When the Man's Away, Scarf Special K
She pan-fries with purpose, char-broils with cheer and grills with a Calphalon grin. She’s the merry meal-maker, ever disposed to whip up a hot and hearty supper for her grumbling-tummied groom.
When he’s home for dinner, she’ll toast the bread, salt the beans, trim the steak and chill the salad – because that’s the way he likes it best. She’ll bust out the good napkins and soil every pan in the kitchen just so he can enjoy a “proper” meal. The kind his mommy used to make.
But tomorrow, when he’s working late, she’ll stand at the kitchen counter plucking almonds from the trail mix and polishing off her kids’ leftover yogurt while thumbing through the junk mail.
And she’ll take an impish thrill in doing it.
In 1814, American statesman John Adams wrote, “The shortest road to men’s hearts is down their throats” (not to be confused with the Pillsbury Doughboy’s syrupy insistence that “Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven”). Two centuries later, married women still heed the advice, going to far more trouble to feed our fellas than we ever would ourselves. Or our kids.
When their hubbies aren’t home, my girlfriends delight in calling the following “dinner”: Hot dog in a tortilla. Bowl of cereal with glass of wine. Hunk of cheese. Handful of grapes. Scoop (amen, sister) of cookie dough.
I used to think women like these – who slave over stoves for their spouses but settle for pantry snacks when they’re alone – were submitting to sexism, relenting to patriarchy. Were they not worth the same effort as their hairy-legged household counterparts?! But as I sit here solo, sucking on a spoonful of peanut butter and seriously considering taking a fork to some cold, abandoned ravioli at the back of the fridge, I admit I was wrong.
There are lots of reasons women don’t bother peeling carrots and pounding cutlets for ourselves – but low self-worth is not one of them.
Efficiency is. Like MacGyver on estrogen, we take an almost perverse pride in our ability to make a meal of, say, six frozen peas, some crackers and the last egg in the carton. We wouldn’t ask our loved ones to eat it, you understand, but if we can fuel ourselves and free up a few Tupperwares, well, the evening’s already been a success no matter if Grey’s Anatomy is a repeat or not.
Convenience is another reason we eschew oven mitts when dining alone. Why scrub the wok when a bag of microwave popcorn is such a wealth of fiber? Plus women and men have different tastes; when we’re not catering to their yen for gut-warming grub, we’re free to graze as we like.
“I love to eat a salad for a meal when no one is demanding their meat-n-taters,” admits a friend of mine, a mother of three. “Also, I see it as an opportunity to cut a few calories where I can.”
If grazing is so superior to traditional table dining – cleaner, more practical, less fattening – why bother fixing “square” meals for our mates at all?
Because they really, really like it. If a man can no longer spend the day hunting an animal and having the satisfaction of seeing it on his plate that night, at least he can sit down to a meal that equals, if only abstractly, the hard work he logged at, um, the car lot.
“Guys don’t ‘require’ a hot meal any more than women ‘require’ our lawns to be clipped and our car oil to be changed,” says another mom I know, who goes on cooking strikes when her husband leaves town. “But they like having someone take care of the things they may not excel at, just like we do.”
Maybe the damned Doughboy knows his romance after all.
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