I don’t know – specifically – what kind of day Meka had in the lab. All I know is that she came home and was sound asleep by 4:45. I finished up work (as much as I ever finish up work) and picked Daniel up around six. We had a chicken thawing in the refrigerator. Meka has a great recipe for it on the grill. I threw the football with Daniel until the shadows covered most of the backyard. It was almost 8:00 by then and neither the chicken nor Meka had moved. Even if I cooked the chicken myself, we would have had dinner sometime after the Tonight Show. I had only eaten five or six points all day and Daniel was hinting at a snack. I told him to take a look in the chest freezer in the pantry and find a TV dinner he liked.
Daniel doesn’t get many choices when we go grocery shopping, but he does get to pick out a few TV dinners from the freezer section. I keep a bunch of them in reserve in case of emergencies (like being hungry and wanting to eat within ten minutes). Daniel loves Meka’s chicken, so it was no surprise he came back with the fried chicken meal from the freezer. He was all set to cook the dinner, box and all. I told him to read the instructions.
“Slit the plastic over the chicken and potatoes,” he read. “What does ‘slit’ mean?”
“It means make a cut in the plastic wrap,” I said. I took a steak knife from the wood block on the counter and handed it to Daniel. He got his whittling badge in Cub Scouts a couple of months ago; I figured he could handle making a slit. With all the sensitivity of a fine neurosurgeon, Daniel delicately cut through the plastic with the tip of the knife and slowly (too slowly for my grumbling stomach) made an incision across the tray.
“Microwave for three minutes,” he continued. Daniel placed the tray in the microwave, careful to center it on the glass plate. He pressed the “3” key and hit START. The microwave blinked for a moment then stopped. I explained that he had to type it in minutes and seconds. Daniel got fancy; he knew sixty times three is one eighty and typed that instead. The microwave hummed to life and he watched as the tray slowly rotated around. Every so often, he’d give me an update.
“The plastic is shaking!”
“There are bubbles on the chicken!”
“The corn is bubbling too!”
At the three minute mark, we took the tray out carefully and pulled back the plastic over the mashed potatoes. Daniel stirred them for about five minutes and we set the dinner back in the microwave.
“Microwave for another 1½ to 2½ minutes,” Daniel read from the box. “How are we supposed to know?”
“Let’s cook it for the minute and a half,” I replied. “If it’s not done, we can always keep cooking it.” Daniel typed in the numbers on the keypad. He even figured out it should read “1:30” without explanation. When it went off, I pressed the button to open the door, but Daniel stopped me.
“We need to let it set for two minutes, Dad,” he said. So we set the kitchen timer and waited exactly two minutes. Daniel pulled off the plastic and carried the tray to the table. I poured him a glass of milk and found him a fork to go with the spoon we used to stir the potatoes. Daniel dug in, closing his eyes and smiling at the first bite.
“Mmm!” he said. “You just can’t beat home cooking!”