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.

13 comments:

My Odd Sock said...

Never been much of a cook so I can't relate there, but I DO know what it is like to have awful knife skills. Can't get my fingers to work enough to cut bread...so forget about a radish -rose!
Kudos to Laura for stepping up in the kitchen.

Dave Bexfield said...

Oh, thanks MOS. The easiest way to learn how to use a knife is to cut a bagel. No wait, that's the easiest way to LOSE a finger. Don't do that. Seriously.

Rebecca Scott said...

After foolishly touring the grocery store on foot in the name of exercise last night, I was stuck “making” dinner from a nearby stool, poiting and instructing my poor spouse in the finer points of salmon prep. Losing kitchen control hurts so much, and I’m not going gently.

Dave Bexfield said...

I feel you, Rebecca! But remind yourself that most top chefs these days are more directors/conductors than hands-on cooks. I'm working on a TV pilot now that is sure to be a runaway hit: Gimp Chef!

sonia said...

Dave, you area true inspiration and Laura sounds amazing! i admire you positivity so much ..... just when i was getting really glum about having a broken arm, feeling tired and trying to explain in embarrassment my atrocious memory, your blog pops up and made me feel positive again! thank you :-)

Dave Bexfield said...

Thanks so much Sonia. And yeah, Laura is pretty amazing. Get better soon!

Debby B said...

DAVE, just have to say how much I appreciate you...your candor & humor. You are a true inspiration to many of us & help to put our daily activities & lack thereof in perspective. Thank Laura too for being an admirable caregiver & so much more. Please keep inspiring & giving us so much. Thank-you, Debby

Dave Bexfield said...

Debby, I just passed on your thanks to chef Laura. She is pretty awesome and smart. So smart that she still pretends not to know how to properly load the dishwasher!

Marsha Smith said...

Being of Italian decent, I feel your pain at giving over your kitchen to Laura, but at least she is good at taking directions. I just happen to have a spouse that has never had to cook and doesn’t care to learn. I so miss my baked ziti and handmade apple pie. He misses them too but has learned to make a great salad thanks to his salad spinner! We are still working on a main dish. He knows that there is a new beautiful grill right outside our back door, but the only thing he knows about it is how to turn it on and clean it. Luckily we are within two miles of Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and every other fast food place you can think of. He is getting better at grocery shopping and trying to get creative at frozen food meals. Actually, some of them are pretty good. I cannot complain about his lack of cooking skills when he does a great job at house keeping, laundry and all the other stuff that needs done. I do miss my kitchen but I still get to take care of my landscaping. All it takes is a cool morning and several foam knee pads. I can still get from one to another and he does clean up the mess I sometimes leave behind, I can’t complain about missing a few favorite meals. I may have lost my kitchen but I still have my shrubs and the best man in the entire neighborhood. He loves to work in his garage and all the neighbors love his ability to fix just about everything from cars to lawnmower and weed eaters. He is also great at picking me up off the floor, grass or wherever I may land. OK, I am done feeling sorry for myself. I will get back to the sofa and rest my sorry butt.☹️����

Marsha Smith said...

Dave, you are still an inspiration to me and I love hearing about your trials and tribulations. Some days I look for them to keep me going. You always hit right where I need it. Keep it up and keep me going.

Dave Bexfield said...

Marsha, I'll try my best to keep you lifted. Your husband sounds like a swell guy. Perhaps you'll make a chef out of him yet! But if not, perhaps send me the ziti recipe and we'll have you two over for dinner. But we might need help. :)

Marsha Smith said...

Dave did I mention that I was Italian? We don’t have recipes, we just start with the main ingredients, ziti, ricotta cheese, mozzarella and we go from there. Anything in the fridge or pantry is fair game, but I have never had a failure. Mom and Dad taught me right. Dad was one of 12, mom was one of 11. We were poor, but I never knew it. You learn to grow it and sew it and hold your head up high.

Dave Bexfield said...

I do not often use recipes either, Marsha. So that makes it harder to train my chef-to-be. She's a scientist and likes exact. A "pinch" is not a measurement in her book!