Sunday, August 08, 2004
Fire in the Kitchen
"So what you making for dinner tonight?" The other day, a coworker asked me this question on our way to the parking lot. My answer was, "What? Cook on a weeknight? You've got to be crazy." My coworker looked at me in amazement and asked how it was possible for me not to cook during the week. It is possible, I explained, if you have a system.

The Prairie Tide Scientific System for Staying Out of the Kitchen

Sunday: Cook a decent meal. A casserole, a pan of enchiladas, maybe a crockpot meal. Something hearty that will provide lots leftovers, because you're not cooking again for the rest of the week! Since you'll be following a recipe, and since you really have no idea what you're doing, this dinner will provide spills, chills, and piles of dirty dishes to clean up afterwards. Note: The final product may be edible.

Monday: Let's hear a mighty "Huzzah!" for leftovers!

Tuesday: More leftovers. Still tasty, even though you've eaten the same thing three nights running.

Wednesday: If you're lucky, you'll squeeze one more meal out of that pan of lasagna.

Thursday. Pickings are slim by Thursday. The cupboards are bare, and the refrigerator echos dimly when you open it. What to do in this dire situation? Grab a box of breakfast cereal. That's right, Cheerios to the rescue!

Friday. Since you've already resorted to fine cereal dining for one night of the week, and since falling back on this option twice a week is too pathetic even for Laurie, Friday nights are best spent at a local classy dinner, like Peoria's own Avanti's Ristorante.

Saturday. With any luck, good friends will take pitty on you and invite you over for dinner. Preferably something home-cooked, with a side salad and a serving of vegetables. Any takers out there?

This system has worked well for the entire four years of my marriage. Since Randy was a confirmed bachelor before we met, getting a home cooked meal at least once a week was a major improvement, so he's never complained. It's just after a while the Lean Cuisine diet starts to loose it's glamor. I began to think, "Is this all there is?" as I punched in two minutes, medium-low on the microwave. It was then that I realized, I wanted to learn how to cook.

Now I can follow a recipe like the best of 'em, it's keeping it up all week long that wears me down. Sure, whipping up a nice meal once a week is almost enjoyable. A bit of a distraction, really, on a quiet day around the house. But on a weekday, when I'm cranky and in the mood for lounging on the couch, the last thing I want to do is look for culinary inspiration in a cookbook. My problem is keeping the fire, carrying the enthusiasm night after night.

To spark the motivation, and to force me back into the kitchen, this year I subscribed to a a local small farm. It's kinda like getting a magazine, only instead of a slick packet of ads and glitzy pictures, I get a box of locally grown veggies. Back in the spring, the box was packed full with cool-weather vegetables like cabbage. Cabbage? And not one head of cabbage, mind you. One week I received three types of cabbage and two heads of lettuce. That week, my cooking skills were sorely tested, and we ate more salad and cole slaw than I thought humanly possible.

But now that we are in the peak of summer, getting the box is like Christmas all over again. And a healthy Christmas, without all the baked goods and chocolate treats. This weeks box included:
Six pieces of corn
Patty pan squash
LOTS of tomatoes
Sweet peppers
Pablano peppers
Edamame soybeans

Friday night, in a cooking frenzy, I whipped up a rhubarb pie, a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, and cooked beets. Before now, I never realized where the phrase "beet red" came from. The juice from the beets were such a dark red color, I thought I'd slipped with the knife and sliced my hand.

The kitchen fiesta continued on Saturday. I made a black bean and fresh corn salad, and then a black bean and fresh corn salsa. It only occurred to me afterwards that these two dishes contained almost exactly the same ingredient. The only difference was that the salsa has a bit of a Tex-Mex kick to it. Hummmm... salads and salsas aren't all that much different. Who knew?

Tonight, we still have more veggies to cook up, and if I don't get cracking, things might start getting funky in the fridge. Our menu includes mashed squash, a polenta bake, and if I've got time I'm boiling up the soybeans for a late-night snack. Cooking three nights in a row. That may be a record for me.


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