Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cooking Ahead

Part of the difficulties faced as a conscientious Mom, was that I read a lot. I paid attention to dire warnings about packaged foods and chemicals used to preserve shelf life. I knew I needed to avoid all those convenient, quickly thrown together "meal in a box" solutions devised as a response to the "what's for dinner?" dilemma that surfaced soon after I arrived back home from a long day at the office.

This sounds very high minded, but I unfortunately found myself frequently standing at my kitchen counter, staring at raw ingredients with a good hour's worth of prep and cooking time ahead of me, exhausted, while my kids clamored for "take out".

I reshelved raw ingredients, hopped back into my car, and caved in more times than I like to admit.

In order to simplify my life and provide healthier food for my growing kids, I decided to cook ahead for the work week during the weekends. I figured I could plan menus, shop for ingredients not on hand, and spend much of Saturday morning and early afternoon preparing dishes ahead while yet providing soccer game transport and/or movie drop off duties.

I searched out recipes for home prepared versions of my family's favorites. I spent hours reading nutritional labeling and chose ingredients and controlled preparation, all with their health in mind.

The Saturday Cook-A-Rama Strategy was at least a partial solution. Many days we spent so much time circling in the car after school that any type of dinner cooked and eaten at home still didn't work. Those days we did fast food, as healthy as I could find that my kids would accept. Other days I figured to try to have a head start dish, either prepared and only needing reheating, or close enough to ready, so I could face cooking dinner after a long day at work without triggering spontaneous weeping.

It wasn't perfect. There were still problems. I'd end up with a house so filled with food aromas they gently smacked you in the face like a warm wet washcloth as you walked inside. I'd have all this food prepared for dinner for other nights, in combination with such an extravagantly trashed kitchen there might be nothing left clean to cook in or with. Worst of all - nothing slated to eat for dinner that night.

I finally learned to either have something simple already prepared as a fallback meal before I hit "too tired", or to gracefully accept another night meant for take-out without seeing that as the crowning event in my being declared a personal failure as Mother, Wife, and Cook.

I dredge this up because I made one of my own (rare) original recipes to serve for Halloween Night dinner. Chile Chicken Stew. It is best eaten after it cools and is reheated - as are all stews according to my mind. I used to make this many Saturdays for a Sunday or Monday night meal. As a nod to our new Empty Nest, I made it early in the day, and will reheat it and serve it for dinner the same day. It will sit long enough before dinner for the flavors to blend and intensify, and I won't have to worry about trying to cook while answering the door to hand out candy.

This stew will not only stand up to my leaving it for stretches of time, but should fill us up so healthily and wonderfully that we won't be (too) tempted to turn off the porch light early, close the blinds, and pretend we aren't home while my husband and I polish off the remaining candy.Live and learn. Helpful practices are only helpful when they serve me, not when I become enslaved by my own standards.

Hope you have all had a Happy Halloween, however that works in your house.

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