Crazed In the Kitchen: It Takes a Village to Feed My Children   

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It Takes a Village to Feed My Children

They say the first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem. And that it usually takes hitting rock bottom to realize you have a problem.

So, here goes. I admit I have a problem.

I can’t cook.

And I know this because I recently hit rock bottom. I was making dinner for my boys one evening, and I found myself standing in my kitchen with a bag of frozen peas in one hand and a container of leftover fish sticks in the other thinking, “Man! I wish we had TWO microwaves!”

The kind with the shells is obviously the best. Duh.
(OK, I should have known years ago: I was at Gymboree with my almost-2-year-old, and we were all pretending to put beanbag “cookies” in a make-believe “oven.” Matthew asked, in his trademark high volume, “You can cook cookies in the microwave?!”)

So, obviously, I’ve suspected this was problem for a while now. I had high hopes for myself when I took a leave of absence from my teaching job to become a stay at home mom. Back then, still pregnant with my second son, I optimistically told my husband that in my time at home I was going to learn how to cook and how to keep the house clean. I had visions of myself cheerfully mopping floors while the kids napped and making lasagna with an infant peacefully cradled in a sling across my chest.

Then William was born, and I found myself with two kids under two years old (only for three weeks, but it sounds hardcore doesn’t it?). In the year that followed, I did NOT learn how to cook. I did NOT learn how to clean. But that’s not to say that I didn’t learn a lot of things. I learned that I could live on 6 hours of broken sleep every night for 8 months straight, but only if I spent every minute of every nap time sitting on the couch drinking as much coffee as I could as fast as I could. When we ran out of staples like milk and chardonnay, I learned how to take two young kids grocery shopping by myself (Baby strapped to chest, toddler in cart with a lollipop. Smile through your rage at the “nice” people who tell you that you have your “hands full.”). And I learned that if, heaven forbid, we actually did run out of milk right before dinner, you can make boxed macaroni and cheese with nothing but noodles, hot water and the orange powder. Not great, but Matthew would still eat it, poor kid.

In short, I learned that the year of your life spent taking care of an infant and a toddler is NOT an ideal time to learn how to cook or clean.

But here I am, nearly two years into my stint as a stay at home mom. Matthew is about to turn four and William will soon be two. Things around here are in no way calm, but at least everyone can walk and mostly talk and eat solid food and watch Sesame Street for 20 straight minutes without wandering off to lick the cat. I’m running out of excuses. I’m going to have to learn to cook something other than pasta and Trader Joe’s chicken nuggets (But it’s from Trader Joe’s! That’s, like, one step below Whole Foods! That means it’s healthy! Right? RIGHT???).

But if you’re a long-time procrastinator like me, you know that one never just dives right in to the task at hand. There are plans to make, lists to write, research to be done. Of COURSE the first step in learning to cook is to blog about how you need to learn how to cook. Next is the planning phase. I LOVE the planning phase. I’ve already thought about the office supplies I’ll need to organize this venture—binders with those plastic pocket pages, index cards, blank calendar pages, highlighter pens in various colors! Mmmmmm…procrastinator porn is what that is. Then I let my imagination run wild: I’ll have monthly crock pot days, breakfast-for-dinner days, maybe—and this is crazy—tofu days!

Wait--Stop! I need to buy an apron! I cannot possibly cook for my family until I have found the perfect apron!

You can see where this is going. At this rate, my kids will be teenagers before I get my act together. I’m going to have to start small, both for my own sanity and for my kids’ comfort. After all, Matthew did inform me recently that the fresh cauliflower I had steamed was “gross,” then happily ate a plate of microwaved frozen cauliflower. We’re not going to go from that to kale and radish salad over night. (Is that a thing—kale and radish salad? Sounds very fancy and healthy. Pencil it in for next week. Does Trader Joe’s sell kale?)

So I guess my goal is not so much “learn to cook,” as “learn to cook one or two new things every few weeks.” If frozen vegetables and low-rent pizza (flat bread, marinara, and shredded cheese) remain regulars on the menu for now, my kids will survive. And I have a few things going for me: Though my mom was the queen of TV dinners during the week (and seeing as she worked full-time and was a single parent, who could blame her?), she was an amazing cook on weekends and special occasions. When she died three years ago, I made sure that her tattered and stained copy of “The Joy of Cooking” made it back to my house. And though I am jolted with fresh grief whenever I find a note or recipe in her handwriting tucked in its pages, I am excited to re-create some of the dishes I remember from my childhood. My dad is an excellent cook, as well, and always patiently answers my many, many questions by phone. (“Dad! How do I know the scallops are done?” “Dad! How do I know the corn is done?” “Dad! Is fresh steamed cauliflower supposed to smell like feet?!”) And my mother in law—who raised and fed four very tall kids—has passed on some new favorites, as well.

And lucky for me, I have the internet at my disposal, too. I am always on the lookout for easy, healthy, kid-friendly recipes and meal ideas, and I’d love suggestions. Leave ‘em here in the comments or email me: crazedinthekitchen@gmail.com.

24 comments:

  1. I'd suggest the slow cooker -- it is my life saver! My favorite site is stephanieodea.com. I started cooking in earnest when my kids were toddlers and they are so adventurous now. I also like A Southern Fairytale and Finding Joy in My Kitchen. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks, Hollee! I will check all that out. And my slow cooker is my first step, I think. Less stressful than trying to put something together during the crankiest hour of the day (which is, of course, the hour before dinner)!

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  2. I love you for writing everything that's in my head, but can't make it out for some reason!

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  3. You raise a good point about cookbooks that I think is being lost by the current generation. Cookbooks are meant to be splattered with cupcake batter, pistachio pudding you once tried to make, and tiny bits of meringue. You should be able to read the notes where someone wrote in the margins, "Ugh. Skip the oregano. Doesn't need it." Or, "Aunt Lucy hated this dish at Christmas dinner. Me, too." It should be filled with post it notes or pictures of the casseroles to see what they look like in real life so you'll remember the next time you make it. You don't get these things from an Internet printout.

    Terrific blog!

    -ElectraDaddy

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    1. Thank you! And I love the idea of taking a photo of finished dishes and tucking it in the cookbook for next time. Definitely going to do that.

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  4. Mmm... office supplies!

    Okay, I have no idea what you do know how to make, but this is my go to meal that always works and makes me look like I know what I'm doing. Simple roast chicken.

    Buy a chicken. Wash it outside and in (you may find "parts" in there. We like the parts, but most people don't. Feel free to discard, but don't leave them in regardless of your plans.

    Cut a lemon and an apple in half. Put all of the lemon and as much of the apple as will fit inside the chicken.

    Chop up peeled veggies. Carrots or a sweet potato (not both because the sweet potato will leave the carrots in the dust). Celery. Onion. Regular potatoes if you don't do sweet. Put them in the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Put the chicken on top. Rub it with a small amount of olive oil and sprinkle everything with lemon pepper (not too much, it's more pepper than lemon).

    Cover and bake at 350 degrees for at least 90 minutes before checking. Use a meat thermometer if you have on, or cut close to a bone if you don't. When the juices run clear, you're good to go.

    Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the skin is golden.

    Oh, and I don't know about kale and radish, but I have an amazing kale salad... for later though. Work up to it. ;+)

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    1. Shan--my husband would fall over dead of surprise if I made a whole chicken! I don't want him to die, so maybe I'll give him a heads up before I try it. But you make it sound so easy, I may have to try it soon! Thanks for the tip!

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  5. I enjoy eating more than cooking, so learning to cook was a bit of a struggle for me as well when I was adjusting to mommyhood.

    I'm sure you'll get your act together. Just ease into it, and before you know it, cooking will be a breeze for you :)

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    1. I definitely enjoy eating more than cooking! Love that.

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  6. OMG... you truly are my long lost twin... have you read my recent post about how I hilariously bungled pre-packaged chicken soup? You MUST read it!! Check out Fowl Play! You'll laugh your patootie off!

    Smiles, Jenn

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    1. Ha Jenn--the first thing I thought when you talked about boiling a potato was filling a pot with water, plopping in a potato and watching it boil. I wonder if The Joy of Cooking explains something as simple as that??

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  7. Now I see why you might be a little crazed in the kitchen. Fortunately I can cook, but I suck at grilling. Everything turns out "blackened" style.

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    1. I am waaaaay too scared to try grilling. I'm just trying not to overcook meat every. single. time.

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  8. Good idea: just learn one new dish every week! I mean how hard can it be: just read the instructions. I wish my kids came with instructions.

    Thanks for dropping by Momfever.

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    1. Absolutely--if kids came with instructions then I would have no problem keeping them out of my way and not fighting while I read and follow the recipe instructions!

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  9. Good luck finding your inner love of cooking. Sometimes it's there, and sometimes it's not. :) Ali from Voiceboks.

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    1. Thanks, Ali. I think it's there, it just needs to be unleashed.

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  10. hehe I was like that! Because of my blog I started a pattern of trying ONE new recipe a week in Jan 2012. I blog about it on Friday. I am starting to discover my inner cook, and it's SO weird! ;) Good luck on your quest! Maybe you could try some crock pot stuff? That's what I started on. :)

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  11. Cauliflower does smell like feet, so you're good. And we had TV dinners and Chef Boy-R-Dee(sp) franks n beans, and my brother and I made it out okay. (found you on Triberr)

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    1. I totally forgot about Chef Boy-R-Dee. The taste of spaghettios with meatballs is ingrained in my memory forever. And raviolios! I loved that stuff! Also Oscar Meyer hotdogs. I feel a trip down memory lane coming on...

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  12. Hahaha, I know JUST how you feel! I've had to learn how to cook real quick since my husband's job takes him out of town a lot now. I've put a few recipes down that I've tried and proven--easy and quick and "Me-proof", ha! Of course, I've learned a lot since I put these up, but just haven't had time to add any more. But here they are:
    http://themomjournal.weebly.com/easy-recipes-even-i-can-make.html
    PS New follower!

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    1. Hi--I love the title of the post you linked to...So funny. I will go check it out now. Thank you!

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