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.
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.