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This is what I made for dinner last night. It’s one of Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals: Chicken Thighs with Apples and Onions over White Cheddar Polenta. And it only took me 70 minutes to make it.

obligatory food porn shot

obligatory food porn shot

I am no domestic diva, but I’m a good cook. I can dice and mince and julienne. I can boil stock for polenta and pan-fry chicken at the same time. I even made a turkey and two sides for Thanksgiving that one year before deciding it’s really much better to eat at someone else’s house. But I am incurably optimistic when it comes to recipes. I read one, it sounds yummy, and I decide to make it, mistakenly thinking, “Oh, the listed time is a half hour, I can do that.” Perhaps I should be reminding myself that some professional cook wrote up that recipe, has a perfectly equipped and laid-out kitchen, and probably didn’t include the prep time in the equation. I need to put a sticky note to this effect on my fridge. It can go right next to my magnet that says, “Make your own damn dinner.”

What it comes down to is that I have no hope of cooking anything decent in the amount of time a recipe states. Instead, I usually find myself a third of the way through the steps at the 30-minute mark, cursing silently while my son hangs on my leg telling me that he’s hungry and needs a snack and I do something like spill chicken juice all over the floor while juggling plates on my tiny counter. (Hey, at least last night it was juice from cooked chicken.) This happens to you guys too, right?

The dilemma here is that I don’t want to eat soup from a can or Hamburger Helper. It’s not just that I don’t want to eat it every night, it’s that I don’t want to eat it ever. My days of slurping up Top Ramen embellished with frozen peas and canned tuna are over. I want real food, except for those nights when I only want ice cream, and it’s too expensive to buy the good prepared stuff all the time. I do love Rachael Ray’s recipes, but the only one I ever got through in 30 minutes involved dumping stuff in a crockpot. I just straight up laugh at cookbooks like the Veganomicon, which has a variety of awesome-sounding recipes I’ve never attempted because they take for-fucking-ever. If I had an hour and a half to spend making dinner every night, I’d be doing something more fun with an hour of that time and still scrambling to get it together in the last 30 minutes.

So what I want to know is, where does one find the true 30-minute meals, and/or the motivation to cook dinner every night? These are real, not rhetorical, questions – if any of you knows, please inform me. I’ll be right over here, dreaming the impossible dream of getting a personal chef.