Tag: Childhood

Becoming The Grown-Up Assistant With Knife: Fish Sticks!

Earlier this summer I reunited with my first, three cookbooks.


It took me some time and internet research to figure out their titles before I could locate them on Amazon.

I remember pouring over these books as a child. Most especially, the spiral-bound Kids Cooking: A Slightly Messy Manual that came with a plastic set of measuring spoons in primary colors. The books’ recipes aren’t anything mind-blowing for an adult who cooks a lot, but they are priceless for the memories.

Growing-up, my parents weren’t too keen on me experimenting in the kitchen, aside from baking projects. However, I do remember trying a few recipes from Kids Cooking such as the Alphabetter Soup and Frosted Chocolate Conecakes. I made mental checklists of recipes that I wanted to try someday when I had my own kitchen and, now, here I am!

One of these recipes was Home-Baked Fish Sticks from Kids Cooking.


The legend goes that my mom choked on a fish bone when she was a child which led to her lifelong disdain of all things fish. Therefore, we never ever ate fish at home because the smell would make her feel ill. I grew up thinking I hated fish, too, even though I was fascinated by seafood. It was like a little hate crush.

Someone else’s family vacation snapped me out of my aversion to fish. I traveled with my friend’s family to Livingston, Montana in grade school and tried all kinds of new foods on our epic road trip west. I can still taste my first bone-in pork chop, chicken-fried steak, jumbo prawns sizzled in fondue oil, and crispy, fried shrimp nearly twenty years later.

After tasting that first bite of fried shrimp, I remember realizing, “Well, I guess I do like seafood,” and then I never turned back.

My first childhood cookbook meal was a smash.

Fish Meal Salad

I prepared cucumber-tomato-onion salad with “Snappy Dressing” from Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake! to accompany my Home-Baked Fish Sticks and tartar sauce. Of course, I fiddled with the recipes.

For example, I added a step by dredging the fish in seasoned flour before dipping it in eggwash and bread crumbs. I may have added some garlic to Encyclopedia Brown’s snappy balsamic vinaigrette and chopped onion to the tartar sauce. Afterall, I am my own grown-up with a sharp knife now.

Kids Cooking Collage

Someday when Jake and I have children, I hope we can enjoy these cookbooks together. We’ll be ready to accept our new roles as their grown-up kitchen assistants.

My Take On Oven-Baked Fish Sticks
Kids Cooking’s method of drizzling melted butter over the panko-breaded fish sticks before baking produces a crispy, satisfying coating. While this is not fried fish, it definitely scratched my itch. 

1 lb of white fish such as cod, halibut or tilapia
1/2 cup flour (or enough to lightly dredge the fish) seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten into eggwash
1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (add more if you run low or they become too mushy with eggwash)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Finishing salt


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400℉.
  2. Set up breading station by placing the seasoned flour, eggwash and panko in their own wide, shallow dishes.
  3. Cut fish fillets into manageable strips. I cut the tilapia fillets in half.
  4. Lightly dredge the fish in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.
  5. Dip the dredged fish into the eggwash. Allow the excess to drip off.
  6. Coat the fish in bread crumbs. Turn and press the fillets until they are completely breaded.
  7. Place breaded fish in a single layer on a baking sheet that is lightly greased or covered in parchment paper.
  8. Drizzle each fillet with as much melted butter as you’d like.
  9. Optional: Sprinkle each fillet with a little sweet or smoked paprika for extra color and flavor.
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked-through.
  11. Sprinkle with sea salt immediately after removing from oven.
  12. Serve with tartar sauce and fresh lemon wedges. I made my tartar sauce by mixing mayonnaise with lemon juice, minced dill pickle, minced onion, pickle juice, salt and sugar, to taste.

My Favorite Food Moments in Children’s Literature

It’s no secret that I love books.

Books, writing and food are my first loves. The books that I got lost in as a child have always stuck with me as an adult. I especially remember the books that involved food imagery. They fed my imagination and made me incredibly curious about foods such as salt pork and bread fruit.

Here are some of my favorite food moments from some of my favorite childhood books:

Pippi Goes on Board
Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking lives in a dilapidated home by herself. Neighborhood children befriend Pippi and attempt to teach her how to be a “proper” young lady.

In this book, her distant, wealthy pirate father leaves her copious amounts of gold that she uses to buy 72 pounds of candy including chocolate cigarettes and licorice boats.

Then, in Pippi in the South Seas, the children roast breadfruit. I was stunned to learn this is a real fruit and have yet to try it.

Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Maude Heart Lovelace
I treasured these books, re-reading them countless times. When Betsy, Tacy and Tib’s parents leave them home alone, they make everything pudding with cocoa, vinegar, oil, lard, onion, citron, rice, etc. My childhood friend and I once had a similar adventure in which we tried to make an everything bread. We cracked whole eggs, eggshell and all, into our batter and tried to eat it. Of course, it was terrible and we learned why nobody eats eggshell.

We also spent a morning making everything pancakes and emptied the contents of my mom’s spice cabinet into our batter including dried mustard, sugar, and curry. Our attempts were as nauseating as Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s everything pudding.

The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
In this book, Edmund betrays his siblings for the White Witch’s Turkish Delight.

This is a real sweet and I bought my first box of Turkish Delight at Holy Land Deli in Minneapolis. I’ll admit that I was disappointed in my first taste. It’s not that I thought this confection tasted bad, but I didn’t like it so much that I’d consider betraying an allegorical Christ figure to get some.

Little House of the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I loved Wilder’s descriptions of pioneer salt pork and maple syrup that solidified into candy when dripped onto fresh snow. Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate featured Bragg Family Farm in East Montpelier, VT where they serve “sugar on snow” with boiled-condensed maple syrup. You can also make your own.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Beverly Cleary

I remember sympathizing with Ramona, when her mother sneaks tongue onto the dinner table. Ramona and Beezus are disgusted when they scrape the gravy off of their meat slices and notice taste buds described as “yucky, little, small and tiny bumps.”  As punishment, their parents assign them to cook dinner. Ramona and Beezus cook chicken thighs and cornbread, improvising with banana yogurt and chili powder.

The Phantom Tollbooth
, Norton Juster

Imagine my surprise when I found out this book was not just a fairy tale, but a tool to teach children wordplay and mathematical concepts. I love when Milo goes to the market’s and munches on letters from the “DO IT YOURSELF” letter vendor. A is “quite sweet and delicious.”  Z is “dry and sawdusty.”  C is crip and I is “icy and refreshing.”

Sideways Stories From Wayside School, Louis Sachar
I have so many favorite food descriptions from this book. Joy steals classmate’s lovelier bagged lunches. Mrs. Jewels creates Maurecia-flavored ice cream. Miss Mush serves potato salad and mushroom surprise.

Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum
Did you know that there is an entire series devoted to the land of Oz? In this book, Dorothy finds a lunch-box tree. Baum describes the lunch boxes as “nicely wrapped in white papers was a ham sandwich, a piece of sponge-cake, a pickle, a slice of new cheese and an apple.”

Who wouldn’t love to grow a lunch box tree?

Magical Melons: More Stories About Caddie Woodlawn
Carolyn Ryrie Brink

Despite the title, Magical Melons don’t refer to anything smutty. They refer to the watermelons Caddie’s father buried in the hay loft for storage. Caddie and her cousins find the watermelons and eat them all, imagining they were left there by magical means.

I also remember enjoying the chapter in which Caddie and her sister spend an evening at Mrs. Nightengale’s house and eat cold chicken and ham for dinner. Caddie is a girl after my own heart.  If someone offers you two food options, you try a little of both.

Do you have any favorite food moments from your favorite childhood books? 

This Is Why I’m So Obsessed With The 90’s.

I started feeling nostalgic for the old places that held significance throughout my childhood on a drive back to the Twin Cities last week. They beckoned me, which was strange, because ever since my mom passed away I’ve avoided them like the plague.

Days before, I had attended a work training in which the facilitator read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree out loud. I remember hearing this story many times before, but I don’t remember it making me feel so sad.

The story was fresh on my mind and so I visited the tree just beyond the fence at Diamond Path Elementary School before heading back to Iowa. I felt so much joy upon our reunion.

tree two

We used to sneak back to this tree during recess. My friends and I would lean against its trunk and dream about what we wanted to become when we grew up.

I made one last detour so I could drive past my old house and follow our most traveled walking path. We had built our house before the path existed, back when this pond was dead and murky and the trees were young. Over nearly two decades, my family walked this path a thousand times. We followed it to school and around the parks, and we rollerbladed its hills forwards and backwards.

My mother loved to walk and so we followed the path together, usually with our beloved family dogs.

Losing loved ones is strange.


I paused here, half expecting them to march around the corner at any moment.

People my age are so obsessed with the 90’s because, for the first time, we feel our childhoods slipping away. The toys that we liked, the clothes that we wore, the foods that we ate are all becoming relics and the mere sight of them makes us wax poetically like they were the greatest things ever.

We feel unsettled when we see Friends and Full House have replaced Mork & Mindy and I Dream of Jeannie on Nick at Night. And how could we have known that we’d speak of Shark Bites with so much enthusiasm or that an empty bottle of OK Soda might sell for $75 on eBay?

Many of us are starting our own families and feeling anxious as we notice our parents aging. Some of them are downsizing and selling our childhood homes now that we’ve moved out. When we drive by our old homes for nostalgia’s sake, we find ourselves holding our breath in anticipation to see if the new owners have sustained our giving trees.

Some of us have lost loved ones and we no longer believe we’re invincible. We can see that there’s an end in sight and that it’s inevitable and totally real. We’ve moved past our quarter life crises and are on to the next.

It’s not that we’re the first generation to feel these things; it’s just we’re starting to feel these things for the first time. Or at least, I am.

I never did see my mom and two dogs turn that corner and the denim jacket waiting in the back of my closet still hasn’t cycled back into style, but the magnolia tree beneath my old bedroom window still grows, and so, for now, everything still feels all right.

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