Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gotta Get a Meal Ticket

Yes! I do! The above title was the name of a song in Elton John's  "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album. I have not the foggiest what the it was actually about and I didn't listen to it much seeing how I didn't care for the tune (my only real criteria), but I find the title rather catchy and fitting for my predicament.

I was telling my husband just yesterday that if there was a responsibility, anything at all, that I could hand over forever to someone else, it would be meals and all that they entail: planning, shopping, prep, cleanup. Give me laundry. Give me yard work. Give me windows. Yes! Windows! Have me scrubbing toilets daily with a toothbrush or scooping poop in the yard. Reroofing? I don't care. Give me just about any domestic responsibility on the planet but just don't make me have to decide, day in and day out, what is for dinner.

It is all so wearying and I can't stand it. I cannot think of any other daily or weekly (or monthly even) activity that requires so much decision making, financial outlay, and energy output that produces such little reward. Think about it. On the most basic of scales you still have to do this. You have to decide WHAT you want to eat, the angst of which will be described in great detail below. You have to go to the store and purchase the necessary ingredients and, if you are anything like me, you will come home minus one key item, necessitating either another trip to store or a foray into your noncreative culinary skills. THEN you have to prep the stuff. Cutting and chopping and sizzling away, dirtying dish after dish. Next comes trying to get it on the table in a timely fashion at an appropriate tempererature for people who may or may not even be at home, much less have any desire to consume the fruit of your labor. A few blinks and a couple of mumbles later the food is gone (or the eaters have gone to Burger King in lieu of tonight's bizarre concoction) and you are left holding the .....dishes. Next comes putting the leftovers away, which means you have to venture into the bowels of the pantry for Little Plasic Containers That Have No Lids. Then it is dish after dish after dish, easier when the dishwasher is empty but, more often than not, it is full of clean dishes resulting in another wearying postprandial activity so that you can just tidy up and be done with the entire ordeal. It is completely unsatisfying.

Why...why....WHY is this so hard for me? I think part of it has to do with my history. I did not grow up with fond memories of Norman Rockwellesque family meals where we helped with the cooking and sat around the table, exchanging stories of our day, and gleaning wisdom from the pater familias. From the time I was 14 on I pretty much ate meals by myself, living on whatever was the diet food of choice until Lean Cuisines came along. Thank you, Stouffer's.

As a full fledged adult (at least they say I am), it is now my duty to feed my family, only any meal planning turns into a schizophrenic-like event. Holly Homemaker meets Frugal Franny meets Vegan Vanessa meets Paleo Paulette meets Organic Olivia. In the words of H.I. McDonough in "Raising Arizona", "Now there's what's right and there's what's right and never the twain shall meet." How on earth to even plan meals that appeal to my family and fit into our rather stringent budget, all the while satisfying the often conflicting opinions of the loud and incessant voices of the Virtuous Eaters, is totally beyond me. Even with my underutilized 4 year degree in nutrition from a large accredited state university, the buffet of sensibilities and options is disorienting and overwhelming.

The shopping may or not be an issue, given the day. Coupons are virtually impossible for me to track down, clip out, get in my pocket, and then actually remember to use. About halfway through any shopping trip I get tired and overwhelmed and hungry and have to pee and then feel guilty about all the money I am spending and bail on the entire excursion, arriving home with an odd assortment of things like bouillon cubes, kidney beans, cereal, and instant coffee.

Meal prep is an adventure. I have about 2 squre feet of counter space and no knife skills. Suffice it to say that it is a miracle that I still have ALL of all of my digits. The meal itself produces little stress for me, as long as it is just our family. It is when we add non-family guests that I really freak out. What if they don't like it? What if the food isn't "right"? Have I offended them by serving tub margarine rather than real butter or conventional veggies rather than organic? Is it bad that my spaghetti sauce isn't organic or my salsa comes from a jar? Are they disgusted that I didn't spread the hot dog buns in a decorative fashion on a nice pottery platter? Are paper napkins an affront to their aesthetic sensibilities? What if we don't have the right manners or pass food the wrong direction? And are we supposed to wait until somebody (I've never figured out who) takes the first bite?  Maybe I was raised after wolves after all.

Cleanup isn't so much of an issue. If I don't have to do all the former, the latter is a piece of cake. You really can't screw up cleanup, unless you break the dishes, but since they are my own dishes I really don't care.  But you can screw up food storage. And this is where I fail again. Leftovers get left over for weeks. Spilled jars leak sticky fluid in the fridge, gluing the gallon of milk to the shelf. The hot dogs get poorly wrapped and wind up resembling petrified sticks of dynamite. And let's not forget all that produce that grows into a fuzzy, liquified goo in the back of the produce bin.

I could go on and on. You get the picture and is precisely why I say I hate, HATE meal responsibilities. Either it is cereal and milk from now on or I just gotta, gotta get a meal ticket.


  1. What?! You too!? (re your CS Lewis quote). I've been known to say that if we hired one household-help-type employee, it would be a cook. And my main problem is deciding what to fix. And I don't like planning a month or even a week out because life and what's on sale are variable. But let me encourage you, Ginny, about guests at the meal table. I think most people don't care about those things you are worried about -- they are saying, "Hey! I don't have to fix dinner tonight!! And we get to be with the Barkers who are real and fun people!"

  2. I just discovered your blog (thanks to your young mothers post) and this post really struck home with me. I feel exactly the same way. Thanks for the laugh!