Since I can remember, I've wanted to be a great cook and baker. I was my mother's kitchen helper. I am sure I drove her crazy always baking something, wanting to try something new, and experimenting even when I was young with making candy, pretzels, decorating my siblings birthday cakes. I loved it.
My dad always loved pie. His mother was a master pie baker. It must have come with that age of women. Didn't all women born in the 20s know how to make pie? He loved it. His favorite was fresh apricot pie and Coconut Cream Pie. I remember making them to please him. When I went to college and was away, I always called our neighbor and ordered two pies for her to bake and deliver to him on his birthday. He made me always feel like he was shocked and surprised. "How did you arrange this, honey?" he would say while calling me at college. "Thank you, sweetie. You know how much I love pie." I delighted in our little event every October 7th.
Probably from watching my own mother cook and bake, I realized how important food was to the manufacturing of home life. It is essential. Food keeps everything going almost more than anything else. Several of our children wake up in the morning and say "What is for dinner tonight, mom?" I decided in high school that I wanted to major in cooking or baking. I knew it would be something I would use the rest of my life. As life played out, that desire fell by the wayside, but my passion for food preparation never stopped. I subscribed to Taste of Home in college and would spend hours clipping and organizing my recipes to be used when I ran my own home. I just couldn't wait.
Somewhere between then and having children, my desire remained, but motivation drained.
Meal time became stressful, hurried, and just another thing to do. I usually had someone crying at my leg, others asking for snacks because they were hungry, and the day just in general was worn. I had forgotten my lost love and just chalked it up as something to get done.
As the Good Lord always does, He renewed my desire for the kitchen and has provided great insight again to help me view the whole situation differently. I have remembered little bits of advice from the past I forgot. I developed a new system to keep things running smoothly and also found new systems to aid the process. I really do look forward to preparing our evening meal at night and am grateful for the desires God has renewed in my heart concerning this topic. I view the time in the kitchen before dinner as setting the tone for our time around the table which I hope will last at least an hour every night. I know as our children get older it may be the only time we see each other each day.
(As always when writing most things down, this journal was intended as a gift to our children. So, I usually speak to the adult them when I write.)
The Dinner Inspirations I have found:
1. I met a wonderful woman this year that treated her kitchen and food like no one I've ever met. She said one day, "Why would I buy it, if I can make it?" Her eyes sparkled when she talked about food and preparing it. She talked about her fruit trees. She told me stories of her in-laws and the amount of fruit they grew. She didn't want it to go to waste so "I began preparing things in my kitchen." I LOVED how she talked about her pie baking. The lard she uses in her pie crusts and how she mixes it together with two "old" forks made me want to go home and bake. She enters 50-75 food items in the county fair every year and wasn't aware that "little" adventure was amazing. I was mesmerized. She is such a lady. She has four little children that her and her husband homeschool. I love how she views teaching them through watching her in the kitchen, garden, or home. I love these rare finds of a person. She really was unaware of her talents. She had a baby last summer and was telling me about tending her garden with the baby sitting next to her in a bouncy seat. I felt like I was reading a Jane Austen novel. Her hair is always done up pretty. We were talking last week about pies and she told me her next adventure was making a cut-out crust of leaves with each leaf a different fall color. She learned to dye eye whites and paint the leaves red, orange, and yellow. I told her that I will pay her if she will let me come sit in her kitchen. Last week, I tasted her Carmel Apple Pie. I had to look closely at the pies to make sure they were real. Her crust was perfect in color, shape, and form.
I also remembered another mother of a large family telling me once "You have to think about dinner in the morning. There is just no other way."
2. Msgr. Nemec told us in marriage prep. that the table in our home is our domestic altar. It is to be cared for, prepared for, and meant to imitate the altar in the Church. Take care in setting the table, getting out the nice serving dishes, displaying a nice center piece. I read on a designer's blog once that she always purchased her dishes at the Dollar Tree. They have such a nice variety and if they break it is no big deal. It is not that I wouldn't purchase beautiful China for our domestic altar, but with children it seemed unreasonable. I love what I found at the Dollar Tree.
*Take the time to set your altar
3. I further reflected upon all the biblical references to food and the most important aspect of our Catholic faith which is Our Eucharistic Lord. Food is important and worth my time.
4. Most childhood memories are of food. You will hear adults say, "My mom makes the best cinnamon rolls!" or "I can't wait to go home this weekend and have my mother's cooking!" I thought about this a couple weeks ago and reflected upon the amount of time I was putting into the runnings of our home. #1 Cleaning #2 Schooling and #3 Food. I spend most of my time cleaning and organizing. I know it is important, but I definitely don't want their memories being of cleaning. I want them to remember the food.
5. In the past upon entering the kitchen to make dinner, I remember feeling rushed, hurried, and annoyed. Now, I say "Take your time. Put love into your food." I watched the "Dog Whisperer" a while ago and he talked about the love he put into preparing his dog's food. Man. The points he made about dogs and food could definitely be made about people and food. They know when love is put into a meal. I slow down. I get everything out. I try most days to save TV time until then. They are happy with their show of the day and I am in the kitchen. I now look at everything as building memories, planting seeds, growing roots, and an opportunity to be with them and show them through the meal my love for them. I somewhat had fallen into a "anything is good" attitude. I had other things to do besides preparing a great meal each night.
6. For 10 years, I have struggled getting to the grocery store on a set day of the week. I don't know what my deal was, but I hated that about my schedule. I hated the days where I didn't know what was for dinner. The day always seemed backwards. At the beginning of this year, I decided to change that habit once and for all. I picked early Wednesday morning. I make my list Tuesday night. I collect everything on the table (calendar, recipe books, etc.) I start to plan my meals, snacks, saint day celebration foods, meals to be brought to other families, and our new baking adventure of the week. I cannot tell you how incredibly life-changing this has been. I have every part of our day covered in relation to food. I made a laminated sheet that lists the day of the week, followed by a line that is for the saint of the day and the food we want to make to celebrate, a line also for other food events that day i.e. birthdays, new babies, etc. CRAZY helpful to me. Weekly grocery shopping on the same day each week is Essential for me to run our home. I look at the schedule the night before and know what needs to be prepared then, what needs to be thawed, or if the recipe involves excessive chopping, I will do it the night before.
7. After 10 years, I have learned to batch cook and Freeze. I know many have done this forever, but for some reason I hadn't. Man, I was missing out. When I am planning our meals, I always allot for two or three of whatever I am making to be made and frozen. Crazy helpful. We made four huge pans of lasagne a couple months ago and I wish I could express how those silly pans of food made very busy days not so busy. Tuesdays are our busiest day of the week. I spend more time in the car then I do at home. Dinner was about the last thing on my mind. Even so, I HATED falling into the house at 5:30 with starving kids, John wasn't going to be home for 2 more hours, and I was just starting dinner. I hated it so much because I was exhausted, they were exhausted, and it really did affect the next day because we wouldn't eat until 7:00 which pushed everything back from bedtime, prayers, etc. Now, I know when our busy days are so I pull out a pan of frozen goodness in the morning and know that when I get home, dinner will be almost ready.
8. Another little tidbit that people have done for ages, but I delayed participating in is cutting up and freezing portions of recipes. For example, cutting up onions and freezing them into 1.c bags. Browning several pounds of meat at a time and freezing in 1 c. bags. Making several cups of chicken broth and freezing in Ziplocks. Cooking and shredding chicken into 1 c. bags. Man. I missed out big time. I just discovered how wonderful it is to freeze items FLAT first then stack them nicely in containers in our deep freeze. I use to just throw the ziploc in the freezer and it would freeze in a big clump. DUMB??? Now, everything is flat, labeled, and easy to find.
9. Buy the utensils you need to be as successful as you want to be. I have long put off buying certain cooking and baking items. No more. I bought the little scoop and the silicone mat I've wanted for cookie making. Little things, but really have helped my desires.
10. I decided to master each new baking item I try. I don't just want to make cinnamon bread. I WANT TO MAKE CINNAMON BREAD. I have made a little game with myself and am enjoying troubleshooting my mess-ups and finding out where I went wrong from temperature, baking rack, or pan used. I like the challenge of figuring it out.
11. Most importantly, John loves food. Men love food. He is not one that HAS to eat the minute he walks in the door. He never expects it and actually is an amazing cook and baker himself. More than food, I know he appreciates the efforts I put into the evening meal. Additionally, I think he appreciates that when he gets home and food is ready, he knows our evening will run much smoother because everything else falls into line.