Someone’s in the Kitchen with Mama

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I love to cook.

The idea of creating something delicious out of a few random ingredients thrills me.  Cooking is my therapy, the kitchen is my happy place, baking is my zen.

Unless my kids decide to cook with me.

Then cooking takes longer, involves crying and fighting, and usually ratchets up my stress level to somewhere near that of a Wall Street investor on a bad day.

But I do it.  I let them cook with me every single time they ask.  Even though they make my eye twitch and my head hurt, I invite them into the kitchen and let them do as much as they can to help me.

Why?

Because I think that cooking is one of the most important skills kids can learn.  Not just because I think that everyone should know how to cook at least basic things, but for so many more reasons.

Cooking teaches kids about where food comes from.  They learn that things don’t just appear in front of them, whole and ready to eat.  While Laurel peels carrots (slowly), we talk about the carrots we grew last summer, and how cool it is that they grow underground.  While Ellie uses the egg slicer to cut mushrooms, I tell them how mushrooms are fungi, not vegetables, and that they grow in dark, wet places.  As I cut up chicken we talk about Grampy’s chickens, and how isn’t it neat how chickens and eggs taste so different?  They are learning  how things connect, and how they fit into the world.

Cooking improves fine motor coordination.  It is basically free occupational therapy for Ellie.  From holding a potato with one hand and working the peeler with the other, to learning how to use a whisk for the first time, cooking requires the girls to move their hands in new and different ways.  Laurel use to have a really hard time stirring a thick batter, but now she knows how to hold the spoon properly and she can mix up a mean batch of cookie dough.

Cooking teaches math and reading.  Laurel loves to count out how many ingredients a recipe requires.  I’ll give her the list and she’ll count them up, then check that we have the same number on the counter.  She is starting to understand fractions without even knowing it.  Two half cups make a whole cup, Mama!  I point out the steps we need to take while we cook, showing her the words, teaching her about doing things in the proper order.  When she is older, she’ll see how cooking is basically science you can eat.  Just wait until I break out the baking soda and vinegar.

Cooking forces kids to slow down.  It only takes one slip of the hand to learn that when holding a knife (even the relatively dull one that Laurel is allowed to use) it is prudent to pay attention to what you are doing.  The girls, who are usually whirlwinds of activity, know that when they are cooking they have to be careful.  Their frantic movements become purposeful.  Their fidgeting stops as they watch and try to imitate what I have shown them.  They love to watch me chop vegetables, and I talk to them about how I keep my fingers curled back on my holding hand, and how I don’t lift the tip of the knife from the board, so I have better control.

Tonight I allowed the girls to do the “hot stuff” for the first time while making dinner.  Laurel sauteed vegetables, using a long wooden spoon to stir them around in the bottom of the soup pot.  Ellie got to stir the soup as it simmered on the stove.  Cooking has taught them caution.  They may not listen to me the rest of the day, but when I told them that they could hold the spoon and touch the pot handle, but NOT the pot, because it was hot, they listened.  No preschoolers were burned during the making of our dinner.

Cooking teaches the value of work.  Kids are use to people just handing them things.  They don’t often have to work for what they get, simply because they are little and can’t do whatever needs to be done yet.  Cooking is a good way to start introducing kids to the idea of taking pride in their work.  It is a magical thing, the first time your child realizes that they can produce something tasty with their own two little hands.  I think that kids who understand the value of work are less likely to act like entitled little monsters.  And more likely to eat their dinners.

Finally, cooking teaches patience.  A large part of cooking, especially baking, is waiting.  We wait for the butter to melt, the onions to become translucent, the broth to boil, the bread to rise, the cake to bake.  In a world where everything seems to be available on demand, cooking teaches kids that sometimes we have to wait for the things we want.  Most of the time Laurel gets bored and runs off to play during the longer waits, but Ellie is a much more patient child.  She will happily stand on a chair, occasionally stirring a simmering pot of soup for twenty minutes, and yell if I try to get her to stop.  I think she’s going to take after me, finding her zen in the motion of a whisk.

So, let’s hear from you.  Hop down to the comment section, and tell me if you let your kids cook with you.  How old are they?  What are their favorite cooking tasks?  Or do you think kids should stay out of the kitchen?  Let me hear it!

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The Eating Styles of the Cute and Picky

Ah, dinnertime.  That once-a-day ritual that I so looked forward to when I was pregnant, dreaming of the perfect little children I was growing in my tummy.  In my mind, lit with the warm glow of the chandelier, I could see Chev, myself, and the girls sitting around the table, eating a healthy, lovingly cooked meal, quietly talking about our day.  The girls would, of course, have amazing pallets, eating everything from steak to tilapia happily.  (You know, because I was going to start them out early, getting them to try exotic flavors as babies.)  We were smiling, even laughing.  There was no crying, screaming, or throwing of food.  Not at MY dinner table.

Oh, what a fool I was.

The reality of trying to feed two four-year-olds and two adults who all have very different tastes is a heck of a lot more difficult.  Despite my best efforts, and their early willingness to eat whatever I put in front of them, the girls have become two very picky eaters.  We often liken them to Jack Sprat and his wife.  When it comes to food, they are complete opposites, but put together they can usually polish off a meal.  Ellie will happily devour any kind of meat, except hamburger, often asking for more.  She will not, however, touch vegetables.  Laurel will eat a bite or two of meat, then scarf down all of the corn, peas, and potatoes on her plate.  Ellie likes all noodles equally, and will eat them no matter what you cover them with, from alfredo to pureed spinach.  Laurel will only eat spaghetti-shaped noodles, and only with marinara sauce or butter.  Ellie isn’t a sweet-eater, preferring pretzels and crackers over cookies and cakes.  We have to hide candy and baked-goods on top of the fridge, where Laurel can’t reach them.

So dinner time, instead of being a peaceful time to bond over reflections of our day, is now a stress-filled half hour full of cajoling and threatening the girls into eating at least three bites of each food on their plates.  Laurel, at least, can be reasoned with.  She will eat something she doesn’t want to eat, but she will make a face like it is going to kill her, and she has limits.  She will eat three bites of something, but that is IT.  Don’t even try to convince her that since she said she liked something that she should eat more of it.  The idea of eating ALL of something she doesn’t love makes her brain explode.  The explosion sounds a lot like whining.

Ellie won’t take a bite of something she doesn’t like the looks of.  Not even one bite.  It doesn’t matter how long we make her sit at the table or how many cookies we try to bribe her with.  It just isn’t happening.  I honestly think that if someone told her she had to eat a single pea to save my life, I would be quickly be meeting my maker.  You can sing Daniel Tiger’s song about trying new food until you turn blue; my stubborn little girl isn’t going to open her mouth.  If you really push the issue, Ellie will completely shut down, turning sideways in her booster seat and crying uncontrollably, thus ending any hope that we had of her eating even the foods on her plate that she does like.

I don’t want you to think we just let them get away with bad dinner behavior from the get-go.  We have tried everything we can think of to get the girls to eat: I’ve read all of the blogs, scoured Pinterest for cute ideas, talked to other moms.  And you know what?  None of that crap works.  I get Laurel involved in cooking dinner all the time, and she’ll tell me that she LOVES vegetable soup….until it is sitting in front of her at the dinner table.  We’ve tried making them sit at the table until they eat all of their food.  (We couldn’t take the crying after 45 minutes.)  We tried not letting them have anything else to eat all night.  (Ellie woke up crying in the wee hours of the morning, and Laurel woke up at 5am starving every single time.)  We tried bribery.  (Ellie doesn’t care about cake enough to eat three kernals of corn.)  We tried threats.  (No TV after dinner if you don’t eat = penalizing myself WAY too much.)  We’ve tried talking to them as if they were logical human beings.  (*snort*  Yeah, that didn’t work.)  The list goes on and on.

Really, the only part of my pregnancy daydream that has come true is the healthy, lovingly cooked meals I provide on a nightly basis.  Even the chandelier is a let-down, since there is always at least on bulb burned out.  (What is up with that, anyway??)  Basically we have resigned ourselves to not having a peaceful meal together for at least another five years.

And you know what?  I’m ok with that.

I know that one day they WILL eat what I put in front of them.  One day Laurel will ask me for seconds of chicken.  One day Ellie will ask for a second helping of roasted veggies.  One day they will be in college, eating mushy meatloaf, and they will think, “Man, I really miss mom’s cooking.”

I know because I was one of the pickiest kids to ever walk the Earth.  I spent an entire year of my life eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches.  No, really.  That’s it.  Peanut butter on white bread.  And now I’ll eat almost anything.  My dream vacation would be to eat my way across the globe.  I drool while watching cooking shows, and wish I could afford to go to high-end restaurants.  If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to weigh a million pounds.

So, if you have a picky kid, remember, it isn’t the end of the world.  Just go with what they WILL eat and keep trying.  Fight the good fight, my friends.

Food Snob

I'll cook anything for love

I’ll cook anything for love

It all started with a simple question.

A friend and I were discussing what we were making for dinner.  I told her that I was making meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  She then said, “Oo!  Meatloaf!  Can I have your recipe?!”  I don’t have a recipe for meatloaf, and I told her so.  She got a sort of miffed expression on her face and told me I didn’t have to be such a food snob.

A food snob?  Me?  I’m not talking about making duck a l’orange here.  I’m talking about meatloaf, one of the most basic staples of housewives for generations.  So I asked her to elaborate, and she told me that this isn’t the first time I’ve told her that I didn’t use a recipe for something I was cooking.  That in the past she has asked me for my recipe for something and I’ve just rattled off a list of ingredients and instructions to her, when she really just wanted me to email it to her later.  She said it made her feel like I was acting superior to her, because she didn’t memorize things so easily.

Whoa there, I told my friend.  I use recipes a LOT.  I’m always making new stuff, and thanks to Pinterest, my family never gets a chance to get bored with any of it before I find something new to make.  I have a folder stuffed with recipes that I’ve copied down from online, recipes I’ve ripped out to magazines, and recipes that I’ve collected from family members.  I have very few things memorized.

She scowled and said that making new stuff all the time makes me sound even snobbier.  She makes the same basic stuff all of the time “like a normal person.”  Apparently I make her feel like she’s not doing enough, like she’s a bad wife and mother.

Ok, hold up.  Is it me, or are you seeing this a lot lately?  Moms feeling like they are in competition with each other?  Or that they aren’t as “good” as other moms?  Me too.  And it needs to stop.

Look, I told my friend, just because I can make stuff without a recipe doesn’t mean that you aren’t as good of a mom as me.  It means we grew up differently and have different priorities.

I grew up in a house where most stuff was made from scratch.  We didn’t have a lot of convenience foods around.  I didn’t know that mac and cheese could come from a box until I was in high school, and didn’t actually taste it until I was in my twenties.  Take-out didn’t really exist yet, and nobody delivered to our farm.

I can remember my mom teaching me how to make meatloaf when I was a kid. I thought it was cool because I got to smush it with my hands.  I’m sure she was quite willing to pawn that job off on someone else.  My mom was (and still is) a pretty boring cook, and most meals consisted of meat, starch (usually potatoes), and (frozen) veggies.  Rice was exotic.  Spices didn’t move much beyond salt and pepper.  She was an awesome baker, however, and some of my fondest memories revolve around cookies, cakes, and pies.

From the time I was 14 to 17 my mom was the Camp Director at a Girl Scout camp, and she was only home every other weekend for the entire summer.  Since my dad worked all day, it fell to me to do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry.  I still hate cleaning and laundry, but I really fell in love with cooking during this time.  My dad has a much more adventurous palate than my mother, keeping a cabinet full of things like Thai spices and lentil soup mixes that he cooked for himself on weekends.  Because of this, I felt that I could branch out from mom’s standard recipes into unknown territory.  I searched through cookbooks and cooking magazines for fun new things to try.  Sometimes I crashed and burned.  I remember when we decided to try making General Tso chicken at home.  It was so bad that we went out for pizza.  But most of what I made was really good.  I learned new techniques, and more importantly, I learned how to put together flavors.

In college I was the only one of my friends who lived in an apartment instead of the dorms.  The food on campus was….sad.  So I’d invite my friends over to my place and cook for them.  They would take turns asking for stuff they missed from home. (Non-mushy pasta was a theme.)  For the end of the year, I made five cornish game hens, each stuffed and seasoned with different stuff.  It was during college that I realized that food could bring joy and comfort.

Fast forward to the present, where I have a spouse and two kids to feed.  All three of them are pretty picky, so my cooking is limited to what I can actually convince them to eat.  (The girls are more persuadable than Chev, by the way.)  I don’t really cater to the girls’ tastes, because it is my opinion that four year olds don’t have the experience to tell me definitively what they do and do not like.  So I cook what the grown ups like, and if the kids don’t eat, well, then they don’t eat.  But I really like when I find a new recipe that all of us like, and I don’t want to fall into a rut, making the same handful of things all the time.  I cook for fun as well as for fuel.

And there is the difference between my friend and I.

I’m not really a food snob.  I just really, REALLY like to cook.  I’ve been cooking for twenty years.  I love combining new flavors, trying new spices, and figuring out delicious ways to get my family to eat things they all claim to hate.  If I were young and single, I’d be a food writer and eat my way across the globe.

My friend didn’t grow up cooking.  She just wasn’t interested in learning how to cook from her mom or grandmother.  She was in sports, choir, 4-H, and band.  She had practices every night of the week.  In college she lived in a dorm and lived off of Ramen noodles.  Now she is married and has the cutest little boy I’ve ever seen.  For the first time in her life, she has found herself to be the person in charge of putting food on the table every night, and while she has basic cooking knowledge, she is no master chef.  Cooking just isn’t her thing.

And you know what?

That is ok.

We all have our own strengths.  My friend is super active.  She takes her little guy to the park almost every day.  She runs, plays tennis, and sings in her church choir.  Her son is in karate and t-ball.  Her hubby just did his first half marathon.  Their Facebook photos all depict them doing fun things like hiking, swimming, and having epic snowball fights.

They make me feel bad about me.

The fact is that the only kind of marathon I’m interested in involves Doctor Who and a large tub of popcorn.  My kids watch too much TV.  Chev and I are much more on the sloth end of the activity spectrum than the cheetah end.  I have zero desire to hang out in the frozen tundra of our yard while Laurel chucks snowballs at me.  I fear that we are raising the next generation of couch potatoes.

I explained this to my friend, and she got very quiet for a few minutes.  Then she hugged me.  She told me that she was afraid that I thought she wasn’t a good mom because she would rather go for a run than bake cookies with her kids.  I laughed and told her that I figured she thought I was a bad mom because my kids watch so much television.  It was like a barrier had broken down between us.  We were no longer judging ourselves by how we thought other people saw us.

We were just moms, talking about what we were making for dinner.

 

Picky-Eating Partners

eat it or starve

I’ve been posting about food a lot lately, over on my Facebook Page, and I’ve gotten quite a few comments from people, saying they’d love to change the way their family eats, but their partner is SO picky.  They say they’d love to try to eat less meat, but their partners will never go for it.  It got me thinking, and I realized that I have seen about a million articles about getting picky kids to eat, but never one about how to get your picky partner to expand their horizons.  I suppose it is just assumed that, because someone is an adult, that their tastes are fixed and there is no hope of getting them to try new things.  Which is complete crap.  If you are a grown-up, you should always be willing to try new things.  That’s part of what is awesome about being a grown up!

I know what it’s like to cook for a picky partner.  Chev is crazy picky about food.  But I’ve learned to work around it, and I thought I’d share some of my secrets with you.

Let’s start by talking about Chev.  She’ll love that.  Chev is very much a “meat and potatoes” kind of person.  If it were up to her, all of our dinners would consist of a meat (beef, chicken, or pork), a starch (potatoes, rice, or pasta), and maybe a vegetable (corn, peas, or broccoli).  Maybe with the occasional pizza or taco night thrown in.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, I thought so.  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with eating like this; millions of people eat like this every day.  As someone who likes to cook and try new things, however, it is soul-crushingly boring.  Plus, I have borderline high cholesterol, so eating meat every day isn’t going to fly. Oh, and meat is crazy expensive.  Seriously, one of the easiest way to cut your grocery bill is to cut back on meat.  But I digress…

This sums Chev up perfectly

This sums Chev up perfectly

Chev is picky.  Oh, so picky.  The list of things she doesn’t like is a mile long, ranging from the exotic (curry of any sort) to the commonplace (tomatoes), and it makes my life a heck of a lot more difficult when it comes to meal planning.  I have discovered something, however, that has made my life much easier.  There is a difference between what she doesn’t LIKE and what she absolutely will NOT eat.  Think about it for a minute.  This holds true for most people.  I don’t really care for brussel sprouts, but I’ll eat one or two if they are on my plate.  But there is no way in hell that you are going to convince me that liver isn’t just glorified dog food.  We all have our limits.  Find your partner’s limits.  Figure out the things that they don’t even want to look at, let alone eat.  Those are your deal breakers.  Don’t even bother trying to sneak them in.  For Chev that would be fish.  She hates fish.  She’ll eat shrimp, scallops, crab, ect, but if it has fins and swims, forget it.  Except tuna from a can.  Apparently that is so far removed from the fish that it’s ok.  I don’t even try to understand it anymore.

Now that you know what is completely off limits, take a look at what is left on the “dislike” list.  Is there a way to prepare some of those foods that your partner might find more palatable?  Chev hates squash, because she doesn’t like the squishy texture they get when cooked, but I have a recipe for zucchini fritters that she really likes.  Why?  Because they are crispy, not mushy.  This works for a lot of foods.  I don’t like cooked cabbage (I think it tastes like farts smell), but I love raw cabbage (crispy crunchy goodness!).  So if your partner says they don’t like mushrooms, but you know that the only mushrooms they’ve ever eaten are the nasty canned ones that get put on top of pizza (shudder), try adding some fresh baby bellas to your next stir fry or pasta dish and see what happens.  I’d be willing to bet that you can cross a few more things off of the list.

Picky isn't an allergy

Picky isn’t an allergy

By now you should have a much more manageable list of foods that your partner won’t eat, so let’s talk about modifying recipes.  You can almost always change a recipe to accommodate different tastes. There are a bunch of ways you can do this, from leaving out certain ingredients to changing the ingredients to something more acceptable to the picky party.  I’ll give you some examples….

Shallots:  onions for people who don’t like onions.  These little beauties are quite possibly the least oniony onions I’ve found.  I use them in place of onions for every recipe I make.  They still give dishes the proper base, without horribly over-powering everything else.

Paprika:  just say no to black pepper.  Chev HATES black pepper.  We don’t even have it in the house.  Leaving pepper out of your recipes can make for some seriously bland food, however, so I use paprika.  It has a nice, mild flavor so it won’t conflict with any other herbs or spices you are using.

Herbs instead of salt.  Neither of us are big on salt, and its really not that great for you anyway, so I use a lot of herbs in my cooking.  Don’t be scared of herbs!  Just keep a few basics on-hand.  Remember, basil goes with everything.  Thyme and oregano go with Italian.  Cilantro is great with Mexican.  Sage and rosemary are great with roasted meats (but go easy on the rosemary….a little goes a long way!)

Sauces are replaceable.  Sometimes you find a great recipe, but then you start reading the ingredients for the sauce that goes with/over it and you think, “Well so much for that.  S/he’ll never eat it.”  I hear you, my friends, but don’t chuck the whole recipe!  We eat a lot of stir fry, but I never make the sauces that go along with the recipes.  Chev doesn’t like ginger.  Or vinegar.  Or anything else with strong flavors.  So this is what I do; I replace the sauce with one I know she’ll eat.  I keep a bottle of her favorite Asian sauce in the fridge; if she doesn’t like the sauce I made, she can always put some of that on her food.  Similarly, she won’t eat vinegar-based salad dressing, which seriously limits what kinds of pasta and grain salads I make.  Well, it did before I discovered a trick…. I add mayo to the vinaigrette.  Poof!  Her brain thinks, “Yum!  A creamy dressing!” and she eats it.  Seriously, I wish I had figured this out years ago.

June 048

The same tricks you use on your kids can work on your partner.  Shredding zucchini into sauces, using a smooth tomato sauce instead of a chunky one, pureeing veggies so they are less noticeable, and being all around sneaky can help you get different things into your partner without them even realizing it.  Chev hates chunks of tomato in her spaghetti sauce, so I buy smooth sauce (or chuck it in the food processor if I’m making my own.)  It’s the same thing, but made a little more picky-person-friendly.

I know what you are thinking.  “That’s all well and good, but there is no way my partner is going to willingly stop eating meat every day.”  I’ll be honest, it was a big shock to Chev’s system when I told her that we were only going to be eating meat every other day.  Its a lot less than that now.  We eat approximately four to five meat dishes in a two week time span.  The trick is to make food so hearty that they don’t miss the meat.  Load up on beans, legumes, hearty pasta dishes, quinoa (try the rainbow variety, it tastes better), and casseroles.  I found recipes for bean bolognese, veggie pot pie, veggie chowder, and so much more on Pinterest 

vegetarians

Don’t go crazy with new ingredients at first; ease your partner into change.  Don’t make a big deal about things.  Just start substituting something new for something old.  Tuesday night is usually pasta night?  Great!  Instead of meat sauce, try a creamy spinach sauce.  Do you like to make casseroles?  Awesome!  Instead of a chicken rice casserole, try broccoli quinoa casserole (one of Chev’s favorites).  Looking for something quick, but sick of sandwiches?  Try hummus melts (so easy, but so good.)  Just start adding some new stuff into your rotation and see how it goes.  Chances are, the less of a big deal you make it, the less your partner will object.

My final bit of advice is to tell you to put your foot down.  We have a rule at our house; no matter what I put in front of Chev, she isn’t allowed to say bad things, make yucky noises, or icky faces.  Why?  Because I’ll be damned if she is going to pass her pickiness along to the girls.  I have also made it clear to her that, while I will try to accommodate her pickiness, sometimes I just want to eat green beans with dinner, and she needs to deal with it.  She’s a grown woman, and sometimes that means sucking it up and eating what is put in front of her…. or making her own darn dinner!

kitchen closed

 

Meal Planning 101

food

Does meal planning sound daunting to you?

It shouldn’t!

Meal planning is easy-peasy and makes life SO much simpler, especially if you are on a tight budget.

I plan meals for two weeks at a time, because we get paid every two weeks.  I know that by the end of the pay cycle, we will be broke again, so I make sure to get everything I need in one trip.  With a meal plan I never have to be scrambling around at 4pm, wondering what I’m going to make for dinner, or if I have the ingredients I need.  Which is helpful when you have a couple of three year olds running around.

Here is my meal planning method; give it a try, it just might make your life a little easier!

1.  The day before payday I sit down in front of the computer with a notebook and a pen, and I pull up Pinterest.  That’s right, I actually USE my food boards, and not just to pin insanely decadent desserts that have a week’s worth of calories in them!  I find that using Pinterest boards is easier than digging through a thousand recipe cards or cookbooks.  It is just so nice and organized, and I like seeing pictures of what I’m going to make.

2.  I make a list of what I want to make.

3.  Whenever I pick something, I bring up the recipe and write down what ingredients I’ll need on my grocery list.

4.  If I pick a recipe that I’ve never made before, I write it down now, so that I don’t have to go looking for it later.  If I had a smart phone, I probably wouldn’t bother, because I could just pull up the recipe when I’m in the kitchen, but I live in the Stone Age, so paper and pen it is.

5.  Once I have 14 recipes (if I know I’ll be cooking every night), I figure out what day I want to make each one on.  I take into consideration what our schedule will be like each day.  For example, on the weekends that I work I will schedule meals that are quick and easy, with little or no prep work.

6.  Done!  Really, that’s it.  I now have a complete meal plan for the next two weeks, AND I have most of my grocery list finished.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than an hour doing it, even with distractions from the girls.  One hour and I am now prepared for the next two weeks.

And here is what my meal plan looks like….

White pizza grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
Portabellas stuffed with herbed chickpeas
One pot pasta alfredo
Quinoa veggie “fried rice”
Hummus melts
Chicken noodle soup (leftovers from the freezer)
Cheesy ground beef rice casserole
Spaghetti
Quinoa broccoli casserole
Steaks and baked potatoes
Memorial Day Picnic!!
Cheesy veggie chowder
Chickpea salad sandwiches
Ham and potato bake
Tacos

Now I just have to wait until tomorrow (and payday) to go shopping!

Food: It’s What’s For Dinner.

I love food.  I love to taste it and smell it and cook it.  I think that cooking is a magical act, one where you can take basic raw ingredients and turn them into fabulous creations that you get to eat.  I am particularly fond of baking, much to my waistline’s dismay.  (But Chev’s joy.)  I have made very few New Year resolutions, but one of them is to suck it up and brave the mysteries of yeast.  I want to learn how to make wonderful gluten free bread and soft pretzels for my girls.  Because the stuff you can buy in the store, quite frankly, sucks.  I also dream of sticky buns.  Sweet, gooey, sticky buns.  *drool*

Sticky bunssssss

Sticky bunssssss

One of my favorite things to do on Facebook is ask all of my friends what they are having for dinner.  Not because I’m some weird food stalker or because I have nothing better to fill my hours with than reading about what other people like to eat.  Its because reading my friends’ responses gives me ideas for future meals.  I am always on the look out for new meal ideas.  I scour magazines, cookbooks, and Pinterest for new ways to tempt my family to eat well.  I have more Pinterest boards dedicated to food than to anything else.  (Seriously, go check out my boards.  I’m like a recipe hoarder.)  We have dietary restrictions in our house, and that makes meals much trickier to plan.

I enjoy a good challenge.

Bring it on, yeast.

Bring it on, yeast.

Ellie has Celiac disease, which means that if she eats anything with gluten in it, her immune system thinks its a good idea to attack her small intestines.  Sounds like fun, right?  Not so much.  Just one cookie can keep her (and me) up all night, crying with tummy pain and explosive diarrhea.  And gluten is in everything a three year old loves.  Seriously.  Pasta, bread, cereal, pancakes, cookies, crackers….all of it is just filled with gluten.  So we have to buy or make gluten free alternatives.  Thankfully, the gluten free products out there have vastly improved over the last ten years.  Diamond brand nuts makes awesome almond crackers that are basically Ellie crack.  Schar brand pasta is actually better than normal pasta.  Almost all of the Chex cereals are gluten free, including the delicious cinnamon variety.  So good stuff is out there.  But it is expensive.  Oh, so expensive.  And the bread all sucks, as previously mentioned.

Poor Ellie-Kitty

Poor Ellie-Kitty

I have high cholesterol, so I try to cook a lot of vegetarian meals.  Which is also great since we are poor and need to save money.  Meat is expensive, so we don’t eat much of it.  I have to admit, it took poor Chev a while to get use to eating meals that were not meat based. Having grown up with a very strong “meat and potatoes” background, it took a while for her to accept that things like chick peas and carrots could take center stage.  But after a while she found that she really liked our new meal plans.  Maybe not as much as she likes a good, thick steak with a side of more steak, but better than she thought she’d like them, nonetheless.

Mmm...long pork.

Mmm…long pork.

This brings me to the heart of today’s topic:  Dinner.  I had always planned to share some of our favorite recipes with you, and tonight’s dinner seems like a perfect place to start.  So, without further ado, I present you with…..our dinner.

I'm no food photographer, so here is a meme instead.

I’m no food photographer, so here is a meme instead.

Red Lentil Soup and Homemade Gluten Free Bread

Don’t freak out.  I swear, it is super easy.  Would I lie to you?  No, I would not.
The soup recipe came from a magazine, but I have no idea which one or when.  Sorry.
The bread recipe comes from http://www.elanaspantry.com/ She makes the BEST gluten free/dairy free/paleo food you can imagine.  Try her snickerdoodle recipe.  It will blow your mind.

Equipment Needed:
Slow cooker (every mother’s friend)
Immersion blender (or regular blender and some patience)
Mixer
Bread pan (7ish inches by 3.5ish inches..or whatever you have on hand)

For the soup:
3/4 cup blanched almonds (or regular almonds or almond meal.  I won’t judge you.)2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 2 inch pieces
2 celery stalks, sliced thin
1 medium onion, quartered (We aren’t huge onion fans, so I use a shallot)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 bag (16oz) red lentils, rinsed and picked over (I never do this.  I like to live dangerously.)
2 large vegetable bouillon cubes, crumbled
7 cups water (I have never used bouillon cubes in my life.  I use four cups of veggie broth and three cups of water.)
1 Tablespoon curry powder (Hell no.  We don’t do curry in this house.  I throw some paprika in there instead.)
1/2 teaspoon salt (This is one of the few recipes that I actually add the salt.  It needs it.)
3/4 cup heavy cream  (Ok, not the lowest cholesterol ingredient, but it is still better than a slab of beef.)

Mix up everything except the cream in your slow cooker.  Cover.  Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 hours.  Uncover.  Blend with immersion blender or VERY carefully transfer it to a regular blender in small batches.  Make it smooth.  Stir in heavy cream.   Garnish with extra almonds and cilantro if you want to.  (I never want to.)

For the bread:

1 1/2 c almond flour
3/4 c arrowroot flour
1/4 c golden flaxmeal (I can never find this, so I use 2 T millet flour instead)
1/2 t salt1/2 t baking soda
4 eggs (again…not so low in cholesterol…..)
1 t honey
1 t apple cider vinegar

Start your eggs in the mixer, blending for 3-5 minutes, until they are frothy.  (If you don’t have a stand mixer, this will feel like an eternity.  I don’t have a stand mixer.)  Mix your dry ingredients together in another bowl.  Add the honey and vinegar to the eggs.  Mix some more.  Stir in the dry ingredients with a spoon.  Scoop batter into a greased bread loaf pan.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you stick it in the middle.  Pop it out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.

This bread doesn’t have yeast, so it doesn’t rise very much. It is a dense, nutty bread.  I wouldn’t use it for sandwiches, but we LOVE it with soup.

Oh, and for the record, no, my three year old twins do not eat this soup.  They look at it. They poke it with their spoons.  Occasionally they will stick a finger into it and lick it off.  But please don’t think that I have some magic wand that makes toddlers eat lentil soup.  I don’t.  And I won’t lie to you about it.  They DO like the bread, however, and every once in a while one of them will dip the bread into the soup and eat it that way.  I consider that a win.  One day they will like the soup and eat it up.  That day is not likely to be today.  And I’m ok with that.

Enjoy!

 

The Junk Food Tirade

I’ve gotten some flack lately for posting about baking and eating cookies with the girls.  Apparently I’m starting them out with an unhealthy food lifestyle.  I am beginning their addiction to sugar and empty carbs.  They should only be eating whole, organic, raw foods.  How dare I give my precious sweet, innocent babies those poison pucks so commonly known as cookies?!  At first I was highly amused by this.  (WooHoo! I have haters!)  Then it kind of pissed me off.  Because, really, you have no idea what I feed my kids the other 99% of the time.

cookie-monster

You have no idea that I’m a health food snob.  Because I don’t write about that.  Its boring.  No one wants to know about how the girls love fruit and nuts and organic, free-range, grass fed beef.  Should I write a post about the well balanced, mostly vegetarian meals I provide for them?  Yawn.  Sure, I’ll probably share some great healthy recipes with you at some point.  I just haven’t gotten around to it.  It’s the holidays.  We made cookies.  We ate cookies.  Deal with it.

This is what most of our meals look like, thankyouverymuch.

This is what most of our meals look like, thankyouverymuch.

If you want to complain about kids eating junk food, I can do that with the best of them.  I can bitch and moan about how our society feels the need to push sweets on our kids for every freaking “special” occasion they can think of.  And how I can’t stand that I get the stink eye when I tell people not to offer my kids junk food.  Like I’m the bad guy.  In fact, I can even break it down in numbers to show just how much junk our kids are getting once they hit elementary school.  And I will.

Say there are 30 kids in your kid’s class.  All of their parents bring in cupcakes for their respective birthdays.  That is one month of cupcakes over the course of the school year.  Add in the class’ holiday celebrations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas (“winter”), Easter (“spring”), and possibly Valentines day and the end of the school year.  That is six more days of junk.  Now, suppose your kid is moderately popular and is invited to 10 birthday parties, where they will gorge on cake and ice cream.  We’re up to 46 days.  If your kid is in any activities, there are bound to be soccer celebrations, Girl Scout cookie parties, and Sunday school soirees.  Add in your “occasional” treats at home over a year’s time, which we’ll say is a conservative 11 times.  We have now hit 60 days of junk food.  That is TWO MONTHS of crap.  And we haven’t even talked about actual holiday celebrations.  We haven’t hit on family birthdays, Halloween candy that lasts a month, Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, Christmas cookies for two weeks, Valentines day candy for a week, Easter candy for two weeks, and ice cream for Independence day.  It could easily total at three to four months worth of days where your kid is eating junk.  Or more.

marshmallow10cake

My girls?  They don’t get all of that.  They aren’t in grade school yet, and even when they are I intend to send them to a Waldorf-style charter school where I don’t have to worry about junk food being seen as a reward.  They aren’t in any activities yet.  When we do bake at home, we generally make healthy versions of whatever we are craving.  Ellie would rather eat crackers than cookies, so I’m more concerned with her salt intake than her sugar levels.  Laurel has a sweet tooth, but I know I can give her fruit and she’ll be content.

I don’t keep junk in the house.  I don’t buy it.  Because if I do buy it, I will eat it.  Oh God, will I eat it.  I’ll eat it in one sitting, hiding in the laundry room from the kids so I don’t have to share it.  I have no will power.  And I don’t want my kids to see that or inherit that, so I remove the temptation.

Except at Christmas time.  Because the holidays are a time to let your guard down a bit, to have some fun and make some memories with the kids.  The holidays are a time to eat some damn cookies.

Noms!

Noms!