Mom, please come cook for us again

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

The assortment of cookbooks given me as gifts over the years, the cooking column in the Home & Garden section of today's newspaper and the various e-mailed recipes I receive lead me to believe there is a segment of our society cooking at home on a regular basis.

But the sad fact is, I've all but abandoned cooking. My trips to the grocery store every other week or so are for milk, juice, maybe some bagels, low-fat chips and a few pieces of fruit that will sit dejectedly in a decorative bowl for several days before rotting and going straight into the garbage.

In our house, fruit falls into more of the decor category.

Oh, there are some convenience foods out there that I'll cook on a weekend once in awhile. Have you tried those Homestyle Bakes? The commercials show women having difficulty lifting the boxes off the shelves, and I'll tell you why: A Homestyle Bake consists of two large cans of filling that you open and dump into a casserole bowl and a bag of powdery substance that you mix with water and spread over the filling. Bake for about half an hour and you're done.

Granted, I love a Homestyle Bake, but it's definitely hard-core cheating. It's as though the company wanted to give you a couple of little tasks so you didn't feel like a total loser in the kitchen. It's the prepared food equivalent of your mother. "Here you go, Heidi. Open these cans for Mommy and then you can go watch TV."

My mother, who stayed at home to raise us until my youngest brother started school, made six healthy dinners a week, primarily different takes on something she called "goulash" and we called "ugh." But she always served a meat, a bread and two vegetables, and her husband and five children gathered around the table to eat a nutritious meal and discuss the events of the day.

There were the occasional food standoffs when we had to stay at the table until we cleaned our plates of liver, tuna casserole, boiled okra and the like. (Here's something you kids should know: Family dachshunds will not eat boiled okra fed to them under the table, but they will eat liver and occasionally tuna casserole.)

Apparently the same routine happened at The Other Half's house when he was growing up: hot meals, talk about the day and occasional food standoffs.

We didn't appreciate it then. At the time, the best day of the week was Friday, when Dad came home from work bearing a sack of hamburgers, a couple of pizzas or a bucket of fried chicken.

Today, Mr. Half and I can have all the hamburgers and pizzas we care to eat, but we don't want them. We'd like hot, homemade meals prepared by someone else and waiting for us when we return home.

Our strange work hours make regular cooking almost out of the question. We've taken to leaving Animal Planet on the television as company for our cat. We eat a lot of take-out sandwiches because they're fast, cheap and healthy.

(And people still ask me when I'm going to get pregnant. I've heard you actually have to spend some time alone with your husband for that to happen.)

The guilt got to me last week. We could be eating better and saving a ton of money by cooking at home, I thought. So on Sunday, Mr. Half and I headed to the grocery store to buy what we needed for the meal of his choice.

We had frozen chicken breasts from the last time I had delusions of cooking grandeur. Everything else had to be purchased. Potatoes, low fat sour cream, canned yams, raisins, crushed pineapple, angel food cake, whipped topping and so on.

In the end, we'd spent a whopping $17.50 on dinner for two.

Blimpie, forgive us for straying.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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