The daily grind: What to make for dinner

AUGUST 3, 2016 By Courtenay Harris Bond

My oldest daughter, the only one of our three children with a sophisticated palate, rarely gets to sample the diversity of dishes she was born to enjoy.

Georgia’s twin brother and younger sister are finicky eaters, subsisting almost entirely on a chicken nugget and cereal diet. My husband has a medical condition that requires him to avoid gluten, dairy and eggs. And I can find few recipes that meet all of these requirements.

The real problem, however, is not that I no longer know what to make but that I do not know how to cook.

I could definitely relate, for instance, when a friend recently posted on Facebook that she was “turning into Cher from ‘Mermaids'” by serving “Trader Joe’s appetizers for dinner.”

In fact, Georgia, 9, has started offering to help me in the kitchen because she is weary of the back-to-back rotation of stir-fry, tacos and pizza. I feel like I have really put myself out if I take my kids to Five Guys for cheeseburgers and french fries.

Recent news about the carcinogenic effects of nitrates in processed meats sent me into a tailspin, forcing me to take these regulars off the menu—a move that proved only temporary when I broke down and started serving hot dogs again a few weeks later.

But it’s not my fault.

I grew up in a house where a hefty file cabinet full of recipes, ones that my mom had copiously copied as a newlywed but rarely cooked, squatted untouched on our kitchen counter like an obsolete computer.

Culinary instruction in my childhood consisted of my mother slathering mayonnaise on slabs of Swiss cheese for a snack and my father boiling frozen cream-chipped beef to pour over burnt toast.

Needless to say, I have little confidence in the kitchen.

Sometimes I go to the store because we have run out of Honey Nut Cheerios; but sometimes, as a stay-at-home mom, I just need to get out. I also hope that pacing the aisles, watching other moms and dads load up on eggplant and risotto, will inspire me.

I suffer from a persistent delusion that what I need is not cooking lessons but rather proximity to those who actually know what they are doing—that by circulating among neighborhood chefs who understand how to pare vegetables and braise meat, I will absorb their skills through osmosis.

But so far, this approach has failed. I always wind up packing my cart with the same old Yoplait Whips and ground beef. Even new acquaintances seem to sniff out my incompetence.

For instance, a woman I recently met in the parking lot of my children’s day camp recommended that I sign up for a supermarket delivery service. Then she friended me on Facebook to offer further encouragement.

“Just placing my Giant order,” she messaged. “If you send me your email, I’ll email you a link to save $20 on your first order. 🙂 ”

This sounded sort of appealing since one of the last times I visited that store, a fight broke out. Watching one worker pummel another, I dialed 911 as I continued to bag my groceries.

This experience exacerbated the vulnerability I feel every time I enter a supermarket, which is why another friend’s suggestion to try Plated, a company that mails fresh ingredients and recipes to your door for a fee, seemed like a wise move.

Gazing at the menu pictures of pretzel-crusted redfish with green beans and horseradish sauce and zucchini orzo with goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes, my daughter declared that she thought this service was a “really good idea.”

Georgia’s initial optimism flagged, however, when I had trouble determining when the oil was “shimmering” and failed to whisk together the horseradish and Greek yogurt to the proper consistency.

The mushy dish I delivered was somewhat less delectable than advertised. Plus, I had used every pot in the cupboard and splattered grease all over the counters and floor.

The next night, I ordered take-out curly mac-n-cheese from California Pizza Kitchen.

“When I grow up, I’m going to open a restaurant,” Georgia declared between mouthfuls.

“Can I eat there?”

“Yes,” my daughter chirped. “And I’ll teach you how to cook!”

“Or I’ll just watch,” I said, wondering what on earth I would produce for tomorrow night’s dinner.

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