Warning! This story contains classified information about what happens to your life in the kitchen when you have kids. People who do not yet have kids but are considering doing so at some point are advised to stop reading immediately, and return to daydreaming about baby names.
There should be a name for it. For what happens when you finally bring your first offspring home from the hospital, and the hormone high that’s had you feeling like you’re floating in golden clouds of baby paradise starts to wear off. That’s when it happens. You crash.
You enter a period of crazed, desperate sleep-deprived madness. It lasts longer than you think it will. And you realize that getting a nice meal on the table is suddenly totally out of the question. Even if you’re an experienced kitchen Jedi, the never-ending roller coaster of laundry, feeding, burping, rocking, changing, and sleeping in 1-hour bursts often makes cooking a real meal seem…impossible.
Author, teacher, and accomplished cook Debbie Koenig has been through it all, and she wants to help. She’s got a series of three classes called ‘Parents Need to Eat Too’ launching next week at Caribou Baby in Greenpoint, in which she’ll be sharing the tricks she developed as a new mom to get the food flowing again.
We spoke with Debbie to learn more about her methods for taming the new mom (or dad) madness.
Hi Debbie. How did you come up with the idea for your classes to help new parents to keep cooking?
This is where everything in my life has led. I worked in book publishing, but I left in 2002 planning to open a gourmet shop. I had worked with all these cookbook authors and was eating at all these fine restaurants and taking all these cooking classes and I just thought it would be perfect to open a gourmet food shop.
I took a job with a woman who was mentoring me. She owned a restaurant and catered and had a gourmet shop…and it didn’t take me long to realize that I actually didn’t want to do that. I wanted to write about food instead. I started writing, and cooking at home, and then I had a baby.
And wow. I quickly found that even with all my interest in food and experience in the kitchen, I could not manage to get dinner on the table for me and my husband. I couldn’t do it. So I started working on it. It took me a while but I figured out some tricks and techniques, and I sort of got my kitchen legs back and found ways to make good meals every day.
When my kid got a little older we put him in pre-school. The school had a moms’ group, where once a month we’d get together and teach each other about whatever we were proficient in. When it was my turn to lead the group I did a cooking class focused on using a slow cooker. At the end of the class one of the moms pulled me aside and said, “Wow – that was amazing! You should teach cooking for new moms! Moms need this kind of help because everything changes when you have a baby.”
She was right. I had been through it myself. I went home that day and sort of sketched out a syllabus and posted on the Brooklyn Baby Hui – my local baby message board – to see if anyone was interested. That day I had more people sign up than I could accommodate in my kitchen.
That was two years ago and I’ve been doing classes ever since. It’s been a few months since my last class, because I’ve been writing a cookbook called “Parents Need to Eat Too.” I just this week finished it and sent it off to my editor. It’s coming out next year from Harper Collins. Now that the book is done, I’m jumping back in to teaching!
So where are the upcoming classes being held?
I’ve managed to hook up with the women who own Caribou Baby, a new baby store in Greenpoint, where I live. They have a kitchen space, and we thought it would make sense to open it up and do it there because their kitchen can handle a lot more people than my kitchen at home.
And it’s a series of three classes?
Yes, it’s a series of three.
In the first class, we focus on the new mom’s pantry, which is slightly different than just a regular person’s pantry. New moms often don’t have time to go food shopping, and the sleep deprivation does horrible things to your brain. You forget things, and you often find that you wanted to go to the store but couldn’t for one reason or another, so it’s crucial to have things in your pantry that you can turn into dinner in a moment’s notice.
We talk a lot about what kinds of things to look for, how to read a nutrition facts label, how to eat healthfully and avoid BPA and all kinds of things like that.
You want to have healthful, delicious pantry items that can last for months, so that even if you don’t have time to go to the store you have what you need to make a great quick dinner.
In that class we’ll be making a quinoa salad with nuts and dried fruit as an example of the sort of gret meal you can make with pantry items. We cook during the class and everyone takes home that night’s dinner.
Tell us about class number two?
In the second class we focus on slow cookers. Slow cookers are an indispensible tool for new moms. You put the food in in the morning and you walk away. You don’t have to go back and stir it. You don’t have to check on it. It’s almost impossible to burn it. So even if you’re having the worst possible day and your baby will not let you put him down, dinner will be ready at the end of the day.
It’s funny – I was a huge snob about slow cookers. My mom had one when I was a kid, but I refused to use one until I had a baby. My mom and dad showed up one day a few weeks after my baby was born with this giant stainless steel slow cooker. I just laughed and assumed I’d never use it.
But then I stumbled across a whole discussion online about how slow cookers had changed everything for all these new moms. I gave it a shot and within a day or two I was hooked. If you have babies or toddlers, slow cookers are a game changer.
That makes a LOT of sense. What’s the final class about?
The third class focuses on nap time cooking. This is huge! Very young babies take so many naps during the course of the day, that you can take a fairly complicated recipe and break it up into steps. That way you can spend 15 minutes during each nap working on components of the meal. By the end of the day you have all the prep work done and you’ve got an amazing meal!
We really concentrate on the approach, not on a specific recipe, so if you’ve got a favorite family recipe or something that you feel like you’ll never be able to make again, my approach will help you to break down the recipe into pieces that you can prepare in short bursts during the day.
The idea behind the classes is that I learned the hard way how to get back on my feet in the kitchen while taking care of a baby. I want to help parents to figure things out earlier and less painfully than I did!
For just about every new parent, the whole experience of having a baby is such a shock. Such a shock! I was soooo sure that I’d be fine. I tried to load up the freezer with food before the baby was born…I thought, you know, we’ll get througha couple of tough weeks and everything will be fine! But it was MONTHS before I felt normal again and ready to cook.
The tricks and techniques that I managed to figure out can really help new parents adjust.
So is the focus only on making meals for the parents, or does it cross over into cooking for babies and toddlers too?
Every single recipe we make in the classes includes instructions on how to turn the dish into baby food. We talk about what can be pureed, what’s off-limits…No need to buy jars of baby food if you’ve got these recipes, and no extra cooking either!
Debbie’s classes start on May 24th. You can find all the details on Debbie’s blog Words to Eat By.