I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a cook. My husband blames it on my family: we eat to live. Growing up, my family enjoyed our meals much like you would enjoy scrubbing the tub—that is to say, your chore might smell nice and have a satisfying result, but it was purely business. My mother had a modest repertoire of casserole recipes inherited from her mother. She made sure we didn’t eat the same food every night of the week and tried to make her meals relatively healthy and balanced, but that was as far as it went.
His family, by contrast, eats for the sheer joy of eating. ‘Love can remember a good meal long after it’s digested and gone—years, even. I’ve known him to refer to one of my friends from high school as “the one who had that really good sauce on the fruit salad at her reception” five years after the fact. His paternal grandmother is renowned for her cooking. The first time I ever saw a large number of adults literally run to get their food was at my first Christmas with his family. When dinner was announced, my husband and his mostly 20-something cousins all scrambled to get in line for food—as did their parents. (As a side note, they have good reason to run. Grandma makes a mean prime rib for Christmas dinner, and it’s accompanied by—among other things— a mashed potato concoction that never lasts long enough for seconds. Dessert consists of several different homemade pies, along with Christmas cookies, fudge, and other treats. If all the grandkids still make an effort to show up for Christmas Day even though they’re grown and starting families of their own, it says something about the meal—and the family.)
Which leads us to this: ‘Love works out of the house. I don’t. He loves to cook. I don’t. But if we wait for him to get home and make dinner, our whole family would keel over of starvation—if we didn’t kill one another with crankiness, first. So I make dinner and try to have it ready for us to eat as soon as he has arrived home and changed clothes.
In the early years of our marriage, I would regularly serve dinner, only to realize (not on my own, but via my husband’s dismayed comments) that I had failed to consider that I should, perhaps, serve something other than the main dish. Yep, that’s right: I would whip up my casserole or bake my bogliolati (delicious, by the way) and serve it as the whole meal.
Until we had children, I didn’t always care enough to remedy this situation. Once they came along, I found myself wanting meals to go a little farther and thinking it wise to encourage vegetable consumption. Having only just begun eating vegetables myself, my side dishes are not all that adventurous. (I may have been the world’s most picky eater, surviving most of my childhood solely on applesauce because vegetables—and most other foods, including at various times chicken, any meat that was not chicken, pasta with sauce, pasta without sauce, anything slightly squishy, anything vaguely crunchy, and any mixture of flavors, just to name a few—made me shudder in disgust. I once vomited when my mother forced me to eat a bean. One. Bean. Yes, I left it in the toilet as proof—and got in trouble for it.)
Currently, my staple sides include corn, beans, potatoes, and broccoli. Those items are cheap and generally well-received in our household. I still can’t tolerate the texture of squash or cooked carrots (unless they’ve been completely obliterated in a crock pot), and my husband dislikes peas; uncooked carrots dislike my husband. I still haven’t achieved my husband’s ideal of two sides per meal, and I likely never will—sad, but true. I just don’t think of it, and I’m not creative enough (or rich enough) to come up with two side options for every meal we eat even if I DID try to do so.
So where does this leave me? I’m pretty sure that this treatise proves to all who cared to read it that I am truly, as my title indicates, a mediocre housewife. Maybe that is even generous, given the evidence presented here (and that to come). Here, however, is the sticking point: I am left wondering whether merely “mediocre” is acceptable. I’ve made a point of trying to provide some variety of flavors and balance of foods in our diet, but I’m not sure how well I really do. Is it okay to settle for “good enough” when it comes to family meal planning? How is a mommy supposed to know?