Kitchen lockdown

Well, your comments on this post inspired me to continue engaging Gabriel in the kitchen.  I like the idea of one of these, but the price tag seriously curbs my enthusiasm.  While standing on a chair poses some dangers, I feel fairly confident as long as I’m standing right there with him . . .

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. . . with my leg on the chair to keep him from scooting it away from the counter — somewhat limits my productivity, but better than him fussing on the floor.

Unfortunately, he REALLY latched on to the “chair in the kitchen” idea, to the point that he would [attempt to] drag a chair into the kitchen EVERY time I set foot in the room, even if I was just going in for a minute to refill my water or quickly check on something in the oven.

It was cute for the first three times or so, but it got old really fast, especially when he greeted each and every announcement that “it wasn’t time to have the chair in the kitchen” with serious screamage.  Sigh.

In addition to the basic annoyance of his compulsion to be right there ALL the time, there was the additional safety concern that he would climb up onto the chair and access the counter top at a time that I hadn’t cleared it of dangers, like sharp knives, cheese graters, and/or breakables.

Enter a benefit of a galley kitchen.  While I love the idea of an open floor plan, with [a big, fancy] kitchen open to the dining room, living room, and/or great room, I’m currently enjoying the fact that our cozy kitchen is a completely separate room with a doorway — perfect for a basic wooden baby gate.

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I’m also thankful that my long legs allow me to easily step over the gate so I can enter and exit the kitchen freely (though stepping over it while carrying plates of hot food and breakable dishes IS a bit of a gamble).

While Sir is not thrilled about the development, he has more or less accepted it.  I’m a bit bummed to be actively excluding him from something that I want him to (eventually) be part of, but it’s an acceptable solution for now, for this stage.

Our normal posting has been disrupted by an asteroid

Back in August, when I met up with Nupur of One Hot Stove to chat, introduce our little ones, and swap some food, she and I were both adjusting to [what I thought would be] a temporary stint as SAHMs.  Nupur made some comment to the effect that, contrary to what those who have not been in the role might believe, we weren’t sitting on the couch and eating bonbons all day.

Unfortunately, Sir’s current stage — clingy/fussy/teething/crazy/strong-willed hot mess of toddler — leaves me with little energy to do much more than collapse on the couch come nap time or bedtime, regardless of whether or not there are any bonbons in reach.  To paraphrase a quote from the movie Armageddon, it recently feels like I spend my days with a “vicious, life-sucking bitch little dude, from which there is no escape.”

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No energy for the extras, like blogging or prepping baked oatmeal in the evening so it’s ready to pop in the oven in the morning.  I’ve been wanting baked oatmeal for about forever now but have been stuck with stove-top oats, which, when I really want to get the day off to a special start, I turn up too high and neglect for just long enough to have a mess of sticky, cooked-on oatmeal goo all over the outside of the pan and top of the stove.

I know (or I hope?) that this is only a phase, and eventually things will get a bit easier, but at the moment, it’s difficult to get post ideas out of my head and onto the blog.

I have a number of food-related posts in the works, including our carrot taste-test and resulting recommendations of good carrots to grow (at least for our local growing conditions); a lentil [meat]ball recipe that is still a work in progress, but quite good in its current rendition, especially when served the pasta alternative that I stumbled upon at lunch today; and my favorite easy way to cook our [really huge] garden sweet potatoes.  Meanwhile, Matthew is working on a couple of garden-related how-to posts, since spring is right around the corner.

Thanks for staying with me through this slow posting period!

The monster in my kitchen

I’ve been planning to write about finding my balance with where I am in life and being in a good place, but starting about a week ago, Gabriel turned some corner into a [hopefully short-lived] developmental stage known as “Horrible.”  I’m pretty sure it manifested before his fall, but I’m not positive, and I can’t help but wonder if he knocked a few screws loose.

Anyway, he’s been very clingy and needy, making it difficult for me to get much of anything done, but it’s been particularly frustrating in the kitchen.  Turns out, it’s rather difficult to chop vegetables with a large, sharp knife, and deal with hot pans on the stove-top and in the oven, when a fussy toddler is pulling on your legs, shirt, etc.  Not to mentioned dangerous.

I gave up before I started on a couple of evenings, too sapped from dealing with him earlier in the day and anticipating his antics to even try.  Leftovers to the rescue!

At my MIL’s suggestion, I tried putting him in his booster seat with some toys while I cooked (farinata, with a side of sweet potatoes and turnip greens, if you were wondering) last night, and it went surprisingly well.

Despite my misgivings about confining him like that, he actually seemed content to be sitting in the kitchen doing his own thing, playing and babbling with very little input from me, in contrast to the frantic whining and wrapping himself around my legs of previous afternoons.

Eventually, I plan to let him help more in the kitchen, but we’re not quite there yet.  Last week, I experimented with helping him stand on a chair and sift flour and stir the dry ingredients for raw apple cake.

It went well — flour more or less stayed in the bowl, he didn’t fall of the chair and crack his head on the tile flour, and he seemed to enjoy helping.  However, it required very close and constant supervision on my part, definitely not something I have time for every night.

If any of you have suggestions for occupying young toddlers while cooking and/or safe ways (easy and not TOO messy would be great, also) to involve toddlers in the kitchen, I’d love to  hear them.

Injera stew

One of the many restaurants we tried in Portland was Queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian restaurant.  While we have an Ethiopian restaurant we like quite a lot in St. Louis, Queen of Sheba made the cut for its mushroom dishes and the fact that it was an easy walk for picking up take-out.

Given many of the green efforts I witnessed at various Portland eating establishments, I was disappointed by the plastic take-out containers.  I mean, I knew take-out would generate waste of some form or another, and we were able to recycle the containers, but it was not ideal.

Anyway, the food was quite good, but we were left with our standard Ethiopian meal dilemma — leftover injera.  While the various Ethiopian stews reheat quite nicely, I can’t say the same for injera, the sourdough “pancake” that is both a bed for the stews and the means of scooping up the food.

A couple of searches for uses for leftover injera didn’t turn up much, so I decided to wing it.  I should add here that Matthew was very skeptical of my approach to this dish, which in turn made me a bit nervous, especially since I was cooking for his sister and her boyfriend as well.  However, I continued with my impromptu plan and heard no complaints as we devoured most of the stew in one sitting.

Injera stew

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
5-6 c. vegetable broth, or water plus vegetable boullian
3/4 c. orange lentils (small and quick cooking)
2-3 c. prepared tomato sauce or tomato puree
4-6 c. veggies, including onions, carrot, garlic, kale or other greens
4-5 cups chopped leftover injera
1 t. cumin

Directions
Place lentils in large pot (we’ll be adding other ingredients to the pot later).  Cover lentils with water and cook until tender.  While the lentils cook, chop and saute the veggies in a mix of butter and olive oil.  The veggies should be tender-crisp, just enough of a saute to pick up some fat and flavor — they’ll cook more in the stew.

Add sauteed veggies, broth, tomato sauce, injera pieces, and cumin to the pan with the cooked lentils.  Stir to combine, cover, and simmer to 20 minutes, or until vegetables reach desired tenderness.  Stir every once and awhile, and add more broth or water if it gets too thick.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot in large bowls.

One dish kasha dinner

What’s kasha, you ask?  Well, it’s something that’s been sitting around in a jar in my pantry for far too long.

For a more illuminating answer, kasha is made from crushed, roasted buckwheat grains (AKA buckwheat groats).  I buy it in the bulk aisle at WF.  If you have plain buckwheat, you can essentially make your own kasha by toasting the grains in a dry skillet.

The upcoming move puts me in a “use it up or throw it out” mood, and I don’t like throwing away food, so I headed to the internet for some recipe ideas.  In the process, I learned a thing or two about buckwheat, and I’ll be keeping this food in my kitchen arsenal.

Did you know that you can eat kasha raw?  I crunched some grains while I was cooking and added a bit to my granola the next morning.

Searching for inspiration, I found many interesting breakfast-y recipes, but I needed something for dinner.  In the end, I used Meghan’s Buckwheat Sweet Potato Burgers as the inspiration for my creation.

Kasha, Lentil, & BUtternut Squash Bowl

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
1 1/2 c. kasha (roasted buckwheat groats)
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. lentils
1 small butternut squash* or two medium sweet potatoes
3 T. good balsamic vinegar**
3 c. shredded or finely chopped cabbage
1 medium onion, diced
Olive oil, for sauteing
1/3 c. almond butter
2 T. soy sauce

Directions
Peel and dice squash or sweet potato and steam until just tender.  Place steamed squash in a large bowl and pour the balsamic vinegar over the warm squash.  Toss to coat.

In the same [now empty] pan you used for steaming the squash, cover the lentils with water (use enough water so there’s an inch above the dry lentils).  Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 20-30 minutes.  You want them tender with just a bit of bite, not mushy, so start checking after 20 minutes.

Drain the lentils, reserving the cooking liquid.  Add the lentils to the bowl with the squash, and sprinkle 1/4 t. salt over the lentils.

Add enough water to the reserved lentil cooking liquid for a total of three cups.  Bring this to a boil, add the kasha and 1/2 t. salt, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, 10-15 minutes.

While the lentils and/or kasha simmer, saute the onions in some olive oil.  After 10-15 minutes, add the cabbage to the onions with a bit more olive oil, and saute 5 minutes, or until the cabbage is just tender.

Mix 1/3 cup almond butter, 2 T. soy sauce, and 1/3-1/2 cup water to make a nice, thick sauce.

Once the kasha is cooked, combine the grain, lentils, squash, onions, and cabbage.  If either your original pan or bowl are large enough, use this and avoid another dirty dish!

Serve warm with a spoonful of the almond butter sauce on top.

*The last of our winter squash 2011 harvest.

**The balsamic was a last minute idea, and I wasn’t sure how it would work.  I used our favorite balsamic, which is quite sweet and has relatively low acidity.  I wouldn’t recommend just any balsamic here.