Category Archives: Meat & Potatoes

Apron Strings

www.melindawentzel.comI am a mediocre cook at best, perhaps an unlikely one as well, since I never was much for the kitchen—even as a kid. I have a handful of recipes in my repertoire that I feel comfortable with, most of which have been handed down through family over a number of years. Mastery came only as a result of determined effort and decades of repetition—certainly not from talent or inclination. That said, I almost never stray from the recipe, sticking to the formula that has worked for me time and again. There’s always the chance I’ll burn or undercook something, so I suppose that’s all the adventure I need.

Occasionally, I’ll branch out and try new things that I’ve seen on the Food Network, but only if I can pronounce the ingredients and find them easily in the grocery store. I’m not one to traipse around looking for something completely obscure that Giada went on and on about. That’s just not me. The degree of difficulty matters, too. Chances are if a third grader couldn’t prepare it, blindfolded with a whisk tied behind his or her back, I’m not likely to tackle it anytime soon.

I realize this isn’t the sort of example I ought to be setting for my daughters—always playing it safe, unwilling to step outside my comfort zone in order to reap the benefits that sometimes come with taking risks. As adults I’m hopeful they’ll be more adventuresome than I, delving into cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes they find online, crafting their own from scratch.

I’m sure if I had sons I’d feel the same way.

Nevertheless, I don’t pretend to know what my children will glean from me as it relates to culinary skills. Lord knows I’ve tried to lure them into the kitchen, because, of course, I’d feel like a complete failure if I didn’t at least teach them something. I’ll admit it was easier when they were small. We’d pull the heavy mixing bowls out of the cupboard, shove wooden chairs up against the counter and sort through the drawer for favorite aprons—the ones that practically swallowed them so many years ago, two tiny sets of feet peeking out at the bottom. Together we’d bake cookies, scooping mounds of flour, cracking eggs in a less-than-efficient manner and eating chocolate chips straight from the bag. Not surprisingly, my kids were greatly invested in anything that involved making a terrible mess and/or eating sweet stuff.

Over time, I coaxed them into learning how to make some of their favorite dishes, banking on the idea that they’d be inspired by the outcome. For the most part, this has worked, evidenced by the fact that they feel comfortable enough to make their own dinner once in a while and no one has burned down the house as of yet. No small feat.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether they fall in love with the kitchen and all that it entails. I won’t be disappointed if they fail to fully embrace it, nor will I be displeased if they do. I just want them to continue to enjoy spending time with me there—even if I have to bribe them with Ghirardelli chocolate chips or having free rein to make an enormous mess of my kitchen, something that’s still very popular.

What’s more, years from now I hope I’ll see that I’ve managed to impart at least two things to my daughters, neither of which has anything to do with properly sautéing vegetables or peeling a hard-boiled egg without destroying it. I want them to recognize the importance of making a meal for someone who really needs to feel pampered or just plain loved—to know that comfort food is a godsend when someone is grieving or recovering or stressing about life in general.

I also want them to remember how special it made them feel to have someone bake them a birthday cake, slathered with their favorite icing and/or sprinkles. If they can in turn bake someone happy on their special day, that would indeed make me smile.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

1 Comment

Filed under Gratitude, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Meat & Potatoes

Food for Thought

www.melindawentzel.comI’m pretty sure June Cleaver’s head would explode if she knew of my pitiful and often failed attempts to gather my brood at the dinner table for a real sit-down meal—Leave it to Beaver style. In a word, I am woefully inept when it comes to planning, preparing and placing said meal upon the table in a timely and aesthetically pleasing manner. So much so that my kids have apparently forgotten what it’s like to dine as a family within the confines of this particular circus-inspired, scheduled-to-the-max sort of establishment. Never mind that we did so for much of the summer, sweet corn having been shamelessly utilized as bait. But I digress.

“You want us to sit here? Together? And talk about our day?” my incredulous kids ask, clearly taken aback by the prospect of stopping whatever it is they’re doing to plunk themselves at the kitchen table for twenty to thirty minutes of food and not-so-idle conversation. Of course, my gentle demands are often met with a healthy dose of eye rolling coupled with I-can’t-possibly-set-the-table-if-I’m-tying-my-soccer-cleats-AND-doing-my-homework brand of snarky commentary. Par for the course in the trenches of Parentville, methinks.

Needless to say, the Gods of After School Madness rarely smile upon me and may, in fact, revel in my ineptitude, mocking my efforts to deal with the deluge of mini-crises that routinely befall our happy home at that critical juncture—that impossibly brief and patently crazed window of time wedged between the instant my charges make landfall and the race to the 437th extracurricular event of the week. As a less-than-composed parent, and seemingly without fail, this is the time when the wheels fly off and the bottom falls out.

That said, the phone typically rings just as the pots on the stove begin to boil over and shortly before godknowswho knocks at the door, sending the dog into an apoplectic barking seizure. Moments later, my dear progenies demand that I flit from the stove to hover nearby while they wrestle, by turns, with the concept of divisibility and the large and unwieldy vocabulary words that may or may not appear in a book I, stupidly, suggested. Granted, the experience itself is decidedly intolerable. Furthermore, it’s rumored that I may know next to nothing about math and even less about adverbs. However, the ceaseless petitions for my help continue—in the midst of meal preparation, listening to a certain French horn and clarinet, answering the door and phone, conducting backpack search and rescue missions (for decomposing food!) with disturbing regularity, frantically gathering whatever paraphernalia will be needed for this or that nightly venture and dealing with the occasional cat vomit surprise and/or dog-poo-on-the-bed bit of hideousness. (For the record, I’m not particularly interested in learning how the latter occurred).

At any rate, when and if I finally succeed in shepherding one and all to the celebrated table to feast on what (hopefully) will qualify as a palatable meal, I immediately remember why I went to such lengths at all.  Firstly, there’s compelling data that links sit-down meals with a child’s success, especially with respect to at-risk behaviors—so saith a team of researchers at Columbia University and Dan Harris of ABC News. Secondly, Anderson Cooper of CNN desperately wants “…to bring back the family dinner, one meal at a time” through his Sunday Supper Club and I, most assuredly, don’t want to disappoint him. Thirdly, and perhaps most notably, the discussion that takes place over peas and potatoes (or whatever I managed not to burn beyond recognition) is invaluable. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Often there is talk of “bad actors” on the bus and goose poop on the soccer field, who vomited profusely in the cafeteria and which dweeb dared to drink the “mystery brew” that a host of classmates lovingly prepared. Not to be outdone, my husband brings his own brand of bizarreness to the conversation, opening a tiny window into his day as well. As it should be, I suppose.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (occasionally at the dinner table with my inimitable cast and crew). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

4 Comments

Filed under Homework Hell, Meat & Potatoes, School Schmool, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

In Praise of Turkey and Tradition

We make pot pie at our house each Thanksgiving—a savory Pennsylvania Dutch meal that features the most perfect blend of onions, potatoes, thick squares of doughy goodness and meaty strands of chicken. Only we use turkey on this festive occasion. Six-and-a-half pounds of succulent dark meat to be exact, bathing in a vat of broth that most would find fairly intoxicating. It’s tradition. Or more correctly, a slight variation on tradition that serves to remind our family of the delectable dish my mother-in-law made not so long ago.

That said, in the four years since Grandma Ella’s been gone, I’ve tried at least three times to marry the flavors of the aforementioned dish as well as she did. And although I doubt I’ve managed to achieve that level of culinary success, I’m guessing I’ve come close—which is saying a lot given my proclivity for food related disasters, making me heady with the notion that my skills are no longer thought to be among the most deplorable on record.

Tomorrow will be yet another attempt at pot pie mastery, and, of course, an opportunity for all of us to close our eyes, to breathe in the deliciousness that will hang heavy in the air and in doing so, to revisit a time when Grandma stood at the stove peering into a steamy pot, summoning her special brand of kitchen wizardry. I’ll wear her rumpled apron for good measure—a speckled and storied bit of fabric flecked with tiny green leaves, now wan and threadbare from decades of use. I’ll wear it because I cannot imagine surviving the ordeal without splattering inordinate quantities of the soupy potage upon myself, but also because it’s tradition—or at least that is what it has become over time. Heaven forbid I disturb the delicate balance of good luck and a great recipe by offending the gods of tradition and/or flawless feasts.

With any further good fortune, I’ll be able to lure my charges away from the colorful swell of parades on television, from their beloved Wii in the den and from the pervasive yet somehow endearing skies of gray and barren woodlands long enough to enlist their help in the kitchen. Never mind that Thing One completely abhors turkey. Or that Thing Two will feign interest unless and until I permit her to stand atop a chair to drop wedges of dough into a boiling sea of broth. Grandma would’ve let her do such a thing, mindful to teach her the importance of placing each wedge, carefully and singularly, atop a bubble as it surfaces within an impossibly brief window of time. Just as she taught me—just as I hope and envision all three of my children will one day teach their children. Handing it down from one generation to the next.

Again, with the tangible and treasured notion of tradition—on this Thanksgiving Day and, perhaps more importantly, on perfectly ordinary days—the ones I routinely fill to capacity with obligations of one kind or another, dismissing all too often the mundane slivers of time with my family as opportunities to connect and share that which I value. Of course, I kick myself for doing so, recognizing that it is the harvest of tiny moments that matter most. Like the delicious time I spent with my grandparents, especially my grandfather in his workshop—a place that reeked gloriously of motor oil and sawdust—a place where I became inextricably consumed time and again with saws and sandpaper, two-by-fours and tape measures. A handful of seemingly insignificant pages of childhood that somehow clung to the corners of my mind, filling me with the warmth that comes from having lived them.

I’d like to think that simple traditions (like making pot pie) are like that, too.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in praise of turkey…and tradition). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

2 Comments

Filed under Meat & Potatoes

Food for Thought

www.melindawentzel.comI’m pretty sure June Cleaver’s head would explode if she knew of my pitiful and often failed attempts to gather my brood at the dinner table for a real sit-down meal—Leave it to Beaver style. In a word, I am woefully inept when it comes to planning, preparing and placing said meal upon the table in a timely and aesthetically pleasing manner. So much so that my kids have apparently forgotten what it’s like to dine as a family within the confines of this particular circus-inspired, scheduled-to-the-max sort of establishment. Never mind that we did so for much of the summer, sweet corn having been shamelessly utilized as bait. But I digress.

“You want us to sit here? Together? And talk about our day?” my incredulous kids ask, clearly taken aback by the prospect of stopping whatever it is they’re doing to plunk themselves at the kitchen table for twenty to thirty minutes of food and not-so-idle conversation. Of course, my gentle demands are often met with a healthy dose of eye rolling coupled with I-can’t-possibly-set-the-table-if-I’m-tying-my-soccer-cleats-AND-doing-my-homework brand of snarky commentary. Par for the course in the trenches of Parentville, methinks.

Needless to say, the Gods of After School Madness rarely smile upon me and may, in fact, revel in my ineptitude, mocking my efforts to deal with the deluge of mini-crises that routinely befall our happy home at that critical juncture—that impossibly brief and patently crazed window of time wedged between the instant my charges make landfall and the race to the 437th extracurricular event of the week. As a less-than-composed parent, and seemingly without fail, this is the time when the wheels fly off and the bottom falls out.

That said, the phone typically rings just as the pots on the stove begin to boil over and shortly before godknowswho knocks at the door, sending the dog into an apoplectic barking seizure. Moments later, my dear progenies demand that I flit from the stove to hover nearby while they wrestle, by turns, with the concept of divisibility and the large and unwieldy vocabulary words that may or may not appear in a book I, stupidly, suggested. Granted, the experience itself is decidedly intolerable. Furthermore, it’s rumored that I may know next to nothing about math and even less about adverbs. However, the ceaseless petitions for my help continue—in the midst of meal preparation, listening to a certain French horn and clarinet, answering the door and phone, conducting backpack search and rescue missions for decomposing food with disturbing regularity, frantically gathering whatever paraphernalia will be needed for this or that nightly venture and dealing with the occasional cat vomit surprise and/or dog-poo-on-the-bed bit of hideousness. (For the record, I’m not particularly interested in learning how the latter occurred).

At any rate, when and if I finally succeed in shepherding one and all to the celebrated table to feast on what (hopefully) will qualify as a palatable meal, I immediately remember why I went to such lengths at all.  Firstly, there’s compelling data that links sit-down meals with a child’s success, especially with respect to at-risk behaviors—so saith a team of researchers at Columbia University and Dan Harris of ABC News. Secondly, Anderson Cooper of CNN desperately wants “…to bring back the family dinner, one meal at a time” through his Sunday Supper Club and I, most assuredly, don’t want to disappoint him. Thirdly, and perhaps most notably, the discussion that takes place over peas and potatoes (or whatever I managed not to burn beyond recognition) is invaluable. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Often there is talk of “bad actors” on the school bus and goose poop on the soccer field, who vomited profusely in the cafeteria and which dweeb dared to drink the “mystery brew” that a host of classmates lovingly prepared. Not to be outdone, my husband brings his own brand of bizarreness to the conversation, opening a tiny window into his day as well. As it should be, I suppose.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (occasionally at the dinner table with my inimitable cast and crew). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom to share your in-the-trenches parenting moments.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

On a side note, I was completely thrilled to learn that I had been selected to receive the highly coveted Versatile Blogger Award last week! And in acceptance of said award, I’d like to personally thank the woman responsible for nominating me, Lisa Tognola of Main Street Musings. Please do take a moment out of your harried day to visit her site. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

And in the spirit of celebrating some of the most versatile bloggers on the planet I know (and in passing along the award to each of them in turn), I’d like to invite you to visit their sites as well. Whether their voices have been irreverent and snarky, thought-provoking and informative or palpable and heart-rending, they’ve spoken to me in a manner that’s been most memorable. Here’s hoping they’ll speak to you, too.

http://julia.typepad.com/

http://anymommyoutthere.com/

http://stoopmama.com/

http://www.wendiaarons.com/

http://sarahandthegoonsquad.com/

http://annalefler.com/2011/08/frankenwhat/

http://thebloggess.com/

http://www.whiskeyinmysippycup.com/

http://www.goodybastos.blogspot.com/

http://mommasaid.net/

http://www.andrea-stanley.com/

http://toddlerplanet.wordpress.com/

http://www.alittlepregnant.com/

http://neanderdad.com/

http://www.finslippy.com/blog/

Welcome to My World…

In keeping with the Versatile Blogger Award tradition, here are seven random facts about me that hopefully won’t result in damnation, divorce or an inordinate degree of shame.

1)  I am not EVEN REMOTELY RELATED to a morning person. Make a note.

2)  Laundry is the bane of my existence. I’m fairly certain that’s where they’ll find me when I buy the farm, surrounded by behemoth-sized heaps of fetid-smelling clothes and mumbling something about “…a cruel, cruel world,” wishing I had simply been “…run over by a fucking truck.”

3)  My husband and I once stayed in a Honeymoon Suite (for a much-needed respite from parenthood—and for the sole purpose of drinking to excess and engaging in wanton sex in a hot tub) only to fall dead asleep for 12 straight hours instead. Oy.

4)  It’s rumored that my lips have touched a 2-quart plastic milk bottle on more than one occasion.

5)  I only pretend to understand Pokémon whateverness, and on a related note, I only pretend to understand my dog, in all his neurotic glory.

6)  I was once sneezed upon by a reindeer in North Pole, New York (aka Santa’s Workshop). It was ugly and I don’t want to talk about it.

7)  I once broke my hand in a less-than-composed parenting moment (read: a fit of rage involving glitter glue, lip gloss and my children’s bedroom carpeting). I once broke a toe in the shower. Don’t ask.

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Filed under Homework Hell, Meat & Potatoes, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

In Praise of Potato Salad

Memorial Day is fast approaching. Five days and counting. A time to reflect upon the collective sacrifice made by countless servicemen and women throughout the history of this great nation. A time to recognize our past and present soldiers for their valiant efforts in wars here and abroad. A day reserved for flags, parades and formal remembrances.

However (and shameless as it sounds), I can think of nothing but potato salad right now, and how it has been an integral part of nearly every Memorial Day celebration in my life. As a kid, I remember sitting on a sun-drenched curb in the center of town, waving one of those tiny flags on a stick as my hometown marching band, dressed in spats and scratchy woolen suits, passed by, their irksome hats slipping ever so slightly over their faces—the ones reddened by both the morning sun and the furious pace. There were gleaming fleets of fire trucks, too, in all their glory, and massive floats that inched by, their crepe paper skirts flowing in the breeze—floats from which an obscene quantity of candy was ceremoniously launched, sending kids scurrying into the street to gather it by the fistful.

Indeed, the parades of my youth always seemed grand, but they were nothing compared to the annual picnic that would follow. In my mind, of course, it was all about the potato salad. The rest was just fluff—perfunctory trimmings that merely served to round out the meal on that special Monday in May. I knew what truly mattered. It was the potato-y goodness contained within my summertime favorite. So what if summer had yet to officially arrive. It was the consummate medley of onion, celery and carrots—perfectly infused with mustard and mayonnaise, pepper and eggs. Mom’s specialty. Now mine.

For the most part, I’ve adapted to the role, however, it has not come to this household without fits of passionate debate. That said, a select few (who will remain nameless, to protect and preserve their flawed views) believe that the aforementioned vegetables ought to be diced into chunks so impossibly small as to be rendered invisible. Naturally, one might question how effectively the flavors could then be enjoyed; never mind the nearly negated crunch factor. There are certain individuals, too, who would dare suggest that Miracle Whip is somehow comparable to Hellmann’s—the thought of which I find purely sacrilegious. Still others refuse to partake at all if it is rumored that a solitary Spanish olive has touched a morsel of the mix, insisting, instead, that I include sweet pickle relish—an unconscionable act in my mind. As a result (and to appease the whimsical nature of the crowd), I often get strapped with the tedious task of making SEVERAL ENTIRELY DIFFERENT POTATO SALADS. Ugh.

But I digress.

It’s almost Memorial Day and I couldn’t be happier to be on the cusp of summer, poised to embark upon a season of picnics and the endless pursuit of fireflies. Of course, anyone can make potato salad at any time of year. Even in January for Pete’s sake. But who would want to? It flies in the face of tradition and would likely anger the Gods of Outdoor Feasts. I, for one, rarely tempt fate in that manner—content, instead, to stick with that which is customary and perhaps unobjectionable to the masses.

Aside from the great anticipation with which I approach the coming holiday (since I am certain it will involve the deliciousness of potato salad made to my liking), I recently discovered TWO MORE reasons to celebrate the culinary goodness of summertime.

Firstly, May is National Hamburger Month, which of course fills me with the irresistible desire to race straight to Tony’s Deli, where the best burgers on the planet assemble en masse. Seriously. There is a succulent quality about them that is almost beyond description. Secondly, May is also National Salsa Month, which quite possibly explains all the trips to Ozzie and Mae’s Hacienda these past few weeks, where I’ve felt compelled to gorge on homemade salsa and tortilla chips. Olé! All in all, May is shaping up to be a positively delectable month, methinks.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (in praise of potato salad). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

2 Comments

Filed under Holiday Hokum, Meat & Potatoes