Widows' Cooking, or, What's Burning Tonight?

At least 1000 pots after Gavin's death, I widowed the fucking coffee again today. Around here, if we're in the kitchen, "widowed" usually means more or less burned, although Mr. Fresh insists that last night I "widowed" the partner of the rice, not the rice (or the pot). Peh! If I can destroy a 1-qt 18-18-stainless pot just trying to boil a damn egg, I obviously don't have time for the niceties of transitive vs. intransitive verbs.

Gavin and I had a superfancy Alessi espresso pot with a great story ("was $225, NOW just $5") behind it. After he died, I committed to simplifying by purchasing a conventional drip.

You wouldn't know when you meet him that there are at least a dozen ways to strike out with Mr. Coffee. First of all, you can defeat his wisely installed safety features. One morning I forgot to close the lid on the pot, so boiling water backed up in the filter area. The counter spilled over with boiling water mixed with coffee grounds. Two towels later I tried to correct it (mid-stream, so to speak -- I added more water) but the coffee tasted like dirt. On other mornings, I managed to leave off every possible component: water, coffee, filter, the tray that holds the filter and the pot. I managed to keep it unplugged or not turn it on until it was time to leave. I'd set it up the night before and mmm, wht's that fantastic smell waking me up at midnight? A few times, I left it on all day to sludgify. That one, I know you've done.

And how many ways can you screw up coffee if you count combinations of two errors on the same day? Three errors? As my Sensei used to say, I having experience.

It's only natural for a young widow to be distracted, to try to multi-task a bit more than your average Mom, and to not care much about small things like nutrition when she has so much "on her plate" already.

Many widows will talk about the futility of cooking. It's hard to change recipes (how much is 2/3 of a handful?) and you have to set the table for one less adult, a constant mistake to make, a painful and frustrating reminder not only of loss but in our addled minds, of our failure to adjust. There's always a backlog in the sink, so you get stuck using the wrong pan for the job, either overflowing it or adding too much liquid in an attempt to cover the bottom. And don't get me started on running the dishwasher when no one's around to empty. I'd rather just leave all the clean stuff in there for a while than face that no one else is home.

Combine these feelings with a new incompetence that makes you forget to shake juice (bad) and NOT shake soda (very bad) and you have a lot of extra cleanup and still no meal.

In this situation it can be a blessing that grieving folks tend to have little appetite. But I had a toddler and an elderly MIL to cook for (both with freaky eating habits), and a little bit of pride in independence, so I soldiered on. A few weeks after Gavin died, I found myself at J.C. Penney buying a cute yellow microwave, my first. We have an adorable vintage kitchen and insisted we couldn't spare the counter space. There's something not worth standing up for after your world dissolves.

You can probably see why we quickly became dependent on frozen entrees from Trader Joe's.

After a year of fishsticks, pizza, and salad-in-a-bag, with its accompanist, my deteriorated cholesterol numbers, I started trying to use the kitchen more fully. But I was still a widow.

"Widowing" doesn't just involve burning. Once I got really organized and cooked extra chicken breasts, deliciously I might add, but left them in the (off) pan overnight. Cooking like a widow includes making useless grocery lists that say "chocolate, tampons, 100 other things" but no food. I would buy expensive cuts of meat that I didn't know how to cook or out-of-season produce that would spoil immediately. And I didn't want to eat any damn leftovers. I threw out the fridge as often as most of us thrown out the mail.

It didn't help that for a "timer" I would use a beer. "I'll turn down the rice when this (half-empty) beer is finished." I'm sure you can see how effective that technique is.

Perhaps bad cooking is itself a way to grieve. After all, smell and taste recall the past more vividly than other senses. It's too easy to say, "the last time we ate this, Gavin was here" or "this is the first time we've had Thai without him." The landmarks pile up. Steamed broccoli is always the same, even though our family looks different.

Perhaps cooking badly is a way widows can continue to tear their hair and beat at their breasts: a new way to mortify the flesh in agony, in memory.

But I'm out of active grieving. Now my challenge is to cook enough protein for the meaty Mr. Fresh, who's joined our table and our lives. I am remembering some skillz but I still use a beer for a timer sometimes.

Maybe we'll register for some fancy new cookware? We could still use a 1-qt and I'm in the mood for egg salad.

Disclaimer sidebar: Not all widows are shitty cooks

Some of us not only eat but also, egad!, cook well: Snickollet cooked a luscious-sounding fish dish, for a date no less, and J-in-Wales has published some wonderful recipes (one,  two,  three, and an unnumbered soup.) These plans share the virtue of simplicity, but then, in their authors' first-things-first, no-nonsense wisdom, that's no surprise.

There's also at least one recipe named for us, though it seems like an awful lot of ingredients for an actual widow to have on hand: "Widowed potatoes."

* * * Comments * * *


Snickollet said...

While I can cook well when I choose to, my love of and interest in cooking has certainly paled since John's death. We eat a lot of fish sticks. And mac and cheese from a box. And I burn things ALL THE TIME. (My timer of choice is wine instead of beer, by the way.)

Abigail said...

I knew there was a reason I drank tea! Not too hard to F@#& that up.

I find my cooking has been reduced to about 4 things. My imagination to think up what to cook for EVERY SINGLE MEAL has given me a bad case of widow-cook burnout. I did however discover the virtues of chores and now my kids and I take turns clearing out the stupid dishwasher.

For me the biggest hurdle was learning to BBQ. The funny thing is now I have guy friends who come over and take over that duty and I have to fight the urge to battle them for the tongs.

J-in-Wales said...

Things are not always as they seem.
For all the 'proper' meals, there have been many more involving a corkscrew and a bottle of robust and spicy red.
Which has the added benefit of no electrical parts to burn out!

Boo said...

I loved that you used a beer as a timer, and may incorporate using a vodka, coke and ice instead of beer ;-)

Carrieboo said...

Wow, I saw this on another blog and just had to read. And I thought I was the only one who still couldn't cook. I figure after three years the skills and desire to cook a good meal must come back...but i'm still waiting.
I'd like to use beer as a timer, but its often become the appetizer and meal in itself, maybe some wine for desert. Thanks for the funny twist on shitty cooking!

Anonymous said...

I'm here to say that it at the widowed for a decade mark just in front of me (Oct. 16) that this, like all things related to widowhood, will ease up but won't entirely leave you (like your attention span, ability to pay bills on time, lose things, the ADD that seems to come from widowhood w/children). Some days I can even read a cookbook the way I used to, but others, I'll eat granola for three meals and throw chicken nuggets in the micro. When it does come back, it's alot like the other part of "life before," there's this sense of relief, of remember who you were before you took the hit. I like that sense of recovery, and I'm grateful for those glimmers of my past selves, to just know they are still there. But when suddenly it's 6:30 and there is no food in the house, I know why. And yeah, usually the first thing I do then is pour myself a glass of wine.

Loralee Choate said...

It's not the same, not at all, but after the death of my son my husband and I were separated for 6 months.

I had such difficulty cooking. In fact, more of the time I just picked up a pizza and ate it for every meal.

It was horribly hard.

I hated it.



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