"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Feeding the Ravening Hordes

It's amazing to me what adding just two teenage mouths means to the family food budget, and to the amount of time I spend cooking. In addition to my own kids, we have taken on Homero's two teenage nieces, collectively known as the Tamagochis. They are twelve and fourteen, and are normal, healthy eaters; not slobbering goblins - not any more so than any other teenager, anyway. I figured that adding two mouths would be no big deal. Two can eat as cheaply as one, so they say.

Maybe I'm not being fair to the Tamagochis - they aren't the only new mouths. There is also P., my oldest daughter's boyfriend, who moved in while we were away and is still here. Rowan and P. buy their own food and cook for themselves most of the time, but I often find myself mentally counting them in as I cook, thinking "I should make enough so there will be leftovers for Rowan and P." He is a tall, lanky 21 year old and he can really put it away. Also, we are trying (again) to institute a Sunday dinner, a sacred hour when all eight of us will sit down together and eat like a real family, goddammit.

The main difference is that I have been used to sit down dinners for four, two of them small children. That's a very manageable and civilized meal. Now every single dinner is for six, and the kids are no longer small. It's more than a sheer numbers issue - the gestalt has changed. Dinner for six - sometimes eight - is just a bigger deal. It's louder. It takes longer. There are more dishes to wash, there are more taste preferences to juggle. It's more likely to be stressful.

Thank goodness the Tamagochis are not picky eaters. Even though they are used to an entirely different cuisine and a lot of what I make - while prosaic enough - is strange and new to them. I've made a lot of salmon lately - it's seasonal and we lucked out and won a massive side of king salmon at a school raffle - and that is definitely weird food for them. I tend to make lots of vaguely asian food - Indian curries and Thai noodles with peanut sauce, stir fries and miso soup with seaweed and tofu - and that is totally foreign to them. Thank goodness they are game to try to new things, and too polite to turn up their noses or complain. I had to tell them, "you know, if I ask you how you like something, and you don't like it, it's okay to say so. I need to know. The polite way to say you don't like something I make is to say 'it's not my favorite.'"

Yesterday was Hope's birthday and because there was so much work to do to get ready for the party, I just made some tuna salad, put a loaf of bread out on the counter, and said "if you're hungry, here ya go, knock yourselves out." Three cans of tuna and a whole loaf of bread disappeared in less time than it just took me to write about it. The hamburger from our beef is packaged in two pound packages, and that used to mean we had to have hamburger in two successive meals - not anymore. Two pounds is just barely enough to feed everybody once. A two-pound loaf of cheese goes in less than a week, and the milk - well, a gallon of milk doesn't make it through a day sometimes. I find myself buying quantities that used to seem ridiculous to me - twenty pounds of potatoes, a ten pound sack on onions.

My dad's mother raised seven children, six of them boys. All of my uncles are well over six feet tall, too. They were pretty poor, especially after my grandpa died and before my grandma remarried. My dad remembers being hungry fairly often. He says grandma used to make a single, enormous pot of some kind of stew or beans and just let it simmer on the stove for everyone to dip up a bowl whenever they wanted. It's clear to me that was the only way to keep six hungry growing boys fed without going stark raving mad. I wouldn't mind doing the same sometimes, but so far I haven't been able to let go of my ideal of everybody eating together at least most of the time. I grew up with sit-down meals every day of the week, and I refuse to give up entirely on the idea, no matter how much extra work it is.
Apparently I inherited the martyr gene from my Jewish ancestresses.

So for the time being, I am keeping up. My canned good pantry is laughable inadequate to the task - more on that in a later post - but it's there. Yesterday we brought home a quarter of a beef - 162 pounds, and I rearranged the freezer to fit it in. We still have a lot of berries and several smaller salmon. We have bunches of broccoli and some frozen zucchini bread I made earlier in the season. We have some green salsa and some frozen chicken stock. And we have most of a goat.

The season isn't over - today I was supposed to go pick up apples from a friend who has too many, but I didn't have the car. I can do it tomorrow. Then there's squash, still. There's plenty to do, and obviously nobody's going to starve. I'm just feeling the weight of my duty to provide healthy, interesting, good-tasting food for everybody, day after ever-loving day to be a bit heavier than I usually do. My favorite of all my motherly and housewifely tasks is cooking, and so I feel bad when even this becomes something of a slog.


Andy Brown said...

Wow. I salute you.

Olive said...

Happy belated birthday to Hope!! Well, what do you know....Hope and I share a birthday ! Only mine was my 78th. and gosh, I'm really starting to feel it.
Aimee,I remember when my 4 children left me with an "empty nest" I had trouble trying to adapt my shopping from 5 to one, no longer had to pick out the hugest cauliflower in the store or buy only 2 carrots instead of 2 whole bunches. Then I met my husband number 2 and what a huge eater he is !!