Process This

Lacinato KaleThe season of scratch-foodie bliss has begun! This morning Adam planted more tomatoes, more cucumbers, and some lacinato kale. Tomorrow morning, after I start some focaccia dough, I’m going to take my daughter to a local farm to pick strawberries. Or maybe we’ll go to a farmer’s market, where someone’s beautiful display of homegrown strawberries will pick us.

Wednesday night, however, we had hotdogs for dinner. Not even nitrate-free, certified happy-cow hotdogs. Ball Park. In store-brand buns.

I am certainly not the only parent who keeps hotdogs in the freezer for dinner emergencies. But the other things in my freezer—a gallon of pesto stacked in pints; home-rendered lard in ½ cup portions; homemade breads; blanched collard greens from last year’s garden—were doubtless appalled. How could I serve my family that processed crap?

I’m not going to argue with my baguettes. Cooking my own food—preferably from ingredients I (okay, Adam) grew—is best. Absolutely. Tastes best, feels best, best inspires a sense of mindfulness and gratitude. A person who bakes her own bread will not raise a child who refuses to eat crusts.

And processed food is the worst. It makes us as a society and as individuals sick and careless and wasteful. Who gives a crap about a half-eaten Happy Meal?

But I learned early in my career as a parent to be . . . flexible.

Fourteen years ago, as a righteous, well-read pregnant woman, I had been adamant about not using formula, to the point where I was incredulous that anyone ever did. As opposed to using food that’s free!?! AND healthier!?! AND more convenient!?! How did we all get convinced to buy something at the store instead?

Then I had my baby. And, for first ten days of his life, I couldn’t breastfeed him. He would latch on and get . . . nothing. My milk just didn’t come in. No matter how hard I tried I ended up breaststarving my baby. He lost weight. I completely lost my shit. He wailed and I sobbed, as new-mom hormones coursed through me (apparently bypassing my boobs).  My baby was hungry and I couldn’t feed him.

Except I could. A clever nurse had a plan: I taped a tiny tube from a tiny bottle of formula to my breast, so that when my baby sucked, he actually got fed. He also got used to suckling, and my breasts eventually got with the program.

After that, all my babies were mostly breastfed, until they all ate mostly homemade baby food. I mean, what’s so hard about mashing a banana or overcooking oatmeal? But when I couldn’t manage it—when I had to leave a jar of baby food for a sitter—I forgave myself. Watching my hungry infant finally get fed had cured me of scratch-foodie guilt.

Sometime in September I’ll be (garden willing) in a damp and dirty apron, sterilizing canning jars while cranking quarts of sauce through a food mill. I’ll have no idea what time it is. Then one of my kids will enter the kitchen carnage and, above the blaring music, casually announce, “I’m hungry!”

And I’ll do what any sensible foodie mom would do while putting up a year’s worth of tomato sauce: I’ll order a pizza.


  1. hell yeah you will! I’m about to make a pasta salad with organic home grown veggies and farm market feta, and take it to my friend’s house along with locally grown flowers. My kids, however, cuz I’m in a rush, will have to settle for Dejourno frozen pizza. But I’m guessing they’ll also ask that I leave some of the salad as well, cuz at some point they realized there really IS a difference. And that made me feel like I had won a small battle. Congrats on your victory as well!

  2. There’s another reason for sometimes giving in to pizza—okay, store-bought pizza, not yours—and hot dogs—do you make hot dogs? Which is that it reminds me that although I think it’s going to taste better than the stuff I make, it never does. It must be the childhood memory of hot dogs and pizza, or else the stuff has gone seriously downhill. That disappointment reminds me of how good homemade stuff is. And if you never had that hot dog or pizza you would become exhausted, not because you were busy making your own food, but because being perfect is exhausting. Worse yet, it makes everyone around you feel imperfect. Miss you guys. Hope you’re well. Eat on . . . Dennis

    1. Dennis You are so right on the money. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

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