I’m just going to come right out and say it. Dinner and I are NOT friends.
I honestly don’t even know where to begin explaining the ugly thoughts that run through my head every day around 4pm. You know, right about the time you have to start thinking about what the heck you’re going to do about dinner.
I don’t think I’ve ever really liked dinner. Not the food, per se, but the whole meal itself. It’s such an interruption to my evening… get home from work, clean a little, do lesson plans, work out, help the girls with homework – WAIT! I HAVE TO MAKE DINNER! – clean up, make lunches, shower, relax. I’d much rather just nosh on some cereal while I help the girls with homework and skip the whole ordeal altogether. And can I just say that while I couldn’t wait to be a mother, I had no idea that meant I’d have to feed them a meal every night before bed. Don’t ask me why that never once occurred to me, but I promise, it was a shocker.
I have fond memories of sitting at the dinner table with my family, laughing so hard that milk would come out of my nose (my dad likes that one). Kicking my brother under the table. Watching TV in my dad’s glasses even though I was grounded from TV, and then him realizing what I was doing. That was a fun night.
But dinner has never been about the food for me. My mom has a few recipes that she ROCKS – to this day I can still taste her meatloaf, and I almost openly drool anytime I think back to the time she made fried chicken and dumplings. And her Thanksgiving dinner sets the bar for any other Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had – some have been very close, but none have ever truly measured up.
She mainly went with a revolving menu – a short list of meals that she would cycle through over and over. I liked the cyclical meals my mom made, but I’d get tired of eating them. And whenever she tried to make something new, it usually didn’t go over well with me. Thankfully, my brother was also part Hoover and would inhale everything on my plate that I didn’t like whenever my mom wasn’t looking. There was even one night that we all couldn’t stomach the seafood casserole she’d made – even she finally admitted it was bad – and we drove to Red Lobster for dinner instead. It was the only night I ever wrote in a diary, and to this day I remember that our waiter’s name was Carl.
I’m the complete opposite of a foodie. I think all of the dishes they make on those cooking shows look so pretty, but I almost never even wonder what they taste like. I am super basic – I remember my dad getting frustrated at me one time for ordering a cheeseburger everywhere we went. Mexican restaurant? I’d get a cheeseburger. Seafood place? Cheeseburger. An Italian joint? Hamburger al formaggio. What can I say, I like what I like. My repertoire has grown a little, but when I go out I still pretty much order some sort of red meat and potato. I don’t have a palate that accepts unusual flavors. I’m not familiar with a majority of spices and ingredients – I just tried hummus for the first time last week! And while I have friends who look in the cabinet, see three jars of stuff and throw it all in a pot to create some scrumptious concoction for their families (I’m looking at you, Sarah), I had the lowest score on a game at my bridal shower for identifying spices by smell. I think I only knew cinnamon.
I keep staples in my pantry for making spaghetti, tacos, and salad. Oh, and Shake-n-Bake. There are bags of frozen veggies in my freezer, and usually some chicken and ground beef. But there is ALWAYS cereal and pancake mix in case of emergencies.
My mother-in-law is an amazing cook who has always believed in me and encouraged me in the kitchen. She would tell me that I could cook, and for years I argued that I couldn’t. I’ve since come to realize that sure, maybe I technically can cook, but that doesn’t mean I have an aptitude for it. Or a passion for it. Or even a desire to DO it. My favorite part of cooking dinner is cleaning everything up after and looking at a clean kitchen fully restored as though no one was ever there making dinner in the first place.
My daughters’ dinner memories are going to be very closely related to my childhood dinner memories. Cyclical meals with a few winners thrown in here and there. Experimental dinners with backup frozen chicken nuggets in case it goes really bad. And a lot of snort-laughing at the dinner table. Some kicking and some tears.
For years I felt like a failure because women/wives/moms are ‘supposed’ to know how to cook. I’ve since decided that that’s a load of phooey. My mom is an amazing woman, and all of those meals – the good, the bad, the cyclical – are all just memories of my childhood now. One day my daughters will also tell stories about the awful meals I’ve tried and failed at and the meals that I made on repeat. But they will also nearly drool thinking about their favorites, laugh at the fun, and groan about how I designated some nights ‘TV free.’ And it’s going to be awesome to hear them tell it.