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Meals can be like writing for me at times––I have plenty of ideas and inspiration until I sit down to write them out. I’ve found the same has been true for my children in their meal planning. At first, their personal favorites take lead, but moving beyond those easy ideas can be challenging. Having recipe books, Pinterest boards, and a list of meals we’ve already made can be so helpful for this. It’s also helpful for me to give them a topic, i.e. a large salad, something grilled, a vegetable I might have on hand. You get the idea. We have a variety of recipe books on hand, but here are a few we are enjoying the most right now.

The Forest Feast for Kids | We gifted this book to my youngest a few years ago and she has loved it! The recipes are simple and easy to follow, the ingredients are easy to find or substitute, and the images are clear and colorful on every page, making it a perfect start for younger chefs. Wink. The one downside is that the amount of recipes in the book is comparatively slim, but my daughter doesn’t seem to mind returning to her favorite ones again and again. Family Favorites: quinoa edamame salad, pasta with carrots and zucchini, swiss chard quiche, pear galette.

Chop Chop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family | Here is another recipe book we have enjoyed for years. Think of it less like a recipe book and more as a visual cooking manual for children (and adults). It does offer plenty of recipes, but more importantly, it shows how to build their own [salad, sandwich, burger, smoothie]. The book offers lists of ingredients, toppings, or condiment options, combinations of smoothie mixtures or sandwich or burger fillers. The format is easy for children to flip through and enjoy, with clear instructions and images (although not an image for every recipe). This is a wonderful resource! We’ve made salad dressings, drinks, smoothies, condiments from this one.

Love & Lemons Everyday | This is a new book on our shelf and already a growing favorite. The images are clean and colorful, and more importantly, the instructions are clear and the ingredients are found in most any grocery store. To note, the recipes are vegetarian, but most would be easy to adapt with a grilled fish or an animal protein. Family favorites: Raspberry Basil Sorbet, Peach and Pole Bean Salad with Dill

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables | This is one of my personal favorites! Color-coded with six different growing seasons, this recipe book sparks broader conversations and ideas about the types of vegetables in season (when they are most economical and available at local farmer’s markets or through CSAs). The recipes are a bit more complex for children and there are fewer images, but teens and adults looking for new ways to enjoy seasonal veggies will enjoy it!

It’s All Good | Our family has enjoyed this recipe book for years. The recipes may be somewhat complex for children, but the beautiful images of the food or Gwyneth and her children will spark interest. Family favorites: Crazy Good Fish Tacos; Whole Grilled Pink Snapper with Herbs, Garlic, and Lemon; Thai Chicken Burgers.

Eat What You Love | I received this at one of Danielle Walker’s book events in the Spring, and although we haven’t made a lot from it yet, we’ve enjoyed the images and stretching into new ingredients. She has included several of her family’s favorite foods, from cookies to sweet potato fries, so your children are sure to find something they enjoy. The downside is the ingredient lists are often long, and if you don’t regularly eat GF or DF, you may find yourself spending a lot of money on the ingredients. If you’re looking to make a jump into a Paleo or Grain-Free lifestyle, this is a win! Family favorites: seasoned sweet potato fries; chicken caesar salad; white wine, mushroom, and spinach sauté.

Easter morning is one of my favorite mornings of the year. As with many people around the world, the day holds deep, spiritual significance for our family, and it always seems fitting to welcome the morning outdoors with the sunrise, singing birds, rustling trees, and of course brunch. The Springtime here naturally reflects the resurrection song, and it is the perfect backdrop for a celebratory Easter Brunch.

I am not a very formal person, but I do love good food, presented in a beautiful and casual manner, enjoyed with people I love. Today, I’m partnering with Williams Sonoma to introduce a few pieces of their Spring Garden collection and also share a simple brunch menu for Easter, one that is easy enough for the children to help prepare, but with just enough sophistication for the adults to enjoy, too. I’ve mentioned this before, but simple doesn’t equate to easy. Simple is more a reference to the spirit and process of the meal. Every homemade meal requires preparation and work, but as with many things, many hands lightens the effort. Involve those children!

I tried to piece together a brunch menu that felt approachable, yet still special. As a mother, I’ve learned preparation is key to simplifying meals, especially larger, more intentional ones. Many of these dishes that can be prepped or baked in advance, leaving only the last baking or setting of the table for the morning of the brunch. They are also simple enough for children of all ages to participate in helping prepare. For those wondering, I added a little note in each section of ways to include children in the process. The recipes, for the most part, are intuitive, and the details follow the planning section below. I hope this helps make a beautiful brunch feel more approachable in your own home.


BRUNCH MENU

French Radishes

Fresh Berries

Almond Croissants

Rosemary Potatoes

Spring Vegetable Egg Casserole

Lemon Bunny Cakelettes + Petit Fours

Rose + Orange Blossom Mimosas

Blood Orange Italian Soda


PLANNING AHEAD

TWO WEEKS BEFORE

  • Size (friends and family, small or large)?
  • Style (casual, formal)?
  • Menu. Write a list of family favorites to begin. If friends are joining, consider a potluck style meal.
  • Location. Inside or outside? At a friend’s house or yours?
  • Send invites or make phone calls to invite the people on your list.
  • Order any special accoutrements for the meal (bakeware, place settings, or specialty foods)
  • CHILDREN: Paint or hand-write invites.

ONE WEEK BEFORE

  • Write out your grocery list.
  • Double-check you have all of your materials, table details, and tools.

TWO DAYS BEFORE

  • Double-check with guests who are bringing food.
  • Grocery shop and pick up a few special blooms for the table.
  • Arrange flowers.
  • CHILDREN: Help trim and arrange flowers. Write name tags (if using). Make sure all the linens are clean and accounted for.

ONE DAY BEFORE

  • Bake cakelettes and petits fours in the morning, and set aside to cool.
  • Prepare the Spring Vegetable Egg Casserole. Do not bake. Cover and set aside in the fridge overnight.
  • Set the croissants on the baking tray to rise overnight.
  • Slice and store radishes.
  • Wash, pat dry, and mix berries.
  • If you have a single oven, bake the potatoes now, refrigerate overnight, and quickly reheat before brunch.
  • If you are eating indoors, set the table the night before.
  • If you are eating outdoors, neatly stack the place settings in baskets or tidy piles to quickly set up in the morning.
  • Set aside a few small baskets with treats for the kids, like these, the night before.
  • CHILDREN: Help make the cakelettes and chop vegetables. Wash and pat dry potatoes and berries. Wipe down the table and chairs to prepare for the morning.

EASTER MORNING

  • Turn on music or open the windows, if the weather permits.
  • Get dressed, make coffee, and watch the sunrise together.
  • Share a moment of gratitude.
  • Bake the croissants, potatoes, and egg casserole, timing the casserole to finish around the time you want to eat. It should take less than an hour with a double-oven. If you are baking all three with a single oven, allow up to 90 minutes.
  • Set the table.
  • Butter radishes.
  • Dust the cakelettes with powdered sugar.
  • Mix and pour drinks.
  • CHILDREN: Help set the table. Get dressed. Serve or pour non-alcoholic drinks. Set food on the table.


RECIPES

FRENCH RADISHES

Have you tried these before? So delicious. My sister first introduced me a few months ago, and they’re the quickest little appetizer. She takes it up a notch with fresh bread. Mmm. Wash and slice fresh radishes. Swipe a bit of softened unsalted butter on the top. Add sea salt.

 

ROSEMARY POTATOES

I have a family of potato-lovers, so they are always a welcome edition to any special meal. Wash 2 pounds of butter potatoes. Toss them in extra virgin olive oil. Generously sprinkle with sea salt and freshly chopped rosemary. Bake in the oven at 425F until done, approximately 35-40 minutes.

 

FRESH BERRIES

Rinse and pat dry your choice of berries. I used raspberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries.

 

LEMON BUNNY CAKELETTES + PETITS FOURS

These mini-bunny cakelettes were my favorite part of the meal. Aren’t they cute? I used this mix to help save a bit of time and it was wonderful! Think: moist lemon pound cake. One box filled both the mini-bunny cakelet pan and the petits fours pan, and they carry the mix gluten free, too. Wink.

 

ALMOND CROISSANTS

Croissants are my pastry weakness, and these are my absolute favorite pre-made croissants––the next best thing to having a French baker in your kitchen. The chocolate are spectacular, too.  

 

SPRING VEGETABLE EGG CASSEROLE adapted from Gimme Some Oven

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 yellow onion, peeled and diced

8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1 lb asparagus, cut in 1” pieces

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 bunch of broccolini florets

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

12 eggs, whisked

½ c. milk

Sea Salt

Black Pepper

Lightly rub butter over the surface of your casserole dish. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté a few minutes until translucent. Add a bit more oil (if necessary), and stir in the garlic, carrots, asparagus, broccolini. Sauté for about 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Sauté for another few minutes. Pour half the veggie mixture into the casserole dish, layering half the goat cheese on top. Repeat. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the vegetables. Cover and put in the fridge overnight or bake straight away. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes. It is done when the knife (or toothpick) is clean. Serve immediately.


This post is sponsored by Williams Sonoma, a company our family has loved for years. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-2in_the_kitchen_cecile_moliniein_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-4“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Cécile Molinié, the inspiring creative at Cécile Moli and contributing member of See My Paris. Cécile is the mother to four children and lives in Paris, France, where she cherishes her kitchen as both the center of their family life and the touchpoint to nature. Welcome, Cécile!


I grew up in the French countryside and at a very young age became used to helping my mother grow the vegetable garden, pick the berries, plums or apples. I learned how to preserve some of them for winter and also about the real connection between man and nature. We had a very big kitchen with a view on the garden, and as I loved cooking and found it creative and relaxing after long days at school or in college, I tried a lot of recipes, from the daily ones to the very elaborate ones. I loved it!in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-13in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-7 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-9 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-8When I first moved to Paris to study law more than 20 years ago, space was scarce and the kitchen was very tiny. But there is a story about Parisian kitchens, even in very chic an large classic Parisian apartments. The first time I entered such a beautiful place, I was amazed that the kitchen was isolated from the rest of the apartment, put at the end of a long, dark corridor, close to the back stairway (in French, escalier de service: the staircase used by the maids and cooks to enter the apartments by a back door in the 19th century). Most Parisian apartments are made like this. The kitchen was the place no one should see. The living room, dining room and library were very large and opulent and the kitchen very small. It was the case in the three first places we lived in with my husband and growing family until we finally bought our current apartment six years ago.

It was a big space in a modern building which had been occupied by offices for 40 years and needed a full renovation. The architect and I decided to put the kitchen at the heart of the house, close to the bedrooms, the living room, dining room, with lots of light from the terrace and a place to eat or work at a big table, a place specifically dedicated to cooking. in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-3in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-11 in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-5in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-12So this is our Parisian kitchen, one that doesn’t look so Parisian in a way! This place is where we all gather for meals or after school for homework or tea time with friends. It is always warm and welcoming. I often take my computer there to work with the kids around me. The kids like to help me cooking when they have time. Little Miss always sets the table with the silver, while the others help me with the vegetables, or the sauce, and of course with the dessert!

I decided to share a typical French dish, La Blanquette de Veau. Even the name is evocative for an English speaking person; blanquette pronounces exactly like blanket.  It is the perfect comfort dish for the cold Autumn and Winter days that all my children love and ask for––the very same one my grandmother cooked when I visited her. The recipe was inspired by the children’s cookbook pictured, one that was mine when I was a child. It is really easy to make. It just takes time to prepare and must be watched. Afterward, I always keep the remaining broth and use it to make a soup for the evening with angel hair pasta or these small letters pasta, very popular in France with the children.in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-6in_the_kitchen_cecile_molinie-10LA BLANQUETTE DE VEAU (Veal Stew in a White Sauce) 

Serves 6

You need :

  • 1,2 kg (2 ½ pounds) of veal shoulder cut into little cubes
  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut into slices
  • 1 big onion, peeled with the cloves stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut lenghtwise
  • 2 leeks mostly the white part (keep one green leaf for the bouquet garni below)
  • 1 bouquet garni (ie : 1 little branch of bay leaves, one of thyme, one green leaf of leek, a few springs of parsley) or at least only the bay leaves ; Tie all the herbs together into the leek leaf.
  • 1 table spoon sea salt
  • ground pepper
  • parsley or chives (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • ½ cup 100 ml crème fraiche (optional)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 500g white rice

Method :

  • Put the veal pieces in a large pot (cocotte in french) add 2 liters of cold water and bring to a boil.
  • Skim and add all the vegetables, bouquet garni and salt.
  • Add some water to cover everything if necessary
  • Cover, lower the heat and let cook for one hour.
  • When the veal and vegetables are tender, remove the bouquet garni.
  • Let it cool a little bit and leave the meat in the pot and put the broth in a large bowl.
  • Cook the rice
  • Make the roux : melt the butter in a large saucepan, add  the flour, it must get a little beige (not brown), add one or two pinches of salt. Then add, one at a time, 7 to 8 laddles (3 ½ to 4 cups) of broth into the saucepan, stirring constantly between each addition. The broth turns thicker and makes a creamy white sauce.
  • Mix the creme fraiche and egg yolk.
  • Add the creme fraiche and egg yolk mixture to the sauce and stop the heat.
  • Pour this sauce into the cocotte with the meat and vegetables.
  • Sprinkle with parsley or chives if your children like little green things on their food (mine don’t )

Serve immediately with the rice. Bon appétit !


All images and words by Cécile Molinié for Cloistered Away. You can find more of Cécile’s work on Instagram @cecilemoli and @seemyparis.

in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-10 “In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Susanna Hindman, the gentle, candid voice at Revisionary Life. She is the mother of two young children in Baltimore, Maryland, with a desire for simple foods and quality meal times, greatly inspired by her childhood home. Welcome, Susanna. 


I have a few distinct memories of sitting around the table as a family when I was a kid. The words chaotic, messy, loud, delicious, simple, and fast come to mind as I try to piece back together the scene of 7 kids sitting around the table my mom had stripped and refinished all on her own. She was a do-it-yourself kind of woman before it was popular to be so, refinishing furniture, painting better-than-wallpaper murals and details around our home, and homeschooling each and every one of us. She knew only one recipe when she first married, and even though it was my dad’s favorite, she refused to make it for their first year of marriage and diligently worked her way through the Betty Crocker cookbook instead. Today, she’s a free spirit in the kitchen and hardly ever glances at recipes. Spices and seasonings fly this way and that as she indiscriminately tosses dashes of them here and there, often creating little clouds and puffs of aromatics.

While she tried to pass on the experience and skills she’d gained over the years, I wasn’t always keen on absorbing them. So into marriage I went, armed with nothing but some serious pancake and pie skills. (I was a carb lover early on.) Predictably, I repeated the cycle, and the Better Home and Gardens cookbook and I became real good friends. In a way I’m glad, because learning to cook is one of the favorite things my husband and I did together as newlyweds. And thankfully my mom is only ever a phone call away.

in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-11in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-6in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_lifeEven though my abilities were lacking, my mom did manage to equip me with the basics early on. Already we’ve started introducing our 5-year-old to a few basic kitchen skills in the same way. We’ll see if she’s a better student than I was. My goal is to draw her into the process and give her a bigger vision of what goes in to creating a meal. I have all kinds of dreams about what that will look like as she grows, but for now, involving her can be anything from 5 minutes of chopping vegetables, to practicing fractions while measuring flour, to setting the table, to showing her how to discern when certain fruits are ripe enough to eat. All of that lives within the broader lesson of hospitality and welcome that we want our kids to catch a vision for as we entertain friends and invite in the unlikely stranger. We want so much more for our children than to simply master the mechanics of preparing a meal. Our hope is that in viewing and participating in the preparation that they would grow in identifying and offering the love and generosity that comes with the labor and creativity of that service. For now that looks like teaching them gratitude, proper table manners, and modeling heart-directed questions and dialogue. Pretty normal, often monotonous stuff, but foundational and necessary.

With an 11-month-old roaming underfoot, meal prep needs to be fast and uninvolved most nights. Embracing this particular season with young children, I’ve let go of fancy and labor-intensive dishes, and I tend to gravitate towards simple and easy instead. To me, when done right, simplicity has a sophistication all of its own. When our budget allows, I dress things up with fresh herbs, a special drink, or set out snacks of nice nuts and fruit.

in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-2in_the_kitchen_susanna_hindman_revisionary_life-8family_meals_revisionary_life-11Menu planning is something that helps me keep things simple and focused. I do this weekly, usually on Sunday night, preparing me to shop Monday morning. An Everlasting Meal and Family Meals have been recent sources of inspiration for me. To give my mom-brain a break, I’ve adopted a more systematic approach this year, assigning categories of meals to different days of the week. The structure narrows down my choices and helps me make decisions quickly and easily. The categories shift and change with the seasons, making room for variety and natural rhythm.

M O N D A Y | meatless

T U E S D A Y | tacos/soup

W E D N E S D A Y | salad

T H U R S D A Y | chicken anything/roast anything

F R I D A Y | pizza

S A T U R D A Y | leftovers or maybe out to eat

S U N D A Y | pasta

Since we’re still in the early years of parenting, gathering around the table for a meal isn’t always pretty and is rarely relaxing, but we try to keep a few habits in mind to help everyone enjoy the meal and each other’s company. Habits such as:

Practicing gratitude through prayer and compliments for the chef(s).

Exercising intentional relationship using open-ended questions. “What was something that made you sad today?” Can you tell us one way you were able to love someone today?”

Encouraging discovery through requiring everyone to take at least one bite of everything that’s served. (Bribery is sometimes employed for this job. Hashtag: honest motherhood.)

Our meal-time isn’t structured since my husband’s schedule is ever changing, and sometimes I scrap our menu plan and pull out my awesome pancake skills or go out for fast food instead. I’ve been known to cry over uncooperative piecrust and utter curses under my breath when something isn’t going as planned. Those are the nights we order pizza and my 5-year-old reminds me to “take deep breaths.” But there’s such value in the effort and so many benefits to the home-cooked, gather-around-the-table routine, that we aim to make it happen, night after night.

One of my favorite, low prep meals is spatchcock chicken. About an hour before meal-time, I prep the chicken and put it and some potatoes in to roast. 15-20 minutes before it’s done, I’ll add in some vegetables. That’s it! When my husband is home, he gets fancy with the vegetables, and no bribery is needed to polish off every last bite. That’s his recipe below.

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SPATCHCOCK CHICKEN, serves 4

fresh whole roasting chicken, ~5 lbs.

coarse salt

cracked pepper

lemon, optional

fresh thyme, optional

1/2 pound small roasting potatoes, quartered

olive oil

Prep. Rinse chicken and remove the giblets. Pre-heat oven to 425. Remove the chicken’s backbone (per Martha Stewart’s handy step-by-step instructions). Place in oven-proof skillet, 13×9 pan, or roasting pan. Pat dry with paper towels. Generously season both sides with salt and pepper.

Sides. If there’s room in the pan, place quartered potatoes (drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and rosemary or thyme) alongside the chicken. Otherwise, place in a separate pan and roast simultaneously with the chicken.

Cook. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until juices run clear and potatoes are tender.

Serve. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the meat and sprinkle with fresh thyme just before serving, if desired.

BRUSSEL SPROUTS

2-3 strips thick-cut bacon

12 oz brussels sprouts, bases removed and cut in half

sea salt

cracked pepper

¼ cup white wine

handful of walnuts

handful of gorgonzola cheese

Prep. Chop up and fry 2-3 strips of thick-cut bacon in a cast iron skillet. Once the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan and set aside for later. In the remaining bacon grease, sauté 1 clove of minced garlic. Once the garlic is golden, remove it from the pan and set aside for later.

Cook. Place brussels sprouts cut side down in bacon grease. Cook until tender (I prefer a slight crunch). Salt and pepper to taste while they are cooking. Immediately before removing the pan from heat, add 1/4 cup of white wine. Remove pan from heat.

Serve. Add bacon and garlic back to the pan. Sprinkle in walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. Best eaten while hot. Be aware that serving them in the cast iron skillet is great but that they will continue to cook some. So if you will not eat them soon, they may get overdone.


All images and content by Susanna Hindman for Cloistered Away. You can  find more from Susanna at Revisionary Life, and also on Facebook and Instagram

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“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Myndi DeVore, the creative soul behind Myndi D and Myndi D Food. She is the mother of two children in Chicago, Illinois, and has an eye for simple design and clean foods, both which are reflected in her ideas and meal plans below. Welcome, Myndi!


I grew up in a family that valued cooking at home. We rarely went out to eat, and I learned the importance of the kitchen at a young age. In high school I taught myself to cook a few dishes and would make dinner once a week. When my husband Charlie and I were first married I was inspired to expand my skills in the kitchen. I dove into cookbooks and we began hosting friends for dinners in our little apartment in the back half of a rambling Victorian house at the top of a hill. Our kitchen was scarcely large enough for two people to stand in, but it was ours and felt like a great luxury after living with roommates. We spent many nights washing dishes in the wee hours of the morning after bidding our friends farewell. As I gained confidence in the kitchen I moved away from processed ingredients and towards cooking from scratch.

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Almost twelve years later I have continued building on those roots we put down in that cozy kitchen. I still focus on avoiding processed foods and feeding our family healthy, home cooked food. We eat everything but veer towards a plant-based vegetarian diet, eating meat once or twice a week. We try to limit eating out to once a week, so I spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing meals for our family of four. As our family has expanded, I’ve come to rely on planning and prepping food ahead of time.

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Typically, I sit down on Sunday and plan out our week. I warm up some morning coffee, sit down with my favorite cookbooks and make a list. Often I follow a basic template that shifts with the seasons. I find following a template, at least for this phase of our life with young kids, means I don’t feel overwhelmed with meal planning. Our weeks typically go something like this:

 

MONDAY | Something vegetarian or vegan. When in doubt a pan of roast vegetables with rice and avocado. When we’re in crisis mode? Pancakes or eggs.

TUESDAY | Something in the Mexican family. Think tacos, salads, build your own burrito bowls, enchiladas, migas, etc.  

WEDNESDAY | Wednesdays are busy nights for us, so I’ve come to rely on the slow cooker. Typically I’ll do a curry, braise, or a soup. When I’m on my game I double the slow cooker recipe and put half of the prepared dish in the freezer. In the summer, this night gets replaced with grill night. I like to double up on what we grill too, making enough extra to cover our lunches and other meals.

THURSDAY | Leftovers! In a pinch, my go to is pan frying leftovers and putting an egg on top.

FRIDAY + SATURDAY | Weekends are flexible. Sometimes we eat leftovers. Sometimes we go out. Sometimes we make pizza. Sometimes we order takeout. Sometimes we put the kids to bed and make a cheese plate or a special date night dinner.

SUNDAY |  Sundays are family days. It’s usually the night I cook something more time consuming or tackle a more challenging recipe. We usually do an earlier dinner around 5pm with time afterwards for playing games or watching a movie.

 

in_the_kitchen_myndi_devore-2in_the_kitchen_myndi_devore-5Our girls love to help in the kitchen. They wash lettuce, grate ginger, pluck herbs, peel and chop vegetables, and stir ingredients. I find involving them usually encourages them to try new things. When we grocery shop I ask them to pick some vegetables and fruit for snacking. If they pick it, they’re more likely to eat it (usually). When it comes to feeding kids, I’ve learned to never underestimate them and that persistence pays off. We’ve always prepared one meal for the family.  They can choose not to finish it, but we always ask them (and encourage and cajole a little) to try a bit of each item on their plate.

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Cooking meals day in and day out is work. Often it’s less inspired and more a chore to see to it that everyone gets fed. But I never regret taking the time to prepare a meal. Sitting at the table with my family restores my spirit no matter what we are eating. in_the_kitchen_myndi_devore-8in_the_kitchen_myndi_devore-4in_the_kitchen_myndi_devore-22

TIPS

+ Keep a tidy, uncluttered kitchen. Clean your fridge weekly and take note of your pantry items.

+ Set aside an hour each week to cook ahead and prep food for the week. Slice vegetables, make a vinaigrette, cook a protein, grain, and something for breakfast.

+ Check out cookbooks from the library to give them a test run before purchasing. Challenge yourself to cook and try new things.

+ Keep a list on the fridge or a notebook handy to write down recipes that work. Even though you think you’ll remember every brilliant meal, you won’t. You’ll have a list of easy, go-to recipes at the ready.

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This was one of the first recipes I made when Charlie and I were married. It felt fancy enough for guests, but perfect enough for the two of us, giving us  plenty of leftovers for the freezer. It has evolved since that first dinner party and is a perfect template to adjust to suit your family’s taste.

YELLOW CURRY + RICE

Curry 
1 T. coconut oil

1/2 C. minced onion 

4-5 garlic cloves, minced

4 tsp. minced ginger 

2 C. chicken or vegetable stock 

1 tsp. cumin 

1 tsp. coriander 

1 tsp. paprika 

½ tsp. salt 

½ tsp. pepper 

½ tsp. turmeric 

2 cans coconut milk (don’t bother with light)
5 C. thinly sliced vegetables (We typically do zucchini, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, and peas)


Peanut Sauce

1 tsp. coconut oil

½ C. peanut butter
(sub almond butter for allergies)
4 T. water

2 T. tamari

2 tsp. rice vinegar

2. tsp. lime juice

2-3 C. cooked chopped chicken, fish, or tofu (optional)

 

COOKED BROWN RICE or QUINOA, for serving
Garnish: toasted coconut, cilantro, green onions, hot sauce

  1. Begin by heating the coconut oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until softened, then add the spices. Cook for 30 seconds and add the stock. Simmer for 5 minutes then add the coconut milk. Bring mixture back up to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken. Add the thinly sliced vegetables. Simmer mixture for 8-10 minutes or until the vegetables become tender. Add cooked protein if using. Stir well. 
  2. Just before serving, mix up the peanut sauce by combining the peanut butter, water, tamari, rice vinegar, lime juice, and coconut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat briefly until the mixture begins to bubble, 2-3 minutes. If it is too thick, add a splash of water. Taste and add more lime juice if it needs it.
  3. Spoon rice on to the plates and top with the curry and then a drizzle of the peanut sauce and garnishes on top.

All images and content by Myndi DeVore for Cloistered Away. You can find more from Myndi on Instagram at @myndid and @myndidfood

 

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Although I often share images or videos of our food and family table, I’m also curious how other families connect around the table. What are other kitchen spaces like and how do they include children in the process? Is there even a process? Wink. What type of meals  do other homes prefer and how do they make time together and experience food? This fall, I’m beginning a new series “In the Kitchen” where I plan to introduce other voices into this conversation on kitchen life and food. Each one will share something a bit different from the next, as location and homes and family life vary, but each will share a recipe or two, something to try in our own home. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

To begin the series, I’m introducing Emily Nelson, a swoon-worthy food blogger at Gather&Dine and a mother of two in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a quiet soul with a broad palate and a penchant for whole foods, and I cannot wait to try her Caponata. Welcome, Emily!


in-the-kitchen-emily-nelson-2 in-the-kitchen-emily-nelson-1When we built our house five years ago, I knew I wanted the kitchen to be at the very center of our home since gathering, cooking, and eating together are such important parts of family life.   I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen, and both my children took a natural interest in working alongside me from a very early age.   Pouring, mixing, and kneading were all fun and relatively easy tasks for them when they were young, and I have fond memories of messy afternoon baking sessions together.  More recently we’ve been focusing a bit more on knife skills, and they have a great sense of accomplishment when they see a heaping bowl of vegetables they’ve chopped entirely on their own.  Working together in the kitchen has been a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with one another.  At the same time, the children build confidence and simultaneously acquire valuable skills to last their lifetimes.

Preparing food together also gives us opportunities to discuss healthy eating habits, which is especially helpful as the children become more independent and capable of making their own food choices.  As a family, we try to eat according to whatever is fresh and seasonal with an overall wholesome and natural approach to food.  While we do not adhere to a vegetarian diet, I do draw a lot of inspiration from various vegetarian cookbooks and blogs.  Both Deborah Madision’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food and have heavily influenced my way of cooking and have been invaluable resources.

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Meal planning once a week helps me to stay organized and minimizes trips to the store.  I find cookbook perusing a delight rather than a chore, and I keep a running list of recipes I want to try.  With my ever-growing list of recipes, I’m never out of ideas when it comes time for my weekly meal planning.  I enjoy experimenting with food so there tends to be a lot of variety in our dinners, but I do try to incorporate at least one favorite and familiar meal on the menu every week.  This helps with building comfort around the table, and also lends to sense of family identity.  Sometimes the kids will join in helping to plan the meals, and Erin Gleeson’s Forest Feast for Kids has been a cookbook they have especially enjoyed.  

We are very intentional about prioritizing our family dinners together.  More and more as the kids have become older, I’m finding that there are numerous activities which can pull us apart at dinnertime.  We try to fight against this as best as we can, and only schedule extracurricular activities during the dinner hour when we absolutely have to.  It’s not easy, but guarding our mealtime together has been a priority nonetheless.  Cooking and eating together has deepened our connections and relationships with each other, and has overall helped us to be a close family.

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This caponata is traditionally served along with some crusty bread, and I think it also goes particularly well with grilled rosemary chicken.   It’s a meal that can please both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, and is well suited for gatherings of all sorts.  The kids helped with everything from washing and chopping the vegetables to sautéing and garnishing, so this was a family meal in the truest sense.  

CAPONATA

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound

1 red bell pepper

1 red onion

4 ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound

2 tablespoons capers, drained

¾ cup green olives, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted

chopped parsley to garnish

  1. Chop eggplant, red pepper, and onion into ¾-inch pieces.  
  2. Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add eggplant, pepper, and onions and cook until vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir for an additional minute.  
  3. Add tomatoes, olives, capers, vinegar, and salt.  Turn heat to low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.  We enjoy this when the vegetables are not overly soft, but if you prefer a softer caponata, simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
  4. Garnish with pine nuts and a generous handful of parsley.  Serve warm or at room temperature with grilled rosemary chicken and some crusty bread.  

 

GRILLED ROSEMARY CHICKEN

4 chicken breasts, about 2 pounds

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

lemon wedges and rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional

  1. Place chicken between 2 pieces of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to pound the chicken until it reaches an even 1/2 –inch thickness.  
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add chicken and toss to coat evenly.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat grill to medium high heat.  Grill chicken breasts for 3-5 minutes on each side.  Garnish with lemon wedges and rosemary along with an additional drizzle of olive oil.  

 All images by Emily Nelson for Cloistered Away. You can find more from Emily at Gather&Dine and also on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest

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Last autumn, our family began practicing a weekly Sabbath meal together, which I wrote about in more detail over here. Six months into this new family tradition, I have a little more to say about both the difficulties and surprises of this new practice, so I thought I’d list them out to share:

Rest is a gift. ||  This point sounds redundant but it is worth repeating. I simply cannot stress enough how valuable this weekly 24-hour period has become to our family and to myself. Naturally, it better guards our family time but the sweet spot for me is shutting down the obligation of output, whether in social media or school work or even events within the community. For an entire day, I literally shake my hands of typical responsibilities pertaining to the home and work. If I wake early, I’ll often wander back to our bed at some point for a nap or to more leisurely read a book. In a season of life filled with millions of things to do, it has been empowering and peaceful to tell myself (and the nagging TO DO list in my head): not today.

Rest is a discipline. || Oddly, by practicing rest more often, I’ve realized how often I actually fight it. Because Mark works outside of the home and our children are with me during the week, the weekend can feel like my time to get things done. So it’s been surprising to learn that while I love this period of intentional slow, it still requires discipline to practice.  In the same vein, I have noticed that practicing the Sabbath has helped me gauge the my levels of stress more acutely, as it takes me longer to settle into a restful state when I am feeling anxious. On those weeks I tend to think “this is wasted time; I have so much to do.” I know it’s ridiculous, but in those more stressful weeks, rest is a discipline, one that always rewards me with what I really need: time to wrestle with the origins of the stress, time to ask the even the deeper questions of why I feel undeserving of it, and of course, time to bring all of this to God. The gift is time. Although it feels anti-productive, the discipline of rest has been a spiritual and mental refreshment from the tyranny of all work, even work I love, even when I don’t think I need it.

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Sometimes you run out of gusto. And that’s okay. || Some weeks simply steamroll us, making it more difficult to find the physical or emotional gusto required for the elaborate meal. On those sort of weeks we’ve adapted our meal, at times eating pizza or take-out food by candlelight. Those are the weeks I need rest the most and relieving the burden of the fancy food (while less enticing) is helpful.

Sometimes we say no to good things. || Tons of events happen on the weekends, especially with children: birthday parties, sleepovers, sports activities, traveling, etc. When possible, we stack our weekend plans for Saturday evening or Sunday. Although we occasionally make exceptions for travel or holidays or special events, we weigh those things heavily and are learning a simple lesson that sometimes it is good to say no to good things. Sometimes we need the undivided rest more. Since a few of you have asked, our children do not currently participate in any activities that require regular weekend commitments. In certain seasons, it’s better for the harmony of the home to say no.

Share the meal (and the meal preparation).  || Since my sister and brother-in-law live practically down the street from us, we share this meal together most weeks. While it requires more coordination and larger amounts of food, it’s fantastic sharing the responsibilities and expense. It always helps with accountability too, much the way having a gym partner will. You’re more likely to follow through if you know someone else is counting on it. If you’re far from family or don’t yet have a family of your own, consider hosting a meaningful weekly or monthly meal with close friends who have similar values. A communal table is beautiful.

Children love helping. || The children are perhaps more enthusiastic about this meal than the adults, and although in our home they are required to help, it’s beautiful seeing how they love participating in the process. They are eager for this time together with good food, family movie night, and a following slower day together. Each week, they mostly set the table themselves, spreading the table cloth, arranging the florals and tableware, and writing the name cards. They also help filling the glass water bottles and making the food. They’re always eager to help with the weekend cake. Wink.

Eat outdoors, when possible. ||There’s something tremendous and spiritually connecting about a beautiful meal and nature together. I’ve found the weeks we set a formal table outdoors are often my favorite. Since the weather has been sporadically warm this January, we enjoyed our Sabbath meal in the backyard last week, just beside a warmly life backyard fire-pit. Honestly, leaving the physical house for a bit can be the best way for me to draw that initial line to end work. Walking through the back threshold of our home, I figuratively announce: I’ve worked enough. Perhaps that’s the greatest lesson for me thus far, learning the power and humility in the word enough.

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When the kids were littler, Mark and I would load them into the double jogger or onto our back or into the bike trailer every evening after dinner. During those years of wakeful nights and tired bodies, we used that time to share our day-happenings and day-dreams. Often, we welcomed silence, soothed by the rhythm of foot and gravel. The kids shared in their own peaceful rides, the fading light dancing across their eyelids, the changing world whispering lullabies. (Nothing ever seemed to calm my babies as well as being with us in the outdoors.) At the time, these family walks seemed as small nothings. Years later, those walks have become sacred to me, moments bottled and reserved in my heart. I know now, they were a gift. They were establishing our family.

Although we are sleeping well at night now and I’m no longer nursing or pregnant, it seems harder to maintain simple family rituals, even easy family walks. At every turn there seems to be another opportunity to wedge a new or better something into our routine– extra work, another home project, a new activity, a new friend. These are all good things, by the way. But if I’m not careful, they can sometimes distract me from the sweetness of the present, of being right where I am. And honestly, sometimes when the kids are grumpy or bickering or somehow I’m not accomplishing my TO DOs, I can and do wish to be elsewhere. I am human after all. Still, this season with our children full of rich questions and wild imagination and new attitudes and adventure is also a gift. Our daily rituals don’t always divide up as neatly as before, but these days are dense with goodness if I’ll look for them.

Last week the kids helped me make gluten-free pancakes with bananas and bacon and orange-carrot juice–a slower, more intentional weekend meal. Mark pulled an old table we inherited with the house into the backyard for an impromptu breakfast al fresco. Two of the kids argued right before eating, delaying the meal. They recovered and so did the meal and our enjoyment of one another. Olive left the table just after finishing to ride her bike in the lawn. Soon the other kids followed, playing beneath the green canopy in our yard. Mark and I enjoyed the rest of our meal and coffee together, our words drifting on the wind between us. Somewhere deep inside of me, another bottle is sealed and labeled.

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I’ve always prioritized eating well and exercise, but somehow in the busyness and stress of this last year I’ve noticed a few poor eating habits sneaking into my (and the kids’) routine, the two biggest: eating more processed foods and standing/walking while we eat. The second sounds ridiculous to say aloud but the two habits partner easily. I take a handful of this and a nibble of that and keep moving. Naturally, the kids do the same. Even when they munch on quality foods (fruit/veggies), they’ll often walk around the table or kitchen or yard while they eat. Of course, I remind them to sit down at the table, and yet I continue eating my own meal standing at the counter. What is it — do what I say not what I do? Argh. The truth is eating well takes time. Time to prepare. Time to eat. Time to enjoy. In effort to slow down and enjoy simple whole foods, I’m sharing a few simple-ingredient salads showing up on our table these days, and this one took about as long to make as a PBJ sandwich. The kids added a little shredded cheddar and blue corn chips to their own.

{ingredients}

  1. tomatoes, cut in large chunks
  2. black beans, warmed
  3. sliced avocado
  4. chopped cilantro
  5. baby spinach
  6. chopped onion

Do you have any tricks or tips to help you/your family prioritize eating well (and seated)? I would love to hear.