The Pleasure of a Simple Supper.

Somewhere in the past month, things have drastically changed in my kitchen.  Just after the first of the year, I contemplated doing the "21 Day Sugar Detox", and even read the book when my library hold came in.  But I decided my diet really isn't all that in need of a complete overhaul, and perhaps making things with sugar is on par with actually eating things with sugar.  It's probably an addiction, but such a satisfying one that I can't give it up completely.  Instead, I just scaled back.  You can't expect a baker to just stop baking.  I've baked a little, but haven't gone overboard because I realized that I was wrongly using sugar in bribery form to get my pickiest kid to eat his suppers of actual food.

Somewhere in there, my new baby began his lifelong journey of solid food eating and he recalibrated my enjoyment of the simplest things in life.  I worried as I soft boiled him his first bites of egg yolk that he would make the ugliest of faces and refuse to eat warm, golden egg bellies.  But he didn't.  He had the most beautiful look of excitement when tasting real food, real food that wasn't the tiniest bit sweet.  I went on to serve him single vegetable purees of sweet potato, carrot, butternut squash, and all were similarly enjoyed.  Strangely the sweeter fruits I tried to feed him took more of an effort for him to enjoy.  But whenever I sit him in his brand new spot at the table, he appears really excited to eat!  And he eats all of his little portions, causing me to wonder consistently if I should offer him more or exercise restraint.  This in itself was the biggest encouragement for family suppers.

At the same time, I just stopped talking about supper.  Here's dinner, here's your bowl of soup or your plate of food, and I am not going to mention how excited I am that it is sitting in front of you, or that I was planning it for days.  I'm not going to mention what steps I took or what secrets I added to it, I'm not going to appear so excited to be able to feed you real, nutritious food that I made from scratch with my own hands.  I know I am overzealous to have the privilege of feeding my family.  When I stopped talking about how the food appeared on our plates, the food started disappearing off of them.  Without questions.

You can add 1/3 cup barley to just about any soup during the last 30-45 minutes of simmer I've found.  It grows overnight, sometimes making your soup into a stew for the next day...

Maybe it's just me expecting that the food will be eaten, but dinnertime now seems a mystery of epic proportion.  Since last December, I found that if I add barley to a soup, any soup, it will get eaten.  I talked about this with a few people:  apparently, men (and boys) love barley.  I also stopped worrying about serving leftovers.   Even the ones who I thought didn't really care for leftovers are eating leftovers regularly, and this makes me smile enormously.  These short, bitter cold days are taking it out of me in the housekeeping department, and there always seems to be a shortage of time to get that beginning-of-the-year organization done (let alone time to knit and/or read at the end of the day).  My spice cupboard is still crying out for a thorough deep clean.  Leftover dinners seem to be a welcome cheat when I need a day to have coffee with a friend or just need to make a dent in the laundry.  And I no longer feel bad about it!

I think I used to run my kitchen like a diner, everyone getting more or less a customized meal.  Part of this came from when my Husband used to be at work over the dinner hour.  I'd feed the kid first, then myself, and finally my Husband later in the evening.  In retrospect, that is probably how I got myself into the mess of cooking to order.  I also was pretty proud of the fact that I could actually juggle that many pans to wrangle customized suppers out pretty dang efficiently.  I took short order to mean that I really had some really honed kitchen skills.  I didn't realize what a pleasure it is to cook simply, eat together, and eat all of what was leftover.

I spend less on food now than ever, despite the extra family member, and in spite of insisting on truly quality ingredients.  It's a great feeling not to have much kitchen waste.  It is also inspiring to appreciate things for their simpleness.  I roasted the butternut squashes for the baby, but when I pureed them in the Vitamix with a good amount of butter and a pinch of salt and pepper, I was shocked that it didn't need anything else to satisfy me as well.  It was just pure, good food that tasted perfect all on its own.  (Well, maybe it was a touch better when I added a bit of cilantro-chile paste that I made to spice up our chili the other day...) 

 I saw a nice cilantro swirl on some black bean soup on Food52 last week: I made mine by pureeing a whole bunch of cilantro with a seeded jalapeno, a splash of cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt.

I am reading a record number of new and complex cookbooks, but there is nothing more pleasurable than not needing to leave the house during these endless cold snaps, and finding joy in simply prepared, just plain good food.  Busting my own sweet tooth isn't nearly as difficult as busting the one of my picky 7-yr-old son, but progress is coming - especially with a brand new excited eater in the house.