I do the bulk of the grocery shopping for our tribe. But if any of them want some esoteric item they need for a specific dish, like, say, cardamom, well, they know where the car keys are.
(Can you believe that last sentence? And to think that in Canada right now they’re rationing punctuation.)
I’m not just from the Old School, I built the Old School. With sticks and mud and a mule-powered backhoe. While eating a turkey drumstick. I buy meat. For a creative guy, I don’t have much imagination in the grocery aisles. I buy potatoes in all their various permutations. I buy frozen and canned veg. I do get the low-sodium version when it’s available, because if my hypertension gets the better of me and I keel over from a stroke, who’s going to stock the larder?
But when the cat’s gone, the mice will eat kale. Earlier this week I returned from several days out of town for a benefit concert. The kids gleefully reported that they enjoyed a Sunday night meal of salad and edamame. “Etta who?” I said. They thought it was hilarious, because they know the first thing I would have done with such a meal is look all over the plate, including underneath, and ask, “Where’s the beef?”
My kitchen repertoire consists of five basic meals, and four of those involve browning two pounds of ground beef. (Side note: they should call it graying, not browning.) I grew up in a big meat-and-three family, so I’m a serious meat and potatoes guy. When I say serious, I mean if Barb cooks dinner and there’s rice instead of potatoes, I’m asking if it’s Thanksgiving.
The variety of cooked meats in my bag of tricks skyrockets in the summer, obviously, with the availability of the grill. (Yes, I know, you can grill in the winter. Have fun standing in the snow for 90 minutes trying to get that thing up to temp, dopey. I’ll be inside, horking down a Marie Callender’s beef pot pie.) I put the flame to burgers and dogs, natch, and those fine skinless, boneless, tasteless chicken breasts that are born to drown in teriyaki marinade. Of course you’ve got your steaks, pork loin chops, ribs, and a whole subspecies of grill meats known as brats.
I’ve also been rocking the beer can chicken for a couple of seasons (“Honey, why did it take five cans of beer to cook one chicken?”). Grill time is Man Time. It’s a chance to peel away from the family for a few precious minutes of solitude, when I can bask in the wafting meat mist, sipping an adult beverage and pondering the deeper questions of the universe, like when the hell am I ever going to repair the back gate in the fence?
But once the grill gets its fall cleaning and I disconnect the LP tank and snug the cover over it, I dry my tears and turn my meat-cooking focus indoors. My options are severely limited, but that’s exacerbated by the fact that my family that has little interest in eating fish. I love fish. Especially shellfish. So aside from some shrimp on my birthday or Schwan’s frozen catfish filets consumed during lunch, I have to get my seafood fix on the outside.
My daughter Speaker is the least carnivorous among us, and while she’ll eat meat that’s mixed into the food, like chili or spaghetti, even the tiniest slab of cooked flesh will survive her dinner nearly whole. I have failed to identify any rhyme or reason to her selectivity. She’ll wolf down a hamburger or hot dog slathered in mustard. She’ll mow through a rack of pork ribs like that pig owed her money. Chicken nuggets, bacon, scrambled eggs? Bring ‘em on. But a nice boneless pork chop, seasoned and oven roasted to perfection? Gross.
I was back on the spatula last night, and when we sat down to eat and I learned of the edamame feast, the kids laughed at the difference between mom’s cooking and dad’s cooking. “Mom likes to cook healthy stuff,” said Rusty, laughing. “Your dinner is always a meat and a starch.”
I tried to give him a stern look, but it came off as pathetic and defeated. “You guys are luck to have a dad who cooks at all. I know I’m not the greatest in the kitchen, but I put a lot of thought into this stuff! Now shut up and drink your mashed potatoes.”