Hand-me-downs: The creative woman’s answer to ‘what’s for dinner’



Advancing age is supposed to bring wisdom.

If I were a wise woman, every night I’d know the answer to “What’s for dinner?”

For the past week, health and weight concerns have made the answer lots of salads-in-a-bag and no bread. That’s about all the longer those routines last at our house. Then the weekend hits.

If it’s rainy or overcast or otherwise depressing and we happen to go to the store, lo and behold, a chocolate cake mix ends up in the basket. We don’t know what little gremlin might have put it there. And, as cake mixes are no good in their original packaging, the cake gets made. Once a cake is made, the new adage becomes, “I am, therefore I eat . . . especially chocolate.”

When Monday comes again, the salad trick doesn’t work anymore, especially when the male of the house pokes at it and says, “I’ve seen this stuff in the yard. You’re gonna make me eat this again?! Give it to Mikey the rabbit. He’ll like it.”

I really can’t complain much about my partner’s eating demands. He’s a mean grill cook and he’d eat a few bowls of Campbell’s¬† whatever two times a day and be satisfied. Me, I can’t handle the sodium and the boredom (my version of the salad aversion).

Last night, the what’s for dinner question was posed at the pantry door. We had “inherited” some hand-me-down canned goods from his step-mom, including some canned collard greens. After nixing the soup again, I got to work in the kitchen, secretly whipping up what I was sure would be a surprise and delight to my spouse.

I called him to the table after sweating over a hot stove, proud of my efforts. I’d pulled out some authentic homemade tamales out of the freezer (made somewhere in Kansas City, KS by the Real McCoy hispanic cooks) and nuked them soft. I opened a can of pinto beans and boiled the liquid away from them, adding a generous dash of Tony Cachere’s Cajun Seasoning. I fried some bacon and sprinkled that in the beans and the collards for some extra zest.

The piece de resistance was the pico de gallo, bringing a spot of welcome color and freshness to the plate–chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro, green onions, lime juice, garlic, olive oil and salt. I tried not to worry about the fact that I was mixing cuisines (Mexican, Cajun and Southern) on one plate. I added a dollop of queso con salsa to the beans, just for looks and Voila! I was so proud of my creativity and the fact that I’d just made a meal out of hand-me-downs.

The reception was less than gratified. Failing to admire the artistry of the plate, my spouse took two bites and reached for one of my acid reflux pills.

Guess what we’re having for dinner tonight? I think a bag of popcorn or a frozen pizza will just have to do. No wonder he can’t wait until gardening season. It’s hard to get creative with corn and tomatoes.

Note: This column originally appeared in my newspaper humor column, Letters from Home, and will be published in a collection with the working title “The New Other Mail: A newspaper column and a memoir.”