Toddler Tuesdays: Master List of Parenting Strategies, 1-5

IMG_0171.JPGSo, one of the nerdy things I’ve chosen to do with my life is compose a list of parenting strategies that I find fall on the spectrum somewhere from ‘useful to keep in the back of your mind’ to ‘I don’t know how I’d parent without this’. (Right now, my list is mostly centered around dealing with toddlers and preschool-aged kids, but since I’m about to have a baby, I’ll be compiling a list of those strategies over the next year.) In the hopes that this list might be of some use to someone else, I thought I’d go through and share the items on the list, a few at a time, with my thoughts and experiences tagged on. Here are the first five:

  1. Use unconditional love and praise. “I love watching you do x.” “I love you because you’re mine.” “I love you no matter what.” “It’s nice to be here with you.” A little kid’s life is full of feedback, both positive and negative, verbal and nonverbal, where it’s easy for them to link their behaviour to how much their parents love them. I try to regularly use no-strings-attached language like this to express that my happiness in them isn’t hinged on their being ‘good’, but on their being my kid and being themselves. It’s especially nice getting this parroted back to you as a little blonde boy slips his hand into yours and remarks confidingly, “I like being with you, Mummy.”
  2. “Leaving well is part of coming next time.” For regular outings, remind them that if they aren’t able to leave a place well, you will pass up the next opportunity to go there. This is a great, great tool to have in your toolkit. It only takes a couple of reinforcements for your kids to learn that you mean business (for Scout Kid, it was missing out on a special bike ride with his daddy), it’s catchy and easy to remember, and it drastically cuts back on the amount of whining that comes at the end of a fun outing. I use it for screen time as well, as that’s another situation when the end of the time often results in a lot of whining.
  3. Involve them. A kid who feels they’re part of what you’re doing will have no desire to act out. For example, I can literally not recall one instance of the boys making mischief or being defiant while we were baking together. Although I can recall plenty of instances where ingredients were eagerly dumped in at random…
  4. When their behaviour makes life easier for you, pause and thank them, and tell them in specific terms how that behaviour benefitted you: “Thank-you for being so helpful in the grocery store. When you walked nicely beside the cart, it made it much easier for me to focus on getting the things on my list.” “Thank-you for cleaning that up without being asked. Now I finished my work more quickly so we can spend time together.” I don’t like using praise as a motivator all that much (see #1 above; I want them to know that my love for them isn’t hinged on how good they are) but I think expressing it as appreciation instead of praise changes the narrative such that they can see that they’re bringing me happiness without feeling the pressure of bringing me happiness or risking losing my approval and delight in them. I’ve seen their behaviour in a few areas really blossom because of this technique, particularly the areas of ‘not being little terrors at the grocery store’ and in the area of playing together peacefully.
  5. Introduce non-verbal communication, with which you can both encourage and check your child silently. You can use the I-love-you sign across a room if your child seems troubled, or in a situation where you can’t use words without sounding angry. A stern stare or raised eyebrows can be used instead of repeating an instruction. A thumbs-up can be a moment of encouragement and connection when you’re in the middle of something but they’re looking for some input. I love especially using a little hand-squeeze when we’re walking together to say something like, “Isn’t this nice, you and me?” They notice and smile up at me, and squeeze my hand back.

I’m always looking to expand my list, so do let me know in the comments if you have any life-changing strategies or tools!

365 Recipes: Fried Chicken Tenders

The Recipe:

One of the Christmas presents we received (well, technically, the Partner in Crime received it, but the two shall become one flesh and all…) was an adorably miniature deep fryer. It’s taken us a while, but we’re slowly venturing into the exciting world of deep frying things. Donuts are at the top of my list to try next, but for now, here’s my first attempt at fried chicken, inspired by the recipe from this amazing Cook’s Illustrated cookbook (seriously, buy it; you won’t regret it) and this Chowhound thread.

The Ingredients:

Chicken Marinade
10-12 chicken tenders
1/2-1 cup buttermilk
Salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne, to taste

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk

Peanut oil or vegetable shortening, for frying

The Recipe:

  1. Earlier in the day, combine all marinade ingredients in a plastic storage container or bag, toss to coat, and refrigerate.
  2. About 2 hours before you plan to eat, remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess, and spread on a wire rack set on top of a baking sheet. Refrigerate an additional hour.
  3. Remove chicken from refrigerator and prepare two pie plates; one with the flour, and one with the baking powder, baking soda, egg, and buttermilk whisked together. Preheat the oven to 200F, and place another wire rack and baking sheet on the middle shelf. Place a paper-towel lined plate beside deep fryer. Pour oil into deep fryer to a depth of about 2 inches and heat to 350F.
  4. Working in batches of four, dip tenders into flour, turning to coat. Shake off excess, then dip into the egg mixture and turn to coat, allowing the excess to drip off. Coat in flour once more, shake off excess, and place in fryer basket.
  5. Fry pieces for about 4-5 minutes, until crust is golden brown and inside of chicken is no longer pink (you should only have to check one piece and use it as a guide as they will all be the same size.)
  6. Remove chicken to paper towel to drain for 1 minute, then place in warm oven and continue frying the remainder of the batch. Serve with your favourite dipping sauce. (I used buttermilk biscuits and coleslaw with buttermilk dressing as my sides for a pleasing round of buttermilk-based dishes.)

The Verdict:
It’s a good starting point. I was happy with the moisture of the chicken and the crispiness of the breading, and although the breading didn’t adhere to the chicken as well as it would’ve if I used skin-on pieces, the ease of prep and the uniform cooking time were good trade-offs. My big beef with this as a recipe was just that the breading was pretty bland. However, using the Chowhound thread linked above, I think I can work out a blend of spices to add to the breading to bring its flavour up to the level of the texture.

Also, fair warning: this is not one of those easy weeknight meals I love so much. These are the words that came out of my mouth as I served up: “Enjoy this, because I probably won’t be making it again until the baby is over 1 year…”

Meal Mondays: Slow-Cooker Ramen

The Recipe:
Adapted from this Chowhound recipe, this is my first attempt at a ramen more sophisticated than Mr. Noodle cups.

The Ingredients:
1 2lb. beef roast (choose a cheaper, tougher cut)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 leek, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped (white and green parts)
1 cup cremini or button mushrooms, chopped
Soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt and pepper to season
4 servings dried ramen noodles
8 large eggs (optional)
1 generous handful spinach, chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped (white and pale green parts) or 1 cup mung bean sprouts, to garnish

The Method:
1. Season the beef with salt. Heat oil in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat, then brown the beef on all sides, 3-4 minutes a side. Set beef aside. Add the onion to the pan and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and 1 cup of the broth and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, then let simmer for 1 minute.
2. Transfer the beef and the onion mixture to the slow cooker. Add the leek, mushrooms, and the remaining 7 cups of broth, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 8 hours. The pork should be very tender and the broth should be fragrant.
3.Set water to boil according to ramen package directions. In another pot, put on the eggs to soft-boil. Remove beef from slow cooker and shred with two forks, removing any large chunks of fat. Return shredded beef to slow cooker and add the spinach. Season to taste with soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and pepper.
4. When the noodles are done, add them to the slow cooker. Serve soup into bowls. Peel the eggs, cut in half, and place on top of soup, along with green onions or bean sprouts. Serve.

The Verdict:
This is a recipe I’d like to play with. I didn’t love the heavy ‘slow-cooker’ taste that the broth and beef acquired after 8 hours in the slow-cooker. I might experiment with recreating this in a Dutch oven instead, or alternatively trying 4 hours on high instead of 8 on low. There are also  vegetable variations to think about– carrot, bok choy, etc. However. All in all, a solid step up from Mr. Noodle, and the Partner in Crime did have three bowls, so.