Sunday, September 14, 2014

Get Out of the Office and Into the Kitchen

There's a study out that the suggests that the home cooked family dinner, idealized by the likes of Michael Pollan, Ann Romney, Michelle Obama, and June Cleaver alike, might not be all it's cracked up to be if you're the mom doing the cooking.

From the abstract:

Sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton offer a critique of the increasingly prevalent message that reforming the food system necessarily entails a return to the kitchen. They argue that time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials.

To a certain extent, I reject the study authors' suggestion that a reform of the food system does not entail a return to the kitchen.  Mass produced, restaurant food is, by and large, not that great for you.  You're better off making it yourself.

But I take their point:  the burden, disproportionately placed on women, often outweighs the benefit.  There are many problems:  picky eaters (including the adult men in their lives!), time, physical exhaustion, food prices.

I am lucky enough to be well-off enough that, though they are concerning, high food prices are not an obstacle to me cooking a meal.  But I feel the pressure of the foodie culture too.  I want to have a delicious, nutritious, sit down, home cooked meal every night with my family.  I think it's better.  It's the one time in the day when we're all together.  We can talk about our day and share, you know, good old fashioned family time.

Although, if I'm honest, the everyone 'round the table, every day meal from my childhood that I remember the most isn't dinner.  It's breakfast and that bowl of oatmeal and glass of orange juice and Flintstone's vitamin next to my spoon.  My mom may have had dinner on the table every night, but it's the mornings I remember.

And that's Point Number One that I'd like to make:  It doesn't have to be dinner.  If breakfast works better for you, why not bowls of cereal and a little morning conversation?  But if breakfast and dinner aren't feasible, well, maybe a snack.  Or maybe your family just doesn't share a meal together.  But the family meal to me is more about the family and less about the meal.  Finding a time to be together as a family without the TV blaring for about 30 minutes a day is really important.  No family time, no family connections, no family.

And so that's my Point Number Two:  If you only have thirty minutes free in which you can either cook a meal or spend time with your family, I vote you throw a frozen lasagna in the oven, open up a bag salad, and spend those thirty minutes hanging with your family.  Yes, good nutrition is important.  But careful label reading can steer you towards healthier pre-packaged options.  If feeding your family something quick gives you more time to have a conversation with them, do that.  (And, by the way, The Working Dad pitches in and cooks too, and his fajitas rock.)

Which brings me to my Point Number Three:  Holy smokes, give yourself a break and take some short cuts.  Some people make a lot of crockpot meals.  That's never really worked for us, but if it works for you, do it.  And I hereby give you permission to buy prepackaged stuff.  Just read the labels, friends.  Mrs. Dash even has sodium free marinades, for instance, that are pretty good.  And it's okay to make Kraft Macaroni & Cheese every once in a while.  It won't kill your kids, just like it didn't kill us.  Use canned food.  Use frozen vegetables.  It's okay.  (Obviously, if you've got food allergies, lots of the prepackaged things are irrelevant to you, or even dangerous. But not all of them. If this is you, though, you're probably already a good label reader, so keep doing what you're doing.)

As much as I love Martha Stewart, I understand that Martha has a whole staff backing her up and bringing her her farm fresh eggs and "best" vanilla.  When it's just me in there, I'm okay tossing a bag of frozen, tail off gulf shrimp into my quick creole that I will serve over Uncle Ben's boil-in-bag rice.  Go ahead and order in or carry it out every once in a while.  You've worked all day.  Sometimes, there's not the energy, even if there is the time.

So to my Point Number Four:  Dads, if you aren't helping out in the kitchen, you need to start, particularly if your wife is a working mom.  That you do not know how to cook or that your wife is a better cook is not an excuse.  She works hard at her job just like you do.  She's tired when she gets home from the office too.  Give her a break:  learn a couple of tasty meals that you can reliably cook once or twice a week.  (What?  You can't grill burgers or chicken breasts and toss some frozen veggies into the microwave?  What kind of man are you, anyway?  Just kidding . . . a little.)  She will appreciate the effort you make, and the opportunity to play with the kids while you cook, for a change.  Trust me.  I relish every bite of The Working Man's excellent fajitas every time he makes them.  (And the great thing about his fajitas:  I can't replicate them.  I can make my own version, but not his.  His are far superior.)

So, I may not have all the working parents' culinary solutions. But I've got a few. If you take nothing else from my little tirade tonight, take three things:  relax, help each other out and spend time with your family. Somewhere in there, you should eat too, but don't let Michael Pollan make you feel badly about your canned green beans. You're doing okay. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Procrastination Tips From A Professional

Have a big project?  Are you working under a deadline?  Clearly, you need to procrastinate. Here, I present to you in real time (sort of) procrastination tips from a master:

1. Organize the papers you're going to be reading today for your project. Organized papers are much easier to read. 

2.  Aren't your nails a little too long?  You should trim them now.

3.  And file them.

4.  Arrange the first paper you need to read in the manner in which you plan to read and take notes on it. Something like this:

5.  Good. You need coffee. 

6.  For Heaven's sake, check your email. This is a law office!  (Or wherever you work....)

7. Obviously, you need to respond to at least one of these emails, probably lots of them. 

8.  Oh, look!, an interesting news article related to your field of employ (or not). You should email your two good work buddies about that article. It's important to be engaged in the discourse of the profession. 

9.  Once you have read about half of that first paper you arranged earlier, you should probably start a blog post, if you haven't done so already. 

10.  And it's probably time for a potty break too.  (You should get more coffee on your way back.)

11.  Are you a trial lawyer?  Have you checked the docket today to make sure you haven't accidentally forgotten about a hearing you need to handle?  Don't you think you'd better had?

(Approximately one and a half hours of productive reading and thinking later.....)

12.  Hey, lunch!

13.  Back at the desk after a refreshing lunch break, it's time to stare at the computer screen until it tells you what to write. 

14.  Hey what's up on your Facebook feed?

15.  And Instagram....

16.  You need to play a word in all seven of your Words With Friends games. You can't let your friends down. They might be procrastinating too. Don't be selfish.

17.  You should probably add something to that blog post, now.

18. Um, potty?

19.  If you haven't done so already, text your spouse/friend/significant other/child about dinner.  Or at least plan it out in your head.

20.  Better write it down. 

Okay, time to get serious:

21.  How about a snack?

22.  You should stretch your legs.

23.  And get some water. 

24.  Do you need to go visit your friend up on the 14th floor?

25.  Gawd!  Look at the size of your in-box. You'd better archive and delete some of those emails before you run out of space and all of your emails bounce back to their senders.

And, now, with nearly two-thirds of the work day gone, your mind should be well aimed on the task at hand. Now, you can think like you've never thought before; you can think like it is impossible to think when you have hours and hours of time on your hands (like this morning). Now, your brain is so keenly and sharply focused by adrenaline that, were you not working furiously on your project until the end of the day, you could surely shoot laser beams from your eyes.  And, hooray for you!, you've managed to write about five good pages of your (let's be honest) pretty dry work product that will nevertheless (we hope) please and impress your boss (once the entire thing is completed...because you still have loads to do). 

You're Welcome. (But, let's do a little bit less of this tomorrow, okay?)