The Recipe That Made Me Cry 'Uncle'

So, how’d it go? The “whole foods, nothing processed” for a week thing? Oh, let me tell you.

  • Monday=fine
  • Tuesday=fine
  • Wednesday=fine
  • Thursday=laying on the kitchen floor crying ‘uncle.’
  • Friday=pizza

Last Sunday, we kicked off a week of eating like it was 1947. The goal was nothing processed from bag or box. I wasn’t particularly interested in WWII-era recipes. We just had to make food at home that our grandmothers would recognize.

Why? It was challenge to me as the main food-fixer. My style is semi-homemade. Each meal is a mix of scratch and prepared foods and I thought I could do a little better. It was also a challenge to the family as the main food-eaters.  I’d give us a B+ in family eating overall. We only eat out once a week. We even have a garden (that I’m pretty sure is trying to kill me- but that’s a story for a different post.) And, no one is super picky but, again, I thought we could do a little better.

The plan was to make dinner at home each night as we normally do. Only, I was going to sub-in home-made versions of familiar foods that I typically buy pre-made such as meatballs and fish sticks.

Whole foods meal plan

Whole foods meal plan

I’d also found 3 non-dinner recipes to try for foods we typically buy: bread, breakfast sausage, and cheese crackers.

To help you gauge the level of difficulty for me, I assign a “sweat score” on a 0 (easy) - 10 (crazy hard, never doing this again) scale for each.

Let’s begin.

Monday: Sweat score = 1.

We started off nice and easy on Monday. All I had to do was open a can of beans, put some brown rice on the stove, and microwave some sweet potatoes. I hate to brag but I could have made this on the back of the van with only a knife, a bottle of Aquafina, and a strong magnifying glass. I’ll concede the point that I should have baked the sweet potatoes but the heat index made it feel like 104 degrees outside. I couldn’t stand the thought of turning on the oven for 45 minutes. With a quick chopped salad and a couple of hard-boiled eggs for Brian and me, we were all set.

Because I have awesome ideas, we also made lemonade. No surprise here. They liked it. And, I’m pretty sure they were eating spoonfuls of sugar when I turned my back. Oh well.

Tuesday: Sweat score = 3.

Taco Tuesday was up next. The recipes weren’t complicated but the circumstances made things a little tricky. We’d planned to go to the pool and eat. That means packing everything up in the cooler. It seems like one extra steps that is actually about 40 extra steps and as many dishes to wash. There were a couple flashes of heat lightning which meant the pool was closed. We were back around the dining room table and eating out of our 40 little Tupperware containers. Part of this menu was corn tortilla chips from scratch. It’s one of those non-recipe recipes where you cut up corn tortillas, fry them, and then put as much salt as as your little heart desires. I typically like these, but I burned almost every single one. The kids ate 1 or two and Brian mercifully ate the rest. Love that guy.

Wednesday: Sweat score = 6.

Wednesday’s spaghetti and meatballs meal should have been easy. Marinara is the first thing I learned to cook in college from my dear friend and cooking mentor, Lianne. I managed to get the basic sauce and meatballs into the pot before I picked up the little kids. Win! And, then UGH. I started to sweat. I felt crunched for time when we got home. Brian had a late meeting, so I was on my own.

All I had to do was make the pasta and shred some zucchini for myself and that suddenly felt really hard. I’d promised the kids a make-up trip to the pool but didn’t want to pack everything up. They were bouncing around as they changed. Little balled up socks and underwear were all over the kitchen. They couldn’t have cared less about eating. Meanwhile, I’m stressing about checking the box on some arbitrary challenge I created for myself and asking myself why.

Thursday, Thursday, Thursday. Sweat score = 43.

I was on my own again because Brian was working late. (I should say for the record that is incredibly rare and should have made me reconsider making this “whole foods” week.) I’d been in back-to-back meetings all day (meaning no time for food prep) and had to pick up all of kids. You’d think being reunited with your children after a long day would be a joy. Well, let me tell you, this “joy” of motherhood get sucked right out when it gathering them up takes an hour+ round-trip in Northern Virginia traffic. So even before things got bad, I’d been doubting myself and my plan for the night.

  • 2pm: Consider scrapping the whole thing and just going to Panera. I’d forgotten to take out the fish and the dishwasher was already full of dirty dishes- two seemingly little things that felt insurmountable.
  • 2:15: Scold myself for being so weak. “Just stick to the plan, just stick to the plan” is the self-talk in my head while nodding politely to my client across the table talking about her upcoming retreat.
  • 3:15: Leave client meeting, running behind schedule. Pick up hot and sweaty kid 1 and hotter and sweatier friend 1. Deliver friend 1 to her house and head home for no more than 10 minutes of email to close out the day.
  • 5pm: An hour and 45 minutes later, leave to get kids 2 and 3. Tell them in the car that if they cooperate while I’m making dinner I’ll take them to the concert in the park.
  • 6pm: Get home. My bribe backfires. The kids start fighting over camp-made slime while commanding Alexa to play Imagine Dragons 45 times in a row. Linc polishes off 4 packets of applesauce while deploying all of his emergency vehicles. He must have had a feeling some shit was about to go down. The firetruck, police car, and ambulance were around my feet.

Meanwhile, I’m frantically trying to bake salmon and bread fish sticks.

I manage to get those in the oven and then read the tater tot recipe for the first time.

The most ridiculous tater tot recipe in the history of the world starts something like this…  

Boil your bazillion potatoes and, then while they’re still hot, peel them, grate them, and form little balls with a bunch of other sticky stuff. Gently place your little balls in 100 gallons of boiling oil and poke them softly with a spoon so they cook evenly while the splatters burn off all of the skin on your hands.

No. Just no. Fuck that. I’m sorry. No fucking way. Nobody even really tater tots (this is a lie.) You're a poor excuse for a spud. I fucking hate you While I’m cussing out this recipe (in my head, Dad!), my salmon caught fire.

Unfortunately this wasn't a recipe for blacked salmon- robin camarote

I scream. Then, like magic, the kids stop screaming. They look at me. Blinking. If the floor wasn’t so disgusting, I would have literally laid down. Uncle!

  • 6:38pm: Wipe a little tear from my eye and put what I have on the table: scraped salmon, fish sticks, every piece of fruit I could find, and a couple of lonely carrots from the bottom of the fridge. For the first time in their lives, my little people had a dinner with no starch. They nibble politely.
  • 6:54pm: Walk out the door. Every dish in the house is dirty. Bits of slime, flour, and an ambulance are on the counter.
  • 7:04pm: (I'm now settled on our blanket at the park listening to this adorable polka band while the kids play.) Get frantic call from Brian who’s now home and has seen the mess. He’s sure we’re in the emergency room somewhere. “Nope, honey. I just gave up. See you in a few. Kisses!”
  • 8pm: Bring happy and still-hungry kids home to a sparkling clean kitchen. Feed them ice cream for dinner and give them extra squirts of chocolate syrup to help erase their memories.

Friday. Sweat score = -8.

We order pizza by the pool while I drink Chardonnay from a paper cup. Life is back to normal and all is well.

Reflecting on the week, here’s what I learned:

  1. The kids didn’t miss the chips and pretzels. They were fine.
  2. I CAN bake! I conquered this overnight bread recipe on the second try (and after getting some yeast that was younger than Linc.) It might have been the best thing I’ve ever made. I’ll work on the breakfast sausage and cheddar crackers later in the summer.
  3. Semi-homemade works for me. Taking a couple of short-cuts saves the whole meal. If I had to do everything from scratch all the time, I’d ‘cry uncle’ and hit the drive-through way more often. That’s a 2017 advancement I think the grandmothers would approve of.
Perhaps the best thing I've ever made

Perhaps the best thing I've ever made

The experience gave me even more respect for Connie, Frances, Emily, and Jesse- four amazing women, our grandmothers. I can only imagine their “sweat score” feeding 27 kids with less money and less time. By the time I got to know them in their 60s, they seemed pretty chill as they sat back with their white zin with an ice cube in it watching their kids (our parents) sweat it out. Circle of life, I guess.

So, what's on the agenda for our Summer "Learn to Try" Challenge for Week 4?

Ride in the first car of a roller coaster. No sweat!