worship Mollie Katzen, the author of the original Moosewood vegetarian cookbooks.

Sera: Please tell us more about how we can waste less by doing fridge and/or freezer makeovers.

Aviva: A well-stocked freezer is my secret trick to getting through a week of homemade meals without making extra trips to the grocery store. It can be my safety net for those nights when I’ve run out of planned meals but don’t have time to get back to the store. I also keep extra veggies or side dishes in my freezer to quickly round out or expand meals I’m making. I find many people conceal hundreds of dollars of food in their freezers without realizing it. Without a plan to use what’s in there, all that valuable food can go to waste! So, I recommend that people “shop” in their freezers weekly to save money on your grocery bills. Here are some of the foods that I like to keep stocked in my freezer:

· Frozen vegetables for sides and main courses— our favorites are broccoli, chopped spinach, edamame, peas, and corn, but we like to branch out occasionally

· Easy and healthy side dishes like Asian dumplings, pierogies, potato or broccoli pancakes - we like Dr. Praeger’s, and even fresh bakery bread· A prepared meal or two—we love Amy’s or Trader Joe’s frozen pizza, Boca Burgers and Gorton’s grilled shrimp entrees

·Frozen lunches for those days we don’t have leftovers to pack for lunch—we enjoy Trader Joe’s or Kashi single-serving entrees

·Frozen fruit for smoothies and snacks, such as strawberries, mangos and blueberries.

· Low fat ice cream, of course! (We favor Edy’s Slow-Churned and Skinny Cow frozen cones)

Sera: I love that you and your entire family sit down together every night to eat at 7. Do you and your family have any fun traditions you do during dinner time?

Aviva: Eating dinner together such an important part of our family life. It’s the only time we’re all in the same room at the same time with no electronic distractions, and sometimes the only time we all even make eye contact! These days the kids help nearly every day with the cooking or setting the table, clearing and loading the dishwasher. We also have some great discussions and play some great games. In one game our kids call Dr. Know It All for some reason, each person says one word and we go around the table and try to create a story, but of course the plots and characters are always crazy.

Sera: Any fun kitchen/recipe disasters you'd be willing to share?

Aviva: All the time! Since I’m always testing new recipes sometimes it seems like nothing comes out well for an entire week, and then we’ll have a week of spectacular meals. But the worst one I can remember is the time that I accidentally set a glass pie dish on a hot burner on Thanksgiving and it exploded. We had to toss the soup, too, because we weren’t certain that it didn’t have glass shards in it.

Sera: What advice do you have for moms who realize they forgot to plan for dinner and have no idea what to make?

Aviva: Eggs and beans are your friends! You can easily make a frittata or omelet or even Scrambled eggs with toast, bagels and/or hash browns, or even just with some fruit. With beans and tortillas you can make super healthy and quick burritos. Both are inexpensive, flexible and healthy proteins. But next week take 10 or 15 minutes to plan out some meals in advance and make a grocery list before heading to the store. Your evenings will be infinitely more relaxing and probably healthier and cheaper, too.

Sera: Your new cookbook "SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing, Dinners for Busy Families" talks about earth-friendly recipes. This is not a theme I've ever seen in a cookbook. What can readers expect in terms of "earth-friendly"? Are you talking about organic foods, or how to produce less waste? Do tell!

Aviva: I’m so excited about this book, Sera, and it’s finally coming out next month! The new book is still full of easy and healthy family-friendly recipes, but it’s got a new twist. I’ve realized that weekly planning and eating seasonally are actually better for the earth, in addition to being better for our families. So in this book I talk about how families can reduce their environmental impact through smart dinner-time choices, like eating seasonally, buying more organic foods, eating more meatless meals and using sustainable seafood, and eliminating food waste (according to the New York Times, a family of four will throw out an average of 24 pounds of fruits and vegetables per month, or by another estimate, 15 percent of their groceries). I even talk about how to grow some of your own herbs and veggies, and how easy it is to compost your scraps, which is also one of the best things we can do for the environment. I hope you have a chance to check it out!

To hear more from Aviva, check out this video:

Follow Aviva on Twitter: @thescrambler
Become a Facebook Fan: The Six O'Clock Scramble/Aviva Goldfarb
Nothing But Nets website:
Aviva's books:


Nisha said...

Barbara Walters eat your heart out! You can never take the budding journalist out of a girl! ;)

Sera said...

You rock my face off, Nisha. Thanks. :)

Laura said...

What an awesome post Sera! I love the idea of warming up some thin mints, adding a roll and throwing that on that on the table for dinner. Aviva has some wonderful ideas that don't seem overwhelming.

Jenners said...

This was great! I have so many of these problems ... I'm going to check this out.

And I'm chanting: "Eggs and beans are my friends. Eggs and beans are my friends."

And I love stale marshmallows too.