Lately, at about 4pm each day, I wander downstairs to the kitchen and stand in the center of the room for a moment, hands on hips. “Hmmm. What could I possibly fix that would resemble dinner?” Since I’m usually still in my faded red flannel pants and a gray hooded sweater, I shudder at the thought of actually leaving the house--where my shopping options would be grim.
Less than a mile away is a Shaws. Now, I can’t speak for all Shaws, but this one in particular is the worst grocery store EVER. This is a grocery store for people who think that lime-green Gatorade is food. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against lime-green Gatorade at the end of a long run. During the Seattle half-marathon one year I was very disappointed when all the Gatorade appeared to be gone; however, I still don’t think that lime-green Gatorade is the equivalent of, say, real limes, which actually grow on trees. In my book, Gatorade has its place, but it is not food.
When I think about this Shaws, I think of aisle after aisle of things that aren’t food--things like car-sized cases of soda, bean-bag sized bags of technicolor Cheetos, cookies and cream cereal, and other aisles full of plastic containers filled with more calorie-containing substances that only come in orange, lime green, and ice-pop blue.
If you finally seek out the small health-food section, the prices are outrageous, and staples that I can find in the regular section of any other grocery store are absent here. For example, I’m not a vegan, but ever since Brian introduced me to Vegenaise, I’ve been a big fan. These days, most markets carry it, but in this Shaws, staples like Vegenaise are frequently impossible to find. Don’t bother trying to find a low-sodium version of your favorite Jambalaya mix, and the Amy’s organic pizzas are more expensive than just ordering pizza from the Italian place down the street. I go to this Shaws over and over again because it’s so close. I convince myself that this time it will be different. This time they will have the three things I need. This time it will not take 45 minutes to find the three things I need. But each time, I leave, not just disappointed--but mumbling-to-myself angry--vowing never to make the same mistake again. Yesterday, I actually bought three overpriced grocery items the local CVS drug store because it seemed a better option than the Shaws. It’s all a classic case of delusion in that I keep trying the same thing and expecting different results. At this point, I’m afraid that my local Shaws grocery store is going to drive me--either to a therapist--or to the liquor store across the street.
Since late in the day at prime traffic time, I am rarely up for making the big pilgrimage to a nearby town to go to a Trader Joe’s, there is just one other local grocery store that I know of. It’s a Hannaford--but it’s all the way down in the heart of Waltham, which isn’t exactly across the state or anything, but the drive all the way there is so busy, congested, and unpleasant that I’d rather just pick through our cupboards and try to concoct something that won’t involve throngs of people, cars, sirens, cigarette smoke, and vast quantities of time.
Now, for those of you who know me, you might wonder why I am trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Making dinner on a regular basis--or making anything that resembles a meal more frequently than quarterly--should arouse suspicion in those familiar with my complete abdication of all domestic responsibility. You see, I was a very spoiled child of the 60’s and 70’s. Without noticing how hard my mother worked at all deeds domestic, I clearly remember receiving the memo that said liberated women don’t do housework. So, as I sat on the countertop, swinging my feet, and chatting with my Mom as she was was cooking our dinner, I took that liberated feminist message to heart. Sure I fumbled through making a few things here and there once I was on my own in my twenties, but I also became very adept at take-out and was oh so pleased to discover that burritos and cheap Thai food could often be purchased for even less money than a proper at-home meal.
All of which means that for me to find motivation for domestic chores requires a very special set of circumstances, which now actually exist in our modern and unconventional household. This set of circumstances involves the following:
* Recently losing my corporate job.
* Being partially and temporarily supported by my stellar partner, who is paying me back for being his sugar mama when he first graduated from the UW.
* Feeling badly that my stellar partner is dealing with some health issues, including what we think may be a botched hernia surgery that will likely need to be repaired.
So since my stellar partner is the only one going off to work in the morning to keep our little family afloat, I figure that the least I can do, after spending my day looking at jobs, writing, reading, and surfing the internet, is to interrupt my Scrabble game for long enough to coerce myself to unload the dishwasher and come up with something for us to eat.
Now, the really funny thing (for the fly on the wall) is watching me in the kitchen. I literally have to talk myself into every last step. I’ll unload the dishes from the dishwasher, glance at the dirty dishes in the sink, sigh or try to pretend I don’t see them, and then think about saving them for later. I mean, I will have spent all of five minutes unloading the damn dishes, and then I literally have to persuade myself to take four more minutes to load the thing back up. Crazy, I know.
Watching me in the kitchen is like watching a middle schooler doing homework--or perhaps it’s just like watching me as a middle schooler doing homework. I am always looking for an easier, faster way--something that will get me back to my book, magazine, or Scrabble game faster. And there is usually an easier, faster way--though, I’ll confess--results may vary.
In the kitchen, I can dirty every dishtowel we own--which is a gross of them from IKEA--in about 20 minutes. I can never keep track of what I’ve used them for. In my mind, one should be for dishes and another should be for hands, but as soon as I mix them up, into the laundry they go. When I use a large spoon to stir what I’m cooking, it immediately goes into the sink. Three minutes later, I reach for another large spoon, and it too will end up in the sink until there are about a half a dozen of them, my average quota for an excursion into dinner making. We also have these cool, flexi-plastic cutting boards, which are great and go right into the dishwasher. I usually use about three of these to prepare one meal.
Now, when I try to get inspired on my way to the kitchen, I find that I’ve always liked baking more than cooking because you get to put something into the oven that resembles glop, and some number of minutes later, you get muffins or biscuits or bread, which is really pretty cool. So last week, I made corn muffins, and they were quite successful. Earlier this week, I made biscuits, and I’ve been finding that when I bake something, it then gets added to whatever I come up with for dinner, and actually tends to aid the whole “what’s for dinner” thing--sometimes even making it easier. And adding a corn muffin or a biscuit to the meal seems significantly nicer than adding a piece of plain toast.
So, last weekend, we went to both Target and Traders Joe’s, which meant that early in the week, we had some dinner items ready to go. But, by yesterday afternoon, as I scanned the kitchen, I wasn’t quite sure I was going to be able to pull something edible together. I opened the fridge. We still had a bag of lettuce mix and some grape tomatoes, but the cucumber was all gone, and I’d already done the greek salad thing at the beginning of the week. But wait! In the door of the fridge was a vacuum sealed package of roasted beets from Trader Joe’s that said if unopened they would be good until December. “Okay, lettuce mix and beets work, right? Does feta go with beets?” Quick, to the computer. “Are there recipes for beets and feta? Yes! Score!” So, feeling triumphant, I grabbed a large tupperware container. I used my salad spinner to wash and spin my lettuce, and then I dumped the mix into the Tupperware. I sliced up the beets and tossed them in. I added feta, and then I topped the whole thing with some crumbled walnuts. I felt very proud of myself because in a matter of about 15 minutes, I had prepared an unplanned salad that seemed to qualify as an appropriate part of a legitimate dinner. I had dirtied three dish towels, two cutting boards, and four knives, but I was on my way.
For the main course, I prepared my favorite super-easy pasta dish. This one has lazy, middle schooler written all over it. First, I cooked up some pasta--the kind that looks like little corkscrews. Once I drained the pasta, I added about a half--maybe a little more--of a jar of pesto from Trader Joe’s. It’s the stuff that comes in a little glass gar, tastes amazingly good, and is so easy that us non-domestic types LOVE it. Next, I added about a half a jar of TJ’s sundried tomatoes. TJ’s also carries these great cans of artichoke hearts, so I sliced up a bunch of those and dumped them in. (Can you tell I like Trader Joe’s more than Shaws?) Finally, I added some sliced up, pitted Kalamata olives, and voila! Stir and done. This was my kind of dinner. It was not gourmet. It was not fancy. But, it was quick, reasonably healthy, and it tasted pretty good.
So, I know that many of you out there are real bonafide gourmets and haven’t prepared anything as pathetic as my little Wednesday night meal since you actually were in middle school. And, I know that many of you are out there impressively raising adorable children and have to come up with a dinner plan 365 days a year, and for that, I bow at your feet! I also know that age 44 is a little late to be growing up and figuring out that engaging in a domestic activity or two does not mean that I have to give up my feminist credentials. However, I am happy to report that, while I may have come to this point kicking, whining, and sulking all the way, I am learning--slowly and painfully--that some of this cooking stuff can actually be a little bit fun. So, since I have the luxury of some extra time to play with and the motivation provided by my stellar partner, I think I may try to kick it up a notch and delve into some additional domestic forays. And as I do, I hope to be able to provide some blisteringly funny tales--and not just tales that result in real blisters.
Please wish this neophyte luck!
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