I turned on the local news one night a few days ago, while I was folding laundry in our bedroom, and there was a feature about a local mom who has meal-planned for an ENTIRE year. One whole year. She had an Excel-type spreadsheet/calendar thing and on it she had the menu for every meal, for every day.
I was impressed, and a little skeptical. Sometimes when we see someone who is so amazingly together in ways we can't fathom, we tend to be skeptical, to look for the flaws. And while I'm still impressed that she found the time to meal plan for an entire year, when the camera moved to a shot of her pantry, I felt validated: The flaws! There they were! The shelves were loaded with boxes of Rice-a-Roni and Hamburger Helper, and family size boxes of macaroni and cheese dinners. The freezer was also bursting with portion-sized baggies filled with hamburger meat and chicken.
A-ha! I thought to myself. That's how she does it. It's much easier to meal plan, I think, when you're basing each night's dinner on a processed food package, one meat, and a side of vegetables. And while I don't want to rant and rave against processed foods and our country's penchant for consuming vast amounts of them at the expense of our children's health, that type of meal-planning struck me as very unimaginative. It might be for some people, I thought to myself, but it sure isn't for me.
If you haven't noticed yet from this blog, my inspiration for meals comes spontaneously to me--I'm very prone to the powers of suggestion, and sometimes all the inspiration I need to come up with the idea for a meal, is a casual comment made by someone; or I might stumble upon a delicious-looking recipe online and decide, right then and there, that we must have it that night; or one of my kids will mention something, completely in-passing, something like the fact that Wednesday was Mozart's birthday and why don't we have a party for him, and that's all I need.
Wednesday, January 27th, was indeed Mozart's birthday. Mozart is L.'s favorite composer by far. For years now L. has fallen asleep to his favorite radio station, and as a result he possesses a wealth of knowledge about classical music. He especially looks forward to Thursday night opera night, and is a big fan of "Sleepers Awake"--which has seen him through many sleepless nights. I sleep better at night knowing that the music is there for L., in the lonely hours when he can't sleep and he lies awake, thinking his thoughts, leafing through his books, dreaming his big dreams.
On the way to school Wednesday L. mentioned that it was Mozart's birthday.
"Oh?" I replied. "How neat!"
There was silence for most of the drive to school, but at the end, right before we got out of the car, L. said in passing that maybe we should have a party for him.
If I could have, I would have dropped everything right then and there and headed out in search of the perfect food items for a birthday party for Mozart. L.'s been having some tough days, and if a party for Mozart would brighten his life, that's all the incentive I needed. But I had classes to teach, and more paperwork to churn out, and a two hour meeting at the end of the day, and so Mozart would have to wait. But when I did get some free time on Thursday, I did some snooping around the internet and discovered I wasn't the only one who thought it a good idea to celebrate Mozart's birthday.
What would Mozart have eaten? I wondered. Unfortunately, it seems Mozart really loved things like trout, and liver dumplings, and schnitzel, and pork (did you know Mozart has a weblog?)--all not only off-limits in our vegetarian house, but things L. wouldn't want to even be in the same room with. One site did mention that Mozart liked a good "cheese butty", which had me intrigued until research revealed that a butty was just a sandwich.
So instead, I made spaetzle, served with lots of grated pepper, and a sprinkling of shredded Swiss cheese over top (note: I couldn't get the whole pushing-the-dough-through-a-slotted-spoon thing, so I just rolled the dough into little balls with my fingers and dropped them into the water. Also, that recipe needs to be doubled to feed a family of four. Luckily I had bought a box of spaetzle from the grocery store as a back-up). I bought a can of sauerkraut just for fun, and because I like it (kids wouldn't touch it), and some vegetarian sausages for us grown-up people (and the dog, as it turned out). We lit lots of candles for the table, and played a Mozart record in the kitchen. We had chocolate for dessert, and baked apples.
"This was such a great idea," I told L., while we cleaned up the dishes.
"I just thought we needed to do something for him," L. said. "He's just really important to me."
So, dear Mozart, happy (belated) birthday, and thank you.
If you're having trouble viewing the photos to this post, you can find them at my Flickr account, right here.