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The Brown Baggin' it Blues

Meshelle Armstrong
By Meshelle Armstrong
Posted on Oct 20,2009
Filed Under Restaurants , Local Tastes,

Photo Courtesy of Meshelle Armstrong<br /> <br />What, Mom, you expect us to eat this for lunch? <br />
Photo Courtesy of Meshelle Armstrong
What, Mom, you expect us to eat this for lunch?

Alexandria, Virginia - Visiting guests of Restaurant Eve and friends have asked our opinion on two specific questions on so many occasions that I thought it may be helpful write it down.
First, any time a trip to Ireland is planned, we are often asked to share our favorite places: what sites to see with kids, where we eat, local haunts for a gargle, places one cannot pass up when in Dublin.

Photo Courtesy of Meshelle Armstrong<br /> <br />Eammon, Cathal, Meshelle and Eve Armstrong. <br />
Photo Courtesy of Meshelle Armstrong
Eammon, Cathal, Meshelle and
Eve Armstrong.

Incidentally, Don Rockwell of the food blog site emailed me that he was booking a flight to Ireland because of the "insider tips" shared on Tom Sietsema’s weekly chat.
Arlington, Va.: Regarding Cathal Armstrong's "Things to do in Ireland":
I'd like to swim naked with Cathal. I'm just saying...
Tom Sietsema: I'm not sure his wife would allow that ...

Ok, the 40- foot in Sandycove is a fantastic place to swim naked, but not with my husband! Amusing though.
Anyway, the second most popular question people always ask is - “How do you get your kids to eat good food?”

It’s ironic that I find myself replying to many emails on this topic. I am not sure how we became the experts. Well, not so, I’ll chalk it up to my husband and his luck of the Irish food fortune because when I was growing up, contrary to Cathal’s upbringing I ate the worst sort of food - Especially five days a week, at 12:15 pm otherwise known as School Lunch!    
Believe it or not, my brown-bag lunch consisted of pre-packaged, preservative filled, sugary, un-goodness, including Hostess cakes and Little Debbie’s.  It sounds like kid heaven, but that funny, waxy taste on the roof of my mouth from all of the hydrogenated oils was impossible to get rid of.  Not to mention it made me really sleepy in math class.

Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks<br /> <br />Just another night on the town for Meshelle and Cathal: At the 2009 Metropolitan Restaurant <br />Awards Gala in DC on June 7, Cathal picked up the Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year award<br />for Restaurant Eve.
Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
Just another night on the town for Meshelle
and Cathal: At the 2009 Metropolitan
Restaurant Awards Gala in DC on June 7,
Cathal picked up the Fine Dining Restaurant
of the Year award for Restaurant Eve.

My lunch staple was a squished, Wonder bread sandwich of processed American cheese and ham, (that’s not actually ham because of all he water it’s soaked in.)  And while my friends envied my mini, plastic barrel, orange flavored drink, I longed to switch my brown bag for Susan’s ‘Pigs in Space’ lunch box filled with the yuminess of a homemade, baked good.
I remember it so well.  It was just easier for my single, ‘go-to-work’ mom. I know first hand that taking time to feed kids good food is tough. However as a nutritionally challenged eater I have learned that healthy eating habits have to start at home.   ‘Real’ food is a ‘good habit’ and if you repeat that theory frequently, even in that lunch bag, they will eventually, automatically eat better. The best way to accomplish this goal is to get them involved and turn cooking at home into their “real” home ec class.
There is a sigh of relief heard from parents when children return to school in the fall. No headache about how to fill their days, no yelling about hours of TV watching. Life simply returns to normal. However, over the long, summer months we forget we’ll soon have to wake up a bit earlier and face the day-to-day dilemmas of school; loads of homework and dealing with what to send for lunches.
Thank goodness, my kids discovered BLT’s. And because they have, I can now add one more item to my lunch repertoire.  So, my school lunch bag experiment? The R.L.T- A BLT revised.  We replace the traditional, streaky bacon with Irish back rashers (leaner than bacon, yummy and a quick fry).
We add sliced tomatoes, lettuce and the mayo we make at home. I know you are thinking “Oh, sure! Home made mayo?”  But really, if you make it for the week, it will last and the kids love it.  The best way to do it is to enlist their help.  Have them crack the eggs, pour the oil and man the mini processor. You won’t feel tied to the "blue top stuff."

Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks<br /> <br />Cathal and Meshelle at this year's RAMMYs. <br />
Photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
Cathal and Meshelle at this year's

We separate everything in individual, cool containers, so they don’t have to eat their R.L.T. on soggy bread.  We visit Lotte, a great Korean Market on Lee Highway to get the containers – and the kids go nuts for their bulgogi!  Eamonn puts the sandwich together at school.  He likes it because he shows his pals that he’s a chef and the items are still fresh.

So now that the sandwich is taken care of, they need something to accompany it.  The biggest hit with my kids has been fruit kabobs.  Yup, just by skewering and alternating blackberries and pineapple or whatever fruit is their favorite, you’ve made a masterpiece. Popping anything on stick generate the wow factor from them and their friends. And the best part is it can be done the night before.

There are tons of other clever ways to incorporate wholesome, unprocessed foods.  One staple for us is homemade banana or pumpkin bread loafs.  They are so easy to make and they fall in the middle of snack or dessert. So either way you're covered.
Why not take the kids with you to the farmer’s market to pick their own snacks? We say, “You can have anything from here, your choice.” Give them their own bag and let them explore.  You will find there is much less complaining and moaning when they open their lunch and see it’s the peach they choose.

Photo Courtesy of the Humane Society of the US <br /> <br />Surrounded by the men of my life: They're all chefs. <br />
Photo Courtesy of the Humane Society
of the US Surrounded by the men of my
life: They're all chefs.

For that lunchtime dessert, never deny them chocolate – just make sure they are getting the most wholesome kind.   We’ve found this fantastic site that sells and delivers Irish goodies straight to your door. ( We promote using local ingredients and like to support area grocery stores, but most bulk chocolate manufactured in the United States use the dreaded HFCS.  Irish candies still use good ól sugar! So, pop in one of the mini ‘flake bars’ and lunch is a hit.
What I have learned as a mom is that just because we are in the restaurant business does not mean it is any easier to make school lunches.   6:30 still comes around too early, packing a lunch is not my favorite thing to do (especially sans coffee) and I certainly don’t have my husband’s kitchen skills.
I promise, these lunch items are easy, nutritional and more importantly; when you are routing around in their book bags at night you will feel happy and secure to find their lunch bags - empty!!
Restaurant veteran Meshelle Armstrong of Alexandria is part of the husband and wife team of Dublin native Chef Cathal Armstrong, one of Food & Wine magazine's 50 Hall of Fame – Best Chefs.  The two created Old Town's celebrated Restaurant Eve, from a passion based on experience and a name lent by their first child. Meshelle's column is exclusive to Local Kicks. 

Photo Courtesy of Meshelle Armstrong <br /> <br />Being eco-friendly, Cathal takes the bike home after work. <br />
Photo Courtesy of Meshelle Armstrong
Being eco-friendly, Cathal takes the bike
home after work.


Recipe: R.L.T (Rasher, Lettuce &Tomato Sandwich)

  • Pan Sautéed Back Rashers, (Whole Foods, pack of 8) pat dry.
  • Sliced wheat bread, toasted. (Wrap bread and one and half rashers in tin foil, or parchment-easy open and used as place mat on lunch table)
  • Sliced tomatoes and leaf romaine lettuce (In separate mini container.)
  • Home made mayo, scoop into little container (I give them the mini blunt preserve spreaders to use)
  • Add sliced cheddar cheese (optional)

Home Mayo Recipe:
1 large organic egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon lemon juice (or 2 for a lemony mayo)
1 cup vegetable oil (canola)
Cathal makes this in a bowl-It takes some time: 12 minutes, bit of a workout, but he’s a purist and thinks it’s well worth it. When kids make it with me, I use the mini Cuisinart.

Combine yolks salt, water and lemon juice in a bowl.  Fold a hand towel into a ring on the counter and set the bowl in this ring to hold it steady while you whisk.  Whisk the ingredients together.

Add the oil slowly while whisking vigorously.  It helps to measure out your oil into a cup that pours well in a thin stream; or you can start your emulsion by drizzling the oil off a spoon, then pouring the oil after the emulsion has begun.

Add a few drops of oil as you begin to wisk; when the emulsion becomes creamy, increase the speed with which you add the oil to a thin stream. From the beginning the mixture should be thick enough to hold its shape and look creamy.


  • Add the oil too quickly and it will break, that is, it will turn soupy. I had kids first practice with water, getting used to pouring slowly
  • If it breaks, put a teaspoon of water in a clean bowl and start the process over by dribbling in the   broken mayonnaise while whisking.
  • Put in coldest part of fridge.

Fruit Kabob:
One pack Bamboo skewers (giving loads of excuses to go to Lotte)- cut in half or use toothpicks.

Use whole grapes, raspberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, and pineapple (Try to use fruits that don’t turn brown, or if your do use little lemon squeeze on them, so they still look good) Alternate skewering fruit for color.
Done, easy, peasy.

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