Note: This is the 4th in a series of posts about Community Supported Agriculture.
A woman and her 6-year-old son are sitting on a couch at the YMCA at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when it comes out of nowhere.
“What’s for dinner?” The mom continued scrolling her I-Phone, but the kid persisted. “What’s for dinner” “Um, I don’t know, Daddy’s making it and he’s figuring it out.”
Ah, the eternal question. People don’t much care what’s for breakfast or lunch, but dinner? It’s a question on most people’s minds. Maybe it’s because it’s the last meal of the day or the one time the family gathers around the table. Or maybe it’s just the anticipation factor – something to look forward to at the end of a long day.
I’m convinced dinner becomes a preoccupation with age. I learned this as a teen-ager from Granny, who quizzed about us dinner options as we stumbled to the breakfast table while our parents cavorted in New York City. “Geez Gram, give us a chance to wake up. How can you even be thinking about dinner at 7 a.m.?” (I just realized that sounded a little like the Beaver.)
Now that I’m a little older, I understand. Granny wanted ideas so she didn’t have to wrack her brain. She wanted a plan so she wasn’t rushing to the store at 4 p.m. She wanted the dinner quandary settled so she could relax and enjoy her day.
Consider that meal preparation is one of the first things to go when a person is sick or injured. (The other is mowing the lawn.) Some of it’s physical, but I think it’s just as much mental. Sick people don’t have the interest, motivation, energy or resolve to think about dinner, let alone make it. Illness pretty much kills the desire for alcohol too, though some people drink (and smoke) under any circumstances.
When my mother-in-law was suffering from a mysterious illness that we eventually discovered was Lou Gehrig’s disease, she immediately surrendered her role as cook. She watched me from a living room chair as I made dinner one August evening, a mixture of awe and sadness in her eyes. She had always made dinner a party, sipping white wine loaded with ice as she marinated chicken or made spaghetti sauce.
Now she was confined to the sidelines, too tired to know or much care what was cooking.
Leaving the kitchen was the first in a long list of things she abandoned in her very swift decline, but I think it was one of the most difficult. Her days as a cook, which began when she married at 19 and continued through four children and eight grandkids, were over after 53 years.
My dinner dilemma began when I began shuttling my kids to sports and other activities from 3-7 p.m. Instead of being home browsing cookbooks or oogling Take Home Chef’s Curtis Stone, I was driving to soccer, tennis, band concerts and CCD. Some mothers served dinner in mini-vans, but I couldn’t. There is something sad about eating dinner in a vehicle (breakfast and lunch are OK). Besides, I didn’t have a van. I had a cool SUV the kids trashed about a year into the lease.
I know some moms are crockpot queens, but that requires organization and forethought. I have neither, which means instead of preparing meals, I threw them together when I got home. I settled into a rut the size of the Grand Canyon, making hamburgers, spaghetti with sauce, chili, tacos and all manner of chicken. I feel I should apologize to my family for the monotony, but I was in so deep I didn’t realize it.
I had some high moments: the time I declared “Diner Week,” when I made moussaka, chicken orzo soup, turkey clubs, pancakes, hash browns, shakes and plated frozen pie slices under a glass dome. But I couldn’t keep it up. I think all moms eventually reach this point. I was at a playground when the kids were little and a mom begged, “Just tell me what to make tonight.”
“Hamburgers!” I declared. This wasn’t rocket science, but she was out of ideas. I’ve been there. Which is why I’m enjoying our new CSA feature. Instead of feeling alone in the kitchen, I have comrades in arugula. I talk to my sisters often, exchanging recipes that have rekindled my interest in cooking.
I love the sense of kinship. It brings me back to the early days of my marriage, when I talked to my family and friends about food instead of college tuition, obnoxious teens, natural disasters, terrorism, fur babies, ingrown toenails, bad neighbors and political buffoons. Cooking is finally fun again, but I’m not getting cocky. Like most things in life, I’m taking it one day at a time.