Dec 02 2013
One of the weird things about being in a coma was that it messed up my vision, big time. How could it not? After all, I was lying there with non-working kidneys. The same toxins that killed the nerves in my legs couldn’t help but be messing up my eyes. At least, that’s what we figured when I tried to read post-coma and realized I couldn’t see a doggone thing.
The amusing thing we learned when we went to the ophthalmologist this past week was that my eyes had been messed up, all right, but that they had inexplicably been messed up for the good. The ophthalmologist, who was unacquainted with priesthood blessings, was flummoxed about how my eyes had improved so much that my contact lenses and glasses were now way too strong for me. Fluffy and I just shook our heads.
We knew, you see, that God was at work again.
But this story is not about God’s little surprises, of which there are many. This story, because I am writing it on Thanksgiving morning and I am hungry, is about food.
As we sat in the waiting room, on that day before Thanksgiving, Fluffy and I got in a conversation about Thanksgiving menus with the receptionist, who was barely out of high school but who had been raised in the true Southern tradition.
She had gone to the supermarket that morning and purchased a ten-pound box of kale and collard greens to cook up (cook down?) for Thanksgiving, and I asked her how much bacon she was going to need to cook with that. She said she was not going to use bacon; she had been lucky enough to find a hog’s cheek, and she was going to use that.
We rhapsodized about Southern food until I got sent back to the doctor’s office, thoroughly enjoying the conversation. We continued talking about food with the doctor’s assistant, who was about the same age as the receptionist, but who said her contribution to the Thanksgiving meal was going to be filling the water glasses and setting the table.
“I don’t cook,” she said proudly. “My Mom enjoys making the entire meal, and I’m just as happy to let her.”
“Then how are you going to make Thanksgiving memories with your children?” we asked her.
“I didn’t think about that,” she said. “Do you think I could start in the middle of the year and learn one dish at a time so I wouldn’t mess up a whole meal?”
“That would work,” we said. Then, as we drove home from the eye doctor’s, we talked about food, telling ourselves how sorry we felt for the doctor’s assistant because she had never discovered the joy of eating food that she had prepared for herself.
One thing we have learned in this year of forced early retirement is that meals don’t have to cost a whole lot of money. Right now yams (which most stores around here have incorrectly labeled “sweet potatoes”) are selling for 37 cents per pound. A one-pound yam is huge. No, a one-pound yam is gargantuan. A 37-cent yam will provide dinner for Fluffy and me.
Okay, maybe a 37-cent yam won’t provide a whole dinner for Fluffy and me. We also put butter on it. And we put brown sugar and cinnamon on it, too. That bumps up the cost a little bit. But you get the picture. Thirty-seven cents is money you find in your pockets or between the cushions of the couch. That little amount can allow two people to eat like kings.
But that’s the only food you can eat for pennies. What about artichokes? We ate artichokes last week. Normally an artichoke is about 89 cents, and one artichoke will provide dinner for one person. That means we can eat dinner for about two bucks, if you include the mayonnaise-parmesan or sriracha mayonnaise we use for dipping sauce.
Fluffy likes to buy a huge bag of Idaho potatoes at the big box stores. He says a bag costs about nine dollars, and there are about twenty huge potatoes in the bag. Depending on what you put on top of that potato, you can get between twenty and forty meals out of that nine-dollar bag.
Fluffy goes crazy with those potatoes. He puts soup over potatoes. He puts chili over potatoes. He puts butter and bacon bits over potatoes. He puts leftover chicken over potatoes. I’ll make mushroom gravy (a package of sliced mushrooms is two bucks), and he’ll put that over potatoes. Every meal is different. He never gets tired of his potato dinners.
You can get a brace (“brace” means “two”) of chickens for eight or nine bucks at the big box stores. Don’t be shy about getting the scrawny ones. The scrawny ones pack as much flavor as the big ones. If you remove the guts and boil the chickens in salted water until the bones start to disintegrate (or better yet, put them in the pressure cooker for about 35 minutes), you’ve got soup stock fit for kings.
Once you’ve got soup stock you can do anything. You can make any kind of soup. You can make chicken and dumplings. You can make stews. All these things cost next to nothing. If you’re too lazy to do this, of course, you can start with rotisserie chickens — but it helps to have the knowledge first.
Fluffy has turned into an expert baker, and as I’m writing this, he is making some orange rolls that smell delicious. He can make us two giant loaves of bread for less than two dollars. This is hearty bread that sticks to your ribs, and not the store-bought stuff that is not much more than puffed air. We can use his bread for breakfast toast, then top it with cheese or mushroom gravy for lunch, and then finish it off with tuna fish sandwiches for dinner.
We hear people complain about the cost of feeding their families, but usually they are people who buy lots of pre-packaged foods that are expensive and not all that good for you. Yes, they save you time, but they also take away the sense of accomplishment related to feeding your family.
The mother of the woman at the eye doctor’s who let her adult daughter fill the water glasses and set the table for Thanksgiving dinner is doing her no favors. If you learn a little bit about food, you can live the rest of your life without having to rely on expensive fast-food meals.
God gave us the most amazing variety of fruits and vegetables. They are gifts to us as surely as any of the wrapped presents you will find underneath your Christmas tree this year, if we only know how to use them. The problem is, they do not come with instruction manuals.
But with a little bit of ingenuity, we can make meals that are amazingly delicious and that don’t cost more than a few pennies per person. That is a skill that is as important as a college degree.
If you’re a mom, do your sons and daughters a favor and teach them how to cook. Start at a young age if your kids are still young, but if your kids are grown up, it isn’t too late to start now. Make it fun for them. Make it an adventure. After all, that’s exactly what it is.
Cooking is an adventure, and the love of cooking is a gift. We feel so strongly about this that we wrote a book a few years ago that was designed for those who are living away from home the first time. It was a lot of fun to write, and even more fun to get feedback from those who were given the book and learned to enjoy the art of cooking by reading it.
Open the gift of the love of cooking. Learn to cook. Learn the love of simple foods. It was a gift from God. It is a gift from God that is meant to be cherished, every day.