Growing up down the crick in the 80s, Sunday dinner with the extended family wasn’t just something you saw in a Rockwell print. Sitting around the table, weighted down with metric tons of food, presided over by my grandfather, with aunts, uncles, and cousins jammed in elbow to elbow wasn’t a television trope. Living it then, I didn’t recognize it as anything other than the normal way of things. It’s only in hindsight I can see just how remarkable those Sunday dinners were.
Sunday dinner was always the big meal of the week, but Sunday lunch is just as fixed in my memory. It was almost invariably hamburgers – fried up in a skillet, or more rarely from the electric grill on the patio, and served with chips and maybe baked beans. I’m sure there were other sandwiches, but it’s the hamburgers that seem to be stuck in my mind’s eye as I look back across the decades.
I’ve long maintained the spirit of Sunday dinner being a household “event.” It’s consistently the biggest and most wide-ranging meal I make every week… though unlike my grandmother, I’m mercifully not making it to feed a dozen or more hungry mouths.
Now, these many years later, I find myself recreating those lunches, too. Sunday lunch is hamburgers or ham salad or BLTs. Perhaps it’s not an exact recreation, of the lunches that I remember so clearly, but it’s absolutely done with intent.
I know the poet says “The good old days weren’t always good.” He’s probably on to something there. Even so, they weren’t all bad either. One of the great mercies of time is it tends to smooth off some of the rougher edges of memory. I appreciate that immensely.
I’ve ruined Sunday dinner for the last two weeks running. I mean it wasn’t bringing a hooker to Thanksgiving, having a shouting match with Aunt Mildred, or putting my elbows on the table ruined, but the food just plain sucked. I’ve never claimed to be a fancy cook, but most of the time my fairly simple recipes to satisfy my decidedly uncomplicated palate come out exactly as expected.
Even in a plague year, Sunday dinner is a big deal at my house. It’s the one day of the week I can reliably counted on to make a full and proper meal. It’s usually also the day that leaves me with plentiful leftovers to spread over the week to come. I’ve now chucked a gallon of soup and almost three pounds of beef over the fence to feed the local wildlife with what should have been half a dozen days’ worth of easy meals.
You might think roast beef and potato soup would be fairly indestructible. It turns out they’re not. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here culling my recipe books down to about a dozen recipes that have never let me down. I’m not sure I’m mentally equipped for another disappointing meal coming out of my own kitchen.
I might be a little tired of some my “greatest hits” menu items, but I know exactly what they’re going to taste like when they hit the table… and it turns out that counts for a lot more than I thought it did before I started turning meals into absolute trash.
It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that I keep extensive lists. Everything from books I want to read to what groceries I need ends up on lists I keep on my phone for quick reference and for ease of making additions or deletions. It’s an old fashioned model lightly updated by technology. It is not, however, foolproof.
A few staple items, like rice and potatoes, I usually buy in quantity because so much of what I cook is loosely based around five or so key ingredients. They get used quickly and replenished on a regular basis. Because they get used and replaced so quickly, I occasionally find that the lists haven’t kept up.
It’s on days like that – like today – that I find myself conflicted between two compelling, but mutually exclusive, desires. I can either make a quick run into town to pick up the onion necessary for meatloaf I’ve planned for Sunday dinner or I can stay home avoiding people and use onion powder as a sad substitute.
I deeply love a good meatloaf. I am also appalled by the idea of dealing with the general public when it isn’t strictly necessary. Surely you can see the hooks of the dilemma on which I find myself stuck.
This is obviously what’s meant when they “adulting is hard.”
I’ve written before about my love of roast beef for Sunday dinner. It’s the ultimate comfort food that takes me back a few decades in a single bite. Plus, it makes the whole house smell amazing all day long. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love the smell of roasting flesh permeating every square inch of their home, right?
As usual, of course, that’s not my point. What I’m trying to figure out this morning, is when a basic rump roast weighing in at a little less than 3 pounds (and needing another 1/3 of a pound of fat trimmed) started costing almost $20. By my back-of-the-napkin math, the steer that roast came from sold at auction for approximately $1.7 billion, or roughly the cost of 1.5 stealth bombers.
While it’s true that I’m probably going to make 4 complete meals from this roast and with sides the average cost per meal will still be about $5 a plate, $20 for a roast is a price point that bothers me on a philosophical level. I’m not what’s called a price conscious shopper. I have a list and I want to cross everything off that list in one stop rather than chase nickels and dimes all over the county. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So look, I’m not going to start having Tofu Dinner Sundays or anything but I am starting to think it may be time to invest in a chest freezer and buying the whole damned cow direct from the source. The chances of it getting any cheaper from here on out seem somewhere between slim and none.
I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating – Roast beef is my favorite Sunday dinner. Of course it’s convenient, too. Seared on cast iron, laced with almost an entire garlic clove, plopped in the crock pot and surrounded by mushroom soup and dry italian dressing mix, dinner prep is basically finished by 8AM. Then there’s the smell. I love the way a roasting beef fills that house with that smell. And then, of course, there are the memories of long ago and far away family dinners. For me, roast beef is the working definition of comfort food. It’s something to savor.
I can’t really claim to be a foodie. I don’t rush off to try the great new restaurants or seek out a dining adventure. I’m sure I could cook just about anything, but dinner here at the Rental Casa de Jeff is always about simple home cooking. I can’t imagine anyone is shocked to find that I consider myself the quintessential meat and potatoes kind of guy. I don’t need or really want ostrich burgers, chilled monkey brains, or snake surprise. Keep the larder stocked with herbs and spices, carrots, celery, onions, and the basic cuts of chicken, pork, and beef and I’m both a happy cook and a happy diner.