Whether you’ve been cooking for yourself, spouse, your dog, or family of ten like I’ve been doing for so long how many times have you served dinner and then cringed at the sight of it? I’m not talking about setting down a charred piece of meat and dried out potatoes, I’m referring to that same three or maybe four dishes you regularly prepare and practically serve blindfolded because you haven’t veered off course from your staple dishes like mac & cheese, pasta with meat sauce, or some version of chicken nuggets jazzed up with a side of honey mustard or ranch dipping sauce.
Unless you happen to be a professional chef or have an addiction to the Food Network where new recipes continuously call to you, face it, we get stuck in meal planning ruts more often than we do in traffic .
I don’t know about you, but when life gets rolling along at a pretty fast clip the last thing I stop to focus on is wowing my family with a home-cooked meal that will knock their socks off. On the contrary—I try to figure out ways to serve those socks for a quick meal!
What I really find disturbing, though, is that my family doesn’t seem to even notice that they’re getting a lousy “quick fix” that counts as their dinner so often. You know what that tells me? Either they just assume that cold pancakes for supper is a wonderful substitute for a meal based on protein, starch and veggies or they too are just too busy to care.
Not wanting to dwell on the pitiful state of my menu, I tuned into the nightly news. Surely here I could find something that would be even slightly more depressing than my attempt to pass off canned soup as a culinary masterpiece. Within seconds I was lost in a story about the Summer Olympics and things like grilled cheese and tator tots became a distant memory. The segment captured all the hype that had been building during the past few months with the focus on London, England being the charming host country of these summer games.
I listened to the intriguing facts being shared such as there are 26 Olympic sports, this is the third time that London has hosted the Olympics and there would be 205 nations to take part in 300 events at the Olympic Games in 2012. And that’s when it hit me—205 nations is truly a remarkable total of countries that are participating. It’s not just the impressive number of nations being represented but it’s the thousands of unique cultures, personalities, and individual challenges and victories that will come together and intertwine over the two weeks of these coveted Games.
While soaking in the segment on the London Olympics I suddenly had a jolt of electricity run through me that just might get me out of my meal planning rut. I might not be heading to London to cheer on Team USA, but I could bring the Games here by creating a Culinary Olympics and spend the rest of the summer “cooking around the world” as a tribute to a handful of these great nations who are in London for the next two weeks.
Excitedly I shared the good news with my kids, where I received a mixed reaction of sarcastic sighs amongst a few yelps of intrigue. We checked out the list of nations who are now here in London and decided which of these we would like to put down on the menu. The handful of countries we picked were Africa, England, Jamaica, and Cuba just to name a few. We then researched recipes from these countries, and at the beginning of July we (ok, so it’s me that’s doing the actual cooking!) started “cooking around the world” with some of the recipes we found.
Our first menu was from the hot country of Cuba—Cuban mini burgers, plantain soup, sweet and spicy kettle chips, and peach and vanilla milkshakes with fresh mint. Fearing that our two dogs would be the ones dining on many leftovers, I didn’t overdo it with massive portions, but much too my delight, there wasn’t a single burger left, though I will admit I enjoyed the plantain soup practically by myself.
I’m certain this won’t be the last rut my family is faced with, meal or otherwise, and I’m actually kind of glad. That was the first of what I hope will be many international culinary delights this summer and beyond. Not only do these meals shake things up in the kitchen, they symbolize that we need to try new things to stay fresh—in all areas of life. Making a dish that takes extra steps also requires another valuable ingredient—patience, which sadly is something many of us don’t keep stocked in our pantry.
If you have some extra time on your hands, be sure and tune into the Summer Olympics. You may not be inspired to add an international twist to your cooking, but you never know how these masterful athletes might encourage you to hurdle your way over another of your family’s ruts—and the result for your family could be far more valuable than a gold medal.
Copyright 2012 Cheryl Butler