Monday, June 15, 2009

Where there’s smoke . . . there’s Emilie cooking dinner

Ellie and I spent the afternoon at Emily’s house cooking. For those of you who know me, yes, you read that right. I actually do cook occasionally. Once a month, to be exact. Thanks to the fine folks at Once a Month Mom, Emily and I have gotten into the habit of spending one day a month cooking enough stuff to fill our freezers for the next 30 days or so. I can’t tell you what a huge help this has been in getting a decent dinner on the table every night. But even with this additional shove in the right direction, I still have a hard time connecting with my inner Martha Stewart.

When it was just me I had to worry about (I almost said “when I was single.” That’s what it feels like – the difference in single and attached), I could come home and eat cereal for dinner. Or ice cream. Or Doritos. Hence the name of this little writing experiment. But now I have to be a responsible adult and put something nutritious on the table for my daughter. The problem is that I am expected to do this EVERY NIGHT. Whose idea was THAT?!

This is something I’ve struggled with since the day Ellie came home. I’m just not good at it. It’s not that I can’t cook – if you’ve met my mom, you know I’ve had a good teacher. I just can’t cook and get anything else done at the same time. If we have an errand to run, or we’re late getting home for some reason, or there’s yard work to do, there just isn’t time to cook, too. I can come home and spend the evening getting dinner on the table, or I can take care of other business. I just can’t seem to do both.

And of course, I’m dealing with a two-year-old. If dinner takes 60 to 90 minutes to get on the table, she’s having a meltdown by then. So am I. And if I give her a snack to tide her over, then she doesn’t want dinner, and I wind up thinking “Well, hell. I could have just fixed a bowl of cereal after all!”

The Once a Month Mom girls have helped me out considerably – as long as I remember to get something out of the freezer to thaw, I can now have something cooked and on the table in a reasonable amount of time. I’m still not good at being organized enough to serve anything else, though – if lasagna is what I’ve thawed out, then that’s what we’re having. No salad or bread. Just lasagna. Which is fine right now, but probably won’t cut it as Ellie gets older. It takes more forethought and organization than I’ve got to get the side dishes together. Hell, it takes more forethought than I’ve got to get something out of the freezer a day ahead – I can’t be expected to remember salad too.

Last week I had a moment of inspiration – I used the time delay thingy on my oven and set it to bake while I was on my way home from work. Voila! Dinner was ready when we walked in the door. I see two problems with this arrangement, however. 1) I could set the house on fire. 2) I could give us botulism by leaving the food out all day in the oven. Botulism toxin is what’s in Botox, right? Could better skin be a side benefit of giving my family food poisoning?

When I told my friend Diane that I had set the oven timer and was thus a culinary genius, she told me a horrible story about a time when she set her BRAND NEW oven to cook over several hours while she did other things around the house. She had set it on 350, and when she passed by it, she happened to notice it was up to 500. She tried to turn it off, but it wouldn’t shut off. By the time she got to the breaker box, the temperature was so high it was no longer registering, and the stove was so hot it was glowing.

This was not what I wanted to hear. Truth be told, I’m a little afraid to leave even the Crock-Pot on when I’m not home – I’m not sure I can adjust to knowing the stove is on in my absence on a regular basis.

So all this bitching is for one purpose: I want to know what you other working moms do about dinner. Do you practice the once-a-month method? Do you use the Crock-Pot faithfully? How do you feel about the risk of having an appliance on when you're not home? Do you regularly resort to frozen food and carry-out? I know I’m not the only one who gets home at 6:30 and still has to face this dilemma every day. I’m open to suggestions, ladies. Please help me in my quest to feed my daughter nutritious stuff – she deserves better than Doritos! I anxiously await your input.


  1. I have 3 kiddos so I know exactly the dinner drama you're talking about! I hate planning it, cooking it, *trying* to eat it while little people climb on me and cry for me, and cleaning it up!

    I am a faithful crockpot user and am never nervous while its on and I'm at work. I love knowing that dinner will be finished and a much smaller hassle when I get home! However, I'm not a very adventerous chef so I make the same 5 things repeatedly. Check out the Fix It and Forget It cookbooks - I like those!

    When I don't use the crockpot I try to make simple meals on work nights - tacos, spagetti, salads, hamburgers. We might eat out once a week but with a 1 and 3 year old it is a bigger headache than it's worth most times.

    Good luck - I hope you get some great tips. Lord knows I could use them too!!!

  2. Well, I'm not a single mom, but I am a 'professional cook-type person' so maybe I can help a little?

    If you put the food into the pre-set oven still semi-frozen, the temperature "should" stay cold long enough to allow the oven to come on and cook for you without causing too great a risk of food poisoning, though you are far more likely to end up with salmonella or e-coli than botulism, so probably no luck with the smoother skin..:)

    As long as the oven is set correctly, there should be very little danger of it buring your house down. It runs all the time while you are there without burning the house down, why would it all of the sudden change it's mind and go nuts just because you are not home?

    The crock-pot is a great alternative if you are still nervous about having the oven on while you aren't home...check out A Year of Crockpotting ( ) to see some great recipes...and she reviews each one as to how well it went over with the family...

    If you get things set so that the entre is basically waiting for you when you get home, opening a bag of salad mix and a bottle of dressing, or throwing in some garlic bread, or heating up some green beans isn't such a PITA.

    BTW, even as a 'semi-pro' I still struggle to remember to cook side dishes, so, it's not just you!

  3. Doesn't everyone struggle with this? I love to cook, but I just can't do it when I get home at 6 with two hungry, cranky kiddos underfoot! I second the recommendation for the crockpot365 blog. I've found several good recipes there and I love her honesty about what her family liked and what they didn't.

    The only thing that really works for us is lots of planning. If we're going to eat well at home, I spend some time on Sunday making a menu and prepping. For me that usually means cooking one big meal that will make lots of leftovers (casserole, lasagna, soup, etc.), chopping lots of veggies and/or fruits for snacks and sides, etc. We can just heat and eat for a couple of days until it's all gone or we're sick of it. :) Then I'll do the same thing again on Tues or Wed night after the kids are in bed.

    Also, I think there is no shame in sandwiches or "snack meals." For lunch today my kids had fresh blueberries and strawberries, whole wheat waffles from the freezer, and yogurt. It's not gonna win me any culinary awards, but they liked it and it was reasonably healthy. Edward and I ate random leftover things from the fridge--chickpea salad and pita for me, a slice of pizza and some fruit for him.

    If you have a panini press, hot sandwiches can make a nice meal. Look to your favorite sandwich shops for ingredient inspiration--with some good deli meat and cheeses and a couple of "gourmet" spreads, it's easy to make really good sandwiches. You can even assemble them the night before, stick them in the fridge, and just press them when you get home. While the press heats, cut up some fruit for a side, and you've got a respectable meal. Quesadillas are great too. Put some meat and/or beans and veggies between a couple of tortillas, add some cheese, grill it and serve with some salad from a bag. Pasta's fast too and can be served with about any kind of topping.

    I don't know if that gives you any ideas, but it's some of the things we use to get by without going hungry! On a good day, we cook and eat three meals at home (I live close enough to work to come home for lunch), so we're getting better at figuring out what works for us. :)


  4. I just looked back over what I wrote and realized that in addition to rambling on too long, I made it sound like we only eat two different things all week. It's not really that bad. :) For example, if I make a big pot of black beans and rice on Sunday, we might eat that again Monday, then Tuesday use leftover black beans to make quesadillas (black beans, corn, zucchini, red onion, & monterey jack cheese is one of our favorite combos), and on Wednesday have Cuban sandwiches with a side of black beans and mango. With a little prep work the night before (chop the zucchini, grate the cheese, etc.), all of those other dishes would be quick to throw together. Hot sandwiches and quesadillas are also easy to adapt for my picky-eating son, so I don't end up cooking something entirely different for him.

  5. I'm gonna third the reco of crockpot 365. Lots of yummy recipes. The salsa chicken is delish, goes a long way, and can be served up a buncha different ways. I'm actually eating leftovers right now at my desk.

    I've had a blog post about this very thing rattling around in my head for awhile now. Both to share what I've done and look for help.

    I've gotten into menu-planning, like Anon. (It also helps me save money at the grocery). I'm not talking anything fancy here--just the word "Mon--Tacos" on the back of a envelope or something, and then magneted (is that a word?) to the frige.

    So I alternate between the crock-pot and easy to cook foodstuffs. I don't have a fancy oven timer baker thing, (I seriously think the stove that's in my current home is the first stove my mom had when we were growing up--it's that old.) so I couldn't try the bake on the way home trick. I'd be nervous about the fire, too, but as Mark said, you'd prbly be OK. And that was a great mental picture of the oven going crazy at JUST the exact moment when you weren't home.

    I often forget sides as well, but I've found those steam veggies bags to be my lifesaver many a day.

    End chapter.