Labor Considerations

As I thought about our next List entry, it dawned on me that it’s quite possible that my kids, at least one of them, may vote for dishes based not only on taste but also on the amount of kitchen clean-up that might be required of him after eating that dish.  I’ll explain.

My favorite story about my mother’s childhood involves doing the dishes. She lived in a war-era house with a fully enclosed  kitchen typical of 1940’s architecture.  A door closed the kitchen off from the rest of the house and, of course, it did not have a dishwasher, save my mother and her sister.

Also typical of  the time was the regular use of potatoes and other meal-stretching ingredients.  The story goes that one evening my mother and her sister were doing the dishes, as usual, but this time my grandmother surprised them and opened that kitchen door.  The problem with her sudden appearance was that a handful of those meal-stretching potatoes, in mashed form, were currently plastered to the ceiling, just a few feet directly over her head.  The custom was for my aunt and mother to throw leftover starchy and sticky potatoes hard into the air, where they inevitably stuck to the ceiling for any given amount of time before eventually falling, the goal being  to catch them before they hit the floor.

As the potatoes began to loosen from the ceiling that night, destined to fall smack on my grandmother’s head, my mother and aunt reportedly saw their lives flash before their eyes as they feared the predictable wrath of their Rosie the Riveter mother.  She obviously left the room in time, because my mother survived and I’m here to tell this tale.  The funny part was that my grandmother didn’t find out about their little doing-the-dishes escapades and the details and avoided consequences of that one especially fateful opening of  her kitchen door until many, many years later.

I, too, did the dishes as a kid, but in a 1970’s-era home without the benefit of an enclosed, private kitchen.  Our kitchen was open to the world, so our doing-the-dishes fun had to wait for the evenings when my parents were out.  Once a month or so they went to some boy scout meeting or other, leaving me and my three siblings at home to do the dishes without any sort of intrusive parental input or presence.  We didn’t have to worry that they’d walk into the kitchen at an inopportune time, so we took full advantage of what we viewed as glorious freedom.

We had a long bank of overhead kitchen cabinets, the backs of which faced the family room and were nicely covered in thin, stained plywood, giving us a great canvas upon which to work.  My mother had hung various baskets and such along the family room side of these cabinets, which we unceremoniously removed the moment my parents left the house.  We always had spaghetti on boy scout meeting nights and, being a family of four little kids without a 100% List, we always had leftover pasta because inevitably some kid chose to not eat it. We gathered these now-cold and extremely sticky noodles, sans sauce, and took turns using them to write the dirtiest words we could imagine on the backside of that cabinet bank.  The noodles stuck to the wood perfectly.  As soon as each word or phrase was completed, the rest of the kids would run from the kitchen to see the masterpiece, laugh like morons, and then it was the next kid’s turn to remove the noodles and start over with a new dirty word.  When the dishes were finished or when we stopped getting along, we put the baskets back up and went about our kid business.

Time passed and we all left for college.  My mother decided to update the family room decor, and this meant getting rid of those hanging baskets.  One day she took them off the cabinets and realized what she’d been missing when she went to those meetings.  Apparently quite a few words were still visible on the now-tired plywood stain, a consequence of starchy residue which either gathered dust over the years or ate away at the stain or something.  I am still a little unsure what exactly she could see, but I remember hearing from my siblings still living in the area that a phrase like “Joe’s farts stink” and a couple four-letter words were clearly emblazoned on those cabinets like Ghosts of Dishes Past.  It didn’t take much effort on my mother’s part to figure out how they got there, since there were also (so I hear, though I don’t remember being this careless) petrified bits of spaghetti stuck to the back of some of the baskets too, which must have been greatly puzzling before she connected the mysterious words with the damning evidence.

I think the best part about both these stories is how it gives me complete license to make my own kids do the dishes.  I’ve heard that the only time my mother and her sister ever really got along well was in the middle of their potato-chucking contests, and I can attest to basically the same phenomenon occuring among my siblings and myself during our spaghetti-writing forays.  So what will my own kids do that I’ll maybe find out about in ten or fifteen years?  Who knows, but it gives me moral justification and a really great excuse (which they’re sick of hearing, of course) for bailing on dishes duty most nights and graciously opting to allow them the privilege.  I’m providing them a bonding, memory-creating opportunity, because I’m such a giver.

So a meal that leaves behind a minimum of messy dishes does, therefore, carry with it extra incentive for my kids.  I’m not into the whole “1-pot meal” thing, to my kids chagrin, so a meal that requires as little soap or scrubbing as possible is obviously enticing.  However, the kids did all vote on and approve this dish last night, regardless of their motivations, so onto The List it goes.

#12: Poached Orange Chicken with Mint Sauce

This dish is simple and quick, yet also attractive enough to serve to diners over 4 feet tall.  I serve it with vegetables (zucchini and tomatoes from the garden last night, roasted with olive oil and pepper) and orzo, and the entire meal creates just a couple of non-labor-intensive pots to clean afterwards.

You’ll notice the orzo, balanced high with a 3″ copper mold.  This is just ordinary orzo, molded in a piece of ordinary copper pipe (which I got from Home Depot, because the ring molds I really wanted were so ridiculously expensive that I couldn’t justify my desire).  When the kids were little I could get them to taste just about anything if I threw it in a ring mold.  I’ll post more about our Ring Mold Addiction tomorrow.  Find the chicken and sauce recipes here.

Your dishwasher will thank you.

The List currently sits at 12…

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