Six to go

So we survived the first day of the Snap Challenge. I spent a lot of the weekend cooking my butt off, and now that the week is starting you’re going to see a whole lot less effort from these parts. That’s the whole point of cooking in a way that works – do the heavy lifting where there’s more time, then you can lower the bar the rest of the time.

For Sunday lunch I made Joan Nathan’s delicious falafel. The only substitution I had to make was for the cilantro and parsley – just used some of the beet and collard greens I’d already sautéed and they worked beautifully. Made a green sauce of just yogurt and green onion with a little salt. Since we didn’t have any of the usual accompaniments – pita, tomato, lettuce – I made potato chips.


I realize that as we do this challenge my family and I have a pretty nice kitchen already stocked with decent equipment and basic staples, which is something a lot of people don’t have. I’m using equipment that serves me well, is multipurpose and didn’t cost an arm and leg – I don’t have a standing mixer, I have a small hand beater. I don’t have a giant food processor, I have a mini-prep. Everything is several years old and cost under fifty bucks. I think they’re great investments.

I also know the SNAP challenge permits you to use your existing spices and condiments, and I’m trying to use judgment about that, considering what someone on this budget might realistically have on hand. The table salt and pepper and cinnamon and vegetable oil are in, but the sea salt and saffron threads are on the bench for the week. Instead of using my homemade vanilla bean extract, I bought a small bottle of store brand, and instead of the regular table wine I use to deglaze everything, I bought a bottle of cooking wine. Trying to be as honest and fair as possible.


Crispy things. Oh yeah.

Potato chips

Microwave potato chips are kind of brilliant, kind of pain in the ass. They don’t take much effort but you have to do them in batches, which means a lot of in and out of the microwave. I thinly sliced two russet potatoes (thanks, Martha Stewart for Kmart mandoline), rinsed them in cold water, patted them dry, and then coated them in a very little bit of oil. I zested a lemon and mixed the zest with some salt and oregano and stirred in to the spuds. Then I just laid batches of them on a paper towel covered plate and zapped for about 4 1/2 minutes at a time.

They were a happily scarfed up side to the falafel, and then we capped the meal with clementines.  And we have just enough falafel and chips for Bea’s Monday lunch.

For dinner I boiled a chicken. Let me mention here that I roast a hell of a chicken. Some days, I think roast chicken is the number one thing standing between me and ever becoming a vegetarian. But a boiled chicken lets you make a crazy amount of stock. 


There’s polenta under there, I swear

I reserved all the giblets (I have plans for them) but the neck, which I simmered with the bird and the onion peels, a carrot peel, and the stalks from the greens. When the chicken was falling off the bone tender, I took it out, strained the stock, and shredded the meat. Served half the meat with polenta that I made with the stock, and the greens warmed up with raisins and sliced almonds.

For dessert we had an apple crunch I’d discovered via Sarah Moulton’s ”Everyday Family Dinners.” The recipe is just sliced apples tossed in apricot jam and topped with granola, and baked. Genius.

Instead of jam, I had a can of peaches in syrup (regular sugar, not high fructose corn) I got for a dollar at the Rite Aid. Pureed it and used half for the crisp filling, froze the other half in popsicle molds from the dollar store. Served it with Greek-style yogurt sweetened with honey.


Who needs whipped cream?

Lucy and I loved it but Bea was less enthused, so Monday she can have a peach pop while Lucy and I polish the rest of the crisp off.

We’re doing fine and eating well so far, but I imagine it helps that we’re a normal sized female and two children doing this. I can absolutely understand why big dudes like Mario Batali and Cory Booker struggled a whole lot more with hunger doing this. If we’re going to take care of each other in this country, and feed those who need help, we have to really feed them. It doesn’t work if it just works for 9 year old girls and their 9 year old girl appetites. 

Without a doubt, the best thing about doing some damn much cooking this weekend – while we were preparing dinner we also had Monday’s bread and tomato sauce in the works – was just the time in our tiny kitchen with the girls. We talked about school and friends and vacation plans; we made messes and cleaned them up and argued over who got to measure things out. It was exhausting and wonderful.

Kids need to learn how to cook. They need to be taught how to hold a knife and peel an apple. They need to know so that someday, when they’re alone in the kitchen with an eggplant, they’ll know what to do with it. And here’s the bonus – at a certain point, they actually become helpful. The work of making meals gets done more quickly and efficiently.

So whether you’re a non-cooker or a champion of the stove, please don’t be afraid to bring your kids into the kitchen. Fumble around and learn together if you’re novices; let go of your control issues and loosen the reins if you’re territorial. Our family kitchen is so tiny that one person can barely fit in it to pull together a meal. Yet when we’re in it together, really magical things happen.