It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am a single man in possession of a good fortune who wants for nothing. Like many eighteenth century characters my fortune is measured in income rather than wages. Although I don’t possess an estate worthy of Mr. Darcy, the drafty four-family house I purchased over twenty years ago suits me well. At the time, everyone snickered at my white elephant boarding house. Now they envy the economic independence it affords. I have good health, good friends, wonderful children, a debonair housemate, and ample time to explore my interests. Yet despite Jane Austen’s authority on such matters, I am not in want of a wife. Or even a husband. I assume my debt to society for such undeserved largesse is to acknowledge my gratitude and offer my hand to those with less benevolent luck. Nevertheless, my circumstances continue to improve.
Among the perks that fell my way without strategy or calculation is my housemate, also named Paul. He’s a good cook, incapable of making small portions, and allergic to leftovers. As someone who refuels rather than dines, I was accustomed to pots of rice and beans that lasted for days. Now, as Paul’s bottom feeder, I eat like a prince. I consume only refrigerator items over 24 hours old, yet a typical day might include leftover sirloin tips with an onion and mushroom tapenade for breakfast; chicken with homemade biscuits and fresh peas at lunch; lemon haddock with rice pilaf for dinner.
Paul not only cooks huge quantities, he also buys more than he eats. If he fancies an éclair, he purchases a package of five and eats one. You know who gets the rest. When he orders a pizza he savors two slices, maybe three. The majority of the pie goes to me.
Recently, my bounty blossomed even further: Paul took cooking classes. This was akin to James Joyce enrolling in a Grub Street workshop, but the results of Paul’s embellished craft only mean more, better, food for me.
Week one was knife skills. Paul came home with a Mercer Rule. In the days before computer drafting, architects called it a template; I had dozens to guide drawing circles, toilets, and chairs. Paul’s indicates the precise size of Julienne versus Batonette, small dice versus Brunoise. For the next week our food was chopped so fine I scarcely needed teeth. Of course, all of our knives were deemed unconscionably dull and got professionally sharpened.
Week two was eggs. Everything got beat light and fluffy.
Providentially, the week before Thanksgiving was stews and stocks. I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving for twenty years, and have mastered the sequence of roasting turkey, carving, eating, stripping leftovers, boiling carcass, and making turkey barley soup from the leftovers. That tradition was crushed by Paul’s enthusiasm for making stock. He confiscated the carcass, which got boiled on Friday, then strained, chilled, fat removed, and reduced. Actual soup didn’t appear until Saturday. Yes, it was better than mime, but perhaps only because we had to wait so long.
Week four was slow cooked meats. Week five was white sauces. Paul’s repertoire grew complex. Our diet grew heavy. When Paul asked, “Will you be needing the kitchen tomorrow afternoon?” I stayed in my office and enjoyed the vapors wafting up the stairs. He only asks from politeness, for although the deed proclaims this as my house, the kitchen now belongs to Paul. New gizmos arrive daily. He brandished something called a potato ricer. I thought rice and potatoes came from opposite corners of the world.
Sometimes, I miss my kitchen and the peasant fare I used to boil there. When Paul traveled over Christmas I considered making crock-pot beans and cornbread. But the refrigerator was crammed with more elaborate goodies. So I sautéed shitake and chanterelle mushrooms in remnant stock, folded in chicken liver pate and poured it over garlic croutons. It was delicious, but left me feeling disconnected with my fellow man.
After another multiple day round preparing more stock, more soup, Paul said, “Tell me when you want some soup and I’ll compose it.” What is he, Beethoven?
An important part of our chef / bottom feeder game is that it occurs without comment. I pride myself as expert in guessing what’s beyond Paul’s due date and pass on anything Paul might still eat. I would never task him to heat – excuse me, compose – soup for me. He realized that later. “Since we don’t eat at the same time, I made portions you can heat up any time.”
I waited a day, then heated up a lingering bowl of fresh squash soup with burnt pumpkin seeds and slow cooked sausage. I may want for nothing in life, but that soup was so delicious I savored some more.