I am loosening, ever so slightly, my iron-fisted grip over control of my kitchen.
Do you know those TV shows in which people renovate their homes or look to buy new ones, and the big focus is on the kitchen? There’s much ado about white cabinets, stone countertops, gas stoves, stainless steel appliances, open concepts and the mandatory island.
It always strikes me as rather funny, as statistics (from 2020) reveal only 36% of Americans actually cook at home on a daily basis. The percentage surely skewed upward during the COVID-19 shutdown, but still … so much pretentious fuss over aesthetics for such a grossly underused room.
But the point in all those programs is the kitchen as a gathering place for vast amounts of entertaining and for all the people who say they want to cook together. I really don’t know anyone who puts on large social gatherings at home (holidays excluded). And cook together? Good god, that is about the last thing on this planet that I’d want to do with my husband, and the third-to-the-last thing he’d want to do as a joint project with me (going shopping for pretty much anything and rearranging furniture coming in first and second).
In our house, the much-used kitchen is mine; the garage is his. He is allowed entry into the kitchen to retrieve a beverage from the refrigerator, to wash his hands, to sometimes do the dishes (a nice thing, but, frankly, I’d rather do that myself) and perhaps a few other tasks, like repair a drippy faucet. Otherwise, get in and get out.
He knows I’ll give him the stink eye if he loiters there too long.
I had two surgeries this past year, which necessitated some adjustment in our 50-plus-year kitchen protocol. It was a bumpy experience for us both – for him, not a natural cook, and for me, in my nearby recliner, trying to guide him through the fine art of primitive cooking while in pain. My pain, that is, and, I’m sure, his, as he navigated in unfamiliar seas.
Our son came over from Seattle for the first few days post-op both times and did the cooking, which I appreciated, but was still a little uneasy with him rummaging about in my domain. He does, after all, not put things back in the refrigerator where they belong, nor load the dishwasher properly. I was too uncomfortable to protest.
Yes, I am that far gone in my maniacal control over the kitchen.
Fast forward to earlier this month when the aforementioned son and his husband came over from Seattle for a long weekend. We haven’t seen our son-in-law in more than 18 months, so we were looking forward to spending leisurely time with them both. One day was planned for activities on and about Lake Coeur d’Alene, and the rest would be decided spontaneously.
Sam, who is getting to be quite a good cook, asked if there was anything I might like him to make when they were here. Now, he does know of my serious Queen-of-the-Kitchen control issue, so if I had politely declined, he would not have been offended.
But I took a deep breath and said, yes, there were two dinners I’d like him to make. I did this for three reasons. Let’s face it, I’ve really got to loosen up here. This is getting ridiculous. Also, there are two things he makes that I just don’t do well, and I could learn from him. Finally, I love my son and know it would give him pleasure to do this for us.
Meal one was a pasta carbonara. I always mess up the carbonara, with either an undercooked eggy taste or creating scrambled eggs where there shouldn’t be any. Meal two was pan-fried fish. I know that’s a simple thing to prepare, but, I tend to either overcook or undercook, hence, I don’t do it that often. Baked fish, sure, just not pan-fried.
So, there we were in the kitchen cooking together. I helped with salads, as directed by Sam and provided location information for the various utensils and platters as needed. The carbonara turned out great, with some homemade bruschetta accompaniment. But the fish was the best – tilapia (crisp around the edges, as requested), Mediterranean salad and a couscous blend (this last item from Trader Joe’s … not everything has to be made from scratch).
Good dining all around, but better yet, a nice, shared experience with my son in my kitchen in which I was most definitely the commis chef.
The sky did not fall. Life as I know it did not end. And even though Sam volunteered to clean up afterward, I was happy to do that myself. After all, things did need to get put back into their proper places. Culinary OCD does not disappear overnight.
Letting go a little bit simply meant letting someone else in. It was a bit uncomfortable for me at the start, but in the end … quite nice. I might actually do this again.