Real Cooking

How long has it been since you’ve played a game of Monopoly? For me, it had been a while, so before we got started, I took a few minutes to read through the little brochure that spelled out the rules of the game.

Just in the last two weeks, our family had finally found the time to throw a couple of parties for our now 12-year-old twins whose birthday (or is it birthdays?) is (or is it are?) in early June. At Meg’s party, she received the game as a present (thanks Amanda) and we had to play it as soon as we had taken the last guest home.

Meg, acting as banker, counted out the money and arraigned the property deeds to her side. Alex lined up the tokens-the top hat, the thimble, the Scottie dog and the bucking bronco-on the “Go” square. Keith and I pulled up a chair and we were ready for play.

We moved around the board acquiring properties and paying out money if we happened to land on squares marked “Luxury Tax” or “Income Tax.”

Each player made sure to collect any rents that were due to her or him and Keith managed to go to jail-go directly to jail; do not pass go, do not collect $200-a couple of times in just the first hour of play.

The kids really liked that. Especially since Alex was sitting on a couple of “get out of jail free” cards.

But the play really got interesting when, in an attempt to teach my kids the ins and outs of the game, I suggested they start buying houses-and yes, even hotels-to put on their properties.

And do you know what my sweet, little children did to their mother? The mother that struggled to bring them life. The mother that puts their needs before her own. The mother that turns their filthy socks from inside out before she launders them even though she’s told them a million times that socks crumpled into little balls have no chance of coming out clean in the wash.

They bankrupted me. And they did it with glee.

In a matter of hours, my kids had gone from tentative purchasers of low-end real estate to a couple of high-rolling tycoons. Life on the board had changed.

For some reason, this game of Monopoly reminded me of Beth Donahue, who is a daughter of my friend, Melissa Bartel. Beth is currently working as a nanny for a lovely family who makes their home in Aspen, Colo.

And what a home it is. We’re talking big bucks, house on a mountain side, professional kitchen with three-count them, three-dishwashers (not to mention the housekeeper) kind of a home.

From all reports, Beth loves her job-the kids, 2-year-old twins, are darling and her employer wonderful-but she’s finding that living in Aspen is a far cry from living on a farm in Hillsboro.

Because Aspen is the “Boardwalk” of Colorado. Actually, it’s Boardwalk with a hotel. And it kind of comes down to this: If you live in Aspen, you are either there to serve or to be served. There is little in between.

Just this past weekend, while I was working in the kitchen, I had the television tuned into a cooking show where the featured chef was preparing a popular sandwich that his Aspen restaurant serves for lunch. It was a Reuben, but a Reuben made not with the familiar corn beef, Swiss cheese combination.

This sandwich was made with “corned bison tongue and a melange of melted cheeses.” It was a thing of beauty, but if I was called on to identify what that mound of meat and cheese was, I would be hard pressed to come up with, “Oh, sure, that’s a Reuben sandwich.”

But that’s life in Aspen-at least for some.

Summer homes in the Hamptons, month-long trips to the Winter Olympics, country clubs and ski-out houses-some people really live this way. And, like people everywhere, some folks are pretentious and some folks are gracious about the privileges that life has granted them.

In Aspen, Beth and the kids went on a picnic and dined on smoked salmon with goat cheese and stone-ground crackers. What she really wanted was some of her mom’s famous fried chicken and potato salad. That’s familiar; that’s home.

But to the kids she tutors, home is embodied by smoked salmon-and trips on jet airplanes to the condo in Hawaii. That’s normal for them.

Which makes me think about my own lifestyle. For us, a yearly vacation has become a normal event. Yet for some families, a week-long get away is an impossibility. While back-to-school shopping, my kids both picked up a new pair of Nikes and, even though they were purchased on sale, I didn’t hesitate to buy them the shoes they wanted. Such things have become normal for us to do.

It’s become normal, but is it right? I don’t know. We don’t live the Boardwalk lifestyle, but we’ve moved far from Baltic Avenue in the way we live. And spend our money.

When lifestyle becomes “normal,” it becomes hard to live without the trips or the meals eaten at a restaurant. Maybe it’s the new car that has to be in the drive or the new furniture that graces the living room that one “has to have.”

My question is: What are you ready to sacrifice for the material things that make you feel “normal”?

I struggle with this, too.

For life is pretty comfortable here at Ventor Avenue. And it’s becoming normal.

* * *

No goat cheese here, but this would make a good sandwich for any picnic you might want to pack.

Cheesy Chicken Subs

12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

1 envelope Parmesan Italian or Caesar salad dressing mix

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup sliced red onion

1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil

4 submarine sandwich rolls, split and toasted

4 slices Swiss cheese

Place chicken in a bowl; sprinkle with the salad dressing mix. In a skillet, saute the mushrooms and onion in oil for three minutes. Add the chicken; saute for six minutes or until chicken juices run clear. Spoon mixture onto roll bottoms; top with cheese. Broil four inches form the heat for four minutes or until cheese is melted. Replace tops.

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