Colleen Roy – Home Front

Searching for the time in dinnertime

Voices Nov. 5, 2017

Between schoolwork, allergies, and the lack of time to shop, dinnertime is often a panicked rush to see what’s available, what’s thawed, and what’s edible. (Colleen Roy / The B.C. Catholic)

When Scott and I were first married, I loved trying new recipes for dinners. Our condo was a foreclosure, so when we moved in there wasn’t a fridge, oven, or even outlet covers.

Our first fridge was a 1960s Admiral that I got for $10 at a church garage sale. It was cute and little, but without an oven my cooking was restricted to what could fit in a toaster oven.

It was just the two of us, so it wasn’t much of a problem. I even baked cookies in that thing, six at a time. When we finally got an oven, I could really get into it, buying ingredients I had never heard of before, happily serving Scott something new every night. And then we had kids.

Andrew wasn’t excited about eating things like chicken pelau. As the years have gone by, and more children have joined in with their own taste buds, things have simplified. What I’m saying it, we eat a lot of spaghetti.

The problem I face now, even more so than the finicky choices of children, is simply time. Homeschooling takes a lot of it. The spare moments between subjects are spent doing laundry and threatening everyone to get their chores done. It isn’t easy to get dinner on the table in an efficient manner. Like I said, we eat a lot of spaghetti … except Tommy, who’s allergic to tomatoes. So, there you go.

Between schoolwork, allergies, and the lack of time to grocery shop, I’ve just about given up. When Scott gets home from work it’s often a panicked rush to see what’s available, what’s thawed, and what’s edible.

As a Catholic woman my heart longs to be gracious, to have a home ready to feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger. In my life, the works of mercy apply to those put in my charge. I want there to be more, “Wow, something smells good in here,” than, “So, any thoughts for dinner?”

Sometimes life as a Catholic mom means simply getting through the day with a bit of joy to spare. I’ve come to really appreciate the practical ways that I can plan ahead and keep stress levels down.

The easiest, and probably most obvious, thing that I’ve started doing is over-baking. Muffins are pretty much a given in our house, and I am at the point where I never bake fewer than four dozen at a time. That sounds like a lot, but it only lasts a week. During the summer I try to bake as many as possible, and then they go, in bags of 18, into the deep freeze. Oh, the joy when I discover that, yes, there is one little bag left under that bag of green beans.

Another thing that makes things easier is following through on the idea that nothing should go to waste. When we have a roast chicken, the bones are immediately put on the stove to make broth. The next day I happily remember that dinner is already half made as I pull out the disgusting, gelatinized mass of goo that will become our soup.

When the kids get pumpkins in the fall the seeds are roasted, and the pumpkins themselves are cooked on All Saints Day. It’s a matter of putting them in the oven, mashing them up, and freezing them. I use the pumpkin for muffins and soups.

The neatest thing I’ve done is freezer cooking. Basically, this means spending a day preparing a month’s worth of meals in advance. Double the recipes and you have double the nights free from cooking. You take your grocery list, found in convenient freezer cooking cookbooks, and spend enough in one shot to get every free gift offered at the grocery store. At home you get everything in their proper order, dump them into a bag and stuff them into the freezer. I just found an on-line crockpot freezer cooking cookbook. The raw food goes in, the bag comes out to thaw, and the next morning it all goes into the crock pot. Done. So far, almost every meal has been a success.

I guess it’s weird that this column doesn’t really have a potent spiritual message. I’m just guessing that there are many Catholic mothers with busy, noisy lives and little ones spitting out their stew. My life is blessed with every little idea that saves me time, money, and that makes the most of what I have. There is peace in order. I think Catholic mothering is a beautiful, exhausting thing, and every bit of practical help adds joy to a mother’s heart.