Thursday, May 16, 2013

Toddlers in the Kitchen, a Room Update, and Simple Lives

Spring has finally truly come and we're spending every possible moment outside, playing in the grass and staring intently at the soil, watching to see if our seeds have germinated. I've started almost nothing from seed indoors this year and have just been throwing seeds into the earth and hoping they stick. Our weather has been all over the place, record highs and lows in the same week, so it's anybody's guess. We planted a few new things this year, including corn, and are excited to see what happens.  I hope things are warm and green where you are.
Today I'm going to talk about how I get my toddler to help me in the kitchen, and then I'll show you some updated pictures of Ellie's bedroom.

It's important to me to teach Eleanor kitchen literacy from an early age. We cook every day and she has been a part of it since she was born. Like so many things with children, it's temping to just do everything myself so it gets done faster and more accurately, but we've made it a priority to involve Ellie in as many household activities as we can.  She has developed some skills that allow her to help more than before, so cooking with her has been so much fun. Here's how we involve her in the fun:

Use her other skills.  We've worked a lot with Ellie's fine motor skills with activities like cutting, pouring/transferring, and sorting. These skills transfer to food preparation so when I sit her down with the cutting board, she has experience with the task.
Observe closely and offer help only as needed. Begin by breaking down each step in the process. Ellie's main job with the muffins we were baking was to cut the strawberries. I set down the bowl of washed berries and demonstrated the process one time for her. I pulled the green top off, cut out the core, set the berry on its end, cut it in half, put the halves flat side down on the cutting board, cut each of them in half, and then transferred them to a bowl.  I then let her try each step herself. After watching her try a few times, I ended up taking over the coring and first cut but she did the rest. It's important to only offer help when they need it so they can do as much of it as possible on their own. It was my instinct to take the leaves off myself since it preceded the two steps she needed help with, but she really enjoyed that part of the process and was happy to do it herself. 
Use authentic and appropriate materials.  Ellie works with her toddler knife from her flatware set or her big cutter. She uses the toddler knife at every meal so she's used to holding it. It's metal and fits to her hand so it's easy for her to cut with.  She uses our small bamboo cutting board with a damp washcloth underneath so it doesn't slip around. It's important to give the child proper tools so they can achieve some level of success. If you've ever tried to do a job with the wrong tools, you know how discouraging and frustrating it can be. 
Switch it up.  We were cutting up strawberries for our strawberry rhubarb muffins and Elle was having trouble using her knife because it was a little dull and slippery. I switched to her cutter and she had an easier time.
Be prepared.  Have as many of the ingredients ready as possible before you start, and have anything prepped that she can't help with.  This way the kiddo gets involved in all the fun parts of cooking without any of the boring or difficult steps slowing them down. As your child gets older, they will be able to help measure but it's a good place to start with just dumping and stirring.  Plan for failure by having extra. Use big bowls so that stirring is less likely to result in spills. These bowls have a non skid bottom and are great for kids.

Pick appropriate recipes.  Eventually children are able to cook with heat, but we've been sticking with simple recipes, especially baking recipes, that have ingredients that she can touch and taste.  She loves strawberries so she was very interested in cutting them.  Muffins are easy to make since they just involve combining dry and wet ingredients.
Be patient. Adjust your expectations. Everything will take longer, and it might not come out the way it would if you'd made the recipe yourself.  Remember that it's the process that's important, not the result, and both you and your child will get better with practice.  Don't set yourself up for frustration and failure by trying to have your child help you put together a dish which needs to be done in a timely manner, and don't cook hungry if you can avoid it.  

Have fun, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. 
Finally, I recently updated Ellie's bedroom and thought I'd share some photos with you. I've become ruthless about what I keep in the house these days, and Ellie's room shows that. In my last room tour, you can see that there's a lot more going on. I've tried to make her room more focused and streamlined.
Right to left this time:
DSC00543 DSC00544
You can see that we've removed the potty (She uses a seat on the normal toilet now. So much better for clean up) and her changing table. I was so glad to see that thing go, especially since I got to hand it down to a friend who is expecting her first baby and will also be using Ellie's old crib.  
She still loves her floor bed. We've added some art to the walls, which I copied and laminated. They are hung with nails and paper clips which are out of reach, so if she pulls them down (which she usually doesn't) she shouldn't be able to get the clips or nails down. Ideally things would be in mounted frames, but this has worked fine for us.  She loves this painting over her bed. (That outlet is non-functioning, by the way.)
Matisse over the dressing area. Those are underpants and training pants in the bucket, so she can get them herself.
She has learned to keep her hands mostly off her cd player, so it's doing fine down on her bookshelf.
I pared down her reading corner just to the things she uses. You can see her dog calendar hanging there. She's obsessed.
Her table is now bare and has a chair from the weaning table in the kitchen. This way it's clear whenever she wants to work on it.
And all the toys that were once stored on it now live in this shelf. It's pressed wood, which I don't love, but it's so great for organizing her toys and reinforcing that everything has a place. The hanging above it is actually a piece of wrapping paper.
We all enjoy being in her room so much and I'm very happy with how it has grown with her.  Hopefully this provides you with a little inspiration for your spaces. I've been feeling so good about cleaning things out of the house and hope to keep the momentum going. I have the kitchen to deal with and am itching to get rid of at least a third of the stuff that's clogging up my cabinets. Maybe a garage sale is in order? Scary.
I hope you and yours are well, and please check out Simple Lives!

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 1. 25 Uses for Epsom Salts by Preparedness Mama. "Think its just for bath salts and in-grown toe nails-- think again! This little sprinkle of natural goodness is as versatile as MacGyver." Gluten Free pie dough with baked brie 2. Brie Baked in Gluten Free Pie Dough with Apple Pear Compote by Poor and Gluten Free. "We ate the whole gorgeous, decadent, rich, gooey, flaky round of brie for dinner, using slices of pie dough to scoop it up!" crate-planter
 3. The Straw Bale Pallet Crate Garden- Simple, Attractive- and Cheap! by Old World Garden Farms. "So you have little space, little time, little money and you still want to garden."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Simple Egg Drop Soup and Simple Lives

One of the most important lessons I've learned as a parent is to manage my expectations. It's so easy to get frustrated, both with our children and with ourselves, when we begin with expectations about how things should be.  I'm trying to let go of my expectations so I can be a more present person. It's an exercise in patience, but I do realize that they are often the source of negative feelings.
I write a food blog, and I love to cook, so I've come to expect meals to be little events. I like putting time into cooking, giving it my full attention, and enjoying the fruits of my labor.  But now that I have a child, I am not as interested in spending so much time cooking, particularly on weeknights. Someday I will be able to share the kitchen with her more (though she's becoming more and more involved as she becomes more able) but for now, I want meal preparation to be quick and easy.  It's sort of hard to let go of cooking something special and elaborate on a regular basis. I love my chicken enchiladas, but that's a weekend dish now. I have had to change my expectations about what makes a good weeknight meal.
It's very important to think about the words you use to describe your choices. They have a real effect. You could easily call much of our weeknight eating mundane or dull, but I'm learning to find joy and freedom in simplicity. I'm realizing that taking things off the table, reducing options and relying on simple basics, is incredibly liberating. It frees me up to focus on the things that are important to me.  And now that we aren't expecting meals to be anything other than tasty and healthy, we're always satisfied.
I have started baking bread on Sundays. Ellie loves helping with the dough and it gives me two loaves to use all week.
This week I made one loaf into a cinnamon raisin loaf, and it was delicious. The toast slathered in butter was pretty incredible.
I've been keeping butter around at room temperature in this butter crock.  You just have to be sure to change the water daily and it will last for quite a while.
Today I'm going to share one of the fastest meals we've been making. It comes together in about the same amount of time as it takes to make a salad. It's cheap, tasty, and reheats well.
Depending on what else you're serving, this should feed four people. We usually do 1-2 eggs per person and have lots of leftovers.

Egg Drop Soup

1 yellow onion, chopped
6-8 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp. soy sauce
4-6 eggs, beaten well
green onions or chives to serve
Fry it in butter or oil until it's translucent. (Not quite ready here)
Add a little water or stock (or beer!) and scrape the good stuff off the bottom of the pan. You could add garlic, too.

Fill the pan the rest of the way with stock and bring to a boil. Let it boil down a bit and then season to taste, adding soy sauce and pepper.
In a bowl or measuring cup, beat the eggs. 
Remove the stock and onion mixture from heat and start to stir it so that the liquid is spinning in the pan.  As it continues to do so, slowly pour in a thin stream of the beaten eggs. You don't want the soup moving so quickly that the egg just mixes in to the liquid. You need the eggs to almost look scrambled. Continue, doing this in batches, stirring again to get the liquid moving, until you use up all of your eggs. 
Serve garnished with green onions or chives, and maybe a drizzle of sesame oil and chili sauce.
That's it.
I've made a simple realization about my home recently.  I used to look at pictures of houses (pinterest) and think about the things I could buy to make my house look the way I wanted it to. I've slowly realized that I can do much more for my home (and my sanity) by removing things instead of acquiring them. I realize how simple that sounds, and I'm sure I 'understood' it before, but I'm really starting to live it now and it feels so good. 
It really started with having Eleanor. I had an idea of how I want her space to be set up (her room has been updated since this post. I'll try to share soon!) and I realized that the rest of our home should be the same way: spare, uncluttered, useful. Everything should have a place and things that don't fit should be removed. In so many ways, becoming a parent has pushed me to become the person I want to be. I still feel inadequate often, but it has done me so much good. I have so much that I want to learn because I want to teach it to her, but for now I'm concentrating on our surroundings and our use of time. 
I cleared out the front closet, getting rid of lots of coats and shoes. It feels great to look at a closet filled only with things I actually wear.  
I'm hoping that less stuff is going to help me spend less time cleaning and more time with this kid. I can't wait for warmer weather again. We pulled the wagon out for the first time since the fall and gave it a run around the backyard. 
I hope things are going well where you are. Are you experiencing this crazy weather? We were in shorts and sweating early in the week and now I'm bundled up and still chilly.
Thanks as always for dropping by, and please check out Simple Lives Thursday.

 1. Our Windmill-- A Sustainable Pump by Live Ready Now! "We dug our well last year with the goal of using a windmill pump. Our idea of living sustainably means we aren't dependent on the availability of fossil fuels or grid power to exist."
 2. Kale Paneer (gluten free) by Stealthy Mom. "Saag Paneer is a creamy, spicy dish of green (saag) and homemade cheese (paneer). It was one of my favourites when dining out in college and a rarely seen delight here in the Midwest. "
 3. How to Plant a Cottage-Style Window Box by Livin' In The Green. "What brings to mind the cozy look of a cottage more than a window box?"

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