Raised from Scratch

growing up outside the box: alternatives to processed food and television

Crispy Olive Oil Potato Wedges and The Great Caper October 17, 2012

Crispy Olive Oil Potato Wedges

Inspired by Oh She Glows crispy baked fries, the small amount of cornstarch gives these little potatoes such an awesome crispy texture. Definitely a method worth trying next time you’re in the mood for fries.

6-8 new potatoes

½ t. coarse salt

¼ t. Penzey’s Bavarian spice blend

¼ t. dried thyme

2 t. cornstarch

1 T. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°. Wash and dry potatoes (peeling is optional). Halve or quarter potatoes. In a sealable container mix salt, spices and cornstarch together. Add potatoes, seal and shake to evenly distribute spices and coat potatoes. Add 1 T. olive oil to container and shake again. Place on a baking sheet spaced 1” apart and bake 15 minutes, then use a spatula to turn, bake additional 10 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.

Serves 3-4

Caper Vinaigrette

The Caper, which is simply a pickled flower bud, is great in any Mediterranean dish, and easy to find in practically every grocery store. Jazz up your next salad with this tasty dressing. I think it’s perfect on a simple salad of greens with tomatoes and feta.

4 T. olive oil

1 green onion, chopped (optional)

1 ½ T. stone ground mustard

1 ½ T. red or white wine vinegar

2-3 T. capers

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

If you want to use green onion, heat it along with the olive oil in a small saucepan for 2 minutes, until the onions become soft, then remove from heat, add mustard and vinegar and whisk well to combine. Stir in capers and season to taste.

If you’ve opted not to use the green onions, just grab a small bowl and vigorously whisk olive oil, mustard and vinegar together to combine. Stir in capers and season to taste.

Makes enough for 8 salads

 

Maple Pecan Cookies: Wheat vs. Gluten-free Oat October 16, 2012

This weekend I was baking for a small crowd coming to my house for a game of Settlers of Catan, and I wanted to make Maple Pecan Cookies to celebrate my favorite time of year. I already had a tried and true whole wheat recipe that I used a lot last year (before I went gluten-free), so I figured I’d make a batch of the wheat cookies, but also do a little experimenting to get a tasty gluten-free alternative. I made my own oat flour this time for a less refined consistency. To make your own oat flour, place gluten-free rolled oats in a food processor or blender and pulse 30-60 seconds. Here’s a helpful link to making your own flours at home.

The gluten-free oat cookies were a hit, just as tasty as the wheat version, despite the fact that I cut down on the sweetness and added a salba “egg” to help the cookie hold together without xanthan gum or real eggs. So you probably have two questions right now: What the heck is salba? and What exactly is a salba “egg”?

I didn’t know what Salba seeds were until a few months ago when my dad came to Chicago for a visit and brought me a whole bag of Salba seeds to start experimenting with (Thanks Dad – perfect gift!). Salba seeds are like white Chia seeds (that’s right, the same Chia used for “hair” on the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia pet popular in the 1980’s), which it turns out happen to be exceptionally nutritious. Salba seeds are grown under tight regulations in Peru to maintain a consistently high nutritional composition, whereas Chia seeds’ nutritional makeup are frequently diminished because they grow wild in large quantities throughout Mexico, and Central and South America, and are not subject to the same strict regulations. Don’t get me wrong though, both Chia and Salba seeds are very nutritious and, like flax seeds, super easy to incorporate into your daily diet. Read a more extensive comparison of Chia vs. Salba and all the nutritional benefits of both here.

Now to explain the Salba “egg”. At some point while browsing through blogs and recipe sites I read about a Chia egg, made by mixing 2-3 teaspoons chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and allowing the mixture to sit and congeal for about 10 minutes to use as an egg substitute. I’m all about this kind of health food magic, so I jotted the recipe down at the bottom of my notebook as a reminder to try it sometime. Even though my original whole wheat maple cookie recipe didn’t call for an egg, I know that gluten-free flours lead to cookies lacking in structure unless you add something gooey, like banana, or a gum (xanthan), or eggs. No reason to pass up a perfectly good opportunity to add lots of omega-3s, fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, iron and folate, so I tried the Salba egg structure in these cookies, and couldn’t be happier with the result!

I hope you’ll pick up a small bag of Salba or Chia if you come across them in a health food store and try this recipe out for yourself. The cookies are outrageously good, and something you can feel happy about sharing with your family and friends this fall…even the tikes.

More helpful links to recipes using Chia/Salba seed egg substitute:

Andrea Drugay – How to make Chia Egg Replacer

Real Food, Allergy Free

Gluten-free Maple Pecan Oat Cookies

Salba/chia “egg” recipe:

Mix 2 teaspoons Salba with 3 Tablespoons water and allow to sit and congeal at least 10 minutes.

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup maple syrup

½ t. vanilla extract

1 salba or chia egg (recipe above)

1 cup homemade oat flour

¼ t. baking powder

¼ t. sea salt

Pecan halves to place on top of cookie dough

Preheat oven to 375. Make salba/chia egg in a small bowl and allow to sit 10 minutes while assembling and mixing other ingredients. In medium bowl, use a hand mixer to cream butter, maple syrup and vanilla 30 seconds on medium speed. Add salba egg substitute, and mix until you have a smooth consistency (no visible large clumps of butter). Add oat flour, baking powder and salt and mix briefly.

Using a cookie scoop or two spoons, use about 2 teaspoons of batter to form each cookie. Place on ungreased cookie sheet 1” apart and top with pecan halves.

Bake 12-15 minutes. Makes 14 cookies.

Maple Pecan Wheat Cookies

½ cup butter, softened

¾ cup maple syrup

1 t. vanilla extract

1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup white whole wheat flour

½ t. baking powder

½ t. sea salt

Pecan halves to place on top of cookie dough

Preheat oven to 375. Using a hand mixer, cream butter, maple syrup and vanilla. Add flours, baking powder and salt and mix well. Using a 2 teaspoon cookie scoop, or two spoons, form round cookies and place 1 1/2” apart on ungreased cookie sheet (these cookies spread a little). Top with pecan halves, pressing slightly into the cookie dough.
Bake 12-13 minutes or until cookies turn a light golden brown. These are delicate when warm so allow to cool on baking sheet 3-5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Makes 35 cookies.

 

Toddler Geography Fun – Coffee Regions October 14, 2012

All you need: A world map (I use a laminated one, but this is totally optional), a glue stick, and some coffee beans

Every time we buy a new bag of coffee beans I take Ella over to the coffee map that hangs on the dining room wall and let her place a bean, marking the country where the coffee was grown. If there’s already one there, she will sometimes insist on replacing it with a new one, or we just savor the aroma of the freshly roasted beans we’re holding and talk about the countries and continents that are marked on our map. It’s so much fun decorating maps with a specific focus, and I’ll be decorating another one with seeds or whole spices in the near future. By introducing regions of the world with things Ella can hold, smell and taste, I’m hoping to capitalize on her senses to reinforce the geography lesson.

You might find this strange, but Ella has always been a fan of coffee. It may be because we took her traveling around the country when she was 8 months old and she was exposed to some of the finest coffees roasted around the U.S. (at this point she was only smelling them of course). As we drove through a hot summer and into the fall, and our car’s air conditioner recycled the blissful coffee aroma for seven months, we had only two major goals: to find a new city we’d be happy moving to, and to try as many highly rated U.S. coffee roasters as possible. Because we were living on the road, we’d have the roasters grind our coffee selection for our french press. With every sunrise, Ella and I would stretch out from our cramped sleeping positions in the car (sometimes we’d be lucky enough to have found a place to set up a tent, but frequently it was just too hot to sleep without a/c) to set up our camp stove, boil some spring water and wait to taste our latest find. Road tripping with a baby can be really magical, and I savor the memories of those quiet moments in the dawn’s light when baby Ella and I both marveled and cooed at the world’s beauty while waiting to press the coffee.

By the time Ella was 16 months old she was grabbing coffee bags off store selves to give them a good squeeze under her little nose without any encouragement from us. By 2 years old she was sneaking the last sips left behind in abandoned coffee mugs, and now at 3 she frequently asks for her own cup. Now, even though she likes sipping black coffee, her own cup consists of 80% – 90% milk and totals no more than 4 oz because I’m not about to willingly caffeinate my toddler. I don’t, however, see anything wrong with raising her to have an appreciation of fine coffees, or dark chocolate for that matter.

And in case you’re wondering, the coffee roasters which made it to the top of our list after 7 months of travel are:

#1 Coava Coffee Roasters from Portland, OR

#2 (a tie) Intelligentsia Coffee (for dark roasts) and Meteropolis Coffee Company (for light and medium roasts), both from Chicago, IL

Purely by coincidence, we moved to Chicago, and plan to move to Portland when our Chicago adventures are through.

 

Quinoa Waldorf Salad October 12, 2012

A perfect fall dish – great for potlucks and picnics as it tastes best at room temperature. I’ve brought this to multiple get-togethers and the recipe is always requested. With all the fruit and fresh greens, this salad is refreshing and a great way to celebrate the season. If you haven’t tried quinoa before (pronounced keen-wah), I highly recommend it. Quinoa is the only grain (okay, technically a seed, but cooked and eaten like a grain) in the world that is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids, so it’s wonderful for vegetarian diets. The tiny quinoa pearls have a ring around them, which will unfurl as it cooks and the seeds will become translucent. Many brands sell pre-rinsed quinoa, but rinsing in cold water at home prior to cooking ensures any bitterness from the seeds’ natural protective resin is washed away.

This recipe is easily modified. The most recent version I made, and the one pictured, I used regular raisins instead of golden, omitted the dried cranberries and celery, and used extra apples because I was bringing it to a potluck celebrating Johnny Appleseed Day. I hope you’ll try it next time you’re in the mood for a fall salad!

Quinoa Waldorf Salad

2 cups water

½ t. sea salt

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained

1 large apple or 2 small apples (pink lady, gala or fuji are great), unpeeled, cut into ½” cubes

1 celery stalk, thinly sliced (optional)

2 scallions, thinly sliced

½ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup golden raisins

2 T. walnuts, chopped (optional)

2 T. seasoned rice vinegar

4 T. fresh orange juice

¼ t. ground ginger

2 cups fresh baby arugula, washed and dried

½ t. fresh black pepper + additional salt to taste

Using a sieve, rinse quinoa under cold water for about 30 seconds, briefly allow to drain. In a saucepan bring water and salt to a boil, add quinoa, cover and reduce heat to low and cook 15 minutes until water is adsorbed and quinoa fluffs easily with a fork.

Meanwhile, chop apple, celery and scallions and place in a large serving bowl along with cranberries, raisins and walnuts. In a small measuring glass whisk together rice vinegar, orange juice and ground ginger. Once quinoa has cooked and the water has all been absorbed, add it to the apple mixture and toss to combine. Pour orange vinegar dressing over salad, stirring. Gently fold in arugula to coat the greens but not tear them.

Serve with additional walnuts if desired.

 

Gluten-Free Cocoa Molasses Zucchini Bread October 9, 2012

I guess I was on a roll with chocolate vegetables this past week because after creating the Chocolate Kale Smoothie I was in the mood for chocolate zucchini bread. As usual, I was striving to make a snack bread that I could give to my 3 year old whenever she asked for it, which wouldn’t be the case with most of the recipes out there loaded with sugar and chocolate chips. Don’t get me wrong – I like those decadent recipes, but there’s no reason to train our kids’ taste buds (or our own) to expect a sugar high every time they reach for a slice of bread. Molasses, along with some unsweetened applesauce, provides the sweetness for this tasty, moist alternative to the sugar high. Try it for another way to get more vegetables into your family’s diet while giving them a healthy treat. If you want to serve it for dessert, I recommend adding ½ cup dark chocolate chips on top before baking.

I make my baked goods gluten-free because that’s what I eat these days, but I include versions using wheat flours because I know most people don’t have gluten-free flours on hand, and that shouldn’t stop you from trying a delicious recipe.

Gluten-Free Cocoa Zucchini Bread  (wheat version in parentheses)

1 c. oat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)

½ cup sorghum flour (or all-purpose flour)

3 T. unsweetened cocoa, sifted

2 t. baking powder

¼ t. xanthan gum (omit if using wheat flour)

½ t. sea salt

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans (+ 2 T. to top batter)

½ cup unsweetened organic applesauce

1/3 cup oil –  olive, coconut, or canola

1 t. vanilla extract

4 T. molasses

1 large egg

2 cups shredded zucchini (1 medium)

Butter 8 x 8” pan and preheat oven to 350°.

In large bowl combine all dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Add applesauce, oil, vanilla, molasses and egg, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Fold in zucchini with a spatula. Pour into prepared pan and smooth with spatula. Sprinkle reserved pecans if you like (I sprinkled some on half since Ella isn’t crazy about too many nuts in her food).

Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick test is clean. Let cool before slicing.

Makes 16 pieces

 

The Tree of Gratitude – A Fall Art Project October 6, 2012

Above you see our tree after 1 week of family musings around the dinner table.  At the beginning or end of our meal we each pick out a colorful leaf and write something we are grateful for before hanging it on the tree, which is mounted to a wall behind our dining room table, where we see it throughout the day. It’s beautiful, and makes me smile whenever I look at it. Ella usually tells me she’s thankful for trees, rocks, food, chocolate cake, or whatever happens to be in her hand at the time. Josh, my husband, is thankful for things like puns. I usually write something which made my day happier, like walking on the cold beach with my daughter, or getting to listen to 2 hours of radiolab while Ella was in preschool, or dance parties, which are invaluable when I’m parenting alone for a full day and night while Josh is busy with grad school projects. It really doesn’t take long to see a tree full of leaves and gratitude.

Materials:

3 – 4 Thin cardboard cereal boxes

Tempera paints and brush or sponge

Tree trunk material such as extra cardboard, felt, fabric or paper

Tacky glue or a glue gun, poster putty or tape

Scissors, sharpie or permanent black maker

Step 1: Gather empty thin cardboard boxes, such as cereal or kleenex boxes, a sharpie (I use a thin tipped sharpie) and scissors. Use a pencil, pen or sharpie and draw a leaf pattern you like and cut out ONE to use for tracing. Don’t make it too complicated because you’ll want to make lots of leaves and will have to spend some time cutting them out. In this picture you’ll see I made two leaf patterns and went with the three tipped leaf.

Step 2: Open your cardboard boxes and lay them flat. Using a sharpie or other black permanent marker, trace your leaf pattern onto the inside of your cardboard boxes, fitting as many leaves as possible. It’s important to use a dark marker because you’ll want to paint the boxes before cutting out your leaves, and will need to be able to see your outline through the paint. (I traced the leaf while my 3 year old was napping, then waited for her to wake up and help me paint.)

Step 3: Using tempera paint, cover your leaves in fall colors. We mixed paints right on the cardboard and had fun experimenting with different brush strokes to make interesting patterns. We also grabbed a piece of yellow chalk (totally optional) and scraped some chalk dust onto the red and orange leaves while the paint was still wet – makes it look like pollen and gives it a great texture. I wasn’t crazy about the color yellow we had after one coat, so for the yellow leaves I added a bit more yellow, and one drop of green on some of the leaves and using a palette knife (a finger laid flat or a pencil should work as well) swirled the colors, incorporating just a little green to make them more vibrant. You can see the result in the completed leaf pictures below. Allow to fully dry before cutting.

Step 4: While the leaves are drying, create a tree trunk with branches for your leaves to adorn. I used one of those thin corrugated cardboard papers liquor stores place around a bottle of wine to protect it. You can use anything – another cardboard box painted brown, felt, fabric, whatever you have lying around the house. Make the tree trunk large – it fills up fast. I probably should have added more branches, but I ran out of the corrugated brown paper I was using. Attach branches with Tacky glue or a glue gun. Allow to dry flat for several hours if using Tacky glue.

Step 5: Cut out your leaves. Obviously, with small toddlers this will just be the work of the adult, but it went pretty fast.

Step 6: Hang your tree where the whole family will see it, and start filling it with leaves of gratitude! I used Tacky glue to hang our tree trunk on a large piece of white paper, then attached the paper to the wall with poster putty. If you have lots of poster putty you could just use that to attach the tree and the individual leaves. Or tape everything to a full length window. Don’t let a lack of materials deter you from creating! We keep our leaves, Tacky glue and a thin sharpie together on our dining room table so they’re easily accessible. Have fun and happy fall!!

 

Healthy Addictions: Chocolate Kale Smoothies October 4, 2012

Did you know that kale and chocolate both rank in the top 5 most nutrient dense foods on the planet? Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef, and more calcium than milk, it’s high in vitamin A (300% daily recommended value), C (89% daily value) and K (1,000% daily value), anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants, is believed to help lower cholesterol, help with detoxification, and contains 10% of the recommended daily omega-3 intake.

Read more about this awesome green here and here.

So kale keeps you healthy, and chocolate, naturally, makes you fall in love. Chocolate raises serotonin levels, provides magnesium, improves blood flow, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. Just don’t mix your dark chocolate with regular cow’s milk because it negates the antioxidant benefits. I use almond milk in the smoothie for this reason and for taste, and haven’t read anywhere that almonds inhibit the absorption of chocolate’s nutrients.

I created this recipe because my 3 year old loves dark chocolate but is not likely to chow down on a full serving of kale if served for dinner, so a smoothie felt like a promising way of delivering this powerful grow food, and anything containing chocolate is automatically viewed a “treat”. She asked for thirds, so we’ll be making this a lot in the future.

Create a healthy addiction in your life…start making more smoothies!

Chocolate Kale Smoothie

16 oz almond milk

¾ cup frozen blueberries

2 bananas, peeled and frozen

1 T. honey

¼ t. vanilla extract

1 ½ T. soy protein powder (optional)

1 T. unsweetened cocoa, sifted

1 ½ cups fresh kale, washed and torn into large pieces

Combine all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Pour into glasses or mugs and sprinkle with sifted cocoa. Serves 2-3.

 

Say Yes to More Cookies September 30, 2012

Saying YES to a child always feels better than having to say NO, which is just one reason I love having healthy cookies on hand. Kids are always in the mood for cookies, and always want more than one…just like the rest of us. We could eat these for breakfast they’re so healthy, though if I actually allowed my 3 year old to do so I’d never hear the end of cookie requests at sunrise, so I’m just going to treat these as snacks and let the whole family eat as many as they want after breakfast.

Banana Coconut Almond Cookies

(gluten and sugar free, vegan if using coconut oil)

½ cup almond meal

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats

1/3 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut (Bob’s Red Mill)

1 T. golden flaxseed

½ t. ground cinnamon

½ t. sea salt

1 t. baking powder

3 ripe bananas, mashed

½ t. vanilla extract

1 t. almond extract

4 T. unsalted butter or coconut oil, melted

½ cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk dry ingredients together in small bowl. In medium bowl use a sturdy whisk to mash bananas, then add extracts and butter. Stir in dry ingredients and raisins. Drop cookies on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes, until slightly golden brown on bottom. Cool on wire rack. Makes 35 small cookies.

 

 

Kasha Breakfast Cake with Carrots and Dates September 29, 2012

Steel cut oatmeal is a staple breakfast item in my house, and I find even the leftovers a tasty snack later in the day. But cooked kasha leftovers (aka buckwheat groats), I had no experience with and wasn’t as thrilled about eating cold from the fridge, even with maple syrup. So I searched online, unsuccessfully, for a muffin or healthy cake recipe to utilize the extra cooked kasha I had sitting around after my family had their fill for breakfast.

Every recipe I came across called for buckwheat flour, which I also love, but with several extra cups of cooked kasha in my stove pot was of no use to me.

I figured adding the soft, cooked whole grain to a batter would yield more nutrition due to less processing, and would provide an interesting texture. Worth a shot, so I went about creating my own recipe. I’m happy to say it was a great success, and one I’ve already duplicated three times since creating it two weeks ago. There is very little maple syrup called for, but my daughter and I find it plenty sweet (my husband thinks it’s good too but even better with honey on top). It is deliciously moist and holds together well for breakfast on the go, which has become a huge priority since Ella began attending a twice a week preschool co-op. She’s used to taking a solid hour enjoying breakfast, and second breakfasts, and morning tea…it’s like feeding a hobbit…and I need to speed up the morning routine without taking the joy out of eating. Baking her a breakfast “cake” makes her feel like she’s waking up to a special treat, which she is…it just happens to be a healthy one.

 

Buckwheat groats are eaten regularly in western China and eastern Europe (I found a bag packaged in Poland in my local grocery store’s international section). Rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and magnesium, buckwheat is a very healthy alternative to wheat, and an excellent food for young babies due to an extremely low risk of allergic reaction.

–For gluten tolerant individuals you can use white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour in place of the oat and sorghum (1 ¼ cup total), and omit the xanthan gum.

 

Buckwheat/Kasha Breakfast Cake with Carrots and Dates (gluten-free)

1 cup oat flour

¼ cup sorghum flour

1 t. xanthan gum

2 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

1 cup cooked buckwheat groats  *See cooking instructions below

3 T. maple syrup

2 T. unsalted butter, melted + 1 t. to butter pan

1 cup milk, around room temperature

1 egg

¼ cup chopped dates (I used pitted tunizian dates, but medjool dates would work well also), or substitute raisins

2 medium carrot, finely shredded

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter 8×8” pan with 1 t. butter.

Combine oat flour, sorghum flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt in medium bowl and whisk. Add cooked kasha, tossing in the flour mixture. Combine maple syrup, melted butter, milk and egg in large measuring glass or small bowl; add to dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in chopped dates and shredded carrots.

Pour cake into prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake 25-30 minutes, until cake is set and a toothpick tests clean. Allow to cool before slicing.

Makes 16 pieces

 

*Buckwheat/Kasha Cooking Instructions

1 T. butter

1 cup buckwheat groats (kasha)

2 cups water

½ t. sea salt

Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle or pan. Heat butter in a medium saucepan with lid. Add kasha and sauté until coated. Add boiling water and salt to kasha, cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer 20 minutes until buckwheat is tender.

Makes approximately 3 cups cooked kasha – plenty for a morning meal and creative baking. For morning porridge I like adding cinnamon, raisins or dried figs, flax, milk and a little maple syrup.

 

The Princess Dilemma September 24, 2012

I love role playing – really truly love it. Part of me has always longed for a life in musical theater (thanks most likely to watching The Sound of Music a bazillion times as a kid), and struggling to some extent with self acceptance and social anxiety throughout my life, role playing allows me a chance to let go of whoever I think I am or want to become and just exist. With lines already written for me, the tone of my voice and mood determined by character, it can be a welcome reprieve from playing mom, responsible for the physical, mental and emotional well-being of two people all day long. Playing werewolf entails no responsibilities beyond growling and pursuing my next victim. So easy. And yes, she loves when I play werewolf.

 

Life as a toddler has got to be just downright wretched at times, and I’m sure role playing serves as a vital tool for relaxation, just as it does for me, in addition to helping kids learn about the world and how we all fit together.

 

Enter the princess dilemma. I am staunchly anti princess for a variety of reasons. Other characters encourage children to be adventurous, chivalrous, and compassionate, to explore super powers, to conquer the world or save it from an evil tyrant, to think twice about stealing porridge from unsuspecting bears…all good lessons. But what does a princess teach them? She teaches them to obsess about their bodies, their clothes, material wealth, and of course, to wait for prince charming so their lives will be magically transformed into a constant state of bliss. Happily ever after is a lie, a completely unfair expectation that sets our little girls up to be disappointed and unprepared for the alternative, which of course is, simply, life. And life is awesome. Life is magical and wondrous, it’s depressing and painful, it’s ecstasy and misery all jumbled together and it’s worth living. Even without the castle and crown. Even homely and overweight. Even if prince charming never comes or existed in the first place or if he turns out to be a she. The typical princess story doesn’t offer anything of value for me, and so for nearly three years I was successful at avoiding all princess books, movies and discussion with my little girl. Random people on the street would walk by saying “What a little princess” and though I might smile politely and resist rolling my eyes until they’d passed us, I would not acknowledge the label or agree with their comment and I certainly never explained to my daughter what they were suggesting. I knew I’d have to deal with princesses eventually, but I felt avoiding the princess mentality so prevalent in our culture today was imperative to raising a strong, emotionally healthy girl.

 

One month before my daughter’s third birthday, the inevitable happened. Ella learned what a princess is and became mildly interested in playing one, which sent me panicking, scrambling to find princess books that downplayed beauty and marriage. I wanted to make it clear that the typical storybook princess, being a slave to fashion who’s banned from running through mud puddles, leaving the house with unbrushed hair, or dashing into the woods to examine rotting logs, spider webs, and animal tracks whenever her adventurous heart feels drawn to do so, should be pitied rather than envied and imitated! These are sentiments I felt sure my daughter would back me up on. But despite my reminding her of the harsh realities of royalty, this was a role that called to her and needed to be explored, just as the role of dragon, basilisk, gelfling, and fairy had, and I forced myself to play along with a smile while hoping the fascination would soon be exhausted. What I needed was a princess book with a feminism message post haste. (Why oh why didn’t I already have one waiting in my closet??!!)

 

The Paper Bag Princess comes to my aid the next day – a classic at this point, being in print over 25 years, though I’d never heard of it before starting my search. Author Robert Munsch writes a very straightforward story of a princess with fancy clothes and enormous castle, betrothed to the dashing prince Ronald…you know, the usual baggage every storybook princess is laden with…only to have it all destroyed by a big green dragon by page 2. So far, so good I think. Finally, here’s a book written to allow the princess the opportunity of heroinism, for by page 3 she’s chasing after the destructive dragon wearing nothing but a filthy paper bag and misshapen crown. It doesn’t take long for princess Elizabeth to outsmart the dragon so she may rescue poor useless prince Ronald, held captive in the dragon’s lair, but when she opens the cave door to save her betrothed he reveals the trouble with royalty, thanklessly dismissing his heroine because she smells bad and looks like hell. “Come back when you are dressed like a real princess” he snarls. I see his skinny finger poised accusingly at princess Elizabeth, piercing her with shame and feelings of inadequacy, and I hope she beats him unconscious with his stupid tennis racket which never leaves his hand, and seals him in the cave for the dragon to make roast Ronald for dinner. Whether she does or not isn’t explicitly written, but our heroine does tell prince Ronald that despite his pretty appearance he is nothing but a bum and she won’t be marrying him after all. Into the sunset Elizabeth dances, arms outstretched, in her paper bag, sans crown…just a girl who now values herself instead of her possessions or status, and knows freedom because of it. Well done Munsch, and thank you. Playing Paper Bag Princess really is fun, and allows me to indulge in the fascination without feeling my morals compromised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other nontraditional princess books that surfaced in my quest, but I have yet to read:

The Princess and the Dragon by Audrey Wood

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole

Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle

Sleeping Ugly by Diane Stanley

Not all Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen