Quick, Spatchcock A Chicken — Or Not

I read an article in a national newspaper that was billed as a “home-cooking manifesto.” At first I was agreeing with the premise of the article, which basically was “just cook.”

That sounds easy enough. Make time for it. Make it a habit. Do it every night. Gather all the young ‘uns and loving spouse around the family dinner table and pass the gravy.

And then the author gave what was described as a simple recipe for a weeknight chicken dish as an example of how to “just cook.” When done correctly, the dish takes about an hour and a half to prepare, using techniques most home cooks have never tried. Spatchcock a chicken, anyone? Right. Me neither. An hour and a half to prepare dinner on a weeknight? Sure, if you want to eat dinner at 8:30 or 9.

Just cook, indeed. I had to rethink my reaction to the article.

Someone asked me recently why I like to cook. I, in fact, love to cook. I’m not chef quality, but I make up for lack of training and skill with enthusiasm and an adventurous spirit. A lot of times my culinary creations fall flat. My poor husband eats them anyway.

Why do I like to cook? Because I can. And I can, mostly because I have the time.

Before I “retired” from TV news, I tried to cook, and made an effort, but it wasn’t really what I’d call fun. When I worked the night shift I would sometimes cook up batches of food on weekends for the coming week. But more often than not my husband did the bulk of the dinner preparation for him and our son.

When I switched to days, dinner was a hurried, thrown-together affair. Or it was takeout. Or again, prepared by my wonderful husband, who often got home a bit earlier.

Most families I know are in the same boat. It’s a challenge to cook when both spouses work or if you’re a single parent. I never would judge anyone for being too exhausted to “whip up” a home-cooked meal under those circumstances. Shortcuts and takeout rule!

Believe me when I say I appreciate being able to saut√© and braise and chop and bake to my heart’s content now that I have the time to do it. But here’s an interesting thing: My family, I’ve discovered, is happy and grateful, but not happier or more grateful than before.

The reason is simple. Sure, our schedules were hectic. But when we were able, we made it a point to sit down and eat our meal as a family. We couldn’t do it every meal, but we made it a priority. It was important to us.

Didn’t matter if it was KFC or deli or Chinese takeout, or something one of us threw in a pan in a 20-minute cooking frenzy. Dining as a family trumped how we got the food to the table. It was the shared family experience that was important.

I’m saying this because I see that certain segments of society still want us to go back to a “better” time and to keep up or rekindle the ways of the past.

But our realities are different in 2014. Focusing on things we can’t do — or can’t do well — just makes us feel inadequate and stressed.

I say we weed through the noise, the demands and the nostalgia and focus on the here and now. Get to the nut of what’s really important. For families, it’s time shared. That will never change. That’s what we should be striving for — and making time for — in our busy lives.

And it’s something we can do, even if we can’t spatchcock a chicken.

Twitter: @JadeMoon1