Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Feed Yourself Sunday.

When I was a kid, there were two things that we knew we could expect on Sundays: we would always go to church in the morning, and we would always be on our own for supper on Sunday night.

I don’t remember when Feed Yourself Sunday became a thing, but I remember being really excited. I wasn’t always thrilled with what I found at the dinner table (vegetables? come on!), so this was the one night I was completely in charge of my own dinner. I could decide not just want I wanted to eat for dinner, but WHEN I wanted to eat it! Plus, I wasn’t allowed to read at the dinner table during family dinners, but on Feed Yourself Sunday, I could read all I wanted.

I started off small: cereal for dinner, which was actually pretty awesome. I loved cereal, and it definitely appealed to my inner lazy person. I was a fairly picky eater back then, and Mom always said that her kids never would’ve survived without cereal.

It wasn’t long before I was ready to expand my culinary talents beyond the borders of cereal. Luckily for me, I had very simple tastes. The first thing I learned how to do was boil a hot dog – I even learned how to cut strips in the hot dog so when it boils, it looks like an octopus. (Octopus dogs are THE BEST.)

When I had mastered hot dogs and the art of boiling water, I transitioned to making elbow macaroni. It was a bit more complicated than the hot dogs, what with the draining and deciding just how al dente was too al dente. At first, I ate my elbow macaroni with just plain margarine (which sounds gross, but was fairly amazing). But I figured that if I could cook plain old macaroni, why not try boxed macaroni and cheese?

Sure enough, boxed Kraft was easy – and WAY more tasty than elbows and margarine. I developed my own little macaroni and cheese system and even learned a thing or two. (Pro tip? After you drain the pot, put the margarine in first, let it melt for a moment, and then put the drained pasta right back on it. The margarine melts awfully quickly that way.) I even began to tweak the recipe (which I still do to this day): instead of ¼ cup of milk like it calls for, I add 1/3. The sauce is so creamy and delicious. The downside to cooking macaroni and cheese for just myself was that I was much more likely to eat the whole box. (More on the Fat Calla Years some other time.)

Eventually, I switched my cooking vessel of choice from a pot to a frying pan. I moved on to something slightly more challenging than hot dogs and pasta: grilled cheese sandwiches. It took some practice to get my sandwich to the perfect shade of toasty brown, but I did it.

Eggs were my next step. I learned to fry them first, and after I’d mastered that, I went one step beyond and began to separate my eggs. I had never cared for the yolk (still don’t), so I would use the shells to drain the whites into the pan and throw the yolk away. I quickly learned how to not just fry, but scramble eggs – you must be SO IMPRESSED.

Obviously, everything I tried to make was pretty basic. I stayed away from food with actual ingredients… until I decided that I wanted to make omelettes. My dad made us omelettes all the time, so I asked him to teach me. I had a few train-wreck omelettes, but I eventually learned the fine art of the omelette. They were not fancy omelettes – bacon bits (from the bag, not that I’d cooked myself) or deli ham and cheese – but they were sure fancy for my standards.

You’re going to find this terribly sad, but that is about as far as my cooking skills progressed. Sure, I’d brown some hamburger meat once in a while, and I can make all sorts of delicious things that come from boxed mixes (muffins, cupcakes, waffles), but that’s where it ends.

So my cooking skills have gone virtually nowhere in the last fifteen years. (I’m pretty sure that was the last time I learned how to cook something new.) If anything, they’ve regressed: I don’t remember the last time I made an omelette. It’s not so much that I lack cooking skills; it’s that I lack the necessary interest and ambition to learn.

Besides, I totally lucked out when I married James. He loves to cook: so much that if I wander into the kitchen while he’s preparing dinner, he’ll say, “Get out of my kitchen.” Which I do. Gladly.

When James is gone, I revert back to the early days of Feed Yourself Sunday and have cereal for dinner. Sure, I could go back to making some of my old standards, but when James makes everything better than I do (which includes grilled cheese and eggs), then it’s awfully disappointing when I have to eat my own food.

But there is one thing that I can cook better than James, and that is boxed macaroni and cheese – all because of Feed Yourself Sundays. I must be so talented.

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