Last Summer, we spent much of the precious daughter-home-from-camp-weekend time binge watching multiple seasons of Dr. Who. At the same time, we discovered how delicious chicken thighs were when cooked on the grill, and we grilled many, many pounds of them with piles of red peppers, zucchini, Vidalia onion, and eggplant. These were perfect dinners, and Dr. Who was perfect cuddly tv time with our then fourteen year old daughter. Our son took to calling grilled chicken thighs ‘Dr. Who Chicken’, since the show and the dinner came together so often, and the name stuck. We laughed at the idea of future wedding menu cards that would read ‘Dr. Who Chicken’, and how our guests would shake their heads in unknowingness. It was just one more inside family joke in a long line, and anyone who’s been in a family knows how wonderful those can be.
This Summer, my teenagers are even more scattered at dinnertime with friends and commitments, but I find I can sometimes lure them back with a good home cooked meal, and Dr. Who Chicken is just one of those. Summer is not the best season for my homemade macaroni and cheese, but I just might have to play that card one day very soon. Months before, I knew this would be the Summer of the Two Dinner Plates, but every time I pull them down from the cabinet, I do feel a pang for the days when it was always four.
At the grocery store, I used to giggle when I put my items on the checkout belt. Somehow, I always bought everything in multiples of two, whether or not that was my intention. From blocks of cheddar cheese to cereal to spaghetti sauce, there it all was riding down that conveyor. My family in a grocery order.
This Summer, I find I need to buy much less in the way of food. My daughter is at camp during the week and my son is busy with work and an active social life. They don’t eat here all that often these days, and my shopping cart reflects that reality. It took me a while actually to learn how to cook for just two; we wasted a lot of food in July, but I’m getting the hang of it. When I can’t bear to take down the two plates from the cabinet, we get take out, go out for dinner, or make salads. The ‘going out’ is a really good development. All of the older Moms told me it would be, and it is. I am getting to know my husband in a new way outside of our parenting roles and that is a very positive thing. And when I make salads at home, on the two lonely plates, I find I’m springing for the good tomatoes.
You can get most tomatoes now for a little over a dollar a pound. When I was shopping in bulk for growing kids, I often thought in terms of quantity and not quality, but now that it’s mostly the two of us, I find myself reaching for the Campari tomatoes. They are over three dollars a pound, and I still look over my shoulder to see if my mother will scold me for the sheer luxury of it (she taught me to be frugal…why buy Jordache jeans when Bradlees sold perfectly good ones?). Campari tomatoes are small, sweet, and perfect. I love them with a little salt and a sliced avocado. You really can’t beat that combination. And there’s something about that splurge of a tomato purchase that lets me know that I am, in fact, worthwhile, apart from my children. My identity as a mother has been so all-encompassing, and I’ve put myself last quite a bit over the years, but in a very weird way, these tomatoes speak to me of self-worth and a life apart from raising kids that makes me curious about the future. Today, the good tomatoes and tomorrow, who knows?
As I make my way through the Summer of Two Plates, I am finding balance. The Dr. Who Chicken will bring my children home, for now, and the Good Tomatoes give me a glimpse into a life I can almost see, when they won’t live here anymore. The best thing of course, is to serve them together, and believe me, I do, every chance I get.