How to overlook a ruined dinner

On my mother’s side of the family, I have relatives who like to eat things a little burned. It’s not uncommon for chocolate chip cookies to have very, very browned under-sides – on purpose.
I started thinking this week about how that came to be. You aren’t supposed to like food that is burnt to a crisp. In fact, aren’t there several country songs that make mention of eating burned food just to make the little wifey feel better?
My mom is one of eight kids (I have mentioned before that my family is Catholic, yes?). I think I can safely speculate that my grandmother was a hot mess every day at dinnertime during the 50s and 60s. My mother – who has four children –  has admitted that the 80s were a total blur for her.
I can definitively say that for me, dinner is a daily struggle. Every day at 3 p.m., my entire body wants to shut down and go to sleep. I have just put the baby down for her afternoon nap, lulling myself to sleep as her noise machine plays soothing ocean sounds, and she slowly closes her eyes and drifts off.
I begrudgingly walk downstairs – usually carrying a 35-pound, wriggling little boy – and realize that I have not even given a thought as to what’s for dinner. Or, I have taken the time to plan out the week’s meals, but I haven’t defrosted the meat, and the asparagus I thought we would have has gone limp in the refrigerator.
You would think that with my undying passion for food, I would embrace dinnertime. Instead, I loathe it. More often than not, we eat a smorgasbord of whatever looks the least expired. Monster and I typically eat apple slices, turkey, salad and whatever random vegetable looks halfway decent. For lunch and dinner.
On the rare occasion I cook, something usually goes awry. In most cases, I forget to set a timer and something burns. Or I set the timer, but I don’t hear it because I am upstairs getting the baby and listening to a proud potty trainer exclaim “I did it!” while standing over a wet, warm spot on the carpet.
It isn’t that I think that cookies need to bake for 30 minutes. I am not an idiot. I know that it says right there on the box how long they should be in the oven. But when you are facing a split-second decision about getting the cookies out or wrestling the permanent marker out of a toddler’s hand, guess which one you’ll pick?
I attempted to make grilled cheese last week. Eliza was in her highchair rubbing pieces of avocado all over her face, her hair and her – her feet? How did she get it on her feet? Monster was screaming about missing a coal car to his train set, hands down his pants doing heaven-knows-what. The dog was at my feet, reminding me that both her water bowl and her food bowl had been empty since noon.
You know how this story ends, right? The sandwich is burned black.
Maybe, I started thinking as I chomped through my sandwich, I am predisposed to enjoying burned food because I come from a line of women who were simply a hot mess at dinnertime. I don’t often remember my mother burning food, but I do remember dinner being a very stressful time of day in our house.
Maybe we like burned food because we had to sometimes. Maybe, instead of getting frustrated that I will have to scrape the bottom of the muffins off AGAIN, I should be a little proud that I am continuing a family tradition.
Maybe burned food isn’t a sign of failure, but a symptom of having too much … fun? Chaos? Love? The kids make life crazy and frustrating, but good lord do they make me laugh. A green-faced baby smiling through her first bites of solid food. A naked little boy with that cute little boy butt marching with confidence and determination toward the bathroom.

I will gladly eat my dinners black if it means we can enjoy our little kids being little kids a little bit longer.

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