A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Microwaved Dinners

I've been enjoying a little taste of home this week. By this I mean that both my husband and I have been so busy that we've been living off left-overs and frozen food—and oddly enough, this always reminds me of my childhood. I'm sure the idea of microwaved dinners will make you cringe if you were raised, like my husband, on home-cooked meals. His mother was a stay-at-home mom who would prepare complicated casseroles, sausage lasagnas, and batches of hand-rolled German egg noodles with meatballs.

My mother was a college professor, though, and because she was teaching most of the day and correcting papers in the evenings, roasts and lasagnas weren't the usual fare at our house. I grew up on a steady diet of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, microwaved Campbell's soup and hot dogs, fish sticks and tater tots, and peanut butter sandwiches. Those were the nights when my parents had the energy to “cook” something. Sometimes they would just pull out one those kids' TV dinners with Penguin on the box—not my favorite. For a treat once a week, though, we would go to Taco Bell for nachos and those oh-so-delicious Cinnamon Twists. We would sneak the twists out of the take-out bag while they were still hot, and then enjoy those stale chips and that highly-processed cheese sauce when we got home.

Though I don't have fond memories of the Penguin's unidentifiable slabs of meat and too-tiny brownies, I still enjoy a good bowl of Mac 'N Cheese, a can of Vegetable Beef soup, or dinosaur-shaped nuggets. Lately, a couple of my colleagues have ridiculed the processed chicken fingers that I bring to microwave for lunch, but even though I would generally prefer to be eating healthier food, I have to admit that I find this diet somewhat comforting. Graduate school is such a stressful, disorienting experience—I want something that reminds me of my childhood, that makes me feel safe and sheltered. It may seem strange, but I associate fish sticks with my grandfather because baked them for us, and I think of Ballpark Franks as my father’s heart-felt attempts at cooking, all the more special because they would come out of the microwave over-done and a little shriveled. But I have a (perhaps overly nostalgic) sense that these meals were made with just as much love as my mother-in-law’s lasagnas.

Home is where they make you microwaved hot dogs
Campbell's soup.

So this week, when we’ve been too busy to cook, I've treated myself to PB and J, tater tots, Campbell’s clam chowder, and a lot of microwaved popcorn. I’m motivated by more than just a need to grab something quick – if I was in a rush but wanted something healthy, there’s always the salad bar at the corner grocery store. Typically that’s the option I choose, loading up my to-go carton with slices of red pepper, fresh mushrooms and some egg salad on the side. You can usually get some nice fresh fruit, too – although it’s ridiculously expensive and I have to worry about paying for all this on a graduate student’s stipend.

But I’m twelve weeks into the semester and craving a taste of home—and the microwaved soup and hot dogs make me think of evenings in front of the television, watching Wheel of Fortune with my grandparents. When the peanut butter sticks to the roof of my mouth, I think of hot summer days spent playing in the backyard tent. I can still see my grandmother carrying the sandwiches across the yard, the sunlight falling on her shoulders. I feel safe and happy for just a moment, remembering these things about home, before I have to return to the four precarious stacks of books on my desk and the piles of papers that I need to correct. Next week, I’ll go back to my chicken wrap lunches and salad bar dinners, but for now, I need a little taste of home.

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