“Don’t lift it,” my husband Henry shouted, as I did just that–took the lid off the pot of rice on the stove. Rather belated, my hand froze. “Don’t lift it,” he repeated more sternly, as he stirred a saucepan of curry beside me.
“I’m checking to see how it’s doing,” I said.
“You’re not supposed to open the lid.” He nudged me away from the stove. “The rice won’t be as fluffy.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
My husband put down the spoon and went over to his laptop on the kitchen counter. After a few keystrokes he turned the screen to me. “See, it says, ‘Don’t peek.’ A lot of rice recipes say that.” Not that cutely, I thought.
I suddenly felt as uncomfortable and un-useful as a mortician at a baby shower. “God almighty! I’ve made rice for years. How did we all survive?”
“Well,” Henry said with a satisfied smile, “we’re just surviving better now.”
My Husband, the Cook
I wish I could tell you that this rice episode was an anomaly, but this is a glimpse of my life in the kitchen ever since my husband took over the reins. That was roughly 18 months ago—about the time our youngest went off to college and my semi-retired husband decided to go on the Whole 30 diet. I had started a new job and was looking forward to nights as empty-nesters when we’d just eat a salad and a hunk of Gouda.
I told my husband that I couldn’t bear doing the shopping and slicing and sauteeing for his Whole 30 regimen.
I had spent about 24 years of our marriage as a slave to the nightly meal imperative. I have to admit that even though I love to feed people—the Italian in me wants to see people happy and eating—I’ve never been a natural cook (as the second daughter I let my older sister take the role of kitchen helper while growing up). Still, I made do with some good staples—pan-fried chicken paillard, a killer Mexican bean salad recipe, my mom’s Italian stew, and homemade pizza. Yes, my husband did the occasional grilling and had a knack for desserts like crème brulee and banana cream pie. But I was queen of the kitchen.
And as the benevolent dictator, I told my husband that I couldn’t bear doing the shopping and slicing and sauteeing for his Whole 30 regimen. One flip through the cookbook told me that though the recipes sounded delish, snow peas had to be halved lengthwise and ginger had to be grated and salmon needed to be herb-crusted. Oh yeah, also things like coconut aminos to be figured out. This was not the post-kids life I’d imagined.
The Passing of the…Whisk?
That’s when the transition happened, and my husband wasted no time digging in. With time on his hands, the focus of a ferret, and the work ethic of a draught horse, he was soon making his own almond milk using a newly purchased nut bag (the name of which always made us snicker) and comparing the qualities of various brands of ghee, coconut milk, and bone broth. He bought a scale for measuring perfect proportions, a clever lemon zester, and an expensive mandolin, which drew blood both times I tried it and had me fishing through the sliced potatoes looking for the onion-thin layers of separated skin. Then he took his fanaticism to a whole other level by joining the Instant Pot cult: that little contraption got him as excited as some men feel about the NFL draft or chainsaws.
He was soon making his own almond milk using a newly purchased nut bag.
I thought this was a great deal at first. I mean, he even took on the responsibility of planning the week’s menus and the shopping. For all my years of cooking, those two duties were the great hidden time suck. No one but someone who has manned a kitchen understands how tedious but central they are to the art of cooking. Or, in my case, the practice of cooking.
Without the daily burden, I felt as if I’d been given two extra hours in each day. My friends all thought I’d learned some new trick in bed to convince my husband to sign on for kitchen duty. “You’re so lucky,” they’d coo.
Here’s the Rub…and We’re Not Talking Spice Rub
Though I was eating well and making good use of time not spent over a stove, I soon became aware of a downside to this arrangement. Is it all men, or was mine the only one who acted as if no one has ever really cooked a meal on this planet before him? He is truly good at what he does. He has a much better sense of spicing than I do and comes up with innovative twists on recipes (that usually involve a member of the chili family).
He has special spatulas for certain pans and knives that I am not to touch.
But I’ve become a stranger in what was my kitchen. If I’m making pasta, he’ll tell me I’ve put too much water in the pot. He’ll gently scold me if I salt our fish with anything but the largest chunks from the sea-salt grinder before grilling. When I act as his sous chef, slicing veggies, he gives me special bowls he wants me to put the slivered carrots and minced onions in till they’re ready to be added in. He has his own way of arranging the fridge and the pantry, special spatulas for certain pans, and knives that I am not to touch.
He seems to forget that for 20 years I was in charge of the whole shebang, making not-as-stellar dinners but performing my culinary duties while kids were convulsing in Excorcist-level tantrums or bashing each other with kitchen spoons or arguing with me about when they’d do their homework.
A Stranger in My Own Kitchen
To tell you the truth, I feel a bit shunned—as if my experience has added up to nothing in his eyes. I feel I’m being mansplained almost every time I approach the stove. I never loved cooking the way he does, but I was proud that even when working full-time, I managed to put healthy meals on the table for Henry and the kids, day in and day out Except for you know, Domino’s nights, and, uh, those hectic times I actually found myself agreeing with Reagan’s assessment all those years ago: ketchup is a vegetable.
I feel I’m being mansplained almost every time I approach the stove.
I imagine I’m being too prideful. More sensible women would toast their good fortune with a cosmo and let him run wild in his new domain. But I think women our age are somewhat sensitive about being replaced so easily, and my time in the kitchen is intertwined intimately with my essence as a mother. Of course marriage roles evolve over time: I get that. But this is a fundamental change to my identity. To feel inept or eclipsed tarnishes my historic assessment of my mothering skills in a small but significant way.
But I guess I can console myself by stuffing my face with the seared scallops and cauliflower-parsnip puree that Henry makes so well. That thought makes me feel better already.