I’m having a love/hate relationship with food lately. By “love,” I mean, you know, I want to eat yummy food all the time. By “hate,” I mean I don’t have the energy for it any more. And this isn’t just a post-high holiday thing. This is all about trying to find the time and energy to feed a two year-old every. single. day. And I only have one child – I don’t know how the moms with multiple kids balance everything!
For those just joining me in this weird journey, I’m currently living a life of temporary single parenthood. It’s important to note that this set up of mine is, in fact, temporary. I have the privilege of having a supportive and loving husband. We call each other, he offers me emotional support and he comes to visit every so often (more on why I’m in this situation here). The parts of this temporary single parent status that I expected to stink (time has become my most sought after currency. I got up at 5:30am PST just to finish writing this post) but the part of this situation that I didn’t expect is the effect this has had on our meal times.
We used to have family dinners. We’d eat together, the three of us, at least 3 nights a week plus Shabbat. The husband and I committed to that when we had a child. As a social worker and school counselor, I am well aware of the statistics that go along with shared family meals (35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods and 12% less likely to be overweight, Hammons & Fiese, 2011). Plus the fact that family mealtime offers uninterrupted time for us to spend time together. Or so I’m told. I have a toddler. Regardless, family mealtime combines my two favorite things: my family and food!
But now that it’s just me and the kiddo, the aspects of managing our day-to-day life of work/school/family has driven me to want to collapse when she’s in bed at 8:00 pm. And so, I’ve developed a habit of cooking just for her at around 5:30 and then settling in with a salad and TV for myself after she goes to bed. That salad, of course, consists of things like pre-washed kale, shredded carrots, shredded cheese (neither of which I shred myself, yikes.) Its not as sad as it sounds. OK, it’s a little bit as sad as it sounds. That being said, I realized things had drastically changed when I went from making Shabbat meals with multiple courses to one pot of veggie quinoa soup for the kid and myself and calling it a day. So after roughly the 12th night of the same salad, I decided I needed a change of pace. The kid and I needed to get back to family dinners and I needed to get creative with my meals again. A few tricks that are helping me reach my goal:
- Batch cooking – Each Sunday I make big batches of something, i.e. roasted vegetables, sauce, rice or quinoa, that I can use in various recipes for the remainder of the week
- Remix – Since I have to make my own lunch, I did myself a favor and bought into the kiddo’s kosher school lunch plan. They always send home leftovers (and there is always leftovers), which I remix into something else for her dinner (read: stir fry!)
- The kid stays in the picture – Now that she’s a little over 2, she actually can help me cook, which has been very fun and exciting. She’s officially in charge of all seasoning and can sprinkle cheese on a homemade pizza like nobody’s business. Getting her involved has made cooking fun again and has even forced me to get creative with meal planning.
- Soup – The kid loves soup. I love soup. Soup is always a great way for us to get our vegetables in us. Therefore, I’ve started making a soup that we might both love but dressing it up for me. The perfect example of that is this roasted potato and leek soup recipe. I dress it down for her, though she does get a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. I dress it up for myself by sprinkling cheese on it AND drizzling the jalapeno oil. It’s a win/win!
The kid and I are surviving and at times, we’re even thriving. She’s at that amazing age where she’s starting to have conversations so sitting down together isn’t just about me making sure she’s actually eating, like back in the days of her infancy. Rather, mealtime has become this magical time of actually getting to know the person she’s becoming and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to slow down and listen.
For the potato soup:
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned of all sand (4 leeks)
5 cloves garlic (4 whole cloves and 1 minced)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
3 – 4 cups of vegetable stock
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
For the jalapeno oil:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, thickly sliced
1 large jalapeno, thickly sliced
coarse salt, optional
To make the soup:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the garlic cloves, potatoes, and leeks on a sheet pan in a single layer. Add the olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender.
Towards the last 10 minutes of roasting, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Saute the onion in the oil until translucent. Add 1 clove minced garlic, 1 tsp of thyme, 1 tsp of kosher salt and ½ tsp of black pepper and saute for another 2 minutes. Once vegetables are done roasting, add them to the stockpot of onions and garlic. Stir and let cook for a few minutes. You may need to add another tbsp of oil to accommodate the addition of the roasted vegetables.
Once everything has sauted together for a couple of minutes, add vegetable broth to the stock pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, turn down to low and let simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. After the simmering, check to ensure that the potatoes have begun to soften. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup of stock to thicken the soup. If it still isn’t thick enough, add the final cup a little at a time until desired thickness. Add the cream, 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper and check the seasonings.
To make the oil:
Heat the oil in a saucepan, over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add in the jalapeno, garlic and salt.
Stir slowly and constantly, and after a minute or so, lower the heat to low so that you do not burn the garlic. Continue slowly stirring until the garlic begins to brown, remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so.
Remove the jalapeno and garlic, and once cooled, store in an air-tight container in the fridge.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.