This is a good day. Though it began as gray and sluggish as
simmering oatmeal, it has steadily grown into an energizing,
high-speed puree, ever since noon, when I got the
phone call from Jo.
"Can you handle a dinner for five?"
"My boss and his entourage."
"Let me get my calendar."
"I mean tonight," she said.
"Tonight! You mean five hours from now?"
"I'm sorry. Can you do it?"
"Of course I can do it."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure."
"I really can take them out, Lincoln, but it's Jerry and
his group, and they always prefer a home-cooked meal. And they like your cooking."
"I can do it," I said.
On the drive to the grocery store, with Violet
listening to a tape of Sesame Street songs in her car seat,
I decided on an Indian chicken masala, which, after
being thrown together, could simmer for hours with an
occasional stirring while I cleaned the house. I'd serve it
with basmati rice and some kind of cool, astringent salad
that would cut the curry.
Jo had said the house was already clean, that it wouldn't
take much to get it ready for guests, but she doesn't understand
these things. It wasn't dinner-party clean, it wasn't
clean like a fresh hotel room, everything aligned and pulled
tight and poofed up, all the collapsed fibers standing up-right
So, with my masala simmering on low, I launched into
tornado mode, like the Tasmanian Devil on the Bugs
Bunny videos. I've learned that housework, done well, is
impossible with a single-task mind-set. It's best to dart
about like a hummingbird, tangential but still focused,
conquering as you go, racking up little victories that accumulate
and form something larger and significant. I began
zipping from room to room, multitasking, occasionally
peeking into Violet's bedroom where she played with paper
As the Lysol steeped in the toilet bowls, I watered all
the plants on the main floor, stopping midway to make the
bed in the master bedroom and pick up from the floor two
pens and Jo's calculator, which I stowed in the pocket of
my cargo shorts until I passed through Jo's office on my
way to transfer the red load from washer to dryer.
Which reminded me: Heat of a dryer.
Which reminded me: Dry heat.
Which reminded me: Dry heaves.
Buy Mylanta for Jo.
Play date.Violet needs more friends.
As I dusted an end table, I glanced at my watch. Would
there be enough time for the wine to sufficiently chill? I
pushed three bottles of chardonnay into the ice bin of the
freezer then set the oven timer for forty minutes. Before
leaving the kitchen, I washed the floor in the main cooking
area on my hands and knees, because damp mops simply
redistribute the dirt into fuzzy lines.
I shook the foyer rug outside and draped it over my
shoulder, then pulled out my pocket knife and snipped
enough daisies and snapdragons and rosemary sprigs for a
Passing through the kitchen, I stirred the masala and
called to ask the electrician to return on Friday to correct
that flickering fluorescent bulb that made the laundry
room look like an old black-and-white movie. The electrician
reminded me of the light he fixed in the bathroom,
which reminded me of the bathroom-wall bulletin board
where we display clippings that amuse us. Since one of
these guests tonight was Jo's boss, I found and pinned up
the story from the Rochester Business Journal that featured
Jo in the "Twenty Young Executives to Watch" issue.
All the while, I performed house-cleaning triage in my
mind: The sandy front stoop-critical. I did not have to
soak the knobs on the stove in ammonia water, not until tomorrow,
but the backdoor throw rug with dried banana
pudding either needed to be laundered or tossed into the
closet. I could ignore the master bedroom if I shut and
locked the door, but what if they wanted to see the house?
They'd know we'd only lived here a year. Out of courtesy,
women would request a tour, men wouldn't, but I couldn't
be certain the group would be all male.
Cover Violet's pee stain with throw pillows from living-room
Remember to call man to come shampoo couch.
Property taxes paid first.
C-3PO.Was Violet too young for Star Wars?
By five-thirty, I'd set the table and made the salad.Wine
was back in the refrigerator, rice simmering in the steamer.
I had time to pick five innocuous CDs that would allow for
conversation but still convey to the world that we are eclectic
At five to six, I was dressed and sipping a glass of
cabernet. I dimmed the lights and lit the candles. This was
the first time all afternoon I'd slowed down enough to notice
my breathing and the beating in my chest. Though I'd
taken a shower, my head was warm and flushed, fresh
sweat beading on my forehead. I had that lingering glow
from a full day of aerobics. Maybe I'd lost a few pounds.
Join a gym?
Buy birthday card for Jim, Jo's CFO.
Get Violet's portrait taken.
Check with dentist to make sure baking-soda toothpaste is
okay for children's teeth.
I knew Jo would remember the evening as a success,
though the details that created it would escape her. She
wouldn't realize that a meal from scratch takes at least six
hours, and that I'd magically done it in three. She wouldn't
know that I vacuumed the seats of the dining-room chairs
or oiled the squeaky hinge of the front door or played the
CDs in random mode to help stimulate anticipation, but
these things are important to me because this is what I do,
and I do it very well.
LINC'S TAME- AND-EASY MASALA
This is a good dish to try on people who are wary
of Indian food. It tastes more like a cross between
Indian and Mediterranean cuisine.
1 /2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 /2 stick cinnamon
7 cardamom pods (Any variety is fine, but I like the
large black pods; they have a deep, smoky flavor.)
1 /2 teaspoon peppercorns
8 ounces onions, chopped
9 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons minced ginger
3 big tomatoes, chopped
3 pounds skinned chicken thighs (Don't even think
of using white meat; it's dry and tasteless in this
and most other recipes.)
1 /3 cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala (This can be bought,
already made, in any Asian market. It's not a
critical ingredient, but it does add some life to the
Heat the oil in a big pan over medium heat. Put in
the cumin, cinnamon, peppercorns and cardamom
and stir a few seconds before adding the garlic, ginger
and onions. Stir a few more minutes, then put
in the tomatoes and chicken. Add a few shakes or
pinches of salt and fresh ground pepper. Mix together
and bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat
to low and let simmer for an hour. Add the yogurt
and garam masala, stir and serve over basmati rice.