I grew up in a comfortable community where my mother always had dinner on the table by 6:30 every night. There was salad, a rotation of chicken and lamb chops and rib eye, and baked potato or rice. To this day my mom claims she isn’t “the best” cook in the world, but I pretty much licked my plate before grabbing an apple or scooter pie and heading upstairs to finish my homework.
I’m not sure what went sideways between those home-cooked meals and my adult life in the kitchen (or not in the kitchen), but I have a good guess. First, I never cooked in college and grad school. I was always on some meal plan and even when I lived in Boston with roommates, they preferred to cook and I preferred to eat, so it was a perfect relationship.
Then, as a reporter and correspondent I never seemed to have the time to cook. I was either getting beeped to cover some airline strike or sent overseas to cover some big sports events (someone had to do it). In those days I’d grab a corned beef sandwich in NYC or some fish and chips in London and call it a day.
Back in DC as a mom I was lucky enough to have a lovely woman help me out with my daughter while I worked. The fact she could roast a chicken and make rice for everyone’s dinner iced the cake and allowed my daughter (and her parents) to have a home cooked meal while I worked late.
And now, as a working adult who’s out and about most of the week, whenever I come home and am hungry there’s only one priority…how fast can I make dinner? Yes, I shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, but it’s a slice of pizza here, a container of fruit or a side dish of pasta there. It’s never those six, heavy bags filled to the brim with food that my mother used to schlep into the house. So, my at-home menu is as follows: peanut butter & (grape) jelly on whole wheat bread, tuna sandwich with tomato and mayo (the real stuff) on whole wheat toast or sardine sandwich with tomato and mayo on whole wheat toast. Dessert is an apple or container of apple sauce and maybe potato chips if I crave salt that night.
The ultimate irony? I love The Food Network and could hypnotically watch Guy Fieri eat his way through every diner, drive-in and dive from Trenton to Sacramento while I eat my pb&j (creamy not chunky). When not watching Guy, it might be Chopped, or Beat Bobby Flay, Knife Fight or Andrew Zimmern munching on some grilled squirrel kidneys.
Feel sorry for me? Don’t. Most of the week I’m out with friends or clients eating everything from lobster ravioli to steak frites. And I’m even considering cooking school. If I can go to Tuscany, pull on an apron and sip some chianti while my classmates perfect their brown butter gnocchi, I’ll book the very next flight.