September 2017

My Dinner Debacle

I made a dinner for my family the other night that was so unbelievably bad (I am kind of gagging just thinking about it) that I need to blog about it to exercise the demon.

For proper context, my family is in a food rut. My husband and I have about 5 dishes that we make well and quickly and that can please the whole family (including one vegetarian). I can name them right now:
• Pasta with basil, grape tomatoes, olives and feta
• Chili
• Spinach rice
• Cheese enchilada/taco/burrito type meal
• Grilled “stuff” (steak or chicken for the majority; tofu for the vegetarian; veggies)

We have a couple of these dinners a week and fill the rest in with take-out: Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian or pizza.

I am sure this happens to all families, especially those of us with two parents working outside the home. Don’t tell me to try a food prep delivery service. We tried it.

The first one we tried was so fancy that it would take us hours after a long day at work to prep and cook the bespoke food in the box. So, we jettisoned that one.

We tried another one that was dubbed “easy and fresh”, and while it WAS pretty easy and pretty fresh, no one liked it. It wasn’t bad, it just kind of felt like eating a school lunch.

So. Here we are.

Then the other night, somehow my husband and I both got home before 6 and decided to go grocery shopping together. We googled a recipe for Chicken Divan (something my mom makes that we love). For the uninitiated, this is a baked casserole type dish with chicken and broccoli in a cheesy cream sauce. Don’t ask me why I didn’t just use her recipe. I guess I thought the Googleverse could one up my mom.

What Chicken Divan is supposed to look like…

We got the ingredients and brought them home. Hearing the plan, Sophia (our vegetarian) immediately opted out of any talk of a veg version of the recipe and ejected from the house to a friend’s like someone in an airplane about to crash. Foreshadowing.

Sophia captured ejecting from the house as we started to cook the dish.

We started the recipe. The first problem I noticed was that the baked chicken we bought didn’t seem totally cooked. This freaked me out and I asked my husband to take the chicken off the bone for me (not a fan of handling raw meat).

At first, he poo poo-ed this “No way. We bought it as a fully cooked chicken” (to provide a little marital context: he is a knowitall an engineer, and often poo poos any of my observations related to the physical universe). But then, he started to look at the meat more closely, and too was a little weirded out by the partial rawness, but reasoned that it would be cooking for 45 minutes in the oven and that would “take care of it”.

Next thing was that the sauce seemed “over” creamy for its own good. Creamy in a crazy-ass Paula Deen-type way. In this recipe, you not only add mushroom soup (which as I recall is in my mom’s 70’s glorious recipe), but also some sour cream AND MAYONAISE! AND WHAT?! That really made me pause, but I figured this is a 5 star recipe from a food aficiando site.

Ok. Next was some white wine (which I also recall from my mom’s recipe) but also lemon and curry. The latter seemed like a good idea to me at the time. I love curry. But that would come back to haunt me.

Last was a bread crumb, parmesan cheese and butter mixture mixed on top. For those keeping “fat” track, we were now up to sour cream, mayonnaise and butter. I am not a low-fat fanatic, but was seriously starting to worry about our health at this point. But, too late. I was committed.

In the oven it went. It was now 8 PM. My starving 13 year old son was interrupting gaming on his iPad every 10 minutes to ask “is it ready yet?”.

Finally at 8:45, it came out of the oven. It looked pretty good in the pan.

However, when we dished it up, we noticed that the artery clogging sauce looked “puffy” (in my husband’s words). And not in a good way (if there is a good way for a sauce to look puffy). Also? The sauce was colored a weird yellow by the curry.

The sauce was as weird, puffy and yellow as this Boohbah.

As we took the first bites, we were silent. The taste which was weird at best (I think due to the curry, lemon and mayo) somehow got worse with each bite. The odd taste combined with the crunchy bread crumbs was just unpleasant.

Finally, I broke the silence. “This is pretty bad”.

My husband tried to put a spin on it. “It is weird but I think I can eat it”. (LOL. I love him dearly. His forebears were settlers in Nebraska. I envision this was something one of them might have said while trying to choke down a squirrel.)

Theo screwed up his courage, his expression looking full of pity for me, and said “Mom. This is really not to my taste. Can I just have dessert?”.

I have to say the latter was a pretty proud parenting moment. Having tried to eat this monstrosity myself, I wouldn’t have faulted him in saying something more profane, but I loved him for trying to tiptoe around his disgust with all the tact of an English gentleman.

We all moved right to dessert. Some ice cream to cleanse the palate.

And the next night? Pizza.

We were as happy with the pizza as this stock family.

kales@umich.eduMy Dinner Debacle
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Blooming During Drought (guest blog)

Note: this is a guest blog from my brave, smart and beautiful 17 year old daughter Sophia about her struggle in the past year with depression. It is highly personal, but I have her permission and blessing to share it, as do I have the permission from my husband Patrick whom it references. Patrick, Sophia and I firmly believe that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and are committed to sharing our experiences of the past year to help others and in doing so help ourselves.

“They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds.” Mexican Proverb

I lived in the personal hell of my father’s alcoholism for nearly a year. I’m not going to get into all that for a couple reasons- It’s extremely personal and emotionally exhausting for me to relive, I feel some of it isn’t my emotional property to give away, it isn’t necessary for this story. The only reason I get into it is that at the tail end of my father’s alcoholism I developed major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, and symptoms (note not the full on disease) of obsessive compulsive disorder. Every night I sat in our basement from when I got home from school until I fell asleep in the same spot, sometimes weeping or hyperventilating but mostly burying my face into the couch, eyes open, wishing I could suddenly just not exist, unable to do anything. This was my life. This was my excruciating reality that I barely lived through each day. I became close to someone who didn’t care about me at all, who was emotionally abusive and so insecure himself. I cared for this person as I care for all people so deeply that I took on his emotional labor with my own, staying up at night to tell him he was a good person when I didn’t believe it about myself. Some days I could physically and emotionally only compel myself to go to a couple classes a day, and obviously my grades plummeted but more humiliating for me, I felt ostracized in some of my classes, that the students around me didn’t have the empathetic capacity to understand that I was showing the typical signs of someone whose brain is trying to kill them rather than some “delinquent” who doesn’t have my priorities straight who doesn’t care about school. I was slowly dying and these people were judging me for the symptoms of my illness. I’m not really one for dwelling on the negative but I feel that I need to communicate to you how horrible this time was, like nothing I’ve ever read about or seen accurately depicted in shows. Not only the internal stress and overwhelming and heavy despair but the crushing external stigma. I would never wish what I went through on anyone, nor would I ever willingly go through it again- in fact, that has been a fear of mine. However going through these days on end where it felt like so little mattered, one thing always mattered to me, even more so the worse my depression and anxiety became- relieving others of these symptoms. I started to share my experience with mental illness and express that many social ills that I care so deeply about and that I do so much work to cure are intersectional and deeply intertwined with mental illness. I became a peer counselor at my school, talking to teens like myself mostly with mental illness and helping connect them with resources or just get through the day. Helping my peers who had the same feelings, the same experiences as I did brought so much light and love to my life. Seeing these people who I know have so much intrinsic value and bring so much joy to others suffer let me see myself from an objective point and understand how worthy I was of support and acceptance and love. Slowly, in this seemingly endless darkness I found out what love truly means- kindness, compassion, empathy for others. I’ve never loved people the way I do now. I’ve never let people love me the way I do now. My light at the end of the tunnel was sharing my experience, telling people how it feels to be mentally ill, helping others find treatment and acceptance and love and in turn finding acceptance and love for myself. After I told one friend about my experience she texted me: “Sophia I am so sorry I didn’t know, I feel like a horrible friend. I always get annoyed when people tell me stuff like I understand or I know what you’re going though because they don’t and I haven’t experienced what you’re going through in the same way so I’m not going to say that but I recognize how horribly difficult it must be. You don’t deserve this-you’re the most beautiful person I know and you inspire me every day. You fight for what you believe in and you have this firey passion that I haven’t found in anyone else. You are your own person and so smart and talented. I love you so much and if you ever need anything at all, even so small as like a hug or a coffee because you’re tired, always come to me I’d be honored to do anything for you. I miss our time together in macro-we should hang out or go out to breakfast soon. Love you Sophia stay strong”. I have never, never in my life experienced this kind of tangible, overflowing, joyous love. Expressing my love for others so unabashedly has caused me to love and see the beauty in myself in a way I’ve never imagined possible. Knowing the depths of human emotion is an enormous weight to bear- but it’s made me into a person who understands other people. A person who doesn’t judge other people regardless of circumstances because I personally experienced ostracization- however small the scale or unintentional it was- because of my mental illness. A person who loves who I am today and what I have accomplished and overcome. A person who loves, truly loves, every single person I meet and sees their virtue as an individual being who experiences despair and setbacks and trauma- and loves.

kales@umich.eduBlooming During Drought (guest blog)
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