Ken the Caterpillar and Fun Food for Kids

I am on “Nana Jean” duty in Auckland with 2 year old Beau while our daughter Tansy is acting in a play.   As we live at the other end of the country, it has taken time for Beau to get used to me, but I think I have cracked it – he likes interesting food!

On my first day Beau proudly showed me three Monarch pupae looking like pieces of jewellery with their glittering rings of gold.

I was curious.  What was the purpose of the gold?  Who better to ask than our Bugman friend, Ruud Kleinpaste.
Simple ornamentation.  They want to look good.  Just like you and I.  They are chemically protected so don’t need camouflage”, txt Ruud.
Ah that’s why the caterpillar chose a red sack barrow to hang out on rather than a plant.

Tansy has given Beau a very good introduction to science by simply planting swan plants in a pot and encouraging him to observe.    The Monarch butterfly did the rest by laying eggs the size of sesame seeds on the swan plant.

Two of the three pupae don’t have names, but one does.   A week ago one caterpillar caught Beau’s eye when it left the swan plant for the next stage of its life.   Tansy recorded the moment on her phone.

(As this is the first time I have tried attaching a video I am a little uncertain whether it will work.   If nothing happens when you click on the arrow or if there is no audio then just click on the following link.)    Beau and Ken the Caterpillar  or copy the following address into You Tube

Beau checks up on Ken every day.   One day soon we hope to witness the magic moment when  Ken transforms into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

(If this video is not available when you click the arrow then just click on the following link) Life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly or enter the folllowing address on You Tube:

You might like to see the whole process in this excellent time lapse video made by Duncan Scott for the Chicago Nature Museum.   It’s only four minutes long and shows the complete life cycle of the Monarch.

The Hungry Caterpillar Salad

I was inspired to create a salad for Beau that night with a caterpillar theme.   My only mistake was calling it “Ken the Caterpillar salad”… at first he wouldn’t eat Ken.  It’s a good way of making a green salad come to life for kids and perhaps may convince young non-salad eaters to give it a try.
Caterpillar Salad: green salad with cucumber and tomato caterpillar
heading towards the purple cauliflower trees

I first slice an iceberg lettuce, then add some chopped parsley and chives. 
I dress the green salad with a little lemon juice (or if you prefer vinegar), a little salt and more olive oil than vinegar, so that the greens have a slight shine but not sloppy.  
Next the fun part – to create the caterpillar using thin slices of cucumber, a tomato slice and for eyes a couple of raisins. For the legs green beans.  Alternatively you could use slices of coloured peppers or cut small pieces of dried seaweed for the legs.
The final touch, a bunch of purple cauliflower.   I used the cauliflower raw as it was so fresh, crunchy and sweet.  This is just a guide and what was on hand for me to use.

Cracker Man

Cracker Man a savoury alternative to a Gingerbread Man

I discovered a recipe for Snake Crackers that would involve Beau in the making but the mix ended up  too crumbly to roll into snakes. I had to quickly think what to do to keep his interest.  I decided to roll it out and let Beau use his gingerbread man cutter and called them Cracker Men. The cracker recipe is easily made and really tasty with the addition of  cumin seeds. Beau loves them.   

Cumin Crackers
1 cup of white flour
1 cup of wholemeal
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 egg
1/2 cup olive oil (I used 50/50 extra virgin olive oil with bran oil so that the flavour wouldn’t be too strong for Beau)

Mix all the dry ingredients except sugar.  In a separate bowl whip up egg, sugar and oil.   Add to the dry ingredients and an additional couple of tablespoons of hot water to mix into a dough that can be rolled.
To make it easier to handle, sit the dough for half an hour in a cool place before rolling.   If you haven’t the time just roll out immediately.  Cut into shapes of your choice. Place on baking paper, or a greased tray in a preheated oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes or until light brown and crisp.

Cracker Man and his tractor salad for Beau

These biscuits need not be an adult free zone.   Cut into squares or rounds to eat on their own or be topped with a topping of your choice. The crackers have the consistency of shortbread and are similar to oatcakes but hold together more easily.You could replace the cumin with finely chopped rosemaruy or thyme and add fennel seeds instead of cumin.

I got the recipe from the blog  Little Food Junction where there are lots of ideas for making exciting snack food for kids.  Unlike many other blogs about kids food, the ideas don’t tend to be loaded with sugar.  If you click on this link you will be taken to a post I thought most fitting -“The Hungry Caterpillar”.

Last week I was asked a question from a reader whether or not  kumara or sweet potatoes could be used instead of parsnips.  I cannot see a reason why not as both have a good level of starch. When Tansy requested that I make them the parsnip crusted pie I decided to test out the Kumara option. 

The colour with kumara is an inviting golden yellow (we used golden kumara).   It proved to be a good choice as it worked out just as well as the parsnip.   I also think pumpkin would be another good choice.   

For the recipe for the pie go to my posting “An Unusual Vegetable Pie Turns Carnivore”

The very best thing about this pastry is that it has less butter and consuming a small amount of vegetable without really knowing it. Again a winner for kids who try to avoid vegetables.

I have also tried this pastry using a gluten free option.   I used spelt flour.  Spelt can be a little dry in texture but with the mashed vegetables this wasn’t such a problem.

I have been here for a week and there is no sign of Ken emerging.   I really hope he will give us a great performance this weekend.  Perhaps like me he is waiting for the sun before we both take flight.

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