Category: Cooking

Saturday’s Cooking-with-Children Experiment

We’re always looking for new ways to include our children in some of the daily routines that keep our household functioning. This is part of my own larger plot to share the burden of unpaid domestic work amongst all the members of the family, as I ease further and further into paid work, again. I would also like to launch my children into the world with a number of useful domestic skills: knowing how to cook and how to shop for nutritious food, how to pick up after themselves, how to entertain themselves, how to notice needs and care for each other. Pretty lofty goals. And it doesn’t feel like we have much time to instill these values and skills into our beloved offspring.
I’ve noticed something: when we write a plan on our large family calendar beside the phone, the plan happens. For a long time, I’ve been dreaming of cooking a meal, once a week, with a child who is old enough to help out (ie. everyone except CJ, right now, though I’ll bet he’d love to try, too). But it’s never actually happened with any regularity. So, I decided to write it on the calendar, oldest to youngest, the next three Saturdays. Yesterday was the first, and because it was on the calendar, Albus took it very seriously–and so did I. Plus, we had a great baking/kitchen day. Apple-Apple started by stirring up and kneading bread dough, almost entirely by herself. Fooey was my cookie-assistant. And Kevin covered the granola-baking while I took two eight-year-old boys shopping for pizza-making supplies. Two boys, because Albus had a friend over and the friend expressed interest in helping out. This turned out to be really really fortuitous and so much fun that I’m thinking maybe Apple-Apple would like to invite a friend to include in her cooking adventure next week.
I’d made the dough in advance–in fact, I used an insanely simple fermented dough recipe that has proved mostly successful in its three outings. (It’s literally: flour, salt, water, and yeast, stirred together and left to ferment on the counter overnight). The first outing was the best, because I didn’t leave time for a second rising on my second attempt. And for pizza dough–it was awesome. So stretchy and moist that the boys were able to spread it on their trays with ease and without assistance. Plus they loved the tactile pleasure of oiling the trays with their hands, smooshing the dough, sprinkling the cheese. An excellent meal choice, Albus. We made tomato sauce in the blender using the same cookbook (My Bread, by Jim Lahey). Can of tomatoes, juice from tomatoes, salt, olive oil, clove of garlic. Rev the engine. Gloop onto the dough and spread with a spoon. Then there was lots of grating of cheese and chopping of pepperoni. I fried the bacon. The red peppers were last summer’s, frozen. We never got to the french fry making, the other item on the menu. Maybe next time.
It was such a fun day of cooking together. And what made it all possible was this knowledge in the back of my head that I didn’t need to find time to vacuum the whole house … because we’re trying out having a cleaning service come in every other week to do a full cleaning. They will dust. I have never dusted. Should I even confess that? They will vacuum. They will wash the floors. I have never washed the wood floors. Again with the confessions. Stop me now.
I will report back on this experiment.
Because they’ll be coming on Wednesday, I am instituting a Tuesday evening tidy and computer time. (Computer time available to those who help with the tidying.) We did a dry run last Tuesday, and Albus was particularly helpful.
Anyway, to sum it up, spreading out the burden of housekeeping freed me up to spend a full day cooking and baking and sharing that time with the whole family. Here’s hoping this experiment will prove sustainable.

A Day Among Days

Too too late, but feel like recording a few of today’s really lovely moments. I was home alone with the kids, which is an odd way to spend a Saturday, and the day proceeded like all the days of this summer holiday will, if I’m a blessed and fortunate woman.

The backyard was where we spent all morning. Hammocks. I brought out a mid-morning snack of lemonade and popcorn, ran inside for something else, and when I came back out again, CJ had climbed himself into one of the lawn chairs with his sippy cup. At one point, three of the kids loaded themselves into the wagon and Apple-Apple pulled them around to their “house” (where I was the grandma, Fooey informed me). After lunch, CJ went down for his nap and I introduced the concept of The Siesta (they weren’t keen unless it involved “screen time,” a term I don’t recall ever using myself). Thanks for the siesta idea, Janis; this is going into my summer routine. I dozed and the kids played games, not of the video variety (“you’re the meanest mommy ever”): Bananagrams, Jr. Boggle, Rush Hour, Snakes and Ladders. Siesta hour ended with a book on the couch (a grownup book with no pictures); the sight of Mama prone and absorbed filled everyone with resentment, so on impulse I began reading it out to them. I’m reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which is brilliant, dreamy, dense, complex, elliptical, with occasional terse dialogue, ie. not what one would imagine holding a child’s interest … but it did. All three gathered around in almost absolute silence to hear these quite astonishing words read aloud. The book was even better consumed in this way (though I don’t plan to torment Kevin by practicing this regularly before bedtime).

Quickly, before CJ woke, we made pizza dough, though I wasn’t as patient as I should have been with Fooey’s interminable stirring. I know other parents are better at this; I could be better, should be better. Lordy. I just wanted the darn dough stirred. Apple-Apple kneaded. She’s got a career as a baker (a baker, farmer, teacher, mother, dancer, writer, artist, I believe the current plan is). Beautiful dough, like silk. We left it to rise and headed out to the little park where we actually lay in the grass for awhile and made pictures out of clouds. Every cloud was a pirate device or weapon in Albus’s eyes. I will not let this trouble me. Nor was I troubled by the body part jokes that wended their way throughout our day. SIGH. When do these topics stop being so Highlarious? What was that? Never?? Darn, ’cause I seem to have outgrown them.

After supper, CJ discovered his own ears. He loves other people’s facial features and is thrilled to have them pointed out on himself, but this is the first he understood that he has two ears. Two of them! He pulled the tops out and perpendicular to his head, and with a huge grin of pure delighted discovery he ran through the obstacle course that is our living-room floor, ears in hands, to show his Daddy, home from work.

A brilliant moment in a solid, good day.

Witching Hour

Have been worrying about how I’m going to balance the multiple demands of that delicate witching hour, 4-5, now that the weather is gorgeous and my toddler wants to play outside with the big kids. Can’t be in two places at once. Well, this may be my fate (and our neighbours’): me shouting every minute and a half out the open windows, “Who can see CJ??” Thank heavens for good fences.

On the other hand, my shouting is probably the least of our neighbours’ noise concerns, given the cacophony of construction orchestration going on outside our front door. This is the clearly marked “Road Closed” sign, which I ran out just now to photograph because it WILL NOT LAST. In fact, Kev informs me that the line-up of pylons has already been dismantled by some enterprising driver in a hurry. I am striving not to let it bug me lest I morph into one of our neighbours, whom I shall refer to as The Mayor of W Street, who lives to be the bearer of bad news, and is on a quest to smite those who commit all and any minor by-law and traffic infractions. He’s also sometimes generous, and this afternoon left for us, without a word of explanation, this little red wagon.

Being Human

Topics I’ve been meaning to cover …

The way our neighbours and friends are bringing us food regularly, and what an amazing mental boost that has been (not to mention being good practical help, too). I meant to photograph us enjoying each meal, but my good intentions got lost in the whirr activity–the thought seems only to occur to me to AFTER supper. Dirty dishes = not a compelling, or (sadly) original, subject.

The way I always need to learn things the hard way–why is that? The easy way would be so much … easier.

The way, immediately following a moment of self-congratulation, I do something that reminds me how ridiculously human I am. Fallible, weak, BITCHY. Pardon the swear, but no other word quite sums up my Being today. I am so growly, so irritable, so lacking in patience, I’m even getting on my own nerves. Heh. Thankfully, the weather turned sunny again today, and after hauling three children to the grocery store, I arrived home and observed to my husband that the day was gorgeous and that my children, lovely as they are, were driving me insane, and he kindly suggested that he could take them all out to the backyard to play. CJ loves being outdoors. He would live out there full-time if we’d let him. The others agreed to give the great outdoors a shot, too, and that’s where they’ve spent the last few hours. I stayed inside and cooked; which is almost a novelty, thanks to our kind friends and neighbours; and seems to have improved my humour.

Kevin’s leg continues to heal incrementally. He gets around on it amazingly well. On April 20th, he’ll go back for more xrays, and will possibly get the splint off at that point, and begin rehab–if the bone’s all healed. He is definitely much more tired at the end of the day than we are used to. But that’s one of the things I’ve gotten to learn the hard way in the past month–I can get up early! Not only that, I actually like being the first person puttering around the house, and it’s given me a few minutes of quiet and calm to start my day.

Life. Difficulty = richness = damn hard = good. (If this doesn’t seem to add up, forgive me; math was never my strongest subject).

Brought to you by the letter “P”

Emergency cup of hot tea. Quiet time. Blessed quiet time.

There may have been a time when food did not occupy the better part of my day, but that was when I was singular rather than plural. I still startle when hearing us referred to as a “family of six,” but that is what we are, and families of six eat lots, and have multiple preferences and dislikes and needs. I need tofu fried with mushrooms, for example. (Okay, need may be too strong a word, but sometimes it feels that way). Several of us require muffins or other lunch-box-friendly items. One of us has no teeth, another loathes potatoes in any form but mashed. Et cetera, et cetera. I also cook almost everything from scratch, and work in principle around a local food diet. So it turns out that designing a daily/weekly/monthly menu based on these variables requires at least one member of the family to be pondering and planning virtually non-stop. Even in the middle of the night. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

On Sunday, we were unexpectedly and generously gifted a pile of organic, purple carrots, which instantly became this week’s local food theme. This morning, whilst grating several pounds thereof toward turning them into almost-assuredly-delicious soups and casseroles, I questioned my philosophical rejection of The Food Processor. Which is dimly related to another appliance rejected on philosophical grounds: The Microwave. Oh, and also: The Dishwasher. I’ve also nearly, but not quite, rid us of our reliance on: The Drier. I claim no moral highground for any of these rejections, but do claim these purple-stained palms.

Part of all this meal planning has to do with a simple goal: I enjoy getting out, on my own, on occasion. And sometimes more than just on occasion. So a walk with a friend after supper becomes a goal toward which an entire day is aimed with precision (not to say that the rest of the day doesn’t offer many pleasures and interludes, just that this goal would never be achieved were it not for all the thinking about … food!). Yes. Food. The hour between arrival home from school and suppertime is the most critical of the day. In that hour, I prepare tomorrow’s lunches, and supper. Usually while nursing, supervising homework and playdates, feeding starving children snacks (and myself, too; that sneakily devoured piece of bitter chocolate), listening to the radio, and generally putting every last scrap of multi-tasking talent to the test. The success of that hour is brought to you by the letter P. Prepwork. Planning.

Trying to think of more p-words. No not that one, thank you Albus. No, not that one either. Please.

This happy cup of tea and blog-session has preceded my least favourite hour of the week, upon which I shall now embark with improved spirits and renewed optimism: the hour during which I entertain an eleven-month-old freshly woken from his nap in an empty hallway outside his sister’s music class. Happy Tuesday!

Least Favourite Hour

I’ve become frantically reaquainted with my least favourite time of day this past week; that being, the hour or so between arriving home from school and suppertime. Kevin isn’t home, the big kids are wound up from their days away, F has been craving her siblings’ attention all day, and baby CJ becomes a little monkey child and desires utter attachment to his mama. We walk through that front door, and it’s a shambles of work and chaos for the next hour or more, till Kevin arrives and I drag baby CJ out of the sling and pass him off. I use that hour to go through school bags for forms to be filled out (and money requested; I picture School like a giant maw, always hungry); to empty lunch boxes; to make the next day’s lunch; and to start supper. Of course, in the midst of that work, I’m also trying to organize happy play (outside! go outside!), reprimand bad talk (why do they come home with the desire to say mean things to each other??), discover tidbits about the day (why a particular lunch item is untouched), and on and on.

Yesterday was this gorgeous warm afternoon, and all I really wanted was to go outside and lie on a blanket with baby CJ, who loves the outdoors, and watch the kids run around and play. They did go swing in their hammocks happily; but I couldn’t lose that hour. The work needed to be done. Supper has to be eaten. Lunches have to be made. After-supper chores await. And if I don’t get into those bags as soon as we walk through the door, I lose track of the forms, the library books, the squashed sandwiches; quite frankly, I forget otherwise, the contents of those bags disappears from my consciousness, and then I’m confronted with surprises early the next morning, which is not a time of day when I’m good with surprises.

I’m a pretty organized person. Maybe I just need to get my head around re-organizing that hour, structuring my time differently, so that I can spend that hour really with the kids, not shouting from the sidelines. Or maybe I just need to accept that thus it shall be …

But playgroup this morning was really really fun!!! I have been missing that weekly dose of adult conversation. It feels more relaxed without having to race off for half-day kindergarden, too. And I’m very well-caffeinated.

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