FILED IN: Recipes

On the Imperfect Kitchen

I am thrilled to be a new columnist here at Imperfect Parent, mostly because I am absurdly imperfect and thus, fit the definition perfectly. Those nuts at “Perfect Parent” wanted nothing to do with me and I can’t say that I blame them. The imperfection in my kitchen alone is sometimes breathtaking.

You see, imperfection is a bit of a problem in the food world because many of my colleagues (food writers, authors and bloggers) are striving for perfection. They are writing about the three hours it took them to perfect head cheese or how they slaughtered a calf in their backyard or hand cured their own salami. They are ambitious, the lot of ‘em. And frankly, sometimes a little annoying. They fuss over the details, making sure the pink rosettes on their home-made cakes are each exactly the same circumference and set apart exactly the same distance from each other all the way around the cake. They painstakingly document how to make homemade tofu, cheese and yogurt. They travel 50 miles out of their way just to buy $20 a pound grass-fed ground beef. They make their tortilla chips by hand.

It’s fascinating stuff, but I have to ask, “Who the hell has the time?”

And then I remember, they don’t have small kids running around their kitchens.

And there is the rub, people. See, many of my foodie colleagues do not have small children running around their kitchen banging each other over the head with their wooden “wand-spoons”. They do have to stop cooking the souffle so they can negotiate a hair-pulling fight over a princess doll. They have not had a toddler steal the last sprig of rosemary out of the herb drawer, only to find it hidden in the bottom of the potty. They never have to fish a Dora toy out of their cake batter or rescue the carrots from rotting into smelly orange dust in the toy box.

And, as good as they are at banging out a five course meal with a foie gras appetizer, they don’t know the first thing about how to please a table full of constantly moving pre-schoolers who are only seated quietly at the table because they know they have to eat something green to get ice cream. And, God help them, they’ve never cooked an entire dinner for 10 while nursing a newborn in the crook of their arm. Amateurs, all of ‘em.

It’s definitely not perfect in my kitchen, I have to admit. The Food Network will not be filming a cooking show there. No studio audience will be applauding my efforts. I’ve put together some amazing meals that I thought everyone would love, only to hear a toddler exclaim, “That’s disgusting!” (which I understand is what Lucy says to Snoopy whenever he tries to kiss her) which, like a contagion of Typhoid, infects all of them and produces a chorus of “That’s disgusting’s!” from all the little ones at the table and then, utterly thrilled with themselves, they disintegrate into jelly-blobs of hysterical laughter and continue chanting “That’s disgusting! That’s disgusting!” over and over and over until they are gasping for air, and tears are streaming down their little blotched cheeks.

And no one even touches the food. No, the Food Network will never come.

What we as parents do isn’t pretty, for sure, but everyday, I – like many other home cook/parents with small children – manage to put up more delicious and adventurous meals and snacks than a Texas diner and Bobby Flay combined. I am amazed by how much time I spend in the kitchen. For those of you who absolutely hate cooking, I can’t imagine the interminable hell it must be every time you look at the empty skillet mocking you with its barren-ness. That’s gotta suck.

For me, I find the kitchen to be my own private sanctuary, my version of a labor-intensive day spa. I even think about my kitchen when I’m not in it — what I’ll prepare next, what I’ll buy for it, how I’ll keep it happy, boisterous, full and crowded with people. And how I’ll use it to please my husband and bring my children together in one single place after we’ve torn up the playground and bellies are aching.

I learned my principles in this kitchen. I do have a few. For instance, you won’t find a box of mac and cheese anywhere in my house. I believe box macaroni and cheese, organic or not, is like Satan in a box. I’m not sure why, except it takes exactly the same amount of time to make a cheese sauce from scratch, so I think, why not do that?  That said, I’m not nearly as militant about other things – my oldest daughter and I both believe a can of ice cold diet Pepsi is like a gift from God himself. I know a toddler with a can of Coke in her hands is nearly a reason to call Child Protective Services, but it happens only rarely and it goes to my belief that moderation, not fanaticism, is the key to our comfort and happiness. 

Can of soda. See how imperfect I am? It’s like a perfect fit that I work here now.

The truth is, cooking is a lot like life. It’s messy. Case in point, I made a fantastic breakfast burrito this morning – a tomato, spring onion and cream cheese omelet, wrapped in a tortilla with bacon and guacamole. It was a hit, but while I was cooking, I misplaced a pot holder and had to use my husbands dirty under shorts (which were in a nearby laundry basket) to grab the hot cast iron pan. I cooked the whole damned breakfast using his underpants like a dish towel. And not one member of my family noticed or thought it was weird that I was wearing Daddy’s underpants draped over my shoulder.

See? Messy.

But we ate well and sat around the table together and enjoyed each other. You’ll never see this kind of imperfection when the cameras are rolling at the Food Network. This, my friends, is the real deal.

Xxoo The Yummy Mummy

P.S. If you can top my underpants story with your messy cooking/life/eating story, I’d love to hear it. Come on. I know you’ve got some stuff you wanna get off your shoulders. It’s messy in your kitchen too, right?