Home-Cooked Meals vs. Reality

IMG_3876It is the heart of the family. Comfort food, cooked by Mom, eaten around the family hearth.

Yeah. I have just one thing to say. Bleah! Ball and Chain.

I mean, I don’t mind home-cooked meals…as long as it is my husband who’s doing the home-cooking. And it’s not that I don’t like to cook…at least, if by “cook”, you mean looking through Pinterest recipes and imagining making things.

It’s just that reality never comes through for me. I turn away from the stove for a second, and presto, the bacon is on fire. I set the oven for 400 instead of 350, and the hash brown muffins turn into hockey pucks. My carefully prepared quiche, in the aluminum store-bought pie crust, folds in half when I try to place it in the oven, spilling cheese, milk and egg all over the oven and floor 20 minutes before guests arrive.

And that’s not the worst part of cooking. It’s the timing of the request. People always want me to cook right before mealtime. I’m not at my best just then. I don’t think well when I’m hungry. Sometimes, I am a little sharp with people. And stressed. I think ‘Hangry’ is the word that the kid’s use. Is it unreasonable to just want my mother to feed me? Right now?

When I first retired, I thought I would spend a lot of time cooking, you know, to make up for all those years that my husband cooked. I planned menus. I made grocery lists.

Then I sat down to discuss all this with my love.

“You know…” he said “when you planned menus, way, way back, we never ended up eating that stuff. You cooked stuff that just went to waste. Let’s think about meals when we need to.”

Well, OK, I could live with that. I went back to FreeCell.

But, I think I mentioned this. I get hungry. Hangry. This usually happens approximately 2 hours after my last meal. So at 2PM, I am thinking about supper. I try to wait until at least 3:30 or 4 to consult with my husband. Even though I know the math. If I have to shop, and cook, it will be at least 6 before I eat, approximately 4 hours late.

But I tried.

“So, lov” I would say at 4pm. “What would you like for supper?”

“Supper?” he’d reply, “You’re not hungry yet, are you? Isn’t it kind of early to think about supper?”

Have you ever seen the Night of the Living Dead? All right, neither have I. But I think it involves cannibalism. You know, like when you rush your spouse, teeth bared, shouting…”Food! Food! Food! I need food Right NOW!”

Hopefully, my faithful readers will believe me when I deny categorically that this has ever happened. Nonetheless, after a few months, my husband and I decided on a compromise to save the marriage, or at least his limbs. Now, our typical supper is labeled as “Fend for Yourself”. (Husband’s Note: “Fend for Yourself” has been a way of life since our early marriage when I decided I wasn’t cooking that night – jut ask the kids.)

“Fend for Yourself” is the basis of liberation.

I can spend hours on Pinterest, then cook all sorts of really odd dishes, at those times when I am not hangry and can think straight. I don’t need to avoid curry or mushrooms or broccoli. Or even anchovies. I freeze the meals and defrost them on “Fend for Yourself” nights, mornings and noons. I eat what I want when I want. (If the meals are really bad, I always just sneak them into my children’s refrigerators on babysitting days.) Of course this does lead to eating ‘Interesting things from the freezer’ when I can’t tell what is in the container…I’ll admit, I don’t do labeling.

“Home-cooked meals” on the other hand, are a ball and chain. My own mother knew this, deep in her bones. She was hyper-energetic, her home was spotless, she did all the yard work, payed the bills, and still had time to teach us baseball. But she just hated to cook. For too many years she did it 3 times a day, 7 days a week. In my late teens and early twenties, I got away with murder just because I cooked for her. I cooked all sorts of interesting things. She always loved my cooking…after all, a small white lie is a tiny price to pay to escape the ball and chain of the home-cooked meal.

These days, I firmly believe that real woman’s liberation is to be found in the frozen food isle.

Let me digress.

One day a week, I pick up my son’s two children at 8 am, and drive them to my daughters house. My other son joins me about nine, because children – particularly my 4 grandsons – make me very nervous, and I don’t want to be alone with them. But, this timing means that there is a 15 to 30 minute time span when my daughter is simultaneously feeding her older son breakfast, nursing her youngest, providing me with 30 minutes worth of instructions for the day, and getting ready for work. Meantime, my son’s two children have not yet eaten.

Now Max (my daughters son) is the original two marshmallow kid. When you feed him trail mix, he saves the M&Ms for last. Then, he eats them one at a time, slowly, savoring little licks of chocolate for hours. When his cousins arrive, Max typically is standing on a stool at the counter, carefully saving the best part of his breakfast for last. Meanwhile Cousin Augie, sweet, easy-going Augie, changes when it comes to food. Sweet Augie becomes ‘Land Shark’. Before I can put the diaper bags down, he has struck; Max’s carefully saved stash is in his stomach before anyone can blink, and Augie is trolling for more. Truth is, Max is lucky that he still has hands. (Perhaps Augie takes after his grandmother.)

Situations like these are why God gave us the microwave.

I try to handle this with military precision. I run the frozen Chicken Fingers into the house, and throw them to Tracy. She rapidly puts 4 on a dish and zaps them for 1 minute. During this long minute, I do my best to block Augie, who is wailing loudly and pointing to Max’s food.

“Look, look! Chicken Fingers. Not Max fingers, Chicken fingers!” I say enthusiastically, pointing to the micro-wave, and holding tight to my thrashing grandson.

Can you imagine scrambling eggs, and making toast in that situation?

No, liberation is in the frozen food isle. I am grateful for it. I am grateful for Chicken fingers. I am grateful for Red-hot beef burritos (which also micro-wave in one minute- giving me the chance to eat during that brief interval when at least two of the children are asleep and not hitting each other.) Yes, of course I wish those foods didn’t always give off that eerie phosphorescent glow, but you can’t have everything!

And, as for home-cooked meal cooked by mothers, I have just one thing to say.

Bleah! Ball and Chain.

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