Alone in the Kitchen

Anyone else have a spouse or partner who is so gifted in the kitchen the only thing you need to do is clean up? It’s a wonderful thing but also insidious in that over time you find yourself less and less capable of or willing to enter the terrain. J’s a great and careful cook. Me not so much. My knife skills (or lack thereof) scare him and I’ve actually been waved off from peeling apples. My attitude is, I made it through 39 years with all ten fingers so I must be doing something right and if I choose to peel the apple towards my palm so be it.

Still, J owns our kitchen. When we bought the house I decided on the location of the plates, silverware, and glasses in the cupboards because I am the sole keeper of the dishwasher (he had no idea how to maximize load). Every other pot, pan, chafing dish, measuring cup, and pantry item was decided by him. I let him, but now it means I have to ask if we have any light brown sugar because I have no idea how he’s organized things.

It is so nice to be taken care of (I have issues) but at the same time I’ve abdicated my ability to take care of myself. I can cook. I did it for the 21 years I lived without him but I no longer have the desire to do so and he does. For him it is a relaxing end to the day. Is this one of the normal division of duties that occur in a marriage or does it mean more? For me does it mean the loss of a part of myself that needs to be preserved for later use?

He’s been gone for 2 days and I’ve made dinner, dessert, and deep cleaned the counters, microwave, cooktop, and toaster oven. I’ve even cleaned/degreased the wooden cabinets (not done in two years. Yuck!) and polished them. Why don’t I do these things when he’s around? Is it learned helplessness or laziness? Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Deep relationship issues aside here are two of the meals I’ve made. Easy but healthy and delicious. I also made a batch of cupcakes from a Barefoot Contessa recipe but was not impressed. Despite having sour cream, butter, and buttermilk  they’re dry. Not a recipe I would make again. I know hard core bakers don’t want to hear this but I still find cake mixes yield the best results. There I said it.

Even though I’m not recommending the recipe I did promise my friend Amy I would include a photo of the result of my efforts, hence the chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting. Hold your applause.

Lemony Shrimp Salad with Couscous

1C couscous
1lb cooked medium shrimp
½lb snap peas, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces (I used green beans from our garden and they were delicious)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4c torn fresh basil leaves
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2T olive oil
2t lemon zest
3T fresh lemon juice

Place couscous in a large bowl. Add 1C very hot water and 1/4t salt and pepper. 
Cover and let sit for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork.

In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients and toss to evenly coat. Serve over the couscous.

Adapted from Real Simple, July 2011

Nice vegetarian, no mess option when you just want to gaze at your sparkling clean cooktop a little longer before searing something and spattering grease everywhere.

Gemelli Salad with Green Beans and Nuts

8  oz uncooked gemelli (short twisted tube pasta)
1C cut haricots verts 
1/2C chopped nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, or almonds all work)
2T fresh thyme leaves, divided
2T grated lemon rind, divided
1T minced shallots
2T Champagne or white wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, crushed
5T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2t kosher salt
1/2t freshly ground black pepper
1 oz shaved fresh Parmesan cheese (about 1/3 cup)

Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Add haricots verts during the final 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and rinse pasta mixture under cold water; drain well.

Place the pasta mixture, pistachios, 1 tablespoon thyme, and 1 tablespoon lemon rind in a large bowl; toss gently to combine.

Combine remaining 1 tablespoon thyme, remaining 1 tablespoon lemon rind, shallots, Champagne or white wine vinegar, and garlic in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Gradually add olive oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add salt and black pepper; stir with a whisk. Drizzle over pasta mixture, and toss gently to coat. Top each serving with Parmesan cheese.

Adapted from Barbara Lauterbach, Cooking Light, May 2011

A final shout out to a wine that is perfect for summertime meals. I've never been a fan of rosé but this still maintains the crispness of a red with the softness of a white.


  1. Speaking as the one who cooks in our house, I think it's a perfectly normal division of duties. I cook because I enjoy it and it's relaxing after using by brain all day. My sweetie washes the dishes. We both think it's a fair trade. If he really enjoys it more, maybe just let him. You won't lose your skills - wanting to eat well will rekindle any cooking skills you might think you've lost.

    There are a couple of other possibilities why you do deep cleaning when he's gone. Does it feel like you're intruding on his domain when he's around? Or is he oblivious to dust and dirt like some guys are? I doubt it's learned helplessness! As for laziness, I'd rather read/blog/surf than do those kinds of chores till just the right mood strikes.

    The shrimp looks great! Cake mix?!?!?!?!? I'll have to test a few recipes and send you a good one.

  2. Whoops - should've proofread a bit better!

    And I didn't see the Wait There's More link; glad I clicked. I've put that wine on my list!

  3. Who says you cant cook? It all looks great!

    Maybe the cupcakes didn't taste quite how you wanted them to but you wouldn't know by looking at them. x

  4. I'm surprised that the cupcakes were dry even with the inclusion of sour cream, butter and buttercream. That's weird, so I'll blame it on the Barefoot Contessa and Jeffery.

    As for cleaning, I think it's a normal thing to do when you have the place to yourself. There's no one in your way and you feel productive, you know, so you can spend the rest of the time eating cupcakes and drinking wine.

  5. Long comment alert because this totally resonates with me. My husband does all the cooking and he is an excellent cook. This sometimes makes me feel helpless.

    If he weren't around, I think I would gain 800 pounds because I'd only eat dessert and breakfast foods and takeout.

    I could cook, but he's so much better at it and he enjoys it while I hate it. Things don't taste as good when I make them, they taste like my effort.

    I fear knives and my eyes tear up with the first cut into an onion and every recipe starts with "finely chop an onion." By the end of the onion I'm cutting with my eyes closed b/c the stinging is so bad and I'm cringing with worry I'll cut off my hand.

    I'm horrible at timing things the different parts of a meal. No matter how carefully I do the math, one part of the meal is always cold and clammy before the other part is done.

    I've actually eaten Cold Stone Creamery for dinner when Dave's not here.

    I do like to bake though. It seems more systematic so it suits me better. Sorry the cupcakes were dry. What a waste.

  6. Oh, Tracy, I can totally relate to the onion thing! I cannot chop them at all. We must be hypersensitive! And I agree about baking- it is a process, which if followed will produce expected results. Sometimes you get dry cupcakes but usually you get something yummy!

    Don't give up! Try simple, basic recipes. I made 3 different ones this trip and they were all delicious! Also, maybe Dave would chop an onion and put it in the fridge before leaving town!

  7. I feel a little ripped off here: I am the cook and keeper of the dishwasher. Mr Karen empties it most days, but when he doesn't know where something goes, he just leaves it on the bench. It really gets my goat.
    I think you have a good deal there: he looks after you, but when he's away you're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.

  8. My husband does 90% of the cooking because he loves it. But the mess - oh my god! Every drawer & cupboard is left open, sauces, peelings, gratings and every conceivable gadget lies strewn across the kitchen benches and floor. And his idea of cleaning up is very interesting!
    I do miss cooking sometimes, but I hate the daily grind of preparing yet another meal.


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