Food preparation in today’s world has broken out of the category of ordinary chore—rising to the heights of artisanal, fantasy and in some cases pure obsession. But being a person who enjoys balance, I’m still trying to get my head around it.
We all have to eat—I get that. And it’s really nice when someone else makes the meal. But in the 1960s when my mother took a job in downtown Chicago, I became the cook in our family. Previously, I was capable of opening a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, adding a can of liquid—always milk, please—and heating it up. But a dinner?
The night before, Mom and I would decide on the main course. When she got home at six o’clock and spaghetti sauce or a meat dish like chicken or a ham slice was ready, we could whip up a salad, prepare a vegetable and be ready to go. Often Mom had a sweet on hand because she baked on the weekends.
So how did this go? Not that great. Yes, all four members of our family were healthy and happy, but there was fallout. Everyone began to loathe the Friday choices, fish sticks or cheese pizza. During the week, we sometimes actually ate a grilled sandwich that consisted of Spam mixed with grated onion and American cheese. Because this delectable had no title, my older brother named the sandwich The Igor, after the composer Stravinsky. You see, music was higher on our proverbial food chain, than, well, food!
But as my celebrity as a cool teenage girl with a boyfriend rose—my cooking skills, had there been any, plummeted. Still required to prepare the main course each night—I would race home from high school, grind up some corn flakes and whip an egg. These lovelies were applied to four pork tenderloins and then almost thrown into a pan and set at low oven heat. That allowed me to race to the local park to watch my boyfriend play baseball or just hang out. But the pork was always in the oven way too long, causing my younger brother to name it hockey pucks–a name that stuck, a meal I no longer prepare.
During my college years, I always ate in the cafeterias, having absolutely no desire to cook in my room. And this was before tiny refrigerators or microwaves. For lunch, I subsisted on hamburgers and fries, for dinner whatever Mr. Hewitt, our chef, had prepared. There was always mystery meat. We knew it was lamb only because he put out a bowl of mint jelly. Once in a great while I would go to Poppa’s for a warm and satisfying Saturday breakfast. But my budget urged me to eat the food I had already paid for. Thank God Starbucks didn’t exist, as I couldn’t have afforded it.
But once married—with a husband who also commuted to Chicago while I worked ten minutes from our home—I had to own up to the fact that those bright and shiny appliances, the stove and refrigerator, were truly mine.
“What are you making for dinner?” my mother-in-law always asked when we talked. This was because she liked to cook and she was damn good at it, often altering and changing a recipe. This was unheard of in my life—I mean would the thing turn out if you adjusted, changed or eliminated ingredients? My answer to her question as to the meal I was preparing was often chicken. It became a joke in my husband’s family—I made chicken. That was that. At least they had never had my hockey pucks, so I didn’t have to hang my head in complete shame.
But I got a grip on the married and working full time gig and began to look at recipes. My friend Jane actually explained protein, carbohydrates and fats to me. I had never taken home ec, but really liked the science aspect. I had a copy of The Joy of Cooking which my older brother had given me, probably hoping I would someday open it. The local newspaper had a cooking section with Jell-O recipes, how to use left-over roast beef and many examples of cakes, pies and cookies. Don’t laugh. This was the 70s.
Before children, my biggest gourmet fete was a Beef Wellington that I prepared for six of my college friends and their spouses. It took me forever, but I remember it was extremely palatable and very much appreciated. During the meal, I noticed a few too many little dark bits floating in the vinaigrette dressing on the salad. I had probably not washed the fancy lettuce well enough, being used to iceberg. I hoped that my diners just decided I went a little overboard with the freshly ground pepper.
Of course my house was sparking when my guests arrived. I have always enjoyed cleaning and organizing my home more than grocery shopping and cooking. But that night I hung a spider plant in its macrame hanger from the tension shower rod in the bathroom, and during the meal it came crashing down sending mud and pottery shards everywhere. No tidiness in that room.
With this Part One history, you can conclude that my future career was never meant to include meal preparation or any aspect of it. But there are probably many chefs who also had to help prepare family meals, but unlike me, the responsibility fired them up and they rocketed into fame leaving iceberg lettuce and tomato soup behind. If you have a tale of great cooking success or major failure, please share. See you next week for Part Two.
Here’s a Recipe to excite the palate, and replace your image of my hockey pucks.
Breaded Pork Tenderloin
“Try this for breaded pork tenderloin that is lightly crunchy on the outside, tender and juicy with a hint of Mediterranean spice on the inside.”
1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup Italian-style dried bread crumbs
1 pinch garlic salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1. Slice tenderloin into 1/4 inch rounds. Place rounds between sheets of plastic wrap and pound until thin.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
3. Beat eggs and milk together and pour into a shallow dish or bowl. Set aside. In a separate dish or bowl combine breadcrumbs with garlic salt, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix all together. In a large skillet heat oil over medium high heat. Meanwhile, dip tenderloins in egg mixture, then coat with bread crumb mixture. When oil is hot, add coated tenderloin to skillet and fry until golden brown on both sides (not cooked through)!
4. Place browned tenderloin in a 9×13 inch baking dish lined with aluminum foil. Fry any leftover eggs and bread crumbs together for ‘breadings’. Add ‘breadings’ to baking dish. Cover tightly and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until meat has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees F (63 degrees C).
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2014 Allrecipes.com Printed from Allrecipes.com 11/30/2014
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