Food for thought, but rarely for dinner.

If there is one phrase that is more common than any other in my house, it has got to be …

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And I’m serious about it being all in capital letters, because I’m usually shouting that phrase to someone who either has their head buried deep within the fridge, or their body concealed within the cavernous room I had built to represent the pantry.

The pantry is really more of an averaged-sized dry goods store, and if I simply filled out a few pages of paperwork, it could easily qualify as a Stop n’ Shop for locals on their way home from the office. Those folks would really have to like tuna though, because that covers about half the pantry’s inventory. That and cat food. I’m guessing either the cat has convinced someone in the house that we’re running low and to write it on the list, or she’s finally passed the course with the daily YouTube videos I’m been making her watch on teaching yourself to write.

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Either way, she’s hoarding. And that needs to be dealt with.

I grew up with a kitchen that was just slightly bigger than a coat closet, and oftentimes had the entire family rummaging around within it, so it’s no surprise that as an adult I’d want to create a canteen that might easily share the same acreage as that of the Mall of America. I’m not saying I achieved those numbers, but it was what I was going for.

The refrigerator is not your average size either, and although not a commercial walk-in like some restaurants, it could double as a garage for a few small farm vehicles if need be. Note that the design for the rest of the house was given much less thought. My office is large enough for my swivel chair to make only half rotations in, unless I expel all oxygen from my lungs and tuck my elbows in beneath my rib cage, and the other living areas were fashioned after cheap department store changing rooms and fast food restaurant bathroom stalls. Why? Because I wanted everyone to live in the kitchen.

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We eat when we’re happy and we eat when we’re miserable. We also eat when we’re bored and trying to avoid laundry. So in my mind, that about covered where we needed to spend the serious money.

In the kitchen of my youth, the pantry closet was large enough to accommodate two cans of soup and a nail file. Nevertheless, it fed half my school district. Yet the one I currently have apparently does not hold enough of what is deemed necessary for my two teenagers. Ditto for the fridge. The crackers I have are not the right kind of crackers. The granola bars I purchase are now in the “so yesterday and I’ve gone off them” category. The macaroni I get doesn’t have the right kind of cheese. The butter is not the soft, spreadable kind like Grandma has. And most every other complaint falls under the wretched umbrella of, “Stop buying the organic version of everything. It tastes weird and I won’t eat it!”

The grocery list has always held the possibility of being a vehicle filled with “teachable moments” for those who eat regularly at my house in that if you finished the OJ and didn’t put it on the list, then you’re the guy everyone will be sending the next day’s hate mail to. This sounds like it should work, right?

Nuh uh.

As is well known to most mothers, we are expected to have our act so well put together it could headline on Broadway. Yes, someone forgot to add milk to the list, but surely you knew it belonged there when at the grocery store, right? Somehow you sprouted those eyes at the back of your head that caught nearly invisible infractions, and you grew the superhuman ears that heard the cursing grumble from way out in the sheep barn, so are you telling me your telesthesia is on the fritz?

So not cool, Mom.

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Occasionally, my nagging about adding things to the grocery list has made a small impact on my at home diners. There have been days when I’ve arrived at the store, taken the first glance at my list and then had to physically stop myself from ramming my shopping cart repeatedly into the nearest bin full of asparagus and avocados. Why? Because the list is chock-a-block full of junk. Chocolate in every form has made its way onto the paper but is “cleverly” disguised by showing up in between other items so the requests don’t appear too gluttonous.

Collard greens


Chocolate milk

Navy beans


Chocolate covered pretzels



Brown rice

Chocolate toaster pastries

Sparkling water

Miso paste


At this point, I simply buy the things I intended to purchase for the meals I plan to make, but also plop down onto the dinner table a squirt bottle of liquid chocolate and tell the kids to have at it. I shudder to think how Hershey’s syrup can make delicate halibut in a corn and mung bean broth taste more appealing, but apparently it must.

So I’m trying to see this all from a different perspective. I suppose I should be grateful for the last few precious years of gathering round the table. Clearly our tastes at this point are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but thankfully our desires still meet in the most important room of my house. And no matter what everyone is eating, and what head-shaking requests show up on my next grocery list, I shall pull up a chair to the dinner table with a thankful heart. Because “Spending time together” is not something that can be purchased at any store.

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Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

15 thoughts on “Food for thought, but rarely for dinner.

  1. Yes, those family times at the table are precious. And oh yes, that is THE phrase in our house too. It’s full of pitfalls as you have deftly shown, but still preferable than someone standing, head in fridge saying “There’s nothing in here to eat.” WTH?? Not in my house.

    • There is a phrase my kids throw around our house whenever anybody complains about something they most assuredly shouldn’t. “Hashtag first world problems.” I’m guessing you’ve heard it? Somehow they develop an acute case of hearing loss when it comes to fridge and pantry. Next time I hear the words, “There’s nothing in here to eat,” I’m going to hand that person a spoon and a jar of mustard. “Hashtag deal with it.”

  2. Shells,

    An article true to my heart… and spot on family experience… and work as well. As a chef, I experience the “where’s the food selection” on a daily basis. You have the comfort food connoisseurs, the Latin “caro” cantankerous carnivores, the deep fried family (often blended with the Southern soul food brood), the sensuous seafood seekers, the vicarious vegetarians and of course a few sprinkles of vegans… talk about not playing with a full deck of cards (that, mind you is not a cut on vegans as I follow a pretty strict DASH diet… until hunting and foraging season begin).

    Cooking for a multitude of different tastes buds is challenging; however, mostly rewarding… especially in a medical facility where when patients see you bring food that they desire to them at meal time, it is more than just something to fill the stomach – it is sustenance for the soul. Food that heals, comforts, calms and makes even a small bit of discomfort disappear if even for just a few magical moments.

    Keep cooking and educating your family. Good health and nutritional knowledge begins at home. Without that, we are left to the ego of the worlds large food corporations and an early death.

    You’re one hell of a chef Shelley, keep cooking and writting.

    Much love,

    Stoshu 🙂

    • Thanks, buddy. Of course you, more than many, many people, understand the fickle nature (and necessity) of ‘diet,’ and I’m surprised you still have hair on your head left to pull, as mine would have all been yanked out by now if I were in your shoes.
      Thanks for the reminder of the rewards in the end. Somehow they balance the effort. Clearly, it happens for you!

  3. This is great. I needed a smile today, and your post did the trick. Since I’m a vegetarian and wannabe vegan, I’m normally eating something completely different from the omnivores in my house, but as you pointed out, no matter what might be on our plates, sitting down together and sharing a meal as a family is what matters most.

    • I love the fact that so many like-minded folks stop by to share their experiences and feelings. I also love knowing that what matters so much to me, means so much to others: food, family, fellowship. (And just enough words to bring on a chuckle.) 🙂

  4. Lovely post. I agree with you we all rush towards food no matter what our moods are. Dinning table brings families together and there is nothing more precious than quality family time. I always love the photos in your post. The cat food one is specially cute. Thanks for sharing a wonderful post with us. Your posts always rejuvenate my mood. Thanks for this.

    • Many thanks, Samina. I think you nailed it on the head with the choice words “quality family time.” Even though I lay down the law about butts in chairs come dinner time at least three or four times a week, with two very vocal and highly opinionated teens, the type of family time we often experience causes a great deal of indigestion. Still, we’re together. 😉

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