Cooking for the family is a tasty tradition

Most of the wo­men I know simply can’t be­lieve it.

ldquo;You mean you still cook?” they ask me in amazement as if I’ve just pro­claimed that I’ve swum the Eng­lish Chan­nel…again.

Cook­ing, it seems, is on the en­dangered list.

The simple an­swer is yes, I cook. Al­most every night.

Let me ex­plain at the out­set that cook­ing is still a mat­ter of defin­i­tion. For some, it means pre­par­ing meals that are el­eg­ant, elab­or­ate and presen­ted in mul­ticourses. Yes, “presen­ted.”

For those folks, a “simple” meal in­cludes foods I can’t even pro­nounce, let alone pre­pare.  So when I say that yes, I still cook, the trans­la­tion needs to be that every night at dusk, I step in­to the kit­chen, sur­vey the freez­er, the re­fri­ger­at­or, the ve­get­able draw­er in our fridge — and won­der what I can get on the table with­in an hour.

That table, it must be noted, is a yard sale find: small, round, golden oak and something one might spot in a chil­dren’s book on the “Three Bears” page.

It’s been with us for 11 years, since we dis­covered that the massive pine table from our former house took up just about all the floor space in our mod­est break­fast room. On it is usu­ally a sturdy cot­ton-checked cloth that would nev­er, ever be found in a five-star (or two-star) res­taur­ant. It’s cheer­ful, ser­vice­able but com­pletely, totally down to earth.

I set this scene to make a point: din­ing, Chez Fried­man, is re­mark­ably simple.

It’s also the love­li­est time of the day for two old-mar­rieds who some­times are like those fam­ous ships that pass in the night.

My hus­band is hap­pily, joy­fully re­tired — and so busy that he’s of­ten gone from morn­ing un­til night. I’m not re­tired — and my home also is my of­fice.

So on some days, our paths don’t cross at all, as he tends to his routine, and I to mine.

Yes, we could rush off to a res­taur­ant, loc­al or urb­an, at day’s end. But then we couldn’t pad around in our sneak­ers and fig­ure out wheth­er we want to dip crack­ers in­to hum­mus at the kit­chen counter as our — ahem – ap­pet­izer.

Nor could we de­bate the re­l­at­ive mer­its of ro­maine lettuce or mixed greens that thank­fully come pre-washed.

Din­ner­time, for us, is the guar­an­teed time of day when we bring one an­oth­er up to date on the state of our world. And I wish that meant pon­der­ing the glob­al eco­nomy, the tinder­box of the Middle East or the polit­ic­al lo­g­jam in Con­gress.

But frankly, it’s more likely to be a din­ner table con­ver­sa­tion about (in any or­der) 

• our adult kids  

• our grand­chil­dren

• when the car is due for in­spec­tion

• why the dish­wash­er is mak­ing a funny noise

• wheth­er Di­ane Saw­yer, our an­chor of choice, is look­ing a wee bit tired

Chances are that on the plates we bought be­cause we loved their no-non­sense sim­pli­city and heft will be sal­mon, chick­en or tur­key meat loaf. Our days of hearty beef stews and briskets swim­ming in gravy are be­hind us now that we’re no longer young­er than spring­time.

The pota­toes may be white or sweet, and when we’re feel­ing vir­tu­ous, there are two fresh green ve­get­ables as “sides.”

No self-re­spect­ing res­taur­ant would con­done such un­in­spired din­ing, but for us, menus that are fa­mil­i­ar are some­how…re­as­sur­ing.

Com­fort­ing, too, is the daily de­bate in fall and spring about wheth­er to open the slid­ing glass doors to our deck and let the breezes waft in…or not. The dis­cus­sion can get…spir­ited.

Our fi­nal ritu­al: the shar­ing of whatever dessert we choose. Di­vide and con­quer is our por­tion-con­trol de­fault po­s­i­tion. And if I’ve been feel­ing am­bi­tious, it’s chocol­ate pud­ding the slow-cooked way.

High-liv­ers would find all of this suf­foc­at­ing. So would gour­mands. And so, too, might the young and rest­less who do the club scene after trendy din­ners at res­taur­ants with funky names.

But for two long-long mar­rieds who spent the first quarter-cen­tury of our to­geth­er­ness nev­er fin­ish­ing a sen­tence as three daugh­ters needed to be heard about the hockey team or the al­gebra test or the prom…it’s ac­tu­ally quite won­der­ful to be alone to­geth­er.

We’re sa­vor­ing the free­dom we have to live simply, but ju­bil­antly. There may be new re­cipes and res­taur­ants to con­quer. There may be far fan­ci­er meals to be tasted. But we’ll still take our Three Bears table, Di­ane Saw­yer and slow-cooked chocol­ate pud­ding.

Viva la simple life! ••

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