Thursday, January 20, 2011

Low Fat Gravy and Other Mishaps

I love sharing stories about all the fabulous food I had growing up, but feel like I need to add a giant disclaimer: we did not have fried chicken, green beans and piping hot biscuits for dinner every night. Some nights, yes, but we had plenty of non-Southern fare and a few meals I was not fond of at all. For instance, there was fish stick night. Pair that with canned English peas, and I was holding my nose to gulp everything down and win the “Clean Plate Award.” That was how my parents got my brothers and me to at least try everything on our plate. (Surprisingly, none of us ended up competitive eaters.) I’m sure that my mom was harried like I am now – trying to get something to eat on the table while wrestling, loud crashes and general chaos ensues in the other room.

What was so amazing about my mom, though, is how she could salvage kitchen failures and make them taste decent. Add a little sauce or cover with cheese – waa laa! Also, she could look in a barren pantry and come up with something – most often something really delicious. The biggest things I learned from her (in the kitchen and in life) are creativity and determination. Her process was simple: think and do. She rarely followed a recipe. Like a whirlwind, she would spin around the kitchen throwing ingredients together -- and most of the time it worked out quite well.

In that spirit, I set out to make dinner last night with no set plan and with two restless boys in during the “witching hour.” What was I thinking??!! I had some ground chicken that I planned to use for chili, but given the copious amounts of soup we’ve eaten lately with all the cold weather, I felt like doing something different. So, I did a pan fried chicken patty with scallions, garlic and fresh parsley and served it over wild rice. It was actually quite tasty – though not much to look at. Then, I thought, how about some gravy? Given the low-fat nature of the chicken, I really didn’t have the proper amount of grease to make “real” gravy. I wondered what would happen if I added chicken broth to the miniscule amount of grease left in the frying plan and then thicken it up with some flour, corn starch and a touch of milk. Well, I’m here to tell you that it will make a gravy-like substance, but it won’t taste anything like gravy should. It really didn’t taste like anything, despite seasoning the crap out of it. Plus, it had a bitter taste. I blew the cobwebs out of my gravy boat (quite literally) and poured it in nonetheless. Then I steamed some broccoli. The meal was almost complete.

Given one catastrophe or another that required me chasing or scolding a boy, I ended up burning the rice – in addition to the gravy failure. The husband was running late, but I decided to go ahead and plate it up anyway and get the kids started eating. Of course, after I ran around in circles 10 more times and dealt with my two-year-old’s potty incident, I sat down to a plate of cold food and cries of “Oooohhh, I don’t like this!” Now I know why mom went ballistic if we ever DARED to criticize anything she made! “This is what we are having for dinner and you will try it,” is our mantra. We also all sit down together and eat – a tradition I carry from my childhood and plan to enforce as long as humanly possible.

Finally, after taking some pictures (which I now feel compelled to do obsessively) and reheating my cold food, I sat down to eat. My husband came home to a pile of dirty pots and pans and a frazzled wife. Being the awesome man that he is, he washed all the dishes – even the burnt rice one – and didn’t complain a bit (well, not too much). I struggle with us appearing to have typical, traditional gender roles in our family as I don’t want my boys to think that cooking and cleaning is “women’s work.” We sort of fell into these roles – he as the breadwinner, me as the “work from home mom” because they made the most sense financially – not because we think it is the way things should be. I often joke that I’m a terrible housewife. I love spending time with my boys but I do not relish the domestic chores that come along with being at home. I am learning to love cooking again, though, and this blog is helping me to work through my “issues.”

The moral of this long and winding story is that we had food on the table, it was pretty good (gravy optional), pretty healthy, and we ate together as a family. Will I plan better next time? Yes, I will try. Will I attempt low fat gravy again? I don’t know. You tell me, is there a way? Oh, and also on the plate is a whole wheat biscuit that I had made the day before. (There will be more to come on that little experiment. Another mishap, perhaps?) I think family dinner time, especially when you have small children, will always be a bit chaotic and hardly ever perfect, but it is always memorable – even if the food is somewhat forgettable.


  1. The taking pictures thing really does become an obsession, doesn't it? I find myself taking pictures of everything now, even if I don't write about it.

    I wish I had an answer for the low-fat gravy conundrum, but without vast amounts of fat/butter and salt, I'm just not sure gravy is worth it.

    I'm anxious to hear more about those whole-wheat biscuits!

  2. Try chicken broth instead of boulion. No bitter taste and more flavor. Cream of anything soup whisked in with the pan drippings works too.

  3. I can relate to this in so many ways. Food photography does become an obsession, and while my poor boys are wailing for their lunch, I yell, "Ok, just one more minute" so I can try to get just the perfect shot. Ugh. I've been trying to limit food photography to the weekends when my husband is around to help w/ the boys.

    And you and I may have to fight for the "Terrible Housewife Award". I am awful at cleaning and doing chores. The only thing I'm good at is laundry. And I am soooo not a morning person, but my husband is. So he gets up at 6am to walk the dog, shower, make breakfast, change the boys, all before going to work. How spoiled do I sound? I really did marry Superman. :)

    But you're right. The fact we get to sit down w/ our families to enjoy a meal together - regardless of how great the food is (or isn't) - is a blessing we have to be thankful for each day.

    Btw, glad you enjoyed yourself at the Foodblog festival! Sounds like fun.