Awfully Delicious…

We’ve started Sunday Night Waffles at our house!  B. calls them “awfuls”, but they are so, so good.

When I was a kid, we almost always had waffles on Sunday night. I don’t know how the tradition began, but it’s one of my favorite family food traditions. My dad and step-mom are pretty evenly matched in the waffle chef category, so maybe it was a good meal for them to cook together – I’ll have to ask them. They have a special recipe, that’s not really a recipe, but relies on the perfect proportion of liquids to solids, and a lot of beaten egg whites carefully stirred in at the very end.

We’ve been using a modified recipe from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook. I like waffles because the recipe is pretty forgiving – you can add and subtract ingredients and still come up with something edible. Here’s the basic recipe we follow:

Mix together:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Make a big volcano crater in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the following into the crater:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup oil or melted butter
  • 2 eggs

Then we mix in a cup or so of frozen blueberries. Cook ’em up – however it works best for you!

To make them lighter and fluffier, you could separate the egg whites and whip them up separately, then fold the whipped whites into the batter at the very end. We didn’t do that last night, but the waffles were still delish.

The thing I learned last night when we cooked, was that I could keep the kitchen peace by giving B. her own bowl. We poured the main ingredients into the big bowl that S. stirred, and then we poured very small amounts of the same ingredients (except the eggs) into another bowl for B. Then she could stir to her heart’s content, and taste it, without worrying about salmonella.

So in the end, it was a 5-star night, which is why we might be having waffles every Sunday night from now on!

I’ve asked before about the traditions you’d like to break, but what are the food traditions that you’d like to keep?

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Back to the Books

We check out a lot of library books in our family. It’s no surprise that even on a project like Family Meals, books are our default for information and exploration.

We started the month by looking at some cookbooks that were written specifically for kids. I definitely have a bias against children’s books (cookbook or otherwise) that talk down to children, or that rely too heavily on cuteness and novelty. If we want to truly see children as competent and capable people, we have to stop assuming that they’ll only be interested in dumb cartoons (not to be confused with smart cartoons and comics, which do exist!).

That doesn’t mean that we’re anti-pop-culture either. At our house, we do read books about Batman, Star Wars, Disney characters, and yes, even that poor vilified Sponge Bob, from time to time. But for the Family Meals project, I didn’t want to just rely on ‘kids’ cookbooks to engage the kids in the process.

We went to the library and got a stack of really cool photo-based cookbooks, that showed lots of gorgeous shots of food and chefs. It turns out that these books are the heaviest books made. It’s something about the paper they need for printing all of those glossy color photos. S. and I both got an extra arm workout that day, just walking from the library to the car. But the book about elBulli and Ferran Adria was totally worth it!

We also found some interesting photo-based titles in the children’s section. The two we liked best were Fast Food by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann, and The Secret Life of Food by Clare Crespo. I thought the DK (Dorling-Kindersley) books were going to be popular, but they almost had too much information, and the page layouts are really busy. It turned out to be food for thought for me – thinking about children’s book design…

It was fun to bring our finds home- we all ended up flipping through the pages and dreaming about amazing food. Library books are the ultimate, inexpensive ‘provocations’, that keep us inspired in our mission to cook and eat good food together. These were some of our favorites this week:

Colorado Organic by Mindy Sink

A Day at elBulli by Ferran Adria

Jamie’s Kitchen by Jamie Oliver

The One Block Feast by Margo True and Sunset Magazine Staff

Any titles you’d add?

Breakfast? I could use a little brekkie…

About once a month we make our best breakfast – Puffy Pancakes. B. helped me stir these up this morning, so I didn’t get any photos of actually making them, just the finished pancake.

Some people call this a Dutch Baby or a German Pancake. It’s a super easy recipe, and once it’s is the oven, you can just sit and drink your coffee. Or play Legos.

The recipe we use is from The Joy of Cooking. We used to make a single recipe in a dutch oven, but now we have a lot of good eaters, so we double it and bake it in a 9 x 13 pyrex dish.  The quantities below are for the double recipe. We also use less butter than the original recipe, and it turns out fine.

Dutch Baby

Preheat the over to 425 F

Whisk together until smooth:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs (room temperature)

Melt (in the preheating oven) in a 9×13 baking dish:

  • 2 Tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
When the butter is melted, take the pan out of the oven and make sure the butter covers the bottom of the entire dish. Pour in the pancake batter and return to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

The best part about Puffy Pancakes is the puff! The oven has to be hot enough, and it doesn’t stay puffy for long, so be sure to  catch the show when 15 minutes is up.

You can also add fruit to the batter, but it sometimes can make the pancake gooey. We usually just put berries on top of the finished pancake.

Yo, where’s the Reggio?

This week someone who I really trust told me that I shouldn’t have given up the old Yo-Yo Reggio blog. It wasn’t B., though she does look pretty mad about it all in the photo above.

The gist of the conversation was that it seems like I’ve abandoned our Reggio-inspired focus – basically selling out to the quotidian world of dish pan ratings and food choices (but I really wasn’t paid a dime for writing that last post about dish pans, I promise!). I guess I have to respectfully disagree.

The Reggio-inspired influence is still alive and well – in our hearts and in our home. And maybe someday I’ll return to a more focused approach on Y0-Yo Reggio – blogger is doing a fine job of holding my place for now.

As the idea of the Family Lab grew, I knew that I wanted to write about Reggio-inspired ideas in our home, as I’ve been doing for several years, but I wanted to keep my mind open to many approaches to parenting, learning, and play.

Choosing a guiding theme each month isn’t particularly Reggio-inspired, I’ll be the first to admit. They’re themes that are important to our whole family, but ultimately, I made the choice of which themes we would try to focus on each month. If S. were to choose the monthly topics, we’d be writing about Legos, every month. That could be a great blog too, of course – so if he ever wants to start a Lego blog, I’ll support him all the way.

In the meantime, our meal time inquiry and play continues. Tonight the kids helped me make guacamole when we got home, and B. was thrilled to wear the new apron that Aunty D. sent in the mail.

 

So what’s your opinion? Do you still see some Reggio-inspired goodness, in the FLIP project?

$2.99 Well Spent

I love those tiny, seemingly insignificant changes, that make all the difference in your day-to-day life. In this case, it’s just a $2.99 plastic dish pan. I’d been meaning to buy one for years, but I kept putting it off. Which doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what happened.

Finally, M. picked one up for me a few weeks ago. What’s the big deal? It was like, three bucks.

You’re probably a better housekeeper than I am, and you’ve probably been doing the dish pan/soapy water trick since you were about two-years-old, but I seriously just started, this month. I know you’ve read this advice before – it’s so ridiculously simple – fill the dish pan with hot, soapy water while you’re cooking. Keep putting dirty dishes in as you cook. Put your dinner dishes in too, if they’ll fit. Then, dishes and clean up are so much easier. There’s not much more I can say!

Except that washing dishes was like a mini-water-therapy session for B. tonight. I really didn’t think I’d be writing about how fun and awesome clean up time is becoming around here.

What’s one tiny change you’ve made, that’s made a surprisingly big difference in your life?

 

22 Days, 22 Links

They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit. Here we are, 22 days in to building our family meals habit, and for the most part it’s sticking. Despite the occasional bouts of grousing, we’re eating together each night. And we plan to stick with the habit past the month of January, keeping it flexible, of course.

In honor of 22 days of eating our evening meals together, here are 22 hopefully-helpful-links, loosely related to family meals, in no particular order.

Organization/Systems

  • Simple Momthe resource for all topics related to families and simplifying your life! The founder, Tsh Oxenreider is also the author of Simply Organized, and a fabulous e-book called One Bite at a Time
  • Fly Lady – I started reading Fly Lady when S. was a newborn – the basic organizing principles she presents have really helped us over past five years – we don’t follow them perfectly, but we do aim for a somewhat-shiny kitchen sink each night, and minimal clutter around the house.

Web-Sites with Great Recipes/Menu Planning

Books/Cookbooks

Movies About Eating (that may or may not include families) 

No commentary on these choices tonight – maybe that’ll be for a future post…

  • Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
  • Big Night
  • Julie and Julia
  • Eat, Pray, Love 
  • Mostly Martha
  • Ratatouille
  • Chocolat
  • Under the Tuscan Sun

 

What great web-sites, blogs, books, and movies would you add?

The Introvert’s Table

I’ve been thinking a lot about introverts and extroverts this week. Half of our family began to rebel against family meals, sometime mid-week (those who didn’t enjoy having family meals this week shall remain anonymous). I’d say that three of the four of us are pretty introverted, so I began to wonder if the griping about family meals could be related to introversion. As I’ve mentioned before, during the week our days feel long – jobs, school and child care put us in touch with lots and lots of people. Even if you’re an introvert, you still have to get out there and be in the world – at least with the way our life is currently set up (I did send in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse packet – I’ll keep you posted).

So when most introverts get home from eight hours of interacting with other people, they kind of just want to be alone for a while. I wonder if most of the people talking up the importance of family meals are extroverts? I also wonder if screen time is a secret escape for some introverts – if I stare intently at this screen, I can be ‘alone’ for a few minutes, even when I’m surrounded by people. I used to beg my Dad to let me read at the table – my own version of screen time. I’m sure there are sociologists and psychologists out there with excellent theories about this type of thing – I’m looking forward to reading a book about introversion called Quiet by Susan Cain – it’ll be released later this month.

Anyway, we’re not going to stop eating together (not even when January is done), but the introvert’s perspective has made us re-think how meals can best work for our family. The two main things we’ve figured out this month:

1. We don’t have to eat right when we get home. The appetizer tactic is working pretty well – this gives all of us a little more time to settle in and recharge.

2. It works better for us to have special evening meals on the weekends or other days without work or school. On these days we usually still have some social energy left by 6 pm! We’re going to stick with simple meals on weekdays, and it’s okay if everyone doesn’t make it to the table at exactly the same time.

What’s the balance of extroversion and introversion in your family? How do you think it affects your family meals? 

Chaos and Control

Last month, I made a rough outline of some of the topics related to family meals that we might write about this month. It was nice to have some guiding ideas down on paper, but I knew that real life would probably take us in different directions.

I thought we’d write for a few days about making a beautiful table, but we’ve already discovered that perfect place settings aren’t that important to us. The photo above is a typical view of our dining room table. The bowls of oranges are practical – they’re on sale right now, and it’s a snack that the kids can reach and prepare themselves.When it’s time to eat, we usually clear off the toys and books – straight to the built-in shelf in the background. Because that’s what built-ins were made for, right?

Martha Stewart-style dining room tables are great, but our table rarely gets that dressed up these days. The best word to describe our table is utilitarian. It’s a busy, hard working table, just like us. We live with a fair amount of chaos, but it’s a happy, comfortable chaos. And I’m sure that Martha’s table is happy and comfortable in it’s own way – there’s not one right way to do dining room tables.

What’s your table like? How much chaos can you live with? How much control do you think you need?

 

Balance

I’ve read a few beginning-of-the-year blog posts about ‘choosing your word’ for 2012, and I think it’s a great idea. I just wasn’t finding a word that could really sum up my dreams and aspirations for an entire year.

After traveling, by myself, this past weekend, I finally found my word – balance.

Now that I’ve chosen it, I feel like repeating it ten thousand times – balance, balance, balance, Balance! Now it’s sounding sort of strange, but I’m still sticking with balance.

By leaving our normal, day-to-day routine, I was finally able to see just how out of balance I’ve been lately. We always have moments of joy around here, but my default mode kept rocketing back to this low-level of stress, annoyance and exhaustion. It was only time and distance that could help me see some of the not-so-useful habits I’d fallen into at home. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’ll give you one representative example – because I feel guilty about working full time, I’d often end up holding B. in my arms while cooking each night. She’s almost two, and weighs about twenty-five pounds- sounds like a bad idea, right? But I didn’t want to put her down and let her cry for even a moment (because I’d been gone all day) – so there we were, sweating in the hot kitchen, me cooking one-handed; stress, annoyance, and exhaustion epitomized.

My absence helped everyone become more independent. The three of them enjoyed themselves immensely. B. started sleeping through the night. S. stepped up to the plate and helped his dad with anything he needed. It went so well, that my husband is hoping to send me away more often, and I’m up for that. I’m a mom and a wife, but I’m also Elise. Balance is being restored.

Even though this post isn’t completely about family meals, it does all tie together. I can find a balance between having aspirations about our meals and just going with the flow and enjoying the process, no matter the outcome. The same goes for blogging and writing – I realized that even though I want to post everyday, sometimes it won’t happen, and that’s okay. Balance.

Our meal tonight was simple, balanced, and happened to get the elusive five-star rating. It was an improvised soup – purple onions, green onions, chicken broth, coconut milk, carrots, rice noodles, edamame beans and shrimp. We slurped the noodles and got broth all over the place – perfect.

 

How do you balance the competing forces in your life? When you get out of balance, what can bring you back to center?