Monday 16 July 2012

What's For Dinner Mum?

This is an old post I originally wrote for 12 More Pages back in 2010. I've only just realised I never put here on the blog, after searching and swearing for the past hour. So here it is.
Ok I've decided to jump right into the day-to-day practical issues that haunt all of us with Bob. It's these bland and normal daily chores that often seem to cause the most grief. Making dinner. Who would have thought it could become such a drama. Yet each day when that time rocks around and that simple sentence is spoken aloud “What's For Dinner Mum?”, it's just another reminder of the obstacles we have to face. I'm sure someone without a Bob in his life would wonder at the ability of such a boring daily chore to arouse such feelings of dread, guilt and hopelessness. For those poor buggers who innocently utter these words please note that you may have your spleen pulled out through your left nostril on occasion. It's nothing personal. But those four little words can be like fingernails on a chalk board some days. So the question remains, What is it about dinner that does this to us? 

The time of day: ok I know for most of us mornings are like diving head first into the bowels of hell. There's something about Bob and mornings that just doesn't mix. It's the whole oil and water thing and I'm sure Bob is one of those trans-saturated-clog your arteries kind of fats. But the late afternoons and evenings can be just as bad. By that time you've spent very available drop of energy going to work (if you still can), getting kids to and from school and after school activities, attempting household chores and generally just making it through the day. The idea of then having to prepare a meal can feel like trying to scale Mt Everest in your Sunday Best. Where's my Tenzing Norga? 

The thought process: now it's time to think what can we eat? I couldn't count the times I've stood staring into the fridge trying to decide what we can eat. It doesn't matter that all the ingredients are there. You still have to put together a plan. You can't really make a meal out of oranges and butter (though I'm sure that's someone else's idea of bliss). This means you have to use what little brain reserves you have to put together something edible and hopefully nutritional. Though sometimes just edible will do. Eat a banana if you want nutritional. And the enigma of trying to coordinate the mashed spuds to be ready at the same time as the steak. Is it really possible? I'm beginning to think it's an urban myth. 

The standing: oh the dreaded standing. Gravity is so not our friend. Bob makes standing complex at the best of times but add in actually trying to undertake another task and we can have Chernobyl all over again. If you're lucky you get the shakes while standing at the bench and you get to play the ever delightful Russian Roulette with your fingers and the knives. The more complex the meal the more standing involved and that's just bad. 

The heat: heat. Oh heat. You are my kryptonite. Unless you are sticking to salads or go for the raw-marcrobiotic-vege diet thingy, you have to deal with heat when preparing the meal. How can a beautiful golden mouth-watering roasted potato fill me with dread? Or worse yet why can standing next to the stove making rich gorgeous spaghetti bolognaise make me want to cry? Damn you Heat! (Think dramatic Lorne Green pose right about now). 

The Nausea: oh nausea my moody friend. Bob and Nausea hang out a lot together and they can make for a delightful food preparation time. The smell of food, or some days just the thought, can make you want to vomit. It's an undeniable mathematical certainty. Lets see if I remember the formula, it goes something like this: 

Bob + (end of day exhaustion + standing + heat) (smell/thought of food) = nausea300

This can make trying to prepare dinner a bit of a “pesky” chore. 

Ground Hog Day:
 and perhaps worst of all, even if you do make it through, you know it will all happen again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next and........ Just call me Sisyphus. This is the reality of the horror show that is dinner. 

So what can you do? Legally you kinda have to feed the kids and the husband or you might get a visit from child services or the police. That motherly gene always kicks in to fill us with guilt if we don't provide for our family like Martha Stuart. Damn you Martha and your delightfully presented gourmet meals. I can think of a number of places I'd like to place your handcrafted personalised seating cards right about now. But I digress, here are a few of my top tips: 

The Chair: invest in a chair that'll fit in your kitchen. Simple I know, you feel like a fool that first time, but it's worth it. I have prepared many a meal sitting on a chair next to the stove (and on occasion sitting on the floor). 

Water: guzzle it. Chug it down, before, during and after. Stick an IV in your arm and suck it straight into your veins (well that might be a bit excessive but you get the point). We all know the benefits of water but this is one of those times where we need to amp it up. 

The re-heats: if you find that you have a day where you feel a little better (notice I didn't insult anyone by saying a good day). Make meals in bulk that you can freeze. Things like soup and stews are fantastic re-heated, they usually taste better the next day anyway. They can also be jam packed with vegies so you have the nutritional thing sorted and you can use cheap meats, and lets face it anything cheap is good these days. Even if you're just having a normal cooking day. Double the mixture to freeze the left-overs. Then when those days come, and you know they will, you are set and Mr Microwave can do all the work whilst you lie curled up on the couch. 

Meal choice: this is the one it's taken me a long time to work out (I can be rather slow on the uptake). You don't need to have a fancy new meal every night. Prior to Bob I was a bit of a foodie so this has been a hard lesson. But if you think back to our childhoods, it was pretty much meat and three veg every night and we made it through all right (well apart from Bob, but we'll ignore that inconvenient fact). One pot is the way to go. Stick everything in at once and let it take care of itself. Stews, soups, even roasts are all meals that once the prep is done you have to do very little else. You can even buy pre-chopped vegies these days. However, if you decided that French crepes or risotto are the way to go (and that's your right), then I truly hope you enjoy lying on the gooey kitchen tiles discovering all the little bits of food that have hidden away under your fridge and have formed their own furry colony and are plotting to take over the world. 

Get the Kids to Cook: despite what we were taught to think, kids can do things for themselves and why can't cooking be one of those things. Let face it if they can program an ipod or send a text to 20 people at once (how do you do that?) they can manage to make a meal despite all their protestations to the negative. “But it tastes better when you make it Mum”, I think not, your arms aren't painted on my dearest child. If they are younger then maybe they can help with the prep work, the chopping or mixing. If they are older there is no reason why they can't follow a recipe and make diner for the family. This also gives them a skill for when they leave home. Do we really want them to head off into the world alone surviving on Pepsi and two-minute noodles? It also gives them a sense of helping out when they can't actually help you feel better. It's gives them back a little bit of control and this is healthy for them. Both of my boys cook and I've had everything from scrambled eggs with spinach, hollandaise and smoked salmon to roasted chicken with oregano and tomatoes and homemade strawberry lassi. Now that's better than a restaurant, and no need to gussy myself up. 

The BBQ: The epitome of maledom, the BBQ is yet another way to make dinner preparation more bearable. Let the testosterone fly and let the males of the house light up the BBQ to cook. Pretty much anything can be prepared on a BBQ these days. Even if it is only the meat, it means that all that heat is kept out of the house and that is a bonus not to taken for granted. For those men with Bob I know it can be hard to relinquish the BBQ tongs to those of us in the oestrogen camp but its worth it. And besides you can sit in a chair with a cool glass of water and direct your wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter in the intricacies of the BBQ. We'll even let you believe that we couldn't have done it without you. 

Takeaway: and if all else fails, that's why God invented takeaway. It's ok to have takeaway. We wont burn in hell for all eternity if we present our families with a limp, greasy, happy meal. It doesn't make us less of a parent or wife. Isn't it better to have takeaway and have Mum able to walk tomorrow, than stubbornly persisting with cooking and being laid up for three days (been there, really slow learner). Plus these days you don't have to just go with Maccas or KFC, many restaurants and cafe's also have takeaway/home delivery services, so you can have a decent meal. 

Now I'm not saying I have this all sorted. As I have said I am a work in progress, but I'm getting there. It can be hard to relinquish these sort of tasks, as much as we may have hated them pre-Bob. We're not talking logic here. It's just another little piece of our old lives gone. Another little reminder of the changes that have occurred. But when you look at it with fresh eyes, it's just food. Wouldn't we say to someone else in our position that it's not that important? Isn't it better to be able to spend time with our families than cook a bowl of Martha's famous Cape Cod Bouillabaisse? If its a choice between sitting and watching my kids play sport whilst eating luke warm hot dogs, or sitting at home killing myself preparing a nutritionally balanced, gourmet dinner, it's that botulin brewing hot dog every time. The kids will remember you at their games years down the track, but wont have a clue what you cooked for dinner that Tuesday night in August 2009.


Michelle :)

Okay so the connotation may be a little different but I listen to a lot of Nina Simone, often whilst cooking. And it does mention sugar ;) 


  1. You're so utterly and totally correct.

    My hubbs follows me around with a straw on a glass poked out at me. Lol *here! Drink!*

    I have my own special kitchen stool.

    And freezer cooking saved my life. 3 nights/week i cook double. Casserplest, heck, even taco meat!!! Just double it! It's no extra work. And your deep freeze can feed you. I have a bunch of cookbooks on once a month cooking, also. When my symptoms aren't massive, i will have the whole family spend a day in the kitchen with me. So every few months i literally stock that icey beast with 30ish meals in throwaway aluminum tins and ziplock bags. Everything from pre-assembled and uncooked meals for the crockpot (open zipper bag, dump in, try to remember to turn the darn thing on) to chicken pot pies (pull out the night before, thaw in fridge, pop in oven the next night) to pre-cooked-just-heat-them-up quesadillas.

    Once a month cooking is huge monumental effort for 3 days(roughly) with planning th menu and shopping list (tho there are services like saving dinner that do all the work and send in it your email, shopping list and all and which i use when i started and now highly recommend) then a day shopping (or as i do it, careening around the store in the electric cart shouting out items for kidlet like it's a scavenger hunt). Then i guess really it's 4 days. Kidlet and i spend a day pre-cooking. The chopping and washing and dividing and putting it in order. (If your using diced onion in 8recipes, chop 8 recipes worth at once.etc etc. If you're browning beef for 7 things, use a big pan and brown it at once. Most services give detailed directions for how much so that your only handling each ingredient once, making it as efficient a process as possible.) Then the last day, we will all spend cooking, browning, packaging, labeling, remembering to put the cooking directions on the outside).

    I tend to do really bad in extreme temps of both directions and fair decently in mild weather. (Cold kills me wih pain and inflammation. Heat leaves me without the gene that let us walk upright? It's like I'm jelly instead of spine and my brain can't find *up* lol! It's so hot it the states these last few weeks that many days I've spent lying on a floor because when i stand up i topple over. I look and sound drunk with my new slurred speech and the wobbling! Just call me weeble!

    Your post made me laugh. And I'm thankful. Many days over the last few years, it's been hard to find the funny. You helped me along.

    Thanks, Michelle!

  2. Though it is only the mister and I most nights (assuming we're not having dinner guests over, and excluding the kitty pawing around for a bite of chicken or her beloved mashed potatoes), I can relate 100% to this spot-on post and the daily (thrice daily!) hurdle that is meal time when one feels more like death warmed over rather than warming up even so much as a can of peas.

    Wishing you the best possible week, dear gal,
    ♥ Jessica

  3. Having spent 20 yrs working full time, running 3 children all over town to after-school activities, and cooking dinner every night- it is a little odd to me that now when someone asks that question, (What's for Dinner)unless said dinner is tucked neatly away in the crock-pot- it can send me over the edge into major meltdown. I've always loved to cook, but now the entire process- from planning, (ha) to shopping, and cooking as well- is so overwhelming and tiresome. It's awful. Terrible. Oh, and then the guilt for not having that home-cooking ready for my lovelies. Yes. Thanks again for reminding me to laugh at these things. You rock, Michelle.
    An American Gangster.

  4. Thank you! It is so nice to find real people who have found ways to cope! Being still new at this I have really struggled with getting dinner ready. Summer has been especially hard here as my children are home all day and want three meals and a snack (or two, or three...) They have come to accept that they are in charge of their own breakfast, but are resistant to other food prep. I really like the idea of a char/stool to sit on whilst trying to prepare food. It goes on my wish list!

    Thank you so much!

  5. Sitting down while cooking is my current mode even if I feel ok. That and luckily my husband can cook some (other than bbq). Can't delegate much to my littles, the oldest is 6, that only stretches to snack time. The microwave is my friend lol.

  6. My kids are grown, & for all practical purposes my hubs is never home due to working in different locations. I guess as far as cooking goes I'm blessed because I don't have a cook a huge meal every day. Holiday weekends, since we live in FL. My inlaws often visit, therefore I need to plan & cook 3 meals + snacks for everyone. 1st day unless I'm already symptomatic, I hold up OK, then downhill from there. After company is gone many time I have a big "dysautonomia crash". UGH. God bless all of you with lil ones that have to face these challenges daily. And Michelle, although I rarely comment here, I read your blogs OFTEN. So thank you!! *note to self* Comment more & let Michelle know how much she means to me!!

  7. Adding to the kitchen chair--a low stepstool. Having one foot raised on a stepstool helps me stand longer. (So does loud, thumpy music!)

    Marinades are my friend. My favorite is Persian jujeh kabab, saffron chicken kebabs. Marinate the chicken when convenient (prepare while sitting down of course), broil the chicken anytime in the next 12-48 hours. I don't bother with skewers, I just toss the pieces on the broiler pan.

    The oven is my friend. Roasts, casseroles, broiled meats, anything that keeps me from having to stand at the stove.

    Frozen foods are my best friend.

    Pre-cut veggies, salads, and fruit are my friend. The less prep needed, the more of them we will eat. And frozen veggies, at least the ones that come out OK (sadly I have yet to find a good frozen snow pea, they are always flabby, darn it).

    Sliced leftover meat on prepackaged salad greens with a little tomato and cucumber can be quite nice for lunch.

    Not all homemade soup is a lot of work. Diced leftover chicken, packaged broth, little pasta stars, diced carrots and celery with some finely chopped celery leaves, squirt of tomato paste and a wee dash of mirin or sherry--20 minutes, voila, still better than canned, the kiddo loves it.

    The kiddo is showing interest in learning to cook--maybe in a couple of years he'll take over now and then!


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