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  • Writer's pictureHoosier Doc

The Crushing Cooking Thing

Chicken Marsala with Fondant Potatoes and Asparagus
Chicken Marsala with Fondant Potatoes and Asparagus

As parents, we have to do some things like feed our kids. My hope is, at some point, that my kid will want to help feed us. I was able to cook simple meals fairly young. I learned how to grocery shop, defrost things, and to preheat an oven because my two working parents needed me to do this. I am hoping that my kid will get all of these cooking skills down by middle school as well. My mom taught me how to bake. My dad taught me how to cook more complex meals when I was in college. I became an excellent cook in college and use to relish making these huge meals for company. I was gifted my grandmother's silverware (I would stay inherited but she is thankfully still with us) and use to put it to good use several times a year. I took pride in these abilities and took solace in my ability to make people happy and feed myself even when grad school sucked or I was job searching.

And then I had an infant and left the hospital to come home and cook every meal. We were saving money because I got no paid leave and would have to take some without my PTO/sick pay just to get 5 weeks of full leave, 4 weeks of PT leave. If that sounds awful and impossible, I can ensure you it really was. And I was lucky to have any PTO/vacation to take because I worked a state job at the time. Cooking has been especially miserable these days. I can't find convenience foods, I have food allergies and can't eat just any brand without reading ingredients, and we are at the mercy of finding a pickup or delivery slot because of my health risk with Covid. I am baking and cooking more things from scratch than I have any right to be doing while also providing more than 50% of our childcare and working - often from home with a toddler. Again, if that sounds impossible, it is. I am thankfully to be gainfully employed and able to work in safe environment. It is still really, really soul-crushing. My husband never learned to cook. His parents weren't foodies like mine. His dad can't do much apart from heat up a pizza. His mom worked a lot outside the house, too, and as the youngest child by 10 years of a family of 6, my husband relied pretty heavily on convenience food he could make in a microwave out of operational necessity. This was pretty different from my experience growing up. We had family dinners every night. It was a fairly sacred thing. Something I still try to do now. Especially for working parents, while this is a complicated dance, I think that time to reconnect after a work/school day can be really great. That is not to say it's easy. I got really, really frustrated this weekend and explained to my husband that since he can't cook and there is no room for error if he tries, I am spending more time chained to the stove than before. I am resentful of the stress I have to endure. And, it's so much more than that. It's not just the pressure cooker of having to deal with a 3-year-old "helper" or the consistent failing that nothing is going fast enough. It's also the planning. I am thankful that never in my life have I faced food insecurity - perhaps until now. And even now, it's a matter of "scarcity". The reality is that we often cannot find the food we need. I have become incredibly good at substitutions and working with the bare minimum. But for the first time in my life, I am rationing everything we have heavily. I have never lived like this. I am not a particularly wasteful person, mind you. I am the type who makes a whole chicken and saves the stock and fat. I do not like to waste. However, the stress of careful planning, trying to get all of the ingredients and often failing, and then praying we get a delivery or pickup slot is crushing. I am thankful to have the skills to cope with these challenges. Really, I am. I just didn't ever expect to end up here. I am beginning to "lose" this war with cooking by just struggling to get through each night and trying to keep things not-too-boring. However, when I struggle to find easy things or, you know, bread, I have to bake it. I never in my life thought I would actually have no choice but to bake my own bread. I am thankful to have all the tools which make that easy (my stand mixer is life right now). It still doesn't make the act of sourcing, planning, and cooking - and all the emotional labor that goes with it - fast or simple, though. This isn't reflect on my social media, of course. My personal Instagram page is full of beautiful meals in quarantine because if I plate something beautiful, I take a photo to remind myself about the love and care that went into that meal. One of my childhood friends said, "I don't know how you do it" over the weekend stating that she, a stay-at-home-parent never cooked "fancy" meals. I assured her that my dietary restrictions and my husband's hatred of leftovers (don't even get me started) have necessitated these more elaborate meals. And, let's face it, I'm pretty picky and admittedly snobbish with food at this time in my life since it's the one thing that makes everyone pretty happy! I told her getting through the day was the win and that the reality is my kid eats a lot of nuggets - veggie and otherwise - and E-Z Mac for lunch so I can "get out of" making another full meal. I also need to say here, I eat plenty of meals hunched over my kitchen counters in Zoom sessions with friends and colleagues avoiding my toddler for a minute's peace. This is not a glamorous time for me - despite what my social media may reflect. So, yes, my Instagram may be full of beautiful meals I am proud to have cooked. These are meals my family devoured. However, none of this was easy. And if you just can't bring yourself to make in-depth meals or your kids are living on mac and cheese every night, you're doing a great job feeding everyone! That is commendable.

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