Monday, June 18, 2018

Begrudgingly Sharing My Kitchen


Oof, this one stings a bit. Before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, I was the chef of the house. I made all the breakfasts, all the lunches, all the dinners. Laura was the baker, the dessert maker. And we were great at our roles. Evenings were feasts and I relished every opportunity to play in my kitchen (emphasis on MY kitchen) and experiment with every type of cuisine this planet has to offer. And I got good at it. Real good. Like chefy good.

As a learning cook in my twenties, though, I had my colossal failures. So colossal, they are lore in our household, defined simply as “incidents”—the blender incident, the cayenne pepper incident, the other blender incident, you get the picture. How was I supposed to know that using a knife to unjam a blender—while it was still running—was a bad, bad idea? Or that measuring spices over a pot of soup could go very, very wrong if the lid on your spice jar plunked off into the soup and the full jar of its fiery contents followed suit? And that leaving a blender unattended on the edge of a counter—spinning wildly with a red fruit smoothie mixture inside—was another bad, bad idea? Other than using logic, there was NO way to know this.

But I learned, and my mistakes grew further and further apart. Dinner parties were routine, and I even insisted on no potlucks. I wanted to cook. All of it. And then MS came along.

Soon after my diagnosis, Laura started making breakfast on a few weekends. I could, but she wanted to help, so I let her. But for the most part I still made all the breakfasts, all the lunches, all the dinners. I didn’t grill as much, but summertime grilling and MS don’t mix that well, sorta like high heat and half and half (uh, don’t do that).

And then a few years ago she took over making breakfast every weekend. I was okay with that. After all, she makes a mean Dutch Baby pancake (with sausage or crispy bacon on the side, crisped just how I like it). And then she was making her own breakfast some mornings. And then she was packing her own lunches for work some days. And then she was helping me in the kitchen some evenings. Suddenly, but not so suddenly, Laura had become my sous-chef de cuisine.

Today? I can’t really cook without her. Her mise-en-place assistance is invaluable, as gathering things to cook given my mobility issues includes the risk of ushering in another ice age due to my glacial speeds. When my hands are too tired (say, after an afternoon ride on my arm bike), she actually handles a knife properly, a massive pet peeve of mine. And now she even cooks fish better than I ever did. I’ll admit, I’m jealous. But proud as hell.

Sure, because of MS my duties have changed in the kitchen, our kitchen, but I’m still a chef. I’ll always be a chef, just like I’ll always be a snowboarder, a hiker, an explorer. Our shared disease often requires inconvenient—and unwanted—changes, and it is how we cope with these new realities that shapes the future richness in our lives. We can desperately cling to what we had as the rope burns through our hands. Or we can evolve and grow and lead fuller lives than we ever thought possible with MS. I choose the latter.

Now it is my job to teach her about a job she never wanted … teach her to be the chef de cuisine. Educate her on the importance of fond when making a pan sauce. Instruct her on the nuances of how to properly bloom garlic, the secret to cooking steak to a perfect medium rare, and why using razor-sharp knives is essential. And nod with understanding when she has the same, ahem, incidents I had decades ago—the wooden-spoon-left-on-a-hot-pan-too-long incident, the paper-too-close-to-the-hot-burner incident. Well, maybe not the same incidents. She knows by now to watch out for that damn blender.