It was in a tiny studio apartment kitchen in Capitola-by-the-Sea where I first realized I could cook. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen as a kid— my mother is an exceptional baker, and like all kids, I “helped” her, but baking requires measuring, care in amounts, and a degree of precision that often made my attempts fall flat. Literally. While my mom’s baking skills are renowned, I took my failure to reproduce her fineries to mean a general failure in the kitchen. It wasn’t until I had my first apartment (shared with the daughter of a Beach Boy. Not even kidding.) that I realized cooking and baking are like Mars and Venus. Not even the same world. The first savory dish I ever attempted was a broccoli and cheddar soufflé. (Yes. I am Soufflé Girl.) It was spectacular. All these years later, I can still remember the gulls crying out my upper-story window and taste the salty Pacific air as I pulled the perfect soufflé from the oven, astonished that it actually worked!
My love of cooking was born. Right there, in that moment. It’s kind of cool to have a rubicon where I can clearly pinpoint a turning point in life. I went from being timid and skeptical to feeling like SuperGirl, in one divine moment of alchemy between egg, vegetable and sharp cheddar. I’ve never looked back.
Since then, I’ve gotten better at baking, but it’s still not my passion. Too much carefulness is required, and it annoys me that humidity, temperature and precision can all turn something lovely into a lumpy dumpy mess. Cooking is instinctual. Baking is science. (I bet Abby will take after her Grandmas.) Plus, adding in the whole “flour will kill me” issue kinda takes the joy out of baking.
For all of my adult life, the kitchen had been my realm. I’m a good cook— I can wing it, make my own recipes, and I have the instincts to combine things successfully into good food. More than that, I utterly enjoy it. Going into the kitchen is relaxing and calming for me- holding my Wustoff ten-inch chef’s knife (it’s been with me longer than my children) and slicing, chopping and julienning are transformative, therapeutic acts. The knife rocks over the scarred wooden boards of my block, and it becomes a meditation. My kitchen tools are loved, and most of them have stories, memories, and people attached to their acquisition and use. Sure, sometimes I toss dinner together from freezer-fixins’ just like everyone— but really cooking remains a simple joy.
Now… for the first time in my adult life… there’s another person in the house who loves to cook. And I don’t know what to do.
My dad didn’t cook. None of the men in my life have ever cooked. I don’t think my brothers made their own toast for breakfast until they were adults. And all of the sudden, there is a large man in the middle of my kitchen. He likes my knives, and how honed and heavy they are. He likes my thick cutting boards, scarred with time and memories. He notices the All-Clad pans that were worth the investment long ago. He appreciates the solid clay bowls, and the wooden spoons made in France. He himself chose the five-burnder gas stove for the kitchen I now call mine. He notices and enjoys the fineness of my tools. And he cooks.
He cooks. He bakes. He does the dishes. He sweeps up after dinner. When he’s in the kitchen, he’s not “helping” me— he’s just… in the kitchen, enjoying cooking as much as I do. I catch myself standing like a deer in the headlights, caught between movements, words half-formed and unsure what to do with my limbs as I find him once again effortlessly navigating the finer points of kitchen alchemy. I’ve been doing this alone for so long, my patterns are well established, and I keep tripping as I turn to do something, a step of the kitchen dance, and find I now have a partner in this timeless domestic rhythm.
He gently laughs at me, as I stall mid-movement, unsure for the first time in years what to do next. This is all new.
I suppose there is always an adjustment in a new marriage, in a new family. We seem to be doing really well in many ways- my kids adore him, and have for a long time. Both of our families are very happy with our choice of each other and have fully embraced us. His kids, while not here as much as mine, seem happy with us and are acclimating to having new siblings. Our belongings have melded together beautifully in the house. There’s a whole lot of harmony.
I just have to get used to a man in my kitchen. A man who is a much better baker than I am…