We all remember when the TV dinner was the kitsch' meow. Long before there were latchkey kids, there were Swanson's singles, whose loveless lives were chronicled in piles of used aluminum platters.
But now, even among the status-conscious, television is getting respectable. It's gone from "entertainment" to "medium," from recreational to relevant; and some day it may even lay claim to "culture."
So why succumb to junk food? Treat yourself to a "teewee" dinner, a cross between high-tech and lo- cal. Wrap on your silkiest smoking jacket and plump up the pillows. Then pretty up your plate and luxuriate.
This is true for two, too. With the advent of the videocassette recorder, the television has become a social intermediary. It's easy enough to invite a likely prospect to explore "The Right Stuff" with you. But mention frozen pizza, and your style ratings will plummet.
So forget the prefab. Serve up the sleekest, nouveau-nibble fare on the classiest trays to match -- black lacquer for the modernist, white wicker for the romantic, primary plastic for the punk.
Most luxurious of all? The floating bathtub tray, with a pocket-size television perched in one of the compartments. After all, when the screen can come to you, why go to the screen?
Escapism is the name of the game, and that's what the new TV dinner is all about. Go with the show. Champagne with Krystal, beers with "Cheers."
On the other hand, keep it simple. Think glamorous, not gluttonous; and remember, if you slop your food, you may have to change the bed. No barbecue sauce (it gets under the fingernails), lobster (it tends to thrash around) or seafood on the half-shell (no center of gravity).
Skip the fettucini (too prone to sauce backlash), any soup thinner than vichysoisse, and any meat that has to be knifed more than once or twice. In fact, it's best to dispense with utensils altogether. Not only do they clatter and skid around, but finger food has an intimacy about it that seems to suit the boudoir.
Start with fruit and cheese, sliced and wedged (no peaches, no mangos). Pull out that leftover chicken breast, cut it into cubes and slide them over skewers. Mix up a little dipping sauce of peanut butter or tahini, honey and ginger.
Green salad can be elusive, and pasta salads, though pleasant, take up a disproportionate amount of room. Ditto artichokes, delicious but 95 percent debris. Stick to veggies that are barely cooked and crisp but beyond the high-volume crunch (you don't want to obscure the sound track). Think languid -- long and lean asparagus and green beans and Belgian endive instead of the open-wide- and-stuff-'em cauliflower and broccoli.
Pate and sliced salmon are certainly indulgent, but plan to eat them over radicchio leaves or mushrooms or cheese rather than crackers; you'll save calories and spare yourself crumbs.
Sushi is neat enough, and nibbly enough; but you have to make it fresh. If dropping by the wharf (not to mention scrubbing the smell off your fingers) interferes with your schedule, you can always cheat and carry out from a restaurant. At home, dribble a drop of soy sauce on each piece -- but leave the bottle in the kitchen.
Sandwiches are fine so long as they don't drip and aren't square: There is nothing '80s about square. Consider English muffins or croissants, or at least trim the bread and cut into triangles.
Try a personal favorite, beef fillet on croissant: tenderloin sliced and pounded very thin, then saut,eed in a touch of butter with coarse pepper. Either deglaze the pan with wine or cognac and dribble just a bit over the meat, or spread with hot pepper jelly.