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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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.

 

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!