Last week, Smartmom sat in a doctor’s waiting room and looked for a magazine. She was hoping for something like the New Yorker, Vogue or even Us or People for some celebrity slime, but settled for Family Circle.
It wasn’t the cover photo of lovely potted pink peonies and green leaves that caught her eye. It was the vaguely retrograde cover line.
“Quick and Healthy Family Dinners,” it said.
Just five simple words and Smartmom’s mood started a downward slide. There she was, sitting in the waiting room with her ailing father, and all she could think about was making dinner for her family.
What to make?
And, more important, why to make it? Well, the family has to eat, and even though Hepcat is a terrific cook, he almost never prepares a weekday meal. He’s great at those show-off meals when friends and family come over: the risotto, the roast leg of lamb, the chicken curry …
But the daily doldrums of dinner falls to Smartmom despite her 1970s cred as a feminist with a certificate in assertiveness training.
And it’s partly Smartmom’s fault. Like other femimoms, the kitchen is still where Smartmom defines herself. It’s the Jewish mother equation: I love you therefore I feed you.
But after nearly 17 years of parenting, everything Smartmom cooks is so boring. Sure, the kids seem to enjoy the Smartmom basics: her chicken and veggie stir-fry, goat cheese salad with dried cranberries, lasagna, and a grilled cheese sandwich to die for. But more often than not, Smartmom finds herself heating up Annie’s Mac and Cheese or Annie’s frozen cheese pizza. (What, in Buddha’s name, would Smartmom do without Annie’s?)
So Smartmom stared at the artfully styled Family Circle photos of fish tacos, beef and chimichurri sauce, salmon burgers, chicken nuggets, Asian peanut noodles, and broccoli and ham quiche. She knew the pictures were nothing but glossy propaganda for Motherhood, but she couldn’t help herself; she felt herself getting inspired to revitalize her home cooking as a way to prove to herself, her children, and the world that she really is a great mother.
Smartmom gobbled up the magazine’s suggestions before her eyes. Maybe reading these recipes would turn Smartmom into a real balabusta like her grandmother, who prepared succulent pot roast, succulent lamb chops, and lemon merengue pie in her spotless kitchen on Avenue J.
Smartmom felt the familiar pangs of inadequacy course through her. Why wasn’t she more motivated to be a great homemaker? A part of her longed to do the kind of cooking her kids would remember for the rest of their lives.
She has great memories of Manhattan Granny’s beef bourguignon from the food-stained pages of her Julia Child cookbook.
Smartmom even remembers the time her father followed a recipe in the James Beard Cookbook for steak tartare, a dish made with raw ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, onions, capers, and raw eggs.
Can you imagine?
Smartmom wonders what Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One will remember about her cooking.
The thought made Smartmom want to rip out the magazine’s handy recipes and stuff them in her Jack Spade bag. Teen Spirit and OSFO might love this stuff — or maybe not. It all sounded delicious, but kids can be so darn fussy.
And Family Circle made it all sound so easy. Too easy. “Take a break from take-out,” some copywriter wrote. “Try these good-for-you versions of your family’s favorites.”
Smartmom hated to think of the number of times a month they order from Szechuan Delight or Coco Roco. Just last week, OSFO had her favorite, chicken and brocolli in white sauce, two nights in a row. The woman who answers the phone doesn’t even ask anymore if they want soy sauce, duck sauce or mustard (for the record, no thanks).
Smartmom was amazed. Family Circle even had a reduced calorie version of General Tso’s chicken, which is Teen Spirit’s perennial favorite, made with low-sodium soy sauce, canola oil, skinless chicken and one head of fresh broccoli, steamed.
Smartmom vowed to jumpstart her home cooking. Teen Spirit would be going to college in just over a year. She still had time to entice him with delicious meals that would keep him longing for his mother’s home cooking. Forever.
Hepcat has never forgotten his mother’s tamale pie. Every time he visits the family’s farm in Northern California, he asks her to prepare it. And she, of course, does, thrilled that her son still loves her tasty cooking.
Finally, the doctor was ready to see Smartmom’s father and it was time to put the magazine down — and spit out forever the notion that food = love. The guilt. The insecurity. There was surely more to mothering than a reduced-fat version of General Tsao’s chicken. Smartmom knew that for sure.
So of course she would be calling (718) 788-5408 later that very night. The woman on the other end of the line at Szechuan Delight is always glad to hear her voice.