I send the same text to my better half almost every Thursday night: “Home in 20. I’ll sort dinner.”
Often, he responds with gentle protests: “But you’ve had such a busy week! But we still have that lentil/kale/virtuous grain thing you made on Sunday for lunches and haven’t touched yet!” (And yes, in case you’re wondering, he’s an all around way better person than me).
He’s almost always right. It usually has been a busy day and by this point in the week, I’m often spent beyond recognition. If it’s September or October, multiply this sentiment by six hundred. Yet even after seventeen years of marriage, he sometimes forgets that we all have our own strategies for coping with overwhelm, and for moving ourselves from what can be a debilitating mindset of scarcity to one of abundance, even if only in our hearts. For me, the strategy is usually pretty simple: I make dinner.
Fear not, gentle reader, for I have not lost my feminist marbles. While I struggle as much as other women with the constant pressure of balancing motherhood, a full-time job and a host of other commitments, grand illusions of a perfectly managed home have never really been my thing. My house is reasonably clean, mainly because we are too lazy to buy stuff and we both find the prospect of home decorating to be paralyzing. The kids are mostly presentable, and there’s usually an extra fluffy towel or two lying in wait in the bathroom (because who can resist a fluffy towel?), but that’s really the extent of what I can manage on the Domestic Goddess front. My partner, the aforementioned way better person than me, takes care of almost everything else.
But what goes on in my kitchen, and more specifically, what goes on in my oven, my slow cooker, or even my microwave, is an entirely different story. The kitchen, and most chores that are connected to food in our lives—meal planning, list making, fridge cleaning, cupboard organizing—almost always fall to me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In her gorgeous book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor asks the question that I find myself returning to with increasing frequency this year: what is saving your life right now? Here, I think she means for us to consider the things, and the people, that elevate our perspective, that feed our creativity and our sense of purpose, and offer us an ounce of coherence and wholeness in a world that feels bound and determined to break us down. My family and friends always figure prominently in my answers to this question, but so does making dinner.
I find every step satisfying: hunting down recipes, making lists and taking mental inventories of the local shops that are most likely to have enoki mushrooms, za’tar, or some other random ingredient in the mouth-watering Ottolenghi recipe that I have decided MUST be on my plate that night. Invariably, I track down the illusive ingredient at the specialty market, where I will of course also spend $16 on a tiny bag of gourmet cheese breadsticks because you only live once and also because, well, did I mention they are gourmet cheese breadsticks?
At home, the ritual continues. I unpack the bags and lay out the ingredients on my freshly wiped counter. I find the perfect culinary soundtrack, which I will listen to for exactly six and half minutes before the Girl appears in the kitchen to request the Shawn Mendez song that makes me want to stab my eyes out with a fork. I gently retrieve the rippled white serving bowls that my oldest friend gave to us when we bought our first house, and I always think of her fondly as I lay them down in wait.
And then, the symphony begins. It opens with the slow and measured strokes of rinsing and drying, and moves to the staccato rhythm of chopping and slicing, interrupted only by the satisfying sweep of the knife’s edge across my cutting board. Measuring, pouring, peeling, grating, stirring, salting, tasting, I slowly begin to lose myself to the effort, moving further away from the day’s busy thoughts and concerns, and closer to rest. By the time pan offers its familiar sizzle and splatter, I am home.
I lay the plates down, and I become aware of how my heart feels like it’s been recalibrated. As I listen to the cut and thrust of dinner debates and increasingly alarming variations of the “Would You Rather” game, I feel a swell of quiet gratitude that, a mere two hours before, seemed entirely unreachable. I try to sit in its wake for just a bit longer before I finally start to gather up the dishes, and conjure up plans for leftovers.
We all have our own ways of praying, or just reconnecting to ourselves and to what matters. My way just happens to routinely involve a lemon roasted chicken, a side of garlic rapini, and a glass of bold Malbec.
Somehow I think God would approve.