Tag Archives: tv

t.v. dinner (an addendum)

Recently I wrote a piece, called t.v. dinner, about the realization that, though I have no television, I actually, most nights, have dinner for t.v. Meaning, the amount of time I spend on deciding what to cook for dinner, prepping the ingredients, eating and then cleaning up—that actually amounts to my evening—a typical amount of tv viewing time for ‘normal’ people.

It was a news flash, of sorts, for me to realize why I never had ‘time’ for watching tv, or using my monthly netflix subscription. It also helped me to realize why many people don’t really have time for all that is involved in cooking (from ingredients, not from a container) in this way.

But the problem is, it’s hard not to sound self-righteous when claiming to not watch tv. Somehow it just sounds judgmental, even if you don’t mean or intend it to be. I hate sounding judgmental.

I realized, after that post, that the comments I received were from people who already agreed with me—others who have no tv, don’t watch tv, or believe in ‘slow food’ as opposed to fast. I appreciated the comments and was encouraged by them. It’s always nice to have affirmation.

Of course I’m happy to provide encouragement to other tv disavowers. But what I’d also like to do is to speak a word to the tv watchers. Shaming them for their tv watching is, then, not the best approach to that—I’m just guessing here.

Therefore, a confession, specifically for the tv watching crew: last night I happened to be in the US, staying at my mom’s house while she was out of town. (For the record, she has a tv.) It was approaching the evening hour, so I began to consider what to make for dinner. I looked in the pantry and in the fridge to see what ingredients might be available. I found some pasta, onions, pesto, and tomatoes, and decided that simple Italian would be the menu. It didn’t take much prep (other than putting out the fire in the toaster oven—it did not turn off automatically, and, also for the record, pine nuts burst into some really vibrant flames when left too long in the toaster) and so it was fairly early when, dinner in hand, I sat down to eat.

That is when it happened… I reached for the remote. As in, the tv remote.

It was not that there was anything on that I wanted to watch. I have no idea what might be on at 6:30 on a Sunday evening. (Though I do like 60 minutes.) No, I simply sat down, and reached for the remote, out of pure habit in that space.

And caught myself.

Which, of course, gave me time to ponder. (Pondering being one of my favorite spiritual disciplines. Some call it contemplation. I like to call it pondering. But that’s another story.) The thing is, my life here in the US is structured in a different way from my life in Baja. It was that structure, that pattern, that I reached for, in picking up the remote, more than any particular desire to watch tv. It was that pattern that meant I almost didn’t even realize what I was doing, except that I had just been talking about the tv dinner with a tv watching friend, so it was percolating in my mental space.

My ‘pattern’ in Baja doesn’t include tv because, for the most practical reason, I don’t have one. If I want to watch tv I have to go seek it out. I’m lazy enough that the extra step of that keeps me from actually partaking, unless it is something that I am really quite interested in.

My pattern in Baja does include a nightly ritual surrounding the celebration of food, the actual ingredients from the garden or the local market, and enjoying its beauty and its bounty. It is not a chore for me to perform this nightly ritual, because it is one I am, in a sense, programmed into in my life there. In fact, it is something I miss when I am away, and which I find myself looking forward to most days.

Of course I’m aware of the power of habit in performing any action, or in making any life shift—moving something from an intentional activity into a pattern is key to ‘succeeding’ in incorporating that activity into life—whether it be exercise, healthy eating, spending time with people, or taking on some new hobby or learning.

But what I hadn’t realized was how easily I could shift from one ‘pattern’ to another, simply based on the context, and what was ‘normal’ in that space. Which, of course, got me to pondering again, this time about how the external environment contributes or detracts from our internal desires and intentions. But that pondering will have to marinate a bit more.

What I came to realize is that it is not actually the tv watching itself that, in my previous post, I sought to understand or describe. (of course there is trash on tv and of course there is amazing and witty and informative tv, and everything in between and it all can be entertaining and wonderfully mind numbing in moderation.)

I think it is more the pattern, the habit of it, that when it is part of our routine, we don’t even question—the fact that it didn’t occur to me that I might ‘find time’ for tv, or the fact that it doesn’t occur to many that they might ‘find time’ for cooking healthy meals. It is the habit that fascinates me, and its power to make that pattern seem normal, self-evident, and unquestioned.

This not watching tv thing…it leaves a person with a lot of time for thinking. Maybe Desperate Housewives isn’t such a bad idea after all…

t.v. dinner

I don’t have a tv. Sometimes that comes as a shock to people, or at least a surprise.

I do have a computer, but since I live in Mexico, things like abc.com or hulu or even Netflix are either severely restricted or not available without technological work arounds (such as a proxy server, to prove to the geeky reader that I do know that is an option).

I didn’t throw out the tv in some fit of anti-consumerist righteousness—in my grandmother’s house, where I live, there never was a tv. Granted, there was never electricity, or a phone, or wifi, and I’ve managed to adjust to the addition of those things quite easily, thank you.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy watching a tv show or two or four when visiting friends who do have one of those new fangled modern inventions. But what I realized, in a conversation not long ago, is that I don’t really miss it. In fact, the limited Netflix subscription that I am able to get here in Baja? I never use it. Never. I think I have watched one movie in the more than six months since I reactivated the subscription (one might ask why, then, do I keep the subscription and it would be an appropriate question, which, for now, I’m ignoring).

Not only do I not miss it, but I’m not sure how I would have time for it. Seriously.

Because what I also realized is that, when I post food photos of what I have made or am eating for dinner, I think that many people have the same reaction to that as I did to the tv—how in the world would I ever have time for that?

So, what I then realized, brilliant ponderer of life that I am, is that for me dinner is my tv. Like a tv dinner, but backwards.

Because, pretty much, from about 5 or 6 pm when I come inside from working out in the yard or doing whatever I have been doing for the afternoon, I begin the process of dinner that will basically take me the rest of the evening. This is most definitely not ‘fast food’ in any sense of the word, though it is not always complicated or even time consuming. Most often it is quite enjoyable.

By that point in the day I don’t feel like getting in the car (which I tend to only drive every few days in my Baja life) so I am left to figure out something for dinner with the ingredients that I happen to have on hand. When those ingredients do not immediately present themselves as a menu, I go searching in my many (hard copy) cookbooks based on a particular ingredient I might decide to use that night, such as a sweet potato, broccoli, swiss chard, lentils, etc. Sooner or later something presents itself, either from the cookbooks or from my good friend google, and I set about the dinner prep process.

Often, during this process, I listen to a podcast from On Being with Krista Tippett (amazing, and highly recommended) or an audio book by Richard Rohr, Rob Bell or some other current day theologian (I know, that is probably not going to compete head to head with Desperate Housewives) or I listen to the live stream of news from my Al Jazeera iPhone app—I especially love the weather report and the ‘sporting report’ which are more like lessons in geography and geopolitics than simply weather or sport. Occasionally I put on music. Sometimes, I go the entire evening, with no ‘sound’ at all, other than me talking to myself (should I admit that?) or the onions sizzling in the pan.  Some might consider that to be cavernously hollow. I find it peaceful.

More often than not,  I wind up actually sitting down to eat dinner somewhere around 7pm. I do, of course, have to photograph my food—sometimes I actually let it get cold while I am getting just the right shot of it. And yes, even if I don’t photograph it, I still need to ‘plate’ it in an aesthetically pleasing way—why not make it look beautiful, even if it is just for me?

What is perhaps ironic is that the actual process of eating, since I am a rather fast eater, takes only moments, after sometimes an hour of prep, and then, when the plate is empty, after dinner clean-up.

When I was a little girl and my grandmother was still alive, living in the house, I made the mistake of asking her, “Mama (pronounced Maam-ma, not momma), you don’t have a dishwasher—how do you do the dishes?” Let’s just say I found out. And I’m sure she continues to chuckle as, each night after dinner, I find out yet again, with  no machine to wash the dishes for me.  (The good news is that the water from the sink drains out into the yard, and is what keeps the bougainvillea and the volunteer cherry tomato climbing up it both in fairly vibrant bloom.)

By the time the dishes are done, and usually left out to dry—drying dishes seems like such a ‘make work’ task when they can dry perfectly fine on their own—it is somewhere around 8pm. Now, I realize, that for many people that might be ideal time to sit down and begin watching tv, especially since shows (that are not recorded on the dvr) are often starting then. However, by the time I am done with a day working on the computer, then working in the yard, then making dinner, by about 8pm, if I am honest, it is pretty much transition toward going to bed time. Granted, I don’t actually go to bed at 8—but there is absolutely no shame in 9.

What I am realizing is that for me, the process of selecting ingredients, cooking, eating, and cleaning is a form of ‘entertainment’ if you will. I love to consider what I might make with the ingredients I have available to me, fresh from the garden or from the monday market. It does not seem like an annoyance—it is more of an adventure. I love to think up ways to use everything, so that (ideally) nothing goes to waste. It is a challenge, not a chore. And it matters to me to display that meal in a beautiful way, that celebrates the food—it is not simply fuel to keep my body going, but, I hope, a delight to the senses—or at least good.

Okay, here’s the part where I’m going to get a bit self-righteous…be warned. I’m sorry. I don’t really like being self-righteous. Even though I am an ordained evangelist. Next thing you know I will be on the corner with a megaphone and a sign saying “cook dinner or burn forever!” Anyway, I digress….back to the self-righteous point…

My question is this….does it strike anyone else as interesting, odd or a bit of an issue that we, in our culture today, so often do not have the ‘time’ for eating real food? Food that’s actually made at home, not food that we have to buy as fast food or pre-made  ‘food’?

It seems that we make time for what we value, don’t we? It also seems to me that food is something to value, beyond simply filling ourselves up.

What if we were to see ‘food’ and its enjoyment as entertainment, or even as a way to relax and unwind from a busy day? What if cooking together or washing dishes together became a family activity (as my good friend Jen recently wrote about) instead of or at least alongside watching tv together?

I wonder, instead of having tv for dinner, what about having dinner for tv?