Reevaluating my Kitchen Dreams

by Laura on October 21, 2011

in Blog

We all have dreams of what we would like to accomplish– here are mine for the kitchen.

1. The Perfect Kitchen.

I’ve had this dream for some time now. But I just never seem to have the perfect kitchen. I’ve never have enough counter space, the fridge is always too small, the cabinets are never in order, and ability to find just what I want, when I want it, is at best, challenging. I call my kitchen, a puzzle. I have to move something just to get to the thing I need. Frankly, I’m tired of my puzzles.

Then I read Madhur Jaffrey’s take on her own kitchen in “Making it Work: Sometimes the kitchen you want isn’t the kitchen you get,” (Saveur Aug/Sept 2011). She made me re-evaluate my dream to have a perfect kitchen.

She writes, “When I think of my ideal kitchen, I dream of space.” Yes, I do too!

She adds, “Of long granite counters, of places for my around-the-world seasonings and my collection of international crockery.” Yes, I do too.

These are the dreams I have every time I walk into my kitchen to prepare a meal, snack or baked goodie.

As I read on, I realized that she, too, was challenged by the size of her kitchen. And in that, I find comfort knowing that I am not alone – that even a well-known culinary icon has the same kitchen dreams I have.

At times, I feel as if my kitchen makes me harried. But, in the end, I realize that much of that harried feeling is brought on by other factors besides the size of my kitchen. Either I’ve neglected to plan by pulling out the ingredients needed for meal, or I’ve been interrupted for the millionth time with an “I’m hungry Mom, when are we eating?” “Mom, he’s teasing me,” or  I’ve forgotten to marinate the meat or put the rice in the rice cooker; None of which really have anything to do with the size of my kitchen.

In her article, Jaffrey says “The kitchen shapes the cook.” Hmm, is it time for me to be referred to as “the harried cook?” No, instead, it is time for me to take a step back, breathe, and re-evaluate my dreams. Because in the word of Madhur Jaffrey, “Its is the food that comes out of the kitchen that matters most.”

And when it comes right down to it, more often than not, I’m happy with what comes out of the kitchen (and so is my family) despite its small size.

2. Everyone Likes the Meal

Sometimes I dream of my single days, when I could prepare whatever I wanted to eat, and have no one to complain about it. But, then I realize, that with no one to complain to, I also have no one to share the delicious meals with. No one to share the experience with, no one to remember great dishes prepared. And, no one to chuckle about the less-than-favorite meals or mistakes made. (Yes, Mom, I’m talking to you re: the Chicken Chasseur debacle of 30+ years ago!)

With four children to appease at mealtime, I have to come to the realization that every meal cannot be universally loved by everyone in the family. Kids, please work with me – I can’t serve ice cream every day!

Instead, I have to come to the kitchen with the knowledge that someone is surely going to complain about something I am preparing. I must plan on how to cut that complaint off at the knees and give that certain someone who is complaining something they will enjoy. That doesn’t mean cooking different meals for everyone, but what that does mean is making sure that I have something on hand ready to respond to any complaints that are sent my way.

When planning my weekly meals, I know which night will cause complaints so I am careful to plan something the night before that thought in mind. By making sure I prepare enough of the meal that one complainer likes so that we have leftovers, I can have them ready to heat and serve as soon as he/she refuses to eat what’s on the table.

(Note: Never offer up the leftovers until you’ve made sure they at least try a few bites of the meal on the table.)

3. Dinner Together Every Night

Yes, research shows the benefits of eating together, of stopping slowing down and enjoying the family meal, for it is essential for our own health and that of our family. But, how feasible is it to get around the table with the entire family on a daily basis? We do the best that we can, with the majority of us sitting down together every evening. However, most nights Dad isn’t home, but I make sure that I’m sitting down with the kids every evening. On the one night that my son has soccer, I eat with the girls. Then when he arrives home, I sit down with him.

As for ensuring Dad isn’t eating alone, some nights we have Dessert with Daddy. The kids hold off eating dessert until Dad comes home and they enjoy it while he is eating his dinner.

If having dinner together during the week isn’t working, try breakfast. Sit down, say good morning to the family, fill your bellies with a nutritious and hearty breakfast, then break away and head to work, school, or wherever your hectic lives take you.

Sure it doesn’t always work out that way (as my lonely at breakfast photo reveals), but at least my heart is in the right place. And considering we make the effort to eat together every breakfast and dinner, I know it won’t hurt us if we slip up once in a while . . . but, when we do, the children are the first to notice it!

4. Be Happy in the Kitchen

Don’t ask me to be happy all the time when I’m in the kitchen . . . at least I’m in the kitchen! Yes, I make dinner for my family every night. And yes, that is more than a lot of Americans can say, but life is not always perfect in the kitchen. Things don’t always turn out the way I want them to (I recall the great gnocchi incident), and I’m usually tired and crunched for time while I’m in the kitchen. More often than not, when I’m in the kitchen I want to be alone — alone to get in the groove and get cooking without any distractions.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I’m in the kitchen trying to get dinner started, and one of the kids ask for a snack. I want to yell, “Hey, I’m 30 minutes away from dinner, and I’m not stopping the process that will stop that hunger, just to get you a snack that will most likely fill you up and make you not want to eat what I’m trying so desperately to prepare!”

My second biggest peeve (when I’m crunched for time) is “Can I help?” I want to scream, “YES, you can help by getting out of my way and not ask me any more questions!” I love the idea of having my kids involved in mealtime preparation. But sometimes that just slows down the process.

While I’m at it, my third pet peeve in line the cleanup! Aside from the mountain of dishes a family of six can dirty, is the fact that we are currently functioning without a dishwasher. I try my hardest to clean as I cook, so that after that leisurely meal when I have to shift into high gear to ensure homework is completed, kids are in the bath and ready for bed, I don’t have another 45 minutes cleaning the kitchen.

You might ask, “When are you happy in the kitchen?” The answer is simple: When I’m not rushed. Hmm, with that said, I think it time to make sure that I plan, schedule, and when I do, I can engage the family more in the kitchen prep and cleanup.

5. Mealtime is a Perfect Event.

I dream of a mealtime where there is a constant state of bliss. There is no rushing to finish the meal and get to something else, there is always something positive said of what I’ve served on the plate, and there is great conversation. Instead, it’s “Hurry up and eat your breakfast you have to get ready for school.” It’s “Mom, I don’t like dinner.” And it’s places at the table left vacant because someone is waiting out a time-out for saying potty words.

Between dislike for the dinner, toys that are snuck to the table, constantly fidgeting children, and a tired mom who has a zero-tolerance-for-silliness temperament, there are good moments. There are glimmers of hope.

That’s because we have set the tradition of sitting down to the table together.

The kids await everyone to sit at the table before eating; They are sad when Daddy is out of town and isn’t there to experience dinnertime with us; and they come to a consensus on which meals are their favorites. On occasion, they actually say nice things to each other – sans the potty words!

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Yes, I have dreams for my life in the kitchen. But after reflecting on my current dreams and kitchen aspirations, I realize that perhaps it is time to reevaluate. After all, my current kitchen reality isn’t all that bad.

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