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There was enough organized chaos the last 3 days that I have posted nothing new.  So much for my thing-a-day for a week experiment!

We try to make certain The Child has a well cooked different-from-yesterday breakfast each morning.  But sometimes, it is a weekend on my own after an insomnia filled and over-scheduled week.  That’s when I just want to sleep late.

I eventually admitted utter defeat at sleeping in this morning.  My body clock is clearly set on the get up for school 5:40 a.m. alarm schedule and woke at 6 a.m. in an ‘I’m late’ panic.  Then an hour later The Child wanted breakfast.  I croaked from bed, “Have a banana off the counter, and then you can have a brownie I saved from the dinner party last night.”

Yeah, that’s right, I rolled over while telling my kid to go forage for a chocolate and fudgie brownie…  for breakfast.  A far cry from the breakfasts I make her during the week.  Followed by, “I’m still hungry.”

“You’re out of luck.  I’ll be up in an hour.”  I tried going back to sleep, but apparently I was the one out of luck.

On That Note…

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7148143/

The more I watched this little web series the harder I laugh.  Every parent is doing the best they know how, but sometimes I wish we could all not try quite so hard.

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Apparently my plan to get through a week without The Spouse is to compensate via over-scheduling.  I have not stopped zipping from one thing to the next since he left.  Volunteering at the kid’s school, errands, and keeping ‘just behind enough’ on the housekeeping so as not be on a disturbing reality show.  Just barely.

I can’t complain.  It is all fun stuff this week.  Today The Child had a half day of school, so we went to the park with friends all afternoon.  The weather was glorious!  The reality of to-do lists could wait another day while we took in some well enjoyed park time.

The day does go a bit smoother when I have thought of “what’s for dinner” in advance of actual dinner time.  Lucky for me, today I had the plastic tub-o-leftovers.  It had been waiting for the fetching of appropriate condiments for optimum enjoyment.

Borscht is good.  But borscht with a dollop of sour cream is awesome.  And The Spouse’s freestyle Goat Borscht with Radish Greens is an out-of-this-world bowlful of pink win!

So there was no cooking this evening.  There was merely zapping in the microwave.  And there was standing in front of the machine quoting Homer Simpson, “D’oh! Isn’t there anything faster than a microwave?”  A few slices of garlic bread and two glasses of milk later, and we were done.

Knowing in the back of my mind that there would be a Day 2 to follow Day 1, you’d think I would have put more advance planning into our meals today.  But it was another whirlwind day.  No tears over homework, fewer scrapes, and I even remember all the productive things I did today.  Today was a definite win over yesterday.  The house still looks like a tip, but no worries, it will have to be dealt with soon.  I have taken surefire measures to ensure it is tidied, inviting a pack of friends over Friday night.

Plus, I wasn’t as concerned about dinner tonight.  I had a rough plan in mind this time.  The Child was looking forward to polenta leftovers from the weekend, we had two leftover bockwurst, and I just needed to pull together a vegetable.  The weekly delivery from spud! came  this afternoon so there must be some fresh veg in there to whip up.  I wasn’t quite sure what was coming as I had spazzed customizing my order before the deadline.

I cracked open the Rubbermaid tub of veg from spud!

Oooooo-kay.  That’s a whole lot of lettuce. We’re looking for comfort food here.  Salad seemed like work.  It all looked good but I came away with “blah” for ideas.

Spying the lowly zucchinis I decided to roast them with some onion to top the polenta.  Totally last minute.  Complete freestyle.  Stabbing the pre-cooked sausages with a fork, they took a minute zapped on high in the microwave.  The polenta followed suit.  Scooping the roasted zucchini, onions, and paprika’s olive oil from the pan gave the other bland components of the plate some color and flavor.

Roasted Zucchini & Onions

2 small zucchinis, sliced into thick rounds
1 medium onion, roughly frenched
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and paprika

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Chop veggies.  Toss with olive oil, and spread out on Silpat lined half-sheet pan.
Season liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika
Roast for ~20 minutes

Rejected…  Sorta.

The Child made clear that the zucchini was not her favorite, and that frankly zucchini is never her favorite.  She was quite adamant about it.  But she ate it all.  She was hungry.  Had I not cooked it gorgeously I would have let her get away with leaving it, but this was really good.  Besides, the polenta, onions, and bockwurst were excellent pairings.  Sometimes it’s a spoonful of polenta that makes the zucchini go down!  She tried every combination of bites on the plate.  In the end she was making jokes about how pairing zucchini with another zucchini was her favorite while cramming two giant rounds in her mouth at one time.  She ate it all and asked for seconds on the onions.

Life is good, and Day 2 of fending for ourselves while Daddy travels was not a disaster.  So…  tired…  Zzzz…

The Spouse left in the wee hours of the early morning on his way half way around the world.  For years he traveled constantly, but recently he’s been home.  Really home.  Like quit his job and working for himself from home home.

Which means I have gone soft.  He has been gone just 24 hours, and while I managed to get The Child fed and off to school (and subsequently picked up, run through her paces, and packed off to bed) I wonder just how I’m going to keep this up?

Seriously people.  I am looking out over my living room and there is a backpack pulled completely apart at the base of the stairs as the ultimate trip hazard.  The Bactine and stray cotton balls are several feet away.  Homework this evening charted it’s inevitable course through tears territory and into the land of “okay you can stay up an extra 30 minutes.”  And every horizontal surface is covered with something.  Dishes, bills, and laundry are everywhere.  Seriously…  it was not this bad yesterday.

Breakfast was pulled together with the air of Martha Stewart.  I arose convinced that this week would be no problem.  Piece of cake really.  I hadn’t counted on being out of coffee, but no matter, I could channel my inner East Bay housewife and stereotypically stop at ‘bucks later.  I whipped up some scrambled duck eggs with a slice of Monterey Jack melted in.  Some toasted garlic bread on the side and, “Voila!”  easy breakfast.  With snack packed and hot lunch ordered, we even made it to school just in time to be early.

The crash was inevitable.  The post-drop-off latte was too little too late.  Headache.  Crushing.  Coffee fail.  And I know I got loads accomplished today, honest.  I must have.  I’m certain of it.  I do not, however, remember having my own lunch.  In any case, it was suddenly an hour before needing to fetch The Child from school when I realized she had no clean underwear for tomorrow, no snack for before her swim lesson, and my grouchy back was suddenly on red alert.  Dag nabbit!! Laundry started and sandwich prepped.  Half for her, and half for myself, eaten over the sink with an IBU chaser.  Then hurry, hurry so the drive & wait, drive & wait cycle could begin again. A few hours later and I had not yet thought of dinner, despite both of us ravenously thinking of nothing else once we walked in the door from swim lessons.

Sometimes a jar of sauce is just a jar of sauce.

Simultaneously keeping The Child focused on her homework whilst staring into the void of my refrigerator zapped any vestige of creativity.  The fridge may be full of tasty leftovers, but I detest having the same thing the same way again.

So the green beans and bell peppers sauteed with bacon from the night before were chopped up and warmed with a previously opened jar of Wild Mushroom Tomato Sauce from Dave’s Gourmet, and thinned out with some homemade chicken stock.  Quick cooking angel hair pasta meant that literally watching water come to a boil was the painstaking part of the meal prep this evening.  The pasta was done in three minutes, tossed with the sauce and beans for another few, and it really hit the spot.  The Child even asked for an extra serving of green beans mid-way through her pasta.  It may not have been fancy but my jar of sauce and pasta dinner managed to have The Child eat enough to function while finishing up her homework.  Or at least nearly finishing, as the extra 30 minutes of homework time came and went quickly.

Day 1 of Operation Daddy’s Traveling Again has come and gone, and we managed just fine.  Tomorrow perhaps I will get more done, but for now I’m thinking sleep.  After I put the Bactine away and get her undies in the dryer, of course.  The backpack booby trap can stay where it is.  What’s the worst that could happen?

We receive complements on The Child’s eating habits all the time.  I am still uncomfortable answering the inevitable inquiries.  The vast majority of children we come in contact with are extremely picky eaters.

We are the exception and not the rule.  A few years back, I caught myself responding to positive comments with a compensatory list of The Child’s faults, and it brought me up short.  I started investigating what was really going on with us so I could better express myself.  Writing helps me understand our family’s relationship to food.

I am learning to answer questions and accept compliments without undermining The Child’s well-deserved spotlight.

There are so many different facets to it:  eating together, cooking together, shopping together, and talking frankly about ingredients, farming, science, and the complexities of the natural world.  Some of her success may be just the way she is wired – thus the blog tagline:  parenting or luck?

I began to break it down one thing at a time.  But there are a fair number of ideas which  spawned half-written blog entries.  Entries which start out helpful and end with me shaking my head, hitting the delete key, and wondering how to convey our course of action without a perceived sense of judgement thrown at those who have chosen other parenting paths.

So let’s just call a spade a spade.

*Deep Breath*

The answer to all those folks out there who have asked with genuine sincerity how we did it…  “Part of the reason my kid eats and yours doesn’t is because I am mean and selfish, and you’re not.”

*Big Exhale*

Because I’m Selfish

I am not a short order cook.  I have no problem letting my child go a little hungry if a meal is not to her liking.

I discipline over trying food because I think an unwillingness to try or taste something new is rude.  And since the sense of taste is always changing as we age, and cooking methods and seasonings are never quite the same, for our family this means tasting every part of a meal every time.

We do not take vitamins or supplements.  Unless directed by a doctor for a particular condition or deficit, there is no double-blind controlled proof that supplements do anything but potential harm.  Especially multivitamins.   So my kid’s nutrition comes from the same place every other kid’s does.  Her food.  In this case as much variety as possible.  Accepting that there is no safety-net multivitamin or fortified food puts the onus squarely on me as the parent to ensure The Child eats a wide range of ingredients.

Food will touch other food.  Sometimes it is *gasp* intentionally all mixed together.  When multiple solids were offered as a toddler, they were always crowded together on the plate.

I hate to waste food to a compulsive degree.  So we will figure out a way to choke down something meh rather than throw it away.

We enforce basic table manners.  We all make being home for a family meal a priority, often at great effort and inconvenience, so it is hugely disrespectful to have a meal hijacked by theatrics and chaos.

Positive Consequences

It is not quite a bleak life of controlling discipline around here… *wink* There are ways to build choice into her relationship with what fuels her body.  And we revel in meal times being about communication and time together.

After the initial taste, The Child decides how much she eats.  She is consulted on ingredient or menu preferences, and routinely directly involved in preparation.  She shops with us and has useful input.  And we are big fans of condiments and additions to the plate to help make the best of a not-favorite meal.

Eating is as unavoidable as emotions.

A dear friend once asked if I was concerned about attaching emotions to food for my kid.

I don’t see how anyone can ever separate emotions from food.  Parents worry with good reason about eating disorders, body image, and obesity.  I do not know enough to speak to what causes one kid to have detrimental food issues while another does not.  But is there a culture anywhere which does not connect food to emotion?  When we’re happy and sharing time with friends and family, welcoming newcomers into a community, or consoling each other over loss…  there is, and will always be, food.

Only Time Will Tell

There is no way for me to know if the parenting choices we have made will have ill effects on The Child’s psyche.  Perhaps her genetic make up predisposes her to have a particular body type and disposition well beyond any influence we attempt.

But learning to communicate with each other is something we can control.  By fostering an environment where genuine curiosity is rewarded, questions are encouraged, and science matters – perhaps the inevitable will be better dealt with when it inevitably arrives.

In the meantime, we have chosen a path that works for all of us.  And that is exactly what every family should do.  Together.  Decide what is the best match of choices for your family.  Maybe you don’t mind limiting your family menu options to a very short list.  Or perhaps it makes you happy to prepare individual meals for your loved ones.  Perhaps you find it less stressful and easier to cart around food to play dates and vacations just to be sure your kid is eating what they want.  These are all very legitimate points of view.

But when someone asks me wistfully, “How do you get her to try so many different things?”

“I make her try things, because when all is said and done, it is easier for me.”

It was unbelievably hot this week.

The Child and I were flying solo on dinner and I did not have it in me to cook.  Having been home less than a week, the cupboard was still really bare.  Unless somehow I was going to work magic with evaporated milk, a can of crushed pineapple, and a little lonely leftover baked chicken thigh from the night before… we were out of dinner options.

But our produce delivery from spud! had arrived the day before.  I had one nectarine which seemed ripe enough to eat, one heirloom tomato left, and a single scallion.  Found some flour tortillas and some lettuce in the fridge, and I set to work chopping, muttering lines from The Princess Bride, “Why didn’t you list those among our assets in the first place??”

A quick salad was born of nectarine, tomato, scallion, and a minuscule amount of leftover chicken. It was lovely.

Nectarines and tomatoes are prolific at farmers markets this time of year, and I highly recommend giving this combo a try.  Child loved it, and she beat me to the single second helping.

Nectarine, Tomato & Scallion Salad

1 Nectarine, chopped
1 Medium to Large Heirloom Tomato, chopped
1 Scallion, chopped
1 Cold Chicken Thigh, chopped (any small amount of leftover protein will do – pork chop, steak, crumbled bacon, etc. – even canned black beans – or leave the protein out altogether)

Chop.  Salt.  Mix.

Serve as is, or wrapped in warmed, buttered tortillas with some chopped romaine hearts.

Makes about 3 wraps.  Feeds one mom and one ravenous kid.

First Day of School

The Dog and The Child

The first day of second grade was this past week.  We are a little excited around here as the roller coaster of the school year begins.

Reflecting back a few years, I remember the first “so how was it” conversation with my little four-year old after her first day of pre-K.

“We sang the breakfast song.”

From what I remember, the breakfast song was a little sing-songy verse about what each of them had for breakfast that morning.  It bounced from person to person in circle time to help the kids learn names.

“Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning?”

“We had oatmeal and banana and maple syrup!”  At which point she joyfully burst into song, singing  her verse about eating oatmeal.

Apparently all of the other kids had cereal, and *solemn pause* some kids didn’t have breakfast at all.

Wow.

This is when I carefully reminded myself that the stories shared were through the filter of a four-year old mind.  Given what we were paying in tuition, there probably were not any kids that had really shown up at their first day of pre-K without breakfast.  Right??!!??

I Must Admit…

Over the summer, I totally forgot to give my kid breakfast.  Often.  But it was a lazy summer, right?  There is no schedule.  We had no place we had to be.  And since we always eat breakfast of some sort eventually, I had a hungry kid to remind me.  It rarely got past 8:30 am before her growling tummy won out over my distractions.

But for school, we know we have to be out the door at a certain time.  So we always sit and have breakfast together before school each morning.  This year it was fried eggs with a slice of melted cheese, salami, and a side of sliced tomato.

Embellished Eggs Over-Easy

Make these one at a time in a small, non-stick omelet or crepe pan.  Melt some butter before cracking an egg into the pan.

Right after putting the egg in the pan I slice through the albumen of the whites to help them cook faster.  Runny yolks = Yum.  Runny whites = Yuck.

Sprinkle with chives or scallions if you have them. Then quickly top it with a slice of cheese before anything has time to set up too much.  Add a layer of salami or favorite lunchmeat.

Then…  to the best of your ability…  flip the whole darn thing.  This basically gives you an over easy egg with melty cheese and fried salami on the bottom.  If I am on my game I manage to flip it back over again and slide it off onto a piece of toast or half an english muffin…  crispy edges of salami on top and hidden runny yolk on the inside.

I was not however on my game this week, seeing as how I had zero bread products of any kind in the house (oops!), plus I managed to have mine fall completely apart on my first flip.  Conveniently a jumbled mess of breakfast still tastes just as good.

And no, I did not get a photo.  Just because I managed to make breakfast does not mean it wasn’t a chaotic zoo getting out the door for school!  We’re lucky I snapped a photo of her first day at all, much less her breakfast.

I like to pour a cup of coffee with my portion of breakfast, whatever it may be, and join The Child for at least part of her meal.  She seems more inclined to talk about what’s happening in school at breakfast than at dinner.  Plus, I know that if I don’t have breakfast myself I’m…  um… difficult.

And by the way, for all of you adults out there who think you are just not a breakfast person…  trust me when I say you are difficult too.  Eat something, dammit!

Which leads us to the genius of the teacher’s welcome-to-school song.  Beyond learning names, it probably gave her a good indication as to which kids would be melting into hungry puddles before morning snack time…