Growing up, we had special meals on nights when my dad was away on business. The one I remember most vividly was kielbasa, sliced and pan-fried; noodles with butter and cottage cheese (sounds gross, but is delicious — trust me); and raw carrot sticks on the side and maybe some dill pickle spears to snack on. At the time, I thought this meal and ones like it were special treats for us kids. Now that I’m older, wiser, and more seasoned in the kitchen, I realize that this was quick comfort food that my mom served us because she was parenting on her own for the night. And because my dad would never have eaten the stuff.
This was my first lesson that the appetite of a grown man is, well, different from mine. Lest I be accused of sexism of the belly, let me profess my love for a juicy triple at Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger and my adoration of the Chicago Dog at Red Hot Lovers–boy food if I ever knew it. I have even been known to polish off a Reuben sandwich and fries at the Fleetwood Diner after the bars have closed. Let me also say that I have loved boys who were vegan (ok, one boy–it never went anywhere) and once had an unrequited crush on a dedicated vegetarian. I have been on dates where I order the braised short ribs and the guy orders salmon. I even eat marrow bones, for chrissakes. Brothers and sisters, I am equal opportunity when it comes to matters of appetite.
While I won’t be an essentialist about gendered ways of eating, I can’t ignore where I came from and what I observed growing up–nor can I ignore the difference between what I cook for myself versus what I cook for the fellas. While my brother and I devoured our kielbasa and noodles with cottage cheese during our formative years, as we grew older, our appetites diverged. A cross-country and track runner, I stuck with the lean, white meats. Lunch was typically a turkey sandwich on marble rye, some pretzels, fruit, and some cookies; dinner was a grilled chicken breast, rice, vegetables. Josh, an offensive lineman on our high school football team, might also eat grilled chicken, but he’d eat about 4 chicken breasts, plus pasta, plus salad, plus bread, plus whatever else was in sight. He ate bowls of chicken noodle soup for breakfast and about two lunches a day. And to this day, my father, a man who easily logs more hours a week at the gym than I do in a month, and who recently came to terms with the fact that, at age 58, he will never be a linebacker (his words, not mine), still orders an extra order of grilled chicken when we eat out. (At home, my mom always knows to prepare extra for him.)
Yes, there are times when I love excess, but when I’m cooking for myself, I’m likely to prepare something a little lighter, eat smaller portions, keep things a bit more simple. Not because I’m in the thrall of the diet industrial complex–any reader of this blog should know that I love good food too much for that–but because sometimes a girl just needs to eat girl food, in girl-sized portions.
Spicy Chickpeas with Ginger (Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
3 T vegetable or canola oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T (or more) grated ginger
2 t ground coriander
2 t ground cumin
1/4 t ground cardamom
14 oz canned tomatoes (if whole, puree them a bit in the blender or food processor)
2 15 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed
juice of 1/2 lemon
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, about 12-15 mins, until golden. Lower heat and add the garlic, ginger, spices, some salt and pepper to taste, and the tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes until well combined, then add the chickpeas. Simmer until liquid is the consistency you like, at least 10 minutes. If you want it to be brothier, add some water. (I like it pretty thick.) Season with lemon juice.
Taking a cue from Kate at 4 Obsessions, whose recent post about a favorite rice bowl dish inspired this one (“If you are feeling fancy you can drizzle it with a little sesame oil and sprinkle on some sesame seeds, but really, if you were feeling fancy, you probably wouldn’t be making this”), I’ll offer some ways to fancy it up. You can garnish with some chopped cilantro or parsley if you like, but you needn’t do so. If you have some yogurt in the fridge, I’d stir it until smooth, and add some lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic, and some cumin and cayenne (or other hot flavor), and then spoon this over the chickpeas. If you have some bread, toast a hunk of it and use it to scoop up the chickpeas and yogurt–or you could easily serve this with rice or other grains. If you’re serving it to a carnivorous boy, you could sneak in some chunks of chorizo. Or you could just serve him three bowlfuls to your one.