Tyler is kitchen MacGyver…he loves the Food Network show Chopped, where competing chefs each get a basket of mystery ingredients like monkey brains, Good & Plenty candy, and white shoe polish, and vie to make a dessert utilizing all items that actually tastes good. He can do a quick inventory of the fridge/pantry/deep freeze/garden and whip up something amazing, whereas I looked in all of those same places and decided ordering pizza was our best bet to avoid starvation.
I am an ok cook…I have my tried and true favorites (read: few ingredients and not much room for error in putting them all together and having them taste good) and am not a big recipe risk taker. In addition, I will only try a new recipe if I think I will like it. For example, Tyler loves osso bucco, but I do not, so if he wants to eat it, he either needs to cook some himself (and not expect me to eat any) or order it out at a restaurant (slim chance with the locations we currently enjoy because I refuse to pay a babysitter so we can go out to eat, so it has to be Jack-friendly, which is pretty much mutually exclusive with places that would serve the above delicacy).
I am also a big list maker, so on any given day when I find a recipe I want to try, regardless of the ingredients it calls for, there is a 99% chance that I will not have any of them on hand, so I need to go to the grocery store, which means bringing Jack, which means spending a lot more money that the list in hand calls for (even with coupons!), which means a side of guilt with my fabulous dinner creation for blowing the budget since I am currently unemployed (assuming my creation is fabulous—if it sucks, then I get to enjoy a side of shame, too).
On the bright side, the pantry tends to have a high percentage of things-used-only-once-for-a-recipe, so sometimes I am pleasantly surprised as I make my recipe list to find something I need among the following, already in-house items: 4 kinds of flour (bread, all-purpose, cake, and wheat)? Check! 5 kinds of vinegar (balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, distilled)? Check! 3 kinds of sweetener (molasses, light corn syrup, dark corn syrup)? Check! Other random “staples” include a box of corn starch, baker’s chocolate, white and yellow grits and corn meal, and a variety of canned goods to boot.
So I decided to try something different…I went to the store without any particular recipe in mind and just tried to stock up on things I knew I liked, so at the very least, I could make a spinach salad and claim I was going for the whole “meatless Monday” thing and trying to reduce our family’s carbon footprint, blah, blah, blah. As a nod to my fabulous long-range planning skills, I threw in some cream to pair with the last couple of squares of baking chocolate and graham cracker crust I had in the pantry to make a French Silk pie when my relatives visited the following week (ha ha ha…how quaint that I actually thought I had procured enough foodstuffs to feed my family for a week+ in one measly shopping trip!).
I could (and would if anyone, ahem Tyler, would let me) eat pizza every single day. Jack used to be my partner in cheese pizza-loving crime and then decided he didn’t like it anymore and then decided garlic cheese bread was his fave, which was ok because we could still go out for pizza and both be happy. Then, he completely abandoned me and decided the only pizza he likes is the Alfredo pizza from Cici’s. Now having just stated that I could eat pizza every day, I should note that I actually mean good pizza. Although an occasional visit to Cici’s is tolerable by me (they do make a good buffalo chicken pie), I would not actually include it on a list of good pizza, whereby I mean somewhere I would choose to go on my own and not just for its proximity to Toys R Us.
So when I came across a Pinterest recipe for Alfredo sauce* and I actually had all 3 ingredients on hand (you laugh, but even with a mere 3 ingredients, chances are I would normally be hard pressed to have even one of them handy), I decided I would whip up some pizza dough (one of my tried and true recipes) and I could make Jack an Alfredo pizza like Cici’s and make a spinach, chicken, Alfredo pizza for me and Ty and we could all sit down together for a delicious dinner and everyone would heap praise on me which I would demurely deflect but keep forever in my heart as one of the nights where I did not feel like a short order cook and we would all eat (more or less) the same thing at the same time and have scintillating conversation and a big ‘ol family lovefest in general.
*Please note that because the recipe only called for 3 items (butter, cream, and parmesan cheese), I did not think to re-pin it and therefore have no idea where in the Pinterest universe it currently resides and am unable to share. The recipe was delicious though.
Ummm, yeah. So do you want to know what actually happened? I tried to prepare Jack for the exciting new dinner change-up:
Me: “Guess what, Jack? You know how you love Cici’s Alfredo pizza? Well, I got the recipe online and I’m going to make it for you at home tonight for dinner!!”
Jack: “I don’t want to eat it. I only like the pizza at Cici’s.”
Me: “Well, this is the same recipe they use, so it will taste the same.”
Jack: “No thanks.”
Me: “Well, I’m going to make it and I’m sure you’ll love it. If for some reason you don’t like it, you can have something else, but I know you’ll like it.”
Famous last words. You would think I was trying to feed the kid liver and onions as opposed to expand his extremely limited home repertoire of peanut butter sandwiches, mac & cheese, or chicken nuggets. After much pleading, wheedling, bargaining, and begging on my part, he took one microscopic nibble, pronounced it gross, and I was back to plating a medley of fresh fruits, veggies, and chicken nuggets to sustain him.
However, I will say that the Alfredo, spinach, and chicken pizza I made for me and Ty was really good and there was even leftover chicken and sauce that I tossed together for a midnight snack (for Ty, not me. I like solid blocks of sleeping too much to bother with waking up to eat or drink). Here is a pic of the leftover pizza:
To say that I was a picky eater as a child is an understatement. Although my mom was a good cook, between my three brothers and me, I think she was a better short order cook, accommodating each of our specific picky selections. I always wished we were the kind of family that had scheduled dining options, like Taco Tuesdays, but given our limited culinary repertoires, I see why that was never the case.
I am pretty sure I lived on liverwurst and crackers until somewhere around 1st grade, when I moved on to bologna sandwiches. One particularly fond memory from my bologna-sandwich-eating days was when my dad surprised me with a round loaf of bread to better suite my round bologna slices. I was thrilled. The bologna sandwich phase lasted until around middle school, when meat suddenly grossed me out and I discovered cheese sandwiches.
My mom made elaborate Thanksgiving meals, from a huge roasted turkey, to all of the sides—mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, sweet potato casserole with broiled marshmallows on top—and more. To keep us entertained and out of the way, my brothers and I would have marathon game-playing sessions of Monopoly and Stratego…I was “allowed” to play since I was always the first to lose and therefore any winnings, properties, armies, etc. that I had accumulated became easy pickings for everyone else’s empires. By the time dinner was served, my brothers and I were so hopped up on caramel corn, m&m’s, and Pepsi, that we never ate much.
But those turkey leftovers stuck around for a while. My mom would sit perched by the counter on a barstool, cutting every last morsel of edible bird off the carcass and putting it all in the just-for-that-occasion Tupperware tub:
We would have turkey á la king (which I actually recall eating and enjoying, perhaps because of the fancy presentation on toast points. She also used to make stuffed clams and serve them to us in real clam shells, although in retrospect, I am pretty sure she saved the actual chopped clams for her and my dad and we kids got some bread crumbs with parmesan cheese mixed in. Once my dad thought he could trick us into eating more veggies with a product he found—shaped like a French fry but with peas and carrots inside as opposed to actual potatoes. Needless to say, those did not go over well).
One last note about me: I am book smart, which, at least in my case, does not equate to intuitive, MacGyver-like cooking. I can read a recipe and picture all of the necessary ingredients while at the grocery store, and have everything mise en place, ready to go, but if I follow the recipe and it doesn’t taste good, I have no idea how to fix it…add salt? Pepper? Good and Plentys??
Perhaps the above story and singular cooking feat do not captivate you, but maybe if you knew that when I was a girl I cried on at least two separate grocery store trips, you might be more impressed. The first instance I recall was when I bawled because I could not lift a whole gallon of milk: it sent me into a tizzy because I was convinced that, being such a wimp, I would never be strong enough to hoist a baby to my hip if I couldn’t even lug a gallon of milk. So I was already doomed to be a spinster with 100 cats at a very young age. The second instance was when, looking over the vast selection of pre-packaged meats at the butcher section of the store, I freaked out from all of the bloody-looking saran-wrapped displays, realizing I would never be able to cook for my family, or even myself, since I swooned at the sight of meat (see above cheese-sandwich-eating phase). So now I would be a vegetarian spinster, perhaps sharing my canned tuna with my many cat companions (except I didn’t like tuna). So the fact that I have come so far is pretty much a win in my book.