I have lately been feeling guilty. I want a cleaner house. I can’t seem to find time to clean it as clean as I want it to be. I spend most of my time in the kitchen, doing prep and cooking. Cleaning up takes far less time than that. It was bothering me, and I started to pay attention to what I was doing with my time in there.
It is because most of what I cook is from scratch. My meats are often convenience stuff, pre-formed or pre-cooked, because I am a vegetarian and I want to make sure I make things that are edible for my kids. So the children will get bratwurst or chicken nuggets (which I only learned to make a decent scratch version of last week- half taco spice and half breadcrumbs!) or some easy ground meat thing like meatloaf or tacos or soup.
It’s the rest of the meal that is from scratch, and the mandatory snacks that they take to school. I make desserts and sides and vegetarian main meals from scratch. I have so little time for desserts on weeknights that I make two on weekends to last much of the week, and I do the same with breakfasts and snacks. I do give my children cereal like most people, but not every single day. I want them to have some energy between breakfast and lunch on most days.
Most of my sides are fruits and vegetables, cooked or raw. Seems easy, but it is not. Because most of my produce is that which is thrown out by supermarkets and hobby farmers. Excuse me, I mean donated by supermarkets and hobby farmers to the foodshelf. So I spend a lot of time processing produce. Today I spent twenty minutes of my two hours between getting home and getting the kids ready for bed processing potatoes. Because you cannot eat the green part without stomach upset, and in children, that makes life complicated. So in order to make mashed potatoes for the next few days, I had to first take off the green and the eyes. I mean I first had to scrub off the dirt. I ought to tell it in order. I have arthritis, so I go slowly and using a paring knife or peeler can be hell. That means I don’t have time to process the apples that someone gave me off their tree. The ones with holes in them or bruises or pitted skin. I have to save that for another day.
This throws a real twist into meal planning. You look into the fridge and note what you have and then when you get home you know what to make, right? Not me. I get home and I pray before I open anything, pray that I can use it. Because if you need sour cream to make this or that and you open it up and find it bad, you have to make something else. Because the grocery stores throw out, excuse me, donate their food to the food shelf and if I pick something that is bad, then I have to make another meal instead. This is how I know to give milk to the other children to test, and not my autistic child, who will happily drink spoiled milk and seriously ask for more of it. Now, spoiled dairy I can often use. I know how to make things with it. But if it is processed, like fruit yogurts or something, then I cannot salvage anything from it. So choosing the basics will serves me well with meal planning. Get plain, not sweetened.
I love that I am using food that would otherwise go to waste. The food shelf staff has told me that if I don’t take food, it will spoil. They get more than they can give away. Which is good, that there is enough for all. Some months I go and there is no bread or no cheese or none of this or that. That is okay with me. I know what to do with what I have. I go once a month and I get to pick one of this and one of that and two of this and etc. It’s a nice system and the people are very sweet. I have heard horror stories of places in other towns where they treat you like dirt when you show up for your appointment to get food. I am profoundly grateful, I can tell you that.
But sometimes I get home after a busy day and I want take out. Sometimes after I plan out a meal and then taste the ingredients and find it spoiled or sour beyond hope I get annoyed and wish that I had food that was ready to eat. I think that this is a factor in why some households do not stock produce or fresh meats, beyond price is the fact that it spoils. If you eat heavily processed foods, it keeps in boxes on the shelf forever. Not everyone has a great food shelf in their town, as I do. Buying staples that spoil, basics that you have to prepare, comes with risk. They go bad, your recipe doesn’t turn out, you burn it in the oven, etc. If everything in your pantry is manufactured it might sort of taste like sugar and chemicals and be unhealthy but it will always be edible and usually you only need to add water, if anything. In my country it is also fortified, so even the worst sort of cellophane packaged dessert still has some nutritional value. Poverty requires security, and processed food is a good investment in that regard. It makes me feel sick, though, so I don’t eat much of it. I have to cook from scratch to keep my cholesterol good and the sugar down for the kids. I sneak in omega threes and whole grains when I bake their snacks. Stuff they need at school. Oddly enough, the food shelf is full of organic and good for you things that you can hardly find in a store, like flax seed and organic wasabi peanuts and gourmet organic mozzarella shaped like a ball and packaged in liquid. I think because organic spoils quicker.
Yesterday turned out perfect. I gave them a chicken double noodle soup (which they said they didn’t like but did eat most of), and then a strawberry shortcake from scratch. The kind of shortcakes that are not sweet, and I made them with almond milk, which was a nice note in the shortcake. It took me over twenty minutes to pick through the bad strawberries, though. I wish I had time to process it all the day I got it home. That would save a lot of room in the fridge and a lot of weeknight time, though I suppose it would kill my hands for the next twenty-four hours.
Saturdays I get up and I cook and clean and laundry for the first three hours straight. Then I take the kids somewhere so that they do something outside the house and often that is my down time. I sit or stand for that hour or two, watching them, without doing any chores. The days I play tag with them I have to tone it down for the rest of the day. When we go home for lunch I start again until after supper, then I take a breather for the hour before bed, spending time with the kids. Summers are a bit easier. I cook less, because the house heats up if I use the oven. We are outside more in the summer, so there is less to clean up or sort out in that season. Today I went for the yeast and realized I didn’t have enough. Since last spring, when I stopped baking bread for the summer. I have to pick up yeast tomorrow, so I can make the bread that I wanted to make today.
Tomorrow I also have to process ten apples and four pumpkins and a bag of carrots on their last legs. I don’t think I will be able to do it all the same day, with the cleaning, but I will try. I will be stinting on the cleaning, I am sure. I took stock of my time, and I have a few choices but no more hours. I can stop reading and writing at night and gain an hour, I can work less, or I can put the kids to work for me. Either way I need more sleep, so I can get up and do it again.