I’ve recently come to a realization and a major decision. The realization is that I hate hate hate to cook dinner. The major decision, coming directly from this stunning realization, is that I really need to like cooking dinner. Yes, I need to force myself to enjoy this nightly ritual of culinary torture.
There are many reasons why, the first major one being that it will probably allow me to hang onto my five o’clock sanity, because right now, the thought of pummeling some food item into the shape of adequate nutrition just about does my head in. Another important one is because my kids need love, affection and commitment stirred into their food – not anguish, fatigue and resentment.
There is a wonderful scene in the book, Like Water for Chocolate, where the main character, Tita, weeps into the batter of the Mexican wedding cake she is making for her unrequited love, Pedro. As her tears drop into the bowl, they work their way into the cake batter and later find their way into the bellies of the weddings guests, who instantly begin bawling their hearts out. So much for the start of a happy union.
But such is the power of emotion-fused food.
Although my nightly dinner offerings may cause the odd wail of discontent from my family, it’s more likely due to my lack of culinary skill, than my surly mood. Nonetheless, there has to be some truth in the effect emotion has on the food we prepare.
If we do something we love, we do it well. We do it with drive, passion and commitment. Things always work out better, look better, taste better. Take the amateurs working their way up the culinary ranks in Australia’s Master Chef, for example. It’s quite clear their prowess is founded deeply in their deep love and respect of everything gastronomique. Watching them work is a true inspiration, yet it’s still not enough for me to be clanging my pots with glee come the evening hour of five p.m.
What’s wrong with me? I love food. I love good food. If I have a dinner party for eight, I manage (with a little effort) to whip up something pretty good. I follow a recipe beautifully. I adore all manner of varying cuisine, and I can bake like an angel on the top of her food-cake.
Why is it, then, that the nightly degustation debacle completely undoes me? Is it the endless battle to convince my son to pass anything more than a packet of chips and Chuppa Chups down his gullet? Is it my pre-activist daughter who ceaselessly reminds me “I don’t like eating animals, Mum”? Is it the tardy return of my husband every night, exhausted from a demanding job, so ravenous it doesn’t matter what I slap on his dinner plate? I could serve him a plate of squiggling worms with a sprig of parsley and he’d drown them in tomato sauce and guzzle them in a heartbeat, God love him.
Whatever it is, I’m sick of the ritualistic late-afternoon reminder that dinner awaits. More than likely, I’ve forgotten to defrost something, have neglected to buy tinned tomatoes or have only two days to use up that cursed chicken carcass, slippery in the back of the fridge.
I’m sick of buying beautiful cookbooks and cooing over them on the couch, only to shove them in the bookshelf, never to be opened again. I’m sick of perusing the supermarket mag racks for instantaneous inspiration in the form of culinary rags that never see the outside of my shopping bag. I’m sick of staring down at yet another onion on the chopping block, prepping it for another boring string on my dinner-repertoire bow.
Mums all over Australia deal with this nightly dinner challenge in a variety of interesting ways. One of my dear friends spends every Sunday afternoon cooking a week’s worth of beautiful dishes from lasagna to risotto and chicken curry. She then carefully packages and labels it all, then pops it in the deep freeze where it will be hauled out each weekday morning and slipped into a preheated oven. Dinner sorted.
My sister used to scour food mags for inspiration and buy every required ingredient in advance, even prepping and chopping some items in readiness, before whipping them into a pot at 5 p.m. Dinner sorted.
Some people swear by slow cookers – slapping in the goodies, pinning down the lid and flicking the switch until evening time. Others cook dinner in the morning before they leave for work and reheat it in the evening, or have the kids chip in and prep bits and pieces to make the whole thing a whole less stressful. Dinner sorted sorted sorted.
For me, though – I think the problem needs more than just a bench full of prepping. I think it needs a total attitude shift. A whole food-attitude makeover. I need to recalibrate my attitude to food and stop eyeing off the pre-packaged dinners at the supermarket longingly (no, I have not resorted to this, so do not worry).
Yes, I need to view dinner in a different way. I need to see it as the lynch pin in the cycle that is life. The nourishment that hones the bodies and minds of my children, that makes them healthier, happier and more excited about dinner, which consequently makes mum happier to see her kids guzzling with glee. Happier kids – happier life – happier mother, more capable of coping with the five o’clock dinner bell.
I truly think I need to develop that deeply repressed love for cooking that exists deep down under the pile of rotting resentment in my craw. To haul out the books that inspire me and not be so intimidated by galangal and ketjap manis and agar agar. I need to stop clamoring on about how long it takes to clean the food processor and just make that basil pesto the kids love so much. I need to take the money I spend on lesser quality pre-grated cheese that just ends up in the bin, and invest it in a hunk of creamy brie, that will vanish in the suction force around my daughter’s mouth. I need to look a leg of lamb in the eye of it’s bone and don’t panic over how many minutes in the oven or whether I’m basting it right. I need to be not so intimidated about getting it wrong or trying something out of my comfort zone.
But most of all, I need to get excited about what I’m doing. I need to use good quality utensils. Tie on one of my gorgeous array of aprons. Put on music, sip a drip of Sauvignon Blanc. Get the kids involved, after all – they endlessly beg me to chop the veggies or stir the pot. If I can do all this, I will feel far more inspired to cook – far less resentful of the time it takes to do it all, and far more hopeful my kids will slurp down my efforts with gusto not disdain.
Can I do it? Watch this space. If I can’t, I can always put the kids in the kitchen. Who cares if it’s mini Hawaiian pizzas every night – doesn’t food always taste better when someone else cooks it? Now, if that’s not proof we should be doing it with love, I don’t know what is.
How do you deal with the nightly family dinner?