COLUMN: The eternal (culinary) question

As much pleasure as we “chefs” derive from preparing good food, the sheer delight of feeding the hungry wears a bit thin.

“What’s for dinner?”

Ah yes, the eternal question.

Actually, the infernal question, if you happen to be the cook in the house. I know, because I’m the pot-slinger around our hacienda.

I get asked that question pretty much daily. In fact, I sometimes ask it myself, although you’d think I’d know. But there are times I am a soldier without marching orders.

That’s a common cook’s complaint.

As much pleasure as we “chefs” derive from preparing good food, the sheer delight of feeding the hungry wears a bit thin, especially if there’s little to no participation in the planning process.

It may come as a shock to those who find the kitchen an alien environment, but putting dinner on the table usually requires some preparation. A meal plan, for instance. And then shopping for the required items.

Ideally, this is done well in advance, as opposed to the cook despairing over a cold stove, out of ideas … and time.

My family is now reasonably well trained in developing a dinner agenda for the coming week.

It wasn’t always that way.

When I asked the question, “What do you want for dinner this week?” the response was “I don’t know,” from the youngster, and “Whatever you cook,” from the wife.

Oooh, now there’s inspiration! Yes, indeed, I’ll just sprint into the kitchen and whip up a steaming platter of whatever.

When I pressured them, I’d get a more detailed response like: “How about chicken?”

Well, that narrows it down to about, oh, what, 2,000 recipes?

Finally, I found the trick. I took out six random cookbooks, and a set of dice. I declared that the roll of one die would determine one of the cookbooks. The second roll of both cubes would yield a number, which multiplied by 10, would select a page number. The gamers could then choose one recipe from that page.

As fun as that initially sounded, it quickly became apparent that often the choices were along the lines of liver with mashed turnips, or pickled pigs’ knuckles.

Rebellion was threatened on all fronts – their refusal to play, followed by my refusal to cook.

Hence, we found the common ground to plan a weekly menu together, before the weekend grocery shop.

Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on the meals, which is not as easy as it used to be.

My teen daughter has developed a new passion – healthy eating.

This is good.

However, her enthusiasm isn’t shared to the same high degree by her parents.

In fact, some of the ingredients that go into her healthy recipes are things I can’t pronounce, let alone recognize.

Take quinoa, for instance.

(Please, take it. Take it all!)

Who knew this ancient grain was making such a comeback in healthy-eating circles? Actually, it’s not a grain at all, it’s a seed.

And that’s probably the problem right there. This was actually fed to the birds hundreds of years ago, and the contemporary tofu crowd misinterpreted it for real food.

Nevertheless, it is very good for you, I am frequently assured by our resident expert.

So is kale, apparently. If you’ve never had this bushy green treat, it looks like lettuce on steroids, and tastes something akin to shredded burlap bag.

Now when I ask the girls what they want for dinner, I get: “Something healthy,” and “How about chicken?”

Actually, the big upside of all this is that the teen is becoming a good cook.

Now, occasionally, I can sit back and ask the eternal question.

“What’s for dinner?”

And that’s a fine thing.

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