Cooking for the family is a tasty tradition

Most of the women I know simply can’t believe it.

ldquo;You mean you still cook?” they ask me in amazement as if I’ve just proclaimed that I’ve swum the English Channel…again.

Cooking, it seems, is on the endangered list.

The simple answer is yes, I cook. Almost every night.

Let me explain at the outset that cooking is still a matter of definition. For some, it means preparing meals that are elegant, elaborate and presented in multicourses. Yes, “presented.”

For those folks, a “simple” meal includes foods I can’t even pronounce, let alone prepare. So when I say that yes, I still cook, the translation needs to be that every night at dusk, I step into the kitchen, survey the freezer, the refrigerator, the vegetable drawer in our fridge — and wonder what I can get on the table within an hour.

That table, it must be noted, is a yard sale find: small, round, golden oak and something one might spot in a children’s book on the “Three Bears” page.

It’s been with us for 11 years, since we discovered that the massive pine table from our former house took up just about all the floor space in our modest breakfast room. On it is usually a sturdy cotton-checked cloth that would never, ever be found in a five-star (or two-star) restaurant. It’s cheerful, serviceable but completely, totally down to earth.

I set this scene to make a point: dining, Chez Friedman, is remarkably simple.

It’s also the loveliest time of the day for two old-marrieds who sometimes are like those famous ships that pass in the night.

My husband is happily, joyfully retired — and so busy that he’s often gone from morning until night. I’m not retired — and my home also is my office.

So on some days, our paths don’t cross at all, as he tends to his routine, and I to mine.

Yes, we could rush off to a restaurant, local or urban, at day’s end. But then we couldn’t pad around in our sneakers and figure out whether we want to dip crackers into hummus at the kitchen counter as our — ahem — appetizer.

Nor could we debate the relative merits of romaine lettuce or mixed greens that thankfully come pre-washed.

Dinnertime, for us, is the guaranteed time of day when we bring one another up to date on the state of our world. And I wish that meant pondering the global economy, the tinderbox of the Middle East or the political logjam in Congress.

But frankly, it’s more likely to be a dinner table conversation about (in any order)

• our adult kids

• our grandchildren

• when the car is due for inspection

• why the dishwasher is making a funny noise

• whether Diane Sawyer, our anchor of choice, is looking a wee bit tired

Chances are that on the plates we bought because we loved their no-nonsense simplicity and heft will be salmon, chicken or turkey meat loaf. Our days of hearty beef stews and briskets swimming in gravy are behind us now that we’re no longer younger than springtime.

The potatoes may be white or sweet, and when we’re feeling virtuous, there are two fresh green vegetables as “sides.”

No self-respecting restaurant would condone such uninspired dining, but for us, menus that are familiar are somehow…reassuring.

Comforting, too, is the daily debate in fall and spring about whether to open the sliding glass doors to our deck and let the breezes waft in…or not. The discussion can get…spirited.

Our final ritual: the sharing of whatever dessert we choose. Divide and conquer is our portion-control default position. And if I’ve been feeling ambitious, it’s chocolate pudding the slow-cooked way.

High-livers would find all of this suffocating. So would gourmands. And so, too, might the young and restless who do the club scene after trendy dinners at restaurants with funky names.

But for two long-long marrieds who spent the first quarter-century of our togetherness never finishing a sentence as three daughters needed to be heard about the hockey team or the algebra test or the prom…it’s actually quite wonderful to be alone together.

We’re savoring the freedom we have to live simply, but jubilantly. There may be new recipes and restaurants to conquer. There may be far fancier meals to be tasted. But we’ll still take our Three Bears table, Diane Sawyer and slow-cooked chocolate pudding.

Viva la simple life! ••