When faced with being a single parent of a high school aged girl I spent a lot of my time trying to catch up. We moved from my hometown of 36 years to a new city. She started at a new high school, got her drivers license and I bought a home. There was a constant conversation happening in that home.
“What’s for dinner, Mum?”
To which I would inevitably reply, “I don’t know hunny, I’m makin’ somethin’ outta nuthin’.”
This tag line has followed me throughout my life and served me well. I never looked at this as a glass half empty statement but more like an opportunity. There were times when I was overwhelmed by the lack of choices and financial flow but – honestly – I always love the process of solving a puzzle.
It is pretty easy when faced with a dinner dilemma such as this to have the cart just go careening down the hill while you watch it kick up dust in your face but you can’t let it go. You can’t slump down the front of your refrigerator into a crumpled puddle of shame onto your kitchen floor. You can’t let those ingredients win.
I would start by deciding what protein I had in the house. Then I would stand in front of our open pantry cabinets, produce drawers and dry goods storage. I’d let the colors and spices speak to me. If you come up with the kind of theme you are in the mood for you are bound to find what you need to make it come together. Asian, Southern American, Mexican? Meatless Monday, Thrifty Thursday, Flat Friday? Do you ever smell a spice to figure out if it will taste good in a dish you are making? Like solving a mystery you let your mind think of every possibility. Don’t look for a perfect gourmet meal here but think of it more like a comforting, soul food kind of quest.
The next step is setting all the groceries you shopped for in your own home out on the counter. Get your best pans out, put on your favorite playlist and jump into cooking. Maybe you can find a recipe in your cookbooks that is kind of close to what you are going for? You don’t have all the ingredients you need to make it just as they suggest? What can you do to modify it or should you look for another idea? Maybe you should trust your gut and go without a recipe! Now we’re talking’! Don’t rush yourself. Puzzles take time to solve.
Now selling your finished products to your teenagers might be the hardest part. There will be days where you give in and let them eat chips for dinner and there will be others where you give them a valuable lesson about food waste, hungry children and broadening their horizons. Most of the time you will find that your kids like what you cook because you know them best and are providing for them. The love being taken care of and knowing that you are going to do whatever you can to fill their belly full so they feel safe and comfortable. Keep in mind you have another meal to cook tomorrow… and the next day…. and the day after that. And one day your kid will cook for you and it will be the most amazing meal you have ever had.
Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art.