A Month of Meals

It was her friend Sam. “I was passing by. I’m not going to stay because you’ll be getting ready for dinner and I don’t want to hold you back.” 

Isabel assured her they had plenty of time. “Dinner isn’t always planned in this house. Sometimes it just happens.” 
— Alexander McCall Smith, The Novel Habits of Happiness

We have lived on the lake for two years this month, and I have yet to discover the secret for letting dinner "just happen." How am I to provide nice, home-cooked dinners for my family while simultaneously waterskiing in the late afternoons? If only we didn't get hungry....

I am hungry to improve my ski performance, to learn the slalom course, to have instruction and always more time to practice. But I am also hungry to protect our dinnertimes as a family, to have us sit together to eat food not-from-a-box, to learn "Nobility" together, to talk about our days for days, to read from The Jesus Storybook Bible at the end of our meals. 

Because I like to make lists and keep records, I logged a month of meals for May. I don't mean I planned out what we'd eat for a whole month in advance, but that I recorded (after the fact) what we ate for dinner each evening in May. 

Looking back, I take credit for sixteen homemade meals. I am not counting the three times we grilled out, or the four times we ate leftovers, or the one Sunday night dinner of oatmeal, cereal, and toast. We were invited to friends' houses twice, TJ and I had two date nights, there were two family times of eating out, and we had one special dinner event with Bauer's 5th grade class. 

You don't know how much I like seeing a record like this. It is a picture of time and taste. It is a picture of the struggle to walk away from the lake toward the kitchen, to know who to invite for dinner, to occasionally pull together meals of leftovers so I can take a day off. It is a purposeful mix of meat and no meat, lots of roasted broccoli and sweet potatoes, and three brand new recipes I tried last month. 

I planned menus; made grocery lists; shopped at Costco, Trader Joe's, and Aldi; thawed meat; chopped veggies; and did it all again as each week passed. I called outside to come wash hands and said stay in your seat again and again. We prayed or didn't pray over food. We talked to each other and to friends. We had TJ home almost every night for dinner in May. We took off our life jackets and took time to be together at the table. 

I haven't mastered Isabel's reference to letting dinner "just happen," but maybe it's something like TJ's "raw coucan" from childhood, or rather the updated version of watermelon and pita chips. Appetizers for dinner are another working option, and a build-your-own oatmeal bar also. The tradeoff is more time to be on the water some afternoons and recognizing that satisfying hunger needs can happen in many different ways. The goal is that whether or not calculated cooking occurs, the time at the table won't be tabled.