For some women, many of whom are mothers, regularly admitting to one’s weaknesses – in a public forum, no less – is often an exercise in catharsis. The reason being that once you’ve spilled the proverbial beans you’re able to experience a distinct feeling of relief. The domino-affect is that at least one other human being will feel free to emerge from the darkness that is now light, and she too will no longer feel alone or ashamed (God, I dislike that word). It is for this reason that women share stories and experiences — to express a sentiment or feeling that we were previously told was shameful, unnatural or wrong; to liberate ourselves from being people we never truly wanted to be, or were assumed to be; or to demonstrate that having a self-deprecating sense of humor is a useful way to assuage guilt, fear and resentment.
Such is the case with my kitchen antics.
This summer, after my family and I spent a delightful week at the cottage with our very good friends and their son, plus another longtime friend and fellow cottage-goer, I came to the foregone conclusion that I am a bully in the kitchen. The good part is that I was able to reach this conclusion on my own. The awkward part is that while I recognize that the bully/control freak in me could be a direct result of the life-threatening allergies my daughters’ have, my fear of contamination could be interpreted as slightly overwrought. This, however, is not an excuse – and it’s still not ever okay to bully anyone no matter the circumstances.
That said, the beauty of sharing the cottage with friends is that everyone chips in. Generally we’ll consult one another at the beginning of the day and plan the day’s menu. Everyone’s a pretty good cook — some decidedly better than others — and if someone don’t choose to cook, he or she will either clean up, mix drinks or ensure that the children are well-looked after. It’s a blissfully serene environment – that is, until I, the Kitchen Bitch, take over.
Are you familiar with the adage: “Two women shouldn’t live under one roof?” Well, I’m sure the unspoken rule applies to the kitchen. I have a friend whose common-law partner’s grandmother lives with them. Grandma is terrifically passionate, highly-opinionated, and an awesome cook. Cooking is in her bones. She might as well be a chef. She is generous with her portions, and generous with her seasoning. And she is positively psychotic in the kitchen.
My good friend and cottage soul mate, who is not a morning person, and not much of a cook, recently regaled us with hilarious tales of the Kitchen Gymnastics that take place every day in her home. It starts when she descends the stairs to drink her morning coffee. Grandma will emerge from her bedroom, as if on cue, and make a bee-line for the kitchen. She’ll start frantically busying herself while my friend, still in Zombie-mode, fumbles around for a cup. If my friend attempts to move from the espresso maker to the kitchen sink, Grandma will position herself dead centre and block her passage. Literally boxing her out! If my friend needs to grab a hand towel from the oven hook, Grandma will find herself fiddling with the stove dials as if she is prepping a feast. Except she isn’t. It’s 7 o’ clock in the morning! And to be frank, Grandma really has nowhere to go, and certainly not at that hour!
My friend, on the other hand, has yet to wake up her son for school, and has to get herself ready to go to work as well. The best part of this hilarious scenario is the way in which my friend describes Grandma’s comedic physical movements. Much like a broad-shouldered full back, Grandma stands in tackle position, legs splayed with arms outreached, gesticulating wildly as she moves stealthily around the kitchen. It’s enough to make anyone want to pour hot water on the old woman, but the hilarity of the situation helps to quell any such violent outburst. Unfortunately, the morning is not the only time that such scenarios unfold; it happens all the time and particularly when my friend happens to find herself in the kitchen.
And then there’s me. Back in the day when my then boyfriend, now husband and I shared an apartment, we ate out as much as we cooked in. I also had fabulous friends — great cooks who hosted many functions and experimented with different food preparations. As a result, our taste for good food became more refined and diverse. I would make what he considered to be “gourmet” meals, and I was pleased to do so because he was such a gracious recipient of my food. That is, until he started to sauce his food. Which I arrogantly presumed meant that he was doing something wrong, as in, killing the beauty of my culinary creations — I know, ego much?
At the same time, I believed that he was not too discreetly insinuating that my food had fallen short; that it was either bland or unsavory. I mean, what would you think? The funny part is when he took me aside and in soft tones said, “Love, I love your food, but I also like to eat my food the way I like to eat my food.” Oh. I’m sure the look on my face summed up my entire response. Laughing, I told him that it never occurred to me that what I had prepared could or should be “sauced.” That because I tend towards purist tastes in the kitchen, so should everyone else! I then proceeded to tell him that his predilections for saucing “my food” were blasphemous and compromised the integrity of the tastes I created specifically for the dishes he so wantonly sauced. So you know the face dudes make when they’re no longer listening to you? He did that. And then he just laughed some more.
Fast forward to cooking for my children. When our eldest with born with a laundry list of food allergies, including milk and dairy products, eggs, nuts, peanuts, certain legumes and fish, my Kitchen Bitch tactics sped into overdrive. Not only did I begin to read nutrition and ingredient labels with German-like precision, I was also supremely intolerant of anyone who appeared to mess with my kitchen-flow. I also cooked anything that could be cooked. From scratch. Never in my life had I chopped, sliced, rinsed, minced, stirred, broiled and sautéed as much as I did back then. And if I may say, the food was delicious.
After that, I really didn’t “trust” anyone to cook, other than my mother, or women or men whose food I had previously enjoyed. And whose kitchen habits I considered to be above reproach. Clean kitchen habits are a must. Don’t get me started.
My husband and I and our girls were once invited to a birthday celebration at the home of a semi-famous Canadian couple who had prepared some food for their guests. When I went into the kitchen to hang out — which, as everyone knows, is where the cool kids congregate — I was taken aback by the unpleasant sour odor emanating from the sink environs. I actually plugged my nose! Casually glancing around, my eyes stopped on filthiest sink and surrounding surface area I had ever seen. My eyes stood transfixed on a decaying piece of bacteria-filled sponge stuffed into one of those open-mouthed sponge caddies that had clearly seen better days. Paralyzed, I subsequently dry-heaved, grabbed a glass of wine — Pinot, of course — and backed away from the kitchen. And then I stared at the dining table laden with food.
A second set of alarm bells went off in my head. My first instinct told me to steer clear of the food. Why? Because if food isn’t prepped in a clean environment, chances are the food is unclean. Chances are the person who prepared the food is unclean, and chances are cross-contamination is only the beginning of my problems. I rationalized that okay, I’ll just drink. More Pinot, of course. And then I panicked realizing that my girls will surely want to eat something! They did, of course, so I plied them with juice, which thankfully came in boxes, but I was saved from having to offend our hosts by spotting various dishes on the table that contained milk-ingredients. Phew! I should mention, I never expect my hosts to prepare separate special food items for my girls (on this occasion, I wasn’t asked), so I reached into our bag of goodies and promised that we would go out for vegetarian sushi later.
As for the moral of the story, well, there is none, except this: Recognizing and acknowledging one’s problems is generally the first step towards redemption. Doing something about it follows a close second, and third, and most important, it’s never too late to apologize or make amends. You’re welcome.
(Photo: Design Pics/Ron Nickel)