Where did all the time go?

In my 20s, cooking was fun--experimenting in my own kitchen, with no one’s rules or tastes but my own to worry about; friends; dinner parties; cooking what I wanted, when I wanted.

Then I got married and became a stepparent, so I had more mouths to feed, which made it more fun to experiment. However, not everyone liked what I liked, so I wasn’t cooking to my preferences all the time. That was fine, but it took some getting used to.

Then my family grew by two when I had twin boys, and I learned that the cooking I so enjoyed as a pure creative endeavor suddenly became more of a requirement. My people needed to eat, and it was my job to feed them--not whatever I felt like, but something good, nutritious, and balanced. Several times a day.

I actually calculated this for myself the other day and realized that I prepare 11 meals a week for my husband, 21 for myself, 56 for my sons and 12 per week for my stepdaughter. Grand total: 99 meals per week. I cook 99 meals per week!? I conceive of, shop for, prepare and clean up NINETY NINE MEALS PER WEEK. I don’t know that there’s anything I want to do 99 times a week. I change fewer diapers than that, and I have twin toddlers. If I had to jog 99 miles a week, sing 99 songs a week, or have sex 99 times a week, it would just stop being fun. 99 meals a week! So then what could I possibly have to say about cooking more?

Let’s reframe the question: I’m preparing plenty of food every week. Instead of thinking about preparing more, let’s think about making that food prep more fun.

On weekends, my husband will take the children for an hour (more if needed) so that I can make a big meal. Earlier this month, it was–you guessed it–corned beef and cabbage. I purchased a 5-pound corned beef, put it in my biggest pot, and after it simmered for five hours I added potatoes and carrots, then cabbage. We pulled the baby high chairs up to the table and ate that pot of gold like a family (4 meals down). Plus, I had leftovers for 10 more servings (make that 14 down).

Now, that meal wasn’t that hard to make, and it was a joy for me. It’s a once-a-year dish that I can look forward to making. (The sodium requires that this is just a special occasion dish.) The grocery store makes it easy for me by putting all the ingredients front and center so I don’t have to think about it, combined with great sales. All I have to do is have a good attitude--and I did. It was fun to make this special occasion treat. Erin go bragh!

In fact, I did the same thing in December with a Christmas ham, and on New Year's with a pot of chili. When you start using festival days and holidays as excuses to make a big pot of food, that breaks the monotony and lets you (and your family) look forward to a traditional once-a-year feast.

And really, anyone’s festival is game; we’re Jewish, but my husband was completely won over by Christmas ham this year. We’re not Irish, but corned beef and cabbage is a keeper. Next year, maybe I’ll attempt something special for Chinese New Year or a big pot of stoup during Ramadan. Why not?

What I’m saying here is this: If the month’s goal is to cook more, and you’re already looking at close to 100 meals a week that you prepare, the notion of cooking more may make you want to raise a white flag.

So instead of looking at it as cooking more, can you make the cooking you’re already doing more fun? You’re going to be in the kitchen--what do you feel like cooking? What makes you smile? When you flip through the pages of Cooking Light, what recipe catches your eye? At least a half dozen of our editors have put every recipe through the gauntlet and decided it’s good enough for your home--and doesn’t require any hard-to-find ingredients or time-intensive techniques.

So the question is, which recipe sings to you? Which one gives you pleasure at the thought of making and eating it? That’s the one to make. Forget everyone’s requests and restrictions. You’re the chef in this kitchen, and if you feel good about what you’re preparing, your whole family will feel it, beginning with you.

I’m a firm believer in the old saying: If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy. It’s the truth. You’ve got to take care of the caretaker, and if you’re the meal preparer, you’ve got to cook what makes you happy.