I tried to stay calm. “I’d like mayonnaise on both slices of bread, please.”
My husband, Paul, thought I liked hanging out at the kitchen island, giving him the orders to prepare the food.
But I didn’t. I just wanted lunch.
I recently had a second knee replacement surgery. That means I’m kind of off my feet for at least a month. I say kind of because a physical therapist was rushing me down the hall and up a few flights of stairs a few hours after the procedure. An hour after that, I left for home.
My recovery period does not involve lying around all day eating candy.
I don’t have to “overdo it,” but I’m supposed to do a variety of exercises three times a day, see a therapist a few times a week, and practice walking with the help of a walker.
Even though I have some free time between all of this and the cherries that must follow any endeavor, I’m still bored out of my mind.
Cooking is one of my hobbies. It is also my main job in the family. So it’s not easy for me to sit down and tell Paul how to make a ham, lettuce and tomato sandwich.
Paul contributes a lot to the running of our house. He does all the laundry, even the occasional ironing. He takes care of the finances and the vacuuming and the cats and the dog. And even though I’m the “head gardener,” he digs the holes and mows the lawn.
He took one of our cats, Leo, to the emergency veterinary clinic in Lewiston during a blizzard in January.
The only thing he doesn’t do is cook. He’s never done much grocery shopping, but since this is my second surgery this year, he’s gotten better at it.
However, cooking remains the bane of his existence.
I vaguely remember that, when Paul was single, he used to make himself grilled cheese sandwiches, fried eggs, and hamburgers. But I have to admit he rarely seemed to do that. We ate out a lot during our courtship.
Luckily I loved to cook. Plus, I believed that food and health were inextricably linked. I set out to cook delicious meals, mostly vegetarian, and I taught myself how to do it. (My previous signature dish was teriyaki chicken wings.)
Just because I liked cooking didn’t mean I always wanted to. Making dinner after a day at work is a chore, not a recreational activity. Whipping up a batch of muffins on a snowy afternoon is, on the other hand, my idea of a good time.
I also enjoy making food for special occasions. For example, on Christmas Eve I bake a French meat pie (tourtière) using ground turkey (we don’t eat red meat), as Paul’s mother traditionally did. I like to use local, seasonal ingredients, including those from my own garden. When the first wild Maine blueberries appear, a pie is bound to come from my kitchen.
Right now, I’m not doing any of those things. For the first few days, we ate canned soup and lean cuisine. In addition to his many other great qualities, Paul is very kind enough to heat up food and serve me when I am incapacitated.
Once I could sit at the kitchen island for at least 15 minutes (the knee feels better if it’s lying on an ottoman) and my mind was working more clearly, we progressed to a hybrid model. This consisted of preparing a meal from frozen and boxed ingredients, such as rice pilaf, popcorn shrimp and peas.
As I directed Paul from my position, I felt bad that he had to do an activity that he really didn’t enjoy. But why did he hate her so much?
I think I can put it down to the “perfect carrot syndrome”. The cooking is messy and inaccurate, two things that make Paul quite unhappy.
If I ask him to cut some carrots, he wants to know how many and how big. These are not unreasonable questions, but, honestly, I just cut them down until they look like I think they do. They can be good-sized slices for stewing, but diced for a pot pie.
Sam Sifton, food columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote a cookbook (“Recipes Without Recipes”) without measurements. I was fascinated by the concept. Of course, it doesn’t involve pastries or bread, because baking is an aspect of cooking that is definitely more science than art.
But Paul wouldn’t like baking because it can be even messier than making dinner. (Think dough. Pie dough.) Cooking makes a mess. A plate of microwaved broccoli overflows, resulting in a sticky deluge. Potato peels are piled up. The tomato sauce thickens in the pan.
Paul would rather shovel garbage.
Now I’m moving around more and can contribute more to meal preparation than delivering orders. I also made a simple vinaigrette the other day.
And I decided I might as well chop some fresh, local carrots myself if I sat down while doing it. I wanted sticks, about 2 inches long, one inch wide.
Paul would have appreciated those precise instructions, but I thought he deserved a break. I’ll be asking him to plant dozens of fall bulbs soon. I have to stay on his good side.
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