From Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant‚ Riverhead Books‚ 2008.
Luxury by Holly Hughes
Eating alone? Ah‚ that would be luxury. Cooking alone? That's an entirely different thing––that I do every night. Or to be more precise‚ every night I am the only person in my kitchen whose activities are directed toward producing a meal for group consumption. There are other people in the kitchen‚ all right‚ but they are busy doing homework‚ or playing with the cat‚ or watching tv‚ or sneaking snacks to spoil their appetites‚ or arguing with the cook (me). They never offer to help with the cooking. No‚ they are simply hanging around‚ bored‚ at loose ends‚ just waiting to be fed.
"What are you going to put on that chicken?"
"What would you like me to put on that chicken?"
"I hate it when you do the tomato sauce."
"Then what would you like me to put on that chicken?"
"Remember the time you made it with sweet peppers and onions?"
"Want me to do that again?"
"I specially hated it with the peppers and onions."
(SECOND VOICE FROM THE LIVING ROOM‚ OVER THE NOISE OR PIANO SCALES) "Oh yeah‚ do the peppers and onions again! That was awesome! Do we have red or yellow peppers?"
"I have green peppers."
(SCALES STOP) "Yuck! Green peppers? Those make me wanna puke!"
Nobody asks – nobody is going to ask – what I would like on the chicken. But if they did . . . Mushrooms. Yes‚ definitely mushrooms. I am the only person in this family who will eat mushrooms‚ and so I never get to eat them. And oh‚ God‚ I miss them. Lovely thin slices of Portobello mushrooms‚ delicately simmered in marsala‚ layered over the top of a perfectly sautéed boneless breast of chicken. Or no‚ wait‚ a boneless breast of chicken stuffed with mushrooms‚ water chestnuts‚ and oysters. Something not found in any recipe book‚ something I would make up myself‚ a culinary experiment‚ just puttering around the kitchen on a long leisurely afternoon. Something that would take hours to prepare‚ slicing and dicing and marinating and adjusting the spices. I wouldn't even care if it tasted good‚ just so long as I could use the ingredients I wanted‚ every last exotic one of them. And sit down to eat it in peace.
If I didn't know the people I was cooking for – if I were‚ for example‚ a chef in a restaurant – I wouldn't have to take their tastes into account. But‚ oh‚ I know them‚ I know them very well. I know that Tom won't eat any cheese except for grated Parmesan‚ which he must grate himself. The only fruits Grace will eat are bananas‚ raisins (but not the grapes they are made from)‚ and apple juice (but not the apples it is made from.) Hugh is okay with fish – well salmon‚ at least – but the others think it's poison‚ so if I cook fish (meaning salmon)‚ I have to make another meal for the non–fish–eaters.
Fish. Oh‚ fish. Please‚ not salmon for once‚ but a lovely fillet of red snapper‚ lightly grilled‚ with a fine dusting of Cajun spices on top. Served on a bed of wild rice‚ and butternut squash on the side. On a real china plate‚ not a scarred melamine plate with the Power–puff Girls ka–powing around the rim. I wouldn't even need wine‚ not really; I'd be content with mineral water‚ chilled just enough to frost the sides of a crystal goblet. And maybe a little music in the background
And come to think of it‚ I don't even want my husband home for this. No siree‚ he is not invited. This is a party for one. He'd want to talk about his day at work‚ and I do not want to talk. I want all the talk‚ all the chatter‚ all the YAMMERING‚ all the HOLLERING–to cease. I want to listen to the Coltrane‚ and savour the food in silence – every chewy grain of rice‚ every velvety slurp of puree‚ every sip of the pure clean cold water‚ every moist flaked morsel of fish.
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