Gone for me are the days of leisurely dinners, planned in advance, prepared lovingly and then consumed, slowly and by candlelight. Come to think of it, gone for me are the days of leisure -- if by leisure you mean time, say, to flip through a cookbook or take a shower. And yet at times I remember it, as if out of a dream: There I am, shopping for fresh produce, picking over strawberries and fresh green bunches of basil, choosing a bottle of wine, and then a bunch of flowers. And again: There I am, relaxed and slightly tipsy, deglazing something-or-another while Ornette Coleman plays in the background. What is going on here? I know: I HAVE NO CHILDREN.
I had yet to marry the man who would become the father of my three children, and so I still indulged in such silly notions as the "romantic dinner" and "sleeping in."
But since August, when the second and third of my three children arrived simultaneously, I have had to revise my notions of everything -- waking, sleeping, God, sex, food. The day I made tuna casserole for dinner was the day I realized that I have become adept at a new kind of cooking. I can now make dinner (perhaps it would be more honest to say compose dinner) in five or six minutes, not counting time out for trips to the laundry room or the changing table. Okay, so tuna casserole is not exactly gourmet food. I'm no longer interested in gourmet food. I'm not sure I can still pronounce "gourmet food."
Hence, the recipes. Some I made up. Some I picked up. Some seem to have been handed down to me, like my brown eyes and hair, from past generations. In other words, I don't claim originality here -- only practicality. Nor do I claim that these recipes will appeal to anyone who knows the meaning of quatre epices or a la diable. They are, simply, recipes that any schmo can follow, that, more often than not, produce edible food. Some are ready in minutes; all can be prepared in minutes. Most of them call for the use of either the microwave oven or a food processor.
My favorite easy, easy dish is the one my husband calls "potato mush" and I call: Pommes de Terre a Mush.
Ingredients: baking potatoes, various vegetables, cheese, baked beans.
Place three or four baking potatoes in a microwave-safe dish and nuke on one side. While nuking, wash and chop any or all of the following ingredients: broccoli, mushrooms, scallions. Run upstairs and threaten to lock your 4-year-old in the basement if he continues to pull the feathers out of the down quilt that your sisters gave you as a wedding present. At the sound of the beeping microwave, run downstairs, open microwave door, and turn potatoes over. Burn fingertips. Curse and run cold water over fingertips. Nuke second side of potatoes. While second side is being nuked, open can of baked beans (I prefer Mrs. Bush's vegetarian) and chop up some cheese. Better yet, open the bag of pre-grated cheese that you bought even though it costs more than the non-pre-grated kind. Stick pacifier in Twin No. 1's mouth. Watch as pacifier falls on the floor. When potatoes are thoroughly nuked, take them out, slice open and mash innards. Run water over dirty pacifier. Place other ingredients atop potatoes. Return to microwave, nuke for a while longer and eat. Mom's "Barbecued" Chicken
Ingredients: store-bought barbecue sauce, onions, chicken pieces, egg noodles.
Broil chicken on both sides, until skin is crisp. Do not heed voice in your head that tells you that chicken skin is 100 percent fat and if you took the skin off you could then have ice cream for dessert, because the fact is that you're going to have ice cream for dessert anyway. While broiling, chop up some onions and open jar of barbecue sauce. When chicken is crisp, drain excess fat. Set oven to bake at 350; dump jar of sauce and chopped onions atop, spreading evenly. Cook for about an hour. When chicken is cooked, remember that you meant to make egg noodles.
Ingredients: lemon, chicken.
Place chicken in pan, breast-side up. Push hair back behind ears. Discover that hair is coated with, uh, something. In bathroom mirror, observe the way the "something" has trickled all the way down the back of your sweater. Take sweater off. Toss into corner. Return to kitchen. Wash lemon, pierce with fork and place in chicken's cavity. Bake, on 350, for about an hour. When cooked through, retrieve lemon from cavity and squeeze juice over chicken. Serve with rice and salad, if you happen to have rice and salad. Mom's Brisket
Ingredients: brisket, dried ginger, various root vegetables, water, cream-style horseradish.
Discover a large, lumpish cut of beef in freezer. Think back to 1989, when you bought it: Is it a brisket or a pot roast, and what's the difference? Call Mother. As she explains that a pot roast usually has a kind of hump, while a brisket tends to be slab-like (think of corpses, think of "The Jungle"), cut her off rudely, telling her that you can't talk because the baby needs a change of undies. Remember that it's really her fault that you're stuck here, amid screaming babies and dirty diapers, because when you were little you wanted to be just like her, and she encouraged you that direction -- the dress-up chest, the Little Suzy Homemaker oven. Change diapers. On your way back to the kitchen, decide that it's a brisket. Defrost it. When defrosted, coat with ginger. Place in a large, heavy pan in a half-inch of water. Place onions, potatoes, carrots and any other vegetables that might taste good (I've used broccoli, mushrooms and even cabbage) around brisket. Bake, uncovered, for an hour or two, at 350. Serve with horseradish.
Ingredients: chicken pieces, canned black beans or kidney beans, salsa, onions.
Wash and skin chicken. Or don't. Whatever. You're too tired to make these decisions. Wonder why it is that the song "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family," sung by Barney the purple dinosaur to the tune of "This Old Man," makes you catatonic with rage. Storm upstairs and pull plug on television. Threaten 4-year-old with being locked in basement. Tell him that Barney isn't a dinosaur, he's a whinosaur, and that, actually, he's neither, because what he is is a man dressed in a stupid suit. Say: I hate Barney. Say: If you watch even one more minute of TV, you'll turn into a DanQuayleBrain. Say it as one word, as if it's the worst thing in the world. Cry. Return to kitchen. Chop up some onions; cry some more. Chop up some other stuff -- scallions, carrots. Is there anything fresh in your "fresh vegetables" drawer? Dump vegetables, canned black beans and a jar or two of salsa on chicken. Sprinkle with black pepper. Compose new lyrics to the "I Love You" song. "I hate you, you hate me, we all live in misery." Realize that you have lost your sense of humor, your biting wit, perhaps forever. Bake, covered, on 350, until done, about one hour.
Orzo With Cheese
and Lima Beans
Ingredients: orzo, grated Parmesan cheese, frozen limas, olive oil, fresh minced garlic.
Tell your husband that while it may sound gross, it's actually pretty good. Then tell him that he's lucky to get dinner at all, and if he wants, he can just skip the whole thing, who the hell needs him? Go to liquor cabinet. No scotch. Settle for the one can of Bud hibernating in the back of fridge. Open Bud. Sing "Tonight, tonight ... let it be Lowenbrau."
While singing, cook orzo in large pot of boiling water, and drain. Nuke frozen limas in microwave. In large heavy skillet, saute garlic in olive oil on low. Add limas, orzo and Parmesan cheese. Stir whole shebang together and serve. Orientalish Pasta Salad
Salad ingredients: pasta, canned tuna, frozen peas, scallions, other assorted vegetables, shelled peanuts.
Dressing: white vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, Dijon mustard.
Gaze at rings on your left hand. Remember how, in your youth, you'd fantasize about sporting an engagement ring. Those trips with your best buddy Megan to Tiffany's -- how the diamonds sparkled under glass. And so, my friend, it comes to this. Orientalish pasta salad, for the kazillionth time. Put water on to boil in large heavy pot. When water comes to boil, dump a box or so of spaghetti in. When done, drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
Microwave one box of frozen peas, or peas and carrots. Chop up scallions, avocado, broccoli, red pepper and any other vegetables that are sans mold. Open can of tuna fish.
Combine salad ingredients in large bowl.
Mix dressing ingredients together in another bowl, going heavy on the vinegar and the ginger. Test with finger. Add a little more of this, a little more of that. Pour over salad and toss. Trip over the "bouncy bounce" in which Twin No. 1 sits, cooing happily. Scoop now-screaming baby up, checking for hemorrhages. Call doctor.
Serve cold or at room temp. My Old Boyfriend's Kosher
Chicken Kiev With Spinach
Ingredients: skinned, boneless chicken breasts, eggs, plain bread crumbs, margarine, fresh or frozen spinach, toothpicks.
Detach Twin No. 2 from left breast and burp. Answer phone. Tell mother, in the rudest, most snootily adolescent voice, that it's a bad time. Say: I can't hear you. Say: Sorry, I can't hear you. Say: The baby's screaming in my ear. Say: The baby just barfed all over me. Hang up. Wipe spit-up off shoulder. Put baby down. Stick pacifier in his mouth. Ignore screams.
Stick pacifier in Twin No. 1's mouth. Ignore screams.
Tell 4-year-old that he can too wipe his own behind.
Cook spinach, then set aside. Whisk eggs in bowl. Dip chicken pieces in egg, then in bread crumbs. Place hunk of margarine and dollop of spinach inside each breast, and then roll. Fasten with toothpicks and bake for 15 minutes at 350. Chicken a la Herbs
Ingredients: whole chicken, herbes provenc ales mixture, purchased at Sutton Place Gourmet.
Wash chicken. Trip over 4-year-old, who is sprawled out on kitchen floor playing with his Ninja Turtles. Reflect on the fact that your child, your own flesh and blood, is fixated on Ninja Turtles. Wonder what's next. G.I. Joes? Toy Uzis? Video games? Keg parties? Hot rods? Girls? Coat chicken with herbs. Watch, with mounting, low-level anxiety, as both twins' faces contort with rage. Ignore ensuing screams. On way to refrigerator, where you think you have an already-prepared bottle of formula, trip again over 4-year-old. Tell him that you are not, under any circumstances, going to buy him a Ninja Turtle video. Tell him he can cry all he wants. Tell him that big boys don't have temper tantrums over Ninja Turtle videos. Threaten to lock him in basement.
Locate bottle of formula. Locate bottle of vodka.
Remember that you chose this life. That you wanted to get married, have children.
Locate clean glass. Pour vodka in.
Apologize to crying 4-year-old. Tell him that you're not, after all, going to lock him in the basement.
Pick up Twin No. 1.
Pick up Twin No. 2.
Pick up 4-year-old.
Rock, in rocking chair, until quiet.
When husband comes home, remember the uncooked chicken.
Call pizza parlor. Jennifer Moses is a freelance writer in Washington and, recently, the mother of twins.