If you've been reading this blog for a while, or if you've clicked around a bit, you'll know that while many aspects of my crazy new unscheduled homeschooling life suit me to a T, I have really struggled with the unending requirement that I provide my family with reasonable things to eat at reasonable times. I don't mind keeping the house clean (probably because I've noticed that I can do it when I feel like it, and no harm done if I don't) and I enjoy reading books, making music, going for walks, and doing projects with my kids.
But I can't stand having to make food all the time. It just drives me crazy that no matter how many times I feed them, the kids keep wanting to be fed. If I were just taking care of myself, I'd probably skip cooking altogether and subsist on rice cakes, peanut butter, and salad, but the children protest. For a lot of families, this would translate into a dependence on prepared foods, but our budgetary restrictions (can't spend money on gardening, yarn, or roving if I'm spending it all on Amy's frozen foods) combined with our dietary restrictions (no wheat, no dairy) make this pretty much out of the question.
So cook I must. In my journey down this path, I have served some pretty lame dinners. Tortilla chips and smoothies is a good example. The kids have asked for repeats on that one. But I can't do that every night. Toast and eggs is also good, but again: can't do it every night. I've also discovered that while I have no objection to eating meat in most forms and from most sources, I am completely grossed out by the handling of meat that is required before it can be cooked.
Enter Mark Bittman. Most of the rest of the world already knows about him, but my first exposure was three weeks ago, in the book section of a WholeFoods in Philadelphia. I was there with friends, but I didn't need to shop, so after I'd exhausted the entertainment options of the lotions and potions section, I settled in with this book:
I liked it a lot. The recipes were simple, and arranged by ingredient. This is a brilliant innovation to me, because of the way I shop. I don't plan meals (this might be a big part of my problem, I know, but I just can't bring myself to plan, most of the time) so I shop according to what looks good. And I don't plan meals around a big piece of meat, as many do, because of the aforementioned gross-out factor. So I tend to bring home several bags of assorted produce, and imagine that somehow, this week, inspiration will strike and I'll be able to magically pull together some interesting dinners. Totally unreasonable, I know, except that with this book, it looked like this "strategy" might actually work.
Only problem: $35 price tag. No way. So I got home and checked half.com, and found it for a lot less. Then I dithered for a while, wondering if what I really needed to do was just get off my butt, plan ahead, make some dinners. Did I really need this book? So I dithered a little longer, and then I just ordered it. It came over the weekend, and I've used it twice, and folks, let me tell you, this book is the answer to my particular conundrum.
Both times I've started with an ingredient: shiitake mushrooms on Saturday, green beans last night, and both times I've been able to make something delicious without fussing over it. The recipes are simple, quick, and easy, and didn't call for anything we didn't already have in the house. Last night I was happy about what I'd cooked for dinner, for the first time in longer than I care to really think about.
That's herbed rice with chopped red pepper in the foreground. This is my own recipe, and possibly the only thing I still make from my many years making food in restaurants. Just saute a finely-chopped onion with some herbs, add leftover rice and mush it around.
The oval dish contains green beans with miso-walnut sauce, recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Delicious. And I'm serving salad in my salad spinner (why waste a dish?) but that's homemade salad dressing in the peanut butter jar to the left.
Big One and I enjoyed this meal very much, and Papa enjoyed it too, when he got home. Here's how Little felt about it:
'Nothing to eat, Mama.'
'Okay, I'll have some salad, but then I want a glass of soy milk.'
But people, I was excited about this meal. I was invested in this meal. I am happy to respect his desires to eat a very bland diet (I remember exactly what this felt like) but I also know that one of these days, his palate will change, and I want him to keep trying things until it does.
So I insisted. I didn't insist he eat an entire serving, but I told him he would have to take a tiny taste of both the rice and the beans before he could have some soy milk. Much negotiation ensued, but I held firm. The rice went down easy, but the one tiny slice of a single bean he was obligated to eat before he got his soy milk, that went a little like this:
He's goofing a bit in that last one. He is well aware that he is not only cute, but charming and hilarious, even when he's refusing to eat his dinner. In the end, the bean went down, the universe was saved, and he got his soy milk.