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Cook, Eat, Love

July 8, 2012

There was a sentiment expressed in a book I was reading the other day that struck me as quite insightful.  It went something like this: There is pleasure in watching someone you love eat what you’ve prepared … joy in sharing a simple meal at the kitchen table at the end of the day.

Roast Beef DinnerWhen I was terribly young and newly married (the first time), I wasn’t a particularly adventurous or creative cook. I basically made the same meals my mother had prepared for our family – the ones I had learned how to cook by watching her in the kitchen: macaroni and cheese; spaghetti with meat and tomato sauce; broiled pork chops or steak with boiled potatoes; pot roast with browned potatoes; meatloaf with baked potatoes; link sausage with fried potatoes (specifically held back from the boiled or mashed potatoes served the day before).

Ham with Pineapple and CherriesOn ‘special occasions’ (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter) there was a turkey or a bone-in ham decorated with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries served with mashed potatoes and my mother’s homemade gravy (something I never quite mastered; I’ve since discovered that Swiss Chalet has a packaged product that’s a close match).  Vegetable ‘sides’ were almost always canned or frozen peas, corn, yellow or green beans, or sliced (fresh) carrots (there was also occasionally – on those ‘special occasions’ – Brussels sprouts and turnip and sweet potatoes – none of which I was particularly fond of).  The food was simple, basic, and low-cost (my mother was a ‘stay-at-home’ mom from the time my oldest brother was born; for most of my childhood, my father was either self- employed or devoted to his role as a part-time public servant, so money was always ‘tight’. That was actually a good thing [in hindsight], because I learned from an early age how to shop ‘frugally’, and prepare meals ‘on a shoestring budget’ – skills I still practice today, even though I don’t really have to).

Chicken Nuggets with FriesWhen my boys were little, we ate a lot of kid-friendly foods: chicken nuggets and strips (not the frozen kind, though – I cut up boneless, skinless chicken breasts and coated them with Shake ‘N Bake); hot dogs and hamburgers; my mother’s macaroni and cheese; spaghetti and meatballs; just-about-anything-with-home-made-fries-on-the-side.  I bought better cuts of meat than my mother had (who knew you could get boneless chicken breasts and pork chops and ham and beef roasts?!?!?!?) and partnered them with boiled, broiled, baked, scalloped, browned or fried potatoes and as many different vegetables as I could get them to eat (my eldest son preferred his veggies raw [with dip], so that’s what he got; son number two was vegetable-averse – he once tried to convince his grandmother that French fries with ketchup satisfied my mandated ‘minimum-two-vegetables-for dinner’ rule; funny that he now loves to cook [he worked at a sous-chef at a roadhouse, an Italian eatery, and a premiere-class restaurant on the lakefront] and he now grows and eats vegetables that I’ve never even heard of! How’s that for irony?!?!?)  As for their father – well, he was content as long as there was something on the table for dinner (although, to his credit, he did barbeque in the summertime, so long as I had the meat out and prepped ahead of time).

Beans and WeinersWhen my current (second and until-death-do-us-part) husband was single, he had three meals in his bachelor’s recipe repertoire (Warning: the following may make you gag): cooked spaghetti noodles with a processed cheese slice melted on top and a side of pickles; boiled hot dogs on bread with mustard; and canned beans with sliced wieners (half the pack went into the beans, the other half were eaten ‘on the side’ with bread and mustard).  He would occasionally treat himself to a meal out: a large, fully loaded pizza, or a burger and fries.  From the time he was about twelve years old, he’s never eaten breakfast (unless you count the two cups of coffee he now consumes each morning as ‘breakfast’) or lunch (that the man survived until he met me and I started feeding him is one of those medical miracles you read about in newsstand magazines).

Schnitzel DinnerCooking for – and sharing meals with – my husband has become one of the best parts of my day. I look forward to being moderately inventive in the kitchen (he likes ‘simple’ foods, so I don’t go too crazy) and to sitting down and watching him devour whatever culinary masterpiece I’ve created.  I have shared a couple of my childhood favourites with him (Mom’s macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti with tomato sauce – although I use more-heart-healthy whole wheat pasta in both, and have been known to occasionally sneak in a few chopped or pureed vegetables and some ground flax seed in the spaghetti sauce), I’ve learned to cook a few of his childhood favourites (schnitzel with Hungarian potatoes, German sausage [although, admittedly, he’s the one who barbecues them], perogies), and I’ve broadened the types (and quantities) of meat, potato and vegetable combinations I can whip up on demand (with or without a recipe).  I am now ‘famous’ (in my own kitchen) for my fall-off-the-bones back ribs, my  mushroom strudel, and my fettuccine Alfredo with grilled shrimp and Portobello mushrooms.

Vegetable MedleyI’ve experimented with beef and mushroom pot pie (a winner), several types of pasta dishes (admittedly, I find it easier to buy the packaged ‘fresh’ pastas and add my own sauces), and variations of several side dishes (the easiest and best is a ‘seven vegetable medley’ I saw in a magazine: simply chop up potatoes and as many vegetables as you can get your hands on [I like sweet potatoes, celery, carrots, red and green peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, and zucchini], put them in a pan lined with tin foil, drizzle with a little olive oil mixed with Italian seasoning and stir to coat;  bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes; you can also do it on the barbeque).

BurgerIn the summer, we eat much simpler meals – pretty much anything that can go on the barbeque (steak, pork chops or tenderloin, sausage, hamburgers and hot dogs – two of my husband’s all-time favourite meals – right after pizza) with cold sides (potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw) or the above-mentioned veggie dish or cobs of corn cooked alongside the meat on the grill.  (You may have noticed that I don’t mention chicken here – my husband’s family owned a chicken farm for several years when they first came to Canada, and between taking care of 20,000 chickens daily, and eating chicken when there was nothing else – which was often – my husband can’t abide the thought of consuming poultry ever again, so I buy myself a rotisserie chicken every once in a while and eat it [hot and cold] whenever he indulges in spicy sausage on a bun [which I can’t abide] or hot Hungarian salami sandwiches).

Couple Eating DinnerBut no matter what I (or ‘we’) cook, the best part of the meal is eating it together.  Now that there is just the two of us, the ‘joy of sharing a simple meal at the kitchen table at the end of the day’ has become the part of the day I most look forward to.  We generally meet up around five o’clock (from whatever work or tasks we’ve kept ourselves busy with during the day) and enjoy a drink or two (in front of the fireplace in the winter; out on the deck in the summer) and talk about what we’ve accomplished (or not) that day, then sit down at the table (in the kitchen or sometimes out on the deck in the summer) and dine on whatever gastronomical delight I’ve prepared.  We don’t rush through the meal, and while the conversation might not be scintillating by most people’s standards, we enjoy the custom, the routine of eating together – and I revel in the fact that the only meal my husband has eaten all day was one that I prepared especially for him.

I’ll never be a gourmet cook (neither do I aspire to be one), but I’ll likely continue to experiment with various recipes and try new things as I feed my husband tonight and tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that, here on … the other side of 55.

Cooking Quote

A little plaque I have in my kitchen (that I abide by!)

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8 Comments
  1. July 15, 2012 10:56 am

    Just loved this!!

  2. July 10, 2012 7:00 am

    Just got back from the lake where my mother hosts whoever makes the drive and provides happy company. I go with her every year and over the course of time, I have become “the cook.” I have learned that for dinner I can serve “main dish, carbohydrate, green salad, and fruit salad.” I only need to fill in/vary the blanks. It’s not daunting at all and the joy of watching everyone enjoy the meal + the delightful company makes for wonderful memories around her round table.

    • July 15, 2012 8:33 am

      I think food is an integral part of most people’s memories; certainly I remember corn on the cob as ‘dinner’ at the cottage when I was young, with a bowl of fresh raspberries for dessert.

      Margo

  3. July 9, 2012 3:21 pm

    My husband and I are in the same place. Our meal together in the evening is a nice place to reconnect. I enjoyed your post.

    • July 9, 2012 4:46 pm

      Thanks. I think these sorts of rituals are important in remaining connected to one another.

      Margo

  4. July 8, 2012 3:29 pm

    This is a lovely post…your childhood meals were very similar to mine…must have been pretty standard fare in Canada back then. I love the fact that you and your hubby come together for a supper meal every night…sharing a drink and conversation first is something that my husband and I often did–and it was quite often our favorite part of the day. Here’s to many more suppers for you and your loved one. Every day I wish that Gary was still here with me to continue our traditions, and sometimes I even toast him before a meal just to let him know I don’t forget. Thanks for sharing today.

    • July 8, 2012 3:33 pm

      I believe the simple process of sharing a meal is one of the foundations of a relationship – either husband and wife, parents and children, or between friends. I don’t understand how so many people justify things like ‘eating on the run’ or ‘grabbing take out’ to eat in front of the television. Mealtimes should be as sacred! So sorry you don’t have your husband to share those special times with.

      Margo

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