I grew up in an era when it was typical that father’s arrived home from work by 5:15 and mother’s had dinner on the table by 5:30. At least that was my reality. Ham loaf, Swiss steak, “s&%t on a shingle” on weeknights and fried chicken or pork loin roast for Sunday dinner. Perhaps some bread with butter. Meals always included a meat, a vegetable, and a starch. And I mean, always. Maybe it was because my mom was a nurse and extra conscious of feeding us a square meal. Maybe it was just the era. They were meals made with love, by hands that loved me.
Today, it is far too easy to run through a drive through, have a pizza waiting at your doorstep, or nuke a meal from a box you bought from the freezer at the grocery (well maybe not that easy on a “special” diet). Whose hands made those meals? Was there love for you involved in the making of that food?
We no longer seem to be a generation that regularly find ourselves at the dinner table, all members present and accounted for, more than a few nights a week. When I look around at the families in my social circles, there are single parents, parents who both work outside the home, some even work opposite shifts, parents who are going back to school to further their educations, and, of course, families where one parent stays home and takes care of the children and the home (I know both moms and dads in this category). Every situation has its challenges.
Then there are the kid’s schedules. At 10, my son’s age today, I think piano was the only extra curricular activity I participated in. They didn’t have organized sports for kids that young, that I can recall. But today, I know many elementary aged children who are already participating on teams that play hockey, football, baseball, basketball, martial arts, swimming and tennis. Don’t forget the music lessons, art classes, dance, and gymnastics. We are a society of doers. I’m just as guilty as the next guy. We want our children to have all the experiences that they can. For what? We all have different reasons. For socialization. For fitness. For discipline. To show our kids how much we love them. Because everyone else is doing it. To try to live our lives through them.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves what this busyness does for us? Wouldn’t sitting down regularly with your family, the whole lot, to a meal that was prepared by your own hands and heart, be more fulfilling? Would that memory stick with your children longer, perhaps, than the value of yesterday’s practice that lasted til 7 pm? And if food is really an agent to healing many of our ailments, shouldn’t we take the time to plan and prepare meals that do just that? And when I say “ailments” I mean more than just physical ailments. I mean the ones created unintentionally by not having healthy family conversation, asking who the new love interest is, etc.
If we don’t take the time to cook (or learn to cook) for our children, how will they learn to cook when they leave our nest? I certainly want to pass the skill (and maybe a little of the passion) of cooking on to my children. But when will we make the time? Just the other night, as I was beginning to prepare breaded eggplant for dinner, a meal I wanted to make quickly so we could “get on with the rest of the night”, I realized I was rushing through life. To get to what? What did the rest of the night have to offer that this very moment couldn’t provide? I called my 8 year old daughter into the kitchen and asked if she wanted to help me cook. She went to the apron drawer (yes, I have a penchant for aprons and they have their own drawer) and asked if she could wear my special apron. The apron that I wear in the header picture on this page. “Of course”, I answered. I gave her 4 eggs which she whisked up in a shallow bowl. In a second bowl, she mixed dry spices with some gluten free bread crumbs. Into the third bowl she measured, cornstarch. I peeled and sliced an eggplant into 1/2″ pieces, placed the stack neatly beside her and told her the order in which the eggplant should be breaded. She had done this before, but it had been some time. I walked away to put a pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti we would have with the meal. She was focused and methodical. She took her job very seriously.
Within 10 minutes she had breaded the whole stack. Were there a few breadcrumbs on the floor? Yes. Did my apron need to be washed? Yes. Had she breaded her fingers, too? Yes. But what a small price to pay for the time we got to spend together after school that day. An insignificant inconvenience for the lesson she learned in what it feels like to nurture your family with your hands and heart. I won’t soon forget how she beamed with pride when her Daddy walked into the kitchen as she was finishing up. He fussed over her accomplishment and creation, knowing her heart would soak it right in.
I got some oil hot in an electric skillet and began to fry her creation. She watched with anticipation.
We served it with gluten free spaghetti and tomato sauce. It tasted extra special. Things usually do when they are made with love by hands that love you.
She didn’t eat much for dinner that night. I couldn’t figure out why. She was excused from the table and told she couldn’t have any other snacks that night because she had not eaten “enough” dinner. Her dad and I realized, as we were doing the dishes, she had already eaten four breaded eggplant patties as they came out of the pan – excited to try what she had created. Her consequence was revoked, of course, as we laughed with her at our mistake.
How do you handle the busyness of life? Do you find your family together at the dinner table, 1, 2, 3 or more nights a week? Do you have any tips to share to help get dinner on the table each night? If so, I would love for you to post them! What are your “go to” meals for quick week night meals? Let’s see if we can’t help one another make some memories this week. Memories in the kitchen. Memories that allow us to connect and experience our loved ones.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 cup cornstarch or all purpose flour of your choosing
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups Kinnikinnick Gluten Free Bread Crumbs or bread crumbs of your choosing
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Pepper, to taste
- Vegetable oil for frying, I prefer olive oil (not extra virgin)
- Peel eggplant and slice into ¼"- ½" round slices.
- Place cornstarch or all purpose flour in a wide shallow bowl
- Crack eggs into another wide shallow bowl and whisk until combined
- Place breadcrumbs into a third wide shallow bowl and add garlic powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix to combine.
- Bread each eggplant slice by dipping first in cornstarch or flour, shaking off the excess, then into egg, and lastly in breadcrumbs, making sure crumbs are attached by lightly patting crumbs in place.
- Heat oil to a depth of ¼" in a nonstick electric skillet (375 degrees) or frying pan. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add breaded eggplant pieces a few at a time, without crowding the pan.
- Fry until golden brown. Flip over and fry on second side, again, until golden brown. Add more oil, if necessary, between batches.
- Serve immediately.
- Serving ideas: Enjoy accompanied by pasta with tomato sauce, as a "crust" for an eggplant pizza, or as Eggplant Parmesan by topping with parmesan and mozzarella (Daiya makes a wonderful dairy free vegan cheese substitute) and broiling until melted.