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Posts Tagged ‘feeding people is stressful’

Yesterday, I parted my hair on the opposite side. It felt and looked very weird and I do not think I will repeat that particular experiment.

 

One of the remarkable things about These Unprecedented Times is that going to the grocery store has now become such a major source of stress. I realize this is not a new topic nor a concern specific to me. But I am Right In It now and it’s so odd. I literally had stress dreams about the grocery store last night – where I discovered at the last minute that the store was open a whole hour before I thought it would be and I was able to dash in and grab some half-and-half. I mean, this is causing Major Anxiety these days which is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s been about twenty days since I last set foot in the grocery store, and a little less than two weeks since I picked up a curbside order (which did NOT contain half-and-half). I was supposed to go to the grocery store yesterday, a plan I’d been working toward for many days. Our store opens at eight and has seniors/immunocompromised shoppers hours until nine. My plan was to arrive right at nine and get in and get out quickly. But my husband actually had patients that morning (which is A Good Thing) and had to go into the office, so I couldn’t go. He has patients this morning, too (also A Good Thing). So yesterday we decided I would go later in the afternoon, once my husband got home.

I ordered a mask, which is supposed to arrive sometime later this week. So I fashioned a mask out of an old baby blanket and hair ties. And I got all dressed — in actual Real Clothes — put my hair in a bun, even put my contacts in, and drove to the grocery store. And then I chickened out. The parking lot was SO FULL. And there was a line of people outside stretching along the entire side of the building. Which I know is a good, smart innovation. And yet it made me feel all panicky and trembly so I turned around and came home.

But we obviously still need groceries. So I filled a virtual cart at the grocery store that offers curbside pickup. Curbside pickup is not ideal – for one thing, I worry that I am taking a spot from someone who has limited mobility or is immunocompromised or for whom going into an actual store is otherwise difficult/impossible. Plus, on a selfish level, it’s so much easier to be able to decide on the fly that the store doesn’t have fresh strawberries so I am going to get frozen berries or blueberries instead, rather than counting on the grocery store shopper to find an appropriate substitution. Curbside pickup is not something I am relying on, is what I’m saying. But it worked fairly well the first time I did it. And I figured it would be good to have a backup if I can’t get to the store myself, or if I do  get to the store but they are out of half-and-half.

The app for curbside pickup allows you to choose a date and time from a selection of five upcoming days. At least, that’s the idea. These days, all the spots are full. This means that the earliest possible date I could hope to pick up my order would be this coming Sunday. And that’s only if I happen to open the app at the exact right time and catch the new pickup times before they fill.

This happened last time, too. I stalked the app for three days at all hours of the day. The timeslots opened up one morning and I was able to grab one. So I tried it at midnight last night… and then woke up at five to try it… and then seven… and then kept checking all through the eight o’clock hour… At nine o’clock, the app added Sunday as an option… But all the timeslots were full.

This is not anything to be Truly Panicked about. We still have plenty of food. But we are down to our last package of ground beef. We have only one remaining can of chickpeas. We have no eggs. And we are going to run out of half-and-half ANY MINUTE NOW which makes me feel very anxious.

This is all SO RIDICULOUS. I know that I am in a very, very privileged situation. I think of the news footage of miles and miles of cars lined up at food banks across the country and I feel ashamed. We can OF COURSE survive just fine without ground beef and without half-and-half. We have PLENTY of food. Obviously, we are FINE. But it turns out that running out of half-and-half is my personal grocery store breaking point.

Can I also say that my husband and I are having… disagreements about grocery shopping? We have always been on opposite ends of the preparedness spectrum. Even in The Time Before, I have always been the type of person who prefers to have a backup ready to go before I even start to run out of something. For instance, Carla eats a lot of frozen pancakes, so I always have two boxes in the freezer. When we get down to the last two or three of the first box, I put pancakes on the list. That kind of thing. (I also grew up in a remote, cold place where it was prudent to never allow your gas tank to be under half full; even today when I have a gas station within walking distance of my house, I still get very nervous if the gas dips below the half-full point. Maybe the food thing is related.)

Yesterday when I went to mix the ingredients for chili powder, I discovered that we are nearly out of paprika (which I use A Lot), and that we are – for me – uncomfortably low on garlic powder, oregano, and cumin. My husband sees that the (admittedly giant) canisters are still about a third full and says we don’t need the spices urgently. But to ME, I don’t WANT to need them urgently. I want to have backups ready to go.

The same goes for tortillas and chickpeas and sour cream and cheddar cheese and pancakes and iceberg lettuce and carrots and ranch dressing and chicken breasts and black beans and taco shells and hot sauce and onions and all the other things that make me feel like I can put together a normal and/or comforting meal. Do we need  cheddar cheese to survive? Of course not. But does it make me feel better to have a backup in the fridge? Yes.

This is how I would feel in Normal Times, too. But I feel it even more acutely now, when a) who knows when I will be a store where I can purchase these things and b) who knows if the store will even HAVE these items when I do manage to get there.

So my husband and I are experiencing a little friction on the groceries/necessities front, I have to say.

Part of it is that he is frugal and doesn’t see the point of spending money on something that you don’t actually NEED. (To which I say, but we WILL need this thing. Or, if not need, WANT.) Part of it is that he is not the designated shopper, neither now nor in Normal Times, and so doesn’t really fully understand the current shopping situation. I would guess he hasn’t set foot in a grocery store since late February, so he just doesn’t get how different it is. And/or he is in denial about how quickly the situation is going to improve. (Possibly never, says my doomsday brain.) He was surprised when I said that our online options for ordering spices (Costco and Penzeys are the ones I checked) were experiencing delays. (Not to mention that Costco’s website reacted as though oregano is a concept I made up out of thin air.) And yet, even when I point these things out – shortages and delays – he still seems to believe that we can just get whatever we want whenever want it. When I told him I was going to order curbside pickup, he said, “Oh great. Are you going to have it ready to pick up tomorrow?” and I had to temper my incredulous tone when I responded, “Of COURSE NOT, it will be Sunday AT THE EARLIEST before I can hope to pick up the things we ordered, and even then it is HIGHLY LIKELY that we will not get all of what we wanted.”

I would think that he would defer to me in this case, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?

Pant,  pant,  panic, panic!

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I am taking very seriously your recommendations to try a food service; it won’t happen immediately, and of course I have to get my husband on board (though he’s typically amenable to logic), but I have been looking at different options and trying to get my head around whether it will truly be helpful or not. I TRUST you, strangers of the Internet, who say it help ease the dinner-planning pressure, so I am really, really considering it.

But. This week it will not happen. And this week is also the Family Thanksgiving, so there’s that to plan for.

I have a multi-page document for Thanksgiving that includes every recipe and a detailed grocery list and when and where to go shopping. And of course I ALSO have a minute-by-minute schedule of Thanksgiving Day, so I remember to shower and wash the roasting pan and which serving dish I use for the sweet potatoes etc. And… I am completely stumped this year by how I am supposed to update the schedule for this year. I NEED my schedule. I made it YEARS ago, and it’s been my Thanksgiving Religious Text for all those years. But now we are having Thanksgiving on a different day of the week AND at a different time and it has thrown me for a real loop whatever that expression means. Just picture me doing dizzy cartwheels instead of updating my schedule which is basically what’s happening.

It SHOULD be easy, right? You just… figure out when you want to eat, and then… adjust the times from there. RIGHT? So why can I not figure this out?

Part of it is that we will have two Major Interruptions: 1. Someone will have to go pick up Carla from school right about the time when I should be shoving the turkey into the oven and 2. Someone will have to go pick up my sister and niece at roughly the same time. Because of the number of cars we will have at our disposal, these two someones will be different and one of them will likely have to be me. I could have my mother-in-law do the turkey, yes indeedy. But I am not ready for that. I will relinquish the stuffing and the sweet potatoes but not the mashed potatoes or the turkey or the gravy, no sir.

Part of it is that my husband will be coming home from work… and we can’t eat until he gets home… but we have only a general idea of when that will be.

ALSO, my sister and niece will be arriving right as the cooking is getting going so… that’s not really going to work, is it? A) I will want to greet them and offer them drinks/snacks when they arrive, but I will of course ALSO want to be making the dinner and B) I will NOT want everyone to be in my kitchen while I am cooking. It is seriously giving me palpitations just thinking about it.

WELL. I have gone to a dark place here, Internet. I am just about ready to throw up my hands and say IT CANNOT BE DONE LET’S GO GET THAI FOOD.

(You know the problem with this perfectly reasonable suggestion, right? My mother-in-law will kindly and generously offer to do the whole Thanksgiving meal herself! And then I will die of the tangle of neuroses that make me so stubborn and ridiculous and unwilling to LET GO.)

Let’s rein it in here. This was not supposed to be YET ANOTHER food-related panic session. In fact, I have made the meals this week Very Easy, on purpose. Let’s skip straight to that so I can go do some deep breathing in a dimly lit room.

Dinners for the Week of November 19-November 25

Now, per my only-partially-updated schedule, I need to go make salad dressing and cranberry sauce.

I am going to take a break from posting dinners next week – you’ll probably be gearing up for your own Thanksgiving food and I will be watching movies with Carla while recovering from being around people for multiple days in a row. And maybe subsisting on leftover mashed potatoes and gravy as long as they last.

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Thank you for your Thanksgiving advice, Internet. I am going to (TRY TO) treat it like an unusual day and just… delegate. The logistics of delegating are boggling my mind right now, but I think I can figure it out. (Just… ask my mother-in-law if she will take over X and Y and I will cover A and B and then… tell her when she has free rein in the kitchen?) (She is coming in from out of town, so will have to do actual cooking in my kitchen rather than bringing something she made at home.) (Making some things in advance will be KEY. Definitely I can do cranberry sauce and gravy a few days before, and maybe even the mashed potatoes…? Well, maybe not, but the mashed potatoes aren’t hard.) I am happy to let go of the traditional stuff and let her have at it; I can try Swistle’s idea for cajoling her into making my husband’s favorite dressing, because he IS her Darling Baby, so she probably will want to do what he wants. And then I can make whatever my husband and I missed for Actual Thanksgiving. We’ll see if I can make it work. I will report back.

Well. That’s enough Thangstgiving talk. Ha.

Let’s talk about the more immediate necessity of feeding myself and my family, shall we?

My mood regarding meal planning remains grim. Nothing – not even TACOS – sounds appealing. Can we somehow blame this on the end of Daylight Saving Time? Or maybe on it being NOVEMBER already?

Whatever it is, we must just grit our teeth and get through the week. Here’s what I’m grudgingly planning:

Dinners for the Week of November 5-11

  • Tacos

Note: The return of Taco Tuesday and I’m not even a little bit excited. What is my DEAL? 

  • BBQ Pork with Baked Potato

Note: I don’t know if I can drum up enough cooking enthusiasm to make coleslaw for my husband. Maybe I can get away with some roasted green beans on the side instead?

Note: I probably won’t include the steak here, just chicken. By the way, I heard about this recipe from Jenna Fisher on her The Office Ladies podcast, which I am enjoying IMMENSELY. My husband and I are re-watching The Office, and even though we are way ahead of where Jenna and Angela are on their show, it’s fun to experience each episode again through the lens of two people who were there. And who talk about it so charmingly.

Note:This is fairly easy and relatively healthful and I know it’s good, so. You know. As little effort as possible this week, folks.

Note: This is a new-to-me recipe, but it sounds easy and tasty. I do need something green to eat alongside it… Maybe I will try to sneak a side salad onto the table…

  • Something else that’s easy?

Note: I have hundreds of recipes bookmarked and hundreds more recorded in these pages or in my “dinners this week” emails to myself and NOTHING SOUNDS GOOD. Not even leftover Halloween candy. I am sick, aren’t I? That’s the only possible explanation.

  • Out

What are you eating this week, Internet? Hit me with your foolproof favorites.

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We are on Day 2 of a serious Halloween Hangover. Carla – whose bedtime is a strict 7:30 – didn’t go to sleep until ten on Thursday, yet still woke up at six on Friday. She was off all day – due to tiredness, no doubt – and I managed to cajole her into taking an actual NAP Friday afternoon. It didn’t take much convincing, I just said, “Carla, you are taking a nap.” And she said, “Okay,” and fell asleep pretty much immediately.

Of course, we put her to bed at 7:30… and then, at ELEVEN PEE EM IN THE EVENING, she showed up downstairs saying she had never fallen asleep. First, I find it a little hard to believe that she was awake, by herself, in her room for three hours, entertaining herself. But stranger things have happened. And, after I gave her a melatonin gummy and snuggled with her a bit and then took her back up to her room, I noticed she had a cookbook open face-down on her bed, which she claimed she had read through during her non-sleeping hours. So maybe she WAS awake the whole time. Wait, there was a “first” back there and now I have forgotten why. Presumably there was at least a “second” in mind… Well, it is lost to the sands of time.

She woke up today at a more reasonable time, but she did NOT get the eleven to twelve hours of sleep that she requires. So we are watching Barbie movies on Netflix. Well, she is watching Barbie movies and occasionally directing my attention to something extraordinary (Barbie’s hair turned pink! There’s a mermaid!) and I am typing this blog post. Okay, in the time it took to write this MONSTROSITY of a post — be warned — Carla’s movie ended and I suggested she take a nap. She agreed without argument and went upstairs… only to reappear five minutes later, yawning extravagantly and claiming her nap was very restful and she was ready to play. She is now setting up a make-up salon in her bathroom, and forging her wares out of paper. Age six is a DELIGHT.

Halloween was fun, I think. We had a few friends over – the very lovely families of two of Carla’s school friends – and I continue to find entertaining absolutely exhausting. I enjoy it, though – or, at least, I want to enjoy it  I love planning the food and buying the wine and the actual conversation when people are here. But my little introvert soul gets so completely worn out by all these extra people in my space… I don’t know. Would it get better/easier if I did it more often? Could I possibly do less in preparation, and would that help?

I made soup and bread and a veggie tray, which seems like the bare minimum. Well, I could have bought the bread, but it really is the EASIEST bread recipe in the universe. I did order pizza, as well – that’s what the kids ate, but I ordered enough for every person to have at least three pieces. And then it all slowly burnt into molten, inedible bricks in my oven over the course of the evening, so I had to throw most of it away. Horrified grimace emoji.

I could have JUST gotten pizza, right? We went to a friend’s house last year for Halloween, and they had ordered pizza and a salad. And it was PERFECT. But… well, I guess I just can’t get past trying too hard. Like, people who order pizza and a salad are already In, and I won’t be invited In unless I prove myself through baking??? As though that is a normal or reasonable barrier to entry into a social group??? What is wrong with me?????? Eye-roll emoji.

Aside from feeling exhausted by entertaining, I have come to really enjoy Halloween. It has all the fun of The Big Holidays – decorations, planning, special food – without any of the pressure. I suppose if I handmade all of Carla’s costumes, as my mother did for me, it would be much more pressure-filled. But since I buy Carla’s costumed pre-made and only have to worry about doing an appropriately tiger-y face-painting job (she was a tiger this year, which hopefully makes the previous part of this sentence make more sense than it otherwise might have), it’s very low-pressure for me.

I love all the homes that decorate for Halloween – and there’s such a wide range. We have the people with a cheery pumpkin or two on the front stoop, and then there’s the family with an entire army of zombies or skeletons posed on the lawn. It’s delightful. Carla had a hankering for “something you stick in the lawn” this year, so we found a very nice collection of ghosts – ones you could hang up OR stick in your lawn! – at Target and that was really fun to add to our outdoor décor.

The ghost brownies I made for Carla’s class party turned out well and the kids LOVED them.

Halloween ghost brownies

I also made little bags of popcorn, which Carla and I decorated as monsters, and those were fun as well. (I just wanted the kids to have a non-sugar option.)

Halloween popcorn monsters

My candy-corn veggie arrangement did NOT turn out well; my serving dishes were the wrong size/shape and/or my veggies weren’t putting on their best candy-corn show, so I just did a tray of veggies in Halloween colors: a stripe of orange tomatoes, a stripe of cauliflower, a stripe of yellow peppers, etc. etc. I thought it was festive enough, but it turns out that yellow/orange peppers and tomatoes and cauliflower aren’t particularly popular, at least not with this friend group.

The pounding rain stopped literally minutes before our neighborhood’s designated trick-or-treating time, and Carla and her friends had a great time going door to door, despite the biting wind. Then they had an even better time handing out candy to the other brave trick-or-treaters – a group of mainly older/bigger kids that arrived in swarms. I remember being that weird age between Eager Trick-or-Treater and Too Old/Too Cool for Halloween, and felt very tender toward the Big Kids, especially the ones who tried, by wearing a mask or some other gesture toward a costume… but, well, also the ones who didn’t have a costume at all, but merely gave in, possibly at the last minute, to the overwhelming desire to prolong the youthful fun of Halloweens past/collect free candy.

Now, November is upon us. And Thanksgiving is bearing down – more quickly for me than for you, because we are hosting Thanksgiving a week early (my husband is on call for the real holiday).

I am exhausted just thinking about Thanksgiving. Is this how I feel most years? Let’s see. I have been hosting Thanksgiving since 2010, and my memory of how I normally feel is that I face the holiday with pluck and enthusiasm. I should have it down to a science, what with my multi-page planning document and my detailed Week Of schedule. But this year, I just feel… drained. Not a good way to go into it, is it?

So, for the first time ever, I am considering asking for help. Gasp. Shock. Wide eyes. I know, I know. This DOES NOT sound like me. And perhaps it will not BE me, at the actual time. But the considering is the first step.

Let’s lay out my concerns/aversions to help.

  1. Differences in Technique: My mother-in-law – who has kindly and generously OFFERED to help – does things differently than I do. You may recall that I am Very Particular about things, especially when it comes to my kitchen. And I don’t want to micromanage, but I also feel very viscerally uncomfortable when someone is rummaging around in my cabinets or doing things differently than I would do them in my very own kitchen. You may be thinking, at this point, that I need to seek extensive therapy and should probably scrap the idea of asking for help. And perhaps you would be right.
  2. Space Constraints: Along similar lines: I only have the one kitchen with the one oven and stove and it’s much easier when I am the only person making the meal. It’s very simple to coordinate with myself, right? But if a whole other person is in my kitchen, chopping veggies and jockeying for the stove… well… that seems like a recipe for frustration/despair.
  3. Specificities of Taste: My husband LIKES the way I make things. Therefore, we have a very specific — I am avoiding the word “rigid” here — Thanksgiving menu, from which we rarely deviate. Could I really impose my specific dressing recipe on my mother-in-law, and expect that she make it exactly the way my husband likes it? That seems unreasonable. If she prefers, say, pumpkin pie or something chocolate for dessert… can I really expect her to make the pumpkin bars that are OUR (my husband’s and my) tradition? That seems very dictatorial of me/us.
  4. Some Sort of Mental Issue Related to Pride/Ownership: Again with the need for longterm therapy. I think somewhere along the line, I have absorbed this very strange and very stubborn feeling that I MUST do the entire Thanksgiving meal or… Or what? I lose street cred? I lose my Housewife Credentials? I don’t even KNOW. It’s just this weirdly pervasive buzz inside me that says I am the hostess, I need to provide the Entire Meal and do all the dishes and make it look effortless or else I lose. Lose what, again, I don’t know. Yet it’s THERE, inside me, buzzing away, making me feel like I am less of… something if I don’t do Thanksgiving perfectly and all by myself. This is one of those weird double-standard things that I apply ONLY TO ME, by the way – I fully understand and admire people who split the Thanksgiving duties among many, and I would gladly and gratefully pitch in with the cooking if I were invited to someone else’s Thanksgiving, and never for a single moment think less of the host. It’s some sort of weird Hostess Martyrdom that I’ve internalized somehow and I don’t understand it but nor can I rid myself of it.

Here are things working in my favor – by which I mean, that the following are present in my psyche makes me hopeful that I can get past my deterrents/aversions.

  1. I don’t particularly LIKE Thanksgiving. This is a little sad, because I think Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays. But that was back when my parents did all the work, I think, and I just had to show up? It got less enjoyable in college, when generous friends and extended family members opened their homes to me for the holiday – and I spent Thanksgiving feeling deeply, guiltily homesick. More enjoyable again when I began to establish my own traditions with my husband. And now less enjoyable again, now that it’s just A Big Day of Work. Also, I don’t really like the food! I eat turkey literally only on this one day a year. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows are fine in very small doses, but I could take ’em or leave ’em. I loathe wet bread, so the dressing is something I make but never even taste. The only things I like about Thanksgiving are the mashed potatoes and gravy. And the gravy is SO MUCH WORK and the potatoes won’t be exactly how I like them because I don’t make them with goat cheese out of respect for one family member who REVILES goat cheese. The pumpkin bars are good, but really BETTER when my husband makes them and I don’t know if he will have time/energy this year. So. If I don’t really care about the food — nay, if I don’t really EAT the food — why am I so resistant to having someone else make it???? A question for the ages.
  2. This year will be weird, so it’s almost like Not Thanksgiving, which makes me… care about perfection less. Like I said, we’re having Thanksgiving a week early. My husband will be at work all day, so he can’t help even if he wants to. My sister and niece will be flying into town at some point, so I’ll want to spend time with them rather than in the kitchen. Someone will have to leave to collect my sister and niece, someone else will have to leave to collect Carla from school, so there will be interruptions during the day. The timing of the meal will be later than normal (because my husband will be at work), so it will feel more like Any Old Dinner than Thanksgiving. All of these variables are making it wholly UNusual, so why stick to the usual plan?
  3. Plus, we have a built-in Do-Over available to us if we want it. I mean, Actual Thanksgiving will still happen. So I could save Doing It My Way for the ACTUAL DAY.
  4. My mother-in-law really wants to help, so why not give her that pleasure? As a relatively new hostess (can I still say “relatively new,” after nearly ten years of hosting this holiday?), I think I revel a bit in being The Provider. I want my guests to sit back and relax, rather than work hard in the kitchen with me. But… I think it causes my mother and my mother-in-law mental stress and even emotional pain, to sit and relax. They want to help. They have MULTIPLE DECADES of prior Thanksgivings behind them, during which THEY were the hostesses, and they have so much experience and expertise to share, and they are so accustomed to being busy that I think they feel… useless and unneeded when I shoo them out of the kitchen. Part of me feels – rather harshly – like they should learn to chill out and accept that this is the next phase in their lives, that their role now is NOT hostess, but guest and grandmother, that they should let the next generation have a turn at planning the menu and taking care of them. But… a growing part of me feels really bad and guilty and selfish about that, and wants desperately to be more generous about sharing the hostessing. God, this is all SO VERY STUPID and yet it causes me GREAT ANGST. (Also, I am feeling VERY CRANKY TOWARD and simultaneously VERY JEALOUS OF The Men, who seem to be completely unencumbered by any of this, and at least ACT totally content to simply sit in the living room watching football. WELL. There will be NO FOOTBALL this year, Men!) (P.S., in case this paragraph confused the issue, only my in-laws will be here for this Thanksgiving. I just brought my mother into it because I realized last year that she feels kind of sad and unwanted/unnecessary/superfluous when I don’t let her help with holiday meal preparation, and that made ME sad and I have been reflecting on it ever since.)

Okay. So I think I have laid it ALL OUT for you. It’s ugly and doesn’t paint me in the best light and it probably doesn’t make much sense outside of my very specific brain, but there it is.

So what should I do? How should I approach this Thanksgiving? Business-as-exhaustingly-usual? Or welcome my mother-in-law’s offer to help? And, if the latter, HOW do I do that, given the constraints above? If you were ME, with all my neuroses and particularities, how would you make THIS Thanksgiving easier and more pleasant and less tiring?

At this very moment, the biggest part of me wants to make a reservation at a fancy restaurant and have our faux Thanksgiving THERE. But I don’t think there are any restaurants that offer faux Thanksgiving. I don’t even know if the grocery stores offer their pre-made Thanksgiving meals for sale a whole week prior to the real holiday. Can I even get a turkey that far in advance???? And, really, I don’t want my Thanksgiving Antipathy to ruin a beloved holiday for the rest of my family. So I am resigning myself to making Thanksgiving dinner at home as usual. But maybe not exactly as usual…?

Help?

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This Saturday is The Dinner Party. I am sure as hell not planning much of a regular menu when I am so pre-occupied with Not Losing It. I am making things as easy on myself as possible, Internet.

So here’s my meager menu:

Dinners for the Week of April 16-21:

  • Today: Mulligatawny Soup
  • Wednesday: Tacos
  • Thursday: Crockpot BBQ Pork with Baked Potato
  • Friday: Out
  • Saturday: DINNER PARTY
  • Sunday: Crap, it’s Easter do I have to do something special? Maybe beef tenderloin.

 

I know YOU aren’t fretting about my dinner party, Internet. What’s on your menu this week?

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Thank you so much for coming! Welcome to today’s meeting! Sit, sit! Grab some coffee and a donut! But there’s no time to chat – although I do really like what you’ve done with your hair today – because we need to get Down To Business.

Today’s session of the Party Planning Committee is tasked with – surprise! – planning an upcoming party! A dinner party. Which I may have extravagantly set in motion with great enthusiasm and little thought to execution.

Here are the particulars: It takes place in two weeks. We will have eight adults and seven children, all under age six. Well, the children are all under age six; the adults are all under age 40.

That wasn’t a lot of particulars, I guess. Let’s see if I can add some Complicating Factors:

Complicating Factor #1:I do not in fact have enough seating for eight adults and seven children. I have twelve chairs and two tables. One table seats six or eight, if we expand the table. (Complicating Factor #1.5:If we expand the table, we cut into a doorway. Complicating Factor #1.75: If we expand the table, then that table seats eight and the other table only seats four.) The other table seats six people, but it is in my dining room, on my fancy carpet, which is my way of saying I don’t really want the kids to sit there.

Oh! I also have a small child’s table, with four child-size chairs. So maybe we can set up the younger crew (all around age three) at that table, and then hope that the bigger kids are less messy? That is asking too much, I know.

Okay, maybe this isn’t as complicated as I thought. That’s really my main concern: the seating.

So! Here is my proposed solution: FINGER FOOD.  My idea is that I make a bunch of appetizer-y food that people can eat easily while standing. Well, except for the kids. They will sit at a table, preferably NOT the table on my good carpet.

Complicating Factor #2:My husband doesn’t like appetizer-y dinners because he feels like they aren’t substantial enough to count as a meal. Which I 100% understand.

Complicating Factor #3: We don’t have a ton of counter space, so I am a little concerned about displaying everything. I will need some space to work and cook (space that people STAY OUT OF because I cannot deal) and then there will be serving space. We obviously have the two tables for serving space, but we also have a big kitchen island. When I have people over, I often set up the food on the island, buffet style. I don’t know if I would feel that comfortable with people eating so near the food preparation portions of the kitchen, but perhaps that cannot be helped; and maybe I just need to really be on top of my Advance Preparation game.

Oh, and here’s a possibly-not-but-I’ll-include-it-anyway Complicating Factor #4:The same group attended a dinner party at the house of one of the other couples and it was AMAZING. Not only do they have a stunningly beautiful house and kitchen, but the food (chicken parmesan, for fifteen people!) was delicious and photo-worthy. So I feel some pressure to not disappoint this crowd. I mean, our house is what it is (you KNOW that I am already wringing my hands about the fireplace) but the food/experience could be good or great or absolutely dreadful.

Now that you are properly briefed, our charge is to plan a menu that meets the following criteria:

  1. Easy to eat whilst standing up.
  2. Easy to (mostly) make or prepare in advance. I’d like to be Actively Cooking as little as humanly possible.
  3. Substantial enough to count as a meal.

My initial thought is that we do it up Tex-Mex style.

Drinks:I think I have this covered. I am going to make a couple of pitchers of limeade margaritas and buy some Corona and some Dos Equis and maybe also have a couple bottles of wine on hand (these people are drinkers!) and call it a day.

I don’t have any margarita glasses, so maybe I will find some cheap plastic ones – although an initial search turns up far too many plastic glasses for my needs; perhaps I will find some mediocre glass ones? Perhaps the Dollar Store has some options?

Food:

We will definitely do guacamole and salsa (either this one or this one or possibly both because I am a masochist), because I have made them before and because chips and dips are the ultimate finger food. I will have many bags of chips available for snacking.

For the “main meal,” I am strongly considering Taco Pizza, which is easy, something I’ve made many times before, and delicious. I’m envisioning one (or two?) large sheet pan pizzas that I can cut into squares for easy eating. The main problem is that I can’t really make it in advance. I can make the partsin advance, but I don’t want to assemble too early for fear of soggy crust.

Perhaps that will help my husband and his ilk feel more like we’re eating a meal?

In any event, I would also like to have some other appetizer-y things as options. I have been collecting some recipe ideas, non of which I have ever made before which is HELLA RISKY. Here’s what I’m considering:

Taco Cups:https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/taco-cups/ or https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/mini-phyllo-tacos/

I am kind of thinking these would be for the kids. And they can have whatever else they want, but I would cook these first and feed them mainly to the little ones.

Pros:

  • They sound easy enough.
  • I can use the same ingredients I’m using for the taco pizza.
  • They are small and child-sized.
  • Doubled, the recipe makes enough that grown-ups can have some too.

Cons:

  • I have never made these before, and so I have no idea if they are actually good or easy or anything about them.
  • I can’t imagine Carla eating these, although maybe she’ll eat the meat out of the cups.
  • I’ve never worked with wonton wrappers before (well, not since I made crab wontons with my mom a million years ago).
  • I am suspicious about wonton wrappers being a good accompaniment for taco meat.

 

Taco Pinwheels:https://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/taco-pinwheels/f55a4f16-0eb5-4a9d-ac5b-d75cd03b7ab7

Okay, this is my alternative to taco cups. For the kids, because they are way too similar to taco pizza. Unless I want to swap out the taco pizza for these instead… Hmmmmmm….

Pros:

  • They seem SO EASY.
  • I can use the same ingredients I’m using for the taco pizza.
  • They are small and child-sized.

Cons:

  • Not sure about prepare-ahead-ability with these guys…
  • Too similar to taco pizza to be an extra option for the grown-ups.
  • Carla will definitely not eat these.

 

Taquitos:https://www.foodiecrush.com/chipotle-chicken-taquitos/. or

https://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/black-bean-cheese-taquitos/ or

https://www.howsweeteats.com/2019/02/taquitos/

Pros:

  • Each of these recipes sounds delicious.
  • None of our guests are vegetarian, but if I made the black bean and cheese taquitos, it would be nice to have a non-meat option.
  • They are PERFECT for eating while holding a plate.

Cons:

  • I have never made these before.
  • I don’t know if they would be good cold/cool… and I really don’t want to have something in the oven Every Second. I have never before this moment envied people whose kitchens have two ovens, but here we are.
  • I have no idea if I can prepare these in advance. Ideally, I’d make them a week before and freeze them but… I don’t know if that’s possible.

 

Tex Mex Shrimp Wonton Biteshttps://www.com/light-tex-mex-shrimp-bites-recipe/

Pros:

  • These sound good and almost fancy.
  • They would be easy to eat.
  • I could serve them cold.

Cons:

  • Once again, I’ve never made these before. But I am going to continue listing it as a Con because it is.
  • Again with the wonton wrappers (although they “go” better with shrimp than they do with taco meat, in my mind).
  • Could I assemble these in advance? And, like, how farin advance? Okay, I actually read the recipe and it definitely says you can assemble them in advance… But it doesn’t specify how far in advance. I would guess I could do the wonton cups a day before and then fill them up right before the party. Sounds like a last-minute frenzy, no?
  • Does everybody like shrimp? I feel like it’s a regular-enough feature at parties and buffets that it must be something most people like.
  • SHRIMP IS EXPENSIVE. If I decide on these, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for sales.

 

Tex Mex Shrimp Cocktail:https://www.com/recipe/tex-mex-shrimp-cocktail

Pros:

  • What is it about shrimp that makes something seem fancy? This must be a very individual perspective, right?
  • Again, easy to eat.
  • Again, easy to serve cold.
  • Seems like I could easily prep these in advance. I might not include the avocado, because of browning purposes (although the lime juice might help… I wouldn’t really want to risk it).

Cons:

  • I’ve never made these before.
  • Does everybody like shrimp? I feel like it’s a regular-enough feature at parties and buffets that it must be something most people like.
  • SHRIMP IS EXPENSIVE.
  • I would definitely need little cups/dishes to hold this.

 

Mexican Corn Couscous Saladhttps://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a48350/steak-skewers-with-mexican-corn-couscous-salad-recipe/

Note that I would only be making the salad portion of this recipe, NOT the steak skewers. Steak skewers are waaaaaaay outside my comfort zone.

Pros:

  • I could make this in advance.
  • This would be good served cold/room temp.
  • It would be nice to have a(nother) vegetarian option.
  • It has some  vegetables in it, which would be nice alongside all the meat/carbs.

Cons:

  • I’ve never made this before.
  • Corn and couscous salad does not seem like a particularly stand-while-you-eat friendly food.

 

Black Bean Souphttps://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a55504/easy-black-bean-soup-recipe/

Pros:

  • I could make this very early in the day, which would help ease the pressure a bit.
  • It would be nice to have a(nother) vegetarian option.

Cons:

  • I’ve never made this before (although the recipe sounds verrrrry straightforward).
  • I would have to buy some small soup bowls/cups for people to eat this out of, because it’s obviously not a stand-and-eat kind of thing.
  • It’s not a particularly exciting food. I mean, if you told me you were serving black bean soup, I’d raise my eyebrows and utter a short, “Mmm!” but I wouldn’t be rubbing my hands together in anticipation or anything.

 

Should I scrap all these ideas and have a very simple Taco Party? Gimme Some Oven has a really good carnitas recipe that I can make in the crockpot… and I can make ground beef taco meat… and a side of black beans… and have all the toppings/shells out for people to make their own tacos…

Pros:

  • Easy.
  • Known quantities, since I’ve made them before.
  • Delicious.

Cons:

  • I know, I know; everyone loves tacos. But I’ve served them before at so many dinner parties (including to one-third of the guests coming to this party – not just beef tacos but the carnitas, too) that it feels so DULL.
  • I am already cringing at all the shredded cheese and lettuce and bits of tortillas that the kids will get all over the place.
  • Nearly impossible to eat while standing. The kids are going to sit no matter what (where though???). But there’s no place for ALL the adults to sit at one time, which would make some people feel left out.
  • I am fretting about how to keep the meat and beans hot. I could just leave everything in the various pots, but that looks so… unfestive. And I am not interested in acquiring chafing dishes.

 

Okay, Party Planning Committee. I am beginning to get mildly hyperventilatey at the enormity of this responsibility. So I have important questions for you to address:

  • No way am I making ALL of the above. I’d like to do one main, one kid option, one additional appetizer (or maybe two???), and the guacamole and salsa. What should I choose?
  • Am I crazy to do this at all? Maybe I just need to call and cancel. Initially, my husband and I had a misunderstanding about this dinner party, wherein I thought he was as gung-ho as I was, but in fact he thought we were having people over in the warm weather months when we could throw everyone outside, and he is concerned that our house just isn’t big enough for all these people. Which has ME worried that our house isn’t big enough for all these people. I mean, we don’t even have enough CHAIRS for Pete’s sake, maybe that is a Big Fat Red Flag waving at me to CANCEL ALREADY.
  • Am I overlooking something really wonderful and simple and perfect? I have considered something like Tex-Mex deviled eggs, but I a) hate eggs and b) have never made these and c) would refuse to taste them, so wouldn’t be able to tell if they were good or not. Ceviche, while fancy-seeming, is a no-go as well because I hate raw fish. And anything (besides salsa) that has tomatoes as a main ingredient is out because I hate tomatoes.
  • Is it okay for me to buy disposable dinnerware? Aside from the moral issue of using materials that will either become landfill/whale poison or will loiter in a recycling bin somewhere before becoming landfill/whale poison, which I am feeling quite acutely, is it a turn off, as a guest, to have to eat from plastic dishes? I don’t know if I have enough dishes to feed all the people I’m inviting (ANOTHER RED FLAG?!?!) although I am pretty sure I could scrape something together. But it would also be MUCH easier and would contribute to the appetizer-y vibe if I got something like this set of plastic appetizer plates and bowls and mini flatware.
  • WHAT IN THE NAME OF TACOS AM I GOING TO SERVE FOR DESSERT? Maybe this is something I can turn over to the guests when they ask what they can bring… although I’d love to make these tres leches cupcakes and you know I like Total Control over the food I serve.

 

Okay, Internet Party Planning Committee: ACTIVATE! Tell me what to do. Or, better yet, please send emergency catering services.

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At 12:45 last night/this morning, Carla SCREAMED my name (well, she screamed “Mommy” which is pretty close to a name) and I leapt out of bed from a deep sleep, heart flinging itself out of my chest, trying to get away from what was certainly a murderer. And it might as well have been: Carla was cowering in the bathroom and refused to go back into her bedroom without me. She’d had a nightmare. She couldn’t remember what it was about, but the terror had followed her outside the cocoon of sleep. Poor kiddo. I sent my husband in to lie down with her but she kicked him out for snoring. So I went in to lie with her until she fell asleep. Pretty normal parenting fare.

But then she couldn’t get back to sleep. She wanted the lights on. No. She wanted to watch videos. No. She wanted to sleep with her bunny and bear. No (both in the laundry after an earlier wake up incident).  She would settle for her fox, but I couldn’t find it and I refused to turn on the lights. Eventually I located it under the bed.

She was too hot. She wanted to watch just one little video please Mommy just one. No.

She was Wide Awake.

I contemplated starting the day at two a.m. I quickly shoved that idea aside. I told Carla firmly but kindly that it was time for bed, she needed to lie down and close her eyes and try to sleep.

“I’m not sleepy, Mommy.”

CHILD. How?!?!?!

I scratched her back. I got her water. I sang her every song in my Lullaby-and-Adjacent repertoire. I even googled some lullabies whose tunes I knew but whose words I was unsure of. Then I googled some soothing music to play on my phone. (FYI – a large number of the “lullabies for babies” options on You Tube are the same collection of notes played in an infinite loop. Very boring.

“This is boring, Mommy,” Carla said.

“I know, that’s the point,” I told her.)

The repetition of the notes started digging deep ruts through my brain, so I kept stopping them and searching for new ones. I just wanted a playlist of soothing lullabies! Did I search for “playlist of soothing lullabies”? No. Eventually, I settled on a track that combined a burbling brook with some soft piano music. Finally – FINALLY – at 3:15 a.m. in the morning, Carla fell back to sleep. I went back to bed and of course couldn’t sleep. So I read a few entries in Swistle’s archives – very soothing – until I fell asleep. Then Carla woke me up promptly at 6:18 a.m. in the morning so I am very tired.

 

Sleep

What a restful night. (I made the executive decision to hand Carla my phone at 6:18 so she watched a couple episodes of Berenstain Bears while I slept for another hour.)

* * *

At camp drop off, I ran into someone who I see pretty frequently. I wouldn’t exactly call her a friend, for reasons that will soon be clear. Sure enough, she irritated the hell right out of me, right away.

“Oh, wow, you look tired!” she said.

Yes. Yes, I do look tired. And I have good cause for it. But for the love of Brie and crackers, WHY would you ever say such a thing to someone else? It’s not the first time she’s uttered that exact phrase to me (although it’s been a while, for some reason).

This person has a habit of making comments about my appearance or general mien, and it’s very off-putting, and I am not close enough to her to have a heart-to-heart about why she should STOP IMMEDIATELY.

“Your face is SO red! Were you just exercising?”

No, no I wasn’t. But thanks for making me self-conscious about my face.

“You look like you’ve lost weight.”

Is that any of your business? Or anyone’s business? Why are you monitoring my weight?

“You look so refreshed! Were you napping?”

What…? Do I really look like I have time to nap?

Or, my recent favorite: “You seem pretty hassled.”

What? What does that even mean? Does it mean that I seem flustered and out of sorts and frustrated? Perhaps I am. Because if you MUST KNOW my child was having a Very Rough Day and just before you got in my face I had to put her on time out not once but twice and we are late for The Thing We Are All At and I am feeling hot and frazzled and a little crazed right now and I am at This Thing and so I am trying to put on a pleasant and capable and not on the edge of losing my mind face for the public while I try to regain my grip. So yes, I AM HASSLED. But do you really think COMMENTING on it is going to help? If you are actually concerned about my state of mind, aren’t there kind, friendly, gentle ways to ASK about it, rather than pointing out that I am not hiding my true feelings very well?

PANT, PANT.

I get that maybe she thinks she is being… friendly? Or… that she is trying to be A Good Friend, and thinks saying these kinds of things is an invitation for me to unload. But it does NOT come across that way. Am I being too sensitive? Too prickly? I just… don’t comment on people that way! I mean, I might say I like your shoes or your nail polish or your lipstick or whatever… but the closest I’ve come to saying anything about anyone’s actual appearance is something like, “You look so great!”

Maybe there are some people who wouldn’t mind this woman’s comments. Maybe some people would appreciate how observant she is about Every Single Aspect of their appearance and attitude. How in tune she is with their… whatever.

I am not one of those people. Well-intentioned though they may be, I find her comments to be invasive and rude. But again, we’re not close enough for me to tell her to knock it off. So I have started responding with single-word answers and perplexed looks in hopes of shutting down the conversation.

“Your face is SO red! Were you just exercising?” –> “Nope.” * confused look *

“You look like you’ve lost weight.” –> “Oh?” * bland smile, subject change *

“You look so refreshed! Were you napping?” –> “Nope.” * perplexed look *

“You seem pretty hassled.” –> “I don’t know what that means.” * blank face * (To this one, though, she responded, “I’m going to take that as a yes.” STEAM IS ESCPAING FROM MY EYE AND NOSE HOLES.)

Exhausting. But it is not my job to teach another person how to properly interact with other humans. Good luck to her.

* * *

I was sitting in my kitchen after exercising this morning, in my sports bra, gulping water and trying to catch my breath after my strenuous twenty-minute exercise video and gazing aimlessly out into the backyard through the sliding glass doors, when a STRANGE MAN waltzed across my lawn. You understand he didn’t really waltz, per se. But he was in my yard, moving in a manner that implied he’d been invited. He had NOT.

He was wearing a bright yellow vest and was carrying some sort of tree-trimming type tool. I shrank away from the doors, hideously embarrassed to be in my BRA and NO SHIRT, and then watched from a distance as he prowled around my yard and then walked back around the house to the front yard. There he joined a few other young men, all in the same clothing, and they tromped across my neighbor’s yard and down the block.

I remember vaguely getting some sort of notice that some sort of workers might be in our area. But I don’t remember who they were or what they were supposed to be doing. And I CERTAINLY don’t remember that they were going to be in my BACK YARD, which seems a whole different kind of deal than doing whatever it is they were doing (inspecting trees/power lines? looking for alligators? scouting potential gold mines?) in people’s FRONT yards.

UGH. Seems like the least a person could do is knock on the door and ASK if they could peruse your back yard, right? Not that I would have answered the door – everyone knows that murderers always knock first and wear bright yellow vests to divert attention away from their murderousness – but STILL. There’s the PRINCIPLE to think about!

* * *

Tomorrow is a holiday but I am not feeling very festive. I love my country but so much about it makes me so sad and hopeless these days. And it is unbearably hot and steamy here. And I hate fireworks because they keep my child awake and make me worry about gunfire and fire-fire.

Okay, okay. My crankiness is making ME weary.

Let’s try to think of the positives: My in laws are coming over and my husband is off work and Carla doesn’t have camp. We will go to a parade in the morning. I bought some pretty red, white, and blue flowers. I have good food planned for us to eat. Also margaritas.

Well, crud. My attempt at brightsiding is not working, because now I am reminded that my grill is on the fritz (is that the right phrase? looks weird but I am on four hours’ sleep so a lot of things look weird) so I am going to have to cook hot dogs and ribs in my OVEN tomorrow. Yes, yes, I know. This is not the worst thing to happen to a person by any sort of measure. And I am deeply grateful to have both an oven and ribs/hot dogs. AND YET. I AM CRANKY.

Feeling grateful for the things I DO have does not mean I have to be HAPPY about the things that are BROKEN. (That last sentence seems perfectly applicable to the state of our country, too, doesn’t it?)

Blueberry cake. We will also have blueberry cake. There. I ended on a high note.

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It was so much fun thinking about and planning for dinner with our friends who have some dietary restrictions. You had so many helpful suggestions on my post about it, and I now have a stuffed-to-the-brim folder of delicious-sounding meals. Okay, it’s a digital folder, so I don’t know that it CAN be stuffed-to-the-brim, which is a little unsettling. Suffice it to say that I have a LOT.

One of the most useful suggestions was to simply TALK to my friend. NGS noted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me cook for her gluten-free family member, because the allergy is so severe. So that really spurred me to find out about my friend’s comfort level.

Over coffee, I said, “I really want to be able to cook for your family. What would you be comfortable with?” Even though I was a little anxious about the conversation, it was perfectly fine. The vegetarian family member eats fish, which was a huge relief, and everyone else eats chicken. And she was fine with me using the grill for everything – and if there was a concern about gluten being on the grill itself, we could put one piece of chicken in aluminum foil to protect it.

What we ended up with was:

  • Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
  • Green bean and jicama salad
  • Green salad with assorted dressings
  • Gluten-free macaroni and cheese (Annie’s brand)
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (Immaculate brand)

The mango salsa is my own “recipe.” I dice four mangoes, two red bell peppers, a quarter of a red onion, and douse the whole thing with lime juice. I also add jalapeno – which would of course vary based on your heat tolerance – and a handful of rough-chopped cilantro.

The green bean and jicama salad is super delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe in Thrill of the Grill, which makes little sense to me because NONE of it is grilled.

Jicama salad 1

It’s the perfect dairy-free, gluten-free salad. And it’s also perfect for hot summer days, because it’s cool and crunchy and tangy. If you, like I am, are always looking for mayonnaise-free salads to bring to picnics and barbecues, this is an excellent choice.

Here is the recipe:

Jicama salad 2

As you can see, my “adaptation” consists of leaving out the horrid, horrid tomatoes.

Three important things:

  1. In my opinion, it’s critical to make this the day that you are going to serve it. The blanching step helps keep the green beans their beautiful fresh green. But by the next day, they turn the brownish-green of canned green beans. They are still crisp and delicious, but they don’t LOOK it.
  2. It is really, really important to salt and pepper this salad. It helps tremendously with the flavor.
  3. This makes a TON of salad. Since we didn’t use any tomatoes, I used a pound and a half of green beans, and one largish jicama. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6 people. I think it would safely serve about 10 people.

Of course, I fret and fret about an evening with friends after the fact. I did have a momentary panic when I realized that two of the food items had cilantro. But what can you do AFTER the food is already made?

Jicama salad 3

I looooooooooove cilantro.

Everyone SEEMED to enjoy the food. At least, they ATE it. (Well, Carla didn’t eat anything except one of the cookies. But I anticipated that. As soon as our guests left, we fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) So I’m hopeful that it went well.

And I feel much more confident about inviting this family over in the future. PHEW!

Next time, I think I will make this mushroom-and-pea-risotto (h/t Sistomax!) (whoops! Sistomax was directing me to this one, with artichokes, that ALSO sounds delicious!) and maybe these salmon kebabs (we could do chicken kebabs for the non-fish eaters). We have made the salmon kebabs in the past, and they are so pretty and delicious.

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