The special ingredient

So listen.  You all know that things get a little crazy in my house around dinner time.  It is the most chaotic time of day around these parts.  This is nothing new.  This week, my kids decided to kick things up a notch.  And sometimes when I am really hungry, I make questionable decisions.  This may have been one of those times.

The kids only had a half day of school earlier this week, so they were home in the afternoon with Jeff.  He was trying to open our pool that day, which turned out to be more complicated than usual because we had a large population of tadpoles who had taken up residence on the top of our pool cover.  The kids were beside themselves with the thought that the tadpoles would have to be sacrificed in order to get the winter pool cover off.  So my darling husband lovingly transferred all those slimy critters into an empty fish tank.  The kids, in turn, gleefully watched them and played with them for hours while Jeff did what he needed to do to open the pool.

I got home from work at 6:45 pm, and they were all outside.  Jeff was working away, and the kids raced up to me to tell me all about the tadpoles and their rescue mission, which included a trip to the pond later that week to let them loose.

I went into the kitchen and noticed that Jeff had started dinner.  He had water on the stove for pasta that was close to boiling, and he had made fresh pesto (yummy!).  There  was chicken all set to go on the grill, and various prep dishes at the ready.  I picked up where he had left off, put the pasta in the boiling water, heated up the grill for the chicken, and made a quick salad.  I was starving.  It always seems such a race to get dinner on the table after work, the first step in the frantic weeknight dance of dinner-homework-clean up-showers-bedtime.

I got everything made, table set, food plated up, called everyone to the table, and we sat down to eat.

After we said grace, Jeff looked down at his plate.
“So…what did you use to drain the pasta?” he asks me.
“Umm…the pasta strainer….”  I replied.
“The one that was in the sink?”
“Yes, since that is the only pasta strainer we own.  Why?  What is it?”
“Nothing.  Never mind.”
“What?  What is it??
“You don’t want to know.”

“Well, it’s just that the kids were using that to fish the tadpoles out of the pool and into the tank, and it was sitting in the sink because it needed to be washed out.”

We all looked down at our plates.  The beautiful bright green pesto was suddenly less appealing.   It was 7:15 pm.  I hadn’t eaten in about 7 hours.  I took a quick internal inventory.  I thought of all the times I had jumped into the lake at camp as a kid and accidentally swallowed a mouthful of water.  Or all those statistics out there that talk about how many bugs the average human accidentally swallows in their lifetime.   Also, the boiling water went into the pasta strainer before the pasta even touched it, so that’s almost like sterilizing it, right?

“I’m eating it”, I said.  Jeff looked a little surprised, but then shrugged and dug in.

“We don’t want to eat the tadpole pasta!!!”  the kids complained.

I put my fork down and looked at them.

“You are going to eat the tadpole pasta, because you are the reason we are having tadpole pasta.  First, you used my pasta strainer, the one I use to make food, to fish for tadpoles.  Then, you put that dirty strainer in the sink and you didn’t wash it out.  This is your fault.  You are going to eat it, and you are going to like it.  Now, pass the Romano cheese.

So we all ate it.  It tasted exactly the same as the pesto pasta we always make.  Turns out tadpole water residue doesn’t have a very strong flavor, especially with cheese on top.

After I was no longer in starvation mode, I started to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  Maybe my low blood sugar had impaired my judgement.  Maybe our whole family would get Campylobacter, and then I would have to explain to my doctor how this happened.   That would be awkward.

But, I have to tell you, so far so good.  It has been about 4 days now and everyone seems just fine.  In fact, I think I may have totally reset my internal microbiome.  My intestinal flora feels like it is thriving like never before.  Maybe this will be the next holy grail of health food supplements and I can quit my job to sell tadpole water supplements, rich in Omega-3’s and antioxidants.  All natural and organic, with no GMO’s!

Moral of the story?  Pack a high-protein snack to eat on the way home from work, to avoid the extreme hunger that can lead to making poor decisions about food.  Also, don’t come to my house for dinner.

Dinner: A lament

The other day, I was having some angry feelings.  They were there a little bit when I woke up in the morning, but not overwhelmingly so.  I made coffee, which usually helps with all my morning feelings, and I took some chicken out of the freezer.  Once you thaw that chicken, take it out of the freezer like that, you’ve made a commitment.   You’re basically saying, at 8:00 in the morning, that you’re going to do something to that chicken 10 hours from now.  You haven’t even had your morning toast yet, but you’ve got chicken on the brain.  And I resented the chicken.  A lot.  I felt a flush, a surge, of irrational anger toward….dinner.  I drank my coffee.  That took my mind off the chicken for a while.  Because, coffee.

As the day went on I could see the chicken there, thawing on the counter, taunting me.  “You wrote Chicken Cordon Bleu on the menu, it’s your son’s favorite.  He’s been looking forward to it all week.  He’s been talking about since 10 am.  Bet you can’t wait to stuff me with some ham and cheese and roll me in breadcrumbs!  By the way, you’re going to need to start that process in approximately 3 hours in order to get me into the oven on time.”  Shut up, chicken.  I would  like to read this book here and take a nap.  The anger burned brighter.

Around 4 pm I realized I had some serious issues that I maybe needed to work through.  So I texted my friend, Keri.

Me:  I just need to tell someone–I feel so unreasonably angry at dinner right now.
Keri:  I’m sorry.  Vent away!  Tell me all about it.
Me:  Dinner is so selfish.  It always wants me to make it.  It never makes itself.
Keri:  Stupid dinner.
Me:  I used to like to cook.  True story.  It was even on my bio on the website at the first pediatric office I worked in.  So was gardening–LOL!
Keri:  Haha!  What would your bio say now?  I know….at home, Tracy enjoys running, making sarcastic comments, and avoiding her children.  At work, she misses her children, enjoys making (mostly HIPPA compliant) sarcastic comments, and fighting against “the man”.
Me:  YES.  You know me so well.
Keri:  I get you, Tracy.  I really do.

I felt really validated after that.  And I started thinking about this complicated web of emotions that I have around dinner, trying to put my finger on where it all went wrong.

It really is true, that I used to like to cook.  I used to watch Food Network, try new recipes every week, make all this stuff from scratch.  I was not a “foodie” by any means, but I was a solid home cook there for a while.  Then I had kids.

Let me tell you.  Nothing is worse for your self-esteem as a home cook than a couple of kids.  There is nothing quite like spending an hour plus in the kitchen preparing a meal for your family, only to have everybody weeping at the table within minutes.  And no, I don’t make my kids a separate meal, in case you’re wondering.  You would think that they would get used to the fact that they either eat what we serve, or they don’t eat at all.  But it has been 9.5 years now, and almost every night at least one of them will leave the table without eating anything at all.  They would rather go to bed hungry than risk certain death from teriyaki salmon, jasmine rice, and steamed broccoli.  If they don’t refuse to eat altogether it’s almost worse, because then I get sucked into the “dessert negotiation”.  This is usually my daughter’s M.O.

Her:  “How much more do I need to eat to get dessert?”
Me:  “All of it.”
*Takes smallest bite possible*
Her:  “Can I have dessert now?”

So at this point in my life, I just feel really worn down, and extraordinarily tired of dinner, and all the baggage that comes with making it, serving it, and cleaning up from it.   AND, I am lucky enough to have a husband who works from home, so I only really have to endure dinner duty twice a week.  You would think that a little distance would help with my dysfunctional relationship with dinner, but it really hasn’t.  It is really dinner’s fault, for this tension between us.  I think dinner needs to take responsibility for some things.

Dinner is inconsiderate.  It always comes between 5-7 pm.  This is the same time that my children lose their minds every night.  I have not been successful in rescheduling my children’s meltdowns to any other consistent time of day.  That is the time.  So you would think that dinner could take a hint and give a girl a break, while her kids are having their breakdowns. But noooo, dinner can’t do that.

Dinner is time-consuming.  All the planning, grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up is a real schedule-buster, especially if you want to eat healthy.  Don’t even get me started on how long it takes a 7 year-old to eat 1/4 cup of pasta and 2 lettuce leaves.

Dinner is never-ending.  You have to make it every day.  And the more you make it, the more the people who live with you expect it.  And they say things like, “I’m hungry, when is dinner?”, or “what’s for dinner?”, so you can’t even pretend like you were just going to serve snacks and hope they don’t notice that you didn’t feel like making dinner today.

Dinner is one of the most stressful, noisy, chaotic, emotional times of the day for a parent.  It is filled with whining, complaining, endless questions, messes of epic proportions, interruptions, and a ridiculous amount of potty humor.

I just need some time away from you, dinner.  I can’t go on this way.  You take more than you give.  It’s unhealthy for me.  I think a few weeks of Cheerios and toast in front of the TV would help me a lot.  I just need some space.

I told my husband about all of my messy feelings toward dinner.  He suggested I focus on the good things that come out of dinnertime.  Who’s side is he on anyway?

I don’t know, dinner.  Maybe you and I can make peace someday.  Pretty sure it won’t be anytime this decade.