Friday, December 2, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake!

             I spend a ridiculous amount of my time in the act of feeding my family. When the kids were little I just shopped willy-nilly; no really strategy, no menu, no list, no plan. But I learned that can not only be expensive, but it causes multiple return trips for forgotten items. So now, each week I sit down with a calendar, a notebook and a pile of cookbooks and I begin the first of four lists. Using the calendar I determine which days already have events planned that will conflict with meals for that day. Monday nights we have Scouts, better cook something quick and easy; not too much prep or clean up so Dad and the boy can get out on time. Tuesday night I have school, better choose something simple to prepare, like chicken pot pies or pasta, so hubby doesn't have to put in too much effort, (also a good night for foods I don't enjoy, like hot dogs.) Friday night everyone goes out…why bother cooking at all, instead get something each person can just grab and prepare on their own-- grilled cheese and tomato soup.
            Once I have finished this first list I begin paging through the cookbooks accruing my second list-- What can I prepare that will meet each person's tastes and dislikes? My cookbooks have ratings next to each recipe we tried, using a complex mathematical system of averages and a general scoring poll of those who participated in the meal, (with an automatic zero from my younger son who hates all things beyond the sophisticated pallet of a six year old, despite his near adult status,)  as well as notes for future preparations. (I bet you didn’t know I was THIS crazy!) High ratings get put in rotation more than the lower ones. (Accidental Banana Mushroom Shrimp with Bacon has never been repeated due to massively low scores and a general gag reflex when considering it.)
            I also use this time to pursue the store ads and determine what's on sale that week. Then I organize the week’s meals for "variety" and other considerations. Can't have chicken two nights in a row. Pasta is not a healthy meal three times a week. We had that casserole last week, too soon to have it again. This child doesn't like anything with flavor, better plan a bland night so he doesn't feel left out. Saturday is supposed to be 100 degrees, plan something that doesn't require turning on the oven, etc. The point is everyone is taken into consideration in compiling these two lists.       
            Next, I comb back through the list and compile the third-- ingredients. I list all the ingredients needed for each recipe. During this time I check to see what we already have, and what we will need. Do I have 3 teaspoons of olive oil? Is that onion still good or do I need another? Do we have enough milk to get through the week? Did someone leave an empty butter container in the fridge (or a full one on the counter?) Do I even own Cumin? What the hell is "chard?" (Don't get me started on recipes without pictures!)
            Once this list is completed I create my final list by rearranging this third list into an easy-to-shop-from master list: Meats, produce, canned goods, dairy, household supplies and etceteras. This list is subcategorized in order of appearance for the market I will be visiting. Now, after about an hour or two of careful planning, demographic review, extensive research, and a quick review of my coupons, I am ready to embark on the execution stage-- shopping.
            For me marketing takes a few hours and a trip to a minimum of two stores. I used to shop just the local market, but I am enamored by our new Farmer's Market and do the bulk of my "food" shopping there, picking up a few remaining household or sale items from the grocery store (along with 15 items I had no intention of buying, except now I'm tired and hungry and have no willpower to resist suggestion.) I line-up my items on the conveyor belt in the order I want them bagged, for ease of unloading at home. Yes, I realize this is pretty anal and OCD, but don't worry, other than my anal and OCD daughter, I have never met a bagger who understands the concept of grouping. I have also never met a bagger who doesn't believe my cloth bags are made of titanium and can be loaded down with as many items as can be stuffed into them. (Two gallons of milk in the same bag? Come on!)
            Once I arrive home I frequently get a five minute break to pee while people who have NOT spent the day carefully meeting the needs of others bitch about how many bags their sibling did not have to carry because they took too long to find shoes, or who should have to make the final trip outside to close the trunk. Now I begin the thoughtful two part process of putting things away. First I pull a chair and a trashcan up to my fridge. Here I spend some time emptying out containers of leftovers and other expired items. Next I use my efficiency skills to divide my bags into things for the fridge/ freezer, and things for the cabinets (and on occasion things that need to be transported to other rooms.) Here I will reference my weekly menu to decide what gets frozen for later in the week and what gets defrosted first. Finally I cram the remaining goods into my limited cabinet space, pausing to close up half open boxes of cereal, and throw out empty bags of chips etc. I have now devoted my entire day to the acquiring of sustenance to feed my family.    
             Still, only ten minutes after I have dropped my exhausted butt onto a comfy couch, I will see a disappointed child emerge from the kitchen whining, "There's nothing to eat!" The real irony however occurs when I actually prepare these carefully selected meals. I am not one who slaves over a hot stove. I stopped trying to be creative when they started making fun of my meals and giving them clever nicknames like "green eggs and ham" and “Swedish Meat Soup.”  (Side note: It's NEVER a good idea to mock the woman who cooks your food!) What I'm saying is, I'm not trying to be Julia Child. My standards are pretty low-- if it's edible, I'm good. So I'm not trying to dazzle anyone with my culinary talents. I'm just trying to feed my family. Yet it seems that no matter what we are serving in "Chet Knell" someone is unhappy with the selection, someone is not hungry because they had a big snack after school, someone has made spontaneous plans and won't be eating at home tonight, and someone "isn't feeling well." In other words, no one is eating dinner tonight. (Return me to the day when all a woman had to do was skin and cook a Woolly Mammoth and I'll show you the last happy woman.)
            Were I a lesser woman I would take to the internet to complain about this…. Ok, I’m a lesser woman, what can I say? But it is only through this loathsome practice of calling my family out on Facebook that I discovered two important things: One, I’m not the only mom with this problem, and Two, I’m a freakin’ Genius!
            As several other moms commented with their similar experiences I happened on the most brilliant idea to hit Momkind since the Papoose! I call it "The Fellowship of the Leftovers." (One meal to serve them all. One meal to cook them. One meal to feed them and in their hunger, save some time and make some extra cash.) Here’s how it works. Find six friends who are equally tired of being unappreciated. At the beginning of the week you each shop for and prepare ONE meal. Serve it to your family, who will refuse to eat it. Pack up your leftovers and pass them along to the next friend on your list (like a chain letter of food!) Serve the next meal, and repeat. At the end of the week you have saved hours of time, tons of cash, and you only end up throwing out ONE meal. Genius, right?


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