Friday, July 8, 2011

Cooking and Canning and Eating, Oh My!

I love my birthday. I know that at a certain age you're supposed to start being blase about it, and not care if you get gifts or not, but I really, really love my birthday. It's the one day that you get to have all to yourself, where people think of thoughtful things just for you, give you well wishes and essentially make sure that you feel special. This year was no exception. I think my family is starting to sense a theme in my current interests: Home decor, running and cooking, with a string of manic knitting sessions thrown in.

As I said before, the Fourth is my favorite holiday. I forgot to mention that that could have a tiny bit to do with the fact that my birthday is right around it, leaving me in the post-birthday high just in time to watch the fireworks, eat food and bask in the glow of family togetherness. Three of my gifts were cookbooks; Canning For a New Generation (which I reviewed here), My Father's Daughter and The Family Dinner and I have loved spending time pouring over them and riddling them with sticky notes for recipes I want to try. I love them all for different reasons, but the one thing they have in common is that they're not a strict cook-book but have a lot of side stories to share. 

The Family Dinner is all about establishing routine, getting your kids involved in the preparation of the meal, and things to do during the meal so that you have a lot of variety and a lot of starting points to tweak and make it our own ritual.  I had already started incorporating a lot of things she mentions, but the one thing I did at the author's suggestion was offering only water at dinner. 

Every night, I felt like I was constantly up and down getting each person the beverage of their choice and now I just have a big ole pitcher of water in the middle of the table. Sometimes I throw in a couple slices of lemon or lime, or muddle some mint, but most of the time it's just crisp Walla Walla tap water. I know that this wouldn't work for every family, because sometimes it's the chance for you to make sure your kids drink enough milk if they're not good at it, but I'm home all day with my kids and I know what they drink. The last thing they need is more sugar. With the blazing temps here, some extra agua at the end of the day never hurts, either.

In My Father's Daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow pays homage to her late father, Bruce Paltrow, in creating a book of recipes and ideas for creating family togetherness through simple goodness and nutritious meals. Plus, I'm a sucker for Gwyneth, so I would love it no matter the topic.

The 'family dinner' is something that has increased in importance to me the longer I'm an at-home mama, which started last year with not creating a separate meal for each person. Since we've moved, I've been successful at all of us eating together at least five nights a week; no exaggeration. J is obviously not always able to eat with us, but when we were in Mass, I had gotten into the habit of feeding the kids quickly and rushing to shuffle them off to bed only to sit by myself and eat whatever meal I pulled together in my exhaustion from the day spent running them ragged. 

Now, I spend the later afternoon hours that the boys are playing quietly running around the house and (glorious) fenced yard like hooligans to get dinner going and on the table by five, five-thirty at the latest. Having my meals planned out at least a week in advance helps keep this task going smoothly. This leaves plenty of time to eat, bathe them, read stories and get just one more (read: 800) drinks of water and still have time to myself. Something that I have found to be very important to me. With such early risers, I take the time that some people get to sip their coffee quietly in the morning when it falls into my lap, which just so happens to come around 7:30 each night. 

As it's now 7:12, the bath routine is winding down (J is home, which means no bath routine for me, yay!). One load of dishes to put into the dishwasher, with a delayed start of 4 hours so I can watch Season 5 of Dexter on demand without the swish and hum to distract me, counters wiped down, change into jammies, wash my face, contacts popped out of my currently drying eyes, feet up and I'm a happy girl. Oh look: 7:19 and the only thing I hear is the ocean waves of their sound machine (and whatever game my beloved has decided to play at almost-too-loud levels on the PS3). Bliss.

Now to cast-on some yummy yarn for a new hat pattern and the evening will be perfection.

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