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26 – This is not the Joy of Cooking

“Mom? What, exactly, is this?”

I hold up something wrapped in illustrations that look like confetti in a bowl and wave it at her, keeping it at arm’s length in case it tries to bite me. It rattles like dried peas in a box.

“You should try it!” she tells me. “It has bits of bell pepper and onion like a Denver omelet – it even has mushrooms.”

I’m not fond of bell pepper or onion even when they’re fresh and dewy and glowing with healthy goodness, which this thing definitively is not. Also, I once had a food poisoning experience with canned mushrooms that was so apocalyptic I haven’t been able to look at a mushroom without shuddering since it happened. And it’s been 25 years.

“Okay, mom. One, that’s gross, and two, why is it rattling?”

“Oh, because it’s all freeze dried so it’s shelf-stable.”

I shudder.

“I take it back. That’s not gross, it’s revolting.”

This trip has revealed that my mother has a fondness for unfortunately-named convenience foods, particularly ones she deems “healthy.” (Apparently we have different working definitions of healthy food, but we do know what it is, even if we don’t eat it.) Mom has packed things that have names like Eggs in a Bucket, or Bits of Unidentifiable Freeze-Dried Things That Might Be Vegetables, or Definitely Not MSG in a Microwavable Tray. They often look completely inedible. I, on the other hand, brought microwavable oatmeal. It may be boring, but I can be reasonably certain it will neither kill me nor traumatize my tastebuds so badly they will never recover.

In all fairness though, even the most unappealing things she’s brought along are practical. When you’re working with a budget, limited storage space, and two people who each wish the other one would please please please do all of the cooking forever, a shelf-stable container the size of a coffee cup that only requires you to add an egg then microwave is useful. Maybe not particularly edible, but useful.

We’ve also discovered that mom has a fondness for gimmicky cooking gadgets to use when she feels like making less convenient foods – particularly ones that allow her to microwave things that are not usually microwavable. The first time she put eggs in the microwave I ducked and waited for them to explode, which gave her the opportunity to inform me (with a rather supercilious smirk, I might add) that I have been living in the dark ages of cooking technology – an opportunity she has made the most of. It seems I have a lot to learn about the world of cooking accessories, never mind that I’m the one who knows how to use a cup with a little water in it to peel a boiled egg.

Mom also microwaves bacon, which I have always considered a quick route to floppy, greasy grossness. But she has informed me in exhaustive detail that you can now buy special microwave bacon cooker trays that not only cook your bacon to strips of crispy deliciousness, they also drain off excess fat. From her standpoint, this makes bacon healthy. And this is a woman who helped start an organic health food co-op in the ‘80s. Clearly her definition of healthy food has morphed over the years.

It is true, however, that I’ve been won over by one of her gadgets. Baking potatoes is very trying if you’re not the patient type. They take forever to cook and then they still require endless add-ons to make them worth eating. But thanks to modern technology, now you can put your potatoes in something that looks like a poorly designed oven mitt, pop the whole thing in the microwave and ten minutes later pull out very passable “baked” potatoes. This saves you an hour, which you can then spend microwaving non-floppy bacon and non-exploding eggs to use for making the potatoes worth eating in the first place.

It’s not the least bit surprising that the end result of having all these cooking gadgets and mystery convenience foods available is that we’re mostly drinking a lot of fruit smoothies (okay fine – fruit smoothies and wine) and eating a lot of cheese and crackers. Our working theory is that the one will cancel out the other. One of the delights of being an adult is that you can choose to eat like an adolescent now and then, and if you’re traveling sans significant others you can even do it without being chaffed (too much) about your health. Of course, mom and I will probably need to have our systems scoured with liquid vitamins by the time this trip is over, but in the meantime we’re enjoying ourselves.

Freeze-dried Denver omelettes though – there’s still no excuse for that.


  1. Kerry Williamson

    Now I know why you didn’t eat the mushrooms! 😉

  2. Diane

    That’s a good story.
    Just blend a dollop of yogurt in my fresh Sangria and- WooHooHealthy!


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