Friday, September 7, 2012

Samuel's 5th Birthday! Power-Batch Cooking & Planning a Whole Foods Event; A Series, Part 2

Yesterday I told myself I would power-batch cook.

1-2 times a week I throw large batches of rice in the rice cooker, beans in the crock pot, and make double or triple batches of hummus, salad dressing, and baked goods. These come in handy in making last minute salads, burritos, veggie burgers and pizza, and other whole, fast food meals.

Power-batch cooking = carving out dedicated kitchen time to make the basics: large batches of legumes, grains, sauces, dressings, and baked goods.

I prepared myself and my kitchen for some good, hard work.

I make sure to meet my own needs first by getting ready for the day and eating a good breakfast. Then I give my kitchen a good cleaning. Not a perfect cleaning; I'm just about to get it dirty all over again. Knowing myself, I have to have clear counters and no dirty dishes in order to focus and work efficiently.

And then I sat.

Lately I haven't been interested in eating very much. Let's just say I've felt a little tired of food. As a human being do I really have to eat? Can't I just go play with my kids, read books, take a nap?

So instead I sat on my kitchen bar stool. I looked at my kitchen, and thought about the work ahead of me.

I tried convincing myself. Ashlee, you haven't cooked a big meal for your family in two days. They are hungry! Nope, didn't work.

Then I moved to threats. Ashlee, how can you possibly encourage others to power-batch cook if you don't want to do it yourself!?! Still sitting there. Staring.

I continued to use all manner of mental manipulation, and then Paul's words came to my mind.

Start with something easy, that you love.

Make it pleasant for yourself.

Reward yourself.

Paul has had to do a lot of difficult things in life that he doesn't want to do; admirable, amazing even, but difficult. One of his most amazing accomplishments is that he has earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. He described to me a point in his life where he couldn't stand school for one more second. He got in his car. Drove to the mountains. And sat.

At which point he proceeded to tell himself that he was never going back to school again. Never touching one more homework assignment. It was over. He wanted out.

He told me he took a deep breath. Went for a walk, and let himself think. He recognized that he was struggling with the task in front of him. He fought the greatest of wars we all fight every day - that inner struggle - and won. He got back into his car and returned to the battle field.

Needless to say Paul has some really good tactics to use when trying to muster up the strength to win.

I looked at my brainstorm list. You don't have to cook all of this. Just put a large batch of rice in the rice cooker, and then you'll be done. Easy. I looked around my kitchen again and saw my Zune (MP4 player) and speakers. I slowly meandered over to the counter and started some music.

Thank you, Chloe Agnew.

You made it pleasant.

I thought of Samuel. My favorite little boy in the whole world.

His birthday party would be in two days.

I love shopping and preparing for my children's birthday parties. I love the look on their faces when they know that it's all about them. The look that tells me they understand that they are important to me, and important to everyone around them.

This would be my reward.

My pressure cooker being filled with ingredients to make a large vegetable soup, Jasmine brown rice cooking in the rice cooker, and behind it are my music speakers. They're workin' hard...

After starting the brown rice, and putting together a quick vegetable soup, I planned Samuel's party menu.

I put this menu together in 5 minutes, using my notebook and the strategies discussed in part 1 of our whole foods pantry series. On the next page is my Costco shopping list.

The first thing I realized is that it's the adults that are picky! In this situation, children are very happy with fruit trays, veggie trays, chips, juice boxes, mini sandwiches cut into fun shapes, chex party mixes, cookies, cake, and ice cream.

Usually a party menu consists of cheesy pizza, or hot dogs, or macaroni and cheese. Last year for Essie's 7th birthday party I made my plant infused mac n' cheese, and it didn't go over as well as I wanted it to. First of all, I shouldn't have used the word, "cheese," when describing the menu. Kids liked it, but some of the adults obviously knew it wasn't cows milk cheese.

I'm thinking a warm pasta dish for the adults, maybe another Italian twist on Cauliflower Bechamel?

Then a big, green salad...Who says kids are difficult!?

For other formal large events I have made my Cheesy Mexican Casserole and it was a big hit. But it's a casserole. Who serves a casserole at a birthday party?

The cake is like the crowning event. Samuel and I looked through my cookbooks and he chose Lemony Luscious Cake with Strawberry Sauce from Dreena Burton's Let Them Eat Vegan!

He wants the cake to be served with a side of peach ice cream.

After finishing the menu planning, I wrapped up my power-batch cooking by making a large batch of salad dressing, and then I made Thai Chickpea Almond Curry (again from Let Them Eat Vegan!) to be served over some of the Jasmine brown rice for dinner.

I already used my batch cooking to help me! The curry came together in minutes; it's rice that takes forever!

After it was all done, I stood back and realized that if all I did was make the rice, soup, and the salad dressing, my whole week would have been easier than if I had done nothing at all. The idea had been more daunting than the actual task.

Raw Tahini Salad Dressing -- one of my favorites.

Now I get to enjoy my reward of making a big fuss over Samuel. Prioritizing well is essential to be ready for our guests tomorrow. But mostly so that I don't forget to enjoy one of the last days I've got with my four-year-old son. If I am not careful, I will miss the most important part; he's turning five. And growing fast.

What do you do to conquer seemingly difficult things?

And what types of food do you think adults like to have served at formal gatherings?


  1. I think this is what I need to master. Making component foods in large batches. For example, the rice or quinoa could be used in so many different recipes thorughout the week. And if most of the components are already cooked its just a matter of dressing it up and re-heating it :) I also need to make a list of the "non-cook" food that I can take on the run. I reall like the make things in bulk concept. Thanks Ash!

  2. The best thing about these types of component foods is that it takes practically no time at all to throw water and rice into the rice cooker, and beans and water into the crock pot. They cook themselves perfectly for hours while you can make a salad dressing, other sauces (cheese, savory, etc) and hummus. Dreena Burton often says, "A sauce makes a meal." When you have component foods pre-made you can put them together over some greens, throw on a good sauce, and you have a perfect meal in minutes. The other great thing about foods like brown rice is that it can be frozen. If you don't use it all in 2-3 days, stick it in your freezer and then thaw it out for future meals.

    What kinds of "non-cook" foods are you thinking about? Paul always wants stuff on the run, so I guess I want to get some ideas from you. Madras Lentils at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods Market (I bet they are even on Amazon?) look really yummy, and if you pick the right ones they look healthy, too.

    I am realizing that hummus is a huge deal because you can make a sandwich with it SO fast. You can also dip veggies and crackers anytime. If you try Kids' Dynamo Hummus from Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan, it works SO well on sandwiches, because it is basically a cashew cheese with hummus ingredients added to it. My kids LOVE it, and they don't normally like hummus.

    1. I use grilled zucchini and red onions with tomatoes as a filling for Paul's and my sandwich, and hummus as the "cheese." I then grill the sandwich (kinda' like grilled cheese sandwiches). For kids sandwiches I just use the hummus as a filling (no veg, yet!), grilled with non-dairy butter. My kids love it with almond milk. Yum!

    2. I am tyring to put together a list of "on the go foods." Mostly what I have found that works really well are: Vegetables with hummus (I will post this delicious zuccinni hummus on my blog soon), Fruit (in season like peaches right now are amazing!) I put the fruit in season or banannas and blueberries on breakfast cereal with almond milk. I literally keep the bag of cereal/granola at work intead of lugging it back and forth. I eat toast with broccoli for breakfast. Find foods that are easy to mircrowave. Laura Bars are good. Granola bars crumbled over soy yogurt with fruit is an easy breakfast parfait. Spicy almonds with grapes is SO good. Seperate containers of pre-packed almond chocolate milk is a good replacement for sodas. I am finding more and more tricks. Carrots sticks,(organic little baggies are at costco), celery sticks and vegan ranch dip. Get some glass pyrex from target and it wont melt in the microwave with soups and cassorole (leftovers).Pancakes or waffles (freeze in bulk) in the work break-room toaster with organic low-sugar strawberry spread (again at costco)top with fresh strawberries too. Leave one set of dinnerwear at work, wash it at the end of the day and then leave it there at your desk... I will do a post on this LOL this is getting way too long. :)

    3. Oh, please do post! This sounds like a really good blog post already! I LOVE your ideas. Broccoli with toast? That sounds awesome! You are obviously an expert on these on-the-go-foods. I would love to see what you write. I miss your posts very badly and you obviously have some great stuff going on.

    4. K, I just copied, pasted, and printed your ideas. I'm gonna try them. Love it, thanks Aimee!

  3. I love that you are sticking with it even with big events. I would love to know what some of the recipes you use when cooking for other people. I have a hard time finding something that is somewhat "normal" when people come over. We usually do pot pie, spagetti or veggie fajitas. We need some new meals!

    1. Your meals sound really yummy to me, esp pot pie and fajitas! Since going plant-based I have been pretty gun-shy about having guests over. After a year I am standing back and realizing that I would really like to reach out to others more and have them over. Even at the risk of them not liking my food. I don't have an answer right off for more "normal" dinners, but I think it's a great idea, and it makes me want to post dinners that I would feel confident in serving to guests. I'm kinda' in a rut lately on finding new dinners, and I want out if it!

  4. batch plant
    Very Good Post.
    Decent gen nowadays.
    Cheers for sharing with us.

  5. Aww! This is such a cute share. Attended a couple of weddings of my known at Chicago wedding venues in last few months. All were amusing and bright lighting highlighted the venue very well. Food quality and staff attention towards guests was mind blowing. Even the royalty of interior is beyond perfection.