By roughest estimation, the total number of meals I’ve fed my children to date is somewhere around 8,000. It’s a ridiculous number and surely a faulty calculation, not least of all because it fails to reckon with the liquid diet of their early years (which should obviously count but where does one even begin)? Suffice to say, between me, James, and the neighborhood pizza place, we’ve fed our children many meals in the last seven or so years and we’ll feed them many more in the decade plus to come. And that’s just the thing with children and food: they never stop needing it. Ditto adults.
Last week I asked what folks wanted to see more of around here and I was surprised that one of the most common answers to the query was a peek into our weeknight dinners. I’m the mother of young children, and parents of little kids—mothers more often than not—are tasked with keeping those children alive. Toward this end, one of the things we need to do, generally multiple times daily, is to feed them.
Like it probably is for some of you, this is sometimes a joyful act of care and attention. Sometimes a sauce is spooned or a garnish of cilantro is sprinkled and the three small mouths of my children are upturned like birds awaiting the spoils of their mother’s labor and they coo and indicate their delight upon receipt. Sometimes I stretch the last bit of onion and make a potful of beans sing and there’s poetry in creating something out of nearly nothing. Other times, there’s a pout (from me, or from my kids) and a shove of a plate, and a spike in cortisol in the room so great you can practically see it. Sometimes, I just don’t wanna.
Dinner is something that happens in the whirlwind of my day’s busiest, noisiest, most intimate moments. Most nights we eat relatively simply: bowls of rice topped with pan-fried tofu and vegetables; pasta with tomato sauce; more beans than you can probably imagine. There’s also usually someone who doesn’t want to eat something—or anything. And so while I tend to be partial to so-called one-pot meals for ease of preparation and cleanup, I’ve become adept at making simple meals that, with the addition of a handful of nuts or a flurry of herbs or a sprinkling of cheese, can be customized to individual palates. I have one kid who loves salad and another who looks askance at anything that’s remotely green. (“Why is there SALAD on this pizza!?” this child demands to know upon seeing a paltry sprinkling of dried oregano on his slice.)
Sometimes our dinner ingredients are procured from the farmers’ market and the bulk section of our neighborhood grocer. Sometimes the dinner they produce is wholesome and waste-free, and we feel virtuous and breezy. Other times dinner ingredients come pre-packaged in a neat cardboard box with a foil lined bag filled with powdery cheese, which we choose not to question and to eat with gusto. For me—like for most, I’d guess—I sometimes find great pleasure and pride in making homespun, thoughtful dinners, and I sometimes find great drudgery in slapping together a grilled cheese and a handful of sliced peppers and calling it good. We don’t serve perfectly lit and plated meals to our children and ourselves every night, and neither do we abandon all effort. We get through dinner time however we can—with whatever energy and creativity and joy we can muster on any given evening. Sharing the ups and downs of our dinnertime routines in a post—and documenting them for all to see—feels like a more intimate and private project than I’d like to take on.
I think in part, this has to do with the realities of blog writing. Many of the projects that I post in this space are ones that I’ve teased out in real time and then later worked into a blog post. From thinking of the idea, to creating it, to writing about it, to photographing it, to tweaking it for public consumption, even the most straightforward posts are the result of a fairly laborious process. The work I put in on my end to make those posts ready to greet readers is work that I find personally fulfilling, thank goodness. But it can also feel paradoxical. Projects that are simple and doable and easy to execute on one’s own tend to require a whole lot of extra preparation, forethought and behind-the-scenes work when they’re going to be presented for public consumption.
I think my feelings about writing about dinner also have to do with the impact of blog writing. Offering ideas for weeknight dinners seems straightforward, but it’s also laced with complicated and fraught cultural ideas about what it means to be a good mother, or a good parent, or an ideal family. When I write about making coasters out of the bottoms of my jeans, my goal is to say: this is something nice to do if you want to do it, and are able to. It’s not life or death, coaster making. The stakes are low. It’s an opt-in experience that some proportion of folks might get satisfaction from and tra la, what fun if that’s so. Feeding my family, in whatever way works for me and James and our children on any particular day, with whatever we have on hand or have energy for at the time—documenting that feels much more personal.
Through trial and error and occasional success, we’ve found a way to feed our family a healthy, vegetarian diet on a relatively small budget. And yet, I have no doubts that what might seem like a slim grocery bill to us would feel extravagant to others. I know that the realities of our grocery routine—living as we do in a major metropolitan area with access to a limitless cornucopia of ingredients and options—is unrealistic for others. I know that what sounds wholesome and filling and nutritious to me might seem lackluster to someone else.
Lucky for all of us, there are lots of other writers out there who do not tire at the thought of opening up their cupboards and tabletops to the rest of us—and who spend their days literally cooking up ideas to thrill and inspire us. Let’s get our peeks and inspiration and hits of dopamine from consuming that information from them.
A few food folks I enjoy reading:
Virginia Sole-Smith writes the newsletter Burnt Toast on fatphobia, diet culture, parenting, and health. Her writing is smart and challenging and I highly recommend a follow.
Alicia Kennedy‘s newsletter is another one worthy of your subscription. She’s snappy and smart and has lots of good things to say about veganism and food politics and other topics you might not find on your average cooking blog.
I haven’t scooped a copy yet myself, but for anyone looking for an entry point to vegetarian dinners, Dinner, A Love Story’s new book Weekday Vegetarians looks terrific.
For the curious:
Our dining table was a gift from Kalon.
Our Everyday Bowls are from East Fork Pottery in Eggshell and we do indeed use them every day.
Our Cast Iron Casserole is by Crane by way of East Fork.
Our block print napkins are from local shop, 21 Tara.