When people read this blog, they often say: “You’re such a great mother. You cook all the time.” Ha! I laugh! I may, in fact, be a good mother but not because I cook. (Verdict is still out.) Like exercising and drinking wine, I cook solely for myself. For me, cooking is a vital source of creativity and personal enjoyment. It’s got little to do with my kids.
My mother’s most heroic period took place when she barely cooked at all. For one year, Jeanne raised us kids, dealt with the aftermath of a divorce, worked full time, took nighttime college classes at night, and cared for her dying mother. Did I mention I was an incredibly obnoxious, slightly rebellious teen? I get exhausted just listing it all.
As I’ve written in past blogs, dinner was often thrown to the wayside during these stressful days. So much so that whenever we ate a traditional meal, Mom would proudly exclaim: “Look, kids, we’ve got three things on the plate!” Most nights, we ate tortellini with veggies. Others it was Kraft macaroni and cheese.
My kids eat their fair share of mac and cheese too. My reasons, however, are not nearly as valid as those of The Jeanne. Usually they won’t eat the fancy stuff, and I don’t have the energy to (a) convince them that Artic Char is awesome or (b) invent a homemade, healthy alternative for them. So, while my husband and I dine on gourmet meals, the kids often eat garbage.
That’s not to say I don’t care about what my kids eat. I am aware of the child obesity epidemic; concerned about the health impact of too much processed food; and actively support the local food movement. However, eating is a deeply personal thing, and I have my own quirky definition of acceptable children's nutrition. In our house, Mom’s three-things-on-the-plate rule still applies. (My motto: “A vegetable on every plate.”) I also try feed them whole foods 65-70% of the time. The rest goes straight to the chicken nuggets fund.
Frankly, I am sick of hearing Militant Dietary Moms yammer on about their kids’ affinity for seitan and carrot juice. I want to holler back: “You win!! You win the Mommy Competition. Mazel Tov!” As a generation of women raised to believe we could ‘have it all’, we collectively suffer from the delusion that everything in life can be ranked. Alas, unlike GPAs and executive compensation, there is no ranking system for successful parenting, but there is for healthy food. For years, the FDA has provided pyramids and color wheels outlining the best way to feed your children. How easy to call that great parenting.
Personally, I think the hardest part of being a Mom isn’t feeding your kids, but getting to know them as they constantly change and learn about the world. (For instance, my five-year old son walks around rapping to himself and performing bizarre dance moves. Will he be the same at fourteen? Stay tuned.)
I’d like to think Jeanne taught me this lesson particularly well. Aside from serving as an amazing role model during those difficult days, my mom kept one thing constant: She talked to us about everything. She never tired of hearing about the most recent social drama in my life, nor did she hold back from sharing her unvarnished opinions (which normally annoyed the crap out of me). My mom always knew me.
While my kids dine on more hamburgers and hot dogs tonight, here is what I will make for my husband and me: A pared-down rendition of the New York Time’s Halibut, Chard, and Potato Casserole. This Mediterranean recipe really spoke to me, but I only have sweet potatoes, which won't taste too good bathed in tomato sauce. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by the idea of cooking an entire fish meal on one pan.
Still haven’t figured out what the liquid will be to keep the fish from drying out. Suggestions are welcome. Be back soon.