Friday, August 31, 2007

The Kitchen Is Closed

A few months ago before Dog's tenth birthday, he and I were standing toe to toe over some now-forgotten issue that he was waxing mouthy about. I snapped back at him that I'd tolerate no teenage lip while he was still in single digits. Heh. I was expecting to have a few more years of "kid" stuff before we got into the "teen" stuff, but Dog has always been old for his years, so I shouldn't be surprised.

One of the more memorable discussions we've had of late is over, not surprisingly, menu options. I expect that food choice is going to become a much-debated topic in the coming years. This discussion wasn't what one would necessarily expect, though.

As a bit of background, when we first started with our "free" lifestyle, I made some conscious decisions about how we would structure this. Since things are so very limited, I wanted to offer the Hobbits as much choice and control as possible within the very tight framework of our operational limits. To that end, I came up with ways to provide three choices of meals that could be prepared quickly and gave each of them the opportunity to choose for themselves from those three options at each meal. My version of convenience food...kind of a Once A Month Everything Free Cooking...except my major food prep ala OAMC is more frequently than that. This might mean that I might make up three (or four, counting dinner meals) different dishes for the same meal, but at least they would have some control over what they were eating.

We've gone on this course for about four years now and it's worked rather well. Not much fighting over food nor complaints about not liking what was for dinner. Still and all, some days it can be rather tiresome. There are days when I just want to do one thing and be done. This was one of those days. I just made food for the meal, set it on the table and called the Hobbits to come and eat. Dog sulked at me that he hadn't been consulted on his menu option and was prepared to be disagreeable about it. I pointed out to him that the number of children in the known universe who were at liberty to choose what they wanted to eat at every meal, every day probably totaled three. That was, of course, before I'd read the UCLA dinner study....I was stuck in my Baby Boomer childhood memories. Still, I'll entertain an "amen" chorus of comments to anyone who cares to leave any...any ammunition would naturally be shared with Dog. Hey, coming up on this pre-teen thing, I need all of the help I can get!

I decided that it was way past time for him to understand the amount of work that goes into making one meal, let alone coordinating three, however quickly they could be assembled. I'd meant this as a "taste of his own medicine" kind of natural consequence to his petulance, but he was actually rather excited about the idea. I'd settled on a quick and beginner-friendly recipe inspired by one shared by my gardening mentor. It's especially nice for those who are sensitive to tomatoes--not that this is us, for a change--because it relies only on herbs and spices for flavoring and color, not tomatoes. The lost-to-posterity cookbook called it "Real Deal Chili" (let me know if anyone knows the attribution for this recipe!) but I call it the

No-mato Everything Free Chili.

4 lbs ground meat
1 onion or 1 T onion powder
3 garlic cloves or 1 T garlic powder
4 T paprika
4 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1 T oregano
2 t pepper
1 t kelp (only because I'm always looking for a vector to sneak in sea vegetables)
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
2 t salt if not using bone broth
1 quart bone broth or water
2-3 T arrowroot or tapioca starch (optional for thickening)

While slicing mushrooms, brown ground meat in dutch oven and drain. Pour broth, mushrooms, and seasonings into dutch oven and boil until mushrooms are soft. If using starch flour for thickening, dissolve starch in small amount of water and add to boiling mixture. When the opaque liquid becomes translucent again, return ground meat to the oven and mix thoroughly until heated through. Allow to simmer to reduce if desired. The Hobbits like it served with rice snaps.

Dog took eagerly to chopping up the mushrooms--he's been one of my prep chefs for a while now--and measuring out all of the ingredients. He'll be able to lift me someday, but right now he still needs some help handling a hot cast iron dutch oven. The rest of it he does very well by himself. These days he considers this recipe his specialty and would be mightily offended if I were to presume to usurp his prerogative. Gotta smile. Just don't let him see it. We're always sure to have chili in the refrigerator, whatever the weather. So whenever Dog complains about what's on the menu, I direct him to the refrigerator where he can find his very own bowl of chili. I cooked one dish, hung up my apron and the kitchen is closed.

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