Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Dinner for One
Singledom has distorted my views on life.
I now believe that stuffing is a food group. If I eat dinner standing up at the kitchen counter, it doesn't count as "eating alone." If I have a midnight snack but there is no one to catch me doing so, it never happened. Frozen chicken kievs, frozen blintzes, and frozen pasta are staple ingredients on my shopping list. Hors d'oeuvres can be baked all at once, thus making it feel like there's a party in my mouth and everyone is invited. Pudding has milk in it, therefore it constitutes my dairy intake for the day. If I consume an entire bag of chocolates but bury the bag in the bottom of the garbage pail, that bag never existed. Throwing together dinner means finding some old cold cuts and not-yet stale bread with the last-ditch scrapings of the Hellman's jar and the unmoldy half of a tomato from the vegetable crisper. I could easily survive for a week on Kraft singles and Wheat Thins.
My single life has taken over food as I know it. I was once a happy housewife (yes, they do exist) cooking dinner for myself and my husband every evening. I made pot pies and lasagnas and meatballs and eggplant parmesan and salads and soups and breads. I owned a Crock Pot. I owned a breadmaker. I owned several corkscrews and served wine at meals. I set the table with placemats, bowls, plates, glasses, napkins and utensils. We did not dine in front of the tv, even for mac n cheese. I made a dessert for every occasion: crumbles, cobblers, cakes, cookies, pies and pastries. It was a regular joke in our house about who else was coming for dinner because I always cooked enough for a small army. I loved having leftovers in the fridge for him to take into work the next day. His colleagues ran to the store on their lunch break but my husband had homemade meals waiting for him to heat up. It made me feel special sending him off with more than just a turkey sandwich. Like I was doing my job as a wife.
My mother visited us at our home in Surrey, England for a few days. It was our one year wedding anniversary and we planned a huge celebration and renewal of vows. Each night of her stay, she stared at me moving about the tiny British kitchen: hair curled, apron on, face made up, making dinner for my small but loving family. I must tell you that in 37 years of marriage to my father, my mom has not once worn an apron to make dinner. Not once. She hardly recognized this young, ambitious girl making tea in the electric kettle and washing dishes by hand. I had reverted to the perfect 1950's textbook woman - not quite the educated, world traveler she knew!
Our semi-detached house in one of the Home Counties was a big step up for us. We had a big backyard (by English standards anyway) which my husband mowed on weekends in nicer weather. We had a sunroom which served dual purpose as both a dining room and an office. We had one and a half bathrooms, unheard of in London. This was all spread out over two floors, quite spacious considering where we'd come from.
Our Catford flat was an open square of a thing. The bedroom was in an odd L shape, making it impossible to position furniture without injury. I managed to break my little toe twice on the corner of a wall while trying to avoid bumping into the dresser. It was on the seventh floor of an apartment building in the center of town, overlooking a McDonald's, a KFC, and a Domino's pizza. If it wasn't for the fish and chip shop and two horrendous Chinese take out places, one would not be able to tell this town from any other in the US. I live in New York though where we have good pizza and good Chinese take out. I therefore ate at none of these establishments.
The real reason we moved though was the kitchen. It was three cubic feet with a mere four cabinets - all too tall for my poor hubby to reach - and room for only half a fridge. I was at the grocery store every day seeing as we had no room to store more than one meal's worth of food. Forget having people over to eat! The sink wasn't even large enough to wash up in. We could dunk precisely one dish at a time and heaven help you if someone else wasn't doing the drying! Suffice it to say, counter space wasn't much better.
Despite our lack of culinary accommodations, I managed in that place until we finally moved to the suburbs. Yes, it was a longer commute and the rent was slightly higher for a two bedroom place, but having a garden and adopting two precious kittens was surely worthwhile. We hosted an American Thanksgiving meal for all my foreign friends since I now had room to cook a multi-course meal.
Once back on Long Island with a gorgeous home of our own, we continued the tradition of dinner on Sundays for friends and family. I spent six days at a time planning what to serve, fidgeting over menus and grocery budgets, several hours tidying the mess before company came, and one glorious evening eating and drinking with people we loved...only to throw everything in the dishwasher that night and look forward to a week of rest before doing it all again.
Now I am single, I find myself craving those parties, those dinners, those people to cook for. I watch Food Network religiously and have hundreds of recipes bookmarked but it feels hopeless with no one to appreciate all my effort. There is a cookbook specifically detailing The Pleasures of Cooking for One - this is essentially the single gal's guide to cuisine - but I can't be bothered. Why make a whole meal when one can have powdered mashed potatoes or shrimp cocktail? Is there really a reason to put on an apron and slave over sauces and stews when you know for damn certain that no man will come wrap his arms around you and tell you how beautiful you are?!?!
Besides, it's not like I'm completely alone. Tonight, I'm sleeping with a box of Girl Scout cookies. Calories for a cause! They don't count, right???