Thursday, May 01, 2008

Simple Food

Last night was a busy one. I got home later than usual, and had a list of things that needed doing before I left for Austin tomorrow. This meant that I didn't have two hours to put a meal together. As I approached home, I debated on grabbing some quick take-out, but nothing in my neighbourhood interested me. I didn't want a sub, or pizza, or fast burgers, or bad asian, or food court greek, or Tim Horton's combos. I figured I'd have to use the last frozen chicken breast I had, the half-used sweet potato, and whatever else I could scrounge up.

So I pulled out the chicken, tossed it in the microwave to thaw a bit, and then a low-heat oven to finish off the thawing (microwaving too long = tough boiled chicken... yuck). As that was happening, I sliced off the disgusting, gooey, too-long-in-fridge end of the sweet potato, then peeled and cubed the good part.

I tossed the yam cubes in olive oil, chipotle hot sauce, garlic powder, dried onion flakes, smoked paprika, smoked salt, pepper, and chili powder. Then I spread them on a small baking sheet and put them in my toaster oven at 425 degrees F.

I took out the thawed chicken and coated it in Kozlik's Rib-B-Que sauce and let it sit in the sauce for around 15 minutes.

During all this, I was snacking on raw snap peas. Not only do I love raw peas in pods, but they're a memory-food. Growing up, we had a rather large garden in our back yard. My dad would be out there from spring to fall turning soil, planting seeds, watering, and fighting off the groundhogs. Eventually we got to pick the fruit and vegetables. Cucumbers, tomatoes, raspberries, green beans, rhubarb, and snow peas. There is no food quite as good as the food you pull fresh from your garden. Not all the peas would make it inside after the day my dad showed me that you could eat them right off the vine. So now when I buy them, a good chunk are eaten before they're cooked. My current bag may never see a pot.

Back to the chicken. I heated up a cast iron grill over medium heat with some oil in it. The breast got dropped on and cooked up. Around 5 minutes a side, until cooked through. I basted it with extra sauce as you would with anything you're grilling. Off it came and was served with the baked sweet potato home-"fries" and dinner was done and tasty. Taking out the thaw time, this whole meal took about 30min, required minimal effort, and probably cost me about $4 in food costs. There really is no excuse for eating out every night, or claiming to never have the time to make a meal.

Sure, there are nights where I'm pulling out a can of something, or frozen dinner, or grabbing take-out. I'm too tired, too lazy, or too busy to put ANY effort into things some days. But whenever I have the chance, I make the effort to make food. I was shocked in recent days by two things:

1.- A commercial on TV. Showing a family grabbing fast food takeout that looked disgusting and a voiceover saying "When did THIS become a family dinner?" It was a commercial for Stouffer's frozen dinners. WHAT? It saddened me that this could be accepted as a proper family dinner. Processed, preserved, frozen food? Oh yum.

2.- Walmart talking about how sales have gone up for frozen dinners, canned foods, etc., and this being a sign that people are eating out less. And no doubt getting fatter and more sodium-filled (unless "eating out" means fast food). So to save money, people are buying pre-made, craptacular meals to eat regularly.

It's unbelievably sad to me that this is the state of the family dinner. Sure, my family grabs a plate, food, and scatters to various bedrooms, TVs, computers, etc.. But at least it was healthy, good, homemade food. No wonder obesity is such a problem.

$4 and 30 minutes for GOOD BBQ chicken, tasty sweet potatoes, and fresh snap peas. How is that not a possibility for anybody who would buy TV dinners or go out every night? Hell, if you play the grocery sales and coupons right, you could probably half that cost. For the same price and time, I could make a dozen other meals easily. Maybe I'll make that a regular things here. $5 (give myself some wiggle room) and 30min.


Otis said...

I'm not one of those people who cling to tradition simply because it's tradition. That said, I did grow up in a family that ate together at a table nearly every night until I was in my late teens. At the time, it wasn't important to me. Looking back, it was something really special.

When my wife and I got married, we rarely ate dinner together and if we did, it was usually in front of the TV--even if I'd spent two hours working on the meal.

Since my son has been old enough to sit at the dinner table, my wife and I have made an effort to have dinner at the dinner table and avoid takeout as much as possible. It is without a doubt my favorite time of day.

Kate said...

I'm really glad to read the comment by Otis. Growing up, my family at at the dining room table nearly every night of the week, and, on Sunday, three times. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I loved that big table and everything that happened around it. Like Otis, it didn't much register at the time how important it was -- it was just our routine and I didn't have a different experience to compare to.

My father worked out of the office and came home at lunch. My mother made a hot lunch and served by Dad at that table, and then he went back to work. He much preferred that routine, to the cafeteria (I don't know about my Mom though -- but she never complained).

All these years later, we have scattered to the winds and while I still cook a nice meal for myself, and always, always serve it on white plates (just like Mom did), I often will be at my desk or the coffee table, and not at my dinner table. I think not having my family around it, means it "doesn't count" when of course, it truly does. Perhaps I should work on that.

What makes me happy about Otis is that now that the child is old enough to sit at the table, they are now doing so. It is such a happy memory for me, and I count myself so lucky to have parents who understood its importance, even when I didn't.

My dear Dad is gone, and Mom had told me when she goes, no matter what the cost, that big huge table is being shipped to me, because I talk about that simple routine constantly. That table is the best thing about my childhood, honestly, and I hope it doesn't arrive too soon, but when it does, I'll cherish it.

Anyway. Good post!

OhCaptain said...

Nice post Asting and the other comments are fantastic.

When i was growing up, my Dad was the manager of a few restaurants. We often at out, as a family. We ate together as a family at home on the dining room table. It was odd for us in that to eat with Dad, we needed to go out, but we did do it all together.

My wife and I have been eating together at the dinner table since we started living together. It hasn't changed and both of our kids have grown up eating at least 6 nights a week together.

We really value this time together.

Having grown up in a kitchen, I still enjoy spending the time when I can to make good meal. Both OhCountess and I like to cook. We sometimes even do it together. Although, I can still be a bit of a head chef. (Not a good plan with the Mrs.)

Great post! I think that someday, the family dinner will make a comeback.