I have a secret to admit. I don’t like to make dinner. In the past 4 weeks, I’ve been cooking dinner at least 5 nights a week, sometimes 6 or even 7 nights. What to eat has consumed my thoughts from the minute I finish my first cup of coffee at breakfast. Even before this pandemic, I did not like the pressure of coming up with daily dinners. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of ideas and I love to cook. I even enjoy the game of opening up my refrigerator and looking into the dark recesses of my pantry to see what ingredients are available, then brainstorming what can be combined into a delicious meal. It feels like the TV show “Door Knock Dinners”, but without the celebrity chef or camera crew. If I create a memorable meal for my family and receive rave reviews, I’m ecstatic. Sometimes, it turns out less than stellar but it is always edible.
The real issue with the responsibility of dinner making is the constancy of it, day in and day out. If by late afternoon, I don’t have an iota of what dinner will be, I start to get nervous. After all, I only have one or two hours left before I have to start the prep. Dinner needs to be on the table at a reasonable hour now that I have a kid eating it. Gone are the days when my husband and I ate dinner at 9:30pm after cooking something elaborate together in the kitchen. Those were almost like indoor date nights, with at least half a bottle of wine finished before we sit down to eat. Figuring out when to serve dinner means starting at the kid’s bedtime, back track how long it takes for the kid to get ready for bed, then back track some more for an estimated amount of time to make dinner, plus some buffer time in case things don’t go as efficiently in the kitchen as I’d hope. Of course, there’s always the surprise element of when the husband will get home from work due to unpredictable commute traffic. Which part of this equation can I really control?
It seems odd that I love to cook when I have such a negative relationship with dinner. Cooking has always been fun for me because there is so much freedom. I can add additional spices, substitute different types of meat or veggies, make it spicier or tangier, combine unusual flavors or ingredients together and be pleasantly surprised by how they play together.
Prep work is my meditation. The act of slicing, dicing and chopping with my Santoku knife, focusing on the precision of each cut to produce the exact size and shape for even cooking. The colorful little piles of vegetables lying on the edge of my wooden cutting board reminds me of an artist's palette. Crushing garlic by whacking it with the edge of my knife and fist is a great tension reliever too. When all the raw ingredients are ready, the magic of heat brings everything together and transforms even the humblest ingredients into an amazing dish. Onion and water can become onion soup. Egg, cheese, flour and milk can become a souffle. Basil, oil and cheese can become pesto. The possibilities are endless, limited only by your imagination.
There is always something new to learn when I peruse recipes in magazines or watch cooking competitions on television. It can be a new technique or an international flavor I have never heard of. Food is such an important part of our lives, our cultures, and our history. It is endlessly fascinating! Oh but the drudgery of dinner…..