The Five Stages of Cooking with a Toddler

1

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking with C lately. It keeps us both busy during these frigid winter days, and I’m hoping it fosters an appreciation for preparing healthy, homemade food. But whoa, is it a process. If you have cooked or baked with a toddler before, you will be familiar with the stages:

1) Preparation. So much preparation. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, it takes a lot of prep before I even get C involved in the cooking/baking process. At 2 1/2, lives are busy and attention spans are short. I get all my ingredients out and ready to go before I move on to stage two, which is:

2) Manufacturing excitement. Toddlers generally like to help in the kitchen, but I’ve found that excitement for the finished product has to be manufactured in order to get C to stick with the task long enough to actually get something into the oven. A lot of cheerleading goes on. We’re baking! B-A-K-I-N-G ! Wooooo baking!

Pumped up!

Pumped up!

3) Explanation. Beyond simply telling C how many cups of this or tablespoons of that go into the mix, I have to explain why she can’t crunch eggs with her bare hands, why she can’t drink the vanilla extract, why she can’t wear the mixing bowls as hats, etc.

This stage leads to the next:

4) Minimizing kitchen disasters.

This is where anticipatory skills and cat-like reflexes come in, because despite the explanations, she will attempt to do some of the things listed above.

Watching it all go down

Watching it all go down

5) Praise. I’ve found that praise goes a long way. C’s behaviour is far more influenced by praise than by discipline, so we do our best to catch her doing good things as much as we can. It leads to better behaviour and a happier family.

And here is what we were making in these photos:

IMG_3922

Banana Pineapple Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour (I use half whole wheat)
3/4 cups white sugar (I put in less)
1/2 teaspoon baking power
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter, but again, a little less)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup crushed pineapple (not drained)
1 large mashed banana

The original recipe is convoluted as all-get-out, so here is my version: Mix dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix softened butter, 1 well-beaten egg, crushed pineapple and banana. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Fold together and do not overmix. Bake at 350 for 20 mins.

Advertisements

Morning Glory Muffins

2

This is a recipe I got from my lovely blogging friend Meaghan over at The Ginger and the Giant. They are Morning Glory Muffins, a recipe she found in a cookbook called Spilling the Beans, and they are definitely glorious.

I don’t make them as much as I would like, because they can be somewhat labour-intensive, by muffin standards. Now that I have a toddler-helper, I do some of the prep before I get her involved. While C was out ice skating with her Dad, I grated two cups of sweet potato, boiled some red lentils and chopped up an apple for the muffins. Toddlers do not have time for that sort of thing. The baby, however, was happy to watch from his vibrating chair while giving me encouraging smiles.

IMG_3832

These muffins are not only super delicious, but they stay moist for ages. They’re full of fruit and nuts and coconut and have a pretty small amount of added sugar. And rather than using carrot (which Pete has an aversion to since the carrot cake incident) I grate sweet potato. They’re super yummy, and they usually don’t last long around here.

IMG_3837

According to C, these are the muffins “that mommy helped me make.” Hmmm.

IMG_3846

Baby Goals, Revisited

7

I was just re-reading my September post about the things I hoped I would do differently with my second baby. Some of the goals seem completely manageable, even in retrospect. And others, well, clearly I was dreaming. I looked back on that post and just laughed and laughed. Sigh.

Let’s revisit these goals, shall we?

Here are the five objectives I set out for Baby Number Two:

1) Naps in the Crib.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. How did I think I was going to achieve this? Sure, newborn babies will sleep anywhere, but once they are past the incredibly-drowsy-will-sleep-anywhere phase, babies generally do not like to nap in cribs. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but this generally applies.

It is possible to encourage young babies to nap in their cribs, but usually this involves nursing, rocking, soothing, and other such comfort measures that take time and quietude. Where did I think my toddler would be during these times? On vacation? Making me lunch? Playing quietly and responsibly by herself? Good one, me.*

2) Introduce a Pacifier Earlier.

Well, we certainly tried with this one. Baby Number Two hates pacifiers. We tried and tried. We bought every kind of soother available in this country. We dipped them in breastmilk. We begged and pleaded. In the end, he used me as a pacifier instead, until he outgrew the need to comfort himself this way. I’m two-for-two in the failure department so far.

3) Use a Baby Carrier.

Success! We bought an Ergo, since we hated our other baby carrier, and we’ve used it numerous times, even though it’s been ridiculously cold outside for four months. We did it!

4) Relax about Feeding.

Another success, although I don’t think I can pat myself on the back too much for this one. Baby Number Two figured out how to nurse right away, and never looked back. You don’t get to be nineteen pounds by four months by being an unenthusiastic eater.

5) Go Easier on Myself.

Yeeeah, this didn’t work out so well either. I certainly didn’t push myself to do too much with two kids, but I definitely haven’t been easy on myself. This one is a work in progress.

So, I’ve had mixed results. But all in all, it’s mostly been a success. I have a happy baby and thriving toddler. I can’t ask for much more than that.**

IMG_3672

*The baby has actually started napping fairly well in his crib, at just over four months. So we eventually achieved this goal.
**Except sleep. I can, and I do, ask for sleep.

Baking Weird ’70s Pudding with my Toddler

2

I was reading a blog post the other day about gross recipes from the ’50s (Jell-O and mayonnaise, together at last) that inspired me to whip out my favourite vintage cookbook.

I stole Cookbook ’78 from my mother, because I felt she didn’t properly appreciate it. Check out the font:

IMG_3815

It actually has some really yummy dessert recipes, and some of them are classics around these parts. I haven’t used it much for main course recipes, and it turns out that was probably wise of me. After reading about those ’50s recipes (and visiting the Gallery of Regrettable Foods), I checked out some of the mains in my favourite cookbook. There were tons of “congealed salads” and recipes involving bizarre flavour combinations. But I stopped when I found a casserole combining oysters and creamed corn.* I wasn’t going to be able to find anything to top that.

Anyway, I decided to bake something from Cookbook ’78 with C today, because we needed an afternoon activity.

IMG_3818

I chose a recipe called “Busy Day Pudding” because it seemed appropriate on a day when I had both kids at home. I put the baby in his chair in the kitchen so he could watch us cooking, and got started.

I’ve realized that in addition to letting C put in the ingredients, it really helps if I let her count out measurements. She learns her numbers and it keeps her busy enough that I can (mostly) keep her from throwing non-ingredients into the batter. Win-win.

IMG_3820

The pudding was really quick to make, and the clean-up was easy, too. It’s a good one on that front.

IMG_3823

The pudding is a thick batter in a “sauce” of hot water and brown sugar. This is what it looked like uncooked:

IMG_3825

Once it was cooked, it was still a bit weird, texture-wise. Pete and I both agreed that it had a slightly disagreeable gooeyness to it. Were you the kid in school who liked to eat paste? Then this recipe is for you.

IMG_3830

So, the Busy Day Pudding was a success in the sense that it kept my toddler busy and let her practice her numbers. Would I make it again? Probably not. But at least it was free of creamed corn.

*Someday, and you can mark my words, I am going to make this. I won’t eat it, but I HAVE to make it. Just out of curiosity. I’ll be sure to document it here.

Recipe: Busy Day Pudding

Put 1 cup of brown sugar in casserole. Add 1 cup of boiling water and let stand while mixing the following ingredients.

1 cup flour sifted with 2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped dates
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soft butter
1/2 cup milk

Drop batter in syrup and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

Five Things I Hope I’ll Do Differently with my Second Baby

3
Baby and me...off for a ride!

Baby and me…off for a ride!

I made sure to add the word “hope” to the title of this post, because if there is one thing I’ve learned in my 24 months of parenting, it’s that babies have their own agendas. You can have all sorts of intentions but in the end, you’ll save your sanity if you just do what works. Flexibility is the name of the game.

Also, I probably could have saved myself some time and just written that with my second baby, I’m going to chill out more. For instance, I wouldn’t have been riding a bike this late in my pregnancy with C. I was just too nervous about falls and crashes. This time I’ve mellowed, and although I’m careful on my bike, I’m definitely not stopping yet. That’s the beauty of the second baby.

That said, there are a few specific things that I did with C that I’m hoping to avoid this time around. Sure, we muddled through all right, but it would be nice to avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered last time. That way we can have the time to try to fix all the new mistakes we’ll surely make with Baby #2.

1) Naps in the Crib.
C was always a really good night sleeper. She was always easy to put down in her basinette (and later her crib) and she only woke up when she was hungry or teething. But naps were a different story. She seemed to need movement to nap, and so I indulged her, first in a vibrating chair, then in a swing, and sometimes in a car or stroller. This became tricky when we took her on a ski trip when she was five months old. Either we had to bounce her to sleep in a carrier (and she hated carriers) or Pete had to take her out in the Chariot for an hour-long cross-country-ski-nap. She was still napping three times a day at that point. He got A LOT of exercise that weekend.

2) Introduce a Pacifier Earlier.
We were so afraid of jeopardizing our breastfeeding efforts that we didn’t introduce a pacifier early enough. But she must have had a strong sucking need, because once we successfully got her using a pacifier (at about four months), she was a much happier baby.

3) Use a Baby Carrier.
C was never really into baby carriers. She tolerated a few walks in a sling when she was a few weeks old, but after that, she put her foot down. This time, I’m hoping that if I invest in a good-quality carrier and put the baby in it more often, it will go more smoothly. Because I’m sure that with a toddler running around, it will be a lifesaver to have the new baby in a carrier once in a while.

4) Relax about Feeding.
I had a really difficult time breastfeeding, for the entire nine months that I managed to do it. I won’t go into details here, but suffice it to say that while I would like to breastfeed this baby, I’m not going to stress about it. I’ll do my best. But I won’t beat myself up if I have to use a bottle now and then. And probably (or at least I hope) that if I go into it with a more relaxed attitude, it will be easier this time.

5) Go Easier on Myself.
I did all sorts of things in the early days with C that probably weren’t in my best interest. I tried to cook, clean, bake, read, run errands, exercise, socialize, and have overnight guests to visit. Two weeks after I gave birth we were out hiking in caves on a very ill-advised outing. I took three-week-old C out to vote in a provincial election. It was all too much for an incredibly sleep-deprived new mom. It caught up with me when she was about seven weeks old. I started hallucinating and I genuinely believed I would die of exhaustion. Not this time. My only goals for the first three months are to keep two children alive and relatively happy. The end.

And now, a question: Does anyone have any tips on transitioning from one child to two?

How to Camp Without Your Baby

3

Step 1: Leave your baby with your wonderful, doting parents.

Step 2: Enjoy.

So much simpler than camping with one’s baby/toddler. Pete and I were lucky enough to finally have a weekend away, just the two of us. We have both had weekends away separately, but this was our first overnight trip together, sans Little C. And it was so relaxing.

We spent two nights camping in Algonquin Park in early July. Since my previous camping posts seemed to be all about lessons in list form, I’m going to continue with that theme here. Here is what we learned this time around:

1) Algonquin Park is beautiful.
I was lucky enough to spend four summers living and working in Algonquin Park. Even though it can be really busy in tourist season, it’s still such a gorgeous place. It’s easy to forget that when you’ve been away. I did a lot of deep sighing on our trip.

IMG_3377

2) We are old.
I bumped into one of my old co-workers at our campground and while we were chatting, he asked me how long it had been since I worked there. Ten years. It’s been ten years. He replied “Whew, I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m getting old.” Me too, my friend.

3) Resist the urge to call the babysitters.
When Pete and I became parents, we swore that we wouldn’t talk incessantly about our baby when we were able to go on date nights. We wanted to stay connected as partners, not just as parents. An extension of this policy was that we wouldn’t call my parents to check on things while we were away. This was our time to reconnect and be together as a couple. This may not work for everyone, but it’s good for us.

IMG_3366

4) Enjoy the little things.
When you aren’t chasing a little person (or people) around, it’s a lot easier enjoy the serenity. You can really experience the smell of the white pines, the call of a loon, and the sound of the water lapping against your canoe. Try to take it all in.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

5) Appreciate the trip for what it is.
This was something I learned about camping with a baby, and it applies here too. Even though Pete and I were on our own this time, we were still more exhausted than we were before we had C, and ended up asleep in our tent both nights before 10:00pm.

IMG_3361

We also really wanted to do an interior canoe trip, but my parents were nervous about this and asked that we camp in a campground instead. Fair enough. We will be able to go on a canoe trip someday. It turns out that this plan worked well for us anyway. We did some canoeing day trips and between my aching back and Pete’s bad shoulder, we weren’t able to paddle for more than a few hours anyway. See point #2.

IMG_3371

6) Document the experience.
Even if this amounts to taking a lot of photos, do it. As parents, we tend to document our children’s lives at the expense of our own. This is natural, of course, but I think it’s important to remember times like these. When life gets hectic again (for us, that will be around October 27th), being able to relive a relaxing time like this will be invaluable. Well, that and wine.

What is a “Week-End”?

7

MjAxMi0zNWYxZTkwY2VlMjM0MDI3

I’m sure you’ve seen these e-cards popping up on your Facebook newsfeed periodically.  This one is particularly fitting for me.  I’m a stay-at-home parent to my eighteen-month-old, and weekends don’t really exist anymore.  The problem is that I still (after a year and a half) haven’t managed to absorb this new reality.

All week, I look forward to Friday.  I think, “Friday’s almost here!  Woooo!”  And then Friday arrives and Pete and I are both exhausted.  We put C to bed, have a beer, watch Marketplace (and The Fifth Estate if we’re staying up really late) and go to bed.

Before you feel too sorry for me, we sometimes have date nights.  We will often visit with friends during the day and we occasionally go away for the weekend.

But typically, weekends are very similar to weekdays around here.  They involve making meals, cleaning up after meals, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, and more laundry.  I’m starting to forget what a real (read: childless) weekend is like.  I’m a modern-day, non-fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham.

maggie smith weekend

Of course, the Dowager Countess doesn’t know what a weekend is because she doesn’t associate with anyone with a profession, but that’s neither here nor there.  I have something in common with the inimitable Maggie Smith.  Glass half-full!

I think the solution is going to be letting go of the concept of a weekend.  Weekends no longer exist.  They have been abolished by a small, semi-benevolent dictator.

The problem hasn’t been that I have bad weekends.  They just don’t live up to my old expectations of relaxation and rest.  In order to avoid the disappointment I feel every Sunday (when I’m more exhausted than when I started this weekend business on Friday) I have to make myself forget about the existence of the forty-hour work week.  If I just conceive of Saturday and Sunday as days when Pete happens to be around more, I think I’ll be able to enjoy those days for what they are now, rather than what I think they should be.

And besides, weekends are terribly middle-class, dear.

From Strain Theory to Strained Peas

12

I’m a stay-at-home parent.  That’s a bit odd for me to write, because I don’t think of myself as a stay-at-home parent.  I think of myself as a college teacher.  But I had a baby sixteen months ago and I haven’t taught a college course since before that baby was born.  Hmm.  Is that cognitive dissonance?

I’ve been struggling a bit with my role as a full-time mother.  It’s not that I don’t love being home with C.  I do.  And I appreciate that I’m fortunate enough to have the means to stay home with her.  She’ll only be little once, and I have the rest of my life to work.

But sometimes, when I think about my former life, I feel wistful.  Because even though teaching was often difficult, stressful, and frustrating, it was never dull.

I’ve taught a variety of courses (Sociology, Political Science, English, Research Methods) to a wide range of students, but my favourite experience was always teaching Criminology to Policing students.

Photo via Simon Fraser University

As a Criminology instructor, I was fortunate enough to meet a Forensic Anthropologist, who investigates suspicious fires and skeletal remains.  He has some grisly stories to tell.  I’ve worked with a detective who has served in every policing branch you can imagine, from Homicide to Guns and Gangs to White Collar Crime.  He has even gone undercover.  Some of my colleagues worked on very high profile cases, like the Bernardo case.  I’ve spoken with the investigator who elicited the murder confession from former Colonel Russell Williams.

I now spend a large portion of my day building block towers and reading Barnyard Dance*.

I realized recently that I still needed to work and to give back, despite my decision to stay home with my daughter.  I’m not going back to teaching right away, but I have found a way to contribute that, I think, would work for a lot of parents in my position.  I joined the Board of Directors for a local non-profit organization.

This is why I think volunteering on a Board of Directors is a great idea for parents in a similar situation:

1) The hours are parent-friendly.  Meetings are usually in the evening and are typically held once (maybe twice) a month.  This is quite manageable, even if you have young children at home.

2) Giving back to the community is important.  It also sets a good example for kids.  I want C to be a responsible, involved citizen one day.

3) It’s a way to keep some work-related skills up to date.  It can combat the dreaded baby-brain that sometimes goes along with stay-at-home parenthood.

4) It’s a small step toward making the community a better place for the next generation.  This was always important to me but it has become even more so since having C.

I realize that not every stay-at-home parent is able to make this sort of commitment, but if you are, please consider it.  It’s a great way to give back.

*Barnyard Dance is an excellent book, the first 250 times you read it.

“She’s Going to Be a Manhunter!”

12

Babies attract a lot of attention.  They’re little, they’re cute, they’re (usually) smiley, and they toddle around in unpredictable ways.  They’re fun to watch.  Usually, the kind of attention C gets while out in public is pretty standard.

How old is she? (Or he, since she’s follically challenged)

Is she walking yet?

She’s chatty!

That type of comment is pretty typical.  However, Pete and I took C with us to an appointment at Toronto General Hospital and as I was waiting to go into a washroom with little C, an Eastern European woman in her early ’70s stopped me and began firing questions at me:

Is it a boy or a girl?

How old is she?

Is she your first?

Nothing out of the ordinary here, but then she says: “She’s going to be a manhunter!” And I sort of stopped, stared at the woman, and replied “oh, well, I don’t know.”  But the woman insisted “Oh yes, she is going to be a manhunter!  A manhunter!”

Uh, okay.  I have to get on with my day here.

I told Pete what the old woman had said and he seemed equally confused.

I asked, “does that lady think C’s going to track people down in the desert using only her cunning? Like the show where people are dropped off in the middle of nowhere and have to outrun that intense, cowboy-hatted guy?”

Pete replied: “You’re thinking of Mantracker.  I don’t think that lady means C’s going to be a mantracker.”

Via rogersmediatv.ca

Surely she wasn’t referring to the first Hannibal Lecter movie.  C isn’t going to hunt down serial killers by collaborating with other serial killers.  That’s just ludicrous.

Via horrordvds.com

“I think she meant that C is going to be boy crazy, ” I said to Pete.

Ugh, I think I prefer the first two scenarios.

Being a Mother is Hard. Let’s Not Make it Harder: A Birthday Rant

5

My sister wrote a comment a few weeks ago in response to one of my recipe posts.  I just had to re-post it, because it’s spot-on.  A bit rambly, a bit ranty, but spot-on.  And she was entitled to rant that day, because it was her birthday.

I love The Office and I will use any excuse to post Dwight’s birthday sign.

To provide some context, I had been telling her about how much I had been struggling to find some balance in my life.  I’m raising a toddler, trying to keep a house clean, to cook homemade meals every night, to have quality time with my husband, to keep in touch with friends and family, to read books and exercise and practice my banjo and pay attention to politics (isn’t Rob Anders a dickhead?).  I can never manage to keep up with everything at once, and that often frustrates me.   She wrote me this great, insightful comment and it came at the perfect time.  She’s smart, that sister of mine.

Here it is:

I’m very impressed with all your home cooking and baking.  It makes me think, though, about the pressures that we put on ourselves as women.  Just a few generations ago women worked unbelievably hard to do physically demanding, never ending cleaning and cooking…and child care and clothes making and farm work and volunteer work and care for elders and church duties and some piece work or other work to bring in extra income.  As soon as modern equipment made that work a little easier, the cult of domesticity took hold and expectations soared, so the work load, and the guilt just shifted.  Then women took on work outside the home, which is fantastic in many ways, but then the “double shift” started.  Convenience foods became more common, not surprisingly.  But of course, whenever things get a little easier, the expectations increase again.  I am finding that many of my women friends are feeling the pressure to add even more time and effort to their daily work schedule to make home cooked everything.  It doesn’t matter if this is added to a work day outside the home or a work day at home with kids (and quite frankly I find it easier in many ways now that I’m at paid employment during the day rather than home every day).  I feel some guilt and embarrassment when I rely on convenience foods (not fast food but pre-made lasagnas and the like).  I’m very much in favour of better, home cooked food.  It’s appalling how many chemicals and salt and sugar are used in commercially prepared foods.  Still, it’s frustrating that each time things get a little easier for women, somehow the expectations on us increase and our work is just as time consuming and our “failures” just as guilt inducing.  Who places these expectations on us?  How can we get out from under these expectations and feelings of responsibility?  Both my husband and I work full time.  I know he doesn’t feel any sort of guilt or shame when our house is messy and has not even considered that home cooked is better let alone felt the pressure to work even harder to ensure we eat home cooked.  So, be it resolved that we should eat home cooked and let something else slide, like perfectly decorated and perfectly tidy houses.  We should definitely give up the appearance that all of this is effortless.

I know this isn’t my blog, but it’s my birthday and this is my rant.

She’s right.  I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect at all of this, and it’s not necessary.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  I was mulling this over today when a friend posted a link to an article about how difficult it can be to be a mother in our culture.  It’s a great read.

So instead of rushing around sweeping and mopping and scrubbing for the rest of C’s nap, I’m going to loaf and have some tea.  And when she wakes up, I’ll be a much happier mom for it.