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!

 

The Ravioli from Hell

The scene was grim. Surely anyone passing by our house would have thought I was murdering my son. My hands dripping red, my son screaming in pitches so high dog whistles would be put to shame and little red hand streaks strewn across the walls and doors.

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But no, this was just a scene from our recent experience with The Ravioli from Hell.

Let me explain further:

Have you ever thought about making that complicated, multi-step, several-hour dish you’ve been dreaming of the day after a 14 hour international flight while you’re alone with an angry little toddler? Yeah, me too!

Words of wisdom: Don’t do it. Run far, far away from that awful idea. In fact, run all the way to the frozen pizza aisle and don’t look back.

Should you need further convincing, I share with you the following story.

While in Mexico I spotted a recipe for Beet Ravioli. The gorgeous color, the scrumptious filling, the imagined taste. I immediately fell in love and decided I HAD to make this. I even went so far as to buy a ravioli maker just for the occasion. Since we’d been in Mexico for so long, I was desperate to get my hands dirty in a new dish and decided that this Beet Ravioli would be THE dish.

How wrong I was.

Several problems. First, this dish takes like 3 hours ( not consecutive albeit) to complete at best. Add the additional time a toddler tacks on and were somewhere around 5 hours. Secondly, I’ve never made ravioli before. Thirdly,  I suck at following recipes. Lastly, this was a Monday. Which meant I was alone, taking care of a toddler, and trying to work at my actual job while trying to make this “dinner”.

And to top it all off, Toddlerzilla was in the house. Who is Toddlerzilla you ask? My son between the approximate hours of 3-5 PM. No matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the circumstances; when my son wakes up from his afternoon nap he is in the kind of mood that can only be described as a cross between a starving great white shark and an angry silverback gorilla who has a propensity for hysterical sobbing and need to be carried.

And this goes on for hours.

Since clearly the environment was oh-so-conducive to cooking this dish, I plunged full steam ahead deciding it was best for little Fig to start washing veggies.

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All was going ok until it was time for the dough. Oh this god forsaken dough. I don’t know how I screwed this up, but I did. Big time. After letting it “rest” for the allotted time, I laid it out to roll into thin sheets only to find it was no longer dough and instead a hostile and violent version of Flubber ( if you haven’t seen the movie Flubber google it). It was so sticky and thick, I actually started to feel my hands go numb from loss of circulation due to the weight of handling it. And the mess, oh god, the mess. The red hued demon dough was everywhere.

Around this time, I hear my son start whaling and screaming at me to pick him ” UP UPS!!!!”. After explaining I was a bit occupied, I set him up with a little dough rolling station hoping that would buy me some much needed time to whip this dough into shape.

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Even Fig is suspicious of this dough.

Giving Fig the dough was an epically bad idea since beets stain red. He was cool with this activity for about 5 minutes before deciding he’d much rather scream and sob his head off while running around staining the walls red.

It occurred it to me that the police might show up at any minute. Between the hysterical screaming of my two year old, my beet stained body, and his little red hand prints up and down the walls; clearly some form of crime was taking place.

I was about ready to throw everything in the trash when I decided to improvise. The thought occurred to me that maybe between the desperate toddler, the complete pig sty of my house, and my waning patience that perhaps I might hit upon a stroke of genius. Maybe, just maybe, I would create something so delicious and revolutionary, it would be noted throughout the ages and remembered for epochs to come!

Nope. A big fat NO.

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What resulted can only be described as Obese Open Faced Ravioli that tasted like a cross between a stale cow patty and dirt with just a  hint of beet. The dish was so utterly bad that my tongue still burns with the horrificness of its flavor. *

So, take it from me: Save the extreme kitchen experimenting for those blessed days without tiny munchkins and whatever you do, don’t turn your back on a baby with beets.

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Hard as a rock with a flavor like dirt!

To the Mexican Market with a Toddler in Tow

Mamey sapote

I’ll admit that cooking and shopping in Mexico is so much harder, especially when you have little kids.

Stretching to prepare for the market!

Stretching to prepare for the market!

The Market down the street from where we are staying

The Market down the street from where we are staying

Firstly, you simply don’t find the same kind of produce or other grocery items that are readily available in the USA, so my meal plans for the weeks are pretty much useless.

Secondly, most everything we buy in the US is organic or from farmers markets that don’t use pesticides. In mexico, organic agriculture isn’t nearly as big as it is in the USA. You can find little things here and there, but the selection is pretty small. Even the organic/local store ( which takes a billion years to get to from where we are) has just a tiny selection of produce.  I’ve been using the Pesticide Action Network’s “Clean 15” vegetable guide, but it’s pretty limiting when you’re trying to cook.

Thirdly, the traffic. Oh, the traffic. The traffic in Mexico City is really something else. No joke, 20 miles can take 2 hours in some parts of the city. And in rush hour? FORGETABOUTIT! Fig has a carseat tolerance threshold of about 20 minutes ( on a good day) and driving around to locate certain ingredients just isn’t going to happen.

Fourthly, while I consider myself somewhat vegetable literate, 1/2 of what I see in these markets I have no clue how to prepare. And since toddlers are already the pickiest people on the planet, makes preparing these unknown veggies even more difficult.

Inspecting our Loot

Inspecting our Loot

So for these next few weeks, I basically resigned myself to shop at the local market down the street, buy whatever looks appealing and then wing it in the kitchen. So far, we’ve had a few epic disasters. One of which involved a green chayote which, for the record, is much easier to digest when cooked. Please don’t eat it raw unless you want to remain incapacitated for the remainder of the day.

The suspect Chayote!

The suspect Chayote!

But, meh, what can you do. At least there is fruit and we’ve been eating far too much of it. I think Fig ate about 7 guavas today, could be more, I’ve lost count.

Either way, we’ve had a few successful toddler made and approved meals here in Mexico which will make their way to the blog sooner or later. In the mean time, you’ll find me back in the kitchen wondering how I can entice Fig to eat the cactuses I recently aquired-wish me luck!

Fruit

Zapotes!

Mangos

Lychees!

Lychees!

Tunas ( or favorite!)

Tunas ( or favorite!)

Corn

Nopales

Nopales, edible cactus.

peppers

onions

Celebrating Summer Solstice with Young Children

MidsummerHonoring the earth and seasons through our actions is something I hope to consciously bring to our family life. I want our children to be aware of the leaves turning, the snow falling, and the days growing longer. Just as important are the smaller, less dramatic changes of our mother earth; The crickets chirping, the river’s swell, the mushroom blooms.

One of the easiest ways to celebrate these wonderful rhythms are through festivals. Festivals, which I’ve come to learn in my rather brief time as somebody’s mom, is something little kids enjoy immensely. And who could blame them? Running wild in the green grass with a bowl of nectarines; basking in the glow of the warm summer sunshine. These are the moments of childhood.

And since I love food, festivals provide an exciting opportunity to highlight the deliciousness of the current season.

So, our little family, found ourselves celebrating our first Summer Solstice picnic.IMG_8917

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What happens when you give a two year old a bowl of nectarines.

The food was simple. Mostly fresh, raw ingredients of the seasons. Nothing that couldn’t be done in the 30 minutes before we left for our picnic. The point was to celebrate the summer and the ease that comes with the season.

Our happy little toddler ran through the field coming back only to refill on fruit before venturing off to explore new places and spaces. He truly embodied the wonderfulness of summer.

Lemon Tahini Chard Salad

Lemon Tahini Chard Salad

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Fresh solar infused Jamaica Tea

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The tree that sheltered us from the sun

The tree that sheltered us from the sun

Of course, like all good things, the celebration ended due to a much needed nap. The fun of the day has lingered with us and will carry us through the beginning of the warm and sunny days to come.

Happy Midsummer to you! We look forward to sharing the bounty of summer and all the wonderful gifts the season brings.

 

 

 

Grocery Shopping with Toddlers

Grocery Shopping. If you have kids, that phrase might be enough to make you shutter. Between that and “road trip” or ” airplane ride”, it elicits a similar type of full body shutter. When my son was a baby, it was pretty easy to take him shopping. Now that he’s a toddler, he isn’t too fond of the idea of being constricted in the cart, especially with all the activity buzzing around him. If its grape season, all hell might break loose when he spots them.

 

Our local Co-OP

Our local Co-OP

 

 

In fact, now that he’s nearly two, we’ve had an increasingly scary amount of hair-raising grocery incidents that make me question the meaning of life and why I don’t preemptively medicate before embarking on a shopping trip. In fact, a recent trip left me with what I am confident were ulcers. I called my husband frantic from the car saying I was never, ever, not in a million years taking our son shopping with me again.

I was pretty content in this decision until I started thinking about a story my husband had told me combined with my own experiences of childhood. We are both the product of healthy parents who made it a point to cook nutritious meals every single day despite both of our mothers working full time. They also made it a point to involve us in the “gathering of food”.  My husband, from Mexico, remembers going to the bread shop, the egg vendor, the farmers market, and the little tiendas to acquire what was needed to prepare the week’s meal.

There is something to be said about involving your kids in the entire process of eating. From picking those mint sprigs off a backyard porch, to collecting blueberries at the local farm, to systematically going through each stand at the farmers market, and to organizing a list and marching through the aisles of a store.

 

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Helping to put away the fruit

Preparing a list of what we’ll eat and what we need to buy every Saturday morning while my son doodles all over the notebook pages has become a sort of family tradition.

And it’s those traditions that are the start of a family food culture that will stay with your little one as they grow.