Food writer’s complaint: ‘Easy’ cooking isn’t

by Honolulu Mother

A food writer who now has a one year old wrote an Atlantic article on The Myth of Easy Cooking. Her basic complaint is that although lots of books and articles promise easy dishes, they mostly are not quick or easy enough to meet the needs of someone with a toddler to feed and less than 15 minutes to get dinner on the table.

My main response was to think, “That kid won’t be a toddler forever.” And my second response, regarding the fish sauce, was that if you want to cook with fish sauce on the regular, you already have a bottle on hand. It lasts. But her broader point, I think, is that for a truly novice cook these “easy” recipes really aren’t “easy” in the same way as learning how to salt and pepper pork chops and put them under the broiler, or how to make a white sauce to be used for creamed everything on toast. Bittman-style recipes are “easy” for someone like me (or the people writing them) who has a stocked pantry and cooking skills already, but if we gave recipes skill ratings what’s usually called “quick and easy” now might be quick in the hands of an experienced cook but is not really “easy” for an inexperienced cook.

Recipes that use canned soup concentrate or cake mixes are obviously anathema to the Bittman crowd, and even the linked article didn’t mention them, but I do think they serve a useful role in getting kids and other new cooks started. Even if a recipe is basically ‘dump a box of cake mix, a box of jello, and a can of soda together and then bake,” it’s a step toward baking.

I know some Totebaggers have wrestled with getting family dinners on the table after work, especially those in that special time of life when you have little people hanging off you whining who will move on to full-stage tantrums if not fed within the next ten minutes. Any cookbook suggestions for new cooks still trying to learn their way around the kitchen? Or 15 minute dinner suggestions?

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195 thoughts on “Food writer’s complaint: ‘Easy’ cooking isn’t

  1. HM,

    It sounds like this lady needs Hello Fresh. That way, if the recipe calls for fish sauce they send you a little bottle of fish sauce. A few weeks ago we had a dish that included ras el hanout. It’s a North African spice blend consisting of: cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric. It came in its own handy little packet.

    The recipes are typically quite quick and they even have you reusing the same pan to minimize cleanup.

  2. If you have an Instant Pot, put a bunch of chicken thighs in it and cover them with bottled teriyaki sauce and push the “poultry” button. Get some of those frozen veggies in steamer bags (shut UP about polychlorinated biphenyls; we’re talking “quick” here). Dump more teriyaki sauce on the veggies.

  3. Her point on the fish sauce is that it’s something that most non-cooks probably aren’t going to have on hand. And yes, the toddler will get older, but then he’ll get involved in activities and such and she still won’t have any more time to make dinner. Our kids are 14 and 12 and if a recipe takes more than 15 minutes, we’re not making it on a weeknight.

  4. I had some of the same immediate responses to the article (i.e., “wait — you mean PB toast is NOT a good toddler dinner?”). But she makes a valid point. We have so many more ethnic foods available to us nowadays, and my family really enjoys all of the different cuisines. I have a whole pantry shelf full of various staples that my parents wouldn’t even have heard of (kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, tamari, coconut milk, truffle salt, flavored olive oils, dried chiles, etc. etc. etc.).
    But it’s a lot harder to learn multiple different flavor profiles, as compared to the American-and-vaguely-French-thanks-Julia style that predominated in my youth.

    Beyond that, we have raised our food expectations at the same time that we have less time to cook. Neither of my grandmothers worked outside the house, but it was perfectly acceptable to serve me spaghetti-o’s and a glass of milk, or grilled cheese and a can of chicken noodle soup. Now I leave for work at 7 in the morning, get home with the kids between 5 and 5:30, and am supposed to produce something that is healthy (per whatever that means this week), homemade, and flavorful.

  5. PS — what I have found *realistically* quick:

    1. Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute meals. He has really useful, simple tricks — like he’ll give you an herb/spice combination, you sprinkle liberally on parchment paper, put the chicken breast on the paper, sprinkle more, fold over, and bash it with a rolling pin until the “fat” end is the size of the “thin” end. Boom, you have (i) flavor, (ii) cooking time of @8 minutes, and (iii) a built-in crust so you don’t have to dredge, do eggwash, etc. He also doesn’t do lots of precious chopping — he makes liberal use of the blender or Cuisinart as appropriate. Maybe not 15 mins, but 30 mins,, easy.

    2. The Lady!! Thanks again, Ris! She is almost perfect for DD to use, because she lays out the steps so clearly, including the do-ahead parts if you have time on the weekend to chop, make your sauce, whatever. I have also noticed that my grocery bills have gone down probably $50/week — I think that, when left to myself, I over-buy, thinking of all the great things I’m going to make, and then stuff comes up and I never make it. The only quibble is, man, it can be bland — I have to double or triple the amount of herb/spice and omit the dilution (who makes stir-fry by taking 2 T of soy sauce and adding 1/2 c. of stock or water???).

    The other day, after my meltdown with DD, I told DD I needed her to make dinner (part of the plan to make helping a more routine part of her life). She made the Lady’s pork lettuce cups, and it was fast and easy (and all I had to do when I got home was tell her the trick of doubling the flavorings). So the Lady makes cooking doubly easy — first because the recipes are easy to execute, and second because they’re so easy that my teenager can execute them. :-)

  6. So I think if adults in the household are both working full time and you have a toddler, cooking homemade meals is doable (if that’s important to you) but you just have to meal plan. Coming home and hoping dinner will miraculously come together with the contents of your fridge/pantry is probably a recipe for disaster. I fed my oldest a lot of crappy food because I failed to plan back then. Once DS came into the picture and I started really learning to cook, I’ve never not done a meal plan for the week. Sometimes I deviate as circumstances come up but knowing what I will be cooking before I get home is the ultimate home cooking hack.

  7. My big complaint with Bittman (and his ilk) has been the reliance on exquisite and precious ingredients. Yes, take one Meyer lemon, one pint of yellow tomatoes and one fresh filet of halibut, and you will have a lovely meal no matter what you do. I would love to see him make a delightful dish with a frozen tilapia chunk, some RealLemon, and three bruised and flavorless Roma tomatoes. I like cooking with ground beef. Not (just) because I am unsophisticated, but because I can keep it in my freezer.

  8. “I would love to see him make a delightful dish with a frozen tilapia chunk, some RealLemon, and three bruised and flavorless Roma tomatoes.”

    Perfect.

  9. We do a mix of fresh cooking and left overs for dinner. On the nights that I cook, I can usually get dinner on the table in an hour, but that takes time from other evening activities. Last night I cooked barbecued pork loin and cheese grits. Nothing challenging, but cooking takes time.

  10. I just started Cooksmarts (“The Lady”) this week. So far so good. I like that it eliminates the mental task of figuring out what to make. Our default had been to order out when we got home if we were too tired and lazy to cook.

    I’ve advanced my cooking skills from Lutheran Church basement/cream of mushroom soup recipes over the years due to our CSA. The CSA has exposed me to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I had to learn new recipes in order to not have everything go to waste. It also helped me learn more about how to substitute and to modify recipes. I also like how the CSA reduces the amount of choices I have to make. When I can make anything, I get overwhelmed by choice compared to just searching for brussel sprout recipes.

  11. I think that she makes a lot of valid points. The thing is – making weeknight dinners that are Bittman-approved actually does take a lot of work, especially if you are going to eschew all canned beans, premade sauces, etc. RMS’s dinner sounds like a perfectly fine dinner to me, but that is not the bar in some circles. We eat a lot of almost-from-scratch dinners, but there is an investment in meal planning/shopping time, cooking/prepping ahead, making big batches of food on the weekends, etc. I certainly don’t think that is a bar that all should aspire to. And I still use frozen veggies, boxed chicken broth and canned beans liberally. (The disdain for canned beans and broth is the thing that really pushes me over the edge with the Bittman crowd.)

    We have some super-quick go to dinners, but even those require you to have ingredients on hand.

  12. “I would love to see him make a delightful dish with a frozen tilapia chunk, some RealLemon, and three bruised and flavorless Roma tomatoes.”

    I’ll add to Rhett’s comment.

    BAKED FISH WITH TOMATOES, OLIVES AND CAPERS

    This is one of my easy recipes using frozen fish like tilapia or cod.  I vary it, but since I keep kalamata olives and capers and lemon as staples, I usually have all the ingredients.  I also usually add sliced onions.  Just put it all in a pan and bake and/or broil.

  13. Rhett – canned tomatoes are okay, but canned beans are evil because really – you should just cook batches of beans on the weekends while you are busy baking your bread, making your own stocks, etc. I mean, come on – it’s all inactive cooking time. Just watch less TV, you lazy a**.

  14. ^ Actually, I noticed the fish recipe doesn’t call for lemon, but does include balsamic vinegar. I don’t care very much for balsamic vinegar, so I don’t use it.

  15. If someone judges me for pouring a can of salsa on some chicken and calling it done, then we were never destined to be friends anyway.

    For Christmas, I’ve gotten DD some kid oven mitts, a lettuce knife, and the smallest cut resistant gloves I could find. She’s going to learn to cook with me. If anyone has any good YouTube or TV recommendations, please let me know.

    I got myself the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook because their recipes usually work for me – I always think of a shortcut and then take it, but they have the reasons I shouldn’t in a sidebar. Someone has to warn me before I substitute canned gravy for the bechamel.

    What I need are some good basics: beef stew, lasagna, chicken pot pie, a stir fry or two. My kids’ palates are not adventurous enough for much more.

  16. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole article yet, but I agree that there is nothing wrong with pb toast for a toddler. Even every night for a month. You can’t have everything. It is not possible to cook and give 100% attention to a small child at the same time. That fact seems to have been a sudden revelation to the author. If she doesn’t like the meals that she can prepare in 15 minutes and does not want to cook extra on weekends, then she should find a way to contain and pacify her kid so that she can focus on the food. Or call for takeout so she can focus on the kid. This life stage will pass. And I know from personal experience that children fed The White Food Diet as toddlers can grow up to be junior foodies who will eat anything.

  17. Hijack – Hoping Mooshi is around to comment.

    Recently, I found out that a family we know due to children in the same activity put their adopted child up for adoption and has found a new family after initially adopting from another country roughly two years ago. Of course, we don’t know all the details as the family is not one we are close to. However, the news is spreading among other families in this same circle, so I’m sure my child will find out soon through the grapevine, if I don’t say something first. My problem is, I’m not sure what to tell my child.

    Any words of wisdom?

  18. I actually don’t find making stock that big of a deal. I just throw water, bones, veg, etc. into the Instant pot on Sundays and set it for two hours. I keep jars in my fridge for soups and freeze extra in ice cube trays. Now dried beans I am with you all on, so I rarely use recipes with beans.

  19. I use canned beans and bagged salad for this:  Beans-n-Greens Salad

    Another variation is to saute the greens in olive oil and garlic, then dump the beans onto the greens.  This is a good way to use up bagged salad that is about to expire.  You’ll use a lot more greens if you saute, which is a good thing.  Add red pepper flakes and Parmesan.

  20. The kid won’t be a toddler forever, but then he’ll be a first grader with homework that requires assisted reading and writing. Multiply that by three kids, not one.

    We’ve been doing a lot of variations on chicken, beans, broth, and/or salsa in the crockpot, shredded, as a soup or taco filling or Mexican pizza, cheese, guacamole.

    And maybe we just don’t want to cook all the time. I’d rather have that half-hour to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

  21. Anon, how old is your child? Is your child adopted too?

    I would probably be as honest as I could, but acknowledge that we never know what is going on in someone else’s family.

    I would also highlight that that is extremely rare and that a state judge and a lot of other professionals like therapists and social workers are helping the original adoptive parents select the new parents and helping the child adjust to the new family (well, one hopes so – it is mandatory in my state).

  22. RMS, they don’t even make a lot of playpens anymore – you can use a pack-and-play or an exersaucer, but both are considered “container time” and frowned upon in the baby books. You are not supposed to have your baby “containerized” for more than half an hour a day.

    (For those reading this and wanting a playpen, Joovy makes a nice expensive one and Walmart still carried a serviceable one that was 39″ square back when I last looked.)

    Obviously it is much safer to cook while your toddler is running in circles around the kitchen island, chasing the cat.

  23. We were very lucky, most of the time we had toddlers, we could offset our work hours and day care was affliated with his employer, so 5 minutes max from his office to the day care. I would go in early and leave early, get home and have dinner no more than 15 minutes away from ready when they walked in the door. When that didn’t work, we had a few “tricks” –

    1. We looked at what they were going to have at day care for lunch – they sent home menus in advance. With one cook these were wonderfully well made and balanced, with one or two “fast foodish” a week. On the “fast foodish” we’d plan a better dinner. Otherwise it might have been cereal, pb/j, pizza, etc. for them and we could eat much later.

    2. We’d do some cook in advance, such as my lasagna recipe makes way more than the 4 of us (at that time) could eat, so we’d freeze half and eat it on a busy day the following week. Now that we are all 13+ age range, there is usually only leftovers for one person out of that meal!

    3. We could buy more time if we did the bath first. They loved it and sometimes really needed it if they’d done messy things at daycare or during the “lets pour sand all over each other phase”.

    4. We could buy a bit of time by passing off raw veggies as an appetizer and they were so hungry they’d eat them before the main meal hit the table. If they ate “too” much of them, no harm!

  24. I am a fan of Jenny Rosenstrach’s cookbooks and her blog, dinneralovestory.com. (Think I discovered it through TOS when her and her husband’s lunch making contract was featured.) My kids are bigger now so cooking is not the seventh circle of hell it was when they were toddlers. They love the kale, sausage and white bean stew which takes maybe 20 minutes and involves canned beans, tomatoes, and chicken broth. My kids now have their favorites which helps because I am happy to make dinner so long as I don’t have to decide what it will be. Also, cheese toast or a quesadilla is a perfectly fine dinner. Add a bag of salad and a glass of wine and you are set. My kids also like leftovers which are elevated by being referred to as “encore” or “chef’s tasting meal.”

  25. Sky – Curious Chef makes some kid-safe knives that really work. I let me kids use them around age 3 and they can really chop with them (not really hard things like potatoes, but bell peppers, mushrooms, etc).

  26. “That fact seems to have been a sudden revelation to the author.”

    Yeah, well, to be fair, there were many, many aspects of parenting that were a sudden revelation to me after my first arrived. Like the fact that DD would sleep only when actually, physically on top of one of us — and that we were both too exhausted to care. Or that her favorite food would be a single French fry, stuck in ketchup, sucked clean, rinse, repeat. Etc. etc. etc.

    @ Rocky: this is the modern equivalent: http://www.evenflo.com/Products/ExerSaucer/Saucers/Shop_All/ The problem is they are not nearly as effective when the kid is old enough to toddle on his own and wants outOutOUT!!!!!!!!

  27. I agree with Atlanta that having a meal plan + the ingredients is one of the great life hacks. It is easy enough to look ahead at the calendar and know which evenings are going to be rushed & thus the meal plan says “grilled cheese and tomato soup,” and which evenings are more relaxed and get pot roast with veggies. What I can’t do is make those decisions at 5pm – my brain is fried and I am getting pulled in too many directions.

    The other thing I did when I had a baby, and then a toddler and a baby, was cook at night for the next day. This was easy for me because even at an early age ours were usually asleep by 7 or 7:30, and I find cooking enjoyable. So, kids would go down at 7, I would take 45 minutes to pull together the next night’s dinner (chili, meatballs w/marinara sauce, prep vegetables, prep meat for grilling – whatever, as long as it was easy to reheat or assemble the next day) while chatting with DH, and pop it in the fridge. The next evening we would eat whatever I had already prepped, because it would take 15 minutes or less to reheat or assemble. And so on. It gave us real meals without having to do all the work during the witching hour.

    But I also agree that cheese and crackers or peanut butter toast are perfectly acceptable toddler dinners.

    I honestly had no idea until that article above that there are people who are opposed to canned beans. That seems like crazy town, even to me.

  28. Sky – My child is not adopted and is almost 14, but with puberty, a number of insecurities have arisen lately. My child’s personality is to ask a lot of “why” questions, which I don’t know a lot of the answers in this situation. I know that the child’s special needs, mainly emotional/social are an issue. My child has some similar issues, though not nearly as severe, that have caused a lot of tension in our family when my child decides not to use the coping mechanisms the therapists have taught. I don’t want my child to jump to any conclusion that this might be an option for our family, nor do I want to bring it up as something to not worry about because doing so will only cause worry.

    I don’t know what the process is in my state, and some quick googling hasn’t revealed much, but still looking.

  29. The other issue with toddlers and even older kids is that you can sometimes have about a 5-minute window between “happy kid” and “head-spinning-360-spewing-pea-soup.” This discussion reminded me of what a big deal the witching hour was in our family up until maybe 2-3 years ago. I went with immediate snacks in the car on the way home just to tide them over.

    Also, the “only use homemade stock/dried beans/etc.” is really a completely different level. I use canned stock and beans all. the. time. and don’t even remotely aspire to Pollan Qualifying Status. I know how to cook, have been doing so for 40+ years, and even know how to use a knife properly. And it’s still freaking hard to get dinner on the table in 30 mins every weeknight.

  30. I put my young toddler in a pack n play while I cook dinner. I know 2 kids who got pretty severe burns when they got tangled up with a parent and some boiling water while the parent was cooking. I make the older ones stay on the opposite side of the island while the stove is on and they get in Big Trouble if they break that rule. I also have a pack n play in my bathroom for the toddler when I am showering. She can’t be trusted otherwise and is happier there as compared to her crib where she can’t see/hear me. I use canned beans. I sometimes make stock but other times use the boxed kind. I might have to turn in my Totebag card.

  31. “dump a box of cake mix, a box of jello, and a can of soda together and then bake,” IS that actually a thing?

    Anon – wow, that’s difficult stuff. I’d answer as honestly as I knew and then just remind her of how much you love her and that that would never happen. Wish I had more to add.

    We don’t have a lot of variety. Isn’t a time issue, I just hate cooking and am not much of a foodie. I go to grocery on Sunday and buy for the week. Monday is usually some kind of chicken, Tues – meatloaf or meatballs, Wed – pasta and sausages, Thursday fish or something on the grill. Friday – pizza. Repeat!

  32. you should just cook batches of beans on the weekends while you are busy baking your bread,

    My wife didn’t have store-bought bread until she went to college. Her parents always baked their bread.

  33. This

    but there is an investment in meal planning/shopping time, cooking/prepping ahead, making big batches of food on the weekends,

    and this

    The other thing I did when I had a baby, and then a toddler and a baby, was cook at night for the next day.

    don’t get done because of this

    And maybe we just don’t want to cook all the time. I’d rather have that half-hour to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

    Whether the work is done right at dinner time, the night before, or on weeks, DW and I just don’t want to spend that much time cooking because we’d rather do other things. We enjoy cooking to the point of making a really nice dinner once a month or so, but beyond that, we see it as a chore. Pretty much anything beyond “throw some chicken on the grill and nuke some frozen veggies” is considered “fancy” in our house and reserved for special occasions.

  34. Milo,

    I thought you might find this interesting in a millionaire next door sort of way. It seems a strip mall roast beef shop throws off more money than one would think.

    From 2008 to 2013, Nicholas Koudanis and Markos allegedly skimmed more than $1 million in cash receipts each year which they failed to report on either the corporate tax returns or their personal tax returns, thereby avoiding the payment of nearly $1 million each in personal income taxes during that period….According to the indictment, Nicholas and Eleni Koudanis also amassed more than $1.6 million in cash as of December 2014, which they kept in a safe in their home.

    http://www.wcvb.com/news/nicks-famous-roast-beef-owners-charged-with-skimming-millions/36971218

  35. I actually don’t find making stock that big of a deal. I just throw water, bones, veg, etc. into the Instant pot on Sundays and set it for two hours. I keep jars in my fridge for soups and freeze extra in ice cube trays.

    What do you use it for? I don’t recall ever making anything in my life that required stock.

  36. I don’t recall ever making anything in my life that required stock.

    Then how do you deglaze your pans? Wine only?

  37. When we had toddlers in the house, I followed two pieces of advice. First, have a list of your top ten easy dinners and cook those. Second, try to have a theme assigned to each night like Monday is chicken; Tuesday is pasta; Wednesday is breakfast, etc. My copy of ATK’s Family Cookbook is ripped, stained and falling apart. It is our go-to cookbook. Finally, for those of you living amongst little people ( or big ones) with unadventurous palates, just remember that you can never be a prophet in your own land. Adjust your cooking accordingly.

  38. What do you use it for? I don’t recall ever making anything in my life that required stock.

    I don’t know about Atlanta Mom, but we eat a ton of soup in the cooler months.* At least once/week. Tomato soup, butternut squash soup, Italian wedding soup, chicken noodle soup, lentil & sausage soup – these are all ones everyone in my family will eat. I use stock for all of those. Also for white chili (made with rotisserie chicken and canned white beans). I love to make soup.

    *cooler months means when the high drops below 78.

  39. ” the smallest cut resistant gloves ”

    OSHA would be so proud.

    We have taken another tack: don’t use cooking knives until you can control them, and then, be cognizant to avoid cutting yourself. I think DW and I are the only ones who have cut ourselves recently, but again we are doing more in the kitchen than the guys.

  40. Yeah, ditto Lark — my fam’s not so big on soups, but I use stock in chili, pasta sauce, anything slow-cooker, gravy, pan sauces, etc.

    Of course, I make my own only from the T-Day turkey carcass (which I appear to be programmed to be unable to throw out). We go through boxes and boxes of Kitchen Basics.

  41. I am actively trying to teach my kids how to cook. I knew nothing about cooking when I graduated from college and was so, so bad at it. I’m not trying to teach any particular recipe, but more the broad strokes, like what a difference it makes to salt your meat a day ahead of time. Very little about cooking is intuitive when you are really starting from scratch. I am hoping they leave home with a better foundation than I did.

  42. Rhett (re the skimming).

    I’m thinking there are a lot of places like this, one specifically in Ocean City NJ

  43. For dried beans, the method in the home country was to soak the night before and cook in a pressure cooker. Soups, stew, lentils, curries can all be cooked in a pressure cooker. Pressure cooker cooking there is very common but I somehow never learned to use one because I had this irrational fear of one exploding. The home cooks used one all the time to speed up cooking by a good bit.

  44. Constructively, our kids all like to cook. They have learned by trial and error, from following simple to relatively complex recipes, by osmosis next to DW, me, my FIL, one BIL & SIL couple. I think for them, it’s independence. They all have their go-to things, they all know how to grocery shop. And how to read cookbooks, especially the parts on the inside covers of the Better Homes & Garden book that explain size conversions, what temperature means “done” and what you can substitute if you don’t have something like buttermilk.

    My 19yo makes a full Sunday dinner for his apartment of 4 plus who(m)ever else he invites in every week. Not college crap, but real dinners like a pre Thanksgiving feast including roasted turkey breast, veggies, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, a cake for dessert. Sure some of the stuff is store bought and the cake might be from a box mix, but his food is better than whatever the campus food service is serving.

    For budding college cooks: I highly recommend The Campus Survival Cookbook which continues to serve DW well 30+ years after she acquired it. It starts at the beginning with what you need in a kitchen and has well explained recipes.

  45. I’m thinking there are a lot of places like this, one specifically in Ocean City NJ

    I have in a friend in a business like that and reading between the lines the key seems to be not to get greedy. If you ran a bar, you’re going to some range of: heavy pours, comped drinks to the regulars, shrinkage, spoilage, spillage, breakage, etc. So, you might have an invoice saying you bought 3000 drinks worth of booze but only sold 2250 actual drinks a week. You might be able to skim $2500 a week and get away with it as it falls within the realm of possibility. The problem becomes when you get greedy and start skimming multiples of that and it becomes obvious what you’re doing.

  46. Yeah, and then when you do the math you realize that skimming $2500/week = means you’re keeping ~$1000/week or $50k a year more than you would if you declared everything. If the place is well managed, industry appropriate costs per $ of revenue / margins, etc., then you’ll be making plenty of money declaring it all rather than risking IRS involvement. But some folks don’t think like that.
    Also, because a lot of people live for today rather than thinking about a long time in the future, whatever you skim can’t be disclosed if you want to sell the place without risking some “buyer” blowing the whistle on you. And since you’re not declaring 100% of the income, you’ll be shorting yourself on the sales price of the business.

  47. “I know how to cook, have been doing so for 40+ years, and even know how to use a knife properly. And it’s still freaking hard to get dinner on the table in 30 mins every weeknight.”

    Yes, exactly. Although I am a little younger. :) I LIKE cooking, and I want to have more elaborate meals, so I dedicate some times to it. Some days I am not feeling it, and I think that there is nothing at ALL wrong with DD’s zapped veggies and chicken breasts followed by watching the Grinch.

    The fact that Bittman had to “rethink” canned beans and found them “acceptable” for applications where it is “okay for them to be a little mushy” is exactly my point! It’s food – get off your high horse once in awhile.

    We use stock/broth all the time for soups, sauces, stews, etc. It goes in things like taco meat too. I go through the Costco 6-pack of chicken stock really quickly in the cooler months. (summer not so much because of grilling & salads)

    @buckeye state – we have the ATK Family Cookbook too. It’s good, but I have been liking Keepers (recco’ed here) a bit better. Both assume you have decent cooking skills already though.

  48. Anon, I wish I had concrete advice for you. We have had significant behavioral issues with our adopted child, and we have constantly vocalized that we are the family that will always be there for her, through thick and thin. We try to show that there is not even a smidgen of thought that we would ever abandon her, sometimes in a humorous manner emphasizing that we are all stuck with each other, imperfections and all. We point to imperfections among other members of our family, and have compared ourselves to other non-adoptive families that have fully supported their troubled children. We’ve never known an adopted child that was rejected by their adoptive family, but I think I would take it as an opportunity to express sadness and sympathy while contrasting that situation with ours. Good luck.

  49. And I make soup the easy way: Open the can, pour it in a bowl, and put it in the microwave.

  50. I use chicken stock a fair amount – chicken pot pies are the most frequent use, but also for gravy, soup/stew, deglazing/liquid for pans, etc.

    When the kids were toddlers we kept them out of the kitchen by putting them in the high chair OR just gating off the kitchen and letting them roam the rest of the house. :)

    The quickest dinner for the kids these days is mac & cheese – I swear they would eat that every day and not get tired of it. We also have dumplings from Costco that are v quick (esp with frozen edamame). Kielbasa/pierogi is another perennial favorite that doesn’t take too long, and sometimes I make pancakes, eggs, and bacon for breakfast-for-dinner. Lately (since losing not one but TWO splatter screens behind the range) I have been baking the bacon at 375 or so – although it is not as crispy, it takes about the same amount of time and is much less hands-on (bonus).

  51. Rhett, no way would I ever make that.

    Why not? If you use a cast iron skillet you can bake the chicken in the over and then take the pan out, set the chicken aside and put it on the stove and make the pan sauce while the chicken rests. It would take 90 seconds.

  52. I’ve done some de-glazing. Back in my pre-kid days, I was watching a lot of Alton Brown to learn these things.

    Interesting about the tax evasion. Just like Stew Leonard. But the article reminded me of the opposite crime: money laundering. I was thinking of “Breaking Bad,” as I often do, when they had an un-Godly pile of cash sitting in a storage unit, so they bought a car wash and rung four transactions through the register for every legitimate car that came through.

  53. Rhett, first, I wouldn’t make chicken breasts in a skillet. Second, it’s too much time. Remember, I see cooking as a chore, so I’m not going to go through that process when I can just put some bbq sauce on the chicken and throw it on the grill.

  54. I was so happy when Cook’s Illustrated put its seal of approval on canned beans. I was using them anyway, but it meant I could do so thinking “I’m paying a little more for convenience AND TASTE” instead of “I’m paying more for something that’s not even as good!”

  55. so they bought a car wash and rung four transactions through the register for every legitimate car that came through.

    The IRS guy is going to ask to see your power bills and soap and wax invoices.

  56. “The IRS guy is going to ask to see your power bills and soap and wax invoices.”

    That’s a stretch. Certainly something would have to tip them off first.

  57. That’s a stretch.

    Not at all, my friend who runs an all cash restaurant has to produce all his invoices when he gets audited.

  58. Rhett – I’d also be curious to know at one point you could claim that it’s proprietary–your machines are tuned to use much less soap than your competitors do.

    Certainly the IRS isn’t getting to see the spice and ingredient invoices for KFC’s Original Recipe, or the Coke formula.

  59. “The quickest dinner for the kids these days is mac & cheese – I swear they would eat that every day and not get tired of it.”

    As would I, if I could still get away with it.

  60. Certainly the IRS isn’t getting to see the spice and ingredient invoices for KFC’s Original Recipe, or the Coke formula.

    Do the kids from E&Y get to see those invoices?

  61. The IRS can look at all kinds of non-public information — that small business’s books aren’t public information either. Why would a trade secret be any different? It’s not like the IRS is free to publicly disclose this stuff.

  62. Maybe when I get home, I’ll post my chicken pot pie recipe (good, some work) and my need-to-go-to-the-grocery-store soup recipe. My kids have always had a snack around 3-4 PM to hold them till supper at 6-6:30. I just figure they eat 4 meals/day. Is there a way to add recipes directly to the cookbook on this blog? I tend to forget when things are posted.

    I don’t meal plan more than a day or so ahead, typically, but when we’re time-crunched, I plan more. Tonight we’re trying King Ranch Chicken Casserole, which includes not one but two cans of cream soup. I cooked a chicken in the crockpot on Sunday and picked it last night. I sauted the onions and peppers this morning while feeding Baby WCE and getting the kids off to school. I hoped to complete the casserole this morning but I still need to throw it together in the 9×13 pan. I set my oven to preheat itself starting 15 minutes before I’ll actually get home, because DS1 has a school program at 6:30 tonight and I have to have Baby WCE nursed and changed in addition to feeding the crew. I chose this recipe in part because it requires a whole chicken and is cooked in a 9×13 pan so hopefully we have enough leftover for another night.

    Pizza Hut was the last place that delivered to my house and they quit, so it’s either cook or get Mr WCE to pick up a pizza (and he’s often home late, so that’s not an OK default). We don’t have the take-out options the author describes and in the volumes we eat, take-out would be expensive.

    I recently discovered another recipe for cooking steelcut oatmeal with fresh pears overnight in the crockpot. Pears are in season and the Pacific Northwest grows awesome pears. If you have any PNW pears at your grocery store right now, you should buy some.

    When I had 3 toddlers, I would put them in their high chairs before I opened the oven. With a mobile baby, so far I’ve only had to move the dog’s water dish to the laundry room.

  63. An acquaintance runs a business where they provide a type of enrichment activity that you pay for on a monthly basis (like Kumon, but not that). Their operating costs are mostly fixed – instructors, rent, utilities. Doubling their participants probably increases costs by 10%. When they started, they had a number of people who paid cash monthly for the service. It seems like that could be not declared with great benefit – from an IRs perspective, very hard to see how much money should be coming in.

  64. @ L – bump to 425 and use convection bake – it will get just as crispy as on the stovetop. I do bacon in the oven probably 3 morning/week.

  65. from an IRs perspective, very hard to see how much money should be coming in.

    Other than having an agent sit across the street and count the number of kids/cars going in and out.

  66. “a poke cake (poke holes in cake, pour liquid jello all over, refrigerate).”

    I’m glad you explained. I initially was thinking it was some kind of cake that Sam Choy would make.

    For those scratching their heads, poke is a locally popular dish made with various sorts of seafood.

    BTW, a quick google inquiry shows that Sam Choy, well known for his poke, now has a food truck in SSM country.

  67. “The IRS guy is going to ask to see your power bills and soap and wax invoices.”

    Does the IRS do criminal investigations other that tax evasion, and perhaps other tax related crime?

    That car wash owner is going to be paying taxes on those phantom car washes. It’s not like he or she is evading taxes.

    My understanding was that the IRS will investigate criminal activity if it results in income on which appropriate taxes are not paid.

  68. Pizza Hut was the last place that delivered to my house and they quit, so it’s either cook or get Mr WCE to pick up a pizza (and he’s often home late, so that’s not an OK default).

    Frozen pizza works just as well.

  69. “Pizza Hut was the last place that delivered to my house and they quit, so it’s either cook or get Mr WCE to pick up a pizza (and he’s often home late, so that’s not an OK default). We don’t have the take-out options the author describes and in the volumes we eat, take-out would be expensive.”

    Alternatives to delivery and takeout include frozen, ready to microwave (or bake) dishes, e.g., Costco lasagna, and canned, heat and serve food (e.g., chili, spaghetti-os, soup a la DD).

  70. WCE — I should create a recipe section for this blog. Unfortunately, many of the old recipes seem to have disappeared with deleted posts. I’ll update everyone when I make the new recipe section.

    I think it was here that I learned about Better Than Bouillon, which I now usually use in place of canned stock.

  71. “Frozen pizza works just as well.”

    I beg to differ.

    While frozen pizza is typically better than take and bake, at least for us, due to not having a pizza oven at home, it is nowhere near, IMO, as good as pizza, even leftover pizza, from someplace like Pizza Hut or Costco.

    OTOH, while is is not as good, it is, IMO, more than adequate as an alternative to delivery or takeout.

  72. “The kid won’t be a toddler forever, but then he’ll be a first grader with homework that requires assisted reading and writing. Multiply that by three kids, not one.”

    But you can multi-task with school age kids, to whom you can say “Just a minute while I deglaze the pan” without having to worry about scalding them. And you do have control over their outside activities — if you have decided that home-cooked family meals are a priority, then you can limit activities that interfere with dinner preparation. You really can’t make a toddler kitchen-safe unless he is in a container.

    IME, young children DO NOT CARE if they have the same thing for dinner three nights in a row. In fact, they sometimes seem to thrive on such repetition, just as they will want the same bedtime story over and over.

  73. Running a gym might be a good way to launder money. (I mean, if you were criminally inclined, which I’m totally not saying that I am.) Most of your members never come in anyway — that’s the standard operating model as I understand it — so if you have an even lower than typical percentage of active members, maybe you’re just especially good at getting people to sign up for annual memberships they’ll never use or talking them into keeping an autopay monthly membership going when they call to cancel.

  74. Lark – thanks! Does that increase splatter, or not by much?

    Finn – agreed. Frozen pizza is bad when compared to all other pizza. Even Costco pizza (my least favorite bc too bready) is better, especially if you heat it up in a super hot oven for 2 minutes (500 or as high as it can go).

  75. HM,

    Then the IRS would then call a random sampling of the members you claim and confirm they are actually members.

  76. Honolulu – IIRC the drug dealer on The Good Wife used a chain of gyms as a money-laundering strategy for exactly that reason. :)

  77. If we decided to get take out/delivery before we got home and could place the order without having to poll anyone, then it could happen that it would cut the prep time. However, with a usualy 30 min. delivery time and more places are extending that (except pizza) due to traffic at busy times, we can make dinner in that amount of time.

    When I am the primary cook, I meal plan for the week, buy the groceries based on the plan and sometimes cook part of the next dinner at the one I’m currently working on. For example, my kids like a chicken dish that is served over rice and they like a pepper-less version of stuffed peppers that also includes rice. If these are in the same week, I’ll make the chicken first and double the amount of rice, so it is ready for the stuffed pepper meal. DP does most of the cooking and he is more of a “what do I feel like making tonight”, but then complains that he feels that he is always making the decision of what to cook. I am more comfortable making the decision at the beginning of the week and then feeling like there are no more decisions to be made.

  78. “Lark – thanks! Does that increase splatter, or not by much?”

    That’s my question, too. I’ve resisted using the oven for bacon because of splatter. I use an 8 qt. stock pot with a splatter guard on top to fry bacon, which is not the best solution.

    Yesterday I went to a bustling produce market that only accepts cash. By bustling I mean in the middle of the day lines were about 6 customers deep at their three cash registers and the parking lot was almost full. I assume they only report part of their sales receipts.

  79. Around here there are some storefronts that look suspiciously like fronts for money laundering. One small alterations place I went to told me it would be months before my garment could be ready. Okaaay

  80. I get little to no splatter from bacon in the oven. I line a sheet pan (the kind with low sides) with aluminum foil, lay the bacon directly on it, and bake at 425 (convection setting so it’s drier). I’ve found the cooking time varies by brand, but it takes around 15 minutes.

  81. Does no one else meal plan for the next day around what needs to be used up?

    My kids will eat frozen pizza but I prefer to be more selective about the calories I ingest. I made West African soup last night and ate it myself since I was taking the kids to the fundraiser for the school at the local gourmet fastfood place. Baby WCE had soup with me and it turns out that she likes okra.

  82. Sky – you might know someone who just wrote a book that involves re-homing. :)

    It’s not the case that lawyers and courts are used, or background investigations done. And if those things are missing, it could be child neglect and abandonment. I guess I’d want to know the facts before I told my kids that it was an okay thing that’s going on. But yeah, I’d definitely tell your kid that you’re in for the long haul, no matter what, and keep saying it over and over and over.

    http://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/13/the-story-of-an-arkansas-politician-who-gave-away-his-adopted-child-and-the-tragedy-that-followed/

  83. All these money laundering tactics discussed here legitimize money by, among other things, paying taxes.

    So what’s the point in skimming more than what you can spend on a cash basis without raising suspicion? If you’re going to pay taxes on the money anyway, why not do it above board?

    I’m thinking I could spend maybe $500 a week in cash– Costco runs (a lot of people still pay in cash), eating out, entertainment. OK, maybe somewhat more than that; I can see myself eating out more and buying concert tickets more if I had that kind of (literal) cash flow, and using cash for all gift giving (maybe some under the table employee bonuses?), but if I even double that, that’s $52k/year.

    But I can’t see being able to spend $1M/year in cash, and apparently these guys couldn’t either.

  84. I meant to say it’s not *always* the case that lawyers and courts are used. That may be the case in the family you describe. There are many, many situations in which it is not the case.

  85. Ways people have been caught manipulating either revenue or expenses:
    1. Pay workers in cash so it is harder to prove how many and how much they were paid, especially if you are paying illegal workers who are less likely to raise an issue.
    2. Because of #1, reporting and paying unemployment taxes on “fewer” people than you actually employ, again if they have no legal working papers, this is easier to do.
    3. For cleaning type services, list the products you use and give the customer the OPTION to provide their own preferred brands. When they do, you still book the expense of using the company provided ones.
    4. Create a work schedule that maximizes the miles driven as a reimbursable expense, but workers actually follow a schedule of least miles driven because they must get all to all the locations within the workday.
    5. Collect revenue in cash…when you are only giving prices verbally over the phone or after a consultation, you can record what you are charging differently from what is being paid.

  86. Finn,

    The other thing is you can’t invest the money. They had to keep $1.6 million in cash in their house. I assume the returns on an index fund since 2009 would have far exceed any tax due on that $1.6 million.

  87. Anon,

    That could work. But, then you’d end up with Finn’s problem of having more cash than you can spend. You can’t buy a nice car, boat or house for cash for example.

  88. Thanks another adoptive parent…

    Regarding the rehoming/readopting…I’ve been trying to do some research about my state and it is very limited. There is a ton of information about when you are having a baby/just had a baby and you want to put her/him up for adoption. I have yet to find a state specific resource that talks about older kids.

    I have found a lot more information about the “problems” adoptive families face when adopting an older child (as in the case of the family we know) from another country from the adoption officials skimming over known problems so the child will be adopted to the limited preparedness most families have prior (although most are screened it is more about physical health and safety rather than their ability to cope and respond to the issue that frequently crop up) to making the decision to adopt to minimal resources to support the family once back in the states.

    It is all just unfolding, we will be interacting with the family this coming weekend. I’m not even sure what to say. Overall, my heart just aches for this child…to have been an orphan for years, to be adopted and moved to another country where very few speak your language, to being told you are being adopted again.

  89. Rhett – that is when you need to hire a trusted courier to fly to Geneva or the Caymans with the cash in a suitcase. (Does that actually work? Like, can you bring a ton of cash out of the country and no one cares?)

  90. To the anon who is concerned how to discuss the rehoming –

    I am an adoptee, so my feelings about this are very strong. I also had a child who was a serious disruption to family harmony for more than ten years.

    Required disclaimers. 1. There are rare occasions when a child (bio, step, foster, adopted) is so dangerous or his needs so clearly unmet in the home that he must be removed for an extended period or permanently. Very rare. 2. Blame for failed adoptions (often foreign because there is no preceding foster care period) should fall primarily on the agency that has not screened or prepared the parents, and secondarily on the usually well meaning but naive adopters who did not comprehend or were not up to the responsibility they assumed.

    If your child were adopted, I think you might have had to condemn the action and shun the family. In my personal opinion, there is no way to express sympathy for the family (for the child, of course) or describe extenuating circumstances to your own adopted child. Since your child is not adopted, and is a teenager, I am not sure I would bring it up unless he does (even obliquely – starting to talk about his activity mate out of the blue or some such) and then talk to him frankly drawing out his opinion first. You don’t want to be broad minded when he needs reassurance that you are as horrified by this as he is.

  91. Rhett – IIRC, the folks doing that were not getting super rich, but they were able to up the ante a bit. No you can’t buy a huge house or super fancy car, but you’d be surprise what you can pay for with cash especially if you live, work, or “shop” in an area where a large number of people don’t have bank accounts. Cars are often paid in cash for example.

  92. “That could work. But, then you’d end up with Finn’s problem of having more cash than you can spend. You can’t buy a nice car, boat or house for cash for example.”

    I’ve heard that the MJ industry is all cash because banks won’t touch it because it’s still against Fed law. Which has effected the emergence of a cash security/transport/storage industry. And as anon suggests, all expenses are paid in cash, including employee salaries, rent, etc.

    I’m thinking these guys have large amount of legitimately laundered cash, and could use it to buy stuff, although perhaps not securities. So I’m wondering if they can convert cash to assets by buying, say, real estate for cash, then selling the real estate. That may not be the best example, because of the high transaction costs, but it would seem to make sense for an MJ business owner to perhaps buy income property.

    MJ business owners are also probably under a high level of scrutiny for money laundering.

  93. Rhett – that is when you need to hire a trusted courier to fly to Geneva or the Caymans with the cash in a suitcase.

    The Rhineland-Palatinate state has bought a CD containing secret Swiss bank account intelligence. The information could yield €500 million ($654 million) in tax revenue. Government officials paid €4 million for the CD which includes 40,000 data sets.

    “(The data) is authentic and of excellent quality,” confirmed state Finance Minister Carsten Kuehl, Reuters reports.

    The data prompted over 200 raids nationwide against suspects in the early hours of Tuesday, Associated Press quotes the south-western state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

    Then you worry that some kid in the Cayman National Bank IT department will sell you out to the IRS.

  94. “You can’t buy a nice car, boat or house for cash for example.”

    Define “nice.”

    We once bought a gently used ski boat for which the seller insisted on cash payment.

    Also, I would think it’d be pretty easy to buy even a new car and make the monthly payments with money orders purchased in cash.

  95. MJ business owner to perhaps buy income property.

    That would be hard as you could pay $500k for an income property but the seller would almost always want to deposit that money which would trigger a Form 8300.

  96. ” Like, can you bring a ton of cash out of the country and no one cares?”

    I’m pretty sure that’s illegal without a paper trail to establish its legitimacy.

    “Cars are often paid in cash for example.”

    I’m pretty sure a legitimate car dealer will have to report cash sales above $10k.

  97. Also, I would think it’d be pretty easy to buy even a new car and make the monthly payments with money orders purchased in cash.

    That’s structuring, a federal crime punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison. Also, after 9/11 they cracked down on that so you need to produce ID to buy money orders above a certain amount.

  98. I wonder how often IRS does extensive auditing – like counting number of kids going into Kumon each day. I always assumed that they mostly pored over paper records.

    In my entirely fictional math studio, parents pay a monthly membership fee that entitles you to attend as many classes as you want per month. Some weeks have lots of traffic, some have little – it might depend on the weather or whether it is near the holidays. Sampling number of kids walking in, or calling members might not be statistically valid. In this imaginary place, maybe the owners keep 100k per year in cash. Use the legitimate income to pay for 401k, health insurance, the math company car.

    I could certainly spend that cash. It would be “extra” so off to the mall for clothes, etc. restaurants and groceries. I could easily convert 2k a week into cash spending, especially if I was increasing my luxury items.

    From our recent trip to Disney World, I asked at the front desk about the card on file. The helpful receptionist told me that as we charge things to our room, they will begin to charge the card if we go above $2000. She said that comes as a surprise to many people. They leave their card, but intend to pay their bill in cash. So, from my data set one luxury resort in Florida, people pay for very expensive Disney vacations in cash.

    I have never thought a lot about laundering money, or tax avoidance. But the gym, or math studio, or whatever, seems pretty straightforward and very hard to trace.

  99. Rhett – maybe if you’re trying to disguise illegal activity, but the act of paying for a car in cash, or making monthly payments with money orders, should not be a problem in and of itself.

  100. Also, if I wanted to spend some cash, I would think about getting more heavily into flipping real estate. You could buy a rundown house and do much of the work by paying cash for supplies and labor. That is so typical anyway, I can’t imagine how it would be traced.

  101. In my entirely fictional math studio, parents pay a monthly membership fee that entitles you to attend as many classes as you want per month.

    Then IRS would call the parents and ask if they were actually members, just like for the gym audit.

  102. Rhett – maybe if you’re trying to disguise illegal activity, but the act of paying for a car in cash, or making monthly payments with money orders, should not be a problem in and of itself.

    I assume we’re talking about Roast Beef Shop type money where you’re evading 7 figures in tax a year. As I said, if you don’t get greedy you can easily skim a few $100k.

  103. That is so typical anyway, I can’t imagine how it would be traced.

    Would you deduct the cost of improvements against your capital gains when you sold?

  104. No idea how it paste in quotes on my phone but I live Meme’s last sentence.

    Looks like I should’ve directed my comment to an Anon and not Sky. Sooty about that.

  105. “That would be hard as you could pay $500k for an income property but the seller would almost always want to deposit that money which would trigger a Form 8300.”

    Yes, but if it’s a legit cash business, would that be a problem?

    Another though: Put down $9999, and pay installments of $9999, perhaps weekly or bimonthly.

  106. Back in the pretend minutes studio, there are 300 students a month paying $200 for the privilege of attending classes. There are a. additional hundred students paying cash, only half of that is reported.

    The business is generating $70,000 a month in documented gross revenue and $10,000 in cash. I’m still not seeing how that extra $10,000 gets noticed. I’m also not seeing how it’s worth video surveillance and the major investigation on the part of the IRS to claim tax on hundred thousand dollars per year.

  107. “Some weeks have lots of traffic, some have little – it might depend on the weather or whether it is near the holidays.”

    Of whether finals or SAT or ACT is approaching.

  108. As for skimming cash in restaurants, I know a number of middle aged and older children of immigrant restaurant owners whose families could no longer make a profit and got out of the business when credit cards became common. The way you skim cash is by taking some orders on blank pads, and some on sequentially numbered tickets. The register total for the tax man (income tax and sales/meals tax) is only the tickets. The cash on the blank pads goes directly into the owners pocket. Some of that skimmed cash can be used to pay some employees off the books so there are no employment taxes for the owner or income taxes for the employees.

  109. I’m also not seeing how it’s worth video surveillance and the major investigation on the part of the IRS to claim tax on hundred thousand dollars per year.

    It wouldn’t be. The risk would be either they get greedy and go for more or the business grows and they keep skimming until the amounts involve flag something in a computer somewhere and they get nabbed.

  110. whose families could no longer make a profit

    The only pay taxes on the profit. If they weren’t making a profit there would be no tax due.

  111. There was a recent bust of daycare centers in my neck of the woods. In this case, the state was looking for centers that were receiving state funds for subsidized private daycare. Investigators sat outside the centers and counted the number of kids that went in. In some cases, the centers were getting funds for 100 children, when only 25 where actually showing up.

  112. Finn – from the other topic. We’re going to spend the first night in Co. Springs (6k), ski at Monarch, and rent a condo in Salida (7k).

  113. Sales/meals/restaurant tax and employment taxes are always due even if you are losing money. However, I should have said “sufficient” profit. The business for a small restaurant owner is very demanding of time. Most of the ones who continue in long time business, such as our local breakfast/lunch place, are housed in prime commercial real estate that the restaurant family owns outright.

  114. Anon,

    I can’t wrap my head around it. If they have a problem so bad that it warrants putting them up for adoption, wouldn’t they be better off in a residential facility that could handle them?

  115. Then when I was ready for something a little more exotic, I started using the Betty Crocker New International Cookbook. It has interesting recipes that all use ingredients that you can easily find in a regular supermarket. Like the Better Homes and Garden book, this one is still a staple for me.

    http://www.amazon.com/Betty-Crockers-New-International-Cookbook/dp/0671887637/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450306121&sr=1-1&keywords=betty+crocker+new+international+cookbook

  116. Rhett — Re. the roast beef people, I am reminded of a favorite saying of an expert on fraudulent-conveyance law, whose articles I read from time to time: “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.”

  117. Milo, one person on our trip to CO earlier this year had a problem with altitude sickness at about 9-10k’. That meant we all had to curtail our activities at higher altitudes. We went to an urgent care place where he was treated, but I don’t recall what prescription he received. If it had been easier, we would have opted for oxygen. There were some spas and similar that offered oxygen treatments. I myself have never felt the effects of higher altitude, but IIRC it’s fairly common. Maybe checking with your doctors before your trip would be a good idea.

  118. There is a prescription for altitude sickness, Diammox, that does help. Oxygen helps too, but only at the moment you are using it. It doesn’t last. Also, it is possible to get supplemental oxygen for when you’re sleeping at altitude, but that prevents you from acclimating.

    The best way to deal with altitude, is to spend time at altitude, which doesn’t always fit with our vacation schedules. Arriving in the afternoon or evening, so you can sleep before doing much activity, will help too. It is notable that general level of fitness does not predictability to acclimate well.

  119. Milo, I don’t think you’ll have huge problems with altitude, given that your lodging won’t be at really high altitude, and that first night at the Springs should help .

    However, based on my assumption that you live at a low elevation, you might want to take it easy for the first day or two, and be prepared to call it a day and retreat to lower ground if any symptoms exhibit themselves. I’ve taken people up to 10,000 feet and seen them exhibit the usual symptoms of nausea and headache, an you’ll be 800 to 1200 feet higher than that, engaging in (or trying to engage in) physically strenuous activity.

    Also, make sure to stay well hydrated. The low humidity can exacerbate any altitude issues.

  120. “there are 300 students a month paying $200 for the privilege of attending classes.”

    Do you need tutors?

  121. “There are rare occasions when a child (bio, step, foster, adopted) is so dangerous or his needs so clearly unmet in the home that he must be removed for an extended period or permanently. Very rare.”

    At a previous job, I had a coworker who was trying to deal with extreme behavioral issues with her DD. She didn’t discuss them much with us, but our boss told me some of it because it affected our entire workgroup. There apparently were some mental health issues, and my coworker ultimately could not deal with them herself, and those issues were destroying her and her son’s lives and finances. She ended up giving up custody of DD to the state, making her DD a ward of the state, and I believe her DD was institutionalized.

    Overall, a very unfortunate situation.

  122. I was talking about cleaning with a friend yesterday and she commented that her daughter has a deal with a yoga studio to clean for a couple hours/week in exchange for attending all the classes she wants. I didn’t think about the tax implications of the barter arrangement at the time.

  123. Ris, I interned very briefly in family court in a northeastern state, and relinquishing rights to an adopted child required lots of professional support and court time. Judges tried to get the families to keep the adopted child unless that child was so disturbed that he or she was a danger to others in the home.

    Although residential treatment was usually considered as an option, there were some situations when severing the tie was better for the other children in the family due to serious abuse.

  124. I get altitude sick. On our trip this summer we spent enough time at 6-8K feet, which is high but just short of where I’ve started to notice symptoms before, that I acclimated and when we were up around 10K I was still ok. (12K and I was hiking very, very slowly, though. My kids are still laughing about how poky I was at 12K.) BUT, the thing that was still noticeable even when I mostly felt normal was that drinking a glass of wine in Aspen hit me *very* hard.

  125. It is better to avoid alcohol in the first 24-48 hours too – if possible. I had a girls weekend a couple of years ago with college friends. One person was so sick, and it was probably due to a combination of long flight, lots of alcohol and sudden change in altitude. She missed most of the trip because she was so sick.

    You are lucky that you planned a ski trip for out west. A lot of my neighbors are scrambling for alternate plans due to the real lack of snow in the northeast. They should finally be able to make some snow this weekend when the temps are below freezing, but the conditions are not great for those starting vacations next week.

    On a side note, I LOVE this weather. So many records were broken this month, and I am getting used to the kids in shorts at school in December. I know this weekend will be a reality check, but I am loving the lack of cold temps.

  126. My earnest friends who adopted two girls from a horribly abusive family had to occasionally put one of the two in foster care during her teen years. Both girls had extraordinary problems and both wound up with serious felony convictions before age 21. They’re actually getting better now, kind of, but the occasional trip to foster care would shake things up enough so that the family could “reset” when the girl came back home.

  127. Have you tried the microwave? People laugh but it comes out amazing, nice and crispy and with no splatter.

    I’ve been microwaving bacon for 30 years. So much easier than frying or baking.

  128. and I am getting used to the kids in shorts at school in December.

    That’s business as usual here. We had 8 inches of snow yesterday and it was about 20 degrees this morning and probably a quarter of the kids (including my son of course) wore shorts to school.

  129. On the cash skimming, you can pay all your relatively low cost expenses with cash like groceries, clothes, other shopping, etc. Maybe you won’t use $25,000 cash to buy a car, but you can use the $25,000 you save on other expenses to buy a car. Or have extra money to pay down your mortgage.

  130. I just looked on your feed to understand that comment at 8:11. I love the title and the cover.

  131. Referring to the comment that prepared lasagna, chili and entrees from Costco are equivalent to take-out:
    I find most prepared food, including Costco’s, too salty. My chili is better than the canned chili I can buy. Even expensive organic soups usually have a lot of salt. The two recipes I’ve listed below don’t require fussy ingredients or much planning but are, in my opinion, way better than their canned/pouched/boxed equivalents.

    Crockpot chili (I’m making two pots of this upon request for a party on Friday)
    1 lb 93% lean ground beef
    1 onion, chopped (can use chopped frozen onion)
    Brown together.
    To crockpot, add 2 cans tomato sauce, 2 cans kidney beans (I choose low salt S&W), 2 cans diced tomatoes, ~2 t Worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 t chili powder (for white Midwestern families) and 2 bay leaves. Add meat/onion mix and leave on low to cook all day.

    Simple Soup
    1 lb ground turkey or mild Italian sausage, browned with 1 white onion (can use chopped frozen onions)
    2 cans diced tomatoes
    1 1/2 c green beans (can be frozen, especially the steamable kind)
    1 1/2 c frozen corn
    1 1/2 c frozen carrot coins
    2-3 stalks celery, sliced (do they sell frozen celery?)
    2 cloves garlic (a spoonful from the jar of Costco’s minced garlic works fine)
    2-3 c water
    ~1 T beef Better than Bouillon
    1 t basil
    salt to taste (I like 1 teaspoon when using salted canned tomatoes and Italian sausage)
    Bring to boil, simmer for ~1 hr

  132. “Ris, I interned very briefly in family court in a northeastern state, and relinquishing rights to an adopted child required lots of professional support and court time.”

    Sky – the problem is, those are only the cases that were taken before a court. There are many other cases that are handled completely underground, without the awareness of the court or anyone else. In those cases, there is no vetting of the new parents by courts or anyone else, no professional support for the parents or the child.

  133. PTM – you found a new place? Do tell!

    Lauren – thank you!

    CofC – *not* a tear jerker, actually.

  134. I am having delivery problems with Amazon. It took them a week to deliver some gift cards last week, and two items that should have been delivered on the 16th are now scheduled for Dec 23.

    I sent them an email last night because I dislike their call center, and they are blaming UPS and the time of the year. I think this is weak since I PAY for Prime. I would actually understand if it was one of the other retailers since free shipping is free, but this is frustrating.

  135. I know, Risley – if the Anon’s acquaintances are around here and the transfer is being publicly discussed (as opposed to passed off as a long visit to a distant relative/boarding school), I figured/hoped they were using the state process.

    The alternative is so awful that I hope never to have to explain that to a teenager.

  136. WCE – One of the things I used to keep around for vacation home or emergency prep is a box of Wick Fowler’s 2 Alarm (also comes in False Alarm for your palate) chili seasoning. The salt is in a separate packet, so if I have one in the cabinet I could even still use it. Calls for 2 lbs ground meat and tomatoes or tomato sauce and beans if you like, but the box contains dried onions and garlic as well as all the necessary herbs and spices finely ground. Could be made in a crock pot but cooks up fine in an hour on the stove. Serve with corn bread or rice.

  137. Seems I missed a fun day!

    I’ll add more love for “The Lady”! DH says our grocery bill has already decreased, and everyone seems happy. Most of the meals are too bland, but we up the spice count. I love knowing what’s for dinner. My mom preps things during the day, and I come home and do the cooking. But, since the recipes are so straight forward, everyone in the family started to pick a meal to cook. Another nod to The Lady, Baby Rhode likes her meals too.

    PTM – good luck with the new place!
    Ris – I’m excited your book. Cannot wait.

  138. Risley – surprised to see that it is already in pre-order mode !

    I read the article about re-homing and it is very alarming. What I do not get is how the adoptive parents can be so unprepared when they know they are adopting older kids from overseas who have spent a lot of their time in institutions. I honestly think they want the do gooder label much more than they want the child.

  139. @Rhett – Ras al Hanout is available at WF. My mother made lamb tajine with the Tajine spice mix from WF and it was wonderful. It is a slow cooking dish, so it is probably quite doable for those with slow cookers.

  140. Louise, while I think that there is some truth in your observation, I also think a lot of people naively believe that a loving home cures all ills. That’s a very common narrative in our culture. It’s false, of course, but sometimes people don’t realize that til it’s too late.

  141. Milo,

    Speaking of Canadian real estate. As I’m sure you’re aware, Canada is in the midst of an epic real estate bubble. I was talking with a guy at the hotel from Alberta. He said of the 67 homes in his development 52 are for sale.

  142. Louise, while I think that there is some truth in your observation, I also think a lot of people naively believe that a loving home cures all ills.

    I think that’s true. It’s also one thing to sit with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, etc. and have them explain what you’re in for. It’s quite another thing to actually experience it on a day to day basis.

  143. “of the 67 homes in his development 52 are for sale.”

    Usually that indicates the opposite of a bubble.

  144. Lauren, when you look at the package tracking, where are they getting held up? Are they delayed leaving the warehouse or are they delayed in transit?

    My UPS complaint is the won’t ring the bell when they drop off packages. They are doing a lot of evening dropoffs and packages end up sitting out all night because we don’t know they are there. I don’t expect them to wait for us to open the door, but just take two seconds to ring the bell so we know something’s there.

  145. Rhett – I’d take the better leverage with the 40s; 1/2 the price for only an additional 11% decline in price.

  146. The gifts cards seemed to have been sent all over the US. The other items didn’t even ship yet – so that is Amazon. One item is just razor blades.

    I wonder if you have a temp UPS guy. I’ve had the same UPS guy for over ten years, but Ive seen at least five other people this month. I’ve even seen UPS using Ryder trucks because they must be so busy.

    My problem is actually my USPS woman. She delivers a lot of our Amazon stuff and she leaves stuff all over the place. driveway, steps, any place she feels like it.

  147. Lauren, news reports have indicated that UPS is having problems delivering on time. I have had very good luck with my deliveries (knock on wood). It seems gift cards should not be a problem unless Amazon is delayed in producing them. The only time I remember having problems with Amazon was with a smaller company that kept delaying shipment until I finally cancelled. For other retailers, I’ve noticed they’ve given me conservative delivery dates but then I have received the packages a week early.

  148. Amazon was with a smaller company that kept delaying shipment until I finally cancelled.

    I’ve had issues like that as well. It says “in stock ready to ship” and then three weeks later it hasn’t shipped. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was never actually in stock.

  149. I think UPS, USPS and Fedex are really struggling to keep up with the shipping this year. My issue isn’t with those companies though, it is with Amazon because my items are all just basic stuff that should be shipping from Amazon. Also, my expectations are higher with Amazon. they need to show the “truth” on their web site about shipping dates so I have a choice about whether to purchase the item from their web site. To delay a week, is a long time when they Amazon is charging me for Prime. I’ve received $20 back so far, but I am going to see if I can extend my membership a few months for free.

  150. I’ve had some issues with Amazon this year too. Most stuff ships fast, but the handful of things that don’t, apparently never get caught or followed up on, and when you flag it, it seems that even the customer service reps can’t take the time to actually look into it properly. They just want to offer you one day shipping and suggest you re-order.

    Milo, I don’t think you understand what “micro-aggression” means. It’s not a synonym for “complaint I think is silly.”

  151. I haven’t had any trouble this year with shipping. None. We have the local Amazon delivery, which is really helpful. I also take the $1 book credit if I am not concerned about delivery time. UPS. USPS, and Fedex have been very reliable. I usually check in the am to see whether anything is on the truck, and by doing so I discovered something was going to require a signature, so I stayed home all day – at holiday time they add extra shifts so I can’t just say, Fedex comes at 10:45, UPS at 2:30. I actually prefer that they don’t ring the bell. since it is a disturbance. Families with napping children or vigilant dogs often put a sign on the door – do not ring unless signature required, and get especially annoyed if kids are awakened by the bell or dog or dinner is interrupted, so I can see why delivery companies are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

  152. I wonder if you have a temp UPS guy.

    No, they don’t ring the bell year round. It’s not just a seasonal problem.

    I actually prefer that they don’t ring the bell. since it is a disturbance. Families with napping children or vigilant dogs often put a sign on the door – do not ring unless signature required, and get especially annoyed if kids are awakened by the bell or dog or dinner is interrupted, so I can see why delivery companies are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    IMO, the default should be ring the bell. If people don’t want them to, then they can put a sign up. If it’s a disturbance, then don’t answer the door. It’s like the phone, you don’t have to answer it if it’s ringing. Other people have complained about the non-bell ringing on our neighborhood Nextdoor site so it’s not just us.

  153. We did have one issue with shipping. The video game chair I ordered for DS was supposed to be delivered Monday and it said that the packaging would indicate the contents (which I appreciated), so DW worked at home so she could get it and we wouldn’t have a repeat of the pitching machine last year. I checked the tracking in the evening when it still hadn’t come and it said delivery was rescheduled for Tuesday. Tuesday ended up being a snow day so the kids were home. Fortunately I was able to get it in without the kids seeing what it is.

  154. “They just want to offer you one day shipping and suggest you re-order.”

    If they pay for the one day shipping if you re-order, that seems a good way to address the immediate issue of getting you want you want in as timely manner as possible.

    DW has been having issues also with inaccuracy of their shipping info.

    WRT to the doorbell question, I think DW gets a text when her stuff is delivered, which seems a good way around that question.

  155. You can sign up for UPS My Choice for free, and then you will get emails from UPS regarding imminent shipments (including delivery window times) and deliveries. You can also put a hold on deliveries if you will be away, which is very useful for packages that other people may be sending you without your knowledge. I’ve had this service for about a month, and so far it’s been 100% reliable. There is almost TMI, because they will send multiple emails if the delivery window changes.

  156. HM – Isn’t that, essentially, what the author is claiming? That to praise the thrift of that guy who worked three jobs and lived in his own basement is to be almost subconsciously dismissive of those who aren’t getting ahead financially?

  157. I’ve had more problems with non-Amazon. Two years ago, I had a huge issue with Walmart who sent the Nanos I ordered first to Tennessee, then to California where they sat for two days, and then back to New Jersey. The things finally arrived a week late, on Christmas Eve, and that only happened because I was tracking the package and noticed they were stuck in California. I got on the phone with Walmart and really complained.

    This year’s saga is a beanbag chair I ordered from Hearthsong for DD. They had green, lavender, and pink. Of course, green is the only acceptable color for DD, so that is what I ordered. It showed up promptly, in pink. I got on the phone, and discovered that green wouldn’t be available until the 20th, and that they had neglected to include a return label. Worse yet, they can’t email me the return label like every other company – they have to snail mail it, so I can’t return the stupid item until I get the label. I then found an acceptable beanbag chair on the Target site, and ordered that. It was supposed to have shown up 3 days ago, but no sign of it. I need to find out what happened.

  158. Your summary is roughly what the author is saying (I think there’s also an element of “financial stability shouldn’t require that level of sacrifice”), but that’s not the same thing as saying praising thrift is a microaggression. It’s a different concept.

    The term microaggression refers to the sort of stupid little personal interaction that’s a nothing on its own — in isolation it’s just one of those weird conversations or stupid misunderstandings — but that some categories of people get particularly frequently and all in the same direction such that it adds up to a subtle ongoing message of “you don’t belong.” Often you hear it in a racial context, like the 3rd generation Asian-American getting the “where are you *really* from” routine where “born and raised in [US State]” clearly isn’t what the questioner is looking for because they keep asking the same question, or the black college student seeing someone automatically hold the door of the secured dorm for a couple of white kids but then ask him if he has a student ID. It’s not usually implying ill intent, but just thoughtlessness in the assumptions that people make. As a white guy, if you were Hawaii-born-and-raised you’d get the “where are you *really* from” too with people assuming you must actually be from the mainland, whereas in Virginia I assume people aren’t going to second-guess you if you say “Born and raised in Philly!” or some such. A woman networking specialist might get the sales guy who’s come to pitch her saying, when she comes out to meet him in reception, “Oh, no coffee, thanks. Do you know how much longer it’ll be before your network guy is free?”

    And again, the “micro” part recognizes that any one incident in isolation is just a stupid little nothing that by itself can be dismissed as just a weird conversation. But if the same sort of weird conversation keeps happening to you, and always in a way that makes clear that the other person assumes you don’t really belong where you are, it’s going to get on your nerves.

    With the “thrift” article, the author is saying that this is a media trend, to praise thrift even to excess, and he thinks it promotes an unreasonable viewpoint that’s discouraging to people trying to save. But the repeated minor personal interactions of a similar type are key to the concept of microaggression, so a bunch of articles promoting a viewpoint that’s discouraging or offensive to you is not going to qualify.

    Actually, wikipedia might be better than my seat-of-the-pants rambling for a definition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microaggression_theory#Description_and_prevalence

  159. ” just thoughtlessness in the assumptions that people make”

    Not necessarily just thoughtlessness; there is often ignorance involved as well.

  160. Realizing that we’re just discussing how an absent third party (the author of the opinion piece) would characterize her argument, I stand by my original point.

    Sue describes microaggressions as including statements that repeat or affirm stereotypes about the minority group or subtly demean it, that position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological, that express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group, that assume all minority group members are the same…

    In this case, the microagression occurs, I think the author is arguing, when people are praising the MMM lifestyle in a way that suggests anyone could get ahead by doing the same if they would just buckle down and stop spending frivolously, living beyond their means, living high on the hog, putting on airs, keeping up with the Joneses, pick your favorite phrase.

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