5 Tips For Cooking with a Baby + Power Greens Soup

Power Greens Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn’t there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. ‘Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time,  summer must be right around the corner.

In truth, before we had Oliver, we’d often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) ‘expats’ now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what’s good for you, they’d all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn’t where our priorities are this year, and I’ve found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let’s not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle’s no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can’t wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it’s warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light. 

Power Greens Soup | A Sweet Spoonful
I spend a great deal of time thinking about how to get back into the kitchen and cook. Everyone said that it would all change after a baby and I read posts touting the magic of meal planning and Quick Weeknight Dinners, assuring myself this would not be us. How hard could it really be to find time to cook again? Hard, it turns out. You were all right, alright? And it’s clear I’m not the only one thinking about these things (did you all see Molly’s post on Cooking with a Young Child? Kasey’s recent post on Cooking These Days?).

I knew in the weeks after having Oliver things would need to shift. Other people would visit and cook for us, friends would even deliver food. We’d order in. I would take a huge step back. But much sooner than I’d expected I began yearning to take a step back in, despite having neither the time or, frankly, the mental clarity to do so. While I realize that the discussion of cooking with a baby babbling on the kitchen floor isn’t for everyone, I do think, baby or not, we all deal with slumps and hurdles in trying to stay motivated in the kitchen, so I thought I’d share a few tricks that have helped me get back into cooking. Okay, not every night. Hardly. I probably cook a homemade meal either from a recipe or by instinct / feel about twice a week, the other days pulling something quick together with Sam, like a big salad, quesadillas or some sort of whole grain or pasta situation. But, much as our stormy blossoming season, or this little light of mine learning to sit up, I think we’re on our way there.

A Tiny Bit of Gear: I was very, very weary of buying a bunch of baby stuff when we learned we were pregnant. To be honest, I can’t stand clutter and I just hated the looks of most of it. But we’ve slowly acquired a few more things and some of them have proved to be indispensable in getting things done in the kitchen. Oliver has a Bobby Lounger Pillow where he sits happily playing with a toy or two for a good ten or fifteen minutes (twenty if the Gods are favoring you). If you race, you can get some serious chopping done in this time. It helps if you sing in low tones and do some crazy lady dancing antics. Tap dancing works, too. For days when Oliver isn’t feeling the Boppy, we love the Solly Baby Wrap. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy to wear,  keeps your baby close and allows you to be hands free in the kitchen. Now that Oliver’s become more aware and interested in what’s going on around him, I generally talk him through the recipe steps and what will come next. Then if things start really going south, we turn to our trusty pacifier-with-clips, a lifesaver sparing me from constantly bending down to pick the pacifiers up when Oliver inevitably spits them out (I love these not-ugly ones from Madeline’s Box).

Power Greens Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

Menu Planning: I remember probably about a year before Oliver was born, we were at a friends house and she had a dinner menu for the next two weeks posted on the fridge. I was part in awe at her organization and part horrified at the lack of spontaneity in their weeks: what if you don’t feel like taco night next Thursday? Now after having Oliver, I totally get it. Sometimes, it’s all about just putting a plan in place and eating some damn tacos, whether you really feel like them or not. So while we certainly don’t plan out a two week menu (or even a one week menu), I’ve been trying to be really deliberate about picking two recipes or things to make at the beginning of the week so that we have some cornerstone meals and then we fill in the rest with quick, easy dinners or leftovers. Or occasionally a pizza from Delancey.

Cook the Night Before: One of the only ways I’ve found that I can actually cook something even slightly involved for dinner is to cook the night before. Usually this is long after Oliver goes to sleep and long after we’ve eaten dinner … so we’re talking 9 or 10 p.m. At first, I felt really bitter and unhappy doing this, and could think of 99 things I’d rather be doing. Of course my mind wandered to ‘this is what life is now: I’ll never cook dinner at a normal time again.’ But! Come the next day when we have beef carnitas all ready to go or homemade tomato sauce and braised greens, the day feels much more under control. A friend recently lamented that she was having a horrible time cooking dinner because by the time dinner time rolls around, the babies (she has twins!) are fussy and the countdown to bedtime has already begun. I suggested this trick to her. For me, it seems the only truly sane way to do it the way I want to do it. A late night cocktail helps, too.

Power Greens Soup | A Sweet Spoonful

Be Cool With Less: Another reason I initially felt defeated during the dinner hour was in looking at our plates and feeling like we were failing: it was so different than how we used to eat. These days we often reheat soup and thaw a baguette. Sometimes we make grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. We eat a lot of scrambled eggs. Sometimes if we’re feeling fancy we dress them up with chevre and chives. But as with most things Baby, I remind myself it’s not permanent. Right now, it’s all about just getting something to eat before it gets dark. I try to look away from all of those glossy articles and blogs promising recipes and tips for new moms on How to Live Your Best Life in the Kitchen every darn night of the week: it’s possible they’re all living on Mars. We all do our best.

Give Yourself a Break: For nights when shopping and preparing a meal from scratch just isn’t an option, we’ve fallen for this new healthy meal delivery service called Sunbasket. It’s currently available in a handful of states including Washington and California (check their site to see if they deliver to your state) and much like the dozens of other services out there, the meals can all be pulled together in 30 minutes or under and they offer options for specialized diets including paleo, gluten-free, and vegetarian. But beyond all this, I think Sunbasket really stands out for one reason: their approach to waste. They actually include a shipping label so that you can mail back the shipping box along with all of the packaging and they reuse it for a future shipment. So when things start feeling too busy or overwhelming, it never hurts to go the easy route and have someone deliver the ingredients for your dinner to your front door. We recently tried their Spring Vegetable Tofu Stir Fry and loved it. And it actually made a generous enough portion that we had it for lunch the next day. If you’re interested in ordering a Sunbasket box of your own, they’re offering A Sweet Spoonful readers $30 off your first order.

20160304_BlogSunbasket-114

Another great tip that I didn’t formally build into this list is doubling a good recipe and freezing some of it, which is exactly what I did with this recipe for Power Greens Soup. I made this soup late at night and ended up photographing it the next morning while Oliver was bouncing away in his heinously ugly jungle jumper contraption that we’ve exiled into the corner of the kitchen. It’s a soup that started out of necessity: on a very rainy day last week I ended up going to Costco with Oliver because, to be honest, I needed a destination. We usually go on long walks in the morning but with the awful weather, I was at a loss for where to go. So we got in the car and strolled the aisles of Costco, picking up some odd things: a ton of goat cheese, a ton of almonds, a ton of cheddar cheese, a ton of greens and a ton of broccoli. I got home and judged myself, wondering what we’d now do with a ton of said items. And as the days ticked on, I started to worry that the greens and broccoli were going to go bad, so I sat down and pencilled a recipe for a soup packed with greens — a soup that would feel like spring even though spring produce isn’t quite available yet. A simple, rustic soup that I could brighten with a bit of lemon and sop up with a slice of the olive oil brioche our friend Mataio recently brought to our house when he stayed the night.

It turns out there are lots of recipes for green soup out there, most relying on a combination of greens, lemon, onion and potato – or sometimes rice. I wanted to incorporate broccoli and celery simply because we had them on hand, really pack it with hearty greens and fold in nutty Parmesan at the end. While it may not win Best Looking Soup of the Year award, I think it’s a winner. I hope you find the time this week to get into the kitchen at some point and cook something that makes you and your people happy, baby or not. Soup or not. Just something good that speaks to you.

Power Greens Soup

Power Greens Soup

  • Yield: About 6 servings
  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Cook time: 20 mins
  • Total time: 35 mins

Like most rustic soups, this recipe is super adaptable. While I give pretty precise measurements, there’s no need to be too strict here. Worst case scenario if you start to futz with it: you’ll need a little more liquid or perhaps a little more seasoning. When you shop for your greens, many of them now come in 5 ounce bags, so if this is the route you’re going, you’ll need to grab three of those when you’re at the market. Otherwise, simply weigh out the greens on your kitchen scale or estimate in handfuls. I know it seems like a ton of greens but they do cook down quite a bit and diminish in size. Again, going by feel isn’t a bad thing. 

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, diced (about 3 cups / 350g)
3 large celery stalks, thinly sliced (about ¾ cup /100g)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small head broccoli, stalks and florets chopped (3 cups/240g)
1 large russet potato, cubed (2 1/2 cups /320g)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly-ground black pepper
6 cups vegetable stock
15 ounces hearty greens (like kale, spinach, or chard) (about 10-11 cups)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (15g) cup freshly-grated Parmesan, plus more to top

Instructions

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Fold the chopped broccoli and potato into the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook down until vegetables soften, about 7-9 minutes.

Add the vegetable stock. Stir well and bring to a boil. Add the greens and stir until they wilt, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a food processor or blender, puree the soup in batches. Pour back into the pot. Add the lemon juice and stir. If the soup feels too thick, add a bit of water to loosen until it’s the consistency you like. Stir in the grated Parmesan and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve in your favorite bowls with an extra sprinkling of Parmesan.

Note: Sunbasket has sponsored a portion of this post and Madeline’s Box and Solly Baby Wrap kindly sent along their products for us to try. All opinions are my own. 

Comments

  1. Eve

    The soup looks great, healthy and spring-y. The real challenge when you're a new mom is to not only feed yourself, but feed yourself something nutritious enough that you can carry on, even with all the physical demands on you right now. So that looks perfect.

    I have to say, also, that when I finished this piece I thought to myself, "Now THAT is how to do a sponsored post." A weird compliment, I know. But so often sponsored posts feel forced and I immediately want to bail on their painfully obvious pandering, sometimes bailing on the site altogether. This feels like it was written from the heart and, while you were offered some products to try and incorporated them, all opinions are truly your own. A food blogger's got to make a living, and I really enjoy your writing! -- a new-ish reader

    1. megang

      Aww, thanks Eve. That means a lot. I very rarely do sponsored posts because they just never feel right and I want to keep the blog feeling authentic but I saw an easy, obvious way to work this one in that was genuine to our life experience right now so I'm glad it came off that way. Thank you for saying so! ~Megan

  2. Mary

    I hear you on the itch to get back in the kitchen after baby! I had such a hard time with this when my daughter was born - my stubborn streak didn't help very much. ;o)

    One thing that really helped when I was able to start cooking again was planning our meals so that each night of cooking would feed us for two nights. I still do this and it's so nice to know that I can make meals from scratch, but only have to do it four days a week. Having a one year old is SO much easier, too - she gets daddy-daughter time while I make dinner and we're all pretty happy with it. Seeing your photos of Oliver in the Solly wrap makes me nostalgic for the infant days, though!

  3. Amy

    I've been doing strict weekly meal planning since I got married- so 3.5 years now. I honestly cannot remember life without a well thought-out grocery list. I don't mind bumping a meal here and there for dinner with friends, but in general, on Friday afternoon I know what we're eating next Thursday night. It came in super handy when our first kiddo was born, and now that I'm pregnant with our second I don't know how else I'd get a meal on the table. My problem is when I try to go further than a week out- what if the weather changes?? Won't I have to go to the store for fresh produce anyway?? But we're traveling for Easter and the last thing I want to do after a 7 hour drive home is go to the grocery store. So a 2 week plan it is. Sigh.

  4. ciudadanaB

    I love your blog, especially your stories about daily life. I've been following every story for a while (since you got married!) and I admire how genuine you are when you write. Plus, how you describe the city and the seasons, makes me feel like I am there! :)
    All the best with going back to the kitchen with your precious little boy.
    Kind regards from Chile!
    Anita

  5. Carole

    The soup looks delish but the most striking thing is the glow on your face with your darling little boy dangling in front. Man, I remember those tough days! Cooking was absurd but worse than that was the need for my husband to have a pressed dress shirt every day. Our second baby was super fussy and they didn't have baby slings back then. I cooked, ironed and used the bathroom with a baby on my hip. I thought I might always stand at an angle. We all survive but it can take 20 years or more to laugh about it.

  6. Sasha Patterson

    I loved this post, Meaghan. Life with my six-week old (and four week premature) baby is actually so demanding that I couldn't do anything close to what you're describing here.... I am nursing and pumping around the clock and never get more than 60 minutes of sleep in one stretch. But I trust/hope that the next phase will come and it will look similar to what you're describing here (and nothng like how I used to be in the kitchen!) We've been using SunBasket for a few meals a week as well, and I think their stuff is pretty great. My impatient-in-the-kitchen husband can follow the instructions and the meals are quite tasty most of the time. There are a couple of recipe cards that we kept because we will make the recipe again on ou own for sure.

    Also, I have a moby, an ergo and a nesting days (love this last one), but after reading your post I decided to get a Solly as well! It looks so easy and comfortable and frankly, you look adorable in it :-)

    1. megang

      Sasha! When Oliver was 6 weeks old, I was barely getting off the couch. Honestly. Oliver is now 4 months old and it feels like a very different game. Please be easy on yourself; the fact that ya'll are getting Sunbasket meals together is a victory in and of itself, truly. 6 weeks is early in the game - it all really does get easier. Everyone tells you that and I would sort of nod and smile, but it turns out that they're all right :) Sending lots of good sleep vibes your way (and I hope you like the Solly! If anything, they are cute, aren't they?!) ~Megan

  7. Amanda

    Love all of your posts! Both for the thoughtfulness and for the (selfish) reason that they are helping prepare me a bit for the realities of this babe coming in May :) I'm a minimalist at heart as well, but those gear items do sound great. Thank you!

  8. Ashley V

    Never commented here, but love your stuff and have your cookbook, which I cooked out of twice yesterday! Must say your whole grain pancakes are a staple for dinner around here - great to already have the mix ready to go and just having to add the wet ingredients.

    I currently have a 3 year old and she arrived when we also had our teenage son in high school. I had to have dinner on the table for a still growing, hungry boy, and it was so difficult. I also did the night before prep and used nap times to prep dinner. The slow cooker also saved my life. I used that at least once a week, and by doubling the recipe could have leftovers. There really are good, healthy slow cooker recipes out there, and I do not do any that involve browning or otherwise cooking anything before-hand. If I had time for that, I could just cook a meal!!

    You're doing great. It sort of gets better, but I still find myself having to think way far ahead about dinner.

  9. Victoria

    Hi Megan:
    Thank you for bringing up your use of Sunbasket. I feel so much better about my reliance on them lately. I kind of pride myself on my ability to make dinner out of just about anything and my culinary expertise - so having someone send me a box with three meals all predetermined and ready to prepare feels sometimes like selling out. But when my husband and my schedules got busier this year, it seemed like a better option than defaulting always to dinner out or eating one more plate of pasta and salad (or our real standby- Amy's pizzas). There is always more than two people can eat and the ingrediants are almost all organic. Its also cheaper than dinner out. 2 thumbs up.

  10. Carla

    When i get that feeling that i would rather be doing something else right now, it is usually reading a book... So I've started listening to a "book on tape" (a downloadable audiobook on my iPad) while I cook (yes, sometimes you need to pause it so you don't mess up the recipe) or do dishes, or fold laundry for that matter. And it helps me feel like I also got a bit of "reading time" that day :)

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