Pamela Rees is one of those rare people who can make any old thing fascinating by showing you what you’d missed at a casual glance. She also whips up some innovative stuff in the kitchen. What amazed me the most was how she got my mostly unruly four-year-old Zoe to follow baking instructions and whip up ice cream cupcakes. Zoe was spellbound by Pamela and her creative approach to baking. Here, in the piece below, Pamela shares her writing talent. Enjoy!

What’s the Dinner Plan? by Pamela Rees

Every night my husband asks me this question. After all these years, he still doesn’t know that more times than not the answer will be, ‘I don’t know. What time do you want to eat?’ After he says, ‘Um, six seventeen,’ he leaves me to it, knowing that I’ll have food on the table – to the minute because it’s a challenge not an order – probably within an hour from my first look through the fridge and pantry.

I envy those people who plan their meals, do their shopping, and never have to make do, substitute, or think on the fly. In some ways I envy my step-daughter who shops for exactly what she’ll need for the week – down to the one stalk of celery (yes, you can buy celery by the stalk in some greengrocers!) she needs for her stir fry, two teaspoons of curry powder for her chicken dish, and the single sprig of rosemary she needs for that marinade. It works for her. For me, walking up and down each aisle inspires me to reach for that item I’ve never tried; my mouth begins to water and my brain begins to envision the many ways the new addition to the pantry can enhance my menu.

When my grandson was still in diapers, I began caring for him every Friday to help ease the financial burden on this young family. And to be fair, I loved spending so much time with him; this was not an altruistic offer. After nearly a year, I started packing lunch. That’s right. Because literally there was nothing to eat that wasn’t meant for a particular purpose. Aidan, he was barely a year old. He ate, you know, kid food. Where were the nuts, or cheese and crackers, for plonking on the table when the neighbours pop over unexpectedly for a cuppa or a glass of wine?

Listen, I do have sympathy for busy parents who think they don’t have the time to think about dinner after a full day’s work. Honestly. Not everyone takes the same delight in chopping, slicing, sweating, simmering, reducing… I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’ve done all of those things, and a few others as needed, and a delicious meal appears from what was once a mess of stuff pulled in haphazard fashion from the fridge.

My point is, whether you’re a meticulous planner ready for any 30 Minute Meal (2) or like me – thinking on the fly – the amount of time and effort will be similar. I’ll almost always enjoy the process more than many. And the eating? Well, I remember the first piece of clothing I bought for myself. That was a few decades ago and the satisfied feeling of accomplishment has stayed with me since. For me, it’s the same feeling as sitting down to eat a meticulously prepared, artfully presented meal.

What is for dinner, anyway? On the counter are some leftover baked crispy chicken thighs; a few snow peas found lounging on the base of the veggie bin next to an elusive pair of celery sticks and a floppy carrot; a handful of purple grapes; some raw cashews that never fulfilled their destiny as a vegan aioli; and from the pantry the last of a bag of corkscrew pasta. What do you see? That’s right, it’s pasta salad. Now for a dressing. Aha! I remember there’s part of a can of sweetened condensed milk in the fridge, somewhere. Add some acidity, some heat, lots of salt and pepper and viola! a dressing for my salad.

It’s time to cook the pasta in salted boiling water and assemble the bounty into a scrummy dish. Before I leave you, please know that though I am many days fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants girl, I do a fair bit of planning. How else would I end up with the bits and pieces I need to indulge my inner seat-of-her-pants culinary artist?

See you next time for more adventures in deciding “What’s the Dinner Plan?”

(1) © Pamela Rees – may not be reproduced elsewhere
(2) Jamie Oliver

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