John: I’ve been eating bacon all day, and we are almost out of pancake batter.
Me: We have three boxes in the cupboards. We are not almost out.
John: That’s what people say right before they run out of pancake batter.
This is an exciting time for John. I am pregnant again, which means all our typical food rules have been suspended. I won’t diet while pregnant, believing it’s best to follow my body’s appetites, and my pregnant body tends to be ravenously hungry. John starts cooking more and more as I get more tired and uncomfortable, and I no longer hassle him about how healthy the meals should be. He rubs his hands together in gleeful anticipation of the pancake extravaganza that awaits us.
Normally, there is a lot of tension about our different approaches to food. When John first made me dinner, while we were dating, I was absolutely blown away. He made a grilled filet mignon, wrapped in bacon, with this amazing gorgonzola butter sauce poured on top. “I have found the holy grail!” I thought, “the holy trinity of boyfriend qualities: he’s cute, he’s funny, and he can cook!’
His awesome steak, bacon, and butter meal had also calmed down my nervousness about his thinness. Many women love thin men, but I’ve always liked guys with a little bit of belly on them. I think it’s because, deep in my evolutionary DNA, I’m afraid that a thin guy is ill, depressed, or a bad hunter. Maybe because I come from a long line of farmers, a belly tells me my potential mate has a healthy appetite, can provide food, and will make it through the winter. A little belly makes a good investment.
Given my fears, John’s steak, butter, and bacon feast was reassuring. I love to eat, though I have to watch my weight, so having a boyfriend that eats nothing but egg whites and protein shakes is my idea of Hell. If he tries to wake me up at 4:30 AM to go for a jog, I’m running for the hills and never looking back.
“I love that you can cook and like good food,” I told him. “You’re thin, so I was worried you’re one of those guys that never eats.”
“No, my friends used to say I always ordered the left side of the menu,” he said. “I just have the kind of metabolism where I eat and eat and can never put on any weight. People don’t understand how hard it is. It’s so hard to have to eat and eat all the time and stay thin,” he continued, as I felt my relief creep into irritation.
“You might want to keep that little problem to yourself. Especially around people who are dieting,” I said gently, managing not to punch him in the face as he stared back, blinking in bewilderment.
It turns out that the steak meal with butter was not so much John’s idea of a special dinner as how he figured anyone should eat if they bothered to cook at all. The list of things John likes to eat is rather limited. It consists of: cheese, steak, bacon, butter, pasta, and bread. Anything else is a dangerous Trojan horse lurking on his plate.
It further turns out that John likes to eat the same thing all the time, whereas I have to endlessly experiment or I get very bored with my food. John’s steak dinner was not so much a representation of his typical cooking abilities as him exhausting his cooking repertoire to impress his date (which worked). There are a handful of things that John can cook very well, like steak, bacon, tacos and blueberry pancakes, but he had spent the last five years eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk for dinner.
I am not making that up. The man ate a freakin’ PB& J sandwich for dinner for five years, broken up with the occasional thawed-out pizza or corn dog.
Our eating habits are polar opposites. When we order Mexican or Chinese food, John always wants a burrito or sweet & sour pork. I look at the menu and ask him to add, say, a pork dish with black bean sauce and he looks at me like I just suggested we ride motorcycles blindfolded. He also thought he was allergic to cilantro, because one time, after drinking a bunch of tequila and eating a bunch of Mexican food, he threw up.
“Umm,” I gently suggested, “Maybe the tequila was responsible for that. Maybe you’re unfairly blaming the cilantro.” He glared at me for poking substantial holes in his airtight anti-cilantro defense.
There were endless arguments concerning What to Eat for Dinner. I explained to him that if I eat bacon and butter all day, I will get very fat, so I have to find tasty recipes with a good deal of produce involved. He blinked at me, saying, “Well, that’s all I can cook.”
“Alright, I’ll cook if you go to the grocery store,” I would offer. He took me up on it, but blanched at the sight of my grocery lists: “What the hell is ARUGULA?”
We fell into a dating pattern of me cooking and him going to the grocery store. He would text me: “Had to ask for help three times because I don’t know what half the crap on your list is.” I would make sautéed leek pasta and he would stare at it suspiciously, like I had just served him fried monkey hand. I would stomp away yelling “I CAN’T EAT MACARONI AND CHEESE EVERY NIGHT! YOU’RE GOING TO GET COLON CANCER!”, mad that I had just wasted a nice dinner on a man who clearly preferred Hot Pockets. He would mutter something under his breath about “champagne tastes” in response.
Eventually, we fell into a comfortable equilibrium of steak tacos interspersed with tofu stir-fries, but once I was pregnant, I found that I tended to throw up anything that wasn’t a cheeseburger or otherwise carb-heavy. All bets were off, and John was in hog heaven.
I remember clearly the moment when John picked up on the new dynamic. Normally, I leave a little food on my plate after meals. It’s part of my effort to stop eating when I’m full instead of feeling like I have to clean my plate, and John likes to eat whatever I leave. Well, one night when I was newly pregnant, John reaches over to grab a few sweet potato fries off my dinner plate, and before I can even process what was happening, I scream, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!? LEAVE MY FOOD ALONE!” John jumped back a full three feet in shock, his eyes as wide as saucers, as I look over to see my own fist gripping a fork in the air, suddenly realizing that I was ABOUT TO STAB MY HUSBAND’S HAND WITH A FORK TO PROTECT MY FOOD.
Lord, pregnancy hormones are insane… I had gone feral and was about to fight with improvised weapons for a couple of sweet potato fries. Reminds me of that part in Walden where Thoreau is going on about how great it is to be a vegetarian right before grabbing a woodchuck and devouring it raw. Sometimes, the beast within will not be denied.
John was understandably frightened by this sudden change in his wife’s behavior. He never tried grabbing my food again, but also quickly deduced the upside of my new ravenous attitude. He started making bacon with blueberry pancakes (and real maple syrup mixed with melted butter) for breakfast and an endless supply of steak and pasta for dinner. We both piled on weight, but he couldn’t care less. He had broken out of food jail and was eating everything in sight.
He found, finally, that his metabolism was failing to pick up the slack. He was gaining weight on par with me and started calling his belly his “food baby.” He would look down at it and pat it affectionally, to the point where I was starting to suspect womb envy. When I was around eight months pregnant, he put a cup of coffee on his gut and marveled at how he could now use it as a shelf. I must admit I found this somewhat comforting. It would have been really aggravating if he were getting skinnier and skinnier as I outgrew all my clothes.
Unfortunately for him, after I had the baby, breastfeeding seemed to melt off all my added weight whereas he wasn’t ready to give up melted butter steaks. He would stare down at his belly, disapprovingly, and say, ” I really need to do something about this pregnancy weight.”
I resumed exercising and watching portion sizes. Dinners became healthier again and he shed some pounds. It was tough for him to let go of the Butter Glory days, however, so when I found out I was pregnant again, his eyes lit up like a kid let loose in a chocolate factory. That very night, he planned a celebratory meal of steak, artichokes and gorgonzola butter.
He won’t teach me how to make gorgonzola butter, by the way. I know it involves cream cheese, toasted pine nuts, and butter, but he is convinced that I married him to ensure continued access to gorgonzola butter, so he guards his recipe like the password to an elaborate code that keeps the family intact.
That’s fine, because I know we will be having a lot of gorgonzola butter in the coming months. And pancakes. John has plans, and he wants to be very, very sure we don’t run out of pancake batter.