MODERN DAY MARTHA

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    Who Has Time to Cook?

    Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

    Well, everyone and no one is the answer to the title question. I used to cook under the catch phrase, “If it doesn’t take an hour or more, it’s not cooking.”

    I say “used to” because one day I found myself holding a very small child in one arm and wondering “How am I going to chop onions now?” and breaking down in tears. And now with three small girls ruling my life and running my house, the luxury I enjoyed as an under-employed home maker–you know, spending half a day on one meal–has flown out the window and left me searching for ways to make my desire to create in the kitchen mesh with the needs of my young family. It’s a struggle.

    Let me share my vision with you. What is food? Simply, energy for your body. Every body needs basic nutrients everyday to live. What is cooking? To me, cooking is the way we transcend meeting the basic needs of our bodies and create foods that do indeed nourish our traditions and our souls as well as our bodies. What is a meal, then? Every meal is an opportunity to use food to express some aspect of ourselves to those we are feeding. Even if that person is you.

    To this respect, one doesn’t have to master the art of French cooking to be a fine cook. After I had my first child and stood in the kitchen crying about no longer being able to spend two hours on dinner I realized I had to change my idea of what cooking was. For me cooking evolved from mastering exotic cuisine (I have made my own Indian curry blends…grinding seeds and spices by hand for the authentic flavor and textures) to mastering the art of a fresh delicious fast meal. I think the disservice that food television and the lovely glossy magazines and the oh so wonderful food memoirs has done to the home cook is to make us feel like we have to spend hours over a stove or we’re not really cooking. I know that’s exactly how I felt. As working women–be it career wise or mommy wise–can’t be expected to spend as many hours in the kitchen as a professional cook does. Julia Child, as much as I respect the work she did to increase the awareness of good food to Americans, didn’t cook with kids under foot.

    I have turned back to so many home-style basics some of my culinary school classmates would chide me as hopelessly old-fashioned. But they work. And by looking to healthy short cuts and meals that can prepped during nap time then popped in an oven later on or even utilizing a slow cooker I can have a dinner on the table I’m proud to serve and still have a day to spend with my girls doing the things that matter to them.

    In terms of practicality I focus on one large meal a day. As much as I would love to bake muffins and pastries in the morning, I love how late my girls sleep in and relish my late nights with my husband. I am not waking up before six to cook. And so, breakfast is a mostly cold cereal affair. Sometimes we have oatmeal. Sometimes French toast. We do eat it together and take our time. We linger over milk and bananas and coffee instead of hot buttery croissants. It makes us happy and I know the kids are starting off with tummies full and a less stressed mom.

    Lunch is a challenge, as two to three days a week we picnic it and my girls do not eat well with the distraction of friends and fun around them.When we are at home, I serve toddler food. I make a meal in 15 minutes or less because that’s what I’ve got to work with. We have a whole lot of chicken tenders and pasta with butter. I do serve veggies we all love and I again, sit and eat a meal with them. My focus at lunch is to round out nutritional needs and make sure another good meal gets into their systems. I don’t fight or stress over lunch choices. A well stocked freezer and snack pantry is my friend for lunch.

    Dinner is hard. I know it is. But I believe it is important so I make it a goal to cook for my family every night I can. Dinner is the meal I cook for myself and my husband. Dinner is the meal I use to expand palettes. Dinner is also the meal I don’t worry about if it doesn’t get eaten because I’ve tried to meet the needs of the kids throughout the day. So I can enjoy my meal and know that one day my adventurous eater will return because I’ve properly set the stage (this is the mantra that gets me through all the ‘but I don’t like thaaaaat’ whining happening here right now).

    So let’s talk about dinner. Dinner has become the cornerstone of my day. I plan my weeks around dinner and my dinners around my weeks. I make a dinner schedule. I sit down either Friday night with a couple of my favorite cookbooks (I’ll post some titles at the end of this missive) and decide what I want to make based on the weather, how we’re feeling, what we’ve had the previous week and how busy our week is going to be. I have a white board I stick on the fridge with the meal plan written out so I don’t forget what I’m cooking. If I’m using a recipe (I don’t always) I have the cookbook and page number written next to it.

    I use the season and the weather as inspiration. I like to make sure I’m planning a variety of proteins, balancing red meat, pork, chicken and fish and at least one meatless meal throughout the week. And I do find inspiration in food magazines. I love Bon Appetit. They have a few regular features that work for me. I love the “Dinner for Four and Leftovers” which is a kid friendly meal all planned out that uses the leftovers for lunch the next day. And “Fast Easy Fresh” utilizes seasonal ingredients in recipes that take 20-45 minutes to prepare.

    I shop once and (try to) obtain everything I need for a weeks worth of cooking because nothing is more frustrating than staring at a cupboard with no clue as to it’s contents and no idea how to put them together anyway. Like any craft, having the right tools will make your project more fun.

    Food should be fun. I think we as home cooks also lose sight of that simple fact in the rush to get food to the table and the cajoling to get kids to eat or in the balancing act of cooking for one. Food is fun. We could all drink protein shakes and take vitamins and survive. Cooking transforms the cook as well as the food. It builds us up on many levels. It doesn’t have to be tricky. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be done with love.

    I could go on…but maybe I’ll let you all digest this meal. I will recommend this cookbook even thought it’s out of print: The Working Stiff Cookbook

    One great feature is the “Well Stocked Pantry” page with suggestions of basics to keep around for cooking these, and many other, tasty meals. There are also very easy versions of exotic foods that use familiar ingredients and are a good place to begin the introduction of, say, curry to a three-year-old.

    Also check out A Year of Slow Cooking for slow-cooker inspiration. This is my saving grace on days when I know we’re going to be out of the house for most of the day. And honestly, nothing is better than walking into your own home and smelling dinner cooking deliciously away.

    A call for help

    Friday, October 2nd, 2009

    They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, right?

    Well here we go: I don’t understand food.

    I know that it’s fuel for our bodies, that it’s necessary to keep us alive and functioning.

    I know that it can be delicious, and function as a bonding and binding ritual.

    I know it can nurture body, spirit and relationships.

    I know that variety is important, that partaking in different taste experiences can refresh our bodies and open our minds.

    I get it on a conceptual level, like I understand how a car works, but where it all falls apart for me is the practical level. I’m experiencing the equivalent of popping the hood and staring helplessly at the motor when the car breaks down.

    Problem # 1:  I don’t know what to cook.

    I have a bunch of cookbooks, and often buy magazines full of recipes, but mostly end up using the types of recipes that are already in my wheelhouse. Eating the same 10 meals over and over gets boring. I don’t know how to break out of that.

    Problem #2:  I have a really picky 3 year old eater.

    Seriously, she’d just eat hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches every day if I’d let her. And most days I do. And I know that her behavior is normal, I’d just like to stretch her horizons (and her nutrient intake).

    Problem #3: Meals come at really inconvenient times.

    I’d love to make delicious breakfasts to start my family off right every morning, but sheesh it’s early in the morning. And I’m tired.  And lunch is right before naps, when the kids are all feisty, and dinner is right when they’re all wound up and losing it at the end of the day.  It’s so much easier to cop out and rush something to the table than try to cook and solve the house’s problems at the same time.

    I’ve considered those services that just pre-prepare the meals for you, but I really feel like there’s something I’m supposed to learn about cooking for my family, and important things they get from me cooking for them.

    Problem #4:  I just can’t catch the vision.

    I feel that if I could catch the vision of what meals could be, I could overcome the other issues I’m dealing with. But I can’t seem to do that. And that’s why I’m turning to you.

    I’m a reader, and I get inspired most by reading. SO…. give me books, websites, magazines, anything that can help me out.  I’ve read Julie and Julia, which I enjoyed, but which convinced me to stay (FAR!) away from French cooking. I’m currently reading My Life in France by Julia Child, which I highly recommend; I love how years after the fact she can recall what she ate and where, and I want to be more like that, but the book does not give good clues as to how to do that.

    Where do you get your recipes?

    When you want to cook something new, where do you look for ideas?

    Any good memoirs/books that inspire your creative cooking juices?

    Help!!

    And don’t forget to go here and enter the giveaway! We know you’re here, why aren’t you entering? Seriously! It’s easy! And the prizes are awesome! Are you afraid you’ll be too disappointed if you don’t win? Well you won’t even have a chance if you don’t enter! Go go!

    The Year of Magical Thinking

    Saturday, September 26th, 2009

    Later after I married and had a child, I learned to find equal meaning in the repeated rituals of domestic life.  Setting the table.  Lighting the candles.  Building the fire.  Cooking.  All those souffles, all that creme caramel, all those daubes and albondigas and gumbos.  Clean sheets, stacks of clean towels, hurricane lamps for storms, enough water and food to see us through whatever geological event came our way.  These fragments I have shared against my ruins were the words that came to mind then.  These fragments mattered to me.  I believed in them.

    What rituals of domestic life do you find meaning in?

    May I recommend

    Saturday, September 19th, 2009

    a book? I’m only partway through it, but it’s fascinating so far.

    slowbook

    You can get it here for $6.  (Woo hoo, bargain books!) It’s all about why we feel the need for speed (historically and sociologically speaking), and the movement to take back control over our own time. It may have just given me the inspiration I needed to tackle more hands on cooking – what will it inspire you to do?

    I’ll post a more comprehensive review once I’ve finished it, but for now, if it sounds interesting to you, go take a look!

    Where are you headed- rethought

    Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

    After writing yesterday’s post, I had a couple of conversations about it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I actually DO value efficiency and productivity.  I actually value them quite a lot.  I put a lot of thought and effort into being more productive and efficient.

    But I think I’m going about it in the wrong way.

    What I mean is this.  When I look at my list of six values, and think of them in relation to being productive and efficient,  I realize that what I’m really attempting to do is be productive and efficient in support of my family and  the pursuit of joy and creativity. I’m trying to be wise about the use of my time. I’m trying to best utilize my opportunities to serve and exercise my faith.

    But what ends up happening most of the time is that I’m so focused on the ins and outs of actually being productive and efficient that I forget the reason for which I’m working at it. Productivity and Efficiency (with a capital P and E) become the values at the top of my list, and the others get sacrificed for them. And then I’m stressed and unhappy because supporting values have snaked their way to the forefront and become the end, rather than the means to the end I really want.

    I figure that if I can keep my six values at the front of my mind, I should be able to keep it all straight, right?  Right?

    So how do I do that?

    Help me out, people, please.

    Where are you headed?

    Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

    Do you ever have those moments where you realize that the universe is conspiring to teach you something?

    Over the weekend I got to spend time with Brandy and Hilary, two of my favorite people. Visiting with them is always so uplifting and insightful. (And the time is always too short!)  One of the things I came away with from our discussion was the idea that if we know where we want to end up then we can weigh our intended actions against whether they will get us closer to that desired result.  In order to do that, we need to be aware of our ultimate goal(s), and  mindful of each action that we’re taking – either toward or away from it.

    Yesterday I was reading in The 25 Best Time Management Tools & Techniques: How to Get More Done Without Driving Yourself Crazy by Pamela Dodd and Doug Sundheim and I read this:

    When you’re clear about your values, life flows. You’re pulled toward what makes you happy and productive. You feel satisfied and fulfilled.

    When you’re unclear about your values — or espouse values that other people think are important — life is a struggle. Circumstances push you, often in directions you wouldn’t necessarily choose. You feel frustrated, anxious, and ineffective.

    Life shifts from push to pull when you identify, own, and begin living from your own values.

    They then provided a list of about 100 values from which to choose, with the instruction to mark any that are important to you.  After marking them, the instruction was to narrow the list down to 10, combining any that seemed to you to go together, and then further narrow it to the  six that most encapsulate what it is you value.

    This process was really interesting to me. I found that values like competition, efficiency, and productivity didn’t get checked.  Instead, I found myself with the following six values at the end of the whole process:

    Creativity

    Joy

    Wisdom

    Faith

    Family

    Service

    Those are the values that are most important to me, the state of living I want to reach, the person I want to be. Yet, before we started Modern Day Martha, most of my time was focused on values like competition,  efficiency, and productivity. And what a surprise, I wasn’t ending up where I wanted to be. But it’s tricky, isn’t it? Because efficiency and productivity and competition (the positive kind) are such good things.  They’re just not the road to where I want to be.

    Without having put it into words, when I started focusing on the values I actually… value, things started going SO much better; and now that I actually have a list at which I can look repeatedly throughout the day, I have the feeling I will be able to center myself all the more. Now I can solidify the vision of where I want to be, and make goals toward that end. I can push instead of be pulled. And that sounds far more comfortable to me.

    What are your 6 values? (Keep in mind, each of my 6 encapsulates many others in my mind, what’s listed is just the overriding value; for example, to me, wisdom includes knowledge, reflection, inspiration, order, balance, discipline, development and integrity. So if it gets tricky, just squish ideas together.)

    Edited to add the list:

    Acceptance      Accountability     Achievement      Adventure      Affection      Authenticity

    Balance     Beauty     Belonging

    Camaraderie        Care       Challenge    Collaboration    Commitment     Compassion     Competence     Competition   Confidence   Contribution        Cooperation      Courage      Creativity      Curiosity

    Decisiveness     Development     Devotion     Discipline

    Effectiveness      Efficiency      Empathy     Empowerment     Excellence     Enthusiasm     Excitement

    Fairness       Faith     Flexibility      Forgiveness     Freedom     Friendship     Fun

    Generosity   Genuineness   Gratitude   Growth

    Happiness     Harmony     Health     Honesty   Honor   Humility    Humor

    Independence      Influence     Inspiration     Integrity     Intuition   Involvement

    Joy

    Kindness     Knowledge

    Leadership     Love     Loyalty

    Moderation    Money

    Nature

    Openess     Order

    Partnership   Passion     Patience     Peace of Mind   Perseverance     Play     Pleasure     Prestige

    Quality

    Recognition     Reflection     Respect      Responsibility

    Security     Serenity     Service     Sincerity     Spirituality     Stability     Status     Success

    Teamwork     Tolerance     Tradition    Trust

    Variety

    Wealth     Wisdom

    A little inspiration

    Sunday, August 30th, 2009

    “Progress, and improve upon and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth, and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations.”

    -Brigham Young

    Discuss. :) Personally, I love the connection between cultivating the earth and cultivating our minds- gets right to the heart of nurturing for me.  And I love that we’re supposed to do these things so that we can look at our labors with pleasure (not stress!) and that our homes can literally be heavens on Earth, with the very angels in attendance.

    Meal Plan

    Saturday, August 29th, 2009

    I am working on a family goal near and dear to my heart. Family Dinner. As simple as that sounds, the past year has really challenged us to find time to sit and eat and enjoy a meal in the evening as a family. After the birth of our twins the little rhythm we had established with daughter one was out the window and food, dinner especially, became whatever could be tossed in the oven and shoveled down between bottles, diapers, sleep, loves and the “rinse and repeat” pattern of dual infants.

    As the little ones established an early (6:30 PM or they were toast) bedtime, dinner morphed into whatever could be made between the ritual of bedtime for wee ones and the ritual of bedtime for a toddler. Most nights, I opted on a three-headed-dinner approach: Feed toddler “toddler food” while spooning dinner into the twins. Put babies to bed. Put toddler to bed. Make some kind of adult food and eat on the couch after all children were asleep. Sometime around 8 PM.

    This is not me, nor is it the family time I imagined when my husband and I envisioned having children.

    Fortunately, babies grow. Bed times can be pushed back and moms can restate the importance of sharing a meal at the end of a busy day. For me, it is a chance to reconnect as a whole family. The girls haven’t seen Dad all day, and neither have I. We love to share stories and some quiet time before the hustle and bustle of getting three small girls to bed. And there is always a new dish to try. Something fun to cook and taste. Meals in out house are about more than body nourishment. They can be about comfort, adventure, excitement, remembrance, or even about having found that perfect “something” while wandering at the Farmer’s Market.

    Enter a commitment to dinner time. My husband and I have made a pact. Dinner will be done at 6:00 PM and he’ll be here to enjoy it with us. With this arrangement dinner has become a new cornerstone in my day. An added bonus for someone as hopelessly inept with schedules as I am. Dinner is now a goal and a way for me to focus the late afternoon post-nap-time-lethargy that tends to overtake me. I know I have to get prepping and chopping and cooking once the wee ones wake up, if not before, if we are going to share a timely meal. And a timely meal leads to a timely bed time and more quality time for the grown-ups to share.

    Dinner time has also changed my shopping habits. With a meal goal (and a weekly plan to make it happen) I am also focusing the food brought into our home and seeing less waste as a result. I am also able to take full advantage (most weeks) of the local fresh produce which is a blessing and a gift where we live.

    All of this is my way of introducing myself to you. I am by no means perfect in my Family Dinner goal, but it’s been a great month so far. I’ve seen my little babies be excited to try a variety of new foods and have seen my toddler eat more than microwave chicken for a meal (ah three, where did my little adventurer-eater go?). I’ve broken bread with my husband surrounded by our children and felt the happiness that brings to our home.

    I would like to share some of that with you. Be it lunch, dinner or a snack (or breakfast which belongs in a glorious category of its very own food-wise) I’d like to share some of the magic the food contains and explore some of the ways food connects us together.

    Thank you, and enjoy.

    Thursday, August 27th, 2009

    “Creativity goes deeper than the “art” sense of the word; it encompasses a whole way of living and being. Gratitude, and recognizing gratitude, can have a powerful effect on our whole lives. When we feel grateful, we feel full- full of love, full of inspiration, full of ideas, and full of creative spirit.”

    From The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

    Do you find this to be true in your life? How do youremember to be grateful?

    What language do you speak?

    Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

    Have you read The Five Love Languages? I haven’t either, but my cousins all have and have told me about it, and I taught a little workshop about it once, so I can pretend I know what I’m talking about, right? :)

    The idea behind the Love Languages is that there are different ways that people express  love to others. It could be by spending time with the person, doing things for them, giving them a gift.  We each have our language, and it may not be the same as the other people in our lives – if you express love by giving them gifts but their language is spending time, you could give them the most thought out  gift in the world and they’d be discontent because they really just want to go on a walk with you. Learning the love languages that you and those around you speak can be helpful, because if you know them, then you can make the extra effort to go on that walk, while the other person can recognize the real meaning behind your gift.

    All that to lead into something I’ve been thinking about the last couple of days.  Nurturing is  a huge and encompassing subject that encompasses many skills and areas of work and development. I struggle sometimes, because it seems like there’s just so much I’m expected (or perhaps, just expect myself) to be good at.

    To nurture is to teach, to foster development, to promote growth, to feed, and to nourish.

    -Susan W. Tanner

    That’s just huge.

    So I started thinking of ways to break it down.  Looking around me I see people skilled in different “languages” of nurturing.  My friend Valerie (who will be writing with us soon- YEEHA!) is exceptionally fluent in the language of cooking as nurture.  Food is how she nourishes those around her, physically and spiritually.  I’m really excited to read her posts, because food is NOT a language in which I am even remotely proficient.  If I can pull something together for meals I’m lucky.  But I recognize the power food has in feeding the soul, and I want to learn.

    One of the ways my sister Liz nurtures is  by creating a beautiful home for her family. Inspirational words grace almost every single wall, teaching her children guidelines and great ideals they will carry throughout their lives.  As I was growing up, my mom’s nurturing language involved an incredible number of art projects.  My friend Carol’s nurture language is one of encouragement – she actively and lovingly encourages everyone she is around. Other friends nurture their families and friends through sewn items,  traditions,  play, careful listening.

    Personally, I’m firmly comfortable in the language of nature.  If we’re outside, I can teach, refresh, help my kids grow. Nurture through correspondence to  friends? I’m so on it.  I’m getting better at the syntax of magical moments. I still have my times of feeling completely lost in translation, but I’m improving.  I’m working on the conjugations of cleaning, and I struggle with the poetry of play.

    In which languages of nurturing are you fluent? Where do you dabble? Which languages are completely foreign?