Thursday, March 17, 2016

I Hate It When I Do This

Cleaning out our woodstove, no matter how carefully it's done, inevitably results in a layer of fine ash on every surface of the dining room. This is why I usually plan ahead to do my dusting the day I clean it out (or, um, the day after, if I'm lazy).

We haven't been using the woodstove all that much, though, with the periods of warm weather we've been having, so I haven't been paying as much attention to it. I dusted yesterday. Then I realized today that it's going to be cold again starting tonight, and the woodstove needed to be cleaned out for the coming continuous use.

So I cleaned it out. And now I have to dust again. Dammit.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Speaking of Kitchen Prep . . .

It's an unfortunate side effect of having access to the occasional real chicken that the chicken at the grocery store becomes somewhat appalling. Not just because of the abstract idea of the conditions those chickens are kept in before slaughter (abstract to me because I've never seen one of those battery chicken operations), but because of the undeniable fact that grocery store chicken is nothing like a real chicken when it comes to eating. The texture is different (store chicken is mushy in comparison), and the taste is pretty much incomparable.

So I have become spoiled when it comes to chicken.

That's not to say, however, that I don't realize the advantage of a grocery store chicken. And that advantage (singular--it's the only way in which the store chicken has the edge) is ease of preparation. Even if you buy a whole chicken at the store and cut it up yourself, it's nothing like trying to break down an old rooster that's been running around eating bugs.

Store chickens are soft. Even their bones. You can cut through the bones of a store chicken with a big knife. But a real chicken requires some forceful whacking with a meat cleaver. And then you have to pick off all the little hair-like feathers all over the meat. So the blithe initial instruction in a chicken recipe to "Cut chicken into six or eight pieces" becomes a significantly more involved endeavor.

We're having Chicken Cacciatore tonight made with a rooster given to us by the MiL's brother. The hacking and the plucking are all done, and the chicken is simmering away. The inconvenience will be forgotten with the first bite of dinner, I know. Because it's worth it. Good food always is.

* For Zoe, who wondered if I had ever thought of not peeling potatoes . . . I am aware that this is many people's preference, but it's not for me. The skins of waxy red potatoes are okay--thin enough not to be displeasing--but the Russet-style potatoes I cook with almost exclusively have thick skins that are totally unappealing to me when cooked with the rest of the potato. Plus, our own  garden potatoes are usually so filthy that peeling the dirt away with the skin is the easiest way to get them clean.

Monday, March 14, 2016

When In Doubt, Peel Potatoes

Not too long ago, I was at a playdate with a couple of other mothers and the discussion turned to the difficulty of making dinner with small children present. I'm sure any of you who have been parents or are currently parents of small children know why this is a topic of some import. Little kids are the worst at 5 p.m.  The. Worst. It's as if they have an internal clock that tells them it's time to start screaming and crying and fighting all at once while the adult is supposed to be engaged in preparing a healthy, satisfying, and tasty meal.

Though the tasty part is less important than the others, frankly, and often takes a backseat to speed.

The other two mothers mentioned that they don't eat until very late, and they asked me with some awe in their voices how I manage to get dinner on the table every night at 6 p.m. I think I said, "There are tears. Mostly from the kids."

I was only partially joking. The fact is, most nights one or more of my kids do cry while I'm making dinner, either because I'm not holding him (Jack), or because someone is menacing him with a toy (Charlie), or because someone bit him literally on the ass (Cubby, and I can't say I entirely blame Charlie for retaliating for the aforementioned menacing). I do what I can to keep the peace while I cook, but in the end, there must be food ready for six people at 6 p.m., and so I forge ahead.

I try to avoid this as much as possible, however, by doing as much ahead as I can. And I suppose this is the real "secret" (not exactly a top-secret one, however) to my dubious success: Do it ahead. Anything. Everything. Get the meat on a pan ready for the oven. Get the lettuce washed. Make salad dressing. And almost always, peel potatoes.

There is no time to be standing at the sink peeling potatoes for fifteen minutes right before dinner. Thankfully, however, potatoes can be peeled way ahead of time and covered in a pot of cold water to keep them from getting brown. So even if I can't think of anything else to get done during Jack's nap to make my 5 p.m. a little less wretched, I can always peel potatoes.