There was never a dull moment when my parents went out to dinner without us kids, indenturing me to one of my older sisters who were free to boss us younger ones around at will. My eldest sibling liked to send us on wild goose chases the most classic of which was the “Coke Caper.”
She directed two of us to go to the basement to fetch a carton of Coke—a carton full of heavy bottles that made their retrieval a two-tyke job. When we arrived with the plunder, huffing and puffing from our effort, she feigned exasperation, saying, “What are you doing with that Coke? Take that back to the basement!” Feeling bewildered, we complied. Our return to the main floor was greeted with another surprise. Hands on hips, her voice stern, she asked, “Well, where’s my Coke? Go get it!” This cycle continued until some one burst out in tears, and we were then rewarded with a glass of the sweet, amber liquid. I’m still not sure if this was simply an amusement for a teenager or an ingenious way to exhaust us “little kids” so we’d crash early. Then my sister could safely use the phone. The sole, black, rotary-dial family phone attached to our kitchen wall.
My sister had learned to wait until we were in bed to phone friends after once being distracted by some movement outside of the dining room window while she gabbed. She turned her head to find two of my siblings repelling down the side of our brick house on a rope made of sheets all strung together and secured to the bedpost in our parents second-floor bedroom.
I can still see the phone receiver swinging back and forth like a pendulum in front of the kitchen wall where it had been dropped so she could hasten outside and peel the climbers off of the wall before some neighborhood mom saw them and reported it to Mom and Dad.
But the best thing about my parents’ nights out was dinner. My mom was a good cook, but in her absence Swanson’s did the job for her. These were the days of Camelot and the race to the moon, which brought all kinds of NASA foods, like Tang orange drink, into our lives. TV dinners were right up there with Jiffy Pop when it came to mid-century culinary chic.
My favorites were turkey with gravy and Salisbury steak. Of course the food tasted like cardboard, but the experience of eating from a divided, rectangular aluminum plate set out on a TV tray felt glamorous.
Today is National TV Dinner Day. TV Dinners, or frozen prepackaged meals reheated for serving, first came into vogue in the 1950’s, although they had been used for commercial airline flights as early as the 1930’s. Swanson’s made the first successful ones, which included turkey with gravy, dressing, and frozen peas. They cost about 98 cents each and since it was the pre-microwave era, had to be heated in the conventional oven for 25 minutes. By the time I enjoyed them in the 60’s there were more entrée options, and all of the dinners included some form of dessert, too.
While I like the idea of quick and easy, and even made-ahead, my enthusiasm for the preservative-laden frozen variety has waned. Instead, I prefer to cook my food fresh because it’s healthier and it tastes better. I don’t always want to, or have the time to, cook each night though. So I use my Easy Weekly Meals method of making quick spin-off meals from leftovers, or making double and even triple batches of a recipe that can be reheated throughout the week or frozen and reheated at some point in the future.
And when I’m alone I eat them in front of the TV.
Enjoy National TV Dinner Day!
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