Have I really not ever written a whole post about this? I can't believe it. I must have put everything on Facebook. Well, going to do it now.
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Sunday afternoons wipe me out. If we don't have a planned family fun activity scheduled, I will often wander upstairs right after lunch, lie down for "just a few minutes," and the next thing I know it is 4:30 and I feel like I have been run over by the special truck that comes on Sunday afternoons just to run me over.
And then, of course, it is time to get dinner on the table.
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I like being in charge of cooking. Really, I do; one of the things that makes our life so lovely is that I enjoy cooking, never really get tired of it; I achieve moments of flow in the kitchen, chopping and stirring; I love trying new recipes; I like eating, so it's nice for me that (being the cook) I get to make whatever I feel like eating; I like choosing menus that will fit into our week. The only thing about it that isn't much fun is trying to make the grocery list and menu plan when I am feeling rushed, because then I know I will make suboptimal or boring choices and that makes me less happy than everything being interesting and well-chosen, but it is still okay.
Mark is capable in the kitchen if necessary and has his own little repertoire of things to make when for some reason I am unable to make dinner. Which is great. The kids like his stuff (chilaquiles, bacon-vegetable-tomato spaghetti sauce, the rarely seen lasagna) and so do I.
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We used to use Sunday afternoons for Mark to catch up on household projects and for me to plan my school stuff for the week. Then a few years ago Mark had a sort of -- I don't know -- head-of-household conversion experience and started working on remaking our Sundays to be more restful with more family fun time in them.
This has been a slow change, but it has made a big difference. Saturdays are more busy now -- I do my school planning in the afternoon on Saturdays, and often we have a big housecleaning binge from everyone -- but Sunday afternoons are truly more fun and family-focused. We don't clean the house, just the necessary dishwasher-loading and the like. We take walks sometimes, or naps while the kids do their own thing. I have learned to suppress my inner busy person and just enjoy hanging out, ignoring the sword of Damocles which is things I could be doing right now so that I could relax LATER even BETTER when the things are all done.
Because you know what, the things are never done and if I am going to be restful I have to seize it from the jaws of things that are not yet done.
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Sunday dinner was a sticking point, though. Because you have to eat, and making the dinner was my job.
I remember once (I was pregnant, which is
probably definitely relevant) walking into the messy kitchen about 3 pm and bursting into tears because Mark had been insisting that we all relax and have fun on Sunday because it was Sunday and as a result no one had cleaned up anything in the kitchen all day and now I had to MAKE DINNER in the MESSY KITCHEN and everybody got a day of rest but MEEEEEEEE and I don't remember how that ended but I think takeout was involved.
But it all changed soon after the 15-month-old was born almost a month early and just a couple of days before New Year's Eve. We felt deprived of a party, so when I was just starting to sit at the table for dinner again -- maybe 10 days postpartum -- Mark went to the store to buy festive food. He remembered how after a previous birth, his parents had sent us a gift basket from the fancy grocery store, and he bought the kinds of things that were in that basket, and things that pregnant women are supposed to avoid these days. Lox, and several kinds of crackers, and good runny cheese. Cut vegetables with some kind of dip. And fancy salami, maybe proscuitto, and some sweet things too. Party food! We sat around the table, a brand-new family of seven, and devoured cheese and crackers. Probably there was good beer, or maybe some bubbly. It was great. Satisfying. Festive. Special.
And -- this is crucial -- almost no work at all.
It was sitting around that table with the new baby that we had the epiphany we had been waiting for. This was how Sunday dinner needed to be, for as long as we were busy raising young children. It was the solution to the puzzle that had eluded us for so long.
Making food from scratch is not restful enough. Leftovers (at least on their own) are not feast-ive enough. But bought hors d'oeuvres -- enough for everyone to get their fill -- are both festive and easy! Problem solved!
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Now Sunday dinner prep looks like this: At least two kinds of crackers (even if it's just saltines and Triscuits) are set out in bowls, and sometimes a take-and-bake baguette is popped in the oven and sliced. Someone slices salami (or summer sausage); someone arranges 2 or 3 kinds of cheese, usually a mix of fairly inexpensive cheddars and goudas appreciated by the kids, with one good cheese appreciated by me. If we have leftover deli meats of other kinds, those go out as well. (An alternative to the sausage-and-cheese platter: lox and cream cheese on cocktail rye. Mm.) We keep a small stock of jars and cans of fancy olives and preserves and spreads and pâtés and things, which we add to whenever we happen to see something interesting while out and about, and one or two of those goes on the table. We cut up peppers and celery and carrots and radishes, and put them out for dipping, either with bought hummus or with good olive oil, salt, and pepper -- a trick we learned in Rome. We open wine or beer, and the kids may have juice boxes or soda if they have some. It takes maybe 20 minutes to put on the table and is not hard to clean up.
And it feels like Sunday.
We call this kind of dinner "plate," borrowing a word from the family of a friend. I think smorgasbord would be a better word, but plate has stuck.
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We can't keep the work at bay forever. After dinner on Sunday it's back to the grindstone, cleaning up and prepping for the week. But I feel like we've finally hit the sweet spot.
A lot of "wow this is the best solution ever to our problem" doesn't stick. I post about my life-changing new idea with enthusiasm, my readers tell me I am a genius [polishes nails on lapel], and then after a month or a season or a new baby I give up, slink away, and never speak of my formerly great idea again.
i have a feeling this one is robust enough to stick, at least as long as we can afford cheese and crackers.