When the Meal is Astounding and There’s Almost No One Eating

On Sunday, for complicated reasons to do with cooking for an incapacitated friend and also needing to feed my own family, I found myself cooking both barbecue-sauced chicken and a whole brisket at the same time. I patted myself on the back for using the oven so very efficiently — sure, our gas bill shot up, but a lot of good food was generated, so it’s worth it. The house smelled of meat to the most astounding degree — if I have vegetarian neighbors, I hope they’ll forgive me. All I know is, at one point in the afternoon I went to sit on the balcony and I sniffed the air and I smelled…. brisket.

Monday evening, the husband of the incapacitated friend came and picked up his chicken — three or four breasts — and arrived as I was assembling our own evening meal. I was feeling a little under the weather, but was doggedly determined to do right by the brisket. I had prepared a green pea salad (green peas; capers; thinly sliced shallot, in a vinaigrette) and pimiento cheese and I was in the process of making angel biscuits when he arrived. He swooped in, took the chicken, and ran; I, feeling like I’d done my mitzvah for the day, went back to the biscuits. I baked two pans of them, one in a cast iron skillet (as many as would fit) and the rest on a regular baking pan. The oven was hot and the biscuits baked up beautifully but as I took them out of the oven and transferred them into a bowl lined with a towel, I thought, “Eh, do I even want these?” It was around then that my daughter said, “I need to go lie down” and went upstairs.

My daughter does not usually want to lie down at 5.15 in the evening. It was abundantly clear to me that she was not well. I went to check on her and she clearly had no fever; she just wasn’t feeling herself. I let her fall asleep and went back to the kitchen and considered what else there was for me to do. The answer was “not much at this point,” so I cleaned the prep dishes and put them away and sat down on the couch to read until my husband came home. I was feeling, by this point, distinctly crappy myself. It occurred to me that I might have a fever. Staring blankly past my magazine toward my feet, I noticed that the living room floor was covered in a school project my daughter had been working on very hard — a big triptych about the life of Julie Andrews. While all the parts were laid out, nothing had yet been glued to the boards. I thought about how I didn’t want this thing sitting on my living room floor all evening, and I debated disassembling it and shoving it in a corner; maybe she would do the gluing while we watched TV after dinner? But then I realized that the odds were very good that my daughter would not make it downstairs again that evening. And that the best thing for me to do would be to just do the gluing myself. The project was meant to be done entirely by her; but as ‘parents helping with projects’ go, the offense level of “gluing pieces of paper to cardboard” is pretty low. I didn’t have to think about where anything would go; there was no editorial effort involved. So I picked up the Elmer’s glue and got the project taken done. My husband came home to find me mid-gluing, and asked where our daughter was. “Upstairs, asleep,” I said. “Dinner’s ready as soon as you are.” I finished the gluing a few minutes later, propped the whole shebang up in a corner, and went to watch my husband carve the brisket. “Look at this,” he said to himself. “Meat.” I thought it smelled good, but wasn’t really hungry, and had little optimism about my daughter’s dining plans.

In the end, the poor girl did come downstairs for about six minutes. She sagged in front of her plate at the dining table, ate about ten green peas, and announced she wanted to go back to bed. I ate one biscuit with pimiento cheese and picked at a slice of brisket and a tablespoon of pea salad. Believe me when I tell you, I usually eat more than this at dinnertime. The only person who ate a normal meal that night was my husband, who said, “This is all great.” I’m glad it was so great — but it would have been greater if all of us had felt like eating. The consolation was that there was plenty, plenty, of food leftover to serve for dinner the next night, when we were all feeling more normal. Domestic efficiency: making a stupendous meal two nights in a row by accident.

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