Cooking for Other People’s Kids

Kids (most) are funny and obtusely illogical about their food. I’m sure there are real reasons, and I know that in utterly powerless childhood what you actually eat is often the only power you have over yourself, but cooking for other people’s children is impossible. I have actually served ice cream for dinner because I am not a fucking magician and I am often very tired. Out of the four kiddos I’m usually surrounded by, two are infuriatingly picky. My greatest accomplishment this year has been finding meals (or anything close to resembling) that the three pickies (1 adult, 1 teenager, one tween) and the adventurers (1 adult, one teen, one tween) can all enjoy on some level. As entertaining as it has been to watch one of them fake wretch every time I serve something not quite fitting, nothing can destroy already fragile self esteem like a 10-year-old. So I aim to please.


I recently spent an extended period of time with the BKs and cycled between anxiety, frustration, anger, and excitement while preparing for this visit. Don’t judge; it’s complicated. My solution to head off as much anxiety and hunger as possible was to make a meal plan and list of activities. My main line of defense started with a big batch Jenny Rosenstrach’s Macaroni and Cheese (we have modified this and renamed it Cheez It Mac and Cheese). This is magic medicine, and by far the easiest to make with the least amount of mess. If you have kids who are culinary minded or like to help, the white sauce is a good opportunity to use them either pouring or stirring. I’ve added more milk or cream that Rosenstrach calls for, and reduced the mustard powder. She suggests bread crumbs and while I’ve had good luck with panko for the topping, we prefer Cheez It’s.

Cheez It Macaroni and Cheese

Cook 1 lb of pasta (elbows, shells, anything that will hold sauce) in a Dutch oven or big, ovenproof pot. While cooking pour 2-2 1/2 cups milk and set aside. Likewise, measure 3 tbsp flour, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, and salt and pepper as desired together. Stir and set aside. Slightly under cook the pasta, toss it into a colander and leave it there. Preheat the oven to 350*. Throw 3 tbsp real butter into the already dirty pot/Dutch oven and put on medium heat. Once the butter melts whisk in dry ingredients. Let sizzle for a few seconds, and when it has some color SLOWLY drizzle in the milk. Whisk as you pour, and once it has the consistency of thick hot chocolate you can dump the rest of the milk in. Raise the heat, simmer and stir. Once the sauce has thickened, dump the cheese in. Rosenstrach calls for 2 cups of grated hard cheese but I’ve always used whatever I had available. This is usually the last of a bunch of bags of shredded cheese. Sometimes it’s less than two cups, often it is more. No one notices either way. Stir until melted, then add the pasta. Sometimes the pasta needs a quick spray of very hot water to separate it before your pour the pasta in. If you do this be sure to give the pasta a few extra shakes in the colander to get excess water out. Stir all, lick the spoon, and top with about 1/2 cup of crushed Cheez It’s mixed w a tablespoon of butter or olive oil. 

Now, this is not just for the kiddos. I’ve dressed this recipe up for date night (pumpkin and Gorgonzola)and down for PMS and pajamas (Kraft slices and cheddar ends). It pairs well with a dry red and Scandal or juice boxes and Unfortunate Events.

I’m signing off with apologies for the disorganized post. My laptop is dead and I ran over my Lofree Bluetooth keyboard and I’m trying to type on my iPad and my house is destroyed because I was not prepared for multiple days on my own with medium sized children. But also! Check out Dinner: A Love Story blog and books. I loved Jenny Rosenstrach BEFORE I entertained picky eaters, and her writing and her recipes are right on. Some of the recipes are still a little much for me and my tiny kitchen, but the writing is gorgeous and the tenets of feeding pickies lay the groundwork for everything else.

Enjoy!



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Gratuitous Pictures of Dogs and Miscellaneous Early Mid-Life Musings

I can’t stop watching my dogs play. You heard me correctly – dogs – plural. A soccer mom friend asked me “What were you thinking?!” as I was tangled up in two on the sidelines. “I wasn’t,” I replied, “Everything’s easier that way.” All joking aside, the universe lined up. Our new boy is an untrained, skidding everywhere, pees-when-he’s-excited heart salve and every single person in this household loves him. He makes the little dog better, and I think he makes all of us better. There is no magic medicine for melancholy, but puppy love is pretty damn close.

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I am still gutted. I am loading the dishwasher or teaching a lesson or on the phone and a wave a grief pulls me under and I just. can’t. breathe. I am underwater. I make actual lists of the great good fortune in my life, but then I button pants and I did not expect to be wearing real pants right now. I am walking and talking and meditating and medicating and doing everything in my power to just feel better. And I am, sometimes, better. But I do wonder if I’m holding on to this what if, this almost, because I’m afraid this is as close as I’m going to get. I am sad and I just can’t imagine what my life is going to look like when I am no longer actively parenting. I’ll complain all damn day about how hard my kid is but that does not negate my desire to parent until the day I die.

Cooper and Sweet Pea are smoothing out the edges.

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These boys are doing their adolescent jobs and preparing me to be ready to let them leave. This is code for they-are-driving-me-fucking-crazy and I-thought-I’d-be-better-at-this. The highs are high and I wonder what I will ever do without them; the lows have me searching for boarding schools with financial aid that start tomorrow. Like I will pack this car and drive you there right now heart of my heart and fruit of my loins. While I’m busy worrying about their social skills and general academic competency they are out there doing exactly what they need to do (and probably some shit that they shouldn’t but anyway).

We spent an evening at the sweatiest college fair of all time. I felt a flutter of hope as I heard the boys asking questions that I NEVER expected to hear from them, “What is the expected SAT score?” and “Tell me about life at _______.” My heart is expanding and contracting at such a furious rate I have zero faith I will survive until graduation. All those 20-something college reps? The best entertainment of the night was watching them pack up to get them SUM DRINKS. You should have seen the eyes being made across that field house. I almost pissed myself. Oh, to be 20-something. I just wanted a shower and yoga pants.

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Hockey season! The crown jewel of my year. I love peace and friendship and all that shit but GIVE ME SOME HOCKEY so I can regress like a proper human.

We had nearly full-family participation in spirit week. If you are not a high school student or a teacher you have blocked this memory out. It is when zero learning takes place over the course of one week because football.

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Mama/Ms. W as Madonna for Decade’s Day – The English Department is full of characters and friends and we NAILED it with 80’s icons ALLLLLL day. Also my getup scared the dogs so much I couldn’t get them inside. No sparkls mma plz wi scurd.

Kid did not go with either of these outfits but solidly represented Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Class color day and Bangor day were fully observed throughout.

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This picture does not do justice to the perfection that is Mark Bittman’s popover recipe with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning. I would eat these every day.

What else? OH! I fixed MY OWN DAMN CAR!

This is a much longer story, but here’s the Spark Notes version: BF borrowed my car, car came home broken, I lost my shit, but then I googled shit, and texted my ex-husband, then I got my code scanned, bought parts and fixed this damn thing. Thank you, YouTube.

It turns out this old dog still has some capacity for new tricks.

I hope the rest of this month finds you well.

Heather

What do we even DO?

My friends.

What are you doing today? Are you, too, at work all in black and hiding your “Wild Feminist” shirt under a big scarf so you won’t get in trouble but also are telling the truth even if it’s only to your own heart?

I don’t know how to mark this occasion. The last inaugurations? We had parties and ate food and celebrated with friends. Today feels less like a party and more like a wake.

I’m not sure what to do, but I know that we ALL should cook at home tonight. If food=love then we are going to have a LOVE PARTY.

Go to your local grocery store or scrounge around in your pantry. If you’re like me you’ve been DOWN since November and have just started grocery shopping and doing laundry and actual work again.

I have spent three months watching goat videos on YouTube. Remember how Margaret Atwood described the fallow state in her Oryx and Crake trilogy? I feel like I’ve been in a goat-video-watching fallow state. And now, it’s time to get UP.

So tonight:

Open a bottle (box) of wine or some good, local beers, or a box of Capri Sun. Whatever. Put on some music. Tell the people in your house that they will be helping and/or leaving you utterly alone. Think about what FEEDS you. Remember that in airplane disasters you are required to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. This? Tonight? This is your oxygen mask. This may be your oxygen mask for the next four years.

I’m thinking about dinner and my family and my *two teenaged boys who will come of age under the most misogynistic administration I have ever known. I’m thinking of my boyfriend who wonders why I, now, am angrier and more frustrated than I have ever been, and I’m thinking of ways to be less angry and more effective.

But bitches get shit done. So I’m still working on that.

Here are a few options I’m thinking about as I plan my meal for tonight:

Meals

  • Italian Wedding Soup from Dinner A Love Story blog
  • Jenny Rosenstrach’s Chicken Soup with Orzo from Dinner: A Love Story
  • Phyllis Grant’s Hearts of Romaine Salad with bacon, eggs, and pesto dressingSoy sauce eggs
  • Every online community seems to suggest a roast chicken for mourning. If you do this, use Mark Bittman’s recipe with a large cast iron dutch oven.
  • If you still can’t get off the couch – Pizza Toast (Catherine Newman)
  • If you want to eat your feelings and slip off into a warm and comfortable food coma, I would suggest Mississippi roast with mashed potatoes or sausage and lentil stew with cheesy biscuits or bread
  • Tacos, just because.

Sweets

  • World Peace Cookies
  • Chocolate Cake for Any Occasion
  •  . . . Mexican Icebox Cookies

 

Today, I want ALL of my people under one roof and to be drinking and cooking and dancing my way through the kitchen to prove that I AM STILL HERE. WE are all still here. We are going to be kind and brave, we will take care of ourselves, our families, and each other; we will bear witness to this moment and our commitment to this big, brutiful world.

What are you making tonight, loves?

xoxo

Heather

 

*There have been some developments in my life. More on that later.

Recipe for Numbered Days

Wake early. Make coffee. Notice the sunlight warming your shoulders through the kitchen window.

Choose one album whose story you can follow as you putter: cook, start laundry, find a million dirty cups. Press play. Feel your shoulders, hips, stockinged feet begin to move.

Pull your snarled hair up and secure. Smile at your reflection – a slash of white, earned, you have no intention of coloring.

Turn on the oven. Peel strips of bacon and layer them on a cookie sheet. Place them in the oven and forget about them. Heat two cast iron skillets on the stove. Ease the pages of your red, Betty Crocker cookbook binder open; they are stuck together with drops buttermilk, smears of eggy fingers, years-old flour dust.

Triple the recipe:

1 = 3 eggs + one for good measure

1 c. flour = 3

1 c. buttermilk = 3

1 c. blueberries = entire bag

and so on.

wash – crack – sing – stir – sizzle – flip 

Eat pancakes over the stove. Ignore the hot blueberries burn your tongue. To feed the masses, you must first feed yourself.

Drink your coffee while you listen to the last song of the album. Realize that this moment is the first song in yours.

Wake the one, two, three, four teenaged boys inhabiting your house – one yours, three borrowed. Listen to the thud of elephant steps on the stairs, laughter, guitars.

Revel in your status as ‘that house’ and realize ‘that mom’ always has to do a fuck ton of dishes.

Let the boys – paradoxes all of them – scruffy and smelly and intelligent and articulate and infinitely scatalogical – commandeer the music. Cock your head and really listen to the clarinet solo. Be impressed.

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Watch the food disappear.

Send them outside. “Pitter patter, boys. Go make music.”

Pour another cup of coffee. Sit on the front steps.

Look. Listen. Feel. Remember.

 

xoxo

Heather

 

Lentil Soup and Winter Storms

This meal brought to you by . . . a cheap bag of lentils and general lethargy.

Vacation began, for me anyway, around 2:45 last Friday afternoon. Because of (what I think will be a regular occurrence this winter) canceled after-school activities, I found myself driving Colby to his father’s house. What should have been a 35 minute trip each way turned into about an hour on slushy back roads there, and an hour and a half on frozen, dark, and unmarked roads on the way home. I can’t remember the last time I was so grateful to see the I95 sign (if only I had known people would be driving either 20 or 70 mph – we’re not much on moderation in these parts I guess).

I knew we needed groceries, but I was too tired to even THINK about entering the grocery store. I arrived home to nearly empty pantry and refrigerator, ready to resort to PBJ.  Lucky for me, I found this:

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful and inexpensive!
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful and inexpensive!

This little bag is ALMOST enough to pry me from my crispy pan-fried chickpeas. Lentils are sacrilegiously easy (and healthy and delicious and cheap). After rustling up a couple of old, frozen, cracked carrots from the cold storage bin, a couple of potatoes and some onions and celery – I was in business. When Matt came home the kitchen was fragrant and steamy and smelled like I had been slaving over the stove for hours. The grand total time commitment for this gem is: 30 minutes with cook and prep time.

Soup for the Storm

Feeds 4-6 (or three with leftovers)

You’ll need: 1 cup french green lentils; carrots, celery, onions, garlic, potatoes; stock or bouillon; rosemary and bay leaf; olive oil; salt and pepper; grated parmesan; a large pot.

Do this: Rinse one cup of lentils and set to the side. Prep vegetables in largish chunks. They look nice at the end when you can actually SEE the vegetables instead of just KNOWING that they are there, mushed up in the soup somewhere. Saute one largish (a cup or over) onion and the carrots (I used three good sized ones). Once they get their sizzle on add the celery (I used three stalks) and garlic (three LARGE cloves, smashed and chopped). Once everything is tender-ish, add five cups of stock or broth (I used water and Better Than Bouillon), the lentils, chopped potatoes (I used three small ones, cubed), a large bay leaf and a healthy dose of rosemary (I probably used close to a tablespoon). Cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the temp to simmer very, very slowly. Simmer about 20-25 minutes.

*I think this is a dish you can pretty much do whatever you want with. Vary the liquid, veg, seasonings, etc. The rosemary and bay leaf, though, are indispensable.

If you over-cook this things will get a little mushy, but it will still be warm and delicious. This soup is best with the lentils JUST tender, but not so much so that they dissolve. Oh, and REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE BAY LEAF BEFORE SERVING. NO ONE WANTS TO EAT THAT.

Serve with: Bread – whatever you have in the house is fine, but buttered crusty bread is best – and grated parmesan. Your kids will want to hate it, but they probably won’t.

I don’t have pictures because 1. We ate it all and 2. Lentils, even when they look like a pretty bowl of fish eggs studded with vegetables, are still not that pretty to the rest of the world.

Enjoy, friends. xoxo.

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chard pizza for supper - but what for dessert?
chard pizza for supper – but what for dessert?

Click that badge to your right, friends. VOTE FOR ME! I’ll talk later, for longer, about the theoretical importance of blogging and voice, etc. For now though, just trust me. Vote. This is important.

It’s Wednesday. My bearded friends are back in Boston tonight, which means I’ll be on the couch (with my bearded husband) promptly at 8:07. So far this Series, we’ve eaten two pumpkin pies, a bag of chips with a jar of queso, and a bag of trans-fat and corn syrup coated cookies from Target. Whatever shall we eat for Game 6? (Also – no friggin wonder I had to buy bigger pants yesterday. *smacks forehead)

Circling the Drain

Oh, friends.

I’m circling the proverbial drain here. It’s October and I’m a teacher. I just fed my family a perfectly reasonable meal and THEN I ATE GOLDEN GRAHAMS FOR SUPPER. We’ve been talking about symbolism this week, and I thought if my students could see that bowl of sugar cereal on my counter, well they would recognize it as a SYMBOL of a GIANT MIDDLE FINGER.

This week I actually had to remind myself that it is OCTOBER. And in October, we only aim to survive. The bright side here? I actually have been so in love this new bunch of students that I forgot to begin dreading October in the beginning of the month. And looky here – we’re almost to the end.

But here I am, at my kitchen table (which is actually not in my kitchen because it doesn’t FIT in my kitchen, but that’s a story for another day). Husband and kid are on the couch. Watching some godforsaken Halo move. CIRCLING THE DRAIN, PEOPLE.

*Side Note: If my child, who has participated in society just fine until now, becomes one of those people who talks only about Halo, watches only Halo movies and reads Halo books – I’m moving the damn kid to Alaska. I’ll go too. I don’t fucking care. I’m JUST NOT HAVING IT. I said ‘no’ to a book request for the first time in his WHOLE LIFE last week. Halo.

And yesterday. Sweet Jesus yesterday. Here’s the setup: I’m sick. I returned from my after lunch walk, grabbed my stuff for class and was cut off by administration with a student question to handle. DURING the conversation, there was an audible pop, and consequent crumpling of my shelf tank INTO my tee shirt. Conversation continued. I rushed to my class to find them all a’ frickin’ twitter. My carefully planned day was sitting exactly where half of my tank top was – halfway down my torso. Teaching that class was like trying to pick Skittles off an escalator. Dangerous, colorful, and oddly entertaining. As soon as the bell rang I ducked into the restroom, tied the strap of my broken tank top to my bra to cover my underdeveloped boobs and made it back with time to settle before the end of the day. Not a disaster, but not an ‘A’ day, friends.

I’m going to keep reminding myself that it’s October, and of my favorite Momastery mantra: We can do hard things. Hard things include: laundry, using a tissue instead of just sneezing into your t-shirt, and navigating difficult work situations. For now, though, I’m going to eat apple crisp, watch one inning of this ball game, and go to bed.