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Lucy Greenburg: Retiree turns foodie, kitchen queen abdicates

Chef holding platter and smiling, stirring pot of soup

Chef holding platter and smiling, stirring pot of soup Purchase photo reprints »

The other day my husband bought a flour sifter. It wasn’t good enough for him that in the 21st century flour comes pre-sifted.

I told him, “The only thing you have to do these days is go to the store and pick up the bag marked ‘pre-sifted’ ”.

“You’re not taking into account the settling factor,” he said. “Face facts. Flour needs aerating.”

“Whatever,” I said, flouncing out of the kitchen like an aggrieved adolescent.

This is typical of the exchanges I’ve been having with my husband since he retired several months ago. No sooner had he shed his Casual Friday button-down shirt, pressed khakis and laminated photo ID, than he burst forth as a born-again foodie, singing praises over seared venison medallions, shouting hallelujahs over pomegranate jubilee flambés, and speaking in tongues over salmon baked in parchment and stuffed with artichoke hearts.

In a state of shock I watched the former IT Guy, who had spent his last 30 years staring at computer screens filled with unintelligible codes and formulas, morph practically overnight into my husband, Le Chef. Until that moment I would never have believed this apparently common phenomenon in which new retirees turn into flamboyant, larger-than-life versions of previously unsuspected alter egos.

Nor had I any idea of the in-house coup already underway to overthrow my decades-long reign over the kitchen. True, as Kitchen Queen I was often ambivalent, even resentful. A queen, however, is still a queen.

And as a queen, I enjoyed my signature style. I “cooked” for my family using my preferred ingredients, which is to say anything edible that came in bags, boxes or cans. I had a strong culinary preference for labels that included words such as “instant,” “pre-washed,” and (this was the best!) “pre-cooked.” I efficiently whittled down recipe choices by applying a strict three-step, four-ingredient maximum cutoff. Some nights, in a gesture of extreme noblesse oblige, I simply waved my husband and kids to the fridge and ordered them to take out something from each of the major food groups.

All those years I thought my husband was happy — slightly malnourished, but happy. Why didn’t I see the signs? Like the small vegetable garden he grew one summer: Was that his subtle way of protesting my habit of filling the FDA’s daily vegetable quota with canned waxed beans, frozen spinach or boiled beets from jars? Was I naïve in believing he enjoyed pickled cocktail onions just because I did?

I should have realized that rebellion was underfoot on the first morning of my husband’s retirement when he did not shuffle around the house looking lost and bewildered, wondering where one went for black coffee and a cheese Danish when company vending machines were no longer options. Instead he was up by 7 o’clock and out of the house by 8.

Hours later, laden with bags of groceries, he reappeared. Practically babbling he described his trip to the local supermarket as if he had just made an exotic journey to the Kasbah. Did I know that rosemary is an herb and that it is measured in sprigs? Not ounces or teaspoons, but sprigs? Had I realized that chopped beef is not the only form of red meat? “There are,” he informed me, “at least a hundred other kinds of meat. I kid you not. There’s something called tenderloin, and brisket and rib-eye.”

Life began to change. Night after night I came home from work and there he was in the kitchen searing, deglazing, reducing, caramelizing, tenderizing or practicing his knife skills on innocent celery stalks.

Soon my Hamburger Helper and tuna casseroles with potato chip toppings had disappeared, replaced by Canard aux Framboises, Coconut-Crusted Mahi-Mahi and Chilled Avocado Soup. The night I took my first bite of his Triple Chocolate Strawberry Tiramisu Torte — or as I later named it, “The Cake To Die For” — I finally acknowledged what I had already known in my heart: It was time to abdicate the throne.

So now I’m the one who’s retired, so to speak. As mouth-watering aromas waft from the kitchen, I wander the house feeling a little lost, as you might expect of someone recently retired. I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Maybe I’ll take up rug hooking or start a local chapter of the Raging Grannies. Right now I guess I’ll just make myself comfy on the recliner and put on the news.

Lucy Greenburg lives in Florence.

First Person welcomes submissions from readers. Email columns of 800 words or less or Suzanne Wilson at swilson@gazettenet.com.

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