Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On comfort food and machine gun fire

When I set out to acquire housemates last spring, I decided up front that I’d prefer to live with men.

It wasn’t so much a desire to build a small harem of twenty-something males under my roof (though certainly that held some appeal). It was partly that I didn’t want pals. I wanted quiet residents content to nuke the occasional frozen pizza and then get the hell out of my kitchen without asking to bake scones together while braiding each other’s hair and dishing about boys.

I’ll admit it was a sexist notion. I’ll also admit I might have misjudged.

I knew up front that one of the housemates enjoyed cooking, but didn’t grasp the magnitude of it until the day he moved in. He spent several hours unloading an arsenal of kitchenware before whipping up a batch of brownies from scratch. Then he unpacked a giant television in the living room, a space I’d previously reserved for quiet reading and snuggling with the dog.

That was five months ago. I honestly can’t remember the last time my kitchen counter was visible beneath trays of baked goods, barbecue accessories, and three (yes, three) deep fryers. If I ever walk in and find my couch isn’t occupied by a barefoot southern boy watching war movies, I consider calling the police to report he’s been kidnapped.

There are times I mourn the loss of my clutter-free counters. There are times I miss my privacy. There are times I want to take a baseball bat to the constantly blaring television.

Monday night was such an occasion. I was tucked in my office trying hard to write, but having trouble concentrating over the blast of televised machine gun fire and the clatter of cookware.

I was on the brink of snapping when someone knocked on my office door.

“Yes?” I called through gritted teeth.

“Dinner’s ready.”


“Dinner. I made chicken fried steak.”

I emerged from my cave, bleary-eyed and a little dumbfounded. The counter held approximately six tons of chicken fried steak, along with homemade gravy and mashed potatoes.

Comfort food I didn’t know I needed.

“I’ll make salad,” I offered, feeling bad that only three minutes earlier, I’d been plotting to grind his television remote in the garbage disposal.

I poured a glass of wine for myself. My tee totaling housemate filled his water glass. Then we sat down and watched an episode of Scrubs on Netflix. We didn’t braid each other’s hair, but we did laugh a lot.

We also licked our plates when we were done eating.

Was it how I planned to spend my evening? Not really. Is this how I envisioned my life a year ago? Definitely not. Are there moments I want to stomp into the living room and scream that if he drops another piece of fried chicken on the couch or downloads another noisy slasher movie, I’ll superglue him to the sofa and set fire to the living room?

I’d better not answer that.

But I will say this – there’s something satisfying about knowing I can adapt to almost any situation. There’s something rewarding about learning to adjust to personalities and habits I never imagined I’d be living with in such close proximity.

And there’s something enjoyable about sitting back with a plate of artery-clogging, southern fried goodness and saying, “damn, this made my night.”

When’s the last time you had to adjust to something you never expected in your life or your household routine? How did you cope?

If it’s a struggle, allow me to suggest that gravy and chicken fried steak have a remarkable way of making everything all better.


Sarah W said...

Took the kids to the Family Museum last weekend. I wanted to sit there and scribble plot points in my notebook while they played, but they towed me along.

We ended up in the little soundproof room with the electric organ and the set of steelpan drums. Again, didn't want to be there . . . until my 8-year old started practicing her piano pieces with every weird effect she could find

"Do-Re-Mi" should always be played with chicken clucks.

Then she moved to the xylophone groups, and the 4-year old and I rocked out on the steelpans.

Did I mention this little room has big glass windows and it right on the main path of everyone who comes into the museum?

The kids didn't care. And by the time we began "Black Cat Boogie" in Goblin effects with rumble-drums, I didn't either.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I've always been good at "accepting" whatever comes my way, but don't do so well with not knowing what is coming.
Having kids has definitely helped me move towards expecting the unexpected.
I have a boy scout, and the Boy Scout motto is "be prepared", of course.
Well, I'm a Girl Scout leader...and our (unofficial) motto is: "We don't need to be prepared, because we can improvise."
Works for me!

Anne Gallagher said...

You're a much better woman than I. I can't have anyone in the kitchen when I cook. Can't have any noise when I write.

Although I think a batch of homemade brownies once a week would get me over it.

Jessica Lemmon said...

I used to say "I never..." until I found myself doing those very things. Now, I (almost) never say never. Though , I admit, you may be a braver woman than I living with noisy boys. Don't you worry about cooties? ;)

Elise Andrews said...

I just told my friend yesterday I was dying for some chicken fried steak... I can be on a plane in 3 hours if you have any leftovers. I don't make noise and I consider myself a minimalist... ;)

Anonymous said...

Southern fried anything is balm for the soul. But fried chicken is the best. :)

It's probably a good thing I don't have a young man deep-frying things for me. My butt is big enough. LOL

Julie Glover said...

Wow, a Southern boy who makes homemade brownies and chicken fried steak with gravy? If I wasn't married already, I'd be asking for an introduction.

Just when I think my kids are determined to crash my writing career before it has begun with their constant interruptions, they say or do something wonderful. My tween boy recently asked, "When is your book going to be published? Because I told my friend about it." Aaaahh, sweet.

Elizabeth Poole said...

A few years ago my husband and I had to live with some friends of ours. They had a house, and we got the master bedroom, while they had the fully converted basement.

It adjustment. She did all the shopping and cooking, which was nice, but she cooked for her son who lived on a steady diet of chicken nuggets and pizza. They would stay up all night playing first person shooters, and my desk was in the same room as everyone else's. So I tried to write while they watched True Blood on their computer.

I wouldn't want to go back, but they were good people. They tried to be accommodating, like using headphones to listen to their movies. If I asked them nicely to turn the volume down, they would. So while it was trying, it was still nice to see us all trying to make everyone else happy.

Sarah Allen said...

Oh wow...that sounds so yummy :) I couple years ago I had a roommate that was a theater major, totally loud and fun and crazy and she had a habit of leaving her clothes on my bed and half-full water glasses everywhere (we called her our alien-insurance, ala 'Signs'.) Anyway, I actually got along fine wither her, despite the annoyances, because she was very open and friendly and nice, but the other roommates had a bit of a harder time. It can be interesting sometimes!

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Susan M. Boyer said...

I SO miss fried everything! I am a Southern girl, but am also trying desperately to be a thinner, healthier Southern girl.

I totally get trying to write while others are making so much noise you wonder if your home has been invaded. Mine actually has been invaded. The economy and other disasters recently sent 5 family members into our home, previously occupied only by Sugar and myself.

But, Sugar is also a Southern boy who cooks, and he has been known to make comfort food when I'm struggling to get words on the page. He just doesn't fry anything anymore.

Maggie Hall said...

All I know is that, ever since the day your barefoot southern boy first showed up, and you wrote about him making brownies and hanging out with your dog, I've wished you'd write him into a book. :) Really, though--what a great character!

And this has nothing to do with today's post, but I thought of you the other day--I was in an origami-ornament making class with my mother-in-law, and we were supposed to be putting one strip of paper into a slot in another strip of paper, but some people were having trouble with it. So the instructor says, "If you're having a hard time getting it in, you're probably poking the wrong hole." Oh, man. I had to pretend I was having a coughing fit I was laughing so hard.

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

Does "chicken fried steak" refer to steak somehow fried in/with chicken, or does it just imply "fried in the same manner in which one might fry chicken"?

Because I'm always up for dishes that use meat as a topping for more meat.

That sounded a little gayer than I maybe meant it.

CaroleM said...

A couple of years ago my husband fell in love with a Great Dane puppy. While having a dog is no big deal, it does take some adjustment having one that can drink out of the bathroom sink with all four paws on the floor or steal a pizza box from the top of the fridge. I've never housetrained a puppy I couldn't just pick up and carry outside! He now weighs more than I do, sleeps on his very own sofa in the bedroom, and his water "bowl" is a bucket. And we're rarely bored.


Sarah W, love that! Sometimes the best experiences are the things that completely squash the plans you had.

Teri Anne, improve is the best! I have a tough time working with people who aren’t equipped to go with the flow.

Anne, I spent my younger years as a journalist, and newsrooms are some of the noisiest places you’ll ever encounter. Suffice it to say, I learned to write with lots of noises around me!

Jessica, funny, I’ve been mulling a blog post about things I’ll never do. Seems wise to write them all down so I can laugh at myself when I’m wrong later.

Elise, I hadn’t had chicken fried steak for probably 15 years, so it was a nice treat.

Midnightblooms, my southern critique partner taught me to make fried chicken, so I’ll have to do that again one of these days.

Julie, both housemates are single, so I’m always on the lookout for suitable young ladies for them. Love your child’s faith in you!

Elizabeth, you should totally write about that experience!

Sarah, the nutty people who float in and out of our lives make the best templates for characters in novels!

Susan, I almost never eat fried anything, so southern boy’s cuisine has been a big adjustment for me!

Maggie, bwahahahahahaaha! I love the origami story!

Geoffrey, a little gayer than you meant? So you meant it to be SORTA gay?

Carole, I love Great Danes! Er, maybe not in my fridge though.

Thanks for reading, guys!

widdershins said...

Gravy ... Mmmmmmmm

Lisa Ahn said...

Oh, when the puppy moved in. He's cute, sure, but he doesn't bake and he chews up everything. Not an ideal roommate. Still, when I have to take a break (grumbling, muttering, cursing) to take him for a walk, it's always a relief, a little breath of soul.