Wednesday, May 23, 2007
My mother is an excellent cook. She cooks everything from scratch roast pork with gravy, mashed potatoes, lasagna, black beans with garlic and a hint of chil, apple pie and mile-high chocolate cakes. She also does not believe a meal is complete unless it includes a protein, starch, vegetable and bread, lots of it. When I visit her home I amuse myself by going to the freezer and counting how many varieties she has. I remember once finding a dozen different bags of bread and rolls.
Before my sister and I provided her with grandchildren the microwave was kept in the garage because she used it so infrequently. She only agreed to move it inside to warm up milk and baby food.
I, on the other hand, am a reluctant Microwave Mama and I am not proud of this distinction. As a child, I was my mothers sous chef and I became quite accomplished in the kitchen. In high school I won my hometowns annual chocolate chip cookie baking contest (the prize included a years worth of chocolate chips). In college, Thanksgiving was always celebrated at my apartment, as I was the only one of my friends who had any idea what to do with a turkey. My guacamole is truly unrivaled. Just ask my mother.
So, what happened to my culinary pursuits? Ever since I had children Ive found it almost impossible to cook on a daily basis. I think part of the problem is one of expectations. I really enjoy cooking and cooking for kids is just not that enjoyable. Im also not one of those mothers who can accept making kid-friendly food and then actually eating it. Like the naysaying character in Green Eggs and Ham , I do not like macaroni and cheese, I do not like chicken nuggets, I do not like peanut butter and jelly and I think hot dogs are best eaten at baseball games.
I also do not like cooking in chaos. And in my house, that seems to be unavoidable. Making dinner always starts out normal enough. My two older children will be playing outside, the toddler will be napping and I believe I have an opportunity to cook uninterrupted. I lovingly place my ingredients and utensils on the counter and begin measuring and mixing. I turn the oven on, marinate meat and begin chopping vegetables. Things are going so well that I even open a bottle of wine and take a sip while humming a little, so pleased with myself. Then, my little slice of cooking heaven is disturbed by a blood curdling scream. I look out my kitchen window and see my son chasing his sister while swinging a large stick. At that same moment the little one wakes up from her nap and cries her pitiful cries for milk and her mamas lap. This all usually happens just at the moment that Im delicately folding ingredients for a sauce or trying to remember if I already put salt into the batter.
By the time Ive broken up the fight and comforted the youngest I usually come back to overcooked chops, soggy veggies and too-crispy bread. These types of experiences happen frequently enough that Ive learned most nights I have to lower my expectations to ensure dinner is healthy and edible on a regular basis. So, my visions of spaghetti sauce that Ive simmered all day, homemade chicken cacciatore and flaky sauted fish with caper sauce often translate into pre-made meals (just heat and serve!) from Costco; Chinese, Italian or you-name-it take out; or a store-bought roast chicken with a salad I can actually say I made myself.
When my mother visits, within a day of her arrival my refrigerator and cupboards are full of fresh ingredients for the dishes shell make. She doesnt judge, she just cooks and my kids usually scarf up the food (Yes, on the homemade chicken strips/No, on the parmesan squash) and marvel at what can be accomplished in the kitchen.
I know what youre thinking, you reap what you sow. If I just made it a priority and served up healthy, organic options with no other choices, theyd eat them rather than starve. But thats so much easier to imagine than to do. My kids will try new things and they vary on the pickiness scale but they share one trait. They all began as gourmands, eating the homemade baby food, fruit chunks and diced chicken with gusto. Then, one day, usually around age 2 or 3, they look at the broccoli I so affectionately call little trees and say Dats yucky and give me a disappointed look like Ive betrayed them. Once that day comes the best I can do is serve the little trees with a puddle of ranch dressing and hope a few sprigs of broccoli will stick to their tongues when they dip and lick their veggies.
In the meantime, I keep my subscription to Bon Appetit and approach the magazine the way an adolescent boy looks at a Victorias Secret catalogue. I cant get enough of the pictures of plump, golden won tons, ruby red strawberry sorbet and molten chocolate lava cakes. I carefully read each recipe thinking I could have that, or that, or maybe that.
Since I cant find the time or get organized enough to make many of the meals I lust for, reading the recipes keeps me primed for the day when the kids are less underfoot and I can cook unfettered again. While Im waiting for that time, Ive tried crock pot cooking, Sunday meal-making marathons, grocery delivery and professional kitchens where you pay for access to ingredients and recipes to package meals to go. Ive had varying success with all of these but changing family obligations makes it difficult to stick to any of them. Let me know how you get through the dinner rush. How do you manage balancing prepping and making meals with work and childcare? Until I hear from you, Ill be renewing my Costco card.