In case of emergency: Please present plate

Friday September 14, 2012

We all have them -- "one of those days." I feel like I’m suddenly getting more of them -- is it the onset of school, with the change from the fluidity of summer to the busyness of fall and the changing of our schedules? Things just seem to logjam up, nothing goes as planned or, as happened to my day today, you almost get through the craziness only to have something unexpected pop up at the end, leaving you frazzled, run ragged and without a dinner plan. Now what?

After a day at work and the usual shuffle of picking up our 7-year-old daughter and getting her to her first New England Youth Theater class, I did a quick bit of shopping and then ran to pick up our 12-year-old daughter from soccer practice. After that, I planned to pick up the youngest and we would all head home to do homework, play outside, and, in my case, make dinner. It was all perfectly timed and we were almost there.

Too bad for me and my carefully thought-out and well-timed plans. A torn quadriceps muscle had rendered Marielle only able to hobble and in lots of pain. By the time I finally got her into the car, it was time to zoom and get her sister, get home and then spend the next 45 minutes getting the injured girl settled, applying ice packs and ibuprofen, locating crutches and talking to the doctor all the while doing my best to listen to our younger actress excitedly explain about her soon-to-be production in which she was very proudly going to star as a talking pumpkin.

Not much time left for making dinner, not to mention that it was now 6:15 and we have been trying desperately to keep everyone getting to bed on time now that school has started. I didn’t have an elaborate dinner planned -- some grilled pork chops, maybe some rice pilaf and the summer squash that was in the fridge. But pork chops on the grill need to be watched and turned and frankly, I didn’t have enough brain power left for even that simple task.

So I headed to my emergency plan. I have two of them -- eggs and pasta. I had already done eggs two nights ago and wasn’t sure that I had enough of them, so pasta it was. Lucky for me, our family likes pasta and doesn’t complain too loudly when it appears on the menu at the last minute, which seems to be the only way it ever appears on the menu. Planning Wednesday as "Prince spaghetti day?" Hah! I say why plan to use a meal that can pinch-hit so well in an emergency? Save it for when you need it, which seems to be about once a week, anyway!

A box of fettuccini with marinara, butter and parmesan cheese as the a la carte toppings, served with a side of quickly sautéed summer squash and garlic to hit our veggie quota. It occurred to me, however, that there are certainly more options than just pasta or eggs that could be used on evenings such as this one. If I have tortillas on hand, quesadillas full of melted cheese and veggies would make a great, easy dinner. If I have time, but no real ability to do much hands-on, a pot of rice could always be mixed with some canned beans and cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches are another good option (really nothing different than a quesadilla) or pancakes are easy to whip up and cook quickly on the griddle -- and who doesn’t like a bit of "backwards day" silliness to relieve the stress of unforeseen events that have thrown everyone a bit off kilter?

How about you? Do you have any special go-to recipes? Is it suddenly cereal night? Or have you planned ahead for such things and have a secret stash of something in the freezer (I keep telling myself that I need to do this). Or do you just say the heck with it and call for pizza? Regardless of what, I’d love to hear about how you deal with dinner when evenings are crammed full, things don’t go as expected or you are just plain out of groceries and don’t have time to get to the store. I’m sure our cooking community must have some ideas that I have not thought of. Let me know, I’d love to hear them and I’m sure our family would appreciate some new options too!

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at


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