Monday, July 31, 2006

The Stocker

I am a stocker. I stock non-perishables. For some reason, this makes my husband uncomfortable. I, on the other hand, am uncomfortable if we have an open bottle of mustard and don't have an unopened one in the cupboard.

As soon as we open the "other" bottle or jar of something, I put that item on the list so we can get a new one. That way, you see, we never run out of olive oil, or peanut butter, or ketchup (we simply cannot run out of ketchup--we have a three year old).

But, as I say, for some reason my husband winces at this.

"Do we really need chicken broth?" he asks peevishly.
"Well, we have two cans left," I'll reply, "but we have three things that call for it on the menu for next week." (Admittedly these are the large cans we're talking about, but we use a LOT of chicken broth in a week.)
"So do we need chicken broth?" he'll repeat.
Usually I just sigh at this point. (And buy the damned chicken broth anyway.)

Now, mind you, I'm talking about the purchase of a $2.69 can of Swanson chicken broth. I'm not trying to corner the market on peppercorns or anything like that. But I've heard from other women friends that their respective spouses are also uncomfortable with this behavior. In fact, I had one friend whose husband went so far as to build a little pyramid out of the three or four boxes of dental floss she had bought (on sale!), presumably to make a subtle point about what he considered to be an excessive number of boxes of dental floss on the shelf.

I would argue that this stocking tendency actually acts as a money-saving device. Grocery stores are laid out in such a way as to encourage impulse shopping. You go in for chicken broth, or mustard, and you come out with mustard, and some butternut squash that looked good and was on sale, and some shallots and pears (because now that you've bought the squash, you figure this weekend you'll make that fabulous roasted squash and pear soup with curry powder that you love so much), and some olive oil, and rosemary bread (goes with the soup), and some brown sugar (why not?).

With my method, we never have to go to the grocery store midweek. OK, almost never. But still, we rarely have to go to the grocery store midweek. And thus, I argue, we save both time and money by not being sucked into the quick-stop-for-mustard that turns into a mustard-squash-pears-shallot-bread-brown-sugar-$35/35 minute trip.

Besides, I hate getting half way through a recipe and finding we're out of the kind of tomatoes I need, or something like that. When I make a recipe for the first time I prefer to make it exactly as written. Then if there's something I don't like I can make a fully educated decision about what to modify. If I've had to substitute an ingredient and I don't like something about the finished product, I feel that perhaps it was the fault of the substitution and not the fault of the recipe. Once I've made it and determined what I like and don't like, then I'll know if using tomato sauce instead of crushed tomatoes (for instance) is OK or not.

My husband hasn’t always had this unreasonable fear of having a well-stocked pantry. When we were first married, we lived in a house that had a whole wall of shelves above the steps that led down to the basement (conveniently located right off the kitchen). These shelves were just deep enough for canned goods, and I recall no objections to our having half a dozen cans of various preparations of tomatoes, plus multiple cans of several kinds of soup, back up chicken broth, etc. lining these shelves. Ah, you say, clearly he now objects because you’ve moved and you haven’t the space for all these non-perishables.

Nope. Since then we’ve lived in houses that had MORE storage space, not less. This attitude seemed to come out of the blue. I vaguely recall that it might have started with hoisin sauce. Some years ago I developed a…well, OK an obsession, with an Australian cookbook author named Donna Hay (an obsession, by the way, that continues to this day). Because of Australia’s proximity to Asia, modern Australian cooking has a very strong Asian influence, and uses a lot of oriental ingredients, including hoisin sauce. It took some experimentation to find one I liked. As soon as I had identified it, the grocery store we went to most often stopped carrying it (natch). As a result, I was forced to “stock up” when we went to another grocery store, to which we went about once a month. This particular brand of hoisin sauce didn’t come in very large jars, so a single recipe could wipe out most of a jar (plus hoisin sauce is somewhat sticky, so like ingredients such as molasses or corn syrup, you scoop up a half cup, and about a tablespoon of that remains in the measuring cup when you add it to your recipe, so you—well, I—end up plopping a little bit more in the pot for good measure). The purchase of three or four jars of hoisin sauce at a time seemed to activate some long-repressed “objection gene” in my husband’s DNA composition. I still don’t get it.

However, I think that after ten years I'm finally wearing him down. Since we now have three children under the age of four (and the younger ones are twins), there's no such thing as a "quick" trip to the grocery store. Going to the market means either one person stays home with the babies and the older kid goes along to the store, or someone stays home with all three kids. Stopping on the way home when we have all three kids with us is just NOT an option. It's almost impossible to navigate the store, push a double stroller, keep an eye on the older child AND collect whatever it is we need all at the same time.

So I may have convinced him, but it took having twins to do it. Seems rather drastic to me, but I think I came out the winner—not only do I get to have all my extra bottles and cans of things in a comforting row in my pantry, I also got three really great kids out of it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Shameful Confessions

In 1989 Steve Martin starred in a movie called “Parenthood” that featured, among others, a pair of characters who were supposed to represent the modern “new parent.” They’re teaching their little daughter Japanese and martial arts, having her read Kafka, do flashcards, and all this before she’s four. It is also very visibly noted that they “power eat” and take their own food everywhere, an adoption of another then-new trend. Although what exactly they’re eating isn’t specified, it’s implied that it’s organic, all natural, and eschews certain stereotypically “bad” foods like red meat, sugar, salt, etc. In several statements, the wife (played by Harley Kozak) lets the audience know that it’s her husband who’s the driving force behind such behavior. She’s enthusiastic about the idea, but he “turned [her] on to it.”

However, in a later scene, where her husband has upset her by being insensitive (as husbands sometimes are), she digs into her closet, comes up with a shoebox full of candy and cakes, and chows down on a Hostess chocolate cupcake. The message (for those of you who don’t feel like pondering deeply), is that, in spite of her outward devotion to her husband’s theories, she harbors a certain resentfulness (if not outright hostility) towards him because of them. I would also add that it’s a reinforcement of the statement that old habits die hard. Her family is depicted throughout the movie as having been brought up pretty typically for an American household of the 1950s/1960s/1970s, and most likely she ate all that stuff as a kid. Clearly one of her defense mechanisms is “comfort eating,” and in doing so she returns to the foods of her childhood.

What, you may ask, does a 10+ year old movie have to do with anything? My point (reached rather circuitously) is that I feel a very strong kinship with this character for her love/hate relationship with what we now call junk food. Although I haven’t entirely embraced organic everything, I’m certainly at a point where I’m scornful of packaged, processed foods. I think they’re oversalted, oversugared, and generally terrible for you. I’ve been known to get up on my soap box about excess packaging in such products, how utterly flavorless they are, and how much better the “homemade” version is. Why, I ask, would I buy cookies when what I can make at home is so vastly superior to the ones from the store, which taste the way aisle 7 smells?

But secretly, I love it. I love Stouffer’s frozen macaroni and cheese. Worse, I love Kraft macaroni and cheese (NOT the kind with a foil packet of Velveeta—the one with the powder that you mix with milk and margarine). I love frozen pizza. I love—this is truly shameful—Slim Jims. I adore cheap chocolate, and I could eat my own weight in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (no small feat, I assure you).

My mother used to make me turkey pot pies back in the days when turkey pot pies came in little foil pans instead of little microwave-friendly paper ones. She never cooked them enough—the bottom crust was always underdone and soggy—but still I loved them. Today, on the rare occasion I’ll make one for myself (owing to their outrageous fat gram count they’re hard to justify), I cook it for upwards of an hour at 350 degrees in order to get that bottom crust cooked all the way through. A long, long time in a moderate oven will achieve the result without burning the top crust. I’ve also found that putting them on a baking sheet and cooking them for about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven will result in a perfectly done bottom crust. And that’s turkey, by the way, not chicken. I tried a chicken pot pie once, and it’s just not the same for some reason. Swanson is the brand of choice, but I suspect that’s because it’s what I was served as a child.

And as shameful as the confession about loving Slim Jims is, it’s even more embarrassing to me to admit that I adore Pop Tarts. I don’t care about these new flavors they’re coming out with—s’mores, peanut butter and jelly, hot fudge sundae, French toast, lemon-lime fizz. I’m a traditionalist—plain old frosted strawberry is my favorite. I can handle some of the chocolate varietals, but any other fruit is just wrong (blueberry, apple, cherry, grape). And they simply must be frosted. After all, what’s the point otherwise? I don’t know how I got introduced to Pop Tarts. My mom, although she had no qualms about buying me pot pies, Slim Jims and potato chips, seemed to balk at junky breakfast food. I really don’t know why, because it’s not like she ever made me breakfast anyway. Probably just about the time they were doing the studies that found that kids didn’t perform as well in school if they skip breakfast, I was skipping breakfast. I don’t remember eating it at all, even in elementary school. (Note: I wasn’t a particularly bright star in the academic firmament—draw your own conclusion.)

But I think the worst, most appalling processed food I can admit liking is Cup-a-Soup. I don’t mean the Campbell’s Soup In Hand things that they came out with a few years ago. I mean powder in a packet to which you add boiling water. Mostly it’s just powdered chicken broth with a few dehydrated noodles. My flavor of choice is the cream of chicken, and I don’t even want to know what they do to come up with a dehydrated cream soup. I suspect it would reveal far too close an association with powdered milk for my taste. I also love ramen noodles, which are a first cousin to Cup-a-Soup, but every college student in America once lived on them, so I’m not sure I really count them in my list of Shameful Confessions about Packaged Foods.

Although I rail against processed foods, and yet secretly long for them, you won’t hear me speak out too violently about fast food and similar. My kid loves Chicken McNuggets. I love Chicken McNuggets. I love McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I love convenience store hot dogs. While I know that fast food is terrible for you, it can be part of a healthy diet, so long as it doesn’t comprise your whole diet. Movies like “Supersize Me” paint a grim picture of fast food in America, but the truth is, that guy made up his own rules, and I don’t know anyone who has rules like that. There’s no mandate that decrees that one must try everything on the McDonald’s menu (I don’t care for the Filet-O-Fish sandwich, and I’m not sure how much money would tempt me to eat a McRib sandwich…it would be a lot, though, know that). Nobody says you have to take them up on the offer to supersize the meal. It’s perfectly possible to eat a reasonably healthy meal (or an unhealthy meal within reasonable guidelines) at McDonald’s. A little research, a little common sense and anyone can eat fast food now and then without compromising their health.

I think the danger in packaged foods lies in their accessibility, combined with their portability. If I want Chicken McNuggets, I have to get in my car, drive to McDonald’s and buy them. And I have to be going at a time when McDonald’s is open (some now have 24 hour drive thru windows, making “open” a non-issue, but there’s still the transportation angle, and the McNugget craving would have to be pretty strong for me to get up at 3 a.m. and drive to McDonald’s—besides, mine is not a 24 hour drive thru, so it’s a moot point for me). If I want a Pop Tart, I have only to buy them at the store and put them in my cupboard. Then, when a frosted strawberry longing strikes, I’m off for the kitchen, and there they are, cooing at me lovingly from the shelf. Regardless of the time, my kitchen is always available to me. That’s what makes processed foods scarier than fast food. In this land of plenty, it’s too easy to get what we want. Individual serving bags of potato chips seemingly grow on trees, ripe for the picking. We’re taunted at every turn by ads for cookies, candy, sodas, Lipton Noodles & Sauce. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s tasty—have it now! No waiting! Only three minutes from box to table!

Yes, it takes longer to make cookies from scratch, but I would, in general, trade the flavor for the convenience. For many things I am willing to spend the extra ten, 15 or even 30 minutes to make something better from “real” ingredients, things I don’t need a chemistry degree to pronounce. Macaroni and cheese, however, is not one of them. For that, I confess, I’ll stick with Stouffer’s. I may be ashamed of it, but I can’t help but love it.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What To Give a New Mother

A friend recently told me that she had made a meal for a friend who had just had a baby. It was, it seems, the fifth child, so my friend felt a complete meal would be welcomed. Of course, all new mothers appreciate a meal, but I would have to say that a woman with four other children to feed would appreciate it at least four times as much as the mother of a first baby.

So my friend had made her a meal. What precipitated her telling me this was that she had just made two batches of Rice Krispies Treats to serve as dessert. She felt that children numbers 2, 3 and 4 probably felt progressively more neglected in the area of dessert, since as each subsequent child was born, the mother probably had less and less time for making desserts on a regular basis.

But, I asked her, what did you make for an entrée? Oh please, I thought, don’t say some version of pasta, red sauce and cheese.

“Lasagna!” she exclaimed joyfully.

Ugh. Oh, I’m sure her lasagna was tasty, but I had twins (and already had a two year old), and I belonged to a babysitting co-op, so I was provided with many, many meals. With one lone exception, they were all some combination of pasta and red sauce.

I understand the driving force behind this. I can’t think of anyone I know who can’t or won’t eat pasta with red sauce in some form or other. It is universally accepted and can be consumed by pretty much everyone on every diet (with the possible exception of a hard core no carbs devotee—and even then, South Beach adherents can eat it if the pasta is whole wheat).

But it’s so boring. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful—certainly in the early days of parenthood any meal that lands on your doorstep and requires minimal (if any) preparation is to be welcomed. I just wish people would be a little more creative.

The new mom meal that I favor for giving is one that can be served more than once and can be transformed into something slightly different the second (or third) time around. Roast chicken fills the requirements admirably. Donna Hay (an Australian cookbook author whom I worship—if you’ve never heard of her, get in your car now, drive to your nearest bookstore and buy all of her cookbooks—you won’t be sorry) suggests using a 3 to 3 ½ pound bird and cutting through the back of it. It then gets propped in a sitting position in a roasting pan lined with parchment paper (for ease of cleanup—aluminum foil would also work), tuck some thyme and sliced lemons around it and bake at 390 for about 45 minutes. And the joy is, it really does take about 45 minutes when you cut it up and sprawl it out like that.

Having roasted the bird, you can deliver it to the new mom with some traditional sides—mashed potatoes and a steamed vegetable (perhaps slightly underdone so they don’t turn to mush when they’re heated up in the microwave) work fine—and a loaf of bread. Then the next day, mom and dad can use the rest of the loaf of bread and the chicken to make sandwiches. Same food, slightly different taste. Not just reheated baked ziti just like last night. Deliver a head of lettuce (washed is nice, but it won’t last as long in their fridge) and a bottle of salad dressing and there will be lettuce for the sandwiches, and any chicken left over after the other two meals can be served shredded on a salad with the dressing.

Another meal that could lend itself to variations is barbequed pork sandwiches. The pork is easily made in a crock pot. Bottled sauce works fine, although I like the root beer sauce that was so popular a few years ago. I find the ratio that works best is two cans of root beer (not diet) to one bottle of chili sauce (I recommend Heinz—I used another brand once and it was full of weird chunks of unidentifiable vegetables and made a lumpy sauce). The sauce needs to reduce for a long time (several hours is best), but it cooks over low heat until it’s thick and…well, saucy, and then it gets poured over the cooked shredded pork. But you can just put it on the stove over low heat and go off and do your own thing, checking on it periodically to see how it’s coming along.
For the pork you can use pretty much any cut you like—shoulder is good. If you choose a fatty cut, you should trim off the excess fat to the best of your ability because otherwise the fat melts and, if it’s mixed with the sauce, makes it greasy. In fact, one of the joys of this dish is that the cheaper the pork, the better the sandwiches.

Cook the pork for 8 or 10 hours (crock pots are so forgiving) and then shred the meat into the sauce. The original recipe I had called for resting the pork on a bed of sliced onions prior to cooking. I stopped doing this because the onions just absorbed any fat from the pork and turned out sort of grey and nasty.

Deliver the pork along with a basic coleslaw (shredded cabbage and carrot, mayonnaise, a splash of cider vinegar and a little celery seed) and a package of rolls. For a second meal, the pork could be put on nachos, so a bag of chips and some nacho fixings would be useful. Cheese, chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, sliced jalapenos, sour cream, salsa—whatever the recipients might like.

For those who can’t or won’t eat pork this recipe also works well with any fairly cheap cut of beef, or even chicken. With chicken I’d recommend using a whole chicken cut up, and take the skin off of the pieces prior to cooking. Then you’ll need to be a little careful shredding, as chicken has far more tiny bones that could find their way into the sauce than beef or pork. But any of the three meats would work fine.

However, perhaps you don’t feel like roasting a chicken or shredding pork or beef. Perhaps you want to give a casserole. If so, then I highly recommend enchiladas of some kind. They can be made ahead and either cooked, or delivered to the recipient uncooked for them to heat up as convenient. They can be made with meat (chicken, beef or pork), or vegetarian (with vegetarian refried beans and cheese), or even vegan (vegetarian refried beans and soy cheese would work, even if it wouldn’t be my combination of choice).

Enchiladas are simple to make but no one ever does, it seems. They can be somewhat messy to assemble, but they’re easy and good. Start with the large tortillas (I prefer flour—or rather, my husband does—but it’s a matter of choice, and the large ones are easier to roll up than the small ones) and pick your fillings. Sauteed onions and peppers with cheese are good, as is shredded chicken with sautéed mushrooms and onions (not a terribly traditional enchilada filling, but it’s delicious). For vegetarians, as I said, vegetarian refried beans with shredded cheese would work, and if your recipient is a vegan you can switch to soy cheese.

Place a line of filing down the center of the tortilla and roll it up. Then place it seam side down in a baking pan sprayed with cooking spray. Once you’ve got all the enchiladas made, they need some kind of sauce poured over them prior to baking. Although I’ve heard it derided, I think canned enchilada sauce is one of the most wonderful products ever invented. Who in their right mind would bother to make enchilada sauce from scratch? (Well, Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy for two.) I wouldn’t even know where to begin. A can or two poured over the enchiladas prior to baking makes a pretty authentic tasting meal. Sprinkle with a little shredded cheese for appearance. If you’re squeamish about canned enchilada sauce, a jarred salsa verde (or a homemade one, if you insist) is also good.

If you don’t put vegetables in the enchiladas you need some little salad on the side. While not the most nutrient-dense food in the world, shredded iceberg just seems to go with Mexican food. A salad of shredded iceberg, chopped tomato and a little shredded cheese (possibly with the addition of a few kidney beans, depending on your audience and what’s in your enchiladas) dressed with a combination of sour cream and salsa in a one to one ratio is a nice accompaniment. Your vegan friends won’t necessarily be able to eat this, but the vegetarians and the meat eaters should be fine with it.

Although the enchiladas don’t lend themselves to any kind of leftover variant, they’re different enough from the standard baked ziti that they can be eaten for a second meal without too much feeling of tedium.

And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can make all three things for the new mom and you’ll be her best friend forever for providing what is potentially a weeks’ worth of dinners with some lunches tossed in. But really, in this world of lasagna, penne casserole and spaghetti with meatballs, even a single variation would be welcomed, and you may wind up as her best friend anyway, just for providing it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thoughts on Grilled Food

With the Fourth of July recently past, and Labor Day fast approaching, I felt that my thoughts on grilling are a suitable subject for discussion. All over the country people are inviting friends for cookouts and barbeques each weekend, a trend that will continue for the next few weeks, resulting in a mad rush for charcoal that will reach its zenith at the end of August. And really, I can sum up my feelings about grilled food in three words.

I loathe it.

Grilled food is always burnt, lacks imagination (or has too much), has an undeserved reputation for ease, and in general is no friend of mine. Magazines, cookbooks and bookstores do nothing but fan the flames (no pun intended) and keep America grilling, much to my dismay. (The Food Network probably also has something to do with the popularity of cookouts, but since I have no “live” TV at this time, I can’t prove it, so I won’t include them in my collective finger-pointing/eye rolling).

This starts every year, sometimes as early as Mother’s Day (depending on what part of the country you live in, and if the weather is nice enough by Mother’s Day to inflict charred meat on your family and friends). By early June, catalogs advertising grill tools as a perfect Father’s Day present are flooding the mailboxes, and fathers all over the country are torching spiders who were foolish enough to spin their webs in the grill boxes during the cooler months.

And each year about this time, I sigh and resign myself to the inevitable.

We have a few friends who love grilled food. They love to grill, and they love to have people over for “cookouts.” Any time we accept an invitation from them, we’re inevitably told “…and we just thought we’d get a bunch of stuff to put on the grill…”

Please don’t think I’m ungrateful. I enjoy my friends, and I’m always very enthusiastic about a meal that I don’t have to prep for, cook, or clean up after. But after the third or fourth go-round with hamburgers that are raw in the middle, vegetables that are charred beyond recognition and corn on the cob that looks like it was afflicted with some hideous strain of corn leprosy while growing in the field, I get a little impatient.

I’m sure that if Steve Raichlen or Bobby Flay cooked for me, I’d change my tune. But as yet, no invitation from either of these guys has hit my mailbox, so my opinion remains unchanged.

The menus at these events are always tiresomely repetitive. Steaks and chicken, or hamburgers and hot dogs serve as the main course. Potato or macaroni salad is the starch. The vegetable is often zucchini or corn, also cooked on the grill to an unrecognizable state of carbonization. Potato chips make an appearance at times, and baked beans (usually canned) have been known to be invited also. This menu gets a D- for Creativity.

Sometimes, however, in an effort to save their grade, people will try to jazz things up with an “unusual” grilled dessert. Grilled fruit with ice cream is most common, but sometimes one sees grilled fruit pizza, which I think is just disgusting. Burnt pastry plus undercooked fruit are not my idea of a swell ending to a meal.

I think, if pressed, these people would defend their choice as being “easy” or “not much trouble.” But I disagree. If you have hamburgers and hot dogs, you have to provide all the stuff that goes with them. This means buying buns, finding ketchup and mustard (and sometimes several different mustards, because kids tend to prefer yellow, but some grownups would rather have a more sophisticated Dijon or spicy flavor), mayonnaise—sometimes both low fat and regular, cheese (usually people provide Cheddar, American, and Swiss), lettuce that needs to be washed, tomatoes that need to be sliced, onions ditto, and some people additionally provide things like relishes, salsas, bacon, barbeque sauce and other choices to let people make a variety of burgers.

This, I think we can agree, does not constitute “not much trouble.” By the time they’ve bothered with all that lettuce washing, onion slicing, and condiment setting out, they could have made something different. And by different I don’t necessarily mean weird, or highly unique, or complicated. By different I mean something you haven’t served to people eight times in the last two months.

Steaks and chicken, while slightly less work in the go-with department, still mean trouble. What I find about this particular menu choice is that most people think they’ll serve this meal, and just let everyone “eat off their laps.” They provide chairs enough, but not tables enough, for each person. The result is guests trying to carve through a scorched and rubbery slab of cow with a tippy or flimsy plate balanced on their thighs, making every effort to keep their sawing from pushing baked bean sauce or potato salad off on their khaki shorts.

And the media just seems to fuel this nationwide obsession. The July or August issue of just about every cooking magazine I’ve ever gotten declares on its cover something like “Greatest grilling issue ever!” or “Over 20 great recipes for family cookouts” or “Try our fabulous grilling menu!” These magazines, I find, are generally the source for the grilled dessert ideas.

At the risk of sounding like a real grouch, I much prefer my food cooked on a stove. When cooking magazines boast that grilling is “primitive,” I can’t but agree. However, I don’t feel that primitive is a complimentary adjective when used to describe food. Meat that has begun to go rancid and is heavily spiced or salted could also be considered primitive, but I don’t think anyone would think of it as a positive addition to a festive menu. I firmly believe that if man was intended to cook over smoldering coals, the Viking range would never have been invented.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Modern Apron: Entering the Blogsphere

Hey, look, a new blog—what’s this about?
Looking at an average day, I’m mostly either eating, thinking about what to eat, or thinking about what someone else is (or should be) eating. I read cookbooks. I read books about food. I read food magazines. I plan menus. I make up grocery lists.

Of course, I also think about what needs to be done around the house, and consider how it could be done better. In some cases, I even daydream about how I could improve my housekeeping techniques. I think about routines and patterns and how the creation or modification of them function as the framework of the lives we lead. I’ve been known to read books about this too. (You’ll find that reading books about things—especially weird things that you had no idea they’d even written a book about—is kind of a constant in my life.)

And I look at the world around me and think sometimes how truly wonderful it is. Or how truly screwed up. Kind of depends on my mood which way I see it.

So, I predict that the topics for this blog will range from food (probably about 80% of what I’ll be rambling about), to housekeeping (rants or philosophy, depending on my state of mind), to personal observations (random things that occur to me that I may, from time to time, choose to inflict on the hapless cyberpublic—the hapless cyberpublic is, of course, under no obligation to take notice of what I say).

Who are you, anyway?
No one. Everyone. I’m your neighbor, your coworker, the woman behind you in line at the grocery store, the woman at the next table over at lunch. I’m the mother of that little blond boy at your son’s daycare. I’m that woman you see every morning during your commute who’s always drinking a Diet Coke. I’m the woman you’ve seen at Weight Watchers who has rejoined half a dozen times.

I’m someone who loves food, and loves to think and talk and read about food. I’m a person who loves the idea of an immaculately kept house, but doesn’t have the time or energy to create one. I’m an observer, constantly watching what’s going on around me and thinking about it (usually with a combination of wonder and astonishment).

I’m a wife, a mother, an employee. I’m someone who’s trying to raise well-adjusted kids in a world that sometimes seems to be headed for Hell in a hand basket that’s rapidly accelerating. I’m a person who still sometimes looks around for the adult when the cashier says “Can I help you, ma’am?”

I’m someone who’s trying to get on with this business we call living without taking it (or myself) too seriously.

So why are you blogging?
I suppose, in the simplest terms, the answer is “Because I can.” Are we not all somewhat narcissistic? Do we not all, on some level, feel that “everyone is entitled to my opinion”? Do we not all believe that we have something valuable to contribute to the dialog of civilization? Besides, it’s cheaper than therapy.

Twenty years ago it was either expensive or complicated (or both) to air one’s ideas. One either had to scrape together enough cash to invest in “vanity press,” with the knowledge that there was only the slightest chance that they’d ever recoup even the tiniest fraction of their costs, or one had to be lucky enough to be chosen from among the millions of others who had thoughts to share, but with a finite amount of air time/newspaper or magazine space in which to share said thoughts. Now everyone’s ideas (many complete with breathtakingly bad spelling, grammar, and punctuation) are splattered all over the Information Superhighway like so much road kill.

One day I thought “Why not me?” If nothing else, I can at least spell and punctuate correctly, and construct logical sentences and paragraphs. Besides, my husband and my friends are sick of listening to my rants and opinions. Time to find a new audience.

OK, fine--but why do I care?
I feel that every additional opinion or idea we hear makes us think about our own position, and question what it is we believe. And that’s how we grow as people. We constantly ask ourselves if our values and ideas are valid, and through that self-justification, we come to know ourselves better. Now I grant you, my topics for discussion will never wander into the realms of World Peace, the Theory of Relativity, or even local politics. But thinking about what we do all day, how we get through from one minute to the next, and how we sustain ourselves is, to me, just as important as the issue of Tougher Penalties for Parole Violators.

Additionally, I’ve always found glimpses into other people’s lives to be interesting, diverting. Call me a virtual Peeping Tom, but I love hearing stories from my friends about their day-to-day lives—dealing with the in-laws, how their kids are doing in school, and (perhaps most importantly) what they had for dinner. Some of my favorite authors are those who have written books in which their family members are frequently recurring characters, and I almost feel I know those people. And I love that. I love non-fiction that almost drops to the level of a wandering description of events and memories.

So the short answer is, you may not care. But that’s the glory of the Internet (and of so many other media)—if you don’t care, you don’t have to participate. As I said earlier, as a member of the cyberpublic you are under no obligation to pay any attention to me. But always remember—you never know when you might accidentally learn something.

And with that, I enter the Blogsphere.