Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cooking with Deb

Last week, after a full day of homeschooling, I made a very profound statement to my husband.

"It's a lot of work to home school and care for 5 children."

He looked at me like he wondered if I had the mental capacity to home school children in upper elementary school.

"You're just now realizing this?"

The problem is that the schoolwork is not the problem. It's that life goes on at the same time. So, while I enjoy studying Latin, history, music, logic, bible, math (sometimes), science, grammar and literature with my older three, I still have to devote a big part of my day to feeding them all. This starts at the grocery store.

I hate the grocery store. Talk about boring. I mean all that's there is food. And, darn it, the food isn't even cooked, at least not the food I can afford to buy. Since I'm feeding 7 people, I have to be very careful with how I spend our alloted grocery money. I have a complex formula that I follow. It's something like this:

nutritional value + ease + environmental impact / price = must be cheap

In other words, precooked microwavable bacon is never on the list. Fresh apples, Kroger brand vanilla yogurt and canisters of oatmeal are.

I'm trying, very diligently, to go grocery shopping only once a month. This would work better if we had a big freezer, but since we don't have space for a freezer, it isn't an option right now. I do, however, have it down to one huge trip per month, with a second trip halfway through to reload on fresh produce and milk. This past month, I decided to take my oldest son to help, especially as we really need two carts when shopping for the month.

Things went pretty well. To save time, I sent him down the cereal isle while I picked out the meat. I should have sensed trouble at his little cheer upon the news that he was picking out the cereal. Instead, I naively pushed forward. I laid down the guidelines, presuming he'd stick to the cereals that I normally purchase.

"Get 10 boxes of cereal, and they have to under $2.50 each. A couple of them can go as high as $3.00"

When I returned to his cart, he was beaming with pride. All 10 boxes were under $2.50, and all 10 boxes listed sugar as the first or second ingredient! There was no way I could burst his bubble by putting them all back. Needless to say, my other 4 were thrilled when we got home, and I added some new factoids to my education. I hadn't even realized that there were chocolate Lucky Charms.

Once we get home, of course, the marathon continues as we have to put all the groceries away. We actually have an assembly line that we form, passing the food from person to person to either the refrigerator or down the stairs to our ill-placed pantry. Then I spend the next few days trying to convey to my 9-year-old son that this food has to last for a month, not just several days. Yesterday, I caught him about to open a ham for a snack. He carries about 1/4 of our total food bill.

Then, of course, there is the cooking. I actually enjoy cooking. It's baking that I hate. I hate getting flour on my hands and clothes, and I especially hate it when I'm trying to frost something and it rips apart. But, cooking isn't so bad. It's just cooking everyday, day after day. My kids are very polite, and always say, "Thank you for cooking dinner Mommy." but I can tell the popular meals from the unpopular. Usually, the first clue is that they start asking questions about the next day's breakfast.

I've only had one real cooking disaster. It was several years ago, and I purchased a Chinese marinating sauce to give dinner a unique flavor. Unfortunately, unique is the polite way to describe the sauce.

"UGGGHH!" screeched my oldest, "What's that smell???"

"It's dinner" I replied with a smile. He looked unsure and ran upstairs. When the meal was finally cooked, we called him down. He didn't come, so we went looking for him. I found him in our upstairs bathroom with the door closed and the fan on.

"UGH!" he yelped, "Close the door... oh no it's too late, you let the smell in!"

I told him he was being unreasonable. However, after trying a bite of dinner, I realized he wasn't. At that point I filled a bowl with plain rice and took it to him. He was sitting on our side porch because that was the only place he couldn't smell dinner. I handed him the rice through a crack in the door (he was worried dinner would pollute the outside as well.), and pondered what our neighbors were thinking as they watched a small boy, huddled in his coat, eating a bowl of plain rice on our side porch. He wouldn't come in until my husband offered to bake some oatmeal scotchie cookies to cover the smell. He entered the house after the first batch went through the oven.

Our oldest son is gifted in many ways, but especially nasally. This is really hard to live with. One time, my husband was making homemade barbecue sauce. Our oldest walked into the kitchen.

"Ohh." His nose wrinkled. "That smells awful."


"It smells like...."




"With ketchup and brown sugar."

Sniff. Sniff.

"And a touch of mustard, red pepper and salt."

Yes, it's really that bad. I honestly think that the kid has some kind of onion/mushroom detecting radar in him. He can even taste onion powder in spaghetti sauce.

The main problem with all this cooking is keeping things varied while catering to 7 people with very different tastes. I always thought those wives who run their homes on a 2 or 4 week menu cycle were a little, well, stifled. However, I'm now on a month -to -month.

My husband, wanting to help out, forwarded me a link, recently, for a new cookbook. At first blush, I thought that he was hoping for not only some more variety to our dinner fare, but was looking at cheaper options for the main course. Then I saw the cover and it made a bit more sense. The book is appropriately titled "Cooking with Pooh."

I do believe that this must be the absolute worst cookbook title in the history of the world.

Of course, there's nothing for me to do but to continue cooking for my family. My husband does cook on the weekend, and we do have a cereal night once a week. So, I think we'll all be able to survive the next 15 years. At least I hope.

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