Present Soup (and Other Gifts from the Creative Kitchen)
We all know that gifts, and golden opportunities to learn and connect with one another, can show up when we least expect them. One came for us in a Chinese restaurant. When the food arrived, we began by dishing up the wonton soup. My then 4 year-old son called out, “There are presents in the soup!” A tradition was born. Everything wrapped, rolled, or stuffed became a “present”, a gift to each other every time we gathered to create and enjoy it together.
Gifts from the Creative Kitchen
We cannot separate food and the social experience. For many of us, it connects us with the people in our lives, and memories are created around food. As we step into the kitchen, it is an opportunity for us to practice more thinking outside the recipe—expressing ourselves creatively and finding solutions—but we also find a point of connection, and a place where memories are made. Perhaps, since we gather more for common meals and make time for family a priority, December is the month when this is manifested most of all. It is a wonderful time of year to share your food traditions with the children in your lives while building thinking skills and personal expression. Here are some ways to fill your lives with the blessings of being together while filling your bellies with the “presents” you create.
That’s a Wrap!
Unlike, other types of gifts, presents in the kitchen begin with the wrapping. Once you begin exploring with the options, you will find that the wrappings may become the defining factor for the presents you wrap together. For a most unique (and gluten free!) experience, try using Vietnamese spring roll wrappers (see Salad Rolls recipe). Experiment with sheets of nori (seaweed used to make sushi), tortillas, a large lettuce leaf, a simple homemade dough such as pizza dough, a thick cut of tofu with a slice that makes it a pocket, or even a thin pancake to roll around your stuffings. When working with children, make your wrappings sized just right for tiny hands by cutting the dough into circles, squares or other desirable shape about the size of your own outstretched adult hand.
The Presents Within
From sweet to savory, the interior of your presents can be as varied and unique as the children in your lives. Chunks of roasted pumpkin with some added cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of sweetener make for a fun pumpkin pie experience. Use any type of filling inside of Chinese wonton wrappers, from cheese to mushrooms to your favorite combination of veggies to make an easy ravioli. Try fruit, nuts, granola or yogurt inside of pancakes. Use your favorite pizza toppings, beans and rice, or finely grated mix of carrots, beets, zucchini or other salad fixings.
Tie it All Together
Every present needs a nice bow to complete it and tie it all together. Whether that bow comes in the form of an actual tied item or just icing on the cake, complete your yummy-filled presents with some kind of topping that shows artful presentation through your own creative side. Try Asian food markets, craft stores, or holiday sections of food stores for fancy, shiny and even frilly toothpicks that are sure to give an extra special bind to your edible gifts. If your children are interested in actual bow tying, help that valuable fine motor skill along by using pieces of soaked corn husk, a cooked noodle, or a long slice of carrot or cucumber made with a vegetable peeler. For items that need not be bound together artificially, add a special topping or sauce. For sweet presents, try topping them with whipped cream, ground nuts, sprinkled sugar, a drizzle of melted chocolate, or a candied piece of fruit or flower. For savory items, experiment with dipping sauces such as peanut sauce, tamari, a mixture of pumpkin seed butter and maple syrup, or your child’s favorite salad dressing.
As you wrap these creative presents, don’t forget to add your own combination of those all important ingredients: joy, togetherness, gratitude, and love. They are the spices that make the experience extra creative, extra special, and a true gift to the whole family.
1 package dehydrated Vietnamese Spring Roll wrappers
1/2 package rice noodles, cooked and allowed to cool
2 carrots, julienned (cut into thin matchstick sized pieces)
1 sweet red pepper cut into thin strips
1 bunch spinach
Place one spring roll wrapper into warm water until it becomes soft (about 1 minute). Remove from water and place on a towel. In the center of the wrapper, place a few spinach leaves, a small handful of noodles, and 2 slices each of the carrots and pepper. Carefully roll the wrapper around the vegetables. Fold over at the ends to close. Serve with Peanut Sauce.
Vegetarian Present Soup
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 medium carrots, finely grated
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, chopped
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons flour
1 package Wonton Wrappers
10 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Stir-fry ginger and garlic in hot oil for 30 seconds. Add carrot and sprouts; stir fry for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Mix water, wine, tamari and flour in a bowl. Heat 1 Tb oil in wok over medium-high heat (add more as needed during cooking).
Stir sauce; pour into center of wok. Cook and stir until bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Return vegetables to wok. Stir to coat with sauce. Remove. Salt to taste. Cool. Fill wonton wrappers with mixture and wrap.
Simmer stock. Boil water. Add wontons. Boil for 1 minute. Add tamari and sesame oil.
Tamales are a traditional Mexican Christmas dish that are sometimes too spicy for children, and even overwhelming for adults to try and organize. Tamales are actually easier than their reputation leads them to be. The steps are relatively simple:
1. Make masa by combining 3 ½ cups vegetable stock, 1 cup butter or olive oil, 1 T. salt, and 6 cups masa harina flour. Beat until the dough is a soft, paste consistency.
2. Soak dried cornhusks for about 30 minutes. You can also use banana leaves, if you prefer. When soft, spread desired amount of masa on cornhusk. Top with filling/topping of your choice. Let your kids experiment with what goes into their tamale. Try chocolate pieces, favorite fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, grated carrots, zucchini, or beets, corn, or cheese. Serve with your favorite cream topping, sauce or salsa.
3. Wrap your tamales however you would like your little presents to be: roll them up with bows on either end (you can use pieces of the cornhusks to make small ties), fold them over and tie in the middle, or however else your little present makers want them to be.
4. Place tamales on end in a pan (unless they are tied on both ends then you can just toss them in), and steam for about 5 minutes.
Enjoy trying your hand at this wonderful tradition and let your kids make it their own.