Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sunday dinner

Dinner.  Love it or hate it, without fail, it comes around every single day.  Whether you're single, married, kids, no kids, living at home, in an apartment, in a house, whatever, you still have to eat dinner.  Every day.  

So hungry she'll even taste her shirt.
I've been reading through my new copy of Dinner: A Love Story and loving every minute of it.  Included are tons of recipes, lots of stories, and helpful ideas to make cooking dinner at home more of a "want to" instead of a "have to." Jenny explains the different phases that her dinner has gone through - from just her and her husband to babies to young children to older kids - and talks about what worked and what didn't, all the while including recipes that were helpful to her during those specific times.  
Sometimes I need motivation like that.  On nights when I walk into the kitchen to find dishes stacked in and around the sink, granola bar wrappers littering the counters, and a mountain of stuff on the kitchen table, it's hard not to think, "Do I really have to do this...again?!"  Since I started reading, I've been thinking about what dinner would look like (to me!) in a perfect world.  

Imagine this with me:

It's 4:00pm on Sunday afternoon.  You open up your obsessive compulsive helpful moleskin notebook where you have the entire week's dinners written out, and you notice that you've got chicken pot pie on the menu for tonight.  You leisurely walk into the kitchen, stop to admire the view of the lake out your kitchen window, then decide to open up a few windows to enjoy the cool fall breeze while you prepare dinner.  After you collect your ingredients, you start chopping:  carrots, celery, mushrooms, onions.  You decide to put some music on and choose one of your grandfather's favorites (Alan Jackson's Precious Memories) so you can think of him while you cook. You stop to admire the roses outside the window and make a mental note to go cut a few for a vase for the table.  As you stir the cream sauce, you look around and notice that during this entire time, your amazingly well-behaved and loving children have been playing quietly with your handsome and helpful husband in the next room.  You decide to make salads to go with your beautiful homemade pie and then place them on the table with plates, cups, silverware and napkins.  You go out to get some roses for the table, take a moment to breathe deep and be thankful for the day, then come back in and take your pie out of the oven.  It's beautiful and smells delicious and you feel amazing for making such a lovely dinner for your family on this beautiful fall Sunday night.  You call everyone to the table and then sit down to enjoy your lovely meal and each other for a solid 45 minutes.  Everyone contributes to the conversation (even if it's by saying "sabadooba dada ooohhh") and everyone is happy and everyone eats their dinner right up and everyone compliments the chef.

Ahhhh.  Lovely.  Sometimes, I really am able to cook an entire meal with no distractions, but dinner at our house never lasts 45 minutes and sometimes certain people decide they're not talking (side eye to Tommy...yes, I know he's five). 

Now let me tell you that I actually did open up my obsessive compulsive helpful moleskin notebook on Sunday (but much earlier than 4pm) and did indeed notice that it had chicken pot pie listed for dinner. So with the above in mind, here's the reality of my first-ever homemade (my only other experience with this dish was heating up a Marie Callender's pie in the oven) chicken pot pie attempt:

I look at the clock:  4:00pm.  Will's at youth group, Annabel is trying to take a nap, and Tommy's playing in the playroom.  I hear a quiet but insistent knock at the door.  I open it to find our almost-five-year-old neighbor, Grant, asking if Tommy can come over to play.  I get Tommy ready, tell Grant's dad that I'll be down to get T in an hour, and watch them head down the street. Then I listen for Annabel who is not taking a nap but is instead rolling around in her crib talking to herself.  But since she isn't crying, I sit down on the couch and open up my new pie book to the chicken pot pie recipe.  Then I head into the kitchen to get going.  I gather all my ingredients, put my chicken in the oven, melt some butter in the pan, and start chopping veggies.  Since I get lazy on the weekends and don't keep up with the dishes, the lunch plates and Annabel's tray and about 50 cups are sitting in and around the sink.  I don't want to get carrot peel all over the place, so I decide to put the dishes away quickly before continuing on.  I open up the dishwasher and realize that the dishes are clean and need to be put away.  Dang.  So I turn the water off, switch gears, and put all the clean dishes away.  By this point, Annabel is decidedly not taking a nap so I go up to get her, change her diaper, wash my hands, put her hair up, find her paci, bring her downstairs and put her on the floor in the kitchen to play with the play kitchen we have by the door.  Then I load up the dishwasher and continue with the peeling and chopping and cooking.  Annabel does ok for a little while and then starts toddling around getting into things.  She opens drawers which narrowly miss crashing into the top of her head, she gets into the cabinet where I keep the cookie sheets and tries to pull them out, then she gets her fingers pinched when she tries to close up the cabinet.  I pick her up, give her fingers a kiss, stir the veggies, turn the heat off, and head out the door to pick up Tommy.  I talk to Grant's parents for a few minutes and watch the boys play before we head back up the street.  When we get inside, Tommy pulls out some trucks and Annabel crawls over to take a look.  When she tries to take one, Tommy yells, "No no big girl! That's mine!" and Annabel responds with, "Eeeeeeeee! Ahhhhhh!"  So I pick her up, bring her back into the kitchen, pour the veggies into a bowl and start on the cream sauce.  
 Then the phone rings.  It's Will and he's on his way home.  As I'm stirring the sauce, Will pulls up so I go say hello and hand him the baby who immediately says, "Hiiiiieeeeyyy daaadddyyyy!" and gives him a big hug.
I head back into the kitchen to finish stirring the sauce and chop up the chicken.  
 I hear a "Hiiiieeeeyyy saabadooba yabba" in the doorway and look over to see Annabel peeking around the corner.  She heads back in and straight to me, arms up, whining.  When I don't pick her up right away, she stands up and wraps her little arms around my legs, looks up at me through her long curls, and gives me a big smile.  I pick her up, give her a kiss, take her back in the living room, hand her to Will and go continue dinner.  I finally get the pie in the oven and decide to clean the dishes I've messed up before dinner so there won't be too much for Will to do after dinner.  
 As I'm washing, Tommy comes into the kitchen, stands up on a chair behind me, puts his arms around my neck, and jumps up onto my back.  "Please give me a ride, Mama!" So I twirl around the kitchen for a few minutes with him laughing all the while, and then go back into the living room to deposit him on the rug with his trucks.  Before I set him down, Annabel crawls over, arms up, whining.  So I pick her up with Tommy still on my back and twirl both of them around before putting them down and quickly running out of the room to finish cleaning up.  Annabel follows me, crying, head down, hair in eyes, with her most pitiful look.  I quickly wash the last dish, pick her up, and hold her while I get out the salad stuff.  Before I start chopping, I put her down by the play kitchen and show her how to pop up the toast which occupies her long enough for me to wash the lettuce.  Will sings "Weeee, are never, ever, ever, everrrrrrr, getting back togetherrrr" (Taylor Swift) at the top of his lungs which makes me laugh and I sing the next line back to him.  Annabel starts crying again so I pick her up and attempt to chop the radishes while holding her.  It doesn't go so well (don't worry, there was no blood involved) so I take her back in to Will and give them some crayons and paper to color with.  As I'm walking into the kitchen, she starts crying again.  I tell her she should've taken a nap (she's not normally so fussy!) and give Will a look that says, "Please please please keep her occupied until I can get dinner on the table.  Please." Tommy comes into the kitchen with a huge piece of paper, markers, scissors, and glue and sets up shop on the table I'm about to set for dinner.  I'm able to finish the salad and get the pie out of the oven while I get out bowls and cups and forks.  In that small amount of time, Tommy has poured glue all over his paper, cut out several scraps of paper which are all over the floor, and made an A and a B with markers.  I tell him it's time to clean up and he asks me what's for dinner.  I tell him and he says he doesn't like chicken pot pie and he isn't going to eat it.  I tell him it has mushrooms in it (he loves mushrooms) and he says he's only eating the mushrooms then.  We clean up the paper and the glue and get the table set and I dish up the pie.  It looks and smells amazing, and I feel really great about making my family something wonderful and comforting for dinner.  After we pray, Will, Annabel, and I dig in and Tommy just stares at his bowl.  We try a ton of ways to get him to eat but he doesn't want to.  We try asking him about his day.  He doesn't want to talk.  Will tells me about his afternoon at church, and I tell him about our afternoon at home.  Annabel interjects here and there with her own babbles.  When she wants a bite, she furiously rubs her chest to say please (sign language) and then points to her bowl.  Will finishes up in about 10 minutes and I have barely begun eating because my baby is a bottom-less pit that must be fed first (seriously, I think she gets low blood sugar if she doesn't eat every so often and she can put. it. away at the dinner table).  So I hand him her spoon and quickly eat my own dinner (so good!) so I can get her up to bed soon since she didn't take a nap and it's getting close to 7pm.  We finally finish up (Tommy really did only eat his mushrooms) and I head upstairs to give the kids a bath and get them in bed.  They are both asleep by 7:40.  

(By the way, after re-reading all of that, I noticed that it might sound like Will was not very helpful when in reality, he was doing everything he could to keep Annabel occupied.  When she gets tired and fussy like that, she only has eyes for Mama and would have screamed until I came to get her if he had picked her up and tried to keep her in the living room.)

That was my Sunday night cooking and eating experience. Crazy. With all of that going on, sometimes I wonder if dinner for me right now is a "love story" or a "just get through it" story.  But here's what I've realized as I've read through my new book:  as much as I fantasize about walking into the kitchen and making a meal from start to finish without one single distraction, it turns out that I actually enjoy the distractions.  I knew that having kids would change the way I did everything (although I really had no can't really know until you know?), and I'm thankful that I'm in this season of life with a busy working husband and two active children.  Although it can often be very overwhelming, there's not much I love more than cooking my family a nice dinner no matter how fast they eat it (or refuse to eat it) or how little they say or how many hoops I have to jump through in the process.  

Maybe it's because I also know that with kids involved, life at the table will always be evolving.  We went through the same phase with Tommy that we're going through with Annabel right now (throwing food everywhere, dropping her cup a million times, etc).  And soon (probably sooner than I'm really ready for), this will all pass and the distractions will be things like homework questions and drum practice and friends who end up staying over to eat with us.  So it turns out that right now, dinner for me actually is a love story.  Nobody was more shocked to figure that out than me.  

This is all that's left of the chicken pot pie:
It was totally worth the effort and craziness.  I could seriously eat this every single day and actually, I have...every day this week for if you'll excuse me, I'll be at the gym running off all those calories.  Oh wait, I can just chase my new walking girl around the house all day.  Yes, that will do.  

Here's to the crazy beautiful production that is dinner!  Every.  Single.  Day.  I hope you're enjoying it as much as I am.


  1. Chels....YES!!!!! I was tearing up reading this because I know exactly what you mean!!! It can be hard some days, but then I try to remind myself to just relax and take it all in because before I know it, these days will be just a memory!!
    Can I just say again that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this blog!!! : )
    And.....I need to get that book!

  2. You are an amazing mother, wife, person!!! Love you, your family and this blog - thanks for sharing it with all of us!!!

  3. Deb, I so wish we were neighbors :)

    Stephanie, thank you :)

  4. I remember one night throwing together some ground turkey casserole. (cazzerole) Everyone just sat at the table very quietly - probably afraid to speak up about how awful it was - and hurt my feelings. When I finally got to the table and tried it . . . . I picked up the whole thing and threw it away! Remember that you three? I don't recall, but I think it became "cereal night". :)

  5. I think I need to check out that book becuase dinner time is definitely not a love story at our house! I struggle with what to make for dinner every single day. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Love you and love this blog! Joe and I were just talking about this same sentiment...about not complaining about the issues of the day, but to be thankful for all of it b/c it is LIFE! And your post helped put that into perspective even more so! Love every minute of every day b/c you never know when it will be your last... xoxo