Batting .333 in the kitchen

October 15, 1997

Diane – you know, my wife – came up with a radical idea toward the end of August, as the day of her return to teaching after her 10 weeks of sleeping late and reading in the sun approached. Because she had the summer off, she had been doing 100 percent of the cooking, rather than the usual 99.94 percent, and she figured it would only be fair if I cooked one meal a week once she went back to work.

My initial reaction may have been interpreted as negative. I didn’t scream or cry or yell Are you INSANE? What I did, as we were en route to – surprise, surprise – a movie, was to stare ahead, unblinking, with my mouth frozen in a creepy marionette-style grin. Diane knew what it meant when I didn’t immediately respond verbally – I was in a state of shock.

Then, she added the Proviso of Doom: “Pizza and McDonald’s don’t count.”

When the pain from biting the inside of my mouth wore off, I said, “Of course I will. No problem. One meal a week.”

The fact is, if it weren’t for my wife, I would be a vitamin-deficient, scurvy-ridden, 98-pound freak. When she’s not around, my motto is, “If I can’t eat it straight out of a box, I’m not eating it.” So, restricted to Saltines, cookies, and dry pasta (it’s not that bad, really), I tend to stray from a healthy, balanced diet.

The day after Labor Day, I was sitting at my desk, going through the mail and wondering what I was going to cook for my first week’s meal, when lo! and behold I opened a press release from Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. of Georgetown, Delaware. In recognition of National Poultry Appreciation Month, the good people from Delmarva had sent us information on chickens, as well as the brochure that I like to call My Key to Heaven, One-Dish Chicken Dinners.

The subtitle of the bi-fold pamphlet is A collection of meal-in-a-pan recipes for today’s fast-paced lifestyles, which I have translated into A collection of meal-in-a-pan recipes for guys whose peas usually turn to paste by the time the chicken’s done, but whose rice is so undercooked it gets jammed between your incisors and canines.

For the synchronizational-challenged male, the brochure was a godsend. Each of the recipes had chicken, vegetables, and a starch – all in the same pot. The only drawback that I could see was that the recipes did not include desserts-in-a-pot.

I set my sights of North African Chicken with Couscous, and went to the market to get the ingredients we lacked: chicken (a crucial element in any chicken dish) and turmeric, a funny-smelling yellow powder that comes from an Indian plant.

Well, I don’t have to tell you that the North African Chicken was a raging success. It was the turmeric, you know. Diane raved and raved and raved about it, and soon I came to believe that her excitement was a combination of joy over a good meal and disbelief of my having made it.

Some event the following week prevented me from making my second meal. The next week was rough, too, so I had to skip that one, too. And don’t even mention the next two weeks, when I couldn’t have prepared a meal even if my life depended on it, which, in some respects, it did.

I have to admit that while it’s gratifying to please someone with a homecooked meal, it feels downright odd to slip into a role that chauvinistic pigs – but certainly not me – would say has traditionally been held by women. This may take some time.

On the other hand, Diane is adjusting rapidly. Last week, while making Fiesta Chicken Stew with Cornbread Dumplings, I peeked into the living room, where my spouse was being suspiciously quiet. There she was, sprawled on the couch, feet up on the ottoman, perusing a magazine. Just waiting to be served.

Just like a husband.

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