Often, when picking up the socks my husband and two sons leave wherever they suddenly decide to take them off, I say aloud to no one in particular, “I live in a frat house.”
And I am its cook. I have a hungry husband, a Pre-K’er and a toddler. I wake in the morning and I ask myself if I need to turn on the oven. The only trouble with raising champions is that you have to somehow keep them fed. I know every staffer at my butcher’s down the street, batting my eyes in the hopes that they will someday just give me a cow. My children, after all, have made a game of who can yell “More steak!” the loudest.
Whether you’re a parent who chooses to be the cook of the house, or have simply drawn the short straw, you need a friend in the kitchen whose name isn’t Vodka. Three women have kept me company at my stove: Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten, and Lucinda Scala Quinn. Even when I am making what the boys call “cheesy bread,” the most stripped-down version of grilled cheese imaginable, these women are beside me.
It is Nigella Lawson who comes to me when I want to appear cool and glamorous under pressure. I hear her saying, like some Zen-leaning and slightly flirty therapist, to accept the pleasure in the process of feeding people. She reminds me that there is value to the job and that it needn’t be drudgery.
She is also welcoming of life’s appetites. My kids are snackers. When we go to the playground down the block, I pack like it’s the Oregon Trail. “What do you have?” my oldest invariably asks me, three steps out the door. What don’t I have? Pretzels, veggie straws, crackers, cheese sticks, apples … I could open a little kiosk right there and make some extra cash. Nigella wouldn’t begrudge them food and neither do I.
There is something infectious about Ina Garten’s love of entertaining. She finds joy in getting things just right, and in feeding the husband she adores. “Roast a chicken and a man shows up,” is one of her lines and it’s a truth in my family. Though these days it’s more likely chicken nuggets.
I think of Ina when I am shopping, emulating her grace as she acts like the clerk just handed her a prize. It makes going to Whole Foods much more interesting if I do it in an Ina mindset: “That salmon looks fantastic,” I say to the bored fishmonger. No, I don’t know what would make a fish look “fantastic,” but it feels good to bluff.
And for the day-to-day grind of feeding ravenous people, there is no guide like Lucinda Scala Quinn, the former right-hand woman of Martha Stewart. When I first read the intro to her "Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys,” it was like she’d stolen pages from my secret courage journal. “Don’t ask them if they’re hungry — just put the food on the table,” the mother of three boys writes. “Just cook it and serve it because young boys don’t always ask to eat until they’re ravenous and cranky. Anticipate their needs before they melt down.”
That is the best damn parenting advice I’ve seen: Just get it on the table. So if you are in the kitchen trenches, please know you have a friend in these women. And in me.