All Together in the Kitchen

Dirt Magazine, Family, Kitchen

Right before the beginning of the school year, a friend and I got together to cook up eight gallons of chili. The pot was big enough to fit one, maybe both, of my kids — a holdover from Linda’s years in catering.

Just that morning I was trying to get a few kitchen tasks out of the way, while my kids made each other miserable and the floor a mess. I was trying to do seven things at once, which meant that I left my coffee cup in the laundry room, a pot burning on the stove, and when I ran down to the basement I couldn’t remember what I was there to get. I was caught in a web of negative thoughts and miserable.

So imagine my surprise four hours later when I was singing to Old Crow Medicine Show and chopping 10 pounds of carrots, feeling happy and relaxed in Linda’s kitchen. The to-do lists were out of my mind and I was focused on our task at hand. We got a few other things cooked up while our kids played inside and outside. We were trying to get ahead on our meal planning and we froze quarts of chili for weeknight meals. This has to become a monthly ritual, we agreed (secretly hoping we could do it more frequently).

Then, a week later, another friend came to my house (with two kids in tow) and we made granola and some sauces in preparation for Dirt’s Eat Local Challenge. It was just as much fun — kids playing, mamas chatting while we worked, a satisfying stack of prepared food for the week. While Linda and I were cooking, she remembered the tamales of her childhood — one of her favorite holiday foods and made by a kitchen full of family. In my family, we celebrated Shabbat with a special meal every Friday. But my mother never liked cooking, and while we had a full table, the kitchen was often empty but for my mother.

I have been in a kitchen slump all summer — I expected the fresh fruits and veggies of summer would save me from it, but it was company I needed. Adult company, to be precise. Our time together felt more like a holiday, more like a celebration of food, and I went home with a head start on our meals for the month.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, Nov/Dec 2017

Slow Down Snacks

Dirt Magazine, Family, Kitchen

In the midst of summer days, whether yours are full or free, there comes a time when it’s too hot and muggy to move. My kids forget that stopping is an option, and they just get cranky instead. I try to help them shift the pace and quiet down by serving ‘slow snacks,’ or snacks that require a little extra effort on their part. Some assembly required, as it were.

One of our favorite summer snacks is radish slices with butter and a sprinkle of salt. I put out radish slices, a small knife, a pat of butter, and salt (my younger kid can’t be trusted with salt, so I might just put a pinch or two on the plate). They spread butter on a radish, sprinkle salt and put a second radish on top to make a tiny sandwich. I have won over radish haters when it comes in the form of a doll sandwich.

Other favorites are apples and nut butter (can be done as sandwiches as well), cucumbers, dill sprig and soft cheese (goat cheese or even cream cheese works). I know it sounds crazy to serve kids as if it were high tea, but if they can assemble the sandwiches themselves – and you have to trust them a bit to do it – it brings their focus to the food and the process. No need to get out a mandolin to prepare these snacks, just cut the fruit or veggies about a quarter inch thick, put them on a tray with a small bowl of the filling, and a knife for spreading.

Even putting out a bowl of peanuts in the shell can keep the kids busy for a few minutes. We gave my five-year-old a heavy-duty nutcracker for Channukah this past year, and the winter was filled with cracking walnuts, some of which he harvested from our black walnut tree. Yes, there was a lot to sweep up afterwards, but the process makes every nut, released from its shell, a treasure. And since we have some nuts left, my little squirrel children can move it outside for summer.

A snack of radishes, butter and salt.
Radishes, butter and salt: snacking in the garden.

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, June/July 2017

Relax, and let the kids into the garden

Dirt Magazine, Family, Plants
Two young, blonde-haired kids, sitting in a garden bed.

My children start “helping” in the garden in February. Before I order seeds, I go through my box of seeds from previous years. As soon as they hear the rattle of the seed packs, my kids want to do some planting. So we go to the basement and as I sort, I hand off the seed packs that I deem too old or unlikely to get space in the garden. My two boys enthusiastically plant these castaways in pots and these seedlings get the place of honor in our sunny window. There they grow and die, and then they make way for the ground cherries, broccoli, and tomato starts.

You can imagine their excitement when it comes time to actually play outside, in the soil. They are eager with their shovels and generous with their seed spreading — one seed every four inches becomes four seeds every inch. Heck, last year someone seeded the entire radish pack in one fell swoop. Whoops.

Clearly, they have both earned themselves a garden plot of their own. They can plant what they want, then can tend and decorate it as they please. My 6-year-old always has plans bigger than his plot, but we figure it out. I remind him that there will be another patch of green beans just six feet away, so he is welcome to snack on those, too. Three years ago that same kid planted some eggplant seedlings in our dirt pile (the one he plays in). I planted four of those same seedlings in the garden, which is encircled by a seven-foot fence. Guess whose plants were eaten by aphids?

And my son’s plants? The ones that were six feet from our driveway, open to chickens, deer, groundhogs and rabbits? His plants produced half a dozen gorgeous looking eggplants. And, as kids are wont to do, he picked them when they were only four inches long, wanted me to make them for lunch right away, and then remembered that he didn’t really like eggplant.

But who can complain, it’s his garden plot, his harvest, I ate them up and sent my compliments to the farmer. Boy was he proud.

The kids’ gardens are now in the big garden, right in the raised beds. It’s hard to share space when it never feels like there’s enough of it. But I know that they will want to run out every morning to check on their peas or watermelons, even if it means I have to plant fewer cucumbers or zinnias. As Ben Hewitt, a homestead writer, has said, “Relax. Lower your expectations. You’re not just growing a garden. You’re growing little people. One is just slightly more important that the other.”

Originally published in Dirt Magazine, April/May 2017