I love to watch cooking shows, but they are often terribly unrealistic.
Pioneer Woman always has a spotless kitchen, all the right ingredients, and loads of time. You don’t see her children running in and out with the dogs or the cats, poking their fingers into her food, loudly asking when dinner will be ready, complaining that they don’t like an ingredient, etc. No, they are all perfectly behaved and nobody complains.
[She never burns herself and yells SHEE-IT, either. Not that I ever do that…]
Here’s a typical memory of my early childhood -- and I had a stay-at-home mother. She would stand at the stove cooking dinner, drinking a drink and smoking a cigarette, with the phone propped so she could talk while she cooked. The dog would be nearby to catch anything the dropped on the floor. Bruce and I would be underfoot, bothering her.
After we moved to Knoxville, Dad’s trick was to call her and say “I’m bringing home Larry and Jerome for dinner, and we are all hungry.”
Many many times she had to completely re-think dinner when Dad called her like that. She had, at most, a half hour. There might be 4 pork chops that suddenly had to feed 6 people. Dad didn’t like casseroles, either. He ate them grudgingly.
[She developed a lot of tricks to deal with that situation, but I don’t know them. I will help her write a blog about that one of these days.]
Dad also wanted a hot meal at night. Rarely did we do sandwiches or something easy and fast. No ordering pizza, either, as he wouldn't eat it for many years.
Bruce was a good eater but I was picky. I mentally cringe now, thinking how awful I was as a kid. When we went to Shakey’s Pizza I would loudly declare that I wanted a pizza with NO tomato sauce. We didn’t eat much fast food but when we did, I demanded a perfectly plain cheeseburger. In those days, the burgers were pre-made and so they would have to scrape off the ketchup, onions, etc. I refused to eat a scraped burger.
I refused to eat anything with onions, or peppers.
I refused to eat a lot of things made by anyone other than Mama or Mamaw. I was highly suspicious of all other cooks, except my aunts.
My mother was never taught to cook by her own mother, so when she got married she had to learn fast. They were poor and couldn’t afford to eat out a lot. Mother could make tuna salad and jello salad. That was it.
They would eat at Dad’s mother’s house, at his brother’s house, etc. When they had to return the favor and invite people over, Dad would make spaghetti. His college roommate was Italian and had taught Dad how to make great spaghetti sauce, and Dad taught Mother, who improved the recipe. It’s not a fast or easy thing to make, though.
Mother learned to make food by the trial and error method.
She got Mamaw to explain how to make fried chicken, and Mother made it exactly the same way. It was terrible. Mamaw was famous for her fried chicken. After much anguish and failed attempts, Mother finally figured out by talking to someone other than Mamaw about it. She said that before you ever fry the meat, you salt it and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
Un-salted fried chicken isn’t fit to eat. Looked nice, though. Mom and Dad would take it to church functions and put the beautiful plate of chicken on the table, then eat what other people had cooked and avoid it. My Uncle Jake always memorized the location of Mother’s chicken so he could avoid it. Once Mother learned the pre-salting method, though, her fried chicken became almost as renowned as Mamaw’s.
My grandmother always put the flour in a paper sack and put each piece of chicken in there and shook the sack to coat the chicken in flour evenly. Then she got an electric skillet full of hot Crisco and dropped in the pieces one by one, quickly.
I always marveled at Mamaw doing that and not burning herself. (She certainly never yelled SHEE-IT either.)
[I must admit I have never, ever made fried chicken even approaching the perfection of Mother’s or Mamaw’s. I do have a recipe I have figured out that makes tasty chicken, though. I soak the pieces in original Ranch dressing, then roll them in breadcrumbs and either fry or bake them. Baking is easier and less greasy.]
above, some of Mamaw's handwritten recipes
Anyway, back to cooking shows.
Giada and Ina and Ree always stand in perfectly clean kitchens, without TVs blaring, dogs barking, kids running in and out, etc. They haven’t worked all day in an office, or spent the entire day running around shopping, cleaning, dealing with carpools or after school activities. Maybe they worry about their hair looking good on camera, or their makeup, but trust me, they have no idea of the stress most moms face when trying to cook dinner.
Plus, they have all the best equipment.
I have such a serious case of mixer envy it’s not funny.
They all have these fabulous, expensive Kitchenaid mixers that do the work for you and cost more than my first car. I have a mixer bought at Service Merchandise in 1978, and you have to stand there with a spoon and watch it, and turn the bowl manually, and if the bowl is too full, whatever is in it gets all over me and the counter.
[Lola stands there and watches me, because I let her lick the bowl. Don’t judge. She does a good job and then the bowl goes into the dishwasher.]
Or there’s the cheapo hand mixer which doesn’t work as well, and I can’t always find the beaters.
[Anyone reading this who wants to make my mixing dreams come true, if you will buy me one of those fancy Kitchenaid stand mixers I will make you a homemade pound cake and ship it to you Fed-X.]
So listen up Cooking Channel and Food network. If you want a realistic cooking show, go see my friend Nicole, a single working mom with three kids; or my friend LeeAnn, a married mom with a full-time, demanding job and two kids with lots of activities; or my friend Cindy, with a tight budget and 5 kids who are all homeschooled. In fact, hang out at the homes of just about any of my friends. Then you will see the reality of trying to cook for a family, and all the variables that make it so challenging.
You will also see something that you never see on Giada or Ina’s shows, though – you will see love. You will see moms who are past tired, who love their kids and their husbands and who want to make nutritious meals everyone will like. You will see families struggling to pay bills, struggling to have decent sit-down meals, struggling to get homework done before bed, struggling to do the dishes and then have some quiet time to relax each night.
You will see heroes, in my book.