This morning when I called Addie into the bathroom to get her hair brushed, she cast a sideways glance at me and asked,”Are you going to cry again today?” I laughed and said, “I hope not, kid. But probably.” The emotion swirling around the first few days of Kindergarten has subsided now, for the most part. We’re off and running now, finding our stride and fully expecting to hit a few bumps along the way.
We made it through the first few mornings of back to school mayhem, and even though it went well, it took a lot out of me. I’m exhausted, aren’t you? Trying to be organized with these three tornadoes swirling around me is laughable. The lazy summer days masked my disorganized self quite well, but the fall semester ripped the cloak right off of me and exposed me for who I am: a disaster. I haven’t showered in two days. (Again. Gross.) and I finally understand what all those moms of school-aged kids meant when they told me to enjoy the pajama-clad, messy-bun days at home with little bitty babies while I could. They were right: those days are a cake walk compared to these new bigger-kid days. Back then the only one who saw me unshowered was you. Now the world sees me as I really am.
Plus, organizing the girls’ schedules and toting them from here to there dressed, fed and on time– with a baby in tow–is tough. Forget getting myself ready: making sure everyone else is ready to go at the same time, with everything they need, while they all still need me to do so much for them is the priority. Add to that my guilt over how much time Emery spends riding in the car now along with the heartbreak that comes flooding in when I scoop him up from his nap on the way to pick Addie up from school, and I have a whole new batch of mommy exhaustion and guilt.
Never mind the fact that I still, somehow, in the middle of all this have to make dinner. For weeks leading up to the first day of school, I had plans to have a big, comfort-food laden meal welcoming us all home and into evening hours with peace and comfort, anchoring us all to each other again after the first of many days ahead spent going our separate ways. By 3:00 that afternoon, though, I still didn’t have the slightest idea what to cook. I let guilt over that taunt me for a few minutes, until the idea of warming up leftover beans and quinoa (again) was too much to handle. So I opened the fridge, poked around, and found a pack of Italian Sausages smiling up at me practically begging to be cooked. I thought about the way Addie inhales deeply, sighing “What smells so good?” whenever I cook them, and I realized Cassoulet was the perfect solution for this unprepared mother’s lofty ideals of a comforting family meal.
I browned those sausages and chopped up carrots and sauteed onions and garlic, happily listening to Addie chatter about her adventures of the day, nodding and murmuring Oh really? How cool! as I did so. A few minutes of this and she stopped mid-sentence, clearly catching a whiff of the magical combination of onions and garlic and asked with a smirk, “What’s for dinner?” Those words make my heart sing because what I’m really hearing is “Comfort me with dinner.”
We actually sat down at the table together on the first day of school–all five of us–and ate the same thing at the same time. There were a few tense moments of course, because our children are normal and young and protest if they are given anything other than noodles. But overall, it was wonderful. It slowed us down and helped us connect. The best part wasn’t even the food: when it was Mia’s turn to share her High Point from her day, she looked up from her plate and smiled, saying, “Right now.”
In those few minutes, I was filled with a new appreciation for what dinnertime could be in the coming years: a daily ritual of comfort, all of us together, connected and fed in more ways than one. What kid wouldn’t look forward to coming home from school to that?
That is, if I can get organized and figure out what to cook.
Kid Friendly Cassoulet (GF/DF/NF)
Addie can’t seem to remember the name of this dish (I can’t blame her. Cassoulet is a sort of tricky word for a 5 year old), but she oohs and ahhs when I tell her I’m making sausage and bean stew, which is pretty much what this is–and an easy one at that. I tend to have the ingredients around most of the time and can toss it together quickly. The food is simple, but the flavors are fantastic, and all my children really do eat this. It is both gluten and dairy free, which makes it easier to get us all eating the same thing. I go easy on the thyme because any more of it overpowers the other flavors for me, but if you love the stuff, then by all means, add more. But whatever you do, don’t leave out the red wine vinegar. It makes all the other flavors come alive.
- 6 Italian sausages, uncooked
- 2-13.5 cans diced tomatoes (juices included)
- 2-13.5 ounce cans Great Northern Beans, drained
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced to 1/4 cubes or so
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- a few glugs of olive oil
In a dutch oven, warm up the olive oil over medium high heat. Line the sausages up in the pan and let them turn deep golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the sausages to a separate plate and lower the heat to medium. Toss in the onions and stir them around a bit, coating them in all those delicious sausage drippings. Cook them a few minutes so that they soften and start to turn translucent. Then, turn the heat down to medium low and toss in the garlic. In a minute or two you’ll start to smell the garlic; at that point add in the carrots and cook to soften a little, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in the thyme and salt, then add in the tomatoes, tomato paste and red wine vinegar. Stir everything together and turn up the heat to medium. When the mixture begins to bubble, add in the drained beans and gently stir again. Slip the sausages from their plate back into the pan, along with any juice they’ve left behind, and nestle them in with the beans and veggies. When the stew starts to bubble, put the lid on top and put the whole thing in the oven. Leave it there for 40 minutes. After 30 minutes have passed, take the lid off, but keep the dish in the oven for another 45 minutes or so, until the sauce has thickened up and carmelized.
This would be fantastic served with crusty bread, clearly. But since I haven’t mastered the art of the gluten free loaf yet, we served it with roasted cauliflower and a simple cucumber tomato salad.