Monday, November 28, 2011

Home Economics (From the Cleveland Post, February 10, 2011)

Stepping Back, Looking Closer:

Home Economics

by K. S. Volcjak

I have always cooked for my family. That's what my mother did: breakfast, packed lunch, supper. Plenty of vegetables. Mostly from from scratch. When you learn to do it that way, and learn to do it before you learn to think about it, it's just as easy heating up prepared food. And usually much tastier.

Did I mention it's also much cheaper? Thrift is important to me. As a stay-at-home mom, I don't bring in any money so my contribution our financial well-being is to spend what goes out wisely. Between watching the budget and watching our waistlines, we don't eat out much.

Cooking is a big part of my job. Not something I hate (most of the time), not something I love (most of the time). It is interesting: cooking is, after all, the most common form of domestic chemical engineering. I take a professional interest in at least knowing how to do it well and troubleshooting the causes of less than perfect outcomes (I believe I've mentioned I am absent-minded?).

But for the most part, cooking just is. Like laundry, although a bit more creative. It gets old. Quotidian.

Some time in my daughter's first years, I sat down to a meal at a church supper and realized I was profoundly grateful for this food that I had had nothing to do with preparing. I didn't select the menu, I didn't shop for the ingredients, I didn't cook it, I didn't even have to set the table. All I had to do was eat it with thanksgiving.

I would gladly have helped clean up the kitchen in gratitude.

It's not the cooking that's the hard part of providing meals. The hard part is figuring out what to cook, pinning down what four people are at least close to being 'in the mood for.' Finding something that corresponds to my time, budget and energy level. And that is relatively healthy. And then having to do this days in advance of the actual meal.

Over and over and over again. With long stretches of not getting it quite right.

My dearly beloved husband is not usually much help here. He can't think about supper when he's not hungry and shows no interest in developing that skill. Bless him, he does eat whatever I put in front of him (he's even learning to eat collards!).

Which brings me to this bit of advice: You think you are being flexible and helpful answering cheerfully "What ever you want to fix" in response to "Honey, any suggestions for supper?" No no no no no no no! She's not asking for your preference. She's asking for ideas! Any ideas! Help her out!(Note: Please feel free to rearrange pronouns as appropriate).

Which brings me to the magazines in the check out line at the grocery store. Being something of a tomboy and growing up in the midst of the women's lib debate, they were not something I had much interest in. I liked to sew and do crafts and play dress-up, as part of my desire to live in 'the olden days' when life was exciting. In contrast, their articles were humdrum, trivial, safe.

I have grown to understand 'humdrum' in a new light. Anton Chekhov said, "Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out."

I have also developed a different take on those magazines. How many women picked up those magazines, not because they were satisfied with safety and triviality or were dying to find out the 'in' nail colors for the new fashion season, but because they were desperate for something new to fix for supper?


One evening last week, my daughter asked, "What's for supper?"

"Chicken and dumplings," I replied.

"That sounds good!"

An enthusiastic response to my choice of menu. I got it right. Life is good.

© 2011 by Kathleen S. Volcjak

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