Dinners at my house were not called dinners; they were called experiments.
As a family we went out on occasion, but my mom loved to try new recipes on us. Since she knew we were too lazy to make our own dinner, she had us beat.
But I won’t leave my dad out. He did the grilling along with his other specialties like matzah ball soup and homemade Chinese food. It was Mom, though, who did the bulk of the freshly prepared meals.
I’ll never forget the worst gift she ever got: the “365 Ways to Cook Chicken” cookbook. While I can’t be positive, I’m pretty sure I have had chicken 365 ways.
It’s not that my brother and I didn’t like chicken; we just liked to remind my mom that there were other meats out there besides that one.
My mom couldn’t make just a basic chicken dish. In our house, we didn’t ask, “What’s for dinner?” We asked, “What’s going on the chicken tonight?”
I will say this, though; my mom could get pretty creative with chicken. I’ll note right now that creativity isn’t always a good thing.
However, dinner problems went beyond the main course. As a kid I didn’t like squash. As an adult, I don’t like squash. But I cannot tell you how many times my mom has put squash in front of me and expected me to eat it.
Why are parents so persistent in making kids try foods they know they don’t like? We also had the classic Brussels sprouts fight; it normally ended the same way as the squash.
“You might like it this time,” she would say. I might also like dentist appointments and romantic movies, but it’s not likely.
The list of experiments would go on and on. And when she actually found something we liked, it seemed like it was never made again.
But now that I’m in Pittsburgh and cooking for myself, I cannot tell you how much I would love a chicken dish prepared by my mom.
I like to cook for myself; it’s healthier, cheaper and more satisfying. But it’s very hard to cook in a kitchen the size of a linen closet. I’m short — about 5’4” on a good day — and from the middle of my kitchen, I can touch any of the four walls.
My cabinet space is enough to hold a box of rice, two cans of soup and if I can think back to my days of Tetris, maybe a box of pasta.
I love to grill, but in a studio apartment that’s not happening, so I got myself a George Foreman — easily the best investment I ever made.
Now dinner for me can be anywhere from Shake ‘n’ Bake chicken to a frozen pizza, or when I’m feeling really adventuresome, tacos.
With the limited amount of kitchen resources I have, I will say that I’m eating better than one friend who is still trying to figure out how to make macaroni and cheese (he forgot the important ingredient of water), and another friend who lives off of Ramen, gnocchi pasta and Chipotle.
By no means am I going hungry or running out of ideas for dinners. I love being on my own and deciding what I will eat each night.
But when I go home I love my mom’s home cooked meals and gladly welcome chicken any one of her 365 ways.
And maybe even a little squash.
(Mike Zoller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)