For my birthday last week, Sophie gave me a cookbook called, Simple Weeknight Favorites, along with the admonishment,
“You’re 54 years old. You need to start cooking.”
Poor thing. She’s hungry.
I will confess, I think every list of New Year’s resolutions I’ve made for the last many years has included “cook” somewhere near the top. That is not to say we don’t eat. No one is wasting away from starvation around here. But I already consider myself a master chef of the simple meal, which I define as some source of lean protein, a vegetable or salad and some form of starch…with fruit for dessert. If I ever did have any motivation to cook, I’ve lost it pound-for-pound as each family member (Sam, then Nate) has left this house. By the time Sophie leaves, we’ll probably survive on Grape Nuts and apples.
Howie might be considered a foodie in some circles, but he is not demanding when it comes to dinners. He claims one of his favorite meals is popcorn, a beer, and ice cream for dessert. He usually announces he’s having this when he comes home in the evening and finds me in the same position at my computer that he left me at in the morning. Bless his merciful soul.
I thought that this year, since the majority of my time will be spent at home, writing, I would have no problem preparing delicious and nutritious meals for my dwindling family. But as it turns out, between the blog and the thesis (which sits sadly neglected most days), I seem to have less time to devote to cooking rather than more. In fact, I have been so preoccupied by writing lately, that I find myself throwing money at Sophie rather than home-cooked meals. The more the writing consumes me, the more she has been forced to consume Noodles, Chipotle and Byerly’s salad bar. Though I think of myself as an “eat-to-live” person, that doesn’t mean my baby should have to hunt and gather, foraging her dinners for herself.
My biggest culinary challenge started fifteen years ago when Nate announced–at six years old–that he had decided to become a vegetarian. No one thought it would last, but I knew Nate had a will of steel once he made his mind up, even at six years old. He was inspired by our beloved babysitter, Sari, a hard-core vegan. The challenge of nourishing a child-vegetarian was compounded by the fact that Howie and Sam have always been real meat-and-potatos guys.
Even when I have had the time, I have always found cooking to be decidedly un-rewarding. There were the years I’d try making something new, only to be met with a chorus of
“I don’t really like this.”
Then, when I found meals the kids would eat in a regular rotation, Howie would tire of them at the speed of sound. The years their favorite dinners were tacos, mac-and-cheese, and vegetarian lasagne, Howie would inform me he “just can’t eat (tacos/mac-and-cheese or vegetarian lasagne) one more time”.
I thanked Sophie for the new cookbook, and pledged to get busy cooking some of these weeknight favorites as soon as possible. I said I would try at least one new dish beginning the Sunday after my birthday, when I (supposedly) had more time. I asked her to mark the pages of the recipes she wanted me to try. She ripped up a sheet of yellow notebook paper, and marked Thai Coconut Curry Soup with Chicken, Matzo Ball Soup with Chicken and Asparagus, Cheesy Gnocchi with Cauliflower Gratin, Farfalle with Beets, Arugula, and Blue Cheese, Glazed Caribbean Tofu with Rice and Pigeon Peas, Couscous-Stuffed Acorn Squash, and about a dozen other fancy-schmancy dishes. Weeknight favorites, maybe, but “simple”? A frozen pizza is simple. Udon Noodles with Edamame Pesto is not.
By the time Sunday came around, I spent much of the afternoon feverishly preparing for my Monday noon thesis meeting with my advisor, revising a blog post I had been asked to contribute to The Loft’s Writer’s Block blog, and tending to my usual Sunday household chores. Soph and I made it to the grocery store by around 6 p.m. At that point, we were in no condition to think about cooking the Penne alla Vodka with Shrimp she picked for our inaugural meal. I bought the ingredients and promised to make it on Monday. We stopped by the deli for some sliced turkey, and tore into the sample the counter girl handed us like a couple of wild dogs.
While at the grocery store, I noticed the Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough was on sale, “2/$6”. In a moment of utter hopelessness and despair, I purchased the pre-made cookie dough. Please don’t tell the Senior Class Party bake sale committee the secret behind my “home-made” peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.