Last week (see Turning Fajitas into Carnitas) I was cooking for my 91 year-old father-in-law, Jerry. After a farewell breakfast at IHOP on Memorial Sunday morning, David and I start the long journey back from Tennessee to our home in Pennsylvania. We set the GPS, not exactly for directions— it’s just 40 East, 81 North, 78 East—but because we like how this thing gives you an “Arrival Time.” Happily, the voice-in-the-box informs us we’ll be home in plenty of time for dinner. Even better, someone else has our dinner on their radar. I’m on culinary autopilot, and it feels great.
Maggy and Andy have invited a few of their NY friends out for the holiday weekend, so we arrive to a home bustling with young people. Compared with our wonderfully lazy days with Jerry playing horseshoes and gin rummy, we find ourselves simultaneously cooking on the fly, listening to hip playlists, paging through current issues of In Style and People, checking out fashion websites like What I Wore.
After nine hours in the car David and I would have simply popped the cork on a serviceable white. The kids have a better idea. We start the evening with a gorgeous pitcher of Pimms teeming with cucumber, mint, and succulent farm-stand strawberries—one of their finds today. As we sit on the deck enjoying the night and the company, I savor not being in charge almost as much as the apertif.
At some point someone (else!) suggests we start dinner. The menu I am told: grill-seared chicken thighs and steaks with garlic parsley butter, corn on the cob, homemade hummus with pita, and a great big salad. I love the simplicity. I especially love that it’s already shopped for and planned.
Like a veteran team we fan out into the kitchen. In less than 30 minutes, screen doors open, candles lit, wine poured, we’re at table—ready to enjoy more of one another and our simple meal. Conversation eventually turns (as always) to the next meal: Memorial Day barbecue. Once again there’s a plan (not mine!).
I’m told we’re having good grilled burgers and dogs and three of my recipes: American-style potato salad, baked beans (check out my recipe on Pioneer Woman Cooks), and onion rings (it’s already in our archives) And because the young always have energy for the new, we’re making Ginger Beer, thanks to Andie Reid’s recent post on ginger syrup (check out her cool blog at Café 305).
I didn’t plan or shop for this meal either. I just showed up and did my part. I assembled the baked beans, Maggy took on the ginger syrup, Persus and Steph made the potato salad, and we all had a hand in the onion rings. The guys did the grill. We’ll say they set the table.
Having reigned over so many meals for which I’ve single-handedly planned, shopped, cooked, and served, I’m telling you: food tastes better when I don’t have to make it all.
That was such a fun weekend. And interesting that my experience was so different to yours. I thought the food tasted better because we had planned and shopped and worked so hard to prepare it all. But that’s because I haven’t been cooking for years, like you! I’m still relatively new to all this. I loved putting out a spread for you and just having you enjoy it. You deserve that, mom. Glad you enjoyed our fun drinks and food.