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Archive for the ‘Creative Child’ Category

My last couple of blogs were on the heavy side, yet I needed to write them.  Today, I’m going for lighter faire – cooking with The Littlest E.  As Executive Director of The Elliott Family Residence (a title I gave myself to help transition me from work force to mom force), one of my duties is to cook our nightly family dinner.  Most of the time, I attempt to create a weekly menu that is diverse, healthy, yummy and easy to make.  I have moments of inspiration as I peruse cookbooks and websites, and occasionally fall back on my really simple recipes when I’m feeling uninspired or, to be honest, lazy.

There are some people who are totally gifted in the kitchen who are able to make the most gourmet meals out of leftovers.  Growing up, my friend Kim and her mom, Judy, always added a touch of something here or there to make a meal a culinary experience.  They intuitively knew what to add or take away to produce remarkable meals.  I, on the other hand, may not have those exact gifts, but I’m a mean recipe follower.  I can hold my own with the best of ’em.

Shortly after our son, The Littlest E, came home with us from Ethiopia, my uncle and aunt bought us the Learning Tower.  It’s a wonderful wooded, contraption that has a fully railed platform where our son can stand and help out with the dishes or help cook without the danger of falling over.  The Littlest E loves to do the dishes.  He splashes around and fills his plastic cups with sudsy soap and gets completely wet while I wash the dishes.  I love this time we spend together.  It’s a lot of fun.

For the longest time, when it came to cooking, I’d put him in the Learning Tower to watch me prepare dinner because he was too little to help.  Now that he’s pushing 3 and is well over 38″ tall, he’s able to take part more in the meal making.  Some days while he naps, I lay out the various ingredients, measuring, sorting, and preparing, making it easier for when the time comes for us to begin our culinary adventures.  We don’t do this everyday, but when we do, it’s a blast.  I feel like Julia Child with an assistant, and The Littlest E is overjoyed when he helps.  He LOVES to help.  If I could only bottle that until he’s 17 and far too busy with his social life to take time to cook with his mom.

For this particular dinner, I tried a new recipe on page 468 of The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, Cuban Roast Pork Loin.  Some of the ingredients included, oregano, garlic, and orange juice.  My son was ecstatic to help out.  First we started with the garlic.  He rolled each clove back and forth in the garlic peeler and actually got a few of them peeled, which thrilled him.  Then we minced the garlic with our press, putting each clove in individually.  He grabbed both ends of the press and made a concerted effort to press the garlic.  I aided him just a bit.  The look on his face after accomplishing his tasks was priceless, so happy and confident.  I held the garlic close to his nose so he could find out what it smelled like.  Cooking is great for kids because it allows them to use many of their senses, touch, smell, sight, and taste.  It’s wonderful.

I mixed the garlic with some other ingredients and then we got to rub the paste we created all over the pork loin.  Describing carefully what we were going to do, The Littlest E and I took turns rubbing the mixture on the pork.  Again, he had a blast squishing the paste through his fingers and rubbing it on our future dinner.  I gently placed the pork inside a gallon plastic bag.  Now it was time to create the marinade that included fresh lime juice.  I cut up 2 limes into 4 sections each and gave us both the task of squishing the limes to make lime juice.  My jubilant son squealed with giddiness as his fingers clenched down on his prize.  We took turns squeezing the limes and watching the juice drip into a bowl.  When we were through, I asked him to taste the lime.  At the same time, we put the squeezed out limes in our mouths, tasted and puckered.  He’d never tasted one before.  I said, “It’s sour isn’t it?”  He nodded in agreement, giggling, eyes lit up.

The marinade was complete.  Together we poured our marinade into the plastic bag and he placed the bag in the refrigerator.  We were finished.  Next up, my son’s nap and cooking our meal.  Then, once his daddy got home, we’d have our family dinner.

After my Sous-Chef woke up from his nap, he helped me make the brown rice.  I measured the rice in the cup and he poured it into our rice maker.  The pork loin was already in the oven roasting.  Our house smelled of garlic and citrus, quite aromatic.  At dinner, The Littlest E told his daddy bits and pieces of the cooking he did with me that afternoon.  He was thrilled to have spent time with me in the kitchen, thrilled to have helped, and thrilled to eat the pork!  It was delicious, garlicky and tangy, and the meat as tender as could be.  It was one of the best recipes we’ve tried.

A Traditional Cuban Pork Meal

If you’ve never made a meal with your child, I highly recommend it.  We’ve made pizza before as a family, but this day was a bit different, perhaps because he’s growing up and understanding things at a deeper level.  I hope we continue to make meals together.  It’s such a bonding experience, and we get a wonderful meal to eat on top of it.  There are so many things we can do together and so many things we can teach our children.  I’m glad I’m able to teach him the joy of cooking.  Bon Appetit!

Images: Melanie Elliott, jacksonwes, Julie Magro, Edsel Little

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