I have historically been scathingly critical of people who provide their families with processed and/or fast food on a regular basis. I have huffed about the ease with which one can come home from work and sautee some chicken breasts while steaming broccoli and making rice, for God’s sakes, or even just make omelettes and wheat toast with some sliced oranges on the side.
How the mighty are fallen. This week (although its only Thursday in “actual time” it is some time in the midst of my 70th year in “Annie Time-” and I’m only 45) I was responsible for the care and feeding of my brother’s two boys, who are 7 and 9. Although I love them dearly, and they were good as gold, this gig required me to sleep at their house, get them to their school, pack their lunches, and mind their schedules while I was doing all of the same things with my kid, at my house across town. On top of this, I am engaged in a massive battle involving potential development near my home, which involves meetings every night, and endless e-mails and phone calls. As an overlay, there is my “regular life” which includes my actual work, friends, mysteriously non-functioning e-mail accounts, spots appearing all over my son’s body, and my mother calling from Florida to ask me to check whether her basement has flooded.
I planned to cook delicious and nutritious dinners all three nights that I had my nephews. Monday was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn and salad. Tuesday was pork chops, stuffing and sweet potatoes. Wednesday was spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and garlic bread. These were all complete no-brainers (or so I thought) and involved nothing too funky or potentially “icky.” Here is what actually happened:
Monday, because I was unaccustomed to cooking for 5, and wanted to have enough meat left over for spaghetti sauce, I made a massive (5 pound) meat loaf and mashed potatoes early in the day, knowing that I would not be able to pick up the boys and get them to my house in time to make dinner and get it on the table at a reasonable hour. When I got back with them at 5:00 I put the meatloaf in the oven and cooked it for the usual hour at 375. At 6:00, when we needed to eat so that I could make a 7:00 meeting, the thing was completely raw except for approximately a quarter of an inch of the exterior. I turned the oven up, and started heating the mashed potatoes and corn. We set the table. I looked at the meatloaf and it was still fuschia in the middle. I became mildly hysterical, trying to get ready for my meeting while a mob of little boys swarmed around saying they were “starving” and threatening to eat a bag of potato chips. Rob removed the meatloaf from the oven, sliced it and pan-fried it. I dished up the (now burned) mashed potatoes and the (now cold) corn. The boys asked to make sandwiches out of the meatloaf slices and I discovered that we were out of ketchup. I went to my meeting; they ate slices of bread, slices of meatloaf, cold corn and burnt potatoes.
Tuesday my meeting was at 6:15, which made dinner very tricky. I met the boys after school at 4:00, they did their homework, a blizzard started, I drove them to my house, and it was already after 5:00, I looked at the pork chops, stuffing and sweet potatoes, then I started getting ready for my meeting and asked Rob to take the boys out to dinner. I went to my meeting; they ate nachos.
Wednesday, I hardly even tried. The boys had activities until 5:15, I had a meeting at 7:00, I calculated that if I got them across town by 5:30 I would have exactly one hour to make spaghetti, serve it, eat it, clean it up and go to my meeting. I bought Taco Bell on the way from their house to mine, we ate it and I went to my meeting.
The moral of this story is: until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, don’t make snarky comments about what they feed their families. I am a competent cook, I had all of the necessary ingredients to cook three good dinners, and I screwed up one and punted on two just because I was completely distracted and exhausted.
The other moral: a 5 pound meatloaf apparently takes longer to cook than a 3 pound meatloaf.