The 20-minute-meal. dinner for one.
We leave work early, and C. drops me off across the street from the grocery store near my apartment (saving me a ten minute walk). There are now four hours before I have to leave for the airport to pick up my mother, and there are drains to be unclogged, magazines to be shelved, and clothes to be put away. I run into J., who offers to let me hide any books I need to at his place, which makes me laugh and calms me down a little before I sprint through the supermarket, collecting asparagus and tomatoes and jugs of juice and triple-chocolate Dove bars in my headlong rush. Fifteen minutes later, I am home and running between bedrooms with piles of clothing and stacks of magazines. I shove things onto shelves and under the bed and into closets, haul things out of storage and down to the recycling bin and move more things into storage and sit down to collect myself. Two hours to go.
There is dinner to be considered. My mom will be jetlagged, and presumably they will feed her on the plane. But just in case, I should probably cook something she would eat if she got hungry, which means I need a little more something than just a piece of steak. Rice, I think, and some vegetables, and perhaps some scrambled eggs with tomatoes. It only takes a moment to wash a few cups of rice and get the rice cooker going in between sorting out the recyclables and putting away last week's mail. And then I realize there is only a little more than an hour before I have to leave; time to cook something and wolf it down. I have to plan the cooking out in my mind, to figure out what to cook first, how to organize things so everything is ready at the same time. The steak first, so it can rest while I scramble the eggs. The asparagus next, because it can sit at room temperature, and I can do other things while the water comes to a boil, and finally the eggs-and-tomatoes.
I put a pot of water on to boil before trimming a bundle of asparagus stalks and heating the grill pan for my steak. I think of Edouard de Pomiane, who tells you to put a pot of water on the stove as soon as you come home, because you will probably need it for something during the course of your dinner preparation, whether it be for blanching vegetables or cooking potatoes or what have you, and it is nice to have it ready when you are (I believe this comes from French Cooking in Ten Minutes). The steak goes in the pan, and I let it sizzle quietly as I slice the scallions finely, on the bias, and chop the tomato. Halfway through I find that there are only two eggs left. Whoops. It will be scrambled tomatoes with egg, but that will be fine; I'll just eat a little bit and save the rest for my mother. The asparagus is done as soon as the water comes back to a boil, and after I set that pot aside I use the same burner for the sauté pan, heating a little oil and cooking the scallions, then the tomatoes, sprinkling them with salt and a few grinds of pepper before adding the eggs.
The rice is done, waiting quietly in its space-age-looking white plastic cooker. The steak is just medium-rare, a nicely browned exterior striped from the grill, a ribbon of pink running throughout the interior. I slice off a piece, plate it with some rice and a spoonful of the tomato-and-eggs and a bundle of the slender bright asparagus. Exactly twenty minutes have passed since I turned on the stove, pulled the chopping board from its cupboard hiding place. (Although I did have to start the rice well ahead, but it only took a minute to prepare). And I have a perfect little dinner in front of me, rice, steak, scrambled eggs, and asparagus. I even have a little more time to finish tidying up before heading off to the airport.