I had done it. I had pushed my kids over the pasta edge. That day came last week when I asked my kids what they wanted for dinner, and one of them answered, “Nothing that rhymes with ‘maghetti.’”
And I thought I was doing so well. I wasn’t even using a jar of Ragu; I was making fresh tomato sauce with my own home-grown tomatoes, the noodles were Italian, the parsley hadn’t gone bad, there was garlic involved …
The problem has been the summertime — that time of year when schools are out and college kids come home and the house becomes once again full of people who eat. It’s the time of year when the homebound ecosystem becomes skewed. The box of orange juice that used to last for a week is gone in two days, cereal is inhaled, and bananas don’t even stand a chance of turning brown.
It’s the time of year when my mental Rolodex of recipes gets stuck on “nothing requiring more than 10 minutes of effort,” and life is lived on the edge of pasta.
I mean, the kids get a summer break from school — why can’t I get a summer break from cooking? So, for two out of three meals a day, I let them fend for themselves. Summertime is survival of the fittest in my house. You want to eat? Go forage for food.
Of course, I can’t actually send them to the backyard to hunt rodents and eat ivy (although that would be helpful). I have to augment the food supply, and that means constant trips to the grocery store. I see the cashier at my local supermarket more than I see my own husband.
I do tend to stock our shelves with food that I like or food that I think is healthy. That creates an improbable mix, and the food pyramid in our house is a bit wonky.
At the base of the pyramid is a constant supply of ice cream (made from the milk of happy cows) and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate nonpareil candies (they’re high in iron). Forming the pyramid’s middle are a drawer full of Vidalia onions and organic zucchini (three weeks old), several containers of Greek yogurt (plain), and hummus. At the pyramid’s apex are a box of rice crackers and a jar of pumpkin butter.
I did come home once with three bottles of pink lemonade, which I had purchased for a bridal shower that I was co-hostessing. As I unpacked them, one son gave them the look he usually reserves for puppies in pet-store windows and said in a pitiful voice, “I’m guessing those aren’t for us, are they?”
It did the trick. I opened a bottle and poured him a glass.
But my point is that there is food in the house, and it flies all over me when my kids complain that there isn’t.
“Mom, there’s nothing to eat,” they whine, circling me like the rebellious pack of hyenas from “The Lion King.”
“Yes there is, too!” I insist. “Look, there’s chia seeds! Rice cakes! Arugula!”
They stare at me, blankly.
I open the crisper in the fridge and continue, “Celery! Cream cheese! Hot dog buns!”
They perk up. “Are there any hot dogs?”
I rummage around some more and find a package of lunch meat. “Here,” I say, handing it to them. “Use this on the hot dog buns. It’ll be good.”
There are only a handful of days left before school begins and I’ll be once again free to eat as I please, breakfasting on cappuccino and lunching on a protein bar and a head of lettuce without worrying about the offspring. But the school year also tends to usher in a whole new kind of busy — a busy which too often dictates dinners on the fly.
So, my Rolodex file will flip to “fast and filling.” I will know it has been stuck there for too long when one of my kids finally asks “what’s for dinner?” and follows it up by saying that he wants nothing that rhymes with “nac zamboni and sneeze.”
Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at email@example.com.