I was catching up on blogs and came across a post on Orangette about everyday cooking. I nodded vigorously as I read and then followed the links. I read three articles that were so different on the topic of home cooking, but I related to all of them. My enthusiasm and energy for cooking varies with what is going on in my life and for whom I am cooking. For instance, the first roommate I had in Atlanta was a good cook; she and I took turns making dinner which helped to increase my confidence in the kitchen. When I lived in Durham, Beth and I were house mates. Beth is an amazing cook; we took turns cooking, but when it was my turn, we would often eat out. However, we hosted a few parties which made it seem feasible to cook for and host a crowd even in our small space. I learned many things from her, but the things related to this post are washing dishes and trying new cooking techniques. One of the unexpected benefits of being in book clubs in both cities is that we hosted meetings with food and I got to practice preparing meals for a group.
When we moved to MA, I was newly married and excited to try out all the cookbooks for which we had registered. We also had many brand new, fancy cooking utensils and dishes. As time went on, my enthusiasm dimmed and while I still prepare food for book clubs and other parties, the everyday cooking game is weak.
While I still enjoy reading food blogs and eating, I am not much of a cook. I aspire for us to have homemade food on the table most nights and want to be a better cook. We are SUPER SUPER SUPER lucky that my mother, aunts, and other relatives so generously cook and freeze food, so that most nights we defrost something that is homemade, pretty nutritious, and delicious.
I felt so much relief and validation when I read this piece by Luisa who is a pretty accomplished food blogger. It made made me feel better about feeling bitter when the Little One would reject the attempts I made at cooking well for her or when a dish that was supposed to take an hour, took me much longer and I cried when she still would not eat it. The first piece she mentioned, To Cook or Not to Cook, made me laugh so hard. I especially related to the daughter's viewpoint of her mother's cooking attempts. I have been trying to engage the Little One in cooking more and vow to try to keep the food preparation part of eating fun for both of us. I am not sure if I will succeed, but at least I have it in mind. The second piece, What if You Just Hate Making Dinner? also had me nodding my head in agreement. I think that I am drawn to the glamour and promise of preparing a good meal, the way it is portrayed on food blogs or in movies. However, the every day grind of daily dinner stresses me out; even with all the yummy food in our freezer, I find myself bored with the options. I want to find a balance between the food bloggers whose work I admire deeply, the writers of these pieces to whom I can relate, and the reality in which I am living.
I have had food resolutions in the past. I am going to try again. In 2015, I would like to prepare a home cooked meal which I define as cooking and serving a meal on the same day at least once a month. I am going to make it slightly easier on myself and say an *average* of once a month.
If you have any advice or things which work well for feeding yourself and your loved ones on a daily basis, I would love to hear.
Dear Little Mister:
On Monday, we returned from a two week trip to Maryland. This was your first Thanksgiving and also your first time around so many people. We had a large Thanksgiving celebration and a pretty packed social calendar. While you hate the car seat and cried for the first 10 minutes of each leg of our road trip, you traveled like a champ. You napped until you were hungry and then would start crying. I got a lot of practice with feeding you in the car; I never quite figured out how to make it less awkward and we both got milk on our clothes which was messy, but I am thankful that you did not go hungry.
From watching your reaction to things at your grandparents house, I learned that you are actually quite social and enjoy being around a lot of people. The phone seems to ring almost constantly and your grandmother's voice echoes through the house as she exchanges pleasantries, shares gossip, participates in work meetings, problem solves issues at the office, and figures out logistics for parties. Both she and your grandfather loved talking and singing to you while holding you or watching you on your play mat. You started smiling and making a noise that sounds almost like a laugh. Your sister started a daily ritual of wanting to hold you, hug you, and give you kisses to which you responded with more smiles and intent stares. These rituals melted my heart and increased the number of pictures on my phone by a lot.
While we were in MD, we decided to get some professional pictures taken. We were not sure how you would do with our request that you sit still and look cute while lots of clicks and flashes happen. You surpassed our expectations as you stared right into the camera and only cried when you were tired. As soon as you were swaddled, you fell asleep and we got some cute sleeping pictures. We splurged and got you a fancy outfit which was basically a baby tuxedo, complete with a bow tie. One of my favorite pictures from that session is of you with your grandfather, uncle, and daddy-- all of you look so fancy and cute with the matching bow ties.
Each time someone new came to the house, they would want to hold you and snuggle you. If you were sleeping or eating, we would hold them off. If you were awake, you would often intently study the person holding you as if you were trying to figure things out. From watching other people interact with you, I felt so lucky to learn more about the ways you like to be held, songs that you enjoy, and some moves for how to get you to burp and poop.
During the past few weeks, but especially during the trip to MD, your personality has come out. You are babbling as if you are having a conversation. You laugh as people make funny noises. When you get tired or bored of tummy time, you have figured out how to roll out of it and on to your back. You have started grabbing and hitting at toys from your play mat. You like to be facing outwards when you are on our laps. If we have left you alone for too long, you cry out to remind us to include you.
In those blurry few weeks, I vowed to treasure each stage and to try to enjoy the time I have with you. Even as I try to savor all of these moments, it is all still going so quickly. Your babbling warms my heart. Your smile makes me smile. I am so glad that you are part of our family.
My mom has a knack (or addiction, depending on who you ask) for hosting. Each year, we host at least two large gatherings at our house--Thanksgiving and her office party. Our Thanksgiving this year was small compared to previous years, with only 40 guests. Her office party usually has about 200 people. For Thanksgiving, our house feels pretty cozy with tables set up in various places with chairs squeezed close and the food served buffet style. In the house, we prepare turkey, tofurkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. The rest of the food is assigned and brought pot luck style.
For her office party, the format is open house. People are welcome to drop by anytime within a four hour window. When I was little, my cousin, brother, and I had the important job of taking the coats. We would put them in the guest room upstairs and would try to create a system for easily finding jackets. By the end of the night, the room was so full that we often had to have people come upstairs to help search for their own coats. In the new house, there is a big coat closet which makes the searching much easier. My mom handles the food by cooking and catering some and then using prepared foods from Costco and Trader Joes.
The work for these events is insane. My brother and I often complained about the clean up and organizing that goes into making it happen. The socializing can also be intense. I also feel very exhausted by the time the evening is over. Although at Thanksgiving this year, I did not help out as much because the Little Mister needed to be fed and is not a very fast eater; I actually missed half of dinner and only helped to make some gravy. I often wonder why my mom does it. There are other family members who could host and there are probably other office parties to attend. However, when the house is filled with noise and merriment, I can understand why my mom does this-- she created a love center, a space where it is okay to celebrate and be together, to stop and appreciate good food and good company.
Even though I have lived in MA for over five years (!!), the only events I have hosted are book clubs and kid parties. The thought of hosting feels quite daunting given the scale to which my closest role model does it. Our house also seems small compared to other homes where we have attended parties. However, I want to have more good cheer and merriment in the new year. I want to help build a sense of community. I love when our house is filled with laughter and happy chatter. When my mom was visiting, we had some neighbors over for dinner. It was very nice, but I definitely had a safety net with mom doing all of the cooking.
For 2015, one of my resolutions is to host *at least* one party that is not a book club or kid's birthday party. When I was living in Seattle, I attended and enjoyed a Soup Swap. I found some guidelines for how to host my own. I also like the idea of hosting a regular pasta night; similar to this format. Although a regular gathering feels very aspirational at this point. If you have party ideas or advice for how to host without stress, I would love to hear them.