What the hell did I do before I had kids?

(And why did I think that was an important question to ask myself, anyway?)

Today is 60 days to the day from when I left my daughter at college and came home to a changed set of daily circumstances.

How’s it been?

Weird.

Exactly as a friend said it would be. “Weird” is precisely the right word to describe the free-floating feeling that there’s something I’m supposed to be doing, some task or chore that needs my attention.

It’s a phantom limb, that feeling. There is no chore. No carpool. No lunch to make. No permission slip to sign. No list to review, in the quiet morning time, to make sure I’ve prepared for multiple people’s daily obligations.

For the first month, as I said to everyone who asked about “the empty nest,” it simply felt like the kids were at camp. They’d been away from home every summer for many years before heading to college, so I had a taste of what life ahead might be like.

At the start of the second month, I started feeling itchy, like I’d missed a deadline or forgotten an appointment. Slowly, I began to relax into the new freedom.

I can do whatever I like now, relatively speaking, reclaim whatever it was that I’d put on hold, set on the back burner, or otherwise delayed.

Which was what, exactly?

What the hell did I do before I had kids?
What did I cook?
What time did I go to bed?
Did I always brush my teeth?

It took me a minute, as one says these days, to get to the answer to all of those questions: Who cares?

Whatever I did, or didn’t, do with my time 23 years ago is interesting but irrelevant information.

What do I want to do now? That’s the better question.

I’m still working on the answers.

Teaching, of course, is in the mix. Ditto spending more time on creative endeavors. Less time doing laundry.

Surprising absolutely no one: One of the things I want to do now is cook, and eat, the way I enjoy cooking and eating.

I want to spend a Sunday morning, for example, testing a recipe idea that popped up in a social feed. I want to test that recipe with no expectations and no competition for the time to explore it.

I want to be curious about cooking, relieved of the obligation to produce anything that anyone else will, or won’t, enjoy eating.

Pan-fried mahi mahi on a bed of sautéed red onion, red pepper, and sugar snap peas.

Roasted root vegetables on a bed of fresh arugula, dressed with homemade green goddess goodness.

The 18th (19th?) round of sourdough bread, as I keep trying to get a lighter, tangier end product. (Still working on it.)

Replicating the Hungryroot Almond-Chickpea cookie dough. (Still working on that, too.)

And today, right before free-writing this little update, roasted potatoes with butter and Parmesan (found on Le Creuset’s Instagram feed, with a nod to Claire Joy Cooks).

The recipe is in the Insta post, but I didn’t follow it exactly (because, of course I didn’t). Here’s what I did instead:

Crispy Parmesan Potatoes (adapted from recipe by Claire Joy Cooks, posted by Le Creuset)

  • Preheat oven to 370 degrees (a little hotter than the original 350)
  • Melt 7 tablespoons of butter, and set 1 tablespoon aside
  • Grate Parmesan until you have about a cup and a half of light, airy, freshly-grated goodness
  • Stir together the 6 tablespoons of butter with the Parmesan until you have a nice paste; season with salt and whatever seasoning you like. I used Tuscan Dipping Spices from The Mighty Olive, because that’s what I had and it sounded good (it was). There is no right or wrong answer here. (The original recipe calls for paprika – which I did not have – and fresh rosemary – which I also did not have.)
  • Spread the butter/Parm paste in the bottom of a heavy casserole dish. (Mine is Emile Henry, which I bought for a song at Tuesday Morning years ago.) An oven-proof skillet would work fine, though it needs to be big enough to place the potato halves in one layer.
  • Halve about 20-25 tiny potatoes (I used a bag of creamer potatoes – mix of red and gold); score each half ( on the cut: flat side) in a crosshatch pattern without cutting all the way through. This will take a long time, but it’s worth it.
  • Place the potatoes, cut side down, on the butter/Parm paste layer.
  • Brush the remaining butter over the potatoes and sprinkle with salt.
  • Bake about 30 minutes, until the edges are nicely browned and the kitchen smells like roasted potatoes, butter, and cheese.
  • Remove from oven and let the dish cool for a few minutes, just to let the crispy edges crisp up and also so you don’t burn your tongue when you eat directly from the dish. Which you’ll want to do.

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