My wife had called me from her office to say that she'd be home for dinner between 5:30 and a quarter to 6. I told her I'd have dinner ready by 6.

We hadn't had chicken for a long time, so tonight was the night. It wasn't going to be just plain old baked chicken either. Tonight it would be Poulet Saute'. I got out the well-worn copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

To go with the chicken I planned a rice pilaf-type dish, fresh green beans and an orange and banana salad.

According to Julia, the cooking time for the chicken would be 30 to 35 minutes. At 5 o'clock I cut up three oranges into sections, removed their seeds and put them in a bowl in the refrigerator. I'd add the bananas just before serving so they wouldn't get mushy.

Next I got out the beans, cut off the stems, washed and put them into the steamer on the stove. I'd turn the heat on at a quarter to 6 I figured. That would be in a half-hour.

I measured a cup of rice and poured it into a pan on the stove. I added two cups of water, a pat of butter, some ground pepper and a beef bouillon cube. If that started cooking by 20 to 6, it'd be done on time.

I got out the chicken parts I'd cut up earlier, the electric skillet, the tongs, bulb baster, butter, salt and pepper, thyme, tarragon, basil, chopped onion, bouillon and wine. By 5:25 I was ready to saute' my poulet.

I followed Julia's directions to the letter. At 20 to 6 I turned on the heat under the rice. At a quarter to 6 I started the beans. While the herb, wine and butter sauce simmered at 5 to 6, I cut the bananas into the oranges.

My son set the table. I put on the salad. The rice went into a dish and onto the table, and then the beans, drained, buttered, salted and peppered.

The chicken and sauce were on the table by 1 or 2 minutes past 6 o'clock. The kids came into the kitchen and asked if Mom was home from work yet. I told them no. She was late.

At 10 past 6 we sat down to eat. Dinner was delicious. The chicken, beans, rice, salad were perfect. The sauce, merely terrific.

At 6:28 my wife walked in. I asked her politely if her finger had healed yet. She asked me what I was talking about. I explained that I figured her telephone-dialing finger must have been broken, preventing her from calling to tell us she'd be late.

She said she'd been held up at the office and couldn't get away.

I reminded her that she said she'd be home before 6. I told her what time it was now.

I made it clear that dinner had been ready at 6.

I made it clear that even though it might taste okay now, dinner had been simply wonderful at 6, not to mention warm.

I told her that she had a responsibility to the family to let us know when she wasn't going to be home on time.

Why, in the cookbook, Julia even had a special note on how to hold the chicken for "a wait, up to half an hour." So even Julia Child was willing to help . . . and she was a stranger. From my wife, who is a friend, should I expect less?

She didn't say much. Maybe she knew I had her. She heated her dinner in the microwave and sat down to eat.

I sipped my coffee, sullen, feeling unappreciated. I'd gone to all that trouble and work to make something special. She knew how involved sauteed chicken was. She'd made it plenty of times when she was the housewife and I was the one coming home from work.

And I knew that probably any minute she would bring up how many times I hadn't called her when I was going to be late for dinner. She didn't. I guess she didn't have to.

One of occasional comments from the homefront. Househusband Robert Martin lives in College Park.