Learning to feed myself—again

One late night when I was in college, my roommate Cedar walked into the kitchen and found me eating cold refried beans out of the can.

He was mortified. I was mortified.

“At least heat them up,” he said. Oh, the shame.

I had a few semi-legit explanations for my sorry excuse for a meal. I was operating on an average of five hours of sleep a night, was the editor-in-chief of the journalism school’s magazine, tutored other college students 20 hours a week and maintained a 4.0 GPA. Cooking was not exactly at the top of my priorities.

The truth is, though, when things get tough on the home front, I’m terrible at that most basic skill: feeding myself. Worse, I have a very fast metabolism and burn through food like a hummingbird. I’m also the world’s most indecisive person if I haven’t eaten in a while.

Take, for example, one time (or, ah, multiple times) when I was pregnant with Peeper. I came home from work, sat down in the middle of the kitchen and bawled because I was so hungry but didn’t know what to eat.

Thank goodness for cereal, amirite?

Anyway, the notorious night of the refried beans popped into my head this week when I was ravenous and had stuck my head in the fridge for the fourth time only to see that, disappointingly, no fully prepared meals had mysteriously appeared. I ended up microwaving some refrieds and eating them with cheese on a tortilla. Not quite as pitiful as that college snack, but still.

Anyhow. This is all to say that especially because I’m growing another tiny life inside me, I need to be a little more conscientious about feeding myself (and the rest of my family).

You and I already know the reasons to meal plan. It reduces food waste—a huge problem in the US, where we throw out 133 billion pounds of food every year. It saves money. And it saves the stress of having zero clues or inspiration on what to put on your plate each night.

I’ve been utterly crap at my previous attempts to plan our meals ahead of time. But we should never let the past define our futures! (Ok, I’m getting a little ridiculous, but you know what I mean!)

So help me, Internet world: What is your best advice for planning meals? Or are you like me and find yourself settling for canned refrieds for lunch?

Super-protein quinoa enchiladas and coconut-pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies

When you have a baby, all your attention hones in on feeding the newest member of your family. Moms keep track of feeding times and lengths, visit the lactation clinic, figure out latches or bottle flows, and worry if Baby is getting enough to eat.

Brand-new moms spend a lot less time working on feeding themselves, and that’s no good: Parents have enough on their plates without being hangry on top of everything.

So when two friends had babies a few weeks ago, I took the first opportunity to bring them each a meal. Since I’m not terrific at feeding myself, either, I chose recipes that would feed all three of our families!

These precocious baby buddies are already perfecting their secret handshake.
These precocious baby buddies are already perfecting their secret handshake.

When flipping through my Pinterest boards, I looked for functional foods. I decided on this super-protein-packed quinoa enchilada slow-cooker dish because research shows protein is crucial in repairing damaged tissues—something especially important for mothers who had c-sections.

I also made these coconut-pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies. Yes, it’s important for dinner to meet all your nutritional needs, but in those early weeks of raising a newborn, sometimes a bite of something sweet can get you through that moment when your munchkin poops all over you the second you’re showered and wearing clean clothes for the first time in a week. I added a salad, threw in some tortilla chips and called it a meal. Read more

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)

Ingredients:

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.