My mother is an old-fashioned cook and I grew up on meatloaf and real mashed potatoes. Although I despised both of those staples as a kid, I loved the smells of home cooking and Mom’s banana bread more than made up for her tendency toward soggy broccoli . We grew up eating dinner as a family every night of the week from the time before I remember, to the day I moved out on my own. Mom prepared an enormous pan of her specialty lasagna for that occasion, and made a point of sending me off with a container of leftovers for my solo week ahead. While our dinner meal was not always a marvel of tastes and textures, I counted on the family table for conversation and togetherness.
As a working mother and wife, I feel most capable and competent when I know what I am cooking for dinner on a given night. I love to cook. I collect cookbooks and experiment with all kinds of new recipes. My family gets nervous when I announce, “We’re tying something new tonight!” But they humor me as we sit down together to try the Shrimp & Asparagus Risotto. “I don’t like asparagus” my daughter complains. “Well, I love shrimp, but this looks weird” adds my son. My husband sighs and asks, “Where’s the cheese?” I sometimes wonder why I feel the need to try new recipes and I chalk it up to too much meatloaf.
Although I like to experiment in the kitchen, I am not above whipping up boxed macaroni and cheese or a nuked corn dog every once in awhile. Good cooking takes time and planning, sometimes rare commodities these days. Whether through the forays into creative cuisine or the pragmatic reliance on the mundane, we do manage to eat dinner together every night. Once we settle in to our seats at the table, something happens. It’s the same thing that happened when I was little and took it for granted—we slow down. We may eat quickly, but we often linger at the table to talk about the recess soccer game or the problem with that mean girl at school. Oftentimes, my husband and I share a cup of coffee after the kids depart, and we catch up on the day’s events and tomorrow’s to-do list. It may sound trite, but those moments over decaf really do recharge me.
Lately, a new thing has been happening in the kitchen. My kids have been asking to help prepare the family meal. Maybe it’s too much asparagus, but whatever it is, I’m happy for their interest. My son suggested that we each take a night, have a sandwich night, and order out once a week. That leaves one extra night, I say. He says with a smile, “That one is for experiments, Mom.” It’s all good, I think to myself. I realize that it’s not really about the food at all. In fact, I’d even take meatloaf. This I believe.
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