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In the Kitchen with Raz

Posted by johnnieraz on April 6, 2019 at 3:30 AM


EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is an excerpt from my essays more than a few years back, when my daughters were young and would drive me nuts when I was tired of cooking every night (as a stay-at-home Dad) and suggested we go out, only to get the response, "But we like your cooking, Daddy." I know, it doesn't get much better than that. But it actually does, because now that they are adults on their own, nothing is more satisfying than a text and photo of what dish they made for themselves for dinner.

       By John Rezell

     Call us anti-social. Anti-American.

     That's right folks. When it comes time to entertain ourselves, my family turns off the TV and goes outside for a bike ride or a hike or a swim. When it comes time to eat, we stay home and, no, not order delivery, we cook it ourselves.

     Hard to imagine, isn't it? Why? Because it sounds like a lot of work, and that just isn't the American way anymore, is it?

     I know what you're thinking. You're saying to yourself, "I sit in my cubicle all day long kissing up to my boss, the last thing I want to do is actually get my blood pumping again. I want someone kissing up to me."

     Besides, doesn't the Constitution say that we are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness — and leaving the actual execution of said rights to someone else?

     Since the topic on the burner is food, let's focus on that bizarre aspect of life at my house, that you'll find us at eating at home unless we're far from it, home, that is, or just plain out of food.

     OK, that might be a little extreme. But it isn't far off. Stop for a moment and ignore the urge to simply scream, Why? You Nuts? Instead pack up the kids to find something good in the neighborhood.

     What you need to do, for once, is concern yourself with, how we got this way.

     I'll tell you how. It happened one rainy evening. My wife (then a stay-at-home-Mom) had been worn down by our young daughters. So we packed them up and headed out, to give her a break.

     Some break. I don't have to tell you what it's like to have about 20 people with a nifty 50-50 split between parents and children crammed into a hallway with enough seats for, oh, maybe a lucky seven.

      You know what Einstein said about time? That a few minutes with a beautiful woman is as fleeting as a second while a second with your hand on a hot stove feels like an hour? A 15-minute restaurant wait with kids is like plopping your bare butt on that stove for a year, maybe two.

     When we finally got seated it was a true parental nightmare. No crayons. I'm serious. Nothing to engage the kids but some sugar packets. Now there's a calming influence. Waitress. A round of Cokes for everyone!

     I'm all for selection, but when you've got kids who were starving an hour ago, the last thing you want to do is rifle through 10 pages of options.

      Since I have two of the greatest, well-behaved kids in the world — no, reaaallly, I'm not just a proud parent, I have affidavits from teachers on file! — I had time to peruse. Don't believe me? When was the last time you had time to peruse? Or even use that word? Enough said.

     The third time through a menu that devotes five pages to things in the most popular food group in America — fried things — I came to an epiphany: There is nothing here that I can't make better at home.

     Not only can I make it better — that is, not use poly unsaturated fats, table salt, refined sugar, massive slabs of butter, corn syrup, etc. — I can make it taste better.

     How? Those old anti-American standbys — trial and error and hard work.

     It's like this. Turn off the TV, and quit listening to Martha Stewart and anyone else whose cooking show has their name in the title. Take away their butter and heavy cream and they're like grandparents without candy and spare change.

     Now, you want to know how to cook that wonderful recipe? It's like this. Get out those ingredients. Toss them on the counter. And get at it.

     Measuring spoons and cups are for the meek. Seriously. Mistake a teaspoon of salt for a tablespoon just once, and you'll never made that error again. Besides, every recipe ends with the international disclaimer and waiver of responsibility: Now season to taste.

     Life in the kitchen is all about trial and error. There are no reset nor pause buttons. It's real life drama. And real life fun.

     Don't barricade yourself in there alone expecting to whirl through a swinging door like June Cleaver presenting something with little white hats on the tips of its bones.

     Instead, slap a couple of aprons on the kids and get out the camcorder. Aim for the big prize: a date with Tom Bergeron.

     Either way, sooner or later, you'll sit down at your own dinner table and enjoy some healthy, great tasting food without having to ask if beverage refills are free.

      And who knows? You might even have the urge to go for a hike afterward.

      Now, here are some of my best recipes:

RAZ'S SUPER SPAGHETTI SAUCE:

Ingredients:

     Olive oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, sea salt, oregano, basil, honey, tomato sauce (optional: ground beef loose or in meatballs, or Italian sausage) and pasta of your choice.

Instructions:

     Cook everything but the pasta in a sauce pan on a setting that won't start a fire, and season to taste. Boil the pasta in water. Combine.

Tips:

     How do I know if you love peppers and hate garlic, or vice-versa. You like veggies cut big enough to be able to pick 'em out with a fork, or too tiny to recognize? How do you know when pasta is ready? Hmmm. Maybe when it doesn't crunch anymore.

RAZ'S CHA-CHA CHILI

Ingredients:

     Olive oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, sea salt — does this sound familiar? — chili powder, tomato sauce (optional: meat of your choice) and beans (traditionally kidney, but any beans will do).

Instructions:

     Cook everything but the beans in a big pot on a setting that won't start a fire, and season to taste. Add beans. Stir occasionally.

Tips:

    Dance the Cha-Cha to the chant, "Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot!"

Expectations

     It's like this, I'm a stay-at-home Dad and I do all the cooking. When I was working, though, it wasn't as if I expected a five-course gourmet dinner waiting on the table. Hardly.

     Life is about reality, and reality is that every day isn't worth of a night on the town. It's all about expectations. Realistic expectations.

      I came home from work one day to find my stay-at-home wife in tears. It was a tough day with the kids. She couldn't think of anything to make for dinner. She felt like a failure.

      I looked around the house. Did you make any visits to the Emergency Room today? No, she said. Is everyone alive? Yes, she said.

     Sounds like a good day to me. How about some Cha-Cha chili?

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