I saw an ad in a parenting publication a while ago that still irritates me to this day. It was an ad for a prepackaged cake mix, cookie dough, or something of the sort. The image was of a mother beatifically gazing upon her child drawing a picture, and the tag line was something like "Saves you time so you can do more important things in life". When I saw it, mother-guilt - that old companion - flared up. Am I a bad mother, I thought, because I make my own stock, bake my own bread and (shock) make my own biscuits? Am I depriving my children of my time, by spending time doing these things?
I don't believe so at all. Being born close together, my kids are used to me being busy with their siblings, housework, or cooking. That's not to say I don't spend time with them, but in my mind, the lines between "quality time" and domestic duties are fairly blurred. They like to "hang out" with me while I do various jobs around the house. Sometimes they chop mushrooms with butter knives for pasta, while I chop the onions. They watch what goes into the stockpot and we talk about chickens, bones, and where our food comes from. They draw at the kitchen table while I whip up a quick batch of Anzacs.
Before you strangle me with my starched, frilly apron, let me tell you, I am far from perfect. The house is often a mess. When we walk to kinder, often only the oldest child is dressed properly, and I am more often that not literally still in my pyjamas. The kids get bored (and so do I!) and they get "under my feet" when I'm trying to return some sense of order to the house. Seedlings shrivel up unwatered, bread overproves and goes flat, and we are no stranger to the good old can of baked beans for dinner.
Tammi - a fellow mother of three and also a passionate fellow student, gardener, baker, and cook - recently wrote a wonderful post in reply to the question, "How do you do it?" She makes an important connection between skills and good use of time. Cooking skills are by and large not inherent in our nature. They are developed with practice, as many a trilling smoke alarm and full-bellied dog can attest.
I love adding recipes to our family's weeknight meals from cuisines that are new to me. This is partly because cooking is one of my hobbies and in this way, I can make my leisure time and domestic duties intersect. Also, and at the risk of sounding pat, I believe that food, like music, can "cross the cultural divide". Through my cooking, I hope my kids will grow up to be open-minded and culturally aware, and that they will think of "sausages" as anything from kolbasi, to lap cheong, to $2 snags from Bunnings.
Arsenic hour is not conducive to grappling with a cookbook, however. I tend to cook new things on a weekend for pleasure, and then modify them so they are easy to whip up. Multiple ingredients in a curry sauce - meant for careful, sequential adding to a pan whilst being lovingly stirred - are whizzed in a blender, with surprisingly good results. Practice also means I can make a great salad dressing in a jar, and a great sauce for noodles with no recipe.
I recently posted my recipe for misir wat (Ethiopian red lentil dal), made with berbere, a spice paste that can be bought from various Ethiopian grocers in Footscray. Along with tikil gomen and fresh injera, this is a healthy, quick, and above all delicious weeknight meal. I cook my tikil gomen in niter kibbeh, which is spiced ghee. It's used as a base for various dishes, such as doro wat, a kind of chicken curry. Mesnoy in Irving St sell it for $10/kg and have 500g tubs in their fridge. I don't believe using niter kibbeh for tikil gomen is traditional, as most Ethiopian vegetarian dishes are cooked in vegetable oil so that they are totally vegan. But I say, the more butter, the better!
Adapted from "The Berbere Diaries"- note all quantities are rough
1/3 cup niter kibbeh
1/4 cabbage, shredded
2-3 carrots, cut on the diagonal
1 tsp turmeric
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped ginger
4-5 large green chillies, cut on the diagonal
Melt niter kibbeh in pan. Add cabbage and carrots. When well-mixed, add turmeric and salt to taste, and mix until evenly coated. Cook to desired doneness. Five minutes before the end of cooking time, add garlic, ginger and green chillies (I prefer the chillies crunchy). Serve on injera.
I look forward to broadening our food horizons further. I cannot say, however, that I will ever give up my Achilles heel - the taco kit. You can take the girl out of El Paso... but you can't take El Paso out of the girl.