One of the incredible things about my husband is his feminist side. I do a lot of the cooking around the house, primarily because I don’t mind cooking and I know (more or less) how to handle myself in the kitchen. But John, thankfully, doesn’t buy into the whole concept of cooking and cleaning as being “a woman’s work,” so he’s expressed a desire to learn how to cook more. (I won’t say anything about cleaning except that John is already far better than I am on that front, unless company is coming…)
Anyway, I bought John a cookbook for Valentine’s Day, along with an awesomely fancy red chef’s hat, to encourage his endeavors. (I promise that is not quite as unromantic as it sounds. Really.) I think I’m going to have to yield the title of resident good cook, and really, without much of a fight.
To explain this, I have to take you back to when John and I were first dating. We spent a lot of time cooking at my apartment, because that’s what I like to do with people, and John is obliging. I think it was the first time we cooked together, maybe the second, when we made salmon with fresh fruit salsa. I don’t remember what we were making, but I set John to chopping produce for the salsa while I worked on another part of the meal.
I wasn’t paying much attention to what he was doing as I did my own thing, but when I turned around to look at his chopping board, the pepper (it was a red bell pepper, if memory serves me right) had been transformed into the pile of tiny, perfect squares. And I do mean perfect.
There’s a comedienne who was sometimes on Q.I., I don’t remember her name, but she liked to joke about the difference between men and women. She epitomized the idea with a story about her husband. She had asked him to do the vacuuming while she ran some errands, expecting it to take him five minutes. When she got back several hours later, all the furniture was on the lawn. When she asked her husband what on earth he was doing, he said, “You asked me to do the hoovering, didn’t you?”
I had to laugh when I heard this, because that is exactly the difference between John and I in the kitchen, and while I feared once upon a time that his demand for precisely chopped vegetables would drive me nuts, it is a quality that makes him a really good cook. A few weeks ago, for example, I talked him through the process of making sourdough, and his loaf had a better texture than any I’ve turned out yet. And this Saturday I talked him through making pea soup (for my sake—he’s not the world’s biggest fan of eating vomit’s good twin) and biscuits, which again, were so much more delicious than my most recent iterations of either dish. In all cases, I think his brilliant success comes from the fact that he pays attention to doing things right, while I am more of an “Ah, just slop it all in there” sort of cook.
There’s also the freshness of imagination and spirit to consider. I’ve fallen into a rut of making a lot of meat and pasta dishes: macaroni and cheese with hamburger, Pastaroni with chicken, spaghetti and meatballs. Vegetables? Oh, right. Just slap a salad together. Or throw some frozen peas in whatever we’re having. Whatever.
It’s not that I’ve stopped caring, exactly. I love good food. I just have no energy when I drag myself off the bus and up the stairs at the end of a long day of sitting around on my butt listening to other people or reading other people’s ideas. If I can fall back on some cheap, fifteen-minute meal that I’ve made a thousand times, I’m not going to worry overly much about nutritional value or flavor these days.
To focus on the more positive angle, John hasn’t given up the Sisyphean battle of the kitchen yet, for which I count myself to be extraordinarily lucky.