From Scratch Fast Families: The Holmbos
I’m so excited to introduce you to Laura Lee Holmbo, a single working mother of four kids who somehow still manages gets a from-scratch dinner on the table most nights of the week. You’re going to LOVE her super simple but pitch perfect fish tacos! They’re ideal this time of year, when the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven. Laura serves the tacos with a fabulous crunchy slaw and creamy avocado slices. This meal is an awesome way to get your kiddos to eat their fish and vegetables—my five-year-old devoured everything, which (trust me) says a lot!
Tell me a bit about you and your family.
I’m a single mom of four kids (and a “rescue” bunny): Eric, 13 (going into high school – eek!); Soren, 10 (going into middle school – also eek!); Kristjan, 9 (going into 4th); and Liv, 5 (going into 1st). I live in the Hudson Valley, NY and am responsible for the marketing and PR for The Valley Table magazine. Much of my focus is on Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, which is presented twice a year in spring and fall. We have well over 200 restaurants that participate in each event, covering 114 miles of the region (from Yonkers to Hudson).
With four kids I imagine there must be some picky eaters in the bunch. Are there any food restrictions in the house?
I do not allow food restrictions! Each kid can be a picky eater in some way or another, but they understand that some form a vegetable must always be consumed and they must ALWAYS at least try something.
Do you have an overall food philosophy?
Food should feed the soul and the body. Like “live what you love,” “love what you cook.” In other words, Pillsbury nailed it – “nothing says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven.”
Ha, I love that. How do you plan your meals for the week? When and where do you buy your groceries?
Working full time and having several kids in sports makes meal planning mandatory. This also means keeping an eye on the budget and making sure my kids have a decent meal. I have a combination of places where I get my groceries. The usual spots are ShopRite, Sam’s Club, Beacon Natural Market, sometimes Walmart and the local farmer’s market (kind of oxymoron-ish but true!).
Describe a typical morning in your household. What’s for breakfast?
My oldest has an earlier start time for school. I get him out the door and then work on the next three. This usually leaves me shaking baby powder in the roots of my dirty hair and putting mascara on in the car on the way to work. Having at least something that involves protein is non-negotiable for breakfast. This can even mean a quick “bean and cheeser” (a tortilla with refried beans and whatever cheese is around), a heaping spoonful of peanut or almond butter, or a “Nut Ball” (because who doesn’t like saying that, especially boys): mix peanut butter or almond butter with honey (try to always use raw) and ground flax seeds. With hands rinsed in cold-water, form the mixture into little balls and put them in the fridge.
What about lunch?
The boys buy their lunch at the school cafeteria. Liv and I bring our lunches. My usual go-to lunch is leftovers from the night before with added spinach (or arugula if appropriate) and some form of heat (chopped jalapeño, red pepper flakes, or scotch bonnet hot sauce). I will also sometimes make a salad and throw in whatever is handy (feta, dried cranberries and pepitas, with a spicy avocado dressing is my latest combo).
What’s your dinner routine? What are some of your family’s favorite meals?
We “try” to be together in some form. We go around and report our “High” and “Low” of the day (Liv also throws in a “Medium”). I am not above sitting in front of the TV on occasion (I hate to admit it, but it’s true). Our favorite meals are tacos (fish, ground turkey, ground beef, or grilled flank steak); calzones with a side of garlicky sautéed spinach; curry chicken with ramen noodles; burgers; and cheesesteaks (quickly sautéed roast beef, caramelized onions and maybe mushrooms). Most things I cook are concocted with what’s on hand. I hate to have food go to waste so I love to mix up leftovers. Another fav is leftover Sloppy Joes sautéed with kale or spinach, roasted or mashed sweet potatoes and a chopped jalapeño.
What are some of your biggest challenges in getting dinner on the table? How often do you eat-in verses go out or pick up take-out?
My biggest challenge is in getting healthy, quick meals that are loaded with vegetables and flavor to the table in a timely manner – AND – that all four kids will enjoy. About once a week I get either Chinese take-out, order pizza OR get frozen chicken tenders (the younger kids love them and the older kids like to make a buffalo chicken salad with them using chopped celery, crumbled blue cheese and Texas Pete hot sauce).
Where do you find your meal inspiration? What are some of your favorite cookbooks, websites or blogs?
I find my meal inspiration from what’s on sale, in season or if I’m having an iron deficiency. The classic Joy of Cooking is a staple. DashandBella is the real deal when it comes to good writing and delicious offerings. My usual MO for food inspiration is google-ing recipes and combining what I like from various ones.
Fish Tacos with Crunchy Slaw
- ½ medium head of cabbage (white or red), cored
- 1 bunch of cilantro , coarsely chopped (go ahead and use the tender upper stems—they’re delicious)
- ¼ medium red onion , finely chopped and rinsed in cold water (to remove some of its bite)
- 1 jalapeño pepper , seeded and finely chopped
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 1 lime)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ pounds halibut , cod, bass or salmon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Old bay seasoning
- Corn or flour tortillas for serving
- Sliced avocados for serving
- Hot sauce for serving
- To make the slaw, finely shred the cabbage using a sharp knife or the shredder disk of a food processor. Scrape the cabbage into a large bowl and add the cilantro, red onion, jalapeño pepper, mayonnaise, lime juice and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well. Taste and add additional seasonings, if needed. Do Ahead: The slaw can be made up to 2 hours in advance; cover and refrigerate.
- Put the fish on a plate or in a dish and pour the olive oil over to coat. Sprinkle the Old Bay evenly over the fish (if the fish has its skin on, I sprinkle the seasoning on the flesh side only). Season lightly with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes (this is a good time to light the grill!).
- Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium. Clean and oil the grates. Grill the fish until it’s cooked through and flakes easily with a fork, flipping it halfway through (as long as the grill is clean and oiled you shouldn’t have trouble flipping the fish—I start it skin-side down—but if you’re nervous about grilling fish, you can grill it right on top of a piece of lightly oiled aluminum foil, or you can use an oiled grill basket). It’ll take about 8-15 minutes total, depending on the thickness of your fish. Once the fish comes off, turn the heat to high and toss the tortillas on the grill. Cook them on both sides, until lightly toasted. Wrap the tortillas in a kitchen towel or in foil to steam.
- Using a fork, break the fish into large flakes. Serve the fish with the warm tortillas, the slaw, avocado slices and hot sauce.