My mom cooked a lot of tv dinners and things that required a can opener or an addition of water. I don’t remember her cooking much else. She made bread from scratch that doubled as a paper weight, a barley/green chili casserole that we all inexplicably loved and the best toast ever (the secret was pre-buttering, which inevitably caused a toaster fire in our ancient, second-hand toaster and so our toaster spent a lot of time on the back steps, smoking in the rain, much like my father but minus his cocktail.) Mom never sat down to eat with us. When I was about five years old she declared that she’d never make another Thanksgiving dinner. She kept her word.
After her death, my father carried the torch of prepared food dedication, keeping me on a steady diet of Hamburger Helper, Soup Starter, Van de Camp’s frozen enchiladas and Jello salads (he added all four food groups and any condiments available in our fridge to make it a complete meal.)
Maybe because of this, I developed a strong desire in my twenties to learn to cook from scratch for the express purpose of one day becoming one of those mothers, about whose cooking her children brag. I loved to cook and I pursued it with a singular purpose. I enjoyed pleasing friends with my meals, but always, in the back of my mind, was the goal of one day pleasing my children. Food is love.
Of course this was before I actually gave birth and discovered the futility of my plan. My two lovely progeny only approve of two spices, salt and sugar, will not eat any of the same foods with the exception of chocolate, generally distrust most vegetables and want all of their ingredients to have at least an inch of distance from any other food source. If every meal came in a fast food bag they would live their short, unhealthy lives in pure ecstasy.
A couple of nights ago I was feeling uninspired but felt obligated to put something on the table. I grilled some chicken, made some Spanish rice, tossed it together with some beans and fresh salsa and called it a Mexican rice bowl. At Hubs’s prompting everyone offered up a feeble “Thanks Mom. It looks delicious.” and started picking over their plates.
Then Hubs innocently asked, “Is there paper in this?”
Before I could answer, Conor asked to be excused and Riley spit out her mouthful, exclaiming, “This is disgusting. I don’t even care if I get dessert.”
Realizing that he had unintentionally started the avalanche of dinner protests, Hubs tried to back pedal. “I mean the paper doesn’t taste bad or anything. I think I’m just tired and a little full right now.”
In my defense, let me just say that I don’t cook with processed tree pulp. I once made a sandwich with the paper that separates the cheese slices but I was pregnant and disoriented so you can’t count that. The paper-like substance they detected was brown rice. I love whole grains but the rest of my crew prefer their grains fully bleached and processed, which is coincidentally also how they prefer their paper.
That was the nail in the culinary coffin for me. I’m on a cooking boycott until further notice. If my mom were here I would salute her with a loaf of her 15 pound bread in solidarity.
I will continue to make sure that the kids get a fairly balanced diet throughout the day and we’ll still gather at the dinner table in the evenings to talk about our days over some sort of food–perhaps some pear and cheese or carrots and pretzels. But for now I’m not cooking any evening meals.
My children are already flying the victory flag.
Has anybody else thrown in the dinner time towel? Or figured out a way to avoid it? Did it involve hiring a personal cook or a child hypnotist?