Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guilt, cooking, and a well-used crockpot

It hasn’t seemed much like fall lately, although the leaves are littering my yard in that lazy way that they do. The weather has been warm – downright hot – and when I get hot in October I start to get angry. Not at anyone in particular, just myself. I want to walk outside and feel a crisp breeze with just the right nip in the air. I want to clean my flower beds without breaking a sweat, and so far, I haven’t been able to do that. Come January, when the snow and winds are howling, you won’t hear me complain about the cold because I LOVE winter and everything it brings – snow, wind, blizzards – everything. 

Fall means crockpot time – soups, stews and cuts of meat braised for hours until fork tender. I haven’t much felt like using my crockpot because it hasn’t been cold enough. I know, I know – you can use a crockpot year-round and believe me I do. Maybe it’s just cooking in general. Ever get that feeling that your family may never eat a good meal again? That you might just set up camp on the couch and growl if someone asks you to make them something? This has been me lately, and I don’t like it. Granted, I’m not the mom/wife that hops up to make said family anything they desire at any hour of the day. I make supper, bake snacks, keep the fridge stocked, and when all is cleaned up you are on your own. Have you heard about the woman whose boyfriend told her that if she makes him 365 sandwiches over a period of time that she will have earned herself an engagement ring? Right around 20 sandwiches would’ve been my breaking point. I may have taken the bread, decorated it with ketchup and mustard, and slapped it on either side of his head. No one gets to EARN an engagement ring by making sandwiches – we are not slaves to the kitchen and the old-time saying that women belong “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” My love is freely given, as is the food I make with love, not earned with meat and bread. 

My dilemma, shall we say, is that I’m too tired. After work, my thought process has almost ground to a halt after answering phones at work all day. This is where I need to do a little prep work and have my crockpot do the work for me. I’ve said before that I need to plan out my meals, maybe just on the days that I work, so that I feel I’m accomplishing some sort of feat in the kitchen. I know, though, that I’m just not a meal planner type person and I don’t really want to be. That would be too cliché for me. I can be a good wife and cook without having fancy charts that tell me what I need to be popping in the oven. Case in point, it’s a Monday morning and I’m typing this column. I know I should probably get out a package of meat to use for the evening’s meal. Sometimes I forget if I’m in a hurry. As any good and frugal cook knows, there are ways to get around forgetting to unfreeze the meat. A myriad of good things can be made with canned tuna or chicken, ground beef quickly unfreezes as it’s frying, and beef kielbasa just needs run under water. If I was the canning type, I would can beef. We are a resourceful lot, us women, and we don’t let an empty frying pot or pan get us down. 

I may need to be satisfied knowing that my family does love my cooking, even if it’s not every night. I make savory enchiladas, stacks of gooey quesadillas, and spicy salsa that scalds the tongue as you dip into it. My mashed potatoes are smooth and frothing with brown butter, the chicken is tender that has been browned then simmered in my cast iron pan, and the rices I make, whatever flavor, are fluffier than cotton candy. We, as women, need to stop beating ourselves up if we don’t serve gourmet meals every night. We need to rest easy knowing that our families are being fed, home-cooked or not, and that no one will starve. I have a great repertoire of recipes that I can cull from on a moment’s notice, and I welcome new ones that I can add. Cooking is not the all-day affair that it used to be and we need to embrace that and create new strategies that leave us time to be with our families while feeding them just as well.