When her husband and daughter take over the kitchen the ends justify the means.
My husband cooks like he’s on The Food Network. That is, he cooks like we have a staff to clean up after him. Alas, we do not.
If Gary needs lemons, he’ll paw through the fruit drawer. A bag of oranges, some grapefruit, the leftover papaya, and a couple of limes go on the countertop, and when he finally finds the lemon he needs, he’ll go back to work, discarded fruit rolling around on various surfaces.
Into a metal bowl, he’ll toss spices: cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne, three kinds of paprika, maybe a dash of cumin. He leaves them all out, lids buried under a pile of spoons. “Why don’t you put them away as you go,” I ask, visualizing the clean up project to come. “I might need them again later,” he winks, and I have to walk away. I can barely stand to watch.
Spoons. Every last one of them. Big ones, little ones, wooden ones, long handled, demitasse, mixing spoons, even a ladle. Every spoon in the house used for tasting, stirring, testing, every single one left in a pool of work-in-progress-sauce on the counter top.
His specialty is sauces, and I must admit they are sublime. Sometimes it’s maddening how tasty they are, the flavors melting together in a symphony of all the right notes, a bit part in a movie that steals the whole scene. He only cooks once in a while, but when he does, he seems to have an instinct for how flavors and textures go together. A stranger to rules, he makes odd combinations and can never remember what he put in anything.
Our styles in the kitchen are different, and we’ve learned to give each other space. While my husband is the visiting artist in the kitchen, I am merely its workhorse. I crank out our daily meals using ingredients prudently, economizing on mess making. He indulges his imagination, using resources with abandon, embracing disorder. The squirt gun we used last summer in the back yard becomes his dispenser for lemon juice; his cordless screwdriver doubles as an apple peeler. It’s a level of creativity that makes me wonder if disinfectant might be in order at some step in the process.
This morning, he and our daughter Lauren decide to make pancakes. They get out my old Better Homes Cookbook, the one my mom gave me when I graduated high school and is now rubber banded together and splotched with samples of a million dinners. Lauren flips to the page on pancakes and starts reading. “That’s good enough,” Gary says after she’s read a few lines. “We get the idea.”
They get out milk, flour, sugar, eggs, orange juice, blueberries and pumpkin pie filling. Milk splashes on the hard wood floor. Gary drops a paper towel on the white puddle, smears it with his sock clad foot, kicks the towel aside and puts the empty milk jug back in the refrigerator. Lauren giggles; I wince.
Gary retrieves the mortar and pestle from the back of the pantry and Lauren chucks whole spices in his direction. She has my green eyes but his curiosity, his sense of adventure that brings a thrill into the most mundane of activities. They are feeding off each other, two fearless creative minds working in unison. The skillet sizzles in readiness for their first masterpiece.
They dump the powdered spices in the bowl, the sleeve of Lauren’s pink cotton jammies skimming the surface of the batter. She gives it a final stir, licking her fingers and laughing.
I flip open the paper and tried not to look at the production. There’s flour on the floor, in Lauren’s hair, and even some on the light fixture. In a saucepan, pumpkin pie filling bubbles and pops, bubbles and pops, splattering yellow brown goo all over the white stove top. But even from my seat on the other side of the kitchen, I can sense that this goo is transforming into buttery spicy goodness, a syrupy blend of nutmeg and brown sugar, pumpkins and apples, the very flavor of home.
A sizzle announces that batter is on the skillet at last, and the fragrance of pancakes delivers me from the editorial section. I put the paper down.
Every inch of countertop is covered, but the smell is irresistible. “Let’s eat in the next room,” I suggest, since the kitchen is trashed. The sun streams through the dining room window as I set the table for three. Gary grabs the saucepan of pumpkin syrup and a handful of napkins. Lauren marches in with a platter of steaming cakes and a stick of fresh butter. We dig in, the pumpkin syrup a perfect complement to the tender airy cakes, the mess in the kitchen forgotten.
A perfect Sunday morning.
Originally published on Mothers Always Write.
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