Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Simple Pleasures...

We had a terribly boring dinner last night. Seriously, while edible, it was also bland--the kind of meal that you can barely even remember well enough the next day to describe it in any detail, appetizing or otherwise. In retrospect, the only adjective that perfectly describes it is B-O-R-I-N-G. And maybe the (non)word “Meh”. And the very fact that it was so unremarkable is what makes it noteworthy enough to tell you all about it.

Every so often I am seized by the realization that, as a citizen of a country that is a study in excess, I need to take steps to simplify my own little corner of this gimme-gimme world. Generally this manifests itself in two distinct ways:

1. I go stomping through the house armed with a hefty bag and an attitude and pick up the assorted flotsam that’s found it’s way into my cupboards, closets and various flat surfaces. If it can be pitched, I pitch it. If it can be donated, I bag it up. If I need it, it’s granted a reprieve and put away for future use. At the end of this exercise I torture myself by dwelling on just how much good will (read: hot fudge sundaes) I could have bought with the cash we spent on yesterdays essentials that somehow became today’s trash. Then I get over myself, enjoy all the pretty order, and get back to the business of accumulation.

2. I get out a pad and pen and take a detailed inventory of everything in my cupboards, pantry, fridge & freezer (and my super secret stash of goodies in the Rubbermaid tub out in the garage. Shhhh. Tell NO ONE.) and vow that until we’ve gone through all the food we already have in the house, we’re not buying any more.

This is not particularly a hardship, mind you. At least not at first. I have a somewhat liberal view of what constitutes a ‘staple’ food, and so am rarely without the fixins for an impromptu feast on hand at any given moment. Drop by my house unexpectedly for dinner and it’s a good bet that I can probably whip you up something tasty enough that you’ll be glad you stopped by. I thank my Sam’s Club membership and all that time I spent in culinary school for my propensity never to be without all the basics of a damn fine meal. But those same things, combined with a food issue or two that I happen to possess, also means that I often find myself with more than enough on hand to feed us for weeks at a time, and I’m seized by the need to use it all up before accumulating more.

So after purging my kitchen of what has passed it’s prime (like, say, a cake mix that expired in January 2007 or a long ignored box of hamburger helper that I remember having before we moved into the new house in December 2006) and armed with a detailed list of what’s on hand, I set about using it up in creative and delicious ways. The first week or two is pretty much status quo as the old favorites make their way through the rotation. As fresh produce supplies are dwindling (thank you Debbie Meyer’s Green Bags! Can’t live without ‘em) the menu gets a bit subdued as bags of frozen veggies are hauled out to round out unremarkable meals. It’s also about this time when you start serving up all those things that someone pleaded with you to buy only to realize that maybe the fact that they are sold by the gross should have been a hint as to the adjective that best described them (I’m refering to YOU son, and the horrible mini-taco appetizer fiasco. Yes, I know they taste like unwashed feet, but they were 12.99 so I’d develop a taste for toes if I were you).

When the cupboards and appliances start to get noticeably bare, the fare becomes hit and miss as tends to happen with forced creativity (Hmm. What can I make with pork chops, frozen ravioli and sugar free tapioca pudding mix?) until I’m eventually facing down an ancient can of sugar free cherry pie filling and an unopened box of frozen spicy black bean veggie burgers and dreading the possibilities. That’s when it’s time to make list and head out to start accumulating all the things we’ll finally be eating when the whole cycle repeats itself in a few months. Ahh. The Circle of Life.

We’re well into phase two at the moment, and after the last onion had been chopped two days ago and there was nary a can of condensed soup in sight, last night’s dinner of steamed rice, frozen green beans and grilled marinated chicken breasts made it’s way to the table. It was a fine dinner. A serviceable dinner. A sensible dinner. A simple dinner. A dinner that most people would happily consume without a second thought. It just wasn’t a typical dinner. Not for me, anyway.

There are people in this world who view food simply as fuel. A necessary part of their day to be consumed and converted to the energy they need to live their lives. I’m not one of those people. Food isn’t incidental in my life, it’s not a pleasant diversion—it’s an event, a sensory experience, an fascination and a thousand other things it probably shouldn’t be…but it is. I’m convinced that while I will likely never be cured of my obsession with food, part of learning to manage my obesity is in learning to make food less important in my life.

As I prepared last night’s dinner, I found myself ruminating on the ways it could have been better. A handful of fresh chopped parsley, chicken broth, some caramelized onion and a teaspoon of chopped almonds would have turned that steamed rice into a damn fine pilaf. A sprinkle of parmesan would have livened up those beans, and a peanut-sesame marinade whipped up on the fly would have made that plain old chicken breast delectable. But, alas, my rapidly improving Old Mother Hubbard impression wouldn’t allow for those kinds of tweaks. And so I sat down with a sigh to my boring meal…and you know what?

It wasn’t half bad.

I enjoyed the food, the company, and finished the meal with a satisfied tummy—and palate, surprisingly enough. I wasn’t tempted to lick my plate, I didn’t find myself coveting what needed to be boxed up for lunch tomorrow. It wasn’t an event, it wasn’t a sensation, it was just a meal. Sometimes food is just food.

Who knew?


  1. pork chops, ravioli and tapioca...hmmm...i bet the Iron Chef could figure it out. lol. good thoughts here though. will stop back through for theme thursday tomorrow

  2. I tell my kids when they are griping about one of our meal choices that every meal does not have to be an "experience". Sometimes we just need to eat and move on.

    I'm hoping that I will keep buying my own BS too.