White chocolate peanut popcorn clusters

By | October 30, 2014

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This recipe and story first appeared in the Aug. 25, 2014 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my cooking column in Binah magazine.

I was gone for all of three minutes — it was just a quick bathroom trip, honest — but it was three minutes too many. I came back into the kitchen to find the refrigerator door open, with my 16-month-old standing just inside, one arm plunged into the peanut butter. I was afraid I’d spend the entire day guarding the fridge door, so before my husband left for work, he created an impromptu lock made from rope and a carabiner. That was our setup for months. Sure, it was a little inconvenient to unclip a carabiner each time I wanted to open the fridge, but you know what’s more inconvenient? Scrubbing peanut butter off the fridge shelves.

This was hardly the first thing we had to baby-proof. That prize goes to the bookshelf. The lowest shelf is just the right height for our pocket-sized sefarim, and it housed them quite comfortably until the day the baby started pulling them down. I moved it all to the bookcase in another room and set up his collection of baby books on that shelf instead. Of course, that was only good enough until the day he reached up to the second-to-lowest shelf. (He showed a special preference for my haggadah with the rose-colored cover and
Ruchoma Shain’s All for the Boss.) Hoping to avoid relocating another entire shelf of books, my husband set up a rope running the length of the shelf. Most of the time, it works.

I remember a phone call with a friend in America when the baby was just four months old. My friend asked what he was up to, and I proudly described the way he’d been rolling over. She was already a mother to two toddlers, and told me to enjoy this stage where “he probably just lies on his play
mat all the time.” Before you know it, she warned, he’ll be getting into everything.

Bit by bit, we learned what “getting into everything” actually meant. At seven months, he ventured off the play mat on his own for the first time. (Quick! The camera!) It didn’t take long until he discovered that the veggie cart was
pretty close by. When all he did was reach up to the poke the potatoes, it was pretty cute. But by the time he was standing and tossing the too-soft tomatoes overboard, we needed another solution. Up went the cart to the top of the kitchen closet, where nobody can reach it, myself included. Standing
on a chair to reach my produce has become a matter of course.

veg cart

In our pre-baby days, we had a small glass-topped corner table with a decorative vase next to the couch. This table was one of the few things we bought new, and the vase — a gift from my mother — looked perfect on it. But of course its days were limited. As soon as the baby swiped at a table leg, I gained a second nightstand. And the vase? I guess it still looks nice on top of our bedroom closet.

Fortunately, it hasn’t been hard for me to see the humor in all of this. And it’s been so exciting to watch our son grow from an infant into a rolling, sitting, scooting, crawling, cruising, walking kid, no matter how much baby proofing has to be done. But I’ll admit that it was difficult when he started getting in the way of my cooking. I don’t mean that he wanted my attention and I couldn’t even throw together a simple batter, although that was pretty normal, too. I mean that by the time he was 14 months old, he was tall enough and steady enough to manipulate the knobs on our stove and oven. And he took full advantage of it.

I’d turn on a flame to start pan-frying some eggplant, and he’d calmly walk over to the stove and turn it off. Or he’d turn the flame up to high when I needed to simmer a soup, or turn it down to low when I was trying to boil pasta. Oven cooking was the same; I’d set the temperature to a normal
180 C, and a minute later he’d come by and raise it to the max, 260. Don’t worry, he was supervised — I can’t tell you how many times I supervised my stove being turned off. I tried preparing recipes while he was awake and baking them during naps, but it’s impossible to always time things just right, and not every dish is suited to that kind of cooking. After a few months of this, his fascination with the stove knobs ebbed a bit, but I still haven’t found a true solution (if you have any ideas, I’m all ears).

At least the carabiner on the fridge has been doing its job, and I can count on our food being where I leave it. I’ve taken to keeping the peanut butter on the top shelf, though…just in case.

Our toddler usually eats peanut butter in sandwich form, but when it comes to making treats for the adults in the house, I love using it for things like these white chocolate peanut popcorn clusters. The rich combination of white chocolate and peanut butter upgrades your everyday bowl of popcorn to something truly special. Best of all, this is a dish that’s fast and easy, even with a toddler keeping you on your toes.

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Aaron's pita pizza pockets

By | October 28, 2014

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The credit for this one belongs to my husband. At some point in the first trimester of my first pregnancy, he came up with his magical formula of frozen pitas + sauce + cheese and all together, it became the only thing I could stomach other than potatoes and ginger ale.

Once I started feeling human again, I think we both forgot about pizza pitas, if only because there were things like homemade pierogi and glazed chocolate donut holes to distract us. Oh, and this ridiculous thing. That was a fun project. Does it count as nesting?

But pita pizzas are always there when you need them, and they made a great return during my second pregnancy, when my husband once again stepped in to pick up all the slack. (There was a lot of it.)

Pizza pitas are the perfect solution to the problem called “too tired/too little time to make dinner,” no matter the reason. With the help of my husband’s step-by-step-by-step directions below, you’ll have a crowd-pleasing meal ready in minutes. Seriously, this is just about the easiest dish you can make. If you like, cut up a salad to make the meal a little healthier, but if not? No judgement from me.

This recipe first appeared in the Feb. 24, 2014 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my cooking column in Binah magazine.

Menu Plan: Week of Oct. 26, 2014

By | October 26, 2014

Last week was a first for me. Other than the menu plan, there were no posts! I guess I shouldn’t call attention to that, but I still feel all ugh about it. Until the middle of November, I’m going to be up to my forehead in editing (would have said my ears, but that’s not high enough). No, no, don’t get excited, it’s not my book. This is just another crazy period in the life of a freelancer with little kids at home.

And so: This week’s menu features more easy, simple, fast meals. I can’t promise that they’re at all inspiring, but they’re definitely quick. And because I want to give you some good stuff to chew on, too, I’ll be sharing a fun, low-key dessert and a non-recipe kind of recipe (my husband’s specialty). See you soon!

Menu Plan: Week of Oct. 19, 2014

By | October 19, 2014

After working so hard to fill my freezer, it’s bare again. I think this is the emptiest it’s been since I gave birth, actually. No challah, no muffins, no whole wheat toddler bread. No pancakes, no ice cream, no carrot soup or mushroom soup or beet soup or anything soup. No pizza dough, no zucchini kugel, no quiche, no second quiche. It’s frightening.

But without the time or energy or patience to start restocking, this week’s dinner plan is all about short-term goals. You know, the primal goal of having at least one decent meal during the day. Tuesday’s lentils are one of the easiest things I make, and with two pasta dinners on the menu, I’m hoping the other days will be manageable, too. Shavua tov!