The beast of mealtime’s burden


I think I have – finally – successfully coined my own disorder. I live with this burden, this tension, this sad, pathetic affliction, 365 days a year. Sadly, there is no cure. I have Meal Time Stress Syndrome.

This came to light when we sat down to grilled chicken for the third night in a week.

Three-dish rotation. Grilled chicken is one of three dishes in our dinner rotation. Because we’d just overdosed on it, the next night kicked off a hamburger doubleheader, followed by – “mushroom chicken” (a delicious creamed onion and chicken dish I picked up, in moment of chicken despair, from an Internet recipe site. Thank you mushroom chicken, you’ve really helped break the monotony).

Recently, a friend hosted a cooking party where a cheery host showed us all how simple it was to whip up an “easy baked taco ring” using refrigerator biscuit dough and 57 multi-purpose kitchen gadgets (all for sale right there!).

Not alone. Upon seeing how “easy” it was to make this dish, her husband said cheerfully “oh good, now it will be pasta, pasta, pasta, taco ring, pasta, pasta, chicken, pasta, pasta.”

Apparently, I’m not alone in my inability to plan perfect dinners.

“You need to learn to cook,” some might say.

No kidding. However, I think “some” (mainly, my spouse) need to realize that the problem goes deeper than an inability to sauté, or to differentiate extra virgin olive oil from never-been-kissed olive oil.

The truth is I don’t want to have to think about, let alone actively plan for dinner on a daily basis. If cooking were, say, a weekly thing, I could get behind it. This insistence on eating every single day is just one big drag.

Not my career. There are people who turn cooking into a career – or at the very least don’t feel faint when faced with a double-boiler. There are also people who make cooking seem effortless.

Madcap creative cooks who can simply pull fresh berries from the vine, or the bush, or wherever it is berries come from, bake up a batch of golden flake biscuits from scratch, and whip up a sumptuous little delight of fresh cream to top it all off.

Those people make me nervous. Meanwhile, I sweat it out for a week over a simple luncheon where I plan to serve tuna salad, box mix brownies, and diet soda.

Resources. Nonetheless, I really do want to know all about cooking a wide and varied assortment of mouthwatering meals. Or, at the very least, I want to buy books about such things.

My cupboards may be bare, but my bookshelf is full to bursting. Quick Cooking, Easy No-Fuss Meals, Cook on Sunday, Eat on All Week and Home-Cooked How To all beckon me.

All filled with an almost endless number of certainly tasty meals. I could learn to make a key lime chicken casserole, or seafood lasagna, or even a nice pot pie. Sure I could!

Limitations. And yet, I know my limitations. Just as people who aren’t good at math should not attempt quantum physics, I know that shopping day would find me at the supermarket clutching a list and trying to discern why exactly it was that I needed cream of tartar (is that a dairy product? A fish condiment? A foot cream?).

I’d leave the house without checking what ingredients I needed to buy for my intended recipe. Or, I’d buy the sour cream but the kids would use it to make pretzel dip over the weekend and so it would be impossible for me to make that lovely creamed kumquat casserole.

So, despite my valiant efforts, in the end I’d have to go with a fallback like, say, mushroom chicken. Or maybe that nice baked taco ring. A meal beautifully presented, perhaps, with a nice side of cream of tartar – and a kumquat.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt plans to add box macaroni and cheese to her dinner menu. She welcomes comments c/o or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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