I’ve made a batch of stew for myself and my son and my old friend who is coming to dinner for my birthday tomorrow evening. I used the stew beef I bought from the farmer at the last Union Square farmer’s market of the season where I got carried away and bought twenty five pounds of purple potatoes and three large bags of delicious apples. No regrets, but my fridge is crowded with apples and I haven’t figured out where the potatoes are going to live. For now they are in the box they came in resting on the kitchen floor.

While the stew meat stewed, I picked through the portobello mushrooms, reserving half the pieces for the stew and sauteeing the rest with Northampton Farmers Market garlic and cippolini onions to go with the last of the Thanksgiving Turkey hanging out in my fridge, added a splash of sherry, some fresh ground pepper and sea salt, heated it all through, then stirred in some sour cream left from the pre-Thanksgiving taco night with my kids, boiled a bag of egg noodles, labeled “America’s Comfort Food”, and enjoyed my version of turkey stroganoff with a candle and a cup of tea and the birthday playlist my son set up for me on Spotify.

All that is to say, I am doing my best to feather the empty nest, sans partner, sans kids. The cooking settles me. The delicious food reminds me that I can cook and enjoy fine food even if there is no one here but me to enjoy it. And that I can cook for others, even when they aren’t here, like the stew for tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to adjust my life to work for just me, post break up, post my daughter’s move to boarding school this fall, as I adjust to sharing home with my son who’s out most evenings and weekends. How can a half gallon of ice cream make sense when I eat so little ice cream? Should I even be buying potatoes in five pound bags? How little do my son and I really eat in a week?

The fridge and freezer and cupboards are overfull with food. I don’t know how to shop or cook or plan meals for such a small crew, don’t know what it looks like to cook for just one.

The house was full for part of last week when all three kids were home, but as I should have predicted, I bought and prepared more food than we could eat when we were together and now the kids are gone I don’t know how to sort out what remains.

Tomorrow, for the first time in a long time, I’ll celebrate my birthday without a partner. It takes a lot of strength right now for me just to get through the day. Celebrating feels like a real stretch. The good news is my old friend is joining me and maybe my son for dinner (stew:)) and then an improv show where my son will perform. Maybe I’ll bake a cake with the day care kids, who would be more than happy for a little party and a treat. My kids and family celebrated with me on Thanksgiving, with a candle in a pie and gifts and lovely cards. That was my celebration. Tomorrow I just need to endure.

And then it’s on to the rest of my life. What will 51 hold for me? I don’t know. I’m seeing it as the beginning of the second half of my life, hoping I’ll live to nearly one hundred, as my grandma, who died the month before my fortieth birthday did, two and a half months shy of her centennial.

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