My mother was a terrific housewife. But in the early sixties, when she wanted to go to work “outside the home” as we now say, she asked my father’s permission.” She assured him that nothing would change: His shirts would still be crisply ironed, the house would remain immaculate and dinner would still be on the table promptly at six.
So the shirts were sent out, the cleaning help came twice a week, and we ate a lot of pre-prepared foods that my mother put on the table promptly at six. I’m not sure that my father ever knew the difference.
Mom was a sleight-of-hand expert at presenting dinner with a personal touch: Fresh grated parmesan topped the lasagna she bought at the supermarket. To the macaroni salad she purchased at the deli right next to her office she added chopped veggies, sprinkled on a little paprika and put it all in a pretty blue bowl.
Here are five easy steps for busy people to add a home-made touch to edibles that are store-bought, packaged or delivered.
1. Presentation, presentation, presentation. Take that take-home out of the original wrapper. My mom never ever put plastic containers on the table. Food tastes better when it is attractively served. Hint: Better put the evidence at the bottom of the trash can if you don’t want to be discovered.
2. Garnish, garnish garnish. Something green: Parsley, capers, or basil added to most side dishes make it look more gourmet. Add fresh fruit to jarred jellies: A few pitted cherries in cherry jam make it look as if you’ve been canning this season. Add a wedge of something citrus to most anything at all.
3. Add hard-boiled eggs to store-bought potato salads. Especially the “old-fashioned” kind which is often ultra creamy. Other good additions: sweet snap peas or jicama for crunch. More egg crumbled on top. Don’t be surprised it everyone asks for the recipe.
4. Ethnic appetizers are exotic but they are so time-consuming if you start from scratch. Drizzle good olive oil over the grape leaves that came in a can. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and, shavings of lemon zest. Do the same for hummus surrounded by toasted pita chips.
5. Ah, the convenience of rotisserie chicken. My mom used to put the pre-cooked bird in her own roaster, stuff chopped apples into the cavity, and baste a little honey along the breast. Then the bird went back in the oven to heat ‘til dinner time.
This summer in the Midwest, I’ve gone to neighborhood pot-lucks with food made not in my own pot. Is it cheating? If people ask, I tell. But sometimes a little help makes the living easier.