[review + recipe] The Little Big Cookbook for Moms by Alice Wong and Natasha Tabori Fried



You know the old saying, “Good things come in small packages?”

Check out The Little Big Cookbook for Moms (Welcome Books, 2012)! This chunky, 6-1/2″x 6-1/2″ charmer is chock full of good ideas for busy young moms wishing to make delicious, healthy meals for their kids with the least amount of fuss. In addition to 250 nutritious recipes (Breakfast, Soups and Sandwiches, Snacks and Small Bites, Dinners, Veggies and Sides, Desserts), there’s oodles of practical advice and dozens of cool vintage illustrations, making this a perfect baby shower or new mom gift.

The 20+ page introduction sets the stage for the delectable cooking adventures to come. There’s advice about general nutrition, choosing whole and organic foods, stocking the pantry, food safety and storage, herbs and spices, making homemade baby food, food allergies, and the Top 10 Ways to Get Your Child to Eat Better. 

The authors have included their own family favorites as well as kid-friendly classics (Broiled Salmon, Chicken with Garlic and Shallots, Vegetable Lasagna, Sloppy Joes, Southwestern Chicken Tacos, Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken Fingers). As busy moms themselves, they appreciate one-pot meals and the accommodating slow cooker, and like to think in terms of making ahead and freezing on the weekends, as well as creatively using up leftovers. They know that a well-stocked pantry is a godsend for those days when they need to get something quick and nutritious on the table without giving it a second thought.

I was happy to see a lot of veggie recipes and an emphasis on trying to expose kids to a wider variety of foods. If they are given the opportunity to taste things like baba ganoush, vegetarian brown rice sushi, shrimp curry, quinoa with fennel and pine nuts, or Chinese greens with oyster sauce, they will grow up to become more adventurous eaters — even moreso if when old enough they are encouraged to help Mom in the kitchen.

What I don’t see too often in family cookbooks are good snack ideas. As Alice Wong points out in the Foreword, kids can eat a LOT, and parents can end up spending a lot of money on prepackaged chips and high sodium, high fat convenience foods. But with a little advance planning, smart moms can make their own granola, veggie and fruit yogurt dips, homemade pita and tortilla chips, potato crisps, mini frittatas, or popcorn munchies. Why not nibble on rice noodle salad, a mini pizza, or a mushroom tart after school or sporting events?

Part of the fun of family cooking is experimenting and discovering likes and dislikes. Most of the recipes contain sidebar tips and variations, great encouragement to make these recipes your own. They all begin with interesting headnotes. As far as desserts — did you think I’d forget to mention desserts? — they are mostly tried and true (Devil’s Food Cupcakes, Classic Sugar Cookies, Snickerdoodles, Brownies, Lemon Squares, Apple Crisp, Make Your Own Sundaes). Everyone needs a little decadent treat now and then. :)

Wong and Fried round out their offerings with menu planning tips, a table of equivalents, lunch bag stuffers, info on nuts, seeds, beans, fish, grilling, buying organic, preserving nutrients and special diets (gluten free, dairy free). Whew! This little book is big on content; it’s the sort of cookbook that has something to keep your family fed as your kids grow from infants to toddlers, from grade school to middle school and beyond.

The only problem? It does make a nice gift, but once you see it you’ll likely want one for yourself as a keepsake. I initially purchased this book because I was interested in the vintage illos. I had every intention of passing it on to a new mother. So far, it’s remained on my shelves for three years. Did I mention the mama pig feeding the piglet, or the mushroom heads in the vintage car, or the people with carrot and bean heads? Another slice of Strawberry Ice Cream Pie, if you please.

*   *   *


Quick, easy and nutritious is the name of the game. I’ve always loved sweet potatoes — they are “loaded with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.” Made a batch of these in no time. They were inhaled with glee by Len, me, and the Alphabet Soup furry kitchen helpers. Yummers.


  • 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled or unpeeled and scrubbed, cut into 1/4-inch square sticks
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon olive or other vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread out the potatoes in a single layer.

3. Bake until the potatoes are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Serves 4.

*    *    *

THE LITTLE BIG COOKBOOK FOR MOMS: 250 of the Best Family Recipes
edited by Alice Wong and Natasha Tabori Fried
published by Welcome Books, March 2012
Nonfiction, 352 pp.

♥ Peek inside the book at its webpage.

Click here for my review of another book in this series, The Little Big Book of Comfort Food. Same small size, same chunky fun.


Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: ♥my darling, my tortilla♥



Today we sing the praises of the Mexican tortilla.

O tlaxcalli, ancient flatbread, little round cake, pride of the Aztecs! Delicioso!

“Woman Grinding Maize” by Diego Rivera (1924)


by Fernando Esteban Flores

what delicacies
hide between the folds
of my tortillas
& warm
ready to be deposited
in a place where hunger knows no boundaries

how this flat, round
speckled world
invites me to discover
its buttery terrain
of uncharted appetites

edible plate
uncurled to my intestinal delights
will you be
my gordita tonight
decked out in your
green & red petticoats

might you tease me
with a red strapless
enchilada wrap?

in a country of brown hands
in fellowship with tlaili, ehecatl, y atl
(earth, wind & water)

i repeat the cosmic cycle
i break you
& i receive the wafer of survival
on my tongue:

Bless the golden maíz that brought you forth
Bless the bronze hands that kneaded you
Bless the stone pallets that rolled out
the perfect faces of my people

~ from Written with a Spoon: A Poet’s Cookbook, edited by Nancy Fay & Judith Rafaela (Sherman Asher Publishing, 1996)

*   *   *

How I love this poem — the sense of reverence, the nod to roots, beginnings, of coming full circle in such beautifully spare verse. There is a wonderful feeling of wholeness, as if the poet wrapped the heart of his culture in that “flat, round speckled world.”

Speaking of the “perfect faces of my people,” enjoy this mini gallery of tortilla art by California native Joe Bravo, who began painting on tortillas because he couldn’t afford canvases back in his college days.

I use the Tortilla as a Canvas because it is an integral part of the Hispanic Culture and my heritage. For the subject matter of my tortilla paintings, I use imagery that is representative of Latinos, conveying their hopes, art, beliefs and history. As the tortilla has given us life, I give it new life by using it as an art medium.


Carmen Miranda

Chile Con Carne


Love Rose

Madonna Marilyn

Mona Frida

Singing Parrot

A Time for Hope


Learn more about Joe’s amazing acrylic on tortilla paintings in this video:

*   *   *


What is your favorite way to eat tortillas?

Check out these yummy recipes by clicking on the images:

Crock Pot Shredded Beef Tacos

Best Chicken Enchiladas Ever!

Italian-style Roasted Vegetable Tostadas

Smoked Gouda Mushroom Quesadillas

 Muy Bueno!

*   *   *

poetry fridayThe lovely and talented Margaret Simon is hosting today’s Roundup at Reflections on the Teche. Fly over on your magic tortilla and check out the full menu of poetic goodness on this week’s menu. *smacks lips*


*   *   *

wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs and join the fun!




Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[book review] If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant by Ellen Fischer and Laura Wood



Fancy a plate of ants and worms, a bowl of lilac nectar, or some crabs and shrimp?

Maybe a bowl of chili or a BLT on whole wheat is more to your liking. :)

Whatever your pleasure, just come right in and take a seat! No reservations required. A good appetite, healthy curiosity and sense of humor are all you need to enjoy If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant, a delectably charming picture book by Ellen Fischer and Laura Wood (Scarletta Kids, 2014).

I must confess this book had me at the cover. I was instantly intrigued by all the possible scenarios suggested by the title, and how often does one see a lovable armadillo noshing on a plate of spaghetti and meatballs?  I could already tell this would probably be one funny feast.

What I didn’t expect was that through a series of humorous questions and answers, I’d learn what the armadillo as well as eight other creatures would definitely not order at their favorite eateries, followed by what they actually do like to eat. We also get to see where all these cool animals live.

If an armadillo burrowed into an underground restaurant, what would she order?

Spaghetti with meatballs? No Way!

An armadillo might order . . . A plate of Ants and Worms with a few beetles thrown in.


We go on to dine with a sea turtle, rattlesnake, butterfly, wallaby, hedgehog, ostrich, giraffe and octopus. First a serving of wonder and whimsy, then the real “meat and potatoes.” Just the thought of these hungry animals frequenting a lagoon buffet, an Australian sandwich shop, a grassland grill or a savanna snack bar will get kids giggling. The repetitive pattern of question and answer punctuated with various emphatic “no’s” (No Sir! Definitely Not! Improbable. Highly Debatable. Nope!) make for a fun read aloud and will definitely get readers eagerly turning the pages.

Wood’s anthropomorphized animals are endearing and brim with personality. The armadillo’s bewildered expression with her nose tangled up in pasta, the sea turtle’s look of sheer bliss as he kicks back with his crabs and shrimp, the sweetness of the butterfly sipping on nectar, and the octopus wielding eight forks over his bowl of scallops, snails, and crabs are irresistibly delish. And Wood does a nice job of depicting the animals’ real habitats, whether desert, ocean, meadow or lagoon.

The book ends with a fun reversal: the narrator asks what she would order at her favorite restaurant — “A plate of ants and worms? NO WAY!” Then we are treated to a big, beautiful stack of blueberry pancakes dripping with maple syrup and a tall glass of milk! Just to tempt the reader further, one final question: “What would YOU order?” with menu items for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Dessert (Fresh Berries with Yogurt, Mac and Cheese, Chicken Tacos and Chocolate Cake for me, thankyouverymuch).

If An Armadillo Went to a Restaurant makes fascinating info go down easy. Contrasting familiar kid friendly foods (pizza, french fries, chili) with animal diets bound to elicit a few “yucks” and “ewwws” (live rodents, worms, snails, succulent plants) drives the point home with gustatory gusto. This flavorful menu of fact and fun, with its engaging, inventive illustrations and opportunities for counting and vocabulary development is just the thing to satisfy hungry minds. Chew on this book soon. Yum!

*   *   *

written by Ellen Fischer
illustrated by Laura Wood
published by Scarletta Kids/Mighty Media Press, 2014
Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.

* Click here for an Activity Guide at the publisher’s website.


*Spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2014 Ellen Fischer, illustrations © 2014 Laura Wood, published by Scarletta Kids/Mighty Media Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

weekend feast: one bob dylan, one birthday, one meat ball (+ recipe)



“I think of myself as a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.” (Bob Dylan)

Just as he’s done for more than five decades, Bob Dylan is still releasing new albums (the latest is “Shadows in the Night,” a mellow collection of standards recorded live with his five-piece band), performing around the world with his Never Ending Tour, and receiving more honors and accolades (2015 MusiCares Person of the Year).

To promote “Shadows in the Night” he gave only one interview — to AARP Magazine, where he discussed his creative process and influences, revealing that he’s a big Shakespeare fan, and had he not become “Bob Dylan,” he would have liked to have been “a schoolteacher of Roman history or theology.”

When receiving his MusiCares award, he delivered a riveting acceptance speech crediting his sources of inspiration, thanking his various and sundry supporters, and even confronting his detractors. To those who would criticize his singing voice, he reminded them of what Sam Cooke said when told he had a beautiful voice:

Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.

The voice of our generation — plain, real, everyman — endures. We need to hear and will always value the hard truths good poets tell.

Enjoy this bountiful three-course feast honoring Bob, who’ll turn 74 on Sunday, May 24. :)

*   *   *



One hat.

One acoustic guitar.

One harmonica.

One cup of coffee.

One typewriter.

One big city, one Suze.

One March on Washington.

One piano.

One more cup of coffee.

One iconic “Best Song of All Time” (Rolling Stone Magazine).

One electric guitar.

One motorcycle.

One family.

One big smile.

One more cup of coffee.

One more hat.

One Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1991).

One Pulitzer Special Citations Award (1998).

One Oscar, One Golden Globe for “Things Have Changed” (2000, 2001).

One Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012).

One more hat.

One MusiCares Person of the Year Award.

One pot of tea.

One in a million.

*   *   *



Between 2006 – 2009, Dylan took to the airwaves with his Theme Time Radio Hour on Sirius XM satellite radio. Each weekly program featured an eclectic mix of folk, jazz, blues, country, pop, rock-n-roll, soul, R&B and rockabilly all related to a central theme (Weather, Drinking, Weddings, Coffee, Mothers, Friends and Neighbors, Telephone).

Between tracks, Bob offered commentary on music and musicians, did poetry readings, played old-timey radio jingles, told jokes (“My grandmother is so tidy she puts newspaper under the cuckoo clock”), read mostly fictitious emails, sprinkled in random bits and bobs, and (yes!) shared recipes! :)

Dylan grew up listening to radio shows, and Theme Time Radio Hour was reminiscent of the golden days of radio, a time before canned top-40 playlists, when listeners could get a strong sense of a disc jockey’s musical quirks and personality. Nothing more intimate than to hear a familiar radio voice in your home on a regular basis. If anything, Dylan’s show exhibited his vast and diverse musical knowledge, the kind of artistic landscape that spawns truly great songwriters.

But about those recipes. :) He shared recipes for Barbecue Sauce, Mint Julep, Rum & Coke, Figgy Pudding, and Perfect Meat Balls (Season 2, Episode 62). The theme was “Number One.”

“For the next sixty minutes, we’re gonna be talking about one horse towns, one track minds, one armed bandits, one false move, one in a million, one too many, one way or another, one brick shy of a load, and one and only. So stay here one and all, and listen to songs on a singular subject, that subject being ‘number one.’”

So I’m listening to Harry Nilsson’s “One,” Elvis Presley’s “One Night,” and Anita O’Day’s “Johnny One-Note,” when all of a sudden Bob plays this song by Josh White called “One Meat Ball.” My, my, my, was there ever a more delectable song title? Let me say it again and wrap my lips around it: ONE MEAT BALL.

Turns out this little ditty has a very interesting backstory. Originally written by Harvard scholar and professor George Martin Lane back in 1855, it was based on a real incident and initially titled “The Lone Fish Ball.” Seems Lane returned to Boston hungry one time after a trip, but only had 25 cents in his pocket. He tentatively ordered a half portion of macaroni in a restaurant, much to the disdain of the waiter.

Lane’s ballad of an underfunded, intimidated diner became a favorite of Harvard undergraduates for decades, was translated into a mock Italian operetta, and was later updated into a bluesy version during the Tin Pan Alley era by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer, who renamed it “One Meat Ball” (1944).

As for Josh White, his recording of “One Meat Ball” became his biggest hit, earning him the distinction of becoming the first African American male artist to sell a million records. Mr. White was ‘number one’ in other ways, too — the first African American singer guitarist to star in Hollywood films and on Broadway, to give a White House Command Performance, to perform in previously segregated hotels, to make a solo concert tour of America, the first folk and blues artist to perform in a nightclub and to tour internationally.


The little man walked up and down
To find an eating place in town
He read the menu through and through
To see what 15 cents could do

One meat ball
One meat ball
He could afford but one meat ball

He told the waiter near at hand
The simple dinner he had planned
The guests were startled one and all
To hear the waiter loudly call

One meat ball Everybody
One meat ball
Hey this here gent wants one meat ball

You know, the little man felt ill at ease
He said some bread sir if you please
The waiter hollered down the hall
You gets no bread with one meat ball

One meat ball
One meat ball
Well, you gets no bread with one meat ball

The little man felt very bad
One meat ball was all he had
And in his dreams he hears that call
You gets no bread with one meat ball

One meat ball and no spaghetti
One meat ball
You gets no bread with one meat ball

Let’s try it one more time, Now

One meat ball
One meat ball
That one was gooey
You gets no bread with one meat ball


Give a listen, it’s positively hypnotic :):

*   *   *

The ballad is dramatized in this fun 1940’s “soundie”:

*   *   *

When George Martin Lane retired, Harvard gave him an honorary degree and the first pension ever given to a faculty member, enough to support him for the rest of his life. Now that’s some meat ball.

*   *   *



After playing “One Meat Ball,” Bob read his recipe for Perfect Meat Balls. Hearing him rattle off ingredients was cosmic music to my ears. Of course I had to try his recipe.  A perfect meat ball? Possibly life changing.

The recipe called for equal parts beef, pork, and veal — very democratic. I liked that. And precisely 9 saltine crackers. A mix of dried herbs, an egg, fresh parsley and minced garlic, a bit of grated parmesan and I was good to go.

I mixed everything with my bare hands as Bob suggested, and as I channeled my favorite troubadour, something strange happened: a mouthwatering banquet of songs filled the air — Bourbon Street, Country Pie, Orange Juice Blues, Copper Kettle, Catfish, Jelly Bean. 

This was some recipe. Who knew it came with its own music?

I used a small ice cream scoop to shape the meat balls. Nice and round and adorable. I lined them up on a cookie sheet. Fried them gently in canola oil for about 5 minutes. Et voilà!

I closed my eyes, thought about George Martin Lane, Josh White, and Dylan’s startling blue eyes, and bit into one. meat. ball.

My, my, my. So tender, juicy and flavorful — adding those saltines was brilliant, and there’s nothing like fresh parsley and garlic to wake up the taste buds. One more, please. One more cup of coffee. One more shot of Jack Daniels!


  • 3 minced cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
  • 1 pound ground meat (equal parts beef, pork, veal)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 9 saltine crackers, finely crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • oregano
  • dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste

Directions as Dylan read them on air:

Heat the oil over a low heat in a large Dutch oven. In a big bowl, add the meat, garlic, cheese, crackers, and spices. Mix lightly with your fingers. Don’t be shy — get into it. In a small bowl, whisk the water, the egg, and the tomato paste. Add the egg mixture to the meat mixture. Mix it lightly with your fingers. Form it into drum shapes, or balls. Cook in batches, over medium high heat, until it’s browned on both sides. That will be about five minutes total. Serve ’em up with some potatoes, or some spaghetti, or just make a sandwich out of them. You’re gonna love ’em.

*   *   *

I’ll definitely make these again. They’re easily the best meat balls I’ve ever had, but there’s one teensy problem.

Now I really want Bob as my personal chef! :) Just imagine  the goodies he could whip up: The Chives of Freedom, Changing of the Gourd, Mr. Tamarind Man, Knockwurst on Heaven’s Door, People Get Bready, Submarine Sandwich Homesick Blues . . . 

Somebody stop me!

Don’t Think Spice, It’s Alright.


Man of Peas, The Tines, They Are A Changin’ . . . 

Here’s to my favorite song and dance man!

Better let Bob and friends sing us out. Enjoy this epic performance of “My Back Pages” featuring Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Neil Young from the 30th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden (1992):

*   *   *


How does it feee-eel?

It ain’t meat, babe.

*   *   *

poetry fridayThe eminently talented hotTEA Matt Forrest Esenwine is hosting today’s roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Wonder if he’s ever read any of his recipes on the radio? Check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week and have a great holiday weekend. Make the Meat Balls and listen to Dylan on Sunday — treat yourself to an episode or two at the Theme Time Radio Hour Archive. It’s a discographic treasure trove, and Bob’s radio voice is a dream. :)

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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!


*   *   *


This post in loving memory of Kevin “Slatts” Slattery (November 16, 1954 – May 20, 2015).

“May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung.”


Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.