eat, pray, kids
Bi·asi cui·sine \bē-ˈa-sē\ \kwi-ˈzēn\ noun : An array of unexciting meals, largely consisting of microwaveable chicken nuggets, Steamfresh veggies, Pirate's Booty, Cheerios, and take-out.About eight years ago, I began working weekends for a wonderful high-end catering company in Connecticut. We would serve out-of-this-world food to Fairfield County's Who's-Who at only the most glamorous of events held in mansions and yacht clubs along the coast. Being that our clients were used to the best of the best, I knew, even with zero culinary skills, that what we were serving was the very finest cuisine.
I started asking the chefs questions and taking notes. I took recipes home with me and served rosemary balsamic shrimp to my parents and beef bourguignon to my two roommates (cats). After getting married in '05, we moved down to FL the following year and I served Thanksgiving dinner to both families (including a very picky Italian family and a very surprised WASP one) at our new home. I brined the turkey and made everything from scratch. I used a stuffing recipe by Giada de Laurentiis and a butternut squash recipe from Emeril. I was on. fire. The reviews from the party of ten were nothing short of stellar. (Biased, perhaps, due to familial ties and all that, but still...)
Aaaand, then we had kids.
I remember reading in a magazine years back some words of advice for women to never trust a man who says he can't cook: "If you can read, you can cook." So, my abilities in the kitchen were nothing special, I get it. Anyone can do it. I've also come to realize that about 93% of my prior cooking prowess can be attributed simply to desire and time. With children as a part of the mix, there is now 93% less desire and about 138% less time. Pre-kids, I could walk through Whole Foods and lazily check off the gourmet items on my recipe list, adding dessert options here, changing the side courses there... No matter, I had time.
I now rush through Publix like a ponytailed speed skater, kids in tow, realizing I have a window of about 17 minutes before AJ lunges for Lila's Minnie doll and all hell breaks loose. All the while, I am whispering to myself little memory lists so I won't forget: "Poly-O, chicken nuggets, milk, OJ, diapers. Poly-O, chicken nuggets, milk, OJ, diapers..." Inevitably, I will forget something, as I've yet to successfully change the iambic pentameter of my memory list when I've mentally checked an item off: "Poly-O, milk, OJ, diapers. Poly-O, shit... Ohhh, shit. Was it wine?"
Cooking has become, well... something I have to do or else we would all either starve (bad) or be forced to survive on take-out (expensive). It is something required, and so therefore I do it. But there's no more sprigs of rosemary or sides of hand mashed potatoes. No more zest in the lemon or passion in the fruit, if you will. *sigh* I stand in front of the freezer picking out which bag of veggies to mike and deciding if we'd rather the Tyson chicken nuggets or the Tyson chicken strips. With little voices from below me incessantly repeating, "I'm hungry", "I want milk", and "woof."
Now, I would love to have a mellow, lovely meal with the four of us, believe me. I light candles and Ang puts on the reggae channel for background music. I use cute little napkins (leftovers from a party thrown three years ago) and offer colorful bendy straws to the monkeys for their soon-to-be dropped cups. Eventually, however, the end result is a cacophany of falling utensils, cries for "I want dip!", and resigned sighs from Ang and me... "Now we've got to clean it all up..."
Even making lunches for the kids on their school days is a bit stressful for me. I try to include each food group (undoubtedly missing out on veggies, here and there), again with my mind list: "Fruit? Banana, check. Dairy? Go-gurt, check. Protein? Does peanut butter count? Check. Grains? Oh hell. Not happening today. Damn, forgot to freeze the ice pack. No clean sippy cups. 18 minutes late for drop-off. Do cruise lines have babysitters...? I want to go to J.Crew."
And I always imagine the teachers giggling at AJ and Lila's lunches: "Did you see their Go-gurts? Bobby's mom makes her own yogurt and knits him weekly finger puppets to eat his homemade 19-grain muffins with..." [Disclaimer: AJ's and Lila's teachers ROCK and would never have the above conversation. This was simply a made-up diatribe bred from my own lunchtime insecurities and foibles on proper food group presentation.]
All of this said, I get that we all go through this. I get that some of us are more... talented when it comes to food preparation and presentation. I am not currently one of them, but I do try my best. And after all of the apple juice and tater tots are cleaned up from the floor, the four of us and our full bellies do end up dancing along to the reggae music by candlelight.
Happy Wednesday. Mangia!