WHAT’S FOR DINNER? – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: What’s For Dinner

It’s been an interesting eating week. I got tired of cooking. To be fair, I’ve been tired of cooking for at least 10 years, but Garry doesn’t cook and apparently, isn’t planning to learn. I decided to try something new and buy a lot of cold food we can use for salads and sandwiches.

I was going to cook some redfish for dinner, but I’m tired and headachy, so I made sandwiches and the fish will wait for tomorrow. I’m not all that fond of redfish anyway, even if it is from the Gulf of Maine.

THE EASTER BOUQUET – Marilyn Armstrong

The Easter Bouquet – FOTD – 04/24/2019

It was Easter. We weren’t going anywhere or doing anything. No one seemed to be doing anything and to be fair, I was just grateful I didn’t have to cook a huge meal that I couldn’t eat anyway.

I have to say that when you can’t really eat, cooking loses a lot of its attraction. And after cooking for a husband and kids and other people since I was 18 (was I really ever 18?), I could do without ever cooking for anyone ever again.

But I do because Garry doesn’t cook and if I don’t cook, he won’t eat. He might go so far as to open a can of soup, but that’s pretty much it. These days, though, cooking for a crowd is not on my agenda. I occasionally get enthusiastic about trying out a new dish. Mostly I do a lot of sighing while saying: “I suppose I have to COOK.”

Meanwhile, I am waiting for Garry to say those magic words: “Don’t worry Sweetheart. I’ve got this.”

The closest I get to that is (1) he will put a frozen pizza in the oven, and (2) he’ll drive to Mickey D’s and buy el cheapo chicken sandwiches.

If there was a good take-out joint in this town, we could occasionally work something out, but we don’t have anyplace worth going. Even when we can afford it, it isn’t worth the effort much less the money.

But I get flowers.

Sometimes, he brings home amazing bouquets and I don’t dare ask how much they cost. He no longer buys them in the grocery store, either. He goes to The Flower Lady who does all kinds of really fancy arrangements. He won’t cook, but he buys me flowers.

And he has gotten really into our birds. He watches the feeders and as soon as they get a little bit low, he’s out there filling them.

“Big group for dinner tonight,” he says, staring out the window. Like me, the first thing he does when he gets up — even if it is just to go to the bathroom — he has to look out the window and see who’s there.

We get pixellated by the birds. You go into the kitchen for something, but instead of whatever you were doing, you just stand there, watching the birds. “I see the pigeons have done a good job cleaning up the deck,” he adds. “You know, while I was feeding them, there were a few on the rail giving me a look which says ‘Get out of the way, fool. We’re hungry.’

“We didn’t get any squirrels today, ” he comments. I assure him we did. Between flocks of birds.

So I guess I’ll keep him.

Garry, I mean. The birds belong to the woods.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LITTLE VICTORIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.

When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.

Dinner, anyone?

Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.

We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.

The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.

We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.

My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.

Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.

I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.

I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate —  a small miracle in its own right.

Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.

This was a little victory, but still, a victory and all mine. A simple dinner in which each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.

It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.

THE “WE DON’T EAT THAT” FAMILY FOOD LIST

It’s that time of year again when we all get together to share one giant meal. It’s amazing we manage it because it’s not like we all have a passion for the same food. We are all very particular, each in our own way.

I’m medium to a little bit brave. As long as they don’t put anything weird in the dish — snails or things that actually move — I’m mostly okay. Things that turned out to be edible include alligator, which does not taste like chicken. It’s much closer to squid. I like fish and shellfish, but what do you call squid? Emu tastes like the dark meat on the turkey. Well, it’s a very big bird, so I guess it stands to reason.

I refused to consider horse. I’m very fond of horses. I don’t eat my friends, regardless of whether they have hooves or toes. I tried pheasant long ago. It is basically chicken, but kind of dry. Chicken tastes better. Buffalo is so close to beef if they didn’t tell you, you might not know, but it cooks faster because it’s lower in fat. Hard to keep buffalo rare. The cuts are different too, but it is a different creature.

Garry WILL eat anything, at least once. Except for PEAS, OATMEAL, CUT CORN (but he’ll eat corn on the cob), or LIMA BEANS. Owen won’t go near any kind of fish, eggplant, mushrooms, or beets. All those things taste like dirt to him. My granddaughter won’t eat any kind of pepper — green, red, yellow, orange. NO peppers. But she can tank down sushi with my husband and that’s saying something.

 

I don’t like anchovies, snails, or octopus. Squid’s okay if it’s properly cooked. I love shrimp and lobster, but usually I don’t eat lobster because it’s too messy. There so much digging around weird body parts. It gets overly intimate for my taste.

Nobody in the family likes turkey. We have lamb on holidays.

I like hot (spicy hot) food and so does Garry as long as it doesn’t chemically remove his teeth, but no one else in the family will touch it. Garry, me and Kaity will beg for sushi, but everyone else whines about raw fish. Fools. They don’t know what “good” is.  This is not even going into actual allergies which include (without naming names): green pepper, mussels, and duck. Duck? Yes, duck.

It’s remarkable we ever manage to eat together at all. We are lucky. No one is a vegan,vegetarian, or Glatt Kosher.

DINNER ‘CHEZ KAISER’ – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Sometimes things happen that everyone involved remembers fondly. These events become part of a family’s oral history – one of the stories retold and enjoyed. Our family has a very special ‘Remember when …” story. It’s special because it involves two families and three generations.

In August of 1996, our close friends, the Millers, were visiting us in Connecticut, from England, with their two children. The parents were Christine and Jay and the kids were Sam, age 17 and Katie, age 15. My husband at the time was Larry Kaiser and our kids were David, age 16 and Sarah, age 11. So now you know all the main characters in this tale.

Christine, Jay and I decided to take a day trip to a preserved Quaker village in Massachusetts. That left Larry alone with the kids all day, at home. Larry decided that they all needed a project to work on. So he decided that they would surprise the traveling parents with a fancy dinner, “Chez Kaiser” when they returned home.

Larry was a fun, energetic guy so he made this into a big adventure for the kids. They all went crazy in the local gourmet supermarket, Stew Leonard’s. They bought tons and tons of food! They planned five courses, from corn on the cob to seafood to two choices of beef, then cheese and fruit and finally, dessert. They bought much of the food ready-made, but they still had to do some cooking and lots of prep work. This also required serious organizing in order to pull this off well.

They set a beautiful table with the good china. They plated everything with style and flair. Larry paired wines with each course. Katie knew some French, so she printed out a full menu, in French!

Menu plus Sarah and Katie on right and Larry on bottom left, Christine, Larry’s Dad and me, all at dinner party

Since they were going to all this trouble already, they decided to invite my kids’ grandparents too, who lived nearby. So my mother was invited and so was Larry’s father and step-mother. Now it was dinner for eleven!

When Christine, Jay and I arrived home, we were ceremoniously ushered into the fully set up dining room. We were overwhelmed. It was also a great surprise to see the grandparents there. And the kids were so excited!

Larry and the kids did all the serving, with great bravado. They cleared the table after each course and brought out and served the following course throughout the meal. No grown-up, other than Larry, was allowed to help. The kids even poured the wine for us! It was a classy event all around.

Larry and Katie serving

It was an epic evening. Everyone had a wonderful time. The enthusiasm and pride that the kids exuded made everything more delicious and more special. This was one of Larry’s stellar moments as a parent.

We all remember it as a joyful time of bonding, between families and between generations. It is a cherished memory for all of us.

Dinner table – My mom, Sam and Christine on left, Larry’s Dad, then Me, Sarah and Larry’s step-mom on right.

SMALL VICTORIES

Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.

When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.

Dinner, anyone?

Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.

We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.

The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.

We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.

My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.

Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.

I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.

I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate —  a small miracle in its own right.

Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.

It has been a long month and it’s not over. This was a little victory, but a victory. One dinner where each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.

It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.

WHAT’S “TRADITIONAL”?

There was a time … long, long ago … when I had traditions. Celebrating Passover. The rituals of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day. New Years Eve and New Year’s Day Feasting. The decorating and piling presents under the tree. Carving a pumpkin. Putting out the little gourds for Autumn.

Oh (little) Christmas Tree

As time moved on, everything slowed. then stopped. We celebrate a semblance of Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, but the piles of gifts are gone. I save the best gift for my granddaughter, then nice ones to both parents. Garry and I go shopping during the sale following the holiday when everything is half price.

Uxbridge Common

We don’t need that stuff anymore. We haven’t changed sizes in years. We have plenty of clothing, sweaters, shoes and lord knows I do not want another decorative item for shelves or walls. We were full up on that stuff a long time ago. A particularly interesting book from one of the used bookstores can be interesting and small things that go with the cameras — bags, cleaning cloths, and spare lens caps — are good. Especially spare lens caps. A new camera strap? Okay.

Otherwise, what we really need are things no one can afford. A better screen door for the kitchen and, for that matter, if one exists — a new Dutch door too. And maybe everyone would come over and spent four hours cleaning a couple of times a year — I’d jump for joy on that one!

Even so, we seem to be getting along very well without a lot of the stuff that seemed such a big deal years ago. I don’t miss the 8 foot tree with the falling needles that were still under the rugs two years later.

Or all the broken class ornaments knocked down by cats and dogs. I don’t mind figuring out how we are going to fit a tree into the house. We have a wee little 4-foot table tree that lives (decorated, no lights) in the attic, covered, and can be comfortably plopped on the table in season then covered up and moved back to the attic.

I always wondered why Garry’s parents used to more or less beg us to NOT put up another tree. We were young and we didn’t get that they’d had a lifetime of trees and were perfectly happy to celebrate without the symbols.

Maybe that’s the real truth of it. We like the “feelings” of the holidays, but we don’t need the panoply, the endless decoration, the expense of wrapping papers and tapes and ribbons and cards, then are bagged and dumped. No one needs all the inexpensive little things we gave each other, just to fill up the corners of the holidays.

I miss the family dinners. so if someone else is willing to cook? I’ll put my bells on! I think I have cooked enough family dinners for several lifetimes. And it’s okay. Paper plates work for me!

I remember the first time I told my mom I thought it was time for me to make Thanksgiving. The look of relief that swept over her. I had been expecting an objection, maybe even a complaint … until I realized my mother hated cooking. It was usually my father who cooked with all the resulting bedlam — and even had we been a more “normal” family, they had been hosting family dinners since before I was born. And it was a big family.

 

After I took over that first year, I did it every year. I liked it. I messed around with different versions of turkey, discovered I should never, ever serve soup before the big bird. Stick with simple stuffing. Also, don’t let the bird cool on the counter when you have hungry cats.

There is a time for The Traditions. And then, there is a time to pass traditions slide down the tree to the next generation and the one after that. Sliding down the tree of life, if you think about it, makes sense. That’s the way of it.

When the kids are young — and even when the grandchildren are young — there’s a surprise and a certain bubbly excitement to oncoming holidays. But by the time all three top generations in the family are adults, that magic has quietly faded away. Hopefully leaving some good memories.

We had good holidays. No family battles. No shouting or sniping or ugliness. We didn’t hate each other.

We merely grew older and got tired. Now, the best part is watching old Christmas movies. Bring on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Going My Way” and “Holiday Inn” and more. Each generation will have their own. Thanksgiving? “Wizard of Oz,” of course! And every single American holiday, it’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy” at least twice, with reruns of the best dancing.

Bring on traditions — and don’t forget the music and movies!