I am not a huge fan of cooking. Or baking. Or cleaning the dishes. Or making beds, for that matter. But, unbelievably, even to myself, somehow I grew up and got married and had children and moved to suburbia and became a stay-at-home-mom. And now I do all of these things, from cooking to cleaning to baking to bed making. Poof! In the blink of an eye! One day I was cutting biology class with friends to smoke cigarettes at The Mont on Central Avenue in Scarsdale, and the next, I was in charge of several people’s lives.
Honestly. I don’t even know how this happened. Sometimes I think, what a huge misunderstanding. Can’t I just go back to that cozy banquette at the diner with my besties and some fries with gravy?
Buy I digress.
Not only am I expected to feed, clothe, and bathe all offspring, but I am supposed to do it well. Let me tell you something, people, in case you haven’t already figured it out: I am not a domestic goddess. I do not have mad fierce organizational skills regarding playdates and doctor’s appointments and carpools. I fake it. I do the best I can. Just last week, I forgot to take Zoe for a consultation at the orthodontist. Whoops. And I usually drop the ball on reminding my kids to practice piano, so they never really improve, just limping along from one lesson to the next, forever playing Frere Jacques.
And sometimes, I forget to feed them.
Oh, it’s not like I really forget. It’s more that I just forget to plan ahead, so that it’s suddenly six o’clcok on a Tuesday evening and my starving children and I are standing in the kitchen and then one of them is like, “So, Mom, what’s for dinner?”
And I’m like, “Huh. Good question. Not sure.”
My children look at me as I scratch my head. Damn, I think. I was doing so well today. I wrote for 4 hours and went to the gym and hit two out of three dry cleaners and took the kids to swim practice and answered some emails. But, somehow, I totally forgot about dinner.
After an awkward pregnant pause, I’ll add, “Let’s check the fridge.”
There will be something to eat. There always is. Eggs. Pasta. Amy’s Organic frozen burritos. But winging it like this is not very Martha of me, is it?
Part of the problem is that my children’s eating habits are not in sync. Zoe likes pasta with meatballs that I fry in a pan. Andrew likes when I bake the meatballs in the oven. So I alternate. The other issue is motivation: Zoe likes the way her best friend’s mom prepares chicken cutlets better than the way I do. So why should I bother with the pan and oil and breadcrumbs? Why not just send Zoe over there for dinner if she likes it so much?
Very mature of me, I know.
This feeding-the-family conundrum came to a head this past winter, when I co-chaired the school play. Both of my children were in the production and, as a chairperson, I needed to be there with the cast every night from 3-6 pm.
Which begged the question: when was I making dinner? During the day?
I’m a writer. My day hours are sacred. Not to mention, my slightly picky, somewhat ungrateful children hardly eat what I make anyway. So taking time away from my working hours to make a dinner ahead of time that they aren’t going to necessarily love is what I’d call a lose-lose scenario.
We ordered in the entire first week of play practice. Sushi. Pizza. Chinese. Leftover Chinese. And then on Friday, we met Brett at the diner for a family dinner.
Phew. I had made it through. But barely. And expensively. And, not very Martha-ly at all.
I raised the question to some other moms at play practice the following week.
“Dinner?” My friend Ellie said. “Easy. Why, I’m making dinner right now.”
Ellie and I were standing in the PTA closet at the elementary school sorting through one hundred bags of costumes. One hundred. Meanwhile, three out of four of Ellie’s children were in the gym down the hall rehearsing as we spoke. THREE out of FOUR. How was Ellie cooking for all of hers when I could barely feed half as many?
“I’m making a brisket. My children adore it.”
Adore? Brisket? I had to know more.
“In my slow cooker. I’m cooking as we speak!” Ellie cackled, gesturing grandly with her hands as if conjuring magic. Then she placed a piece of masking tape on some child’s t-shirt and stuffed it into a brown Trader Joe’s bag.
“It’s the easiest thing. I put a brisket, a package of Lipton onion soup mix and a jar of Heinz chili sauce into the cooker in the morning and turn it on. It’s done at dinnertime. I serve it with egg noodles.”
I ordered a slow cooker as fast as I could.
I found the most popular one for $50 from Amazon Prime, which meant that, for the price of one take out Chinese meal, I would be slow cooking by Thursday.
In the meantime, Andrew wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to make my famous homemade chicken soup. (It’s good, my children tell me, but not as good as Nana’s. I really should send them away, don’t you think?)
For some reason, I grabbed the wrong chicken from the Kosher market. Andrew and I stood in the kitchen looking at this bird, now out of the package. I had bought the whole bird, not the quartered one. It had a neck. And was all put together just like a chicken. I grabbed a large knife and some poultry shears and went about dismantling the bird.
It wasn’t pretty. The process took about twenty minutes and thirteen curse words.
Then the chicken needed to be plucked, because, as a kosher bird, it still had a fair amount of feathery stubs.
Lastly, I had to wash my hands for about ten minutes and de-scuzz myself from chicken scuzz.
Eventually, once I found the kitchen twine to wrap around a bundle of dill, I would start making soup.
Andrew watched it all, fascinated. “Mom,” he said. “I don’t think you need a slow cooker.”
“Oh, yeah?” I asked, slightly breathless, dabbing at the fine sweat on my forehead. “Why’s that?”
“Because you are a slow cooker. No offense.”
None taken, my dear child. I’ll just write about you in the newspaper.
My slow cooker arrived and I prepared the wildly-successful brisket. Since then, I have found several other winning recipes for it, including one for carnitas tacos.
No one complains about dinner anymore!
Except for maybe me. Because, in order to put a slow cooked meal together at 9 am, I actually have to be organized and prepared enough to shop for all the ingredients the day before.
This rarely happens. So, if you ever see me at the supermarket in my pajamas right after taking my children to the bus stop at 8:30 am, muttering a mantra that goes something like “pork, lime, onion, tortillas, pork, lime, onion, tortillas,” now you’ll know why.
Then I’ll head to home to make beds, RSVP to birthday parties, and re-schedule orthodontist appointments before I put the spice rub on the pork and sit down to write.
Slow cooker indeed.