Archive for May, 2019

May 20, 2019

Cooking Can Be Child’s Play

Rainy days are a great time to remember cooking can be child’s play! We have had an unusually rainy year. That means my grandkids are often stuck in the house. When we get tired of trains, painting, reading, and building with blocks, I like to move into the kitchen where there’s plenty of fun to be made.
cooking
Of course there are safety issues to be considered, but even a young toddler can pour and stir and taste or at least pretend. My grandmother didn’t hesitate to give me a sharp knife as a preschooler. She expected me to be able to peel potatoes with it to her high standard. I should only remove skin, not big chunks of potato. I didn’t do too well at first, but I didn’t cut myself and I learned to step up my food prep game.

I am not brave enough to hand a sharp knife to my grandchildren, but I let the toddlers use a grater and they have a designated drawer in the kitchen that they are allowed to access alone once they’re competently walking. The kid drawer contains my measuring cups and spoons, a tea strainer, some small spatulas, and biscuit cutters. The measuring cups become pans for the play stove that I rescued from my grandmother’s attic.

There have been many an imaginary cake and pots of soup made using that stove. Eventually, I bought some play fruits and vegetables and set up a pantry from which the kids could select ingredients. My oldest grandson expanded this pantry to include marbles. He loves to stir them with a whisk because it makes a loud noise.

Sometimes, he helps me with real food. Because he’s only two, his tasks are usually stirring and adding salt & pepper. If he wants to measure and dump things in the bowl, I get him a separate bowl and a measuring cup and let him have some flour, sugar, salt, and water. He makes a mess on the counter and on the floor, but he has a great time making “pancakes”.

Any time the grandkids are cooking, we talk about different kinds of food. I let them taste or smell herbs and spices. I show them the real version of a potato or an onion when they’re using a play potato or onion. I explain that you have to fill the 1/4 cup four times to equal one cup. I don’t belabor this point because my oldest grandchild is not yet three. I am only trying to plant a seed of math knowledge while we’re having fun.
at counter
Once I’m ready to clean up the mess, toddlers are happy to help. I let them stand on a ladder at the sink and “wash” dishes. Washing mostly consists of pouring water from one container to another, but it keeps them occupied while I clean up the rest. Yes, my countertop and floor get washed in the process, but I make sure to control the chaos and I don’t mind mopping up a little water.

My grandmother made homemade play dough and let me add the food coloring. Because I’m gluten-free I don’t keep flour in my pantry, but without that restriction I would definitely incorporate making play dough making into our kitchen fun! When we’re not making snakes and iguanas, we often make lemons, spinach, bread, fried eggs, raspberries, grapes, and pizza with our store-bought Play-Doh. (The gluten molecule is too large to pass through your pores, so I never worry about handling the dough.)

As the kids get older, I’ll let them do even more. Right now, I make sure to talk through the process whenever they’re watching me cook. By the time they can mix up biscuits, they’ll already know that we start with all of the dry ingredients, then add the fat before finally adding liquid. They’ll probably know how to use milk & vinegar as a substitute for buttermilk too. Essentially, they’ll be at a different stage of readiness having observed the process before attempting it. Having confidence in the kitchen will give my grandchildren a leg up as adults who may decide to dine at home.

I don’t just focus on the lessons when playing with my grandchildren in the kitchen; I incorporate stories about my life. I can’t tell a story without hearing, “Again!” And so I tell it again. I am weaving a family narrative that will anchor these children to their history creating a sense of belonging to something bigger. Through these stories, they will learn more about me, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as their own parents and themselves.

It is easy to see by the response, the stories are enjoyed and appreciated. They are also important. Research says family narratives not only help us make sense of the world but can play an important role in healing (1).

The weather woman is promising more rain this week. I’m looking forward to the chance to stir up a cake, spin a yarn, and create bonds with my grandchildren that will sustain them. I’m so glad cooking can be child’s play!

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/expert-answers/celiac-disease/faq-20057879

https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-018-0347-9

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201702/collective-stories-in-families-teach-us-about-ourselves

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010736/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-3-the-lessons/

May 14, 2019

Right Sized Relish Tray

Curb the food waste when you use these products to create a right sized relish tray! I recently cleaned out my refrigerator and threw away open jars of green olives, Kalamata olives, sweet pickles, and dill pickles. I hated to do it, but they had been open way too long. When you live alone, it’s easy to tire of something before it’s used up.

Many of my get-togethers are impromptu. I like to be able to reach in the cupboard and refrigerator and quickly assemble a relish tray. The problem with that is that many of these gatherings are just two or three people including me. A full-size jar of pickles, one of olives, and one of banana peppers is waaaay too much for 3 people especially when you add some carrot sticks & celery or nuts & fruit. The result is that jars get opened, but not emptied.

I’m always attempting to right size my purchases which requires constant reevaluation. Buying yogurt in single servings is not cost efficient because I can consume a larger container in a few days. Buying two peeled boiled eggs in a package also makes no sense because I use eggs often. I may as well buy a dozen and boil a few here & there. On the other hand, a half gallon of any kind of milk is way too much for me to consume before it spoils.
relish
Immediately following a refrigerator purge, I’m especially uneasy about refilling pantry space with things I just had to throw away. The other day, I was walking slowly by the pickles in Natural Grocers trying to decide whether or not to purchase anything when I happened upon a great solution. Sitting right in front of me were small packages of olives, gherkins, and marinated cauliflower!

The packaging bills these as snacks. Each resealable bag contains 3 to 4.5 servings without liquid which makes them great for snacking, but I immediately saw the potential for solving my relish tray waste problem! I love it when a solution is just a matter of paying attention!

The Gaea cauliflower and gherkin snacks are vegan, gluten-free, and contain nothing artificial. The cauliflower is marinated in extra virgin olive oil and lemon essential oil. The mini gherkins are marinated in extra virgin olive oil and vinegar enhanced by salt, garlic, and coriander. A serving of either one equals a half serving of vegetables and has 5 (gherkins) or 10 (cauliflower) calories.

All of that sounds good. How do they taste? I like the crunch of the cauliflower. It leaves a lemony aftertaste on the palate. The gherkins are teeny tiny and adorable. They are not the traditional sweet, crunchy gherkins you’re used to. The most prominent flavor is salt and the texture is less crisp. Both of these would benefit from a pairing with something to balance the saltiness.

The Mediterranean Organic olives are pitted, organic and non-GMO. A serving of green olives has 20 calories and is flavored with salt, parsley, basil, and thyme in addition to olive oil, sunflower oil, and white wine vinegar. The Kalamata olives have 40 calories per serving and are flavored with salt, red pepper, oregano, thyme, and cumin in addition to the same oils and vinegar.

Both olive selections are more traditional in taste, but have an oiliness not found in jarred olives. I don’t mind this so much because it keeps the olives feeling moist. It might be a bigger issue if I were eating these as a car snack. I’d have to be sure to have a napkin handy.

As far as packaging goes, I wasn’t very successful using the tear tab on the olives. I either ended up ripping the entire side of the package rendering it unsealable or I pulled so lightly that I had to use scissors just to get the thing open. The pull up tab on the Gaea packages was much easier to use.

If you prefer to have more flexibility, you can also choose PearlsR Olives to Go. Four individual serving cups per package allow you to customize the ratios of black pitted, pimento stuffed green, and pitted Kalamata olives on your relish tray. The flavor selections have recently expanded to include Sriracha, Taco, and Italian Herb infused ripe olives.

It’s been awhile since I’ve eaten Olives to Go and I’ve only tried the sliced black olives. The flavor was exactly like jarred olives, but they were drier. I don’t mean dried out, just drier. I have not tried the new infused flavors. The Olives to Go cups cannot be resealed, but they are easy to open.

Have I found a right size relish tray solution? I have made progress. Keeping the Gaea cauliflower and Mediterranean Organic Kalamata olives on hand gives me two good small serving choices. The Sriracha Olives to Go sound like something interesting to add as well. I like the idea of having a spicy choice on the tray.

At this point, I’ll probably stick with a sweet, crunchy gherkin. I may not use all of them in a reasonable amount of time, but at least I’ll have accomplished my goal of keeping relish tray ingredients on hand while reducing my food waste. I feel good about that.

https://www.mediterraneanorganic.com/med_organic_product_description?upc=81498500224

https://www.mediterraneanorganic.com/med_organic_product_description?upc=81498500225

https://www.olives.com/pearls/product-locator.php

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/haste-not-waste/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/whats-worth-preserving/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

May 6, 2019

I Want Simple

With the publication of Oprah’s new book, lots of us are asking what we want. My answer isn’t sexy. I want simple!

I’m not denying that many problems are complex, family relationships convoluted, and institutions difficult to navigate. That’s all true. It’s also true that everything connects to everything. The more I simplify, the more simple things become.
multi
Maybe my preference for simple is why tiny houses appeal. Having to condense into a very small space requires a different focus than adding layer upon layer of things to clean, organize, and maintain.

Each time I stand in my closet annoyed by the choices, I think of my grandmother. She had about 4 dresses at any given time and many of those were worn for years before she replaced them. Yet she was always more polished than I am.

She wore heels, her bright red fingernails were never chipped, and every hair was in place. Her clothes were crisply pressed and well fitting. Obviously, it’s possible to pare down and still look good.

When MTV introduced the “Unplugged” series, I liked it but I didn’t appreciate the concept as much as I do now. At that time, there was plenty of music in my world that didn’t feel overly produced.

It didn’t seem odd to find Lucinda Williams standing alone with a guitar on a stage with no light cues. Autotune didn’t exist. The focus of a concert was the music, not the “experience”…which made the EXPERIENCE more appealing to me.

I don’t like the frenzied feeling of a club with loud dance music and flashing strobes. It might be okay if there were contrasting moments, but it seems like there’s just loud and louder and ever-building furor.

Children’s toys increasingly play music, scurry across the floor under their own power, and cast lights on the ceiling leaving no room for a child to create his own motion and sound or learn cause and effect past push-a-button-get-a-single-response. In case no one has noticed, this does not expand a child’s world. It limits it.

My preference for simple extends to the kitchen. That doesn’t mean I want a large appliance that feeds me a grocery list or a set of recipes. I don’t. To me, all of that detracts from the experience.

One of the joys of cooking is observation which leads to problem solving which leads to creativity. When I observe that the strawberries I was going to use for dessert are moldy, I have to come up with a substitute which may lead to a flavor combination I never would have otherwise considered. There’s something about that process that leads to a delight that I never feel when following instructions or opening a packaged food.

I’m not anti-technology, anti-science, or anti-progress. I just believe we are geared in harmony with nature which has inherent contrast — light and dark, hot and cold, wet and dry, loud and quiet. When we feed only one of those elements, we have to continually ramp up the input in order to notice. When we do that, things get out of balance.
simple
Everything becomes complex, overproduced, noisy, and over-busy. To solve the way that makes us feel, we rarely go backward to stillness, fresh food, more sleep, and slow walks. Instead, we tend to add medication, activity, memberships, subscriptions, games, trips, meetings, media, clutter, and “smart” devices that compound the problem until we can no longer connect because we are never disengaged. Instead, parts of us selectively shut down when they become overtaxed. More than likely, we ignore this and push forward.

And why wouldn’t we? We live in a culture that has become too busy to listen, play, and imagine. Filling our ever larger living spaces with things and our days with obligations feeds our egos — we equate more with more important. What we’re really doing is creating lives filled with undue stress that takes a toll on our health.

I am the same person whether I live in 500 sqft, 2500, or 5000, but it takes much longer to clean 5000 sqft. I can pay someone to do that for me, but I have to be willing to work at a job that provides enough money to afford that service on top of the additional utility bills, furnishings, and maintenance required for the larger space. For most of us that means either longer hours or a more stressful job.

It has taken me years to learn to say no not because I’m busy but because I don’t want to be. Last week that earned me a lecture from someone I barely know who told me I work too much because I wouldn’t join him for dinner on a certain night. The funny thing is, I had only worked at my job about 4 hours that week. He assumed I was working too much.

Of course it’s not good to become isolated or stuck in a rut so embracing opportunities is still a priority for me, I just recognize that without downtime in between, I won’t get as much enjoyment from saying yes. Knowing this allows me to say no without angst or guilt most of the time. And it allows me to more fully relish an experience when I decide to participate.

Of course, the everyday question is how to simplify that day. Sometimes simplifying looks like going backward and starting over. Sometimes it looks like a series of tedious tasks. Sometimes it looks like not impulsively buying the cutest shoes you’ve ever seen! Sometimes it means saying no when everyone around you is saying yes.

Since everything connects to everything, I start with the obvious — don’t schedule too much; make a list; prioritize the list or allow it to flow naturally in conjunction with other obligations (do the dishes while the meat is browning); do the hardest or most dreaded task first; file as I go (that means electronically too); use systems to support my efforts; drink enough water; wear fewer layers; use a smaller purse; throw away a ripped shirt; turn off the TV; go to bed on time; use a backward timeline; be flexible; allow every accomplishment to count. Many of those tasks are organizational, but it’s amazing how much a little organization now simplifies my world later.

Checking a recipe before I order groceries saves me a trip to the store for a forgotten ingredient. Filing the papers on my desk means I know where to find them quickly. Getting rid of junk mail, torn clothes, and old magazines regularly means less clutter to sift through to find what I need. Keeping my Inbox cleaned out allows me to deal with important email swiftly.

I dated a guy in college whose waterski matched his swimsuit, matched his slalom ski, matched his ice chest, matched his MasterCraft, but he couldn’t maneuver that boat onto the trailer or around a skier safely. I was terrified to ski with him. If he had kept things simple and focussed on proficiency, I would have felt safer. But hey, he looked good! And that was his priority.

Some things that make me feel stressed won’t bother you. Some things I consider important won’t make your radar. But we can both reduce stress by simplifying in our own way.

http://www.mtv.com/shows/unplugged

https://www.lucindawilliams.com/

https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2019/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/smarter-living/the-case-for-doing-nothing.html

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/5-simple-solutions-last-minute-gluten-free-super-bowl-snacks/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/give-another-kiss-keep-simple-stupid-kind/