From The Chestertown Spy, 7/26/2022 edition:

Of all the questions that get asked around our house, the most imponderable is “What do you want for dinner?” Sometimes the problem is that the question gets asked right after breakfast and at that moment, who knows what one wants for dinner? Surely not me. I’m not genetically inclined to think that far ahead; a lot can happen between breakfast and dinner. And should the question get asked right after lunch, it’s even more problematic: dinner is only a few hours away, and right now, I’m full. You want to eat again? Already??

I realize this is a first-world problem. Back in my Peace Corps days, I never took dinner for granted. Sometimes there was meat at the butcher shop (you knew what was available by the severed beast head that hung above the butcher’s stall) or maybe I could find a few fresh vegetables in the open-air market. Sometimes not. I was grateful for whatever I was able to discover or afford. Mind you, there was no refrigeration so I couldn’t just go pull something out of the freezer. Now when I open the freezer drawer and see all the Trader Joe’s goodness lying in wait there, I can’t decide if I want Orange Chicken or Mongolian Potstickers. Dinner has become an international dilemma.

The problem is compounded because I live within a stone’s throw of the Health Food store and the Wine and Cheese Shop. I can afford to wait until almost the last minute to decide what I’ll prepare. That works on the occasional day when I’m “batching” it, but when my wife and I are wrestling with the dinner dilemma, it’s not so easy. I like spicy; she doesn’t. She has super-sensitive tastebuds; I’m pretty pedantic about food. I’ve learned to defer to her culinary art because a) she’s a good cook, and b) I’m easy to please.

The other day, she had a business obligation so I was on my own for dinner. About 4:45 (the Wine and Cheese Shop closes at 5), I trotted across the street, dove into the freezer case, and came out with some veal tortellini from a fancy Philadelphia purveyor. (That was never part of my Peace Corps playlist.) Back in my kitchen, I added some crumbled feta cheese, a diced heirloom tomato, some pesto (I love pesto!) and, for garnish, some fresh basil snipped from one of our backyard herb pots. Much to my surprise, paired with a glass of rosé wine, it was delicious! I was in heaven. I called the concoction “self-care” and I ate it in front of the tv, watching a baseball game. Life was good—at least for that moment. But when I finished, I asked myself, “Now what?” Loneliness is like that—it can sneak up on you and bop you on the head. I washed the dishes and headed upstairs for a little bedtime reading. 

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t mind making dinner for myself or eating alone for an evening or two, but life is a string of evenings and I miss it when my wife and I aren’t together. As much as we wrestle over the what-do-you-want-for-dinner question, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a worthwhile conversation to have. We’re lucky: I’m sure the brave people in Ukraine don’t have the luxury of deciding what to eat; they’re just trying to stay alive until tomorrow morning. Life is context; we forget that truth at our own peril.

That’s all for now. I’m off to make dinner. Hmmm…I wonder what’s in the freezer. Bon appetit!

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.

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