I grew up in a household where my family (mom, dad, I and my two sisters) sat together at the dinner table every night around 6:30pm or so. My mom regaled us with a variety of meals ranging from pepper steak to spaghetti, gumbo to enchiladas, steak-and-mashed-potatoes to chicken-and-dumplings, roast-with-carrots-and-potatoes to lasagna. [“Eat lasagna, but don’t get it on ya.” (<<You can thank my dad for that one… every single time this meal is served at home.)] Naturally, the cuisine of choice for any given day depended on what my mom felt like cooking — as well as what my dad felt like eating. Overall, my mom has always provided well-rounded, semi-international meals that all of us have enjoyed together.
Over the years, even as my sisters and I grew up and became involved in our individual extracurricular school activities (dance lessons, pom-pom team, music lessons, hanging out with friends….), our dinner routine didn’t change. My family continued eating together nearly every night of the week “on time”; it was our schedules that accommodated the dinner hour accordingly; dinner was something we stopped everything else for, not just something we fit into any given available moment. And, to this day we all still have our individual claimed “spots” at the kitchen table that we gravitate to whenever we visit our parents.
Now I have my own family, which consists of me, my husband, my stepdaughter and my daughter. Unfortunately, we do not practice such a dining tradition at home. This is in part due to the fact that we don’t even have a dining room or kitchen table (which is truly a tragedy in itself, but I will leave that complaint for another day). What happens at “dinnertime” at my house (randomly between 6pm and 9pm daily) is this: Around 6pm and/or 8pm, my husband carries a plate of Hot Pockets or Ramen noodles doused in hot sauce to the couch and eats it while watching MTV or sports. Oddly enough, I’ve come to accept that this makes some sense for him; his work hours and gym activities frequently keep him occupied at all odd hours of the day.
My daughter and I also keep an alternative dinnertime routine. But I like to think we do so with a little panache. In the kitchen, we keep our own decorative trays, which we set up properly with a placemat, napkin and utensils for each meal, whether lunch or dinner, takeout or homemade. We then dine upstairs in front of another TV that we typically just use as background noise as we sit together talking about our day and what we’re looking forward to about the next one. (She has asked me to point out that we also sometimes play The Ladybug Game or Tinkerbell on her DS after we eat.) Although this version of sharing a meal together may not be ideal in terms of setting, it is a special time for us that we look forward to sharing together every day. When we’re home, our typical dinnertime is between 6:30 and 7pm.
(If you’re wondering where my stepdaughter is, she’s only with us a few days a month. When she’s home, she eats either downstairs with my husband on the couch, or upstairs in her bedroom.)
Wait… where does “cooking & baking week” come in?
Thanks for asking. Here’s the deal: While I don’t mind my young daughter and I having an odd dinner habit, I would like us to enjoy the process of preparing food together more often. Ever since she was about two years old, she has loved helping me in the kitchen, stirring pots, washing dishes, cleaning the countertop…. She still does all of this with my mom at my parents’ house. But, at home, our schedules have become inflated with dance classes, gym visits, ice skating lessons, and the like. And the further and further we are driven away from home every day, the easier it has become to forego the kitchen altogether and simply forage for quick-fix food that can be eaten, or at least picked up, on-the-run. This bothers me… so I’ve recently set out to change our habits back to healthier, happier ones.
Finally… “cooking & baking week” has begun!
(The first (in a long time) of many to come.)
If you don’t already think I’m completely nuts, you may soon start to when you read what follows, so I would like to appease you ahead of time by fully acknowledging that yes, half of the “cooking and baking” exercises my daughter and I have conducted recently don’t actually qualify as “cooking and baking” — if only for the fact that all we had to do for some of our “recipes” is turn on the oven, plunk something down on a pan and place it on the rack. However….
From a five-year-old’s point of view, we’re doing fun, amazing things — with fancy, noisy kitchen equipment that hasn’t been used in a while — and, at the moment, that’s good enough for me. Besides, it’s waaaay better than the pricey “let’s go out to eat tonight”/“let’s order something for delivery”/“let’s go pick up some fast food” rut that we’ve gotten into lately. (Granted, many of our concoctions have been on the sweet side… but I digress.)
Without further ado, here’s what we’ve made together so far, in actual baking order:
Homemade Cheesy Lasagna
Surprise! It’s Girls Night Out. 🙂
Cheers to you and your families for the time you spend together in the kitchen and at the table!