{Day 13} Real Meals Part I: The Contemplative Cook

Ridiculously amazing burgers from the summer. A rare carnivorous achievement for this mostly-vegetarian {flexitarian?} cook. 

I loved cooking until I had to cook.

When I got married, I received a beautiful array of cookbooks and I just couldn’t wait to whip up gourmet deliciousness in the kitchen each night . I worked an 8-5 job and my husband was in graduate school. I had the energy that comes with early 20s {and that you totally don’t appreciate at that point} and big cooking dreams.

An ambitious newlywed, I dished up everything from coq au vin to teriyaki stir-frys in my galley kitchen the size of a shoe-box. It was delightful. And really, what else did I have to do? 

Several years later I began graduate school myself. Life was sort of intense and insane and though I still cooked, we ate a lot of take-out and quick-fix stuff. But I still enjoyed cooking and baking in the kitchen…when I felt like it.

Once Blondie arrived, I made all of her baby food and still managed to cook grown-up food when I wasn’t buried in books and papers. But if I didn’t cook a big family dinner every evening, she didn’t care. She was too busy smearing pureed sweet potatoes on the table.

Fast forward 10 years. We’re a family of five and I have two boys…who will eat like grown men in just a few years. Because I homeschool, I prepare {or at least supervise} not one or two, but three meals for us each and every day. 

As soon as I clean up from breakfast, it feels like I’m pulling out the stuff for lunchtime sandwiches. As for dinner? Well, dinner has the nerve to show up every evening whether I invite her or not.

The girl who used to dream up nightly gourmet meals has become a worn-out mom who has a love / growl relationship with the kitchen. 

When cooking felt more like art, I relished it. Now that it feels more like duty, I often resent it.

To add insult to culinary injury, kid and family magazines show up in my mailbox touting grilled-cheese sandwiches in the shape of sailboats and castles made out of pancakes. You know, to make mealtime more “fun” for my kids.

Where is the magazine that shows how to make mealtime more fun for mamas? When will my kids start making risotto and rolling up some sushi for good ol’ mom? 

Though I’ve tried meal planning approaches, I’ve never found a hard and fast “system” that really worked for me long-term. 

These days, I usually have ingredients for a week’s worth of meals. I go to the store once or twice a week or I work with what we have. I don’t stockpile a freezer because I don’t have an extra freezer. My non-plan plan works okay for us and I somehow manage to have food on the table each night without feeling too much stress. 

My secret? Realistic standards and expectations. Some may call it being an underachiever but I call it not being an overachiever. 

Like a lot of real families, we don’t have tremendous variety. We have a rotation of tried and true dinners and yes, sometimes that gets boring. I still love to read cookbooks for fun and I dog-ear Southern Living recipes all the time. Breaks and holidays still bring out the foodie in me and I hope that never changes.

I’m glad there are still rare occasions when cooking feels like art. And I think that one day I’ll enjoy more art in the kitchen than I experience now. 

As for this season of my life, I often remind myself that I’ve chosen to prioritize other things and because these other good things take a lot of time and energy, I have to say no to different good things that also require time and energy. It’s called opportunity cost and I’ve written about it before

Homeschool means lesson plans, teaching, and research. {And sometimes hiding under the covers and rocking back and forth in the fetal position.} I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my precious time writing, reading, being creative at home, or just leaving the house altogether to regain sanity.

My family still eats a reasonably healthy meal most nights and we sit at the table together. “Well-balanced” sometimes means a frozen cheese pizza, steamed broccoli and apple slices. It’s not Pioneer Woman but it works for us. 

It’s just one of the many ways I’m learning to accept and embrace the life we live right now. My kids are happy, fed, and loved. Sometimes {most times actually} you have to camp out in the land of just fine instead of in the pages of Bon Appetit

Tomorrow, I’ll share a few of my own go-to meals. I’ve shared them before but I think we need to reintroduce them. I hope you’ll share some of yours too!

{Click on the button for the list of all the days 
& topics thus far.}


  1. says

    Our go-to?
    Farm Fresh Eggs on thin bagel slices or your bread??
    We also do organic hamburger/spaghetti a lot.
    When all else fails … I call Pizza Hut.
    Driving to SC today.
    Love you…

    • says

      Wow I love this story! You get the feeling of closeness of a community that Congress lacks. A community that works as a team and one that is engaged with civil discourse. Would be great to have a person such as Don German to consider using his talents to help mend fences in Coshners.Tganks for a great story that shows the flavor of that small community.

  2. says

    Have I told you that I LOVE you and your writing.
    You are the only blog I read on a regular basis.
    I’m coming to see you this year, or flying you up here whether you like it or not.

  3. says

    Camp out in the land of just fine. I like that thought. I think you’re right about over-achieving being sort of the norm–or at least the norm of expectations. Here’s to grilled-cheese sandwiches shaped like rectangles and pancakes shaped like circles!

  4. says

    One of my greatest gifts was the Food Network, not because they taught me how to cook, but because my daughter got so tired of my lack of kitchen enthusiasm that she watched it all the time and now SHE is the gourmet around these parts.

    I think sometimes with all of the amped up and “fun” stuff that we forget that the point is nourishment that, hopefully, tastes good.

    I’m so enjoying hearing all of your thoughts on this and other subjects! :)

  5. Marte Lee says

    So loving your blog! Sarah Jane introduced me to it. It’s so refreshing and real. Thanks for sharing. You are a talented lady!!

  6. Anonymous says

    Whoa! Your kids are “happy, fed and loved.” You, my dear, have achieved greatness in my book!

    Fantastic post.


  7. Anonymous says

    Whoa! Your kids are “happy, fed and loved.” You have achieved greatness, my dear.

    Fantastic post!


    PS If this comment shows up twice, it’s because I appear to be “comment-challenged” today and don’t know where the first one went.

  8. says

    The Absent Gami2#8&30;Involveng me and my husband we have owned a lot more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (traditional & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few ages I’ve settled down to one line of gamers….

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