I love to cook. I love to bake. If there’s a bake sale at work, I am participating. I plan my Thanksgiving menu around Labor Day. I devour food magazines the way others devour fashion magazines, though I love those too. I’ve spent Saturday mornings picking out meat to marinate that night for Sunday night dinners. I have spent weekends baking brownies or cakes for family parties. Surprisingly, the joys of cooking and baking have been challenged by the arrival of my daughter Ilse. Ilse requires as much attention and care as the dinner roll recipes I used to test, and she does not have the patience to wait for me to perfect the edge of a pie crust for a chicken potpie. How do I do both? As my husband would say, “work smarter, not harder.” Below are just a few things I’ve learned in the last eleven months.
- Frozen, steam-in-bag vegetables are friends.
I used to think they were too expensive ($1.45 for a 12-ounce bag) when say, raw carrots, were only 99 cents per pound. However, on a weeknight, when we both come home from work and one of us still has work to do, and we have to get her fed and ready for bed, frozen vegetables are a lifesaver. They ensure we get our nightly vegetable fix with minimal effort and mess. When they are on sale at the grocery store, we stock up. Admittedly, the Brussel sprouts are mighty tasty!
- Meal planning works most of the time.
Meal planning used to bore me; it is much more fun to go grocery shopping that night and see what was fresh in the produce section. Now, I do it, because it maximizes our time together as a family. Rather than staring at the fridge wondering what to eat, I have a general idea of what we can eat, based on the foods we have. I use a small dry erase board posted in our kitchen to write down a daily menu for the week or to note the nights when one of us has plans. We might veer from it by ordering food or eating out one night, but we usually stick to it. The best part is that we end up wasting very little.
- Naptime is free time.
When my daughter goes down for any of her naps, I jump at the opportunity to do any kitchen prep, like marinate pork loin, chop vegetables, or crimp a pie crust. It’s uninterrupted cooking or baking time, depending on the timeliness of the task. Or for any of us parents, it’s just free, quiet time.
Every now and then, I miss the leisurely pace I used to cook or bake. The repetitive task of peeling potatoes was and is still so relaxing. At the same time, snuggles with my Ilse are quite relaxing too. The joy of cooking and baking hasn’t left. I just have to do it a little faster, plan just a little bit, and work a little smarter.