Everybody's always asking me, "how do you do it?". Being a single mother, working full-time, being frum, and all that...
Well, it's actually easy, as long as you have an extra twelve hours in your day. Which I don't, so I try to make an extra two or three extra hours in the day, and learn to cut corners.
My rules of thumb in the kitchen and around the house are:
- It's never easier in the morning / tomorrow.
- It's never easier when the kids are around.
- Remember that stuff psychologists say about how what's most important for kids is to feel loved, not to have a SuperMommy.
- Somebody is SuperMommy, but she is not me.
- Don't panic.
- I have a right to my feelings even if I am the only adult; I can be hungry/thirsty/tired if I need to be.
- If somebody will buy you a restaurant meal, accept it, even if you have to bring the kids along.
- Hashem Ya'azor (G-d will help); He never gives you a burden you cannot handle. We are all children to Him; we are all beautiful, cute, perfect, innocent (does this mean I can act as immature as I want???)... He is disappointed if we do something wrong, but is slow to anger and quick to forgive, just as we should be.
What we eat is mostly what I call "moderate vegetarian". We don't eat a lot of meat, not on principle, but because it's more difficult to prepare in a small kitchen (most of my kitchen is milchik) and because I don't think the "one meat meal a day" philosophy I was raised on is necessarily the healthiest.
We DO eat meat on Shabbos, though I have a bunch of pareve standbys for vegetarian guests. My mother laughed a while ago when she suggested going out to eat. Yerachmiel Meir (my son, aged 3 at the time) asked, "are we having fleishiks?", and I replied that we would be. He said, "why, is it Shabbos today?". The kids just accept that this is the way things are.
Anyway, they don't seem to LIKE meat that much, even the chicken and hamburger things that I might have assumed kids WOULD like. And even though their father was an avid meat-eater. The foods they like are the simplest to prepare, served not too hot, so they can be eaten right away.
This point was driven home one time, after a few weeks of my striving to make all sorts of fancy food for them (and me) that none of us was enjoying much. I had a rough day at work and decided to cave in and make macaroni and cheese, plain, straight from the box (a "luxury" item at nearly $1.50 Canadian!!). I made this up quickly and served it to the kids from a big pot in the centre of the table. Yerachmiel Meir started eating his and didn't look up from eating for quite a few minutes. When he finally did, he looked at me and said "this is good". Then a pause, then "it's VERY good". "Very, very good..." "mmmmmmm.....yummy!". The point was made. Keep it simple.
I haven't mentioned my daughter much here for the simple reason that her tastes in food are less developed than Yerachmiel's. BUT Elisheva Chaya has an uncanny knack for knowing what she likes and doesn't like before trying it. One time, I gave her a plate of salad and left her with it (Yerachmiel LOVES salad). I looked over to see that she was picking up each lettuce leaf daintily with her fingers and dropping it onto the floor, like it was something disgusting I'd accidentally left on her plate. She did the same thing with a piece of bologna-type sliced meat. Ironically, at less than 2 years of age, she knows quality; she will eagerly eat a similar slice of (expensive) smoked turkey breast!!
All of this silliness aside, however, she is usually quite easy to please, and is just now starting to get over a long-standing habit of referring to all food as a "cookie". This very evening we had quiche, which she called "cookie" ("egg cookie")... she eats meat cookies (if she has to), vegetable cookies, even COOKIE cookies (probably her favourite). Lately, I think she's been doing it just to tease me.
The way I cook:
I'm pretty casual about cooking, I don't always measure and sift every ingredient properly (unless I set out to cook something properly, in which case I try to). I usually make a big mess, which I don't always clean up right away. I guess I'm still a big kid, and this apartment is my room. And I don't have to clean it up if I don't want to. Unless it's erev Shabbos, of course!
In return for this lackadaisical attitude, I tell myself that my kids are more content than if I was SuperMom. I'll always have doubts, but I hope this is generally true.
I have a microwave, but I have really never learned how to cook in it, and am not interested in learning, so don't mail me to tell me how easy / rewarding / enriching / gratifying / fast it is... I like my little toaster oven, which I use for all milchik cooking. It's a deLonghi, and is just the right size to make dinner for a single-parent family of three. The microwave seems happy in its role as popcorn-popper, butter-melter, and yam-toaster (and smores-baker, see below).
Because the way I work in a kitchen is very informal, I'm not going to give many exact quantities or instructions in the recipes below. Instead, you can try these out to see what works for you. Most of these recipes are at least a little forgiving... there's a good margin for error in most things.
- The Joy of Cooking (gift from MYSELF!)
There is none better in the realm of trayfe cookery...
Tells you all about every possible ingredient, and is full of fancy-schmancy ideas about dinner parties and cocktails and which fork to use if you're visiting the Queen. I love it! Even if you keep kosher, be sure to stop by their sections on how to skin a rabbit, or cooking bear and other odd game meats... WARNING: pretty old-fashioned in terms of consumption of fats and oils, which are recommended in large quantities for all recipes. Try to cut down wherever possible!
- Second Helpings, Please (gift from Allan and Liz Price)
This is my staple "Jewish" cookbook.
It has the basic Jewish things in it, but no exotic ideas, and most of the vegetables section is taken up with potatoes. Features menu suggestions for the yomim tovim and such scintillating household hints as the following gem: "...Have a lot of stamps to lick? Never fear. Cut a potato in half and the exposed surface is a perfect place to moisten them." This cookbook features the world's worst index; it's divided up by the chapters, so if you don't know where to find a recipe, you won't be able to find it in the index EITHER...
- Food 101 (gift from Emily Peetoom)
This was the cookbook I learned to cook from.
Explains basic cooking terms, gives lists of what you will need (groceries & kitchen implements) to "stock the untamed shelves". Explains all cooking terms used and most recipes are no-fail. Many are trayfe, or fleishik, but some can be adapted.
- Recipes for a Small Planet (bought it myself a long time ago...)
Basic vegetarian concepts and recipes.
This book is very POLITICALLY vegetarian, so it makes difficult reading, but if you're going to eat a diet with limited meat products, you should know how various non-meat foods and food combinations rank in terms of calories vs fat, etc. This cookbook is rather sobering compared to my others, but some of the recipes can be "funned-up" slightly without losing much nutritional value.
- Kinnereth Cookbook (gift from Dov Paquette)
(published by Hadassah-WIZO, Toronto)
Jewish cookbook with pretensions to elegance.
A more sophisticated Kosher cookbook with a nice Pesach section (if you eat matzo-meal products, which we don't). Not to be missed: Although my grandmother, Rebecca Brenzel Posluns (Rivke Keyndel) A"H passed away four years ago, her Neopolitan cake (it was so well known as to have been mentioned in her eulogy!) lives on on page 305. I'm sure it doesn't taste the same as if she made it herself, but it might be close... This cake involves a lot of effort, four layers of buttery cake and a generous helping of chocolate pudding.... Mmmmm......