Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Drought-Tolerant Kitchen

Strangely, life with a preschooler and a newborn is much easier than I had expected it to be. When my first child was born, I was shocked by how hard everything became, so naturally I was sure that life with two kids would be twice as difficult. It’s nice to be wrong.

We’ve settled comfortably into a new way of life around here. Baby Girl sleeps most of the time, and Big Boy relishes his job as Mama’s Little Helper. And since The Husband starts his work day around 6 or 7am, he is usually home by 4pm, ready for his Daddy Duty of holding the Baby Girl and reading the newspaper while I cook dinner. So while I was a wee bit nervous that adding a new child to our family would render my cooking time obsolete, I’m finding I have just as much time to prepare dinner as I always had. And like I said, Big Boy likes being the helper, so he pulls up his stepladder and joins in wholeheartedly with helping get supper ready.

Of course, Big Boy prefers to spend most of his time unclothed (hey, he’s a three-year-old, what do you do, right?) so the bigger arguments generally center around why I make him put some pants on before he helps me in the kitchen. “But I want to cook naked!” he protested yesterday afternoon, with his hands planted firmly on his hips.

Actually, since cooking is such a relaxing hobby for me, I only took a week off from the kitchen when Baby Girl was born. My Sunday School class, my friends and my family provided delicious meals, and oodles of desserts (true nectar for breastfeeding moms) while I spent that first week snuggling on the sofa with my sweet children, but after six or seven days had gone by, I felt like my muscles were beginning to atrophy, and I quickly learned that there was very little I couldn’t do while wearing the baby in a sling and just going about my business. Well, except for that whole sleep-deprivation thing, but I’m trying not to focus on that…

More interesting than anything, I think, is that the extreme drought we’re in the throes of has had much more of an effect on my cooking than the addition of an infant to our family. I mean, sure, I have less energy and time to devote to cooking than I did before Baby Girl was born. But here’s the thing about the drought: the dishwasher uses far more water than hand-washing, and I want to do my part to help the natural environment. So naturally, while we’re needing to conserve water, we’re flushing our toilets less often (disgusting, but true), I’m taking fewer showers (easy, since it’s hard enough to find time to take a shower with a new baby in the house), we’re wearing pants and shirts until they’re good and dirty before we run the washing machine, and (here’s the real kicker) I’m washing all the dishes by hand.

Now, it should be noted that up until three and a half years ago, I had never used a dishwasher before. There was a dishwasher in my first two apartments (1991 and 1992), but I neither ate much nor cooked at all in those days, so I never used them. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure how they worked, and since I only drank coffee and ate cereal at home, it would have been a bit silly to put my three dishes in the dishwasher every day. In all the other places I lived, there weren’t dishwashers and I didn’t know what I was missing. But then we built this house, and The Husband put in a dishwasher, and I started cooking all the time. And yeah, it hasn’t escaped my notice that I didn’t take up cooking as a hobby until I had a dishwasher. And pretty much every time I cleaned up after dinner for the past three and a half years, I have voiced my love for, and gratitude to, my blessed dishwasher.

So I’m sure everyone can understand my consternation surrounding the decision to not USE the dishwasher until this water situation has improved (which the media predicts could take another year). As if a new baby in the house hasn’t provided enough extra work to my day, now I’m choosing to wash all the dishes by hand. I am a foolish, foolish girl.

And I totally regretted this decision when I cooked ALL DAY on Saturday and had to hand wash something like six loads of dishes. Most of the time, this hand washing pact isn’t really that big of a deal. But on Saturday, when I decided to bake a Santa Fe Dip recipe (which turned out to be relatively pedestrian) for Sunday afternoon snacking, and Peanut Butter – Dark/White Chocolate Brownies (truly delicious) for a Sunday potluck lunch, Peanut Butter Truffle Cookies (with which I didn’t manage to achieve the proper texture due to my long-standing inability to bake a decent cookie) for my sweet tooth, along with Spinach Lasagna (yum!) for Saturday’s dinner, I got REALLY grumpy about the dishes by the time it was all said and done. And I’m afraid something is gonna have to give here. Like maybe I’ll have to run the dishwasher one day a week after the marathon Saturday cooking sessions, or I’ll have to give up the marathon cooking days themselves. Which do you think is more likely?

  • Cooking spray

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3.5-oz bar of dark chocolate (60% cacao is a good choice), chopped into chunks

  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter

  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil

  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

  • 2 eggs

  • 2 egg whites
  1. Combine flour, chocolate chunks, chocolate chips, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

  2. Combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, oil, vanilla, eggs and egg whites in a large bowl; stir until well-blended.

  3. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; stir just until blended.

  4. Spread batter in a 9x13 baking pan that has been coated with cooking spray.

  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out almost clean. (Note: convection ovens do a great job with brownies, cooking the outside nice and crispy while keeping the center moist).

UPDATE: To see where I later realized the error of my ways (and ate my words) regarding the use of the water-efficiency of dishwashers, see the next post.


Anonymous said...

The good news is, if you have an efficient dishwasher, it actually uses less water than hand washing.

Check out: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/kitchen-appliances/dishwashers/reports/less-work-less-water/index.htm

So, at least on days with an overwhelming pile of dirty dishes, you shouldn't have to feel guilty!

Stephanie in AR said...

I too would check out how much water your dishwasher uses. I was sure it used more until the sink stopped-up one day (mine is portable). It took just 1 sink full--much less than washing by hand, but we have 8 people at home too. So if it really saves water to wash by hand the use the washer on cooking day. The cooking at home & clean up is bound to be more water efficient than anything bought at the store.

Paula said...

Hi Sarah,
Maybe you should let the Big Boy know that Jamie Oliver, http://www.jamieoliver.com/about/, is already the Naked Chef.

Glad to see you're blogging again.


Linda up north said...

Hi Sarah! Good to see you blogging again! Congratulations on your beautiful baby girl :)
We have 13 people in the house right now and I have been struggling with what would be more energy and $$ conscious, though we are not low on water in our area. The thought of doing an hour's worth of dishes three times a day surely depresses me :( I am putting it off until we run out of dishwasher soap... ha ;)
Linda (mom of 14, way up north)