After a rambling conversation this morning on the way to camp that began with how digital media is taking over print, and how — according to Abby — maybe this means that trees are being saved, but how — according to Phoebe — discarded electronics account for a massive percentage of the waste in landfills, and then, naturally, to Wall-E, there was a pause. I knew the wheels were turning.
Then, from Abby, heavy with the weight of realization: “There’s so much in this world that needs to be fixed.”
You don’t have to be an 8-year-old to be overwhelmed by all that needs fixing or to be weighed down by the guilt of not doing enough to help with the fixing. And I think that’s why I was so happy with the interview I did on Wired’s Superbug with Maryn McKenna. Not the part where I’m talking, which is the same old stuff you hear me mouth off about all the time, but the introduction where McKenna unloads this theory:
I have a small private belief — for which, despite being a science writer, I can produce no data — that much of the complex difficulty of the American food system would vanish if people knew how to cook…If people trusted they could feed themselves, without much effort or advance planning, they wouldn’t be so vulnerable to the lure of fast and processed food. And if sales of those diminished, the market for the cheap products of industrial agriculture would diminish too. This I believe.
To this theory I will add my own small private beliefs: If you know how to cook, or even if you just decide to sit down to dinner regularly, you might just wind up fixing these things, too:
The Budget Problem Cooking for yourself is a lot cheaper than ordering in or going out. Especially once you get into the rhythm of doing it regularly and building from leftovers, instead of starting from scratch every single night.
The Working Late Problem If you know you have to get home to cook (or even if you know you just have to be home to eat), you will work more efficiently to get out of the office at a decent hour. I also believe that you will be twice as efficient if, before you left the house in the morning, you had the good sense to get the momentum going on dinner by marinating a pork loin in rice wine vinegar, ginger, and soy sauce. (See: How to Plan Family Dinner which includes a weekly meal plan to help with this.)
The Obesity Problem It’s not breaking news that a third of children in this country are clinically obese and that this number is expected to rise. To cook your own food is to know what’s going into your own food, and to have control over your food instead of the other way around. Not to mention dinner provides an organic opportunity to actually talk about what’s on your plate, which ingredients were combined to make what’s on your plate, and where those ingredients came from. This will hopefully lead to healthy eating outside our sheltered little world when the girls are charged with making their own choices.
The Connection Problem I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can spend all day with my kids and yet not have one meaningful interaction with them until I sit down at the dinner table. (On the other hand, I can spend half a day ignoring them as I experiment with an Asian barbecue sauce, only to watch them scarf down the sweet-and-sour chicken at the table in two minutes before asking Can we go back to playing lacrosse now?)
The Parental Guilt Problem I used to call family dinner “My Magic Guilt Eraser” because being able to make a meal for them every night went a long way towards making me feel better about being away from them all day. But more recently I’ve also discovered that dinner also has the power to erase the guilt that naturally builds due to any of the following reasons: Forgot Crazy Hat Day; Missed the baseball game when (of course) your kid scored winning run; Kept promising kids to see Pirates: Band of Misfits in the theater yet never quite got around to it; Can’t quite get your 8-year-old to love Holes as much as you do, so stopped reading it halfway through, and now can’t bring oneself to either continue book or start on new one, resulting in no bedtime reading for waaaay too long a stretch of time.
Seriously, can you name any other scenario where an Asian-Style Barbecue Chicken is working that hard for you…solving all these problems for your family and (bonus!) the world? I’m telling you, it’s not an accident that the subtitle of my book is what it is: It all begins at the family table. This I believe.
Asian-Style Barbecue Chicken
Adapted from about five different recipes. I just threw a bunch of sh*t in there and, lo and behold, it worked.
6 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, halved
1/2 medium onion, in large chunks
2 tablespoons rice vinegar)
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 dried chile pepper
hot pepper paste or a squeeze of Sriracha (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
4-5 lime wedges
In a small saucepan, whisk all ingredients, except for chicken and lime, over low heat and heat until everything has dissolved, about 10 minutes. Remove from stovetop and let cool. (You can keep the onions and garlic in there.) Once it’s cool, pour into a small bowl. (Any extra keeps for up to a week in the refrigerator.)
Prepare grill. Drizzle chicken pieces with a little oil (canola is fine) salt, and pepper. When the grill is hot, grill the chicken (no sauce yet) for a total of 8 to 10 minutes, turning all the while. Brush the chicken with the barbecue sauce and cook another 3 minutes, basting with the sauce the entire time, and turning pieces frequently so they don’t burn. Serve with lime wedges.
We served this with basic sushi rice and a shredded kale salad that had been tossed with tarragon vinegar, olive oil, avocado, and scallions.