Let’s face it — aspiring to both athletic greatness (operative word being aspiring) and domestic diva-dom are mutually exclusive (at least in my world). So anytime there’s a shortcut available to me, I’m on it faster than an age grouper to her Cervelo. So here it is, folks: my personalized guide to pulling a fast one on your family in the dinner-making department. But beware – this approach requires some flexible ethics and an overall “but I didn’t actually inhale” attitude. You’re welcome.
Part One: Setting the Scene
Listen up! Time is short and you must take action. In only 30 minutes, the garage door will rumble, announcing the arrival of your husband. Now, don’t completely panic, you’ll still have approximately 3.8 minutes to set your controlled chaos into motion. He will sit in the car until his call ends. Then, he will gather all his belongings—iPhone, pager, crumpled up tissues, several broken golf tees, wadded up ten dollar bills, a leaky pen and an empty but drippy Dunkin Donuts coffee cup. (Why the hell don’t men use purses?)
He will then get out, stretch his arms over his head, yawn loudly, and pretend to shoot an imaginary basketball into the real hoop on the side of your driveway. (Yes, he will do this while still carrying the aforementioned items from his car, although at least one item will be dropped, which he’ll bend down to get thus spilling three more items. Repeat scenario one to two more times.)
Now, this extra time is important. Use it to do a final check of the kitchen. Are the kids frenzied enough? No? Tell them the daddy monster is home and let the running and screaming commence. Is the baby is crying? Great. Even better. Have you spilled enough sauce on the stove? Are there enough dicing knives on the counter? Definitely prop a clean pot in the drying rack. Anything in the drying rack is hard to refute. Okay, the scene is set.
Part Two: The Execution
Here’s what will happen next. Your husband will come into the kitchen, sniff the air, and promptly drop an iPhone, pager, crumpled up tissues, several broken golf tees, wadded up ten dollar bills and a leaky pen on the meticulously set kitchen table. The empty but drippy coffee cup was at least discarded in the garage. He will then kiss you hello while eyeing the bubbling baked ziti sitting on the cooling rack. He will walk over, sniff again and ask the question you’ve been waiting to field all day. (You’ve trained hard for this moment, so don’t blow it.) “Wow, smells good!” he will say. “Did you make this?”
Now pay attention! This moment is of paramount importance. Philosophers call this a lie of omission. The White House Press Secretary calls it rejecting the premise of the question. Any decent publicist calls it answering the question you wished you’d been asked in the first place. You must think of it as a constructive red herring. This, friends, is how you avoid lying.
Cue the basil you actually did chop (more on that later) and answer his inquiry with a cheery, “Smell this fresh basil I’ve been chopping all day! It really gives the sauce so much flavor, don’t you think?” And while he ponders this, make great work of returning the carefully-staged spices and garlic to their rightful places in the cabinet. Watch his mouth carefully out of the corner of your eye. When it starts to open, even in the slightest bit, bellow, “Kids! Kids! Come see daddy and then wash up for dinner!” They will have been hiding from the kid-eating daddy monster during this exchange, and the screaming will once again commence. And, being a man with a rumbling belly, your husband will cease and desist, having lost his train of thought in all the commotion. Really. It can be that simple.
Now that you know how the actual moment of the misleading is executed, be careful not to neglect proper preparation. If you expect to pull off a perfect misleading without much forethought, you flirt with disaster. And don’t forget that one disaster — just one — will forever call suspicion to anything coming out of your kitchen. And if you’re an endurance athlete, you’ll need to repeat this strategy numerous times during your training and race seasons to survive.
How to properly prepare:
1. Carefully pick which day you serve the store-prepared meal. It must be close enough to your weekend grocery-shopping trip in order for him to assume you had fresh ingredients. However, if you wait until too late in the week, he will be suspicious since you generally give up cooking by then and start ordering pizza. I would recommend a Tuesday.
2. On misleading day, make sure no one else is in the kitchen for at least 20 minutes (see below for ideas on reining in and squashing little tattletales). Then, take out your best baking dish and gently, smoothly, slide the baked ziti from the plastic take-home container into the baking dish. Sprinkle on the fresh basil you did actually chop (just not all day).
3. Don’t underestimate the kids. They are worthy adversaries dying to rat you out. They must be neutralized. Just don’t make the rookie mistake of choosing a Dora the Explorer they’ve never seen in an effort to keep their attention more fully on the TV. This will backfire. Kids like only the shows they’ve had ample time to memorize. Anything less, and your four-year-old will be following you around like a puppy asking why Dora has such a big head and why the ziti you are “making” comes in plastic with a huge price tag on it. Give them what they know and they’ll generally leave you alone.
4. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a complicated meal involving “give away” ingredients. Your husband knows you consider microwaved Grape Nuts a meal. Anything involving items never before found in your home (such as ginger root, coriander or chicken bouillon cubes) will only lead to suspicion. I highly suggest baked ziti. It’s not out of your wheelhouse, so it’s believable. But still, you will get brownie points for a dish involving several steps to prepare.
5. Proper disposal of store containers is crucial. All your hard work can be destroyed when the “Take-Home Meal — $3.49 Family Size” label detaches and sticks to your ass (although I’ve had three kids, so a “family size” sticker on my ass would be appropriate). If you use clear, see-through trash bags, wrap everything in an old newspaper so that you are not betrayed next to mushy brown banana peels and coffee grounds. Better yet, tie up that trash bag and take it to the garage in advance.
Finally, be sure you don’t go fishing for compliments as that too will arouse suspicion. And, when he finally burps and says, “Thanks for making dinner!” just smile sweetly and remind him of his dentist appointment the next day.
Again, you’re welcome.