In our house, I handle the money. I take care of our savings, investments, bills, budget, etc. I do most of this in a vacuum, as Sharaun’s threshold for caring about money vs. not caring about money is simple: As long as there’s money available when she needs it then there’s not a money problem. This works for us for a couple reasons: 1) We communicate about spending pretty openly and regularly, and 2) We’re both fairly cheap, frugal. Yeah we’re not the most miserly of penny-pinchers, but we don’t spend excessively.
Lately, I’ve been trying to share the details and workings of our budget with Sharaun. This involves some “training” on my complex household-finances spreadsheet. When I’ve tried to review it with her, I can tell she’s just favoring me – pretending she cares how much of my paycheck goes to the 401k, what the margin is on our stock sales, etc. It’s OK, at least she knows where the spreadsheet is and how to (sorta) read it. She’ll never have to be in the business of changing the numbers, hopefully, so I guess that’s about all I need to ask of her anyway.
One positive result of this budget review is Sharaun looking for little ways to save money. Part of this has seen her decide that planning a weekly “menu” of dinners is more cost-effective (in terms of the shopping required) than planning things quick day-of. Subsequently, she’s started trying to map out our meals in advance, choosing a bunch of dishes she cooks semi-regularly anyway and assembling them into a canon of stock meals she can rotate through. I’m not exactly sure how this saves money (other than the assumption that shopping strictly against a fixed list discourages impulse purchases), but it has sparked an idea for the blog…
See, Sharaun’s exercises in meal-planning remind me of my own childhood. Wherein my Mom would make a weekly meal schedule, a “menu” if you will, and post it to the fridge for the family to see. She’d have the nights of the week and what would be for dinner each night. As I kid, I took this for granted. It was nice being able to look forward to Thursday’s “chicken and wild rice casserole” on Monday, the elements of predictability and anticipation worked well, I think even encouraged the family to come together at mealtime (which wasn’t an option, we always ate together).
Near universally, I loved my Mom’s cooking (I never was too big on tuna casserole). Culinarily, I’d say my Mom was a study of the famously checkered Better Homes cookbook, which, along with the Joy of Cooking and a handful of recipes passed down from her mom – made up the lion’s share of her drawn-on resources. Of these cookbooks, I think she lingered mostly in the “casserole” and/or “quick & easy family friendly” chapters. I imagine the 70s having played a large role in her cooking style, not only a decade in which the US went casserole-crazy, but the decade where I suppose she defined her meal repertoire as a wife and mother. Now this isn’t to say that casseroles were all my mom cooked, it’s just that I remember a lot of them.
And, like I said, me not being a picky eater my Mom’s fare nearly always seemed palatable. I loved the casseroles, the pork chops, the hamburgers, all of it. And it didn’t matter to me that we rotated through what must have been a few week’s of stable-recipes – in fact I think I rather enjoyed having a favorite few dishes I could count on popping up every so often. The regularity was a good thing. And, when my Mom did decide, by whim or necessity or whatever, to break from the standard meal rotation and try something new – it was always a notable evening.
And, with the last sentence of that, my now sixth paragraph, I’ve setup the actual bit I wanted to write about. Sometimes I might overdo the exposition… y’know? Anyway…
Sharaun’s menu-planning got us talking about my Mom’s menu-planning the other night at dinner. And, thinking about that reminded me of a story that our family sometimes still talks about to this day: The time my mom thought she’d go all exotic and try making falafel balls for dinner. Talk about a break from the dinnertime status-quo, falafel balls were about as far away from our typical repast as you could get. Perhaps Mom wanted to add an international flare to mealtime, perhaps there was a “falafel is ultimate good for you” fad going around at the time (you know… the flaxseed, whole grain, no trans-fat, and steel-cut oats kinda fad). Whatever the motivation, the results will live forever in dinner-table infamy for our our family.
The actual point here is that my Mom’s falafel balls turned out horrible. Now, I can’t quite recall if this is because we simply agreed that we weren’t falafel people or if she actually botched the recipe and the resulting “balls” were inedible. But either way, the family universally agreed that falafel balls were the worst thing ever. In fact, I still get a smile when I think about how we all choked down our hesitant bites at the dinner table, and can remember being a bit surprised by my folks’ open disgust at how badly they’d turned out (as a kid I guess I was somewhat stumped that my Mom’s feelings weren’t hurt, and that she was openly acknowledging how horrid her own creation was).
Point being that, from that meal on, no matter how bad anything we ate was – we could always joke that it was, at least, “not as bad as falafel balls.” To this day I sometimes catch myself thinking that in my head when I don’t like something I’m eating.
“Hey, at least it’s better than falafel balls.”
I’m lucky now… Sharaun is an excellent chef, and has a wide selection of things she cooks for our family. In fact, I’ve said to her on many occasion that I’ve not disliked anything she’s ever made for us – and I’m being honest. Her meals are almost always enjoyable, and I always find myself grateful for the food she makes for Keaton and I. I make sure and let her know that, and I think I do so fairly religiously after each meal. And, I’ve told her the falafel ball family apocrypha too – so maybe knowing that the low-mark on the bar is pretty dang low gives her that extra confidence. Ha.
Well, I think I remembered that right… maybe the falafel balls were only a big deal in my head.