Alright, suckas, it’s day 2, and: success!  Boom goes the dynamite!

I was so freaking domestic today, you will not believe it.  Remarkably, I might say.  I took the 3 year old to piano class this morning, and after that it was all domestic science.  I cleaned, you know, as usual, but I prepped dinner while he was napping, and I felt so… organized.  Productive.  Tired.

I made the Butternut Squash Barley Risotto that I had planned on yesterday.  I’m liking this new cookbook because it combines unusual flavors.  For example, I wouldn’t normally put a cinnamon stick and a bay leaf together in a stock, but that’s what this called for, so, booyah.  The cinnamon stick actually provided today’s Keystone cop moment.  I bought a jar of cinnamon sticks the other day– I’ve really only ever used ground cinnamon– and when time came to put it in the stock, I couldn’t get one out of the jar.

The sticks were packed so tightly that they were not moving.  I was shaking it, trying to shove my finger in there, and all the while that cooking panic was settling in: The 30 minutes of simmering has started!  All the other ingredients are in there!  Hurry up!  You are going to RUIN this recipe if you don’t get that cinnamon stick in there in the next 10 seconds!

So I dove for the cutlery drawer and grabbed a chopstick, which, thankfully, fit into one of the larger sticks.  I wedged it in there and gingerly pulled the stick out and hurled in into the pot, thank GOODNESS.  I know, the high stakes drama of broth-making.

But seriously, how do they expect you to get these sticks out?

these are the sticks AFTER I'd already taken one out

So I also prepped everything  by chopping, dicing, etc. and setting things aside.  I’m telling you, I could cook so much more if I had a sous chef.  Anyone interested, send your resume along.  There’s no pay, mind you, but there’s gotta be someone out there who’s independently wealthy and has mad knife skillz.  And wants to spend his or her days in my kitchen chopping vegetables.  Right?

So, back to the mad knife skillz.  Besides having to peel and dice a butternut squash, which I find tedious and difficult, I also had to finely dice two shallots, grate fresh Parmesan cheese, juice a lemon and finely dice the zest, and chop mint leaves, which I skipped because I have to draw the taste line somewhere and I know my kids won’t eat it with mint in it.  And this all takes time.  I figure, the best thing I can do for myself is to gain me some fast cutting ability.  But sadly, I’m pretty sure it’s all about practice, and that just means… more time.  I’m ok with the knife skills, even if I do cut myself emergency room-style about once a year, but I’m not fast.  If I had one super power, it would be super power knife abilities.  For. Sure.

I love it when I cut into a butternut squash and the interior is bright orange. That's a good squash.

It turned out pretty well.  Interestingly, the 6 year old liked the barley, and the 3 year old liked the squash.  So, together they ate one serving.

the final product looks a little plain without the mint

During the nap I also whipped up a fresh loaf of whole wheat olive oil bread, which really just required shaping, sitting, and baking, because I already had the dough in the fridge.  But still.

now that's bread

So, all this organized productivity brings me to my domestic history lesson.  If y’all haven’t heard of Mrs. Beeton, let me introduce you.  Isabella Beeton was kind of the Martha Stewart of the nineteenth century.  (In fact, Martha references her in the introduction to her Homekeeping Handbook.)  She wrote possibly the best known and most popular household manual, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in final form in 1861.  It’s truly a fascinating book, and if you are interested you can get a copy from Oxford’s World Classics; it’s still in print.  In fact, there’s an eVersion here.

I thought about Isabella a lot today as I pondered this eating in experiment and what it might mean for the future of my home.  And I felt as if Mrs. Beeton was speaking directly to me when she explains, “we may add, that to be a good housewife does not necessarily imply an abandonment of proper pleasures or amusing recreation; and we think it the more necessary to express this, as the performance of the duties of a mistress may, to some minds, perhaps seem to be incompatible with the enjoyment of life.”  And I’m thinking, all right, sister, can I still have me some amusing recreation while preparing all my family’s meals?  I’m really wondering.  I’m in the “some minds” camp, because I spent essentially all my free time (that is, time not spent playing Legos, wiping someone’s butt, letting the dog in and out, picking people up from school(s), and the like) prepping the evening’s meal.  What’s the answer, people?

I’ve come up with a few ideas, but I’m curious if anyone else has some advice here.  Here are my options as I see them:

  • make less elaborate meals (which is what I often resort to– plain pasta with broccoli, or whatever)
  • buy more prepackaged/precut/ready to use stuff (shallots?)
  • somehow develop Jamie Oliver-like knife speed
  • give up all my free time to preparing food for the family
  • spend Sunday preparing food for the week

Or, perhaps, some combination of these things.  In an ideal world, I’d really want to have fantastic, delicious, healthy meals every night of the week.  And not have to spend all my free time doin’ it.  I just don’t know what that looks like.  I’d love to know how you all deal with this problem, if you do.

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  • February 23, 2010, 10:16 pm Amanda

    I am humbled by your Martha-eat-your-heart-out day! Back when I used to cook a lot more regularly, I noticed the more you cook, the faster it goes! Glad the challenge is inspiring you :)

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 6:41 am Erika

    Great post and great question. I think part of the enjoyment should (and probably does) come from cooking. Now, when you have to do it on a schedule and ALL THE TIME it becomes a little less recreational and amusing. I think you are right, a combo of preparing stuff ahead of time (like that beautiful bread), finding ways to simplify recipes, repurposing leftovers. And, I agree with Amanda, the more you do, the faster it goes. You won’t be doing new recipes and wrestling with cinnamon sticks every time. I can’t wait to hear more updates! Isabella would be proud.

    Watch out for some of the prepackaged stuff. I got food poisoning once from pre-diced onions, so did my sister in law.

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 9:09 am Becky

    “Playing Legos, wiping someone’s butt, letting the dog in and out, picking people up from school(s), and the like” pretty much describes my life too. I’m not attempting the total eating in thing right now (for example, I went out last night and Matt took the kids to Chick-fil-a), but my solution to the time crunch is a combination of cooking simpler meals and making enough that there will be leftovers.

    A big staple around here is lentil and sausage soup. I make that almost once a week, I’d say. The kids also love pesto bowtie pasta. I use that “Barilla plus” pasta and consider it a healthfood. Luckily they will pretty much eat steamed broccoli and steamed asparagus now, even Hank, because we make it a race (nice manners, I know). So I like those simple, one-pot meals.

    My other question was, after you said you were prepping during your littlest’s naptime, do you have to play with him pretty much the whole time he’s awake? Or can you get by with having him entertain himself while you’re in the kitchen? I just think of naptime as the Golden Time, and using it food prep would make me a Remarkably Cranky woman!

    Longest comment evah.

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 9:17 am bethpc

    So glad to know I’m not the only one spending most of her day wiping someone’s butt. :-)

    I use that Barilla Plus stuff, too, and also consider it a health food. We are definitely having leftovers tonight. I also realized that the meal I made yesterday which essentially required two hours of active labor (yes, kinda like birthing a child) was way too much for a weekday. I should have made it on the weekend.

    I actually am doing other stuff while the 3 yo is awake, so I’m not playing with him probably nearly as much as I should. (Like right now, when he’s on PBSKids.com.) I’m emptying the dishwasher, cleaning up dishes, doing laundry, yadda yadda. And I feel guilty about that, too, that I’m not on the floor with him most of the time we’re together.

    Have you tried roasted asparagus? My kids’ fave. Drizzle with olive oil, a little salt n pepa, put it on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 7 minutes. It’s super delish.

    Erika, no precut shallots for me, then. :-)

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 9:44 am Becky

    Not to hijack (the roasted asparagus sounds great!), but I too struggle with the feelings of guilt over not playing on the floor more, and I think we need to cut ourselves some slack. If they are happily engaged on their own, I think it’s a sign we’ve done something right. I do try not to say no to too many requests of “Mom will you play legos with me?”

    But I have a confession to make. I am tired of playing legos.

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 9:49 am bethpc

    My confession: there is little else I want to do LESS right now than play Legos. Unless we are going to build me a super cool Lego vacation home. Then I’m in.

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 3:12 pm Erica Long

    Now that I know what your bread tastes like, I will always feel a little taunted when you post pictures of new loaves. Like a dangling carrot. Lol. Seriously though, you make some of the best bread ever!

    Have you ever tried the pre-peeled and cut butternut squash from Trader Joe’s? It may save you a lot of time and energy.

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 10:05 pm Paola

    I always keep some homemade pesto, red sauce (no meat) and broth in the freezer in small containers. When I know I won’t have a lot of time to prepare, I can count on some easy pasta dishes or tortellini in broth. Just add some veggies or salad on the side, fruit, and you have a meal. Pesto is really fast to make, but the sauce and broth take much longer. Maybe one day every 6-8 weeks or so I devote to making them.

    Reply
  • February 24, 2010, 10:11 pm bethpc

    I meant to reply to you the other day, Paola… you are such a fantastic Italian cook, I’m digging out your old list of suggestions to me for meals in my quest to eat at home more! :-)

    Reply
  • February 25, 2010, 5:31 pm Paola

    Thanks, Beth. I think you’re much more creative than I am, though. I do really simple things most of the time. I’m trying to add some variety, and your blog has been really helpful in that (we LOVE the zucchini coins! and I now mix flaxseed into all of my breaded dishes). I think when I gave you that list I didn’t realize you were vegetarian, so it’s probably heavy on the meat recipes. Anyway, keep up the great work!! I’m off to do some dinner prep right now…

    Reply
  • April 10, 2010, 10:10 am innBrooklyn

    Thanks for posting this link on our site: its fun to find a fellow vegetable-eating, bread-baking, food-politic-book-reading, daring-cooking blogger out here in the internet! The risotto looks great, I will flag it in the book, though with that book its almost necessary to flag the stuff you do not want to make!!

    Reply