It is Monday evening and the kiddies are asleep… (Amen.). I’m sitting in the kitchen jotting down the shopping list for the grocery store, taking inventory of what we need, what we have, and what I can make for supper during the week, when it suddenly dawns on me that last week, and I am pretty sure quite possibly a good portion of the week before, I fed my family a diet that consisted primarily of breaded chicken cutlets… It’s true. I’m not proud. There was no beef, no fish, not even pasta… It was chicken cutlets all week-long. Like Shark Week on the Discovery Channel or something.
What the hell was I thinking? Apparently something other than variety in my family’s dinner menu, that’s for sure. I might have rotated a veggie or two, which might as well have been the plastic veggies from the kids’ play kitchen, because the corn and peas are treated as just for-show vegetables and routinely ignored. So it was the chicken cutlet that sustained them nightly. Don’t get me wrong, I like to cook, really, I do. I love reading cookbooks. I love recipes, I love trying new foods, new textures, I love cheeses and olives and fish and spices and ethnic foods. I love to eat. But I have two forces working against me: (1) I am not a great cook. (I have already disclosed my limited repertoire and crippling fear of seasoning.) I am so not free in the kitchen and am afraid to improvise… I don’t pinch, dash, or sprinkle. I measure with scientific precision…which leads to the second force working against me: (2) the people who live in my house with me, a.k.a. my family, are picky eaters to the point of being pathological and it annoys the shit out of me and kind of knocks the wind out of my sails. Pasta has to be a certain shape (who knew that a ziti noodle tastes different from a penne noodle?). Vegetables cannot touch rice, rice cannot touch meat, meat cannot have spice, spice must be left at the door. Holy shit! Who are these people? I ask myself this at almost every meal. I must be the freak of the family, for I just shovel it all in, regardless of what shape it’s in or what it has touched (with maybe the exception of the floor, and there are limited circumstances when I do not even find that too offensive) for we all know it all ends up in the same place anyway. This argument is NOT compelling with this crowd, however.
But I can make a chicken cutlet without looking in a cookbook, which is HUGE for me, since I rely heavily on a cookbook when making virtually anything else. I actually stare at the simplest of recipes over and over again till I enter into a mind numbing stupor to make sure I read have read the ingredients correctly; I get so anxious that I will misread a measurement and put in a cup instead of a quarter cup of something vital to the recipe and will have to trash the whole damn thing… It has happened many times before. I am no perfectionist when it comes to cooking. I do not “plate” the food, style it or put garnish on it. But I just want it to taste good, so I get a little nervous that I might accidentally put a cup of sugar in something that needed a third cup of salt instead. And so all the joy gets sucked right out of the process. Plus I have these three people who sit at the table like we are taping an episode of Food Network Star, at the ready to turn their noses up at my Mac and Cheese because it is not as Mac and Cheesy as Grandma’s. There is a lot of fucking pressure. And this is usually about the time I want to throw all of it down the disposal and lock myself in the bathroom with a nice chicken curry and a good bottle of wine.
So anyway, back to the chicken cutlet… I can make them on autopilot and clearly, that was what happened here. There was no variation, no sauce, no pesto, no cheese, nothing but a breaded chicken breast and oddly enough, my picky eater family didn’t even complain, because lo and behold, they actually like my chicken cutlets enough to apparently eat them almost every night without complaint! Without conditions! Though the thought did cross my mind for a fleeting second about whether or not this chicken cutlet thing may rise to the level of me being a “bad mother” because I think as a mother I am charged with the responsibility of nourishing my children and I recall something about that food pyramid and the different food groups. It is probably a stretch to count the parsley I put in the breadcrumbs as a vegetable, right? I am so sure that other über-mothers out there plan amazing menus that rotate monthly which incorporate free-range buffalo and milk-fed wild salmon or whatever and organic coop farm vegetable succotash using in-season produce only that they have grown themselves, and may even throw in a pizza with a home-made stone ground whole wheat crust that they stone ground themselves a la The Little Red Hen every now and then… but not me.
I don’t usually spend tons of time flogging myself over my parenting skills. I know my kids will turn out fine. I am fine, un-medicated (for now), and fine. And I ate a lot worse things than a repetitive home-made chicken cutlet in my day (think: Velveeta(!), La Choy fake Chinese food from a can (!!), Ellio’s Pizza(!!!), Swanson TV Dinners(!!!!), White Bread (!!!!!) washed down with a big ol’ glass of Hawaiian Punch(!!!!!!)) And the fact of the matter is that I had lots of thin sliced chicken breasts lying around, well, not exactly lying around, but in an actual freezer, and a seemingly endless supply of eggs, and a ginormous vat of breadcrumbs and plenty of olive oil. So you see, it seems that the stars were aligned for a chicken cutlet fest in my house… I have tried many other things, but they don’t go down as well as the chicken cutlet. And maybe, just maybe, somewhere tucked away deep in my subconscious I was sick and tired of cooking balanced meals that only I would eat, and I wanted to cook, to provide for fuck’s sake, for my family and I wanted accolades, g-d damn it! And my ticket was the chicken cutlet… Seems like a win-win situation to me, no?
This week however, I vow to break the vicious chicken cutlet cycle for the betterment of my family’s nutritional health and will order in a pizza to break up the monotony.