Kitchen Confidential 2021...When Meal Prep Still Isn't Enough To Create Happy Meals

I love to cook and bake but as a single woman living alone, the joy of preparing meals for myself just isn't the same as when I get to do it for others. But this past year of social distancing has meant very limited gatherings of friends and family to share my culinary skills.


When I had to go to California for a few months last spring at the beginning of the pandemic due to losing my housing here in Colorado, I stayed with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew. My sister-in-law is definitely a very competent cook and baker but I was more than willing to be the "chief cook AND bottle washer", a phrase I decided to Google to learn its origins which you can read for yourself by clicking HERE .


But I digress...


It's not like I had anything else to do once I got back from a daily walk/hike so I was grateful to contribute to the family meal planning, not to mention high caloric intake based on the amount of baking I also did while I was there. Hey, it's much cheaper than therapy...





My final night in California I pulled out the one cookbook I had packed for my pandemic journey, Sheila Lukins, TEN. Ms. Lukins was a culinary icon when I was starting out my career in the 1980s as one of the founders of The Silver Palate, a very popular Upper Westside gourmet shop. It has a very special meaning to me, so much so I wrote an entire blog about the copy that was given to me by Ms. Lukins daughter right before the COVID19 shutdown...

The centerpiece of the meal was this Pot Roast sizzling in a giant cast iron pan...

But also included this corn chowder...

And a wedge of iceberg lettuce with Green Goddess dressing...

I am relatively certain that there was enough pot roast leftover to feed them for at least 7 more meals and I left them with a coffee cake and dozens of chocolate chip cookies in their freezer before making my way back to Colorado. Whether they ever consumed it all I have not asked but I still felt like I had left my culinary mark on their pandemic life.


Side note: I was also grateful that we would make sure to decompress many afternoons around 5 pm and enjoy a cocktail outside on their patio totry to shake off the news of the day and all of the craziness that was swirling around us. Listen, we all had/have our coping mechanisms and even if we didn't partake in a libation some nights we still came together to break bread and if there was one thing I felt kept us sane, that was definitely it.


Yes, I did pair some Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon with a Derby Pie on the first Saturday in May last year for the Run For The Roses. I lived in Louisville for a few years in the 1990s and if you didn't know how to make derby pie as well as mint juleps you were basically an outcast. I didn't have much of an appreciation for Bourbon back then but I have definitely become much more of a bourbon/whiskey/rye girl in recent years. I feel like it is a rite of passage as I "mature" (whatever that means)...that and they make me feel like much more of a badass than any other alcohol and after this past year, don't judge my need to feel that way at times please 😲🤣😉


Fast forward to today and I have found myself contributing to another family's meal planning. And while I am not related to them, I am still feeling as though it is helping their sanity on some level and giving a father and son the opportunity to be together for a few dinners a week without having to think about any of the grocery shopping or prep.


The father is divorced and unfortunately struggles with PTSD from parents that apparently emotionally and physically abused him growing up. They are no longer alive but the memories are in his head and he can't get rid of them. Suffice it to say, it is very sad and as much as I try to help him let go of all of the stories, it ultimately is not my job to manage those emotions for him. But making his life easier from an organizational standpoint definitely is and, therefore, I do a lot of the grocery shopping and meal prep every week.


At first, he was very paranoid and skeptical about letting someone else control his food intake. His mother used to "poison" his food with medications he didn't need as a child but she had convinced doctors in their small town to prescribe them just the same. She was psychotic but very wealthy and money was power and that got her whatever she wanted at a very high cost to her children.


Over the past 4 months, though, since I started working for him (15-20 hours/week), he has come to trust me and I pretty much have carte blanche to make anything.


Amazing right?


Well, yes it would be if he would actually eat the meals prepped and in the refrigerator and freezer on the days when I am not there. Sadly, even the thought of looking at the stacks of containers is overwhelming to him so I thought if I put very clear instructions on the actual meals with the exact contents that would make it significantly easier.


When I arrive, though, at the house after each weekend it became obvious that still isn't getting him to open the refrigerator. I have thrown out so much food over the past few months and I was getting very discouraged. And two weeks ago before I decided to escape what was predicted to be a massive snowstorm, I arrived at his house after the weekend and found him in tears. He apologized for not eating what I left for him the Thursday before and said he just doesn't want to eat at home alone and would rather go out to a restaurant to eat by himself.


My heart simply broke for him, a man who had inherited so much money after his mother died a few years ago and yet still cannot find a way to be happy in life. As a self-proclaimed extrovert who works very hard at creating and maintaining friendships, I pride myself on knowing I will never be alone or actually feel lonely in life. This client, though, will forever be an island unto himself with the exception of the days his teenage son comes by after school and has dinner with him.


When I was on my #snowmaggedonescape2021 in New Mexico I was checking in on him to make sure he was doing ok with the impending weather. I had ordered a Vitamix for him that had arrived the day before and was trying to encourage him to learn how to use it over the weekend...


Yeah...trapped inside still wasn't enough of an incentive for him. The box was sitting on the counter unopened when I arrived there this past Thursday.


Me?


I am like a kid in a candy store when I get any type of "kitchen toy" and the fact that I didn't have to pay for this one and get to use it whenever I'm there is A...MAZ...ING!!! The first thing I made in this beast of a blender was a smoothie and in less than 10 seconds...BOOM...


I then used it to chop a bunch of pecans and fresh rosemary to make a topping for the sablefish I purchased earlier that day at Whole Foods. I happen to love smoked sable but it was the first time I had ever seen or tasted fresh sable which is very surprising given the fact that I am a HUGE fish lover. It's a very rich, oily fish with a similar texture and flavor to Chilean seabass so using a nut-based topping with a drizzle of honey and roasting it in the oven made sense to me. I paired it with black rice mixed with roasted fennel and asparagus and I got a big thumbs up from my client and his son as I was getting ready to leave.

But even with all of the praise he and his son always give, I entered the house this past Friday morning wanting to figure out a fool-proof plan for his meal consumption this weekend. I asked him if I made sure everything I put in the fridge was actually written down on a piece of paper for each meal and day if he thought that would take away what I thought might be the last obstacle to feeling overwhelmed and he said, "I actually think that may work."


And just as a little incentive I told him I would make some chocolate chip-pecan scones for him to enjoy over the weekend...those he wouldn't need any coaxing, nudging or reminders to eat. But I also told him if he doesn't eat any of the meals prepped they would be the last scones I would make for awhile...kidding...kind of. I'm just glad he seems to appreciate my cooking and baking whether he eats it or not...

Another Side note: This Instagram post actually got banned by Facebook for violating community standards. If anyone can tell me why I would great appreciate it...UGH!


Meanwhile, I sent him a text a little while ago just to check-in. I don't want him feeling like I am "babysitting" his food consumption but at the same time that is more or less what I am doing. That said, he responded he had eaten 1 of the meals and drank a smoothie but I was definitely encouraged when he also indicated this...



No doubt, he is a work in progress, but aren't we all?


Be well...be safe...and, as always, please BE KIND OUT THERE.