Good enough shepherd’s pie

A friend recently posted on Facebook that she had finally eaten her first meal of the day. It was around 8pm.

I’ve had days—no, weeks and months—when I could barely feed myself, too. Even now, when my daughter is seven months old and taking naps, I wander the kitchen, peering into the fridge and poking around in the cabinets. I eat probably eight times a day—EIGHT—so finding something appetizing and easy that I haven’t already nibbled on several times already is nearly impossible.

My mom was pretty much the only reason I was able to eat during the hard months. I couldn’t muster the energy to shower let alone cook a meal, but my mom kept our fridge stocked and cooked for us several times a week. She made us soup, pasta, Yumm bowls, enchiladas. If it’s been a few hours since I ate, she’ll set a bowl of fruit salad and a bagel with Toby’s tofu pate in front of me. And—get this—she washes the dishes afterwards.

My mother is the Saint of Keeping Catherine Fed.

So when my friend noted going hungry, I decided to make her a meal. Since I was at it, I would triple the recipe, keeping one for myself and sending another to a different friend who recently suffered a loss.

I piled the ingredients into my cart. (A bald guy stopped me in the canned tomato aisle. “I have to ask—what are all the peppers for?”) Three days later, I finally summoned the motivation to cook the meal.

Looking back, I laugh at the recipe. “1 hour active time,” it says. Try an entire day.

I started washing vegetables, boiling potatoes and sautéing onions around 10am. I finally assembled the shepherd’s pies at 5pm.

I peeled carrots and mashed Yukon Golds in spare moments between feeding Peeper, putting her down for naps, feeding Finn, conducting interviews for work and occasionally eating something.

When my husband got home, I could barely contain my frustration. I was stirring veggies in the biggest skillet we own. My back hurt, and I felt I’d been in the kitchen all day with hardly anything to show for it—except mountains of dirty dishes.

“It’s so hard to get anything done,” I vented.

“You do so much,” he said. “You’re a great mama.”

I didn’t listen at the time. I was too busy stirring, at least until my phone rang and I turned off the range again, this time to conduct another interview.

I often feel as if I don’t get anything done. Any project I undertake, even one as seemingly simple as cooking or putting away groceries, is put on hold multiple times as I tend to other things. From throwing dirty laundry into the wash to putting away folded clothes, it can take a week to finish a load. Yes. A week.

But, as an article I recently reread at Big City Moms reminds me, I’m doing much more important work than domestic drudgery.

“Our culture doesn’t have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing. Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check. But to the untrained eye most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing. But we know better. There is no greater task than the nothing you did yesterday, the nothing you are doing today, and the nothing you will do tomorrow.”

I finally finished those shepherd’s pies. I dropped one off at a friend’s and put ours in the oven. (I’ll deliver the third, oh, sometime.)

I sat down after Peeper went to bed with a slice of the pie. The vegetables were a bit watery, and the piece slopped onto my plate. I realized I’d forgotten to salt and pepper the potatoes. I sighed.

But the first bite was decent. It was good enough, I realized.

Good enough and done is much better than waiting for perfect.

I’m embracing good enough.

Good Enough Shepherd’s Pie
(from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, I think, slightly adapted)


2 large potatoes
1 Tbs butter
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup yogurt
½ cup freshly minced chives
½ cup freshly minced parsley

1 ½ Tbs olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp salt
black pepper
1 stalk finely minced celery
12 oz. chopped mushrooms
½ package crumbled firm tofu
1 1-lb eggplant, in small cubes
1 green bell pepper, minced
¼ tsp thyme
½ tsp each: basil, oregano
1 chopped parsnip
1 chopped carrot
3 Tbs nutritional yeast
1 Tbs cider vinegar
½ cup packed shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese

(Ingredients I omitted or substituted for my friend who is dairy-, gluten- and soy-free in italics)

  1. Cook the potatoes in their skins in boiling water until soft. Drain and mash with all ingredients from first section (butter through parsley).
  2. In a large, heavy skillet, sauté the onions and garlic in 1 ½ Tbs olive oil with salt and pepper until the onions are soft (5-8 minutes).
  3. Add the celery, mushrooms, eggplant, parsnips and carrots. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the eggplant is cooked through (and this wil happen more quickly if you cover the skillet between stirrings), add green pepper and herbs. Continue cooking about 5 minutes longer.
  4. Remove from heat; toss with cheese, nutritional yeast and vinegar. Spread this mixture into your deep-dish casserole. (I used a 9×9 pan.) Spread the mashed potatoes on top as a crust. Spread cheese, extra nutritional yeast and a little paprika on top.
  5. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

0 thoughts on “Good enough shepherd’s pie

  • February 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    How thoughtful that you made extra pie for your hungry friend from an off the cuff FB post. I think Shepherd’s pie is a pain- there is so much prep… I mean there is a portion of the recipe where you actually FINISH what is usually a fine side dish (the mashed potato). The fact it took you all day when you are multi-tasking is no surprise- even at home alone with no distractions it took me a few hours! You are a great mama- giving to your family and thinking of others too.

    • February 6, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Haha, it is kind of a pain, come to think of it! I do love the flavor with the cider vinegar and nutritional yeast, though. I need to figure out a way to just throw it all in the oven to bake instead of sauteeing everything first.


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