I have spent three days preparing a meal. I have done this more than once. However, these meals were prepared when I was in college, law school or married but without children.
I am an outlier where cooking is concerned. If you’re reading this, you probably are too.
Most people do not make stock on a regular basis. Most people do not look at the scarcity of Creole tomatoes available this time of year and think, “I better get to making sauce to freeze.” Most people don’t actually cook all that much.
If you need proof, watch one of the “cooking” shows on the Food Network, and pay attention to the commercials. You’ll see products advertised that are designed to make you think you’re cooking, but without all of the difficulty of actually cooking.
This is not new; when I was a kid the labor-saving product was called the “TV Dinner,” and I ate more than a few. I assume that the products being hawked these days are superior to what we had in the '70’s, but ultimately it amounts to the same thing. The message is that you should serve food at home, but you don’t have time to cook things “from scratch,” so just take these short cuts and all will be well.
Usually the advertisements focus on how a “home-cooked” meal is more emotionally satisfying than the alternative; the suggestion being that if your “home cooking” is “emptying a bag into a pot of water,” it’s still better than “emptying a bag of fast food” onto your table.
And I suppose that’s true. If your kids see you cooking, regardless of how involved the “cooking” is, it teaches them something. It teaches them that there’s value in preparing food at home, and that’s reinforced if you eat together.
All of that said, it’s hard to cook anything involved on a weeknight when you’ve worked all day and your kids are hungry and at least some of them need to be in bed by 9:30. It’s even harder when you are obsessive about food and cooking.
I have learned a lot over the last 15 years, and I have gotten better, but the truth is that too often when I cook on a weeknight my family eats later than they should. So when my wife requested Mexican food recently, I told myself I was not going to go overboard.
I did not roast fresh chiles. I did not make tortillas. I did not make beans two days in advance so that I could make refried beans. I did not even toast dried chiles to make a salsa.
Instead, I cooked some ground beef with onions, Anaheim pepper and spices; I made guacamole; I heated some corn tortillas I bought at Norma’s Sweets Bakery in a cast-iron skillet; I made rice, and I had dinner on the table in an hour.
This was not a “foodie” meal, and it’s not the sort of meal about which I would normally brag, but here I am writing about it, and that’s a form of bragging, isn’t it?
The fact is that my family liked the meal. And if the goal of a cook is to please the people eating, then I succeeded. It wasn’t fancy, or particularly haute, but it doesn’t always have to be.
I still cook things that take effort and time, and usually my family likes the result. I still cook things that take effort and time even though I know my family won’t eat the result, too, but on those occasions what I’ve cooked is a backup to what I’m feeding the kids.
Sometimes I think that I’m actually beginning to figure this whole “grown-up” thing after 46 years on the planet.