Cooking with Toddlers: The Messy Aftermath

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Until I started cooking with Fig I never fully grasped the real meaning of a mess. I don’t mean the kind of mess than can be solved with a bit of tidying up. No I mean, the walls must be scrubbed and the dog washed kind of mess. The kind of mess that makes you question why you even did this in the first place.

I have this thought regularly. Fig really excels in the mess-making department.

His penchant for mess making is further exasperated by his burgeoning listening skills. And when I say burgeoning , I really mean non-existent but we’re-working-on-it listening skills. He basically listens to 5% of what I tell him.

Just the other day we had poured a healthy amount of coconut oil and maple syrup over the oats we were preparing for granola.

” I need to grab a spoon; please don’t stick your hands in the mix”. I turn the corner and on cue, hear him stick his hands in the mixture….and then the scream.

There was a trash truck on our street. Ever see a thirteen year old girl at a One Direction concert (hands go up the air, uncontrollable shrieking and full body convulsions take over)? That is pretty much Fig’s reaction when he see’s a trash truck.

The next 45 minutes were spent scrubbing maple syrup off the walls, out of Fig’s hair, from the couch and off the window that he had smashed himself against trying to get a better look at the truck.

It was two hours later, when I went to sit on the couch, did I realize I had indeed missed a spot. The 6 billion ants that had swarmed on a drop of maple syrup tipped me off.

Twas the mess that kept on giving.

Some days go really smooth but if you cook with little folks long enough you’ll surely experience apocalyptic messes. It is just an inevitable part of teaching children about food. If you’re cooking real food there will be a real mess.

 Reducing the Mess

  • Do food prep outside. Weather permitting, I try to do anything with big-mess potential outside. The squirrels and birds thank us.

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  • Have a plan before inviting your little one into the kitchen. I’ve let Fig join in nilly willy and paid for it dearly. Doing prep work and figuring out where/when to invite a toddler into the kitchen will save you a lot of mess and stress.
  • Put an apron on them: There is nothing worse than scrubbing your kitchen AND your toddler from head-to-toe. An apron can save you a load of laundry.

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  • Clean as you go: In my pre-baby days I used to have 45 bags, jars and packages of things out on the counter as I cooked. The more exciting things on the counter the harder it will be for a little one not to dump them all out. Minimize the temptation.
  • That being said, Make sure you have all the ingredients handy. Leaving a toddler unattended for even a split second can end up badly. I make sure I have most of what we’ll be using on the adjacent counter; easy enough to reach when needed but far enough away from curious hands.
  • Leverage your Dog: Assuming that what you’re cooking is good for dogs; a little pooch can help mitigate the mess. Our dog Mafalda comes in especially handy when we are working with peas.

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  •  And finally, involve your toddler in the clean up. It is much quicker to simply send little ones out to play after they’ve wreaked havoc in your kitchen but I think involving kids in the tidying up process is equally important as the activity that created the mess in the first place. At two, Fig can easily help with dishes, light sweeping of the floors, and washing the counters.

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Happy cooking!

 

Cooking with Toddlers: Blue Corn Fish Tacos with Mandarin and Grapefruit Salsa

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Toddler hands. Honestly, I’m a little freaked out by them.  A quick 10 minute observation of Fig in the garden saw him digging in the worm bin, touching a random cat’s tail, finding a slug ( which brought into the house and promptly put on my pillow) and manhandling the bottom of his shoe.

Not exactly the kind of hand activity you want by the person who’s going to make dinner. I wash his hands better than a surgeon does but I’m still a little paranoid that I’m going to catch squirrel-ebola or some other remote disease from little Fig’s hands.

That being said sometimes you just gotta go with the flow, take the necessary sanitary precautions and make tacos. Fig likes fish tacos but he doesn’t love them. What he does love is thoroughly handling the expensive battered halibut and then not eating it.  You have to catch him in the right mood or else the tortilla will be eaten and little else. Which leaves you with $10 of inedible halibut unless of course you want to catch the aforementioned squirrel-ebola.

Enter Mandarin and Grapefruit Salsa and the problem is solved; at least for Fig. He loves a healthy dose of fruit and pretty much forgot the taco even contained fish.

And while I had the best intentions of making the tortillas and fish from scratch, those dreams were quickly thrown in the trash because it turned out to be one of those days. Pre-battered halibut from whole foods and tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtmal for the win!

Lastly, I want to thank my husband for moonlighting as my handsome hand model. It’s a hard job but somebody has to do it.

Mandarin and Grapefruit Salsa

  • 1 Large Grapefruit
  • 2 Mandarins (through in a few more for good measure since your child will eat them during the chopping process)
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • 1 green onion, diced.
  • Salt to Taste

Directions:

  • Take all the skin off the grapefruit wedges.
  • Chop the grapefruit and mandarins into small pieces
  • In a bowl, combine the chopped fruit, cilantro, onion and season with salt to taste.Mix well.

Toddler Friendly Parts of this Recipe:

  • Chopping the fruit
  • Mixing the Salsa
  • Testing the fruit as needed…you know, for safety reasons :)

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Cooking with Toddlers: Quinoa and Inca Berry Breakfast Bowl

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Our breakfasts’ are in need of some serious overhaul. They go something like this; oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, pancakes. Really exciting.

Don’t get me wrong oatmeal is awesome but it becomes a little ho hum, as Fig will tell you, if you’ve had it every day of your life for the past two years. I’ve been thinking about quinoa for quite some time and thought there might be some potential if dressed in oatmeal’s clothing; chia, inca berries, hemp, sunflower seeds, maple syrup and cinnamon.

Inca Berry, sometimes called Peruvian Ground Cherry, originates from the high altitude regions of peru. They are ridiculously expensive but equally delicious so we only buy them in very small quantities. If you can’t find any, cranberries or raisins will suffice just fine.

Fig was totally into building his own breakfast bowl since he got to put the fixings on himself. He’s really into mixing and pouring right now, so despite this being extraordinarily simple to set up, he had inordinate amounts of fun concocting his own little quinoa bowl.

Since this had the potential to create an epic mess ( think sunflower and hemp seed explosion) I let him build his bowl outside. This saves me a ton of time on cleanup and makes the process of cooking with toddlers a bit easier for all parties.

Later that day I saw a little bunny fufu hopping around the site, probably munching on some $15-a-pound Inca berries that were left in the quinoa-bowl-making wake. Eat well my little furry friend!

Quinoa and Incan Berry Breakfast Bowl

Serves 4

  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup of incan berries
  • 1/4 cup of hemp
  • 1/4 cup of almonds
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seed
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • Maple syrup to taste

In a bowl combine the quinoa with all the fixings and add your milk of choice.

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Foraging with Toddlers: Dandelion Flower Lemonade

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I started foraging when I was around 5. One day, after relentless hours were spent in search of food my sister and I finally struck the motherload; a batch of what we concluded to be wild onions. Big and bulbous we uncovered close to 15 “onions” and proceeded to hack them up with our shovels. We were backyard pioneers in search of nourishment after all.

“Gwaddddammitt girlsssss”. My mother appeared from the top balcony in near hysterics. Apparently we had not found wild onions but dahlia bulbs. Dahilas she had just planted that day and according to her, were very expensive. They now lay finely minced in a pile on the grass. Opppps.

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Despite mistaking dahlia bulbs for onions, I’ve never lost the thrill of foraging and it’s such a fun way to wile away a warm spring afternoon. Children, as I can personally attest to, love plucking things from the ground so it comes quite naturally to them.

Dandelions are probably one of the easiest plants to identify and forage safely with toddlers and they’re quite abundant. The flowers, leaves and root can all be used but its the flowers that caught Fig’s attention.

Our backyard is overflowing with the flowers so we don’t have to venture very far in search of them. I never forage in places where the plants could possibly be sprayed with chemicals, especially when I’m giving foraged food to my kids.

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Dandelion Flower Ice Tea:

Ingredients: 

  • Dandelion Flowers ( Thoroughly rinsed to avoid making lemonade with bugs)
  • Lemons
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Water

Directions 

  • There are no specific quantities listed above because nature is not like a grocery store and you may not be able to find exactly a cup of flowers. Generally, I would add two cups of water for every cup of dandelion flowers you have.
  • Lemons and sugar will be to taste. We had about three cups of dandelion flowers and used 5 lemons and 1/4 cup of sugar.
  • Combine flowers and water together. Place the jar in a warm sunny spot and let sit for a few hours.
  • Add the lemons and sugar. You can strain out the flowers at this point or leave them in. Chill for a few hours or serve at room temperature depending on your preference.

Toddler Friendly Parts of this Recipe:

  • Foraging for dandelion flowers
  • Rinsing leaves
  • Squeezing lemons
  • Mixing and stirring

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Cooking with Toddlers: Popcorn with Nutritional Yeast

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Fig and I have been making big plans for our garden. He thinks we should only grow flowers; dandelions to be exact. I take a more pragmatic approach, suggesting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. He’s been rather recalcitrant, as two year olds are often prone to, but I may have changed his mind after introducing him to popcorn. At least he’s open to growing a bit of zea mays now.

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To say the transformation of hard corn kernels into soft and airy delectable morsels blew Fig’s mind would be an understatement. Popcorn literally rocks his world now. The act of making popcorn is really a dramatic affair for a two year old when you get to thinking of it. Warming up the big cast iron pot with oil, waiting for those first few kernels to pop and then BAM all the kernels go pouring into the pot and pop, pop, pop, pop! After the popcorn was sufficiently popped, we waited in anticipation for it cool, sprinkled a bit of salt and nutritional yeast on it.

Fig was content to putz around the garden with a freshly popped batched of his corn. Sometimes cooking with toddlers is as easy as letting little ones get their hands on some corn seeds and watching a transformation happen.

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Chia Seed and Hazelnut Brittle

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Today was really the perfect day to make a nutty brittle given that my patience is brittle and I’m feeling pretty nutty.

There were so many things that went south today including a certain two year old who tried to kamikaze himself out of the stroller every 15 seconds during my run, or the baby who wouldn’t take a nap, or the toddler who was hell bent on destroying every plot at the community garden.

But it all pales in comparison to my little Fig, who on our walk home from the community garden, managed to pick up an entire pile of …brown stuff. This was no ordinary excrement mind you. Based on my visual inspection alone, I concluded this was the kind of dung that carries with it such rare afflictions as spongiform encephalopathy or tetanus. This was most certainly death poo.

Gripped with panic, I attempted to collect Fig and get him to soap and a sink asap. But oh no, little Fig did not want to leave and decided to employ his supremely effective and equally infuriating “jello-legs” tactic. This resulted in me pretty much dragging a limp and screaming two year old home by his shirt collar (with a baby one the other hip mind you) while garnering strange looks  by onlookers who clearly thought I was some sort of monster.

Upon reaching home I scrubbed his hands for a good 10 minutes and then decided that soap would simply not do. After all, this was death poo. After quickly realizing we had no rubbing alchohol, I decided that the next best thing was pinot grigio. While I’ve seen no studies on the effectiveness of pinot grigio on death poo germs, I’m pretty confident that my cocktail of wine, hand sanitizer and soap should kill everything in it’s wake.

But by the time I had procured and opened my bottle of reserved and aged germ-annihilating Pinot, Fig has managed to escape the bathroom and was outside half naked.

And this is how I found myself outside chasing a naked two year old, waving an open bottle of Pinot while screaming discombobulated sentences that included the words crap and wine and germs at my sweet little two year old.

I can only hope none of our neighbors were home.

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Chia Hazelnut and Pumpkin Seed Brittle

This can be sold as a dessert but works well as a snack since it’s not too sweet and loaded with goodness. This recipe serves about 5.

  • 1/4 cup of Chia Seed
  • 1/3  cup of crushed Hazelnut Seed
  • 1 cup of crushed Pumpkin Seed
  • 1/4 cup of Sunflower Seed
  • 1/4 cup of Maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup of Coconut Oil, melted.
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

  • Heat oven to 350 F.
  • Crush the hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds into small pieces. Combine in a large bowl with all other dry ingredients.
  • Melt the coconut oil in a pan.
  • Combine the coconut oil and maple syrup with the nut/seed mix. Stir well.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Spread mixture thinly on the paper and bake until golden brown. Every oven is a bit different so check frequently. It took ours around 18 minutes to be done.
  • Let cool and break into pieces.

Toddler Friendly Parts of this Recipe:

  • Crushing the seeds in plastic bags
  • Mixing the seed mixture
  • Spreading out the mixture on the baking sheet

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Sauerkraut with Toddlers

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When I was pregnant with Fig I craved onion, garlic, kimchi and sauerkraut. The most unholiest of combinations was my personal heaven. Bliss was a loaded garlic kimchi scooped directly from the jar and straight into my mouth. Our apartment also smelled like a dumpster.

I ate so much fermented goodness that it occurred to me I may have slightly fermented Fig in utero. It wouldn’t surprise me since Fig is a bit on the kooky side. Much like sauerkraut, Fig is deliciously bonkers but in the most wonderful way. You can tell something funky’s going on but you can’t help but go back for more.

I’ve been making sauerkraut for quite some time by myself. It recently dawned on me that kraut and toddlers are a match made in microbial heaven and that it was time Fig jump on the fermentation bandwagon with me. It’s fantastically simple to make and involves chopping, salting, massaging, and packing into jars, a sensory wonderland for little ones.

Fig helped me chop and was a huge fan of massaging the cabbage. There is nothing quite like submerging your hands and having your way with a bowl full of cabbage when you’re two. Packing it in the jar was also quite fun but I had to temper his enjoyment lest he broke the glass jar with his tamping vigor.

Basic Sauerkraut

I make my sauerkraut by taste nowadays. I sprinkle salt as I go and taste it rather than measure it out religiously. This was after I followed a poorly written recipe that was so salty I nearly mummified myself right on the spot. The general cabbage-to-salt ratio is 5:3. For every 5 pounds of cabbage you need 3 tablespoons of salt. Our family never makes it through 5 pounds of sauerkraut so I usually use one large cabbage ( which is around 2 pounds). That amount will fit nicely into a pint mason jar. You pretty much can’t go wrong if you follow Sandor Katz’s recipes. His book Wild Fermentation is a true gem and everything I’ve made from there has turned out delicious.

Directions:

  • Finely chop the cabbage.
  • Sprinkle salt on the cut cabbage and, with your hands, massage it very well to draw all the excess water out.
  • If you don’t have a fermentation crock, pack the cabbage into a mason jar. Pack as tightly as you can since this will help to draw the water out further. Cover the jar so that flies will stay away but it will be exposed to the air. I put a sprouting lid on our mason jars. A cloth will work just as well.
  • It’s important to keep the cabbage submerged in the salty water, the brine, completely while it’s in the mason jar. Because we don’t have a crock, I usually check on the kraut several times a day and just tamp it down when I see the cabbage emerging from the water line.
  • Check periodically after a few days. It should taste a little tangy by the third or fourth day, increasing in tanginess as time goes on.
  • After the kraut has fermented to my liking ( around a week or so), I put a lid on it and store in the fridge.
    • If you’re pregnant, you can enjoy a delicious batch of freshly fermented kraut on ice cream, a pb&j or in some granola. These are all time tested and pregnancy-approved ways to eat sauerkraut.
    • If you are not pregnant, you will most likely find the above suggestions repulsive and may find eating it on bread or crackers more to your liking-suit yourself but you only live once!

Our Favorite Fermentation Resources:

Wild Fermentation

Nourished Kitchen

On a final note, I’m sure there are those of you, probably with toddlers, wondering if Fig actually eats the kraut. He certainly ate quite a few cabbage leaves during the prep but he’s a little less enthusiastic about the kraut itself. While I was hoping he would turn into a pint sized fermento, I’m dismayed to report this has not happened. He will eat exactly one bite per my suggestion but that’s about it. I suppose one bite is better than no bites, so I’ll count it as a win.

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