I’m sure this is the kind of essay where you expect to find a picture of me casually standing in my sun-dappled kitchen, a woven basket full of my farmer’s market bounty propped against my hip as I lean seductively on my impeccable farmhouse sink, fully hydrated and ready to pass a firm, fiber-enriched stool.
And then I’d write about how every morning I pluck a persimmon from the tree in my yard for breakfast. Then I’d tell you about my three-course organic lunch while listening to a podcast about the news, before finishing my day at a restaurant you’ve never heard of, drinking wine that could pay your kid’s preschool tuition.
Dude, that’s intimidating. The last thing I need to feel while sprinkling crushed Bugles over a room-temperature Lean Cuisine and reading a fancy-food article online is worse; the carcinogens in my gas station corn dog are making me feel bad enough. But I promise I’m not that kind of guy! I don’t know how to say “endive” and I have a Dorito-ranking spreadsheet! (For the record: Poppin’ Jalapeño, a flavor that is embarrassing to say and even moreso to write, is the reigning queen.)
So this won’t be that. There’s never going to be anything in my fridge that I would be embarrassed to pronounce in front of a smart person. You know what is in there? Tallboys of Diet Coke and various cartons of half-used, non-dairy milks I can’t help but buy because of the novelty of it all.
I want you to think I care about being healthy, so here’s where I admit to you that I love a bagged salad. I grew up poor, on box mixes and bagged cereal: Why we are supposed to make believe that convenience isn’t 99 percent of what we want in life? OK, fine. You want me to eat a wide variety of greens every single day and pretend that I enjoy it? I can do that, but I need you to sort the leaves and wash the dirt off them, please. I can’t tell lettuces apart! Just have a machine cut it up for me and rinse the E. coli off — a task for which I will gladly pay the extra dollar or whatever it costs.
Sometimes I can tell a lettuce from a cabbage, but you know what? Other times I absolutely cannot, and then I’m showing up for dinner with unintentional coleslaw, leaving you to wonder if I am still in contact with the feral wolves who obviously raised me.
If I could just live alone in an air-conditioned room somewhere, free from the judgment of others, I would just eat chicken Parm sandwiches from Burger King every day and occasionally get diet ice cream. Or I’d switch it up a couple of times a week with a frozen meal I’d eat hastily over the sink before spending an hour crying in the bathtub.
You’re not supposed to admit that to other people, especially not to people who make sunchoke purees and have an intimate relationship with a high-quality butcher, but I can’t hide from the truth! Unfortunately (no, definitely, fortunately, particularly for my kidneys and blood pressure) I live with a woman who knows how much folic acid and potassium a human body needs, so I can’t just mainline packs of ramen like my teenage heart desires. I am forced to eat nutrients or whatever, which is honestly fine, because we both like to cook and we have a ton of fancy cookbooks. After a while, they start to mock you from where they sit gathering dust on the shelves, until we feel guilted into using them.
So a couple of nights a week, I’ll pull one out and try to find something that looks like it will take less than an hour and doesn’t require any advanced techniques (Girl, I’m not learning to sous-vide!) or ingredients you can’t find at a regular store or Target. Like, OK, sure, I would probably love ~Grains of Paradise~ but yo: I live in small-town Michigan! I’m not using that!! Which is why some recipes are for attempting, while it’s perfectly fine just to gaze at others lovingly.
I am deeply Midwestern and love a chili, or a casserole, or basically anything that’s a loosely assembled goulash that you slop into a bowl from a big bubbling pot on the stove. But I also really love an easy pasta, and my favorite thing to do on a weeknight is throw a bunch of stuff into a big cast-iron pan with a dousing of olive oil and many cloves of chopped garlic, then serve it over whatever pasta we happen to have lying around waiting to be of service. It’s the best way to use up whatever rotting thing you scrape out of your vegetable drawer at the end of the week.
Actually, the best best way is to cook all of the zucchini and mushrooms and peppers ambitiously purchased last week — Tell me I’m not the only one who thinks “Yes, I will absolutely use up all this kale!” on Sunday, only to pull out a stinking bag of green slime five days later — in a little butter before pouring half a dozen beaten eggs over it, then bake it in a super-hot oven until it’s firm and brown-ish. Dishes like a frittata work for any meal: It’s also beautiful and impressive and makes you feel like you did a big thing while also being incredibly resourceful.
But pasta is truly the catch-all: soft, old tomatoes with some basil; dented tins of sardines you found at the back of the cupboard with a squeeze of lemon; random bits of unidentified cheese with a couple of grinds of fresh pepper. Is there anything you can’t throw on top of a pile of al dente noodles and serve to even your snobbiest foodie friend?
It wouldn’t be an accurate representation of what I eat if I didn’t give a shout out to my favorite food group: DELIVERY. I’m a marginally successful writer of books; I maintain an irregularly updated blog; occasionally people pay me to come to speak to them; and I regularly get full six to seven hours of sleep a night. “How could she possibly do it all?” I hear you asking yourselves. My secret? A lot of days I get food that someone else has prepared delivered to my home and I pay them too much for it. I don’t waste a single second of my life feeling bad or guilty about it.
What am I gonna do, make my own General Tso’s? No, I am not! I’m gonna have that adorable grad student bring it to me in the same garbage bag from which it will be eaten, joyfully, while watching something non-educational on my TV, which, honestly, is the only way I truly enjoy what I eat.
Samantha Irby wrote a book called “Meaty.”