Our family of four — one stay-at-home mom, one work-from-home dad and two boys — spent most of January marooned inside the house together thanks to one relentless snowstorm after the other. By the end of the month I was desperate for a break from the constant wrestling matches on the floor in front of the sofa and the ongoing contest to see who could produce the most offending flatulence. A rare, clear weekend without a blizzard was in the forecast, so we sent the boys to Grandma’s house for the night.
“What movie do you want to see?” my husband Dave asked.
“I don’t know. What’s playing? If it isn’t animated, I don’t keep track anymore.” I pulled up the local movie listings on my phone. “Hmm… 5:30, 6:25. That doesn’t leave us enough time to eat dinner first. Good grief! The rest of these movies don’t even start until 8pm. We won’t get home until 10:30! I don’t want to be out that late. Let me check another theater.”
“But those are all 30 minutes away. I don’t want to spend that much time in the car driving.”
When Dave and I dated in college we didn’t even go out for dinner until 9pm, after work and other activities were finished. As newlyweds we got in the car and spent hours driving up and down the lake shore visiting the beaches and little towns just for fun. Now we want to be on the couch in our PJs by 6 o’clock. This is the sort of damage kids do to you. Packing lunches and figuring out to how explain with a pie graph why 4+4=8 is exhausting.
“Here’s a theater that’s only 20 minutes away. The movie starts at 7:30. We’ll be home by 10!” I was giddy about being able to make it home before I turned into a pumpkin.
In an effort to inject a little excitement into our boring lives, we decided to try a new-to-us restaurant that night. There was a place near the theater friends raved about. “A great place to get a nice, juicy steak,” they said. Red meat sounded like good comfort food for a blustery January night.
“Good evening and welcome to The Barn! Have you dinned with us before?” The hostess greeted us.
“Well, we have two options. You can order off the pub menu and our kitchen will prepare your food. Or you can grill your own dinner.”
I looked at Dave, the backyard grill master extraordinaire, and saw a light flash in eyes. Something I hadn’t seen since the snow buried our bar-b-que in November. “Um, I guess we’ll grill our own dinner,” I answered hesitantly. Our friends failed to mention the interactive nature of the restaurant.
“Oh, good! That’s what most people choose. It’s quite an experience!”
Our waitress lead us to a room that held a large indoor gas grill. We picked out our steak. And I do mean one, single steak to share, because it was the size of a brisket. Then the chef — I use that term loosely since he didn’t actually cook anything — gave us instructions. I was skeptical we could cook a three-inch thick steak to medium-well in 12 minutes. We also had to grill our own Texas toast and make our own mushroom garnish.
“This is a lot of work for eating out,” I whispered as we perspired next to the screaming hot grill. The rest of our meal, potatoes and other side dishes, were served buffet style. I made up plates for us while Dave finished the steak.
This feels too familiar.
When time was up, we took our food back to our table. Dave cut into the steak. “It’s a little pink,” he said.
“A little pink? It’s dripping blood all over the plate! You can’t grill a roast in 12 minutes.” So we had to slink back into the grill area and cook it even longer. By the time we came back to the table the rest of our food was cold.
“Well, you know. It’s OK. I feel at home. Just like I’m at home. I cooked my own dinner, made up all the plates and my food is cold when I finally get to eat. Would you like me to cut up your meat also? The experience?! I experience this every day in my kitchen.”
Who are these people who think making their own dinner is a novelty?
The best part of the meal was dessert, because we didn’t make it.
Back in the car I said, “We just paid someone $70 to let us make our own dinner.”
At least they had to wash the dishes.