Sunday, March 22, 2009

Soup, Salad, Sorbet Behind the Scenes

The Menu:
Butternut Squash Soup
Green Leaf and Cucumber Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Grapefruit and Honey Sorbet

J.G. Wilder asked me to describe how we do our cooking thing.

This project started out as a way to romance the kids into trying new food. But the best part about it is how nice it has been to cook with the kids. To see them enjoying and taking pride in their creations.

The witching hour when the kids are tired and hungry and run around fighting while I try to make dinner is largely a distant memory. We work together to put the meal on the table. Nibbling at the veggies as we chop takes the edge off our hunger.

Here's a list of what we do. We don't do all of these things all the time, in fact, some we have never yet done. But as many of these as make sense, we do.

1. Look through cookbooks together to figure out what we want to cook, keeping in mind what is in season. I look for dishes I think we could "bridge" to.
2. Make shopping lists together.
3. Shop together. The kids have their own lists and run off to find all the items on their lists.
4. They carry in all the groceries. :)
5. We figure out together what order to make everything, or who makes what.
6. They peel and chop, eating the raw veggies and fruits as they work.
7. They cook and stir and taste for seasoning.
8. They set the table, light candles if they want them.
9. They set out condiments, salt, pepper. We have a salt tray and fancy salts to sprinkle. Greta likes the pink salt.
10. We sit down all together and eat!
11. I don't force them to eat anything. I woo. I charm. But I don't cajole or force (at least, I really try not to).

Here is how we prepared this week's Soup, Salad and Sorbet.

I was at the store and thinking I had not talked to the kids about what kinds of soup, salad and sorbet they wanted to make. I decided to buy some butternut squash and a chicken and give them the choice of butternut squash soup or chicken soup. Butternut squash soup seemed reachable to me as Clem once had a passion for sweet potatoes and loves pumpkin pie, and Ev loves soup.

Greta had said that she wanted strawberry sorbet, so I picked up several baskets of strawberries.

I chose a head of green leaf lettuce and two cucumbers figuring that a salad lies mostly in the dressing, and that all of them eat plain raw cucumber.

We took the strawberries to a history fair, and I baked the chicken for dinner one night. So much for the chicken soup and strawberry sorbet, and for the kids' opportunity to choose!

I peeled one butternut squash. Clem cubed it, pausing to be Captain Squash. I boiled it in stock.

Meanwhile Clem had the idea of toasting the seeds. Why not? I thought garnishing the soup with toasted seeds would be a great way to entice Clem and Greta to try the soup.

I was too sick to finish making the soup in the evening and we bought a chicken pot pie for dinner.

Clem and Greta ate all the toasted seeds.

The next day I woke up feeling ok and pureed the squash and returned it to the pot.

I felt terrible all day but just before Mike got home from hiking with the kids I popped enough advil and tylenol to get my fever under control and thought it was time to have that soup, salad and sorbet. I cut open the second butternut squash and toasted the meager few seeds it contained.

Greta thought the two halves of the squash looked like "babies wrapped in blankets". She loved and rocked her sweaty babies.

Evelyn picked a meyer lemon from our tiny tree and zested and juiced it.

I peeled a cucumber and Clem sliced it. Mike washed the lettuce and Clem tore it into bite-sized pieces.

Clem and Evelyn finished making their own dressings. Ev has not found a dressing she likes and was trying to make one without vinegar. Clem enjoyed mixing seasoned rice wine and red wine vinegar into her lemon juice, shallots and olive oil.

Our strawberries were gone, but there were a number of grapefruits that had hardened skins in the fruit bowl. I cut them in half and lo! they were all good inside. Evelyn juiced them with Greta's help. Greta helped me dissolve sugar and honey in a little hot water and poured the syrup into the grapefruit juice.

I put the mixture in the freezer to chill. Mike set the timer so that we could check on it and catch it just as it was beginning to get skim ice.

I finished off the soup with a dash of pumpkin pie spice and some cream. Clem stamped her foot and said that this was not going to be her dinner because she does not like butternut squash soup or green leaf lettuce. See pout at right.

Ev got the soup bowls out. I filled water glasses.

Greta cleared her story tapes from the table. She has cassettes of all different colors and she has been making Dagwood sandwiches out of them. The yellow are the bread, the green, lettuce and red, tomatoes.

I put out plates and forks. Ev got the soup spoons. Everyone who helped set the table got to light a candle (everyone!).

I served the soup in the kitchen, Mike carried the bowls to the table. Clem carried the salad bowl to the table.

I put five little groups of four butternut squash seeds on a doll plate.

We sat. Phew.

And passed the little plate around. Everyone sprinkled 4 tiny seeds on her soup (doesn't that make more sense as we girls outnumber the boys 4 to 1).

The seeds worked their magic on Clem. She inhaled her soup. Then half of mine, then most of Greta's. And then her salad.

Greta ate cucumbers. And made pretty patterns with her cucumbers. She may have eaten a plain lettuce leaf.

Ev tried her salad, but did not like her dressing. She seemed to enjoy her bowl of soup.

Evelyn remembered the book Pumpkin Soup. I pulled it off the shelf. The cover page was exactly the color of our soup. My soup eaten, I read the book to Greta hoping to entice her to try her soup.

In the story the duck always adds the perfect amount of salt. But he left in a fit of pique and the cat and squirrel oversalted the soup in his absence. I asked Greta if her soup was oversalted. She looked at me and dipped the very tip of her finger into the little puddle of soup remaining in her bowl and licked it.

"Not too salty," she said.

That was all she had of the soup, but I call it a victory. She chose to try it.

After dinner the sorbet liquid had chilled enough. Greta poured it into the ice cream maker. Everyone ate the grapefruit honey sorbet, served in liqueur glasses. Although Greta said it tasted like "lemon grease". I thought it was effervescent and intense and refreshing and delicious. Next time I'll have it with champagne poured over it as suggested.

So this time we managed to do, or at least partly do, numbers 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 on the list.

And I happily added Butternut Squash Soup to my list of dinners that 4/5 of us will eat.

Anyone have any tips to share? Points you would add to the list? I'm all ears.


J.G. Wilder said...

Thank you, thank you! These are just the kind of details I am missing because I so rarely get to see you guys. Isn't it funny how moments that could probably be irritating when they are happening and you are hustling to get dinner (like playing with the squash!), are so sweet and poignant when you write them down? Your ability to stay engaged even through setbacks (fever!?!) is the golden ticket.

Kristin Sherman Olnes said...

It is so fun and funny to read about the whole nitty gritty process. Thank you for sharing.

AM said...

"Sorbet" es igual como "sherbet."

gina said...

No pointers, in fact I was taking notes. :) Thanks for the insight into the process- even the trip ups... it' seemed like a grand process overall. :)

patricia said...

It's so fantastic that you cook with your kids. Really cook with them.

I couldn't help appreciating all the great imagination that goes along with your cooking: the butternut squash hook--love the photo!--the butternut squash babies, the sandwiches made from cassette tapes. I'm a sucker for that stuff.

I'm sorry you were feeling so bad! Moms aren't allowed to get sick, you know. ;-)

Oh, and we had your doctor to dinner on Sunday. She raved about your honey, and was so proud that her patients were enticing me to become a beekeeper!

JeaneP said...

I just had lunch but my mouth was watering. Pinky dips lead to sips :) Maybe Ev would like a milk base dressing with a cheese? I'm with Clem for the three bowls worth!

JeaneP said...

I just had lunch but my mouth is watering. Pinky dips become sips :)
Maybe Eve would like a milk/mayo base (could make her own mayo with oil and egg and lemon or seasonings right in it) dressing. I'm with Clem - 3 bowls worth YUM!