Dear Dinner

11 Nov

Dear Dinner,

You and I, we haven’t always been on the best of terms. When I was a kid, I loved simple foods: aka toaster waffles, rice krispies, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes I could be talked into eating ham on whole wheat with mayonnaise. No mustard. No lettuce. No cheese. Dinner was hard, for both the chef and I– would I eat it or not? Would my mom cave and make me something else if I didn’t like what everyone else was eating? Could I get away with pushing my food around on my plate, loudly proclaiming, I’m Not Hungry….and then suddenly, mysteriously, be starving just before bed and eat toaster waffles (again)? Or would I get yelled at?

I had patient parents. And yes, my mom often made me something else to eat. And I was never sent to bed without eating, even if I had refused to eat at the time or prepared meal of dinner.

Now in college, just about anyone can tell you the worst dorm food of the day is dinner. And when you live in an apartment or a house for the first time, it’s pretty easy to get yourself a bowl of cereal in the morning, a sandwich or bagel for lunch and then….then you have to COOK. Or be really, really wise in your choice of roommates and really fond of doing the dishes.

I love doing the dishes. If you want to cook me dinner, I will do the dishes. I will do the dishes so well you will want to cook me dinner all the time. I will clean up the whole kitchen. Unless you’re my mom, then I probably abuse the system (hi, mom, I’m sorry).

So last year, out of college, I lived with a roommate who was a fabulous cook. I was dating someone who can look at a refrigerator and make a meal. My sister and her roommate made dinner almost every night. Plus I had Wednesday Night Dinner, where a group of friends gathered at my sister’s house every Wednesday and took turns making dinner. Not potluck! –we all took turns each week making dinner for one another. Then we played games or sang karaoke in the safety of their living room. You know you’re jealous, don’t try to pretend to be too cool for school.

And, ok, I know how to cook a few things at this point. But I knew, when moving to a new city and living completely, entirely alone for the first time, that the hardest part was going to be eating dinner alone. There’s just something about it. I grew up in a family where we all ate dinner together every night. Dinner, despite my best efforts to avoid it as a child, is a meal. You set the table, you serve food, you sit, you eat, you talk, you catch up on your days, you take a break from doing homework. My eyes are tired from looking at a computer screen all day, dinner is when I want to take a break and focus on the mid-range points of my plate and whoever is sitting across from me.

Eating dinner alone makes me feel lonely. What can I say? We all have our moments.

Also, I HATE grocery shopping. It’s confusing and nothing is ever sold in the amounts that I need it for and there are so many choices. Finding recipes for one person, by the way, is just not possible. They don’t exist. Recipes are made for four. And some are indivisible. Like when a recipe for four calls for one egg. And ok, once I open a can of something– tomatoes, pumpkin, coconut milk, chipotle peppers, chicken stock– if I don’t use it all, chances are it’s not going to get used. Unfortunate but true. I tend to decide what I want to eat, then find the ingredients, make that. I am not a refrigerator chef. I can’t just look at what I have and create something delicious. It’s a skill, a talent, one I greatly admire, but I’m not there yet. And don’t get me started on leftovers again.

So, now I am here, living alone, in the new city of San Diego, and eating dinner alone. Often. It helps that I really enjoy being in my kitchen. My kitchen is lovely. It has pretty little painted knobs on the cupboards and display cabinets at the end of the counters. I have a little table that sits just 2, or me with a couple of stacks of books, and a window that looks at my banana tree and out over a brick wall to more trees and buildings in the distance. And my kitchen has a plant, now, that sits against the wall and is green with reaching white flowers, and a map of Paris up over the stove, and the refrigerator has pictures of people I love on it. It’s a nice kitchen. I like to be in it.

Also, I have some tricks up my sleeve. When I really don’t want to cook and eat dinner alone, I go across the street and get a wood-fired Italian pizza. I sit in the warm skinny restaurant while I wait and people-watch. Or last week I knocked on my neighbor’s door, and carried my food into their kitchen and ate with them. Then we played cribbage. Sometimes, when I first got here, I would talk to my mom on the phone while I cooked and ate.

But I’m writing this letter, now, dinner, because I feel like you and I have healed some of our rift. In the last two-three weeks, I made dinner most nights. I made delicious, good-smelling food. I turned on music, and I looked up a recipe, and I halved it or not, and I cooked. I sat at my little table and I ate. I made good food and I had good dinners and I did not hate the process.

Like anything else, it took practice. But I’m practicing, and I’m learning, and hey– who doesn’t love learning something new? And I really, actually like cooking. And I like being able to choose what I will eat for dinner. Turns out I’m hungry at dinner time more often now, and therefore not so desperate for toaster waffles just before bed. All picky eaters should just be forced to learn how to cook.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to Seattle in a week, and I could not be more excited to have somebody else decide what to make, go grocery shopping, and cook. It is going to be heavenly. HEAVENLY.

And if you would like to have me over for dinner, I will do the dishes.

And, actually, if you live where I do and would like to come over for dinner– my table only fits 2, but picnics are always fun and I have a lovely circle of floor that would do. I can roast a mean chicken. And after tomorrow night, I’ll be able to make a butternut squash and potato pie with tomato, mint, and sheep’s milk cheese (thanks to The Wednesday Chef). Yep, when I’m trolling for ideas, I go to the food blogs.

What can I say? I’m a girl who likes a little narrative and some pictures with her recipes. I hope, dinner, that you and I will continue to grow in fondness and familiarity.

But first– today– something I will always love making and eating more than dinner: chocolate chip cookies.




3 Responses to “Dear Dinner”

  1. elizabeth 12 November 2009 at 9:43 am #

    hello mm. (very close to mmm in this food-related context). i suggest you consider adding ‘alone in the kitchen with an eggplant’ (ed. jenni ferrari-adler) to your two book stacks in what sounds like a very lovely kitchen indeed.

  2. margaret michelle 12 November 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    duly noted…. thanks for the suggestion! I keep Betty Crocker and Giada de Laurentiis close by– and of course the internet 🙂


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    […] Or maybe just in being an adult. Or maybe just in being a human. Other adventures to be found here, here, aaaaaaand here. Oddly enough, all seem to have to do with eating alone. We’ll explore […]

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