I would not trade my life for anything. As a matter of fact, I’m hard-pressed usually to even imagine my life being any different than it is right now. Motherhood suits me (though it wasn’t that many years ago that this would have seemed entirely alien) and marriage to The Carnivore is, in fact, all it’s cracked up to be. I like it out here in the country, and I would rather stay at home with my children than go to the office every day.
But (you knew there would be a ‘but’, didn’t you?), I have my moments. When Little Miss Piggy is weaned, don’t think for a minute that I’m not going to get dressed up and go out on a date with The Carnivore, sans children. And there have been many times when I’ve packed an overnight bag in my imagination and gone to the beach for the weekend. Without the husband OR the kids. A girl could use some peace and quiet.
As much as I enjoy meal-planning and food shopping and cooking, I have wondered what life would be like if I didn’t actually HAVE to put dinner on the table for the family. Would I just make less elaborate meals or would I even bother cooking at all? Or, God forbid, what if I had married a fellow vegetarian? Would we just sit around congratulating ourselves for being so politically correct, living on tofu and dirt-covered vegetables from the garden?
Look, I stopped reading fiction and I never watch movies anymore. My imagination is all I’ve got left. And these are things that go on in my mind.
Last week, when The Carnivore announced he was going to go on a three-day fast, I side-stepped right into an alternate universe. I told The Houseguest he was going to be on his own for meals for the next few days (he has all sorts of packaged crap in the freezer anyway), and I scrapped the menu for the week, avoided the weekly trip to the grocery store, and gained, I swear, an extra five hours of free time.
At first, I planned to use the time to finish up some leftovers and get the refrigerator good and cleaned out. There always seems to be six or seven containers of dinner leftovers that The Big Boy and I use for our lunches, and try as we might, we still end up having to toss some things into the compost bin at the end of the week – and wasting food makes me terribly grumpy. But then, on Tuesday – day one of the fast, I was at my mother’s house and she offered me a bagful of Swiss chard straight out of her garden. I think I swooned. It wouldn’t have been enough to even serve as a side dish if we had all been sitting down at the dinner table that night, but since that wasn’t an issue, I jumped at the chance to serve myself what only I would want.
I went home, pulled out the skillet, tossed in the chard with some crushed garlic cloves and some olive oil and sautéed myself the quickest dinner in history. The Houseguest looked on with no small measure of alarm and put a frozen meatloaf in the oven. The Carnivore wasn’t even tempted to break his fast, and The Big Boy ignored me and slurped up some leftover pasta. “This is living,” I said, greedily chomping away on my bright green dinner.
On Wednesday, my grandmother handed me a bag of just-picked veggies from her garden: a head of butter lettuce, a head of broccoli, and a handful of spring onions. I grinned at The Carnivore when he came home from work, swung my bag of goodies in his direction, and said, “Now I know what my life would be like if I were single.”
I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings.
The lettuce and some of the onions went straight into a big bowl where I drizzled them with a quick homemade vinaigrette; I chopped up the broccoli and steamed it for a couple of minutes, just long enough to make it fork-tender, and then I tossed it with some olive oil, salt & pepper, and a dash of parmesan cheese. The Houseguest sat down at the table with me and watched with disgust as I chatted happily and exclaimed over the fresh flavor of the broccoli. The Big Boy ate an ear of corn left over from a few nights prior.
By Thursday, I started to get a little worried. I had run out of gardens to raid and the farmer’s market wasn’t going to open for the season for a few more days. And since I had been a little late on the uptick with our CSA membership this year, I had missed out on the four-week spring season and was still two-and-a-half weeks away from the first pickup of the summer session. At this point, leftovers weren't going to cut it for me. I was really enjoying myself.
Mom came through again though. As I squatted in her garden late on Thursday afternoon, picking strawberries with my back to The Big Boy so I wouldn't have to share, she off-handedly mentioned that she had some collards that needed to be picked. I pulled an empty tote bag from my diaper bag and handed it to her. “Dinner,” I grunted.
While The Carnivore bustled about the kitchen, planning what snack food he would break his fast with later that night, and The Houseguest grumbled about starving to death, I pulled the skillet back out, and chopped up the last of the spring onions from Grandma’s garden. This time, I sautéed the collards with the onions and a little bit more garlic, along with a pat of butter and a pinch or two of crushed red pepper. When the greens had wilted in the pan, I drizzled in some balsamic vinegar and a couple of crumbles of feta cheese. The Carnivore took a small nibble and said it tasted a little like dirt. I thought it was spectacular and wished I had enough for a second serving. The Big Boy ate half a quesadilla and still, after three days, didn’t question why he and I were the only ones eating dinner.
So now I know. Without a family to cook for, I would eat what I could con out of my mother and grandmother’s gardens. I would cook without recipes. I would have to go to the grocery store much more seldom, and then only for staples. But the dinner table would be mighty lonely.