Ah, the age old dilema of what to serve for dinner. Recently my offspring helped me answer this never ending question.
When the kids were younger, I fixed dinner based on what available items appeared on the pantry and freezer shelves. Although I felt like a master chef at the time, I admit that the meals I offered were limited to those that I could whip up without much effort since I was caring for little ones. I didn't feel guilty that meal time wasn't full of unique dishes. Instead. I took pride in the fact that we didn't rely on fast food for sustenance. My grocery runs typically included those ingredients needed to create one of my 'regular' dinners. Therefore, meals didn't require much thought. At the time, dinners fed our small but growing family, so any 'real' dinner I whipped up stretched out for more than one night. Those days are long gone.
Fast forward several years to a different house, a larger family of serious eaters, and a new approach to meal time. Each week I map out our seven day menu. Coach used to grill at least once a week. Since he chose to take on the basement renovation two years ago and more recently a fellowship, his availability to grill has dried up like an overdone turkey. Leftover night no longer serves much purpose except that it forces me to clean the fridge
out of annoying little Tupperware containers of half servings. By considering the amount of prep time I have, the number of dinner hour activities family member will be involved in, and what time food needs to be on the table, I methodically plot out which meal I will prepare each night for the upcoming week.
On Monday, December 14th, I was slated to cook dinner for the Small family whose son has been in the hospital for over a month. When I filled out the online calendar, I committed to cooking our family favorite 'cheesy chicken.' The recipe is easy enough to make and typically a hit with most appetites. I wrapped up my Christmas card poem and emailed it to the printer. (I swear this year end summary in rhyme gets completed later and later each year). Next on the agenda: start dinner for the Smalls. Imagine my surprise when I couldn't locate the multiple bags of frozen, boneless chicken breasts that I had just purchased on Saturday. I've never been one to freeze butter, but there in the freezer was a bag full of sticks of butter. I opened the fridge in a panic suddenly fearing the outcome of asking kids to help distribute groceries to the downstairs fridge.
Four bags of boneless chicken huddled together on the top shelf of the fridge. Still in the plastic grocery bag. Eight pounds of chicken. Thawed. Although I believed this once frozen meat needed to be cooked and eaten immediately, I called the 1-800 number to verify. My suspicions were confirmed. Raw chicken couldn't be re-frozen. Since this pile of chicken had begun to thaw approximately 48 hours prior to my discovery, it needed to get cooked asap. Strap on the apron lady. Grab the cook book. Preheat the oven. Unstack the glass pyrex pans from the cabinet shelf. It was time to prepare more chicken than we typically eat in two weeks time.
My taco dinner was put on the back burner -figuratively speaking. I assumed while planning the week's menu that I would need to avoid using the oven when preparing a dinner for our family, since the Small's dinner would occupy one of my few refuse-to-die appliances. I made more cheesy chicken than I thought possible, and was relieved when Coach agreed to toss some chicken on the grill. As I dumped cans of soup on the pink chicken breasts, I began to fret about how long it would take us to ingest this much chicken.
I was grateful that I had agreed to cook dinner for the Smalls. Perfect night to unload some must-eat-or-soon-toss chicken. While I longed to solve the mystery of who swapped the butter for the frozen chicken, I was relieved that I had stumbled upon the thawing poultry before it had spoiled silently cowering behind several gallons of milk.
The kids hadn't arrived home from school when the chicken cook off began. As they entered the house, the finger pointing began. I accused Tetonka first. He insisted he hadn't delivered any groceries to the basement. His alibi 'I-didn't-want-to-help' checked out. I realized that the mystery child had even asked me to review the instructions as I raced out the door that Saturday afternoon. Rummaging thru the grocery bags, I had ordered kids who were not accompanying me to my next errand to start storing the cold items. I offered to do the rest later. Although I was convinced it was Eddie, he reminded me that he was the one waiting in the car to go pick out new basketball shoes while I dealt with the groceries. Mini, my final suspect, was the last one home on chicken fiesta night. Fortunately for her, the raw chicken drama had subsided. As the house filled with the smells of cooking chicken, I began to accept that a frantic chicken cook off against the clock would serve my menu needs for the remainder of the week. Still, I had to know . . .
'Mini, why did you put chicken in the fridge and butter in the freezer? Especially after you asked me to remind you of their cold storage requirements.' She grew flustered, not wanting to cross into uncharted 'trouble' territory. This was her brothers' turf. Her response surprised me. 'I guess I got mixed up. It's your fault, anyway. I was only trying to help. You should've just done it yourself.' My ally, my good girl, the one I've always assumed would be willing to help out- refusing to follow in the footsteps of older brothers who shirk responsibility as often as they toss dirty socks around the house willy nilly. There it was. I felt cold. Almost as cold as thawed chicken.
Oh, and my worries were wasted. After dropping off chicken at the Smalls' house, our family polished off the remaining 6 plus pounds of chicken in a couple of days. It was nice to not have to think about dinner for a couple of days, but I think I prefer that the kids don't dictate what mounds of meat I am forced to prepare on short notice any time soon.