I want to run, but I am hungry. Daylight is almost gone, so I should go out now if at all. The alternative is cleaning the kitchen and cooking.
I reach for the refrigerator door and squat to scan the contents. Scanning shelf by shelf and pushing aside the front items to see in the back I think, for a “bachelor” fridge, it isn’t too repulsive. In a plastic bag of Gala apples, one rotten be-slimes its neighbor. A bag of spinach, black and clinging to the plastic, lurks behind a paper milk carton. When I pull out the produce drawer, two hard, desiccated limes roll about like billiard balls. With no hesitation I grab all the offending items and put them in the garbage can.
I also find new groceries from a couple of days earlier—three small beef cutlets, a carton of sliced portobellos, a puffed-up bag of fresh leaf spinach, part of a carton of butternut squash chunks, two firm green bell peppers, and a bag containing two good limes. An idea begins to coalesce.
I peel and slice the onions, core the peppers and cut them into strips, and slice the beef into thin strips. A chef’s knife—part of a wedding present set long ago—whetted on a butcher’s steel, makes effortless inroads on the vegetables. With unnerving efficiency the sharp blade slices through the meat down to the bamboo cutting board.
My parents call, and we talk via skype while I prepare food. We speak of autumn, sunny days with turning maple leaves and cool nights with fires in their wood-burning stove.
“I can almost smell the onions,” my mother says.
I begin peeling the sweet potatoes with a paring knife when the phone rings and interrupts the skype call. I text my folks that I will call them later, and pick up the call with Kathryn. She and I chat about the challenges of her day while I finish dicing the orange pieces of batatas and put them in a plastic container. Still talking, I rummage in the fridge until I find a partial head of garlic. Pulling two cloves from it, I lay them on the cutting board, crush them with the side of the knife blade to crack the husk, mince them, and throw them into a melted half-stick of butter in a Revereware skillet. The pan is a present from Kathryn from before we were married.
“Wish I could be there to enjoy with you,” she says.
“Me, too. How about the next best thing? When I come up tomorrow, I’ll bring some,” I say.
“You’re coming to Portland?” she asks, surprised. “I thought you weren’t traveling this weekend.”
“It will work fine. Sounds as if you might want some support.”
Once the garlic sautées for a couple of minutes I put in the chunks of butternut squash and sweet potato, hold on the lid tightly and give the pan a few shakes to coat the vegetables with butter.
“I’m going to make something in the iron skillet as well,” I say.
“What will that be?” she asks.
“I’ll talk you through, and you see if you can guess where I’m headed.”
In the iron skillet—American wok, as I sometimes call it, one Kathryn bought in the last eight years or so—I pour olive oil and turn on the flame. When it is moderately hot, I throw in the onions and cover. After a couple of minutes I open and stir, push the contents to the periphery and put the meat in the middle. The skillet is hot by now, and the beef sizzles. Covering for another few minutes, I open, stir, and put in the green peppers, mushrooms, about 2/3 teaspoon of Mrs. Dash, a half teaspoon of salt, and a few shakes of Worcestershire Sauce.
“Are you making some sort of sauce?” she asks.
“Nope. In fact, I’m about done with it right now. Just have to do one more thing in the Revereware.”
I stuff in the contents of the bag of whole-leaf spinach, shake in some ginger powder and salt, and cover. After two or three minutes, the spinach begins to wilt and I stir it with the sweet potatoes and cover again. I slice a lime and squeeze the juice from one half over the sweet-potato and spinach mixture.
I give the steak-onion-pepper mixture a stir, re-cover, and turn off the gas. To my taste, the sweet potato mixture needs more lime, so I squeeze part of the second half over it and stir. Heat off, both are ready to serve.
“I’m cutting a chunk of baguette and chipping some extra-sharp Vermont cheddar to finish this,” I say. “Do you know what it is now?”
“Close enough. I’m told the real thing has no shrooms, and they use cheese whiz. I guess I’ll have to call it Providence cheese steak.”
In the bread I make a cut and put as much steak, onion, and pepper as I can fit. Then drizzled some of the broth from the bottom of the pan, not to soak, just to moisten. I scatter pieces of cheese atop the hot mixture to complete the sandwich. Alongside the sweet potato, squash, and spinach on a plate, it looks—as they say—good enough to eat.
“Better say ‘bye’ now,” she says. “You’re making me hungry, and I need to put something together myself.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. And I’ll bring food!”
Not everything in the world is as I might want it to be. But having folks to talk to—parents and spouse—and something to eat count for a lot.
Out the window I see a runner pass under the street light.
I might have run.