Before she had her two children, Joslyn Oppenheimer was a professional chef. But she had to think of a career change after her first baby was born: late nights were spent breastfeeding and not at the stovetop of a restaurant! And thus, she started the wonderful and well-known online eco boutique, Shak-Shuka. Joslyn currently lives in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, with her husband, two children (Uma (4 years old) and Zev (4 months old)), and a giant St. Bernard dog. Here is her dinnertime story!
Even being a trained chef, I find dinner time to feel like a battle: me versus the gastronomic enemies ahead. At one meal I have to think about a meat-loving husband, a vegetable-despising child, and a veggie me – all while caring for a newborn baby! At times, I like to imagine what we look like as I’m preparing dinner (picture it: child running around in a tutu while the baby cries and I’m cooking and rocking the stroller with my back side!) and I just have to laugh and give in. I think if you give into the chaos and not try and fight it (ie – control it like I think we want to do) then it works out better and you might even have fun.
My husband gets home late so that means all meal prep is left to me alone with the kids. Luckily my daughter is getting old enough that she likes to help so that takes care of one child’s attention needs! I try and get her involved so that her dislike of veggies disappears and she learns to at least try all foods because she can see where things come from (look! Red sauce is actually made from tomatoes!). We have a cozy corner bench at a small kitchen table where we eat our meals so it’s not too much back/forth for me. I usually try and feed the first dish (lunch is vegetarian so dinner time is non-vegetarian for those who want it) around 6-6:30 and then we all usually eat as a family together around 7:00. That goes for most days of the week, unless of course we’ve managed to sneak a nap in that day then we all have a bit more energy and our eating/sleeping schedule gets pushed back a bit.
We were always pretty relaxed with our daughter at the table and that’s translated not so well as she gets older. I’m being honest! She’s getting better at sitting at the table, finishing her meal and then getting down once she’s finished, but it’s still a struggle. The foundation has been laid now it’s just about us parents following through!
Training as a chef was probably the best investment of time/money I ever made. Even though I don’t do it professionally anymore, it’s the schooling I use most often daily! I cook all the meals myself as I’ve rendered my husband utterly useless in the kitchen. We try to give me a break at least once a week and either order in (I’m from NYC where, if we had had our kids, we would be ordering in A LOT more!) or we go to a restaurant on the weekends during the day. Having a new baby kind of limits the “going out” possibility as no one wants to sit next to a wailing baby at dinner!
We’re not only a blend of nationalities, but of palettes as well — my husband is Argentinian (which means MEAT MEAT and more MEAT!), me being a vegan (I like to say veggie because it’s less threatening to most people) and our daughter who is the pickiest eater EVER. Despite the fact that my husband and I had many disagreements about what we wanted to or should eat, we came together once we became a family and we eat about 80% veg, and the other 20% there’s dairy and meat for those that want it. It’s worked really well as we wanted to expose our kids to everything and let them make their own choices later (if they want to become veggie, etc). We do our best to make sure the kids eat organically, using whole foods from local ingredients whenever possible. Even though it sounds strict and regimented, we try and keep eating light and fun, even if it’s in a cupcake with bright blue icing as the occasional treat. It’s all about balance and moderation (and keeping it REAL!)
Since we all eat very different things (vegetarian, picky eaters, meat-lovers), I’ve had to become really creative with the good old stand-by’s that I can whip up and I know everyone will enjoy. I try to make sure that each meal has the same components: a protein, a vegetable, and a whole grain. This is a pretty simple way of planning out your meals, and once you get the hang of it, you realize that it leaves you feeling very satisfied and not craving anything afterwards. Except for something sweet maybe to balance it out! We don’t have a lot of dessert after dinner, but we have been known to use the “blackmail” trick with our daughter by enticing her with a cookie or piece of chocolate if she does a good job with her meal.
Our meals are based on whole foods as much as possible. We eat about 90% organic, most of which is suitable for a vegetarian diet. I find that people, even if they’re not vegetarian, are always eager to learn new veggie recipes because it’s good for their health, good for their wallet (it’s cheaper to be veg for sure!) and good for the animals.
In this recipe here I share how to make homemade falafel, which is actually much easier than it sounds. The most important part is that you buy dried chickpeas and soak them yourself, but then that gives you the opportunity to learn to use chickpeas in many different dishes – so you can use those extra chickpeas for things like – hummus, a chickpea curry, a soup, or roast them for snacking. The possibilities are endless and the cost is just the bag of the chickpeas!
The prep is quite easy, but you just have to plan ahead. I like to make the mix the night before with my daughter so that the following day we can just fry them up and get to noshing! We like to eat the falafel with fresh pita or flatbreads, a simple cucumber and tomato salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, hummus (store bought is good too!) and an easy sauce that you’ve probably had already had with falafel: tahina sauce. It can easily be prepared with tahina paste (ground sesame paste, think of it as the sesame version of peanut butter), lemon juice, salt and water – you just mix the ingredients until you have a consistency of a smooth dipping sauce. I like to keep it tasty with a kick of grated garlic and chopped cilantro, but that’s not to everyone’s liking. Once you get the hang of making this dish, the possibilities are really endless (try different beans, herbs, new sauces, etc)
Falafel (makes about 20 balls)
Place drained, washed, uncooked chickpeas and the onions into the food processor. Add the cilantro, parsley, salt, dried red pepper flakes, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended and chopped but not pureed.
Remove the mixture from the food processor and place in a bowl. Mix the baking powder, flour and bulgur (if using) until the mixture no longer sticks to your hands, but begins to bind to itself. Cover the bowl well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (or left overnight is fine too).
Take out the mixture from the refrigerator after it has rested, and form the mixture into small balls, the size of large walnuts. Do not squeeze the balls too hard, just form them with your hands and gently squeeze your hands around them. If they do not stick together well, add more bulgur or flour.
Heat about 3cm/1” of oil in a deep pot or wok and test the oil to make sure it is hot enough. When ready, add the balls, once by one, in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, so that you can take care to flip and remove the balls once they are fully cooked and browned. Drain on paper towels and serve.