It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…
There is this annoying and common trope in popular culture: the dumb dad.
You know this one: Dad can BBQ fine, but dad burns cereal. Dad feeds the kid KD because dad is a bumbling fool who would go to work in his socks & underwear and eat cold pizza for three meals every day if it wasn’t for the level-headed common sense of mom.
But see, I’m not trying to sell you laundry detergent or scented chemical misters for your house, so I get tell you instead that most dads either (a) are not the dumb-ass bumbling morons you tend to see in yogurt and beer commercials or (b) only seem that way because they are striving to fulfill the role that has been handed to them by our dumb-ass consumer society.
That said, from where I stand I think this marketing ploy has created a world where the fine skillz of home cooking are rapidly becoming a dying art form. Cooking has, after all, been shoved into our faces as one of two extremes: the exclusive domain of this imaginary housewife persona… or as this angry and hyper-aggressive, fast-paced kitchen-factory macho power-chef thing. It’s really neither.
The modern household probably eats out more than it eats in, but families that do cook at home are bucking the marketing role and are like as not to share the duties, managed around a jigsaw of busy schedules. I cook a lot. And I cook well. *buffs knuckles on collar* Myself, I have a dozen or so fallback, week-night recipes that I can shop for and cook quickly and without referring to the documentation. I do morning pancakes on Saturday. I can pull together a wicked egg and cheese burrito on five minutes notice. And anything that comes out of my garden has earned a memorized shortlist of preservation or other fresher serving techniques… if any of that produce even makes it that far.
But approaching 40ish, it strikes me that there are some other less-obvious standard bits of cooking knowledge that are worth having closing at hand, like…
5. Something to Bring to A Potluck
Because you don’t want to be the guy who always brings buns or that tub of dip that you picked up from the market as you drove to the party. Plus, having to sort through recipes or plunge into the deep dark corners of one of those recipe archive sites to find a group-friendly dish that you can pull together in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable amount of money and that will actually be eaten by a reasonable number of reasonable people (so you don’t wind up bring all but a few polite scoops of your luke-warm dish home at the end of the night) this is a cooking power-move. Find a fast, tasty, cheap dish that everyone will scarf down. Make it your specialty. People should say “Brad always brings those hot & spicy meatballs… invite them.” And you should be able to pull that together in an hour’s notice without spending 55 minutes of that shopping.
4. A Road Trip Meal
Eventually you are going to be driving somewhere and you are going to have more than few hungry people in your car and the only option for food is going to be “Flo’s Diner & Truck Stop” for a club sandwich and stale coffee. Or you can stop at that little grocery store you saw as you drove into the one-horse town and put together a tailgate picnic. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Flo’s Diner as much as the next guy. But sixteen dollars for a club sandwich? In this economy? Really. C’mon Flo… if that’s even your real name. But, did you know, however, that any guy in his 40s should be able to walk into a grocery store with nothing but a wallet, pick up one of those little plastic baskets, and come back out with the ingredients to pull together a roadside picnic to rival even the most expensive small town club sandwich with fries, and for a third of the cost.
3. A Baching-it Dinner
There will be a day for any guy, married, single or otherwise, when all you really want to do is order a pizza and flake out on the couch for the whole evening. But if you’re like me, a kid packed into all manner of extra-curricular time-fillers, occasionally –or weekly, on Tuesdays from 5 until 8 pm– you’ll find that you have the whole house to yourself, and that you need to cook for a party of one. The first time you indulge on some calorie-rich, fried uber-sandwhich. The second time you get a little lazy and grab a container of something on the way home. But by the third time: uh… you just want something normal. Having that meal-for-one plan ready, a dish that you can cook without excessive leftovers, a hot sandwich or a nice steak with a slab of garlic toast on the side, or a grilled bit of spicy chicken with some pasta: these are the meals that remind you that you’re not twenty-something in college anymore… and that’s a good thing.
2. Sick Food
No. I’m not talking a about food that’s sick or food that makes you sick. The opposite. This is something you’d want to eat when you are sick, after barfing your guts out all night. Or hung over. Or after surgery. But something generally warm, mushy, and bland with lots of nutrient density. The things is that when you reach 40ish the number of people who are right in the middle of (or on the verge of) depending on your middle age adult-ness to ensure their continued survival is only going up. Kids hitting those precious years of braces and random infections, bringing every disease home from school for the next decade. Aging parents. A wimpy sick spouse. Even the occasional sick friend who may land on your doorstep. Having a recipe in your back pocket for something besides just a package of that salty chicken soup mix and crackers is going to make you the man to know when the serious shit flies. Literally.
1. Your SI’s Favorite Food
Married? Dating? Someone who lives in your house and eats your food on a regular basis? By the time you hit 40ish you should have figured out one simple thing: you tend to make yourself better by lifting up those people around you. If you can’t feed someone the thing they love most in the world, then you’ve just made that road a little bit steeper than it needs to be.
And you won’t seem like just another stereotype of a dumb dad, either.