Eating Solo

Dinner wareAt what point in our lives does eating meals at a table become out of style???

I don’t know about you… but I was raised to eat all meals gathered around the table. We didn’t have a kitchen table, so the dining room table became the ‘hub’ of our meal time… breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even if mom wasn’t home from work yet, my brothers and I ate at the table without her. It was my job to set it… day in and day out.

When melamine, stainless steel, and margarine were all the rage… our family ate off china with silverware and smeared real butter on our rolls. We weren’t trying to be snobby… it’s all we owned. There was no money in the budget to purchase the current trend. Besides… all of the family silver came from my mom judiciously saving box tops from the butter packaging. Sending in the required number of tops and a few bucks got you a fork. (My thriftiness is genetic I see).

Eventually I had a family of my own… where all meals were eaten ‘en masse’ gathered around the kitchen table. The fancy dining room table was used only on holidays… or for entertaining ‘grown ups’. The china and silver was used only once or twice a year… as unbreakable Corelle and stainless utensils were more practical daily dish ware.

This morning I watched as the elderly women I visit each day took their breakfast out of the kitchen and into the living room… where they immediately switched on the TV. Each kitchen is outfitted with a table and chairs. Both had pretty window views, and one of them had a radio on the ledge. I was there to keep them company and provide conversation. Yet both grabbed their dishes and utensils and walked into the other room to eat.

Now that I’m an empty nester… I notice I also by-pass the kitchen AND dining room tables to eat in the living room.

Knowing eating is a ‘social’ activity… I understand the reason for eating in front of the TV if no one else is around. However… I personally think I need to be more mindful of what I’m eating. Enjoy the moment. Savor the flavor.

What about YOU? Where do you eat your meals? On your lap or at a table?

It’s All Relative

It’s 11:00, do you know where your relatives are?

My mom was an only child. So was my dad. That doesn’t make for a lot of relatives, does it? I grew up with no aunts, uncles or cousins. My family consisted of mom, dad, two brothers, a grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side whom we saw once or twice a year… maybe… and me. No huge family reunions for our family, family weddings, baby showers, or graduation parties. Nope.

Growing up I remember family dinners once a year at my grandparents. They were stressful occasions even at my very young age. I always sat next to my mom, across from my brothers and father. My dad would stare at me and wiggle his ears when he thought no one was looking, which made me wiggle and giggle in my seat. “Mrs. Vanderbilt would be disappointed to see you giggling at the dinner table young lady”, my grandfather would admonish. “Who the heck is Mrs. Vanderbilt?” I would wonder to myself.

It turns out Mrs. Vanderbilt was the etiquette queen of the century. My grandparents followed her every word. Children were to be seen and not heard. We were not to play loudly in the house, speak only when spoken to, and obey every command. Oh, don’t forget to leave the room walking backwards so as not to turn your back on the rest of the guests.

My brothers got away with murder at these dinners. My oldest brother was the apple of their eyes. You see… my grandparents believed each family should only consist of one child. So, when the first grandchild was born they were ecstatic it was a boy to carry on the Hathaway name. They called him ‘Button’… as in ‘cute as a’. Every holiday dinner ended with Junket milk pudding as it was his favorite.

A second child came into this world a few years later. Uh oh, accidents happen they surmised, plus it was another boy so it was guaranteed the Hathaway name would continue, yippie! This brother wasn’t as favored as the first, however he looked so much like their own golden haired son they had to set their crazy feelings aside and allow him into their hearts. This is the brother who, out of boredom shot peas under the table at me with the use of his spoon.

Then the unthinkable happened… a third child came along… me! In their eyes my mother was a whore (of course their beloved son had nothing at all to do with it), and I was a good for nothing girl. Oh my! My grandparents were not pleased with my mother or me and therefore were seldom spoken to at these dinners. At the age of four I could feel the glare radiating from my grandfather’s end of the table. I am certain my father felt it also and tried to lighten the air with his wiggly ears. I was his princess and he was rescuing me from the nasty villain.

As time went on I learned it was really my grandfather who had ‘issues’. My grandmother loved us all but was not allowed to show affection or would incur her husband’s wrath. I wish I had known that before she passed away. As an adult looking back I see it so clearly. Sitting in her kitchen at the tiny enamel table in the corner (where the tiny dishes of Junket were cooling for dessert) I remember her slipping me a sideward glance and smiling.

There was no love loss between my mom and her father-in-law. My dad passed away when I was seven years old and these unbearable dinners came to an end. If I remember correctly we did go one more time, but it was so awkward and uncomfortable they were scrapped altogether.

While sifting through my mom’s papers recently after her death I ran across my grandmother’s obituary and a bunch of letters from strange people I had never heard of. I had to re-read the obituary a few times before it struck me what I was reading. Not one, but two aged newspaper clippings boiled my grandmother’s life down to two paragraphs. Both clippings clearly stated she left behind four grandchildren. Four???? Unless my old age is fooling me, the last time I counted there were only ever three of us, my two brothers and myself… three.

My parents were married on the Belmar Beach June 5, 1946, my mom’s 21st birthday. A minister (wink, wink) preformed the service. I don’t know how my dad did it, but a marriage license was never applied for, blood tests never taken, and a marriage certificate never issued. My mom was an ostrich with her head in the sand. When did she find all this out? When she applied for social security benefits after his death, after 15 years of marriage… THAT’S when she found out! Imagine her shock!

I always had the feeling there was a half sibling running around this planet somewhere. My dad was married when he met my mom. Then again, so was she. She divorced her first husband because she felt “the good lord did not intend her to be beaten up every Friday night by an alcoholic “. Apparently my dad never went through with his divorce. Now I am on the hunt for a half sibling. I calculate they should be in their mid to late sixties.

Also found in her secret paper hide out were deeds, receipts, and death certificates for her father’s side of the family. What a shock to discover mom’s father had two brothers! Every time a door would slam by itself mom would say, “Uncle Joe has come for a visit”… meaning her Uncle Joe was stopping by to crash on the sofa on his way through town. She told me she never really saw him, just heard him arrive and leave. That is the most she ever said about her uncles.

Come to find out through reading letters from someone named Marie, Joe was a Police Lieutenant in New York City and was married… to Marie. I have no clue if they had children. I continued to read more letters and stumbled upon David, mom’s other Uncle. I never heard of him. He had a son, Edward who has already passed away.

So the hunt begins. This is more than just learning about my ancestry. There are people out their sharing my DNA and I intend to find them.

Do you know all of your relatives? Are their any secrets and/or stories you don’t have all the facts of? Now’s the time to track them down. Happy hunting

What’s Cookin’?

Do you cook? I mean REALLY cook. Every night?

For the past 35 years I had been solely in charge of planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up all meals… and especially dinner. This was not an easy task for a family of five individuals. So many variables went in to making it a success. Trying to remember every food the kids liked or hated, foods within my budget, easy to cook, or at least make ahead, who would be home that night for dinner, wondering if there would be ‘extra mouths’ to feed, hoping leftovers would be good for lunch, etc.

The rule at our dinner table was, “Eat it!” I made sure each meal was tasty and healthy. One evening my son refused to eat his peas. I refused to let him leave the table until his plate was clear. He threatened to call the police because he thought I was being unusually mean. My reply was, “Go right ahead. Would you like me to dial the number for you?” I further commented, “By law I must provide you healthy meals, no where is it written you have to like it. So go ahead, call the authorities and tell them you don’t like your peas and I’m forcing you to eat them.” Needless to say he didn’t call.

Life moves on and I am no longer cooking for a family… it’s just me. The three hours between 5:00pm and 8:00pm are the longest hours in the day for me. I simply do not know what to do with myself. I have no desire to cook just for me. My routine for the past year has been to eat some cheese and crackers for dinner. However, today I decided it was time to ‘get with the program’ and make myself a yummy dinner.

I have only myself to please this weekend, so I decide to make MEATLOAF! Not only is it a favorite of mine; I can slice it up and freeze pieces for later. My mouth is drooling as I think of a meatloaf sandwich slathered with mayo and ketchup in my near future for lunch. For tonight however it will be hot from the oven, roasted potatoes on the side, topped off with a salad. Oh… and a glass of wine to complete the picture.

As I mush the ingredients together with my hands I now remember how much I loved to cook. “So THIS is what I used to do between 5 and 8,” I comment to myself. The kitchen smells heavenly. Meat, potatoes, and veggies fill the kitchen air. An hour later I hear the oven timer DING! Yea… dinner’s ready!

I plate the food, take a picture of my yummy potatoes in case I want to Facebook my cooking talent, and place it on the table. I sit down ready to dive in. My first bite is of the potatoes. The skin is roasted to perfection and seasoned with a bit of salt, pepper, and thyme. The potato bursts in my mouth, and the creamy goodness in the middle oozes down my throat. Next up, the meatloaf… eh… not my best, but good enough. In the past few years I have made AWESOME meatloaves from a recipe by America’s Test Kitchen… but those days are over… let’s just say, sad memories. Any way.. I threw the rest of the meatloaf in the trash.
I want to get excited about this meal… but I just can’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm. Hmmm… it hits me all at once why I don’t cook dinner for myself. It has nothing to do with the food, or the effort, or cleaning up. Nope… I realized I do not like to eat by myself. Eating is a social activity in my eyes. Without any one to talk to I have an option to read a book, watch TV, or look at the dogs… watching me eat. Alone. None of those options are appealing to me.

For some strange reason it doesn’t bother me at all to read or watch TV while I chow down on crackers and cheese. So I guess I will just continue my normal routine.

While providing for my family I loved the challenge of creating a balanced meal that everyone would enjoy. As the kids began to grow up and move out… and my husband became ill, the local church took over and provided our family with delicious and different dinners. Some we liked, some we didn’t.. but they were all made with love and eaten as a family at our table.

Again my life changed, and so did my eating. Once my husband passed, a daughter married, a son went to school and more… my desire to cook began to wane. Not only that, my economic situation was so strained that buying food became a luxury I could not afford. There were many nights I went to bed starving, and many weeks I ate economical eggs two meals a day. Eventually I stopped cooking altogether… and lost so much weight. Until… I met a guy… who liked food and cooking as much as I! Whoopie! We met for dinner once a week, and cooked together on the weekend trying new recipes all the time. Left overs were packed up for me to eat the rest of the week. Life was fabulous… my weight began to balloon.

Life is cruel at times, and all good things must come to an end. I am no longer with this guy. I could care less about cooking. This time however it isn’t that I cant afford it, it’s simply that I no longer have the desire. Food doesn’t excite me the way it used to… and that’s sad. I remember how my eyes would widen as flavor and texture hit my taste buds. One meal was so spectacular my partner threw his fork across the counter in pure surprise! Now… I eat because I have to. My tummy gurgles to remind me it needs fuel. I grab whatever is in the house, doesn’t need to be prepared, and can be consumed while sitting in my big comfy leather chair. Hey… look on the bright side! Maybe I will lose all this extra fat and will be able to throw my SPANX in the trash!

What are your thoughts? Do you cook for just yourself? What do you cook? What do you do when you eat? What do YOU do between 5pm and 8pm?