For most of my adult life, up to age 52, I had been a bachelor. Ahhh yes, the single life of beer, burgers, babes and the beach. And on less than spectacular weekends…well at least beer and the beach. During evenings and weekends life was lived with no particular agenda or schedule, the weekly hours of my office job sufficing to fill that need. I arrived home at whatever hour the events of the moment suggested and I lived my free time leisurely and without constraints.
Food, and the cooking of such, was rather low on the priority scale, though not to say I was incompetent in that aspect of life. On the occasions when I would have friends with me for dinners I was a competent master on the grill and had a few fall back meals that I was capable of cooking on the stove comprised of chicken, steak or fish, thus covering all the bases. Nothing was fancy or gourmet but rather basic and good, at least that’s what I was told. Copious amounts of liquor seemed to make all the meals taste OK.
However, short of the occasional weekend gathering or evening companionship during the week most of my weeknight meals were taken alone. It was a period in my life when running was a major part of my weekly routine, something I always looked forward to at the end of the workday, along with the cold beer…or two…or three…that followed. These were usually accompanied by a rather basic and often repetitive dinner (a loose term here). Taste was somewhat important, convenience was the priority. My diet was often reflective of the neighborhood I lived in and the stores, restaurants and pizza parlors that were nearby or on the way home.
I was, and still remain, a creature of habit. Once I found a meal I liked, one that filled me up and was quick and easy to prepare, it became a regular part of my diet. For a number of years I had a beachside apartment in Laguna Beach near Gina’s Pizza, an institution in Laguna cooking up some of the finest pizzas around. At Gina’s I discovered the Hawaiian Pizza…tomato sauce and cheese complimented with pineapple and ham. Delicious with a tropical mystique appropriate to my beachside pad. Good with beer, good with wine, good with Mai-Tais and other exotic cocktails of the night. Soon after its discovery the Hawaiian pizza became the foundation of my diet and on solo weekends I would buy the extra large pizza and enjoy an evening dinner, a cold breakfast snack (with coffee overlooking the ocean on the bluff) and a lunch. 1, 2, 3 meals all in a row, all good. Always great with sodas, beers or liquor, not that complimentary to coffee, although it certainly sufficed. It met my need, was convenient and good. Aloooha!
In later years after several moves I settled into a neighborhood further away from the beloved coast and further away from Gina’s which had for a time been my nutritional base. In my new “hood” I trolled the shopping centers and fast food joints looking for a suitable replacement to Gina’s, but nothing hit the spot. I became a regular at Panda Express…always hoping for the cute gal behind the counter who served larger portions to me (I assumed it was my smile and charm until I noticed she was giving everyone larger portions)…as well as Wendy’s were I devoured their burgers and always order a chocolate shake “for desert.”
Then one day while wandering the aisles of the grocery store (lost in a still unfamiliar world) I discovered Stouffer’s Meat Lasagna in the frozen food section. “Lasagna,” a meal that sounded rich in culinary sophistication, worldly when spoken. “Lasagna,” easily complimented by beer or wine, to be enjoyed as dinner and as lunch the following day. I had suddenly graduated to a higher level of dining and breakfast would no longer be a remnant of the meal the evening before. Cold lasagna and coffee just wouldn’t cut it. I would deal with breakfast as breakfast in a far more mature and age appropriate manner…..via Starbucks which was located just down the street and served fabulous coffee and blueberry scones.
Stouffer’s Lasagna soon became the mainstay of my diet, evening upon evening and glass of wine upon glass of wine. The beautiful tenor voice of Andre Bocelli wafted through my townhome as I sweated over the microwave, cooking my frozen lasagna for 13 minutes, power level 10. I was clearly becoming a superb cook, wine in hand without the need of a cookbook. Lasagna…and it even came in its own dish (well, a black plastic container actually) which looked just fine on my table next to my folded napkin and silverware. Night after night after night I found myself in Little Italy after 13 minutes of slaving in the kitchen. Just call me Luigi.
And of course, all good Italian meals need good bread, and soon I found the perfect compliment…King’s Hawaiian Bread. Found in the deli section of the grocery store it was a sweet white bread cooked in a pie pan rising in a fluffy half dome of sweetness. I could grab a handful and just tear it off, no heating necessary. Good on its own and great for mopping up the lasagna sauce while Bocelli serenaded me in the background. Perfect, and actually not bad as a breakfast supplement to the blueberry scone at Starbucks.
My Italian lifestyle lasted for a number of years uninterrupted, historic in the eyes of some of my long married friends…deliciously convenient from my perspective.
And then the “gods of good fortune” looked down upon me and blessed me with the meeting of two dear friends of whom the wife was a wonderful cook. As we all shared our first experience being participating artist/photographers in the Laguna Beach Art Shows, my new friends took pity on me and my bachelor’s diet and would prepare wonderful meals for my enjoyment and pleasure. Many an evening was spent enjoying gourmet meals, good wine and laughter with the realization that there was a grander culinary world out there rich with dramatic foods and flavors….foods which took far longer to prepare than my 13 minutes of finessing the microwave. And I became a regular at their dinner table…such a regular that in time they decided they needed to “marry me off” and with further great fortune for myself, they introduced me to my lovely wife, a women they had once known 13 years earlier and had not seen since (another story for another day unto itself). I think there may have been an air of desperation in their actions, but none-the-less, incredible good fortune for me. In time we were married, my friends being the “best friends” rather than “best man” at our wedding, and my bachelor days became a distant memory.
My wife is a wonderful cook in her own right, one who knows how to keep it simple and convenient during the week, fun and exploratory on the weekends (we are talking about cooking here folks!). We enjoy dining out too and watch the budget with the “two-for-one” deals and happy-hours at the local restaurants, always a nice treat and appreciated. She keeps an eye on the quality of food we buy (I always assumed food was food), the date of expiration (which I had previously assumed was flexible based upon smell, appearance and green fuzz), calories and other ingredients (I had never read that part of a label before). We still enjoy an occasional pizza and we have had a Stouffer’s Lasagna on two occasions in the past six years…both times met with a satisfactory compliment. King’s Hawaiian Bread still graces our meals on occasion…now in the small dinner roll package rather than the large “grab-a-handful” loaf and still good.
My wife often looks surprised when I become befuddled with her informing me that I should wash this before eating, rinse that first, or toss a particular food out because it’s past the expiration date and might have gone bad…apparently quite surprised that I did not die from my lack of the intimate knowledge of food handling, respect of expiration dates, dependency on the smell and “green fuzz” test, etc., of my past single years. Clearly many women do not know the strength of a bachelor’s stomach. The fright or amazement that they experience upon opening a bachelors refrigerator and seeing the “science experiments” nestled amongst the beers and cold pizza apparently leave them wondering how we lived through our days alone.
And at this point in my life I am very happy and fortunate to be married to such a wonderful wife. Oh, and Sweetheart, what’s for dinner tonight? Oh, right, I’m grilling the “date appropriate” meat and freshly washed veggies. Love you hon!
G’Day friends, see you next Friday morning.