"The meat tenderizer is in the drawer to the right of the sink," his ex-wife texts, along with a picture of a meat mallet. My boyfriend immediately (after I ask) assures me that the ex-wife took her meat tenderizer when she moved out 10 years ago. The new one is in the ceramic holder by the stove.
We're at Vons shopping for the dinner his son requested when he gets her text with the list of ingredients for "Mom's" chicken piccata recipe. It includes shallots; our recipe from Giada De Laurentiis doesn't. Nor does it include tenderizing the meat.
"We'll make our recipe and say it was his mom's," my boyfriend suggests. "He won't know the difference."
PREP: 15 Minutes
- My boyfriend's son texted his mother for her recipe — without asking if we'd like to make it.
- The ex-wife texted the recipe to her ex-husband and his new girlfriend instead — without asking if we'd like to make it.
- My boyfriend doesn't say no.
- I am the girlfriend.
His son's request for his mom's chicken piccata recipe is not an attempt to foil or hurt my feelings. He hasn't considered them. He is simply in the mood for chicken piccata.
My friends who have dated guys with kids tell me that this is how it is. Even though this ex-wife is out of the picture, she will always run the show. She is the mother of his children. Proof of this is evident when I reply, "No, we're not lying to your son about his mom's recipe."
In the produce section of Vons, I wrestle with whether or not I am a big enough person to buy shallots to add to our Giada recipe. Would this placate everybody? Why should I begrudge making it for my boyfriend's son when I love him? I also love his daughter, who exists on a steady diet of pancakes and pancakes. But why should I have to be the bigger person?
COOK: 35 Minutes
- I found a love card from her to him in the bathroom drawer that he lets me use for my toiletries, and I still can't let that shit go.
- He hasn't moved the weight set from the center of the guest room floor, which he said I could use for my office when I move in. And I'm moving in soon.
- The ex-wife's stuff is in the middle of the garage after she lost her storage unit last year. (For some reason, this does not bother me.)
- He's been married a couple of times. I've never wanted to be. Suddenly, I do.
The ex-wife sending a picture of a meat tenderizer is an act of aggression. Would not making her chicken piccata recipe also be considered an act of aggression? Am I prepared to start a war? Jesus Christ, it's just chicken. I grab the shallots and garlic.
Back in his kitchen, my boyfriend slices the butterfly breasts in half and then dips the breasts in salt and peppered flour (gluten-free for me). He handles the meat part of cooking because I'm weird when it comes to meat, especially chicken. Tonight, I am the sous chef.
The kids wait upstairs in their rooms. I put a little jazz on my iPhone and pour a glass of red wine to share. I peel and slice the garlic, wash and chop the shallots, measure out the capers, chicken stock and lemon juice. After that, chicken piccata is just butter. Isn't everything in the end about butter? Tablespoons of butter with a few tablespoons of olive oil, bring to medium heat. Sauté the garlic, add the chicken stock, fresh lemon juice, capers and (all right) shallots. Bring back to medium boil, add three pieces of floured chicken, sauté for three minutes, turn over, sauté for another three. Remove cooked chicken to a platter. Place remaining pieces of uncooked chicken into the skillet and repeat.
My boyfriend can't take a jackhammer to their names carved into the sidewalk in front of the house, but he could move the heavy weights from the guest room. (I tried, believe me.) I did manage to move the walnut dresser four inches to the right to create a space for my Buddhist altar. Doing it alone felt like an act of aggression. I've never lived with a guy or children. Am I ready? Are they? How can I do it without hurting everybody? Are the weights a metaphor for his inability to move forward? I don't know what ordinary guy behavior is or what is an unconscious admission.
While the chicken browns, I bring up the guest bathroom, love card, ex-wives, heavy weights, and finish with the recipe, throwing out words that flatten like a mallet.
"He always talks about his mom's chicken piccata," my boyfriend says, wiping the tears from my cheeks. "I should have told you. He has a memory that it's the best dinner she ever made. He's asked his mom for the recipe many times but she's never sent it. What pisses me off is that she sent a picture of a meat tenderizer, like I don't know what one is."
"Maybe next time," I say, blowing my nose, "you could consider what it feels like to be the girlfriend grocery shopping while you get these texts. I don't have any ex-boyfriends texting recipes while we shop."
"True," he says. After a moment, he adds, "I never cooked with her, you know."
"I've never cooked with anyone."
My heart immediately softens. Finally, something I can hold in a sea of repeats.
Once all the cooked chicken is on the platter, pour the sauce from the skillet over the top. Add a few springs of fresh parsley for garnish, and then call the kids to get down to the table before the food gets cold.
YIELD: 4 Servings
- Take time to let things simmer.
- With the right guy, no mallet is required.
- There's always enough love at the table.
- The secret lies in adaptation.
The chicken piccata was delicious, loved by all that night. Second helpings were had, even by the daughter, who normally only eats seconds of pancakes. Clearing away the dishes, his son announced that this adapted version was also very good.
When trying to find your way into his family, it's important to remember that sharing expands and softens hearts, like butter, and that butter solves almost everything. With enough sticks of melting butter sizzling in a pan, nobody cares anymore whether you added the garlic like Giada or the shallots of the ex-wife.
Or that you decided to add both.