Thursday, February 16, 2012

Busy Mom Tip #9: Coping Strategies When You're Laid Low

I apologize for going AWOL again this past week. I have been fighting a nasty and persistent infection in a lymph node that has effectively killed my energy, not to mention my appetite. I have been suffering the consequences of not grocery shopping, nor doing my usual meal planning, and have been making do with what's in the house, which luckily, is substantial. I've also had tons of time to re-explore ways to eat healthy food when you don't have the energy or inclination to cook...much.

We coped with meals in a variety of ways: we ordered spicy Vietnamese noodle soup from Mi Hong one night, and got to eat it quietly while both our children miraculously slept into the supper hour. D and G enjoyed their wonton soup and spring rolls when they woke up.

My husband covered for me on Saturday, and went old school, which in our house means, give in to the temptation to dump a can of cream of mushroom soup and canned mushrooms onto some ground beef, pour it on perogies, and call it dinner. Again, the kids loved it, and it had the taste of nostalgia for me, too.

Sunday I managed to pull off a roast chicken dinner. Very basic, but it was a very large chicken, so it served us well for lunches and on into the week.

Monday, my husband had to work a bit late, and because I had no energy, I did the bare minimum, which turned out to be quite popular with the boys: radiatore pasta tossed with home-canned tomatoes and a generous scoop of fresh butter. With a bit of seasoning (just salt and pepper), and a bit of heating so that the tomato juice warmed up and melded with the pasta and the pasta thickened the juices a bit. The resulting sauce was a silky, creamy tomato sauce with almost perfect umami balance. The kids went for seconds, as well as polishing off a large bowl of fresh vegetables, and luckily, my husband hadn't had a chance to eat the lunch he had packed, because between me and the kids, there was no pasta left. I did save him a taste, though. He didn't feel left out because he got to have roast chicken with potatoes, gravy, peas and corn.

In a moment of ambition on Monday, I had pulled out a package of goat meat from our freezer. I thought I had the energy to pull off some kind of meal with simple chops. The chops turned out to be weird leg cuts, and I drew a blank. I just couldn't bring myself to put the effort into it. Those chops are STILL in my fridge, and today's my last chance to do something with them. I'm going to attempt a simple braise with lemon and turmeric once I finish this post.

Tuesday, Valentine's Day, had the potential to be pretty pathetic. I booked another appointment with my doctor, for 4:45, and had no plan for dinner. While I was at the doctor, my husband took the boys shopping, and we had a quick meeting in the car about what was available to use. The conversation went something like this:
Me: "Well, we still have some roast chicken."
He: "Oh! Well, why don't we use that and do some kind of chicken on spaghetti thing?"
Me: "There's no spaghetti."
He: "Okay, I'll get some."
Me: "We also have some zucchini and red peppers, so you could use those. You should get mushrooms. Do you want some kind of sauce?"
He: "There's white wine!"
Me: "That could work. There's cream, too. You'll probably need some way to thicken it."
He: "And chicken gravy, too!!"
Me: "Ah, yes. That could work..."

And so our Valentine's dinner was born. We put some fettuccine on to boil, I chopped onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini and cooked chicken breast, and he started the saute. Half way through, he got distracted by some kid emergency, I worked on the seasoning and the sauce, cooking down the wine, adding in the cream and gravy and chicken, and then he came back in time to drain the pasta and toss it with oil.

I had a short moment to reflect that we don't really get to cook side by side like that very often, but it feels really good when it happens. A team effort. I was making a conscious effort not to micro-manage (I have that tendency in the kitchen), and we were both working toward the common goal of getting everyone fed before the kids went off the deep end with us in tow. It was a lovely reminder that we make a good team, and I can't imagine a better reminder on Valentine's Day.

Our dinner was one of those unrepeatable but delicious recipes, borne of what is in the fridge, but guaranteed by long tradition not to fail. I'd call it something like an Italian-inspired chicken a la king, with red peppers, green zucchini and white chicken covering all the Italian colours, and the combination of three delicious sauce ingredients—wine/cream/chicken gravy—was guaranteed to succeed. Kids loved it, and so did I.

Wednesday, my husband came home from work early, because he was now coming down with either a version of what I have, or something else. That chicken was still seeing us through—I made yet another batch of homemade chicken noodle soup from the carcass, completely basic, not terribly inspired, but always delicious, and always popular with the boys.

Lesson learned: even the worst of weeks can be made bearable with the help of one large chicken in its various incarnations. Now. Let's go deal with the goat...

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