golden arch confessions: how parenting changed me

A funny thing happens when you become a parent.  You change.  Obviously, you change.

But in fundamental ways you thought were genetically impossible.

You know what I’m talking about.  You that are out there.

I’ve been a parent for almost twelve years now and I am still astounded by these changes.

I recall a feverish argument with my husband in a crowded restaurant in an even more crowded airport.  We were off to one of our many exotic destinations and had dropped in for a quick drink.  Ahhhh, the days of unfettered travel.  I admit my husband and I refuse to kick our travel habit and we make it a point to take our children to all sorts of distant destinations.  But of course, it entails a lot more work, planning and schlepping.

This particular argument was all about Diet Coke.

“I forbid you to have Diet Coke in the house when we have children.  It will ruin them!”  (Okay, maybe not my exact words, but the general message was that crystal clear (and crazy.))  And I did say ‘forbid.’

My husband, with his sexy tan skin and jet-black hair looked at me with warmth and infinite patience and said:

“You’re crazy.”

Add this and a several glasses of merlot and the argument didn’t get any better.

Fast forward to the present and our children are now almost 12 and 8.  The fridge is regularly stocked with my husband’s favorite drink, Diet Coke.  The kids aren’t ruined (not by that, at least).  ‘Forbid’ is out of our lingo, for those wondering.

Then there’s my sister-in-law, whose children are a good ten years older than mine.  When hers were little and mine weren’t even a thought, I’d tease her constantly about her letter writing, or lack thereof.

Occasionally, we would get crisp wallet-sized portraits of her children with cheesy paint splash backdrops in fake hues of teal or grey, and if we were lucky, a post-it with an illegible afterthought:  “All well here. Picture of kids. Love, K.”

“What???? Can’t you have the decency to sit down and write a line or two???” I’d reprimand as soon as the post office made its delivery.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her how tacky I thought those portrait shots were.  I certainly would never do that when my kids would come around, I smugly thought to myself.

Flash forward to the present and my children are now almost 12 and 8.  I don’t send post-its.  I send only the pictures.  The same portrait shots (I tend to favor chestnut brown and olive green backdrops.  It brings out the hazel in their eyes…)

And of course, there was the food issue.  I swore on my culinary spirit that my children would never and I mean never, ingest the fat and sodium-laden Haden that is McDonalds.  This, there was no budging about.  Non-negotiable.  A child of mine – no.

Flash forward to the present and my children are now almost 12 and 8.  I won’t reveal anymore except that the golden arch is no stranger to them.  You get the picture.

But some things have made me the wiser.  Like the 1-2-3 approach to a time consuming meal like lasagna.  I want to say wisdom and good parenting taught me to divvy this dish into several days so that the moment of making it requires only a quick assembly.  But like most eye-opening moments in parenting, this was completely an accident.

I had the best intentions.  I did.  I wanted a carb-loaded nutritious meal of lasagna for our Wednesday night.  So off I went to diligently prepare a nourishing meat sauce, a creamy béchamel, and some sautéed spinach, all to be readily assembled into layered bliss.  The kids were getting cranky and hungry.  6:15 soon became 6:45 and then 6:55.  I was creeping into their bath time and reading time and the pressure was on.  I could handle it though, I could handle it.

Until I realized I had no lasagna noodles or mozzarella cheese and two very cranky children.  The plan was ditched, or delayed; however you look at it.  I quietly wrapped up my prepared goods and scribbled out a list for tomorrow’s run to the supermarket.  The lasagna would be assembled another day.

The kids, on the other hand, had resorted to full meltdown mode offering incessant whining about hunger pains.  I did what any reasonable mother would do.  Even a culinary snob has her breaking point.
“Everyone get in the car”, I commanded.  “We’re headed to McDonald’s for dinner!”

You change.  Obviously, you change.

2 Day Lasagna

Ingredients:
For Bolognese:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup celery, chopped fine
2 carrots, chopped into ½ ” cubes
1 lbs. beef, ground
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup whole milk or cream
1/2 cup red wine
½ cup meat broth
1 cup canned tomato (1 28-ounce can)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 bay leaf

Prepare the Bolognese sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup celery, chopped fine
2 carrots, chopped into ½ ” cubes
1 lbs. beef, ground
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup whole milk or cream
1/2 cup red wine
½ cup meat broth
1 cup canned tomato (1 28-ounce can)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 bay leaf

For Bechamel:
2 ½ tablespoons butter
2 ½ tablespoons flour
2 cups hot milk
pinch of nutmeg
1 egg yolk

1 box frozen spinach, thawed and chopped
1 box instant cooking lasagna
1 pound sliced ham
2 lbs. shredded mozzarella
1 cup parmesan cheese

Over a medium heat, simmer onion and garlic with olive oil. Add celery and carrots and sauté until crunch, 4 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Raise heat and cook ground beef until there is no pink. Add salt and pepper. Add vegetables.

Add milk and simmer, stirring frequently until milk has bubbled away completely.

Add wine and broth and let simmer until evaporated. Add tomatoes, paste and herbs.

Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, adding extra wine if sauce dries up.

Prepare the Bechamel Sauce:

Béchamel:
2 ½ tablespoons butter
2 ½ tablespoons flour
2 cups hot milk
pinch of nutmeg
1 egg yolk

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and blend, stirring with a wooden spoon until flour turns amber in color. Add hot milk gradually,, whisking well. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Simmer until sauce thickens, 3-5 minutes.
Remove ¼ cup of the sauce into a small bowl and add egg yolk to it to combine.
Slowly beat this back into the sauce.
Stir slowly for one more minute.
Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Assemble lasagna in a 9 x 13 x 13 glass dish. Put ½ cup Bolognese sauce on bottom and spread. Add strips of lasagna. Top with ½ cup béchamel, ¼ cup chopped spinach, ¼ lbs. ham and ½ cup mozzarella. Repeat layers. Top with parmesan cheese. Bake for 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8 -10
* Note: All of this can be prepared the day before and assembled the day of.

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