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No repeats! How does she do it?
[December 21, 2012]

No repeats! How does she do it?

Dec 21, 2012 (The News & Observer (Raleigh - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- This story idea grabbed my attention: A husband claimed his wife hadn't cooked the same meal twice in nine years.

Goodness knows, I needed this cooking dynamo's advice. In the last month, I've "cooked" smoked sausage, Kraft mac-and-cheese and whatever vegetable was in the freezer at least three times. (In my defense, when I'm starving and dealing with a demanding toddler, the time it takes to cook macaroni is all the time I have.) So I finagled an invitation for dinner at the Raleigh, N.C., home of Ned and Robin Mangum. Ned, now a Wake District Court judge, is an acquaintance from my years covering the Wake County, N.C., courthouse. He sent a note after a Facebook post about his wife's culinary record generated two dozen comments, such as: "Seriously " "How is that even possible " and "She has to stop making the rest of us look so bad!" On the night I went for dinner, Robin said she wasn't aware of her tendency to avoid repetition until her husband pointed it out.

Robin, 38, has a degree in art education from Meredith College. She worked for two years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Now she works full time developing programs at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh. The couple has three boys: Robert, 8, who is called "Bear"; Gus, 4; and Hugh, 18 months. These days Robin said she no longer has time for painting, crafts or Martha Stewart-like projects.

As a result, she said, "I was putting all my creativity into dinner." Robin doesn't claim to be a mother extraordinaire who makes every meal from scratch. At most, she cooks four nights a week. The family eats leftovers or dines out on the other evenings. When she does get to cook, it's relaxing. Ned takes the boys outside to play so she can get dinner ready. Or Gus, who is known as her "sous chef," will help in the kitchen.

She doesn't keep a food diary. And she does repeat the hits if requested or for a rare dinner party, but it's hard to resist reinvention.

On this recent Monday night meal, she has already made a vegetable stir-fry, which is being kept warm in the oven. She tweaked the dish, using white rice instead of her usual substitute, forbidden rice, a black grain that Bear calls "evil rice." She's chopping chives and red peppers for a pork filling for pot stickers, which she had never made before.

"It's been on the list to try," she said.

Robin keeps a list on her smartphone of dishes she wants to tackle: things she's eaten at restaurants or seen online. That's a starting point to look for recipes in cookbooks or on websites such as She also looks for inspiration from her favorite Food Network stars Ina Garten and Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman.

In the summer, the family receives a box of vegetables each week from The Produce Box, a local company that offers delivery of produce from local farms. Those ingredients will lead Robin to search for something new to fix for the family.

Then there are the culinary tours that dinner occasionally becomes at the Mangum household. Robin has had the family eating their way through the British Isles, from shepherd's pie to bangers and mash. With seafood, she turns to the Greeks for inspiration.

There are sandwich nights, a run of slow-cooker recipes, or a series of chowders and soups. "The soup kick was good," Ned said.

On this night, Gus and Hugh add ketchup and Worcestershire sauce to the dumpling filling. Bear sets the table and then helps fill and seal the pot stickers, folding them into squares before his mom cooks them in a skillet.

As the family sits down to eat, Gus is asked to say grace, choosing the Pledge of Allegiance. The older boys have a special platter of the pot stickers they made set before them. Bear tastes the ones he made and the ones his mother made, declaring, "Mine are better than those." Robin quips, "You have to have a thick skin in this family." When I get up to leave, I have a full stomach, some dinner inspiration from a fellow working mom and a lesson in children as food critics.

___ HOMEMADE MCRIB SANDWICHES This recipe is from Robin Mangum of Raleigh. About this recipe, Mangum wrote it is "so easy and perfect for a tailgate, Super Bowl party or a working mom feeding a family of big eaters." Mangum uses Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce or the locally made Num Num Sauce. She urges others to get creative with the toppings. She has topped them with roasted kale chips.

2-3 racks of baby back ribs, cut into slabs of 3 or 4 ribs each 3 cups barbecue sauce Sandwich buns Pickle slices White onion, thinly sliced Place ribs in slow cooker and cover with barbecue sauce. Set on low and cook for 8 to 10 hours, basting every so often. Meat should be tender and falling off bone.

Pull rib bones out. Shred meat with two forks right in the slow cooker. If eating the next day, place in refrigerator to reheat later in slow cooker. (After it's chilled, fat will harden, making it easier to scrape it off the meat.) Or serve immediately.

Serve meat on toasted sandwich buns with pickles and onions.

Yield: 6-8 servings ___ (c)2012 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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