I’m gonna come right out and say something pretty crazy right now. Please don’t think less of me, OK? Ready? Here we go:
I really don’t like coming home to a dinner that’s already made. Or one that just needs to be reheated in the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Or ladled out of a crockpot.
Right about now the vinyl should be screeching. What the…? Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the one preaching efficiency? The one who tells us to start dinner in the morning, to assemble a big batch of grains or freezer meatballs on the weekend, to whisk a vinaigrette on a Sunday…all in the name of throwing together something quickly when it’s 6:30 on a weeknight, aka Go Time?
Yes, and well, no. Obviously, it’s how we are forced to cook most of the time. But I’m convinced that those kinds of dinners are not the ones that will convert dinner infidels into believers. This is what I hear from readers all the time: It’s so frustrating to spend all that time making a meal, getting all those dishes dirty, only to have my kids reject their food in five seconds flat. I hear you. I totally, 100% do. The reason why our spring garden is a tangle of overgrown weeds and why I don’t own one of those cute hand shovels (my friend Bonnie, upon hearing that, informed me “Jenny, that’s like not owning a spatula”) is because I have yet to embrace the weeding and planting and tending involved in gardening. And I never pay attention to which plants need mostly shade or mostly sun. And because I hate that feeling when my hands get all dry and cakey. But THE POINT IS….like dinner, gardening is about the process. The reason why Bonnie and all you green thumbs out there love to garden is because you love to be outside, digging in the dirt, every day investing in something that will pay back in beautiful dividends. And you lunatics probably even love that dry caked-dirt feeling on your hands, too.
In other words, dinner is something of a love story for me because it’s always been so much bigger than the 15 minutes sitting at the table. What I’m way more addicted to is the pre-game show. I need to be sipping a nice Sangiovese. I need one kid tackling decimals at the kitchen table, or sitting Indian-style on the counter snacking on chips and salsa, or in the adjoining room plowing her way through Musette from English Suite (“by Wolfgang Amadeus Bach, Mommy”) on the cello. I need the aromas of sauteed onions and browning steaks swirling about the house the way smells do in cartoons, pulling family members into the kitchen in a state of weakened hypnosis. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I need the narrative arc of dinner. I crave the build-up.
How do you learn to love the process of cooking? That’s a tough one. I imagine it helps to devote yourself it on a long weekend like this one when you have a little more time. And I imagine, like gardening, the answer has something to do with focusing on those beautiful dividends. I’m not just talking about the beef stew.