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What's For Dinner?

As Thanksgiving comes into focus, again we begin gathering the necessities and niceties of an annual celebration that follows the uncomfortably familiar pattern of a big buildup, an event that’s over before you know it, followed by a short nap and a giant clean up.

And there is much to be thankful for – access to grocery stores and the obscene amounts of available food choices, which seem to keep expanding. I remember when “vegetarian” was the only alternate food lifestyle and was mostly shunned by meat eaters. Now it’s safe for every manner of foodie to be out with complete freedom to indulge in any pursuit that suits their palate:

Vegan, Paleo, Keto, Gluten-Free, Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Flexitarian, Pollotarian, Pesco pollo vegetarian, Meatatarian, Pollo-Pescatarian, Demi-Vegetarian, Carnitarian, Stage 4 Eater, Clean Eater, and Locavore

to name just a few.

The Thanksgiving meal is the daily dinner routine writ large, but at least the hard part of coming up with the entrée idea is a pre-loaded template. At some point I started making pieces in advance, “to prepare.” Which seems so rational. Except, the net result for me, is that by the time the big event comes, I’m in an olfactory overload of days of stirring and tasting foreplay, so the meal itself seems redundant, and I’m kind of over it.

Once at a Wegmans cooking class the instructor said, “We eat with our eyes." To me that perfectly explains why the time spent reviewing recipes, shopping, carrying home, putting away, arranging mise en place, and finally cooking, can all but take my appetite away.

It just feels like I’ve already eaten it by the time I’m arranging it on a serving plate.

And it explains why in a restaurant, isn’t it so much more appetizing to look at what the waiter is carrying over to someone else, and inquire about that, instead of trying to picture what all those fancy menu words will look like when they get set down on a plate before you?

Betraying my 100% Italian heritage, I’ve never really been much for eating. I was always a picky eater. I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t love having to get dinner on the table every night, either. The youngest of eight girls, as the “baby," she’d been pushed out of the kitchen while her sisters perfected their cooking skills, so, she… didn’t.

Growing up, if I looked at our dinner and asked any questions, the likely answer was “If you’re hungry you’ll eat it.” And isn't that the truth? Along with the corollary: If you're thirsty (enough), you'll drink it.

Maybe I inherited a dislike for dealing with the daily dinner routine. As a carefree single person living in the big city, my dirty truth was that many nights I’d work late at the office and either skip dinner, substitute a Snickers bar, or worse, suffice with a drink and chips out with friends.

I’m thankful my common sense husband brought me back around to eating a square meal, with his old reliable baked chicken breasts. Mostly thankful. Even if it was four out of seven nights a week.

Even if on vacation once, as we admired a gorgeous sunset on a beach, he looked down at his watch and said: “We’ve got to get back – the chicken is done.”

Cue my complete loss of appetite, as I said: “Are You Kidding?”

"We eat chicken for dinner at home six out of seven nights a week (yes it had increased– married life with young children will do that to you), and we’re going to walk away from this sunset to EAT MORE BAKED CHICKEN? LET IT BURN! BURN THE WHOLE CONDO DOWN! I AM NOT LEAVING THIS BEACH AND WILL POUND SAND AND EAT IT IF I HAVE TO!”

There’s an unlikely alternative diet plan.

As someone who often passes as a fully functional “adult,” I’m still surprised at the level of energy required daily to feed oneself.

*Important side note: This is with complete respect to those who suffer either food insecurity or eating disorders. Hunger and a bad tummy are both very difficult, or impossible, to ignore.

The ability to eat healthy is something itself to be grateful for.

Yet even with so many food conveniences available, acquiring, making, and cleaning up after meals still commands more time that I want to spend. I’ll be doing something, and out of nowhere my stomach starts growling, and my response is “Really? Didn’t I feed you this morning?” After ignoring it for a while, stomach signals head who brings on a headache too, and now I’m forced to drop what I’m doing and go hunt for something to eat. I’ll confess I’ve often wished there was a quick pill to address such occasions, but I no longer reach for the Snickers bar solution.

I freely admit that getting dinner on the table on the daily isn’t my strong point. In fact, in our house, the sound of the smoke detector going off is recognized as the dinner bell.

I blame other bad eating habits on coming of adult age while living in a big city. With small corner groceries, meat and fish markets all within walking distance, we’d collect what we could hand carry and make that week. Add to that a small kitchen with a small refrigerator, and my husband and I just never picked up the “freezer” mentality. “We like ‘fresh kill’,” meaning, to this day our freezer is a waystation to the garbage.

Once while home on a college break, our always-hungry son was pawing through the freezer and proclaimed: “You guys are sitting on a gold mine here!” He pulled out ice-crusty bags and boxes of unfamiliar foods I must have purchased while in a grocery-shopping-stupor and nuked an unlikely cryogenic combination.

However, this same son has also been the protagonist behind the semi-annual Expiration Date Shaming: A painful, if necessary, pantry audit of overdue items whose long-gone dates are called out amidst the riotous laughter of his sisters, and rim shots into the garbage.

My fantasy luxury would be to have a chef. Someone who thrives on making delicious meals for others, ideally while upcycling foodstuffs that are about to go bad.

For now, I’m thankful that this year, our daughter will take the reins and host Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll make a few things in advance to bring, hopefully along with an appetite.


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