Dinner in Real Life

One of the subjects I really wanted to delve with this blog, and one of the books I fantasize about writing, is How to Be a Home Cook. I don’t mean how to make a bechamel sauce or caramelize blood oranges. I mean how to put healthy food on the table and into your family’s belly, day after day after day.

macaroni and cheese'n'fish'n'peas, a toddler fave. With whole wheat noodles, mama's happy too.

There’s a million cookbooks out there, and I’ve yet to find one that really covers the subject. Maybe they used to write them, back before housewifery got put in the doghouse. Now the only kind of cooking that’s cool to do is weekend-brag-cooking. Loads of books can walk you through taking all of Saturday to create an impressive 5 course dinner for eight (adults only), they’ll tell you just what to drink with it too. And I don’t mean whether to get your water out of the tap or the Britta.

But what about the cooking we do every day? Every. Single. Day. Breakfast, quick before it’s time to go. Lunch of foraged leftovers. Dinner– shit is it already 5:00?!

The shopping lists, the balancing thrifty with responsible, the kitchen layout and pantry storage, the bare minimum tools, thawing in the morning to cook in the evening, taking everyone’s appetite into account, starting meals with what you’ve got instead of the other way round, trying to make the same old ingredients taste new all over again, using up everything before it goes bad, and importantly, how to keep your spark alive under the day-to-day weight of it.

In any revolution, the mundane, basic changes often get lost under the big, fun, showy changes. You know I’m all for gardening, preserving the harvest, crafting punk goodies of any type. But at the base of it all should be the simple, understated and vastly underestimated task of cooking wholesome food for your family every day.

I wrote about my own style of cooking some time back in the post Not Menu Planners. Basically, open the fridge and see what needs using. The only problem with so rarely following recipes is that I easily get stuck in cooking ruts. My spark sputters. A fridge full of gorgeous garden produce and wholesome groceries, and all I want to do is order pizza.

When I asked for survival tips the other day, y’all offered up the jacket potatoes and fried rice suggestions, both of which are beautifully simple yet for some reason, I hardly ever make. I realized I need to break out some. I started a new discussion over at Homegrown about good, easy, healthy meals, but I know you’re not all signed up over there, and I certainly don’t want to be the one to lure you into more computer staring. Nevertheless I don’t want anyone (and their kitchenbrain full of good ideas) to get left out. So leave all your family’s secret non-recipes for good home cookin’ right here in the comments.

For some of my faves, check out this old post It’s What’s Fer Dinner. And, even though it’s considered winter fare, I just have to mention pot roast, which is the ultimate in easy, delicious food.

19 thoughts on “Dinner in Real Life

  1. I don’t believe in “winter” food. Any food, any time of year. Chili in July? Iced sweet tea in January? All is fair in my kitchen.

    Found your blog via Northwest Edible Life and I’m glad I did. :)

  2. Oh A-Men. Or should that be A-Wo-Men. Either way, I’m with you on this. Go-to meals?

    Big pan of sauted greens with onion, garlic and chili pepper. Or, with fire-roasted tomatoes, and a little parm sprinkled on top. Pair with chicken breasts baked in home canned chili and tomato sauce, DONE.

    I’ve been loving the Indian pouch spice mixes/sauces lately: no preservatives, and perfect with tofu or just roasted cauliflower and potatoes, or cut the potatoes and do sauted veggies of choice and brown rice. Lots of great flavor.

    I’ve been practicing this letting go of traditional menus/recipes and going free form with a super healthy eye, and it has become much less stressful and time consuming. One roast on Sunday is a great thing to have, and making a big pot of vegetable soup with leftovers frozen is good too…..

  3. Hey CJ: This discussion is something that needs to happen and be written about. The mundane day to day. It breaks you down. The mind gets lazy. Creativity often succumbs to “the grind.” And with kids it gets soooo much harder! “I don’t like that!” “You’re cooking THAT for dinner?” “Spaghetti again?” It’s enough to make you order take-out. So yeah, I’m all for that cookbook. Ordinary. Everyday things. Then maybe under each some other ideas to jazz it up or alternate ingredients to add. I want my copy signed please!

  4. Please write this book! Or write an ebook. See I love to bake, garden, sew, etc… But cook? Oh hells no!

    Certainly I can cook, but since my parents are foodies all the recipes I know include insane ingredients and doing things like salting and drying a roast for three days. Who the fuck has time for that when working full-time outside the home? Hell, who other than devoted cooks has time for that, period?

    So I’ll totally check out the discussion b/c now that McClain is getting older I have got to offer some sort of dinner. I can’t just pull out the baby food I made from the freezer. Plus another summer of roasted vegetables is going to get old.

    Also what the hell is a jacket potato?

    1. jacket potato=baked potatoes
      as per the book, i didn’t mean i actually want to write a book. did you notice i said “fantasize?” the way i fantasize about moving to Spain, for example. writing a book sounds like a pain in the arse. writing a blog is deliciously instant gratification. plus my readers talk back to me.
      maybe in another 20 years, when my kids are grown and gone and i need a new all-consuming project, and the third (fourth? fifth?) wave of DIY fads is coming around, and no one remembers how to cook at all. then i’ll sweep in with my book.
      until then, you’ll have to make do with my slowly metered out blog posts covering the topic in a random and disorderly fashion.
      maybe i’ll make a special page for you though, with links to all those posts. that would be slick. if i can figure out how.

  5. Hey, are you trying to steal everyone’s recipes for your book??!! LOL It’s always good to have some new perspectives on ‘real food’ or ways to jazz up your old standards. Being a (part time) working parent, we rely alot on Make In Advance, so I cook two meals at once, and evenm on the days/ nights I am not working, how pleasant it is the next evening when I realise, Oh, hey, that’s right, tonight’s dinner is already done!

  6. I totally agree that what is REALLY impressive when us mom’s manage to put a healthy, tasty, economical meal on the table day-in and day-out. Chefs do not impress me. Mom/home-cooks DO. What I’m making lately: fried rice with bacon and asparagus; skillet pizza with mozzarella and broccolli, roast chicken, polenta, greens, then chick soup, leftover chick with pasta and chard…and always, always, tacos with whatever is in the fridge and beans and fresh corn tortillas. Emergency dinner: grilled cheeses, sliced oranges, bowl of carrots (“orange dinner’). PLEASE write that book. Have never found one quite like it!

  7. AArrrgggh! I’ve tried all day, finally got registered at homegrown and it won’t let me reply yet! But before I forget, I love, love making scrambled eggs with silverbeet, greens stuff etc; potato pancakes with anything else in them (tonight it was bacon, carrot, onion and zucchini), and just ordinary ol’ pancakes. Also, minestrone but instead of leaving it as ‘soup’, I throw in heaps of pasta at the end and put grated cheese on top. The kids love it, big ol’ bowls of it!

    Have a good time this week CJ, I’ve just had the fella head back out to work this morning, and we’re all a bit stuffed after a 5am rise leading in to a 13 hour day. Kids had heaps of distractions though, so that kept them happy. Plus, like I said, they put themselves off to sleep now which helps me relax knowing I won’t be putting the 4yr old to bed 10 times in the first hour of him laying down any more! Now, I’m stuffed. Off to make a cuppa and surf these lovely blogs and the (new to me) homegrown site!

  8. here’s a toddler favourite from 30 years ago when mine were little. and vegetarian but you can adapt.

    * a big bowl of spinach or chard
    * an onion
    * an egg or 2
    * grated cheese

    wash, chop, steam spinach.
    fry onion.
    mix thoroughly with cheese and beaten egg
    put in a greased loaf tin and bake.

    turn out and eat hot or cold in slices.

    line the tin with bacon.
    add mushrooms or any leftover cooked veg.
    add cold lentil soup and slice up for lunch boxes.
    add cold mashed potato to make it more substantial.
    bake in a crust and it goes further.

    in fact, you can cook up any leftover cooked veg, fish, meat, in beaten egg (it’s called spanish omelette/fritata etc., depending on where you come from) and cheese seems to make it more pleasing to small people.

  9. This is the same topic that I keep coming back to on my blog. Every day food. The food that gets little tummys filled and not spread around the table. Food doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to be accessible and easy…and healthy.
    These days I do a lot of dinners that will roll into each other. Bolognese turns into mexican (add beans and different spices), which turns into huevos rancheros. Rice and something, turns into fried rice the next night. No waste, it looks different, and not too much every day effort.

  10. You’re kidding! I was literally just walking the dog the other day thinking, you know, it’d be really great if Meadow made a cookbook. For exactly the same reasons you listed above. Nothing spectacular or fancy, but how do you get kids to eat kale on a daily basis?

    1. lets be clear, my kids don’t eat kale every day. you are maybe remembering when the oldest first started eating and could down a big ole plate of it… things have changed. apart from a recent love affair with steamed spinach she won’t eat much in the way of greens anymore.
      as mentioned in another comment reply, i in fact have no intention of actually writing a book. only fantasies of having written a book. important distinction.
      but thanks for your vote of confidence.

  11. Here was the last unplanned dinner I made that surprised me for nutritional value and speed/ease of preparation:
    Jeff had found an old food processor at the transfer station that still worked and we had cleaned it out. I had several cans of garbanzo beans left from last year’s Anchorage shopping trip so I made a very plain hummus. Cucumber slices and snap peas for dipping. Couscous, butter and cheese.

  12. Nice topic. And yes, I agree with everyone else, you’d be great at writing a book and I’d be out there buying it too!

    My favourite recipe of the moment is coronation coleslaw:

    Shred/grate carrot and cabbage
    Add sultanas/chopped dried apricots
    Add mayonnaise, mango chutney and curry powder

    It’s a great winter salad when there’s not much else fresh and seasonal and if you make a big batch, you can eat it in lots of different ways over the course of a few days – obviously as a salad on side of another dish, but it’s also great in cheese sandwiches and is particularly tasty mixed into pasta with fish or bacon or chunks of chicken mixed in for a bit of protein.

    The colours are fantastic if the cabbage you use is either a red cabbage or a lovely rich green savoy cabbage (or both) and like this, it makes quite a fancy looking dinner side dish for if you’ve got friends round. And being so quick, it’s ideal when you need to juggle cooking with getting the baby down!

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