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Future Gourmets

If there's one way to get a kid's attention, it's with food. Personal chef Carla Mentry taps into that interest with a new business, PB&J Gourmet, specializing in children's birthday parties with make-it-yourself themes.

Guests get child-sized chef's hats and aprons, and learn to make such dishes as hot pretzels, macaroni and cheese, pizza cookie pops and apple turnovers. Mentry, who runs the show from planning to cleanup, says kids have a natural interest in learning to cook, even as toddlers, making for attentive and well-fed partygoers.

"Things that we consider chores in the kitchen are play for children," Mentry says. "Some people are afraid to let their kids in the kitchen, but if you're safety-conscious around fire and knives, there's so much for them to explore and learn."

Mentry, working with her 3-year-old daughter, Aidyn, has come up with some tips for cooking with kids, and her ideas are just in time for summer:

ú Make a rule that when you're running the mixer, the child's hands rest on the top of the mixer so they don't hurt their fingers.

ú Give kids a plastic knife to cut up items, such as the tops of beans or soft fruits.

ú To measure sticky things like peanut butter, use the displacement method by adding a 1/2 cup of water first to a measuring cup, then dropping in the sticky ingredient to reach the desired level plus 1/2 cup. Drain off the water. Cleanup is easier, too.

ú Parents should always do the oven and stove work and make a rule that one hand stays on the pot handle to avoid accidents.

ú Make child-friendly foods like pizza, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and cupcakes.

ú Use small muffin tins for baked goods and freeze leftovers to keep kids from snacking too much.

Mainly, says Mentry, make it fun. "Kids love to get their hands dirty, and they have a real pride of ownership in what they create. They have permission to try new things and be brave, and then they get to enjoy it."



Best in Beer

You know Capital Ale House has a zealous following of beer lovers. Now you know how to quantify it. The restaurants have earned two rankings in Beer Advocate's list of Top 50 Places to Have a Beer in America. And because they serve more than 300 different styles and brands of brew, they promote their downtown and Innsbrook locations as good places to learn about ales and lagers while consuming them.



Windows on Downtown

The newest breakfast and lunch spot downtown is a family affair. Tim and Laurie Smith and their four children (they do the taste-testing) just opened Choice Café next to Shockoe Common Apartments at 1215-A E. Main St. between 12th and 13th streets near the Bank of America building. The space has seating for 70 with a lounge and counter area next to large bay windows looking out onto the business district. Exposed brick, high ceilings and wooden tables capture a very-Richmond atmosphere that's already bustling.

Van Houtte coffees, which are European, are making their first appearance in Virginia at the café. Laurie Smith makes the chili and many of the sandwiches and soups. Breakfast biscuits, wraps and salads round out the menu. Choice Café is open Monday through Saturday. 344-4481.



Change in Chinese

Nanking's two former locations have closed and a new West End location is open. In the space once occupied by Awful Arthur's at 7408 W. Broad St., Nanking now serves its large Chinese menu of Americanized favorites for lunch and dinner daily. 270-3888. S



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