I have been doing a lot of reading. Nursing a newborn is good for that—with Sally I alternated between Barbara Delinsky romance novels and baby advice books—and this time I've been making my way through the public library's "Notable Books of 2013" shelf. I started with Five Days At Memorial (incredibly eye opening, and also a gripper), then Men We Reaped (so sad, but also fiercely lovely), and I'm now—and I realize I'm late to the party—almost through Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In.
I like it. I started reading it on the same day I rediscovered a blog I love that changed web addresses two years ago, a blog written by a homeschooling mother of four girls. The philosophies behind the two pieces of work couldn't be more different, but both resonate in their own ways. Lean In carries some of my truths—that I am happier, that our home is happier—when I am working outside of it in some capacity, and when I feel valued and respected for that contribution. That things go better when I let go of what scientists apparently term "maternal gatekeeping" and let Alex do his share, his way. But Mead & Daughters speaks to another, competing truth—that I want to be at home at least part time, to allow the girls time for unstructured play, for being outside, for teaching them what my parents taught me—that there can be joy and creativity in the everyday, the mundane.
There have been several pieces recently questioning the merit of cooking (To Cook or Not to Cook? What if You Just Hate Making Dinner?), and I found some bits more compelling than others. But mostly, I think the crux of the issue is that cooking is only enjoyable when you have the time and energy for it. I don't picture Sheryl Sandberg coming home from a long day at Facebook excited about making dinner, but I also don't know her, and hell, maybe she's as into Dinner: A Love Story as Virginia Heffernan is against it.
Which is all to say: I cook because I like cooking. I think it can be incredibly satisfying and creative work. But it can also be stressful and mundane, and I like take-out and restaurant meals as much as the next person. And like Molly, I don't make more than a few "real" recipes a week. (You know, the ones that look like a proper meal and involve more than about fifteen minutes of effort.) The rest of the time, I'm simply throwing things together on a whim, like pasta and salad, or we're eating leftovers, or we're snacking on beer and what I call "The Charcuterie Plate," which is much less elegant than it sounds and consists mainly of cheese, carrot sticks, olives, and liverwurst. I think it's important to be honest about these kinds of things, because viewing things through a few words and photographs every now and then, it's easy not to get the full picture. We all have enough on our plates without trying to imitate a fictional version of perfect.
And that is where bacon comes in. There are very few dinner dilemmas a package of bacon can't solve. Bacon crumbled on salad, with toast fried in bacon fat. Bacon and beans and greens, with toast fried in bacon fat. Eggs and bacon, with toast fried in bacon fat. You see where I'm going with this. My mom and dad bring us the good stuff from a farm near them in Maine, and I almost always buy a package when I see it at the farmers' market. But I also buy it at the grocery store. If I can find it, I like the applewood smoked cuts from Niman Ranch. We had some for dinner last night, with Swiss chard and onions cooked down in the fat, and thick pieces of swordfish pan-seared in some more of the fat. There was nothing fancy or time-consuming about it. But it tasted good, and it made us happy. And that, I think, is what's important.