Forty Days of More-with-Less: Cooking like Jazz: Planning and Improvising Means Better Meals

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 40-day Lent journey to cook exclusively from More-with-Less Cookbook.

By Ben and Heather Kulp

This week, Ben and Heather spent time celebrating two months with our new baby boy. We also grieved a little, because this marker means Heather returns to work full-time next week. With this (another) major transition on the horizon, we took the opportunity to focus on planning. We made sure all of baby’s 3 month clothes were ready to go (he does seem to be growing out of one thing every day!). Heather pressed and re-hung her business clothes (though yoga pants and sweatshirts have been nice for a few weeks!). Most importantly, we thought about how to ensure we had nutritious food available during the coming weeks’ unpredictable schedules. As with all life transitions, we understand the need to be flexible even while planning.

More-with-Less offered many helpful tools so we can prepare in advance for mornings and evenings as a busy family of three. Ben remembers fondly a large container tucked away in his family’s pantry when he was growing up. Every few months, his father would mix up a batch of the Pancake Mix (73). Then, each Saturday morning, a member of the family could easily pull out the tub of mix and put together a quick breakfast of pancakes or waffles. That person could also customize the mix, adding coconut or chocolate chips or (Ben’s favorite) fresh-picked blueberries.

We found it to be true with other recipes this week; the more you know the basic recipes (in which More-with-Less specializes), the more you can customize to your tastes. This week, we took the idea of a stir-fry and combined two recipes to increase flavor and use what we had. The result: a colorful concoction of Sweet and Sour Soybeans (p. 113) and Skillet Cabbage (p. 225).

sweet sour soybeansSweet and Sour Soybeans

sweet potato sausage bakeSweet Potato Sausage Bake

We also used the ingredients from the Sausage Sweet Potato Bake (p. 140) with the spices of the Turkey Apple Casserole (p. 141) to produce a comforting curried roast vegetable casserole.

Our favorite riff was a version of the seasonal craving Heather had for Asparagus Soup (203).

asparagus soupAsparagus Soup

The bitter, fresh asparagus is complimented by a rich creamy sour cream. Because we knew the sour cream added creaminess more than flavor, we subbed in plain yogurt instead. We also substituted dill from our garden for pepper. The week-ahead planning (we knew asparagus would be in season and had this recipe on our weekly meal list) allowed us to be creative rather than desperate because we didn’t have the “right” ingredients.

But, customization takes understanding the purpose of ingredients, which takes practice—and practice takes intentionally cooking together as a family.

Through the 10 Day Marriage Challenge we are doing, we realized that one of the lessons we most want our son to learn from us is how to cook. We are planning ahead so he will not only see us model healthy and simple cooking, but also that he will participate in meal preparation as soon as he is able. Multiple stories within the More-with-Less pages refer to the recipes helping parents teach their kids important values. We also expect to use the Simply in Season kid’s cookbook and Herb the Vegetarian Dragon cookbook  we found this week on a roadtrip to Montague Bookmill.

Until he can join us at the stove, we hope to focus our mornings and evenings on the ordinary miracles of parenting, with all its unpredictability, rather than on throwing together sandwiches or ordering take-out to fill our bellies. Now, with a pantry full of Crunchy Granola (p. 92) and a freezer full of Asparagus Soup, Blackbean Soup (p. 209), Pot-of-Gold Peanut Soup (p. 217), Brown Breadsticks (p. 66), and casseroles, we can do just that.

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with their newborn son, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Thursday from now through Easter, under the new special series category, Forty Days of More-with-Less. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.

MWL_Cover_hard_2011.qxpAnd buy the cookbook here!


‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple: Forty Days of More-with-Less

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 40-day Lent journey to cook exclusively from More-with-Less Cookbook.

By Ben and Heather Kulp

The nature of what a true gift is or should be is something that has been discussed much in the Scheiwe-Kulp household this week. We are both, by nature, giving people. With the birthday of a soon-to-be-in-law coming up on April 1st, there was much discussion as to what to get this person. What is too much? What is too little? What would be best for this person? The discussion has been ongoing over the past month.

As has happened the past few weeks, the discussion around the dinner table turned towards what we were going to write about for this week’s blog posting. It took us only a few moments to put our conversation about gifts to good work with the More with Less mentality.

The image of Ben’s mother’s stained copy of More-with-Less cookbook seen in the blog post from last week was the starting point to resolving our question about gift giving. When the questions of the birthday gift again arose this past week, Ben, without hesitation, exclaimed, “Page 287!” To answer Heather’s perplexed look, Ben went on to describe that one of his favorite recipes (of “ALL TIME,” according to Ben) is the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies on p. 287.  This cookie recipe has been used by Ben’s family for as long as he can remember.

cookiesChocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

What better birthday gift to give to someone who will soon be marrying in to the Kulp family than a treasured recipe? (It also helps, by the way, that the intended recipient of this gift loves cookies). All of the ingredients for the cookies were already located in our pantry, and Ben had fun making them late at night this week in between baby feedings. Further discussion about the birthday gift, after mailing the cookies earlier this week, made us realize that we were giving our gift to someone who himself is a very giving person. Our future in-law created the Parkinson’s Comfort Project, a not-for-profit dedicated to assisting people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers in hard-to-reach rural areas of Vermont and New Hampshire. What better birthday gift to share with someone who himself has given to his local community?

It is an easy rhetorical step to talk of gifts at this time in our lives, especially as we both continue to fall more in love with our newborn son. However, the entrance of our baby boy in to our lives in early February has led to a plethora of changes – both expected and unexpected. After the dust settled from the first month, we took stock of what was in fridge and freezer. The abundance of edible gifts from friends, family, and church congregation is humbling. We enjoyed a meal last night with members of the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Knowing of our goal of cooking only from More-with-Less for the Lenten season, they brought over the Garden Vegetable Curry (p. 134), and added chickpeas to the recipe.

chickpea veggie curryGarden Vegetable Curry

What was intended to be a shorter dinner hour while Heather and Ben took turns rocking the baby to sleep turned in to a long conversation until 10 pm (a late night for parents of a newborn). The gift of food and intentional preparation for friends naturally extended our time together much later than any of us would have planned for a week night.

The weekends are a time of flux in the Scheiwe-Kulp household as Ben’s job as a freelance musician takes him to venues all over New England.  Fitting in time to be together on Saturdays and Sundays as a family has always been a challenge on what is considered to be the traditional time off from work. This past weekend, as the “gigging season” is not quite yet in full swing, we found some free time on our hands. A friend stopped by with a quiche for brunch, and while Heather, baby, and our friend talked in the living room, Ben put together the Cinnamon Topped Oatmeal Muffins (p. 71), and added strawberries that needed to be used.

muffin2Cinnamon Topped Oatmeal Muffins

The three (adults) sipped coffee and ate fresh muffins before digging in to the quiche our friend had cooked. There are few things more relaxing in life than enjoying the sunshine on a weekend with a steaming cup of coffee.

muffinThis week we learned to expand, and re-examine our notion of gifts to other people as well as recognizing the gifts we received from our community. A pantry full of food from well-wishers after our baby was born is the gift of not only resources, but of the time and care put in to making the dishes. It’s a wonderful meditation as we share our prepared meals as a family. Additionally, the time and care we put in to the present we made is as important as the gift itself, and was a reminder for both of us as to what is truly worth giving to others in our community.

The winner of the More-with-Less cookbook “comment” drawing from last week is Nancy! Thanks to everyone who contributed favorite tips, recipes and comments.

All recipes come from More-with-Less cookbook, available here.

MWL_Cover_hard_2011.qxpDo you have a favorite recipe or food to give as a gift?

How have you come up with a creative gift idea without making a trip to a store?

MennoByte_photo–Ben and Heather Kulp

Forty Days of More-with-Less: What is so convenient about your food?

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 40-day Lent journey to cook exclusively from More-with-Less Cookbook. *(Be sure to read to the end for a special invitation to comment and have your name put in a drawing for a free copy of More-With-Less.)

By Ben and Heather Kulp

While visiting a chef friend in San Francisco last year, we learned a new term: “fast fresh.” The term demarcates those restaurants that are not the traditional burger-and-fries fast food joints, but still offer customers counter service and cheaper food than a sit-down restaurant (think Chipotle, Freshii, Chop’t, etc.). The “fast” is supposed to appeal to those who don’t have a lot of time for lunch during the day, while the “fresh” is supposed to appeal to those who want healthier food options than meal-deals and 99 cent menus can provide. Usually, the target market for fast fresh is young and middle-aged health-conscious professionals—just like us. And we have fallen into that trap again and again, especially when we forget to bring lunch to work or are out running errands during a meal hour.

But what fast fresh and traditional fast food share is the very thing that makes them both tempting and flawed: they are not actually faster than eating food you cook yourself. The draw of such food is in the idea that you don’t have to “work” to get it. Someone else is, very literally, providing for you. This triggers feelings of safety and comfort, even if only for a few moments when you sit down and get exactly what you want.

So what happened this week without the option to engage in this kind of emotional convenience eating?

Last week, we discussed shopping our pantry, and this week, those skills came in handy. We had one evening in particular where nothing was planned for dinner, yet we needed to eat quickly. Thankfully, More-with-Less gives us a tool—the “TS” designation—that indicates recipes that can be made in 30 minutes. Instead of ordering in or grabbing something on the way to the next meeting, Ben proposed making breakfast for dinner (“brinner”).

pancakes Fifteen minutes later (and with plenty of time before the next activity), we had a hot plate of Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes (p. 73) and a side of high-protein eggs and cheese. It was faster and cheaper than takeout and created space for us to have a conversation over the dinner table.

Speaking of dinner table conversations, home-cooked convenience foods allowed us to have more conversations about More-with-Less itself. We traveled to visit Ben’s mother in Vermont for a few days—our son’s first trip out of town. We had planned poorly for our four-hour trip to her house and hadn’t eaten a proper lunch. Normally, we would have stopped to grab fast food; instead, we were surprised with a snack along the way. We stopped briefly at Ben’s sister and brother-in-law’s house to nurse and catch up. Instead of buying a box of our favorite chocolates as a host gift, we made the Whole Wheat Orange Bread (p. 80). whole wheat orange breadEven though it was for them, they immediately sliced it and shared it while we talked. They discussed how they were transitioning to a simpler, “cleaner” diet and were using cookbooks like More-with-Less for inspiration.

We when arrived at Ben’s mother’s home, she had a steaming bowl of Corn and Bean Chowder (p. 202) made for bean corn chowderAs we ate, she described the first time she heard about More-with-Less. She was at a farmworkers gathering in Detroit in the 1970s and a Catholic who heard she was a Mennonite approached her. “Have you heard of that great cookbook your people published? It’s revolutionary.”

Then Ben’s mother brought out her battered, stained 25-year-old copy of the cookbook.

gado gado 2We flipped through it, understanding how many stories must be contained in those recipes. We can’t wait to hear more. Then she made us the truly fast and fresh Indonesian Gado Gado (240) that night.

gado gadoThis week was more challenging than the last, as we experienced some of the circumstances under which people make choices that are more “superconvenient,” as Doris Longacre says and less “responsible, nutritious” (p. 47). Thankfully, she provides some recommendations for how to make the more responsible choices: alternate cooking with others in the household; live in close community with others who can share meals; simplify the menu; plan menus in advance (this will be our challenge next week!); and buy/cook in larger quantities that can be used over time (p. 47-48). So, though less initial thought may go into securing “superconvenient” food, we found out this week that we are more emotionally and socially satisfied than if we had gone out for dinner or purchased (one of Ben’s favorite) frozen pizza.  We look forward to updating you next week on how our week of food preparation and hosting friends is going.


MWL_Cover_hard_2011.qxp* What recipe that is not in More-with-Less do you use regularly that helps you cook more with less? Add your comment and your name will be added to a random drawing for a free copy of More-with-Less. Please comment before our next post on March 27, 4 p.m. ET. Deadline! MennoByte_photo

Ben and Heather