Posts Tagged ‘the thing about eating is you have to do it EVERY DAY’

It is a Call Week, so I am relieving myself of the drudgery of meal planning for this week. Ahhhhhhhhh, sweet self-imposed freedom from self-imposed obligation.

I just got back from chaperoning a field trip. Yes, the field trip I was whining about last week. I like to drag my worrying out as long as possible.

Taking responsibility for any children more than my own first grader is, as you may suspect, completely outside my comfort zone. The teacher may have understood this – she has met me before, after all – and only assigned me one other charge besides Carla. The little girl was so cute and held my hand whenever the teacher instructed the children to “find their grown ups.” I was HER grown up, so she was going to make sure I didn’t get lost. (Carla, in typical Carla fashion, did not care whether I was in her eyeline, just as long as I was ON the field trip.)

Our destination was what felt like an hour’s drive away. The duration of the trip – or, should I say, the perceived duration – may owe something to the endless games of “Would You Rather” and “I Spy” and “Twenty Questions” we played. We played enough rounds of each for me to have a clear Least Favorite (I Spy) and to never want to play any of the three again. These games were, however, preferable to the game the girls had been playing when we first got on the bus. “Hamster” I believe it was called. The gist, from what I understand, is that Carla was a hamster (hence the thrilling name of the game) and that the other little girl was her owner. I found it highly amusing that the other little girl would hold out a carrot – a completely imaginary, completely invisible carrot, mind you – and that Carla would say, “No, no, I want little pieces of carrot” and then the other little girl would not only not mind this arbitrary distinction (INVISIBLE and IMAGINARY carrot) but would readily comply.

This is the kind of thing that makes me hate imaginary play with my child. Give me reading. Give me art projects. Give me (gourd save me) a board game. (Not Candyland. Never Candyland.) But when it comes to following the meandering and impromptu and too-often contradictory rules of a game of pretend, I would rather stick a fork in my eye.

Speaking of forks, I am sort of wishing that my everyday flatware would wear out. My husband and I chose our flatware purposefully. We loved the contemporary sleekness of it. But most of all, we loved the heft of the utensils. They felt sturdy. Real. That’s the very thing that we hate so much about them now. The stems are TOO heavy; they are constantly falling off the edges of dishes or into bowls. They have rounded edges, too, so they slide off even perfectly flat and still plates and it is super annoying. It is time for them to go. But I cannot bring myself to replace Perfectly Good Flatware, you know? It’s not cheap, to buy a whole new set of forks, knives, and spoons. And there’s nothing broken or damaged about this set. It’s just stupid and irritates me on a near daily basis, that’s all. I guess I will just wait until the utensils wear out and I can happily replace them.

Of course, they are NOT wearing out. Not at all. This despite the fact that we seem to have officially crossed some sort of Household Item Breakdown Threshold, because over the past two years or so, I’ve noticed that more and more of our housewares are surrendering to age or overuse or existential dread. Our everyday dishes (purchased 2009) suddenly have big chips. The handles of our pots-and-pans-set (purchased 2003) have started to detach from the bowls of the pots. Our cookie sheets (2009) are dark brown and have a permanent aura of grime, not to mention they don’t seem to lie flat anymore. We’ve lost enough of our backup everyday water glasses (2009) that I had to order more. Our duvet cover (2009) developed a hole that I was unable  unwilling  unqualified to repair. Our bath towels (2009) suddenly seem exhausted and threadbare and completely resistant to the softening effects of Downy. Our kitchen towels (2009) are universally stained and resist being folded into anything resembling a straight line. Our everyday steak knives (2003) have been washed so many times the wooden handles are sprouting splinters that make dicing onions an exercise in bravery and pain. I am sure there are more examples.

I suppose this is the nature of things: they are temporary. You get as much use out of them as you can. And then you move on. Yet I am nonetheless bewildered by their disrepair. I have used these same pots in four different homes across the better part of two decades! Why would they fail me now? It is perhaps a level of betrayal that one should not feel toward inanimate objects.

We have so far replaced the duvet cover and the kitchen towels and the pots and the cookie sheets. I hope these signs of wear and tear confine themselves to our household items and don’t spread to our actual marriage. Perhaps that’s why their disrepair feels so significant: I am correlating them too closely with my marriage; understandable, since we bought some things when we moved in together (2003) and the rest when we got married (2009).

Moving on quickly lest we get too philosophical/metaphorical here: You will note that I said we have replaced several items. And yet the old, failing items remain. The dark and gritty cookie sheets? Still in the same drawer, on top of the brand new cookie sheets – which are so lovely and fresh looking I have been avoiding using them, lest they lose the newness. SIGH. I glance lovingly at the shiny new pots (well, they aren’t shiny; they’re non-stick) and pass over them in favor of playing another tantalizing round of Will It Or Won’t It Fall Off: Pot Handle Edition. The dingy kitchen towels are still folded, if haphazardly, in the towel cupboard and are still part of my towel rotation. At least I USE the newer towels, though.

I think my husband and I both suffer from (varying degrees of) a very dangerous combination of practicality and sentimentality. Alone, they are often stronger than logic. Paired together, logic has no chance whatsoever. Why do we need three coffee machines?Logic asks. What if we have a lot of people over at one time? Practicality answers.  We have never once used these crystal glasses of your mother’s, Logic points out. Plus, we already have your grandmother’s crystal upstairs in the dining room and we never use those anyway. Inarguable, right? But we might have a big fancy party someday and need EXTRA, Practicality counters. And they belonged to YOUR MOTHER, Sentimentality says. Game, set, and match.

Sometimes I wonder if I should get really into Marie Kondo like its 2014. But – from my very limited understanding of the Kondo method – I petulantly disagree with the whole “keep only things that bring you joy” principle. And I am sure – SURE – that the actual Kondo method has exceptions for things of practical necessity. I mean, no one keeps a bottle of Advil or a plunger on hand for reasons of JOY.  It’s probably more a method of thinning down multiples of things – like cardigans or jeans or stuffed cats (every single one of which brings Carla joy, I don’t even have to ask).

What does Kondo have to say about occasional-use things, though? Like a ricer or a bottle of hydrogen peroxide? Neither is going to save your life (or unclog your toilet), and I am going to venture a guess and say neither is going to bring you any sort of joy. But sometimes you just need a ricer.

I couldn’t find my ricer this past Thanksgiving, to my husband’s chagrin and my moderated glee (he and I have differing opinions about the optimal smoothness of mashed potatoes). And I wondered if I somehow got rid of it without remembering? Would I have done that? Did I say, “No joy” and toss it into a box of things headed to Goodwill? That doesn’t sound like me, (see above re: knives that give me literal splinters) but… I have no idea where the ricer could be. (Where IS my ricer?) Wherever it is, I think it’s rubbing elbows with my knife sharpener, which I cannot find either.

I could see myself applying – with prejudice – the Kondo method to my kitchen. I mean, the pots whose handles are ready to release themselves from the pot at any moment should definitely go. We ALREADY have replacement pots. Sure – addressing Practicality – it’s nice to have extras, but they are rickety and liable to break just as you are transporting a pot of hot soup from stove to counter. And yes – addressing Sentimentality – they were the first pots my husband and I bought when we first lived together a million years ago, but they are JUST POTS. In no way do these pots bring me joy. More like apprehension.

I could also go through my Drawer of Kitchen Crap and pick out the things that no longer bring me joy. The herb stripper I was so excited about when I got it? I use it so infrequently. And really, I don’t NEED it that often. And it’s just the wrong shape for the drawer, so if it isn’t positioned exactly right, it catches on the top of the counter and holds the drawer closed and I have to jiggle and jam my hand into the drawer and wiggle things around until I can get it open again. IT CAN GO.

Kitchen drawer

Drawer of Kitchen Crap

What about the Bundt pan that I have never once used and which I fully plan on continuing to never use?  Just because it is in Brand New Condition is no reason to keep it.

What even is a Bundt cake? Is it really a thing, that people make and eat? Is it, like, cake cake? Or is it, as I imagine, more of a bread? Is it good? Have I been missing out on all sorts of Bundt-related deliciousness all these years that the Bundt pan has been taking up space in my pantry?

I could go for some cake right now, honestly.

After all, even if I have forgone meal planning, it does not mean that I can forgo actually FEEDING my family. They continue to require sustenance. Cake counts, right?

All right, I am off to scrape together some sort of probably-non-cake food for my child. And then maybe see if she can I Spy my ricer.

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We are all sick. My poor husband has gone back to work and Carla and I are draping ourselves pathetically across various pieces of furniture. I have given up trying to ban Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse from our home, and it plays endlessly in the background, rotting my child’s brain and fueling my nightmares.

I have managed to drag myself off the couch long enough to write 80% of the thank-you notes for our Christmas gifts. Carla needs to write three separate thank-yous to her teachers, who got her a book for Christmas, one to her babysitter for an unexpected gift of Play-Doh, and one to her grandparents for whom thank-you notes are Super Important. (I have taken their Supreme Importance to heart, as you see, writing them from my deathbed and all when I haven’t even been able to make Carla a breakfast heartier than “dry Wheat Chex in a bowl.”) She is signing the other cards, which I think is plenty. Getting her to write all the notes she needs to will be… a lengthy process. Please fill in the ellipsis with your own of all the other words I considered and rejected.

Even before this illness – which began Sunday as a scratchy throat and has snowballed to its present state of misery – felled us, my plans for dinners this week were… relaxed. It’s hard to get back into the dinner swing, post elaborate holiday meal planning. Plus, I am back on the calorie counting wagon, which makes me feel spiteful about dinners anyway.

Here we go. Perhaps in a few days I will feel well enough to plan meals for an entire week.

Dinners for the Partial Week of January 2 – January 7

Note: I am making this tonight because it is so easy. Nearly no effort, which is the most I can muster right about now. My husband and I pair this with basmati rice  (which I made last night) and caramelized onions (also a low effort item), and he also adds sundried tomatoes and feta cheese to his plate. Nothing green with this meal, but you could add a quick side salad if you were so inclined.

Note: I think this was on my meal schedule a couple of weeks ago and we ended up not eating it. Such flexibility is the benefit of having lots of chicken breasts in the freezer.

  • Mulligatawny Soup

Note: WordPress spell check is claiming that “soup” is not a word. It is, right? A word? And a food? Have I stumbled into some weird delirium? In any event, this mixture of meat and broth and other things is another super easy meal. Although I don’t think I have any pre-cooked shredded chicken in the freezer, which means I need to roast some before I make this. The recipe we use is adapted from Joy of Cooking, and it requires sauteeing mire poix (which I have pre-portioned in the freezer; you can buy mire poix from Trader Joe’s and just portion it out into freezer bags, or you can do a big batch on a day when you have time) with a couple tablespoons of flour and curry powder, adding chicken stock, shredded chicken, some thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaves, and rice, and then cooking for awhile. You can add warm milk at the end if you so choose. Very simple but hearty and delicious.

That’s it. On Saturday, we’re going out to dinner with friends. Sunday, we may have some friends over – if that happens it will be last minute and very casual and I am trying VERY HARD not to freak out about that, because I am neither a last minute nor a casual kind of person. Monday… well, we’ll figure it out when it gets here I guess.

What are you eating this first week of 2019?

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Internet, I am so sick of all food and have no idea what to cook and yet I STILL feel obligated to feed my family.

Yes, I have been here before. But this rut ravine crevasse feels especially deep and wide and insurmountable.

Let’s list all the things that are contributing to these dark feelings:

  1. My grill is broken, so none of my summery “throw some meat and veg on the grill” options are available to me
  2. My in-laws are here, which means I feel (self-applied, only) extra pressure to cook Things That Are Special
  3. I have still not gotten accustomed to our summer schedule, so I feel off-kilter in general
  4. It’s hot and I don’t have any extra energy for cooking
  5. I used up every last store of Cooking Enthusiasm in June, when I baked two cakes and countless cupcakes and hosted my in-laws for multiple Special Meals

First, I tried to make meal planning more interesting by adding two or three Brand New Recipes to the weekly list of dinners. But that requires research and energy, and I am fresh out of both. Okay, I am not “fresh out” of research. I am fresh out of PATIENCE for research. DESIRE to research. And patience and desire for this line of sentencing.

Next, we have been eating lot of meals outside the home, which takes all the planning and cooking weight off of me. But eating out all the time is expensive and time consuming. And I tend not to make the healthiest choices when I go out to eat (if I’m going to spend money on a meal, it better be tasty and fancier than a SALAD is my line of thinking).

Finally, I have turned to cooking super easy things, like Crockpot BBQ Pork or Tacos or Burritos. But my husband is growing weary of all of those things, and they aren’t really the lightest fare, either. I love to eat foods that are smothered in cheese and sour cream, but there’s only so much of that you can eat before you start to feel like YOU are smothered in cheese and sour cream.

How in the world do you climb out of such a deep and overwhelming food chasm?

Probably what I need most is some fresh ideas. Which is difficult to ask for because a) I have a HUGE list of recipes I haven’t tried and b) I am super picky and so 90% of recipes people suggest never sound that great. Really makes you want to help me, doesn’t it?

What are your go-to meals, when you want something easy and delicious? Bonus points if you would serve it to guests.

(Where does this come from, this need to do Something Special for guests? If a food is good enough to serve to my family, why doesn’t that make it good enough to serve to other people? And yet there are MANY things that my husband and I eat all the time – and LOVE! – that I have never thought twice about serving to others. Some of them are pretty spicy, so maybe that’s part of it… we like a spice level that wouldn’t be comfortable to many other people. Some of them seem… plain, I guess? Like the Crockpot BBQ Pork, which is just a pork tenderloin and an onion dumped into the crock pot with some BBQ sauce [and sriracha]. I usually eat it with a baked potato and some green beans. I LOVE it. But I wouldn’t consider serving it to friends because… I don’t know! It seems too homely somehow? It seems like a B-Team Meal, and when you have people over, it seems like you should be serving them only A-Team foods? It’s too easy to make, and you should put in Real Effort when you entertain? I have no idea. Is this Foods-Suitable-for-Guests thing unique to me and my husband?)

In exchange, I will give you my FAVORITE recipe of late. It is so good. So good that I refrain from making it too often, lest I get sick of it.

(And I cook the chicken in the oven – 425F for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is 165F – so it doesn’t matter that our grill is broken.)

It’s called Honey Chipotle Chicken Bowls from How Sweet Eats but I think of it as a big, delicious salad. I use lots of mixed greens for the base, and I cut some fresh corn and bell peppers and carrots and avocado and add those to the salad. And then I top everything with a mixture of the lime dressing the recipe recommends and a generous drizzle of the cooked marinade from the chicken.  I was really suspicious of putting quinoa on a salad, but it adds a very pleasant texture that I love. We served this to my in-laws recently, and they loved it.

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