12/30/2014 04:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Boomer Recipe for Domesticity

Guess what I found when clearing out a kitchen cabinet to prepare for a small remodel after 40+ years of living in my house? Baking Fun and Facts for Teens featuring chapters entitled...

  • Baking days are fun
  • The whole crowd loves cookies
  • Pies to make you proud


Published in the 1950s by Wesson Oil, this was apparently my bible for domesticity as a pre-teen. The cookbook promises:

"...The knack of making good things makes you somebody special... Remember, practice makes perfect -- and helps you win showers of praise."

Well, this explains a lot. Even in my radical college Boomer days, protesting the war in Viet Nam went hand-in-hand with baking my husband-to-be German Chocolate cakes from scratch. Despite living through the bra-burning days of feminism and reading Ms. Magazine faithfully, a recipe for domestic living had been drilled into my head. It went something like this:

  • Combine marriage with having children at young age. Stir until brain is thoroughly blended.
  • Mix well with changing all diapers and washing clothes frequently.
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees to prepare and serve a family dinner every evening.
  • Continue to whip all responsibility for management of household and children, even when working outside the home, until you are well beaten.
  • Never sift through these ingredients, as it may cause recipe to boil over.

My cookbook was filled with images of perky girls serving food to guys in sport coats and crew cuts. Whatever happened to my aprons?

My grandchildren find it exotic that their parents ate dinner as a family most nights at 6:30. When they eat together as a family, it's usually in a restaurant or at my house. They also think it's strange that dinner was the same for everyone. I explain that the microwave didn't enter our lives until their parents were pre-teens. And it was an appliance mainly used for reheating leftovers. So yes, there was one menu and pb&j for anyone who didn't like it.

I always saw myself as being much more flexible than my own mother. At least I made sure most of us liked the meal and allowed for that sandwich if someone didn't. No liver and onions or brisket forced down my kids' throats.

So why has domestic life changed so much for my grandkids? In a nutshell, convenient food and inconvenient lives. As an educator, I was able to be home in time to prepare those meals. And my husband was generally able to get home in time to eat them with his family. For my kids and grandkids, this is a totally foreign concept.

Work no longer means 40 hours/week and weekends off. Coming home at the end of a long day, both parents struggle to put together a meal for the kids and get them to bed. It's only after that happens that they scrounge around looking for something to eat for themselves.

Back to my kitchen remodel, the cause of finding this cookbook. I'm opening my kitchen to the dining room and installing an island with seating for 2-3 people. This is what everyone wants these days, right? An open concept. But maybe it's also a metaphor for another change in domestic life. After all, I'm swapping my kitchen table for an island.

Islands conjure up images of isolation. They are totally conducive to what my friends and I call the "short order cook" approach to feeding our grandkids. They each get something they like for every meal. What they don't get is my old Boomer recipe for sharing a family meal.

Back in 1624, John Donne (sorry, old English teachers like me think everything relates to an old poem) wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself." Of course, he was writing about the interconnectedness of mankind, not kitchen islands. But I can't help but wonder if I had an island with three stools, a microwave, and a freezer full of Trader Joe's convenience food back in the early '80s, would family dinners have been the casualty?

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