Monday, April 30, 2012

On Cheating: Empanadas

When I was working full time outside the home, I spent a lot of time worrying that I was short-changing my son by not doing the things that most of the moms in his class seemed to do: go on class trips, show up unannounced to help with a project ... you get the idea.  Patient boy as he is, there were a few times he even called me on this, suggesting that perhaps I could work at his school so that this working thing wouldn't be such a problem.

Now that I'm home with his sister, though, I don't find that I have much more time than I did before for these kinds of commitments, and I feel as guilty as ever.

Which is why I volunteered to make Spanish food for his Spanish club every week during the seven week session, in which they are studying Spain.

Much as I'm looking forward to this, it's also madness, because when I cook, it's usually at night, after everyone has gone to bed; it's simply not practical to cook while Little Miss Squirm is hanging on my leg (and no, thank you, she is not interested in watching me work from the Ergo).  So if I'm going to prepare food for eleven children, plus enough to take home to share with family members (which is how the food portion of the club has been working), I will be cooking our dinner, and then someone else's dinner (because I. informs me that "some people in Spanish club think that it's dinner time").

I used to offer my students a lot of advice about time management, and until recently, considered myself sort of an expert.  I have always been able to juggle multiple priorities with ease.  I signed up for a part time remote opportunity to help a former colleague, thinking that I could certainly find ten to fifteen more hours in my week.  Which is why I keep thinking that I must be doing this SAHM thing wrong.  Where does the time go during the day?  N. wakes up between 5:30 and 6.  I wake up with her, feed her and her brother breakfast and make lunch.  The boys are out the door by 7:15, and by then I usually have my cup of coffee in hand.  Play for an hour and a half, then snack for N.  Nap for an hour, during which I get dressed, clear up breakfast dishes, catch up on email.  Wake up, play for another hour, feed N. lunch.  Go to the Y if it's a good day.  Back home, play for half an hour, naptime again for N., while I shower.  She's up in an hour.  Playtime, and in another hour, the boys are home.  Dinner prep.  Bathtime.  Play with I. for half an hour.  Bedtime.  Laundry (always, always laundry).  Empty the dishwasher.  Another possible email catchup, or blog commenting, or blog post writing, and an attempt to get in an hour of remote work, if I am really lucky (which, it turns out, is only a few times a week after all).  Dinner prep for the next day.  Job hunt.  Write cover letters.  Revise resumes.  Browse for recipes, or meal plan for the week, or do some other random thing I've meant to do that night.  Maybe read a chapter of a book for my book group.  By then, it's midnight.  Or one.  And I'm up in another four and a half hours.  What am I missing?  How do other people do this so well, and hold down a part time job, and write a novel, and ...

I keep thinking that this must be like graduate school; I was well into my second year when I realized that my classmates were not reading all of the assignments.  What?!  This was a revelation to me.  Was some of the work really, truly optional?  How did they get by with doing less?  Wasn't that cheating?

In the years since graduate school, I've come to think that maybe it's not really cheating after all.  Maybe it's about doing things differently.  What can I let go of?  What doesn't really need to get done, at least, not in the way that I do it?

Do you ever feel like you're cheating?  What do you let go of, so that you retain some shred of sanity?

Empanadas are excellent on-the-run food, because you can pretty much stuff everything you need into the crust, and off you go.  The Spanish version, which is served in tapas bars, is more like a stuffed pizza than the "turnover" variety you see in Latin American cuisine.  Though Spain is not exactly known for its vegetarian-friendly fare, I've included a vegetarian option here that will stay somewhat true to the original flavor and texture of the dish.  You can also use ready-to-use pizza dough if you don't feel like making your own.


4 c. bread flour
pinch salt
2 t. active dry yeast
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 1/4 c. warm milk
1 egg. beaten

1 lb. chicken, pork or tuna; you could also use mushrooms or roasted eggplant for a vegetarian version
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 large or two small red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 medium Spanish onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh thyme sprig
2 bay leaves
1/2 c. broth or dry white wine, such as Albariño
8 – 10 plum tomatoes (fresh or canned), cut into small dice
2 t. pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika; you can use regular paprika, but it's just not the same!)

Sift flour and salt in a large bowl.  Stir in yeast.  Stir milk into egg yolks, and slowly pour into flour, stirring constantly.  Beat 5-10 minutes, until dough comes cleanly away from bowl.  Turn dough out into a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (if you have a stand mixer, feel free to use your dough hook).  Form into 2 equal sized balls, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Cook chicken or eggplant/mushrooms any way you like (I grilled mine, but you could poach, too). Shred or chop well. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan set over medium-low heat, heat 1/4 c. of olive oil. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 30 minutes. Add the thyme and bay leaves, season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue to cook until the mixture turns golden, another 10 minutes. Add the broth or wine and cook until it evaporates. Stir in tomatoes and pimentón, increase the heat to medium, and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates, 10 – 15 minutes. Add chicken (or mushrooms or eggplant), cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaves, and season again with salt, if necessary.

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment or aluminum foil lightly sprayed with cooking oil.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a thin rectangle the size of a standard cookie sheet.  Place one layer of dough on the cookie sheet.  Spread the filling to within about 1.5" of the edge of the dough.  Brush the edges with water, cover with the other rectangle of dough, and crimp to seal.  Glaze with beaten egg and poke in several places with a fork to allow steam to escape.  Bake about 20 minutes or until golden.  Serve warm, cut into rectangles or squares.
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  1. As I sit here at work, my desk is clutterd with little pieces of paper. Papers with scribbles of things I need to remember. I find that writing out tasks and going down the list, helps me get jobs completed. The ones that get done last are the ones that usually were not a priority. I hate laundry too. I continue to adore all your recipes but alas, due to my GORD I can't cook the tomato based ones. I find that so many meals are tomato based. So many "delicious" meals I mean!!

    1. Athena, I have one more tomato recipe on deck, but I will be thinking of you when I go hunting for the next ones! :)

      I LOVE lists. We have a whiteboard, which helps. And I use scraps of paper, too. Then I cross-reference them, so I can cross things out in TWO places!

  2. We all have secrets, we have a nanny, or a housekeeper or a room that we never enter except to throw things inside.

    And if I weren't so opposed to fanning the flames of the mommy-wars, I might email this post to some working mothers I know who think somehow being home with the kids is the same as not having a job. That time would be better spent sweeping my living room, though.

    So what is the assignment you can skip?

    1. You sweep your living room? *admiration* ...

      I don't know what I can skip. Maybe I shouldn't be making tapas for Spanish club! :) (I also should be checking Facebook less often, but I've got this bizarre idea that if I can be ubiquitous in social media maybe I'll get myself a job doing it full time.)

      I definitely need a room to throw things in.

  3. Well, you're doing a full-time job staying home with your girl...I realize you're not getting paid to do it, but if you were working for pay full-time, you'd be paying someone else to work all those hours of childcare, right?

    This is timely for me. I've also had that same guilt...LG knows I'm not teaching right now and so, likewise, asked me to teach poetry to her second grade class. Which was fine. But meant baby didn't nap, etc.

    Your days sound VERY full already, a mix of different kinds of things. Those other SAHMs probably are doing it differently...but skipping different things. Like reading. Or looking for work. Or they have a housekeeper. Or...

    1. A housekeeper ... now THAT would be lovely.

      And Tiny Boy fills your days! I once asked I. if he'd like to stay home and take care of N. all day once. He declined. ;)

  4. Looking over your day, you are spending the bulk of your days caring for N. That is your full time job right now. But you added on another part-time job...and some consider looking for work a part-time job in and of itself. Thus you are doing one full-time & 2 additional part-time, moonlighting wonder you feel stretched thin. I honestly can't imagine getting by on that amount of sleep. I know this may come across the wrong way, but if you honestly want to do the part-time work, would child-care for N be an option? Even for 5-6 hours/week? Even if you financially break even, if the part-time work will actually help your career, or gives you satisfaction on some other level, it may be worth it (?)
    In terms of what you can cheat on, I don't see much wiggle room in your schedule! I find that batching chores helps save a bit of time---it takes a bit less time to fold & put away 3 loads of laundry all at once then 1 load/night for example. We also cook for the week on Sunday night. Not for everyone, since you are essentially eating the same dinner for 4-5 nights, but its been life-saving for us---only one dinner prep, one big clean-up, etc...
    If you think anyone is doing more/better than you, it must be an illusion. You are doing a LOT, I am amazed.

    1. Ana, I do some batch cooking, but you're right ... I could make even bigger meals and do it only once. And the part time work isn't something that I love; it's just some extra income and helping out a former colleague. So I wouldn't consider child care for it. But I don't take that the wrong way at all! :)

      Laundry. Oh, my nemesis. Maybe I will try it your way!

  5. I can tell you that I don't volunteer at my boys' school, bake, go to PTO meetings or anything else of that sort. I remember being snagged by a parent organizer mega-mom while waiting to pick up the boys at their previous school and being asked what I cared to contribute. I said "I don't cook anything". She laughed and said something like "Isn't that cute, I'm sure your baking is fine." and I had to emphatically reply "No. I don't cook. Not for bake sales, not for cooking." She walked away from me like I had the plague :) I do lots of other things besides cook...but that seems to be the only thing they want parents to DO 90% of the time. As for visiting in the classroom, I have been told in no uncertain terms that my presence is a distraction in the classroom. And I'm not allowed to bring a sibling to anything. You do way more with your time than I do. I have been ignoring many of my cleaning chores and just dropping in exhaustion at night. Everything but the kitchen table, counters, and the bathroom surfaces has a thin coating of dust and grunge, if not outright clutter, my garden is sprouting weeds everywhere, and I have done nothing for myself other than check blogs and veg in front of the TV before passing out. BUT, my kids are eating well, my fridge and pantry are well stocked, we all have clean, seasonally appropriate clothes on our bodies, homework is getting done on time, and (most) of the time my kids don't have the 'veneer of grunge' that appears every where else. I'm amazed by your energy and tenacity.

    1. You've just made me feel tons better, and not because I do it better, but because you've reminded me that it's OK to be human, and that there are things we can just let slide. (Like the dust. I didn't even talk about my shelves.)


  6. This post reminded me of a class that I took in grad school. Required reading for every class was 20 scientific articles, which would then be discussed (on top of papers and other projects). I remember that some of my classmates would complain endlessly about the size of the workload and I also found it to be fairly daunting but I kind of guiltily fudged my way through. At the end of the class, the professor admitted that he never intended for anyone to actually read all of those papers. He was hoping to teach us how to scan for relevant information.

    I think I have taken this lesson to heart elsewhere in my life. In a sense, the ability to do many things is probably dependent on the ability to "cheat" a bit - or one might prefer to call it prioritizing.

    The other strategy that I believe works wonders is the one that Ana suggests: delegate tasks to others.

    There is no doubt in my mind that no one can actually do it all.

  7. I read the comments with interest. Honestly, I want a baby more than anything. But I have a secret fear that I would be a terrible mother. No, that's not fair...I would be a great mother. But I'd be a terrible "domestic engineer". I sometimes feel like I can barely clean up after myself. Your days sound so full...I honestly don't know how you could wring any more time out of them. You need some more SLEEP! :)

  8. I cheat all the time. Everyday! I have a closet in our bathroom that is filled with dirty laundry and folded laundry usually sits in baskets. My husband brings home take once each week and I have a house cleaner every two weeks. My kids watch a movie every night from 5-6pm so I can hop on the treadmill and make dinner, which at least once a week is pasta.

  9. Children, especially babies, are a full time job. Really, each one could be a separate full time job such that when you have two you are really putting in a ton of mom work hours each week.

    It's not cheating when you put things aside to focus on what is important in your current season of life. Goodness, I don't even get dinner on the table for my family every night of the week, not to mention some other family(s!). Thank goodness my hubby doesn't mind helping in the kitchen or we'd be eating pasta from a box and sauce from a jar 5 nights a week.

    You sound like you are doing a fabulous job with what is important - your children. Don't compare yourselves to other moms, I've found that often things are in reality much different than they seem - maybe that mom who seems to do everything uses the tv as a babysitter for 15 hours a day. Or has a housekeeper. Or a nanny. Or a grandma who lives next door. Or her house is a pig sty. You never know...

  10. I cheat all the time. When it comes between house work and my Hubby, Hubby always wins. I would rather spend the extra time with friends and family than do something that will still be there tomorrow.

  11. Thanks for this post. I also feel streeeeeetched. And my formerly good time management skills have been shot to hell. I'm still working on the "Where can I cheat?" portion. (And if you ever draw any conclusions on that front, please let me know:)


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