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Widow's 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 * * *

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Comment by Soaring Spirits on March 17, 2014 at 5:17pm

Oh but there are many people who are excellent cleaners in grief! We have to get you all together somehow! :-)

Thanks for your comment.

Also, I'll be right over. ;-)

Comment by Hope on March 16, 2014 at 9:01pm

Bless you all! I wish I could come and cook for you. I can plan meals, buy groceries, put on a meal for a few or for a crowd,'s the cleaning up that gets to me. The dishes pile higher and higher, because in my house, it's the washer of dishes who departed.  Sometimes I feel energetic and swirl up a bunch of suds, only to find grease or crusty stuff on the "clean" plates later. Yuck.

Why am I so bad at this? I have noticed that one of my sons is a good cleaner upper (he has moved on to college) and the other is a good cook, in spite of valiant attempts to teach both skills to both of them.  Do you suppose these things are just preordained by our genes?

My hubby would be so mad to know I spend his life insurance money on hiring a housekeeper twice a week to come and wash up--it's pathetic and irresponsible, but I must have a decent home for my son to finish growing up in. I know I'll have much less to live on after he moves out, but I figure by then I'll just throw a potato in the oven to bake and eat it off a paper plate, or perhaps just skewer it on a fork and eat it like that since no one will see me.  Anyway, it's clear that I'm not ever going to be good at washing dishes.  

Actually, come to think of it, I did burn quite a few meals in the weeks after my hubby's death...that bit passed, but a year after his death, the dishes are still the bane of my evenings.  Still, single parenting has been around for generations, so it must be possible, right?

Kerryn, since your boys aren't opposed to cooking, why not let them plan the meals, with some supervision from you? At 15, your eldest can be deemed an "adult in training" and the 11 year old may still be in the helpful stage where every responsibility seems fun.  They can learn to budget, make good nutrition choices, cook and eat food they like.  We did this last summer and it brought us closer.  We each had a night off, a night to cook and a night to clean.  I'm looking forward to having my college boy home for the summer so we can do it again--best night was when younger son cooked and eldest cleaned, of course!

Comment by Lauralee on November 1, 2013 at 5:46am

This discussion is so appropriate - cooking for one is not "fun" at all but I am at the point in my journey (20 months) where I am actually starting to feel a little hungry again at times and want to make some healthy meals.  I started watching some cooking shows and have written down a few recipes to try.  I am also considering doing some baking - does anyone have a stand mixer?  I know it gets harder for me to mix items as the years go by so I am considering this big purchase.   I found a sale, coupon and have a gift card to apply towards it - but have trepidation.  Don't know if I will use it - plan to give away items baked since I don't really want to gain the weight I lost back but it will give me something to do during the cold winter months.  Sorry for rambling....hope everyone has a peaceful and hungry day.  

Comment by daisy2012 on November 1, 2013 at 4:08am

will try this..thanks so much putting out 17 dollars for a half a tray of pizza son can learn this recipe...cuz I'm not buying anymore:)

Comment by Angel1 on February 28, 2013 at 9:08am

         You have to have canned biscutes cut up colby montery jack cheese turkey pepperoni or regular    So then you take your biscut flatten it out add a piece of the pepperoni then a piece of cheese then another piece of the pepperoni on top wrap the biscut around the whole thing place in a greased pyrex pan cook in a 350 oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until browned every body ovens are alittle different.  When done you can dip them in pizza sauce if you want but good without.hope you enjoy.

Comment by Angel1 on February 28, 2013 at 9:00am

   Turkey choreso chile, cook turkey meat then add choreso cook until done ad two cans of whole  canne d        pinto beans, then add two cans of diced tomatoes,can of corn optional, add chile powder        pepper, season salt garlic powder and either whole onion or onion   powder. cook until all combined. It is really yummy.     I hope you enjoy this

Comment by GG Rose on May 18, 2012 at 12:22pm

I absolutely love this post!  Talk, again, about getting it.  We should start the Widow's Cooking Chronicles.  I was trying to think about Wildow's Adventures in Cooking  or WAC'd cooking but need some help here.

Please allow me to share my own cooking chronicles from yesterday:

Here’s cooking update, I think I jinxed myself with the last email on Widow’s Cooking but this is how it is.

I came home last evening, starving and knowing I needed to get out in the yard ASAP to get yard work done.  So I decided on my way home that I would fix one of the remaining twice baked potatoes that were residing in my freezer.

Instructions seem quite simple, bake for 30 minutes at 350 or microwave on high for 5 to 7 minutes.  I opted for the 5 minute microwave option.  I removed the outer wrap from the potato  (feeling so proud) and popped it into the microwave for 5 minutes.  I hurried upstairs to change my clothes.  Just as my foot hit the last step coming back down, I heard the familiar “ding” of the microwave signaling the end of the cooking.  By now I was nearly bursting with self-satisfaction to the point of being a bit smug.   I opened the door of the microwave to remove my well-deserved feast…I was soon struck by reality to discover my beautiful twice baked potato  had been the victim of over cooking.  To my utter dismay, I thought perhaps the center would be edible but not to be.  Unfortunately, I had only prepared one.  Had I done two; I could have resoled my Birkenstocks.

Comment by GG Rose on May 16, 2012 at 6:45pm

I LOVE THIS POST!!!  Reiterates that I belong to this group becasue we all subscribe to the same insanity.  And we can laugh about it!  I don't know how many I times I left the burner on - I have a gas range top.  Finally realized that for everyone's safety I needed to stop cooking!! 

Comment by Soaring Spirits on November 9, 2011 at 6:25pm

Ooh, Roseann, I didn't know you could burn papers in a grill! That would have come in very handy recently as I move 75 boxes from the old house to the new house.

I feel ya on the fruit. I mean, who invented that stuff? If it somehow makes it into the house, I can nearly always eat it.

Even after having gum surgery. Like today. (ugh!)

Comment by Roseann on November 9, 2011 at 12:53am

My meals stopped when Charlie got sick. He didnt eat but small stuff at first..fruit, son who is 11 cooked for himself he is a champ at the microwave. Our I order a pizza a couple times a week for me and my son and we now go out a lot to eat. My son is a picky eater so what he does make for himself I try and watch so it is a balance. I sure do  miss cooking big dinners. This Thanksgiving I asked my you want me to make all our favorite stuff he said well, I would like to go to golden that is where we are going. Family lives 10 hours away and we will be going xmas time.  I try and make it up to see my parents once a year but my son goes in the summer and xmas time.  NMWidower I love George Foreman grill I got a little on and a big cooks good and fast! I have a grill outside that was Charlies favorite thing to do ..but now I just burn papers in it. Kerryn I am going to make dinner time again for me and my son...I will start this after the funeral on Friday (Veterans Day) I just am glad at 11 he knows how to cook. He does his own laundry too ..I am an older mom and I thought it best to teach him how to do things like this so when I go he is prepared.... He has been my medication through the whole ordeal. Kerryn that is all I ate in the first few days my stomach couldnt take much more other than fruit. If I do eat I feel sick. So for now its coffee and fruit for me at least for now.

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