OK, more accurately: Yikes, today, which happens to be a Monday, and which fully lived up to the harried and vaguely menacing reputation of all Mondays. Not in every way; it was actually a fine, if unremarkable, day in many senses. But food-wise. Oh. Ouch.
It’s the last day of the month; I’ve just published the new meal plan; and it’s the beginning of the week, so our pantry is still freshly stocked from the grocery shopping and the week’s food options still seem all shiny and new and appealing. It SHOULD be one of the times at which things are under the greatest control in the RRG kitchen. But somehow, today was a day when I realized that I was behind the proverbial eight ball and the week was already in jeopardy of being completely shot to pieces before it even got underway.
I have to cut myself some slack here and explain that P.’s wretched respiratory virus, which left him quite a few days ago, apparently jumped ship and headed straight to me. I’ve been sick for nearly a full week now, with the worst of the whole illness concentrating itself right over the weekend. That meant that I wasn’t getting much of ANYTHING done, cooking or otherwise. While I did manage to put together Sunday’s dinner (which, you may have noticed, went unphotographed; the cooking was all I could muster), no other food of any note was produced by my two hands. Even if I could have made myself get something done, I wouldn’t have blamed J. and the kids if they’d demanded it be re-boiled and sprayed liberally with Lysol before accepting it from me.
And while I don’t do much prep cooking on the weekends to set myself up for the week, the fact that I did absolutely NOTHING until Sunday evening did manage to throw things out of whack. I didn’t get the bread baked; I didn’t get the chicken stock made; and those two things alone are significant enough to really put the whole plan into a tailspin. (There are times when doing things yourself rather than taking advantage of store-bought items starts to seem foolhardy, and this is one of those times.) Without the chicken stock, I couldn’t make the chicken stroganoff; without the bread, we wouldn’t have anything to eat with our Tuesday night soup.
Luckily, I’m feeling better tonight than I have in days. I’m still not fully recovered, but I’m functional and alert, so I did a quick rearrangement of the meal plan for the week and decided that I was just going to have to suck it up and get everything done. I have committed to myself and to my family to cook these items, I have committed to do as much of it from scratch as possible, and I realized that if I have set that bar for myself (high though it may be), I’d better see if I could really make it happen even under less-than-ideal circumstances. Even if I’d rather be curled up on the couch with J.
I enlisted one of my little helpers; L. clambered eagerly up on his stool beside me and was more than happy to spend some quality time with Mommy catching up on the kitchen work. He and I made our first-ever plain rye bread (we usually make Swedish rye limpa, which is dark and somewhat sweet), which was set aside to proof while we talked P. into joining us to make a peach-berry cobbler for dinner. With my boys at my hip, the baking tasks seemed to go almost too quickly. I wish I could say that I really took the time that’s warranted for enjoying sticky little brown-sugar fingers and cute floured noses, but sadly, by the time the cobbler got into the oven and the bread was rising, I had to get going on the rest of dinner or face the wrath of cranky, hungry kids.
Because of the lack of chicken stock, I decided to move the chicken stroganoff to Wednesday night’s menu and make tonight the breakfast-for-dinner night. So as I kept half an eye on the rising of the bread and the browning of the cobbler, I turned strips of ham steak in the frying pan with one hand and poured cinnamon-whole wheat waffle batter with the other. I was feeling, I must say, a bit like a Mommy octopus, especially when P. wanted to climb up on my hip to oversee my progress and L. kept asking me to do just one quick run around the downstairs with him (we were “flying to outer space” in a magical fire truck — and yes, there were hats). But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is a commitment. And like all commitments, it sometimes really works out, and sometimes feels like almost more effort than it’s worth.
This was one of those effort nights. Until we sat down to dinner. And suddenly, watching my kids’ faces light up as they ate waffles and pan-fried (organic, nitrate-free) ham steak and homemade cobbler, it occurred to me that I have made this commitment for largely virtuous reasons; but one very good and slightly less altruistic reason is that I enjoy this. I enjoy watching my family eat good homemade food. I enjoy knowing that it’s good for them and not full of compromise ingredients. I enjoy knowing that I can provide that for them through my efforts.
Sweet little boy cheeks puffed out with waffles were just the motivation I needed to finish what I’d started. Suddenly it was no big deal to me to put together the odds and ends for the chicken stock, shape the loaves of rye for their second proof (and, later, bake them), prep all the ingredients for tomorrow night’s split pea soup, and make ham and broccoli quesadillas to slip into the kids’ school lunches. It’s not extra work, I realized, when it’s just what you DO. And what you expect and WANT to do.
Before 8:30 p.m. tonight, I’d played with my kids, put them to bed, read stories and acted out “The Three Bears,” and done all that cooking as well. Right now, the bread is out of the oven and cooling on the countertop downstairs, just a few feet from where the chicken stock is simmering away in the slow cooker. Two healthy lunches are sitting securely in the fridge in matching lunchboxes (one green, one blue). The house smells like fresh bread, homemade soup, and cinnamon, and my kids, my husband and I get to drift off to sleep tonight breathing that air. Yeah, it stinks to feel like I’m behind the eight-ball when the week’s barely started; but how lucky I feel to have the chance to turn things around and end the evening with everything just the way I want it to be. These little pleasures are the often-overlooked rewards of the unprocessed lifestyle. I, for one, intend to stop and recognize them just a little more often from now on.