Why All Food Should Come in Bowls
Or my latest attempt to avoid the seriousness that runs rampant in my brain
Last night, I sat down at my computer to find my interview scheduled for today had been canceled. The position I was applying for was closed. This is the latest in a long, winding list of rejections from agents, publishers and potential employers over the past two-and-a-half years. I was going to write about it, but I decided I needed a break from seriousness. So here is an in-depth analysis of why foods in bowls are superior to plate foods. (I know; it’s shocking no one has addressed this before.)
I just realized my favorite meals come in bowls.
Mind-blowing, I know. But last night, I made one of my few successful dinner recipes: pesto pasta with veggies and tofu, and I delighted in how the whole meal goes together in one dish, mixed together, with perfectly complementary flavors. When I sit down with my bowl, there is no need to decide what to take a bite of first, no point at which I pause and ask myself, Am I going to eat all of the steak first and then progress to the sides or rotate bites with the asparagus? Should I save my bread til the end? It’s all there together; you just eat until you’re full.
Bowls are practical.
It’s harder to accidentally push your food off the side, like with a plate. As a kid, this was a quandary at dinnertime. I wasn’t supposed to use my fingers to nudge the rice onto my fork. (Why do we eat rice with a fork?) I was instructed, “Use your bread as a pusher!” Which would have worked just fine if I hadn’t devoured my bread very first thing because buttered bread is the food of the gods, and what else do you expect from an eight-year-old?
Side Note: I think this is a regional thing. I discovered later, some people consider it polite to use your table knife as a pusher, which is much less likely to get prematurely eaten. My childhood manners were a mishmash of southern and northern habits, and I’m never sure which are which. Both my parents were born and raised in Texas, but while my mom was third generation, my dad’s mom’s people came from Chicago.
So I chased my food around my plate with the fork like a greyhound after the mechanical rabbit it secretly knows it’s never going to catch. Some of the rice ended up off my plate, but I was what adults back then called “a good eater,” so I persevered and got most of it to my mouth by clandestinely using my fingers when my parents weren’t looking. This is one of those things I thought would magically get easier with adulthood, but I still can’t keep rice on a fork so, bowl, spoon, problem solved.
Bowls are portable, too.
You can carry them around the house, eat in front of the TV, out on the porch and even in bed with minimal mess. Ever see people at a backyard barbecue, perched on the edge of some wobbly lawn chair, balancing paper plates of sauce-coated ribs, baked beans and potato salad? Everyone eats fast, acutely aware that any second, a dog or a kid is going to jostle them or the wind is going to pick up and dump all their tasty food in their lap and on the lawn. Put all that goodness in a bowl, and bam, people are comfortable! They can walk around, one hand holding their bowl with its safety sides keeping their food neatly contained. They can eat at their leisure.
Side Note, part 1: Baked beans and potato salad were staples at my mom’s side of the family’s gatherings, to the point it became a joke. We did ham, though, coated in the same brown sugar that went in the beans, instead of ribs for the main dish.
Side Note, part 2: My dad did all the cooking when he shared a house with friends in college, and he cooked the same exact menu every week: Monday, hamburgers, Tuesday, spaghetti, and so on.
These two side notes have made me suddenly realize where I get my uncreative cooking habits — double whammy, both sides of the family.
I came to the stunning conclusion this morning that bowls are superior food-carrying apparatuses through the back door. (No, not literally to carry through the back door, although, come to think of it, yeah; bowls are good for that.) I was thinking how tasty last night’s dinner was, and then I started to think about all my favorite foods, and then I realized most of them come in bowls. Here are some other good bowl foods for you:
Beans and rice — They can be dressed up in so many different ways! With sausage, cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, onions, guacamole… Best part, put it in a bowl.
Instapot Greek chicken bowls — I love the Instapot because pressure cooking provides the ease of a crock-pot for people incapable of planning a meal eight hours ahead (ahem, me). My kids are lukewarm on my Instapot dishes, which always include chicken. They say pressure cooker chicken smells weird. Whatever. Click on the recipe, make it, then get out the bowls.
Frito pie — If you are not from ‘round here, let me blow your mind: a base of Fritos with chili, cheese, onions, sour cream and jalapenos on top. This is basically a Texas version of beans and rice traditionally served in the Frito bag, which is, practically speaking, just a disposable bowl.
Stir fry — My dad started making stir fry when I was a teenager. He watched some guy on TV whose tagline was, “I’m Wan, and if Wan can cook, so can you!” This is such a flexible dish — you can throw whatever vegetables and proteins you have in there, serve it over rice, and best part, EAT IT OUT OF A BOWL!
Pesto pasta with veggies — Sauté protein of choice, add chopped veggies (which you may have bought pre-cut) and serve over pasta with pesto sauce which comes in a packet of powder with how to make it printed on the package (just my style). Serve under a mountain of parmesan cheese. Perfect bowl food.
Cereal — Because I am really not a food prep person (see Instapot), cereal is the perfect food. It’s fast, tasty, filling, comes in endless varieties and provides a little protein with milk. You can even add fruit if you’re feeling daring. And hello? BOWL.
Side Note: Speaking of Frito pie, you should watch Vengeance. As a Texan whose life is adjacent to the rural setting, I found it relatable and hilarious. But it’s kinda dark, so don’t go into it expecting an upper that’s not a social commentary on the opioid epidemic and how conspiracy theories are born. Also, BJ Novak tries to do a little too much with the themes and perhaps doesn’t quite achieve his aim of overcoming of small-town stereotypes. But, Ashton Kutcher shows amazing depth and nuance in his character, which is a far cry from Dude, Where’s My Car? Okay, I’ll stop. This is what happens when I do a side note about movies.
My only favorite non-bowl food is grilled cheese.
It is also very customizable with various types of cheese and meats, jalapenos, pickles, mustard or whatever your mood. Plus, if you’re super lazy, you can make “grilled” cheese in the microwave and call it “soupy grilled cheese.” Then, because you caught on to capitalism early, you can withhold the so-called recipe from your younger sister (which is really just the number of microwave seconds) and coax her into paying you to make her one. Theoretically. I totally did not do this in our childhood kitchen when I was nine.
I’ve latched on to bowls here, but it looks like my favorite foods also require endless opportunities for customization — mostly involving jalapenos and cheese — and fast, easy preparation.
I’ve now shocked myself and accidentally written a food blog, complete with recipe recommendations and debatably irrelevant backstory to wade through before getting to the ingredients and actual directions. Whoda thunk it?
Have a lovely weekend, everyone. I hope you get to eat some delicious food, preferably a dish someone else has cooked. And if this is your first time reading This Is Not What I Expected and are considering subscribing (which is free!), please do. Just know this is the first and last time you’ll get any viable recipes out of it.