I know there are couples who enjoy cooking together and make it look like a well-rehearsed ballet. They savor the aroma of their secret recipe for wild salmon over lemon couscous, stir each other’s soups and sample each other’s sauces. Their skills are complementary -- one cuts and cleans, while the other sautes and bastes. These couples can’t wait to be in the kitchen together.
Sue and I are not one of those couples. When we are both in the kitchen, we bump into each other. We are forever reaching for the same knife, the same pan or the same spice at the same time. I shut the refrigerator door at the moment she wants to open it; I use the burner on the stove for my omelet when she wants to use it for her tea. She thinks I am in her kitchen; I think she is in mine.
I love curry. The smell alone makes her sick. I love bell peppers; she’s allergic to them. I love to experiment and have never cooked anything the same way twice. If it’s in the house, it’s in the pan. I think recipes are a guideline; she thinks they are dogma.
I have stolen magazines from the doctor’s office if they have recipes for things I might like. Hey, don’t judge me. And don’t tell me I’m the only one who does that.
Sue, of course, would never do that. Her recipes sit in a well-worn box, yellowed with age and handed down from her mother and grandmother and earlier generations. All you have to do is translate a few words, like “gill,” “churn” and “sweetmeats,” from medieval to modern English, and most of the recipes still work today. It’s like eating in Colonial Williamsburg every night. Dress up for dinner and wear your best buckled shoes.
About twice a week, Sue will say, “Oh, I forgot to eat lunch.” Should someone like that even be allowed in the kitchen? I can remember every time in my whole life when I forgot to eat -- never.
Right now I am thinking about what I’ll be having for lunch two Saturdays from now -- what it should be, how long it will take to prepare, what I will have to buy to make it. Sue would be happy to live in our much-predicted future where breakfast is a red pill, lunch is a blue pill and dinner is a green pill. But she never eats breakfast, so I’d end up eating her red pill.
Shopping with Sue for food is a nightmare. I’ll put a box of kosher salt in the cart and she’ll say, “No, we have some at home.”
“What about that chicken?”
“We have chicken in the freezer.”
When we get home, I ask, “Where is the salt?” She digs through a cupboard and hands me a 10-year-old box of kosher salt. It is as hard as a rock. The salt is not simply stuck together but has become one solid crystal. You’d have to hire a diamond cutter to split it. I could sell the thing on the Home Shopping Network as the world’s biggest nonprecious jewel.
The only thing in the world harder than this chunk of stone is the ice-encrusted mystery chicken parts that she has pulled from the freezer. Mmmmm, yummy. All we need now is a knife, a fork and a good jackhammer.
Thank goodness we agree on the important things, like religion, politics and children. And we’ve agreed on one other big thing: to eat out much more often.
(Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.)