A Guy in my Kitchen
My husband, Gary, cooks like he’s on the Food Network. That is, he cooks like we have a staff to clean up after him. Alas, we do not.
If he needs lemons, he’ll paw through the fruit drawer. A bag of oranges, some grapefruit, the leftover papaya and a couple of limes go on the countertop, and when he finally finds the lemon he needs, he’ll go back to work, his discarded fruit rolling around on various surfaces.
Into a small bowl, he’d adlib some spices: cardamon, cinnamon, cayenne, three kinds of paprika, maybe a dash of cumin. He leaves them all out, the lids buried under a pile of spoons. “Why don’t you put them away as you go,” I ask, visualizing the clean up project to come. “I might need them again later,” he winks, and I have to walk away. I can barely stand to watch.
Spoons. Every last one of them. Big ones, little ones, wooden ones, long handled, demitasse, mixing spoons, even a ladle. Every spoon in the house used for tasting, stirring, testing, every single one left in a pool of work-in-progress-sauce on the counter top.
His specialty is sauces, and I must admit they are sublime. Sometimes it’s maddening how tasty they are. He only cooks once in a while, but when he does, he seems to have an instinct for how flavors and textures go together. He makes odd combinations and can never remember what he put in anything.
This morning, he and our daughter Lauren decided to make pancakes. They got out my old Better Homes Cookbook, the one my mom gave me when I graduated high school and is now rubber banded together and splotched with samples of a million dinners. Lauren flipped to the page on pancakes and started reading.
“That’s good enough,” Gary said after she’d read a few lines. “We get the general idea.”
They got out flour, sugar, eggs, orange juice, a little yeast, blueberries and pumpkin pie filling. Gary retrieved the mortar and pestle from the back of the pantry and Lauren started chucking whole spices in his direction. They were feeding off each other, the skillet sizzling in readiness for their first masterpiece.
Our cooking styles are different, and we’ve learned to give each other space.
While my husband is the visiting artist in the kitchen, I am its workhorse. I crank out our daily meals, using ingredients prudently, economizing on mess making. He indulges his imagination, using resources with abandon, embracing disorder. I ruminate over how to reinvent dishes; he thinks only of the meal in front of him. “Whoa, I’ve seen this apple sauce before,” my husband said once when I recycled a meal one time too many. Lauren giggled when I shot him a look. It would never occur to me to reject apple sauce, recycled or otherwise.
I flipped open the paper and tried not to look at the pancake production. There’s flour on the floor, in Lauren’s hair, and even some on the light fixture. In a saucepan, pumpkin pie filling bubbles and pops, bubbles and pops, splattering yellow brown goo all over the white stove top. But even from my seat on the other side of the kitchen, I can sense that this goo is transforming into buttery spicy goodness, a syrupy blend of nutmeg and brown sugar, pumpkins and apples, the very flavor of winter.
A sizzle announces that batter is on the skillet at last, and the fragrance of pancakes delivers me from the New York Times. I put the paper down.
Every inch of countertop is covered, but the smell is irresistible. “Let’s eat in the next room,” I suggest, since the kitchen is trashed.
The sun streams through the dining room window as I set the table for three. Gary grabs the saucepan of pumpkin syrup and a handful of napkins. Lauren marches in with a platter of steaming cakes and a stick of fresh butter. Without pretense, we dig in, the pumpkin syrup a perfect complement to the tender airy cakes, the mess in the kitchen out of sight and out of mind. Silence while we enjoy the creation.
A perfect Sunday morning.