This week we have been conducting a great experiment- no screens. Not while the kids are awake anyway (though I’m trying to do only semi-essential stuff after they’re asleep too- with a lenient definition of ‘essential’ that includes a few minutes of scrolling idly through facebook). That means no television, no tablet, no video games in the morning with papa, and no looking-at-my-phone time while the kids do all those things. It has been transformative. We have all been happier. The kids have fought way less, and I feel so much better and more accomplished at the end of the day. Henry pulled out and memorized a multiplication table from 0x0 to 12×12. George has been so much more verbal (we went out to eat at a dive-y Chinese restaurant for dinner tonight and George heard me start to order and chimed in “I’d like some rice and soy sauce, please! Mr. Guy, I’d like some white rice with soy sauce!” The waiter paid him no mind.). We’ve spent long hours at parks, or reading books- Andy is reading us all The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe– or playing board games (which actually isn’t fun because the kids are painfully slow and like to cheat.) The life I pictured I would have before having kids, one with a constant hum of creative activities taking place all around me (family drawing time, knitting something while Andy reads a book aloud, building things, making things) suddenly seems possible again. I had not realized how much our tv and tablet habits had snuffed out, and now that they’re gone I never want them to come back. And there’s the rub. Henry absolutely loves his tablet. Even now, six days into our screen-free experiment, he still talks about Candy Crush every night before he goes to bed. Andy and I thought about letting screens back in in a rigidly-controlled way- 30 minutes a day or something, but I am just feeling like any amount is too much right now. I know the kids are happier this way, but I hate to take away their power to choose how they spend their time. But I’m going to. Here’s what we ate this week.
Bulgogi Venison Jerky. My mother-in-law gave us a ton of venison and I’ve been taking full advantage of having a stocked freezer. 4 of the 7 things I’m blogging about this week have the stuff in it. This jerky was made with two crazy cuts that I didn’t know what else to do with- a shoulder steak and a deer ham steak(?). You slice your meat up thinly (easiest if it’s partially frozen), marinate it in a beautiful bath of soy sauce, pear nectar (a tenderizer), ginger, garlic, sesame oil, all that good stuff, and then dry it on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet for four hours in a low oven. It comes out tender and flavorful and it’s all gone now, dammit.
Side note: said mother-in-law is performing in Emily Ann Theatre’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird. We got to see it today and it is such a gorgeous show- the cast is stunning- and it’s done in the round, which is my favorite. It’s playing for one more weekend! Don’t miss the chance to weep openly in front of your fellow theatre-goers and to see my MIL be hilariously hateful (she plays the crotchety old lady Jem reads to, if you’re familiar. I myself had forgotten the entire story until seeing this performance today).
Venison Chili. I don’t use a recipe when I make chili. I briefly considered typing up a guideline of what I do here, but then I thought that would be boring. Does anyone want to read about how I half-ass a chili based on whatever happens to be lying around? I’m betting no. I do have one hot tip though- in lieu of a spoon I eat the whole bowlful by scooping the stuff up with tortilla chips, thick ones. I know this isn’t a new idea but I’m throwing it out there in case you forgot you could do that, because you really should do that. Also because I have nothing else to say and it padded out this paragraph nicely.
Old-School Swedish Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes and Raspberry Jam. Welp, it’s finally happened. I don’t have a picture of one of the dinners we ate this week. Except! I am certain that I remember taking a picture of this dinner. I had four meatballs all in a row, and a lot of fluffy mashed potatoes, which I made a big crater in with the serving spoon, and I poured gravy in the crater and it ran down the sides of potatoes and lapped against the sides of the meatballs in a most appealing way. And I had a tiny bit of raspberry jam on the plate too. I am blameless in all things, so in searching for someone else to blame for my missing picture I’m pointing at two equally-plausible possibilities. George did it. Because he’s a baby and does stuff like that. Or my phone did it when I finally updated to the new OS later in the week. It just deleted that one. That is a real thing that can happen. I believe this to be true. Anyway, I drew you a picture to help you visualize the four meatballs and the gravy and the potatoes and the jam. You’re welcome, world.
Spaghetti Squash and Bean Tacos with Homemade Flour Tortillas. Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for tacos like this in her cookbook- she makes a sort of cumin/chile pepper/lime thing to dress the shredded squash- but I didn’t feel like doing all that so I just served the stuff with lime wedges and guacamole and figured that’s all anyone would care to taste anyway. It was fine. The tortillas though! I have been resisting the urge to buy them because Make the Bread, Buy the Butter taught me that they are really so easy and cheap to make. And I like them better too, the rough edges and the deeper char and the floury taste. But the texture has seemed a little off from the ones we’re used to- a bit too stiff and cracker like. So this time I doubled the salt (salt!) and added 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and oh how I loved them! They were noticeably softer, more pillowy and pliable, and more flavorful too. I think it’s not traditional? But I will always add a little bit of baking powder from now on.
Butternut Galette with Onions, Pecans, and Blue Cheese, Tangled Collard Greens. A friend brought up the subject of bloggers who you feel like you’re friends with simply by reading their blog. I feel this way about Tipsy Baker (she’s funny! with a lot of snark) and Ben and Birdy (also funny! with a delightful family dynamic that I aspire to replicate). I was searching food52 for butternut recipes and this one popped up, and I thought it sounded good, and it turns out it’s a recipe by the Ben and Birdy blogger! In fact, it’s the only one she’s ever uploaded to the site. Because I have a lady-crush on her and because I thought the flavors sounded so lovely together, I made it. It was easy and I loved it. I was kind of the only one though. The kids weren’t interested at all. Andy ate without complaint but when I asked him what he thought, he said that he doesn’t really like butternut squash or blue cheese so eating them together wasn’t his very favorite thing. I think they’re all nuts. The squash was completely delicious with the musty cheese. And the onions are roasted and then tossed in balsamic vinegar, which added a fruity tang, and the dough is flaky and rich with sour cream, and also pecans! These are all great things that taste great together. Let me know if you agree so I can eat it with you, because I probably won’t make it for my family again- the ingrates!
Pepperoni Pizzas. Aggghhh. So, at the Texas Book Festival, one of the cookbook authors talked about how fun it would be for you to ‘cook this with your kids!’. People are always saying this. Lots of people who don’t have kids. Or who have their shit way more together than I do. This picture, dear readers, is an accurate visual representation of what it’s actually like to cook with kids. George and Henry ‘helped’ me make the pizza on the left (which looks like an upside-down pizza voodoo doll, yes?). They smeared their spoons full of sauce into the dough and tore holes in it. The sauce soaked through the holes to the flour below, that was there to prevent the dough from sticking to the countertop, so stick it did. To the counter, and then to the pizza peel, and then to the pizza stone, where the cheese also melted through the hole and glued the thing to the stone. I had to scrape desperately at it with a metal spatula, and open up all the windows and turn on the fans to try to prevent the smoke alarm from going off because it terrifies Henry. The reality was so far from the fun-mom-cooking-with-kids Friday night project I had envisioned. I felt stressed and sweaty when we sat down to eat these, and guilty too for getting frustrated that a 2 and 4 year old couldn’t make a perfect pizza. Do you know what though? The voodoo pizza fellow tasted delicious. Every bit as good as the pretty(ier) one on the right. Maybe even better because I really loved that charred pepperoni and the crusty cheese bits. So what’s the moral? I don’t know. Be less bossy and try to sit back and enjoy the flavor of the ruined pizza, maybe.
Old-School Baked Ziti. How weird is it that I cooked two dishes that are described as “Old-School” this week? Looking back through the week I see I must have been craving comfort foods when I planned the menu, as we ate mostly meat and carbs and nothing green. This is that rare sort of dish that makes a ton, but that you also want to eat all of. We had it for dinner last night and then lunch today and that, save one extra portion that Andy’s taking for lunch tomorrow, wiped it out. It’s supposed to have a few handfuls of fresh spinach tossed in, and a scattering of fresh basil over the top, but I left them out because no empty nutrients are going to come between me and a meat+carbs dinner.
Do you feel like I’m constantly coming up with new hair-brained schemes that I swear full allegiance to only to revert back from a few weeks later? I kind of do. Like white rice- earlier this year I said we were going to diversify the grains we eat after reading a terrifying report on the arsenic levels in rice. Barley is just as good as rice!, I proclaimed arrogantly. I haven’t cooked barley in 5 months, and I cook rice at least once a week. Or my plans to stop looking at my phone before bed. I did that for maybe one week and then went right back to it. (But now I’m off that again out of solidarity with the kids). I’m worried that the new screen-free peace we’re enjoying is going to be another one of my passing fads. That we’ll somehow slip back into our old patterns and we’ll all be cranky and not enjoy each other’s company like we have this past week. I’m really gonna try to not let this slip away. Have a happy week!