Two men have forever changed Molly Thompson’s holidays and her traditions for preparing for it.
I am a former chef, and I come from a family of all women cooks. Neither my father nor my brother cooks regularly. My parents have always had a clear division of labor; Mom cooks and Dad cleans. When my mom was too tired to cook or was coming home too late, my dad would order pizza or pick-up a roast chicken from the deli. My parents are comfortable with this system and reinforced it with their children.
I began learning to cook at a very young age, and my brother was always on dish duty. As a child, I thought this was unfair. Clean-up was typically faster than making the meal, and I felt cheated that my brother got the better end of the bargain. Now, I feel deeply that he was the one who was cheated; cheated out of years of joyful camaraderie, cheated out of the feeling of accomplishment that comes from providing a good meal for the ones you love, cheated out of a ritualistic devotion to making fresh bread.
I carried my parents’ values with me well into adulthood, even when I was the only woman in a kitchen full of male chefs. Never was it more obvious than on holidays. The men would clean house, while my mom and I would spend hours, if not days in the kitchen preparing for the 50+ guests who descend every Christmas Eve. We made everything from scratch, from the cookies to the carefully cut vegetable tray to the tiny, appetizer-sized tamales.
In 2003, I moved to Australia. For the first time in my life I was separated from my parents at the holidays. I was going to school and running the kitchen in a small café. I could not take off the time to come home, so my brother came to Sydney, instead.
At the time I was dating an Australian man named Norton, who was an excellent cook, and I was learning the hard lessons of sharing my home kitchen. That Christmas Day Norton insisted on making us a traditional Australian holiday meal, complete with a roast leg of lamb on a day nearing 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the first time I had been ousted completely from the kitchen on a major holiday.
The following year I found myself back home in my mother’s kitchen, being bossed around like a prep cook by Norton. That year he did all the food for the annual Christmas Eve bash, while my parents took a walk and had a long, slow coffee at a local café. I am sure it was the best food we ever served. Family and friends still talk about Norton’s beer poached salmon and lamb kebabs with yogurt and fresh dill. Tradition had been broken.
After that trip Norton went back to Australia, and eventually we both moved on. I met and married a man who came from a family very similar to mine. William’s mom does the cooking, and his dad does the dishes and runs the grill. It seemed likely we would build a life similar to our parents, but two important things were different. It no longer felt normal for me to do all the cooking, and William believes that work is shared not divided. He makes wonderful breakfasts and happily washes, chops, stirs, and taste-tests for almost every meal.
This week we began planning our Thanksgiving menu, sipping coffee at our kitchen table, both of us typing notes into our phones. When the cooking finally starts we will work together; orbiting each other in the kitchen, sharing the best knife, stirring each other’s pots, and filling the table with the foods we want to be our traditions.