Monday, January 3, 2011

2/365 (A Girl's Gotta Eat)

When James and I first started living together in 1991 I didn't cook. I knew the basics, but eating was just not important enough to spend the time needed to really learn how to make anything interesting. The call of the cereal box and the soup can was sufficient. James didn't agree with me so he did the cooking. He had more patience than I when it came to chopping for half an hour for a meal that took ten minutes to eat on the way out the door to go to the bar.

Having kids certainly upped the ante when it came to food. My Mom baked bread several times a week when I was growing up. We had desert every night. I don't remember going out for dinner many times. I was never forced to eat anything, but I was encouraged to try anything new and because of this I have never been a picky eater. So when Cameron got old enough to eat real food I had to start cooking. There was no way I was going to raise a child who wouldn't eat and the only way that was going to happen was by making food a fun thing. Smelling food cooking, watching it being prepared, helping where possible is what makes kids love food. It also helps if they don't see a Mom who is angry or frustrated about cooking.

There are three kids at the table every night these days. After many years of going to the Food Network school of cooking and many misadventures with eggplant and "asian lasagna" (never again) I have become a fairly good cook. I know how to use most ingredients and there is little I will not try to make. As long as it isn't too spicy the kids will try anything and are certainly not picky eaters. Like myself at that age, the kids get invited to dinner at their friend's homes because other parents hope that not being a picky eater is contagious. It is the secret dream of all California parents that their children will grow an appreciation for sushi.

However, there is a downside to all of this cooking. My family is so used to being cooked for that they have become picky about eating. They are not picky in the way my friend's kids can be- only white food, nothing that isn't fired, only if it is covered in cheese sauce... They have become very picky about food quality and get bent out of shape if they have to eat out too often. They critique the food I make each night! I get requests for lamb and putanesca and dumplings and roast chicken... there is a demand for a nightly restaurant experience. When your kids actually want a wide variety of food from all over the world it is very hard to say no.

So now, I cook. I have become the opposite of what I once was. I not only cook, I clean, I darn socks, I dust door jams. Somewhere along the line I became a housewife and I have yet to decide how I feel about it. When dinner comes out well and the house is clean and the laundry is done I am content. Other times I wonder what it would have been like to actually complete my International Studies hopes and move to some South American country and work for a consulate in some Spanish speaking place. Usually that happens when the laundry has piled up and the floor I just vacuumed yesterday is covered in crumbs from food I didn't eat. At that moment I am usually dreaming of affordable housekeeping in the Philippines.

There are days when I hate cooking. Cereal boxes still call to me, and when left to my own devices, the most complicated meal I will make is scrambled eggs and toast (with jam if I am feeling really ambitious). Many nights I am forced to make a dinner I am completely uninterested in eating. When I know those days are coming I will keep myself hungry for the second half of the day just so I at least have hunger to drive me to make real food for my family. I have succumbed to delivery pizza more often than I like to admit in the past few months. Hell, I have found someone who will deliver Brazilian food! Delivery is great, but I end up feeling bad if it happens with any regularity- the least I can do is cook if I am not bringing money home anymore. Right?

The worst is when someone cooks something for me that is way better than anything I make on even my best days- people who have nothing at stake, who can eat out of cereal boxes or cans without hearing from anyone else. When the kids like their food better than what they had the night before it hits home (never mind that I liked it better, too) and I have to battle the resentment of the home cook who has to wage war against juvenile hunger on an hourly basis. A never ending battle of food and hunger and guilt and frustration and joy and exploration.

My guess is these thoughts have been thought by millions of woman in thousands of places for hundreds of years. All of us wondering how to balance the food and the desire for freedom. You gotta eat, but you gotta dream, too. Is there a recipe that combines the two?

1 comment:

examinedspoke said...

I admire the kind of practical sacrifices you made in adjusting to parenthood. There's a sentiment (at least among some people I know) that cooking by women is a kind of throwback to the days when the female household role was more strictly defined. I'm not sure I understand the idea fully, but it seems to me that it shouldn't be, that the adult thing is realize that all households have a basic list of duties, and to assign responsibilities to the partner more sensibly positioned to handle them.

Perhaps someday you might interest your children in joining you in the kitchen, where they can help work through some of that niggling pickiness.