“I throw my lunch on the floor and cover it iwith a rag. It’s ready to eat in a couple hours.” That was how my dad described how he handled lunchtime at work for years and years. He worked for Wisconsin Electric Power — now called WE Energies — in one of their power plants; he was a boiler operator. It was a big boiler — about 10 stories tall and a couple hundred feet long. It burnt coal that had been pulverized by steel balls till it was as fine as talcum powder and it would virtually explode when it was blown into the boiler by what I saw (as a little kid) as a gigantic leaf blower (in the days before leaf blowers even existed).
The details were simple. Dad didn’t like sandwiches (neither do I) so mom packed him a lunch every day. Soups or stew in a peanut butter jar; leftover meat, potatoes and veg wrapped in a housewife’s version of a Boy Scout Zip Pack. Left on the deck of the boiler there was more than enough heat to warm it gradually and in a couple hours his lunch was ready.
Of course, I was raised in that household and I grew up not eating sandwiches, and not particularly liking cold meals. Was it nature or nurture? I have no idea…. all I know is even now I rarely eat sandwiches and I rarely eat a meal that isn’t hot, and hasn’t been recently cooked — I guess I also grew up having eaten TOO MANY leftovers!!!!
All of this comes to mind because Peg & I recently had reason to spend a few hours in our local hospital and the routine for ordering meals from the kitchen has changed a lot since we last had reason to be aware of food service in a hospital. I got to thinking about how I order food — or more particularly how I deal with grocery shopping.
We don’t purchase food that’s been prepared (well, maybe aside from a box of brownie mix) — pretty much I make what we eat from basic components. But there are things I choose not to make at home that I still like to eat. I don’t like deep fat frying, so when we get a hunger for fried chicken we have a carry out place we order it from — they do it far better than I do. I almost never make desserts even though I love eating them. I suffer from being chronically overweight and if I made an entire cake I’d eat an entire cake (over a few days) and I don’t need all those extra calories — so I wait until we go out for a meal and I’ll order a piece of cake or a piece of pie. Similarly at the grocery we’ll make deli purchases for salads I’d never want to make enough of to make it worth while bothering with. Aside from basic ingredients, if I buy it from the grocery it’s because I’m yearning for some sort of food that I wouldn’t bother making at home.
I have noticed that tendency has increased since Kathryn moved out of the house. When there were THREE people in the household it made more sense to make a few more things than we do now. Then, there were recipes that made larger quantities that we would indulge on once in a while. But now, even family favorites like Peggy’s recipe for Lasagna we tend to save for holidays when there are more family members around the table to eat up an entire batch.
All in all I think it’s a “system” that works for us. I’m not losing weight because of it, but I’m probably 500 pounds less overweight because I don’t have things in the house to snack on that I shouldn’t be eating.
I watch, somewhat amazed, when we go to the grocery. I see what the customer in front of us puts on the conveyor belt, and then I look at what we bought — clearly our purchases aren’t anywhere near as interesting as theirs. But, I don’t mind. I like my own cooking and I like our diet. Most of the time I really don’t miss the things that aren’t on our regular “make” list — oh, from time to time I’ll get a craving for German potato salad, or for Usinger Smoked Braunschweiger, or for crab cakes, or sauerbraten.
Unfortunately there are a few items — just a few — that I may never have again. My grandmother made a Polish version of a yeast cake called babka that isn’t sweet at all and had sort of a streusel sprinkle on top. I found a recipe for the same thing in my Polish cookbook but I just can’t bring myself to attempt reproducing something that everyone in the family would not make in deference to Boosha’s experience making babka! And if a few things fall by the wayside I guess I’m ok with that. I still do some of the old recipes even if it’s not quite as much fun cooking for a couple people instead of a gang.
Of course, in a big kitchen like a hospital’s, you have a lot of things in process at any one time, and it’s easy to throw together a plate on demand. Feeding a thousand or more meals several times a day gives you economies of scale and conveniences that a family kitchen can’t imagine. So, I guess I’ll go to the grocery again this week and just because of that visit to the hospital I think I’ll buy something I wouldn’t normally buy just for the fun of it.