My recent meltdown (which after further research I self-diagnosed as being the 4th stage of retirement) unexpectedly produced several positive outcomes. As detailed in my previous post, my husband and I agreed that I would henceforth make dinner every Wednesday night. More importantly, it spurred honest conversation, which helped us both.
To be clear, my “existential crises” (or meltdown as I half-jokingly referred to my recent discomfort) was not particularly serious. After my last post, I realized I must have caused some concern, as a few friends reached out to me to ensure I was all right. I assured them that I was simply going through a bumpy but perfectly normal phase in my journey. It is important to me, in writing this blog, that I be honest and transparent about both the ups and downs of my first year of retirement, which may make some uncomfortable or cause worry. But I fear the tendency to sugarcoat our lives not only causes others to feel inadequate in comparison, but also circumvents the opportunity for our community to identify with or assist us in our pain. My hope is that others can learn from and benefit from my experiences. (And I certainly appreciated the calls of concern!)
Getting back to my first Wednesday night dinner, which was last Wednesday, I must say it was marvelous. I picked that day because my husband does volunteer work every Wednesday and I have the house to myself. I reasoned it would be a good day for me to learn and experiment and mess up in peace, and would cause my husband less heartburn not having to witness. I know how to cook, and in fact kept myself reasonably fed during my twenties when I was single, but I’ve become rusty the past 10-15 years. I also wanted to play loud disco music while I was cooking.
I chose heart-healthy recipes from my “Cholesterol Down” book (the diet plan which I’ve used to control my LDL levels) including walnut-encrusted salmon, peas with dill and margarine, roasted tomatoes with garlic and, for dessert, baked stuffed apples. I’ve been lobbying for more fish on the menu, and I dearly wanted to prove I could make a tasty AND healthy meal. I assembled my list of ingredients and on Tuesday, we went grocery shopping together and bought what I needed.
In order to be ready to eat at around 6:30 pm, as my husband was due home at 6:00, I started the prep work at around 4:00, figuring that would give me plenty of time. (Wrong! We didn’t eat until 8:30 pm.) My first task was to chop cilantro. Since we bought fresh cilantro, dill and basil, and they’re all green, I wanted to make triple-sure I had the right herb, so I ran to the computer and googled “What does Cilantro look like?” After looking at images that assured me I had the right herb, I googled “How do you chop cilantro?” I found a short You Tube video of some amiable rotund chef who explained that one folds the bunch of cilantro in half, that the stems may be included in the chopping, and then demonstrated chopping. I ran back and replicated the amiable rotund chef.
Then I decided, as long as I’m going to all this trouble to make a nice meal, I should also make a nice presentation. So, rather than sit at the kitchen island while watching the news, like we usually do, I set the table in the dining room. I put out place mats (ones that reminded me of France), silverware, cloth napkins and a candle.
For the next recipe, I needed to chop dill, so I ran and googled “What does dill look like?” and “How do you chop dill?” I found the amiable rotund chef again on You Tube who explained that one should NOT include the stems when chopping dill and again demonstrated the chopping process. I went back to the kitchen and chopped my dill. For the last recipe I repeated this process with the basil (except this time by process of elimination I cleverly identified the basil). By now, I felt incredibly grateful and bonded to the amiable rotund chef.
And then at 5:00 a curious thing happened. My husband came home early. He explained that his last appointment cancelled. When I heard the key in the door, my heart sank. I really wanted to have everything ready when he walked in the door – to wow him. I also worried that he would be uncomfortable with me cooking in his kitchen, or that he would hover while making “suggestions” or I would have some catastrophe while he watched. Instead, I heard him say “Ooooh!” as he saw the table set in the dining room, and then he walked into the kitchen, gave me a big kiss and hug and said “I’m really glad we’re doing this. I’ve been looking forward to this meal all day. I’m sure it’s going to be great!” And with that, he went to the computer in the family room and quietly checked email and news while I continued working on the meal (and no comment on the loud disco music).
Everything took a little longer than I thought, and I have to say, the recipe for roasted tomatoes with garlic was a pain in the ass. It called for me to cut tiny tomatoes in half and fresh garlic into slices and then “stud” tiny tomatoes with even tinier garlic slices. When I looked up “what [the hell] does it mean to stud something with something” on Google, the amiable rotund chef was nowhere to be found, but I gleaned from other sources that it meant sticking a garlic slice into each tomato.
The potatoes that were simmering with the peas took forever, so I decided to begin dinner without them. I lit the candle, my husband opened a bottle of wine, and we seated ourselves in the dining room and started on the salmon and tomatoes. Later the peas and potatoes were served, and we finished with the baked apples for dessert. I was thrilled with how well everything came out. We talked and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in our dining room. I recounted all my googling and what I learned about chopping herbs (which actually impressed my husband). He very thoughtfully and sincerely told me, “These dishes are all fantastic. They could honestly be served at a fine restaurant. I hope that you will cook more often!”
All in all, a successful beginning to my “re-orientation” phase. It was a satisfying day, and most importantly, we’re both looking forward to next Wednesday!