Denise Snodell — When it comes to a signature dish, mine is an X for unknown

10/22/2013 4:31 PM

10/22/2013 5:45 PM

Here’s the problem. I cannot claim a signature dinner dish. There’s not one special platter with my name attached. No recipe others request after a potluck. Nothing.

Yet I still manage to walk the earth with my head held high. Correction: High-ish. Super focus: If I keep a low profile, I hope to continue to pass for a member of society.

This has nothing to do with old-fashioned stereotypes. I’m not a throwback June Cleaver or Carol Brady (who had Alice lurking nearby anyway). This situation has bubbled up because the way we’ve divided labor and schedules in our household, I’m usually the dinner-putter-together person.

And my brand is hurting.

The scariness hit home the other weekend when my oldest circled back to the nest for a college fall break. I was so excited he decided to spend time with us instead of the under-20 crowd, I instinctively felt like all moms from the beginning of time. I would spoil him. I would feed him his favorite… his favorite… what?

The spaghetti bowl of reality was flung on a wall, and all of it stuck. I don’t have a claim-to-fame main course thing. I’ve never perfected a dish with, say, the special ingredients you can only buy at Smug Foods. How could this have happened?

I know how. Like the coils in my toaster, I burnt out long ago. I’ve been raising two boys with opposite food preferences. One loves surf, the other turf. One will not bring his nose in the house after salmon has been baked unless I call Servepro® first. “Like it never happened.” The other son will float away to the nearest drive-thru if there’s any kind of stew or chili on the stove. Seems he’s averse to eating dinner with a spoon.

There’s no consensus with these guys. They should both run for Congress.

To make matters worse, my husband is easygoing about food. Just like me. This might sound like a perfect situation for the already baffled cook, but it’s not. Since the meals I prepare are fine with him, and me, I don’t feel the need to jump through flaming hoops to be a “foodie.” My partner in crime likes everything, bless his heart. Even stuff past expiration dates. Back-of-the-fridge blueberry yogurt from last winter is just awesome. (And yes, ironically, this Germ Cop household is sometimes guilty of expiration date oversight. The date stamps are so teeny. Ahem.)

Even if the above food preferences were not in play — namely, cooking for Mr. Surf, Captain Turf and Dr. All Good — there’s still the effort factor. All three guys demolish meals to scientifically prove time can be bent. No matter how many hours I spend shopping for and preparing a Compromise Casserole, my family scarfs it up in less than 7 minutes. Chop-chop-chop, dice-dice-dice, measure-measure-measure. Peel, broil, stir, bake. Why, I’ve asked over the years, why do I bother?

And slowly, like a crock pot with faulty wiring, my enthusiasm has gone lukewarm. Freezer-to-microwave entrees have crept on the menu. I have become the Joy Behar of the kitchen: “So what, who cares?”

But there is some redemption for me, The Aluminum Chef. True, I may not be known for an all-time family dinner favorite. But as I recently stared at the metaphorical blob of spaghetti adhered to the wall, I took inventory. While my oldest was home, I whipped up crepes for breakfast. Major hit. Not only that, it seems I do okay with potato side dishes and salad dressing.

Also, I can tell if pasta is in a perfect state of al dente just by giving it a quick stir. It’s like a sixth sense. Fishing out and tasting a solitary penne is not necessary. I know my noodles. That’s something, right?

I guess there’s some foodie pride in me. Just beneath the surface. Simmering.

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