A couple of weeks ago, hubby went to play in his usual Thursday evening indoor soccer league game. Ten minutes in, the artificial turf, an opposing player’s feet and –I imagine — the soccer ball itself, conspired to send him on a downward journey which culminated in a resounding “snap” heard in the upper bleachers. The radial bone in his right arm had broken in two.
Within 24 hours, he’d undergone surgery. A slender strip of metal and six screws will forever be a part of his person, lending him a bionic quality he’ll still be bragging about in his future retirement home. Six months in Afghanistan and he came home without a scratch, but ten minutes in a suburban sports plex and he’s scarred for life. His bone is on track for a full recovery, but it will be several months before he’s allowed to lift anything heavier than five pounds. Thankfully, he’s a lefty, but common tasks like carrying a toddler, sorting and hefting laundry baskets and cooking will be off-limits for a while.
And so we come to the true upheaval that hubby’s broken arm has rendered in the Dalzell household. Forget the poor man’s pain, his discomfort sleeping, his lost time at work, his inability to drive. The real problem here is staring us in the face.
I am now our primary cook.
This is not a good thing. A few years back, on a different blog, I described my efforts to make a strawberry rum cake. Putting tequila in the recipe instead of rum was the least of my problems. Imagine trying to whip whipping cream using a wooden spoon. Or, for another example, consider that early in our marriage, I baked a salmon loaf for hubby so inedible that even our neighborhood’s scrawny feral cat refused to eat it. (That incident led to one of the few household rules that hubby and I still adhere to: NO CANNED SALMON.)
While all of my culinary adventures aren’t quite so dramatically inept, I am not a woman who feels at home in her own kitchen. As hubby often tells me, I’ll happily become absorbed in the pages of the latest issue of the New Yorker instead of paying attention to a boiling pot. I adore good food; I just don’t want to have to prepare it.
As a mother and a wife, my ambivalent relationship to the kitchen has proven time and again to be a challenge. I’m a stay-at-home mom whose husband does the brunt of the cooking. That means we eat at 8 most nights, giving him time to come home from work and prepare dinner while I put the wee one to bed. When we do eventually eat, we eat well. Hubby’s many charms include his ability to conjure up gourmet-quality meals. (I may bury my nose in the New Yorker, but he buries his in Food & Wine.)
Hubby relaxes in the kitchen. He gets happy little crinkle lines around his eyes when he opens up a cabinet to survey our spice collection. When he rolls up his sleeves, pulls out a cutting board, and slips a sharp knife out of the chopping block, his gestures are confident and assured. He takes great pleasure in determining whether an extra pinch of basil or another dollop of heavy cream will make his sauce just that little bit better. In the same situation, I’m jittery and impatient, constantly checking and rechecking my recipe. Hubby is the gray wolf, leaping nimbly through the wood, and I’m a yippy little puppy dog, in a fenced-in yard, chasing my own tail.
I’m trying. For the last several years, we’ve been making a big effort to stop eating processed foods. A great plan, I say, when hubby is in the kitchen and willing to prepare dinners from scratch rather than rely on frozen or boxed entrees. A more difficult plan, when it’s me in the kitchen, but one I’m committed to trying to maintain. Since his accident, I’ve managed to prepare, among other things: baked fettuccine with spinach and mozzarella; crab fried rice (from a recipe); polenta with roasted vegetables; pasta with artichoke and cream sauce; and turkey panini’s with homemade sweet potato fries. (Naturally, I left out of the list the Chinese we ordered and the frozen pizza I warmed up.)
At this point in the blog, I’d like to say I’m developing as a cook, as a person. That I’m finding the extra time in the kitchen is molding me into a more skillful cook, maybe even someone who has found a new passion that is both satisfying and soul-affirming. Not so fast. I think my skills may be improving – no new cooking disasters to share, yet – but I’m still a tentative guest in my own kitchen. At best, I’m unconfident or distracted. At worst, I’m cranky or surly, longing for the moment when I can finally sit down, fork in hand, to devour the fruits of my labor. Let’s not dwell on the fury I can feel later when I must face yet another sink filled with dirty pots and pans.
Friday night, all three of us took a break from my cooking. After picking hubby up from work, I suggested something logical: Let’s eat out. We visited a new Asian buffet, with enough variety of food to satisfy all of us. At the end of our meal, the waitress brought out a tray of fortune cookies. The fortunes were bland, but the Learn Chinese words on the back of each slip proved prophetic.
Hubby was instructed to learn the Chinese word for ‘Living Room.’
The lure of good food, the desire to make hubby happy, and a good old-fashioned serving of stubbornness will keep me in the kitchen these next few weeks. Each evening, you can think of me there — fluttering away, uneasily chopping and stirring, muttering something about teaspoons and tablespoons, taking the occasional break to turn a magazine page, eventually spooning some sort of concoction onto a plate — and say a silent prayer of thanks that you won’t have to eat any of it.