There will probably come a time in the Ides of Man and even in the life of the most conscientious ‘from scratch’ cook, when you just can’t be bothered whipping anything up. Kitchen ennui has finally set in, there’s only you to feed because the kids are at camp and your partner is dining out, and you find yourself gazing wistfully at the boxes of frozen dinners in the supermarket freezer section.
If this is the first time you’ve looked, you’ll wonder why you didn’t sooner. Believe me, you will be impressed considerably indeed. If you take any notice of the front of the box, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in for a gastronomic treat. A choice cut of tender grilled chicken breast (marinated in wine and flecked with fresh herbs), nestles cosily beside fat, glossy vegetables glazed with butter and garnished with fresh parsley sprigs. There is even steam rising from the designer plate. Whoa! – Looks like my kinda meal, you think, snatching it up, your mouth already watering at the very thought of sitting in front of Desperate Housewives with this little box of gourmet decadence perched on your lap. Well, ha ha – sucked in!
It’s rather interesting how frozen TV dinners can be made to look like restaurant fare on the front of the box. It’s not done by you actually heating the stuff – it’s done by food stylists. They don’t exactly lie, but let’s face it – there’s a difference between Elle crawling out of bed in the morning with her eyes gummed together and mossy teeth, and the way she finally presents when an army of lackeys has spent the best part of the day with a bucket of mortar and a tube of wood glue, tarting her up.
The chicken breast on the front of the box has similarly been preened. Just look at what you’ve actually got, will you? A flaccid, slug-like white thing encased in icicles – yuuuummy! Next to it, in little compartments, are six frozen peas, six frozen carrot rings (with artful corrugations) – and a spoonful of gummy rice. This is not enough to feed your average anorexic hamster. People must have complained about the size of these dinners, as there is now a larger version. Buy it if you dare – there’s nothing like queuing at the checkout while the girl yells; ‘Price check on the Greedymeal Obese Portion Boombah Chicken Dinner!’ at the top of her voice. Now the other people in the queue not only know you are greedy – but lazy, too. I just love this. It makes you feel full of confidence and ready to face the world, believe me. Try it if you feel the need to be brought down a peg or two.
Disappointment will inevitably fall heavily upon you as you compare the picture on the box with the rigor mortised, icebound wonders in the specimen container. Could this be the same chicken? Sadly – not. The one on the box had a steam machine and a soundtrack. It was an Elle of a chicken, propped up at the back with toothpicks and generously embalmed with a glistening sauce of wine and butter. Your portion came from an ‘unknown’. The bit-part extra of the chicken world, who was never quite good enough for a speaking role. The vegetables are no better than the ones you have in your very own freezer – except you could have given yourself a bigger portion (as in Greedymeal Obese Portion Boombah). Indeed, if you rip the box up, it will taste more interesting with a dob of garlic butter than the bit-part fowl – even on its best day.
The only good thing is, having done it once you will not need a repeat performance. Your five dollars was well spent, as it makes you a whole lot wiser and more cynical. It might even spur you towards investing in a cookbook or two.
In the meantime, think what a boon these dinners are to uni students everywhere, managing for themselves for the very first time.
Yes Virginia … I AM looking after myself. Yeah – and Elvis has just left the building.