I am not a professional chef or cook. I know a lot about food. I enjoy learning about food. And of course I enjoy eating good food. What qualifies as “good food” though? Well, that depends. Overall, it has to be something I want to eat, it has to be tasty and it has to be well-prepared. I’ve been called “picky”, “difficult”, “complicated” and more when it comes to my food preferences. I don’t agree. My desires are not predictable. That much is true. But anyone who knows me knows what I like to eat, just not when. For that reason, I can’t really be surprised with food. (Though, there are a few things someone could bring me and I will always be happy to have it even if I don’t eat it right away: a Blimpie Best sandwich, a pint of good ice cream, a bag of chocolate covered pretzels, fresh salmon filet–skin on, my favorite pizza.) But sometimes, when I don’t feel like cooking, just about anything will do.
Any home-cooking expert will tell us the most important thing to have is a well-stocked pantry. This usually means a very long list of staples (flour/s, sugar/s, rice/s, pasta/s, canned and bottled goodness, canned beans), a few specialty items (nuts, teas, dried fruits, spices, salts) and some items you can’t afford and wouldn’t know from where to source them. In my house, a well-stocked pantry and fridge contains some type of go-to food item that is easy to prepare, quick to make, and tasty. For us that can be pasta and a favorite jarred sauce, canned soup, Spaghetti O’s (those are just for me, no one else will eat them), a decent frozen pizza, assorted cereals, crackers, and various different cheeses. Fresh fruit is a given. We keep that on the dining room table. While this means we won’t starve, it isn’t always what we want to eat.
My favorite quick-easy-foolproof food is something I’ve made and frozen. This is ideal. I am a planner and long-range thinker when it comes to food, but even I have trouble with this one. Part of the problem is I cook a large entree and we will eat it for days. We have no problem with leftovers, especially when the food is tasty. If I want to freeze some of that chili or stew, I’ve got to remember to do that right away. Finding a quart of chili in the freezer is like waking up to discover the Tooth Fairy has left $40 under your pillow and you still have all of your teeth. Another problem for me is that I try to buy fresh and I don’t buy large quantities of anything from warehouse/shopping club type stores. I don’t even have a stand alone, chest freezer, so storage is a problem. Still, the best frozen meals are the ones I make myself. I just have to remember to do it.
Carry-out or delivery of food is an option for some, depending upon where one lives. I am accustomed to urban living. I expect to be able to order a pizza, Chinese, East Indian, chicken…whatever. It is such a part of my life that when I watch home buying shows, I wonder which house would have the better delivery options. I’ve been known to talk out loud to the shoppers, advising them not to choose the desolate (albeit suitable) home because “what if you want to order a pizza?”. Yes, delivery options or proximity to good carry-out is on my list of “must haves”. I am a homebody. I am an introvert. I like to eat at home, in comfy clothes and slippers. I couldn’t imagine living somewhere that required I always cook or get nicely dressed for a long drive to a nice restaurant. I keep a small binder of menus (delivery on one side and carry-out only on the other side). I started this binder pre GrubHub or Uber Eats when I worked in an office with few lunch or dinner options on site. I am old enough to still find hard-copy menus more appealing than looking at them on a screen that needs to be scrolled through. It also means we can see all of our options at once. Decision making is easier for me with menus in hand.
I am not a fan of fast-food. Not the way I used to be when I was a kid. I don’t know if the food have changed, my tastes have changed or a combination of both. I do feel like the quality of the food has declined. There are many more options, but they are not better options. Menus are larger, prices are higher (comparably), there are more fast-food restaurants to choose among. And let’s not talk about the service. Overall, I find the service at most chain fast-food outlets to be terrible. I mean really awful. So awful in fact, that it isn’t usually worth my time and effort to procure the janky meal to begin with. I spend time deciding, driving, waiting, dealing with surly service, ordering, checking to make sure they got it right, waiting again if not, driving some more, THEN eating. This process is made slightly less painful by taking advantage of the on-line ordering options some outlets have made available. Still the items need to be picked up and checked for accuracy. But at least human interaction and human error are mitigated. All of that said, sometimes this gal craves a Big Mac. Sure, I regret that decision shortly after consumption, but I didn’t have to cook it and if it is made well, it was good on the lips for a moment. Lastly, sometimes I just want a delicious salad. Salad is something fast-food outlets have not perfected. Who can blame them? Fresh vegetables are very fragile things. Add to that most people who want fast food do not want healthy food. There are a few places I can think of that do a fair job with salads: Chick-fil-a, Panera, Chipotle. Of course, some of the independent, local joints do a really good job with salad options. These are usually places likely to have a customer base that comes in and often orders a salad as or with their meal.
Finally, it is important that every person in the household who eats knows how to cook. Sure, we all won’t cook to the same level of aptitude. But we should all be able to cook a simple meal for the family if called upon to do so. In my house I am the primary cook. I mostly enjoy cooking and my family relies on my abilities and willingness to do it. The husband is getting better at building a repertoire of things he is confident preparing. He has some “Dad” standards such as: oatmeal, pancakes, hash browned potatoes. He can also heat up processed food with minimal help (provided he remembers to read the instructions on the box/can/package). The boy is the fledgling of the trio. He can make simple sandwiches, a bowl of cereal, toast. I have him assist some days when I make meals because I believe that is the best way for him to learn. I talk to him while we cook and I explain what I am doing and answer his questions. (Perhaps if I’d done this with the husband some twenty years ago, he’d be a better cook now. Oh well.) I am letting go of feeling like I always HAVE TO cook. This is a real challenge for me. The kitchen is mine. I don’t like going in there are discovering that someone has messed around in my pantry, moved things and repositioned items in the fridge, rearranged spices on the shelf. They may as well have rifled through my underwear drawer. Truly, it feels like that kind of violation. So I take the blame for being a control freak when it comes to the kitchen and all of its contents. Relaxing that grip and giving the other members of my family to make mistakes and accomplishments is helpful to us all. Because sometimes, I just don’t feel like cooking.