From now on, I will be serving dinner in pots and pans. This is something new for me. I used to serve everything in matching dinnerware: meat on a flat serving platter, vegetables and potatoes in round or oval bowls. Even the applesauce went into a little bowl with a spoon for serving.
The dinner table wasn’t such a formal place when I was growing up, but when I married and made my own home, my dinner table slowly morphed into something worthy of a Martha Stewart photo shoot.
I can remember meals at home where my mother would put the roasting pan right on the table – meat, potatoes and onions, everything in one pot in front of my dad’s plate. During the course of the meal, each one of us would dip our bread into the rich juice that accumulated at the bottom of the pan. It was a combination of meat drippings, olive oil, oregano, garlic, onions, and whatever else my mother threw into the pot that day.
When I got married, my new husband did not embrace this type of communal eating-out-of-pots. The first time I put a roasting pan full of baked breaded chicken on the table he wrinkled his nose and asked, “Is that all fat in the bottom of the pan?”
“Fat? No; it’s olive oil.”
Also in the pan were little clumps of breadcrumbs that fell off the chicken during the cooking and turning process. They soaked up the olive oil and baked into tasty crispy delicacies that could be scraped up with a fork right out of the pan.
When I lived at home, my mother would put the pan on the table and whenever someone forked a piece of chicken, we would scan the pan for those little tidbits of crispy bread crumb balls soaked in olive oil. Sometimes forks would collide in a duel over these little treasures.
“Try one,” I urged him, scraping a piece off the bottom of the pan and holding it up to his mouth.
“No thanks,” he said, turning his face away from my offering. I got the message… The next time I made breaded baked chicken, it was served on a clean platter – no pans on the table. Besides, there was no fun picking out olive oil bread balls all by myself. Sigh
Another night, I served applesauce right out of the jar with a serving spoon poking out the top. Nothing was said at the time, but another night, when I asked him to get the applesauce and put it on the table, he poured it out of the jar and into a serving bowl. Oh, so that’s how he likes it, I thought. We were still newlywed and I was open to learning how he liked things. So the next time we had applesauce, I served it in a bowl with a spoon, just the way he liked it.
I also learned, along the way, that he required a separate little bowl for his applesauce, his creamed corn and his salad. So, on a night that I might happen to serve applesauce, creamed corn and salad, there was one flat plate, two smaller bowls and one salad bowl crowding his placemat. I only needed one flat plate for everything. I thought those extra little bowls were silly and frivolous, but I continued to set them out for him.
Then there were the extra utensils. Eating dinner at my mother’s house one Sunday afternoon, he reached for the tub of butter and whispered in my ear, “Is there a butter knife?”
“Can’t you use that knife?” I asked, pointing to the knife next to his plate.
“That’s a meat knife.”
My mother overheard us and jumped up to get a butter knife for the table.
“I’m missing my bread plate,” he whispered, while she was in the kitchen getting the butter knife. He glanced around the table for an extra one.
“We don’t use bread plates in this house,” I hissed. “You’ll just have to rough it tonight.”
He must have thought he married a barbarian. There I was balancing my bread on the edge of my dinner plate and plunging my steak knife into the butter.
After a few more dinners, I learned just how he liked things on our dinner table. I never served food in pots and pans. We used the proper sized glasses for red and white wine. He wanted his beer in a glass beer mug; I drank it straight from the bottle.
When we have a barbecue and paper cups are put out for coffee or tea, my husband gets a ceramic mug. Says he can’t drink tea out of a paper cup. He also refuses to eat take-out pizza on paper plates. And, on the rare occasion that we order Chinese take-out, he won’t eat out of the aluminum take-out cartons with the plastic forks they throw into the bag. He has to put his food on a dinner plate and use a real fork and knife.
Since we had made a pact early on in our marriage, that the person who does the cooking (always me) will never have to do the dishes, I don’t complain about all the extra plates and utensils he requires for his dining pleasure – small quirky requests, certainly nothing to be too irritated about– until recently.
My son made a delicious Sunday dinner a few weeks ago: pasta with broccoli rabe and grilled sausages. The sausages were served in a flat serving dish, but the pasta was served right out of the cooking pot.
Halfway through the meal, my husband reached into the cooking pot to take a second helping. Tossing the pasta he remarked, “What a great idea – serving the pasta right from the cooking pot! The pasta is still piping hot! Look at that steam!” Then, turning to me, sitting at the other end of the table, he repeated his observation louder, as if I hadn’t heard him the first time, with the excitement of a scientist discovering some new phenomenon in the universe. “Chris, this pasta is still hot! Why don’t you serve it like this – right out of the pot?”
This comment from a man who requires a bread plate, a butter knife and separate bowls for runny foods, who won’t drink out of a paper cup or eat off of paper plates. I wanted to throw something across the table and smack him in the head.
My mother was also at the table, and, in that moment, our eyes locked. She lifted her eyebrow and my lip curled up to answer her, as I knew we were having the same thought: Remember the butter knife?
And so, at this late age, I’ve resolved, again, to give it to him like he wants it. No more pretty soup tureen, pasta bowls or matching serving platters. Now he gets his soup ladled right out of the stock pot resting on the stove top, pasta goes on the table in a pot with a lid, sausage is served in the frying pan it was cooked in, and breaded chicken sits in the pan on the table, complete with little crispy olive oil bread balls clinging to the sides.