The Family That Cooks Together

Lately, cooking has done little to bring my husband and I closer. During our hectic weekdays, there is an on-going battle of who will make dinner, which is often me, despite the agreed-upon negotiation that twice a week he will cook. I love making mini-farfalle pasta in a homemade alfredo sauce with crisp broccolini; farro-and-sausage parmigiano; great northern beans slow-cooked with a hambone; and homemade chicken and noodle soup made from my own stock. My husband and I both work full-time, we both care for our daughter who is not quite two years old, and we both have committed to making mostly homecooked meals during the work week for our health and the well-being of our budget. Well, one of us has committed on that last point.

I still get mad about this inequity; and I think many partners who do most of the cooking (and/or cleaning) often do. It is supremely easy to nod in agreement after reading writer Lyz Lenz’s essay, “I’m a Great Cook. Now That I’m Divorced, I’m Never Making Dinner for a Man Again.” I appreciate and understand the victory flag Lenz waives regarding “no more cooking.” Yet, I usually enjoy cooking despite the on-going plea to please lend a hand in the kitchen. Once it is time to chop the onions, crush and dice the garlic, and hear the olive oil sizzle in the enameled cast iron, I feel like the transition from work to home is complete.

Yet, trying to cook like I did before I had a child, who has desires of her own (breastmilk on demand, Peppa Pig on continuous loop, to see what I am cooking/doing, and to simply be held so as to reconnect with her mother after her own long day at preschool) is often challenging. Cooking post-child often becomes a relay race, where I am handing the baton of the chicken thighs, which marinated overnight in a bath of buttermilk, olive oil, fresh rosemary, kosher salt, and fresh peppercorns, to my husband with a texted recipe while I attend to our daughter.

Unfortunately, these handoffs are often bumpy. Those chicken thighs? Removed from the oven by my husband still raw with skin that is anything but golden and crispy. Inedible, in other words.

“Why didn’t you use the meat thermometer? Or cut into it? Or your eyes?” I asked, failing miserably at forgiveness. My husband has no words as I scramble to figure out another meal.

This week I began assembling the ingredients for Olive Oil Brownies with Sea Salt, but bedtime beckoned. I lobbed the baking baton to my husband, telling him here is the melted unsweetened chocolate, here is the bowl full of dry ingredients, here is the mixture of egg, sugars, and cocoa, and here are the chocolate chips the toddler poured out on the counter before I could get to her.

“Please follow the directions,” I said before tucking our daughter into bed. “I know you can do this.”

Upon returning to the kitchen, I spy a bowl full of unsweetened chocolate still on the stove, no chocolate chips added to the incomplete ingredients now baking in the stove.

“What happened?” I asked my husband, who had begged me not to leave him with yet another kitchen assignment.

“I don’t know,” he said.

So, together, this time without blame or accusation and perhaps even a little laughter, we scrape the botched mixture off the parchment paper, stir in the missing ingredients, and hope for the best. Making tandem brownies becomes a metaphor for the daily choices we have to remake love in our busy, modern lives. The choice to try, even with imminent failure, or to retreat very often relies on whether we bother correcting what we know is patently wrong, or resort ourselves to fate, including the very real likelihood that the contents of an 8×8-inch pan will be thrown into the trash.

This time our teamwork, despite many mistakes, produces dark, fudgy brownies with beautifully crispy edges, a surprise which delights. “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in The Lathe of Heaven, “it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” In the spirit of what almost-ruined brownies teaches us, my husband is picking up a pizza and making a salad while I enjoy uninterrupted time with our daughter before dinner, unencumbered by the oven or dishes or dropped batons.