I’m no stranger to the kitchen. Before we had a kid, my wife and I both cooked. I’d say she did the majority of it, but I still did a couple times a week. When I cooked, I rarely followed recipes. For some reason, I don’t like following directions. I prefer to fumble, trip and fall, and figure it out on my own instead of reading instructions. Not always, but most often.
I thought I was creative enough to make things up in the kitchen. When I was in the 5th grade, I wanted to be a chef when I grew up. A chef, a bus driver or a bum who lived in my parent’s backyard. It’s no surprise my parents embraced the chef thing the most. My mom even bought me a cookbook, but I wanted to write my own. I remember “inventing” things like fried cheese. We’re not talking the Greek Saganaki here. I had taken a Kraft American single and put it in a pan and fried it. It didn’t go how I had envisioned it, but I still considered it a success. Then I invented a dessert by adding yogurt to Cool Whip. I know, so original. I’m surprised I never got my book deal. And of course I made my family try my creations, too. “Do you like it!? It’s great isn’t it!?” Polite smiles and leftovers were my response. The truth is, I didn’t care much for it either.
I think I carried that same spirit with me as an adult. But it turns out, I really wasn’t that creative in the kitchen. My specialties were pasta sauce with meat added, and chicken cooked with a cream-of-something soup, and a can of green beans. This “winging it” method worked when I cooked just a day or two a week. But when the kitchen and dinner became my responsibility, it wasn’t so successful. My wife always made fancy looking Japanese food. My creations were just filler meals and we couldn’t eat those every day. I needed to up my game. I found that having no plan was stressful. I’d roam the cupboards looking for things that could become a meal, but we always seemed to be short one major ingredient. There had to be a better way.
My mom had given my wife a subscription to Cooking Light for Christmas. We had a whole stack that I never opened. So one afternoon while Ellie lay on the floor drooling, I started thumbing through them. Whoa, this stuff looks really good! Maybe I shouldfollow recipes? So I started tagging recipe after recipe. Then I thought if I pre-planned my meals and grocery shopped specifically for that menu, I would not only know what to cook every day, but I could stay on budget better. It became a game for me. I set the weekly grocery budget and planned my meals with as many overlapping ingredients as I could. I didn’t want to buy fresh cilantro for only 3 tablespoons, so I’d find more cilantro recipes. That gave me the idea to start themed weeks. Noodle week, ethnic week, Southern week and beet week, just to name a few.
As we kept receiving new issues, I wanted to keep trying new recipes. My goal was to never, or rarely, repeat recipes. Last summer I felt like I was constantly stressed trying to take care of Ellie. She was just a few months old and wasn’t sleeping day or night. I wasn’t sleeping much either. Not only did I feel tired and stressed, but I also felt very lonely. I needed an outlet, and cooking became my thing. I had multiple magazines with different colored tags on them. A different color for each week. I usually planned a couple weeks in advance because I was so excited. I didn’t even ask my wife what she wanted. She’d eat whatever I made. She’s a foodie so I wasn’t worried, and I’m a wannabe foodie, so it worked out. It was my project, and I wanted to outdo myself each week.
My system was working, too. I was usually under budget, cooking something different almost every day, and I was learning things. It was filling my void. I could battle a crazy baby and cook what appeared to be a gourmet meal on time, but you didn’t want to see the kitchen afterwards. My wife puts cleanliness before timeliness. It usually takes her a minimum of six hours to cook dinner (yes I’m exaggerating). It would be a beautiful tasty meal, but we wouldn’t eat until 9 p.m. (not exaggerating). But the kitchen would be spotless when she was done.
For me, especially with a baby around and dealing with her schedule, having dinner ready on time always trumped cleanliness. My meal would look and taste remarkable, but the kitchen would look like the Gremlins ransacked it looking for hot dogs. Even if I made something simple like sandwiches. I still have multiple cutting boards and knives and pots and pans dirtied up and piled all over. I don’t how I do it. It just happens.
So if you can’t tell, I spend a lot of effort planning and prepping to have a good meal for us to enjoy each evening. But nothing is more annoying than after a long stressful day, you have dinner ready and on the table, and you’re staring at the door like a dog waiting for its master to come home. But you’re not a dog, you’re a man waiting for your wife to come home, to relieve you from the chaos. To remind you that you’re an adult and not a peek-a-boo machine. But she doesn’t come. So you wait some more, and then you call.
“Kinda!? You have a phone, don’t you? Now it’s going to be all dry and cold. (grumble grumble)”
I cook and I clean and this is the thanks I get!? Oh no, I sound like my mom!
Despite the occasional spontaneous Target stop, I know my wife really appreciates my effort in the kitchen. But it appears “winging it” doesn’t always work in situations outsideÂ the kitchen either.