816 North

From joy to chore and back again, supper for two leads to epiphany about cooking

I used to love cooking. I still had the skills, but the desire was missing. Over the years, cooking had gone from a pleasure to a repetitive chore with lots of shortcuts. When did that happen? It was the fish sticks and Tater Tots.
I used to love cooking. I still had the skills, but the desire was missing. Over the years, cooking had gone from a pleasure to a repetitive chore with lots of shortcuts. When did that happen? It was the fish sticks and Tater Tots. File photo

“What do you want to eat?” I asked.

It was supper-for-two night — Brian wasn’t eating with us — and, while there was a pre-planned menu hanging on the fridge, I was willing to go rogue and make something else. Bold, I know.

Teen Noah carefully scanned the refrigerator and freezer contents like he hadn’t memorized them during the eight times in the previous three hours that he had been in that exact position. Was he hoping something else would magically appear? Something would tickle his dinner fancy?

Neither happened.

“What are my options?”

Drat! I had to think. Sometimes I hate that.

Deep breath. “Eggs and sausage, hamburgers and baked beans, pasta and red or Alfredo sauce, Manwiches, beans and rice, chicken stir fry, ramen vegetable soup ...”

He interrupted me, “Can we ...?”

“No, we can’t have frozen pizza again, three times this week is plenty.”

He sighed in defeat and I continued my inventory, “... and these.”

I showed him a couple of plastic bags containing ingredients and new-to-me recipes for two, meal-delivery dinners, but I felt instant regret. Although we get these specifically for dinner-for-two nights, the never-before-tried grain in one and the head of kale in the other made them both a no from me.

“Can we have both?”

“That’s dinner for four!”

I’m pretty sure I saw him grow a quarter-inch right before my eyes. He could handle three servings, but the truth is that I really didn’t want to cook that night. I was willing to throw things in a pan, heat things up but the work involved in cooking from scratch held as much appeal as the kale.

(It’s a GARNISH, people! All the sautéing, simmering, baking and roasting; all the garlic and olive oil in the world isn’t going to change that for me.)

Our larder and dinner history is full of 30-minute, one-pan mealsc— these would take longer to cook. I looked at the recipes and totaled up the pots and pans I would need: Two sauce and two fry pans, a mixing bowl, two cutting boards, several cooking-pan utensils and a couple knives? The whining in my head triggered a realization: I had become an unenthusiastic cook.

I used to love cooking. I still had the skills, but the desire was missing. Over the years, cooking had gone from a pleasure to a repetitive chore with lots of shortcuts. When did that happen?

It was the fish sticks and Tater Tots.

About 15 years ago, I realized that fish sticks and Tater Tots was an easy meal that the whole family would eat. When the girl-child started to turn up her nose at the fish, I threw a couple frozen chicken strips on the parchment paper-lined pan, set the timer and walked away.

Dinner cooked, I did something else. One parchment-lined pan? Easy clean up. Badda bing-done.

From then on, fish sticks and Tater Tots was on the menu every week; carrots and celery sticks became permanent additions to the shopping list. When we outgrew the fish sticks, other easy dinners took a place in the menu rotation: eggs and sausage, hamburgers and baked beans, pasta and red or alfredo sauce, Manwiches, beans and rice, chicken stir fry, and ramen vegetable soup.

Meals I still make on the regular.

Our suppers, and I by association, had become boring and predictable.

I do not see myself as boring and predictable; I don’t want my kids to be boring and predictable, either.

Forty-five minutes later, Noah and I sat down to plate of cherry-glazed chicken, seared salmon, garlic mashed potatoes, and zucchini, dates, the mystery grain, freekeh and another new one for us, labneh cheese.

No kale. No. Just ... no.

Susan Vollenweider lives in the Northland. She’s a writer and co-host for the podcasts, The History Chicks and The Recappery. Visit www.thehistorychicks.com and www.susanvollenweider.com.

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