Pretty much everything about life changes when that last kid walks out the door.
Veronica and I think we should make the most of these adjustments, that’s why we started GypsyNester.com, to celebrate life after kids. Most of the changes were easily anticipated but as always, some things are unforeseen.
Over the past few years, we have had to relearn how to shop and cook for just the two of us. That fell into the unexpected for me. I don’t know why, but it was not something that I thought of before the clearing out of the nest.
Throughout our over four decades of marriage I have been the primary cook in the house. One of the kids calls me about once a week to ask things like “how long do you cook a chicken?” or “what’s in that stroganoff you make?” or ” what was that stuff you made that one time that was so good?” About two hours, cream of mushroom soup and carbonara.
I like to eat, so early in life I figured out how to cook the things that I wanted to consume. A natural offshoot of cooking is shopping, so I learned to do that too. I’m such a hunter-gatherer. With three kids, I had to be!
Usually, a trip to the grocery store involved multiple shopping carts and severe wallet damage. By the time the three bottomless pits were teenagers it required a small truck and a second mortgage. Should The Spawn choose to come along, only perfect weather, no traffic, fast driving and sheer luck could get half of the provisions home before ingestion.
One red light and there would be nothing left but empty wrappers, paper products and canned goods… but that’s only because they didn’t like to eat paper and I had learned to check them for can openers before we left.
On one of these homeward sprints, I’m pretty sure they were trying to start a fire in the back of the van. Luckily I pulled into the driveway right as I started to smell smoke and they were tearing open the meat. After that, I learned to check for matches, lighters, flint, sticks, charcoal, grills, skewers, and long-handled forks… even if we were just going to the Kwik Sack for gas.
So there’s been a bit of an adjustment from shopping for a ravenous pack of teenaged wolves to supplying two middle-aged wandering gypsies. Even more so when the eating habits of said gypsies are completely different.
I like meat. Almost any meat. If it squeals, moos, gobbles, baaas, swims, pinches or clucks, I’m all over it. Skin it, pluck it or scale it and lob it on the fire. Veronica calls herself “a meat avoider,” not a vegetarian, an avoider. As near as I can tell, that means “Let me try a bite of that pork chop, it looks way better than this salad.” She claims that it’s my fault that I never get a carnivorous dish to myself because I make things look so good while I’m eating them. I can’t help it, I like food.
But back to the point, it’s hard to find foods sized for just one or two people. We are now punished for not buying the “family pack” of half a cow. I used to celebrate finding 27lbs of grade A beef on sale for pennies a pound. Now I get to buy the one strip steak for tonight’s dinner at $27.00 a pound, what a deal!
Yes, I could break up the giant bargain packs and freeze the portions but how long will it take for me to go through a side of beef all by myself (and of course Veronica’s bites as she avoids the stuff)? The answer is…. longer than it takes frozen meat to turn into that strange crystallized cardboard space-food product it becomes in your freezer. The bargains may not be available, but these days the final bill is certainly less of a shock. Dozens of dollars instead of hundreds, I’ll take that and like it.
Still, my transition from vats of spaghetti, cauldrons of soup and Fred Flintstone slabs of meat to dinner for two is far from complete. I know there are only two of us and I know that Veronica hardly eats any of the same things that I do (sneak attacks from her fork notwithstanding) but sometimes I can’t help myself. I must have burritos.
Then I have to buy the whole can of green chilis, tortillas come by the dozen, there is only one sized can of refried beans and nobody sells less than a pound of meat or cheese for one or half heads of lettuce… so… I either eat burritos for three days straight or we get a really cool science project going in the back of the fridge.
I’ve found that there are some things can help. First, cook different things. No more big pots and whole chickens, now it’s grilled or broiled meat and a smaller side dish. No more striving to fill bottomless bellies with massive amounts of starches.
I bake a couple potatoes instead of mashing several dozen. I cook a small pan of rice, not a washtub full, a small bowl of pasta with tuna instead of literally pounds of the stuff with gallons of red sauce. Pasta and rice are great because I can cook just the amount needed for today and the rest keeps almost indefinitely.
Tuna is one of the few things that actually comes in a can the right size for one or two people. Not so much with the crushed tomatoes.
It also helps to plan ahead a bit. I try to think about a second meal when I’m shopping. A small roast makes great sandwiches the following day. Fish goes into a salad. That extra steak or pork chop is mighty good with eggs the next morning. Most anything can be tossed into a can of soup to dress it up or mixed together with other leftovers to form a new meal. To me cooking is all about experimenting anyway.
Oh, and by the way, there are a lot of fates worse than eating burritos for three days straight… no doubt I’ll do it again soon.
YOUR TURN: Do you find it hard to cook for two? Do you miss cooking for ravenous teenagers? Do you have any tips for us?