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FAST ISN’T ALWAYS BEST WHEN IT COMES TO HOME-COOKED MEALS

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A strange phenomenon is taking place in our society. Fast-food emporiums are trying to re-create the home-cooked meal, and the kitchens in America are attempting to duplicate fast food.

The drive-throughs are touting "real" mashed potatoes, biscuits "made from scratch" and homemade soups.Meanwhile, wives and mothers are rushing home from work to put together subs, fajitas in pita bread and shoving pies under a heat lamp.

I admitted defeat many years ago. I just couldn't compete with a guy in a white chef's hat throwing pizza dough to the ceiling or a woman with 137 flavors of ice cream in her freezer.

It really fell apart for me the day my husband and I drove through a fast-food lane and a voice from a little box asked, "What would you like for dinner?" and my husband actually answered him. I have been married more than 40 years and have never gotten an answer to that question.

The simple truth is that a mother cannot duplicate a hot dog that is sold at a sports event. The moment your kid sees a hot dog that costs one-quarter of the price at a football game, he doesn't want it.

Same thing with a hamburger. You can even wrap it in paper and bag it, and your kids won't eat it unless it is tossed into the car by a 16-year-old wearing a paper hat.

That is not to say fast foods are winning any prizes for re-creating home-cooked food. (That is, if anyone can remember.)

Only recently did such places acknowledge the existence of vegetables and salads. As for take-out, my husband has dedicated his life to figuring out how to keep a french fry from entering a frozen state before reaching home. He has tried woolen afghans, insulated carriers and electric blankets. He is considering taping a pizza to the engine of his car.

We have become an eating-out society. What used to be a treat or a reward is now a solution to survival.

If you want to tell the professionals from the amateur diners, just go into a KFC carry-out. The veterans know exactly what they want: extra-crispy, regular recipe or broiled, wings, thighs, drumsticks or breasts, dinner or parts, box for four or enough to cater a wedding. Those of us who don't get out of our kitchens a lot take 20 minutes to read the menu.

All of this has changed the way America lives. I just bought a wedding present for a young couple - plastic silverware in a service for eight. They were thrilled.