Thursday, February 5, 2009

"I'm not making dinner tonight," was how she put it, unambiguously, when she arrived home from work and I was handing off the kids to her and leaving for my own late afternoon appointment. It struck me as odd since I knew she had nothing else going on this evening.

"You're not making dinner tonight?" I asked, with only a hint of supplication. And she said, "No." which I observed as very plainly and simply put, given that what she meant was I worked all day and I'm sick and I'm sore and I haven't had more than three hours of sleep at a time in months and you're leaving me here with these kids who won't stop screaming and if I have to make dinner tonight I'm going to throw that six quart stock pot through the dining room window with such force that it will ricochet off the neighbor's SUV and imbed itself in the tree where it will stand for all eternity as a symbol of this mother's rage and as a call to all mothers in suburbs across this land to rise up and not take crap from anyone anymore especially overly demanding family members!

To which I responded, "Okay."

I love to cook, though I stopped years ago when we started the business and I began to take making a living more seriously than making dinner. Before Mrs. Ditchman and I wed we would cook together, which makes for a sumptious courtship. I bought her an elaborate set of pots and pans for her birthday back then, and we use those things to this day. They're all bent and scorched and beat-up now, but they still work. She toils over them day in and day out, like me on the job site with my tools. I noticed her boiling baby bottle nipples in the sauté pan the other day, and I thought of the time back when we were dating and we sautéed scallops and in that same pan we made that unforgettable creamy red sauce with the freshly chopped basil (that was the secret.) Back then we would try out a new fish recipe every week and a new bottle of cabernet every evening. We've come a long way, it seems.

So I stopped at the store on the way home from work and picked up something for dinner. I gave the meal some thought and struggled to come up with a desireable dish that would impress and subdue. I found myself crossing the store from corner to corner, diagonally and twice back (which is absurd in a supermarket), picking my ingredients and keeping it as cheap and simple as possible. Pork chops, mushrooms, cauliflower, rice... It was obvious to the other shoppers that I was as wobbly and rusty at this as the old shopping cart I was pushing.

Got home and set it all on the counter, actually looking forward to the process. An old friend once told me that if you can convince yourself that cooking dinner is a relaxing endeavor, it'll add years to your life. "Seriously. You leave the day behind you, you take in the scents and sizzles, you relax. You'll find you digest your food better," he said. "And if you learn to love to cook, you won't ever eat that greasy, overpriced pigswill you have to tip them for!"

I don't think he had kids.

But I do like to put on some old music, (like The Pasadena Rooftop Orchestra, a new favorite) open a bottle of wine, (a 2005 Adelaida Cellars viognier) and light a candle (the pretty, white one on top of the Sparkletts bottle.) This all makes a difference, (especially the wine part) even if everyone is screaming like caged banshees. I lathered some finely-tuned spice rub on the chops. I sliced the mushrooms into perfect qaurters. I melted butter and crushed garlic. I took the kitchen flashlight out into the garden and stole some fresh parsley from the gods. And I cut an onion and browned the rice with a manly, graceful flair. It was awesome.

This is not the way Mrs. Ditchman makes dinner. She makes it hard and fast, with a baby in one arm and a toddler pulling at her leg. Oh, she'll light the candle on the Sparkletts bottle, too, but she does it and it won't fall off and spill hot wax on the Little Ditchman's head. My wife: she's got her eye on the ball and throws her back into the swing, and with the other eye she winks at the pitcher. Dinner plates go a-flying and every cupboard stays open until she's done. Dishes get washed as she goes, and sometimes she's on the phone negotiating our mortgage policy or our health insurance or tomorrow's playdate. If you get in her way to get a beer out of the fridge, the glare from her will keep you from enjoying it, and you'll be left with a full bottle in one hand and your dignity in the other, while you try and act grateful. Cheerful. Anything.

So I poured her a glass of the viognier and took it to her on the couch. She had a sip, enjoyed it, and was busy with the kids again. Then she carried them upstairs for bath time and bed, leaving her full glass on the window sill and me to my own devices, with a nearly ready, perfect meal. I sipped the wine, blew out the candle, and turned down the music so the kids could sleep.

She returned later and suggested we eat on the couch. The rice and the cauliflower were cold, the chops were a little dry, and the sautéed mushrooms were good, though a bit on the soggy side. She was grateful, and didn't have to be. I put on Lost. A moment later she was leaning back, chin up, mouth open: asleep, dead and away.

At least for the next hour or so.