I’m feeling a little off-balance today, not in a bad way, but in that “I’ve got houseguests” kind of way. It’s a mixture of happiness that they’re here, appreciation for their help, relief that my boys get to go on a fun outing with family today and have a little break from preschool and daycare…and a measure of sort of “ungroundedness,” I guess, where the cooking, cleaning, and daily routine stuff of being a working mom is concerned.
Last night I realized, as my mother, sister, and I dove into the dinner preparations (marinated flank steak, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes), that I was not cooking in my own kitchen so much as doing things according to my mother’s direction. It was a funny sort of phenomenon, which made me stand outside of myself a little bit and observe how I was sous-chefing dinner for my family, even though I have made flank steak and mashed potatoes a hundred times. Something about that family dynamic sends all but the very strongest back into childhood a bit, I think. And on the one hand, it was very, very nice to have other people pitching in and someone else at the helm of the operation. On the other hand, it just doesn’t feel natural anymore, because I’ve grown used to being the captain of my kitchen. (One more thing that doesn’t feel natural: these nautical metaphors. Think I’ll abandon those for now.)
But as always, we did cook dinner, and it was a good dinner, and L. ate so well that he even ate his corn (not a favorite vegetable of his), albeit one kernel at a time. P. was so fascinated by the presence of three people who don’t often show up in his house that he splashed around in his mashed potatoes a bit, scraped some bits of steak off his tongue, and slurped through a little peach sauce before simply getting down and running back and forth between us all, pointing and grinning and showing off: “‘ZAT?” he’d squawk. “Who’s that?” we’d parrot. “GAN-tahhhh!” “Yes, P., that’s Grampa! Good job!”
Having observed the boys at dinner, my mother’s thoughts began turning rapidly to today — the first time in nearly a year when she will be with both of my children for a full day without either myself or my husband present. She, Dad, and D. are planning to take the boys someplace fun (leaving the choice up to L.), and bring a picnic lunch along. I’ve told her that since she is in charge for the day, she can feed them whatever she wants; it’s a fun day, a picnic day, and she fed me for my entire childhood, so I’m pretty sure she can be trusted. But Mom was concerned. She’d picked up some fried chicken, a nice treat that everyone will enjoy. “And what to go with it?” she wondered. “What will the boys eat?”
I shrugged. “Applesauce,” I offered. “They both like that. Yogurt for P. There are pretzels and things.” I was thinking that on a picnic, since we hadn’t had time to really prepare and plan and make some things that travel well for the kids to eat, anything beyond these offerings might be ambitious. Especially at the end of the week, when we’re running low on groceries and produce, making it harder for me to get creative on the spot.
Mom curled her lip a bit, meaning that she wasn’t entirely thrilled with the menu. Neither was I. But I didn’t have a good answer. “You don’t have any of those…chip things, like you do, around here?” she asked. Bless her heart; Mom’s an avid follower of the blog.
“All out,” I replied. “They ate everything.”
By this point, it was 10 p.m. I glanced at the clock. My father, jokingly, said “Oh, just go whip up some more, why don’t you?”
“Sure,” I replied. “It’s only 3 hours to cook them. No trouble at all.” I rolled my eyes. Sighed. Wished that we’d had the conversation at 8 p.m. instead, because then…then I might have actually done it. I pictured the apples sitting on the counter in the kitchen, just waiting to be used.
We all went to bed with nothing resolved, but when I awoke this morning, I went downstairs knowing that the picnic would be the first thing on my mother’s mind today. Somehow, I went into autopilot mode. I knew what to do. And the moment she said, “I just want them to have something else with it all, to make it healthier,” I removed a baking sheet from the cupboard and started preheating the oven.
“I’ve got you covered, Mom,” I said, and set about making Roasted Potato Rounds from both red potatoes and sweet potatoes — a colorful melange of little disks littering the tray, glistening with a drizzle of olive oil and touch of sea salt. Roasted at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, with their skins still on, the potato rounds become crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and have a pleasant little salty bite that L. loves. Last time I made these, for dinner a few weeks ago, both boys devoured them and I had to practically flip a coin to decide who was getting the scant leftovers in his lunch the next day. The empty containers that came home from school proved that they’re apparently good cold as well as hot.
Crisis averted — it’s still not a complete, gourmet, super-healthy picnic, but at least there will be chicken and sweet potatoes and fruit in some form. It did set me to thinking, though. I have to wonder if all the effort I put into preparing fruits and vegetables in a way that will entice the kids, especially L., to eat them is making them, somehow, into worse eaters, or at least eaters who are harder to please. If they won’t eat raw carrots, if just tossing a banana into the picnic basket isn’t an option, if there are so few easy, no-prep options that can be packed up and enjoyed on a lazy summer day, have I set the bar too high? Or is it simply that I wasn’t really prepared for this, and therefore didn’t have the right things on hand? Are my kids becoming demanding eaters, or am I just off-balance?