Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Secret Food Life of Parents

When I was young, little made me feel more betrayed by my parents than the early-morning discovery of empty Dairy Queen cups in the garbage. The lingering residue of creamy soft serve and tiny bits of chocolate, still clinging to the skinny red spoons, launched an indignant fury: I was deceived, and by the people who love me most. 

Kids are not dumb. Although it might take them longer, they do eventually put two and two together. Two empty Dairy Queen cups + I did not receive any ice cream = my parents got Blizzards after I went to bed. 

And at least in my childhood world, there were few greater treats than a trip to Dairy Queen. To be sneakily sidestepped by my parents in their selfish quest for ice cream that they did not have to share with their beloved flesh and blood was simply the worst kind of low-down dirty trick. 

I remember very clearly finding evidence of late-night ice cream or popcorn or other treats and, lower lip extended, wondering why I was not included. My sister, either because she in more in tune with such sneakiness or because she had a better nose for the smell of microwave popcorn, was more apt to get out of bed and confront my parents in the midst of their treachery, while I slept on, unaware.

This is, of course, a treachery that Chef Matt and I now engage in on a regular basis, making me the most evil kind of hypocrite. How many times has my poor preschooler called down to me with some sort of sleep-stalling excuse and I have had to hastily swallow a mouthful of Oreo Blizzard to answer her?

Our kids are still a little too young to catch on, so we have a few more blessed years of the patient waiting for a bedtime all-clear before Matt ventures out for an evening treat that the little ones will never suspect. Someday our kids will discover the long red spoons in the garbage and accuse us of exclusion, but for now they are blissfully clueless. 

Now that I am seeing this undercover Dairy Queen quest from a parent's point of view, I absolutely see the logic of such deception. Nighttime ice cream for kids can only lead to unwanted sharing. Sometimes, I think, parents deserve a treat that they can enjoy without the experience descending into feeding time at the zoo. 

Selfish? Maybe. There is something vaguely naughty about after-dark ice cream, much like wine before noon, and after a day of temper tantrums and befouled clothing, it is only too fair for a parent to selfishly indulge. So much like our children may someday hide their cigarettes and speeding tickets from us, I am getting my trickery in now as we wait with bated breath for the silence at the top of the stairs before dashing out for a little secret, deceitful ice cream. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Summer Onslaught of Vegetables

I must confess: we are not that into organic food. That might seem strange for two people who love food like we do, but we eat corn-fed beef and non-organic tomatoes and regular old milk, and we are perfectly fine with that.

The idea of organic food, however, is a fine one that we finally bought into. This winter, my colleagues asked if Chef Matt and I wanted to buy into a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) share. We had resisted in years past, partly because of the upfront cost and partly because we were unsure if we would be able to consume all the vegetables that came in a weekly box.

But this year, in the pit of despair that is February, I perused the list of vegetables and fruit and could suddenly smell sweet summer breezes and feel watermelon juice running down my chin. I called Matt and pitched the idea to him, and he agreed before I could finish rattling off the many varieties of leafy vegetables. It was very much a "you had me at rainbow chard" moment.

Last week, our first box arrived. I was a little stumped: how does one cook a turnip? how does one eat that much lettuce? what, precisely, is a pea vine? But, motivated by the upfront cost and the sad sight of food in the garbage, I resolved to use it all. When in doubt, Matt said, saute in butter and garlic.

First, I made a layered summer salad with romaine, green leaf lettuce, scallions, pea vine and basil. The bouquet of greens tasted like fresh air, even through a veil of mayonnaise, cheese and bacon. Tonight, I whipped together a homemade sweet and sour dressing, and tossed it with baby bok choy, scallions, French breakfast radishes (sauteed in butter and garlic), and parmesan cheese. The greens had that bright, heady taste of something that has been recently plucked from the earth, still warm from the sunshine.

Undoubtedly, the flavor and freshness of something organic and recently harvested is heavenly. Our non-organic way of eating is not likely to change, but the CSA will inject a little new life into our summer menus, with its heirloom tomatoes, varieties of peppers and eggplant, and lovely exotic foods like kohlrabi and rutabaga.

The weekly boxes, unfortunately, do not include any sort of macaroni and cheese, so it is unlikely that our children will eat any of it, no matter how luscious. I suppose that means more rainbow chard for us ... whatever that is.

Monday, June 13, 2011

An Escape from Kitchen Widowhood

Having a newborn brings into sharp perspective the things in life one should never take for granted, namely sleep, uninterrupted meals, and time with one's spouse. For the last week and a half since our son was born, two of these have become scarce and the other fantastically abundant.

Babies have impeccable timing. Inevitably, I will make the briefest of contact with my bed or the dining room chair when his "Mommy is getting comfortable" radar will go off, and he will scream, face scrunched in misery, until he is fed. It is the extreme good fortune of babies everywhere that they are so adorable; a routine of little sleep and cold meals could only be briefly borne otherwise.

But amidst the whirlwind of starting all over again, there has been a peaceful glow settling about our house, radiating from the constant presence of Chef Matt on a two-week paternity leave. Reality has been temporarily suspended, and as a result, I have not, in the last 11 days, felt rushed, stressed, overwhelmed, vaguely out of control, or lonely.

Our time together as a family is normally pinched into Monday nights and Saturday mornings, shoehorned in around gymnastics and swimming lessons and random weekend work meetings. Thus, two full weeks together has been nothing short of luxuriant. We have no schedule. We have no time limits. We are living like idle rich people, without the accompanying yachts and Gatsby parties.

And I love it. What do I have to do to continue this amazing life? Win the lottery? Keep having babies? Nag Matt to quickly finish his best-selling cookbook so we can be millionaires? This sort of 24-hour togetherness is not normal for anyone, but for us, always scraping to find time to do things other than eat dinner and watch a Disney movie, it has been a beautiful week of the zoo, the children's museum, the library, a backyard barbecue, morning walks, visits with our families, and actual conversations.

On Thursday, Matt goes back to work. We will still have nine weeks of abnormal, until I go back to work, but nothing can quite compare to the brief escape of the past two weeks. The lack of sleep and meal interruptions will continue as we learn to make our newest little man a part of our family, but our time together will diminish and we will go back to missing each other and the comfort that comes with having two parents in the house. Kitchen Widowhood, ever so briefly slumbering, will be back.

So honey, get to work on that cookbook. I sure like having you around.