THERE IS a whole generation growing up without smells. Despite the fact that they may stick their noses in stemmed glasses of '74 cabernet and take deep whiffs (issuing appropriate murmurs of appreciation), mid-baby-boomers know little of a pork roast. The aroma of real food has disappeared from their lives.
We're talking real food--the kind June Cleaver cooked as she told Ward all about the Beaver's day. June Cleaver never got near pasta salad, or tabulleh, or stir-fried vegetables.
Several factors cause this depressing desertion of middle-class meals. First, mothers have gone to work, or gone back to work. Those responsible for such smells in the first place no longer have time to create them. Even if they took the time, no one stays home long enough to appreciate the meal, or the smells. The 6 o'clock family dinner is as dated as Jan and Dean.
Serious cooking has become, for the most part, recreation--or creation. No longer does anyone pursue the prosaic meat loaf. Even coq au vin, once regarded as chi-chi, has been recognized as chicken stew and abandoned for striped bass with mussels and oysters. Vegetable soup becomes gazpacho, and chocolate cake becomes pa te a choux with creme Saint-Honore'. Not the making of traditional smells.
But moms aren't really to blame. Kids have left home--the mid-baby boomers, anyway. These children are old enough to have children, and, in any case, old enough to cook for themselves. In between the Peking duck and polenta gorgonzola they worry about climbing the corporate ladder more than they fret about eating the Basic Four food groups. From this group arises a condition called the Cheez-It mentality.
The Cheez-It mentality springs from desire to grab something quick while working, topped with the ultimate food reward at dinner for slaving all day. This mentality finds easy rationalization for drinking beer throughout the softball game (burning all those calories) or joining a friend for drinks at happy hour (cheap food). Overindulgence in any of these cases is penitently amended with a chef salad lunch the following day.
Those suffering from the Cheez-It mentality begin a day with no breakfast, except once during the week, usually Friday, when they stop for ham and cheese croissant on their way to work. Mid-morning sustenance comes from coffee.
There are three choices for lunch. One is a variation on the chef-salad theme, perhaps fruit salad, perhaps a carton of yogurt. Brown baggers often pack carrot sticks, diet soda and a hard-cooked egg--nary a concentrated carbohydrate to be found (too fattening). The next is the semi-guilt-inducing lunch which stays low in calories only in that the portion is limited. The I'll-only-eat-a-Snickers lunch which, in nice weather, turns into I'll-only-eat-an-ice-cream-sandwich is an example of this genre, and street vendors can usually be relied on to supply the goods. The last choice is a real lunch, out with friends, what used to be known as the two-martini type. Now it's omelets and iced tea and "might as well eat a few of these french fries since they came with the meal." No matter what option is chosen, none of them smells like much. Leftover meat loaf sandwiches they ain't.
"Teatime" is topped off with a trek to the machines for a quick cola and (what else) Cheez-Its or suitable junk food. This move discourages stomach grumblings when dinner appears hours away.
Dinner, when it finally arrives, comes in a variety of forms.
The first dinner mode is dinner out. One category of dinner out starts with drinks, then appetizer (escargots?), salad (with roquefort), bread and butter, a generous entre'e with creamy, buttery accouterments and a what-the-hell-I've-been-good-all-day dessert, finished off with brandy or spiked coffee. Another is the quickie pickup--between the subway and bus-stop carryout, or a stop for Chinese food as one drives home from work. The other dinner mode is the quick dinner at home: At best it's frozen; at worst, it's portable junk food that's easily grabbed on the way through the kitchen to the bedroom for a quick change of clothes, and on to watch "Taxi" or to the volleyball game. If one goes to play, often the evening is capped with more drinks, which means sleeping later, rushing through the morning and on and on.
It's this schizophrenic, diet-indulging, health-happiness approach to eating that eliminates the smell of real food. If one indulges in scotch and Goldfish, then mashed potato calories are blown. There's no time to cook real meals, and Green Giant lasagna tastes decent enough. Besides, there's no cleanup, no leftovers, nothing to think about.
The positive side, if there is one, reveals a generation of grateful dinner guests. Invitations can be extended without qualm. Baked pork chops with fried apples provide a welcome relief to taste buds weary of bouncing from boysenberry yogurt to veal orloff.
But those who are willing to expend the energy to do it up right once in a while will quickly learn about one big advantage: Real food yields wonderful leftovers. Cold roast lamb makes great sandwiches, and everyone can recall the merits of leftover fried chicken (remember fried chicken?).
In deference to the foods of yesteryear, then, we present pot roast and companions. A house full of smells makes the meal infinitely more pleasurable. Remember that carrots make your hair curly and if you don't eat your peas, you get no dessert. SIMPSON'S POT ROAST (8 servings) Vegetable oil 3 pound chuck roast 2 bay leaves 2 medium onions 2 garlic cloves 2 bouillon cubes Salt and pepper to taste Milk for gravy (optional) 3 tablespoons flour 2 to 3 cups water
Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a large dutch oven and brown the meat well on all sides. Add remaining ingredients, except salt (the bouillon cubes should make the dish salty enough) and the optional milk and flour. Pour 2 to 3 cups of water over the roast. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and simmer 2 hours over low heat until the meat is tender. Remove meat to a platter and set aside.
Skim excess fat from the cooking liquid and discard. Add a small amount of water or milk to the flour and stir well so there are no lumps. Add a little more water so the mixture is the consistency of cream. Add this to cooking liquid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil a minute or two. If the gravy is too thick, add water, milk or beef broth. If it is too thin, repeat the flour-water process, using a tablespoon of flour. Bring to a boil once again. Serve pot roast with boiled potatoes and green salad.
Slice leftovers for sandwiches or to serve warmed with reheated gravy. FRIED CHICKEN (4 servings) 3 to 3 1/2 pound broiler-fryer chicken Flour Salt and pepper Vegetable oil for frying For Gravy: Freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup flour About 2 cups milk
Cut the chicken into serving pieces. Pat dry. Combine about 1 cup of flour with salt and pepper in a small paper bag. One at a time, place the chicken pieces in the bag, grip the bag closed and shake to coat the chicken all over with flour. Place about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet and heat to 375 degrees. Carefully place the chicken pieces in the hot fat and allow them to brown. Turn the chicken pieces, reduce the heat to medium and cover the skillet. Cook the chicken another 25 minutes, checking occasionally and turning the pieces if it appears they are browning too much. Cover a large paper bag with paper towels. Remove the chicken from the fat and allow to drain on towels. Serve hot or at room temperature with green beans, mashed potatoes and biscuits.
Anyone feeling particularly decadent can make "cream" gravy to go with the above meal. Drain all but 1/4 cup of fat from the skillet, leaving as many of the brown bits in the bottom as possible. Add lots of freshly ground pepper, about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 cup of flour. Whisk to blend very well so no lumps of flour remain. With the skillet over medium high heat, gradually stir in 2 cups of milk. The mixture will be extremely pasty at first as the flour and liquid cook, but will thin out as you whisk in more milk. Taste and correct seasoning. VEGETABLE SOUP (8 servings) 1 cup dried kidney or lima beans 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups chopped onion 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 1 pound chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes (or substitute other beef or meaty beef bones) 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon oregano 2 28-ounce cans tomatoes 3 medium carrots, chopped 1 cup peas English muffins toasted with cheddar cheese
Place beans in saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and simmer while you prepare the rest of the soup. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven. Add onion, green pepper and garlic and cook over medium heat until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally. Increase heat and add beef. Brown on all sides. Add remaining ingredients (including beans) except peas. Add 3 cups water and simmer about 90 minutes, or until beans and meat are tender. Add water until the soup is desired consistency and bring to a boil. Add peas and cook another 10 minutes. If you've used beef bones instead of beef remove them and salvage what meat you can and return it to the pot. Serve hot with toasted english muffins that have been topped with cheddar cheese and broiled.
The above recipe should be interpreted loosely. If you have celery on hand, add it with the onion and green pepper. Almost any other vegetable may be added, including zucchini, corn, potatoes, summer squash and chopped cabbage. More vegetables mean a less expensive dish.