What Do You Do? (and Quick Pickled Red Onions)

CrossFit has dramatically expanded my community.  Not only do I have the pleasure of working out with anywhere from 2 to 12 (and sometimes more) people every day, but outside the gym, people I barely know approach me and ask about my working out. Who knew my muscles would be such a conversation starter?

And of course, most conversations with people I don't know or barely know include the question, "What do you do?"

Oh, the awkward moment for the stay at home mom.  Part of me wants to say, "I don't work", but that's an outrageous lie.  I work my behind off!  I just don't work for money.

Lately I've answered, "I homeschool my two kids," which goes a long way towards explaining why I don't work outside of the home for money (and why I go to the gym every day).

But of course, I do so much more than homeschool, and I search for a more complete answer to the probing question, "What do you do?"

What is the main thing I do every day? What do I spend the majority of my time doing? What is my most important daily task?

Of all places, I found an answer in a cookbook.

"a meal is an ethereal thing"

"But a meal is an ethereal thing that requires a certain orchestration, and a lot of planets must be correctly aligned for it to succeed."

Platter of Figs by David Tanis.  Oh what a lovely book by an insightful cook.

What do I do?

I align planets.
I orchestrate meals.
I perform the daily miracle of gathering my family around the table to eat.

Preparing food and getting my family to the dinner table is the most important thing I do every day, and certainly takes up the majority of my time.  Nearly every task I perform during the day is a step in the direction of the dinner table.

I've been feeding my family for years, of course, but the ritual of the family meal has taken on a new gravity in the past year.  Switching to a whole food diet, eliminating many of the fast and simple staples from our menu, elevated the family meal to an "ethereal thing".  No longer do we stand around the kitchen island and slurp bowls of noodles, or plunk down in front of a movie and devour slice after slice of pizza.  Our meals take time and effort to prepare, and so help me, we're going to sit down at the table, put a cloth napkin in our laps, and savor my labor.

Ever since I saw the movie, "Like Water for Chocolate", when I was 17, I've wanted my cooking to be magical.  Now it is, simply because I believe.

I believe in what I'm eating and why.
I believe that feeding my family is the my most important task.
I believe that the dinner table is a sacred place.
I believe in the magic of the family meal.

Cooking is alchemy.  Magic.  Common substances of little value are transformed into something much greater.  Quick pickled onions are a good example.


Take a red onion.  Slice it as thin as you can.

Add the juice of one lemon and a sprinkle of salt.


Let it sit while you prepare dinner.

The simple onion will transform in color, flavor, and texture.

IMG_9260 Add some sliced cucumbers and voila!  You have a salad.

Or sprinkle your sliced red onion with apple cider vinegar (and a little salt).  Take a taste after about half an hour.  Imagine how good it would taste with some toasted walnuts, a chopped green apple, a few handfuls of baby spinach, a glug of olive oil, and a crackling of pepper.  It tastes like magic.

And that, my friends, is what I do.


  1. Great post :) And its such a relief that there is someone else out there who is just as passionate about food and cooking. It's funny people ask me "what do you do" and I say "I'm a Culinary Student" and it is usually followed by "what's your favorite thing to cook." I hate this question LOL My favorite thing to cook... REAL FOOD! :) or...they ask what I do besides school... "um cook..duh." lol :) Keep up the good work muscles!

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  2. An apt description imo. Yummy looking onions

  3. i'll definitely try this. one of our favorite salads is very similar...just chopped tomato w/juices, red onion and cucumber with a little salt. stir it up and let it sit about 20 minutes. delish.

  4. I love it. Your new reply to the "what do you do?" and the onion salad!

  5. I'm a big believer in the dinner table being a sacred place. That's why I had a big old table built smack in the middle of my kitchen! It's an irresistible magic. We had a group of friends for dinner last night, and they congregated around the table the whole evening. Who needs a comfy couch when you can hang out where the magic is?

    Sounds like you're all thriving, my friend. Hope so!

  6. love this:
    I align planets.
    I orchestrate meals.
    I perform the daily miracle of gathering my family around the table to eat.

    and amen.

  7. Great post! This salad looks delicious; I love that it's so simple.

  8. Great post! Sub in paddle boarding for crossfit (I'm an instructor now) and we're in the same boat - muscle questions at all! As for cooking real food, I'm passionate about feeding it...not always cooking it. I do it. We eat 3 homemade real food meals together as a family each day. But I don't necessarily look forward to it as much as I wish I would. Sometimes I down right dread the call of the kitchen/market. I'd much rather be playing with the kiddies, on the water, making crafts, nose in a book, etc. Do you get this way? Any advice for pushing through? Husband helps, but as I stay home, I'm lead chef. I figure I have a bunch of decades left of doing it so any words of wisdom are appreciated. lol.

  9. Lovely post. I was just ruminating recently on the "what do you do" question. I was in the middle of a frenzy of food prep: making yogurt and kombucha, canning peach jam, and I realized too, that of all the things I do (including homeschooling my 2 kids and writing for money), it is the act of turning raw ingredients into nutritious food for the family that feels most important right now.

  10. Love this muse. It brought a quote from the movie Kate and Leopold (starring Hugh Jackman, what's not to like?) to mind:

    "Where I come from the meal is the result of reflection and study. Menus are prepared in advance, timed to perfection. It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable."

    If you haven't seen it, please do!

    Also, I've been reading you for four (?) years. I resound with much of what you think and feel. I've tried many of your recipes. And I soak in the photography. Thanks.

  11. Beautiful post. I have cooked real food for years, but I've lost my mojo of late. Stuff that didn't used to darken our doorstep has found it's way to our table. But with this post I feel renewed. If I am aligning planets, well, that's nothing short of amazing. Thank you!

  12. Ah the kitchen...a sacred place, indeed. Cooking, creating, inventing, feeding, nourishing, growing, loving, and on and on and on. It's what I do to and I LOVE it. Beautiful post, Molly. Thank you.

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    What a nice post it is thanks for share and just keep up the good work and share as much you can.

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  15. I feel like everything I do each day is working towards dinner, too...and my family's diet is so far less labor-intensive as yours. "Aligning planets" is how I'm going to think about that from now on. It sounds so...heroic. And you and I and all the people out there who get healthy, whole foods dinners on that table night after night are clearly heroes :)
    As for the pickled onions -- I grew up with my dad making that all summer long, except he used far more vinegar, so that onions and cukes were kind of swimming in it, then he used that leftover soaking vinegar (once the good stuff was eaten) to make salad dressing. Try it!


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email: mollydunham@sbcglobal.net
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