After my father left us, my mother changed her eating habits. She still set a table for my brother and me, and cooked most meals. But after the dishwasher happily gurgled and my brother began his evening of television and I sauntered back to my room to read a science fiction novel, she would make little things for herself and eat them somewhere in a house that was suddenly too big.
Sometimes it was a bowl of cereal, or a glass of chocolate milk. Occasionally she’d dig a leftover out from the back of refrigerator, unwrap the plastic film and eat it over the sink because, to put the food on a plate from the cabinet would make a newly dirty dish, and the dishwasher was already full.
You do this when you eat alone. Though my brother and I were full-time, pre-college residents of our house, my mother developed the habits of a person who lived alone.
When I learned to cook, from my grandmother, ny girlfriend (now my wife), a college cooking course and haphazard experimentation that too often filled the kitchen with angry gray clouds, I scorned some of the my mother made: meat sauce and elbow macaroni, fish baked in condensed vegetable soup, baked hamburger and the occasional broiled steak with baked potato (with sour cream and chives, just the way you got it at a restaurant we no longer visited, because my mother did not want to be seen in public as a woman dining alone).
What took me so many years to notice, and understand, was that, unlike her apprentice gourmand of a son, she ate slowly. She did not warm up the leftover pizza slice because, in the days before microwave ovens, reheating pizza required the electric oven to awaken, followed by careful scrutiny–too much heat and you had burnt cardboard, too little heat and you had cold, cheesy cardboard.
How can cold pizza be delicious?
Nowadays, my wife and I make our own, using a gas-fired pizza oven identical to one used by a professional pizza restaurant that does on-site catering. A few nights ago we made two pies, with fresh dough. Her pie came out better than mine and, like scrupulous people cautious about eating, we ate only half of what we cooked and put the rest in the refrigerator.
On this unusually gloomy day, I missed my wife. She is at work. I’m here, putting words together with the hope that the experience, as well as the reading, will be meaningful. The summer we spent every day together ended in fact two months ago, but, in spirit, it lingered for me until today. Though the dog was eager to provide company (in the hope of a mid-day walk), I could not help but feel alone.
I found our cold pizza in the back of the refrigerator, and, though we do have a microwave oven that can make cheese go from sub-zero to sizzle in seconds, I decided not to heat the slice.
I ate slowly, without a plate, savoring every bite.